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Record Opium Crop Funding Resurgent Taliban

| Tue May 13, 2008 5:58 PM EDT

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Going on seven years since U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan and sent the Taliban running, opium production in that country—the primary source of funding for Islamist fighters—has grown beyond anyone's imagination. During its reign, the Taliban regulated the heroin trade, strictly enforcing production quotas and making certain that they got a cut of every ounce sold. Oddly enough, the existence of a narco-state kept the size of the crop under control, relatively speaking. Now that the bearded clerics are gone (at least temporarily), market forces have taken over and poppy cultivation has exploded.

According to a report released today by the National Security Network (NSN), Afghanistan's poppy crop, in terms of the acreage of land used for its cultivation, goes beyond anything Colombia's cocaine kings would dare to dream. It's the country's largest export, worth more than $4 billion per year and employing some 3.3 million Afghans. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that last year's harvest was of "unprecedented size in modern times and unseen since the opium boom in China during the nineteenth century." So much for the War on Drugs.

An excerpt from the NSN report:

In plain view of the United States and the international community, the opium trade is overwhelming Afghanistan's legitimate government. The facts are stunning: in 2001, after a Taliban ban on poppy cultivation, Afghanistan only produced 11 percent of the world's opium. Today it produces 93 percent of the global crop; the drug trade accounts for half of its GDP; and nearly one in seven Afghans is involved in the opium trade. In Afghanistan, more land is being used for poppy cultivation than for coca cultivation in all of Latin America. The trade strengthens the government's enemies and – unless its large place in the Afghan economy is permanently curtailed by crop replacements and anti-poverty efforts – poses a potentially fatal obstacle to keeping the country stable and peaceful.
Afghanistan is caught in a vicious cycle. The fall of the Taliban brought the end of their highly coercive crop reduction program. A combination of U.S. inattention and widespread insecurity and poverty allowed poppy cultivation to explode. As the opium economy expanded, it spread corruption and empowered anti-government forces, undermining the Afghan state, leading to more poverty and instability, which in turn only served to further entrench the drug trade. Meanwhile the illicit activity has been a boon to the Taliban insurgency, which has traditionally used poppy cultivation as a lever to improve its own position. Today, the Taliban relies on opium revenues to purchase weapons, train its members, and buy support.


Photo used under a Creative Commons license from laughlin.

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Adelson Questioned by Israeli Detectives As Part of Olmert Bribery Probe

| Tue May 13, 2008 4:12 PM EDT

Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson was questioned today by Israeli fraud squad detectives in connection with their fast moving probe of possibly illegal payments from an American businessman to Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert. Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reports:

Fraud squad detectives on Tuesday questioned American real estate mogul Sheldon Adelson in connection to the new corruption investigation into Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Adelson, 73, earned his fortune developing huge hotel, convention and gambling properties in Las Vegas and, recently, in China.
The billionaire was asked whether Olmert had requested he acquire for his hotels mini-bars marketed the key witness in the probe, American Jewish businessman Morris Talansky, from whom the prime minister is suspected of illicitly accepting large sums of cash.
Adelson is one of the owners of the free Israeli daily Israel Hayom paper and is considered a close associate of opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli media report that a second American businessman, Daniel Abrams, has also been questioned by Israeli fraud police as part of the same investigation. "Daniel Abrams is suspected of transferring money from New York financier Morris Talansky to Olmert," the Jerusalem Post reported. "Abrams, a broadcast executive and former news correspondent, is also allegedly involved in two other scandals involving the prime minister - the Bank Leumi affair and the case of Olmert's Jerusalem home purchase."

World leaders including President Bush are descending on Israel these days for events to mark the country's 60th anniversary, including a conference slated to feature Bush and Olmert hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres.


(Photograph of Adelson via Ha'aretz).

McCain Confuses Voters (and Himself?) on Spending Cuts

| Tue May 13, 2008 3:11 PM EDT

John McCain either (1) has gotten himself so confused about earmarks that he no longer has a coherent plan to cut spending, or (2) has intentionally been uttering obfuscations on the subject that make voters falsely think that his anti-earmark jihad is going to balance the budget. Either way, this discussion of McCain's plans (that word is too generous) to cut spending needs to be read.

For Mother Jones on earmarks, see here and here.

Brent Scowcroft on the Cuba Embargo: "It Doesn't Do Anything"

| Tue May 13, 2008 12:33 PM EDT

Brent Scowcroft, the dean of George H. W. Bush's foreign policy brain trust, was, as you likely know by now, in favor of the first Gulf War and the war in Afganistan but was opposed to the Iraq War from before it began. Though a Republican, he has shown the flexibility and disdain for ideology that comes from being a true adherent of the realist approach to foreign policy.

That doesn't just apply to the Middle East. Here he is talking to Steve Clemons about the long-standing Cuba embargo:

If you couldn't hear the soft-spoken Mr. Scowcroft, here's what he said: "My answer on Cuba is Cuba is not a foreign policy question. Cuba is a domestic issue. In foreign policy, the embargo makes no sense. It doesn't do anything. It's quite clear we can not starve Cuba to death. We learned that when the Soviet stopped subsidizing Cuba and they didn't collapse. It's a domestic issue."

What he's saying is that domestic politics, embodied in this case by the powerful and hard-line Cuban exile lobby in Florida that no politician with national ambitions can alienate, is keeping the embargo in place. Common sense, on the other hand, suggests that decades of the embargo have not produced any results in the island nation, other than a less prosperous and less healthy Cuban people. After all, Castro is leaving on his own terms and has hand-picked his successor.

You never know. With Scowcroft and Obama on board for reform, common sense may pull off a come from behind victory.

Which Dictators Are Too Awful?

| Tue May 13, 2008 12:20 PM EDT

We blogged the other day about how two McCain staffers, including one who was supposed to run the Republican convention in Minneapolis, were booted from the campaign because they had lobbied for the repressive military junta in Burma.

Turns out, the staffer who was supposed to run the convention, Doug Goodyear, was actually McCain's second choice. His first choice was Paul Manafort (naturally, a lobbyist), who had to be removed from consideration because he too had lobbied for authoritarian figures, specifically Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos and former Ukrainian prime minister Viktor Yanukovich.

Okay, it's a bit odd that McCain can only seem to find shills for dictators to run his campaign. But what's even more odd is that Charlie Black, one of McCain's most senior and most loyal aides, also worked for Ferdinand Marcos, as we reported yesterday. In fact, he's worked for Marcos, Zaire dictator Mobuto Sese Seko, Somalia's Mohamed Siad Barre, and Nigeria's Ibrahim Babangida.

Either there is something particularly objectionable about Viktor Yanukovich, or John McCain is willing to selectively punish moral outrage. If you lobby for dictators and are easily replaceable, you're out the door. If you lobby for dictators but you are McCain's right hand man, you get to stay.

MoJo Nukes Convo: Harvey Wasserman Highlights

| Tue May 13, 2008 12:08 PM EDT

harvey-wasserman.jpgHarvey Wasserman, author of Solartopia! Our Green Powered Earth, is an anti-nuclear activist. Wasserman feels that nuclear is a "costly and dangerous curse from previous bad decision-making." Nuclear is costly, he says, not only fiscally but environmentally. "The radioactive fuel chain is a major cause of global warming," Wasserman says. Instead, he suggests we embrace wind and solar power, which are "already proven and cheaper."

Below are highlights from Wasserman from MoJo's recent expert-led online reader conversation:

"Since you have quoted a Rockefeller study, how about we quote Al Gore, in a letter (to me) dated November 3, 2000:

'Thank you for your recent inquiry regarding nuclear energy and the Kyoto Protocol. Let me restate for you my long held policy with regard to nuclear energy. I do not support any increased reliance on nuclear energy. Moreover, I have disagreed with those who would classify nuclear energy as clean or renewable. In fact, you will note that the electricity restructuring legislation proposed by the [Clinton] Administration specifically excluded both nuclear and large scale hydro-energy, and instead promoted increased investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy. It is my view that climate change policies should do the same....Al Gore'

This letter is posted at the www.nirs.org web site, where answers to many of the other questions raised in this dialog can be found."

"There is more nuke than solar/wind capacity in the US not because of market forces favoring nukes, but because the US government, initally at the behest of the nuke weapons industry, has poured hundreds of billions into the technology."

"I have seen far too many containment domes to have any faith in any of them. No other kind of industrial facility can inflict the kind of damage that can come from a nuke."

"There is a reason there seems to be little middle ground in these nukes versus renewables debates, which is that there really isn't any."

"The critique of corporations is simple: corporations in the country have human rights, but no human responsibilities."

And here are what a few readers had to say about Wasserman:
"Harvey, I try to approach issues with an open mind. Keeping an open mind means maintaining a healthy disinterestedness, [but] I have run out of tolerance for your emotionally-laden sloganeering. Who are you to define what gets to be harmonious and what must be war? Sun and wind as love from the earth? The sun causes cancer. Wind becomes hurricanes that destroy cities."—Jonathan Severdia

"The problem with your perspective is that it's not being implemented, not by SMUD, not by anyone. If you look at who IS building wind-farms and solar (CPS) it's all the same utilities you've been screaming about for decades:FPL, PG&E, etc."—David Walters

"If you read Henry Wasserman's comments in his profile, it is OBVIOUS he knows what he's talking about, and is CORRECT in his assessment. An to anyone oblivious to the dangers that are posed merely from design flaws and human error...read about Chernobyl and gain an understanding of the loss that will impact literally generations and generations and generations."—Mike

"I gather that you are not enthusiastic about coal, so, without nuclear, how can we produce baseload power to meet projected demand? Massive solar thermal may do the trick for the Southwest, but how do we provide for Buffalo, Minneapolis & Flint?" —Douglas Price

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Obama Goes General

| Tue May 13, 2008 10:48 AM EDT

In every interview he does, Barack Obama insists that the primary is not over and that Senator Clinton is still a formidable opponent.

But his actions suggest he is moving on to the general election. He's already launched a 50-state voter registration drive. Today he's campaigning in the general election battleground of Missouri. Tomorrow, Michigan. Next week, Florida. His general election tour effectively starts this week.

Hillary Clinton is going to win West Virginia today by 25-35 points. She'll likely win Kentucky one week from today by the same margin. In his speech tonight and his speech next Tuesday, look for Barack Obama to make only a perfunctory recognition of the results and then use the spotlight to make his general election pitch.

He won't say that the primary is over. The media will say that for him.

Update: Oh, and they're staffing up.

If Superman is a Democrat, Is Batman a Republican?

| Mon May 12, 2008 8:21 PM EDT

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DC Comics has just announced that it's sending its characters into the most terrifying parallel universe yet: the American political system. At a comic-con last week, the publisher's executive editor talked about its upcoming "DC Decisions" series, in which members of the DC universe will declare their partisan affiliations. "Everyone's talking politics; it's an elections year, and we're going to try to see how the characters of our universe react to that," he said, which I think means that his writers have completely run out of material. So now that superheroes are going to start meddling in domestic politics, which way will they swing politically? A few guesses at some of the exciting partisan plot twists to come, after the jump.

Clinton Campaign Keeps On Pushing Bogus Rationale

| Mon May 12, 2008 3:48 PM EDT

On Fox News Sunday, Howard Wolfson, the communications director for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, dismissed talk of Clinton quitting the race and declared, "The voters are going to decide this."

But that's not the true stance of the Clinton campaign. Its plan, as the campaign acknowledged last week, is to persuade the superdelegates that Clinton would be the best candidate in the fall against John McCain. That is, its position is that the superdelegates ought to vote for Clinton no matter what the voters in the Democratic primaries and caucuses decide. And given that it's essentially a mathematical certainty that Obama will end up with more voter-determined delegates, this means that the Clinton camp is actually insisting that superdelegates, not voters, determine the winner.

With Clinton campaigning fiercely in West Virginia, which holds a primary on Tuesday, she has not yet given up. That may happen in the coming weeks or when the primaries end on June 3. But while she remains in the race, she has only one path to the nomination: superdelegates voting against the results of the primaries and caucuses. And her odds are diminishing. Each day, Obama picks up one or more superdelegates, and he now leads among these delegates. So it seems Clinton really has one hope: something happens. (Divine intervention?) All this--staying in the race, targeting superdelegates, waiting for Obama to crash--is within Democratic Party rules. But let's not confuse such a strategy with empowering voters. The Clinton campaign is hoping to draw enough voter support in the final primaries so it can have the opportunity to overturn the will of the voters.

More on McCain's Climate Change Speech Today

| Mon May 12, 2008 3:01 PM EDT

We've already used McCain's record to throw some cold water on his big climate change speech in Oregon. Visit the Wonk Room to see why the location, the North American headquarters of the Danish wind-turbine company Vestas, is so hypocritical. The short version: Republicans in Congress, McCain included, have slashed the United States budget for wind energy since Carter was president, which is why McCain has to speak at a Danish turbine manufacturer instead of an American one.