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You Insult Henry Kissinger At Your Peril

| Wed Oct. 1, 2014 12:41 AM EDT

Newly declassified documents show that Fidel Castro pissed off Henry Kissinger so badly that he drew up plans to "clobber the pipsqueak":

Mr. Kissinger, who was secretary of state from 1973 to 1977, had previously planned an underground effort to improve relations with Havana. But in late 1975, Mr. Castro sent troops to Angola to help the newly independent nation fend off attacks from South Africa and right-wing guerrillas.

That move infuriated Mr. Kissinger, who was incensed that Mr. Castro had passed up a chance to normalize relations with the United States in favor of pursuing his own foreign policy agenda, Mr. Kornbluh said.

“Nobody has known that at the very end of a really remarkable effort to normalize relations, Kissinger, the global chessboard player, was insulted that a small country would ruin his plans for Africa and was essentially prepared to bring the imperial force of the United States on Fidel Castro’s head,” Mr. Kornbluh said.

“You can see in the conversation with Gerald Ford that he is extremely apoplectic,” Mr. Kornbluh said, adding that Mr. Kissinger used “language about doing harm to Cuba that is pretty quintessentially aggressive.”

Yep, that's everyone's favorite geopolitical strategic master at work. Kissinger considered Castro's actions to be a personal insult, so he began drawing up plans for the US military to blockade Cuba, mine its harbors, and potentially touch off a war with the Soviet Union. Because that's what you do when a small country irritates Henry Kissinger. Amirite?

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Mitt Romney Takes Another Crack at Explaining the 47 Percent

| Tue Sep. 30, 2014 5:48 PM EDT

In a recent interview with Mark Leibovich, Mitt Romney offered up a new excuse for foolishly venting to a supporter during the 2012 campaign about the perfidy of the "47 percent" (i.e., the folks who take no personal responsibility for their lives and just want lots of free bennies from the government). Here it is:

Romney told me that the statement came out wrong, because it was an attempt to placate a rambling supporter who was saying that Obama voters were essentially deadbeats. “My mistake was that I was speaking in a way that reflected back to the man,” Romney said. “If I had been able to see the camera, I would have remembered that I was talking to the whole world, not just the man.” I had never heard Romney say that he was prompted into the “47 percent” line by a ranting supporter. It was also impossible to ignore the phrase “If I had to do this again.”

David Corn calls bullshit:

That supporter was not rambling. Here's what he asked: "For the last three years, all everybody's been told is, 'Don't worry, we'll take care of you.' How are you going to do it, in two months before the elections, to convince everybody you've got to take care of yourself?" That was a straightforward query, succinctly put, not rambling at all. It was Romney who took the point to the next level and proclaimed that a specific number of Americans were lazy freeloaders who could not and would not fend for themselves.

But I don't think this is fair. "Rambling" and "ranting" are Leibovich's words, not Romney's. All Romney says is that he was "speaking in a way that reflected back to the man." And that's true. In fact, this was pretty much my guess about what really happened that night, and I suggested at the time that it revealed a lot about Romney's execrable people skills. After all, every candidate has to interact with true believers, many of whom are also rich donors.

A politician with even a tenuous grasp on how to handle this kind of pressure knows what to do: you redirect. You can't tell these folks they're crazy, of course....But you can't really agree with them either....So you soothe. I get where you're coming from. And then you back away. Maybe you blame it on polling data....Maybe you change the subject....Maybe you appeal to authority.

....But you handle them. Except that apparently Romney can't. And that's pretty weird, isn't it? He has more experience handling the titanic egos of rich people than anyone in politics. If anyone should be able to stroke big-dollar donors without saying anything stupid, it ought to be Mitt Romney.

This is basically what Romney is fessing up to. He wanted to pander to this questioner, but he didn't have the skills to do that off-the-cuff in a safe way. So, since he thought he was speaking privately, he just went ahead and gave him the full pander instead.

Whether Romney really believed what he was saying is sort of irrelevant. I figure he probably did—sort of—though I suspect that if he'd been in a different mood he would have said something a little different. But what we really learned from this episode is that Romney had neither the guts to stand up to a rich donor nor the people skills to soothe and redirect in a safe way. In other words, he's not really the kind of guy you want to be president of the United States.

Second Healthcare Worker in Texas Tests Positive for Ebola

| Tue Sep. 30, 2014 5:24 PM EDT

Update 7, October 15, 8:20 a.m. EDT: A second hospital worker who treated the Dallas Ebola patient has tested positive for the disease.

Update 6, October 12, 2:50 p.m. EDT: A hospital worker who treated the Dallas Ebola patient has contracted the disease.

Update 5, October 8, 11:25 a.m. EDT: According to Texas Health Services, the Dallas Ebola patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, has died.

Update 4, October 3, 12:57 p.m. EDT: Howard University Hospital in Washington, DC, has a patient in isolation with symptoms "that could be associated with Ebola," a hospital spokeswoman said in a statement. The patient, who is in stable condition, recently returned from Nigeria, the spokeswoman said.

Update 3, October 1, 6:50 p.m. EDT: Liberian officials identified the first person diagnosed with the Ebola virus in the United States as Thomas Duncan, a Monrovia resident in his mid-forties. Duncan had tried to help a woman sick with the virus find treatment two weeks ago, according to the New York Times. Unable to find a place in a local hospital, the woman's family took her back to her home, where she died a few hours later.

The story follows a pattern which the World Health Organization had warned of in a September 8 statement, which described how cars, sometimes packed with entire families, could cross Liberian cities in search of a place at a local hospital, only to return home for lack of space. "When patients are turned away at Ebola treatment centers, they have no choice but to return to their communities and homes, where they inevitably infect others, perpetuating constantly higher flare-ups in the number of cases," the organization said in the statement.

Update 2, October 1, 2:20 p.m. EDT: With the first Ebola patient to be diagnosed in the United States isolated in a Dallas hospital and in serious condition, officials are closely monitoring the people he came into contact with—including several children. The unidentified patient, who arrived in the United States from Liberia on September 20, fell ill and went to the hospital on September 26, but was released with a prescription for antibiotics. On Wednesday, the AP reported that the patient told the hospital he had come from Liberia before his release.

This is not the first time a commercial airliner has become a carrier for the virus. On July 20, a Liberian-American arrived in Nigeria's largest city, Lagos, and infected several people. The disease spread to another city, Port Harcourt, via one of the physicians involved in that patient's treatment. As of September 29, the CDC and World Health Organization reported 19 confirmed cases of Ebola in Nigeria, but said the virus was contained there.

Update, September 30, 6:15 p.m. EDT: According to officials from the Centers for Disease Control, the patient, a male, arrived in the United States from Liberia on September 20. He planned to visit with family members in Texas. He initially sought treatment at a hospital on September 26 but was sent home, and then was readmitted on September 28. Texas public health officials believe that the patient had contact with "a handful" of people while he was infectious, including family members. The officials are currently in the process of tracing those contacts. CDC officials do not believe that anyone on the flight with him has any risk of contracting Ebola.

During a press conference, CDC officials reiterated that Ebola is not transmitted through the air, nor is it possible to catch it from someone who has been exposed but is not yet displaying symptoms.

"Ebola is a scary disease," said CDC's Dr. Thomas Frieden. "At the same time, we are stopping it in its tracks in this country."

***

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed a case of Ebola in Dallas. While other patients have been flown back to the United States for treatment, this is the first time that a patient has been diagnosed stateside.

The patient is being kept in "strict isolation" at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. While hospital officials are not currently discussing which countries the patient has visited, no doubt US officials will be looking very closely at where he's traveled in the recent past, especially within the United States. The CDC will be holding a press conference on this at 5:30 p.m. Eastern. You can see it live here

Ebola has already infected more than 6,000 people—and killed more than 3,000—in West Africa. Quick action prevented the disease from spreading in Senegal and Nigeria, but the disease continues to wreak havoc in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

Half the World's Wildlife Has Disappeared in Just 40 Years

| Tue Sep. 30, 2014 4:54 PM EDT
The forest elephant population has fallen by more than 60 percent since 2002, according to research cited in a new World Wildlife Fund report.

Global wildlife populations have declined by a stunning 52 percent over the past four decades, and humans are largely to blame.

That's according to a newly released study conducted by the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London, which analyzed an index of 10,000 different animal populations (referred to in the study as the Global Living Planet Index) comprised of more than 3,000 species of vertebrates, a group of animals that includes mammals, reptiles, fish, amphibians, and birds.

The report attributes this insane drop almost entirely to human activity, including overfishing, unsustainable agriculture, a dramatic loss in natural habitats, and—of course—climate change.

The most severe decline was experienced by freshwater species, whose populations fell a shocking 76 percent—nearly twice the rate experienced by marine and terrestrial species (both of which dropped by 39 percent). The most significant reductions in wildlife occurred largely in the tropics, especially in South America.

"This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live," said the Zoological Society's Ken Norris, according to the AP. "There is still hope. Protecting nature needs focused conservation action, political will and support from industry."

While Norris' message leaves room for a bit of encouragement, it remains to be seen if the WWF's latest data will spur significant political action, particularly in light of the upcoming United Nations climate change and sustainability meeting in 2015.

More Than 80 Percent of Teens Are Using the Wrong Birth Control

| Tue Sep. 30, 2014 4:32 PM EDT

For the first time, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended long-acting reversible contraception, like IUDs and contraceptive implants, as "first-line contraceptive choices for adolescents." The guidelines, published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday, encourage pediatricians to discuss these long-acting options, known as LARC methods, before other contraceptive choices for adolescents because of the products' "efficacy, safety, and ease of use."

It's no secret that a lot of teens have sex; according to the report, nearly half of US high school students report having had sexual intercourse. Each year, 750,000 teenagers become pregnant, with over 80 percent of the pregnancies unplanned.

But the recommended AAP guidelines are a huge step away from the current practices of the 3.2 million teenage women using contraceptives; in fact, it seems that the frequencies with which teens use contraceptives are inversely related to their efficacy. Here's a breakdown of contraceptive use among today's teenagers:

  • Male condoms are by far the most frequent choice of contraception, with over half of teenage women reporting condom use the last time they had sex. According to the Centers for Disease Control, condoms have an 18 percent failure rate.
  • The pill, used by 53 percent of teenage girls using contraceptives, has a 9 percent failure rate.
  • Contraceptive implants are small rods that, when inserted under the skin of the upper arm, release steroid hormones, preventing pregnancy for up to three years with a .05 percent failure rate. According to the Guttmacher Institute, implants and other hormonal methods, like hormonal patches or rings, are used by 16 percent of teens using contraceptives.
  • Intrauterine devices, or IUDs, are small, T-shaped devices that, once implanted in the uterus, can prevent pregnancy for up to 10 years with a failure rate of less than 1 percent. IUDs are one of the most popular contraceptive methods in other developed countries, but, largely due to misconceptions that developed in the 70s, they're used far less frequently in the US. Only 3 percent of teens using contraceptives rely on IUDs.

Following similar guidelines published in 2012 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the AAP report makes clear that teenagers using LARC methods should still use condoms to prevent STIs, and doctors should still talk to their patients about all contraceptive methods, tailoring "counseling and recommendations to each patient." The Affordable Care Act requires insurance plans to cover LARCs, including progestin implants and IUDs.

Peak Oil Is All About Cheap Oil

| Tue Sep. 30, 2014 1:37 PM EDT

Russell Gold writes in the Wall Street Journal that perhaps the idea of peak oil is a myth. After all, technology keeps getting better and better, allowing us to extract more oil from old fields. Of course, it's expensive to do business this way:

When the oil industry overcomes an obstacle and boosts oil production, costs typically increase. That opens the door for a better and cheaper energy source that will eventually displace crude oil.

So at some point, the cost of getting more and more oil likely will get so high that buyers can't—or won't—pay....Already, economics is bringing about some changes. Despite the abundance of oil that fracking has delivered, global oil prices remain high. This has kept the door wide open for alternative sources of energy and spending on energy efficiency.

...."There will be peak oil, but it will be [because of] peak consumption," says Michael Shellenberger, president of the Breakthrough Institute, an energy and climate think tank in Oakland, Calif. "What we all want is to move to better, cheaper and cleaner sources of energy."

This is a good example of a common misconception about peak oil. The theory has never really been about the absolute limit of oil in the ground—though, of course, there is an eventual limit—it's been about the amount of oil that can be profitably extracted. Older fields, where you literally just have to drill a hole in the ground and wait for a gusher, are cheap fields. As the older fields play out, we have to use new technology to extend their lives. And we also have to look for oil in other, more expensive places: polar oil, deep-sea oil, tar sands, and so forth. As we do this, oil gets more and more expensive.

There's nothing new about this. The peak oil debate has never really been about how much oil is in the ground. It's always been about (a) how much oil we can pump on a daily basis and (b) how much it costs to get it above ground. And as Gold points out, even with all the hoopla about fracking, the price of oil is still very high. That's because new technologies are barely keeping up with the exhaustion of older fields.

But there's more to this. It's true, of course, that as oil gets more expensive it naturally motivates a switch to other energy sources. In that sense, peak oil takes care of itself. We'll switch to gas, and then to solar, and maybe someday to fusion. And we'll do it naturally as those sources of energy become cheaper than oil.

In the meantime, however, there's a big problem: declining spare capacity. The real medium-term danger of peak oil lies in the fact that the world is currently pumping oil at close to full capacity. Nor is this likely to change soon, since the developing world has a huge appetite for oil even at current prices. So what happens when there's a supply disruption somewhere? The answer, unfortunately, is that any blip in supply, whether from political unrest, terrorism, or merely unforeseen natural events, can cause prices to carom wildly. A world with $100 per barrel oil is bad enough, but a world in which a single pipeline meltdown could cause prices to skyrocket to $300 per barrel for a few months and then back down is far worse.

Will this happen? No one knows. Iraq has more pumping capacity if they can solve their political problems. Iran has more pumping capacity if they can make a nuclear deal with the West and re-enter the global market. Fracking is still on the rise, and probably will be for the rest of the decade. But oil prices spiked even during the Libya war, and that was a pretty modest supply disruption.

In other words, no one knows for sure. I certainly don't. But the fact that demand is bumping up against supply—and will continue doing so even if supply increases—represents the real danger, economically speaking. With no spare capacity, a modest disruption in supply can cause oil prices to spike, and there's a lot of evidence to suggest that oil price spikes are at least partially responsible for every global recession of the past 40 years. That's peak oil for you.

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New Mexico AG Opens Criminal Investigation Into Missing Susana Martinez Emails

| Tue Sep. 30, 2014 12:57 PM EDT
New Mexico AG Gary King, who is running for governor against Republican Susana Martinez.

The New Mexico Attorney General's office is opening a criminal investigation into missing and/or destroyed emails covering part of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's tenure as a district attorney and also the tenure of Martinez's successor, Amy Orlando, a close friend of the governor. Complicating the investigation is the fact that New Mexico's AG, Democrat Gary King, is Martinez's opponent in this year's gubernatorial race. 

The investigation was triggered by an internal report released last week by the district attorney in New Mexico's Third Judicial District. As I reported, it found that many emails sent and received by staff members inside the Third Judicial District office were apparently "deleted and/or removed" during the period when Martinez and later Orlando headed the office. Those missing emails—which are state property—likely include messages to and from Martinez herself, who served as DA until she became governor in 2011.

Martinez handpicked Orlando as her successor, but her term was shortlived. In 2012, Orlando lost her DA election to a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor named Mark D'Antonio, who is a Democrat. It was D'Antonio who forwarded his office's findings to the AG for further investigation.

At a Monday afternoon press conference, King, the state AG, made a brief appearance in which he said that the disappearance of the emails in question "appears not to be the result of an inadvertent clerical error or policy but rather the planned intentional destruction of vital government records." Dave Pederson, the general counsel in the AG's office, downplayed the potential conflict of interest posed by King's gubernatorial run and said this case "goes way beyond simply pressing the delete button on certain emails or electronic files." According to the Santa Fe Reporter, Pederson declined to tell reporters which statutes may have been violated to avoid alerting potential targets.

Orlando is currently the general counsel at the state's Department of Public Safety (DPS). Her boss, DPS Secretary Greg Fouratt, dismissed the AG's investigation as "nothing more than a clumsy and amateur political stunt coordinated between a DA with what appears to be a personal vendetta and a gubernatorial candidate who's just a few weeks away from an election." Orlando herself slammed last week's report on the missing emails as an "amateurish political stunt on the eve of an election" that was filled with "baseless innuendos."

We Are In Love With War

| Tue Sep. 30, 2014 12:29 PM EDT

I'm going to make this short because I simply don't have a thousand-word essay in me about war fever. But the more I think about our campaign against ISIS, the more dismayed I become. I always figured that if the time ever came when a president wanted to bomb Iran, it would be pretty easy to whip up the usual war frenzy over it. That's been baked into the cake for a long time. But Iraq? And without even a very big push from President Obama? I mean, for all that I'm not happy over his decision to go back to war in Iraq, he's been relatively sober about the whole thing.

But it barely matters. The mere concrete prospect of a new war was all it took. According to polls, nearly two-thirds of Americans are on board with the fight against ISIS and nearly half think we ought to be sending in ground troops. That's despite the fact that practically every opinion leader in the country says in public that they oppose ground troops. At this point it would take only a tiny shove—a bomb scare, an atrocity of some kind, pretty much anything—and 70 percent of the country would be in full-bore war frenzy mode.

It's like we've learned nothing from the past decade. Our politicians are in love with war. The public is in love with war. And the press is really in love with war. It just never ends.

This Stunning Drone Footage Reveals Just How Massive Hong Kong's Protests Really Are

| Tue Sep. 30, 2014 12:26 PM EDT

Protests in Hong Kong show no sign of stopping, as hundreds of thousands of demonstrators continue to demand greater autonomy from the government in Beijing. This video, featured on Storyful, by Nero Chan (uploaded to his Facebook account on September 29), offers a glimpse into the magnitude of the movement. Tomorrow is National Day, a public holiday across China. Activists say there's a chance the protests could swell even beyond what you can see in this video.

Intel Community Dusts Itself Off and Casually Shows Obama Who's Boss

| Tue Sep. 30, 2014 10:49 AM EDT

A friend brings to my attention this New York Times piece:

By late last year, classified American intelligence reports painted an increasingly ominous picture of a growing threat from Sunni extremists in Syria, according to senior intelligence and military officials. Just as worrisome, they said, were reports of deteriorating readiness and morale among troops next door in Iraq.

But the reports, they said, generated little attention in a White House consumed with multiple brush fires and reluctant to be drawn back into Iraq. “Some of us were pushing the reporting, but the White House just didn’t pay attention to it,” said a senior American intelligence official. “They were preoccupied with other crises,” the official added. “This just wasn’t a big priority.”

He comments:

Look, if you publicly throw the intel community under the bus, they're going to come back at you. They have better access to the press. They have careerists with longstanding media relationships that they know how to work and how to shape their stories....Plus, you're giving Republicans wonderful fuel for their absolute strongest subject — bar none — national security: Obama is fighting (insert intelligence community / generals / Secret Service / other military service), more than ISIS.

The idiocy of picking this fight in public is pretty unnerving frankly.

There's not much point in dwelling on this forever, but Obama's comment blaming the intel community for misjudging ISIS absolutely blanketed every news outlet in the country last night. It really does make you wonder what's going on over in the West Wing. Was Obama's comment on Sunday just a dumb mistake? Does he really have contempt for the intelligence community? Did he somehow think he could get away with blaming them and not getting any blowback? Or what?