Monday, September 27, 2021

U.S. Spent Billions on Afghanistan and Failed to Build a Sustainable Economy

Afghanistan update.

At WSJ, "Country faces economic collapse with the withdrawal of foreign assistance under Taliban rule":

KABUL—The U.S. spent $145 billion over two decades in Afghanistan to turn one of the poorest nations on earth into a self-sustaining economy—the boldest effort this century at Western nation-building. That project has largely failed.

Afghanistan’s economy did grow, and millions of Afghans gained access to education, healthcare and jobs. But the economy that the U.S. helped build relies overwhelmingly on foreign aid, most of which evaporated overnight. Afghanistan’s economy—and the welfare of its people—is on the verge of collapse following the U.S. exit last month and the Taliban takeover, international experts say.

KABUL—The U.S. spent $145 billion over two decades in Afghanistan to turn one of the poorest nations on earth into a self-sustaining economy—the boldest effort this century at Western nation-building. That project has largely failed.

Afghanistan’s economy did grow, and millions of Afghans gained access to education, healthcare and jobs. But the economy that the U.S. helped build relies overwhelmingly on foreign aid, most of which evaporated overnight. Afghanistan’s economy—and the welfare of its people—is on the verge of collapse following the U.S. exit last month and the Taliban takeover, international experts say.

An Afghan farmer who took part in the soybean project in Balkh province said there wasn’t enough water to grow the crop, the proper seeds weren’t available locally, and there was no market for any harvested crops. “It was a big failure,” the farmer said. Sigar agreed.

ASA spokeswoman Wendy Brannen disputed that. She said the project had achieved “successes in line with or exceeding its original objectives.” She added, “Our acceptability and sensory analyses showed that Afghans eat and like soy and that it could be a viable source of protein in a very protein deficient country.”

The U.S. sought to introduce alternative crops to opium poppies. But Afghan farmers were reluctant to give up poppies, one of their few cash crops. Others, such as saffron, pine nuts and cotton were far less lucrative, and rutted roads and poor storage infrastructure made exports difficult.

The U.S. Agency for International Development spent $335 million building the Tarakhil diesel power plant to supply Kabul with electricity...


The Civil Rights Struggle of 2021

At FrontPage Magazine, "Mandated vaccines for all is the civil rights issue of our time":

The civil rights movement led to the end of legalized racial segregation and the beginning of the ability of African Americans to be free and equal citizens in the United States of America. But similar oppressive government injustice is happening in New York City today.

About a third of all citizens of New York City, among them the majority of African Americans, have not been vaccinated. De Blasio’s mandate to show proof of vaccination and IDs at NYC restaurants, bars, museums, gyms, theaters, concerts, and other indoor settings, discriminates against millions of unvaccinated New Yorkers, who will be prevented from engaging in normal everyday activities, and even students who are prevented from playing in high school sports. Forced vaccination mandates will prevent many New Yorkers from keeping their jobs. Unvaccinated New Yorkers will be legally prohibited from traveling by subway, bus, or plane. But it also normalizes the outrageous mandate that people are required to show their private health papers and personal identification.

Mandated vaccines for all is the civil rights issue of our time.



Sunday, September 26, 2021

'That's Not My Name'


This song popped into my mind and it was a hit back in 2009, sheesh.

Man I've been blogging a long time. *Eye-roll.*

The Ting Tings:

Kyrsten Sinema Is Enigma at Center of Democrats’ Spending Talks

She's an enigma alright. 

I blogged about her almost 10 years ago, when she, umm, came off a bit less moderates. See, "Kyrsten Sinema, Bisexual Israel-Hating Antiwar Radical, is Face of Today's Democrat Party."

And now, folks are tripping on her role of an extra-"moderate" senator who easily switch parties.

An engima alright.

At WSJ, "Arizona senator says $3.5 trillion price tag is too high, holds discussions with Biden, party leaders":

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—Senate Democrats trying to pass a sweeping education, healthcare and climate package must first crack an enigma: What does centrist Sen. Kyrsten Sinema want?

Ms. Sinema, a key vote in the evenly divided Senate, has made clear she won’t support the package’s current $3.5 trillion price tag, announcing her opposition in July and reiterating it since then. The first-term senator from a swing state has held meetings with party leaders to discuss the legislation, but she hasn’t publicly suggested specific changes. Many Democrats remain uncertain over her policy stance and her political calculations.

Ms. Sinema is constantly engaged in “direct, good-faith discussions,” said Sinema spokesman John LaBombard. He shared a list of more than two dozen meetings or calls she has had to discuss the legislation.

Six of those conversations were with President Biden directly and three were with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.). The rest were with Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.), who is a member of the Finance and Budget committees, and White House and Democratic leadership staff. Representatives for Messrs. Biden, Schumer and Warner didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“Given the size and scope of the proposal—and the lack of detailed legislative language, or even consensus between the Senate and House around several provisions—we are not offering detailed comments on any one proposed piece of the package while those discussions are ongoing,” Mr. LaBombard said.

The package under discussion would represent a vast expansion of the country’s safety net, including paid family and medical leave, universal prekindergarten for three- and four-year-olds, affordable housing, and an expansion of Medicare benefits, among other measures. It would also increase taxes on companies and high-income households. Democrats hope to tackle climate change with provisions aimed at reducing carbon emissions in the electricity sector by 80% and economywide by 50% by 2030.

Republicans are united in opposition to the proposal, calling it wasteful and potentially damaging to the economy. Democrats are aiming to pass the package through a process called budget reconciliation that allows a bill to advance in the Senate with a simple majority, rather than the 60-vote supermajority usually needed.

In private negotiations, Ms. Sinema has been focused on targeting how the funding of new programs will be distributed among income levels, according to Senate Democratic aides. Narrower targeting of benefits could lower the overall cost. Ms. Sinema has also expressed concerns centering on the structure of the proposed tax changes, aides said.

In a recent interview with the Arizona Republic, Ms. Sinema expressed interest in climate proposals, which she said would directly affect the desert state which is already experiencing droughts, wildfires and damaged infrastructure.

The focus on Ms. Sinema comes amid a broad negotiation within the party between the moderate and progressive wings. While some senators have expressed concerns about parts of the proposal and haven’t committed to funding the entire $3.5 trillion, Ms. Sinema and fellow centrist Sen. Joe Manchin of deep-red West Virginia have been the only members of the caucus to rule out supporting that level of spending.

In a meeting Wednesday at the White House with Mr. Biden where both centrists were present, lawmakers discussed reducing the size of the package to below $3 trillion, according to two people familiar with the discussion.

“The main goal is to get all 50 of us together which means that we really need to get down to what are the things that will enable Joe and Kyrsten to say yes,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii). “I personally am not sure what it is programmatically that they can support. I’d like to get that identified.”

Rep. Scott Peters (D., Calif.), a centrist Democrat and close friend of Ms. Sinema from their days serving together in the House, said Ms. Sinema will be pivotal in the talks. “I certainly think that everyone is well advised to be listening to her. She’s got strong opinions and she’s not going to be pushed around.”

Others note that along with the thin control of the Senate, Democrats can afford to lose just three votes in the House, and Mr. Biden can’t afford to take his eye off any lawmakers...

I dare say I like that woman. *Shrug.*

Still more.


Saturday, September 25, 2021

American Beauty

At Country Girls.

And a bountiful lady here.

Also, Dua Lipa.

To Get Back Arrested Executive, China Uses a Hardball Tactic: Seizing Foreigners (VIDEO)

I'm still shaking my head at this story. 

The woman was living in two million-dollar homes for three years and the U.S. was never able to extradite her. 


China plays hardball and we don't? Appalling. 

At NYT, "The speed at which Beijing returned two Canadians held seemingly tit-for-tat in exchange may signal comfort with the tactic":

In a rapid-fire climax to a 1,030-day standoff, China welcomed home a company executive whose arrest in Canada and possible extradition to the United States made her a focus of superpower friction. In getting her back, Beijing brandished a formidable political tool: using detained foreign citizens as bargaining chips in disputes with other countries.

The executive, Meng Wanzhou, landed in China on Saturday night local time to a public that widely sees her as a victim of arrogant American overreach. By the same turn, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, two Canadians detained by Chinese officials just days after Ms. Meng had been arrested, were released and arrived in Canada.

The exchange resolves one of the festering disputes that have brought tensions between Washington and Beijing to their worst point in decades. But it will likely do little to resolve deeper issues including human rights, a sweeping clampdown in Hong Kong, cyberespionage, China’s threats to use force against Taiwan, and fears in Beijing that the United States will never accept China’s rise.

The swiftness of the apparent deal also stands as a warning to leaders in other countries that the Chinese government can be boldly transactional with foreign nationals, said Donald C. Clarke, a law professor specializing in China at George Washington University’s Law School.

“They’re not even making a pretense of a pretense that this was anything but a straight hostage situation,” he said of the two Canadians, who stood trial on spying charges. Mr. Spavor was sentenced last month to 11 years in prison, and Mr. Kovrig was waiting for a verdict in his case after trial in March.

“In a sense, China has strengthened its bargaining position in future negotiations like this,” Professor Clarke said. “They’re saying, if you give them what they want, they will deliver as agreed.”

Chinese media reports chronicled her release and flight home, skipping over her admission of some wrongdoing or saying that it did not amount to a formal guilty plea. On China’s internet, Ms. Meng was praised as a patriotic symbol of China standing up to Western bullying. Her plane was met on the tarmac at the airport in Shenzhen, China, by a rapturous crowd waving Chinese flags.

“Without a powerful motherland, I would not have my freedom today,” Ms. Meng said in a statement issued from her flight.

Chinese news media scarcely mentioned the release of Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig, leaving the impression that Beijing gave nothing away for her return.

To say that the apparent swap signals a thaw in relations would be premature at best, experts said.

President Biden has designated China as a key challenge to American pre-eminence. The releases came as he hosted the first face-to-face leaders’ meeting of the Quad, a grouping of the United States, India, Japan and Australia, united by their apprehension about China’s power and intentions in Asia. This month, Mr. Biden unveiled a new security agreement with Australia and Britain, and plans to provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia.

While Canadian officials and American prosecutors have insisted that they treated Ms. Meng’s case as purely a legal matter, politics has lurked in the background since she was arrested at an airport in Vancouver on Dec. 1, 2018.

Nine days later, security officers took Mr. Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat, from a street in Beijing. Mr. Spavor was seized on the same day in Dandong, a Chinese city opposite North Korea, a country where he long did business. While Ms. Meng was allowed to live in her Vancouver mansion, the two Canadians were confined to prison under much harsher conditions.

Chinese officials rejected the idea that Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor were in effect hostages. But Canadians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, scoffed at their denials, and Chinese officials and media commentators occasionally implied that there could be a trade-off in return for Ms. Meng’s release.

The United States alleged that in 2013 Ms. Meng lied to a bank over whether Huawei — the telecommunications company founded by her father, Ren Zhengfei, and where she was chief financial officer — had kept control of a company that did business in Iran in violation of American sanctions. Ms. Meng’s lawyers argued that she had been truthful.

Despite posturing on both sides, the United States and Ms. Meng had some incentive to find common ground in part because neither felt entirely sure they would win the fight over extraditing her, according to two additional people with knowledge of the talks...

Keep going


Trapped in Kabul, Prominent Afghan Women Fear Retribution Under Taliban Rule

The fate of women (and girls) in Afghanistan ... I can't.

At WSJ, "Lacking documents and unable to flee, high-profile women are at risk because of their past roles":

KABUL—Nabila, a 31-year-old Afghan judge, used to grant divorces to the wives of militants while their husbands languished in prison. Two days after the Taliban captured Kabul on Aug. 15 and emptied prisons across the country, she received threatening calls from several of these men.

She broke her SIM card, packed light and went into hiding.

“They’ve promised to kill me,” said Nabila, who asked to be quoted by her first name. “My husband and I now change our house every four days.”

Some 200 other female Afghan lawyers and judges, unemployed and vulnerable to Taliban retribution, remain stuck in Kabul alongside her, she said.

President Biden touted last month’s two-week airlift from Afghanistan, which evacuated some 120,000 people, as an “extraordinary success.” Yet many thousands of Afghans who invested lives and careers to further a U.S.-backed political order after 2001, promoting democracy and the rule of law, remain stuck.

Women like Nabila are most at risk both because of their past roles and the Taliban’s harsh new restrictions on women’s rights.

They face an additional, and often insurmountable, hurdle to leaving Afghanistan: the lack of any official government ID, let alone a passport.

Some 52% of Afghan women don’t have a national ID, known as tazkeera, compared with just 6% of Afghan men, according to the World Bank. That discrepancy is largely due to conservative cultural norms, which impede Afghan women from going to a government office to get identification papers, or keep them at home where they rarely need one. The U.S. has usually required a tazkeera or a passport from the Afghans it airlifted from Kabul, and IDs are needed to process visa applications.

“We’re talking about the most highly educated Afghan women who don’t have documents,” said Kimberley Motley, an international human-rights attorney who has worked on Afghan issues for more than a decade.

“We absolutely have an obligation to legal professionals who were part of these programs. We sold them the idea that rule of law is the foundation for building up a ‘democratic and civilized’ society,” Ms. Motley said.

Nabila, who worked for six years as a judge in Afghanistan’s family court, only applied for an electronic ID card, a precondition for a passport, 10 days before Kabul fell. She didn’t receive it before the Taliban took control of the state bureaucracy.

Nabila and her colleagues are far from the only prominent Afghan women who are stuck. An employee of Women for Afghan Women, a grass-roots civil-society organization that promotes and protects the rights of disenfranchised women, said she and 43 colleagues had been in hiding since the Taliban went to their offices the day Kabul fell. None of the staff have been able to leave the country, she said. Most don’t have passports.

Even for women with the right papers, getting to an evacuation flight was often not an option. Without the ability to line up for hours or days in a male-dominated scrum outside Kabul airport, and afraid to pass through checkpoints manned by Taliban fighters possibly looking for them, many women in prominent legal, cultural and political positions watched as the last American evacuation flights departed at the end of August.

Since then, four chartered Qatari flights have departed from Kabul, carrying around 680 Americans, holders of other foreign passports and their dependents. Afghans without permanent residency abroad weren’t allowed to board.

The August airlift included several daring, successful escapes, including Afghanistan’s women’s national soccer team and thousands of Afghans freed through a two-week rescue operation run by a group of American volunteers.

Yet many more remain, including 34 female volleyball players and staff of the women’s adult and youth national teams. The Taliban have indicated they will ban female participation in sports. “We have no clear future after years of struggling against hurdles to have a place in our beloved sport,” said one of the players. “I have not been outside the house since the Taliban took over. It is very difficult.”

Two-hundred-eighty students, staff and teachers from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, which included girls, failed to get out after an evacuation attempt crumbled 100 yards from the airport in the final days of the U.S. airlift.

The institute regularly received threats from the Taliban and was in 2014 hit by a suicide bombing during a concert that killed a German citizen.

“Musical diversity, Western music, girls and boys in music, music for social change,” said Ahmad Sarmast, the founder and director of the institute, which housed Zohra, Afghanistan’s first all-female orchestra and for years received funding from the U.S. Embassy. “Everything we did was against the Taliban’s ideology,” added Mr. Sarmast, who partially lost his hearing as a result of the 2014 bombing.

One of the most significant gains for women’s rights since 2001 has been the ability of women to get a divorce and protection from abusive husbands. Nabila, the judge, said the Taliban’s conquest of Afghanistan has already put at risk the lives of the women who benefited from the post-2001 family law and women’s courts...

Still more.