News Commentary
12/12/2002

Losing It?:
    My latest backflip regarding the Bush administration so concerned one good friend that he wrote asking if I were all right. Grin!
    The answer is that if I'm really losing it, I'll probably be the last to know.
    What's going on is that I really want to believe that everything's all right. I really want to believe that the Bush Administration is doing a good job. I'm very grateful that we've been spared further successful terrorist depredations. At the same time, every instinct I have is telling me that things are not tracking well. Nor am I alone in this assessment. Without exception, the older members of the U. S. population I've canvassed, as well as some of its smarter, younger members, seem to be as concerned as I am. The President's decision to work with the UN is, in my opinion, certainly a wise one. Apparently, this represents the influence of Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice, but whatever the reasons, I applaud them.
    This is not to say that I think the present situation isn't dangerous. Saddam Hussein is alleged  to be as dangerous as Adolph Hitler. The only ones who would be sorry to see a regime change in Afghanistan would be Saddam Hussein and, perhaps, a few others who owe their offices to his presence.
A War of Two Cultures?
    I'm reading that we're engaged in a war of memes, of cultures, with the Middle East striking back against Western culture. Middle Easterners are (it's being said) seeing their younger generations caught up in Western customs and mores, and some of these mores strike understandable sparks within a culture with values, perhaps, similar to our earlier eras. I have the impression that many Middle-Easterners don't approve of a culture in which more than 50% of all marriages end in divorce, in which a large fraction of all children are reared in one-parent households, and in which couples commonly live together and have their children outside the sacrament of marriage. I suspect that some of them are, understandably, about as eager to import these living habits as we were to import Dutch elm disease. Also, our media do a good job of reporting dangerous and frightening news, and they may be exporting that to the rest of the world.
Have the Poor Gotten Poorer?
    Beyond that, there is the perception that around the world, the rich have gotten richer while the poor have gotten poorer, that the West, with it global corporations, is exploiting third-world nations, and that the Islamic nations are the least democratic of any nations in the world. In Pakistan, there are accusations that the military have all the privileges and all the money, and that no one in government listens to those who are outside the government.
    Since 9/11, I would imagine that this has been exacerbated by the U. S. intervention in Afghanistan
    The book review below was written by Khaled Ahmend, who is a columnist for The Friday Times, in Lahore. The title of the book is, "The other Davos: the Globalisation of Resistance to the World Economic System", edited by Francois Houtart and Francois Polet Zed, and distributed by Vanguard Books, Lahore, Price £12.95.
    The book puts together the case made by them against globalization under the world economic order.

    "The statistics in their arsenal are impressive. The UN notes that the 358 richest people in the world possess a fortune equivalent to the combined income of the poorest 45 percent of the world's population (2.7 billion).. Between 1970 and 1985 the world GNP has increased by 40 percent but poverty has increased by 17 percent. In 1960, the combined income of the 20 percent living in the richest countries was 30 times greater than the combined income of the 20 percent living in the poorest countries; by 1995, the income ratio of richest-countries-to-poorest-countries had grown from a factor of 30 to a factor of 82. In the past 20 years, more than a hundred developing countries suffered disastrous economic failures, more than what was experienced during the Great Depression of the 1930s. According to the UNDP Report (1996) growth was negative for more than a quarter of the world's population. Between 1987 and 1993 the number of people with incomes less than a dollar increased by a 100 million to make the total 1.1 billion. In more than 100 countries today the per capita income is lower than what it was 15 years ago (including Pakistan). In the third world, malnutrition and lack of education grew in the past decade, while in Europe the unemployed were 37 million in 1996, three times the number in 1970.
    "Inequality has increased under the neoliberal international economic order which deregularises the national economies and gives free access to international finance and multilateral companies. Privatisation and competition has thrown people out of jobs, and the environment has been gravely damaged by a race for competitive advantage through a cutting of costs. Susan George of the Coalition against Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) traces the history of neoliberalism with post-war Keynesianism which once guided the IMF and the World Bank but which was superseded by the neoliberal economists of the University of Chicago led by Friedrich von Hayek and his student Milton Friedman because of their ability to get capitalism to fund a large number of think tanks and foundations to do public relations for their model. They put together what the Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci called “cultural hegemony”. The work of these rightist economists was brilliant, making people believe that if left to itself capitalism worked like an act of God, with no alternatives.
   
" Margaret Thatcher in 1979 began the neoliberal revolution with the slogan TINA (There is no alternative) which was nothing but a Darwinian plunge into natural selection and competition through privatisation while her monetarism squeezed the poor. The poor were taxed in the UK while the richest received tax cuts, something that Reagan took to his heart with supply-side economics, rendering the US the most unequal society in the world. When the neoliberal model was spread across the globe through the IMF and the World Bank, inequality was made universal, and the main instruments in this were: free trade in goods and services, free circulation of capital and freedom of investment. The IMF grew from being merely a supporter of balance of payments to a dictator of ‘sound economic policy’, and the World Trade Organization(WTO) was created in 1995 to ram through neoliberal agreements that the signatory third world parliaments did not even understand. Had the MAI been signed at WTO, the fate of the developing world would have been sealed.
    "The book contains persuasive arguments in favour of doing away the cumulative third world debt, imposition of a low-interest (Tobin) tax on financial transactions, and subjecting the entire process of globalisation to democratic accountability. The arguments are strengthened by the observed phenomena of the 1997-98 free market meltdown in Southeast Asia and Russia."

Enter the Islamic Fundamentalists
    Into this mess have come the Islamic fundamentalists, pushing for a return to the old ways, as practiced by the Taliban.
    It's frightening to think that here in the 21st century, we're still subject to the same potentialities for religious warfare that have made a mockery of the world's great religions.