Thursday, August 07, 2008

Olympic-sized Shame

It will be, and should be for everyone watching, nearly impossible to really enjoy the 2008 Olympics knowing the horrendous backdrop in which it is set - a modern-day China that is centuries behind in the way its government treats its native peoples and those it has colonized in places like Tibet.

As Johann Hari writes in Britain's The Independent:

...many of us want to believe we are being tolerant – and even anti-racist – by sticking our fingers in our ears when it comes to the conflict within China. Why? Because our silent societal taboo: we aid and abet the Chinese dictatorship every day. Through our government. Through our corporations. And – crucially – through our choices at the till. At some semiconscious level, we don't want the Chinese people to be allowed to speak and assemble and think freely – because it would mean we had to pay more.

How many times have you chosen a store item, seen the label "Made in China", felt a tiny twinge of guilt - aware of the many human rights abuses of the Chinese government - yet bought the item anyway because it was cheap? Companies like Wal-Mart count on that appeal:

...there is no question that the chain is helping accelerate the loss of American jobs to low-wage countries such as China. Wal-Mart, which in the late 1980s and early 1990s trumpeted its claim to "Buy American," has doubled its imports from China in the past five years alone, buying some $12 billion in merchandise in 2002. That's nearly 10% of all Chinese exports to the United States.

That's what human rights have become in this world: cheap.

And we further cheapen them not just by the shopping choices we make but by turning the other way when faced with the stark reality of oppression and cruelty dressed up in the guise of healthy capitalism or fighting for our freedoms in the wars we endlessly fund and excuse.

The subjugation of human rights is big business. While the current outrage in the US is over the furor about the Iraqi government oil profits not being directed to reconstruction (guess what, Americans? you destroyed the place, you didn't impeach the warmongers, you fix it), have you heard anyone lately complaining about the fact the the CIA's "black budget" is classified?

Although figures are not available after 2000, the Inspector General calculated the CIA has siphoned $1.7 trillion in 1998, $2.3 trillion in 1999 and $1.1 trillion in 2000. This entire CIA funding process, of course, has dubious constitutional authority, but is allowed by various Congressional enactments and secret approval given by the Executive branch and high-ranking congressional leaders.

Trillions of US dollars unaccounted for - used for foreign coups, torture programs, secret prisons, kidnappings, murders, and covert ops that no one will ever know about - and Americans are complaining that the Iraqi government has $80 billion stashed away for its future?

So, while George Bush is predictably performing political theatre by scolding the Chinese government over its human rights abuses - (is this the face of a man who's seriously concerned about human rights?) - a message from a president who once mused about how things would be so much easier if he was a dictator (and he's been a de facto one anyway, considering the lack of congressional willingness to oversee his long list of abuses and crimes) - the shade is still very much drawn over what the CIA and world leaders do behind closed doors in the name of "furthering capitalism" or "protecting national interests" while pretending to care about rights. Code phrases for patting each other on the back while looking the other way as ordinary people are severely harmed by whatever policies they choose to cook up without ever consulting the very people they're supposed to represent. See: Energy Policy, Cheney ie. the death of the Kyoto Protocol and the massive enrichment of oil tycoons and war profiteers thus resulting in US corporate monsters like Exxon-Mobil running teevee ads suddenly trying to convince everyone how "green" they are. It's all one gigantic propaganda farce.

China is just another link in that chain and far be it for any corporation's employees to actually state what's really going on, as CNN's Jack Cafferty found out earlier this year when he was forced to semi-apologize for stating the truth about China's governmental "goons and thugs" - an apt description of most world leaders at one time or another. And, as Cafferty noted, China owns so much US debt that although the USA likes to tout itself as Number One in every possible way, it's actually becoming a subsidiary of China's wealth. How's that for back door colonization?

The biggest dollar surplus country today [2006] is China. Globalization is in fact just a code word for dollarization. The Chinese Yuan is fixed to the dollar. The US is being flooded with cheap Chinese goods, often outsourced by US multinationals. China today has the largest trade surplus with the US, more than $100 billion a year. Japan is second with $70 billion. Canada with $48 bn, Mexico with $37 bn and Germany with $36 bn make the top 5 trade deficit countries, a total deficit of almost $300 billion of the colossal $480 deficit in 2002. This gives a clue to US foreign policy priorities.

What is perverse about this system is the fact that Washington has succeeded in getting foreign surplus countries to invest their own savings, to be a creditor to the US, buying Treasury bonds. Asian countries like Indonesia export capital to the US instead of the reverse!

The US Treasury and Greenspan are certain that its trade partners will be forced to always buy more US debt to prevent the global monetary system from collapsing, as nearly happened in 1998 with the Russia default and the LTCM hedge fund crisis.
But debt must be repaid you say? Does it ever? The central banks just keep buying new debt, rolling the old debts over. The debts of the USA are the assets of the rest of the world, the basis of their credit systems!

The second key to the Dollar System deals with poorer debtor countries. Here the US influence is strategic in the key multilateral institutions of finance—World Bank and IMF, WTO. Entire countries like Argentina or Brazil or Indonesia are forced to devalue currencies relative to the dollar, privatize key state industries, cut subsidies, all to repay dollar debt, most often to private US banks. When they resist selling off their best assets, tehy are charged with being corrupt. The growth of offshore money centers in the Caribbean, a key part of the drug money cycle, is also a direct consequence of the decisions in Washington in the 1970's and after, to deregulate financial markets and banks. As long as the dollar is the global currency, the US gains, or at least its big banks.

This is a kind of Dollar Imperialism more slick than anything the British Empire even dreamed of. It is a part of the current America "Empire" debate no one mentions. Instead of the US investing in colonies like England to earn profits on the trade, the money comes from the client states into the US economy. The problem is that Washington has allowed this perverse system to get out of all control to the point today it threatens to bring the entire world to the point of collapse. Had the US instead promoted long-term policy of investing in the economic growth and self-sufficiency of countries like Argentina or Congo, rather than bleeding them in repayment of unpayable dollar debts, the world would look far less unstable today.

Again, the US government - Republicans and the precious Democrats - have allowed this situation to become what it is today. That's why Bush's little scold has absolutely no meaning. All of the major world powers are in these abuses together. No need to wonder why the genocide in Darfur continues or why a leader like Hugo Chavez poses such a threat to this world order.

While the mainstream media has now been forced to at least provide some coverage of China's human rights abuses, aided by groups like Amnesty International which has thankfully been on the case for decades, the spotlight is at least now shining on the continual suffering in Tibet, the plight of parents under house arrest who lost children in the Sichuan province earthquake now forbidden to speak to foreign journalists about how the Chinese government's shoddy building standards contributed to those deaths, the continuing oppression of members of religious groups like Falun Gong, the ever-present deadly threat of unbelievable pollution, the jailing of political dissidents and the seemingly never-ending list of other governmental abuses of the Chinese people - all aided and abetted by western governments.

In the days to come, however, we will again be treated to clips of Chinese Olympic volunteers learning proper etiquette (no spitting!) so as not to insult foreign visitors while the networks will go out of their way to no doubt show the tourist attractions of China as if that can provide cover for the horrendous reality so many Chinese people suffer daily. People like those forced out of their homes (in an effort not unlike the US eminent domain scheme) in order to beautify the country as Chinese government leaders attempt to save face.

There's nothing small about the Olympics but even the massive spectacle of a show put on by the Chinese government can't hide its true shame. In the end then, we are all victims - the athletes, the spectators who just want to watch some friendly competition - knowing that, as Amnesty International reports (video), China's human rights situation has become worse since it was awarded the games. The idea that the Olympics would bring positive changes for the Chinese people is a myth.

Let the (political) games begin continue...

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