June 07, 2003
"Poverty Theme Park" for Jimmy Carter LiberalsI'm a little shocked to find myself agreeing with Rush Limbaugh today. Don't worry, I'm not making a Hitchens-style sprint for the right-wing here, I'm sure Limbaugh and I came to our conclusions for completely divergent reasons. Rush was mocking a project described in a New York Times story published today, titled In Georgia, a Taste of Poor Housing Around the World. Upon reading the story, one wonders whether the reporter's first inclination was to title the piece "In Poor Taste: Housing Around the World." As the article indicates, Habitat for Humanity has constructed a "mock slum" that it hopes to have compared to models of houses they build. The idea is to encourage donations to the organization (the total cost of constructing the park is estimated to reach five million dollars). The article reports a sign outside the model reading "Because real-life poverty comes with splintered wood, sharp corners, rough-cut tin, the occasional protruding nail and the like, please exercise extreme caution as you walk through this area." But the designers' commitment to recreating "real-life poverty" doesn't seem to extend to rampant malnutrition, political repression, privatization of essential public services such as electricity and water, and the like. Now, a few new houses are nice (Habitat has built some 150,000 since 1976), I certainly wouldn't turn one down, but to term this mock village a "mix of tourism and activism," as a related AP story does, seems a bit of stretch. What the word's four billion poor need are governments that are responsible to them and not the international institutions of the rich; the suspension of odious debts that drain thousands of times more resources from their countries than all the liberal NGO's put in altogether; and a world where their meaningul control over their own lives, resources, and governments isn't under constant "preventive attack" by the United States. Most liberals, however, support the IMF and the World Bank, the imposition of "structural adjustment programs," the maintenance of the debt, and (at least tacitly) constant U.S. covert or overt campaigns to keep the majority of the world's people (as opposed to "civil society" or the "international community," which are too often codewords for capitalists and their comprador allies) from forming any governments that might respond to their concerns. You think that was Rush's worry as well?
My First Retraction
(And a Related Rant)The Guardian has retracted its story (cited below) about Wolfowitz admitting that the difference between U.S. treatment of North Korea and Iraq was about Iraq "swimming on a sea of oil." They write:
A report which was posted on our website on June 4 under the heading "Wolfowitz: Iraq war was about oil" misconstrued remarks made by the US deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, making it appear that he had said that oil was the main reason for going to war in Iraq. He did not say that. He said, according to the Department of Defence website, "The ... difference between North Korea and Iraq is that we had virtually no economic options with Iraq because the country floats on a sea of oil. In the case of North Korea, the country is teetering on the edge of economic collapse and that I believe is a major point of leverage whereas the military picture with North Korea is very different from that with Iraq." The sense was clearly that the US had no economic options by means of which to achieve its objectives, not that the economic value of the oil motivated the war. The report appeared only on the website and has now been removed.Of course Iraq was also "teetering on the edge of economic collapse" (and was given a helpful push over the edge by the war) due to the sanctions imposed by the U.S. and now used as a retrospective justification for the war in the most twisted ways (i.e. "Saddam starved his people."). Oil revenue was under the control of the UN, so to imply that "economic options," or more properly "economic weapons" were not part of the diplomatic menu in regard to Iraq is simply dishonest. The fact is, they were a complete failure in inciting resistance to the Hussein regime. However, whether the domestic overthrow of the Hussein government was ever considered a real option by successive presidents is open to serious question. If it was an option, than why did the U.S. call an ceasefire that allowed Hussein to brutally crush Kurdish and Shiite rebellions after the first American-Iraqi war? This essential U.S. cooperation with those massacres is now simply ignored in propaganda efforts to use the victims' mass graves to give another retrospective justification for the war. One can also point to Ari Fleischer's insistence that Iraq must "allow this matter to be resolved through the peaceful entry of force and not conflict" as evidence that the U.S. actually feared the possibility that Saddam could face overthrow at Iraqi hands. It was quite clear to anyone that looked that the sanctions made Saddam Hussein stronger, as it reduced nearly the entire population to dependence on the state. So, if the sanctions against Iraq were not an attempt to spark an overthrow, what were they? A number of commentators have suggested that they were simply a way to weaken the possibilities of resistance by simultaneously starving the Iraqi military machine and the people. This certainly is the interpretation of the North Korean government, as evidenced by their declaration that they would see any sanctions as a declaration of war. This in turn may explain current U.S. troop redeployments on the Korean peninsula, which will bring U.S. troops out of artillery range of the North Korean armaments arrayed along the demilitarized zone. Seoul of course does not have that option. While the Pentagon assures the nervous South Koreans that the move is an attempt to cool down tensions with the North, many others have speculated that this could free up the Pentagon to launch a first strike attack by avoiding the political damage of widescale U.S. military deaths (immediately anyway). Let's hope provoking a war on the Korean peninsula is not what the U.S. has in mind, but I think you'll understand when I say I've grown skeptical of Pentagon assurances of peaceful intentions. [addendum] By calling this a retraction, I certainly don't mean to endorse the position that oil wasn't a major factor in the invasion of Iraq.
June 05, 2003
Africa's World WarSeveral days ago, I promised that I would locate more information on the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Despite the fact that Africa's wars have killed over 3 million people in the past few years, the scale of human misery remains largely invisible to North American eyes, including that of much of the left. One exception is YellowTimes.org, whose columnist, Paul Harris, has been consistently covering the crisis in a series of reports, including this one filed Tuesday. It is exceedingly difficult to get a sense of what's behind the current crisis without some understanding of the past legacy of imperial exploitation. Harris helps a little with his own April 11th backgrounder. Those seeking to understand the ongoing U.S. role in the crisis are encouraged to to read this three-year-old piece from Covert Action Quarterly, titled "U.S. military and Corporate Recolonization of the Congo." While a little dated it contains invaluable information. Finally, we have a review of four books and a film shedding some essential light onto different aspects of the crisis.
June 04, 2003
Credibility SchmedibilityScanning the Associated Press headlines a few hours ago, a story titled "Pop Goes the Credibility" caught my eye. I wondered whose credibility could have been so fatally punctured. Could it be the credibility of Paul Wolfowitz as he tells his bosses in Washington (and other corporate boardrooms) that he'll really be more careful with what he says in the future? The snarling Wolfman may have some problems convincing them of his discretion. Coming on the heels of his last loose-lipped Vanity Fair admission comes yet another admission damning to the tatters of credibility held onto by the Bush administration. For those that missed the Vanity Fair episode, Wolfy led slip that in searching for a casus belli for the Iraq war: "For bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on." Apparently Wolfowitz is on a poorly planned public relations tour, because today reports are out on some interesting comments addressed to an Asian Security Summit. Asked about the differences between the treatment given to North Korea and Iraq, he replied "Let's look at it simply. The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil." Of course this completely gives the lie to numerous Bush administration claims that this war had nothing to do with oil, early plans to name the war Operation Iraqi Liberation notwithstanding. [editor's note: as noted above in a later entry, this story was later retracted by the Guardian] Was it perhaps the credibility of U.S. claims that they intend to encourage democracy in Iraq? Even an illusory democracy is looking more distant in light of recent announcements by Paul Bremer, the U.S. appointed Viceroy II. In a move that has drawn vocal protest from even the Pentagon's pet pretenders to the throne, the Iraqi National Congress, Bremer has scrapped plans for an Iraqi National Assembly, no matter how farcical, and is now suggesting that a 25 to 30 person "advisory" council will be handpicked by him. Or was it the credibility of the post-Saddam Iraqi media after other Occupation announcements that Iraqi media was to be subjected to restrictions on "intemperate speech" because the "country is just too fragile for a journalistic free-for-all." Robert Fisk has noted that the proliferation of newspapers in Iraq was one of the few good things to come from this war, but it seems that even this good thing hasn't escaped the notice of the Empire. This is most likely because the free expression of speech in Iraq tends, naturally, to be overwhelmingly critical of the United States. Or was it the already rapidly diminishing credibility of our own U.S. media? Americans' ability to access "intemperate speech" here in the United States is likely to shrink further under an expected media industry consolidation unprecedented in U.S. history. Repaying corporate media's warmongering favors to his dad, FCC Chair Michael Powell pushed through a radical gutting of media monopoly regulations, despite the fact that "99.9 percent" of public input on the matter being staunchly opposed, according to FCC Comissioner Michael Copps. The new rules pave the way for a Clear-Channelization of America. Under similar radio deregulation Clear Channel went from owning 44 stations up to 1200, leading, Copps complained, to "homogenized music and standardizing programming." Now, I'm certainly a foe of homogenized music and standardized programming, but I would think it also highly notable that Clear Channel was also the organizer of the vast majority of the pro-war rallies attempting to demonize critics of the Bush administration. Turned out it wasn't any of the above. While concerns about credibility and trust might seem to be on the wane in America, rest assured it's still of high import if related to professional baseball, Sammy Sosa, and corked bats.
June 01, 2003