Tag: English

Pervasive Illiteracy in the Afghan National Army

Afghan_SigmaMatt Yglesias has a lot of smart things to say about the pervasive illiteracy plaguing the Afghan National Army. Upwards of 75 to 90 percent (according to varying estimates) of the ANA is illiterate.

As Ted Galen Carpenter and I argue in our recent Cato white paper Escaping the Graveyard of Empires: A Strategy to Exit Afghanistan, this lack of basic education prevents many officers from filling out arrest reports, equipment and supply requests, and arguing before a judge or prosecutor. And as Marine 1st Lt. Justin Greico argues, “Paperwork, evidence, processing—they don’t know how to do it…You can’t get a policeman to take a statement if he can’t read and write.”

Yglesias notes:

This strikes me as an object lesson in the importance of realistic goal-setting. The Afghan National Army is largely illiterate because Afghanistan is largely illiterate…we just need an ANA that’s not likely to be overrun by its adversaries. But if we have the more ambitious goal of created [sic] an effectively administered centralized state, then the lack of literacy becomes a huge problem. And a problem without an obvious solution on a realistic time frame [emphasis mine].

Such high levels of illiteracy serves to highlight the absurd idea that the United States has the resources (and the legitimacy) to “change entire societies,” in the words of retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel John Nagl. Eight years ago, Max Boot, fellow for National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, likened the Afghan mission to British colonial rule:

Afghanistan and other troubled lands today cry out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets…This was supposed to be ‘for the good of the natives,’ a phrase that once made progressives snort in derision, but may be taken more seriously after the left’s conversion (or, rather, reversion) in the 1990s to the cause of ‘humanitarian’ interventions. [emphasis mine]

But as I highlighted yesterday at the Cato event “Should the United States Withdraw from Afghanistan?” (which you can view in its entirety here), policymakers must start narrowing their objectives in Afghanistan, a point Yglesias stresses above. Heck, as I argued yesterday, rational people in the United States are having difficulty convincing delusional types here in America that Barack Obama is their legitimate president. I am baffled by people who think that we have the power to increase the legitimacy of the Afghan government. It’s also ironic that many conservatives (possibly brainwashed by neo-con ideology) who oppose government intervention at home believe the U.S. government can bring about liberty and peace worldwide. These self-identified “conservatives” essentially have a faith in government planning.

Yet these conservatives share a view common among the political and military elite, which is that if America pours enough time and resources—possibly hundreds of thousands of troops for another 12 to 14 years—Washington could really turn Afghanistan around.

However, there is a reason why the war in Afghanistan ranks at or near the bottom of polls tracking issues important to the American public, and why most Americans who do have an opinion about the war oppose it (57 percent in the latest CNN poll released on Sept. 1) and oppose sending more combat troops (56 percent in the McClatchy-Ipsos survey, also released on Sept. 1). It’s because Americans understand intuitively that the question about Afghanistan is not about whether it is winnable, but whether it constitutes a vital national security interest. An essential national debate about whether we really want to double down in Afghanistan has yet take place. America still does not have a clearly articulated goal. This is why the conventional wisdom surrounding the war—about whether we can build key institutions and create a legitimate political system—is not so much misguided as it is misplaced.

The issue is not about whether we can rebuild Afghanistan but whether we should. On both accounts the mission looks troubling, but this distinction is often times overlooked.

Obama’s Health Care Speech in Plain English

health care addressHell of a speech last night, eh?  Here are a few of my favorite gems.

Under this plan, it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition.

Translation: I, Barack Obama, ignoring thousands of years of failed price-control schemes, will impose price controls on health insurance. I will force insurers to sell a $50k policies for $10k. What could go wrong?

We were losing an average of 700,000 jobs per month.

True. And your employer mandate would kill hundreds of thousands of low-wage jobs that would never come back.

They will no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime.   We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses…. And insurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care.

Translation: Boy! Are we going to force you to buy a lot of coverage!

I will make sure that no government bureaucrat or insurance company bureaucrat gets between you and the care that you need.

…except for the bureaucrats I proposed to put between you and your doctor.

Some… supported a budget that would have essentially turned Medicare into a privatized voucher program. That will never happen on my watch. I will protect Medicare.

Translation: I will never let seniors control their own health care dollars. I will never give up Washington’s control over your health care decisions.  Mmmmuuuuhahahahahaha!

…there are too many Americans counting on us to succeed.

Translation: There are too many lobbyists counting on me to succeed: drug-industry lobbyists, health-insurance lobbyists,  physician-cartel lobbyists, large-employer lobbyists, hospital lobbyists….

It’s a plan that asks everyone to take responsibility for meeting this challenge – not just government and insurance companies, but employers and individuals.

Translation: I’m going to tax the hell out of you, but I don’t want you to notice how much I’m going to tax you. So I’m going to tax employers and insurance companies, and they’re going to pass the taxes on to you. Most of the taxes won’t even show up in the government’s budget. It’s all very clever. No, seriously – just ask my economic advisor Larry Summers.

It’s a plan that incorporates ideas from Senators and Congressmen; from Democrats and Republicans – and yes, from some of my opponents in both the primary and general election.

Translation: I may have savaged your ideas in the past, called them irresponsible…risky…dangerous…whatever. But that wasn’t about principle; I just wanted to become president. Now that I’m president, I need a win. So you’ll help me, won’t you? Hey, where’s Hillary?

An Uneven Playing Field

Cato’s tax experts, Chris Edwards and Dan Mitchell, have written extensively on international tax competition. Their research shows that countries can help attract investment and spur economic growth by lowering their tax rates.

Could countries employ this same strategy to make their sports teams better?

Real Madrid, one of the most popular and successful soccer teams in the world, recently purchased the rights to two of the sport’s top players. They acquired Kaka, who was named the world’s best soccer player in 2007, from Italian powerhouse, AC Milan. And they lured Cristiano Ronaldo, the world’s top player in 2008, away from Manchester United, the reigning champions of the English Premier League.

There are a number of reasons why Kaka and Ronaldo are moving to Spain, but it’s pretty clear that taxes played a significant role. That’s because in 2005, Spain passed a tax break for foreign workers, including soccer players. This gives Spanish teams a huge advantage in bidding wars with teams from higher-tax countries like Italy and England. To make matters worse, England recently raised its top income tax rate.

“The new tax rate in England is going to make things much harder for English clubs,” noted Jonathan Barnett, a leading sports agent whose clients include Glen Johnson, Ashley Cole and Peter Crouch. “It will hinder the [English] Premier League and help the Spanish league because Spain has big tax discounts for footballers, so there’s an enormous advantage to go there. Someone like Ronaldo could be offered the same money at Real Madrid but be 25% better off.”

Similarly, a frustrated executive from AC Milan blames Kaka’s departure on the Italian tax system: “I repeat, this is all a matter of different types of taxation. If we were a Spanish club, we would have saved €40 million.”

Policymakers and soccer fans alike should take note.

In English Learning Case, Families Will Lose Either Way

The Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today in a case that will affect how and at what cost English is taught to non-native speakers in U.S. public schools. On one side are Hispanic parents from southern Arizona who sued their school district for failing to properly teach their children English, and on the other are district and state officials who want the courts to butt out and let them teach students in whatever way, and at whatever cost, they choose. I understand what these parents are going through – I grew up in an English-speaking family in the French-speaking province of Quebec – but it really doesn’t matter who “wins” this case: the families will lose either way.

Even if the parents “win,” and the Court orders their public school district to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more on English instruction, it won’t do any good. A 1985 federal court order compelled the state of Missouri to spend an additional $2 billion over 12 years to desegregate Kansas City schools and improve the achievement of African American students. Neither goal was achieved, and even the presiding judge eventually admitted his order was a failure. Extra spending and court pressure do not improve public school performance, because public schools don’t have to show improvement to get the money and because courts can’t dismiss ineffective administrators or teachers.

The real solution is to empower families to _leave_ the schools that are failing them and move their children to more effective ones. Fortunately, Arizona has an education tax credit program that makes scholarships available to defray private school tuition. Whatever the court’s verdict, these parents should be banding together to create a local scholarship fund that can accept tax-credited donations so their children can attend the private schools of their choice. They can then pick whichever schools demonstrate the most success at teaching English instead of spending their time in court.