Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends ...


We've got a new "Think Again" column called "Nowhere-istan," here, about coverage of the conflict in Afghanistan, and a new Nation column, "I Read the News Today, Oh Boy," about the alarming state of the newspaper business.

I wonder if, when people like Michael O'Hanlon or the editors of The Washington Post (among many, many, many others, of course) attack Barack Obama's plans for Iraq, it might be a good idea -- for the sake of fairness and intellectual honesty -- to preface their remarks by saying: "Of course, it was the judgment of people like me who caused this catastrophe, and nothing I predicted before the war has actually turned out to be true, while Obama was not only correct about its likely effects, but also prophetic. Still, I feel qualified to instruct him that ..."

Things I learned reading "Iraq Case Sheds Light On Secret Contractors" ($) by Siobhan Gorman and August Cole in today's Wall Street Journal:

1) Employees of these firms stockpile weapons and pad their expense accounts and shoot "indiscriminately" into Baghdad neighborhoods and falsely claim they defeat a horde of snipers. When other employees attempt to call them to account, even when those reports are corroborated by colleagues, these individuals are fired.

2) Overall, the U.S. has about the same number of contractors as military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan.

3) These contractors have carried out some of the government's most sensitive work -- conducting interrogations, manning secret prisons and guarding spy-agency personnel. The programs' existence, size and scope are classified, and so are the details of their troubles.

4) The House of Representatives Wednesday passed a broad bill tackling a wide range of intelligence policy issues, including tightening oversight of such contractors. It would force intelligence agencies to keep Congress better informed about their use as well as any formal probes into wrongdoing. But the legislation faces serious headwinds:

The White House threatened a veto Wednesday, arguing that some of the provisions would hamper its spying operations.

Which leads me to conclude:

a) The operations of these forces provide much of the reason that so many Iraqis and Afghanis hate us and are joining the resistance in both nations.

b) They are constitutionally unaccountable.

c) The media treat "our troops" as the story there, when they are, in fact, only half the story at best, and in many instances, not even the most important half.

d) This is all consistent with Bush and Co.'s ideological predilections, but it works to the detriment of the U.S. military, the U.S. economy, the U.S. Constitution and, ultimately, U.S. interests. It helps only Republican friends and cronies who get rich off of it. It ought to be yet another national scandal, but who can keep track?

Meet the new boss: Nice piece on the Who, but take a look at this, too: same as the old Boss. I chose Berlin when Time asked me which city would be the best for me to attend Bruce's 1999 European tour because of this amazing show, which I've never thought received enough attention in the history of rock 'n' roll. Whether it can sustain the claims made for it in terms of helping to bring down the wall, I'm skeptical. Still, I'm glad to see Reuters revisit the historical record. There's nowhere near enough of that in the world. (Thanks, Petey.)

I'm not making a big deal out of The New Yorker cover flap because I think it's silly, but I want to make the following suggestions:

1) Watch Jon Stewart's report on it from Monday night.

2) Watch (or read) David Remnick's interview with Charlie Rose about it from Wednesday night.

3) Consider for a moment what the hell kind of media we have when Wolf Blitzer can compare it to something in a "neo-Nazi" magazine or Howie Kurtz needs to be informed that yes, in fact, it's a satire, and these people retain the respect of their colleagues and their esteemed positions within the institutions that employ them.

4) Imagine if Obama's people had the good sense to laugh -- or at least shrug it off -- the way in fact, Obama largely did. I wonder if they were -- at least, initially -- looking to draw attention away from Ryan Lizza's 15,000-word story, which they probably read as unflattering and problematic from Inside the Bubble, but in my view is actually good news about the candidate's understanding of the need that good ideas have for "sharp elbows."

From TomDispatch:

Remember last week's two-day, $9 plunge in the price of a barrel of crude oil -- you know, the one that set business pundits speculating on whether a new trend, based on lower consumer use of energy, was under way? Well, all it took was a few Iranian missiles, fears of a Brazilian oil strike, and a kidnapped oil worker in Nigeria to turn that "trend" into toast, and Dilip Hiro offers the big picture that explains just why.

In his latest piece, the author of the history of oil, Blood of the Earth, suggests why the fourth oil shock of the last half-century-plus is quite unlike the previous three and isn't going away any time soon -- and just what it is possible to do about it. After reviewing the energy conservation records of Japan (two thumbs up) and the U.S. (two thumbs down) over the last 30 years, Hiro offers a clear-eyed assessment not just of where we are in energy terms, but of where we're likely to be heading -- and why China and India won't lead the way, but the affluent societies of the West should.

Since over half of all oil is used for transport, he first considers the likelihood of divorcing vehicles from the internal combustion engine -- and experiments now under way to do so. Then he turns to two key -- but controversial -- forms of energy on which we humans are likely to rely in "the medium term" -- coal and nuclear, and considers the degree to which either can be "cleaned up."

Energy is obviously going to remain fiercely at the heart of our problems, locally and globally, indefinitely. TomDispatch plans to respond to this essential reality with a range of different perspectives on energy in the coming year from various experts -- of whom Dilip Hiro is the latest. The discussion of our future energy path(s) couldn't be more important.

This week on Moyers: This week PBS' Bill Moyers Journal travels to ground zero of the mortgage meltdown-Cleveland, Ohio. Correspondent Rick Karr takes viewers to Slavic Village, one of the hardest hit neighborhoods in the nation when it comes to the spate of foreclosures caused by the subprime mortgage crisis. There, more than 1,000 homes stand vacant and decaying in a neighborhood that once thrived with families living the American dream of home ownership. Moyers gets perspective from veteran journalist William Greider on the current financial crisis and what he calls "the great deflation of Wall Street."

From ANP:

Does a 20-hour interrogation involving "hooding" and "removal of clothing" constitute inhumane treatment? Rep. Jerrold Nadler sought answers from Douglas Feith, an architect of the Bush administration's harsh interrogation policies..

Rep. Dennis Kucinich continued his seemingly quixotic crusade to impeach President Bush last week. But with Speaker Pelosi suggesting the House Judiciary Committee may hear his argument, Kucinich might get his day very soon..

The "enhanced interrogation tactics" used in Guantanamo under orders from the Pentagon and the White House have been the subject of numerous hearings on Capitol Hill recently. The lawyers who approved the policies, which many call torture, are under increasing pressure to explain how it was possible for such methods to be ordered by the United States government.

And at a Senate hearing on July 11th, 2008, the mothers of two electrocuted soldiers placed the blame for their sons' deaths with KBR, the world's largest defense services company. Two former KBR electricians described mismanagement, inadequate equipment, and a "good old boy network" that puts soldiers' lives at risk.

From the SEIU:

Top Talent to Perform at SEIU Labor Day Festival at Foot of Republican National Convention Celebration in Minnesota to Promote a New Vision for the 21st Century

WHO: Musicians Steve Earle, Allison Moorer, Tom Morello & friends and others to be announced; along with Senator John Edwards; SEIU leaders Andy Stern and Anna Burger; and tens of thousands of activists

WHAT: Labor Day concert and festival

WHEN: September 1st (Labor Day); Noon to 7 pm

WHERE: Harriet Island Regional Park, St. Paul, Minnesota

About the Labor Day festival:

On the eve of the Republican National Convention, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)-representing 2 million working people-will sponsor a festival to celebrate workers' achievements and to promote a New Vision for the 21st Century that includes:

  • Affordable, quality healthcare for everyone;
  • Wages that can support families;
  • Freedom to join unions without intimidation;
  • Retirement security.

In addition to the Labor Day concert, the festival will include a YouTube station, a fully equipped blogger lounge, a children's area, and a large audience-participation art project.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas

Perhaps because my dissertation and book were on the Republican Party during the Civil War, I found Bruce Bartlett's argument and Dr. A's counterpoints most interesting. I would love to ask Mr. Bartlett this: when LBJ pushed through civil rights with the help of Everett Dirksen but not of Barry Goldwater, whom did Republicans praise more?

And once LBJ pushed through that legislation, why did so many southern Democrats switch to the Republican Party? Was it their belief that Republicans shared their commitment to equal rights for African Americans? Or did they grasp that they had a better chance of continuing to fight desegregation and integration with a party that already had learned the code language on those issues?

Name: Beth Woodall
Hometown: Charleston, SC

Remember the old adage about Gen'l Motors? If it still rings true, and this writer suspects it does, then the nation is in big trouble.

Just this week, folks: Gen'l Motors announces that it will cut benefits for its retirees in an attempt to stay afloat; an American icon company, Anheuser Busch, is bought by a foreign company; the Dow plunges below 11,000 for the first time in more than two years; big bank failure and more on the horizon; the dollar is down; unemployment is up; China owns our debt; our president is the laughing stock of the world, yes, the world; our Constitution is in shreds; American deaths in Afghanistan are up for the first time in three years, and then there's this: The Miss America contestant (from Texas, no less) falls on her ass, just like last year's Miss America contestant. Two years in a row. The symbolism hasn't escaped me.

And isn't this where we are as a country, folks? On our ass? Forget GM -- things are so ridiculously bad now that we can use our Miss America contestant as a measuring stick for the state of our nation: on our ass.

Please, let's pull ourselves up by our national bootstraps. Off with the evening gown and high heels; we need hip waders with suspenders. And we need Barack Obama.

Name: Will
Hometown: Chicago

Here's your so-called liberal media at work again.

On McCain's side, we have "at least 20 fundraisers," including his campaign manager and VP vetter, who have been associated with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, according to this article.

On Obama's side ... one -- Jim Johnson, a voluntary, unpaid advisor who quit after the screaming banshees in the MSM shouted him away.

And on whom does this article focus for nine paragraphs? That's right -- Obama's unpaid volunteer advisor.

And there's the obligatory swipe against a former Clinton associate.

All together now, "FAIR -- AND -- BALANCED"

Name: Eric Birenbaum
Hometown: New York, NY

I don't know if anyone else was as appalled as I was while watching last night's All Star game by Joe Buck's insane, incoherent praise of George Steinbrenner and his insistence that George be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

While reveling in the sheer wonderment of his self-created Yankee Stadium moment, Buck glowingly cited Steinbrenner's dedication to doing whatever it takes to win and making the Yankees such a successful franchise. However, he somehow conspicuously omitted the fact that Steinbrenner is a convicted felon who was suspended not once, but twice, from baseball, first because of his illegal contributions to Nixon's re-election campaign and then for paying a known gambler, Howie Spira, $40,000 to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield, not to mention his abhorrent treatment of other human beings. Tim McCarver's failure to interject or stop Buck from flaunting his ignorance was equally as absurd.

I never thought any announcer would ever make me long for the days of Brent Musburger.

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