An Afghan policeman stands guard at a border checkpoint.
The United States and Afghanistan are close to finalizing a deal that would set guidelines for the two countries' relationship after 2014, when the bulk of American forces are supposed to leave the country—more than a dozen years and hundreds of billions of dollars later.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Secretary of State John Kerry and Afghan President Hamid Karzai had reached tentative agreement on one of the last remaining holdups preventing a long-term deal: whether American forces could continue to raid Afghan homes during security operations. The new agreement would prevent American-led raids except under "extraordinary circumstances," but it's not yet clear that the deal will pass the Loya Jirga, a body of Afghan elders. The raids, among other issues, have created deep mistrust between American forces and the Afghan people.
If a deal is reached, US forces could remain in the country at least another 10 years in some fashion, committing taxpayers to spending millions more on security and nation-building projects. So far, many of those projects have been undermined by corruption and dysfunction. Here are a few examples of US investments in Afghanistan that have already either fallen apart or show little signs of lasting success:
At least 19 of the hospitals built by the international community—including two US-funded facilities that cost nearly $20 million—may be too expensive for the Afghan government to run.
The Pentagon has invested $770 million for nearly 50 planes to patrol the countryside for opium poppy and hashish fields. But the Afghan government can't afford the $100 million annual overhead—nor does it have enough qualified pilots to fly the aircraft.
With two-thirds of Afghans lacking regular access to electricity, the United States has spent more than a billion dollars beefing up the country's power grid. But according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the state-run power company may not be able to pay its bills after 2014, when US funding expires. Meanwhile, the US Agency for International Development recently gave the utility control of the construction of a hydroelectric dam in a restive section of Helmand province—a project 29 Marines died to make possible. As the Los Angeles Times reported, there are doubts about the "utility's competence and experience, as well as the government's commitment to a project that insurgents have violently opposed."
The United States spent $1.7 billion on road and bridge building from 2002 to 2007, but some of the projects have already started to fall apart, "mainly because of the poor quality of initial construction, poor maintenance, and overloading," according to SIGAR.
More Afghan children are being educated than ever before, thanks to international development efforts. But the Afghan government won't be able to operate all the new schools, especially as international personnel and aid trickle out of the country. "Of course we built too much," one British official told the Guardian. "We didn't think about how the Afghans would pay for it…We wanted to show them what we could do for them, but without regard for sustainability."
All in all, military operations in Afghanistan have cost nearly $700 billion. That's still less than the United States spent fighting in Vietnam, but it's still a major chunk of the more than $1.6 trillion spent on the Afghan and Iraq conflicts since September 11.
With all eyes on congressional Republicans' doomed effort to repeal Obamacare, it's easy to forget that efforts to stymie the law's key provisions are continuing apace at the state level. Specifically, 22 states have decided not to go along with the Affordable Care Act's provisions for expanding Medicaid coverage to their poorest residents.
Medicaid expansion will kick in January 1. So far, its uneven rollout is disproportionately affecting minorities, a higher percentage of whom qualify for the federally funded coverage. As the authors of a recent report by the Kaiser Family Foundation explain, "People of color make up the majority of uninsured individuals with incomes below the Medicaid expansion limit in both states moving forward and not moving forward with the expansion at this time." (The 2012 Supreme Court decision that spared Obamacare turned Medicaid expansion into a state-by-state decision.)
Under Obamacare, states may offer Medicaid coverage to anyone whose income is at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line. (The poverty line is currently $11,490 for one person and $19,530 for a family of three.) By that benchmark, 25 million Americans without health insurance are now eligible for expanded Medicaid coverage. Of those, 59 percent are people of color.
However, nearly half of the people of color who might enroll in Medicaid live in states that currently are not expanding coverage.
While 47 percent of whites now eligible for the Medicaid expansion live in states that are not increasing coverage, 60 percent of eligible blacks and 53 percent of eligible Hispanics do.
In the states that do not offer the new Medicaid coverage, Kaiser predicts that "poor, uninsured adults will not gain a new coverage option and likely remain uninsured."
Comparing policies and people we don't liketo Nazisnevergets old. Yet if you are seeking to not further validate Godwin's Law or simply want to make better historical analogies, here's a list of things you may confidently describe as sharing undeniable similarities with the adherents of the universally abhorred ideology of German national socialism, AKA Nazis:
Oh, BuzzFeed, we love your serious reporting and we also love when you try to make ridiculous memes win the internets. But when you inadvertently help tenuous gun-lobby talking points go viral? Not so much.
"Can law-abiding citizens with guns combat mass shootings?" Broderick asks by way of introduction. That's it—there's no attempt to define his terms or explain the scope of his reporting. What exactly constitutes a "law-abiding citizen" or a "personally owned firearm"? And how do you define a mass shooting? Broderick doesn't answer these potentially inconvenient questions, letting his post suggest that armed civilians are responsible for stopping nine mass shootings that were either in progress or about to start.
Contrast that with what my colleague Mark Follman has found in his extensive reporting on mass shootings (which is based on a clear explanation of the terms and criteria being used.) While pro-gun advocates claim that courageous gun owners have routinely stopped mass shootings, the reality is that armed civilians rarely respond to shooting rampages—and those who have are rarely, if ever, successful. Most of the examples they cite are either ambiguous or involve trained law enforcement or military personnel—not the ordinary citizens with personal firearms that Broderick alludes to in his clicktastic headline and just-asking-a-question subhead.
Here are the nine incidents listed in Broderick's post and why they deserve a click on BuzzFeed's trademark "FAIL" button:
1. The Pearl High School shooting: In this case, a 16-year-old who'd killed two people and wounded seven was subdued by an assistant principal who retrieved a handgun from his truck. However, the shooting may have already been over when the assistant principal arrived. And he wasn't an ordinary civilian: He was an Army reservist. All this is explained in issue of People whose image is in Broderick's post. However, his sole link goes to David Horowitz's Frontpage Mag (motto: "Inside Every Liberal is a Totalitarian Screaming to Get Out").
2. The Parker Middle School dance shooting: Another case where a teenaged shooter may have already finished his rampage, which killed one person and wounded three, when an armed adult showed up. Yet Broderick says definitively that the shooting "was ended" when a man with a shotgun intervened.
3. The Appalachian School of Law shooting: Another deadly incident in which trained law-enforcement personnel stepped in. From a New York Times article Broderick links to:
Mr. Odighizuwa was subdued by three law students who were experienced police officers, the authorities said.
''We're trained to run into the situation instead away from it,'' said one of the three, Mikael Gross, 34, of Charlotte, N.C., who ran to his car for his bulletproof vest and service pistol before tackling the suspect.
Though the article notes that Gross grabbed his service pistol, Broderick vaguely describes it as a "personally owned firearm," suggesting that he carried it for personal use.
4. The New Life Church shooting: Broderick makes it sound like this shooting, which killed two people and wounded three, was stopped by "a former police officer" who just happened to be at church that day. In fact, she was a church security officer.
5. The Trolley Square shooting: Yet another incident where a off-duty cop got involved. The officer who confronted the shooter during this Salt Lake City shooting was "well-trained for such an event," according to the local news article Broderick cites.
6. The Golden Market shooting: "The details are murky," writes Broderick, "but according to reports, a man entered a Golden Market in Virginia in 2009 and began firing a gun." The "reports" he links to are a breathless post on AmmoLand and a pro-gun op-ed in the Collegiate Times. The Richmond Times-Dispatch's account of the incident makes it sound like a botched robbery, not a thwarted mass shooting.
7. The New York Mills AT&T store shooting: A good example of a planned mass shooting being averted—by a cop. In this 2010 incident, a 79-year-old man with a handgun walked into an AT&T store, wounded one employee and apparently planned to kill several others whose names were on a list in his pocket. An off-duty police officer who was in the store shot and killed the shooter.
8. The Clackamas Town Center shooting: Nick Meli, an off-duty security guard, drew his concealed handgun on the shooter during this 2012 rampage that left three dead at an Oregon mall. Broderick doesn't mention that Meli was a guard, but asserts that shooter Jacob Roberts "retreated" after seeing Meli produce his weapon, which he did not fire for fear of hitting a bystander. It's not clear if Meli affected the outcome of the incident, which ended with Roberts killing himself. After a 926-page investigative report on the shooting was released, a sheriff's spokesman told The Oregonian, "We have no information that the suspect's—Roberts'—actions were ever influenced by anything Mr. Meli did. But I also can't deny it."
9. The San Antonio Theater shooting: In December 2012, a 19-year old opened fire at a San Antonio restaurant where he and his ex-girlfriend worked. He then shot at a police car and headed into an adjacent cinema, where he wounded one person. He was pursued and wounded by a security guard who was an off-duty sheriff. Breitbart described it as a would-be "mass shooting," and Glenn Beck's The Blaze suggested that the suspect had intended to shoot up a crowded theater. Yet the shooting appears to have been sparked by the breakup and it's unclear how many people the suspect intended to kill. Broderick doesn't acknowledge this uncertainty, adding more fodder to the questionable premise that more "good guys with guns" can stop the next mass shooting before it happens.
Yesterday the Census Bureau released its latest income data, confirming what millions of Americans already know: The recession may be over, but the recovery has yet to trickle down. Specifically, the Census reported that median household incomes didn't budge between 2011 and 2012.
Digging deeper into the new data reveals more evidence of the widening income gap between the rich and the rest.
The only bright side of stalled incomes is that they are no longer experiencing the steep decline that started in 2007 before the recession hit. But that's hardly cause for celebration: At $51,017, the real median household income in 2012 is even less than it was at the end of the '80s, and it's down 9 percent from its high in 1999.
This loss of real income hasn't affected all Americans equally. For the top 20 percent of earners, average incomes grew 70 percent since 1967, and they grew 88 percent for the top 5 percent. Meanwhile, middle-income households have seen their earnings grow just 20 percent in the past four decades.
This translates into a greater share of total income going to top earners. In 2012, the top 20 percent took in more than half of all income in the United States, according to the Census.
To put that into sharper focus, I've charted how each percentile's share of total income has changed since the late '60s. After experiencing significant growth in the mid-1970s, the bottom 20 percent of earners have seen their share steadily drop. Compare that with the top 5 and 20 percent, which have seen their piece of the pie expand in the past two decades while all other Americans' shrunk.
This trend is also seen in the latest income data complied by economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, which shows that the top 10 percent of earners now hold their largest share of total income since the eve of the Depression.
The new Census data on the bleak state of the American Dream came one day after Forbes released its latest list of 400 wealthiest Americans. Together, they are worth more than $2 trillion. The past year has been very good to them:
The average net worth of list members is a staggering $5 billion, $800 million more than a year ago and also a record. The minimum net worth needed to make the 400 list was $1.3 billion. The last time it was that high was in 2007 and 2008, before property and stock market values began sliding. Because the bar is so high, 61 American billionaires didn't make the cut.
As Piketty and Saez report, 95 percent of all income growth between 2009 and 2012 went to the 1 percent.