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.

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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.

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.”


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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.

Live Coverage of the Democratic Presidential Debate in Iowa

| Sat Nov. 14, 2015 5:23 PM EST

I feel like everyone did their best to pretend they disagreed on a few issues here and there, but let's face it: the pickings were slim. Gun control is a red herring; they're all on the same page. They all have the same goals on health care, but disagree about what's politically feasible right now. They all want lots of free college, but some want a little more than others. Etc.

There were two areas of genuine disagreement. The first is foreign policy, but everyone worked hard to stay anodyne, so none of the disagreements really came out. This is likely just because Hillary didn't want to get too hawkish in front of a Democratic primary crowd.

The second is financial regulation. Speaking for myself, I like Bernie's rhetoric, but I have to say that Hillary's actual proposals sound better. She's right to be skeptical about reinstating Glass-Steagall. She's right to talk about shadow banking, which neither of the others did. And she's right to go easy on the idea of breaking up big banks. Higher capital levels for money-center banks will rein in their growth and make the banking system safer at the same time.

As with the last debate, I doubt many minds were changed tonight. Nobody made any big gaffes, nor did anybody say anything that's likely to provoke a lot of new attention. The attacks on Hillary Clinton were few and mild, and she had no problem with any of them. I actually think Bernie did a little better than he did in the first debate, but not enough to make a difference. Basically, Hillary did fine, and that was all she needed to do. I guess I'd give Sanders an A- and Clinton a B+.

The moderators were OK, though they had a way easier task than the poor saps trying to keep control of the Republican slugfests. But I was pretty disappointed in John Dickerson's foreign policy questions, which seemed designed to be clever, rather than to pin down the candidates on what they'd actually do to fight ISIS. The crisis question toward the end was pretty fatuous, and it was also way too tilted in favor of Clinton. More generally, Dickerson hardly ever drilled down and tried to press the candidates on anything they said. I'll acknowledge that this was partly because the candidates didn't spout lots of transparently ridiculous nonsense, but there were still a few occasions when he could have been more forceful.

Transcript here.

It's nearly time to start. I figure this should be a leisurely liveblogging session since I'm planning to tune out whenever Martin O'Malley is talking. Nothing personal, but when you're polling at 3 percent in a 3-person race, you're just not a factor. Sorry.

10:53 - And that's a wrap.

10:52 - Sanders: Lots of stuff about America sucks. We need a political revolution. Also gets big cheers.

10:51 - Clinton will work her heart out. Big cheers, though.

10:50 - O'Malley says we shouldn't return to divisive figures of our past. Gee, I wonder who he could be referring to?

10:49 - Closing statements!

10:47 - O'Malley just flat-out admits that he hasn't really faced any big crises. But he has faced emergencies.

10:45 - What crises have you faced in your life? Sigh.

10:41 - Once again, poor Martin O'Malley gets cut off for a commercial break. Somebody at CBS really has it out for him.

10:40 - Clinton: "If I lived in Iowa I wouldn't want Terry Branstead administering my health care." Big cheers. This is indeed a problem with letting states administer health care.

10:37 - Clinton doesn't think taxpayers should pay to send Donald Trump's kids to college free.

10:35 - Sanders seems to think that states will be eager to chip in money to make college free. They sure haven't shown any such eagerness over the past few decades.

10:32 - Clinton is weaseling on whether she approves of student activism at U of Missouri. She appreciates the passion, but also thinks everyone should maintain respect for others.

10:26 - Hillary is once again sucking up to Obama.

10:23 - How would Sanders actually get anything done in the face of Republican opposition? All the wonks are probably thrilled with this kind of process question, but really, what possible answer can he give?

10:21 - Is Glass-Steagall really a big deal among the voters? How many people even know what it is? In any case, the meltdown of Wall Street came from both big firms and smaller ones. AIG was an insurance company. Washington Mutual was a pure bank. Citigroup was a huge conglomerate. Lehmann was in investment bank. Reserve Primary was a money-market fund. They all failed. Smallish banks failed too. Repealing GS really doesn't seem like it was a major cause of the financial collapse. And it had nothing at all to do with the shadow banking sector, which played a huge role in the meltdown.

10:13 - Sanders makes sure this time to say that he's not referring to Clinton when he talks about people yelling at each other.

10:10 - Now we are going to pretend that Hillary and Bernie have anything more than a sliver of difference on gun control.

10:08 - Glass-Steagall again. Give it a rest, folks. Repeal of GS just isn't at the core of anything.

10:06 - Bernie really wants to break up the big banks. This will never happen, and wouldn't really solve the big problems anyway.

10:05 - Finally, a fight! Bernie says Hillary will sell out to Wall Street. Hillary says Bernie has impugned her integrity. Hillary then says her financial proposal is actually broader and tougher than Bernie's.

10:01 - Clinton brings up the shadow banking industry again. But, as in the first debate, she doesn't really explain it. (Granted, that would be pretty tough in 60 seconds.)

9:55 - Now we're desperately trying to create some conflict over slightly different positions on the minimum wage. Clinton wants $12 with higher local wages. Sanders and O'Malley want 15 bucks everywhere. I hate to be such a sellout, but I'm with Clinton on this.

9:50 - I expect several minutes of violent agreement on comprehensive immigration reform.

9:45 - O'Malley just broke the rules. Apparently the rule in this case is that you have to shut up when it's time for a commercial break.

9:44 - Sanders wants genuine universal health care. He's also spending more time on providers, but it's still a little muddy. They really need to talk about this more. It's much more fundamental than problems with insurers.

9:43 - Clinton: Obamacare is great, and we should make it even greater. But she talks more about insurers than providers. That's a mistake.

9:41 - Sanders: Tax the wealthy until they scream. How high? Less than 90 percent. Ha ha ha. But no answer to the question.

9:37 - Clinton: no tax increase on middle class. Instead, tax the wealthy and close loopholes the rich take advantage of.

9:30 - There's just no disagreement to speak of so far. Partly this is because Dickerson's questions have been terrible. He's desperately trying to provoke a fight instead of demanding real answers about how we should fight ISIS.

9:28 - I think Bernie now has everyone saying Mooslims.

9:27 - How many minutes have we now spent arguing about the term "radical Islam"?

9:21 - Clinton trying to suggest Libya was a great success except for an "arc of instability" that Libya unfortunately just happened to be in the middle of.

9:15 - The candidates refuse to attack each other enough, so now John Dickerson is just flat-out begging them to attack.

9:14 - So far, nothing of real substance from anyone on terrorism or foreign affairs.

9:13 - Oh, I get it. They aren't in boxes. That's just the background. Weird. I might never have figured that out if it weren't for Bernie Sanders waving his arms around.

9:11 - Why is CBS putting the candidates in little square boxes?

9:09 - Clinton says we should support others in fight against ISIS, but not make this into an American war.

9:04 - A few days ago I joked that Republicans were going to demand that their website addresses be stenciled on the front of the podiums. But I had the wrong party. At tonight's Democratic debate, they all have their Twitter handles on their podiums. Boringly, though, I guess this is only because Twitter is cosponsoring the debate.

8:57 - The big pre-debate news is a Yahoo story saying that Bernie Sanders' rep went postal on a conference call this morning with CBS because he was unhappy over plans to begin the debate with foreign policy questions. I don't blame him, but seriously, what did he expect? There's more than a hundred dead in Paris following a series of coordinated terrorist strikes. What the hell else would you open the debate with?

Twilight of The Velvet Underground

| Sat Nov. 14, 2015 6:00 AM EST

The Velvet Underground
Loaded: Re-Loaded 45th Anniversary Edition

The Complete Matrix Tapes

Loaded was the most conventional of The Velvet Underground's four studio outings. With gifted multi-instrumentalist John Cale long gone and drummer Maureen Tucker largely absent from the studio, Lou Reed steered the band away from the notorious sonic and emotional extremes of its early work, trying out a more mainstream pop approach, albeit with more wit and a darker undertone than your basic Top 40 song. The album features a few clunkers but also two of his most-lovable compositions in the form of "Sweet Jane" and "Rock & Roll." After the confrontational brilliance of early songs like "Heroin" and "Sister Ray," these engaging anthems seem positively carefree.

This six-disc package includes a mono version, a surround-sound mix, a previously released live set from Max's Kansas City, and a very lo-fi, previously unreleased live performance from Philadelphia. The high point is the disc containing demos and early versions, which offers hints of what Reed would have sounded like as a folk singer in an alternate universe, and shows him getting warmed up for his impending solo career. "Satellite of Love" would be one of the standouts of Transformer, his second post-Velvets effort and biggest commercial success, while "Sad Song" resurfaced on his third long-player, the harrowing masterpiece Berlin.

Prior to the sessions that produced Loaded, the Velvets played a series of shows at the San Francisco club the Matrix in November and December 1969. Four of those sets appear on The Complete Matrix Tapes and portray the quartet as a cohesive and efficient rock'n'roll band, not simply a vehicle for Reed's solo aspirations. With Doug Yule taking over on bass and psychedelic keyboards, the group ranges from early gems like "I'm Waiting for the Man," presented in a bluesy 13-minute version, and "Sister Ray," which unfolds over 37 mesmerizing minutes, to the not-yet-recorded "Sweet Jane" and "Rock & Roll," heard here in looser, funkier incarnations. Much of the material on this fine four-disc collection has previously been released piecemeal on other archival packages, but The Complete Matrix Tapes is the best way to get a feel for the later Velvet Underground onstage, no longer revolutionary but still compelling.