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Afghanistan

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Hounding Private Manning.

“I hoped that the public would be as alarmed as me about the conduct of the aerial weapons team crew members. I wanted the American public to know that not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan are targets that needed to be neutralized, but rather people who were struggling to live in the pressure cooker environment of what we call asymmetric warfare. After the release I was encouraged by the response in the media and general public, who observed the aerial weapons team video. As I hoped, others were just as troubled– if not more troubled that me by what they saw.”

While pleading guilty to 10 of the 22 charges against him, Bradley Manning makes a long and detailed statement about why he gave classified documents to Wikileaks. “The more I read the cables, the more I came to the conclusion that this was the type of information that– that this type of information should become public. I once read a, and used, a quote on open diplomacy written after the First World War and how the world would be a better place if states would avoid making secret pacts and deals with and against each other.”

See also this on Gitmo: “[T]he more I became educated on the topic, it seemed that we found ourselves holding an increasing number of individuals indefinitely that we believed or knew to be innocent, low level foot soldiers that did not have useful intelligence and would be released if they were still held in theater.”

I’m with Glenn Greenwald on this – Bradley Manning should be considered a hero, the Daniel Ellsberg of our day, and the real crime here is how terribly he’s been treated by the powers-that-be for a justifiable act of whistle-blowing. “He knew exactly what he was risking, what he was likely subjecting himself to. But he made the choice to do it anyway because of the good he believed he could achieve, because of the evil that he believed needed urgently to be exposed and combated, and because of his conviction that only leaks enable the public to learn the truth about the bad acts their governments are doing in secret.”

And, for this stand on idealism, we’ve kept Pvt. Manning locked in a cell for 23 hours a day and are (still) threatening him with life in prison. Meanwhile, this town is overrun with glib, useless assholes who don’t care about anyone but themselves, and those guys keep failing up. We hound and imprison our Swartzes and Mannings, while coddling and venerating the Dimons and Blankfeins of this world. Some system.

The War Bubble.

An executive at a small defense contractor recently joked to me, ‘Afghanistan is our business plan.’ I asked him what he would do if the war ended. He stared at me for a moment and said, ‘Well, then I hope we invade Libya.‘”

Proving Chalmers Johnson‘s maxim in Why We Fight that “when war becomes that profitable, you’re going to see more of it,” PBS’s Joshua Foust looks at the economic implications of withdrawal in Afghanistan for our standing army of Hessians defense sub-contractors. “Ten years of war have established a discrete class of entrepreneurs, mid-level workers and administrators who are completely reliant upon the U.S. being at war to stay employed.” I somehow doubt we’ll be freezing their pay anytime soon.

The Dogs of War.


Dogs have been fighting alongside U.S. soldiers for more than 100 years, seeing combat in the Civil War and World War I. But their service was informal; only in 1942 were canines officially inducted into the U.S. Army. Today, they’re a central part of U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan — as of early 2010 the U.S. Army had 2,800 active-duty dogs deployed (the largest canine contingent in the world).

With word that a canine supertrooper helped to take down Bin Laden, Foreign Policy‘s Rebecca Frankel lets slip the dogs of war. (But don’t believe everything you read about titanium teeth. Also, in the interest of equal time, here are the kittehs.)

Mission Accomplished.


For over two decades, bin Laden has been al Qaeda’s leader and symbol, and has continued to plot attacks against our country and our friends and allies. The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al Qaeda. Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must — and we will — remain vigilant at home and abroad.

So, yes, as you may have heard, we finally found Osama Bin Laden, fulfilling a key promise President Obama made during the 2008 campaign. While I would have preferred to see the perpetrator of 9/11 captured alive and brought to trial — cause that’s how we do justice here in the US of A — congrats to the president’s team, the analysts who did the hard work, and the men and women who executed the operation, on finally getting their man.

All that being said, the second half of the president’s statement above is troubling. The death of Bin Laden should mark the beginning of the end of the 9/11 decade. With the splinter finally removed, it is time to take a long hard look not just at our continuing war in Afghanistan — after all, Osama was eventually found in Pakistan, mainly through what the Bunk would call good po-lice work — but at all the questionable and/or extra-constitutional actions we have taken in the name of fighting the terr’ists since September 11th. (Newsflash: Torture had nothing to do with capturing OBL.) If the death of Bin Laden doesn’t move us to this reconsideration, what then ever will?

Unfortunately (and of course), that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening. Instead, Congress is laying the foundation for a wider war: “Contained in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 is a new authorization to use military force that would grant the executive branch the power to ‘address the continuing and evolving threat posed by these groups.’ In practice, that means the president could use military force against any suspected terrorist across the globe — indefinitely.

Indefinite war? No thanks. There’s been an eerie touch of Emmanuel Goldstein in the way Bin Laden was used to justify all manner of extraconstitutional actions and civil liberties violations under Dubya — actions that have been ratified and continued under Obama. Now that the Bogeyman is dead, it’s time to stand down. It’s time to start acting like America again.

Marshes of the Moon.

‘It’s really wet,’ said Anthony Colaprete, co-author of one of the Science papers and a space scientist at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. He and his colleagues estimate that 5.6% of the total mass of the targeted lunar crater’s soil consists of water ice. In other words, 2,200 pounds of moon dirt would yield a dozen gallons of water.

In keeping with recent studies, NASA is set to announce that there appears to be quite a lot of water on the moon, which would greatly facilitate setting up shop there. Alas, “the U.S. likely won’t be involved in manned voyages to the moon anytime soon…But other countries are gearing up. China has pledged to land astronauts on the moon by 2025, and India has plans to do the same by 2020. Japan wants to establish an unmanned moon base in a decade.” And, hey, why go to the moon when you can spend a decade in Afghanistan?

Marjah Under Starlight.


By way of Genehack, the Big Picture’s most recent photo dispatch from Afghanistan includes images that are breath-taking (above), sweeping (shades of A Broken Frame), cinematic, poignant, and just plain sad. (I should really link to TBP more often — this shot from Glastonbury is amazing also.)

The Press in the Tank.

From the early 1930s until the modern story broke in 2004, the newspapers that covered waterboarding almost uniformly called the practice torture or implied it was torture: The New York Times characterized it thus in 81.5% (44 of 54) of articles on the subject and The Los Angeles Times did so in 96.3% of articles (26 of 27). By contrast, from 2002-2008…The New York Times called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture in just 2 of 143 articles (1.4%). The Los Angeles Times did so in 4.8% of articles (3 of 63).

By way of Greenwald and Sullivan, a Harvard study documents exactly how absurdly our national media carried water for the Dubya-era torture regime. “In addition, the newspapers are much more likely to call waterboarding torture if a country other than the United States is the perpetrator.

This story, along with Politico’s gaffetastic reaction to Rolling Stone‘s Michael Hastings doing real journalism on the McChrystal story — (“Hastings would be considered a bigger risk to be given unfettered access, compared with a beat reporter, who would not risk burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal’s remarks” — See also Lara Logan) and Joke Line deeming Glenn Greenwald a traitor because he dared to call unrepentant Iraq war evidence-falsifier Jeff Goldberg a horrible journalist (“Greenwald…so far as I can tell, only regards the United States as a force for evil in the world.“) pretty much tells you everything you need to know about our broken and corrupt Village media. And this is all just in the past week. Rinse and repeat, over and over and over again. (Pic via here.)

Code Orange.

‘They’re snuffing out the America that I grew up in,’ Boehner said. ‘Right now, we’ve got more Americans engaged in their government than at any time in our history. There’s a political rebellion brewing, and I don’t think we’ve seen anything like it since 1776.” In case you missed GOP leader John Boehner’s inadvisable, Barton-like unveiling of his true thoughts this morning, the Minority Leader gave an interview to the Scaife-owned Pittsburgh Tribune, and it’s actually an open question what the dumbest thing he said was. Was it:

1) Arguing that the avarice and fraud-fueled Wall Street meltdown that destroyed 8 million jobs was merely an “ant” Dems were trying to kill with a nuclear weapon? (Say what you will about this financial reform legislation, I wouldn’t call it nuclear-powered.)

2) Suggesting we should fund the highly-suspect-at-this-point war in Afghanistan by forcing Americans to work five more years? or…

3) The pathetic dabbling in Tea Party self-aggrandizement posted above? From what I remember of the history books, 1861 was a pretty banner year for political rebellion. Also, here’s a tip, Mr. Boehner: Read Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland. The Tea Party is not only not a new phenomenon, it’s not even a particularly special one. The only difference now is the media covers these John Birch Society wannabes like they’re actually a real political force in America. For shame.

And I’ve even skipped over stuff like the usual “repeal health care reform” inanities. Once again, the Majority Leader proves that one of the best assets Democrats have going into the fall midterms are the Republicans themselves. They’re just not ready for prime-time anymore, if in fact they ever were.

The Deficit-Witchhunt: The Long Depression.


We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression. It will probably look more like the Long Depression than the much more severe Great Depression. But the cost — to the world economy and, above all, to the millions of lives blighted by the absence of jobs — will nonetheless be immense. And this third depression will be primarily a failure of policy.

They used to tell me I was building a dream…In the NYT, Paul Krugman calls out the deficit peacocks one more time before the wheels come off around the world. “[This is] the victory of an orthodoxy that has little to do with rational analysis, whose main tenet is that imposing suffering on other people is how you show leadership in tough times. And who will pay the price for this triumph of orthodoxy? The answer is, tens of millions of unemployed workers, many of whom will go jobless for years, and some of whom will never work again.

In very related news, from the bowels of the Fed comes a taxpayer-paid response to Krugman, DeLong, and others sounding the alarm about the deficit witchhunt: Quiet, you nasty bloggers! You have not sufficiently mastered our economickal arts! “[W]riters who have not taken a year of PhD coursework in a decent economics department (and passed their PhD qualifying exams), cannot meaningfully advance the discussion on economic policy…[T]here is extremely low likelihood that the speculations of the untrained, on a topic almost pathologically riddled by dynamic considerations and feedback effects, will offer anything new.

Having spent much of the past decade in academe, I’d like to point out that this is a pretty classic overreach by the writer here. I mean, you spend all those years chasing down a degree that’s not particularly useful anymore…there must be some upside to it, right? Am I not now part of the intellectual — in this case, macroeconomic — Elect? No, Mr. Athreya, I’m afraid not. Sometimes people spend so much time examining, say, the myriad variances in an oak leaf (or worse) they miss the forest for the trees.

Update: In an attempt to move past the entitlement-cutting hysteria out and about in DC at the moment, the Center for Economic Policy and Research offers up handy tool: The People’s Deficit Calculator. “The budget options in the calculator include ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, adopting a carbon tax, reduction in the size of the health care subsidies created by the health care reform bill, progressive price indexing of Social Security, adopting a financial speculation tax and others.

Update 2: James K. Galbraith reads the riot act to the deficit witchhunt tribunal. “You are plainly not equipped, either by disposition or resources, to take on the true cause of deficits now or in the future: the financial crisis.

The New “Black Hole”: Bagram.

The bottom line is this: Current procedures under the CSRT are such that a perfectly innocent individual could be held and could not rebut the Government’s case and has no way of proving his innocence. I would like somebody in this Chamber, somebody in this Government, to tell me why this is necessary.Me too, Senator Obama, me too.

In a decisive break with his campaign stances and the best indicator yet that this administration is now happily perpetuating deeply troubling Bush-era policies, the President wins the right to hold detainees indefinitely in Bagram — the difference from the Boumediene decision on Gitmo being that Bagram is a “war zone.” (And Ben Franklin’s admonition aside, that’s an excuse you hear quite a bit these days.)

FWIW, Politico’s Josh Gerstein — while bending over backwards, as per the Village norm, not to call torture “torture” — suggests civil liberties concerns are overblown here, but check out his reasoning: “The Obama administration…has, so far, resisted seeking a full-scale preventive detention law that would apply to future captives. Instead, it has pleaded with civil liberties and human rights groups not to oppose some legal mechanism to allow the continued detention of Al Qaeda captives, at least some of whom may be untriable because of aggressive interrogations many view as torture.

Oh, please. We have to hold them forever because we tortured them? How utterly and completely effed up is that? As Stephen Colbert well put it: “It’s essentially the same stance taken by George Bush. With one important difference: Obama makes the kids like it.

Meet the iRoach.


Right now, soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have to lug around a huge amount of equipment, sometimes weighing over 100 pounds. But the soldiers of the near future may followed by a pack bot that can carry all their gear while gracefully stepping over obstacles. As for giving the robot the ability to lay down some suppressive fire, that’s something the military is understandably skittish about…You know, worldwide robot apocalypse when they inevitably turn on their fleshy masters.

With a word of warning from The Prospect‘s Paul Waldman, Popular Science takes a gander at Boston Dynamics’ LittleDog. “LittleDog doesn’t just traverse the terrain; it learns as it goes, noting what works and what doesn’t and incorporating that knowledge into its foothold scoring system.

No Joy in Kabul.

Things in that unhappy country are going badly — much worse, of course, than Team Obama had to pretend this week but quite a bit worse than even a sensible skeptic might think. And unless Karzai takes to heart the lectures he heard (someone must have given him a stern talking-to amid all the bonhomie), things are only going to get worse still.

After perusing an unclassified DoD report released last month, Slate‘s Fred Kaplan sees ominous trends unfolding in Afghanistan. “[T]he full report is a hair-raiser. The news is almost all bad; and the few bits of good news turn out, on close inspection, to be extremely misleading…[T]he report states, ‘The insurgents perceive 2009 as their most successful year.’

The Widening Green Gap.

The US military is rushing to embrace sustainability. Its primary motive is not ethical. It is trying to keep pace with China in a strategic race to harness clean energy. Any future conflict between superpowers will almost certainly feature eco-weapons and green tactics. The oil-burning Americans are starting to realise how badly they are lagging behind.

In Britain’s New Statesman, John Naish looks at the national security and job implications of our falling behind on green tech. “The more the military thinks about green technology, the more it sees how it goes hand in hand with improving operational effectiveness…Afghanistan is the principal driver for Nato nations. Resupply convoys can be eight miles long and they in effect say: ‘Please hit me with a roadside bomb.’ Up to 60 per cent of the convoys carry fuel and water. If you reduce that need for supply, you save lives.”

See also the “clean energy is a national security issue” argument made by Operation FREE (mainly in terms of Iran and its $100 million a day in oil profits): “‘There’s no greater threat to our national security than our dependence on oil.’ Marine veteran and Operation Free member Matt Victoriano told Kerry.‘” To be honest, I could really do without the implicit saber-rattling involved with some of this argument. But let’s face it, that’s how we got a space program.

The Tyranny of the Bullet (Point).

“‘When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war,’ General McChrystal dryly remarked.” By way of a friend in the office, our military at the highest levels has apparently been infiltrated and subdued by Powerpoint groupthink. “‘PowerPoint makes us stupid,’ Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina…’It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,’ General [H.R.] McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. ‘Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.‘”

The first thing that came to mind when I saw that ungainly graph above: The Daughters of the American Revolution’s “spider chart” in the 1920′s, which aimed to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the women’s peace and disarmament groups of the time were in fact the fifth column of international socialism. What goes around, comes around, I guess.

The Old School Dealmakers.

[L]ong before Hollywood discovered the Texan, he cut a wide swath through the House, always playing the roguish ladies’ man and macho militarist…[His] frequent, much more sober-styled partner was Democratic Rep. John Murtha, the Pennsylvania powerhouse who chaired the defense subcommittee so important to CIA funding for the Afghan cause. And the fact that both have died now within days of each other punctuates the end of a major chapter for the House left behind.

Charlie Wilson, 1933-2010, and John Murtha, 1932-2010.

Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammo.

“‘This is probably the best example of violation of the separation of church and state in this country,’ said Weinstein. ‘It’s literally pushing fundamentalist Christianity at the point of a gun against the people that we’re fighting. We’re emboldening an enemy.’”

I like Saving Private Ryan as much as the next guy, but this, in a word, is ridicky-goddamn-diculous. Apparently, our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are routinely outfitted with sniper rifles etched with New Testament verse. “Trijicon confirmed to ABCNews.com that it adds the biblical codes to the sights sold to the U.S. military. Tom Munson, director of sales and marketing for Trijicon…said the inscriptions ‘have always been there’ and said there was nothing wrong or illegal with adding them. Munson said the issue was being raised by a group that is ‘not Christian.’

Newsflash: Given that we’re currently engaged in multiple wars and are strongly trying to avoid any appearance of being involved in any sort of anti-Muslim Crusade, arming our soldiers with “Jesus rifles” and crafting bible-thumping war reports for the Commander-in-Chief isn’t just catastrophically stupid. It’s basically writing the Al Qaeda recruiting posters for them.

Update: Also, “They started it!” is not an appropriate response to this dismal revelation.

Update 2: Trijicon stands down — Jesus rifles are hereby discontinued, most likely because of quotes like these: “General David Petraeus also addressed the scopes this morning, calling the matter ‘disturbing and a serious concern for me.‘”

Wir sind alle Berliners.

History has led us to a new crossroad, with new promise and new peril. When you, the German people, tore down that wall — a wall that divided East and West; freedom and tyranny; fear and hope — walls came tumbling down around the world. From Kiev to Cape Town, prison camps were closed, and the doors of democracy were opened. Markets opened too, and the spread of information and technology reduced barriers to opportunity and prosperity. While the 20th century taught us that we share a common destiny, the 21st has revealed a world more intertwined than at any time in human history…

Now the world will watch and remember what we do here — what we do with this moment. Will we extend our hand to the people in the forgotten corners of this world who yearn for lives marked by dignity and opportunity; by security and justice? Will we lift the child in Bangladesh from poverty, shelter the refugee in Chad, and banish the scourge of AIDS in our time?

Will we stand for the human rights of the dissident in Burma, the blogger in Iran, or the voter in Zimbabwe? Will we give meaning to the words “never again” in Darfur

Will we acknowledge that there is no more powerful example than the one each of our nations projects to the world? Will we reject torture and stand for the rule of law? Will we welcome immigrants from different lands, and shun discrimination against those who don’t look like us or worship like we do, and keep the promise of equality and opportunity for all of our people?

People of Berlin — people of the world — this is our moment. This is our time.

After stops in Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, and Israel, Sen. Obama takes his message to the heart of Berlin, before a crowd of over 200,000 at the Brandenburg Gate. [Video | Transcript.] As Der Spiegel‘s chief foreign desk editor put it after the speech: “No. 44 has spoken.”

Well, let’s make sure we all do our part on Election Day first. Still, it’s safe to say the Obama World Tour has been knocked out of the park so far. Between this and Iraq’s backing of the Obama plan earlier in the week, McCain’s chances are, at least to my mind, looking downright dismal these days. And whining about the press, a.k.a. the mythical maverick’s former “base”, isn’t going to right the ship for the GOP. Yep, all in all, things are looking pretty good for November…and beyond.

(By the way, when Sen. Obama isn’t making the case for world peace, he’s also got a pretty sweet jumper.)

Ten from the Road.

This is the week that should have effectively ended John McCain’s efforts to become the next president of the United States…During this past week: McCain called the most important entitlement program in the U.S. a disgrace, his top economic adviser called the American people whiners, McCain released an economic plan that no one thought was serious, he flip flopped on Iraq, joked about the deaths of Iranian citizens, and denied making comments that he clearly made — TWICE.” I may have been slacking of late, but others have been keeping up the good fight. By way of Supercres, HuffPo columnist Max Bergmann lists ten campaign-derailing gaffes by John McCain, from last week alone. (So that’s not counting Czechoslovakia, McCain’s switch on Afghanistan, or the unfortunate “ape rape” revelations.) I must say, he really is an astoundingly bad candidate.

Mr. Wilson Goes to Washington.


At one point in Mike Nichols’ smart, surprisingly enjoyable Charlie Wilson’s War, the freewheeling, fun-loving Representative Charles Wilson (Tom Hanks), he of the Texas 2nd Congressional District, tells his schlubby, foul-mouthed partner at the CIA, Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), “You ain’t James Bond.” Deadpans Avrakotos, “You ain’t Thomas Jefferson, so let’s call it even.” True, Bond and Jefferson they’re not, but that’s actually part of the appeal of Nichols’ lively little film. A strangely optimistic, almost Capraesque movie about the covert proxy war in Afghanistan (and, ultimately, the inadvertent role played by the U.S. in fostering the Taliban), Charlie Wilson’s War — adapted by The West Wing‘s Aaron Sorkin from the book by the late George Crile — is no grim, sober-minded edutainment. Moving at a brisk clip and maintaining a light touch — too light, some might argue — throughout, the movie instead depicts how a few (relatively) ordinary, committed people can change the world…provided one of them is sitting on the House Defense Subcommittee, and has stacked up a sizable amount of chits.

When — after a quick flash-forward setup — we first meet Congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks, eschewing the Pvt. Ryan earnestness for his more sardonic Bachelor Party/Volunteers side), he’s lounging in a Vegas hot tub with a coke-snorting television producer, a Playboy bunny, and two strippers. In short, he seems like a out-and-out cad. But there’s something endearing and even statesmanlike about his piqued interest in a 60 Minutes report, playing in the corner, on the mujahideen in Afghanistan. (Maybe it’s the Dan Rather Texas connection.) Delving further into the issue back in Washington, Wilson — exercising the power of his crucial committee position — singlehandedly doubles U.S. funding of the mujahideen from $5 million to $10 million. This by-all-accounts token gesture draws the attention of the wealthy Houston socialite Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts, solid), a woman with money, connections, and a fervent commitment to anticommunism, and she sends Wilson off to Pakistan to meet with President Zia-ul-Haq about the situation in neighboring Afghanistan. There, Wilson is moved to the cause by the sight of a dismal refugee camp, and soon enough, he’s enlisted an important ally in Avrakotos, a profane Langley veteran (Hoffman, showing yet another side after Before the Devil and The Savages this year, and nearly running away with the movie.) Together, these three — Wilson, Herring, Avrakotos (John Rambo’s unique contributions to the cause of Afghan freedom are sadly overlooked — set in motion a scheme not only to increase funding radically for the war but to funnel Soviet weaponry owned by Israel and Egypt to the freedom fighters there. Of course, some delicate diplomacy is required, and, in any case, giving Afghan youths an arsenal of helicopter-slaying RPGs doesn’t seem like such a great an idea in retrospect…

While nodding to the dismal events that follow American intervention in the region, Charlie Wilson’s War hardly dwells on the blowback, or on anything — a few refugee camp horror stories and a Pavel Lychnikoff cameo notwithstanding — that might interrupt its tone of hearty, back-slapping jocularity. (Supporting turns by Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Ned Beatty, Denis O’Hare, John Slattery, and Peter Gerety help speed things along in a comfortable groove.) And yet, however feel-good, Wilson ultimately feels more ripped from the headlines than even the filmmakers could’ve guessed. Some lawmakers have trouble distinguishing between Pakistan and Afghanistan at one point, and Herring begins an introduction of Pakistan’s President by saying, “Zia did not kill Bhutto.” (Leavening the chill that follows this now-eerie moment, Rudy Giuliani and John Murtha also come up at various times as punchlines.)

But, its timeliness and prescience aside, what I found most impressive about Charlie Wilson’s War is how aptly it portrays the feel of Washington. This was somewhat surprising to me as, while I liked Sorkin’s The West Wing decently enough as a TV drama and admired its general idealism about politics, the show always felt rather fake to me. But, be it due to Crile or Sorkin or Nichols, Wilson conveys a lot of the telling details of life inside the Beltway quite well — the hallway horse-trading and neverending quid pro quos, the simultaneous meetings, the bland, institutional cafeterias; the bevy of youngish staffers (and inordinately pretty administrative assistants) on Capitol Hill, the deals crafted over dinner or drinks, the conference calls, the memory holes, myopic thinking, and CYA behavior. Outside of The Wire‘s nuanced take on the compromises of Baltimore city politics, it’s hard to think of a more on-target recent portrayal of the (non-campaigning) political process. Sadly, for Congressman Wilson as for today’s legislators, fiddling with the internal dynamics of far-flung nations we barely understand for short-term gain is All in the Game. Still, as Charlie Wilson’s War proves, don’t let it ever be said that nothing gets done in Washington.

Terror Firma.

A day after Scotland Yard announces it managed to prevent a major terrorist incident (with the help of Pakistan), terror is back on the menu here at home, with the GOP invoking 9/11, 9/11, 9/11 and Lieberman — absolutely wallowing in shamefulness now — actually calling Lamont’s recent victory a boon for plane-bombers. This was a terrifying near-event indeed — were it not for top-notch intel work by British authorities, the world might’ve experienced another horrific day akin to September 11 in very short order. But, look closely, and you’ll find this plot by homegrown British terrorists bears the likely marks of Al Qaeda, which, last I recall, we left somewhere near Afghanistan to go dink around in Iraq. Crossover Joe and the GOP can shout terror to the heavens, but the fact is that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda are more of a threat to us today because of Dubya’s non-sequitur Iraq sideshow. Make no mistake: America is less safe because Dubya and the neocons chose to cut and run in Tora Bora so they could prosecute their war of choice in Baghdad.

Heck of a Job, Sully.

“I do think she is so into this that she sees it from the inside out…And I’m not sure she adequately grasps all the mistakes we have made.” The NYT profiles Meghan O’Sullivan, the deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan. “In Baghdad, American Embassy officials sometimes use the phrase, ‘Let’s not Meghan-ize the problem,’ meaning, let’s not try to impose order on the chaos of Iraq with one of her five-point presentations.” But, to be fair to O’Sullivan, the fellow she’s briefing every day hasn’t shown a propensity for understandiing anything more complex. In fact, five points may be stretching the limits of the presidential curiosity.

Report Card: Incomplete.

By way of a friend, the State Department releases its mandated yearly human rights report for 2005 (here), finding cause for alarm in Iran, Russia, China, Venezuela, Burma, North Korea, Belarus and Zimbabwe and (surprise, surprise) progress in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report doesn’t delve into human rights violations here at home (although China tries to fill that gap in response every year), but it does unequivocally state — in bold, no less — that “countries in which power is concentrated in the hands of unaccountable rulers tend to be the world’s most systematic human rights violators.” Hey y’all might be on to something. Deadpans the head of Amnesty International: “The Bush administration’s practice of transferring detainees in the ‘war on terror’ to countries cited by the State Department for their appalling human rights records actually turns the report into a manual for the outsourcing of torture.”

The Dems Redeploy.

According to the Globe, the Dems are beginning to coalesce around a plan of “strategic redeployment” in Iraq. According to the plan, co-authored by Reagan assistant Defense secretary Lawrence Korb, “all reservists and National Guard members would come home this year. Most of the other troops would be redeployed to other key areas — Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, and the Horn of Africa — with large, quick-strike forces placed in Kuwait, where they could respond to crises in neighboring Iraq.

America Embraces Room 101.

As the Cheney-Addington gang work to strip the Geneva Convention from prisoner treatment manuals, the Washington Post uncovers an overseas network of CIA “black sites,” a.k.a. gulags, some of which actually use old Soviet compounds in Eastern Europe(!) “It is illegal for the government to hold prisoners in such isolation in secret prisons in the United States, which is why the CIA placed them overseas…Legal experts and intelligence officials said that the CIA’s internment practices also would be considered illegal under the laws of several host countries, where detainees have rights to have a lawyer or to mount a defense against allegations of wrongdoing.”

Whatsmore, these gulags, created under this administration since 9/11, “were built and are maintained with congressionally appropriated funds, but the White House has refused to allow the CIA to brief anyone except the House and Senate intelligence committees’ chairmen and vice chairmen on the program’s generalities.” There’s no other way to look at this: By appropriating the tactics of our enemies, as John McCain warned earlier this month, we have abandoned our most fundamental principles and shamed our nation. Evildoers? Please. Dubya need look no further than his own White House and CIA. Update: Congress and the EU want answers.

Dubya Distilled.

Well, with talk of deregulation, privatizing Social Security, tax code “simplification”, anti-gay and pro-life rhetoric, “Hollywood value” and “activist judge” hectoring…all punctuated by that off-putting and consistently out-of-place chimp smirk, you can’t say Dubya didn’t warn us about his plans for a ultra-conservative second term last night. (And for a man who was heroic enough to stop circling Nebraska and venture down to Ground Zero three long days after 9/11, he seemed amazingly ready to bolt-and-run at the sign of one measly protestor.)

Not much was said about Dubya’s first four years in office, of course, aside from 9/11 (9/11, 9/11) and the usual conflation of Al Qaeda and Saddam. But, really, what can he say? Deficits through the roof, the worst jobs record since Herbert Hoover, 1000 men and women dead in a needless diversion of a war…His administration has been an embarrassment of historic proportions. And it is time for him to go. (Dubya video via I’m Just Sayin’.)

Turning up the heat.


Well, I’m a bit behind on this one, but I finally got out of the apartment to catch Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 yesterday afternoon. And the verdict? Well, it’s undoubtedly an extremely powerful piece of cinema. And, judging from the reactions of the afternoon crowd, it looks as if it might do some real good in crystallizing popular discontent with the Bush administration outside of the blog-world echo chamber. Still, even though I know Moore is playing by the rules set by right-wing freak shows like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, I found myself wishing at times that he had played F911 a little straighter. Simply put, Dubya and his cronies are guilty of so much blatant incompetence and documentable malfeasance that it’s disappointing that Moore feels he has to rely on cheapshots and push-button emotions some of the time.

If you’ve been keeping up with pretty much any lefty blog since 2000 (including this one), the central and most powerful allegations made here — that Dubya and the Neocons played bait-and-switch on the American people in Iraq and used 9/11 as a pretext for all kinds of terrible legislation, while doing pathetically little to minimize the actual threat of terrorism — will not come as a surprise. Still, when the data is laid out before you here like ducks in a row, from the Florida fiasco in 2000 through to the recent stonewalling of the 9/11 commission a few weeks ago, the continued pattern of incompetence and mendacity that has characterized this administration becomes unmistakably clear. As the story unfolds, Moore offers plenty of intriguing footage — Bush’s 7 minutes of Pet Goat superfluousness may perhaps be overemphasized by now, but it’s still out-and-out eerie. Equally damning is footage of Dubya at the ranch a month prior to 9/11, in which he has absolutely no clue what his agenda is for the day and, whatsmore, doesn’t seem to much care (particularly when contrasted with his obvious enthusiasm for armadillos exhibited a few scenes later.)

But while there are plenty of blows landed, I ultimately thought that Fahrenheit 9/11 would have been much more impressive if it had focused more closely on the facts and avoided the more obvious attempts at sentiment. For example, instead of examining in detail the clear civil liberties transgressions occurring at the Gitmo Gulag and elsewhere under the Patriot Act, or noting the discrepancies in its enforcement (no gun checks?) under Attorney General-cum-balladeer John Ashcroft, Moore spends too much time interviewing an aging weightlifter and various Fresno peace activists — all of whom have run afoul of goofy anti-terrorist inquiries — for laughs. Similarly, instead of talking about Dubya’s spiking of the Nunn-Lugar act or his continued cutting of First Responder funding, the film dinks around Western Oregon with two underfunded deputies – as a result, I thought the larger point about Bush’s failure to protect the homeland was lost.

As the film moves overseas, the problems with F911 become more evident. Regarding the war in Afghanistan, Moore talks about a proposed UNOCAL pipeline to the exclusion of virtually anything else, which I think invites charges of shrillness (Exhibit A: The Bonanza riff) and blurs one of the most serious charges against this administration – that it gave up a chance to catch Osama Bin Laden in order to play regime change in Iraq. Speaking of Baghdad, I think Moore would have done better to talk more about missing WMD and lies to the UN and spent less time with Lila Lipscomb, the mother of a deceased US soldier. This last section of the film is undeniably powerful, but it also feels extremely manipulative, particularly as it’s hard to envision very many situations where a mother’s grief wouldn’t be harrowing to behold. (The same goes for the grisly scenes of charred bodies and horrifically wounded Iraqi children.)

Still, what do I know? Perhaps Fahrenheit 9/11 needs these human touches to get its point across to a larger audience, a goal which it so far seems to be accomplishing with great aplomb. The fact is, Michael Moore can undoubtedly be a blowhard with grating populist pretensions, but if we had any semblance of a functioning national media these days, Fahrenheit 9/11 would have been a non-event. In the absence of anything like an independently critical television press, and given the existence of such a well-oiled, well-funded right-wing propaganda machine these days, perhaps somebody out there had to co-opt conservative talk-radio techniques to get the message out. I’m more of a “destroy the ring” than a “use the ring” kinda guy, but, as I said, what do I know? I could write in this space a hundred times over and still never reach an infinitesimal fraction of the people who will see this film and be newly angered by the idiotic and unethical behavior of this administration.

In short, if a picture is worth a 1000 words, this film is worth 10,000 blogs – by stringing so many of the Bush-bashing beads together in such entertaining and moving fashion, Fahrenheit 9/11 should bring the heart of the anti-Dubya critique right to the Heartland. I just wish it had covered its flank a little better by sticking to the cold, hard facts about the national embarrassment of historic proportions that is George W. Bush, rather than indulging every so often in cheap laughs and reflexive sentiment.

Better Bombing Through Chemistry.

Giving new meaning to the term “War on Drugs,” the Air Force is giving pilots uppers and downers for bombing raids. If it’s anything stronger than a Red Bull, it’s probably not a good idea, as no doubt many Afghan civilians can attest. (Via Genehack.)

The Complicated American.

What the World Thinks of America, from Gary Kamiya of Salon (premium). A fascinating read.

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