Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

In which Turkey loses its mind

Posted by Charles II on November 25, 2015

Kareem Shaheen et al., The Guardian:

Vladimir Putin has called Turkey “accomplices of terrorists” and warned of “serious consequences” after a Turkish F-16 jet shot down a Russian warplane on Tuesday morning, the first time a Nato country and Moscow have exchanged direct fire over the crisis in Syria.

Ankara and the Kremlin gave conflicting accounts of the incident, which appears to have occurred in an area near the Turkish-Syrian border straddling Iskenderun and Latakia.

The Turkish military said it scrambled two F-16 fighter jets after a plane entered Turkish airspace in the province of Hatay at 9.20am on Tuesday, warning it to leave 10 times in five minutes before shooting it down.

Russia’s defence ministry, in a series of tweets, confirmed that a Russian Su-24 had been shot down, but insisted the plane had never left Syrian airspace and claimed that fire from the ground was responsible.

Richard Engel of MSNBC said on Rachel that Turkey’s story did not make a lot of sense. He did clarify that the Turks are backing up anti-Assad Turkmen fighters. The US said that the aircraft were in “Turkish airspace for a matter of seconds.” What Turkey did may (or may not) have been technically legal, but it’s the kind of thing that only nations that are at the brink of war do to one another. The US has trespassed into Russian and Chinese airspace and there have been very few instances where they took such extreme measures against us.

When Vladimir Putin used the phrase, “accomplices of terrorists,” he posed the question that should be on the minds of US policy makers: is Turkey our ally, or is it so focused on dumpling Assad that it’s willing to put ISIS in power.

Additional links:

Turkey has spent years allowing jihadist groups to flourish – so beware its real reasons for shooting down a Russian plane

Turkey Provokes Russia with Shoot-down

Posted in Turkey, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

NYT: We were wrong to support a police state

Posted by Charles II on November 20, 2015

New York Times Editorial Board

Mass Surveillance Isn’t the Answer to Fighting Terrorism


It’s a wretched yet predictable ritual after each new terrorist attack: Certain politicians and government officials waste no time exploiting the tragedy for their own ends. The remarks on Monday by John Brennan, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, took that to a new and disgraceful low.

In June, President Obama signed the USA Freedom Act, which ends bulk collection of domestic phone data by the government (but not the collection of other data, like emails and the content of Americans’ international phone calls) and requires the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to make its most significant rulings available to the public.

These reforms are only a modest improvement on the Patriot Act, but the intelligence community saw them as a grave impediment to antiterror efforts. In his comments Monday, Mr. Brennan called the attacks in Paris a “wake-up call,” and claimed that recent “policy and legal” actions “make our ability collectively, internationally, to find these terrorists much more challenging.”

It is hard to believe anything Mr. Brennan says. Last year, he bluntly denied that the C.I.A. had illegally hacked into the computers of Senate staff members conducting an investigation into the agency’s detention and torture programs when, in fact, it did. In 2011, when he was President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, he claimed that American drone strikes had not killed any civilians, despite clear evidence that they had. And his boss, James Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, has admitted lying to the Senate on the N.S.A.’s bulk collection of data. Even putting this lack of credibility aside, it’s not clear what extra powers Mr. Brennan is seeking.

In fact, indiscriminate bulk data sweeps have not been useful.

The intelligence agencies’ inability to tell the truth about surveillance practices is just one part of the problem. The bigger issue is their willingness to circumvent the laws, however they are written. The Snowden revelations laid bare how easy it is to abuse national-security powers, which are vaguely defined and generally exercised in secret.

In truth, intelligence authorities are still able to do most of what they did before — only now with a little more oversight by the courts and the public. There is no dispute that they and law enforcement agencies should have the necessary powers to detect and stop attacks before they happen. But that does not mean unquestioning acceptance of ineffective and very likely unconstitutional tactics that reduce civil liberties without making the public safer.

A version of this editorial appears in print on November 18, 2015, on page A26 of the New York edition with the headline: Mass Surveillance Isn’t the Answer.

Maybe this is the beginning of the NYT becoming a newspaper, rather than an organ of government.

Posted in NSA, NSA eavesdropping, Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Corruption at high levels: misappropriation of funds for the disabled

Posted by Charles II on November 17, 2015


Thirteen Presidential Appointees (ten Obama, three Bush) are embroiled in a multi-billion dollar corruption scandal being probed by the US Department of Justice and four Inspector Generals. The appointees oversee the federal government’s $3billion a year “AbilityOne” program which is meant to pay for the employment of more than 50,000 disabled people–the largest such program in the United States. Most of that money, $2.3 billion a year, is funneled through the non-profit SourceAmerica to more than 1000 other designated partner organizations. This subsidised disabled labour is then placed (for a fee) with government and industry. Most of the labour is pushed to the military sector, including the DoD, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin & Boeing–who are also “patrons” of SourceAmerica. It is alleged that nearly half of the $2.3billion a year does not go to the severely disabled, but is rorted by pushing the money to corruptly favoured placement organisations that recruit the able bodied or the mildly disabled instead of the mandated 75% severely disabled. The result is billions in tax payer funded labour subsidies and increased profits for the placement organizations.

The 26 tapes are recorded conversations between Jean Robinson (Lead Counsel of SourceAmerica) and Ruben Lopez (CEO of Bona Fide Conglomerate Inc., one of the placement organizations) that discuss the alleged corruption.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Yes. Imagine.

Posted by Charles II on November 16, 2015

In memory of all the recent  victims:

Let us imagine a different world.

Never was this more needed than today. A little background on the pianist here (h/t pentimenti)

Posted in terrorism, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Recycling the Great Pacific garbage patch

Posted by Charles II on November 16, 2015

Arthur Neslen, The Guardian (h/t Doug, Eschaton):

A crowdfunded 100km-long boom to clean up a vast expanse of plastic rubbish in the Pacific is one step closer to reality after successful tests of a scaled-down prototype in the Netherlands last week.

Further trials off the Dutch and Japanese coasts are now slated to begin in the new year. If they are successful, the world’s largest ever ocean cleanup operation will go live in 2020, using a gigantic V-shaped array, the like of which has never been seen before.

The so-called ‘Great Pacific garbage patch’, made up largely of tiny bits of plastic trapped by ocean currents, is estimated to be bigger than Texas and reaching anything up to 5.8m sq miles (15 sq km). It is growing so fast that, like the Great Wall of China, it is beginning to be seen from outer space, according to Jacqueline McGlade, the chief scientist of the UN environmental programme (Unep).

The Ocean Cleanup project aims to do the technology part with a floating barrier as long as the Karman line that reaches from the sea to outer space.

Posted in environment, Good Causes | Leave a Comment »

Solar Roadways Update: The SR3 Is Ready For Its Closeup

Posted by Phoenix Woman on November 15, 2015


Here’s the latest update from Scott and Julie Brusaw at Solar Roadways:

These are the first prototypes of our new SR3 panel. You can see that the mounting holes have been eliminated, which gives us 25% more solar gain over SR2. We are now going to use edge connectors, which also will simplify installation. That change and others have helped us cut costs. Cost is still a moving target and will continue to come down over time as we take on more and more of the manufacturing in house.

As promised during our Indiegogo campaign, we’ve purchased equipment for manufacturing and testing and learned many ways to become more efficient during these last months of R & D.

Logos or other designs are now possible in the center of the panel (ie the SR3 and our moose), for customers who want that. Most panels will be like the one in the middle. And we hope you are all noticing all the new colors – customers will now be able to exactly match their theme colors and have great fun with holiday decorating!

This could be what saves us, folks. In so many ways.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Play Blastar!

Posted by Charles II on November 14, 2015

Enjoy a video game from 1984.

Was designed by Elon Musk.

Posted in Just for fun | Leave a Comment »

Groundhog day

Posted by Charles II on November 13, 2015

(Image from IMDB)

Fourteen years ago, I wrote two pieces about the attacks of 9/11 and our response to them. They contained their errors, of course. But in the wake of the Paris terror attacks of today (not to mention the attack in Lebanon), I wish so very much that the most important message in them had been heard. I want to quote Stop the Spin once again:

The greatest failures, however, have been in the pig-headed approach by US (and Israeli) foreign policy in addressing the very real problems that fester in the Muslim world…. Republicans have committed evil deeds in preventing the resolution of the Palestinian crisis in Israel, perhaps the worst of which was George Bush advisor Richard Perle urging Israeli delegation to walk out during the 2000 presidential election for the [19]. That act, so profoundly disloyal to the United States, was but one of many examples of collusion between the far right of this country and religiously intolerant, i.e., anti-Muslim elements in Israel. But the problem is far broader than the right-wing of this country. Both political parties have supported autocratic regimes, including Kuwait, rather than giving preference to nations willing to institute democratic reforms. If we are not a beacon of hope for the world, who will be? As CIA Analyst Raymond Close has said,

“What worries me most, in the final analysis, is that our attacks on the targets in Afghanistan and Sudan [in 1998] were reminiscent of what we call “vigilante justice” in American folklore. This kind of policy weakens our leadership position in the world and undermines the most effective defenses we will have against the terrorist threat: a commitment to the rule of law, dedication to fairness and evenhandedness in settling international disputes and a reputation as the most humanitarian nation in the world.” [20]

Finally, there is the question of whether a “war” will defeat terrorism. Major General Julian Thompson notes the obvious difficulties of the terrain [25]. Legal analyst Jonathan Turley says, rightly, that war is something that states engage in and that declaring war on bin Laden merely magnifies him [26]. A declaration of war does not facilitate anything except the usurpation of Congressional powers by the president. This effort — to undo Constitutional protections and strip the American people of legal safeguards to their rights — is well underway. By so doing, they have poured the blood of sacrifice of American patriots from Nathan Hale to Martin Luther King, on the ground. It is a sorry truth that our elected officials would probably rather turn this nation into an armed camp than admit that they made mistakes.

The defeat that the terrorists cannot endure is a defeat in the court of Muslim public opinion. Terrorists should be treated as criminals, albeit criminals with massive firepower. If possible, they should be captured and tried for crimes against humanity. The United States should take steps to redress massive injustices in Muslim lands, including the slaughter in Indonesia, which we facilitated [27]. To reprise Raymond Close’s penetrating words: “[T]he most effective defenses we will have against the terrorist threat [are] a commitment to the rule of law, dedication to fairness and evenhandedness in settling international disputes and a reputation as the most humanitarian nation in the world.

See also Tangled Web, where I pointed out that the constant Republican attempt to undermine a Democratic president and undercut basic rights such as the right of assembly instead undermined our efforts to combat terrorism, and weakened us as a nation.

Now, 14 years later, we are still allied with regimes that support Al Qaeda and ISIS, notably Turkey and Saudi Arabia, as well as autocratic regimes that create the repressive conditions for Salafism to prosper, such as Egypt. We are undercutting our real allies against ISIS and al Qaeda, Iran, Russia and Syria. We have made no progress in stabilizing governments on the African continent, where wars rage in a dozen countries. We have yet to address any of the causes of grievance in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Indeed, we aggravate the grievances by keeping Guantanamo open and by subjecting Arabs and Muslims (not to mention random persons of color) to harassment.

Sure, the terrorist actions are a way of fighting back because Syria is getting pretty hot.

Groundhog Day only ends when we start thinking.

Posted in Conflict in the Middle East, terrorism | 2 Comments »

Playing The Place Card: MN GOP

Posted by Phoenix Woman on November 11, 2015

The modern Republican Party uses the divide-and-conquer principle as its overarching guide when it comes to electoral politics. The Southern Strategy, where working-class whites are tricked by Republicans into voting against their own best interests in order to hurt nonwhites, is the best-known and best-documented method. But another method, one that has the advantage of being less blatantly racist and thus harder to be attacked on that count, is what Bluestem Prairie blogger Sally Jo Sorensen calls “placebaiting”, in which Republicans seek to get rural (and generally white) voters to oppose things or candidates seen as benefitting urban residents.

Playing the place card is a specialty of freshman Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt. In fact, it may well be the only thing he knows how to do. Here he is, courtesy of BSP’s Sorensen, trying to foment rural unrest over a proposed commuter rail line – one which would be built in large part with Federal and not State funds:

Speaker Daudt continues his campaign of placebaiting across Greater Minnesota, chumming the rhetorical waters with language that divides the metro from the rest of us.

At the Brainerd Dispatch, Zach Kayser reports in Minnesota speaker Daudt visits Brainerd: Says public can still view floor sessions of Legislature in 2016:

Daudt appeared optimistic the Legislature could finally get a transportation bill through, although he said there were still sticking points left.

One transportation issue that remained “unanswered” was mass transit in the metro, Daudt said.

“Some of the members in Minneapolis and St. Paul really want to see some new revenue go into the light rail, different modes of transportation in the metro area,” he said. “To try to sneak money through for trains in the metro area, we don’t think that’s a very effective way to spend our dollars.”

Speaker Daudt appears to hold his own private definition of the word “sneak,” since neither the governor nor Senate transportation chair Scott Dibble have been secretive about how they want to fund light rail in the metro.

As Sorensen goes on to note, Daudt is the real sneak here, as he is known for bringing bills to the floor without allowing Democratic legislators to view them first.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

The Telemundo GOP Debate That Wasn’t

Posted by Phoenix Woman on November 7, 2015

As Charles mentioned last week, the three remaining major Democratic candidates (Linc Chafee and having bailed, and Jim Webb probably preparing for a third-party run from the right to try to do to Hillary Clinton in the general what he couldn’t in the primary) met on Telemundo for a forum, using the time slot that was supposed to be filled by the third Republican presidential debate. (Univision is carrying one of the Democratic debates in March, which is probably why the Telemundo Democratic event became a forum instead of a debate.)

Greg Sargent has a nice article explaining how the GOP shot itself in the foot with Latinos as the entire party strove to see who could out-Trump Trump in showing their hatred for immigrants:

Republicans are pulling out of their only scheduled debate that would be aired on a Spanish-language TV network. So Democrats may respond by holding a second gathering aired on one.


But you’d think it would be a good idea for Democrats to try to make this happen. The RNC is claiming there will be another debate scheduled to replace the cancelled one on NBC and Telemundo. But RNC chair Reince Priebus has declined to say whether Telemundo would be included in the replacement debate. Obviously the RNC did not cancel this debate because of the Spanish-language network’s participation; it had many other reasons for doing so. But one consequence of this decision could be that Republicans end up holding no debate aired on a Spanish-language network. If Democrats do add a second such gathering, they would then be able to argue that they are far more interested in communicating with Latino voters than Republicans are, which is a good message for the general election.

Indeed, one of the GOP campaigns — that of Jeb Bush — is actually protesting the decision to cancel the NBC/Telemundo debate, and demanding that Telemundo be reinstated, presumably because Latino outreach would be good not just for Jeb Bush, but for the GOP overall. Guess which GOP candidate isopposing a reinstatement of Telemundo? Yep: Donald Trump. All this comes after GOP establishment types went into full-scale panic earlier this fall over the damage Trump — with his call for mass deportations and suggestion that Mexican immigrants are rapists — may already be doing to the GOP brand among Latinos. And it comes as incoming House Speaker Paul Ryan is renewing his pledge not to act on immigration reform while Obama is president.

Looks like Jeb’s finally realized that he shouldn’t have let himself get panicked by the base’s craving Trump’s blatant expressions of bigotry. The key for him, as it always has been, is to sit back and let Trump suck up all the oxygen to Jeb’s right, killing off all of Jeb’s rivals on the right; then, when Trump fails to advance past Super Tuesday, be ready to pick up Trump’s crestfallen supporters as the last man standing – and, more importantly, a man who won’t scare off moderate voters in the general election. The question for Jeb is if he has any backers left who are going to be patient enough for this strategy to work.

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