February 9, Dissident Voice published "On
Not Being Anti-American," by Barbara Sumner Burstyn, which was
originally published in the New Zealand Herald newspaper. Burstyn's
weekly column for the Herald is also a regular feature on DV. The following is
an exchange between Burstyn and William Millman, Public Affairs Officer at
the US Embassy in Wellington. Mr. Millman's letter to Burstyn contains a
passing shot at DV, which Burstyn recommended to her readers as a worthwhile
American website to
consult in her article. DV editor Sunil Sharma will post a lengthy reply to
Mr. Millman's next week. First is Millman's letter, followed by Burstyn's
Ms. Barbara Sumner Burstyn
Dear Ms. Burstyn:
I read your column of February 9 with
interest, and was pleased to learn that you are not anti-American.
However, let me suggest a few reasons why some readers might
mistakenly doubt your objectivity (all of these from just that one
“US aid is tied to goods and services…”
– yes, a significant portion of US aid is tied, but then so is (as of
1999) 56% of all bilateral aid commitments by OECD donors. More
importantly, ‘tied’ donations only refer to Official Development
Assistance, and completely ignore the huge amount of aid donated by
private and voluntary US organizations, churches, corporations, and
individuals (roughly 60 per cent of all US international assistance.)
This giving is higher in the US than in other countries due to the
unique US tax structure that encourages such giving, and the country’s
strong tradition of private giving.
“….free reign to corporate hegemony…” –
in fact, American corporations are subject to what many authorities
(including the ECONOMIST, though, perhaps not dissidentvice.com) [sic]
believe to be among the most stringent regulations in the world.
Changes implemented in just the past year have greatly strengthened
those regulations. And ‘hegemony’, for those who may have forgotten,
simply indicates influence, though as used by you, seems designed to
suggest something more sinister.
“…tax cuts that…have been at the direct
expense of health and education…” – a quick perusal of recent US
budgets shows that this is simply untrue. Budgets for education,
training, employment and social services have risen nearly every year
for over a decade, and have continued to rise under the Bush
administration (they have nearly doubled since 1993.) And expenditures
for health programs have more than doubled in the same time period.
“…the outright denial of global
warming…” – in fact, the Bush administration (like the Clinton
administration before it) does not ‘deny’ global warming. However, a
severely flawed proposal, such as the Kyoto Protocol, may not be the
best way to address the problem. Respected scientists in many
countries – including Russia, the EU, and even a few right here in NZ,
question whether possible gains from the Kyoto approach will offset
its impact on world economies. This is hardly a trivial point, as many
Kiwi farmers can attest.
“…policies favoring…profit over common
good…” – citizens of the US have, by virtually any measurement, one of
the best standards of life in any country in the world. Perhaps the
best measurement of whether the ‘common good’ is served in the US is
the level of immigration, both legal and illegal. People from
countries all over the world are willing to risk even their lives to
enter the US; very few are emigrating, not even to NZ.
“…the consequences of…McDonald-ising of
our culture…” – aside from the snide reference, it might be worth
noting that McDonalds, and other US businesses, are successful because
they work hard and provide products that people want. People freely
choose the products and ideas that work for them, despite xenophobic
alarms to the contrary.
“…the creeping controls of the world’s
only superpower..” – the language of paranoia can hardly be
considered “…an attempt to create dialogue..”
There are other such misstatements in
your article, Ms. Burstyn, but I think the point is clear. Perhaps all
these instances are just occasions of your “outrageous” attempts to
“raise consciousness.” Since you are not anti-American, we must take
that at face value. But more factual, unbiased attempts might better
serve the cause of informing your readers, rather than misleading
Public Affairs Officer
Sumner Burstyn Responds
Letter to William Millman
United States Embassy
Wellington, New Zealand
Dear Mr. Millman (Public Affairs Officer),
Thanks for your letter criticizing a recent column on America. It's not
often I'm the recipient of an official response, straight from the horse's
mouth, as it were.
Just to clarify your query about my objectivity. I agree with you. I don't
have any. To be objective would be to report things without inflection,
discernment or comment, whereas my column is purely subjective. Known in the
business as an op-ed, taking a position and supporting it with fact is part
of the job description.
And since veracity is important, I thought we'd look at some of your -- I'm
assuming -- officially sanctioned statements.
Let's start with the comment that because 56 per cent of bilateral aid
commitments by OECD donors are tied to goods, America's practice of almost
100 per cent tied-aid is acceptable. While it takes a particular kind of
vision not to see how tied aid negatively affects the recipients, you also
remark on the generosity of private donors in America. And you're right. The
generosity of the people of America is triple that of their government, but
surely, at the top end at least, you don't believe private donation is free
As an example, just look at Bill Gates' $100 million injection of cash to
fight Aids in India in 2002. Spread over 10 years, his donation is dwarfed
by the $421 million he put aside (over a mere three years) to fight his
Linux opposition and its introduction into India.
As Thomas C. Greene writes in The Register, "with Bill Gates being a monster
Microsoft shareholder himself, a big win in India will enrich him
personally, well in excess of his Aids donation. Makes you wonder who the
real beneficiary of charity is here".
If you'd like a better understanding, Mr. Millman, of how official tied-aid
and ulterior-motivated private aid disables poor countries have a hunt
www.globalissues.org. You might be surprised.
Which leads me onto your concern that I've coupled the words "corporate" and
"hegemony" together. Again, you are correct; hegemony is about influence
rather than control. Which was exactly my point. Aside from the rules that
allow Bill Gates to rule, there's plenty of proof that, in the US industries
such as energy, agriculture, biotechnology, IT, telecommunications, and, of
course, the weapons/arms/military industrial complex, not only influence but
directly shape the rules that govern them.
From government-appointed advisory committees and regulatory agencies
dominated by corporations to former bureaucrats given cushy jobs by the
corporations they promoted while in power, corporate hegemony, or, as some
call it, crony capitalism, is big business, American-style.
The magazine New Internationalist or the website
www.americaforsale.org are good places to unearth the surprising
statistics to match these statements.
Then there's the question of the McDonaldising of a culture. Missing the
point entirely Mr. Millman, you say that McDonald's is successful because it
works hard and provides products people want.
Ahem. Well, not really.
It's more like they work people hard. If I can refer you to the
Centre for American Progress' recent report on McFactory jobs, I'm sure
you'll get a broader understanding. Certainly, as you state, people want
McDonald's (and other nutritionally deficient food products), but take a
step back and you'll see they are merely one element in a system that begins
with corporate influence to ensure agribusiness subsidy, causing
overproduction and ending in obesity and illness.
Somewhere in the middle, the advertising machine creates the want and the
illusion of freely chosen products.
And onto global warming, where you assert that even if the US had adopted
the Kyoto Protocol, the environmental gains would not have been sufficient
to offset the economic losses. While deconstructing that statement would
take more than this column, may I suggest you take a look at
a secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by
The Observer, in Britain late last month.
The report warns of catastrophic climate change, and asserts that as early
as next year widespread flooding by a rise in sea levels will create major
upheaval for millions. This and other environment-related scenarios could
bring the planet to the edge of anarchy.
"Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life," concludes the
Pentagon analysis. "Once again, warfare would define human life."
The Observer goes on to say that the report, commissioned by influential
Pentagon defence adviser Andrew Marshall, could prove fatal to the Bush
Administration with its links to energy and oil companies, which has
repeatedly denied that climate change even exists.
So Mr Millman, sorry to rush you through such big issues. I apologise for
not going into greater depth and for not debunking all the assertions in
your letter. I just ran out of room. But I take your letter as a genuine
attempt to discuss the issues that really matter. And I do look forward to
Barbara Sumner Burstyn
is a freelance writer who commutes between Montreal, Quebec and The Hawkes
Bay in New Zealand. She writes a weekly column for the New Zealand Herald (www.nzherald.co.nz),
and has contributed to a wide range of media. She can be reached at:
firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website to read more of her work:
© 2004 Barbara Sumner Burstyn
Other Articles by Barbara Sumner Burstyn
That Changed the World
* On Not Being
* The New
Grabs and the Demise of Science
When is a
Democracy Not a Democracy?
Will Help Beggars Through Another Day
The Sum Total of My Body Parts
I Blame God
Fresh Food Fear
Starve the Beast
Smoke and Mirrors: Fatal Weapons in US War Against Reality
A GM Question or Two
Hooker Look in Fashion as Porn Becomes de
The Twisted Logic of Mothers Who Abandon
Only in America
We Really are Living on the Dark Side of the
Viagra for Girls: Medical Light Bulbs Can't
Switch off Relationship Woes
No Room on the Balance Sheet for Truth or
Working to Live has Been Overtaken by Living to Work