The Pakistan Problem

Pakistan, as we all know, has become pretty virulently anti-American over the past few years.  Saeed Shah of McClatchy provides the latest:

The lively Pakistani media has been filled with stories of under-cover American agents operating in the country, tales of a huge contingent of U.S. Marines planned to be stationed at the embassy, and reports of Blackwater private security personnel running amuck. Armed Americans have supposedly harassed and terrified residents and police officers in Islamabad and Peshawar, according to local press reports.

Much of the hysteria was based on a near $1 billion plan, revealed by McClatchy in May and confirmed by U.S. officials, to massively increase the size of the American embassy in Islamabad, which brought home to Pakistanis that the United States plans an extensive and long-term presence in the country.

...."I think this recent brouhaha over the embassy expansion has been difficult to beat back," said Anne Patterson, the U.S. ambassador, in an interview Thursday....Patterson said she wrote last week to the owner of Pakistan's biggest media group, Jang, to protest about the content of two talk shows on its Geo TV channel, hosted by star anchors Hamid Mir and Kamran Khan, and a newspaper column of influential analyst Shireen Mazari in The News, a daily, complaining that they were "wildly incorrect" and had compromised the security of Americans.

Sounds like August in America.  Less snarkily, this is a problem that you can't really say is undercovered, since it's gotten a fair amount of attention lately, but is nonetheless probably underappreciated: Pakistanis really, really don't like the United States.  That's been true for a long time, and as Shah makes clear, it's even more true now.  In the latest Pew poll, America's favorability rating was a whopping 16%.

I'm not sure how you operate in an environment like that.  I hope Gen. McChrystal has a few ideas to offer when his long-awaited Afghanistan assessment is released later this month.  But I'm not holding my breath.

Here in the Bay Area, we take our earthquake retrofitting seriously: Hence the Labor Day weekend closing of the Bay Bridge for a crucial step in the ongoing replacement of the eastern span, and the announcement last night that all 260,000 cars that use the bridge on a typical day would have to find other ways to commute this morning due to a newly discovered crack in a steel link. Given the new crack, I was expecting to have to forsake my usual cushy carpool ride from Berkeley to the Mother Jones office in downtown San Francisco for a long, crowded, and expensive train ride today, but when I woke up this morning I checked the news on the computer and, just like that, the bridge workers had beaten the odds and the bridge was operational. All it took was 70 hours of continuous work.

Too bad the print edition of the San Francisco Chronicle couldn't keep up with the news. Millions of people in the Bay Area woke up this morning wondering about the Bay Bridge and the area's largest daily, with a daily circulation of 312,408, got it wrong.

Ironically, I saw this in the newspaper box while waiting in the carpool line for a ride over the Bay Bridge. Ouch.

Kraft Foods has made a $16 billion bid to acquire Cadbury PLC, maker of fine British chocolates.  Naturally, Cadbury turned them down:

Prior to Kraft going public with its offer on Monday, Cadbury had already rebuffed the advance in private. In publicly rejecting it, Cadbury said the offer, a 31% premium to its closing share price on Friday, "fundamentally undervalues" the company.

This is precisely what every company always says whenever someone offers to buy them: even though the offer price is 20% or 30% or 40% higher than the current stock price, it always "fundamentally undervalues" the firm.

In other words, corporate CEOs universally reject the efficient market hypothesis, and since Wall Street as a whole seems to agree, that means that essentially the entire finance industry rejects the EMH.  So if that's the case, why should anyone else believe it?

POSTSCRIPT: Related trivia: my mother once had a cat named Cadbury.  I conducted a blind taste test once of British-made Cadbury's chocolate and its American-made twin, and everyone involved could taste the difference and preferred the British version.  Cadbury Australia has a phenomenal selection of varieties, far more than the pitiful three or four we have in America.  The last time I was there in the early 90s, one of the varieties was chocolate with a creamy chocolate filling, and it was great.  Sadly, their website suggests it's no longer made.  Sic transit etc.  On the other hand, some of the other varieties look well worth a try.

With the controversy over President Barack Obama's speech to school kids melting—how much outrage can rightwingers maintain over an address that encourages kids to work hard and not be put off by failure?—I'm reminded of a story I heard a few days after Obama was elected president.

A father I met at a party told me about his daughter, a teacher at a Maryland public high school in a low-income area. Most of her students were African Americans. Her classroom was often an unruly place, and she had to pick carefully what battles to wage, when it came to imposing order and discipline. For instance, she had long ago given up forcing her students to quiet down and pay attention during each morning's school-wide recital of the Pledge of Allegiance.

But the morning after the country had elected a black man president, her classroom was different. Once Pledge time arrived, her students, without any prodding from her, became calm and respectfully and somberly said the words that they usually ignored each day.

Clearly, Obama can be the sort of model for children and young adults that previous presidents could not be. He can especially be a powerful example for young people in disenfranchised and disadvantaged communities. And this seems to have really ticked off conservatives eager to portray any Obama move as an underhanded socialist plot. But today I'll be thinking about those students in that one Maryland classroom and hoping that Obama's words—as obvious as they might be—will register with several of them and encourage these students to believe that they can have a stake and a future in the system—and a say in whether there really is liberty and justice for all.

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Jon Cohn assesses the state of play of healthcare reform over at TNR, and he's on pretty much the same page as me: August didn't kill it; Democrats are finally facing the reality that they can't count on any Republican votes; reconciliation is now a serious threat; and Dems fully understand that failing to pass something would be calamitous.  So he's cautiously optimistic.  The difference is that his version of this is based on real expertise and extensive reporting, not just a gut feel.  Go read.

For sport, they rolled through the streets of Baghdad hurling frozen oranges and water bottles at civilians and nearby vehicles, trying to smash windshields and injure bystanders. Convoying through the city in armored vehicles, the contractors fired their weapons indiscriminately. One member of the Blackwater security team known as Raven 23 regularly bragged about his body count and viewed killing Iraqis as "payback for 9/11."

These allegations are contained in court records [PDF] filed on Monday by Justice Department lawyers prosecuting five Blackwater contractors for the September 2007 shooting frenzy in Baghdad's Nisour Square that killed 14 Iraqis and wounded 20 others. Anticipating that lawyers representing the contractors will argue that they were acting in self defense, the prosecution is seeking to introduce evidence that "several of the defendants had harbored a deep hostility toward Iraqi civilians which they demonstrated in words and deeds." The charges are similar to those that recently emerged in civil lawsuits against Blackwater, stemming from the Nisour Square episode.

According to the court filing:

In addition to verbal expressions of hatred towards Iraqi civilians, the defendants engaged in unprovoked and aggressive behavior toward unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. In so doing, the defendants routinely acted in disregard of the use of force policies that they were required to follow as a condition of their employment as Blackwater guards.

...

This evidence tends to establish that the defendants fired at innocent Iraqis not because they actually believed that they were in imminent danger of serious bodily injury and actually believed that they had no alternative to the use of deadly force, but rather that they fired at innocent Iraqi civilians because of their hostility toward Iraqis and their grave indifference to the harm that their actions would cause.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a big day ahead tomorrow when the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Citizens United v. FEC, a case that could result in the death of corporate spending restrictions in federal elections. McConnell, the nation's number one Republican, has been seldom seen during the August health care reform debate (see our new story here), but he's been a relentless foe of campaign finance reform over the years. Represented by the famous First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, McConnell has filed a brief in the case supporting Citizens United, and tomorrow the court will likely discuss a precedent that carries McConnell's name.

In one of his many attempts to derail the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, McConnell sued the FEC in 2002 arguing that the act was a violation of his First Amendment right to take gobs of corporate money to get elected. McConnell, a prolific Republican fundraiser, lost that case by a narrow margin, but the composition of the court has changed significantly since then, giving him much better odds in his current crusade. While the Republican leader might not lead his party to victory against health care reform, his Supreme Court advocacy may soon usher in a new era of corporate dominance of federal elections—a development that could have significant benefits for his party in the long run.

Sgt. Ryan Pettit, left, and Cpl. Matthew Miller, from 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, fire their service rifles during an operation in Helmand province, Afghanistan, July 3, 2009. The Marines are part of Regimental Combat Team 3, Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Pete Thibodeau).

The president will speak to schoolchildren today; he plans to address a joint session of Congress tomorrow. Which audience will behave more maturely? Today's must-reads aren't sure.

  • Why Health Care Reform Survived August (The New Republic)
  • Max Baucus, Senate Finance Committee May Actually Move Health Care Reform Forward After All (NYT)
  • The Supreme Court Might Let Corporations Pour Unlimited Amounts of Cash Into Politicians' Campaign Coffers (WaPo)
  • Why That Might Be A Bad Idea (NYT)
  • Van Jones and the 9/11 Conspiracy Theory Poison (MoJo)
  • Newt Gingrich Is The GOP's Voice of Reason? (TPM
  • Why Isn't Mitch McConnell Leading the GOP's Fight on Health Care Reform (MoJo)
  • Joe Kennedy, Ted's Nephew, Not Running for Senate (Boston Globe)

I post articles like these throughout the day on twitter. You should follow me, of course. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets. So do 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.)

For years I have refrained from writing about 9/11 conspiracy theory. But Van Jones' resignation as top green jobs adviser in the Obama administration has compelled me to pick up this battering ram once again. In my PoliticsDaily.com column, I've (partly) blamed 9/11 conspiracy theorists for the downfall of Jones. Not that he's not accountable for his own behavior, but the perpetuators of the 9/11 nonsense launched a virus in left circles, and Jones was not savvy enough to keep clear of it. As I huffed: 

As far as I can tell, the only thing the so-called 9/11 Truth movement has accomplished is this: it's caused the Obama administration to lose its most prominent expert on green jobs. So well done, Truthers. Thanks to you, the federal government will now be spending about $80 billion on green economy initiatives without the guiding hand of one of the most knowledgeable experts in this field.

I went on:

I am, of course, referring to Van Jones, who resigned this weekend from his position as adviser to the head of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality. Jones, once a civil rights activist, in recent years has become a leader in the green jobs movement, and as an administration official he was given the task of making sure that billions of stimulus dollars flowing to jobs in enviro-friendly fields (say, wind power) were being deployed in an effective manner. But his (apparently) unpardonable sin was that he had signed a petition—"a "9/11 Truth Statement"—that suggested the Bush-Cheney administration either orchestrated or allowed the 9/11 attack to happen and that called for an investigation. He also had been part of an organizing committee for a 9/11 "truth" march. There were other actions dredged up by Jones' conservative antagonists, including conspiratorial rightwing Fox host Glenn Beck. (Beck was pursuing a vendetta; after Beck recently called Obama a "racist," a group that Jones had founded launched an advertising boycott of Beck's show.) Jones had once referred to Republicans as "assholes." But it was the 9/11 stuff that did him in.

In a way, I tried to prevent this from happening.

Years ago, when the 9/11 conspiracy theories were first emerging on the left, I wrote several pieces decrying them. (See here, here, and here.) My fear was that this unsound idea would infect the left and other quarters--discrediting anyone who got close to it. I even debunked a book promoting an unfounded 9/11 conspiracy theory that was published by Nation Books when I was Washington editor of The Nation magazine. (I tried to persuade the decision-makers of Nation Books that the book ought not even be published—and failed.)

The 9/11 conspiracy theory was just too tempting for many Bush critics. Van Jones says he was not fully aware of what he was signing when he put his John Hancock on that 9/11 petition. This might be true. But I can see how Jones and others on the left—without thinking too much—might have easily said, sure, sign my name to any call for any investigation of Bush and Cheney. And that sloppiness—if that's what it was—has cost him his job.

The 9/11 conspiracy—of which I have not written about in years—was always a load of bunk. You don't have to be an expert on skyscraper engineering or top-secret government communications to know that the two variants of the theory—the Bush White House orchestrated 9/11 so it could subsequently exploit the tragedy or the Bush White House knew the attack was coming and allowed it to occur so it could exploit the tragedy—make no sense.

Let's walk through some of the reasons the 9/11 theory is out of sync with reality.

From here on, I presented a tutorial that should persuade anyone that the 9/11 theory makes no sense. (Click here if you want to see it.) But I have learned from experience that people who believe this stuff are not open to persuasion. (Please do not send me emails, mail me manuscripts,  invite me to debates, or post comments accusing me of being a CIA plant.)

What is sad is that Jones, a pioneer in the green jobs field, has left the administration because he could not steer clear of the 9/11 foolishness. He certainly gave potent ammunition to his enemies—especially rightwing Fox host Glenn Beck, who targeted  Jones after a group Jones had founded launched an advertising boycott of Beck (after Beck had called President Obama a "racist"). But the country would have been better off if the White House had managed to find a way to stick with Jones.

At the end of this sad episode, we're left with a victorious Beck waving a scalp. (One prominent conservative tells me he is deeply upset by this, for the last thing he wants to see is Beck's credibility on the right enhanced.) And the circus will continue, with Beck now calling on his followers to dig up dirt on other Obama administration officials, and MSNBC's Keith Olbermann urging his audience to dig up dirt on Beck and Roger Ailes, the head of Fox. As for the real world, the administration will now pour tens of billions of dollars into green jobs without the benefit of Jones' widely acknowledged expertise. As I put it elsewhere, "Jones is responsible for his own actions, but the 9/11 Truthers are also responsible for concocting and spreading the poison that he drank."

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