The Bargain From the Bazaar
By Haroon K. Ullah
Western discussion of Pakistan tends to focus on geopolitics and terrorism. In this refreshing break from the policy stuff, Haroon Ullah, a Pakistani American scholar and diplomat, tells the story of a middle-class family struggling to stay united as violence, political turmoil, and extremism threaten to tear the country apart. The book reads like a novel—whose rich dialogue, colorful characters, and vivid descriptions of Lahore blend seamlessly with historical context to offer glimpses of a Pakistan we rarely see.
This review originally appeared in our March/April 2014 issue of Mother Jones.
Newsweek's Leah McGrath Goodman claims that she's located the reclusive Bitcoin inventor "Satoshi Nakamoto." Earlier today, I suggested that (a) her primary piece of evidence was a brief conversation she had with Nakamoto in front of his home with sheriff's deputies present, and (b) this could be pretty easily checked. Sure enough:
The San Gabriel Valley suburb of Temple City was inundated by reporters Thursday after Newsweek alleged resident Dorian Nakamoto was really "Satoshi Nakamoto," the man behind the virtual currency. In the Newsweek article he is quoted as telling the reporter "I'm no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it" while deputies are present.
....Capt. Mike Parker said he has spoken to both deputies who responded to the suspicious persons call on Feb. 20. He said "one of the two deputies had heard of bitcoins but only knew vaguely about them" prior to the call. He said the reporters' statements and questions about Bitcoin prompted the conversation.
“Both sheriff’s deputies agreed that the quotes published in the March 6, 2014, Newsweek magazine Bitcoin article that were attributed to the resident and to one of the deputies were accurate.”
Count this as very big piece of evidence that Goodman's reporting is accurate and that Temple City's Dorian Nakamoto really is the inventor of Bitcoin. It's not quite a smoking gun, but it's getting there.
CREDIT: AP Photo/Eryk Puchala
This weekend, Vessel, a film about a doctor who tried to prevent women from dying from botched abortions by sailing around the world to pass out abortion-inducing drugs, will premiere at the SXSW Film Festival. The film’s director, Diana Whitten, spent seven years following Dr. Rebecca Gomperts on her journeys through international waters to bring abortion medication to women in Ireland, Poland, Portugal, and Morocco.
Whitten told ABC News that she was inspired to tell Gomperts’ story in film because of her commitment to social justice, as well as the “metaphor of women leaving sovereignty to reclaim her own.” Gomperts traveled to countries where abortion is illegal to provide women with several doses of misoprostol, which can end an early pregnancy by inducing miscarriage, all by technically staying within the bounds of the law because her ship is under Dutch jurisdiction. Gomperts argues that making this World Health Organization-approved drug available to women, even through her unconventional means, can prevent them from attempting more dangerous methods of pregnancy termination. After all, tens of thousands of women around the world are still dying from botched abortions every year.
Since SXSW takes place in Austin, this particular documentary is taking on additional significance at home.
Thanks to a new law in Texas that’s been forcing dozens of clinics out of business, the last clinics located in the state’s impoverished Rio Grande Valley just closed their doors. The low-income women who live along the Mexico border aren’t exactly oceans away from legal abortion care, but they’re getting there. The nation’s second-largest state now has a 400-mile stretch without any abortion clinics. And it will only get worse. Another provision of the law hasn’t yet taken effect, and when it goes into place in the fall, the activists on the ground expect the number of reproductive health facilities to shrink to six, down from 44 clinics just three years ago.
The parallels aren’t lost on abortion rights activists, who are planning to rally at this weekend’s premiere. Whitten told ABC News that she doesn’t exactly know what to expect, but she does hope Vessel could perhaps help “change the landscape” in Texas.
It might not reverse the law, but thoughtful documentaries about the barriers that women face as they’re trying to exercise their reproductive rights can help nudge the country forward in other ways. After Tiller, an investigation of the difficult work of providing later abortion care in the aftermath of Dr. George Tiller’s murder at the hands of an anti-choice activist, effectively put a human face on an issue that’s typically represented by political buzzwords and 20-week bans. Considering the fact that the media hasn’t typically been good at providing realistic depictions of abortion, elevating more real women’s stories can bring some much-needed nuance to a medical procedure that’s often distorted into something much more dramatic and gruesome than it actually is.
And if nothing else, the clear connections between the subject of Whitten’s film and the city where she’s screening it remind us that the United States isn’t necessarily above larger discussions about global health disparities. When women in Ireland die because they don’t have access to safe abortion, we may think of that as an international issue that doesn’t have relevance to the women we know. But the reception to Vessel, and the women in the Rio Grande who are crossing the border to seek out their own Dr. Rebecca Gomperts who can provide them with off-label misoprostol, proves that’s not exactly the case.
The post Could A New Film Premiering At SXSW Really Change The Abortion Landscape In Texas? appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: AP Photo / Michael Dwyer
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative had its first auction this week since lowering its cap — and the results suggest the system is once again effectively reducing carbon emissions.
Encompassing nine states in the northeast, RGGI is a cap-and-trade system that started operating in 1998. It sets an overall cap on the amount of carbon dioxide that can be emitted by the participating states. Then it breaks that amount into permits — each allowing for one ton of emissions in a given year — and auctions them off to the firms subject to the system.
The idea is that emitters will have an economic incentive to cut emissions, because then they’ll have to buy fewer permits — or they can sell permits they don’t need to other emitters. How emissions are cut is left up to the market and the individual firms to decide. They just have to adhere to the amount of permits they have.
So RGGI is just a market in carbon emissions. And the higher the price of the permits, the bigger the incentive to cut emissions.
That’s where the problem lay: starting in 2010, the cost of the permits in RGGI’s auctions flatlined at just under $2 per ton. At such a low price, the incentive to cut was low-to-non-existent — a sign that RGGI’s cap was so high it wasn’t reducing carbon emissions beyond what business-as-usual would’ve done.
So the states under RGGI got together and decided to lower the cap. They dropped it from 165 million tons in 2013 to 91 million tons in 2014. And it will drop 2.5 percent every following year until 2020.
This past Wednesday was the first permit auction since the cap was lowered. The clearing price for the permits jumped to $4, the highest it’s ever been at since the auctions and trading started in 2008. Furthermore, the auction not only sold out all the permits allocated this time around, it sold out all of its backup permits as well. So demand for the permits is high, indicating the new cap is ramping the incentive to cut emissions back up.
“These early results demonstrate RGGI is on track to reduce carbon emissions by 80-90 million tons through 2020 while helping states fund clean energy investments,” said Kenneth Kimmell, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the chair of RGGI’s board of directors.
Right now RGGI only covers power plants. But a recent analysis by ENE EnergyVision suggested the system should expand to cover other economic sectors like transportation. According to the study, combining that expansion with an extension of the cap’s downward slope past 2020 could serve as one part of an overall push to cut the Northeast’s greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent by 2050.
The post The Northeast’s Cap-And-Trade System Is Back On Track To Cut Carbon Emissions appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: Scott Keyes
BELLEAIR, Florida — Republican women don’t like earning less than their male counterparts any more than Democratic women do, and this puts GOP congressional nominee David Jolly in a bind.
Before seeking political office, Jolly, who is running in next Tuesday’s special election to fill the late-Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young’s seat in Florida’s 13th congressional district, was employed for years as a lobbyist in Washington D.C. Though he worked on a number of controversial issues, one of them that has caused his campaign the most consternation was his lobbying against the Paycheck Fairness Act, federal legislation designed to help close the pay gap between male and female workers.
ThinkProgress spoke with a number of attendees at the Belleair Women’s Republican Club meeting on Friday. With near unanimity, the women were bothered by the fact that women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, and they wanted Congress to do something about it.
“If you and I were doing the exact same job, we should both get the same salary,” Bobbie Bernstein, who has lived in Pinellas County since 1961, said. Sue Salmeri, a lifelong Republican, agreed: “I think that women have come a long way, but they’ve got work to do. And they should certainly demand equal pay for equal work.”
Ann Castro, an asthana yoga instructor who had worked at the Republican National Committee when she was younger, said equal pay hadn’t been an issue for her personally, “but I know for my girlfriends it has been a problem.” She said it bothered her that women make less than men for the same jobs. “I think there should be equal pay for equal work. I mean, obviously.”
Another woman, Marilyn DiGirol, worried that Obama was dragging the country towards “socialism,” but did take a more liberal tack on the gender wage gap. “It’s an issue,” she said. “Women deserve to be compensated as much as men.”
ThinkProgress asked these women, all of whom supported Jolly, whether they would like to see him support legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act if he’s elected next week. “Oh definitely,” Salmeri said, arguing that the legislation was “a long time coming.” DiGirol agreed: “I would like him to vote for it,” she said. When I asked DiGirol if she was aware of his previous work opposing the Paycheck Fairness Act, she gave him a pass. “He was a lobbyist,” she remarked.
Bernstein and Castro also said they would like for Jolly to come out in favor of federal legislation to rectify the wage gap. “Gotta start someplace,” Bernstein said.
Only one woman ThinkProgress spoke with opposed congressional action on the matter. Susan Wolf, a retired business owner, argued that “women actually do make equal to men” if you compare within professions, citing maternity leave as the cause of a wage gap. However, as Bryce Covert pointed out, this explanation falls short. Factors such as race, occupation, longevity at a job, and marital status cannot explain the wage gap. Regardless of their job or background, rank or position, women continue to make less than men.
The post Republican Women Urge GOP Congressional Nominee To Support Equal Pay appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CPAC Celebrates Free-Market Entrepreneurship With CEO Whose Company Was Built On Federally Backed Loans
The conservatives who organize the annual Conservative Political Action Convention are big on touting free-market solutions and sticking to their ideals of smaller government and lower taxes. They believe that if the government would just get out of the way, enterprising entrepreneurs and other businessmen would create wealth that would in turn trickle down to even the poorest of the poor. But when it comes to finding business leaders who embody that spirit, the conference organizers seem to have come up a little short this year.
Donald Trump, of course, is in the house. The Koch brothers have been there in spirit, with Koch Industries underwriting the conference's "Radio Row." But for a panel this afternoon called "And Entrepreneurship Shall Set You Free: How to Celebrate Free Market Capitalism in the Popular Culture," CPAC organizers managed to scare up a think-tank fellow, a couple of unknown state legislators, and Gary Heavin, the former CEO of Curves, the fitness clubs for women.
Heavin is not exactly a great example of the virtues of free-market capitalism. He first started running a chain of gyms in his early 20s that ultimately failed. He filed bankruptcy and ended up so broke that he ended up going to jail for failing to pay child support. While incarcerated, he reportedly became a born-again Christian, and went on to later found Curves. The company got off to a pretty good start by catering to overweight women in small towns with strip-mall gym outlets. The chain took off and expanded so rapidly that by 2005, it had about 8,000 outlets worldwide.
But within just a few years, the chain tanked. It was plagued with bad publicity when news broke that Heavin had been donating large sums of money to an anti-abortion group, a move that troubled members of gyms that had been touted as a sort of girrl-power outfit. Some of the franchises cut their ties to the company because of the donations. By 2011, half of its franchises had closed. (Heavin, meanwhile, did a stint on ABC's "Secret Millionaire" that year.)
In stark contradiction with the self-reliant, anti-government principles CPACers tout, much of the Curves' early success was built using federally-guaranteed loans from the US Small Business Administration, which were given to franchise buyers. By 2010, Curves franchisees were bailing on those federal loans in droves, with 16 percent of the loans going into default, the fourth-highest rate of any franchise in the country.
Franchisees complained that the company had abandoned them and was bilking them in ways that hurt their outlets, such as forging partnerships with General Mills to sell lucrative Curves snack bars that franchisees had to purchase at inflated rates. Heavin became a billionaire, but his company faced lawsuits from hundreds of franchisees who alleged that the company deceived them about the potential profits from a Curves franchise and who were ruined financially after buying into the concept. (When a Curves franchise failed, the parent company often sued the owner to recoup lost royalties.) Franchisees alleged that the company had engaged in deceptive business practices, fraud, and that it had violated a host of state consumer protection laws in marketing its outlets. The cases eventually settled quietly for undisclosed sums, and Heavin was personally dismissed as a defendant from one of the larger ones, but the complaints and bad will didn't help the company's prospects.
Heavin was sued for $20 million by former business associates who claimed that they had sacrificed deeply to help him launch Curves—mortgaging their houses, going into debt, even sleeping in their cars—only to have Heavin stiff them on profits they were owed once the company took off. Heavin called the suit frivolous and it eventually settled for an undisclosed amount, but it didn't paint a pretty picture of his business practices. In 2012, with the company floundering, Heavin sold it for an undisclosed sum and moved on to, well, doing panels at CPAC apparently.
For a movement so devoted to promoting the free market, you'd think CPAC organizers could do better.
Jared Leto’s Unfortunate Keystone Comparison, And What Successful Celebrity Environmentalism Looks Like
CREDIT: AP/ Chris Pizzello/Invision
Jared Leto made clear when he won his award for best supporting actor at the Oscars last week that he’s comfortable being an overtly political actor — his speech mentioned Ukraine, AIDS, and single motherhood, and Leto comfortably (though not without criticism) spoke progressively about those topics.
Now, he’s wading further into political debates by speaking out publicly against the Keystone XL pipeline. He and several other celebrities penned a letter this week to Sec. of State John Kerry telling him to oppose the pipeline’s construction. But the letter went a little far.
In 1971, when you were roughly our age, you asked “How can you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” The penetrating moral clarity of the question made it a turning point in the nation’s debate over the Vietnam War.[...]
We stand at such a point today, with respect to an even greater challenge, an even bigger mistake — the imminent threat of catastrophic climate disruption. Your recommendation on the Keystone XL pipeline permit can help correct the course for our future, and all humanity’s.
It’s understandable what Leto is going for here. The threat of climate change is truly catastrophic and the global consequences aren’t something to laugh at. But the comparison — between a pipeline carrying oil and a war that dragged on for years and claimed millions of American and Vietnamese lives — is unfortunate, not least because it’s not really accurate. The decision to go to war is a very active one, while the decision to continue emitting greenhouse gases that screw with the long term health of our planet is probably the most passive choice one can make.
But on a broader level, Leto penning a letter that opposes the pipeline is just not a very constructive form of solidarity with the movement. Where has he been for the hundreds of protests against the pipeline that actually draw visibility to the fight? A letter might draw some attention to the issue, sure, but being the celebrity face of the movement is almost certainly more valuable.
Leto should take some clues from another celebrity with an environmental message. Mark Ruffalo is famously involved in the fight against hydraulic fracturing (fracking) at the Marcellus shale in upstate New York. His reasoning is definitely self serving — Ruffalo and his family live on the shale — but it’s also sincere.
Not only did he launch his own non-profit, Water Defense, that vocally condemns the fossil fuel industry as the source of contamination of American drinking supplies, he also has done perhaps the most valuable thing a celebrity can do: He consistently leverages the amazing access that he gets as an actor to fight for the cause. Ruffalo has gone on the Colbert Report to talk about fracking, and has narrated a documentary film on the topic. He’s allowed the New York Times access to follow him around, not while he premiers a new movie but while he sits in his hometown of Callicoon, NY and talks about his fears for his children if fracking continues.
Ultimately, celebrities are not just like us, and that’s what can make them effective advocates in ways we can’t be. The question is figuring out the effective ways to do that.
The post Jared Leto’s Unfortunate Keystone Comparison, And What Successful Celebrity Environmentalism Looks Like appeared first on ThinkProgress.
CREDIT: Flickr/Matt Gordon
Welcome to TP Ideas‘ fourth installment of our roundup of the week’s best conservative writing! Every Friday, I look at three pieces by right-of-center writers intelligently articulating core elements of the conservative worldview. The goal isn’t to find conservatives telling progressives how right they are, but rather to pick out writing that helps liberals understand where their ideological foes are coming from.
So let’s get started.1. “Pity the Vassals of Moscow” — Michael Totten, World Affairs Journal
Michael Totten has been around since the old-school blogging days of the mid-2000s. Funded by donations from appreciate readers, Totten has traveled around the Middle East, Balkans, and Caucasus, doing smart reporting and analysis from a neoconservative-inflected.
It didn’t surprise me, then, that Totten had the best piece in the conservative press on the Ukraine crisis this week. Equal parts fatalistic and outraged, Totten’s basic argument is that Crimea is almost certainly lost to Russia — Putin cares more about holding it than Western countries do about pushing him out, and he’s got enough military power to make it stick. This isn’t unique, but what’s particularly smart is his analysis of the foundations of Western-Russian relations:
Kiev is almost certainly on Putin’s side of the red line, but no one has actually said that, so it’s ambiguous, as it should be. Ambiguity lends itself to restraint. Russian leaders tend more toward paranoia than American leaders at the best of times. And the expansion of NATO frightened the Russians as much as the expansion of the Warsaw Pact would have alarmed Americans had the Soviets won the Cold War…
There are various ways to signal a yellow if not a red. Retired Admiral James Stavridis shared a few ideas in Foreign Policy magazine. Michael Barone has more. Parking destroyers in the Black Sea off Yalta might be a good place to start. The US sent ships to that region when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008. The Russians didn’t withdraw from occupied Abkhazia or South Ossetia, but at least they stopped where they were, withdrew from Gori, and left the capital Tbilisi alone.
Totten is, quite subtly, reminding us that the entire Western relationship with Russia is structured around NATO: that is, an anti-Russian alliance that forcibly deters Russian expansionism in the future. Absent that security architecture, who knows whether Putin’s Russia would be more aggressive than it already is?
This incisive analysis, together with specific policy proposals for deterring Russia, shows that much-mocked neoconservative bromides about “strength” and “resolve” aren’t always easily dismissable. The American-led military alliance systems structures our world in profound ways, ones that are often easily taken for granted.2. “Free-Market Bashers Aren’t Helping the Poor” – Ramesh Ponnuru, Bloomberg View
If you’re a progressive who hasn’t been regularly been reading Ponnuru’s work, then shame on you. A senior editor at National Review, he’s one of the sharpest conservative writers on economic and social policy out there, a rare thinker who combines a willingness to criticize the Republican Party’s basic platform with serious influence inside the GOP.
That influence, of course, stems from his demonstrated ability to intelligently defend core conservative principles — the purpose of his Bloomberg piece this week. Ponnuru’s stated goal is debunking an argument by Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels that the free market “has done nothing at all” to improve the lives of America’s poorest. Ponnuru makes a reasonably convincing case, particularly on this critically important point:
A bigger flaw with the argument comes with Bartels’s second piece of evidence. He cites scholars at Columbia University who have concluded that Social Security, the earned income tax credit and other programs are responsible for the entirety of the decline in one measure of poverty over that period. The measure those scholars used, however, changes over time as the economy does.
It counts you as poor if you make less than a household at the 33rd percentile of household expenditures spends. The White House’s Council of Economic Advisers said in a recent report that to the extent poverty is measured in relative terms like this, ending it “may be nearly impossible.”
This measure also stacks the deck in favor of government and against markets as an anti-poverty tool — or, more precisely, in favor of redistribution rather than economic growth. If economic growth doubled the income of the poorest households but also increased that 33rd-percentile baseline for spending by a comparable amount, the poverty rate would remain unchanged.
If, on the other hand, you took money from households that made more than this relative poverty line and gave it to households that made less, you’d reduce the poverty rate. The measure of poverty the scholars used is a reasonable one for some purposes, but it’s inappropriate for the purpose Bartels is using it for.
Basically, Ponnuru is saying that markets, by virtue of how they work, have the power to make everyone’s lives better by making everyone wealthier and giving them access to better stuff. Economic growth produces real gains for the poor (particularly around the world), meaning that markets have made huge contributions to the massive improvements in human welfare we’ve seen in the past century. Progressives can acknowledge this point without denying the pressing need to address poverty and inequality — a tightrope walk Ponnuru’s column manages well.3. “Religious Liberty Should Be A Liberal Value, Too” — Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week
I’ll confess to some bias here. Dougherty is a friend and sparring partner; I also occasionally contribute to The Week. But his characteristically insightful Friday column is very much worth your time.
Dougherty, a traditional Catholic with a unique approach to political conservatism, does a great service by moving the “religious liberty” debate beyond Arizona’s S.B. 1062, focusing instead on the principled question of how and why we value religious liberty. The freedom of believers of all stripes to participate in public life was one of America’s original purposes — its protection should be paramount:
Partisans of the egalitarian project define pluralism down. The free exercise of religion is reduced to “freedom of worship.” You’re allowed to believe whatever you want, but when you act in any way that touches public life, you must act according to the ideology of the state. This is a convenient way of defining freedom of conscience and free exercise of religion down to the very last things the liberal state would care to interfere in: what happens once a week at churches and what thoughts you may be thinking. In other words, diversity is okay so long as it remains behind closed doors and in your head. Why even bother with a First Amendment if religion is such a trivial phenomenon?…
Real pluralism preserves the possibility of critique emerging within a liberal state. The interplay of individuals and diverse institutions encourages liberality and understanding at the ground level of citizenship — the gratitude for people very different from you who are still very solicitous of your needs. Whereas the strict ideological hen-pecking of the state creates a kind of existential dread, and intensifies the panic of the culture war — the fear that a loss on principle in one case is the loss of all power and recourse in the future. Legislators and jurists would do best to retain these two essential liberal values, by finding solutions that deftly avoid setting them against each other.
Dougherty’s argument presses progressives to define when, and it what ways, our campaign to expand the state’s role comes at the expense of the liberal commitment to tolerance of diverse ways of life. By abstracting away from charged contexts like birth control and discrimination, Dougherty’s piece should serve to prompt real reflection about the appropriate boundaries of the progressive project.
The post Three Things Conservatives Wrote This Week That Are Really Good appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Last weekend's rain has obviously traumatized Domino. Sunny skies may have returned to Southern California since then, but Domino has spent all week hiding in a blanket cave anyway, just in case the rain clouds return. Her humans failed her once, after all. There's no telling when we'll fail her again.
CREDIT: AP Photo/Misha Japaridze
The former United States ambassador to the Russian Federation — only eight days out of office — told reporters on Friday that the White House is taking the right steps in responding to the crisis in Ukraine, saying the threats to impose sanctions on Moscow are working to change the situation in the immediate term.
In a press call from Palo Alto, Ambassador Michael McFaul told reporters that the Obama administration’s threat of economic punishment for Russia’s incursion into the Crimea peninsula were having a result in the minds of ordinary Russians and the highly influential Russian business community. “The threat of medium and long term action that are designed to create pressure for a negotiated solutions — and I think that’s working by the way,” McFaul said. “I can tell you that the specter of particularly banking sanctions, just in my interaction with Russians — and I’m interacting with Russians everyday, both government officials and people in the business community, and just friends of mine — there’s not a lot of enthusiasm for not being able to have bank accounts, not being able to trade in dollars, having the worry your assets might be frozen.”
“That’s causing a lot of anxiety in the business community in Russia, there’s no doubt in my mind about this,” he continued. “And if you’re a multibillion Russian corporation this has got to look like a total distraction and just not in your interests. I’m thinking of Severstal, for instance, a very well-respected steel company, has lots of investments in the United States and all over the world. This can’t be great news for you.” McFaul made clear he didn’t know where the sanctions were going specifically, which haven’t been imposed against individuals yet despite the White House announcing the legal framework on Thursday.
McFaul also raised the possible economic disaster that the United States could wreak upon Russia if Washington chose to take the same route it did in sanctioning Iran. Since blocking Iran from the world’s financial markets, the international community has persuaded Tehran to come to the negotiating table over its nuclear program. If similar sanctions were ever be applied to Russia, he said, that would have devastating consequences on the Russian economy. “In the immediate run, just having people think about that is important,” he said. At the end of the day, McFaul said, it is quite possible that Russian president Vladimir Putin “will be ready to make those economic sacrifices if he feels he wants to go forward with this annexation strategy.”
From his own standpoint, he said, the State Department’s efforts to put together a compromise package is the correct path to take. “There’s no way that as a result of statements from Western leaders Putin will have his soldiers go back to the barracks,” he said. “There has to be something that shows he has a better outcome from Russia’s national interest point of view as the result of his actions.” He suggested the now lapsed Feb. 21 deal in Ukraine could provide a framework for such a package, including guarantees of protections for ethnic Russians and amending the Ukrainian constitution to have a more federal system. He did worry, though, that chances are slim that will work, particularly after next Sunday’s vote in Crimea on potentially joining the Russian Federation — which he believes will not be free and fair. “Once that’s done will create some very sticky facts on the ground,” McFaul said, adding that he fears it will create an “ambiguous sovereignty of Crimea that could last for a long time.”
McFaul also vigorously defended the “reset” policy with Russia that he helped put together and conservatives have panned in recent weeks. The policy at its core, he said, was never about perfect relations with Russians but instead about engaging with Russia to seek agreement on common interests without compromising our allies in the region and without compromising our values. That strategy has paid off, McFaul argued, running down a laundry list of successes including the New START treaty, keeping open supply lines into Afghanistan, and U.N. Security Council resolution 1929 imposing multilateral sanctions on Iran. “Over time, obviously, it became more difficult to find common interest with Kremlin,” he said, something that he said had almost everything to do with internal changes in Russia and little to do with the Obama administration’s policy.
The narrative that Putin invaded Ukraine because he believes President Barack Obama is weak is completely wrong, McFaul said. Instead, Putin believes that the United States is far stronger than it actually is, to the point of paranoia, he insisted. “Putin still assigns more power to our administration and our government that I think we actually have,” McFaul said. The former diplomat also noted that historically speaking, American presidents have not had a great track record in repelling Russian incursions into their neighbors’ territory. “Now is the right time for diplomacy,” he said, pointing out that there is much greater unity on the Ukraine issue that existed in 2008 during the Russian invasion of Georgia.
Putin’s dream of a Eurasian Economic Union as a counter to the European Union counted on Ukraine for its success, McFaul said, and at the outset now former president Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to reject strengthening European Union ties was seen a victory for that dream initially. His removal after months of protests was a major blow to Moscow and so “the move into Crimea was a tactical counterpunch by Putin to slow down what in his view was a victory of anti-Russian forces,” McFaul argued, calling it “impulsive.” The result thus far has been scaring Russia’s neighbors, assuring NATO members in the region that they made the right choice to join the defense organization, and a Ukrainian interim government that has accelerated their push to have greater ties to the West.
No matter what the outcome is in Ukraine, McFaul said, the cooperation between the U.S. and Russia on their shared interests will likely continue. Both are highly involved in the process of removing Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile from the country and are members of the P5+1 negotiating group discussing Iran’s nuclear program. But on whether he can foresee a possible expansion of Russia’s aims beyond Crimea and into eastern Ukraine, he hedged. “Is Putin planning an invasion of eastern Ukraine? I don’t know. I would be surprised,” he said. “But could I put together a scenario where it happens? Of course. To say that it’s not possible — that would be irresponsible, so yeah, I’m deeply worried about it frankly.”
The post Former U.S. Ambassador To Russia Praises Threat Of U.S. Sanctions In Ukraine Crisis appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Backed by a coalition of advocates for the elderly and the poor, a pair of Louisiana lawmakers are proposing to cap payday lending interest rates at 36 percent. That limit would threaten to put the industry, which typically charges annual rates 10 times that high for its short-term high-risk cash advances, out of business in the state.
“The goal is to get Louisianians out of a debt trap,” said Andrew Muhl of the American Association for Retired Persons’ (AARP) Louisiana branch in an interview with the Associated Press. “We see payday lending as a real drain on Louisiana’s economy.” The industry pulls about $3.4 billion per year out of poor communities nationwide through fees and interest charges so high that the typical borrower will end up paying $520 to borrow $375.
Several states are trying to put constraints on payday lenders this year, with mixed results. While reforms are floundering in Idaho and Alabama and Missouri’s are being described as weak and industry friendly, a modest package of reforms in Utah is headed to the governor’s desk.
Most of those bills do not feature an outright interest rate cap like the proposed legislation on the bayou, although 15 states already cap interest rates. A public affairs spokesman for one of Louisiana’s payday lending chains decried the interest rate cap as “a backdoor prohibition” on his business and argued that his customers know what they’re getting into when they take out new loans or roll over old ones in order to have enough cash to keep their phones active and their electricity running.
The argument that payday loans are prevalent because poor folks genuinely need them is not new. Pennsylvania Republicans make the same sort of claims to justify their proposal to invite payday lenders into their state, which is currently one that caps interest rates to effectively ban the industry. Their point about consumer demand is not entirely wrong — low wages, high unemployment, and the spiraling costs of living combine to push desperate people into the arms of companies that promise to solve immediate cash flow problems, and reports indicate that in many cases customers do understand what they’re getting into.
Still, as recent federal enforcement efforts indicate, the industry is unscrupulous about how it does business and adept at undermining and evading regulatory efforts in states that allow them to operate but attempt to protect their customers from manipulation.
But none of that requires lawmakers to allow for-profit businesses to prey upon that very real demand for cash advances. The U.S. Postal Service could provide the same sorts of services at a tenth of the cost, solving poor folks’ cash problems without pushing them into debt spirals or charging them usury rates. That idea has caught on with progressives in Congress, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and enjoys substantial public support in limited polling. The post office has physical locations all around the country, including in poor communities that have been abandoned by major banks. It has the authority to provide basic financial services to Americans. And it has a manufactured budget crisis in its own accounts that would be resolved by the income generated from replacing predatory private lenders.
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The student-led protest was a dramatic demonstration of the youth climate movement’s growing resolve—and its sense of solidarity.
On February 18, 1965, a young man named Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot and killed by a member of the Alabama State Police during a non-violent civil rights demonstration in Selma, Alabama.
Seventeen days later, 525 civil rights activists marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in protest of that killing. They were attacked by state and local police armed with billy clubs, whips, and tear gas. (You can read the New York Times' entire horrifying account here.) That day—March 7, 1965—would come to be known as "Bloody Sunday."
Here is President Obama's statement marking the 49th anniversary:
Forty-nine years ago, a determined group of Americans marched into history, facing down grave danger in the name of justice and equality—walking to protest the continued discrimination and violence against African Americans. On a day that became known as “Bloody Sunday”, these brave men and women met billy-clubs and tear gas with courage and resolution. Their actions helped set an example for a generation to stand up for the fundamental freedoms due to all people. We recognize those who marched that day—and the millions more who have done their part throughout our nation’s history to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice.
Pew has released a new survey about the social and political attitudes of various generations, and it makes for interesting reading. The thing that strikes me the most is just how clear the trends are. Each successive generation is more politically independent; more religiously independent; less likely to be married in their 20s; less trusting of others; less likely to self-ID as patriotic; and less opposed to gay rights. There's virtually no overlap at all. It's just a smooth, straight progression.
But the single most interesting chart in the report is one that doesn't show this smooth progression. You've probably seen this before from other sources, but the chart on the right basically shows that for the past 40 years voting patterns haven't differed much by age. In fact, there's virtually no difference between generations at all until you get to the George Bush era. At that point, young voters suddenly leave the Republican Party en masse. Millennials may be far less likely than older generations to say there's a big difference between Republicans and Democrats, but their actual voting record belies that.
Whatever it was that Karl Rove and George Bush did—and there are plenty of possibilities, ranging from Iraq to gays to religion—they massively alienated an entire generation of voters. Sure, they managed to squeak out a couple of presidential victories, but they did it at the cost of losing millions of voters who will probably never fully return. This chart is their legacy in a nutshell.
CREDIT: AP/Kiichiro Sato
A Florida bill advanced in the Senate this week to make bullying a crime, including cyber-bullying online. The new offenses criminalize a range of “harassing” behavior, both in-person and on the Internet. And a second conviction would send perpetrators to jail for a year, criminalizing what is primarily a problem among youths.
The bill comes in response to concerns of escalating bullying, especially cyberbulling, and is named for 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick, who committed suicide in September 2013, after two teen peers allegedly harassed her over her dating of a particular boy. While Rebecca’s case did not involve LGBT harassment, bullying has been a particular concern among LGBT youth.
The bill establishes that someone who “willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly harasses or cyberbullies another person commits the offense of bullying” — a misdemeanor — and that those who engage in such harassment accompanied by a threat are guilty of a third-degree felony.
The proposal moves to criminalize more youth behavior, even as Florida has made efforts to move away from a trend of criminalizing school misbehavior and giving kids an early introduction to the criminal system in what is known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Saddling kids with arrests, suspensions, and particularly juvenile detention for misbehavior has found to only exacerbate later behavior, and increase the likelihood that they will later commit other crimes.
These “zero tolerance” school policies that impose harsh punishment for misbehavior mete out punishment disproportionately not just on racial minorities, but also on lesbian, gay, and bisexual students, who are over-represented in the juvenile justice system. A recent Center for American Progress report finds that these overly punitive disciplinary policies are as detrimental if not moreso to LGBT youth as the bullying itself.
But Florida would not be the first to respond to escalated attention to bullying with criminalization and other punitive sanctions. The vast majority of states — 42 — have passed some sort of bullying law, and 24 of them rely solely on punitive measures, rather than training, counseling and other rehabilitative approaches. Fifteen state laws include procedures for imposing criminal sanctions, and eight have “created new crimes or modified existing ones, to include bullying behavior,” according to the Advancement Project. As the organization explains in a report on why this trend is counter-productive:
So-called “bullies” are, of course, youth themselves, and are thus struggling with their own insecurities – about their intelligence, social skills, physical attractiveness, attraction to others, gender expression, etc. – and are often just learning to understand themselves and the world around them. They are themselves frequently victims of messages of intolerance, hostility, and hate at home, at school, and from the media. [...]
Indeed, zero-tolerance responses can actually have the unintended effects of strengthening a bully’s resolve and further victimizing the recipient of his or her aggression.
Among the laws passed in the last few years are a Maryland law that made cyberbullying a misdemeanor in May 2013, also punishable by a year in jail. The year before that, North Carolina made it a crime for students to harass their teachers online.
Florida, where the bill passed a Senate committee this week, has been known over the past few years for arresting more students than any other state, for violations that include trespassing at their own school.
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Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) on Friday lamented the lack of a military option for the United States in Ukraine against Russia and criticized President Obama for thinking the Cold War is over.
During a segment on MSNBC, McCain said that the Obama administration does’t understand Russian President Vladimir Putin. “They have been near delusional in thinking that the Cold War was over,” McCain said referring to Obama officials. “Maybe the president thinks the Cold War is over but Vladimir Putin doesn’t and that’s what this is all about.”
Later in the interview, when host Andrea Mitchell asked if there is a military option for the U.S. in Ukraine, the Arizona Republican sounded despondent. “I’d love to tell you that there is Andrea, but frankly I do not see it,” he said, adding, “I wish that there were. … I do not see a military option and it’s tragic.” Watch the clip:
McCain has been leading the partisan attack on Obama in recent days, claiming that the Russian incursion into Ukraine is the result of Obama’s supposed “feckless” foreign policy. Yet back in 2008, when Russia invaded neighboring Georgia, McCain criticized any “partisan sniping” on the issue. “There’s no time for that,” he said at the time. “The time now is for America to — the United States of America to act united on behalf of the people of the country of Georgia, and not do a lot of partisan sniping.”
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Dan Drezner, after waiting an unconscionably long four or five days, has weighed in on the efficacy of economic sanctions against Russia:
Sorry, but the fact remains that sanctions will not force Russia out of the Crimea. This doesn't mean that they shouldn't be imposed. Indeed, there are two excellent reasons why the United States should orchestrate and then implement as tough as set of sanctions on Russia as it can muster.
First, this problem is going to crop up again. Vladimir Putin has now invaded two neighbors in six years to destabilize regimes perceived to be hostile to him. Post-Crimea, any new Ukraine government will continue to be hostile to the Russian Federation. There are other irredentist areas in the former Soviet Union — *cough* Transnistria *cough* — where Putin will be tempted to intervene over the next decade. At a minimum, he should be forced to factor in the cost of sanctions when calculating whether to meddle in his near abroad again. President Obama was correct to point out the "costs" to Putin for his behavior — now he has to follow through on that pledge.
Second, while sanctions cannot solve this problem on their own, they can be part of the solution. Over the long term, Russia does need to export energy to finance its government and fuel economic growth. Even if planned sanctions won't bite in the present, the anticipation of tougher economic coercion to come is a powerful lever in international bargaining. The closer the European Union moves towards joining the U.S. sanctioning effort, the more that Russia has to start thinking about the long-term implications of its actions. Any political settlement over the future of Ukraine will require compromise by the new Ukrainian government and its supporters in the West. Imposing sanctions now creates a bargaining chip that can be conceded in the future.
This mirrors my own judgment. Putin has very plainly decided that invading Crimea is worth the price, and it's improbable that economic sanctions—especially the scattershot variety that we're likely to put together in this case—will change that. Nevertheless, it needs to be clear that there really is a price. It also needs to be clear that face-saving compromises are still available to Putin that might lower that price.
For my money, the biggest price Putin is paying comes not from any possible sanctions, but from the very clear message he's now sent to bordering countries who have long been suspicious of him anyway. Yes, Putin has shown that he's not to be trifled with. At the same time, he's also shown every one of his neighbors that he can't be trusted. Two mini-invasions in less than a decade is plenty to ramp up their anti-Russian sentiment to a fever pitch.
Putin's invasion has already cost him a lot in flexibility and maneuvering room, and it's very unlikely that tighter control over Crimea really makes up for that. At this point, it's hardly a question of whether Putin has won or lost. It's only a question of just how big his losses will be.