'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

2 For the Price of 1 


Yesterday, in the Guardian:

David Cameron is on course for a possible general election win, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today that shows support for the Conservatives climbing to a lead that could give them a narrow majority in the Commons, while Labour has plunged to a 19-year low.

The Tories have gained over the last month while support for Labour has fallen heavily in the wake of the recent alleged terror plot against airlines. An overwhelming majority of voters appear to pin part of the blame for the increased threat on Tony Blair's policy of intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mistrust of Blair and the Labor government is pandemic:

The findings will shock many at Westminster who had expected Labour to gain ground following John Reid's high-profile handling of the alleged plot against transatlantic airlines. Carried out over the past weekend, following the series of terror arrests, the poll shows voters do not believe the government is giving an honest account of the threat facing Britain. Only 20% of all voters, and 26% of Labour voters, say they think the government is telling the truth about the threat, while 21% of voters think the government has actively exaggerated the danger.

Meanwhile, in the United States:

The arrest of terror suspects in London has helped buoy President Bush to his highest approval rating in six months and dampen Democratic congressional prospects to their lowest in a year.

In a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday, support for an unnamed Democratic congressional candidate over a Republican one narrowed to 2 percentage points, 47%-45%, among registered voters. Over the past year, Democrats have led by wider margins that ranged up to 16 points.

Now 42% of Americans say they approve of the job Bush is doing as president, up 5 points since early this month. His approval rating on handling terrorism is 55%, the highest in more than a year.

The boost may prove to be temporary, but it was evidence of the continuing political power of terrorism.

Additional comment is superfluous, isn't it?


In Afflicted Powers, the authors, Iain Boal, T. J. Clark, Joseph Matthews and Michael Watts, characterize this phenomena:

. . . It is only as part of this neoliberal economic firmament, as which a dominant capitalist core begins to find it harder and harder to benefit from "consensus" market expansion or corporate mergers and asset transfers, that this new preference for the military option makes sense. Military neo-liberalism seems to us a useful shorthand for the new reality; but in a sense the very prefix "neo" concedes too much to the familiar capitalist rhetoric of renewal. For military neo-liberalism is no more than primitive accumulation in disguise.

With Iraq proving itself a more difficult opportunity for such activity than anticipated (see Naomi Klein's seminal article, Baghdad: Year Zero: Pillaging Iraq in search of a neocon utopia), the field has been expanded to include Lebanon:

Lebanon's 15-year economic and social recovery from civil war was wiped out in the recent Israeli offensive against Hezbollah, the UN development agency has said.

"The damage is such that the last 15 years of work on reconstruction and rehabilitation, following the previous problems that Lebanon experienced, are now annihilated," said Jean Fabre, a spokesman for the UN Development Programme (UNDP) on Tuesday.

Lebanon's relatively healthy progress towards the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals, which cover a range of social and economic targets, "have been brought back to zero," he told journalists.

"Fifteen years of work have been wiped out in a month."

Fabre estimated that overall economic losses for Lebanon from the month-long conflict between Israel and Hezbollah totalled "at least 15 billion dollars, if not more".

As a result, the country lacks the ability to fulfill basic human needs for survival:

The most urgent issues are the need for clean water and sanitation and to clear unexploded munitions, relief agencies said Tuesday.

Underground waterpipes and sewers were destroyed in 10 out of 12 war-struck communities visited by the UN Children's Fund in recent days, and a similar scale of damage was reported elsewhere.

"Everywhere we go... everybody is talking about water and the need for it," said Paul Sherlock, a UNICEF water specialist.

To stave off more immediate needs, 100,000 litres of bottled water will be delivered every week to villages in southern Lebanon where thousands of people have tried to return to their homes, the agency said.

Meanwhile, temporary water tanks will gradually be set up in Nabatiyeh and villages along the Israeli border until water systems are restored.

"There's a huge job to be done on the infrastructure," Sherlock said.

"But access to water also runs into the problem with unexploded ordnance, because you have to dig among the rubble to sort pipework out, so it's a very dangerous game right now," he added.

At least five Lebanese children were killed in recent days when they picked up unexploded munitions, and more than a dozen have been injured, UNICEF said.

No need to worry, though, G-8 donors are riding to the rescue:

Upcoming donor meetings to raise funds for rebuilding war-damaged Lebanon could be an opening for Western lenders to look for fresh commitments from Beirut to resume politically difficult economic reforms.

Lebanese officials say the 34-day Israeli war against Hizbollah guerrillas will erase growth this year and increase the country's already massive public debt load, which has been rolled over thanks to economic support from the Arab world.

An August 31 donor meeting in Sweden will seek to raise immediate reconstruction funds for the estimated $3.6 billion in war damages and will likely be followed by a later meeting in Beirut for wider economic support.

The country was growing at a healthy 6 percent before the war broke out on July 12 but Lebanese politicians have bickered for months over draft reform plans, especially the privatization of the power and telecommunications sectors, higher taxes and lower spending.

Western lenders are signaling they are willing to help with overall economic support if Lebanon agrees to adopt reforms, possibly seeking an International Monetary Fund program as a signal of its commitment to reform and to frame how donor money could be best used.

The enthusiasm for IMF involvement is telling, if one recalls recent analysis by Gabriel Kolko:

. . . the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been undergoing both a structural and intellectual crisis. Structurally, its outstanding credit and loans have declined dramatically since 2003, from over $70 billion to a little over $20 billion today, leaving it with far less leverage over the economic policies of developing nations--and even less income than its expensive operations require. It is now in deficit.

A large part of the IMF's problems are due to the doubling in world prices for all commodities since 2003 -- especially petroleum, copper, silver, zinc, nickel, and the like -- that the developing nations traditionally export. While there will be fluctuations in this upsurge, there is also reason to think it may endure because rapid economic growth in China, India, and elsewhere has created a burgeoning demand that did not exist before, when the balance-of-trade systematically favored the rich nations.

Kolko identifies the alarming consequences:

As early as 2003 developing countries were already the source of 37 percent of the foreign direct investment in other developing nations. China accounts for a great part of this growth, but it also means that the IMF and rich bankers of New York, Tokyo, and London have far less leverage than ever. Growing complexity is the order of the world economy that has emerged in the past decade, and with it has come the potential for far greater instability, and dangers for the rich.

Kolko's article is fascinating, and well worth reading in its entirety, which you can do through the link provided. While it is certainly a stretch to say that the G-8 actively instigated this war (although certainly not nearly so much if one limits the accusation to the United States), such concerns place the willingness of the G-8 to support Israel from the inception of this conflict, as well as its subsequent insistence upon a UN ceasefire resolution in favor of Israel, despite defeat on the battlefield, in a new light.

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