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Jul. 26 2010 — 1:12 am | 304 views | 1 recommendations | 7 comments

Reaching the limits of our endurance in Afghanistan

We have it all wrong. We did not learn from our mistakes. There were countless signs of a complete unraveling, and now it has been undone. First there was the Rolling Stone article that broke the story about the division in the chain of command. Our military did not have confidence in our political leaders, and they were publicly voicing their concern. McChrystral was swiftly fired in one of Obama’s most decisive actions at the White House.

Tonight, it just got a whole lot worse. In just a few hours, Americans will wake up to news that exposes the most damaging evidence about our entire military operation. On Sunday, formerly classified military documents became public, and as the scope of our failures become evident to the world, they will hopefully force Obama to make swift decisions about how we end the war. The report, in exhaustive first hand accounts, details Pakistan’s involvement with the Taliban, the use of heat seeking  missiles by the Taliban against Allied Forces, Afghan police raping and killing civilians, and many more gruesome, and incredibly embarrassing details. In addition, there are damaging examples of American troops being completely unprepared for enemy fire, without the proper resources to fight back. The New York Times takes the liberty to conclude, and it does not take an advanced analysis to decipher, that after $300 billion dollars spent on the war, the Taliban has never been stronger.

How bad does it need to get before change happens? Imagine if there was a draft or everyone above a certain age had to join the military. Would this war still exist? Would young American soldiers be tossed into the front-lines of the battlefield without the proper equipment or necessary intelligence to defend themselves? It is clear now, more than ever, that we are not safer. To think of  all the lives that were lost in the name of protecting our country. Imagine waking up tomorrow, a parent of a soldier who was lost while participating in Operation Enduring Freedom, and seeing this report. How would you feel? Your son died, and you were told it was to help protect our country, but after almost a decade of fighting, we  are actually in a worst position.

Almost forty years ago, another damaging report was released by the New York Times. In the Pentagon Papers, the report makes clear that several U.S administrations had deliberately deceived the American people,  escalated the war, and lied about bombings, amongst many other damaging details. Our president and many others, who Americans trusted to have their best interest, was lying. In a reflection piece from twenty five years after the Pentagon papers were released, Time Magazine discussed what Americans should take away from these reports:

If the Government and the public come to understand the atmosphere, the pressures, the false and strained hopes, and the futile decisions that pervade the whole secret history of Vietnam, the wrong decisions may not be made again — or at least not so easily.”

How did the wrong decisions get made so easily once again? In an article by Neal Gabler in the Boston Globe on Sunday, he outlines a theory for these poor decisions: a case of the Best and the Brightest part 2.0. The term, which stems from David Halberstam’s award winning book, which describes how government officials who came from the wealthiest backgrounds and attended the most prestigious schools,  led us into the war in Vietnam, and gave us all the wrong advice, should be part of the conversation again. As Gabler writes,

Like The Best and the Brightest 1.0, these folks — guys like Larry Summers, outgoing budget director Peter Orszag, and Tim Geithner, on the economic side; and William J. Lynn 3d, deputy secretary of defense, and James Steinberg, deputy secretary of state, on the foreign side — are Ivy-educated, confident, and implacable realists and rationalists. Like their forebears, they have all the answers, which is why they have been so unaccommodating of other suggestions on the economy, where economists have been pressing them for more stimulus, or on Afghanistan, where the president keeps doubling down his bets.

We all understand that change is difficult, but there are no excuses anymore. What we are doing in Afghanistan is not working, and now more than ever, our president needs to learn from the history books, and dramatically change the course of action.

Jul. 16 2010 — 12:03 am | 102 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

What the New York Times failed to Mention: The Journalists

On Newshour last night, Gwen Ifill finished her show with a story from New Orleans, but surprisingly, it had nothing to do with oil. It was about police shootings from nearly five years ago, which begs one to ask, why is NewsHour spending precious on-air minutes describing what the NOPD did five years ago? Earlier in the day, the New York Times had run a similar story, this time by Campbell Robertson,  as a front page news item. Roberston reported that six more police officers were charged with murder. Unfortunately, Robertson failed to mention an integral part of the story. In GOOD’s most recent issue, I wrote an article describing how AC Thompson’s, among others’, investigative reporting, led to just enough sunlight for this case to draw federal attention. Here is an excerpt:

In the summer of 2007, the award-winning reporter A. C. Thompson heard about white vigilantes who allegedly murdered black New Orleanians in the days after Katrina. Thompson, who did not live in New Orleans at the time, made a few phone calls to local sources, but could not substantiate the tip with any hard evidence. With help from friend and fellow writer, Rebecca Solnit, Thompson received funding from The Nation Institute and several other nonprofit organizations to research what had happened. Thompson knew he had to spend more time in the city, and for the next 18 months, he aggressively worked every angle. “In New Orleans, you can’t get information over the phone. You need to meet with people face-to-face,” Thompson told me, face-to-face in New Orleans.

As one conversation in New Orleans led to another, Thompson was able to connect with Donnell Herrington, who claimed he was the victim of a police shooting. When Thompson spoke to him, he revealed that no police officer had ever shown up at his door, despite a testimonial of the shooting captured by Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke. Numerous white vigilantes admitted to Thompson their role in the random shootings. After the story was first published in The Nation in December 2008, Warren Riley, the police chief, told reporters he was going to begin an Internal Affairs review of the alleged shootings—but little to no action was taken by the NOPD.

Teaming up, reporters from FrontlineThe Times-Picayune, and ProPublica created a powerful interactive website featuring in-depth interviews and a way for the public to share tips and their own experiences with police brutality. The reporters were able to find six different victims of either police shootings or cover-ups. As attention mounted, the entire investigation was overtaken by the FBI.

AC Thompson

At the end of the NewsHour interview, Margaret Warner says, what many others have been thinking, including the countless citizens of New Orleans who have been victims of police abuse, “All right A.C Thompson, thank you so much. And keep up the good work.”

Read the rest of the story, here

Jul. 1 2010 — 12:00 am | 139 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

The Afghanistan War Remix: Operation Enduring Freedom

One winter night, a newly elected president called a meeting with a general he trusted. This president gave strict orders for the General to go to Kabul and find out– can this country win the war in Afghanistan? The general, who was a highly skilled military operative, had not previously been involved in the Afghan War.

After spending time in Kabul, the general returned to his boss, with a simple response: there was no way to win the war. Any chance of leaving with dignity relied solely on the country’s ability to close the Irani and Pakistani borders, thus preventing shipments of arms, and keeping the enemy trapped in Afghanistan. This was practically impossible since it required hundreds of thousands of additional troops to support a conflict that had dragged on for too long, and was losing considerable political support at home.

The president agreed. It was no longer a question the war had to end, it was about how. He kept saying to close associates that this was a previous administrations’ war, and the longer it lasted, it would become his war. Despite his complaints, and a general consensus by experts that the war was unwinnable; he continued to delay action.

To begin the exit plan, the president first had to meet with the man leading the Afghanistan government, so he summoned him to the capital.  During a secret meeting, he made clear that by next summer, his troops would be out of Afghanistan, and the local leadership would need to defend their own cause. Despite controlling the capital and other cities, the rebel forces held a majority of the rural areas. The President’s military brass had also grown tired of supporting a leader, who everyone knew was “weak, capricious and indecisive.” In closing, the president gave the leader some parting words: “If you want to survive you’ll have to broaden the base of the regime. Make a deal with the truly influential forces in the country. Try to show the people some tangible benefits.”

Following the meeting, the president sternly told his staff, “it’s time to make a decision on Afghanistan.” He  proceeded to  read a  series of heartfelt letters from mother’s of dead and wounded soldiers:

They ask: International Duty? in whose name?” Do the Afghan people really want it? Is it worth their lives of our boys, who don’t even know why they are sent there. What are they defending?

Sound familiar? Unfortunately, once again, our country  failed to learn from past mistakes. The above anecdote is not from a recently discovered U.S meeting, but a story from when Gorbachev took power in the winter of 1986, which is described in Victor Sebestyen’s book, “Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire.” Fellow True/Slant blogger, Jonathan Curiel writes about how

“A country that has seen war and bloodshed for almost 10 years is still no closer to peace, despite billions of U.S. and international dollars that have poured in to rebuild Afghanistan.

And even worse, Americans know little about a war that has killed more than a thousand American troops, and thousands of more Afghanis. When the Soviets were contemplating a sound exit plan from Afghanistan, they promised to not leave the same way the U.S left Vietnam. Hopefully, our exit does not resemble Saigon, and maybe, if we had not skipped over the chapter on Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, we would never have sent troops there in the first place.

Jun. 27 2010 — 11:51 pm | 118 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

What’s The Matter With Deborah Solomon’s Column?

This is how Deborah ended her interview in today’s Times Magazine with Tzipi Livni:

“Do your children agree with your politics?
They know that what I’m doing is for the sake of their own future. I want to know that when I die I leave them something more than a bank account — a state to live in, to be proud of.

Are you dying?
It’s not part of my plan for now.”

Really? I understand she is trying to be edgy, but the editors of the New York Times Magazine should know the difference between thoughtful and immature probing. At the top of each interview, the name of the respondent is  featured in bold, and then Solomon gets her byline. This is misleading. Solomon is always the star. The person she interviews always comes second fiddle to what she probably assumes are clever questions, but which in the end simply detract from what could be an intelligent interview.

This question is addressed to Michelle Obama’s brother, Craig Robinson

“Why did you hire a co-writer for the book? You went to Princeton. You can write.”

Here she makes the assumption that all Princeton graduates can write. They may be smart, but sometimes, those who study business, could use some help writing, something complicated, like a memoir. She should know this since she went to Columbia School of Journalism and did not learn how to conduct a proper interview.  Further along, she asks Robinson, what appears to be her default question, when interviewing a man– something about his divorce:

“You and your wife, Kelly, are the parents of a 4-month-old son, and you also have two teenage children from your first marriage, which ended in divorce.”

Again, with Charlie Crist;

“You were married nearly 30 years ago, but the marriage lasted less than a year. Do you prefer living alone?”

Last week, she could not help sliding it in, this time with Eminem:

“Happy Father’s Day, by the way. As a divorced father of three daughters, are you a good dad?

A few months ago, she sat down with renowned author, Chinua Achebe, only to ask him what pre-schoolers sing at birthday parties:

How old are you now?”

Please, someone make it stop. The NY Times brand opens many doors, and Solomon takes full advantage. She gets to sit down with a lot of interesting people that many other writers would  spend weeks researching, in order  to get the most substance from the interview. With her mystifying need to ask petty questions, she makes a mockery of this  process.

The next time she makes herself the center of the interview, with little regard for the readers’ interest in the person being interviewed, we should all ask the Times, “when do we get to pull the plug on Solomon?” Hopefully, the answer to, “Are you dying?”–Deborah Solomon’s column, that is–is a simple; “Yes. It will now be called ‘Marriage Therapy with Deborah,’ in US Magazine.”

Jun. 16 2010 — 1:06 pm | 72 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

If you just build it, they won’t come: Lessons in Online Adoption Strategies

In 1959 only a  handful of people knew anything about navigating very complex computer systems. Roy Nutt, an early contributor to some of IBM’s first computer programming language and Fletcher Jones, who worked for an Aviation company teamed up to create a business that would make it easier for companies to use their computers and tap into new markets.  A few years later, they had over four million dollars in revenue. The company they created by pooling together merely a hundred dollars, Computer Science Corporations (CSC), now has over 90,000 employees and more than fifteen billion dollars in annual revenue. That is a lot of talent, but also can cause a lot of headaches for managers. How does a company of this size share information? How do you know where you have assets? Where do you even start when you need to find an answer to a question? How do you create an online system that allows employees to easily share data and best practice solutions?

These were some of the business problems Claire Flanagan, a CSR Senior Manager presented to  a group of attendees at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston yesterday. The title of the session was called “Enterprise 2.0: It’s no Field of Dreams: A CSC test study.”

In the old days (early 2009), a manager could send an email to someone they thought would have the knowledge on a specific problem, and receive a reply. Sometimes they would get the answer, but it usually required a few networks to receive an adequate response. One email would lead to a suggestion to email another person, and so on. To combat the problem, Claire and others in the IT innovation department started testing other models. In a company so large, there was no way of knowing  all the best practices, and no easy way to train new employees. There was clearly room for innovation.   In the spring of 2009, they created an online collaboration tool called c3 (connect, communicate and collaborate). But simply building the new tools was not enough in making it successful.

The  key to an increase in productivity  lay in the subject of Flanagan’s presentation title. Without an effective adoption plan, the new platform would fail. The CSC manager could not simply “build it,” and expect, in reference to Field of Dreams, users “to “come.” The premise of her argument lay in the idea that any new website or technology that is introduced must have a marketing and outreach plan to become successful.

In order to encourage activity, CSC identified key managers in their company to start adding content to the website. They wanted  people who had influence on other employees to invest in the success of the site.  If the managers felt this new system could increase productivity, they would spend a lot of time encouraging their team members to join and add content. They also included very thorough and precise manuals for how to use the site, and asked different executives to blog about their experiences, which were then featured on the site. Not only were managers pleased with the potential for productivity increase, but they were also seeing the fruit of their labor. The problems they were addressing in countless private emails, were now being broadcasted to thousands of employees all over the world. The site was built, the adoption plan executed, and the employees began to frequent the site in large numbers. Within twenty weeks, they had over 25,000 users, and a year after launch, they had close to 50,000 users. Employees are now  able to quickly identify answers to problems by posing questions to the community and managers can easily track the message board threads.

Flanagan’s session was part of the The Enterprise 2.0 conference, which brings together hundreds of people in the “email liberation movement.” For three days, people from all over the world  come to discuss best practices for finding online solutions to replace older methods of online communication. There are over 100 speakers in 60 plus sessions. Visit the conference twitter hashtag, here. The conference runs through tomorrow.

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    About Me

    I am interested in what young people are doing, whether it's business, non-profit or politics. I moved down to New Orleans as an Americorps volunteer in 2006, and saw the power of young people in shaping the future of the city. For the next few years, I spent time working to connect young people in the city to each other and job opportunities that would keep them in the city. I also traveled around the country speaking at universities about what was happening in New Orleans and why people should continue to help. While working in the non-profit sector, it was easy to identify that government was not doing enough to help citizens return, so I worked with others to launch a mayoral campaign for James Perry, a non-profit executive. I am always asking questions, and I love connecting with other young people who are challenging the status quo. I am using this platform to a shine a light on the people in Generation Y who see a problem, and then are finding unique ways to address it.

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