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

Monday, May 23, 2011

Weekend Reading 

Sometimes, I read As'ad Abukhalil's blog, and wonder, what's the point of this one? Here are a couple of examples of important articles linked there over the weekend. First, this one by Christine Ahn and Kavita Ramdas:

The IMF has earned its villainous reputation in the Global South because in exchange for loans, governments must accept a range of austerity measures known as structural adjustment programs (SAPs). A typical IMF package encourages export promotion over local production for local consumption. It also pushes for lower tariffs and cuts in government programs such as welfare and education. Instead of reducing poverty, the trillion dollars of loans issued by the IMF have deepened poverty, especially for women who make up 70 percent of the world’s poor.

IMF-mandated government cutbacks in social welfare spending have often been achieved by cutting public sector jobs, which disproportionately impact women. Women hold most of the lower-skilled public sector jobs, and they are often the first to be cut. Also, as social programs like caregiving are slashed, women are expected to take on additional domestic responsibilities that further limit their access to education or other jobs.

In exchange for borrowing $5.8 billion from the IMF and World Bank, Tanzania agreed to impose fees for health services, which led to fewer women seeking hospital deliveries or post-natal care and naturally, higher rates of maternal death. In Zambia, the imposition of SAPs led to a significant drop in girls’ enrollment in schools and a spike in survival or subsistence sex as a way for young women to continue their educations.

But IMF’s austerity measures don’t just apply to poor African countries. In 1997, South Korea received $57 billion in loans in exchange for IMF conditionalities that forced the government to introduce labor market flexibility, which outlined steps for the government to compress wages, fire surplus workers, and cut government spending on programs and infrastructure. When the financial crisis hit, seven Korean women were laid off for every one Korean man. In a sick twist, the Korean government launched a get your husband energized campaign encouraging women to support depressed male partners while they cooked, cleaned, and cared for everyone.

Nearly 15 years later, the scenario is grim for South Korean workers, especially women. Of all OECD countries, Koreans work the longest hours: 90% of men and 77% of women work over 40 hours a week. According to economist Martin Hart-Landsberg, in 2000, 40 percent of Korean workers were irregular workers; by 2008, 60 percent worked in the informal economy. The Korean Women Working Academy reports that today 70 percent of Korean women workers are temporary laborers.

Please help, can someone tell me when, if ever, the National Organization for Women, the Feminist Majority Foundation or NARAL Pro-Choice America, among others, have drawn attention to the misogyny inherent in neoliberal policy? Oh, I forgot, the Feminist Majority Foundation has been too busy supporting the war in Afghanistan.

And, then, there's this one, an opinion piece by Joseph Massad:

The problem with US policy in the Arab world is not only its insistence on broadcasting credulous US propaganda - easily fed to Americans, yet with few takers elsewhere in the world - but also that it continues to show a complete lack of familiarity with Arab political culture and insists on insulting the intelligence of most Arabs, whom it claims to address directly with speeches such as Mr Obama's.

In the past three decades, Arab leaders allied with the United States (and even the few who were not) have been telling their peoples that Iran, Shia, Sunni Islamists, the Palestinian people and their wretched cause, among others, are the reason for the hardship of Arabs. Indeed this conjuring up of enemies started with the US-Saudi-Kuwaiti plan to subcontract an all-out war against revolutionary Iran, as the enemy of Arabs, which was launched by Saddam Hussein in 1981 to defend America's oil wells - and which resulted by 1988 in the death of one million Iranians and 400,000 Iraqis.

In the meantime, and since the late 1960s, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon have engaged in wars with the Palestinian guerrillas and against Palestinian civilians, whom they identified as the enemy. Egypt launched a war against Libya when Sadat was in power, and later, under Mubarak, against its own Islamists and against the Palestinian people. Indeed even Algeria was conjured up as the enemy of Egyptians in Mubarak's last year on the throne.

Saudi Arabia, while repressing all of its population in the name of Wahabism, has not stopped hatching various plans (and plots) since 1982 to bring Israel into the Arab fold. When President Obama peddles the Israeli lie, that his pro-Israel advisors at the White House - and there has been no other kinds of Middle East advisors at the White House since the Clinton administration - feed him, that too many leaders in the region tried to direct their people's grievances elsewhere. The West was blamed as the source of all ills, a half-century after the end of colonialism. Antagonism toward Israel became the only acceptable outlet for political expression, to which leaders is he actually referring? Sadat, Mubarak, Ben Ali, Kings Hussein and Abdullah II of Jordan, Kings Hasan II and Muhammad VI of Morocco, President Bouteflika, any of the Gulf monarchs or the two Hariri prime ministers, Rafiq and Saad?

Not only are such lies not believable to anyone in the wider world, but also, were the US administration to believe them, explain the ongoing foreign policy failures in a region the US insists on dominating - but which it refuses to learn much about.

Empires always construct a world view compatible with the preservation of them. So, there's nothing surprising here, including the eventual outcome, except that so many Americans remain either unaware of it, or derive emotional fulfillment from it. Meanwhile, during his speech before AIPAC, President Obama sounds eerily like a 19th Century southern plantation owner when he expresses concern about the birthrate of Palestinians and its implications for Israel.

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