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Content Exchange: Arab Spring: 9/11s Eerie, Enduring Echo/No Fee Charged at This Bank, Where People Are Put Before Profit

Posted: Sep 11, 2012

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Arab Spring: 9/11’s Eerie, Enduring Echo

New America Media, Commentary, Behrouz Saba

The eleventh anniversary of 9/11 lacks the momentum of years past, though American policy in the Middle East has redrawn the regional map.

The eleventh anniversary of 9/11 lacks the momentum and solemnity of the decade since that national tragedy was observed last year. With the upcoming elections dominating the news, candidates have made scant references to this once-pivotal event, indicating that it is nearly a spent force in domestic politics.

Yet in the previous months, under the guise of the “Arab Spring,” an American foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), which was adopted immediately in the wake of 9/11, has moved forward to redraw the regional map with the main purpose of securing its immense oil resources.

Shortly after the attacks on American soil, U.S. forces took over Afghanistan, even though Osama bin Laden as a mastermind of the carnage and his al Qaeda followers had long left the country. With the Taliban being driven away, Hamid Karzai was installed as an ineffectual and corrupt figurehead who would do little to unite the country or implement an array of direly needed reforms.

The Bush administration used Afghanistan as a regional foothold, testing Americans’ tolerance for military involvement in a notoriously nettlesome part of the world, before invading Iraq.

President Bush, the scion of an oil dynasty, along with his top officials, lied about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction to justify military action. Since Saddam’s fall, leading supranational oil companies have negotiated laughably lopsided contracts with a highly compliant leadership in Baghdad.

Yet Iraq was only the beginning, a business model that needed to be perfected if Washington wanted to optimize its geopolitical reach in MENA while American public opinion remained malleable in the post-9/11 era. President Obama, clearly understanding this strategy, became the agent of that perfection to outdo George Bush with a subtlety entirely his own.

Months after inauguration, President Obama traveled to Egypt to give a speech at Cairo University, saying that he wanted “to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.”

Feigning only the best of intentions in Iraq and Afghanistan, even as those countries deteriorated, he spoke his most consequential words midway into the speech. “I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.”

In short, he served notice to every corrupt dictator across MENA, including his own host, President Hosni Mubarak, that their days were numbered, yet without the least intention to make good on his words.

Indeed those words and those words alone launched the “Arab Spring,” marshaling America’s diplomatic, media and covert resources to foment unrest among the people of MENA who did yearn for honest, freely elected leaders.

Tunisia became the faux poster child as a small, largely Westernized country. Its despotic leader, Zine el Abidine ben Ali, fled the country in the wake of widespread protests almost exactly two years after President Obama assumed office. Egypt followed, with Mubarak resigning in February of 2011. Unrest rippled into smaller countries, notably Yemen and oil-rich Bahrain.

In March of that year President Obama addressed the nation, justifying America’s impending intervention in Libya as he said, “Thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our troops and the determination of our diplomats, we are hopeful about Iraq’s future. But regime change there took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya."

Clearly the “Arab Spring” was his model of duplicating the usurpation of Iraqi oil—only on the cheap. Libya, with its enormous oil reserves, was overtaken largely by NATO aerial bombing while British Special Forces directed operations on the ground.

A year later, as a nation obsesses with the fatuous horserace of presidential elections and offers all but a perfunctory nod to 9/11, every country touched by the “Arab Spring,” exactly as planned, is worse off.

In Tunisia, Islamic Salafi extremists are on the rise, attacking hotels and bars as a prelude to denying greater civil liberties. Egypt, under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood’s President Mohammed Morsi, is in the throes of a deep economic crisis with tourism as a major revenue source drying up. In Libya, blood feuds continue after it was bombed into liberation, an estimated seven thousand prisoners being held under appalling conditions.

Yet most worrisome is the “Arab Spring” in Syria, where daily carnage takes an indefensible toll on life. Neither presidential candidate makes mention of it, knowing that doing so would be inimical to the American Great Game being played in MENA.

Eleven years ago, horrified by 9/11, American constituents gave their government free reign to do as it would in the Muslim world. Vested interests have pounced on the opportunity ever since, upending the status quo in MENA, with no intention to encourage a better alternative, with the sole purpose of securing its oil reserves. It is about time that Americans take back the ownership of how their government acts in their name far and wide.


No Fee Charged at This Bank, Where People Are Put Before Profit

New America Media, News Feature, Viji Sundaram

Welcome to the time bank, where the unit of currency is not a dollar but an hour, where people are put before profit.

SAN FRANCISCO – Delores McGee, 65, may not get hard cold cash in her hand for taking the elderly – most of them total strangers -- to a doctor’s appointment in her car and then going back a few hours later to take them back home, but she earns enough “credits” she can bank and cash in for a free massage some day.

Welcome to the time bank, where the unit of currency is not a dollar but an hour, where people are put before profit. It’s based on an old-fashioned concept of taking care of each other in times of need, and never has there been a better time for such banks than now, in a time of high unemployment, observed Rick Simon, one of the founders of the three-year-old Bay Area Community Exchange (BACE) time bank.

“When you can’t fulfill your needs by being a consumer, this is a good thing to depend on,” said Simon of the all-volunteer organization. There are currently around 1,700 who have enrolled in BACE, with a variety of skills. In Northern California, the cities of Oakland and Sonoma have time bank communities, as well, he said, although of a smaller size.

When you enroll in a time bank – and enrollment is free – you post your profile online, indicating what skills you can offer: gardening, house painting, handyman services, computer trouble-shooting, sowing, cooking, child care, et cetera, et cetera. The time bank does the initial hookup, after which it’s up to the purchaser of a service to check the credentials of the seller.

Just recently, Simon wanted a hair cut, but was low on cash. He contacted someone in the time bank who said he could cut hair. Simon wasn’t disappointed with the results.

Twenty-nine-year old Jihyeon Park’s time bank profile touts her Korean language, yoga and Korean cooking skills. She can’t work until she gets her green card and wants to learn to speak English. She also wants to acquaint herself with the American culture. BACE, she said, seemed the best place to go to fulfill her needs.

A number of time banks have older members, living on a shoestring budget. Or they may be too frail to perform simple tasks around the house. For them, a time bank is invaluable. “Sometimes you need a light bulb changed in your home, but if you are an elderly person, you don’t want to be climbing up ladders,” said McGee, who works for the Community Living Campaign here, which is trying to promote the time bank concept among seniors.

McGee runs a weekly breast cancer support network at the Lutheran Church of Our Savior on Beverly Street here in the city. She knows those in the group would enjoy an occasional massage. Sixteen of them enjoyed a free massage recently by someone in the BACE community looking to rack up credit hours.

A young man who worked at the Bike Kitchen in the Mission, a do-it-yourself bicycle resource run by volunteers, earned enough time bank credits to set up the Biketopia Community Workshop in Berkeley, Simon said.

The time bank idea originated with the anti-poverty activist, Edgar Cahn, who writes in his book, “No More Throw-Away People,” that “time dollars” were the answer to cuts in social programs during the Reagan years. “If we can’t have more of that kind of money, why can’t we create a new kind of money to put people and problems together?” he writes.

Cahn firmly believes that valuable work could actually occur outside the marketplace. He also believes that most everybody has some skill to offer. He launched the first time bank in the 1980s.

A “bank account” keeps track of how many time dollars you have earned that you can then spend on services the time bank community has to offer. Of course, the bank operates in large part on the honor system. The nice thing is, there is no expiration date on the hours.

Painting homes, giving rides to hospitals, teaching tai chi and visiting shut-ins are commercial transactions. But a time bank operates on the “do unto others” philosophy. Not only that, it’s a great leveler because it treats all work as having equal value.

“Anything you want to contribute gets equal credit,” Simon said.

For time bankers an hour of teaching yoga is no more valuable than an hour spent on fixing someone’s computer motherboard. An octogenarian picking up the phone and offering words of comfort to a mother who has just lost her teenage son has the same “price tag” as someone slaving in the kitchen to cater for a house party. The octogenarian also starts feeling valued.

There are currently around 23 countries that operate a total of 300 time banks. Simon said he doesn’t know just how many operate in the United States because “there’s not a lot of research going on.” In recession-wracked Spain, some 400 young unemployed people are bartering their services by the hour via time banks.

Time banks sometimes wind up being more than mere service resources. Simon said he recently met someone through BACE who shared a lot of his interests. The two are now good friends.

Simon said he would love to see more time banks spring up in the Bay Area. Open Source software is all that’s needed to set up a time bank and he is willing to offer guidance.

“It’s a great program for those not served by the community,” he asserted.

McGee is planning to use the five credit hours she has banked -- some through stuffing envelopes for a non-profit, some through giving rides to seniors -- for a massage. Or maybe she might ask someone with baking skills to make her some cookies.



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