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Iraq: The project that will not die

Open Carry extremists in Texas

Open Carry extremists in Texas

The first significant split I had with my brother happened over Iraq.  That’s because he was struck with temporary moronity  propagated by Fox News that trickled down to all of the other media outlets by what I suspect was a small evil group of psy-ops specialists.

It’s hard to be the only scientist in the family.  I’m sure I sounded like some unpleasant klaxon harshing the “let’s go kick some Haji ass!” mellow.  Everyone in America seemed to be on the same team.  There was no talking to them. There was no proof that there were WMDs in the desert.  There was no evidence for a nuclear weapons industry.  And you could be damn sure that if there was oil to be had there, it was going to be hoarded by the companies who went in there to get it.  That last one was a particularly difficult concept to get across.  They just didn’t understand WHY you would want to withhold oil from the global market.  It just sounded crazy.

So, now Iraq is falling apart and Obama wants to sit on the sidelines and let it happen.  In a way, that’s understandable.  It wasn’t his war.  He didn’t start it.  Also, he supposedly gave a speech about it that no one can find a record of.  And there’s that Nobel he needs to live up to.

But part of the responsibilities of being the leader of the free world is having to do some pretty unpleasant things.  I never thought that the president that took over from Bush in 2008 was going to be able to walk out of Iraq on the first day.  You don’t have to be a “war monger” to realize that stabilizing a country that has been deliberately de-stabilized by a bunch of ideological and greedy nut cases is a top priority.

But I get the feeling that the Obama campaign never got over its campaign mindset.  It’s been all about being the fricking cock-on-the-walk and controlling the foreign policy to the point of strangulation lest a political rival look good.  What followed was not a serious commitment to responsible behavior  but a couple of announcements that the war was over even though the country is still a chaotic mess.  I’m as disappointed with some of the pacifism at all costs people on the left as I am with the haji-kickers on the right.  Getting out of Iraq was never going to be easy and not laying the ground work for doing so carefully is going to hurt all of us.

For one thing, we can all expect gas prices to spike now.  Yep, it’s going to happen.  And if we are on a saddle point of plunging back into recession, this is certainly going to help that along.  When oil spikes, everything gets more expensive.  Poorer people are already wondering where they’re going to get the money to feed their kids.  Imagine how that’s going to go when the already high cost of food goes even higher.  How do you get to work?  What’s going to happen to the industries that rely on tourism?

But that’s a little selfish whining from some first world citizen, right?  I mean, how would you like to be a Kurd watching as the US prepares to screw you over again 30 years later?  Or any Iraqi really who lived through the last 10 years?  And if there weren’t religious extremists in the country 10 years ago, there sure are now because there is nothing that will create dangerous extremism better than instability and economic hardship.

There’s a warning there for Americans but we’ll probably be too distracted and hypnotized to realize what it is before it’s too late.

“largely an insult to the intelligence of women”

That’s how Judge Korman describes the Obama administrations dogged resistance to selling Plan B over the counter without age restrictions.  By the way, did I mention that Korman is a Reagan appointee?  HHS secretary Sebelius and the justice department has requested a stay to Korman’s previous ruling on Plan B.

Korman noted:

“If a stay is granted, it will allow the bad-faith, politically motivated decision of Secretary Sebelius, who lacks any medical or scientific expertise, to prevail — thus justifiably undermining the public’s confidence in the drug approval process,”

And…

At one point in his ruling, Judge Korman notes that lawyers for the administration insist that allowing over-the-counter access to the drug for everyone while the government appeals the case would mean “uncertainty” for girls and women about whether they could get the drug.

The judge rejected that argument out of hand, saying that “this silly argument ignores the fact it is the government’s appeal from the order that sustained the judgment of the commissioner of the F.D.A. that is the cause of any uncertainty, and that that appeal is taken solely to vindicate the improper conduct of the secretary and possibly for the purpose of further delaying greater access to emergency contraceptives for purely political reasons.”

He also rejected the government’s argument that women might be confused about the drug’s availability if it was made available to everyone without a prescription and then later restricted because the government won its appeal.

Yep, that’s pretty insulting.

Want to know what else is insulting?

Pimping Lily Ledbetter as if real women in the real working world don’t already know that the Ledbetter law doesn’t give them paycheck fairness nor keeps the target off their backs if they ask Human Resources for salary comparison information.

Bowing to anti-abortion congressmen in order to pass an ill-conceived, labyrinthine, insurance industry friendly healthcare law.

Bending over backwards to kiss the asses of a 2000 year old boys club where all the members wear red beanies in order to enforce anachronistic traditions about the nature of women and forced motherhood.

Concentrating all of the administration’s skimpy job creation policies on manly construction projects because otherwise, American mens’ masculinity and egos might be threatened. (See Ron Suskind’s book, Confidence Men)

Making the White House a hostile working environment for female advisors. (same book)

Two campaigns’ worth of consultants, surrogates and paid bloggers flogging fear, uncertainty and dread over the Republicans taking away our reproductive freedom while the real actors in that scheme were the old boys club of the Democratic party arranging things to their satisfaction in smoke filled rooms.

In a way, I’m not surprised the Obama administration thinks it can get away with insulting the intelligence of women.  It’s worked so well for them this far.  Young women flocked to them in droves after the crazy shit Republicans did in the past several years.  But you’d have to be really stupid to not notice that the Democrats did nothing for women since Obama took office except continue to capitulate to the neanderthals in this country who have largely succeeded in turning back the clock on women’s freedom.

So, while I am encouraged to find that there are judges out there who still think women have brains and that they should be encouraged to exercise them in their own interest, I’m disappointed that so few women have actually bothered to do it.  Even now, some left wing bloggers insist that there was no difference between the Democratic candidates in 2008 when it came to advocating for women.  That kind of denial of reality and history simply strains credulity.

That just encourages the Obama administration to continue to treat us like children, and they to continue to behave like Duggaresque patriarchs of daughters they have sworn to “cover” until they hand us off to our husbands.

Compare and Contrast: A little consistency

Bayeaux Tapestry: Cleric slaps Aelfgyva. It’s just tradition.

So, I read this the other day at Eschaton:

Obama Administration: Defense of Marriage Act is Unconstitutional

             BRIEF FOR THE UNITED STATES ON THE MERITS

Marriage is, of course, a vitally important institution, and one supported by the federal government through benefits and other programs that rely on marital status. An interest in preserving marriage as limited to heterosexual persons, however, does not justify Section 3. Tradition, no matter how long established, cannot by itself justify a discriminatory law under equal protection principles.

Then, I remembered that it was only about two weeks ago that the White House did THIS:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Friday proposed yet another compromise to address strenuous objections from religious organizations about a policy requiring health insurance plans to provide free contraceptives, but the change did not end the political furor or legal fight over the issue.

The proposal could expand the number of groups that do not need to pay directly for birth control coverage, encompassing not only churches and other religious organizations, but also some religiously affiliated hospitals, universities and social service agencies. Health insurance companies would pay for the coverage.

The latest proposed change is the third in the last 15 months, all announced on Fridays, as President Obama has struggled to balance women’s rights, health care and religious liberty. Legal experts said the fight could end up in the Supreme Court.

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said the proposal would guarantee free coverage of birth control “while respecting religious concerns.”

Now, I am delighted that the LGBT community’s argument that traditional marriage is just “traditional” is getting the recognition it deserves.  That tradition is usually based on religious principles that many of us don’t subscribe to and in actuality, those religious principles undermine marriage and family integrity.

But I can’t for the life of me figure out why women are so damn powerless with the Obama administration and why the argument “Tradition, no matter how long established, cannot by itself justify a discriminatory law under equal protection principles” gets no traction with the White House when applied to over half the Americans in this country .  Tradition is destiny for women in Obama’s America.

Where is NOW now that their Feminist in Chief is traditionalizing the religious role of women in American society?  And why are people like Culture of Truth mum on that subject?

Just askin’.

Men do not mentor women

Obama Aides Drinking Beer Shirtless in Local DC Bar 2010

The NYTimes has an article on the front page about the dearth of women in the senior positions of the Obama administration.  The paper tries to make it sound like it’s on a par with the Clinton administration but far, far better than the Bush administration.  I love how they keep trying to rewrite history.  We remember how Clinton kept nominating women to the Attorney General’s office until he got one that didn’t have a nanny problem.  And then there was Madeleine Albright.  She was a first.  Then came Ruth Bader Ginsburg, only the second woman on the Supreme Court.  And Joycelyn Elders.  Who could forget her?  It was Bill Clinton who hired Brooksley Born, even if she was overruled by Summers, Geithner and Rubin.  And who could forget his most important advisor on health care reform, Hillary Rodham Clinton?

So, what is the NYTimes saying?  “At least they’re not as bad as the last guy” is not a winning message, IMHO.  Ahh, here’s a possible answer:

Interviews with current and former members of the administration, both men and women, suggested that there was no single reason for the discrepancy, and several repeatedly spoke of the administration’s internal commitment to diversity and gender equity.

But several said that the “pipeline” of candidates appeared to be one problem. They said it seemed that more men than women were put forward or put their names forward for jobs. In part, that might be a result of the persistence of historical discrepancies: men have traditionally dominated fields of government service like finance, security and defense.

Oh, my!  That sounds insurmountable!  What’s a president to do if he only gets recommendations that are male?  He simply cannot change the status quo.  It is impossible.

Bullshit.

Of COURSE men are going to put other men in the pipeline.  It is human nature for people to be comfortable with people who are most like themselves.  In this case, having a penis is extremely important.  Don’t ask me how it is important.  It just is.  Apparently there are urinary challenges to overcome or circle jerks where women are genitally challenged.  Who knows what initiation rites one must undergo to get into the pipeline?  Maybe it’s a matter of being tall enough to play center forward.  Or being able to get onto the greens at the right country club.  Whatever it is, it has nothing to do with the job.  It just has to do with a certain comfort level, to be able to sound important and have that sound acknowledged, to be able to swear without fear, to be able to take one’s shirt off when playing billiards at the local bar.

You know, guy stuff.  Men do not mentor women.  I have never seen it in a professional setting.  Let me think….  Nope, I can’t think of a single instance when men mentored women in the chemistry field.  Sometimes, women were hired to management positions and then the men around them bitched and moaned about how unqualified they were but I never witnessed one woman chosen from her male colleagues who was nurtured and forwarded for a management position by a senior male.

The president *could* just say, “your list must consist of as many females as males”.  We might expect him to set an example or be proactive but I guess that’s just too much to ask of this president.  He might force his team to come up with female names.  That might make the people making recommendations to form a professional relationship with some females, whether they liked it or not.  And that might get females into the pipeline.  As it is, since all of the candidates are male, half of these guys are going to be below average.  Are the candidate pickers trying to say that there are absolutely NO women who are better than the average guy to fill these positions?  Oh, wait, that was a Larry Summers idea.  See Brookesley Born reference above.

I would try harder if I were the president.  There’s really no excuse at this point.

Obama fans have a lot to answer for when women stagnate and regress for eight straight years under a “Democratic” president.  Does the end still justify the means?  One might reasonably argue that in 1993 and 1996, women were just starting to percolate through the system.  But 20 years later, there’s really no good excuse anymore.  As Dina Refki, executive director of Women in Government said in the article:

Experts on women in government suggested that more transparency might help equalize the gender ratio as well. “We know that to bring that level of leadership to 50 percent, we have to make a deliberate effort to find women and appoint them to that level,” said Dina Refki, the executive director of the Center for Women in Government and Civil Society at the University at Albany. “Most of the time that deliberate effort isn’t made.”

Has there been anything close to a deliberate effort made?  This mother of two daughters says, “definitely not”.

The One Paragraph that Sums it all up

This is the blurb on the frontpage of the NYTimes about the Romney-Ryan plan vs the Obama administration on the issue of Medicare:

President Obama and his campaign are arguing that the Romney-Ryan approach to Medicare would leave older Americans vulnerable to rising health care costs.

I’ll bet that when the writer wrote that paragraph he or she had no real insight about what they were talking about.  It’s just the zeitgeist. There doesn’t seem to be an epiphany here.  Why are health care costs continuing to rise?  How is it that our elected representatives have allowed these costs to rise without restraint? And it fails to put the blame where it belongs, especially when it comes to the Affordable Care Act. The biggest failure here is Obama’s because he and the Democrats have been unwilling or unable to prevent health care costs from rising to unsustainable levels.

And let us be clear about this, we have known that the rise in health care costs would be unsustainable, a deficit hog and a drag on the economy since the Clinton administration.  But the Republicans flooded the airwaves with Harry and Louise and the Democrats were too craven to stand their ground.

It doesn’t matter whether the Republicans restructure or eliminate Medicare or not.  The costs will keep on rising because we have done absolutely nothing to stop them from rising. The costs related to Medicare must be addressed.  There are painful ways of doing it, like the Romney-Ryan plan that would boot old people back into the private insurance market when they can least afford it, or there are less painful ways but expanding the insurance pool and putting a firm cap on the cost and types of procedures that will be covered, just like every other developed country in the world with good health care systems do.

What we have here is a failure of leadership.  We do not have a president or Congress who is willing or able to make a case for sensible reforms or is willing to say that Americans have to get over their ego and misinformed sense of superiority problem.  A good doctor can be found in many places including hospitals that serve the poor and the military, higher costs do not necessarily equal better care, you don’t need to go to a swanky hospital for good treatment, some alternative medicine is crap and we shouldn’t be paying for it, and the hospitals and other providers are not entitled to every last penny in the Treasury just because they send us an invoice.

But whatever.  Neither party has any intention of taking on the real problems associated with healthcare.  Neither wants to tell the public like it is or get the providers’ hands out of what they perceive to be bottomless pockets.

Your politicians at work.  Wake me in 2014.

Secret Service Unit Hired Prostitutes

Why am I not surprised?  This is on the frontpage of the NYTimes this morning:

Twelve Secret Service agents assigned to this port city in advance of President Obama’s arrival for the Summit of the Americas were relieved of duty, amid accusations of misconduct that is said to have involved prostitution, a government official confirmed Friday.

The misconduct is said to have occurred before Mr. Obama arrived here on Friday afternoon for the meeting of more than 30 world leaders that begins Saturday.

White House officials would not comment, referring all questions to the Secret Service. News of the accusations was first reported by The Washington Post.

In a statement, a Secret Service spokesman, Edwin M. Donovan, acknowledged that agents had been recalled because of accusations of misconduct and that they would be replaced by other Secret Service personnel, but he did not address the issue of prostitution.

“The Secret Service takes all allegations of misconduct seriously,” he said, adding that the matter had been turned over to the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility.

Prostitution is legal in designated areas of Colombia.

Well, I guess that makes it Ok then.  It’s just our western imperialist culture that makes a big deal about prostitution.

You know, I could see maybe one or two bad apples.  But TWELVE?  This is more like a gang looking for a bang.

Of course the White House will distance itself from this incident.  You know, they actually work for the Treasury department and Obama has no control over who guards him and yadayadayada.  I don’t know.  It’s more the ambience of the White House.  Women aren’t exactly in the loop and treated like professionals or experts or anything.  And then Michelle is doing the SAHM thing.  You SAHM moms out there can whine all you like about how you’re being attacked {{eyes rolling}} but it’s working women who seem to be getting the shaft in the Obama era.   And when women repeatedly get treated with little respect, and we don’t make clear that women are not commodities, well, we shouldn’t be surprised.

You can blame the Republicans for a lot of bad stuff but at least you can’t call them hypocrites.

***********************************

More on women: I am really disturbed that Hillary Rosen felt that it was necessary once more to kiss the asses of the sacred cow we call Stay at Home Mothers.  Fume all you like ladies.  You are not doing a harder job than all the other working mothers out there.  Trust me on this because I have been there.  Your efforts do not make the world go around any more than anyone else’s. I don’t want to hear about your “sacrifice”.  If you want praise for staying at home with your kids because you loved them so much, then it wasn’t a sacrifice.  It was a choice you made.  And that choice is no better or worse than any other choice that a working mother made.  It is no better or worse and it isn’t more worthy of praise or self-righteous snootery.

It’s about time you SAHM stop looking down your noses at everyone else and clutching your pearls when the working mothers have the audacity to demand respect.  And it’s about time that the rest of us stop apologizing and worshipping at the altar of people who choose motherhood as their exclusive career.

There, I said it.  Deal with it.

 

Friday: Disturbing Sistah Souljah Union Defecting Hippy Punching

It started early this morning when Brook (deliberately) missed the bus for school.  My mom’s car was blocking me in so I borrowed her keys and drove Brook to school.  On the way back, I turned up the volume on mom’s radio to hear some conservative talk show infotainers yucking it up about a recent survey that showed that the vast majority of Americans wanted the government to do something to help them economically.  Damn, I have to track down who these guys were so I can get a transcript to check the survey source and their exact words because what came next just defies logic.

So, these guys concluded that because the vast majority of Americans wanted the government to help them economically, that really means we want the government to give us money, money taken from rich people (there’s that class envy thing again) and given it to us because we don’t want to work for it ourselves.  In other words, these two jerks just told everyone who is struggling in this economy who is hoping for New Deal type programs to get them back to work that they were lazy good-for-nothings who didn’t want to do the hard work to succeed.  No, we just want some more deserving rich person to give us handouts.  This is what conservative voters are exposed to every day.  And I, one of the many thousands of recently laid-off R&D professionals who worked my ass off, along with the rest of my stressed out coworkers, could come to only one conclusion after this disturbing and completely unrealistic commentary: If you are struggling, unemployed and still a Republican, you need professional help.  Seriously.

Then I checked my email, tried to establish some relationships with friends I hadn’t seen in awhile, answered email from people I had met at recent conferences and looked for rejection emails to my last job applications.  No rejections this morning but it’s still early.  I cruised over to the Daily Show site and found Samantha Bee. redefine a Sistah Souljah moment as an opportunity by both parties to bash the left.  Apparently, the Daily Show doesn’t know that the new term is “Hippy Punching”.

Sistah Souljah from both sides now

Then, I found some stuff at Greg Sargent’s Plum Line on Campaign 2012.  He linked to two articles that are somewhat at odds with each other.  One of them is about Richard Trumka throwing in the towel with the Obama Administration and the Democrats, which I found encouraging.  Trumka is going to outline his plans for an independent labor movement at a speech at the National Press Club today.  The other was about how the Obama Administration Campaign supporters were already planning strategies to take out its opposition starting with Mitt Romney.  See Richard Trumka and Samantha Bee’s Sistah Souljah moment for some guesses as to who their future targets may be.  After all, the Democratic Party’s primary opposition isn’t really the Republican candidate in 2012.  Heck, even the Republicans don’t like their candidates (yet) and are allowing the Tea Party to purge the ones who don’t toe the line while the more pragmatic Washington GOP crowd is getting a little nervous.  No, the Democratic Party’s real opposition are other Democrats, those annoying voters who want the party to represent the principles of the Democratic Party.  You know, the ones who won’t make excuses for Obama’s abandonment of the unemployed?  The ones who don’t praise him for even the slightest, and I do mean “slight”, (teensy-tiny airquotes) of efforts?  The ones who insist that “You can’t buff a turd“?

Like Paul Krugman who praised Obama this morning for saving GM’s ass last year.  Um, wouldn’t it have been irresponsible NOT to save GM’s ass last year?  But wait!  There’s more.  Not only did Obama save GM’s ass last year, he did it by breaking the contracts negotiated in good faith with the people who actually did the work for GM while he didn’t require any sacrifices from the bankers he lobbied to bailout in 2008.  Which just goes to show that the public that so desperately wants the government to help them get back to economic prosperity is completely out in left field- and will be getting a Sistah Souljah moment shortly.

As much as I love, Krugman, (and I do, Paul, really I do, your eyes are so dreamy), it’s not the first time he’s been “off” lately.  A couple weeks ago I postulated that the fear based strategy Republicans used to get their voters to the polls was based on terrorism and threats to personal safety while Democrats used terrorism of economic/safety net catastrophes to get their voters to the polls. Well, abortion isn’t going to work in 2012 after “This is what a feminist looks like” NOW spokes model Barack Obama sold women out on just about everything that is important to them from the egregious limitations on abortion coverage in the healthcare reform bill to NOT rescinding the Conscience Clause, not to mention touting the Lilly Ledbetter bill as the same as the equal pay bills that have been stalled in Congress during the run up to the midterm elections last fall.  (Jeez, Obama people must think women are stupid and not paying attention or can’t trust their lying eyes when they can’t find a job but their well-connected male colleagues can by tapping into the well established old boy’s network.  Ok, Obama women really are stupid if they didn’t recognize that Obama was the BMOC in the uber Old Boys Network, but I digress.)

So, Paul writes this post called Seniors, Guns and Money making fun of the authentically risible Republican congresscritters who criticized the Democrats for scaring seniors  about Medicare.  But Paul is missing the donkey in the corner.  Democrats aren’t trying to scare seniors, they’re trying to scare their own base.  Seniors are actually somewhat ambivalent about the Medicare debacle.  That’s because Republicans are engaging in generational warfare.  Seniors know that they’re safe.  It’s people under 55 that have to worry and seniors aren’t staying up nights fretting over us.  Oh, sure, they have compassion but it only goes so far.  If there’s only so much money to go around, they expect to get it first because they paid for it.  Never mind that people my age paid more and will get worthless vouchers.

Democrats set the bait, lefties fall into line.

Atrios can’t understand why Manhattan needs another parking garage and wonders why rich people are so stupid.  I agree.  I used to take the train to Manhattan once a week when Brook was 11 so she could take art lessons at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was $18 round trip.  Brook rode free during Saturday’s off-peak hours.  Sure, it was a pain in the ass transferring at Newark, the WTC or Penn Station for local Metro subway lines that always seemed to be out of service, have poor signage or rerouted.  Now that Christie has raised the rates to $28.00 round trip and there are no discounts for off-peak and Brook is too old to ride free, a trip to the museum to use our family membership is out of the question on NJTransit.  I’d rather drive and park the car for $35.  That saves us money for kebabs at the halal stand.  Not that unemployed people have a lot of money to waste on family memberships to the Met or trips to Manhattan.  Oh, well, I’m sure the rich will make up the slack.  Besides, Brook got her culture in early in life and there’s always the internet.

Of course, if we changed the incentives for taking mass transit…

And in my humble unsolicited opinion, Maria Shriver knew.  Yep, she gave up her career for Ahnold.  Why would she do that if she knew something was up?  Easy.  She wanted her share of political influence that many of the Kennedy’s feel entitled to.  Let’s not forget who was one of Obama’s biggest fans in California before the primary.  Hillary still won the state but it was Maria Shriver, erstwhile heiress of a liberal Democratic dynasty, married to a Republican governor (that right there should have set off alarm bells and pinned her in a new and different Democratic cohort), who relentlessly banged the drum for Obama.  So what if she ran some conferences on empowering women?  We know now that Obama women are not sticklers for adherence to former Democratic principles of gender equity.  I would hate to be accused of blaming the victim but it seems to me that Maria Shriver made a shrewd calculation.  Neither Shriver or Schwarznegger should be held up as paragons of virtue.  One of them sold out  family, the other sold out women and the state of California.  I feel sorry for the kids, all five of them (and counting).

Story of the Week: WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange Releases Afghanistan War Logs

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange

The biggest story in the news today is the massive leak of government documents to three major newspapers: The UK Guardian, The New York Times, and Der Spiegel in Germany by Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.

He has been called “The Robin Hood of Hacking.” As the founder and public face of WikiLeaks, which posts secretive documents and information in the public domain, Julian Assange believes total transparency is in the good of the people. But Assange — who reportedly lives an itinerant existence, traveling the world with a back-pack and a computer — is himself a shadowy figure. Little is known about his life: he has refused to confirm his age in interviews or give a fixed address. But on July 26, mathematically-trained Australian changed the media landscape — and possibly the course of history — by releasing around 90,000 classified U.S. military records from the war in Afghanistan.

In 2006, Assange decided to found WikiLeaks in the belief that the free exchange of information would put an end to illegitimate governance. The website publishes material from sources, and houses its main server in Sweden, which has strong laws protecting whistleblowers. Assange and others at WikiLeaks also occasionally hack into secure systems to find documents to expose. In December, the website published its first document — a decision by the Somali Islamic Courts Union that called for the execution of government officials. WikiLeaks published a disclaimer that the document may not be authentic and “may be a clever smear by U.S. intelligence.”

The website went on to get several prominent scoops, including the release in April of a secret video taken in 2007 of a U.S. helicopter attack in Iraq that killed a dozen civilians, including two unarmed Reuters journalists. Assange helped post the video from a safe-house in Iceland that he and the other WikiLeaks administrators called “the bunker.”

From The NYT yesterday: View Is Bleaker Than Official Portrayal of War in Afghanistan

The secret documents, released on the Internet by an organization called WikiLeaks, are a daily diary of an American-led force often starved for resources and attention as it struggled against an insurgency that grew larger, better coordinated and more deadly each year….

The documents — some 92,000 reports spanning parts of two administrations from January 2004 through December 2009 — illustrate in mosaic detail why, after the United States has spent almost $300 billion on the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban are stronger than at any time since 2001.

As the new American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, tries to reverse the lagging war effort, the documents sketch a war hamstrung by an Afghan government, police force and army of questionable loyalty and competence, and by a Pakistani military that appears at best uncooperative and at worst to work from the shadows as an unspoken ally of the very insurgent forces the American-led coalition is trying to defeat.

Here is the NYT “War Logs” page that collects the related stories.

From today’s Der Spiegel article: The Afghanistan Protocol: Explosive Leaks Provide Image of War from Those Fighting It

The documents’ release comes at a time when calls for a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan are growing — even in America. Last week, representatives from more than 70 nations and organizations met in Kabul for the Afghanistan conference. They assured President Hamid Karzai that his country would be in a position by 2014 to guarantee security using its own soldiers and police.

But such shows of optimism seem cynical in light of the descriptions of the situation in Afghanistan provided in the classified documents. Nearly nine years after the start of the war, they paint a gloomy picture. They portray Afghan security forces as the hapless victims of Taliban attacks. They also offer a conflicting impression of the deployment of drones, noting that America’s miracle weapons are also entirely vulnerable.

And they show that the war in northern Afghanistan, where German troops are stationed, is becoming increasingly perilous. The number of warnings about possible Taliban attacks in the region — fuelled [sic] by support from Pakistan — has increased dramatically in the past year.

The documents offer a window into the war in the Hindu Kush — one which promises to change the way we think about the ongoing violence in Afghanistan. They will also be indispensible for anyone seeking to inform themselves about the war in the future.

Here is the UK Guardian page on the war logs with many stories based on the leaked information.

The Guardian has a video of Julian Assange: Julian Assange on the Afghanistan war logs: ‘They show the true nature of this war’

The Guardian has also prepared an interactive map with their selections of the most significant incidents covered in the war logs.

A good summary of the information in the logs at the Wired blog, Threat Level The story quotes the official Obama administration response to the leaks from the NYT:

“The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organizations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk, and threaten our national security,” said White House national security advisory General James Jones, in a statement Sunday. “Wikileaks made no effort to contact us about these documents — the United States government learned from news organizations that these documents would be posted.”

At the New Yorker, Amy Davidson highlights one shocking incident:

…an incident report dated November 22, 2009, submitted by a unit called Task Force Pegasus. It describes how a convoy was stopped on a road in southern Afghanistan at an illegal checkpoint manned by what appeared to be a hundred insurgents, “middle-age males with approx 75 x AK-47’s and 15 x PKM’s.” What could be scarier than that?

Maybe what the soldiers found out next: these weren’t “insurgents” at all, at least not in the die-hard jihadi sense that the American public might understand the term. The gunmen were quite willing to let the convoy through, if the soldiers just forked over a two- or three-thousand-dollar bribe; and they were in the pay of a local warlord, Matiullah Khan, who was himself in the pay, ultimately, of the American public. According to a Times report this June (six months after the incident with Task Force Pegasus), Matiullah earns millions of dollars from NATO, supposedly to keep that road clear for convoys and help with American special-forces missions. Matiullah is also suspected of (and has denied) earning money “facilitating the movement of drugs along the highway.”

…..The Obama Administration has already expressed dismay that WikiLeaks publicized the documents, but a leak informing us that our tax dollars may be being used as seed money for a protection racket associated with a narcotics-trafficking enterprise is a good leak to have. And the checkpoint incident is, again, only one report, from one day.

Glenn Greenwald also has a post on the leaks.

Greenwald tweeted a little while ago that if Julian Assange got the Nobel Peace Prize he would be much more deserving than the last guy who won it.

This story is huge! This is the modern-day “Pentagon papers” that could bring down the wars pushed by Obama’s “best and brightest.” It’s terrific that the story came out on a Sunday; this should be fodder for cable news all week. Let’s hope they have the guts to cover it.

Daniel Ellsberg, the guy who released the original Pentagon papers and was targeted by a “White House hit squad” in 1972, fears for the life of Julian Assange. He told The Daily Beast last month

Do you think Assange is in danger?

I happen to have been the target of a White House hit squad myself. On May 3, 1972, a dozen CIA assets from the Bay of Pigs, Cuban émigrés were brought up from Miami with orders to “incapacitate me totally.” I said to the prosecutor, “What does that mean? Kill me.” He said, “It means to incapacitate you totally. But you have to understand these guys never use the word ‘kill.’”

Is the Obama White House anymore enlightened than Nixon’s?

We’ve now been told by Dennis Blair, the late head of intelligence here, that President Obama has authorized the killing of American citizens overseas, who are suspected of involvement in terrorism. Assange is not American, so he doesn’t even have that constraint. I would think that he is in some danger. Granted, I would think that his notoriety now would provide him some degree of protection. You would think that would protect him, but you could have said the same thing about me. I was the number one defendant. I was on trail but they brought up people to beat me up.

You believe he is in danger of bodily harm, then?

Absolutely. On the same basis, I was….Obama is now proclaiming rights of life and death, being judge, jury, and executioner of Americans without due process. No president has ever claimed that and possibly no one since John the First.

What advice would you give Assange?

Stay out of the U.S. Otherwise, keep doing what he is doing. It’s pretty valuable…He is serving our democracy and serving our rule of law precisely by challenging the secrecy regulations, which are not laws in most cases, in this country.

Thank you Julian Assange! And thank you to Pvt. Bradley Manning, who is the probable source for the leaks to Assange and is now under arrest. Free Bradley Manning!!

Conflucians, as you work your way through this material, please post anything you think is important for us to know. This story must be pushed hard!

UPDATE: Here is the data that is posted at the WikiLeaks site. Each of the newspapers made their own choices about what information to reveal and what to hold back. The NYT negotiated with the WH in making their decisions. It will be interesting to see if they left out some material that the foreign papers include. The also claim they asked Assange not to post material that would be harmful to troops in the field, although that probably wasn’t necessary.

A new “ketchup is a vegetable” moment

I don’t know what to make of this comment from David Obey about the Obama administration’s suggestion that funding for Obama’s Race to the Top educational initiatives be taken from food stamp funds:

The secretary of education [Arne Duncan] is whining about the fact he only got 85 percent of the money he wanted .… [W]hen we needed money, we committed the cardinal sin of treating him like any other mere mortal. We were giving them over $10 billion in money to help keep teachers on the job, plus another $5 billion for Pell, so he was getting $15 billion for the programs he says he cares about, and it was costing him $500 million [in reductions to the Race to the Top program]. Now that’s a pretty damn good deal. So as far as I’m concerned, the secretary of education should have been happy as hell. He should have taken that deal and smiled like a Cheshire cat. He’s got more walking around money than every other cabinet secretary put together.

We were told we have to offset every damn dime of [new teacher spending]. Well, it ain’t easy to find offsets, and with all due respect to the administration their first suggestion for offsets was to cut food stamps. Now they were careful not to make an official budget request, because they didn’t want to take the political heat for it, but that was the first trial balloon they sent down here. …Their line of argument was, well, the cost of food relative to what we thought it would be has come down, so people on food stamps are getting a pretty good deal in comparison to what we thought they were going to get. Well isn’t that nice. Some poor bastard is going to get a break for a change.

Hmmm.  I don’t know where the White House is shopping but here in NJ peaches are still retailing for $1.99/lb.  Yep.  It seems that when gas prices spiked a couple of years ago at $4.00/gal, grocery stores raised prices accordingly and now we have a “new normal”.  It’s not nearly as bad as it is in Maui where my older daughter lives where a couple of bags of groceries can easily cost $100 but it’s still pretty bad.  I marvel at the cost of a single dinner.

Around here, the layoffs are thick and furious.  One minute, you’re making enough to pay your mortgage and property taxes, the next, you’re facing foreclosure as soon as the severance bennies run out.  One of the obvious solutions is to not live in NJ.  Or New York, where unemployment benefits peak at something like $450/week.  Now, that might seem generous if you live in Alabama but that money won’t even pay the rent around here for a single month.  Imagine if you have hungry kids?

There’s no shame in accepting food stamps.  Unemployed people paid for them throughout their working careers.  When it’s time to collect, they need to be able to pay the going rate for food in their area.  That’s an insurance policy against malnutrition.  And no Race to the Top scheme is going to work in a state where children are too hungry to think.

And while the House Education and Labor Committees just approved a bill that would help improve our school lunch program, advocates say the measly sums appropriated for it will not be enough unless a convincing case can be made on the House floor during debate:

“From our view [the Improving Nutrition for America's Children Act] is really the best child nutrition bill that we’ve ever had. It includes stronger nutrition standards and grants for farm-to-school programs,” says Gordon Jenkins, program manager at Slow Food USA. “The amount of funding however, is very modest at the $.06 addition to the current $2.68, which leaves only about $1 for ingredients. It won’t be enough to make a significant change. That can be modified on the floor if Congress hears it’s important enough.”

For those too young to remember, Ronald Reagan’s administration tried something similar in the early 80′s during another severe recession.  It tried to sut money from the school lunch program and reclassify ketchup as a vegetable.  That didn’t go over too well with the public, even among those who thought there was a cadillac driving welfare queen behind every application for a free lunch.  You do not skimp when it comes to the nutritional needs of children.  That kind of callous indifference will definitely get you pilloried by the public, which may be Obey’s intent.  We can read a lot of political subtext into this little ditty.

In the meantime, food insecurity is a big problem in this Great Recession.  If you have the means, remember that there are a lot of unlucky duckies who still can’t find work and feed their kids.  You can help by donating to Feeding America.

What’s Going On Between Obama and the CIA?

President Obama speaking at CIA Headquarters

A kind of war of leaks appears to be going on between Obama administration and the CIA. I realize that it is nothing new for Presidents of the U.S. to have conflicts with the CIA–Presidents since Truman have struggled to control the intelligence apparatus he set in motion after World War II.

I’m certainly no expert on this kind of thing, and I’m hoping someone like Joseph Cannon will be able to explain it eventually. But for now, I thought I’d just post some of the things I’ve been reading in the hopes that together we can make some sense out of the situation. So here’s the deal.

First we had crotch bomber Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, who managed to get through multiple airline security systems and come close to detonating a bomb in his underwear on Delta Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas day. For a full examination of what is know about the crotch bombing incident, you can’t beat the two excellent posts that Joseph Cannon has written so far. Scroll down for the earlier post on the many strange questions about case.

President Obama’s first response to the aborted bombing attempt came on December 31. Here is a portion of the statement from the White House web site:

I wanted to speak to the American people again today because some of this preliminary information that has surfaced in the last 24 hours raises some serious concerns. It’s been widely reported that the father of the suspect in the Christmas incident warned U.S. officials in Africa about his son’s extremist views. It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community, but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect’s name on a no-fly list.

There appears [sic] to be other deficiencies as well. Even without this one report there were bits of information available within the intelligence community that could have and should have been pieced together. We’ve achieved much since 9/11 in terms of collecting information that relates to terrorists and potential terrorist attacks. But it’s becoming clear that the system that has been in place for years now is not sufficiently up to date to take full advantage of the information we collect and the knowledge we have.

Had this critical information been shared it could have been compiled with other intelligence and a fuller, clearer picture of the suspect would have emerged. The warning signs would have triggered red flags and the suspect would have never been allowed to board that plane for America.

Obama then went on to praise the intelligence community and to say that he understood that even the best people weren’t infallible. This was apparently interpreted by members of the CIA as an attack by Obama on their competence. Continue reading

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