Our man in Kabul


Note: This blog post shows up on my “old” blog because of the ongoing reconstruction happening at my current residence, Examiner.com.  Unfortunately I am unable to post how I wish at that site at the current time.  Until the new publishing tool is available over there, I will post here at The Moderate every once and again.  Thanks for understanding!  Now, to today’s post…

It seems America’s man in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, has not been playing nice with anti-corruption efforts attempted by the foreign occupiers of his country.  Mark Mazzetti and Rod Nordland have a piece in the New York Times that covers the recent skirmish that’s taking place between Karzai and his handlers in the Obama administration:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is debating whether to make Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, a more central player in efforts to root out corruption in his own government, including giving him more oversight of graft investigators and notifying him before any arrests, according to senior American officials.

Such a change would represent a significant shift in strategy for an administration that once pinned much of the blame for Afghan corruption on Mr. Karzai, but is now worried that escalating tensions between Kabul and Washington could alienate Mr. Karzai and sabotage the broader campaign to battle the Taliban.

After months of cajoling and prodding it seems that the American response to Mr. Karzai’s belligerence is to shrug their shoulders and welcome him into the fold.  Of course it’s impossible to tell the real plan since as usual no one speaking for the administration has the courage to speak on the record:

“The discussion on corruption, in essence, is really a discussion about our relationship with Karzai,” said one senior Obama administration official, who like several others interviewed for this article spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Despite this, the article mentions that Karzai has not exactly been a team player in the past, deliberately intervening in corruption investigations against people in his government.  Even the newest commanding officer in Afghanistan, David Petraeus, doesn’t want too much American involvement in a war that America escalated:

In an interview with ABC News on Tuesday, General Petraeus praised Mr. Karzai’s efforts to fight corruption and said an American anticorruption campaign should not “be seen to threaten the sovereignty of the Afghan government.”

Now that everyone’s on the same page, perhaps it’s time for the Obama administration to finally realize that they have a fatally flawed partner in crime (literally) at the top of the Afghan government.  Until Karzai and his discontents are dealt with, there will be no possibility of securing the population from the Taliban.  This story would seem to indicate that the administration is instead taking the opposite path, to its eternal regret.  Are they still sure this war is totally worth it?

This is a another open letter I penned to my representatives in Congress and my president (here’s my first).  That letter’s advice, encouraging the US to withdraw from Afghanistan, wasn’t really followed so I’m not sure what to expect from this one.  This letter has to do with the environmental catastrophe of global warming, and calls upon my representatives to do much more in this fight through legislation.  I’m posting it here on my old blog since the Minneapolis Examiner tries to dissuade its writers from referring to themselves directly, as I do in this letter.

An open letter to my president and my representatives in the United States Congress:

There is a crisis happening in the world.  It has gone by many names through the decade: “global warming, climate change,” whatever.  The fact is that this crisis is not going away, but is actively being made worse by the massive amount of carbon pollution that the largest fossil-fuel producers continue to spew into the atmosphere.  The BP oil spill is but one example (albeit a large and terrible one) of how this industry essentially has almost as much control over the environment as the federal government does.  This pernicious influence must stop.  As my duly elected representatives in the executive and legislative branch, I call upon you to do much more than the current Congress has.  The threat of global warming is real and must be combated.

The recent defeat of the climate bill was a sound defeat for the environmental movement by the climate deniers and special interests that have come together to destroy any meaningful change.  The bill written by the House of Representatives, while riddled with loopholes and problems, should have received a fair hearing in the Senate.  Instead the Democratic majority decided not to take a vote and let the bill die in process.  This was deeply disappointing on many levels, not the least of them being the fact that as a young adult I will have to deal with the consequences of inaction in Washington.  Senators Franken and Klobuchar, the citizens of Minnesota are counting on you to be strong supporters of a comprehensive bill after the August recess.  Inaction is not a solution to a problem that is not going anywhere.

When the Congress takes up this legislation, it must retain the comprehensive nature of the previous House bill.  First and foremost, the amount of fossil fuels and carbon usage by the United States, which dwarfs that of any other nation, must be rapidly decreased.  Scientists all around the globe agree that the only “safe” amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 350 parts per million.  As the world’s CO2 levels currently reside at around 390 PPM, this must be acted on immediately.  There are many ways to accomplish this, from a cap-and-trade system to a carbon tax.  I believe the simplest way of doing this is through a national carbon tax, placed on consumers directly at the pump and on the largest polluters.  This strategy should be combined with a repeal of the massive subsidies given to the gas and coal industries.  If citizens can actually see the cost of what gassing up their cars is costing both themselves and the planet, this could be a catalyst for change.  Not only that, but a tax on BP for the ultimate clean up of the massive Gulf Spill could also be leveraged into a fund for developing renewable energy.  The large fossil fuel companies, such as Exxon, have claimed to be working on renewable energy plans.  If they were truly held to their word, they would use the extreme profits they gain from the American people to actually invest in these new technologies.  Since they obviously have not, the government must step in and put a price on their product, using the revenue to pay for investments into renewable.  The large carbon industries will not like their market shares being challenged, or their profits being threatened.  But they must realize the damage that will be done should these reforms not take place.

Another important reform to undertake in a climate bill would be a strong investment in renewable energy.  Fossil fuels (coal, oil) are some of the dirtiest sources of power and yet the United States over four decades has done little to nothing to wean citizens off these damaging fuels.  It is unfortunate it’s taken so long for action to take place on this front, but the wheels are slowly turning.  While renewables still make up less than 10% of all energy production in the United States, proper leveraging of power by the federal government against the “old” fuel companies in the form of taxes or other things could help swing the tide toward the use of renewables.  The massive subsidies that currently go toward oil and gas companies could be instead directed (in a smaller amount if necessary) toward funding solar, wind, biofuel, and other promising technologies that can produce energy without emitting carbon.  The United States is on the cusp of what could be a transformation of its energy infrastructure.  Failing to act, as the Senate has done, is not what the American people want from their representatives in the face of future calamities.  The notion of transition is not only economically important (as the US exits the worst recession since the Great Depression), but also important for every other nation on Earth that suffers under the global warming caused by the Western powers.  A new investment into renewable and green technologies, as President Obama has called for, is not only necessary, but right.  Properly done, the US government could help the new American economy lead the world in renewable energy.

Some bring up the fact that President Bush pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol because China would not agree to emissions cutting.  However, even China has now recognized the fact that global warming is occurring, and is moving to creating more renewable sources of energy.  While it’s true that China continues to dig for coal to power its many factories, it is not to say that Beijing does not care about the effect its emissions have on the world at large.  The recent failure at the Copenhagen summit to put in place an enforceable climate standard is regrettable.  But even that failure may set the stage for a full agreement in Mexico in the coming months.  President Obama, you should use your significant leverage as leader of the free (and melting) world to insist that all major polluters sign on.

Speaking of the president, this part of the letter is directed at Mr. Obama.  Sir, I voted for you in 2008 hoping that you actually would help “change” the environment in Washington.  While you have scored significant legislative victories, including the health care bill and the financial regulation bill, on the environment your record is decidedly mixed (why does Ken Salazar still have a job, by the way?).  The federal government’s response to the BP oil spill was downright incompetent.  The fact that the NOAA, BP, and the Feds all conspired to low-ball the estimates of the oil blow out at the beginning does not speak well to your ideas about the government working for all people, not against them or for corporations.  Mr. President, you were handed a once in a lifetime opportunity to both lambast the oil industry for its horrible practices and influence and also call Americans toward the kinds of sacrifices they will need to make to enter into a new, green economy.  Unfortunately, you chose not to do this, speaking mainly in platitudes and deferring the real legislative work to the Congress.  The recent deadlock in the Senate ought to have proven to you that this approach will not work.  What the American people need is the president out in front on this issue, appealing to Americans as previous presidents have done.  What we need, Sir is a call to action.  The renewable sector has not thus far been a player in how America gets its energy.   What may be necessary is for the federal government to actively get involved in creating job programs that will help this sector get the economic muscle it needs to survive.  It’s true that the US is quite a bit behind other Western powers both in infrastructure improvements and in renewable energy.  And yet the consequences of global warming force us all to act.  If we do not there will not be a globe to live on.

So, to recap: we need to get to work on two major things.  First, using taxes and the leverage of the federal government to end America’s dependence on fossil fuels.  Second, there needs to be investment in renewable energy so that the America of the future can rely on non-dirty fuels to power itself.  The transition will take long, and may even be painful.  But in the long run, the people of this planet will thank the US for taking the initiative here.  For it is not the decadent West, with our SUV’s, flat-screen televisions and general lack of awareness but the poorer countries of the world that will be the first to bear the brunt of global warming.  If American citizens realize anything, it must be the debt we owe to these people to stop the warming of our Earth.

Senator Franken, Senator Klobuchar, Representative Ellison: as DFL party members I recognize your commitment to these issues.  I again this year can say I am very proud to have all three of you represent me in the United States Congress.  That being said, there is no substitute for action.  Legislation must be passed this year or the next for any kind of meaningful reform to fully begin.  If the GOP obstructionists wish to unwisely filibuster, let them.  The whole nation should be able to see who is pulling the strings in this debate and who is on the side of the American people.  I would love to see James Inhofe try to talk for days about the fake science behind the climate deniers.

In conclusion, I thank all of you for fighting the good fight, and for taking the heat, both metaphorically and literally, on Capitol Hill and in the West Wing.  Mr. President, I still have faith that you will use your power to influence this debate and get a real deal in place that will cut carbon emissions in half by the midpoint of this century.  This has been a long road since the environmental movement picked up steam in the 1970’s, and more remains to be done.  The fate of the world is literally dependent upon our actions in this day and age.  I do not want to tell the children of the future that it was our fault because we failed to do anything.  I don’t believe any of you do, either.  Thank you for your time.

It’s that time again.  Time to go over the failures and successes of the previous year and set new ones for this year.  Last year in this post I set four goals for myself in 2009.  I didn’t succeed in every endeavour.  But that’s why each new year brings new possibilities.  I actually accomplished some stuff that wasn’t on the list.  But first I’m going to take a look at the four resolutions I set at the beginning of 2009:

1) Start the book.  This one I kinda/sorta accomplished.  I did begin writing rewriting the book and have gotten about half of what I wrote previously updated and in a more readable form.  That being said I feel like I still have not accomplished much on this one.  My original goal was to possibly get most of this finished within a year’s time and that certainly did not happen.  Exigent circumstances conspired to give me new places online to write in.  But if I am ever truly going to consider myself a “writer” I will need to get something published.  I don’t know if I will have time in 2010 to buckle down and start on this again.  But if I do, I hope to get at least the first part of the book finished by the end of the year.  I’m not making this a resolution this year but it’s been on the “to do” list for so long that it’s never coming off.

2) Volunteer more.  This one I utterly failed at.  Besides doing some work on Martin Luther King Jr. day last January and helping to paint a few homes throughout the year I didn’t do much.  Part of this was because I was unable to quit my second job at Target until the end of 2009, finally freeing up my Saturdays.  But part of this was the fact that I just didn’t get myself out there enough.  This is another one of those resolutions that will stay as one this year.  Now I have my weekends free to do what I want.  Since quitting, I have spent most Saturdays doing whatever I felt like doing.  But starting this year I hope to utilize these days to help those who are less fortunate than me.  I’m still not sure what I want to do, but I hope to figure it out soon.

 3) Work out more/eat better.  This one I more or less accomplished.  I would say I’m in a bit better shape now than I was at the beginning of last year.  This is mainly due to working out at a rec center but also due to the work out room at my new apartment building (see #4).  Thanks to this room I was able to quit paying dues to the rec center (saving myself some monthly cash) and start working out at my building every day.  I’m still struggling with the whole “eating better” thing, but this is again something I should be working on for my whole life.  To a still healthier 2010!

4) Move to a new apartment/get a new car.  I’m one-for-two on this.  I did move to a new apartment near the Uptown area of Minneapolis.  It’s another studio apartment right on gorgeous Lake Calhoun.  The car thing never materialized, and it’s looking like I may have to ride out the ol’ Contour until she croaks.  Seeing as how I’m paying for upkeep and it’s cheaper than a monthly car payment, I’m probably stuck for the time being.  I’m seeing if I get a raise at my job this year.  If so, that may help with financial matters enough that I can start thinking about this.  But for the time being, I’ll just have to count the move as the successful part of this resolution.

So there you have it.  These were the things I thought important and tried doing in the year 2009.  I feel like I didn’t do too bad a job of it but I can also stand for improvement.  My new list of resolutions will be forthcoming but I want to quickly take a look at some things this year that weren’t on the list:

Found a girlfriend.  Her name is Mary, and she’s the love of my life.  The best things happen when you least expect them.  We started dating toward the beginning of the year and have been together ever since.  Here’s hoping our 2010 is even better.

Got a “real” writing job.  In November of 2009 all my haranguing finally paid off: I got an actual job blogging.  It’s for The Examiner, a new experimental type site that is an online newspaper.  It doesn’t pay all that well, but I could care less.  Being paid to write has always been one of my life goals and this was a big surprise for me when it happened.  This is helping me take one more step toward legitimacy as a professional writer.  I now keep up my blogging on the Minneapolis Moderate Examiner page.  If you haven’t located it yet the link is here.

Got on better financial footing.  This one sort of counts.  In quitting my other job and getting rid of some monthly expenses plus getting a bonus at my job I am finally starting to realize what it’s like to not have to worry about money.  It’s quite pleasant and takes away a lot of stress.  Now I just have to find some good places to put the extra income besides my own entertainment wants.  I’m thinking my congressman’s 2010 political campaign and some charities.

Got a computer.  This was just something I wanted to get, and did.  Not really a resolution, just something cool I bought for myself.

Well, those were the accomplishments of 2009.  Now it’s time to look forward and set some new goals for the year 2010:

1) Selective TV watching.  This one is pretty low-key, but has to do with something I’ve been dealing with since last year.  I have given up all cable access and am down to my rabbit ears for watching television.  This is fine for me as one of my resolutions is to “selectively” watch TV.  That is, not on the ol’ set-top box (even though it is HD).  Instead of mindlessly scanning the four or five channels I still get I’m going to try to only watch television that I want to watch that I can access at any time.  Between Hulu and Netflix, I should have this one covered.

2) Volunteer more (again).  This one goes back on the list, but with a better chance of success now that I don’t have to work on weekends.  I hope to symbolically count this one as done (at least the groundwork) by January next year.

3) Get a bicycle.  This was something I had hoped to accomplish last summer but didn’t have the funds to do so.  This summer things should be different, and I hope to get myself a recycled bike to use for riding around Minneapolis.

4) Continue to work on previous year’s stuff.  I already wrote about this above, so I’m not going to delve back in.  But suffice it to say that I see these goals and not necessarily divided into year-long time periods but as things to work on for my whole life.  It’s great to set resolutions for the coming year.  I also view this with a more holistic approach, realizing that major goals in life do not follow time courses.  Still it is important to set goals to accomplish within a certain amount of time, so I’m going to do my best to meet these in the new year.

Another year, another set of resolutions.  I don’t think I did too bad on mine from last year but there’s always room for improvement.  I thank everyone who has read this blog and continue to read my new one.  May everyone have a great 2010, and I’ll see you back here in 2011 for the recap of this year’s resolutions!

I recently have done some perusing around the ol’ interweb in search of a way to get paid for posting my thoughts.  Well, the search has come to fruition.  I am now officially a blogger at the Minneapolis Examiner.  My page is called the “Minneapolis Moderate Examiner.”  It won’t be that big of a change from The Moderate, and for the time being will probably contain most of the same stuff I’m putting on here.  However, once I finally pick up some traffic and some comments (something I never could get much of around here) I may be moving this whole operation over to the Examiner site.  But for now, I’m going to try and update both The Moderate and my “Moderate Examiner” page with the same posts until I get sick of repeating myself.

I want to thank those of you who have been following this blog and commenting from time to time.  I have been doing this sort of thing for over a year and I feel this is a real opportunity to get some exposure on the political side of the Internet.  Plus, I’m actually getting paid to blog!  How awesome is that?  I hope you’ll come over and check out the new site.   And as always, thanks for reading.

UPDATE: I am going to be using my Examiner blog exclusively from now on.  I won’t be getting rid of this blog since it was my starting point for writing about politics and a good reference.  But from now on you can go here to read my new postings.  And thanks to everyone who kept up with this blog through its existance.  See you at the Examiner!

KSM to face trial


The alleged “mastermind” of the 9/11 attacks is finally set to go on trial in New York City.  The Obama administration managed to accomplish in eleven months something the Bush administration failed to do in six years.  The New York Times is reporting that not all GTMO detainees will be so lucky as to actually get a fair trial in a real courtroom:

But the administration will prosecute another set of high-profile detainees now being held at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is accused of planning the 2000 bombing of the Navy destroyer Cole in Yemen, and four other detainees — before a military commission.

This is a classic example of the way forward for the Obama justice system.  While there may be a few high-profile cases such as KSM occurring where the 9/11 attacks took place, others will still be facing the flawed military commissions system that originated with the Bush administration.  Obama has promised to clean up these types of commissions.  But the fact remains that in other areas, such as preventative detention, Obama has actually superseded his predecessor.  Despite heavy fear-mongering in the United States Congress, it seems that the Obama administration is going to resettle some of these detainees in prisons within our borders.  What is to guarantee the right to a fair trial for those that remain?  It may be precisely because of how these detainees were handled after their capture that most evidence will be inadmissible, as the Times story points out:

Documents have shown that the C.I.A. used waterboarding — a controlled drowning technique — against Mr. Mohammed 183 times in March 2003. Mr. Nashiri is one of two other detainees known to have been waterboarded before the Bush administration shut down the program, which high-level officials had approved after the Justice Department wrote legal memorandums arguing that the president, as commander in chief, could authorize interrogators to bypass antitorture laws.

Every single memo outlining how the Bush administration could somehow legally torture prisoners has since been rescinded.  The Obama Justice Department must decide how it is going to deal with the repercussions of this dark chapter in American history and ensure that it never happens again.  Holding detainees in a “legal black hole” down in Cuba without charge and without trial is not the way to accomplish this.  The story ends with a chilling reminder of the new type of justice these men may be facing:

About 215 detainees remain at the military base, which became a global symbol of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policy of holding detainees without trial. About 90 have been cleared for transfers to other countries, and Obama officials have said they expect that some of the remainder will be tried, either in federal court or military commissions, while others will continue to be held without trial because they are deemed too dangerous to release but too difficult to prosecute for evidentiary reasons.

By using this new doctrine of “preventative detention” our president and his Justice Department are overturning centuries of legal precedent.  For everything these men have gone through the least the US (known as having some of the best court systems in the world for trying terrorists) can do is give them a fair trial.  The American people deserve the proper form of justice.

UPDATE: Glenn has more on this “multi-tiered” system of justice:

There’s supposed to be one justice system for everyone — not multiple ones from which prosecutors can pick and choose based on assurances of ongoing imprisonment.  Highlighting how dangerous this is, the DOJ’s investigation of al-Nashiri was originally classified as a standard criminal case, but — as his counsel pointed out today — he was assigned to a military commission because there simply isn’t sufficient evidence to convict him in a real court.

Federal “Pay Czar” Kenneth Feinberg, charged with restricting pay on the seven firms that fleeced us were bailed out by the American taxpayer, can’t quite get away from forcing these companies to pay at less than a “competitive rate.”  One might ask by which method he is measuring “competition” at this point – the more government handouts they receive, the more deserving they are of being paid for it?  Reuters reports:

The Obama administration’s pay czar said on Thursday he is concerned that pay cuts he ordered at bailed out companies could hamper their ability to retain talent and would consider offers to hire new executives at competitive industry rates.

“If General Motors or any other company wants to bring someone in laterally — laterally — and competitive pay packages require that lateral hires get certain competitive pay, what have you, we’re perfectly willing to examine that,” he said.

I just don’t get it.  If these companies were so competitive and so good at what they do, why on earth did they need bailed out?  It just unnerves me that Mr. Feinberg, rather than being the populist firebrand that his position entitles him to be instead bends over backwards for the likes of the TARP recipients because they feel they’re being treated unfairly.  What’s unfair is how these companies continue their spree of negligence while the American taxpayer is still on the hook for billions of their “mistakes.”  The story mentions one bellyacher, the new CEO of AIG:

Benmosche on Wednesday sent a letter to employees saying he that was “totally committed” to staying at the company, which is 80 percent owned by U.S. taxpayers. Benmosche said he and the company’s board were “frustrated” with pay restrictions that he said present a “barrier that stands in the way of restoring AIG’s value.”

Don’t make me laugh.  The only reason your stupid insurance company has any value at all is because we are propping it up with our money.  And he has the gall to say he’s “frustrated” by this?  Here is where Feinberg needs to put the smack down and tell him that until his company pays us back, he’s not getting paid.  Unfortunately, with all the deference the Obama administration has been showing Wall Street, this becomes less likely to happen every day.

Glenn asks today why people like Joe Lieberman aren’t in an investigative mood after acts of terrorism by people of Christian or Jewish persuasion:

As indicated above, there are Christian religious leaders who preach much the same thing.  All are small minorities within their religion — just as is true for those who kill civilians in the name of Islam — but if we’re so eager to launch investigations and draw broad conclusions from episodes like the Fort Hood shootings, we ought to be asking the same questions about episodes and people like this.

There’s a reason why this man is considered one of the best bloggers in the “business.”  He gets to the center of the major hypocrisies of our time, which is more than I can say for any traditional media outlets.


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