Indonesia and President Bush
President Bush remained on vacation at his Crawford, Texas ranch clearing brush and bicycling as the death toll followed a macabre Moore’s law in Indonesia, doubling every 24 hours. After domestic and international outcry he agreed to a video teleconference and made a brief statement of sympathy. Meanwhile former president Clinton appeared on the BBC urging relief and made a veiled reference to Bush’s absence, “somebody’s has to assume leadership.”
The Bush White House in the form of spokesmen Trent Duffy said, "The president wanted to be fully briefed on our efforts. He didn't want to make a symbolic statement about 'We feel your pain.'" – Obviously a shot at Clinton. The Bush administration believed Clinton was grandstanding for the cameras. “Actions speak louder than words” was how one Bush aide described the president’s view. Truly a bizarre statement since the President had remained on vacation throughout the ordeal. The Official story: Clinton is exploiting the tragedy for political gain while Bush calmly assesses the situation from afar before launching into decisive action.
Conservative Pravda (or Fox News) quickly adopted the apologetics. The conservative commentator filling in for Sean Hannity’s radio show said that Bush was “calmly assessing the situation.” He ripped Clinton for rushing to an empty “I feel your pain” moment. Compare this reaction with the one Bush received post 9/11. What if Bush holed up in Crawford clearing brush and released a statement via video conference instead of arriving at ground zero with a bullhorn? Would they have accepted that as calmly assessing the situation? Bush could not personally do anything after 9/11. The real work was done by policemen, firefighters, and relief workers. Has anyone accused Bush of grandstanding with his bull horn? They won’t even accuse him of grandstanding on the aircraft carrier in his flight suit. Some commentators bizarrely discussed the Bush “package” and how it probably won him the female vote.
The Big Lie
UN humanitarian aid chief Jan Egeland criticized Western countries for their lack of commitment to humanitarian aid. Here is what he said, “We were more generous when we were less rich, many of the rich countries. And it is beyond me, why are we so stingy, really … even Christmas time should remind many Western countries at least how rich we have become.” Keep those words in mind when surveying the typical American pundit’s response. Note the message is aimed squarely at rich “Western countries.” The inclusive royal “we” is used four times indicating Egeland is addressing “rich Western countries” rather than the US specifically. He later clarified what should be obvious, “It has nothing to do with any particular country or any particular disaster.” But this has not stopped virtually every news organization in America to fabricate quotes insulting the US.
* A blurb on CNN read “Powell responds to UN insult of US.” In fact there was no insult of the US to respond to.
* The Washington Times removed “Western countries” from the quote to obfuscate the truth. They fabricated another quote reporting Egeland “told reporters that the United States has been ‘stingy.’”
From the Washington Times:
Soon after Powell announced a $15 million emergency assistance at a briefing in Washington Monday, Jan Egeland, the U.N. humanitarian aid chief, told reporters that the United States has been "stingy" in helping the victims.
"We were more generous when we were less rich. ... It is beyond me, why are we so stingy, really ... even Christmas time should remind many Western countries at least how rich we have become," said Egeland.
* Fox News O’Reilley stand in John Gibson invented several quotes in the December 29th, 2004 episode. He said, “One UN official called the US stingy” and later asked a guest if the “US is chintzy.” As is obvious, Egeland did not single out the US as “stingy” and never used the word “chintzy.”
The correct storyline for the US media is that the UN is reflexively anti American and ungrateful. The media invented quotes in the absence of real ones to stir up the proper indignation. But there is an obvious question worth answering; was Egeland right? Are “Western nations… stingy?” Egeland clearly criticized the general state of foreign aid from rich countries. Note that even as Powell took offense to Egelands remarks he more than doubled the amount of aid from the US to Indonesia. Is that a backhanded admission of guilt?
Consider the following juxtaposition.
* The initial survey of aid donated from Western countries was as follows; Japan $30,000, France $170,000, Australia $7.6 million, Britain $600,000, Canada $814,300, China $2.6 million, European Union $3.5 million, and the US initially pledged $15 million.
* The US allocated $3 billion for the Hurricane disaster relief fund in America. The number of US deaths from those four hurricanes was 124. In contrast the Indonesian tsunami may have killed over 100,000, sucked entire cities to sea, and wiped everything out on several islands. The initial aid packages are frankly, embarassing. The US dwarfed the other countries – but even $15 million is woefully inadequate. (For more see here.)
Egeland’s comments are clearly applicable for the Western response to the Indonesian catastrophe. However, Egeland was remarking on the overall foreign assistance packages of Western countries. To this issue we now turn. Juan Cole summarizes the aid as relates to GNP nicely.
Bush is an MBA, so he knows very well the difference between absolute numbers and per capita ones. Let's see Australia offered US $27 million in aid for victims of the tsunami. Australia's population is about 20 million. Its gross domestic product is about $500 billion per year. Surely anyone can see that Australia's $27 million is far more per person than Bush's $35 million. Australia's works out to $1.35 per person. The US contribution as it now stands is about 9 cents per person. So, yes, the US is giving more in absolute terms. But on a per person basis, it is being far more stingy so far. And Australians are less wealthy than Americans, making on average US $25,000 per year per person, whereas Americans make $38,000 per year per person. So even if Australians and Americans were both giving $1.35 per person, the Australians would be making the bigger sacrifice. But they aren't both giving $1.35; the Bush administration is so far giving an American contribution of nine cents a person.
The apparent inability of the American public to do basic math or to understand the difference between absolute numbers and proportional ones helps account for why Bush's crazy tax cut schemes have been so popular. Americans don't seem to realize that Bush gave ordinary people checks for $300 or $600, but is giving billionnaires checks for millions. A percentage cut across the board results in far higher absolute numbers for the super-wealthy than for the fast food workers. But, well, if people like being screwed over, then that is their democratic right.
Bush's underlining of the $2.5 billion he says the United States gave in emergency humanitarian aid last year annoyed the hell out of me. He said it was 40% of such monies given by the industrialized world. But the US is the world's largest economy, and neither on a per capita basis nor as a percentage of GDP is that very much money. Bush said "billion" as though it were an astronomical sum. But he spends a billion dollars a week in Iraq, without batting an eye. That's right. Two weeks of his post-war war in Iraq costs as much as everything the US spent on emergency humanitarian assistance in 2003 for all the countries in the world.
Conservative commentators have been quick to dismiss aid as a percentage of GNP, instead focusing on real dollars. It is irrational to look at economic generosity in anything other than percentages as relates to GNP. Comparisons are meaningless without a sense of scale. Someone who goes to Church as much as Bush does should know this, as they are supposed to tithe 10% of what they make, tithing obligations are not fixed on a dollar amount.
This is also why the 21 signatory countries (including the US) of UN Agenda 21 agreed that the goalpost of developmental aid as a percentage of GNP instead of a fixed dollar amount. In this respect, the US is next to last or dead last along with Japan. Further more, much of US aid is used as a political weapon.
It is accurate to say that the US probably does more than any single nation (the EU gives more than the US) because of the real dollar amounts, but it is inaccurate to say they are the most generous. Commentators have been quick to conflate the two distinctions. Bush reinforced the mistaken perception with his public statements.
I want my dresses
Refugees returned to Fallujah and found sewerage in the streets, bombed out homes, gun fights, and charred corpses. Things are so bad people are returning to squalid shelters in Baghdad. The US has a strict set of rules for living in Fallujah, no cars allowed, males must carry special identification cards at all time, a 6 PM curfew, no visitors, public gatherings are illegal, and visitors are banned. People are unable to take anything out of their homes because of a no looting policy. While the strict authoritarian and draconian rules are necessary to protect American troops, it is fairly obvious that the battle for hearts and minds is lost. Also remember that the demolition of Fallujah was not to break the insurgency, but to ready the country for election season.
From the LA Times:
Fox’s John Gibson called for a Cambodian style US bombing campaign over Syria for aiding the Iraqi insurgency. He noted while filling in for Bill O’Reilley on December 29, 2004 that “the army is stretched thin” but the “air force has time on their hands.” The only proof thus far that Syria is directly aiding the insurgency is a State Department press release reported by the AP and published in the NYT. Gibson inaccurately told one caller that the story came from the NYT.
Yasser Abbas Atiya swore he'd sooner sleep on the streets of his beloved hometown of Fallouja than spend another night in the squalid Baghdad shelter where his family had been squatting.
Thirty minutes after he returned home this week, however, Atiya had seen enough. He left in disgust and had no plans to go back.
"I couldn't stand it," the grocer said. "I was born in that town. I know every inch of it. But when I got there, I didn't recognize it."
Lakes of sewage in the streets. The smell of corpses inside charred buildings. No water or electricity. Long waits and thorough searches by U.S. troops at checkpoints. Warnings to watch out for land mines and booby traps. Occasional gunfire between troops and insurgents.
"I thought, 'This is not my town,' " Atiya said Tuesday after going back to the abandoned Baghdad clinic his family shares with nearly 100 other displaced Falloujans. "How can I take my family to live there?"
The initial clamor by an estimated 200,000 refugees to return to the homes they had fled last month is being replaced by a bitter resignation that the city remains largely uninhabitable and unsafe. Hopes of quickly restoring normality to the restive Sunni Muslim city are fading, raising questions about whether Fallouja will be ready to participate in the Jan. 30 national election.
But the effort to win the hearts and minds of the local population has fallen flat as soon as returning homeowners see the burned buildings, piles of rubble and heavy troop presence. The residents say voting is the last thing on their minds..
"What election?" Atiya, 35, asked. "I'm a refugee. How can a refugee take part in an election? Let me get back home and then I'll talk about elections."
After enduring three hours of military checkpoints and searches, Atiya and two brothers anxiously reentered the city Monday, uncertain what to expect.
U.S. troops handed them leaflets warning against a myriad of dangers and advising them that the U.S. military could not guarantee their safety. Don't drink the water, the leaflets warned, or eat food left behind.
Every resident is required to carry a small card outlining special new rules for the city. There's a 6 p.m. curfew. No weapons are allowed. Graffiti and public gatherings are illegal. Cars and visitors are banned.
Males between the ages of 15 and 55 must carry special identification cards. U.S. military officials have announced plans to use fingerprinting and retina scans to prevent insurgents from returning.
As Atiya and his brothers traveled through the city and saw the destruction, they braced for the worst. When he caught a glimpse of his roof, Atiya's first emotion was relief. The house was still there.
As they drew closer, however, Atiya and his brothers began to curse. A gaping hole in the two-story house appeared to have been caused by a tank, whose tracks were visible in the mud, he said. Most of the furniture was smashed. "Half my house was demolished," Atiya said.
In the kitchen, cabinets had been ripped from the walls, he said. Others were emptied of their contents, which lay in heaps on the floor.
"Every dish was broken, every cup, every plate, as if someone had just stood there breaking one dish after another," said Atiya's brother Raaid Abbas, 37. "Why?"
The brothers don't know who ransacked the house, but they blame American troops, who they say left muddy boot prints.
Military officials expressed sympathy with the plight of returning residents but said the blame should rest with militants who took control of the city and continued to hide among the population.
The brothers quickly determined that the house, where all three had been born, was uninhabitable. They had wanted to leave with some supplies, such as a kerosene heater, for use at the Baghdad shelter.But in an effort to prevent theft and looting, U.S. troops prohibited residents from removing property from the city. The most the brothers could do was sneak out some extra clothing, which they wore as they left.
When the brothers returned to Baghdad and recounted their stories, other Falloujans shook their heads in amazement.
"After I heard what they said, I'm not willing to go back," said Latif Jasim, 45.
Atiya broke the bad news to his wife and four children. His youngest daughter, Noora, 4, had trouble understanding why she couldn't return home. "I want my dresses," she said, hiding shyly behind an older brother.
I assume the “reports circulating in Damascus” are also from State Department. (Beware the passive voice.)
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Bush administration accused Syria on Tuesday of helping insurgents in Iraq by giving haven to elements of the deposed Saddam Hussein regime.
``And it is a problem that we think Syria needs to act to stop,'' State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said Tuesday.
Reports circulated in Damascus, meanwhile, that key support for the insurgents in Iraq was coming from a half brother of Saddam Hussein and Baath Party leaders in the Syrian capital.
Ereli said Syrian officials ``have done some things with respect to the border and working with the Iraqis to control the border.''
In a subsequent AP report Syria denied the charge.
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- Syria is responding with a mixture of bravado and denial to mounting accusations by the United States and Iraq that it's a staging ground for the Iraqi insurgency with key support coming from a half brother of Saddam Hussein and Baath Party leaders here.
Syria's Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa struck a defiant tone in an address at the annual meeting of leaders of the National Progressive Front -- the country's highest ruling body -- in the most extensive comments yet by a senior Syrian official on the subject.
``They accuse Syria of sending money and arms,'' he said, but the Iraqi people ``have plenty of money and arms and we are the ones who worry about the movement of arms from Iraq to Syria.''
The United States succeeded in occupying Iraq, ``but it has failed at everything else,'' Al-Sharaa said Monday. ``The problem is that the United States had thought it was making progress in Iraq. But it started to see a change in the past two months and therefore the campaign against Syria comes within the framework of the pressure the occupation forces in Iraq feel.''
In response to the stream of accusations, Syria has gone out of its way to try to demonstrate its innocence. Last month, it took journalists on an unusual tour of a section of its 380-mile border with Iraq, showing them bulldozers making a 4-yard-high barrier along the frontier and saying they were using round-the-clock patrols and new observation posts to try to stop foreign fighters from getting into Iraq.
Syria has also held talks with a U.S.-led coalition military delegation on the matter and is discussing with Baghdad what do to about Iraq money frozen from the Saddam regime -- estimated at $261 million stashed in Syrian banks
I have no way of knowing who is telling the truth, and don’t feel particularly compelled to trust Syria. But until a more rigourous investigation into the network of support is undertaken I don’t think it is rational call for a Cambodia style bombing based on the State Department’s accusations, who have presented no hard evidence and does not have a particularly unblemished record for telling the truth.