Saturday, October 3, 2009

Michael Moore's 'Capitalism, A Love Story' challenges many aspects of American life

Although the latest Michael Moore documentary, "Capitalism: A Love Story" has been screening in Los Angeles in a few theaters for a week, the controversial film debuted nationwide on Friday.

The consensus of film reviewers sampled by gives the controversial (and funny) doc a respectable 72% "fresh" (meaning more favorable reviews than unfavorable ones). L.A. Times film critic Kenneth Turan's review is equally lukewarm to the movie that uses AIG, Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger and even Jesus Christ to help prove Moore's theory that capitalism is hurting America. An excerpt:

Clearly, Moore has not lost his provocateur's gift for stirring the pot, and it is heartening to have a filmmaker take on a subject this all-encompassing and almost taboo. But not even Moore's skill can quell the suspicion that "Capitalism" misses the narrower focus that gave his earlier films some of their punch.
In a sense, "Capitalism" comes by its wide-ranging, scattershot approach naturally. After all, this is a heck of a big subject: Just ask Karl Marx, who spent 18 years researching and writing his multi-volume "Das Kapital." So it's perhaps inevitable because of the ton of territory "Capitalism" covers that this film ends up as the sum of its parts, nothing more.

That said, Moore's scattershot is a lot more interesting than some filmmakers' focus, and many of those individual parts are classic. For one thing, Moore retains the instincts of a shrewd stand-up comedian -- the astonished, baffled looks he often wears are a case in point, as is his decision to include under the rubric of "When did Jesus become a capitalist?" the dubbing of a section of a biblical epic with free-market platitudes.

So now that the film has been released nationally, if you've seen it, feel free to give us your take in the comments below.

U.N.'s Afghan vote fraud row shows split in West
KABUL - A U.S. diplomat's scathing charge that the United Nations effectively let Afghanistan's election be stolen has exposed the international community's disunity and may help explain Washington's new doubts about the war.

The outcome of the August 20 election has yet to be decided, amid accusations of massive fraud, and in public all Western diplomatic missions in Kabul say they are reserving judgment until a complaints process is complete.

In a strongly worded letter to Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, veteran U.S. diplomat Peter Galbraith accused his Norwegian U.N. boss of blocking anti-fraud efforts, which Galbraith said would have forced a second round of voting if carried out properly.

The United Nations responded by sacking Galbraith. The U.N. mission chief, Kai Eide, has rejected the criticism and says he supports a fraud investigation which is still under way.

But the ramifications of the dispute go far beyond the question of who will occupy the number two post at the mission's headquarters in a secluded compound in central Kabul, and could help decide the future of the eight-year-old war.

Galbraith is a close ally of Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama's point man for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

U.S. officials have cited the dispute over the election results as one of the main reasons for the Obama administration's unexpected decision last month to begin a new review of its whole policy toward the region.

The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan has asked for tens of thousands of additional troops to carry out an overhauled counter-insurgency strategy that would focus on protecting the Afghan population.

Some in the Obama administration favor other options, including scaling the mission back.


In his letter, excerpts of which were published in the New York Times, Galbraith wrote that he had tried to prevent Afghanistan's election commission from including "votes that it knew to be fraudulent" from its preliminary tallies.

Galbraith said Eide blocked him from intervening after Afghan President Hamid Karzai complained.

The U.N. mission chief "sided with Karzai in this matter, seemingly indifferent to the fact that these fraudulent ballots were the ones that put Karzai over 50 percent."

"Given our mandate to support 'free and fair elections' I felt UNAMA could not overlook the fraud without compromising our neutrality and becoming complicit in a cover-up," he wrote, referring to the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

In the end, the provisional results gave Karzai 54.6 percent of the vote, enough to avoid a second round run-off. Those results included whole villages where every single vote cast was for Karzai, often with the president receiving exactly 500 or 600 votes at multiple polling stations.

Eide insists he has been no pushover for fraud, but that the proper way to address it is through an Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), which is led by a Canadian and has the authority under Afghan law to nullify fake ballots.

The ECC has ordered a recount of 12 percent of polling stations, and the final result cannot be certified until that recount is complete, possibly next week.

"I completely reject that I have been more favorable to one side than to any other," Eide told the New York Times.

Diplomats in Kabul say privately that the U.N. mission was split between those who supported Eide and those who backed Galbraith, hoping for a more vigorous response to fraud.

Galbraith's outspoken approach also appealed to some American officials, concerned that a weak international response to fraud allegations could undermine any future Afghan government.

"He's not alone out there. He's not the only one saying what he's been saying," one Western diplomat said of Galbraith.

U.S. and U.N. officials say privately that they expect Karzai will still be re-elected, either with his first round victory confirmed or after a second round later in October.

So far Afghans have shown little appetite for confrontation to challenge the electoral result on the streets. Where the dispute has caused havoc is in Washington and other NATO capitals, where leaders face the prospect of selling the public on a war to protect a government with a dubious mandate.

"What's most important is that there is a sense of legitimacy in Afghanistan among the Afghan people for their government," Obama said last week. "If there is not, that makes our task much more difficult."

Elements conspiring against Pakhtuns: Bilour

PESHAWAR: Federal Minister for Railways Ghulam Ahmad Bilour Saturday said that some elements were out to hatch conspiracy against Pakhtuns.

Addressing a seminar on ‘The Terrorism-affected Pakhtunkhwa and International Responsibilities’ at the Peshawar Press Club, he said that the disintegration of the Soviet Union led to the massacre of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Had the USSR not disintegrated there would have been no US aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.

He said that the Americans used some Pakhtuns and extended its ‘war on terror’ into Pakistan, which inflicted colossal loss on the Pakhtuns as a nation. Pakhtuns were the real sufferers after the 9/11, he said and added: “Today the whole Pakhtun belt is affected by terrorism, which very adversely affected its economy.”

He said that the war against Pakhtuns was started back in 1979 when religio-political parties recruited 2.5 million Pakhtuns to fight against Soviet forces in Afghanistan and most of them were killed.

He said that “our policy on Afghanistan annoyed our neighbours including Afghanistan, Iran, Russia and India.” He added that instead of nurturing the dream to conquer Kabul, Mascow and Delhi, Pakistan should concentrate on bringing industrial and educational revolution in the country.

He said that he was ready to die if his death could bring peace and tranquility to the Pakhtun land.

Abdullah Sani, advocate, said that there would be no peace in the country in the absence of rule of law and equality, adding that we would have to end the sense of deprivation among the masses.

Peace Foundation chief Maqsood Ahmad said that after 9/11 Muslims were linked to the terrorism and the civil society organisations should make efforts to dispel this impression.

Saleem Afaqi of the Abaseen Column Writers Association said that both national and international forces were behind the conspiracy hatched against Pakhtun nation.

Magistracy revived in Malakand

MINGORA: The executive magistracy system stands revived in Malakand division after the NWFP government issued on Saturday a notification appointing different categories of magistrates in several areas, including Swat.

The magistracy system was abolished across the country by former president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf in Aug 2001. However, through the Shariah Nizam-i-Adl Regulation of 2009, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance — under which the executive magistracy was abolished — was repealed in April this year.

Through the notification, the provincial government made functional different categories of magistrates, including district and sub-divisional magistrates.

Swat DCO Atifur Rehman has been designated as Swat district magistrate. Sub-divisional magistrates for different areas of Swat are: Saltanat Khan for Babuzai, Shameer Khan Bhutto for Kabal, Ahmad Khan Orakzai for Matta, Afsar Ali Khan for Khwazakhela, Asad Ali for Charbagh, Manzer Jawed for Bahrain and Mohammad Ahmad for Barikot.

Executive magistrates for different areas are: Naeem Akhter, Sadaqat Ali, Jan Alam and Niaz Ahmad for Babuzai; Syed Ismael Ali for Kabal; Jawedullah Mehsud for Matta; and Ahmadzaib Khalil for Khwazakhela.

Shangla DCO Syed Altaf Hussain has been designated as district magistrate.

Sub-divisional magistrates for Shangla are: Mushtaq Ahmad for Alpuri and Ghulam Saeed for Puran. Mian Aeenullah has been appointed as executive magistrate for Alpuri.

Syed Mujeebur Rehman has been designated as district magistrate for Buner. Sub-divisional magistrates for Buner are; Farhatullah Khan for Totalai, Ismail Khan for Daggar and Muhammad Ayaz for Gagra. Momin Khan has been appointed as executive magistrate for Daggar.

Malakand DCO Siraj Ahmad has been designated as district magistrate.

Sub-divisional magistrates for Malakand are: Asadullah for Batkhela and Khursheed Anwer for Dargai. Asfandyar Khattak and Junaid Khan have been designated as executive magistrates for Batkhela and Dargai, respectively.

Ghulam Muhammad has been designated as district magistrate for Lower Dir. Its sub-divisional magistrates are: Gul Wahid for Timergarah, Tariq Ali for Samarbagh, Shah Nadir for Lal Qilla and Sardar Asad Haroon for Adenzai. Mumtaz Kundi has been appointed as executive magistrate for Timergarah.

DCO Jawed Marwat has been designated as district magistrate for Upper Dir. Its sub-divisional magistrates are: Fazal Kareem for Dir, Shamsul Alam for Wari and Fakhruddin Khan for Sheringal. Khwaja Faheem Sajjad has been appointed as executive magistrate for Dir.

UN Afghan neutrality questioned

Abdullah Abdullah, the main challenger to Afghanistan's incumbent President Karzai, has called for an inquiry into the UN's role since the August poll.He said serious questions had been raised about the neutrality of the UN special envoy to the country, Kai Eide.Along with the Afghan authorities, the UN is responsible for the election's smooth running and investigating claims of fraud.The accusation comes after the dismissal of a key deputy to Mr Eide.Peter Galbraith said he was sacked over a dispute with his superior about how to handle allegations of fraud.He said Mr Eide had chosen to side with President Hamid Karzai, an accusation the UN denies.Dr Abdullah said the incident had "greatly damaged" the UN's standing in the country.
"It took a brave individual [Peter Galbraith] to stand up for transparency," said Dr Abdullah."His remarks and what has happened in the last few weeks - question the neutrality of Kai Eide's mission.
Unofficially, Mr Karzai has won this election.But most of the allegations of fraud are against the president and his supporters.
EU election observers have said that about 1.5m votes - about a quarter of all ballots - cast in August's presidential vote could be fraudulent.
They say that 1.1m votes cast for Mr Karzai are suspicious.
Investigations into voter fraud are ongoing and an official announcement about the result is not expected until next week.
Mr Karzai could still be forced into a run-off election, and his challenger would be Dr Abdullah.

Rocket hits boys school in Peshawar

PESHAWAR: A rocket hit Government High School for Boys Naway Killay while four projectiles landed in fields near the Peshawar International Airport in yet another brazen rocket attack on the provincial capital early Saturday.

It wasn’t clear if the rockets were fired from Khyber Agency or some village on the boundary between the tribal area and Peshawar. Many people woke up after hearing the loud explosions at around 3:30 a.m.

One of the rockets hit the classrooms of the Government High School Naway Killay, located on Bara Road hardly 400 metres from the boundary wall of the Peshawar airport. Three rooms and a verandah of the old school building were damaged in the attack.

No casualty was reported in the attack because the classes were yet to begin. Students helped the staff to remove the rubble and clean the classrooms and verandah.

Four other rockets landed in the fields of Naway Killay village, famous for producing squash legends Hashim Khan, Roshan Khan, Qamar Zaman, Mohibullah, Jehangir Khan and Jansher Khan. Some of these Khans and their family members had studied at the school that was hit by rocket on Saturday.

Naway Killay is spread on three sides of the Peshawar airport, which contains the military airbase.

Since the launching of the military operation in Khyber Agency, Peshawar has come frequently under rocket attacks from the tribal area. Most of the rockets land in Naway Killay, Abdarra, Pishtakhara and adjacent villages for being close to Bara sub-division in Khyber Agency.

China top contributor to world economic growth

BEIJING(Xinhua)-- China contributed 19.2 percent of the world economic growth in 2007, up from 2.3 percent in 1978, a report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has said.It said China tops the world in contribution to the global economic growth.The report was the 18th by the NBS. It showcased the improving international status and influence of new China over years of development.
According to the NBS, China's gross domestic product (GDP) was 30 billion U.S. dollars in 1952, more than doubling by 1960, and reached 3.86 trillion U.S. dollars in 2008.China had also become the world's third largest economy in 2008 by accounting for 6.4 percent of the global GDP.Meanwhile, the country's gross national income (GNI) per capital has been catching up with the world average. The GNI per capita was 10.1 percent of the world average in 1978, and 32.3 percent in2008.In terms of GNI per capita ranking among 209 countries and regions by the World Bank, China was 130th in 2008 at 2,770 U.S. dollars, up 15 places compared 750 U.S. dollars in 1997.

5 US Troops Killed in Afghanistan

The NATO force in Afghanistan says five U.S. soldiers were killed in recent militant attacks.NATO says two U.S. troops died Friday in a bomb attack in southern Afghanistan. Another died of wounds sustained in an explosion in eastern Afghanistan, while a separate attack in the east killed two other soldiers.U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan have recently been facing stiffer Taliban resistance.2009 is the deadliest year for foreign forces since the conflict began nearly eight years ago.

U.S. Review of Battle Disaster Sways Strategy on Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — The paratroopers of Chosen Company had plenty to worry about as they began digging in at their new outpost on the fringe of a hostile frontier village in eastern Afghanistan.

Intelligence reports were warning of militants massing in the area. As the paratroopers looked around, the only villagers they could see were men of fighting age idling in the bazaar. There were no women and children, and some houses looked abandoned. Through their night scopes they could see furtive figures on the surrounding mountainsides.

A few days later, they were almost overrun by 200 insurgents.

That firefight, a debacle that cost nine American lives in July 2008, has become the new template for how not to win in Afghanistan. The calamity and its roots have been described in bitter, painstaking detail in an unreleased Army history, a devastating narrative that has begun to circulate in an initial form even as the military opened a formal review this week of decisions made up and down the chain of command.

The 248-page draft history, obtained by The New York Times, helps explain why the new commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, is pressing so hard for a full-fledged commitment to a style of counterinsurgency that rests on winning over the people of Afghanistan even more than killing militants. The military has already incorporated lessons from the battle in the new doctrine for war in Afghanistan.

The history offers stark examples of shortcomings in the unit’s preparation, the style of combat it adopted, its access to intelligence, its disdain for the locals — in short, plenty of blame to go around.

Before the soldiers arrived, commanders negotiated for months with Afghan officials of dubious loyalty over where they could dig in, giving militants plenty of time to prepare for an assault.

Despite the suspicion that the militants were nearby, there were not enough surveillance aircraft over the lonely outpost — a chronic shortage in Afghanistan that frustrated Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates at the time. Commanders may have been distracted from the risky operation by the bureaucratic complexities of handing over responsibility at the brigade level to replacements — and by their urgent investigation of an episode that had enraged the local population, the killing a week earlier in an airstrike of a local medical clinic’s staff as it fled nearby fighting in two pickup trucks.

Above all, the unit and its commanders had an increasingly tense and untrusting relationship with the Afghan people.

The history cited the “absence of cultural awareness and understanding of the specific tribal and governance situation” and the emphasis on combat operations over the development of the local economy and other civil affairs, a reversal of the practices of the unit that had just left the area.

The battle of Wanat is being described as the “Black Hawk Down” of Afghanistan, with the 48 American soldiers and 24 Afghan soldiers outnumbered three to one in a four-hour firefight that left nine Americans dead and 27 wounded in one of the bloodiest days of the eight-year war.

Soldiers who survived the battle described how their automatic weapons turned white hot and jammed from nonstop firing. Mortally wounded troops continued to hand bullet belts to those still able to fire.

The ammunition stockpile was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, igniting a stack of 120-millimeter mortar rounds — and the resulting fireball flung the unit’s antitank missiles into the command post. One insurgent got inside the concertina wire and is believed to have killed three soldiers at close range, including the platoon commander, Lt. Jonathan P. Brostrom.

The description of the battle at Wanat — the heroism, the violence and the missteps that may have contributed to the deaths — ends with a judgment that the fight was “as remarkable as any small-unit action in American military history.”

The author, the military historian Douglas R. Cubbison, also included a series of criticisms in his review, sponsored by the Army’s Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., that laid blame on a series of decisions made before the battle.

The draft report criticized the “lack of adequate preparation time” before arriving in Afghanistan, which meant there was little training geared specifically for Afghanistan, and not even a detailed operational plan for the year of combat that lay ahead.

Pentagon and military officials say those initial criticisms are being revised to reflect subsequent interviews with other soldiers and officers who were at Wanat or who served in higher-level command positions. After a round of revisions, the study will go through a formal peer-review process and be published.

The battle stands as proof that the United States is facing off against a far more sophisticated adversary in Afghanistan today, one that can fight anonymously with roadside bombs or stealthily with kidnappings — but also can operate like a disciplined armed force using well-rehearsed small-unit tactics to challenge the American military for dominance on the conventional battlefield.

Official judgment on whether errors were made by the unit on the ground or by any leaders up the chain of command will be determined by a new investigation opened this week by Gen. David H. Petraeus of United States Central Command at the urging of Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The call for such an independent review came from family members of the fallen, including David P. Brostrom, father of the slain platoon commander and himself a retired Army colonel, as well as from a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia.

The history is replete with wrong turns at every point of the unit’s mission, starting with the day it was reassigned to Afghanistan from training for Iraq.

After having served for more than a year in other hot zones of eastern Afghanistan, the platoon arrived in the village at dark on July 8, 2008, just two weeks from the day it was supposed to go home to its base in Italy.

The men wore their adopted unit emblem — skull patches fashioned after Marvel Comics’ antihero, the Punisher. They unloaded their Humvees, packed with weapons, water and the single rucksack each had kept when the rest of his kit was shipped home. They had plenty of ammunition.

But at the end of an intense tour of combat, they had run out of good relations with an increasingly distrustful population.

They named it Outpost Kahler, after a popular sergeant who had been killed by one of their own Afghan guards early that year. His last words as he moved ahead of his comrades to check whether their Afghan partners were asleep while on duty had been, “This might be dangerous.” (The shooting was ruled an accident, but relations between skeptical American troops and Afghan forces deteriorated.)

Although the 173rd Airborne Brigade had been scheduled to return to Iraq from its base in Italy, the need for forces to counter a resurgence of militant violence in eastern Afghanistan prompted new orders for the brigade to switch immediately to preparations for mountain warfare — many of the outposts were linked only by narrow, rutted trails, and some could be reached only be helicopter — and a wholly different culture and language. “Unfortunately, the comparatively late change of mission for the 173rd Airborne B.C.T. from Iraq to Afghanistan did not permit the brigade sufficient time to prepare any form of campaign plan,” the history reports.

The unit arrived at Wanat ill prepared for the hot work of building an outpost in the mountains in July; troops were thirsty from a lack of fresh water, and their one construction vehicle ran out of gas, so the unit was unable to complete basic fortifications. The soldiers had no local currency to buy favor by investing in the village economy, the history makes clear. The soldiers also said they complained up the chain of command about the lack of air surveillance over their dangerous corner of Afghanistan, but no more was provided.

Even as they settled into their spartan command post, the unit’s commanders were insulted to learn that local leaders were meeting together in a “shura,” or council, to which they were not invited — and which might even have been a session used to coordinate the assault on the Americans that began before dawn the very next morning.

The four-hour firefight finally ended when American warplanes and attack helicopters strafed insurgent positions. The paratroopers drove back the insurgents, but ended up abandoning the village 48 hours later.