Tuesday, June 24, 2014

            I can’t even comprehend how much $1.7 trillion is, but apparently that’s what the war in Iraq cost us. And we’re still paying. There will be an additional $490 billion in benefits owed to war veterans, and over the next four decades, that amount could grow to more than $6 trillion. Add the cost of our engagements in Afghanistan and Pakistan to what we spent in Iraq, and the figure goes up to nearly $4 trillion.
After destroying Iraq, we then had to rebuild it, spending more than $60 billion in taxpayer dollars. According to one report, there’s very little sign of where this money actually went. “. . . you can go into any city in Iraq and not find one building or project built by the U.S. government.” Check out httpp://money.msn.com for the extravagant waste of our money – that’s your money and mine – in Iraq. Two examples among thousands of waste: billing $3000 for a circuit breaker valued at $94, and $900 for a control switch valued at $7.05.  
            What did we get for these trillions fighting a war that began with a lie? To begin with, an estimated 189,000 dead. We managed to get both Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, but the war reinvigorated radical Islamist militants in the region. It’s sort of like pulling weeds in your garden. Pull one; two grow back. What we didn’t get is democracy in that region. I lived in the Middle East for eight years, and learned that they’re not interested in replicating what we have. Why must we force our views and practices on them?
            I find it hard to understand all the wrangling about cutting spending when we have wasted trillions in a war that accomplished nothing good, and much that was bad. We might have been just as well off to build a bonfire and burn our taxpayer dollars.  I’d like to suggest just a few of the ways that money would have been better spent.
1.      BRIDGES
I keep reading that the nation’s infrastructure is in dire need of repair. Why are we spending money on circuit breakers in Iraq, paying thirty times what they are worth, when no one can guarantee that our bridges won’t come toppling down any day now? I vote for new bridges instead of circuit breakers.
I love windmills. Maybe that has to do with loving Hans Brinker, but even so, windmills are a clean form of energy. Think of the new jobs we could create if we went on a wind-mill building spree. We could also have used some of that wasted money in developing other clean energy sources.
It’s a national disgrace. We spend more than $6 trillion killing people and destroying a country, yet leave our students with a horrendous debt load.
People keep harping on getting rid of bad teachers. I don’t hear anyone coming up with ways to entice our best and smartest into the teaching profession. If you have the brains to be successful in one of the more lucrative professions, why would you accept a measly teacher’s salary? Isn’t it time we coughed up money and made education a priority?
Every citizen of the United States should have access to information. Those states that have put money into improving school libraries and hiring adequate media personnel have shown a commensurate improvement in student test scores. We could have built a lot of new libraries and modernized a lot of old ones with all that money.
Maybe find a way to wipe out malaria? The common cold? Cancer? Nooooo, we’d rather waste trillions on a war in the Middle East.
So, let’s hear it from all you. How would have liked to spend those trillions?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Qatar the World Cup

Qatar and the World Cup
     Qataris were very excited to win the bid for the 2022 World Cup. They hosted the Asian Games seven years ago and had tried to win the Olympics, but failed. Having lived in the country for eight years, I have to commend the Emir and the leaders of the country for attempting to bring this small emirate into the main stream of world events. They've done this in many ways, the bid for the World Cup being just one. In other ways, however, they have not lived up to expectations of the main stream, their treatment of their vast number of employees from Asian and African countries being a case in point.
     When I moved to Qatar in 2002, the population consisted of around 250,000 Qataris and 500,000 ex-pats. When I left in 2010, the number of Qataris had grown to around 270,000 while the overall population had doubled. Many people from the West go to Qatar to work, but Asians (especially Indians) and Africans form the vast majority of the ex-pat population. And while the westerners are treated well -- large salaries and perks -- the Asians and Africans are not. The conditions under which they are forced to live is what will probably cost Qatar their opportunity to host the World Cup.
     Thousands of workers are brought in to perform the labor the Qataris refuse to do.  The citizens of this tiny emirate have the highest per capita income in the world, so why should they build buildings, clean the streets, cook meals, and dress and entertain their babies? Instead, recruits are brought in and put to work. But there's nothing wrong with that so far, is there?
     The problem is the conditions that the imported workers must endure. First, salaries that would just about pay for my Starbucks and movie tickets. Forget the popcorn. The $100 per month that many get would never stretch that far. Maids, drivers, and nannies don't have it so bad. They get to live in the compound with their employers, thus, decent shelter and food, even if the salaries  are pitiful. Construction workers usually live in a dorm. They have a bunk, space for one suitcase and an electric pan of some sort, and no meals. They live on rice.  When the price of rice went up a few years ago, there was panic among them.
     So why don't these workers just leave? In spite of the low salaries, most manage to send money to their families. There are several countries where the money sent home from workers in the Gulf Countries form a significant amount of the national income.
      Money is one reason they stay, but the other reason is that they can't leave. No one leaves Qatar without an exit permit. This stricture includes Qataris and Westerners, as well as Asians and Africans. To get an exit permit, an expat must petition his employer. The employer has it in his power to deny the permit. And many are denied. Stories abound of Asians not being paid by their employers and not being given exit permits. There is only one way to describe this: slavery.
    The person, or persons, who allegedly succumbed to bribes and awarded Qatar the 2022 World Cup, obviously did not anticipate the attention of human rights organizations. The despicably paid workers, some of who may not be allowed to leave, are the ones building the soccer stadiums and other venues for the games. 
     It seems grossly unfair that the wealthiest per capita nation in the world builds its success and fame on the backs of less fortunate people.