U.N. human rights investigators have gathered testimony from casualties of Syria's civil war and medical staff indicating that rebel forces have used the nerve agent sarin, one of the lead investigators said on Sunday.
The United Nations independent commission of inquiry on Syria has not yet seen evidence of government forces having used chemical weapons, which are banned under international law, said commission member Carla Del Ponte.
I have no idea if this is reliable or not. However, for more on just how shaky the evidence is about the use of chemical weapons in Syria, you might try this Guardian piece from a few days ago. Overall, it suggests that the Obama administration might indeed be wise to collect more definitive evidence about this before they do anything rash.
Maria Bustillos writes in Aeon that when she drives from Los Angeles to San Francisco, she always takes I-5, the most direct route:
This is the way I always go. Not only because it’s fastest, but because, despite the conventional wisdom, I find it the most beautiful of all. California natives always call it just ‘The Five’: not Highway Five or Interstate Five or I-5.
Hoo boy. As soon as I read that I knew she was going to get some angry responses. Sure enough, here's the very first comment:
"The" in front of a highway number is NOT a CA native expression! It is rather, a SoCal thing based largely on CHP and LAFD radio chatter. It has become widespread all over the west into Arizona, Nevada and even Oregon, but is roundly discouraged in The Bay Area and in Norcal.
I'm not sure about Oregon, but this is definitely a Southern California thing that has spread throughout the southwest. It goes north to about San Luis Obispo or Monterey, but stops there. It's also, oddly enough, common in the Buffalo/Toronto area, but apparently nowhere else in the United States.
However, I don't think there's any evidence that this habit is based on CHP or LAFD chatter. Unfortunately, it's not clear what it is based on, since none of the explanations I've ever heard have really been convincing. The full story is here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
Obaydullah, a detainee at Gitmo who was first captured in Afghanistan in 2002, filed a declaration in federal court in March that was unsealed and posted by the national security blog Lawfare on Friday. The declaration goes into striking detail about the circumstances that Obaydullah (who goes by one name) says provoked the hunger strike at the detention camp, which began in February and now involves 100 out of the 166 remaining detainees, according to the Pentagon's count.
"In response to the dehumanizing searches, the confiscation of our personal items, and the desecration of the holy Quran, I and the men at Camp 6 and some at Camp 5, waged a hunger strike on Feburary 6 2013," the declaration reads. "But our strike continues because conditions have gotten worse, not better, and there is no hope that we will ever leave here."
The declaration corroborates the descriptions of Gitmo defense attorneys who have said that although the hunger strike began as a response to what the detainees saw as desecration of their holy books, it has now grown into a protest of the Obama administration's policy of indefinite detention. According to Obaydullah, conditions had improved until the February "shake down" that he says provoked the strike. In response, Obaydullah says, the guards began to interrupt detainees' prayers and moved detainees to more restrictive conditions. Access to recreational facilities was limited and, according to Obaydullah, camp authorities deliberately began to lower the temperature in Camp 6 to the point of "freezing." "All of these actions showed me and the other prisoners that camp authorities were treating us the way we were treated in the years under President Bush," Obaydullah writes.
In his declaration, Obaydullah hints at what the detainees would require to end the three-month protest. "We plan to remain on strike until we are treated with dignity, the guards stop trying to enforce old rules, our prayer and religion are respected, and our Qurans are handled with the care and sanctity required."
Obaydullah has been challenging his detention for years with little success. Although he maintains he was never a fighter for Al Qaeda or the Taliban, a federal judge concluded in 2010 that the evidence against him "unmistakably supports the conclusion that it is more likely than not that petitioner Obaydullah was in fact a member of an al Qaeda bomb cell committed to the destruction of U.S. and Allied forces," and was therefore lawfully detainable.
"I am losing all hope because I have been imprisoned at Guantanamo for almost 11 years now and I still do not know my fate," Obaydullah concludes.
"There's no politics here; it's just good old-fashioned revenge," Tony Stark (a.k.a., Iron Man) declares to a swarm of TV news reporters, following a terrorist attack that leaves a good friend of his in a coma. "There's no Pentagon, it's just you and me," Stark says to his latest nemesis.
This statement also applies to the film itself.
The third installment in Marvel's Iron Man series is the first in the franchise that wasn't directed by Jon Favreau. The man at the helm this time around is writer/director Shane Black, who is famous for penning Hollywood action flicks like 1987's Lethal Weapon, and for directing 2005's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, also starring Robert Downey, Jr. The first two films portrayed Tony Stark/Iron Man as he was intended to be depicted: as a suave, hard-partying, right-wing billionaire who battles America's enemies, foreign and domestic. In the DVD commentary of the first Iron Man, Marvel frontman Stan Lee discusses why he created the character in the first place. He wanted to piss off some hippies:
It was the height of the Cold War. The readers—the young readers—if there was one thing they hated it was war, it was the military, or, as Eisenhower called it, the military-industrial complex. So I got a hero who represented that to the hundredth degree. He was a weapons manufacturer. He was providing weapons for the army. He was rich. He was an industrialist. But he was good-looking guy and he was courageous…I thought it would be fun to take the kind of character that nobody would like—that none of our readers would like—and shove him down their throats and make them like him.
Though no one should ever accuse the Iron Man movies of pulling for any particular political agenda, the first two films did preserve the comic books' gleefully rightward lean. (After all, Favreau identified Elon Musk, the libertarian billionaire who co-founded the galactic transport company SpaceX, as the inspiration for the on-screen version of Tony Stark; Musk also had a cameo in Iron Man 2.)
In the first Iron Man, Stark's bad-boy charisma is defined by his belief in a Peace-Through-Strength-on-steroids mindset:
Although he undergoes something of a personal and political makeover later in the film, the beginning of Iron Man 2 shows Stark in familiar form. When he's called to a hearing on Capitol Hill, lawmakers pressure him to turn over his terrorism-fighting toys to the US government and military. In response, a defiant Stark denies the government his property, cockily mocks the panel of lawmakers, and brags that he "successfully privatized world peace." This is met with wild cheers from the gallery.
There are no politics to Iron Man 3, beyond the political assertion that lethal and indiscriminate terrorism is bad. Director Shane Black, who co-wrote the screenplay, is far more concerned with the slam-bang fight scenes and the romance between Stark and his live-in girlfriend Virginia "Pepper" Potts (played by Gwyneth Paltrow). So much of the film focuses on Stark, once the consummate care-free playboy, settling down with the love of his life. It's a genuinely interesting and tender part of the story—and the best and most convincing romance in the modern comic-books-as-film cannon. Their relationship demonstrates just how softened and vulnerable (touchingly so) Tony Stark can get.
With his single life, goes his ideology.
Check out the trailer for Iron Man 3:
Iron Man 3 gets a wide US release on Friday, May 3. The film is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content.Click here for local showtimes and tickets.
Click here for more movie and TV coverage from Mother Jones.
April showers are behind us, and now it's time for May flowers. Today, temps in Southern California are headed up into the 90s, so Domino headed into the backyard to bask in the warmth. In this photo, she's trying to disguise herself as a pool of water, hoping that some local birds will think she's a bird bath and fly right into her waiting jaws. It didn't happen this morning, but you never know. Maybe next time.
They are subtly making the case to their base that a defeat for immigration reform is actually a hidden victory for Obama....The idea is that if we don’t pass the Gang of Eight plan, Obama wins. This case is being made on several levels. On the one hand, this notion of leaving the issue “entirely in the hands of Obama” is a partly a suggestion that the President just may use his executive powers to solve the undocumented immigrant problem himself if we don’t pass the Senate plan — just as he did with the DREAMers.
....There’s a key nuance here. As I understand the thinking, GOP base voters are turned off by the political argument that we must reform immigration because if we don’t, Obama will be able to screw Republicans over politically with Latinos....That’s why the argument can’t be openly stated as: If we embrace reform, Obama loses. It has to be carefully calibrated in the manner Rubio has adopted: Not doing anything opens the door for a far greater victory for Obama later. He will be able to do for the undocumented what he did for the DREAMers — while not securing the border — a twofer for Obama.
Obama is playing his part in this dance, too. He and the White House frequently take care to say — not in these exact words, but this is the message — that while he supports the Senate compromise, it’s far from the liberal dream legislation he’d like.
Interesting. Basically, Sargent is suggesting that Republican base voters respond more strongly to the suggestion of a crafty Obama victory if they do nothing than they do to the possibility of an Obama loss if they do something. Partly that's because they've been trained to think of Obama as a cunning grifter constantly putting one over on them, and partly because they're not really convinced that passing immigration reform will help Republicans.
TOOBIN: This country fought Adolf Hitler. And I don’t really believe that Osama bin Laden and his group are worse or more dangerous than Adolf Hitler. And we managed to defeat Adolf Hitler by following the rule of law.
FLEISCHER: They followed the law of war. They wore uniforms and they fought us on battlefields. These people are fundamentally, totally by design different. And they need to be treated in a different extrajudicial system.
Ed Kilgore has a bit to say about just how law-abiding the Nazis actually were (ahem), but I want to give Fleischer his due and assume that he intended to say something a bit more insightful than he actually did in the heat of real-time debate. Putting aside the war ethics of the Third Reich, Fleischer is right about a few things:
We are mostly fighting against non-state actors.
There are no geographical boundaries to this war.
There is no way to eventually declare victory, and no way for anyone to formally surrender.
The problem is that this undermines Fleischer's point, I think, rather than supporting it. Guantanamo is fundamentally a prisoner-of-war camp, but it's unlike any POW camp in history because we haven't put in place any boundaries on it. It's simply a life sentence for many of the prisoners, even if the evidence is thin or nonexistent that they ever fought against us in the first place.
So yes: we're fighting a different kind of war. That means we need to rethink how we handle POWs too. So far, we haven't really faced up to that.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas says he always figured there'd be a black president, but that it would have to be someone "the elites" and "the media" approve of—an oblique shot at President Barack Obama.
"[T]he thing I always knew is that it would have to be a black president who was approved by the elites and the media because anybody that they didn’t agree with, they would take apart," Thomas said during a panel about his life and career at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh in early April. "You pick your person. Any black person who says something that is not the prescribed things that they expect from a black person will be picked apart."
The implication of Thomas' remarks is that President Obama was only elected because he fits with the "prescribed things that they expect from a black person." Thomas' statements were were also aired on C-SPAN and picked up by Fox Nation.
It is unusual for sitting Supreme Court Justices to make public criticisms of sitting presidents. "Clarence Thomas seems more interested in becoming a Fox commentator than preserving the integrity of the Court," says Adam Winkler, a professor at the University of California School of Law. "Justices should not take pot shots at the president. It's beneath the dignity of the court."
President Barack Obama was twice elected by a majority of the American electorate. Indeed, while there is some wisdom in Thomas' remarks about race and social expectations, it's virtually inevitable that any presidential candidate will seek to earn the approval of elites, both financial and in the media itself. Supreme Court justices, on the other hand, serve for life and are by design insulated from popular sentiment.
"There's a great irony in that Thomas has his position because he was approved by elites in the Senate," says Winkler, "while Obama owes his position to the voters."
Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz might run for president. That's been apparent for a while, but it was confirmed most recently on Wednesday, when the National Review's Bob Costa cited Cruz confidantes who believe their guy could be "a Barry Goldwater type...but with better electoral results." The case for Cruz, according to Cruz, is that he is uniquely positioned to capture the kind of grassroots conservative activists who propelled him to victory in his 2012 Senate primary.
If nothing else, Cruz seems determined to hold onto those right-wing supporters. That might explain why, last week, he and and eight other Republican senators signed onto a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan opposing the Common Core curriculum standards, which the Department of Education has been encouraging states to adopt. As I reported last month, Common Core has attracted criticism from all sides of the education debate, and for a variety of reasons. Some advocates decry the lack of flexibility it affords local school districts. Others, like Diane Ravitch, think it's a great idea but should be purely voluntary. And still others, specifically grassroots conservative activists, believe it is nothing less than back-door brainwashing—part of a global push to indoctrinate kids into a socialist worldview. That's the Glenn Beck view, anyway.
Cruz's letter is comparatively tame. Put simply: He wants the Department of Education to back off. But it's a move that's sure to please the conservative base in the weeks and months ahead. Here's the letter:
Meanwhile, here's a letter from Tuesday signed by 34 Republican congressmen, including Rand Paul acolytes Justin Amash (Mich.) and Thomas Massie (Ky.):
Quaid plays Henry Whipple (no, not that Henry Whipple), an adulterous farmer and salesman entrenched in the ruthless, multimillion-dollar rivalry between Iowa's big-business farmers. Henry becomes the target of a corporate investigation after illegally washing and reselling patented genetically modified seeds. Efron plays Dean, a local stock car racing champion who dreams of ditching the family business and making a name for himself as a NASCAR driver.
The pair's disenchantment and bitterness result in a wave of betrayal, anger, and violence in their otherwise peaceful Midwestern town. The filmis a quietly disturbing little picture, and features some magnificent acting, especially by Quaid.
The film is not (as Bahrani is quick to point out) in any way political, even though the story prominently involves GMOs, a controversial and extremelypolitical topic these days. The origin of this apolitical film, however, is indeed rooted in Bahrani's very political interests. In a conversation I had with Bahrani and Quaid, the 38-year-old director explained how he went about writing At Any Price:
I was curious where my food was coming from. I was reading authors like Michael Pollan...And I started realizing that farms aren't romantic places anymore—they're big businesses. So Michael Pollan and I became email friends, and I asked him to introduce me to George Naylor, who's a farmer in Iowa who was featured in [Pollan's 2006 book] The Omnivore's Dilemma. So I went out and I lived with George for many months, and when I went out there, all the farmers kept telling me, "expand or die, get big or get out." And I met a seed salesman, [and] I never knew there was such an occupation as "GMO seed salesman"...And [he] made me think ofArthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. And I thought combining these things would be a way to tell a human and emotional story...When you have a lot of race cars and infidelity, it's hard to be an "agenda film."
(So there you have it: You can thank Michael Pollan for indirectly causing the development of Zac Efron's newest movie.)
Bahrani pulled from John Steinbeck, John Ford, and Peter Bogdanovich for narrative and stylistic influences. He also shadowed several Iowa farmers, incorporating their sentiments and commentary into his screenplay. One day, Bahrani noticed that a customer of one of the farmers owned a stock car for figure 8 racing—an observation he used to craft Efron's character. "I YouTube'd [figure 8 racing] that night, and I made a point to keep going to Iowa to go see races," Bahrani says. "I thought it would be a good contrast [for the two characters]...It had a different pace, and a different energy, and a different adrenaline."
Dennis Quaid didn't have time to conduct anything close to this level of research for his role. His learning experiences were all in the midst of production: "We shot it on a real farm," Quaid says. "I didn't have a trailer for this; it was my car or the living-room couch of the Hermans, the family [whose] farm we were shooting on... I spent my time with them, trying to soak up the atmosphere."
Check out the trailer for this tense and surprising drama:
At Any Price gets a wider release on Friday, May 3. The film is rated R for sexual content including a strong graphic image, and for language.Click here for local showtimes and tickets.
Click here for more movie and TV coverage from Mother Jones.