A few days before departing Afghanistan for his meeting Wednesday in Washington with President Obama, Hamid Karzai announced the second of his two vice presidential picks: Mohammad Qasim Fahim, former leader of the militant group Jamiat-e-Islami. Fahim is a deeply controversial figure accused of numerous human rights violations during his time as a militia commander during the Afghan civil war. Human Rights Watch says that, by picking him, Karzai is "insulting the country." In 2005, the group put out a report called "Blood-Stained Hands," (.pdf) which found "credible and consistent evidence" that Jamiat-e-Islami had been involved in "widespread and systematic human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law."

Fahim previously served as Afghanistan's vice president in the years immediately following the 2001 US invasion, but was ousted by Karzai in 2004 in favor of Ahmad Zia Massood, brother of the slain Afghan commander Ahmad Shah Massood, assassinated by Al Qaeda just days before 9/11. Why the Afghan president has decided to resuscitate Fahim's political career was among the questions I posed Wednesday to Karzai's brother Mahmood, who spoke with me by phone from Afghanistan. He defended his brother's VP choice, describing Fahim as a true Afghan patriot. Some edited excerpts from our conversation:

Quote of the Day - 5.6.09

From Governor John Baldacci of Maine, after signing a law allowing same-sex marriage:

"In the past, I opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions.  I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage."

Good for him.  But I wonder if this is an example of how gay marriage opponents are going to end up losing this battle entirely when they could have won at least a partial victory if they'd been less strident in their opposition.  If they had actively supported civil unions, that could have become the de facto standard across the country, accepted by courts and legislatures alike.  But the ferocity of their opposition to any form of marriage equality might have been instrumental in convincing a lot of people like Baldacci that half measures are impossible.  And if half measures are impossible, then full marriage rights are the only alternative.

In the long run, maybe none of this matters.  But in the medium term, marriage opponents have adopted an attitude of such extreme intolerance that fewer and fewer people want anything to do with them.  And with that, the cultural battle was lost.

The Bailout Makes A Profit*

There's good news and bad news. The good news is that the $700 billion bank bailout has finally made a profit. The bad news is that it's for this week.

Paul Keil at ProPublica reports that $125.2 million came in and only $45.5 million went out through the bailout program over the last week, for a "profit" of $79.7 million. More from Keil:

In American Violet, Roses for Nicole Beharie

In a homespun start to the movie American Violet, Dee Roberts (the exceptional Nicole Beharie), a young mother of four, lovingly waters her potted violets. Before the roots have drunk their share, a police task force has swooped into Dee's housing project in Melody, TX, and conducted a military-style raid. Dee's daughter, caught in the eye of the storm, holds her grandmother's heirloom pottery in the parking lot. There are gunmen on all sides. She is saved; the dish breaks. This overwrought metaphor of family ruin is realized when Dee is then arrested at the diner where she works, charged with distributing narcotics in a school zone.

Once in jail, Dee is assigned to a court-appointed lawyer who, the film suggests, is really there to represent the local DA's interests in furthering prosecutions. Claiming that the police have incriminating audio tapes, the lawyer urges Dee to accept a plea bargain that would spring her from jail. But Dee will have none of it. Innocent, she'd rather wait it out in jail than accept a guilty plea that would label her a felon and deny her future government assistance. Who will win, Dee or the slimy DA? Is the answer a surprise?

Who Ran the Memory Hole?

Back in 2005, when he was counselor to the secretary of state, Philip Zelikow wrote a memo suggesting that the legal basis for torturing terror suspects was pretty shaky.  It didn't go over well: "The White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo," he wrote a few days ago over at FP's Shadow Government blog.

Fine.  But who tried to send Zelikow's memo down the memory hole?  Can you guess?

Zelikow tells Mother Jones that he doesn't know for sure who in the White House ordered the suppression of his memo, but he says that his "supposition at the time" was that the office of Vice President Dick Cheney was behind the cover-up. In an email exchange with Mother Jones, Zelikow notes that Cheney's office did not have the authority to request that his memo be deep-sixed: "They didn't run the interagency process. Such a request would more likely have come from the White House Counsel's office or from NSC staff." But that request did not reach him in written form. "It was conveyed to me, and I ignored it," Zelikow recalls. But he suspected that Team Cheney was probably behind it.

Democrats in Congress want to try to find a copy of Zelikow's memo, and they also want to try to find any record of who ordered the memo destroyed.  Stay tuned.

I've recently had to spend a great deal of time on the Web site of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. The ONDCP is, frankly, fascinating. It's a source of an incredible amount of information. Of course, it is not always the information you're actually looking for, but it is thrilling all the same.

It contains, for instance, the office's official list of drug street names. Below, let's see what the least drug friendly institution on the planet has decided to let concerned citizens know about the "word on the street." What's today's lingo?

The Daily Beast is reporting on Barry Levinson's new documentary about the good and bad of celebrity political involvement, something most of us have probably been long of two minds about.

While I automatically dismiss the right wingers like Tom Selleck, Bo Derek and Pat Sajak, even the lefties often give me the heebie jeebies. I still get nauseous when I remember Susan Dey on some talk show in the 80s stage-weeping while talking about "looking into the eyes of the homeless." Puh-leez. Just another stage for their never-ending need for attention, their belief in their own press reports and the conviction that they hadn't really needed the educations they never got before heading to Hollywood. Still, it's undeniable that celebrity helps, even more so when it's a celebrity of substance, like Susan Sarandon or Oprah. If only there were more of them. Here's a good nugget supporting this point:

 

The First Gay Supreme Court Justice?

President Obama may be considering nominating the first openly gay Supreme Court justice, Marc Ambinder reports. "Two of the the most qualified center-left jurists in the country are gay," he writes, "and they've got friends in high places."

The nomination of a gay person to the Supreme Court would, needless to say, represent a watershed moment in American history. But it would be even more significant if Obama didn't reference the person's sexuality as a factor. By nominating a highly-qualified jurist who just happens to be gay, Obama would be forcing conservatives to confront how they really feel about gays in society. Most conservatives who oppose gay rights insist that they are not homophobic. Instead, they are fighting against "special privileges" for gay people and defending "traditional marriage" from attack. The Supreme Court vacancy presents an interesting opportunity for Obama to call their bluff.

Chart of the Day - 5.6.2009

Via Alex Tabarrok, this comes from Catherine Rampell over at Economix.  It's either (a) genuinely fascinating or (b) a horrible abuse of crude chartmaking based on minimal data.

I think I'll vote for (a).  Due to an intestinal ailment in my 20s, I used to have to eat very slowly.  The result was just what you'd expect: I'd feel full pretty quickly and therefore didn't eat very much.

Around age 25, however, some clever doctor finally figured out what was wrong with me, prescribed a proton pump inhibitor (which sounded pretty space agey until my high school chemistry came back to me and I realized that "proton" is just another word for "acid"), and I've been fine ever since.  I can wolf down food as fast as the next guy.  Result: I eat dinner in about 20 minutes and I'm 30 or 40 pounds overweight.

Of course, I'm also 25 years older, and you might think that has something to do with my weight gain too.  Probably so.  But it still makes sense to me that slower eating habits lead to lower food intake.  That doesn't mean I'm eager to adopt the Italian habit of spending four hours over dinner, a practice that drove me nuts whenever I visited Italy on business, but it might not hurt.

Still, what's with the Turks?  They make the French and Italians look like pikers.  Are they just congenitally bored over there, or what?

Important Superhero-Related News

Last December, Rolling Stone published a profile of a Florida man who calls himself "Master Legend." Who is Master Legend? A man "hellbent on battling evil." RS's Joshua Bearman (whose name sounds like he's a superhero himself) explains:

When Master Legend bursts into a sprint, as he often does, his long, unruly hair flows behind him. His mane is also in motion when he's behind the wheel of the Battle Truck, a 1986 Nissan pickup with a missing rear window and "ML" spray-painted on the hood. He and the Ace head off to patrol their neighborhood on the outskirts of Orlando, scanning the street for evildoers. "I don't go looking for trouble," Master Legend shouts above the engine. "But if you want some, you'll get it!"

Then he hands me his business card, which says:

Master Legend
Real Life Super Hero
"At Your Service"

If there was a flaw in Bearman's awesome piece, it was that he didn't really grapple with the possibility that, as The Dark Knight and Watchmen taught us, the existence of real-life superheroes might lead to the emergence of real-life supervillains. Unfortunately for us mere mortals, I have some bad news: our worst fears have become reality. Mother Jones has learned (via io9) that a supervillain going only by the initial "E" has put a bounty on the real identity of Shadowhare, a Cincinatti, Ohio ally of Master Legend (that's him in the photo). There's not just one villain, either—"E" claims to be part of a Consortium of Evil. (Not to be confused with the Media Consortium, of which Mother Jones is a member.) The bounty is $10 so far (offered on Craigslist), but if we know anything about supervillains, it's that they have access to unlimited resources. This is probably just the beginning.

(Our extensive past coverage of superheroes includes this awesome photo essay. Check it out.)