Thursday, February 25, 2010
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Marjah isn't a particularly important town. Here's Anand Gopal (the excellent journalist who wrote the story about secret US prisons in Afghanistan for The Nation) describing the significance of Marjah on Democracy Now!:
Well, you know, it’s interesting, because Marjah isn’t a particularly strategic place or even a place that holds any really strategic value. It’s a very tiny town in the Helmand province. The official estimate is around 80,000, but I think a lot of Afghans and I also think that’s a huge overestimate.
Then, you might ask, what's the point? Gopal and Porter conclude that this operation is oriented toward the audience back home in the US. The Obama administration is likely attempting to utilize the Marjah operation to vindicate the strategy of the escalation and gain points at home. Porter takes that hypothesis one step further, and posits that convincing the home audience that our forces are gaining the upper hand is intended to gain the political breathing room necessary to negotiate with the Taliban, probably after a couple Marjahs more than a year down the road.
Robert Naiman astutely compares this potential political-military strategy with the Iraq escalation. Bush only negotiated with Sunni militias i.e. paid them off in wake of the show of force that the 2006 surge presented. In both cases, the US escalates violence to make its population think that it is winning before negotiating the same result that could have been achieved years earlier without the massive human and economic cost. As Naiman writes, "It's a grim world in which the most powerful country kills people to look tough."
I fervently hope that Gareth Porter is right and that Obama eventually uses negotiation to end the war, both between US and Taliban forces and between the various parties in civil war, after a period of acting tough through escalation (perhaps after the 2012 election?). Absent a strong antiwar movement in the US, that would be the best case scenario. However, thus far his administration has been adamantly opposed to negotiating with Taliban leaders. At the recent Afghanistan conference in London, the US reacted negatively to Hamid Karzai's stated intention of negotiating with the highest Taliban leadership.
Recently the CIA and the Pakistani ISI captured Taliban leader Mullah Omar's right hand man, Abdul Ghani Baradar. The NYT article on his arrest quotes a US official critical of the arrest, saying that the US had been involved in incipient negotiations with Baradar. The article describes Baradar as representing the moderate faction of the Taliban.
"He was the only person intent on or willing for peace negotiations," said Hajji Agha Lalai, former head of the government-led reconciliation process in the city of Kandahar, who has dealt with members of the Taliban leadership council for several years.
"So it doesn't make sense why we bite the hand that is feeding us," the official added. "And now the Taliban will have no reason to negotiate with us; they will not believe anything we will offer or say."
Friday, February 5, 2010
Canada has a single-payer system with universal insurance coverage. It offers people free choice of doctors and hospitals, and it has competition on the delivery side between public and private hospitals. The quality of health services is very high, and people were very satisfied with the system from the 1980s through the mid-1990s.
You can have universal coverage and good quality health care while still managing to control costs. But you have to have a single-payer system to do it.
The report also featured a new way in which the government estimates the population, which is used to calculate the unemployment rate. That prompted some economists to dismiss the drop in joblessness as a statistical quirk.
“The message is, you can’t believe what they tell you,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief United States economist at MFR Inc. in New York. “Everyone goes crazy over today’s number, but history has been rewritten. Things are not comparable from month to month.”
So we'll see when next month's numbers out, but it's clear that the labor market isn't exactly reawakening if we're still losing jobs.
Things are getting bad less rapidly,” said Dean Baker, co-director of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. “We’re sort of hitting bottom, but there is no evidence of a robust turnaround.”