Category Archives: The World

Obama: Sony ‘made a mistake,’ and N. Korea better watch out

POTUS

Two things are being reported out of the president’s last scheduled presser of the year this afternoon:

  1. Sony “made a mistake” in canceling “The Interview.”
  2. We’re gonna get even with North Korea.

The first point raises interesting questions, but I find myself focusing on the second one.

So… exactly how do we retaliate against North Korea for throwing a snit fit over a silly movie, and then creating cyber havoc with a large corporation’s virtual existence?

POTUS promises our response will be “proportional.” What’s proportional in this instance? Do we somehow sabotage Dear Leader’s favorite TV show? His country has no large, successful corporations that we can mess with, so what else is there?

It’s like the opposite of “What do you give the man who has everything?” In this case, it’s what do you do to a country where the people all starve, they lack electric lighting and the absolute ruler is so paranoid he wipes out his own relatives to hold on to power?

The president is headed for vacation in Hawaii, leaving the West Wing to ponder how to get back at the North Koreans. Why do I picture the guys in Animal House planning their big revenge at the homecoming parade?

Previous White Houses had to decide how to respond to Pearl Harbor, or the Berlin Wall. We have this….

 

Benghazi committee should add Sony hack to its brief

Let’s see…

A foreign terrorist attack wreaks havoc on an American (cultural) outpost, resulting in an untimely death (of a movie — and after all, aren’t all Hollywood films really ambassadors of the American Way?).

The government tries to make us believe it’s all because of a tasteless, ill-advised video that it had nothing to do with. So far, all administration officials seem to be sticking to these talking points.

So maybe Trey Gowdy’s Benghazi committee should take on the big Sony hack of 2014. Seeing as how another GOP-led committee has already said it found no administration wrongdoing at Benghazi…

 

Obama’s bold move on relations with Cuba

Barack Obama seems determined to avoid irrelevance and have a real impact in his last years in office. Not long after stepping out unilaterally on immigration, he’s braving the potential ire of Cuban émigrés by stepping toward a more reasonable relationship with their homeland:

US President Barack Obama has hailed a “new chapter” in US relations with Cuba, announcing moves to normalise diplomatic and economic ties.

Mr Obama said the US’ current approach was “outdated” and the changes were the “most significant” in US policy towards Cuba in 50 years.

Cuban President Raul Castro said he welcomed the shift in a TV address.

The move includes the release of US contractor Alan Gross and three Cubans held in the US.

Wednesday’s announcement follows more than a year of secret talks in Canada and at the Vatican, directly involving the Pope….

Good for him. And good for the Pope, too. It’s good to have a Pontiff from Latin America, it seems…

Why must our international free speech crises be over such stupid things?

REALLY? These are our free speech heroes?

REALLY? These are our free speech heroes?

When I saw this news this morning

“The Interview’s” premiere, which was to take place at Sunshine Cinema in New York on Thursday, has been canceled, a Landmark Theatres spokesman told the Hollywood Reporter. The news came after a group calling itself Guardians of Peace, or GOP, issued a threat to movie theaters warning of Sept. 11-style attacks against those that show “The Interview,” scheduled to premiere Christmas Day. Now there’s a serious question of whether anyone will screen the movie at all. Guardians of Peace is the same group that claimed responsibility for the Sony Pictures Entertainment hacks. Some investigators believe North Korea is behind the attack.

The Los Angeles Times reported Sony executives attended a meeting of the National Association of Theatre Owners on Thursday, where they told the trade group Sony would be supportive if owners elected not to screen the movie.

The Georgia-headquartered Carmike Cinemas, which operates 276 theaters and 2,904 screens in 41 states, has already taken Sony up on the offer and announced it would not be showing the movie….

… My first reaction was, If you cancel the premiere and hold off from showing the movie, the cyberterrorists win!

So my next thought is that instead of cancelling, Sony and the theaters should…

… should what? Stand up for noble principle by showing a stupid movie about a couple of doofuses trying to kill a real-life foreign leader, played for laughs?

Dang. You know, I wish that when people in the West want to go toe-to-toe with repressive regimes around the world and stand up for freedom of speech, they wouldn’t always do it with such stupid things as this, or that idiotic, offensive cartoon contest deliberately intended to mock the Prophet.

Can’t we step up our game a little bit, fellow Westerners? Let’s try going to the mat for the Magna Carta, or the Declaration of Independence, or something that doesn’t make us feel queasy to defend. This is no way to get people in benighted countries to embrace pluralism or liberal democracy.

Come on, folks. I want to advocate for our way of life. Give me something to work with…

The ACLU wants to send people to prison. Anyone besides me see the irony in that?

Whether on the left or on the right, no one in the political mainstream is calling for anyone to go to prison over the CIA’s interrogation practices. Most of us just want to make sure we don’t do it any more in the future.

It seems ironic, therefore, that the ACLU, of all people, wants to get all punitive:

This is a shocking report, and it is impossible to read it without feeling immense outrage that our government engaged in these terrible crimes. This report definitively drags into the light the horrific details of illegal torture, details that both the Bush and Obama administrations have worked hard to sweep under the rug. The government officials who authorized illegal activity need to be held accountable. The administration’s current position – doing absolutely nothing – is tantamount to issuing tacit pardons. Tacit pardons are worse than formal ones because they undermine the rule of law. The CIA’s wrongful acts violated basic human rights, served as a huge recruiting tool for our enemies, and alienated allies world-wide. Our response to the damning evidence in this report will define us as a nation.

This should be the beginning of a process, not the end. The report should shock President Obama and Congress into action, to make sure that torture and cruelty are never used again. The Department of Justice needs to appoint a special prosecutor to hold the architects and perpetrators of the torture program accountable for its design, implementation, and cover-ups….

Anyone else see the irony here?

Tom Friedman’s take on torture report

I liked Tom Friedman’s latest column:

Why do people line up to come to this country? Why do they build boats from milk cartons to sail here? Why do they trust our diplomats and soldiers in ways true of no other country? It’s because we are a beacon of opportunity and freedom, and also because these foreigners know in their bones that we do things differently from other big powers in history.

One of the things we did was elect a black man whose grandfather was a Muslim as our president — after being hit on Sept. 11, 2001, by Muslim extremists. And one of the things we do we did on Tuesday: We published what appears to be an unblinking examination and exposition of how we tortured prisoners and suspected terrorists after 9/11. I’m glad we published it.

It may endanger captured Americans in the future. That is not to be taken lightly. But this act of self-examination is not only what keeps our society as a whole healthy, it’s what keeps us a model that others want to emulate, partner with and immigrate to — which is a different, but vital, source of our security as well….

It’s not a unique point of view. Even The Guardian, in expressing its high dudgeon over “America’s shame and disgrace,” acknowledged in a backhanded way that issuing the report illustrates something special about America, even though they were just using it as a way to beat up on HMG:

In one sense, it is a tribute to the US that it has published such a report. It is certainly a huge contrast to the cosy inadequacy of UK policy, practice and accountability – shortcomings that parliament must address.

But I particularly appreciate Friedman’s approach. His headline was “We’re Always Still Americans,” and it came from this John McCain quote at the end:

… I greatly respect how Senator John McCain put it: “I understand the reasons that governed the decision to resort to these interrogation methods, and I know that those who approved them and those who used them were dedicated to securing justice for the victims of terrorist attacks and to protecting Americans from further harm. … But I dispute wholeheartedly that it was right for them to use these methods, which this report makes clear were neither in the best interests of justice nor our security nor the ideals we have sacrificed so much blood and treasure to defend.” Even in the worst of times, “we are always Americans, and different, stronger, and better than those who would destroy us.”

Whether, of course, we remain Americans, true to our ideals, depends on whether we truly have put this shameful practice behind us.

Was getting bin Laden a sufficient justification for torture?

An "enhanced interrogation" scene in "Zero Dark Thirty."

An “enhanced interrogation” scene in “Zero Dark Thirty.”

I raised this somewhere in this earlier thread, but I was reminded of it when I saw this story in The Washington Post this morning, which addressed one of the first questions that occurred to me when I saw reports about the torture findings yesterday: The report said torture was ineffective, but didn’t it lead us to bin Laden?

That’s just a question, not an argument. I don’t think we should have used torture whether it led to bin Laden or not. I’m with John McCain on this one (by the way, the Post also had a piece this morning about how for once, McCain and Lindsey Graham were in disagreement).

The Post reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee report directly refutes the story we’ve heard in the past, which was dramatized in “Zero Dark Thirty” (the credibility of which took a hit yesterday along with the CIA’s). The report says torture did not lead to bin Laden, or at least that its role was greatly exaggerated. The CIA continues to say otherwise:

In a detailed response to the committee report, the CIA rejected the study’s interpretation of events leading to the killing of bin Laden. It reiterates that coercive measures helped, saying the tactics led two detainees in agency custody, Ammar al-Baluchi and Ghul, to provide important clues to the courier.

It was “impossible to know in hindsight” whether interrogators could have obtained the same information that helped locate bin Laden without using enhanced techniques, the agency said.

“However, the information we did obtain from these detainees played a role — in combination with other important streams of intelligence — in finding the al-Qaeda leader.”

But here’s my BIG question: Even if torture was necessary to get bin Laden, was torture justified?

I say not. Partly because it was wrong, but also because it wasn’t that essential that we find him and kill him — and therefore not worth setting morality aside, if that is ever justified.

As much of a sense of justice, or closure, as it may have engendered in American hearts, as much as it told those who would kill innocent Americans, We will find you, and exact retribution, it was never necessary to the war effort, and it certainly wasn’t conclusive. It was a great coup de main, an exhibition of American arms and prowess (and as I’ve said, sound decision-making by the president in deciding to send in the SEALs, and not tell the Pakistanis we were coming). And bin Laden certainly had it coming.

But it wasn’t like catching the snitch in Quidditch. It didn’t win the game. The conditions that engender terrorism still exist. ISIL has morphed into something more dangerous than al Qaeda ever was, despite its one great coup.

The only thing that would solve the problem is systemic change in the region — cultural, economic, political change. Which is why some of us favored reshuffling the deck by taking out Saddam Hussein, in addition to tossing out the Taliban, overthrowing Qaddafi, and pressing allies in the region to liberalize their societies to the extent that is possible.

President Obama can kill bin Laden and every other identifiable terrorist in the region, with drones where commando raids aren’t feasible. Others will take their place, unless the conditions that produce them change.

But this nation lost its appetite for nation rebuilding several years back. The purpose of this post is not to try to reverse that trend. The point is to say, things being as they are… was it worth using torture to get bin Laden? If that’s even what we did…

The mission that took out bin Laden was a bravura performance by the Navy. But was it worth using torture to bring about?

The mission that took out bin Laden was a bravura performance by the Navy. But was it worth using torture to bring about?

How the CIA torture report story was reported

The above image caught my eye on Twitter this morning, and I followed The Guardian‘s link to this story.

I found it interesting that even though the headline was, “CIA torture report: how the world’s media reacted,” the story led off with how American papers played it — the NYT, the WashPost, the LAT…

If you scroll down in the story, though, you see more international fronts. I found it interesting the extent to which the Arab News played the story down. It looks like it might even be below the fold.

Anyway, I thought I’d pass all this on…

Torture report: CIA was ‘brutal,’ ineffective and deceptive in its interrogations

nyt

This is what everybody is leading with at this hour.

Here’s the NYT version:

WASHINGTON — A scathing report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday found that the Central Intelligence Agency routinely misled the White House and Congress about the information it obtained from the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects, and that its methods were more brutal than the C.I.A. acknowledged either to Bush administration officials or to the public.

The long-delayed report, which took five years to produce and is based on more than six million internal agency documents, is a sweeping indictment of the C.I.A.’s operation and oversight of a program carried out by agency officials and contractors in secret prisons around the world in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It also provides a macabre accounting of some of the grisliest techniques that the C.I.A. used to torture and imprison terrorism suspects….

From the WashPost version:

The 528-page document catalogues dozens of cases in which CIA officials allegedly deceived their superiors at the White House, members of Congress and even sometimes their own peers about how the interrogation program was being run and what it had achieved. In one case, an internal CIA memo relays instructions from the White House to keep the program secret from then-Secretary of State Colin Powell out of concern that he would “blow his stack if he were to be briefed on what’s going on.”

A declassified summary of the committee’s work discloses for the first time a complete roster of all 119 prisoners held in CIA custody and indicates that at least 26 were held because of mistaken identities or bad intelligence. The publicly released summary is drawn from a longer, classified study that exceeds 6,000 pages….

From The Guardian’s version:

The investigation that led to the report, and the question of how much of the document would be released and when, has pitted chairwoman Feinstein and her committee allies against the CIA and its White House backers. For 10 months, with the blessing of President Barack Obama, the agency has fought to conceal vast amounts of the report from the public, with an entreaty to Feinstein from secretary of state John Kerry occurring as recently as Friday.

CIA director John Brennan, an Obama confidante, conceded in a Tuesday statement that the program “had shortcomings and that the agency made mistakes” owing from what he described as unpreparedness for a massive interrogation and detentions program….

I’m up against a deadline in my day job, but y’all go ahead and start chewing on this, and I’ll join you later…

guardian

Hagel, who challenged Obama on ISIL strategy, resigns

Here’s today’s news. The president said all the obligatory things about the Defense secretary’s service to his country, starting as a grunt in Vietnam.

But I worry about what seems to lie behind this change. This is from an Oct. 31 report:

Washington (CNN) — Earlier this month, while on an trip to Latin America to discuss climate change, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagelsat down and wrote a highly private, and very blunt memo to National Security Advisor Susan Rice about U.S. policy toward Syria.

It was a detailed analysis, crafted directly by Hagel “expressing concern about overall Syria strategy,” a senior U.S. official tells CNN. The official directly familiar with the contents declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter….

The focus of the memo was “we need to have a sharper view of what to do about the Assad regime,” the official said. The official refused to provide additional details, but did not disagree with the notion that Hagel feels the U.S. is risking its gains in the war against ISIS if adjustments are not made.

Some analysts have pointed out US airstrikes in Syria against ISIS can benefit the Assad regime which also opposes ISIS. Hagel’s concerns are not related to the Pentagon effort to train and equip moderate Syrian forces, something he still strong supports the official said.

What concerns me is that a guy willing to challenge the president is leaving, while the Susan Rices of the world — all too eager to give voice to approved talking points, even when they’re not true — remain.

Graham rants about Benghazi, tries to hold his party accountable on immigration

The conflicting personas of Lindsey Graham were on display over the weekend.

On Saturday morning, seeing that the House Intelligence Committee had completely exonerated the Obama administration on Benghazi, I looked for reaction from our senior senator. I found none either on his Twitter feed nor in my email inbox, so I wrote to Graham aide Kevin Bishop, seeking a response. I still haven’t heard from Kevin (it was, after all, the weekend), but I see CNN got a response out of the senator. He said the panel’s report was “full of crap.” And then he did a poor job of supporting that statement. (His rambling about this official said this, and that official said that, sounds like Trekkies arguing about whether Gene Roddenberry was wrong not to do a followup episode to “The Trouble with Tribbles.” It’s just so esoteric, and seemingly moot.)

You can hear his comments above.

Meanwhile, on immigration, while doing the standard GOP thing of blaming the president, he also gave both barrels to the obstructionists in his own party:

“Shame on us as Republicans,” he added. “Shame on us as Republicans for having a body that cannot generate a solution to an issue that is national security, it’s cultural and it’s economic.”

Dismissing talk of impeachment and pointing to bills passed in the Senate that have stalled in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, Graham continued, “I’m close to the people in the House, but I’m disappointed in my party. Are we still the party of self-deportation? Is it the position of the Republican Party that the 11 million must be driven out?”

It’s hard being Lindsey Graham. Everybody lets you down…

I wish he could just coherently explain to us what he wants with regard to Benghazi. It seems that he’s still obsessing over what Susan Rice said. Well, I long ago just learned to disregard most of what Susan Rice says, and Sens. Graham and John McCain did a lot to help me reach that conclusion, so, mission accomplished.

But he just. Keeps. Going. ON about it…

There was one excuse for pursuing investigation on Benghazi — to learn from the event so as to prevent future embassy/consulate security disasters. We should try to identify mistakes made, so as to make sure nothing like this happens again.

What Susan Rice said just seems to have become irrelevant SO long ago. I mean, what she said was already wrong and inoperative before she said it. It made no difference to anything that happened in the real world, except to tell us we shouldn’t put her in sensitive positions of responsibility. Which the president seems to have some compulsion to do, which is problematic.

But it doesn’t make the committee’s report “full of crap.”

Hutto hits Graham, again, for not being ‘downhome’ enough

There’s not much new about it. It’s his usual thing about how he thinks the job of a U.S. senator should be about worrying about everyday conditions on the ground here in South Carolina rather than in the rest of the nation and the world.

Which isn’t my concept of a senator’s role at all. When I hear Hutto say these things, I sometimes wonder whether he ought to quit the South Carolina Senate and run for county council. He seems to be all about the local level.

But don’t go by me. He’s running a populist campaign, and I don’t have a populist bone in my body.

Here’s the release that goes with the ad:

Hutto Begins Statewide TV Blitz

 

Orangeburg, SC – Democratic nominee for US Senate Brad Hutto began running TV advertisements across South Carolina today.

The ad can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PhQTgegprZk&feature=youtu.be

The ad contrasts Lindsey Graham’s role as a Washington DC insider, self-promoter and potential Presidential candidate to Brad Hutto’s pledge to be a Senator who will work for South Carolina. In the ad Hutto advocates for a hike in the minimum wage, securing equal pay for women, and protecting financial security for seniors.

At the ad’s conclusion, Hutto says “We need a Senator who cares more about making a difference than making headlines.”

Hutto campaign manager Lachlan McIntosh describes the buy as major. “People will see it and they’ll be talking about it.”

 

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As you see when you watch the ad, the one new wrinkle in this one is making fun of Graham talking about the presidency, which is certainly fair game. The incumbent was sort of asking for it with that…

Sen. Tim Scott: Ban travel from Ebola-stricken countries

And now, we have this proposal from U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-SC:

Charleston, SC – U.S. Senator Tim Scott released the following statement regarding travel restrictions from Ebola-stricken nations in West Africa. Senator Scott is a member of both the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees.Scott,Tim

“First and foremost, my heart goes out to those infected with Ebola and their families both in the United States and in West Africa. This is a terrible virus, and one the world must come together to stop.

As infections continue to spread here in the United States, the trust of the American people has been shaken by the administration’s response thus far. It is clear that a temporary travel ban for foreign nationals traveling from Ebola-stricken nations in West Africa should be put in place. The President has the authority to do so, and we have seen that airport screenings and self-reporting simply are not enough.

While both the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health state that patients without a fever are not contagious, recent studies from West Africa show that almost 13 percent of confirmed cases did not present with a fever. Screenings have also only been initiated at five airports, and even at airports travelers’ symptoms can be masked by over-the-counter medications.

This is about the safety of the American people, and nothing more. As the fight against Ebola continues, a temporary travel ban for foreign nationals traveling from the epicenter of the outbreak is a necessity.”

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I find myself wondering: Did he decide independently to join the voices advocating this, or did Republicans get together and decide that his was the most sympathetic face they had for advancing such a proposal?

I say that in part because, although a number of Republicans have said it, it has tended to be those in tight races, such as Scott Brown and Thom Tillis. Sen. Scott, of course, is in the opposite of a “tight race.”

Ebola in the U.S. has now reached the critical ‘WTF?’ stage

800px-Ebola_virus_virion

So, let’s review the chart here, shall we?

  • Patient presents at Dallas hospital with symptoms consistent with Ebola. He tells ER staff that he’s been in a country affected by the outbreak. They send him home.
  • He comes back to the hospital days later, is finally diagnosed and treated, but dies — which of course is going to happen in far too many cases with this horrific disease.
  • It takes DAYS for anyone to take it upon themselves to put on hazmat suits and go clean out the apartment where this guy was sick before going into the hospital. Human beings are living in that apartment during that time.
  • We learn that a nurse at the hospital that treated the deceased has contracted the disease. This shatters our hubris about how, here in the U.S. we know how to treat infectious diseases safely.
  • Today, we learn that a second nurse who treated this patient is sick with Ebola. Which makes us wonder what in the world kinds of procedures were in place at that hospital. And whether Ebola transmits a LOT more easily than we had been told.
  • Between being infected and showing symptoms, the second nurse flew to Cleveland and back, the return trip on the day before coming down with the disease. Authorities are now trying to reach the 132 people who were on board  Frontier Airlines flight 1143 from Cleveland to Dallas with her on Monday. She was supposedly being monitored for signs of Ebola during the period in which she took this trip.

OK, so maybe the proper, professional reaction to these developments isn’t “WTF?,” but a more dignified, “Really?”

But a great deal of incredulity is a natural reaction, along with more than a little alarm.

As we speak, all over the country, hospitals and government health officials are (one hopes) reviewing plans and procedures. Which is good, because Ebola is horrible enough, and enough people are going to suffer and die, without committing boneheaded errors that help it along…

Before the last few weeks, everything I knew about Ebola came from Tom Clancy novels — specifically, Executive Orders (in which a fictional Iranian regime launches a deliberate germ-warfare attack on the United States using the virus, infecting thousands) and Rainbow Six (in which a super-radical environmental group, backed by a billionaire businessman, attempts to wipe out the rest of the human race using the disease).

Ever read a Tom Clancy novel? He was a great respecter of expertise, of whatever type — military, medical, what have you, his tales were filled with calm, super-competent professionals who always knew exactly what to do in a dangerous situation, and usually did it flawlessly. He was a great admirer not only of technology, but of procedure. When a patient came in with a high fever, nausea and petechiae, the staff swept into action sealing off the area and instituting ironclad safety procedures, making sure none of the medical professionals contracts the disease, and even if they do, that they don’t take it out into the world with them.

Apparently, it doesn’t always work that way in the real world. To say the least…

I do well on the serious tests, badly on the silly ones

Pew quiz2

The trend continues.

There was a story in The Washington Post this morning about the fact that “One third of Americans think the government spends more on foreign aid than on social security.”

Stupid one third. Of course, this is a continuation of the stubborn belief that we spend some huge proportion of our budget on foreign aid, when we spend about 2 percent on it. People continue to get this wrong, against all reason, even though their foolishness has been written about over and over and over and over and over. This is related to the increasing irrational hostility toward government in general — most people don’t like the idea of foreign aid, so they overestimate how much is spent on it.

It’s the sort of thing that makes you want to give up on democracy. On your bad days, anyway. At the least, it underlines the superiority of representative democracy over the direct kind.

Anyway, the story said the findings came from one of those Pew quizzes I like so much, so I immediately went and took this one. I got 11 out of 12 right, putting me ahead of 96 percent of those tested.

But… and here’s the really, really embarrassing thing… I missed the same question as the stupid one-third did. No, I didn’t say “foreign aid.” I gave a different wrong answer. I knew the right answer, and if I had just done it in a hurry, I’d have gotten a 100. But I thought, “I haven’t compared these things in awhile. Maybe this other thing has overtaken the one I think it is. Maybe this is a fargin’ trick question.” So I chose the other thing. But it was, of course, the first thing.

The irony is that if I had done what I have to do taking the weekly Slate News Quiz, I’d have gotten it right. That test is timed, and I hate that about that test. I also hate that it is deliberately about details in the news, rather than about whether you know overall what’s going on, and the relationships between different facts (which is what Pew tests).

Anyway, this being Friday, I went and took that one. And bombed. See the results below.

I would do better on that if it weren’t timed. I can usually see through the red herrings and at least intuit the right answer if I take a little time. But you’re penalized for taking time. So I do badly. Note that I completed the test in one minute, 47 seconds. Which for me is barely enough time to properly consider one question, much less 12.

And yet, I took too much time on the other test. Go figure.

slate quiz

Is the Special Relationship getting a little less special?

Halcyon days of the Special Relationship.

Halcyon days of the Special Relationship.

See this news today?

Britain, Belgium and Denmark on Friday joined the U.S.-led coalition of nations that are launching airstrikes on Islamic State group militants in Iraq, committing warplanes to the struggle against the extremists….

Good for them, but what took so long? The French have been with us from the outset. The French! Plus Saudi Arabia and other countries in the neighborhood.

Apparently, the PM had to do some heavy lifting to bring this about:

British Prime Minister David Cameron made a passionate plea that spelled out the consequences of inaction in drastic terms – noting that the militants had beheaded their victims, gouged out eyes and carried out crucifixions to promote goals “from the Dark Ages.”

“This is about psychopathic terrorists that are trying to kill us and we do have to realize that, whether we like it or not, they have already declared war on us,” he said. “There isn’t a ‘walk on by’ option. There isn’t an option of just hoping this will go away.”

Cameron told a tense House of Commons in a more than six-hour-long debate…

Why would debate have taken six minutes, much less six hours? Yeah, I know — Iraq. The same electorate that tossed out Churchill after WWII turned on my man Tony Blair over Iraq, and they’re still kind of cranky over it.

Sigh. All’s well that ends well. The vote was 524-43 for action, so that’s something.

And remember Kosovo?

And remember Kosovo?

Why DO Americans freak out so over single-payer?

One recent morning, I watched another episode of “The West Wing” while on the elliptical trainer. It was the one titled “Drought Conditions,” the 16th episode of Season 6. It’s the one you might remember best from the scene when Josh and Toby actually get into a fight, right there in the West Wing, and Toby gets a nasty cut on his cheekbone. (See above.)

At this point in our story, Josh has left the White House to manage Matt Santos’ bid for the Democratic nomination for president. His candidate has done better than expected in New Hampshire, but Josh is worried about another candidate who has come out of nowhere to start grabbing support that should go to Santos. This new candidate, Rafferty, is using language that Toby once wrote for Bartlet in favor of a single-payer health care system. Toby admits he’s been collaborating with Rafferty. This is what precipitates the fight.

Anyway, there are two or three conversations about this, and we pick up on the fact that, way back before they won the White House, everybody else had to talk Toby (and presumably President Bartlet) down from their politically unpalatable position.

This was so familiar to me. This episode aired two years before I wrote my column asking why no presidential candidate, even in the Democratic field, dared to say “single-payer,” other than fringe extremists such as Dennis Kucinich. Barack Obama certainly didn’t dare say it. My attitude was much the same as Toby’s: What’s the point in even having Democrats, if they can’t stand up for something so obvious, so commonsense, so entirely accepted in the rest of the advanced world — and so in their wheelhouse ideologically?

Anyway, I finished watching the episode just as I finished with the elliptical trainer. (I do 40 minutes, which is almost perfect for watching American “hour-long” commercial TV shows.)

While doing my crunches and stretches after, I put on a few minutes of a “30 Rock” that I’d started watching previously. It’s the one when Jack and Avery have their baby, reluctantly, in Canada after failing to get back across the border before she gave birth.

Which leads to this exchange, which interrupts a phone call Jack is having with Liz Lemon:

Avery: This woman is trying to tell me that we don’t have to pay for any of this.

Woman: Right. The Canadian health care system…

Jack: Oh, no you don’t. We will not be party to this socialist perversion. You will take our money.

Woman: I’m sorry, sir, I can’t do that.

Liz (on the other end of the phone): Oh, this is gonna be good.

Jack: Avery, can you walk yet?

Avery (rising from her bed, holding the baby): I am right behind you, Jack.

Jack: Let’s go find a Canadian who will take our money.

That is played for laughs, and it is hilarious, particularly Jack’s hyperbolic crack about “socialist perversion.”

But what it’s making fun of isn’t funny. Why DO Americans freak out so over something that Canadians and Brits take for granted?

Y’all know me. I’m a center-right kind of guy (if you must place me on that stupid left-right spectrum), and on some things a neocon. I want the federal government out of things it has no business in, such as education (which means, by the way, that I would never vote for the fictional Matt Santos — he comes across like he’s running for school board rather than POTUS).

But putting everybody into the same risk pool and eliminating profit from the payment system just seems like common sense, not radical at all. Paying my premiums (or if you prefer, taxes) for coverage that I can never lose, no matter where I go to work in the future, also just makes sense to me. Having something simpler than either the patchwork of private coverage or the complex maze of Obamacare just makes sense to me.

I don’t get why it doesn’t make sense to other people — and in fact, freaks them out so. I mean, intellectually I understand that some people have a sort of religious horror of the government being involved with anything. I accept that they are that way. But I have trouble understanding why they’re that way. Why do Americans get so worked up about something that other people who are so like us culturally — such as the Brits, and the Canadians — take for granted, as a matter of course?

Some of y’all have tried to explain it to me in the past. Maybe you should try again. Maybe I’ll get it this time. Then again, maybe not.

The thing is, I can probably recite all of the objections. The words I know. What I don’t get is the passion, the horror at the idea. It’s the emotion that eludes my understanding…

Khorasan a worse threat than ISIL? What’s next? Terrorists with superpowers, led by General Zod?

When it comes to foreign affairs and matters of national and collective security, Americans are notorious about not paying attention, or not paying attention for long — and then being totally shocked and surprised by subsequent developments.

If network news starts showing starving people in Somalia, we’re all, “Let’s send in the troops and feed those people!” Then, after the Battle of Mogadishu, we’re like, “What! We still have people over there and they’re getting killed? Let’s get out of there!”

The fact that the NSA was collecting and sifting metadata to counter terrorism was known by people who paid attention for years, and uncontroversial. Then Edward Snowden makes a fuss and we’re all like, “What!?!? I didn’t know we were doing that! Let’s stop it!”

And so forth.

Although I used the pronoun “we” above, I like to think of myself as not really one of those Americans. I like to think I follow things less fitfully, and am less surprised at developments.

But today, I feel like one of those people.

Here I had just gotten used to the idea that ISIS, which the organization itself calls Islamic State, and the in-the-know people inside the Beltway call ISIL, was this shocking new animal, a self-financing terrorist army, with capabilities that made those old Mustache Petes in al Qaeda look pathetic, with the power to capture and hold territory and carve out new countries at will. So I felt like I was hip and up-to-date and had a good grasp on things.

But then we started bombing targets in Syria last night — no surprise there, of course, to those of us paying attention — and all of a sudden there’s a shocking new wrinkle. Not only were we hitting ISIL targets, but… well, read this from The Washington Post:

In addition to a broader campaign of airstrikes against Islamic State targets across Syria on Monday night, the United States also pounded a little-known but well-resourced al-Qaeda cell that some American officials fear could pose a direct threat to the United States.

The Pentagon said in a statement early Tuesday that the United States conducted eight strikes west of Aleppo against the cell, called the Khorasan Group, targeting its “training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communications building and command and control facilities.”

Army Lt. Gen. William C. Mayville Jr., director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, later told reporters that the group was in the “final stages of plans to execute major attacks against Western targets and potentially the U.S. homeland.” He added, “We believe the Khorasan Group was nearing the execution phase of an attack either in Europe” or the United States, having attempted to recruit Westerners who can more easily enter the target countries….

The Independent termed Khorasan “a terror group more feared by US officials than Isis.”

And I’m all like, “WHAT!?! We’re just beginning to deal with ISIL, which I’ve come to understand is way worse than al Qaeda, and now you tell me there’s something out there even worse — which I don’t think I had ever even heard of before now? WTF?”

“What am I going to learn about tomorrow? A terrorist army with superpowers, led by General Zod?”

But then I calmed down, and realized that Khorasan is only worse than al Qaeda in that it was planning attacks here at home. Which is certainly one sense of “worse,” from an American perspective. But they don’t seem to be a rampaging terrorist army like ISIL. They’re more old-school. In fact, Muhsin al-Fadhli learned the terror trade at Osama bin Laden’s knee.

Khorasan is a serious new threat, apparently pursuing an unusually sophisticated strategy:

Khorasan hasn’t arrived to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. It’s not interested laying claim to great swaths of land and resources, as is the Islamic State. Rather, American officials told the Associated Press, its members have come from Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan to exploit the flood of Western jihadists who now have skin in the fight — and possess very valuable passports. According to the AP, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri dispatched this deputy to recruit those Western fighters, who have a better chance of escaping scrutiny at airports and could place bombs onto planes.

But so far, they don’t seem to have superpowers. Which is reassuring…

Regarding Scotland, I add my cheers to Friedman’s

Friday night, I ran into our own Phillip Bush at the Greek Festival. He had a pint of beer in hand, which he had obtained at the craft beer stand next to the main tent, where Greek-flavored music was being performed. I asked if he would recommend one of the beers. He said that, Anglophile that I am, I should get a Skunk Cabbage ESB, to celebrate the Scots’ rejection of separatism.

Which I did. And I congratulate the local brewers — I liked it better than the legendary Fuller’s ESB.

But I congratulate the Scots even more heartily. And I share this Tom Friedman column, which Samuel Tenenbaum brings to my attention:

Three Cheers for Pluralism Over Separatism

MADRID — THIS was an interesting week to visit Britain and Spain — first to watch the Scottish separatists push for independence and then to watch Basque and Catalan separatists watching (with disappointment) the outcome of the vote. One reaction: I’m glad a majority of Scots rejected independence. Had they not, it would have clipped the wing of America’s most important wingman in the world: Britain. Another reaction: God bless America. We have many sources of strength, but today our greatest asset is our pluralism — our “E pluribus unum” — that out of many we’ve made one nation, with all the benefits that come from mixing cultures and all the strengths that come from being able to act together.

As I’ve asked before: Who else has twice elected a black man as president, whose middle name is Hussein, whose grandfather was a Muslim, who first defeated a woman and later defeated a Mormon? I’m pretty sure that I will not live long enough to see an ethnic Pakistani become prime minister of Britain or a Moroccan immigrant president of France. Yes, the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., reminds us that we’re still a work in progress in the pluralism department. But work on it we do, and I’ll take the hard work of pluralism over the illusions of separatism any day….