Monday, November 30, 2009

"Howard Dean: Obama Will Win In 2012, 'Going To Do Fine'" (video)

PoliticsCentralX, video (02:37):
Former Gov. and DNC Chairman Howard Dean: President Obama 'Will Do Just Fine' in Being Re-elected in 2012 - 11/29/09.
Howie P.S.: I don't usually link to FAUX. Huckabee and Chris Wallace provide the Roger Ailes/GOP talking points. More cheerleading for Obama: "Progressives (and Obama) are Doing Better Than We Think -- and We Won't Know What We've Got 'Til It's Gone."

"Obama’s Tuesday Speech To Have A Non-Exit, Non-Strategic Exit Strategy"

David Dayen (Firedoglake):
Marc Ambinder tells of a last-minute meeting Sunday evening on Afghanistan, which he depicts as a session to get everyone using the same nomenclature and terminology headed into Tuesday’s critical speech to the nation.
But while Ambinder says that the Tuesday speech, expected to announce an order of around 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, says that withdrawals would not be tied to specific benchmarks or conditions from Hamid Karzai, the New York Times takes roughly the same information and builds expectations for an announcement of an exit strategy.

President Obama plans to lay out a time frame for winding down the American involvement in the war in Afghanistan when he announces his decision this week to send more forces, senior administration officials said Sunday [...]

“It’s accurate to say that he will be more explicit about both goals and time frame than has been the case before and than has been part of the public discussion,” said a senior official, who requested anonymity to discuss the speech before it is delivered. “He wants to give a clear sense of both the time frame for action and how the war will eventually wind down.”

The officials would not disclose the time frame. But they said it would not be tied to particular conditions on the ground nor would it be as firm as the current schedule for withdrawing troops in Iraq, where Mr. Obama has committed to withdrawing most combat units by August and all forces by the end of 2011.

Seems like your comfort with this is a matter of degree. If you’re looking for some sense of an exit from a war well into its ninth year, maybe an indistinct target for that end will satisfy you. If you’re looking for a specific timetable, the speech probably won’t.

This curious paragraph suggests that the entire troop decision is part of a game to reassure Pakistan:

Officials of one allied nation who have been extensively briefed on the president’s plan said, however, that Mr. Obama would describe how the American presence would be ratcheted back after the buildup, while making clear that a significant American presence in Afghanistan would remain for a long while. That is designed in part to signal to Pakistan that the United States will not abandon the region and to allay Pakistani fears that India will fill the vacuum created as America pulls back.

Who are they signaling in Pakistan? The government, which is near collapse, with the President having relinquished the nuclear portfolio to the Prime Minister? Or the army and intelligence services, who we want to confront Al Qaeda in their own backyard?

The Washington Post sheds a bit more light on this by revealing a two-page letter from national security adviser James Jones to President Zardari, offering a long-term strategic partnership with military and economic aid, “accompanied by assurances from Jones that the United States will increase its military and civilian efforts in Afghanistan and that it plans no early withdrawal.” In exchange, the letter demands an end to Pakistani relationships with extremist groups inside its borders, not limited to Al Qaeda but also the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

More to the point of this, why in the world are we involved in any way with a regional power play between India and Pakistan, which requires as much of a diplomatic solution as the civil war in Afghanistan, and risking the lives of 30,000 more Americans for that purpose? The distance between finding and capturing the men who perpetrated 9/11 and soothing Pakistan about a regional rival’s potential growth is such a vast gulf that it almost cannot be calculated. And all of this talk of a strategic partnership seems to neglect the plain fact that America is despised in Pakistan and their people want no part of our help. That, and making a deal with a President about to be toppled seems a bit shaky.

Barack Obama will announce this escalation in Afghanistan eight days before picking up his Nobel Peace Prize In Oslo.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009

"Yes, Sarah, There is a Media Conspiracy"

Matt Taibbi:
Sarah Palin talked on the campaign trail about trying to get around the elite media filter, but this week she’s pushed her way straight through it.And the media – liberal and conservative, bloggers and network anchors – have responded by dedicating magazine covers, air time and online real estate to everything related to the book-promoting, media-bashing former governor of Alaska. No matter where Palin goes, the media follow – Andrea Mitchell even hosted her MSNBC show Wednesday from the Barnes & Noble in Grand Rapids, Mich., where Palin’s scheduled to sign books.

via The Sarah Palin-media co-dependency – Michael Calderone –

NBC News's Andrea Mitchell confronts Sarah Palin with the controversial Newsweek cover on November 18 in Grand Rapids, Michigan (Bill Pugliano/Getty)

NBC News's Andrea Mitchell confronts Sarah Palin with the controversial Newsweek cover on November 18 in Grand Rapids, Michigan (Bill Pugliano/Getty)

Just to get this out of the way, since the teabaggers have apparently re-discovered my site and in response to the previous Palin post have begun bombarding me with letters of the “Yeah, but Obama…” genus:

Is the media out to get Sarah Palin? It seems like most of the letters I get are insisting that I admit it. “Surely you can’t deny,” writes one woman from Florida, “that no political figure in American history has had to put up with what Sarah Palin has had to put up with from the mainstream media.”

Now, this is the part of this red-blue schtick where I’m supposed to strike back without thinking and re-hash the history of, say, the Monica Lewinsky scandal in rebuttal and then, as the argument progresses, do the whole “I know you are but what am I?” thing until the end of time. I’ve decided from now on that I’m just not going to go there with any of this culture-war bullshit. It’s exhausting. I mean, hell, if you want to argue over who’s more justified in wallowing in media victimhood, that’s not a fight I mind losing. Mazel tov!

I would, however, like to point out a few things, none of which really involve taking sides in this particular cat-fight. In no particular order:

1) The political media has always taken it upon itself to make decisions about who is and who is not qualified to be taken seriously as candidates for higher office. Without even talking about whether they do this more or less to Republicans or Democrats, I can testify that I witnessed this phenomenon over and over again in the primary battles within the Democratic Party. It has always been true that the press corps has drawn upon internalized professional biases, high-school-style groupthink and the urging of insider wonks to separate candidates into “serious” and “unserious” groups before the shots even start to be fired.

At the outset of the 2004 campaign, for instance, the herd knew without being told that Kerry and Lieberman got the first paragraphs in the debate wrap-ups and Howard Dean, Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich got the last paragraphs. The corps fought against Dean’s unexpectedly strong showing all the way through the early primaries and it was no surprise to anyone when they pile-drove him into total insanity before Iowa. The point I’m trying to make is that the media has a long and storied history of just taking the gloves off and whaling on a dude until he screams uncle (in Dean’s case, almost literally) when they make up their mind about someone, and this phenomenon is not restricted to fights between Democrats and Republicans.

2) When that does happen, when the press corps decides to abandon all restraint and go for the head shot, it usually tells us a lot more about the reporters’ bosses and what they’re thinking than it does about the reporters themselves. Your average political reporter is a spineless dweeb who went to all the best schools and made it to that privileged seat inside the campaign-trail ropeline by being keenly sensitive to the editorial wishes of his social and professional superiors.

When their bosses were for the war, they were for the war, and they battered any candidate who was “weak on foreign policy.” When the political winds shifted four years later and the consensus inside the Beltway suddenly was that Iraq had been a hideous mistake, the campaign-trail reporters mysteriously started sounding like Sixties peaceniks on the plane and they hammered Hillary for refusing to admit her error on the Iraq vote (none of these pundits had to admit their mistake on the same question, but whatever), clearing the way for Obama.

The tone for all this behavior is always set somewhere way up the corporate totem pole, and it always reflects some dreary combination of simple business considerations (i.e. what’s the best story and sells the most ads) and internalized political calculus (i.e. who is a “legitimate” candidate and who is an “insurgent” or a “second-tier” hopeful). It’s not that the reporters are making this judgment themselves, it’s that they have to listen to what the apparatus Up There is saying all day long — not just their bosses but the think-tank talking heads they interview for comments, the party insiders who buy them beers at night, the pollsters and so on.

And when all these people start getting in their ears about this or that guy doesn’t have “winnability,” or doesn’t have enough money to run, or has negatives that are insurmountable, all that thinking inevitably bleeds into the coverage. It’s not that the reporters are “biased.” They just don’t have the stones, for the most part, to ignore all the verbal and non-verbal cues they get from authority figures about who is “legitimate” and who isn’t.

Once the signal comes down that this or that politician doesn’t have the backing of anyone who matters, that’s when the knives really come out. When a politician has powerful allies and powerful friends, you won’t see reporters brazenly kicking him in the crotch the way they did to Dean and they’re doing now to Sarah Palin. The only time they do this is when they know there won’t be consequences, meaning when the politician’s only supporters are non-entities (read: voters), as in the case of Ron Paul or Kucinich. Like America in general, the press corps never attacks any enemy that can fight back. To illustrate the point via haiku:

Journos are pussies

Only attack when it’s safe

Lay off entrenched pols

3) So Sarah Palin is now in that category of politician whom reporters feel safe in attacking.

Some of this is definitely her own fault — in addition to the dynamic described above, there’s an additional complicating converse that says that when a politician doesn’t kiss the press’s ass all day long, he or she can expect to get reamed in print until the next ice age. And Sarah Palin not only doesn’t kiss the press’s ass, she treats them like dogshit, openly (the 2008 campaign was a pitched battle after the infamous U.N. standoff, in which Palin’s handlers tried to masking-tape the reporters’ mouths by insisting on photo-only coverage of events). Hillary’s campaign had the same problem; particularly after Iowa, her press handlers so openly treated the trail reporters like a swarm of venomous insects that I used to pass the time by daydreaming them ducking back into the press area wearing airtight Ebola-handling spacesuits a la Outbreak or The Hot Zone. Once the politician-reporter relationship reaches that level, that candidacy is going to be in serious trouble.

Obama’s press people, meanwhile, behaved like a team of well-trained Starbuck’s baristas: quiet, accomodating, nonconfrontational. Then again, the reporters mostly all worshipped their boss, so they didn’t have any reason to behave otherwise. That part of the media-conspiracy narrative is definitely true. I remember one particular trip when Obama came back to our part of the plane wearing jeans and a white button-down shirt and there was audible chirping from several female reporters. The Obama plane in the press section was also plastered all over with pictures high-school yearbook style, and getting photographed with Obama and then getting the photo tacked up on the wall of the plane was like a rite of passage for that crew. Needless to say nothing like that went on in the Hillary press corps, or more especially in the McCain plane, where the more likely back-of-the-plane recreation was a reporter musing out loud about the benefits of hanging himself over continuing even one more minute on that assignment.

That said, even back at the very beginning of the campaign, before the signal came down that it was okay to start giving Obama big sloppy blowjobs on the air, when reporters were all slamming the one-term Illinois Senator for being a “lightweight” prone to “rookie mistakes” (those among us whose version of recent history imagines Obama being handed the 2008 election by the campaign press seem always to forget that part, but go back and look — the “Hillary is the presumptive frontrunner” period lasted a solid nine or ten months), Obama’s press handlers observed the prime directive. They did not interfere with the reporters’ civilization. There was a “let the chips fall where they may” attitude that helped out a lot when the Beltway consensus finally shifted and the money started pouring in behind the candidate; there was no bad blood to overcome when the press had to change its mind again and embrace an “Obama is now the presumptive frontrunner/We are now at war with Oceania” posture.

Palin never had anything like that kind of attitude toward the press, although in fairness the bullets were flying at her from the moment she entered the campaign. It doesn’t matter; the point is that she’s getting it from all angles now and that wouldn’t be happening if she still had any friends in high places.

The press corps that is bashing her skull in right now is the same one that hyped that WMD horseshit for like four solid years and pom-pommed America to war with Iraq over the screeching objections of the entire planet. It’s the same press corps that rolled out the red carpet for someone very nearly as abjectly stupid as Sarah Palin to win not one but two terms in the White House. If there was any kind of consensus support for Palin inside the beltway, the criticism of her, bet on it, would be almost totally confined to chortling east coast smartasses like me and Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan.

What the people who are flipping out about the treatment of Palin should be asking themselves is what it means when it’s not just jerks like us but everybody piling on against Palin. For those of you who can’t connect the dots, I’ll tell you what it means. It means she’s been cut loose. It means that all five of the families have given the okay to this hit job, including even the mainstream Republican leaders. You teabaggers are in the process of being marginalized by your own ostensible party leaders in exactly the same way the anti-war crowd was abandoned by the Democratic party elders in the earlier part of this decade. Like the antiwar left, you have been deemed a threat to your own party’s “winnability.”

And do you know what that means? That means that just as the antiwar crowd spent years being painted by the national press as weepy, unpatriotic pussies whose enthusiastic support is toxic to any serious presidential aspirant, so too will all of you afternoon-radio ignoramuses who seem bent on spending the next three years kicking and screaming your way up the eternal asshole of white resentment now find yourself and your political champions painted as knee-jerk loonies whose rabid irrationality is undeserving of the political center. And yes, that’s me saying that, but I’ve always been saying that, not just about Palin but about George Bush and all your other moron-heroes.

What’s different now is who else is saying it. You had these people eating out of the palms of your hands (remember what it was like in the Dixie Chicks days?). Now they’re all drawing horns and Groucho mustaches on your heroes, and rapidly transitioning you from your previous political kingmaking role in the real world to a new role as a giant captive entertainment demographic that exists solely to be manipulated for ratings and ad revenue.

What you should be asking yourself is why this is happening to you. Even I don’t know the answer to that question, but honestly, I don’t really care. All I know is that I find it extremely funny. Anyway, that’s probably enough on the Palin subject for the next few years, fun as she is to talk about. And since I just got word that Jamie Dimon is being floated to replace Tim Geithner, it seems we’ll all have enough real problems to worry about in the meantime.

"Obama's Afghanistan Decision On Charlie Rose" (video)

Huff TV, video (32:13).

Howie P.S.: Arianna Huffington, Yale English Professor David Bromwich, Council On Foreign Relations President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow Leslie Gelb, Politico Editor-In-Chief John Harris, and New Yorker Senior Editor Hendrik Hertzberg guest on Charlie Rose.

"WTO - Seattle - Capitol Hill Neighborhood" (w/video)

holgatehawk, with video (01:47):
When the riot police pushed out protesters from the downtown area, they basically pushed them into the Capitol Hill area, where police decided to roam through the neighborhoods and randomly pepper spray the people who live there. Mind you, these arnt the people protesting, these are people who lived out of the no-protest-zone and were going about their daily lives, getting food from QFC, getting a burger at Dicks or perscription at Rite Aid.

I did not film this video and I dont know who did. I was temping for Microsoft at the time and the 1394/FireWire tester was given this tape.
H/t to Capitol Hill Seattle Blog via SLOG.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Seattle WTO: "Connelly gets it completely wrong"

Geov Parrish (HA Seattle):
This won’t be as polished a response as I’d like, because, frankly, it’s a holiday, I’ve got better things to do, and Joel Connelly’s column yesterday — Seattle’s WTO riots were loud — and ineffective — is so inaccurate, idiotic, and simply factually wrong that it demands some sort of response. Not because anybody much reads these days, but because, with a series of local events over the next several days commemorating the 10th anniversary of the anti-WTO protests (full disclosure: I’m one of the many organizers), we’re going to be hearing this meme a lot in the next week from local civic opinion leaders whose only real takeaway from the protests was that they gave Seattle a bad name for a while at certain cocktail parties they favored.
Technically, of course, Joel is correct — the “riots” were loud and ineffective. Except that the only people who “rioted,” in the sense of inciting violence, were a few dozen self-proclaimed “anarchists” (really, nihilists) who broke some windows, and law enforcement that spent four days trying to clear the streets by indiscriminately attacking protesters and bystanders alike — everyone, really, except the vandals. That was loud. But the 40,000 peaceful labor marchers (which Connelly acknowledges) and the separately organized, 20,000 or so peaceful people blockading downtown streets (which Connelly ignores) on November 30, 1999 made their point and changed history. The police riot was also ineffective; it didn’t stop the 1999 protests from being the most effective US street protest in at least a generation. Instead, it amplified the protesters’ message, by astonishing people around the world that American citizens would be so willing to take a stand against a neoliberal agenda that they’d provoke, and withstand, that kind of a state response.

You want an ineffective protest? Fifty thousand people marched in Seattle on February 15, 2003, against an imminent US invasion of Iraq. That was ineffective. As are most such marches. But WTO was different, and Connelly couldn’t be more wrong when he writes:

Left activists have scheduled panels to celebrate the 10th anniversary. They will doubtless dance around a basic question: What, if anything, did all the chaos accomplish?

Those panels — at a conference this weekend at Seattle University — will be more focused on the future than the past. But, no dancing:

Fact: Economic elites were looking to the 1999 WTO Seattle ministerial to vastly expand the neoliberal agenda of removal of trade barriers, labor and environmental protections, and global financial regulation (a plank called the “Multilateral Agreement on Investments). Local poobahs like Pat Davis dreamed that the whole package would be known worldwide as the “Seattle Round.”

Fact: Those negotiations failed because African and other global South delegates walked out toward the end of the week, angered that the proposals represented another attempt by the global haves to steal from the have-nots, and, they said, inspired by the actions of the people on Seattle’s streets.

Fact: The global reputation of the WTO, and the facade that such organizations had any sort of broad public support, was shattered by the Seattle demonstrations, which in turn helped catalyze an already existing, vibrant opposition worldwide. The WTO never recovered. Throughout subsequent ministerials in Qatar, Cancun, and Hong Kong — three militarized islands beseiged by demonstrators — the WTO has become a ghost of its former self. The proposals brought to Seattle, and subsequent attempts to expand multilateral neoliberal instruments, have never been enacted.

Fact: If those Seattle proposals had been enacted, the past year’s global economic meltdown, triggered mostly by the unilateral deregulation of US (and to a lesser extent European) markets, would have been far, far, far worse — a global economic catastrophe that would have particularly hammered the world’s poor. As it was, because most global South markets weren’t deregulated as the “Seattle Round” would have had it, those economies were mostly spared the brunt of the meltdown (excepting a spike in food prices caused by commodities deregulation in the North).

[As a side note, in the wake of Seattle, popularly elected governments in Latin America have largely rejected the neoliberal "Washington consensus" in the last decade -- South America now represents only one percent of IMF debt, whereas it was once the bulk of it.]

In other words, there’s a fairly straight line between what Connelly sneers at as “chaos” of Seattle in 1999 and the prevention of a global depression in 2009. That chaos helped save thousands, if not millions, of lives.

It’s not bad for a week’s work. But not for Joel:

Seattle voters did unseat Mayor Schell. But WTO organizing committee co-chair, Seattle Port Commissioner-for-life Pat Davis, was twice reelected before (mercifully) retiring this year….

But nothing has stopped or really slowed conditions that the protesters were protesting.

The United States has continued to bleed manufacturing jobs. Some of those jobs go over the border to Mexico, where unchecked pollution — heavy metals, PCBs, etc. –in the New River flows back over the border into California.

Human trafficking for child labor continues. Annual reports submitted by former Seattle Rep. John Miller, who became State Department ambassador under President Bush, are harrowing.
China, Indonesia and Brazil have demonstrated the ugly side of economic development.

China has doubled its emissions and recently passed the U.S. as the world’s greatest emitter of greenhouse gases. Indonesia and Brazil have risen to third and fourth place respectively. The two countries account for more than 60 percent of today’s world deforestation, clearing and burning tropical forests that are the earth’s lungs.

Well, shit, all that is true. And the Seattle protests didn’t cure cancer, either. Economic policy is only now, and only fitfully, catching up to the notion that unchecked corporate greed is not an inherent good, and in fact could kill us all (c.f. climate change).

But no protest organizers were planning, or even dreaming, of solving all those problems. The goal was to flag these policies, then (but not now) broadly supported by elected Democrats and Republicans alike, as contested terrain. The organizers actually accomplished far more – and far more than any other similar US protest I’m aware of in the last 40 years (at least). And in the wake of what we’ve seen in the last ten years, and especially the last year, it’s pretty hard any more to argue the basic point of the protesters, that radical deregulation was dangerous and wrong.

But since some teenagers were rowdy, and a few windows got broken (to be replaced three days later), and Seattle’s reputation as a World Class City ™ was besmirched, don’t expect any local civic or media leaders to give credit where rightfully due this week, just as they didn’t in 1999. They were wrong. We were right, and a lot of people (mostly in other countries) are alive today because we took to the streets in 1999.

Connelly has one thing right:

Someday, a band of moderates should march from Seattle Central Community College down to Westlake Mall, chanting as they go: “Hey, hey, Ho, ho, futile protest has to go.”

I don’t share Joel’s lifelong fetish for political “moderates” (whatever the hell that means), but I am really tired of futile protests. He just picked the worst possible exampe.
Howie P.S.: Connelly may not have got "it completely wrong." But I'm confident he didn't get it competely right, either.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

"The first Thanksgiving, painting by Jean Louis Gerome Ferris"


Howie Opinion:
Hey, that looks pretty good (generous and friendly). But I heard that later we weren't so....oh NEVERMIND!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Op-ED: Obama finish the job!" (what job?) (video)

MSNBC-ED Show, video (14:33).

Howie P.S.: Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) joins ED to discuss Afghanistan policy. Robert Greenwald (Brave New Films) also guests. Talk show host Bill Press comes on and says "not even Barack Obama can sell this turkey."

Howard Dean on the health care bill on "Morning Jokesters" (video) (Updated)

UPDATE: More from Dean on last night's Rachel Maddow Show, video (07:27). Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT-I) joins him.

MSNBC, video (16:13).

Howie P.S.: Fortunately, Dean is on early. He talks about the public option and says, again, that without it the bill is not worth passing because it is the "only" real insurance reform in it. Later, the group also dishes on Boehner's tan, David Broder, etc.

Taibbi: "Obama's big sellout?" (video)

MSNBC-Dylan Ratigan, video (12:21):
Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, the Financial Times’ Chyrista Freeland and Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post discuss the divide between the recoveries of Wall Street and Main Street.

"Blackwater’s Secret War In Pakistan" (with video)

Jeremy Scahill (The Nation) with video (09:35) from GRITtv:
At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, "snatch and grabs" of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan, an investigation by The Nation has found. The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help direct a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.
The previously unreported program, the military intelligence source said, is distinct from the CIA assassination program that the agency's director, Leon Panetta, announced he had canceled in June 2009. "This is a parallel operation to the CIA," said the source. "They are two separate beasts." The program puts Blackwater at the epicenter of a US military operation within the borders of a nation against which the United States has not declared war--knowledge that could further strain the already tense relations between the United States and Pakistan. In 2006, the United States and Pakistan struck a deal that authorized JSOC to enter Pakistan to hunt Osama bin Laden with the understanding that Pakistan would deny it had given permission. Officially, the United States is not supposed to have any active military operations in the country.

Blackwater, which recently changed its name to Xe Services and US Training Center, denies the company is operating in Pakistan. "Xe Services has only one employee in Pakistan performing construction oversight for the U.S. Government," Blackwater spokesperson Mark Corallo said in a statement to The Nation, adding that the company has "no other operations of any kind in Pakistan."

A former senior executive at Blackwater confirmed the military intelligence source's claim that the company is working in Pakistan for the CIA and JSOC, the premier counterterrorism and covert operations force within the military. He said that Blackwater is also working for the Pakistani government on a subcontract with an Islamabad-based security firm that puts US Blackwater operatives on the ground with Pakistani forces in counter-terrorism operations, including house raids and border interdictions, in the North-West Frontier Province and elsewhere in Pakistan. This arrangement, the former executive said, allows the Pakistani government to utilize former US Special Operations forces who now work for Blackwater while denying an official US military presence in the country. He also confirmed that Blackwater has a facility in Karachi and has personnel deployed elsewhere in Pakistan. The former executive spoke on condition of anonymity.

His account and that of the military intelligence source were borne out by a US military source who has knowledge of Special Forces actions in Pakistan and Afghanistan. When asked about Blackwater's covert work for JSOC in Pakistan, this source, who also asked for anonymity, told The Nation, "From my information that I have, that is absolutely correct," adding, "There's no question that's occurring."

"It wouldn't surprise me because we've outsourced nearly everything," said Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, when told of Blackwater's role in Pakistan. Wilkerson said that during his time in the Bush administration, he saw the beginnings of Blackwater's involvement with the sensitive operations of the military and CIA. "Part of this, of course, is an attempt to get around the constraints the Congress has placed on DoD. If you don't have sufficient soldiers to do it, you hire civilians to do it. I mean, it's that simple. It would not surprise me."

The Counterterrorism Tag Team in Karachi

The covert JSOC program with Blackwater in Pakistan dates back to at least 2007, according to the military intelligence source. The current head of JSOC is Vice Adm. William McRaven, who took over the post from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who headed JSOC from 2003 to 2008 before being named the top US commander in Afghanistan. Blackwater's presence in Pakistan is "not really visible, and that's why nobody has cracked down on it," said the source. Blackwater's operations in Pakistan, he said, are not done through State Department contracts or publicly identified Defense contracts. "It's Blackwater via JSOC, and it's a classified no-bid [contract] approved on a rolling basis." The main JSOC/Blackwater facility in Karachi, according to the source, is nondescript: three trailers with various generators, satellite phones and computer systems are used as a makeshift operations center. "It's a very rudimentary operation," says the source. "I would compare it to [CIA] outposts in Kurdistan or any of the Special Forces outposts. It's very bare bones, and that's the point."

Blackwater's work for JSOC in Karachi is coordinated out of a Task Force based at Bagram Air Base in neighboring Afghanistan, according to the military intelligence source. While JSOC technically runs the operations in Karachi, he said, it is largely staffed by former US special operations soldiers working for a division of Blackwater, once known as Blackwater SELECT, and intelligence analysts working for a Blackwater affiliate, Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS), which is owned by Blackwater's founder, Erik Prince. The military source said that the name Blackwater SELECT may have been changed recently. Total Intelligence, which is run out of an office on the ninth floor of a building in the Ballston area of Arlington, Virginia, is staffed by former analysts and operatives from the CIA, DIA, FBI and other agencies. It is modeled after the CIA's counterterrorism center. In Karachi, TIS runs a "media-scouring/open-source network," according to the source. Until recently, Total Intelligence was run by two former top CIA officials, Cofer Black and Robert Richer, both of whom have left the company. In Pakistan, Blackwater is not using either its original name or its new moniker, Xe Services, according to the former Blackwater executive. "They are running most of their work through TIS because the other two [names] have such a stain on them," he said. Corallo, the Blackwater spokesperson, denied that TIS or any other division or affiliate of Blackwater has any personnel in Pakistan.

The US military intelligence source said that Blackwater's classified contracts keep getting renewed at the request of JSOC. Blackwater, he said, is already so deeply entrenched that it has become a staple of the US military operations in Pakistan. According to the former Blackwater executive, "The politics that go with the brand of BW is somewhat set aside because what you're doing is really one military guy to another." Blackwater's first known contract with the CIA for operations in Afghanistan was awarded in 2002 and was for work along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

One of the concerns raised by the military intelligence source is that some Blackwater personnel are being given rolling security clearances above their approved clearances. Using Alternative Compartmentalized Control Measures (ACCMs), he said, the Blackwater personnel are granted clearance to a Special Access Program, the bureaucratic term used to describe highly classified "black" operations. "With an ACCM, the security manager can grant access to you to be exposed to and operate within compartmentalized programs far above 'secret'--even though you have no business doing so," said the source. It allows Blackwater personnel that "do not have the requisite security clearance or do not hold a security clearance whatsoever to participate in classified operations by virtue of trust," he added. "Think of it as an ultra-exclusive level above top secret. That's exactly what it is: a circle of love." Blackwater, therefore, has access to "all source" reports that are culled in part from JSOC units in the field. "That's how a lot of things over the years have been conducted with contractors," said the source. "We have contractors that regularly see things that top policy-makers don't unless they ask."

According to the source, Blackwater has effectively marketed itself as a company whose operatives have "conducted lethal direct action missions and now, for a price, you can have your own planning cell. JSOC just ate that up," he said, adding, "They have a sizable force in Pakistan--not for any nefarious purpose if you really want to look at it that way--but to support a legitimate contract that's classified for JSOC." Blackwater's Pakistan JSOC contracts are secret and are therefore shielded from public oversight, he said. The source is not sure when the arrangement with JSOC began, but he says that a spin-off of Blackwater SELECT "was issued a no-bid contract for support to shooters for a JSOC Task Force and they kept extending it." Some of the Blackwater personnel, he said, work undercover as aid workers. "Nobody even gives them a second thought."

The military intelligence source said that the Blackwater/JSOC Karachi operation is referred to as "Qatar cubed," in reference to the US forward operating base in Qatar that served as the hub for the planning and implementation of the US invasion of Iraq. "This is supposed to be the brave new world," he says. "This is the Jamestown of the new millennium and it's meant to be a lily pad. You can jump off to Uzbekistan, you can jump back over the border, you can jump sideways, you can jump northwest. It's strategically located so that they can get their people wherever they have to without having to wrangle with the military chain of command in Afghanistan, which is convoluted. They don't have to deal with that because they're operating under a classified mandate."

In addition to planning drone strikes and operations against suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Pakistan for both JSOC and the CIA, the Blackwater team in Karachi also helps plan missions for JSOC inside Uzbekistan against the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, according to the military intelligence source. Blackwater does not actually carry out the operations, he said, which are executed on the ground by JSOC forces. "That piqued my curiosity and really worries me because I don't know if you noticed but I was never told we are at war with Uzbekistan," he said. "So, did I miss something, did Rumsfeld come back into power?"

Pakistan's Military Contracting Maze

Blackwater, according to the military intelligence source, is not doing the actual killing as part of its work in Pakistan. "The SELECT personnel are not going into places with private aircraft and going after targets," he said. "It's not like Blackwater SELECT people are running around assassinating people." Instead, US Special Forces teams carry out the plans developed in part by Blackwater. The military intelligence source drew a distinction between the Blackwater operatives who work for the State Department, which he calls "Blackwater Vanilla," and the seasoned Special Forces veterans who work on the JSOC program. "Good or bad, there's a small number of people who know how to pull off an operation like that. That's probably a good thing," said the source. "It's the Blackwater SELECT people that have and continue to plan these types of operations because they're the only people that know how and they went where the money was. It's not trigger-happy fucks, like some of the PSD [Personal Security Detail] guys. These are not people that believe that Barack Obama is a socialist, these are not people that kill innocent civilians. They're very good at what they do."

The former Blackwater executive, when asked for confirmation that Blackwater forces were not actively killing people in Pakistan, said, "that's not entirely accurate." While he concurred with the military intelligence source's description of the JSOC and CIA programs, he pointed to another role Blackwater is allegedly playing in Pakistan, not for the US government but for Islamabad. According to the executive, Blackwater works on a subcontract for Kestral Logistics, a powerful Pakistani firm, which specializes in military logistical support, private security and intelligence consulting. It is staffed with former high-ranking Pakistani army and government officials. While Kestral's main offices are in Pakistan, it also has branches in several other countries.

A spokesperson for the US State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), which is responsible for issuing licenses to US corporations to provide defense-related services to foreign governments or entities, would neither confirm nor deny for The Nation that Blackwater has a license to work in Pakistan or to work with Kestral. "We cannot help you," said department spokesperson David McKeeby after checking with the relevant DDTC officials. "You'll have to contact the companies directly." Blackwater's Corallo said the company has "no operations of any kind" in Pakistan other than the one employee working for the DoD. Kestral did not respond to inquiries from The Nation.

According to federal lobbying records, Kestral recently hired former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega, who served in that post from 2003 to 2005, to lobby the US government, including the State Department, USAID and Congress, on foreign affairs issues "regarding [Kestral's] capabilities to carry out activities of interest to the United States." Noriega was hired through his firm, Vision Americas, which he runs with Christina Rocca, a former CIA operations official who served as assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs from 2001 to 2006 and was deeply involved in shaping US policy toward Pakistan. In October 2009, Kestral paid Vision Americas $15,000 and paid a Vision Americas-affiliated firm, Firecreek Ltd., an equal amount to lobby on defense and foreign policy issues.

For years, Kestral has done a robust business in defense logistics with the Pakistani government and other nations, as well as top US defense companies. Blackwater owner Erik Prince is close with Kestral CEO Liaquat Ali Baig, according to the former Blackwater executive. "Ali and Erik have a pretty close relationship," he said. "They've met many times and struck a deal, and they [offer] mutual support for one another." Working with Kestral, he said, Blackwater has provided convoy security for Defense Department shipments destined for Afghanistan that would arrive in the port at Karachi. Blackwater, according to the former executive, would guard the supplies as they were transported overland from Karachi to Peshawar and then west through the Torkham border crossing, the most important supply route for the US military in Afghanistan.

According to the former executive, Blackwater operatives also integrate with Kestral's forces in sensitive counterterrorism operations in the North-West Frontier Province, where they work in conjunction with the Pakistani Interior Ministry's paramilitary force, known as the Frontier Corps (alternately referred to as "frontier scouts"). The Blackwater personnel are technically advisers, but the former executive said that the line often gets blurred in the field. Blackwater "is providing the actual guidance on how to do [counterterrorism operations] and Kestral's folks are carrying a lot of them out, but they're having the guidance and the overwatch from some BW guys that will actually go out with the teams when they're executing the job," he said. "You can see how that can lead to other things in the border areas." He said that when Blackwater personnel are out with the Pakistani teams, sometimes its men engage in operations against suspected terrorists. "You've got BW guys that are assisting... and they're all going to want to go on the jobs--so they're going to go with them," he said. "So, the things that you're seeing in the news about how this Pakistani military group came in and raided this house or did this or did that--in some of those cases, you're going to have Western folks that are right there at the house, if not in the house." Blackwater, he said, is paid by the Pakistani government through Kestral for consulting services. "That gives the Pakistani government the cover to say, 'Hey, no, we don't have any Westerners doing this. It's all local and our people are doing it.' But it gets them the expertise that Westerners provide for [counterterrorism]-related work."

The military intelligence source confirmed Blackwater works with the Frontier Corps, saying, "There's no real oversight. It's not really on people's radar screen."

In October, in response to Pakistani news reports that a Kestral warehouse in Islamabad was being used to store heavy weapons for Blackwater, the US Embassy in Pakistan released a statement denying the weapons were being used by "a private American security contractor." The statement said, "Kestral Logistics is a private logistics company that handles the importation of equipment and supplies provided by the United States to the Government of Pakistan. All of the equipment and supplies were imported at the request of the Government of Pakistan, which also certified the shipments."

Who is Behind the Drone Attacks?

Since President Barack Obama was inaugurated, the United States has expanded drone bombing raids in Pakistan. Obama first ordered a drone strike against targets in North and South Waziristan on January 23, and the strikes have been conducted consistently ever since. The Obama administration has now surpassed the number of Bush-era strikes in Pakistan and has faced fierce criticism from Pakistan and some US lawmakers over civilian deaths. A drone attack in June killed as many as sixty people attending a Taliban funeral.

In August, the New York Times reported that Blackwater works for the CIA at "hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the company's contractors assemble and load Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs on remotely piloted Predator aircraft." In February, The Times of London obtained a satellite image of a secret CIA airbase in Shamsi, in Pakistan's southwestern province of Baluchistan, showing three drone aircraft. The New York Times also reported that the agency uses a secret base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, to strike in Pakistan.

The military intelligence source says that the drone strike that reportedly killed Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, his wife and his bodyguards in Waziristan in August was a CIA strike, but that many others attributed in media reports to the CIA are actually JSOC strikes. "Some of these strikes are attributed to OGA [Other Government Agency, intelligence parlance for the CIA], but in reality it's JSOC and their parallel program of UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] because they also have access to UAVs. So when you see some of these hits, especially the ones with high civilian casualties, those are almost always JSOC strikes." The Pentagon has stated bluntly, "There are no US military strike operations being conducted in Pakistan."

The military intelligence source also confirmed that Blackwater continues to work for the CIA on its drone bombing program in Pakistan, as previously reported in the New York Times, but added that Blackwater is working on JSOC's drone bombings as well. "It's Blackwater running the program for both CIA and JSOC," said the source. When civilians are killed, "people go, 'Oh, it's the CIA doing crazy shit again unchecked.' Well, at least 50 percent of the time, that's JSOC [hitting] somebody they've identified through HUMINT [human intelligence] or they've culled the intelligence themselves or it's been shared with them and they take that person out and that's how it works."

The military intelligence source says that the CIA operations are subject to Congressional oversight, unlike the parallel JSOC bombings. "Targeted killings are not the most popular thing in town right now and the CIA knows that," he says. "Contractors and especially JSOC personnel working under a classified mandate are not [overseen by Congress], so they just don't care. If there's one person they're going after and there's thirty-four people in the building, thirty-five people are going to die. That's the mentality." He added, "They're not accountable to anybody and they know that. It's an open secret, but what are you going to do, shut down JSOC?"

In addition to working on covert action planning and drone strikes, Blackwater SELECT also provides private guards to perform the sensitive task of security for secret US drone bases, JSOC camps and Defense Intelligence Agency camps inside Pakistan, according to the military intelligence source.

Mosharraf Zaidi, a well-known Pakistani journalist who has served as a consultant for the UN and European Union in Pakistan and Afghanistan, says that the Blackwater/JSOC program raises serious questions about the norms of international relations. "The immediate question is, How do you define the active pursuit of military objectives in a country with which not only have you not declared war but that is supposedly a front-line non-NATO ally in the US struggle to contain extremist violence coming out of Afghanistan and the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan?" asks Zaidi, who is currently a columnist for The News, the biggest English-language daily in Pakistan. "Let's forget Blackwater for a second. What this is confirming is that there are US military operations in Pakistan that aren't about logistics or getting food to Bagram; that are actually about the exercise of physical violence, physical force inside of Pakistani territory."

JSOC: Rumsfeld and Cheney's Extra Special Force

Colonel Wilkerson said that he is concerned that with General McChrystal's elevation as the military commander of the Afghan war--which is increasingly seeping into Pakistan--there is a concomitant rise in JSOC's power and influence within the military structure. "I don't see how you can escape that; it's just a matter of the way the authority flows and the power flows, and it's inevitable, I think," Wilkerson told The Nation. He added, "I'm alarmed when I see execute orders and combat orders that go out saying that the supporting force is Central Command and the supported force is Special Operations Command," under which JSOC operates. "That's backward. But that's essentially what we have today."

From 2003 to 2008 McChrystal headed JSOC, which is headquartered at Pope Air Force Base and Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where Blackwater's 7,000-acre operating base is also situated. JSOC controls the Army's Delta Force, the Navy's SEAL Team 6, as well as the Army's 75th Ranger Regiment and 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and the Air Force's 24th Special Tactics Squadron. JSOC performs strike operations, reconnaissance in denied areas and special intelligence missions. Blackwater, which was founded by former Navy SEALs, employs scores of veteran Special Forces operators--which several former military officials pointed to as the basis for Blackwater's alleged contracts with JSOC.

Since 9/11, many top-level Special Forces veterans have taken up employment with private firms, where they can make more money doing the highly specialized work they did in uniform. "The Blackwater individuals have the experience. A lot of these individuals are retired military, and they've been around twenty to thirty years and have experience that the younger Green Beret guys don't," said retired Army Lieut. Col. Jeffrey Addicott, a well-connected military lawyer who served as senior legal counsel for US Army Special Forces. "They're known entities. Everybody knows who they are, what their capabilities are, and they've got the experience. They're very valuable."

"They make much more money being the smarts of these operations, planning hits in various countries and basing it off their experience in Chechnya, Bosnia, Somalia, Ethiopia," said the military intelligence source. "They were there for all of these things, they know what the hell they're talking about. And JSOC has unfortunately lost the institutional capability to plan within, so they hire back people that used to work for them and had already planned and executed these [types of] operations. They hired back people that jumped over to Blackwater SELECT and then pay them exorbitant amounts of money to plan future operations. It's a ridiculous revolving door."

While JSOC has long played a central role in US counterterrorism and covert operations, military and civilian officials who worked at the Defense and State Departments during the Bush administration described in interviews with The Nation an extremely cozy relationship that developed between the executive branch (primarily through Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld) and JSOC. During the Bush era, Special Forces turned into a virtual stand-alone operation that acted outside the military chain of command and in direct coordination with the White House. Throughout the Bush years, it was largely General McChrystal who ran JSOC. "What I was seeing was the development of what I would later see in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Special Operations forces would operate in both theaters without the conventional commander even knowing what they were doing," said Colonel Wilkerson. "That's dangerous, that's very dangerous. You have all kinds of mess when you don't tell the theater commander what you're doing."

Wilkerson said that almost immediately after assuming his role at the State Department under Colin Powell, he saw JSOC being politicized and developing a close relationship with the executive branch. He saw this begin, he said, after his first Delta Force briefing at Fort Bragg. "I think Cheney and Rumsfeld went directly into JSOC. I think they went into JSOC at times, perhaps most frequently, without the SOCOM [Special Operations] commander at the time even knowing it. The receptivity in JSOC was quite good," says Wilkerson. "I think Cheney was actually giving McChrystal instructions, and McChrystal was asking him for instructions." He said the relationship between JSOC and Cheney and Rumsfeld "built up initially because Rumsfeld didn't get the responsiveness. He didn't get the can-do kind of attitude out of the SOCOM commander, and so as Rumsfeld was wont to do, he cut him out and went straight to the horse's mouth. At that point you had JSOC operating as an extension of the [administration] doing things the executive branch--read: Cheney and Rumsfeld--wanted it to do. This would be more or less carte blanche. You need to do it, do it. It was very alarming for me as a conventional soldier."

Wilkerson said the JSOC teams caused diplomatic problems for the United States across the globe. "When these teams started hitting capital cities and other places all around the world, [Rumsfeld] didn't tell the State Department either. The only way we found out about it is our ambassadors started to call us and say, 'Who the hell are these six-foot-four white males with eighteen-inch biceps walking around our capital cities?' So we discovered this, we discovered one in South America, for example, because he actually murdered a taxi driver, and we had to get him out of there real quick. We rendered him--we rendered him home."

As part of their strategy, Rumsfeld and Cheney also created the Strategic Support Branch (SSB), which pulled intelligence resources from the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA for use in sensitive JSOC operations. The SSB was created using "reprogrammed" funds "without explicit congressional authority or appropriation," according to the Washington Post. The SSB operated outside the military chain of command and circumvented the CIA's authority on clandestine operations. Rumsfeld created it as part of his war to end "near total dependence on CIA." Under US law, the Defense Department is required to report all deployment orders to Congress. But guidelines issued in January 2005 by former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone stated that Special Operations forces may "conduct clandestine HUMINT operations...before publication" of a deployment order. This effectively gave Rumsfeld unilateral control over clandestine operations.

The military intelligence source said that when Rumsfeld was defense secretary, JSOC was deployed to commit some of the "darkest acts" in part to keep them concealed from Congress. "Everything can be justified as a military operation versus a clandestine intelligence performed by the CIA, which has to be informed to Congress," said the source. "They were aware of that and they knew that, and they would exploit it at every turn and they took full advantage of it. They knew they could act extra-legally and nothing would happen because A, it was sanctioned by DoD at the highest levels, and B, who was going to stop them? They were preparing the battlefield, which was on all of the PowerPoints: 'Preparing the Battlefield.'"

The significance of the flexibility of JSOC's operations inside Pakistan versus the CIA's is best summed up by Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "Every single intelligence operation and covert action must be briefed to the Congress," she said. "If they are not, that is a violation of the law."

Blackwater: Company Non Grata in Pakistan

For months, the Pakistani media has been flooded with stories about Blackwater's alleged growing presence in the country. For the most part, these stories have been ignored by the US press and denounced as lies or propaganda by US officials in Pakistan. But the reality is that, although many of the stories appear to be wildly exaggerated, Pakistanis have good reason to be concerned about Blackwater's operations in their country. It is no secret in Washington or Islamabad that Blackwater has been a central part of the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan and that the company has been involved--almost from the beginning of the "war on terror"--with clandestine US operations. Indeed, Blackwater is accepting applications for contractors fluent in Urdu and Punjabi. The US Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, has denied Blackwater's presence in the country, stating bluntly in September, "Blackwater is not operating in Pakistan." In her trip to Pakistan in October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dodged questions from the Pakistani press about Blackwater's rumored Pakistani operations. Pakistan's interior minister, Rehman Malik, said on November 21 he will resign if Blackwater is found operating anywhere in Pakistan.

The Christian Science Monitor recently reported that Blackwater "provides security for a US-backed aid project" in Peshawar, suggesting the company may be based out of the Pearl Continental, a luxury hotel the United States reportedly is considering purchasing to use as a consulate in the city. "We have no contracts in Pakistan," Blackwater spokesperson Stacey DeLuke said recently. "We've been blamed for all that has gone wrong in Peshawar, none of which is true, since we have absolutely no presence there."

Reports of Blackwater's alleged presence in Karachi and elsewhere in the country have been floating around the Pakistani press for months. Hamid Mir, a prominent Pakistani journalist who rose to fame after his 1997 interview with Osama bin Laden, claimed in a recent interview that Blackwater is in Karachi. "The US [intelligence] agencies think that a number of Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders are hiding in Karachi and Peshawar," he said. "That is why [Blackwater] agents are operating in these two cities." Ambassador Patterson has said that the claims of Mir and other Pakistani journalists are "wildly incorrect," saying they had compromised the security of US personnel in Pakistan. On November 20 the Washington Times, citing three current and former US intelligence officials, reported that Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, has "found refuge from potential U.S. attacks" in Karachi "with the assistance of Pakistan's intelligence service."

In September, the Pakistani press covered a report on Blackwater allegedly submitted by Pakistan's intelligence agencies to the federal interior ministry. In the report, the intelligence agencies reportedly allege that Blackwater was provided houses by a federal minister who is also helping them clear shipments of weapons and vehicles through Karachi's Port Qasim on the coast of the Arabian Sea. The military intelligence source did not confirm this but did say, "The port jives because they have a lot of [former] SEALs and they would revert to what they know: the ocean, instead of flying stuff in."

The Nation cannot independently confirm these allegations and has not seen the Pakistani intelligence report. But according to Pakistani press coverage, the intelligence report also said Blackwater has acquired "bungalows" in the Defense Housing Authority in the city. According to the DHA website, it is a large residential estate originally established "for the welfare of the serving and retired officers of the Armed Forces of Pakistan." Its motto is: "Home for Defenders." The report alleges Blackwater is receiving help from local government officials in Karachi and is using vehicles with license plates traditionally assigned to members of the national and provincial assemblies, meaning local law enforcement will not stop them.

The use of private companies like Blackwater for sensitive operations such as drone strikes or other covert work undoubtedly comes with the benefit of plausible deniability that places an additional barrier in an already deeply flawed system of accountability. When things go wrong, it's the contractors' fault, not the government's. But the widespread use of contractors also raises serious legal questions, particularly when they are a part of lethal, covert actions. "We are using contractors for things that in the past might have been considered to be a violation of the Geneva Convention," said Lt. Col. Addicott, who now runs the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas. "In my opinion, we have pressed the envelope to the breaking limit, and it's almost a fiction that these guys are not in offensive military operations." Addicott added, "If we were subjected to the International Criminal Court, some of these guys could easily be picked up, charged with war crimes and put on trial. That's one of the reasons we're not members of the International Criminal Court."
If there is one quality that has defined Blackwater over the past decade, it is the ability to survive against the odds while simultaneously reinventing and rebranding itself. That is most evident in Afghanistan, where the company continues to work for the US military, the CIA and the State Department despite intense criticism and almost weekly scandals. Blackwater's alleged Pakistan operations, said the military intelligence source, are indicative of its new frontier. "Having learned its lessons after the private security contracting fiasco in Iraq, Blackwater has shifted its operational focus to two venues: protecting things that are in danger and anticipating other places we're going to go as a nation that are dangerous," he said. "It's as simple as that."

The Final Answer on the Seattle Mayoral: "The Lesson Learned"

Erica C. Barnett (Publicola):
Here are a few highlight quotes from PubliCola’s post-election forum at Del Rey last night, where the chief strategists for Team Mallahan and Team McGinn gave a packed room a candid look inside this year’s mayoral campaign.
(The Seattle Times, P-I, Seattle Weekly, the Stranger, and … The Oregonian?? all filed their own reports about our event this morning.)

On post-primary strategy:

McGinn strategist Bill Broadhead: Our first strategy was to start working with the Seattle establishment. We thought maybe winning the primary would make us a little more credible in their eyes. We spent maybe two weeks … calling the usual suspects, and it was pretty cold out there. … Then the strategy was to win with no money and no endorsements.

Mallahan strategist Jason Bennett: Coming out of the primary, we didn’t have any endorsements either. … The media’s perspective was, “Oh shit, what have we [voters] done?,” and that was the narrative for about a week and a half while Ed [Murray] was sort of floating balloons about whether or not he was going to do a write-in campaign. … We worked really hard to try to prevent Ed from jumping in. …

Mallahan strategist Jason Bennett

Mallahan strategist Jason Bennett at Del Rey last night.

Then, because the narrative of the previous week had been about the lack of experience of these two guys who had never held elected office before, our goal was to try to be perceived as the experienced candidate and pursue the endorsements.

Mallahan spokeswoman Charla Neuman: I had reporters say, “Oh, it seemed like you guys went silent” because we were so vocal before the primary and then right after the primary [people] felt like we kind of went underground. And there is some truth to that. … We spent time … at what Joe liked to call Mayor School.

About McGinn’s “evolving” position on the waterfront tunnel (although stopping the tunnel was initially McGinn’s key campaign issue, he later said he wouldn’t stand in its way, citing a nonbinding agreement between the city council and the state to build it):

Broadhead: He didn’t flip on the tunnel. The city council passed an agreement, nine to nothing, locking the city of Seattle into an agreement with the state. … One of the questions was, is this candidate a guy that understands the process? Does he understand that we’re a city of laws and agreements, and you honor agreements? Or is he just going to disregard everything in an effort to get his way?

Neuman: From everything that I’ve heard about Bill, he’s a smarter strategist than to pretend that was an accident. That was a brilliant move. Genius.

Broadhead: It was horrible politics. You don’t want two weeks out to have a headline saying, ‘[Candidate] backs away on signature issue.

Neuman: Yes, you do, when that’s what all the polls showed. …

The day that happened, I hadn’t done laundry in forever and … it was obvious, because I was wearing a black T-shirt with a Christmas tree on it. And when [McGinn's tunnel statement] happened, Joe came in and said, “Wear that T-shirt every day.” And for the first five minutes, I thought, “Yep this is my Christmas present.” Five minutes later… I thought, “this could work for him.”

Flip-flopping is an inside baseball game. And Mike McGinn is no John Kerry. He can articulate things very well. And that’s when I thought, this was genius. And yes, that’s when I started wetting my pants. I don’t think there’s a single person in here who can say with a straight face that, if there was any reason to hesitate for Mike McGinn, it was something other than him potentially wanting to obstruct moving forward with the tunnel. Anyone who was hesitant, who wanted to vote for Mike, this gave them the free pass that they needed. And anecdotally, you heard it every day after that. It was genius. Bill should take credit for it.

On each campaign’s biggest mistake:

Broadhead: This is the question that George Bush really fucked up, right? I’d say … the tone of the NRA robocall [which associated Mallahan with the pro-gun group because he didn't take a strong position on Nickels' ban on guns in city parks]. I’ll stand behind the message, [but] the tone was bad and I kind of wish we hadn’t done that.

Neuman: Biggest mistake, in my opinion … was I apparently garnered a reputation for hitting hard, I guess, during the primary particularly against Nickels, and I think that made some people uncomfortable.

During the time when he was trying to secure these endorsements… there was a vacuum that we did not fill, message-wise. We did not do a good enough job early enough to define Joe and to define Mike McGinn.

As far as the Southeast Seattle strategy … Joe was still uncomfortable being the politician. He didn’t want to seem like he was exploiting it, or using it for his own advantage. OK, it’s a campaign, you have to. So there were plenty of times when he was down there but he didn’t want to do that, to invite all the media. … During a campaign you have to promo everything. … He wanted the true relationships. He was still noble and green.

Bennett: We spent an enormous amount of time chasing McGinn on the campaign trail, and sort of reacting to stuff they were doing.

On Mallahan’s notorious lack of accessibility:

Bennett: In a loss, there’s a real propensity to try to self-preserve and say that there were these forces outside of our control or throw your candidate under the bus and we’re really conscious of trying to be perfectly honest and straightforward on this. Anybody who followed this campaign… I have to ask you if you feel like, [having watched] Joe Mallahan, putting him out there more would have been advantageous for the campaign. And whether or not that’s something that would have helped us. Then I would say that maybe it was part of our strategy not to increase the frequency with which he could be quoted.

Broadhead: Well, I’ve got to say, I didn’t expect to come here tonight and be in the role of defending Joe Mallahan. … But I think this guy did speak from the heart. He was credible out there on the stump. And quite honestly, he scared me as a candidate working on the other side. …. I think Joe is a very authentic guy. I think he got into it for the right reasons. … From my perspective, at least, the problem Joe had was that he had a movie in his mind of what running for office would be like. He’d be the outsider, business, social-justice guy that would come in and maybe clean up a corrupt system. And when Nickels lost the primary, the movie ended. And he didn’t know what to do past that point.

Neuman: The other big mistake we made in our TV, our mail, and out on the stump, is that we didn’t let Joe be Joe. … It’s tough to get Joe in a sound bite.

On how the two campaigns felt when the first returns hit on Election Night:

Broadhead: I have kind of a confession to make. I woke up this morning coming out of a dream where the election wasn’t quite in the bag. It was, like, two days before and I was like, “Oh, God, what are we going to do to nail this down? We had a vivctory party the other night—it’s going to be so embarrassing if we lose this.” And then I realized, oh, it was over. I’m still kind of having post-traumatic stress disorder.

Bennett: Yeah, we’re actually having post-traumatic stress disorder. So—sorry about your sad dream. How horrible for you.

[Editor's note: That was the funniest quote of the night.]

Neuman: Walking into election night, I thought that that was going to be our strongest night. I thought we needed to be up, because we would trickle down. So when I saw that we weren’t up, I wanted to vomit.

Bennett: Folks were like, what percentage do we have to have to feel confident of winning? And I said that we needed to have 52 percent. If we have anything less than 52, we’re toast. So the coma that was walking around on election night, that would be me, because I knew we were toast. … The primary behaved exactly like the general election for McGinn. So we knew shortly after the vote came in that we were done.

On the role of money in this year’s campaigns:

Broadhead: I think obviously it was not a deciding factor. I come out of a school of thought where you raise money, you go on TV, you do the mail, you raise points, you win the election. And this campaign was an eye-opener for me. If you gave me the choice, next cycle, of having the vote of the immigrant and refugee community in Seattle … and having, basically, the downtown checkbook, that would be a no-brainer for me. The immigrant and refugee committee … delivered votes for us.

Bennett: We knew we were never going to be able to compete on the ground game. … If you aren’t going to win on the ground campaign, you have to win on points and do the playbook that is tested and true. It is not fun to chase money, but we knew that was what we had to do.

Neuman: Even though it didn’t work out for us this time, I will always prefer having a financial advantage. I do think Seattle should rethink its $700 contribution limit. … In Seattle we pretend there’s no primary. We don’t have separate fundraising limits for the primary and general.

On whether McGinn’s grassroots strategy can be replicated successfully by another candidate:

Broadhead: There’s so many people that wish this was a one-time thing … that there was somebody behind the curtain that cast a magic spell for a few minutes and they can just go back to believing what they believed before and nothing really changed.

But I’ve got to to tell you, from someone in my position, the math has changed in Seattle. The fundamental political math has changed. And part of that is a demographic shift, part of that is a values switch, it’s a self-selecting thing of progressive voters moving to Seattle. … I think this model is open to whoever wants to follow it.

Bennett: What I hope is repeatable is that we don’t see the same six people cycling up the chain. …

The thing that wasn’t really talked about was the impact of Dow Constantine and everybody pushing the “oh, shit” button on him and pushing a great liberal, left, Seattle group out [to vote]. Referendum 71 [which Bennett also worked on] and [Initiative] 1033—we had to win those, and there was a great effort to mobilize that effort and that impacted the mayor’s race … When liberals are activated and they push the “oh shit” button, they rally together, and I think McGinn sort of benefited from that and I do think that’s replicable. I hope that’s replicable. … When liberals and progressives unite, they can make a big impact on a campaign. I hope that that’s the lesson learned.
Howie P.S.: Short story: Bennett consults for R-71 and Mallahan, R-71 (along with Dow and I-1033) pull out "Seattle liberals" who help tip it to McGinn . Oh, and Mallahan was a lousy candidate. And they didn't let "Joe be Joe" while Mike was left alone "to be Mike."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"Copenhagen 24/7: interactive TV livestream launched"

Radio Netherlands: has launched a new interactive TV channel that will allow people across the world to watch the Copenhagen climate conference live on their computer. The 7-19 December climate summit has been called ‘the most important conference since World War II’.

The channel will feature breaking stories, and an opportunity to interact with experts. The pioneering Internet channel initiative has already attracted powerful global media supporters, including Skype, Justin.TV, The Guardian online, LinkTV, Yahoo! News, New American Media and Al Gore’s Current TV.

"Seattle WTO: The Whole World was Watching 5-minute preview" (video)

KCTS 9, with video (05:15):

Video Preview

Nov. 30, 2009 marks the 10th anniversary of the first tumultuous day in 1999, when thousands of protestors disrupted and finally shut down the international meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle. In this documentary, KCTS 9 Producer John DeGraaf reflects on the events by interviewing former Seattle Mayor Paul Schell and Police Chief Norm Stamper.

Airs Monday, Nov. 30 at 8:00 p.m.

"Think health care system is okay? Take a look at Washington’s Basic Health Plan, visit a community clinic"

Rita Hibbard (InvestigateWest):
Anyone who thinks our health care system doesn’t need an overhaul hasn’t looked at Washington state’s Basic Health Plan lately. Or visited a clinic like Country Doctor Community Clinic on Capitol Hill, where I was yesterday afternoon.

rita_hibbardwebAnd anyone on the waiting list for the Basic Health Plan – now bigger than the number actually enrolled – must not have been among those polled to make Washington the seventh happiest state in the country, according to a Gallup Poll. But that’s another story.

About 80,000 people are now waiting to get on Basic Health, the state’s subsidized plan for the working poor. About 65,000 people are currently enrolled in the plan, paying an average of $34 a month, with the state paying the remaining 85 percent of the premiums. Beginning in January, members will pay an average of $60 a month, or 25 percent of the total premium.

Already, budget cuts have forced tens of thousands of people off Basic Health. And because it receives no federal dollars, the program faces even deeper cuts with the $2.6 billion budget gap the state now faces. U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell has inserted an amendment in the Senate health care reform bill that would rescue the plan, but even if that bill passes, the money wouldn’t flow until 2014, Kyung M. Song of the Seattle Times reports.

In Congress, Cantwell has inserted an amendment in the Senate bill that would allow Washington and other states to collect federal dollars to provide health coverage to families earning between 133 percent and 200 percent of the poverty level ($24,350 to $36,620 a year for a three-person household). The measure was modeled after the Basic Health Plan and meant to enable states to purchase coverage from commercial health insurers.

Cantwell said Monday that she would favor raising the income eligibility for Basic Health-like plans to 300 percent of the poverty level. For higher-income people, both the Senate and the House health-care bills call for allowing them to buy coverage through a public plan sold directly by the government.

Through a program that I do some volunteer work for, Companis, I spent some time yesterday at the Country Doctor Community Clinic on Capitol Hill, which treats many of the uninsured, working poor. “The baristas who serve you your coffee,” the clinic operations director explained. As a health reporter back in the 1980s, I also spent some time at Country Doctor. The issues, unfortunately, are the same. How to provide care for the working poor, those who have jobs, but no health coverage, who without programs like the Basic Health Plan and clinics like Country Doctor, would be in the emergency rooms, or among the 45,000 people who die every year simply because they have no insurance.

Companis helps out by placing volunteer nurses and other health care providers in the clinic and at other nonprofit agencies in need. Yesterday, we were talking about a placement for Ellen, a caring nurse who has given a lifetime of service, and who, 10 days into her retirement, wants to continue to “give back” to the community.

What can the rest of us do to help?

Would You Pardon the Turkey?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Seattle Mayoral race: the view from the insiders

Neuman and Bennett at the PubliCola event

Chris Grygiel (

That's how Mike McGinn's late-campaign position switch on the tunnel replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct was described Monday night by a political insider. That insider: Charla Neuman, the spokeswoman for Joe Mallahan's campaign, who spent months trying to defeat McGinn, who will become Seattle's next mayor in January.
At a lively and revealing forum at Belltown's Del Rey sponsored by PubliCola, the McGinn and Mallahan campaign leaders spoke about the just-completed election that McGinn won by a very narrow margin.

Interestingly, the most trenchant and complimentary observations about the individual campaigns came from the opposite camps. Take the question about the viaduct tunnel. Just two weeks before the Nov. 3 election, McGinn shocked many by saying he would no longer oppose the controversial, $4.2 billion tunnel replacement. McGinn made his announcement immediately after a City Council vote to move forward with the project.

McGinn campaign guru Bill Broadhead said his candidate made his statement after what he said was a surprise council vote, and McGinn wanted to emphasize he wouldn't "honor agreements."

"He didn't flip," Broadhead said.

McGinn did flip, and he flipped his way into the mayor's office, Neuman said.

"It was a brilliant move, genius," said Neuman, who added she initially thought McGinn's "flip/flop" would hurt him. "For the first five minutes, I thought, 'yep, this is my Christmas present.' Five minutes later, I thought, 'oh, fill in the blank with your favorite four-letter word.' This could really work for him. Flip-flopping is an inside baseball game. And Mike McGinn is no John Kerry, he can articulate things very well."

Neuman said McGinn's position change gave undecided voters a "free pass" to vote for him.

Other highlights from the forum:

# McGinn, the environmentalist and attorney who was shunned by the business, labor and political elite, spent time trying to woo them after he won the Aug. 18 primary. "It was pretty cold out there," Broadhead said. After they were rebuffed, the McGinn strategy was to win "with no money and no endorsements," he joked.

# Some of the Mallahan camp were terrified about a possible write-in candidacy by state Sen. Ed Murray, who represents the liberal 43rd District in Seattle. "I think both teams, were concerned about Ed Murray's write-in," said Mallahan strategist Jason Bennett. "We worked really hard to try to prevent Ed from jumping in. That was our immediate strategy after the primary."

# Mallahan, the T-Mobile executive, became the establishment candidate and that ultimately didn't help him. Also, both Neuman and Bennett said Mallahan, a notoriously unreachable candidate, was in some respects shielded from the press by the campaign. Also, Mallahan simply wasn't as good on his feet as McGinn, and that hurt them. Mallahan fared very poorly in the televised debates - "Charla and I can't be held responsible for what Joe said in the debates," Bennett joked.

# Broadhead, in perhaps the most insightful commentary about the whole election, came to Mallahan's defense. But he added that Mallahan's campaign was likely doomed when incumbent Greg Nickels was defeated in the primary.

"I know we've all been in campaigns, and Charla's right, you take the whole package. But I think this guy (Mallahan) did speak from the heart," Broadhead said. "He was credible out there on the stump, and quite honestly he scared me as a candidate working the other side. I don't know, behind the scenes, kind of what happened, but candidates don't always say the perfect thing. But if you draw a tight box around them, what you're giving up is authenticity. And authenticity is the stock and trade of politics right now. And if people don't believe you, even if you're saying the right thing, it doesn't matter. I gotta tell you, I think Joe is a very authentic guy and he got into it for the right reasons. It's obviously something he thought about for a long time. From my perspective, the problem Joe had in this thing is he had a movie in his mind of what running for office would be like. He'd be the outsider, business, social justice guy and come in and clean up a corrupt system.
When Nickels lost the primary, the movie ended. He didn't didn't feel right to was a guy living a movie that wasn't right for him."
Emily Heffter (Seattle Times)
In a post-election confession session Monday night at a Belltown bar, the chief strategists from Joe Mallahan's failed mayoral campaign portrayed their candidate as overly altruistic and so unable to stay on message that they hid him from the public.
Speaking frankly to a room full of people at a forum sponsored by the political blog PubliCola, consultant Jason Bennett said he doubted anyone who watched the campaign could seriously suggest that Mallahan should have spent more time in the public eye.

"I would say it was part of our strategy, not to put him out there more often," he said.

Mallahan was uncomfortable promoting himself and thought out loud too much, said his campaign consultant, Charla Neuman.

On the winning side, Mike McGinn's campaign consultant, Bill Broadhead, said he regretted the tone of a controversial robo-call the campaign made alleging that Mallahan was aligned with the National Rifle Association and wanted it to be legal for people to take guns to parks.

"I kind of wish we hadn't done that," he said.

And Broadhead revealed that after the primary, the campaign sought endorsements from labor and business groups, hoping that by winning the primary, they would have earned credibility among Seattle's power elite.

"It was pretty cold out there," Broadhead said, and added: "Then the strategy was to win with no money and no endorsements."

Later in the campaign, McGinn bashed Mallahan for taking donations from big labor and business.

Mallahan's consultants dished about the candidate's post-primary disappearance, when they were putting him through what the campaign called "mayor school," trying to get him up to speed on issues.

McGinn's consultant said a volunteer took McGinn to the Nordstrom Rack 30 minutes before the KING 5 debate to buy the sometimes sloppily dressed candidate a new red tie.

In the end, both campaigns said it came down to authenticity.

"We didn't let Joe be Joe," Neuman said.
Broadhead said the campaign never urged McGinn to shave his beard or speak through a spokesperson.

"If you draw a box around them, then what you give up is authenticity, and authenticity is the stock and trade of politics right now," he said.
Howie P.S.: I got there a little after six and the place was so packed I turned around and went back home.