January 8, 2020

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 PM


GOP Sen. Mike Lee furious after an 'insulting' Senate briefing on Trump's Iran strike (Sonam Sheth, 1/08/20, Business Insider)

Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah was furious on Wednesday after a Senate briefing on President Donald Trump's decision to order an airstrike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, which brought tensions with Iran to a boiling point.

Lee told reporters that he "walked into that briefing undecided" on whether to support a war-powers resolution being pushed by Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia. The resolution would limit the Trump administration's ability to take further military action against Iran without congressional authorization.

"That briefing is what changed my mind," Lee said. "I'm now going to support it."

He went on to call the briefing "probably the worst briefing, at least on a military issue, I've seen in nine years I've been here."

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 PM


Low unemployment isn't worth much if the jobs barely pay (Martha Ross and Nicole Bateman, January 8, 2020, Brookings)

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 PM


Under siege, McSally pleads for outside help on the airwaves (Robin Bravender, January 3, 2020, Arizona Mirror)

McSally said at the GOP gathering, "We don't have the resources to fight. If I went up on TV right now, my campaign coffers would be empty. If we're going to fight back with a TV ad, it's going to cost us millions of dollars."

Kelly has outraised McSally so far in his bid to unseat her. The next round of fundraising reports is due to be released later this month. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:16 PM


Trump has been getting advice on Iran from officials and allies linked to a shadowy Iranian dissident group that celebrated Soleimani's death (Tom Porter, 1/08/20, business Insider)

In the wake of the US assassination of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, an obscure group of Iranian dissidents once classified as a terrorist organisation by the US celebrated the news. 

"In Tehran, Isfahan, Qom and Qaemshahr, among numerous other cities, MEK supporters were celebrating Soleimani's death by throwing parties and handing out pastries," the People's Mujahideen of Iran tweeted, with pictures of jubilant supporters. 

The MEK -- officially the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or the People's Mujahideen of Iran in English -- has waged war against the Islamist regime in Iran since it seized power in 1979. Formerly based in Iraq, the group is believed to have killed thousands of Iranians in terror attacks. 

But far away from the battlefields of the Middle East, the MEK has also waged a campaign for influence in glossy functions at diplomatic events in western capitals, successfully cultivating powerful allies in western governments. 

Among them are current and former officials in the top echelons of the Trump administration -- including those who Trump regularly turns to advice on Iran, such as personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


America's Dangerous Iran Obsession (JEFFREY D. SACHS, 1/08/20, Project Syndicate)

Consider the key milestones since the early 1950s.

First, the US and the United Kingdom overthrew Iran's government in 1953, after the democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, moved to regain control of Iran's oil, which had been captured by the British empire. The US then replaced the democracy it had overthrown with the authoritarian regime of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who was propped up by the SAVAK, his brutal intelligence agency and secret police, during the quarter-century from 1953 to 1978. The Iranian students seized the US embassy in Tehran after the deposed Shah was admitted to the US for medical treatment.

The following year, the US armed and encouraged Saddam Hussein's Iraq to invade Iran, triggering a nearly decade-long war that killed around 500,000 Iranians. As of 2014, some 75,000 Iranians were still being treated for injuries from the chemical attacks Saddam used.

The US also hit civilian targets. In 1988, the US military shot down Iran Air 655 - easily identifiable as an Airbus A300 if the US had been taking suitable precautions - killing all 290 people on board. And in 1995, the Iranian public became subject to tough US economic sanctions that have never been removed, only tightened over time.

This continued even after 9/11. Iran supported the US-led invasion of Afghanistan to depose the Taliban, and also supported the new US-backed president, Hamid Karzai. Yet in January 2002, US President George W. Bush called Iran part of an "Axis of Evil," along with Saddam's Iraq and North Korea.

Likewise, rather than press all Middle East countries, including Israel (with an estimated 80 nuclear warheads), to abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and support efforts to establish a nuclear-free region, the US exclusively pressured Iran.

Then, in 2015, the US, under President Barack Obama, the UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany, negotiated a deal with Iran under which Iran agreed to end its nuclear reprocessing in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions by the US and others. The United Nations Security Council unanimously backed the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Yet, according to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the JCPOA was an act of appeasement. Trump unilaterally repudiated the deal in 2018, the only signatory to do so, and then dramatically tightened US sanctions.

The purpose of stricter sanctions is not to change Iran's behavior, but to crush the Iranian economy in an attempt to destabilize the regime. Iran is now in a US-induced depression, with GDP down 14% between 2017 and 2019 and inflation in 2019 at 36% (both according to recent IMF estimates), and severe shortages of medicines and other vital goods. Meanwhile, despite repudiating the JCPOA, the US has continued to insist that Iran abide by its terms.

The US, seemingly with no awareness of this history, and led by an emotionally unbalanced president who believes he may commit murder in broad daylight and get away with it, is still acting out a 40-year-old psychological trauma.

It would almost be funny how immature we are about Iran if it weren't so violative of our own ideals.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Wildlife caught on camera throughout Fukushima (Cosmos, 1/08/20)

Scientists have provided what they say is the first evidence that wildlife is abundant in Japan's Fukushima Evacuation Zone despite the continuing presence of radiological contamination nearly a decade after the nuclear accident.

They took around 267,000 photographs at 106 different sites over 120 days and recorded more than 20 different species, including Japanese hare, macaques, pheasant, fox and the raccoon dog, a relative of the fox.

Notably prominent were species that are often in conflict with humans, particularly wild boar.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump Is The Most Unpopular President Since Ford To Run For Reelection (Nathaniel Rakich, 1/07/19, 538)

On Jan. 1, 42.6 percent of Americans approved of President Trump's job performance, according to FiveThirtyEight's presidential approval tracker (52.9 percent disapproved). That's a pretty typical number for Trump (although it's worth noting that, since Jan. 1, the U.S. and Iran have taken actions that could shake Trump's approval rating loose from that anchor), but ominously for the president, that's the second-lowest FiveThirtyEight average approval rating of any recent1 president on the first day of their reelection year. Only Gerald Ford (39.3 percent on Jan. 1, 1976) was less popular -- and, of course, Ford lost that campaign to Jimmy Carter.

Hard to imagine what Jimmy would win this election by, but it might well be 56-42.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


How Britain created the Middle East crisis: The carve-up of the region after the First World War led to the fanaticism and conflict of today (James Barr, 1/07/19, UnHerd)

The revolt that convulsed Iraq in 1920 was a taster of the consequences of three irreconcilable promises the British had made during the First World War, which became apparent over the next ten years. Under pressure in 1915 they had sent Mecca's ruler Sharif Hussein a weasel-worded letter that recognised his claim to an empire encompassing Iraq and Syria if he rose up against the Turks. In 1916, in the Sykes-Picot agreement, they then secretly pledged a northerly wedge of this same territory to the French, to patch up the entente cordiale.

Then in the Balfour Declaration in 1917 publicly committed themselves to a Jewish national home in Palestine -- land that Hussein believed they had already acknowledged as his. During the next decade the British contorted themselves to try to square these promises with each other. The widespread anti-western sentiment, the Arab-Jewish conflict, and Islamism we see in today's Middle East are all the result.

The most immediate problem arose from the clash between the promises to Hussein and the French. If you have seen Lawrence of Arabia you will recall that the end of the war left Lawrence's ally, Sharif Hussein's son Feisal, in control of Damascus, the city that, defended by Saladin, had defied the crusaders eight centuries earlier. Now the French, citing their 1916 deal with the British, felt it was theirs.

While the French were in no position to oust Feisal, the British tried not to take sides, and Anglo-French relations deteriorated. By January 1920, however, the British had begun to wonder if continuing to sit on the fence was wise.

The British had initially hoped that they could directly govern Iraq, in order to exploit the country's oil, while buying off the Arabs with independence in Syria. It now dawned on them that whatever happened on one side of the Sykes-Picot frontier would soon happen on the other. Were Feisal's confident and vocal Arab nationalist supporters able to gain independence for Syria they would set an uncomfortable precedent for Iraq. Moreover the French would be likely to veto British rule in Palestine in revenge.

These factors, together with the growing realisation that sooner or later they would need French support to fight another war with Germany, led the British to decide that they would have to side with their old rivals. In March 1920 news from Damascus, where the nationalists had proclaimed Feisal king of Syria and his elder brother Abdullah emir of Iraq, spurred a Franco-British rapprochement.

At the Italian resort of San Remo a month later, the British and French governments firmed up the 1916 Sykes-Picot deal. Britain got Palestine and Iraq; France: Syria and a quarter share of Iraq's oil, to compensate her for the loss of the city of Mosul -- hers by the 1916 agreement but which the British had seized just after the end of the war.

We are deservedly paying the price for betraying our own ideals. And every time we double down--like refusing to accept elections in Turkey, Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, Iran--we make things worse.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Top US allies are abandoning Trump and warning ISIS will benefit following the assassination of an Iranian general (Eliza Relman Jan 6, 2020, Business Insider)

The United States' top allies, including the UK and France, have abandoned President Donald Trump over his decision to assassinate Iran's most powerful military commander, Qassim Soleimani. 

Some European allies argue the US's dramatic escalation of conflict with Iran will benefit the Islamic State -- in part because the US-led coalition has frozen its operations against ISIS in Iraq following the US attack. 

"You must always ask who is served by and who profits from this instability," French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said in a Monday radio interview. "The instability in the Mideast today benefits only one organization: the Islamic State group." 

They are right to not help wage war on our Shi'a allies, but bringing instability is the point of that alliance.  The regimes in Egypt, Syria, the Sa'ud, etc., need to be destabilized and replaced with liberal regimes.