You may have heard that Afghanistan has something of a corruption problem, with billions of dollars flowing out of the country annually even as the US and international community pour money into reconstruction efforts. Instead of curbing the exodus of illicit cash, however, the Afghan government is apparently making it easier to smuggle money out of the country, according to a new reportby the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
By designating certain officials "VIPs" or Very VIPs, the government is allowing certain individuals to bypass security at Kabul's airport (and possibly sneak huge amounts of cash out of the country in the process). According to SIGAR, the Afghan government has even constructed a special VIP entryway that, in addition to circumventing security, also allows these individuals to forgoe the "bulk current counters." These machines—which the US government purchased for $117,275—are supposed to record currency serial numbers and help law enforcement detect and investigate financial crimes. But, SIGAR found, they are not even being used correctly. Instead of tracking serial numbers, these machines were just being used to count the money.
Among those who have faced allegations of money laundering are relatives of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In 2010, a Western official accused Karzai's late half-brother, Ahmed Wali, of laundering money for drug-runners, according to The New York Times. (Ahmed Wali, who had faced myriad charges of corruption, was killed in 2011 by a member of his security team.) Another of the president's brothers, Mahmoud, has been linked to the Kabul bank scandal, in which $900 million in loans disappeared. (President Karzai himself stepped in to block US anti-laundering efforts in 2011 by banning US Treasury officials who were trying to protect Kabul Bank from fraud).
According to the Congressional Research Service, an estimated $4.5 billion was secreted out of Afghanistan in 2011; to put this in perspective, the country's entire GDP was $20.34 billion that year. As SIGAR John F. Sopko noted in the report, proper controls "are particularly critical for a country fraught with corruption, narcotics trafficking, and insurgent activity." That seems like an understatement.
If a notable woman dies and a major national newspaper doesn't report it, did it actually happen?
Big papers' lists of significant deaths in 2012 overwhelmingly feature men. The Washington Postput 18 women and 48 men on its list. On the other side of the country, the Los Angeles Times listed 36 women and 114 men. And lest you think this is some kind of freak 2012 phenomenon, the New York Times has consistently listed many more men than women over the last five years.
So is the issue that notable women aren't dying—or that newspapers aren't reporting it? "We simply choose the most prominent, the most well-known, the most influential, without regard to race, color, sex, creed," says Bill McDonald, the editor of obituaries at the Times. "It's a rearview mirror. The people we write about largely shaped the world of the 1950s, '60s and, increasingly, the '70s, and those movers and shakers were—no surprise—predominantly white men."
But legendary feminist activist Gloria Steinem says that doesn't tell the whole story. "The standards by which people are chosen still have a 'masculine' skew," Steinem wrote in an email to Mother Jones. Women who organized and pressured for social progress—like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, for example—are less likely to get notice, Steinem says, than men whose success can only be measured in wealth, like Donald Trump or the Koch Brothers. "Women are more likely to be credited with the personal than the political—and also put in one silo. Anything that only affects women is taken less seriously than anything that also affects men," she says.
Here are some charts and graphs that illustrate the situation:
Lesley Kinzel, an associate editor atxoJane (the website run by Jane Pratt, founder of the cult feminist magazine Sassy) points out that "most of the women who are profiled on these lists (with a few noteworthy exceptions) were performers of some kind, and many were known for their beauty as well as their talent as entertainers. That's fine, but it doesn't exactly challenge the status quo."
This year, the New York Times put four female authors on its notable death list, and 14 artists and musicians:
McDonald says that "were we to choose subjects based on demographics we’d be papering over the past, presenting a false picture."
But putting the obituary gender gap down to "oh, it's a generational thing," can be "a convenient cop out," Kinzel says. Doing so "lets these editors abdicate any responsibility for failing to do the legwork necessary to track down those women who maybe didn't get the attention they deserved."
Obituaries editors say that the percentage of women on their notable deaths lists will increase over time because women in more recent generations have had more opportunities to make an impact. "We're already seeing that happen," says the Times' McDonald. John Temple, a managing editor at the Washington Post, agrees that there will be "more women on the lists in the future."
McDonald says he's already seeing more women on the lists, but a graphical look at the last five years of New York Times notable death lists shows the number of women sometimes increasing, sometimes decreasing, while the number of men has skyrocketed, widening the gender gap.
I sent McDonald a version of the graph below, and he said that he was referring to day-to-day obituaries. "I haven't done a count."
Part of the problem is "the consciousness of the people decided what and who is newsworthy," Steinem says. Or as Erin Belieu, a professor at Florida State University and cofounder of VIDA's annual study on print byline inequality, puts it: "Wouldn't it be much more meaningful if the lists included all those women who have been doing good work all their lives—often with little recognition?"
Is it any wonder that Johanna and Klara Söderberg of the band First Aid Kit are in high demand? The attractive young sisters from Sweden sport '70s-inspired wardrobes that would make Stevie Nicks drool and write forlorn folk ballads that recall true, vibrant Americana. I was prepared to interview them at Austin City Limits, but their schedule changed and they had to cancel. As fate would have it, I ran into Johanna at the hotel gym, but then figured she probably didn't want to be interrogated while running. So I caught up with the pair later, by phone, as were preparing (of course) for their next tour.
First Aid Kit's itinerary may be chaotic, but the sisters' music has a timeless quality. You could easily imagine them singing it, in their same long-flowing skirts, around a campfire on the Oregon trail during the 19th century—well, the Swedish equivalent—or strumming guitars inside a big silver bus, living out a real-life Jack Kerouac novel.
The Wall Street Journal broke the news Thursday morning that 61-year-old Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) is leaving the Senate to run the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. DeMint could be giving up his Senate post as early as January, leaving South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley to appoint someone to fill out his term (cough, Stephen Colbert, cough).
In a Senate packed with off-the-wall conservative lawmakers, DeMint managed to stand out, always promising to top the craziness with…more crazy. As we bid DeMint a fond farewell, let's relive his greatest moments:
1. DeMint says gay people and unmarried women having sex shouldn't teach your children.
According to the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, DeMint said this at a South Carolina rally: "If someone is openly homosexual, they shouldn't be teaching in the classroom and he holds the same position on an unmarried woman who's sleeping with her boyfriend—she shouldn't be in the classroom."
2. DeMint says God doesn't like big government.
On a radio show in 2011, DeMint said: "I've said it often and I believe it—the bigger government gets, the smaller God gets. As people become more dependent on government, less dependent on God."
3. Jim DeMint doesn't want women talking about abortion on the internet.
In 2011, DeMint put an amendment into a totally unrelated spending bill that attempted to ban discussion of abortion via satellite, video-conferencing, and the internet (in other words, fully preventing women from speaking with their doctors remotely).
4. DeMint says America turning into Iran after President Obama's election (or maybe Germany?).
"Probably the most heart-wrenching experiences I've had over the last several days is when naturalized American citizens who have immigrated here from Germany, Iran, and other countries, they come up to me and they say why are we doing what so many have fled from?" DeMint told a conservative radio host in 2009 "Why don’t Americans see what we're doing?"
5. DeMint puts a hold on National Women's History Museum.
In 2010, a proposed bill would have allowed a private group to buy property on Independence Avenue to build a women's history museum (without costing taxpayers any money). DeMint was one of the bill's chief opponents, and put a hold on it.
6. DeMint confuses Chicago teacher strike with violence in the Middle East.
"On my way over, I was reading another story about a distant place where thugs had put 400,000 children out in the streets. And then I realized that was a story about the Chicago teachers strike," DeMint said at the 2012 Values Voters summit in September. "But we've got to think of good things.”
7. DeMint falsely accuses President Obama of taxing Christmas.
On Fox News in 2011, DeMint said the government was "going to charge taxes on Christmas trees so they can start another government agency to promote Christmas trees. We don't need to do that at the federal level. We can't even afford to do what we're already doing. And to add another tax to something and say we're going to create a promotion agency, it just makes you want to pull your hair out."
This statement was in response to a division of the Department of Agriculture proposing that tree importers and producers pay 15 cents per tree, to fund a promotional campaign for Christmas. (The tax was tabled.)
Update, 12/13/12: NBC News is reporting the Susan Rice has withdrawn her name from consideration for Secretary of State, citing the possibility of a "lengthy, disruptive and costly" nomination fight. Was she the victim of Republican hypocrisy? Here’s what we wrote earlier in December:
UN Ambassador Susan Rice has been a lightning rod for congressional Republicans, who have clamored to portray her television appearances in the wake of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, as evidence that the Obama administration deliberately misled Americans about the nature of the incident. Rice has been floated as a top candidate to replace Hillary Clinton, who is planning to leave the State Department, and Senate Republicans have threatened to block Rice's hypothetical nomination as secretary of state because of the Benghazi attack.
The outrage expressed by Republican lawmakers—spurred by the ambassador reciting intelligence-community-generated talking points that turned out to be partially inaccurate—is very different from their response to another administration official named Rice who was accused of misleading the American public on a matter of national security. That, of course, is Condoleezza Rice. When George W. Bush nominated Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, some of the same Senate Republicans who are currently attacking Susan Rice supported Condi wholeheartedly, despite her role in helping to make the case for war in Iraq based on bogus intelligence. Back then, Republicans were much more willing to chalk up Condoleezza Rice's parroting of flawed intel to well-intentioned mistakes as opposed to outright deception, even when the evidence said otherwise. Here's how some of Susan Rice's most vocal critics responded to the Bush administration's disastrous handling of pre-war Iraq intelligence and the nomination of Condoleezza Rice.