President Obama faced his own Ukraine affair last week. He ordered military action against foreign assets controlled by an unstable interim government facing its own domestic factional opposition after deposing a former corrupt leader. Without NATO approval, the President took action on local officials’ requests. The short-term action was successful. The US military didn’t fire a shot.
Did you know about it? I didn’t.
A continual subtheme of “Digging Deeper” is the media’s tragic fail: at a time when news and information really counts, the media has collectively decided to abandon journalism for sensationalism. The media collective pursues profits and revenue as its main purpose; stories rise and fall with the sun. Ratings and rants count for more than facts or the public’s interest. So much so that the media collectively ignored a dramatic use of force in the Mediterranean Sea by a US President already faced with a military crisis in the same geopolitical theatre, albeit further east.
To me, that’s news.
Anytime the US authorizes the use of military force beyond our national borders, it is a real confrontation and situations can rapidly escalate and spiral out of control. Recent history is replete with small operations turned long-term. In fact we are still unwinding two wars that transferred billions annually to private contractors and corrupt governments without achieving any central policy aims.
Drones are cruel, but they are cheaper. They don’t require the massive movement of troops and materiel, the building of bases, the horrendous cost in lives that marked the warfare of the last decade.
Last week, the President ordered his favorite go-to force, a team of Navy SEALs, to board and seize control of a rogue ship, an oil tanker, the Morning Glory, sailing illegally under a North Korean flag, loaded with oil pumped from Libyan facilities at Sidra (in eastern Libya), after it illegally loaded at the Es-sider oil terminal.
Sidra and the terminal are blockaded on the ground and controlled by a rival faction to Libya’s interim government. This is one of several factions that oppose the recognized governing coalition and, with other dissident groups, has crippled Libya’s oil industry by strikes and sporadic fighting.
In fact, Sidra has 19 storage tanks with total capacity of 6.2 million barrels, mainly owned by Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) and a trio of US companies: Hess, ConocoPhillips and Marathon Oil. According to one industry analyst, diminishing confidence in reliable local production may motivate Marathon to sell its stake in the joint venture.
Somehow, the Morning Glory was loaded with $20 million worth of oil (some estimates say $34 million) from the NOC storage facility and it sailed away from Sidra toward an unknown destination. Morning Glory was the first vessel to have loaded oil from a rebel-held port since the separatist revolt against the central government in Tripoli erupted in July 2013.
Rana Jawal, with the BBC, offered this analysis:
Washington made clear it supports Libya’s elected authorities with the Navy Seals operation.
The US has sent a clear message to both potential traders of illicit oil and to the armed groups blocking Libya’s terminals that it will not permit the sale of oil from rebel-held areas.
Libya matters to the US partly because a failed state would be viewed as yet another failed US adventure abroad, after it backed the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.
The intervention will also help to dispel at least one of the many suspicions and rumours among Libyans – that the West will deal with anyone to get hold of crude oil.
It may also restore some of the Libyan government’s credibility with people here, which has been lost over the past year. However, the dangers of this blockade escalating into an armed confrontation remain and it hinges on the government’s next move.
It also cost Libya’s interim Prime Minister Ali Zeidan his job. He was replaced by the Defense Minister Abdullah al-Thani, who received a two-week appointment, which was renewed this week. The new Prime Minister was tasked with coming up with a plan to reopen the Libyan’s eastern oil ports. Libya is currently shipping 275,000 barrels a month, down from 1.6 million barrels last July.
Three takeaways: One, Libya, to a degree greater than Ukraine, exhibits the factional fighting and contention for power and revenue seen throughout the region from North Africa to Eastern Europe to Asia Minor. The completing groups attempt to take advantage of regime change or current instability. They are usually centered around Islamists and several nativist parties who seem intent on relying on arms to settle their differences. Ukraine is the first state to be directly exploited by a former super power. Elsewhere, the groups effect more of a standstill (Syria) than clear winners. Even in Egypt, after winning the election, the Islamists were forced to take a step back.
Two, this factionalism is destabilizing a number of domestic economies. As conditions become more perilous, the conflicts may spiral into cycles of violence involving not only the assets of the political economy but also civilian lives and families, as is already the case in Syria, and to a degree, in Egypt.
Three, the US has no magic wand by which to determine its desired outcomes in local fights, nor can it afford to finance or interfere in every insurgency. Yet its commitment, when made, should not be in half steps. Especially in offering non-military aid. The US commitment to food aid is woefully insufficient and is adding to destabilization by placing unsustainable burdens on countries who are neighbors to states in conflict. A model for creating temporary jobs from mobile production facilities is badly needed in refugee camps. Continue reading Obama’s Ukraine Affair
On ABC’s This Week, FiveThirtyEight.com editor-in-chief and ABC News special contributor Nate Silver will offer his analysis for the 2014 election. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), ABC News’ Cokie Roberts, and Foreign . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 3/23/14
Things have apparently gone too far for Chuck Todd of NBC News. After weeks of breathless lead-story coverage of the missing airplane — with pretty much zero new facts to report — Chuck finally expressed his feelings on Twitter:
Wait, so when did finding NOTHING get characterized as “breaking news”?
He followed this up with a few other thoughts, including:
Another day of “breaking news” based on finding nothing or in other words, “not breaking news”
Since we’re beginning with parodying the mainstream media, we have to start by offering up a riff on a Saturday Night Live “Weekend Update” sketch:
“Really, Chuck? Really? You’re just noticing this now? I mean… really? Have you ever actually listened to Brian Williams?!? The man simply could not exist without at least twelve superlatives in every single sentence he reads on the air. Really!”
Ahem. Perhaps that was unseemly of me. Especially since I do agree with Chuck Todd’s point. Apropos of nothing, I even think he would be a much better host of Meet The Press than David Gregory, just to show you I bear him no ill will. But Todd’s right — wasting the first five minutes of every news broadcast for weeks on end by saying “we still know nothing, folks” is one of the more tedious aspects of the “newsfotainment” industry. I get that. Believe me, I do. Keeping track of such idiocy is a thankless job, like the effort it took to create a complete list of why the Crimean situation is just the most recent of a long list of “the biggest test of Obama’s presidency,” for instance.
But it’s really nothing new to point out the ludicrous nature of what is billed as “breaking news.” In fact, I can end precisely where I began this rant. Back in its infancy in the 1970s, “Weekend Update” had a running joke parodying such “breaking news” idiocy. Chevy Chase would be handed a piece of paper (which just goes to show you how long ago this was) at his news desk, and he would glance at it and then report: “This just in… Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead!”
What Chuck Todd is complaining about — breaking news on television which is not breaking, nor news — has been with us for quite some time. Sad to say, it’s nothing new, and not news to me (pun intended).
On the national political front, we have reached some sort of milestone where the announcement of yet another state to either pass a law to legalize some form of medical marijuana or have their anti-marriage-equality laws struck down by a judge is barely even newsworthy anymore. That’s actually a good thing, folks — it is so common now to hear of such things that, really, all you need to hear at this point is the running tally. “State anti-gay-marriage laws struck down as unconstitutional” now stands at five, in addition to the 17 states (plus D.C.) where gay marriage is already the law. “States with some form of medical marijuana laws” now stands at 20 (plus D.C.), but there are 15-20 additional states where some form (some of them severely limited) of medical marijuana law has at least been introduced. Other than for the residents of the states in question, it’s barely even news anymore. Which, as I said, is a great thing — how commonplace such events have become.
What was newsworthy in the marijuana department was the Department of Health and Human Services approving the first (or at least, the “first in anyone’s memory,” as I have to admit I haven’t checked this…) serious medical study of marijuana’s benefits, for returning soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder. I wrote earlier this week about why this is such a big deal, because it represents a turn towards both sanity and science in our national drug policy. Wait, I’m being handed a piece of paper…
This just in… recreational marijuana use in Colorado is now supported by a bigger percentage than when Coloradans (Coloradoans?) voted on it — by a margin of 57 percent for, to 35 percent against. Looks like the skies still have not fallen in the Rocky Mountain state, folks!
Sorry, but I couldn’t resist. Not exactly breaking news, eh? Moving right along…
Since I’m going to mostly lay off snarking on Republicans in the talking points this week, we’ll have to take care of it up front. Republicans all patted themselves on the back this week for fixing their party’s problems. No, really! It’s been one year since their “autopsy” or “post-mortem” of the 2012 elections, and ask any Republican and they’ll tell you all the problems are now gone and the party’s completely fixed. Except, of course, for all the proof that it hasn’t changed one scintilla of their ideological problems.
“But, but…” the GOP will protest, “we hired some women to talk to women, and stuff!” Well, let’s see, “how’s that workin’ out for ya?” as one prominent GOP woman would put it. Not so good, as a woman hired by a new GOP outreach PAC explained that women are just so “extremely busy” that they all believe that things like laws to give them equal pay aren’t, you know, “practical” or “real-world solutions.” Um, right. Yeah, that’s the way to perform some outreach, or something. Rush Limbaugh joined in the outreach to women effort this week by ridiculing the notion of a museum for women, saying: “We already have, ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know how many museums for women all over the country. They are called malls.” He later clarified, “Hey, I could have said brothel, but I didn’t.” Um, Rush? You just did. Way to stay classy, while reaching out to the ladies. Meanwhile, an anti-abortion group attacked Representative Gary Peters, in Michigan, by posting on their site that he “[w]ants to make sure abortion is accessible and cheap for his daughters.” Classy all around, guys.
And it’s not just women’s outreach where Republicans continue to shine. They put together some ads geared towards hipster youth (which have already been hilariously spoofed). A Republican House candidate won her primary this week, even though she believes that gay marriage and abortion cause “tornadoes, autism and dementia,” because they anger God. So there’s a few more “outreach” boxes for Republicans to check off.
But what took the proverbial cake this week was that a Republican state congressman, while speaking out against the expansion of Medicaid (of all things), used the term “tar baby” to describe it. He apologized the next day, saying he “meant nothing racial.” Hoo boy. He’s from Virginia, so this excuse is pretty unbelievable. Democrats were quick to denounce this language, of course.
What’s ironic here is that while the term “tar baby” itself has quite obviously moved into the realm of “metaphors which cannot be used anymore, due to their secondary meaning (whether meant or unintended by the speaker),” it is also a perfect description of what the Republican politician is now entangled in. The story refers to a baby made out of tar, where the stronger you fight against it, the stronger it sticks and pulls you further in. No matter how you struggle, you can’t extricate yourself. Which is exactly what should happen to any politician to ever use this term even again, so be warned! Need a handy substitute which paints the same metaphorical picture? Try “quicksand” instead.
But, according to national Republicans, the party’s all fixed now. What’s that? Oh, wait… breaking news… Republicans outreach efforts crash and burn… film at eleven! Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Breaking News! Well… Not Really.
Vladimir Putin is an authentic throwback. No country, not China or North Korea—or the US—has made the bold move he accomplished in under a month. As the head of state of Russia’s government, he ordered and executed the grab of another state’s sovereignty by passive force of arms, using a series of sham excuses and a phony plebiscite to install Russian hegemony over a territory that a week ago belonged to Ukraine.
That basket of facts alone is worthy of sharper focus and penetrating discussions, but US politicians, Russian specialists, and media keep talking around it. The story wanders away to ask what Putin will do next. (Will he invade Ukraine—ignoring that he already has!) Those who see news as prophecy ask how will Europe and the US respond—all without any real sense of the gravity of what Putin has already done. His announcement that Crimea is now under Russian political and military control, and his signing an agreement to annex a territory that a week ago had only local officials without sovereign power to enter into an agreement to turn its territory and governance over to another country, is monumental.
Except Native Americans, no nation has achieved a land grab from another country without a protracted armed struggle in more than a century.
Even five years ago, when Russia recognized the independence of the small territory of South Ossetia from Georgia, it did not annex it.
What makes Putin’s announcement so precedent-setting is that it began without threats or troops, as part of the debate about Ukraine’s internal affairs, in the name of a Ukrainian president who was deposed by the shadow of his own fears. Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych, had been under siege from Ukraine’s population, who wanted a closer alignment with the West, especially in trade, finance and travel.
Instead, Yanukovych turned toward Russia. Especially after Putin offered him a $15 billion loan agreement, to finance his government and his wildly out-of-line corruption. Citizens took to the streets. Unprepared, inept, Yanukovych caved and left the country voluntarily, landing in Russia where he held press conference near Ukraine’s border, asserting he still held the presidency and his overthrow was illegal. He held his press conference on February 28th, promising to fight for Ukraine.
In the meantime, Ukrainians were busy touring his off-the-books house and private zoo. He hasn’t been heard from again. He played no role in the present Russian action, except to provide a reason for Russia to ignore the interim government and claim it threatened Crimea and was anti-Russian, putting Crimean citizens of Russian heritage at risk.
Yanukovych’s ouster, however, saved Russia $15 billion and gained them Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula—in less than three weeks. (Of course, he loses his house.)
Here are five reasons to focus not only on the next moves for all sides, but where the state of affairs is now: Continue reading Russia’s Cold War Makes Crimea a Hot Spot
Even before yesterday’s secession “referendum” in Crimea, Washington and the European Union had declared that the process didn’t pass the smell test. Sure as dammit, there was an off-putting spoor to exit polls suggesting 93% support for breaking away from Ukraine and joining Russia. European foreign ministers gather today in Brussels to discuss freezing Russian assets, with a Thursday conclave of EU leaders also scheduled.
Stateside, John Kerry has been spending a lot of time on the phone with Russian foreign minister Lavrov, much as Secretary Kerry’s boss has been chatting a lot with Lavrov’s. In Congress, bipartisan pressure continues to build for sanctions against Russia; the Senate Foreign Relations Committee cleared a sanctions bill last week that also guarantees $1 billion in loans to Ukraine. Just back from a meaningless but self-aggrandizing Ukraine junket, and ever the bilge – er, bridge over troubled water, John McCain yesterday unhelpfully described Russia as “a gas station masquerading as a country.” Hmm. What with “that one” in the White House for a second term, poor Senator McCain is running out of wars. Shill, baby, shill.
Fred Phelps, former capo of the Westboro Baptist church, reportedly begins the week “close to death.” Which would be a shame, except that he’s Fred Phelps.
Cyberspace could be in for a rude shock this week if Republicans make good on their excited bleating about deploying some spanking new “.gop” websites. Wow! Talk about seismic shifts: same stale, dim, destructive ideas, totally new domain!
The search continues for Malaysia Airlines’ Flight 370, amid new suspicions that the plane’s disappearance was linked to a 9/11-style plot to attack India. Michael McCaul, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Peter King, one of his fellow Republican doofuses thereon, continue to insist that a terrorism connection is unlikely, which leads me to suspect that it’s very likely. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 3/17/14
On ABC’s This Week, House Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee Chair Rep. Peter King, (R-NY) will talk about the mysterious disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines flight. Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Chris Murphy, (D-CT) will talk . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 3/16/14
Today is 3/14, therefore a happy Pi Day to all! Next year will be even more fun, though, since it’ll be 3/14/15….
Moving right along… a lot happened in the world of politics this week, including Democrats being disappointed in a special House election down in Florida and the president appearing between two ferns (which caused some underwear-bunching on the right, so to speak). We’ll get to all of that later, though. First, let’s take a run around the rest of the news from the week, shall we?
Setting a level for hypocrisy usually not so blatantly shown by Democrats, Senator Dianne Feinstein is hopping mad that the government spied on her computers. The irony is so thick you can spread it on toast. Previously known as a champion for pretty much any spying the N.S.A. felt like doing, on every American, Feinstein doesn’t have a whole lot of moral high ground to stand on, no matter how much high dudgeon she’s currently showing. Edward Snowden immediately called Feinstein onto the carpet for her hypocrisy.
But after the raft of manure she deservedly got for her “laws for me, but not for thee” elitist view of the Fourth Amendment, Feinstein certainly does have a point. Maybe what America needs is a second “Church Committee,” in fact, to investigate how the intelligence services of the country should be operating. And while the dustup between Feinstein and the C.I.A. is what’s in the news now, this is truly all a sideshow to the real subject matter at hand — the impending 6,000-page report from Feinstein’s committee, on how America used torture after 9/11. That is going to be an explosive report, if the American public ever hears what is in it, that is.
Marijuana made the news in several ways over the past week, so let’s just hit the high points (so to speak… ahem). In California, the state Democratic Party just included a plank in its platform which calls for “the legalization, regulation and taxation of pot in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol.” Gavin Newsom, who is now California’s lieutenant governor, pushed for the inclusion.
Sanjay Gupta used another of his shows to call for nationwide legalization of medical marijuana, after speaking with “marijuana refugees” who have moved to Colorado to secure medicine for their children to avoid seizures. Gupta felt compelled to revisit the subject on his show: “This refugee situation that is developing, I thought it would be a bit apocryphal, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being led down some false path — but I met with these families and it is real. Are you really going to arrest a person for taking their medicine back to their state? This is not the society that I think most people would think we are and yet it’s absolutely happening. It’s heartbreaking.”
In Colorado, the state appeals court ruled that people convicted under previous state marijuana laws should probably be let go, now that the laws have changed. It’s pointless to hold someone in prison, after all, for doing something that is now legal. Eric Holder made the news for calling for reducing mandatory minimum sentences federally to cut down sentences for all non-violent drug offenses, as well.
And it was lobbying week in Washington for the marijuana lobby. Yes, there now is such a thing. In past years, they haven’t made much of a splash on Capitol Hill, but this year they’ve been drawing much more serious attention. After all, Colorado has shown that there are millions of dollars in tax revenue to be had out there, just for the asking. The concept of a “marijuana lobby” might be an odd one to contemplate, but it is indeed as important as the other drug reform efforts taking place. Members of Congress need to hear how even small changes in current law could help this new industry grow and prosper. There are all sorts of hurdles and needless obstacles to creating a real marijuana marketplace, and they need to be removed, one by one. Lobbyists are exactly what is needed to get this job done. Continue reading Friday Talking Points  — Happy Pi Day!
Sharyl Atkkisson has been portrayed by the conservative media as the “latest victim” in Obama’s “War on Freedom of the Press.” She recently resigned her position after complaining relentlessly to her superiors that she was stymied in her reporting, and that CBS has a “lack of dedication to investigative reporting.” That’s right. The home of 60 Minutes. The home of Harry Reasoner, Harold Dow, Mike Wallace, Ed Bradley, Dan Rather, Roger Mudd and Charles Kuralt. The home of Walter Cronkite, for crying out loud. Sharyl Atkkisson would have us believe that the stalwart of American news is hurdling down the rabbit hole into a land of hippies and commies.
There is no question that Sharyl Atkkisson is an accomplished journalist. She has received some of the highest honors that journalism bestows on its colleagues, an Edward R Murrow Award, I.R.E. Award, an Investigative Emmy, several team Emmys, as well as several nominations.
She has also been responsible for more “False News” in the last 10 years than I would have thought possible from a CBS reporter. Her stories have run the gamut from Red Cross “mismanagement” to Solyndra to Benghazi to Fast & Furious. Notice a pattern?
It has been widely reported that Fox News viewers are less likely to have accurate information on the events of the day. I wonder how that survey would turn out if respondents were given the choice of individual journalists, rather than networks as a whole. I also wonder how surveys rate credible news. Do they take it at face value that green energy is “Going Red,” just because Sharyl Attkisson says so? Do they repeat her claim of an Administration “Information Clamp,” when she applies a White House press corps photojournalist complaint to the press corps as a whole? One only need remember the May 2009 cover of The Washingtonian to understand why this White House is a bit more controlling of photography than past administrations.
This is the basis of Sharyl Atkisson’s reporting. She chooses hot topics and hyperbolic headlines, while dropping just enough propaganda into each piece to distort the truth of the story. So much so that it is worse than Fox News itself. You know you are getting biased reporting from Fox. You don’t expect it to be slipped in between your eggs and coffee while watching The Morning Show.
One easy example is her piece exposing a “hidden” mortgage fee in the 2012 Social Security Payroll Tax extension. She makes several claims that would infuriate any American: the mortgage fee pays for the payroll tax cut; it’s put into the Treasury instead of the Social Security fund; and is costing taxpayers more than the FICA cut itself. Except, well, her math doesn’t add up. I know, right? What does it say when an award winning journalist can’t “do the math”?
Attkisson claims Patty Anderson’s new mortgage fee is going to cost her $9,500 over the life of the loan. For that to be true, Patty must be buying a $500,000 home. At the same time, Patty is only saving “a couple hundred dollars” on her annual taxes. For that to be true, Patty must be making less than $20,000 annually, according to George Washington University’s Face The Facts website. It also states that an individual earning over $110,000 a year would save $2,200 annually. I admit to not being a mortgage guru, but I’m pretty sure you can’t qualify to buy a $500,000 house (or any house), on a $20,000 income. In fact, I’m pretty sure the qualifying income would be pretty close to that $110,000 figure, meaning Patty would be infinitely better off with the $2,200 payroll tax cut. Let’s “do the math.” $2,200 x 30 years = $66,000. I didn’t even need a calculator because I learned in third grade that you count the zeros and then multiply. Sharyl didn’t? Don’t forget poor Patty. Somebody needs to send her some tissues because she will be in a puddle when she learns she lost out on $56,500.
You know her other claims will be just as silly, now that you’re thinking about what she said instead of being okie-doked by her kitschy little homespun writing style. Let’s think about why mortgage fees wouldn’t go into the “Social Security fund.” Oh yes, that would be because… there isn’t a “Social Security fund,” as we all know. All FICA money is deposited into the Treasury. Not to mention, the mortgage fees aren’t intended to offset the payroll tax to begin with. The “secret,” which she must have missed, is the Recovery Act of 2008 gave new authority over Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac to… the Treasury! In exchange for various preferred stock deals, the Treasury injected $100 billion in funds to the new oversight agency, the FHFA. The new fees were designed to cover mortgage default losses and increase home loans, which we all remember were difficult to get at the time. Her award-winning reporting is a litany of quotes from apoplectic Republican lawmakers, and of course the woes of Miss Patty. Nothing more. Continue reading Sharyl Atkkisson Victim of ‘Liberal Bias’? It’s FALSE NEWS!
I spent the week watering the well. Drinking coffee from five Ethiopian regions, feeling a link to the small family farms that depend on the income from the sales of beans, thankful to have a good relationship with a coffee seller in DC who provides me the 15 to 20 pounds my daughter sends me every two or three months.
But I can’t get my friends to try it! The corporate brands have them dialed in. So this morning’s Sumatra brings an old question: how do you get people to change? Why is change resisted?
In part the questions explain the Republican attraction: People don’t have to give up very much except government to be Republican. It’s a safe default for the risk-averse, even when in sight of something better.
I also spent the week anticipating the visit of friends I haven’t seen in 40 years. That energy was a celebration of passage; how vision grows out of change. Vision pushes away fear and brings hope. That why Sarah Palin sneered at “that hopey thing”—it give a freedom found on the inside, a freedom to grow; not just a freedom to fight government. Friends bring collective energy, a unique group experience that in politics is called the public good.
Republicans have abandoned that part of the public square, substituted profit for its focus, and measure of profit.
The maxim that people are willing to turn down collective advancement and fight against their own interests is proven both by the experimental and empirical. Why are we surprised?
What’s the strategy that will make the resistant change their minds?
On race? No way. On women? Lip service contradicted. On the public good? A rip-off! On income? Be glad for what you got.
This core is the Republican fortress. Impenetrable. But it’s placed to cause the maximum fright. As Barack begins to end his second term, race matters less; the coded challenges now go after his record and deliberately misconstrue his policies. The goal is to tear down his legacy. Listen, you can hear it from all sides. Continue reading Try It Out!
On ABC’s This Week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Y) will be in a contest to see who is the nuttier of the two (I think it will be a tie). ABC . . . → Read More: Sunday Talks, 3/9/14