Neo-cons see red with Keffiyah-gate

So when did Rachel Ray become a terrorist?

From the Associated Press:

Dunkin' Donuts has pulled an online advertisement featuring Rachael Ray after complaints that a fringed black-and-white scarf that the celebrity chef wore in the ad offers symbolic support for Muslim extremism and terrorism.

The coffee and baked goods chain said the ad that began appearing online May 7 was pulled over the past weekend because "the possibility of misperception detracted from its original intention to promote our iced coffee."

What the neo-cons are saying:

Michelle Malkin: The Keffiyah "has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad. Popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant (and not-so-ignorant) fashion designers, celebrities, and left-wing icons."

Pamela Geller: Have you seen Rachael Ray wearing the icon of Yasser Arfatbastard and the bloody Islamic jihad. This is part of the cultural jihad. Anyone got the contact numbers of these dhimmis. We have to complain to Dunkin Donuts or contact Rachael Ray. They must be made aware of what that symbol stands for: murdering Jews.

Charles Johnson: I didn’t believe this story when people first started emailing about it; but sure enough, it’s true. Dunkin Donuts, the venerable old fried dough seller, is the latest American firm to casually promote the symbol of Palestinian terrorism and the intifada, the kaffiyeh, via Rachael Ray.

First of all, who the hell actually goes to the Dunkin Donuts website? Unless, am I getting a coupon for a free donut, why bother? Furthermore, while Dunkin Donuts says that she wasn't wearing a keffiyah, even if Rachael Ray was wearing one, who cares? I see people wearing them all the time on the street. Is it me, or does anyone else not see the ridiculousness about this controversy. Like I said an previous post, it seems like it is fashionable, no pun intended, to reduce the Muslim/Arab world to narrow perceptions here in America. Thanks to the neo-cons, here is another example of why America is going down.

Univerity of Chicago professor Amahl Bishara said it best:

"I think that a right-wing blogger making an association between a kaffiyeh and terrorism is just an example of how so much of the complexity of Arab culture has been reduced to a very narrow vision of the Arab world on the part of some people in the U.S.," Bishara said in a phone interview. "Kaffiyehs are worn every day on the street by Palestinians and other people in the Middle East — by people going to work, going to school, taking care of their families, and just trying to keep warm."

While some extremists and terrorists may wear kaffiyehs, "To reduce their meaning to support for terrorism has a tacit racist tone to it," Bishara said.



I love shea butter!

I fell in love with raw shea butter, or karite as its known in Africa, about a year ago while attending the Harlem Book Fair last year. I picked up a plastic container of the raw, yellow substance with the fear that once I put this on, I was going to feel embarassed wearing this smelly stuff on my skin. The vendor told me that the odor absorbs into the skin, and then went on to tell me the historical use of it in West Africa, where it is grown, as well as its benefits. I bought it still being a little skeptical about the smell. However, I changed my mind almost instantly, as I noticed to immediate changes in my skin.

The benefits I have noticed in the last year:

1. treating dry skin
2. muscle relaxation
3. hair conditioning
4. sunscreen
5. protect skin from cold air and wind
6. and most importantly, slows down the aging process

I just love it because not only is it good for you, but it is pretty inexpensive, as compared to other cosmetics. Raw shea butter for the most part can be found in "afrocentric" retail establishments. For the last few months I have been doing research on how raw shea butter starts out in Africa and finally makes its way to shelves in the cosmetic section in American pharmacies, and its quite interesting. I think its funny how Western cosmetic companies are going out of their way to put shea butter in their high-priced products, when anyone could easily go to 125th Street in Harlem or any other street in an urban area and get it 100% raw, natural and cheap.

Burkina Mom, an American blogger living in Burkina Faso, talked recently about this and the hard work African women do to cultivate the product.

I also found this interesting video on why someone else loves shea butter.

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Bush regime finally outed

The Bush administration is "bewildered and puzzled" by revelations about how the White House handled Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and CIA leaks in former Press Secretary Scott McClellan's new book.

The White House is asking "Why the sudden revelation from McClellan?" Shouldn't the question be directed towards all the Bush loyalists as for why they are all coming out so strongly against this book if nothing in it is true.

Things that make you go hmm...

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Glave takes on Golding's gay remarks

This week writers and performers from all over the Caribbean and the diaspora gathered in Jamaica for the annual Calabash International Literary Festival. Author Thomas Glave was on hand to talk about his groundbreaking new book, Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles. Glave also had some choice words for Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding's recent remarks on gays working in his government.

From Caribbean Free Radio:

And so, mindful of that generosity and kindness, my conscience will not permit me to begin reading from this book in particular before I say that as a gay man of Jamaican background I am appalled and outraged by the Prime Minister’s having said only three days ago on BBC-TV that homosexuals will not have any place in his Cabinet and, implicitly, by extension, in Jamaica. I guess this means that there will never be any room in Mr Golding’s Cabinet for me and for the many, many other men and women in Jamaica who are homosexual. And so I now feel moved to say directly to Mr Golding that it is exactly this kind of bigotry and narrow-mindedness that Jamaica does not need any more of, and that you, Mr Golding, should be ashamed of yourself for providing such an example of how not to lead Jamaica into the future. And so, Mr Golding, think about how much you are not helping Jamaica the next time you decide to stand up and say that only some Jamaicans – heterosexuals, in this case – have the right to live in their country as full citizens with full human rights, while others – homosexuals – do not. That is not democracy. That is not humane leadership. That is simply the stupidity and cruelty of bigotry.”

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Zim activists take on run-off elections

Description: In March Zimbabweans went to the polls and, for the first time in their country's post-independence history, Robert Mugabe lost the presidency while his party, ZANU-PF, lost most seats in parliament. The results, however, are being contested, and a run-off election will be held on June 27. Violence has ensued since the March elections, claiming the lives of over 50 people and forcing nearly 30,000 others to flee their homes. On the Internet activists are organizing to make sure Mugabe will not return to office.

Tools Being Used: E-cards

What Are They Doing:Anti-Mugabe activist outfit Sokwanele has launched an e-card campaign to get Zimbabweans out to vote next month. Supporters around the world can go to its website, and simply send an e-card of their choice to a potential voter to remind them that democracy and change is a real thing - even in Zimbabwe.

From Sokwanele's website: "These ecards are designed to help keep the spirit of hope alive in Zimbabwe as we head towards the run-off election. Please use them to send positive message to Zimbabweans and to reassure them everyday that we stand in this together, and people around the world are watching over them. We are not alone."

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The New World Digital Information Order

The world has spoken, and they want more access to fair and balanced information and ideas.

From IPS:

According to a major new survey of more than 18,000 adults in 20 countries released on the eve of International Press Freedom Day May 3, an average of 56 percent said they believe that media "should have the right to publish news and ideas without government control".

At same time, an average of 36 percent of respondents -- concentrated mostly in Russia, several Arab states, China, and Indonesia -- believe "the government should have the right to prevent the media from publishing things that it thinks will be politically destabilising".

And while strong majorities in every country agree with the notion that their compatriots should have the right to read publications from other countries, including those that might be considered enemies, significant minorities in India, South Korea, Egypt, and the Palestinian Territories disagree.

Many news outlets, most notably Al-Jazeera, has taken steps in recent years to present alternative information that would otherwise be left out of mainstream, Western media, especially with its coverage of the so-called War on Terror. Now, the network is making strides to present an English-language offshout to America.

But it is cyberspace and the actions of ordinary citizens who are changing the way we get our news. The recent tragedy in China presented why social media will change the world. China is one of the most secretive, repressive countries in the world. Usually the world didn’t know about the tragedies that happened within its borders until long after when nothing could be done about it. But, this all changed when the Chinese government couldn’t suppress information because of the unprecedented number of earthquake victims using text messaging and blogging to get relief and find loved ones.

The news media is paying attention to this development. While many journalists are slow to getting into the social media revolution, there are many in the media who are embracing the change, including the Society for Professional Journalists, who is offering training for bloggers on ethical journalism, as well as nontraditional media like YouTube and Global Voices.

The world has come a long way since the MacBride Report.

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Radical Music Videos: Burning Spear

If you don't know who Burning Spear is, you better ask somebody - right quick. Here he is performing in Kenya "Africa Jah Na Dead" for your Memorial Day listening pleasure.



Party Time!!!

It's Memorial Day weekend and its time to party, y'all!

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Abortion comes to head in Britain

One of the best things about the United Kingdom is that there electoral system is not as long as this year’s unprecedented U.S. Presidential election. The typical election season in Britain runs about six to eight weeks at most. The current US campaign literally started eight years ago after Hillary Clinton left the White House the first time around as First Lady.

Furthermore, unlike the United States, the Brits don’t determine their votes on single issues or by what some religious fundamentalist said. Thankfully, the folks on the other side of the pond think for themselves – until this week.

The British Parliament debated the divisive issues of abortion.

From The Economist

…For the first time in 18 years, there was a serious chance that Britain's abortion laws would be made less liberal. Most terminations are carried out on the grounds that continuing a pregnancy could harm the woman's physical or mental health, and such abortions are permitted only before 24 weeks' gestation. (Later abortions are allowed if the woman's life is in danger, or the fetus is abnormal.) MPs debated cutting this limit to 12 weeks, or 16, or 20, or 22. Only the last had a realistic chance of succeeding. In the event 304 MPs voted for the status quo; 233 supported cutting the limit by two weeks.

By precedent, votes on abortion are “free”: MPs may vote according to their consciences rather than a party directive. They still divided along party lines. Most Labour MPs—including the prime minister, Gordon Brown—voted against all the amendments, although three Catholic cabinet ministers supported a cut to 12 weeks. Most of the shadow cabinet voted for some reduction, and the Conservative leader, David Cameron, backed lowering the limit to either 22 or 20 weeks.

There were graphic descriptions of late abortions—Nadine Dorries, a Conservative MP and former nurse, described assisting at one in which the baby breathed for seven minutes. But the debate centred on how premature a baby can be and have a reasonable prospect of surviving. The current law, passed in 1967, permitted abortion only until a fetus was “viable”, which was assumed to be at 28 weeks. That limit was lowered to 24 weeks in 1990, as better care for premature babies meant more survived. Recent studies have suggested little, if any, improvement since then. But campaigners question the relevance of data on premature babies, many of whom are premature precisely because they, or their mothers, are ill. Before the vote, right-leaning newspapers ran stories of children born at 22 or 23 weeks and now doing well.

The abortion debate came at the end of two hotly contested days in the House of Commons. MPs attempting to cut back abortion were hoping to tack their amendments to a bill on assisted reproduction, a field with plenty of controversies of its own. Right before the debate on abortion came one on whether a child's need for a father should continue to be a factor that fertility doctors must consider when deciding whom to treat. The government wants to remove the requirement, as it discriminates against single women and lesbian couples; many Conservatives see the writing-out of fathers as part of a disturbing moral and social decline.

The day before that, MPs had voted on two other amendments. The first would have prohibited experiments involving “chimera” embryos created by placing human DNA inside empty eggs from other mammals. The second sought to rule out creating “saviour siblings”: screening embryos created by IVF in order to select a match for an existing sick child whose life could be saved by cord blood or bone marrow from a suitable brother or sister.

All three issues went the government's way, even though Mr Brown had to allow his party a free vote after a campaign by Catholic bishops made it clear that he risked losing three ministers if he did not. At the time his concession was criticised as caving in to special interests; now that his key measures have survived, it looks canny. A little good news for him at last.

Gordon Brown definitely survives this time around.



Golding's failure to lead

Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding is in trouble.

After being in office for nearly a year, Golding might be on his way out due to the surge in murders, political corruption and police brutality on the island.

Recently Golding was a guest on the BBC program HARDtalk, where he talked about these issues, as well as the hotly contested issue of homophobia in Jamaica.

When asked about his feelings towards gays, Golding replied: “We do have a long-standing culture that is very opposed to homosexuality. I think that is changing. I believe there is greater acceptance now that people have different lifestyles, that their privacy must be respected.”

But then he was probed about having gays in his Cabinet, “A prime minister must decide what he feels would represent to the Jamaican people a cabinet of ministers who will be able to discharge their function without fear, without favour, without intimidation…. Jamaica is not going to allow values to be imposed on it from outside,” he said.

While there were mixed views about Golding's BBC appearance, from both Jamaicans and others throughout the Caribbean, the Jamaica Gleaner made it clear that the Prime Minister is an embarassment to his country.

From the Jamaica Gleaner:

When he was pressed on the [gay] issue, Mr Golding resorted to the tactics of the cornered - neither he nor Jamaica would be dictated to. And, on whether gays can ever sit in a Jamaican Cabinet: "Sure ... but not in mine."

Jamaica and Mr Golding can expect further pressure from the international community, which is the lesser of the outcomes from the PM's performance. His greater failure is that of leadership.

A potentially unintended consequence of Mr Golding's trenchant statement is that people interpret it as vindication of homophobic and anti-gay violence and for the liberation of the voyeurs.

I couldn't agree more.

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No money for queer people of color

As "pride season" is upon us once again, the media starts to take its annual look at the state of the LGBT community. In what might come as "shocking" news to some of you, there is racism in the gay community.

From The Advocate:

In its "report card" on race released this month, the philanthropic research organization Funders for Lesbian and Gay Issues reveals that only 8.8% of all funding for LGBT causes in 2006 went to groups targeting people of color like FIERCE -- even though blacks, Latinos, biracial people, and other minorities make up at least one quarter of the U.S. population, according to the 2006 Census. Out of 19 prominent foundations reviewed -- whether LGBT-specific ones like the David Geffen Foundation or ones with broader missions such as the David Bohnett Foundation, which finances social activism in general -- only nine awarded grants for race-related issues in 2006. Of the 10 who didn't award a single grant to people-of-color groups that year, four hadn't awarded any grants at all to these groups in the preceding five years.

Why, you ask...

Well, one reason is that most of these LGBT-supportive foundations are lead by upper-middle class white men who are simply clueless about the struggles of people of color. Just like some hetereosexual white people, many gay white people have no real interaction with their black, Latino, Asian and even lower income counterparts to really understand their issues. Of course, they only seem to "know" these struggles when the gay marriage issue comes up, but I digress.

Secondly, with the increase of "mainstreaming gayness," there is a desire by some gays to make their lives look exactly identical to hetereosexuals simply for acceptance. Didn't you know that "equality" with heterosexuals is the new gay? This is why gay pride parades around the United States next month will be bombarded with corporate sponsors and straight celebrity parade marshals. There are some in the gay community who would want you to believe that if America were an episode of "Will and Grace," homophobia would no longer exist. And don't think for a minute that this isn't the agenda behind talk show host Ellen Degeneres' upcoming nupitals to her girlfriend Portia de Rossi.

Inspite of this charge to create the new face of gays, queer people of color simply just don't seem to be included in this agenda.



Is the NAACP still needed?

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) recently selected its new president, 35-year-old activist Ben Jealous.

From the Associated Press:

Jealous was born in Pacific Grove, Calif., and educated at Columbia University and Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.

He began his professional life in 1991 with the NAACP, where he worked as a community organizer with the Legal Defense Fund working on issues of health care access in Harlem. His family boasts five generations of NAACP membership.

During the mid 1990s, Jealous was managing editor of the Jackson Advocate, Mississippi's oldest black newspaper.

From 1999 to 2002, Jealous led the country's largest group of black community newspapers as executive director of the National Newspaper Publishers Association.

Jealous left the Publishers Association for Amnesty International to direct its U.S. Human Rights Program, for which he successfully lobbied for federal legislation against prison rape, public disapproval of racial profiling after Sept. 11, and exposure of widespread sentencing of children to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Since 2005, Jealous has served as president of the Rosenberg Foundation, a private institution that supports civil and human rights advocacy. His experiences caught the attention of the NAACP's search committee, and Jealous said mentors encouraged him to take the job.

Jealous seems to have great credentials and is widely respected. It is clear that because of his young age, it seems on the surface the venerable civil rights organization wants to address critics who feel that it is out of touch with younger African Americans. Specifically, there have been complaints from the black blogosphere that the NAACP has been slow to embrace the cyber-activism. While some support the new ideas Jealous might bring to the table, others are skeptical that there will be any change in the organization, due to allegations that Jealous was hand picked by NAACP chairman Julian Bond himself.

However, with the emergence of the Internet as a tool for social justice, as seen in examples on a daily basis worldwide(including this blog), what is the point of having organizations like the NAACP and "official" black spokespeople like Rev Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson anymore? The power of social media has given individuals the ability to start their own revolutions by advocating and organizing on issues they feel are not being poorly addressed.

There is no better example of this than the 20,000 people who converged in Jena, Louisiana last year in support of six black teenagers charged with beating a white teen, through the help largely from black radio, but also the black blogosphere. The rally is considered the largest such demonstration in the post-Civil Rights era. And there have been many other examples of this on a smaller scale in the last few months alone.

Furthermore, while the NAACP has made incredible strides to advance African Americans politically, socially and economically, its long history has now been tainted with recent charges of corruption and nepotism. Today's so-called "civil rights leaders" are not without their problems either.

With or without the NAACP, "Civil Rights 2.0" will carry on.

The revolution is not being televised, it's being digitized.



South Korean bloggers say no to FTA

Description: KORUS, a newly drafted but yet to be signed free trade agreement, is considered the most important milestone in U.S.-South Korean relations since the 1953 military accord. While some, including South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, support the FTA for its economic prospects, many South Koreans are unhappy about potentially importing meat tainted with Mad Cow disease. In a unprecedented move, South Korean teens are taking their outrage to the blogosphere in what is being called the "digital" Gwangju Democratization Movement.

Tools Being Used: blogs

What are they doing: The teen cyber-activists are excited about being part of a new revolution by comparing the current protest with the democratization movement of nearly 30 years ago, while others are organizing candlelight vigils and demonstration meetings through their blogs.

"Our society is so noisy due to mad cow disease," said one blogger. "The government says it is an unscientific rumor, criticizes that there is an anti-American group at the rear, and blames the untrustworthy internet. Conservative newspapers complain that someone is spreading ghost stories utilizing emotional equipment, the Internet. But what we have to realize this time is not about fear from ghost stories. Why does the government try to cover our anger and sigh under the pretext of anti-American groups or unscientific rumor? The government should face the reasons why we’re mad and shouldn’t ignore our anger."

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African bloggers speak out on Zim xenophobia in SA

Life in Jo'burg has been chaotic in recent days because of a sudden outbreak of xenophobic violence against Zimbabwean refugees.

From the Associated Press:

Angry residents accused foreigners — many of them Zimbabweans who had fled their own country's economic collapse — of taking scarce jobs and housing.

President Thabo Mbeki said Sunday that he would set up a panel of experts to investigate. African National Congress President Jacob Zuma, who is likely to succeed Mbeki next year, condemned the attacks.

The African blogosphere has been buzzing about the riots and the plight of Zim refugees. Many compare the riots to the recent election violence in Kenya, as one Kenyan blogger does.

...It is therefore with much shock and disbelief that I watched unfolding events on the news last night about the recent wave of xenophobic attacks in Johannesburg and neighbouring towns within the province of Gauteng. The hate crimes, similar to what we experienced in Kenya not long ago is reportedly spreading like bushfire and as at the moment, slightly less than 100 foreigners have been killed, hundreds more injured in the fracas and many more displaced. What triggered the attacks is alleged wealth and business success of foreign nationals, which is all a product of hard work and determination by the way...

Then there are others who worry about how it will affect the 2010 World Cup.

...I wonder how many foreigners around the world, looking at this display of violence, are looking forward to travelling to South Africa to watch world cup football there?



Uribe wacks paramilitary, maybe

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe took an "ambitious" step last week by extraditing to the United States of 14 of Colombia's most dangerous paramilitary warlords on drug-trafficking charges. This is in hope that Washington Democrats who hesitate passing the trade pact due to the numerous murders of trade unionists and human rights activists will now be at ease.

But, not too fast...

From The Economist:

...Mr Uribe's move could backfire. Human-rights groups fear that it will rob the victims of the compensation that they are entitled to from their tormentors, and could also remove the evidence needed for a successful investigation into why Colombia's paramilitaries and their political accomplices have hitherto enjoyed impunity. More than 60 congressmen, most allies of Mr Uribe, are either already in prison or under investigation in Colombia for alleged links to paramilitaries. Last month, Mario Uribe, the president's cousin and close political ally, was arrested.

“The good news is that these paramilitary bosses could now face serious jail time,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch, a lobbying group. (In the United States, cocaine dealers can get 30 years or more.) “The bad news is they may no longer have any reason to collaborate with Colombian prosecutors investigating their atrocities...Just as local prosecutors were beginning to unravel the web of paramilitary ties to prominent politicians, the government has shipped the men with the most information out of the country,” he lamented...

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Together for Haiti

I am not a big fan of celebrities taking up causes, generally because most of them only do it as a selfish PR move for their own careers. But I saw musical genius Wyclef Jean on CNN this morning promoting the launch of his new initiative, Together for Haiti, and was totally surprised by his sincerity and knowledge on the current problems facing Haiti. He is partnering with the World Food Programme to get the word about the food crisis not only in his homeland, but also around the world. He is very sincere about it, and I hope all you will also support this cause, as well as Yele, his other initiative.


Time to be more Earth-Friendly

Being green is all the rage these days. Both Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain (What is the point of still considering Hillary a candidate anymore?) over the weekend addressed why as human beings we need to be more friendly to the Earth.

McCain wasn't the only one slamming the Bush Administration for not doing enough about the environment. Even India is now getting into the act.

From The New York Times:

Pradeep S. Mehta, secretary general of the center for international trade, economics and the environment of CUTS International, an independent research institute based here, said that if Americans slimmed down to the weight of middle-class Indians, “many hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa would find food on their plates.”

He added, archly, that the money spent in the United States on liposuction to get rid of fat from excess consumption could be funneled to feed famine victims...

In response to [Bush's] remarks, a ranking official in the commerce ministry, Jairam Ramesh, told the Press Trust of India, “George Bush has never been known for his knowledge of economics,” and the remarks proved again how “comprehensively wrong” he is...

Indians from the prime minister’s office on down frequently point out that per capita, India uses far lower quantities of commodities and pollutes far less than nations in the West, particularly the United States.

New York Times food critic Mark Bittman gave an insightful talk last year at the 2007 TED conference on what is really wrong with the food we eat and other lifestyle choices that affect the environment.

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Black folks reject BET

Recently National Public Radio (NPR) did a segment on how the cesspool of misogynist, homophobic and criminal nonsense better known as Black Entertainment Television (BET) is being rejected by African Americans who want more respectable programming that reflects their lives.

The Washington Post did an article a couple of weeks ago discussing the problems with the network.

From The Washington Post:

...Last month, Coates, in conjunction with the Parents Television Council and onetime BET video programmer Paul Porter of Industry Ears, released a study analyzing adult content on two BET video shows, "106 & Park" and "Rap City," along with MTV's "Sucker Free" -- prime-time programs that they charge are marketed to and viewed by children. Among the conclusions: In March, on the shows cited, there was one instance of adult content -- references to drugs, sex or violence -- every 38 seconds...

...BET, founded in Washington in 1980, emerged in the aftermath of the black-power '70s, riding a crest of hopes and expectations as the first black network. In the early days -- also the early days of rap -- the network was a family affair, with all ages tuning in. It was "Video Soul" with a genial Donnie Simpson and the wholesome Sherry Carter. It was nighttime newscasts with a sober-looking Ed Gordon. It was talk shows and Teen Summits and Mandela Freedom Fund Telethons. But along the way, things shifted. Newscasts shrank to sound bites. Hip-hop, or at least, commercial rap, morphed into something else, something harder and crasser. Videos took on a dominant role...

You can read BET CEO Debra Lee's sorry letter-to-the-editor, criticizing the above article.

I personally stopped watching BET about ten years ago when the channel become totally dominated by "booty" videos. Sometimes I can tolerate watching TV One, but you can only watch so may episodes of Good Times!

While there are a lot of people who dislike the network publicly, obviously there are enough viewers who watch BET's current programming that it will not change anytime soon. Unfortunately, Viacom, BET's parent owner, only cares about green, not black.

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Bush media conspiracy continues...

As we all know already, the Bush administration has gone out of its way to make sure the American people are clueless about what is really going on in Iraq. We have read the New York Times article about the Pentagon sending "military analysts" onto talking head shows to "represent" the government's point of view on the failed war.

From The New York Times:

...Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.

The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.

Those business relationships are hardly ever disclosed to the viewers, and sometimes not even to the networks themselves...

One of the greatest benefits of alternative media is that you can get the straight dope on what's really going down in the White House. There are efforts on the part of the Bush administration to suppress press freedom, that has created a deafening silence among lovers of free speech.

From Amy Goodman:

In November 2001, despite the fact that Al-Jazeera had given the U.S. military the coordinates of its office in Kabul, U.S. warplanes bombed Al-Jazeera’s bureau there, destroying it. An Al-Jazeera reporter covering the George Bush-Vladimir Putin summit in Crawford, Texas, in the same month was detained by the FBI because his credit card was “linked to Afghanistan.” In spring 2003, the U.S. dropped four bombs on the Sheraton hotel in Basra, Iraq, where Al-Jazeera correspondents—the only journalists reporting from that city—were the lone guests. Another Al-Jazeera staffer showed his ID to a U.S. Marine at a Baghdad checkpoint, only to have his car fired upon by the Marines. He was unhurt. That can’t be said for Tareq Ayyoub, an Al-Jazeera correspondent who was on the roof of the network’s bureau in Baghdad on April 8, 2003, when a U.S. warplane strafed it. He was killed. His widow, Dima Tahboub, told me: “Hate breeds hate. The United States said they were doing this to rout out terrorism. Who is engaged in terrorism now?”

Also from Amy Goodman:

Adrienne Kinne is a former Army sergeant who worked in military intelligence for 10 years, from 1994 to 2004. Trained in Arabic, she worked in the Army translating intercepted communications. She told me in an interview this week that she saw a target list that included the Palestine Hotel. She knew that it housed journalists, since she had intercepted calls from the Palestine Hotel between journalists there and their families and friends back home (illegally and unconstitutionally, she thought).

Said Kinne: "[W]e were listening to journalists who were staying in the Palestine Hotel. And I remember that, specifically because during the buildup to 'shock and awe' ... we were given a list of potential targets in Baghdad, and the Palestine Hotel was listed. [P]utting one and one together, I went to my officer in charge, and I told him that there are journalists staying at this hotel who think they're safe, and yet we have this hotel listed as a potential target, and somehow the dots are not being connected here, and shouldn't we make an effort to make sure that the right people know the situation? And unfortunately, my officer in charge ... basically told me that it was not my job to analyze ... someone somewhere higher up the chain knew what they were doing."

Where's the outrage???

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Text-messaging from Zimbabwe

Two of my journalist friends from Zimbabwe, "John" and "Beatrice" (real names witheld for security) were arrested two weeks ago by Mugabe's thugs for no other reason than for being outspoken reporters. Violence in Zim has heightened even more with news of a planned assasination of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and new elections set for June 27.

They both sent me text messages from their cell phones before I believe the phones were taken away by the authorities. I have not heard from them since.

From John:
"going to jail, i am outside of hararre, peace and blessings from the creator."

From Beatrice:
"Zanu men are beating and raping women here. I do not know where they have taken us."

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Radical Music Videos: Benjamin Zephaniah

In this "Empire Writes Back" edition, Howard University professor R. Victoria Arana recentley gave an interview with Foreign Policy in Focus on British post colonial literature and its impact.

From Foreign Policy in Focus:

E. Ethelbert Miller: Briefly describe the political, social and economic issues that have shaped the literature.

Arana: Scholars have conveniently labeled this particular “boom” a case of the “Empire writing back.” The first wave of black British writers (from 1950 though the 1980s) considered themselves post-colonial and addressed issues relating to colonialism, its cultural legacies and hang-ups. Those British-born writers publishing in the 1990s and 2000s, however, tend to think of themselves as more forward-looking, more concerned with contemporary life in Britain and their connections to people all around the world, not even necessarily to the countries from which their forbears emigrated...

...Miller: How do black writers in Britain approach their writing while living in an empire that has seen a political decline?

Arana: The fact of the decline per se for many is seen as a plus since it means that the empire is not over-lording and exploiting colonies in the old ways. Benjamin Zephaniah, for example, an edgy, radical poet from Birmingham with a huge following in England, was offered an Order of the British Empire, a highly coveted honor, and he flatly turned it down, quipping that the Queen must not have been reading any of his poetry before deciding on the award or he certainly would not have been named. His rejection of the title hasn’t hurt him with the establishment; he is a regular recipient of generous prizes and travel funds to visit foreign lands as a cultural emissary of Britain...

Meanwhile in Trinidad, apparently there is no love for V.S. Naipaul.

From The New York Times:

...In the nearly six decades since Naipaul left for England, the relationship [between Naipaul and Trinidadians] has taken on the character of a bad marriage, with Trinidad setting Naipaul up to spurn it and Naipaul obliging. When asked about Naipaul, Trinidadians will first talk not about his books, though they are widely read in schools here, but about the idea that he has turned his back on the country. “He’s a bit salty about being Trinidadian,” a local bar owner and guide said when I asked him to show me Naipaul’s ancestral home. Others put it less diplomatically: “He hates Trinidad” was a common refrain...

Speaking of Zephaniah, who we have much love for here on this blog, check out a classic music video by him:

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Bush, Saudis and Terrorism

On the occasion of Israel's 60th anniversary commemorations, President Bush spoke before the Israeli Knesset to reaffirm U.S. support for the Jewish state. In a desperate effort to look relevant in the sunset of his presidency, Bush also used his talk to make a slight against Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Obama for his admission last year to have talks with Iran and North Korea if he became president. He even went as far as comparing Obama to Nazi appeaser British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. This speech was made a day before departing for Saudi Arabia to beg King Abdullah for cheaper gas.

"Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and
radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong
all along," Mr Bush said, in a speech on Thursday otherwise devoted to Israel's
friendship with the United States. "We have an obligation to call this what it
is - the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by

But, apparently, it is not okay to try to negotiate with people before they start a war with the U.S., but it is okay to negotiate with a country where not only 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers came from, but also harbors hatred towards Jewish people.

Mr Bush must be really desperate for lower oil prices. Business as usual, I guess.

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Jamaicans Blog for Prison Reform

Description: Jamaica has one of the most controversial criminal justice systems in the world. There have been reports of overcrowded prisons throughout the Caribbean island. In recent months a Jamaican nonprofit has made strides to give prisoners training on how to use citizen media to document their grievances.

Tools Being Used: blogs, Flickr, podcast

What They Are Doing: The S.E.T Foundation, a grantee of Rising Voices, is a program that works with prisons to reduce recidivism, by helping prisoners become productive citizens after they are released. As part of the Prison Diaries project, prisoners will be trained on how to use the group blog, as well as edit their own audio and video clips. Prisoners are also using Flickr to post photos. The goal of the project is to give the world a reality check about Jamaica’s prison system.

“Through blogging, inmates are able to tell their stories,” said SET Foundation leader Kevin Wallen. ”They are able to paint a realistic picture of life behind bars and the consequences of crime. Currently, Jamaica’s music and media idolize the ‘badman’ or ’shotta’ and portray as role models those who have been incarcerated. Many of our youths now think that prison is a ‘cool’ place to be, until they themselves are faced with the harsh truth. The Diary of an Inmate blog will allow all Jamaicans to learn about the realities of Jamaica’s overcrowded prison system with the hope that this will counteract the false ideas implanted by the media.”

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Health Care and Immigrant Detainees

US news program 60 Minutes also had another piece on poor medical treatment for immigrants held in US detention centers.


Wanted: Chiquita's Murderous Executives

US news program 60 Minutes had a great piece last night on how poor trade policies plus human rights abuses can equal detrimental effects. Chiquita Brands International, the largest distributor of bananas in the United States, was fined $25 million as part of a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department for having ties to Colombian paramilitary groups.

From 60 Minutes:

But since the 1980's, the business of bananas there has been punctuated with gunfire. First, the area was taken over by Marxist guerillas called the "FARC," whose ruthlessness at killing and kidnapping was exceeded only by the private paramilitary army that rose up to fight them. Chiquita found itself trying to grow bananas in the middle of a war, in which the Colombian government and its army were of no help.

"These lands were lands where there was no law. It was impossible for the government to protect employees," says Fernando Aguirre, who became Chiquita's CEO long after all this happened.

Aguirre says the company was forced to pay taxes to the guerillas when they controlled the territory in the late 1980s and early 90s. When the paramilitaries, known as the "AUC," moved in in 1997 they demanded the same thing.

"Did the paramilitaries state, specifically to you, that if you didn't make the payments, your people would be killed?" Kroft asks.

"There was a very, very strong signal that if the company would not make payments, that things would happen. And since they had already killed at least 50 people, employees of the company, it was clear to everyone there that these guys meant business," Aguirre says.

Chiquita only had a couple of options and none of them were particularly good. It could refuse to pay the paramilitaries and run the risk that its employees could be killed or kidnapped, it could pack up and leave the country all together and abandon its most profitable enterprise, or it could stay and pay protection, and in the process, help finance the atrocities that were being committed all across the countryside.

Chiquita did have another choice. When the US government declared the paramilitary a terrorist group in 2001, the company continued to make payments for another two years. To his credit, when Aguirre became CEO, he did stop payments, sold its subsidiary in Colombia and agreed to pay a $25 million fine. But that wasn’t enough. You mean to tell me that Chiquita was totally in the dark that the paramilitary was using the payments to purchase weapons to kill innocent people?

"What did the company think this money was gonna be used for?" Kroft asks.

"Well, clearly to save lives," Aguirre says.

"The lives of your employees?" Kroft asks.

"Absolutely," Aguirre says.

Thankfully, US Rep. William Delahunt made it clear in the piece that, unfortunately, Chiquita isn’t the only U.S. company involved in shady business overseas.

Asked what he means by that, Delahunt tells Kroft, "Well, I think that there are other American companies that have conducted themselves the same way that Chiquita has, except they haven't been caught."

How many companies?

"Well, there are several," Delahunt says.

Delahunt says he doesn't want to share more information "because I want to give those companies an opportunity to come before the committee."

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America's Goin' Down!

America, "the greatest country in the world," is living on borrowed time, or so says NYT's Tom Friedman. He asks what the Bush administration is doing "nation-building" in Iraq, when there is plenty of work to be done here in this country.

From The New York Times:

[Americans] are not only tired of nation-building in Iraq and in Afghanistan, with so little to show for it. They sense something deeper — that we’re just not that strong anymore. We’re borrowing money to shore up our banks from city-states called Dubai and Singapore. Our generals regularly tell us that Iran is subverting our efforts in Iraq, but they do nothing about it because we have no leverage — as long as our forces are pinned down in Baghdad and our economy is pinned to Middle East oil.

Our president’s latest energy initiative was to go to Saudi Arabia and beg King Abdullah to give us a little relief on gasoline prices. I guess there was some justice in that. When you, the president, after 9/11, tell the country to go shopping instead of buckling down to break our addiction to oil, it ends with you, the president, shopping the world for discount gasoline...

...A few weeks ago, my wife and I flew from New York’s Kennedy Airport to Singapore. In J.F.K.’s waiting lounge we could barely find a place to sit. Eighteen hours later, we landed at Singapore’s ultramodern airport, with free Internet portals and children’s play zones throughout. We felt, as we have before, like we had just flown from the Flintstones to the Jetsons. If all Americans could compare Berlin’s luxurious central train station today with the grimy, decrepit Penn Station in New York City, they would swear we were the ones who lost World War II.

How could this be? We are a great power. How could we be borrowing money from Singapore? Maybe it’s because Singapore is investing billions of dollars, from its own savings, into infrastructure and scientific research to attract the world’s best talent — including Americans.

And us? Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, just told a Senate hearing that cutbacks in government research funds were resulting in “downsized labs, layoffs of post docs, slipping morale and more conservative science that shies away from the big research questions.” Today, she added, “China, India, Singapore ... have adopted biomedical research and the building of biotechnology clusters as national goals. Suddenly, those who train in America have significant options elsewhere.”

Jay Bookman took a stronger stance.

From The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Too many Americans seem to believe that our place in the world has been divinely ordained and thus permanent, when in fact it is the product of past sacrifice and wise choices. It can all be lost if we also lose the capacity to look at ourselves and our problems honestly.

It is no longer true, for example, that we are the richest nation in the world. Quite the contrary, in recent years we have become the world's biggest debtor nation. We are financing our prosperity in the manner of an old but declining aristocratic family, living beyond our means year by year by pawning off the assets earned by earlier generations.

But our leaders don't dare tell us that truth, because they know we wouldn't take it well. Even as they acknowledge some minor current difficulties, most of our political and business leaders reassure us that our economy is still sound as a dollar. They don't happen to point out that compared with the euro, the value of that dollar has declined by a third in just the last five years...

...Instead of flattery, we need honesty. We don't need leaders to tell us how great we are, we need leaders willing to tell us that we've gotten ourselves into a bad mess and it's going to take hard work, sacrifice and cooperation to fix it. The alternative is the decline of a great nation.

I couldn't say any better myself. Maybe istead of raging the so-called War on Terror, maybe we should spend more time on the War on Drugs, but thats just me thinking out loud. Who am I to judge the Bush regime?

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Pangea Day

In case you missed it, yesterday the rest of the world partook in an international cultural festival call Pangea Day. It was an effort to bring people from all walks of life together in the name of respect and tolerance through film.

From Pangea Day:

The 24 short films to be featured have been selected from an international competition that generated more than 2,500 submissions from over one hundred countries. The films were chosen based on their ability to inspire, transform, and allow us see the world through another person's eyes.

The festival was viewed by millions both on its website and on TV. The event was the brainchild of acclaimmed filmmaker Jehane Noujaim, who after winning the Technology, Entertainment and Design Award (TED) prize in 2006, wished to have a live videoconference that took place in New York City, Rio de Janeiro, London, Dharamsala, Cairo, Jerusalem, and Kigali.

Congrats to Noujaim and company for creating a successful festival and giving the world a preview of technology's future.


World Fair Trade Day 2008

Yesterday, trade justice activists worldwide advocated the importance of fair trade products. The benefits of fair trade food generally mean healthier, organic alternatives to conventional foods loaded with man-made pesticides, carcinogens and who knows what else. In recent years it has become trendy to go to the local Whole Foods and purchase anything that is organic with a black and white fair trade stamp of approval on it.

However, with the recent surge in world food prices, more people with limited disposable income are choosing to spend their money on conventional foods, to the dismay of organic food producers.

From Newsweek:

Organic foods face the same pressures that have driven up the cost of plain old white bread 16.3 percent this year. Energy and commodity prices, along with
corn farmers' gold rush into ethanol (feeding our tanks instead of our tummies),
are sending the grocery bill skyward. Organics' growth and premium prices once
persuaded farmers to go through the costly three-year process to cleanse their
fields of chemicals to become USDA-certified as a green grower. But now with
corn, grain and soybeans at record prices, the financial incentive is to grow
conventionally. The rising price of organic grain is making it tough to feed all
those free-range chickens and synthetic-hormone-free cows. Some organic farmers
in the Northeast are even converting back to chemically enhanced crops to boost
the bottom line. Fewer organic farmers means higher prices and less variety on
greengrocers' shelves. "Organics is becoming the private school of food," says
Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, which tracks
organic-food production. "It's great if you can afford it. But pricing it out of
people's reach is not a strategy for expansion."

I was happy, though, to read in Thursday's New York Times about inner city residents taking charge of not only growing their own food, but also making a killing at the market with their homegrown products are sold.

From The New York Times:

...This urban agriculture movement has grown even more vigorously
elsewhere. Hundreds of farmers are at work in Detroit, Milwaukee, Oakland and
other areas that, like East New York, have low-income residents, high rates of
obesity and diabetes, limited sources of fresh produce and available,
undeveloped land...

...Some operations have figured out how to make real money.

On a fringe of Philadelphia, a nonprofit demonstration project
used densely planted rows in a half-acre plot and generated $67,000 from
high-value crops like lettuces, carrots and radishes.

In Milwaukee, the nonprofit Growing Power operates a one-acre farm crammed
with plastic greenhouses, compost piles, do-it-yourself contraptions, tilapia
tanks and pens full of hens, ducks and goats — and grossed over $220,000 last
year from the sale of lettuces, winter greens, sprouts and fish to local
restaurants and consumers.

One key to financial success is having customers with the wherewithal to
buy your goods. In New York, Bob Lewis, the head of the city office for the
state Department of Agriculture and Markets, helped make this happen by getting
21 farmers at 16 sites approved to accept checks from the Farmers’ Market
Nutrition Program, a supplement to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and
senior nutrition programs.

Sarita Daftary, the program director for East New York Farms, estimates
that about 60 percent of the market’s gross revenue came from the farmers’
market checks. And by the end of this year, changes to WIC will give city
residents another $14 million specifically for fresh fruits and

Fair trade and sustenance farming rocks, y'all!

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Gays and Murder in JA

Under the pressure of gay rights advocates, corporate sponsors staging boycotts of live dancehall shows in Jamaica is the latest scoffle in dealing with homophobia on the Caribbean island.

From IPS:

Last month, title sponsor Red Stripe pulled its financing from the major live shows Sting and Sumfest, which it has sponsored for six and seven years respectively, in what it says is a response to the continued use of violent and anti-social lyrics during performances. The boycott stopped short of a total withdrawal of Red Stripe products from the events.

"We have noticed that there is a negative trend that has been creeping into some of the music...This is very damaging to our culture, the music and to our country as a whole," corporate relations director Maxine Whittingham told reporters.

Now some performers are portraying Red Stripe's action as an attack on dancehall reggae, dubbed "murder music" by gay rights activists for its explicit references to killing homosexuals. O'Neil Bryan, popularly known as Elephant Man, accuses Red Stripe of having a "hidden agenda"...

...On Oct. 1, 2004, a coalition of sponsors, including Red Stripe and the Jamaican subsidiaries of Cable and Wireless, Courts, Digicel, Pepsi Cola, and local rum maker Wray and Nephew Limited, declared their intention to cut ties with artists who ''promote violence of any form'' from their advertising campaigns. A week later, Sandals Resort International dropped the word ''heterosexual'' from its advertising.

Red Stripe's decision comes at the same time Canadian LGBT rights group Egale Canada announced last month that if the Jamaican government doesn't change its anti-gay legislation by May 17, it plans to launch a campaign to ban Jamaican goods in the international marketplace as well as a boycott of tourism.

Dealing with homophobia in Jamaican society has been a divisive issue between islanders, especially with the trigger-happy Jamaican Constabulary Force (JCF), and gay rights advocates worldwide for years. This was most evident when Human Rights Watch published a report in 2004, documenting testimonies of alleged homophobic abuses. According to the Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays (JFLAG), there have been 30 homophobic murders between 1997 to 2004.

From May 2008 edition of The Internationalist:

...That the situation has not improved can be seen in a number of cases, including one in the town of Manville in 2007, when a mobe surrounded the funeral of a man suffering from HIV. The police once summoned, joined in the general derision. In February 2007 Kingston police ended up beating one of the victims of another attack. ..

However, the key problem here is that JFLAG doesn't even support the boycott. So, why is Egale Canada going ahead with the possibility of a protest, if Jamaican gays aren't even supporting it. Some would say that gays on the island are scared of the backlash that might come from such a campaign, but I think there is a bigger problem happening. I believe this "disconnect" is another example of Westerners not taking into consideration the feelings of the people they are trying to help, even if they have the best of intentions.

According to some of my gay Jamaican friends still living on the island, they feel like organizations like Egale Canada have not made any effort to reach out to the Jamaican LGBT community on how to go about dealing with homophobia collaboratively. This also seems similar to complaints by some LGBT African Americans who feel groups like the Human Rights Campaign try to represent their interests without consulting them first.

We'll see what happens on May 17.

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Erykah Badu on technology and Palestinian hip hop

Erykah Badu was also in town last night to play songs from her new album. This week she commenced the US leg of her New Amerykah world tour. Badu is famous for saying she is a "analog girl in a digital world." But by watching her in concert last night, the singer is far from being analog.

In the past fans would watch her sipping tea and burning incense on stage. Last night she was not only playing a synthesizer, she was also typing on a laptop that was next to her in between songs. Was she checking her email or something? Either way, it looks like Ms E. is moving right along into the 21st century just like the rest of us.

Fans can also go to her website and view videos and images of her performances, read her blog, and join her MySpace page, which is actually pretty cool.

Also, I came across this article yesterday as I was researching my Israel post yesterday. During a press conference in Tel Aviv prior to a performance she gave a couple of months ago, Badu professed her love for Palestinian hip hop.

From the Associated Press:

...Badu commissioned a poster for her visit. It features a large hamsa - a traditional Middle Eastern good-luck charm - that appears to be growing out of her hair. At the bottom, the words for peace in Hebrew and Arabic appear side by side.

The singer, who couldn't name any Israeli hip-hop artists, said she identified best with the Palestinians and their hip-hop scene, saying they are part of her "tribe" of hip-hop.

"They use (hip-hop) as a form of liberation, as a form of pre-resistance, as a form of therapy," she said...

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Radical Music Videos: The Roots

The Roots were in town last night to support their tenth studio album, Rising Down. The music was tight and the lyrics were thought-provoking as usual. Black Thought is the greatest MC in the world, dropping rhymes like there was no tomorrow. Whoever said hip hop was dead?

Check out their classic video, Proceed, right about now.



2008: Trade Revisited?

Could this be the year trade actually becomes a deal-breaker in the Presidential election? According to a new poll from the Pew Research Center, most Americans oppose free trade agreements like NAFTA, and this position is dominant in how many American voters have been making decisions about the current roster of presidential candidates.

From the Pew Research Center:

48% said that free-trade agreements are a bad thing for the country, compared with 35% of the public who call them a good thing. This is up from an even 40%-40% split in November 2007 and from July 2004 when the results were reversed with 47% of respondents calling free-trade agreements positive, and 34% calling them negative.

48% of respondents said that free-trade agreements are having a negative impact on their personal financial situations, compared with just 27% who say it has helped.

52% of independents had a negative view of free-trade, compared to 50% of Democrats and 43% of Republicans.

The ever-controversial Farm Bill made its way back into the Op-Ed pages of the nation’s top newspapers today. In today’s New York Times, an editorial blames the American farm lobby for indirectly creating the worldwide food crisis by having a stranglehold on aid money that could be better used helping farmers in the developing world.

From The New York Times:

…Beyond the emergency aid, wealthy donors also need to do a lot more to help Africa and other developing countries increase food production. That will require assistance to develop agricultural markets and aid and credit for new technologies and seeds to boost yields. Providing cash to buy food locally would help stimulate farming in the countries that need it most.

Other rich nations are already working to untangle their international food aid from their domestic farm supports. Western Europe has provided all of its food aid in cash since the 1990s. The United States, however, still buys all of its aid from American farmers and then pays to ship the food overseas. This wastes millions on overhead and shipping costs, and farmers in the developing world are discouraged from investing by the competition with subsidized American food.

President Bush is asking Congress for an additional $770 million, which would boost American food aid to roughly $5 billion over the next two years. Congress should approve that assistance. Mr. Bush has said that up to a quarter of that aid should be given in cash. That is a start, but the percentages will need to grow.

The developing world needs to develop its own ability to feed itself. For that to happen, American farmers will have to be weaned from American food aid. ..

According to an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, Bush giving a veto to the “massive and bloated” $300 billion Farm Bill, might actually help with amending US relations with developing countries.

From The Wall Street Journal:

...There's another benefit to vetoing the farm bill: Reaching a Doha deal will help forestall efforts to turn, instead, to regional or single-country trade deals. These pacts blossomed in recent years – there are now more than 380 of them world-wide – and are billed as "free trade agreements." In fact they are preferential trade agreements.

Economists call them "trade diverting," and they tend to slice and dice the global trading system in ways that hamper the flow of global commerce. They also tend to hurt small countries and small companies, neither of which can compete as well in a complex network of single-country trade agreements as they can within a global trading system.

Ironically, the 150-plus member Doha deal is likely to get quicker approval in Congress than smaller and more controversial trade pacts, such as the FTAs with Colombia and South Korea which are now stalled...

Most importantly the last six US trade representatives have said they are for smoother Doha dealings of this nature. Will Bush and the other presidential candidates be so brave? Stay tuned.

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Facebook, blogs used to highlight cyclone relief

Description: International aid is beginning to arrive in Burma, following last week’s devastating Cyclone Nargis, which is believed to have killed at least 22,000 people. Another 41, 000 people are currently unaccounted for. Internet activists go online to blame Burma’s military regime for the slow response and use social media to get aid to victims.

Tools Used: Facebook, blogs

What They Are Doing: Burma Global Action Network (BGAN) created a facebook page to act as a clearing house for Internet users to find and make much needed donations to relief organizations working on the ground. Users are also being asked to upload and view photos, videos and personal stories about the damages Cyclone Nargis has created. Many bloggers have also started to circulate BGAN director Sophie Lwin’s call to action and her disgust with Burma’s government on their blogs.

“I am not going to be sleeping much at all over the next 48 hours, right now their (sic) are people in Burma struggling to save their homes and find food and the regime is in total disarray,” said Lwin. ”They need us.”

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Hillary's Gas Tax Holiday: A Fantasy

Sen. Hillary Clinton's "dream" to give a gas tax holiday to the American people seems to be falling on deaf ears. Everyone from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the Friends to the Earth have rebuffed Clinton's "fantasy." But the Democratic presidential candidate still continues to stand by her "mission" to aid America's working class by easing the prices at the gas pump.

But a letter from a few "important people" might stop her gas train.

From The Washington Post:

More than 230 economists -- Democrats, Republicans, advisers to past presidents and four Nobel laureates -- signed a letter today opposing proposals by Clinton and presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain to suspend the 18-cent federal gas tax for the summer driving season.

"First, research shows that waiving the gas tax would generate major profits for oil companies rather than significantly lowering prices for consumers," they wrote. "Second, it would encourage people to keep buying costly imported oil and do nothing to encourage conservation. Third, a tax holiday would provide very little relief to families feeling squeezed."

Signatories include four Nobel laureates: Joseph Stiglitz (a Clinton White House adviser), James Heckman, Daniel Kahneman and Roger Myerson. Also signing were: President-elect of the American Economic Association Angus Deaton; former AEA presidents Charles Schultze, Alice Rivlin and Peter Diamond; former Reagan administration economist Clyde Prestowitz and former Clinton economic adviser Jeffrey Frankel. Indeed, former president Bill Clinton's administration is well-represented on the list, with the signatures of Jeffrey Liebman of Harvard University, Rebecca Blank of the University of Michigan and J. Bradford DeLong of the University of California, Berkeley.

Others are household names within the smaller household of the economics profession: John Shoven and Lawrence Goulder from Stanford, Alan Auerbach from Berkeley, David Cutler from Harvard, James Galbraith from the University of Texas and Frank Levy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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"Slow Response" to Nargis: What about Katrina?

First Lady Laura Bush had a rare press conference in response to the catastrophic Cyclone Nargis that the Burmese government is now saying killed at least 22,000 people and 41,000 people have gone unaccounted for.

From Voice of America:

"The United States stands prepared to provide an assistance team and much needed supplies to Burma as soon as the Burmese government accepts our offer," said Laura Bush. "The government of Burma should accept this team quickly as well as other offers of international assistance."

..."I think in front of their own people and in front of the world, if they don't accept aid from the United States and from all the rest of the international community that wants to help the people of Burma that that is just another way the military regime looks so cut off and so unaware of what the real needs of their people are," she said.

Mrs. Bush says the Burmese government seems to value its own survival above all else. She says despite all the havoc created by the cyclone, the regime is going forward with a referendum scheduled for this Saturday on a new constitution drafted without input from opposition and minority groups.

"Burma's ruling generals have had their chance to implement the good government they promised to their people," said Mrs. Bush. "If it proceeds under current conditions, the constitutional referendum they have planned should not be seen as a step towards freedom, but rather as a confirmation of the unacceptable status quo."

Most importantly she complained about the "slow response" on the part of the Burmese government to provide aid. With all due respect to Mrs Bush, where was her outrage in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when it took five days for the federal government to get down to the Gulf region to provide aid?

I just watched the full press conference on CNN, and it's just a hot mess. Here are my observations:

1. Mrs Bush said that Burma should work with the United Nations to expediate aid. Since when does the Bush regime cooperate with the United Nations?

2. She complained that Burma refuses to take foreign aid to support cyclone victims. The United States refused aid from countries like Cuba and Venezuela - two countries that were the first to pledge assistance - in Katrina's aftermath.

3. Most importantly, Mrs Bush said in her conference that Burma's "military regime looks so cut off and so unaware of what the real needs of their people are" because of the "slow response." Need I say more?

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Asians Rock!

May is National Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month. I got this really cool video from a friend of mine with some well-known Asian Americans talking straight about "Asian-ness" today. Check it out!



World Press Freedom Day 2008

While this day is to generally commemorate traditional media, we should also keep in mind the growing amount of censorship in blogosphere.

From IPS:

Over the last 15 years, at least 500 journalists were killed directly because of their work. But in less than 15 percent of cases have the perpetrators been brought to justice, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

"Every time a journalist is murdered and the killer is allowed to walk free, it sends a terrible signal to the press and to others who would harm journalists," said Joel Simon, executive director of CPJ.

Murder is used by states as the ultimate form of censorship, and the more these cases go unpunished, the more the press is silenced. In 2007 alone, there were 65 murders of journalists in connection to their reporting, making it the second deadliest year on record. Governments in most of these cases lack the will or the capacity to prosecute these crimes, CPJ says.

At a press conference held at the U.N. headquarters Tuesday, Simon, CPJ's Communications Director Abi Wright, and CPJ board member and award-winning journalist from the Philippines, Sheila Coronel, released the "Impunity Index," which lists countries where murders of journalists are neither investigated nor solved.

Last November, CPJ launched the Global Initiative to Combat Impunity. The Index coincides with the World Press Day on May 4.

Countries that have been on the list in the past have refuted it by attacking CPJ's methodology. This time, the list simply tallies the cases of journalists murdered in direct relation to their work and for which no conviction followed. For a country to be included on the list, there must be more than five unsolved murder cases from the years 1998 to 2007.

While expressing alarm at the number of journalists killed in conflict zones, CPJ did not include those cases for the sake of objectivity. Cases where there was a conviction of the assassin but not the mastermind were considered "solved" and not included on the list.

The countries highest on the Index were Iraq, Sierra Leone and Somalia. All three are suffering serious internal conflicts. But the nine others on the list are democracies -- countries like India, Russia and Mexico, which have a functioning government and law enforcement institutions but where murders of journalists still go unpunished.

Coronel said that sometimes journalists are killed just for writing about low-level corruption. She cited the example of a journalist in the Philippines murdered for disclosing that a mayor had stolen steel beams from public construction sites to use for his own purposes. Such cases deter other local journalists from writing about corruption. And no arrests inspire more killings.

CPJ notes that there are other, more sophisticated ways to marginalize and silence the press, sometimes organized by government officials or in other cases by local crime networks. Intimidation and threats can have the same outcome in censoring reporters. As Simon said, the fact that a country is not on the list doesn't mean that killings do not happen -- it just means that they are not confirmed.

The aim of the Index list is to bring pressure from the international community. Convictions often happen when U.S. or other foreign reporters are murdered. But in the cases of local journalists, there is often no action from governments.

As Simon said, murder without consequence has a far reaching impact in spreading fear in society, preventing the free circulation of ideas and negatively impacting press freedom.

"We are calling for action, thorough investigations and vigorous prosecutions in all journalist homicides," he said.



Now A Run-off Election in Zim

From CNN:

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said today that President Robert Mugabe's opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, led in the March 29 election with 47.9 percent of the vote. Mugabe received 43.2 percent. Since neither man received 50 percent plus one vote, a runoff election is required by law.

More to follow



Mission Accomplished? I Think Not

Today is also the fifth anniversary of President Bush making a surprise “landing” on the USS Abraham Lincoln off the coast of San Diego, where he famously declared that “in the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”

With nearly 4,000 US soldiers dead and many more wounded, Bush’s job approval ratings hovering around 30 percent, the number of insurgents up to 30,000 and a weekly cost of billions courtesy of US taxpayers, I think we can all agreed that we are far from prevailing anything in Iraq.

A recent report said that 300,000 US troops are suffering from mental health problems.

From Reuters:

About 300,000 U.S. troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer symptoms of
post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, but about half receive no care, an
independent study said on Thursday.

The study by the RAND Corp. also estimated that another 320,000 troops have sustained a possible traumatic brain injury during deployment. But researchers could not say how many of those cases were serious or required treatment.

Billed as the first large-scale nongovernmental survey of its kind, the study found that stress disorder and depression afflict 18.5 percent of the more than 1.5 million U.S. forces who have deployed to the two war zones.

The Pentagon announced today that troops will be urged to get psychiatric counseling for wartime mental health problems, saying it will not be used to deny them security clearances for sensitive jobs. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said a new policy under which troops and civilian defense employees will no longer have to reveal previous mental health treatment unless it was court-ordered or involved violence.

I guess this is good news, but will the Pentagon now extend a new policy for not trying to influence the American public with phoney “TV analysts.” Maybe if there was fair and balance information coming out of Bush administration, the mental health of our troops could have been dealt with sooner.

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Mental Health Is A Victim Too

Nearly two-and-a-half years after the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, many Louisianans still experience negative health effects related to the storms, especially mental health problems, according to a new report from the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

Researchers conducted a telephone survey of 800 Louisiana adults from April 9 to 16 for the report. Nine out of 10 respondents were living in the state or along the Gulf Coast at the time of the hurricanes.

From the Baton Rouge Advocate:

About 60% said there are few specialized health care services and medicines
available for mental health care;

Nearly 90% said their mental health is just as important as their
physical health, and 30% said the current health care system treats the
conditions equally;

More than 55% said the health care system gives physical health more

About one-third said there have been improvements in access to health
care professionals in the area, 40% said the access has remained the same
and 20% reported access worsening;

Almost 70% said in general residents feel ashamed or embarrassed about mental
health problems; and said the hurricanes did not have a significant effect on their mental health.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune also reports that two-thirds of respondents in coastal parishes said the hurricanes affected the mental health of their community. Furthermore, while 46% of respondents across the state said the storms did not leave them displaced, "depression and stress were still commonly mentioned health effects of the hurricanes." Karen Goraleski, research director at Research!America, said the results will have a greater impact on local lawmakers.

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