Daily MoJo


Bush’s Scripted Safari
Bush’s trip to Africa: Hypocrisy or welcome relief?

False Start
A Republican bill could cheat pre-schoolers out of medicine and meals.

Still Sexed-Up
A House of Commons report in Britian shakes its finger at the Blair administration.

Bush’s Scripted Safari
George W. Bush began his first official trip — or as African pundits are calling it, his “well-scripted African safari” — to the African continent today. He will visit Senegal, South Africa, Botswana, Uganda, and Nigeria. Leaving behind his cowboy persona and putting forward a more compassionate side, Bush is taking the junket to Africa as an opportunity to pledge to fight poverty and disease as well as to foster democracy.

Bush is hugely unpopular among most African people, and former South African president Nelson Mandela has arranged to be away for the entirety of Bush’s visit. It remains to be seen whether Bush’s bite will match his bark, in Africa. Many advocates are already accusing the his administration of spin and hypocrisy. Washington’s compassion, they argue, is exploitative and callous. The Straits Times reports:

‘We find US policy sorely lacking and we find the Africa trip lacking in substance,’ said Mr Salih Booker, executive director of Africa Action, a Washington-based advocacy group.

‘Is this a trip to demonstrate American compassion and a sophisticated understanding of Africa’s challenges…or is this trip a callous manipulation of African suffering to present a US that is more generous and caring than it really is?’

During his tour, Bush plans to focus on Africa’s “success stories” like Uganda’s anti-AIDS programs, Botswana’s political stability, and South Africa’s emergence from apartheid. But he is steering clear of war-torn countries like Liberia and the Congo, and ironically — this year’s summit of the African Union. Critics charge that Bush is not only avoiding the summit himself, but also pulling key leaders away from it. News 24 reports:

“‘Isn’t it ironic that of all the places on the Bush agenda, Bush is not going to the one meeting that is bringing together all of Africa’s heads of state,’ said Emira Woods of the Foreign Policy in Focus think-tank.

‘He has chosen instead to pull key leaders away from this Africa-focused summit and direct their attention to more narrowly focused US interests.'”

Although Bush maintains that Africa’s “successes” will remain at the heart of the discussion, many question his real intent. With Nigeria — the thirteenth largest oil producer in the world — on Bush’s itinerary, some argue that Bush’s hankering for Africa’s oil resources may be what’s really at the heart of the African tour. Reuters reports:

“A rethinking under the Bush administration has hoisted Africa higher on the ladder of U.S. strategic interests.

Oil lies at the heart of that reassessment because of risks to traditional U.S. supplies from the Gulf and Middle East. Analysts say Africa’s share of U.S. oil imports has grown to some 17 percent and may climb to 25 percent.”

With the Middle East’s volatile situation, CNN writes, talks about Africa’s oil resources are becoming increasingly important:

“Gus Selassie, a South African analyst at the World Market Research Center, said: ‘With the Middle East continuing to remain volatile it is important for the U.S. national interest to source its oil from other less volatile regions and Africa is one of those and becoming more significant.’

Nigeria will perhaps provide the focus for any talks on oil. “

Bush’s funding plan to fight the AIDS epidemic in Africa is also under fire. Critics argue that the $15 billion pledge is simply money that is being sidetracked away from the Global Fund for Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. According to the Christian Science Monitor’s Nicole Itano, the money is being funnelled directly into the countries receiving the aid instead of through the Global Fund — thus complicating the process and phasing the money in slowly:

“[C]ritics question whether the pledge will be fully funded since the president only asked for about $1.5 billion in next year’s budget, rather than the $3 billion that was expected in order to meet his five-year, $15 billion target. They also complain that instead of contributing all the money to the Global Fund, they are complicating things by sending funds directly to the countries.

‘They’re phasing the money in very slowly and undermining the Global Fund,’ says Paul Zeitz, head of Global AIDS Alliance, a nonprofit group based in Washington. ‘There are 25 million people who have already died, 3 million dying each year, and 8,000 a day. You don’t go slow. We’re already way behind on this.'”

The Editors of The Post argue that Bush’s interests in Africa are not humanitarian acts of goodness. Rather, they say, the visit is another example of Washington muscling the world into submission:

“President George Bush’s visit to Africa is not about promoting democracy, peace and the economic well-being of the peoples of this continent.

Instead, we know that his visit is aimed at laying the basis for thorough-going and enduring United States military and economic hegemony all over the world.”

False Start
Educators and Head Start officials are worried that a new Republican-backed bill could gut the nation’s longstanding program to help underprivileged pre-schoolers prepare for school. By changing the regulations on how funds reach kids, the bill, now in the House, could take money away from the children it’s supposed to help. A Republican-backed bill in the House would weaken the federal standards for the Nation’s Head Start Program, and could result in a weaker state-run programs. The program provides health care, education, and meals to underprivileged youngsters. The Bush administration has proposed a “reauthorization” of the federal Head Start program, citing findings of a Health and Human Services report which claims that Head Start children are not improving enough to compete with their middle class counterparts.

But Head Start advocates assert that the report’s findings have been misrepresented, and worry that looser restrictions would result in lower standards for the program. Head Start supporters also argue that the bill’s proposal to merge state and federal funds, at a time when most states are already coping with budget crises, could cause states to divert funds meant to help low-income kids. The already strapped states might pool the funds meant for Head Start with other programs, reports Lily Hindy of Newsday.

The Children’s Defense Fund, a leading opponent to the House bill, believes that giving control of Head Start to the states would threaten the rigorous performance standards mandated by the program’s current federal guidelines. The Fund issued a report strongly critical of the bill’s proposal to let eight states run funding of the program in a “demonstration project,” reports Ruth Schubert of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

The proposal comes at a time when states are facing huge budget deficits, amounting to between $70 billion and $85 billion for the 2004 fiscal year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,” Schubert writes. And states already struggle to meet the needs of low-income children with the resources already provided — a Save Head Start press release reports that less than 23 percent of all Head Start-eligible Latino children in the US are served by the current program, according to the National Head Start Association’s analysis.

The main point, write the editors of the Washington Post, is that “most of what Head Start really needs — higher academic standards, better-educated teachers and the ability to reach more children — will cost more, not less.” While the House’s Committee on Education has tempered the President’s initial proposal (Bush originally wanted to turn the funds over entirely to the states, no questions asked), Head Start supporters maintain that many states’ economic slumps, combined with loosened Head Start restrictions, will only spell trouble for the more than million children who depend on the Head Start program. Whatever the final version of the bill reads, the Post’s editors assess, “Congress must also ensure that the final version of the bill makes clear that the government’s intention is not to ‘water down’ Head Start’s standards or eliminate its family and health services but to preserve them.”

Still Sexed-Up
While the American media and congress haven’t yet fully turned up the heat on the Bush administration’s possible manipulation of evidence of weapons of mass destruction, in Britain, America’s best ally in the war is facing down a more and more heated scandal.

On Monday the British media was fussing over the newly released Foreign Affairs Committee Report, which criticized the Blair administration for putting too much weight on shabby intelligence reports. The committee found that announcing Iraq’s supposed ability to deploy biological weapons in 45-minutes was inappropriate since this alarming evidence was based on one uncorroborated source.

The committee members were split on the issue of whether media chief Alastair Campbell had actually changed evidence on Iraq’s WMD status, but the final report stated: “On the basis of the evidence available to us Alastair Campbell did not exert or seek to exert improper influence on the drafting of the September dossier.”

Campbell was quick to claim the opportunity to clear his name, calling on the British Broadcasting Corporation to apologize for a report which finds that Campbell “sexed up” evidence on Iraq’s supposed WMDs.

But the BBC did no such thing, choosing instead to stand by its reports. In a statement on the BBC website, the agency gives itself a big pat on the back and takes credit for instigating the WMD row in Britain.

“It is because of BBC journalism that the problems surrounding the 45 minute claim have come to light and been given proper public attention.”

Meanwhile, the governmental committee’s report has not yet determined whether the Blair admin’s general assessment on Iraq’s threat was accurate.

While some in Britain are using the report to criticize the BBC for all possible sins, others are wondering why the debate has shifted from WMDs to Blair v. the BBC. Andrew Marr of the BBC — who, granted, has a stake in the matter — suggests Campbell is trying to use the scandal to distract the public from the meat of the issue of WMD evidence.

“There is no doubt that Mr Campbell is genuinely furious. MPs, including the former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, believe that he has played a brilliant diversionary tactic by making this a story about his fight with the BBC, rather than the missing weapons of mass destruction.”

Marr continues his interrogation to pose another question: If Campbell didn’t soup up the WMD report, then who did? The British intelligence service? Rod Liddle of the Guardian cites the latest opinion polls and ventures that the British public is not convinced by Campbell’s protestations of innocence.

“There is not the slightest doubt in my mind — nor, I suspect, in the collective mind of the overwhelming majority of British people — that this government misled both parliament and the electorate about the nature and gravity of the threat posed by Iraq”

Whether or not the Blair admin lied outright or not, Liddle argues that the evidence given in defense of a pre-emptive strike against Iraq was meant to convince a skeptical public. He continues:

“Simply put, the prime minister did not attempt to present to the rest of us disinterested evidence compiled by disparate, well-informed sources. He wished only to convince us, by hook or by crook, and quite often the latter, that we should bomb Baghdad as soon as possible.”

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