Recent Readings for Nov. 19, 2015

November 19, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 19, 2015

• U.S. releases longtime British captive who was never formally charged with wrongdoing. A small step was taken last week to repair the depressing legacy of the invasion of Afghanistan, a war that I consider to have been completely necessary but handled in suboptimal fashion. Gabrielle Bluestone has the (mostly grim) news for Gawker:

Shaker Aamer, a British citizen who spent more than 13 years in Guantanamo Bay, was freed Friday and is reportedly on his way back to London.

Aamer, the last British Gitmo detainee, was captured by the Northern Alliance in 2001 and eventually turned over to the U.S. on allegations that he had worked as an Al Queda operative in London, associated with Osama bin Laden and led a band of Taliban fighters at Tora Bora. Over the next 13 years, the 46-year-old — who says he was in Afghanistan doing charity work — was subjected to waterboarding, force fed through a nasal feeding tube after coordinating a hunger strike, and held in solitary confinement for years. During that time, his six-by-eight-foot cell reportedly had 24 hour exposure to light and constant noise from a nearby generator.

The British House of Commons had unanimously passed a resolution calling for Aamer’s release.

Bluestone notes that 112 captives remain at the American military installation in Guantanamo Bay, of whom only 10 have been charged with a crime.

• Louisiana is poised to place a Democrat in the governor’s mansion. The Pelican State hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office in seven years, but that may change this Saturday, Campbell Robertson reports. After a bruising primary involving sitting Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter and two GOP rivals, the man tarnished by his association with a 2007 prostitution scandal is trailing a previously unknown Democrat, state Rep. John Bel Edwards, in the gubernatorial race.

• I wasn’t the only person to feel self-satisfied this week when Bobby Jindal abandoned his presidential bid. Robert Mann, the chairman of the journalism department at Louisiana State University, is also a columnist for New Orleans’ Times-Picayune, the largest newspaper in the Pelican State. I cited one of Mann’s critical articles about outgoing Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in a piece I posted in December 2013, which I obliquely referred to yesterday in the first edition of my Patented Pundit Scorecard™. It turns out that Mann, like me, had few qualms about jumping on the “Told you so!” bandwagon, as witnessed by his Salon piece today that carries the headline “Let’s mock Bobby Jindal one last time.”

• But Bobby Jindal wasn’t just a bad candidate; he was also a terrible governor. What many pundits writing postmortems about Jindal’s presidential campaign neglect to mention is that he was, by many accounts and measures, simply a terrible governor — one who blew up the state’s finances and alienated his constituents and allies. Sean Illing has a roundup of some of his lowlights, also at Salon:

1. He entered office with an $865 million surplus and he will exit with a $1.6 billion deficit.

2. Funding for higher education has been cut by more than 80 percent, and the entire system is experiencing a fiscal crisis.
5. The Department of Environmental Quality has been cut by 96 percent (in a state with a rapidly eroding coastline).

6. He rejected a Medicaid expansion in order to protest Obamacare, and thousands of low-income Louisianans remain without health care as a result.
10. He sold out his state to protect BP against legitimate lawsuits. (Side note: Jindal’s brother is a lawyer for the firm representing BP).
12. He signed the Louisiana Science Education Act, which allowed creationism to be taught in science courses at public schools.

Summing up: Louisiana’s outgoing two-term governor leaves behind a frightful legacy. Oh, and by the way, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, a Democrat, served as the state’s governor from 2004 through 2008, and Democrats held both houses of the state legislature for all of those years, while the governor’s mansion and the entire state legislature has been in Republican hands since 2011. (That’s a little something that you can bring up the next time a conservative tries to claim that Republicans belong to the party of fiscal responsibility.)

• One of the 20th century’s greatest writers was in the establishment but not of it. Let’s leave behind Louisiana (and the entire New World, for that matter) to visit not-so-merry old England in the waning days of its empire. James Parker’s review of John le Carré: The Biography in the year-end issue of The Atlantic makes for a fascinating read about one of my favorite authors. As a child, le Carré (real name David Cornwall) had a father much like the monstrous paternal figure Rick Pym in the author’s semi-autobiographical 1986 novel, A Perfect Spy. Even more fascinatingly, le Carré’s trying childhood prefigured the tortured existence of Aileen Philby, wife of Kim Philby, Britain’s most notorious traitor during the Cold War.

Adam Sisman’s new biography contains an amusing anecdote that Parker relays in his review, and which I’ll share here. It concerns:

a rendezvous, in an Austrian saloon, with a Czech airman who has information to sell. Le Carré and a colleague enter the bar and order a couple of beers. When le Carré picks up a pool cue and leans over to make a shot, his gun falls out of his waistband with a clang. “Abort,” says his colleague, between sips of his pint. (Le Carré was a great writer but a mediocre spy — Philby through the looking glass.)

• There’s more concerning news about climate change. Eric Holthaus sums up the alarming data: 

El Niño — a periodic warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean — is the most immediate reason for this year’s global heat wave, but global warming has also been stashing heat in the oceans for decades now. There’s now a 99.9 percent chance that 2015 will be the warmest year on record and most likely by a wide margin.

Fresh data this week show that the current El Niño is now the most intense ever measured, at least on a weekly basis, pushing ahead of huge events in 1982–83 and 1997–98…

Incidentally, as I write this, it’s 70 degrees in Durham, N.C., in mid-November. That information by itself means nothing; the information that scientists keep on presenting week by week and day by day, however, is increasingly frightening.

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