Friday, February 18, 2005

Fat Cats for Africa

I've always been leery of Davos, an recent annual ritual which is rather like Mother's Day or Father's Day in America -- a largely hypocritical commemoration to forget -- or make people forget -- the wrongs inflicted the rest of the year. But here's an article which says it much better.

Taki Theodrocopolous, Editor of
the American Conservative, has this in the latest issue of the magazine. Reproduced here for wider dissemination only.

Fat Cats for Africa
by Taki
[from the American Conservative, Feb 28, 2005 Issue]

The place is always described as exclusive, but that’s one thing it is not. Davos is a Swiss ski resort for hoi polloi, an Atlantic City with snow, although it’s far prettier than Donald Trump’s Jersey playground. Last time I was here was about ten years ago on the frozen lake for a car race that ended up in a humongous spin that lasted for more than a minute.

Davos only becomes exclusive during the annual gathering of fat cats—the World Economic Forum, as it prefers to call itself. GFC (Gathering of Fat Cats), however, is a far more appropriate name. There is something ludicrous in watching world political and financial leaders jostling to rub elbows with brain-dead celebrities, but such are the joys of the modern world. Pretending to care for the poor is the order of the day, both for the suits as well as for the celebrated, and if one were a ten-year old who happened to be particularly innocent, he might believe this year’s Davos message: the end of poverty is near. Davos Man returned home from the GFC last week full of dinner-party stories—how Bill Gates and Bill Clinton stood beside Tony Blair and Bono and Angelina Jolie and Sharon Stone and pledged to turn Africa into Palm Beach in the near future (by the year 2025, according to the economist Jeffrey Sachs; 3025 according to the economist Taki).

Mind you, everyone meant well. First and foremost among the assembled was the desire to publicize themselves and the companies they represented. The second priority was to network. Last but not least came the plan to end poverty, as noble a cause as there is, but for one problem. Nobody mentioned the c-word. Corruption—as in African leaders’ corruption.

Bill Gates might have the cash and commercial credibility, Bill Clinton the soaring rhetoric, and Bono the blarney and celebrity, but if these cats manage to eliminate hunger from even one tiny African village, I will gift my beautiful sailing yacht to Monica Lewinsky. Call me cynical, but when economists, civil servants, politicians, and company suits start naming countries such as the United States, Japan, and Germany as the top sinners in the not-giving-aid-to-poor-countries category, it’s time for the sick bag—especially when in the presence of mega-crooks like the president of Nigeria, top Saudi oil ministers, and—by satellite—Jacques Chirac, a man who is trying to pass a special law making him senator for life in order to avoid jail the minute his presidential term is over. (Chirac wants to introduce global taxes on air and sea travel and financial speculation to help Africa.)

Well-intentioned crusades against poverty in developing countries are good for publicity but little else. Accusing rich nations of not doing enough is just another way of ingratiating oneself with celebrities and the chattering classes. But the reason so many thousands of lives are lost daily in sub-Saharan Africa is not lack of aid but because too much money goes into fighting wars, leaving nothing for hospitals and schools.

Sudan, Liberia, and Sierra Leone are three glaring examples of this. Ethiopia has spent huge sums fighting Eritrea over a disputed border. Over 65 million Ethiopians can now hardly feed themselves, while the government spends billions on arms. Zimbabwe, once the breadbasket of Africa, is an impoverished nation because of Robert Mugabe’s greed and disasterous anti-white policies. The psychopathic Liberian murderer Charles Taylor is living in Nigeria with the hundreds of millions he stole from the nation’s coffers, and his protector, Olusegun Obasanjo, presents himself in Davos and lectures us on the need to help Africa. Ditto Thabo Mbeki, president of South Africa and the prime mover behind the theory that AIDS does not exist but is an American plot to weaken Africans.

Hand-wringing by corrupt African leaders is nothing new. Africa is suicidal, and its problems are man-made. They began when the British hastily granted African nations independence. Ensuing tribal warfare in Angola, Uganda, Liberia, Eritrea, and the Sudan robbed their citizens of health care and education. The rest was predictable. Africa’s epidemics—malaria, cholera, typhoid, and AIDS—will not be beaten by grand gestures from the West. The problems lie in African attitudes. One dinner in Davos for a fat cat costs more than the annual income of most African families, and I do not condemn his appetite—but I do condemn his rhetoric. How dare the Saudi oil minister open his mouth in Davos, when fat Fahd spends $200 million dollars in his three-week annual holiday in Marbella?

It may not be politically correct, but the only way to save Africa from itself is to recolonize it. The only solution is good governance, an impartial judiciary, secure borders, internal peace, modern medical practices, and an end to kleptocracy. But I won’t hold my breath till it happens. Nor will I ever set foot in Davos again. Despite the altitude, too much hot air.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Arthur Miller -- A Tribute by Bob Herbert

Here's a beautiful tribute to Arthur Miller, and what he means for our times. Reproduced in full for broader dissemination only.

The Public Thinker
Published: New York Times, February 14, 2005

Arthur Miller, in his autobiography, "Timebends," quoted the great physicist Hans Bethe as saying, "Well, I come down in the morning and I take up a pencil and I try to think. ..."

It's a notion that appears to have gone the way of the rotary phone. Americans not only seem to be doing less serious thinking lately, they seem to have less and less tolerance for those who spend their time wrestling with important and complex matters.

Mr. Miller's death meant more than the loss of an outstanding playwright. It was the loss of a great public thinker ... Mr. Miller knew what ignorance and fear and the madness of crowds, especially when exploited by sinister leadership, could do to [the promise of America].

If you can't say it in 30 seconds, you have to move on. God made man and the godless evolutionists are on the run. Donald Trump ("You're fired!") and Paris Hilton ("That's hot!") are cultural icons. Ignorance is in. The nation is at war and its appetite for torture may be undermining the very essence of the American character, but the public at large seems much more interested in what Martha will do when she gets out of prison and what Jacko will do if he has to go in.

Mr. Miller's death last week meant more than the loss of an outstanding playwright. It was the loss of a great public thinker who believed strongly, as Archibald MacLeish had written, that the essence of America - its greatness - was in its promises. Mr. Miller knew what ignorance and fear and the madness of crowds, especially when exploited by sinister leadership, could do to those promises.

His greatest concerns, as Charles Isherwood wrote in Saturday's Times, "were with the moral corruption brought on by bending one's ideals to society's dictates, buying into the values of a group when they conflict with the voice of personal conscience."

The individual, in Mr. Miller's view, had an abiding moral responsibility for his or her own behavior, and for the behavior of society as a whole. He said that while writing "The Crucible," "The longer I worked the more
certain I felt that as improbable as it might seem, there were moments when an individual conscience was all that could keep a world from falling."

For the United States, which launched a misguided, pre-emptive war in Iraq, is shipping prisoners off to foreign countries to be tortured and has pressed the rewind button on matters of social progress, this may be one of those moments.

Reading Miller again, and looking back on his life, it's interesting to see some of the differences he has spotlighted in two sharply defined eras: the Depression-wracked 1930's and the prosperous, postwar 1950's. "It was not that people were more altruistic," he wrote in "Timebends," "but that a point arrived - perhaps around 1936 - when for the first time unpolitical people began thinking of common action as a way out of
their impossible conditions. Out of dire necessity came the surge of mass trade unionism and the federal government's first systematic relief programs, the resurgent farm cooperative movement, the TVA and other public projects that put people to work and brought electricity to vast new areas, repaired and built new bridges and aqueducts, carried out vast reforestation projects, funded student loans and research into the country's folk history - its songs and tales collected and published for the first time - and this burst of imaginative action created the sense of a government that for all its blunders and waste was on the side of the people."

By the early 50's the agony of the Depression was gone. McCarthyism was in flower and the dean of Mr. Miller's alma mater, the University of Michigan, was complaining that his students' highest goal was to fit in with corporate America rather than separating truth from falsehood.

The dean, Erich Walter, said, "They become experts at grade-getting, but there's less hanging round the lamppost now, no more chewing the fat," or, as Mr. Miller put it, "speculating about the wrongs of the world and ideal solutions, something no employer was interested in, and might even suspect."

Mr. Miller understood early that keeping the population entertained was becoming the paramount imperative of the U.S. We're now all but buried in entertainment and the republic is running amok. Mr. Miller is gone, and if we're not wise enough to pay attention, his uncomfortable truths will die with him. (He felt, among other things, that most men and women knew "little or nothing" about the forces manipulating their lives.)

Anyway, the Grammys were last night and Michael Jackson's trial resumes today.

Arthur Miller? Broadway dimmed its lights Friday night. His country may decide that's enough of a tribute and it's time to move on.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Reading Khomeini in Colorado

Colorado university professor Ward Churchill wrote an article on 9-11 some years ago. Suddenly it has been dredged out and a witch-hunt begun. This article provides a view beyond a mere First Amendment argument, and wonders if there is a great opportunity for George Bush here.

Click here to read "Reading Khomeini in Colorado" by Niranjan Ramakrishnan.

Friday, February 11, 2005

White House Briefing Room Scam

A fake journalist, a former shill for the Texas GOP, was issued a White House press clearance irecord time (5 days, according to one report). He would be called upon at presidential press conferencs, and Scott McClellan's briefings also, whereupon he would lob some diversionary questions to extricate the briefer from his predicament. This guy was called Gannon, but his real name, it turns out, is Guckert.

Read about it, and his alleged connections to the Valerie Plame case, on Yahoo.

Why did this even happen? Normally such an imposter would have been found out by his colleagues in a matter of minutes. Because, veteran report Dave Lindorff says, they are most of them incompetent anyway (The Perfect Plant - He Fit Right In).

Twenty Questions on the contemporary social scene - A Brilliant Factsheet

Try to answer these 20 questions -- the answers will surprise you

Torture, American Style

Another poignant column by Bob Herbert, reproduced in full here for wider dissemination.
An excellent situation to ask a variant of Bush's question, "Are you for it, or against it?" If you are against it, do something. Write to your Congressman or Senator, and definitely to the White House.

Torture, American Style

Published: February 11, 2005

Maher Arar is a 34-year-old native of Syria who emigrated to Canada as a teenager. On Sept. 26, 2002, as he was returning from a family vacation in Tunisia, he was seized by American authorities at Kennedy Airport in New York, where he was in the process of changing planes.

Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen, was not charged with a crime. But, as Jane Mayer tells us in a compelling and deeply disturbing article in the current issue of The New Yorker, he "was placed in handcuffs and leg irons by plainclothes officials and transferred to an executive jet."

In an instant, Mr. Arar was swept into an increasingly common nightmare, courtesy of the United States of America. The plane that took off with him from Kennedy "flew to Washington, continued to Portland, Maine, stopped in Rome, Italy, then landed in Amman, Jordan."

Any rights Mr. Arar might have thought he had, either as a Canadian citizen or a human being, had been left behind. At times during the trip, Mr. Arar heard the pilots and crew identify themselves in radio communications as members of the Special Removal Unit." He was being taken, on the orders of the U.S. government, to Syria, where he would be tortured.

The title of Ms. Mayer's article is "Outsourcing Torture." It's detailed account of the frightening and extremely secretive U.S. program known as "extraordinary rendition."

This is one of the great euphemisms of our time. Extraordinary rendition is the name that's been given to the policy of seizing individuals without even the semblance of due process and sending them off to be interrogated by regimes known to practice torture. In terms of bad behavior, it stands side by side with contract killings.

Our henchmen in places like Syria, Egypt, Morocco, Uzbekistan and Jordan are torturing terror suspects at the behest of a nation - the United States - that just went through a national election in which the issue of moral values was supposed to have been decisive. How in the world did we become a country in which gays' getting married is considered an abomination, but torture is O.K.?

As Ms. Mayer pointed out:
"Terrorism suspects in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East have often been abducted by hooded or masked American agents, then forced onto a Gulfstream V jet, like the one described by Arar. ... Upon arriving in foreign countries, rendered suspects often vanish. Detainees are not provided with lawyers, and many families are not informed of their whereabouts."

Mr. Arar was seized because his name had turned up on a watch list of terror suspects. He was reported to have been a co-worker of a man in Canada whose brother was a suspected terrorist.

"Although he initially tried to assert his innocence, he eventually confessed to anything his tormentors wanted him to say," Ms. Mayer wrote.

The confession under torture was worthless. Syrian officials reported back to the United States that they could find no links between Mr. Arar and terrorism. He was released in October 2003 without ever being charged and is now back in Canada.

Barbara Olshansky is the assistant legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is representing Mr. Arar in a lawsuit against the U.S. I asked her to describe Mr. Arar's
physical and emotional state following his release from custody.

She sounded shaken by the memory. "He's not a big guy," she said. "He had lost more than 40 pounds. His pallor was terrible, and his eyes were sunken. He looked like someone who was kind of dead inside."

Any government that commits, condones, promotes or fosters torture is a malignant force in the world. And those who refuse to raise their voices against something as clearly evil as torture are enablers, if not collaborators.

There is a widespread but mistaken notion in the U.S. that everybody seized by the government in its so-called war on terror is in fact somehow connected to terrorist activity. That is just wildly wrong.

Tony Blair knows a little about that sort of thing. Just two days ago the British prime minister formally apologized to 11 people who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for bombings in England by the Irish Republican Army three decades ago.

Jettisoning the rule of law to permit such acts of evil as kidnapping and torture is not a defensible policy for a civilized nation. It's wrong. And nothing good can come from it.

Monday, February 07, 2005

What jobs? Outsourcing, debt, dropping dollar

The pir's and baba's of the subcontinent have nothing on the spinmeisters of Washington DC, who will demonstrate to a gullible public that up is down, black is white, and, that economic ruin is progress. A useful temperature reading by a well-known economist, reproduced from today's

Bush's Jobless Economy
More Bad News on the Jobs Front

The January jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics continues the bad news of the past four years. During President Bush's first term, the US economy had a net loss of three-quarters of a million private sector jobs. Despite three years of economic recovery, fewer Americans are employed in the private sector today than when Bush was first inaugurated four years ago.

The slight decline in the unemployment rate reported for January is not the result of new jobs; it is the result of large numbers of discouraged people, many with niversity degrees, dropping out of the work force. They cannot find employment and have given up looking.

During Bush's first term, the once fabled US economy has been unable to create jobs in export sectors or in import-competitive sectors. January's 134,000 new private sector jobs are in domestic services that cannot be outsourced: couriers and messengers, food services and drinking places, health care and social assistance, educational services, temporary help, retail, and credit intermediation.

US imports are now 50 percent greater than US exports, putting tremendous pressure on the US dollar. US dependence on imported manufactured goods has resulted in exploding trade deficits, which are growing more than five times faster than the US economy. The explosive growth of the US trade deficit since 1990 has turned $3.3 trillion of US assets over to foreigners. Flooded with US dollars, foreigners perceive their dollar holdings to be rapidly depreciating. The dollar has fallen dramatically against the Euro, gold, and the British pound.

At an international economic meeting in Davos, Switzerland on January 26, the director of a Chinese National Economic Research Institute announced that China has lost faith in the stability of the US dollar. "Now people understand the US dollar will not stop devaluating," said Fan Gang.

One likely result of this realization is that foreigners will cease to use their trade surpluses to mop up American red ink. It makes no sense to purchase dollar assets such as Treasury bonds when they are falling in value. As foreigners continue to move out of dollars, US interest rates will rise, terminating the housing boom and wrecking family finances.

America's growing dependence on imports reflects the outsourcing of
manufacturing jobs and knowledge services. Every time a US firm outsources goods
or services, it turns domestic production into imports. Half of the US trade deficit with China represents US offshore production for US markets.

Interest groups that benefit from outsourcing and their spokespersons who cloak themselves in free-trade rhetoric maintain that there is nothing to worry about. Outsourcing, they claim, strengthens the US economy and creates jobs. If that were true, wouldn't economic strength translate into dollar strength? If outsourcing creates US jobs, wouldn't some of those jobs be in the export sector?

Average weekly pay in the US is declining in real terms. Obviously, if outsourcing is creating jobs, they are less good jobs than the ones being outsourced. Trading better jobs for worse ones is the road to poverty, not the road to wealth.

The dismal US performance in job and pay growth is despite the most stimulative monetary and fiscal policy in my lifetime. If the lowest US interest rates in memory, tax cuts and the biggest budget deficits in US history cannot create jobs and boost pay, what can?

Charles McMillion of MBG Information Services notes that normally a 38-month old economic recovery would have raised hours paid by 11% to 14%. The 38-month old Bush recovery has raised hours paid by less than one percent!

The clowns in Washington DC imagine that they sit astride a Superpower. Absorbed in fantasies of invading countries and remaking the world in America's image, little do our deluded leaders realize that America is in the hands of our Chinese and Japanese creditors. Should either of these Asian powerhouses decide to stop mopping up America's red ink, the dollar would collapse to such an extent that it would lose its reserve currency status.

When the dollar ceases to be the reserve currency, America will cease to be a superpower.

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the
Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal
editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is coauthor of
Tyranny of Good Intentions.
He can be reached at:

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Iraq Elections

The best summing-up of the Iraq elections was made by Bob Herbert in the New York Times:

Acts of Bravery
By BOB HERBERT Published: January 31, 2005

You'd have to be pretty hardhearted not to be moved by the courage of the millions of Iraqis who insisted on turning out to vote yesterday despite the very real threat that they would be walking into mayhem and violent death at the polls.

At polling stations across the country there were women in veils holding the hands of children, and men on crutches, and people who had been maimed during the terrible years of Saddam, and old people. Among those lined up to vote in Baghdad was Samir Hassan, a 32-year-old man who lost a leg in the blast of a car bomb last year. He told a reporter, "I would have crawled here if I had to."

In a war with very few feel-good moments, yesterday's election would qualify as one. But as with any positive development in Iraq, this one was riddled with caveats. For one thing, dozens of people were, in fact, killed in election day attacks. And shortly after the polls closed, a
British military transport plane crashed northwest of Baghdad.

So there was no respite from the carnage.

And we should keep in mind that despite the feelings of pride and accomplishment experienced by so many of the voters, yesterday's election was hardly a textbook example of democracy in action. A real democracy requires an informed electorate. What we saw yesterday was an uncommonly brave electorate. But it was woefully uninformed.

Much of the electorate was voting blind. Half or more of those who went to the polls believed they were voting for a president. They weren't. They were electing a transitional national assembly that will have as its primary task the drafting of a constitution. The Washington Post noted that because of the extreme violence that preceded the election "almost none of the 7,700 candidates for the National Assembly campaigned publicly or even announced their names."

As John F. Burns put it in The Times yesterday:
"Half a dozen candidates have been assassinated. As a result, the names of all others have not been made public; they were available in the last days of the campaign on Web sites inaccessible to most Iraqis, few of whom own computers."

"Democracy," according to "The Oxford Companion to Politics of the World," "refers to a form of government in which, in contradistinction to monarchies and aristocracies, the people rule."

That is not the case in Iraq and is not likely to be the case soon. In much of Iraq the people exist in a kind of hell on earth, at the mercy of American forces on the one hand and a variety of enraged insurgents on the other. Despite the pretty words coming out of the Bush administration, the goals of the U.S. and the goals of most ordinary Iraqis are not, by a long stretch, the same.

The desire of the U.S., as embodied by the Bush administration, is to exercise as much control as possible over the Middle East and its crucial oil reserves. There is very little concern here about the plight of ordinary Iraqis, which is why the horrendous casualties being suffered by Iraqi civilians, including women and children, get so little attention.

What most ordinary Iraqis have been expressing, not surprisingly, is a desire for a reasonably decent quality of life. They are a long way from that.

In large swaths of the country, death at the hands of insurgents seems always just moments away. It's also extremely easy for innocent Iraqis to get blown away by Americans. That can occur if drivers get too close - or try to pass - an American military convoy. Or if confusion arising from language barriers, or ignorance of the rules, or just plain nervousness results in an unfortunate move by a vehicle at a checkpoint. Or if someone objects too vociferously to degrading treatment by U.S. forces. Or if someone is simply suspected, wrongly, of being an insurgent.

Crime in many areas is completely out of control. Kidnapping for ransom, including the kidnapping of children, is ubiquitous. Carjackings are commonplace. Rape and murder are widespread. In a country with the second-largest oil reserves in the world, drivers have to wait in line for hours at a time for gasoline. Electric power is available just a handful of hours a day. Unemployment rates are sky high. With many women destitute, prostitution is a growth industry.

Iraqis may have voted yesterday. But they live in occupied territory, and the occupiers have other things on their minds than the basic wishes of the Iraqi people. That's not democracy. That's a recipe for more war.