Archive for June 28th, 2010

Not Helping

Sometimes people who want to help, actually hurt.

Throughout the 1970s, international donors provided funds for the sinking of ten million shallow hand-pump wells across the nation of Bangladesh. The idea was to provide people with clean drinking water, and so reduce the number of people felled each year by waterborne pathogens like cholera.

Three decades on, it develops that these wells are responsible for what the World Health Organization is calling “the largest mass poisoning of a population in history.” For the wells tapped into arsenic deposits, releasing the odorless, colorless, and tasteless toxin into water used for drinking and cooking. It is now estimated that between 35 and 77 million people in Bangladesh have been chronically exposed to arsenic-contaminated water.

“The magnitude of the arsenic problem is 50 times worse than Chernobyl,” said Richard Wilson, president of the nonprofit Arsenic Foundation[.] “But it doesn’t have 50 times the attention paid to it.”

When the wells were sunk, neither the ground nor the water were tested for arsenic. New wells continue to be dug, still without testing for arsenic.



Farewell To Arms

General Stanley McChrystal, recently “resigned” by President Barack Obama as commander of US forces in Afghanistan, has told the Army that he will retire.

I am not fond of generals, in general. “A general’s reputation,” as Kenneth Patchen observed, “is built on corpses.” In a world where Mr. Ha-Ha gleefully devises so many ways to inflict death and suffering, I am not much in favor of people who elect to pursue deliberately taking life as a career.

In any event, and as I recently noted here, since the US is at peace with its neighbors, Canada and Mexico, there is no reason at all at present for an army, at least in the sort of America envisioned by the Founders, who did not believe in a standing army. No army: no need for generals.

McChrystal in particular, though, I will not miss. He was a “darksider” during the George II years, when he served as ramrod for various unsavory “direct action” and “special mission” units. His behavior during the Pat Tillman outrage—in which McChrystal signed off on a medal citation he knew dripped lies, then worked back-channels to try to convince shameless BushCo politicos not to publicly cite to the lies he’d signed—was reminiscent of director Steven Spielberg’s craven response to the decision by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to award on honorary Oscar to ratfink Elia Kazan, who in the 1950s assisted the McCarthyoid witchfinder generals by denouncing before HUAC people like Lee Strasburg, Lillian Hellman, and John Garfield. As Kazan shuffled on stage to accept his tainted Oscar, people who didn’t care stood and applauded. People who did—Good People, like Nick Nolte, Ed Harris, that crew—stayed in their seats, sat on their hands. Spielberg stayed in his seat, but applauded. Soiled himself both ways.

Last fall McChrystal, displaying the sort of contempt for civilian authority that would eventually get him removed, ridiculed in public Vice President Joe Biden’s recommendations on American policy in Afghanistan, and indicated he would refuse to support it. The recent arrogant, locker-room, cocky-commando comments of McChrystal and his aides in the Rolling Stone piece by Michael Hastings affirmed that the man hadn’t changed, wouldn’t honor his oath, the American system of government. He had to go.

To send him on his way, a little clip from White Christmas, of Bing Crosby performing what at least one snide film critic has cruelly condemned as “Irving Berlin’s worst song”—”What Can You Do With A General?” Back in those days, retired generals did not immediately strip off the uniform and then proceed to careen around the television set knocking those they had formerly served. Maybe McChrystal can resist that temptation. Maybe.

The presentation in this video is amateurish, charmingly so. Halfway appropriate. As, in the end, McChrystal revealed himself to be something of an amateur. Though not a charming one.

Going Home

Mohamed Mohamed Hassan Odaini, the young Yemeni man who has been a War on Terra prisoner for eight years—more than a quarter of his life—is apparently at last going home.

As recently set forth here, Federal District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy, in ruling on Odaini’s petition on habeas corpus, found that there was “no evidence” Odaini “has any connection to Al Qaeda,” that “holding Odaini in custody at such great cost to him has done nothing to make the United States more secure,” and “emphatically” ordered him released “forthwith.”

Judge Kennedy allowed the Justice Department until June 25 to appeal his decision. The Justice Department apparently did not do so. On June 26, anonymous “administration officials” told the Washington Post that the government would not contest Judge Kennedy’s order, and that Odaini would be repatriated to Yemen.

As Kennedy’s opinion made clear, government officials first concluded in June of 2002, eight years ago this month, that Odaini was innocent. He has several times before been cleared for release, but that release has never come. Most recently, the Obama Justice Department, as part of its review of the status of all War on Terra prisoners bequeathed it by the George II administration, determined in June of last year that Odaini should be freed. However, following the sadsack “attack” of Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, the so-called “Christmas underwear bomber”—who had trained in a Badness Camp in Yemen—the Obama administration allowed itself to be bested by bedwetters in Congress and the media, and suspended the return of any War on Terra prisoners to Yemen.

“The general suspension is still intact, but this is a court-ordered release,” an unnamed administration official told the newspaper on condition of anonymity.

[A]nother administration official warned that the move “should not be viewed as a reflection of a broader policy for other Yemeni detainees.”

There remain 90 Yemeni prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay gulag. Before it imposed the bedwetting ban, the Obama administration had cleared 29 Yemenis to return home, and “conditionally cleared” an additional 30. One administration official told the Post that the courts may order up to 20 other Yemenis released, due to “insufficient evidence” in their cases. The official did not explain why, if the evidence in their cases was insufficient, prosecutors in the Justice Department did not dismiss those cases, as is their duty and obligation, under the United States Constitution, more than 800 years of Anglo-American jurisprudence, and the dictates of simple human decency.

When I Worked

June 2010
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