Saturday, October 31, 2009

Former Marine Captain: Time to Come Home


A former Marine captain who became the first foreign service official to publicly resign in protest over the war in Afghanistan says staying in the country is not in America's interest.

"The losses of our soldiers do not merit anything that comes in line with our strategic interests or values," Matthew Hoh, who signed on as a foreign service official in Afghanistan after fighting in Iraq, tells NPR's Melissa Block.

Hoh resigned last month after spending five working months in Afghanistan. In his resignation letter, he said he had "lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purpose of the United States' presence in Afghanistan."

Hoh says he is more concerned about why the U.S. is in Afghanistan than debating Gen. Stanley McChrystal's views or those of others in Washington. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has asked for an additional 40,000 troops, a request President Obama is considering.

"I prefer to keep talking about: Is it worth winning?" Hoh says. "Is it worth losing more lives? And is it worth spending billions of dollars that, frankly, this country does not have?"

In his long resignation letter to the State Department, Hoh says the U.S. has not understood the true nature of the Afghan insurgency, and he uses the word "valleyism" to describe much of the insurgency there.

"In Afghanistan, everything is much more localized," Hoh tells NPR. "Allegiance is to your family, and then to your village or your valley, and that's what they fight for.

"There has not been a traditional central government there and I don't believe a central government is wanted, and actually, I believe, they fight the central government just as much as they fight the foreign occupiers," he adds.

In his letter, Hoh says families must be reassured their dead have sacrificed for a "purpose worthy of futures lost, love vanished, and promised dreams unkept. I have lost confidence such assurances can anymore be made." He says it was difficult for him to write that.

"But I don't believe we should continue losing and sacrificing our young men and women for goals that meet no strategic purpose to the United States," he tells NPR. "And the idea that we should continue fighting there just because we have been fighting there for the last eight years I think is completely irrational."

Hoh dismisses concerns, raised by others such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will prompt a Taliban comeback and, consequently, a return of al-Qaida. He says after al-Qaida lost its Afghan safe haven following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the group evolved its strategy, looking beyond a political or geographical boundary.

"They are not looking for a safe haven in Afghanistan. They don't need that," he says. "They've already got safe havens in half a dozen other countries — Somalia, Sudan, Yemen."

More to the point, he says, the vast majority of attackers in al-Qaida's successful operations, including Sept. 11, are not from the ethnic Pashto belt of Afghanistan or Pakistan. They are, in fact, from the West and the Persian Gulf states. The continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan only reinforces al-Qaida's message, and causes people to want to fight the West and to join its ranks, he says.

Read the rest here.

Stewart on Fox

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Jon Stewart and the Daily Show do more to expose the stupidity of the village than anyone else. I know Fox News is biased. Everyone with a brain knows that.

I wish they didn't exist, but if you want freedom of speech you have to put up with jackasses like Beck, O'Reilly and Hannity.

Just don't call yourself a news organization, and don't pretend to be "fair and balanced".

And if Fox News isn't really news, than what is it? It's pretty much just a spokesperson for the Republicans. And if the Obama administration got into an argument with the Republican Party, no one would care.

It's called politics, people.

Arrest the Naked Pumpkin People!


BOULDER, Colo. -- This city has always taken pride in its liberal-to-the-point-of-loony reputation. But this Halloween, one of its wackiest traditions is under siege: the Naked Pumpkin Run.

The event is exactly what its name implies. Scores of men and women pour into downtown streets for a late-night jog, wearing not a stitch between the jack-o'-lanterns on their heads and the sneakers on their feet.

For nearly a decade, naked pumpkin runners did their thing unmolested, stampeding through the frigid dark past crowds of admirers who hooted, hollered and tossed candy. But last year the run attracted more than 150 participants, and Police Chief Mark Beckner fears things are getting out of hand. "It's a free-for-all," he says.

So he intends to stop it.

He will station more than 40 officers on the traditional four-block route tonight, with two SWAT teams patrolling nearby. All have orders to arrest gourd-topped streakers as sex offenders.

150 naked people running. With pumpkins on their heads. And the Boulder police chief decide he needs 40 cops and two swat teams, and that he plans on arresting everyone that runs. Since Boulder has no public nudity ordinance, this jackass of a cop cast around for the nearest excuse to ruin people's lives and found a state statute which will allow him to charge the runners as sex offenders.

As pathetically stupid as all this sounds, it could get worse. Boulder's police department has tasers, and they aren't afraid to use them. And in case you haven't heard, Tasers can kill.

I Thought Democracy Is What We're Dying For

This was just reported today:

NYT, KABUL, Afghanistan — Abdullah Abdullah, the chief rival to President Hamid Karzai, plans to announce on Sunday his decision to withdraw from the Nov. 7 Afghan runoff election, handing a new five-year term to Mr. Karzai but potentially damaging the government’s credibility, according to Western diplomats here and people close to Mr. Abdullah.

But Mr. Abdullah seemed to be keeping his options open until the last second, as he has done through the Afghan political crisis. Those close to him, speaking on condition of anonymity on Saturday, said Mr. Abdullah was still trying to decide whether to publicly denounce Mr. Karzai, whom he has accused of stealing the Aug. 20 election, or to step down without a fight.

American and other Western diplomats said they were worried that a defiant statement by Mr. Abdullah could lead to violence and undermine Mr. Karzai’s legitimacy, and they were urging him to bow out gracefully. Obama administration officials have scrambled for weeks to end the deadlock, trying to ensure a smooth government transition as President Obama weighs whether to increase the American military presence in Afghanistan.

Karzai is as corrupt as they come. He tried to steal this election.

And the reaction of the United States is to encourage his opponent to just accept the fraud, and get over it.

Remember this?

Here's Neo-Con John Bolton, writing on June 15 in Politico about the Iranian elections:

Instead of continuing to play by the mullahs’ rules, Iranians across the board must resolve to change not just the rules but the entire system, overthrowing the Revolution and its superstructure and creating institutions that truly allow for representative government. That would be “change” we could believe in.

John McCain, June 15 2009:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Monday called the recent reelection of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a “sham” and criticized President Barack Obama’s administration for not voicing strong opposition to the election’s result.

“The reaction of the Iranian people shows their discontent with this regime,” McCain said during an interview on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.”

“It’s really a sham that they've pulled off and I hope that we will act,” he said.

The neocon outrage was palpable. Where is that outrage now, when the United States and it's allies are complicit in defrauding the Afghan people, and helping to keep a corrupt, opportunistic politician like Karzai in office just because it's convenient to us?

I suppose this proves that we're not there for nation-building.

The Hanging Judge

Cameron Todd Willingham was put to death in 2004 after being convicted of setting a fire that killed his daughters. The arson investigation has since been entirely discredited by the leading arson investigators in the country, and it is now apparent to anyone with a brain that an innocent man was executed. I've written more about the case and investigation here, here, here, and here.

Nightline recently interviewed some of the people involved in this story.

From the interview with John Jackson, who prosecuted Willingham, and who is now judge:

Nightline's Terry Moran: You would agree that this report, from the Texas Forensic Science Commision, call into very serious question the methodology, and the way, this arson investigation-

Jackson: Without question.

Moran: ...That it really has a problem.

Jackson: That the techniques used were flawed.

Moran: Deeply.

Jackson: Yes...Some of the evidence is certainly less than, less credible than I would have liked to see.

Moran: And doesn't that give you pause at all, about sending a man to death?

Jackson: Not a man like Todd....The best evidence to me is not the investigation of the arson, the best evidence that I believe I presented was the, uh, prior attempts of Todd Willingham to kill his children.

Moran: He beat his wife when she was pregnant, therefore he killed his children in the fire?

Jackson: I think that's the major factor that most finders of facts such as jurors would consider.

Even Willingham's wife testified that he would never have hurt their children. Nor was there ever any evidence that he had tried to harm or kill his children. Jackson is just lying here, and he knows it.

Here's Jackson again, talking about the burn marks on the floor, which seem pretty random.

Jackson: It's perhaps a pentagram kind of a figure, ah, that some people accosiate with devil worship, that sort of thing.

Moran: You think that, that Todd Willingham poured accelerant in the shape of a pentagram, some sort of devil worship thing?

Jackson: I think that's very possible, and I think that's very likely.

Moran (obviously stunned): It's likely?

Jackson: Yes.

Moran: Based on the fact that he liked heavy metal and Iron Maiden, and liked metal rock groups that use skulls, and those kind of imagery, that makes him a devil worshipper?

Jackson: No, it does not make him, but it makes him more likely that he is a devil worshipper, or that he is obsessed with, ah, ah, Satan-like figures and that sort of thing.

Moran: And that would...that's evidence that he killed his children.

Jackson: Uh, that's certainly one factor that, that, uh, a finder of fact could consider.

Which would make half of the teenage boys in America in 1991 devil worshippers, and by, extension, child killers, apparently.

Here's Jackson talking about how he felt that Willingham's angry refusal to admit that he killed his children in exchange for a life sentence, was evidence that he was guilty.

Jackson: I think it's a response to his belief that, uh, a life sentence for him would be, uh, worse than a death penalty.

Isn't it also possible that he just was telling the truth when he said that, "I will never plead guilty to something I didn't do, especially killing my kids"?

Jackson: Uh, I don't think it's a very good possibillity that Todd Willingham ever told the truth to anybody, about anything. He's- he was one of the most completely manipulative individuals that you'd ever hope to find. (Pause) He's still manipulating us from the grave!

Paranoia. Irrational fear of things you don't know anything about, like heavy metal. Refusal to change one's mind in light of new information.

I think we got us a conservative here, boys!

Jackson is still in denial:

Moran: They say the conclusions reached by the investigators are not warranted by modern fire science, and are based on primitive, old wives tales...fold lore.

Jackson: It's not to say that they're not correct though.

Moran: You send a man to death on that.

Jackson: I'm comfortable with that.

Moran: Beyond a reasonable doubt?

Jackson: Beyond a doubt.

This man is still a judge in Texas. Is there any way on earth, after reading that, that you could expect a fair trial in front of this judge?


Here's Doug Fogg, the original arson investigator who decided that the fire was arson, explaining that all the tests and studies that have been done show him to be wrong:

Fogg: And, they gonna take it to these labs, and, blah, blah, blah, try and disapprove it. Well, I'll take it to a lab and disapprove it. But, ah, come to the real word sometime. Go out and let the beasts get ahold of you.

I don't even know what this statement means. In the real world, where they actually ran experiments, Fogg's theories of arson have be proven to be bullshit.

Update 2

Here are the actual interviews:

This Is Going to Cost More Than Health Care Would

Here's another reason why the billions of dollars in bonuses that financial companies like Goldman Sachs are paying out should really piss you off.

Unlike profits that, say, a technology company makes, the bonuses will never be re-invested in research, or more production (jobs), and anything else productive. They'll just be given to executives and traders who can use them to buy that important 3rd mansion or 4th yacht.

And, of course, all that money is being made by banks who are gambling with your taxpayer money, which is being provided free of charge by the government, a government which is owned by those very banks.

Of course, when you give all the money in the economy to banks, who gamble with it, there is none left for companies who might actually do something with it, like make things, and create jobs.

And when you let banks gamble with your money, and tell them they get to keep the winnings and stick you with the losses, you can't really be surprised when they do it. Of course, eventually the dice will come up wrong, and taxpayers will be on the hook for it. But by the time the banks fail again, these traders and executives will already have their bonuses.

You'll just have the bill.

A Billion Here, A Billion There

From WSJ:

The $2.3 billion in taxpayer money spent to save CIT Group Inc. is likely to be wiped out, as the lender prepares to file for bankruptcy protection in a high-stakes restructuring plan aimed at keeping the firm in business.

People familiar with the plan said CIT, a major lender to small businesses, intends to file for bankruptcy-court protection in New York within days, perhaps as early as Sunday or Monday.

Luckily, we only pissed away $2.3 billion with these guys.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

This Is What We're Fighting For

From Balkinization:

Saturday, October 24, 2009
The Murderous Thugs We are Supporting in Afghanistan--and Why a Heroine Wants Us Out

Brian Tamanaha

Malalai Joya is an incredibly courageous Afghan woman, only 30 years old, living under the constant threat of being killed because she dares to speak the truth. The people who want to kill her are the people we put into power in Afghanistan.

Ms. Joya lived in refugee camps in Iran and Pakistan during Taliban rule. She loved to read and wished to share this gift with other Afghan women. With the support of a charity, Ms. Joya snuck back into Afghanistan and opened a secret school to teach young girls to read. This was at great risk to her personal safety, for the Taliban would have punished her severely if they found her out, which nearly occurred on a number of occasions.

One would think, given this history, that she would be pleased about the ejection of the Taliban and its aftermath. Not so:

Dust has been thrown into the eyes of the world by your governments [speaking to a British reporter]. You have not been told the truth. The situation now is as catastrophic as it was under the Taliban for women. Your governments have replaced the fundamentalist rule of the Taliban with another fundamentalist regime of warlords. [That is] what your soldiers are dying for. (quote from this piece in The Independent, October 21, 2009, which provides the material about Joya for this post).
The warlords of whom she speaks—our allies—are the ones who have openly threatened to kill her. She expects that they may well succeed.

We “won” the initial war against the Taliban by relying upon fighters supplied by warlords, supported by our special forces soldiers and backed by our heavy equipment and bombing capacity. CIA operatives were also on the ground distributing piles of money. Following the quick collapse of the Taliban government, we put into place a replacement government that was stocked at the highest levels with these very warlords. The Karzai government is as weak as the warlords are strong—and we have increased their power by funneling millions of dollars to them.

It’s natural for a military power to reward its allies in battle with plunder and power after victory, and that’s what we did. The problem is that we claimed to be bringing democracy and saving the Afghan people from tyranny, but the warlords have a long record of terrible behavior that predates the Taliban. Before the Taliban took over control of the government, the warlords were fighting one another for territory and control, destroying parts of the cities, killing many civilians, and raping women. Ms. Joya reminds us of this recent past:

Most people in the West have been led to believe that the intolerance and brutality toward women in Afghanistan began with the Taliban regime. But this is a lie. Many of the worst atrocities were committed by the fundamentalist mujahedin during the civil war between 1992 and 1996. They introduced the laws oppressing women followed by the Taliban—and now they were marching back to power, supported by the United States. They immediately went back to their old habit of using rape to punish their enemies and reward their fighters.

Click the link at the top and read the whole thing.

Fire John McCain

Time to give Senator John McCain the FJM treatment:

McCain: Why We Can -- And Must -- Win the War In Afghanistan
By John McCain

(Editor: We gave Sen. McCain a voice recorder, and asked him to elaborate on his essay. We inserted his comments between the lines of the actual essay, which are rendered in bold.)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- For the first time since September 11, 2001, America is having a vigorous national debate about how to succeed in Afghanistan. This debate is entirely worth having. Whenever America sends its citizens into harm's way, it must do so with eyes wide open.

You see, I ain't asking ya. I'm telling ya. This thing's gonna get done. I just want you to have your eyes open.

(Chuckles) This reminds me of when I was a kid, hangin out with old pops on the farm.

Me: "Let's step in this pile of shit."
Pops: "Whoa, hey, let's talk about this."
Me: "Good idea! That way, when we step in this pile of shit, we'll know what we're stepping in!"
Pops: "Huh? No, wait...I meant that we shouldn't step in shit."
Me: (Looking confused.) "What?"
Me: Steps in shit.

No biggie. Had one of the servants shine my shoes that very day.

Though no veteran would ever think of himself as "pro-war,"

For example, I, John McCain, am a veteran, and I will prove that I not "pro-war" by writing a pro-war essay for CNN, which follows a military career where I made war in Vietnam, and then led the charge for the war in Iraq, justifying that war by claiming that the Iraqis were responsible for the anthrax attacks in the post office.

I believe that the fight in Afghanistan is critical to our national security.

Those Taliban sure do like to project their military might across vast oceans, and ride their motorcycles filled with homemade bombs right up the ramparts of freedom. Right up to the front door of my beer distributorship. Can't have that.

Our goals there are achievable...

Of course, after 8 years of achieving virtually nothing, this may seem like a bold statement. But I am not afraid of a bold statement. Remember what I said back in 2000?

"I´d institute a policy that I call "rogue state rollback." I would arm, train, equip, both from without and from within, forces that would eventually overthrow the governments and install free and democratically elected governments."

Also, I thought Sarah Palin would make a great vice-president.

and success is worth the continued sacrifice.

Not sacrifice for me, of course. Sacrifice for our dead and maimed soldiers, for the thousands of innocent Afghans who will be killed and maimed, for the taxpayer, for the average Afghan citizen, yes. But not for me personally. Or for anyone in my family, because they don't need to join the Marines to pay for groceries for their kids. But I can promise you, that, while sitting in one my seven luxury mansions, I will feel the pain just as though it was mine.

We must succeed in Afghanistan for many reasons, but one stands above all: the world walked away from Afghanistan once, and it descended into a cauldron of violence, hatred and human rights atrocities that served as the base for the worst terrorist attack in history against our homeland.

Of course, none of those terrorists were ever actually based in Afghanistan, but who's counting? There are violent people there! They hate people! And their human rights are atrocious. We really should kill them all. Of course, I don't mean this in a pro-war sort of way.

We cannot let that happen again, and we cannot let the Taliban and its al Qaeda allies conquer Afghanistan once more.

Furthermore, there are at least 100 Al Qaeda members left in Afghanistan. The whole country is virtually swarming with them!
Yes, I know that most Al Qaeda operatives are in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia? But who cares? We're talking about Afghanistan, dammit! Attack, Attack, Attack! Face...(Editor: Choking sounds, audible heart rate increase) Kill! Bomb, Bomb, Bomb!

Sorry. Don't take that as being pro-war. I'm a veteran, damn it all!

Failure of this kind would also destabilize the entire strategically vital region, including nuclear-armed Pakistan.

I'm going to repeat this over and over, even though there is no evidence that leaving Afghanistan will do anything to destabilize Pakistan, and even though many experts believe that leaving them alone will result in them sorting out their own problems.

Nice little region you got there. Be a shame if something happened to it...

We know what it takes to succeed in Afghanistan: a resolute commitment to the principles of counterinsurgency, which turned Iraq around during the surge.

I know this because I still believe that Iraq and Afghanistan are the same country. I am an expert in foreign policy. I was a prisoner of war once, dammit. I spent five and a half years in a cage in Vietnam, eating maggots, being beaten with cane sticks, and reading Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Remember when I said that Iraq and Pakistan shared a border? Or when I referred last year to the Czechoslovakian energy crisis, even though Czechoslovakia hadn't actually existed in 16 years? Or how about when I referred to the Georgia-Russia incident last year as "a crisis, the first probably serious crisis internationally since the end of the Cold War. This is an act of aggression."

I personally told Sarah Palin about how Putin liked to rise up!

I am confident that properly resourced counterinsurgency policy,

Meaning, according to the Army Field Manual, around 500,000 more US troops, or about 10 times the number we have now.

adapted to the unique culture and geography of Afghanistan,

Of which, I, John McCain, know absolutely diddly-squat

can lead to success there. Our entire military chain of command supports this approach, as do our NATO allies, which they made clear at their recent defense ministerial meeting in Bratislava.

None of these other military people, of course, are pro-war either. And of course, they don't make a living by fighting wars. So of course they are completely neutral.

And I only mentioned Bratislava because I recently learned how to pronounce it, and I feel as though it makes me sound intellectual-learned, almost. Bratislava. It just rolls off the tongue.

Also, it says a lot that NATO supports us. It's not like they're going to contribute any troops or money, but they will give us lots of moral support. Cindy said she thinks that just means that they're going to sit back and laugh at us, but I think don't think the French would ever stoop to that.


I supported President Obama when he called for a counterinsurgency plan in March, and I did so again when he deployed Gen. Stanley McChrystal to lead the command in Kabul.

However, being wrong twice just isn't enough for a McCain.

I agree with our commander's assessment of the security situation as "deteriorating"

This shouldn't surprise anyone. We've only had 8 years!

and that our civilian and military leaders urgently need more resources, including more combat troops, to turn the tide toward success.

Granted, we haven't ever defined what success even is, but I'm sure another trillion dollars, 500,000 more troops, and about 20 years oughta do the trick.

I sympathize with our president, because sending men and women into harm's way is the most difficult decision that a commander-in-chief must make.


(Editor: here we heard sounds of violent spasms, follwed by a couple clicks while the recorder was stopped and then restarted.)

However, Americans are already serving in harm's way in Afghanistan, and the sooner we can provide the reinforcements and resources they need, the safer and more successful they will be.

This is so obvious I can't believe I have to say it. It reminds me of the time one of our mansions burned down. The place was utter chaos- a total conflagration. It was beyond help. We have 100 servants, but there were only 12 inside the house at the time. They were keeping the plants watered. Cindy wanted me to get the 12 out of the house so they wouldn't burn to death, but I said "What? Are you crazy? No! Send the other 88 inside!"

So I am urging President Obama to move as quickly as possible to fully support Gen. McChrystal's request for more troops.

Just don't think I'm being "pro-war" for wanting to send more soldiers into a war that we started.

It is true that the Afghan government is not as strong or credible as we would like,

Haha! Those jokers wouldn't know a government if it hit 'em in the side of the head. But what do I care.

but that should not deter us from committing more civilian and military resources now.

Nor will a mountain of evidence the size of the Seven Summits combined, for I have made up my mind.

Local governments in counterinsurgency environments are usually weak and fledgling.
There is an insurgency in the first place because it seeks to exploit the local population's dissatisfaction with its government. As long as Afghanistan is insecure, it is unreasonable to assume that governance will improve.
That is why protecting the population must be job one right now, and in the immediate term, much of that work must be done by U.S. and NATO troops. As security improves, however, we will be able to train capable, battle-tested Afghan security forces that can defend their country.

We'll do this even though there has really never been a nation of Afghanistan, or an actual Afghan army. But we'll buy one. They'll be so grateful that when we finally leave, in 2037, they'll wait at least 2 or 3 weeks before splitting back up into their tribes and using the weapons we gave them to start fighting one another again.

We can break the insurgency's momentum, enabling Afghans to reconcile with former fighters who are willing to lay down their arms.

I have no idea of how this is supposed to happen. But it sounded good when someone told me the other day. I think it was one of the Israeli dudes.

And we can create an environment of safety in which it is more realistic to expect Afghan leaders to meet the high standards of their fellow citizens and their international partners -- namely, the provision of justice and opportunity, the protection of human rights and a crackdown on corruption.

And then we can all go dancing merrily through the enchanted forest, following the gingerbread trail to the Easter Bunny's house, where I'll meet Goldilocks and be given a bowl of perfectly heated porridge. And a pony.

Ultimately, Afghans will judge the legitimacy of their government not only by the result of one round of voting, but by its performance in delivering basic services.

And by both of those measures, the Afghan government has failed miserably, but I forgot to mention that in my column.

Success in Afghanistan will emerge, as it did in Iraq, when local leaders and citizens are more and more able to take responsibility for governing and securing their own sovereign country without substantial international assistance.

Because I don't believe that tens of thousands of American soldiers in Iraq, as well as billions of dollars in aid to Iraq every month, counts as substantial assistance. Also, I think that as long as Iraqi government buildings are only blown up on weekends, we can call that a success. Also, I still think Iraq is Afghanistan.

This won't be perfect or easy, but it will allow America's fighting men and women to leave Afghanistan with honor, and it will enable Afghans to build a better, more peaceful future. That is our goal,

I know I said it was to keep America safe from terrorists, but that was like 10 minutes ago!

and we must stay in the fight until it is won.

Just like Vietnam.

Blood Money

This is an Yglesias post:

America Spends A Lot on Defense

Yesterday, congress appropriated a $680 billion for the Department of Defense in FY 2010. Chris Preble observes that, shockingly enough, this $680 billion isn’t even the whole bill:

The defense bill represents only part of our military spending. The appropriations bill moving through Congress governing veterans affairs, military construction and other agencies totals $133 billion, while the massive Department of Homeland Security budget weighs in at $42.8 billion. This comprises the visible balance of what Americans spend on our national security, loosely defined. Then there is the approximately $16 billion tucked away in the Energy Department’s budget, money dedicated to the care and maintenance of the country’s huge nuclear arsenal.

All told, every man, woman and child in the United States will spend more than $2,700 on these programs and agencies next year. By way of comparison, the average Japanese spends less than $330; the average German about $520; China’s per capita spending is less than $100.

Preble says that this enormous expenditure “flows directly from our foreign policy.” But it’s worth also saying that our foreign policy flows from the vast scope of our defense spending. My biggest concern about the war in Afghanistan isn’t overblown feasibility concerns, but the failure to take seriously David Obey’s point that we should put this in some kind of cost-benefit framework. Arne Duncan doesn’t have a $700 billion per year budget to play with as he tries to help American kids learn. Jay Rockefeller doesn’t get to say “I could make this health plan really good by kicking the ten year cost up to $7 trillion.” People are starving in Ethiopia for want of a fraction of the DOD’s daily budget in food aid.

I would point out that a cost/benefit analysis, while perhaps useful, doesn't really get to the heart of the issue, which is that the U.S. is essentially a war-making nation. War is our biggest export; war is our specialty, war is our contribution to the world.

When you have an war machine this big, as Yglesias points out, it ceases to be the result of a warlike policy. Rather, a warring policy becomes the result of the machine.

A military/industrial complex that consumes nearly a trillion dollars each year has simply become too strong. The people and corporations that profit from it will fight tooth and nail to keep that money flowing. And the only way to keep it flowing is to keep the country in a state of war. And, just as importantly, to keep other countries in a state of war. The military industrial complex is a profit making machine, and it makes its profits by selling the ability to kill. And so it has every incentive to keep the wars going.

Remember this when you hear the calls to invade Iran, or to escalate in Afghanistan, or to attack North Korea, or to continue to send arms to Israel. It's a business, this war. It may, as General Sherman said, be hell. But it's business first.

Our Friends in Afghanistan

From NYT report:

KABUL, Afghanistan — Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials.

The agency pays Mr. Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the C.I.A.’s direction in and around the southern city of Kandahar, Mr. Karzai’s home.

The C.I.A. denies this, of course.

“No intelligence organization worth the name would ever entertain these kind of allegations,” said Paul Gimigliano, the spokesman.

Mr Gimigliano should be aware that I have, for quite some time, been thinking that we should refer to his organization as the C.A.

We really have no idea what we're doing here, do we?

The one thing that we can be assured of is that the locals know we have money, and they are running rings around us while we try to figure out who is on who's side, and where all the money is ending up, and what the hell is going on. Because we really have no idea.

The locals always hold all the cards. And when the locals are prepared to fight to the death (at the same time we've decided that our newest goal is to reduce violence and increase security), they have us entirely over a barrel.

There is just no conceivable way that this war, or counter-insurgency, or counter-terrorism, or nation-building, or whatever we've decided to call it this week is going to turn out well.

Remember that, when people say we have to stay there, or escalate, because it will be bad if we leave. Because it's going to be bad no matter what. That train left the station a long time ago. The question now is whether we're going to throw live troops after dead, and good money after bad.

Ze Mess We're In

An entertaining history of Afghanistan, for those who think it's just a ruled by Al Qaeda or something like that. (H/T Clint Troxel)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Must-Read Afghan Analysis

Robert Dreyfuss has a great article up, with an excerpt from his recent interview with AfPak expert Christine Fair. Here's a taste:

Q. (Dreyfuss) If there's a way out of this, do we need to start with the Pakistanis, get them to bring the Taliban to the table? And maybe that means giving the Pakistanis and the Saudis some stuff that they want, because we need their cooperation?

FAIR: "That's one formulation of the problem. I have a somewhat different take. If you believe that the Taliban is our key national security concern, then what you say is right. I don't think they are our preeminent national security concern. The Taliban are a bunch of hillbillies. They are a parochial, territorial insurgency. Despite all of the hullaballoo, they don't really have an international agenda. These guys are focused on Afghanistan, period. Our concerns are Al Qaeda. And there are more Al Qaeda operating in Pakistan than in Afghanistan, and there are more international terrorist groups operating in Pakistan than in Afghanistan. A vast majority of these international terrorist conspiracies that have been busted in Europe and the U.K., their footprints are in Pakistan. Obviously, Jaish-e Muhammad, Lashkar-e Taiba, the list goes on and on and on. These guys are all in Pakistan. And Pakistan has been using militant groups for six decades as part of their policy. …

"So I would argue that we've got this so completely bass-ackwards that it's almost comical! We've got these troops in Afghanistan, so we've got to placate Pakistan, cajole it, make it feel important, throw money at it, because we need Pakistan to support the logistics. So we have this narrative that says, to stabilize Afghanistan we need to get Pakistan's support. Stabilizing Afghanistan's not the goal. Quite the contrary. We need to be in a different place in Afghanistan so we can play hardball with the Pakistanis. So the idea is, we have to stabilize Afghanistan, so we need to get Pakistan and all these other clowns on board? That's not our objective. Our objective is to wrap up international terrorism, limit our exposure to it, and to preclude a nuclear exchange on the Indian subcontinent, and to preclude nuclear proliferation. And all of the return addresses for those problems are right there in Pakistan. And because of our position in Afghanistan, we are so adversely positioned to deal with Pakistan."

I saw a Dreyfuss speech recently. He made a pretty good case for an Afghan withdrawal, but had no idea whether this would happen.

The thing to remember here is that we really shouldn't care what the Taliban does. They are not international terrorists.

If you are concerned about the terrorist bogeyman, then remember this. It is our invasion and occupation of Muslim countries, and the killings of hundreds of thousands of Muslim people (most of whom are completely innocent), which is fueling the recruitment of terrorist groups.

The next time a 9-11 type event occurs, we will find that the reasons for the attack are because of our policies of invading Muslim countries and killing their citizens. And we will have it coming to us.

Is there any difference, really, between 9-11 and the shock and awe campaign unleashed in Baghdad in 2003? Both events were repugnant, heinous acts of violence against an innocent civilian population. According to the Oxford Research Group, 6,616 civilians were killed just in the initial shock and awe aerial invasion of Baghdad. 2995 people, mostly civilians were killed in the 9-11 attacks.

Please don't tell me that what we did was justified because it was done in the context of war. War is just a label that's used to justify killing civilians. There is no fundamental difference between war and acts of terrorism; they are just different methods of using violence to get an outcome. Neither is acceptable.

And if we want the other side to see that violence is not the answer, then we will need to to reject its use as well, except in true self-defense. The place to start this is Afghanistan. The time to do it is now.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Max Boot is for Max War

Max Boot has an Op-Ed in the NY Times, in which he writes glowing reviews of the results that can be achieved with higher troop levels.

“I HOPE people who say this war is unwinnable see stories like this. This is what winning in a counterinsurgency looks like.”

Lt. Col. William F. McCollough, commander of the First Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, is walking me around the center of Nawa, a poor, rural district in southern Afghanistan’s strategically vital Helmand River Valley. His Marines, who now number more than 1,000, arrived in June to clear out the Taliban stronghold. Two weeks of hard fighting killed two Marines and wounded 70 more but drove out the insurgents. Since then the colonel’s men, working with 400 Afghan soldiers and 100 policemen, have established a “security bubble” around Nawa

Well, this certainly sounded promising on the surface. I figured I'd better check out Boots numbers.

Here's what I found. Nawa is a town of about 30,000 people.According to Boot, there are 1500 hundred combined troops there, and that has been sufficient to secure the town.

But obviously, our "mission" in Afghanistan, though no one seems able to explain what it is, is most certainly not to just secure the small town of Nawa. So let's extrapolate those numbers and see what it would take to secure the province of Helmund, where Nawa is located.

Helmand has 1.4 million people. Using the same population troop ratio, we would need 46,000 US troops and 23,000 Afghan personnel.

Of course, Helmand is but one of 34 Afghan provinces. The 34 provinces comprise around 28 million people. Using the same ratio, we could secure the country with a mere 933,000 US troops, and 465,000 Afghans.

Now, in case you haven't been paying attention, last year we had 32,000 troops there. Now we have 68,000 troops there. The majority of Americans don't want to send even the 40,000 more that Gen. McChrystal is requesting.

And here comes Max Boot to assure us that we can win this thing-we just need to have a million US troops over there.

And what would we get from this insane escalation?

Only by sending more personnel, military and civilian, can President Obama improve the Afghan government’s performance, reverse the Taliban’s gains and prevent Al Qaeda’s allies from regaining the ground they lost after 9/11.

Let's talk about these reasons.

Are we going to mobilize a million troops so that we can improve Afghanistan's government? Is this really a reason? Why don't we try to improve our own, first.

Reverse the Taliban's gains? They're not generally nice people, but the Taliban is not a threat to the United States. They're an affront the concept of universal civil rights, but they are not trying to destroy America. They just don't want Americans interfering.

Prevent Al Qaeda's allied from regaining ground?

There are less than 100 Al Quaeda left in Afghanistan. They are not a threat to the United States. Their allies (I assume he means the Taliban) already control 40 percent of the country, and have for quite some time. If Taliban control was going to ineveitably result in terror attacks by Al Quaeda, it would have happened already.

These reasons are horse shit, and yet the war machine grinds on.

Pay Cuts

The NYT reported tonight that the Obama administration is going to reduce executive compensation at the some of the corporations that were bailed out during the financial crisis:

WASHINGTON — Responding to the furor over executive pay at companies bailed out with taxpayer money, the Obama administration will order the firms that received the most aid to slash compensation to their highest-paid employees, an official involved in the decision said on Wednesday.

The plan, for the 25 top earners at seven companies that received exceptional help, will on average cut total compensation this year by about 50 percent. The companies are Citigroup, Bank of America, American International Group, General Motors, Chrysler and the financing arms of the two automakers.

This is fine, as far as it goes, but there are two problems.

One, it does nothing for those companies which were indirectly bailed out by the government, and which are still using taxpayer funds to gamble with, and are paying themselves obscene bonuses with their ill-gotten gains. (Yes, Goldman Sachs, I'm looking at you.)

Two, it distracts from the real regulatory reform issues that need to be addressed. And this, is not a bug, but a feature.

Of Course You've Seen Nothing, Rick

From the Dallas Morning News:

AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry reiterated his support for the state's death penalty system Tuesday after one of his predecessors raised questions about its reliability.

Questions about the arson investigation that led to the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham prompted former Gov. Mark White, a Democrat who ran as a strong advocate of capital punishment in the 1980s, to say last week that he now opposes it. Perry said Texas' system is sound.

"Our process works, and I don't see anything out there that would merit calling for a moratorium on the Texas death penalty," he said after voting early on a slate of constitutional amendments. "It's fair and appropriate, and we will continue with it."

Perry has been criticized for replacing members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission as it was about to hear from a scientist whose review raised doubts about the case.

Willingham was executed in 2004 in the 1991 Corsicana house fire that killed his three children.

In 2004, just before Willingham was executed, Gov. Perry was sent a report which exonerated Willingham. He ignored it, even though it is his job to review exactly that kind of evidence. Willingham was executed.

Last month, he prevented a commission from reviewing that same report, because, obviously, it would have shown that he negligently caused the death of Willingham, an innocent man. In Texas, this qualifies as negligent homicide.

So Perry is correct when he says that he doesn't " see anything out there that would merit calling for a moratorium on the Texas death penalty." But it's not because it's not out there. It's because he's just trying not to look.

I've written more about this here, here, and here.

As I wrote earlier:

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in 2006, voted with a majority to uphold the death penalty in a Kansas case. In his opinion, Scalia declared that, in the modern judicial system, there has not been “a single case—not one—in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops.”

Well, it's time to start shouting from the rooftops. Where is Mr. Scalia now?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Forced Sterilization, Plus Office Space Clip!

Here's a truly heart-warming story about how a for-profit health insurance system provides the best coverage on earth:

"For women, the health insurance crisis is very real, very personal and very scary," Guest said.

The committee also heard from women such as Peggy Robertson of Colorado, who read a letter from her insurance company. Robertson testified that because she'd already given birth via cesarean, when she tried to get an individual policy in Colorado, her insurance company considered it a pre-existing condition and wouldn't insure her unless she could prove she'd been sterilized.

That "put me on the edge of my chair," said the chairwoman of the committee, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., calling it "offensive and morally repugnant."

"No one in the United States of America, in order to get health insurance, should ever be coerced into getting sterilized," Mikulski said.

I really don't see the problem. We all wanted a for-profit system, right? I mean, the market always delivers the best results. If the government got involved, we'd have death panels and firing squads. What's a little forced sterilization when compared to that?

Deep breath.

Remind me again what insurance companies actually do?

Goldman Sachs Employees Thank Taxpayers for Their Obscene Compensation

The post title, of course, is a joke. No Goldman Sachs employees did any such thing.

This is not very polite, as Goldman (a large investment bank) is preparing to split up a $23 billion bonus pool among it's employees.

How did they make all this money?

Well, if you're a taxpayer, then you lent Goldman money to gamble with (at 0% interest), and paid its debts. This gamble turned out well (because the government killed off its competitors), and now they're keeping all the money. If they had lost, you would have been the one paying the bill (again).

And if you are not a taxpayer, well, then, you have one thing in common with Goldman, which paid a corporate tax rate of only 1%.

But don't feel bad for them having to pay that 1%. They have figured out how to make it back by imposing a private tax on all of your personal stock trades, and the trades that are done for your 401K/mutual/pension fund.

It's the Killing, Stupid

From Juan Cole, via Glenn Greenwald:

In 1996, Israeli jets bombed a UN building where civilians had taken refuge at Cana/ Qana in south Lebanon, killing 102 persons; in the place where Jesus is said to have made water into wine, Israeli bombs wrought a different sort of transformation. In the distant, picturesque port of Hamburg, a young graduate student studying traditional architecture of Aleppo saw footage like this on the news [graphic]. He was consumed with anguish and the desire for revenge. As soon as operation Grapes of Wrath had begun the week before, he had written out a martyrdom will, indicating his willingness to die avenging the victims, killed in that operation--with airplanes and bombs that were a free gift from the United States. His name was Muhammad Atta. Five years later he piloted American Airlines 11 into the World Trade Center. (Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower, p. 307: "On April 11, 1996, when Atta was twenty-seven years old, he signed a standardized will he got from the al-Quds mosque.l It was the day Israel attacked Lebanon in Operation grapes of Wrath. According to one of his friends, Atta was enraged,and by filling out his last testamentd during the attack he was offering his life in response." ).

On Tuesday, the Israeli military shelled a United Nations school to which terrified Gazans had fled for refuge, killing at least 42 persons and wounding 55, virtually all of them civilians, and many of them children. The Palestinian death toll rose to 660.

You wonder if someone somewhere is writing out a will today

Read the Greenwald post which is linked above for more.

Bottom line: if you think the Muslim world detests America because of our movies and our decadent way of life, then you really need to change your general frame of reference. Ask yourself if that makes any sense.

Maybe, just maybe, it's because we invade, bomb, kill, imprison, and generally wreak total havoc and destruction on Muslims all over the world. If someone in the government starting talking about America's War on Islam, would many of us even notice the slip?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Crumbs of Sanity from the Fruitcake of Disbelief

The Obama administration announced that it will no longer prosecute medical marijuana users or distributors in states which have legalized its use.

In a memorandum to federal prosecutors in the 14 states that allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes, the department said it was committed to the “efficient and rational use” of its resources and that going after individuals who were in “clear and unambiguous compliance” with state laws did not meet that standard.

This policy, of course, makes sense, because marijuana is pretty much harmless, and has many medicinal benefits. The federal government is, sanely, recognizing this truth.

But what the next paragraph describes is truly insane:

At the same time, the department emphasized that it would continue to pursue those who use the concept of medical marijuana as a ruse for drug trafficking. “Marijuana distribution in the United States remains the single largest source of revenue for the Mexican cartels,” the department said in pledging that prosecuting the makers and sellers of illegal drugs, including marijuana, would remain a “core priority.”

So they are going to continue a drug war that has created the Mexican cartels, because marijuana remains the biggest source of revenue for the cartels, because we have a drug war that we are going to continue because the Mexican cartels get their money from a drug war that we are going to conti-

Doesn't anyone in the administration see how totally freaking retarded this is?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Rick Perry Should Just Quit

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who neglected his duty to review the case of an innocent man before his state executed him, has now replaced the last remaining member of a commission that was going to investigate what happened.

It's absolutelt pathetic that the media is not making more of this.

Rick Perry, back in April, threatened to have Texas secede from the US.

I really think that Texas should do that, and that they should be joined by most of the south. The north and south are, really, so far apart politically and philosophically that they are almost ungovernable as one.

Greenspan Said What?

This is rather astonishing. The free-market, Ayn Rand disciple and long time head of the Federal Reserve has apparently seen the light:

Oct. 15 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. regulators should consider breaking up large financial institutions considered “too big to fail,” former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said.

Those banks have an implicit subsidy allowing them to borrow at lower cost because lenders believe the government will always step in to guarantee their obligations. That squeezes out competition and creates a danger to the financial system, Greenspan told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

“If they’re too big to fail, they’re too big,” Greenspan said today. “In 1911 we broke up Standard Oil -- so what happened? The individual parts became more valuable than the whole. Maybe that’s what we need to do.”

At one point, no bank was considered too big to fail, Greenspan said. That changed after the Treasury Department under then-Secretary Hank Paulson effectively nationalized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the Treasury and Fed bailed out Bear Stearns Cos. and American International Group Inc.

“It’s going to be very difficult to repair their credibility on that because when push came to shove, they didn’t stand up,” Greenspan said.

Fed officials have suggested imposing a tax or requiring higher capital ratios on larger banks to ensure the firms’ safety and reduce some of the competitive advantage from the implied subsidy. Greenspan said that won’t work.

“I don’t think merely raising the fees or capital on large institutions or taxing them is enough,” Greenspan said. “I think they’ll absorb that, they’ll work with that, and it’s totally inefficient and they’ll still be using the savings.”

‘Really Arbitrarily’

The former Fed chairman said while “just really arbitrarily breaking down organizations into various different sizes” goes against his philosophical leanings, something must be done to solve the too-big-to-fail issue.

“If you don’t neutralize that, you’re going to get a moribund group of obsolescent institutions which will be a big drain on the savings of the society,” he said.

“Failure is an integral part, a necessary part of a market system,” he said. “If you start focusing on those who should be shrinking, it undermines growing standards of living and can even bring them down.”

It seems as though Greenspan is intent on learning from his mistakes. It takes a big man to admit publicly that your theories were wrong, and that you built a career based on them that led to the collapse of the worlds financial systems. Far easier to retreat to you comfortable mansion and live out the rest of your days in seclusion.

But Greenspan still has massive influence, and for him to say this will make a big difference, and for that I applaud him.

We're all wrong, almost all the time. It's whether you are able to realize it, and move on, that counts.

The Truth Always Comes Out In The End

From Glenn Greenwald:

There is a vital development -- a new ruling from the British High Court -- in a story about which I've written many times before: the extraordinary joint British/U.S. effort to cover up the brutal torture which Binyam Mohamed suffered at the hands of the CIA while in Pakistan and while he was "rendered" by the U.S. to various countries. While Mohamed, a British resident, was in American custody, the CIA told British intelligence agents exactly what was done to him, and those British agents recorded what they were told in various memos. Last year, the British High Court ruled that Mohamed -- who was then at Guantanamo -- had the right to obtain those documents from the British intelligence service in order to prove that statements he made to the CIA were the by-product of coercion.
The High Court's original ruling in Mohamed's favor contained seven paragraphs which described the torture to which Mohamed was subjected. It has been previously reported that those paragraphs contain descriptions of abuse so brutal that not even our own American media could dispute that it constitutes "torture":

The 25 lines edited out of the court papers contained details of how Mr Mohamed's genitals were sliced with a scalpel and other torture methods so extreme that waterboarding, the controversial technique of simulated drowning, "is very far down the list of things they did," the official said.

Read the rest of the story. The Bush administration was basically threatening the British that they would not tell them if they knew that someone was planning terror attacks on Britain if they released these documents. As bad as that is, it was rather par for the course for Bush. But the Obama administration, Nobel Peace Prize and all, continued the threats. And the British High Court has finally called their bluff. Obama may not want to talk about the past, but it's not going to matter if the rest of the world does.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Logic Fail

Urban Dictionary
Definition: Concern Trol
In an argument (usually a political debate), a concern troll is someone who is on one side of the discussion, but pretends to be a supporter of the other side with "concerns". The idea behind this is that your opponents will take your arguments more seriously if they think you're an ally. Concern trolls who use fake identities are sometimes known as sockpuppets.

It's time to FJM Tom Friedman's latest Op-Ed, aptly entitled "Not Good Enough". In case you don't know Tom yet, he generally believes in invading countries as a first resort. He's never met a war he didn't like; the world may not have been flat when he wrote his book, but he sure seems intent on bombing it until it gets that way.

If President Obama can find a way to balance the precise number of troops that will stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan, without tipping America into a Vietnam there, then he indeed deserves a Nobel Prize — for physics.

Tom actually seems to recognize that there is a problem with this war.

I have no problem with the president taking his time to figure this out. He and we are going to have to live with this decision for a long time.

Yes, the whole country waits for the president's decision. Will we withdraw? Will we stay the course? Will we escalate? These are the great questions of the day.

For my money, though, I wish there was less talk today about how many more troops to send and more focus on what kind of Afghan government we have as our partner.

And here is where Tom does his best work. He feigns concern for the viability of the unenviably non-viable Afghani government, while, like a magician, he claims that the decision to send more troops has already been made, and that the only question is how many. His concern for Karzai is palpable, and it's designed to distract from the big issue yet to be determined-do we send more troops?

Because when you are mounting a counterinsurgency campaign, the local government is the critical bridge between your troops and your goals. If that government is rotten, your whole enterprise is doomed.

Also, when you are mounting a counterinsurgency campaign, a critical element, according to General Patraeus and the US Army field manual, is to have 20-25 troops per thousand civilians. This means that we need over a half a million troops in Afghanistan, which is about 9 or 10 times the number we have now. Of course, assuming that the American people don't start an armed revolt over sending 600,000 troops to Afghanistan, it will also be necessary to have a stable government in place. The Army field manual says this, too.

Independent election monitors suggest that as many as one-third of votes cast in the Aug. 20 election are tainted and that President Hamid Karzai apparently engaged in massive fraud to come out on top. Yet, he is supposed to be the bridge between our troop surge and our goal of a stable Afghanistan. No way.

I couldn't agree more. We can send all the troops we want to (although it appears that the voters don't want to), and it will be a colossal waste of money unless there is a stable government. (Actually, it will be a colossal waste of money if there is a stable government, but let's forget about that for now. )

I understand the huge stakes in stabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, our top commander there who is asking for thousands more troops, is not wrong when he says a lot of bad things would flow from losing Afghanistan to the Taliban.

What exactly are all these "bad things", Tom? How bad are they, really? The Taliban aren't terrorists. There are only 100 Al Qaeda members left in the country. 600,000-100 seems a little much. If the Taliban wanted to let Al Qaeda in, they could, since they still control half the country after 8 years of war.

But I keep asking myself: How do we succeed with such a tainted government as our partner?

This is a great question. I don't see how we can.

I know that Jefferson was not on the ballot. But there is a huge difference between “good enough” and dysfunctional and corrupt. Whatever we may think, there are way too many Afghans who think our partner, Karzai and his team, are downright awful.

Yes, and so they think that we, by extension, are also awful. And they're right. So we should not send more troops, but we should, instead, bring our troops home.

That would be logical. But that logic doesn't fit Friedman's predetermined desired outcome, which is to send more troops, and to keep us in a never-ending state of war. And if that is what you want, here's how you frame it.

That is why it is not enough for us to simply dispatch more troops. If we are going to make a renewed commitment in Afghanistan, we have to visibly display to the Afghan people that we expect a different kind of governance from Karzai, or whoever rules, and refuse to proceed without it. It doesn’t have to be Switzerland, but it does have to be good enough — that is, a government Afghans are willing to live under. Without that, more troops will only delay a defeat.

Implicit in this argument is the assumption that we are sending more troops. Again, he tries to distract by talking about how important it is to have a good government there, even though he knows damn well that that isn't going to happen, and has no ideas on how to make that happen.

He goes on to talk about how bad that government is, as though there are still people who haven't yet heard how bad it is.

I am not sure Washington fully understands just how much the Taliban-led insurgency is increasingly an insurrection against the behavior of the Karzai government — not against the religion or civilization of its international partners. And too many Afghan people now blame us for installing and maintaining this government.
Karzai is already trying to undermine more international scrutiny of this fraudulent election and avoid any runoff. Monday his ally on the Electoral Complaints Commission, Mustafa Barakzai, resigned, alleging “foreign interference.” That is Karzai trying to turn his people against us to prevent us from cleaning up an election that he polluted.

Talking to Afghanistan experts in Kabul, Washington and Berlin, a picture is emerging: The Karzai government has a lot in common with a Mafia family. Where a “normal” government raises revenues from the people — in the form of taxes — and then disperses them to its local and regional institutions in the form of budgetary allocations or patronage, this Afghan government operates in the reverse. The money flows upward from the countryside in the form of payments for offices purchased or “gifts” from cronies.

What flows from Kabul, the experts say, is permission for unfettered extraction, protection in case of prosecution and punishment in case the official opposes the system or gets out of line. In “Karzai World,” it appears, slots are either sold (to people who buy them in order to make a profit) or granted to cronies, or are given away to buy off rivals.

And then...

We have to be very careful that we are not seen as the enforcers for this system.

Uh, the whole world knows that Karzai is America's puppet. After 8 years of war, and countless Afghan deaths, it's not very freaking likely that the Afghans won't consider us enforcers.


This is crazy. We have been way too polite, and too worried about looking like a colonial power, in dealing with Karzai. I would not add a single soldier there before this guy, if he does win the presidency, takes visible steps to clean up his government in ways that would be respected by the Afghan people

Way to act tough, Tom. I can see how this conversation would go if you were the president:

President Tom: Hey, look here, Karzai, this whole corrupt government you've got here, well, it's just not working. The people just hate how corrupt you are, and they hate your laws and everything about how you run things. And now you want us to send you more troops to protect you?

President Karzai: Yeah, that's pretty much what we want.

President Tom: But this is going to bankrupt our country, and we're going to have to send a half a million troops halfway around the world to protect you. People will die. It's going to be bad. And the voters are already starting to realize that we have no mission here besides protecting you. And you are corrupt. And this whole mission is really just helping to breed more terrorists.

President Karzai: But you wouldn't want the terrorists to win, right?

President Tom: Well, no, but this looks like it will go down as another Vietnam. What are we going to do?

President Karzai: I'll try to take some steps to clean things up.

President Tom: That's not good enough! These steps have to be visible!

President Karzai: Visible?! You drive a hard bargain, Mr President! Ok, we'll try to make visible steps.

President Tom: Alright then. Just needed to make sure. You promise?

President Karzai: (laughing to advisers with hand over phone) Ok, we promise.

If Karzai says no, then there is only one answer: “You’re on your own, pal. Have a nice life with the Taliban. We can’t and will not put more American blood and treasure behind a government that behaves like a Mafia family. If you don’t think we will leave — watch this.” (Cue the helicopters.)

Just because you deny that it's an empty threat doesn't mean that it's not an empty threat. This is an empty threat. If we send 600,000 troops over there, we aren't going to send them home because Karzai is corrupt. It'll just be a reason to stay.

So, please, spare me the lectures about how important Afghanistan and Pakistan are today. I get the stakes. But we can’t want a more decent Afghanistan than the country’s own president. If we do, we have no real local partner who will be able to hold the allegiance of the people, and we will not succeed — whether with more troops, more drones or more money.

Stop conflating Pakistan and Afghanistan, Tom. Karzai is not the president of Pakistan. And you are the one lecturing us about how important Afghanistan is. Even though it isn't.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cigna Killed Her Daughter

Now, all of the free-market cult members I know will say that this woman had no right to demand that Cigna pay for her daughter's liver transplant. After all, they aren't in business to pay for things they aren't required to pay for. They are in business to make money!

Forget about the fact that they sell their policies to people who trust them to cover these things, and then screw them in the fine print.

Forget about the fact that if they were honest about the fine print, then these people could have actually gone and tried to find insurance that worked.

Forget the fact that the Sarkisyans paid for their policy every month, in assuming, in good faith, that they would be covered.

Just consider that first argument: They are in business to make money.

They are not in the business of making sure people get health care. They just aren't. None of them are. Not a single one. They are trying to make money, and if some people get health care as a result, fine. And if they have to die so they can make money, well, that's fine too.

How blind do you have to be, to defend this system? How insanely excited are you about the idea of profit-making corporations, that you would justify outcomes like this, where a 17 year old girl is denied a transplant that would have saved her life, while the CEO of the company that denied it makes $78 million over 5 years?

What is the value of a system that produces these kinds of outcomes?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

You Want Them To Write Good Things About You

Peggy Noonan somehow still has an editorial page at the WSJ, and she's using it to lament the passing old guard "Elders" of journalism like Bob Novak and Bill Safire:

Who are the Elders? They set the standards. They hand down the lore. They're the oldest and wisest. By proceeding through the world each day with dignity and humanity, they show the young what it is that should be emulated. They're the tribal chieftains. This role has probably existed since caveman days, because people need guidance and encouragement, they need to be heartened by examples of endurance. They need to be inspired.

And they should never be questioned. They faithfully and unquestioningly write down whatever government or corporate powers say, and then they print it for us, or repeat it on Sunday morning talk shows in a very Serious Tone.

Democracy cannot healthily endure without free and unfettered debate. It's our job to watch, critique and question, and, being us, to do it in colorful terms.

But knowing where the line is, matters. Seeing clearly the lay of the land, knowing the facts of the country and your countrymen, matters.

Which gets us back to Safire and Cronkite and Novak and the rest. They knew where the line was. They were tough guys who got in big fights, but they had a sense of responsibility towards the country, and towards its culture. They, actually, were protective toward it. They made mistakes, but they were solid.

These concepts are, quite simply, contradictory. On the one hand, she posits what we all know-that freedom of speech is critical to a democracy, and criticizing and questioning in essential. And then she just goes right on to say that Safire and Cronkite* and Novak knew there was a line they shouldn't cross, and that they were protective of the status quo.

They made mistakes, but they were solid.

That's worth repeating, because it pretty much sums up what's wrong with mainstream journalism today.

What does solid mean? Solid means that they are down with the system; solid means that whatever else, these guys are on board with whatever those on the inside want. Solid means that they are looking out for the system and the insiders and the status quo. And this is infinitely more important, according to Peggy Noonan, than being right!

It's ok if they made mistakes, and we killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, because these guys were solid. It's ok that they ignored all of the evidence that we were heading towards the biggest depression in 70 years, because they were solid. It's ok to repeat bullshit about Iran's nuclear intentions, and to amplify calls for more war, because they are solid. It's ok that they don't actually question what power speaks to them, because that's not their job-their job is to be solid.

Apparently, as a journalist, you should think mostly about what other people will think of you:

Someone's going to sum you up one day. You want to live your professional life in a way that they can write good things.

I guess what Noonan wants us to write about her is "She made mistakes, but she was solid."

*Cronkite was, actually, the kind of journalist that we should hope to emulate. Cronkite spoke truth to power. Cronkite stood up and told the truth about Vietnam. It's ridiculous for Noonan to lump him in with the likes of Novak and Kristol.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


From Digby:

I just saw one of the most disgusting stories on CNN that I have ever seen: they are actually debating whether or not we should let illegal immigrants die now.

They tell the story of a young man who was brought here by his parents at age 14 and has been working ever since then. He has kidney failure and needs dialysis, which he has been getting as a charity case up until recently. Now they are cutting him off and unless he can find a private clinic that will take him he's in big, big trouble.

The reporter asked him why he should get treatment since he isn't a citizen, (at which point I'm screaming "because he is a human being!") and he showed her his pay stubs going back to when he was 15 --- which showed that he's been paying taxes just like the higher orders.

Then the reporter calmly said, "he has about eleven days and then he'll die." Wolf Blitzer asked the reporter to keep us posted on what happens, so that's good.

It appears that it's now perfectly acceptable to debate whether or not people should die for lack of care in the richest country in the world. But I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Once a society accepts torture, it's only a matter of time before it drops this pretense about every person being precious entirely. Now we can get down to the nitty gritty and start talking openly and honestly about which people deserve to live and which ones don't.

This shouldn't surprise Wolf Blitzer, of course. Wolf just hosted a roundtable with, among others, Alan Grayson, who was telling him unapologetically that this is precisely the Republican Plan. And Blitzer, of course was outraged.

Not outraged that the plan is to let people die, mind you. He was outraged that an honorable member of the Great American House of Histrionics would say something as outrageous, as inflammatory, and as insulting as Grayson did. It's the truth, of course, but what shall it profit a man to tell the truth, only to lose his couth in the process?

Even George Will Can See It

(Update below)

From his latest column:

The U.S. strategy is "clear, hold and build." Clear? Taliban forces can evaporate and then return, confident that U.S. forces will forever be too few to hold gains. Hence nation-building would be impossible even if we knew how, and even if Afghanistan were not the second-worst place to try: The Brookings Institution ranks Somalia as the only nation with a weaker state.

Military historian Max Hastings says Kabul controls only about a third of the country -- "control" is an elastic concept -- and " 'our' Afghans may prove no more viable than were 'our' Vietnamese, the Saigon regime." Just 4,000 Marines are contesting control of Helmand province, which is the size of West Virginia. The New York Times reports a Helmand official saying he has only "police officers who steal and a small group of Afghan soldiers who say they are here for 'vacation.' " Afghanistan's $23 billion gross domestic product is the size of Boise's. Counterinsurgency doctrine teaches, not very helpfully, that development depends on security, and that security depends on development. Three-quarters of Afghanistan's poppy production for opium comes from Helmand. In what should be called Operation Sisyphus, U.S. officials are urging farmers to grow other crops. Endive, perhaps?

Even though violence exploded across Iraq after, and partly because of, three elections, Afghanistan's recent elections were called "crucial." To what? They came, they went, they altered no fundamentals, all of which militate against American "success," whatever that might mean. Creation of an effective central government? Afghanistan has never had one. U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry hopes for a "renewal of trust" of the Afghan people in the government, but the Economist describes President Hamid Karzai's government -- his vice presidential running mate is a drug trafficker -- as so "inept, corrupt and predatory" that people sometimes yearn for restoration of the warlords, "who were less venal and less brutal than Mr. Karzai's lot."

Mullen speaks of combating Afghanistan's "culture of poverty." But that took decades in just a few square miles of the South Bronx. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, thinks jobs programs and local government services might entice many "accidental guerrillas" to leave the Taliban. But before launching New Deal 2.0 in Afghanistan, the Obama administration should ask itself: If U.S. forces are there to prevent reestablishment of al-Qaeda bases -- evidently there are none now -- must there be nation-building invasions of Somalia, Yemen and other sovereignty vacuums?

Why are we here again?

I'd also like to comment on his opening paragraphs:

"Yesterday," reads the e-mail from Allen, a Marine in Afghanistan, "I gave blood because a Marine, while out on patrol, stepped on a [mine's] pressure plate and lost both legs." Then "another Marine with a bullet wound to the head was brought in. Both Marines died this morning."

"I'm sorry about the drama," writes Allen, an enthusiastic infantryman willing to die "so that each of you may grow old." He says: "I put everything in God's hands." And: "Semper Fi!

But this is first and foremost in our hands.

We are telling these soldiers that they are dying so that each of us may grow old. But is that true? Are their deaths doing anything to makes us safer?

We have a responsibility to these men and women. And it is not to uncritically agree with whoever says the answer is more troops and more war.

I was in the army once. I joined on my 17th birthday, right before the first Gulf War was starting. I can tell you that I thought I was more politically informed than most, and I was probably was. I can tell you that I had more extensive knowledge of the history of war than pretty much anyone in my brigade. And with all that knowledge, I'm pretty damn sure that I didn't know squat about why we were about to go into war.

17 year olds rarely know more than what we tell them. And so when we tell them to go get their legs blown off, fighting some irrelevant and hopeless counter-insurgency, because it's vital to the security and prestige of the United States, they believe us. And nothing could be more irresponsible and depraved than asking someone to give their life for a war which we know to be lost or unnecessary or both.

Why are we even allowing 17 year olds to go to war? It's not because there aren't enough 30 year olds to do it. It's not because 30 year olds aren't physically capable.

It's because we need young, impressionable minds to mold into killing machines. Minds that do not have the experience and maturity needed to decide whether or not the cause is just.

We tell 17 year olds that they aren't mature enough to make decisions; these decisions include voting, entering into contracts, drinking, and buying cigarettes. Yet the US Army actively recruits our children when they turn 17. And it has no problem sending them into battle to be maimed or killed, and to kill and maim, at 17 and without so much as a high school diploma.

This is shameful. And the crime is compounded by the volunteer military, which preys on the least-educated and most vulnerable among us, instead of requiring all able bodied people to participate in the defense of our country.

Who can doubt but that the world would be a very different place if the Bush daughters had been eligible for the draft?

Inhumanity and Constitutional Rape = Good

From a Fox News transcript of an exchange between Bret Baier and Neocon Nutcase Charles Krauthammer:

BAIER: Charles, what do you like about President Obama's policies?

KRAUTHAMMER: To me, that is a lightning round question, but I will dig deep and I will give him credit for continuing the Bush policy of the rendition and detention without trial.

Rendition is handing over a bad guy that you capture abroad over to another country, which was denounced by the left in the Bush years as inhuman, and detention without trial of course was attacked by the Democratic left as a rape of the constitution.

So I'm glad Obama is continuing the inhumanity and the constitutional rape of the Bush administration. It shows a certain broadmindedness.

He's correct that Obama is continuing these policies. He's despicable for liking it.

Cohen on Health Care

From a recent Rger Cohen NYT Op-E:

Whatever may be right, something is rotten in American medicine. It should be fixed. But fixing it requires the acknowledgment that, when it comes to health, we’re all in this together. Pooling the risk between everybody is the most efficient way to forge a healthier society.

Europeans have no problem with this moral commitment. But Americans hear “pooled risk” and think, “Hey, somebody’s freeloading on my hard work."

This last sentence really does describe the American sentiment. We all think that we've earned everything we have. We believe that we did it all by ourselves. And so we can't understand why others wouldn't do the same.

It's nothing more than pure, unadulterated vanity, when you get right down to it.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Killing People Is Awesome, Dude!

Imagine that was your brother, or father, or son. Probably not so awesome now, is it?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Health Care Models

Here's an excerpt of John Guthrie's review of T.R Reid's "The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care":

In brief summary, the four national health care systems he examines are as follows (Examples of all four are found in the U.S.):

The Bismarck Model: Belgium, France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland and in some form in parts of Latin America. It uses private health insurance plans, typically paid for by employers and employees. Unlike the U.S., the insurance companies are not-for-profit and cover everyone, making care much more affordable. Provision is made for someone who is unemployed. Such systems are tightly controlled by the government in their services and fees. This form was developed during the tenure of Otto Von Bismarck (1815-1898), the mustachioed prime minister whose picklehaub, that spear point topped helmet, tended to give him an opĂ©ra bouffe air. For all his ruthless realpolitick, his Blut und Eisen or “blood and iron” rhetoric, the Iron Chancellor had a commanding intelligence and a humanitarian streak that led him to institute worker’s compensation, social security, and, in 1883, “sickness insurance,” a national health care system. Waiting times are minimal as are out-of–pocket expenses. This system has been, with occasional adjustments, a constant through all the political contortions Germany has experienced in the intervening years. The Bismarck health care system is generally beloved by Germans. Reich Chancellor Bismarck characterized his health plan, interestingly enough, as “applied Christianity.”

The Beveridge System: Named for William Henry Beveridge, a British economist and social reformer. Beveridge designed the United Kingdom’s National Health Service. Of the four systems considered, this is the only true example of socialized medicine. It is found, with variations, in Great Britain, Spain, New Zealand, most of Scandinavia and Cuba. Health care is provided by the government and paid for by taxes, like national defense. With rare exceptions, medical facilities are government owned and physicians are government employees. No bills are rendered to the patient. Fees are government mandated as are what procedures are available, keeping costs down. In the United States, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides an excellent example of socialized medicine. The VA also provides, in this writer’s experience as a patient there, courteous, efficient and world class medical care.

National Health Insurance: Canada, South Korea, Taiwan. Medical bills are paid by a government operated insurance program. There is no expense for marketing, underwriting, or profits. All citizens pay into the system. Government has extensive control of prices and procedures. Services are rationed in part by waiting lines

Out-of-Pocket Model: Generally a third world phenomena, but encompassing a minimum of 17% of U.S. health expenditures, higher if copays and deductibles are factored in. Reid notes that, “The basic rule in such countries is simple and brutal: The rich get medical care; the poor stay sick or die.” This plan, or the lack thereof, provides 91% of Cambodia’s health, India 85%, Egypt, 73%.

For all of you libertarians clamoring for a true free-market in health care, the result would be to take us from 17% to 100%. This would not be good.