New York Times, Fresh Out Of Mirrors, Tries To Solve Why US Invaded Iraq Whodunnit!
They're all trying to find the guy who did this.
Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. Among the many retrospectives, the New York Times, which did so much to boost the war with its reporting straight from inside Dick Cheney's butt, asked the important question, "20 Years On, a Question Lingers About Iraq: Why Did the US Invade?"
That's some lingering question, all right! The piece, by foreign correspondent Max Fisher, wonders not about the long-term effects of the war, or why the US occupation went so badly (it's a column, after all, not a shelf of books), but gets right down to the question of what motivated George W. Bush and his merry band of neocons to go to war in Iraq in the first place. Was it really about the 9/11 attacks? Certainly Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy Defense secretary, wanted Saddam Hussein to have been involved, as did others in the administration, including Dubya himself. But there wasn't any evidence, because Saddam wasn't involved and al Qaeda actually kind of hated him because he was a secularist anyway.
But hey, how about oil? Gulf War 1 was all about keeping Kuwait's oil safe for democracy, but nah, to the eternal frustration of Donald Trump, we didn't take the oil that clearly belonged to us.
Fisher also examines the idea that neoconservatives, wanting to reestablish US dominance after the Cold War, thought Iraq would make a dandy proving ground for the neoconservatives who filled nearly all the administration's foreign policy jobs. It's not so much that they came into 2001 hankering for regime change in Iraq, but after 9/11, Iraq looked like a terrific chance for the US to remake the Middle East through American force and the brilliance of the free market. (For some really depressing reading on how bizarrely committed US occupation leaders were to that fairy tale, see also Rajiv Chandrasekaran's excellent book Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone.)
And then of course there's the Weapons of Mass Destruction fiction. Fischer suggests, far too generously, that Team Bush didn't deliberately lie its way into a war, because while they "often misrepresented" the evidence they had,
meeting notes and other accounts do not show them as plotting to sell a weapons threat that they knew was fictitious, nor as having been misled by faulty intelligence.
Rather, the record suggests something more banal: A critical mass of senior officials all came to the table wanting to topple Mr. Hussein for their own reasons, and then talked one another into believing the most readily available justification.
“The truth,” Mr. Wolfowitz told Vanity Fair in 2003, “is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction, as the core reason.”
While we're willing to believe that groupthink, wishful thinking, and self-deception played a role in some of the Bush warheads' thinking, Team Bush also did too much outright lying and spinning to sell the war to dismiss the notion they knew what they were up to. Just see Michael Isikoff and David Corn's 2006 book Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, which we read for a Wonkette Book Club back when I still worked weekends.
And here's where Fisher skims entirely too quickly past his own paper's involvement. Look at this artfully broad summary:
Officials claimed that Mr. Hussein possessed, or would soon possess, nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that he might intend to use against the United States. Those claims were carried, and amplified, by America’s major media outlets.
No mention here of the Times's role in building up the WMD fiction, like the notorious incident where the administration leaked the claim that Iraq had bought aluminum tubes that could be used in centrifuges to enrich uranium. That was duly reported by the Times's Judith Miller on September 8, 2002. The very same day, Dick Cheney, who'd arranged the leak, went on "Meet the Press" and said the tubes amounted to "very clear evidence" Saddam was restarting his nuclear weapons program, saying, "There's a story in The New York Times this morning" about those darn aluminum tubes. Well there's your confirmation!
Again and again, the Times uncritically passed on administration claims, and helped build the impression that there was far more evidence of Iraqi WMDs than there was.
For a super fun time activity, try searching this weekend's story about why the US went to war for the terms "Judith Miller," "Ahmed Chalabi," "yellowcake uranium," or "aluminum tubes."
Look, I never said it would be a long activity.
We suppose the Times might argue that there was no need to say anything more than that vague line about how the press "carried, and amplified" the Bush team's deadly fibs, because that had less to do with why the administration went to war than with how it sold the lie to the American people. Besides, the Times already acknowledged in 2004 that some of its coverage "was not as rigorous as it should have been." They said they're sorry already, jeez. How many times will you meanies keep pointing out that such "problematic" coverage had disastrous consequences, with real people dying?
We're guessing probably in another five years, for the silver anniversary of the Iraq bunglefuck. Unless the Times manages to remember the role it played.
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Month After MSU Campus Shootings, Michigan Dems Pass New Gun Control Bills
None of these laws could have stopped the shooter, unless they had.
The Michigan state Senate yesterday passed several gun control bills that will expand background checks, create a "red flag" law that will allow judges to remove firearms from people who are at risk of committing violence, and require safe storage of guns in homes where children are present.
The bills were passed a month and a couple days after the deadly mass shooting at Michigan State University in East Lansing, which killed three students and left five others wounded. The shooter in that incident shot himself when confronted by police. The MSU shooting itself occurred the night before the five-year anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida; as we noted at the time, it won't be long until every day on the calendar is the anniversary of a horrific mass shooting.
The package of 11 bills passed on a mostly party-line vote by Democrats, who last fall won majorities in both houses of the Michigan Legislature. Two Republicans crossed party lines to vote for a pair of bills that will exempt firearms safety devices — trigger locks, gun safes and the like — from taxes for one year. Hard to say if that will be enough of a betrayal of the Holy Second Amendment for those two to be censured by the state GOP. It's a tax break, so maybe they'll get away with it.
Several of the bills had previously been introduced in the wake of the 2021 mass shooting at Oxford High School, but failed at the time due to Republican opposition. Clean elections matter: Republicans had previously gerrymandered themselves a majority, but once fair district maps were drawn by a nonpartisan commission, Democrats won.
The Michigan House passed a similar package of bills last week — on a purely party-line vote — but the legislation's language isn't quite identical, so the two houses will have to decide which version to pass and send on to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is planning to sign either set.
Under current Michigan law, purchasers of handguns must undergo a background check for all purchases, whether from a federally licensed firearms dealer or a private party. But private sales of long guns aren't subject to a background check so the bills passed yesterday tighten that up by extending the licensing and background check requirements to sales of all firearms, whether from a dealer or a private party.
There's a narrow exception in the background check bills, for "people under the age of 18 who use their guns for hunting or who possess the guns under the supervision of a parent or guardian."
Another measure would require that firearms owners in homes where minors are present must keep them either in a safe or locked box, or keep them unloaded and locked with a trigger lock.
Since that might be construed as cruelty if applied to children, the locking provisions apply to the guns instead. The law would apply to guns kept in vehicles as well.
Failure to safely store a firearm would be a misdemeanor, but if a minor gets hold of an unsecured gun and commits a crime with it, the gun's owner could face stricter charges depending on the nature of that crime. If the minor injures someone, the owner would face felony charges and up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine; if the kid kills someone, the maximum sentence would be up to 15 years in prison and/or a fine of $7,500.
Red Flag Law
Another measure passed yesterday will put in place the state's first "red flag" or extreme protection order provision. It will
allow family members, mental health professionals, law enforcement officers and others to petition a court to bar someone from possessing or purchasing a firearm if they pose a risk of hurting themselves or others.
The petitioner would need to show that the person presents a "significant risk of personal injury" to themselves or to others.
Republicans, predictably, whined that nearly all of the bills would only infringe on the rights of "law abiding gun owners," and that "criminals," who are completely different people, would ignore them. They also insisted that the bills would have done nothing to prevent recent mass shootings in the state.
You could certainly make the case that a red flag law might have taken away the gun used in the MSU shootings; in that case, the shooter's father told media that he was certain his son had a gun, which he shouldn't have, following a 2019 weapons charge. And the 2021 Oxford school shooting was committed with a handgun the boy's parents had bought for him as a gift; it was kept unlocked in their home. The parents have since been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter for being shockingly irresponsible regarding their son's dangerous behavior prior to the shooting. Would they have actually kept the gun locked up if it were required by law? That's unknowable of course, but four teenagers would still be alive today if they had — and maybe their very troubled kid would be getting therapy instead of facing life in prison.
At a rally in favor of gun reform yesterday, state Rep. Angela Rigas showed up with a bullhorn so she could heckle and try to shout down those speaking in favor of the laws, including survivors of the Oxford shooting. Because we guess an armed society is a polite society.
In other Michigan Good News, Gov. Whitmer yesterday signed into law an expansion of the state's anti-discrimination law that will now explicitly protect LGBTQ+ folks. Court decisions had already held that the law applied to LGBTQ+ Michiganders, but now they're in the statute. And yes, Whitmer teared up a little as she thanked the Democratic majority in the Lege for coming through on the bill.
"Their tears of happiness are coming down, I’m trying to hold it together — can’t look at them too much,” she joked.
Hell yes. You, over there, stop chopping those onions.
[Detroit Free Press / MLive / Detroit News / MLive]
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Proposed Florida Textbooks Won't Say Why Rosa Parks Stayed Seated. Maybe She Was Stubborn, Who Knows?
She probably should've taken an Uber.
Now that Ron DeSantis has scrubbed all the woke out of Florida math textbooks, it's time for the state's social studies textbooks to be winnowed, so that no traces of critical race theory remains, and so no children feel guilty or sad about history. The New York Times reports (gift link) that as part of the periodic review of textbooks this year,
a small army of state experts, teachers, parents and political activists have combed thousands of pages of text — not only evaluating academic content, but also flagging anything that could hint, for instance, at critical race theory.
Remember, of course, that while in academia, critical race theory is a graduate-level topic of study, on the right, CRT means anything that makes white people fretting about The Blacks uncomfortable.
One group involved in the effort, the Florida Citizens Alliance, determined that 29 of the 38 textbooks its volunteers examined were simply inappropriate for use in Florida, and urged the Florida Department of Education to reject them. The Times notes that the group's co-founders helped out with education policy during DeSantis's transition (to governor, not in a trans kind of way, heavens!), and that it has "helped lead a sweeping effort to remove school library books deemed as inappropriate, including many with L.G.B.T.Q. characters."
We bet the books they rejected were just full of critical racecars and critical footraces! Just how bad were these awful textbooks?
In a summary of its findings submitted to the state last month, the group complained that a McGraw Hill fifth-grade textbook, for example, mentioned slavery 189 times within a few chapters alone. Another objection: An eighth-grade book gave outsize attention to the “negative side” of the treatment of Native Americans, while failing to give a fuller account of their own acts of violence, such as the Jamestown Massacre of 1622, in which Powhatan warriors killed more than 300 English colonists.
Good call, because while Native Americans may have been genocided by disease — and later by US federal policy — some fought back, and that evens everything out.
Hilariously, the Times also notes that that the
White Citizens Council Florida Citizens Alliance is "pushing the state to add curriculum from Hillsdale College, a small Christian school in Michigan that is active in conservative politics." There's just one little problem, though, because what Hillsdale offers for K-12 history and civics isn't in any sense a "textbook," but instead a set of guidelines for teachers, with recommended primary readings like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and probably Rush Limbaugh's awful children's books (we're guessing on that one). But it's from Hillsdale so that's what the kids need.
The Times simply notes that "The curriculum was not included in Florida’s official review, and the state did not comment on the group’s recommendations."
Rush Limbaugh's Crappy Books Will Save Kids From A.P. History
Biden Just Deleted The Stupid Ahistorical Bullsh*ts Of T---p's '1776 Commission Report'
Florida Takes Its Turn On 'Please Don't Make White People Uncomfortable' Bandwagon
Ask The Gay Penguins How 'Limited' Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' Law Is. YOU CAN'T THEY'RE BANNED
Florida's Education Department actually does require that schools teach Black history, although how exactly that's supposed to be done in a way that won't upset any hypervigilant rightwing parents isn't entirely clear. The Times says the department
emphasized that the requirements were recently expanded, including to ensure students understood “the ramifications of prejudice, racism and stereotyping on individual freedoms.”
As we all know, slavery and Jim Crow were bad because they were regrettable departures from America's founding ideas of freedom and equality, which were always the norm except in certain unfortunate moments (from 1619 through 1965 and elsewhere).
In a very sad attempt to win favor with Florida, an outfit called "Studies Weekly," a minor-league publisher of weekly social-studies pamphlets mostly for early elementary grades, attempted to completely remove race from its first-grade lessons on Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. That took some doing!
The absolutely essential progressive parent group the Florida Freedom to Read Project provided the Times with three different versions of Studies Weekly's very brief lessons on Parks. The first is currently used in Florida schools, and is pretty accurate:
"In 1955, Rosa Parks broke the law. In her city, the law said African Americans had to give up their seats on the bus if a white person wanted to sit down. She would not give up her seat. The police came and took her to jail."
There were also two versions created for the new textbook review; the Times points out it's not clear which one the company submitted, and as it turns out, Studies Weekly was rejected because it messed up its paperwork, so we'll never know what the Florida Department of Education thought of the Rosa Parks lessons.
One version mentions race only indirectly:
"Rosa Parks showed courage. One day, she rode the bus. She was told to move to a different seat because of the color of her skin. She did not. She did what she believed was right."
Another version eliminates race altogether, making it really unclear whether Parks was a hero or just kind of a jerk.
"Rosa Parks showed courage. One day, she rode the bus. She was told to move to a different seat. She did not. She did what she believed was right."
It's really something of a wonder that there wasn't a third revision that simply said "Rosa Parks showed courage. She rode a bus. Good for her! Buses are big and scary!"
A fourth-grade lesson about discrimination following the Civil War and Reconstruction had similarly bizarre edits. In the initial version, the lesson explained that even after the war, many people in former Confederate states "believed African-Americans should be enslaved" and that they were "not equal to anyone in their community." (Yes, that's already problematic since it suggests white is the norm, but oh my, it gets very much worse.)
That got revised to the far weirder observation that "many communities in the South held on to former belief systems that some people should have more rights than others in their community."
And where the initial discussion of Southern "Black Codes" made very clear that African Americans were regularly denied their basic rights, the second version still uses the term "Black Codes," but says only that it became "a crime for men of certain groups to be unemployed" and that "certain groups of people" were prevented from serving on juries. Sounds like members of those certain groups were treated like they were particular individuals.
For the little it's worth, the Times also adds that
The Florida Department of Education suggested that Studies Weekly had overreached. Any publisher that “avoids the topic of race when teaching the Civil Rights movement, slavery, segregation, etc. would not be adhering to Florida law,” the department said in a statement.
The story also notes that it's not clear yet whether other publishers attempted similar decolorization; to find out, we may have to wait until Florida announces the textbooks that passed muster.
Until then, we'll just have to hope none of the textbooks explain that the Voting Rights Act was passed after John Lewis and a certain group of his friends took a leisurely Sunday stroll across a bridge.
[NYT (gift link)]
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INTERNATIONAL BANKING PANIC EVERYBODY FLEEEEEE!
Or it might be fine, who can tell!
International stock markets went all kerflooey Wednesday on news that Credit Suisse, the European bank with rich chocolatey flavor, was on shaky financial ground, which shouldn't be too surprising since Switzerland has roughly 500 to 800 earthquakes annually, though they're seldom severe.
NPR reports that the problems at Credit Suisse are actually way different from the bank runs that led to the collapse of two big US banks over the weekend, and that stock markets are already bouncing back after the Swiss National Bank extended about $54 billion in credit — only in Swiss francs — to stabilize Credit Suisse. Whew! Also, we should note that Swiss franks are not made with chocolate, but are just ground up pig lips like everywhere else.
The Swiss Mess didn't involve a bunch of panicky depositors demanding their money all at once, but instead came after the bank "had already been reeling after a succession of scandals and poor decisions that several CEOs have failed to address over several years."
The lender also recently acknowledged there had been potential problems with the way it reported its financial position as recently as last year, and its shares then plunged on Wednesday after the chairman of its biggest shareholder, Saudi National Bank, said it would not increase its nearly 10% investment.
So take heart! It wasn't a sudden liquidity crisis, it was just a new development in a yearslong saga of bad management. That ought to be all kinds of reassuring to financial markets, which we gather can be completely spooked into a panic like these horses who were freaked out by a bunny rabbit.
The Washington Post explains (free gift linky) Credit Suisse's problems in a bit more detail, noting that it has been
struggling with financial losses, risk and compliance issues, as well as a high-profile data breach. In October, it disclosed that it had suffered significant customer withdrawals. In recent years it was also impacted from its relationships with the collapsed hedge fund Archegos and a failed financial firm, Greensill Capital.
Crom forbid we ever say anything good about the bone-sawing Saudi government, but we can sort of see the Saudi National Bank's point in its decision not to increase its investment in Credit Suisse. The Saudi bank's chair, Ammar Al Khudairy, was asked by Bloomberg TV if the Saudi bank was willing to shore up Credit Suisse, and he explained, nah, no can do, for reasons:
He said the Saudi stake was currently 9.8 percent and ownership over 10 percent would activate a host of higher regulatory and statutory rules. “We’re not inclined to get into a new regulatory regime,” he added.
So it wasn't just meanness, just business, and lord knows nobody likes having to do more paperwork. I think that on that much at least, we can all identify at least a little bit with the billionaire journalist-murdering Saudi regime.
Nonetheless, the Saudi announcement made international investors assume there was a bunny rabbit in their path, contributing to yesterday's market fuckbungle. There may have been no actual connection to the Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank crashes in the USA, but by golly, investors had already seen a plastic bag and they were on edge.
Well OK, fine, maybe there was a little more to it than just skittishness, since as WaPo also points out, Credit Suisse is way bigger than either American bank that flopped over, so had it actually stumbled, the effects would also have been far more serious. Happily, because it's so big and because European banks can't be deregulated willy nilly whenever Republicans are in charge of the US government,
Credit Suisse has substantially more liquid assets than SVB and is labeled a “Global Systemically Important Bank (G-SIB)” — meaning it is subject to significantly higher standards for capital, funding, liquidity and leverage requirements.
That seems like an important point somehow!
The Post also asks, "Is this as bad as the 2008 financial crisis?" and immediately answers "No," going on to point out that unlike in 2008, we don't have a zillion banks that are invested heavily in mortgage-backed securities that are losing value rapidly, so it's pretty likely that the Swiss national bank's addition of stabilizing marshmallows should keep Credit Suisse smooth and frothy. But the story adds,
However, markets can change quickly, and Credit Suisse is the first major global bank to be thrown an emergency lifeline since the 2008 financial crisis, Reuters reported.
You just never know when investors will see a balloon or hear themselves fart, so we could still be thrown.
In conclusion, everything should be fine, and both horses and world financial markets can be pretty silly sometimes.
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