2005 - %3, September

Selling Off Iraq

| Thu Sep. 1, 2005 3:26 PM EDT

Herbert Docena has an interesting piece in the Asia Times, looking at how the United States worked behind the scenes to shape Iraq's draft constitution into the neo-liberal document that it is today; one that, in particular, all but requires Iraq to enforce the laws enacted under the CPA that "give foreign investors equal rights with Iraqis in the domestic market; permit the full repatriation of profits; institute the flat tax system; abolish tariffs; enforce a strict intellectual property rights regime; sell off a whole-range of state-owned companies; reduce food and fuel subsidies; and privatize all kinds of social services..." (Indeed, looking at the various drafts side by side, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad managed to catch and strip out an article from an early version that read, "Social justice is the basis of building the society..." The Iraqi drafters, however, seem to have defeated Khalilzad's efforts to limit universal health care.)

Now I've been told before that this old Heritage Foundation paper, entitled "The Road to Economic Prosperity in a Post-Saddam Iraq," garnered a lot of attention in Washington back in the day, and looking through it again, it seems to have formed the basis for Khalilzad's attempts to shape the new constitution. Whether Iraq actually becomes a neoliberal state is another matter—certainly there are many religious leaders who condone no such thing. On the merits, it's pretty obvious that the Arab Socialist model has failed throughout the Middle East—in Egypt and Syria for instance—for a variety of reasons related to corruption and inefficiency. Still, it's possible to go too far in the other direction, and judging by its union-busting efforts of late, the new Iraqi government seems inclined to do just that. Dangerously, though, the inequality that comes with any move to open things up and privatize away will probably mean that there will be a lot of economically marginalized Iraqis who have nothing better to do but start shooting and blowing up stuff for many years to come. On the bright side, foreign oil companies are now free to start buying up assets...

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In It Together?

| Thu Sep. 1, 2005 1:30 PM EDT

Yesterday, when Jonah Goldberg over at the Corner wrote this

Several readers complain that it's in fact true that the hurricane will disproportionately affect poor people. I don't really dispute that in the sense most mean it. Yes, the poor will have special hardships. Obviously so. But what I objected to, and still object to, is the reflexive playing of the class card. Is it really true that some middle class retirees who heeded the advice of the government to leave town, only to watch their homes be looted after a lifetime of hardwork for a better life are suffering less than a poor person who lost his rented apartment?

—there wasn't much to say except, "Eh, it's the National Review." But now Jack Shafer of Slate points out that anyone watching TV coverage of Hurricane Katrina is likely to labor under the same confusion:

I don't recall any reporter exploring the class issue directly by getting a paycheck-to-paycheck victim to explain that he couldn't risk leaving because if he lost his furniture and appliances, his pots and pans, his bedding and clothes, to Katrina or looters, he'd have no way to replace them. No insurance, no stable, large extended family that could lend him cash to get back on his feet, no middle-class job to return to after the storm.

Right—it may seem odd that these things need spelling out, but as Goldberg's quote above shows, they really do. Add onto the list of Shafer's concerns the fact that, as public health and disease become increasingly important issues in New Orleans and Mississippi, the poor are the least likely to have access to care. The inevitable shortage of medicine and vital drugs—something as simple as insulin, for instance—in the post-hurricane period will likewise hit the poor the hardest, and people will die if nothing is done. Meanwhile, as the reconstruction process continues, health facilities and other social services in poorer neighborhoods are likely to be the last to be rebuilt. And so on and so on.

It's so especially critical that the media reports these things because otherwise, no one else will think of them. But Shafer's right: "When disaster strikes, Americans—especially journalists—like to pretend that no matter who gets hit, no matter what race, color, creed, or socioeconomic level they hail from, we're all in it together." That's just not true. And perpetuating that myth only leads to further confusion, like the big media "mystery" that not everyone in the city could just shell out $3,000 and leave New Orleans for a few months.

Too Little, Too Late

Thu Sep. 1, 2005 11:31 AM EDT

Forgive me for playing the blame game but I am angry. I was angry before Katrina pounded New Orleans as the media calmly reported the "touching" personal stories of families who paid up to $3,000 to flee the city. I was angry at the images of those too impoverished to be able to afford to leave the city – New Orleans' poor, black community – as they filed into the Superdome to await their fate. I was angry yesterday when I heard that New Orleans was only just now being evacuated – a move that should have happened last week before the storm ever hit.

And I was angry last night to see the hypocrisy of President Bush flying over the area to express his shock and horror, knowing that in the last few years he and Congress have repeatedly cut federal funding for hurricane and flood protection to the city.

People may think it is inappropriate to play the blame game now when hundreds of bodies are being found dead. But it is not inappropriate. It is not inappropriate to point fingers knowing that this disaster was preventable. It is not inappropriate to point fingers knowing that the busses evacuating people from the city now could have been sent in before the hurricane hit, saving hundreds – maybe thousands – of lives. It is not inappropriate knowing that when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asked for $27 million this year to help pay for increased hurricane protection improvements, that Bush responded by offering only $3.9 million.

Now whatever sympathy New Orleans residents receive, its too little too late. The damage has been done. And Congress and President Bush and people all over the country will try to alleviate their guilt by offering a meager handout saying, "We're so sorry you couldn't afford to leave. We're so sorry you didn't have a car. We're so sorry you could hire someone to drive you to higher ground."

And what will these handouts do? What will happen to the people in the Lower Ninth Ward, one of the hardest hit areas of the city? These people were already among the poorest in the nation, with over 36% classified as below the poverty level. Over half the population in this ward wasn't even in the workforce because they had given up looking for work. Now they will have lost everything they had. How will federal disaster dollars and charitable donations help them?

EDIT: I should note that what really matters in all of this is now becoming clear: the mayor has order 1,500 police to stop rescuing people and start going after looters. Because, after all, that would be the real tragedy in all of this if some Wal-Mart lost their property.