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Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

There are many things I love about Barcelona: the Sagrada Familia, their tastier-than-American McDs, the Catalan nationalist, the shopping. My god, the shopping. My little yankee heart did back flips at the sight of a topshop next door to my hotel and damn near exploded when I counted not one, not two, but four Zaras within spitting distance.

It seems another of my darling Spanish retailers Mango is setting up shop in the Kurdish city of Arbil, making them the first international retail brand to set up shop in post-invasion Iraq. It won’t be their usual assortment of liquid leggings and lively print mini dresses inspired by Penelope Cruz, however. They’re working with Zuhair Murad to create spiffy cover-ups so that none of their customers are harassed over immodesty.

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The now-ubiquitous shoe-hero alleges a severe prison beating as the case reverberates through the Iraqi Parliament.  Meanwhile, the American media jerks itself off laughing about those ungrateful A-Rabs.  Either way, someone’s gettin’ paid.  The previously anonymous “Model 271,” a standard-issue black leather Oxford, is flying off the shelves of its Turkish maker.  Orders have skyrocketed in the past week, with the company taking full advantage of the situation:

“Five thousand posters advertising the shoes, on their way to the Middle East and Turkey, proclaim “Goodbye Bush, Welcome Democracy” in Turkish, English and Arabic.”

Serdan Turk, general manger of Baydan Shoes, praised the outgoing president:

“Mr. Bush served some good purpose to the economy before he left.”

Now, if someone would just hit Cheney with an American-made car.

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Charlie and the Baghdad MTA

Three people were killed and 19 injured in a bomb attack Friday morning in Baghdad.  More than 10,000 Shia loyal to Moktada al-Sadr hanged President Bush in effigy to protest the government’s security agreement with the United States.  And the Baghdad Metro was running on schedule.

The invasion of Iraq and resulting anarchy halted all train service in the country.   Bombings, robberies, and literally beheadings of conductors put the country’s rail system in mothballs.  Through 2007, only one line had been re-opened: a 13-hour passenger service from Baghdad to Basra.

In October 2008, service resumed on a 15 mile, two-hour round-trip around downtown Baghdad:

Maps

Maps

If you’re wondering why anyone would ride a 7 mile per hour train, consider the Baghdad traffic:

(Northern Virginia) + (pack animals)

(Northern Virginia) + (pack animals)

Considering the traffic checkpoints, military vehicles, and streets closed by bombings, a train ride is not a bad alternative.  The green, 1980s-vintage passenger cars remain mostly empty though, because, as the L.A. Times reports, “Few people seem to know it exists.”  Currently, the train makes only two trips a day: once in the morning and once in the evening.  Riders are greeted by AK-wielding armed guards, who fire into the air to chase off kids throwing stones or more serious threats.  One guard jokes, “We’re out of bullets by the end of each trip.”

Baghdad Mayor Sabir al-Issawi has bigger plans.  The city is preparing a feasibility study, backed by up to $3 billion from Parliament, for a 24-mile underground system with 40 stations crisscrossing both Sunni and Shia neighborhoods.  The city had actually planned an underground system as far back as the 1970s, but the project was shelved due to the Iran-Iraq War and had not since been revisited.  With the disco-era plans being updated to contemporary engineering standards, Transportation Ministry officials hope to begin construction as early as next year (!)

If it sounds crazy, considering the city still lacks reliable electricity and water treatment, it just might be.  But it’s also an optimistic, big-think idea in a country that desperately needs them.   “Look at it,” said one Iraqi, gesturing at choked-up roundabout: “Even if this is just talking, at least it’s giving us hope.”

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re: the middle class first ad

A couple things on this, not entirely cohesive but maybe some points in here…

Global poverty is sexy. The One Campaign is sexy. All those celebrity concerts are sexy. Why is this relevant to domestic poverty? Because those African children on the teevee screen behind Bono are innocent. Those homeless tsunami victims are innocent. These are the deserving poor, the poor who are poor by no fault of their own.

The entire Democratic Leadership Council 1990s was about re-emphasizing the deserving poor / undeserving poor narrative. In it, the former are to be helped and the latter at best ignored if not outright marginalized for cheap political gain. They frequently come out echoing the most reprehensible, right-wing language frames. Witness the insufferable Mickey Kaus in the DLC’s Blueprint magazine in 2002:

My worry is that instead of building on these popular work-ethic principles, liberals will again try to fudge them by promoting food stamps, a welfare program that gives aid to people who work hard every day — but also to never-married mothers who stay home watching “Jerry Springer.” That’s a good way to alienate the voters, who’ve shown they are willing to pay taxes to help poor Americans as long as those poor Americans are willing to work.

Of course, this binary world of indigent welfare queens and hard-workin’ ‘Muricans is about as real as a unicorn running from a chupacabra. What matters though is the Horatio Alger mythology, so that people legitimately in the “middle class” (let’s call it 75% – 125% of median income) believe they belong there on merit while those below it believe they can get there through hard work. It’s simple logic after this: If you don’t make it, it’s your own damn fault. At the same time, the comfortable punditry defines a reality for us in which a $200,000 household is middle-class. ($200,000 puts you in the top three percent.) The social and economic priorities of the objectively rich are thus presented as the priorities of the “regular” Americans we all want to consider ourselves.

The deserving/undeserving poor narrative is exacerbated by the tendency of the right to use coded racial and gender language, and the Mickey Kaus wing of the Democratic Party has clearly proven itself comparably comfortable trafficking in this garbage. Within this framework, it doesn’t much matter that the entire TANF budget is $16.5 billion — roughly a priority equivalent of NASA. So even if Reagan’s mythological welfare queens do exist, they’re hardly a significant drain on federal budget priorities.

I’m too cynical about the American view of poverty to have been really bothered by this ad’s pandering to the “middle-class.” It’s what people think they are, it’s what people think they want to be. It doesn’t make it right, but I’ll admit I really wasn’t struck by the language or the tone.

What threw me instead were the lines counterposing the cost of the Iraq War to the oil profits reaped by the current Iraqi government.

The United States and a handful of allies invaded Iraq and killed anywhere from 80,000 to 150,000 to maybe a million civilians. Some 2.2 million Iraqis have fled their country, while 2.8 million have been displaced internally for a total of 5 million displaced persons out of a pre-war population of only 25 million. We continue to claim “no permanent bases” while building dining facilities for 6,000 in Nasiriyah and housing for 5,000 at Camp Falcon. Not to mention the largest embassy in the world with operating costs estimated at over $1 billion per year. As one writer at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wisely noted:

“Before you accuse Maliki of being ungrateful, ask yourself what George Washington would have done if the French had demanded permanent military bases in Boston and Philadelphia in exchange for helping America gain its independence.”

So no, I don’t want to hear American politicians whining that Iraq is selling oil at market rates and getting rich off it. It’s about damn time they did, since all our other allies seem to be. If the war costs too much, let’s leave. If we can’t leave for strategic, moral, or naked political reasons, find some way to pay for it besides begging handouts from a failed state. (Doesn’t that strike anyone else as unbecoming of a hegemon?) This tripe is as disgusting coming from the urbane center-left (here’s lookin’ at you Straw and Levin) as it is from the sociopathic right.

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