Tag Archives: Afghanistan

With so many in “deep poverty,” mere poverty is almost like the middle class

29 Sep

Philly poverty

If one of us, or many of us, falls behind, way behind, is it the responsibility of those ahead to pull up the less fortunate, the unfortunate and all those whom fortune has woefully forsaken?

Those living in and around Philadelphia should be giving this serious thought. In this city, the name of which means brotherly love, the economy, the culture, the dynamics, the thoughts and the ideals are too weak to sustain the population. What exists there represents gross failure.

A new report says that 12 percent of Philadelphia residents live in something called deep poverty. Sadly, the times have forced us to look beyond mere poverty, which in Philadelphia is 26 percent.

The city, which I live outside of, ranked highest in deep poverty when compared to the nation’s 10 biggest cities. Nearby Camden, across the river in New Jersey, is not among the biggest and wasn’t ranked. But it has a deep poverty rate of 20 percent and a poverty rate of 43 percent.

From my little cloister, that’s difficult to even imagine.

Deep poverty chartAll these figures come from the U.S. Census’ 2013 American Community Survey, which was recently released.

By definition, a family of three is in poverty if it lives on $20,000 a year. In deep poverty, three survive on $10,000 a year.

In terms of sheer numbers, there are 184,000 people in Philadelphia who are clinging to its lowest rung. Alfred Lubrano, a staff writer for the Inquirer, said that’s about the size of cities like Tallahassee, Florida or Salt Lake City, Utah.

It strikes me as being post-apocalyptic.

But I almost never go to the neighborhoods were the 184,000 live. Camden to me is like Mars.

Still, I can’t help feel as if people like me have somehow failed those in deep poverty, even though many have failed themselves.

In any group, on any place in the world, there are people who do well and people who do not. There are those who need no help and there are the helpless. Now and in the past, however, social units like Native-American tribes or New England colonies or even extended families would try to lift up those that some might describe as laggards. They would do so simply because the unit was a unit and felt responsible for its members. To some degree, we do this in America. We have networks of social services, we have churches and synagogues, and we have government.

Lubrano, the Inquirer reporter, interviewed a Philadelphia women in deep poverty. She is 42 years old, separated with three children ages 7 to 17. Born into an Irish-Italian family, she had dropped out of high school and worked as a cashier. According to Lubrano, she fell into depression and was unable to work. So the government provided her with disability payments of $8,880 a year.

This is a nice gesture, but not a solution to the problem.

So what is? With so many types of poverty, there probably would have to be an assortment of solutions, and even then many couldn’t be reached or helped or encouraged. But it’s for certain a studied, intelligent approach would reduce Philadelphia’s Tallahassee-size problem to perhaps a problem the size of Lost Springs, Wyoming, or Bozeman, Montana.

I lack the training, depth and insight of a social engineer, but one thing I’d like to see in every poor neighborhood is a “Factory of Last Resort.” Employment would be open to all those in poverty and deep poverty who are looking for an out. They would manufacture a mundane but useful item, like brooms or soap. These factories probably would operate at a loss, but there would be incentives to keep loses to a minimum and inch toward profitability. Included with the job would be access to health clinics, day care, a dining hall and dorms.

We would be building the equivalent of an urban kibbutz.

After a time, management positions would go to employees who exhibit leadership skills, the ones who have learned and blossomed from the experience. Awakenings often come with restored dignity.

Those of us who are doing well would be encouraged to buy the brooms and soap as a sign of support. It would be a way for all of us to make our cities whole again and to keep humanity human.

And then, should we want to, we can safely and happily visit the once great and now great-again places like Camden, which spawned RCA Records and Campbell Soup. And the City of Brotherly Love can free itself from the embarrassing irony of its name. It can return to its Quaker roots of service, justice, community, self-improvement and independence.

I love a good city. This would give us more of them.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

Advertisements

Afghanistan: Will lessons be learned?

13 Oct

When the war in Afghanistan started 11 years ago, I got a haircut.

My barber was a former Russian intelligence officer who served his country in Afghanistan. I wanted him to assess America’s chances.

“We leveled the place,” he said. “We turned it into a parking lot. We destroyed it. We did everything we could, and we still lost. You will, too.”

Soviet helicopters in Afghanistan, after an attack on a camel caravan from Pakistan

There was a time when the United States, for the sake of its image, could not leave a conflict without winning. Politicians refused to be blamed for a lost war. In the Vietnam era, with that war’s purpose forgotten and everyone tired of the slaughter, there were government recommendations to “declare victory and leave.”

Which is pretty much what President Nixon did.

We seem to have progressed since then and no longer require victory in war or even face saving. After $500 billion and 2,000 lives, our role in Afghanistan is ending. There will be no “Mission Accomplished” banners. Some who fought there aren’t even sure what the mission was.

But we still retain this idea that well-armed, well-financed invaders can defeat a local population that doesn’t want to be occupied and has a history of expelling invaders by simply not giving up.

Some in Washington, for sure, would like another test in Iran.

The United States attained its freedom by fighting a guerrilla war against a powerful, well-trained, well-armed, advanced nation. Yet we fail to recognize the power of the underdog or even devise the proper tactics against him.

Better to take the advice in a New York Times review of the book, THE GREAT GAMBLE: The Soviet War in Afghanistanby Gregory Feifer:

“Never underestimate fanatics who know the terrain.”

Now, with a lot less money to spend on arbitrary wars, we may finally take that lesson to heart.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

 

As its old enemy grows weak and it grows strong, China hasn’t forgotten World War II

23 Aug

Almost 11 years have passed and the war in Afghanistan is still a war. It has helped drain the treasury of a nation that doesn’t want to pay taxes.

An even bigger threat to that treasury and to global peace is occurring thousands of miles away in the Pacific. Its roots are deep, dating at least to 1937, when Japan invaded China.

The Chinese of today look at Americans and wonder how we can be friends with the Germans and the Japanese. We’ve forgotten World War II. They haven’t. Their country was occupied. Ours was not.

The hate never dissipated.

Around 1985, Chinese consumers were getting their first chances to buy televisions. Many were imported from Japan. Many didn’t work right. True or not, the perception was that Japan was dumping its faulty products on China. As the TVs failed, anger rose, then raged. Demonstrations were held to criticize the government for allowing this to happen and for being a party to this loss of face.

The protests continue.

E-mail has been circulating all over China calling for the boycott of Japanese products. One complaint in the e-mail is that the bosses of Japanese companies in China treat their Chinese employees like dogs. Beneath that remains the revulsion of doing business with a nation that murdered millions of Chinese and committed vicious, wide-scale atrocities that included massive gang rapes and burying people alive.

Americans don’t realize it, but almost 90 percent of Japan’s fighting forces in World War II were in China, not the islands we fought over.

While powerful back then, the Japanese of today are struggling to recover from a lengthy economic malaise.  As they do, they watch China grow wealthy and strong. Out of frustration, a bunch of them jumped in boats last weekend and landed on an Island that China claims. They planted Japanese flags.

This lit a fuse back in China, and several thousand took to the streets in protest.

All very interesting, and right now harmless. If, however, these skirmishes escalates and Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Taiwan also feel threatened, the U.S. could be lured in.

Anticipating the future, our presence in the Pacific already has grown. If the events of last week continue, it is likely to grow further.

Will there be a dialogue or will it just happen? In such a case, Americans will have to ask themselves: Is this our role, and are we willing to pay for it?

 

I think debate is needed now, while it is only pleasure craft and civilians taking over disputed islands, while decisions on budgets and taxes are still pending, and while national lunacy is still treatable.

This one could make Afghanistan look like a street fight.

Lanny Morgnanesi

In a fight with a laser-guided missile, don’t bring a motorcycle

7 Jul

By Lanny Morgnanesi

I think I’m trying to make a point with what follows. I’m just not sure what that point is. I will admit that for me the information I’m offering suggests some kind of gross, cosmic imbalance.

A Star Wars fanatic might call it a disturbance in the Force.

While Americans may not want to spend much on universal health care, we do spend a great deal to kill, whether we want to or not. Below is the long, indirect money trail that ultimately led to the execution of a man on a motorcycle. Intelligence agents had determined that he was a Taliban commander with plans to bomb a government building in Afghanistan. Details can be found in the New York Times.

Here’s the money trail:

 

$4.5 billion was spent on an aircraft carrier that assists in the Afghan war.

$100 million was spent for an F/A-18 strike fighter that sits on the carrier.

$100,000 was spent for an AGM-65E laser-guided missile aboard the fighter plane.

$160,000 was spent on the sortie that took the fighter off the carrier, into Afghanistan and up against the man on the motorcycle.

 

Having received his orders, the fighter pilot located Abdul Qayum riding along a dirt road on the back of bike driven by a very unlucky man. The fighter approached in a way that prevented Abdul Qayum and his driver from either seeing or hearing it.

The pilot released the AGM-65E laser-guided missile and accurately struck the motorcycle head-on, probably with about the force of a freight train.

There was very little left of the bodies or the motorcycle.

The world didn’t come to a halt because of this.  It was a simple consequence of war.

Still, it poses an important question:

Did our government do right or did it do wrong by Abdul Qayum and the American people? More specifically, is it immoral or just stupid to spend so much money and use so much technology to kill a single person? If so, what cost would be both moral and smart, and who determines that?

In my heart, I wish I had answers. Do you?

The hidden scope of war

3 Jan

The horrors of war are easily depicted in photographs of violence and inhumanity. Recently I saw another kind of war photo. In some respects, its relative tranquility was more unsettling than battlefield scenes.

The aerial picture was of trucks, perhaps hundreds of them, all carrying fuel. They were not moving. Rather, they were creating a monumental traffic jam on an expansive thoroughfare through Karachi, Pakistan. They owned the road. Only two or three other cars can be seen.

Their fuel was going to feed our war in Afghanistan. With so many trucks about, it was difficult to believe this part of the city could be concerned with anything else.

I found it startling to see that much fuel assembled in a single moment, in a single day, for a single purpose. It reminded me of Herodotus’ report on the massive Persian army that invaded Greece. In his account, he relates how the camping soldiers would routinely drink three or four rivers dry.

An exaggeration for sure, but, like the truck photo, a telling description of war’s magnitude.

The photo I saw was in the Dec. 19 Bloomberg Businessweek.  It sent three thoughts coursing through my mind:

What incredible resolve, determination and expense it takes to wage war.

  1. Americans can never know or measure the effects, good and bad, that the non-violent side of war has on a primitive economy and its culture, or what happens when it suddenly goes away.
  2. If the U.S. didn’t have to move all those fuel trucks across the world, how many more roads, bridges and schools could be built at home, and would Social Security and Medicare even be a problem?

One photo did this to me. I suggest you take a look and maybe read the accompanying article, “Convoy of Chaos.” Please comment and criticize.

%d bloggers like this: