Friday, December 4, 2009

Who Am Us, Anyway? Xe Xe Means Thank You Pakistan, Alt Energy

Paul Krugman
Jim Webb
Hillary Clinton
John McCain

"America can’t get control of its budget without controlling health care costs — and this is our last, best chance to deal with these costs in a rational way." - Paul Krugman

Now that we have committed ourselves to a larger war in Afghanistan, its time that we look at the largest enemy facing the Afghans - ourselves. Ugly Americans who come carpet-bagging into town and think they know it all because they are being contracted to. Right now there are 60,000 American troops in the country, and over 100,000 civilian contractors. Naivete, arrogance, and greed are the operating factors. For every dollar spent on projects in Afghanistan, ten cents remain in the country. The other 90 cents are going to the contractors and sub-contractors for God knows what they are doing because there isn't any oversight or anyone coordinating the projects in the first place.

A couple of other factors, as related by Michael Shank in the Nation, and worth quoting: "... the Afghan government would train young Afghans to take over leadership positions, only to have them leave for substantially higher paid positions with foreign contractors or international organizations. Karzai's key communicator pleaded with me: If we want to build capacity in Afghanistan, the international community must be mindful of the harm we do by incentivizing Afghans with excessively higher salaries so that government jobs remain unappealing.

Second, our development efforts are bedeviled not by bad intention but by poor implementation. There is a bitter taste in the Afghan mouth towards foreign aid contractors. For every one good American, said a source, Afghans can identify 100 Americans they don't like.

Thirdly, Americans and Afghans are becoming less secure with the policies presently in place. These policies are increasing, not decreasing, threats. Beyond the mere fact we are simply not training Afghan army and police to help Karzai govern effectively, there are two dangerous trends at stake in tackling threats. One involves the frequent, albeit unintentional, raiding and killing of civilians, which turns the civilian tide in favor of the Taliban protectorate. We are tackling an ideological opponent with bombs rather than with intelligence. The other, perhaps even more dangerous and unsustainable, involves the disregard of former Taliban, who have disarmed and desire reintegration into society. This makes political security and stability an untenable goal.

Michael concludes that the best way to turn the course of the war is: "Washington defense and development industries could do half the harm if we listened to what Afghans are telling us, in all sectors, governance, development and security. That would require a listening tour, an effort, which if managed properly, would manifest much community legitimacy, trust and acceptance, the keys to security and stability in Afghanistan. " Listening and communicating with your allies in Afghanistan, and putting the former Taliban people to work for you, what simple concepts. Our bureaucratic way of waging war and reconstruction is defeating our good intentions, allowing blatant greedheads to take advantage of the system, just like they have done in Iraq and the Balkans.

old black water, keep on rollin'...
In a couple of earlier posts I wrote about the company Blackwater, and how they were in Pakistan in a top secret project guiding drones for the Pakistani intelligence. It now gets much worse. Jeremy Scahill reporting in a story in the Nation magazine, tells of Blackwater employees working with security in Pakistan, and going out with them on missions: "He said that Blackwater is also working for the Pakistani government on a subcontract with an Islamabad-based security firm that puts US Blackwater operatives on the ground with Pakistani forces in counter-terrorism operations, including house raids and border interdictions, in the North-West Frontier Province and elsewhere in Pakistan. This arrangement, the former executive said, allows the Pakistani government to utilize former US Special Operations forces who now work for Blackwater while denying an official US military presence in the country."

This is a blatant attempt to get around the limitations imposed by the DOD and the CIA, much like Oliver North did in the Iran-Contra scandal. We have not declared war on Pakistan and we are sending people out to kill them, be they Taliban or innocent civilians. It's nice that they hire ex-special forces guys and give them a way to make a living, better than having them not be able to adjust to a non-predatory way of life at home and end up killing our citizens...

Eric Prince, the head of Blackwater, described as a war profiteer and going rogue himself, was recently featured in Vanity Fair. His company has been: "... dogged by a grand-jury investigation, bribery accusations, and the voluntary-manslaughter trial of five ex-employees, set for next month." He has lashed back at his critics, saying that Mitch Rapp has nothing on him, he's been an uber spy for the CIA all along: "Privately, and secretly, he has been doing the C.I.A.’s bidding, helping to craft, fund, and execute operations ranging from inserting personnel into “denied areas”—places U.S. intelligence has trouble penetrating—to assembling hit teams targeting al-Qaeda members and their allies. Prince, according to sources with knowledge of his activities, has been working as a C.I.A. asset: in a word, as a spy. While his company was busy gleaning more than $1.5 billion in government contracts between 2001 and 2009—by acting, among other things, as an overseas Praetorian guard for C.I.A. and State Department officials—Prince became a Mr. Fix-It in the war on terror."
"I put myself and my company at the C.I.A.’s disposal for some very risky missions,” says Erik Prince as he surveys his heavily fortified, 7,000-acre compound in rural Moyock, North Carolina. “But when it became politically expedient to do so, someone threw me under the bus.”
So, is he an evil murderer or hero? I guess it depends on your view of the dirty little secrets that always accompany war. The Obama administration is fully aware of blackwater's participation, the missions are coordinated out of Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. So, our war efforts seem to consist of a professional military of 150,000 NATO troops looking for 20,000 Taliban and 100 or so al Qaeda, 200,000 civilian contractors sucking up all of the money we send over there for training and reconstruction, and outsourcing the assassinations and other wet work to private mercenary firms, while making them richer than God in the process. Gone are the days when a million dollars seemed like a lot of money, now everything costs us in the billions. If we throw enough money down that rabbit-hole will it magically make everything all right? Next up, let's create some jobs at home...

the windmills of my mind...

I saw a report on the tube last night, that most of the windmills that were now being used in the US were made overseas, and why wasn't there any stipulation in some bill that the green energy products we use be made here? I don't know if the Scandinavian firm that was setting up shop here in Colorado has actually done so, letting us make some of the windmills in the near future. Most of the world's supply of solar panels are made in China, and there is a great black-market trade in stolen Chinese solar panels throughout Africa and the Mid-East.

I'm waiting for the jobs to appear that will start fitting out all of our houses and public buildings with solar panels, so at least we can help generate electricity onto the grid instead of sucking it up. The cost to hook everyone up is much less than what we spent on Iraq, or about what we have spent on private contractors for the last nine years, and it would have far ranging consequences. Of course, your utlitiy company would still find a way to gouge you for letting you use less energy, it's their institutionalized nature, versus nurture for the environment. Unfortunately, I haven't read anything close to this in the proposals from the job summit. I wonder if they were served beer there?

Instead, the Christian Science Monitor provides the top six ideas from the job summit, all seem retreads of old ideas, nothing new or exciting, nothing that can be implemented overnight:

Give employers incentives to hire. A targeted tax credit, available to businesses that expand their payroll, is one possibility the White House and Congress may support. Ensuring that businesses can get tax credits for research and development is another.

Create green energy jobs with a “cash for caulkers” program. Just as Congress stimulated demand for cars this summer with the “cash for clunkers” incentives at dealerships, Washington could provide incentives for homeowners and businesses to make buildings more energy efficient. It would create jobs now, and lower the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels in years ahead. More broadly, summit participants presented a range of ideas to boost jobs in clean-energy fields.

Boost credit availability for small firms. “We’ve heard that loud and clear” as a top concern of business, White House economist Christina Romer said on CNBC. Large firms generally see credit markets working, Obama said in the meeting. The administration is already trying to provide new capital to small and mid-size banks, which support many small employers. Administration efforts to stabilize the housing market also tie in, because home equity is often the collateral for a small business loan.

Boost infrastructure spending or aid to states. Many economists say this is one of the best ways to preserve or create jobs. Investments by government can have a large “multiplier” effect on economic activity, they say. And states are likely to make deep budget cuts next year, unless new federal aid arrives. Critics of more aid see that money as politically motivated — spending to save Democratic union jobs rather than the private sector.

Expanding exports. Obama said this “has to be a priority.” Where some economists warn against fueling a trade war (China recently accused the US of protectionism), others say the US urgently needs to fight back against a tide of job losses to overseas competitors. Citing a summit participant who is bringing call-in sales jobs back to the US from overseas, Obama said his administration will try to get more of this “reverse job migration.”

Use the TARP fund as a pool of jobs money. Actually Obama heard this idea from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, not at the jobs summit. She said that after it was used to rescue banks and carmakers, the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program has extra money that could be used to save unemployed workers in various ways. Not everyone agrees the TARP could be used this way, but the idea is now under active review.

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