2008: The World is Yours!

All of us at Global Wire want to thank those of you who have supported this blog in the past year, and hope you will continue the support in the new year! We have fun doing this, and we plan to continue what we do and more in 2008.

Let dance to Hooverphonic's "The World is Mine."


GW Year in Review 2007

Ghana celebrates 50 years of independence in March. The Black Star nation started a revolution in 1957 being the first African nation to be free of colonialism, but not neocolonialism (thanks to WTO, IMF etc) which would come along in later years.

Burmese students and opposition political activists clashed with authorities over fuel subsidies. The protest demonstrations were at first dealt with quickly and harshly by the junta, with dozens of protesters arrested and detained. Starting September 18, the protests had been led by thousands of Buddhist monks, and those protests had been allowed to proceed until a renewed government crackdown on September 26. During the crack-down, there were rumors of disagreement within the Burmese military, but none were confirmed. Some news reports referred to the protests as the Saffron Revolution.

When asked about the treatment of gays and lesbians in his country at a lecture at Columbia University, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran said “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. We don’t have that in our country. In Iran we don't have this phenomanon. I don't know who told you this.”

An antiwar protester in Boston with the number of Iraqi civilians killed so far in the war on Iraq scrolled acrossed her face.

Approximately twenty thousand protestors gathered in Jena, Louisiana to show support for six black teenagers accused of beating up a white teenager. The fight was sparked by a number of racially-charged incidents in the town, of which the earliest that has been reported was when three white students hung nooses from a tree at Jena High School, after a black student asked permission from a school administrator to sit under the tree. The protest was described as "the largest civil rights demonstration in years." While many might argue if this is the "new civil rights movement," it is clear that America still has a racial problem that it wants to ignore.

Fidel Castro has grown more ill over the past year. How will Cuba prepare for the post-Castro era in 2008.

Former Pakistani President Benazir Bhutto was assasinated following a rally December 27 outside of Islamabad. While questions rise about who killed her, will the United States now refocus its attention back in this area of the world instead of Iraq?


GW 2007 Book of the Year: The Darker Nations

Scholar and activist Vijay Prashad gives an thought-provoking alternative view of the Cold War in "The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World." While most books tend to focus on the United States and the former Soviet Union, this books analyzes anticolonial nationalism and sometime flawed idealism among newly independent but fragile countries throughout the Global South.


GW 2007 Film of the Year: This Is England

Shane Meadow semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age story about a disillusioned youth during the turbulent Thatcher years in England. Shaun Fields is a young loner who recently lost his father in the Falklands War. He finds kinship in a group of reggae-loving punks who consider themselves "skinheads." All is fun and great when another type of skinhead, Combo, comes into the picture with virulent racism at hand. Fresh out of jail, Combo cites South Asian immigrants for taking away jobs from "good Englsihmen" like himself. Shaun quickly gravitates to Combo as a father figure, and makes disturbing life decisions. "This Is England" is a story that goes beyond race and economics that is worth checking out.


Benazir Bhutto: Why is the US in Iraq again?

Former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto met an early death when she was killed by a suicide bomber following a rally outside Islamabad today. This tragic incident will eventually focus attention on why US ally, General Pervez Musharaff, didn't provide more security for her leading up to the Jan. 8 elections, although Bhutto's camp stated numerous times that they had evidence that an assasination attempt was being planned by political opponents. And now, many sources today believe that Musharaff had more sinister intentions all along.

From Time Magazine:

But there are some who think the Bush Administration is not without blame. Hussain Haqqani, a former top aide to Bhutto and now a professor at Boston University, thinks the U.S., which has counted Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf as a key ally against terrorism since 9/11, bears some of the responsibility. "Washington will have to answer a lot of questions, especially the Administration," he says. "People like me have been making specific requests to American officials to intervene and ask for particular security arrangements be made for her, and they have been constantly just trusting the Musharraf Administration." U.S. officials said they were leery of intervening in another nation's internal affairs, and didn't want to give Bhutto Washington's imprimatur.

Haqqani is not shy about pointing fingers. He blames Musharraf himself, above all, for Bhutto's death. "It's quite clear that Musharraf does not want an election — you can quote me — he is the one who has constantly wanted anybody who can threaten him or his power, out." Haqqani told Congress in October that U.S. aid for Pakistan has for too long been tilted toward the Pakistani military. "Since 1954 almost $21 billion had been given to Pakistan in aid," he told the House Armed Services Committee. "Of this, $17.7 billion were given under military rule, and only $3.4 billion was given to Pakistan and the civilian government."

It is Musharraf's iron grip on power that has made Washington's own policy toward Pakistan such a target of criticism. While Washington has publicly extolled the virtues of democracy and hoped that Bhutto's return to Pakistan in October would usher in a power-sharing deal with Musharraf, it was also clearly nervous about the instability if the country's strong man were to lose power entirely. Pakistan — the world's second-most-populous Muslim nation, with elements of al-Qaeda and the Taliban controlling lawless mountainous pockets in the northwest — is also the only Islamic state with a nuclear arsenal. And though Washington publicly says Pakistan's nuclear weapons are safe, there are always private concerns about their security, concerns that will only heighten in the wake of Bhutto's assassination.

All I have to say is that if the White House was paying less attention to countries that poise no threat (Iraq) and more attention to countries that do (Pakistan, nukes!!!), maybe Bhutto would probably still be among us today. But the Bush Administration continues to support dictators like Musharaff when it is convenient to push there agenda.

More to follow as story develops...


What would Jesus buy Santa today?

Just when you thought the holiday shopping season was over, stores across America can look forward again to mad customers showing up at their doors at the wee hours in the morning today to return all the crap they got for Christmas to get even better stuff for less money. Finally, some people are standing up to reject this capatalistic madness.

From the Associated Press

BREMERTON, Wash. (AP) - Art Conrad has an issue with the commercialism of Christmas, and his protest has gone way beyond just shunning the malls or turning off his television. The Bremerton resident nailed Santa Claus to a 15-foot crucifix in front of his house.

"Santa has been perverted from who he started out to be," Conrad said. "Now he's the person being used by corporations to get us to buy more stuff."

A photo of the crucified Santa adorns his Christmas cards, with the message "Santa died for your MasterCard."

The display is also Conrad's way of poking fun at political correctness. He believes people don't express their feelings because they're afraid of what other people might think.

His neighbors found the will to express their feelings this past week. Some were offended but many were just curious.

Jake Tally walked by on Friday and chuckled, but didn't pretend to understand the message.

"I don't really know what to think. I know it's about God but Santa has nothing to do with it," he told the Kitsap Sun newspaper.

In the new Morgan Spurlock produced film, "What would Jesus Buy?" the idea that Americans worhip shopping malls than churchs this time of the year. For all the talk from the Republican presidential candidates about wanting the restore "morality" in America, maybe they should start with American buying habits. Approximately 60 percent of Americans are in debt, and I don't see any politicians doing anything about this. These politicians (both Republicans and Democrats now)complain about the immigration problem at the Mexican border, but many of them support trade agreements that force people out of their countries to come here. Furthermore, most likely the product you purchased for 70 percent off at the big box store was made in China or some other country. Would people be happier if the illegals stayed in their countries and made our goods there, instead of giving more jobs to Americans.

You know, I am going to stop. It's the holidays; aren't we suppose to be cheerful, right...


Merry Christmas!

An updated version of "This Christmas" by US R&B singer Chris Brown. This is also the soundtrack to the movie of the same name that came out a month ago, which is only worth seeing if you an Idris Elba fan.

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Radical Music Videos: James Brown

Last Christmas the world woke up to the news of James Brown's passing. Brown's legacy in music and society is indelible. His dance techniques can be seen in artists that came after him - Michael Jackson, Prince, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears - just to name a few, and his sound is the revolutionary predecessor to hip hop. Brown was also a socially conscious artist, as can be seen in his Soul Train performance of "I'm Black and Proud."



In Memoriam 2007

Ousmene Sembene, the father of African cinema and leading writer in postcolonial literature, died this year at the age of 84 on June 9. Seipati Bulane Hopa, Secretary General of the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers (FEPACI) described Sembène as "a luminary that lit the torch for ordinary people to walk the path of light...a voice that spoke without hesitation, a man with an impeccable talent who unwaveringly held on to his artistic principles and did that with great integrity and dignity."

Lucky Dube, internationally-renowned South African reggae star, was murdered in an attempted carjacking in front of his children in a Johannesburg suburb Oct. 18. He was 43 years old. He was drawn to the Rastafari movement and reggae because of its socially conscious message which he felt was relevant to the turbulent times during apartheid in South Africa. Over the course of his career he made over 20 records and met international commerical success.


Radical Music Videos: Jamiroquai

I mean, who doesn't like Jamiroquai. They have been on the forefront of the success of acid jazz and cool beats for two decades. Plus, Jay Kay is probably the only white boy who can throw it down on the dance floor. Check out these two videos. Jamiroquai is one of those bands better seen live if you ever have the chance to see when they come to your town.


Jacob Zuma's Election

By Patrick Bond
Originally published on Z-Net

Congratulations are due Jacob Zuma – apparently far more Machiavellian than even his arch-opponent since 2005, Thabo Mbeki – and the tireless band of warriors from the Congress of SA Trade Unions, SA Communist Party and African National Congress Youth League who kept his political life support on when everyone else declared him dead.

But after his election as ANC president on Tuesday, the disintegration of his voting bloc is not far off. As Brian Ashley of Amandla magazine explains, Zuma commands “a broad coalition of disgruntled elements within the ANC. A period of political instability awaits. The 'dreaded' two centres of power have materialised and given rise to a lame duck President.”

This is promising indeed, after 13.5 years of unrelenting neoliberalism mixed with triumphalist nationalism (often, in turn, flavoured with 'Breshnevite Marxism', as the ANC's left discourses have been termed in rare moments of autocritique). Indeed amongst the general public, there is a widespread conviction that a new balance of forces within the ANC presages a genuine left policy turn. To make this impression more palatable to bourgeois society and those near-mythical foreign investors, a seductive – yet incorrect - line of analysis also arises now to explain the logic behind Zuma's landslide victory. The first period of ANC rule (1994-2001) required 'macroeconomic stabilisation', so the argument goes, and subsequently a 'developmental state' with a strong welfarist bias has been under construction. Hence Zuma's victory will not change anything, really.

Actually, Zuma's huge (nearly 20%) margin reflected not a heroic new ruler, but rather a ruling regime out of touch with the misery experienced by its mass base, no one denies. The SA Police recently revealed that the rate of social protests has risen from 5800 in 2004-05 (when it would have been the world's highest per person, I reckon) to more than 10 000/year since, and no doubt even higher numbers will be released for 2007/08 given the long public workers' strike.

Zuma wasn't an instigator of more than a few of these, such as when disgracefully in May 2006 he let his rape trial devolve into an orgy of misogyny, with effigies of his victim burned outside the courthouse. No, indeed, the grassroots protests were largely against the ANC's neoliberal economic policies, prior to and after Zuma's firing as deputy president in mid-2005 in the wake of his friend Schabir Shaik's conviction on corruption charges.

Zuma was subsequently harrassed no end by Mbeki's vindictive state. This meant that at the ANC conference and in the words of commentators, the angry rumble from below was readily channeled away from structural critique of neoliberal nationalist rule, and into the song Umshini Wami ('Bring me my machine gun'). The prodigious venality of the Zuma-Mbeki squabble threw copious amounts of toxic dust high into the air, blinding most to what's really at stake here: class struggle, to borrow a worn but potent phrase.

Indeed the tone of the internecine battle with Mbeki was sufficiently vicious as to require cries of 'unity' immediately from both camps immediately afterwards, as well as from Zuma's speech on Thursday afternoon. But like much that happens in this party, the lovely rhetoric concealed yet more brutal power plays.

The other major ANC vote – for 80 positions on the ANC National Executive Committee – confirmed that the Zuma majority took no prisoners, leaving Mbeki's most trusted allies in the political wilderness. Although six cabinet ministers were elected in the top 20, those who lost their NEC places and are now ANC outsiders include some formidable names: Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (who replaced Zuma), Mbeki's top state official Frank Chikane, his top political advisor and hatchet man (and Minister in the Presidency) Essop Pahad, Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils, the man who served as ANC chairperson until Monday, Terror Lekota, the head of the Mbeki's office at ANC headquarters Smuts Ngonyama, and Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqkula (formerly SACP chairperson).

The top vote-getter was veteran and often flamboyant populist Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (ex-wife of Nelson), who gets counted out as irrelevant by the mainstream media periodically and makes comebacks worthy of the Zuma camp.

There really has been a change of the guard. But is it a move left? SACP intellectual leader Jeremy Cronin - who was #5 in the ANC vote - offers this spin about the party's ideological direction. The ANC conference just complete witnessed a “deepening and consolidation” of the progressive trajectory already underway, says Cronin. Hence under a President Zuma, “There would be no dramatic U-turn” on matters already under contestation: Pretoria's tight monetary policy, chaotic credit market regulation, and the liberalised trade and industrial policies which have killed a million jobs. For those like Cronin, the recent revival of the “National Democratic Revolution” is already undermining the neoliberal bloc within the ANC.

Is it? In reality, many on the centre-left – Cronin too - have been rather lukewarm about the Zuma campaign, because as national deputy president starting in 1999, Zuma was nowhere visible with workers and the poor (or women, needless to say) pulling against Mbeki and the other weighty neoliberals: Trevor Manuel (finance), Alec Erwin (trade/privatisation), Tito Mboweni (central bank governor), Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi (public service) and Sydney Mufamadi (local government). Of these, only Manuel retained an NEC seat, voted in at #57 after having been #1 in the 2002 vote.

In his first speech to the ANC as president today, Zuma himself intoned that there was “no reason why the business or international community or any other sector should be uneasy.” Quite so; after all, a mealy-mouthed Zuma made this clear last month in closed-door meetings organised by officials of two New York banks, Citi and Merrill Lynch, which are themselves making the world markets rather uneasy with their financial shenanigans.

Still, even Manuel, in a Mail & Guardian interview last week, condemned the private outsourcing of state services, something he himself has promoted harder than anyone since 1996 as keeper of the ever-tightening SA fiscus, notwithstanding that this 'New Public Management' technique is the root cause of many a fierce protest. Bizarrely, Manuel even endorsed the core legal argument put forward by the Soweto left-left in their constitutional case earlier this month against Johannesburg Water (whose policies were products of Paris-based Suez's eco-social engineering during a failed 2001-06 outsourcing), namely, that the key water problem for the poor is the inordinate access that rich people enjoy at a too-cheap price.

With such rhetoric in the air these last few days, South African society does indeed feel like a 'post-Washington' semi-liberated zone. Free marketeers, who still run many a Pretoria ministry's policy units and finance departments, have had to hunker down.

But like so much other 'talk left walk right' activity here, that's precisely where the problem of seduction emerges, in illusions that Zuma's long and winding road to the country's presidency in 2009 (when Mbeki must retire) will generate conditions for social change along the route. We all witnessed how most of the US progressive movement fell flat on its face in 1993, suckered by Bill 'Slick Willy' Clinton – whose defeat of an elite incumbent (George Bush Sr), rural roots, home-boy humility, traditions of Southern patriarchy (and promiscuity) and apparent empathy for ordinary people presaged Zuma's own character flaws – and I think this is probably going to be the fate of a large portion of the SA centre-left.

South Africa's left-left forces don't buy it, though. No one from the new social movements believes that a small increase in anti-poverty grants and other social wage improvements – amounting to less than 3% of GDP over apartheid-era stats – represents more than tokenistic welfare. With a 14% increase in electricity prices set for next year, and privatisation of 30% of generation capacity also on the cards, any suggestion of expanding basic services runs up against a contrary, commodified logic.

And then looking at the vast ($60 billion) spending planned for a small herd of white elephants – once-off 2010 soccer stadia, big dams largely for mining houses, dicey nuclear power plants, aluminum smelter co-investments, speedy trains for the rich (who won't use public transport) and the rearmaments craze replete with corrupting German, French and British weapons dealers – it is hard to see anything 'developmental' about this crony-capitalist state.

Because of this week's momentous events, though, the centre-left's hard reality check lies a couple of years away, after Zuma takes power (if he is not in prison for bribe-taking, a distinct possibility, according to the National Prosecuting Authority in a statement on Thursday) and reverts to his militarist roots. Those who are championing his cause now may have reason in 2009 to renew their disgust at what we thought was 'Mbekism' – as Ashwin Desai has termed local neoliberalism - but can soon be renamed Zumism. We could well see the deepening of macroeconomic policies that do not deliver 'stability' (the currency has crashed four times since 1996 after all) but instead one of the world's highest current account deficits (trade shortfalls and financial outflows) at 8% of GDP, and hence repeated hikes in interest rates to draw in global financial assets, which are in turn making the credit-saturated middle-class scream in pain.

Unless I'm mistaken (and I really hope I am), there's simply no basis for believing Zuma is lying to Citi, Merrill or his audience when he says none of Mbeki's economic policies will change. So the root cause of the rebellion against Mbeki's malgovernance of the ANC – which is described too often as haughty style but which is grounded in a commitment to a haughty new class apartheid socio-economic structure – will reassert itself within weeks or months.

Only then will South Africa enjoy the possibility of a fully liberatory, post-Mbeki set of politics, not personalities, as the far-sighted left-left makes common cause with serious comrades in labour and the Communist Party, egged on no doubt by increasingly angry feminists and other democrats. This week's Polokwane theatrics will be looked back upon as a bit of distraction, at that stage in the making of South Africa's real history.

(Patrick directs the Centre for Civil Society: http://www.ukzn.ac.za/ccs)


The Battle for New Orleans Continues

Protestors clashed with the police yesterday in front of New Orlean's City Council over complaints about the demolition of public housing throughout the city. Why is anyone surprised by this? Mayor Ray Nagin, who proclaimed a while back that he wants to keep New Orleans a "Chocolate City," supports the redevelopment plan that will displace thousands of poor, black residents.

From the Associated Press

Housing Protesters Clash With N.O. Cops

Police used chemical spray and stun guns Thursday on protesters who tried to force their way into a City Council meeting, the latest strife over plans to demolish some 4,500 public housing units in a redevelopment project that council members ended up unanimously supporting.

The vote to permit the federal government to tear down four public housing developments was a critical moment in a protracted fight between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and residents, activists and preservationists.

Police said 15 people were arrested on charges ranging from battery to disorderly conduct. Four people were taken to hospitals — two of them women who had been stunned with Tasers — and five others were injured and treated on the scene, police said. All four in the hospital were stable, police said.

Protesters said they pushed against the iron gates that kept them out of the building because the Housing Authority of New Orleans had disproportionately allowed supporters of the demolition to pack the chambers. Dozens tried to force their way in.

At the peak of the confusion, some 70 protesters were facing about a dozen mounted police and 40 more law enforcement officers on foot.

One woman was sprayed by police and dragged from the gates; emergency workers took her away on a stretcher. Another woman said she was stunned by officers, and still had what appeared to be a Taser wire hanging from her shirt.

"I was just standing, trying to get into my City Council meeting," said the dazed woman, Kim Ellis, who was taken away in an ambulance.

"Is this what democracy looks like?" Bill Quigley, a Loyola University law professor who opposes demolition, said as he held a strand of Taser wire he said had been shot into another of the protesters.

Quigley said he believed the crackdown violated public meetings laws.

After roughly 30 minutes of on-again-off-again struggle to get into the meeting, protesters fell back, continuously chanting with bullhorns. An afternoon storm thinned the demonstrators, some of whom had been waiting since 7 a.m. to enter, and the crowd disappeared altogether shortly after the afternoon vote.

The meeting itself was mostly peaceful, although an early fight in the chambers between protesters and police caused a brief interruption.

Some public housing residents repeated during the daylong debate that they welcome the plan to replace the decades-old structures with mixed-income, mixed-use development. Other residents and their advocates said they fear the plan will result in the loss of badly needed housing for the city's low-income black residents.

The vote crossed racial lines, with the three black council members joining four whites.

Most of the units HUD plans to demolish are vacant, and many suffered heavy damage in Hurricane Katrina, but those who oppose their demolition say they should be improved instead.

Critics of the plan say it will drive poor people from neighborhoods where they have lived for generations, but HUD denies that and says the plan will create an equal amount of affordable housing as existed before Katrina hit.

The council promised to monitor the redevelopment and make sure the poor have places to come back to, but those assurances did little to assuage opponents.

"The vote was already a done deal," the Rev. Marshall Truehill said. "There were no concessions."

Truehill warned that the loss of public housing, coupled with efforts to move hurricane victims out of Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers, will lead to a dramatic rise in homelessness because of a housing shortage in New Orleans.

HUD had planned to began demolition last weekend, but late last week agreed to allow the City Council to weigh in first. HUD officials said they hoped to be able to start demolition within weeks.

Mayor Ray Nagin on Thursday brokered compromises with HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson on how the redevelopment plan will be carried out, allowing more oversight, opening some new units and redeveloping two of the complexes in phases. He said it will ensure "that our fundamental principle that every resident has the right to return to better housing will not be empty promises but words in action."

Critics, however, said the agreement amounted to minor changes.

Endesha Juakali, a protest leader arrested on a charge of disturbing the peace, said Thursday's confrontation with the council was not the last breath from protesters.

"For everything they do, we have to make them pay a political consequence," Juakali said. He vowed that when the bulldozers try to demolish the St. Bernard complex, "it's going to be an all out effort."

For weeks, protesters have been gearing up to battle with bulldozers and have discussed a variety of tactics, including lying in front of the machinery.

Attorneys handling lawsuits to stop the demolitions said they have not exhausted their legal options. One suit is challenging the bidding process for selecting the developers while another one contending the demolitions are illegal is on appeal in the federal courts.

Associated Press writers John Moreno Gonzales and Mike Kunzelman contributed to this report.


Radical Music Videos:Madonna

Another artist who needs no introduction. Madonna is both revolutionary and entertaining because she has stretched the boundaries of sexuality while providing providing greats beats to dance to for over 25 years. Love her or hate her, she has made a place for herself in pop culture history. Below is her performance of "Erotica" from the 1993 Girlie Show in Australia.



"Bali deal is worse than Kyoto"

Before another accolade is given to Al Gore for his tireless work on the environment, everyone might want to read this...

We've been suckered again by the US. So far the Bali deal is worse than Kyoto

by George Monbiot
Originally published in The Guardian

'After 11 days of negotiations, governments have come up with a compromise deal that could even lead to emission increases. The highly compromised political deal is largely attributable to the position of the United States, which was heavily influenced by fossil fuel and automobile industry interests. The failure to reach agreement led to the talks spilling over into an all-night session."

These are extracts from a press release by Friends of the Earth. So what? Well it was published on December 11 - I mean to say, December 11 1997. The US had just put a wrecking ball through the Kyoto protocol. George Bush was innocent; he was busy executing prisoners in Texas. Its climate negotiators were led by Albert Arnold Gore.

The European Union had asked for greenhouse gas cuts of 15% by 2010. Gore's team drove them down to 5.2% by 2012. Then the Americans did something worse: they destroyed the whole agreement.

Most of the other governments insisted that the cuts be made at home. But Gore demanded a series of loopholes big enough to drive a Hummer through. The rich nations, he said, should be allowed to buy their cuts from other countries. When he won, the protocol created an exuberant global market in fake emissions cuts. The western nations could buy "hot air" from the former Soviet Union. Because the cuts were made against emissions in 1990, and because industry in that bloc had subsequently collapsed, the former Soviet Union countries would pass well below the bar. Gore's scam allowed them to sell the gases they weren't producing to other nations. He also insisted that rich nations could buy nominal cuts from poor ones. Entrepreneurs in India and China have made billions by building factories whose primary purpose is to produce greenhouse gases, so that carbon traders in the rich world will pay to clean them up.

The result of this sabotage is that the market for low-carbon technologies has remained moribund. Without an assured high value for carbon cuts, without any certainty that government policies will be sustained, companies have continued to invest in the safe commercial prospects offered by fossil fuels rather than gamble on a market without an obvious floor.

By ensuring that the rich nations would not make real cuts, Gore also guaranteed that the poor ones scoffed when we asked them to do as we don't. When George Bush announced, in 2001, that he would not ratify the Kyoto protocol, the world cursed and stamped its foot. But his intransigence affected only the US. Gore's team ruined it for everyone.

The destructive power of the American delegation is not the only thing that hasn't changed. After the Kyoto protocol was agreed, the then British environment secretary, John Prescott, announced: "This is a truly historic deal which will help curb the problems of climate change. For the first time it commits developed countries to make legally binding cuts in their emissions." Ten years later, the current environment secretary, Hilary Benn, told us that "this is an historic breakthrough and a huge step forward. For the first time ever, all the world's nations have agreed to negotiate on a deal to tackle dangerous climate change." Do these people have a chip inserted?

In both cases, the US demanded terms that appeared impossible for the other nations to accept. Before Kyoto, the other negotiators flatly rejected Gore's proposals for emissions trading. So his team threatened to sink the talks. The other nations capitulated, but the US still held out on technicalities until the very last moment, when it suddenly appeared to concede. In 1997 and in 2007 it got the best of both worlds: it wrecked the treaty and was praised for saving it.

Hilary Benn is an idiot. Our diplomats are suckers. American negotiators have pulled the same trick twice, and for the second time our governments have fallen for it.

There are still two years to go, but so far the new agreement is even worse than the Kyoto protocol. It contains no targets and no dates. A new set of guidelines also agreed at Bali extend and strengthen the worst of Gore's trading scams, the clean development mechanism. Benn and the other dupes are cheering and waving their hats as the train leaves the station at last, having failed to notice that it is travelling in the wrong direction.

Although Gore does a better job of governing now he is out of office, he was no George Bush. He wanted a strong, binding and meaningful protocol, but American politics had made it impossible. In July 1997, the Senate had voted 95-0 to sink any treaty which failed to treat developing countries in the same way as it treated the rich ones. Though they knew this was impossible for developing countries to accept, all the Democrats lined up with all the Republicans. The Clinton administration had proposed a compromise: instead of binding commitments for the developing nations, Gore would demand emissions trading. But even when he succeeded, he announced that "we will not submit this agreement for ratification [in the Senate] until key developing nations participate". Clinton could thus avoid an unwinnable war.

So why, regardless of the character of its leaders, does the US act this way? Because, like several other modern democracies, it is subject to two great corrupting forces. I have written before about the role of the corporate media - particularly in the US - in downplaying the threat of climate change and demonising anyone who tries to address it. I won't bore you with it again, except to remark that at 3pm eastern standard time on Saturday, there were 20 news items on the front page of the Fox News website. The climate deal came 20th, after "Bikini-wearing stewardesses sell calendar for charity" and "Florida store sells 'Santa Hates You' T-shirt".

Let us consider instead the other great source of corruption: campaign finance. The Senate rejects effective action on climate change because its members are bought and bound by the companies that stand to lose. When you study the tables showing who gives what to whom, you are struck by two things.

One is the quantity. Since 1990, the energy and natural resources sector - mostly coal, oil, gas, logging and agribusiness - has given $418m to federal politicians in the US. Transport companies have given $355m. The other is the width: the undiscriminating nature of this munificence. The big polluters favour the Republicans, but most of them also fund Democrats. During the 2000 presidential campaign, oil and gas companies lavished money on Bush, but they also gave Gore $142,000, while transport companies gave him $347,000. The whole US political system is in hock to people who put their profits ahead of the biosphere.

So don't believe all this nonsense about waiting for the next president to sort it out. This is a much bigger problem than George Bush. Yes, he is viscerally opposed to tackling climate change. But viscera don't have much to do with it. Until the American people confront their political funding system, their politicians will keep speaking from the pocket, not the gut.


Trade Watch: West rethinks lopsided agricultural subsidies

From the Associated Press
Chris Tomlinson

NGIRESI, Tanzania — Farmer Loi Bangoti picks corn by hand on the lush, cool slopes of his land, nestled under the cloudy shadow of Africa’s highest mountains.

Half a world away, farmer Tim Recker drives his combine through the famously flat, open cornfields that stretch out in the sun across the plains of Iowa.

For all their differences, both men rely on a complex global food market that decides how much their corn is worth and who will buy it. And the lives of both — along with millions of other farmers — will be affected by a growing movement to change one of the biggest forces shaping the market: subsidies.

Many experts agree farmers need help to grow food year in and year out, but Western farmers may get too much and African farmers too little. Western farmers receive billions of dollars in subsidies every year, which makes their food cheap to grow and sell. African farmers are left on their own because of decades of anti-subsidy policies pushed by the World Bank and others as a condition for aid money.

Now, Africans are fighting back.

Some African countries are considering subsidies for their own farmers — Malawi has started providing discount vouchers for seed and fertilizer to farmers and is seeing such a bumper crop that it now sends emergency corn to neighboring Zimbabwe. African nations have also joined in lawsuits opposing American subsidies, resulting in a World Trade Organization ruling in October that the U.S. could face billions of dollars in sanctions.

At the same time, subsidies are facing more scrutiny than ever within the United States. A farm bill before Congress — the first in five years — was once a shoo-in, but now faces the threat of a veto from President Bush. He has called for an end to farm subsidies by 2010 to avoid trade conflicts.

The complexities of the subsidy debate play out far from the courts and the chambers of power in the daily lives of farmers like Bangoti and Recker.

Bangoti’s story shows how a little help can go a long way. He points with pride to his two acres of corn, beans and potatoes, stretching up the slopes of Mount Meru in a mosaic of various greens dotted with the brown of a few fallow fields.

Back in 1992, Bangoti lived in a mud hut, worked as a day laborer, herded skinny cows and harvested barely enough corn and beans to feed his family. Then scientists came to his farm as part of an agricultural aid program.

They looked at his soil, found the right seed and gave him his first batch of chemical fertilizer. They showed him how to get as much milk from two dairy cows as from his 20 traditional cattle. The techniques were simple, yet rare in Africa, where few labs analyze soil samples and few companies develop improved seed.

By 1993, Bangoti had tripled his output — and profits. At the time, he was profiled in an Associated Press story on African farming. His success since proves it was no accident. He is still farming, and still thriving.

“I built my own modern house,” Bangoti, 50, says proudly, sitting under a shiny tin roof surrounded by dark blue concrete walls. “I was able to send my children to school. … A long time ago, you could have a lot of cows, and have nothing. Now, with this modern way of living, you can have a few cows, but produce more.”

Bangoti says all it would take is a little training and a few supplies for Africans to grow all the food they need.

They once did, in the 1960s. Now, Africans import 25 percent of what they eat. Their share of the global agricultural market is down from 8 percent to 2 percent. And theirs is the only continent where food production per capita has fallen — roughly 22 percent since 1967, according to the World Resource Institute.

One reason, experts say, is the loss of subsidies. In exchange for foreign aid, debt-saddled African countries agreed to cut subsidies. Less than 4 percent of government spending in sub-Saharan Africa now goes to agriculture.

But without a safety net, a single bad season can bankrupt a farmer, and often does. And without help, African farmers are too poor to pay for the good seed and fertilizer that bring land to life.

There are signs of change. The World Bank is rethinking its stance on subsidies after a scathing internal review last month, and it made agriculture the center of its agenda this year for the first time in more than two decades. About 70 percent of Africans live off the land, and agricultural reform — from seed to market — is the surest way to lift the continent out of poverty.

African governments have promised to double their spending on agriculture. And the Gates Foundation and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan are leading an effort to bring to Africa the green revolution that swept through Asia.

As Bangoti leafs through a photo album of the experts who have visited his farm, he says the training and the aid have changed his life.

“Now I am always moving forward,” he says. “I never go backward.”

Bangoti says he could grow even more — if he could sell it. But he is competing against farmers in the richest countries of the world who get a lot more help, such as Recker.

The cornfields Recker sees through the glass patio doors of his modest ranch house have supported his family for generations. Recker followed his father and grandfather into farming, and works 1,500 acres in northeastern Iowa with his brother.

Today, the price of corn is at a record high because it is in demand to make ethanol. Recker’s business revolves around the timing of the markets as much as the seasons. As he sits at his breakfast table in his overalls and baseball cap, his mobile phone beeps to announce the arrival of the opening commodity prices at his local mill.

It was a different story when Recker started out in the mid-1980s, during one of the country’s worst agricultural crises. He says he could never have survived it without subsidies.

Subsidies kick in when prices are low. But they are given for each bushel, which creates an incentive for farmers to grow as many bushels as they can. The torrent of food then drives down world prices and makes it next to impossible for African farmers to compete.

Some of the extra food ends up in Africa. Most Iowa corn floats down the Mississippi River on barges to become feed for livestock or grist for ethanol. But at some point Recker’s corn has almost certainly gone to Africa for food relief, which experts say destroys local markets.

The United States — the largest donor to the U.N. World Food program — sends Africa corn, wheat, sorghum and soybeans. Aid agencies then have to hand out free or cheap American food instead of buying from African farmers. The cheap imported grain keeps Africans poor, and dependent on cheap imported grain.

The crisis is such that Atlanta-based CARE International, one of the world’s largest charities, announced in August that it would walk away from $45 million in American food to avoid disrupting the economies of the people it wants to help.

The subsidy system makes it hard for African farmers to compete on the world market. Western farmers get 29 percent of their income on average from their governments, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. So they can sell their food for far less than Africans who get no subsidies.

African farmers may get help from an unexpected source — American corn and wheat farmers.

A new generation of corn and wheat farmers is arguing that the current subsidy system no longer meets the needs of their rapidly changing business. Instead of subsidies per bushel, they want the guarantee of a minimum level of revenue for each farm.

The change seems small, but it could result in farmers growing far less — and dumping far less extra corn and wheat on global markets. So Recker, the president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, goes to Washington every three weeks to make a case that will benefit Bangoti, quite by accident.

“I think we have an opportune time to make sweeping changes in farm policy,” Recker says. “We need to have a program that is designed to supplement the farmer only when he needs it, and when he needs it most.”

Other farmers are not so sure. Peanut and cotton farmers want to keep the current subsidy system but get more money from it.

American cotton farmers receive $3 billion a year in subsidies — sometimes more than half their income, said Daniel Sumner, an agricultural economist at the University of California at Davis. He calculates that African cotton farmers — who pick each bud by hand and dig furrows with plows and oxen — lose $250 million a year because of the U.S. subsidies. That’s enough for each of those farmers to feed two children and pay all school fees for a year.

Cotton farmers in the U.S. say that the impact of subsidies on Africans is overstated, and that African farmers face internal challenges such as productivity and low yields.

Back in Tanzania, Loi Bangoti is not waiting for the outcome of the subsidy debate. In fact, he has never heard of subsidies for Western farmers, and he has no idea how they might affect his business.

But he is thrilled with his own success. His four sons have embraced the new ways he learned, and one even teaches modern dairy farming in a new program in neighboring Uganda.

He is especially proud of one thing: He no longer needs or takes handouts.


Radical Music Videos: Bob Marley

I don't think this man needs any introduction. Bob Marley is both revolutionary and entertaining. The following video is Marley's historic performance at the One Love Peace Concert where he brought up to the stage two of Jamaica's notorious political rivals, Michael Manley and Edward Seaga. This concert was held during a political civil war in Jamaica between opposing parties Jamaican Labour Party and the People's National Party. A great performance indeed!



Off the Reservation:Huckabee, Romney and Religion in American Politics

While I don't usually like to talk about the American presidential campaign on this blog, I have become so frustrated with this issue of faith that if I don't say anything, I think I am going to scream.

Is it me, or is there just too much religion talk in this race? Unlike the Christian Evangelicals (Jesus Freaks) in Iowa, some of us who actually care about the political process will not be voting for a president based on their religious convictions. But the Republican party wants everyone to think that this is so.

I don't get Mike Huckabee, the guitar-playing Baptist pastor who doesn't believe in evolution and thinks HIV/AIDS is a "politically correct issue." Pollsters believe that Huckabee has a strong chance of winning the Iowa Caucases Jan. 3. His surge in the polls comes mostly out of scepticism about Mitt Romney's Mormonism. While I don't know much about Romney's faith, what I do know about it is weird and unsettling, especially about the role of women and blacks in the Church. However, I wouldn't vote for Romney because of his politics, not his faith, and I wish more people were doing that.

Could we get back to the real issues, like healthcare, education, the war in Iraq, instead of who is more Christian, please?



Radical Music Videos: Brand Nubian

I am introducing a new feature on this blog. Some of you have complained about me being "too serious" on this blog. "You need to lighten up!" said one 'particular' person. "You're too angry." Well, it is hard not be angry living under the Bush Regime, the surge of neocolonialism and imperialism worldwide, hangman nooses popping up everywhere, corporations taking over every aspect of society, living on the brink of World War III with Iran...but I digress.

So, as a way to appease my readers while keeping with the mission of this blog, I present to you the first installment of Radical Music Videos. Since discovering the magnificent world of Youtube, I have been able to enjoy music videos, both past and present, that not only make me want to dance, but also inspire and educate at the same time. Over the next few weeks, especially during Christmas week, I will post music videos by artists who are both revolutionary and entertaining.

I was trolling Youtube yesterday, I came across this oldie-but-goodie by one of the originals of alternative hip hop - Brand Nubian. Sure, Brand Nubian has been written off as being "off the reservation" with their Five Percenter rhetoric and alleged homophobia, but this is a great video that reminds us of a time when hip hop was real and corportate free.



Why isn't Oprah Winfrey running for president?

In case you were hiding under a rock this weekend, Auntie "O" has been campaigning for Mr. "O" in South Carolina, with the hope that her influence among her fans will equal votes. However, after watching Oprah thrill the crowds, one has to wonder if this is actually going to back fire on Barack Obama.

Sure, there are people in the world who will just vote for Obama simply because he has Oprah's seal of approval, which says something both good and bad about celebrity endorsements. Nonetheless, watching Oprah woo the crowds this weekend and knowing her background only reenforces the belief that Obama is too inexperienced for the job, which begs the question of why she isn't the one running for the Oval Office herself.

No, I am dead serious. Oprah Winfrey came out of a childhood of extreme poverty and sexual abuse to become one of the most successful and well respected women in the world. With her production company, magazines and other ventures, she not only holds the title of the richest person of African descent in the world, but also one of the few self-made women billionaires. This is not to say that these facts qualify her automatically to be CEO of the USA, but Obama's credituals only pale in comparison.

Prior to his run for President, he was only elected to the US Senate three years ago, and before that, he was an Illinois state legislator for eight years. Besides being an dynamic public speaker and coming from a multiracial background (which appeals to guilty white liberals), what exactly are his creds for running for president?

Now I know you all are saying "Obama's lack of political experience doesn't matter. He is a fresh new face...blah, blah, blah" I agree.

But, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards don't have any real creditials either.

Clinton just served one full term as the junior senator from New York. The only reason she is leading in the polls is because she is riding the coattails of Bill Clinton. Besides being First Lady, Clinton has no credituals to her name. John Edwards, on the otherhand, served one full - but failed - term as a Senator from South Carolina. Oh, he is a self-made multi-millionaire...from being a trial lawyer.

While I don't care for either of the political parties, I would vote for Oprah over the neophyte, the kingmaker or the ambulence chaser any day of the week.



Trade Watch: US-Peru Free Trade Agreement Approved

From AFP:

A US-Peru free tade agreement Tuesday cleared Congress and headed to President George W. Bush for signing, a victory in his embattled drive to seal a clutch of trade deals.

The Senate approved the free trade pact on an overwhelming 77-18 vote after lengthy debate since Monday, capping nearly two years of effort by Bush's Republican administration.

While the victory was all but certain, the fate of pending US free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea remained problematic.

"I commend the Senate for approving the free trade agreement with Peru with strong bipartisan support," Bush said in a statement.

"This agreement will level the playing field for American exporters and investors and will expand an important market in this hemisphere for US goods and services, which will help strengthen economic growth and job creation in the United States."

The free trade agreement (FTA) was modified under pressure from the Democratic-controlled Congress in May to take into account environmental and human rights concerns.

The House of Representatives approved the FTA on November 8 on a 285-132 vote.

To date, the pact with Peru is the only one of the pending FTAs the White House has submitted to Congress for approval. The remaining three FTAs face a tougher fight in the legislature.

"I look forward to signing this legislation into law and urge Congress to promptly consider and approve our other pending free trade agreements, starting with Colombia, which would be important to the stability of the region, and including Panama and South Korea," Bush said.

Bilateral trade between the United States and Peru amounted to 8.8 billion dollars in 2006, according to US government data.

Nearly all products from Peru already have duty-free access to the United States. The new deal will allow Americans reciprocal access to the growing Peruvian market.

The president of Peru, Alan Garcia, hailed the US Senate's passage of the pact.

"The approval of the FTA with the United States is good news for the increase of jobs and wages that should boost foreign investment in the country," Garcia said at the presidential palace in Lima, surrounded by members of his cabinet.

Susan Schwab, the US trade representative, also applauded the cooperation between Republicans and Democrats on trade.

"With the strong votes by both Chambers of Congress, we are sending a strong signal to the world that the United States is regaining its bipartisan footing on trade policy and is a reliable ally to countries that are building political and economic freedom," Schwab said.

Her remarks came against the backdrop of a massive US trade deficit, rising protectionism and a long-stalled round of trade negotiations in the World Trade Organization, with the US and the European Union at odds over agricultural subsidies.

US labor groups and some lawmakers remained fiercely opposed to the deal.

"It is outrageous that Congress and the Bush administration have approved yet another job-killing trade agreement at a time when American families are seeing their jobs shipped overseas, their food and toys tainted, their wages decline and their houses foreclosed upon," said Jim Hoffa, president of the large Teamsters union.

The Opposition:
The agreement has suffered consistent criticism. In Peru, the treaty was championed by Toledo, and supported to different extents by President-elect Alan García and candidates Lourdes Flores and Valentín Paniagua. The 2006 election's runner-up Ollanta Humala has been its most vocal critic. Humala's Union for Peru won 45 of 120 seats in Congress, the largest share by a single party, prompting the debate and ratification of the agreement before the new legislature was sworn in. Some Congressmen-elect interrupted the debate after forcibly entering Congress, in an attempt to stop the agreement ratification. Critics of the Peru TPA say the pact will worsen Peru's problems with child labor and weak labor rights, and expose the country's subsistence farmers to disruptive competition with subsidized U.S. crops. Additionally, critics contend that Dubai Ports World will be able to use its Peruvian subsidiary to obtain rights to operate U.S. ports. Even animal rights groups have opposed this legislation due to the possibility of spreading factory farming practices through Latin America, increasing U.S. pork and poultry exports, and mining development that causes deforestation and habitat loss for animals.



World AIDS Day 2007

Ladies and gentlemen:

If you didn't know already AIDS is officially a black disease. That's right. While the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS announced this week that the infection rate has actually leveled off this year and gone down, it should be a concern to everyone that a person with HIV/AIDS today is more likely darker-skinned, female and poor.

In the United States:
From the CDC: HIV infection was the leading cause of death for African American women aged 25–34 years and the third leading cause of death for African American women aged 35–44 years. The rate of AIDS diagnoses for African American women was 20 times the rate for White women. HIV/AIDS-related conditions are now the leading cause of death for African American women aged 25-34 years.

In The Caribbean:
From the Kaiser Foundation: More Caribbean women than ever before are living with HIV/AIDS. Women account for half of adults estimated to be living with
HIV/ AIDS. The impact on women is even more pronounced in some countries within the region (in Guyana, women represent 60% of adults living with HIV/AIDS). Some country-level studies within the region have found infection rates among
young women 2 to 6 times higher than their male counterparts.

In Africa:
The World Bank: Women especially bear a dispropor­tionate part of the AIDS burden in Sub-Saharan Africa - the majority of people living with HIV are women (61%).Mitigation of gender inequalities and feminization of the HIV epidemic continue to be one of the most needed strategic areas of intervention. Integration of gender equality into development policy and HIV/AIDS programs at the country level is a high priority, but the lack of political will, limited capacity, restricted funding and weak institutions make integration a major challenge.