When the Bush administration started pushing for war with Iraq despite the lack of ties to al Qaeda and international terrorism, war critics were ridiculed for their concern that the war was meant to create a golden opportunity for profiteering by multinational corporations who helped put Bush in power. Well, the London Independent reported Sept. 22 that Iraq is officially for sale when the US-appointed administration announced that it was opening up nearly all segments of the economy to foreign investors.
Already, reconstruction contracts have been allocated to US firms such as Bechtel and Halliburton behind closed doors, with no opportunity for competitors to bid on the projects. Now the Iraqi Governing Council, which was hand-picked by the US occupying forces, has announced sweeping actions to allow foreign ownership of all Iraq's assets, except for oil. US administrator Paul Bremer approved the decree Sept. 20.
The edict implements the neoconservative free-market agenda of the Bush White House. It reverses Saddam Hussein's centralized management of the economy, which the Independent noted had been reasonably successful in capitalizing on the country's oil wealth to build modern hospitals, schools and other infrastructure, at least until the upheavals of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and the US bombing of Iraq's infrastructure during and after the 1991 Gulf War.
Privatization of everything from electricity and telecommunications to pharmaceuticals and engineering could see hundreds of previously state-owned companies sold off at what could be fire-sale prices, given the uncertainty of security in Iraq. Five months after US and British forces overthrew Saddam, there are no visible signs of reconstruction, the Independent reported. Clean water and electricity are still not available to most people and entire neighborhoods are still without phone lines.
MAI REVIVAL TRY BACKFIRES. Pascal Lamy, the EU's trade negotiator, may have contributed to the collapse of the Cancun trade talks when he tried to resurrect the infamous Multilateral Agreement on Investment, George Monbiot reported in the Sept. 16 London Guardian. The proposal was to allow corporations to force a government to remove any laws that interfered with their ability to make money, and it was crushed by a worldwide revolt in 1998. Through the World Trade Organization the EU and the US have been trying to force developing countries to open their markets and trade on onerous terms, but Monbiot wrote that China has provided "a rock &emdash; too big to bully and threaten &emdash; around which the unattached nations have begun to cluster." The demands of the EU and the US "were so outrageous that the smaller nations could not be dragged away from this new coalition." The lesson is that small nations can use their collective power to negotiate with the rich nations, using their debt as leverage. "Together they owe so much that, in effect, they own the world's financial systems. By threatening, collectively, to default, they can begin to wield the sort of power that only the rich have so far exercised, demanding concessions in return for withholding force."
TRENT LOTT, POPULIST HERO? One of the biggest surprises of the lopsided 55-40 Senate vote Sept. 16 to undo the Federal Communications Commission's further deregulation of the media is Sen. Trent Lott's new role as a populist. The former Senate majority leader was known as a champion of deregulation, at least until after the White House helped to engineer his ouster last year after he openly pined for segregation days. Yet he found himself allied with Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. to overrule the FCC's capitulation to media giants who want to remove limits on media holdings. "He's become a champion for us on this," says Gene Kimmelman, director of the Washington office of Consumers Union, a public advocacy group not normally aligned with Southern Republican senators. Eric Boehlert noted at Salon.com Sept. 22 that some wonder if Lott's new stance is payback for his ouster as majority leader. The White House has supported media deregulation and George W. Bush has threatened to veto any bill that overturns the FCC action. In the meantime, the 3rd Circuit US Court of Appeals in Philadelphia put the new rules on hold while it considers an appeal and the political controversy has hurt Michael Powell, son of the secretary of state who was once seen as a rising star within the Republican Party. Recently BusinessWeek called for the chairman's resignation: "Powell has generated unprecedented opposition across the political spectrum, from the conservative National Rifle Association to the liberal National Organization for Women. By the FCC's own count, it has received some 2 million calls, faxes, e-mails and letters opposing the [rule] changes. This is failed leadership."
BILL WOULD RESTRICT ANIMAL ANTIBIOTICS. Sens, Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) recently joined Reps. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) to introduce legislation that would end the overuse of medically important antibiotics in animal agriculture. Overuse of antibiotics contributes to the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans that are costly and difficult to treat. The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (S 1460/HR 2932) would phase out the feeding of massive quantities of antibiotics to food animals within two years of enactment. The medicines are used to accelerate animal growth and prevent diseases caused by overcrowded and unsanitary conditions on industrial-style factory farms, not to treat disease. For more information see the Union of Concerned Scientists at www.ucsaction.org.
IRRADIATED FOOD LABELING URGED. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) will sponsor the Right to Know Student Nutrition Act to require the labeling of irradiated food used in the National School Lunch Program. The bill would ensure that school districts, parents and students retain the option of choosing non-irradiated foods. Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program, called the proposed bill "a giant step forward for consumers," adding, "It is vital for parents to know what their children are eating." See www.citizen.org/cmep/.
CULT OF PERSONALITY AT FOGGY BOTTOM. State Department types were taken aback in September to find that a longtime diplomatic photo exhibit along a busy corridor to the cafeteria had been taken down. The two dozen mostly grainy black and white shots were a historic progression of great diplomatic moments, sources recalled. Al Kamen of the Washington Post on Sept. 17 noted the photos of such events as President Woodrow Wilson at Versailles; Roosevelt and Churchill signing the Atlantic Charter; former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze in cowboy boots at Jackson Hole, Wyo.; and a photo of President Ronald Reagan at a meeting with a very young Colin L. Powell seated behind him were replaced by a George W. Bush family album montage of 21 large photos of the president in diplomatic roles, speaking at the United Nations and meeting with foreign leaders. Kamen's personal favorite was a shot of the president looking out from the official limo in Beijing. The ID placard, done at the State Department, says he's in Tienemen Square. "That would be Tiananmen Square," Kamen noted.