Tuesday, June 22 Nine Circles of Hell!

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The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – includes three bonus stories on the Rolling Stone McChrystal controversy and a bonus story on offshore drilling under the ‘more’ button. The Nine Circles for Tuesday, June 22, are:

98% of published climate scientists say humans are warming planet

Judge overturns offshore drilling moratorium, owns stock in Transocean

Gay rights proposals – even ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ – not a done deal

Suit claims priest from most conservative order sexually abused own kids

Rolling Stone: Winning in Afghanistan ‘is not really possible’

Afghan drug addiction up over 100% since 2005

Chinese ‘white guy in a tie’ industry flourishes

Ten million Africans face starvation

Michigan medical marijuana legalization creates “wild, wild Midwest”

98% of published climate scientists say humans are warming planet
BBC News
(6/22/10)

Study examines scientists’ ‘climate credibility’

Some 98% of climate scientists that publish research on the subject support the view that human activities are warming the planet, a study suggests.

It added there was little disagreement among the most experienced scientists.

But climate sceptics questioned the findings, saying that publication in scientific journals was not a fair test of expertise.

The findings have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study’s authors said they found “immense” differences in both the expertise and scientific prominence of those who supported the “primary tenets” of latest assessments made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and those who were sceptical of the IPCC’s findings.

In general, they added, the researchers who were convinced of the human impact on climate change had published twice as many papers as their sceptical counterparts, and were cited in other people’s research two to three times more often.

Lead author William Anderegg, from Stanford University in California, US, said the findings suggested that not all experts were equal in what they claimed.

“The researchers who are convinced (by the IPCC’s assessment reports) have a lot more experience in climate research and have published a lot more papers in the scientific literature and are generally well respected in their field,” he said.

“And it also demonstrates the converse that those who are sceptical of the IPCC’s claims, in general, know a lot less about the climate system.”

Mr Anderegg and his colleagues drew from a list of 908 researchers who had contributed to research used by the IPCC and have signed statements broadly in support of the UN body’s assessments.

On the sceptical side, they chose 475 scientists from a list of 11 major sceptical declarations and open letters.

The researchers said they felt the need to carry out the survey because of the growing public perception that scientific opinion was divided on the issue following recent scandals, such as “climategate” at the UK’s University of East Anglia and the use of non-peer reviewed literature in the IPCC findings.

“We really felt that the state of the scientific debate was so far removed from the state of the public discourse and we felt that a good quantitative, rigorous comparison of this would put to rest the notion that the scientists ‘disagree’ about global warming,” Mr Anderegg told BBC News.

Judge overturns offshore drilling moratorium, owns stock in Transocean
Yahoo!
(6/21/10)

Judge who overturned drilling moratorium holds stock in drilling companies

The federal judge who overturned Barack Obama’s offshore drilling moratorium appears to own stock in numerous companies involved in the offshore oil industry—including Transocean, which leased the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig to BP prior to its April 20 explosion in the Gulf of Mexico—according to 2008 financial disclosure reports.

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman issued a preliminary injunction today barring the enforcement of Barack Obama’s proposed six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling, arguing that the ban is too broad.

According to Feldman’s 2008 financial disclosure form, posted online by Judicial Watch [pdf], the judge owned stock in Transocean, as well as five other companies that are either directly or indirectly involved in the offshore drilling business.

It’s not surprising that Feldman, who is a judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana, has invested in the offshore drilling business—an AP investigation found earlier this month that more than half the federal judges in the districts affected by the BP spill have financial ties to the oil and gas industry.

  • A Newsweek article headlined, “Trust Us, Asks Oil Industry in Face of Deepwater Drilling Moratorium,” gives some scary insight into Big Oil’s thinking:
    The oil industry would like us to trust them. Representatives of several companies will stand in front of a federal judge today and ask for a moratorium on deepwater drilling to be lifted.
    According to CNN, the argument made in their lawsuit is that the government has “no evidence that existing operations pose a threat to the gulf,” and that the six-month ban on drilling beyond depths of 500 feet is therefore “invalid and unenforceable” …
    It would be hard to make a case against the millions of gallons of oil billowing into the Gulf of Mexico every day from 5,000 feet down under any circumstances. But yesterday Rep. Edward Markey released an internal BP document from just after that spill. As it was claiming to the public that its estimates predicted a leak of between 1,000 and 5,000 barrels per day, the document shows that their private worst-case-scenario was 100,000 barrels. Which might explain the quickly escalating figures we have heard since.
    Markey, according to CNN, said the document had raised “very troubling questions about what BP knew and when they knew it.” It raises other troubling questions too. Like how a company with no adequate emergency plans was allowed to drill wells in water so deep only robots can operate in it. How they ignored those who warned them. And how an industry, watching a cataclysmic spill unfold, can argue that there is insufficient evidence of risk.

Gay rights proposals – even ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ – not a done deal
Newsweek
(6/21/10)

Climate of Uncertainty for Gay Rights

There have been gains on issues large and small, from hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples to the passage of hate-crimes legislation and congressional votes that could open the door to repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on openly gay soldiers. Two of the country’s top legal minds, Ted Olson and David Boies, have just finished closing arguments in a highly publicized trial seeking to overturn California’s ban on gay marriage, and the State Department just made it possible for transgendered citizens to have passports reflecting their sexual identity without undergoing gender-reassignment surgery. This weekend, President Barack Obama acknowledged gay parents in his Father’s Day address. On the face of it, gay-rights activists are making lots of progress.

But here’s the catch—the bigger issues are consistently on the verge of happening, but never seem to be a done deal. There is a divide between Washington insiders who understand that government is painfully slow to move, on any issue, and a newly activated core of gay activists who want immediate change. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” hasn’t been repealed yet, the gay-marriage trial could take years to reach the Supreme Court, and the federal Defense of Marriage Act continues to block gay couples from countless legal benefits, including—in a bizarre twist—the right to a swift and affordable divorce.

Paul Yandura, a Democratic strategist and gay-rights organizer, gives one example of the disconnect. “My trainer, my aunt—everyone called to congratulate me on the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” I had to explain to them that the law is still on the books and now it’s completely open-ended as to when it might get repealed. They were appalled.” Even conservatives like Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council have readily admitted in conversations with NEWSWEEK that smaller gains, such as hospital visitation rights, help conservatives fight larger ones like the legalization of gay marriage. “The next time I debate someone on TV about same-sex marriage, that’s exactly what I’ll tell them—I’ll say, ‘The president already took care of that, didn’t he?’ ”

If you look at timelines detailing the milestones over the decades in the gay-rights movement, you’ll see more and more markers after 2008, with the gay-marriage movement gaining more states and President Obama allowing same-sex partners of federal employees to receive certain benefits. Yet sometimes being so close to success, when it’s not fully achieved, is confusing, and upsetting.

Cathy Renna, an LGBT media adviser, says gay advocates feel close to the administration, but have serious doubts about commitment levels. “It’s like we’re dating but we’re not married yet.” She says many people think that gays have the right to marry and, for example, that gays are protected from discrimination in the workplace despite the fact that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act has yet to come to a vote on the Hill, prompting civil-disobedience protests by the newly formed GetEqual group. Polling has shown that 61 percent of heterosexual Americans don’t realize that federal law does not provide protections to employees based on sexual orientation. “The amount of progress we have made culturally has vastly surpassed where we’re at on the policy level. And that can be aggravating.”

Suit claims priest from most conservative order sexually abused own kids
ABC News
(6/21/10)

Top Catholic Priest Accused of Sexually Abusing His Own Sons

A prominent Catholic priest, praised by Pope John Paul II as “an efficacious guide to youth,” Father Marcial Maciel, sexually abused not only young seminarians under his control but also abused his own children, according to a lawsuit filed today in Connecticut by a man who claims to be Maciel’s son.

In an interview to be broadcast Monday evening on ABC News Nightline, the priest’s son, Raul Gonzalez, 30, says he thought his father worked for the CIA or an international oil company, until he saw the priest’s picture in a 1997 magazine article detailing allegations of sexual abuse.

“My mom said, ‘Is that you?’ and my dad said, ‘No, it’s not me’ and my mom said, ‘Yeah, it’s you,’” recalled Gonzalez in the interview, conducted by Jason Berry, an investigative journalist who first reported on widespread sexual abuse by Maciel at the Legion of Christ and writes for the National Catholic Reporter.

The Legion of Christ has acknowledged that Father Maciel fathered at least one child as a priest.

Under Father Maciel, the Legion of Christ became one of the Roman Catholic Church’s most prominent, conservative and financially successful orders. Among its many supporters is Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.

The lawsuit claims Vatican ignored reports of sexual abuse by Maciel since the 1950s, until he was forced out of the Legion by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.

Citing his age, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declined to put Maciel on trial but he was ordered to a “life of prayer and penitence.”

“Pope Benedict in 2006 moved my father, my daddy, or Marcial Maciel to rest. To pray. Why didn’t he bring him to jail?” Gonzalez asked in the interview.

Rolling Stone: Winning in Afghanistan ‘is not really possible’
Rolling Stone
(6/22/10)

The Runaway General

Even though he had voted for Obama, McChrystal and his new commander in chief failed from the outset to connect. The general first encountered Obama a week after he took office, when the president met with a dozen senior military officials in a room at the Pentagon known as the Tank. According to sources familiar with the meeting, McChrystal thought Obama looked “uncomfortable and intimidated” by the roomful of military brass. Their first one-on-one meeting took place in the Oval Office four months later, after McChrystal got the Afghanistan job, and it didn’t go much better. “It was a 10-minute photo op,” says an adviser to McChrystal. “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. Here’s the guy who’s going to run his fucking war, but he didn’t seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed.”

From the start, McChrystal was determined to place his personal stamp on Afghanistan, to use it as a laboratory for a controversial military strategy known as counterinsurgency. COIN, as the theory is known, is the new gospel of the Pentagon brass, a doctrine that attempts to square the military’s preference for high-tech violence with the demands of fighting protracted wars in failed states. COIN calls for sending huge numbers of ground troops to not only destroy the enemy, but to live among the civilian population and slowly rebuild, or build from scratch, another nation’s government – a process that even its staunchest advocates admit requires years, if not decades, to achieve. The theory essentially rebrands the military, expanding its authority (and its funding) to encompass the diplomatic and political sides of warfare: Think the Green Berets as an armed Peace Corps. In 2006, after Gen. David Petraeus beta-tested the theory during his “surge” in Iraq, it quickly gained a hardcore following of think-tankers, journalists, military officers and civilian officials. Nicknamed “COINdinistas” for their cultish zeal, this influential cadre believed the doctrine would be the perfect solution for Afghanistan. All they needed was a general with enough charisma and political savvy to implement it.

As McChrystal leaned on Obama to ramp up the war, he did it with the same fearlessness he used to track down terrorists in Iraq: Figure out how your enemy operates, be faster and more ruthless than everybody else, then take the fuckers out. After arriving in Afghanistan last June, the general conducted his own policy review, ordered up by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The now-infamous report was leaked to the press, and its conclusion was dire: If we didn’t send another 40,000 troops – swelling the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan by nearly half – we were in danger of “mission failure.” The White House was furious. McChrystal, they felt, was trying to bully Obama, opening him up to charges of being weak on national security unless he did what the general wanted. It was Obama versus the Pentagon, and the Pentagon was determined to kick the president’s ass.

Last fall, with his top general calling for more troops, Obama launched a three-month review to re-evaluate the strategy in Afghanistan. “I found that time painful,” McChrystal tells me in one of several lengthy interviews. “I was selling an unsellable position.” For the general, it was a crash course in Beltway politics – a battle that pitted him against experienced Washington insiders like Vice President Biden, who argued that a prolonged counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan would plunge America into a military quagmire without weakening international terrorist networks. “The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people,” says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. “The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.”

In the end, however, McChrystal got almost exactly what he wanted …

The biggest military operation of the year – a ferocious offensive that began in February to retake the southern town of Marja – continues to drag on, prompting McChrystal himself to refer to it as a “bleeding ulcer.” In June, Afghanistan officially outpaced Vietnam as the longest war in American history – and Obama has quietly begun to back away from the deadline he set for withdrawing U.S. troops in July of next year. The president finds himself stuck in something even more insane than a quagmire: a quagmire he knowingly walked into, even though it’s precisely the kind of gigantic, mind-numbing, multigenerational nation-building project he explicitly said he didn’t want.

Even those who support McChrystal and his strategy of counterinsurgency know that whatever the general manages to accomplish in Afghanistan, it’s going to look more like Vietnam than Desert Storm. “It’s not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win,” says Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville, who serves as chief of operations for McChrystal. “This is going to end in an argument” …

The general’s staff is a handpicked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators and outright maniacs. There’s a former head of British Special Forces, two Navy Seals, an Afghan Special Forces commando, a lawyer, two fighter pilots and at least two dozen combat veterans and counterinsurgency experts. They jokingly refer to themselves as Team America, taking the name from the South Park-esque sendup of military cluelessness, and they pride themselves on their can-do attitude and their disdain for authority. After arriving in Kabul last summer, Team America set about changing the culture of the International Security Assistance Force, as the NATO-led mission is known. (U.S. soldiers had taken to deriding ISAF as short for “I Suck at Fighting” or “In Sandals and Flip-Flops.”) McChrystal banned alcohol on base, kicked out Burger King and other symbols of American excess, expanded the morning briefing to include thousands of officers and refashioned the command center into a Situational Awareness Room, a free-flowing information hub modeled after Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s offices in New York. He also set a manic pace for his staff, becoming legendary for sleeping four hours a night, running seven miles each morning, and eating one meal a day. (In the month I spend around the general, I witness him eating only once.) It’s a kind of superhuman narrative that has built up around him, a staple in almost every media profile, as if the ability to go without sleep and food translates into the possibility of a man single-handedly winning the war.

By midnight at Kitty O’Shea’s, much of Team America is completely shitfaced. Two officers do an Irish jig mixed with steps from a traditional Afghan wedding dance, while McChrystal’s top advisers lock arms and sing a slurred song of their own invention. “Afghanistan!” they bellow. “Afghanistan!” They call it their Afghanistan song.

McChrystal steps away from the circle, observing his team. “All these men,” he tells me. “I’d die for them. And they’d die for me.”

The assembled men may look and sound like a bunch of combat veterans letting off steam, but in fact this tight-knit group represents the most powerful force shaping U.S. policy in Afghanistan. While McChrystal and his men are in indisputable command of all military aspects of the war, there is no equivalent position on the diplomatic or political side. Instead, an assortment of administration players compete over the Afghan portfolio: U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, Special Representative to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke, National Security Advisor Jim Jones and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, not to mention 40 or so other coalition ambassadors and a host of talking heads who try to insert themselves into the mess, from John Kerry to John McCain. This diplomatic incoherence has effectively allowed McChrystal’s team to call the shots and hampered efforts to build a stable and credible government in Afghanistan. “It jeopardizes the mission,” says Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who supports McChrystal. “The military cannot by itself create governance reform.”

Part of the problem is structural: The Defense Department budget exceeds $600 billion a year, while the State Department receives only $50 billion. But part of the problem is personal: In private, Team McChrystal likes to talk shit about many of Obama’s top people on the diplomatic side. One aide calls Jim Jones, a retired four-star general and veteran of the Cold War, a “clown” who remains “stuck in 1985.” Politicians like McCain and Kerry, says another aide, “turn up, have a meeting with Karzai, criticize him at the airport press conference, then get back for the Sunday talk shows. Frankly, it’s not very helpful.” Only Hillary Clinton receives good reviews from McChrystal’s inner circle. “Hillary had Stan’s back during the strategic review,” says an adviser. “She said, ‘If Stan wants it, give him what he needs.’ ”

McChrystal reserves special skepticism for Holbrooke, the official in charge of reintegrating the Taliban. “The Boss says he’s like a wounded animal,” says a member of the general’s team. “Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous. He’s a brilliant guy, but he just comes in, pulls on a lever, whatever he can grasp onto. But this is COIN, and you can’t just have someone yanking on shit.”

At one point on his trip to Paris, McChrystal checks his BlackBerry. “Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke,” he groans. “I don’t even want to open it.” He clicks on the message and reads the salutation out loud, then stuffs the BlackBerry back in his pocket, not bothering to conceal his annoyance.

“Make sure you don’t get any of that on your leg,” an aide jokes, referring to the e-mail.

By far the most crucial – and strained – relationship is between McChrystal and Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador. According to those close to the two men, Eikenberry – a retired three-star general who served in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2005 – can’t stand that his former subordinate is now calling the shots. He’s also furious that McChrystal, backed by NATO’s allies, refused to put Eikenberry in the pivotal role of viceroy in Afghanistan, which would have made him the diplomatic equivalent of the general. The job instead went to British Ambassador Mark Sedwill – a move that effectively increased McChrystal’s influence over diplomacy by shutting out a powerful rival. “In reality, that position needs to be filled by an American for it to have weight,” says a U.S. official familiar with the negotiations.

The relationship was further strained in January, when a classified cable that Eikenberry wrote was leaked to The New York Times. The cable was as scathing as it was prescient. The ambassador offered a brutal critique of McChrystal’s strategy, dismissed President Hamid Karzai as “not an adequate strategic partner,” and cast doubt on whether the counterinsurgency plan would be “sufficient” to deal with Al Qaeda. “We will become more deeply engaged here with no way to extricate ourselves,” Eikenberry warned, “short of allowing the country to descend again into lawlessness and chaos.”

McChrystal and his team were blindsided by the cable. “I like Karl, I’ve known him for years, but they’d never said anything like that to us before,” says McChrystal, who adds that he felt “betrayed” by the leak. “Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books. Now if we fail, they can say, ‘I told you so.’ ”

The most striking example of McChrystal’s usurpation of diplomatic policy is his handling of Karzai. It is McChrystal, not diplomats like Eikenberry or Holbrooke, who enjoys the best relationship with the man America is relying on to lead Afghanistan. The doctrine of counterinsurgency requires a credible government, and since Karzai is not considered credible by his own people, McChrystal has worked hard to make him so. Over the past few months, he has accompanied the president on more than 10 trips around the country, standing beside him at political meetings, or shuras, in Kandahar. In February, the day before the doomed offensive in Marja, McChrystal even drove over to the president’s palace to get him to sign off on what would be the largest military operation of the year. Karzai’s staff, however, insisted that the president was sleeping off a cold and could not be disturbed. After several hours of haggling, McChrystal finally enlisted the aid of Afghanistan’s defense minister, who persuaded Karzai’s people to wake the president from his nap.

This is one of the central flaws with McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy: The need to build a credible government puts us at the mercy of whatever tin-pot leader we’ve backed – a danger that Eikenberry explicitly warned about in his cable. Even Team McChrystal privately acknowledges that Karzai is a less-than-ideal partner. “He’s been locked up in his palace the past year,” laments one of the general’s top advisers. At times, Karzai himself has actively undermined McChrystal’s desire to put him in charge. During a recent visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Karzai met three U.S. soldiers who had been wounded in Uruzgan province. “General,” he called out to McChrystal, “I didn’t even know we were fighting in Uruzgan!”

By some accounts, McChrystal’s career should have been over at least two times by now. As Pentagon spokesman during the invasion of Iraq, the general seemed more like a White House mouthpiece than an up-and-coming commander with a reputation for speaking his mind. When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made his infamous “stuff happens” remark during the looting of Baghdad, McChrystal backed him up. A few days later, he echoed the president’s Mission Accomplished gaffe by insisting that major combat operations in Iraq were over. But it was during his next stint – overseeing the military’s most elite units, including the Rangers, Navy Seals and Delta Force – that McChrystal took part in a cover-up that would have destroyed the career of a lesser man.

After Cpl. Pat Tillman, the former-NFL-star-turned-Ranger, was accidentally killed by his own troops in Afghanistan in April 2004, McChrystal took an active role in creating the impression that Tillman had died at the hands of Taliban fighters. He signed off on a falsified recommendation for a Silver Star that suggested Tillman had been killed by enemy fire. (McChrystal would later claim he didn’t read the recommendation closely enough – a strange excuse for a commander known for his laserlike attention to minute details.) A week later, McChrystal sent a memo up the chain of command, specifically warning that President Bush should avoid mentioning the cause of Tillman’s death. “If the circumstances of Corporal Tillman’s death become public,” he wrote, it could cause “public embarrassment” for the president.

“The false narrative, which McChrystal clearly helped construct, diminished Pat’s true actions,” wrote Tillman’s mother, Mary, in her book Boots on the Ground by Dusk. McChrystal got away with it, she added, because he was the “golden boy” of Rumsfeld and Bush, who loved his willingness to get things done, even if it included bending the rules or skipping the chain of command. Nine days after Tillman’s death, McChrystal was promoted to major general.

Two years later, in 2006, McChrystal was tainted by a scandal involving detainee abuse and torture at Camp Nama in Iraq. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, prisoners at the camp were subjected to a now-familiar litany of abuse: stress positions, being dragged naked through the mud. McChrystal was not disciplined in the scandal, even though an interrogator at the camp reported seeing him inspect the prison multiple times. But the experience was so unsettling to McChrystal that he tried to prevent detainee operations from being placed under his command in Afghanistan, viewing them as a “political swamp,” according to a U.S. official. In May 2009, as McChrystal prepared for his confirmation hearings, his staff prepared him for hard questions about Camp Nama and the Tillman cover-up. But the scandals barely made a ripple in Congress, and McChrystal was soon on his way back to Kabul to run the war in Afghanistan.

The media, to a large extent, have also given McChrystal a pass on both controversies …

When it comes to Afghanistan, history is not on McChrystal’s side. The only foreign invader to have any success here was Genghis Khan – and he wasn’t hampered by things like human rights, economic development and press scrutiny. The COIN doctrine, bizarrely, draws inspiration from some of the biggest Western military embarrassments in recent memory: France’s nasty war in Algeria (lost in 1962) and the American misadventure in Vietnam (lost in 1975). McChrystal, like other advocates of COIN, readily acknowledges that counterinsurgency campaigns are inherently messy, expensive and easy to lose. “Even Afghans are confused by Afghanistan,” he says. But even if he somehow manages to succeed, after years of bloody fighting with Afghan kids who pose no threat to the U.S. homeland, the war will do little to shut down Al Qaeda, which has shifted its operations to Pakistan. Dispatching 150,000 troops to build new schools, roads, mosques and water-treatment facilities around Kandahar is like trying to stop the drug war in Mexico by occupying Arkansas and building Baptist churches in Little Rock. “It’s all very cynical, politically,” says Marc Sageman, a former CIA case officer who has extensive experience in the region. “Afghanistan is not in our vital interest – there’s nothing for us there” …

But facts on the ground, as history has proven, offer little deterrent to a military determined to stay the course. Even those closest to McChrystal know that the rising anti-war sentiment at home doesn’t begin to reflect how deeply fucked up things are in Afghanistan. “If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular,” a senior adviser to McChrystal says. Such realism, however, doesn’t prevent advocates of counterinsurgency from dreaming big: Instead of beginning to withdraw troops next year, as Obama promised, the military hopes to ramp up its counterinsurgency campaign even further. “There’s a possibility we could ask for another surge of U.S. forces next summer if we see success here,” a senior military official in Kabul tells me.

Back in Afghanistan, less than a month after the White House meeting with Karzai and all the talk of “progress,” McChrystal is hit by the biggest blow to his vision of counterinsurgency. Since last year, the Pentagon had been planning to launch a major military operation this summer in Kandahar, the country’s second-largest city and the Taliban’s original home base. It was supposed to be a decisive turning point in the war – the primary reason for the troop surge that McChrystal wrested from Obama late last year. But on June 10th, acknowledging that the military still needs to lay more groundwork, the general announced that he is postponing the offensive until the fall. Rather than one big battle, like Fallujah or Ramadi, U.S. troops will implement what McChrystal calls a “rising tide of security.” The Afghan police and army will enter Kandahar to attempt to seize control of neighborhoods, while the U.S. pours $90 million of aid into the city to win over the civilian population.

Even proponents of counterinsurgency are hard-pressed to explain the new plan. “This isn’t a classic operation,” says a U.S. military official. “It’s not going to be Black Hawk Down. There aren’t going to be doors kicked in.” Other U.S. officials insist that doors are going to be kicked in, but that it’s going to be a kinder, gentler offensive than the disaster in Marja. “The Taliban have a jackboot on the city,” says a military official. “We have to remove them, but we have to do it in a way that doesn’t alienate the population.” When Vice President Biden was briefed on the new plan in the Oval Office, insiders say he was shocked to see how much it mirrored the more gradual plan of counterterrorism that he advocated last fall. “This looks like CT-plus!” he said, according to U.S. officials familiar with the meeting.

Whatever the nature of the new plan, the delay underscores the fundamental flaws of counterinsurgency. After nine years of war, the Taliban simply remains too strongly entrenched for the U.S. military to openly attack. The very people that COIN seeks to win over – the Afghan people – do not want us there. Our supposed ally, President Karzai, used his influence to delay the offensive, and the massive influx of aid championed by McChrystal is likely only to make things worse. “Throwing money at the problem exacerbates the problem,” says Andrew Wilder, an expert at Tufts University who has studied the effect of aid in southern Afghanistan. “A tsunami of cash fuels corruption, delegitimizes the government and creates an environment where we’re picking winners and losers” – a process that fuels resentment and hostility among the civilian population. So far, counterinsurgency has succeeded only in creating a never-ending demand for the primary product supplied by the military: perpetual war. There is a reason that President Obama studiously avoids using the word “victory” when he talks about Afghanistan. Winning, it would seem, is not really possible. Not even with Stanley McChrystal in charge.

  • The New York Times reports in, “McChrystal Is Summoned to Washington Over Remarks,” that McChrystal is desperately apologizing:
    The general apologized for his remarks, saying the article was “a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened, ” but his job seemed to hang in the balance after the military’s senior leaders joined the condemnation.
  • According to The Washington Post, in an article entitled, “Civilian press aide resigns amid flap over McChrystal’s ‘Rolling Stone’ profile,” McChrystal has already found a fall guy:
    Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s civilian press aide resigned Tuesday over an upcoming magazine story that portrayed the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan and some of his aides as derisive toward Obama administration officials.
    Duncan Boothby, who has been on McChrystal’s staff for roughly a year, was the first casualty of a controversy that prompted White House officials to summon the general to the White House to explain the remarks in the profile that will appear in this week’s issue of Rolling Stone.
    Boothby was heavily involved in arranging access for journalist Michael Hastings to McChrystal and his staff this year so Hastings could write the profile, titled “The Runaway General.”
  • The US Air Force’s Air University links to the Unified Code of Military Justice which has something to say about all of this – and it’s not about apologies and scapegoating but something called a ‘court martial’:
    Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

Afghan drug addiction up over 100% since 2005
The Associated Press
(6/21/10)

Afghan opiate use doubles in 5 years, U.N. says

Drug addicts as young as a month old. Mothers who calm their children by blowing opium smoke in their faces. Whole communities hooked on heroin with few opportunities for treatment.

Use of opiates such as heroin and opium has doubled in Afghanistan in the past five years, the U.N. said Monday, as hundreds of thousands of Afghans turn to drugs to escape the misery of poverty and war.

Nearly 3 percent of Afghans ages 15 to 64 are addicted to opiates, according to a study by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. The U.N. defines addicts as regular users.

That puts Afghanistan, along with Russia and Iran, as the top three countries for opiate drug use worldwide, according to Sarah Waller, an official of the U.N.’s drug office in Kabul. She said a 2005 survey found about 1.4 percent of Afghan adults were opiate addicts.

The data suggest that even as the U.S. and its allies pour billions of dollars into programs to try to wean the Afghan economy off drug money, opium and heroin have become more entrenched in the lives of ordinary Afghans. That creates yet another barrier to international efforts to combat the drug trade, which helps pay for the Taliban insurgency.

“The human face of Afghanistan’s drug problem is not only seen on the streets of Moscow, London or Paris. It is in the eyes of its own citizens, dependent on a daily dose of opium and heroin above all — but also cannabis, painkillers and tranquilizers,” said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

Afghanistan supplies 90 percent of the world’s opium, the main ingredient in heroin, and is the global leader in hashish production. Drug crops have helped finance insurgents and encourage corruption, particularly in the south where the Taliban control cultivation of opium poppies and smuggling routes …

Yet almost 1 million Afghans — 8 percent of the 15-to-64 age group — are regular drug users — addicted to opiates, as well as cannabis and tranquilizers, according to the report, which was based on surveys of about 2,500 drug users, community leaders, teachers and doctors.

By comparison, 0.7 percent of the population in neighboring Pakistan and 0.58 percent of Americans ages 15-64 were regular opiate users, according to U.N. data …

“It is a national tragedy,” said Ibrahim Azhaar, Afghanistan’s deputy minister of counternarcotics.

Chinese ‘white guy in a tie’ industry flourishes
The Atlantic
(July/August 2010)

Rent a White Guy

Not long ago I was offered work as a quality-control expert with an American company in China I’d never heard of. No experience necessary—which was good, because I had none. I’d be paid $1,000 for a week, put up in a fancy hotel, and wined and dined in Dongying, an industrial city in Shandong province I’d also never heard of. The only requirements were a fair complexion and a suit.

“I call these things ‘White Guy in a Tie’ events,” a Canadian friend of a friend named Jake told me during the recruitment pitch he gave me in Beijing, where I live. “Basically, you put on a suit, shake some hands, and make some money. We’ll be in ‘quality control,’ but nobody’s gonna be doing any quality control. You in?”

I was.

And so I became a fake businessman in China, an often lucrative gig for underworked expatriates here. One friend, an American who works in film, was paid to represent a Canadian company and give a speech espousing a low-carbon future. Another was flown to Shanghai to act as a seasonal-gifts buyer. Recruiting fake businessmen is one way to create the image—particularly, the image of connection—that Chinese companies crave. My Chinese-language tutor, at first aghast about how much we were getting paid, put it this way: “Having foreigners in nice suits gives the company face.”

Ten million Africans face starvation
Guardian
(6/21/10)

Millions face starvation in west Africa, warn aid agencies

Starving people in drought-stricken west Africa are being forced to eat leaves and collect grain from ant hills, say aid agencies, warning that 10 million people face starvation across the region.

With food prices soaring and malnourished livestock dying, villagers were turning to any sources of food to stay alive, said Charles Bambara, Oxfam officer for the west African region.

“People are eating wild fruit and leaves, and building ant hills just to capture the tiny amount of grain that the ants collect inside.

“The situation here in Chad is desperate. There is not enough food in the country, over 2 million people here are not getting enough,” said Bambara.

In Niger, which the United Nations classifies as the world’s least developed country, starving families are eating flour mixed with wild leaves and boiled plants.

More than 7 million people – almost half the population – currently face food insecurity in the country, making it the hardest hit by the crisis.

According to UN agencies, 200,000 children need treatment for malnutrition in Niger alone.

“Niger is at crisis point now and we need to act quickly before this crisis becomes a full-blown humanitarian disaster,” said Caroline Gluck, an Oxfam representative in the country.

Michigan medical marijuana legalization creates “wild, wild Midwest”
Detroit Free Press
(6/21/10)

Who’s making money off medical marijuana?

Medical marijuana, one of the state’s newest industries, is taking off. Dozens of hydroponics stores, medical clinics and grow schools are popping up. And at support groups, cafés and dispensaries, patients and growers are buying and selling the drug.

As with any industry, there are challenges, such as crop failures and theft. And limits on the size of growers’ crops make it all but impossible for growers to get rich, though they can earn some decent money.

“A few people will make a few bucks. Most people won’t make much,” said Adam Brook, organizer of the annual Ann Arbor Hash Bash.

In Michigan’s burgeoning medical marijuana industry, few rules exist, much of the business occurs in secrecy and the only way for growers to make big bucks is to break the law.

“If you operate within the law, you’re not going to make a lot of money,” said Leili Russo, who grows marijuana for medical purposes and serves as the secretary of the Genesee County Compassion Club in Flint.

Growers, also called caregivers, say that at best, they can make $40,000 a year. And that’s after spending $1,000 or more on equipment and other supplies, and putting in countless hours every day tending to plants …

With these conditions, it’s no surprise that medical marijuana is becoming a big business in Michigan’s depressed economy. Nineteen months after residents voted to legalize medical marijuana, the industry has attracted more than 8,000 caregivers, people who grow and harvest marijuana plants so they can be turned into medicine for patients, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health …

The law is vague about what caregivers can do if they produce more marijuana than their patients need. To make extra money, some sell their overages on the black market or to dispensaries, clinics or other caregivers.

Growing marijuana is just one part of the rapidly expanding industry. Experts say more lucrative opportunities can be found selling the hydroponic equipment that caregivers need and teaching them how to grow marijuana properly. Another moneymaker: operating clinics that help people get the paperwork they need to qualify as medical marijuana patients.

These kinds of service businesses are springing up all around the state and are the most visible part of the industry. Already, price wars have sprung up among the dozens of hydroponic shops that have opened in southeast Michigan …

“People are surprised at how many regular people just walk through the door,” she said. “It’s definitely going to be a growing industry. We should embrace it.”

Hydroponic stores aren’t the only ones cashing in. Attorneys, grow consultants, grow-room designers and contractors and grow schools are all finding a market for services.

“There are so many people that are excited about being able to work,” said Michael Komorn, a Southfield medical marijuana attorney and the treasurer of the 17,000-member Michigan Medical Marijuana Association. “They want to get back into the marketplace.”

Entrepreneurs also are flocking to the sales side of the business, operating an estimated 20 dispensaries, cafés and clinics in the state, according to medical marijuana attorneys. At Liberty Clinic in Ann Arbor, above bd’s Mongolian Grill on Main Street, patients pay $12 for an annual membership that allows them to purchase different strains of marijuana, which are displayed in small see-through packets on a counter. Liberty buys its marijuana from caregivers throughout the state.

“We hope to be a model,” said the owner, a former home inspector for Bank of America who would only give his name as James Chainsaw.

Michigan law does not specifically address these kinds of clinics and dispensaries. But industry experts expect that it will only be a matter of time before courts challenge their legality. Already, a number of cities and towns have passed ordinances prohibiting medical marijuana businesses …

“It’s definitely the wild, wild Midwest,” said Matthew Abel, one of the state’s leading medical marijuana attorneys.

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Tuesday, June 22
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