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December 22, 2009

The JOURNAL's Top 10

We've tracked your favorite JOURNAL stories, so check out the JOURNAL's top 10 most viewed online features were in 2009 here.

And, tell us what your favorite BILL MOYERS JOURNAL pieces were in 2009 below.

Michael Winship: Where Are the Snows – and Shovels – of Christmas Past?

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

"Where Are the Snows – and Shovels – of Christmas Past?"
By Michael Winship

We had our first snowstorm of the winter in Manhattan this past weekend and it served to remind me that I have not actually shoveled snow in decades – the result of living in a city where other people are hired to do it for you. It once was said that the definition of a city was a place where one could keep a mistress and buy a violin; to me it’s a place where someone else does the sidewalks.

This is after all, a cosmopolitan island off the coast of the eastern United States, where patrols of garbage trucks with plows attached to the front – sometimes half a dozen of them at once – scraped our streets several times during the night and following day. We even have those trucks that melt 60 tons of snow an hour and flush it into the sewers, where presumably the alligators who live down there are going, “What the…?”

It wasn’t always like this – four decades ago, in February 1969, 15 inches of snow fell on New York one Sunday and the city was totally paralyzed. Nearly 40 percent of our snow removal gear wasn’t working properly because of poor maintenance. The borough of Queens was especially hard hit, with neighborhoods unplowed for days and no bus service or garbage pick-up. Mayor John Lindsay was booed as he tried to tour the streets.

That winter, I was just finishing high school and shoveling snow was still an important, if not just about the only part of my physical regimen.

As the season began, there were a couple of tiny rituals in my family that were observed at the beginning of each December: phoning Mr. Witherspoon to ask permission to use his hill for sledding (a formality – it was always granted) and negotiating a contract for shoveling the snow from the sidewalk and driveway of our neighbors across the street.

This was slightly more difficult, as the neighbors, an older woman and her daughter, were perceived by we kids as somewhat crabby, although the daughter, who was a nurse, impressed me mightily one summer afternoon when she deftly flushed with a large syringe of water a bug that had flown into my little sister’s ear.

A deal was made – five dollars for the entire winter – shoveling, scraping, salting. A paltry sum by today’s standards; hell, a paltry sum by 1969 standards, but we were neighbors and this was what you were supposed to do. And of course, this was in addition to shoveling out our own home, which was performed gratis because we knew what was good for us.

It does seem as if there was more snow back then. Of course, in upstate New York, we had snow like southern California has almost constant sunshine. One winter when I was small, I remember seeing helicopters – a rarity then – dropping feed to snowbound cattle. And there were times the snow was so deep that someone from the sheriff’s office would arrive at our house on a snowmobile to ferry my pharmacist father to his drugstore to fill emergency prescriptions.

Christmas seems different now, too, especially in this city. Two weekends ago, my sister was in town and she, my girlfriend and I went down to the Wall Street area where multiple Santa Clauses in various states of ho-ho-hilarity and inebriation slowly surrounded us. This, we learned, was SantaCon, an annual event of recent years described on its official Web site as “a not-for-profit, non-political, non-religious & non-logical Santa Claus convention, attended for absolutely no reason.”

Although the organizers deny it, what it seems to have become is a glorified pub crawl, amusing at first, but a little intimidating as the red suits and white beards numbers grew in legion and sobriety steadily diminished, reminiscent of that old saying, “It’s all fun and games until someone starts resisting arrest.”

We retreated to the South Street Seaport where carolers from the Big Apple Chorus were serenading shoppers and sightseers. As they swung into “Jingle Bell Rock,” this, too, triggered teenage memories.

Late each Christmas Eve, a bunch of us would gather, some with our band instruments from high school – a trumpet or two, a clarinet, a saxophone and trombone. We’d pile into a couple of automobiles and make the rounds of our small town, singing and playing carols: “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” “Deck the Halls,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Silent Night.”

We’d get out of the cars and crunch through the snowdrifts to our destinations; the homes of friends, mostly, and a couple of nursing homes.

The final stop was the county jail, where men would spend Christmas in cells for drunk driving or domestic disputes or non-payment of child support. As we performed, I always hoped we’d hear some voice from within, responding to our tinny renditions, like the old man in Dylan Thomas’ A CHILD'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES, who answers the carolers’ “Good King Wenceslas” in “a small, dry, eggshell voice from the other side of the door: a small dry voice through the keyhole.”

But we never did.

Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

December 18, 2009

Would You Vote for the Senate's Health Legislation?

(Photos by Robin Holland)

This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with journalist Matt Taibbi and economist Robert Kuttner about many progressives’ disappointment with President Obama and, more broadly, the power of special interest groups over both the Democratic and Republican parties.

Moyers noted that progressives are split on whether to support the Senate’s health legislation, which no longer includes a public option, an expansion of Medicare to people under 65, negotiated rates for cheaper drug costs, or many other progressive priorities for health reform. He asked the guests whether they would nonetheless vote for the bill if they were Senators.

Kuttner said:

“It's so far from what I think is necessary that I don't think it's a good bill. But I think if it goes down, just because of the optics of the situation and the way the Republicans have framed this as a make or break moment for President Obama, it will make it easier for the Republicans to take control of Congress in 2010. It will make Obama even more gun-shy about promoting reform. It will create even more political paralysis. It will embolden the Republicans to block what this president is trying to do, some of which is good, at every turn. So I would hold my nose and vote for it... [If] it was up to me to determine whether this bill [will] live or die, I would hold my nose and vote for it even though I have been a fierce critic of the path this administration has taken.”

Taibbi said:

“I definitely understand that point of view. My feeling on it is, just looking more concretely at the health care problem, this is a bill that to me doesn't address the two biggest problems with the health care crisis. One is the inefficiency and the bureaucracy and the paperwork which it doesn't address at all. It doesn't standardize anything. The other is price, which has now fallen by the wayside because there's going to be no public option that's going to drive down prices... My feeling is that if you vote for this bill and it passes, that's your one shot at fixing a catastrophic and completely dysfunctional health care system for the next generation, maybe. And I think it's much better for the Democrats to lose on this issue and then have to regroup maybe eight years later or six years later, and try again and do a better job the next time.”

What do you think?

If you were a Senator, would you vote for the Democrats’ health legislation? Why or why not?

Bill Moyers' Best Books of 2009

Bill Moyers concluded the JOURNAL this week with the following remarks about what he’s been reading lately:
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Other books on Bill Moyers’ recommended reading list, and the reasons why he picked them, are:

STRENGTH IN WHAT REMAINS, by Tracy Kidder. I read it last summer and hardly a day passes that I don't think of Deo, the young medical student who escaped genocide in Burundi — and lives his life as if he can heal the world.

LESSONS IN DISASTER: MCGEORGE BUNDY AND THE PATH TO WAR IN VIETNAM, by Gordon Goldstein. One of my own colleagues from my White House years grapples with our failure and his own responsibility. I've not read a more important book about the uses and misuses of American power since my 2008 favorite by Andrew Bacevich, THE LIMITS OF POWER.

WHY SCHOOL? RECLAMING EDUCATION FOR ALL OF US, by Mike Rose. I interviewed Mike Rose 20 years ago for my series WORLD OF IDEAS. He was already on the path to becoming one of our most exciting thinkers about education in the lives of marginalized people. He lives in the real world, and this new book — slim and vividly written — is an inspiration for how to cope with it in our classrooms.

YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE BUDDHIST TO KNOW NOTHING. This little book, conceived and edited by my longtime friend and collaborator Joan Konner will surprise you with absolutely Nothing. Read it — and Nothing happens. Nothing is the joy of it.

REBEL GIANT: THE REVOLUTIONARY LIVES OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND CHARLES DARWIN, by David R. Contosta. You'll never think of February 12, 1809 the same way again.

THE HEALING OF AMERICA: A GLOBAL QUEST FOR BETTER, CHEAPER, AND FAIRER HEALTH CARE, by T. R. Reid. Stop the health care debate in its tracks. Allow no Member of Congress to go home for the holidays until everyone has read this book by the long-time WASHINGTON POST reporter who shows us how it could be done. Then throw out the current script written by the insurance companies and Big Pharma and start over, with Reid's book as the blueprint.

FORD COUNTY, by John Grisham. If you like Grisham (and I do), you'll love him short. Go home again — to Ford County, Mississippi — with one of the best good ol' boys ever to spin yarns below the Mason Dixon line.

Happy New Year, under the circumstances.

Bill Moyers

What do you think? What recent books do you think should be on everybody’s reading lists?

How Effective Is Community Organizing?

This week, the JOURNAL profiled Massachusetts community organizer Steve Meacham, who recruits activists and works to stop evictions of people living in foreclosed homes.

Meacham described the process of people becoming inspired to work for systemic change:

“People come to their first meeting because they have a specific problem they want addressed, and they initially keep coming because their problem is addressed… People keep coming over time, and a lot of people come even after their problem is solved because they found something profound here… People go from feeling like victims to being activists on their own behalf, and then they take a step beyond that and they become activists on other people’s behalf, other people that were in the same situation they were in. Then they become activists on other issues besides housing, and pretty soon they’re trying to change the system.”

During the 2008 election campaign, John B. Judis of THE NEW REPUBLIC traced the history of President Obama’s experience as a community organizer. Judis suggests that Obama became disillusioned about the ability of community organizing to effect change:

“[Obama said] that he feared community organizing would never allow him ‘to make major changes in poverty or discrimination.’ To do that, he said, ‘you either had to be an elected official or be influential with elected officials…’ If you examine carefully how Obama conducted himself as an organizer and how he has conducted himself as a politician, if you consider what he said about organizing to his fellow organizers, and if you look at the reasons he gave friends and colleagues for abandoning organizing… [you find] a disillusioned activist who fashioned his political identity not as an extension of community organizing but as a wholesale rejection of it.”

What do you think?

  • How effective is community organizing at achieving major changes?

  • Are there more effective ways of pursuing systemic change?

  • Michael Winship: Happy Holidays from America's Banks

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

    "Happy Holidays from America’s Banks"
    By Michael Winship

    Never mind Barack Obama’s Audacity of Hope. It’s the audacity of the banks that takes your breath away. Mean old Mr. Potter in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE seems like Father Christmas by comparison.

    A recent report that Citigroup and Goldman Sachs may have received preferential treatment getting doses of the swine flu vaccine was enough to give Ebenezer Scrooge the yips. Then came news that in order for us to get back the taxpayer bailout money we loaned them, Citigroup is receiving billions of dollars in tax breaks from the IRS.

    And there’s a new study this week, “Rewarding Failure,” from the public interest group Public Citizen, revealing that in the years leading up to the financial meltdown, the CEO’s of the 10 Wall Street giants that either collapsed or got huge amounts of TARP money were paid an average of $28.9 million dollars a year.

    In 2007, that amounted to 575 times the median income of an American family. Now, thanks in part to the banks’ monumental malfeasance that led to our economic swan dive, food stamps are now being used to feed one in eight Americans, and a quarter of all the kids in this country. A new poll from THE NEW YORK TIMES and CBS News reports that more than half of our unemployed have borrowed money from friends and relatives and have cut back on medical treatment. THE TIMES wrote that, “Joblessness has wreaked financial and emotional havoc on the lives of many of those out of work… causing major life changes, mental health issues and trouble maintaining even basic necessities.”

    Yet according to the non-profit Americans for Financial Reform the reported $150 billion that Wall Street is paying itself in compensation and bonuses this year would be enough to solve the budget crisis of every one of the fifty states or create millions of jobs or prevent all foreclosures for four years.

    All of this wretched excess is occurring as more and more people can’t afford a roof over their heads. Foreclosures were up another five percent in the third quarter – 23 percent more than a year ago. Fewer Americans are willing to buy foreclosed properties, and the Obama administration’s foreclosure prevention plan has been a bust so far – way too timid, critics say, and many of the banks won’t play ball, refusing to negotiate in good faith with homeowners desperate to hold on.

    We got a first hand look at the crisis this week, when thousands lined up at the Jacob Javits Convention Center just a few blocks from our Manhattan offices to attend a mortgage assistance event sponsored by the non-profit Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA). So many showed up for this leg of the “Save the Dream Tour” that on many days, staff and volunteers stayed to help until one in the morning.

    NACA has had success getting homeowners and banks together to work out a deal to prevent foreclosure. But the big banks’ return to the government of the TARP bailout money with which we underwrote them over the last 14 months is a mixed blessing – great to have the cash returned so quickly, terrible because any leverage Washington held over the banks because of the loans virtually vanishes with the payback. They’re back in the saddle and not inclined to be of much assistance helping anyone else out, especially those in mortgage trouble.

    As Andrew Ross Sorkin of THE NEW YORK TIMES wrote in the wake of President Obama’s Monday meeting with Wall Street’s top guns (three of whom failed to show up because of airport delays), “Executive compensation, leverage limits and lending standards were all issues that Washington said it planned to change – and when the taxpayers were the shareholders of these firms, it probably could have done so. But now the White House has been left in the position of extending invitations, rather than exercising its clout. And in the figurative and literal sense, it is getting stood up.”

    Afterwards, Obama said, “The problem is there’s a big gap between what I’m hearing here in the White House and the activities of lobbyists on behalf of these institutions or associations of which they’re a member up on Capitol Hill.”

    That’s putting it mildly. This week, the American Bankers Association sent out an update and “call to action” memorandum crowing over its success watering down the bank reform bill that was approved by the House and urging its members to beat back similar legislation in the Senate. Self-righteously, it concludes, “As one of your New Year’s resolutions, please vow to do everything in your power to show, and to have your colleagues in your bank show, your Senators the right path to true reform.”

    It helps when the right path is paved with silver and gold. As “Crossing Wall Street,” a November report from the Center for Responsive Politics notes, “The finance, insurance and real estate sector has given $2.3 billion to candidates, leadership PACs and party committees since 1989, which eclipses every other sector…

    “The financial sector has also been a voracious lobbying force, spending an unprecedented $3.8 billion since 1998, while sending an army of lobbyists to Capitol Hill to make its case. That's more money than any other sector has spent on influence peddling. Not even the health care sector, which spun up a lobbying frenzy this year over health reform, has spent more.”

    The banks are making a list and checking it twice. And lest we forget, during his run for the White House, the finance sector filled Barack Obama’s stocking with $39.5 million dollars worth of campaign contributions, more than any other presidential candidate.

    God bless us, every one!

    Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

    December 11, 2009

    Pushing a People's Agenda

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with several figures who give voice to ordinary Americans and are calling for a new people’s movement to bring progressive change to Washington and the nation.

    George Goehl, executive director of National People’s Action, said:

    “I think more and more people are making connections around their own economic insecurity to what's happening with the banks and on Wall Street. So, suddenly we've got a growing movement of people who want to get out on the streets, put pressure on the banks, [and] they recognize it's a David and Goliath fight. And it's only through their action that we're gonna make things happen.”

    Renowned historian Howard Zinn, author of A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES and co-editor of the new film THE PEOPLE SPEAK, said:

    “Don't depend on our leaders to do what needs to be done. Because whenever the government has done anything to bring about change, it's done so only because it's been pushed and prodded by social movements, by ordinary people organizing. You know, Lincoln pushed by the anti-slavery movement. You know, Johnson and Kennedy pushed by the southern black movement. And maybe hopefully Obama today, maybe he will be pushed by people today who have such high hopes in him, and who want to see him fulfill those hopes.”

    A central task in forming a people’s agenda in a diverse country like America is determining what it is that the people want. Some recent polling from Gallup suggests that progressives may face a steep challenge in mobilizing a populist grassroots movement.

    One poll conducted in September found that 57% of respondents said that the federal government is “trying to do too many things that should be left to businesses and individuals,” while an October poll found that a plurality of 40% described their political views as conservative over 36% who described their views as moderate and 20% who described their views as liberal.

    What do you think?

  • What would constitute a people’s agenda for today? Explain.

  • Do you think grassroots movements have the power in today’s world to defeat powerful entrenched interests? Why or why not?

  • What issues in your community do you think need to be addressed? Have you acted to organize your community to achieve those changes?

  • Bill Moyers & Michael Winship: The Land Mines Obama Won’t Touch

    Many people are troubled that Barack Obama flew to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize so soon after escalating the war in Afghanistan. He is now more than doubling the number of troops there when George W. Bush left office.

    The irony was not lost on the President, and he tried to address it in his Nobel acceptance speech. “I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land,” he said. “Some will kill. Some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the cost of armed conflict – filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.”

    Granted, there’s a gap here between the rhetoric and the reality. But there’s always been something askew about Nobel Peace Prize, in no small part because it’s given in the name of the man who invented dynamite, one of the most powerful and destructive weapons in the human arsenal.

    It was rumored that after Alfred Nobel brought his version of Frankenstein into the world, he was torn by guilt over his creation, his shame said to have intensified when a French newspaper prematurely ran his obituary with the headline, “The Merchant of Death is Dead.” The article vilified him as a man “who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before.”

    What’s more, until the end of his life he corresponded with a woman named Bertha von Suttner, who had briefly worked as his secretary. Many believe that Nobel was moved by a powerful antiwar book she had written titled LAY DOWN YOUR ARMS. Whatever his reasons, when his will created the Nobel Prizes he specifically included among them a prize for peace. Von Suttner became one of its first recipients.

    After Nobel’s death, events turned grim, as if to mock him further. The arms race exploded beyond anything he could have imagined. From the coupling of science and the military came ever more ingenious weapons of destruction that would take even more lives in ever more horrible ways.

    One of the most insidious was the land mine, that small, explosive device filled with shrapnel that burns or blinds, maims or kills. Triggered by the touch of a foot or movement or even sound, more often than not it’s the innocent who are its victims – 75 to 80 percent of the time, in fact.

    As a weapon, variations of land mines have been around since perhaps as early as the 13th century, but it was not until World War I that the technology was more or less perfected, if that can be said of weapons that mangle and mutilate the human body, and their use became common.

    The United States has not actively used land mines since the first Gulf War in 1991, but we still possess some 10-15 million of them, making us the third largest stockpiler in the world, behind China and Russia. Like those two countries, we have refused to sign an international agreement banning the manufacture, stockpiling and use of land mines. Since 1987, 156 other nations have signed it, including every country in NATO. Amongst that 156, more than 40 million mines have been destroyed.

    Just days before Obama flew to Oslo to make his Nobel Peace Prize speech, an international summit conference was held in Cartagena, Colombia, to review the progress of the treaty. The United States sent representatives and the State Department says our government has begun a comprehensive review of its current policy.

    Last year 5,000 people were killed or wounded by land mines, often placed in the ground years before, during wars long since over. They kill or blow away the limbs of a farmer or child as indiscriminately as they do a soldier. But still we refuse to sign, citing security commitments to our friends and allies, such as South Korea, where a million mines fill the demilitarized zone between it and North Korea.

    Twelve years ago, at the time the treaty was first put into place, the Nobel Peace Prize was jointly awarded to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Jody Williams, an activist from Vermont who believes that by organizing into a movement, ordinary people can matter. She proved it, despite the stubborn refusal of her own country’s government to do the right thing.

    Last week, Jody Williams condemned America’s continuing refusal to sign the treaty as “a slap in the face to land mine survivors, their families, and affected communities everywhere.”

    The Nobel Committee said that part of the reason it was giving the Peace Prize to President Obama was for his respect of international law and his efforts at disarmament. And twice in his Nobel lecture, the President spoke of how often more civilians than soldiers die in a war.

    Then he said this: “I believe that all nations, strong and weak alike, must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I, like any head of state, reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation. Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards strengthens those who do, and isolates – and weakens – those who don’t.”

    And still the land mine treaty goes unsigned by the government he leads. Go figure.

    Click here to see the web-exclusive video version of this essay.

    December 4, 2009

    Art & Healing

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    In this week’s JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with film director Oliver Stone about how his experience fighting in Vietnam has informed his work -- including his famous Vietnam trilogy in PLATOON, BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, and HEAVEN & EARTH -- and influenced his worldview. Stone, the recipient of a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, described how filmmaking helped him work out his feelings and move on to the next phase of his life.

    “When you first see combat, it's like pro-football. It goes much faster than you think and more awkwardly than you think, and it's not particularly grand or anything. You try to save your life, and you see death, and you get used to it, and after a few engagements you get better at it... You crystallize the fear. You have to lose the fear. You have to get past it. Because otherwise you're gonna freeze up... You get angry and that's not a good emotion, either. But you get awfully pissed off... When I came back from Vietnam, I was an angry young man and had violent thoughts, and I went through a period of adjustment. I was very lucky in the sense that I went to NYU Film School, and I got a chance to make films. And that was a release, an artistic expression, and I did three Vietnam movies. So, I think over the course of those three movies, I learned a lot more. And I worked out some of my deepest feelings that I didn't even recognize at the time.”

    What do you think?

  • Has artistic expression helped you work out issues in your life? Explain.

  • Is art a viable healing strategy? Why or why not?

  • Michael Winship: The Afghan Ambush

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

    "The Afghan Ambush"
    By Michael Winship

    The decision has been made. The months of meetings and briefings are over. Tuesday night, the President made it official: 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan. Along with Friday’s announcement of an additional 7,000 from our NATO allies, after all those weeks of debate and consultation, the result’s pretty much exactly what our commander over there, General Stanley McChrystal, asked for in the first place.

    As they used to say in the old war movies, we’re in it now, up to our necks. More than ever, this is Obama’s War. The mess he inherited from the previous administration is now his mess. And while many Republicans may don their helmets, rattle their empty rusty scabbards and shout that escalation is the only way to go, their temporary declarations of support are just that – temporary. Pats on the back are simply their way of finding the proper place to stick the knife.

    Last week's Gallup Poll showed that while 65 percent of Republicans support sending all the troops McChrystal wants, only 17 percent of Obama's own Democrats do; 57 percent want a troop reduction. In other words, ignoring the entreaties of a majority in his own party Obama is going to war cheered on by the opposition that will do everything in its power next fall to bring him and his fellow Democrats down.

    Friday’s NEW YORK TIMES reported, “President Obama’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan over the objections of fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill is straining a relationship already struggling under the weight of an administration agenda that some Democratic lawmakers fear is placing them in a politically vulnerable position.”

    Next year’s midterm elections could be a disaster for the Democrats. That’s what happened to Lyndon Johnson. After winning by the largest plurality ever in 1964, bringing with him huge majorities in the House and Senate, in 1965 he escalated the Vietnam War. The next year, Democrats lost 50 seats in Congress.

    That’s just one of the possible effects of this fateful decision, one that could scuttle Obama’s campaign promises of social and other reforms just as surely as the Vietnam War did President Johnson’s. Guns and butter, LBJ said; for a time he thought we could pay for both. We could not.

    Money that could be spent generating jobs, improving education, fighting global warming and world hunger is poured into this bottomless chasm of war. Some estimates put the ultimate cost of occupying Afghanistan at a trillion dollars. Add that figure to the mind-numbing numbers we’ve already spent on the occupation of Iraq. It keeps mounting even as our cities and states are running out of cash, unemployment benefits are drying up, and we’re trying to figure out how to pay for health care reform – which some politicians are suggesting we back burner so that we can “focus” on the war in Afghanistan.

    Yet nothing is certain about our objectives there. The original goal of capturing Osama bin Laden was lost long ago, and so scattered now are our motives and so shaky our rationale that, prior to President Obama’s speech, the Pentagon was asking the public to Twitter what “points and/or issues” they thought the President should highlight.

    Nor is there any real evidence that the administration is serious about the 18-month timetable for withdrawal that the President announced in his West Point address. As THE NEW REPUBLIC’s Michael Crowley wrote, “The pledge is a largely empty one: In a conference call, White House officials made it amply clear that the extent and pace of any drawdown would be based on conditions on the ground. Theoretically, Obama's promise tonight could entail withdrawing 100 troops in July 2011 and pulling out the rest ten years later. Much as the White House wants to deny it, what we've got here is an open-ended commitment.”

    Our own military says Osama bin Laden’s true believers have been reduced to a relative few, chased across the border into Pakistan or scattered as far as Yemen and Somalia. As for the Taliban, there seems to be a growing belief among many generals that at least certain factions can be bought off, much as the support of certain Sunni insurgents was paid for in Iraq, fueling the so-called “surge” that’s increasingly mythologized as victory. But what part of “take the money and run” does the Pentagon not understand?

    And when it comes to training the Afghan police and army, and continuing to support the corrupt and dysfunctional government of Hamid Karzai – such a wager has all the makings of the sucker bet to end all sucker bets. Toss into that pot disputatious warlords fueled by self-interest, the opium trade and hostility toward any outside occupier, and the already slim odds fade to mathematical improbability.

    You’ve made your decision, Mr. President, and good luck with it. But turn back as fast as you can. It’s an ambush.

    Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

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