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Archive for February, 2010

Posted by DownWithTyranny on February 17th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war. From our partners at DownWithTyranny!


At noon today PDA’s second in a series of Brown Bag Lunch Vigils will take place around the country, at congressional offices of members who both support escalation in Afghanistan and members who oppose it. We started looking at this new movement a couple weeks ago and I tried to put it into context as an integral part of the American peace movement last weekend. Since then, the number of people participating has skyrocketed and the number of congressional offices being covered shot up to 60 as of yesterday.

The purpose of the vigils is to peacefully oppose war funding. The first batch took place January 20th, at the district offices of 22 members of Congress. “Brownbaggers” are asking members of the House to publicly commit to voting No on any bills that fund the occupation of Afghanistan and the escalation of the war there, and to publicly urge their colleagues and the House leadership to make the same commitment and to cosponsor HR 2454, calling for an exit strategy from Afghanistan, and HR 3699, prohibiting any increase in the number of U.S. Armed Forces in Afghanistan. Congress members’ commitments are tracked at defundwar.org. While brownbaggers hold vigil at congressional district offices today, allies Inside the Beltway will visit the Capitol Hill offices of the same congress members. “Brownbaggers” will assemble, peacefully, at 10 a.m. at the Independence Avenue entrance to the Rayburn House Office Building.

PDA has also found that its members are demanding that Congress pass straightforward “Medicare for All” legislation and trash the tainted, corporate-friendly bill the two political parties have worked out with the Medical Industrial Complex. Donna Smith, Co-Chair of PDA’s Healthcare Not Warfare campaign, said “We plan to speak with the offices of every congressmember whose constituents are holding vigil that day. We will confront them not only with the direct financial and human costs of war, but also with the tradeoffs. We have 45,000 preventable deaths due to lack of healthcare access every year in this country. That’s a choice our representatives make. Right now they are choosing war.”

Here’s the most current list of vigils. Details are here (and there are a few that are starting as early as 11AM so do check). The members that I’ve highlighted are the Democrats who voted last June to deny funding already. These 32 were the only ones with the guts and the sense to stand up to Rahm Emanuel’s bullying. (Particularly dangerous warmongers are in italics.)

AZ-05 Rep. Harry Mitchell
CA-05 Rep. Doris Matsui
CA-06 Rep. Lynn Woolsey
CA-09 Rep. Barbara Lee
CA-10 Rep. John Garamendi
CA-18 Rep. Dennis Cardoza
CA-22 Rep. Kevin McCarthy
CA-23 Rep. Lois Capps
CA-24 Rep. Darrell Issa
CA-31 Rep. Xavier Becerra
CA-33 Rep. Diane Watson
CA-34 Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard
CA-37 Rep. Laura Richardson
CA-40 Rep. Ed Royce
CA-42 Rep. Gary Miller
CA-45 Rep. Mary Bono-Mack
CA-46 Rep. Dana Rohrabacher
CA-48 Rep. John Campbell
CA-50 Rep. Brian Bilbray
CA-53 Rep. Susan Davis
CO-04 Rep. Betsy Markey
FL-07 Rep. John Mica
FL-09 Rep. Gus Bilirakis
FL-10 Rep. Bill Young
FL-17 Rep. Kendrick Meek
ID-01 Rep. Walt Minnick
IN-09 Rep. Baron Hill
KY-01 Sen. Mitch McConnell
MA-01 Rep. John Olver
MA-02 Rep. Richard Neal
MA-03 Rep. Jim McGovern
MA-08 & 09 Sen. John Kerry
MA-10 Rep. Bill Delahunt
MD-04 Rep. Donna Edwards
ME-01 Rep. Chellie Pingree
ME-02 Rep. Mike Michaud
MI-09 Rep. Gary Peters
MS-01 Rep. Travis Childers
MS-04 Rep. Gene Taylor
NJ-04 Rep. Chris Smith
NJ-06 Rep. Frank Pallone
NY-18 Rep. Nita Lowey
NY-28 & 29 Rep. Louise M. Slaughter and Eric Massa
OH-13 Rep. Betty Sutton
OH-17 Rep. Tim Ryan
OR-04 Rep. Peter DeFazio
OR-05 Rep. Kurt Schrader
PA-02 Rep. Chaka Fattah
PA-07 Rep. Joe Sestak
PA-15 Rep. Charlie Dent
UT-03 Rep. Jason Chaffetz
WA-02 Rep. Rick Larsen
WA-03 Rep. Brian Baird
WA-06 Rep. Norman Dicks
WI-03 Rep. Ron Kind
WI-07 Rep. David Obey

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Posted by The Agonist on February 17th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war. From our partners at The Agonist

Rod Norland | Kabul | February 17

NYT – Senior United Nations officials in Afghanistan on Wednesday criticized NATO forces for what one referred to as “the militarization of humanitarian aid,” and said United Nations agencies would not participate in the military’s reconstruction strategy in Marja as part of its current offensive there.

“We are not part of that process, we do not want to be part of it,” said Robert Watkins, the deputy special representative of the secretary general, at a news conference attended by other officials to announce the United Nations’ Humanitarian Action Plan for 2010. “We will not be part of that military strategy.”

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on February 16th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war. From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

Gregg gave us some excellent ”first thoughts” last night about the possible consequences of the arrest of Mullah Baradur, the Quetta Shura Taliban’s military chief and “number two”. But I want to focus today on what the arrest might mean for Pakistan’s role in the War on (Some) Terror, its relationships with the U.S.and with the Afghan Taliban’s factions.

As Gregg wrote, deciding that this means the Pakistani safe haven for the Quetta Shura is no longer so safe and Pakistan has finally picked the American side is very premature. Those who think so are drinking the Pentagon happy juice a little too often – when all the indications are that the ISI and General Kayani have succeeded in playing Mullen et al. like fish for years now. Jason Burke, in the Guardian, gets to the crux of Pakistan’s national interests:

Since the first major cities started falling to western and opposition Afghan forces in November 2001, the Pakistanis have been fundamentally committed to rolling back what they see as undue western and Indian influence in Afghanistan by any means possible, and to ensuring they are well-positioned for an eventual departure of western forces. Both those goals remain unchanged.

Those goals remained unchanged even when Richard Armitage threatened to “bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age” if it didn’t co-operate with America’s war – but that threat set up the dynamic that has persisted ever since, where Pakistan makes only enough moves to convince America to keep the pipeline of weapons and money flowing, while otherwise looking to its own interests. With Pakistan already firmly in China’s orbit both economically and militarily, there’s not a lot America can do to change that dynamic short of carrying through on Armitage’s threat and Pakistan’s leaders know it. American aid and arms are the icing on their cake, and much of that aid ends up in the elite’s own pockets.

So Pakistan has co-operated in this arrest for its own reasons. At first, I thought that perhaps those reasons had to do with the estimated 25,000 or so “graduates” of Taliban training who are believed to live in the city of Karachi. The TTP, the Pakistani Taliban, have been getting more active there of late too and one of the few ways the Quetta Taliban could enrage the ISI to the point of cutting their strings would be co-operation with the TTP there. But the Quetta Taliban have been strong in Karachi all along – that figure of 25,000 loyalists dates from 2005 – and it hasn’t bothered the ISI too much before now. It’s possible the equation has changed drastically but in the light of dawn I don’t think so.

Thus, as Joshua Foust writes, “We paid a price for this, keep an eye out for what it might be.” I’ve a feeling that the price was America’s acceptance of the Quetta Taliban as part of Afghanistan’s government again – and not as underdogs to Hamid Karzai but as equal partners. Differences between Karzai and Washington over what “reconcilliation” means have already caused tensions and Pakistan has a clear interest in the matter being decided Karzai’s way. Arif Rafiq suggests that the arrest is designed to force Omar to the negotiating table early, again something Pakistan sees as in its best interests. It’s not that Pakistan has finally decided to wholeheartedly join America’s war, it’s that Afghanistan’s Karzai and America have gradually moved towards a point where Pakistan can have its cake and eat it too.

Kayani’s overtures to the Karzai government possibly contained the following “implicit message” to the Afghan Taliban: “you are not our only option, so don’t take us for granted.”  And so the arrest of Baradar is perhaps part of an attempt by the Pakistan Army to induce behavioral change on the part of the Afghan Taliban, and particularly its obstinate leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar.  These desired changes likely include: giving up maximalist goals, such as the re-establishment of an emirate; and clear movement toward the bargaining table with Karzai and away from al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.  And equally important, as Afghans have engaged in a multitude of secret peace talks in the region, the Pakistan Army would like to ensure that it, to the exclusion of India, is part of the glue that holds together any power sharing arrangement in Kabul.  In other words, it doesn’t want the Afghans to make their own peace and shut Pakistan out of the process.  If Pakistan were excluded, then what was the trouble of the past eight years for?

The arrest of Baradar helps bring U.S. and Pakistan policy toward Afghanistan in closer alignment.  The Pakistan Army is willing to work with Afghan moderates and, at the same time, retains significant leverage over the country’s insurgents.  It has the capacity and willingness to engage, if not manage, a broad spectrum of Afghanistan’s major Pashtun actors — both “good” and “bad.”  One would imagine that Pakistani diplomatic, military, and political officials are also engaging Afghan Tajiks and Uzbeks, particularly ex-mujahideen.

With its contacts, geographic location, and new-found “responsible” approach, it’s Pakistan — not Iran, India, or Russia — that is positioned to play the role of stability guarantor in a post-American Afghanistan, especially as it pertains to U.S. interests.

There’ll probably be no “suing for peace” from Omar Mullah even so - perhaps quite the reverse. Karzai has already come to the key realization that it doesn’t matter to reconcilliation per se which side has the military upper hand, it only matters for who gets the best side of any deal. And that any deal which stops the fighting is better for Afghans than no deal at all.

One last cautionary word. All of this is predicated on the supposition that Baradur stays detained and that his arrest wasn’t just the old run of Pakistani security kabuki. The last time a Quetta Shura military chief was detained by Pakistan was in 2007, just as Dick Cheney arrived to pressure Pakistan to “do more”. Two days later, Mullah Obaidullah Akhund was sitting with reporters, sipping coffee and entirely free.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on February 16th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war. From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Gregg Carlstrom

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s military commander and one of the group’s “founding fathers,” was captured recently by U.S. and Pakistani intelligence in a raid in Karachi.

… Baradar, is an Afghan described by American officials as the most significant Taliban figure to be detained since the American-led war in Afghanistan started more than eight years ago. He ranks second in influence only to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban’s founder and a close associate of Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks.

A significant development, to be sure. Baradar is the highest-level Taliban figure apprehended to date; his capture will probably degrade the Taliban’s military capabilities, at least in the short term. And it’s notable that he was nabbed in Pakistan, with (presumably) extensive cooperation between the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and conclude that Baradar’s arrest will have a substantial impact on Taliban reconciliation. I think this from Michael Cohen is a little too optimistic, for example:

One can only imagine the impact on Taliban feelings of security and reliance on Pakistani support: that safe haven ain’t feeling so safe anymore. One has to think this will affect the drive toward political reconciliation in a dramatic way – because if you’re the Taliban this news suggests that time is no longer necessarily on your side.

This could be true — if Baradar’s arrest heralds a serious anti-Taliban push from the Pakistani military and intelligence services. That’s a big “if.” Pakistani leaders, particularly Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, have said some encouraging things in recent weeks. The ISI has a history of playing all sides, though; it’s quite possible Pakistan’s security apparatus saw a strategic benefit in capturing Baradar (fears about a mounting Taliban presence in Karachi, perhaps, or maybe the ISI is getting something in return) but doesn’t plan to make a habit of these arrests.

Not saying his capture won’t have an impact on reconciliation — just that it’s too early to tell whether this is a lasting partnership or a temporary confluence of interests.

I’m similarly unconvinced that the manner in which Baradar is questioned will have any impact on reconciliation efforts. The U.S. shouldn’t torture him, because torture is morally and legally abhorrent. But I don’t think there are too many Taliban commanders in Quetta who will read the papers and say, hey, Mullah Abdul was treated nicely! We should turn ourselves in, too.

Finally, a good point (via Twitter) from Colin Cookman: Baradar’s arrest “has [the] potential to fragment the movement [and] make whole-scale reconciliation more difficult even as it degrades capabilities.”

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on February 15th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war. From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

Civilian casualties are inevitable,” said U.S. officials before launching their weekend military assault on Marja in southern Afghanistan, and in this case, they were telling the truth. Yesterday, the New York Times reports, a U.S. rocket strike “hit a compound crowded with Afghan civilians… killing at least 10 people, including 5 children.”

What justification has been provided by the government of the United States for its decision to kill these five children?

It will be argued that the government of the United States did not decide to kill these five children specifically, and that’s absolutely true. The U.S. government did not decide to kill these particular children; it only decided to kill some Afghan civilians, chosen randomly from Marja’s civilian population, when it decided to launch its military assault. These five children simply had the misfortune of holding losing tickets in a lottery in which they did not choose to participate.

Recall the U.S. government’s instructions to Marja’s residents before the assault:

Afghan villagers should stay inside and “keep their heads down” when thousands of U.S. Marines launch a massive assault on a densely-populated district in coming days, NATO’s civilian representative to Afghanistan said Tuesday.

[...]

NATO forces have decided to advise civilians in Marjah not to leave their homes, although they say they do not know whether the assault will lead to heavy fighting.

These five kids were staying inside, as instructed. It didn’t save them from U.S. rockets. Perhaps they weren’t keeping their heads down.

read more

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on February 15th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war. From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Dave Anderson:

Minimalism in foreign policy requires identifying interests that are core and vital and working towards those interests.  At the same time, secondary interests, or the “nice to have” or default assumptions must be rigorously examined and subjected to a rational examination of costs, benefits and secondary impacts before action is taken on those lesser interests.  This is a bizarre notion in American political discourse because it does not assume that everything in the world is a vital American interest.

Daniel Larison has a good example of the elevation of a minor interest into a “vital interest” despite the external realities that restrict option space and value:

For all of the talk of Georgia as “the last truly Western-oriented country in a highly strategic, critical region,” its Western political orientation is almost entirely at odds with its economic relationship with Russia. If Turkey has become more “unreliable” (i.e., it pursues its own interests even when Washington does not like it) and Ukraine’s flirtation with integration into Euro-Atlantic structures has been put on hold if not abandoned entirely, why is a much smaller, poorer, more economically dependent country such as Georgia going to sustain its “Western” orientation? More to the point, why is it worth damaging a far more important relationship with Russia to make sure that Georgia continues pursuing the illusion of membership in Euro-Atlantic structures?

It is only a universe in which the United States has global and all pervasive interests and no other nation is allowed to have local and near-abroad interests does it make sense for Georgia to be a vital American interest where the US government debates using military force to defend.

Bernard Finel probes at this failure of imagination and thus the maximalization of the American goal set in foreign policy a bit more at his place.

In addition, we never actually bother to define “interests abroad.”  Instead we ASSUME our interests and global and all-consuming, and a consequence any and all “problems” are assumed to threaten interests.  We have drunk so deeply from the fountain of “primacy” that we have wholly lost the ability to distinguish between unpleasant international developments and threats to “interests.”

The reason we won’t follow my suggestion to rethink how we use our military is not that it fails to address key challenges, it is that we define everything as a fundamental challenge and we prioritize a military response above all else….

In reality, we don’t consider alternative mitigation strategies because we fail to consider the possibility that resources devoted to the military ought to be considered fungible.  If you give me $100 billion a year to spend on counter-terrorism, I am pretty sure I could defend us from terrorist attacks more effectively than the indirect consequences of even a wildly successful Afghan war.  But if we were not in Afghanistan, that money would not be redistributed, it would simply disappear from the national security pie.  But that does not reflect rational decision making, it reflects and unconscious prioritization of the military instrument.

We are entering a time of austerity and maximal goal sets or at least actions that are undertaken with a maximal assumption set will not work.  Clear identification of vital needs and interests will pare back the commitments and over-extension that the US currently is laboring under.  These identifications may even increase security as resources could be diverted to a combination of other, more effective and efficient, actions, resiliency hardening and concentration of resources at the truly vital priorities.  But first we need an imagination that is broad enough to acknowledge that the United States is not the only lead actor on the world’s stage.

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on February 15th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war. This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.com.

Hold Onto Your Underwear
This Is
Not a National Emergency
By Tom Engelhardt

Let me put American life in the Age of Terror into some kind of context, and then tell me you’re not ready to get on the nearest plane heading anywhere, even toward Yemen.

In 2008, 14,180 Americans were murdered, according to the FBI.  In that year, there were 34,017 fatal vehicle crashes in the U.S. and, so the U.S. Fire Administration tells us, 3,320 deaths by fire.  More than 11,000 Americans died of the swine flu between April and mid-December 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; on average, a staggering 443,600 Americans die yearly of illnesses related to tobacco use, reports the American Cancer Society; 5,000 Americans die annually from food-borne diseases; an estimated 1,760 children died from abuse or neglect in 2007; and the next year, 560 Americans died of weather-related conditions, according to the National Weather Service, including 126 from tornadoes, 67 from rip tides, 58 from flash floods, 27 from lightning, 27 from avalanches, and 1 from a dust devil.

As for airplane fatalities, no American died in a crash of a U.S. carrier in either 2007 or 2008, despite 1.5 billion passengers transported.  In 2009, planes certainly went down and people died.  In June, for instance, a French flight on its way from Rio de Janeiro to Paris disappeared in bad weather over the Atlantic, killing 226.  Continental Connection Flight 3407, a regional commuter flight, crashed into a house near Buffalo, New York, that February killing 50, the first fatal crash of a U.S. commercial flight since August 2006.  And in January 2009, US Airways Flight 1549, assaulted by a flock of birds, managed a brilliant landing in New York’s Hudson River when disaster might have ensued.  In none of these years did an airplane go down anywhere due to terrorism, though in 2007 two terrorists smashed a Jeep Cherokee loaded with propane tanks into the terminal of Glasgow International Airport.  (No one was killed.)

The now-infamous Northwest Airlines Flight 253, carrying Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and his bomb-laden underwear toward Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, had 290 passengers and crew, all of whom survived.  Had the inept Abdulmutallab actually succeeded, the death toll would not have equaled the 324 traffic fatalities in Nevada in 2008; while the destruction of four Flight 253s from terrorism would not have equaled New York State’s 2008 traffic death toll of 1,231, 341 of whom, or 51 more than those on Flight 253, were classified as “alcohol-impaired fatalities.”

Had the 23-year-old Nigerian set off his bomb, it would have been a nightmare for the people on board, and a tragedy for those who knew them.  It would certainly have represented a safety and security issue that needed to be dealt with.  But it would not have been a national emergency, nor a national-security crisis.  It would have been nothing more than a single plane knocked out of the sky, something that happens from time to time without the intervention of terrorists.

And yet here’s the strange thing: thanks to what didn’t happen on Flight 253, the media essentially went mad, 24/7.  Newspaper coverage of the failed plot and its ramifications actually grew for two full weeks after the incident until it had achieved something like full-spectrum dominance, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.  In the days after Christmas, more than half the news links in blogs related to Flight 253.  At the same time, the Republican criticism machine (and the media universe that goes with it) ramped up on the subject of the Obama administration’s terror wimpiness; the global air transport system plunked down millions of dollars on new technology which will not find underwear bombs; the homeland security-industrial-complex had a field day; and fear, that adrenaline rush from hell, was further embedded in the American way of life.

Under the circumstances, you would never know that Americans living in the United States were in vanishingly little danger from terrorism, but in significant danger driving to the mall; or that alcohol, tobacco, E. coli bacteria, fire, domestic abuse, murder, and the weather present the sort of potentially fatal problems that might be worth worrying about, or even changing your behavior over, or perhaps investing some money in.  Terrorism, not so much.

The few Americans who, since 2001, have died from anything that could be called a terror attack in the U.S. — whether the 13 killed at Fort Hood or the soldier murdered outside an army recruiting office in Little Rock, Arkansas — were far outnumbered by the 32 dead in a 2007 mass killing at Virginia Tech University, not to speak of the relatively regular moments when workers or former workers “go postal.”  Since September 11th, terror in the U.S. has rated above fatalities from shark attacks and not much else.  Since the economic meltdown of 2008, it has, in fact, been left in the shade by violent deaths that stem from reactions to job loss, foreclosure, inability to pay the rent, and so on.

This is seldom highlighted in a country perversely convulsed by, and that can’t seem to get enough of, fantasies about being besieged by terrorists.

Institutionalizing Fear Inc.

The attacks of September 11, 2001, which had the look of the apocalyptic, brought the fear of terrorism into the American bedroom via the TV screen.  That fear was used with remarkable effectiveness by the Bush administration, which color-coded terror for its own ends.  A domestic version of shock-and-awe — Americans were indeed shocked and awed by 9/11 — helped drive the country into two disastrous wars and occupations, each still ongoing, and into George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror, a term now persona non grata in Washington, even if the “war “ itself goes on and on.

Today, any possible or actual terror attack, any threat no matter how far-fetched, amateurish, poorly executed, or ineffective, raises a national alarm, always seeming to add to the power of the imperial presidency and threatening to open new “fronts” in the now-unnamed global war.  The latest is, of course, in Yemen, thanks in part to that young Nigerian who was evidently armed with explosives by a home-grown organization of a few hundred men that goes by the name al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The fear of terrorism has, by now, been institutionalized in our society — quite literally so — even if the thing we’re afraid of has, on the scale of human problems, something of the will o’ the wisp about it.  For those who remember their Cold War fiction, it’s more specter than SPECTRE.

That fear has been embedded in what once was an un-American word, more easily associated with Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany: “homeland.”  It has replaced “country,” “land,” and “nation” in the language of the terror-mongers.  “The homeland” is the place which terrorism, and nothing but terrorism, can violate.  In 2002, that terror-embedded word got its own official government agency: the Department of Homeland Security, our second “defense” department, which has a 2010 budget of $39.4 billion (while overall “homeland security” spending in the 2010 budget reached $70.2 billion).  Around it has grown up a little-attended-to homeland-security complex with its own interests, businesses, associations, and lobbyists (including jostling crowds of ex-politicians and ex-government bureaucrats).

As a result, more than eight years after 9/11, an amorphous state of mind has manifested itself in the actual state as a kind of Fear Inc.  A number of factors have clearly gone into the creation of Fear Inc. and now insure that fear is the drug constantly shot into the American body politic.  These would include:

The imperial presidency: The Bush administration used fear not only to promote its wars and its Global War on Terror, but also to unchain the commander-in-chief of an already imperial presidency from a host of restraints.  The dangers of terror and of al-Qaeda, which became the global bogeyman, and the various proposed responses to it, including kidnapping (“extraordinary rendition”), secret imprisonment, and torture, turned out to be the royal road to the American unconscious and so to a presidency determined, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others liked to say, to take the gloves off.  It remains so and, as a result, under Barack Obama, the imperial presidency only seems to gain ground.  Recently, for instance, we learned that, under the pressure of the Flight 253 incident, the Obama administration has adopted the Bush administration position that a president, under certain circumstances, has the authority to order the assassination of an American citizen abroad.  (In this case, New Mexico-born Islamic cleric Anwar Aulaqi, who has been linked to the 9/11 plotters, the Fort Hood killer, and Abdulmutallab.)  The Bush administration opened the door to this possibility and now, it seems, a Democratic president may be stepping through.

The 24/7 media moment: 24/7 blitz coverage was once reserved for the deaths of presidents (as in the assassination of John F. Kennedy) and public events of agreed-upon import.  In 1994, however, it became the coin of the media realm for any event bizarre enough, sensational enough, celebrity-based enough to glue eyeballs.  That June, O.J. Simpson engaged in his infamous low-speed car “chase” through Orange County followed by more than 20 news helicopters while 95 million viewers tuned in and thousands more gathered at highway overpasses to watch.  No one’s ever looked back.  Of course, in a traditional media world that’s shedding foreign and domestic bureaus and axing hordes of reporters, radically downsizing news rooms and shrinking papers to next to nothing, the advantages of focusing reportorial energies on just one thing at a time are obvious.  Those 24/7 energies are now regularly focused on the fear of terrorism and events which contribute to it, like the plot to down Flight 253.

The Republican criticism machine and the media that go with it: Once upon a time, even successful Republican administrations didn’t have their own megaphone.  That’s why, in the Vietnam era, the Nixon administration battled the New York Times so fiercely (and — my own guess — that played a part in forcing the creation of the first “op-ed” page in 1970, which allowed administration figures like Vice President Spiro Agnew and ex-Nixon speechwriter William Safire to gain a voice at the paper).  By the George W. Bush era, the struggle had abated.  The Times and papers like it only had to be pacified or cut out of the loop, since from TV to talk radio, publishing to publicity, the Republicans had their own megaphone ready at hand.  This is, by now, a machine chock-a-block full of politicians and ex-politicians, publishers, pundits, military “experts,” journalists, shock-jocks, and the like (categories that have a tendency to blend into each other).  It adds up to a seamless web of promotion, publicity, and din.  It’s capable of gearing up on no notice and going on until a subject — none more popular than terrorism and Democratic spinelessness in the face of it — is temporarily flogged to death.  It ensures that any failed terror attack, no matter how hopeless or pathetic, will be in the headlines and in public consciousness.  It circulates constant fantasies about possible future apocalyptic terror attacks with atomic weaponry or other weapons of mass destruction. (And in all of the above, of course, it is helped by a host of tagalong pundits and experts, news shows and news reports from the more liberal side of the aisle.)

The Democrats who don’t dare: It’s remarkable that the sharpest president we’ve had in a while didn’t dare get up in front of the American people after Flight 253 landed and tell everyone to calm down.  He didn’t, in fact, have a single intelligent thing to say about the event.  He certainly didn’t remind Americans that, whatever happened to Flight 253, they stood in far more danger heading out of their driveways behind the wheel or pulling into a bar on the way home for a beer or two.  Instead, the Obama administration essentially abjectly apologized, insisted it would focus yet more effort and money on making America safe from air terrorism, widened a new front in the Global War on Terror in Yemen (speeding extra money and U.S. advisors that way), and when the din from its critics didn’t end, “pushed back,” as Peter Baker of the New York Times wrote, by claiming “that they were handling terror suspects much as the previous administration did.”  It’s striking when a Democratic administration finds safety in the claim that it’s acting like a Republican one, that it’s following the path to the imperial presidency already cleared by George W. Bush.  Fear does that to you, and the fear of terror has been institutionalized at the top as well as the bottom of society.

9/11 Never Ends

Fear has a way of re-ordering human worlds.  That only a relatively small number of determined fanatics with extraordinarily limited access to American soil keep Fear Inc. afloat should, by now, be obvious.  What the fear machine produces is the dark underside of the charming Saul Steinberg New Yorker cover, “A View of the World from 9th Avenue,” in which Manhattan looms vast as the rest of the planet fades into near nothingness.

When you see the world “from 9th Avenue,” or from an all-al-Qaeda-all-the-time “news” channel, you see it phantasmagorically.  It’s out of all realistic shape and proportion, which means you naturally make stupid decisions.  You become incapable of sorting out what matters and what doesn’t, what’s primary and what’s secondary.  You become, in short, manipulable.

This is our situation today.

People always wonder:  What would the impact of a second 9/11-style attack be on this country?  Seldom noticed, however, is that all the pin-prick terror events blown up to apocalyptic proportions add up to a second, third, fourth, fifth 9/11 when it comes to American consciousness.

So the next time a Flight 253 occurs and the Republicans go postal, the media morphs into its 24/7 national-security-disaster mode, the pundits register red on the terror-news scale, the president defends himself by reaffirming that he is doing just what the Bush administration would have done, the homeland security lobbyists begin calling for yet more funds for yet more machinery, and nothing much happens, remember those drunken drivers, arsonists, and tobacco merchants, even that single dust devil and say:

Hold onto your underpants, this is not a national emergency.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the Cold War and beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing. He also edited The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), an alternative history of the mad Bush years.

[Note: The figures on the 2010 Department of Homeland Security budget and “homeland security” spending in the 2010 budget were provided by the National Priorities Project.]

Copyright 2010 Tom Engelhardt

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on February 15th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

A few days ago a commenter on my blog took issue with my post, “Fallujah, New Orleans and Marjah.” Part of our disagreement focused on whether the Marines could precisely target their munitions. The commenter said in part:

What do you know about Marine Corps military operations? What do you know about the accuracy of any of the weapons in their arsenal? We are not talking about the CIA lobbing missiles at some Taliban bad guys from a UAV. We are talking about precision guided weapons.

I don’t often call out commenters like this, but at least 10 people including 5 children were butchered today because someone bought this kind of thinking in Marjah, Afghanistan:

An errant American rocket strike on Sunday hit a compound crowded with Afghan civilians in the last Taliban stronghold in Helmand Province, killing at least 10 people, including 5 children, military officials said.

…Officers said the barrage had been fired from Camp Bastion, a large British and American base to the northeast, by a weapons system known as Himars, an acronym for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. Its munitions are GPS-guided and advertised as being accurate enough to strike within a yard of their intended targets.

The hype surrounding so-called “smart bombs” and “precision guided munitions” is one of the reasons Americans feel so free to go to war in civilian areas, and it’s one of the most pernicious pieces of misinformation spread by the pro-war crowd. These devices may be more precise than, say, a World-War-II-era blockbuster, but, as February 14th’s outrage shows, they are anything but foolproof. In fact, of the first 50 “precision” air strikes launched at the opening of the Iraq War, “All were unsuccessful.”

The public’s mistaken perception that the U.S. military can fire munitions into a civilian area without harming noncombatants makes many Americans much more willing to back the use of military force. For example, this war-industry hype helped convince the Society of Christian Ethics to declare the Afghanistan war a “just war” in 2002.

There is no such thing as a humane war, and our inability to admit this to ourselves just butchered more than 10 noncombatants, including 5 children.

If you want to do something about it, join us on Facebook.

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Posted by The Agonist on February 14th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war. From our partners at The Agonist

A perfect example of mercenary values in action:

I recognize this is a bit dated, but still, it’s just lovely.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on February 13th, 2010

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war. From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

I’ve had a head-cold for four days and last night it finally reached my chest and triggered an asthma attack. I’m exhausted and sleep-deprived to the extent where 140 characters at a time is all I’m capable of. So here’s a link-dump based on my tweets of the last few days. Normal blogging will resume, I promise.

– Hudson Insitute insta-hack Lee Smith pens a poison letter about the Flint-Leveretts, alleging they’re shills for Iran because an exiled Iranian medical professor thinks their Iranian University contact might also work for Iranian intelligence. The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg immediately repeats such thin gruel from Smith, who’s works of wisdom include “The Case for Standing By Musharaff”, “Walid Jumblatt is No Weather Vane” and “Obama the Underminer”. Either Goldberg is shameless or his contract with Mossad (that a hairdresser told me about) requires him to repeat such twaddle.

– Over at National Review, Lenny Ben-David has some more AIPAC/neocon rubbish – this time about J Street and *gasp!* George Soros being “unkosher” because they think Israel has handed Gaza the dirty end of the stick. Are we seeing a pattern yet?

Noble Laureate Shirin Ebadi calls for political sanctions on Iran – but not economic sanctions, which she rightly says punish the people, not Iran’s elite. I now await Jeffrey Goldberg’s repetition of a baseless charge that Shirrin is a pawn of Iranian intelligence.

– Top British journalist and Middle East expert writes that the current hysteria over Iran is dangerous because “The more Tehran is threatened, the more defiant it becomes, and the more remote the chance of an agreement”. Matt Duss agrees, and tells infamous neocon shill and neo-liberal interventionist “homie” Eli Lake so. Personally, I don’t like the Iranian regime. It’s odious. But bombing it is the dumbest course imaginable, especailly if over trumped-up Iraqish reasons to do with Iran’s alleged nuclear threat.

– Trillions to Burn? Here’s a quick guide to the Surge(TM) in Pentagon spending

– In Afghanistan, the U.S. military finally admits the poulation in Helmand Province are the enemy – “95% of the locals are Taliban or aid the militants“. As hundreds and thousands of civilians try to flee, after the U.S. military told them to stay in their homes to be caught in the crossfire, Robert Naiman writes what Newshoggers’ John Ballard has been saying – the U.S. is preparing to commit war crimes in Marjah.

Joshua Foust has a great post on the Marjah offensive. “When viewed as a whole, this entire operation is a confusing, contradictory, counterproductive mess, seemingly destroying the one thing the residents of Helmand had going for them: a semi-functioning government.”

– And it’s probably worth remembering that the tactic of wiping out the village to save it is a time-honored old-school COIN one, most recently seen in Sri Lanka. There, a UN official now says up to 40,000 civilians were killed. Only last May, Washington Times and National Review contributor James S. Robbins was extolling the virtues of Sri Lanka’s “shoot ‘em all” approach. He wrote that Sri Lanka’s strategy was “the right way to win against terrorists” and continued on to suggest that Sri Lanka’s experiences held “lessons for Afghanistan and Pakistan, if we are willing to learn them.” Today Josh Foust informed me that Robbins also teaches at the national Defense University. That’s beyond parody.

–And finally, single mother Alexis Hutchinson, who’s story broke first here at Newshoggers, has been “less than honorably” discharged from the Army for missing her deployment flight…to look after her 10 month old son. Hutchison has been busted to private and will lose all her military and V.A. benefits. I know who has been dishonorable here, and it isn’t Spct (now Pvt) Hutchinson.

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