Wednesday, April 22, 2009

General Petraeus, Will You Talk To Me Now? (Public Service Posting: Change Cancer Forever; The Dream Act ,Conference Against Racism

General Petraeus, Will You Talk To Me Now? (Public Service Posting: Talk For An Hour. Change Cancer Forever; The Dream Act:  Immigrant Children In Legal Limbo and  The Durban Review Conference Against Racism 


General Petraeus, Will You Talk to Me Now?

by ralphlopez, Wed Apr 22, 2009 at 12:17:34 PM EST

It isn't State-Building, It's Deflating an Insurgency

The former Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan, General Karl Eikenberry, Vice President Joe Biden, and now even Time Magazine agree: 70 percent of the Afghan men fight for the Taliban not for reasons of religion, or even against the occupation, but for the wages the Taliban pays so they can feed their families. Afghanistan is a desperately poor land with 50% unemployment.  This seems an extremely poor reason for us to be fighting a war.  Most of them don't hate us (yet,) they don't even especially want us out, at least right now.  They attack because they get paid for it and their children are starving.

I had my file folder of PowerPoint charts and plans for an alternative way to win this war ready to hand to General David Petraeus as I raced to the Kennedy School Forum at Harvard, upon hearing he was speaking in my neck of the woods yesterday.  I didn't have a ticket for the event so I never managed to even get near him.  What I did witness was the extraordinary spectacle, through the peek I had through the doors, of a Scottish bagpipe band preceding his entrance and a full-blown rendition, by a hired singer, of the Star Spangled Banner.

Does even Obama get this treatment at what amounts to a town hall meeting?  Hail Maximus.

The devil is in the details.  With broad agreement that we are walking into what every indicator says will be a quagmire, where soon plenty more young Afghan men will be fighting because they do actually hate us, is it possible to do anything to lure them away from the Taliban with hope and jobs?  After witnessing the inevitable civilian casualties and the unsporting fire-power of F-16s and C-130 gunships against AK-47s and rocket launchers, it's a sure bet that hostilities will harden.  It's like watching a train wreck approaching which you can do nothing about.  It can never stop in time, and there are no switches to divert it.

But are there?  Will anyone see it and lunge, to divert the train wreck?

Time Magazine:

valley elder Sham Sher Khan, [says] the way to counter the insurgency hasn't changed..."The Taliban say they are fighting because there are Americans here and it's a jihad. But the fact is, they aren't fighting for religion. They are fighting for money," he says. "If they had jobs, they would stop fighting."

The prevailing wisdom is that the country is rife with corruption.  We hear that money never makes it to the little guy.  So the question is, is there a program which can circumvent this?  

The metaphor I like to use is a physicist's "wormholes" through space.  There are vast distances between suns, but there may be "wormholes," bends in space, which are in essence short cuts which may make interstellar travel possible.  In this case the vast distances are the many layers of corrupt bureaucracy, inside the country and out, which prevents all but a trickle of reconstruction aid reaching the people who need it most.  

It should be noted that the biggest corruption takes place outside the country, where contractors like Louis Berger (schools, roads) skim off huge profits from cost-plus contracts before a dime ever reaches Afghans.

The solution, the track switch, the wormhole, is cash-for-work jobs programs, an innovation in Third World development tool which has been proven over time.  They are administered by humanitarian organizations like Oxfam (called NGOs, non-governmental organizations), local government authorities, and US agencies like USAID.  

Cash-for-work programs have already made a huge difference in some communities in Afghanistan, including in Jawzjan ProvinceUruzgan, and Balkh Province.  The work involves basic infrastructure improvement like clearing canals, clearing irrigation waterways, building stone wall boundaries, and basic improvements of unsurfaced roads, which is most of the roads in Afghanistan.  There is no shortage of this kind of work, as most of the rubble lays right where it fell right after the Russians bombed it.  

The aim of cash-for-work programs, which have also been piloted in many other countries is to put hard cash into the hands of workers at the end of a day of labor.  They are easy to monitor, since little capital equipment is required much larger than hand-tools, and one can easily count heads at a worksite to see if the money is being spent properly.  The cash-for-work solution is ridiculously cost-effective.  The Taliban's recruiting pool could be greatly soaked up by spending what we spend on military operations in 2 months.    This would keep potential Taliban "off the street" for a year.  Pay $10 a day and these guys will do anything.  The Taliban pays $8.

Also, these kinds of simple projects like canal-clearing and ditch digging are not structures the Taliban can destroy right after they are built.  You can't blow up a ditch.

The time has come to take what works in Afghanistan and put it on steroids.  Cash-for-work should be the core around which the new military mission is built.  

General Petraeus is known for being an innovative thinker outside of the box.  Post-surge, resurgent Taliban Afghanistan will be his greatest test.  Fortunately, many thinkers and brave humanitarian workers came before him to pave the way, at risk of life and limb.  They were soldiers too.  They and the general know that no one hates war like a soldier.

Obama warns us against extending our ambitions to "state building" rather than the sensible goal of simply defeating the insurgency.  Cash-for-work is not state-building.  It is deflating the insurgency.  

If real reconstruction is to have a chance, if the patient is to be saved, first the bleeding of young men into the arms of the Taliban must be staunched.  The question is whether the political will can be generated to make cash-for-work big enough, fast enough, to stop the train wreck.  Brave American soldiers like Capt. Sean Dynan are doing an outstanding job on the village level, sitting with tribal elders and asking, as Capt. Dynan did in July 2008: "We know many faces have come through here over 30 years...the question we have to answer to you is how we are different."

It is time for those who walk in to "Hail to the Chief" and bagpipe bands to show this graveyard of empires "how we are different."

Ralph is the co-founder of Jobs for Afghans.

Please circulate and forward this post to your congressmember and to the White House.


Hi Ed,


My name is Sarah Moyal and I have been reading your blog. I work for the Campaign to Control Cancer in Canada. We are writing a report that is going to be read and distributed to elected officials from around the world at the Global Leadership Forum on Cancer Control in Ottawa in September. The report is going to be based on conversations that we have asked people from around the world to host in their hometowns about cancer and what people with cancer need from their countries. We provide the questions to be asked at the conversation so all that needs to be done is inviting people and picking a location and then after the conversation we ask that the host report back to us. The people do not have to be experts in the field, we want as many voices as possible. I was wondering if you would be interested in something like this. You can take a look at our site:


Go Public: the first-ever Global Community Conversations on Cancer Control invites people everywhere to come together and take part in a groundbreaking series of informal yet crucial conversations about cancer and cancer control.

Starting February 4th, 2009 (World Cancer Day), hundreds of conversations will be taking place around the world between people whose lives have been touched by cancer in many different ways: oncologists, radiologists, nurses, researchers, patients, survivors, family members, and many more. Held in boardrooms, living rooms, kitchens and community centres worldwide, these people-powered conversations, which anyone can host, will help shape the agenda of the Global Leadership Forum for Cancer Control (taking place in Ottawa, Canada in September 2009). The Forum is dedicated to understanding and harnessing the power of public engagement in bringing about change for cancer control.

  • Go Public is an unprecedented collaboration between the Campaign to Control Cancer, the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the International Union Against Cancer.
  • Community Conversations on Cancer Control are volunteer-led events of 6 to 50 people or more, where participants use prepared materials to share their thoughts, experiences and ideas about cancer and cancer control.
  • They will take place in homes, businesses, schools, hospitals, places of worship and community centres—it's up to you.
  • They last approximately 90 minutes and are flexible so that you can focus on the issues that matter most to you.
  • You don't need to be an expert to participate. The strength of these conversations will be the breadth and depth of response we get from everyone touched by cancer, personally or professionally.
  • A global report from these Community Conversations will help shape the actions taken by world cancer leaders at the Forum, and the "best of" these conversations will also be personally invited to the Global Forum to share the results from their respective conversations.

The whole world seems to be talking about cancer. Here's your chance to turn all that talk into action for cancer control, once and for all.

How can you GO PUBLIC?

  • Download the Host Guide
  • Register to Host a Conversation
  • Host your Conversation
  • Change how the world controls cancer forever

Everything you need to get started is right here. Click here to download a Host Guide.


The New York Times has published a piece on the DREAM Act.  We need help from you to make sure that the discussion around this piece remains positive and supportive of the students who put themselves out there.

Immigrant Children in Legal Limbo


To accompany the final article in a Times series on immigration, Room for Debate examines the situation of young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children with their parents and were raised and educated here. The article on the topic will appear over the weekend.

Legislation (called the Dream Act)sponsored by Senators Richard Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, would give some of these young immigrants a chance to become permanent residents. It would extend to those who have stayed out of trouble, graduated from high school and either finished two years of college or two years of military service, and there would be a six-year conditional status period.

We’ve asked three immigration specialists what to do about this particular immigrant population, which is estimated at one million people. The discussion also includes the perspective of two young immigrants, Prerna and Nick, who were brought to the United States by their parents and who have been here a decade or more. They asked that their last names not be used because they do not have legal papers.

Please join the discussion in the comments section here.

 Please read and leave positive comments.

Sample Talking Points:

  • Too many immigrant kids who grew up in the United States, who call America home, and who want nothing more than to contribute to American society, are being denied a fair opportunity to earn their citizenship.
  • The problem is not the immigrant youth, it is the outdated system that ignores them. Our outdated immigration system is not responsive to America's needs. 
  • The problem is the outdated immigration system that deprives hope from thousands of kids who graduate from our high schools, and deprives communities from tapping the talents and potentials of valuable contributors to our society and economy. The government is ignoring reality, pretending that these kids aren't American. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away, but will only make things worse. 
  • The DREAM Act is a practical, fair solution that upholds the best of our shared American values of fair opportunity, accountability, and strong work ethics.   
  • The DREAM Act is tough, but fair: The DREAM Act does not punish the innocent, but also sets tough but fair rules. For an immigrant student to qualify, he/she must have lived in the US for at least 5 years, earn a high school diploma, show good moral character, and be committed to go to college or enter military service.  
  • The United States of America should not discriminate, and should recognize that every child growing up in America deserves a fair and equal opportunity at a chance to become a productive member of our society. The United States should ensure fairness in ALL of its policies on education and children. 
  • We should not punish any innocent kid in America for something that's out of their control. We should treat all our high school graduates with fairness. We should not be unfairly rewarding or punishing any of our students for who their parents happen to be. 
  • The immigrant kids who rest their hopes on the DREAM Act want to pay their fair and full share of fees and tuition, the same as any other student in America. This DREAM Act is about FAIRNESS, and EQUAL OPPORTUNITY for ALL. We should live up to our tradition as a society that believes in fairness and justice, and strive to treat all residents with fairness and equality.


United We Dream coalition
P.O. Box 7552
Ann Arbor, MI  48107


Send a message to President President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, Congressional leaders, Durban Review Conference Preparations Committee Chair Ms. Janat Al-Hajjaji, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms. Navanethem Pillay, U.N. General Assembly President d'Escoto-Brockmann, U.N. Secretary General Ban, members of the U.N. Security Council and U.N. member states including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Syria Venezuela, Sudan, Nepal, Pakistan, Oman, Mozambique, Libya, Miyanmar, Lebanon and others, and Major media representatives including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press, Reuters, Al Jazeera, the North Africa Journal, Egypt Today, the Beirut Times, the Jakarta Post, and the Sudan Mail. Let them know that you are PROFOUNDLY DISAPPOINTED at the Obama Administration's decision to boycott the U.N. Durban Review Conference Against Racism, taking place April 20-24 in Geneva, Switzerland.  


 VIEW CONFERENCE DOCUMENTS AT (see section on Durban Review Conference in middle column)



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