Sunday, February 14, 2016

Last Call For Syria's Business Indeed

If the Russians and Iranians "liberate" Aleppo, Bashar al-Assad gets Syria back, and the alternative is Turkey stepping in along with the Saudis and Gulf States and essentially precipitating a shooting war between NATO and Russia.

Which outcome is worse?

This week, the Syrian army, backed by Russian air strikes and Iranian-supported militias including Hezbollah, launched a major offensive to encircle rebel strongholds in the northern city of Aleppo, choking off one of the last two secure routes connecting the city to Turkey and closing in on the second. This would cut supplies not only to a core of the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but also to the city’s 300,000 remaining civilians, who may soon find themselves besieged like hundreds of thousands of others in the country. In response, 50,000 civilians have fled Aleppo for the Turkish border, where the border crossing is currently closed. An unnamed U.S. defense official told The Daily Beast’s Nancy Youssef that “the war is essentially over” if Assad manages to seize and hold Aleppo.

The city, formerly Syria’s largest and its commercial and industrial hub, hasproven pivotal to the civil war in the past. As Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy explained to me, the rebels’ push to take Aleppo in 2012—following a year in which the city had seen relatively little of the protests and violence that had been escalating elsewhere in the country—“was one of the first real major offensives of the armed opposition in Syria.” The hope was to set up an alternative capital there to rival Damascus, and from that base to gradually expand opposition control. The city has been roughly divided between the regime and the rebels ever since, with Assad’s forces mainly in the west and opposition forces mainly in the east, and “with some parts of the city changing hands on a daily basis,” according to the BBC.

Critically, the rebels have controlled major roads to Turkey, which has allowed them to transport supplies into their half of the city and to their other strongholds in northern Syria. Government forces in western Aleppo, meanwhile, have been cut off from those ground routes and forced to rely on airplanes and helicopters to get supplies. As Aleppo became the site of a bloody urban war of attrition—in late 2013, Assad’s forces barrel-bombed the city for a month straight, and they have repeatedly tried to encircle it—the rebels have held on.

Russia’s military intervention in Syria, which began last fall, may change that. Unlike the U.S. coalition’s air strikes in the country, which have targeted ISIS-controlled areas in eastern Syria, Russia’s are targeting rebel groups, some of them backed by the United States, in the country’s west, including near Aleppo. “[T]he bombing over the last four months has significantly softened up the opposition, and decimated them in many areas,” Tabler said. Against that backdrop, and barring an unlikely breakthrough at international peace talks scheduled to resume this week (after they were called off following the Syrian army’s advance on Aleppo), the regime offensive to recapture the city may ultimately succeed, even if it takes starving its inhabitants into submission.

The frank analysis of author Kathy Gilsinan and Andrew Tabler is stark:

Gilsinan: And then what happens to the regional balance of power within that war?

Tabler: It would be a tremendous loss for the U.S. and its traditional allies: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan. It’s already been extremely costly for most of those allies, but it would be a defeat [in the face of] the Russian-Iranian intervention in Syria. This would also be a huge loss for the United States vis-à-vis Russia in its Middle East policy, certainly. And because of the flow of refugees as a result of this, if they go northward to Europe, then you would see a migrant crisis in Europe that could lead to far-right governments coming to power which are much more friendly to Russia than they are to the United States. I think that is likely to happen.

Gilsinan: So it changes the entire orientation, not just of the Middle East, but of Europe as well.

Tabler: It will soften up American power in Europe, yeah. And put into jeopardy a lot of the advances in the NATO-accession countries, which are adjacent to Russia, as well.

Gilsinan: That’s a staggeringly significant outcome for relatively cheap [expenditures] on Russia’s part.

Tabler: It is, isn’t it? I don’t think most people get how much of a blowout this really is. I don’t think most people understand: This defeat of the United States by Russia in Syria, it’s not just about Syria. It’s about our presence in Europe.

And if Aleppo falls, that's basically the ball game for NATO.  Putin got the better of us here, and he knows it. If we had intervened 3 years ago, maybe things would have been different, but Republicans (and Democrats) said no.

This is the result.

The Clown Car Crashes

The wheels came off the clown car last night in the GOP debate in South Carolina, and it happened at this point here.

During the second hour of the GOP debate in South Carolina on Saturday, the conversation went beyond anything ever seen in a Republican debate.

After the six men hurled insults back and forth, the debate took a steep dive into chaos around when Cruz hit Trump for previously supporting liberal policies.

“The next president is going appoint one, two, three, four Supreme Court Justices,” Cruz said. “If Donald Trump is president, he will appoint liberals. If Donald Trump is president… your Second Amendment will go away. You know how I know that?”

CBS moderator John Dickerson cut him off.

“Hold on gentlemen. I’m going to turn this car around,” Dickerson said.

When Trump continued talking and questioning Cruz’s conservative credentials, Dickerson again attempted to control the stage.

“All right, gentlemen… We’re in danger of driving this into the dirt.”

I mean, at some point voters have to realize that these guys are absolutely bonkers, right?


Sunday Long Read: The Long Climb Out

Recently, Charlotte, North Carolina was named the most difficult large city in the US for people to break the cycle of poverty in. I grew up in North Carolina and left for a reason, and as the state has become increasingly controlled by Republicans, I'm increasingly glad I did. Especially when I read stories like this about people working three jobs and still being poor.

WHEN SHE COMES home from work tonight, Toreasera “Kisha” Dawkins knows two things will happen: Her three daughters will be waiting for her, and her husband will call from prison.

She knows this as she finishes her nine-hour shift behind the cash register at the Mighty Midget Mart gas station on Albermarle Road. She knows this as she walks outside, wearing jeans and a red Shell T-shirt, her long, dark hair streaked with blond and pulled into a side ponytail. She knows this as she pops the hood of her faded green 2003 Dodge Grand Caravan.

It’s rush hour on a hot day in early July, and her radiator’s shot. Kisha, 37, pours in cold water to keep the engine from overheating. She can’t afford her rent, much less a new car, so for now, this will have to do.

She drives east past strip malls, Walmart, Goodwill—landmarks of life at the bottom rung of Charlotte’s economic ladder. As she pulls into her driveway, her daughters crowd around the front steps. “Hi, Mommy!” they shout, all bright eyes and round cheeks. But she is already on the phone, talking to their father.

Travis Dawkins is serving four to six years in a Gaston County prison for breaking and entering, and this is month eight. For several years, until he was arrested, he stayed home to raise the girls while their mom was at work. Now he’s a disembodied voice on the other end of the line, calling to make sure they remember him.

His daughters push open the screen door into their run-down ranch house, where a blanket-turned-curtain covers the front window. They race around the playroom, jumping on bare mattresses on the floor. Kisha holds out the phone and puts it on speaker so they can talk to their father. “Hey, Daddy, I love you, Daddy,” sings Ja’Mya, the four-year-old.

Kisha asks the girls to clean up their toys. Ja’Mya obeys, but her two-year-old sister, Zyauna, doesn’t, so her father tries to discipline her by speakerphone. “ZaZa, Daddy need you to put your listening ears on,” he says.

“OK, Daddy!” ZaZa shouts back.

She and Ja’Mya and their one-year-old sister, Tyasia, scramble around, putting away dolls and games. “Daddy say he love you,” their mother announces. “Tell Daddy bye.”

All three shout back in unison: “We love you, Daddy. Bye!”

This is Kisha’s family. It’s not the one she planned, and it’s not the one many social scientists would choose for her—a black woman raising three young children below the poverty line while her husband is in prison. Her family embodies many of the reasons it’s so difficult to escape poverty in Charlotte: segregated housing, unstable families, the growing distance between her paycheck and the one-fifth of Mecklenburg County households that earn more than $115,000 annually. Kisha works an average of 45 to 50 hours a week and earns $12,000 to $15,000 a year. Some would blame her choices, others her lot in life. As she sees it, her only option is to move forward, to keep working and juggling bills and treating ear infections and praying, until by some miracle, by some mysterious force she cannot understand, she can give her daughters a life better than her own.

And NC Republicans will shake their heads and tell you, while defunding Planned Parenthood, wanting to get rid of Obamacare, cutting school funding, refusing to raise the state's minimum wage, and making abortion all but impossible to access, is that Kisha Dawkins should never have had children she couldn't afford, and that the state of North Carolina can't afford to help her either.

The $12,000 a year she makes is too much money for Medicaid.  Republicans saw to that. She has to depend on church help and non-profit organizations just to put food on the table. She is working hard for her family and is sacrificing everything she has just to stay above water.

And Republicans do not give a good god damn about her and her three kids and never, ever will.

Remember that.

Eight Is Apparently Enough

I agree with WaPo's Amber Phillips that there's no reason, given the behavior of the GOP over the last seven years, to believe that Mitch McConnell will even allow a vote on confirming his Supreme Court nominee to replace Scalia. 

Come January 2017, Republicans have a chance at controlling the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House.

So it stands to reason that Republicans have very little incentive to even consider President Obama's suggestion for who should replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died Saturday.

There's some historical precedent for them to do just that. A hazy rule dating back decades that congressional experts say is really more of a tradition suggests senators of the opposition party of the White House can oppose some judicial nominations in the months before a presidential election.

It's known as the "Thurmond Rule," for reasons we'll get into, but there is widespread disagreement on what it even means and when it can be invoked.

"It's not a rule," said Russell Wheeler, a judicial expert with the Brookings Institution. "It's just sort of a pie-in-the-sky flexibility that both parties try to disown when it's convenient for them and try to say it means something when it's not."

Whether rule or tradition, it pops up throughout history in times like these, when a high-stakes judicial nomination collides with a presidential election.

But Wheeler and other congressional experts think the rule is less in-play now than in the past. Republicans have control of the Senate and can simply sit on the nomination if they want -- no matter how much the other side cries foul.

If the very real prospect of someone like Donald Trump appointing a Supreme Court Justice doesn't scare the crap out of the "Not a dime's worth of difference between the parties" voters turned off by Hillary or Bernie, then we deserve what we get.

But considering voters haven't bothered to punish the GOP Congress at all and in fact have rewarded them at every turn, there's no reason to believe that a President Sanders or Clinton would be able to get anyone confirmed either.

Don't expect this vacancy to be filled.  Hell, I half expect calls from the GOP and the Broderites to either appoint a right-wing nut like Scalia or for Justice Ginsberg to retire to make a seven-justice SCOTUS "fair".

This is the entire ball game for the GOP if Scalia is replace by a liberal justice, and they damn well know it.  They will resist by any and every means necessary.  You thought they hated Obama before?

You have no idea.

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