by Gilles d'Aymery
(Swans - December 15, 2008) Addressing the nation one last time before leaving the White House, President George W. Bush began his speech thusly: "My fellow Americans, I'm happy to report that the state of our Union is strong..." Then he paused and muttered, "oops, wrong script..." and turned toward his press secretary, Dana Perino, for help, which she obediently obliged by passing to him the correct text of his allocution. "Hmm, yes this is better," said the president, adding, "let me start again." "My fellow Americans, in keeping with the joyous scatological imagery of my vice president, the proverbial feces, in a magnitude no one saw coming, has hit a multitude of fans with innumerable nauseating consequences, which, being in a jolly good mood, I am happy to bequeath to Barack Obama, our incoming president, with my best wishes that he and his team will be able to sort out the messy stench. I know they will. After a storm, whatever its severity, the sun shines again -- like in New Orleans, for example. Americans are the most resilient and greatest people on earth. Our country will overcome this latest downpour. . . . . I'm proud and confident, as I depart this august office, that I am leaving behind a safer and more democratic, freer world. . . . . Anyway, Laura and I have been delighted to spend the last eight years in your company. We've had a swell time, and now I'm out of here. God bless!"
As former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld used to say, "stuff happens," and indeed stuff, lots of it, has hit the fan big time. Call it the perfect storm 360 degrees around the globe. For an Americanocentric observer, the financial crisis, the year-long recession, the over two million jobs lost, possibly the largest housing crisis in US history, the demise of the Big Three auto manufacturers, consumers drowned in an ocean of red ink, and the big muddy in Iraq and Afghanistan come to mind, but one needs to take a stride beyond US borders to fully comprehend the damages that over 30 years of neoliberal-neoconservative and free market ideologies have wreaked upon the world -- damages that have coalesced in 2008 in an unprecedented cascade of crises that had been looming for a long time. (Mr. Bush is not solely responsible for the mess Mr. Obama is inheriting; it was decades in the making, though undoubtedly fostered over the past few years.)
So, let us go through a few vignettes of that perfect storm. Vignettes they are, as it would take volumes to go through our earthly predicaments. And only vignettes they are because not one mind can ever conflate all together in a neat intellectual and pragmatic (or, heaven forbid, ideological) package the predicaments that we humans are facing (the earth will survive us gladly; so will the dandelions...).
Let's start with the materialistic, so-called Rich World of Europe: Iceland is bankrupt. So are the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. In addition to Iceland and Latvia, Belarus, Hungary, Serbia, and Ukraine have turned to the IMF as their economies are tanking beyond despair. The riots in Greece find their root cause in a 22 percent unemployment rate among its youth. Italy and Spain are also facing major unemployment and housing crises. The Euro-zone has entered into a serious recession. The elites all over Europe are bracing for coming insurrections, yet are unable to offer any hope to their populations as they further devise neoliberal, anti-worker policies to the calamities neoliberalism has wreaked upon their polities (except for the elites).
Travel further south along the Mediterranean coast and you find that a little Sparta, called Israel, is stealing more land by the day and literally strangulating the inhabitants of Gaza, and Israeli fundamentalists are organizing pogroms -- pogroms, no less! -- in the West Bank, when at the same time the myth of the need for a safe heaven in Palestine was invented a century ago and has nothing to do with history, as Shlomo Sand, a professor at Tel Aviv University, argues in When and How Was the Jewish People Invented? -- a book whose English version should be published next year by Verso. But for a motley crew of peace activists that tries to alleviate this apartheid and violent Israeli repression, the Western world remains indifferent and silent.
Move further into the region. Iraq has been utterly destroyed on false pretenses. There is not one day without some kind of violent attack on the population. And if there is, then attacks occur in Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or India, whether from desperate people, nihilists, or from the US military.
Direct your eyes down south to the African continent that has become the world's weapons dump. From the Horn of Africa, in Somalia, to Southern Africa, mayhem reigns. Wars rage in all resource-rich countries. Darfur, in the Sudan, and Nigeria, because of oil. In the Congo, a country as big as Western Europe and surrounded by nine countries, the Eastern province of Kivu is being bled alive. It is hell. Three to four million people have died in a decade of warfare. The cause? Congo may be the richest country in the world as far as mineral resources are concerned. Cobalt, in great demand from the military-industrial complex and the car manufacturers for the batteries they currently use in their hybrid vehicles; over 60 percent of the world's reserves of coltan, or columbite-tantalite, a mineral used in cell phones, automobiles, and many other industrial applications; tin that is used in computers; oil and gas; diamonds; timber; and on and on, make war good for business. Rwanda, Angola, and other neighboring countries are part and present of the loot and mayhem, all sponsored by Western interests -- ethnicities against ethnicities (Hutus vs. Tutis), tribes against tribes...materialism will stop at nothing to get its booty -- the contemporary slavery.
Somalia has rekindled with age-old piracy. A country that was utterly devastated in the 1990s, when the U.S., out of "humanitarian concerns," poured $2 billion into its intervention -- 90 percent spent on military hardware, has even seen its coastal waters invaded by European fishing poachers that were attracted by the abundance of tuna in Somali waters. Fishermen, unable to defend themselves, turned into new-age pirates, detaining oil tankers, arm shipments, and the like for ransom.
The same craving for raw materials extends to all other parts of the world. Take two examples in Latin America. Oil is the prime motivator behind the relentless efforts to demonize and destabilize the regime of Hugo Chávez (with the helping hands of leading so-called progressive intellectuals). In Bolivia -- a country under heavy pressure from the U.S., and a country that has exported gold, silver, tin, oil, and gas for decades but remains one of the poorest in the hemisphere (after Haiti) -- lithium is the latest bounty that the rich world wants to gobble up. Lithium carbonate not only is used in batteries of laptop computers and mobile phones, but it is needed by the auto industry worldwide for the batteries of the future. Fifty percent of the world's reserves of lithium are located there. According to industry estimates, demand will outstrip supply in the next decade unless new sources are found.
Malnutrition, starvation, and health epidemics: In 2007 and 2008, hunger riots erupted in Mexico, Senegal, Egypt, Honduras, Haiti, and myriad other countries. Famine is becoming widespread in the South. Starvation is a quotidian reality -- droughts another one. Meanwhile, one kilo of chicken requires four kilos of grain, with the correlate exponential expenditure of water and fertilizer adding to the chaos. Besides the scourge of AIDS, malaria is rampant all over Africa, and cholera, a disease that had been deemed eradicated, is rearing its ugly head with mortal consequences in Iraq and Zimbabwe.
The environment, a word so often dismissed by industry, opinion makers, and even libertarian muckrakers, is crying for help. Bee Colony Collapse Disorder, caused quite possibly by the pesticide clothianidin made by Bayer (approved by the science-phobic Bush administration EPA in 2003), is destroying a large swath of the food supply. Climate change, according to a World Health Organization 2000 report, caused over 150,000 deaths per year. A soon-to-be published updated report will show a dire increase in this number. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that "cities from Beijing to New Delhi are getting darker, glaciers in ranges like the Himalayas are melting faster and weather systems becoming more extreme, in part, due to the combined effects of man-made Atmospheric Brown Clouds (ABCs) and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere." China's deep phreatic ground waters are fast disappearing (as in the American West). The melting of the permafrost tundra in Siberia could unleash methane to levels that will be even higher than the emissions of CO2 emitted by fossil fuels by 2030. A report headed by Deutsche Bank economist Pavan Sukhdev, entitled "The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity," makes the case that our shrinking forests costs between $2 and $5 trillion a year, all the while adding to climate change and disruptions.
That's a summary of 2008 in a nutshell -- with emphasis on the nutshell. Mr. Bush is certainly not responsible for that cheerless picture. The trend started much earlier. He only added to the conundrums with fierce abandon. But the state of the Union and the world he is bequeathing to the next occupant of the White House, the next generations, and the entire worldwide polity is nothing less than a series of undiluted disasters. Perhaps in the far distant future, history or dandelions will notice that the year 2008 was a watershed of destruction; yet, hopefully, this year also will have marked the end of faith-based ideology thanks to the historical and highly symbolic election of Barack Obama.
As an aside, in Swans corner, 2008 was another tough year though not worthy of elaboration, except for the death of Philip Greenspan, a long time contributor and a deeply loved petit camarade by this author. He is direly missed.
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