Category Archives: Politics: International

Greenbacks vs Gunboats

Money down the drain

© 2011 TaxRebate.org.uk.
Licensed via CC BY 2.0 license.

So we spent about $2.26 trillion over two decades in Afghanistan–not to mention the US, allied, and Afghani lives lost or damaged by injuries, and the cost of various sorts of devastation to the Afghan people, and future costs of lifetime care for veterans and future interest on money the US borrowed for the war–and all we got is a Fall of Saigon on steroids.

I may be a broken record here (see bulleted links below), but if you consider that the population of Afghanistan is circa 27 million (it was less 20 years ago, but let’s take that as our back of the envelope number), then we could have paid every Afghan circa $4,185 a year for twenty years instead of invading.

That $4,185 a year is less than the average salary of $18,500 per year [a number I suspect reflects urbanized participants in the modern market economy plus some oligarchs who raise the average], but well above the modal salary of $1,000 per year. If we take the Afghan GNP to be circa $19.5 bn per year, that GNP works out to about $722 per Afghani per year. So our annual $4,185 for every woman, man, and child is about 5.8 times the average GNP per person per year. [While these numbers may seem odd, they may be due to an agrarian country with a child-oriented demographic skew.]

I would bet that the prospect of payments over four times the modal salary and 5.8 times the average GNP per person could have bought you quite a lot more than what we got–had we been able to find a way to pay it to the average Afghani. Those would have been terrific bribes in a country that is not unused to the concept. Might even have bough some serious political reform; it certainly would have paid for a lot of education for girls (and boys) and for construction, driven by bottom-up demand rather than erratic top-down supply.

But that’s not how we roll.

Incidentally, that $2.26 trillion equals about $788 annually, for twenty years, per US taxpayer (using the current 143.3 million number as a ballpark divisor).  I find it much easier to grasp $3,152 last year for the four taxpayers in my immediate family as representing US’s out of pocket costs than some number of hundreds of billions, not to mention the trillions over time.

Previously:

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Anniversaries

Today is the 5th anniversary of the UK’s decision to pull out the EU. I remain convinced that in the long run this will clearly be seen as one of the dumbest decisions a democracy ever made. Maybe not quite as dumb as electing Donald Trump, but one with much greater long-run consequences.

Meanwhile, however, views on the ground still differ: BoJo is still gung-ho — while many pro-Brexit voters say even if it did hurt them, it was worth it. Analysts and interest groups say it has harmed the UK, including importers, exporters, exporters again, UK expats in the EU, UK TV and filmakers, UK touring bands, pigeon fanciers, you name it; yes it’s all very complicated. Meanwhile the EU view is somewhere between ‘meh‘ and ‘good riddance’, although Timothy Garton Ash argues that the EU is worse off without the UK.  (FWIW, I half agree, but note that the EU also reaped great benefits, in that the disaster in the UK destroyed all the nascent EU separatist movements in other EU members.) Lurking in the future is the unresolved status of Northern Ireland — will it be in the EU economic zone and hence outside the UK (as agreed in the Brexit deal), or outside the EU thus avoiding a border with the rest of the UK…but creating one with the Republic of Ireland in violation of the so-called Good Friday agreement.

For the UK this anniversary also raises the specter of divorce — or divorces: If the UK can’t sort out the Northern Irish trade issue, there’s a chance that re-unification with the Republic might become more popular.  Meanwhile, Scotland likely will have another referendum on independence in the next few years, and the argument that leaving the UK would allow Scotland to rejoin Europe might well carry the day.  In the end all that would be left of the UK would be England and Wales.

In local news, today is also my 32nd wedding anniversary. Still going strong.

Posted in Brexit, Personal | 5 Comments

Kazakhstan Trials Major Attack on Internet Freedom

According to an article in ZDNet the government of Kazakstan is requiring all internet users in the capital to install government-issued certificates on their phones and computers. This will allow the government to eavesdrop on all otherwise secured https web communications by routinizing so-called man-in-the-middle attacks.

Starting today, December 6, 2020, Kazakh internet service providers (ISPs) such as Beeline, Tele2, and Kcell are redirecting Nur-Sultan-based users to web pages showing instructions on how to install the government’s certificate. Earlier this morning, Nur-Sultan residents also received SMS messages informing them of the new rules.

Kazakhstan users have told ZDNet today that they are not able to access sites like Google, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Netflix without installing the government’s root certificate.

This is the Kazakh government’s third attempt at forcing citizens to install root certificates on their devices after a first attempt in December 2015 and a second attempt in July 2019.

Both previous attempts failed after browser makers blacklisted the government’s certificates.

Posted in Cryptography, Internet, Politics: International | Leave a comment

Mental Whiplash (Oil Cartel Edition)

I remember when the major casualties of the OPEC oil cartel were Japan, the US, and Europe. I remember the oil shock, aka the oil crisis of 1973. I’m still stuck in a world in which higher oil prices are not in the short-term interests of the average US consumer, although given the effects on global warming and the need to transition away from carbon fuels, I understand that the longer-term picture is much more complicated.

Still, it creates mental whiplash when I read that the head of the US Government, some guy by the name of Donald Trump, just brokered a deal with the Saudis and the Russians, two of his favorite autocrats, to lower oil production by almost 10% in order to raise oil prices. Of course this also helps out his over-leveraged buddies in the US fracking business. It isn’t, I’m quite sure, motivated by concern for the environment.

The next election can’t come too soon.

Posted in Econ & Money, Politics: International | Leave a comment

Our Tax Dollars at Work

The CIA has a list and brief analysis of every country’s national anthem.  This is not from The Onion.

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The WHAT?

Today’s NYT has a long obituary of “Rafi Eitan, Israeli Spymaster Who Caught Eichmann

It contains this utterly arresting (at least to me) paragraph:

He played important roles in the surgical strike on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981; the theft in the late 1960s of at least 100 pounds of highly enriched uranium from a nuclear fuel plant in the Pittsburgh area that helped Israel’s atomic bomb program; and the assassinations of the Palestinian commandos who carried out the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

Wait a minute. [T]he theft in the late 1960s of at least 100 pounds of highly enriched uranium from a nuclear fuel plant in the Pittsburgh area that helped Israel’s atomic bomb program.??? First I heard of it.

Apparently it’s called the Apollo Affair and there’s some dispute if it was measurement error or an Israeli spy ops. Wikipedia is neutral, and quotes Seymour Hersh — never one to err on the side of there being no cover-up — as concluding that Zalman Shapiro, the company’s president, did not divert any uranium; rather “it ended up in the air and water of the city of Apollo as well as in the ducts, tubes, and floors of the NUMEC plant.” On the other hand, the free-standing website on the NUMEC Affair thinks the Israelis did it:

After the AEC and its Oak Ridge office calculated the processing losses based on NUMEC’s records, they determined that the fate of about 100 kilograms of U-235 in the form of HEU remained unexplained. NUMEC paid for the missing material, but later disputed the AEC calculations, maintaining that the unexplained 100 kgs could be attributed to other processing losses. After decommissioning of the Apollo plant, more than 330 kgs of U-235 in the form of HEU were unaccounted for, with most of that deficit occurring while NUMEC ran the plant.

For decades there have been allegations and suspicions that foreign agents, perhaps aided by American citizens, diverted a significant fraction of NUMEC’s unexplained uranium deficits to Israel for its nuclear-weapons program. Because of the high stakes involved, the affair has been clouded in denial and concealment for nearly a half century.

And there is this:

In 2009 The FBI released a detailed statement that was made in 1980 by a former NUMEC employee who said he started work at Apollo in February 1965 and was fired in October 1978 by the present owner, Babcock and Wilcox, Inc., for job abandonment following an alleged job-related illness. The former employee said he encountered armed strangers on the uranium plant’s loading dock one night in early 1965. He said they were loading what appeared to be canisters of HEU onto a truck in racks that he had not seen before. He also saw a shipping manifest that said the material was heading to a ship bound for Israel on the Zim-Israel shipping line. He said that a NUMEC manager later threatened him to keep his mouth shut about what he had seen.

I suppose this claim might be retaliation by a disgruntled former employee – in particular the shipping manifest part sounds a bit suspect (why would they be open about this in a way he could see?). And the official US position is that nothing was proved. But stil.. Did everyone except me know about this?

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