Monday, April 30, 2012
WASHINGTON (AP) — The military is under-reporting the number of times that Afghan soldiers and police open fire on American and other foreign troops.
The U.S.-led coalition routinely reports each time an American or other foreign soldier is killed by an Afghan in uniform. But The Associated Press has learned it does not reportin which the Afghan wounds — or misses — his U.S. or allied target. It also doesn't report the wounding of troops who were attacked alongside those who were killed.
Such attacks reveal a level of mistrust and ill will between the U.S.-led coalition and its Afghan counterparts in an increasingly unpopular war. The U.S. and its military partners are working more closely with Afghan troops in preparation for handing off security responsibility to them by the end of 2014.
In recent weeks an Afghan soldier opened fire on a group ofbut missed the group entirely. The Americans quickly shot him to death. Not a word about this was reported by the International Security Assistance Force, or , as the coalition is formally known. It was disclosed to the AP by a U.S. official who was granted anonymity in order to give a fuller picture of the "insider" problem.
ISAF also said nothing about last week's attack in which two Afghan policemen in Kandahar province fired on U.S. soldiers, wounding two. Reporters learned of it from Afghan officials and from U.S. officials in Washington. The two Afghan policemen were shot to death by the Americans present.
Just last Wednesday, an attack that killed a U.S. Army special forces soldier, Staff Sgt. Andrew T. Brittonmihalo, 25, of Simi Valley, Calif., also wounded three other American soldiers. The death was reported by ISAF as an insider attack, but it made no mention of the wounded — or that an Afghan civilian also was killed.
The attacker was an Afghan special forces soldier who opened fire with a machine gun at a base in Kandahar province. He was killed by return fire.
That attack apparently was the first by a member of the Afghan special forces, who are more closely vetted than conventional Afghan forces and are often described by American officials as the most effective and reliable in the Afghan military.
Coalition officials do not dispute that such non-fatal attacks happen, but they have not provided a full accounting.
The insider threat has existed for years but has grown more deadly. Last year there were 21that killed 35 coalition service members, according to ISAF figures. That compares with 11 fatal attacks and 20 deaths the previous year. In 2007 and 2008 there were a combined total of four attacks and four deaths.
ISAF has released brief descriptions of each of the fatal attacks for 2012 but says similar information for fatal attacks in 2011 is considered classified and therefore cannot be released.
Jamie Graybeal, an ISAF spokesman in Kabul, disclosed Monday in response to repeated AP requests that in addition to 10 fatal insider attacks so far this year, there have been two others that resulted in no deaths or injuries, plus one attack that resulted in wounded, for a total of 13 attacks. The three non-fatal attacks had not previously been reported.
Graybeal also disclosed that in most of the 10 fatal attacks a number of othertroops were wounded. By policy, the fact that the attacks resulted in wounded as well as a fatality is not reported, he said.
Asked to explain why non-fatal insider attacks are not reported, Graybeal said the coalition does not disclose them because it does not have consent from all coalition governments to do so.
"All releases must be consistent with the national policies of troop contributing nations," Graybeal said.
Graybeal said a new review of this year's data showed that the 10 fatal attacks resulted in the deaths of 19 ISAF service members. His office had previously said the death total was 18. Most of those killed this year have been Americans but France, Britain and other coalition member countries also have suffered fatalities.
Graybeal said each attack in 2012 and 2011 was "an isolated incident and has its own underlying circumstances and motives." Just last May, however, an unclassified internal ISAF study, called "A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility," concluded, "Such fratricide-murder incidents are no longer isolated; they reflect a growing systemic threat." It said many attacks stemmed from Afghan grievances related to cultural and other conflicts with U.S. troops.
Mark Jacobson, an international affairs expert at the German Marshall Fund in Washington and a former deputy NATO senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, said attacks of all types are cause for worry.
"You have to build up trust when working with partners, and years of trust can be destroyed in just a minute," Jacobson said. No matter what the motivation of the Afghan attacker, "it threatens the partnership."
Until now there has been little public notice of non-fatal insider attacks, even though they would appear to reflect the same deadly intent as that of Afghans who manage to succeed in killing their foreign partners.
Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry, said the army has tightened its monitoring of soldiers' activities recently and, in some cases, taken action to stop insider attacks.
For example, "a number of soldiers" have been arrested for activity that might suggest a plot, such as providing information on army activities to people outside the military, he said. Some have been dismissed from the Army, but he did not provide figures.
U.S. officials say that in most cases the Afghans who turn their guns on their supposed allies are motivated not by sympathy for the Taliban or on orders from insurgents but rather act as a result of personal grievances against the coalition.
The Obama campaign apparently didn't look backwards into history when selecting its new campaign slogan, "Forward" — a word with a long and rich association with European Marxism.
Many Communist and radical publications and entities throughout the 19th and 20th centuries had the name "Forward!" or its foreign cognates. Wikipedia has an entire section called "Forward (generic name of socialist publications)."
"The name Forward carries a special meaning in socialist political terminology. It has been frequently used as a name for socialist, communist and other left-wing newspapers and publications," the online encyclopedia explains.
The slogan "Forward!" reflected the conviction of European Marxists and radicals that their movements reflected the march of history, which would move forward past capitalism and into socialism and communism.
The Obama campaign released its new campaign slogan Monday in a 7-minute video. The title card has simply the word "Forward" with the "O" having the familiar Obama logo from 2008. It will be played at rallies this weekend that mark the Obama re-election campaign's official beginning.
There have been at least two radical-left publications named "Vorwaerts" (the German word for "Forward"). One was the daily newspaper of the Social Democratic Party of Germany whose writers included Friedrich Engels and Leon Trotsky. It still publishes as the organ of Germany's SDP, though that party has changed considerably since World War II. Another was the 1844 biweekly reader of the Communist League. Karl Marx, Engels and Mikhail Bakunin are among the names associated with that publication.
East Germany named its Army soccer club ASK Vorwaerts Berlin (later FC Vorwaerts Frankfort).
Vladimir Lenin founded the publication "Vpered" (the Russian word for "forward") in 1905. Soviet propaganda film-maker Dziga Vertov made a documentary whose title is sometimes translated as "Forward, Soviet" (though also and more literally as "Stride, Soviet").
Conservative critics of the Obama administration have noted numerous ties to radicalism and socialists throughout Mr. Obama's history, from his first political campaign being launched from the living room of two former Weather Underground members, to appointing as green jobs czar Van Jones, a self-described communist.
The New Reactionaries
About fifteen years ago, many liberals began to self-identify as progressives—partly because of the implosion of the Great Society and the Reagan reaction that had tarnished the liberal brand and left it as something akin to “permissive” or “naïve,” partly because “progressive” was supposedly an ideological rather than a political identification, and had included some early twentieth-century Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover.
But twenty-first century progressivism is not aimed at political reform. There is no new effort at racial unity. There is not much realization that we are in a globalized, rapidly changing, high-tech economy or that race and gender are not as they were fifty years ago. Instead, progressivism has become a reactionary return to the 1960s—or even well before. The new regressivism seeks to resurrect the machine ethos of Mayor Daley, the glory green days of theWhole Earth Catalog, the union era of George Meany, Jimmy Hoffa, and Walter Reuther, the racial polarization of the old Black Panther Party and the old Al Sharpton, and a Walter Cronkite, John Chancellor, or Peter Jennings reading to us each evening three slightly different versions of the Truth.
The New Old Chicago
Barack Obama is trying to turn back the way of politics to the era of the pre-reform Chicago machine. He was the first presidential candidate to renounce campaign-financing funds since the law was enacted. He opposes any effort to clamp down on voting fraud. Even his compliant media worriesthat the president’s current jetting from one campaign stop to another in the key swing states is a poorly disguised way to politick on the federal government’s dime. Bundlers are, as was the ancient custom, given plum honorific posts abroad. Obama has held twice as many fundraisers as the much reviled George Bush had at a similar point in his administration. Obama supporters now target large Romney givers and post their names with negative bios on websites, as if we are back to Nixon’s enemies of the people. Websites sprout up that go after administration critics in Agnew style, but without the latter’s self-caricature. The 2008 criticism about ending the revolving door, lobbyists, and pay-for-play renting out of the Lincoln bedroom was, well…just examine the career of a Peter Orszag. An embarrassed media keeps silent about the new reactionary ethics, apparently on the premise that not to would endanger four more years of the “progressive” agenda. On matters of presidential style, we are likewise retro, as Obama sets records for playing golf, and in Marie Antoinette style the First Family bounces between Vail, Aspen, Martha’s Vineyard, Vegas, and Costa del Sol, often in separate jets, as if we, the people, receive vicarious joy from catching glimpses of the Obama versions of Camelot. We have Kennedy wannabes without their own Kennedy money.
Earth Day Forever
On matters of energy, Obama has regressed to the Earth Day mindset of the 1970s, when we were reaching “peak” oil, and untried wind and solar were soon to be the new-age remedy for soon-to-be-exhausted fossil fuels. Add up the anti-empirical quotes from Obama himself, Energy Secretary Chu, and Interior Secretary Salazar (inflate your tires, “tune up” your car, look to U.S. algae reserves, let energy prices “skyrocket,” hope gas rises to European levels, don’t open federal lands even if gas reaches $10 a gallon, etc.) and, in reactionary fashion, we are time-machined back to the campus quad of the 1970s. In this la la world of Van Jones, evil oil companies supposedly connived to stifle green energy and hook us on fossil fuels, inferior energies that have nothing to recommend them. It is as if the revolutions in horizontal drilling, fracking, and discoveries of vast new reserves never occurred, as if Exxon and Chevron dodge taxes in a manner that Google and Amazon never would, as if efficient smaller gas engines, clean gas blends, and pollution devices have not made the American car both clean-burning and economical beyond our imagination forty years ago. The Obamians, frozen in amber, really believe oil is about to run out, “tuned up” internal combustion engines powering underinflated tires pollute as they did in the 1920s, and Teapot Dome U.S. oil companies need to be “crucified”—as regional EPA director and Obama appointee Al Armendariz, in fact, boasted. So we borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize money-losing solar and wind plants, while putting federal lands rich in oil and gas off-limits to companies eager to pay royalties, hire thousands, and supply the U.S. with its own energy—and all for a regressive ideology. Few see that Solyndra really is the new Teapot Dome.
The UAW and the Big Three—Forever
And the economy? We know statism, whether the Soviet and Chinese brand or the softer European socialist sort, did not work. And as the rest of the world flees from state-controlled and command economies, we in America look back fondly toward them, as if the U.S could be run perpetually in peacetime as it was for four years during World War II or that we could have an endless 100 Days of the first three months of FDR. We can make the unionized Postal Service work (as if there is no FedEx, email, or text messaging) like GM or, better yet, turn a doctor’s visit into a brush with the TSA. When the president scoffs at capitalism with “we’ve tried that,” one wonders whether he means “yes, we did and that’s why the U.S. per capita income and per capita GDP are among the highest in the world, and the poor have appurtenances, housing, and ‘stuff’ unmatched by the middle classes in most countries abroad.” In reactionary fashion, we measure poverty only in terms of relative worth, never by an absolute standard, as if Americans do not have access to televisions, hot water, appliances, and cell phones and do not suffer more from obesity than malnutrition. Our new regressive template for the economy dates from about 1950, when our grandfathers in the AFL-CIO and UAW worked in big unionized factories to supply a war-torn world with almost everything, at a time when China, France, Germany, Japan, and Russia had been flattened and Taiwan and South Korea did not exist as manufacturers. Solyndra and the Volt are to be like Ford circa 1946: assembly lines buzzing with endless solar panels and cars, built by 100-new-rules-a-day unions, without much competition, and products all backordered by a war-wearied and materially deprived world.
Freedom Riding Forever
On matters racial, we are endlessly back in the 1960s with more Bull Connors and Lester Maddoxes, with Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson fighting them on Freedom Marches, not a half-century distant from the “I have a dream speech,” in a troubled era where over 90% of African-Americans who die violently at the hands of another are not lynched, but shot by other African-Americans, and where blacks are 30-40 times more likely to commit some sort of violent crime against whites than vice versa. Without more of the Great Society, there is always said to be the threat of another “resurrection” like Watts, not periodic flash mobbing to rip off iPhones and iPads. In the world of Eric Holder, affirmative action is yesterday, today, and tomorrow, as if we are Old Confederates who measure non-white lineage by a 1/16 drop standard, as if blond Elizabeth Warren, candidate for senator in Massachusetts and one-percenter Harvard professor, really is a “native-American” as she and Harvard claimed for purposes of minority status. In the real world, the problem is not the absence of civil rights, but an absence of courage to discuss the causes of racial disparities in categories beyond income, from rates of illegitimacy to crime. For the new regressives, someone like John Foster Dulles, the old white guy, is still secretary of state, rather than the truth that a white male has not held the office in over fifteen years. We live in a suspended animation world of To Kill a Mockingbird where the Duke Lacrosse players are still guilty by the fact of their association with a black stripper, Trayvon Martin is a martyred hero (and even if a court proves it is not so, he still will be), and the members of the Black Caucus are given exemptions to utter racist and inflammatory rhetoric, given the burdens they shoulder of a segregated society peopled by George Wallaces and Strom Thurmonds everywhere.
Ivy League on Viagra
For the new regressives, universities are still hallowed centers of liberal instruction. There is no interest why professors have the reputation of used car dealers (with apologies to used car dealers), tuition soars faster than inflation, for-profit vocational schools siphon off students, and student loans mimic the 2008 housing bubble. In the regressive world, Barack Obama knows something about political science and the law, because Columbia and Harvard certified that he does. Indeed, we are all supposed to believe our children are educated because they have a BA certificate and took a cutting-edge Chicano Studies or Film Studies course at institutions who jack up prices faster than the rate of inflation and are subsidized by big government loans—and to question any of that earns the charge of being “anti-intellectual” or denying the children the right “to be all they can be.” We are supposed to make-believe that the overpriced campus of rock-climbing walls and “the poetics of low-riding” is every bit as rigorous as the 1950s Great Books courses at Chicago.
All the President’s Men—Again and Again
The new media is the most regressive of all. It too is back to the days of the early 1960s when it did not report the antics of the Kennedys in worry about endangering the New Frontier. At least the old reactionary press hid government lapses as well as liberal ones—but not the new regressives: for the L.A. Times, releasing photos of American soldiers with gruesome trophies in Afghanistan is necessary candor of the My Lai sort; yet suppressing Obama’s comments at a banquet for Rashid Khalidi is proper censorship for the cause, as if someone saw Jack Kennedy nude swimming in the White House pool with a co-ed and had to shut up about it. Apparently whether Obama was to be elected was for the media a matter of national security, but not so whether the war in Afghanistan was threatened. For the regressive journalist, Guantanamo and renditions were to be everyday news until January 20, 2009.
What is scary for the new regressive is present-day and future America. It is changing by the hour and making obsolete all the old big government, big union, big race, big university, and big media liberal assumptions of the past. And as the world leaves behind the progressive and as he turns regressive and bitter, give him some credit: he does not go down without the old fight against Rockefellers everywhere, Shell, the Alabama racists who insist on IDs to vote, union-busting scabs, tabloid journalists who threaten Cronkite-like Truth, and all the other old enemies of the people.
Top EPA official resigns after 'crucify' comment
The Obama administration's top environmental official in the oil-rich South and Southwest region has resigned after Republicans targeted him over remarks made two years ago when he used the word "crucify" to describe his approach to enforcement.
In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson sent Sunday, Al Armendariz says he regrets his words and stresses that they do not reflect his work as administrator of the five-state region including Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.
Republicans in Congress had called for Armendariz' firing, after Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe highlighted the May 2010 speech last week as proof of what he refers to as EPA's assault on energy, particularly the technique of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Several disputed contamination cases in Texas have helped stoke environmental concerns over fracking.
A Year Ago, IBD Noted Venezuelan Funding of Flawed 'Gasland' Documentary on Which EPA's 'Crucify' Official Collaborated
"Why is this relevant? Well, as another IBD editorial on Thursday noted, EPA Region 6 Administrator Al Armendariz, who became deservedly infamous last week when his public articulation of his "Crucify Them" philosophy towards enforcement of environmental laws and regulations in a speech a year ago was exposed, really loves the film, which industry officials have shown is riddled with deceptions and outright falsehoods. Not only that, he was also involved in making it:"
Read more: http://newsbusters.org/blogs/tom-blumer/2012/04/29/year-ago-ibd-noted-venezuelan-funding-flawed-gasland-documentary-which-e#ixzz1tXrwqjh0
Last week, two examples of his imperial ways drew public attention. First, a Government Accountability Office study knocked the Department of Health and Human Services for inappropriately spending Obamacare money to delay the law's politically dangerous Medicare cuts -- until after the election. Meanwhile, congressional Republicans complained on the House floor about IRS harassment of Tea Party groups.
Here's the Medicare slush fund story:
In 2010, Democrats were crowing that Obamacare would reduce the deficit. Under official budget scoring, the bill's $940 billion in new spending over a decade was more than paid for by a trillion dollars in new taxes and spending cuts.
Obamacare got some of its alleged savings by cutting Medicare spending by $500 billion. Republicans -- hypocritically, given their constant attacks on "government-run health care" -- made political hay over the Medicare cuts. Republicans know that seniors vote, and they like their Medicare.
Specifically, 12 million seniors use a program called Medicare Advantage, under which the government pays private insurers to cover seniors.
Medicare Advantage customers typically have more options, and at times more coverage, than standard Medicare customers. But the Obama administration said Medicare was overpaying the private insurers, and so the architects of Obamacare slashed $136 billion from Medicare Advantage to offset the cost of Obamacare.
The Medicare Advantage cuts were to begin in 2013, which would cause many insurers to pull out of the program, thus driving seniors into regular Medicare. So much for "if you like your plan, you can keep it."
The New York Post's Benjamin Sasse and Charlie Hurt explained the awkward details of timing: "Open enrollment [for 2013 Medicare Advantage] begins Oct. 15, less than three weeks before voters go to the polls." So Obamacare would kick seniors out of their Medicare program three weeks before Obama's re-election.
That, of course, would be politically damaging. So Obama simply took $8.35 billion from a Obamacare fund for "demonstration projects" and used it to delay the brunt of the Medicare Advantage cuts until after the election.
The GAO last week pointed out the extraordinary nature of this "demonstration." The program "dwarfs all other Medicare demonstrations -- both mandatory and discretionary -- conducted since 1995," the GAO stated.
And the GAO made it pretty clear that this slush fund trick looks little like a "demonstration" of anything. "The design of the demonstration precludes a credible evaluation of its effectiveness," the GAO report stated, concluding it is "unlikely that the demonstration will produce meaningful results."
But the Obama administration is looking for a different sort of "meaningful results" -- more votes on Election Day. So the Department of Health and Human Services stood firm when the GAO recommended scrapping this spurious demonstration.
The administration's sleight of hand on Medicare Advantage fits a pattern of Obamacare provisions that were abandoned when they were shown to be unworkable. What makes the Medicare gambit more distressing is that Obama is using taxpayer money for political purposes.
Here's the Tea Party-IRS story:
More than 60 Republican congressmen last week sent a letter to the Internal Revenue Service charging that Tea Party groups across the country were being "harassed" and "stonewalled" by the agency. Rep. Tom McClintock described a group in his Northern California district that easily obtained nonprofit status from the state government but got nowhere with the feds.
The list of demands, as described by McClintock on the House floor, sounds like political bullying: "The IRS demanded the names of every participant at every meeting held over the last two years, transcripts of every speech given at those meetings, what positions they had taken on issues, the names of their volunteers and donors, and copies of communications they had with elected officials, and on and on."
In the light of these reported IRS attacks, all of Obama's political enemies have reason to worry. For instance, when Obama calls out by name Republican donors, and when his campaign posts online dossiers of these private individuals, what are they up to? Obama pretends he's battling special interests. Wall Street Journal columnist Kim Strassel, though, aptly called this government "intimidation." Is a visit from the IRS next?
Obama at his inauguration promised to tap the "better angels of our nature." But also on the campaign trail in 2008, he warned, "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun." It turns out that his "gun" is the U.S. government.
Move would increase patients’ out-of-pocket costs
In a move that could help the government trim its burgeoning health care costs, the Food and Drug Administration may soon permit Americans to obtain some drugs used to treat conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes without obtaining a prescription.
The FDA says over-the-counter distribution would let patients get drugs for many common conditions without the time and expense of visiting a doctor, but medical providers call the change medically unsound and note that it also may mean that insurance no longer will pay for the drugs.
"The problem is medicine is just not that simple," said Dr. Matthew Mintz, an internist at George Washington University Hospital. "You can't just follow rules and weigh all the pros and cons. It needs to be individualized."
Under the changes that the agency is considering, patients could diagnose their ailments by answering questions online or at a pharmacy kiosk in order to buy current prescription-only drugs for conditions such as high cholesterol, certain infections, migraine headaches, asthma or allergies.
By removing the prescription requirement from popular drugs, the Obama administration could ease financial pressures on the overburdened Medicare system by paying for fewer doctor visits and possibly opening the door to make seniors pay a larger share of the cost of their medications.
The change could have mixed results for non-Medicare patients. Although they may not have to visit a doctor as often, they could have to dish out more money for medications because most insurance companies don't cover over-the-counter drugs.
"We would expect that out-of-pocket costs for insured individuals, including those covered by Medicare, would be increased for drugs that are switched from prescription to OTC status," said Dr. Sandra Adamson Fryhofer, who testified last month on behalf of the American Medical Association in an FDA-held public hearing.
Pharmacists and doctors have lined up on opposite sides of the issue. Often trying to combat a public perception that downplays their medical training, pharmacists embrace the notion that they should be able to dole out medication for patients' chronic conditions without making them go through a doctor.
"We think it's a great development for everybody — for pharmacists, for patients and the whole health care system," said Brian Gallagher, a lobbyist for the American Pharmacists Association. "The way we look at it is there are a lot of people out there with chronic conditions that are undertreated and this would enable the pharmacists to redirect these undertreated people back into the health care system."
Medical providers urged caution, saying the government should not try to cut health care costs by cutting out doctors.
"What the government via the FDA has decided to do is just bypass the expensive doctor and to satisfy some safety concerns of letting people just pick out their medications is make sure they have to get counsel by the pharmacists," Dr. Mintz said. "I believe there is value to using pharmacists, but not at the expense of primary care."
Although the FDA says more patients will be likely to obtain the drugs they need under the proposed model, Dr. Fryhofer questioned whether the agency has sufficiently proved that.
"The FDA has not offered any evidence establishing that it is safe, or patient outcomes are improved, when patients with hypertension, [high cholesterol], asthma or migraine headaches self-diagnose and manage these (or other) serious chronic medical conditions on their own," she said.
Comments on the proposal are due by May 7.
FDA spokeswoman Erica Jefferson said the agency will issue a decision sometime after that but didn't offer a more specific time frame.
"The agency is still reviewing the public comments and will make a determination on the best path forward once this has been completed," she said.
CAIRO (Reuters) - At a Cairo vehicle license bureau, despondency finally gave way to despair. In the heaving crowd, which had been waiting with little to do but watch the insects creep across the walls, scuffles broke out.
The clerk behind the glass sat sipping tea, apparently unperturbed by the tumult. With no waiting list, he smiled across the crowd at the best-dressed man in the room and a woman wearing pricey sunglasses, who acknowledged his glance and pressed forward to be served first.
It is a scene that is sadly familiar to many Egyptians, who dread applying for official documents knowing they may have to spend hours, days or even weeks waiting in grubby offices to complete the paperwork that consumes their lives.
In spite of the seeming chaos, a finely-tuned system is at work, one that lines the pockets of state employees, deprives poorer citizens of the right to basic services and stifles the economy.
Pervasive corruption - petty and on a grand scale - was one of the main grievances that brought Egyptians onto the streets to topple President Hosni Mubarak in February last year.
Mubarak, his sons and several members of the political-business elite they nurtured are now on trial, charged with creaming off national wealth while millions suffered in poverty.
Some Mubarak associates have already been jailed, stirring hopes for a new era of accountability, especially once an elected government is in place following the country's first free presidential election in May and June.
But that spirit is still in short supply at state offices across the capital. Some people waiting for paperwork complain that low-level graft has become even worse since the uprising because of lax law enforcement.
Weary citizens list an entire vocabulary of gestures, glances and phrases to show a palm must be greased.
"I wish you a trouble-free day," "Offer me a cup of tea," and "Help me buy something nice for the kids," are often accompanied by a knowing smile. Many Egyptians refer to bribes with the euphemism "al-halawah" - "the reward".
"It turned out that ousting Mubarak was easy but removing his corruption is mission impossible," said Tarek Mahmoud, a tall, thin 35-year-old with a slim black beard and dark eyes.
Mahmoud said he had been waiting months for a license to set up a snack stall after an accident ended his work as a taxi driver and left him unable to walk without sticks.
"I have no connections and no money to pay bribes, so not a single official will even listen to me," he said. "I don't want to go home. I would rather stay on the streets than face my wife and six children who are waiting for me to bring them food."
Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index put Egypt at 112th out of a total of 182 countries in 2011, with 1 representing the country with the least corrupt public sector.
HOW IT WORKS
A policeman in his thirties, one of three state employees who told Reuters they take bribes, boasted of his technique.
He waits outside state buildings where car licenses and other documents are disbursed and offers to speed up routine paperwork in exchange for 50 Egyptian pounds ($8.27) per client.
"I find someone who looks like they're in a hurry to get the job done and are willing to pay for it. I have a talent for spotting such people," he said with obvious pride.
Government officers go along with his scam and in return he gives them easy access to police services, or just a cup of tea. The kickbacks, he said, often total more than his entire salary of 650 Egyptian pounds ($110) per month.
"That is why jobs like mine are in demand," said the policeman. "I would not call what I get from people for doing them services bribes. I would rather call it financial support."
A 50-year-old court secretary said he can make up to 1,000 pounds in a day from bribes he takes in exchange for providing access to court documents. His monthly salary is 800 pounds.
"All lawyers need court documents for their cases and if the lawyer is famous or is handling a big case I ask for 100, 200 pounds or sometimes more," he said. "But if the lawyer is not a top one, I only ask for 10 pounds."
A civil servant in his mid-forties who works in a state office where citizens go to register official documents said he made around 700 pounds a month from "informal" payments.
"I don't ask for anything, but when I see a citizen standing at the end of a long line I offer to finish what is needed quickly and get paid in return," he said.
All three state employees said most of their colleagues also take kick-backs.
Many work in dirty, decrepit buildings with nowhere for clients to sit and no toilets.
"The offices are designed to make people hate to stay there and feel obliged to pay bribes," said Amr Adly, a lawyer with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a citizen advocacy group which filed many corruption lawsuits against the state during Mubarak's tenure and since.
Successive ministers during Mubarak's three decades in power pledged to tackle graft but the problem has persisted, hardened by poverty, the weak rule of law and a bloated civil service with ill-defined job roles.
Civil society groups' efforts were held back by a state of emergency lasting decades and still partially in force, as well as a 2002 law restricting the activity of non-government organizations.
The current army-backed interim government, which is due to leave office in June, has avoided making sweeping commitments on the problem. Activists say the more accountable administration due to take power in July will be under heavy pressure to improve the lives of those who elected them, and petty corruption will be high on the agenda.
Adly predicted it would take more than a decade to uproot graft, however, because new legislation must be passed to give power to anti-corruption agencies and make it easier to fire employees for misconduct.
"How long it takes will depend on the answer to one question: will our new rulers be willing to expose corruption and face losing the state's administrative bodies? Or will they follow the army's footsteps and do nothing?"
($1 = 6.0450 Egyptian pounds)
Sunday, April 29, 2012
But if you really want to understand the horrifying absurdity of the welfare state, check out these passages from a report in the Daily Mail.
Carl Cooper thought he was doing a public service by offering seven benefits claimants the chance to work for him. But the company boss was flabbergasted when none of them turned up on the first day. Astonishingly, not a single one even had the courtesy to tell the marketing firm boss they would not be coming in. Mr Cooper and other staff members called the new employees to ask them where they were. Initially, some refused to answer their phones when they recognised the number calling them. When the staff finally got through, five said they would be better off staying on state benefits rather than doing the commission-based work. Four of the seven also claimed torrential rain had put them off.
Wow. Five out of seven admitted that mooching off the taxpayers was a better way to live. What does that tell us about the over-generosity of handouts?
Mr Cooper, who runs Car Smart, a marketing firm for independent car dealers in Canterbury, Kent, criticised the benefits system and said it rewarded people for doing nothing. He added: ‘I was left stunned when none of the new recruits turned up for work. They are a bunch of workshy layabouts. ‘These are people who are so morally twisted that they would rather stay on the dole than work. ‘People keep saying there are not enough jobs in the UK but the real problem is that there are not enough determined or ambitious people. ‘The benefit system is too generous and encourages the unemployed to stay unemployed and just breeds more laziness.’
But it’s even worse than Mr. Cooper realizes. He’ll still be paying these people, but in the form of taxes that then get redistributed to subsidize idleness.
You might think the moochers would lose their benefits because they chose laziness over work, but you would be wrong.
Mr Cooper said all his employees received a basic retainer of £100 a week initially and are enrolled on to the company’s commission structure, which could see earnings rise to up to £400 a week. The jobseekers who failed to turn up will not lose their benefits because the basic pay is under the minimum wage.
I found the above story via Kyle Smith, who also cites a story from the Times about a crazy proposal to have bureaucrats scrub floors and serve as human alarm clocks for the welfare class.
Town hall officials have been told to get down on their hands and knees and “clean the floors” of the homes they visit under David Cameron’s Troubled Families programme. They have also been urged to turn up at family homes at 7am if necessary to get parents out of bed and children ready for school on time. The orders were issued by the programme head, Louise Casey… “I want to see people rolling up their sleeves and getting down and cleaning the floors if that is what needs to be done. If a family needs to be shown how to heat up a pizza, show them how to do it. If it takes going round three times a week at 7am to get Mum up, then do it.”
I would have included a link to the underlying story, but the Times has the most incompetently designed website I’ve ever encountered (presumably because they want to charge, but they don’t even give you a chance to click on the story and then pay).
Anyhow, I have three quick reactions to this bit of foolishness.
1. I’d like to see the head bureaucrat, Ms. Casey, spend a month scrubbing floors and waking people up at 7:00 a.m. She strikes me as the typical leftist clown, sitting in an office enjoying a cushy and overpaid job while dreaming up absurd ideas on how to waste taxpayer money. Maybe if she gets her hands dirty by “rolling up [her] sleeves,” she’ll learn the difference between blackboard theorizing and the real world.
2. My gut reaction is that the government should cut the handouts to these dysfunctional households. For every day the welfare bums aren’t up on time to get their kids to school, they lose 10 percent of their loot. If their floors are dirty, that’s another 10 percent. If you want to change their behavior, start cutting into the budget for cigarettes and booze.
3. More realistically, we’re dealing with a problem of people who have little if any self-respect, and they pass horrible habits to their children. Kicking them off the dole might wake up some of them, but I suspect more than a few of them are past the point of no return. Society would probably be better off if their kids were put in foster homes, but I’m sure government would screw that up as well.
Stories like this leave me increasingly convinced that the only good approach is radical decentralization. Get these programs out of capital cities like Washington and London. The U.S. welfare reform was a decent start, but get responsibility to the local level. And in cities, put neighborhoods in charge. Have those small communities in charge of raising the money and spending the money.
That approach is far more likely to generate good ideas and good solutions, though I confess I’m pessimistic about anything working.
But we should figure out ways to stop inter-generational poverty and welfare. I gather it’s considered bad form to suggest mandatory birth control for welfare recipients, so has anyone proposed a different approach that might work?