Some days Web links are like popcorn, coming fast and short, more than you can catch. Other days not so much. Today is one of those slow days, perfect for reading if you don't have too many interruptions. It's not yet noon and already I can recommend these:
► The $200K lesson I learned from getting shot
How a health insurance check sent 6 hours before being shot saved my life. And what it means for you (and America)
By Brian Beutler, via Salon
This is not long and is exactly what the subtitle says, the story of how getting health insurance at the last minute (six hours, actually) before getting shot protected one invincible young man from sure bankruptcy. The medical bills amounted to two-hundred grand.
At a time when opponents to Obamacare are suggesting the truly nutty idea that young people really don't need insurance, this is a timely message.That's not the exact message, of course, but since Obamacare provides a path for lower premiums for young people for better insurance than in the past... you know the rest.
It may seem odd for an old Liberal like me to recommend reading anything about one of the most colorful super-Conservatives in Washington, but this guy's influential enough that everybody needs to pay attention. This article is something of a soft hit piece, including just enough edgy material to keep it from being nakedly mean. But describing Ted Cruz without including some of his more colorful qualities would be like describing Donald Trump without mentioning his famous hair.
[...] Cruz, 42, arrived in Washington in January as the ultimate conservative purist, a hero to both salt-of-the-earth Tea Partiers and clubby GOP think-tankers, and since then he has come to the reluctant but unavoidable conclusion that he is simply more intelligent, more principled, more right—in both senses of the word—than pretty much everyone else in our nation's capital. That alone isn't so outrageous for the Senate. "Every one of these guys thinks he's the smartest guy in the room," one senior Democratic aide told me. "But Cruz is utterly incapable of cloaking it in any kind of collegiality. He's just so brazen."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Ted Cruz doesn't look much like a wacko bird. With his pomaded black hair and trim suits—the kind you might expect on a former partner at an international law firm, say, or the husband of a Goldman Sachs executive—the more appropriate avian metaphor would seem to be a peacock. He doesn't sound much like a wacko bird, either. Cruz is a dazzling orator, speaking not merely in precise sentences but complete paragraphs—no teleprompter, sometimes not even a podium—and name-dropping everyone from Reagan to Rawls (as in John, the late Harvard philosopher).
But as Cruz and his supporters define it, "wacko bird" describes more of a state of mind. Or as Cruz put it on the Senate floor a few weeks before my visit, in the midst of yet another fight with McCain, this time over the rules for negotiating a budget: "It has been suggested that those of us who are fighting to defend liberty—fighting to turn around the out-of-control spending and out-of-control debt in this country, fighting to defend the Constitution, it has been suggested that we are wacko birds. Well, if that is the case, I will suggest to my friend from Arizona, there may be more wacko birds in the Senate than is suspected."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Princeton turned out to be as alien to Cruz as Austin had been to his father some thirty years earlier: "I did not know anybody there; I didn't know anybody who had gone there." Like his father, he needed to earn tuition money. Unlike his father, he didn't do it by washing dishes. He got a job with the Princeton Review, teaching test-prep classes.
The elite academic circles that Cruz was now traveling in began to rub off. As a law student at Harvard, he refused to study with anyone who hadn't been an undergrad at Harvard, Princeton, or Yale. Says Damon Watson, one of Cruz's law-school roommates: "He said he didn't want anybody from 'minor Ivies' like Penn or Brown."
By Dexter Filkins via The New Yorker
If you don't know enough about Qassem Suliemani or if that is a name you don't remember, this ten-thousand word tour de force will bring you up to speed. This is a heavy slog for anyone with a shallow background in recent histories of the Middle East, but it has valuable glimpses into what some call the back channels of international diplomacy. This is highly recommended reading.
Suleimani was born in Rabor, an impoverished mountain village in eastern Iran. When he was a boy, his father, like many other farmers, took out an agricultural loan from the government of the Shah. He owed nine hundred toman—about a hundred dollars at the time—and couldn’t pay it back. In a brief memoir, Suleimani wrote of leaving home with a young relative named Ahmad Suleimani, who was in a similar situation. “At night, we couldn’t fall asleep with the sadness of thinking that government agents were coming to arrest our fathers,” he wrote. Together, they travelled to Kerman, the nearest city, to try to clear their family’s debt. The place was unwelcoming. “We were only thirteen, and our bodies were so tiny, wherever we went, they wouldn’t hire us,” he wrote. “Until one day, when we were hired as laborers at a school construction site on Khajoo Street, which was where the city ended. They paid us two toman per day.” After eight months, they had saved enough money to bring home, but the winter snow was too deep. They were told to seek out a local driver named Pahlavan—“Champion”—who was a “strong man who could lift up a cow or a donkey with his teeth.” During the drive, whenever the car got stuck, “he would lift up the Jeep and put it aside!” In Suleimani’s telling, Pahlavan is an ardent detractor of the Shah. He says of the two boys, “This is the time for them to rest and play, not work as a laborer in a strange city. I spit on the life they have made for us!” They arrived home, Suleimani writes, “just as the lights were coming on in the village homes. When the news travelled in our village, there was pandemonium.”
As a young man, Suleimani gave few signs of greater ambition. According to Ali Alfoneh, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, he had only a high-school education, and worked for Kerman’s municipal water department. But it was a revolutionary time, and the country’s gathering unrest was making itself felt. Away from work, Suleimani spent hours lifting weights in local gyms, which, like many in the Middle East, offered physical training and inspiration for the warrior spirit. During Ramadan, he attended sermons by a travelling preacher named Hojjat Kamyab—a protégé of Khamenei’s—and it was there that he became inspired by the possibility of Islamic revolution.
In 1979, when Suleimani was twenty-two, the Shah fell to a popular uprising led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the name of Islam. Swept up in the fervor, Suleimani joined the Revolutionary Guard, a force established by Iran’s new clerical leadership to prevent the military from mounting a coup. Though he received little training—perhaps only a forty-five-day course—he advanced rapidly. As a young guardsman, Suleimani was dispatched to northwestern Iran, where he helped crush an uprising by ethnic Kurds.
When the revolution was eighteen months old, Saddam Hussein sent the Iraqi Army sweeping across the border, hoping to take advantage of the internal chaos. Instead, the invasion solidified Khomeini’s leadership and unified the country in resistance, starting a brutal, entrenched war. Suleimani was sent to the front with a simple task, to supply water to the soldiers there, and he never left. “I entered the war on a fifteen-day mission, and ended up staying until the end,” he has said. A photograph from that time shows the young Suleimani dressed in green fatigues, with no insignia of rank, his black eyes focussed on a far horizon. “We were all young and wanted to serve the revolution,” he told an interviewer in 2005.
Suleimani earned a reputation for bravery and élan, especially as a result of reconnaissance missions he undertook behind Iraqi lines. He returned from several missions bearing a goat, which his soldiers slaughtered and grilled. “Even the Iraqis, our enemy, admired him for this,” a former Revolutionary Guard officer who defected to the United States told me. On Iraqi radio, Suleimani became known as “the goat thief.” In recognition of his effectiveness, Alfoneh said, he was put in charge of a brigade from Kerman, with men from the gyms where he lifted weights.
In the chaotic days after the attacks of September 11th, Ryan Crocker, then a senior State Department official, flew discreetly to Geneva to meet a group of Iranian diplomats. “I’d fly out on a Friday and then back on Sunday, so nobody in the office knew where I’d been,” Crocker told me. “We’d stay up all night in those meetings.” It seemed clear to Crocker that the Iranians were answering to Suleimani, whom they referred to as “Haji Qassem,” and that they were eager to help the United States destroy their mutual enemy, the Taliban. Although the United States and Iran broke off diplomatic relations in 1980, after American diplomats in Tehran were taken hostage, Crocker wasn’t surprised to find that Suleimani was flexible. “You don’t live through eight years of brutal war without being pretty pragmatic,” he said. Sometimes Suleimani passed messages to Crocker, but he avoided putting anything in writing. “Haji Qassem’s way too smart for that,” Crocker said. “He’s not going to leave paper trails for the Americans.”
Before the bombing began, Crocker sensed that the Iranians were growing impatient with the Bush Administration, thinking that it was taking too long to attack the Taliban. At a meeting in early October, 2001, the lead Iranian negotiator stood up and slammed a sheaf of papers on the table. “If you guys don’t stop building these fairy-tale governments in the sky, and actually start doing some shooting on the ground, none of this is ever going to happen!” he shouted. “When you’re ready to talk about serious fighting, you know where to find me.” He stomped out of the room. “It was a great moment,” Crocker said.
The coöperation between the two countries lasted through the initial phase of the war. At one point, the lead negotiator handed Crocker a map detailing the disposition of Taliban forces. “Here’s our advice: hit them here first, and then hit them over here. And here’s the logic.” Stunned, Crocker asked, “Can I take notes?” The negotiator replied, “You can keep the map.” The flow of information went both ways. On one occasion, Crocker said, he gave his counterparts the location of an Al Qaeda facilitator living in the eastern city of Mashhad. The Iranians detained him and brought him to Afghanistan’s new leaders, who, Crocker believes, turned him over to the U.S. The negotiator told Crocker, “Haji Qassem is very pleased with our coöperation.”
The good will didn’t last. In January, 2002, Crocker, who was by then the deputy chief of the American Embassy in Kabul, was awakened one night by aides, who told him that President George W. Bush, in his State of the Union Address, had named Iran as part of an “Axis of Evil.” Like many senior diplomats, Crocker was caught off guard. He saw the negotiator the next day at the U.N. compound in Kabul, and he was furious. “You completely damaged me,” Crocker recalled him saying. “Suleimani is in a tearing rage. He feels compromised.” The negotiator told Crocker that, at great political risk, Suleimani had been contemplating a complete reëvaluation of the United States, saying, “Maybe it’s time to rethink our relationship with the Americans.” The Axis of Evil speech brought the meetings to an end. Reformers inside the government, who had advocated a rapprochement with the United States, were put on the defensive. Recalling that time, Crocker shook his head. “We were just that close,” he said. “One word in one speech changed history.”
Qassem Suleimani and Sean Connery in Hunt for Red October. I tweet, you decide: pic.twitter.com/cVc7UBxM49
— Will McCants (@will_mccants) September 24, 2013
Terry Gross interviewed Dexter Filkins on Fresh Air Wednesday, October 25'
Excellent and engaging as usual and highly recommended.
Meet The Iranian Commander Pulling Strings In Syria's War
September 25, 2013
This is about 45 minutes long.