'Ambitions of empire'

Friday, March 2, 2007

When the vice-president of the "land of the free" came to Sydney recently, the joke going around was that he brought a "troop surge" to town. A few friends are still sporting bruises from that "surge", made possible by the NSW Labor government's generous provision of a large number of bullies in uniform to terrorise the local population.

The theme of Dick Cheney's keynote speech during the visit was his warning about terrorists having "ambitions of empire". These evil terrorists' ultimate aim is to establish "a caliphate covering a region from Spain, across North Africa, through the Middle East and South Asia, all the way to Indonesia — and it wouldn't stop there", warned Cheney, seemingly oblivious to the irony of this charge coming from a US vice-president.

The US Department of Defense lists 702 US military installations in foreign countries. This does not include installations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Kosovo, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar and Uzbekistan. Add them up and the number comes close to 1000. The US has troops in 135 countries, 70% of the world's countries!

We are not talking about "ambitions of empire" here; it is an actual empire.

And the amounts of money being spent on the US empire's military force is rising dramatically. Following are the amounts spent just to buy new equipment, ammunition, weapons systems and so on for the US expeditions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

2004 — $5.5 billion
2005 — $18.8 billion
2006 — $23 billion
2007 — $44.6 billion

To add the costs of paying the troops, maintenance and repairs, multiply those figures by 2.5.

Meanwhile, at the heart of the empire, the number of people in the US living in extreme poverty has grown by 26% since 2000. That's nearly 16 million people now living on an individual income of less than US$5000 a year, or a family income of less than $10,000, according to an analysis of 2005 official census data published in the February 27 British Independent.

Meanwhile, at the heart of that empire, the richest 1% of households owns 33.4% of all privately held wealth. The next 19% (the managerial, professional and small business stratum) owns 51%, leaving only 16% of the wealth for the bottom 80% (wage and salary workers).

UNICEF's latest report on the well-being of children in 21 wealthy nations placed the US second bottom overall. The report, Child Poverty in Perspective: An overview of child well-being in rich countries, looked at six dimensions: material well-being, health and safety, educational well-being, family and peer relationships, behaviours and risks, and young people's own perceptions of their well-being.

The US ranked last in health and safety, primarily because of high rates of infant mortality, low birth weight, and deaths from accidents and injuries. The US also showed significantly higher rates of obese and overweight teenagers, and even the teen birth rate — which has declined dramatically in the past decade — remains higher than in other rich countries.

Do we need another lecture about "evil empires" from the likes of billionaires Cheney and George Bush?

The anti-empire forces in Green Left Weekly raised a total of $4329 for our fighting fund last week, bringing the total raised this year to $31,602 (13% of our $250,000 target for the year). We need to do better. If you can spare a bit of money for the struggle against the real evil empire, please give us a call on 1800 634 206 (toll-free within Australia), send a cheque to PO Box 394, Broadway 2007, or donate online (protected by SecurePay) at <http://www.greenleft.org.au/fogl.htm>.

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