Around the World

News from around the globe impacting our world.

The Battle for Misrata Continues. Forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi pounded the rebel held city of Misrata on Sunday, hours after the Libyan government claimed its troops had pulled back from the besieged city in order to allow tribal leaders try to negotiate a political resolution. More from the The Guardian. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports more on the use of unmanned American drones in the conflict suggesting that they may provide a "psychological edge" in the fighting.

Army Joins Crackdown in Syria. Al Jazeera reports that the Syrian Army has been called into action to crackdown on anti-government protests in the southern city of Deraa and the Damascus suburb of Douma. Communications have been cut off and, for the first time, the military has become directly involved in attempts to quell the on-going protests against the regime of Bashir al Assad.

Clashes in the South Sudan. South Sudan's army (SPLA) claimed today killing 57 militia members during Saturday's clashes in Jonglei state. The militia forces were to integrate into the SPLA before July 9 when the South will secede from the North after voting overwhelmingly to separate in a referendum and it is not clear what set off this latest round of fighting. All Africa has the full report.

Alternative Vote Referendum Strains UK Coalition. The already strained relations between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in Britain's coalition government reached a new low yesterday amid an increasingly bitter campaign ahead of next month's referendum on the voting system. The story in The Independent.

Hundreds of Taliban Escape. Some 500 Taliban fighters, including some high level commanders, have escaped from a detention centre in Kandahar via a 320 meter tunnel. According to a Taliban statement the tunnel was not dug by the inmates but by fighters outside the prison. The tunnel took 5 months to complete. A full report including video from Al Jazeera.

 

Tax-Deductible Invasions

by Walter Brasch

 

          Millions of Americans gave George W. Bush unquestioned support when he diverted personnel and resources from the war against al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden to invade Iraq.

           Several million fewer opposed the invasion, stating that the primary mission was to destroy the enemy hiding in Afghanistan that destroyed a part of America and not to expand the war. At first, President Bush claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, capable of destroying Israel and, if placed aboard cargo vessels, could be launched at the east coast of the U.S. When that explanation fizzled, Bush said the invasion was to remove a dictator. Soon, “Regime Change” was the buzz phrase of the month.

           Flash forward eight years. Different president. Different country. Same kind of dictatorship. This time, the conservatives have loudly cried that Barack Obama should not have launched missiles at Libya. And many liberals, while protesting expansion of war, were now facing other liberals who supported President Obama’s mini-war of helping oppressed people. The Iraq war has now cost American taxpayers more than $ 780 billion. The two-week (so far) war against Libya has now cost almost $750 million, most of it for Tomahawk missiles.

           What’s a president to do? The president’s party spends millions of dollars on polls, none of which are reliable. The president is then forced to put his finger into the wind to see what the voters want—and then does what he wants to do anyway.

          Whatever he does will be met by hostility on one side and near-blind support on the other. However, there is a solution. Tax checkoff.

          No, that’s not like a distant cousin of the Russian short story writer. It’s a way for the President and the taxpayers to get the biggest bang for their buck.

           Let’s say that a president decides he wants to invade some hostile foreign country—Canada, for example. Instead of going into the War Room with his military leadership and plotting how best to meet the strategic, tactical, and political goals of an invasion, he stops for two weeks.

           During the first week, all Americans would be sent an email, asking them if they support the invasion of the country that sends Arctic Clippers to the U.S. during Spring. At the end of that week, voting stops. Now, let’s say that 40 percent of Americans think invading Canada is important and the prudent thing to do, but 43 percent oppose it. (The other 17 percent would still be trying to find out why their computers crashed.)

           Normally, the president would say that most Americans don’t want to invade Canada and might listen to them. But, the 40 percent are vigorous in their beliefs. No problem.

           On the next paycheck will be a question. “Do you support committing American troops to invade Canada, and stopping Arctic Clippers?” Those who answer “yes” will then be assessed a proportion for the costs of that invasion, putting their wallets and purses where their mouths are. If 60 million Americans want war, and the cost is a mere $300 million a week, then each supporter would have about $5 per week deducted from his or her paycheck. It’d hardly be noticeable. Of course, there might be a $5 surcharge for the cost of burying the dead, treating the wounded, and long-term physical and mental rehabilitation. But, hey, even at $10 a week, war is rather cheap. And, most important, all of it is tax-deductible.

           Those who don’t support the war wouldn’t have the money deducted. They could decide to support another war later, or pay a “fair share” for more vigorous environmental regulation and enforcement, or even a few dollars a month to allow members of Congress to have junkets. Whatever is raised for junkets would be the total pool available, and would have to be split equally among the 535 members and several thousand critical staffers who, we all know, are the ones who do the work anyhow.

           The Tax Checkoff System has one final advantage. With Americans deciding what to support and committing their personal fortunes or anemic savings accounts to the cause, we could wipe out the national debt and war at the same time.

  

          [Walter Brasch probably won’t be deciding to have deductions for war taken from his pay check. His latest book is Before the First Snow, a journalistic novel that looks at the integration of war, peace, oil, and nuclear energy, all within the context of social justice. The book is available, on pre-order, from amazon.com.]

 

         

 

 

OMG, I Agree With Michele Bachmann!

In the midst of the crapstorm that has become life in these United States, I sometimes feel as if I’ve slipped into a parallel dimension populated exclusively by tea partiers, Glen Beck clones, Sarah Palin stand up comedians, and our reigning dizzy queen Michele Bachmann. That’s why when I agreed with one of her statements, I headed straight for the antipsychotics.

Please God, don’t let me die a “dittohead”!

The Maybe I’ll Certainly Run for President in 2012 Unless I Change My Mind Before Deciding to Redecide Again candidate laid into The Messiah™ for leading his uncoalesced coalition into Libya. Not surprisingly she’s against it, though I’m confident she would’ve been for it if Obama had decided against intervention. But this this time? I agree with her.

Doin’ the Tripoli Tango
Obama made a mistake in entering the fray. Michele and I agree there seems to be little compelling strategic US interest involved. As for the humanitarianism angle, there are places that DO involve strategic US interests AND plenty of poor wretches being ground under the jackboots of a dozen Col. Loony Toons and DickTaters. We aren’t feeling particularly humanitarian there, so WTF? The US simply cannot be the world’s cop. There’s an infinite supply of bad people and you can’t wipe them all out without weakening yourself. Even Bush the Lesser understood that, though he sometimes didn’t act that way.

I think Michele’s a little weak on the whole “al Qaeda” is afoot angle and by referring to the fiasco in the making as the “Obama Doctrine” she’s ignoring the fact that one decision does not a full doctrine make. These decisions should and are based on the conditions at the moment, whether they’re good or bad.

Now, we’re  seeing the ghosts of neo-conservatism on Obama. He’s apparently signed a “secret order” authorizing covert support for the Libyan rebels. We’re slow learners about this whole, “let’s have a big freedom party and call all the poor kids over for punch, cookies, and purple thumb votes” thing. See Exhibits A (Iraq), B (Afghanistan), C-Z (dozens of other places where we’ve intervened to no great or lasting effect).

In case you haven’t noticed, democracies ain’t easy. If they were, the US would be in a lot better shape than we are. Bringing freedom to people takes more than no-fly zones, 10+ year wars, or secret orders. It’s an illusive thing being imposed on countries that have no real government to begin with – much less a democratic one. It’s a step learning curve, particularly when you’re being shelled by heavy artillery.

What’s it All Not About?
The question here isn’t whether the Carebear acted too slow or too fast. The question isn’t that he pulled together a coalition – no matter how feeble it is. It’s not about using the UN for a fig leaf. It’s not about how or if he consulted Congress. It’s not about whether he’s more inconsistent than George, because they both were. It’s about why we went in and now that we’re there, how the hell we’re going to exit.

The secret order suggests he’s going down the same rabbit hole as our previous Emperor. We’re already hearing about how things are just going ducky and how we’ll be out of Gaddafistan within days or months. It all sounds distressingly like the nearly 8-years the Dub prattled on about how things would be over soon in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yeah, how’s that working out for us?

Never go into a battle unless you know what it means to win and how you will win the peace as well. If you’re stupid enough to go in and it becomes plain you had the intelligence of a donut to do it, figure out how you’re going to back out, gracefully or otherwise. The battlefield of statecraft is pock-marked by the bodies of countries that don’t learn those lessons. I don’t know about you, but I’m not in the mood for contributing more cannon fodder for a questionable war.

So Michele, hat’s off to you!

Maybe there’s hope for you yet.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

 

 

 

OMG, I Agree With Michele Bachmann!

In the midst of the crapstorm that has become life in these United States, I sometimes feel as if I’ve slipped into a parallel dimension populated exclusively by tea partiers, Glen Beck clones, Sarah Palin stand up comedians, and our reigning dizzy queen Michele Bachmann. That’s why when I agreed with one of her statements, I headed straight for the antipsychotics.

Please God, don’t let me die a “dittohead”!

The Maybe I’ll Certainly Run for President in 2012 Unless I Change My Mind Before Deciding to Redecide Again candidate laid into The Messiah™ for leading his uncoalesced coalition into Libya. Not surprisingly she’s against it, though I’m confident she would’ve been for it if Obama had decided against intervention. But this this time? I agree with her.

Doin’ the Tripoli Tango
Obama made a mistake in entering the fray. Michele and I agree there seems to be little compelling strategic US interest involved. As for the humanitarianism angle, there are places that DO involve strategic US interests AND plenty of poor wretches being ground under the jackboots of a dozen Col. Loony Toons and DickTaters. We aren’t feeling particularly humanitarian there, so WTF? The US simply cannot be the world’s cop. There’s an infinite supply of bad people and you can’t wipe them all out without weakening yourself. Even Bush the Lesser understood that, though he sometimes didn’t act that way.

I think Michele’s a little weak on the whole “al Qaeda” is afoot angle and by referring to the fiasco in the making as the “Obama Doctrine” she’s ignoring the fact that one decision does not a full doctrine make. These decisions should and are based on the conditions at the moment, whether they’re good or bad.

Now, we’re  seeing the ghosts of neo-conservatism on Obama. He’s apparently signed a “secret order” authorizing covert support for the Libyan rebels. We’re slow learners about this whole, “let’s have a big freedom party and call all the poor kids over for punch, cookies, and purple thumb votes” thing. See Exhibits A (Iraq), B (Afghanistan), C-Z (dozens of other places where we’ve intervened to no great or lasting effect).

In case you haven’t noticed, democracies ain’t easy. If they were, the US would be in a lot better shape than we are. Bringing freedom to people takes more than no-fly zones, 10+ year wars, or secret orders. It’s an illusive thing being imposed on countries that have no real government to begin with – much less a democratic one. It’s a step learning curve, particularly when you’re being shelled by heavy artillery.

What’s it All Not About?
The question here isn’t whether the Carebear acted too slow or too fast. The question isn’t that he pulled together a coalition – no matter how feeble it is. It’s not about using the UN for a fig leaf. It’s not about how or if he consulted Congress. It’s not about whether he’s more inconsistent than George, because they both were. It’s about why we went in and now that we’re there, how the hell we’re going to exit.

The secret order suggests he’s going down the same rabbit hole as our previous Emperor. We’re already hearing about how things are just going ducky and how we’ll be out of Gaddafistan within days or months. It all sounds distressingly like the nearly 8-years the Dub prattled on about how things would be over soon in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yeah, how’s that working out for us?

Never go into a battle unless you know what it means to win and how you will win the peace as well. If you’re stupid enough to go in and it becomes plain you had the intelligence of a donut to do it, figure out how you’re going to back out, gracefully or otherwise. The battlefield of statecraft is pock-marked by the bodies of countries that don’t learn those lessons. I don’t know about you, but I’m not in the mood for contributing more cannon fodder for a questionable war.

So Michele, hat’s off to you!

Maybe there’s hope for you yet.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

 

 

 

Republicans Want to Give Taliban More Money

And why wouldn't they?  The war is making everyone rich (except us, who pay the bill.)  Reported practically before the ballots in all the states had been counted:

WASHINGTON: Republican lawmakers who now control the US House of Representatives said on Thursday that they would try to prevent President Barack Obama from withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan as he planned...

Now, thanks to Rep. John Tierney (D-MA), who won his re-election handily, we know that at least 20% of Pentagon contract funds for overland transportation of military supplies goes to insurgents, as payment for not attacking the truck convoys.  This means up to $400 million a year goes directly to financing the Taliban and its allies, which could include warlords on the U.S. payroll in other ways accustomed to playing both sides.  To put that in context, the Taliban hierarchy's income from opium profits is estimated at about $300 million a year.  This is not small leakage.  If the Pentagon gave the Taliban anymore, it should be issued stock.

The name of the Tierney subcommittee's full report is "Warlord, Inc."

Add to this the fact that a huge amount of reconstruction dollars never even reach the country, but are taken back by American contractors in the form of 40% profit margins and ex-patriot "consultant" salaries, and it's a "splendid little war," to quote President McKinley's Secretary of State.

A 2008 report by OXFAM bares the truth about what's really happening to reconstruction dollars going to Afghanistan, the loss of which is blamed, in the official line, on corrupt Karzai government cronies, which is only part of the truth.  OXFAM's watershed "Aid Effectiveness in Afghanistan" tells us:

Afghanistan's biggest donor, USAID, allocates close to half of its funds to five large US contractors in the country and it is clear that substantial amounts of aid continue to be absorbed in corporate profits. According to the US based Centre for Public Integrity, the US government has awarded major contracts in Afghanistan, some worth hundreds of millions of dollars, to, inter alia, KBR, the Louis Berger Group, Chemonics International, Bearing Point and Dyncorp International.  In some large contracts in Afghanistan there are up to five of layers international or national subcontractors, each of which usually takes between 10-20% profit on any given contract but in some cases as much as 50%.

The peerless Ann Jones writes:

Afghans keep asking: "Where did the money go?" American taxpayers should be asking the same question. The official answer is that donor funds are lost to Afghan corruption. But shady Afghans, accustomed to two-bit bribes, are learning how big-bucks corruption really works from the masters of the world.

So it's no mystery why Establishment Republicans would want to misread this week's Tea Party victories as a mandate to keep financing the Taliban.  No Taliban, no war.  No war, no hand-over-fist money making for campaign contributors who'll take care of them once they are out of office in one way or the other.  Son we are talking gigantic gobs of cushy jobs, stock options, likker, DC madams forever YEE HAW!!

And so far this has cost you, according to economist Joe Stiglitz, around $50,000 since 2001 for every typical American family.  Did someone say war is a racket?

Could this story get any worse?  Yes.  Not only are we paying for insecurity and hatred due to the civilian casualties, night raids based on faulty information, and drone attacks which leave Afghans begging us to tell them why we are doing this to them, we could easily have the very opposite, real security, a people allied with us in the region who would hunt down Al Qaeda themselves, and a prospering Central Asian economy, for about one-tenth the price.  When politicians intone gravely "we don't do nation-building" they may as well be saying "we don't do things the cheap, smart way that works for national security.  No damned profit."

Three Cups of Tea author Greg Mortensen recently told Nick Kristof of the New York Times:  "The conventional wisdom is that education and development are impossible in insecure parts of Afghanistan that the Taliban control. That view is wrong."  Mortensen says that by consulting tribal elders and insuring most work is done by locals, meaningful development can progress.

Kristof went to Kabul to talk to men in a shanty town on the outskirts and reported:

What intrigues me is that the men don’t seem particularly ideological...These men say that their preference would be to get regular jobs and live in peace. But there are no jobs, and now they are being told that they will be kicked out of their camp. They say the threatened expulsion is the result of a corrupt land deal by tycoons tied to the government of President Hamid Karzai. "If the government forces us out, then we’ll have to go and join the Taliban and fight..."

And the Taliban will have money to hire them.  Yours. Everyone knows the Taliban pays ten bucks a day.  That's called good money in these parts.  You might not like the work, but that's who's hiring.

And the war and the non-reconstruction will roll merrily along while them good old boys in Washington par-TAY with all the likker and wimmin money can bah.

CONTACT CONGRESS

Who your reconstruction dollars are NOT reaching

 

 

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