“The people of Iraq are free,” declared U.S. President George W. Bush in Tuesday’s State of the Union. The day before, 100,000 Iraqis begged to differ. They took to the streets of Baghdad shouting “Yes, yes to elections. No, no to selection.”
According to Iraq occupation chief Paul Bremer, there really is no difference between the White House’s version of freedom and the one being demanded on the street. Asked Friday whether his plan to form an Iraqi government through appointed caucuses was headed towards a clash with Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s call for direct elections, Bremer said he had no “fundamental disagreement with him.”
It was, he said, a mere quibble over details. “I don't want to go into the technical details of refinements… There are — if you talk to experts in these matters — all kinds of ways to organize partial elections and caucuses. And I'm not an election expert, so I don't want to go into the details. But we've always said we're willing to consider refinements.”
Don't think and drive.
That was the message sent out by the FBI to roughly 18,000 law enforcement agencies on Christmas Eve. The alert urged police pulling over drivers for traffic violations, and conducting other routine investigations, to keep their eyes open for people carrying almanacs. Why almanacs? Because they are filled with facts — population figures, weather predictions, diagrams of buildings and landmarks. And according to the FBI Intelligence Bulletin, facts are dangerous weapons in the hands of terrorists, who can use them to "to assist with target selection and pre-operational planning."
But in a world filled with potentially lethal facts and figures, it seems unfair to single out almanac-readers for police harassment. As the editor of The World Almanac and Book of Facts rightly points out, "The government is our biggest single supplier of information." Not to mention the local library: A cache of potentially dangerous information weaponry is housed at the center of almost every American town. The FBI, of course, is all over the library threat, seizing library records at will under the Patriot Act.
Contrary to all predictions, the heavy doors of “Old Europe” weren’t slammed in James Baker’s face as he asked forgiveness for Iraq’s foreign debt. France and Germany appear to have signed on, and Russian is softening its line.
Just last week, there was virtual consensus that Baker’s Drop the Debt Tour had been maliciously sabotaged by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, whose move to shut out non- “coalition partners” from $18.6-billion in Iraq reconstruction contracts seemed designed to make Baker look like a hypocrite.
Only now it turns out that Wolfowitz may not have been undermining Baker at all, but rather acting as his enforcer. He showed up with a big stick — the threat of economic exclusion from Iraq’s potential $500-billion reconstruction — just when Baker was about to speak softly.
It's 8:40 am and the Sheraton Hotel ballroom thunders with the sound of plastic explosives pounding against metal. No, this is not the Sheraton in Baghdad, it's the one in Arlington, Virginia. And it's not a real terrorist attack, it's a hypothetical one. The screen at the front of the room is playing an advertisement for "bomb resistant waste receptacles": This trash can is so strong, we're told, it can contain a C4 blast. And its manufacturer is convinced that given half a chance, these babies would sell like hotcakes in Baghdad — at bus stations, Army barracks and, yes, upscale hotels. Available in Hunter Green, Fortuneberry Purple and Windswept Copper.
In December, 1990, U.S. President George Bush Sr. traveled through South America to sell the continent on a bold new dream: "a free trade system that links all of the Americas." Addressing the Argentine Congress, he said that the plan, later to be named the "Free Trade Area of the Americas" would be "our hemisphere's new declaration of interdependence ..... the brilliant new dawn of a splendid new world.
Last week, Bush’s two sons joined forces to try to usher in that new world by holding the FTAA negotiations in friendly Florida. This is the state that Governor Jeb Bush vowed to “deliver” to his brother during the 2000 presidential elections, even if that meant keeping many African-Americans from exercising their right to vote. Now Jeb was vowing to hand his brother the coveted trade deal, even if that meant keeping thousands from exercising their right to protest.
Cancel the contracts. Ditch the deals. Rip up the rules.
Those are a few suggestions for slogans that could help unify the growing movement against the occupation of Iraq. So far, activist debates have focused on whether the demand should be for a complete withdrawal of troops, or for the United States to cede power to the United Nations.
But the "Troops Out" debate overlooks an important fact. If every last soldier pulled out of the Gulf tomorrow and a sovereign government came to power, Iraq would still be occupied: by laws written in the interest of another country, by foreign corporations controlling its essential services, by 70 percent unemployment sparked by public sector layoffs.
Any movement serious about Iraqi self-determination must call not only for an end to Iraq's military occupation, but to its economic colonization as well. That means reversing the shock therapy reforms that US occupation chief Paul Bremer has fraudulently passed off as "reconstruction" and canceling all privatization contracts flowing from these reforms.
When massive political protests forced Bolivia’s president to resign last week, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada fled to a place where he knew he would find a sympathetic ear. “I’m here in Miami trying to recover from the shock and shame,” the ex-president told reporters on Saturday, after being unseated by a revolt against his plan to sell the country’s gas to the U.S.
Fortunately for Mr. Sanchez de Lozada, there are plenty of other Miami residents who know just how shocking and shameful it feels to lose power to a left-wing resurgence in Latin America. So many, in fact, that he could form a local support group for suffers of post-revolutionary stress disorder.
Possible members: Venezuela’s ex-president Carlos Andres Perez, who started living part-time in Miami after he was impeached in 1993 on corruption charges, as well as fellow Venezuelan-Miamista Carlos Fernandez, one of the leaders of the failed coup against President Hugo Chavez. Ecuador’s ex-president Gustavo Noboa might also stop by, since he tried to flee to Miami in August to avoid a corruption investigation at home.
Fighting AIDS was supposed to show George W. Bush's softer side. "Seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many," he said in his State of the Union address this past January.
He has since reconsidered, deciding instead to offer a few more opportunities to the few. First he handed the top job of his Global AIDS initiative to a Big Pharma boss, then he broke his $3 billion promise of AIDS relief and now there are concerns that he may sabotage a plan to send cheap drugs to countries ravaged by AIDS.
This past August, the World Trade Organization announced a new deal on drug patents that was supposed to give poor countries facing health problems the right to import generic drugs. But the deal seemed unworkable: the United States, at the behest of the pharmaceutical lobby, had successfully pushed for so many conditions that the agreement exploded from a straightforward fifty-two words to a sprawling 3,200-word maze.
It used to be that if there was one thing you could count in matters of international trade, it was the desperation of the poor. No matter how bad the deal, it was always better than nothing.
But all of a sudden, poor countries are busting up trade rounds, standing up to the International Monetary Fund, and turning down foreign investment. What’s going on? Is it possible that when you’ve lost enough, desperation turns into defiance?
Take the people of Esquel, a small city in Southern Argentina. A year ago, the U.S-Canadian gold mining company Meridian purchased Britain’s Bancote Holdings, which owned a gold deposit in Esquel estimated at (U.S.) $1-billion. The time seemed to be right to build a huge open pit mine: gold was selling high and Argentina, with its ravaged economy, was selling low.
The company informed the city of Esquel that it was about to be the lucky recipient of 400 mining jobs. It slapped together an Environmental Impact Assessment, assured the community that using 2700 kg of cyanide a day was no riskier than driving to work, and got ready to start digging.
On Monday, seven anti-privatization activists were arrested in Soweto for blocking the installation of prepaid water meters. The meters are a privatized answer to the fact that millions of poor South Africans cannot pay their water bills.
The new gadgets work like pay-as-you-go cell phones, only instead of having a dead phone when you run out of money, you have dead people, sickened by drinking cholera-infested water. On the same day South Africa's "water warriors" were locked up, Argentina's negotiations with the International Monetary Fund bogged down. The sticking point was rate hikes for privatized utility companies. In a country where 50 percent of the population is living in poverty, the IMF is demanding that multinational water and electricity companies be allowed to increase their rates by a staggering 30 percent.
At trade summits, debates about privatization can seem wonkish and abstract. On the ground, they are as clear and urgent as the right to survive.