2009 - %3, August

The CIA IG Report

| Mon Aug. 24, 2009 10:05 AM EDT

Today, finally, the Obama administration is set to release a redacted version of the 2004 CIA Inspector General's report on the Bush administration's interrogation of terrorism suspects.

We already know a lot about what the IG found. On Friday, Newsweek's Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff reported that the IG detailed how the CIA staged mock executions and threatened one detainee with a gun and a power drill. If you want more foreshadowing, Marcy Wheeler has reposted two items (1, 2) she wrote in June outlining what already-released memos tell us about what's in the IG report.

Two more things you should know about developments on the detainee treatment front. First, as Spencer Ackerman originally reported, the Obama administration is setting up special new teams to interrogate terrorism suspects. According to the Washington Post's story, the new teams will have to abide by the techniques laid out in the Army Field Manual, but as Spencer points out, the field manual itself—once widely considered to be Geneva Conventions-compliant—has been revised to include some questionable techniques.

Second, a new Justice Department report recommends reopening a number of prisoner abuse cases, making it "all but certain that the appointment of a prosecutor or other concrete steps will follow," according to today's New York Times. So much for "not looking backwards." Good.

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Need To Read: August 24, 2009

Mon Aug. 24, 2009 6:04 AM EDT

I'm back from vacation. Here's what you should be reading today:

Like most bloggers, I also use twitter. I mostly use it to send out links to interesting web content like the stuff above. You can follow me, of course. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, is also on twitter. So are my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for August 24, 2009

Mon Aug. 24, 2009 6:03 AM EDT

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Michael Lally, left front, and Col. Dan Hokanson, behind Lally, lead Soldiers down steps of the Ziggurat of Ur during a tour outside Camp Adder, Iraq, July 31, 2009. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Cory Grogan.

Eco-News Roundup: Monday, August 24

| Mon Aug. 24, 2009 5:45 AM EDT

Fish Dish: US commerce secretary sez no expansion of commercial fishing in Arctic until ecological studies done. [Environmental News Network]

Healthcare Ripoffs: A doctor charged $4,500 for an office visit for which Medicare would have paid $134. What gives?

River Held Hostage: French truck drivers threaten to pollute the Seine if their pay demands are not met. [UK Guardian]

Death Counseling: Is it really such a bad idea to cover it with Medicare? Experts debate.

Making Lemonade: Some politicians are capitalizing on the Heartland's health reform panic.

Steele Goes Postal: On healthcare reform, that is. A few key exchanges here.

Invention's Mother: If Pharma had more requirementst, they might be motivated to change it up, says Kevin Drum.

Music Monday: Playing for Change

| Mon Aug. 24, 2009 2:03 AM EDT

Back when Mark Johnson founded Playing for Change, the concept was simple: Unite the world through music. His first success story was a video featuring musicians from around the globe performing "Stand by Me," the old feel-good hit by Ben E. King. It starts with a street guitarist in Santa Monica and proceeds around the world adding new musical layers as it goes. So far that video has received some 13 million hits on YouTube, and Johnson's project has spawned a PBS documentary, CDs, a DVD, an upcoming concert tour, and a foundation to bring music to disadvantaged communities. I caught up with Johnson last week to talk about the monks that inspired him, his unusual mobile recording studio, and how he's seen music change lives.

To listen to the podcast of this interview, click here.

Mother Jones: In a nutshell, what is Playing for Change? What inspired it, and what are you trying to accomplish?

Mark Johnson: Playing for Change is a global movement using media, music, technology, and inspiration to try to unite as many people around the world as possible. The original idea came about 10 years ago. I was recording music at a New York City studio, and I was on my way to work one day, and I saw two monks painted all in white from head to toe. One was playing a nylon guitar and the other one was singing. I saw about 200 people stop, and everybody's watching this performance. Some are crying and jaw-dropping and smiling, and I look around and see a collection of people who normally just run right by each other, and here they are coming together for this music. Then I got on the train and I went to the recording studio and I realized the best music I ever heard in my life was on the way to the studio, not in the studio. That's when I realized great music, great art—they're just moments in time. They exist everywhere, and we can use these moments in time to connect people and bring inspiration. And that led to the idea of traveling the world with a mobile recording studio and cameras, filming, recording, and interviewing musicians, and connecting them together with songs around the world, such as "Stand by Me" and "One Love."

Squaring the Afghan Circle

| Sun Aug. 23, 2009 11:13 PM EDT

The New York Times yesterday:

In a region the Taliban have lorded over for six years, and where they remain a menacing presence, American officers say their troops alone are not enough to reassure Afghans. Something is missing that has left even the recently appointed district governor feeling dismayed. “I don’t get any support from the government,” said the governor, Massoud Ahmad Rassouli Balouch.

....Even with the new operation in Helmand Province, which involves the Marines here and more than 3,000 others as part of President Obama’s troop deployments, the military lacks the troop strength even to try to secure some significant population centers and guerrilla strongholds in central and southern Helmand.

The New York Times today:

American military commanders with the NATO mission in Afghanistan told President Obama’s chief envoy to the region this weekend that they did not have enough troops to do their job, pushed past their limit by Taliban rebels who operate across borders.

....The possibility that more troops will be needed in Afghanistan presents the Obama administration with another problem in dealing with a nearly eight-year war that has lost popularity at home, compounded by new questions over the credibility of the Afghan government, which has just held an as-yet inconclusive presidential election beset by complaints of fraud.

OK then.  More troops aren't getting the job done because we're not getting any support from the Afghan government.  So we're going to ask for more troops.

OK, OK: I know that's just a smart ass comment.  In fact, here's some good news from McClatchy: "Pakistan's extremist Taliban movement is badly divided over who should be its new leader, and analysts and local tribesmen say the al Qaida-linked group may be in danger of crumbling."  Though even that's a mixed blessing.  The second NYT story suggests that the death of Baitullah Mehsud, which set off the problems in the Pakistani Taliban, may also cause the Pakistani army to lose interest in the tribal areas and move on to other, shinier toys.

Overall, the evidence suggests that steadily increasing U.S. troop strength has had virtually no effect in the past; that the Taliban is getting continually stronger; that the central government is corrupt and incompetent; and that even under the best circumstances the Afghan army can't be brought up to speed in less than five years.  At the same time, U.S. commanders say they understand that they have only 12-18 months to turn things around.

Someone needs to explain to me how that's going to happen.  Anything even remotely plausible will do for a start.  Because I sure don't see it.

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Death Books

| Sun Aug. 23, 2009 12:38 PM EDT

Sweet Jesus.  We've gone from death panels to death books?  Crikey.

BTW, I just did a Nexis search, and as near as I can tell the pamphlet in question wasn't mentioned a single time between 2006 and last month.  In other words, until it became a political football this week, not one single person thought this issue was important to enough to mention even in passing in any news outlet whatsoever.  The reason, of course, is that before now no one actually thought this was outrageous.  Because it isn't.

Regulating the Regulators

| Sun Aug. 23, 2009 11:28 AM EDT

MattY points us to a Gillian Tett column in the Financial Times, which ends with this:

If regulators and politicians are to have any hope of building a more effective financial system in future, it is crucial that they start thinking more about power structures, vested interests and social silence. That might sound like an irritatingly abstract or pious plea. However, it has some very practical implications about how policy is formulated. I will seek to flesh out some of those in next week’s column....

This is a surprisingly underdiscussed point, but it's something that's critical to how we think about financial regulation.  If we want regulation to work, the regulatory structures need to be set up so that their institutional power bases push them in the direction we want them pushed.  That's why, for example, I don't like the idea of the Fed gaining more power over consumer regulation: it's institutionally and culturally oriented toward the financial community and macroeconomic management.  Consumer regulation will never be taken seriously there no matter how many laws we write.

I'm not sure if this means that an entirely separate agency needs to be set up or not, but whatever we do has to take account of how power actually works.  Not only does consumer financial regulation need to be in the hands of someone who considers it their prime responsibility, but it needs to have committee support in Congress and some kind of natural constituency with serious political juice and a financial interest in making sure consumer regulation works.  Otherwise it will sink into bureaucratic oblivion.  Suggestions welcome.

My Lai Massacre Leader Speaks

| Sun Aug. 23, 2009 11:18 AM EDT

Forty-one years after leading his Army unit in the massacre of between 300 to 500 unarmed old men, women, children and babies in the Vietnamese village of My Lai, the former Lieutenant William Calley spoke publicly for the first time about the killings.

"There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai," he said. "I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry."

Several years ago, pursuing the project I discussed here recently, I managed to reach Calley on the phone. Brusque, but not rude, he made it clear that there would be no interview. He left open the possibility that that could change. If it did, he’d call.

I didn’t expect he’d ever talk to me or any other journalist, so, I was surprised Friday when I read that he had done an interview of sorts – answering questions at his local Kiwanis club and from the lone reporter invited, last Wednesday.

What are we to make of Calley’s contrition?

Happy Blogoversary!

| Sat Aug. 22, 2009 6:00 PM EDT

Today is my seventh blogoversary.  Hooray!  We celebrated by having a system crash this morning, which is kind of appropriate in a way.  After seven years, I have yet to work on a truly reliable blogging platform.

But an even more appropriate way to celebrate is by putting up some bonus catblogging.  So here it is: a picture of Inkblot snapped three minutes ago.  If I had a cat-cam set up in my living room, this is what you'd see in real time.  In fact, it's what you'd see most of the time in real time.  And if I had a people-cam set up in my study, you'd see me staring at a glowing screen and typing some words into a box.  Which is also what you'd see most of the time.  In other words, if you substitute "blogging" for "snoozing," I'm an awful lot like a housecat.  Funny how that works.