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Taliban Sets Up Permanent Courts in Pakistan's Tribal Areas

| Tue Jul. 15, 2008 12:23 PM EDT

A report released today (.pdf) by Dan Markey, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, outlines the frustrations of U.S. efforts to tame Taliban fighters operating in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or the FATA, the region in which most terrorism analysts believe Osama Bin Laden is probably hiding. Writes Markey:

Nearly seven years after 9/11, neither the United States nor Pakistan has fully come to terms with the enormity of the challenge in the tribal belt. Washington has failed to convince Pakistanis that the United States has positive intentions in the region and is committed to staying the course long enough to implement lasting, constructive change. Pakistan, for its part, has demonstrated a disturbing lack of capacity and, all too often, an apparent lack of will to tackle head-on the security, political, or developmental deficits that have produced an explosion of terrorism and extremism within its borders and beyond.

Also today, reports the BBC, there is new evidence that the Taliban is settling down in the tribal areas, relatively untroubled by U.S. and Pakistani attempts to disrupt its operations. Until now, to enforce its strict variant of Sharia law, the Taliban has operated mobile courts, handling cases dealing with everything from land transactions to family disputes to spying. But according to a Taliban spokesman, it has now divided the northwest Mohmand district into four judicial areas. Each one features a permanent court staffed by two judges. These join similar courts said to already be operating in the neighboring Bajaur district.

The fact that Taliban courts can operate from fixed addresses without fear of outside intervention demonstrates, "the diminishing authority of the central and local governments," said the spokesman.

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Sigh. A Brand New McCain Flip-Flop. This Time, the DREAM Act

| Tue Jul. 15, 2008 12:11 PM EDT

I'm getting tired of slamming the guy over and over, but the DREAM Act is important to me so I'm going to mention this.

Speaking at an event hosted by La Raza, a nationwide organization that fights for the rights of Hispanic Americans, John McCain was asked by a young girl if he would commit to supporting the DREAM Act. McCain said, "Yes. Yes, but I will also enforce the existing laws. That's why we must secure the border."

That's great. It really is. I hope McCain means it, because he has said pretty explicitly in the past that he is opposed to the DREAM Act. For example, the conservative National Review quoted McCain as saying, "I would have voted against it I have said a thousand times, I have heard the message from the American people. They want the border secured first."

Of course, that was in the primary, when McCain was getting hammered for supporting comprehensive immigration reform by the conservative base. Now it's the general and there are moderates and Hispanics to which McCain must appeal. Recently, there have been so many mistakes, flip-flops, little hypocrisies, big hypocrisies, deceptions, and policy boondoggles that none of them are getting any oxygen. It's all just a wash, and it shouldn't be.

21st-Century Land Grab

| Mon Jul. 14, 2008 9:15 PM EDT

513px-Daintree_Rainforest.JPG Escalating global demand for fuel, food and wood fiber will destroy the world's forests. Unless efforts to address climate change and poverty empower the billion-plus forest-dependent poor.

This according to two reports released today by the Rights and Resources Initiative. The first study finds that world will need a minimum 2 million square miles by 2030 to grow food, bioenergy, and wood products.

This is almost twice the amount of land actually available—roughly two-thirds the size of the continental US.

The second study reports that developing-country governments still claim an overwhelming majority of forests. They've made only limited progress in recognizing local land rights. Consequently, great violence lies ahead, as some of the world's poorest peoples struggle to hold on to their only asset—millions of square miles of valuable and vulnerable forestlands.

"Arguably, we are on the verge of a last great global land grab," says Andy White, Coordinator of RRI and co-author of the first report. "Unless steps are taken, traditional forest owners, and the forests themselves, will be the big losers. It will mean more deforestation, more conflict, more carbon emissions, more climate change and less prosperity for everyone."

AP's Ron Fournier To Karl Rove: "Keep Up The Fight"

| Mon Jul. 14, 2008 5:40 PM EDT

fournier.jpg

Change is in the air at the Associated Press, the 162-year old wire service known for its painfully even-handed—and, yes, often dull—approach to presenting the news of the day. Ron Fournier, its new Washington Bureau chief, is responsible for much of it. The former staff reporter, who took over the top job last May, is profiled in today's Politico, as is his enthusiasm for what he calls "accountability journalism"—a more aggressive style of writing and reporting intended to hold the rich and powerful closer to the fire. "The AP's hard-earned reputation for fairness and nonpartisanship must not be used as an excuse for fuzzy language when a clear voice is demanded," Fournier wrote last summer, in an internal newsletter to AP employees. "Nor should it force us to give both sides of a story equal play when one side is plainly wrong." Statements like these signify a clear break from wire service's longstanding editorial practices and, not without controversy, prompted Fournier's immediate predecessor, Sandy Johnson, to tell the Politico, "I loved the Washington bureau. I just hope he doesn't destroy it."

John McCain, Meet the Czech Republic

| Mon Jul. 14, 2008 3:51 PM EDT

mccain_closeup_250x200.jpg Okay, history lesson: On January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia separated into two independent countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The split is sometimes referred to as the "Velvet Divorce" because it proceeded so amiably.

It seems unlikely that John McCain doesn't know this. He is running for president on the strength of his foreign policy credentials and has served in Congress since 1982.

So how to explain today's comment to reporters: "I was concerned about a couple of steps that the Russian government took in the last several days. One was reducing the energy supplies to Czechoslovakia."

Sure, the guy had a senior moment. Except he's been doing this for quite some time. In April 2008, he told Don Imus that in order to ensure the success of the European Missile Defense System, he would "work closely with Czechoslovakia and Poland and other countries." In October 2007, he suggested in a Republican debate that he would show Putin a little tough love. "The first thing I would do is make sure that we have a missile defense system in place in Czechoslovakia and Poland, and I don't care what his objections are to it."

So three times in less than a year. And we're not done yet.

New Radiohead Video Made Without Cameras

| Mon Jul. 14, 2008 3:35 PM EDT

Unless you count super-geeky spinning laser detection systems as cameras. On the haunting "House of Cards" from last year's In Rainbows, Thom Yorke seemed to exhort a lover to let her old life dissolve and "get swept under" with him; exploring this theme of dissolution by pointing lasers at a suburban party and using computers to reconstruct the reflected data into a surreal, pointillist 3-D image of the scene may seem a bit on the elaborate side, but remember, this is Radiohead we're talking about. The end result is pretty interesting, although in the end it's the flickering image of Yorke himself that seems most compelling -- that shot of electrical towers collapsing is a little too reminiscent of the terrible Stephen King movie The Langoliers.

[Update: Aspiring video directors, take note. The band will partner with Google to allow fans to make "remixes" of the video footage; there is a specific YouTube page dedicated to the new versions as well as an iGoogle gadget that lets you stream the videos on your web site. Fun.]

Via the UK Guardian comes a "making-of" video that's actually slightly more interesting than the video iteslf. Watch that after the jump.

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Hey Buffy Fans: Joss Whedon Back with Online Special

| Mon Jul. 14, 2008 2:55 PM EDT

mojo-photo-horrible.jpgIt turns out some people put their down time during the recent writers' strike to good use: Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon got around the TV- or film-writing prohibition by penning a musical for the intertubes. Because that's what you do, right? The result is "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog," a 75-minute superhero spoof starring Neil Patrick Harris (!) as a maniacal supervillain, or at least someone who wishes he was a maniacal supervillain. The miniseries was produced on the cheap, using affordable (and sometimes real) locations, and Whedon fans will be pleased to know it features some old Buffy, Angel, Serenity and Firefly cast and crew. You'll be able to watch it for free at the Dr. Horrible web site, but the schedule is a little tricky: Act One debuts tomorrow (Tuesday, 7/15), Act Two starts Thursday, July 17th, and Act Three will be posted Saturday, July 19th. The videos will stay up on the site for free viewing through Sunday, July 20th, at which time Whedon promises they will "vanish into the night like a phantom." Or, maybe they'll be available on DVD or something.

[Update: Well, it turns out "Dr. Horrible" is pretty terrible at javascript too, or something, since there have been a ton of problems since the first episode went live at midnight. International viewers can't seem to use the site's Hulu player, the promised iTunes download apparently doesn't work, and overwhelming traffic crashed the main website, drhorrible.com, this morning. As of 3:30pm Pacific time, the site is still down. Boy, remember when you'd turn on this box across from your couch and shows would just be there? Those were the days...]

Joe Biden, Conference Call Performance Artist

| Mon Jul. 14, 2008 12:58 PM EDT

biden.jpg The Obama campaign just held a conference call on Iraq as part of its current effort to reassure leery Democrats that Obama is not going soft on his commitment to withdrawal. The call built on an op-ed that Obama published in the New York Times this morning and featured Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware and Susan Rice, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under Bill Clinton and a senior Obama adviser on foreign policy. Both surrogates have a very serious chance at top appointments in an Obama Administration, including Secretary of State.

The content of the call, like most of these calls, was completely predictable. John McCain is wrong on Iraq, has been wrong on Iraq, and will continue to be wrong on Iraq. Barack Obama is right on Iraq, has been right on Iraq, and will continue to be right on Iraq. Any suggestion that Barack Obama is changing his position on Iraq is wrong.

But you know what isn't wrong? Joe Biden's performances as a campaign surrogate. The man is famously gabby and pugilistic, and he proved it today. Here are his thoughts on John McCain.

Envisioning a President Obama After September 11

| Mon Jul. 14, 2008 11:46 AM EDT

obama-flag.jpg From Ryan Lizza's new piece in the New Yorker, we get Obama's public reaction to the World Trade Center attacks, published in the Hyde Park Herald on Sept. 19:

Even as I hope for some measure of peace and comfort to the bereaved families, I must also hope that we as a nation draw some measure of wisdom from this tragedy. Certain immediate lessons are clear, and we must act upon those lessons decisively. We need to step up security at our airports. We must reexamine the effectiveness of our intelligence networks. And we must be resolute in identifying the perpetrators of these heinous acts and dismantling their organizations of destruction.
We must also engage, however, in the more difficult task of understanding the sources of such madness. The essence of this tragedy, it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity and suffering of others. Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity. It may find expression in a particular brand of violence, and may be channeled by particular demagogues or fanatics. Most often, though, it grows out of a climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair.
We will have to make sure, despite our rage, that any U.S. military action takes into account the lives of innocent civilians abroad. We will have to be unwavering in opposing bigotry or discrimination directed against neighbors and friends of Middle Eastern descent. Finally, we will have to devote far more attention to the monumental task of raising the hopes and prospects of embittered children across the globe—children not just in the Middle East, but also in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and within our own shores.

I'll let you decide for yourself it that's the attitude you'd want a Commander-in-Chief to take in the face of national tragedy.

Hi, Me Again. Afghanistan Is Going Poorly

| Mon Jul. 14, 2008 10:49 AM EDT

Just FYI, nine American soldiers were killed by Taliban insurgents in the worst attack against Americans in Afghanistan in three years. We're in danger of losing that country. Does anyone you know care?