A Tale of Evil Empires, and a Bit of Humor

What Grandma saw when she arrived from Odessa

Where Did the Afghans Go?

For weeks the news in The New York Times was all about Afghanistan, about the sudden and badly managed (to say the least) pullout of U.S. troops, the sudden victory of the Taliban, and distress of those thousands who were left behind and are being targeted for assassination.

Now the headlines are all about Ukraine, 24/7, and Afghanistan is relegated to the back pages. Americans have raised $millions to help the Ukrainians, and we and other European nations are offering shelter to refugees from that country. As of this posting, around 2 million people have fled the war. (Although so far we’ve only taken in 300 of them.)

But the doors have closed, for the most part, to Afghans. Even worse, President Biden has decided to appropriate half the $7 billion of assets that the Central Bank of Afghanistan has on deposit at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, money that represents the savings of Afghan citizens. Supposedly the $3.5 billion will be used to help the families of 9/11 victims.

Meanwhile, according to an October 2021 UNICEF report, “14 million people in Afghanistan are facing acute food insecurity, and an estimated 3.2 million children under the age of five are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition by the end of the year. At least 1 million of these children are at risk of dying due to severe acute malnutrition without immediate treatment.”  In some villages, parents are selling their kidneys for money to feed their children.

To the best of my knowledge, the families of 9/11 victims aren’t going hungry. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, $3.3 billion of our tax dollars has already been appropriate to compensate them.

  • Victims: The minimum amount is $45,056 and maximum amount is $1,171,460, with an average of $445,634;
  • Spouses: The minimum amount is $281,601 and maximum amount is $732,163, with an average of $675,423; and
  • Dependents: The minimum amount is $179,644 and maximum amount is $497,871, with an average of $432,303.

The additional $3.5 billion now being stolen from Afghanistan won’t be divided in quite the same way. While Afghan children starve, American lawyers and lobbyists are fighting over the loot, and could easily walk away with half a billion dollars. One of those, Lee Wolosky, worked with the Biden administration from September to January, supposedly to aid in the evacuation of Afghan refugees. We know how badly the government botched that. Wolosky then returned to his law firm, Jenner & Block, which has been representing the 9/11 victims.

Wolosky isn’t the only one. Attorney Andrew Maloney justified his position, saying, “The reality is, the Afghan people didn’t stand up to the Taliban. … They bear responsibility for the condition they’re in.”

Remember, readers, that no Afghan was involved with 9/11. Yet after luring the Soviet Union into invading in 1979, as former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski said, in order to give the USSR “its own Vietnam War,” after our invasion of 2001, after more than 40 years of war, that nation has been devastated.

What’s the point of condemning the Afghan people to mass starvation? Insatiable greed? Collective punishment, because we lost the war?

The news these days portrays Putin as a megalomaniac, a mass murderer. I’m sure they’re right. But every time I see another pundit or commenter in the NY Times calling Biden a “nice guy” or “empathic,” I think about those hungry Afghan children and want to puke.

The Importance of Ukraine

Afghanistan is rich in mineral resources—specifically iron, copper, lithium, rare earth elements, cobalt, bauxite, mercury, uranium and chromium—but lacks the infrastructure to facilitate their exploitation. The roads are poor quality. The country has three short railway lines, and imports most of its electricity. As important as those resources could be, once the infrastructure was properly developed, they are small potatoes compared to Ukraine’s.

Ukraine has 5% of the earth’s natural and mineral resources, including coal, oil, natural gas (2nd most in Europe), lithium (for batteries), iron ore (for industry), titanium (20% of proven world reserves, for aerospace) and gallium (2nd most in world, for electronics). Ukraine is also rich agriculturally—1st in Europe in arable land and 25% of the world’s volume of black soil—estimated as capable of feeding 600 million people.

In other words, the rulers of both empires—Russian and American—consider this land worth fighting for. Yet whether or not Russia gets to keep it, and even if it doesn’t get completely trashed in the war, fossil fuel companies will reap huge profits. Raúl Grijalva, chair of the U.S. House committee on natural resources, writes that oil and gas lobbyists have been pumping out propaganda, insisting that “the key to ending this crisis is to immediately hand US public lands and waters over to fossil-fuel companies and quickly loosen the regulatory strings.”

He continues: “Despite industry’s claims to the contrary, President Biden has not hobbled US oil and gas development…this administration actually approved more US drilling permits per month in 2021 than President Trump did during each of the first three years of his presidency…The oil industry already controls at least 26m acres of public land and is sitting on more than 9,000 approved drilling permits they’re not using…They have a similarly gratuitous surplus offshore, where nearly 75% of their active federal oil and gas leases, covering over 8m acres, have yet to produce a single drop….These pleas have nothing to do with countering Putin’s invasion or stabilizing gas prices, and everything to do with making oil and gas development as easy and profitable as possible.”

The military-industrial complex wants more money, too. According to an article in Defense News, the Biden administration has asked Congress for “$6.4 billion in new funding to respond to Russia’s war on Ukraine.” Of that, $2.9 billion is to go to Eastern European allies. This is in addition to $700 million already pledged to Ukraine, plus a $1 billion loan guarantee. The other $3.5 billion goes to the Pentagon—for what? The article doesn’t say.

As with the war in Afghanistan, people will starve—but not just the Afghans. Lebanon gets 60% of its wheat from Ukraine. Egypt depends on Russian and Ukrainian wheat. Sub-Saharan Africa and Indonesia are similarly dependent.

I’m trying to keep up with developments, which change hour by hour. I’m also thinking about putting these events in a historical perspective, and will have more to say in my next post.

Meanwhile, here’s the bit of humor I promised you:

I Receive a Title

Some people get knighted or get medals for saving lives on the battlefield. Some receive honors, such as a Nobel Prize, for saving lives through medical discoveries. I’ve never been on the battlefield, and I’m no medical scientist. But on our backyard farmette in Portland, I have saved enough lives to receive the title, Protector of Invertebrates.

When Sylvia and I first met, I lived in a cottage in Oakland, behind the main house. I kept a compost bucket on the kitchen counter and periodically emptied the contents into a bin in the garden. Since the bucket wasn’t covered, it attracted fruit flies, and then a spider hung its web over the bucket. Sylvia was appalled that I could live in what she considered squalor. “But it’s a perfectly good ecosystem,” I replied.

A few months later Sylvia and I began to live together. She has arachnophobia, and though her fear of spiders has diminished considerably over time, it became my job to catch them—especially the larger ones—and take them outside. This I do with a glass jar, sliding an envelope or other stiff bit of paper underneath so as not to injure their delicate little legs. For my lifesaving efforts, Sylvia dubbed me Protector of Invertebrates. Alas, it is a title without entitlements, such as a ducal estate, emoluments, or political office.

Once we bought the place in Portland, I began to catch other critters, like ladybugs, katydids, house centipedes, earwigs, silverfish, inchworms, and slugs. I’ll even remove an ant or two, but when we get a serious invasion, we put out ant traps and (sigh!) poison them. Mosquitoes get no mercy.

Since inchworms and slugs will eat our vegetables, Sylvia insists that I feed them to our chickens. I do so reluctantly, but every now and then I’ll sneak a slug over to the yard next door (the owners are keeping that house vacant, for tax purposes), and deposit it in the bushes. I’m sure Sylvia will get on my case when she reads this!

My other job of this nature is saving earthworms. When I’m out walking on a rainy day and see an earthworm crawling along the sidewalk, I find a twig or leaf, pick it up, and put it back in the grass where it won’t get stepped on. Same with banana slugs on the trails where I go hiking.

During the last rain, Sylvia and I were asking ourselves what we’ve done to justify taking up space on this planet. I told her I’d saved six worms that very day. Perhaps their testimony will outweigh that of the mosquitoes and New York cockroaches when I reach the Great Beyond.

One Response to A Tale of Evil Empires, and a Bit of Humor

  1. Perry Brass March 12, 2022 at 1:08 pm #

    I’m with you, Martha, I love earthworms, ants, ladybugs, and especially bees, my friends and fellow dreamers. I adore them. We are very lucky here to have a number of bumblebees who come visit all through the spring and summer. We also had an infestation of their less welcome cousins, carpenter bees. I find bumblebees incredibly interesting, and their ability to concentrate on the work at hand, pollinating, is incredibly admirable to me, considering that they only live for about 10 weeks, and then it’s curtains for them.
    Your insights into Afghanistan and Ukraine are spot on.
    I have felt for years that what we should have done in Afghanistan was simply made the country an economic colony, instead of waging an assinine war there. It is one of the world’s poorest countries, and the people there simply want to live outside of poverty. The US is good at economic colonization—it would have cost one tenth (if that much) as much as we spent on our revotling there. I have never been to Afghanistan, but years ago knew several people who did business there before the Russians came. They loved the place and the people; after the Russians took over, their businesses were taken over by trhe Russians, and then disappeared.
    It has gone from good to worse to more worse. Afghanistan is called “the graveyard of empires,” and we should have learned from that in some form or another.

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