Monday, August 31, 2009

A stupid question

President Obama has just cut a federal employees' pay raise from 2.4 to 2.0 percent.

Since the 2.4 raise was already agreed to, what is the authority Obama cites?
"Title 5, United States Code, authorizes me to implement an alternative pay plan if I view the adjustments that would otherwise take effect as inappropriate due to 'national emergency or serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare,' Obama wrote in Monday's letter. 'A national emergency, within the meaning of chapter 53 of title 5, has existed since September 11, 2001. Likewise, with unemployment at 9.5 percent in June to cite just one economic indicator, few would disagree that our country is facing serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare."
So, according to HopeChange we are and have been in a national emergency ever since 9/11. So my stupid question is, drum roll...

Will the 9/11 emergency ever be over?

The stupid answer is - of course not, not unless we can someday have a bigger, better emergency.
And now there's more money for the banksters!
(h/t Atrios)

An eerie similarity

The waning days of summer promise to bring in a new flurry of activity in Afghanistan. Despite the heralded release of McChrystal's 'strategic review', the first issue that the US has to confront is the selection of the next 'leader' of the country.

A relentless media campaign has discredited Karzai everywhere but in Afghanistan. The elections have been discredited using the same tools, obedient reporters who uncritically repeat what they are told by anonymous government officials. We've been informed that Karzai and Holbrooke were almost at each others throats, with Holbrooke demanding that Karzai submit to a run off election. Karzai does not seem willing to yield to the demands, so the US is going to have to decide quickly whether it can live with Karzai, or find some means to put its new fair-haired boy Abdullah in power using extra-constitutional means.

On the war front, no one seems very certain about anything

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters Monday that while he had not yet seen the report, he expected it to portray a “mixed picture” of the operations there. He was quick to add, however, that he thought “some of the doom and gloom perhaps is somewhat overdrawn.” Speaking in Fort Worth, Tex., he also said Afghan forces may have to grow beyond the planned level of 230,000 personnel to make headway, news services reported.
some, perhaps, somewhat... SecDef Gates doesn't seem to want to put himself out on a limb.

Reading the tea leaves, I'd say that the Obama administration has not yet made any decisions, hence the hemming and hawing. But the generals are going to up the pressure for more troops, and that will be politically impossible with Karzai around. While you have to go to war with the army you have, puppet leaders can be substituted at will. Obama will bite the bullet and order another major escalation.

Those of us who remember Vietnam can begin to see an eerie similarity. When hearing of Karzai's removal, perhaps Mullah Omar will echo the words of another US foe:
Upon learning of Diem's ouster and death, Ho Chi Minh is reported to have said, "I can scarcely believe the Americans would be so stupid."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Critically important

Geithner in a letter to Congress demanding asking that the current $12.1 trillion statutory debt limit be raised:
“It is critically important that Congress act before the limit is reached so that citizens and investors here and around the world can remain confident that the United States will always meet its obligations,” Geithner said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that was obtained by Reuters.
Like Paulson before him, Geithner deals in blackmail like it's his mother's milk.

The limit was last raised in February, but $2tn of new debt are forecast for 2009, and $1.6tn for 2010. Who wants to bet that $3.6tn for 2009-2010 will be enough?

If "citizens and investors" are confident that the US will meet its obligations, they're a bunch of rubes, unless they think that meeting its obligations with monopoly money is OK.
(h/t cryptogon)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ben's back!

Obama continues to put his stamp on the presidency, boldly boosting Helicopter Ben Bernanke to another term at the Fed.

On a related note, a judge ruled that the Fed will have to cough up the names of the banks that got the bailout. Be ready for an appeal.

Holder goes after the little fish

To bad for Göring that Holder wasn't the Nuremburg prosecutor, the "Ve vas only gifink orders" defense would have got him off scot-free.

It's difficult to conceive that Holder could do a worse job as AG than he has done so far. We can hardly hope that he'll ever do any better, the guy is thoroughly in the tank.

Wherever we look, justice, war, health, finance, or economy, Obama's cowardice and lack of leadership become more evident each day. The insane policies that Feckless Leader followed are still being continued, some even worsened by HopeChange. This administration has a good chance of finishing in disaster, long before its first four years are up.

UPDATE: Just to accentuate how Obama's weakness is evident to interested observers, Netanyahu is reportedly going to tell envoy Mitchell to go piss up a rope. M. J. Rosenberg (linked to above) thinks that Bibi is all wrong about Obama who will show his leadership skills to get universal health coverage, and Bibi will thus back off. Maybe, if you think that requiring people to buy crappy private insurance is 'universal'. But I don't think that will impress Bibi.


It was a no-brainer that the military would ask for more troops for Afghanistan. The military always wants more troops. What is interesting is the way the 'request' has been presented, before the much awaited major war strategy review, and leaked out to the press. Until you've decided on your strategy, how can you determine how many troops are needed?

Whoever talked to the NYT's faithful stenographer Helene Cooper must think the strategy has already been decided. She says she is reporting what military commanders told Holbrooke who, one would hope, is going to be involved in setting the policy based upon the review. Or is this review stuff just hokum?

In any case, unless there is a significant rethinking in the Obama administration (that would be a first) it looks like a major escalation will be announced soon.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Iran-like situation

Kudos to the Asia Times columnist M K Bhadrakumar for predicting the result of the election in Afghanistan, the result being that the opposition charged that the vote was rigged, like in Iran, and the result invalid.

This follows the news that counting the ballots will take several weeks, something hardly mentioned before the election.

As a 'nation building' operation, the handling of this election has been, if anything, worse than the elections in Iraq. A prolonged period of uncertainty about who is the Mayor of Kabul will, if nothing else, contribute to the uneasiness of Congress, NATO, and the public.

McChrystal's report was supposed to be due after the election, after being postponed previously. We are waiting. Oh, yeah.


Just as the Iraqis before them, the NYT finds that the Afghans are not up to the task of enjoying the benefits of being invaded and occupied by the US:
Marines Fight With Little Aid From Afghans
which is evidently very disappointing:
American Marines secured this desolate village in southern Afghanistan nearly two months ago, and last week they were fortifying bases, manning checkpoints and patrolling in full body armor in 120-degree heat. Despite those efforts, only a few hundred Afghans were persuaded to come out here and vote for president on Thursday.
We are also informed that Marines manning checkpoints have to do without air-conditioning and refrigerated water. Those sacrifices are also not enough to bring flocks of the natives to the polling booth to vote for the mayor of Kabul. Why?

Governor Massoud said he personally admired the Marines here, from the Second Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, but he said many people “just don’t want them here.”

He estimated that two of every three local residents supported the Taliban, mostly because they make a living growing poppy for the drug trade, which the Taliban control. Others support them for religious reasons or because they object to foreign forces.

A local gives another reason:

When one man, Abdul Hanan, complained that “more people are dying,” First Lt. Jake Weldon told him that the Taliban “take away your schools, they take away your hospitals; we bring those things.”

Mr. Hanan remained doubtful. Some people have fled the area, fearful of violence since the Marines have arrived. “So you want to build us a hospital or school, but if nobody is here, what do we do?” he asked.

As Mr. Hanan points out, if you're dead, hospitals and schools are a useless luxury. But try to tell that to the Marines.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Super-dooper top secret laws

Scott Horton has a post about how the Obama administration is continuing the proud tradition of harassing defense attorneys trying to defend their clients at Gitmo. DoJ investigators are looking to see if defense attorneys might have broken the law:
What’s going on here? Is this really about whether defense lawyers broke the law? If so, it’s a law which the Justice Department apparently cannot identify—another one of those super-dooper top secret laws.
That's the great thing (from the government's point of view), top secret laws are difficult to defend against, no one can tell you what you may have done.

Horton believes that the reason for this harassment is to "draw a tight black curtain around the criminal activities that occurred at the CIA black sites". Why, because they're afraid:
What are they afraid of? The answer is clear enough. Criminal prosecutions are now pending against individuals involved in the extraordinary renditions program in Italy; criminal investigations are underway in Spain, Poland and the United Kingdom. The disclosures about the Lithuanian black site will probably lead to a criminal probe in that nation as well. The Justice Department’s transparent objective here is to avoid the discovery of information that could further the prosecution of criminal conduct.
This may be true, but is it the full story? Just as the destruction of the interrogation tapes could have had another reason, not to hide the torture (which everyone knows and has admitted happened), but rather to hide the false testimony that was fed to the tortured during the process.

The specter of 9/11, what really happened, who the actors were and who sponsored them, is the 900 pound gorilla that haunts the national security state. The government, press, and public keep their eyes averted as much as possible. Even so, any deviation from the official story, even a small part of it, cannot be exposed to the light of day on the risk that it might snowball. What stories some of the inmates at GITMO might tell if they were given the chance! That's the real danger, not prosecution by some European bozos.

The justification for the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, the showcases of the never ending GWOT, are wholly dependent on the narrative we've been force fed. What would happen if it were shown that other actors were involved?

At least, someone would have to think up another justification for our wars.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Introducing Islamism

M K Bhadrakumar does his usual high level look at the jockeying for position in Afghanistan among the powers of the area, Pakistan, India, Iran, plus the US and NATO. He also wonders if a victory by Karzai might be countered with an "Iran-like situation" (his quotes). Calling the election results into question (the spadework is already being done in the press), might allow a "surrogate power structure" to emerge, one more closely aligned with US/NATO and less aligned with the existing power structures in Afghanistan.

But I found one of his closing paragraphs most interesting:
Equally, the Pakistani security establishment and the Obama administration will consider it hard to stomach that a democratically elected government dominated by the Northern Alliance "warlords", who used to enjoy the support of Russia, Iran and India, may come to power in Kabul. The agenda of introducing Islamism for the remaking of Central Asia, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's expansion, the long-term military presence in Afghanistan - all these get disrupted.
Is the current US policy in the region to introduce Islamism for the remaking of Central Asia? Could fighting Islamism be the way to stir up Islamism, destabilizing the 'stans as well as western China and southern Russia?

If so, it would certainly indicate that Obama's policy goals in Afghanistan are the same as those that Cheney tried, and failed, to implement. It would also show a stunning level of deviousness and hypocrisy from our 'transparent' leader, something that goes far beyond even his trickery in the health care charade.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Paging Petraeus

It's rather strange for someone seemingly so enamored of the spotlight to disappear from the scene, but that is what our Greatest General Petraeus seems to have done. While Gates, Mullins, and McChrystal parade from one meeting to the next, followed by packs of reporters, Petraeus has been visiting our new favorite dictator Karimov in Uzbekistan, he dropped in on Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan, and he also spread some love in Yemen, all while keeping a low profile.

It's hard to tell if his new found bashfulness is by his choice, or that of SecDef Gates. Petraeus is a far more effective communicator than the spooky McChrystal, and when the request for more troops is made he might be called back to stand in the spotlight in front of Congress and explain how the new surge will win the day. Or maybe he thinks standing in the wings is the better part of valor right now.

Kabul kabuki

As the big election day in Afghanistan nears, the natives are getting restless, the lousy puppets that the US is trying to control apparently defy its orders, and the colonial powers (the US and Britain, at least) are planning another escalation of their war of choice.

Karzai bringing back Dostum was surely an act of defiance, and a bid to stay relevant as the US has seemingly turned its back on its one time favorite. According to Syed Shahzad at the Asia Times, the Taliban is also rooting for Karzai's defeat, seeing the defeat of the Pashtun Karzai as strengthening their hand within their territory.

Whatever the results, the new arrangement of the deck chairs will hardly affect McChrystal's upcoming plea for more troops. With no realistic possibility of 'victory', and a huge money sucking machine demanding "Feed me!" ever more insistently, expect this increase to be another in a long series.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A few years, hopefully

SecDef Gates put on his optimist hat the other day and said the US and NATO would defeat the Taliban and al-Qaida in 'a few years'. That contradicts Britain's incoming Chief of Staff, that gloomy Gus said that military operations might continue for 40 more years, getting close to an even half century.

Meanwhile, as the happy talk goes on, Afghanistan is ramping up for the elections. As M K Bhadrakumar points out, the US, through its willing if not able agents in the press has come out for anyone but Karzai. He quotes this commentary:
With many Afghans expressing disappointment with the inefficiency and corruption that has plagued Karzai's government, Abdullah is running under a banner of "hope and change" and remains adamant he can turn things around ... Abdullah projects the image of a modern Afghan at ease with his "jihadi" past and integration into the modern world. People who worked closely with him praise his leadership and diplomatic skills ... On the back of a formidable political machine, Abdullah is considered to be the man with the best chance ... to force a runoff with Karzai.
Hope and change, have I heard that before?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Kandahar blues

Erica Gaston, writing at the Huffington Post, asks in response to an interview of the omnipresent Andrew Exum, whether Kandahar is already fallen to the Taliban.

Exum, aka Abu Muqawama, COINista and part of the immense CNAS machinery, points out in his interview that the Taliban won't be "rolling down the street with tanks", but rather be the de facto power in the city, and that will signify that it has fallen.

Well, yes, from that point of view, Kandahar has fallen, in fact, most of Afghanistan has fallen. But that only means to these incurably optimistic fools that the war will continue, forever if need be. As long as the US can bring unlimited firepower to bear on Taliban tanks, they will continue to rule in the shadows, and the shadows are where the US cannot go, they can only blow them up.

COINistas love to say how there population centric strategy will finally, one day, bring results, and the Afghans will learn to love them and hate the Taliban. Then you'll see! First of all, though, they admit that the US habit of dropping bombs first and asking questions later needs to change, and they won't tell us how.

The most probable course in Kandahar, if the Taliban are ever willing to fight, would be the Afghani version of Fallujah, or more recently, Swat. Massive refugee creation, indiscriminate bombing, and a destroyed city. But why should they fight, all they need to do is wait.

Monday, August 10, 2009

You want MORE?

The news that the newest honcho in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McCrystal, believes that the US is losing the war there, seems to be the first salvo in a call for increased troop levels.

Current spending is said to be $4bn a month, since each soldier in Afghanistan costs double of those in Iraq, look for total spending to increase even if troops are just transferred from Iraq. The good general also calls for increasing the size of Afghanistan's army and police, something that will go on the bill as well.

Meanwhile, over at Abu Muqawama, the COINistas are setting down their reasons to continue and expand the war, leaving out, of course, their own self interest. The only real reason is always the same, 9/11!, haven for terrorists!, and this will endure to the end of time in their curious worldview. Abu himself adds regional stability, without explaining how occupying Afghanistan will lead to regional stability. There is also no mention of the fact that these justifications are not sufficient under international law, and that they could be turned against just about any other country in the world. But they seem very pleased with their efforts.

So MORE seems to be in the cards. There is no reason to expect that the Commander in Chief has any ideas other than those fed him by the generals, expect a significant escalation in the upcoming months.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Barack Hoover Obama

I read this article in the mag (Harper's), and would have linked to it at the time. It's now available online.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Et tu, Avigdor?

The news that an indictment of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on corruption charges has been recommended by police is no surprise to anyone following Israeli politics in the Israeli press. Much of Olmert's time as PM was under similar threat of indictment, as he still is now, but the wheels of justice there grind slowly, very slowly. Other illustrious names are bandied about frequently, shady links of billionaires to leading pols are as common there as US congresscritters on the take from lobbyists. The style may change, but not the substance.

Suspicious minds might think that such looming indictments are a form of political pressure rather than the dutiful application of the law by Israeli police. Lieberman certainly does not seem the type to back down, so expect more turmoil in the ranks of Israeli politicians on the take, a sizable bunch, we imagine.
(h/t Wampum)