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Archive for October, 2012

Posted by The Agonist on October 16th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

AJE, October 16

An international team of astronomers have announced the discovery of a planet whose skies are illuminated by four suns – the first known of its type.

The planet, located about 5,000 light years from Earth, has been dubbed PH1 in honor of Planet Hunters, a programme led by Yale University in the United States which enlists volunteers to look for signs of new planets.

PH1 is orbiting two suns, and in turn is orbited by a second distant pair of stars. Only six planets are known to orbit two stars, researchers say, and none of those are orbited by other distant stars.

“Circumbinary planets are the extremes of planet formation,” said Yale’s Meg Schwamb, lead author of a paper presented Monday at the annual meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society in Nevada.

“The discovery of these systems is forcing us to go back to the drawing board to understand how such planets can assemble and evolve in these dynamically challenging environments.”

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Posted by The Agonist on October 15th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Matt King is a modern nomad. A scribe, recording, describing whom and what he sees as he roams. Like Samuel Clemens, Matt captures the landscape, the irony of a world gone mad, only done with fewer words and music, for greater effect. His visions are strained through Appalachian roots, sung with the voice of and hewn by the hands of a modern day mountain man, where such is no longer allowed.

He’s not a prophet; his words are delivered without expressed ideology or judgment, but the pictures they paint go a long way toward verifying prophecies of others. Some make me smile, because smiling is more fun than crying, but the ground between the two emotions is scant. We live in tragic times.

His songs remind me of a trip through some old vaudeville traveling circus, complete with whores, card sharps, thieves, snake-oil salesmen. A juggler tosses balls, another guy rides a big wheel bike in circles, a monkey grinds a hand organ with one hand and jacks off with the other, when he’s not picking your pocket. There’s incest, murder, polluted landscapes, con-artists; bizarre sounds lure you in and then in the next minute scare hell out of you. Moonshine can be had, maybe even a line of white powder or psychedelic smoke, though Matt no longer imbibes. Painted Gypsy women lay you down, read your fortune or caste a spell if you prefer; junk men wait to haul off anything not nailed down or that won’t start; passing trains ferry hoboes through abandoned farms populated by shotgun toting squatters that by-God want to be left the hell alone.

If by chance any part of this menagerie creates a twinge of guilt, well, there’s a snake-charming preacher ready and willing to sell you a dose of comfort for the right price.

The tracks wind through dying factories and wastelands that once kept us alive and continue killing the earth in some sort of psychotic dance of daredevils. Wars abound. There’s mercury in the water, acid in the air. Atlas shrugs, Jesus weeps. There’s hell in the hen house, blood in the barn. Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Sister Theresa kindly die and shut the fuck up; in so doing, become heroes.

Elsewhere children cry; a young woman ends her own life at thirty-three. But the cars keep rolling, mama bakes her biscuits and daddy plants a seed.

Despite all, life goes on. Hope refuses to succumb and from amongst the ruins, people find a way to sing, play and dance to good songs.

Matt King has created a wonderful album, a wide-sweeping vision of our times, set to music.

This will last a long, long time.

The CD is not yet available, but a digital album can be had through Matt’s web-site.

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Posted by The Agonist on October 15th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war and terrorist bombings are now behind it. The economy is growing. But this island nation of some 20 million people needs to face multiple serious problems squarely in order to secure its future.

Democratic Decay

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has utilized victory in the civil war to entrench himself, his family, and his party. Sri Lankan governments of all stripes have frequently abused the power and the resources of offices to their advantage. Nonetheless, Sri Lankans exercised their right to change their government through the ballot box–a cornerstone of any democracy.

Whether Sri Lankans can still do now seems cloudy. After President Rajapaksa handily defeated opposition candidate Sareth Fonseka–a general and key architect of Sri Lanka’s victory against the LTTE–the government arrested Fonseka. Though he has since been released, he has lost his civic rights, including not surprisingly the right to run for president again in the next election.

Sri Lanka also appears fortunate that President Rajapaksa has so many brothers and other relatives. Otherwise, the country would seemingly lack ministers. One brother, for example, holds the critical defense portfolio. And the President’s smiling visage shines down from many a poster around Sri Lanka.

Hand in hand with the concentration of power in the hands of the Rajapaksa family is, at the very least, a continuation of serious corruption that prevents Sri Lanka’s economy from advancing as quickly as it might. It’s an added cost to major projects. And thus also adds to Sri Lanka’s high foreign debt.

Election Violence

Long a feature of Sri Lanka’s political campaigns with many different participants, it continues. While I was visiting the country, the car of a candidate of the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress was blown up at her home. Numerous complaints were filed with the election commission in the provinces holding elections with particular problems in Batticaloa and Anuradhapura.

Minority Inclusion
After three decades of a very bloody and nasty civil war with an ethnic basis, its not exactly surprising that wounds have far from healed after only three years. In America, parties urged people to “vote the way they shot” long after our own civil war ended–and they did for many decades.

Securing Sri Lanka’s future requires winning the peace as well as the war. It would be wrong to ignore the positive steps that the government has taken. More displaced Tamils have been resettled in permanent homes, though not quickly enough. The government is gradually holding elections for provincial councils and claims to be reducing troops Tamil-dominated Northern Province.

Yet it’s not nearly enough. For Sri Lanka to move on successfully, its minorities–not just Tamils but Muslims, Christians, Malays and Burghers–need to be meaningfully included in government. And the means of achieving this goal needs to be decided by Sri Lankans. Any effort at minority inclusion will only work if it gains buy in from Sri Lankans, though outsiders can provide options and nudges in the right direction.

Not that these nudges are appreciated. The government went bonkers in response to a very mild U.S. sponsored U.N. resolution calling for Sri Lanka to move forward with the reconciliation process that it developed. A journalist for a pro-government paper asked me “why America hates the Sinhalese.” (Americans don’t and the American government considers Sri Lanka a friend.) His boss argued that President Obama has rigged the landing of the Mars rover to benefit his reelection–an accusation that even the Republicans seem to have overlooked.

Lasting peace will require concessions not just by the Sinhalese majority but by minorities as well. Many Tamils seem oblivious, or at least uninterested, that demands to unite Northern and Eastern provinces into a single highly autonomous unit seem almost uniquely designed to exacerbate Sinhalese fears of ethnic separatism. It also does not take into account concerns by non-Tamils–not just Sinhalese but also Muslims–in Eastern Province. At the same time, the government does not appear likely to pursue richer decentralization or other forms of meaningful minority inclusion.

Political strategy explains why. President Rajapaka depends entirely upon Sinhalese support, particularly Sinhalese Buddhist nationalists. Indeed, he would have not won the first time if the LTTE had not prevented Tamils from voting as their votes–which would have surely gone to his opponent–could have easily swung the balance. Of course, the opposition United National Party must also appeal to the majority Sinhalese to win elections.

Problems lie not just on the side of the government. The LTTE’s systematic murder of more moderate Tamil leaders during the civil war cut down many of the people who could be the strongest advocates both for ethnic Tamils and for peace, Many minority leaders are as content to stir the ethnic nationalist pot for political gain as any Sinhalese nationalist.

The Future

Sri Lanka is at the cusp of a real opportunity due to the end of civil war and the picking up of the economy. Moreover, President Rajapaka bestrides Sri Lankan politics like a colossus to borrow a tired phrase. If he desired, he could use his power to fight corruption and assure a lasting peace through meaningful minority incorporation to the benefit of Sri Lanka’s long-term economic prospects.

More likely, corruption continues as President Rajapaka works to ensure the entrenchment of his family and reconciliation continues at its current very halting pace. Sinhalese will not mind–and may indeed like–the government’s policy towards Tamils. But embittered Tamils will likely feel that the Sinhalese “made a desert and called it peace.” Violence may not break out again soon due to the power of the military and the exhaustion of the Tamils, though some think those who make this claim are wrong.

Sri Lanka’s economy will likely continue to grow at a moderate pace, better than during the civil war, but below its potential.

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Posted by The Agonist on October 14th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Last week, after it appeared that the warmongering from Israel had died down, an article appeared in Foreign Policy by David Rothkopf, its editor. It was widely tweeted, and some reporters I respect seemed to be taking it seriously. I found that hard to do after this statement, about halfway through the article:

Indeed, according to a source close to the discussions, the action that participants currently see as most likely is a joint U.S.-Israeli surgical strike targeting Iranian enrichment facilities.

I would have thought that, after the discussions by military experts saying that no way could anything that would have any effect on Iran be called a “surgical strike,” someone like Rothkopf would have had better sense than to use that phrase, and the rest of the commentariat would have had better sense than to take him seriously.

Shortly after that phrase came this:

One advocate asserts it would have a “transformative outcome: saving Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, reanimating the peace process, securing the Gulf, sending an unequivocal message to Russia and China, and assuring American ascendancy in the region for a decade to come.”

This is in full contradiction to most of the conclusions presented while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was proclaiming his readiness to attack during the month or so earlier. Here’s one example.

It does have a familiar ring, doesn’t it? Something about America having to slap some nation against the wall every so often, and then the world will respect us?

But Rothkopf has his connections, and presumably that was where his credibility came from, never mind how improbable that the Obama administration would fully adopt a neoconservative line on America’s greatness.

What seemed strange to me was that such a weak argument would show up under a respected byline after all the shouting seemed to be over, for the latest go-round at least.

Yesterday Philip Weiss came out with an explanation of how the article might have been written: Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren may have planted the piece with Rothkopf. According to Weiss,

the piece sparked a major confrontation between Oren and Baruch Bina, Israel’s number two man in Washington, with Bina arguing that it was inappropriate of the ambassador to feed such a line to Rothkopf, because it could only damage U.S.-Israeli relations.

Whereupon Bina is reassigned to Copenhagen, a very minor diplomatic post for Israel.


And here’s the weird kicker: one of the reasons Netanyahu got rid of Bina is not because he’s not trusted in Washington but because he is: the White House likes working with Bina more than Oren. The same holds true for Ehud Barak. The White House likes working with the former Labor leader more than Netanyahu.

Weiss says the story is all over Washington.

Now I can’t claim to know what “everyone” in Washington is talking about. I can only look at how these two stories make sense. The Rothkopf piece never made sense in terms of any sort of military plan, but it was larded with neocon jargon and thinking.

In the Weiss piece, a diplomat who is rapidly assigned from a high-level position to a low-level one has displeased his bosses. And it’s been clear that Netanyahu likes people, like Michael Oren, who are willing to push his “bomb Iran” agenda. So the story is plausible.

But I’ve got a question that Weiss doesn’t address: Why did Rothkopf publish something like this, that doesn’t make sense on its face, particularly after the intense discussion of these issues over the past month or so?

I’ve gotten a couple of responses to that question as I’ve mulled it over with friends.

1)     The neocons/Likud are trying to save Netanyahu’s face and keep the issue open for future repetition of the “bomb Iran” hysteria. This is not improbable. I would class it as stupid, but we’ve seen a fair amount of stupid in the last month’s discussion, much of it coming from high places. This appears to have been Bina’s objection.

2)     Rothkopf is trying to support Romney’s candidacy or to lay the groundwork for Romney to support an Israeli/US strike on Iran if he becomes president. The Rothkopf article indeed begins with Romney’s foreign policy speech at VMI; it both criticizes that speech and offers counters to the criticisms. Although the article is couched to sound supportive of the Obama administration, it presses toward Netanyahu’s position that the US should threaten Iran more explicitly.

The two are not mutually exclusive, of course.

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Posted by The Agonist on October 14th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Earlier today, Steve Hynd wrote about the comments made on CNN by Mark Zandi — former economic adviser to Sen. John McCain in his 2008 campaign, and currently Moody’s Chief Economist. Here, to reiterate, is the relevant portion of the CNN transcript plus video (at the link), provided by Annie-Rose Strasser at Think Progress (emphasis is in the original):

ZANDI: Yeah, I think the Tax Policy Center study is the definitive study. They’re non-partisan, they’re very good. They say given the numbers that they’ve been provided by the Romney campaign, no, it will not add up. Now, the Romney campaign could adjust their plan. They could say okay I’m not going to lower tax rates as much as I’m saying right now and they could make the arithmetic work. But under the current plan, with the current numbers, no it doesn’t. I’ll say one other thing, though. I think it is important that we do focus on the so-called tax expenditures in the tax code. Those are the deductions, and credits, and loopholes in the code. We need to reduce those, because if we do we’re going to make the tax system fairer, easier to understand and ultimately lead to stronger growth. So that’s the right place to focus. But, no, the arithmetic doesn’t work as it is right now.

To add to this, David Dayen tells us about another organization that has run the numbers and concluded that Romney’s tax plan is a fairy tale:

The Joint Committee on Taxation, the “CBO for taxes” as it were, the nonpartisan scorekeeper on tax policy, just released a reportthat should end all discussion about the Romney campaign’s plans for a deficit-neutral 20% across-the-board rate cut.

Repealing all itemized deductions in the U.S. tax code would pay for only a 4 percent cut in income tax rates, according to an estimate from the nonpartisan scorekeeper for Congress that casts doubt on Republicans’ ability to finance lower income-tax rates with base broadening.

The analysis by the Joint Committee on Taxation shows the arithmetical difficulty of an approach that assumes long-favored tax breaks such as deductions for mortgage interest and charitable contributions could be repealed instantly and completely. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney proposes a 20 percent income-tax cut and says he would pay for it by limiting tax deductions, credits and exemptions.

There are some important differences between Romney’s approach and the JCT analysis that make it difficult to compare the 4 percent finding in the study with Romney’s promise of a 20 percent tax cut. Much of the base broadening in the analysis pays for some changes that Romney assumes in his starting point and for policies from the 2009 stimulus law that he may not want to extend. That means he would able to use the changes to deductions to cut rates by more than 4 percent.

And then there’s Josh Barro’s analysis at Bloomberg, in which Barro writes that the three assumptions Romney has made in his plan cannot all work:

Mitt Romney’s tax plan has three key planks. He cuts personal income tax rates by 20 percent across the board; he eliminates deductions, exclusions and credits so that the deficit does not grow; and he doesn’t make the tax code any less progressive. Unfortunately, as the Tax Policy Center has shown, only two of these planks can co-exist.

Conservatives have reacted aggressively against the TPC report. It seems that Mitt’s plan should be viable: If you cut tax rates proportionally across the board, and eliminate tax deductions proportionally, it seems progressivity should be unchanged. In fact, if you eliminate tax breaks starting with the wealthy, as Romney says he would, it seems he should be able to make the tax code even more progressive.

The idea is intuitive, but wrong. And it’s wrong because of something people don’t realize: The tax preferences that exist today overwhelmingly benefit people with lower and middle incomes, not the wealthy. While tax rate cuts reduce income tax burdens proportionally, as TPC notes, there aren’t enough tax preferences for wealthy people to offset Romney’s cuts at the top.

To understand this, we can look at the IRS Statistics of Income report for 2009, the most recent year available. Tax returns reporting less than $200,000 of adjusted gross income (AGI) accounted for a total AGI of $5.86 trillion, and taxable income of $3.24 trillion. That is, deductions and exemptions amounted to 45 percent of adjusted gross income for people making under $200,000.

Tax returns with more than $200,000 of AGI (the highest-earning 2.8 percent of filers) had a total of $1.96 trillion in AGI and $1.62 trillion in taxable income. For this high-income group, deductions and exemptions were just 18 percent of adjusted gross income.

Put another way, filers with over $200,000 of income earned 26 percent of all personal income in 2009, but received only 12 percent of tax exemptions and deductions.

If you think about it, this makes sense: Everyone gets the same $3,800 personal exemption ($3,650 in 2009). That amount shrinks as a share of your income the wealthier you get. Other deductions grow with income, but generally not as fast as your income; wealthier people have bigger mortgages, but you can only use so much real estate. The Alternative Minimum Tax also eats away at the value of deductions and exemptions for some people with high incomes.

These statistics actually understate the extent to which tax preferences (at least those put on the table by Romney) favor low- and middle-income Americans. The statistics don’t include the tax exclusion for employer-provided health insurance, which shields a larger share of income from tax for middle-income people than for upper-income people. And they don’t account for the value of tax credits, which disproportionately benefit the poor and middle class.

There is a large tax preference for the wealthy that does not show up in these statistics: the preferential tax rate on capital gain on dividend income. But Romney has specifically taken that off the table as a means of raising revenue. (For good reason, in my opinion, but it makes the rest of his math impossible.)

That’s why Romney can’t find enough tax preferences to offset his across-the- board rate cut — unless he raises taxes on earners making under $200,000. That’s not to say we shouldn’t reduce tax preferences. It is to say that we shouldn’t look to their elimination as a way to cut tax rates by 20 percent.

The Romney camp vehemently disputed Barro’s analysis with the claim that “six studies” showed the plan could work. Paul Ryan used this claim in Thursday’s vice-presidential debate (after telling Chris Wallace on Fox News that he didn’t have the time to explain the math behind the plan). Matthew O’Brien at The Atlantic went through each of those “studies” in detail, as did Josh Barro and, not surprisingly, they turn out to be pretty weak tea:

Mitt Romney‘s campaign says I’m full of it. I said Romney’s tax plan is mathematically impossible: he can’t simultaneously keep his pledges to cut tax rates 20 percent and repeal the estate tax and alternative minimum tax; broaden the tax base enough to avoid growing the deficit; and not raise taxes on the middle class. They say they have six independent studies — six! — that “have confirmed the soundness of the Governor’s tax plan,” and so I should stop whining.  Let’s take a tour of those studies and see how they measure up.

The Romney campaign sent over a list of the studies, but they are perhaps more accurately described as “analyses,” since four of them are blog posts or op-eds. I’m not hating — I blog for a living — but I don’t generally describe my posts as “studies.”

None of the analyses do what Romney’s campaign says: show that his tax plan is sound. …

I’ll let you go to the link for the itemization.

Let it be noted that it is the abject refusal of the Romney/Ryan campaign and its supporters to engage with this Mount Everest of evidence accumulated through long hours of sifting through the actual numbers by scores of top economists both in and out of government that explains why Joe Biden couldn’t stop smiling, grinning, laughing, and shaking his head as Paul Ryan doubled (tripled? quadrupled?) down on insisting that two plus two can be made to equal five. And instead of endlessly whining and complaining about how “rude” and “obnoxious” and “un-presidential” Biden’s debate presentation was, and how outrageously Martha Raddatz supposedly “let Biden get away” with his “constant interruptions,” Romney/Ryan boosters should come up with at least one credible argument for how it’s possible to cut taxes across the board by 20% by eliminating loopholes and deductions for the wealthy alone, without shredding the social safety net, without adding to the deficit, and without shifting the tax burden onto Americans who are middle class by Romney’s definition (under $250,000 yearly income).

But of course they can’t do that. Instead, we get fatuous, foolish arguments that defy common sense and insult everyone who can lay claim to even average intelligence (emphasis is in the original):

Asking us to accept what will happen under a Romney tax plan relies on said tax plan actually being enacted. And a President Romney could not put such a plan in place quickly nor single handed. Congress will have control of that process, and we all know how lightning fast and efficiently that crack team works.

No, the one thing which could make this math work even before any changes are made to the tax code is the simple fact of Mitt Romney being declared the winner of the election next month. Yes, I understand that this argument sounds just like claims that the election of Barack Obama would slow the rise of the oceans, etc. etc. etc. But there’s a difference here. The relative sea level of the planet doesn’t have access to the internet or cable news and acts independently of current events. But businesses around the country have, beyond question, been holding their collective breath in response to the advent of regulatory burdens and the coming toll of Obamacare, leading to stagnation in employment and economic growth. Taking away that threat – which will be the implication of changing White House occupants – could absolutely bring a bunch of capital in off the sideline. And the energy industry – which has been effectively stymied in some sectors – could, by most projections, start putting millions of more people to work in a matter of months once work on the pipeline gets into full gear and the issuing of more exploration permits is on the horizon. Those two factors alone could produce the type of economic growth which would already be more quickly filing government coffers before the tax reform debate even begins.

That’s the sort of change which will make enacting these types of comprehensive tax reform possible. If you’re arguing from a position of strength, with unemployment falling and more cash coming in to the treasury, it’s a heck of a lot easier than if you have to rely on murky projections of what “might happen” later. …

Ah yes, those “murky projections”: Such a drag to expect the Romney/Ryan ticket to take responsibility for the accuracy of their statements! So unreasonable to ask them to provide enough details about their promises so that voters can determine if they’re even possible to keep!

Just trust us, baby.



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Posted by The Agonist on October 13th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Der Spiegel, Susan Koelbl, October 12

PYONGYANG - “Potemkin villages,” I scribble onto a scrap of paper for the interpreter, Mr. Kim. “What does that mean?” he asks. “It means that you are just showing us facades here to feign growth and progress, just as the Russian Prince Potemkin once did,” I reply. “You should google it.”

That, though, is not an option available to Mr. Kim. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is the only country on earth in which the people have no connection to the World Wide Web.

The 21-year-old interpreter has never left North Korea. He believes in the imminent victory of the socialist revolution and is now trying to show us the achievements of his native country: The capital, cleaned up for the 100th birthday of the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung, and a new high-rise development that looks like something the Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser might have designed, albeit in concrete. Western diplomats in Pyongyang sardonically refer to the development as the city’s new “Manhattan skyline.”

Mr. Kim doesn’t understand why foreign guests always ask these questions: Why are so many men here dressed in uniforms? Does North Korea really need long-range missiles? Why does the government spend 60 percent of its budget on defense if annual GDP per capita is only $960 (€742) and the average adult only has access to 2,150 kilocalories a day? Why does the regime need reeducation camps? Why are we only driven on boulevards but are not shown any ordinary residential neighborhoods? And, finally: Why can we never move around without minders?

This is too much for Mr. Kim. At the end of the day, he asks to be replaced.

That evening, a man with darting eyes and thinning hair is standing at the entrance to the Yanggakdo Hotel, a 47-story structure built in 1995. His dark suit is positively elegant, as if it had been tailored for Mao Zedong at Emporio Armani.


Mr. Hong introduces himself as our team’s new guide. We are in North Korea to find out whether things are changing under its new dictator, Kim Jong Un. There will be many questions on our 10-day journey, by train and by car, through a country that is sealed off from the rest of the world. Mr. Hong, 57, used to work at the North Korean embassy in Berlin, both before and after German reunification. Mr. Hong is familiar with the world.

He smiles and shakes hands affably. According to Western experts, a person of his rank and age who assumes the task of attending to curious guests in Pyongyang is undoubtedly a member of the Ministry of State Security.

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Posted by The Agonist on October 12th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Last week, in response to the loud anguish expressed by many Democrats (liberals, progressives, etc.) to Barack Obama’s disappointing performance in the first presidential debate, Kevin Drum coined the phrase “hack gap.” He said that “The hack gap is a liberal problem of long standing.

Put simply, we liberals don’t have enough hacks. Conservatives outscore us considerably in the number of bloggers/pundits/columnists/talking heads who are willing to cheerfully say whatever it takes to advance the party line, no matter how ridiculous it is.

My conservative readers may scoff at this notion, but rarely has the hack gap been on such febrile display as it has since last Wednesday’s presidential debate. Ask yourself this: can you even imagine Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh tearing their hair out over a weak debate performance by Mitt Romney the way that liberals have been over President Obama’s? I can’t.

Here’s how things would have gone if liberals had their fair share of hacks. Obviously Obama wasn’t at his best on Wednesday. But when the debate was over that wouldn’t have mattered. Conservatives would have started crowing about how well Romney did. Liberals would have acknowledged that Obama should have confronted Romney’s deceptions more forcefully, but otherwise would have insisted that Obama was more collected and presidential sounding than the hyperactive Romney and clearly mopped the floor with him on a substantive basis. News reporters would then have simply reported the debate normally: Romney said X, Obama said Y, and both sides thought their guy did great. By the next day it would barely be a continuing topic of conversation, and by Friday the new jobs numbers would have buried it completely. Instead, liberals went batshit crazy. …

I thought Kevin was dead-on, and the right’s decision to blame Joe Biden and the debate moderator, Martha Raddatz (with few exceptions) for the  thorough drubbing Paul Ryan got from Biden last night in the first and only vice-presidential debate confirms that.

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Posted by The Agonist on October 12th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

 I’m indebted to Conor Friedersdorf for pointing me to the transcript of last night’s debate as he takes Paul Ryan to task for what he describes as “simplistic talking points that fall apart under the most cursory scrutiny”.

An example:

Obama cooperated with Israel on Stuxnet, an act of cyber-warfare that destroyed actual Iranian centrifuges; kept supporting Israel as it assassinated Iranian nuclear scientists; removed MEK, an anti-regime group in Iran, from its list of official terrorists; and worked to get international cooperation for sanctions now causing street protests in Iran. Whatever you think of those steps, it’s idiotic to suggest, when the ayatollahs were witness to it all, that they assessed Obama’s seriousness based on the fact that he appeared on The View. It’s foreign policy analysis worthy of Sean Hannity.

“The ayatollah sees his economy being crippled. The ayatollah sees that  there are 50 percent fewer exports of oil,” Biden retorted. “He sees the currency going  into the tank. He sees the economy going into free-fall. And he sees the  world for the first time totally united in opposition to him getting a  nuclear weapon.” And Romney-Ryan insist that Obama’s appearance on The View helped undermine all that.

A bit later, Ryan said, “When — when we see the kind of equivocation that took place because this administration wanted a precondition policy, so when the Green  Revolution started up, they were silent for nine days.” And he says it without ever seeming to realize that America loudly endorsing the Green Revolution would have undermined it in Iran. He doesn’t even acknowledge and attempt to refute the relevant argument, because he’s operating on a simplistic level.

A politician who has proved his bona fides on national security could perhaps get away with this. But Ryan has never given any indication that he knows any better. For all we know, he believes his own bullshit.

Read the whole thing. Conor and I largely agree on the problemmatic parts of Obama’s foreign policy even though he’s a libertarian and I’m a socialist. We agree on this much too -  Conor writes of Ryan that: “His delivery is much smoother than Sarah Palin managed four years back. But he doesn’t know any more than she did. … He just isn’t a credible steward of U.S. foreign policy.”

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Posted by The Agonist on October 11th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

France 24, October 11

President François Hollande said on Thursday that he would not commit French combat troops to future military operations against Islamic militants in northern Mali, but would help with logistical support and training, a day before he embarked on his first official tour of Africa.

“We can’t intervene in the place of Africans, but we can offer logistical help, we can train, but France will not intervene” Hollande told FRANCE 24 in an exclusive interview on Thursday.

He said that it was up to the Malian government, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the African Union to organise and man a military response to Mali’s Islamist rebels.

Armed Tuareg groups and Islamist militants allied to al Qaeda overran Mali’s north in April 2012,proclaiming the region’s independence and imposing sharia law.

Hollande said on Thursday that no negotiations were possible with those rebels. “Negotiate with whom? (…) With terrorists who impose sharia, cut off people’s hands and destroy monuments that were until now considered world heritage sites?” the president asked, referring to the destruction of centuries-old Malian mausoleums by religious extremists since the upheaval.

The French president added that allowing Muslim extremists free reign in northern Mali and the Sahel region could turn the territory into a training ground for terrorists and represent a threat to France and other countries’ internal security.

“We must cut off that road to terrorists,” Hollande said, adding that European funding to combating food and health shortages in the Sahel were also important initiatives to combat terrorism.


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Posted by The Agonist on October 11th, 2012

From our partners at The Agonist

Dear Agonistas,

Last night around 9pm my ulcer decided it would have one of its rare flare-ups and give me several hours of crippling pain. I’ve been awake all night and right now couldn’t find my nether orifice with both hands and GPS (some would say I normally can’t do that trick anyway). Normal service will be resumed soon, hopefully by tonight’s VP debate, but in the meantime as soon as these pains subside some I’m going to try to catch some sleep. My apologies for my likely absence during much of today. I’m sure the rest of the editorial and authoring team will have plenty of interesting content for you.

Regards Steve


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