Monday, August 30, 2010

'If they're gonna use it, they're gonna use it.'

Colorado cop and DARE officer Vern Rucker probably didn't set out to undercut the stated purpose for the war on drugs when he spoke to the reporter for the Cortez Journal, a paper located in a small town in the southwestern part of the state. But that's just what Rucker did, thoroughly undermining one of the key rationales for the war when asked what effect the presence of licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in Cortez would have on rates of usage among Our Most Precious Natural Resource, the damned kids:
"I don't think (the presence of medical marijuana dispensaries) has anything to do with it," he said. "If they're gonna use it, they're gonna use it. They don't have to have a card. They just go get it."
Exactly. On behalf of drug legalization advocates the world over: thanks for making our case, Officer Rucker!  Now here's an organization you might be interested in.

Monday, August 23, 2010

New gig

Beginning September 7th, I'll be working full-time for, writing about issues like the war on drugs, police abuse and the evils of the U.S. prison system; that is, about everything I pretty much rant about in my free time, except now I'll actually get paid for it. I'm not quite sure what the jobs means for this here blog, as my desire to write about injustices in the world is very likely to be satiated by my day job for the first time in my life, but I'd expect a bit less posting over the coming months.

I'll still find the time to mock Tom Friedman, though -- of that I am a sure.

As for the new gig, I expect everyone reading this post to visit the site I'll soon be editing,, and send me any scathing (but constructive!) observations that cross your mind -- what's good, what sucks; could it use a blog? Should a certain issue be covered more? -- by emailing me. And don't let me down: I've got a lot riding on you all making me look smarter and better informed than I really am. I need this.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Because it's Friday . . .

. . . and life's too short to let Sarah Palin or Barack Obama ruin your weekend, I'm posting a music video from At the Drive-In, a band from El Paso that broke up almost immediately after I got into them*. Not that the subject matter covered in this one will cheer you up either.

At The Drive-In - Invalid Litter Dept
Uploaded by poum. - Watch more music videos, in HD!

*Still bitter about that. And yeah, I know all about Mars Volta (and Sparta), but it's not the same.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Petraeus declares Afghan war strategy 'fundamentally sound'

NATO troops and civilians, particularly women and children, are dying in ever-increasing numbers as a result of the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan, but General-Scholar-Saint David Petraeus -- doing what he does best: public relations -- is confident of Victory, according to a recent interview he gave to The Washington Post:
In his first six weeks as the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus has seen insurgent attacks on coalition forces spike to record levels, violence metastasize to previously stable areas, and the country's president undercut anti-corruption units backed by Washington.
But after burrowing into operations here and traveling to the far reaches of this country, Petraeus has concluded that the U.S. strategy to win the nearly nine-year-old war is "fundamentally sound."
Petraeus' assessment might reassure the editors of the Post and other supporters of the war among the media elite, but it brings to mind a previous, equally bold profession of confidence that was almost immediately regretted: Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) assertion on the campaign trail in August 2008 that, despite all evidence to the contrary, "the fundamentals of our economy are strong."

I get the feeling this will not end well.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

In defense of Rand Paul (no, seriously)

Democratic candidate for Senate Jack Conway (right) draws a police officer's attention to a group of pot-smoking hippies in need of incarceration.

Jack Conway, the Democratic candidate for Senate in Kentucky, is a Very Reasonable Liberal running against the crazy, kooky Republican nominee Rand Paul. Being sensible and mainstream, Conway -- who as attorney general has overseen a state prison population that has grown 45 percent over the last decade, one of the fastest rate's in the nation -- believes the best solution to the "problem" of people who prefer smoking a joint to drinking Kentucky bourbon is imprisonment. As I said, he's a very reasonable man.

As the sensible one in the race -- did I mention Rand Paul once, OMG!#!EXTREMIST!!, smoked pot and engaged in stupid pranks while in college? -- Conway has gone on the attack against his opponent for outrageously suggesting that maybe, you know, the whole federal war on drugs thing has been a huge waste of money (editor's note: and lives).

"Rand will handcuff local sheriffs trying to combat the drug epidemic, and I will make sure Kentucky's law enforcement has the tools they need to protect our families," Conway said in response to Paul's proposal to cut federal aid to state drug enforcement programs, according to a humorously slanted, drug-traffickers-will-rape-your-blonde-haired-and-blue-eyed-children account from the AP. "That's my record as attorney general, and that's what I'll do in Washington."

Now, if Paul really was proposing to handcuff local sheriffs, I might actually consider breaking my whole no-voting thing and becoming a Kentucky Tea Party activist. What he is suggesting, though, is only that "issues like drug use and abuse are best dealt with at the local level." Scary.

Of course, Paul has plenty of actually silly and stupid ideas, having enjoyed The Fountainhead a bit too much as a young man, and has said a number of actually silly and stupid things -- like arguing oil giant and global asshole BP was somehow being unfairly treated in the wake of its destruction of the Gulf of Mexico. He also rather, uh, inarticulately defended his philosophical opposition to a piece of 1960s-era civil rights legislation, to put it mildly.

What's interesting, though, is that Paul has been called a no-good dirty racist for opposing a law that has absolutely no chance of going anywhere while his opponent, Jack Conway, has been lauded by all Right Thinking progressives even as he demagogically defends a federal war on drugs that has led the U.S. to have the largest prison population in the history of the world -- disproportionately affecting Hispanics and African-Americans, who are jailed at a rate roughly twice that of whites.

Rand Paul may be a racist, I don't really know, but it's his Democratic opponent who is grandstanding on behalf of a policy that is actually racist in its implementation. If only the professional left got as angry about that as they do about fucking Aqua Buddha.

Image courtesy of the Conway campaign.

UPDATE: Just to make this abundantly clear: Rand Paul is still a total prick, as evidenced by his recent statement that he opposes the legalization of marijuana, even for medicinal purposes. My intention was merely to point out that his ostensibly more liberal opponent viciously attacked him over his opposition to federal funding for the drug war in the silliest fashion possible, and that Democratic partisans who had attacked Paul as a racist have said nothing about his opponent's outspoken support for -- and background enforcing as attorney general -- a policy that disproportionately impacts minorities.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Yeah, told ya

Yesterday I pointed out that -- misleading spin dutifully regurgitated by The New York Times aside -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates is not proposing any actual cuts in total Pentagon spending, but is rather seeking to reshuffle funds so he can spend more money on killing poor foreigners Defending America and less on the military bureaucracy itself, with the military one of the few institutions immune from budget cutbacks amid the ongoing recession. Despite this, I noted it was readily apparent that the GOP (and more than a few Democrats) would blast the out-of-control-commies in the White House for risking the lives of good, god-fearing Americans by spending marginally less on some politician's pet weapons system.

From Businessweek, the oh-too-predictable fallout from Gates' announcement:
Republican Rep. J. Randy Forbes was livid at the decision, calling it "further evidence of this administration allowing its budget for social change to determine defense spending."
"What we are witnessing is the piecemeal auctioning off of the greatest military the world has ever known," he said.
[Virgina Republican Gov. Bob] McDonnell shared Forbes' sentiment, saying he sensed a fundamental reordering of priorities by the Obama administration.
"When I see the federal mandates being put on Virginia by various federal legislation, when I see spending growing at $1.16 trillion a year, it appears to me that there are being cuts in defense made to fund other programs that are, in my view, much less important," McDonnell said.
I know actual facts have no place in politics, but worth pointing out: President Obama is spending more on the U.S. military than George W. Bush ever did, with his administration seeking a record $708 billion in defense budget for 2011 -- excluding the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Because the godless Blue Team is in power, I understand that Republicans are legally bound to blast the administration for engaging in cr-a-zy liberal social engineering no matter what they do; they'd have a stronger case, though, if they noted that social engineering is primarily taking place in Kabul, not Kansas.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Who's cutting what now?

According to The New York Times, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has just announced a plan "to cut billions of dollars from the Pentagon budget." Great! With states running massive budget deficits and the official unemployment rate hovering around double-digits, what better time could there be to "trim back on unaffordable defense spending," as the Times puts it in its lede, right?

Except, of course, no one's talking about actually cutting the amount spent on the Defense Department. In fact, all Gates is proposing is basically reshuffling the money the Pentagon spends on its army of private contractors and retired advisers so it can spend more on its military occupations overseas. The Times, though, waits until the 12th paragraph to inform us of that:
The goal is to convert as much as 2 percent or 3 percent of spending from “tail” to “tooth” — military slang for support services and combat forces. Mr. Gates argued that if Congress guaranteed a 1 percent increase in real defense spending over years to come, the savings he seeks would be reinvested in the combat forces and would be sufficient to pay for national defense.

The budget measures go beyond what many previous defense secretaries have done to cut redundancies and inefficiencies.

But they do not represent an actual decline in year-to-year total spending.
So despite the fact Gates is not actually slashing spending -- the announced cuts merely intended to insulate his department from calls for real reductions at a time when cities are turning off their streetlights in a desperate attempt to save money -- the paper of record acts as if the big story is that a few DOD bureaucrats and contractors may lose their jobs rather than the offensive reality that the department is immune from budget cuts during the worst recession in decades, presenting the Defense Secretary as a stern, committed budget-cutter while neglecting the crucial detail that his vaunted cuts are simply part of an attempt to free up more tax dollars for killing people in Iraq and Afghanistan (and for not-so-covert ops in Iran, Yemen and Somalia).

Perhaps the most depressing aspect of it all? I fully expect to see a press release from the Republican National Committee tomorrow and impassioned speeches on the floor of Congress denouncing the Obama administration for "cutting defense spending" and putting us all at risk of Another 9/11 (TM); real men know that if you aren't going to increase war funding by at least 10 percent a year you might as well wave the white flag and surrender to the terrorists, after all. And so the charade continues.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Two completely, entirely unrelated stories

The United Nations peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL) has determined that the Israeli, tree-trimming soldiers who were fired upon by the Lebanese army near the border fence between the two countries were in fact operating on Israeli soil, a development that appears to be a significant diplomatic victory for the Jewish state. Reacting to the news, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the findings proved that the "Lebanese attack on our forces was both unprovoked and unjustified."

Meanwhile, in a completely unrelated story, a "Palestinian militant" was killed and another wounded on Wednesday after being shelled by the IDF, according to Reuters. "The Israeli military said aircraft fired on a group of Palestinians who had approached the Gaza border fence, where army patrols sometimes come under gun or bomb ambushes." I wonder if the UN will weigh in?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Simon v. Simon

In a piece published this week in The Washington Post, Council on Foreign Relations fellows Steve Simon -- a former member of the National Security Council under President Clinton -- and Ray Takeyh lay out what has been derided as a "'how-to-bomb Iran' manual," detailing a scenario where "diplomacy has run its course" and "reliable intelligence" (ha!) indicates that Tehran's alleged nuclear weapons program "is very close to reaching its goal."

"Facing such conditions, would Obama use force against Iran?" the authors write before, in typical establishment fashion, casually listing the factors the president should consider before launching another preemptive war over the purported threat of weapons of mass destruction (none of them having to do with dead Iranians, of course). "First, there is the United Nations to consider," Simon and Takeyh argue, suggesting the major European powers would likely balk at authorizing the conflict, preferring another round of sanctions to out-and-out war. "Domestic consensus would be critical as well," they add, as "[o]ne of the tragedies of American history is that presidents have too often entangled the country in conflicts without forthright conversation with the public." I would argue that too often presidents have entangled the country in conflicts that had absolutely no moral justification, but then I'm not employed by the Council on Foreign Relations.

"The views and reactions of the Arab world would also be relevant," they write -- how thoughtful! -- and as Obama "contemplated the use of force, the administration's decision-making would be further complicated by the need for a plan to unwind military hostilities and make sure a confrontation did not escalate out of control."

Though "the world imagined here may not constitute destiny," Simon and Takeyh conclude, "it will be hard to escape."

Now, there are several problems with the essay, despite the fact that it is not as outrageously blood-thirsty and ludicrous as, say, your typical Commentary magazine call for war. But as Inter Press Service's Ali Gharib notes, that might actually be one of the most troubling aspects of the piece, as it adds the appearance of a respectable, liberal veneer to the idea of attacking Iran over a nuclear weapons program even the U.S. intelligence community says doesn't exist. It suggests that reasonable, serious people consider preemptively attacking Iran to be a reasonable, serious policy option. But rather than engage in a long-winded debunking of the piece myself, I thought it might be useful to note an Op-Ed published in The New York Times, "Bombs That Would Backfire," that pretty much makes my case for me.

"We would like to believe that the administration is not intent on starting another war, because a conflict with Iran could be even more damaging to our interests than the current struggle in Iraq has been," the article begins. "A brief look at history shows why":
"Now, as in the mid-90's, any United States bombing campaign would simply begin a multi-move, escalatory process. Iran could respond three ways. First, it could attack Persian Gulf oil facilities and tankers — as it did in the mid-1980's — which could cause oil prices to spike above $80 dollars a barrel.
Second and more likely, Iran could use its terrorist network to strike American targets around the world, including inside the United States. . . .  
Third, Iran is in a position to make our situation in Iraq far more difficult than it already is. The Badr Brigade and other Shiite militias in Iraq could launch a more deadly campaign against . . . American troops. There is every reason to believe that Iran has such a retaliatory shock wave planned and ready."
Further, "No matter how Iran responded, the question that would face American planners would be, 'What's our next move?' How do we achieve so-called escalation dominance, the condition in which the other side fears responding because they know that the next round of American attacks would be too lethal for the regime to survive?"

Finally, "how would bombing Iran serve American interests?" the authors ask. "In over a decade of looking at the question, no one has ever been able to provide a persuasive answer."

The authors? The Council on Foreign Relation's Steve Simon and Richard Clarke, the former top counter-terrorism official in the Clinton and Bush administrations, writing back in 2006 amid speculation the Bush administration was itching for another invasion. A year later, Simon echoed the same points in an interview with me that aired on Connecticut public radio station WSHU, criticizing as ludicrous the argument from Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) at the time that the U.S. needed to take "military action to stop the Iranians from carrying out a deadly proxy war against American troops in Iraq." I liked that Steve Simon. Perhaps he and Steve Simon should have a chat?

Monday, August 02, 2010

Lack of self-awareness watch

Emboldened by the fact that U.S. troops have gone a whole four months without being caught digging bullets out of the bodies of Afghan women they murdered, Admiral Michael Mullen, the top ranking U.S. military official, took to the airwaves Sunday to denounce Wikileaks founder Julian Assange for releasing more than 90,000 documents chronicling the failing war effort in Afghanistan:
"Mr. Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family."
Worth noting: A little over a year after Mullen was appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in October 2007, U.S. warplanes "bombed a wedding party, killing 37 people, including 23 children and 10 women," as USA Today recounts. Meanwhile, more than 740 U.S. troops have died in that time. So who is it again that has the blood of some young solider or Afghan family on their hands?

(h/t John Caruso)