Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Robert Zoellick: Bush's New Man at the Death Star

So looks like the Empire will soon have a new head at the Death Star. This week President George Bush the Younger nominated Robert Zoellick to the top position at the World Bank--to replace the outgoing Paul Wolfowitz. Zoellick, a former U.S. Trade Representative, is more than likely to be confirmed as the next World Bank president sometime this month. And since his nomination, praise has poured in for his roles in global trade talks, the crisis in Darfur and relations with China. But, we heard much the same praise given to Paul Wolfowitz when he first got the job. Is Robert Zoellick really that different from his predecessor? Here's a hint... he was nominated by *George Bush.* That should be just about enough to sow doubts, but in case you need more....

So who is Robert Zoellick? Well turns out he's one of the gang. Like Paul Wolfowitz, Zoellick is a member of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC). As discussed in a previous article, PNAC adheres to an ideology that America's military strength should be used to bring order to the world and unchallenged global supremacy; the conservative think tank endorses the notion of a Pax Americana. It is a vision of an America for the 21st century, which would "extend its position of global leadership by maintaining the preeminence of U.S. military forces." In 1997 Zoellick, along with Wolfowitz and other notable necons, would sign his name to a letter to then President Bill Clinton urging "regime change" in Iraq as a stepping stone towards global American dominance.

While there has been praise for his involvement in Sudan's Darfur crisis, there has also been criticism. In 2005, Africa Action angrily denounced Zoellick for his admittance that the U.S. was engaged in intelligence sharing with the government in Khartoum:

Africa Action today expressed outrage at U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick’s testimony before Congress, in which he acknowledged that the Bush Administration is maintaining an intelligence-sharing partnership with the government of Sudan, even as it continues its genocidal campaign against the people of Darfur and prepares for more violence against the people in eastern Sudan, who are also rebelling against Khartoum. Zoellick also failed to describe any new and urgent U.S. action designed to stop the genocide and protect civilians in Darfur.
When it comes to globalization and trade, Zoellick has hardly been a friend of the impoverished. In a 2003 article titled Robert Zoellick's Free Trade Evangelism, the transnational advocacy network CorpWatch detailed his "bullying" tactics against smaller nations that did not fall in line fast enough with American economic policies: Central America there are mixed feelings about Zoellick who moved aggressively to target the countries that joined the G-21: Costa Rica and Guatemala, by threatening their membership in a proposed Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).

"I told them that the emergence of the G-21 might pose a big problem to this agreement since our Congress resents the fact that members of CAFTA are also in the G-21," he said. "If we want to construct a common future with them, resistance and protest do not constitute an effective strategy. In my talks with some of these countries, I sense that they are drawing the right conclusions."

In addition Zoellick warned Costa Rica in early October that it must open its services market and privatize its telecommunications, electricity and insurance industries if it wants to join CAFTA.
The global justice network 50 Years is Enough notes much the same:

Zoellick served as the U.S.’s chief trade negotiator for Bush’s first term. . “He earned a reputation as a powerful bully in middle- and low- income countries,” said Jessica Walker Beaumont of the American Friends Service Committee. “His condescending lectures about ‘can-do and won’t-do nations’ at the 2003 WTO summit in Cancun, when the US didn’t get its way, became notorious. It’s hard to imagine that, after defending US corporate profits so zealously, this is the person who is going to champion development on behalf of the world’s poor.”
They go on to say:

“While no one could be as outrageous as Wolfowitz, the architect of the Iraq war, Zoellick is a full-fledged neo-conservative too, a supporter of invading Iraq since 1998. The best that can be said for him is that, like Wolfowitz, he’ll be an appropriate symbol of what the World Bank has become – an agency dedicated to entrenching U.S. economic domination.”
So, in the end, Zoellick and his supporters may attempt to paint his appointment to the World Bank as a new start, but it seems mostly like more of the same. This supposed "changing of the guard" will hardly reflect any changes in policy.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

Media News Roundup- Sunday May 20th to Sat May 26th

Media News Roundup- Sunday May 20th to Sat May 26th

Keeping an eye on the failing Fourth Estate and looking for some TRUTH in journalism.

Media reports GOP Rep. Boehner's big "cry" but misses his even bigger "lie." News blackout over directive giving the Executive control over other branches of government in the case of a “catastrophic emergency.” Former Bush White House Andy Card's "booing" at UMass graduation reported slightly, but still little news on his role in the hospital drama involving himself, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and a then gravely ill John Ashcroft. Bright spot of the week: Southern Poverty Law Center takes on CNN’s Lou Dobbs for inducing “hysteria” about immigrants—including the charge that they spread diseases like leprosy.

Press Coverage of GOP Rep. Boehner's "Cry" Ignores his "Lie."

During the debate over the Iraq War spending bill this week, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) choked up as he talked about Iraq. In a passionate flurry of words some have called staged theatre, Boehner managed to sob through the following:

I didn't come here to be a congressman -- I came here to do something.... And I think at the top of our list is providing for the safety and security of the American people. That's at the top of our list. After 3,000 of our fellow citizens died at the hands of these terrorists, when are we going to stand up and take them on? When are we going to defeat them?
While this scene was played and written about repeatedly in the press, there was almost no calling into account Boehner's glaringly false comments. Yes, "3,000 of our fellow citizens" died at the hands of terrorists, but none of those perpetrators were from Iraq--which was what the debate in Congress was all about. It has been confirmed (repeatedly, and through varied sources) that there were no links between Iraq and 9/11 except in the now debunked propaganda of the Bush White House and their pro-war allies. For a news press that was so shamefully duped, and perhaps complicit, into helping launch a war based on these mistruths, penance might begin with pointing out this fallacy of an Iraq-9/11 link whenever and wherever it raises its tiresome head.

Media Blackout on “Unitary Executive” Directive

On May 9th the Bush administration released a directive called the Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive. In the event of a “Catastrophic Emergency,” the directive states that the President of the United States will be entrusted with leading the activities to ensure constitutional government. Though it speaks of keeping the other two branches of government intact, it cedes their control to the President. Other than on sites like Digg, a few blogs and foreign news agencies, there has been nearly no reporting on this directive in the mainstream press. Some have stated that the directive is not as “Orwellian” as it seems, and that prior Presidents have enacted similar measures. But given the blatant abuse of the Executive carried out by this White House—from domestic spying to the corruption of the federal judiciary—one would think the media would at the least, in that context, think this story worthy enough to make it on the news...somewhere between the latest round-the-clock coverage of Rosie O’Donnell and Elisabeth Hasselbeck.

Andrew Card Booed at UMass as his Role in Wire-Tapping Hospital Drama Continues to Go Mostly Unreported

Former White House chief of staff Andrew Card was booed by students as he rose to accept an honorary degree at the University of Massachusetts commencement. Protesters claimed they were angry that Card “lied to the American people in the early days of the Iraq war" and that a "war criminal" should not have been honored at the graduation. This incident didn’t make much of a splash in the way of news coverage, other than some minor soundbites. But more important, this was the second week in which Card’s role in the wire-tapping hospital drama involving himself, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and a gravely ill John Ashcroft went underreported in the mainstream press. As cited last week in this forum, former deputy attorney general James B. Comey's May 15 congressional testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on the matter was like a bizarre tale out of an Oliver Stone film.

Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee that then White House chief of staff Andy Card, along with currently embattled Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, then White House counsel, attempted to pressure the bed ridden Attorney General John Ashcroft, "at his [hospital] bedside ... to approve an extension of the secret NSA warrantless eavesdropping program over strong Justice Department objections even though Ashcroft was seriously ill," and did not have power as the attorney general during his recovery from surgery. Comey described a scene of power struggles at the highest levels of government, in which he was forced to hide behind FBI Director Robert S. Mueller from the men (Card and Gonzales) dispatched from the White House. Ashcroft however would have the final say on the matter. With his wife holding his hand, Comey said “Attorney General Ashcroft then… lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter,” refusing to endorse the administrations attempt to legitimize illegal wiretaps placed on American citizens.

Such high stakes drama within the halls of government would be expected to fill the news media headlines for days. But, as of last week, NBC has been about the only television broadcaster to carry the story in depth. So perhaps, in keeping with that tradition of silence, Andy Card’s “booing” was deemed too trivial for mainstream news—lest it lead to a larger story of some serious significance.

Bright Spot of the Week

SPLC Takes on CNN's Lou Dobbs Anti-Immigrant “Hysteria”

Immigration is a complex subject – one that deserves a robust, democratic debate. But there is no room for demagoguery that poisons the discussion with falsehoods and encourages bigotry and racist extremism. That's why the Southern Poverty Law Center is challenging CNN anchor Lou Dobbs to report accurately on this volatile issue and why we wrote an open letter to CNN about his reporting. Unfortunately, Dobbs has used his national platform to spread misinformation about undocumented immigrants while ignoring facts and ideas that do not support his agenda.

Spreading Hysteria- CNN's Lou Dobbs Spreads Anti-Immigrant Lies


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Capitalism- An Unsustainable System ?

We know that capitalism is not just the most sensible way to organize an economy but is now the only possible way to organize an economy. We know that dissenters to this conventional wisdom can, and should, be ignored. There's no longer even any need to persecute such heretics; they are obviously irrelevant. How do we know all this? Because we are told so, relentlessly...

So begins an article by Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin who dares to ask, in the midst of a capitalist nation, in a world where globalisation is a holy writ, whether that which we have now come to take as inevitable is the only choice. Have we really reached an "end of history" with the dominance of capitalism and "free markets"--when they seem to only reap rewards for a minority of people on the planet? Has the "defeat of communism" assured that capitalism will prevail, or do we dare to take a critical look at our system.

The drive to sustain capitalism is literally entrenched into our society. We learn from our youth that it is right and just. As we grow up, we're taught it's democratic--that the profit making of free markets is somehow intrinsically tied to liberty and freedom. And no wonder, as Lizabeth Cohen points out in her work A Consumers' Republic- The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America, the "pursuit of prosperity" (through consumption) has become one in the same with the "pursuit of happiness."

As Jensen notes, we are told and taught to support capitalism as an inevitable and unquestionable economic strategy...

...typically by those who have the most to gain from such a claim, most notably those in the business world and their functionaries and apologists in the schools, universities, mass media, and mainstream politics. Capitalism is not a choice, but rather simply is, like a state of nature. Maybe not like a state of nature, but the state of nature. To contest capitalism these days is like arguing against the air that we breathe. Arguing against capitalism, we're told, is simply crazy.
The 2003 PBS documentary Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World's Economy attempts to trace the rise of the current capitalist global system, starting in 1914 with the outbreak of WWI, through the Great Depression and WWII, culminating in the fall/failure of communist states and the dominance of the current political economic order. An informative piece, for all its attempts to analyze the breadth of prosperity and poverty wrought by globalization, the documentary still puts forth economic capitalism as the "central global reality." There is no actual questioning of the premises on which the system rests, but rather if it is "too complex to be controlled" and the means by which the "stakeholders...[will] devise new means to include the dispossessed."

The capitalist narrative, even when critically introspective, tends to go something like this: Capitalism is inherently good. Capitalism is forward-thinking, modern and progressive. Capitalism is inherently synonymous with freedom. Capitalism won a hard fought victory over varied systems that sought to threaten and defeat it, but it prevailed, and is thus the "natural" way of things. Sure it has flaws, generated by a few bad apples and for those unable to adapt. But it is still the most logical system--one that works. Compared with the disasters we saw in the Soviet Union and other communist states, how can anyone say otherwise? It allows us to have laptops to write our blogs upon, and inspires us to dream of working our way up the economic ladder.

Yet capitalism also gave us wholesale chattel bondage and global imperialism, as seen in the West's trans-Atlantic slave trade and European colonisation. Though some economic historians have tried to point out that slavery and colonialism are antiethical to the workings of capitalism, and thus why both ended, the fact remains that the capital gained through these events are themselves tied to the rise in capitalism. It is also the inherent manipulation of resources and labor to enrich a few. We see this in the exploitative practices of neoliberal globalization and privatization that disenfranchises workers and the forces of labor both in the U.S. and in countries around the globe. With the "spectre of communism" gone, who is there now to blame for the growing disparity of wealth in the world? Most states--including the most impoverished in Africa, Asia and Latin America--follow a capitalist model, complete with economic reforms engineered by industrialized western nations. And yet the majority of the people who live within them--the majority of the globe--still live in poverty. And matters have gotten worse in the past decade, not better.

Jensen lays out three broad charges at capitalism, highlighting how its stated productive aims clash with some of our key touted principles:
Capitalism is admittedly an incredibly productive system that has created a flood of goods unlike anything the world has ever seen. It also is a system that is fundamentally (1) inhuman, (2) anti-democratic, and (3) unsustainable. Capitalism has given those of us in the First World lots of stuff (most of it of marginal or questionable value) in exchange for our souls, our hope for progressive politics, and the possibility of a decent future for children.
Is Capitalism inhuman? Sometimes it certainly seems so, when you watch a documentary like Independent Lens Black Gold, which tells the story of the $80-billion-plus coffee industry, where Ethiopian farmers (in the land where the coffee bean originated) are paid such low wages that many have been forced to abandon their fields. It looks so when you see the result of NAFTA, forcing farmers in Central America off their land and into the precarious and dangerous migrations across increasingly hostile borders of the U.S. in search for exploitative low wage jobs. It certainly gives that sense of inhumanity when you see big pharm companies fight to keep their HIV medicines high priced, denying access to the sick and dying of the world that cannot afford it. Inhumanity seems to abound when you see the global masses of the impoverished--all in countries that now follow capitalist neoliberal policies--who live off less a day than we spend for breakfast.

Half the world's population lives on less than $2 a day. That's more than 3 billion people. Just over half of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lives on less than $1 a day. That's more than 300 million people. How about one more statistic: About 500 children in Africa die from poverty-related diseases, and the majority of those deaths could be averted with simple medicines or insecticide-treated nets. That's 500 children -- not every year, or every month or every week. That's not 500 children every day. Poverty-related diseases claim the lives of 500 children an hour in Africa.

We all admit that while we revel in capitalism, it's inherent profit-driven dictates clash against our inherent humanity, and cause us to wonder how such gross imbalance can occur, what brought it into being and--most disturbing--how is it that we endure and live with that reality each and every day?

Is Capitalism anti-democratic? You can get that idea when the push for profits outweighs the need for protection of the very individual rights democracy claims to rest upon. Even a self-described "communist" nation like China pushes this ideology, managing to blend the harsh nature of old-style Maoist "re-education camps" with 19th century style industrial capitalist "labor factories." The documentary China Blue details the life of Jasmine, one of the 130 million migrant workers on the move in China, who may end up in factories that manufacture goods--in this case jeans--for the West. In this symbiotic relationship that turns parasitic upon the masses, an anti-democratic system in China works in concert with an anti-democratic global capitalist system. China wants the profits of business; the Western companies push for cheaper and cheaper garments to maximize its own profits. All this leaves workers like Jasmine, who can work 17 to 20 hr days for meager pay, with no recourse. To do something democratic like form a labor strike is illegal in China, and that's precisely why multinational corporations take jobs from here and go there. All of this returns home to us, as the same forces that attempt to stifle economic democratic dissent overseas push for deregulation, privatization and a favoring of business over labor and individual rights.

And if the lack of economic prosperity, joblessness and homelessness that plagues us in the West is not enough to ponder the inhumane and anti-democratic nature of the system, think upon the many wars and military actions (covert and overt) that the U.S. has engaged in to sustain the capitalist order--often in the face of democratic principles. From the alliances between the United Fruit Company and the U.S. government in the Guatemala coup, to the experiments of neoliberalism once the deposed elected Salvador Allende was replaced with the CIA allied dictator Augusto Pinochet, to the CIA and the British SIS deposing of the democratically elected Mohammad Mossadeq of Iran and replacing him with the semi-monarchical Shah, to the present day oil driven wars and machinations carried bout by the U.S. and Western powers from Iraq to Nigeria, the capitalist economic order has been a key ally in militarism, and tied into that often unnamed "military industrial complex"--a term dreamed up by no less a "kooky leftist" than former Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Is Capitalism unsustainable? We may finally be willing to admit this to ourselves. As Global Warming has now become a household term, we are forced to question whether the way we live is healthy not just for our economy or individual nation-states, but the planet itself. A look at the oceans alone shows the dismal state of affairs. Giant 400-ft trawlers now "stalk" the seas, raking in something over 1 million pounds of fish a day. Nearly a third of this is discarded, dead, back into the ocean as "un-saleable." This means a staggering 50 billion pounds of fish are killed, churned to gore and thrown back into the ocean each year, simply to meet the profit demands of the global economic system. The fish industry calls this "harvesting" carried out by floating "fish factories;" others call them "killing machines."

As oceanographer Sylvia Earle points out in the PBS documentary Journey to Planet Earth: State of the Ocean's Animals:

Although we talk about harvesting the sea, it's a misuse of the word if ever there was a misuse. We don’t plant fish in the ocean. We go out like hunters and gatherers, track them down, find them, extract them. In half a century we have lost on the order of 90 percent of the big fish in the ocean. I say lost, actually, we haven’t lost them. We've consumed them. We’ve eaten them. We’ve captured them. Though our fish markets may give the impression of an inexhaustible resource, what we are really seeing is the consumption of the final 10 percent of the world's fisheries.
The rapacious depletion and careless squandering of Earth's oceans has happened not because of a population explosion of humans, not over the vast course of humanity's time on this planet, but mostly within the last 50 years, to meet the economic profit-driven surplus and needs of a minority of the planet. In fact, these "fish factories" are devastating local fisherman--both off the coast of the U.S., and even worse in Africa, who simply cannot compete. The economic pressure this places on the coastal dwellers of regions like Senegal, spawn into food shortages, poverty and unrest--all the while robbing billions of a vital food source. Whether it is the oceans, forests, green-house gases or other aspects of the ecosystem, our planet can't sustain the current economic system much longer. Even if free market capitalism could live up to its dubious claims to "lift all boats" and we did live in the ideological economic World is Flat fantasy landscape of Thomas Friedman, we would rapidly deplete the planet of the resources needed to sustain the American-Western way of life for the 6 billion, and growing, members of the global community. As one scientist put it, we would literally need "three more Earths."

Or as Jensen puts it rather succinctly:

Capitalism is a system based on the idea of unlimited growth. The last time I checked, this is a finite planet. There are only two ways out of this one. Perhaps we will be hopping to a new planet soon. Or perhaps, because we need to figure out ways to cope with these physical limits, we will invent ever-more complex technologies to transcend those limits. Both those positions are equally delusional. Delusions may bring temporary comfort, but they don't solve problems. They tend, in fact, to cause more problems. Those problems seem to be piling up.

To further quote Jensen, "Capitalism is not, of course, the only unsustainable system that humans have devised... It's [just] the one that we are told is inevitable and natural, like the air." And herein lies my main point. In all honesty, I don't have definitive answers. Though I've studied my fair share of economic history, I am no economic theorist like Adam Smith or Karl Marx. I have no new and ground-breaking model or system for the world to follow. For the moment, most seem resigned to attempting to reform the system. We have devised, and continue to push, for ways to counteract the forces of "unchecked" capitalism, many of which (ironically) come from socialism--labor unions, medicare/universal healthcare, social security, pensions, government regulation, public welfare states, etc. Thanks to such movements and organizations, we have everything from the institution of child labor laws to some form of financial/health protection in old age. Many of these came about in the 1930s, as Franklin D. Roosevelt, reacting to popular calls for socialist upheaval in the midst of the capitalist wrought Great Depression of the 1930s, instituted New Deal policies based on co-opted socialist themes. Thus in irony, socialism (though rarely named, except by detractors) is seen as the cure, or at least quick patch, for rampant capitalism.

But even with reformation, we still need to ask some tough questions of the financial system we currently exist under, and take a look at its long range feasibility. Contrary to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's claim that when it comes to capitalism, "there is no alternative," we have a right, a responsibility, to do so. The global political economy need not be a fait accompli from which there is no turning back or dissent. One may agree with Jensen or not, but the real issue here is not so much the triumph of an economic ideology, but rather our blind belief in its alleged infallibility.

Read the full article by Robert Jensen: An Unsustainable System: Anti-Capitalism in Five Minutes.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Democrats Lose Spine (Again)- Cave on Iraq Bill


So now, after weeks of telling us to patiently wait…that they had some grand scheme in place to end the Iraq War, that they were going to stand up for the American public, 70% of whom want out of Iraq, the new Democratic Congress—elected on the backs of the Anti-War Movement—has collapsed, folded and conceded to the Bush administrations’ illegal Iraqi colonial adventure.

The Daily Kos sums it up well with a few choice links:

Democrats Concede on Iraq

Democrats Retreat in Funding Showdown

Bush Wins Congressional Battle Over Iraq

From the LA Times:

Scrambling to send President Bush an emergency war spending bill he will sign, Democratic leaders have decided to drop their insistence on a timeline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq. The move - which comes just days after senior Democrats insisted that White House officials should support nonbinding timelines - is a significant concession to the president and his Republican allies on Capitol Hill, who steadfastly have rejected any dates for bringing U.S. troops home.

No timeline. Yet Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, (D-Nevada) insists the President “hasn’t been given a blank check.” Really? Because when a war that was supposed to cost $50 billion dollars, is now well over $400 billion and may reach a trillion whenever it’s done (with no timeline, who knows when that is), sure sounds like the administration is holding the checkbook to me and writing off the treasury that could be used to fight hunger, cure disease, build schools and more to war profiteers and the sucking black hole of despair that is now Iraq. If a war that has gone on longer than it took to defeat Nazi Germany doesn’t require a timeline, what does?

The occupation has gotten worse—if that was possible—since the Democrats took office. The so-called “surge” has done little to control or end the violence in the country. Over 100 U.S. troops were killed this past April alone, the highest of the year. An average of 100 Iraqis are now dying nearly each day! While there has allegedly been a 20% drop of violence in Baghdad, there's been a sharp rise nearly everywhere else in the country. What more exactly does the Congress need to make the case that this debacle needs a definitive time-line mandated end?

MSNBC notes:

Benchmarks, sort of
Reid and other Democrats pointed to a provision that would set standards for the Iraqi government in developing a more democratic society. U.S. reconstruction aid would be conditioned on progress toward meeting the goals, but Bush would have authority to order the money to be spent regardless of how the government in Baghdad performed.

Oh that’s great. So they set benchmarks—but toothless weak benchmarks that the President can just waive when he feels like. So basically they gave him a bill with a built in signing statement, so he wouldn’t have to write one himself.

A few words on benchmarks. This has become the darling term of both Democrats and Republicans—certain achievements placed on the Iraqi government threatening them with an American withdrawal if these goals are not met. Now the Iraqis are the ones who are blamed for the mess in Iraq. They are told to reconcile their differences peacefully, while the U.S. and its so-called “coalition” drop laser-guided bombs and “whiskey pete” to solve their differences. The Iraqis are told to get their government in order and include the Sunnis—when it was the U.S., under its gubernator overlord Paul Bremer, who instituted the inane Baathist purge. The Iraqis have to take back their country from insurgents, when it was the U.S. President who bravely declared from several thousand miles away "bring 'em on," and decided to use their country as a battle ground--"fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here." The Iraqis have to train their new army, when it was the U.S. that disbanded the old one—allowing them to take their guns with them. The Iraqis now have to sign away their oil in imbalanced policies to pay for the rebuilding of their country—the one the U.S. destroyed. The emerging “civil war” that now flares up around the country is the fault of the “ungrateful” Iraqis, and somehow those that unleashed those horrendous forces get to escape responsibility and point out that at least they got rid of their one-time ally Saddam Hussein.

Near 3000 Iraqis die a month. Perhaps over 600,000 have died since the war began. Their country is shattered. Their various ethnic groups have been set against each other. Car-bombings—non-existent before—are now everyday occurrences there. And they remain an occupied state in the midst of an endless war zone. Yet they, who are bearing the brunt of the U.S.’s misguided necon policies, are the ones who are being told to "take some responsibility." There’s something inherently wrongheaded about that entire line of thinking. Basically, after an illegal invasion that broke their country and set it into chaos, the United States is now saying—“hey get your act together or we won’t do you any MORE favors!”

Sorry Iraqis, take it from those of us in the know, America ain't big on owning up to its responsibilities much less implementing "reparations." Expect to be left holding the bag while we engage in bouts of selective amnesia into the role we played in bringing the present into being.

Back to the funding bill. Oh but wait, it gets better! According to The Hill:

Liberal Democrats who have reluctantly backed House leaders on the Iraq war spending bill may defect due to the leadership's decision to eliminate any timeline for withdrawal from the legislation. That could force the leadership to rely on Republican votes to pass the bill, which is expected to come to the floor as early as Thursday.
So a Democratic majority Congress may pass a bill supported greatly by Republicans to support a Republican administration's war that most of their (the Democrats) party base opposes. Oh yeah, that's great. That's exactly why we all marched out to the voting booths in November.

The problem is that the Congress is scared--still scared of the Bush administration, still scared of being painted as "weak on defense" (though what exactly one is "defending" in an aggressive occupation seems unclear) and still so scared of being accused of "not supporting the troops," they're willing to let more troops--and even more Iraqis--die to achieve a political endgame. I understand the strategy. But what the Democratic leadership always fail to take into account, is that the more progressive and liberal base of their party--the ones who helped sweep them into power--are just about tired of being ignored or shafted in order to appease the Joe Lieberman wing of the party.

Kudos to those progressive Democrats (even those who voted to allow for the Iraq War to begin) who at least realize that tucking tail in the face of a bully like the Bush White House is a bad move. Give them an inch, and they'll make you pay in spades for it later.

Presidential candidate John Edwards put it bluntly enough:

Conceding to the president on full funding for the Iraq war is a serious mistake. It is time to force an end to this war, and the only way for Congress to do that is to use its funding power. Any compromise that funds the war through the end of the fiscal year isn't a compromise at all, it's a capitulation. As I have said repeatedly, Congress should send the president the same bill he vetoed again and again until he realizes he has no choice but to start bringing our troops home.

Fact is, the Congress is not going to grow a spine until they are forced into doing so. And it won't come from a corporate news media that is too lazy or too complicit to actually do its job. Listen to the pundit class for the past few months, and they've spent more time nit-picking at the Democrats stance on the Iraq War than they have ever spent in criticizing the administration or the war itself. That means it's up to the American people. That 70% who say they want out of Iraq are going to have to do more than answer a poll inbetween sipping their Starbucks and catching up on American Idol. Going to have to be vocal and act up. And if you can't do that, then at the least support those who do.

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will-- Frederick Douglass


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Media News Roundup- Sunday May 13th to Sat May 19th

Media News Roundup- Sunday May 13th to Sat May 19th

Keeping an eye on the failing Fourth Estate and looking for some TRUTH in journalism.

FOX’s Brit Hume uses debunked pro-torture “ticking time-bomb” scenario in second GOP debate—and instantly “doubles Guantanomo.” Large media outlets underreport the Bush administration’s bizarre strong-arm tactics against a bed-ridden former Attorney General John Ashcroft—all in the name of domestic spying. Glen Beck claims racist and sexist shock jocks under attack by “leftist witch hunt.” Bright spots of the week: Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! interviews historian and journalist John Ghazvinian, author of Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil. Media Matters releases report on how the overwhelmingly “white” and “male” Sunday Morning Talk shows shut out everyone else from discussions of politics.

Brit Hume’s Pro-Torture “Ticking Time Bomb” Scenario “Doubles Guantanamo.”

During the second May 15th GOP presidential debate, Fox News' Brit Hume uncritically used the long debunked “ticking time-bomb” scenario, a hit on shows like 24 often used to justify torture, or what was euphemistically deemed at the debate—“Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.” Hume posed a hypothetical situation where an impending terrorist attack is thought to be known by a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. Pretending this “ticking time-bomb” scenario is a legitimate one, Hume then asked the candidates if such acts as “waterboarding” should be used to extract information from the detainee. In the most colorful answer of the night, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney stated:

Some people have said, we ought to close Guantanamo. My view is, we ought to double Guantanamo. We ought to make sure that the terrorists—and there's no question but that in a setting like that where you have a ticking bomb that the president of the United States—not the CIA interrogator, the president of the United States -- has to make the call. And enhanced interrogation techniques have to be used -- not torture but enhanced interrogation techniques, yes.

His words were met with thunderous applause from the largely Republican crowd. Neither Brit Hume, Mitt Romney or any other GOP presidential hopefuls present, explained exactly the difference between “torture” and “enhanced interrogation technique.” Waterboarding, incidentally, has long been defined as a form of torture.

ABC/CBS Ignore Drama-Filled Wiretapping Hearing and Testimony.

Like something out of an Oliver Stone film, former deputy attorney general James B. Comey's May 15 congressional testimony told a bizarre tale in which the Bush administration sought to strong-arm a gravely ill former attorney general John Ashcroft to sign off on domestic spying wiretaps. As reported by Media Matters, Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee that current embattled Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, then White House counsel, and then-White House chief of staff Andy Card, attempted to pressure the bed ridden Attorney General John Ashcroft, "at his [hospital] bedside ... to approve an extension of the secret NSA warrantless eavesdropping program over strong Justice Department objections even though Ashcroft was seriously ill," and did not have power as the attorney general during his recovery from surgery. Comey describes a scene of power struggles at the highest forms of government, in which was forced to hide behind FBI Director Robert S. Mueller from the men (Gonzales and Card) dispatched from the White House. Ashcroft however would have the final say on the matter. With his wife holding his hand, Comey said “Attorney General Ashcroft then… lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter,” refusing to endorse the administrations attempt to legitimize illegal wiretaps placed on American citizens.

Such high stakes drama within the halls of government would be expected to fill the news media headlines for days. But on the day the story broke, Tuesday May 15, only NBC’s Brian Williams donated a segment to it on the Nightly News. Neither ABC or CBS covered the event, although it was generating discussion all across the blogosphere. As late as Thursday May 17, neither major news outlet had picked up the story on either their evening or morning news broadcasts. It would be left to NBC, on both the Today Show and the Nightly News, to continue the coverage.

CNN’s Glenn Beck Claims He and Other Shock Jocks Under Attack from “Leftist Witch Hunt.”

CNN’s right wing commentator Glen Beck, known for a series of inflammatory and insensitive comments, lamented that he and other shock jocks—under fire for racism and sexism—were the victims of a “leftist witch hunt.” During his interview by host Kiran Chetry, Beck’s own sordid history of racist and sexist comments, were never addressed. Neither for that matter, were the actual inflammatory words of shock jocks like Don Imus or Rush Limbaugh presented as actual examples of what critics oppose. In the recent past Beck has referred to Hillary Clinton as a “stereotypical bitch;” asked African-American Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison to “prove… that you are not working with our enemies;” and called anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan "a pretty big prostitute."

Bright Spots

From the Thursday, May 17th, 2007 broadcast of Democracy Now!

"Untapped: The Scramble for Africa's Oil"

A little known fact: the United States today imports more oil from Africa than from Saudi Arabia. More than $50 billion in foreign investment in African oil is expected over the next three years. What has this oil boom meant for Africa's ordinary citizens? Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales on Democracy Now! interviewed John Ghazvinian, a journalist who has written for publications including Newsweek, The Nation and Time Out New York, who has authored the book Untapped: The Scramble for Africa's Oil, which compares the global competition for the continent's oil resources to the nineteenth century scramble by Europeans for colonization.


Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil

From a report by Media Matters for America

Sunday Shutout: The Lack of Gender & Ethnic Diversity on the Sunday Morning Talk Shows

Not only are the Sunday morning talk shows on the broadcast networks dominated by conservative opinion and commentary, the four programs—NBC's Meet the Press, ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, and Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday—feature guest lists that are overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male.

For full article/study:

Sunday Shutout: Sunday Morning Talk Shows Lack of Diversity



This week Paul Wolfowitz was forced to announce his resignation from the World Bank in the midst of an investigation into a corruption scandal. Many people—including myself—indulged a good bit of schadenfreude to see the Bush appointee go down. And while I'm all for enjoying this moment, I'd urge we pull back on popping open the bubbly just yet. In the larger scheme, Paul Wolfowitz's exit from the World Bank should be greeted with as much joy as watching Darth Vader ousted from the Death Star. And I'll tell you why…

Much as Anakin Skywalker was no minor player in the events that caused the downfall of the Galactic Republic, Paul Wolfowitz wasn't just any member of the current White House junta. As Deputy of Secretary of Defense under Donald Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz was a major powerbroker. He was one of the elite members of the old guard brought in under the first term of George Bush the Younger and a key proponent of the now infamous ideology known as neo-conservatism. Like Anakin Skywalker's turn towards the power hungry Sith, Wolfowitz and numerous other neoconservatives had traveled down a twisted road before going over to the "Dark Side." A motley group made up of self-described "liberal Cold War warriors," disaffected radical leftists turned reactionaries, right-wing advocates of American hegemony and adherents of authoritarian philosophers like Leo Strauss, neoconservatives arose under their own Sith patriarchs like Irvin Kristol and Norman Podhoretz. Wolfowitz worked his way through the Pentagon and even the administration of President Jimmy Carter, to finally hone his emergent ideology under the Reagan Administration and especially under George Bush the Elder.

In 1997, along with such neocon ideologues as Richard Perle, Dick and Lynne Cheney, Jeb Bush, William Kristol and others, Wolfowitz would become a charter member of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), the preeminent neoconservative think tank. Like the policies of Chancellor Palpatine, PNAC adheres to an ideology that the Republic's military strength should be used to bring order to the world and unchallenged supremacy. Where Palpatine and his apprentice Darth Vader would eventually turn the Republic into an Empire, PNAC speaks of something similar—a Pax Americana of the 21st century, which would "extend its position of global leadership by maintaining the preeminence of U.S. military forces." To this end, in 1992, following the first Oil War of the Gulf, Wolfowitz would co-author a 1992 draft Defense Planning Guidance which, among other fantastic goals, "called for US military dominance over Eurasia;" the refashioning of the US military into a global police force; and the use of "preemptive strikes" against any nation that threatened American supremacy. When it was leaked to the media, the draft guide was so radical it caused global outrage and was immediately disavowed by George Bush the Elder, who ordered it rewritten—by none other than then Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney. In 1997 Wolfowitz would sign his name to another infamous letter, this time to then President Bill Clinton urging "regime change" in Iraq as a stepping stone towards global American dominance. In 2000 Wolfowitz would help author and endorse what some have called one of the most "chilling" blueprints for American Empire— Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources For A New Century.

Wolfowitz's time to shine however would come in 2001, after the attacks of September 11th. Having found his way back into the halls of power with the administration of Bush the Younger, Wolfowitz and compatriot Richard Perle would become two of the leading advocates in the Administration for an invasion of Iraq—hijacking the catastrophe of 9/11 for a war long planned. Wolfowitz is in fact recognized as a "key architect" of the Iraq War. Along with Perle, the administration, former cohorts at PNAC and others, Wolfowitz was not only a key planner of the war, but used the cowered mainstream press to help sell the American public on false claims of Iraqi WMDs. Wolfowitz would most famously claim that the war would be easy, cost something "under $50 billion" and that oil revenues from "liberated" Iraq would foot the bill. Today the cost of the war, simply in monetary terms, is over $400 billion and rises every second. When the war turned sour however, and visions of the Pax Americana came slamming against global reality, Wolfowitz and his neoconservative allies slowly began jumping ship, retreating to the shadows or turning on each other in a bizarre blame game, rather than answer for their heinous plans that have ruined a country, left hundreds of thousands mutilated, maimed, traumatized or dead, inflamed radical extremists and thrown the global security of the world into chaos. (Architects of the Iraqi War- Where Are They Now?) Wolfowitz however somehow managed to wrangle out a reward for such utter failure; and instead of simply retiring to some think tank or other private position, was given none other than a seat at the helm of the Death Star—the World Bank.

In the Star Wars universe, the Death Star is described as "the code name of an unspeakably powerful and horrific weapon developed by the Empire… an instrument of terror, meant to cow treasonous worlds with the threat of annihilation." Some have argued that the World Bank, is little different. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) was founded in 1946 as a way to finance reconstruction projects in World War II-ravaged countries, primarily Europe, who had poor creditworthiness. Today its purported reason for existence is to help nations, especially the more impoverished, in their development and economic policies. But instead, along with complimentary world bodies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank has spread more terror among the world's impoverished than anything approaching development.

The transnational advocacy group 50 Years is Enough, which monitors the World Bank and IMF, points out how these detrimental policies take hold:

"Structural adjustment—the standard IMF/World Bank policy package which calls for slashing government spending, privatization, and opening up countries to exploitative foreign investment, among other measures—has deepened poverty around the world. In the two regions with the most structural adjustment experience, per capita income has stagnated (Latin America) or plummeted (Africa)."
Like the Death Star, the World Bank and IMF are owned and run by a powerful empire—this one made up of international banks and the elite brokers of the neoliberal global political economy that convene at such events as the G8 Summit or WTO Conference. Though a diversity of nationalities work at the World Bank, its head is always an American, usually chosen by the sitting President. The IMF in turn is always led by a member of a powerful European state. Together, along with the interconnected trade policies that govern the world, the World Bank operates as one of the forces that keeps poor nations poor, helping ruin their economies with disastrous neoliberal reforms, laying their markets open bare for rich nations to loot and maraud and strangles entire regions in stifling debt out of which they can never climb. It is a system that helps to engender a world where a few have and the masses of the global population live in poverty or die due to lack of food, medicines and more.

It was only fitting that Paul Wolfowitz, like Darth Vader, would be placed in charge of the weapon of mass destruction the World Bank has become. That an architect of war attempted to pass himself off as a humanitarian was the first bit of folly—and is part of the creepy perversity that is neconservatism: saving the world by, as Michael Franti crooned, attempting to "bomb it into peace." That Wolfowitz's fall came out of corruption is also a bit of sweet irony, as his vision of the organization upon take-over of its helm caused upheaval among the staff as he attempted to ram in his own specialized reforms to "fight corruption." And yet for all the seeming "oil and water" mix many in the mainstream press have tried to spin the Wolfowitz-World Bank scandal as, their joining was in many ways a proverbial match made in heaven—or that other place.

Journalist John Nichols notes as much in an article for The Nation, quoting from the poet, anti-apartheid activist and African development campaigner, Dennis Brutus:

"Wolfowitz's arrogance, his insistence that any problems were the result of his colleagues' actions, never his own, were a perfect match for the World Bank, which has always refused to take responsibility for its own disastrous policies and projects, laying blame instead with the borrowing country, even though the common denominator in so many botched projects, violations of human rights, and failed policy packages has been the presence of the World Bank. The combination of war and economic crimes for which he was responsible, made Wolfowitz an appropriate symbol for the institution."
Thus with the fall of Wolfowitz from the World Bank let us not engage in too much schadenfreude. Darth Vader may be gone, onto who knows what new mischief, but the Death Star remains "fully operational." Now not everyone at the World Bank, its varied workers and staff, may think of their organization as a weapon of mass destruction. And many may actually believe it can serve some good. Even one of its former taskmasters turned critic—economist Joseph Stiglitz—yet believes so. However, willing to risk the crossing of sci fi and fantasy genres in my analogy, the Bank—like the One Ring—serves the interest of the elite and the powerful who govern the finances of the world, and keep most of the world's population impoverished. It serves only one master and has been unable or unwilling to do much good for those who still put faith in it. So let us not get so caught up in the removal of one figure—no matter how powerful—and lose sight of the real threat to millions that yet exists by the very existence of the institution.

Naomi Klein posits her thoughts on the true meaning of the saga of Paul Wolfowitz and the World Bank in her article "Sacrificial Wolfie":

"What we should absolutely not do…is participate in the effort to cleanse the Bank's ruinous history by repeating the absurd narrative that the reputation of an otherwise laudable antipoverty organization has been sullied by one man. The Bank understandably wants to throw Wolfowitz overboard. I say, Let the ship go down with the captain."
Indeed. Don't abandon your X-Wing fighters just yet. We've still got a Death Star to take down.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Malcolm X 2007- What If...

And we will know him then for what he was and is—a prince—our own black shining prince!—who didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so. --the late Ossie Davis, Eulogy for Malcolm X, 1965.

Today is the birthday of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, known to most of the world as Malcolm X, who had he lived would have been 82. The fiery activist achieved something akin to sainthood upon his tragic death on Feb. 21st 1965, and saw a revival of his presence especially within the Hip Hop cultural and political “Golden Age” of the late 1980s to early 1990s, culminating in the Spike Lee biopic bearing his name. There are still streets which memoralize him, along with grassroots organizations that seek to carry on his legacy and his movement. But gone today are the Malcolm X buttons, clothing and assorted paraphernalia that defined half a decade of black cultural expression, and influenced members of my generation. Last time I saw someone wearing an X cap, it was on an undocumented Mexican immigrant worker who had gotten it from a free clothing store—which seemed, oddly enough, fitting.

Still, on his birth and death Malcolm X and his politics tend to come alive again. The head of Harlem’s Schomburg Center Howard Dodson noted as much to Amsterdam News:

Each year on those 2 dates - his birthday, May 19th, and the anniversary of his assassination, February 21st - we try to bring to the public some consciousness of his place and role in the making of our history, our heritage and communicate to the world, especially the young people, the meaning of his life and the lessons that can be learned from it.
Each year around this time I tend to ponder Malcolm as well, and may end up spending a few hours reliving some of his speeches. Whenever I do so, I always look at our contemporary world and wonder what if...that fateful day in Feb. of 1965 had never happened? What if...Malcolm was still alive today? How would the 1960s icon have existed in our times? I tend to call it, WWMD--What Would Malcolm Do? Here are just a random sample of 20.

· What would Malcolm make of Hip Hop? Would he find art and expression and politics in it, or condemn it as detrimental and debilitating to black America?

· What would Malcolm make of the “new black conservatism” found in the likes of Bill Cosby? Would a former street hustler still believe the lowest among us could yet be redeemed?

· How would Malcolm’s preaching of “self-determination” co-exist in the black era of “prosperity preachers” and ideologies of “pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps?” Would he blame the poverty of the poor on their own shortcomings, or the system behind it?

· What would Malcolm make of the moral majority and religious right in America? What would he make of gay marriage or gay rights?

· Would Malcolm ever step on the set of FOX News?

· How would 82 year-old Muslim Malcolm have reacted when cameras and microphones were thrust in his face to demand an explanation on where he stood on Islamic radicalism?

· What would Malcolm have said of the Iraq War, Abu Gharib and the continued occupation?

· After September 11th would Malcolm have been caught up in the large sweeps, surveillance and imprisonment that affected thousands of Muslims in the U.S.? Would an 82 year-old man have been placed in an orange jump suit in Guantanomo?

· Would Malcolm have attended the Million Man March? Would he have spoken? How would he get along with his former protégé, Minister Louis Farrakhan? The Nation of Islam?

· Would Malcolm have cheered on all those (mostly) white kids at the Battle of Seattle and spoken out forcefully about neoliberalism, unfair trade and the global political economy?

· How would Malcolm have felt to watch the implosion of Somalia, the genocide of Rwanda or the devastation of the Democratic Republic of Congo?

· Would Malcolm speak out about Darfur and before that the conflict in South Sudan?

· How vocal would Malcolm be about the AIDS epidemic?

· What would Malcolm have made about the present state of Africa and its marginalizing in global affairs? Would he be out fighting for debt cancellation and condemning the IMF and World Bank? Or would Malcolm just have taken up Bono’s invitation to attend Live 8 and put on a ONE band?

· When supermodel Iman asked Malcolm to smear some paint on his face and pose in an ad declaring, I AM AFRICAN to fight AIDS, what would have been his reply?

· Would Malcolm think The Boondocks or Dave Chappelle was “revolutionary?”

· Would Malcolm sill have a U.S. postage stamp in his honor?

· Would Malcolm still have lived in the U.S., or would he have by now been forced to flee to Cuba?

· Would he have marketed his own brand of baseball caps, buttons and t-shirts bearing his likeness, and sued anyone for unlawfully using the patented trademark of his Bill Gates funded corporation Malcolm Inc.?

· Would Malcolm ever get to appear on Oprah?

Just some thoughts that run through my head is all. Can’t say I know many of the answers. But they are interesting to ponder while I listen to The Ballot or the Bullet and try to reflect on if Malcolm's ideologies were meant only for his era, or whether they would have fit--and evolved--in our own. At any rate, Happy birthday Malcolm.

Take all the action that's going on this earth right now that he's [the white world] involved in--tell me where he's winning. Nowhere.

Why some rice farmers--some rice farmers...ran him out of Korea. Yes, they ran him out of Korea. Rice eaters with nothing but gym shoes, and a rifle, and a bowl of rice took him and his tanks and his napalm, and all that other action he's supposed to have and ran him across the Yalu. Why? 'Cause the day that he can win on the ground has passed. Up in French Indo-China those little peasants, rice growers took on the might of the French army and ran all the Frenchmen -- you remember Dien Bien Phu. No.

The same thing happened in Algeria, in Africa--they didn't have anything but a rifle. The French had all these highly mechanized instruments of warfare, but they put some guerilla action on, and a--and a--and a white man can't fight a guerilla warfare. Guerilla action takes heart, takes nerve, and he doesn't have that. He's brave when he's got tanks. He's brave when he's got planes. He's brave when he's got bombs. He's brave when he's got a whole lot of company along with him, but you take that little man from Africa and Asia, turn him loose in the woods with a blade, with a blade--that's all he needs, all he needs is a blade--and when the sun comes down--goes down...and it's dark, it's even-steven!

---El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, Malcolm X, on the end of western imperialism and empire in his 1964 speech The Ballot or the Bullet.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bono's Lament for Africa- Critiquing the Best of Intentions

U2 frontman and anti-poverty activist Bono lamented this week that the world's industrial nations are not fulfilling their promises of aid to Africa's poor made at the G8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland in 2004. A new report compiled by his advocacy group DATA (Debt Aids Trade Africa) pointed out that the G8 is way off target on aid to Africa, having increased aid by $2.3 billion since 2004, when the Gleneagles commitment showed it should have risen by $5.4 billion. This is not the first time Bono has walked away disappointed. After meeting with the incoming Democratic House and Senate in December of 2006, he expressed "alarm" that he could not get the US Congressional leaders to keep up their commitment to aiding Africa. Still full of disappointment, Bono has stated he will remind the G8 financial ministers of their commitments to Africa at an upcoming meeting in Germany.

Bono… Bono… Bono… Where do I begin?

First off, let me say that overall I think Bono is the "real deal." That is, I think the rock star truly is moved by issues of poverty and AIDS in Africa. Sure there is something bizarre and ironic about a rich white guy flying around in private jets and staying in posh residences all the while claiming he wants to end global poverty—about as paradoxical as Oprah Winfrey's wonderfully generous gift of opening up a school in South Africa for impoverished young girls, but then disparaging the black youth of America as driven by materialism, when she controls a powerful media empire that endorses material consumption and capitalism (rewarding audience members with free cars and inviting them to peek into lavish birthday celebrations of the elite) as part of living a better, happier, fulfilling life. Maybe money makes the wealthy blind to their own hypocrisies. Nevertheless, I believe Bono is trying to do what he thinks will help. And for that he should be commended. I'm certain his actions have made a difference in many peoples lives. However, what I think his good intentions suffer from is a pragmatic approach that exposes a depth of incredible naiveté, failing to get at the heart of the matter and worse still, allowing those who control the reins of global power to avoid any real responsibility.

The push to free modern postcolonial Africa of poverty predates Bono. Numerous transnational movements and organizations have long formed networks demanding that issues of AIDS and poverty engulfing much of Africa be acknowledged by various wealthier nations and world bodies. Most forcefully, there has been strong activism to rid Africa of strangling debt. Groups like Africa Action and 50 Years is Enough in fact have argued that these debts are illegal, what they called odious debts—part of rich nations' policies that date back to the Cold War and the post-colonial era, giving massive "loans" with soaring high interest rates to corrupt leaders as political pay-offs and bribes, and now holding the citizens of those countries responsible for monies they never benefited from. The Democratic Republic of Congo stands out as a prime example, where the dictator Sekou Mobutu amassed large loans that conveniently found its way into European banks, while miring the country in billions in debt. These were not mere acts of theft, but part of a global system that willingly gave to leaders like Mobutu who carried out the bidding of the West. In the past 30 years in fact, Africa's loan debt has skyrocketed a stunning 400%.

More outrageous still, is that many African countries have become so mired in debt they are paying out more to their creditors than can be spent on their own development. Zambia for instance pays out more in debt to its rich creditor nations (including Western controlled institutions like the IMF and World Bank) than it spends on its entire healthcare budget; more than it spends on its schools, roads and infrastructure. These loans often come with gross stipulations that may for instance allow poor country A to purchase large items (like machinery) from rich nation B that issued the loan, but not the necessary tools or parts to fix that machinery. So when something breaks down, poor country A might actually have to get another loan from rich country B to purchase a new machine. These types of unethical schemes result in a need for more loans and thus incur more debt. Written into many of these exploitative deals—along with payoffs to the right officials—are also policies that allow rich nations to control the infrastructure of the poor countries that are in debt to them, or allow an unfair advantage that creates lopsided trade agreements. Debt thus not only hinders many poor nations from investing in their own infrastructure—schools, hospitals, roads—but severely negates their political and economic sovereignty, allowing the rich nations of the world to dictate policies that induce more poverty, creating systemic cultures of corruption and contributes to the usually attendant factors of hunger, conflict and disease.

Trade itself has also been a hotly contentious topic of the more established anti-poverty activists. While the neoliberal policies of globalization have pushed free markets, many activists have demanded * fair * markets and Fair Trade. Currently, powerful nations—using loans and aid and payoffs—have been able to strong arm the trade partnership with Africa. It allows for a grossly unequal system that allows for wealthy nations to hand out billions in subsidies to its own farmers while forcing Africa to lay open its markets bare. As the West floods the markets of poor African nations with cheaper goods—from chicken to cotton—local markets are wiped out, destroying the livelihoods of millions of farmers and thus adding to the ranks of poverty and domestic instability. Worse still, African nations lose control over their own domestic policies.

The food crisis that struck Niger in 2005 is a choice example. In order for the Niger government to receive loans and some meager form of debt relief from the G8 countries, it had to do away with long established emergency food hand outs to the poor—as part of neoliberal economic reforms that call for less state programs and more of a focus on profit. Attempting to prove its subservience to the G8 policies, Niger instead offered millet at subsidized prices which the poor could not afford. When a severe drought stuck the country in 2005, food that would have been available to feed the poor was nonexistent—and 3.6 million people faced starvation. The Niger government, fearful of a backlash from the G8 if it broke away from the disastrous imposed neoliberal model, continued to hold back on free food distribution. Only when things reached such a level of crisis that anti-poverty activists forced Western news media to pay attention, did the G8 back off and allow Niger to carry out its state feeding program to the poor.

While Bono, and other celebrity causes such as the ONE Campaign, certainly speak out about debt and trade, they have beocme decidedly more low-key about it over the years. What is focused on the most is the notion of "aid." Yet much like the odious debt that strangles Africa, efforts at "aid" are at times illusory. "Aid" to African countries from rich nations has often been as mired in exploitative politics as loans and trade. To receive "aid" one has to be a country in good standing. Good standing is often defined publicly as one free of corruption and engaging in democracy. In reality however, this is often code for a nation that agrees to follow dictates and policies of who ever gives them "aid." This can be anything from following the lead of rich nations at the UN, in trade negotiations, etc., opening up their small fragile markets to competition from goods like genetically modified seeds that may wipe out local agricultural industries or allowing multinational corporations to use one's seas and land to dump toxic waste.

In one of the most ironic twists, "Aid" can even come with stipulations demanding a poor country only spend the money it is given buying goods from the nation who gave the "Aid" in the first place! A report in 2005 found that for every $1 the United States gave in "Aid," it made back 86 cents simply by forcing poor nations to purchase goods made in America. Add in the numerous political strings that probably came with the receipt of "Aid," and you have a situation where rich nations are engaging in what the report called global "political grandstanding." In this way wealthy nations and their corporations can put on a great appearance of "helping the poor" while at the same time keeping the same global economic rules in place that allow them to exploit those very same poor, extracting billions in goods and resources far beyond what any "aid" provides.

And herein lays one of the most unsettling issues I've had with Bono and groups like ONE. These celebrity pushes to get people involved in global anti-poverty campaigns have been phenomenal. But they have come at a cost. In order to get many of us in rich nations, and our leaders, to pay heed to the world's poor these groups have muted any calls for responsibility on our side of the world. Rather than pointing out how the global economy that we live in, that our nations endorse and create, strangle the world's poor, we are told instead to feel sorry for Africa. We are shown pictures that tug at our hearts, at our minds, and appeals to our humanity. But we are not told to feel any responsibility. We are shown the starving faces of Niger, but not the machinations of our own nations in helping cause that starvation.

If we have guilt, it is only in that we have so much and they have so little. We are not told however to connect that the very reason we have so much—from the mineral rich coltan mines in war ravaged Congo in our cell phones to giant ocean trawlers (so-called "fish factories") that are now clear-cutting the African seafloor and pushing local fisherman off Mali and other nations into poverty—is rooted in the fact that others have so little. It is we who are strangling the world's poor, to meet our needs, our way of living. As one scientist put it, if the rest of the world were to live like we do in the West, we'd need another 3 Earths. We don't see our nations' responsibility in pushing exploitative loans in order to maintain the global political economy that ensures we can keep up our present culture of trade dominance and rapacious consumption. Our role in all of this is minimized to near the point of negation. Places like Africa are poor in our imaginations, solely because of bad leadership and rotten luck. No one wants to ask, if Western nations like Belgium and the United States sponsored and helped orchestrate the overthrow of the Democratic Congo's elected leader Patrece Lumumba, and then helped keep its dictator Mobutu in power, what measure of responsibility do they bear for years of repression, not to mention a disastrous war from 1998-2003 (shamefully ignored by the world) that would leave some 4 million people dead? We just tell those who do to "shut up and take our charity."

Of course, I do recognize that the recipients of "charity" may not care about such things. I have the benefit of a full belly and health insurance to sit back and make my criticisms. Yet that is my point—the gratitude of those who are in need should not be used as the measuring stick of the justness of our global system. What is more, by not acknowledging the West's culpability in many of the dire issues facing much of Africa, the depictions of a "dark" and "troubled" continent filled with endless human misery and backwardness—something even many well-meaning liberals engage in—are allowed to fester. Rather than seeing Africa's poverty as a problem with definitive historical and contemporary causes of the modern world, these issues are instead made somehow "naturally endemic" to the continent—as if it's peoples and cultures have known no other form of existence; as if it currently resides in a vacuum outside the global political economy; as if colonialism had never happened; as if indigenous states and forms of government (from Mali to Zimbabwe) had never existed at all; as if things have just always been this way. It is an Africa wiped clean of a functioning past and literally inverted and shaped to fit the West's imagination, a place of naturally "savage" wars and naturally brutal dictators that erupt sui genesis—Conrad's Heart of Darkness brought to life and thus erasing any form of responsibility by external actors. This perception of Africa is not only as dangerous as the dire issues that plague the continent, but is directly related. It is a form of racism that allows for the expectation of the worst to come out of Africa, the exotic, the threatening, the bizarre—and then similarly allows for policy to be shaped to fit those expectations.

I can understand why Bono and others take their soft-shoe approach. The frontman of U2 is no fool. He's well aware of all of this. But he has opted for a pragmatic approach because as the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. So rather than laying a great deal of well deserved blame at the feet of rich nations, instead there are calls for such nations to be more "generous." But the cost of this tactic can be tremendous. By not acknowledging the role of the West, of the rich nations, in Africa's current dilemma, and allowing us to wear white wristbands touting our gracious charity, a crime of epic proportions is being committed. Africa remains portrayed as a basket case continent, filled with never-ending seeming misery that has always been so and which can only be saved by good people (mostly white, naturally) in the West. This perversion of reality is akin to setting fire to someone's house and then congratulating yourself when you show up outside their smoldering ruins with blankets and hot chocolate. And it proved the perfect tool for the G8.

The calls for rich nations to erase debt, make trade fair and stop their strangle hold on Africa had been growing increasingly leading up to the G8 summit in 2005. From the famed Battle in Seattle at the WTO in 1999 to the many anti-poverty movements that melded into anti-war protests worldwide, the cries were getting stronger. The G8 and other world bodies like the IMF and World Bank (which these same nations control) knew concessions would have to be made, but had no intentions of doing anything radical. Enter an Irish rock star with a big heart and a pragmatic approach. Using Bono and other celebrities as shields from other more forceful and long established vocal activists, rich nations made pledges and commitments that in the end amounted to very little—but allowed for great photo-ops and allowed millions of "Johnny and Suzy come lately" anti-globalization activists to wave their white ONE bands happily while at grand concerts none of the world's poor could ever attend. Some more established activists who made alliances with Bono were described as "embarrassed" that the U2 frontman believed something had been accomplished at the G8 Summit of 2005. Trade campaigner John Hilary pointed out that the results of that summit actually set the movement towards fair trade "backwards." Salih Booker at Africa Action probably summed up the disappointment of the more established activists in his strong worded statement that July:

This G-8 plan is inadequate and a contemptuous response to African demands for justice. It is an unapologetic confirmation of the global apartheid system, in which the most impoverished continent bankrolls the development of the rich world. Their announcement to increase aid to Africa is the greatest hoax of our time. While they trumpet miniscule increases in development assistance, they continue to extract billions of dollars a year in debt repayments from countries excluded from this diminutive debt deal.

And so here we are a mere two years later, and the G8 and the World Bank and IMF have done very little even to stand by the meager pledges it made in 2005. Bono and his pragmatic allies had countered anti-poverty critics back then by saying a first step had been achieved, and more was certainly to come. Now it seems the U2 frontman is finding out that in actuality he may have been taken for a ride, allowing himself to believe that power would concede with "pleases" and "may i?" rather than forceful demands. When Bono goes back to make his case, he might want to keep some of the following in mind.

Tell the G8 that Africa does not need more deceptive "aid" or odious "loans" or debilitating neoliberal "free market policies." Africa does not require a charity or a handout. Rather it is owed for decades of past exploitation, with trade that is FAIR and allows its people to prosper. Africa's debt need not be "forgiven," but cancelled, and a real Marshall Plan of epic proportions should be undertaken by the UN in which its past exploiters are forced to contribute to help set things right—with African solutions being used first and foremost to tackle African problems. If the U.S. could pressure the IMF and World Bank to erase Iraq's debt gathered under their former ally Saddam Hussein, why can they not do the same for so much of Africa? If "freedom is on the march," then free Africa of the vultures who have too long helped strip the continent bare. If Africa is to be portrayed as victims, have the guts and strength to call out the victimizers. The West is not responsible for all of Africa's problems, but our hands are certainly not clean—not by far.

To Bono's celebrity friends at ONE, American Idol and elsewhere, the one-dimensional image of Africa as a helpless, inept, and continually war-torn continent mired in disease and famine needs to find a balance that provides a more realistic portrayal. Lagos, Nigeia is a teeming metropolis. At night Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire is lit up like NYC. In some parts of Africa people may even live in suburbs, attend universities and find ways to celebrate their culture while pushing for a fair chance at modernity. Sure there are also slums, rural villages lacking basic things like clean water and other dire symptoms of poverty--but the overall picture is much more complex. Start pointing out the vast mineral and human potential of Africa. Depicting Africa as an "exotic" land even with the most well-meaning campaigns (I am African) is not only embarrassingly offensive, but helps engender the very sentiments that so easily marginalizes an entire continent of human beings. Start involving the voices in Africa (not just the ones we're familiar with in the west, like Iman) attempting to bring change, like Wangari Maathai or those at the World Social Forum—the continent doesn't need any more missionaries. Take a look at PBS's AFRICA. Attend African film festivals which can be illuminating on African social life and politics. Support one like FESPACO held in Burkina Faso each year. Getting ourselves to understand that those we seek to help aren't "projects" but people, just like us, might go a long way in bringing the continent that gave birth to humanity more humane treatment.


Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Black America, Immigrant Rights and May Day

Last year, May Day of 2006, saw massive demonstrations by immigrants throughout the US. Contrary to media accounts, while the majority of those marching were Mexican and Central American immigrants, solidarity marches took place in regions as diverse as Chinatown (NY and San Francisco), Haitian communities in Florida and elsewhere. Back then, the immigration furor was heavy. In the black online community, I listened to alot of anger that seemed directed towards Latino immigrants--mostly those of Mexican descent. This mirrored part of an ongoing series of debates in black America, on whether immigration was a detriment, tensions between Mexican-Americans and African-Americans in places like Los Angeles and the reality of black unemployment. Surveying the landscape, I wrote a blog back then to vent against some disturbing trends I was witnessing, as some tried to cloak their obvious bigotry in claims of black solidarity. One year later, as we enter May Day 2007, and the issue of immigration appears again on our radar, I simply repost my musings from 2006... as they may still sadly be relevant.

Two weeks ago in California, a black "homeless" activist by the name of Ted Hayes led what he termed a "Black Minute Men" group in a march to protest illegal immigrants. He was met by pro-immigrant activists, black and latino. After a shouting match, a fight broke out between the two groups. News cameras enthusiastically filmed the melee which made national headlines. According to Hayes, a Republican, the influx of illegal workers are a prime reason for homelessness in America.

Allegedly Hayes viewed it all as such a threat, that he approached the vigilante white Minute Men of Arizona and New Mexico who regularly patrol the borders. These militia groups are thought to be outgrowths of the 1977 Klan Watch, sponsored by David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan. Hayes has invited gang members from Los Angeles to join him, the white milita groups and his own grouping in their attempts to keep illegals from crossing the border

So here we are in 2006--with black homeless activists belonging to a party that regularly cuts funding to the poor, enticing other poor blacks to join groups with direct or indirect ties to white supremacist groups to keep poor people from crossing the border from Mexico to steal American jobs. Hayes has called illegal immigration the biggest threat to blacks in America since slavery.

That's it. Stop the world for a second. I need to get the hell off.

The following is written to Ted Hayes, who would have us make Faustian pacts to undefined ends. It's meant for all those black folks I've talked to in the past few weeks who in their justified fears and frustrations, have reached nevertheless unjustified conclusions. It's to the xenophobic black folks who now seem to flood online boards, comment spaces and groups, who seem to revel in the chance to vent personal hatreds that are far divorced from politics.

First off, the real threat to blacks since slavery isn't undocumented workers. It's not the people who have been providing us with cheap goods for the past few decades. It's not the people who clean up after us. It's not the people that have funneled some $7 billion into Social Security that they'll never see. It's not the people who labor in the shadows and whom economists say the Clinton era boom of the 1990s would have been impossible to achieve without.

The real biggest threat to blacks (and everyone else) since slavery--and not to mention *during* slavery, as it was the raison d'etre)--has been unchecked capitalism. Unchecked capitalism is what brought black bodies here across the seas, and what decimated native populations. Unchecked capitalism caused the US to initiate a war of aggression against Mexico in 1846, and literally steal Texas, California and other territories, thus setting up where the borders would be to make one "legal" or "illegal." Unchecked capitalism has allowed for the exploitation of peoples and pits them against each other, while the rich dine in fine style.

Human beings don't voluntarily leave their homes, culture and all they've ever known to take low paying jobs in foreign lands where they are treated like thrash. They do so when they are forced out of their livelihoods. And we need look no further than NAFTA and now CAFTA, neoliberal trade agreements pushed by the US that enrich the corporatocracy (elites in varied countries who have no national allegiances save to their own wealth) while destroying jobs, infrastructure, agriculture in foreign countries. Immigration from Mexico has more than doubled as NAFTA has put hundreds of thousands of farmers into dire poverty. And its not just there; it's happening throughout the globe. People are angry at the poor and desperate for ignoring artificial fluid boundaries in search of survival? What do we expect them to do? Starve? I assure you that if the continent of Africa was directly South of us, we'd be welcoming Achmed and Kwasi to labor in the shadows for us rather than Maria and Jose.

That unchecked nature of globalization without any safeguards to protect the least among us is at the heart of this issue. It's what pushes US jobs overseas where others can be exploited, forced to work in the only jobs available once the IMF gets done ruining their economic infrastructure. We're only now feeling the pinch that the world has been experiencing. Case in point, this Iraq colonial misadventure has currently run up a bill of 320 billion! That would have been enough to fortify Social Security (which again, all those "illegals" have contributed some $7 billion to), give free healthcare, create millions of jobs, fund *all* the nation's schools and more. Whilst we bicker about "illegals," $200 million a *day* goes to the Iraqi mishap---that's $6 billion a month, to White House tied contractors like Halliburton and the shadow army Blackwater!


And we're sitting here grumbling about some poor family barely making it and picking grapes that we greedily consume without care until we see that family in the local emergency room? We're not even demanding to know why the head of Exxon (after his leaving bonus) will have made $144,000 *a day* in salary while there are homeless and struggling and working poor in our streets? We're not even demanding *better* paying jobs! Or *better* education for job training? Instead we're demanding that "illegals" step aside so WE can bend over the barrell and show that we can take it like pros?

Ironically it's the undocumented workers who are now waging the fight WE should be waging, should have been waging. They're saying, "make us legal so you can't exploit us like you've been doing for the last 20 yrs." They're saying, "We want better job security and rights and more pay." And in the meantime, we're angry at THEM? Has everyone lost their friggin minds!? Did Martin Luther King Jr. not die in the midst of leadig a POOR PEOPLE'S march? Have we become so blinded by our individualistic consumerism that we can't see who's screwin' us in the dark?

To the Ted Hayes of the world, as long as we decide to pick fights with the exploited rather than tackle that 800 lb gorilla of untamed global capitalism that is sitting on all our chests, then some form of near slavery is exactly where we'll all be. And if we're all so foolish--black, brown, red, white, yellow and all else--to fall for this divisive trick again, to squabble for crumbs in a proverbial race to the bottom, while the powerful continue to rape us and then offer false hugs, then maybe...sadly...we all deserve our miserable lot.

Happy May Day.