2008 - %3, February

New Officers' Survey: US Military Stretched, Unable to Fight Another Major War

| Wed Feb. 20, 2008 9:57 AM EST

A survey of more than 3,400 senior U.S. military officers by the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think-tank, and Foreign Policy magazine has some grim findings (.pdf):

Of the more than 3,400 active and retired officers surveyed, 60 percent say the U.S. military is weaker today than it was five years ago. Asked the reason why, more than half cite the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the pace of troop deployments those conflicts require.
Nearly 90 percent of the officers—all of whom hold the rank of major or lieutenant commander and above—say that the war in Iraq has "stretched the U.S. military dangerously thin." Asked to grade the health of each military service on scale of 1 to 10, with 1 meaning the officers have no concern about the health of the service and 10 meaning they are extremely concerned, the officers reported an average score of 7.9 for the Army and 7.0 for the Marine Corps. However, asked if they believe the war in Iraq has broken the U.S. military, 56 percent of the officers say they disagree.

Perhaps most notable, the survey found:

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An Embarrassing Loss for Clinton: Where Have All the Blue-Collar Dems Gone?

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 10:59 PM EST

obama-wisconsin250x200.jpg Hillary Clinton's historic presidential campaign--once the political handicappers' favorite in the Democratic contest--now appears to depend on two things: Ohio and Texas.

On Tuesday, Barack Obama racked up his ninth win in a row, defeating Clinton by an embarrassing 17 points in Wisconsin. And once again, the nature of his win made the night worse for the Clinton crowd. As Obama had done in Virginia and Maryland a week earlier, he outdrew Clinton in voters in most demographic slices. In a state full of working-class voters, Obama demonstrated once more that he can appeal to lunch-bucket Democrats, outpacing Clinton among voters making $50,000 or less a year. Among voters below 30 years of age, Obama walloped Clinton 73 to 20 percent. He had a 2-to-1 edge with independents and Republicans who voted in the Democratic primary. Clinton did have an edge among those 65 and older: 60 to 39 percent. But among voters who said the economy was the top issue, Obama pulled 55 percent--a big gain from the 44 percent he collected among these voters on Super Tuesday. In Wisconsin, he won 54 percent of the vote of Democrats who have not attended college--presumably blue-collar Dems. On Super Tuesday, he collected only 42 percent within this group.

At this point, Clinton's base seems to be composed of one group of loyalists: older, middle-income women. (Among all Democratic women, Obama beat Clinton 50 to 49 percent in the exit polls.) Though women voters propelled Clinton to victories in New Hampshire and Nevada, they have not carried her to success since those two states. At the same time, Obama has expanded his core.

Nature Does Anti-Terrorism Better

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 9:50 PM EST

dhs-threat.jpg Living things can show us how to keep society safe. So says biologist Raphael Sagarin of Duke University in a fascinating interview with New Scientist. "You can look at virtually any question about security through a biological lens," says Sagarin, "from how to develop weapons systems to how to organise government departments. One clear lesson is that the species or systems that have been around the longest, adapted to many different environments and captured the most resources have a structure of fairly limited central control, with a lot of autonomy. You can see this… in the immune system, for example, or in colonial organisms such as ants and corals."

"In stark contrast, says Sagarin, is the US response to 9/11, "which was to create this enormous Department of Homeland Security. You can see the results: individual organisations do not get enough autonomy and cannot make decisions in a timely manner. They cannot respond and adapt without having to go up through many layers of command. It's more to do with keeping power and maintaining committee memberships, jobs and budgets than security."

Furthermore, he says, "organisms inherently understand that there is risk in life. The idea that we can eliminate these risks would be selected against quickly in the natural world since any organism that tried to do so would not have enough resources left for reproduction, or feeding itself."

Sounds vaguely familiar.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Who's Really Paying for Cheap Shrimp?

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 9:03 PM EST

20051115135555.jpg Not you and me. That farmed tiger shrimp costs five times what we're paying. So who's getting charged the difference? Local poor people and the local environment. This according to Daniel A. Bergquist of Uppsala University. Despite what many international aid organizations claim (and fund), Bergquist says his studies in Sri Lanka and the Philippines prove that a major portion of the local population is excluded from aquaculture and continue to be as poor as ever. "The winners are the local elites," he says. What's more, aquaculture often entails cutting mangrove forests for shrimp and fish ponds, creating environmental problems that eventually impact aquaculture.

By using methods that factor in all costs, Bergquist was able to show, for instance, that the price of tiger shrimp would need to be more than five times higher than it is today for the environment and the local population to receive fair compensation for their input. "Aquaculture is a clear example of how the colonization of the southern hemisphere is still going on, finding new avenues via globalization and international trade," says Bergquist.

So maybe the good folks at Blue Ocean Institute will add tiger shrimp to their excellent sustainable seafood texting service, and keep a few more of us from eating it until the price gets real.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Is The Lily Livered West an Unindicted Co-Conspirator of Islamo-Fascism?

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 8:09 PM EST

While Musharraf, and Islamism was defeated in Pakistan (for now, and maybe only for strategic reasons), how complicit is the soggy Western left in its spread? If you can't trust the Archbishop of Canterbury to hold the line, who can you? Well, ask Anne Applebaum, at trusty Slate:

Is this a storm in a teacup, as the archbishop now claims? Was the "feeding frenzy" biased and unfair? Certainly, it is true that, since last Thursday, when Rowan Williams—the archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the Church of England, symbolic leader of the international Anglican Church—called for "constructive accommodation" with some aspects of sharia law and declared the incorporation of Muslim religious law into the British legal system "unavoidable," practically no insult has been left unsaid....
What one British writer called the "jurisprudential kernel" of his thoughts is as follows: In the modern world, we must avoid the "inflexible or over-restrictive applications of traditional law" and must be wary of our "universalist Enlightenment system," which risks "ghettoizing" a minority. Instead, we must embrace the notion of "plural jurisdiction." This, in other words, was no pleasant fluff about tolerance for foreigners: This was a call for the evisceration of the British legal system as we know it.

Of course, Christopher Hitchens summed up the proper response most robustly, "To Hell With the Archbishop of Canterbury."

Private's Stripes Going Once, Going Twice: How Much to Serve Your Country?

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 7:15 PM EST

Fred Kaplan, at Slate, keeps on giving us the bad news about what the war on terror is doing to the military. Along with epidemic suicides and ever-lowering recruitment standards, now they're offering new recruits $40k bonuses, more than the $30K they're offering to battle-scarred captains to reup.

So, which is worse: raising an army of sorta mercenaries or flipping vets in for the long haul the bird?

There's just so much that's worrying about the pernicious effects of this "100 years of war" it's hard to know what to bemoan first. Kaplan:

every good junior officer I've ever met gets very uncomfortable when the discussion turns to this topic; they emphasize, sincerely I think, that they're not in the military for the money; that fair compensation is appreciated, but they could make a lot more as a civilian if that was their goal. Putting so much emphasis on cash bonuses tends to draw people whose primary aim is making money—and who aren't talented enough to make the same kind of money in the civilian world.

I thought we learned in Viet Nam that it was a mistake to ignore the junior officers. You know, the ones closest to Joe Private.

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'Cinema of Truth' Was Born in 1960's 'Primary': NPR on the Invention of Cinema Verite

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 6:53 PM EST

and why we journalists deserve all the credit. Who knew documentaries sucked before us ink-stained wretches?

From NPR today:

'Cinema of Truth' Was Born in 1960's 'Primary'
by Mike Pesca, NPR

All Things Considered, February 19, 2008 · In 1960, a team of documentary filmmakers descended on the Wisconsin Democratic presidential primary in order to record the campaigning between John F. Kennedy and Hubert H. Humphrey. Politically, the results propelled Kennedy to the nomination. Artistically, the documentarians invented a new form.
Using technology that made cameras lighter and sound equipment more portable, the documentarians took a "fly-on-the-wall approach" in a style that would come to be called cinema verite.
We use the occasion of the current Wisconsin primary to talk about D.A. Pennebaker, Albert Maysles and Robert Drew and their 1960 collaboration Primary.

An-My Le: War on American Soil

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 6:50 PM EST

small%20wars%20200.jpgYesterday at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, throngs of school vacationers made a beeline for the much-hyped Olafur Eliasson exhibit. I didn't quite have the wherewithal to spend 20 minutes on line waiting to see trippy mirrors or whatever, so instead I left the under-10s behind and headed downstairs, where I was happy to find myself in a room with, like, four decidedly sedate adults. This was a good room for me not only because of my misanthropic tendencies, but also because of the photography series I found there: An-My Lê's "Small Wars" and "29 Palms."

Both series are about something we're not used to seeing—war in an American landscape. Not real combat, but rather reenactment and rehearsal: "Small Wars" (1999-2002) chronicles Vietnam war reenactors' staged battles in Virginia, while "29 Palms" (2003-present) focuses on soldiers training for deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan at the Twentynine Palms military base in California. On a purely technical level, this is impressive work. The black-and-white photographs are full of texture and nuance, and the composition—from vast landscapes to detailed tableaus—is impeccable.

(Not So) New Music: Plastilina Mosh

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 6:46 PM EST

mojo-photo-pmosh.jpgGreetings from Puebla, Mexico, where I just finished the Cinco Tacos special: only 25 pesos for five crazy good tacos al pastor. Insert Homer Simpson blissful gargle noise here. I'm in Mexico this week to do a couple DJ gigs at "warm-up parties" for the MX Beat Soundfest music festival, and while its prominent Marlboro sponsorship gave me pause (I'm an American Spirit smoker!), I guess commercial tie-ins are kind of typical south of the border, and the lineup is reassuringly fantastic, including both international artists like the Beastie Boys and M.I.A. as well as Mexican artists like Los Dynamite and Instituto Mexicano del Sonido. Headlining the event here in Puebla on Saturday is Plastilina Mosh, a Monterrey duo who have a reputation for enthusiastic eclecticism. Their latest single, last year's "Millionaire," connects the dots between loping reggaeton, glitchy Aphex Twin, and, well, Ace of Base, and happily switches between Spanish and English. I haven't been able to get it out of my head all week:

Innovation from the Left

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 6:30 PM EST

From the Washington Post: Common Cause, Washington Monthly Explore a Common Future

Two of the capital's most venerable institutions -- the lobby group Common Cause and the scrappy magazine Washington Monthly -- are in serious talks about merging.

A decision could come in May, when the Common Cause board plans to discuss the combination.

Officials of both groups said they have not decided how closely they might tie themselves together. It could be a partnership of some kind, or the Monthly could be folded into Common Cause.

What is certain is that conversations have been going on for months and that each side thinks there are good reasons to blend their efforts.

"We all like each other," said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. "We are now doing our due diligence."

Common Cause has been working to revive itself after several years of flagging finances and effectiveness, and sees adding a magazine as a good way to bolster its reputation. The Washington Monthly, while influential among an elite audience, has long searched for a financially stable partner, especially one with lots of members (and potential subscribers) such as Common Cause.

But how, you might ask, can a lobby group and a magazine merge? It sounds pretty strange.

Read the entire piece to learn how feisty the thinking left is and how determined to stay alive. (Full disclosure: a bunch of my journalism homies are at the Monthly)