Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Too much aid to Afghanistan wasted on contractors' profits, expensive expatriate consultants and quick-fix projects

Despite more than $15 billion of aid pumped into Afghanistan since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2001, many Afghans still suffer levels of poverty rarely seen outside sub-Saharan Africa.

"The development process has to date been too centralised, top-heavy and insufficient," said a report by Oxfam.

By far the biggest donor, the United States approved a further $6.4 billion in Afghan aid this year, but the funds are spent in ways that are "ineffective or inefficient", Oxfam said.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) allocates close to half its funds to the five largest U.S. contractors in Afghanistan.

"Too much aid is absorbed by profits of companies and sub-contractors, on non-Afghan resources and on high expatriate salaries and living costs," the report said.

A full-time expatriate consultant can cost up to $500,000 a year, Oxfam said.
Spending on development is dwarfed by that spent on fighting the Taliban. The U.S. military is spending $65,000 a minute in Afghanistan, Oxfam said.
Violent incidents are up at least 20 percent since last year, according to U.N. estimates, and have spread northwards to many areas previously considered safe.

More than 200 civilians have been killed in at least 130 Taliban suicide bombs and at least 1,200 civilians have been killed overall this year — about half of them in operations by Afghan and international troops.

Oxfam called on the 50,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan to take greater care not to hurt civilians, particularly in air strikes. The lower number of troops in Afghanistan than in Iraq — less than a third as many in a much bigger country with a larger population — leads to a greater reliance on air power.

There are four times as many air strikes in Afghanistan as in Iraq, Oxfam said. <Common Dreams>

Meanwhile, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been very very generous to private contractors. Here's the top 100 private contractors, 2004-2006. In first place: KBR at $16 billion (2002-2004 they made $11 billion. Next on the list, DynCorp International at 1.8 billion.

Funny (not so much in a ha-ha way), more than $20 billion in contracts went to foreign companies whose identities (at least so far) are impossible to determine. The largest of these contracts is worth more than $6 billion, for "miscellaneous items".

Sunday, November 18, 2007

We Don't Negotiate With Dams

According to the Washington Post,
The largest dam in Iraq is in serious danger of an imminent collapse that could unleash a trillion-gallon wave of water, possibly killing thousands of people and flooding two of the largest cities in the country, according to new assessments by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other U.S. officials.

Even in a country gripped by daily bloodshed, the possibility of a catastrophic failure of the Mosul Dam has alarmed American officials, who have concluded that it could lead to as many as 500,000 civilian deaths by drowning Mosul under 65 feet of water and parts of Baghdad under 15 feet, said Abdulkhalik Thanoon Ayoub, the dam manager. "The Mosul dam is judged to have an unacceptable annual failure probability," in the dry wording of an Army Corps of Engineers draft report.

Via the ever brilliant Bors Blog

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Robert Jensen on Oppression

How do we explain the fact that most people's stated philosophical and theological systems are rooted in concepts of justice, equality, and the inherent dignity of all people, yet we allow violence, exploitation, and oppression to flourish? Only a small percentage of people in any given society are truly sociopaths, engaging in cruel and oppressive behavior openly and with relish. Feminism helped me understand the complex process, which tends to work like this:

--The systems and structures in which we live are hierarchical.
--Hierarchical systems and structures deliver to those in the dominant class certain privileges, pleasures, and material benefits.
--People are typically hesitant to give up such privileges, pleasures, and benefits.
--But, those benefits clearly come at the expense of those in the subordinated class.
--Given the widespread acceptance of basic notions of equality and human rights, the existence of hierarchy has to be justified in some way other than crass self-interest.
--One of the most persuasive arguments for systems of domination and subordination is that they are "natural."

So, oppressive systems work hard to make it appear that the hierarchy -- and the disparity in power and resources that flow from hierarchy -- is natural and, therefore, beyond modification. If men are naturally smarter and stronger than women, then patriarchy is inevitable and justifiable. If white people are naturally smarter and more virtuous than people of color, then white supremacy is inevitable and justifiable. If rich people are naturally smarter and harder working than poor people, then economic injustice is inevitable and justifiable. And, if human beings have special status in the universe, justified either on theological or biological grounds, then humans' right to extract from the rest of Creation whatever they like is inevitable and justifiable.

For unjust hierarchies, and the illegitimate authority that is exercised in them, maintaining their own naturalness is essential. Not surprisingly, people in the dominant class exercising the power gravitate easily to such a view. And because of their power to control key story-telling institutions (especially education and mass communication), those in the dominant class can fashion a story about the world that leads some portion of the people in the subordinate class to internalize the ideology.

For me, feminism gave me a way to see through not only male dominance, but all the systems of illegitimate authority. I saw the fundamental strategy they held in common, and saw that if we could more into a space in which we were true to our stated ideals, we would reject those systems as anti-human. All these systems cause suffering beyond the telling. All of them must be resisted. The connections between them must be understood.

I thought this was a brilliantly succinct summary of how systems of oppression, dominance, and hegemony maintain themselves. He is also very good at connecting different forms of oppression, showing how they are all interrelated... racism, patriarchy, capitalism, and this ecological nightmare. Read the rest of "King of the Hill"

Also, on white privilege, read Jensen's comment on this blog post

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Abuse in the Teen Rehab Industry

In 2005, the U.S. Government Accountability Office was asked to investigate the allegations of child abuse and neglect at residential "treatment centres" (also commonly known as "boot camps," "wilderness programs," or "behavior modification facilities"), including the deaths of 10 children. As mentioned before, these horrible places abuse kids on the parents' dollar.

The report (PDF) just came out. From USA today:
The congressional investigative agency selected 10 deaths to examine in depth and found reckless practices, inadequate training and misleading marketing. It also found what Rep. Todd Platts, R-Pa., called "horrific" examples of abuse.

Other common problems included:

    • Ineffective management
    • Untrained staff
    • Inadequate nourishment
    • Reckless or negligent operating practices
    • Inadequate equipment

The agency is examining how such facilities are regulated and is expected to make recommendations next year.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Lib Lit: Progressive Partisan Fiction

An article in the magazine Steve took home referred to a Canadian policeman who had died in Haiti. It stated that the police officer had died "for Haiti."

At home, Steve greeted Ming who was in the living room editing their latest "Action Alert." Steve immediately emailed the author of the magazine article.

"Didn't you mean to write that the officer died 'in Haiti' rather than 'for Haiti'?" he asked.

The reporter replied promptly and initially attempted to argue that there was no difference between writing "for Haiti" or "in Haiti." Steve replied asking if the reporter would write that the 9-11 hijackers died "for the US." The reporter then claimed that he had written "for Haiti" out of respect for the officer's family.

Steve replied: "What about the families of the people murdered by Canada's allies in Haiti? Why must respect for the policeman's family involve misleading people about our crimes in Haiti and negating the humanity of our victims?"

Steve received no further reply.

Excerpt from "The Publisher" by Joe Emersberger, a short story in which "A Canadian newspaper publisher confronts his complicity in the Canadian, US and corporate backed coup and mass murder in Haiti". Found on LibLit, Liberation Lit blog.

Liberation Lit publishes "progressive partisan" fiction (stories only). Stories are published online on a rolling basis and will be periodically collected in book form, in whole or part. Lib Lit prefers to publish fiction that may be deemed too partisan or didactic, or otherwise overtly factual and political, for publication by most corporate presses.

Why partisan fiction? Quoting V. F. Calverton, they explain:
"Most of the literature of the world has been propagandistic in one way or another…. In a word, the revolutionary critic does not believe that we can have art without craftsmanship; what he does believe is that, granted the craftsmanship, our aim should be to make art serve man as a thing of action and not man serve art as a thing of escape."

(ht Znet)

Monday, November 05, 2007

Young Iraqis Blogging

From Sunshine, a 15 year old Iraqi girl:
Last night, I stayed awake, I am suffering from insomnia, there are a lot of things I think about, and most of the days I don't sleep immediately I spend an hour or two laying till I sleep, I walked towards the window and was watching the neighborhood, it was dark (the electricity was off), empty, and scary, like a ghost city, and I started to remember how crowded my neighborhood and it's street were, I am glad I didn’t forget that, anyway I came back to my bed and there was sound of far shelling, after an hour or two, mortars erupted from the neighborhood , and we heard 3 near by explosions..<more>

From A Star from Mosul, written by a young woman who is an engineering student:
When my cousin drives me, I feel the need to keep talking, I just hate the silence. But because of my deep depression, and to keep myself from crying, I didn't talk much this time.. I concentrated on the road, something I rarely do (I still haven't learned the way to my school, I can't get my brain to concentrate on roads at all). I couldn't believe all the wreckage on the way.. Building after building, destoyed, burnt.. Black signs announcing deaths.. Smoke from a new explosion. We had to stop few times to clear the road for the police or the Americans.
I asked my cousin about a destroyed building I haven't seen before, he said it was months ago.. I was shocked; I didn't ask about the ones that followed. <>more>

From Last of Iraqis, by a 25 year old dentist in Baghdad:
About 1,000,000 deaths and 1,500,000 Injured Iraqi civilians since the beginning of the war in 2003 , an estimation of 4,000,000 Iraqis have been displaced with 2,200,000 fled out of the country and the rest are refugees inside their own torn country (I believe the real number of Iraqis outside Iraq is greater than this).

Great numbers , right? a lot of zeros , a lot of grief and sadness , a lot of humiliation , a lot of black clothes , rivers of tears and many shocking stories , it's not just numbers . Just count all the people you knew throughout your life , not only the ones you talk to , but all the people you know, what their count will be?500 or may be 1000? let's say 1000. Can you imagine that all the people you know are only 0.1% of the civilian casualties in Iraq. <>more>

Of the Iraqi bloggers, there are not many left - many have stopped blogging, many have left Iraq, some still write from wherever they are. These three are still there. Via BBC.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Politics of Historicism

Historicism enabled European domination of the world in the nineteenth century... [It] posited historical time as a measure of the cultural distance (at least in institutional development) that was assumed to exist betwen the West and the non-West.
Historicism - and even the modern, European idea of history - one might say, came to non-European peoples as somebody's way of saying "not yet" to somebody else.

Consider the classical liberal but historicist essays by John Stuart Mill, "On Liberty" and "On Representative Government," both of which proclaimed self-rule as the highest form of government and yet argued against giving Indians or Africans self-rule on grounds that were indeed historicist.

According to Mill, Indians or Africans were not yet civilized enough to rule themselves. Some historical time of development and civilization (colonial rule and education, to be precise) had to elapse before they could be considered prepared for such a task. Mill's historicist argument thus consigned Indians, Africans, and other "rude" nations to an imaginary waiting room of history. In doing so, it converted history itself into a version of this waiting room. We were all headed for the same destination, Mill averred, but some people were to arrive earlier than others.

That was what historicist consciousness was: a recommendation to the colonized to wait. Acquiring a historical consciousness, acquiring the public spirit that Mill thought absolutely necessary for the art of self-government, was also to learn this art of waiting. This waiting was the realization of the "not yet" of historicism.
From Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe (Paragraph breaks added to facilitate reading)