Daily Archive: 08/07/2014

Aug 07 2014

More Dispatches From The Good War

Killing of U.S. General by Afghan Soldier Underscores Obama’s “Deep Problems” in Winding Down War

Democracy Now


“A Recipe for Civil War”: Journalist Matthieu Aikins on U.S. Military Legacy & Afghanistan’s Future

Democracy Now



U.S. General Is Killed in Attack at Afghan Base; Others Injured


AUG. 5, 2014

For the first time since Vietnam, a United States Army general was killed in an overseas conflict on Tuesday when an Afghan soldier opened fire on senior American officers at a military training academy.

The general was among a group of senior American and Afghan officers making a routine visit to Afghanistan’s premier military academy on the outskirts of Kabul when an Afghan soldier sprayed the officers with bullets from the window of a nearby building, hitting at least 15 before he was killed.

There was no indication that either of the attackers were members of the Taliban, or that their acts were coordinated. The insurgents did not claim the attackers as their own, instead hailing them as hero soldiers. American officials said they had no reason to suspect the gunman at the military academy was anything but an ordinary Afghan soldier whose motivations remained a mystery.

But scores of these so-called insider attacks have plagued the American military in recent years, and Afghan and American commanders believe the vast majority have been carried out by Afghan soldiers and police alienated and angered by the protracted war in their country, and the corrupt and ineffectual government that the United States has left in place. Few of the attacks are believed to have been results of coordinated Taliban plots.

With foreign troops having largely ceded their front-line role to Afghan forces in the past two years, training and advising Afghans is one of the few crucial roles still played here by the coalition. American soldiers largely stay out of the Taliban’s line of fire, but they must still maintain close contact with Afghan soldiers and policemen. Foreign forces have few options for protecting themselves, short of cutting off contact with the Afghans.

But that would make the training mission impossible, as General Greene, 55, most likely knew.

He was one of the most senior officers overseeing the transition from a war led and fought by foreign troops to one conducted by Afghan forces. His specialty was logistics – he was a longtime acquisitions officer – and he had been dispatched to Afghanistan to help the Afghan military address one of its most potentially debilitating weaknesses: an inability to manage soldiers and weaponry.

Compared with the infantry grunts who did tours of duty in the Taliban-infested hinterlands of Afghanistan, General Greene had an assignment that appeared to carry far less risk. Yet on Tuesday, he became one of the more than 2,300 American service members killed in Afghanistan.

Afghan troops’ rocky past offers clues into shooting that killed U.S. general

By Pamela Constable, Washington Post

August 6, 2014

The army, the most professional and popular of the new defense forces, has drawn recruits from across the country who have been expected to replace local and ethnic loyalties with adherence to a national government and its defense. The aim has been to forge an army of about 80,000 men and officers who could be weaned from foreign tutelage by now and prepared to take on the Taliban alone, then gradually grow to as many as 120,000 troops.

From the beginning, however, the project has been plagued with problems. Soldiers have gone AWOL and deserted in high numbers. Ethnic imbalances between officers and troops have been sources of envy and friction. Equipment has been old and expensive to replace.

The fatal attack on Tuesday was an acute embarrassment to the Afghan military leadership, because it occurred inside the Afghan equivalent of the U.S. military academy at West Point, and was aimed at a Western VIP delegation that had come to assess the army’s progress in being able to defend the nation as Western forces prepare to leave.

Officials said there was no indication that he was part of a conspiracy or had Taliban sympathies. But the timing of the attack was particularly sensitive, with presidential elections derailed by charges of fraud and an audit of all 8.1 million ballots repeatedly suspended by disagreements. Afghans are hoping to have a new leader inaugurated in time for a NATO summit in early September, and a stalled bilateral security agreement between Afghanistan and the United States is on hold until a new government takes office in Kabul.

The number and scope of Taliban insurgent attacks has been increasing in recent months, with dozens of deadly incidents involving unusually large numbers of insurgents. Officials have said the Taliban is testing the strength of Afghan security forces as U.S. and NATO troops continue their withdrawal and prepare to place the nation’s defense largely in Afghan hands.

Several analysts in Kabul said the attack exposed deep flaws in the control and competence of Afghan military leaders, who had apparently not prepared adequate security for the foreign visit. They also said it revealed ongoing problems with the army’s lax recruitment policies and faltering efforts to build a loyal, unified fighting force after more than a decade of foreign investment and training.

“This sad event is a major blow to our international alliances, and it shows that we cannot build trustworthy and credible military institutions,” said Javed Kohistani, a military analyst, former Afghan army officer and former national intelligence officer. “Whoever was behind this attack has achieved their highest goal. It is no coincidence that a two-star American general was killed.”

Aug 07 2014

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Trevor Timm: [The CIA is getting away with keeping every important secret about torture

The CIA is getting away with keeping every important secret about torture

A definitive Senate report about one of America’s darkest periods continues to be withheld – precisely because the agency behind it refuses to come clean

The CIA is getting away with keeping every important secret about torture

A definitive Senate report about one of America’s darkest periods continues to be withheld – precisely because the agency behind it refuses to come clean]

A definitive Senate report about one of America’s darkest periods continues to be withheld – precisely because the agency behind it refuses to come clean

At this point, is there anything the Central Intelligence Agency thinks it can’t get away with?

To recap: the CIA systematically tortured people, then lied about it. Destroyed evidence of it, then lied about that. Spied on the US Senate staffers investigating the agency for torture, then lied about that. Now, after somehow being put in charge of deciding what parts of the Senate’s final report on that torture should be redacted, the CIA has predictively censored the key evidence of the litany of all of those transgressions.

The agency’s black marker has reportedly censored – at different points in the report – already-public, embarrassing and criminally culpable information. By doing so, the CIA has rendered it, as one Senator noted, “incomprehensible”. So while the Senators and Langley fight it out behind closed doors, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the intelligence committee chair, put the report’s public release on hold. Again.

Sadhbh Walshe: Teenagers in US prisons: it’s time for the savagery and neglect to finally end

A terrifying new report might just leave one of the country’s most notoriously bad jails at the forefront of reform for a broken system

When Inmate H, a teenager serving time at New York’s Rikers Island, fell asleep during a class, a female corrections officer wrapped metal handcuffs around her fist and hit him in the ribcage to rouse him. The tactic worked – Inmate H woke abruptly and shouted an obscenity at the officer. For this, he was: dragged into the corridor; punched in the eye; kicked in the face, head and back repeatedly by multiple officers; kicked in the mouth; and pepper-sprayed directly into the eyes. While the horror show was unfolding, two teachers inside the classroom reported that they heard the young prisoner screaming out, crying for his mother.

The story of Inmate H is just one of many examples of the brutal violence inflicted upon teenage prisoners at the second biggest jail in America, where nearly half of the juvenile population reports having been beaten at least once by guards. Many of these tales of injustice were laid bare in a stomach-churning report released this week by the US attorney Preet Bharara, who compared the youth experience at the “broken institution” of Rikers to the book Lord of the Flies.

Sharda Sekaran: Detroit’s water crisis is a wake-up call to all Americans

The US cannot credibly advocate for human rights abroad while failing to protect them at home

A decade ago, I joined a group of human rights advocates to found the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative to promote freedom from poverty and access to basic resources in the United States. The idea for the project seemed far-fetched to many. After all, the U.S. is a rich country, and human rights are widely seen as a foreign policy issue, not a domestic concern.

But with the threat looming over 100,000 Detroit residents of losing access to something as basic as water, our endeavor now appears prescient. [..]

Fortunately, amid strong efforts by local activists and national and international allies, the city’s emergency manager on July 29 returned control over the Detroit Water and Sewage Department to the mayor and city council. Residents hope city officials will enact an affordability plan that will cap a household’s water bills on the basis of income.

There is no guarantee for Detroiters, however, that this hand-off will be permanent or that it will result in affordable access to water. In fact, Mayor Mike Duggan has a history of supporting privatization, with the sale of the nonprofit Detroit Medical Center to a for-profit hospital conglomerate in Virginia. That the issue is still in doubt demonstrates our country’s continuing inability to meet the demands of human rights and social justice.

Dean Baker: Patent for hepatitis C drug costs US billions of dollars

States can save money by sending liver-disease sufferers overseas to receive treatment

There are an estimated 3 million people with hep C in the United States. This puts the tab to treat them at more than $250 billion. That would be a major cost to private insurers and public-sector programs such as Medicaid. This is the basis for the hand wringing: Should we require private insurers to pick up the tab for Sovaldi for hep C sufferers? Does everyone get treated or just the very sick? And should already stretched state Medicaid programs have to bear this additional burden?

The answers to these questions, however, are much easier for anyone who doesn’t mind bucking the drug companies. Sovaldi is expensive in the U.S. because the government gives Gilead Sciences a patent monopoly on the drug. It uses this monopoly to charge a price that is far above the free-market rate: A generic version is already available in Egypt for $900 per treatment. Indian generic manufacturers believe that they can produce the drug for less than $200.

This presents a simple and obvious way around the $84,000 problem: Send people to Egypt or India for a treatment that costs 1 percent as much or less. The U.S. could pay for family members to go as well, stay a full three months and still come out tens of thousands of dollars ahead. Certainly this can be presented as an option to people, perhaps throwing in a $5,000 or $10,000 incentive to make the trip worth their while.

Heidi Moore: Who’s the next great media mogul? Nobody

As news conglomerates break apart, the Rupert Murdochs of the world need to look further down the food chain for the next great money-makers

Do we need better media moguls?

Newspaper writers and pundits have an obsession with media-company business models: how newspapers should charge for their articles online, how to lure advertisers, 12 reasons to worry about BuzzFeed’s clicks.

But what if the problem isn’t business models, per se? What if the problem is management models?

Already this week, the US news business has witnessed a quartet of major milestones for independence, and with them, the first test of whether formerly major media companies really need their moguls. Spoiler alert: they probably do. The reality check is that journalists are going to have to fill the void themselves.

Qanta Ahmed: A grim prognosis for Syrian and Iraqi hospitals

The militarization of healthcare in the region has crippled the medical profession and its patients

During the recent Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Israel has been harshly criticized for its strikes on Gaza’s hospitals. Meanwhile, in the self-declared Islamic Caliphate straddling Iraq and Syria, violence surges while fewer and fewer doctors and hospitals remain functional. The deliberate targeting of hospitals and doctors in the theater of war has become a new, deadly strategy.

However, this worsening humanitarian crisis in neighboring countries garners a fraction of the outrage directed towards Israel. As war rages on, millions in Syria and Iraq will continue to die unnoticed, in battle, or from easily preventable ailments that have gone untreated. Long after the cease-fire finally sticks between Israel and Hamas, the vulnerability of patients and their doctors in Iraq and Syria will only grow.

For years now, the forces of President Bashar al-Assad have deliberately targeted hospitals and health centers across Syria in aerial bombardments. According to Physicians for Human Rights, 95 percent of all such attacks have been by the regime. The World Health Organization reports that 57 percent of Syria’s public hospitals are damaged, while 37 percent have been rendered out of service. With 40 percent of ambulances destroyed and others commandeered to transport weapons, patients in the field are being left to suffer and die.

Aug 07 2014

The Breakfast Club (Canção do Mar)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover  we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

The Breakfast Club Logo photo BeerBreakfast_web_zps5485351c.png

This Day in History

U.S. embassies bombed in E. Africa; Congress OKs powers to expand the Vietnam War; The Battle of Guadalcanal begins; Kon-Tiki ends its journey; Comedy icon Oliver Hardy and news anchor Peter Jennings die.

Breakfast Tunes

Song of The Sea

I went to dance on my little boat

There in the cruel sea

And the sea was roaring

Telling me I went there to steal away

The peerless light

Of the beautiful look in your eyes

Come to find out if the sea is right

Come to see my heart dancing

If I go dancing on my little boat

I won’t go to the cruel sea

Nor will I tell it where I went

To smile, dance, dream, live… with you

Aug 07 2014

On This Day In History August 7

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on images to enlarge

August 7 is the 219th day of the year (220th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 146 days remaining until the end of the year.

The Northern Hemisphere is considered to be halfway through its summer and the Southern Hemisphere half way through its winter on this day.

On this day in 1947, Kon-Tiki, a balsa wood raft captained by Norwegian anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl, completes a 4,300-mile, 101-day journey from Peru to Raroia in the Tuamotu Archipelago, near Tahiti. Heyerdahl wanted to prove his theory that prehistoric South Americans could have colonized the Polynesian islands by drifting on ocean currents.

Heyerdahl and his five-person crew set sail from Callao, Peru, on the 40-square-foot Kon-Tiki on April 28, 1947. The Kon-Tiki, named for a mythical white chieftain, was made of indigenous materials and designed to resemble rafts of early South American Indians. While crossing the Pacific, the sailors encountered storms, sharks and whales, before finally washing ashore at Raroia. Heyerdahl, born in Larvik, Norway, on October 6, 1914, believed that Polynesia’s earliest inhabitants had come from South America, a theory that conflicted with popular scholarly opinion that the original settlers arrived from Asia. Even after his successful voyage, anthropologists and historians continued to discredit Heyerdahl’s belief. However, his journey captivated the public and he wrote a book about the experience that became an international bestseller and was translated into 65 languages. Heyerdahl also produced a documentary about the trip that won an Academy Award in 1951.

Aug 07 2014

TDS/TCR (Alarmingly-Named Wolfman)



Old People Talk

For this week’s guests and the real news join me below.

Aug 07 2014

The CIA Still Trying to Cover Up That It Tortured

When the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) agreed to declassify and release the executive summary of the 6,000 page investigation into the CIA’s use of torture last April, it also agreed to allow the White House to review the 480 page document for review. The White House announced that the CIA would take the lead in that review, virtually leaving the decision on what if any incriminating evidence that they tortured in the hands of the accused.

The writers at Techdirt have been joking about the “buckets of black ink” that would be “dumped” on the report. After weeks of waiting, no one should be surprised that the heavily redacted document that was returned to the SSCI on August 1 was barely coherent.

Late Friday, Senator Dianne Feinstein announced that the White House had returned the executive summary, but she’s a bit overwhelmed by all the black ink and is holding off releasing the document until her staff can look into why there were so many redactions:

   “The committee this afternoon received the redacted executive summary of our study on the CIA detention and interrogation program.

   A preliminary review of the report indicates there have been significant redactions. We need additional time to understand the basis for these redactions and determine their justification.

   Therefore the report will be held until further notice and released when that process is completed.”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper responded that Sen. Feinstein’s complaint was unfounded stating that there were “minimal redactions,”  claiming that 85% of the document was not blacked out. Techdirt‘s Mike Masnick thinks Clapper may have been counting the margins

Of course, as Marcy Wheeler has pointed out, this is just about the executive summary of the report — which was specifically written to be published. In other words, the really “secret” stuff is in the rest of the report, but the 408 page exec summary was written with public disclosure in mind — meaning that the Senate Intelligence Committee staffers certainly wrote it with the expectation that it would need few, if any, redactions. So the fact that large chunks of it were redacted immediately set off some alarms.

SSCI Chairperson Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) released this statement:

After further review of the redacted version of the executive summary, I have concluded that certain redactions eliminate or obscure key facts that support the report’s findings and conclusions. Until these redactions are addressed to the committee’s satisfaction, the report will not be made public.

I am sending a letter today to the president laying out a series of changes to the redactions that we believe are necessary prior to public release. The White House and the intelligence community have committed to working through these changes in good faith. This process will take some time, and the report will not be released until I am satisfied that all redactions are appropriate.

The bottom line is that the United States must never again make the mistakes documented in this report. I believe the best way to accomplish that is to make public our thorough documentary history of the CIA’s program. That is why I believe taking our time and getting it right is so important, and I will not rush this process.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), a member of the SSCI, also released a statement condemning the redactions as nothing more that a cover up of “embarrassing information:”

The redactions that CIA has proposed to the Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA interrogations are totally unacceptable. Classification should be used to protect sources and methods or the disclosure of information which could compromise national security, not to avoid disclosure of improper acts or embarrassing information. But in reviewing the CIA-proposed redactions, I saw multiple instances where CIA proposes to redact information that has already been publicly disclosed in the Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainee abuse that was reviewed by the administration and authorized for release in 2009. The White House needs to take hold of this process and ensure that all information that should be declassified is declassified.

Another committee member, Sen Mark Udall (D-C)) thought it was very clear that Director Clapper’s intentions were to distort the record

While Director Clapper may be technically correct that the document has been 85 percent declassified, it is also true that strategically placed redactions can make a narrative incomprehensible and can certainly make it more difficult to understand the basis for the findings and conclusions reached in the report. I agree wholeheartedly that redactions are necessary to protect intelligence sources and methods, but the White House must work closely with this committee to reach this goal in a way that makes it possible for the public to understand what happened.

According to a report in McClatchy, the summary carefully used pseudonyms of covert CIA agents and foreign countries that was much of what was blacked out:

Tom Mentzer, a spokesman for the committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told McClatchy on Monday that the blackouts _ officially known as redactions _ were made to pseudonyms used for both covert CIA officers and foreign countries.

“No covert CIA personnel or foreign countries are named in the report,” he said. “Only pseudonyms were used, precisely to protect this kind of information. Those pseudonyms were redacted (by the administration).”

All of the pseudonyms were excised from the version of the executive summary that the White House returned to the committee on Friday, a person familiar with the issue said.

Lawmakers seem willing to accept some redactions, but others made by the CIA and the White House would make it difficult or impossible to understand the subject being discussed, especially when a pseudonym appears in multiple references, said the knowledgeable person, who requested anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.

The Intercept‘s Jeremy Scahill joined MSNBC’s Alex Wagner on “NOW” to discuss the dispute over the redacted report

The CIA tortured and the US government approved it and still continues some forms of torture It is now actively engaged in the continued refusal to prosecute the crimes and still trying to make it sound like it was just a “mistake.” Waterboarding someone 183 times is not a mistake, it is a crime, a war crime. No amount of “awe shucks” statements by President Barack Obama that “we tortured some folks” or calling the perpetrators “patriots” will excuse the fact that they broke the law.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence should just release the executive report. The Justice Department should do its due diligence and prosecute the tortures and those who authorized it. Director Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan should be fired and prosecuted for lying to the Senate and their roles in the torture program. Pres. Obama should uphold his oath of office or be impeached.

Aug 07 2014

The Great War (an introduction)

Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.

There are two problems with history.  The first is a mechanical problem, causation.  There is a Newtonian attraction to start with the Big Bang and Universal Inflation and see everything as logically and inevitably proceeding from there since in our own lives Entropy’s Arrow is writ so large.  The second is a failure of empathy, to see our own situation as so unique and without precedent that hsitory is nothing but a dull, dusty recitation of dates and dead people with no relevence at all.  The fact that these two instincts are contradictory does not prevent people from holding them simultaneously true as a manifestation of our quantum nature where cats are neither/both dead/alive like brain craving Zombies.

There are many ‘Guns of August’ as you can see by scanning our content for the last few days.  This date, the 6th, is notable in terms of the Great War because it marks the next to last formal declaration of war of the initial phase, that of Austria-Hungary against Russia (Japan declares war against Germany August 23rd).  As of 100 years ago today the combatants are-

For the Entente Cordiale: Serbia, Russia, France, Belgium, Britain.  For the Central Powers: Germany and Austria-Hungary.

But at this point we are already almost a thousand years in medias res because to understand the Great War you need to go back to Napoléon and the Congress of Vienna and to grasp the motivations of the British while redrawing the map of Europe you need to start at the Battle of Hastings and take into account their experiences in the Hundred Years War and the Armada.

That’s just the Anglo version, there are other important narratives.

So this is a warning (or a threat, take it how you will) that I’ll be talking about the Great War and not always with much attention to anniversaries because it’s a big, complicated, and messy subject, though the broad outlines and outcomes may not surprise you much (it’s been a whole century after all).

I anticipate at least 3 pieces to bring us up to the Congress of Vienna, one focusing on Western Europe, one on the Ottoman Empire, and one on Russia.  After the Congress I will look at German and Italian unification, the Second Age of Colonialism, and the Industrial Revolution and the Ironclad.  Finally in the run up to the Great War I’ll look at the establishment of the Entente and the retreat of the Otttomans from the Balkans.

And this is all before Princip fires a shot truly heard around the world.

For the most part I’ll be documenting my story based on Wikipedia, not because it’s the best or most insightful, but simply because that by the nature of its anarchic editing process it represents the lowest common denominator of facts we can all agree on.

And they’re not what you think they are if you had a typical Anglo-American education.