Monday, December 17, 2007

Playing with Zero

I was listening to Andrea Seabrook on ATC this weekend talk with Earl Blumenauer, a Democratic Representative from Oregon who wants the US to get moving on giving asylum to Iraqis who have worked with the US forces in Iraq. They talked a bit, and I have to say the usual NPR discourse on Iraqi refugees is worth commenting on.

In her discussion Seabrook talks about the US government promise to resettle 12,000 Iraqi refugees. Seabrook tells Blumenauer,
"you've been very critical of the Bush Administration's work with refugees so far, saying that the government has not done nearly enough. The Bush Administration itself has in some ways stepped up their action here; the Department of Homeland Security now says they will resettle at least 12,000 Iraqi refugees in the United States next year."
I suggest Seabrook pull out a calculator and punch in a few numbers. Take that "stepped up" number of 12,000 ("incredibly generous" as US spokesperson Rosenzweig told NPR back in October) and divide it by the number of exiled refugees (2,000,000). And what do you get? 0.006. In news-talk that's 0.6%; that's right 6 tenths of one percent! Or perhaps one should include the 2 millions internally displaced refugees in that number and you get 0.3%! Wow! Incredibly generous! Hey I realize that 6 tenths of a percent is more than zero, but not by much.

Let's say you buy the government's case that accepting a flood of Iraqi refugees into the US is a huge security risk (should've thought about that before March of 2003, eh?) then at the least the US ought to be FULLY funding the care of refugees in Jordan and Syria. Let's look at Uncle Sam's own numbers. According to the State Department, in 2006 the US provided $43 million in humanitarian assistance to internal and external refugees. Let's see, that's $43 million split between 4 million recipients: golly, that's $10.75 per refugee for 2006 -like winning the Lotto. But wait, the State Department "stepped it up" in 2007 to "almost $200 million." Now we're talking some real money - $50.00 per refugee - time to paaaarty! What more could our generous government do?

Sarcasm aside, you'd expect these paltry efforts to be described for what they are: almost nothing, scandalous, disgraceful, etc. Instead NPR uses the large sounding numbers, saying things like "accepting thousands of refugees" or "millions of dollars." Back in August of this year Amos said "the US government is the largest donor, $30 million, in a UN program to get the children of Iraqi refugees back to school" [in Jordan]. Of course that's for 50,000 students, $600 per child, for an overwhelmed Jordanian system trying to cope with kids who've missed two years of school already. It's pathetic.

You might expect a reporter to simply put it bluntly to US officials when talking about the refugee crisis: the US invaded Iraq, destroyed the society, botched any reconstruction and so it's our government's obligation to pay for it one way or another. Instead you get pieces like today's or the one in the October 2007 with Paul Rosenzweig of Homeland Security claiming that the US is so incredibly generous and that the US has no special obligation to Iraqi refugees. All Amos can say is "but we do have 130,000 troops there," as if that is why the US owes them so much.

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