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Obama's Quagmire Looks a Lot like Vietnam
Related to country: Afghanistan

Translations available in: English (original) | French | Spanish | Italian | German | Portuguese | Swedish | Russian | Dutch | Arabic

By Robert Scheer, Truthdig:


True, he doesn't seem a bit like Lyndon Johnson, but the way he's headed on Afghanistan, Barack Obama is threatened with a quagmire that could bog down his presidency. LBJ also had a progressive agenda in mind, beginning with his war on poverty, but it was soon overwhelmed by the cost and divisiveness engendered by a meaningless, and seemingly endless, war in Vietnam.

Meaningless is the right term for the Afghanistan war, too, because our bloody attempt to conquer this foreign land has nothing to do with its stated purpose of enhancing our national security. Just as the government of Vietnam was never a puppet of communist China or the Soviet Union, the Taliban is not a surrogate for al Qaeda. Involved in both instances was an American intrusion into a civil war whose passions and parameters we never fully have grasped and will always fail to control militarily.

The Vietnamese communists were not an extension of an inevitably hostile, unified international communist enemy, as evidenced by the fact that communist Vietnam and communist China are both our close trading partners today. Nor should the Taliban be considered simply an extension of a Mideast-based al Qaeda movement, whose operatives the United States recruited in the first place to go to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets.

Those recruits included Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9-11 attack, and financier Osama bin Laden, who met in Afghanistan as part of a force that Ronald Reagan glorified as "freedom fighters." As blowback from that bizarre, mismanaged CIA intervention, the Taliban came to power and formed a temporary alliance with the better-financed foreign Arab fighters still on the scene.

There is no serious evidence that the Taliban instigated the 9-11 attacks or even knew about them in advance. Taliban members were not agents of al Qaeda; on the contrary, the only three governments that financed and diplomatically recognized the Taliban - Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan - all were targets of bin Laden's group.

To insist that the Taliban be vanquished militarily as a prerequisite for thwarting al Qaeda is a denial of the international fluidity of that terrorist movement. Al Qaeda, according to U.S. intelligence sources, has operated effectively in countries as disparate as Somalia, Indonesia, England and Pakistan, to name just a few. What is required to stymie such a movement is effective police and intelligence work, as opposed to deploying vast conventional military forces in the hope of finding, or creating, a conventional war to win. This last wan hope is what the effort in Afghanistan - in the last two months at its most costly point in terms of American deaths - is all about: marshaling enormous firepower to fight shadows.

The Taliban is a traditional guerrilla force that can easily elude conventional armies. Once again the generals on the ground are insisting that a desperate situation can be turned around if only more troops are committed, as Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal did in a report leaked this week. Even with U.S. forces being increased to 68,000 as part of an 110,000-strong allied army, the general states, "The situation in Afghanistan is serious." In the same sentence, however, he goes on to say that "success is achievable."

Fortunately, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is given to some somber doubts on this point, arguing that the size of the U.S. force breeds its own discontents: "I have expressed some concerns in the past about the size of the American footprint, the size of the foreign military footprint in Afghanistan," he said. "And, clearly, I want to address those issues. And we will have to look at the availability of forces, we'll have to look at costs."

I write the word fortunately because just such wisdom on the part of Robert McNamara, another defense secretary, during the buildup to Vietnam would have led him to oppose rather than abet what he ruefully admitted decades after the fact was a disastrous waste of life and treasure: 59,000 Americans dead, along with 3.4 million Indochinese, mostly innocent civilians.

I was reporting from Vietnam when that buildup began, and then as now there was an optimism not supported by the facts on the ground. Then as now there were references to elections and supporting local politicians to win the hearts and minds of people we were bombing. Then as now the local leaders on our side turned out to be hopelessly corrupt, a condition easily exploited by those we term the enemy.

Those who favor an escalation of the Afghanistan war ought to own up to its likely costs. If 110,000 troops have failed, will we need the half million committed at one point to Vietnam, which had a far less intractable terrain? And can you have that increase in forces without reinstituting the draft?

It is time for Democrats to remember that it was their party that brought America its most disastrous overseas adventure and to act forthrightly to pull their chosen president back from the abyss before it is too late.

This article originally appeared on TruthDig.


September 11, 2009

alternet


September 12, 2009 | 11:12 AM Comments  {num} comments



Should fat people be barred from flying?
Translations available in: English (original) | French | Spanish | Italian | German | Portuguese | Swedish | Russian | Dutch | Arabic

By Anthony L Hall:

Given the growing pandemic of obesity, it behooves commercial airlines to establish industry-wide standards to determine whether, or under what circumstances, fat people should be barred from flying. What happened to Emery Orto last week is a case in point:








Anthony L. Hall is a descendant
of the Turks & Caicos Islands,
international lawyer and political
consultant - headquartered in
Washington DC - who publishes
his own weblog, The iPINIONS
Journal, at http://ipjn.com
offering commentaries on
current events from a
Caribbean perspective

Orto is a 6-ft, 350-lb man who was barred from flying a Southwest Airlines (return) flight from Las Vegas to Chicago. According to him, he was barred because:

“The airline gave us the impression that I was too big or too fat to fly.”

For its part, Southwest insisted that it was merely enforcing its policy of barring passengers who cannot sit in a seat with both side arms down. And when reporters asked why the airline allowed Orto to fly from Chicago to Las Vegas in the first place, a spokesman conceded that the Chicago crew screwed up.

But never mind the crew; it’s this policy that is screwed up. After all, no crew should be authorized to bar a passenger from flying based solely on a visual scan of his or her girth.

This is too subjective, and will invariably give rise to disputes – with morbidly obese passengers insisting that they can fit in their seats just fine. Indeed, that’s exactly what happened in this case – with Orto reportedly becoming belligerent. This, conveniently, allowed Southwest to bar him by claiming, essentially, that not only his big butt, but also his big mouth posed a threat to the safety (and comfort) of the passengers and crew.

In fact, the only fair and objective way to enforce this policy would be to have a replica seat at the check-in counter so fat passengers can show that they will fit; rather like the measuring template that is there so passengers can show that their carryon bags will fit.

In any event, whether a fat person can fit (or squeeze) his butt into an airplane seat is not the issue. Because, if you’ve ever had to sit next to a fat person (in coach), you know that the real problem is that the rest of him tends to bulge over and take up far too much of your seat.

This is why the only fair and equitable way to deal with fat passengers is to require them to purchase two seats – the second one perhaps at half price. And, incidentally, no matter how snuggly you may think you fit in your seat, if you need a seatbelt extension, you would qualify for this surcharge!

The only alternative would be to designate fat people a disabled class and require the airlines to provide two seats for the price of one to accommodate their disability.

What do you think?

caribbeannetnews


September 11, 2009 | 3:04 PM Comments  {num} comments

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Bahamas: Englerston helps kids with school supplies
Related to country: Bahamas

Translations available in: English (original) | French | Spanish | Italian | German | Portuguese | Swedish | Russian | Dutch | Arabic

(Nassau, Bahamas) Community kids were rewarded for participating in the Englerston Urban Renewal summer program with prizes to get them through the school year.

Englerston Urban Renewal Program and Friends help kids with school supplies“It was a back to school assistance exercise whereby we help the children in the community ready themselves for the new school year,” said Dennis Dames, Englerston Urban Renewal Manager.

“We had about 45 children here and most of them are participants in the summer program.”

On August 27, they received backpacks, notebooks and school supplies from the back to school assistance exercise.

“We gave away about 40 bags today with books, pencils, geometry sets, rulers, erasers, pencil cases and the works.”

Englerston Urban Renewal Program and Friends help kids with school supplies“We took care of those who were active participants in the program.”

“We are now working on our after school program that we will be conducting Monday through Friday, which will include music theory, arts and crafts, reading, and math exercises.”

“We want to keep the kids focused and involved in positive things.”

Mr Dames acknowledged New Kingdom Life Ministries as a community partner and the businesses in the area for helping out their summer program.

“We are very thankful to them and other community partners for their continuous support.”

Calieel Rashad Amahad, Youth Director at New Life Kingdom Outreach Ministries, advised the children to avoid peer pressure during the school year.

“Peer pressure is being involved with something you know is wrong, but it is forced on you by someone else,” said Mr. Amahad.

‘To go beat up someone, write on the wall, act in a disorderly fashion, fight, or steal, are the things we need to avoid being involved in.”

Englerston Urban Renewal Program and Friends help kids with school suppliesEnglerston children were told to practice listening skills, follow the instructions given by their teachers, and to remember to give back to the community, when they become adults.

“The only way to get A’s and B’s is to be able to listen to your teacher and follow instructions,” said Mr. Amahad.

“You have to remember to give back when you become adults.”

“Do not forget these days. When something is given to you, then you one day will give freely.”

“If you have supplies at home already, save the things here for others who may not have anything at homelike you.”

Mr Amahad told them national service, as well as community service, are both positive ways to give back when the time comes.

Englerston Urban Renewal Program and Friends help kids with school supplies“The Government has given us what we need now and when it’s time for national service, or when they need help, we must do the same thing for them.”

Englerston kids received book bags and school supplies from the Urban Renewal back to school giveaway at the New Life Kingdom Outreach Ministry Church on Lincoln Boulevard.

(BIS Photo/Gena Gibbs).

29 August 2009

September 10, 2009 | 11:43 AM Comments  {num} comments

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Israeli Government Ads Warn Against Marrying Non-Jews
Related to country: Israel

Translations available in: English (original) | French | Spanish | Italian | German | Portuguese | Swedish | Russian | Dutch | Arabic

By Jonathan Cook, AlterNet:

The Israeli government has launched a television and Internet advertising campaign urging Israelis to inform on Jewish friends and relatives abroad who may be in danger of marrying non-Jews.

The advertisements, employing what the Israeli media described as "scare tactics," are designed to stop assimilation through intermarriage among young Diaspora Jews by encouraging their move to Israel.

The campaign, which cost $800,000, was created in response to reports that half of all Jews outside Israel marry non-Jews. It is just one of several initiatives by the Israeli state and private organizations to try to increase the size of Israel's Jewish population.

According to one ad, voiced over by one of the country's leading news anchors, assimilation is "a strategic national threat," warning: "More than 50 percent of Diaspora youth assimilate and are lost to us."

Adam Keller, of Gush Shalom, an Israeli peace group, said this was a reference both to a general fear in Israel that the Jewish people may one day disappear through assimilation and to a more specific concern that, if it is to survive, Israel must recruit more Jews to its "demographic war" against Palestinians.

The issue of assimilation has been thrust into the limelight by a series of surveys over several years carried out by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, a think tank established in Jerusalem in 2002 comprising leading Israeli and Diaspora officials.

The institute's research has shown that Israel is the only country in the world with a significant Jewish population not decreasing in size. The decline elsewhere is ascribed both to low birth rates and to widespread intermarriage.

According to the institute, about half of all Jews in Western Europe and the United States assimilate by intermarrying, while the figure for the former Soviet Jewry is reported to reach 80 percent.

Israel, whose Jewish population of 5.6 million accounts for 41 percent of worldwide Jewry, has obstructed intermarriage between its Jewish and Arab citizens by refusing to recognize such marriages unless they are performed abroad.

The advertising campaign is directed particularly at Jews in the United States and Canada, whose combined 5.7 million Jews constitute the world's largest Jewish population. Most belong to the liberal Reform stream of Judaism that, unlike Orthodoxy, does not oppose intermarriage.

One-third of Jews in the Diaspora are believed to have relatives in Israel.

According to the campaign's organizers, more than 200 Israelis rang a hot line to report names of Jews living abroad after the first TV advertisement was run on Wednesday. Callers left details of e-mail addresses and Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The 30-second clip featured a series of missing-persons posters on street corners, in subways and on telephone boxes showing images of Jewish youths above the word "Lost" in different languages. A voiceover asks anyone who "knows a young Jew living abroad" to call the hot line: "Together, we will strengthen their connection to Israel, so that we don't lose them."

The campaign supports a government-backed program, Masa, that subsidizes stays and courses in Israel of up to one year in a bid to persuade Jews to immigrate and become citizens. About 8,000 Diaspora Jews attend its program each year.

The government has been trying to develop Masa alongside a rival program, Birthright Israel, which brings nearly 20,000 Diaspora youngsters to Israel each year on sponsored 10-day trips to meet Israeli soldiers and visit sites in Israel and the West Bank that are promoted as important to the Jewish people.

Although Birthright is regarded as useful in encouraging a positive image of Israel, officials fear it has only a limited effect on attracting its mainly North American participants to move to Israel. Many regard it as an all-paid holiday.

Differences in the approach of the two programs were underlined in July when a Birthright director, Shlomo Lifshittz, resigned and moved to Masa after telling the Israeli media he had been forbidden from urging Birthright participants to migrate to Israel and shun intermarriage.

In launching the campaign, Masa's chief executive, Ayelet Shilo-Tamir, warned that assimilation worldwide was putting Jews "on the verge of negative growth."

Masa officials said young Jews who participate in their projects strengthened their Jewish identity and were more likely to become politically and socially active on behalf of Israel-related issues.

The campaign quickly provoked a storm of debate on Jewish blogs, especially in the United States, with some terming it "divisive" and an insult to Jewish offspring of intermarriage. A link to Masa's "Lost" campaign had been dropped from the front page of its Web site yesterday, possibly in response to the backlash.

The campaign will probably strike a chord in Israel, however, where a poll in 2007 found that 46 percent of Israeli Jews believed all Jews should live in Israel because it was "the only way Israel and the Jewish people will be strengthened."

That position has been echoed by Israel's leaders, although most have been careful not to upset the delicate balance of relations with Diaspora communities.

Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was widely regarded as having overstepped those bounds in 2004 during a visit to France when he urged French Jews to come to Israel because France was experiencing "the spread of the wildest anti-Semitism."

Sharon had been outspoken in wanting 1 million Jews to immigrate to Israel to counter a "demographic threat" from the rapid growth of the Palestinian populations in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Numerical parity between Jews and Palestinians living in the region is expected to be reached within a decade.

That theme has been picked up by his successors, Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu.

There is growing concern in Israel that immigration rates have steadily declined since a large wave of 1 million Jews arrived from the former Soviet Union through the 1990s. The absorption figure for last year -- 16,500 -- was the lowest since the 1980s. It is also believed that there is a growing trend of better-off Jews leaving Israel to live abroad, although figures are not publicized.

Keller, of Gush Shalom, said few Jews in the United States or Europe, the main target of the campaign, needed to come to Israel for material reasons.

"They come from ideological motives, and many of them are right-wing nationalists who can be encouraged to settle in the West Bank."

The Israeli government and various organizations subsidize the immigration of Diaspora Jews to Israel.

Last year, the Jewish Agency handed over responsibility for locating new immigrants to Nefesh B'Nefesh, a private organization that promotes on its Web site a dozen settlements in the West Bank, including hard-line communities such as Kedumim, near Nablus, and Efrat, near Bethlehem.

"Last week, Israeli TV showed a group of immigrants arriving in Israel to go to Efrat," Keller said. "They were shown being greeted at the airport by a large clapping crowds of Israelis waving flags in support."

September 8, 2009

alternet

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilizations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His Web site is www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National), published in Abu Dhabi.


September 8, 2009 | 12:25 PM Comments  {num} comments



China pledges support to Bahamas in tax haven fight
Translations available in: English (original) | French | Spanish | Italian | German | Portuguese | Swedish | Russian | Dutch | Arabic

By CANDIA DAMES ~ Guardian News Editor ~ candia@nasguard.com:

A high-ranking official of the People's Republic of China has pledged his nation's support to The Bahamas as this country and other offshore financial jurisdictions face increasing pressures from powerful countries.

Wu Bangguo, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China, made the commitment in the Cabinet Office on Friday. Wu, who was on an official visit, left The Bahamas yesterday.

China is a member of the G-20, which is made up of the finance ministers and central bank governors of the largest and most industrialized nations.

Speaking through an interpreter and in the presence of Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham and his Cabinet, Wu said, "We support the increased management of the international financial institutions and also reform of the international institutions. But what we would like to see is an increase in the representation and the voice of developing countries in the international financial institutions."

Noting that The Bahamas is a center for offshore banking, he said, "We understand that you are very much concerned and interested in the tax haven (issue). At the G-20 Summit we categorically opposed the practice of some developed countries unilaterally incorporating some developing countries into the blacklist of tax havens."

Following the G-20 Summit in London in April, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) named The Bahamas on a list of 38 jurisdictions that have failed to substantially implement the internationally agreed tax standard. Global leaders also vowed at that time to crack down on so-called tax havens while declaring an end to bank secrecy.

There have been growing concerns that tax havens have substantially contributed to the global economic crisis that is still unraveling.

The OECD progress report in April noted that The Bahamas committed in 2002 to the internationally agreed tax standard, which was developed by the OECD in cooperation with non-OECD countries.

Addressing the issue, Wu said, "We understand that your country would like to have more discussions with the Chinese side on exchange of the taxation intelligence and China adopts a very positive note and attitude on it. We can have exchange of views through diplomatic channels on this front."

Several weeks ago, The Bahamas government announced that it is negotiating tax information exchange agreements (TIEAs) with 14 countries.

The minimum number of TIEAs required by a jurisdiction to satisfy the standard set by the OECD is 12. The government advised that negotiations have commenced with Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Spain, Germany, France, Turkey and the Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands). It also announced it has initiated discussions for agreements on tax information exchange with the People's Republic of China, and proposes to initiate discussions with Mexico, Brazil, Japan, Ireland, South Africa and India.

On Friday, Ingraham indicated that the government is appreciative of China's support in this matter.

September 7, 2009

thenassauguardian


September 7, 2009 | 12:56 PM Comments  {num} comments



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