Morning Report 3/31/05
Me Am Robin Hood
Here on Bizarro World, the neocons' plan to plunder and politicize (even more) the World Bank is just about perfect
THE FIX IS in at the World Bank, and what a fix we're going to be in.
Looks as if Paul Wolfowitz, chief architect of our unwarranted invasion of Iraq, has schmoozed Europeans into toning down their hostility. At least that's what the New York Times says today, that the critics are realizing that resistance is futile, that the guy is actually going to become president of the World Bank.
George W. Bush's handlers seem to think they're a race of supermen. Yeah, on Bizarro World.
To refresh your memory, here's a definition of "Bizarro" from Mark McDermott's Dictionary of Popular Culture:
Original source: Among the many supporting characters of the Superman comic books was Bizarro, an "imperfect duplicate" of the Man of Steel, whose face resembled white faceted stone, and who spoke in tortured English constructions like "Me am going away now." Originally intended as a tragic figure, Bizarro eventually settled on his own planet, renaming it Htrae, and peopled it with thousands of imperfect duplicates of himself, Lois Lane, and the rest of the Superman family. In later encounters with Superman, and in a series of solo stories, the Bizarros demonstrated the great lengths they went to to live up to their Bizarro Code: "Us do the opposite of all Earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is a big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!"
Usage: A mid-80's Saturday Night Live (NBC, 1975- ) sketch by Michael O'Donoghue portrayed the working of an imagined Bizarro White House, occupied by a Bizarro President Reagan: "It am an international crisis! Quick, Bizarro President! Go to sleep!"
Most of the people on the planet are too poor, thirsty, and starving to laugh. (Keep reading this item so you can get the full flavor of some dismal stats about them that I've placed at the end.)
Unlike Bizarro Superman, Wolfowitz speaks correctly. Here's a sample, from the Times' Elaine Sciolino this morning:
Paul D. Wolfowitz came to Europe on Wednesday as a supplicant for its good will, shedding his image as a unilateralist hawk and entreating his hosts to approve him as the world's banker for the poor.
The five-hour visit to Brussels by Mr. Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense and President Bush's nominee to head the World Bank, was a response to a request by the European Union for a meeting.
It was intended to prove that the man who is viewed by many here as an unrelenting neoconservative and leading architect of the invasion of Iraq can shift course and run the global organization that lends money and sets economic policy for much of the developing world.
"I understand that I am, putting it mildly, a controversial figure," Mr. Wolfowitz told reporters. "But I hope as people get to know me better they will understand that I really do believe deeply in the mission of the bank."
Uh-huh. Under the surface of the likely Wolfowitz ascension, the prospects for relief from the World Bank that's not highly politicized and partisan are even worse. Here are some things to ponder as the Bush regime reaches out to grab control of the bank's billions of dollars and clout:
Wolfowitz's girlfriend, Shaha Ali Riza, is acting manager of external relations for the bank's Middle East/North Africa region. The official word is that there's no conflict of interest there. But that's bullshit. Riza's job is to be the flack for bank officials for projects in that region, which includes Iraq, which is the country we invaded at the behest of Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz.
And she's no minor functionary. When Yasser Arafat died, World Bank President Jim Wolfensohn's official statement"deepest condolences" and all thatwas issued under her name. She was the powerful bank's official spokesman on the matter.
In the U.S., of course, the neocon-dominated Bush regime, fearing the wrath of their pals in Israel's right-wing Sharon government, didn't even send Secretary of State Colin Powell to Arafat's funeraleven though that would have been a shrewd step toward at least pretending to have a more balanced and enlightened policy on the Israeli-Palestinian death dance.
And then there's the World Bank Staff Association, the group of almost 10,000 workers at the massive financial institution. They strongly oppose Wolfowitz's nomination, as The Guardian's Julian Borger has reported. As usual, Borger brings some hidden points to the surface:
- Staff at the World Bank fear Mr. Wolfowitz might push through longstanding U.S. proposals to make it an organization that gives out grants rather than loans. "It's much easier to politicize grants," an official said. "Loans have to be economically feasible."
You want to fight terrorism? Then fight suffering. But under Wolfowitz, look for more World Bank money to be poured into, say, Iraq projects brainstormed by the Bush regime's bidness pals. Not just in Iraq, but anywhere there's oil and other riches to be plundered.
The Staff Association itself has reason to fear Wolfowitz: Even under more benign leaders than Wolfowitz would be, World Bank employees have faced serious censorship of their views. Here's a passage from "Bank Staff Criticize 'Thought Police,'" a January 2002 article posted by the Global Policy Forum:
The World Bank's clumsy attempts to censor its own researchers have resulted in stinging criticism by Bank staff.
The latest edition of the World Bank Staff Association newsletter carries two editorials about Bank staff members who were disciplined after publishing separate articles in the Financial Times. Both have now left the Bank. The editorials question whether the Bank's "public image matters more than germane research findings" and complain about the Bank's internal governance mechanisms. These are important issues given the Bank's ever-expanding publication and training agenda.
And the topic of the bank's censors wasn't esoteric. It was Afghanistan. In one of the cases, staffer Ashraf Ghani wrote a piece for the Financial Times on September 26, 2001, urging the U.S. to resist allying itself with his native country's warlords and to not blitz the country without figuring out how to set up a transitional government.
Wolfowitz and the other neocons wound up ignoring that advice, of course, and we're now having to kiss the butts of Afghanistan's corrupt and brutal warlords in order to preserve the illusion of "democracy" we've placed there.
Meanwhile, at the time, Ghani was advised by the bank's External Affairs division not to have his article published. But he chose to express his opinion and decided to take a leave without pay to do so. The article was published. Read the whole story of this intrigue in the Staff Association's newsletter. Here's the really interesting part:
- While Ghani was on leave without pay, he had a stroke of luck: President Wolfensohn and the managing directors asked him for a briefing on Afghanistan. At the end of the briefing, Wolfensohn expressed full support for Ghani’s engagement on Afghanistan and indicated that the Bank would support him. Then Kofi Annan, Nobel Laureate and Secretary-General of the U.N., personally contacted Wolfensohn and asked if Ghani could work with the U.N. on events unfolding in Afghanistan. Ghani was then seconded to the U.N. with Bank pay and benefits for a year.
Do you think the Wolfowitz would have reacted the way Wolfensohn did? Of course not. And who works in the bank's External Relations unit of flacks? Wolfowitz's gal pal Riza. They'll be a formidable team.
She is just as much of a hawk as he is, as the Arab News points out:
While battle lines have hardened over President Bush’s nomination of Wolfowitz to become president of the World Bank, what many say is really fueling the controversy is concern within the bank over Wolfowitz’s reported romantic relationship with Shaha Ali Riza, an Arab feminist who is the acting manager for External Relations and Outreach for the Middle East and North Africa Region at the World Bank.
Political foes of Wolfowitz portray him as a leader of Washington’s Jewish neo-conservatives driving a blindly pro-Israel policy in the Middle East. Critics have also noted that his sister, Laura, a biologist, lives in Israel and has an Israeli husband.
But Wolfowitz, a married father of three, is said to be so blinded by his relationship with Riza, that influential members of the World Bank believe she played a key role in influencing the Pentagon official to launch the 2003 Iraq war. As his trusted confidant, she is said to be one of most influential Muslims in Washington.
What does all this mean for the World Bank? Well, there are huge problems therea constant internal struggle to get bankers to figure out deals that actually will help Third World countriesand even bigger problems on the planet that it's supposed to help.
Check out "Challenges Facing the World Today," a list of horrifying stats about the inhabitants of Earth. It appears on the World Bank's Office of the President page. On second thought, maybe Wolfowitz and Riza will hit the DEL key. So I'll just reprint the whole thing:
¶ 2.7 billion people live on less than $2 a day.
¶ Another 2 billion people will be added to the world's population by 2036. Of these, 97 percent will be in developing countries, and the majority will be in urban areas.
¶ 800 million people, most of them in low-income countries, are chronically undernourished.
¶ In low-income countries, 24 percent of the population is undernourished.
¶ Low birthweight, which is associated with maternal malnutrition, increases the risk of infant mortality and stunted childhood growth. In low-income countries, 21 percent of the babies are less than 2,500 grams at birth, compared to 7 percent in high-income countries.
¶ More than 10 million children die each year in the developing world, the vast majority from causes preventable through a combination of good care, nutrition, and medical treatment.
¶ In low-income countries, 78 percent of all relevant-aged boys, and 68 percent of all relevant-aged girls, finish primary school. The rest either drop out or never attend.
¶ Although middle-income countries have generally been more successful in reducing poverty than low-income countries, they are still home to 280 million people living on less than $1 per day, and to 870 million people living on less than $2 per day.
¶ Low levels of per capita health expenditure is a major factor in poor provision of basic heath services to people in developing countries, especially to women and children. Total health expenditure in developing countries is only $23 per capita in low income countries, and $72 per capita all developing countries. This compares to total health expenditures of $2,841 per capita in high income countries.
¶ The complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death and disability among women of reproductive age in developing countries. In low-income countries, 657 women die per 100,000 live births from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth, compared to 106 in middle-income countries, and 13 in high-income countries.
¶ About one out of every 16 women in Sub-Saharan Africa is likely to eventually die from pregnancy or childbirth, compared to one in 46 women in South and Central Asia, and one in every 2,800 women in high-income countries.
¶ Developing countries spend about as much on health (approximately 2.7 percent of GDP) as they do on military expenses (2.6 percent). Conversely, high-income countries spend about 6.3 percent of GDP on health compared to 2.4 percent on military expenditures.
¶ High-income and middle-income countries account for most water pollution from organic waste: high income countries account for 36 percent; middle income countries excluding China, 20 percent; and China, 31 percent.
¶ In low- and middle-income countries, 93 percent of the urban population and 70 percent of the rural population have reasonable access to at least 20 liters of water per person per day from an "improved source," such as a household connection, public standpipe, borehole, protected well or spring, or rainwater collection within 1 kilometer of each person's dwelling. For people in rural areas, this is up from 61 percent in 1990.
¶ One billion people lack access to safe water and 3 billion people lack safe sanitation.
¶ The global distribution of freshwater resources is uneven: Latin America and the Caribbean have an estimated 30,925 cubic meters per person; Europe and Central Asia, 13,511; East Asia and the Pacific, 6,020; South Asia, 2,684; and, in the arid Middle East and North Africa, 1,377.
¶ High-income countries, with only 15 percent of world population, use more than half of the world's energy.
¶ People in high-income countries use more than five times as much energy per capita as people in low-income countries.
¶ The share of people living in rural regions is declining in all regions of the world. For example, the share of rural population in Latin America and the Caribbean has declined from 35 percent in 1980 to 24 percent in 2002, which is similar to the average share of rural population in high income countries (22 percent). Globally, 52 percent of the world population lived in rural areas in 2002 compared to 61 percent in 1980.
¶ The use of coal, which releases twice as much carbon dioxide as natural gas, has increased in low-income countries but decreased in high-income countries and in sub-Saharan Africa. Many countries have increased their reliance on natural gas, though its use in low-income countries seems to be replacing oil rather than coal.
¶ Due to high fertility rates, 31.2 percent of the population in developing countries in general is under the age of 15, compared to 18.3 percent in high-income countries. The highest proportion is in Uganda, where 49 percent of the population is aged 0 to 14.
¶ The conditions of poverty increase the risk of disability: malnutrition, lack of access to health care, bad drinking water, and high-risk working conditions all can cause, or contribute to, permanent disability. In turn, disability increases the risk of poverty: people with disabilities are frequently excluded from education, vocational training opportunities, health care programs, and other services that could enable them to avoid, or break out of, poverty. Consequently, as much as 15 to 20 percent of people living with poverty in developing countries have disabilities compared to 10 percent of the general population.
¶ Even in high-income countries, about 7 out of every 1,000 children die before age 5. But in developing countries, about 88 of them die, including 174 out of every 1,000 children in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 95 in South Asia.
¶ In low-income countries, 37.4 percent of the population has access to electricity, compared to 94 percent in middle-income countries, and near-universal access in high-income countries.
¶ About 1.6 billion people do not have access to electricity. Unless new, vigorous polices are put in place, 1.4 billion people will remain without electricity in 2030.
¶ In Sub-Saharan Africa, every 100 workers need to support 82 children at home who are under the age of 15, compared to only 27 for workers in high-income countries.
Data from the World Development Indicators database and other sources, December 2004.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.