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 hereâ€™s one from the Sunday SF Chronicle:
Iâ€™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 sonâ€™s business interests, I thought, oh Barbara, shame on you.
But Sundayâ€™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 â€œtechnical assistanceâ€–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 (thatâ€™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 Americaâ€™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.