1958 stories

ICE agents remove legal foreign worker from farm, threaten farmer when questioned about having a warrant


I don't want to alarm anyone, but it sounds like maybe some ICE agents are, I dunno, a shower of bastards.

According to Syracuse.com, New York state dairy farmer John Collins was doing his thing when he heard screaming. When he ran out to see what was happening, he found that his hired hand, Marcial de Leon Aguilar, was being pinned to the side of his farm's milk house by armed men. Aguilar is from Guatemala, and had all of the paperwork required to work in the United States. He'd been employed by Collins for just under a year.

When Collins confronted the armed men about what they were doing with his employee, they stated that they were ICE agents. As the goons slapped a set of handcuffs on Aguilar, Collins demanded to see the warrant that allowed ICE to come on to his property. You'll be shocked to know, I'm sure, that the agents stated that they had none.

It gets better. As the agents dragged Aguilar across the road to their waiting vehicle, Collins continued to demand that they produce paperwork on why they were taking his employee or show the authority that allowed them onto his land. As he did so, he began filming the exchange with his smartphone. Collins alleges that, at this point, one the agents grabbed the phone out of his hand, handcuffed him and threatened to arrest him for hindering a federal investigation. In the end, Collins was released, but Aguilar was carted away.

Oh, did I mention that Aguilar's kids saw the whole damn thing? Because they totally did – the Aguilar's family was living in a house on Collins' spread as a partial payment for his gig.

From Syracuse.com:

Aguilar's wife, Virginia, and the couple's four children were not in the U.S. until recently. She was caught crossing the border, illegally, with the children. Collins said she has been meeting with ICE officers since she arrived, and is seeking asylum for herself and the children because of the violence in Guatemala. Collins said Virginia met with ICE officers as recently as last week, and has another meeting scheduled for this Friday. At times, Aguilar has accompanied his wife, who is pregnant, to some of the meetings, Collins said.

So, instead of going through the proper channels to obtain a warrant, or nothing to go after individuals, per their mandate, that are actually in the country illegally, the two uniformed ass clowns opted to grab the first brown fella that they saw on the farm. Outstanding work. So what's the lesson here? Don't attend meetings surrounding the asylum process? Warrants and the rule of law don't matter under the current administration? Jackboots are a state of mind? I dunno.

Apparently ICE will be looking into the incident. I bet they'll send a real crackerjack investigator to hunt down the truth on this one.

Image: Police - Wikipedia Commons, Public Domain, Link

Read the whole story
14 hours ago
Washington, District of Columbia
15 hours ago
New York, NY
Share this story

Housing Was Undersupplied during the Great Housing Bubble


The lack of a strong recovery since the 2007–08 financial crisis has been a central theme of many economic discussions over the past decade. We might normally expect an especially deep economic contraction to be followed by an especially strong recovery. Why was this recovery different? One of the more widely cited causes of the slow recovery has been a surplus of homes left over from the boom.

In his memoir, former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke wrote, “Normally, a rapid rebound in home construction and related industries such as realty and home improvement helps fuel growth after a recession. Not this time. Builders would start construction on only about 600,000 private homes in 2011, compared with more than 2 million in 2005. To some extent, that drop represented the flip side of the pre-crisis boom. Too many houses had been built, and now the excess supply was being worked off.”

What Supply Overhang?

How bad was the supply overhang? Surprisingly, the answer may be that there never was one.

We can think about this in terms of stock (the number of homes in the United States) or flow (the rate at which new homes were being built).

In terms of stock, the Census Bureau maintains estimates of both US population and the number of housing units. As shown in figure 1, the ratio of homes to adults in the United States rose in the 1980s as a result of factors such as changing marriage norms. The ratio then declined in the 1990s. The relative number of housing units increased somewhat from 2000 to 2005 but remained below the previous peak level. After the crisis, the decline continued.

Note: There was a significant revision in the housing unit count after the 2000 Census, which causes a discontinuity in the measure. Also, the Census Bureau has produced a revised measure in table 8a (see source) for the years from 2000 to the present, so I have replaced the estimated counts from 1994 to 2000 with a linear trend (shown as a dotted line) connecting the previous decennial census revision to the earliest date with the new revised measure. The total rise in the ratio of units during the boom and the peak level of units in 2008 are similar in both the count from table 8 (see source) and the revised measure in table 8a. With either measure, the growth in housing units during the boom is mild, and the peak level of units remains below the estimates of the early 1990s.

In terms of flow, the Census Bureau measures the construction of several forms of housing. Figure 2 shows the rolling five-year level of new housing starts (including manufactured homes, homes in multi-unit properties, and single-family homes) compared to total population growth (light blue line) and compared to adult population growth (dark blue line). The rate of housing starts was not unusual by either measure during the 2000–2010 period, and has since moved well below long-term norms.

Figure 3 stacks the numbers of new housing units started or shipped over time. Single-family homes, at the bottom, make up the bulk of new housing units. Manufactured homes and multi-unit homes, which make up a relatively small portion of new housing units, stack on top. The horizontal dashed line shows the average number of new units built annually from 1959 to 2005—just before the crisis.

When including all types of units, this measure also suggests that nothing out of the ordinary was going on before the financial crisis. The number of housing units added during the boom was only slightly above the long-term average.

The Census data provide surprisingly little support for the claim that there were too many homes in 2005. Figure 3 provides a couple of hints about how policymakers came to believe that housing supply had been excessive and why, in fact, supply has actually been constrained. The number of single-family home starts, especially single-family homes built for sale, did rise to unprecedented levels. That is a high-profile category, where publicly traded homebuilders operate and where many families become new homeowners.

But the other categories were either stagnant or in decline over the long term. The growth in single-family homes built for sale came mostly by taking market share from the other types of units.

What caused this shift? The other categories face increasing regulatory hurdles: most notably, obstacles to housing expansion in several urban centers where many multi-unit properties would normally have been built.

Another way to measure the growth in the housing stock is to measure real expenditures on housing over time. Figure 4 shows the long-term annual growth in real housing expenditures (dark blue line). Housing consumption has been increasing more and more slowly over time. The dark orange line measures the growth in real housing expenditures minus the growth in total real spending. This raises the question, Was real consumption of housing growing more quickly than real consumption in general? As real income increases, is housing a larger portion of the new basket of goods and services or a smaller portion than it had been before?

Households have been increasing their consumption of housing more slowly than they have increased their consumption of other goods. The idea—frequently claimed—that there was a housing bubble in the 2000s that was the result of Americans “keeping up with the Joneses,” buying trophy houses or overinvesting in new homes in a misguided attempt at saving or speculating, is wrong. Americans have been doing the opposite.That said, the portion of the average household’s budget going to housing each year has remained level. In 1984, housing comprised 18 percent of total personal consumption expenditures, and in 2017 it still comprised 18 percent. American households have been spending a stable amount of their incomes on housing for decades, but they keep getting less and less house for it. Since 1995, the rate of inflation on shelter has averaged 0.75 percentage points higher, annually, than the rate of inflation on other consumption items. For the last few decades, when Americans’ incomes have risen, their homes have only improved slightly, but their rents have increased more. Americans have had to limit their consumption of housing in order to try to keep their housing expenses at a comfortable level. We have been engaged in the opposite of overbuilding.

The Closed Access Problem

Just a few cities are at the heart of the housing supply problem, most notably New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, and San Francisco, which I refer to as Closed Access cities. There are two very different housing markets within the United States: the Closed Access market, where new housing is highly constrained, rents rise relentlessly, and households are forced to make difficult choices as housing expenses eat up their budgets; and the rest of the country, where homes can generally be built to meet demand, housing construction is healthy, and housing expenses remain at comfortable levels for the typical household.

If we add these two markets up into an aggregate market, it looks like a market where rents are relatively level over time. In the 2000s, when housing starts were rising and home prices were also rising to unusually high levels, it appeared as if those rising prices were unrelated to rent, and it appeared that prices were rising at the same time that supply was rising. This pattern, rising prices and quantities, seemed to be the result of excess demand—too much credit and too much money funding too much housing.

Yet few places fit that description. For the most part, there were places where housing starts were low, while rents and prices were both rising, and there were places where housing starts were healthy, while rent and price increases were moderate. If we compare median annual rent and median home price within each metropolitan area, it is clear that rents were an increasingly important determinant over the past two decades of home price differentials between different metropolitan areas. And as shown in figure 5, in this regard, the Closed Access cities have become outliers—much higher rents leading to much higher prices. Closed Access cities have become outliers in terms of rent and price because they have also become outliers in terms of new housing construction and income. Figure 6 shows a similar pattern as figure 5. Over the past two decades, these cities have seen their incomes rise well above the national average. Even more surprisingly, as their incomes have risen, the portion of those incomes that goes to rent has increased. For typical households in the Closed Access cities, incomes have become much higher than incomes in other cities, but the extra income goes to rent.The Closed Access cities have become new centers of prosperity, but they have limited the growth in their populations through restrictive zoning and bureaucratic obstacles that make it difficult to build housing. This has turned them into enclaves of privilege, only open to the richest newcomers, who spend nearly half their incomes on rent. This pattern has only developed since the 1990s and is neither normal nor natural.

From 1996 to 2005, across the United States permits were issued to build 6.5 homes per 100 residents. The Los Angeles, Boston, and New York metro areas each approved fewer than 2.6 per 100 during that time. San Francisco approved 3.4. In contrast, other economically prosperous cities that attract aspirational families in search of economic opportunity, such as Washington, DC, Seattle, and Dallas, issued permits at rates higher than the national average.

The Closed Access Migration Event

Contrary to Chairman Bernanke’s assumption, at the national level there was no overhang of housing supply that needed to be worked off in 2011. Indeed, even in 2005 there was no national oversupply of housing. Rather, the American economy was burdened by a shortage of housing, especially in the Closed Access cities.

The housing bubble was concentrated in cities in the coastal Northeast, California, Nevada, Arizona, and Florida. Limiting our analysis to the 20 largest metropolitan areas, the Closed Access cities make up three-quarters of the “bubble” cities, in terms of total real estate valuation. Constrained housing supply was clearly the primary source of high prices in those cities, not excess demand. Prices in the Closed Access cities today remain as high relative to other cities as they were during the bubble because constrained supply is the fundamental reason for those high prices, not reckless credit markets.

Even in other bubble cities with generous building policies, the primary cause of rising prices was the severe Closed Access shortage of housing. This is because those other bubble cities were the main destinations for households migrating out of the Closed Access cities. I call those cities Contagion cities, because in spite of their more generous building policies, they were overwhelmed by the problem created by the Closed Access cities. In the years leading up to the financial crisis, the shortage of housing in the Closed Access cities had become so severe that each year hundreds of thousands of households moved away in search of an affordable home. Many of them landed in inland California, Nevada, Arizona, and Florida.

Figure 7 compares net domestic migration of Closed Access cities and Contagion cities. Notice that high rates of out-migration from Closed Access cities correspond to periods of large in-migration to the Contagion cities. Credit markets may have facilitated some of the housing activity during the housing bubble, but at its core this was a mass migration event caused by a lack of housing.

The Mystery Is the Collapse of Demand

For many people, it seemed obvious that there was overbuilding in places like Phoenix. From 2003 to 2005, Phoenix built many homes. Meanwhile, prices of Phoenix homes rose by about 75 percent in just two years. By 2007, however, the Phoenix housing market was collapsing, buried in a mountain of unclaimed inventory. Surely, it was argued, this was a classic credit-fueled boom and bust.

But, for the boom-and-bust story to add up, Phoenix would have had to build enough homes for all of those new households moving in from California, and then it would also have had to build tens of thousands of units in addition to that. It couldn’t. The problem Phoenix encountered was that the in-migration was so strong that even Phoenix authorities couldn’t approve new supply fast enough to meet demand.

Building permits in Phoenix jumped by about 50 percent from 2001 to 2004. By all appearances, that is an extremely frothy market, but as figure 8 shows, the jump in new homes tracked virtually 1:1 with net in-migration.Many of those in-migrants were coming from California. They were moving to Phoenix largely to reduce their housing expenses. In fact, even though migration from California had continued to rise up through 2005, net migration into Phoenix had leveled off. That is because increasing numbers of households now began moving away from Phoenix, which had seen soaring home prices. From 2005 to 2008, migration into Phoenix declined each year while migration out of Phoenix continued to rise. By 2008, net in-migration into Phoenix was less than 10,000 households.

By 2006, Phoenix had a growing number of empty homes and a large inventory of homes for sale. But from 2005 to 2008, the number of new homes approved in Phoenix dropped faster than net migration was dropping. Housing supply had reacted remarkably quickly to shifting demand. Even as housing starts were collapsing, rents were rising, as they were in most cities at the time.

Furthermore, housing vacancies in Phoenix followed an interesting pattern. As figure 9 shows, vacancies among owned homes rose in 2006, but vacancies among rentals remained stable until 2008. In most other cities, there wasn’t a systematic shift in vacancies. This pattern is mostly limited to the Contagion cities that had been exposed to Closed Access migration events. There were plenty of tenants for the housing units that existed in 2006. What those housing markets lacked were buyers. There was not an oversupply of homes in Phoenix. There was an undersupply of buyers. By 2008, when rental vacancies rose, the problem was that a decades-long flow of migration had suddenly dissipated to a dribble.

The question that needs to be addressed about the housing bubble and the ensuing bust is not what caused prices to rise so sharply. That is a fairly straightforward question, with a standard economic answer. Fundamentally, there weren’t enough houses.

What caused the massive out-migration from the Closed Access cities? The answer to that question is also, fundamentally, that there weren’t enough houses.

This leaves one additional question that has been rarely asked, and which must be answered if we are to come to terms with the crisis that followed. If a lack of housing was fundamentally the cause of the housing bubble, then why had housing starts been collapsing for more than a year before the series of events occurred that we associate with the crisis, like nationally collapsing home prices, defaults, financial panics, and recession? And what caused the Closed Access migration event to suddenly stop at the same time as the collapse of housing starts?

For a decade, the collapse has been treated as if it was inevitable, and the important question seemed to be, What caused the bubble that led to the collapse? This needs to be flipped around. Given the urban housing shortage, it was rising prices that were inevitable. So the important question is, Why did prices and housing starts collapse even though the supply shortage remains? And why were housing starts still at depression levels in 2011?

The surprising answer to those questions may be that a housing bubble didn’t lead to an inevitable recession. It may be that a moral panic developed about building and lending. The policies the public demanded as a result of that moral panic led to a recession that was largely self-inflicted and unnecessary. They also led to an unnecessary housing depression that continues to this day.

Read the whole story
14 hours ago
Washington, District of Columbia
2 days ago
New York, NY
Share this story

Jordan Peele’s simulated Obama PSA is a double-edged warning against fake news

1 Comment

This deepfaked warning against deepfakes almost makes its point too well.

Jordan Peele just used deepfakes — the nightmarish dystopian tool we last saw being used to generate fake celebrity porn — to deliver the deepest fake of them all.

The Get Out director teamed up with his brother-in-law, BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti, to produce a public service announcement made by Barack Obama.

Obama’s message? Don’t believe everything you see and read on the internet.

“It may sound basic, but how we move forward in the age of information is going to be the difference between whether we survive or whether we become some kind of fucked-up dystopia,” Obama tells viewers in the BuzzFeed video. He also declares that Black Panther’s villain Killmonger was “right” about his plan for world domination, “Ben Carson is in the Sunken Place” — a reference to one of the heartiest memes from Peele’s Oscar-winning Get Out screenplay — and Trump is a “dipshit.”

As anyone who’s familiar with deepfakes has guessed by now, “Obama” in this video is actually Peele himself, doing his famous interpretation of the former president. The algorithmic machine learning technology of deepfakes allows anyone to create a very convincing simulation of a human subject given ample photographic evidence on which to train the machine about what the image should look like.

Given the sheer amount of media coverage around Obama, it was fairly easy for BuzzFeed’s video producer Jared Sosa to create the simulation — though to get the simulation right still required 56 hours of training the machine, according to BuzzFeed’s report on the video.

“Deepfakes” is the term coined by a Reddit user who made a script for the process and released it onto a subreddit he made, also called deepfakes. Another user took that script and modified it into a downloadable program, FakeApp. But although the term came to the world’s attention in conjunction with celebrity porn, the first complex face-capturing tools used to demonstrate the techniques deployed by FakeApp were originally applied to manipulating political figures.

A 2016 research experiment saw the technique being applied to world leaders like George W. Bush, Vladimir Putin, and Obama. Subsequent research applied the technique just to Obama — and the researchers were immediately wary of the monster they’d created.

“You can’t just take anyone’s voice and turn it into an Obama video,” Steve Seitz, one of the researchers, stated in a press release. “We very consciously decided against going down the path of putting other people’s words into someone’s mouth.”

Barely six months later, deepfakes was born. And as Peele and BuzzFeed have proven, you clearly can just take anyone’s voice and turn it into an Obama video — provided the voice is convincing enough.

Though Reddit ultimately banned all faked porn generated via deepfakes, the Pandora’s box of fake reality generation has been opened, and anything — from Obama to Nicolas Cage — is fair game.

Given all this context, it’s arguable that Peele’s contribution might not actually be helping people understand how serious the potential for reality distortion is, so much as giving them a taste of how fun this tech might be to play around with.

Still, in the age of “fake news,” Peele and Peretti clearly felt the message was timely. “We’re entering an era in which our enemies can make it look like anyone is saying anything at any point in time,” the PSA begins.

Point proven.

Read the whole story
1 day ago
So many awesome things:
1. The video itself.
2. I did not know Chelsea Peretti is the sister of the CEO of Buzzfeed. She already has a Kevin Bacon-esque list of collaborations with fellow comedians. She's like the next coming of Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
3. Ben Carson is in the Sunken Place.
Washington, District of Columbia
Share this story

Trump wants Arab nations to send troops into Syria. That’s a spectacularly bad idea.

A Saudi soldier on the lookout while patrolling at the Saudi-Yemeni border on April 13, 2015, in Saudi Arabia.

Let’s just say it could turn a simmering “cold war” into a really hot one.

President Donald Trump has made no secret of his desire to remove US troops from Syria. But his administration’s latest plan for how to do that is unlikely to materialize — and would be dangerous if it did.

Here’s the idea, as reported by the Wall Street Journal: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and other Arab states like Egypt would band their troops together and form an “Arab force” to keep ISIS at bay in Syria.

That may sound good in theory, but there are several problems in practice. First, there’s little chance the majority of Arab countries in question would agree to such a plan. Saudi Arabia is in discussions with the US to send troops into Syria, according to Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, but it’s unclear if other Arab states will follow suit.

Second, experts say their militaries would struggle in a campaign against ISIS. “No Arab state has the military or institutional capacity needed for this sort of task,” Faysal Itani, a Middle East security expert at the Atlantic Council think tank, tells me. “Arab armies are bad at counterinsurgency, and even worse at war,” he adds.

It’s unclear as of now if a remnant of US troops in Syria would remain to train and support the Arab forces. That seems unlikely, though, as Trump has indicated he wants to bring all of America’s 2,000 troops back home and let Middle Eastern counties take care of stabilizing Syria.

Finally, the Arab countries’ goals when it comes to intervening in Syria aren’t necessarily the same as the US’s. The Trump administration is exclusively focused on defeating ISIS and stabilizing the areas it once held to make sure the terrorist group doesn’t just come right back.

But James Jeffrey, a former top Middle East security official in the George W. Bush administration, explains that fighting ISIS is not the primary focus for the countries that would theoretically make up this new Arab force. “The Saudis and Emiratis want a policy focused on countering Iran and working against [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad,” says Jeffrey.

It would also pit the military forces of two mortal enemies — Iran and Saudi Arabia — directly against each other in Syria, potentially provoking a dangerous and unnecessary escalation in the already horrifically bloody Syrian civil war.

“In sum,” says Jeffrey, the Trump administration’s plan for an Arab force is “not well thought out.”

Why an Arab force is unlikely

The politics surrounding the creation of an “Arab force” are so complicated that it’s surprising the Trump administration even considers it an option.

Take Saudi Arabia and the UAE. They’re in the midst of a US-backed military operation in Yemen against the Houthi rebels. And Randa Slim, a Syria expert at the Middle East Institute, says that Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are already both so overextended that they’re unlikely to divert troops, equipment, and money from that fight.

In fact, last December, Trump asked the Saudis for $4 billion to rebuild Syria, but Riyadh has yet to accept that proposal. That said, Saudi Arabia may send troops into Syria soon as part of the campaign to defeat ISIS. “We are in discussions with the US and have been since the beginning of the Syrian crisis [in 2011] about sending forces into Syria,” Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, told reporters at a press conference in Riyadh on Tuesday.

Slim also says the US would probably need Turkey’s go-ahead to send an Arab force into Syria, but that approval doesn’t seem likely to happen.

Turkish forces are currently fighting in northern Syria to establish an approximately 19-mile “safe zone” between Kurdish-controlled territory and the Turkish border. Ankara has been fighting a decades-long insurgency against Kurdish separatists inside its own country, and thus considers the powerful Syrian Kurdish forces near its border to be a looming terrorist threat.

But Syrian Kurdish forces just so happen to be working closely with US forces in Syria’s northeast to defeat what remains of ISIS. Introducing Arab forces into the mix — forces that might potentially cooperate with or even fight alongside the Syrian Kurds — would cause Ankara some serious heartburn, Jeffrey, who is now at the Washington Institute for Near East policy, explains.

“This would be Arab forces entering an Arab country without permission of its government at least potentially to cooperate with, fund, and protect a Kurdish ideological movement’s control over an Arab population,” he says, “with the goal on the part of Kurds, at least in theory, to have a base [from which] to destabilize NATO ally Turkey.”

It also doesn’t help that Ankara has a bad relationship with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi because Turkey supported the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings in countries like Tunisia and Egypt. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, on the other hand, fought to suppress those uprisings abroad and prevent similar ones from happening in their own countries.

But Turkey has also consistently called for Assad’s removal and pushed the US to do more to depose the Syrian dictator, which conceivably could make it more amenable to the idea of an Arab force interested in removing Assad getting involved in Syria.

And then there’s Egypt — one of America’s most important allies in the Middle East. Egypt supports the Assad regime. Cairo would likely be unhappy if the US backed an Arab force that went into Syria, especially if those troops started attacking Assad regime positions.

John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, reportedly called Egypt’s acting intelligence chief to discuss the possibility that Cairo would even contribute to the Arab force; there was no readout on how the call went. But on Tuesday, Mohamed Rashad, a former top Egyptian intelligence official, implied Egypt won’t join it. “Egypt’s Armed Forces are not mercenaries.” he said. “Egypt is adopting a strategy based on supporting the unity of Syria’s territories and its national army.”

Steven Cook, a Middle East expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Tuesday tweeted “Apparently the new Natl Security Advisor doesn’t know that the Egyptian government supports Assad.”

The Saudi-Iran “cold war” could turn hot

Even if an Arab force did go into Syria, it would likely do more harm than good.

Iran’s government is a Shia Muslim theocracy; Saudi Arabia’s government is a monarchy closely aligned with the country’s Sunni Muslim religious establishment. The two countries represent two ideological and political poles and have spent decades fighting each other for dominance in the Middle East and for the right to represent the Muslim world.

But instead of waging war against each other directly, Saudi and Iran back opposing political factions and extremist groups throughout the region as a way of exerting influence and control.

Iran is doing just that in Syria. Tehran has spent most of the Syrian civil war fighting to keep Assad in power while taking advantage of the conflict’s chaos to gain more control in the region. It does this in part by supporting its proxy, the militant Lebanese group Hezbollah, which is fighting in Syria on behalf of the Assad regime. On top of that, Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has established numerous military bases in Syria.

So imagine what would happen if, all of a sudden, Saudi and Emirati troops show up on the scene in Syria. “They will be in direct confrontation with IRGC, Hezbollah, and the Syrian regime,” Slim says. That means the “cold war” between the two biggest rivals in the Middle East could become an actual war.

To be fair to Trump, other US administrations had the Arab force idea too. President Barack Obama, for example, worked to rally Arab countries to do more to defeat ISIS, receiving bipartisan support for that plea. Saudi Arabia did announce a 34-nation coalition to counter ISIS in December 2015, but the US still carries most of the burden when fighting ISIS.

But just because it was an idea before doesn’t mean an Arab force is a viable idea now. “This is unrealistic, to put it mildly,” says Itani.

Read the whole story
16 hours ago
HAHAHA. The KSA sending in a military force has traditionally meant using its paid for connections to the Pakistani military to send in a Pakistani officer corp to run the show. (Though from what I understand this isn't happening in Yemen, which explains a lot...)
New York, NY
1 day ago
The one silver lining of this idea is that it would prove to millions of Arabs that their governments are incompetent in a way that the governments could not hide. But as we saw in Iraq, you shouldn't force a revolution if you don't know what the people are going to support to replace it.
Washington, District of Columbia
Share this story

Trump Thinks ‘He Alone’ Can End Korean War. He May Be Right.

1 Share

As a candidate, Donald Trump expressed support for reinstating military torture, dropping bombs on the wives and children of enemy combatants, and mass murdering Muslim prisoners of war with bullets dipped in pig’s blood. As president, he has praised police brutality, closed America’s border to Syrian refugees, defended white supremacists, demonized Central American immigrants, threatened thermonuclear war over Twitter, and endorsed extrajudicial assassinations of suspected drug users as a public health policy.

And yet, Trump’s aides believe he just might win a Nobel Peace Prize. And that notion is a tad less crazy than it sounds.

You may have trouble picturing Donald Trump as a world-historic peacemaker. But Donald Trump doesn’t. As the president contemplates his upcoming summit with Kim Jong-un, he feels confident that his unique deal-making skills will allow him to resolve the tensions that have kept the Korean peninsula in a cold war for 65 years — and led Pyongyang to cling to a nuclear arsenal at immense economic and diplomatic cost. As Axios reports:

President Trump views the North Korean crisis as his “great man” of history moment.

The big picture: He came into office thinking he could be the historic deal maker to bring peace to the Middle East. He’s stopped talking about that. There’s very little point. The peace deal looks dead and cremated. But Trump wants to sign his name even larger into the history books, and he views North Korea as his moment.

Sources close to him say he genuinely believes he — and he alone — can overcome the seemingly intractable disaster on the Korean Peninsula.

A source who has discussed North Korea with Trump: “He thinks, ‘Just get me in the room with the guy [Kim Jong-un] and I’ll figure it out.’”

On Thursday, Trump’s ambition began to look a bit more plausible. Speaking ahead of his own summit with Kim next week, South Korean president Moon Jae-in announced that North Korea had expressed “a will for a complete denuclearization” of the peninsula — and would not demand the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from South Korea in exchange.

“They have not attached any conditions that the U.S. cannot accept, such as the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea,” Moon told reporters. “All they are expressing is the end of hostile policies against North Korea, followed by a guarantee of security.” But one should probably treat this promise with at least as much skepticism as Donald Trump’s “great man” theory of (his own role in) history. Historically, Pyongyang has defined “complete denuclearization” as an agreement in which it forfeits its nuclear ambitions in exchange for the dismantlement of America’s security infrastructure in the region. Which is to say: The withdrawal of the 63,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, a cessation of joint military exercises between Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo, and an end to America’s nuclear security umbrella over the South.

It’s possible that Kim has decided he could live with a few American troops in the South, so long as the U.S. pares back all other features of its security policy in East Asia. But there is little chance that all Kim desires is “an end of hostile policies towards North Korea,” as Washington would define them. And even if Kim were inclined to take a radically softer stance than his father and grandfather, China would be sure to stiffen his spine. As Anish Goel explains for NBC News, forcing the U.S. to pare back its security presence in East Asia is as much of a foreign policy priority for Beijing as it is for Pyongyang. And Kim’s historic visit with Xi Jinping last month confirmed that China will have an invisible seat at Trump and Kim’s negotiating table.

Nevertheless, there is reason to wonder if Trump might actually be right — that he alone can bring peace to the Korean peninsula.

Granted, he knows virtually nothing about the region or its history, and tacitly confessed this week that he only recently learned that the Korean War had never technically ended. And sure, his famous “deal-making” abilities might be a wholly fictional marketing ploy; his steadfast refusal to educate himself on geopolitics, and irritable personality might have soured his diplomatic relationship with a wide variety of U.S. allies; his word might be less trustworthy than just about any major leader’s in world history; and he may very well be cognitively incapable of imagining the world from another person’s perspective, or feeling anything resembling human empathy.

But when it comes to forging a peace deal with North Korea, Trump’s aversion to sweating the details of geopolitics could be an asset. And his disagreeable (and/or sociopathic) personality could prove less detrimental to negotiations than his egotism and susceptibility to flattery are beneficial to them. In fact, those latter qualities are the very reason that peace talks between Trump and Kim are taking place at all: When the president was presented with North Korea’s routine offer of direct talks, he interpreted it as an unprecedented gesture of conciliation inspired by his exceptional leadership — and then pounced on the opportunity to generate a flattering headline, before his advisers could brief him on the potential downsides of such a summit.

This move was hardly uncharacteristic. Last year, when Saudi Arabia offered Trump the opportunity to claim that he had convinced America’s Gulf State allies to get tough on terrorism — by blockading Qatar — the president did not worry about whether this development actually advanced U.S. security interests in the region before he declared mission accomplished. And Trump displayed a similar propensity for not letting bad policy be the enemy of good (short-term) PR in his withdrawal from the Paris climate accords and announcement of steel and aluminum tariffs.

Thus, it isn’t hard to imagine Trump leaping at the opportunity to announce that he has reached a historic denuclearization deal with North Korea — even if such an agreement includes concessions on America’s security role in the region that all previous presidents have recoiled from. If Axios’s report is correct, Trump has begun to see securing such a peace deal as a means of validating his megalomaniacal self-conception; at this point, accepting that “he alone” can’t fix the crisis would ostensibly deal his ego a painful blow.

More critically, unlike any previous U.S. president, Trump can plausibly brand a withdrawal of the U.S. military from East Asia as a foreign policy “win” in its own right. After all, the mogul has repeatedly complained about the fiscal costs of maintaining American security guarantees, while calling on U.S. allies to shoulder more of the burden of their own defense. And while his administration’s actual foreign policy has been anything but noninterventionist, his affinity for isolationist rhetoric and gestures has not gone away. Just a few weeks ago, the man was calling on his generals to withdraw all U.S. troops and humanitarian aid from Syria.

All of which is to say: If Kim offers Trump a chance to announce that he has forged a genuinely historic deal to end the Korean War, denuclearize North Korea — and bring American troops and treasure home from the region — could anyone be confident that he’d turn down such an opportunity?

Read the whole story
1 day ago
Washington, District of Columbia
Share this story

The Ancient Walled Gardens Designed to Nurture a Single Citrus Tree

1 Comment and 3 Shares

A windswept speck of land in the Mediterranean boasts a unique innovation found nowhere else on earth: a circular garden wall that creates its own nano-climate. But this invention isn't new: It dates back over a thousand years.

The remote Italian island of Pantelleria is so far from the rest of Italy that it's actually closer to Africa. On a clear day, you can even see the coast of Tunisia from the island's lofty volcanic peak.

Pantelleria has a hypnotic beauty that entrances the few travelers who reach its shores: Ancient mule tracks wend through patchwork vineyards dotted with crumbling ruins, while passing cars are so rare that hard-working farmers wave at every one. In all directions, wherever you look, the denim-blue sea sparkles.

The main challenge faced by Pantelleria’s 7,000 inhabitants, aside from the isolation that sequesters them from the outside world, is the weather: The island is constantly battered by winds, but rarely sees any rain. The soil is dry and full of volcanic rock.

How to eke out a living in such a place? For thousands of years, different groups have done so during different periods. But at some much-debated point, Pantellerians devised an ingenious garden design now known as the giardino Pantesco: Italian for "Pantellerian garden." What makes these enclosures extraordinary is that each giardino Pantesco was built, with months of backbreaking labor, not to nourish rows of vegetables, but instead to protect a single sprout: the sapling of a lone lemon or orange tree.


"Of all agricultural systems, no other architecture involves so much work to grow a single tree," notes Giuseppe Barbera, Professor of Arboriculture at the University of Palermo and one of the world's few experts on Pantellerian gardens.

"The enclosed tree is a citrus—usually an orange or a lemon—that otherwise couldn't grow on the island without the protecting wall," Barbera adds. "Pantelleria’s windy, arid climate and the total absence of fresh groundwater wouldn’t otherwise allow trees like these to live."

Giardini Panteschi are almost always circular, and are precisely calibrated to have walls of a specific height: tall enough to block the wind, but short enough to allow in as much sun as possible. For as long as anyone can remember, farmers have expertly employed an age-old construction technique called muro a secco. Without using any mortar, they stack basketball-sized boulders freehand to form five-foot-thick walls that curve to encircle an enclosure 30 feet in diameter. They leave a single small opening through which the builder can crawl.

"The Pantescan farmer tore the stones from the ground with his bare hands, and used them to construct garden walls," says local vintner and retired politician Calogero Mannino.


The top of the circular wall always slopes inward, so the crevices of the volcanic rock catch morning dew and atmospheric condensation, which then drips onto the soil—even on otherwise dry days.

At the center of all this, the farmer plants just one seed in hopes of eventually growing a full-size citrus tree, which he then allows to branch outward in all directions and fill the whole space with several trunks (unlike the more familiar practice in modern citrus orchards of pruning away all side-shoots to produce a tree with a single central trunk).

The end result of all this labor is a new ecosystem within the wall's embrace, where the tree experiences temperatures measurably cooler on hot days and warmer on cold nights, an effect confirmed by ongoing studies. "The research has shown the importance of dew condensation on the garden walls, which reaches considerable quantities because of the atmospheric humidity and the porosity of the rocks that increases the surface area,” says Barbera, who is monitoring climatic data being collected at the best-preserved giardino. “This contribution of water is so important that it allows citruses to be cultivated in the total absence of irrigation."

Giardini Panteschi have been described as self-sufficient agronomic systems, because they create a nano-climate that simultaneously waters the tree, protects it from relentless wind, retains any rainwater channeled into the garden under the access door during rare rainstorms, allows in sunlight, and radiates stored solar warmth on cold nights. Once built, it "operates" without any need for further human intervention.

Pantellerians were pioneers in sustainability before there was even a word for it. They did not get stones from some far-off quarry, but instead used rocks dug from the enclosed garden area itself. As Pantelleria sits atop a dormant volcano, the terrain comprises basically nothing but fractured volcanic rock, without much topsoil. Every square inch of vineyard and farmland on the island had to be hand-cleared of countless stones; on the island, people joke and conjecture that the garden walls probably evolved as the answer to the conundrum, What do we do with all these rocks we just dug up?


A giardino Pantesco—also known as a "jardinu" in local dialect—is only one component of a traditional Pantellerian homestead, each element of which has an immediately recognizable vernacular architecture. At the center is the dammuso, or living quarters, with massively thick walls and a distinctive domed roof. The unforgettable, undulating shape is also unique to Pantelleria, and designed to collect rainwater and channel it down to a subterranean cisterna. A hardened pathway from the dammuso downhill to the jardinu also serves as a rainwater conduit, funneling runoff under the small garden gate. Farmers thresh grain in a nearby aira (another perfectly circular area but with lower walls) and sun-dry grapes and figs in the stinnituri, a south-facing wall with angled buttresses.

All these architectural features developed to deal with the constant hot winds known as sirocco that blow in from the Sahara and the Levante winds that blow in from the Near East. These winds dominate Pantelleria's weather as many as 300 days per year.

No one knows for certain who built the first giardino Pantesco: Some attribute it to the Phoenicians, who colonized the island 3,000 years ago. Others cite the Greeks, the Romans, the Crusaders, the Ottomans, or one of the many other civilizations that occupied Pantelleria over the millennia. Most often credit is given to the Arabic-speaking settlers who invaded in 700 A.D. and stayed for centuries; many of the island place names—such as Gadir and Bugeber, which belong to an ancient Arabic dialect similar to Maltese—date to this period.

"The surviving gardens were mostly built between the 18th and 19th centuries," Barbera points out, "but it is probable that they have been present on the island since ancient times."

Despite the relatively arid climate and chronic shortage of fresh water, the slopes of Pantelleria now appear surprisingly verdant. Vineyards dot the island, a situation made possible because the local grape variety, Zibibbo di Pantelleria, has evolved to survive with minimal irrigation. The centuries-old technique for keeping grape vines alive on Pantelleria—extensive pruning so that they hug the ground, behind yet more hand-built stone walls—is the only farming practice UNESCO deems "An Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity."


About 400 giardini Panteschi survive today, in various states of disrepair. Of these, 300 are precisely circular, while others are rectangular, pentagonal, or even teardrop-shaped due to the nearby terrain.

Whatever its shape, there's something almost mystical about entering a jardinu, as if you're entering a temple to the tree itself. The space inside feels set apart from the real world outside. "One enters them bowing, the shade and the coolness immediately felt, the imposing walls giving the feeling of entering a sacred place," Barbera ruminates.

Why citrus, and not some other tree? As far back as the Middle Ages, it was known that fresh fruit, especially citrus, prevented scurvy. Giardini Panteschi may have provided the only source of vitamin C on the island.

The only giardino Pantesco officially open to the public is managed by the Fondo Ambiente Italiano in the vineyards of the Donnafugata winery near the village of Khamma. But some of the dammusi rented to vacationers have their own giardini, and any leisurely drive around the island will reveal a few of the unmistakable circular walls (but always ask permission before entering).

Famed architectural philosopher Bernard Rudofsky visited Pantelleria and became fascinated by the unique design of its gardens, marveling about them in his book The Prodigious Builders. "The Pantellerian giardino represents an unheard-of extravaganza,” he writes. “It embodies the archetype of 'paradise' (originally a Persian word meaning 'circular enclosure'), complete with the tree of sour knowledge."

Read the whole story
2 days ago
"A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct. This every sister of the Bene Gesserit knows."
Washington, District of Columbia
2 days ago
Exactly what I was thinking.
16 hours ago
New York, NY
2 days ago
Washington, DC
Share this story
Next Page of Stories