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Archive for April, 2009

Posted by ZP Heller on April 15th, 2009

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For those of you who had to cut checks and wait in long lines at the Post Office this afternoon, here’s a stat to darken your already gloomy tax day. According to the National Priorities Project (NPP), 37.3 cents of every tax dollar went toward military spending last year. NPP has a site set up where you can actually see the breakdown of where your tax dollars went in 2008, based on your city and county info. For instance, in Philly where I live, the median income family paid $1,958 in federal income taxes last year. Of that, $576 went to military spending and another $155 went to military interest on debt, while education received a paltry $59 and environment, energy and science combined got just $55. Why are these numbers so skewed?

Thankfully, the Obama administration has called for substantial investment in woefully underfunded areas like education, health care reform, and renewable energy. And investing in renewable energy will translate into more jobs, even though the NPP notes that 30 percent of military spending currently goes toward securing fossil fuels. Here’s the thing though, if our country is simultaneously escalating the war in Afghanistan, calling for a long-term military commitment, how can they possibly deliver on their economic agenda?

So far, the war in Afghanistan has cost taxpayers $172 billion, but that doesn’t even begin to factor in all the long-term social and hidden costs. Factoring in the cost of future occupation, veterans benefits, and interest, we could be looking at $1-2 trillion. Can someone in Washington please start doing the math here?

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Posted by ZP Heller on April 15th, 2009

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

“Can more be done to create more of a coalition so that the U.S. isn’t burdened with bearing the cost in lives and treasure alone?”
“Since over half of the citizens of Afghanistan are female, shouldn’t we ask them what kind of help they want from us, if any?”
“What would happen if we pulled out military troops and replaced them with agricultural experts, economic development experts, Peace Corps volunteers, medical corps, and specialists to help in development of strong governmental structures and other “helpers” to help Afghans obtain an improved quality of life?”
“Why don’t we try diplomatic negotiation with all involved parties, including The Taliban FIRST?”

These are some of the questions we all should be asking right now about the war in Afghanistan. They are a sampling from over 460 viewer-submitted questions Brave New Foundation received for their upcoming series of three debates between Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress and The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel. Clearly, people are starting to see that regardless of whether you oppose the war in Afghanistan, substantive debates from experts on both sides of the issues would benefit everyone. That’s why Korb, who favors more troops and resources, will go head-to-head with vanden Heuvel, who calls for regional diplomacy and military withdrawal. They will debate whether military escalation is the best method to combat terrorism, and the effect more troops will have on an already unstable Pakistan; Korb and vanden Heuvel will agree upon a third topic chosen from the hundreds of submitted questions like the ones above.

Though this war continues to intensify, we still don’t know the answers to some of the most basic questions, which is why the ultimate goal of Rethink Afghanistan and debates like these is an educational one. Raising public awareness and fostering discussion will prompt Congress to hold substantive oversight hearings that bring in experts to explain policy and offer answers.

Every single aspect of the war in Afghanistan must be opened up to debate, especially considering the fact that over 172 billion of our tax dollars have gone to this war to date. That means we should be talking about the staggering costs, about exit strategy, about the rights of Afghan women, and whether diplomacy can win over hearts and minds. And we should be ranking the importance of these issues for Congress, which you can now do with this new voting tool where you also can submit your own written questions.

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Posted by robertgreenwald on April 15th, 2009

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We bring you Cost of War, part three of our Rethink Afghanistan documentary, which delves into the financial costs of this broadening war.

As we pay our tax bills, it seems an appropriate time to urge everyone to Rethink Afghanistan, a war that currently costs over $2 billion a month but hasn’t made us any safer. Everyone has a friend or relative who just lost a job. Do we really want to spend over $1 trillion on another war? Everyone knows someone who has lost their home. Do we really want spend our tax dollars on a war that could last a decade or more? The Obama administration has taken some smart steps to counter this economic crisis with its budget request. Do we really want to see that effort wasted by expanding military demands?

Watch Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and journalists, military and foreign policy experts, leading economists, and many more explain just how much the war in Afghanistan will cost us over how many years. View both the trailer and full segment of Cost of War, part three of the Rethink Afghanistan documentary.

Last week, we delivered a petition to Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Howard Berman, demanding oversight hearings. These hearings could raise the critical questions about costs and many other issues. Now, we want to know what questions you would ask in such hearings. Would you want to know how exactly the war is weakening the U.S. economy? What about whether more troops can solve Afghanistan’s problems or the escalating instability in Pakistan, subjects explored in parts one and two of this documentary?

  1. Record your questions on your webcam and send them to us! Simple instructions for doing this can be found here. It’s easy!
  2. Post your video to our Facebook page! Go to our Facebook page, click in the “Write something” box, and then click the video link.
  3. Vote on the written questions you think are the most critical for oversight hearings and submit your own.

We must urge Congress to raise key questions about this war at once. As FireDogLake blogger Siun recently wrote, “Once again we are planning a surge with no exit plan and a continued lack of concern for the most basic protection of the civilians in the land we claim to liberate.”

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Posted by Tom Engelhardt on April 15th, 2009

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(Cross-posted from TomDispatch.com.)

In 1984, Skynet, the supercomputer that rules a future Earth, sent a cyborg assassin, a “terminator,” back to our time. His job was to liquidate the woman who would give birth to John Connor, the leader of the underground human resistance of Skynet’s time. You with me so far? That, of course, was the plot of the first Terminator movie and for the multi-millions who saw it, the images of future machine war — of hunter-killer drones flying above a wasted landscape — are unforgettable.

Since then, as Hollywood’s special effects took off, there were two sequels during which the original terminator somehow morphed into a friendlier figure on screen, and even more miraculously, off-screen, into the humanoid governor of California. Now, the fourth film in the series, Terminator Salvation, is about to descend on us. It will hit our multiplexes this May.

Oh, sorry, I don’t mean hit hit. I mean, arrive in.

Meanwhile, hunter-killer drones haven’t waited for Hollywood. As you sit in that movie theater in May, actual unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), pilotless surveillance and assassination drones armed with Hellfire missiles, will be patrolling our expanding global battlefields, hunting down human beings. And in the Pentagon and the labs of defense contractors, UAV supporters are already talking about and working on next-generation machines. Post-2020, according to these dreamers, drones will be able to fly and fight, discern enemies and incinerate them without human decision-making. They’re even wondering about just how to program human ethics, maybe even American ethics, into them.

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Posted by Anand Gopal on April 14th, 2009

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Just as the world’s eyes are turning towards Afghanistan once again, a few conservative Afghan lawmakers are trying to pass a law that would, amongst other things, legalize marital rape, prohibit women from leaving the home without permission, deny them the right of inheritance, force a woman to “preen for her husband as and when he desires,” and set the minimum female marital age to sixteen.

The draft proposal, which is aimed only at the country’s Shia minority, recalls for many the harsh strictures of the Taliban era and has been roundly condemned in the international community: Hillary Clinton said that she is “deeply concerned” about the law, Obama found it “abhorrent”, and others in the West have asked, “Is this what our soldiers are dying for?” The international condemnation has forced the Karzai administration to shelve the law for the time being, as the Afghan government pledges to look at the details of the bill more closely.

While the world buzzes about this latest setback for Afghan women, you might be wondering just what exactly the bill says about women’s rights in Afghanistan.

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Posted by ZP Heller on April 14th, 2009

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The Easter Bunny was outside the White House this weekend, offering a slight variation on the traditional Easter Egg roll by handing out thousands of colorful plastic eggs stuffed with toy soldiers and notes to Rethink Afghanistan. In an effort to draw attention to this intensifying war and get people to ask critical questions Congress should address, the notes contain questions about troops, costs, human rights, and more. These are the things our country needs to talk about as the Obama administration escalates this war. Here’s hoping the Easter Bunny raised some eyebrows on the otherside of the White House gates.

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Posted by Steve Hynd on April 13th, 2009

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The Sydney Morning Herald has an interview today with Australian COIN-guru Dr. David Kilcullen, formerly part of Petraeus’ “dream team” and now a consultant to the Obama White House. It makes for very interesting reading.

Although the piece is headlined “Warning that Pakistan is in danger of collapse within months” Kilcullen isn’t directly quoted saying that. But he is directly quoted as saying Pakistan is the real and true central front in the War on Terror ™.

“We have to face the fact that if Pakistan collapses it will dwarf anything we have seen so far in whatever we’re calling the war on terror now,” said David Kilcullen, a former Australian Army officer who was a specialist adviser for the Bush administration and is now a consultant to the Obama White House.

“You just can’t say that you’re not going to worry about al-Qaeda taking control of Pakistan and its nukes,” he said.

…Cautioning against an excessive focus by Western governments on Afghanistan at the expense of Pakistan, Dr Kilcullen said that “the Kabul tail was wagging the dog“. Comparing the challenges in the two, he said Afghanistan was a campaign to defend a reconstruction program. “It’s not really about al-Qaeda. Afghanistan doesn’t worry me. Pakistan does.”

…”We can muddle through in Afghanistan. It is problematic and difficult but we know what to do. What we don’t know is if we have the time or if we can afford the cost of what needs to be done.”

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Posted by Paul Rosenberg on April 12th, 2009

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On October 2, 2002, Barack Obama, then an Illinois State Senator, gave a speech opposing going to war in Iraq. That speech, at that time, would prove crucial to his election, first as a US Senator two years later, and then as President, four years after that. Democrats who equivocated were a dime a dozen. Obama stood out, because he stood up when others did not, and said, “This is wrong.”

He did not oppose all wars. He cited the Civil War and World War II as specific examples of necessary ones. But, he said, “I’m opposed to dumb wars.” Yet, on January 23, his third full day as President, Obama ordered two separate air strikes in Pakistan, killing 14 civilians, along with four suspected terrorists. One strike killed six civilians along with four suspected terrorists staying in their home, the other simply hit the wrong target, the home of a pro-government tribal elder, Malik Deen Faraz in the Gangikhel area of South Waziristan, killing him, his three sons and a grandson, along with three others.

Now President Obama has made it official. In addition to another 17,000 troops promised early, he made an additional pledge of 4,000 more on Friday, March 27. It was reportedly a ‘carefully calibrated’ decision, these would be trainers not combat troops, we were told. But Ray McGovern, a 27-year CIA veteran, whose career included long stretches preparing security briefs for Presidents Reagan and Bush Sr., was not impressed with such fine distinctions.

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Posted by Chris Bowers on April 11th, 2009

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There are many ways to answer that question. However, the primary way the question should be approached is ethical: will our continued, escalated military action in Afghanistan (and Pakistan) prevent more human suffering than it causes?

As utilitarian, and even crass, as it may sound, questions about whether we will save more lives or cause more deaths, whether a refugee crisis outweighs the mass denial of civil rights, and if there will be a net increase or decrease of poverty as a result of the escalation are actually the humanist questions that must be addressed before determining if the escalation is just. After all, if we are causing a net increase in fatalities, injuries, refugees and poverty, then it becomes virtually impossible to justify the escalation by any standard. Or, at least, any standard that considers human life to be both valuable and equal, regardless of its place of origin.

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Posted by robertgreenwald on April 11th, 2009

Click here for more information about the Afghanistan war.

Rethinking Afghanistan requires vigorous, substantive debates about the critical issues involved in this war. It requires hearing from experts who don’t necessarily see eye to eye, but can discuss these issues in a constructive way that raises public awareness and compels Congress to address serious concerns. Two such experts are Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor-in-chief of The Nation, who thinks we need to withdraw our military altogether, and Lawrence Korb, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, who believes we should send more troops and resources. We’ll hear from both in a series of three upcoming debates on Afghanistan.

Ms. vanden Heuvel and Mr. Korb will debate whether more troops will effectively combat terrorism and how this war will impact Pakistan, but the third topic is completely up to you. What topic would you like discussed? Take part in these debates by submitting your ideas, and Ms. vanden Heuvel and Mr. Korb will pick the best one for our third debate. Should our debaters discuss the economic impact of continuing this war? Should they hash out U.S. interests in the region and whether they are best served by more troops? Remember, these debates will highlight questions Congress should address with oversight hearings.

Submit your debate topics by Tuesday, April 14, which Congress should ultimately use to inform the public and avoid repeating the mistakes made in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then stay tuned as we bring you three riveting debates, which are long overdue.

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