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Let's have some more cakewalks, 'kay?
Robert D. Kaplan recently wrote a piece (behind a paywall) saying it's time to bring imperialism back to the Middle East, although the editors at Foreign Policy changed the original headline to tone it down a bit. Juan Cole at The Nation writes—What’s Wrong With Robert Kaplan’s Nostalgia for Empire. Excerpts:
Journalist Robert D. Kaplan thinks that what is wrong with the Middle East is a lack of imperialism, and he urges that it be brought back. It is how, he says, most of the world has been ruled by “default.” This argument is so ahistorical and wrong-headed that it takes the breath away. [...]
The idea that the European armies that marched into the region offered order is laughable. They provoked revolt after revolt. They are dates local nationalists still take pride in. There was 1918–20 in Egypt, which forced the British out in 1922. There was 1920 in Iraq, which made London give up any idea of trying to run that country directly, as it did India. There was 1936–39 in Palestine and Syria. The French had to relinquish Syria and Lebanon, having, ironically enough, been weakened by being themselves colonized by Germany. [...]

The Middle East is not facing state collapse because of the lack of empire. European empires themselves drew lines in the desert and instituted policies favoring minorities and dividing and ruling, which continue to haunt the region. A long-term drought has driven millions of farmers from their land in this region, a drought exacerbated by the extra heat in the atmosphere caused by climate change. Water shortages in Raqqa in Syria or Taiz in Yemen are severe, and underpin some of the social turmoil.

The collapse of the socialist state after the fall of the Soviet Union and its deterioration into a rule of oligarchs under the impact of neoliberal (market fundamentalist) policies pushed by the West further destabilized these societies. The youth bulge, with hundreds of thousands of new workers trying to enter the work force annually, has presented challenges to these governments that they were unable to overcome. In any case, world regions do witness a great deal of turmoil in modern history. There was a time when Southeast Asia was in flames. It didn’t get back on track from the 1980s forward via Western neocolonialism. Indeed, the US Vietnam War had contributed to the destabilization of Laos and Cambodia. [...]

Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2004The sham handover:

The idiot establishment media is playing along with Bush (as usual) and pretending that the "handover" date has significance beyond the shuffling of a few legal documents.

Fact is, nothing much will change. The decidedly non-liberal Wall Street Journal makes this clear as day:

Haider al-Abadi runs Iraq's Ministry of Communications, but he no longer calls the shots there. Instead, the authority to license Iraq's television stations, sanction newspapers and regulate cellphone companies was recently transferred to a commission whose members were selected by Washington. The commissioners' five-year terms stretch far beyond the planned 18-month tenure of the interim Iraqi government that will assume sovereignty on June 30.

The transfer surprised Mr. Abadi, a British-trained engineer who spent nearly two decades in exile before returning to Iraq last year. He found out the commission had been formally signed into law only when a reporter asked him for comment about it. "No one from the U.S. even found time to call and tell me themselves," he says.

As Washington prepares to hand over power, U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer and other officials are quietly building institutions that will give the U.S. powerful levers for influencing nearly every important decision the interim government will make.

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Ireland made history last Friday, approving an amendment that enshrined marriage equality in the country's constitution by a wide 62-38 margin. As you can see in the map above, the "yes" vote carried a majority in all except one constituency, and passage of the referendum made Ireland the first country in the world to ensure marriage equality by popular vote. A bill to allow same-sex marriages is expected to be enacted by the end of July, and marriages would follow in early autumn.

Many news reports mentioned the high turnout for the vote, especially among young people. We explore that topic below the fold.

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Tue May 26, 2015 at 06:30 PM PDT

Game of Thrones 5.7—'The Gift'

by Mark Sumner

Jon prepares to visit the wildlings
Hast thou tried Head and Shoulders?
Winter is coming.

Remember that saying? Sure, it's floating on all those (now a bit sad looking) Stark banners, but it's also a big, honking, important theme behind the whole series. Enough so that I sometimes think naming the television series Game of Thrones after the first of the novels is a bit of a mistake. It puts the emphasis squarely on all the maneuvering to plant a posterior on that ugly iron chair, and that's certainly entertaining. Only ... it's a sideshow.

The Big $%@*&!ng Deal has always been up in the North, where strange white zombies have been roaming about since the first minutes of episode one. And even if they weren't ... winter is coming. Everyone knows it's coming. Everyone knows it's going to be bad. Like ten years of night and more snow than fell on New England this year bad. Only instead of filling the cellars with potatoes and putting aside N to the 10th cords of firewood, people are busily trampling fields, going stabby stabby, and burning down forests (and houses).

So when winter finally stops coming and just IS, things are going to be bleak. And we got a hint of that this week. Head below the fold for all the action.

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Tue May 26, 2015 at 05:45 PM PDT

It's flooding down in Texas

by DarkSyde

Whole Foods Market on Lamar being cleared of debris, silt and ruined groceries.....Credit: Jim C. Parker,  May 1981.  for 0529floodstories
Whole Foods Market on Lamar being cleared of debris, silt and ruined groceries after the Memorial Day flood in May 1981.
It was almost like the Memorial Day flood of 1981 all over again. Torrential rain on already saturated ground over the long three-day weekend brought on floods across the southwest, from Central Texas to Oklahoma:
The rain comes at the end of a long period of drought in Texas. Just four years ago, nearly all of the state was in extreme drought. Then-Gov. Rick Perry told Texans to “pray for rain.” He renewed the state of emergency in 2013. But after record-breaking rainfall this spring, no portion of Texas or Oklahoma was in extreme drought as of Thursday, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Going from one extreme to another is a hallmark of climate change. Scientists predict more droughts in the coming decades, as well as more intense rainstorms. In the midwest, the number of storms that drop more than three inches of rain have increased by 50 percent, according to an analysis from the Rocky Mountain Institute. Texas and Oklahoma both face intensifying drought and flooding, although politicians in both states have denied climate change.

No one weather event can be directly attributed to climate change. It's more like rolling dice, and lately we've been rolling a lot of snake-eyes.
The Capitol Dome, pre-dawn, September 2014
It's fair to remember, when you hear that members of Congress are paid $174,000 a year, that many of them are paying to keep up a home in their district and a place to live in Washington, D.C., where the rent may not be at Manhattan or San Francisco levels, but is still quite high. Many of them are doing that, but not all. Recent election cycles have seen longtime senators get in trouble for living in the D.C. area and not keeping homes in the states they represent, but the reverse seems to be more common: House members who sleep in their offices.
The dozens of members who sleep in their offices are, in effect, spending their weekdays in 100 percent federally subsidized apartments.

They are not charged any rent. They receive no utility bills. They don’t pay for the daily cleaning services. Microwaves and refrigerators have been installed in most suites. There’s a half bathroom connected to each personal office, and the showers at the members’ gym open at 5:30 a.m.

In short, lawmakers who choose their offices as their crash pads are getting a valuable government freebie — worth 10 percent or more of their $174,000 annual salary.

Is it admirable fiscal responsibility, showing that they're not living in the lap of luxury and that they're not creatures of Washington but rather are at home in their districts? Or is it hypocrisy that these overwhelmingly Republican congressmen are living off the government beyond just their paychecks? Though it must be said that not paying taxes on a benefit is totally in line with their politics, and finding ways to benefit themselves while blocking policies that would help others better afford their rent is the Republican way. One thing it is either way, though, is potentially awkward for staff:
For many staffers, the situation isn’t so great. Sometimes arriving for work early and encountering the boss before he’s brushed his teeth is just awkward. Other times, it’s arguably a hostile work environment when you’re forced to confront the pajamas and mussed hair of some of the most important policymakers in the land.
Be right back, going to bleach that image out of my brain.
The Supreme Court announced today that it will hear a case initiated by conservatives in Texas determining what "person" means for one-person, one-vote redistricting jurisprudence: all people, or just those who are eligible to vote?
The Justices’ move into the Texas Senate redistricting case comes fourteen years after Justice Clarence Thomas, in Chen v. City of Houston in May 2001, was the sole member of the Court who went on record in favor of sorting out “what measure of population should be used for determining whether the population is equally distributed among the districts.”

The usual choice considered by legislatures is to make districts more or less equal by dividing up shares of the state’s total population, or, as an alternative, to draw lines based upon some measure of the voting members of the population — such as the numbers actually registered to vote.

Two Texas voters, who wound up in state Senate districts where they say their votes will count less than the votes in another district even though each of those districts has about the same total number of people, argued that this contradicts the “one-person, one-vote” guarantee of voter equality. Their votes would have counted equally, they contended, if the legislature instead had used voting-age population as the measure.

The voters, Sue Evenwel, who lives in Titus County in Senate District 1, and Edward Pfenninger, who lives in Montgomery County in District 4, said their votes were diluted because of the disparity between the two measures as applied to those districts, where more of the people vote proportionally. Both districts are rural. Other, more urban districts have proportionally fewer registered voters, so the redistricting plan based on actual population is said to give those who do vote more weight — that is, fewer of them can control the outcome.

Why does this matter? Below the fold, some history.
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Bernie Sanders announcement
In a speech peppered with introductory "brothers and sisters," Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday made official his entry into the primary battle for the Democratic presidential nomination framed by the perfectly gorgeous sunny setting on Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont.

Although he was born and raised in Brooklyn, Burlington is where he has lived and worked for more than 40 years. The fact that Waterfront Park where he announced his campaign no longer qualifies as a rundown industrial eyesore is in great part thanks to Sanders's efforts during his four terms in the 1980s as Burlington's mayor. He knows what it means to be an underdog. He lost the first time he ran for office. But when he ran the last time for mayor, in 1987, he defeated a candidate endorsed by both the Democratic and Republican parties.

Long self-identified as a democratic socialist, which is what Europeans would call social democratic, Sanders's speech contained no surprises for those who have followed his career as mayor, Congressman and senator over the past 33 years.

There was no formal introduction Tuesday, just some brief remarks from a handful of avid supporters, including fellow Vermonter Bill McKibben, the author and environmental activist who co-founded and until recently was chief of McKibben said of the people who have followed Sanders's standing up for rank-and-file Americans:

"They know [Bernie] always means what he says, and he always stands for what he believes."
Both Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry's ice cream fame were on hand. Greenfield said:
"For those of us who have been sitting on the sidelines, finally a candidate worth voting for."
You can read Sanders's speech below the fold.
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Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams speaks to the media as Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson looks on at a news conference following the not guilty verdict for Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo on manslaughter charges in Cleveland, Ohio, May 23, 2015. Brelo was found not guilty on Saturday in the shooting deaths of an unarmed black man and a woman after a high-speed car chase in 2012, one in a series of cases that have raised questions over police conduct and race relations in the U.S. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk - RTX1E9CZ
After the U.S. Department of Justice issued one of the most scathing reports ever written on a police department, the Cleveland Police just entered into a binding consent decree with the DOJ.

Calling it an "historic agreement that will transform the way the City of Cleveland will be policed for years and years to come" the Justice Department, which found that Cleveland police have engaged in outrageous patterns and practices of violence and discrimination, is  mandating new layers of oversight and innovation to overhaul how the department operates.

The 105-page decree, soon to be approved by a federal judge, has detailed provisions and policy changes. See the document in full below. We will offer a full analysis soon.

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Tue May 26, 2015 at 03:00 PM PDT

Cartoon: All lives matter*

by keefknight

Reposted from Comics by Barbara Morrill

Krazy sale at!

Support ye olde gentleman cartoonist at Patreon!

Crime scene photo of car after shot up by Officer Michael Brelo
Many unjust verdicts across the years have exposed just how protected police misconduct is under the law.

Four LAPD Police Officers were acquitted of their assault on Rodney King - in spite of overwhelming video evidence that they used excessive force.

Four NYPD officers were acquitted after firing 41 shots at Amadou Diallo on the doorstep of his home. He was an unarmed model citizen.

Three NYPD detectives were acquitted on all charges after firing 50 shots into the car of Sean Bell on his wedding day. Everyone in his car was unarmed and leaving a bachelor party.

Even President George W. Bush said the decision not to indict NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the choking death of Eric Garner was "hard to understand."

In a study commissioned by the Washington Post, it was determined that less than one percent of police officers who kill people on the job ever serve a day in jail—even when overwhelming evidence proves they acted unlawfully.

Perhaps no police shooting in the history of America, though, was more egregious and excessive than that of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams by the Cleveland Police Department in 2012. Both of them were completely unarmed and parked when Officer Michael Brelo jumped on the hood of the car and fired 34 shots into the windshield, reloaded his gun, then fired 15 more. An 88 additional shots were fired by his fellow officers surrounding the vehicle.

For years, police have claimed that Timothy and Malissa shot at them from the car, but after no guns were recovered, no bullet or bullet hole from the guns ever found, and their hands were completely free of any gun residue, it was concluded that that this mystery gunshot was likely just their car, a 1979 Chevy Malibu, backfiring. Some even dispute that this took place.

On Saturday, Officer Michael Brelo was found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter in this shooting massacre. Taking nearly one hour to explain his decision, the judge stated that the prosecutors were simply unable to disprove Brelo's claim that he "feared for his life" and that the state was unable to prove that the 49 bullets which came from Brelo's gun were the ones that actually caused their death.

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U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) (right) talks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington December 31, 2012. Taxes were on track to rise for many Americans this week unless U.S. lawmakers could cut a last-minute deal on Monday to avoid the
Oh, c'mon.
Senator Lindsey Graham, the first speaker Friday morning, appearing from Washington via video, spoke of losing his parents as a teenager, working in a pool hall and having to help raise his younger sister — and how it relates to his leadership style.

"Everything I learned about Iranians I learned working in the pool room," he said. "I met a lot of liars, and I know Iranians are liars."

Lindsey is running for president, apparently, and doing so because he just doesn't think any of the Rand Pauls or Ted Cruzii have the stuff of foreign policy greatness. Lindsey, however, knows that you can't trust scheming Iranians because as a teenager he worked on a pool hall.

It's going to be a damn shame if he doesn't make the debate cutoff.

Screenshot of WXIA-TV's report on ALEC.
An Atlanta, Georgia television station has made national news with its fantastic investigative reporting on the conservative "corporate bill mill," ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. The station's Brendan Keefe followed Georgia state legislators to a resort hotel in Savannah last week, trying to find out what they were doing in closed door meetings where he, as a credentialed reporter, was not allowed. He had to go to a former member of ALEC to find out.
"It's really a corporate bill mill," said Sen. Nan Orrock, an Atlanta Democrat who has served in both houses of the Georgia General Assembly for years. "They're cranking out legislation, putting it into the hands of legislators who go back and file it."

Orrock would know. She was once a member of ALEC.

"The corporations that are there have equal standing with the legislators," Sen. Orrock said.

"You mean they can vote?" we asked.

"They absolutely can vote, and truth be told, they write the bills," she answered, referring to the lobbyists.

When trying to verify that with in-person reporting, Keefe was turned away and, in fact, "kicked out with the aid of off-duty police officers on orders from ALEC staff." But not before seeing Bethanne Cooley, Director of State Legislative Affairs for CTIA—the Wireless Association in the room—talking to Georgia Rep. Ben Harbin. Cooley is not a registered lobbyist in Georgia, but here she was working with that state's lawmakers. Under the auspices of ALEC, a non-profit educational 501(c)3, Cooley talking about or even actually writing legislation—which is what ALEC does—doesn't have to be reported as lobbying, and neither does the "scholarship" money they provide to legislators to travel to these meetings, or the food and drink and hotel costs that are covered. When the station tried an open records request to get receipts and reimbursement records for legislators' travel to ALEC-sponsored events, they were denied.

But the reporter was able to complete an extensive report on how ALEC operates, and where state legislators fit in. He used the example of Georgia's Asbestos Claims Priorities Act which "severely limits who can file asbestos claims against corporations in the state," as an industry-backed piece of legislation that was passed in 2007, and introduced by legislators who received thousands from ALEC that same year to go to meetings. He compared the ALEC-written suggested legislation, cooked up at a conference in Las Vegas that year, to what was introduced in Georgia and found much of it was copied word for word.

None of this is news to people who have been following ALEC closely over the years, but it is monumentally instructive for a local news organization to walk its viewers through the process and to show them how much of the governing in their state is done with voters left completely in the dark. It demonstrates starkly just how much control ALEC's corporate bosses have over what happens in state houses across the country.

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