Weekly Update November 15th, 2015

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Why John Kerry and the French president are calling ISIS "Daesh"
by  and 

In his statement describing the Paris attacks as an "act of war" against France, President François Hollande said the war "was waged by a terrorist army, a jihadist army, by Daesh, against France."

John Kerry also referred to Daesh in Vienna at an international conference on Syria. This is not a term most Americans are familiar with, but it's part of a larger dispute — largely between western governments and western media outlets — over how to refer to the group we call ISIS. One that puts the strategic agenda of governments against the goals of clear communication.

A short guide to ISIS's many names

There are, broadly speaking, four things that people call the group: ISIS, ISIL, the Islamic State, or Daesh. This is largely ISIS's fault; a big reason the group has so many names is that it keeps changing it.

When the group's predecessor organization was created in 1999, it was called Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, which means Unity and Jihad. In 2004, the group's founder, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, pledged an oath to al-Qaeda, changing his group's name to Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn — or, as it was called in English, al-Qaeda in Iraq.

After AQI took over huge swaths of Iraq in 2006, the organization declared itself to be a state in northern Iraq, and started calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq. When it took a bunch of territory in Syria in 2013, it began calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham — ISIS.

Al-Sham is a difficult-to-translate Arabic term referring to a specific geographic area along the eastern Mediterranean that includes Syria. Some English speakers translate al-Sham as "the Levant," which refers to a broader region in the Middle East that generally overlaps with al-Sham. This is how you get ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), as the White House and others call it. Others still approximate al-Sham to Syria, which yields the same ISIS acronym.

The full name in Arabic is transliterated like this: al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Iraq wa al-Sham — which produces the acronym DAIISH (usually spelled Daesh in English). That sounds an awful lot like the Arabic word "dahes," which the Guardian translates as "one who sows discord." ISIS kind of hates this insulting connotation, and so banned the name "Daesh" in its territory.

But it doesn't use ISIS either. Crucially, the group now claims to be a caliphate — that is, the successor of the original seventh-century founding Islamic nation. As such, it dropped the geographic identifiers from its name, and simply calls itself "the Islamic State."

Read more at Vox.
Terror in Paris: What we know so far
By Jethro Mullen, Paul Armstrong and Don Melvin

Investigations into the series of terrorist attacks that killed more than 120 people in Paris are moving forward, with people taken into custody and two of the gun-wielding suicide bombers identified.

French President Francois Hollande has blamed the Islamic extremist group ISIS for the wave of violence Friday that put parts of Paris under siege. He called the coordinated attacks on restaurants, bars, a concert hall and a sports stadium "an act of war."

ISIS claimed responsibility for the massacres in a statement that said eight of its militants wearing explosive belts and armed with machine guns attacked selected targets across the city.

It was the deadliest terrorist attack in Europe since the Madrid train bombings of 2004, in which 191 people died.

To find out more, please visit CNN.

Tell Scott Walker to veto two bad bills

So much for the Wisconsin Senate sticking up for good-government principles.

The Republican-run Senate caved last weekend to the Assembly’s demands for weak oversight of state election and ethics rules.

The only hope now, as the Assembly prepares to send two bad bills to the governor Monday, is a pair of vetoes. Unfortunately, Gov. Scott Walker has shown little interest in preserving a nonpartisan and independent GAB to settle partisan disputes over campaign tactics and spending. The governor, it appears, would rather put the politicians in charge of policing themselves.

We hope we’re wrong about his intensions. The public this week should encourage Gov. Walker to veto Assembly Bill 387 and Assembly Bill 388, given the significant damage these two pieces of legislation would do to clean and transparent government in Wisconsin.

Read more at Wisconsin State Journal.

Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin break the ice; hold coffee-table summit in Turkey

US President Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin of Russia huddled on Sunday for a coffee-table summit, breaking the ice for the first time since Moscow launched air bombardments in Syria. Sitting in leather armchairs on opposite sides of a small table, the pair leaned forward in animated talks on the sidelines of a summit in Turkey's Mediterranean resort of Antalya, state television showed.

According to Russian news agencies, the pair met for 20 minutes. The two heads of state held the summit in an unlikely venue, nearby a potted palm tree as other delegates wandered by and security agents partially obstructed the view of the television camera. 

Obama, who was gesturing to reinforce his points, and Putin were flanked at the coffee table by White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice and another unidentified man, apparently a translator. None of the content of the conversation was divulged to the journalists covering the summit.

Hours earlier, the former Cold War foes shook hands as they took places for a family photograph of the Group of 20 top world economies, a summit now dominated by the Paris bombing and shooting assault, which killed 129 people. It was Obama and Putin's first meeting since Russia launched its declared anti-Islamic State air bombardment in Syria at the end of September. The West suspects the campaign is really aimed at propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Relations between the two powers have deteriorated, in particular over Russia's backing for pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine and now its air campaign in Syria, launched just after Putin's last meeting with Obama in New York in September. But world leaders gathered in Turkey are seeking to put aside differences to deliver a united message against extremist attacks.

"We will only be able to deal with the terrorist threat... if all the international community unites its efforts," Putin said before his meeting with Obama.

Read more at DNA.
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2nd Democratic Debate

Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley Hosted by CBS. Face The Nation host John Dickerson and CBS’ Nancy Cordes are the co-moderators for the November 14th, 2015 Democratic Debate on CBS, joined by Kathie Obradovich and Kevin Cooney

Watch the full debate here.

Why aren't conservative intellectuals disgusted with the GOP?
By Damon Linker

Partisan liberals might consider it an oxymoron, but there is such a thing as a conservative intellectual. Indeed, I used to be one.

Though I've moved away from the right since those days, I maintain many friendships with highly educated, impressively smart conservatives. Their number is many, their intellects mighty. This column is directed at them, because there's something I genuinely don't understand.

I can't grasp how an intelligent, well-read man or woman, regardless of ideological commitments, could watch the Republican debate in Milwaukee on Tuesday night and not come away disgusted. I certainly did. It was a familiar feeling.

I began to experience it regularly in the run-up to the Iraq War. That disgust propelled my leftward migration over the following years, and it's intensified since the rise of the populist insurgency known as the Tea Party.

Somehow, my friends on the right don't seem to hear anything troubling, anything intellectually offensive emanating from the mouths of the Republican candidates. And I just don't get it.

I don't just mean the obvious stuff. You know, the unprovoked and petty anti-intellectualism of Marco Rubio denigrating philosophers by contrasting them unfavorably to welders (and presumably people who work at other skilled trades as well). Or Rand Paul's nonsensical, conspiratorial musings about the Federal Reserve. Or Donald Trump's xenophobic promises to build a 2,000-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and round up and deport eleven million undocumented immigrants. (If they're undocumented, how will we find them? House to house sweeps by armed agents of the state through poor and heavily Latino neighborhoods? That's either absurdly unfeasible, as Jeb Bush and John Kasich pointed out, or a program for American fascism.)

And neither do I merely mean the dumpsters full of dubious assertions that are by now so deeply embedded in conservative ideology that every candidate tosses them out without making even the most cursory effort to bolster them with facts. Like the claim that America's relatively slow growth rate in recent years is a product of our tax burden (when in fact tax rates were considerably higher during the high-growth decades following World War II). Or the related contention that taxes can be drastically cut without massively increasing the budget deficit because the cuts will spur such enormous growth that tax revenues will actually increase. Or the endlessly repeated alliterative vow that ObamaCare will be "repealed and replaced," while neglecting to admit, let alone defend, the fact that the replacements favored by the GOP candidates would almost certainly leave millions of those currently covered by the Affordable Care Act without insurance.

Actually, that's more than enough to leave me pretty disgusted.

And yet, at Tuesday's debate, there were so many other things that got me going more than usual. I'm talking about specific policy proposals that amounted to nothing more than transparent nonsense. Maybe a credulous viewer with no knowledge of history, public policy, economics, or how the government actually works could respond to these proposals with a nod and a cheer. But informed viewers? Educated men and women of the right? Conservative intellectuals? They should know better — and know enough to realize when they're being sold, or helping to sell, a bucket of BS.

The appropriate response to someone attempting to turn you into the victim of a hoax or a swindle is anger. It's insulting to be treated like a sucker, a chump. And yet, my conservative intellectual friends appear not to be bothered in the least.

And that I just don't understand.

Here are three concrete examples from Tuesday's debate of Republican candidates doing their best PT Barnum imitation.

1. More than once in the debate, Carly Fiorina proposed reducing the federal tax code — not the forms ordinary citizens use to file their taxes, but the body of laws that govern taxation in the United States — to three pages. From its current length of more than 74,000 pages. (The actual code amounts to something closer to 3,000 pages, with the rest taken up by supporting material, but let's leave that aside.)

Now, could the tax code be shortened and simplified? I'm sure it could be! Maybe we could go back to its length in 1984 (26,300 pages). Or even to its size at the end of World War II (8,200 pages), when the population stood at 140 million people and the economy was many times smaller and vastly less complex than it is now. But no: Fiorina wants us to believe the code can be shrunk to three pages. Which is obviously, indisputably, offensively ludicrous. How can conservative intellectuals be anything but outraged by such hucksterism?

Originally published at The Week.

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