Fahim Masoud on the overwhelming need in Afghanistan

Fahim Masoud has written on Afghanistan, Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and Chinese affairs has paid a visit home to see his family in Herat.  He has been sharing his experiences and observations with us.  Here is the latest report:

It happens every time I come to Afghanistan. During my first days I am shocked by the amount of pain and poverty I see. During my first days I go out of my way to give out money to the poor and to the people on the streets. Even though it relieves me to know that I just gave someone money to buy himself/herself a dinner, I become down as soon as I realize how temporary the fix to the problem of poverty is. You can’t keep giving these people fish — without teaching them how to fish, any aid is useless. People in Afghanistan have been given a lot of fish in the last 15 years, but they were never given lessons on how to fish. That’s why we have so much pain and poverty in this country today.

Foreigners gave Afghans billions of dollars in aid, but the majority of that money left Afghanistan for foreign banks before they arrived to Afghanistan. Corrupt leaders and politicians stole every dollar they could get their hands on and deposited it into their foreign banks. I think had the world community spent the money on building factories and industries in Afghanistan, today the people of Afghanistan would have been much better off in every way.

Before I proceed, please allow me to say what I mean by normalization of pain. Earlier I said that the amount of pain and poverty on display in this country shock me. However, after a few days of being here, I’m no longer shocked. In fact, because I see so much misery, it no longer bothers me. I no longer go out of my way to help out the poor. I become de-sensitized. I feel like I no longer have warm feelings toward my fellow human beings. Pain can become normalized. Pain can be processed like all other things and feel like it’s not there when it’s right in front of you. Pain — even though it’s very visible — can become very invisible.

Everyday I spent hours with people from all walks of life. These people are teachers, students, intellectuals, and laborers. Even though these people are so different in their occupations, they are very similar in their forecast of how the affairs will turn out for Afghanistan. They know that Afghanistan has traveled beyond the point of being fixed.

Some say that a lot of good things have happened in Afghanistan — an idea that bears some truth. What they mean is that Afghans shouldn’t forget where they came from. They compare the current situation to the times of the Taliban. Then Afghans were stripped of every basic right there was. Now, they are endowed with some rights; it’s not perfect but in comparison to the the Taliban times, it is much better. The same argument is held when it comes to the sphere of economics. The majority of Afghans are much more better off. Yes, there’s a lot of poverty but poverty is universal. People who hold this line of argument say that Afghanistan will get better. We, the Afghans, need to be patient because this situation of terror and panic cannot last for too long.

So many issues and so much poverty in this country that it breaks my heart to be witness to so much misery in this country.

We have stress and misery everywhere, but the kind that is manifested in this country is beyond comprehension. One of the guards — at a school that I frequent and utilize their wifi services — works for $100 a month day and night. The interesting thing is that he feels very lucky to be working at this job.

When I see so much pain and poverty, I feel extremely lucky to be a citizen of America. We have our stresses and pains in that world too, but at least we are entitled to rights and have options. Not in this country. The status of women is especially appalling. People treat their women worse than property. At least there are people in this world who take care of their properties but in Afghanistan there are some people who have no respect for women. I have heard some “intellectuals” say: zan che ast ka aql-ash bashad — what is a woman for her wisdom to be of any value? I feel sorry for so many people in this country.

What’s amazing is that some very patriotic Afghans who would have never imagined leaving Afghanistan are now thinking of leaving this country. There’s a doctor who’s a close relative of ours. He’s considered the best heart doctor in this country. This man has many good skills — skills and an education that makes him about $10,000 a month in Afghanistan now. But he’s too decent of a human being to think about money. This man with so much money and so much prestige is now leaving Afghanistan. Another friend of mine who knows this doctor said: I thought he would never leave this country. Now that he leaves, I realize how dire our situation has become.

This paragraph will intrude on the coherence of my other paragraphs, as it doesn’t bear relevance to them. The other day I was in a busy part of the city of Herat. All of a sudden I saw a number of police vehicles cruising through the crowded streets in an extremely unprofessional way. The convoy of the police cars were still on the streets when people on my right and left began to curse them. Such a scenario — people holding feelings of disgust and anguish toward their government and security officials — seems to be prevalent throughout the city of Herat and Afghanistan in general.

The people of Afghanistan have lost all their faith and confidence in their government. A government that is losing the fight against the insurgents is not because it doesn’t have enough security forces capable of doing the fight, but because it doesn’t have the backing of its own people. Today, a BBC article says that only 20 percent of the Afghan people approve of Ghani’s government. That’s the lowest of any other government I know around the world. Another recent report, which was prepared by Tolo TV, claims that corruption has gone up under the Unity Government. These are not good signs. Ominous dark clouds are gathering over the skies of Afghanistan. I’m afraid no sun can smash these clouds and make them go away . . .

I’ll be back with more to say.
Fahim

HOW POWER WORKS IN THE UNITED STATES AND EGYPT

I don’t have time to elaborate now, but today’s news is full of great examples of how power works.To see how power works in capitalist countries have a look at this: New climate war: Billionaires vs. Big Oil

To see how power works in Egypt — that is, how the Egyptian army runs its country — look at this: Prominent Muslim Brotherhood Leader Is Seized in Egypt

Egypt does not have an army:  Its army has a country:  to see more of how it works, look at this:  Ousted General in Egypt Is Back, as Islamists’ Foe

POISONOUS LIES CAN RIP OUR COUNTRY APART

We don’t watch Fox News at our house because we understand it was founded to be a Republican “news” outlet, which is to say it’s a propaganda vehicle.  So I am ignorant of what they say and am often surprised to hear what is stated on that news source.  And of course Rush Limbaugh is so notoriously biased that it is hard to understand why anyone takes him seriously.  Even so, we know folks, good folks, who listen to these sources and seem to take them for granted, as if they were reliable sources. Politicians are different:  we expect them to overdraw an issue

But in truth I have been dumbfounded to hear what some of these people in the Republican propaganda network have been saying.  [From Bill Moyers today]

SENATOR STEVE KING: If Obamacare is ever implemented and enforced, we will never recover from it. It is an unconstitutional takings of God-given American liberty.

AINSLEY EARHARDT on Fox and Friends: Thanks to Obamacare, doctors will be forced to ask patients about their sex life, even if it has nothing to do with the medical treatment that they are seeking at the time.

MICHELLE MALKIN on Fox and Friends: That healthcare plan puts a discount on the lives of elderly people and would result in the redistribution of health away from the elderly and the infirm to other special favored interests and patients.

RUSH LIMBAUGH: What we now have is the biggest tax increase in the history of the world. Obamacare is just a massive tax increase, that all it is.

SARAH PALIN on Cashin’ In: Of course there are death panels in there, but the important thing to remember is that’s just one aspect of this atrocious, unaffordable, cumbersome, burdensome, evil policy of Obama’s and that is Obamacare.

These are not inadvertent misstatements; they are outright lies. Everyone who formulated these statements knew better.  So why are they making such outrageous claims?  What are they lying to accomplish?  Bill Moyers today quoted from the right-wing blog, RedState.com:

“Congressmen, this is about shutting down Obamacare. Democrats keep talking about our refusal to compromise. They don’t realize our compromise is defunding Obamacare. We actually want to repeal it. This is it. Our endgame is to leave the whole thing shut down until the President defunds Obamacare. And if he does not defund Obamacare, we leave the whole thing shut down.”

It is crucial that we recognize lies to be what they are. Whatever are their purposes they are social poison.  They weaken the fabric of trust that enables a social contract to work.

The American people have been lied to many times:  Just go to the Lincoln National Historic Site in Springfield, IL, and look at all the cartoons about him; he was treated with disdain and scorn my many in his time. Some lies erode the fabric that makes society possible.  

In fact Lincoln and his times are quite a relevant analogue to our times.  How could the American people have been brought to kill each other in the Civil War?  Only by years of bitterness and slander.  By the time the country came to war both sides believed that the other incarnated evil.  Are we on a similar path?

Lies — slanderous innuendo and outright calumny — can bring down a country.  They are the foundation for the distrust that erodes the unite of a society and they are the ground on which the abuse of other human beings is based.  Consider these cases of civil abuse:
• The Nazis were able to put into motion their Jewish death camps only after years of slanderous tales about the Jews.
• When Yugoslavia splintered into several pieces, the terrible abuses of “ethnic cleansing” were made to seem right by the slanders that were promoted by Slobodan Milosevic (on behalf of the Serbs) and Franco Tudjman (for the Croats).
• The Rwandan genocide was made possible by the persistent propaganda of a government under the control of Hutu Power, which spouted poisonous propaganda on the radio about Tutsi “cockroaches”.

Calumnious propaganda – that’s how you create the climate for civil war.  And that’s what’s being spouted out in our own radio and TV stations.  The effect is growing bitterness, scorn, and distrust on all sides.  Is it not necessary that we expose the lies for what they are? This is why I appreciate Bill Moyers.  Whatever you think about his work, he is at least trying to set the truth straight.  In today’s broadcast he concludes a critical review of what the dangerous slanderers have been saying with the following:

Like the die-hards of the racist South a century and a half ago, who would destroy the Union before giving up their slaves, so would these people burn the place down, sink the ship of state, and sow economic chaos to get their way. This says it all, they even shuttered the Statue of Liberty.
Watching all this from London, the noted commentator Martin Wolf, of the capitalist friendly Financial Times, says “America flirts with self-destruction.”
This man [picture of Newt Gingrich] is the biggest flirt of all, Newt Gingrich. It was Newt Gingrich who twenty years ago spearheaded the right-wing’s virulent crusade against the norms of democratic government. As Speaker of the House he twice brought about shutdowns of the federal government once, believe it or not, because he felt snubbed after riding on Air Force One with President Clinton and had to leave by the backdoor.
It was also Newt Gingrich, speaker Gingrich, who was caught lying to congressional investigators looking into charges of his ethical wrongdoing. His colleagues voted overwhelmingly, 395 to 28, to reprimand him. Pressure from his own party then prompted him to resign.
Yet even after his flame out, even after his recent bizarre race for the presidency bankrolled with money from admiring oligarchs, even after new allegations about his secret fundraising for right-wing candidates, Gingrich remains the darling of a fawning amnesic media. …
On CNN.com the other day he issued a call to arms to his fellow bomb-throwers, “…don’t cave on shutdown.”
At least let’s name this for what it is, sabotage of the democratic process. Secession by another means. And let’s be clear about where such reckless ambition leads. As surely as night must follow day, the alternative to democracy is worse.”

“ONE DROP OF NEGRO BLOOD”: WHAT IT MEANT AND WHAT IT MEANS

[This is a revised version, 8/8/13]
It took me many years in my teaching to declare to my
students that societies run on myths.  At
this point it seems strange that it took so long for me to come to that. But
now I see it so clearly in so many places, in so many ways.  David Runciman reviewed a book in the London Review of Books that caught my attention. Ira Katznelson, in Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our
Time
, explains the strategic partnership that FDR had with southern
Democrats.  Both sides had to compromise
in order to work together even though in fact their agendas were different and
actually contrary in some critical ways. 

What struck me was how racism was such a critical basis of
the agenda of leaders in the South in that relationship.  The whole agenda in the South was to make
sure that the federal government didn’t interfere with what the power elite in
the south were doing in their own states.  States rights was
crucial in their federal discourse because the power elite needed to do what they
wanted locally.  Among themselves in
the South they justified their grip on power by appealing to racial
superiority.  Northern agendas should
never intrude on that myth. 

An example:  In a
debate about anti-lynching legislation in the US Senate in 1938 the Senator
from Mississippi, Theodore Bilbo, said that “one drop of Negro blood placed in the
veins of the purest Caucasian destroys the inventive genius of his mind and
strikes palsied his creative faculties.”  With this argument he protected lynching in the South from
federal legislation. 

In some ways not much has changed in the South, we might
say, because politics in the southern states seems still to be aimed at holding
at bay the pressures of outside [Northern] mores. 
The difference is that the Republican Party seems to be a better vehicle today for effecting that agenda than the Democratic Party. 

But of course in lots of ways much has changed.  Senator Bilbo made his statement – it shocks
ours sensibility in these times – in 1938. 
But his world was already ineluctably caught in a world that would
unmask the myth that seemed plausible in his time.  Thirteen years later, doctors in Baltimore
removed some cells from a tumor of an Afro-American woman, Henrietta Lacks, who was, it turned
out, dying of cancer.  To their surprise the doctors discovered that the cells taken from Mrs. Lacks could be multiplied in the lab.  Cell research became possible on a scale previously inconceivable.  Since that time those cells have been multiplied more times than anyone knows and become the basis for more than 74,000 scientific studies.  One drop of Negro blood has in this case provided
the world – scholars all over the world – with basic insights into “cell
biology, vaccines, and in vitro fertilization and cancer” [NYTimes 8/8/13, p. 1].

Little did the good Senator from Mississippi know. But my point is he wouldn’t care. What he sought to effect was protection of the interests of the power elite of his state [who happened of course to be white and their constituency to be white] justifying that agenda by reference to a myth about race; it paid to promote such a fantasy.  The justifications now are different – the power elite and their constituency in Mississippi are different now — but power seems to work about the same way as before.  Those who have it seek ways to protect it and — as humans need always to justify what they do – they explain the reasons for their behavior and policies in highly moral terms.  The South – and the North, and all human collectives, when they try to represent their collective interests – still speaks in moral terms; and in the case of the South it is still the Bible Belt.

The difference now is what can ring true: cell research, based on blood samples of a human being is taken to be exemplary of the whole “human race”; it is no longer considered to be a sample of a particular “race” [a category that cannot be documented biologically].

But it still raises questions about what is “real.”  Are all those studies based on Mrs Lacks’s cells?  Are they still hers?  Are they “Negro”? Who do they belong to?    

The world’s most successful gun salesman:

Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association, says that he represents the mothers and fathers and families who are gun-owners.  He never mentions the gun manufacturers who are the main sources of funding for the NRA.  LaPierre represents the gun manufacturers of the country and for that his reported income in 2007 was $900.000.  Pretty good work if you can get it.  Do the American families he claims to represent know how much he gets for representing the NRA? 


Do the American people who hear him object to banning automatic weapons know that he is essentially a gun salesman?

Democracy includes everybody, right? So why the attempts to limit voting?


It is difficult to believe that such people believe in democracy.  How will they behave if the candidate they support doesn’t win?  That is, if it turns out that the “democracy” they claim to want actually doesn’t happen?  In the last four years some people in congress had no higher priority than to make sure the duly elected President would not be re-elected — an ignoble agenda for those commissioned by the people to govern a great country.  See what some have been doing to make sure that democracy doesn’t turn out to be what it is supposed to be:   

Democracy denied: Millions of Americans blocked from voting: Voter suppression efforts today echo 19th century efforts to block urban immigrant working class from casting vote.

A Thugs-eye view of how it works (or used to work) in Egypt

We have heard of “thugs” that do things on behalf of dictators in various countries, but how often do we hear from who those people are or have been thugs, to know how they are recruited, or how they ensure that the dictator gets what he wants?  Sherif Tarek, in Ahram Online published an interview with someone who served the Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt.  

In a way this “thug” reveals that what we supposed is true – that dictators, who seem universally to believe their citizens love them, use strong arm means to ensure that elections demonstrate it  – but for me it was interesting to put a face on the kind of individuals that make it happen, to hear how one of them justifies what he was doing.  

We don’t have to believe all he says about himself to think it is useful to bring his story into the light of day, exposing it to general scrutiny.   That the story can be told reveals how much has changed in Egypt in the last year and a half.

Joe Walsh’s radical anti-Islamism in the name of “godliness”

Salon has a report by Eric Lutz on what US. Representative Joe Walsh said in a town meeting in Elk Grove Village, IL on Wednesday Aug 8, 2012.

THURSDAY, AUG 9, 2012 11:40 AM CDT
Walsh: Muslims “trying to kill Americans”:  Exclusive: U.S. Rep Joe Walsh tells a town hall meeting that radical Islam has infiltrated the Chicago suburbs BY ERIC LUTZ

“It’s a real threat,” Walsh said at a town hall meeting in Elk Grove Village, Ill.  “And it’s a threat that is much more at home now than it was right after 9/11.” 

“It’s here,” he continued, referring to “radical Islam” in the suburbs of Chicago. “It’s in Elk Grove, it’s in Addison, it’s in Elgin. It’s here.” 

…  “I’m looking for some godly men and women in the Senate, in the Congress, who will stand in the face of the danger of Islam in America without political correctness,” the man said. …  

[R]adical Muslims are “trying to kill Americans every week,” …

Radical Islam in the suburbs of Chicago:  And his evidence?
Godly men and women?  Stand in the face of the danger of Islam in America?  

What does this say about out country that a man like Walsh could be elected to our congress?  Is there no one in his neighborhood to suggest that this is nonsense?

Iran is readying for war?

The recent speech by Ali Khamenei [mentioned today only in one other place] seems reason for serious concern about Iran’s reaction to the embargo.  Khamenei is suggesting that they are in the last days, when the twelfth Imam is supposed to return and usher in the Final Judgment.  The speech seems to be an attempt to prepare the Iranian people for war.
This kind of vision about the times was clearly implied in the language of Ruhollah Khomeini when he was calling for a movement against the Shah in 1979.  And Khomeini himself was sometimes spoken of (especially by his students) as “the Imam”, a term that in that context vaguely implied that he was the long awaited Mahdi/12th Imam.  The ambiguity was deliberate.
Khamenei’s  speech is a sign of a serious attempt to muster the Iranian people for a sacrificial war comparable to that  Iran was forced to fight the army of Saddam Hussein in the 1980s.  So it is reason to worry.  Iran is being seriously boxed in, and so the regime could take measures that could lead the country and the region into war.  
What I wonder is how this rhetoric can sell in today’s Iran.  Khameini well knows how unpopular he and his clerical administration is.  He is not crazy, and this administration is  much more savvy than we sometimes take them to be.
We can all regard the many signs of instability and hatred in the world, of which this is one, as reason to hope that the world leaders will demonstrate restraint and wisdom.

Could it really be about race after all?


According to the reviews (Paul Krugman and Robin Wells in NYRB and Michiko Kakutani in the NYTimes) Thomas Edsall, in The Age of Austerity, claims that the Republican focus on “the debt crisis” is a masque for something else:  Race.  Because talk about race is obviously unfair and unseemly, anyone who wants to use it as a wedge in political discourse has to find a surrogate for it, and according to Edsall the new surrogate is the national debt.  As he sees it, the national debt argument has  nuances in it – deniable insinuations – that suggest that the problem is people of color. 

This is how Kakutani summarizes Edsall’s argument:  

“Though it has won elections for four decades ‘by mobilizing white voters, especially white married Christians,’ [Edsall] says, this base is ‘steadily eroding, while Democratic voting blocs — Hispanics, African-Americans, other minorities, and single women — are expanding as a share of the electorate.’ ” … Because of these changing demographics, . . .  Republican leaders “see the window closing on the opportunity to dismantle the liberal state.”

This how Krugman and Wells put it:  

[According to Edsall], “this changing face of the electorate has had the effect of radicalizing the GOP. ‘For whites with a conservative bent,’ he writes . . . ‘the shift to a majority-minority nation [i.e., a nation in which minorities will make up the majority] will strengthen the already widely held view that programs benefiting the poor are transferring their taxpayer dollars to minority recipients, from first whites to blacks and now to ‘browns.’””[W]hat he portrays is a Republican Party that has been radicalized not by a struggle over resources—tax rates on the wealthy are lower than they have been in generations—but by fear of losing its political grip as the nation changes.  [He documents] . . . the extent to which immigrants and their children are, literally, changing the face of the American electorate.Why, exactly, must there be a “death struggle” over resources when the US economy could, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, be producing an extra $900 billion worth of goods and services right now if it would only put unemployed workers and other unused resources back to work? Why must there be a bitter struggle over the budget when the US government, while admittedly running large deficits, remains able to borrow at the lowest interest rates in history?. . . We have a depressed economy in large part because Republicans have blocked almost every Obama initiative designed to create jobs, even refusing to confirm Obama nominees to the board of the Federal Reserve. (MIT’s Peter Diamond, a Nobel laureate, was rejected as lacking sufficient qualifications.) We have a huge battle over deficits, not because deficits actually pose an immediate problem, but because conservatives have found deficit hysteria a useful way to attack social programs.

Deficit hysteria in order to attack social programs, which are by insinuation programs for blacks and browns — this is the Republican strategy, says Edsall.  This emphasis, he says, is a charade that conceals nuances of race inside discussions about economics. 

Could it really be?  Debate over the debt crisis is, for one side, merely a rhetorical ploy?

Consider what this says about the way leadership operates in this case.  The argument says that 
[1] the core leadership of the party considers the long term possibilities for the party in terms of the demographic trends of race (whites versus blacks and browns); and that 
[2] they frame their political agendas so as to get the ordinary people who identify with their party (in this case whites?) to vote for their cause and even, especially, to become the troops of the party program by alarming them over the rising power of the darker elements of our population.

Many aspects of this kind of agenda are indeed unseemly.  It assumes that the ordinary American people who identify with the Republican Party are racist or can be activated over issues that imply  race.  I hope not.  I would like to believe that the American people are better than that.