'The myth of American generosity'
Monday, January 10 @ 10:28:16 EST
By Mike Whitney
"They've seen our resolve in dealing with terrorism. They also need to see our compassion. It's the goodness of America that leads to its greatness."
-- Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas)
Have you ever seen anyone "flip-flop" more on an issue than George Bush on Tsunami relief?
First he pledged $15 million. (Until UN humanitarian aid chief, Jan England referred to the gift as "stingy") Then it was bumped up to $35 million. (which lasted two days) Now, it's been inflated to a whopping $350 million.
There's nothing humanitarian about humanitarian aid. The money that's been pouring in from private citizens around the world was given from the kindness of their hearts. That's not what's happening with our friends at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The ever-changing amount of relief reflects a political agenda that's aimed at greater economic involvement in the stricken region. Calculated generosity is not generosity at all, but self interest.
Now that they've seen the extent of the tsunami's damage, the Bush clan is swarming to the scene like pit bulls to a pork-chop. The colossal devastation has created the right environment for projecting America's state-sponsored industries (Halliburton, Bechtel, Flour etc) into the area for what will undoubtedly be a massive reconstruction project.
Just think, this time we didn't even have to flatten vast swaths of the countryside like we did with "Shock-and-Awe" in Baghdad. Mother Nature has conveniently taken care of all of that for us; free of charge. All Bush needs to do is whip-up the standard public relations campaign, and "conference-call" his buddies at Halliburton to roll up their sleeves for their next big job.
The Bidding War
The amount of relief being promised by the various donor-countries has escalated into a bidding war. Each nation is stumbling over the other to get a shoe in the door for future projects. So far, Australia has taken the lead, promising $810 million to the effort. No one remembers Australia being so magnanimous during similar crises, (like the Ethiopian famine or the Iran earthquake in Bam) which makes an ulterior motive even more likely. This brings us to the central point about humanitarian aid; it's really just a shell game that's used to conceal geopolitical and economic aims. Australia is certainly not the exception. Its lavish gift is just a way of jostling with the competition to endear itself to the victim nations.
Did you know that humanitarian aid is normally proffered with strict requirements? For example, oftentimes a donor country will insist that up to 90% of the aid-package be provided by corporations from their own country. This means that the generosity of taxpayers is no more than a subsidy for big business.
Maybe, this is no big deal. After all, in an imperfect world, even charity comes with strings attached. The larger problem is the fact that countries make these promises of aid with no intention of meeting their obligations. Consider the enormous devastation at Bam, Iran last year when 26,000 civilians were killed an earthquake. Donor nations promised over $1 billion in relief following the disaster, and yet, officials say that less than $18 million has been received. That's less than 2%!!! "The record is even worse in the case of Hurricane Mitch, which swept through Honduras and Nicaragua in 1998, killing more than 9,000 people and making 3 million homeless. Governments promised to send more than $3.5 billion, while the World Bank, IMF and EU pledged $5.2 billion. In the end, less than a third of the money was raised." (UK Guardian)
The Bush administration has been particularly "stingy" in honoring its promises. The $15 billion pledged to AIDS assistance two years ago has translated into millions not billions, and most of that has been directed towards "abstinence-only" programs. Reconstruction money for Afghanistan and Iraq has been equally paltry. Afghanistan has received only a pittance of what was supposed to be a modern-day "Marshall Plan". To date, there are no major reconstruction projects even underway in Afghanistan; a dismal reflection of the administration's misleading foreign policy. (As John Pilger notes in a recent article, "Just 3% of all international aid spent in Afghanistan has been spent for reconstruction")
Iraq is no different. Less than 2% of the $18 billion allocated by Congress has been devoted to reconstruction programs. Is there any wonder why the lights only go on for 4 hours a day in Baghdad?
This also explains why the incredulous Kofi Annan warned two days ago that much of the $3 billion of aid probably won't materialize. "If we go by past history, yes, I do have concern ... we've got over $2-billion but it is quite likely that at the end of the day we will not receive all of it," Annan said.
Fellow UN staffer Rudolf Muller added, "A lot of the money will be swallowed up by the military or will have been diverted from existing loans." In other words, the pledges of support will "vaporize" in a bureaucratic, paper-shuffle. That's why the Secretary-General is asking for $60 million for immediate relief to provide food, water, sanitation and medicine to the (potentially) 500,000 refugees of the tsunami.
Annan's sobering words were unwelcome at the White House where Bush's "Friend of Humanity" campaign is in full swing. The administration's public relations wizards have taken on the disaster with unusual zeal. They've dispatched a phalanx of dignitaries to demonstrate the core principle of American munificence; giving with one hand while stealing with the other.
Wasn't it odd to see Clinton's florid face exhumed from obscurity and slapped up on the front page; ready to join the ranks of Bush loyalists? Apparently, the goal of proving America's bigheartedness is not limited by party affiliation. It's truly a bipartisan charade.
Did we mention that not one measly bottle of water has been sent to Falluja, where 70% of the city lies in ruins after a two month Dresden-type beating that "systematically" destroyed all the major infrastructure including water purification facilities, sewage treatment and the electrical grid? Falluja is now "The City of Dogs", where scavenging canines feed on the dead bodies left in the streets during the American siege. Are the people of Indonesia and Sri Lanka more deserving than the 250, 000 Iraqis refugees who now live in tent cities because the US demanded retribution for the deaths of 4 corporate mercenaries? Or is the Bush-tsunami in Falluja just another manifestation of Divine intervention?
Bush's largesse is bestowed with Machiavellian ruthlessness. Falluja gets the iron-fist while the candies and sweetmeats are hand-delivered to Thailand. It's all part of the political reckoning that employs philanthropy with the same deadly intent as precision weaponry. The Flag-wrapped Media
The media has played a vital role in perpetuating the myth of American generosity. Their task is to create an acceptable narrative for American benevolence and then to reiterate THE VERY SAME MESSAGE FROM EVERY SOAPBOX IN THE NATION. This is the real meaning of propaganda, which comes from the root; "to propagate". (It does not simply mean misinformation, but implies the intentional repetition of the same lie over and over again. ) This can only be accomplished if every newspaper and TV station covers the same story the very same way. (a near impossibility in a free country, one would think) In a mind-boggling display of unity, over 200 stories appeared in US newspapers announcing the "CHANGE IN AMERICA'S IMAGE". (1-5-05) (Kremlin ideologues must be looking on with admiration at the astonishing uniformity of the "free market" propaganda system. Quite clearly, it has no rival.) Similarly, every paper in the country has produced the requisite full-page pictures of smiling, white Americans distributing CARE packages to the mud-splattered, dark-skinned natives.
TV, of course, produced the same dismal results providing a week long celebration of American goodwill.
Who says this ain't a great country?
Interestingly, the media gambit to "boost America's image", dwarfed the coverage of Alberto Gonzales, the administration's foremost apologist of torture. Gonzales who created the legal rationale for abusing prisoners in "cruel and inhuman" ways, is being elevated to the "highest law-enforcement officer in the country", Attorney General. How's that for irony? Think a few wary Muslims might be watching the Senate hearings rather than the American "charm offensive" being waged in the Southeast Asia?
Even with the massive media blitz, it's all uphill for the Peerless Leader and his corporate cadres. You can fool some of the people some of the time, but as the numbers indicate, America's popularity is headed for the bottom of the tank. "In Indonesia, whose Muslim population is overwhelmingly moderate, polls taken after the U.S. invasion of Iraq showed plummeting support for the United States. America's "favorable" rating fell from 61 percent to 15 percent from summer 2002 to summer 2003, according to the Pew Research Center." (Ass. Press) It'll take more than a few smiley photo-ops and chocolate bars to turn those numbers around.
The administration is using the cover of humanitarian aid to insert itself into the economic future of the region. Whatever aid it provides will mean bigger profits for American corporations and greater involvement for the US Military. Secretary Rumsfeld has already used the tragedy to sidestep the congressional ban on aid to the Indonesian military; a clear attempt to shore up a brutish regime that provides access to Indonesia's vast resources. Greater support for the repressive military is sure to follow.
A "debt-relief" proposal recommended by the IMF will undoubtedly bring about the same economic conditions that have crippled third world nations across the globe. On the surface the offer looks like a gift, but in reality it requires strict compliance with the rigorous guidelines of economic restructuring. (In other words, privatizing all publicly owned assets, reducing subsidies to public education, removing protective tariffs, eliminating public health-care, banning unions, and permitting damaging flows of capital to move in and out of its markets without regulation.). The acceptance of this economic regime effectively hands over national sovereignty to a cartel of international bankers and financiers. It's designed to ensure that real democracy cannot flourish.
These are the real implications of American generosity. The $350 million may be dressed up to look like bounteousness, but it's just another bone tossed to Bush's friends in big business. A year from now, the "tired and huddled masses" battered by the tsunami will still be living in refugee camps, drinking brackish water and huddling in lean-tos. The money will have changed nothing, except for a greater American presence in the region.
"Behind every great fortune lies a great crime."
Honore de Balzac
"Democrats work to help people who need help.
That other party, they work for people who don't need help.
That's all there is to it."
~Harry S. Truman