Our Sketchy Intel On Ukraine

Jul 23 2014 @ 1:55pm


The government shared some of it yesterday. Shane Harris summarizes:

The officials offered little new information about the MH17 investigation, except to say that U.S. intelligence analysts are now persuaded that the jet was downed by accident, likely by forces who believed they were taking aim at a Ukrainian military aircraft. The officials circulated widely available information, including photographs of the suspected missile launcher posted to social media in recent days, and pointed to voice recordings posted to YouTube of separatists acknowledging that they shot down a jet, which they later discovered was a civilian plane. One official stressed that analysts weren’t relying solely on social media information, such as tweets and online videos. But nothing in the agencies’ classified files has brought them any closer to definitively blaming Russia.

Max Fisher’s two cents:

What’s perhaps more interesting is what the US intelligence officials would not say: that the attack was deliberate or that Russia pulled the trigger. The officials said they suspected the rebels fired on a commercial airliner mistakenly; this too had become conventional wisdom, as the rebels had only previously fired on Ukrainian military aircraft, but the hint of possible confirmation is something.

But the rebels compromised the wreckage, which makes our investigation much more difficult:

Read On

Dissents Of The Day

Jul 23 2014 @ 1:35pm

Readers seize on a recent comment:

In your dismissive response to Marcotte’s analysis of the recently proposed Women’s Health Protection Act, you said, facetiously, “Because a tooth has the same moral standing as a fetus.”

I have rarely seen as deliberate a misreading from you. Abortion is legal. Because of that annoying fact, opponents of abortion have had to sneak in restrictions, such as mandatory admitting privileges in local hospitals for abortion providers, under the cynical guise of protecting the health of pregnant women. This is the clear and obvious context of Marcotte’s reference to dentists and admitting privileges: The procedures she lists carry similar, and in some cases greater, risks for the health of patients compared to a standard out patient abortion.

I’m not deliberately misreading anything. What I’m saying is that it is not self-evident that an abortion has the same moral weight as a root canal. They may be equally legal, but they are not self-evidently equally moral. It is reasonable to treat it differently as a medical procedure for those reasons alone. I’m open to the idea that it shouldn’t be – but that’s not the tone of Marcotte. I was objecting to the breezy dismissal of any moral conundrum at all. Another elaborates:

You do realize that the hospital admitting privileges requirement for abortion providers isn’t there for the protection of the fetus, right? It’s there, allegedly, for the protection of the female patient, undergoing one of the least complicated and safest medical procedures performed. Of course the requirement is really about preventing the dentist from doing his job at all – I’m sorry, I meant abortion provider.

Another shares her personal perspective:

In 2000, when I was 42 years old, I elected to have an abortion rather than continue a pregnancy I was told would probably end in the second or third trimester, and if not, would result in the baby dying a month after being born. I had nearly died as a result of a miscarriage four years before that, so I was distinctly unkeen to risk my life (and the well-being of my then two children, who were 10 and 7 and who seemed to need a mother) to walk around like a time bomb waiting for a fetus to die and possibly take me with it.

In order to get that abortion, I was subjected to Michigan’s “Informed consent for abortion” law.

Read On

Dish alum Zack Beauchamp scrutinizes Israel’s strategy in Gaza, one that emerged from its past conflicts with Arab states. In that approach, “Israel would have to live with a certain level of threat … but would use its military to occasionally weaken those threats and ensure they didn’t ever reach truly existential proportions”:

Obviously, Israel recognizes that the threats from groups like the Gaza-based militant group Hamas aren’t the same as the Cold War-era threats it faced from Arab invasions. So it’s developed a new version of its long-held threat management strategy, which is often called “mowing the grass.” It’s a pretty creepy term, as it implies that periodically killing people is the same as keeping your lawn groomed. But that’s the basic analogy: Hamas, like grass, can’t disappear, but it can be regularly cut down to size. And, like mowing the grass, it’s implied that this is a routine that will be continued forever.

According to Efraim Inbar and Eitan Shamir, Israeli academics based at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, the basic difference between “mowing the grass” and Israel’s old strategy is that the end-goal has changed. In the era of wars with Arab conventional armies, Israel hoped that eventually “a long and violent struggle, punctuated by decisive battlefield victories, could eventually lead Arab states to accept the notion of Israel’s permanence.” In other words, Israel believed that its threat-management strategy would eventually lead to peace, which in cases such as Egypt it did.

Israel does not believe the same thing today about applying this strategy to non-state militant groups. Israel sees Hamas and other militants as “implacable enemies, who want to destroy the Jewish state and there is very little Israel can do on the political front to mitigate this risk.”

So will “mowing the grass” make Israel safe in the end? Of course it won’t. Au contraire:

Read On

That, I’d argue, is the real news from the CNN poll today on the ACA. The headline numbers are actually the opposite, showing opposition beating out support by 59 – 40 percent. But this omits a rather large point:

“Not all of the opposition to the health care law comes from the right,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “Thirty-eight percent say they oppose the law because it’s too liberal, but 17% say they oppose it because it’s not liberal enough. That means more than half the public either favors Obamacare, or opposes it because it doesn’t go far enough.”

To buttress this interpretation of the polling, a 53 percent majority also believes that they, their family or others have benefited from the ACA, compared with 44 percent who insist the law hasn’t helped anyone at all (a ludicrous and obviously ideological view when you come to think of it). That’s one more reason why the sudden threat by literalist judges, preferring to interpret a few words rather than an entire law, is not such a great thing for the GOP. Stripping millions of health insurance means confronting that 57 percent.

And that’s why I remain befuddled by the lack-luster Democratic message machine in this summer before the mid-terms. On so many issues, the Democrats are ahead: on healthcare, on climate change (63 percent backing Obama’s stance on carbon dioxide emissions and fuel emission standards), on marriage equality (55 percent support) and on a non-interventionist foreign policy (65 percent want the current or less involvement with Ukraine-Russia, for example). I find it hard to understand why a political party with all these advantages has to play defense in the upcoming elections. Maybe a Republican over-reach on the ACA may stir their base. But what about their feckless leaders?

The View From Your Window

Jul 23 2014 @ 12:41pm

London-8-30 pm

London, England, 8.30 pm

What Happens Next For Halbig?

Jul 23 2014 @ 12:18pm

Margot Sanger-Katz reviews the possibilities. The one that is getting the most attention:

All the judges on the D.C. Circuit could decide the Halbig v. Burwell case. There is a process called “en banc” review in which the case would be reargued before all of the 11 judges on the D.C. Circuit Court, and the Obama administration has said it will ask the court for such a review. A majority of the judges would have to agree to rehear the case for it to be reconsidered in this way. Appellate courts rarely accept cases for en banc review, but this is a big one. Many legal experts think that the full court would view the government’s position more favorably than the two judges who ruled against them in the original decision on Tuesday; legal questions don’t necessarily break down along political lines, but Democratic appointees outnumber Republican appointees on the court and include four new judges recently appointed by President Obama.

Danny Vinik thanks Reid for having deployed the nuclear option:

Here’s where the Democrats’ use of the nuclear option is important. The D.C. Circuit has 11 judges on it, seven Democratic appointees and four Republican ones. The only reason Democrats have a majority is due to the nuclear option.

Read On

Speak Loudly But Carry A Small Stick

Jul 23 2014 @ 11:55am


That’s the message Yglesias gleans from a new Politico poll (pdf), which finds that Americans are wary of getting involved in foreign wars but still trust Republicans more than Democrats on foreign policy:

By a margin of 39 to 32 the GOP is the party that’s more trusted with the country’s foreign policy. That points to an optimal political strategy for Republicans of complaining loudly and repeatedly about Obama’s lack of leadership in various foreign crises without saying too much in detail about what they would do specifically. In other words, what the GOP is already doing. Most people, it turns out, don’t have detailed and fully coherent ideas about the whole range of public policy issues so they can turn toward the more hawkish party without embracing any particular hawkish ideas.

Drum is on the same page:

Bottom line (for about the thousandth time): Americans prefer the actual foreign policy of Democrats, but they prefer the rhetorical foreign policy of Republicans. They want lots of bluster and chest thumping, but without much in the way of serious action. In other words, pretty much what Reagan did.

By “serious action” I assume Kevin means actual military conflict by the US (and not by proxies). And isn’t this merely a predictable response for a country still reeling from the over-reach of the Bush years? Of course we still want the illusion of controlling and running the world; we just know deeper down that we can’t, and when we’ve tried, have been humiliated. So there remains some hope that somehow some figure can restore it all, which is why I fear the GOP candidate will run on a classic peace-through-strength platform in 2016.

But the far more important fact is that the GOP can have all the debates it wants between non-interventionists and neocons and global hegemonists. In the country at large, the non-interventionists have already won.

Waldman focuses on the people affected by the court decision:

Now pause for a moment and consider what it is Republicans are asking the courts to do here. They want millions of Americans to lose the subsidies they got this year, in many if not most cases making health insurance completely unaffordable for them, and their justification is this: We found a mistake in the law, so you people are screwed. As far as the Republicans are concerned, it’s like spotting that a batter’s toe missed second base as he was trotting around for his home run, and therefore claiming that they won the game after all.

But it’s not a game, it’s people’s lives. If they succeed at the Supreme Court, people will die. That’s not hyperbole. Millions of Americans will lose their health coverage — 6.5 million by one estimate — and many of them won’t be able to afford to go to the doctor, and many of them will have ailments that go untreated. People will die.

Pierce is also furious:

Simply put, there is almost an entire half of our political system that believes that a great number of Americans simply do not matter enough to make it economically feasible to help them stay healthy. They do not count. It does not matter how many of them die preventable deaths. It is better for the country, this half of the political system believes, that they grow sick and bankrupt themselves.

Michael Cannon, who Weigel calls Halbig’s “chief advocate,” shifts blame:

Read On

Is Obamacare In Jeopardy?

Jul 23 2014 @ 11:20am

Obamacare Ruling

Noah Feldman asserts that “the ACA is not yet quite dead. But there’s blood in the water, and the great whites in robes are circling.” McArdle assesses the damage to Obamacare:

Much will depend on the courts: Does the case get en banc review, does that review rule for the government, and if so, will the plaintiffs be able to push an appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court? Will the Supreme Court expose itself to more outrage from whichever side they rule against? All that is unknown. We do know this much: this was a big blow for the government, and a potentially fatal one for the administration’s signature legislative achievement.

But Emily Bazelon expects the government to prevail:

[I]t is the D.C. Circuit’s ruling that is probably going nowhere beyond a victory lap by the strategic conservative lawyers who brought this case, and a round of postmortem hand-wringing among law professors, who are already deriding the decision. That is because the legal reasoning of the majority in D.C. is seriously unconvincing, and as Slate contributor and UC–Irvine law professor Richard Hasen quickly pointed out, the next stop on the legal train is the D.C. Circuit as a whole, where today’s result will likely be reversed.

Bloomberg View’s editors weigh in:

Obamacare isn’t dead. And given the flimsy logic of the latest legal argument against it, there’s a good chance it never will be. … The legal battle now moves to the full D.C. Court of Appeals and perhaps from there to the Supreme Court. The worst-case scenario is that the strict-constructionist view of the dispute will prevail. Even then, however, Obamacare can survive — if state policy makers take the opportunity to set up their own exchanges.

Ingraham provides the above chart, which shows how many current enrollees would be impacted if federal exchange subsidies are banned. Kevin Drum also imagines what would happen if SCOTUS sides with Halbig’s plaintiffs and “in a stroke, everyone enrolled in Obamacare through a federal exchange is no longer eligible for subsidies”:

Read On

In a long and wide-ranging interview with David Rothkopf, Zbigniew Brzezinski opines on how the US should engage the Middle East today:

I think the whole region now, in terms of the sectarian impulses and sectarian intolerance, is not a place in which America ought to try to be preeminent. I think we ought to pursue a policy in which we recognize the fact that the problems there are likely to persist and escalate and spread more widely. The two countries that will be most affected by these developments over time are China and Russia — because of their regional interests, vulnerabilities to terrorism, and strategic interests in global energy markets. And therefore it should be in their interest to work with us also, and we should be willing to play with them, but not assume sole responsibility for managing a region that we can neither control nor comprehend.

He also thinks it’s wiser to pursue accommodation with Iran than to continue treating it as a greater threat than it really is:

Read On