Monday, October 26, 2009

Wait a minute!

Why are we still in Afghanistan?

The country poses no threat to the U.S., but the war costs lives, drains the treasury and makes enemies

One of the enduring oddities of the American foreign policy debate is that asking the most obvious questions is all but forbidden. For example, how does Afghanistan pose a threat to the United States?

Certainly not in any military sense. The impoverished, largely illiterate Afghans have no army apart from the one U.S. and NATO forces, with very limited success, are trying to train. No air force, no navy, no offensive military capacity whatsoever.

From the U.S. perspective, Afghanistan is the absolute end of the earth. Indeed, it's not a nation at all. The idea that well-intentioned Westerners can create an efficient central government on, say, the Swiss model, where none has ever existed, much less one acceptable to Afghanistan's many warring tribes, sects and ethnic factions, is almost certainly a delusion.

Here's the reality, as explained by a theater manager in somewhat Westernized Kabul to the New York Times: "The Afghan people are not mentally united ... An Uzbek will never vote for a Tajik. A Tajik will never vote for a Pashtun." The prevailing view, reporter Sabrina Tavernise found, appears to be that President Hamid Karzai's recent election victory was both fraudulent and inevitable.

Almost nobody believes a recount would solve anything. "Even if every Afghan casts their vote for (runner-up) (Abdullah) Abdullah, he won't be president because the foreigners don't want him to be," another man told her. "Nobody respected the people's vote."

Afghans see the Karzai government as organized thievery with a Pashtun accent. Period. Thus while veteran Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland is likely correct that President Obama's seeming indecision about sending 40,000 more American soldiers there is actually a squeeze play to pressure "Karzai into sharing power with more honest, competent Afghans," it's also apt to show more illusory than real results.

Granted, Obama's current dilemma is yet another fine mess bequeathed to him by the epic incompetence of George W. Bush. But it's a political rather than a military threat Obama faces. Terrorists can't defeat the United States; they can only cause American politicians to self-destruct in fear of taking blame for future atrocities.

Had the United States and its allies not diverted manpower and resources from Afghanistan to a futile, unnecessary war in Iraq, the counterinsurgency techniques proposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal to persuade Taliban fighters to put down their weapons might have worked.

Eight bloody years on, however, what motivates the insurgency has been captured in an extraordinary series by David Rohde, the New York Times reporter rescued after seven months as a Taliban prisoner.

While his "captors harbored many delusions about Westerners," Rohde writes, U.S. antiterrorist policies had galvanized them. "They said large numbers of civilians had been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories in aerial bombings. Muslim prisoners had been physically abused and sexually humiliated in Iraq. Scores of men had been detained in Cuba and Afghanistan for up to seven years without charges."

Rohde witnessed Taliban militants weeping over a NATO airstrike that killed scores of Afghan women and children. "To Americans," he writes "these episodes were aberrations. To my captors, they were proof that the United States was a hypocritical and duplicitous power that flouted international law.

Don't tread on my profits

Health coverage 'plan' was no insurance at all

Mary Lloyd of East Bethel says she was "royally duped" into buying health coverage that wasn't insurance, and she's not alone.

Mary Lloyd's husband was lying in the intensive care unit of an Arizona hospital when she got a good look at their new health insurance card for the first time.

Then she got the shock of her life. The card read: "This is NOT an insurance card."

For the retired couple from East Bethel, it was the beginning of a financial nightmare that left them with at least $50,000 in unpaid medical bills. They discovered that the new "health plan," they signed up for in January, for $499 a month, wouldn't pay for any of his medical care.

"I was royally duped," said Mary Lloyd, a painful admission from a woman who spent 27 years as a clinic and hospital manager. "I understand health care, and I understand health insurance," she said. "That's why I was so mortified that this happened to us."

No one knows how many customers have fallen into this trap. But dubious health plans are "spreading like poison oak all over the country," says James Quiggle of the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, a nonprofit watchdog in Washington, D.C.

Consumer advocates say companies are taking advantage of the recession and the growing number of uninsured people -- 1 in 5 American adults under age 65 -- to sell "health coverage" that evaporates when customers try to use it, or provides far less than promised.

Just last month, Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson sued two out-of-state companies for allegedly misleading customers with phony claims about their health plans; and ten more investigations are underway, she said.

"Here, they're targeting people who are pretty sophisticated, and who really asked all the right questions," Swanson said. People believe them, she said, because they're "so desperate to find affordable coverage."

After the Billionaires Plundered Alabama Town, Troops Were Called in ... Illegally

Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace

"We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity and opportunity for all," says one Goldman Sachs adviser. But tell that to the people of Samson, Ala.

Editor's Note: The shocking transfer of public wealth to Wall Street's pockets is illustrated vividly in Mark Ames' article below, which covers some very disturbing recent events in Alabama, where billionaires and banks are squeezing the locals so hard that they're literally going bankrupt just for flushing their toilets, where violence and the threat of violence are reaching a boiling point and where even the Posse Comitatus Act is under threat. "We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity and opportunity for all," said one Goldman Sachs vice-chairman recently. Well, here's a tale of the kind of inequality the finance industry expects citizens to tolerate.

One of this year's more disturbing stories that were ignored was the illegal Army occupation of Samson, Alab., in March following a shooting spree that raged across two towns by a disgruntled worker, leaving 11 people dead.

As I wrote at the time, Michael McLendon, 27, went on a killing rampage following years of relentless corporate exploitation and harassment against him, his mother (whom he mercy-killed), and the entire rural Alabama region, which suffered like so many parts of rural America at the hands of billionaire goons like chicken oligarch Bo Pilgrim of Pilgrim's Pride notoriety.

One of the creepiest details to emerge in the shooting rampage were reports that troops from nearby Fort Rucker were brought into Samson and other surrounding areas to patrol the streets. This is a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, every freedom-loving American's worst nightmare.

And now, finally, the Army officially agrees that its occupation of the Alabama streets was illegal, according to an internal report the Associated Press got a hold of, following a Freedom of Information Act filing:

An Army investigation found that soldiers should not have been sent to man traffic stops in a small Alabama town after 11 people were killed in March during a shooting spree.

An Army report released to the Associated Press on Monday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request said the decision to dispatch military police to Samson from nearby Fort Rucker broke the law. But an Army spokesman said no charges have been filed following the Aug. 10 report.

The report from the Department of Army Inspector General found the use of military personnel in Samson violated the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits federal troops from performing law-enforcement actions. The names of those involved were redacted from the report.

According to the report, the officer's "intent was to be a good Army neighbor and help local civilian authorities facing a difficult, unique tragedy affecting the local community. There were no apparent adverse collateral effects to the support provided."

Indeed. For a lot of Americans, the sight of troops occupying their towns is their worst nightmare come true -- part of the reason that America came into existence was to create a country where this sort of thing would never happen, even if the Army's sole intent was to be a good neighbor and help old ladies cross the streets.

See through Republican BS

T. Boone Pickens confirms Iraq War for OIL


Straight from the horse's mouth:
[Financier T. Boone Pickens speaks during the World Business Forum in New York October 6, 2009. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)]Financier T. Boone Pickens speaks during the World Business Forum in New York October 6, 2009. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
Pickens says US Firms 'Entitled' to Iraqi Oil

by Tom Doggett

WASHINGTON - Oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens told Congress on Wednesday that U.S. energy companies are "entitled" to some of Iraq's crude because of the large number of American troops that lost their lives fighting in the country and the U.S. taxpayer money spent in Iraq. Boone, speaking to the newly formed Congressional Natural Gas Caucus, complained that the Iraqi government has awarded contracts to foreign companies, particularly Chinese firms, to develop Iraq's vast reserves while American companies have mostly been shut out.

"They're opening them (oil fields) up to other companies all over the world ... We're entitled to it," Pickens said of Iraq's oil. "Heck, we even lost 5,000 of our people, 65,000 injured and a trillion, five hundred billion dollars."

President Barack Obama has pledged to withdraw U.S. troops in Iraq.

"We leave there with the Chinese getting the oil," Pickens said.

Essentially, Pickens is saying America can only get a piece of Iraq's oil if we have a gun in their face.

There are a couple of problems with that calculus though.

First, even if American oil companies get oil concessions in Iraq, there is no guarantee that means they will sell it to American citizens for less, or reward us for the sacrifices of tax dollars and our troops lives that it took to get those contracts.

And while we are rightly focused on the thousands of our troops who have died, the Iraqis might be thinking more about the over one million Iraqis killed, with every other family having lost at least one member.

The other thing to note is that China and other countries were somehow able to negotiate contracts with Iraq without invading or occupying the country. Could it be that one way to negotiate is to offer more favorable terms than you competitors instead putting a gun in the face of the people you're negotiating with?

That might be hard to grasp if you are used to calling up Washington and getting the CIA or Pentagon to remove leaders who don't agree to your terms. Military action is a form of welfare for oil companies.

That certainly seemed to be the case in Iraq since as soon as Dick Cheney came into office, he formed a secretive energy task force, and the only revealing document anyone could pry out of it was a map of Iraq's oil fields divided up and a list of foreign suitors for those fields.

And if you think taking care of the oil companies also meant getting cheap gas for the rest of us, think again. BBC journalist Greg Palast was told by a top CIA oil analyst that the war was to prevent the price of oil from going down. The industry's own journal said in 2002 that once sanctions came off Saddam, he could pump too much oil and drive the price DOWN. President Bush even seemed to confirm this when he sent Russia's Putin reassurances that an Iraq War would NOT result in lower oil prices.

The other thing the awarding of contracts to other countries proves is that the oil companies are lying, and getting politicians in DC to lie for them, about Iraqis demanding unreasonable terms that make it impossible for them to drill there and make a profit. Somehow those other countries think Iraq's terms are manageable.

Ravaged by drought, Madagascar feels the full effect of climate change

Deforestation-induced erosion in Madagascar (October 2004)

A 10% increase in temperature and a 10% decrease in rainfall sees Indian Ocean island struggle to feed its children

by David Smith Feroce founded the village of Anjamahavelo – meaning At the Lucky Baobab – in Madagascar a generation ago. With memories of a flood still fresh, he chose a spot far from the nearest river. He cleared the wild forest and sacrificed a sheep in the hope that it would make the owls, lemurs and snakes go away.

"Animals can't live together with little children and young girls," explained Feroce, an 85-year-old great-grandfather. "They don't want snakes to be here because they have bad spirits. They strangle children by curling around the neck. Owls are bad birds. If one hoots, it means somebody will die."

The animals did go away, but so did the luck of Anjamahavelo, a cluster of wooden houses. Southern Madagascar has had three years of crop failure in five years, resulting in chronic hunger for tens of thousands of families and soaring rates of malnutrition, stunted growth and death among children.

Three forces are combining with deadly effect on the Indian Ocean island, which is incalculably rich in wildlife but impoverished in basic infrastructure. Climate change is widely blamed for playing havoc with the seasons and destroying agricultural harvests. This is exacerbated by local deforestation, which has altered the microclimate and reduced rainfall.

Finally, a bloody political coup earlier this year paralysed essential services and led to the crippling suspension of several foreign aid programmes. The UN says that nearly half of households in the south have severe food shortages.

20 Minutes with the President

Worst. Album. Ever.

by Michael Dare or not you like Bob Dylan could very much depend upon whether you've heard Blood on the Tracks, which is a masterpiece by absolutely any standard. On the other hand, if his Christmas album, Christmas in the Heart, is the only Bob Dylan album you've ever heard, you would have every right to rank him somewhere between Mrs. Miller and Tiny Tim in the pantheon of singing oddities. Here Comes Santa Claus, Winter Wonderland, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, O Little Town of Bethlehem, there will never, ever, be worse versions of these songs. Impossible. Christmas in the Heart bubbled up from some insane reverse Bizarro world American Idol where only those with the most disagreeable vocal cords are free to embarrass themselves.

There's no blood on these tracks, just phlegm, buckets of phlegm, tangled up in sputum, you need shelter from the expectorant, Heimlich me in the morning, the idiot cough, if you see him, say gesundheit, he's gonna make me grateful when he goes. The songs aren't uplifting, imbued with subtle texture, but Leonard Cohen times Tom Waits divided by Josh Groban. Dylan finally proves to the world that he can sing worse than ANYBODY, just try to sing worse than this, I dare you.

And all those people who think they can do a Dylan impersonation? Like Elvis impersonators, they've now got to decide between the early Dylan who couldn't sing or the older, degraded Dylan who REALLY can't sing. Good luck with it and don't hurt yourself.

Most importantly, this album is going to have a profound effect upon the war on terror. If al Qaeda wants statements from American soldiers they've captured in Afghanistan, all they have to do is play Dylan's Christmas album over and over and the troops will be begging to confess to the fact Dick Cheney was behind 9/11.

The Constant Weader

Fox News shows should probably carry a warning: Contact your doctor if you have rage lasting more than four hours.
-- Louis Menand

Blue Dogs bark but never bite.
-- John McCain

This is a country that often has transformational ambitions but is saddled with an incremental system, a nation built on revolution, then engineered so the revolutionary can rarely take hold.
-- Anna Quindlen

I've not been very happy with the White House's lukewarm support of the public option. -- Sen. Tom Harkin

For Rush and Glenn and Balloon Dad, the allure of media attention is too powerful to be curbed by a sense of social responsibility.
-- John Del Cecato

Who cares? -- Joe Biden, in response to Dick Cheney's "irrelevant" anti-Obama rants

Our economy is so completely fucked, the rich are running out of things to steal. -- Matt Taibbi

A right-wing host...would turn to the conservative guest and ask, 'You think the war in Iraq is a stunning success. Please tell us why it's going so well.' Then s/he would introduce me and say, 'Now, I understand you're against fighting for freedom. Can you explain to our audience why that is?'
-- David Corn, on being a liberal pundit on Fox

It does not seem to have occurred because of some deep resolution of the theological disputes between Anglicans and Catholics, but merely by a shared abhorrence of women priests and openly gay ones.
-- Andrew Sullivan, on the Pope's announcement the Roman Church would accept Anglicans into the fold

There are 52 solid Democrats for the public option. Only about five Democrats oppose it. Should the 52 give in to the five? Or should the five go along with the vast majority of the Democratic caucus?
-- Sen. Tom Harkin

Corporate media

Texas, the Eyes of Justice Are Upon You


photo    On October 13, we lost a resolute champion of the law, a man who left his impact on the lives of untold numbers of Americans.

    His very name made his life's work almost inevitable, a matter of destiny. William Wayne Justice was a federal judge for the Eastern District of Texas. That's right, he was "Justice Justice." And he spent a distinguished legal career making sure that everyone - no matter their color or income or class - got a fair shake. As a former Texas lieutenant governor put it last week, "Judge Justice dragged Texas into the 20th century, God bless him."

    Dragged it kicking and screaming, for it was Justice who ordered Texas to integrate its public schools in 1971 - 17 years after the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision made separate schools for blacks and whites unconstitutional. Texas resisted doing the right thing for as long as it could. Many of its segregated schools for African-American children were so poor they still had outhouses instead of indoor plumbing.

    This small town lawyer appointed to the federal bench by President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered Texas to open its public housing to everyone, regardless of their skin color. He looked at the state's "truly shocking conditions" in its juvenile detention system and said, repair it. He struck down state law that permitted public schools to charge as much as $1,000 tuition for children of illegal immigrants.

    And Justice demanded a top-to-bottom overhaul of Texas prisons, some of the most brutal and corrupt in the nation. He even held the state in contempt of court when he thought it was dragging its feet cleaning up a system where thousands of inmates slept on the dirty bare floors of their cellblocks and often went without medical care. The late, great Molly Ivins said, "He brought the United States Constitution to Texas."

    Some say that justice stings. William Wayne Justice certainly did - and his detractors stung back with death threats and hate mail. Carpenters refused to repair his house, beauty parlors denied service to his wife. There were cross burnings and constant calls for his impeachment.

    After he desegregated the schools, he was offered armed guards for protection. He turned them down and instead took lessons in self-defense.

    You need to understand that while so many Texans have fought and are fighting the good fight in the Judge Justice tradition, others believe in the law only when it sides with them. They long for the good old days of Judge Roy Bean, the saloonkeeper whose barroom court was known in the frontier days as "the law west of the Pecos." His judicial philosophy was simple: "Hang 'em first, try 'em later."

    The present governor of Texas seems to be channeling Judge Bean.

Is the Army fixing recruitment goal numbers to justify SURGE in Afghanistan?

Afghanistan & Pakistan

Posted by indythinker

\\\\\Amid charges from former Vice-President Dick Cheney and other Republicans that the Obama administration is taking too long to make a decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan, Correspondent Fred Kaplan of Slate says that the Army's claims to have exceeded its 2009 recruiting goals have been exaggerated. The numbers are very fishy, and it is what the Pentagon IS NOT telling the American people, Congress, and their Commander-In-Chief that is highly irregular.

Some Pentagon officials claim success was due to high unemployment, while others to a spurt in civic-mindedness in response to President Obama's call for national service. However, scrutiny shows that fewer people joined the Army this year than last year and the Army lowered its recruitment goals.

At a time when the administration is faced with dwindling public support for the 8-year-old war, Obama's national security team is weighing whether the United States should send more troops to the region. His team is considering as few as 10,000 and as many as 80,000 more Americans in the region, as well as whether to order more forces to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan or to focus more narrowly on al-Qaida terrorists believed to be hiding in Pakistan. The U.S. already has about 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, and NATO nations have supplied 36,000 more.

\\\\\Kaplan's investigative report is timely and raises many questions about the Pentagon's anxiety to send more troops to Afghanistan. Even if troops were not being sent to Iraq or Afghanistan the shifting of military recruitment numbers to make a case for escalation of war warrants a Congressional and administration investigation to prove Kaplan mistaken. Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr need to explain to their Commander-In-Chief, Congress, and the American people why Army planners saw fit to decrease military recruitment quotas for the first time in a decade while simultaneously begging for MORE TROOPS IN COMBAT.

He notes that the Army is the service that has been having the hardest time finding new recruits in recent years, because it [along with the Marine Corps] has borne the heaviest burden, and suffered by far the most casualties-in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The Pentagon's report states that the Army's goal for 2009 was to sign 65,000 new recruits. It actually signed 70,045. But the claim is not as credible as it appears on paper. Bean counters at DoD may consider this number crunching an technical increase and meeting recruitment goals, but lowering that goal by 15,000 recruits does nothing for the credibility of the Army's claim that it has met or exceeded recruiting goals. In fact, regardless if one supports the proposed surge by the Pentagon or not the time to cut military recruitment quota in our ground forces is not when Army generals are asking for more troops in the field.

What the Pentagon fails to mention to both Congress, the President, and the American public is that in each of the previous two years of the Bush administration, the Army's recruitment goal was 80,000-much higher than this year's. The Pentagon traditionally does planning in five year cycles, and during wartime it is essential to have an accurate assessment of how many troops you need in the pipeline before asking for additional troops in a combat zone. This is even more essential given we do not have a National draft.

Photo-ops you'll never see