Category Archives: Policy

Elections 2001

Elections 2001

San Francisco Examiner


I told myself I wasn’t going to write a column about the elections or the Florida vote. What’s the point? Do you know a columnist who hasn’t? And won’t it be over before it’s printed? But dammed if the whole craziness doesn’t pull one in, like a sort of political Event Horizon, that bizarre zone bordering a Black Hole.

At first, the cynical part of me dismissed the media’s non-stop obsession as little more than proof of the late A.J. Leibling’s Second Law of Journalism: “There is an inverse relationship between the number of reporters at an event, and the importance of the event.”

But then the numbers began coming in: The TV audience for the returns was bigger than the audience for the last “Survivor” show. The bored voter index dropped from 48 percent to 17 percent. Want to start a conversation? Walk into a, 1) Grocery store; 2) Laundromat; 3) Elevator, and ask anyone, “So, what do you think about the election?” Instead of a shrug or a blank stare, you are likely to get a real discussion.

Media obsession, however, has not necessarily translated into good journalism.

First off, the job the networks did on election night played no small part in starting the whole mess. First CBS, ABC, NBC, and CNN called Florida for Gore, then reversed field, and finally stampeded for Bush when Fox News declared the Texas Governor the winner. Now it turns out George Bush’s first cousin, John Ellis, was at Fox’s helm, and in constant contact with the Republican campaign throughout the night. Fox apologized, and the other networks are conducting a review of their own conduct.

Second, the media has deep sixed what may be the real story of the Florida election: The systematic disenfranchisement of African-American voters and direct violations of the 1965 federal Voting Rights Act. In a November 14 letter, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) called on Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate what it called “substantial evidence” for systematic irregularities and discrimination in Black and Haitian precincts.

According to testimony gathered by the NAACP, thousands of African-Americans were denied the right to vote, required to show photo IDs when whites were not, and had polling places moved without forwarding addresses. Haitian Creole speakers were denied assistance, even though Florida law allows interpreters into the voting booths. In a number of cases, police demanded to see voter IDs.

The CBC letter also points to similar incidents in Virginia, North Carolina and Missouri. So far, however, the Black Caucus’ complaint has gone largely unreported. Given the closeness of the count in Florida, this hardly seems an issue the media should go silent around. Nor does one have to be paranoid to suggest that pre-election polls showing overwhelming preference by African-Americans for Gore over Bush might influence the behavior of certain overly partisan voting officials. Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris’ duel role as election arbiter and Bush For President state co-chair is a case in point.

Sooner or later, of course, all this will pass. Someone will be President, the public will change channels, and the media will go back to…what? The temptation will be more of the same: Four years of partisan bitterness, civil war and political gridlock leading up to a sequel in 2004: “The Bush vs Gore Rematch.”

Or the media can learn a very valuable lesson from this imbroglio: their audience is a lot more engaged with political issues than it thought. Americans are not apathetic or cynical, they’re ambivalent. With the campaign (and the candidates) we all just went through, who can blame them? But ambivalence is not disengagement.

Further, regardless of what finally happens in Florida, there are still some stories out there that ought not vanish down the memory hole when the dust settles.

First and foremost, was there an attempt to systematically disenfranchise minority voters in Florida, and other parts of the nation? Given that “minorities” now make up close to 30 percent of the population, and are a majority in California, that is not an abstract question

Secondly, what role did the media itself play in influencing the behavior of voters on election night?

Some serious sanity just might come out of all this craziness.

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Diversity and the press

Diversity and the press

San Francisco Examiner


In the wake of the election debacle in Florida, in particular the widespread disenfranchisement of African-American and Haitian voters, there are some hard questions the media needs to ask itself.

Why did the mainstream media first miss, and then bury, this story? Why was the focus on the infamous “butterfly” ballot in Miami, and not on the exclusion of thousands of legally registered Black voters, or the systematic harassment of voters in Black precincts? Imagine, if you will, that South Florida was Serbia, and Black voters were anti-Milosovic. Wouldn’t the press have portrayed “lost” registration forms, shuttered polling places, and heavy police presence as little more than a ham-fisted attempt to steal an election? How does the press see something in Serbia that it cannot see in South Florida?

For at least part of that answer, all the press has to do is gaze in the mirror. The image reflected back will be white, male, 32 years of age, college educated, Protestant, and middle-class. That is the portrait of the average journalist in the U.S., and very few of them (or the people who fit that profile) were blocked from casting votes this past November.

The press in this country has an ugly little secret: it isn’t even vaguely like the country it purports to cover. In 1968, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, commonly called the Kerner Report, took the media to task for its own racism. In Chapter 15, the Commission faulted the news media for “basking in a white world, looking out of it, if at all, with a white man’s eyes and a white perspective.” At the time, national minorities made up less than 1 percent of the media.

Chapter 15 was so searing an indictment, that the National Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) pledged to make newsrooms representative of the nation by the year 2000. It is now 33 years later, and with minorities making up about 27.5 percent of the country, it’s time to look at the report card.

Out of 54,000 newsroom employees nationwide, minorities make up 11.1 percent. The breakdown is: 5.1 percent African-Americans; 3 percent Latinos; 2 percent Asian; 1 percent Native Americans. Some 45 percent of the nation’s dailies have never had a minority reporter or editor.

And the situation is getting worse, not better. The National Assn. of Black Journalists recently charged that newsroom employment, “shows a decline in the percentage of African Americans employed by the nation’s mainstream newspapers.” It is much the same for Asians, Latinos and Native Americans. And how did the ASNE respond to all this? It moved the goal posts to 2025, and whined about a “lack of credentials” among minority journalists.

Whenever you hear the words “credentials,” “experience,” or “training,” reach for your Kerner Report. True, 87 percent of the entry level jobs in journalism are filled by people with B.A.s in journalism. But how then to explain the fact that minorities with B.A.s in journalism are three times more likely to be jobless than their white counterparts, and three times more likely to be part time? Wrong B.A. or wrong color?

Not that there isn’t a problem on the educational side. There are fewer than 500 minority journalism professors in the country, and most of them are not on a tenure track. This means there are very few teachers to mentor minority students, who start off in the hole to begin with. Experience with high school and college newspapers plays an important role in acceptance rates to journalism schools, not to mention entrance level jobs in the industry. But many minorities come from an economic class where working while going to school is a given. Holding a job and going to school doesn’t leave much time for extra-curricular activities like working for the school newspaper. The result in a sort of class triage, and as a result, high school and college newspapers across the country remain overwhelmingly white.

Besides being unfair and un-American, it makes for very bad journalism and the marginalization of stories concerning national minorities. How many readers know that both the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights are investigating charges by the NAACP and other civil rights organizations that there were massive violations of the Voters Rights Act on Election Day? That isn’t front-page news? The subject of thundering editorials?

Would increasing the number of minority reporters and editors solve all this? It would certainly help, but this is an institutional problem, not just an employment issue. Reporters don’t determine what stories get into a newspaper. As the press critic A.J. Liebling once commented, “reporters have all the independence of a piano key.” No matter how many reporters of color there are, if the owners and the higher-ups are all white, that will be the prism though which the news is filtered.

But all great changes begin with little things. Having your newsroom look like the nation is a good place to start.

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Dismantling Treaties

Dismantling Treaties

SF Examiner

July 18, 2001

Watching various representatives of the Bush Administration systematically dismantling more than 30 years of international arms agreements brings to mind the 18th Century Irish poem (and hopeful prayer) on the arrogance of Empire: “The winds have scattered, the world’s forgotten, Alexander, Caesar and all who held their sway. Behold, Tara is grass and Troy lieth low. And perchance the English their day will come.”

It did, as it came to Greece, Rome, Parthia, and all great empires, ancient and modern. For three centuries, Rome’s legions marched and ruled where they pleased; for a 100 years the sun never set on British soil. Today, the Italian military is more the butt of jokes than a force which struck fear from Scotland to Nubia, and England slowly drifts toward being a nation of fisherman once again. And when will our time come?

The U.S. presently has some 61 military bases scattered throughout 19 countries. We spend more on weapons and the military than all our allies and enemies put together. We have fleets of ships and aircraft and enough nuclear weapons to erase life from the planet. We can quite literally do almost anything we please. And in terms of international arms agreements, that is exactly what we are doing.

The Bush Administration has already made it clear that it intends to abrogate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty by violating Article VI, which bans the testing or deployment of any anti-missiles system at sea, in the air, or on land. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the Senate Arms Services Committee July 13 that, with regards to the ABM Treaty, the U.S. is “on a collision course. No one is pretending that what we’re doing is consistent with the treaty. We have got to withdraw from it or replace it.”

Since the ABM Treaty is the cornerstone of the Strategic Arms Reduction treaties (START I and II), we can also pretty much chuck the limit on warheads and missile launchers out the window. This limit was predicated on the fact that no one would build an interceptor system. Build an interceptor system and the gloves are off, as Russian President Vladimir Putin made clear last month.

But throttling the ABM Treaty is only part of what the White House has in mind. Wolfowitz also took aim at the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which has effectively halted the development of a new generation of smaller and more mobile nuclear warheads. Some 161 nations have ratified it, including 31 of the 44 nuclear or nuclear-potential countries. While the U.S. Senate refuses to approve the Treaty, the U.S. has agreed to abide by it. Wolfowitz, however, say the U.S. must “contemplate” a return to nuclear testing. Since the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is based on the fact that no one will test, and hence gain an advantage over an opponent, we can toss out that treaty as well. Not only will other countries acquire nuclear weapons if the Non-Proliferation Treaty bites the dust, but we will live in a world where miniaturized nuclear weapons will be the standard. You won’t need a suitcase to flatten San Francisco, just an overnight bag.

We have already dumped the Kyoto Agreement on global warming, refused to sign the anti-landmine treaty, won’t even consider being part of the International Criminal Court, are balking on an international treaty to trace small arms, and have even starting making noises about getting out the treaty banning chemical and biological warfare.

Won’t this alienate out allies? “Who cares?” says the White House. “Our legions can march where they will. Our gunboats can shell whomever we please. We will only be bound by treaties that serve our interests, and if the wogs don’t like it, we’ll give ‘em a taste of steel or a whiff of grapeshot.” Claudius and Wellington talked like that. It is the vocabulary of empire.

Empire is not a concept most Americans are very comfortable with. But as Chalmers Johnson argues in his recent book on American foreign policy, “Blowback,” it is time “for Americans to consider why we have created an empire—a word we shy away from—and what the consequences may be for the rest of the world and ourselves.”

An immediate consequence of our imperial thinking is that the world is very rapidly going to be a much more dangerous place, not just because of the absence of restraints on nuclear weapons, but the fear that empires always engender in others. This process has already begun. Last month the Group of Five, a coalition of Central Asian nations that formally made up the Soviet Union’s southern flank, invited the People’s Republic of China to join them in a discussion of mutual security issues. Right now the vulnerability of China’s 18 intercontinental ballistic missiles to the American ABM system, plus a beefing up of U.S. forces in the Pacific, is high on China’s worry list. In mid-July, the Army announced the basing of a “rapid strike brigade,” the US’s new fast deployment unit, in Hawaii. The U.S. will create four such units at a cost of $1 billion apiece over the next few years, and two will be deployed in the Pacific basin.

For the time being the U.S. can march the North Atlantic Treaty Organization right up to the borders of Russia. We can tell the world to eat carbon dioxide. We can shatter international arms treaties with impunity and dismiss the outcry at our actions with the conqueror Terrence’s dictum, “To the victor goes the spoils.”

But the world has forgotten Terrence and no longer trembles in the presence of Rome or London. Empires fall, in part, because human beings have an allergy to being ruled over or dictated to, in part because shortsighted acts have a habit of coming back to haunt one. That is why Johnson entitled his book “Blowback,” a term for the unintended consequences of a policy. Hence, the U.S. aids Islamic Mujadaheen in Afghanistan, members of which eventually blow up the World Trade Center and the USS Cole. We create a contra force in Nicaragua, members of which become major players in the international drug trade.

Neither the world nor ourselves can afford the egotism of Empire. The next “winds that scatter” may be of the thermonuclear variety.

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Democracy Goes South

Democracy Goes South



In the aftermath of Sept. 11, The Bush Administration’s rationale for why it all happened was: “They” (left undefined) hated “American democracy.” With the U.S. going into its second year of “the war against terrorism,” that democracy stuff has gone south awful fast.

At home, Attorney General John Ashcroft has pretty much shredded those sections of the Constitution having to do with legal protections and the presumption of innocence. Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi, both American citizens, have simply been locked away, possibly forever. No charges have been filed against them, no bail set, and neither are allowed to consult lawyers.

Remember when the Congress had to declare war? No longer. According to Vice-President Dick Cheney, the President doesn’t need Congress because Bush has “inherent presidential power to act” in defense of “vital national interests” that “comes from the Constitution and not Congress.”

George W. agrees. While the President says he thinks people have the right to “express their opinions…Americans needs to know…I’ll be making up my mind on how to best protect our country.” So much for the Constitution. Well, it was a fussy old document anyhow.

While the White House is briskly interring democracy at home, it is busily using the “war on terrorism” to bolster regimes whose general reaction to the word “democracy” is to reach for their Lugers.

This past July, the U.S. State Department weighed in on behalf of the Indonesian government and Exxon Mobil to try to derail an International Labor Rights Fund lawsuit in the province of Aceh by villagers who charge that troops guarding natural gas and oil pumping facilities routinely beat, rape, kidnap and murder the locals.

State Department legal advisor William Taft IV argued that the suit would have an “adverse impact on significant interests of the United States, including…the ongoing struggle against international terrorism.” Exxon Mobil is the world’s largest energy company, and the Aceh fields generate about $1 billion a year for the Indonesian government.

In one of the more bizarre aspects of the whole matter, Taft not only cited “the ongoing war against Al Qaeda and other dangerous terrorist organizations” as reason for dismissing the suit, but added competition from “China,” which he said would be “far less concerned with human rights abuses.” Huh?

A similar suit brought against the Rio Tinto mining company for poisoning areas of Papua New Guinea was dismissed when the State Department told the court that the suit would hurt American interests. The dismissal prompted Milt Rosenthal of the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights to charge that “The war on terrorism is now going to be used as a cover for all kinds of corporate malfeasance.”

Right on cue, Unocal, presently being sued for using forced labor to build a pipeline in Myanmar, asked the court to dismiss the suit on the same grounds. The arguments in the Exxon Mobil case are “equally applicable” to Unocal, company’s lawyers argue, and the suit would have “a chilling effect on investment and efforts to induce the home country to improve human rights.”

The Bush Administration is also using “the war on terrorism” to restart military aid to Indonesia, relying on the time worn canard that U.S. training will make the Indonesian military more sensitive to human rights. Given the track record of that organization—butchering 600,000 of its own citizens in 1965; murdering 200,000 East Timorese from 1975 to 1999; killing 6000 residents of Aceh, 2000 in the last year alone; suppressing an indigenous movement in Papua New Guinea—that will be a neat trick.

The Indonesians look at military ties as an opportunity to get more efficient at the business of killing people it doesn’t like, not as a chance to learn about human rights. “The highest priority is to support the effort to maintain our operational readiness,” Lt. Gen. Agus Widjpjo told the Financial Times, “As for human rights: Ask any Indonesian officer,’Do you need that kind of training?’ and he will say no.”

That sentiment is hardly restricted to the military. Early this year, President Magawati Sukarnoputri told military cadets that “you can do your duty without being worried about human rights.” She was right on target. All of the military officers charged with war crimes for the 1999 orgy of murder and destruction in East Timor were acquitted last month. The only person convicted was a civilian, thus perpetuating the myth that the rampage by Indonesian paramilitaries had nothing to do with the Army, when in fact the latter were armed and trained by the former.

No top ranked officers or civilians, even those named by the Indonesian Human Rights Commission, were ever charged with the rampage that killed more than 2,000 Timorese and destroyed 70 percent of the tiny nation’s infrastructure.

In her Aug.1 speech to the National Assembly, Sukarnoputri made it clear what her program would be to end the 26 year old fight by Aceh residents for greater control of the Province’s natural resources: “The government intends to take further actions to restore the peace in Aceh by crushing the armed separatist movement.” The $28 million the White House intends to funnel to the Indonesian police and an army special anti-terrorism unit will help her to do just that.

Throughout the Cold War, the only criteria for getting U.S. support was whether a country was sufficiently anti-Communist. Behind that screen we backed most of the major dictators and military regimes of the 20th Century, including Saddam Hussein. The “war on terrorism” has become the new screen, and behind it awful things are happening from Indonesia to Colombia.

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Caesar’s Wife

Caesar’s Wife

SF Examiner


There is a law in politics almost as old as the business itself. When one lays claim to the moral high ground, goes the saying, one should be “as Caesar’s wife: above reproach.” The Bush Administration inattention to that piece of wisdom is likely to cause it no end of trouble as it tries to cobble together an international coalition against terrorism.

When the US’s new United Nations Ambassador John Negroponte rose to praise that body’s Sept. 28 resolution on terrorism, reminding delegates that the action “obligates all member states to deny financing, support, and safe haven for terrorists,” his remarks were greeted with studied silence by Latin American delegates. It is hard to cheer when you’re gritting your teeth.

Twenty years ago, Negroponte was financing and supporting terrorist death squads in Honduras and providing “safe haven” for the Contras, who used sabotage and murder in their efforts to overthrow the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.

When Negroponte took over as U.S. Ambassador to Honduras in 1981, the outgoing Carter Administration appointee, Jack Binns, warned him that human rights abuses were on the rise. Negroponte not only ignored him, he oversaw a jump in U.S. military aid from $3.9 million in 1981 to $77.4 million in 1984. At the time, Honduras had no internal or external enemies, but was serving as the major launch pad for the U.S. backed Contra attacks. Locals dubbed the country the “USS Honduras.”

At the time Negroponte was denying human rights violations in Honduras, the military’s notorious Battalion 3-16, a secret unit trained by the CIA, and headed by Gen. Gustavo Alverez Martinez, a graduate of the U.S.’s School of the Americas, was kidnapping and murdering opponents of the government. Some 184 murders have been documented by human rights organizations, including American Jesuit priest Joseph Carney. According to a 1995 series in the Baltimore Sun exposing the U.S. role in training the Battalion, the unit used electric shock and suffocation as its favored interrogation technique, murdering prisoners afterwards.

Honduran Congressman Efrain Diaz Aarrivillaga told the Sun he took up the issue of Battalion 3-16 with Negroponte, but said the Ambassador’s attitude was one of “tolerance and silence.” Diaz told the Sun, “They needed Honduras to loan its territory more than they were concerned about innocent people being killed.”

Jose Miguel Vivanco, the director of Human Rights Watch/America, calls Negroponte the “ostrich ambassador,” who “never saw anything wrong. He never heard about any serious rights violations. It was like he was living in another country.”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had these reports before it when it approved Negroponte’s nomination Sept.14, but in the stampede to stand with the President, it chose not to pursue them. It is a decision the Senate may come to regret.

When the new UN Ambassador thunders about the damages inflicted on Americans by the New York and Washington attacks, the Nicaraguans and Salvadorans may remind him that the International Court of Justice in the Hague found the U.S. liable for $17 billion of damage inflicted on both countries during the Reagan Administration’s jihad in Central America.

When Negroponte points to the 6,000 plus deaths caused by the Sept. 11 terrorism, Central Americans may sit quietly, but it is doubtful they will forget the 200,000 lives lost during their U.S. sponsored civil wars or the two million refugees those conflicts engendered.

If Negroponte is a potential headache for the White House, Elliot Abrams, the newly appointed senior director for the National Security Council’s office for Democracy, Human Rights, and International Operations is a major migraine. Abrams was a key actor in the Iran-Contra business and convicted of lying about it to Congress in 1986. What he was never charged with was covering up mass murder, murder most foul.

In December, 1981, the U.S. trained Atlacalt Battalion rounded up the 900 residents of El Mazote in El Salvador and systemically murdered all but a few who escaped. They shot them with American M-16s, cut their throats, burned them alive, and machine gunned and macheted scores of children. The massacre was exposed by Ray Bonner of the New York Times and Alma Guillermoprieto of the Washington Post.

But their reports never received widespread circulation because Elliot Abrams covered up the atrocity. He lied, he spun, he whispered that Bonner and Guillermoprieto were rebel symps, and tossed out just enough smoke and intimidation that a timid press backed off the story. In the end it all came out when the UN Truth Commission carried out a painstaking reconstruction of the massacre in 1993. For the full story look at Mark Danner’s “The Truth About El Mazote” in the Dec. 6 New Yorker magazine

Abrams’ response to the Commission’s findings on El Mazote and that 85 percent of the 22,000 extra-legal murders in El Salvador were carried out by U.S. sponsored death squads in alliance with the Salvadoran military? “The (Reagan) Administration’s record on El Salvador is one of fabulous achievement.” And this is the man whom the world should listen to on democracy and human rights?

There are other terrorists whom the Bush Administration has unearthed and brought back into the fold as well. Keep an eye out for Otto Reich, the nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. As the former head of the State Department’s Latin America Office, he helped plant stories and opinion pieces praising the Contras in U.S. newspapers. It wasn’t just the stories that were phony, so were the authors. Reich’ office wrote them all. He also helped spring terrorist Orlando Bosch from a Venezuelan prison in 1987. Bosch was jailed for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban commercial airplane that killed 73 people.

This is the caliber of people making speeches about fighting terrorism these days. It’s enough to make the angels weep.

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Aid Scam

Aid Scam

Foreign Policy in Focus


By Conn Hallinan

The recent White House proposal to aid impoverished countries if they drop trade barriers and open their markets will substantially accelerate the misery index in Latin America and Africa, the main targets of the $5 billion plan.

Entitled the Millennium Challenge Account, the Administration says it will be doled out to countries like Senegal, Ghana, Bolivia and Honduras if they institute “sound fiscal policies,” including free trade for “American goods and services.”

But 15 years of free trade and open markets have inflicted ruinous damage on poor countries in Latin America and Africa. Added to the recently passed U.S. Agriculture Bill, such a course will make an already bad situation worse.

Look at the record.

Some 15 years of free markets in Latin America has produced an anemic growth rate of 1.5 percent, far less than the 4 percent required to alleviate poverty. The wreckage caused by neo-liberalism is strewn across the continent: Argentina recently defaulted on its international debt; Brazil is wrestling with a currency crisis brought on by debt; Uruguay’s economy is teetering; Chile’s unemployment rate is frozen at 10 percent; Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador are deep in economic crisis and sundered by social unrest.

These countries lowered their trade barriers and then were inondated with a flood of cheap, subsidized U.S. goods. Low cost Nebraskan corn, for instance, has largely replaced native Peruvian corn. It is not cheaper because Peruvian farmers don’t work hard, it is cheaper because U.S. taxpayer subsidies keep it 20 percent below world prices.

The situation is much the same in Mexico, where U.S. subsidized corn now claims 25 percent of the market. On Jan. 1, when duties on wheat, rice, barley, potatoes, dairy products, poultry, pork and beef are eliminated under the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexican agriculture is likely to suffer serious harm.

The Agriculture Bill grants $57 billion in direct subsidies to U.S. farmers, most to huge agri-giants. These subsidies encourage overproduction, and makes American crops cheaper than any in the world. U.S. wheat sells for 46 percent less than it costs to produce. Poor countries buy U.S. foodstuffs because they are cheaper than their own. But this puts tens of millions of small farmers in Latin America and Africa out of business, while running up huge foreign debts.

Since agriculture makes up 17 percent of the total economic activity in 48 Sub-Saharan nations—50 percent in some— there is little these countries can export to pay off that debt, and there is no way they can match the economic power of American subsidies. “This farm bill, I think it is fair to say, will put millions of small farmers out of business in Africa,” Mark Riche, president of the Institute of Agriculture policy in Minneapolis told the New York Times. “They will have to move to the cities and become part of the unemployed labor pools.”

The cycle of rising debt, chronic unemployment, and massive dislocations of rural populations is a time bomb that has already detonated in countries like Peru, where sewage system repairs were deferred in order to service a huge foreign debt. As farmers displaced by free trade poured into cities, the system collapsed, reintroducing cholera to millions of Latin Americans.

In Guatemala, the UN World Food Program says that 17 percent of children under five suffer from severe malnutrition, and chronic hunger has increased by a third throughout Central America.

While the White House totes the new plan as a “bonus,” over and above regular U.S. aid program, the latter are modest to begin with and, in any case, at a 50-year low. It is likely those programs will shrink even further. Administration officials told the New York Times that the proposal might spark cuts in “other forms of foreign assistance.” Given that the Administration is facing its own major debt problems, plus a possible war with Iraq, it is not at all unlikely that aid spending will be slashed.

Which means that desperately poor nations will compete for an aid pittance—$5 billion is the cost of 3 1/2 B-2 Stealth bombers—only if they agree to institute policies that are already impoverishing them.

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A New Foreign Policy

A New Foreign Policy

Dispatches From The Edge

Berkeley Daily Planet


Over the next four years the U.S. will confront several key foreign policy decisions. While the President and the executive branch—in particular the Departments of State and Defense—will play an important role in this, Congress has abrogated its constitutional responsibilities in the making of foreign policy. Here is Dispatches wish list for the coming administration.


Put a halt to North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) expansion. The recent Georgia-Russia War was a direct outcome of the misguided and provocative strategy of recruiting former members of the Soviet bloc into NATO. The Russians quite rightly see this as a potentially threatening military alliance and are justly angry with the Americans for breaking their promise not to recruit former Warsaw Pact nations into NATO.

The U.S. Congress must halt the deployment of U.S. anti-missile ballistic systems (ABM) in Poland and the Czech Republic. ABM’s will increase tensions in the region and put thousands of nuclear weapons on hair trigger alert. ABMs were not designed to stop attacks, but to absorb an enemy’s counterstrike following a first strike. First use of nuclear weapons is current U.S. military policy, so it is understandable why the Russians are deeply concerned. While the anti-missile system is supposedly aimed at Iran, Teheran has neither the delivery systems nor the weapons that could pose a threat to Europe. A group of American physicists recently concluded that the ABM’s are indeed aimed at the Russians.

A corollary to halting deployment the ABMs is to reverse the Bush Administration’s withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and to dismantle the current U.S. ABM system deployed in Alaska. These moves would not only reduce tensions in Europe, but with China as well.

The Middle East

The absolute chaos the Bush Administration has inflicted on this region of the world will take decades to repair, and the hostility that those policies have engendered will take decades to dissipate. But there are some immediate things that can be done to start the process:

A rapid withdrawal from Iraq. The argument that such a withdrawal would create chaos misses the point that the U.S. is the cause of the chaos. Current U.S. policy is to support the Shiite government of Noui al Maliki against the Sunnis and nationalist Shiites (who make up the majority of Shiites in Iraq) led by Muqtada al Sadr. As long as the U.S. remains, tensions between Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds will simmer without resolution. Might it explode into civil war? It might, but all the players have reasons to avoid one. In any case, the current occupation is no longer sustainable and the Iraqis want us out.

A nationwide ceasefire in Afghanistan—including ending cross-border attacks into Pakistan—and immediate negotiations with the Taliban. Tentative talks have already begun, but they must be expanded to include regional players, in particular Pakistan, Iran, China and Russia, all which border Afghanistan. The U.S. and NATO will have to recognize that there is no military solution to the Afghan War, a point France and Britain have already made. A “surge” of troops into Afghanistan will do nothing more than increase the number of civilian casualties and continue propping up a government that has no authority outside of Kabul’s city limits.

Indeed, the entire concept of the “war on terrorism” must be jettisoned. “Terror” is a tactic of the powerless against the powerful, it is not a vast worldwide conspiracy by a disciplined group with a common ideology. Elevating “terror” to the same level as a state-to-state conflict means fighting a forever war, with all of the vast expense, suffering, and erosion of rights that such an endeavor entails.

Justice for the Palestinian people, which must include an immediate renunciation of the Bush Administration’s support for West Bank settlements. Such settlements are a violation of international law and insure a never-ending battle between Palestinians and Israelis. The settlements must go and Jerusalem should be divided. Both sides have a legitimate claim to the city.

A new administration could begin by condemning the current wave of right-wing settler-instigated violence aimed at driving Palestinians out of Hebron, Acre, and other towns. The U.S. should publicly condemn the Israeli plan to build more than 1300 houses in East Jerusalem and the drive to dominate the West Bank. From 2006 to 2008, the settler population has grown from 250,000 to 300,000, not counting those in East Jerusalem.

There are a number of other initiatives the U.S. could take, from ending its political and economic blockades of Syria and Iran, to refraining from interfering in the internal affairs of Lebanon.


Current U.S. policy has created the single greatest humanitarian crisis on the continent: Somalia. While Sudan gets all the attention, according to the United Nations conditions in Somalia are far worse, because in 2006 the U.S. and its client, Ethiopia, overthrew the Islamic Courts Union (ISU), the umbrella organization that had finally brought peace to that war-torn country. Sudan is a long-term crisis with complex roots, but the Somalia crisis was made in the USA. The U.S. should end its support of Ethiopia’s occupation and call for an all-Somali peace conference with a prominent role for the ISU.

The U.S. should roll back the militarization of its African policies, including dissolving Africom, the military command recently created to fight “terrorism” and “insecurity” on the continent. No African country will host Africom, because they quite rightly see it as an extension of U.S. military power in the region. The U.S. is also currently training the armed forces of more than a dozen African countries, as well as selling arms on the continent. It also has a significant military presence in Djibouti. Africa needs aid, it does not need U.S. troops and more weapons.

Latin America

While it is doubtful the U.S. will renounce the 1823 Monroe Doctrine—which in any case is increasingly a dead letter— Washington must declare that it will no longer intervene in the internal affairs of Latin America.

To this end it must end its illegal blockade of Cuba, curb its hostility toward Venezuela and terminate its meddling in Bolivia. The U.S. should release CIA and U.S. Defense Department documents on the 2001 coup against President Hugo Chavez, so that all Americans can see what role the U.S. played in that debacle. The new administration might also want to read investigative journalist Jeremy Bigwood’s “New Discoveries Reveal U.S. Intervention in Bolivia” at for an update on what the National Endowment for Democracy, USAID and the American Embassy have been up to in the restive eastern provinces of that country.

Rather than reactivating its Latin American Fourth Fleet and building a new military base in Colombia, the U.S. should de-militarize its approach to the region. The Colombian government must be held accountable for the fact that it has done nothing to halt the murder of over 3,000 trade unionists, and for its documented ties to right-wing death squads. Support for land reform and a war on poverty in Latin America would do far more to curb the drug trade than U.S.-sponsored aerial spraying and counterinsurgency warfare.

The U.S. must realize that while it will always play a significant role in Latin America, it is no longer the only game in town. India, China, Russia, South Africa, and Iran are the new kids on the block, and south-south relationships are becoming as important for the continent as its traditional north-south ties.

Asia and the Pacific

The U.S. should recognize that the Pacific Ocean is no longer an “American lake.” To this end it needs to recognize that countries like China have legitimate economic, political and security interests in their own backyard. The push to ring China with military bases and sign countries like Japan, Australia and India onto the U.S. ABM system should stop. China is not a threat to the U.S., or to other nations in the region. For all its bombast aimed at Taiwan, Beijing has no intention of fighting a war with one of its major trade partners. It is far too busy making money.

The U.S. should immediately terminate the so-called 1-2-3 Agreement with India, which not only violates the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but also will ignite a nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan, two countries that came perilously close to a nuclear war in 1999.

The push to bring NATO into the Pacific Basin should be halt forthwith. NATO, originally created for Europe, has now metastasized into an international military alliance. The history of alliances is that they cause far more wars than they prevent, and the U.S., Canada and Europe have no business injecting their militaries into a region that is just beginning to come into its own.

There are any number of other areas that Dispatches cannot address here given space availability. Among these are whether the U.S. will strengthen the United Nations, join the war on global warming, recognize the International War Crimes Tribunal and close the illegal and immoral prison camp at Guantanamo.

It is time for the U.S. to end its adherence to the concept of the national security state. This is the claim that the U.S. reserves the right to intervene politically, economically and militarily into the affairs of other nations if we decide U.S. interests are at stake. Challenging the national security state will be a long fight, but in the end, ending it is central to everything listed above.

And Nov. 5 is a good time to begin.

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