Replying to the American Embassy
by Barbara Sumner Burstyn
March 8, 2004

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On 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 response.

US Embassy Wellington
Public Affairs
New Zealand

Ms. Barbara Sumner Burstyn
NZ Herald

 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 article):

“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 them.


William Millman
Public Affairs Officer

Barbara 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 of influence?

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 around 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 your reply.

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: barb@sumnerburstyn.com. Visit her website to read more of her work: www.sumnerburstyn.com/ © 2004 Barbara Sumner Burstyn

Other Articles by Barbara Sumner Burstyn


* The Breast That Changed the World
* On Not Being Anti-American
* The New Underclass
Celestial Land Grabs and the Demise of Science
* When is a Democracy Not a Democracy?

* True Heroes 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 Rigueur

* The Twisted Logic of Mothers Who Abandon Mothering

* Only in America

* We Really are Living on the Dark Side of the Moon

* Viagra for Girls: Medical Light Bulbs Can't Switch off Relationship Woes

* No Room on the Balance Sheet for Truth or Humanity

* Working to Live has Been Overtaken by Living to Work





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