Why Did the Media Ignore the Beirut Bombings One Day Before the Paris Attacks?

| Mon Nov. 16, 2015 2:16 PM EST

After the Paris attacks, a popular tweet made the rounds asking why the media was covering it so heavily when they'd ignored a pair of ISIS suicide bombings in Beirut just the day before. Over at Vox, Max Fisher says this is just plain wrong:

The New York Times covered it. The Washington Post, in addition to running an Associated Press story on it, sent reporter Hugh Naylor to cover the blasts and then write a lengthy piece on their aftermath. The Economist had a thoughtful piece reflecting on the attack's significance. CNN, which rightly or wrongly has a reputation for least-common-denominator news judgment, aired one segment after another on the Beirut bombings. Even the Daily Mail, a British tabloid most known for its gossipy royals coverage, was on the story. And on and on.

Yet these are stories that, like so many stories of previous bombings and mass acts of violence outside of the West, readers have largely ignored.

It is difficult watching this, as a journalist, not to see the irony in people scolding the media for not covering Beirut by sharing a tweet with so many factual inaccuracies.

I get Fisher's point, but come on. There's coverage and then there's coverage. On November 14, the New York Times dedicated a huge banner headline and nearly its entire front page to the Paris attacks. On November 13—well, don't bother looking for their Beirut story. Fisher is right that they had one, but it ran on page A6. And Vox itself? Beirut was relegated to one mention in its "Sentences" roundup on Thursday. By my count, Paris has so far gotten 26 separate posts.

It's true that readers tend to tune out reports of violence in the Middle East and other non-rich countries, but so does the media. Justifiable or not, there's plenty of blame to go around here.

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France Scrambles to Secure Upcoming Climate Talks After Deadly Attacks

| Mon Nov. 16, 2015 1:32 PM EST
Security was heightened across Paris following Friday's deadly attacks. A major international climate summit is due to start there in two weeks.

On Saturday, just a day after terrorist attacks in Paris left at least 129 people dead and hundreds more injured, the French government vowed to forge ahead with a long-scheduled international summit on climate change.

The summit, which is scheduled to start in just two weeks, will take place at an airport in the northern suburbs of Paris, not far from the stadium that was the site of multiple bombings on Friday. There, world leaders plan to hash out final details of the most wide-reaching international agreement ever to combat climate change. White House officials confirmed to Politico that President Barack Obama still intends to attend the talks, as scheduled prior to the attacks. Dozens of other heads of state are expected to be there as well.

"[The summit] will go ahead with reinforced security measures," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said. "This is an absolutely necessary step in the battle against climate change and of course it will take place."

Christiana Figueres, who chairs the UN agency overseeing the talks, released a similar statement on Twitter:

Even prior to the attacks, 30,000 French police officers were scheduled to secure the event, according to Radio France International. More than 10,000 diplomats, non-governmental organization employees, and journalists are expected to attend the summit. Specific new security measures have not yet been made public, but Politico quoted an unnamed French official who said participants should expect "extremely tightened security" following the attacks.

Paul Bledsoe, a former climate advisor to President Bill Clinton, also told Politico that the attacks could actually improve the odds that the talks reach a successful outcome.

"The resolve of world leaders is going to be redoubled to gain an agreement and show that they can deliver for populations around the world. The likelihood for a successful agreement has only increased because of these attacks," Bledsoe said.

On Thursday, just a day before the attacks, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared to butt heads with his French counterpart over what the exact legal status of the agreement will be. Other questions remain as well, such as how wealthy, heavily polluting countries such as the United States will help developing nations pay for climate change adaptation. But overall, the Paris talks are expected to yield a better outcome than the last major climate summit, in Copenhagen in 2009, which failed to produce any meaningful action to curb greenhouse gas emissions or prepare for the impacts of global warming.

Meanwhile, on Monday French officials said they would block a series of rallies and side events that were scheduled to take place outside the main negotiations. Environmental groups are scrambling to work out how to change their plans following the attack. Several groups involved in organizing protests and rallies that were intended to coicide with the Paris talks confirmed to Mother Jones that a hastily arranged meeting to hash out a plan will take place on Monday evening, Paris time. Will Davies, a spokesman for Avaaz, one of the main advocacy groups involved, said that despite the flurry of activity, plans for global marches in cities other than Paris were still going ahead as scheduled.

Stay tuned for more updates on this story.

The Return of the Warblogs

| Mon Nov. 16, 2015 12:14 PM EST

We're in a war of civilizations. If you won't say radical Islam, you aren't serious. We need to fight them there so we don't have to fight them here. They hate us for our freedoms.

I really hoped I'd heard the last of this nonsense around 2003, but I guess not. The sensibility of the post-9/11 warblogs is back, along with all the overweening confidence in amateurish geo-religious belligerence that fueled them the first time around. But at least this time, in the midst of the panic, we have a president who says this when he's asked about committing more ground troops to the fight against ISIS:

We would see a repetition of what we've seen before: If you do not have local populations that are committed to inclusive governance and who are pushing back against ideological extremists, that they resurface unless you're prepared to have a permanent occupation of these countries.

The war against ISIS will be won when Iraq gains the political maturity to provide a working army that's not merely a tool of the endless Sunni-Shia civil war in the Middle East. Absent that, we could turn Anbar into a glassy plain, and all that would happen is that something worse than ISIS would crop up.

There's a lot we can do to defeat ISIS, and most of it we're already doing. Airstrikes? Check. Broad coalition? Check. Working with Arab allies? Check. Engage with Sunni tribal leaders? Check. Embed with the Iraqi military? Check. There's more we could do, but often it's contradictory. You want to arm the Kurds and create a partnership with the Iraqi government? Good luck. You want to defeat Assad and ISIS? You better pick one. You want to avoid a large American ground force and you want to win the war fast? Not gonna happen. Everyone needs to face reality: This is going to be a long effort, and there are no magic slogans that are going to win it. Unfortunately, they can make things worse.

The Paris attacks were barbaric and tragic. Let's try not to turn our response to them into a tragedy as well.

President Obama's Air Campaign Against ISIS

| Mon Nov. 16, 2015 10:49 AM EST

By popular demand, here is a chart version of last night's post about the French airstrike on Sunday vs. the ongoing coalition air campaign. Note that we've dropped a total of about 28,000 bombs and missiles over the past year, and so far the effect has been real but modest. There's just a limit to what air power can do, especially in a region like northern Iraq.

John Oliver Unleashes Profanity-Laced Rant on Paris Attackers: "Fuck These Assholes"

| Mon Nov. 16, 2015 8:37 AM EST

Following the coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday, John Oliver began his show on Sunday by unleashing an impassioned, profanity-laced condemnation on the attackers responsible for the deadly siege.

"It's hardly been 48 hours and much is unknown, but there are a few things we can say for certain," Oliver started off. "And this is when it actually helps to be on HBO, where those things can be said without restraint, because after the many necessary and appropriate moments of silence, I'd like to offer you a moment of premium-cable profanity."

"First as of now, we know this attack was carried out by gigantic fucking assholes, unconscionable flaming assholes, possibly working with other fucking assholes, definitely working in service of an ideology of pure assholery," he said. "Second, and this goes almost without saying: Fuck these assholes.

"And third: It is important to remember, nothing about what these assholes are trying to do is going to work. France is going to endure."

The Last Week Tonight host continued to offer a message of hope for France, vowing terrorism will never succeed in the face of freedom.

These Just-Released Bob Dylan Recordings Go Behind the Scenes of His Iconic Albums

| Mon Nov. 16, 2015 6:00 AM EST

Bob Dylan
The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12
Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings

The archival Bootleg Series plumbing Bob Dylan's illustrious (and sometimes not so illustrious) history has produced such gems as the complete Basement Tapes and a compilation of his early Witmark publishing demos, but The Cutting Edge is far and away the most exciting entry yet. This dazzling six-disc set covers the period when Dylan plunged wholeheartedly into rock'n'roll and created one masterpiece after another, turning out Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and the two-record Blonde on Blonde in a frenetic 18-month burst of genius.

Consisting largely of previously unreleased material (actual bootlegs aside), The Cutting Edge collects early versions, rehearsals, alternates, and other fascinating leftovers from the sessions for those albums. What's immediately most striking is how hard Dylan and company worked in the pursuit of perfection, and how much songs evolved during recording. Want to hear "Like a Rolling Stone" as a waltz? "Visions of Johanna" as a spiky uptempo rocker? They're here, along with other classics-in-progress, and tantalizing orphans such as "Lunatic Princess," "You Don't Have to Do That," and "Sitting on a Barbed-Wire Fence." For those who want even more, there's a hefty (and pricey) 18-CD version available via Dylan's website.

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What Kind of Bombing Campaign Against ISIS Do Republicans Want?

| Sun Nov. 15, 2015 10:54 PM EST

On Sunday night, France launched a series of airstrikes against ISIS in retaliation for the Paris attacks. The Washington Post called it a "furious assault." The New York Times called it "aggressive," CNN said it was a "major bombardment," and McClatchy called it a "fierce bombing campaign." The French themselves called it "massive," and the LA Times, Fox News, and the Guardian agreed.

The French assault comprised 10 aircraft and 20 bombs.

Since the beginning of the American-led air campaign against ISIS, the coalition has launched 8,000 airstrikes and dropped about 28,000 bombs on ISIS sites in Iraq and Syria. In other words, we've been launching about 17 airstrikes and dropping 60 bombs per day. Every day. For over a year.

And yet this campaign is routinely described as feckless and weak.

We could certainly amp up the air campaign against ISIS, especially if we take Ted Cruz's advice and stop worrying about civilian casualties. But I guess I'd like to hear specifics. How many airstrikes do you think we need? We've done hundreds per day for short periods in other wars. Is that enough? Should we start ignoring Turkey and Iraq and our other allies and bomb wherever and whenever we want? Do you think that will be enough to put ISIS out of business?

Inquiring minds want to know. If President Obama's current campaign against ISIS is feeble and timid, what kind of campaign do you want? Can we hear some details, please?

Buy Silver! (Health Insurance, That Is)

| Sun Nov. 15, 2015 6:21 PM EST

In the New York Times today, Robert Pear writes that Obamacare has a big problem: high deductibles. And this is true. Many bronze plans have deductibles of several thousand dollars, making them all but useless except as catastrophic coverage. But if you just go to and look for the cheapest plan, bronze is what you'll end up with.

The answer, for many low-income people, is to choose a silver plan. It's a little more expensive, but the terms of the insurance are far more generous. That's especially true if you take into account Cost Sharing Reduction, a feature of Obamacare that low-income families qualify for automatically but don't find out about until they're at the very end of the application process. It doesn't show up if you're just window shopping. However, as Andrew Sprung points out today, CSR changes the picture considerably.

Sprung may well be the nation's top expert in CSR, and I think he's closing in on his millionth written word about it. I, however, will do it all in a dozen. I went to and randomly chose Richmond, Virginia.  My baseline is a family of three earning $40,000, with the parents in their early thirties. Here's the cost of equivalent Anthem plans with federal subsidies included:

The silver plan costs about $50 per month more. But my family's income puts them at just under 200 percent of the poverty level, which means they qualify for a generous CSR. Compared to bronze, their individual deductible goes down from $5,500 to $250. Their individual out-of-pocket max goes down from $6,850 to $1,450. Their copay for a doctor's visit is less, their copay for a hospital visit is less, and their copay for prescription drugs is less.

As Sprung tirelessly points out, CSR is only available with silver plans. This makes the bottom line simple: Low-income families trying to buy serious health insurance on an exchange should always buy silver. Bronze is basically catastrophic insurance for 20-something kids who are certain they'll never use it. Silver is modestly more expensive, but the benefits are worth it, even if you have to scrimp to afford it.

The French Have Begun Bombing the Capital of ISIS

| Sun Nov. 15, 2015 5:15 PM EST

The French have begun bombing the Syrian city of Raqqa:

French warplanes struck Islamic State militants in Syria on Sunday, a French government official said, two days after attackers linked to the terrorist group carried out a coordinated assault on Paris that killed 129 people.

Prior to the attack on Paris, France had been sparing in its strikes against targets in Syria.

News reports in France said the airstrikes were focused on Raqqa, the city in northern Syria that is the self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State.

This is unrelated but I was curious to know what life is like in a city under ISIS occupation and stumbled on this story from last year, which has the following surreal quote:

Abu Ibrahim al-Raqqawi, a pseudonym for a young anti-IS activist from Raqqa, told Al-Monitor the situation was dire. He said, “People in Raqqa are outraged. There are a lot of immigrants who came and joined IS: Americans, British, Germans, Europeans in general and from around the world. They are given special treatment, pampered by the organization.”

He added, “They are given the best homes and cars while locals pay taxes. They took the abandoned houses — some left behind by Christians, others by Sunnis — while those in the city who own more than a house are forced to give all other houses to the immigrants.”


Let's Take a Look at How Tough Republicans Would Be Against ISIS

| Sun Nov. 15, 2015 2:10 PM EST

Following the terrorist attacks in Paris, conservatives are eagerly taking the opportunity to accuse Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton of fecklessness and appeasement for not taking a harder line against ISIS. We need someone with the guts to lead, and who isn't afraid to use the term radical Islam. Apparently that's important.

Maybe so. But ground troops are the only way to destroy ISIS in the short term, and the Republican presidential candidates have all been oddly reluctant to get behind a serious American invasion force. So before we allow them to get too far up on their high horses about how tough they'd be, here's a reminder of what they were saying about ISIS before two days ago.

Donald Trump wants to take away oil fields controlled by ISIS, but has explicitly dodged the question of whether he would use a substantial ground force to do it. His preference is for an air campaign: "I would just bomb those suckers. That's right. I'd blow up the pipes. I'd blow up every single inch. There would be nothing left."

From Tuesday's debate: "If Putin wants to go and knock the hell out of ISIS, I am all for it, 100%."

Jeb Bush has previously ruled out a "major commitment" of ground troops. He would support a modest increase in "supportive" troops, and wants to unite the moderate anti-Assad forces in Syria. But he also thinks Trump is crazy.

From the debate: "Let ISIS take out Assad, and then Putin will take out ISIS?....That's not how the real world works. We have to lead, we have to be involved. We should have a no fly zone in Syria."

Carly Fiorina has specifically said ground troops are unnecessary. Our allies should provide any troops necessary.

From the debate: "We must have a no fly zone in Syria....We also have a set of allies in the Arab Middle East that know that ISIS is their fight....King Abdullah of Jordan....The Egyptians, the Saudis, the Kuwaitis, the Bahrainis, the Emirati, the Kurds....They must see leadership support and resolve from the United States of America."

Marco Rubio said last year the he would like to see a permanent US presence in the Middle East. "I'm not saying 100,000 troops, but certainly some level that allows us to project power quickly and confront challenges and threats." More recently, he's backed off that position: "ISIS is a radical Sunni Islamic group. They need to be defeated on the ground by a Sunni military force with air support from the United States." And this: "Intervening doesn't mean ground troops. Intervening can be a lot of things." His official position on his website specifically recommends air strikes, special ops, training, arms for Sunni and Kurdish forces, diplomacy, financial targeting, and better PR. It does not mention ground troops.

From the debate: "ISIS is now in Libya....Soon they will be in Turkey. They will try Jordan. They will try Saudi Arabia....They hate us because of our values. They hate us because our girls go to school. They hate us because women drive in the United States. Either they win or we win, and we had better take this risk seriously, it is not going away on its own."

Ben Carson has suggested that ground troops "might" be necessary, but has declined to go any further.

From the debate: "We're talking about global jihadists....We have to destroy their caliphate. And you look for the easiest place to do that? It would be in Iraq. Outside of Anbar in Iraq, there's a big energy field. Take that from them. Take all of that land from them. We could do that, I believe, fairly easily, I've learned from talking to several generals, and then you move on from there."

Ted Cruz has suggested that Kurdish pesh merga are all we need: "We need boots on the ground, but they don't necessarily need to be American boots. The Kurds are our boots on the ground." Cruz has generally dodged specific questions about sending in American troops, instead supporting an "overwhelming" American air campaign.

From the debate: Cruz declined to address ISIS during the debate.

And just for comparison, here is Hillary Clinton on her website:

ISIS and the foreign terrorist fighters it recruits pose a serious threat to America and our allies. We will confront and defeat them in a way that builds greater stability across the region, without miring our troops in another misguided ground war. Hillary will empower our partners to defeat terrorism and the ideologies that drive it, including through our ongoing partnership to build Iraqi military and governing capacity, our commitment to Afghanistan’s democracy and security, and by supporting efforts to restore stability to Libya and Yemen.

So Hillary is a little bit more categorical about not using American ground troops, but basically she'd fit in just fine on the Republican stage. She supports an air campaign; she supports a no-fly zone in Syria; she supports arming the anti-Assad rebels; and she supports partnerships with our allies. If the Republican candidates are any tougher on ISIS than Hillary, they've been oddly timid about saying so.