Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Great piece from Michael Winship

The Awful Price for Teaching Less than We Know

By Michael Winship

Watching Glenn Beck's performance Saturday at his "Restoring Honor" rally in Washington, DC, I thought of the novelist Sinclair Lewis' Elmer Gantry, the charlatan evangelist who seduces most of those around him with his hearty backslapping and false piety.

Then I realized it wasn't Gantry of whom I was reminded so much as another Lewis character, Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip, the politician who poses as a populist, then once elected president turns the United States into a fascist dictatorship, aided by an angry, unknowing electorate and a paramilitary group called the Minute Men.

Read how Sinclair Lewis described Windrip seventy-five years ago in his novel It Can't Happen Here and think Beck: "He was an actor of genius. There was no more overwhelming actor on the stage, in the motion pictures, nor even in the pulpit. He would whirl arms, bang tables, glare from mad eyes, vomit Biblical wrath from a gaping mouth; but he would also coo like a nursing mother, beseech like an aching lover, and in between tricks would coldly and almost contemptuously jab his crowds with figures and facts -- figures and facts that were inescapable even when, as often happened, they were entirely incorrect."

Entirely incorrect. In its despair and confusion, a large segment of the American populace is prepared to believe anything it's told, in part because we are a country less and less educated, increasingly unable to tell fact from fiction because we are so unschooled in basic essential knowledge about America and the world.

I remembered a conversation my friend and colleague Bill Moyers had with journalist and author Susan Jacoby on Bill Moyers Journal in 2008, just after the publication of her book, The Age of American Unreason.

She cited a 2006 National Geographic-Roper Survey: "Only 23 percent of college-educated young people could find Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and Israel, four countries of ultimate importance to American policy on the map -- a map, by the way, that had the countries lettered on it. So in other words, it wasn't a blank map, [which] meant they didn't really know where the Middle East was either... If only 23 percent of people with some college can find those countries on a map that is nothing to be bragging about. And that has to have something to do with why, as a country, we have such shallow political discussions."

It's not much of a leap from there to the Pew Research Center survey earlier this month reporting "nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) now say Obama is a Muslim, up from 11% in March 2009. Only about one-third of adults (34%) say Obama is a Christian, down sharply from 48% in 2009."

The jump in the "Obama is a Muslim" numbers is sharpest among Republicans (and a new Newsweek poll finds a majority of Republicans also believe that it's "definitely" or "probably" true that "Barack Obama sympathizes with Islamic fundamentalists who want to impose Islamic law around the world"). But as New York Times blogger Timothy Egan noted in an entry headlined, "Building a Nation of Know-Nothings," it's "not just that 46 percent of Republicans believe the lie that Obama is a Muslim, or that 27 percent in the party doubt that the president of the United States is a citizen. But fully half of them believe falsely that the big bailout of banks and insurance companies under TARP was enacted by Obama, and not by President Bush."

Back when Moyers spoke with Susan Jacoby about "the ignorance and erosion of historical memory that makes serious deceptions possible and plausible," she cited as an example that, "If we don't know what our Constitution says about the separation of powers then it certainly affects the way we decide all kinds of public issues."

According to a survey conducted last year by The American Revolution Center, a non-partisan, educational group, more than half of American adults "mistakenly believe the Constitution established a government of direct democracy, rather than a democratic republic," a third don't know that the right to trial-by-jury is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and "many more Americans remember that Michael Jackson sang 'Beat It' than know that the Bill of Rights is part of the Constitution." (Sixty percent knew that reality TV's Jon and Kate Gosselin had eight kids but more than a third did not know that the American Revolution took place in the 18th century.)

So is it any wonder that many Tea Partiers are equally unknowing of the fact that much of their grass roots movement is bankrolled by fat cats with ulterior motives like billionaire libertarians David Koch and his brother Charles, who, as a former associate told The New Yorker's Jane Mayer, seems to have "confused making money with freedom?" Or that continuing tax cuts for the rich while supporting deficit reduction are inherently incompatible concepts? Or that raging Islamophobia plays right into the hands of radical terrorists who use our bigotry to incite and recruit? Or that Glenn Beck just says whatever craziness pops into his head?

"It's one thing to forget the past, with predictable consequences, as the favorite aphorism goes," Timothy Egan wrote on the Times website. "But what about those who refuse to comprehend the present?"

Years ago, I attended a rally protesting government cuts in funding for education and the arts. One of the speakers suggested that we boomers may be the first generation to teach the next generation less than we know. That often-willful ignorance may turn out to be our final, fatal mistake, the greatest American tragedy of all.


Michael Winship is senior writer at Public Affairs Television in New York City.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Palin in 2012?

Should former Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, be "prevailed upon" to run for president in 2012, here are some salient facts to keep in mind. Unemployment in her state hovered around 6.7% when she took office in 2006, and rose to nearly 8% by the time she quit in July of 2009.

A vigorous proponent of deregulation, Palin will doubtless lead us down the same path as her economic svengali, Ronald Reagan.

It's never too early to defeat incompetence. Stop Palin, Dick Armey, Rand Paul, and the ghosts of Republican revolutions past. As a country, we are coming dangerously close to running out of mistakes.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Genocide Denier Running Secret Ops in Pakistan?

Two years ago, Duane Clarridge sat down to be interviewed by John Pilger for Pilger's series "The War on Democracy." Clarridge, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, indicted in 1991 for his involvement in covering up the Iran-Contra affair, retired from the agency in 1987.

During his reign as an instrumental CIA officer, not only did Clarridge back the Contras against the Sandinistas, he got himself indicted for seven counts of perjury for lying to Congress about the illegal sale of weapons to Iran in exchange for the release of six hostages. Good fortune, and another Iran-Contra insider, would later save him. In 1992, Clarridge was pardoned by then President George H. W. Bush.

In his interview with Pilger, the head of Latin American operations for the CIA in the early 1980's, denied the extent of carnage caused by Chilean military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. You may recall that the CIA backed Pinochet, and President Richard Nixon ordered the agency to depose Allende in 1970 right after Allende took office. When that effort failed, Nixon instructed the CIA to work to deconstruct the Allende regime.

Documents, declassified during the Clinton administration, show covert operatives placed inside Chile to destabilize the government, and prevent what was feared to be a Marxist takeover.

While Clarridge retired, the CIA hasn't, and is said to play a large part in destabilizing efforts in Pakistan and Iran. The feisty former intelligence officer, who left agency more than twenty years ago, told Pilger: "I'll bet you can't count more than 200" who were killed under Pinochet during his notorious bloody coup.

When Pilger looked shocked, Clarridge quipped, "Sometimes, unfortunately, things have to be changed in an ugly way." Indeed, Saddam Hussein would surely agree, if he were able to.

Pilger then asked what right the U.S. and the CIA have to intervene in the internal affairs of foreign countries, and Clarridge said simply "national security interests."

Yes, those same "national security interests" that emboldened Clarridge, then a public servant, to lie to Congress about his role as the CIA operative who masterminded the covert war in Nicargua.

But, that's ancient history. Why would anyone care about Duane Clarridge now?

Well, this same national security buff who denied what Pinochet did was genocide, and who later faced charges of perjury, is now back in the saddle and working in another covert war, in Pakistan. only this time as a private citizen.

According to wsws.org, Clarridge is now running one of many Pentagon-funded private contractors in Pakistan that act as conduits for military intelligence.

One can't help but wonder if his sphere of influence stops at Islamabad, or if the contacts he made in the Iran-Contra affair are coming in handy now. After all, would it be far-fetched to think that the former operative is also acting as an off-the-cuff consultant to CIA operatives in Iran?

Clearly, Duane Clarridge may have left intelligence, but intelligence never left Duane Clarridge.

To connect the dots, the Los Angeles Times reported, back in 2004, the former intelligence operative joined forces with a group of conservative activists, shortly after his departure from the CIA, a group that supported Chalabi as a vehicle for overthrowing Saddam Hussein in Iraq and replacing him with a pro-American puppet. Clarridge has even been accused of forging the infamous Niger letter that led to the infamous series of lies to Congress known simply as weapons of mass destruction.

And, the Don Quixote of Niger doesn't think that Chilean dictator killed more than a couple of hundred, not that killing anyone is justified, but think of the hideous crime of denying not merely culpability, but culpability in which one is complicit.

Consider, too, as Fred Branfman reports in AlterNet, that "Latin American Station Chief Duane "Dewey" Clarridge organized, trained, and operated local paramilitary and death squads throughout Central and Latin America that brutally tortured and murdered tens of thousand of civilians."

No wonder then that this former CIA officer would attempt to minimize the hideous murders committed by Pinochet. Many would like to declare war on Iran because Ahmadinejad is a Holocaust denier, but how many would call out a U.S. government employee for denying the purges of Pinochet, and/or participating in them?

While there may be much micromanaging of intelligence by the executive branch, it's disturbing to think how little federal oversight there is of private military contractors who have already faced a host of murder charges in Iraq, and who may now be under the command of private operators with long CIA rap sheets like Duane Clarridge.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chicken Little vs. the NSA

Two chickens have been arrested at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York this afternoon on charges of domestic terrorism.

The Department of Homeland Security reportedly apprehended the chickens after they were found to be carrying a half dozen eggs under their wings when passing through the airport scanner,and accused the pair of intentionally carrying salmonella poisoning across state lines.

They were detained by an agent for the National Security Agency while waiting for a connecting flight. The larger chicken was identified as Chicken Little.

An anonymous bystander said she overheard one chicken remark that she was not carrying toxic eggs, but instead what she thought would be her first native born grandchildren.

When asked for their documentation, neither chicken could provide evidence that they were raised on an American farm. They said they escaped from the Foster Farms display at Safeway.

A public defender has been appointed for the chickens who are scheduled to be arraigned in a midtown couthouse next Monday, and a federal judge will hear arguments in Chicken Little vs. the NSA.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

From Michael Winship

Labor Says Mott's Apples Are Rotten to the Core

By Michael Winship

Among the many TV ad jingles sadly cluttering my brain since childhood (although useful in trivia contests) is the one that went, "The finest apples from Apple Land/Make Mott's Apple Sauce taste grand!"

A branchful of the juicy, singing fruit would belt it out at the end of commercials that urged us to use applesauce to accompany meats, slather onto bread, spoon on top of ice cream, spackle drywall, you name it.

The Mott's commercials were especially meaningful where I grew up because we lived in Apple Land -- western New York State, not far from the town of Williamson, where workers at a Mott's factory have been out on strike since May 23rd.

The job action was started by 305 working men and women, members of Local 220 of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Whether they win or lose could play a role in determining the future of organized labor -- and the vanishing American middle class.

Mott's purchases between six and seven million bushels of New York apples every year -- more than half of all the apples produced in the state -- and has gone through a number of acquisitions and consolidations since Samuel R. Mott, a Quaker who made his own apple cider and vinegar, founded the company in 1842.

Today it's owned by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group (DPS), based in Plano, Texas. Ever since the takeover, union members claim, the family spirit at the factory that once included an effective worker-management safety committee, Christmas parties, Easter hams and company picnics has been destroyed. Corporate greed, they say, has marched in with a vengeance.

I first met Bruce Beal, Local 220's recording secretary and a member of its executive board at an AFL-CIO meeting in Albany, NY, last week. (Full disclosure: I'm president of the Writers Guild of America, East, a union affiliated with the AFL-CIO.) We caught up again on the phone, just as he and fellow strikers were seeing off a delegation of members headed out to an informational picket at a Dr. Pepper Snapple facility in Illinois.

Beal said he and the other union workers were shocked when DPS -- despite a profit of $555 million on sales of $5.5 billion last year -- demanded massive contract concessions; among them, slashing wages by $1.50 an hour, the elimination of pensions for new employees, a 20 percent reduction in their 401K's and a change in their health plan Beal says would force members to pay out of pocket an additional $6000-8000 a year.

In an official statement playing on the region's economic hardship, the company declared that, "DPS workers in Williamson enjoy significantly higher wages than the typical manufacturing employee in Western New York... As a public company, Dr. Pepper Snapple Group has a fiduciary responsibility to operate in the best interests of all of its constituents, recognizing that a profitable business attracts investment, generates jobs and builds communities."

Bruce Beal dismissed the DPS argument as "a line of bull... They don't give a rip about their employees, just lining their pockets is all they're concerned with." He points to Larry Young, the company's CEO, whose salary has risen 113 percent over the last three years to $6.5 million, and says that workers were told that they were nothing more than a "commodity, like soybeans... When we talked about how the company's demands would cause our members to lose their homes or have their cars repossessed, they looked right at us and said, 'You are living beyond your means.'"

Beal says the union has heard that other profitable businesses are discussing the strike and saying that if DPS wins, they, too, will demand massive concessions. But as Local 220's president Mike LeBerth told The New York Times, "Corporate America is making tons of money -- this company is a good example of that. So why do they want to drive down our wages and hurt our community? This whole economy is driven by consumer spending, so how are we supposed to keep the economy going when they take away money from the people who are doing the spending?"

Trucks will now be pulling up to the Mott's factory gate with this year's crop. Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association, said its members will have to cross the picket line: "When apples are ripe, they have to be harvested, and growers will be delivering this year's apple crop to the Mott's plant as usual... It is not done as a sign of support or a gesture of disrespect to either side."

According to Bruce Beal, "Our fight is with the company and not with the farmers. They have to make a living, too." He urged anyone interested to go the strikers website, www.mottsworkers.org, for more information or to contribute to their Hardship Fund. Others have suggested a boycott of all of the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group's products, which also include 7 Up, Hawaiian Punch and Canada Dry.

Meanwhile, DPS refuses to come back to the bargaining table and on Monday, August 30, the workers will mark Day 100 of their strike. Maybe they can get the singing apples from those vintage TV commercials to change their tune and learn some good old-fashioned labor songs. Like the one that asks, “Which Side Are You On?”

Michael Winship is president of the Writers Guild of America, East, and senior writer at Public Affairs Television in New York City.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

"Every War Has Two Losers," a film by Haydn Reiss

It was the poet Shelley who wrote that "the poet is the unacknowledged legislator of the world." Not much has changed since he wrote those words nearly three hundred years ago.

But, after watching among the most captivating minutes of video, one may certainly walk away with the sense that not merely by their words, but by their example poets change the world.

"Every War Has Two Losers" is a documentary based on the journals of midwestern poet William Stafford who declared himself a conscientious objector to World War II and, from 1942 through 1946, was interned at the Civilian Public Service Camps as a pacifist. The film has already aired on selected PBS stations, and features some of this country's finest poets, W.S. Merwin, Coleman Barks, Robert Bly, Maxine Hong Kingston, Alice Walker, and actor Peter Coyote reading from Stafford's work.

Stafford, who was born in 1914, was the author of some 67 volumes of poetry, winner of the National Book Award in 1963, and a close friend of another legendary American poet, Robert Bly.

It is fair to say there is something in "Every War" for everyone who has either served, known someone who has served, has lost someone on the battlefield, or has had to face losing someone on the battlefield. There is something in this film, too, for anyone who thinks about what it means to do the right thing.

"Armies are the result of obsolete ways," Stafford says, and he is right, but those ways are not obsolete enough. They are still very much with us. Stafford's words resonate even more now, and his recognition that warfare doesn't solve the problem, but only creates more problems. Or, as Robert Bly rightly suggests, many more lives were lost in an attempt to put an end to the murderous agenda of a rogue nation, Germany.

Essentially, it is the arbitrary nature of assignations like "enemy" that is at the core of what Stafford examines when he asks whether setting up an adversarial relationship with another country requires making enemies of its inhabitants.

One has only to think back to the 2008 presidential debates to remember then candidate Obama's insistence that he is not against war, but only wrong wars. And, William Stafford asks whether going to war is ever the right thing. His are good questions, and as timely now as they were more than half a century ago. The DVD, which is available at the film's Web site, includes a second documentary that captures the Whitmanic comradery of these two American legends, Stafford and Bly.

Producer Haydn Reiss has done the right thing in bringing to light a thought-provoking, and sensitive portrait of the artist as an ageless dissenter. Time spent watching this film will be time spent wisely.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Confessions of a Spider Killer

Okay, so maybe I read too much Dostoyevsky in my youth, but still it's been bothering me all day, this need to confess.

Yesterday, I killed the spider who bit my neck two weeks ago, then my face last week. He managed to escape to the ceiling where he was spotted.

Before I knew what was happening, I had a gold Jildor slipper in hand, and in one sweeping movement that would have made Mickey Mantle proud, I clobbered the sucker.

As the spider quickly fell to the pergo floor, I scampered to lift him up with a pair of tweezers to see if I could spot any forensics. For a minute, it felt like an audition for "CSI," but then I realized, this was not just some garden variety spider. This was an undocumented spider who must have come here to escape the heat in Arizona.

I was instantly seized with guilt. Did he not have the presumption of innocence? Was he not entitled to due process? What would I tell his next of kin? How would I find his next of kin. There was no documentation anywhere.

I could recover nothing from beside his atrophied limbs, but the uneasy feeling that his painful end could have been avoided. Two wrongs, after all, don't make a right. Just because he lunched on the bridge of my nose making it almost the size of Alaska, do I have the right to demolish him? Maybe not, but it sure felt good. For a moment, anyway, until I wondered whether karma applies to killing spiders, too.

Were it possible, I thought, I would have gotten a restraining order. I tried, but the District Attorney's office said they don't issue restraining orders to spiders. Besides, they said, I would have to file a police report which would mean going through the whole nightmare all over again, and telling of the nocturnal visitations, the bloodstains on the sheets, and the vitroilic red slash across my throat from his first bite. This was more than I could do.

Most important, the DA asked, what evidence do I have this spider is indeed the culprit who bit me? Was I willing to swear on the King James Bible that it wasn't a hickey?

I called an attorney who said he would draft a cease and desist letter, but I save those for my creditors.

You see now why I took the law into my own hands. There are easier things to prosecute than a spider.

I could never imagine myself killing anything, not until I had that gold Jildor slipper in my hot, sweaty little hand. My only consolation, however small, was that, to the best of my recollection, the spider was already dead when he hit the floor. I can recall no resistance as my slipper smacked his wretched little body, thus it may be that I didn't kill the poor thing after all He died of exhaustion..

Even so, killing a spider is hardly a crime, especially an undocumented one.

There you have it, the confession of someone of whom it has been often said "she couldn't hurt a fly." She just killed a spider!

If anyone wishes to pay their respects, the wake is Monday at a chapel soon to be announced. And, in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Karl Rove's Web site.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

From Michael Winship

You've Got to Be Carefully Taught

By Michael Winship

As citizens of the nation continue through the summer, distracting themselves from difficult truths by howling at the moon and one another, I spent this past weekend in Manhattan seeing revivals of two classic period pieces of American theater. Magnificent productions of Our Town and South Pacific are about to close after long successful runs.

Escapist and quaint? Not at all. These shows are as imaginative, poignant and pertinent today as they were the very first time their curtains came up, each a reminder of aspects of our national character; some grand and others we still struggle to put behind us.

Our Town is Thornton Wilder's famous 1938 meditation on life and death, told via the comings and goings of everyday people in Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, a fictitious country town at the turn of the twentieth century. Its message: that we are too often, too busy with our day-to-day existence to pay heed to the wonder of it all. And when we are dead, we are dead. But not quite.

"We all know that something is eternal," the play's omniscient Stage Manager tells us. "And it ain't houses and it ain't names, and it ain't earth, and it ain't even the stars... everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you'd be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There's something way down deep that's eternal about every human being."

The human beings of Grover's Corners are proudly American, parochial but commonsensical, loyal, educated and devout. They read the paper and go to choir practice. Their children study Cicero and the Louisiana Purchase.

The only ethnic influence is indicated by a couple of references to the twins delivered by Doc Gibbs over in "Polish Town" -- "Across the tracks... You know, foreign people that come here to work in the mill, couple of Canuck families, and the Catholic Church." So much for immigration reform.

But some of these townsfolk yearn for broader horizons. "It seems to me," Doc Gibbs' wife says, "that once in your life, before you die, you ought to see a country where they don't talk in English and don't even want to." A concept still lost on homegrown xenophobes who would seal off our borders and minds, eschew diplomacy with those not Judeo-Christian and hunker down, ever vigilant and paranoid, in Fortress USA.

(Bravo, by the way, to Josh Marshall of the website Talking Points Memo, who, reporting on the Ground Zero contretemps, wrote this week, "We're in a midst of a spasm of nativist panic and raw and raucous appeals to race and religious hatred. What effects this will have on the November election strikes me as not particularly relevant. What's important is compiling some record of what's afoot, some catalog for understanding in the future who was responsible and who was so willing to disgrace their country and their principles for cheap advantage.")

Soon enough, many of the children of Grover's Corners and other American villages and farms did see for themselves, experiencing Europe for the first time from the gruesome battlefields and trenches of World War I (but including the intellectual and sensual pleasures of Paris). And three decades after that "war to end all wars," the Second World War found millions of Americans shipping out to all points of the globe, battling enemies on a monumental scope and scale unlike anything in history.

That's the setting of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. When it was first produced, in 1949, the war was still so fresh in the recent past that many of the cast wore their own, barely retired military uniforms. (You can see the production this week on public television's Live from Lincoln Center series. Check your local listings.)

Because we are at war again, "the play summons a sort of memory of being under threat," its director Bartlett Sher notes, but perhaps more important, it so vividly depicts American culture -- US Navy and Marines -- colliding with the mores of another, vastly different society. In South Pacific, it's dark-skinned Polynesia as well as a French expatriate who escaped to the islands after killing a man back home.

Two love stories confront racial prejudice head on. Lieutenant Joe Cable, Philadelphia lawyer to be, is in love with the Tonkinese girl Liat but cannot overcome the elitist bigotry with which he has been inculcated. "You've got to be carefully taught," he sings:

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate…

The song was so controversial it was almost cut from South Pacific before opening night, and later, according to The Oxford Companion to the American Musical, "There were cities in the deep South that would not book the tour of South Pacific because of that number."

In parallel, nurse Nellie Forbush, the self-described Southern hick from Little Rock, falls for the French planter, Emile de Becque, but recoils not from learning his murderous past but when she meets the mixed race children he had with his late Polynesian wife. In the James Michener book of short stories from which the musical's plotline was adapted, Nellie's reaction is harsh and coarse; she uses the basest racial epithet to describe the wife and children. "Her entire Arkansas upbringing made it impossible for her to deny the teachings of her youth," Michener writes. "... If she married him, they would be her stepdaughters. She suffered a revulsion which her lover could never understand."

At the musical's end Nellie surmounts her prejudice, but so little has changed since South Pacific premiered more than half a century ago. Look at radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger's on-air tirade last week, using that same epithet nearly a dozen times and dismissing an African American caller's frustration that her white husband's friends and family made racist remarks in her presence: "If you're that hypersensitive about color and don't have a sense of humor, don't marry out of your race."

Alas. As the Stage Manager says in Our Town, "Wherever you come near the human race there's layers and layers of nonsense."


Michael Winship is senior writer for Public Affairs Television in New York City.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Petraeus: Spinmeister at Large

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs caused a furor last week when he called out media talking heads as the "professional left" suggesting they be "drug tested." It's unlikely that steroids are what Gibbs had in mind, but steroids have been the drug of choice for this administration when it comes to foreign policy.

Gibbs' idea of drug testing may come in handy for another fellow whose latest proclamation that the war in Afghanistan is "fundamentally sound" can't help but make one wonder if he, too, is partaking of the abundant poppies in Helmand Province. In an effort to win popular support for a military conflict that has lasted nearly a decade, General Petraeus, the leader of U.S. and Allied command in Afghanistan, has been making the rounds talking extensively to the New York Times, and on the Sunday morning TV talk show circuit.

Petraeus's use of the phrase "fundamentally sound" resonates in the way a song does that one vaguely remembers, but can't name. Wasn't it then candidate John McCain who said that the U.S. economy is "fundamentally strong" in what would prove to be the last round of his presidential campaign? The urge to wonder if the strategy in Afghanistan would be drastically different had McCain won election in 2008 instead is inescapable. But no one, not even myself, expect the earth to move with respect to foreign policy when Obama took over. This president's major impact will be in reframing the domestic agenda.

Will the repetition of this key phrase, that begins with "fundamentally," prove to be a harbinger of the end of another campaign, one that aims to prolong the illusion of imminent success in a war that boasts as its greatest achievement convincing Afghan President Karzai to help build an infrastructure of neighborhood watch groups?

More importantly, how much credibility does a commander have when he's only been in charge of the operation for six weeks after relieving another commander who all but dismissed the war as mission impossible in a magazine that has as its major demographic many who Mr. Gibbs might describe as the "professional left?"

General Petraeus is widely considered the prime mover of counterinsurgency in Iraq which arguably led to the exit of combat forces, but the overriding question is who is this "resilient enemy" the general considers so difficult to defeat? And, how can anyone call a mission "sound" when it includes what the New York Times describes as a record spike in attacks on U.S. forces, the proliferation of regional violence, and a corrupt regime that has become even more deeply embedded in corruption?

Petraeus is just as clueless as McChrystal when it comes to how to defeat an insurgency that is more about resistance than an uprising. Surely this topic was on the table when Presidents Obama and Medvedev met in a White House tete a tete in June. It's no secret in intelligence circles, as Noam Chomsky and others have intimated, that the enemy in Afghanistan is essentially comprised of poppy farmers, the police force, and the vast majority of the people.

In his interview with the New York Times , Petraeus said he "didn't sign up for a honeymoon," but is he ready for a divorce or, to extend the metaphor, is his mission now as it was in Iraq to be the cheerleader for a failed marriage?

When he later appeared on "Meet the Press " the general said he opposes what he calls a hasty pullout, believes success in Afghanistan is possible, and isn't interested in what he calls a "graceful exit." For anyone to suggest that a "graceful" anything is possible in the context of armed struggle evokes the desire for drug testing not to mention that the top commander in Afghanistan is dead set against withdrawal timetables, and is prepared to advise the president against a July, 2011 pullout. Where is Godot when we need him most?

Clearly, if he were presiding over a game of strip poker instead of military theatre, Petraeus would be the only one left in the room with clothes on.

And, consider this. As the Times also reports, Afghanistan is only the first stop in a covert "shadow war" being waged against al Qaeda in more than a dozen countries from North Africa to Pakistan, a war being fought with remote controlled drones, and good old fashioned espionage with a CIA that has White House clearance to engage in covert operations in which "virtually none of the newly aggressive steps undertaken by the U.S. government has been publicly acknowledged."

No need for spinmeisters in Yemen or Somalia because no one really knows the extent of what's going on there, and rest assured David Petraeus is in lockstep with any effort to keep the dark, dirty underside of war out of the press room.

This counterinsurgency jihad can boast of little more than the killing of several hundred insurgents, and greater preparedness for civilians to take over where military contractors like XE left off. Otherwise, there is lots of wiggle room, so much, in fact, that Petraeus could occupy a jumbo jet all by himself. But, then, maybe the reason they're called "generals" is because they know best how not to be specific.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

from George Bernard Shaw

"I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides the pig likes it."


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Michael Winship--

The Wall and the Mosque: Divide and Unite

By Michael Winship

The current fight over the building of an Islamic study center near Ground Zero here in Manhattan is reminiscent of another battle nearly thirty years ago. Then, too, ignorance, rage and prejudice threatened to destroy the creation of something intended to help mend a grievous wound and foster understanding and reconciliation.

In May 1981, a jury of architects and sculptors announced the results of a nationwide competition to design a Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. Congress had authorized the setting aside of three acres of National Park Service land near the Lincoln Memorial. More than 1400 design submissions came in, so many they took up more than 35,000 square feet in a hangar at Andrews Air Force Base outside the capital. Each entry was numbered so that the identities of those submitting remained anonymous.

The winner, by unanimous vote of the jury, was Number 1026 -- a massive, horizontal V made from polished black granite: two walls, each 246 feet, nine inches across, inscribed with the names of more than 58,000 Americans killed during the Vietnam War. In the words of Jan Scruggs, the ex-infantryman who came up with the idea of building a monument, "As you looked at the other designs, they were miniature Lincoln Memorials. There was the helicopter on the pole, there was the army helmet with dog tags inside. They seemed so banal and average and typical compared to this."

But many screamed in protest, including two who had been supporters of the idea of a Vietnam memorial and prominent fundraisers for its construction: billionaire H. Ross Perot and now Democratic senator from Virginia Jim Webb, who wrote to Scruggs, "I never in my wildest dreams imagined such a nihilistic slab of stone."

Some veterans described it as a "black gash of shame" and said it was an insult, both to those who had given their lives and those who had fought and survived. Others were further outraged by the identity of the memorial's designer, a 21-year-old Yale undergraduate, Chinese-American Maya Ying Lin. Irrationally ignoring even the simple truth that the judges had no idea of her identity beforehand, the notion that a young Asian woman should be chosen to design a monument to a conflict in which the other side was Asian was attacked as a slap in the face by the bigoted and ill-informed.

As Washingtonian magazine reported, in words echoing the current Ground Zero battle, "The fight was bitter, fueled by emotions that had as much to do with the war as they did with the memorial itself. There were death threats, racial slurs and broken friendships. Memories of that time still spark pain and anger."

Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Interior James Watt, the same man who wanted to ban the Beach Boys from Washington's National Mall because he thought they attracted “the wrong element,” tried to block the building permit. But eventually a compromise was made. Over Maya Lin's vehement, aesthetic objections, a statue of three servicemen and an American flag were added to the site.

Today, of course, the protests have faded to meaninglessness and Maya Lin's Vietnam wall is recognized for what it is and always was, a simple yet dramatic and eloquent expression of both service and the horrible finality of war. Now a venerated part of Washington's landscape of monuments and tributes, more than three million come to the wall every year, triple the combined number of sightseers who go to the White House and the Washington Monument. Many stop to make a pencil rubbing of one of the names engraved in the granite; some leave flowers and other mementoes, or stop to stare into the polished black surface that reflects back the visitor's own face.

"It has become something of a shrine," Jan Scruggs told US News and World Report in 2007. "It has helped people separate the warrior from the war and it has helped a nation to heal." So powerful is its impact, replicas of the wall tour the country, reminding towns and villages that sent so many of their young to southeast Asia of the sacrifices made and the lives cut short by combat, then and now.

Millions will not visit the planned Islamic study center near Ground Zero (although surely they will flock to New York's someday-soon-to-be-completed 9/11 memorial). But with patience, tolerance and common sense, perhaps in the years to come, when the angry shouts have ended, it, too, will become a place where visitors -- Muslims, Jews, Christians and those of all other faiths -- can peacefully reflect not only upon a great national tragedy but on the centuries of good and evil perpetrated throughout this planet's history in the name of God, ideology and country.


Michael Winship is senior writer at Public Affairs Television in New York City.

Monday, August 09, 2010

There is a place...

There is a place
we must go
when the world is
too far from us
There is a place
we go
when the world is
too much with us
strips us
like a street urchin
There is a a place that is
at once empty and
joyous and
filled with sorrow
devoid of
words gestures
dark or
silence in
the mouth
a dying
We are there
you and I
though we
struggle to
deny it.
It is there
as we struggle to

(c) Jayne Lyn Stahl

Sunday, August 08, 2010


When you come to a fork in the road, it's best to leave the fork there.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Spike Lee Fans at the Pentagon?

A disgruntled Pentagon spokesman, Geoff Morrell, recently vented about WikiLeaks's behemoth bequest to the media of 70,000 classified documents. Morrell told the Associated Press: "If doing the right thing is not good enough for them, then we will figure out what alternatives we have to compel them to do the right thing."

I thought at once of Spike Lee's film, "Do the Right Thing," in which the owner of a Brooklyn pizzeria that has only Italian movie stars on its "Wall of Fame" is reprimanded by one of his black patrons for not including an African-American. All hell breaks out when the shop owner refuses to post a picture of a black celebrity on his wall. One wonders who the Pentagon might feature on its Wall of Fame---Osama bin Laden?

Its appeal, on Thursday, to WikiLeaks to "do the right thing" and hand over, or permanently delete, whatever classified documents remain in its possession is based on voiced concern by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Admiral McMullen, and others in intelligence that these leaks jeopardize the safety of our troops in Afghanistan as they contain the names of Afghan informants.

Of course, it's not just safety, but morale others piped in. After all, it's not exactly good for morale to find out that your government is concealing the real number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan nor is it good not just for the troops, but for national morale to learn that Pakistani spies are lunching with Taliban leaders. In the end, it's a real game changer to find out that all fire may be friendly fire, so the Pentagon wants accountability, and possible criminal liability, from WikiLeaks for their disclosures of secret material.

But, WikiLeaks is not the first to endanger covert intelligence operatives. Where is the Pentagon's lust for holding those accountable who leaked the identity of an undercover CIA agent, Valerie Plame-Wilson? Was it good for the morale of intelligence agents to know that their identities, and their lives, have been politicized? Why is it that the congressional subpoena of Karl Rove was allowed to slip through the cracks? How is it that Rove, and those for whom he provided cover, managed to escape prosecution? Does the executive branch have lifetime immunity from criminal misconduct?

More to the point, placing the media spotlight on WikiLeaks provides effective cover for other news of potentially graver consequence. For instance, we now know from an AP exclusive report that a handful of so-called high value detainees were brought to Guantanamo Bay in 2003 " years earlier than previously disclosed then "whisked" into secret overseas prisons deliberately so that they would be deprived of access to attorneys.

As a prominent lawyer says, "This was all just a shell game to hide detainees from the courts."

And, speaking of shell games, all the Pentagon and media focus on WikiLeaks' transgressions has managed to keep people from asking whatever happened to nearly $9 billion in Iraqi funds for which the U.S. Defense Department is unable to account.

In a recent audit of how DoD money has been spent, the U.S. Special Investigator for Iraq Reconstruction, according to AP, now says that "over 95 percent of $9.1 billion in Iraqi oil money tapped by the U.S. for rebuilding the war-ravaged nation" has yet to be located. These funds are separate and distinct from more than $50 billion Congress appropriated for rebuilding that country.

Why is there no outrage over what amounts to a slush fund for military contractors, oil companies, and war manufacturers?

WikiLeaks has graciously offered to let the Pentagon review, and redact, more than 10,000 documents that they now have in their possession. The Pentagon doesn't appear to be the least bit moved by their offer. A spokesman for the Pentagon reportedly said they are not interested in what they call "harm minimization," so WikiLeaks told the Associated Press, on Saturday, that they are going forward with the release of more classified documents because "that's what we do." Furthermore, WikiLeaks insisted that the release of this information is in the best interest of public safety.

This time I have to agree with the Penagon. WikiLeaks should "do the right thing" and stop releasing state secrets when there are no more state secrets to release.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

ignorance is briss

I remember when they called it a "briss." Now, they call it a "tax cut."