Why US Imperialism Loves Afghan Quagmire

Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation,

It may seem paradoxical that any American interest would seek to deliberately prolong the Afghan quagmire. Costing trillions of dollars to the national debt, one would think that US planners are anxious to wind down the war and cut their immense losses. Not so, it seems.

Like the classic 1960s satire film, Dr Strangelove, and how he came to “love the A-bomb”, there are present-day elements in the US military-security apparatus that seem to be just fine about being wedded to the mayhem in Afghanistan.

That war is officially the longest-ever war fought by US forces overseas, outlasting the Vietnam war (1964-75) by six years – and still counting.

After GW Bush launched the operation in October 2001, the war is now under the purview of its third consecutive president. What’s more, the 17-year campaign to date is unlikely to end for several more years to come, after President Donald Trump last year gave the Pentagon control over its conduct.

This week saw two developments which show that powerful elements within the US state have very different calculations concerning the Afghan war compared with most ordinary citizens.

First there was the rejection by Washington of an offer extended by Russia to join a peace summit scheduled for next month. The purpose of the Moscow conference is to bring together participants in the war, including the US-backed Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani, as well as the Taliban militants who have been fighting against American military occupation.

Washington and its Afghan surrogate administration in Kabul said they would not be participating because, in their view, such a dialogue would be futile.

The US refusal to attend the Moscow event, after previously showing an apparent interest, drew an angry response from Russia. Russia’s foreign ministry said the “refusal to attend the Moscow meeting on Afghanistan shows Washington has no interest in launching a peace process.”

One suspects that US reluctance is partly due to not wanting to give Moscow any additional international standing since Russia’s successful military intervention in Syria and its leading role in mediating for peace there.

It also seems incongruous that only last week the US-backed Ghani administration offered to call a ceasefire with the Taliban to mark the Muslim religious festivities of Eid al-Arafat. If President Ghani can see fit to call a truce with the militants, then what is so objectionable about sitting down with them in Moscow?

Another, more sinister, development was the disclosure this week by the Russian foreign ministry that it had tracked large-scale weapons supplies to militant groups in Afghanistan’s northern region. The foreign ministry said the weapons were dropped off by unidentified military helicopters.

What’s more, the helicopters were apparently given flight clearance by the US military forces and their Afghan national army charges. There can be only one conclusion: the Pentagon or the CIA are complicit in arming insurgents whom they are supposed to be trying to defeat. This is not the first time that such clandestine trafficking of weapons by US forces in Afghanistan has been reported by the Russian foreign ministry.

Similar skulduggery involving US military with terror groups in Syria has also been documented.

Recall too an interview given at the end of last year by former Afghan President Hamid Karzai who said categorically that US military commanders were responsible for cultivating Islamic State (IS, ISIS or Daesh) terrorist networks in his country. These groups seem to be separate in intent from the Taliban factions.

Ironically, US commanders have recently accused Russia of supplying weapons to Taliban fighters. Moscow and the Taliban have both separately denied any such link.

Such claims by Washington seem more plausibly an attempt by the Pentagon to muddy the waters of their own complicity in arming illegal militant groups in Afghanistan.

The question is: why would US forces want to aid and abet militants and prolong a war that has cost the American taxpayer trillions of dollars? Why would Washington spurn an opportunity to participate in the Moscow-convened summit scheduled for September 4, which is aimed at finding a peaceful settlement to the conflict?

In short, what US interests are there in prolonging this appalling war?

While the occupation of Afghanistan by US troops is a deadweight for the American national economy and citizen-taxpayers – adding up to $5 trillion to the country’s total debt load of $21 trillion – we have to bear in mind that for weapons manufacturers and suppliers, the war is a boon. It keeps the military-industrial complex humming with super profitable business. Companies like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, which are among the top lobbyists to Congress, using a coldly rational logic would not want this war to stop. Ever. Their corporate interests are starkly divergent from ordinary US citizens and foot-soldiers on the ground. So what if the nation is $21 trillion in debt when mega profits are being scooped up by executives and shareholders of the weapons companies?

It is also well-documented that the CIA depends on lawlessness in Afghanistan to run its trillion-dollar opium drugs racket. As with the notorious Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam war, the CIA uses global drugs trafficking as a way to fund its “black operations” in others parts of the world, finances that are kept hidden from political oversight by Congressional lawmakers.

A third incentive for American imperial planners to keep Afghanistan in turmoil is that it allows the US to mobilize and weaponize proxy armies for the purpose of harrying Russia and Iran. Afghanistan has a border with Iran to its west and it is a spearhead into Russia’s southern flank. For the US, having a base for militants with which to penetrate and destabilize either Iran or Russia is a strategic asset, not at all a strategic loss. Especially now given that Iran and Russia have succeeded in routing the US-backed jihadist bases in Syria.

Indeed, Russia has already explicitly expressed the concern that a lawless Afghanistan presents a direct security threat to its national interests.

So, yes, by any normal reckoning, Afghanistan has been a catastrophe for US citizens, as well as of course for millions of Afghanis who have lost loved ones, homes, jobs, and livelihoods only to eke a subsistence in grinding poverty.

But in a more sinister reckoning, there are powerful American interests which view the suffering and calamity of Afghanistan as a lucrative, strategic venture that must be kept going.

Afghanistan may be a seething swamp of suffering. But it’s a swamp that is at the same time spawning immense advantages for a select few overseeing US imperialist interests. That makes the tragedy of the country more poignant. Heinously, crucial incentives are not to stop the war, but to keep it going.

Visualizing U.S. Millionaires By State Of Residence

There are literally millions of millionaires in the United States.

In fact, as VisualCapitalist’s Jeff Desjardins notes, there are 7.1 million households in the country that have investible assets of $1 million or more.

Impressively, this gives the U.S. a higher total population of millionaires than any other country in the world, even though China’s rapidly rising wealth is also quite notable.

MILLIONAIRES BY STATE

Today’s visualization comes to us from HowMuch.net, and it breaks down U.S. millionaires by state.

Source: HowMuch.net

Here are the states with the highest millionaire populations, in absolute terms:

Not surprisingly, states like California, Texas, New York, and Florida dominate this list. They all have high millionaire populations, but they are also the four most populous states in general.

MILLIONAIRE CONCENTRATION

When looking at millionaires per capita, aforementioned states like New York, Texas, and Florida all fall off the Top 10 list altogether.

The state of California, however, remains clinging on to the #10 spot:

As you can see, the states surrounding hubs like New York City and D.C. shoot up the rankings when looking at the data this way.

New Jersey and Connecticut are in two of the top three spots – and of course New York City is home to well over 300,000 millionaires itself.

Meanwhile, Maryland walks away with the title of most millionaires per capita. It may be surprising, but this is the seventh year in a row that Maryland has ranked number one in the country for this metric.

“China’s Uber” Murderer Had Loans From 51 Lenders, Borrowed Heavily From P2P

Submitted by Investing in Chinese Stocks

China’s Uber, Didi Chuxing, has suspended service after a driver raped and murdered a young woman. The story is hitting many hot button topics in China these days including P2P lending. Investigators have learned the driver had borrowed from at least 51 lending institutions.

The killing of a 20-year-old passenger who rode in the Didi vehicle on Friday in the eastern city of Wenzhou is the second such incident since May, denting the image of the Beijing-based company, which is the world’s largest ride-hailing firm by number of rides and is expanding globally.

Police said a 27-year-old driver named Zhong was detained at about 4 a.m. on Saturday and confessed to raping and killing the passenger, who had used the Hitch service to book her trip. Her body was dumped over a guardrail and down a cliff, police said.

The latest attack triggered severe criticism of Didi on social media and prompted regulators to warn of industry-wide action.

“If a company is not compliant and self-disciplined, and takes its passengers’ lives as a game, the public will vote with their feet and the government will not just stand by,” the transport ministry said in a commentary on its website.

Some more details from the local press:

SCMP: Didi stops hitching service in China after second murder – and admits it was warned about accused driver

Didi Chuxing, China’s largest taxi hailing service provider, has said it will suspend its hitching service on Monday, after the second murder of a woman passenger in three months – and admitted it failed to investigate an earlier complaint from another woman about the driver accused of the killing.

..Its reaction came a day after police in Yueqing, in China’s eastern Zhejiang province, said they had found the body of a 20-year-old woman surnamed Zhao and arrested a Didi driver who had allegedly confessed to her rape and murder on Friday.

According to the police’s official microblog, Zhao had entered a Didi carpool vehicle at 1pm on Friday, and sent a message asking a friend for help at around 2pm before losing contact.

Many netizens were left wondering how the driver passed basic screening tests such as a credit check. One site reported he had borrowed from 51 lenders and was overdue on many loans.

From iFeng: 滴滴杀人疑犯信用调查:曾向51家机构借款 多笔逾期已失信

According to the latest news from the police, the girl in the murder case of the Yueqing drip rider was forced to transfer more than 9,000 yuan to the driver Zhongmou WeChat before being killed.

Tim Seng Finance (micro-signal: tsfinance) found in the investigation that Zhong had previously borrowed from 51 institutions and had too many overdue. When Didi is reviewing its eligibility, whether to use its personal credit as an indicator of investigation is a question left to us to think about.

…The investigation found that Zhong, the driver of the Yueqing Drip and Windmill driver murder case, had borrowed from 51 institutions; he also applied for loans from four platforms within one week before the accident. Specifically, 51 lending institutions include car rental, consumer staging platforms, consumer finance companies, credit cards, microfinance companies, and P2P online lending. From traditional financial institutions to emerging online lending institutions, it can be said that Zhong has borrowed from almost every type of institution that can lend.

…The main borrowing institution of Zhong is P2P online lending institutions and consumer finance companies. The survey of Tiansheng Finance (micro-signal: tsfinance) found that the general borrowing rate of the P2P online lending industry is as high as 30% per year. There are also low interest rates, but the requirements for borrowers are very high. Generally, they are not required to use real estate mortgages, or they require borrowers to work in government and public institutions . These conditions are not available to Zhong.

…It is worth mentioning that there have been many overdue loans in the history of Zhong, and there were overdue records on November 13, 2017 and January 13, 2018. In the third-party inquiry system, Zhong’s personal credit evaluation results are displayed as “recommended rejection”.

…This is not the first time that Zhong has driven for Didi. According to his relatives, two or three years ago Zhong spent tens of thousands of yuan to buy the current car to drive for Didi, and has driven in the town and other places. After the Spring Festival this year, he went to Wenzhou with his parents. .

Is it true that people like Zhongmou, who are often untrustworthy, are suitable to serve as the Didi driver for the public? Can they be responsible for the safety of passengers? Do you use your personal credit as an indicator when reviewing their qualifications? Leave us thinking about the problem.

Didi said the suspect had no criminal record, had provided authentic documentation and passed a facial recognition test before starting work. However, it also said it failed to act on a complaint made against the driver on Thursday by a passenger who alleged the driver took her to a remote place and followed her after she got out of the car.

“Exuberance Is Back:” Investing In Ferraris Better Bet Than Stocks

As US stocks hit record highs, a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO offered by RM Sotheby’s sold in Monterey, California on Saturday for a record $48.4 million – the highest price ever fetched at auction, and 25% higher than the previous record set in 2014 when a 1963 model sold for $38.1 million (a 1963 250 GTO reportedly sold in October 2013 for $52 million in a private transaction, however). 

The seller, early Microsoft employee Greg Whitten, bought the car in 2000 when similar Ferraris were selling for around $10 million, according to Bloomberg. Whitten made out like a bandit. 

Photos: Sotheby’s

And while markets are hitting record highs after a decade of taxpayer-fueled economic recovery, investors with the means and wherewithal to sink their money into Ferraris instead of the S&P 500 did far better, according to the Hagerty Ferrari price index which reveals that the majority of gains occurred between 2013 and 2015. 

Even with dividends reinvested, Ferraris commanded a faster increase in value than listed U.S. companies since the end of 2009. Gains on the iconic car, though, have largely petered out over the last three years and U.S. stocks have outperformed. –Bloomberg

Making the case that high-end buyers are still willing to pony up in a frothy market, Bloomberg highlights the December 2017 sale of a Leonardo Da Vinci painting for $450 million (bought by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, as it turns out), the most ever for a piece of fine art. 

Their takeaway? Watch out: 

It all shows market watchers should probably be getting worried, says Shane Oliver, a Sydney-based investment strategist at AMP Capital Investors Ltd., who wrote his PhD thesis on efficiency in markets and asset bubbles. –Bloomberg

Exuberance is back in a big way,” Oliver said. “The fact that people are paying record amounts for Ferraris and paintings and share markets are at record highs causes me to be a little bit more cautious” 

Since most people can’t exactly afford to invest in a $48.4 million Ferrari, much less insure it and god forbid even drive it – here are some more pictures of the recent sale via RM Sotheby’s

And just in case Ferraris aren’t your thing, there’s always a gold lambo!