Something Will Turn Up

Steven C. Sorensen – Photography and Blog

Category Archives: Foreign Affairs

Why Are We There?


Aftermath Of an IED Explosion

The United States recently dropped an enormous bomb, one of the biggest non-nuclear weapons in existence, in Afghanistan.  We dropped it apparently on ISIS fighters.  So why in the world are we in Afghanistan?.  What is our purpose there?  We’ve been there since 2001, we’ve spent billions of dollars.  We’ve lost soldiers.  Afghani civilians have died.  We don’t seem to be any closer to leaving or having a plan or date for leaving.

To what purpose all the sacrifices?  As far as I can see, all that we’ve done is ousted the Taliban and Mullah Omar from the central government and put in place a central government that is shaky and still needs our presence.  That might have felt good in 2001 (revenge is sweet), but it’s sixteen year later and the Taliban is still there and is still fighting.  Now there’s a third force in the mix, ISIS, and apparently ISIS and the Taliban fight each other.  If the enemy of our enemy is our friend, does that mean we’re now chums with the Taliban and should fight on their side?  It’s all too confusing.  I wish someone could tell me what our objectives there are.  Is it to reduce terrorism?  To create a stable, democratic government in Afghanistan?

Whatever our objectives were or are, we have failed miserably.  We keep coming up with new plans, new strategies for continuing to fail.

Perhaps it’s time to put up or get out.

Some statistics on Afghanistan:

Coalition deaths of 01/10/15:  3,407

U.S. deaths of 01/10/15:  3,424 

During the war in Afghanistan (2001–14), over 26,000 civilian deaths due to war-related violence have been documented; 29,900 civilians have been wounded. Over 91,000 Afghans, including civilians, soldiers and militants, are recorded to have been killed in the conflict, and the number who have died through indirect causes related to the war may include an additional 360,000 people. 

Direct costs of the war, FY2001 – FY2016 – $783 billion

The war in Afghanistan has so far cost $33,000 per citizen, as of 01/10/2015


Ebola Risk


Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly VirusI feel to a certain extent that I got ripped off by David Quammen whose non-fiction books I have enjoyed.  I received his latest – Ebola – in the mail yesterday only to find out that the book is

excerpted and extracted from my 2012 book Spillover [which I read], with some additional material, . . . to place the 2014 West Africa outbreak . . . within a broader context that makes sense of those mysteries and their partial solutions.

The book Ebola has updates that encompass the current outbreak in west Africa so it is probably the most up-to-date description of the Ebola virus in the popular press.  I am reading it and refreshing what I know about Ebola.  My reading confirms my belief that there is little need to worry about an epidemic in the United States.  The outbreak in Africa has reached epidemic proportions because of the poor public health and medical practices in the regions affected and superstition and burial practices that involve a lot of people handling the dead.  In the US, with our public health system and given that Ebola is not highly contagious, there will be no epidemic.  One might occur if Ebola mutated into a form that could spread through the air.  Then I would start worrying.

Efforts to contain the outbreak in West Africa

were hampered by a number of factors:  the weakness of governance in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone after decades of coups, juntas, and civil wars; the bitterness and suspicion among their peoples as a legacy of those conflicts; the inadequacy of health-care infrastructure and basic health-care services in the three countries, as reflected in extremely low annual per capita expenditures on health; the immediate shortage of money and outbreak-response supplies necessary for stopping Ebola, such as examination gloves, masks, gowns, rubber boots, bleach, and plastic buckets in which to put bleach solution so that hands could be washed; the shortage of treatment centers and beds within them; the porosity of the national borders between Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone; the reluctance of people in affected villages and towns to see their loved ones confined to isolations facilities, within which treatment was often marginal and case fatality rate was running about 50 percent; the reluctance of people to suspend their traditional burial practices, which often involved washing or otherwise touching the body; the relatively short distances between rural areas where the outbreak started and the capital cities of the three counties allowing people to travel from affected area to Monrovia, Freetown, and Conakry by such relatively inexpensive modes of transport as shared taxi and bus; and the shortage of timely international aid.

None of these factors exist in the United States.  Fatality rates for Ebola run around from a bit over fifty to around seventy percent in the regions of Africa where the factors do exist.  The fatality rate in the United States would be much lower and there would be many more and much more effective barriers to the spread of Ebola.  There is little to worry about, but every time I turn on CNN, all I see is hour after hour of experts repeating themselves about Ebola.  The voices saying that given due diligence there is very little to worry about are being drowned out.

Was I ripped off in my book purchase?  I think there should have been some sort of disclaimer on the cover of the book that Ebola is excerpted from Spillover.  If I had known, I might not have purchased it.

ISIS Spending and Ebola Spending


I’ve seen quoted a number of different estimates of how much the US plans to spend fighting the Ebola epidemic in west Africa.  The highest I’ve seen is $100 million.

The cost of the fight against ISIS?

Gordon Adams, the go-to guy in Washington on DOD’s budget, previously told The Fiscal Times that the mission to stop ISIS would cost between $10 billion and $15 billion each year. Now that more details of the plan are known, Adams has revised his estimate — up.  “I estimate $15-20 [billion] for the operation, on an annual basis,”

This doesn’t make sense.  Why are we spending so much more on the war against ISIS than we are on fighting the Ebola epidemic that rages unabated?  Why does America fear ISIS much?  Why do not Americans fear Ebola as much?  I don’t know.  Perhaps it is because of the brutal videos of the beheadings by ISIS of American journalists?  The pictures I see coming out of Africa are of people who are obviously sick.  But a video of a beheading trumps a picture of a sick person or videos of people walking about in moon suits.

Read this:

House Republicans indicated Tuesday that they will provide less than half of the White House’s funding request to fight Ebola in the next government spending bill.

According to a source familiar with the negotiations, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) agreed as of Tuesday morning to spend a total of $40 million to fight the epidemic in the 2015 spending bill.  []

Is that not shameful?  The Gates Foundation has pledged $50 million.  Republicans don’t even want to spend as much on Ebola as does a private foundation.  They sure are willing to spend money on endless wars in the Mideast, but not much on impoverished, black Africans.




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