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September 29, 2005

Little Bangladesh weighs in big

A Bangladeshi paper, The Financial Express, chimes in with its observations on the aftermath of Katrina and Rita, which is interesting considering that the South Asian country faces catastrophic natural disasters perennially. (Due to its chronic typhoons, floods, droughts, and earthquakes, a British book by the name of Standards for Thermal Comfort has deemed the country a "teapot in a tempest.")

The author's natural disaster discourse is multifaceted here: (1) The United States has been and always will be perceived differently, even in one of the poorest nations on Earth, (2) We live in a globalized economy, and so rooting for the demise of the U.S. is not particularly helpful for any state, even a competitor like China, and (3) If a hurricane is not a call for closer analysis of one of the world's primary security issues, (global warming) what is?


"The United States of America, the richest and most powerful country on earth, presents a pitiable picture today not very different from many poor Third World countries...The sights stupefy because people the world over are so accustomed to the US -- the mightiest and wealthiest country -- where life and living have been so orderly and qualitatively always improving over the centuries."

Posted 11:29 PM | Comments (0)

More on the Transatlantic trends 2005

By Pierre Langlais

After a first look on the "Transatlantic trends 2005" made by the German Marshall Fund on opinions on USA in Europe and on international matters, one could find here more information. Both European and US citizens were questioned. For a quick view, see the charts.

Some key findings :

- Europeans are more likely than Americans to support democracy promotion (74% to 51%). Both Europeans and Americans strongly prefer “soft power” options to promote democracy, with only 39% of Americans and 32% of Europeans who support sending military forces.

- Republican support for democracy promotion more closely mirrors Europeans’ with 76% favorable, compared to only 43% of Democrats. Whileboth parties support soft power options, nearly twice the percentage of Republicans (57%) than Democrats (29%) support military intervention.

- As the United States and Europe look forward toward engagement with China, there is agreement on both sides that respect for human rights needs to be considered, even if this means limiting economic relations.

- Americans and Europeans show no consensus concerning options for dealing with the possibility that Iran may develop nuclear weapons, although only a small minority in both supports military intervention, 5% of Europeans
and 15% of Americans.

- More Americans than Europeans think they will be personally affected by international terrorism (71% to 53%), while more Europeans see themselves as likely to be personally affected by global warming (73% to 64%).

- Despite major diplomatic efforts to mend transatlantic relations, there has been little change in European public opinion toward the United States. When asked whether relations between the United States and Europe have improved, gotten worse, or stayed the same, in light of President Bush’s recent efforts to improve relations with Europe, 52% of Europeans felt relations have stayed the same. Americans agreed, with 50% saying relations have stayed the same. Among those who saw change, more Germans and Slovaks felt relations have improved, while more British, Italians, Dutch, and Spaniards felt relations have gotten worse.

- When asked whether relations should become closer, remain the same, or become more independent in security and diplomatic affairs, the majority of Americans (54%) felt that relations should become closer, whereas a similar percentage of Europeans (55%) felt the EU should take a more independent approach from the United States. Both sides saw a small increase of 5 percentage points from 2004 in the number of respondents who want to take a more independent approach, from 20% to 25% in the United States and from 50% to 55% in Europe. Within Europe, the largest percentages of respondents who felt relations should become closer were in Poland (48%), Spain (43%), and Slovakia (35%), whereas the largest percentages who felt relations should take a more independent approach were in France (69%), Italy (66%), and the Netherlands (62%).

- As in 2004, Turkish respondents remain the most strongly critical of President Bush’s leadership, with 63% disapproving very much of President Bush’s international policies. At the same time, Turkish support for NATO continues to be positive and essentially unchanged from past years, with 52% of respondents agreeing that NATO
is “still essential to our country’s security.”

Posted 12:30 PM | Comments (0)

September 27, 2005

A New York Times views of French sentiments

In today’s New York Times Television Review of the fall season, Alessandra Stanley writes:

"ABC is stretching credibility to the outer limits with its new White House drama. The vice president of the United States is on an official visit to France, and Parisian school children actually sing "America the Beautiful"?
We think not."

In her opinion, it results far more farfetched than a feminist independent woman on a Republican ticket!

RiceInParis.jpgAlessandra should have more confidence in the good work of her diplomats in Paris to have school kids behaving properly (or ask them what they did when Condy Rice visited France at the beginning of the year).

The interesting question here is how mutual perceptions feed each other.

Can we seriously study how people in the rest of the world see the U.S. if we don’t pay attention to how Americans see, paint or describe others?

I think not.

And you?

[Photo found on the Paris US Embassy website]

Posted 12:55 PM | Comments (0)

Interview with Al Jazeera Host YUSUF AL-QARADAWI

By Elena Favilli

Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, one of the most influential contemporary Muslim scholars, reaches millions each week with his show televized on Al-Jazeera. Der Spiegel talks with him about terrorism, USA and West modernity.

"SPIEGEL: Your eminence, you are considered one of the most influential contemporary Muslim scholars, but even your word is not unconditional. Does Islam need an uncontested spiritual leader -- a Muslim pope?

Qaradawi: Most Muslims would like such a central authority, to avoid constant debate over contradictory and extremist scholarly opinions. But we don't have a pope; we have the Ulama, the association of scholars. To protect the unity of Islam, we urgently need to reach a consensus on the great questions of our time: terror, occupation, and resistance. We took a first step in July 2004, with the foundation of a world union of Muslim legal scholars. I was elected chairman, and my deputies are a Sunni, a Shiite, and an Ibadit (a branch of Islam found mainly in Oman). We thank God for this success.

SPIEGEL: Yet no one in the Islamic world hinders men like Osama bin Laden or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- bin Laden's lieutenant in Iraq -- from setting themselves up as imams and preaching hate.

Qaradawi: A person can't just call himself an imam or a mufti and hand out fatwas according to whim. For this position there are clear prerequisites regarding professional experience, academic background and character.

SPIEGEL: People like bin Laden or Al-Zarqawi don't tend to worry about that. Nevertheless they have a huge influence on Islam's image.

Qaradawi: The vast majority of Muslim scholars have condemned Bin Laden's deeds; only a small minority stand behind him. What helps his reputation even more than scholarly opinion is the injustice that befalls Muslims every day -- above all in Palestine. You underestimate this in the West: The one-sidedness of American support for Israel has devastating consequences."

Continue reading the interview.
See also Islam on line, Al-Qaradawi's web site.

Posted 10:45 AM | Comments (0)

Foreigners care

Sri Lanka ravaged a few months ago by a tsunami sent $25,000. Cuba offered 1,100 medical doctors. Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates promised $100 million each.
Foreign Policy publishes a table of aid offered by foreign countries after Katrina.

FP’s comment:

America’s friends abroad, and even some of its foes, have responded to the horrific destruction to the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina by pledging money and sending supplies to assist the recovery effort.

All of these gestures do not share a unique meaning, but they certainly give us some indications about perceptions of the U.S. in the world.

They raise some questions too. What does it mean for Mexicans to send soldiers up north? Why did Hungary offer only $5,000, and why the pro-American Poland does not show up in this table. How could Bangladesh find $ 1 million? What happened with the Cuban doctors?
What do you think?

Update – This post in a blog by a staff writer for the Arkansas Leader mentions aid offered or delivered from 94 countries (Poland appears in the list).

Posted 10:22 AM | Comments (0)

September 26, 2005

Face-saving solutions

By Elena Favilli

From Gulfnews:

"Allied troops will stay in Iraq as long as the Iraqi government needs them, chant George W. Bush and Tony Blair, stubbornly singing from the same tired old hymn sheet.
And despite all evidence to the contrary, they are still trying to hammer home to their respective publics the myth of Iraq's sovereignty along with the good works their helmeted legions are supposedly accomplishing there.

In their fantastical universe, Iraq's cobbled together constitution viewed by most as a recipe for civil war could be a face-saver that will clear the way for an exit-plan."

Continue reading the article.

Posted 10:12 PM | Comments (0)

Sino-US ties to progress well if handled with care

By Elena Favilli

From People's daily online (official newspaper of the Communist party of China):

"China's attitude towards the United States is an important part of its foreign policy. The basic tenets of this policy are: On the basis of the three joint communiques, China will strengthen co-operation, reduce differences, avoid confrontation, develop a constructive co-operative partnership between the two countries, and ensure long-term stability and development in bilateral relations.

This policy is founded on a very deep understanding of the Sino-US relationship.

First, the United States is the only superpower with the greatest national strength in the world. This state of affairs is not going to change for a long time. China, in its effort to strive for an environment that is conducive to its peaceful development, regards the cultivation of a positive co-operative relationship with the United States as most important.

Second, there are a vast number of common interests and a high level of effective co-operation in the areas of commerce, trade and security - including regional security, and non-traditional security areas such as prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and counter-terrorism.

However, the two countries have different social systems and ideologies, and both must handle the relationship with each other well if they want to develop their mutual interests and resolve such matters as human rights.

Third, in recent years, the Sino-American relationship has evolved to one between a superpower and a major rising power. Improvement or deterioration of this relationship is increasingly influencing regional and international arenas. China is worried that the United States, in order to sustain its dominant position, is bent on obstructing China's development. This has helped heighten the importance, complexity and sensitivity of the relationship between the two countries. "

Continue reading the article.

Posted 09:35 PM | Comments (0)

Israel to Bush Administration: "Do you care?"

Is Washington still Israel's best friend?

"With this president," noted one Israeli diplomat this week, "you have to pay attention to every word in his speeches. This is a president who doesn't talk off the cuff on foreign policy issues. He does not write speeches himself; he does not add and subtract paragraphs. Every word is weighed 10 times before they put it into a speech. And if it is uttered, it is a sign that the administration means it."

Shmuel Rosner at Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper quotes the above diplomat in an article pondering whether the Bush Administration still holds Israel's interests in as high an esteem as past days.

"But what exactly does the administration mean, in Iraq, in Syria and in Palestine?" Rosner wonders. "This does not always have a good answer." Washington is a mystery to Israel, he opines, and lately with Katrina and Iraq occupying most of the Bush Administration's attention span, Israel has not been catered to the way they're used to.

"In how many arenas can the administration act simultaneously? Will Katrina guzzle all the resources, both financial and political, and will the other issues be neglected for a while? Are Iraq and Katrina all there is? Will there be any time and energy left for us? Israelis and others are asking this. "

Rosner remembers the previous administration:

The senior officials at the State Department are not "friends of Israel," as were some of their predecessors, for example in the Clinton administration (Martin Indyk, Dennis Ross). Rice's aides, Robert Zolick, Nicholas Burns, David Welch - all of them are polite professionals, but they have no special feelings toward Israel. Including negative ones. "

By Shmuel Rosner
Last Update: 20/09/2005 15:30

WASHINGTON - On a warm Tuesday night, about 200 guests gathered at the residence of the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Danny Ayalon, to partake of miniature egg rolls, chicken skewers and wine. At first they crowded into the living room and later, when they wanted to breathe, they went outside to crowd in the yard. Two cabinet secretaries were there, but not the most senior, and one friendly senator, a few former ambassadors and bureaucrats of various ranks. All of them came to say good-bye to Dick Jones, who is leaving here at the end of the week to serve as the United States' new ambassador in Israel.

The hosts evinced maturity and kept the speeches short: a few jokes, a few bits of advice, as is customary. Jones apologized that he would not remember everyone he had met that night. An appropriate apology; it is likely he will not remember any of them.

It was a strange and laden foreign relations week in America. Hundreds of leaders of countries are gathering in New York and many of them are also dropping in for talks in the capital. The president is making time for the president of Iraq and the prime minister of Israel. The secretary of state hasn't been seen in Washington for a week now; she is busy with meetings in New York. All her aides are with her there too - therefore they did not come to bid farewell to Jones properly at Ayalon's residence.
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But all this is happening outside the range of reception of the general public, which is zapping between New Orleans and Capitol Hill - between the president's efforts to repair the damage caused by Katrina and the efforts of the candidate for chief justice of the Supreme Court to maneuver between the landmines that are hiding in the hearing being held for him in the Senate. In the meantime, big things are happening: a failure in the compromise efforts at the United Nations, which have engendered a lukewarm document for the leaders to sign, and the president's warning to Syria at a joint press conference with the Iraqi president, and then his speech in New York, only hours after another fatal attack in Baghdad.

"With this president," noted one Israeli diplomat this week, "you have to pay attention to every word in his speeches. This is a president who doesn't talk off the cuff on foreign policy issues. He does not write speeches himself; he does not add and subtract paragraphs. Every word is weighed 10 times before they put it into a speech. And if it is uttered, it is a sign that the administration means it."

Washington, a mystery

But what exactly does the administration mean, in Iraq, in Syria and in Palestine? This does not always have a good answer. The question of the division of attention engages everyone who is dealing with these issues and the observers who are looking for keys to understanding these things. In how many arenas can the administration act simultaneously? Will Katrina guzzle all the resources, both financial and political, and will the other issues be neglected for a while? Are Iraq and Katrina all there is? Will there be any time and energy left for us? Israelis and others are asking this. Delegations that are coming to hear and try to understand. Indeed, this week Eival Giladi, who is close to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's adviser Dov Weissglas, popped over to Washington for a couple of days this week. The deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry, Yoram Ben Ze'ev, has also come here for meetings. Next week he will be joined by the director general, Ron Prosor. And of course, there is the prime minister's large delegation in New York.

Soon everyone will know Dick Jones, the new ambassador, whose appointment they are now trying to analyze. He's a no-nonsense person, they say. He has rich experience in the Middle East - in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Iraq - but not in Israel. "He isn't one of those people who has a million friends among us, like some of the previous ambassadors," says a new acquaintance. This means - a professional official, unbiased, sometimes blunt. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice decided to put in the forward position facing Sharon; someone who will not be frightened by him, who will get things done unsentimentally.

Altogether, say senior people in Israel, an interesting phenomenon is being noted in the relations between Israel and the administration of President George W. Bush. There is a lot of understanding, a lot of support, there aren't any large disagreements, but - and at certain moments this can be an important "but" - the administration officials don't have many sentiments about us. The senior officials at the State Department are not "friends of Israel," as were some of their predecessors, for example in the Clinton administration (Martin Indyk, Dennis Ross). Rice's aides, Robert Zolick, Nicholas Burns, David Welch - all of them are polite professionals, but they have no special feelings toward Israel. Including negative ones. The new ambassador Jones fits into this pattern well.

A sensitive and volatile issue is lurking here. Anti-Semites will find in it proof for their argument that Jews should not be appointed to key positions. However, says a senior security person, look at how much damage was caused to us by Israel's friend Doug Feith in the big Pentagon war against Israeli-Chinese relations. "Anyone who believes Israel has a real strategic role, that it can bring real benefit to the United States," he says, "has to welcome officials with a matter-of-fact approach."

Posted 09:31 PM | Comments (0)

September 25, 2005

Changing definitions of security

While the Bush Administration has consistently attempted to frame security issues within the parameters of defense and terrorism, natural disasters have added a nuance to the word. The military has been the most overt face of relief in the days following Katrina, and Rita (as well as other unnamed events) will likely be no different if the president proceeds with his current plan of action.

According to the Guardian, "Bush said he would ask Congress to consider putting the Pentagon in charge of disaster rescues after military leaders indicated the need for such a national plan - a politically sensitive proposal for lawmakers trying to avoid trampling on states' rights."

Meanwhile, The Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG), a Canadian think tank, has pointed specifically to his speech in San Antonio as an indication of the militarization of disaster relief. Highlighting his statement that the armed forces will be in a position of coordination of such efforts in the future, CRG implies that there will be a further "militarisation of disaster relief and the subordination of federal, state and mincipal (civlian) institutions by the Military."

Posted 06:52 PM | Comments (0)

The US image is not getting any better in Europe

by Pierre Langlais

French newspapers missed, at the beginning of the month, a poll (In French here) published by the German Marshall Fund (you will find an English version here) on the transatlantic relationships. La libre Belgique, a newspaper from Belgium, wrote about it a short resume called "The US image is not getting any better".
1000 citizens from France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Portugal, Slovakia, United Kingdom and Turkey have been questioned about their image of US political decisions.
"This investigation evaluates the impact of Bush's diplomatic offensive on Europe" starts the daily.

"The investigation reveals that in spite of the diplomatic efforts of the Bush administration since its re-election to improve the transatlantic relations, the European public opinion towards the United States remains unchanged. On a graduated thermometer from 1 to 100 which measures the intensity of the feelings of the people questioned, the perception of the United States by Europeans remains around 50 degrees. The feelings of the British towards the United States passed from 62 to 57 degrees, the feelings of the Italians from 61 to 57 degrees [...] Europeans continue to make the distinction between their negative feelings towards president Bush on one hand, and their more moderate evaluation of the American leadership in the international businesses, on the other hand. If Europeans are 72% to disapprove the international politics of the American administration, they are only 59% to dispute the leadership of the United States on a worldwide scale. In Europe, a significant percentage of Pole (48%), Spaniards (43%), Slovaks (35%) estimate that the relations between the UE and the United States should be reinforced. While the French (69%), Italians (66%) and Netherlanders (62%) think that the UE should adopt a more independent approach on security and diplomacy."

This poll also questioned American people, in order to compare their answers with the European points of view.

Posted 07:08 AM | Comments (0)

September 24, 2005

Two parallel world bodies?

two images
A view from Paresh of the National Herald (New Delhi).

Posted 06:07 AM | Comments (0)

September 23, 2005

China moves to improve the society

"Stability"is always the major concern of Chinese government when facing all kinds of diffucult situations and decisions must be made promptly and effectively. It is indeed very important for the society to keep stable in order to continue its development and improvent of people's living standard . However, after the open and reform policies first advocated by Deng Xiaoping more 20 years ago and being treated as the general direction of the policies since first advocated, the society is moving into a new status that require some altered method to continue, otherwise the situation may turn severe.

What the governments in China feel extremly hard to deal with is that Chinese society has been cut to several pieces with huge differences between each other in terms of consumption, production, education and living standard. In the same land that you call China, you can find very rich people who can afford the most luxury jewelry in the world, and a large amount of young men in or from rural areas who can't even have enough money to live on or support their family, and lot of people like me form the city who owns a laptop and have fairly good education and can speak fluent English.

The situation is CHANGING, in a way to a better status, while in another way into a worse situation. Corruption is the biggest problem that are shaking the ground of the Party, the legal system, the widening wealth gap. BUT through studying history, I know many developed countries, European countries or US all have a period of time when corruption was terribly damaging the country and the society, and then suddenly all the problems were solved after another period of time due to the overall development of the country.

If we explore the reasons for the wealth gap, "Study Times", a publication backed by the Communist Party School, quoted a famous economist in China, Wu JInglian, who always tell the truth about current economic policies in China, criticising the bad effect and call for care to the poor, saying that many of the new rich had benefited from "money and power" deals between officials and entreprenurs.

"All of the core problems are caused by unequal opportuinty," he said. "Unequal opportunity does not only lead to unfair incomes, but also damages justice and economic effiency."

South China Morning Post, an English newspaper based on Hong Kong has run several articles in recent days discussing the unstabilities warned by Wu Jinliang (Also by many ohter scholars and officals in China) and the possibilities of solving the problems through a gradual process towards democracy, which may first and some are already experimented in lower local governments in China. The website of the South China Morning Post is www.scmp.com, it's very good newspaper with serious journalism. BUT it's not free to read articles on its website.

If you want to know more about the democracy thing in China, there is an article on Asia Times Online, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China/GI20Ad01.html. I don't quite agree with the author, but the article is quite worth reading.

Posted 09:04 AM | Comments (0)

September 22, 2005

Global warming: a British perspective

SirDavidKing.jpg“Global warming is the most severe threat we face…more serious than terrorism” declared Sir David King a year or so ago. Sir David is the Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government and his declaration caused some sensation in Downing Street, in London, and in other parts of the world as one can easily imagine.

“I am happy to repeat that statement” said Sir David in Berkeley where he was invited by the Journalism School, on September 16th, to give a talk on the subject.

Katrina was the subject of some of the first questions asked by Michael Pollan and Sandy Tolan who hosted the event.

For Sir David, “Katrina is a potential tipping point of our attitudes towards natural disasters.” One has to be careful though: “It is not directly related to global warming but it is an example of disasters that might come. We do know that the intensity of hurricanes depends on ocean temperature. There is a little bit of a warning here.”

Asked about American media tendency to say that human impact on global warming is not clear, Sir David answered: “I’m amazed at the power of paid lobbyists in this country.”

Some mistakes are made, he admitted, and scientists ought to challenge each other, but “The science of climate change is mature. We know there is global warming. We know what causes it. What we don’t know is the impact it is going to have country by country.”

“There is room to say we need more science,” added Sir David. But we must anticipate that coastal cities will come under increasing risks. They will be higher in the developing world.” World wide more than a 100 million people are threatened.

The British government is taking the issue seriously. Five years ago it allocated 200 millions pounds to protect its coastal population. The budget has already risen to half a billion.

Richer countries have to give the proper example, act as leaders. “I would very much like to see the US take this leadership role,” he added.

Some people in the U.S. argue that controlling carbon dioxide emissions would slow growth. The British case seems to prove the opposite: “The UK could decrease its emissions in 12% while seeing its GDP grow 38%. It can be done,” said Sir King.

One of the issues addressed by Sir David during his talk is the difficulty to grab the attention of politicians on such issues as global warming. It’s much easier with terrorism of course. And still, Prime Ministers and heads of industries have families “they have genetic worries about their children.” Is the specie at risk? “Our DNA will survive, maybe in a different form,” said Sir David with a strange kind of a smile.

[Picture found on Greenpeace.org.uk]

Posted 09:51 AM | Comments (0)

Australia's Anti-Terrorism Offensive: Unease Down Under

While the U.S. continues to debate the possible civil liberties implications of the U.S. Patriot Act, a similar act is causing great unease among human rights groups in Australia, according to the Korean newspaper OhmyNews. In early September, Australian Prime Minister John Howard proposed a body of new measures, which he termed a response to the London subway bombings last July. The new anti-terror laws would strengthen the hand of law enforcement by permitting the detention of suspects up to two weeks without charges; facilitate surveillance of individuals for up to a year by (among other things) forcing them to wear tracking devices; and create a new crime of "indirect incitement" to terrorism.

The story’s author, Tessa Morris-Suzuki, editor of the online journal Asia Rights, asserts that such initiatives are not an effective response to terrorism.

“After 9/11,” writes Morris-Suzuki, “experts around the world repeatedly emphasized that responses to terrorism must involve two strands. The first is a security response: stricter surveillance of airports and other likely terrorist targets, increased information gathering about likely terrorist groups etc. The second is the long-term response, tackling the root causes of terrorism.”

"Governments …have been quick to come up with security responses to terrorism, but are much more reluctant to take the difficult steps necessary to tackle the long-term, root-cause side of the agenda…."

"Al Qaida and its allies… are doubtless delighted to see the steady erosion of free speech and human rights, and the increasing marginalization of Islamic communities in developed countries. Every retreat of the front-line defenses of free speech and human rights is an advance for their own brand of bigotry and totalitarianism. ‘Standing firm against terrorism’ requires a determination to deny them that satisfaction.”

Among the regional powers that will no doubt be watching developments closely in Australia are Thailand and the Philippines—identified by the U.S. government as primary new operating centers for al-Qaida and its allies.

Posted 01:20 AM | Comments (0)

September 21, 2005

New Poll Tracks Latin American Perceptions of the US

FLASCO, a Chilean social-science institute, has released new telephone survey data tracking public perceptions of the US in four Latin American capitals – Santiago, Montevideo, Buenos Aires and Brasilia. Although this is billed as a Latin American survey, the fact that research was limited to capitals and to those four countries weakens its conclusions – adding the provinces of these states, or other Latin American countries (Venezuela for anti-Bush, Columbia for pro) would likely significantly alter these results.

That said, it is useful to consider some of their conclusions.

Some of the findings confirm conventional wisdom – George Bush is extremely unpopular in Latin America, gathering his highest ratings in Santiago with a mere 19% of favorable responses. Unfavorable responses ranged from 40% (in Santiago), to 64% in Buenos Aires. Much and varied blame is laid at his feet, with 69% of respondents complaining about his neglect for their country, while 82% argue that the US interferes excessively in other countries affairs.

Although there are complaints about neglect, there also seems to be a perception that US involvement may be neither neccessary nor desirable - 60% of respondents don’t believe that US aid is necessary to tackle their country’s problems. There is also a significant divergence about what those problems are – terrorism is not considered to be a threat by a majority of respondents anywhere, while narco-trafficking, corruption, unemployment and poverty score very high levels of concern.

The survey also shows significant negative attitudes towards the US as a country. 70% of respondents consider it “an imperialist country,” and an equal amount do not believe America contributes to world peace. Neither US military power or democracy gather any accolades but, on the bright side, most of those called spoke favorable of US culture and economic dynamism.

There seems to be a consensus that the US does promote development abroad, though opinion is torn on whether free trade is a good idea – a majority of Chileans are pleased with their free trade agreement, a majority of Argentines and Brazilians are hostile to one, while Uruguayans are ambivalent.

Posted 10:05 PM | Comments (0)

September 20, 2005

"On Guilty Knees"

Special thanks to Prof. Hammer Ferenc for bringing this to my attention:

A columnist for the Croatian daily Slobodna Dalmacija chooses to draw an interesting parallel between the issues of Katrina's devastation and its effects on the social fabric of the United States--and the issues relevant to an European audience.

"Katrina revealed what the real image of the USA is-- derision of the poor and its 2/3 African American population who did not vote for President George Bush...They are being perceived as state's excess baggage on which nobody's private interest can be made profitable."

He goes on to criticize the Bush Administration for its ideological principles in governing, rather than dwelling on what he perceives to be the requisite leadership "local leaders omitted," by using the oft-cited statistic of a 17% rise in poverty under his tenure. His argument is equal parts racial tract and class thesis.

But the insight comes in his last paragraph in which he launches a host of questions: "How much do Europeans really care for the Roma? Are the buildings in Paris filled with immigrants burning down just because they are worn out? Is everybody in Croatia running to the help of those aforementioned Roma, who live in settlements that have been without water, electricity, and sewage systems for roughly a decade?"

Posted 12:56 AM | Comments (2)

“No society is immune”

Most of the stories published about Katrina and its aftermath in the foreign media are very critical of the U.S., and in particular of President Bush and his Administration.
Some notable stories, though take a much more careful approach.

Early on, The Irish Examiner told its readers:

“The first thing worth remembering is that, in the chaos and the looting, we are seeing not just America in crisis, but the drama of humanity everywhere.
A special case can be made that New Orleans, at the best of times, is a sad and lawless place. [...]
No society is immune. Once disaster strikes, two things happen. The survival instinct gets the better of some people and they do all sorts of things to make it through alive.”

Conservative essayist Guy Sorman ran a more analytical piece in the French Le Figaro.

“Bad news for the anti-Americans: the United States are not the Atlantis and they will not be more engulfed by hurricane Katrina that they have been wiped out by the 9/11 attacks.”

The reason, he says can be found in its history and in today’s vibrant civil society and market forces.

According to Sorman, local and State authorities are as responsible as the Federal Government for the failures in Katrina’s aftermath.

Republicans, he writes, have already chosen a “minimal State”. But, with Francis Fukuyama they think that “a free society requires a strong state.”

Is this the whiff of a contradiction?

Not at all. Sorman calls for a “Security State” that leaves social, cultural and educational issues to charitable foundations, local institutions and the market. He then concludes:

“The hurricane strengthens this neoconservative vision of the State: at the center heightened security, while everything else goes to civil society and to market.”

This is one example of how perceptions of what goes on and what is said in the U.S. can be part of the political and ideological debate in Europe… and elsewhere.

Posted 12:02 AM | Comments (0)

September 19, 2005

Perceptions of the U.S.: Three useful sites

We are not the only ones paying attention to how the US are perceived in the world. Among notable efforts in this direction we want to point to a few notable sites.

  • Watching America has been launched with private money from British entrepreneur Robin Koerner and the experience of Will Kern, an American former copy editor for the International Herald Tribune. It has some advertising and no paid staff according to The Christian Science Monitor. It uses stories published by a wide selection of foreign media with a machine translation when needed and the original story for those who want to compare.

  • Although not exclusively focused on “perceptions of the U.S.” the Atlantic Review pays a lot of attention to this issue in Germany. It is a collective blog that presents itself as “A press digest on transatlantic affairs edited by three German Fulbright Alumni.” It is sponsored by the German Fulbright Alumni Association.

  • Global Voices Online is a non-profit global citizens’ media project, sponsored by and launched from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School. It brings very useful information on stories run in other countries, including some that relate to the U.S.
    There are more. Don’t hesitate to indicate which one you think are the most relevant independently of their ideological or political slant.

    Posted 10:55 PM | Comments (1)

    Murdoch on Blair on the BBC on Katrina

    Invited to participate in Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative Forum, Rupert Murdoch has said in a speech that Tony Blair had told him in a private conversation BBC’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina was "full of hate of America and gloating about our troubles".

    Mr Blair’s office has not commented on the issue. The BBC says it has received no complain. According to a story on the BBC’s website Bill Clinton:

    “said he had seen the report Mr Blair was referring to, and there was "nothing factually inaccurate" in it.
    But he said it was designed "almost exclusively" to criticise the Bush administration's response to the crisis.”

    The Guardian comments:

    “Certainly the BBC highlighted the federal government's tardy response to the hurricane. But a claim of institutionalised loathing from the chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, which owns countless newspapers and broadcasters around the world, among them the BBC's direct rival Sky News - how on earth do you prove that?”

    Posted 10:09 PM | Comments (0)

    Californian Democracy

    “Who runs your world?” is a BBC's season examining the nature of power in the world today. The first of a series of five articles by Robin Lustig analyses democracy in California.

    It focuses on Orange County, one of the richest place on the planet, and takes as example the city of Santa Ana. A third of its residents entered the US illegally, most of them across the border of Mexico. So they have no papers, no official identity and no right to vote. They are politically invisible. Yet their presence is crucial for Santa Ana. Because they are the gardeners, the nannies, the cleaners, the cooks, the waiters.

    So the question asked is: “When President Bush talks of spreading democracy and freedom across the world, is Californian-style democracy what he has in mind?”.

    Posted 06:54 PM | Comments (0)

    September 17, 2005

    US-Canada: A key relationship under strain

    While foreign perceptions of the US manifest themselves most through speeches and writing, they can also be detected in what people choose to do, or where they choose to go. The Economist tracks Canadian-American relations through the volume day trips made across their common border. For the last twenty years, the number of day-long visits has varied regularly according to affordability:

    When the Canadian dollar went up, shoppers would flood south and a few budget-conscious American tourists would forgo their vacation among the moose, mountains and Mounties. There was even a rough rule of thumb: for every 10% appreciation of the loonie (as Canadians call their currency) against the greenback, there would be a 13% increase in the number of Canadians going south and a 3% decrease in the number of Americans heading north.

    Lately, this trend has broken down – despite a significant appreciation of the Canadian dollar, visits by Canadians are flat, and more Americans are staying away then expected. The article puts forward two explanations – that people are deterred by the length and hassle of the post-Sept. 11th border controls, and that diverging cultural and political values make visits less appealing. It sites a survey of Americans conducted by the Ontario provincial government, in which Canadian anti-Americanism was the number 2 reason given for opting against vacationing in Canada, as well as fear of terrorism and Canadian recognition of gay marriage. Canadians have similarly reservations about the US – the article quotes one tourism official noting that it’s “Both sides [that] feel less welcome in the other country.”
    Another article chronicles a ten-year trade dispute over softwood lumber. A marginal and unknown issue in the US, in Canada it's front-page material. The dispute hinges on tarrifs placed on Canadian softwood exports, which have been determined to violate the NAFTA agreement by tribunals organized under the treaty - seven times. After losing its final appeal, the US announced it would maintain tarrifs in open violation of the NAFTA agreement. The Canadians responded by abandoning negotiations, and both sides have resorted to threats and name-calling. The article notes that, while the Canadians have little direct leverage, they don't intend to keep silent - "Canada also plans an information campaign telling other countries seeking trade deals with the United States what it has learned about the value of its signature on a treaty."

    Posted 08:07 PM | Comments (0)

    The New Republic: Dutch Lessons

    The New Republic (requires subscription) contrasts New Orleans with the Netherlands, a country similarly vulnerable to catastrophic flooding, with much it set on “saucer-like flood plains just like… New Orleans.” But while the US approach to flood prevention was mainly to build higher levees, the Dutch have come up with more innovative strategies:

    [T]hey developed an unprecedented multi-billion-dollar concrete-and-steel dam and seawall project, which was praised in scientific journals as an engineering miracle when it was completed. In 1995, after abnormally severe river flooding necessitated a massive, unwieldy evacuation, Dutch officials didn't just reinforce existing dikes; they again set out to rethink their whole approach to flood protection. Hydraulic engineers hatched a scheme to breach levees on purpose during critical flood conditions, releasing pressure from high waters into areas where flooding would be less disastrous, like fields lying fallow. This required a major psychological switch for the Dutch, who'd had 700 years to get used to the idea that building up, not intentionally opening, levees is how to protect yourself from water.

    CBS and CNN likewise praise the Netherlands’ efforts, especially the willingness of the Dutch to undertake such a spectacular financial commitment ($8 billion in an economy a fraction the size) and noting that their preparations resulted in a flood risk 40 times smaller than that of New Orleans. The New York Times (requires subscription) elaborates on the cost of upkeep and the commitment to maintenance:

    The Netherlands maintains large teams of inspectors and maintenance crews that safeguard the sprawling complex, which is known as Delta Works. The annual maintenance bill is about $500 million. ''It's not cheap,'' Mr. de Haan [a senior engineer with the Dutch ministry responsible for flood control] said. ''But it's not so much in relation to the gross national product. So it's a kind of insurance.''

    But differences were not limited to preparation – the New York Times noted that, during the catastrophic 1953 flood that the Dutch refer to simply as “the Disaster,” a ship captain sunk his vessel to seal a breach in a levy, a reaction far different than firing on helicopters trying to do the same thing.
    Trying to explain the difference between Dutch planning and New Orleans anarchy, the New Republic’s Eve Fairbanks suggests that culture may play a role. Capturing the New Orleans mentality, she quotes New Orleans’ Times-Picayune columnist Betty Guillard: “If they know they'll be drowning soon," she said, "they'll just have a party.”

    Posted 07:30 PM | Comments (0)

    Why Bush is unfit to rule the planet

    bush.jpg
    John Berger, in The Guardian, attacks the Bush administration giving a particular definition of political madness: “an ignorance about most of what exists, and an abdication of the very minimum of what can be expected of government".

    The Bush government is not able to negotiate between its fear and its confidence, it says. Hence, its ineptness in facing the complexity of the reality. “Their operation in Afghanistan failed, their war in Iraq has been won (as the saying goes) by Iran, Katrina was allowed to produce the worst natural disaster in US history, and terrorist activities are increasing”. How can this administration believe they can rule the planet?

    Posted 02:22 PM | Comments (0)

    The World of Egoism

    While President Bush continues to receive a flurry of responses after the delivery of his Gulf revitalization plan on Thursday night, the closing of the United Nations summit has Sueddeutsche Zeitung wondering about America's desire to reform a different kind of institution.

    "The aversion to a multilateral policy, committee work, and alliance building so typical to the Bush Administration is reflected here," writes the Bavarian paper. Sueddeautsche specifically notes that John Bolton's tenure as ambassador to the body has already been marked by resistance to arms control and nonproliferation, and that such a course does not look to be ended anytime soon.

    Instead, the US continues its steady drumbeat to the tune of terrorism, when "[t]he United Nations is union of 191 states, which pursue 191 political interests," not all of them thusly related.

    The piece ends with a fairly downcast future of the world body and international government organizations in general by noting that it will take several years to revive agreements on a new security council, the definition of terrorism, a functioning human rights committee, and the principles of disarmament.

    "Kofi Annan started as an eagle and now his feathers have been plucked."

    Posted 01:46 AM | Comments (0)

    September 16, 2005

    "When one sees a rich man falling in the street, one help him to stand up !"

    By Pierre Langlais

    Ted Stanger, a US writer described as the "most Francophile" American citizen appeared on French public television yesterday, September 15, to tell how he was shocked by the French reactions after Katrina. Here is his point of view:

    "Of course, I am shocked by the mistakes of Bush's administration. But what is wrong for me is the reserves made by many French people to help the USA because it's a rich country [...] This is a political reaction. One shouldn't confuse politics and solidarity. If France had had a great reaction like for the Tsunami in Indonesia, it could have been a great and subtle message to Bush's government. It could have been an opportunity to say: we are not revanchists about Iraq [...] When one sees a rich man falling in the street, one help him to stand up ! [...] The poor people suffered twice : because of the hurricane first, and then because of the reactions in France. Isn't it French people who decided the site where New-Orleans was build ?"

    If you take a look on the video (go directly to the last minutes of it...), you will see that the French anchorwoman disagreed. I did.

    *Ted Stanger wrote three books: "Sacrés Français", "Sacrés Américains" and "Sacrés Français, le roman".

    Posted 06:06 AM | Comments (0)

    September 15, 2005

    A Vietnamese perspective...

    Vietbao cartoon.jpg
    From VietBao Online.

    Posted 11:53 AM | Comments (0)

    September 13, 2005

    Decivilisation

    Timothy Garton Ash, in The Guardian, introduces the impressive word “decivilisation” for describing Katrina’s biggest lesson. The real lesson we should learn from it “is not about the incompetence of the Bush administration, the scandalous neglect of poor black people in America, or our unpreparedness for major natural disasters - though all of those apply. Katrina's big lesson is that the crust of civilisation on which we tread is always wafer thin”. If for any reason you remove the elementary staples of civilised life, you immediately go back to a war of all against all.

    “Katrina tells us about the ever-present possibility of decivilisation”. Now we know what always lies below, it says. We’re going to face many man-made hurricanes, natural and political, from climate changes to terrorism. So the question is: “How civilised will we remain?”.

    Posted 09:49 AM | Comments (1)

    The K factor

    El Pais, the most important Spanish newspaper, is continuing covering the tragedy of Katrina in an extensive manner, with several editorials and comments everyday. In the last week, it has especially focused on three big issues: economic consequences for the EU, the perception of the US as a model and comparisons on preparedness strategies.

    On Friday September 9th , an editorial stressed the potential economical outcomes of Katrina in the EU pointing out oil issues. Katrina effects, it said, will exacerbate the oil race and project European economy onto a period of great uncertainty.

    On Sunday September 11th, Luisa Etxenike published an article under the title “Los ojos abiertos". It emphasized the big social fracture disclosed by the hurricane. There is nothing to be surprised about, it said, poor people died like this because they always have been living like this. American system is unfair, even though mostly perceived as a model. We should develop a much more analytical perspective.

    On the same day, Isabel Ferrer published an article under the title “The water lesson in Holland” taking Dutch strategies for preventing water diseases as a model. The Dutch struggle against water diseases totally amounts to 3.500 kilometres of canals and levees. Dutch people have been struggling against water since 500 a.C, when they used to build their houses upon piles of sand. Today the “Proyecto Delta” is one of the most innovative system against the force of the water.

    Posted 09:25 AM | Comments (0)

    Sun-Sentinel: Look at Cuba

    Cuba, one of the most hurricane-striken Caribbean islands prepares seriously for hurricanes. Abundant and precise information is given before hand. The forecast is somehow “excellent”. The pyramidal structure organizes evacuation to shelters staffed with doctors, nurses, and psychiatrists. People obey the evacuation orders. So much so that South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel writes:

    Now, as analysts and politicians examine how the U.S. government responded to Hurricane Katrina -- and perhaps avoid a similar catastrophe in the future -- some say this communist island may have a few lessons to offer.

    The Sun-Sentinel quotes Dan Erikson, Caribbean specialist at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank, for whom:

    "It's still a police state. You could say one advantage they may have is the ability to move large numbers of people in a short amount of time. But of course the political environment in Cuba makes it difficult to resist those kinds of orders."

    Nevertheless the daily points out that:
    Cubans have weathered some of the most violent storms the tropics can churn up, with surprisingly low death tolls and almost perfect compliance with evacuation orders.

    Last year, United Nations emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland singled out Cuba for praise among Caribbean nations for hurricane-evacuation planning. When Hurricane Ivan swiped the island last September, for example, Cuba didn't record a single death, while 115 people died in other parts of the region. The same month, Hurricane Jeanne killed more than 1,500 in Haiti, with many drowning in floodwaters.

    Posted 12:01 AM | Comments (0)

    September 12, 2005

    A comparison with Japan

    According to the French Le Monde's correspondent in Japan, the comparison between “Typhoon Number 14” and Katrina is striking. He draws part of his observation from two titles which appeared on the first page of some Japanese dailies on September 7th. “Katrina: likely 10,000 dead” said one while the other read “Typhoon in Japan: 9 dead.” Although the winds were slightly less frightening in Japan, both hurricanes were of comparable strength.

    If 1995 Kobe earthquake was a disaster that overwhelmed the government, the French newspaper points to the orderly response.

    “Communities self organized the distribution of food and sanitary tasks, while supermarkets asked their clients to respect a voluntary rationing. No looting, robbery or violence was to be deplored in the ruined city. Even the underworld, with the greatest Japanese crime syndicate, Yamaguchi Gumi, officially an “association”, whose headquarters is in Kobe, organized help to prove its civic sense."

    Posted 11:42 PM | Comments (0)

    US Pressure on UN Summit: Derailment Ahead?

    While much of the world continues to recoil at the devastation in New Orleans, the U.S. delegation to the United Nations appears to be wreaking its own form of havoc in the run-up to the United Nations summit that commences on September 14 in New York City. After five years of negotiation over a Millenium Development program which aims to decrease poverty and hunger by increasing support from developed countries for education and health care, the British newspaper The Independent reports that the summit is on the verge of failure before even beginning due to US objections. The proposed program sets guidelines for cutting poverty around the world by half by 2015.

    The new US delegation to the UN, led by newly appointed Ambassador John Bolton, has submitted some 750 separate amendments to the document—which undermine the goals of the agreement and, according to the Independent, threatens to make the upcoming summit a “global fiasco.”

    Central to the dispute, according to Inter Press Service, is the U.S. emphasis on terrorism as the world’s primary security issue, while UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and most other members of the UN, “have repeatedly asserted that the world cannot be safer without development and poverty eradication.”

    Posted 11:21 PM | Comments (0)

    9/11 anniversary brings about criticism for Bush

    The fourth commemoration of the Sept. 11th, 2001 attacks was covered in the European media much as it was in the U.S. – inevitably linked to the recent tragedy in New Orleans.

    Next to the straight coverage, many newspapers ran editorials comparing and contrasting Katrina and 9/11, not in a flattering way for Bush. Others skirted the Katrina angle and ran stories assessing what progress has been made over four years in the fight against terrorism.

    In French newspaper Libération, an opinion piece titled “The Anti-9/11” argues that while Sept. 11th gave Bush the opportunity to display his leadership and gave him the political muscle to wage preventive wars, Katrina has had the exact opposite effect, discrediting him and making the pursuit of “foreign interventions” more difficult. “The political debate has suddenly been re-centered on interior problems, perhaps durably,” concludes the piece.

    British historian Simon Schama ran a scathing piece in The Guardian, simply titling it “Sorry Mr President, Katrina is not 9/11”.

    After comparing at length the very different responses to the two disasters, he makes a prediction. “Historians ought not to be in the prophecy business but I'll venture this one: Katrina will be seen as a watershed in the public and political life of the US, because it has put back into play the profound question of American government,” says Schama. He then criticizes the Bush administration for cutting the budgets needed to maintain flood defenses and turning FEMA into “a hiring opportunity for political hacks and cronies” which “disappeared into the lumbering behemoth of Homeland Security.”

    Back in France, Le Monde ran a story titled “Since 9/11, the terrorism menace has become permanent” while Le Figaro ran the title “Despite the war against terrorism led by Washington, Al-Quaida’s power of mobilization remains intact”.

    Both pieces hint that four years after having declared a war against terrorism, the Bush administration may not have much to show for it, with the Le Monde piece’s opening sentence reading: “Osama Bin Laden is still free.”

    Posted 05:12 PM | Comments (0)

    September 11, 2005

    Latina Katrina

    In Latin American press, much is being made of the collapse in aid to the Gulf region of Hurricane Katrina. Particular attention is being paid to the ouster of FEMA jefe Mike Brown and the Bush Administration’s general inability to hem in a protean bureaucracy after September 11th. Nicaragua’s El Nuevo Diario (centrist) discusses Brown’s perceived incompetence while the online Argentinian magazine Clarín (independent) calls FEMA an organization “responsible (supposedly) for helping out in disasters” and claims that it has a mentality of political wrangling summed up as “today me, tomorrow you.” Editorials from a variety of political spectrums in Mexico have been similarly condemnatory of the problems with the federal chain of command and its disaster relief (El Universal (centrist), La Jornada (left-wing)).

    Posted 04:27 PM | Comments (0)

    Baghdad, New Orleans


    vauro.gif

    [If you complain again, I'll send you to New Orleans!]
    Published in the Italian Il Manifesto

    Posted 10:59 AM | Comments (0)

    Can Bush "survive" Katrina ?

    by Pierre Langlais

    After the disaster in New Orleans, most of the French newspapers (as the US press) attacked George W. Bush for his late reaction (see the article Katrina is unfortunately opening America's eyes). Le Figaro is now asking how the American president is going to fight against these attacks.
    In two articles published last week, the right wing daily is searching for reasons and acts in favor of Mr. Bush.
    Monday 5th, Jean-Louis Turlin, its correspondant in New York, wrote a piece called "Bush is trying to fix the political damages". A "positive" point was actually at that time the death of William Rehnquist, head of the Suprem Court...

    "The acceleration of the evacuations and the re-establishment - at least partial - of the order in New Orleans counterbalanced the images of desolation and anger on television screens. The death of [...] judge William Rehnquist disputed yesterday on newspapers' headlines the tragedy of Katrina... and it gave George W Bush another opportunity to appear as an "active" president." wrote Mr. Turlin.

    On the 8th of Septembre, another article called "Katrina, the hunting for cullprits is open" start with this sentence: "Bush is playing his best card". This "lethal weapon" (if one uses the exact translation of the French expression "arme fatale") was actually... Dick Cheney, sent on the field, in Louisiana. And this article finished with a moderate critic from Philippe Gélie in Washington:

    "Contrary to September 11, the hurricane did not create a huge union of the country behind its president. But, contrary to Iraq, George Bush might find easily a solution to this new problem."

    A supposition that seems not that obvious today...

    Posted 04:19 AM | Comments (0)

    September 09, 2005

    Katrina Perspectives...

    The Bush Administration's response to Hurricane Katrina seems to be offering plentiful opportunity for foreign observers to reflect on the multiple ironies of a United States seemingly floundering at what it projects to the world its best at: matters of security, whether the challenge comes from terrorists or from the forces of nature. The Peruvian newsmagazine Caretas offered yet another critical perspective, adding to a litany from around the world suggesting how the Bush administration's sole focus on international terrorism--both at home and abroad--blinded them to the real dangers presented by the rise of Katrina. "The gross indifference of this administration (to the rising tragedy) comes partly out of their monothematic agenda and dangerous incompetence."

    Posted 12:13 PM | Comments (0)

    What’s at stake

    Katrina, and the way it has been handled is having a profound impact on perceptions of the U.S. in the world. George Bush critics and extreme leftists are certainly having a good time (in political terms). What an opportunity this represents to say “I told you so.” But it goes much beyond that. People are genuinely flabbergasted.

    Let’s take an example. El País, the most important Spanish newspaper, has covered the tragedy in an extensive manner with several pages everyday.

    On Sunday September 4th, its reporters could interview two Spanish families who had escaped, and tell their story. One of them, Clara Diez said “I could never imagine that in the richest country in the world there could be so much disorganization. Nothing worked.”

    An editorial published on the same day under the title "Political hurricane" went further, and addressed elements that can be found in articles of very different countries. It represents a sort of very condensed summary of some of the most common reactions.

    U.S. power – After reminding that not long ago the Pentagon prepared itself to handle two simultaneous wars, El País states that “With this catastrophe serious doubts surface about its capacity to handle two important crisis--Iraq and the Mississippi delta--that require the mobilization of military personnel, and all the attention of the federal administration.”

    The U.S. as a model – The U.S. has promoted its economic and social model for years, but one of the central functions of the state is to provide security to its citizens. It is written in the American Constitution. In New Orleans “the Federal State did not fulfill a primary constitutional obligation. But, on top of this, the human tragedy of the days after highlighted an intolerable social fracture in which race and class were key.”

    The question - The editorial ends on a question that, again, many people are—genuinely or not—asking around the world: “at stake is the authority and prestige of the world hyperpower. It can’t warrant its own citizens’ security and it wants to organize the security of the world?”

    Posted 11:34 AM | Comments (0)

    "What really matters"

    helguera-Jornada-050907.jpg

    [On the left "In Iraq" - On the right "In New Orleans"]
    Published in the Mexican La Jornada with the caption "What really matters."

    Posted 10:44 AM | Comments (0)

    September 08, 2005

    History and Katrina: “A rupture comparable to Sept. 11”?

    Over a week after hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the French are still reeling from the shock of seeing the United States in the throes of such a catastrophe. The initial reactions have been much akin to that which was being heard in the U.S. and around the world, calling the disaster revelatory of America’s weaknesses (namely, racial/economic divides and President Bush’s apparent lack of leadership). Now the French media are starting to look at the potential long-term, political effects of Katrina.

    One aspect of the disaster that has been of interest to the French, and which has been brought up in a number of articles – including a full article devoted to the subject in Liberation titled “At war against America” – is how America’s own media is responding to the disaster.

    The article describes how, though “usually conformist and respectful of power, American TV stations became war machines against Bush and his administration,” with star reporters venting their anger over the situation, live to the American viewers.

    American TV news is usually widely criticized in the French media for being out of touch with reality, so it is significant to hear a French journalist, and from a left-wing newspaper, for once praise it: “Substituting itself to the absent authorities, the American television stations have performed a work of public service. Of information and of contestation. Back to playing the role of fourth power in the face of the President and of the political class.”

    Others in France are pointing out the rousing effect of Katrina, beyond the media, on its public. In a chat session analyzing the disaster for the online edition of Le Monde, Denis Lacorne, director of the CERI (Centre d’études et de recherches internationales), said: “The real change in the United States is that finally all Americans, including numerous republicans, have gotten out of the soft patriotism brought on by Sept. 11 and have recovered – a bit late – a critical mind in the face of a president who was favored by fate but who, today, will have to face a misfortune that was unpredictable but which revealed the failings of the experts.”

    Lacorne also brought up the question of whether or not Katrina might spur a move away from neo-liberalism and a return to “big government” of the FDR-era, in which large-scale projects that might prevent such disasters could be undertaken.

    The French, living in what they call a “providence state,” indeed are often vocal critics of privatization such as has been pushed by the Bush administration, and which is on the agenda (if much more tentatively) of some in the French right wing.

    Though the French newspapers are too cautious to come outright and call Katrina the downfall of Bush and his brand of leadership, they nevertheless are raising the issue. Some point out his record-low popularity ratings, others the growing disagreement over his handling of the war in Iraq.

    An editorial in Le Monde asks if spending in Iraq is not going to seem ludicrous to Americans in the face of such problems on their home soil. In the coming months, American politics will be marked by the answer given to this question, according to this newspaper. It concludes that “Katrina could mark in history a rupture comparable to Sept. 11.”

    Posted 08:31 PM | Comments (0)

    September 07, 2005

    Intervention?

    Plantu-050908.jpg
    “But, what country is this? Is it far? We must intervene.”
    Published in the French Le Monde on Thursday, September 8th.

    Posted 05:16 PM | Comments (1)

    Katrina is unfortunately opening America's eyes

    by Pierre Langlais

    After Katrina's disaster, all the major French medias, like their US colleagues, insist on the mistakes of Bush's administration, and, even more, on the blindness of America regarding poverty and inequalities.
    The first daily to attack is, as usual, the left wing newspaper L'Humanité, in two long articles called "Behind Katrina lies racism" and "The neo-conservatism in the hurricane's eye". In the first one, Jean Chatain chooses a terrifying quote from Dallas police Chief David Kunkle about the black refugees coming from Louisiana:

    "We are preparing for the worst, but we will take care of Dallas inhabitants security at once". And Mr Chatain to add: "this point of view can be compared to those of racists cops from deep south in Erskine Caldwell's old books".

    In the second article, Jacques Coubard condemned the inefficiency of the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency - Agency of the US government tasked with Disaster Mitigation, Preparedness, Response & Recovery planning) and especially the Under secretary and head of the FEMA, Michael Brown:

    "Before being chosed as the head of the federal organization responsible for the emergency helps, this lawyer was judges supervisor in horse races in Colorado. He did not have any qualification to be elected to such an important role, but he is a close relation of George Bush, and he was one of his advisers during the last campaign. He replaced Tom Connelly, a specialist that Louisiana has just called for help to manage the "ultra disaster". This choice of a “neocon” turns now as a fatal consequence of a personal choice of George Bush [...] The nomination of Brown illustrates the contempt of the government for this agency [the FEMA]. News-Orleans victims were "killed by the contempt" of these political choices, which turned the public services and the social security into a private system."
    The daily Libération is also very critical towards George W. Bush when Gerard Dupuy writes in an op-ed piece called "Collateral damages":
    "American prestige is already one of the major victims [of Katrina]. And there is not a doubt that the first person in charge is George Bush, which did everything to confirm its more severe caricatures: Empty head and dry heart."
    But all US society is guilty for Gerard Dupuy:
    "The victims were twice "wrong" to be at the same time poor and black. The American society however promotes the altruistic behaviours: to care is a cardinal virtue of the American spirit and charity actions are flourishing there. But they have been shorted-circuit by the extent of the disaster and the public institutions were not able to face it, partly because they were not prepared for it. Their deplorable service in New-Orleans is already presented like the implicit consequence of an ideology often praised by Bush: the privatization of solidarity itself. Bush and his close advisors did not realize the disaster and its consequences because a blind spot blocked their eyes."
    "These images will remain in the collective memory, like those of the repression of the black demonstrations for the civic rights in 1963. They will remain like a symbol of the Bush presidency. They will force America to look at the poverty in another manner"
    adds Mark Naison, a New York university teacher in an interview called "Poverty doesn't exist for George Bush".

    Posted 05:29 AM | Comments (0)

    September 06, 2005

    We still can’t believe it

    Astonishment is probably the best definition of what most Spaniards felt watching the images of chaos, despair and disaster after the hurricane "Katrina" hit the US' southeast coast last week.

    As probably most Europeans and also many, many US citizens, the Spaniards were astounded by the devastation provoked by Katrina, the chaos, disorganization and pillaging of the first days and, after the shock, they just couldn't understand the long, long time it took the Federal Government to react, as some Spaniards who were in New Orleans denounced (see this story, or that one) once they finally got back home.

    The numbers -of many thousands- of dead people due to the hurricane remind Europe of figures only used before in natural disasters in Third World or developing countries, like the December 26th tsunami or the devastating earthquake in Bam, Iran, last year, but not in a country that praises itself as the most powerful on Earth.

    Although the Spanish and U.S. governments have obviously grown apart since the Socialist Party took power and retired its troops from Iraq a year ago, Madrid offered immediately its condolences to the Bush administration, as well as its aid, which was finally accepted this week by Washington.

    US ambassador in Madrid, Eduardo Aguirre, presented on Monday the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos a "long list" of what is needed and that has immediately been attended by the Spanish authorities.

    Aguirre, who told the media that he and his family grew up in New Orleans, also thanked the quick condolences Spain's President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero sent after de disaster, which could mark the start of a series of gestures towards a normalization of the US-Spanish relationship after the "coldness" of the past months.

    All in all, the Spanish Interior Minister, José Antonio Alonso, couldn't resist the temptation and declared that his country would have had a better response towards such a catastrophe, in a way voicing the opinion of many who still cannot believe what has happened in "the" First World country "par excellence".

    On the other hand, others think that the moment has not come to compare or to make strong accusations. There will be enough time for that. The most important thing now is sending help and showing solidarity. Which most Spaniards have done.

    Posted 06:34 PM | Comments (0)

    September 05, 2005

    Who is responsible for Katrina?

    One week after the so called American tsunami, left Italian media are still “riding” this catastrophe in order not only to attack President Bush, but also to express their usual, worse, awkward anti-Americanism.

    On Sunday, September 4th, “L’Unità” , organ of the Left coalition leaded by Romano Prodi has a comment by Maria Novella Oppo titled “Iceberg President” in which the way President Bush has visited New Orleans is highly criticized “as if he were on the set of a catastrophist TV series”. The human approach of this President, writes the commentator, is very similar to an iceberg.

    On the same first page L’Unità, while reporting an article appeared on The New York Times, underlines that even the Republicans are strongly criticizing President Bush’s behavior.

    Il Manifesto, organ of the radical left, while interviewing Jeremy Rifkin on September 3rd, points out that the catastrophe was foreseen and Bush has hidden the truth.

    “La Repubblica”, which is supposed to be a liberal newspaper but actually supports the Italian Left, with its today’s article signed by its founder Eugenio Scalfari notes that America was able liberate Berlin from the Soviets in 48 hours. The same America was also able to transport a huge army for the first Gulf war and it was able to do the same for the war in Iraq. But this same America is not able to bury the dead in New Orleans six days after the catastrophe. Imperialism is not compatible with Democracy, concludes the commentator.

    In the past days “La Repubblica”, with its articles signed by the correspondent from the States, Vittorio Zucconi, has considered Bush’s denial to sign the Kyoto Agreement for the Environment as well as American people’s consumerism both highly responsible for New Orleans disaster.

    To give an idea of the present strong political exploitation of the catastrophe, is worth remembering today’s provocative article of “Libero”, a center-right newspaper: “Would you like to be governed by those who are fans of the hurricane?” Actually some extreme left wings seem to welcome the hurricane Katrina as the most appropriate weapon against American and its president.

    Posted 09:13 PM | Comments (1)