Another Chemical Attack

It looks like Bashir al-Assad dropped another bunch of chemicals on civilians in East Ghouta again today. Horrible photos of the dead are circulating on Twitter. It’s not clear whether this was Sarin or chlorine, or Assad’s trademark mixture of the two. Early reports are that over 100 people have been killed.

It is exactly a year ago today that Donald Trump sent 59 cruise missiles into Syria to respond to a similar chemical attack.

There’s a continuing argument among strategists about deterrence. One side says that if you whack someone like Assad hard enough, he won’t do it again. The other says that Assad will choose to do what is best for him strategically and take his lumps if necessary, or take the chance that there won’t be retribution. I tend toward the second

It’s that argument that continues around Barack Obama’s “red line” for Syrian chemical weapons use. One side says that taking the deal to disarm Syria of most of its chemical weapons instead of whacking Assad led to the belief that Obama was soft, hence Putin’s incursion into Ukraine and all other evils since then. I think that putting aside a strike that would have killed more civilians and been far from taking out all the chemical warfare facilities in favor of peacefully removing most of the chemical weapons was a sign of good judgment.

And, contrary to some of what I’m seeing in response to Assad’s strike today, nobody expected that every single drop of chemical agent would be removed from Syria. But most of it was, and the facilities for making more disabled.

 



Loving You Both Is Breaking All the Rules

I think some of you nerds like science fiction. I do too. Let me weave a dystopian tapestry before your wondering eyes and you can tell me what you think.

The year is 2020. There are now flying cars and cheeky robot companions. You have neither of these things. You have a slightly fancier phone and a couple of new shirts.

Your state’s primary has been pushed to the end of the season and its outcome will be pivotal. Democratic primary voters have said they will not go to Cochella. They will not go to Bonaroo. They won’t even go to Lollapalooza. The voters in the other 49 states have proclaimed that they want Paul Revere and the Raiders or The American Breed. This tortured analogy is trying to tell you they want Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders.

Let’s say that Joe has stayed his course  as the WWWC (Wooer of the White Working Class) candidate. Bernie has staked out the leftmost pragmatic position on all of your favorites: Healthcare, education, minimum wage, full employment.

And there you are, in the voting booth. Between Scylla and Charybdis. For whom do you pull the lever?

While you muse on this bummer episode of The Twilight Zone, please observe what I have in my other hand: It’s the fund that’s split between all eventual Democratic nominees in House districts currently held by Republicans.

Goal Thermometer



Apocalypse Very Soon

Via Alexander C. Kaufman at HuffPo, we learn that the EPA has decided that we’ve all just got to sit back and fry — and like it too, dammit:

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday evening sent employees a list of eight approved talking points on climate change from its Office of Public Affairs ― guidelines that promote a message of uncertainty about climate science and gloss over proposed cuts to key adaptation programs.

Here a couple of samples of the new guidance:

“Human activity impacts our changing climate in some manner,” one point reads. “The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue.”

The other states: “While there has been extensive research and a host of published reports on climate change, clear gaps remain including our understanding of the role of human activity and what we can do about it.”

It’s clear enough what Scott Pruitt’s and Donald Trump’s EPA thinks we should do about the global test-to-destruction experiment on which we are now engaged.  F**k-all.  Hades here we come.
As Eric Levitz at New York magazine reminds us, this actually isn’t the limit of GOP and Trump climate sabotage:

It would be bleak enough if these talking points were an accurate reflection of our government’s position on climate change. “We will do nothing to stop this calamity from happening, but will help you prepare for its onset” isn’t the most uplifting sentiment. But the Trump administration’s actual position on the matter is even worse.

In truth, Scott Pruitt’s EPA is about as opposed to helping communities prepare for climate catastrophe as it is to regulating carbon emissions: Last year, the EPA shut down its climate-adaptation program, and proposed funding cuts* to another initiative dedicated to studying the effects of rising sea levels. [links in the original]

Again, as Levitz points out, unchecked climate change will (and almost certainly has already) kill a lot of people. Which is to say this isn’t garden valley Republican robbery of most of us to serve the interests of our former Secretary of State and his ilk.  Reckless doesn’t begin to describe what the GOP in general and the current administration in particular are doing to the planet, and to Americans’ well being, safety and security.

The climate change debacle is not only down to the United States, of course. But nowhere else has the power that we do to shift international action on this.  We’re doing the opposite, and the FSM knows how high the bill will go.

On that note: top of the evening to the jackals. Open thread, y’all

*Most of the cuts were undone in the omni-budget bill, but if we have a minor respite from environmental despoilation, it’s not thanks to Trump and Pruitt.

Image: D. Howard Hitchcock, Halemaumau, Lake of Fire, 1888



Late Night Schadenfreude Open Thread: For Whom No Violin Is Tiny Enough

A break from more weighty topics…

***********

Also, Peter Thiel’s wannabe neighbors have a big sad about those lousy emigrant-excluding Kiwis. Per Bloomberg, “The Rich Aren’t Happy About New Zealand Foreign Bolthole Ban”:

Rich-listers like Californian billionaire Ric Kayne have issued a warning to New Zealand — banning house sales to foreigners could hurt the country’s reputation and turn wealthy investors away.

Kayne, who has built an exclusive golf course in New Zealand and wants to expand his investments, is one of several rich businessmen who claim the proposed new law will have unintended consequences. They’re seeking amendments to the draft legislation or its withdrawal in its current form…

The new Labour-led government came to power in October on a pledge to fix a housing crisis with a raft of measures, including a ban on foreign speculators buying residential property. While data suggest non-residents have only a minor impact on the wider housing market, support for the move was boosted by headlines about rich foreigners buying mansions and farms in New Zealand as boltholes away from the world’s ills.

House prices have surged more than 60 percent in the past decade amid record immigration and a construction shortfall. In biggest city Auckland, prices have almost doubled since 2007 to an average of more than NZ$1 million ($730,000). That’s made it more difficult for first-time buyers to enter the market and driven up rents, leaving increasing numbers of poor people homeless.

“It’s really important for us that we sort our housing market out, that we give New Zealanders a fair go at buying their first home,” Finance Minister Grant Robertson said in a television interview Sunday. While the country welcomes foreign investment, “what we want is good-quality investment that supports the productivity of the New Zealand economy,” he said…

Kayne, who plans another golf course of similar quality that will be open to the public, said he will also be forced to sell the house he’s building for himself and wife Suzanne under the new restrictions.

Although he is a New Zealand resident, the legislation would not recognize him as one because it requires people to spend at least 183 days a year in the country — something his business interests prevent him from doing…

Yeah, it’s all about “optics” — but after the horrors that jet-setting parasites have inflicted on cities like London, New York, and San Francisco, I somehow doubt there will be many tears shed for the plight of thwarted golf-course developers and their ilk.



Early Morning Nuclear War Open Thread

Vladimir Putin gave a talk today. What I am picking up from Twitter is that it was mostly about improving social conditions in Russia, but Putin seems to have though he needed to get into the “My button is bigger than yours” discussion.

Read more



Good News for the White House

If those 17 kids hadn’t been killed, just think of the ugly questions the White House would have had to answer:

“For everyone, it was a distraction or a reprieve,” said one White House official, speaking anonymously to reflect internal conversations. “A lot of people here felt like it was a reprieve from seven or eight days of just getting pummeled.”

The official likened the brief political calm to the aftermath of the October 2017 gun massacre in Las Vegas that left 58 dead and hundreds more injured. That tragedy united White House aides and the country in their shared mourning for the victims and their families.

“But as we all know, sadly, when the coverage dies down a little bit, we’ll be back through the chaos,” the official said.

Another winner:

Last Wednesday’s shooting, however, effectively stabilized Kelly’s standing internally, officials said, shifting the media glare away from him and giving the retired four-star Marine Corps general a chance to perform his job in helping coordinate the federal response. Though Trump remains frustrated and at times angry with his chief of staff, Kelly’s presence on the weekend trip to Mar-a-Lago was interpreted as an indication that he was on firmer ground with his boss.

Just think – only a few more killing sprees and Kelly might make it to the midterms!



Victor Cha Won’t Be Trump’s Ambassador To South Korea

Victor Cha has been mentioned as ambassador to South Korea. He is the chair of the Korea program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and is director of Asian studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He served as Asia director at the NSC under George W. Bush and participated in the Six-Party talks with North Korea as the deputy head of the U.S. delegation. But today it was announced that the administration no longer wants his services.

Cha is on the hawkish side toward North Korea. But apparently not hawkish enough for Donald Trump or someone on his staff. Cha believes that tearing up the South Korea trade agreement is a bad idea, and that attacking North Korea probably worse.

His appointment had gone as far as the administration asking South Korea for its agreement. This is a standard step in appointing ambassadors, and withdrawing the name afterwards is extremely bad form. As South Koreans woke up, they learned of the move, and they are not happy.

The administration has handled the rest of the interaction with their usual grace and charm. Read more