Wednesday, January 23, 2008

45,000 Die Each Month in Congo- But What Do We Care?

A UN report released this week says that 45,000 people die each month in the Democratic Republic of Congo due to the lingering effects of a war that was supposed to have ended five years ago. It's the most devastating loss of life due to war since WWII. Most of the dead are non-combatants, civilians caught up in the conflict. Half of these who account for the dead are children. But what do we care...

A UN report released this week says that 45,000 people die each month in the Democratic Republic of Congo due to the lingering effects of a war that was supposed to have ended five years ago. It's the most devastating loss of life due to war since WWII. Most of the dead are non-combatants, civilians caught up in the conflict. Half of these who account for the dead are children.

As one news report states:

"Congo's monthly death rate of 2.2 deaths for each 1,000 people — essentially unchanged from the last survey in 2004 — is nearly 60% higher than the average for sub-Saharan Africa, according to the study by IRC and Australia's Burnet Institute, which researches epidemiological disease."

The causes of death? Mostly disease and malnutrition--the aftershocks of a forgotten war, woefully ignored by both Clinton and Bush White Houses, that claimed some 4 million lives. Altogether, in the near decade long conflict that has now settled into a simmering status quo of sporadic violence in lawless regions, the death toll is thought to stand at 5.4 million lives. There are more UN peacekeepers in the Congo, a massive country in sheer size, than anywhere else in the world. But the resources needed to make them effective, on say a scale as done in Afghanistan or Iraq, is non-existent. So the beaten down giant of a fractured nation lurches from one conflict to the next, with the civilian populace caught in the middle, enduring mass displacement, starvation and disease.

Since before there was such a thing as a "blog," I wrote numerous news articles on the war dating back to at least 1998. I watched as what should have been the victorious overthrow of the Western backed dictator Mobutu Sesse Soku turned into chaos and then an utter nightmare, with its seeds ominously linked to the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. I noticed how the mainstream news media failed to focus on the conflict, even as it thretaened to turn into a full continental power struggle, drawing in several nations, with even Libya and South Africa on the brink of joining the melee. When Ted Koppel's Nightline did decide to cover the story, he actually apologised, for not having done it sooner. Some three years after the war had begun, a major American news agency had finally dedicated a weeklong series to the devastating war in Congo. It was so little, so late, but still many were thankful. Unfortunately, that first episode aired on Sept. 10th, 2001. The events of the following Tuesday made certain the woes of the Congo would be buried and forgotten again, as American lives and the Mideast became all consuming.

The war in Congo in fact would end, ironically enough, when the many countries and factions found their sources of Western weapons drying up with the coming "War on Terror." They negotiated their own peace, but left the country in utter shambles. Imagine if after WWII, there had been no Marshall Plan, and the many Axis fighters had splintered into factions that could rape, pillage and plunder at will. Imagine if all the sides in the Yugoslavian conflict had been armed, and left to their own destructive devices. Imagine a broken and fractured Iraq, where every leader with a gun wants his own fiefdom, but a hundred times worse. That only begins to sum up the modern day problems in Congo.

And yet, I haven't seen anyone declare a "War on Poverty" for the Congo. I haven't seen massive debt relief for the DRC accumulated under Mobutu, in the same way Iraq's debt accrued under Saddam Hussein was forgiven. There's little talk of the DRC on the nightly news, or by pundits of the conservative or so-called "liberal" media. People who march against war in US cities aren't marching much for peace in the Congo. Aren't many actors and actresses wearing END CONGO WAR! buttons. There's no major peace plan launched in Annapolis to solve Congo's crises, which in a decade have taken infinitely more lives than over sixty years of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And I haven't heard a single question put to any presidential candidate in either party regarding what ideas they might have to bring some resolution to the Congo's lengthy and disastrous conflict. It's amazing to think that over 5 million human lives could be snuffed out due to war, and hardly seem to make a ripple or sound in this increasingly connected and globalised world I keep hearing about.

Every once in a while the DRC makes it back into the headlines, when there's something so graphic and horrendous it titilates the Western pornographic gaze--be it tales of cannibalism or mass rape in Eastern Congo--and fulfills our racial fascination with "Darkest Africa." But unlike Darfur, for some reason, the Congo never stays long in the press. And as much as I at times grit my teeth at the "Save Africa" ONE crusaders who cry "poor Africa" without ever seeming to see our own neoliberal, weapons sales, post-colonial role in varied crises, a little attention and focus on the DRC might be a good thing. So every once in a while, when something like this report comes out, I type out a blog as a reminder to myself and others.

Because I figure some of us have to care...

More on the Congo:

Africa Action- DRC

Democracy for Congo

Congo: Plunder and Submission

The War on Women

Do Something!

Friends of the Congo

Congo Global Action Network

Standing With Our Sisters- Benefit for Rape Survivors of Eastern Congo

Panzi Hospital of Bukavu

50 Years is Enough



Friday, January 11, 2008

Debating Barack Obama

As I oft find necessary to say in preface, I do not endorse Barack Obama--nor do I campaign against him. The same goes for his main rival (at least in the way the newsmedia has spun it), Hillary Clinton. Both of them are way too centrist, too tied to corporations and too tied to militarist foreign policy strategies for my taste. Certainly they are different and apart from the Republicans; just not far enough for me to jump on the bandwagon. While I do not openly back any candidate, I'd probably find closer political company among John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich. Sadly, their anti-corporate platforms have naturally won them the ire of the corporate run media, and both candidates (Edwards and Kucinich) are marginalized in journalistic political discourse. In the end of course, the pragmatic side of me will support whomever the Democratic presidential nominee ends up becoming, because all of their imperfections are preferable to the nutter freak show going on at the GOP. But while getting my pragmatic vote, any Democrat to win the White House can expect to catch hell and criticism from me--cuz that's how it's supposed to be.

That being said, on the Jan. 9th edition of Democracy NOW! host Amy Goodman had on two black progressives, scholar/writer Michael Eric Dyson and journalist Glen Ford (Black Agenda Report), to discuss their opposing viewpoints on Barack Obama. It was a refreshing debate that dared to feature two normally like-minded black figures debating the merits of Obama, his strengths and short-comings. The debate itself was not a slam-dunk for either, as they both made valid points. With my personal political leanings, I would probably score it 60% to 40% in favor of Glen Ford--whose criticisms, while not taking away from Dyson's pragmatic observations, still are hard to dispute.

But why not see for yourself and make up your own minds.

Part 1 of the debate above.

Part 2 is below:

A transcript of the broadcast can be read here:


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Eating Their Collective Feet- News Pundits & Obama


So Barack Obama narrowly lost the New Hampshire primary. While I endorse neither Hillary Clinton, or Obama for that matter, there was a bit of glee in watching those returns come in Tuesday night. The political punditry of the mainstream corporate news, who had gone into an Obama-gush fest just days earlier, was left sputtering and trying to explain how all their prophetic predictions of Obama's inevitable rise and Hillary's coming doom could have been so WRONG. Their humiliation alone was worth the outcome of the primary. While they have been puzzling for days now what could have gone wrong, here's a suggestion to add to the mix of likely numerous factors.

All that crowing over Obama's Iowa win may have backfired. The media's herd mentality in declaring the end of Hillary Clinton (eagerly writing her obituary while she was still very much alive), and endorsing Obama as the abstract "change" candidate, may have turned numerous New Hampshire voters off. Perhaps the lily white constituents, reaching down to some good ol' fashioned American racism, didn't like that the media made a white woman cry over a black male candidate. Or maybe it's as simple as no one likes to be told for whom they should vote. When the media were glorifying Hillary Clinton it eventually led to declining poll numbers. Their unabashed endorsement of Obama may have done the same for him.

The good news? American voters may have finally grown weary of arrogant media pundits who think it's their right, privilege and duty to annoint candidates and control the dynamics of a political race. Whatever the case, what Obama's narrow loss in Iowa showed was that the race for president is still fluid, still open and won't be decided by the whims of obviously over-paid corporate news media celebrities.

Some articles below on the debacle of the media and New Hampshire primary

The Race is On

The first lesson to take from the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary is to throw the pundits, pollsters and kingmakers out the window. Armed with smug self-certainty and the slippery intelligence of numbers, they tried to declare the race for President over even before it began.

full article:

A Platter of Crow for the Pundits

*added Jan. 11, 2008

As we have an official Election Day, there ought to be a new national holiday called Eating Crow Day, when we the people who had to watch the nation's army of pundits, pollsters, anchormen and cable news opinionators get to digest their predictions and analyze where they went wrong.

Not since Literary Digest predicted Alf Landon would beat FDR in 1936--a coup it managed to pull off by polling only people with phones during the Great Depression--has there been the need for such a day of mourning after Hillary Clinton's surprise victory in New Hampshire.

full article:


Friday, January 4, 2008

Obama's Big Score

A day since his big win at the Iowa Caucus, and it seems many people have caught Obama fever. The media, long fascinated with him, have now turned him into their darling--for the time being at least. Pundits gush on about how he represents change, and how his win now has caused an earthquake in politics. On the conservative right and the progressive left, there is glee at seeing the well-oiled Clinton machine sputter and break down in the face of the Obama victory. And of course, the theme of "history in the making" and "race" are endless in their veracity and variety. Many black people I know who were at most lukewarm towards Obama are declaring they just might vote for him--as if the elections are just around the corner. My own two cents on the Obama win, how it happened and what it might mean--or might not mean.

*In full disclosure, I am neither for nor against Barack Obama. While I haven't chosen any candidate as my own, I tend to fall in much more strongly behind John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich, whose anti-corporate, anti-war and anti-poverty stances resonate closer to my own.

How and Why He Won

Barack Obama's victory in Iowa was hard fought. For weeks he had been trailing frontrunner Hillary Clinton in the polls. But a great deal of campaigning by volunteers descending on Iowa did much to help out. So did money. According to CMAG, a firm that tracks political advertising, Obama spent a whopping $8.3 million in Iowa alone--over $2 mil more than Hillary, and three times more than John Edwards. Obama was also helped out by his key supporters, the under 30 crowd. For instance, after much controversy regarding their involvement, Iowa college students (many of whom are not native to the state) showed up in high numbers for Obama. So did many first time caucus-goers, some of them recently graduated from high school. Altogether, they made up a record fifth of the overall vote, and overwhelmingly supported Obama. Besides the youth vote, Obama got a sharp boost from independents who were most likely to be seeking change. Add in Democrats disaffected by Hillary Clinton's anti-Bush but status quo message, and Obama found fertile ground in Iowa. Another strong factor, ignored by much of the media, was the unexpected support Obama received from fellow Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich. A strong symbol of the progressive left, Kucinich told his supporters to pick Obama as a second choice if they did not think him viable. While some pundits initially scoffed that this could hurt Obama, it may have helped him.

What Does It Mean?

Hard to say however what much of this means. Listen to the media, who have made Obama over as their new-found prince, and you'd think the election was over. But there are numerous primaries to go, some small, some large. This is still anyone's race to win. Obama is certainly to get a bump, and possibly a surge, from his win in Iowa. And the campaign of his main contender, Hillary Clinton, is no doubt in heavy damage control and revamping mode. The next big battle comes in mere days in the New Hampshire primary, where--so far--Clinton is ahead. Expect however the fight to get plainly more nasty as another Obama win could spell disaster, if not doom, for Hillary. More than a few pundits and Caucus go-ers pointed to the remarkable ability of Obama to get the white vote in Iowa; it remains to be seen if he can do so elsewhere. What the Caucuses have done is caused two presidential hopefuls among the Democrats to drop out--Senators Chris Dodd and Joe Biden. Who they will throw their support behind is, thus far, unclear. As for Dennis Kucinich, he has made it clear that his support for Obama was an "Iowa only thing"--and he intends to compete earnestly in New Hampshire.

Watch South Carolina

An interesting primary to watch will be South Carolina. That's because it will be the first time we'll get some idea of what Obama's standing is in the black community, at least a sampling--half of the South Carolina Democratic primary is black. Iowa on the other hand is a majority-white state, with blacks making up less than 3% of the overall population. His support there came from not just the young, but the often very lily-white. While some pundits seem to take his standing among black voters for granted, that would be a mistake. In South Carolina, before the Iowa Caucus, Obama was trailing far behind Hillary Clinton when it comes to the black vote. The gap had shrunk from earlier estimates, but it still needs quite a boost. Like just about everywhere else, it seems black South Carolinians don't know what to make of Obama. Some naturally rally to him, especially younger black voters, as they see him representing both racial accomplishment and historical change. The more firmly established black political cadre however are much more reluctant, deeming Obama an unknown who they fear will never be able to win the national white votes needed to gain the presidency. In their eyes, a vote for Obama is probably the best way to assure a Republican takes the White House. Then there are the black left, who find Obama's stance on the issues barely different from that of Hillary Clinton--citing his closeness to the military establishment, corporate interests and vague policy definitions--and opt for more progressive white male candidates like John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich. However, after the Iowa win, alot of black doubters may come around for Obama. Watching South Carolina might give us some clue.

The End of Race?

That's the big mantra out of the political pundits, whether they are conservative or moderate or even liberal. Barack Obama, with a deemed "post-Civil Rights" air, is being hailed as the man who can single-handedly end racism. There is a popular idea that if white America can vote for this black man as president, it must mean the last few hundred years of American racism will somehow disappear. Or, better put, it will simply hide American racism where it doesn't have to trouble white eyes and minds. As conservative commentator George Will put it, Barack Obama's win will "bring down the curtain on the long running and intensely boring melodrama 'Forever Selma,' staring Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton." In one stroke, George Will managed to disparage the entire Civil Rights Movement as a boring blip in American history, and give voice to what many white minds seem to be contemplating. Barack Obama has become the black candidate who is simultaneously "post-race." As Chris Matthews of MSNBC's hardball said endearingly in one of his never-ending series of man-crushes, "No history of Jim Crow, no history of anger, no history of slavery. All the bad stuff in our history ain't there with this guy." Obama is thus celebrated for appealing to white people without making them feel guilty--or even responsible--for anything that happened in the past or even our present. Partly its his own doing, positioning himself to win over whites, and at times pushing attitudes towards black disfranchisement more similar to Bill Cosby than to Dr. King. Obama's April 2007 speech to the legislative black caucus in South Carolina for instance, where he joked that "a good economic development plan for our community would be if we make sure folks weren't throwing garbage out of their cars," went over like a lead balloon. Since then, he's refashioned himself to walk a fine tight-rope, where he can lightly appeal to black voters concerns that he can relate to them and still keep his majority white base. Yet there's no doubting that for many white voters, his appeal may be in their idea that his presidency can wash away their sins and those of their forefathers. What that means for the rest of us, I don't know.

Keeping Things in Perspective

Lost in all the media talk about Obama's first place win and Clinton's third place loss, is the 2nd place winner--John Edwards. Disliked by the media for his strong anti-corporate and anti-poverty stances, Edwards has been the marginilized underdog in this race. Though heavily outspent by both candidates, he managed to pull to 2nd place riding a populist message that is starkly different than that of Obama or Clinton. Chances are high, they both realize this and will try to adopt much of Edwards message for their own. Question is, will anyone believe it? For all the talk of this being a message to the other Democratic candidates, unlike the GOP Caucus where the margins of victory where profund, Obama, Clinton and Edward took unequal "thirds" of the vote. That means each one did not get the support of close to or more than 2/3rds of the Democratic voters in Iowa. This election is still anyone's to win, or lose. And we're a long way from the convention. Whatever the case may be, however it turns out, more than likely Democratic voters will vote for whomever wins the primary. Because the GOP alternatives are simply too unpalatable to contemplate.