At the moment, it takes a prominent article in the paper to make me sit up and take notice, and especially to read to the end, but here’s one from the Sunday SF Chronicle:

I’m such an innocent. Last year when Barbara Bush announced a donation to the hurricane zone that had a string attached, tying it to her son’s business interests, I thought, oh Barbara, shame on you.

But Sunday’s article on the methodical, large-scale way in which this constitutes business as usual made me think, oh, shame on us.

Bad enough that we as a nation donate .002 percent of our income on real aid, or eight bucks a person (Norwegians give $304.). The real shame comes when you find that of every dollar of the billions we apparently commit to Afghanistan and the other countries, 87 cents of it is phantom aid, going for “technical assistance”–to Americans, staying on American soil. Laura Bush goes to Kabul and announces $17.7 million for education in Afghanistan, and it turns out to be money to build a for-profit private university. We (that’s you and I) shell out huge amounts of money for a new highway between Kabul and Kandahar, as our way of helping rebuild the country, (by an American contractor, at four times the price per mile of other bids) and first the quality is so crap it falls to pieces, and then they decide to charge Afghani drivers to use the road.

I take charitable donations seriously. I commit a sizeable portion of the money I work hard to earn and give it to libraries, nursing mothers, hungry teenagers, and agencies working to protect the environment. If I spoke the language of religious fundamentalism, I would say that God requires it of us. Since that is not my natural tongue, I say that it is part of being a responsible human being to give something back.

I am being dragged into this worldwide, everyday scam by the mere fact of my citizenship. I am the person who is giving money with one hand for the cameras and snatching it away with the other when the lens turns away. I am the one some Afghani truck driver curses for incompetence and corruption. I am the one his son targets when resentment builds into action.

I, my children, will pay the bill for America’s loss of moral authority on the globe. Rome rotted from within and fell; we can too.

And some of us will feel shame as we go.

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  1. Roxanne on September 6, 2006 at 4:29 pm

    This article is so depressing. Too many times I have heard people say that they will not give to charitable organisations because of the amount of $$ that goes invisibly into “technical assistance.” How does one know when/if their hard earned donation is actually committed to supporting their chosen cause?

    We (Americans) donated funds to build a for-profit private university in Afghanistan? And a new (American-built) “crap” highway between Kabul and Kandahar–for which tolls are now being charged?

    No wonder this article caught your eye.

    Um. I need to take a forceful walk now…

  2. peameander on September 6, 2006 at 7:31 pm

    i was already having a challenging day with the business as usual thing, which pervades our daily life if we only open our eyes to it, as well as the global politics scams our rogue government is perpetrating in our names.

    what i would say is “i’m losing it! i’m losing it”– but the relationship between the immediate every day, and the global scene is so subtle.

    i grew up with the slogan : think globally act locally.

    i try to use that i n my daily life, that’s how local. so that means patience and hearing others perspective, it means being patient when i have to go through a 30 minute electronic menu and hold for the next customer service entity….. and usualy i can and do.

    todya, i have already had no patience with the bank people when the website failed and i called to report the failing, and asked “what do we need to do to make this work”

    and had to suffer through the diagnistic process with the first and SECOND employee did you have this box checked, are you sure of the account number?… and so on.

    then impatient AGAIN with the person who called to ask for details, then wanted to explain the challenges of the two workers jobs. and i was l osing it over this…. i understand their challenges, 15 years banking with the same place, and always able to get along, i want them to understand the challenges of MY situation. how many times do they really think i should have to sit through the same questioning process…. why not just go with the idea that i am reporting a malfunction in their web site, and thank me, and ask me if there is any way they can facilitate the action the website is refusing.

    that’s what i was asking for… how can i make this work…. but NO! theirs is a hard job and they have to know these things, so they will notify their technical crew their is a complaint….. what’s wrong with calling it a report?

    see i’m just nuts today, rabid, raving, out of control.

    if i could weep then maybe i could get cleaned up inside.

    what set me off is a dangerous work place… valid concerns about real dangerous practices.

    my friend points out tome that it is not worth having a heart attack over and she is right, but my blood pressure is up anyway.

    so i clicked on the LRKmutterings link in my tool bar, knowing how articulate and insightful LRKs writings are, hoping for solace, and there it is about shame.

    fits my mood. i “ought” to be doing better with the challenges of my day, and i know it, and i resolve to, but find i am not, have not, at this moment seemingly CAN not.

    before i signed on i was refecting that today, my challenges exceed my abilities to meet them.

    i think that’s always what accompanies shame, the recognition that once again challenges have exceeded ability.

    as a nation, there have been times in our history when our ability to sort for integrity and the common good — on a global scale, and with an eye to the future were not beyond our abilities.

    right now we aren’t doing so well.
    it won’t last forever, but it could certainly last beyond my remaining years.

    i keep hoping we can recover with out a huge epidemic, or revolution, but i don’t see that as likely, given how many abilities to meet hardship we as a people have thrown away, how we have developed a national inability to cope with frustration.

    now maybe i am talking about myself again. i’ve certainly reached the end of my ability to respond constructively to frustration

    maybe now i’m moved by fear of what will happen if i stop

    maybe if i were better at sitting with shame as a feeling, as an experience, i wouldn’t be acting so badly right now in my personal life (the impatience and intolerance for the limitations of others, when i’m not getting what i want) i don’t know.

    i thought maybe writing would soothe me, writing with the hope i have a listener, a sympathetic reader..

    i am so solution oriented, i hate not moving towards a solution, i hate it when i can’t see a connection between my present actions and my preferred outcome.

    i don’t know if anyone will see anything of value in what i’m writing, certainly assimilating i t into wisdom is beyond me right now, i’m having trouble with grammar and spelling,
    but i am glad that such a scandal has made it into the newspapers,

    i’ll try to finish up now,

    the actions of our government outlined in the article are distressing to me i feel shame because it is being done in my name

    i feel frightened, because it puts me at the mercy of those violated by my government,

    i feel frustrated because it is out of my control

    and i feel grief, i loved the early ideals of our nation, and i grieve their passing.

    i sat visiting my niece and her husband peter, in east boothbay maine the evening of september 10th 2001, and peter said “what the founding fathers put into our constitution, it’s all still right there for us when ever we want to go back to it”

    so maybe the newspaper article is written by someone else who still values our old ways.

    thanks for providing a place forme to vent……

  3. Anonymous on September 6, 2006 at 8:35 pm

    We lost our brother David over the weekend to pancreatic cancer. Today I am flattened. I spent yesterday and half of today attending to techo difficulties with final reasonable results, but today have no want, no drivers.

    Reading of your stressful situation Laurie and the comments of our community I feel somehow less alone.

    The day before David died we saw AN INCONVIENT TRUTH. I was strangely bouyed up by it. First because it validates; my growing dis-ease and concern is not simple paranoia, second it (may) not be too late.

    All of these pieces of information go to stablize me, reading your books, your blog and all of our comments.

    We truly are not alone.

    Heartfelt sympathy and prayers your way.

    M. Diane

  4. Roxanne on September 7, 2006 at 12:45 pm

    Ms. King,

    Excuse me for utilising your blog to respond to Peameander’s comment:

    I have to go teach a class soon, but wanted to take a moment to say that I hope today is better for you, Peameander. I recognise every word of frustration that you so eloquently “voiced.” I, too, click on the LRK link in my Favorites, “knowing how articulate and insightful LRKs writings are, hoping for solace.” Although yesterday’s Shame article was depressing and disheartening, I was glad for it, glad that Ms. King gave me much food for thought on a global scale. I was made aware, in a timely and appropriate fashion, that my little problems are not the entire world; indeed, they pale by comparison. Ms. King put things (as always) into perspective for me. I hope that the bank has finally ironed out your “complaint” and that today has dawned more calmly for you.

    Thank you, Ms. King, for the article. Hope your day dawns more calmly, as well.

  5. Patricia Mathews on September 7, 2006 at 1:43 pm

    This is why I have stopped giving to anything except local charities except when my relatives ask me to, for example, sponsor them in a 10-mile walk for the cure of the cancer my sister died of.

    I used to funnel all my giving through my local church before the pastor left, we had to move, and (long story) eventually ended up folding for lack of cash. (Church mouse congregation).

    I have also started a private file on good things happening here in Albuquerque, which I call “knitting up the Unraveling locally.” (Thanks to virtuecrat William Bennett for the term Unraveling. He’s right, albeit far right.)

    The national scene is, while not quite beyond redemption, outside of my control. We are headed for a truly nasty crash which will give people a wakeup call – then send us off in a direction we never saw before that will bring us through.

    Pat, child of Depression Era parents who saw this happen and made it happen last time.

  6. Anonymous on September 7, 2006 at 4:52 pm

    Thank you Laurie for making a statement. Now, go one further and make it as an editoral comment to the newspaper!
    I live near the Katrina ravaged area. Thank God for the many small groups (many church groups) who came and came and worked and worked. There has been too much given in a general pot that has disappeared–even living in the area we do not know where the money has gone. I can only imagine the sinkhole of Afghanistan and Iraq.
    The people doing this will stay in charge until we get the guts to toss them out of office with a simple vote.
    Thank you.

  7. virginia on September 7, 2006 at 7:05 pm

    At first glance, this is a most depressing article. On the other hand, the SF Chron. is one of the few newspapers that will stand to this administration and get a person angry enough to say WHAT the hell is going on?
    AMericans are a most generous people, but want to see something of quality done with their donations. Maybe this article will change one person’s view of how to vote in November. It’s a start. Just lost a family member to cancer, and the outpouring of our community was outstanding and comforting. That represents America to me, the one on one support. Don’t loose heart, just because the boogymen are in power!

  8. kaitlyn b. roe on September 8, 2006 at 12:49 pm

    Yes, Laurie we are the enemy. I am saddened every day by the attacks on humanity done in the name of charity. I receive govt help in the way of SSI, Housing Subsidy, and Medicaid. And every time I use a piece of it, I am made to feel bad about needing it. At every corner the present administration is cutting services to the truly needy – the permanantly disabled, the mentally ill and the homeless- while continuing to cut taxes for the uber-wealthy. Shame is exactly what we should all feel.

  9. 2maple on September 8, 2006 at 2:43 pm

    Yeah…and I’ve read equally depressing things about some so called “charitable foundations” set up by some wealthy families that are minimally charitable and maximally selfish…and there are a lot of these on either side of the political spectrum…some but not all…and they give the rest a bad name.

    I guess the years have taught me to be very careful when you donate money (my donations have gotten a lot more targeted to organizations I know, trust, and sometimes I will still get very specific as to use of the donation after talking with them.)…I have an inherant distrust of “general funds”.

    The one international organization I support regularly is an orphanage in South America. A two family missionary outpost, slowly beoming sufficient by building up a working dairy, …I know one of the families and I know not a dime goes to waste…and some lucky kids (some litterally left on church doorsteps) have better/safe place to be.

    …I wonder if these statistics include time – a hugely valuable commodity (All those volunteer efforts are worth something – most communities would fall apart without it).

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