The land of the what? The home of the who?


Is this really what we’ve become? Glenn Greenwald explains:

Decadent governments often spawn a decadent citizenry. A 22-year-old Nebraska resident was arrested yesterday for waterboarding his girlfriend as she was tied to a couch, because he wanted to know if she was cheating on him with another man; I wonder where he learned that? There are less dramatic though no less nauseating examples of this dynamic. In The Chicago Tribune today, there is an Op-Ed from Jonah Goldberg — the supreme, living embodiment of a cowardly war cheerleader — headlined: “Why is Assange still alive?” It begins this way:

    I’d like to ask a simple question: Why isn’t Julian Assange dead? . . . WikiLeaks is easily among the most significant and well-publicized breaches of American national security since the Rosenbergs gave the Soviets the bomb. . . .

    So again, I ask: Why wasn’t Assange garroted in his hotel room years ago?

    It’s a serious question.

He ultimately concludes that “it wouldn’t do any good to kill him, given the nature of the Web” — whatever that means — and reluctantly acknowledges: “That’s fine. And it’s the law. I don’t expect the U.S. government to kill Assange, but I do expect them to try to stop him.” What he wants the Government to do to “stop” Assange is left unsaid — tough-guy neocons love to beat their chest and demand action without having the courage to specify what they mean — but his question (“Why isn’t Julian Assange dead?”) was published in multiple newspapers around the country today.

Christian Whiton, a former Bush State Department official, wasn’t as restrained in his Fox News column last week, writing:

    Rather, this [the WikiLeaks disclosure] is an act of political warfare against the United States. . . . .Here are some of the things the U.S. could do: . . .Explore opportunities for the president to designate WikiLeaks and its officers as enemy combatants, paving the way for non-judicial actions against them.

I emailed Whiton and told him I’d like to do a podcast interview with him for Salon about his WikiLeaks proposal and he replied: “Thank you for the invitation, but I am starting a trip tomorrow and will be on a plane just about all day.” I replied that it didn’t have to be the next day — I’d be happy to do it any day that was convenient for him — and he then stopped answering ….

It was only Tuesday that various guests, including former NSC Director for Defense Strategy Kori Schake and former Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, explained on KCRW’s To the Point that there wasn’t anything particularly significant about the latest WikiLeaks release, save for its volume. Still, though, we see journalists like Goldberg, or former Bush administration officials, suggesting severe actions against WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.

Are we really—really—so frightened by information? Would we support other nations that attempt to suppress public information about what the governments are doing? Would we not protest suggestions that whistleblowers should be assassinated or imprisoned as enemy combatants?

What ever happened to “the land of the free and the home of the brave”? How is it that “transparency” has become a political buzzword in the United States? More than bombs and bullets, it seems information brings night terrors to some, who feel that truth is anathema, and those who seek it ought to be punished harshly.

People don’t want transparency. They want someone to blame, to hate, to condemn. This is a fairly common psychological phenomenon; as people feel more and more alienated by the world around them, they seek some means of exercising a degree of authority. To blame and condemn satiates the hunger for a time, but that satisfaction is fleeting. For the Goldbergs, Whitons, and other warmongers of our age, the missions abroad have been disastrous blows against their identity politics. To admit and accept that the Iraqi Bush Adventure should never have happened, and the mission in Afghanistan was played to lose from the outset, is too great a burden for their identity complexes, so they must find someone or something to blame for every appearance of failure and injustice; the something is truth, and the someone is whoever brings it.

This is what we’ve come to. This is what we want. What I can’t figure, though, is why.

Gutter politics


w/apologies to Jimmy MarguliesThe back story: RNC Chairman Michael Steele criticized President Obama for engaging a land war in Afghanistan. (Where is Wallace Shawn when you need him?) The DNC, through spokesman Brad Woodhouse, responded with a press release saying that “Steele bets against our troops, roots for failure”.

Thus prefaced, read on. Glenn Greenwald explains:

As The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent writes, and I couldn’t agree more: “this is Karl Rove’s playbook. I don’t care how often Republicans do it — this blog is not on board with this kind of thing from either party.” Indeed, at The Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol revealingly echoed the DNC, demanding that Steele resign for his “affront” to the soliders. Ironically, there was just a vote on war funding last night in the House, and numerous Democrats — 93 of them on a mild anti-war measure and 22 on a stronger one — voted to end the war in Afghanistan, many arguing exactly what Steele just said about the futility of the war. Do the DNC’s Rovian insults mean that these anti-war Democrats are also guilty of wanting to “walk away from the fight against Al Qaeda,” “undermin[ing] the morale of our troops,” and “betting against our troops and rooting for failure in Afghanistan”?

Replicating the worst of the GOP rhetoric is unfortunately not limited to the DNC. Over on the front page of Daily Kos, Barbara Morrill ends her post about Steele’s comments this way: “What the family and friends of those who died or those who are still fighting there today think is, of course, another story.” A couple of months ago, Jonathan Alter and Keith Olbermann both suggested that criticisms of Obama weaken the U.S. and thus help Al Qaeda. Last October, both the DNC and some progressive groups accused Steele respectively of “siding with the terrorists” and being “downright unpatriotic” because he questioned whether Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize was merited.

I understand and even accept the need to use the other side’s rhetoric against them, though once you start doing that, you forever forfeit the ability to complain when it’s used against you. More to the point: the 2006 and 2008 elections proved that this “against-the-Troops/cut-and-run” rhetoric is now as ineffective as it is ugly. That’s why the GOP lost so overwhelmingly in those elections while relying on those smears; why would the DNC want to copy such ineffective tactics?

No, really. It’s come to this. Read the whole thing. Or, if you really can’t be bothered, and absolutely need the capsule, here you go:

When the DNC, a front page Daily Kos writer and Bill Kristol all join together to smear someone with common language for opposing a war, it’s clear that something toxic is taking place. By all means, the ludicrous hypocrisy and illogic of Steele’s attempt to place all blame on the Democrats for this war should be screamed from the mountaintops . . . but equating war opposition with disrespect to the Troops or cowardice is destructive and stupid no matter who is doing it.

Yes, ’tis true that Michael Steele is exactly the sort of disgrace who can only ever speak truth as a clodhopping political ruse, but there is no reason for respectable society to dwell in the gutter with him.

(Image credit: Apologies to Jimmy Margulies.)

Excuse me, but is that an explosive in your head?


Image credit - United States Air Force‘Tis a grim reality that warfare should have a “cool” factor. And, of course, it can’t be pleasant to be the soldier in such a condition, but still … this is so damn cool:

The patient arrived in critical condition last month at the Bagram Air Base hospital in Afghanistan, with what American military doctors at first thought was an all too typical war injury: metal shrapnel from an improvised bomb lodged in his head.

A CAT scan showed that the piece of metal, about two and a half inches long, was probably a cartridge fragment — again, not at all unusual.

But as the patient, an Afghan soldier in his 20s, was prepared for surgery, the chief radiologist, Lt. Col. Anthony Terreri, took a closer look at the CAT scan. Stunned, he realized the object was an explosive round, primed to go off.

“It looks like we have a problem here,” he announced.

To the other, how would you like to be Major Jeffrey Rengel, USAF, the anesthesiologist who, after the evacuation of the operating room, was left to tend to the patient until the bomb squad arrived?

The surgical team recounted the episode for Elisabeth Bumiller of The New York Times. Continue reading

Shutter speed


Okay, I know this sounds stupid, but what is the muzzle velocity, as such, of a mortar round? No, really.

Because this is a great photo:

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

I mean, that might be as clearly as you will ever see one of those things in flight.

Okay, okay, so it’s another from the BBC’s Year in pictures.

But, y’know … it’s just a really cool photo, even for a pacifist like me.

That evil bastard: Steel on The Sun on Brown


Mark Steel takes on the British press—or, more specifically, The Sun, a prominent, Murdoch-owned tabloid—for its efforts to bring down Prime Minister Gordon Brown:

You can forgive Mrs Janes anything, given the circumstances, but the Sun has made a front-page issue of this spelling business, claiming his tatty handwriting proves his lack of concern for soldiers, which seems a slight exaggeration. They might have had a point if he’d sent his condolences in the form of a limerick. Or if he’d sent a text with a grumpy face on it. Or if he’d reversed the charges when he made the call. But in the list of priorities when dealing with a war, accurate punctuation must come a fair way down. This is why, as far as I know, none of the First World War poets wrote “Worse than the crash of the shells sent to bomb us, General Haig writes a dash where he ought to put commas.”

Even so, the front page, then two more pages, then a page of the whole conversation, then a cartoon are dedicated to this story, and you can hear the whole taped call on a website. Tomorrow there’ll be an advert with a picture of a pouting woman in a nurse’s outfit, saying: “Ring 0898 600 500 to hear Naughty Naomi read out the whole letter with spicy spelling.”

The Sun has declared Mrs Janes “Mum at War,” and the poor woman is their weapon for the week for belittling Brown. If she’s not careful they’ll tie her into a deal like a record company, and she’ll be barred from displaying any grief or anger anywhere except by a Sun reporter, who will have full exclusive rights to print them, mash them into a dance track or whatever they fancy.

Yet strangely, they were the most enthusiastic supporters of the war in Afghanistan, even depicting politicians who opposed the war as wobbling jellies. You’d think that it might have occurred to them that this could involve an element of danger, what with wars in Afghanistan tending to fall a bit short when it comes to health and safety.

So now they protest the reason for the deaths is the lack of helicopters and suitable jackets, but they could suggest another method which could radically reduce the risks, which is to no longer fight the war at all, the major success of which has been to give Afghans the democratic right to not to vote for a corrupt leader in a fiddled election that’s re-run and cancelled.

I don’t know what to say. This whole thing seems so foreign. After all, we Americans don’t have a similar experience. You know, a news outlet owned by Rupert Murdoch in permanent campaign mode against political figures they don’t like? Politics may make strange bedfellows, but it also can define the idea of cognitive dissonance.

David Rohde: A captive’s story


The New York Times presents the six-part series, “Held By the Taliban”, by David Rohde:

David Rohde reports for The New York Times, and won a Pulitzer for his 1996 reporting on the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia for The Christian Science Monitor. In November, 2008, Mr. Rohde and his team were taken hostage by the Taliban-allied Haqqani faction in Afghanistan. Once accused of being a spy for Bosnian Muslims, Mr. Rohde now tells the story of his captivity by Afghani Muslims who, naturally, considered him a spy.

On June 20, 2009, The New York Times published news of Mr. Rohde’s escape along with one of his abducted colleagues, Afghani reporter Tahir Ludin.

Afghanistan


One of the tough things about politics is the performance art aspect. From at least the moment of his inauguration, President Obama has distressed his liberal supporters with a number of policy decisions that have confounded expectations. By the time he got around to announcing his detention policies for terrorism suspects, it seemed the only thing American liberals could hope for is that he was playing a long hand, working with what he had until he could plot some useful and decent change of course for the nation.

While there are some encouraging signs, it is far too early to declare that Obama really is doing something so insane as to start pulling those changeling rabbits out of his hat starting in late 2010 or early 2011.

However, Peter baker and Elisabeth Bumiller wrote yesterday for the New York Times that the president is considering alternative strategies for the disastrous endeavor in Afghanistan:

President Obama is exploring alternatives to a major troop increase in Afghanistan, including a plan advocated by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to scale back American forces and focus more on rooting out Al Qaeda there and in Pakistan, officials said Tuesday.

The options under review are part of what administration officials described as a wholesale reconsideration of a strategy the president announced with fanfare just six months ago. Two new intelligence reports are being conducted to evaluate Afghanistan and Pakistan, officials said.

The sweeping reassessment has been prompted by deteriorating conditions on the ground, the messy and still unsettled outcome of the Afghan elections and a dire report by Mr. Obama’s new commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal. Aides said the president wanted to examine whether the strategy he unveiled in March was still the best approach and whether it could work with the extra combat forces General McChrystal wants.

In looking at other options, aides said, Mr. Obama might just be testing assumptions — and assuring liberals in his own party that he was not rushing into a further expansion of the war — before ultimately agreeing to the anticipated troop request from General McChrystal. But the review suggests the president is having second thoughts about how deeply to engage in an intractable eight-year conflict that is not going well.

Although Mr. Obama has said that a stable Afghanistan is central to the security of the United States, some advisers said he was also wary of becoming trapped in an overseas quagmire. Some Pentagon officials say they worry that he is having what they called “buyer’s remorse” after ordering an extra 21,000 troops there within weeks of taking office before even settling on a strategy.

Continue reading