Afghanistan Debate Now

I've got to bang this out and move on. I'm still obsessed, but I feel terrible with this promised post hanging over my head. Add in perfectionism and an avoidance coping mechanism and there is plenty of material for you armchair analysts out there.

On the day after the Washington Post leaked General McChrystal's report, the administration fought back with a leak of their own:
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 next day, McChrystal claims he isn't playing politics with his report and soon-to-be-released request for forces. The number of soldiers and marines is now known to be 30,000 to 40,000, at the top of the previously reported range. Then came word that Admiral Mullen and McChrystal "secretly" met on September 25th in Germany (my scare quotes). Is there any intrigue there? Who knows, I have to return to the narrative.

The next week, President Obama had a scheduled video conference with General McChrystal, and the current scuttlebutt was his lack of a relationship with the General:
Mr. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, made a point of speaking with his Iraq commander roughly once a week at the height of the war there, a habit that forged a close working relationship between them even if it effectively bypassed the normal chain of command. Mr. Obama’s aides said he relied on General McChrystal’s advice but did not feel the need to duplicate Mr. Bush’s personal engagement with battlefield generals. Instead, they said, he receives weekly memos from General McChrystal and meets weekly with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The rest of the article plays up how dangerous it is to be distant from the general "on the ground." What a load of crock. I remember reading about how Bush-43's weekly video conferences were terrible for getting a straight story from Iraq. No general wants to tell a giant screen of the President's mug that things are going down the shitter. Plus, it fetishizes the war reports and enables the cowboy persona that Bush-43 had in spades. Obama is doing it exactly right. Whatever the outcomes of this administration, at least our government now has a policy process.

Also, I'll have to add Fred Kagan and Michael O'Hanlon to my neocon spreadsheet. Fred Kagan's brother and sister-in-law wrote the damn report! And you go to him for a quote? Another example of reporting "both sides for balance." Only the administration at one end of the balance, so the range is between cautious and incautious counterinsurgency advocates. Couldn't find anybody to the left of Vice President Biden on this topic? Well, you must not have looked.

Finally (applause), today's story sounds like insubordination to me, "McChrystal Rejects Lower Afghan Aims."
The top military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, rejected calls for scaling down military objectives there on Thursday and said Washington did not have unlimited time to settle on a new strategy to pursue the eight-year-old war.

Do Not Listen to These People

The latest manufactured foreign policy crisis is Iran. You've got to give it those neocons, they are very persistent! But please don't listen to them. For a great list of who not to listen to, we need go no further than the thoroughly discredited Project for the New American Century (PNAC) crowd. The signatories of the two letters sent to Presidents Clinton and Bush43 have absolutely no credibility on the actual danger of Iran. In a true meritocracy, the people who signed the letter to President Bush on September 20, 2001 would not be consulted or listened to about any foreign policy issue, especially about nuclear weapons in Muslim counties. (h/t Stephen Walt)

Bill KristolA smaller group signed the 1998 letter to President Clinton which proposed regime change in Iraq. Don't forget that they were successful in this effort as well, as Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act that year. Below is a spreadsheet of the esteemed experts to ignore. William Kristol's name is at the top of the rest from 2001 because that is how the actual letter listed the names. Bill is just so extra-special.

Things I learned making this:
  • Jeffrey Bergner, who I had never heard of before, was a 1969 graduate of Carleton College, my alma mater. They must have not perfected the liberal brainwashing by then. (joke)
  • Francis Fukuyama broke with the neocon crowd soon after the start of the Iraq War and published his criticisms in a NYT Magazine article, "After Neoconservatism," in 2006. Good for you, Francis.
  • William Schneider Jr, also new to me, is still the chair of the Defense Science Board!
LINKS: Listen to these people:

Behind the Scenes of the Afghan War Debate

AfghanistanI know, I've been obsessed with the debate about Afghan war strategy and whether to escalate our commitment there lately, but I make no apologies. It's important! Here's a review of what happened before the McChrystal report was leaked last week.

At the end of August, when General Stanley McChrystal submitted his report to the Pentagon, the McClatchy D.C. bureau reported this:
Obama now feels that McChrystal and his superior, Army Gen. David Petraeus, the head of the Central Command, are pressuring him to commit still more troops to Afghanistan, a senior military official said. The official said that retired Marine Gen. James Jones, Obama's national security adviser, told McChrystal last month not to ask for more troops, but that McChrystal went ahead anyway and indicated in interviews that he may need more.
[That interview, published on August 10, was an update to my first post on Afghanistan.]

Just what does "senior military official" mean? I can't believe that it is someone actually in the military, I'd guess it refers to someone at the Pentagon, but in any case it must be a civilian member of the administration. And like other anonymous leaks, it should be taken with a large grain of salt, but even looking at it as pure spin, it's an accusation that the military is in opposition to their Commander-in-Chief. Remember, General Jones is retired, he's a civilian now. As President Obama's National Security Adviser, he speaks for the President. If this report is true, McChrystal disobeyed the civilian leadership of the military. Why didn't that story have legs?

Another source says that General David Petraeus is pulling the strings on the contents of the report:
Stanley McChrystal, in my estimate, is not a political general, as Petraeus undoubtedly is. He appears to be a fine soldier, a great fighting man, but not overly intelligent. It was a mistake to appoint him to a position where he had a role in making policy instead of just implementing it. It would not surprise me if this was a clever maneuver by Gen Petraeus: getting McChrystal put in the Afghanistan command, with his first task to recommend the policy for that war, and suitable advisers made available to him to draft that policy. Somewhere down the line McChrystal was sold on COIN (probably as the recipe that turned the Iraq war around, even though it did nothing of the sort); he is that intense type who commit themselves totally to things once they are convinced. Thus, Petraeus's preferred policy is put forward by McChrystal, a general who would probably quit if it wasn't adopted, while the former sits back and waits to see which would be the best way to jump at the right moment.
Who are those suitable advisers? All of our top military minds and experts on Afghanistan, no doubt? Well, no. Spencer Ackerman reports that they were our top think tank armchair warriors:
[Stephen Biddle, one of the advisers,] clarifies that it wasn’t so much that they advised the review. A group of about a dozen civilian experts, mostly from Washington think tanks, were the review. When Defense Secretary Bob Gates asked McChrystal to send him an assessment of the war’s fortunes and the resources necessary to turn it around, the civilian experts were flown to Baghdad to conduct the “overall assessment,” Biddle said. Officers from the USFOR-A headed “subtopic” groups of “particular interest to Gen. McChrystal like civilian-casualty minimization, strategic communication and so forth.” But the band of (mostly) Beltway think-tankers were the review.
I really hope he meant Kabul. Ackerman lists the elite group, which includes such paragons of the neocons (catchy, isn't it?) as Andrew Exum, Anthony Cordesman, and Fred and Kimberly Kagan. Apparently one Kagan wasn't enough. Ackerman has two other posts on the review panel.

H/T on Ackerman's posts for Marc Lynch, who comments on the odd optics of the 'strategic review'. Odd indeed. Finally, the political context of war is discussed at length by Glenn Greenwald. Okay, that's the back story. The current machinations will be the subject of the next Afghan post.

Unequal Outcomes

To get off of Afghanistan for a bit, I recently ran across a New York Times article from September 15, "A Party Conflicted". Its subject was how an expansion of Medicaid, a vital part of achieving near universal coverage, in practice gave more federal money to the states that offered Medicaid to the least number of people.
Under the proposed health care legislation, new federal money would go to states to help pay for newly eligible Medicaid enrollees. And a higher percentage of those who would be newly eligible live in states that so far have made it hardest for people to qualify for Medicaid.

Alabama, for instance, sets its eligibility cutoff for parents at 11 percent of the federal poverty level. That means that a couple with two children qualify for Medicaid only if they earn less than $2,425.50 a year. A couple earning more are not considered poor enough to qualify.

Compare that with the Medicaid cutoff in more generous states, most of them traditionally blue. Medicaid is offered to parents earning 100 percent of the poverty level in California; 150 percent in New York; 185 percent in Illinois; 200 percent in Maine, New Jersey and Wisconsin; and 275 percent in Minnesota.
Medicaid mapThe federal poverty level for a family of four is $22,050, so Minnesota offers Medicaid to those families making less than $60,000. Not all those families will take it, but it's there for those without health insurance offered at work or with pre-existing conditions.

As you might have guessed, the least generous states correlate with the most conservative states. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), do you oppose offering Medicaid to a family of four who earns $3,000 a year? Or would you rather send their ER bills to all the people in your state with private health insurance?

The real debate we're missing and an apology to Senator Shelby after the jump.

Afghanistan - The Link Dump

Doug Traversa, a 20-year Air Force veteran who spent a year in Afghanistan and is now studying to be a Unitarian Universalist minister, has decided the war in Afghanistan is bull:
If I were called back on active duty and sent there, I would not be pleased. I no longer believe in this war. I don’t want to die for a bunch of criminals posing as a government. I certainly don’t want my sons put in harm’s way to prop up a government unable to actually govern.
Unfortunately, his two sons both just enlisted, one in the Army and the other in the Marines. This post was in early June, when his youngest son graduated from high school. At that time he was also encouraging his daughter to join the Air Force, to keep the tradition going. Since then, it appears the election was the turning point for him.

That would be the election that shouldn't have happened - from "The Afghanistan Impasse" by Ahmed Rashid:
US officials told me in April 2008 that President Bush had been warned by his military commanders that Afghanistan was going from bad to worse. More troops and money were needed; reconstruction was at a standstill; pressure had to be put on Pakistan; the elections in April 2009 should be indefinitely postponed. Bush ignored all the advice except for asking the Afghans to postpone the elections until August. He left everything else to his successor to sort out. When Obama took over in January, the crisis was much worse and Pakistan and Afghanistan immediately became his highest foreign policy priorities.
Nice. Steve Coll has more details on the current state of the Afghan election dispute and the tribal machinations behind it. He also says the counter-insurgency strategy will be deeply influenced by those two factors:
It is questionable whether the United States can succeed with a counterinsurgency campaign against the Taliban, no matter how many more troops are sent; the experts on Afghanistan that I know are divided on that issue. It seems unarguable, however, that such a campaign will be excruciatingly difficult if international forces are expected to simultaneously repress the Taliban and sort out a central government that is at prolonged and perhaps violent war with itself. A loyal opposition to Karzai questioning the election’s legitimacy would be one thing, and bad enough; a dysfunctional split or open revolt would be another.
He also talks about what isn't mentioned now, our exit strategy:
[The current debate] is whether to send more U.S. troops to partner with Afghan security forces in order to buy enough time—three to five years—so that Afghan security forces can successfully take the lead against the Taliban, and U.S. forces can withdraw to a supporting role and be reduced in number, as has happened in Iraq. For all of the controversy about sending more U.S. troops, there is relatively little controversy in Washington about the need to build up the Afghan army and police as quickly and effectively as possible. This project, however, carries risks that are hardly ever reviewed in public.
Is it necessary to say that the risks are significant? Unfortunately, there is plenty more where that comes from, and a few will be listed after the jump, but I had to end this section with a potential solution to Afghanistan's political problems. Jon Krakauer and Ansar Rahel make the case for holding another loya jirga:
Afghans need to start again from scratch and choose their leader by a fresh process that restores legitimacy to the national government. Fortunately, such a process already exists — one that is both highly respected by the Afghan people and recognized in the Afghan Constitution: the convening of an emergency loya jirga, or grand assembly. The loya jirga has been called in times of national crisis in Afghanistan for centuries.

Military Industrial Media Complex

The first volley in the debate about future Afghanistan policy was fired earlier this week. President Obama hit almost all of the Sunday talk shows, trying to regain momentum for health insurance reform, but he was actually asked a good question about Afghanistan:
DAVID GREGORY: Are you skeptical about more troops? About sending more troops?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, can I just say this? I am— I have to exercise skepticism anytime I send a single young man or woman in uniform into harm's way. Because I'm the one who's answerable to their parents if they don't come home. So I have to ask some very hard questions anytime I send our troops in.

The question that I'm asking right now is to our military, to General McChrystal, to General Petraeus, to all our national security apparatus, is— whether it's troops who are already there, or any troop request in the future, how does this advance America's national security interests? How does it make sure that al Qaeda and its extremist allies cannot attack the United States homeland, our allies, our troops who are based in Europe?

That's the question that I'm constantly asking because that's the primary threat that we went there to deal with. And if— if supporting the Afghan national government, and building capacity for their army, and securing certain provinces advances that strategy, then we'll move forward.

But, if it doesn't, then I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or, in some way— you know, sending a message that America— is here for— for the duration. I think it's important that we match strategy to resources.

What I'm not also gonna do, though, is put the resource question before the strategy question. Until I'm satisfied that we've got the right strategy I'm not gonna be sending some young man or woman over there- beyond what we already have.
Well, I didn't see any skepticism when Obama increased our forces in Afghanistan by 21,000 soldiers and marines this year, but better late than never.

However, questioning the counter-insurgency strategy contained in General McChrystal's report was too much in some (head)quarters, so the full report was leaked to Bob Woodward.* The headline and sub-head:

McChrystal: More Forces or 'Mission Failure'
Top U.S. Commander For Afghan War Calls Next 12 Months Decisive

Nice false dichotomy and the obligatory Chicken Little alarm. PR mission accomplished. Isn't it great that people talk about success and failure when they have no definition of either? And that Woodward will repeat whatever the military tells him uncritically. (To be fair, he and a lot of other reporters do the same with any Administration) What a country!

I'm tempted to prattle on about the supposedly liberal Washington Post, but instead I'll highlight one other case of the military being embedded in the media. Actually, I'll just link to Glenn Greenwald's post on retired military analysts on the NBC Nightly News.

In any case, I encourage you to follow the debate about the potential for even more soldiers and marines to be sent to Afghanistan. And to express your opinions with your Congressional representatives early and often. Don't wait for the moment when all you can do is put up a lawn sign.

* Note that the Administration asked that some parts be redacted, not the military. The story cited below doesn't say when Woodward was given the report (it was delivered to the President in late August), but that he was planning to use it in his upcoming book. But when the report "would have been overtaken by events," Woodward decided it was time to publish. Yeah, right.

UPDATES: Howard Kurtz, the media correspondent for the Washington Post has a story describing the details of the publication of McChrystal's report. Note that Woodward claims that he approached the source recently and asked the source to allow its publication. And he compares this "story" to the Pentagon Papers, which is completely Bizarro. Finally, the WaPo wanted to publish on Sunday morning - the day Obama's interviews were televised - but delayed it one day through the goodness of their collective corporate heart.

More on the retired general story: Bush43's Pentagon chief spokesman, Bryan Whitman, who is still in the job, is implicated in the program. (h/t Scott Horton) The sordid history of that disastrous presidency will continue to leak out month by month. It can get worse.

Afghanistan Escalation Decision Approaching

A debate about Afghanistan is going to heat up soon. President Obama will likely get a request for more soldiers and marines to be deployed there in the next few weeks. There is only speculation about how large the request will be, as it is likely being negotiated in the background right now. But eventually, General McChrystal will turn in his request and the game will be on.

Where I'm coming from: I put up the anti-Iraq war lawn sign in 2002, but not much more. I didn't do anything before the surge in 2006. My general feeling about it was defeatist. But this time around, my attitude is going to be different.

AfghanistanThankfully, the situation is different as well. There is a better chance to prevent more Americans from being shipped to Afghanistan now. Not because a Democratic President and Congress is inherently less likely to be militaristic and interventionist, but because their base is solidly against the war. 75% of Democrats oppose the Afghan war. The Washington politicians in power will - at the very least - have to honestly face opposition now.

But it's not just Democrats - 57% of Americans also oppose it. If this were any other issue with this much antagonism, the debate would be how to end the policy, not how to continue it, and certainly not how much to expand it. But a war billed as vital to national security is different. While there are some good signs, it will still be a difficult fight against digging deeper in Afghanistan.

Update after the jump.

The Acorn Seven

I'm sure that most results for a blog search of "Acorn Seven" will be conservative take-downs of these few Democratic Senators. So I'm throwing my minuscule hat into the ring in their defense! Without further ado, the ACORN Seven: [cue trumpets]

Roland BurrisRoland Burris (D-IL)
Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA)
Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Pat Leahy (D-VT)
Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)


[end trumpets; I'll never get another chance to include a picture of Roland Burris, so he wins]

But rather than write a paean to these brave individuals, I will simply steal from Anonymous Liberal (h/t Greenwald (h/t D-day)):
But even if you take these film-makers at face value and assume the worst [A.L. doesn't], the reality is that ACORN has thousands of employees and the vast majority of them spend their days trying to help poor people through perfectly legal means (and receive very little compensation for doing so). Even before yesterday's Senate vote, the amount of federal money that went to ACORN was very small [an ACORN affiliate, unrelated to voter registration, has received $53 million over 15 years]. This is a relatively insignificant organization in the grand scheme of things, but it's an organization that has unquestionably fought over the years to improve the lives of the less fortunate in this country.

That the GOP and its conservative supporters would single out this particular organization for such intense demonization is telling. In September of last year, the entire world came perilously close to complete financial catastrophe. We're still not out of the woods and we're deep within one of the worst recessions in U.S. history. This situation was brought about by the recklessness and greed of our banks and financial institutions, most of which had to be bailed out at enormous cost to the American taxpayer (exponentially more than all of the tax dollars given to ACORN over the years). The people who brought about this near catastrophe, for the most, profited immensely from it. These very same institutions, propped up by the American taxpayer, are once again raking in large profits.

But rather than focus their anger on these folks, conservatives choose to go after an organization composed almost entirely of low-paid community organizers, an organization that could never hope to have even a small fraction of the clout or the ability to affect the overall direction of the country that Wall Street bankers have. ACORN's relative lack of political influence was on full display yesterday, when the U.S. Senate (in which Democrats have a super-majority) not only entertained a vote to defund ACORN, but approved it by a huge margin (with only seven Democrats opposing).
LINKS: Someone nice conservative put together a great web document with pictures and phone numbers of the Acorn Seven. Rather than call and complain, I suggest you call up the Senators and give them your thanks for standing up to the usual BS that hovers over Congress like flies on poop.

Joe Conason rises to ACORN's defense as well.

The House of Representatives went a little overboard, it appears. Freshman Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) has been a great addition to our government representatives. Glennzilla interviews him on this subject and gets a true money quote:
The amount of money that ACORN has received in the past 20 years altogether is roughly equal to what the taxpayer paid to Halliburton each day during the war in Iraq.

More AP Fact Checks

Since I last posted on AP's fact checks, there have been three and a half more published.

The oldest, "Health overhaul myths taking root," is quite a strange fact check article. It fact checks not something somebody said about health insurance reform, but what the majority of Americans believe about health insurance reform. These beliefs are Republican talking points, and maybe they have been fact checked by AP already, but if so, the majority of Americans didn't get the message. Some are so easily refuted that they require no explanation:
THE POLL: 55 percent expect the overhaul will give coverage to illegal immigrants; 34 percent don't.

THE FACTS: The proposals being negotiated do not provide coverage for illegal immigrants.
___
Just sad. Anybody think the Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) affair (the half a fact check) will bring that number down? If so, I've a got a bridge in Brooklyn for you. Only one of the "facts" checked actually mentions that a Republican is the source of the misinformation:
THE POLL: 45 percent said it's likely the government will decide when to stop care for the elderly; 50 percent said it's not likely.

THE FACTS: Nothing being debated in Washington would give the government such authority. Critics have twisted a provision in a House bill that would direct Medicare to pay for counseling sessions about end-of-life care, living wills, hospices and the like if a patient wants such consultations with a doctor. They have said, incorrectly, that the elderly would be required to have these sessions.

House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio said such counseling "may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia."

The bill would prohibit coverage of counseling that presents suicide or assisted suicide as an option.

Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who has been a proponent of coverage for end-of-life counseling under Medicare, said such sessions are a voluntary benefit, strictly between doctor and patient, and it was "nuts" to think death panels are looming or euthanasia is part of the equation.

But as fellow conservatives stepped up criticism of the provision, he backed away from his defense of it.
More sadness. BTW, the consequences of this disloyal opposition is bad for the Republicans and the country. Imagine you are a traditional conservative who wouldn't dream of distorting the public debate like this. Do you think you have any chance of surviving a Republican primary in a district that a Republican could win?

2 more articles after the jump.

Mexican Standoffs - Tarantino Style

Mexican StandoffI saw Inglourious Basterds this weekend. Great movie, very intense. My high school buddy, Ryan, blogs about movies at Trash Film Guru. He has a very positive review posted, so I won't duplicate his effort.

Rather, I thought I'd review a very common scene from Quentin Tarantino: the Mexican Standoff. By Wikipedia's count, the only 2 movies he has directed or written that don't have a Mexican Standoff are Jackie Brown and Death Proof. So that means 80% of his movies feature the tense, guns-drawn confrontation. Here are the movies and my ratings when I can remember the scene.
  • Reservoir Dogs. A classic standoff at the end of the movie, with a long and intense build up in the warehouse. (Photo above is part of the build up). Other than that Mr. Orange draws his gun off camera and the four involved all simultaneously shoot without a real trigger, an excellent scene.
  • True Romance. Not directed by Tarantino, but I would be shocked if he didn't have specific notes on the scene. Best standoff I've ever seen. Three groups of multiple guns each: the cops, the mafia, and the bodyguards. The innocent finders of the drugs are caught in the middle. Hilariously triggered by the assistant to the producer, asking the cops to be allowed to leave, exposing his betrayal of his boss. Incredibly long shootout, exquisite detail, and a great escape by one of the finders - this has it all.
  • Pulp Fiction. Everybody probably knows this one, pitting 2 petty criminals against 2 pros. However, one of the pros has just decided to hang it up after experiencing a supposed miracle immediately before the scene. Nice twist that lets everybody get out alive. Good stuff.
  • Natural Born Killers. I don't remember any scenes from this movie, but Wikipedia has a description of it (fourth paragraph). Unique feature is the standoff is broadcast live on television.
  • From Dusk till Dawn. Barely remember seeing this.
  • Kill Bill, vol. 1 and 2. Can't remember vol. 2 and don't think I saw vol. 1.
  • Inglourious Basterds. Awesome, I won't spoil it.
Give me some reminders in the comments and I'll update when my memory is jogged. By the way, my bad event memory has nothing to do with the previous post topic.

Puff Daddies and Pot Mommas

Over lunch, I read an article from the Slate Science Feed, "Puff Daddies." It was hilarious at the beginning and fascinating at the end. I won't ruin the laugh lines, but here is one surprising tidbit:
The clinical evidence suggests that the greatest danger faced by boomers who use cannabis is heart disease. Getting high can increase your heart rate by about 40 beats per minute and cause unusual blood pressure fluctuations, which may in turn temporarily boost the odds of a heart attack. In 2001, a team of researchers from the Harvard Medical School found that smoking marijuana causes a transient, fivefold increase in risk. (Exercise, sexual activity, and bouts of anger can cause similar short-term risks.)
The chronic raises your heart rate? Who knew? Now on to the personal stuff.

marijuana leafI'm in my late 30's and my parents are not baby boomers - they're close in age, but far in culture. So it was even funnier for me, imagining my mom or dad asking about mary jane. If I remember correctly, as it did come up once, they have never tried it. So I doubt that they ever will, but just in case: Rents, if you want some ganja, I'll hook you up.

I think my peeps, Generation X, will likely follow the boomer pattern described in the article: youthful and salad days puffing, going dry during the children years, and re-toking as old fogies. That fits for me so far, although maybe puffing isn't quite strong enough to describe my relationship with the buds. Some have said that I really liked weed - I can't say I dispute that. But I haven't had the wacky tobacky for many years now, and as my son is only 5, that will likely continue for quite some time.

I look forward to reading some comments on this post, especially from one possible Pot Momma currently west of Joshua Tree, east of Los Angeles, north of the Salton Sea, and south of Barstow.

Good News, Bad News

SuperObamaGood News
I thought President Obama's speech last night was excellent, almost masterful. But it was just a speech, I want to see action now.

Thankfully, the first minor actions have actually already happened - the administration is practicing message discipline and they have used their organizing savvy to put pressure on Congress.

For message discipline, they first needed a message, which they have finally created:
We need to bring stability and security to Americans who already have health insurance, guarantee affordable coverage for those who don't, and rein in the cost of health care.
Second, they needed to hammer it home. I heard both David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett repeat the "stability and security" line. I expect it to be repeated often from now on. However, the true test of success will be how many congressional Democrats start repeating it. I'm crossing my fingers!

Another minor action is using Organizing for America effectively. I'm on the emailing list, but I haven't seen anything impressive from OFA up til now. They have set up a write your congressional representatives page that is engaging, offers specific details and is easy to use. Glad to see them start to roll up their sleeves.

LINK: The White House has released the full text of Ted Kennedy's letter.

UPDATE: In comments, I said I'd wait until the floor votes and especially the conference committee to pass final judgment on Obama's efforts. Well, I don't know if I can still do that. Okay, I can't. Robert Reich destroys any unjustified hope I had. Shame on me. However, that's not to say it's time to give up. Reich ends on a realistically hopeful note:
But, again, the race has just begun. Your input is still important -- in fact, more important now than before.
...
The more you can make your voices heard, the more likely it is that the race will be won by the public rather than the private interests.
Thomas Starr KingBad News
The statue of Thomas Starr King, one of two in the U.S. Capitol representing California, will be replaced by a statue of President Ronald Reagan. Starr King was a Unitarian minister who was instrumental in keeping California from seceding during the Civil War.

Glimpse at the Horrors of War

Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard
This photo of Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard, having just received the leg wounds that he would die from, has caused an intense debate on the publication of such images. The story is detailed by:Many news outlets have published the story, but without the photo above. The Washington Post omitted it in its original story, but added it - with a warning screen - to a slideshow of their follow-up story of the controversy.

I completely support the AP's decision to publish the photo. In my opinion, the right (and need) of the public to understand the costs of war supersedes the right of the family to prevent the publication of the photo. I am not advocating a blanket approval to publish all such photos. But I am generally in favor of publishing more of these photos. The New York Times had a story about the censorship of graphic war images in July of 2008, "4,000 U.S. Deaths, and a Handful of Images." The Public Editor discussed the decision to publish the photos soon afterward, "The Painful Images of War."

Also, it should be understood that it is a minor miracle that the photographer captured this image. Our media will not be drowned in gore if a more liberal publishing stance is taken.

LINKS: Greg Mitchell follows up and posts a comment from one of the few editors nationwide to have printed the photo in his newspaper, the Merced Sun-Star in California.

Explanation from the Dallas Morning News on why they ran the photo, a small black and white version, inside their paper.

MSM is in the Eye of the Beholder

The most common usage of MSM is a derogatory branding of the mass media as liberal. A vocal portion of the people who created this meaning would expand the slight to latte limo liberal. So it shouldn't be surprising that liberals have a different usage of the term. MSM is still meant as a put-down, but the term is instead used to mean corporate. In this usage, the most prominent bias of the mass media is not ideological, but in favor of corporate interests.* And contrary to the liberal MSM meaning, Big Business interests are regularly in favor of the status quo, so in that sense the MSM is actually more conservative than liberal.

Take NBC for instance. While the right has railed at its perceived liberal bias for a couple of shows on MSNBC and selected reports on the Nightly News, as a whole, NBC supports the interests of its Very Big Business owner, General Electric. (BTW, ever heard anybody from the Right Wing Noise Machine criticize CNBC? I didn't think so.) In any case, it is possible to read critically and see through biases like ideology and corporate interest.

That applies to other prominent biases, such as sensationalism and laziness. These two seem to be inherent in news and humans, so not much to complain about there. Or at least it won't do any good to complain. However, what the reader can't remedy is crappy reporting, which might be the most damaging bias of them all.

Wow, that was quite a long-winded introduction for a post that rips one news article. The fisking begins after the jump.

* Another case where the right is more emotional, while the left is more accurate. Guess which one wins. [Clarification: I did not mean that one approach was better than the other, or that they are contradictory. But that the quality of debate would improve if the right was more accurate and that the left would win more if it was more emotional.]

True American Heroes

My first post was on David Byrne. But if you look at the URL, it says "Heroes Volume 1," which was the original title, and the label was "heroes." At the time, I thought I needed lots of ideas for posts, and heroes would be a series about people I looked up to. However, it seems I don't really need a list of things to blog about - in fact, I have too many ideas to write about them all. Damn you, current events! Of my original list, I have only finished one of them.

In any case, the larger point is that the people I was going to write about weren't really heroes, more like role models or people who are cool. But I did hear two genuine heroes on MPR last week, so I decided to tell you about them.

Mark DannerMark Danner is journalist and professor of journalism. His site comprehensively catalogs his many contributions, and as they are too long to summarize anyway, I'll just highlight one of them. Danner obtained and published the ICRC Report on the Treatment of Fourteen "High Value Detainees" in CIA Custody earlier this year. This is the 2007 Red Cross report based on its interviews with the detainees once held in the "black sites." These detainees were originally kept secret from the Red Cross, a violation of the Geneva Conventions, but finally the Red Cross was able to visit them in Guantanamo in 2006. The report was only given to the Bush administration, which is a standard that the Red Cross follows in exchange for its access. Scott Horton interviewed Danner about the story at the time.

Jack CloonanThe other worthy hero is Jack Cloonan, a former FBI interrogator and special agent from 1977 to 2002. He worked on the FBI's Osama bin Laden unit from 1996 until his retirement. He is currently the president of a corporate security consulting firm, but he has frequently spoken out condemning torture. He was interviewed for a Frontline report, The Torture Question, in 2005. He wrote an article, "No Torture, No Exceptions", for the Washington Monthly in 2008. He has also recently weighed in on the prosecution debate with a letter sent to the Senate and House Intelligence and Judiciary committees on August 21. The letter was co-signed by former interrogators Steven Kleinman and Matthew Alexander.