Archive for category National Politics

Dear Rep. Chaffetz: ISIS and the PKK Are Not The Same

Today, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson debunked the false Faux News Channel claim that ISIS terrorists have been apprehended along the Mexican border (emphasis added):

[F]our foreigners who were apprehended after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border did not have ties to terrorism and were in fact members of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), an organization that is fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)…

When can we expect Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) to return to Faux News and admit he was wrong?

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ISIS Advances Continue Despite Air Strikes

Turkish tanks
M-60A3 tanks of Turkish Armed Forces standing by at the Turkey-Syria border, as ISIS and Kurdish armed groups fight for control of nearby Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) on October 6, 2014. (Photo by Ozge Elif Kizil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The current situation in the war against ISIS, via CNN:

The United States and its allies have made at least 271 airstrikes in Iraq and 116 in Syria.

The cost? More than $62 million for just the munitions alone.

The effect? Negligible, some say, particularly in Iraq.

One by one, the cities have fallen to ISIS like dominoes: Hit, Albu Aytha, Kubaisya, Saqlawia and Sejal.

And standing on the western outskirts of Baghdad, ISIS is now within sight.

The Long War Journal reports that ISIS captured a battalion of tanks (that’s up to 54 tanks) at Hit after they were abandoned by fleeing Iraqi soldiers.

The U.S. is now flying risky missions around Fallujah using AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. This means the “air war” now openly includes ground combat, because American military doctrine (PDF) classifies an attack helicopter force as a maneuver element, the same as infantry or armor.

Meanwhile in Syria, ISIS is about to occupy the town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) on the Turkish border. Turkey has refused to aid the Kurdish defenders, despite U.S. requests. Air strikes in the vicinity of Kobani have failed to stop the three-week assault on the town.

UPDATES:
Why Everyone Is Sitting Back And Letting ISIS Conquer A Key Syrian Town
Turkey’s Refusal To Help Besieged Kurds Fight ISIS Is Backfiring
As They Battle ISIS For Kurdish Town, U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebels Question Support
This Is How Close The Fight Against ISIS Is To Turkey’s Border
Islamic State Advances Deeper Into Kobani
ISIS Battles Iraqi Forces Near Baghdad

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American Middle Class Poorest In 25 Years, Now Underemployed

Middle class

Annie Lowrey, New York magazine:

Labor-force participation has declined — partially because the baby boomers are retiring, but also because prime-age workers are fleeing the job market. Churn has remained slow, with workers too timid to quit their jobs. The middle class is poorer than it was when the recession started, poorer than it was when the recession ended, and poorer than it was in 1989. In real terms, wages are stagnant even though the jobless rate has dropped.

At the same time, the earnings of the wealthiest Americans have surged higher. Corporations are rolling in profits. Growth has strengthened. And the stock market has gone on an extraordinary tear.

The headline (U-3) unemployment rate for September was 5.9 percent, however the seasonally-adjusted real (U-6) unemployment rate was 11.8 percent, down from 12 percent in August. The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report estimates that 97,000 people dropped out of the labor force. Because you can’t be officially “unemployed” if you’re not looking for work, having a bunch of people give up looking for work makes the BLS unemployment rates lower.

As Forbes contributor Louis Efron pointed out last month, the U.S. has around 7.5 million underemployed workers. Most of the new jobs in this recovery have been low-wage and part-time jobs, which were taken by Americans just trying to survive while looking for a “real” job.

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The Unknown Knowns Redux

ISIS

Former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld famously ruminated on the difference between “known knowns,” “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” in the intel business. It seems to me that our intelligence services (all 17 of them) have the most difficulty with sorting out the unknown knowns (i.e. things widely reported, whose significance is apparently unknown to the government). The news media told us about the the capture of Fallujah by ISIS 9 months ago. (At that time, ISIS was best known as the employer of fictional spy Sterling Archer). Ought to have been a wake-up call, don’t you think?

President Obama, unlike the last one, is at least able to acknowledge and take responsibility for a mistake:

America failed to recognize the threat posed by Islamic State terrorists and mistakenly relied on the hapless Iraqi army to combat them, President Obama admitted in an interview broadcast Sunday night.

In an about-face from earlier remarks that likened ISIS to a terrorist “JV team,” Obama told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that he agreed with National Intelligence Director James Clapper’s recent assessment that “we underestimated the Islamic State.”

“Jim Clapper has acknowledged that I think they underestimated . . . what had been taking place in Syria,” Obama said.

The president also called it “absolutely true” that the United States put too much faith in the Iraqi army, whose soldiers turned tail rather than wage war against ISIS fighters invading from Syria.

Obama’s comments marked his bluntest acknowledgment that the United States bungled the initial response to ISIS, which American-led planes began bombing inside Syria this month.

More info: ISIS Fast Facts

UPDATE: Tom Engelhardt: The Massive Failure of American Intelligence

[F]rom the Egyptian spring and the Syrian disaster to the crisis in Ukraine, American intelligence has, as far as we can tell, regularly been one step late and one assessment short, when not simply blindsided by events. As a result, the Obama administration often seems in a state of eternal surprise at developments across the globe.

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Bombs Away in Syria

Syria strike
An F/A-18E Super Hornet and an F/A-18F Super Hornet prepare to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush

The Obama administration has ramped up the air war against ISIS by attacking bases in Syria. The operation – which employed Tomahawk missiles, B1 bombers, fighter-bombers and drones – was supported by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan and the UAE. According to reports, the $139 million F-22 stealth fighter jet saw combat for the first time ever during the strikes over Raqqa. The U.S. also carried out separate raids on the little-known al-Qaeda group Khorasan near Aleppo, possibly killing Muhsin al-Fadhli, a veteran al-Qaeda operative.

Gareth Evans points out the obvious fact that strategic bombing isn’t going to succeed where the 8-year U.S. occupation of Iraq failed.

The competence of Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces — crucial if territory is to be taken and held — will take time to build up, and may never be achievable with the so-called moderate forces within Syria. Airstrikes anywhere risk civilian casualties — and thus the possibility of inflaming the very sentiments one is trying to counter.

Moreover, airstrikes in Syria without the government’s consent or Security Council authorization will be manifestly in breach of the United Nations Charter.

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45 Million Americans Still Stuck Below Poverty Line

Poverty

Via Mark Gongloff, HuffPo.

More than 45 million people, or 14.5 percent of all Americans, lived below the poverty line last year, the Census Bureau reported on Tuesday. The percentage of Americans in poverty fell from 15 percent in 2012, the biggest such decline since the year 2000. But the level of poverty is still higher than 12.3 percent in 2006, before the recession began.

The percentage of Americans in poverty went up sharply from 1989 to 1992. Then it went down from 1993 to 2000. Then it went up again from 2001 to 2010. Then it started trending downward, slowly. Does anyone see a connection to politics?

UPDATE:
DSWright: Poverty Unchanged By Wall Street Recovery

Trickle-down economics has consistently failed everywhere and every time it has been tried. The theory is simply wrong.

44 Comments

Destroy ISIS – That’s The Objective?

ISIS

President Obama is now the fourth President in a row who’s leading us into war in Iraq. Additionally, he again wants to attack Syria (but Washington seems to have switched sides in the Syrian civil war since a year ago). Considering the outcomes of previous American military adventures in the Middle East, is this really a good idea? The plan, such as it is, will consist of using mostly air power and special operations forces in cooperation with allied ground forces. The stated objective is to “degrade, and ultimately destroy” ISIS. However, we’ve failed to “destroy” any of the Islamic insurgent forces we’ve fought against over the past 13 years – they are all still thriving, including ISIS (which started out as al-Qaeda in Iraq).

Rajiv Chandrasekaran in the WaPo:

“Harder than anything we’ve tried to do thus far in Iraq or Afghanistan” is how one U.S. general involved in war planning described the challenges ahead… “This is the most complex problem we’ve faced since 9/11. We don’t have a precedent for this.”

Adding to the level of difficulty is the fact that the USA will be fighting on the same side as Bashir al-Assad, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Iran. And the nascent Iraqi government of of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is an uncertain ally at best. Probably half the Iraqi Army has been rendered combat-ineffective as a result of ISIS advances.

More info:
5 Questions About The War Against ISIS That No One Should Be Embarrassed To Ask

UPDATE:
John Kerry Says U.S. Is ‘At War’ With ISIS. Last week he claimed just the opposite.

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President Obama’s Endless Summer

The Endless Summer (1966)
“The Endless Summer” (1966)

This is the perfect time to pay homage to the classic documentary by Bruce Brown. I love summer, and every year it ends too soon. However, the point of this post is to criticize President Obama for political cowardice, again. Last June, the President postponed the possibility of executive action on immigration until the end of summer.

The right-wing noise machine and the Tea-GOP loudly reacted as if Obama had actually done something. They threatened impeachment proceedings, and then another government shutdown over the immigration issue.

Now the rumor from the White House is that maybe, maybe, something will be done after the November election. This is typical nonsense we are used to from the Democrats. I get it in the form of fundraising pitches over the phone. “Support our candidates,” the script goes, “and then later, someday, you might get some good policy.” I always tell them: “Do something good NOW, and later, if I’m happy about it, I might vote for a Democrat.”

The demoralizing spectacle of a President and his party in retreat on the immigration issue isn’t going to get them many progressive voters in November. We’ll be reading about the “enthusiasm gap” again, and the reason for it won’t be a mystery.

Worst of all, President Obama has set records as the “Deporter in Chief.” The Obama administration took just over five years to exceed the 2 million deportations that took place under all eight years of the Bush administration, which held the previous record after ramping up deportations following the 9/11 attacks. Every month of delay brings thousands more deportations and broken families.

UPDATE:
President Obama caves to Tea-GOP threats, does nothing to stop deportations

WASHINGTON (AP) — Abandoning his pledge to act by the end of summer, President Barack Obama has decided to delay any executive action on immigration until after the November congressional elections, White House officials said.

After the Dems lose the Senate, will they wonder why there was an “enthusiasm gap” and progressives didn’t come out to vote?

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Tom Engelhardt: ISIS Can Thank Washington

ISIS

At this point, I think everyone has finally realized that following the al-Qaeda game plan post-9/11 didn’t turn out well. The aim of strategy is to force the enemy to conform to your will. Al-Qaeda had a strategy, and we really didn’t. The Bush administration sent our military to chase after who-knows-who in some 60 countries. When President Obama says, “we don’t have a strategy yet” to avoid spending more trillions and more American lives to give ISIS exactly what they want, he is stating a fact.

Tom Engelhardt (emphasis added):

Though the militants of ISIS would undoubtedly be horrified to think so, they are the spawn of Washington. Thirteen years of regional war, occupation, and intervention played a major role in clearing the ground for them. They may be our worst nightmare (thus far), but they are also our legacy — and not just because so many of their leaders came from the Iraqi army we disbanded, had their beliefs and skills honed in the prisons we set up (Camp Bucca seems to have been the West Point of Iraqi extremism), and gained experience facing U.S. counterterror operations in the “surge” years of the occupation. In fact, just about everything done in the war on terror has facilitated their rise. After all, we dismantled the Iraqi army and rebuilt one that would flee at the first signs of ISIS’s fighters, abandoning vast stores of Washington’s weaponry to them. We essentially destroyed the Iraqi state, while fostering a Shia leader who would oppress enough Sunnis in enough ways to create a situation in which ISIS would be welcomed or tolerated throughout significant areas of the country.

“Blowback” can’t even begin to describe a strategic failure of this magnitude. It would be nice to think that the Obama administration has the intelligence and fortitude to design a new strategy that goes beyond “don’t do stupid shit.” I don’t think that. Nobody in Washington is prepared to call the Global War on Terror an utter failure, or admit that ISIS could not have triumphed without our help. It’s reasonable to predict the USA will keep doing the same thing (if only for lack of a better idea), hoping for different results.

UPDATE:
ISIS Is Beheading Journalists to Lure America Into Another Ground War. Remember the Iraq War’s Lessons

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Facts About The Low-Wage Economy

The high cost of low wages

According to the National Employment Law Project (PDF), low-wage jobs made up 22 percent of job losses from Bush’s Great Recession, but accounted for 44 percent of employment growth after the recession. Today, lower-wage industries employ 1.85 million more workers than at the start of the recession.

On FDL today, Peter Van Buren points out some facts about the low-wage economy:

  • One in four U.S. employees are low-wage workers. That is 20 percent higher than in the United Kingdom, and the highest percentage among industrialized nations.
  • The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009.
  • In 1968 the federal minimum was $1.60 per hour, approximately $10.70 in 2013 dollars
  • 88 percent of minimum-wage workers are adults, with more than a third over age 40.
  • The percentage of low-wage workers with at least some college education spiked 71 percent since 1979, to 43.2 percent today.
  • The way you functionally subsidize companies paying low-wages to workers– ponying up the difference between what McDonald’s and others pay and what those workers need to live via taxpayer-paid SNAP (food stamps) and other benefits– is a hidden cost in plain sight.
  • If the nation’s largest private employer Wal-Mart increased wages to $12 per hour it would cost the company only about one percent, so that made-in-China $10 item would run you all of $10.01.
  • A Paychex/IHS survey, which looks at employment in small businesses, found that the state with the highest percentage of annual job growth was Washington, which also has the highest statewide minimum wage.
  • Nationwide, even a small hike to $10.10 an hour would put some $24 billion a year into workers’ hands to spend and lift 4.6 million Americans out of poverty. Consumer spending drives 70 percent of our economy.
  • Two-thirds of all minimum wage workers are not employed by small businesses. Better yet, one survey shows three out of five small business owners favor raising the minimum wage; their profits depend on a strong local economy, which requires more money in local consumers’ hands.

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‘We’re moving toward a winner-take-all economy’

Dead End One Way

Reportedly 18% of workers in the U.S. now can’t afford to retire.

Lynn Stuart Parramore on AlterNet interviews journalist Jessica Bruder, who gives a bleak picture of the many older Americans who are forced to work past retirement age, and concludes:

The social contract is falling apart. With the death of pensions and the increase of short-term, temporary jobs bearing no benefits, we’re moving toward a winner-take-all economy with no safety net to help people weather hard times.

Lance Roberts looked at employment statistics and found:

With 24% of “baby boomers” postponing retirement, due to an inability to retire, it is not surprising that the employment level of individuals OVER the age of 65, as a percent of the working age population 16 and over, has risen sharply in recent years.

More info:
Can’t find a job? Blame grandma

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Congress Must Authorize New Iraq/Syria War

FA-18 Hornet
An FA-18 takes off from the US Navy aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush in the Gulf last Friday

CENTCOM confirms airstrikes against ISIS forces near the Mosul Dam. These attacks were offensive actions that went beyond the stated reasons for U.S. military action, namely to protect refugees and the city of Erbil.

Congress must get involved as soon as possible. Our Constitution does not allow the President to conduct offensive military operations on his own, without congressional authorization.

I get it. Democrats don’t want to vote for a new war in Iraq before the November elections, and the Tea-GOP/neocons are extremely reluctant to approve anything President Obama does or might do, even if they agree with it in principle.

Well, too bad. Congress (and only Congress) has the responsibility to either authorize another war or rein in this President. Mission creep is already underway – soon there will be about 1,000 U.S. soldiers on the ground in Iraq. The Pentagon has disclosed that a failed hostage rescue attempt last month resulted in a firefight with ISIS on the ground in Syria.

Any decision to wage war on ISIS has to take into account the fact that Syria is their base of operations. Are we going to commit our armed forces to fight, effectively, on behalf of the Assad regime in Damascus?

More info:
Iraq crisis: US strikes aid Kurdish bid to retake dam

UPDATES:
Bill Roggio, editor of The Long War Journal:
US launches 6 more airstrikes against Islamic State

The US has now “conducted a total of 90 airstrikes across Iraq. Of those 90 strikes, 57 have been in support of Iraqi forces near the Mosul Dam.”

…When President Obama “authorized the U.S. Armed Forces to conduct targeted air strikes to support operations by Iraqi forces to recapture the Mosul Dam” on Aug. 14, he permitted the United States military to serve as Iraq’s air arm as Iraqi and Kurdish forces went on the offensive in northern Iraq.

The Obama administration should be very explicit about its goals and objectives in Iraq if it wants to retain the support of the American public for an extended period of time. If the goal is to conduct limited airstrikes in the north to help the Iraqi government and the Kurds regain some lost ground with the hopes of containing the Islamic State, then it should say so. If the goal is to further the defeat of the Islamic State by striking in other theaters and possibly putting advisers, forward air controllers, and special operations forces on the ground, then the administration should communicate that as well.

DSWright on FDL: Secretary Hagel Claims ISIS Is ‘Threat To Every Interest We Have’, ‘Beyond Anything We’ve Seen’

[T]he Pentagon now appears to be on board with launching attacks in Syria if they target ISIS with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey saying ISIS would be a threat as long as they had safe zones in Syria and that “This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of- days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated.” General Dempsey went on to call the Syrian-Iraq border “essentially non-existent.”

So, to recap, the Obama Administration now wants to fight with the Assad government against ISIS. Degrading Assad’s capability to kill his own people no longer a priority because he is also using that capability to kill ISIS forces. There’s still a red line somewhere it’s just not very straight.

ISIS Labeled ‘Imminent Threat’ As US Strikes Set To Expand Into Syria

In the aftermath of the killing of James Foley the Obama Administration has ratcheted up the rhetoric against ISIS now calling the group an imminent threat to US national security and global interests. Part of that label apparently entails attacking ISIS wherever they are including outside of current “limited” US operations in Iraq with plans to expand the US military campaign against ISIS into Syria.

Of course, in the real world there is no way ISIS constitutes an imminent threat to U.S. national security.

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