Today Scotland votes on independence: a fifty-fifty referendum on leaving the United Kingdom. It's gone from a long shot to a statistical dead heat, and nobody can say for sure how the vote will go. But what's certain is that Scotland's old relationship with the rest of Britain is finished. The Scottish independence movement will not just go away if they come up a couple percent short; they're never going to give up now that they've gotten this close. And if a united United Kingdom squeaks by, Scotland will expect to be given much more autonomy than it's had so far.
As ISIS pursues its genocidal dreams in Syria and Iraq, Bruce Levine asks, "whether we as human beings living in the most powerful nation in the world can stand by yet again and do nothing -- as thousands or tens of thousands of innocent human beings are slaughtered."
The question conceals a heavy premise: that we have the power to stop the slaughter if we choose to exercise it.
I do not deny the premise, at least in principle. If we unleash our full military and economic might, we can surely defeat ISIS forces and build stable, peaceful states in Iraq and Syria. But full mobilization and massive nation-building projects are not realistic options in the current political environment. We may muster the will for limited military operations in Iraq, but we're unwilling to do what it takes to succeed. Consequently, our efforts to stop the slaughter are doomed to fail and may make the situation even worse.
It is not only hard to write about the bloodshed in Israel and Palestine without taking sides. It is impossible for most people to read about the violence in Israel and Palestine without taking sides. So the debate bogs down into questions of justification and self-defense and proportionality: that is, into the utterly useless question of whether Israel or Hamas is more in the wrong. It may well be that one side or the other is more justified, or more culpable. But since the answering that question will not prevent even a single death, the question is meaningless.
The single most important thing Barack Obama needs to do about Ukraine is not to panic. The single most important thing anyone else in the United States can do about Ukraine is not to panic Barack Obama. Developments in the Crimea are extremely dangerous, and that's exactly why everybody needs to calm down.
It was a long weekend and I was devilishly busy and exhausted to the point of just plain weary, so you'll have to forgive me if I didn't get this right:
I read today that on September 27, 2010--almost three years ago--Julian Assange of Wikileaks fame checked a bag at an airport in Sweden containing three laptops filled with Wikileaks stuff, including some top secret "war crimes" information that, if it hadn't been stolen by some shady government dudes, would have knocked our socks off with revelations of dirty deeds so devastating, if they had ever, ever been revealed, the world as we know it might just stop spinning. Or heads would roll. Or Assange would be hailed as the hero he fancied he already was. Whatever. Something BIG would happen if ever those revelations saw the light of day. So, of course, they were stolen by one or more shadowy government dudes who were not about to let that happen.
One of the most startling things about the terrible events in Egypt is that the Muslim Brotherhood, the great-granddaddy of all Islamist movements, has blown its shot at governing the country, a chance the Brotherhood spent decades waiting and planning for. That does not excuse the military coup, and the Brotherhood isn't the only party to blame. But there's no point in pretending that Morsi and the Brotherhood have been defenders of constitutional democracy either, and their refusal to share power or respect civil process helped create the mess their country is in tonight.
Five weeks after a terrorist attack on Boston, President Obama has declared that the War on Terror, "like all wars, must end." If I had told you a year ago that he would make such a speech a month and a half after a high-profile terrorist attack on a major American city, neither you nor I would have believed me. But the lessons of Boston drive home the wisdom of the President's decision. It showed us that a terrorist attack is meant to be lived through and that Americans are ready to live through one.
The decision to bring "democracy" to Iraq displayed a deep and obvious contempt for democracy itself. George W. Bush considered the decision to begin a war his personal prerogative, and both the political establishment and the media establishment treated it that way. The war was inevitable; the decision had already been made. Not supporting the war was treated as foolish (because futile) and unpatriotic (because patriotism was defined as supporting the President's decisions).
When Justin Sisely announced that he planned to film a “Virgin Sells Virginity” porn, the media went wild, endlessly repeating a story based on nothing.
Now, that’s not a big surprise. What is a surprise is that after the announcement – heck, even before it – random dudes with lots of walking-around money started hurling incredible bids at Sisely, asking to be the male lead in said porno.
One of the latest growing crimes in Brazil is to rig explosives to ATMs, blow them up and get away with the loot. Here’s an ATM from my bank here in Uberlandia, Minas Gerais, Brazil. This happened last week:
Forget about Benghazi. The whole imbroglio was little more than an election gambit gone sour. Republican leaders, frustrated that their charges failed to wound Obama in November, have vented their fury on his choice for Secretary of State.
But Susan Rice's record as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. raises other more serious concerns. The New York Times published two articles today, a news story and an op-ed, which question Rice's judgment concerning several African dictators.
"We must be vigilant," proclaimed Xi Jinping, China's new paramount leader. In his inaugural speech to the 25-person Politburo, he warned that rampant graft and corruption would "doom the party and the state" if it continued unchecked.
He has a point. From petty graft in far-flung villages to the regime-shaking Bo Xilai scandal, rampant corruption has fueled the social unrest that the long-toothed oligarchs fear so much. Payoffs have bumped China's vaunted high-speed trains off their shoddy tracks. Graft has nibbled away the roots of its famously fertile economy.
So tonight Mitt Romney is going to try to outflank President Obama on foreign policy. Romney doesn't know much about foreign policy, but both Romney and Obama represent long-standing traditions of American thought on international security. The President represents the practical tradition designed to guide policy by the party in office, whichever party that is. Romney speaks for the strand that is designed only for opposition figures.
PBS is running a BBC show centered around an English town called Kibworth. History of England's host narrator Michael Woods flits between an archeological dig, nearby fields and local archives to illustrate stories about British history. It's informative, but also funny to watch, because when an archivist or archaeologist pulls out some old parchment or bit of bone, Woods' enthusiastic gushing sounds much like the appraisers on Antiques Roadshow. "That's a really nice tibia, dear." It is also clear that Brit reenactors have a lot more history, and costumes, to work with than Americans.
In Episode Four, Woods talked about Henry V putting down an insurrection of Lollards — heretic peasants led by Henry's old friend Sir John Oldcastle (a probable model for Falstaff). Henry's forces were alerted, dispersed and executed the insurgents forthwith, and years later Oldcastle was slowly burned at stake, but Woods blithely reassures the audience that the government eventually granted the religious freedoms they and their predecessors who followed Wat Tyler had wanted. So it was all good.
I've come back from a month overseas in time for the Glorious Fourth. I'm happy to have spent it back in my native land, in my own back yard, grilling a holiday meal. It would have felt a bit odd to extend my European adventure past Independence Day, or to celebrate it outside America. There's only one day a year when cooking a burger feels like an act of national solidarity, and only one day when listening to John Philip Sousa feels like a pleasure. I like spending that day in the States. And spending it anywhere else feels slightly unpatriotic.
I've spent the last month or so in Rome; our last night in the city happily coincides with the 2012 Euro Cup final, with the hometown Italia Azzuri taking on defending champion Spain. (And that's a happy coincidence, too: a rematch of each team's first game of the tournament.) Naturally, we're going out to watch the match. And just as naturally, I bought a game jersey (from a pile at my neighborhood supermarket).
Credit where credit is due: drones are pretty good at journalism. The video above was shot by an unmanned drone carrying a video camera, and presents a unique perspective on the scale of the protests taking place in Hong Kong....
By Arron Reza Merat,"Iran Pulse" @ Al-Monitor, Sept. 30, 2014
Iran’s judiciary this month sentenced former First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi to jail time for undisclosed corruption charges [....] His conviction was in part made necessary because of the narrative woven by Hassan Rouhani's new administration that the economic ills it inherited (5.4% growth and 44% year-on-year inflation) were due to unprecedented corruption under Ahmadinejad.
By Loveday Morris, Washington Post, Sept. 28, 2014
[....] a new weapon has been unleashed in this country devastated by Islamist militant violence — comedy. A new 30-part satirical series, “State of Myths,” which started airing on Iraqi state television Saturday, aims to expose the true nature of the Islamic State extremist organization — through slapstick and puns [....]
[....] While all eyes are on Syria and Iraq, another intervention is taking place in Yemen. The coalition involved here is more of an understanding than a military pact, but it is proving to be just as effective. That Iran should be backing a small Shi'a tribe in the north of Yemen called the Houthis comes as little surprise. The lightning takeover by the Houthis of the capital Sana'a has been applauded by Iranian politicians. [....]
By Stephanie Ennis, BBC Monitoring, 25 Sept., 2014
Russia is the target of a global plot orchestrated by the United States and involving fighters from the self-styled Islamic State (IS) and nationalist Ukrainian troops - that is the latest conspiracy theory broadcast on Russian state TV. "America is everywhere, the West is everywhere, Nato is everywhere. Everything is organised against Russia," the veteran Russian nationalist MP Vladimir Zhirinovsky railed during a talk show on Channel One, Russia's most popular TV station.
There was a "certain link", he hinted, between Ukrainian troops "raiding our western regions" and IS, which he said was being armed by the US.