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The Retaliatory State: How Trump Is Turning Government Into a Weapon of Revenge

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In New York magazine Jonathan Chait notes an ominous development:

Do you remember the “IRS scandal”? Unlike the conspiracy theories supported by “crazy” Republicans, like birtherism and Sharia law spreading in the U.S., the IRS scandal is one of the conspiracy theories supported by “Establishment” Republicans, like climate-science denial and Benghaaaazi. The premise of the “IRS scandal” held that the agency, supported explicitly or implicitly by the Obama administration, targeted conservative groups for harassment. Years of investigation by Congress and the IRS Inspector General firmly proved the opposite. The IRS, trying to enforce ambiguous rules governing political activity by nonprofit groups, flagged organizations on both the right and left in roughly equal measure.

The intensity of the IRS conspiracy theory petered out, but has never surrendered its place in the right-wing imagination. (Indeed, Wall Street Journal columnist William McGurn regurgitated the fantasy again yesterday.) The “IRS Scandal” has some importance beyond its insight into conservative paranoia. It has turned out to prefigure the Republicans’ own blueprint for the use of government as an implement of partisan domination and revenge.

In his essay on the “paranoid style” in American politics, which focused on the ravings of the conservative movement, Richard Hofstadter identified their penchant for reproducing the very techniques they decried. “The enemy seems to be on many counts a projection of the self: both the ideal and unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. A fundamental paradox of the paranoid style is the imitation of the enemy.” Conservatives simultaneously suspect that Democrats have perverted government as a tool of partisan domination and that this is a proper and normal — or at least inevitable — use of executive power.

Politico reports that the Trump administration is leaning toward appointing Thomas Brunell to the top operational job running the Census. While Brunell “appears to have little experience in federal statistics or at managing a big organization, both characteristics that census-watchers believe are vital for the job,” he does have one point on his résumé that makes him deeply attractive for the post. He is a committed advocate of Republican gerrymandering efforts, and the author of a book titled Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America. The Census is written into the Constitution and serves an essential governing function. Nobody has ever before thought to turn the direction of it over to a figure whose public career is so closely identified with partisan maneuvering.

Trump has openly called for using the Department of Justice and the FBI to prosecute his political opponents. “At some point the Justice Department, and the FBI, must do what is right and proper. The American public deserves it!” he has tweeted. “I am really not involved with the Justice Department. I’d like to let it run itself. But honestly, they should be looking at the Democrats,” he said, adding, “A lot of people are disappointed in the Justice Department, including me,” he told reporters. Having repeatedly threatened the news media, there is almost no way for CNN not to suspectthe Department of Justice’s anomalously harsh regulation of its parent-company merger is a form of retaliation for its coverage. The threat to CNN doesn’t have to explicit in order to have an effect.

The use of government as a tool of vengeance is not merely a recurring theme of Trump’s government. It is, in at least some cases, an explicitly articulated public philosophy. Stephen Moore, a conservative economic adviser at the Heritage Foundation, praises the Republican tax-cut plan as a deliberate attack on blue America. Moore, who has met with Trump and previously worked for such places as The Wall Street Journal editorial page and the Club for Growth, is not a marginal kook but instead a deeply influential one. His brazen endorsement of the goal of using the tax code to strike out at the party’s enemies merits close attention.

Moore argues that subjecting income spent on state and local taxes to federal taxation — a change Republicans might be expected to oppose as a form of double taxation — will have the delicious secondary effect of pressuring state government to shrink. “The big blue states either cut their taxes and costs, or the stampede of high-income residents from these states accelerates,” he gloats. “The big losers here are the public employee unions — the mortal enemies of Republicans. This all works out nicely.”

Moore likewise praises the plan for taxing university endowments. Republicans in general, and Moore with special fervency, typically oppose taxes on wealth. But he waxes enthusiastic about this wealth tax. “The first shot against the University Industrial Complex has finally been fired,” he exults …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2017 at 12:20 pm

To Save Net Neutrality, We Must Build Our Own Internet

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This is an excellent idea, though big telecoms will quickly use their power to push state legislatures to make this illegal, in the same way they have blocked municipalities. Jason Koebler writes in Motherboard:

The Federal Communications Commission will announce a full repeal of net neutrality protections Wednesday, according to the New York Times and several other media outlets. It is possible that a committee of telecom industry plutocrats who have from the outset made it their mission to rollback regulations on the industry will bow to public pressure before Wednesday, but let’s not count on it.

It is time to take action, and that doesn’t mean signing an online petition, upvoting a Reddit post, or calling your member of Congress.

Net neutrality as a principle of the federal government will soon be dead, but the protections are wildly popular among the American people and are integral to the internet as we know it. Rather than putting such a core tenet of the internet in the hands of politicians, whose whims and interests change with their donors, net neutrality must be protected by a populist revolution in the ownership of internet infrastructure and networks.

In short, we must end our reliance on big telecom monopolies and build decentralized, affordable, locally owned internet infrastructure. The great news is this is currently possible in most parts of the United States.

There has never been a better time to start your own internet service provider, leverage the publicly available fiber backbone, or build political support for new, local-government owned networks. For the last several months, Motherboard has been chronicling the myriad ways communities passed over by big telecom have built their own internet networks or have partnered with small ISPs who have committed to protecting net neutrality to bring affordable high speed internet to towns and cities across the country.

A future in which ISPs are owned by local governments, small businesses, nonprofit community groups, and the people they serve are the path forward and the only realistic way of ending big telecom’s stranglehold on America.

In Detroit, the Equitable Internet Initiative is building community-owned wireless internet infrastructure in towns that big telecom won’t touch. Hundreds of towns have built their own internet service providers. Rural communities are putting wireless internet antennas on top of mountains, grain silos, and tall trees. The fastest internet connections in the United States are provided by local governments, not big telecom. In Southern California, Tribal Digital Village is using unused television spectrum to deliver internet. All over the country, big telecom is being rejected and subverted, and you do not need to have a pile of money, an army of lawyers, or a degree in network engineering to take action.

Motherboard has and will continue to celebrate and amplify these projects, but that is not enough. Starting immediately, we will: . . .

Continue reading.

By all means click the link and get to work. There’s also a video at the link.

See also “Watch Our Documentary on Detroit’s Grassroots Internet Network” by Becky Ferreira.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2017 at 11:02 am

Asimov’s Foundation analogy

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I just decided to reread the Foundation series, which I firt read in junior high, and thanks to modern technology, I had determined through an easy Google search the best order in which to read them:

  1. The Complete Robot (1982) Collection of 31 Short Stories about robots.
  2. The Caves of Steel (1954) His first Robot novel.
  3. The Naked Sun (1957) The second Robot novel.
  4. The Robots of Dawn (1983) The third Robot novel.
  5. Robots and Empire (1985) The fourth (final) Robot novel.
  6. The Currents of Space (1952) The first Empire novel.
  7. The Stars, Like Dust– (1951) The second Empire novel.
  8. Pebble in the Sky (1950) The third and final Empire novel.
  9. Prelude to Foundation (1988) The first Foundation novel.
  10. Forward the Foundation (1992) The second Foundation novel.
  11. Foundation (1951) The third Foundation novel, comprising 5 stories.
  12. Foundation and Empire (1952) The fourth Foundation novel, comprising 2 stories.
  13. Second Foundation (1953) The fifth Foundation novel, comprising 2 stories.
  14. Foundation’s Edge (1982) The sixth Foundation novel.
  15. Foundation and Earth (1983) The seventh Foundation novel.

Having determined that, I decided that I really wanted the Foundation part, so I bought the 9th book in the list and had it on my Kindle in 10 seconds if that. “Impulse purchase” doesn’t touch it.

At any rate, I was stunned to see Trantor as a clear analogue of the United States, and the specificity with which the mindset described in the book corresponds to the mindset of the US. I would say that the analogy is deliberate. (And maybe that’s well known—that I just figured it out doesn’t mean that it’s not a well-established reading.)

Hari Seldon, I take it, represents Asimov.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2017 at 12:39 pm

No Protection for Protectors: The GOP effort to kill the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

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Gary Rivlin and Susan Antilla report in The Intercept:

Shortly after 10:00 p.m. on a Tuesday in late October, Vice President Mike Pence was summoned to the Senate floor. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau had finalized a landmark new rule in July banning the forced arbitration provisions that banks and credit card companies commonly tuck into the fine print of agreements, barring their customers from joining class-action suits. House Republicans quickly voted to nullify the new rule, but weeks later, with a deadline looming, it was still unclear if the Senate would act in time. After intense pressure from industry and the Trump administration, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was finally able to muster 50 votes, and Pence was parachuted in to break a 50-50 tie. Politico called the vote “a blow to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau” and “Republicans’ most far-reaching victory yet this year in their effort to roll back financial regulations.” CFPB Director Richard Cordray was even more blunt: “Wall Street won and ordinary people lost.”

The rule’s spectacular defeat marked a rare Wall Street victory over an agency created by Dodd-Frank, the sweeping financial reform law Barack Obama signed in 2010. The CFPB was barely five years old when Donald Trump was elected, promising to “do a number” on financial regulations. Just weeks into the new presidency, Sen. Ted Cruz declared the CFPB “an out-of-control bureaucracy” and introduced a one-page bill to abolish it outright. McConnell, then minority leader, had told a gathering of bankers in 2013, “If I had my way, we wouldn’t have the agency at all.” A dead or severely injured CFPB seemed a certainty in those early days. If nothing else, surely Cordray would get pink-slipped. “It’s time to fire King Richard,” exclaimed Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., shortly before Trump’s inauguration.

Yet Cordray is departing on his own terms, amid speculation that he will run for governor of Ohio. He announced on Wednesday that he expects to step down before the end of the month, and when he does, he’ll leave behind a vibrant, if profoundly embattled, agency.

His departure will be “a huge loss,” said Lisa Donner, executive director of Americans for Financial Reform. If Trump appoints a new director who is indifferent, or even hostile, to consumer issues, she said, “It will be incredibly costly to the American public.”

This past summer, Cheklist, a trade magazine for check cashers and payday lenders, published a cover story about the frustration roiling fringe financial players. The CFPB was still a “nettlesome bureau,” its editor wrote, and not a single bill aimed at weakening the bureau had reached the president’s desk. Meanwhile, its aggressive enforcement actions against debt collectorscredit repair companies, and online payday lenders were continuing unabated. Just three weeks before Congress reversed the arbitration rule, the CFPB finalized another new rule that tightened restrictions around high-interest, small-dollar loans to stop what Cordray called “payday debt traps.”

Yet it’s not just smaller financial players who have felt cheated over the past year. Richard Hunt, who has been paid more than $1 million a year  by the Consumer Bankers Association, a trade group representing the country’s largest banks, including Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase, expressed delight after the Senate killed the “ill-conceived” ban on mandatory arbitration clauses. But mostly, his organization has been left expressing disappointment. Thoughts of halting the CFPB have been replaced by angry pronouncements about its unregulated powers. “It’s a fact,” Hunt said in an interview. “It’s the most unaccountable agency in our government, period.”

In fact, the CFPB has emerged as that rare beast — a fast-moving agency that actually chalks up wins for average Americans. By the end of 2016, shortly before Trump took office, the 5 1/2 -year-old bureau’s enforcement actions against everyone from the country’s biggest banks to small-time debt collectors had already returned $11.9 billion to 29 million consumers. The CFPB had created a public database of consumer complaints against banks and other lenders, and had issued new rules governing everything from mortgages to student loans to the prepaid cards that millions of “unbanked” Americans carry in their wallets. A year ago, the bureau finalized new rules giving prepaid customers some of the same protections enjoyed by those who use credit cards. Pressure from the bureau also resulted in the end of several onerous practices by lenders, such as demanding full repayment on student loans if the parent who co-signed the loan died.

Through its complaint database, the CFPB has secured redress for more than 160,000 individual complainants, such as Gene DeSantis, a former TD Bank customer near Albany, New York. DeSantis, a consumer lawyer himself, nevertheless registered one of the 800,000-plus complaints the CFPB has received. While he was away for the winter, DeSantis had mail forwarded to his Utah home. But TD, he found, does not forward its bills unless a customer contacts the bank directly, even when a customer like DeSantis has arranged for the post office to do so, and so he missed a payment. After a surprise call from a debt collector, DeSantis said he called customer service but “never got anywhere.” Meanwhile, his late charges ballooned to $235 on his $136 missed payment. “If a person like me is rendered helpless, God forbid what the average person faces,” DeSantis said. Within a week of filing his CFPB complaint, TD dropped interest and penalties. (A TD spokesperson declined to comment on the bank’s refusal to waive the fees until the CFPB got involved.)

“Because of the bureau,” said Mike Calhoun, president of the Center for Responsible Lending, “we’ve gone from, ‘Where does it say I can’t do that?’ to ‘You have a duty to treat customers fairly.’”

Even without Cordray at the helm, the problem that confronts Hunt and his frenemies running other financial industry trade associations is that the CFPB is simply too popular to eliminate. A 2017 poll by Americans for Financial Reform and the Center for Responsible Lending showed that 78 percent of likely voters believe we need tough rules and enforcement to prevent another financial crisis. Even among Republicans the ratio was 2-to-1. A poll conducted at the end of 2016 showed that, by that same 2-to-1 margin, Trump voters want the bureau left alone or strengthened. Its popularity seems to be one reason the White House has not waged the frontal war on the CFPB that its allies so sorely wanted. With Wells Fargo and Equifax exploding in scandal and their CEOs marched before Congress, anger toward Wall Street is almost as strong on the right as it is on the left. How, in that context, do you shut down an agency called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau?

Industry’s answer has been a multimillion dollar, multi-front battle to discredit and defang the bureau, a war declared even before the enemy officially existed. Almost immediately after Dodd-Frank became law, a  . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more. It’s a lengthy and well-written article giving a history of the effort, strongly resisted by the GOP, to protect consumers.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2017 at 8:51 am

The Republican Tax Strategy: Speed, Subterfuge, and Diversion

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John Cassidy writes in the New Yorker:

It is entirely conceivable that, in two weeks’ time, the Republican Party’s leaders will have largely succeeded in railroading through Congress an unpopular, regressive, and damaging tax reform. That was their plan from the beginning, and so far it has worked out much as they intended. On Thursday, the House, spurred on by Paul Ryan, voted to approve its version of the legislation. Now everything depends on what happens in the Senate.
On Thursday night, just hours after the House vote, the Senate Finance Committee passed the Senate Republicans’ version of the tax bill on a party-line vote. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, is planning to put the bill to a floor vote immediately after Thanksgiving. If the Senate approves the bill, the Republicans and President Trump will be on their way to victory. A conference committee would then reconcile the two bills, which differ in some significant details but not in their essentials. A final bill could be voted on and presented for Trump’s signature by the end of the year.
To get their tax plan through this final legislative stretch, the Republicans will try to rely on speed, subterfuge, and diversion. McConnell and Ryan have read the opinion polls. They know that there is widespread opposition to their plan’s major elements, such as its big tax cuts for corporations, unincorporated businesses, and rich people (like the President), or its new limits on popular deductions for mortgage interest and state and local taxes. That explains why the Republicans didn’t hold any hearings in the House, and why they are adopting similar blitzkrieg tactics in the Senate. The G.O.P.’s strategy is to rush this thing through before the other side has time to organize a defense.
In the days of yore, whenever a major legislative proposal was put forward, each chamber would spend a good deal of time discussing and dissecting it. Hearings would be scheduled; experts would be summoned. For example, in 2009, the Affordable Care Act took nearly five months to reach an initial vote in the House. But Ryan and Kevin Brady, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, only introduced their tax bill, which is more than four hundred pages long, on November 2nd—all of two weeks ago. The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Orrin Hatch, released his version, which is equally long and complicated, just a week ago. This pace is more akin to downhill skiing than to traditional legislating.
After winning Thursday’s vote in the House, Ryan said, “This is about giving hardworking taxpayers bigger paychecks, more take-home pay.” He said practically the same thing on November 2nd. In the interim, it has emerged that fully three-quarters of the tax cuts in the House bill go to corporations and businesses. It has also been confirmed that the bill’s paltry middle-class tax cuts are temporary, and that by 2027 most middle-income families would be paying more in taxes. The Senate bill treats middle-income Americans in a very similar fashion, according to a study released on Thursday by the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation.
The Republicans cannot afford to publicly acknowledge these realities. If they did so, they’d have to resort to the old trickle-down argument that handing out prime steaks to the rich will eventually enable the masses to purchase higher-quality burgers. Outside the Heritage Foundation and the editorial department of the Wall Street Journal, this is not a winning story. So Ryan and McConnell will stick to the subterfuge and hope for some helpful diversions.
So far, they have been pretty lucky on that front. With daily developments in the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the election, and famous men being outed as sexual harassers at a similar pace recently, the G.O.P.’s twin tax bills have received less media scrutiny than they usually would have, especially on television. On Thursday evening, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 November 2017 at 12:00 pm

The Uncounted

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The military routinely lies and covers up any information that it finds incriminating or even embarrassing. (The military idea of “honor” seems to have some special meaning that allows for lying and cheating, if not stealing.) Azmat Kahn and Anand Gopal report in the NY Times:

Late on the evening of Sept. 20, 2015, Basim Razzo sat in the study of his home on the eastern side of Mosul, his face lit up by a computer screen. His wife, Mayada, was already upstairs in bed, but Basim could lose hours clicking through car reviews on YouTube: the BMW Alpina B7, the Audi Q7. Almost every night went like this. Basim had long harbored a taste for fast rides, but around ISIS-occupied Mosul, the auto showrooms sat dark, and the family car in his garage — a 1991 BMW — had barely been used in a year. There simply was nowhere to go.

The Razzos lived in the Woods, a bucolic neighborhood on the banks of the Tigris, where marble and stucco villas sprawled amid forests of eucalyptus, chinar and pine. Cafes and restaurants lined the riverbanks, but ever since the city fell to ISIS the previous year, Basim and Mayada had preferred to entertain at home. They would set up chairs poolside and put kebabs on the grill, and Mayada would serve pizza or Chinese fried rice, all in an effort to maintain life as they’d always known it. Their son, Yahya, had abandoned his studies at Mosul University and fled for Erbil, and they had not seen him since; those who left when ISIS took over could re-enter the caliphate, but once there, they could not leave — an impasse that stranded people wherever they found themselves. Birthdays, weddings and graduations came and went, the celebrations stockpiled for that impossibly distant moment: liberation.

Next door to Basim’s home stood the nearly identical home belonging to his brother, Mohannad, and his wife, Azza. They were almost certainly asleep at that hour, but Basim guessed that their 18-year-old son, Najib, was still up. A few months earlier, he was arrested by the ISIS religious police for wearing jeans and a T-shirt with English writing. They gave him 10 lashes and, as a further measure of humiliation, clipped his hair into a buzz cut. Now he spent most of his time indoors, usually on Facebook. “Someday it’ll all be over,” Najib had posted just a few days earlier. “Until that day, I’ll hold on with all my strength.”

Sometimes, after his parents locked up for the night, Najib would fish the key out of the cupboard and steal over to his uncle’s house. Basim had the uncanny ability to make his nephew forget the darkness of their situation. He had a glass-half-full exuberance, grounded in the belief that every human life — every setback and success, every heartbreak and triumph — is written by the 40th day in the womb. Basim was not a particularly religious man, but that small article of faith underpinned what seemed to him an ineluctable truth, even in wartime Iraq: Everything happens for a reason. It was an assurance he offered everyone; Yahya had lost a year’s worth of education, but in exile he had met, and proposed to, the love of his life. “You see?” Basim would tell Mayada. “You see? That’s fate.”

Basim had felt this way for as long as he could remember. A 56-year-old account manager at Huawei, the Chinese multinational telecommunications company, he studied engineering in the 1980s at Western Michigan University. He and Mayada lived in Portage, Mich., in a tiny one-bedroom apartment that Mayada also used as the headquarters for her work as an Avon representative; she started small, offering makeup and skin cream to neighbors, but soon expanded sales to Kalamazoo and Comstock. Within a year, she’d saved up enough to buy Basim a $700 Minolta camera. Basim came to rely on her ability to impose order on the strange and the mundane, to master effortlessly everything from Yahya’s chemistry homework to the alien repartee of faculty picnics and Rotary clubs. It was fate. They had been married now for 33 years.

Around midnight, Basim heard a thump from the second floor. He peeked out of his office and saw a sliver of light under the door to the bedroom of his daughter, Tuqa. He called out for her to go to bed. At 21, Tuqa would often stay up late, and though Basim knew that he wasn’t a good example himself and that the current conditions afforded little reason to be up early, he believed in the calming power of an early-to-bed, early-to-rise routine. He waited at the foot of the stairs, called out again, and the sliver went dark.

It was 1 a.m. when Basim finally shut down the computer and headed upstairs to bed. He settled in next to Mayada, who was fast asleep.

Some time later, he snapped awake. His shirt was drenched, and there was a strange taste — blood? — on his tongue. The air was thick and acrid. He looked up. He was in the bedroom, but the roof was nearly gone. He could see the night sky, the stars over Mosul. Basim reached out and found his legs pressed just inches from his face by what remained of his bed. He began to panic. He turned to his left, and there was a heap of rubble. “Mayada!” he screamed. “Mayada!” It was then that he noticed the silence. “Mayada!” he shouted. “Tuqa!” The bedroom walls were missing, leaving only the bare supports. He could see the dark outlines of treetops. He began to hear the faraway, unmistakable sound of a woman’s voice. He cried out, and the voice shouted back, “Where are you?” It was Azza, his sister-in-law, somewhere outside.

“Mayada’s gone!” he shouted.

“No, no, I’ll find her!”

“No, no, no, she’s gone,” he cried back. “They’re all gone!”

Later that same day, the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria uploaded a video to its YouTube channel. The clip, titled “Coalition Airstrike Destroys Daesh VBIED Facility Near Mosul, Iraq 20 Sept 2015,” shows spectral black-and-white night-vision footage of two sprawling compounds, filmed by an aircraft slowly rotating above. There is no sound. Within seconds, the structures disappear in bursts of black smoke. The target, according to the caption, was a car-bomb factory, a hub in a network of “multiple facilities spread across Mosul used to produce VBIEDs for ISIL’s terrorist activities,” posing “a direct threat to both civilians and Iraqi security forces.” Later, when he found the video, Basim could watch only the first few frames. He knew immediately that the buildings were his and his brother’s houses.

The clip is one of hundreds the coalition has released since the American-led war against the Islamic State began in August 2014. Also posted to Defense Department websites, they are presented as evidence of a military campaign unlike any other — precise, transparent and unyielding. In the effort to expel ISIS from Iraq and Syria, the coalition has conducted more than 27,500 strikes to date, deploying everything from Vietnam-era B-52 bombers to modern Predator drones. That overwhelming air power has made it possible for local ground troops to overcome heavy resistance and retake cities throughout the region. “U.S. and coalition forces work very hard to be precise in airstrikes,” Maj. Shane Huff, a spokesman for the Central Command, told us, and as a result “are conducting one of the most precise air campaigns in military history.”

American military planners go to great lengths to distinguish today’s precision strikes from the air raids of earlier wars, which were carried out with little or no regard for civilian casualties. They describe a target-selection process grounded in meticulously gathered intelligence, technological wizardry, carefully designed bureaucratic hurdles and extraordinary restraint. Intelligence analysts pass along proposed targets to “targeteers,” who study 3-D computer models as they calibrate the angle of attack. A team of lawyers evaluates the plan, and — if all goes well — the process concludes with a strike so precise that it can, in some cases, destroy a room full of enemy fighters and leave the rest of the house intact.

The coalition usually announces an airstrike within a few days of its completion. It also publishes a monthly report assessing allegations of civilian casualties. Those it deems credible are generally explained as unavoidable accidents — a civilian vehicle drives into the target area moments after a bomb is dropped, for example. The coalition reports that since August 2014, it has killed tens of thousands of ISIS fighters and, according to our tally of its monthly summaries, 466 civilians in Iraq.

Yet until we raised his case, Basim’s family was not among those counted. Mayada, Tuqa, Mohannad and Najib were four of an unknown number of Iraqi civilians whose deaths the coalition has placed in the “ISIS” column. Estimates from Airwars and other nongovernmental organizations suggest that the civilian death toll is much higher, but the coalition disputes such figures, arguing that they are based not on specific intelligence but local news reports and testimony gathered from afar. When the coalition notes a mission irregularity or receives an allegation, it conducts its own inquiry and publishes a sentence-long analysis of its findings. But no one knows how many Iraqis have simply gone uncounted.

Our own reporting, conducted over 18 months, shows that the air war has been significantly less precise than the coalition claims. Between April 2016 and June 2017, we visited the sites of nearly 150 airstrikes across northern Iraq, not long after ISIS was evicted from them. We toured the wreckage; we interviewed hundreds of witnesses, survivors, family members, intelligence informants and local officials; we photographed bomb fragments, scoured local news sources, identified ISIS targets in the vicinity and mapped the destruction through satellite imagery. We also visited the American air base in Qatar where the coalition directs the air campaign. There, we were given access to the main operations floor and interviewed senior commanders, intelligence officials, legal advisers and civilian-casualty assessment experts. We provided their analysts with the coordinates and date ranges of every airstrike — 103 in all — in three ISIS-controlled areas and examined their responses. The result is the first systematic, ground-based sample of airstrikes in Iraq since this latest military action began in 2014.

We found that one in five of the coalition strikes we identified resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition. It is at such a distance from official claims that, in terms of civilian deaths, this may be the least transparent war in recent American history. Our reporting, moreover, revealed a consistent failure by the coalition to investigate claims properly or to keep records that make it possible to investigate the claims at all. While some of the civilian deaths we documented were a result of proximity to a legitimate ISIS target, many others appear to be the result simply of flawed or outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants. In this system, Iraqis are considered guilty until proved innocent. Those who survive the strikes, people like Basim Razzo, remain marked as possible ISIS sympathizers, with no discernible path to clear their names.

Basim woke up in a ward at Mosul General Hospital, heavy with bandages. He was disoriented, but he remembered being pried loose from the rubble, the neighbors’ hands all over his body, the backhoe serving him down to the earth, the flashing lights of an ambulance waiting in the distance. The rescuers worked quickly. Everyone knew it had been an airstrike; the planes could return at any minute to finish the job.

In the hospital, Basim was hazily aware of nurses and orderlies, but it was not until morning that he saw . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2017 at 1:37 pm

The Uranium Follies Continue

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Kevin Drum has a pointed post on the uranium “scandal,” well worth reading. From that post:

. . . In fact, what happened is this: the Obama administration allowed a Russian company to acquire a Canadian company called Uranium One, which owned about 10 percent of our uranium production capacity, not 10 percent of our uranium.¹ The actual amount of uranium it produces is about 5 percent of total US uranium production. What’s more, the Russian company has no license to export this uranium, so it’s going to stay in the United States no matter who owns the mines.

So why not just say “uranium mining capacity” and qualify it with “a modest amount”? And why not add a brief sentence saying that no actual uranium has been approved for export outside the US? Even in a quick summary graf neither one takes up a lot of room, and omitting them leaves readers with an extremely distorted view of what happened.

Everyone knows this is all that happened, and everyone knows that Hillary Clinton did nothing wrong when the State Department joined eight other agencies in approving the deal. But this is no longer about Clinton anyway.  . .

Written by LeisureGuy

14 November 2017 at 12:22 pm

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