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.

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.

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."

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.

Death Books

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.

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.

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!

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.

Crash and Burn

From the Washington Post today:

"Anything with Z seems like there's some slight irreverence about it. So it was as simple as putting Z in front of politics!" explains Republican media consultant John Brabender....With a four-program lineup, Zolitics bills itself as a bipartisan potpourri of "original scripted content, current events with a twist, and reality based shows unlike you have ever seen before."

....It's the place to see, for example, Rick Santorum squire Donna Brazile to a NASCAR race....The NASCAR sojourn is what Santorum has expressed interest in doing for the debut episode of "My America," a show that will pair ideologically divergent bedfellows and allow each to show the other "their America." The show, Zolitics crowed in a press release this week, "just may also become America's favorite buddy story."

....Santorum calls himself "a great fan of Donna's" and looks forward to milling around with the "red-blooded Americans out there" while watching cars go Zoom.

This sounds like possibly the worst idea in the history of western civilization.

Remember Emilio Gutiérrez Soto? He is the Mexican journalist Charles Bowden profiled in "We Bring Fear," the feature story in our July/August drug war issue. The short version is that Emilio was forced to flee the Mexican Army and seek asylum in the U.S., where he was separated from his son and detained by the ICE for 7 months. He literally escaped from the Army by sneaking out the back of a grocery store and hiding out on a friend's farm for 2 days before booking it to the border.

Needless to say, Emilio was unable to bring very much with him and lost nearly all of his possessions. After he was released from the El Paso Processing Center he joined his son in Las Cruces at the home of some kind friends. While he waits for his much-delayed asylum trial he has been unable to sell his home in northern Chihuahua, where the housing market has totally collapsed. To make matters worse he has still not been granted a work permit to legally make money here. This is a talented journalist, a regional bureau chief of the biggest newspaper in Juarez, and he can't even work a menial job to pay for basic necessities like school supplies for his son. He is caught in a limbo between the violence of Mexico and the bureaucratic inhumanity of the U.S.

Molly Molloy, who played a huge part in reporting and translating "We Bring Fear," and other good folks in the Las Cruces community are throwing a fundraising benefit for Emilio tonight. Please think about joining their efforts and sending a check to help alleviate the suffering while Emilio waits for his trial. If you believe in supporting journalism then there is no better way than supporting a journalist in his time of need.

SUGGESTED DONATION: $25

If you cannot attend, but would like to make a donation, please send in care of:
Molly Molloy
New Mexico State University Library
Box 30006 Dept 3475, NMSU
Las Cruces, NM 88003