As heads of state from around the world gather here in New York for the 59th UN General Assembly, where they will exchange mostly empty promises and hollow cries of despair for human suffering and injustice, one George W. Bush, has decided to rise above the rhetoric by opting not even to take part in it. The US on Monday refused to back a declaration of 110 nations vowing to fight hunger and poverty.
As Brazilian President Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva asked on Monday “How many more times will it be necessary to repeat that the most destructive weapon of mass destruction in the world is poverty?” — Bush was busy raising money at a campaign event in Midtown Manhattan. Apparently, discourse over how to help the over 1 billion people living on less than $1 per day was not enough to even win a visit from Bush at the World Leaders Summit on Hunger, organized by Lula, France’s Jacques Chirac, Spain’s Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez and Chilean President Ricardo Lagos.
Among the proposals put forward during the meeting: global taxes on financial transactions and a tax on the sale of heavy arms. The devil is always in the details. Given that arms sales and foreign lending and investment are the U.S.’s bread and butter – and given this administration’s deep ties to both industries – the U.S. position is easily decipherable. Disgusting, but decipherable. What would Lockheed Martin, the U.S.’s largest weapons contractor, do if if taxes were levied on the $31.82 billion in sales it had in 2003? What about New York’s Citigroup, the world’s largest financial services company? It’s revenue for 2003 came in at over $100 billion. The irony of the proposal aside (taxing such companies to help the poor who are most likely dying because of these companies’ weapons or lending schemes), the administration’s dismissal of it should be garnering outrage simply because Bush will wax poetic during his addresses to the UN on global injustice and an end to inequality, etc. etc.
It gets better. The Bush administration went further than just skipping out on the debate over poverty and hunger and subsequently refusing to sign a document whose principles were shared by rich and poor nations alike. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Venemen, representing the administration in the matter, called the proposed global tax “inherently undemocratic.”
Besides this behavior and rhetoric being utterly appalling, it is ironic (a running theme of life under Bush II). The administration’s refusal to sign the declaration no doubt comes from its wishes to protect the industries it holds so near and dear; industries that are comprised of corporations which are, themselves “inherently undemocratic.” Go figure.