Saturday, January 01, 2005

Comic(al) Relief

Last Sunday, 11 countries in the Indian Ocean have been hit by a tsunami unleashed by the fourth strongest recorded earthquake in history. At last count, 114,000 people have been reported dead, and the count is still rising. Not surprisingly, a major relief effort is under way. Since President Bush has demonstrable problems with the English language, forgive him for mistaking the meaning of the world relief. He must have thought something like: “Isn’t it a relief that this happened somewhere else?” as he continued his vacation in his Crawford, Texas, ranch.

Certainly, he cannot have interpreted the word relief as the Merriam-Webster does, i.e. “removal or lightening of something oppressive, painful, or distressing”. If he had, his initial offer for aid would have been higher than $35 million [1] (initially, and even more unbelievably, Colin Powell set it at $15 million.) To give you an idea of how little that is, divide $35 million by the number of U.S. citizens: 280 million. The result is that President Bush has offered 12¢ per American citizen. Sure, money goes farther in certain economies than in others, but if Mr. Bush’s idea of relief were not tragic, it would almost be comical.

Contrast this figure with the amount of money that Mr. Bush has enthusiastically secured for the war in Iraq (and ancillary costs, like pork for Halliburton), $147 billion (yes, billion, with a b!) to date. That is $525 per U.S. citizen. The United States is spending 4375 times as much on waging war (and the ensuing reconstruction) as it has initially pledged to help people struck by the one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history. Is it any wonder that so many around the world are disgruntled with American leaders and their policies, or that Jan Egeland, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, called western countries (with understated emphasis on the U.S.) stingy?

To give you an idea of exactly how stingy our governments are, bear with me while I illustrate this next point. My donation to the relief effort amounts to roughly .0017 of my yearly income (you might call it my GDP). By comparison, in pledging $35m, the United States has pledged 3 millionths of a percentage point of its GDP ($11 trillion!). There it is: I am 560 times more generous than our government. And yet, after donating this measly percentage of my yearly salary, I will still be able to eat, to buy gas, pay for my insurance bill and my mortage, go see a few movies... you get it: I will still be able to function—as if nothing. If President Bush wished to be as generous as I was (and again, I have not been heroically generous, quite the contrary…), the United States government should have pledged $19.6 billion dollars [2].
When Americans say that they live in the greatest nation on earth, if not in the greatest nation in history (and, oh, do they say it!), they may be right in terms of muscle, but not in terms of heart. Consider this: Sweden (pop. 9 million) has pledged $75 million; Denmark (pop. 5.3m): $18m; the United Kingdom (pop. 58m): $29m; Japan (pop. 127m) $30m; Australia (pop. 20m): $27m; Canada (pop. 33m): $33 million; France (pop. 60m): $20 million. These are just a few examples. Not all the countries I listed have exceeded expectations of generosity, but none has been as tight-fisted as the U.S.A. Obviously, in the long run, the United States will end up donating more money than anyone else, in absolute terms. But in proportion to its GDP, or to its per-capita income, Mr. Bush is wrong in saying that “the person who made that statement was very misguided and ill-informed.” Mr. Egeland was right in calling the United States stingy: It is, and not one bit ashamed of it.

[1] As I later learned from CNN during my lunch break, by listening to one of their idiot-puppet “journalists", by the time President Bush raised his initial offer to $35m American corporations had already "stepped to the plate", by donating as much as $70 million in cash and goods/services. Here's a few contributors:
Pfizer: $35 million (Note that Pfizer's dontation equals, in value, the amount pledged by the United States government)
Wal-mart: $2 million? (Wal-Mart reported revenues of $256 billion for 2004, almost for times as much as the GDP of Sri-Lanka for the same year, or one-third of the GDP of Indonesia.)
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: $3 million of their own money. (Microsoft had revenues of more than to $34b in 2004, with profits of almost $9b)
Citigroup: $3 million (profits for 2004 of approx. $18b, on revenues of ca. $94b)
Exxon-Mobil: $5 million (earnings of $21b on revenues of $223b for 2004)

[2] If you think that's a lot of money, consider this:
On October 23 of this year, less than two weeks from Election day, President Bush signed "the most sweeping overhaul of corporate tax law since 1986, [benefiting] a wide array of groups from farmers, fishermen and bow and arrow hunters to some of America's largest corporations,” to the tune of $136 billion. (Beneficiaries include the “beleaguered” tobacco industry, banks, and timber interests.)
Copyright 2004-2012