1/30/2008

A Man Down...But His Ideas Not Out


Former South Carolina Senator John Edwards ended his bid for the White House today. While his candidancy was doomed the day Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton became serious players in the race, Edwards should be applauded for making economic and social justice his core issues. He was the only one talking about "Two Americas." He spoke about issues that affect the American working class - universal health care, a living wage, predatory mortgage lending and tax reform. Edwards also took on special interests who are slowly but surely killing real democracy in America. It was only appropriate that he would end his campaign in New Orleans, a prime example want happens when one America doesn't care about the other America. Edwards was not without his flaws; he was criticized for living a extravagent life he gained from being a ambulance chaser with $400 hair cuts and building big houses. But at the end of the day he proved to be a dedicated voice for the voiceless. With that said, we can only hope that the other two candidates will stop fighting with each other over race and gender and take a page out of Edwards' book to deal with real issues.

Good luck to John, his wife, Elizabeth - and his hair!

BTW, if you need a refresher of Edwards' ideas: http://www.johnedwards.com/issues/

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1/29/2008

Take care of your own house before you go next door...


In President Bush final State of the Union, he asked Congress to provide more funding for The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief or better known as PEPFAR.

From NPR
The AIDS relief plan has provided medicine for more than 1.4 million people in 15 African countries, the Caribbean and Vietnam, countries that have been hardest hit by the epidemic. Steve Morrison, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, praised the president's new proposal as a highlight of the Bush legacy.

"It is calling for the enlargement to 2.5 million people that will be on life-sustaining therapy for HIV/AIDS," Morrison said.

In other words, nearly twice as many people with AIDS in developing countries would be covered as before. What's more, Morrison says, the president's AIDS plan has helped preserve America's good standing in the world and restore a reputation that has been tarnished by Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other events related to the war in Iraq.


First, I must have missed that memo from the rest of the world that America's rep has been restored. Secondly, PEPFAR is a all around joke simply because of the ABC (Abstinence, Be Faithful, Use Condoms) policy.

Nonetheless, while I support doing anything to help stop the HIV/AIDS epidemic around the world, shouldn't that theory extend to the HIV/AIDS crisis in America?

While Bush and company felt all gushy about saving Africa at Capital Hill, right outside DC residents are going through their own nightmare with the disease.

From the New York Times:
The District of Columbia has the highest rate of AIDS infection of any city in the country and the disease is being transmitted to infants, older adults, women and heterosexual men at an epidemic pace, according to a report released Monday by city health officials.

The report said more than 12,400 people in the city — about 1 in 50 — are living with AIDS or H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.

“H.I.V./AIDS in the district has become a modern epidemic with complexities and challenges that continue to threaten the lives and well-being of far too many residents,” said the report, which includes the first-ever study of statistics on H.I.V. in the city, along with updated data on AIDS cases. The H.I.V. data offers a vital snapshot of the most recent infections so health officials can study any changes in transmission patterns, the officials said.

The city’s AIDS prevention office has been faulted in the past as not keeping proper data to track and fight the disease, and the director of the office is the 13th in just over two decades, a turnover rate that has hampered its focus, advocates for AIDS patients said.


One in fifty DC resident are living with HIV/AIDS - that is the same prevalence rate you would find many major African cities. This high rate might come as a suprise to many Americans - and even some Africans I know. In America it is believed that AIDS is a conquered disease. So it is easy to treat HIV/AIDS like its an "over there" problem because you know America is invincible. It's okay to believe HIV/AIDS is a conquered and invincible disease - if you are white. African Americans make only 12 percent of the population, but approximately 60 percent of HIV infections yearly. The more and more HIV/AIDS becomes a black disease, the less America will care to do anything about the problem. Lets be really honest, if you're black and HIV positive in America, you might as well move to Africa because maybe, just maybe, Bush might bother to pay attention to you there.

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1/28/2008

The Wire 54: A historic milestore


I can't believe Prop Joe is dead! This is probably the second most important event to happen on the whole series in five years so far. The first one being, of course, Stringer Bell being taken out.

As far as media is concerned, nothing of any real note happened beside Templeton the Fabricator (what I will call him for now on.) tried to hustle a job out of the Washington Post.

But I am really looking forward to next week's episode because it looks like McNutty and the Fabricator might be getting together to do super duper of a duped story. Stay tuned

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1/27/2008

Suharto (1921-2008)


It seems like the last of the Cold War leaders are starting to pass away. For some of them, it is just good riddance.

Former Indonesian President Suharto checked out earlier today in Jakarta, leaving behind a checkered past that will affect Indonesians for years to come. For over three decades Suharto terrorized his people under his "Orde Baru" or New Order Regime in the name of maintaining "stability," or being a shill for anti-Communist West during the Cold War. He carried out political purges that resulted in the deaths of millions of suspected Indonesian communists and Chinese-Indonesians, and enacted legislation to outlaw communist parties and ethnic Chinese. Lest we forget his invasion of East Timor in 1975 which was notorious for its brutality with a reported 200,000 dead during the length of Indonesia's occupation. While he is credited for some economic growth during his tenure, because of the East Asian financial crisis in 1997 and his increasingly evident corrupt practices, the standard of living went significantly down for Indonesians and his credibility collapsed with all sectors of society. When the Cold War ended and the West didn't need him anymore, Indonesia went into diplomatic isolation and Suharto eventually was forced to resign. In his lifetime he was never prosecuted for the human rights violations or the over $30 billion he embezzled. As a matter of fact, according to Transparency International, Suharto embezzled more money than any other world leader in history.

Moving on...

1/25/2008

Danny Glover keeping it real in Canada


Danny Glover is at it again. The 60-year-old was convicted in Canada yesterday for standing up for hotel workers today.

From the Associated Press

NIAGARA FALLS, Ontario (AP) — Danny Glover has been convicted in Niagara Falls, Ontario, for trespassing in a hotel during a union rally in 2006. Glover, who wasn't in court, was convicted Thursday along with UNITE HERE union representative Alex Dagg and Ontario Federation of Labour President Wayne Samuelson.

Canadian Niagara Hotels charged the three with trespassing at their Sheraton on the Falls property during a Sept. 16, 2006, protest.

The 60-year-old actor took part in the protest as part of a larger campaign that aims to increase salaries and improve working conditions for hotel workers in the U.S. and Canada.

Sentencing is scheduled Feb. 8.

UNITE HERE represents 50,000 hotel, food service, garment and manufacturing workers across Canada and 450,000 in North America.


Glover has been a ardent advocate for workers' rights for years. Read a previous post I did on him two years ago below.
http://globalwire.blogspot.com/2006/02/third-world-in-america.html

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1/24/2008

"Axe" doc shows Katrina victims' continued struggles


By Talia Whyte
Originally published in the Bay State Banner

Local filmmakers Ed Pincus and Lucia Small felt the same way many others did in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: outraged by the lack of government response to victims of the horrific storm.

In late 2005, the pair embarked on a 60-day road trip from New England to New Orleans to see what was really happening to Katrina victims. Along the way, they met with evacuees who shared stories of pain, conflict and hope that transcended traditional divisions of race, class and gender.

Those stories leap off the screen in their new documentary, “The Axe in the Attic,” which opened this year’s Human Rights Watch International Film Festival at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) last Wednesday.

Through a series of phone calls and Internet searches, the filmmakers located a number of evacuees, all telling different versions of the same tale of frustration with a country they felt failed them.

The first person they met on the trip was Laurel Turner, a single mother from New Orleans’ devastated Lower Ninth Ward who now lives with her family in Pittsburgh. Living in the North has introduced the Turner family to new experiences, like seeing snow for the first time. But viewers can clearly see the burden Turner bears worrying about her rapidly growing financial woes, much of which are owed to still-outstanding payments from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Turner blames the U.S. government for not dealing with problems with the city’s compromised levees long before the hurricane ever touched down.

“The government knew about the problem six years ago,” Turner says in the film. “What did they do about it? Nothing.”

The film’s title references the oft-repeated story about the experiences of evacuees fleeing from the floodwaters of Hurricane Betsy in 1965 — in case their homes flooded, Betsy survivors kept axes in their attics to break through their roofs and keep from drowning.

It also serves as a metaphor, the “axe in the attic” standing for the stark realization of the many Katrina victims — both those who stayed and those, like Turner, who left — that they are left to fend for themselves.

As the filmmakers traveled further south, the evacuees’ stories grew more heartbreaking. Many lost family members and livelihoods in the storm. Many believe the slow response to be the result of a U.S. government conspiracy.

Approximately 20,000 people, most of them African American, were placed in the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans following the storm, where they waited nearly five days for any help — food, water, sanitation — to come. At the time, according to the film, FEMA claimed it didn’t send any food because it would encourage people to stay in the convention center.

In the film, Larry Miller, a Vietnam veteran who relocated to a FEMA trailer park in northern Alabama, discusses his outrage with the Bush administration’s willingness to focus outside U.S. borders when American citizens were in need of aid.

“Bush didn’t know what was going on in New Orleans,” he says. “He starts wars on seven continents and didn’t know what was happening here.”

The filmmakers said FEMA made it hard for them to interview people living in trailer parks and government officials. At first, Pincus and Small were given permission to interview Joseph Griffen, a father of two living in the Renaissance Village — FEMA’s largest trailer park in Baker, La. — who walks five hours a day to a low-paying job because he can’t afford bus fare. When the filmmakers came to re-interview Griffen again a couple of weeks later, however, they were flatly denied permission by FEMA.

“Where is my government?” asked Pincus during a question-and-answer session following last Wednesday’s MFA screening. “Where will these [evacuees] go? I’ve never seen people like this. You talk to people for five minutes down there and they start to cry.”

Pincus’ emotional response highlighted another of the film’s delicate issues: the subject of ethical documentary filmmaking.

At times in “The Axe and the Attic,” the filmmakers turn the camera on themselves as they show anger about the people they are meeting, even to the point that they argue about giving money to hopeless evacuees. While they say they were using the film as a form of social activism, Small and Pincus acknowledged that giving money to evacuees straddled the thin line of journalistic objectivity.

By the same token, they said, they also felt it was important to film their own reactions to meeting evacuees as a literary device to unify the film.
“We struggled with this daily,” Small said. “It is complicated to film yourself when you see others struggling. They were giving their honest selves, and we felt we needed to be true to the story.”

The filmmakers said they hope “The Axe and the Attic” will cause viewers to realize that despite U.S. media outlets reporting less on Katrina victims now than they once did, many victims are still suffering two-and-a-half years after the storm.

More than that, they said, they hope that their film will spur viewers to do something about it, especially during this election year. A United Nations official who recently toured the Gulf Coast chastised the Bush administration last Wednesday for continuing to neglect those displaced by the storm.

“The Bush administration is beyond disaster,” Pincus said, “but this problem won’t end when [President Bush] leaves office. The film is not made to make people feel bad for Katrina victims. It is really a call to action.”

“The Axe in the Attic” runs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston through Jan. 31. For more information on the film, visit www.theaxeintheattic.com.

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1/23/2008

World Economic Forum 2008...So


I will keep this short and sweet.

The World Economic Forum opens today in Davos, Switzerland to discuss absolutely nothing that is worthwhile to anyone.

Moving on...

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1/22/2008

The Wire 53: Buy Outs, Lies and getting on the Front Page



The lies just keep rolling out of Templeton. Now he is just pulling quotes out of his ass.

I also love the scene when Guttierez wrote an article based on a tip from McNulty, and thought it was going to get prime real estate on the front page. The next morning the poor girl gets up at 5am only to find her prized scribe buried in the Metro section. I can’t tell you how many times that happened to me. I remember a time I called all my friends, colleagues and family members that I had this really good article with an interview with a high profile politician that was going to appear on the front page. When I saw the paper the next day, my article appeared in the last page of the lifestyles section. I didn’t understand why at the time, but I was told later by my editor that the “high profile politician” was having second thoughts about having his quotes splashed on the front page, although everything he said was true. Go figure.

We are also seeing the layoffs in the newsroom, which is unfortunately reality with all newspapers. More on this as the story lines continue…

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1/21/2008

King's Dream, Hurrican Katrina and Health Care



"Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care
is the most shocking and inhumane." —Dr. Martin Luther King

The victims Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster in United States history, are still suffering over two years later. But there now a small victory for victims last week.

From the New Orleans Times Picayune

7 patients sue to reopen Charity
LSU's closure lacked legal OK, suit says

By Kate Moran
Staff writer

Seven uninsured patients filed a lawsuit Thursday in an attempt to force the state to reopen Charity Hospital or make other provisions for thousands of people whose health has deteriorated without ready access to free medical care.

The patients say Louisiana State University ran afoul of state law by closing Charity two months after Hurricane Katrina without a vote of the Legislature. What's more, the plaintiffs say the university flouted the wishes of lawmakers by refusing to allow independent inspectors into the hospital to determine whether it might be salvaged.

"The unlawful closure of Big Charity has had a devastating impact on the greater New Orleans area," the lawsuit says. "Among other things, thousands of residents lack basic health care, the chronically ill go untreated, and critical specialty care is either delayed or unavailable."

Unlike the city's decision to close four major housing projects, the demise of Charity never provoked a massive hue and cry among advocates for the poor. The lawsuit grew out of the efforts of a handful of activists, including James Moises, the former director of Charity's emergency room, and Brad Ott, a graduate student and former patient, who kept the issue aflame with a few protests in front of the forlorn hospital.

They assembled a legal team comprising local attorneys such as Tracie Washington, Bill Quigley and Calvin Johnson, the newly retired judge who founded the city's mental health court. They also brought on attorneys Stephen Rosenfeld of Boston, Steven Berman of Seattle and Leonard Aragon of Phoenix, all of whom agreed to work pro bono.


Aiming for class action

The attorneys hope the lawsuit will be certified as a class action. They worked for months to unearth seven former Charity patients who could embody the hardships faced by thousands and finally filed suit Thursday morning in the Civil District Court in New Orleans.

"We've done something this morning that I would suggest is monumental to the city -- to the region," Johnson said Thursday.

The lawsuit describes how patients such as Lucille Moore of New Orleans, who suffers from thyroidism, an enlarged heart and blurry vision in her left eye, have had to travel several hours to safety-net hospitals in other parts of the state since Charity closed. Moore needs surgery to restore her vision, and the closest hospital that will perform it is in Bogalusa.

Because the surgery takes place over three days and the hospital will not keep her overnight, Moore will have to pay for a hotel. She also will have to pay a cab or find someone to drive her there because there is no public transit between New Orleans and Bogalusa.

"Because of the distance and cost of treatment, Ms. Moore has postponed the surgery twice despite the fact that she has no vision in her left eye and is therefore unable to work," the lawsuit says.


Onus on private hospitals

Patients who cannot make the trip to far-flung public hospitals have washed up in the emergency rooms of private hospitals in the area, where they rack up bills they cannot pay. The flood of indigent patients also has caused a hardship for doctors. In April, doctors at West Jefferson Medical Center sued the state for failing to pay them for taking care of thousands of patients who used to go to Charity.

Charity Hospital is not a standalone institution. It is one of several components, along with University Hospital and dozens of affiliated clinics, that make up the Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans. The state reopened University a year after the storm, and 35 of the specialty clinics are now up and running.

The plaintiffs say that is not enough. The Medical Center of Louisiana had a total of 550 staffed beds when Charity was still open, including 98 beds for mental patients. It now has fewer than 200 beds: 171 at University and 25 psychiatric beds at the former DePaul Hospital near Audubon Park.

The lawsuit urges the court to consider reopening Charity, but the plaintiffs say they are not wedded to the building: an Art Deco landmark that flooded during the storm but was mucked out weeks afterward by doctors, including Moises, and military personnel. They say they simply want the state to restore the full complement of services that were offered in New Orleans before the storm.

"This is not a lawsuit about reopening a building," Johnson said.


LSU defends strategy

Fred Cerise, vice president for health affairs and medical education at LSU, said Charity was an obsolete and inadequate facility before the storm, so much so that the university risked losing accreditation for the teaching programs it ran at the hospital. He denied allegations in the lawsuit that LSU circumvented the Legislature and closed the hospital after the storm without proper approval.

The state did not decide to close Charity, he said. Katrina decided that for that state.

Though the lawsuit names only LSU and its leadership as defendants, Cerise says the university did not make a unilateral decision to mothball the hospital. He said the state Office of Facility Planning, which manages the disposition of all public buildings, sent inspectors into the building and determined that repairing it would be too expensive.

LSU plans to build a new academic medical center in downtown New Orleans to replace Charity, but the project will not be completed until at least 2012. Cerise said the state has provided for uninsured patients in the meantime by bulking up services at safety-net hospitals in Bogalusa, Houma and other parts of the state and by directing millions of dollars to private hospitals in the New Orleans area -- if not to the doctors who work in them -- to treat former Charity patients.

Supporters of the lawsuit disagree.

"This suit is about time," Councilwoman Shelley Midura said at a Thursday news conference. "There will be a new hospital built, but even the most optimistic estimates put that at a minimum of five to 10 years. Tell me, what do we do in the interim?"

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1/20/2008

Zim Watch: Media and Money - Business as usual in Mugabeland?


Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe announced the other day that more freedom will be given to the media ahead of the upcoming presidential election. Apparently this measure will revise Zimbabwe's strict media laws and provide for a new licensing authority for journalists — known as the Zimbabwe Media Commission — and the relaxation of some licensing rules.

However, the independent media groups, which are virtually outlawed currently, say this will be put to the test in the coming weeks. Foreign journalists are generally denied visas and state media accreditation to visit Zimbabwe. Many of my Zimbabwean and BBC colleagues are waiting to see if they will be allowed in.

I have to see this to believe this myself. This may just be another case of how the more things are suppose to change, the more they remain the same.

Even if media limits are relaxed, I bet the ease doesn't extend for media finding out the real reason behind the government now printing $10 million bank notes.

From the BBC
Zimbabwe's central bank is to introduce new higher-denomination banknotes in an effort to ease the critical shortage of cash in the country.
Zimbabwe has been in economic decline for the past eight years, with annual inflation widely thought to be in excess of 50,000%.

The highest value note that will go into circulation on Friday is worth 10m Zimbabwean dollars.

But that is worth less than US$3.90 (£2; 2.60 euros) on the black market.

The introduction of the new banknotes, or "bearer cheques" as they are officially called, is a further attempt to stabilise the Zimbabwean economy.

Hyperinflation

There have been long queues every day at banks as people have struggled to withdraw cash.

The government's only response is to print more money - and that is seen as the main reason for the hyperinflation.

There have been no official inflation figures published for the past three or four months.

Zimbabwe's Reserve Bank governor, Gideon Gono, has called on the business community not to increase prices every time new measures are taken to adjust the currency.

The new higher denomination bank notes are certain to cause more confusion and they may only bring short term relief.

In the meantime, many people have become dependent upon imported goods, there are still severe shortages of fuel and power supplies remain erratic.

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1/16/2008

The Wire 52: The Shrinking Newshole


I don't want to say too much yet, but I get the feeling that we have Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair, Janet Cooke etc situation coming along soon in the Baltimore Sun newsroom with Templeton...

But, what I found more interesting in this episode was the editorial meeting about how education and the disconnect between reporters and the realities of the world. The executive editor, James C. Whiting III (who I already hate because he reminds me of a former editor I had), explains that while he wants to cover how education has failed Baltimore's children, he doesn't want to bog down the reading audience with too many facts like economics, family instability and of course drugs. Anyone who has watched last season knows that clearly these are problems that affect the educational system.

Unfortunately, Gus, the only voice of reason at the meeting who supported this reasoning to talk about these issues in-depth was shut down by Whiting's logic that he knows what's really going on because "his wife volunteers in inner city schools."

Whiting is partially right; the readership's demands have changed drastically over the years. In today's 24-hour cable news culture, most Americans want to know what is going on in a paragraph. Long gone are the days of investigative reporting and in-depth analysis. In addition, newspapers are practically run by corporate interests now; and editors can only work with the newshole, or space leftover after the advertisments are placed, for articles. It's very unfortunate, but that is how it is.

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1/15/2008

Media Watch: The Boondocks, BET and Black America


Like many people, I usually look forward to watching The Boondocks every week on the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. Who can not love Huey, Riley, Grandpa and even Uncle Ruckus? Anyway, according to reports today, an episode of the Boondocks that was scheduled for January 7th never hit the airwaves. I investigated a little more and found out that the episode was critical of Black Entertainment Television (BET) executives Debra Lee and Reginald Hudlin for saying that they just recycle old MTV reality shows and make them black.

Geez, I wonder why they didn't show the episode...hmmm

I don't watch BET that much but when I do, but when I do look at it, all the shows look like the Real World with darker faces. Furthermore, what I find the most bizarre about BET is the fact that they show these horrible videos all week, except on Sundays when they show gospel videos.

God save BET.

For a while now, Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder has put the network, and particularly former BET CEO and founder Bob Johnson 'on blast' for profitting off the network that shows rap videos that are degrading and beyond viewable. McGruder is not the only one to turn against BET; many African Americans have protested the network through their blogs and demonstrated in front of the homes of BET executives.

But no, Johnson is not insulted by musics that worship half-naked women and bling-bling. He's insulted by Barack Obama's alleged "campaign dirty tricks." If you have been hiding in a dark place for the last week, following the New Hampshire primaries, this whole nonsensical debate started over whether race or gender was more limiting in America. Hillary Clinton, who became the victor in the NH primaries seemingly because she showed that even a ice princess like herself can get emotional and relate to women somehow, followed this by getting into some hot water by implying at a rally that Martin Luther King has less of an impact on civil rights legislation during the 1960s than President Lyndon Johnson. Obama came out and said that the remarks were insulting.

So in the last few days a flurry of African American celebrities have come out in defense of Clinton, including Bob Johnson.

“As an African American, I’m frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Bill and Hillary Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues when Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood that I won’t say what he was doing but he said it in his book,” Johnson said while campaigning with Clinton in Columbia, South Carolina.


Johnson is, of course, referring to Obama's revelation of drug use in his books. Johnson got some nerve considering all the scandals the Clintons have gone through. This week just so happens to be the tenth anniversary of the Monica "stain on my blue dress" Lewinsky scandal.

And for this, I hope that black America will not only protest BET, but also Hillary Clinton.

BTW, with Hillary claiming sexism nowadays, does she consider Johnson a misogynist...



Sign a petition now to protest BET.

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1/14/2008

Radical Music Videos: Lupe Fiasco

Lupe Fiasco is a breath of fresh air to the ever disgusting, misogynistic, homophobic, bling-bling corporate bulls**t that passes for hip hop today. His first album, the critically acclaimmed Food and Liquor, not only took on corrupted rap, but also HIV/AIDS, immigration and the War on Terror. His new album, The Cool, does the same social commentary. I bought it yesterday and highly recommend it.

From Foreign Policy in Focus - Top Ten Foreign Policy Tunes
The most explosive track on the album is the brilliant, “Little Weapon,” which shows how the U.S. government recruits people from communities under attack at home to go fight in wars that the United States has started abroad. Every counter-recruitment activist in this country should use this song:

I killed another man today,
Shot him in his back as he ran away,
Then I blew up his hut with a hang grenade
Cut his wife’s throat as she put her hands to pray…
Then there is the soft, subtle ballad, "Intruder Alert" that articulately conveys what is at the heart of the immigration issue and places the immigrant as the victim and not the United States,

Famine stricken his home, land and no social standing,
In the economic pecking order, emergency relief,
Distribution systems is in disorder, he's checking water, making sure,
It's safe enough for his daughter to float across in,
The boat he built, hopefully strong enough to support,
Praying border patrols don't catch her,
And process and deport her, before she reach the shore,
Of the land of the free, where they feed you,
Treat you like equals, deceive you, stamp you,
And call you illegal.


Check out "I Gotcha" from the last album

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1/13/2008

Film Review: Persepolis


We are only two weeks into the new year, and I am ready to call the best film of 2008. Persepolis is one of those coming-of-age films that you don't usually see come out of Hollywood because it is actually good. The film is based on Marjane Satrapi's four best selling graphic novels of the same name, which chronicles her everyday life during and after the Iranian Revolution. We see Marjane living under the repressive regime of the Shah and later Islamic fundamentalism. The film also deals nicely with Satrapi coming to grips with her identity as an Iranian and a female in Iran and in the West. The animation is simply amazing; not even a Pixar film can stand up next to this. What I liked most about the film was that it said true to the original books. The film easily get the Oscar for Best Animated Film this year, but not everyone is happy about the film.


The film has drawn complaints from the Iranian government. Even before its debut at the Cannes Film Festival, the government-connected organisation Iran Farabi Foundation sent a letter to the French embassy in Tehran stating "This year the Cannes Film Festival, in an unconventional and unsuitable act, has chosen a movie about Iran that has presented an unrealistic face of the achievements and results of the glorious Islamic Revolution in some of its parts."

In June the film was dropped from the lineup of the Bangkok International Film Festival following pressure from the Iranian government. Festival director Chattan Kunjara na Ayudhya stated "I was invited by the Iranian embassy to discuss the matter and we both came to mutual agreement that it would be beneficial to both countries if the film was not shown" and "It is a good movie in artistic terms, but we have to consider other issues that might arise here."


Don't be like the pussies in Bangkok; go see the film and support artistic freedom!

1/12/2008

Post Colonial Moment: Guilty White Liberalism gone terribly wrong


I was just forward an article today about an American white couple in Haiti raising money to build an "amusement park" that gives other guilty white liberals the opportunity to 'understand' what it is like to be a slave for 12 hours.

From Metro UK
A theme park where visitors 'play' the role of a slave could soon be a reality for guilt-ridden Europeans wanting to come to terms with their ancestors' brutality.

Memory Village will allow visitors to be bound and tortured at a resort in Haiti, which was a slave nation before becoming the world's first black republic.

Tourists can play the part of a slave for 12 hours, in which they get a feel for the hardship endured in the Latin American country more than 200 years ago.
They can choose if they want to be spectators or participants. If they take part, they will be given traditional African clothing and then 'kidnapped', chained and forced to march to a slave ship in a mock crossing of the Atlantic.

They will then be part of a re-enactment where slaves were taken to market to be sold and later broken down with uktorture in quarantine and put to work on a plantation.

Towards the end of the 12-hour stay, visitors will take part in a recreation of the slave rebellion which eventually led to the establishment of Haiti.

Americans Ron and Carla Bluntschli, who are behind the project, have set up a foundation to get Memory Village off the ground and have already raised enough money to buy half the land needed for their attraction.

Mrs Bluntschli said: 'Slavery is a terrible wound. Germany is still suffering trying to get over the Holocaust, and this is a Holocaust that happened for centuries.'

The couple, who have lived in Haiti for 22 years, need $700,000 (£350,000) in total to complete their theme park.


If this isn't offensive, than I don't know what. I am all for educating people about history, but this is not the way to do it. For one thing there is no way anyone can truly understand the horror of slavery in 12 hours. Secondly, wouldn't it have made more sense and have been a little less insensitive to have just started up a museum or some forum to educate visitors about Haiti's colonial past and modern day slavery around the world. Here is a better idea: why don't the Bluntschlis collect money to donate to help support positive political, social and economic progress in Haiti, as many of the problems the island is still dealing with today stems from colonialism and slavery. Or maybe having a 'people to people exchange' where visitors meet with Haitians and get a first-hand account of the issues in the country. Furthermore, do the Bluntchlis plan to donate any money earned from admission, if there will be any, to Haitians or will they be keeping for themselves. Why am I not supprised that dirty capitalism is once again ravishing Haiti. I wouldn't more be suprised if there is going to be a gift shop on site for visitors to purchase 'slavery' sourvenirs.


But thats just me...

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1/11/2008

Trade Watch: EU makes moves in ACP countries


The Caribbean started the new year with a new trade and aid pact courtesy of the European Union.

From IPS:
The negotiations were wrapped up in Barbados with just days left before a yearend deadline that, if missed, would have meant disaster for the Caribbean -- as most of its key export products would have faced duties of up to 30 percent entering the EU. That was the threat from the EU that Jagdeo and other leaders were uncomfortable with, but had to respect just in case the Europeans were not bluffing.

Under the new EPA, which replaces the 2001 Cotonou Agreement signed in Africa, the Caribbean will now have to open 86.9 percent of its market to duty free imports of EU products over the next 25 years. It calls for 82.7 percent to be liberalised in the first 15 years. There will be a moratorium of three years on all tariffs except those on motor vehicles, spare parts and gasoline coming into the region. Other duties and charges are to be kept during the first seven years and then phased out in the following three years.

For sugar, which governments so zealously guarded during negotiations, the Caribbean gets an additional 60,000 tonnes on top of the 410,000 it is allowed to export under the old arrangements. But the quota now has to be split between a new exporter -- the Dominican Republic -- and the English- speaking producers that traditionally sold the commodity to European destinations. Fixed quotas and duty free access are set to be removed by late 2009, meaning that exports from the region will no longer be protected and would have to compete with cheaper products from third party exporters.

Additionally, the two sides agreed that those able to take up the slack would share any shortfall by a sugar-producing nation. A 41,000 tonne Trinidad shortfall will go to its neighbours. St. Kitts has also quit sugar production, but it is unclear what has happened to its quota if not divided among bloc members already.

One thing has clearly emerged from the talks that began when the EU decided to split up the 79-nation African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) umbrella group into six separate regions, with each having to battle for its own EPA. Leaders say the new liberalised environment means that the region has to produce more efficiently as competition would come from countries with cheaper labour and production costs.

"We have to increase our productivity and competitiveness. That is the lesson we have to imbibe now. We have to start now. And the quicker we get that message out in an unvarnished fashion the better," said Edwin Carrington, secretary general of CariForum, under which the 15 negotiating nations fall.

Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who is responsible for external negotiations for the Caribbean trade bloc, echoed Carrington’s sentiments.

"It is now for us to get our act together, to demonstrate efficiency in the goods we produce and the services we provide and competitiveness in how we price our goods," he told Jamaica's parliament this week.


The Caribbean pact is believed to be the most comprehensive and fair so far. As for pacts with African nations, that is a whole different issue.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who is staunchly against signing a free trade agreement with the EU, staged a rally in Brussells today, urging an alternative "partnership deprived of paternalism and without prejudice" be made. While the December 31 deadline to participate in EPA, only 35 countries in African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries have actually signed on as tensions continue into the new year.

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1/09/2008

Post Colonial Moment:Kenya's Violence: Britain's Legacy


The violence we are seeing the aftermath of the presidential elections in Kenya has a long history to it...

By David Zarembka
Originally published in Foreign Policy in Focus


It's hard to fathom how a rigged election could produce such violence as burning women and children alive in a church. But that's what happened in the Kenya Assemblies of God Church in Kiambaa, just outside the town of Eldoret in western Kenya. Unfortunately, it didn't come as a surprise to me or others living in the region.

Some brief historical background may help explain why Kenya has seemed to suddenly erupt into ethnic violence after President Mwai Kibaki was sworn into office following disputed elections. So far, the Kenyan government has estimated that about 300 people have died. But it's likely that this number is underreported and will keep climbing. The post-election violence has pitted the Kikuyu ethnic group, whose members support the incumbent Kibaki, against the Luo, who are in the tribe of opposition presidential candidate Raila Odinga, Luhya, Kalenjin and other ethnic groups.

British Rule, Kikuyu Functionaries
The genesis of the current situation has its origin in British colonialism during the early 20th early. The nature of their colonial model was total control from a strong center. While proportionally few British people actually settled in Kenya, they controlled large estates. To run these estates and enjoy the comfortable life the British desired, they needed lots of labor, the cheaper the better. Therefore, the colonial government levied a tax on each adult male that forced him to work six months per year just to pay the tax, which was then used for the benefit of the settlers. The settlers were harsh and cruel to their African laborers.

The "tribe" that was most affected by the British rule were the Kikuyus, mainly because they lived on the fertile soil of a small area on Mount Kenya. They were quickly forced off of their minimal amount of land by the colonialists and consequently many of them were forced onto the settlers' estates to work for them. The Kikuyu are known for being very industrious, hard-working people who early on saw the benefits of education. Many of them became the low-level functionaries that any government needs, including the British colonial authorities.

Mau Mau Rebellion
During World War II, many young Kenyan men were drafted into the British army and served across the globe. Their eyes were opened by what they saw and when they returned to Kenya after the war, they found that they were given the same menial, low-paying dead-end work. By the early 1950s, this dissatisfaction gave rise to a protest movement called the "Mau Mau rebellion."

The Mau Mau movement was mostly among the Kikuyus and they forced people to take an oath to oppose the British rule. Perhaps 90 percent of the Kikuyu in Central Province on Mount Kenya took the oath, willingly and unwillingly. The remaining 10 percent were the loyalists who worked for the British colonial government. Although Jomo Kenyatta, who later became president, was originally jailed as a Mau Mau leader, they soon realized that he was really a loyalist. Additionally, his son, Peter Kenyatta, with Jomo Kenyatta's blessing, was one of the leaders of the loyalists. Kenyatta was soon separated from the other Mau Mau leaders.

The suppression of Mau Mau was extremely brutal. A larger percentage of the Kikuyu population in Central Province died during the suppression of Mau Mau in the 1950s than Rwandans perished during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Torture was prevalent. Women and children were put into concentration camps with little food and medical care, and as a result a large number of them died. No one should be under the illusion that the British were "better" colonialists than the Germans or Belgians. The technique the British used here was to deny everything with massive cover-ups and much of this history is only now being uncovered.

During this same time, the British implemented land consolidation in Central Province. The result was that the loyalists received nice, large land holdings at the expense of the Mau Mau people who were in jail. When the Mau Mau rebels returned, they found that their land had been reduced to only small fragments unable to support their families. They were forced either to work for the Kikuyu loyalists or to emigrate to other parts of Kenya which were not so heavily populated--in particular, many Kikuyus went to the Rift Valley province.

Matatu Conductors
Some of the most successful loyalists went into business, using the dispossessed Kikuyu to do the labor that they now needed. In particular, the Kikuyu often replaced Indian shopkeepers in small towns and villages. Many more became the conductors and drivers of the matatus (mini-buses) that dominate Kenya land travel. By now some of these individuals have built their businesses substantially and have become tycoons.

The British, at the time of independence in 1963, handed the control of government to their loyalist supporters. The Kikuyu business tycoons and the Kikuyu political establishment formed a strong bond during Jomo Kenyatta's presidency. When Daniel arap Moi, a Kalenjin, took over the presidency on Kenyatta's death, he quickly made a deal with the Kikuyu establishment that he would not bother their businesses and they agreed to let him on the Kenyan gravy train, which included pervasive corruption and looting of government funds. (Kibaki, the most recent president of Kenya was at one time part of both the Kenyatta and Moi Governments).

No Moi Joy
When the Kenyan people, including the Kikuyu elite, tired of Moi, they tried to replace him. In 1992 and 1997, Moi divided and conquered the opposition. One of the techniques Moi used was to promote violence in his homeland of Rift Valley. In 1992, perhaps 1,000 Luo, Luhya, and Kikuyu were killed by the Kalenjins and more than 100,000 became homeless. As happened under British rule, Moi's regime closed the Rift Valley province to everyone and little is known of the details. When it was over, there was a huge cover-up, but the situation remained very tense.

In 2002, Moi was now too old for another term and he selected Kenyatta's son, Uhuru Kenyatta, to run for the presidency. The opposition, this time united under Kibaki, soundly defeated Uhuru Kenyatta. At this point Kibaki had the opportunity to bring all Kenyans together as a real nation, but he soon dropped all the non-Kikuyu who had helped him into office. A group of Kikuyu politicians and businessmen became a controlling clique.

Orange Democratic Movement
In 2007, the others (members of the Luo, Luhya, and Kalenjin tribes) who felt betrayed by Kibaki, joined together in the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) to oppose Kibaki. Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, a former foreign minister and a member of the Kamba tribe, stayed out of the coalition and formed his own party called ODM-Kenya.

To summarize, since independence the Kikuyu have directly or indirectly controlled the Government and dominated the Kenyan business community. They have kept and promoted the centralized system of government handed to them when British rule ended in December 1963. Under this governing model, the president was all-powerful, as he controlled the executive, legislative and judicial branches of Government through a hybrid presidential and parliamentary system.

The 2007 election campaign revolved around "devolvement" meaning decentralizing. Naturally, Kibaki and the Kikuyu people opposed this since it would mean giving up their power.

Payback Time
There are 80,000 matatu mini-buses on Kenyan roads, most of which are owned and operated by Kikuyus. I spend a lot in matatus and have ample time to analyze the business. The conductor rents the vehicle with a driver for the day and keeps whatever is left over. So the conductor has to push and push to make sure that he does not actually lose money. The conductor therefore often tries to increase the price of the ride, stuff more people into the vehicle, and drive faster. This leads to amazing antagonism between the conductor and the passengers. There is no customer service, just customer disservice. The riders continually believe that they are being taken advantage of and abused. This happens almost every time one gets into a matatu.

So, unfortunately, the current wave of violence is seen by many Kenyans as payback time. It's amazing how only Kikuyu shops and homes are being burned, leaving everyone else's intact. Those at the bottom are taking it out on those whom they feel are on top. They have no contact with the Kikuyu tycoons and politicians and so they are taking the pent-up rage of 44 years of independence out on the average Kikuyu in their community. The Kikuyu are then retaliating by killing the other ethnic groups that happen to live in their communities. This also explains why Kibaki (read the Kikuyu elite) wished to stay in power by rigging the election. Otherwise, they would be the losers.

At stake here is whether the status quo, with the Kikuyu on top, will prevail or if the essential nature of the Kenyan government will change so that everyone gets a fair share. (But if the latter scenario takes root, it would remain to be seen whether the Kikuyu would be allowed their fair share or be punished.)

Plenty of Tinder
Changing demographics can also help explain Kenya's predicament. With the large population increase in recent decades, there are many youth. Many of them have been educated to the secondary level or even above, yet are left with few jobs and nothing to do, and therefore alienated from Kenyan society. These are the shock troops of the rioters and looters. They see no future so they can easily be turned to violence.

Clearly there was plenty of tinder. The spark was the announcement that Kibaki "won" what everyone in western Kenya, and the European Union, considers a rigged election. The youth waited until the result was announced on the radio and then immediately attacked matatus (I saw the plumes of eight burning matatus), Kikuyu shops and homes, and then the Kikuyu themselves.

David Zarembka is the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative in Kenya.

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1/08/2008

Global Wire on "The Wire"


Good television is back in full force this week with the fifth and final season of HBO's criticially-acclaimmed drama, The Wire - the best show on television. The show is well known for its gritty and realistic portrayal of Baltimore's under side - which is more a social commentary that can be seen in any city in America. For the last four seasons the show has explored all the institutions that have contributed to the city's demise - politics, families, police, education. The final season will take a look at the media's role. I am personally excited because I have been a journalist covering crime and the war on drugs for over ten years, and I am going to keep a close eye on how this season goes. Already the show's producers have been getting heat from other media outlets for how the newsroom is portrayed. I plan to keep an open mind and give you all feedback weekly on my thoughts. Already it seems like the program is going to focus on layoffs, dwindling readership and racial diversity in the newsroom.

Stay tuned...

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1/07/2008

Media Watch:US media reverting to pre 9/11 mentality


According to the Tyndall Report, international news coverage on three major US networks declined during 2007.

The foreign news bureaus of ABC, CBS, and NBC covered the Iraq war frequently in 2007 but otherwise had their lightest year since 2001, suggesting that the era of expanded international coverage that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon is now over.

Aside from Iraq-related stories, which together claimed about 13 percent of the total coverage of the three network evening news programs, only two other foreign-based stories -- the recent political turmoil in Pakistan, and Iran's nuclear program and alleged activities in Iraq -- made it onto the list of the top 20 stories covered last year by the networks, while Latin America, East Asia, Africa and Europe were markedly absent.


Oh well, I guess Americans can look forward to more Britney Spears...

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1/06/2008

Radical Music Videos: Dead Prez

Dead Prez has been around for years pointing out social injustice through 'revoluntionary but gangsta' stylings. Check out their legendary performance in 'Dave Chappelle's Block Party.'


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1/05/2008

Trade Watch: Victory for black farmers?


The 2007 US Farm Bill is on its way to becoming approved (possibly)in the next few weeks. There will be no change in the amount of agricultural subsidies that will be given to corporate farms, which threatens the livelihood of small farmers both in the US and the developing world. However, it seems like African American farmers will get some relief, thanks in part to a passage in the bill that was approved over the holidays that will allow these farmers to pursue claims they have been denied loans and subsidies because of racism.


By BEN EVANS
The Associated Press


WASHINGTON -
The farm bill approved by the Senate last week moved Congress a step closer to reopening a landmark discrimination case against the Agriculture Department.

Like its companion bill in the House, the Senate measure would give thousands of black farmers another chance at seeking compensation over claims that they were denied loans or other crop subsidies because of their race.

Critics have charged that farmers had plenty of time to win claims under the original settlement that USDA agreed to in 1999. Reopening the matter now could cost several billion dollars and reward questionable claimants who may not have suffered losses, they argue.

But advocates for black farmers say the settlement was flawed and that many farmers living in rural areas did not know of the deadline for filing claims.

So far, the provision - tucked inside the nearly $300 billion farm bill - has not run into significant opposition on Capitol Hill. Aides said it appears likely to survive in the final version of the bill that Congress sends to President Bush.

"For far too long, this country's hardworking black farmers were discriminated against by our own government, and this legislation offers a chance for us to continue righting those wrongs," Sen. Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat running for president, said in a written statement.

The federal government in April 1999 settled a class action lawsuit from black farmers who claimed they were systematically denied loans and other government aid from local USDA offices. Using a review process that required a lower standard of proof than a civil suit, the department agreed to pay $50,000 plus tax benefits to farmers who could show they faced discrimination. They also set up a more stringent process for larger claims.

About two-thirds of the nearly 22,500 farmers who filed claims were awarded damages, and the government has paid almost $1 billion in compensation.

But about 74,000 additional claims were never heard because farmers missed an October 1999 deadline for filing.

The pending legislation would allow those claimants to file entirely new lawsuits or to seek expedited payments of $50,000 under similar conditions as in the original settlement.

To hold down cost estimates, the legislation calls for a budget of $100 million. But that would cover just a fraction of the real cost. If most of the 74,000 late filers sought expedited claims, for example, it would take fewer than 2,000 successful claims to reach $100 million.

John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association who has pushed for the measure, said the lack of funding makes its passage "bittersweet." But he said it "gets the cases out of nowhere land."

"We're looking at far more than $100 million, absolutely," he said. "But half a loaf is better than none."

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1/04/2008

Media Watch: Bush Administration, Saudi Arabia and Free Expression


President Bush 'quietly' signed in to law the revamped Freedom of Information Act just before the new year. But don't get to excited yet - make sure you read the last sentence.

(Indiania) Tribune-Star editorial: Federal action strengthens access to info


In the waning hours of 2007 President Bush quietly signed into law Senate Bill 2488, a long-overdue strengthening and expansion of the Freedom of Information Act.

Bush’s lack of comment indicates his opinion of the legislation. Had support for it not been so overwhelming — it passed the Senate and House unanimously, thus rendering his signature moot — he likely would have vetoed it. After all, it is the Bush administration’s instinct for secrecy that inspired such rare cooperation on Capitol Hill.

Even members of the president’s own party understood that the 42-year-old Freedom of Information Act has been hobbled by White House practices. What a united Congress reaffirmed with the new FOIA provisions was this: Sept. 11, 2001 changed many aspects of life in the United States, but one of them should not be the citizens’ right to know what their government is doing in their name.

About the only unattractive element of the OPEN Government Act of 2007 is its unwieldy and repetitive full title. OPEN stands for Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government. The rest of the law is cause for celebration by citizens, scholars and members of both the traditional news media and the increasingly influential “new media” of independent and blogosphere journalists.

Among the law’s provisions:

n “Presumption of disclosure standards” were restored, which means government agencies are again expected to comply with FOIA requests unless an official finding declares that a particular disclosure could be harmful to the country.

Since October 2001, it’s been the other way around. To ask for information from our own government was to be on the defensive. Under then-attorney general John Ashcroft, policy was changed to provide information “only after full and deliberate consideration of institutional, commercial and personal privacy interests that could be implicated by disclosure of the information.”

Information about government contracts with private entities is fair game for FOIA requests.

If a government agency fails to meet a 20-day deadline for responding to a FOIA request, it can’t charge for research time or copying the information it ultimately provides. When the information comes in crates of 2-inch-thick documents, that kind of foot-dragging will cost a small fortune.

If a person or group must take an agency to court to force FOIA compliance, it will be easier for those who’ve sued to receive attorneys fees.

An ombusdsmen-type office within the National Archives will be established to handle FOIA complaints from citizens and to render opinions about rules and protocols.

Along with a national hotline on which citizens can track their requests for information, the definition of “journalist” now includes people from many non-traditional areas of news gathering, making them eligible for reduced professional rates for filing, processing and copying.

There is one qualifying note that must be sounded amid the nearly universal celebration of the OPEN Government Act of 2007. No doubt, it was not lost on the president. The law does not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2009, 20 days before George W. Bush vacates office.


While it is all well and good to have more access to official government paperwork, the media needs this access now. The Bush administration has put a tight leash on infomation especially regarding the so-called 'War on Terror' and its cover up of what is really going on in Iraq, Gitmo, Pakistan etc. It is no coincidence that this act goes into effect after the current administration leaves office.

Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia, another blogger, Fouad al-Farhan, was arrested. This time he was arrested December 10. In an e-mail posted on the site since his arrest, he told friends that he faced arrest for his support of 10 reform advocates the Saudi government accuses of supporting terrorism. Please support his release by signing this online petition: http://en.freefouad.com/

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1/03/2008

Kenya is burning, and no one is doing anything about it...


Speaking of the US bringing 'democracy' to the world, here are two articles of interest.

Kibaki must back down
By Victoria Brittain
Originally published in The Guardian

Desmond Tutu was absolutely right to fly into Kenya and throw his moral authority behind efforts to resolve the dramatic crisis that other outsiders are misjudging so badly. British foreign secretary David Miliband, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, secretary general of the Commonwealth Don McKinnon and President John Kufuor of Ghana, president of the African Union (AU), all missed the chance to denounce the rapid swearing-in of a man who did not win the presidential election.

This lit the touchpaper for the appalling violence of the last few days. All of these powerful people knew from the European and other observers on the ground how grotesque and open was the ballot rigging which allowed Mwai Kibaki to claim victory. The parliamentary elections in which President Kibaki's party was trounced, getting a mere one third of the seats obtained by Raila Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), and with 20 cabinet ministers losing their seats, underlined the true balance of democratic forces in the country.

Tutu knows mass anger as a response to political humiliation. Kenyans in the street will listen to him as South Africans did, and still do when he speaks fearlessly to the powerful at home as well as abroad. Perhaps Kibaki, who has rebuffed the overtures from the AU and insists that Kenya's problem is an internal one, will meet the Archbishop. If so, he will hear hard truths, but also, perhaps, a face-saving way to step back from the folly encouraged by his close advisers who dared not face his defeat and the political reckoning that would come with it.

It is a myth that Kenya has been a haven of stability in East Africa for decades, just as it was a myth that Ivory Coast was in the west - until it exploded. Kenya has been a key strategic ally for the west since independence, and the kleptocratic and repressive governments of Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki have been supported unconditionally for that reason.

Since the launch of the "war on terror" in late 2001, the importance of Kenya to the Americans has increased even further. The west chose not to see a country where more than half the population of 31 million live on $2 a day, where unemployment is rising, landlessness is chronic and increasing. The tourist paradise for European holidaymakers had become a bitter, lawless and cynical place for its own citizens.

Raila Odinga made a political alliance with Kibaki in 2002, calculating that together they could attack corruption, bring down an elite which had been above the law for too long, and give ordinary Kenyans the modest prosperity that had eluded too many of them since independence. (Kibaki too had been in the wilderness during the Moi years.)

But Kibaki was captured by the old elite once he came into power, and since 2005 Odinga has built a new nationalist alliance across the country, which owes as much to his own drive, as to the old magic of his father's name - Oginga Odinga. In the years after independence, when Kenyatta became a key British ally and froze Odinga out, as a socialist, and as a Luo from the poor west of Kenya, Odinga's was the name with which the Kenyan masses most identified. In the 21st century the freeze won't work on the son. The election has to be rerun with a credible independent electoral commission. Odinga's offer of negotiations under international auspices must be accepted by Kibaki.

*Victoria Brittain, a former associate foreign editor of the Guardian, is a journalist and a research associate at the London School of Economics.


It is the Kenyan people who have lost the election
Firoze Manji
Originally published on Pambazuka News

Kenya is entering a protracted crisis. No one really knows who actually won the presidential elections. Given the overwhelming number of parliamentary seats won by the ODM adn the dismissal of some 20 former ministers who lost their seats, it seems likely that the presidential results probably followed suit. But it is no longer really a matter of who won or lost. For one thing is certain: it is the Kenyan people who have lost in these elections.

That the elections results were rigged – of that there is little doubt. The hasty inauguration, the blanket banning on the broadcast media, the dispersal of security forces to deal with expected protests – all these have given the post election period the flavour of a coup d’etat. What was not expected was the speed with which the whole thing would unravel. The declaration of the members of the Electoral Commission that the results were indeed rigged only added to the growing realisation that a coup had indeed taken place.

People across the country took to the streets to protest and were met with disproportionate use of force by the police and GSU. Emotions ran high. And there is evidence that politicians from all sides used the occasion to instigate violent attacks against their opponents constituencies. There have been rapes, forced circumcision and forced female genital mutilation. The western media has been quick to describe these as ‘ethnic clashes’ – but then they appear only to be able to see tribes whenever there are conflicts in Africa. What is ignored by them is that the security forces have been responsible for the majority of killings.

What we have in Kenya is a political crisis that could, descend into civil war if the political crisis is not resolved soon. And therein lies the problem.

There is no coherent political direction from the ODM. First Raila Odinga declares he’s the ‘people’s president’ (shades of Blair’s ‘people’s princess’ speech – the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce, some might say – and says he is going to arrange to be inaugurated. What happened?

Then he says that he is not willing to meet with Kibaki, then says he will meet provided there is an international mediator. He says he will form his own government, and then takes that no further.

Then he calls for a million person march into Nairobi, and when faced with a banning order and massive police attacks, backs down and calls for another demonstration the following day.

But what is this demonstration seeking to achieve? Such events are usually a means of showing the size of popular support: but ODM has already demonstrated its popular support in the stolen elections. There are no coherent political demands for this event that would bring the support of the many who, though they may not have voted for ODM, would feel that they would nevertheless want to express their support. There is no real strategy for enabling PNU’s own political base to be won over.

The election results were rigged, sure. But the failure to demand that an independent judicial inquiry be established to investigate only leads to suspicions that even the ODM were not keen to have the results investigated. It is now probably too late to conduct a satisfactory investigation since original records may have been tampered with – which might explain the Attorney General’s sudden willingness announced today to allow the ECK records to be inspected without recourse to use of the courts.

The mass demonstrations could have been used to call for such an investigation and to protest against the media ban imposed by Kibaki and to challenge constitutionality of the ban. Instead, it served no purpose other than what some see as an infantile response to the theft of the elections.

Why has there been no public appeal to the armed forces and police – whose families have no doubt suffered in the violent upheavals – to refuse to fire on citizens, or to defend and protect citizens from the violence that has been unleashe?. Kibaki can retain power only through the use of force – and so long as the armed forces and the police remain loyal, he will be able to retain his hold on power.

ODM has failed to challenge the existing government by encouraging all sections of society to create a viable alternative to the present government.

But the real tragedy of Kenya is that the political conflict is not about alternative political programmes that could address the long standing grievances of the majority over landlessness, low wages, unemployment, lack of shelter, inadequate incomes, homelessness, etc. It is not about such heady aspirations.

No, it boils down to a fight over who has access to the honey pot that is the state. For those in control of the state machinery are free to fill their pockets. So the battle lines are reduced to which group of people are going to be chosen to fill their pockets – and citizens are left to decide perhaps that a few crumbs might fall off the table in their direction.

And the electorate – the mass of citizens who have borne the brunt of the recent violence and decades of prolonged disenfranchisement from accessing the fruits of independence – are reduced to being just being fodder for the pigs fighting over the trough.

The Kibaki regime seems unlikely to concede any space – for to do so would confirm the suspicions of election theft. And the longer that the current impasse continues, the more likely it is that people will seek to vent their anger and frustration in senseless violence – energy that could so easily be turned towards organising to building a new world.

So what is going to be the way forward? Will there be an independent inquiry into the election results? Into the violence that has taken place? Will the contending parties agree to the formation of an interim government that would oversee the re-run of the elections?

Whatever happens, the present crisis has demonstrated that there is a serious lack of any formations that can articulate a coherent political programme for social transformation. Politics will remain forever about who gets access to the trough so long as there is no alternative.

This issue of Pambazuka News is dedicated to those who have paid with their lives in this period of crisis.

* Firoze Manji is co-editor of Pambazuka News and executive director of Fahamu.

1/02/2008

Why Benazir Bhutto had no chance in Pakistan


Further proof that the US is up to no good in Pakistan...

Pakistan's Dictatorships and the United States
By Stephen Zunes, PhD
Originally published in Foreign Policy in Focus, November 15, 2007


In his 2005 inaugural address, President George W. Bush declared that the United States would support democratic movements around the world and work to end tyranny. Furthermore, he pledged to those struggling for freedom that the United States would "not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors." Despite these promises, the Bush administration — with the apparent acquiescence of the Democratic-controlled Congress — has instead decided to continue U.S. support for the dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president.

On November 3, the U.S.-backed chief of the Pakistani Army, fearing an imminent ruling by the Supreme Court which could have invalidated his hold on power, declared a state of emergency. He immediately suspended the constitution, shut down all television stations not controlled by the government, ordered the arrests of thousands of political opponents and pro-democracy activists, fired judges not supportive of his crackdown, jammed mobile phone networks, and ordered attacks on peaceful demonstrators. Leading Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir reported that the U.S. Embassy had given a green light to the coup in large part due to its opposition to the chief justice of the Pakistani Supreme Court Iftikhar Chaudhry, who had issued key rulings challenging the government's policies on political prisoners, women's rights, and the privatization of public enterprises. Musharraf's efforts to sack the chief justice six months ago resulted in months of protests which led to his reinstatement just a few weeks before this latest crackdown.

No Impact

Within hours of the martial law declaration, a Pentagon spokesman tried to reassure the regime that "the declaration does not impact on our military support." This reiteration of support comes despite the fact that the U.S.-armed police and military, instead of concentrating on suppressing extremists waging a violent jihad along the Afghan border as promised, are instead suppressing judges, lawyers, journalists, and other members of the educated urban middle class struggling nonviolently for the restoration of democracy. Indeed, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte argued before a recent congressional hearing that continued support for Pakistan's authoritarian regime is "vital to our interests," that it is "contributing heavily to the war on terror," and that it remains "an indispensable ally."

Musharraf originally seized power in October 1999 following an effort by the democratically elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to dismiss him from his position as army chief. Sharif has been exiled by Musharraf ever since; an attempt by the former prime minister to return in September was aborted at the airport and he was immediately deported.

Despite its unconstitutionality and its repression, the United States has sent over $10 billion in military and police aid to Pakistan over the past six years to prop up Musharraf's regime. And, in 2005, Pakistan became one of only a handful of states to be formally designated as a "major non-NATO ally" of the United States. During his visit last year to Pakistan, Bush praised Musharraf's commitment to democracy just hours after Pakistani police beat and arrested scores of opposition leaders and anti-Bush protesters.

Indeed, despite his well-documented human rights abuses, the Pakistani general has been repeatedly praised by America's political, academic, and media elites. Bush has commended Musharraf's "courage and vision" while Negroponte told the recent House panel that the dictator was "a committed individual working very hard in the service of his country." Similarly, Columbia University president Lee Bollinger — who called Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a "cruel and petty dictator" in his introduction of the Iranian president — introduced Musharraf at an earlier forum by expressing his "great gratitude and excitement" of hosting "a leader of his stature," praising the Pakistani general's "remarkable" contributions to his country's economic development and the "international fight against terror."

Support for Extremists

The Bush administration and its supporters claim that the United States must continue its backing of the Pakistani dictatorship because of its role in suppressing Islamist extremists. The reality, however, is far different. For its first two years in power, Musharraf was a major supporter of the Taliban regime, making Pakistan one of only three countries in the world that recognized that totalitarian government, despite the Taliban providing refuge for Osama bin Laden and others in the al-Qaida network. As correctly noted by the 9/11 Commission in its final report, "On terrorism, Pakistan helped nurture the Taliban" and that "Many in the government have sympathized with or provided support to the extremists."

Throughout his eight years in power, Musharraf has suppressed the established secular political parties while allowing for the development of Islamic political groups that show little regard for individual freedom. Despite claims that they had been shut down, madrassas run by Islamist extremists still operate openly. Taliban-allied groups effectively run large swathes of territory in the western provinces and the regions bordering Afghanistan are more controlled by pro-Taliban extremists than ever. In a press conference during a recent visit to Washington by Afghan president Hamid Karzai, in which Bush tried to blame Iran for the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Karzai corrected him by noting that Iran had actually been quite supportive of his government's efforts and it was actually Pakistan that was backing the Taliban.

Former Kandahar-based NPR correspondent Sarah Chayes noted in her recently-released book The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban that Pakistan has continued its decades-long policy of using religious extremists to exert its influence in Afghanistan. In return for providing limited cooperation against al-Qaida, the United States is willing to ignore Pakistani backing of Taliban and Hizbi-Islami militants as they wreak havoc on the people of that war-ravaged country. Chayes also noted how Pakistani intelligence, through the assassination of moderate Afghan political leaders and other acts of intimidation, has effective veto power over key decisions of the democratically-elected Afghan government, and without any apparent objections from Washington.

Support for Previous Dictators

For decades, the United States has backed the military dictators who have ruled Pakistan. Whether in the name of containing Communism or fighting terrorism, the well-being of the people of the sixth most populated country in the world has been of little concern to Washington policy makers of both parties.

During the Nixon administration, the United States served as the major foreign backer of General Yahya Khan, who declared martial law in 1969. In response to electoral victories by the Bengali-based Awami league in 1971, he began mass arrests of dissidents following a general strike.

As army units began revolting in response to the repression, General Khan cracked down with a brutality that Archer Blood, the U.S. consul in Dhaka, referred to as "genocide." In one of the strongest-worded dissents ever written by U.S. Foreign Service officers, Blood and 29 others declared "Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy. Our government has failed to denounce atrocities. Our government has failed to take forceful measures to protect its citizens while at the same time bending over backwards to placate the [Pakistani] government and to lessen any deservedly negative international public relations impact against them. Our government has evidenced what many will consider moral bankrupt." Despite these protests, the Nixon administration continued its support for the repression, which took hundreds of thousands of lives, before Congress — in response to public outcry — suspended aid.

Khan was forced from power soon thereafter, leading to a democratic opening until Zia-ul-Haq seized power in 1977, declaring martial law and executing the elected prime minister he had overthrown. Imposing a rigid and reactionary version of Islamic law, Zia-ul-Haq systematically dismantled many of the country's civil society institutions. U.S. aid to his regime increased dramatically after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979 and the CIA began collaborating with Pakistan's notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to arm the Afghan resistance, sending the bulk of the aid to the most hard-line Islamist elements, particularly the extremist Hezbi-Islami faction, despite its propensity to fight the more moderate Afghan resistance groups as much as it did the Soviets.

In the summer of 1983, massive and largely nonviolent demonstrations in Sindh and elsewhere in Pakistan by the pro-democracy movement were crushed without apparent objections from Washington. Pro-democracy agitation resumed later that decade to again be met by severe repression. The dictatorship did not end, however, until Zia-ul-Haq — along with U.S. Ambassador Arnold Raphel, top Pakistani military commanders, and other key supporters of the regime — were killed in a mysterious air crash in August 1988. President Ronald Reagan expressed his "profound grief" at Zia's death, eulogizing the dictator as "a statesman of world stature" and praising his "dedication to regional peace and reconstruction."

Pakistan's Nuclear Weapons

Beginning in the late 1970s, as the extent of Pakistan's nuclear program became known, the international community began expressing concerns over the possibility of politically unstable Pakistan developing nuclear weapons. Throughout the 1980s, however, the Reagan and the George H. W. Bush administrations formally denied that Pakistan was engaging in nuclear weapons development despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In addition, the United States continued supplying Pakistan with F-16 aircraft even as nuclear analysts concluded that Pakistan would likely use these fighter planes as its primary delivery system for its nuclear arsenal. To publicly acknowledge what virtually every authority on nuclear proliferation knew about Pakistan's nuclear capability would force the United States to cut off aid to Pakistan, as required by U.S. laws designed to enforce the non-proliferation regime. The annual U.S. certification of Pakistan's supposed non-nuclear status was halted only in 1990, when the Soviet-backed Afghan regime was finally collapsing.

However, George H.W. Bush's administration insisted that the cut-off of aid did not include military sales, so the transfer of spare parts for the nuclear-capable F-16s aircraft to Pakistan continued. President Bill Clinton finally imposed sanctions against the regime when Pakistan engaged in a series of nuclear weapons tests in 1998, but the sanctions as well as restrictions regarding military aid to new nuclear states were repealed by Congress and the Bush administration three years later.

UN Resolutions

The U.S. government has blocked the United Nations from imposing sanctions or other means to enforce UN Security Council resolution 1172, passed unanimously in 1998, which calls on Pakistan to dismantle its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. (This contrasts with the Bush administration's partially successful efforts to impose tough international sanctions against Iran for violating UN Security Council resolution 1696 calling for restrictions on its nuclear program, even though the Islamic Republic is still many years from weapons capability and is therefore much less of a threat to international peace and security than is Pakistan.)

Indeed, the United States has released the previously-suspended sale of sophisticated nuclear-capable F-16 fighter jets to that country. A Bush administration official claimed that the U.S. fighter-bombers "are vital to Pakistan's security as President Musharraf prosecutes the war on terror" despite the fact that these jets were originally ordered 15 years earlier, long before the U.S.-led "war on terror" began. They were suspended by the administration of the president's father out of concerns about Pakistan's nuclear program and the Pakistani military's ties with Islamic terrorist groups, both of which are of even greater concern today.

Rogue States

One of the most disturbing aspects of U.S. support for the Pakistani regime is that Pakistan has been sharing its nuclear materials and know-how with North Korea and other so-called "rogue states." The Bush administration chose to essentially ignore what journalist Robert Scheer has referred to as "the most extravagantly irresponsible nuclear arms bazaar the world has ever seen" and to instead blame others. For example, even though it was actually Pakistanis who passed on nuclear materials to Libya, the Bush administration instead told U.S. allies that North Korea was responsible, thereby sabotaging negotiations which many had hoped could end North Korea's nuclear program and resolve that festering crisis. Similarly, though it was Pakistan which provided Iran with nuclear centrifuges, the Bush administration is now citing Iran's possession of such materials as justification for a possible U.S. military attack against that country.

The Bush administration, despite evidence to the contrary, claims that the Pakistani government was not responsible for exporting such dangerous materials, but that these serious breaches of security were solely the responsibility of a single rogue nuclear scientist named Abdul Qadeer Khan. Unfortunately, the Pakistani military regime has not allowed U.S. intelligence access to Khan, the former head of Pakistan's nuclear program, whom the 9/11 Commission noted "was leading the most dangerous nuclear smuggling ring ever disclosed." Recently pardoned by Musharraf, he now lives freely in Pakistan while Pakistani anti-nuclear activists have been exiled or jailed.
Blowback

Despite President Bush's claim that Islamist extremists attack American because they "hate our freedom," the reality is that most people in Pakistan and other Islamic countries don't have anything against our freedom. They do, however, recognize that the United States shares responsibility for their repression through its unconditional support of the dictatorship that denies them their own freedom. And, without the opportunity to press for changes through the political system, some turn to violence and extremism.

The United States has supported repressive regimes in the Islamic world and beyond for years with little concern over the consequences. On September 11, 2001, however, citizens from the U.S.-backed dictatorships of Saudi Arabia and Egypt hijacked four airliners, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Americans. A public opinion poll in Pakistan this past August showed that Osama bin Laden has a higher approval rating than either General Musharraf or President Bush. Extremist Islamist parties would not come close to winning a free election in Pakistan today, but in denying Pakistan's pro-Western democratic opposition a chance to compete and in jailing its leaders, Musharraf and his American supporters may be creating the conditions that could eventually lead to the takeover of this nuclear-armed country by dangerous extremists.

As President John F. Kennedy observed, "Those who make peaceful evolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

The American Public

In 1971, during the height of the massacres of Bengalis by the Pakistani army, a small group of American Quakers organized a flotilla of canoes in Baltimore Harbor to block a Pakistani freighter from docking where it was to be loaded with American arms and munitions while other protesters on shore blocked the train which carried the weaponry. Though most of them were arrested and the weapons were eventually loaded, the publicity from the event alerted the American public of the largely clandestine U.S. military support for the Pakistani regime.

When protestors met another Pakistani freighter attempting to pick up weapons in Philadelphia shortly thereafter, dockworkers refused to load the ship, preferring to not get paid that day rather than to work for what their local union leader referred to as "blood money." Within weeks, in the face of public outcry against U.S. support for the genocidal Pakistani regime, Congress cut off military aid, a testament to the power of nonviolent direct action.

Given the unwillingness of both the Republican administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress to stop U.S. military support for the current Pakistani dictatorship, it may be time once again for concerned citizens to engage in similar nonviolent actions to end U.S. support for the oppression. For those at risk as a result of U.S. policy are no longer just those currently oppressed by the Pakistani regime. Some day, as a result of a possible blowback from this policy, it could be Americans as well.

1/01/2008

Hangover Lounge

Here some chill out music courtesy of Snoop Dogg for those of you still recovering from last night's New Year's "activities."