Monday, April 5, 2010

Last Call

If you're still wondering why the people of Afghanistan are siding with the Taliban over America, this might explain a few things.
US military personnel apparently mistook the cameras slung over the backs of two Reuters journalists for weapons when they opened fire on them and a group of people in a Baghdad suburb in 2007, recently released video footage shows.

The whistleblower Web site Wikileaks on Monday released a 17-minute video of footage from an Apache helicopter that was reportedly one of two helicopters involved in a fight against insurgents in the neighborhood of New Baghdad on July 12, 2007.

The video shows the deaths of Reuters journalists Namir Noor-Eldeen, 22 and Saeed Chmagh, 40, along with six other people on a street corner. It also shows US forces firing on a minivan in which two injured children were found.

"The military did not reveal how the Reuters staff were killed, and stated that they did not know how the children were injured," Wikileaks states.

On Monday evening, the Pentagon finally acknowledged the video's legitimacy.
And these are some of the journalists and civilians we've been killing over the last, oh, going on nine years in November.  Nine.  Years.  Of this.  You wonder why in Afghanistan the Taliban is getting support and money and weapons.  You wonder why the locals aren't ratting them out.  Hell, at this point the locals are joining them.  Hell, at this point the Afghan government is threatening to join them.

We have a seriously unwinnable situation on our hands here that's rapidly going to past "lost cause".  It's time for us to get out.

What Little Respect I Had For John McCain Just Evaporated

Sure, he almost inflicted Sarah Palin as Veep on us, but I still like had...12-15% respect for the old man.  He did survive Vietnam as a POW.  He did serve his country.  He has made good decisions and legislation as a Senator (the DREAM Act comes to mind.)  You do get respect for that, and he's earned that 15%.

Unfortunately in order to survive his challenge from the Teabagger right and J.D. Hayworth in the primary, John McCain has now completely disavowed John McCain, and that 15% respect I had for him just went up in smoke.  Steve Benen is rightfully merciless:
In 2008, McCain's television ads described him as "the original maverick." When McCain and Sarah Palin would routinely take different positions during their national campaign, aides insisted this was to be expected from "a couple of mavericks." A quick search of McCain's Senate website turns up several dozen references to the senator being a "maverick" -- in some cases, press releases, instead of quoting McCain by name, would simply note, "The Maverick said..." McCain's website for his Senate campaign does the same thing, using "McCain" and "Maverick" interchangeably, as if they were practically the same word.

The point, of course, was to create a McCain brand, of sorts, characterizing the conservative senator as the kind of politician who doesn't mind bucking his unpopular party from time to time.
That persona, however, no longer suits McCain's purposes. So, it's been scrapped.
Many of the GOP's most faithful, the kind who vote in primaries despite 115-degree heat, tired long ago of McCain the Maverick, the man who had crossed the aisle to work with Democrats on issues like immigration reform, global warming, and restricting campaign contributions. "Maverick" is a mantle McCain no longer claims; in fact, he now denies he ever was one. "I never considered myself a maverick," he told me.
I knew McCain was shameless. I knew he had few, if any, core beliefs. I knew he'd abandon any of his so-called principles at a moment's notice, and flip-flop on every imaginable area of public policy.

But I never thought I'd actually see McCain say, "I never considered myself a maverick."

It's as pathetic a political display as anything we've seen in quite a while. All of those political reporters who worshiped McCain circa 1999 should probably pause right about now, and appreciate the extent to which they fell for a con.
McCain's conned his way through a decade or so.  The Village bought the McMaverick story hook, line, and sinker.  Her carefully cultivated his moderate image in the Village press over years, and still cashes in on that with Sunday show appearances nearly every month, sometimes twice a month.

He's just told every single one of the Villagers that they were played like a speakeasy piano.  "I never considered myself a maverick" he says.  It was the LIBERAL MEDIA who concocted that!  I'm a Republican!

Villagers may be stupid, but they don't like being made fools of.  And everyone who carried water for their Good Friend John just got thrown under the bus today by a loser presidential candidate trying to salvage his own career as Senator.

He never considered himself a maverick.  He also never considered the Village to be his friends, either.  Most of all, he never considered the American people to be real frigging bright, too...especially if Hayworth doesn't go for the gusto and kick McCain's ass with this in commercials.  Hayworth just got handed his ticket to Washington if he's willing to bury McCain this way.

Of course, that would mean an even bigger douchebag in the Senate than Johnny Volcano.  Tough choice, there.

Racing To Play, Part 2

With Michael Steele playing the race card today on his critics, Josh Marshall of TPM argues that Steele only ended up with the RNC job in the first place because of his race.
Michael Steele got the job for one reason: Republicans needed someone who could be the point man for bashing Barack Obama while being immune not only from charges of racism but any discussion of the fact that the current GOP is a party made up pretty much 100% of white folks. As is common with Republicans, Steele is the mirror image, ersatz Obama. Whatever else you can say about the 44th president, in the 2008 campaign and to a great degree still, he was a phenomenon, a meteoric political figure whose power on the political stage was much greater than the sum of his parts.

In different ways race played into the Obama phenomenon. But Republicans were always basically full of it and barking up the wrong tree when they tried to claim either that Democrats picked Barack Obama because he was black or that he was winning because he was black. So what did the Republicans do: turn around and hire someone to lead their party pretty much for the sole reason that he was black. As is so often the case, the critics of racial progress, because they don't comprehend it, resort to a parody of it.

Steele was hired because he was black. And the other truth is that now he can't be fired, in significant measure, because he's black. Because canning Steele now would only drive home the reality that Republicans were trying to paper over, fairly clumsily, when they hired him in the first place. So Republicans are stuck with his myriad goofs and #pressfails and incompetent management and all the rest because of a set of circumstances entirely of their own making. 
And everything Marshall says here makes absolute sense.  Michael Steele got the top job in the Republican Party right now as de facto leader specifically because of his counter criticism that Republicans are racists.  Marshall is also correct that Steele can't be fired now, because if they do, they admit that's why he was hired in the first place.

It's pretty sad and pathetic.  But that's how Republicans see the world.  It's a bold claim to make and Marshall is going to take some pretty nuclear heat for stating the obvious here, probably all sorts of boycotts and idiocy and press blackouts for TPM, and pressure to take his outfit apart.  The GOP as a matter of fact will scramble to take the focus off Steele and put it on Josh Marshall.  You can count on that.

Remember when the GOP backlash comes that the issue isn't how Josh Marshall sees race, but how Republican party leaders see it.

Zandar's Thought Of The Day

Ross Douthat thinks CNN should have more Glenn Becks.

1) Has anyone told Ross there that Glennsanity was indeed on CNN Headline News just a couple years ago, and how that really, really didn't work out ratings-wise, sponsor-wise, or corporate culture-wise?

2) MOAR GLENN BECK is not a good idea for any network.  Or America.

Ensign Trouble

Turns out the Nevada Senator in real danger of losing his job in 2010 may not be Harry Reid, but GOP stalwart John Ensign.  And by "losing his job" I mean "forced to resign". Las Vegas Sun's Jon Ralston:
In the federal penal code, it is known as “structuring.”

And it is a word Sen. John Ensign should remember because it is very likely to be on any indictment with his name on it.

That’s what I am told by a reliable source familiar with the deliberations occurring inside the Justice Department as federal authorities in Washington try to do with Ensign what they could not do with former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens: Get their man. Or, because they had Stevens and then lost him because of misconduct, Justice wants to make sure if it goes to the next step with Ensign, the charges stick.

Structuring is a broad term that refers to the crime of creating financial transactions to evade reporting requirements — for example, a $96,000 payment to your mistress laundered through a trust controlled by your parents and calling it a “gift” instead of what it obviously was: a severance payment that had to be reported.

That the feds are looking at structuring as a possible crime will not surprise many old hands who have watched the sordid Ensign saga play out, morphing from a fairly grotesque he-slept-with-his-best-friend’s-wife-who-was-also-his-wife’s-best-friend story to a fantastically creepy tale of a senator trying to keep the cuckolded husband quiet by any means necessary, including, perhaps, structuring transactions with businesses in exchange for campaign contributions.

Maybe Ensign won’t be indicted. Maybe he will resign in exchange for not being indicted. Maybe he will serve out his term or even be re-elected. Would that be any more incredible than anything else we have seen?

Two former federal prosecutors in the past two weeks have said there is enough evidence to indict Ensign. “Just based on what the senator has said himself and what Mr. (Doug) Hampton has said … under the federal standard of probable cause, there’s enough to indict the senator now,” ex-prosecutor Stan Hunterton, a well-respected local attorney, said March 19 on “Face to Face.” Then, Thursday on the program, Melanie Sloan, the former federal prosecutor who now heads a D.C. watchdog group that has filed several complaints against Ensign, said, “I completely think” Hunterton is right.
This one could get ugly fast.  Keep an eye out to see if charges are brought by the DoJ.  I'm thinking they need to be if there's evidence to cover it.  Eric Holder will be brutally attacked, but it's not like he hasn't prosecuted Democrats before, either.  The Bush Justice Department went after everyone, they just forgot to actually convict the Republicans.

Still, this is one landmine that's about to cause a lot of damage.  The last thing the Republicans want is to remind everyone why America threw them out of power.

Nancy's Great Big Hammer Came Down Upon Their Heads

Mrs. Polly and the Rumpies remind us that Nancy Pelosi's Atomic +4 Gavel Of Legislating is a good thing if you're a Democrat.  If you're a Republican, it's become the latest phallic symbol to obsess over.
Right-wing media figures have criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for carrying a gavel while walking to the Capitol to vote on health care reform, claiming she sought to incite Tea Party members protesting the legislation. Glenn Beck said Pelosi was "inciting" the tea partiers and "slapping them across the face," and Rush Limbaugh said Pelosi tried to "provoke" tea partiers by "carrying that big gavel" with an "excrement-eating grin on her face."
Really guys?  You're sore over...a large gavel?
Michael Graham: Pelosi was "asking for" response by carrying gavel. Appearing on Glenn Beck, radio host Michael Graham stated, "I think Nancy Pelosi marching through the protesters on the eve of the health care battle with that big mallet in her hand, she was asking for -- she was saying yet again, 'Just try -- don't even look at me. I'm in charge here. You people sit down and shut up.' " [Glenn Beck, 3/25/10].
Yep.  They're mad.  They hated Pelosi before, but now she has become The Bogey Man Incarnate to the GOP.  Not all Obama Derangement Syndrome is directed at Obama, ya know...

Racing To Play

Michael Steele:  keepin' it classy.

Yes, and he's playing the race card, suggesting that criticism of his performance is "partially based" on his race.   You know?  That might even be true, it's just the rest of it is mostly based on his incompetence.

Unbearable At The Fed

Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich says the Fed has no choice but to tell the complete truth about how Bear Stearns went under.
The Fed has finally came clean. It now admits it bailed out Bear Stearns - taking on tens of billions of dollars of the bank's bad loans - in order to smooth Bear Stearns' takeover by JPMorgan Chase. The secret Fed bailout came months before Congress authorized the government to spend up to $700 billion of taxpayer dollars bailing out the banks, even months before Lehman Brothers collapsed. The Fed also took on billions of dollars worth of AIG securities, also before the official government-sanctioned bailout.

The losses from those deals still total tens of billions, and taxpayers are ultimately on the hook. But the public never knew. There was no congressional oversight. It was all done behind closed doors. And the New York Fed - then run by Tim Geithner - was very much in the center of the action.

This raises three issues.

First, only Congress is supposed to risk taxpayer dollars. The Fed is not part of the legislative branch. Its secret deals, announced almost two years after they were done, violate the democratic process, if not the Constitution itself. Thomas Jefferson put a stop to Alexander Hamilton's idea of a powerful central bank out of fear it would be unaccountable to the public. The Fed has just proven Jefferson's point.

Second, if the Fed can secretly bail out big banks, the problem of "moral hazard" - bankers taking irresponsible risks because they know they'll be rescued - is far greater than anyone assumed after Congress and the Bush and Obama administrations bailed out the banks. Big banks will always be too big to fail because they know the Fed will secretly back them up if they get into trouble, even if Congress won't do it openly.

Third, the announcement throws a monkey wrench into the financial reform bill now on Capitol Hill, which gives the Fed additional authority by, for example, creating a consumer protection bureau inside it. Only yesterday, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) blasted the Dodd bill for expanding the Fed's authority "even as it remains shrouded in secrecy."

The Fed has a big problem. It acts in secret. That makes it an odd duck in a democracy. As long as it's merely setting interest rates, its secrecy and political independence can be justified. But once it departs from that role and begins putting billions of dollars of taxpayer money at risk -- choosing winners and losers in the capitalist system -- its legitimacy is questionable.
And he's right on all three accounts.  While we badly need financial sector reform, we badly need Federal Reserve reform too, and the bill before Congress now just does not include that factor.  Banks need oversight, but so does the Fed.  We've taken too much damage from the Greenspan/Bernanke era at the Fed as a country.  Their decisions have cost us trillions.

And they are completely unaccountable for those decisions.  That's wrong.  It needs to change, because if it doesn't, we'll be right back here again in a few years asking why Bernanke's plans didn't work either and why we're right back in the hole again.

Only the next time, there's no way to get out.  Period.

Marjah Of Error

No one should be surprised that six weeks after the offensive to retake Marjah in Afghanistan, that control of most of the region has gone right back to the Taliban.
Just a few weeks since the start of the operation here, the Taliban have “reseized control and the momentum in a lot of ways” in northern Marja, Maj. James Coffman, civil affairs leader for the Third Battalion, Sixth Marines, said in an interview in late March. “We have to change tactics to get the locals back on our side.”

Col. Ghulam Sakhi, an Afghan National Police commander here, says his informants have told him that at least 30 Taliban have come to one Marine outpost here to take money from the Marines as compensation for property damage or family members  killed during the operation in February.

“You shake hands with them, but you don’t know they are Taliban,” Colonel Sakhi said. “They have the same clothes, and the same style. And they are using the money against the Marines. They are buying I.E.D.’s and buying ammunition, everything.”

One tribal elder from northern Marja, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being killed, said in an interview on Saturday that the killing and intimidation continued to worsen. “Every day we are hearing that they kill people, and we are finding their dead bodies,” he said. “The Taliban are everywhere.”

The local problem points to the larger challenges ahead as American forces expand operations in the predominantly Pashtun south, where the Taliban draw most of their support and the government is deeply unpopular.

In Marja, the Taliban are hardly a distinct militant group, and the Marines have collided with a Taliban identity so dominant that the movement appears more akin to the only political organization in a one-party town, with an influence that touches everyone. Even the Marines admit to being somewhat flummoxed.

“We’ve got to re-evaluate our definition of the word ‘enemy,’ ” said Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commander of the Marine expeditionary brigade in Helmand Province. “Most people here identify themselves as Taliban.” 
What is needed here is a re-evaluation of why we're in Afghanistan at all.  We come in and try to attack a town like Marjah, the "insurgents" vanish, and the bribes we hand out to buy loyalty always end up right back in the hands of the those who wish to kill as many US troops as possible in order to make us leave for good.  The Soviets found out the hard way this doesn't work.  It never will.

That's why the Afghan surge was a mistake from the beginning.  It may have worked in Iraq, and more than anything all the surge did there was allow us to save face as we move out.  There will be no such success story in Afghanistan.  This theater, this enemy, this terrain and these people are fundamentally different than in Iraq.

Declare victory.  Go home.  There is no military solution to this problem.  Afghanistan has always been the real quagmire as history has proven time and time again.  We're coming up on nine years there in November.  There's no end in sight.

Pull the plug.


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