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Updated: 1 week 6 days ago

On The Road – Elma – South American Fauna

Fri, 04/16/2021 - 05:00

I got a catalog from my usual tour company, pitching 2022 tours. That seems almost possible. I threw all the offers for 2021 into the recycling bin. It got me to looking back on photos from past trips. I always take pics of animals on my travels. Here are a few taken on a tour of several South American countries from 2016.

The post On The Road – Elma – South American Fauna appeared first on Balloon Juice.

Categories: Politics

Late Night Open Thread: Sounds About White Right…

Fri, 04/16/2021 - 02:12


Police were called to the store just before 2 p.m. Wednesday after an employee was attacked by the suspect with a piece of lumber. The suspect left, and was soon spotted by an officer in the parking lot of a nearby Walmart.

The suspect led the officer on a slow-speed chase that ended near the Hutchinson Mall off Highway 15 and Freemont Avenue Southwest. The officer approached the car, then became stuck in the driver’s side window. The suspect sped off with the officer hanging on, and then struck him on the head with a hammer.

The officer is in stable condition at an area hospital…

The post Late Night Open Thread: Sounds About <del>White</del> Right… appeared first on Balloon Juice.

Categories: Politics

The Russian Bounties On US Soldiers Stuff

Thu, 04/15/2021 - 21:52

Stuff is a technical term…

Earlier today, commenter Wyatt Salamanca, asked my take on the news that the US Intelligence community has determined that the Russians may not have put bounties on the heads of US service members deployed in Afghanistan. I’ve now had a chance to read the reporting and I have the same basic reaction as Marc Polymeropoulos. Polymeropolous is a retired Senior Intelligence Service officer who served 26 years in the CIA.

From The Daily Beast:

“The United States intelligence community assesses with low to moderate confidence that Russian intelligence officers sought to encourage Taliban attacks on U.S. and coalition personnel in Afghanistan in 2019 and perhaps earlier,” a senior administration official said.

According to the officials on Thursday’s call, the reporting about the alleged “bounties” came from “detainee reporting”–raising the specter that someone told their U.S.-aligned Afghan jailers what they thought was necessary to get out of a cage. Specifically, the official cited “information and evidence of connections to criminal agents in Afghanistan and elements of the Russian government” as sources for the intelligence community’s assessment.

Without additional corroboration, such reporting is notoriously unreliable.

The senior Biden official added on Thursday that the “difficult operating environment in Afghanistan” complicated U.S. efforts to confirm what amounts to a rumor.

I remember the reporting last year the same way that Polymeropoulos does. Specifically that we had intelligence, but that there was a significant debate within different parts of the Intelligence Community about how valid it was. What today’s statement tells us is that we have a single source – the detainee – and that the Intelligence Community has been unable to further validate his information. And, of course, because detainees will try to use anything and everything to get out of detention, this could be solid intelligence or it could be useless information. So without further corroboration from other sources, the analysts deemed it to be of low to moderate confidence.

What does low to moderate confidence mean in reality? It means it is actionable – as in we will do something as a result of the information – in regard to force protection/keeping US and coalition personnel safe in Afghanistan. But it is not actionable – as we will not do something as a result of this information – in regard to escalating a response in regard to our relations with Russia. That said, the administration did tell Russia that they are taking this seriously, even if it cannot be validated by other sources and methods, and therefore Russia should take note and act accordingly.

“We have noted our conclusion of the review that we conducted on the bounties issue and we have conveyed through diplomatic, intelligence, and military channels strong, direct messages on this issue, but we are not specifically tying the actions we are taking today to that matter,” a senior administration official told reporters in reference to the bounty claims.

This happens. Despite what people both inside and outside the Intelligence Community would like to believe, while a lot of it is rooted in social and behavioral science and methods, it is as much artisanry as it is science. And sometimes even a solid lead, which this may or may not be, cannot be validated by further investigation.


Open thread!

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Categories: Politics

Proud to Be A Democrat: Nancy Smash, Still Fighting

Thu, 04/15/2021 - 20:59

I never did post my review of Molly Ball’s Pelosi when it first came out, but now that it’s available in paperback, I’ll just offer my highest recommendation. Ball is always an interesting writer, and Speaker Pelosi is an excellent subject, of course!

And now there’s a new book, Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power, by Susan Page:

On her 100th day as speaker of the 117th Congress, Nancy Pelosi discussed the dramatic events that opened her tenure, when a mob that stormed the Capitol wanted to kill her.

“That’s what they were setting out to do,” she told USA TODAY, if her security agents hadn’t managed to evacuate her from the House chamber in time. Asked if that frightened her, she replied, “Well, I’m pretty tough. I’m a street fighter. They would have had a battle on their hands.”…

In a wide-ranging interview, Pelosi described a historic start for the new Congress and President Joe Biden, one “on par” in ambition and impact with the first 100 days of FDR and LBJ. She called Biden skilled in Washington politics and bolder in policy than many expected. “Transformative and visionary and experienced,” she said…

She said she would soon introduce legislation to harden the Capitol’s security, indicating she would support the installation of retractable fencing to be deployed only when security threats demanded. She also suggested for the first time that she might move to establish a select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection if efforts to create a special 9/11-style commission failed…

When Pelosi talked about the Jan. 6 assault, her voice became lower and more intense.

“I was never personally afraid because I had so much security for myself,” she said. “I was afraid for everybody else, and I’ll never forgive them the trauma that they caused to the staff and the members.”

Asked about the first 100 days of what is expected to be her last term as speaker, she rattled off priorities the House already has passed, though most are now stalled in the Senate. They include an anti-corruption and ethics bill. A criminal justice bill named for George Floyd; the police officer who killed him is now on trial in Minneapolis. An immigration measure to provide a path to citizenship for “dreamers,” young people brought to this country illegally as children.

“The point is we have more than a vision – a vision with specifics,” she said. “And we’re hoping that the Senate will be able to follow through on some of them, all of them I would hope.”

She said she hasn’t been surprised by the willingness of Biden, who campaigned as a centrist, to pursue a bold agenda once in office. “Understand that nothing really surprises me,” she said, but acknowledged that it was unexpected by some. “I think he is meeting the needs of the American people, and if people want to call that progressive? Hallelujah, that’s a good thing.”

With passage of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill and the approaching debate over a $2.3 trillion stimulus bill, she said, “I feel like I had landed in the promised land of legislation.”

Per The Hill:

In the book by journalist Susan Page, excerpts of which were obtained by Punch Bowl News, Pelosi expresses her frustration with McConnell and blasts him for his refusal to allow the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda following her death last year.

Ginsburg did lie in state at the Capitol, becoming the first woman to do so, but she was in the Statuary Hall on the House side of the building. McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) did not attend the service.

“Mitch McConnell is not a force for good in our country,” Pelosi told Page. “He is an enabler of some of the worst stuff, and an instigator of some of it on his own.”

The post Proud to Be A Democrat: Nancy Smash, Still Fighting appeared first on Balloon Juice.

Categories: Politics

The Grift Goes On Forever

Thu, 04/15/2021 - 20:29

The GOP is Trump’s party; Trump’s party is the GOP.

Which is to say that the grifter in chief (the one title he did not surrender on 1/20), as we here know full well, is not some aberration, but is rather the personification of the Republican Party in its current state of devolution. Trump never cared about politics as it is commonly understood; he was in it as he was in everything that preceded it, for the attention, and above all, to dip his beak.

So it was no surprise to learn recently that Trump’s campaign systematically and intentionally looted their own supporters, surreptitiously ensnaring contributors into doubled amounts and weekly repeats of attempted one-time donations–at a point in the fall when his election effort was running out of cash. That became a mini-scandal only in the last couple of weeks, and it seemed a perfect postscript to the most corrupt presidency in memory. Of course, Trump would rip off his people, because they weren’t his people: they were just the nearest and easiest marks.

The Grift Goes On Forever 6

The story broke finally, and it turns out that all that fund raising around the “stop the steal” treason was actually a way of refilling the tank to refund anyone who got round to complaining (while pocketing the spoils of those who never figured out the theft). And perhaps, in a kinder, more innocent age, that would have been that. A scumbag ran a con for a while, got caught, and that particular scam would be put to be for at least a bit.

I confess I thought something like that would happen. Even now, it seems, I don’t fully credit the degeneracy of the GOP:

The political arm of House Republicans is deploying a prechecked box to enroll donors into repeating monthly donations…

The language appears to be an effort by the National Republican Congressional Committee to increase its volume of recurring donations, which are highly lucrative, while invoking former President Donald J. Trump’s popularity with the conservative base. Those donors who do not proactively uncheck the box will have their credit cards billed or bank accounts deducted for donations every month.

Even better, and by better I mean worse, the leg breakers ate the NRCC warn their victims of consequences if they don’t make the big each week:

The Grift Goes On Forever

The Republican program as articulated by McConnell et al. is itself a bust-out operation, run on the entire country–cut every tree, lease every well, let out as many no-bid contracts as possible to Friends of the Party–so it’s no surprise that the Family runs all of its operations on the same lines.

They are who they say they are; and because I think that non-political-junky-types can get the nastiness of this kind of petty cheating better, in some ways, than the grand con that the Congressional caucus hopes to run on us all, I hope we hammer home every instance of “You Just Can’t Trust A Republican” every chance we get.

And with that, I hope I’m back in more regular rotation here at the home of fine mustard and better cats. I make no promises–it’s been a tough several months for me here in the Hub of the Universe, and while I think there’s light at the end of the tunnel, I’m not quite sure. But here’s hoping, and a couple of images to express my felines about this fine flock of jackals. (Do jackals flock?)

The Grift Goes On Forever 1


The Grift Goes On Forever 2

The Grift Goes On Forever 4

The Grift Goes On Forever 5That’s enough.

This thread: it is open.

Image: Louise Moillon, Market Scene with a Pick-pocket, first half of the 17th c.

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Categories: Politics

Thursday Evening Open Thread: One’s Civic Duty…

Thu, 04/15/2021 - 19:33

(Poor cat, IMO, has the long-suffering expression of a cat who’s used to being treated as a dress-up toy… )

And, from the opposite side of the civic-duty roster, there’s the people trying to find Prancer a good home: reports:

Labeled a “neurotic mess” by foster parent Tyfanee Fortuna of Morris County, 2-year-old Prancer found Fortuna about six months ago as he was shelter-bound — “obese, wearing a cashmere sweater, with a bacon egg n cheese stuffed in his crate,” she wrote. Her pitch to find him a new area home gained global interest for its brutal honesty.

Despite the viral spread of Prancer’s story thanks to Fortuna, the 13-pound pup may still struggle to find the ideal owner, said Stephanie Pearl of the Second Chance Pet Adoption League. Comprising Fortuna and other foster owners mostly in Bergen, Morris and Passaic counties, the all-volunteer rescue has heard from only a few potentially serious applicants amid hundreds of inquiries from around the world, Pearl said…

Fortuna said Tuesday that she remains hopeful Prancer’s perfect person will be found, but that his issues do present a challenge not everyone can handle. The 25-year-old said she has always been drawn to animals who need extra attention for medical or behavioral issues, but she did not know what she was getting in Prancer…

“We have found a way to manage him and mitigate some of his behaviors, but some days are definitely still challenging with him,” Fortuna said.

Although Prancer’s road to adoption may take time, Pearl said the spread of Prancer’s story has nonetheless been great publicity for the Second Chance Pet Adoption League and rescue dogs everywhere.

“It’s been great to connect with so many like-minded people that have lived with and want dogs like him and are willing to put in the extra time and effort to get to know the scared, distrustful ones, knowing how rewarding it is to see them blossom once they are comfortable,” Pearl said…

The post Thursday Evening Open Thread: One’s Civic Duty… appeared first on Balloon Juice.

Categories: Politics

My Thoughts Are Less Charitable On Those Who “Opt Out”

Thu, 04/15/2021 - 18:54

Mistermix, earlier:

As I sat and enjoyed the feeling, I thought about the idiots who won’t partake in this massive free benefit. My attitude towards them is similar to the attitude I’d have towards someone who won’t visit a national park, or who won’t take a nice walk on a nature trail, or have some religious objection to riding a bike. I can sum it up as “more for me.” The more red staters who refuse vaccination, the more likely that my young relatives in red states will be vaccinated early. These anti-vax idiots make it more likely that my elementary and middle school relatives will be vaccinated before school this Fall, as soon as the EUAs come through for their age groups.

I am sure it will come as no great surprise that my thoughts on these fuckers is less charitable. Personally, I think anyone who had the opportunity to get vaccinated and chose not to for any reason other than medical advice, upon contracting the disease and needing treatment, be locked into a hermetically sealed room with meals thrown in occasionally until they either die or get better.

And let me be clear about medical advice- I mean if your doctor, a licensed physician practicing modern medicine, says you should not be vaccinated for whatever legitimate reason, whether it be pre-existing condition or whatever, then fine. That’s why everyone else is getting it- to protect those who can not protect themselves.

I am not, however, talking about the earthy chick who teaches your hot yoga class and sells DoTerra on the side whose only “medical” training is a three day homeopathic remedy retreat outside Bend, OR, that she heard about during Burning Man in her hippy days. I am not talking about your buddy from the army who read a book on biology while mining bitcoins and became a youtube certified epidemiologist over the past few months.

Look- I am not opposed to alternative “medicines” in many contexts, and think if having your pressure points manipulated or you getting cupped or having accupuncture brings you relief, good on you. I value mindfulness and am a big fan of deep tissue massages, something I get frequently for my shoulder pain when we are not in the midst of a plague.

But we are in the shit now, and this is a very deadly disease that has disrupted our lives for too long and KILLED MILLIONS worldwide. It is your fucking duty as an American citizen and to your fellow man to get vaccinated if it is medically sound (and for 95+% of the population it is).

I find these idiots, like your stay at home mom friend Karen from Marin County who refused to vaccinate her kids because it causes autism but she’s not worried because she feeds them only organic whole foods, to be absolutely fucking maddening. Every fucking school and restaurant in the god damned nation has liability insurance and special training so a handful of kids don’t die from eating a fucking peanut every year, but now we have something that is multiple orders of magnitude more serious, a solution ready and available, and motherfuckers won’t do the right thing because they’ve decided their right to be a fucking dipshit trumps other people’s rights to not die.

Tl:DR- Get vaccinated assholes.

The post My Thoughts Are Less Charitable On Those Who “Opt Out” appeared first on Balloon Juice.

Categories: Politics

Open Thread – President Biden Delivers Remarks on Russia

Thu, 04/15/2021 - 16:36

Coming up soon:

And open thread!

The post Open Thread – President Biden Delivers Remarks on Russia appeared first on Balloon Juice.

Categories: Politics

That Thin Blue Line Flag

Thu, 04/15/2021 - 15:20

The Police Department in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, where Daunte Wright was killed by an officer, has been flying a “Thin Blue Line” flag just below the American flag. The mayor of Brooklyn Center requested that the flag be taken down because it is inflammatory, and the police complied. Its use has been banned by the University of Wisconsin and Pelham, NY, police departments.

The TBL flag has a lot wrong with it. It is related to the “Blue lives matter” slogan, which developed in response to “Black lives matter” to minimize that claim. It is used by white supremacist factions. The flag was displayed in the January 6 attack on the Capitol, with attackers somewhat contradictorily attacking Capitol police with poles with the flag attached.

It’s not just the flag. Search for thin blue line images and you will find skulls, crosses, angels, crusaders, helmets, Superman symbols, mourning bands, and flags of Australia and the UK. Many of the flags are depicted as weathered, and you can buy a weathered flag from Etsy. Not immediately clear why weathered flags are valued.

It is an American flag, flattened to black and white, with a blue stripe substituting for the white stripe just below the field of stars. Interpretations of the red, white, and blue of the American flag vary, and there seems to be no official interpretation, but the black and white of the TBL flag eliminate them. Changing the American flag is an act of arrogance and claimed power to override its values.

Many interpretations are possible of that black and white scheme. Black and white suggest a radical division of right and wrong, or skin color. Removing the colors and substituting one symbolizing a single group suggests that that group is the most important in the nation.

Black and white color schemes often indicate mourning.

Wikipedia and the Marshall Project give some history of the phrase and flag.

Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner

The post That Thin Blue Line Flag appeared first on Balloon Juice.

Categories: Politics

Vaccine Reaction

Thu, 04/15/2021 - 14:33

I just had my second shot (Moderna). I have to wait 30 minutes because I’ve had anaphylaxis due to allergies (not to vaccines), so I had plenty of time to just enjoy the euphoric feeling of “it’s almost over.” Or, in the words of a song, “there goes the fear.”

From all we’ve seen so far, the danger of contracting a deadly or extremely serious case of COVID if you’ve had one of the mRNA vaccines is way, way less than the dangers we tolerate in everyday life. In two weeks, for me, COVID risk goes to the back of my personal risk line, behind riding my bike on busy streets, my family history of cancer, and the everyday danger of falling down and breaking my neck in some dumb way or other.

As I sat and enjoyed the feeling, I thought about the idiots who won’t partake in this massive free benefit. My attitude towards them is similar to the attitude I’d have towards someone who won’t visit a national park, or who won’t take a nice walk on a nature trail, or have some religious objection to riding a bike. I can sum it up as “more for me.” The more red staters who refuse vaccination, the more likely that my young relatives in red states will be vaccinated early. These anti-vax idiots make it more likely that my elementary and middle school relatives will be vaccinated before school this Fall, as soon as the EUAs come through for their age groups.

My other attitude towards them is “ha ha fucking ha”. Enjoy not attending a sporting event in New York. Enjoy wearing your hated mask longer because not enough of you goobers have gotten vaccinated and COVID is still around. When I visit your benighted red state viral breeding grounds, I’ll don one of my medical grade masks to protect me from ubiquitous virus-laden breath and mouth “fuck you” to every unmasked yokel I see.

It’s been a long pandemic and these people have done nothing but make it harder. Here’s hoping that some of the consequences fall on them now that the rest of us can get vaccinated.

To forestall the usual comments, yes I know that variants will occur, but we all know that they’re coming to the US anyway from places like Brazil. If variants start breaching the vaccine protection, I’ll mask up and quarantine until a booster is created. My guess is that it will arrive faster than the initial vaccine. I do feel bad for the healthcare workers who have to take care of these morons, but at least they’ll be vaccinated and won’t die from inhaling their spew. I do hope the hospitals don’t fill up in red states, but I’ll play my part by staying the fuck away from red states having outbreaks. And remember that almost anyone can get the vaccine — they’re incredibly safe as well as extremely effective.

Anyway, it’s not in my nature to celebrate, but Fox idiots like that fucker Carlson don’t want us to, so it is pretty much our patriotic duty to celebrate long and loud. Consider this my contribution to the cause.

The post Vaccine Reaction appeared first on Balloon Juice.

Categories: Politics

The Strategic Implications of President Biden’s Decision To Adhere To the Agreement To Withdraw US Forces From Afghanistan

Thu, 04/15/2021 - 13:56

Both BettyC and John did very good posts on President Biden’s decision on Tuesday to adhere to the agreement that the Trump administration negotiated with the Taliban and withdraw US forces from Afghanistan. I wanted to write a little bit about this in terms of the strategic implications and what I think the strategic calculus was.

For full disclosure: I was informally told to begin preparing in 2009 to be deployed to Afghanistan sometime in 2010, that at some point I’d be put back in training and assigned a new team. This did not happen. I was handed off to the Army’s second culture program and assigned to be the Cultural Advisor/Senior Civilian Advisor to the Commandant of the US Army War College, where I was dual hatted internally as the Professor of Culture, Strategy, and Policy, as well as dual hatted within the program as the senior subject matter expert and, ultimately, as the staffer Acting as the Deputy Director. It was an honor and privilege to serve the 48th, 49th, and 50th Commandants, so no complaints there. And from 2009 through 2014 I spent a lot of time providing support – from pre-deployment preparation to reach back analytical support – to elements at and above brigade deployed to Afghanistan. So while I don’t have boots on the ground time in Afghanistan like I do in Iraq – where I’ve also either volunteered to deploy or been asked to and agreed to deploy a number of times since 2014, which didn’t happen for a variety of reasons (cough, sequester, cough) – I have spent a lot of time working on Afghan and Afghan related issues for different Army elements.

I think there are three strategic considerations that went into the Biden national-security team’s analysis of how to proceed in Afghanistan. They are:

  1. What happens if we break the agreement the previous administration locked us into?
  2. What happens if we adhere to the agreement the previous administration locked us into?
  3. Have we done what was necessary, or, perhaps, is it even possible to do what is necessary through our operations in Afghanistan to set the conditions to secure the peace once we withdraw?

These questions/considerations are undergirded and framed within one of the key strategist’s questions: how much risk am I willing to assume? I think from the reporting we can pretty much conclude that Biden and his team ran the traps on the first two questions and concluded that honoring the agreement assumes less risk for the US, our allies and partners, and the region than breaking it. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any risk. I don’t for a moment think that the Taliban are going to be positive actors once we and our NATO allies withdraw, let alone between now and the withdrawal. And I doubt anyone on the Biden nat-sec team is so naive as to think that either.

The third question is the harder one to answer. Because it is, I think, abundantly clear that we have not done what was required, either on the battlefield or at the negotiating table or in advising and assisting or in doing political development and building infrastructure, to set the conditions to secure the peace once we withdraw. I also think it is abundantly clear that no matter who is doing the policy and strategy development, the planning, the analysis, etc regarding Afghanistan that we have in 2021 any real, let alone better idea of how to do or achieve any of this in Afghanistan. And that’s where the strategic rubber meets the operational reality road. The point of waging war is to establish conditions through the use of force to inflict so much pain on one’s opponent or opponents as to make them unable and/or unwilling to continue fighting that it allows one to secure the peace once fighting has concluded. I don’t know of anyone, including the Afghan subject matter experts I used to work with on this stuff, who have any good and/or realistic ideas how to do this vis a vis the Taliban. And if you cannot do this and you are not going to simply stay some place as a third party counterinsurgent and peacemaking force for ever, then you don’t have an achievable strategic objective.

And the largest, overarching, and overwhelming problem with the US’s Afghanistan policy and theater strategy for the better part of the past twenty years, is that it hasn’t been achievable. Getting bin Laden – either capture or kill – was achievable and has been achieved. Dismantling al Qaeda’s ability to use Afghanistan as a base of operation and originating node of influence in a transnational terrorist network was achievable and a lot of it has been achieved. But turning Afghanistan into a functioning state and society, that has an Afghan contextualized and acceptable form of small “l” and small “d” liberal democracy was always somewhere between an exceedingly heavy lift and impossible. A lot of that has to do with Afghanistan and its human and political geography; its socio-cultural, socio-political, socio-religious, and socio-economic reality as it is, not as we wish it was or might be. A lot of it has to do with the fact that it is almost impossible to successfully conduct a third party counterinsurgency to successful conclusion. There are only four or five of these that have ever been successful and what made them successful in terms of the actual military operations is no longer acceptable. The classic example of success is the Malaya campaign, which the US and our allies cannot and will not emulate anywhere.

Right now the good faith push back, as opposed to the “you can’t withdraw as it is disrespectful to everyone killed or wounded in action in Afghanistan”, which is a stupid reason to continue a war, is centered on the effect this will have on groups that the Taliban targets. Specifically women and girls, LGBTQ Afghans, less religious Afghans, Afghans that live in urban areas, non-Pashtun Afghans, and several other groups that the Taliban has historically brutalized, oppressed, and mistreated both when they were running Afghanistan and in the areas of Afghanistan they currently control. This is a compelling moral argument. It is an important argument. However, this argument basically requires American’s political leadership – from President Biden to both Democratic and Republican members of the House and the Senate – to hold a very public discussion with each other and the American people as to what this would entail, why it would be worth it for US security and that of our allies given the risks to both human and economic resources involved, and for the US military to actually produce a feasible, acceptable, and suitable theater strategy with clearly understood and achievable measures of effectiveness to undertake this mission. While I have no doubt the Biden administration officials are capable of doing this, in fact Secretary of State Blinken went to Afghanistan today to speak to the troops there about the decision, I don’t see members of Congress having this debate. Both because it would quickly devolve into jingoism, but also because the most jingoistic of our members of the House and the Senate seem to have the least professional integrity. No one in Congress wants this debate because no one in Congress wants it coming up in their next reelection campaign, no matter how much of the flag they wrap themselves in.

The protection our and our allies presence have provided for these groups in parts of, but not all of Afghanistan has been a by-product of what was our actual national and theater level objectives in Afghanistan. The calls to remain in Afghanistan to provide this protection as the end-state to be achieved would change the mission. It would not be counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism. It would become peace making and peace keeping. They are very, very, very different. Frankly, I’m not really sure the US military is properly educated and trained for this type of mission. We have spent a lot of time and money – I mean A LOT – over the past twenty years trying to get US conventional forces to be able to do tactical and operational missions that are either adjacent to what our various Special Operations elements do or are lite versions of those Special Operations missions. And, frankly, the strategic success in conducting these missions has been mixed even as every year the tactical and operational competency gets better among our conventional forces. But peace making and peace keeping missions are not something the US specializes in. It is such a limited priority that the only US military program devoted to it, the Peace Keeping and Stability Operations Institute (PKSOI), has been partially defunded and was barely rescued from being completely defunded and shut down during the Trump administration.

And it is here that we reach the strategist’s dilemma: a moral quandary. In chapter five of the Tao Te Chingit’s author – Lao Tzu – states that:

Heaven and Earth are impartial; they treat all of creation as straw dogs.
The Master doesn’t take sides; he treats everyone like a straw dog.

This concept of dispassionately treating everyone as if they are the same is reflected in The Art of War, the classic Taoist treatise on strategy and the ethics of war and conflict. And it is the strategist’s dilemma, especially American strategists given our national ideals. We spend a lot of time in professional military education, especially at the higher, graduate, and professional education levels/equivalents (the Service academies, each Service’s strategists schools, and the Senior Leader Colleges/each Services War College) of trying to get the students, whether cadets and midshipmen or lieutenant colonels and colonels, to think about how America’s ideals influence or should influence our policy and strategy. Or whether they should even do so at all. We try to get them to think through whether it is better to try to formulate a policy and develop a strategy to achieve it that is dispassionate or that tries to incorporate and achieve some of our national ideals. Or whether it is even possible.

FDR faced this dilemma. He knew, because the allies knew, what Hitler was doing with the Final Solution. FDR knew that if he ordered the bombing of the NAZI rail lines, it would slow down the industrial extermination of the Jews of Europe. But he also knew that if he did so, it would tip the allies’ hand to the NAZI leadership. And while Hitler might not understand all the nuance, the military and intelligence leadership would. FDR’s decision was to prosecute the war as the best way of stopping the Final Solution even though it meant more Jews would die in the Holocaust than if he took direct action to stop the NAZI extermination program. It was the hardest of hard decisions and to this day it still generates enough controversy that scholars and analysts are debating it and polemicists use it to claim that FDR was a virulent anti-Semite, which he was not.

This is the strategic dilemma that the Biden national-security team and President Biden are facing. The only really compelling reason to stay in Afghanistan now is to put US and our coalition forces in between the Taliban and the Afghans that the Taliban would tyrannize, abuse, and mistreat. The US military is not really prepared to do this type of operation. The only one of our allies who really specialize in it, and who are the best at it, is New Zealand and they just don’t have the force capacity to do it by themselves. However, there are a number of compelling reasons to bring the Afghan campaign to a conclusion. The most prominent of them is that the Trump administration, when they were the US government, obligated the United States to do so.

There are no good strategic solutions to Afghanistan. We are a third party actor in Afghanistan. Even after twenty years of operations there, of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines going back multiple times during the course of their careers, and hiring civilian subject matter experts with deep expertise into Afghan politics, culture, history, and religion, we still cannot formulate and/or articulate a way forward that both makes sense within an Afghan context and is achievable. Staying in Afghanistan assumes risk. Leaving assumes risk. The questions, after all the words are typed, is the same: how much risk and what types of risk are we willing to assume. And the answers will only come, as they always do, in time.

Changing what type of and how much risk we are willing to assume does not, however, dishonor the service and the sacrifice of anyone who served in Afghanistan over the past twenty years.

Open thread.

The post The Strategic Implications of President Biden’s Decision To Adhere To the Agreement To Withdraw US Forces From Afghanistan appeared first on Balloon Juice.

Categories: Politics

Silverloading as a pay-for

Thu, 04/15/2021 - 12:35

The Democratic Trifecta in the House, Senate and White House are gearing up for another major policy legislation writing session with another reconciliation bill that is likely to be more focused on infrastructure than health care. However, it is likely to have a decent size health coverage component. It is extremely likely that good chunks of the policy wishlist will be enacted via reconciliation which has particular rules. One of the rules is that reconciliation bills can not, per Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates, increase the deficit in the 2nd decade after it goes into effect. That means permanent policies need to be paid for.

Silverloading is a massive potential health policy pay-for.

Silverloading, for those who don’t follow my obsession, is the response of states and insurers to the decision by the Trump Administration to not directly reimburse insurers for Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) subsidies that were highly targeted to low income families to reduce their out of pocket expenses for healthcare. These subsidies only applied to families earning under 250% Federal Poverty Level and who bought a silver plan. Silver plans are important as the premium of the second least expensive silver plan sets the affordability benchmark and thus the size of the premium subsidy available to a family.

Silverloading is the process where insurers that are still obligated to offer CSR benefits, to place the cost of those CSR benefits into only the premiums of silver plans. This means not-silver plans (gold and bronze primarily) became relatively cheaper to silver plans for subsidized buyers than they otherwise would have been. This has led to a massive proliferation in zero-premium plans and it acted to support enrollment in a policy environment that was designed to suppress enrollment.

Silverloading is expensive as hell. The CBO, in August 2017, estimated that universal silverloading would like cost the federal government an extra $194 billion dollars from 2018-2027. The CBO estimated silverloading would buy about a million more covered lives per year. This is an expensive way to get some more people coverage. Most of the benefits of silverloading accrued to people who otherwise would have still bought an ACA plan. There may be significant plan switching occurring (Rasmussen et al 2019) in response to a price shock, but most of the benefits go to people who would have bought insurance in the counter-factual of no policy change.

So what does this mean?

Silverloading is likely to be a major component of paying for permanent changes to the ACA subsidy and benefit tables. An explicit appropriation for CSR benefits will “save”, per CBO methodologies, hundreds of billions of dollars over the first decade and even more in the second decade. Those funds can be used to move the benchmark plan from silver to gold. Those funds can be used to top-up CSR subsidies for households earning both over and under 200% Federal Poverty Level. Those funds can be better used. And given CBO scoring methodologies, those extensions can be mostly paid for without significant pain from any stakeholder that may be willing to mobilize in self-interest.

Silverloading is likely to have a short expected life span going forward.

And yeah, I’m support using silverloading as a pay-for because silverloading is an ugly kludge that inefficiently but effectively reset the expectation of what affordability did primarily through the politics of inertia. If there is a better way to spend the same amount of public dollars to deliver more benefits of either or both of lower premiums and less cost-sharing, we should do that. I don’t care that silverloading will have been a major identifying feature of at least half a dozen papers, I don’t care that silverloading is how I got to troll the former president in the op-ed pages of the New York Times. If there is a better way that is legally more stable and far less dumb, we should go that route.

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Categories: Politics

Moot Court (Open Thread)

Thu, 04/15/2021 - 12:20

Kate Riga at TPM has a piece up that addresses anti-choice people’s puzzlement at the wingnut SCOTUS supermajority’s failure so far to mount a full-scale attack on reproductive rights. They’re particular confused and disconcerted by Bony Carrot’s failure to strike down Rowe vs. Wade:

When Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the Supreme Court in October 2020, the anti-abortion community celebrated the beginning of a new era. The Court would now be heavily skewed to the right, and its newest member had been open about her own beliefs.

“It’s go time! Get ready for a post Roe v Wade America! #ProLifeGen Assemble! This is what we were made for and have been preparing for,” tweeted the president of the anti-abortion group Students for Life.

That was six months ago. The hammer still hasn’t dropped.

Riga notes that the lack of action so far doesn’t necessarily mean a damn thing; the Court could take up the listed case on Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks “this week.”

But there’s all kinds of speculation swirling about the delay. Folks interviewed for Riga’s piece gave possible reasons, including that the Court is planning to deny review of the Mississippi petition and is delaying that announcement until a dissent is prepared, to the possibility that Justice Breyer plans to retire at the end of the term (and a subsequent confirmation circus), to the Court wanting to kick the can down the road until the end of the term, to the Court being generally reluctant to fuck with the status quo right now.

My cynical side wonders if the Republican Justices (because that is what they are) are leery of giving Democrats any ammunition for the midterms, trusting that their voters will swallow their disappointment and turn out in greater numbers than ours will. That’s usually a safe bet, but who knows?

Senator Markey and Congressman Nadler introduced a bill to raise the number of justices from 9 to 13, which would be great, but it has no chance in hell of passing the in the current U.S. Congress. Maybe their gambit is about 2022 congressional races too. Again, who knows?

Open thread!


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Categories: Politics

Thursday Morning Open Thread: President Biden, History’s Least Probable Trickster Figure

Thu, 04/15/2021 - 07:48

Road Runner goes Beep!Beep!

Harlan Hill is the soft little man-baby currently getting paid to defend Matt Gaetz

The post Thursday Morning Open Thread: President Biden, History’s Least Probable Trickster Figure appeared first on Balloon Juice.

Categories: Politics

On The Road – Kody Kastel – California Photos

Thu, 04/15/2021 - 05:00
Kody Kastel

I spend a lot of time traveling for photoshoots in some awesome locations, here are some photos from several spots in California.

The post On The Road – Kody Kastel – California Photos appeared first on Balloon Juice.

Categories: Politics

Time Flies, Doesn’t It?

Wed, 04/14/2021 - 20:30

I had an early dental appointment this morning. Getting a deep cleaning of my teeth since I have not been in for almost two years because of the pandemic, and last Friday I woke up and discovered the crown on my molar was missing and is presumably now with the mustard somewhere in the aether. At any rate, I was out of the house bright and early, and as I opened the front door I observed that the Penthouse Suite nest on the front porch had been demolished:

Time Flies, Doesn't It?

All that remains are some straw and cotton lying in a pile on the porch:

Time Flies, Doesn't It? 1

I don’t know if the nest (which I leave up every year so they know they are welcome back) was destroyed as part of an annual remodeling, or if perhaps there is about to be a vicious turf war for nesting privileges. Regardless, it made me happy because spring is here. The cycle of life, they say.


It was on this day, a year ago, that the Balloon Juice community received the shocking and horrible news that Alain had died in his sleep. It feels like it was both just yesterday and a lifetime ago, but nonetheless, it has been a year. Now that the initial shock and grief are over, it’s so much easier to remember who Alain was as a person.

Oddly enough, I was in the basement the other day grabbing some of the remaining cans of peaches and pears, and I grabbed the last jar of peach jam and ginger that Alain had made and sent me. He’d sent me several different types of jellies and jams- peach/ginger and grape are the two I remember the most, and while I don’t recall the specific details, I do sort of think I remember the peaches were a special kind grown in Colorado. I stared at the jar for a while and looked at the thoughtful label, then went upstairs and ate it. It was so good I finished it in two meals, the second a sumptuous peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a heaping of the jam and an ice cold glass of milk. The classics never go out of style.

The peach jam really sums up who Alain was. He’d sent it to me because I had been making a bunch of jam and talking about it, and he was also making jam, and with his omnipresent thoughtfulness, decided he would send some to me. Alain was kind that way. He was generous with his time, spending thousands of hours on this website simply because he loved you all so much. And he was thoughtful- doing the little things, the generous things, the kind things, the things that make this crazy world bearable. Not because he wanted something in return, but because being kind made him happy.

In a world full of little men acting like big shots, throwing around money on grotesque buildings that are little more than vulgar vanity projects, or slapping their names on schools so that THEY WILL HAVE THEIR LEGACY AND THEY WILL BE REMEMBERED, we’re so lucky to get to know people like Alain. Buildings crumble, but the ripple effect of Alain’s kindness will be passed down by those who received it for generations.

Now that’s a legacy.

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Categories: Politics

Wednesday Evening Open Thread: Readership Capture

Wed, 04/14/2021 - 18:34

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Categories: Politics

Potter Charged

Wed, 04/14/2021 - 17:51

Swift action in the shooting of Daunte Wright:

The Minnesota police officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, after appearing to mistake her handgun for her Taser was arrested on Wednesday and charged with second-degree manslaughter following three nights of protests over the killing.

The arrest of the officer, Kimberly A. Potter, who is white, came a day after she resigned from the Brooklyn Center Police Department, as did the Minneapolis suburb’s police chief. Hundreds of people have faced off with the police in Brooklyn Center each night since Mr. Wright’s death on Sunday, demanding that the former officer be charged, even as the region is on edge amid the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis officer charged with murdering George Floyd last May.

Again, IANAL, but this seems to me to be the correct charge. I don’t think she intended to shoot him with a gun, and I think you would be guaranteeing she walked if you charged her with murder. I know this will anger many, but I find much more guilt in the system in this shooting than I do in Officer Potter.

Why is Daunte Wright dead and why is an officer going to trial and why is there unrest in the streets of Brooklyn Center? That’s the question everyone responsible for policing in this country should be asking themselves. And to answer that, you have to go through how we got where we are.

Why are police still stopping people for non-moving violations?
Why are police still racial profiling?
Why are police pulling people over for bullshit like expired tags?
Why were there so many police there- they feed off each other and act more aggressively in groups.

And on and on and on. I’ll even take it a step farther- why did they have to arrest him for the warrant right then and there. Why even elevate it to the point that a taser was “needed.” Even though he was showing mild resistance and got back in his car, why was it so important that he be arrested that very second? You have fucking radios. You know where he lives. It wasn’t a big enough deal to have him in jail to send anyone to his house to arrest him, why all of a sudden just because you’ve nailed him for the crime of having air freshener from his mirror or whatever bullshit pretext you used to initiate the stop did he have to be arrested right then and there.

Again, what is the worst that could have happened if he just got in his car and drove home, and you followed him home and arrested him there with his mom? Or a week later?

Why do we have a system of policing built around violence, dominance, and requiring instant submission and deference? It’s the same with all these fucking no-knock warrants and other bullshit. The Breonna Taylor murder is another instance of this. They had surveilled her apartment. They fucking knew she and her boyfriend were in there. Why the fuck could they not just sit outside by his car and wait for him to head to Sheetz or Getgo for a pack of smokes or a soda? Why did they have to go HAM and raid the place with pistols blazing.

Our system of policing makes no sense to me.

Update at 6:35 PM EDT by Adam L Silverman

Cole asked me to do a quick update for him because he’s away from his keyboard.

What’s even worse in the Breonna Taylor case is that the warrant was NOT for her fiancé, which was the man she was in her apartment asleep with, but, rather, for an ex boyfriend who did not live at her residence and who had been arrested ten blocks away, and, according to the attorney’s for Taylor’s family, 40 minutes before the time that the warrant for Taylor’s apartment was executed. Additionally, Taylor’s family’s attorney has alleged as part of their lawsuit against the city that the warrant issued for Taylor’s residence really had less to do with her ex’s allegedly criminal behavior and more with a local development scheme to drive residents out of the neighborhood so that it could be gentrified. We’re still waiting for further details on if this alleged scheme is at the heart of why the warrant was issued for Taylor’s residence, but if it does turn out to be one of the motivating causes, then someone in municipal leadership, including someone in the local prosecutor’s office and, perhaps the judge who signed off on the warrant, are dirty. Additionally, local reporting by the Louisville Courier Journal indicates that the Louisville Police made numerous false representations of facts – colloquially lied – on the warrant application for Taylor’s residence. This includes falsely claiming that the US Postal Inspectors in Louisville had provided them accurate information that Taylor’s ex – Jamarcus Glover – had been receiving packages at her apartment for him. The Postal Inspector indicated that Louisville Police hadn’t asked, that there was no evidence this was the case, and that when a different agency had asked several months before the Postal Inspectors had investigated and found the allegations unwarranted.

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Categories: Politics

Open Thread: Biden Live on Afghanistan 

Wed, 04/14/2021 - 15:22

I was out and about all morning, but when I returned I just saw Biden at Arlington Cemetary. Here’s his brief speech on troop withdrawals.

If I find video of him at the cemetery, I’ll embed that and update the post.

So much news going on today so use this as your catch-all for discussing…

Afternoon open thread

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Categories: Politics

Doing the Work Open Thread: Not *Officially* A State-of-the-Union Speech

Wed, 04/14/2021 - 11:11

Per CBS:

President Biden on Tuesday night accepted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s invitation to address a joint session of Congress on April 28. The address is not an official State of the Union because a president’s first speech before Congress is not considered a State of the Union.

“Nearly 100 days ago, when you took the oath of office, you pledged in a spirit of great hope that ‘Help Is On The Way,'” Pelosi wrote in a letter to Mr. Biden. “Now, because of your historic and transformative leadership, Help Is Here!”…

Republicans will likely soon announce who will give their response…

Former President Trump’s final State of the Union in January 2020 ended in a dramatic fashion when Pelosi ripped up a physical copy of his speech after he finished.

“I tore it up,” she told reporters afterward. “I was trying to find one page of truth on there.” When asked why she had ripped it up, she responded, “It was the courteous thing to do considering the alternative.”

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Categories: Politics