The White House has summoned the top U.S. general in Afghanistan to Washington to explain controversial remarks critical of the Obama administration published in a Rolling Stone magazine article.

Globe and Mail

U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, listens to a question from a reporters in the briefing room of the White House in Washington in this May 10, 2010

Anne Gearan

Washington — Reuters and The Associated Press

Tuesday, Jun. 22, 2010

The White House has summoned the top U.S. general in Afghanistan to Washington to explain controversial remarks critical of the Obama administration, U.S. military and Obama administration officials said on Tuesday.

The move comes after General Stanley McChrystal, the the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, apologized for comments by his aides insulting some of President Barack Obama’s closest advisers in an article to be published in Rolling Stone magazine.

The military officials said Gen. McChrystal has been ordered to attend the monthly White House meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan in person Wednesday rather than over a secure video teleconference, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. He’ll be expected to explain his comments to Mr. Obama and top Pentagon officials, these officials said. It was not immediately clear whether Gen. McChrystal would be ousted.

Mr. Obama has the authority to fire Gen. McChrystal. His predecessor, Gen. David McKiernan, was sacked on grounds that the military needed “new thinking and new approaches” in Afghanistan.

Earlier, Gen. McChrystal apologized for the interview in which he said he felt betrayed by the man the White House chose to be his diplomatic partner, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry.

The article in this week’s issue of Rolling Stone depicts Gen. McChrystal as a lone wolf on the outs with many important figures in the Obama administration and unable to convince even some of his own soldiers that his strategy can win the war.

In Kabul on Tuesday, Gen. McChrystal issued a statement saying: “I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened.”

In Rolling Stone, Gen. McChrystal is described by an aide as “disappointed” in his first Oval Office meeting with an unprepared President Barack Obama. The article says that although Gen. McChrystal voted for Mr. Obama, the two failed to connect from the start. Mr. Obama called Gen. McChrystal on the carpet last fall for speaking too bluntly about his desire for more troops.

“I found that time painful,” Gen. McChrystal said in the article, on newsstands Friday. “I was selling an unsellable position.”

The magazine quotes a member ofGen. McChrystal’s team making jokes about Vice President Joe Biden, who was seen as critical of the general’s efforts to escalate the conflict and who had favored a more limited counter-terrorism approach.

“Biden?” the aide was quoted as saying. “Did you say: Bite me?”

Another aide called White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones, a retired four star general, a “clown” who was “stuck in 1985.”

Mr. Obama agreed to dispatch an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan only after months of study that many in the military found frustrating. And the White House’s troop commitment was coupled with a pledge to begin bringing them home in July 2011, in what counterinsurgency strategists advising Gen. McChrystal regarded as an arbitrary deadline.

Gen. McChrystal said Tuesday, “I have enormous respect and admiration for President Obama and his national security team, and for the civilian leaders and troops fighting this war and I remain committed to ensuring its successful outcome.”

In Brussels on Tuesday, a NATO spokesman called the article “rather unfortunate, but it is just an article.”

The spokesman added that NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen “has full confidence in General McChrystal as the NATO commander, and in his strategy.”

The profile, titled “The Runaway General,” emerged from several weeks of interviews and travel with Gen. McChrystal’s tight circle of aides this spring.

It includes a list of Obama administration figures said to back Gen. McChrystal, including Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and puts Vice-President Joe Biden at the top of a list of those who don’t.

The article claims Gen. McChrystal has seized control of the war “by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.”

Mr. Biden initially opposed Gen. McChrystal’s proposal for additional forces last year. He favoured a narrower focus on hunting terrorists.

If Mr. Eikenberry had the same doubts, Gen. McChrystal said he never expressed them until a leaked internal document threw a wild card into the debate over whether to add more troops last November. In the document, Mr. Eikenberry said Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not a reliable partner for the counterinsurgency strategy Gen. McChrystal was hired to execute.

Gen. McChrystal said he felt “betrayed” and accused the ambassador of giving himself cover.

“Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books,” Gen. McChrystal told the magazine. “Now, if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so.”’

There was no immediate response from Mr. Eikenberry.

Mr. Eikenberry remains in his post in Kabul, and although both men publicly say they are friends, their rift is on full display.

Gen. McChrystal and Mr. Eikenberry, himself a retired Army general, stood as far apart as the speakers’ platform would allow during a White House news conference last month.

Gen. McChrystal has a history of drawing criticism, despite his military achievements.

In June 2006 President George W. Bush congratulated McChrystal for his role in the operation that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. As head of the special operations command, Gen. McChrystal’s forces included the Army’s clandestine counterterrorism unit, Delta Force.

He drew criticism for his role in the military’s handling of the friendly fire shooting of Army Ranger Pat Tillman — a former NFL star — in Afghanistan. An investigation at the time found that Gen. McChrystal was “accountable for the inaccurate and misleading assertions” contained in papers recommending that Tillman get a Silver Star award.

McChrystal acknowledged he had suspected several days before approving the Silver Star citation that Tillman might have died by fratricide, rather than enemy fire. He sent a memo to military leaders warning them of that, even as they were approving Tillman’s Silver Star. Still, he told investigators he believed Tillman deserved the award.

This week’s development comes as criminal investigators are said to be examining allegations that Afghan security firms have been extorting as much as $4-million a week from contractors paid with U.S. tax dollars and then funnelling the spoils to warlords and the Taliban, according to a U.S. military document. The payments are intended to ensure safe passage through dangerous areas they control.

The payments reportedly end up in insurgent hands through a $2.1-billion Pentagon contract to transport food, water, fuel and ammunition to American troops stationed at bases across Afghanistan.

British finance minister George Osborne produced the harshest budget in a generation on Tuesday, slashing spending, raising taxes and slapping a levy on banks in a drive to cut a record budget deficit to almost nothing in five years.

Globe and Mail

Britain emergency budget cuts deeply 

 

 British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne holds Gladstone’s red box as he poses for pictures outside 11 Downing Street in London, on June 22, 2010.

Reuters

Jun. 22, 2010

The 39-year-old Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer said government spending would fall by around 25 per cent over four years and announced VAT sales tax would go up to 20 per cent from 17.5 next year, with a new £2-billion levy on banks introduced at the same time.

Nearly a million of the poorest paid people will be taken out of the income tax net altogether by raising its starting point and the headline rate of corporation tax will drop by one percentage point to 27 per cent next year and then keep falling.

Gilts rallied on the coalition government’s new plans to cut the deficit which are likely to go some way to assuaging rating agencies’ concern given the sovereign debt crisis spreading through the euro zone.

Rating agencies had warned Britain’s triple-A status could be at risk if Mr. Osborne’s plans to cut the record deficit of 11 per cent, close to that of Greece, were found wanting.

Mr. Osborne said just over three-quarters of the tightening would come from spending cuts and the rest from tax rises. Welfare payments would be targeted and even the expenditure of Britain’s Royal Family will be subject to closer scrutiny.

“When we say that we are all in this together, we mean it,” Mr. Osborne told parliament in his first budget since Britain’s Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government came to power last month.

Some economists say heavy fiscal tightening could endanger the recovery out of the worst recession since World War Two.

U.S. President Barack Obama warned fellow G20 leaders last week not to cut stimulus too soon.

“It seems to be a tighter budget than people generally were anticipating. By the look of the borrowing numbers, there’s a bigger squeeze here than most people were expecting,” said Jonathan Loynes, chief UK economist at Capital Economics.

But Mr. Osborne believes there is no time to waste though he admitted that growth will be lower this year and next because of his budget.

The independent Office for Budget Responsibility, established by Mr. Osborne last month, cut its forecast for economic growth to 1.2 per cent this year from 1.3 per cent published last week. GDP growth next year is seen at 2.3 per cent instead of the 2.6 per cent published last month.

Public sector net borrowing is now seen at £149-billion ($230.5-billion), or 10.1 per cent of GDP, this year but this is seen falling to £20-billion– or just 1.1 per cent of GDP – in 2015/16.

The structural deficit, that which is not subject to the vagaries of the cycle, is expected to fall to 0.3 per cent in five years from 7.4 per cent this fiscal year.

A tax on banks had been expected to cost the industry between £1 billion and £5-billion, depending on its structure and scale. Mr. Osborne said it would come into effect at the start of 2011 and will raise about £2-billion.

Sex with strangers and other tales from Sook-Yin Lee

Globe and Mail 

Sook-Yin Lee: Her movie found its roots in her adolescence, when she found a community of fellow artists.

Guy Dixon

Tuesday, Jun. 22, 2010

There’s a secret to understanding Sook-Yin Lee.

She actually cares what other people think of her. A lot.

This might come as a surprise to anyone who saw her masturbate in the film Shortbus. Or appear naked in the short film she directed and starred in for Toronto Stories. Or those who listen to her unconventional CBC Radio show Definitely Not the Opera. Or follow her presence on the highly uncommercial fringe of indie rock. Her new film Year of the Carnivore, however, is the first feature film she’s directed, and that makes it personal.

The film was inspired by Lee’s teenage years in and around Vancouver’s Chinatown and Strathcona neighbourhoods, when she was a socially awkward young woman trying to impress a young guitarist by becoming more sexually experienced. “There are people who are going to embrace this movie, and there are people who are going to deride this film. And it profoundly affects me!” Lee says, sitting on the grass outside the CBC building in Toronto on a warm afternoon.

“It profoundly affects me,” she repeats, “and I wish it did not. I wish I could just go, ‘That is just their interpretation,’ and not feel hemmed in by any definition stated by anyone else. And also let [my own definition] of myself move. Do you know what I mean?”

Some artists pretend they don’t care about labels attached to their public personae, or about turning themselves into a brand. Lee cringes at the idea.

“It sucks to be Ronald McDonald! I’d hate to be, like, this walking brand, ‘Hey, I’m Sook-Yin Lee!,” she says, holding up her arms like a marionette and shouting in a mock-obnoxious voice.

Lee began fighting limitations and being pigeonholed at 15, when she left home and the confines of suburban life in North Vancouver’s Lynn Valley.

“It was a very exciting time. I broke out of a very, in some ways, traditional family. I hung out at the mall. I watched a lot of television. And suddenly in the middle of my parents’ really messy break-up, I jettisoned out and found freedom,” she recalls. “And it was so exciting. It coincided with my discovery of punk rock and existential writing. The only punk guy in my entire suburb: We became friends, and he introduced me to all these great bands and stuff.

“Then I found myself an orphan with a lot of freedom. I was a very socially awkward teenager, unable to speak verbally and very shy. I found myself always expressing myself through painting and art. These were very meaningful and cathartic expressions for me. And suddenly I found myself in the company of a number of other artists.”

It’s that period which was the genesis for her film Year of the Carnivore. When preparing the actors for their roles in Shortbus, director John Cameron Mitchell asked the cast to make personal videos about love. Lee wanted to explore the story she told in her video about her cluelessness back then about love and her body – which she tried to address by having sex with strangers in a number of befuddled ways.

Lee embellished the script with many fictional details, often for comedic effect, but the essence of the young woman’s confusion resembles what Lee went through. “I think with [the film’s lead character], it was more like looking at a relationship with a fella, and being in a quandary about what it is to be a woman. I still feel that. I don’t quite comfortably fit into what seems like the culturally prescribed gender roles. And sometimes when I’m faced by a majority of people who fit [in] better, I feel, like, ‘What’s wrong with me?’”

She’s currently working on other scripts about relationships and identity. “I am challenging this notion of what makes me,” she says. “This attempt to define self seems so slippery.”

Police state in, power suits out as Toronto goes into security shock

Globe and Mail

Police officers stand along a security fence in downtown Toronto on Monday, the same day the city saw its first significant protest march of the G20. MARK BLINCH/REUTERS

Marcus Gee

Monday, Jun. 21, 2010

 

At City Hall, employees arrived at work to find a burly security guard demanding their access pass before they entered the normally unlocked doors. At a downtown law firm, lawyers were told to leave their suits and high heels at home and dress casual-like to avoid being set upon by anti-capitalist rioters. At one provincial government office, bureaucrats were told in late afternoon that the building was going under “lockdown” because protesters were in the neighbourhood. Many scooted for exits to avoid being trapped in the closed-up building.

All of a sudden on Monday, our calm, mild, pacific city took on a changed feel as the security noose tightened in advance of this weekend’s G20 summit. In the downtown, packs of police officers on bikes roamed the streets – followed, incongruously, by a golf cart-type vehicle transporting water, juice and granola bars for the boys and girls in blue. Around the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, the shiny metal security fence neared completion, a ghastly thing, like all such barriers, that made the notoriously ugly convention centre that will welcome foreign leaders even more unsightly than usual.

Also downtown, the first significant protest march made its noisy way through the streets, decrying the “police state” created for the summit. In the name of animal rights, native rights, poor people’s rights and numerous other causes, they occupied a gas station for a few minutes before cops on bikes made them leave.

Despite all the advance warning, this comes as a bit of a shock to the system for a generally safe city where the hand of authority is light and the cops keep a low profile. Go to Europe and you see soldiers walking around the airport with automatic rifles at the ready; go to the States and you see military men and women all the time. Not in Canada, not in Toronto.

Because we are so unused to security measures like this, there is a good measure of overreaction and even paranoia around. At one security briefing, reporters and camera folk were told to wear wool underwear to the protests – in a humid Toronto summer – because it is less flammable than other kinds. In a security memo to staff at a downtown law firm, staff were reportedly instructed on how to curl themselves into a protective ball if set upon by protesters and roll to the side of the street – conjuring up the remarkable image of balled-up lawyers rolling down Bay Street like so many bowling balls.

The very idea of all those downtown lawyers, bankers and executives coming to work in jeans, flip flops and polo shirts to foil the dastardly anarchists seemed a little craven. Pity the poor guy who doesn’t get the memo and comes to work in his Zegna suit.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided to put the summit in Toronto partly to showcase the relative health of our Canadian banking industry. Yet when the summit is on, everyone downtown will be doing their darnedest to look as unlike a banker as they possibly can. The whole week is turning into a casual Friday.

“If you unexpectedly encounter demonstrators,” a city landlords’ group advises tenants, “you will be better treated if you are in jeans and a casual shirt than if you are in a business ‘power suit.’ ” Other tips: don’t rub your eyes if you are tear gassed or pepper sprayed; and don’t wear your security pass on a lanyard around your neck – the bad guys might pull it off and abscond with it.

At first blush it all seems very silly and annoying – as if Paul Blart: Mall Cop were suddenly in charge of the city. In its list of “Things the G20 is ruining now,” the Torontoist runs through a list of complaints about shuttered liquor stores and farmers markets, adding a photo essay of the horrid fence.

But, then, the security folks have a serious job to do and they have to prepare for any eventuality. Inevitably, some of their rules will seem arbitrary and excessive. But “better safe than sorry” seems a good way to go when the safety of world leaders and the security of Canada’s largest city is at stake. It will all be over in a few days anyway and Toronto can go back to being its usual self: pleasant, banal and safe.

The G20: A billion dollars worth of what?

National Post editorial board  May 27, 2010

Admittedly, the security bill is staggering for the G8 and G20 summits to be held back-to-back in Ontario next month. Nearly $1-billion is an eye-popping sum. That’s almost as much as the cost of security for the entire Winter Olympics in Vancouver last February, and the Olympics lasted two weeks. The two summits in Huntsville and Toronto will be over and done with in just three days.

But consider that security for the G8 summit alone cost $381-million when Japan hosted the event two years ago. And in L’Aquila, Italy, last July the price tag — again for just the G8, without the G20 added — was over $400-million as Italian planners sought to avoid the deadly violence that surrounded the same gathering of world leaders when Italy previously hosted it in Genoa in 2001.

The question, then, is not whether Ottawa is spending recklessly. Every host nation seems to spend an exorbitant amount making sure it is not the country whose laxity permitted some extremist to assassinate the U.S. president or the German chancellor. The question is: Are these brief, glitzy sideshows worth the money? At the very least, the leaders of the G8 and G20 should be considering whether they might use one, easily secured location every time they meet to cut down on the nightmarish expense of playing host to their gatherings.

The $450-million in extra funding being given to the RCMP for its role in co-ordinating summit security is equivalent to 16% of the Mounties’ annual nationwide budget. The entire security bill is equal to about one-fifth of the amount Ottawa spends on the RCMP, CSIS, the Communications Security Establishment and military intelligence. Is it really worth it to any nation to put on one of these summits — let alone both of them — when to do so it must spend 20% above and beyond its national security budget?

Sure, being host to their counterparts gives nations’ heads of government plenty of photo opportunities to look influential and to bulk up their parties’ campaign brochures. And participant leaders always claim that face-to-face relationships created at such meetings help smooth trade relations and crisis management beyond the summits’ salons.
But so very little of substance is achieved at these meetings that either their costs must come down or leaders need to rethink whether they are useful at all. Among the main topics of discussion at recent G8s have been climate change, sustainable agriculture and nuclear safety. Yet despite the billions spent negotiating common policy positions, there remains no global climate treaty to succeed the Kyoto accords that expire in 2012, no agriculture plan that both feeds the world and preserves its soil, and Iran is still about to acquire a nuclear bomb.

Of course at the Canadian G8 and G20 shindigs in June, the principal topic of discussion will be reducing member governments’ budget deficits and national debts, which makes the cost of these gatherings hypocritical as well as exorbitant.

Two months ago, the Tory government told Canadians that security costs for the two summits would be less than $200-million. In just eight weeks, those projections have nearly quintupled. The Harper government should be shame faced over either the sudden escalation of costs or their initial less-than-forthcoming estimates. And they might want to think twice before criticizing cost overruns by the previous Liberal government, such as the $1-billion gun registry. The registry is intrusive and ineffective, but at least when spending on it was finished, there was something tangible to show for it.

Perhaps now that she has been prohibited from auditing members of Parliament’s expenses, Auditor-General Sheila Fraser could be persuaded to do a performance audit on summiteering.

National Post