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.


Who your reconstruction dollars are NOT reaching



Help Haiti

I gave $25 to the Martha Coakley campaign Monday night, but now it's clear that that won't even come close to being my most important donation of the month.

You know the basics: A 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti with an epicenter just 10 miles from the capitol. As many as 100,000 may be dead in this country of less than 10 million. Children are stacked like cordwood outside some schools. The already shockingly-poor nation does not have the infrastructure to handle such a disaster. Former USAID administrator Brian Atwood said on public radio's Marketplace this afternoon that the chaos "will mean a country that really doesn't function as a country. It probably will have to be functioning more as a protectorate of the international community for at least a year or two." 

A valiant international relief effort is under-way, but if Katrina and the tsunami taught us anything, it is that major disasters are not something governments alone can handle. Successful relief efforts require private citizens to step up to the plate, so let us do our parts for our brothers and sisters in the Caribbean.

The Washington Post (along with the White House and many other media organizations) has a great round-up of relief organizations in Haiti. I will be donating to Partners in Health and OxFam, not so much because they are two of my favorite relief organizations (though they are) but because each has a long-standing presence in Haiti. With the nation's infrastructure already in bad shape, it seems to me like a good idea to support organizations already there and ready to go.

Please give. Because Haiti is already so poor, this is one of those instances where $5 really can make a huge difference, even in a pool of millions. I took three service trips, one lasting three months, to New Orleans after Katrina and will attest first hand to the value of private response. Please, give.

Oxfam has an emergency team in the capital, Port-au-Prince, responding with public health, water, and sanitation services. You can donate online through its Haiti Earthquake Response Fund or by calling 1-800-77-OXFAM.

Partners In Health is taking contributions for relief efforts in Haiti, including medical supplies. The organization has had a presence in Haiti for more than 20 years, working to address the health care needs of the country's poor.

You can donate to The Salvation Army's efforts in Haiti by calling 800-SAL-ARMY (725-2769) or visiting their Web site and designating that your donation is for the Haiti earthquake.

The UN World Food Programme is accepting donations. Head of the WFP Josette Sheeran said the agency is deploying its resources in Haiti, including 86 metric tons of food. You can donate here.

National Nurses United has issued a call for nurse volunteers to provide assistance to those affected by the earthquake in Haiti...

[Note from Nathan: The Post article at this point has a very long list of active organizations seeking donations; please send at least $5 to one of them. As I say, though I usually go with Episcopal Relief and Development or the Red Cross, this time I personally am choosing OxFam and Partners in Health.]

The State Department has set up a hotline for Americans to inquire after family in Haiti: 888-407-4747. [Note from Nathan: Extended Haitian-American family tell me they can't get through yet - but keep trying.]

There are several ways to donate via mobile device:

• Text the word "Yele" to 501501 to donate $5 on behalf of the Yele Haiti Foundation, founded by Haitian musician Wyclef Jean.

• Text the word "Haiti" to 85944 to donate $5 on behalf of the Rescue Union Mission and MedCorp International.

• Text the word "Haiti" to 25383 to donate $5 on behalf of the Internal Rescue Committee.

• Text the word "Haiti" to 90999 to donate $10 on behalf of the American Red Cross.

• Text the word "Haiti" to 45678 (in Canada only) on behalf of the Salvation Army in Canada.

On a related note, Pat Robertson may well be the world's biggest jackass. I am a devout Christian, and that man does not represent my faith or my church.

America's shame: Israel's inhumane siege of Gaza UPDATE

Robert Naiman, a sometimes diarist at MyDD, posted this diary, Egypt Says It Will Block Gaza Freedom Marchers, on Daily Kos yesterday.

It reports that on December 31, together with more than 1000 peace advocates from around the world entering Gaza through the Rafah border crossing, Naiman is planning to join tens of thousands of Palestinians in a march to the Erez border crossing inside Gaza to protest the Israeli blockade, and to demand that international action be taken to relieve Gaza of its humanitarian crisis.

There's more...

Obama Making the Taliban Shadow Into the Real Thing

As Afghanistan experts in NGOs which actually work among the people frantically try to tell Obama that he is making a big, big, mistake, the arrival of the first of 17,000 more American troops has already borne fruit.  It has managed to unite different factions of Taliban under the banner of Mullah Omar, who a month ago was wondering how to stay alive day-to-day against Predator strikes on one hand and radical young Taliban commanders who would like to take his place on the other.  Obama single-handedly solved many of his problems.  The UK Guardian:

three rival Pakistani Taliban groups have agreed to fight together against international troops in Afghanistan. The pact occurred after Mullah Omar, the cleric who leads the Afghan Taliban, called for all militants fighting in Pakistan to stop and come to Afghanistan to "liberate Afghanistan from the occupation forces." The united group is calling itself Shura Ittihad-ul-Mujahideen, or Council of United Holy Warriors.

Most of the "Taliban" rank-and-file in Afghanistan currently consists of 19-year-old kids who stash their weapons under rocks until some Americans come around, which gives them the chance to fight and make a few bucks.

The Obama plan is missing the forest for the trees, as do almost all present discussions of the insurgency. The West cannot understand that you cannot have 50% of children stunted through malnutrition, a 40% unemployment rate, no alternative to growing poppies as a means to feed your family, and foreign troops on the ground as a nice big red flag and not have an insurgency.

They don't need a hundred more civilian engineers looking for places to build bridges.  Spend $5 billion on indigenous jobs clearing canals and digging ditches for water pipeline, and your problem goes away, with all due respect to regional "no peace without Pakistan" analysis. The West is throwing away its most potent tool: most Afghans hate the Taliban. But a few months of killing these kids, whose crime is to want to feed their families, along with the inevitable civilian casualties and an atrocity or two, and by God now you've got a shooting war with real legs.  As in, quagmire.

Film-maker Robert Greenwald, on a recent trip to Afghanistan for his project "Rethink Afghanistan" caught up with about 20 men who were turning in their weapons and leaving the Taliban. He wrote in his blog:
Within a few minutes I was engaged in interviewing, talking, and asking the various Taliban how long they had been fighting (from 2-30 years), why they fought, what they wanted to say to the United States, and what they wanted in general (jobs and to take care of their families).

American forces should decline to chase the "Taliban" across the countryside, and aim their guns outward to protect Afghan work-crews. If I were on a road crew leveling ground with a shovel and laying gravel, I would feel real safe with a company of Marines looking outwards around me.  The Pakistan Taliban/Al Qaeda problem? Pakistani Pashtuns will likely start slipping across the border to get in on the jobs action.

Day-labor-for-cash jobs, $5 a day, 500,000 of them. No chasing Taliban. Problem solved, we go home in a year.

Fighting the "Taliban" shadow will only generate the hatred necessary to turn this into a genuinely nationalistic, ideology-driven conflict. With fewer desperate, angry young recruits to wear suicide vests, Taliban commanders and ideologues sit twiddling their thumbs and waiting for the phone to ring. Now NGOs, area experts, and I know how Cassandra felt. Please, Mr. President, there is still time to correct course.

Afghanistan may never have a true central government. They have the Loya Jirga. The political goal should be to negotiate neutrality toward the West among all factions, and an inter-factional peace enforced with 90% carrots and 10% sticks. You may never stop Afghans from fighting each other. That's what Afghans do. But gradually warlordism will give way to a younger, better educated generation who will leave that behind and discover better ways to live life.

There's more...

Oxfam Warns Obama of Disaster in Afghanistan, Targets Louis Berger Group

In an unusually strongly worded letter to President Obama, the major non-profit organization at the center of relief and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan has warned that the country is "sliding into a major humanitarian crisis" which could undermine significant peace initiatives now underway between major Taliban factions and the Karzai government.  

Oxfam America said:

events have reached a critical juncture in Afghanistan and conditions could deteriorate further unless the United States takes a lead in addressing failures in governance, aid and reconstruction...

A humanitarian crisis, affecting large parts of Afghanistan, is emerging due to an accumulation of factors, including widespread insecurity, a severe 2007-08 winter, high food prices, drought, and a high volume of returning Afghan refugees...As a
result of these factors, many Afghans are facing some of the worst conditions they have experienced in twenty years.

In Khers Khana village in Ashterlai...With no nearby health clinic and widespread malnutrition, eight children from the village died over the last year from preventable diseases. Families in Dakundi and all over Afghanistan are being forced to take exceptional measures to support their families such as selling their animals

Oxfam tells Obama that to remedy the situation money must be shifted away from large private contractors like Louis Berger Group and Kellogg-Root-Brown, and toward basic infrastructure projects like water and irrigation, which hire Afghans for labor and puts cash into their hands immediately.  This has also been the prescription of Jobs for Afghans. The Oxfam 10-point plan to save Afghanistan states:

A large proportion of Afghans are food insecure, which is due to a range of factors, but has been exacerbated by insufficient support for agriculture and rural development. Even though 80% of Afghans depend largely on agriculture to feed their families or make a living, this sector receives only a fraction of international funding. With the exception of alternative livelihood programs, support for agriculture comprises less than 5% of USAID's budget for Afghanistan since 2002; in 2007, agriculture funding comprised less than 1% of US assistance for the security sector.

As food has become increasingly unaffordable for millions of poor Afghans, malnourishment and micronutrient deficiencies are fast becoming major health threats for children under five, and pregnant and lactating women. An estimated 54% of children under five are stunted and 39% are underweight, while 21% of women of reproductive age are malnourished.

Less US assistance should be channeled through private contractors. USAID allocates nearly half of its funds to five large US contractors, and while contractors are needed in the reconstruction process, excessive amounts of aid continue to be absorbed in corporate profits,
especially within the layers of sub-contracts...As an example of extraordinary costs, in 2005, USAID contracted the Louis Berger Group to construct a short stretch of road between Kabul center and the international airport.

The Louis Berger Group then sub-contracted the project to the Afghan Reconstruction Company, and the road was constructed at a cost of over $2.4 million per kilometer, at least four times the average cost of road construction in Afghanistan.

Jobs for Afghans has put forth an "Emergency Works Program" which aims at hiring hundreds of thousands of Afghans for a daily cash wage immediately, to cope with 40-50 percent unemployment and rising food prices.  The plan outlines:

   *Focus on digging paths for "pipeline" infrastructure with hand-tools, meaning thousands of miles of trench which will carry basic water, electricity, and sewage pipeline, which is the foundation of rural infrastructure.  Pay a cash day wage of $10 per day, which is an excellent wage in this country.

   *Prioritize Kabul's unsanitary open-trench sewage system, potential to hire thousands of workers in easy-to-secure environment.

   -Dovetail the Military Strategy, Focus mission on using forces to protect work crews rather than chasing Taliban around the countryside. Minimizes civilian casualties.

Jobs for Afghans argues that the infusion of capital to poorest segment of society will jump-start the informal economy, as Afghans use funds to buy vendor stands, taxis, and other means of earning income, and distribute income through the tribal-clan structure to other Afghans.

Obama seems to be moving on Afghanistan.  The question is, is he moving fast enough.  The window for peace opened by last week's overtures by Mullah Omar is shrinking, and soon other smaller but even more radical Taliban leaders will have a fresh pool of recruits, who join solely for the Taliban wage of $8 per day.  Please forward this your congress member and the White House, make sure Obama hears.  The tragedy is this is one war we can get out of if we move fast.   LINK TO CONGRESS EMAILS.   LINK TO EMAIL WHITE HOUSE.

"Roughly 70 percent [of Taliban] are involved because of the money, because they are getting paid." - Joe Biden last week in Brussels

Oxfam report (Reuters)

There's more...


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