4/30/2008

Lacking Color in Cyberspace?

I am asked all the time why there are not more bloggers of color.

There are plenty, but you need to pay more attention. We are not hard to find. From just looking at my blog roll on the right side of this page, I have listed just a few of the greatest and latest bloggers of color.

Up until recently many thought that the cyberspace boom would fill a vacuum which wasn't being filled in other mediums – racial diversity. Today there are millions of blogs run by folks from all walks of life who were writing about subjects one wouldn’t normally see in the traditional media. The 24-hour cable networks caught on to this, and started inviting many of these bloggers onto their evening shows, most notably Daily Kos and Wonkette. But there were very few, maybe none of them, were people of color.

But then the case of the Jena 6 happened. While black radio played a huge role in mobilizing the 20,000 activists to descend on the small Louisiana town to protest on behalf of the six arrested black high school students, it was the black blogosphere that helped make the event the first such mass movement in the post Civil Rights era. Following this, there was a surge of interest in how bloggers of color are changing the political and social landscape.

But then the interest level for “diverse” bloggers with down again after the dust settled in Jena.

In recent light of Rupert Murdoch taking over the media world, many wonder if the next Jena 6 cyber-movement will be prevented due to media consolidation.

From Save the Internet:

The biggest cable and telephone companies would like to charge money for smooth access to Web sites, speed to run applications, and permission to plug in devices. These network giants believe they should be able to charge Web site operators, application providers, and device manufacturers for the right to use the network. Those who don't make a deal and pay up will experience discrimination: Their sites won't load as quickly, their applications and devices won't work as well. Without legal protection, consumers could find that a network operator has blocked the Web site of a competitor, or slowed it down so much that it's unusable.

The network owners say they want a "tiered" Internet. If you pay to get in the top tier, your site and your service will run fast. If you don't, you'll be in the slow lane.


A new bill, Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008 (HR 5353) , was introduced in the US House of Representatives to stop telecommunications companies from controlling the Internet. If this bill pass, it will affect all types of diversity online, including bloggers of color.

Check the video below from Color of Change blogger James Rucker on the issue.



Take action and sign a petition here to save the Internet!

If you think there aren't enough bloggers of color now, wait until this bill passes. It won't be a pretty picture.

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Facebook Used In Tracking War Criminals


Description: Anti-genocide group Aegis Trust created a campaign using the social networking site Facebook to find alleged war criminals in Darfur.

Tools used: Facebook, Google Maps and e-petition

What Are They Doing: Aegis is asking Internet users to provide updates on their Facebook page about the whereabouts of suspects – Sudan’s Humanitarian Affairs Minister Ahmed Harum and Janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb. The International Criminal Court has indicated both men for over 40 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.

Aegis Trust is also using Google Maps to track the last-known movements of the suspects. Users can also go to Aegis’ “Wanted for War Crimes” webpage to sign a petition that will be automatically emailed to members of the United Nations Security Council.

“The men on the watch list are suspected of hundreds of thousands of murders,” said Dr James Smith, chief executive of the Aegis Trust in a recent statement. “Someone, somewhere, knows where they are. They shouldn’t be allowed to live out their last days in luxury. Their futures lies in a courtroom. That’s what their victims deserve.”

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4/28/2008

World Leaders Discuss Trade


As President Bush met last week Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to solidify their support for NAFTA in New Orleans, another meeting was going on in Africa to discuss how free trade has been detrimental to the world’s poor.

The 12th ministerial meeting of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development convened last week in Accra, Ghana with a mandate to take a stronger stand on the causes of poverty.

From UNCTAD:

UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi hailed the Accra Accord and its accompanying political declaration for embodying the shared commitment of the developing and developed world “to work toward making globalization a powerful means to achieve poverty eradication.” Quoting Ghanaian President John Kofi Agyekum Kufuor, whose country hosted the conference, Dr. Supachai referred to a new mood of “development solidarity” around the objective of narrowing gaps between countries and achieving the Millennium Development Goals, which include halving extreme poverty by 2015.

Speaking at the end of the twelfth ministerial meeting of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Dr. Supachai also vowed to strengthen the organization’s work on commodities, including agriculture, in the face of the crisis provoked by surging prices for basic food items. He said the organization had important role to play in promoting policies that bolster agricultural sectors in developing countries. These include increased aid, investment and technology transfers. It could also highlight market distortions and back policies that lead to higher incomes for small producers. This was part of a UN-wide drive to cope with the short, medium and long-term aspects of the food crisis, Dr. Supachai said.

The Accra Accord highlighted the challenges facing many developing countries as they strive to integrate successfully into the international economic and financial system and set out a detailed agenda for progress in economic and social development spanning areas ranging from commodities, trade and debt to investment and new technologies. While welcoming the strong economic growth rates that global trade and investment flows have brought many in the developing world, UNCTAD XII cautioned that these advances have not been shared by all and have been accompanied by new difficulties, most notably the current crises in food prices and financial markets, as well as growing income inequalities.


During the conference attendees looked at how poor decision making on trade and globalization can create more stress for marginalized groups especially women.

From IPS:

‘‘Unless the world refocuses its policies to address the adverse impact of globalisation and economic inequality on development and poverty reduction, the poor and the privileged will continue to live worlds apart,’’ Mayanja said at a roundtable discussion on globalisation, development and poverty reduction.

She warned that few countries, poor or rich, were immune to the rising tide of global inequality, making it imperative for economic and social policies and institutions that will step up efforts to reduce widening social and gender disparities.

‘‘As for women and social equity,’’ Mayanja said, ‘‘despite some positive examples of globalisation having enhanced employment opportunities and strengthened women’s support groups and networks, it has also reinforced or exacerbated many existing gender inequalities.’’

Women do not only bear a disproportionate burden of the world’s poverty but in some cases globalisation had widened that gap, with women losing more than their share of jobs, benefits and labour rights.

‘‘Therefore, gender equality as a goal in itself and, as a means to achieving internationally agreed development targets, assumed a heightened level of importance and urgency,’’ she said.

Mayanja concluded by saying that policies should be sensitive towards gender. They should promote women’s capacity to engage fully at all levels of development activities. This would ‘‘go a long way towards eliminating inequality’’.

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4/27/2008

HIV/AIDS Crisis in US Prisons


It's official - the United States is the prison capital of the world. The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But it has almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.

With this high rate, prison activists see this as an opportunity to revisit the issue of HIV prevalence and treatment in the prison system. According to new information from the American Foundation for AIDS Research, prisoners are three times more likely to be HIV-positive than the general population. The reasons that HIV rates are higher in prisons include needle sharing for tattoos or drugs among inmates, as well as unprotected sex with multiple partners at high-risk of HIV before and during incarceration. Most states don't require their prisoners to get test during or immediately after release from prison.

Barry Zack, a correctional health programs consultant, said recently on a panel discussion on this issue that prisons should provide condoms to inmates -- a practice advocated by the World Health Organization and UNAIDS but implemented in only a few states. In addition he said that not only should clean needle exchange programs should be established, but prisoners preparing for release should be provided with copies of their prison medical records and information about how to access HIV/AIDS treatment, as well as mental health, housing and job programs.

However, given that HIV/AIDS prevalence among prison inmates in North Carolina is "several-fold higher than that of the general population," mandatory HIV testing "of inmates on face value seems attractive," said University of North Carolina medical professors David Wohl and David Rosen in the Raleigh News & Observer, but "forced testing is unlikely to stem the transmission of HIV, just as mandating syphilis testing of prisoners has not led to a decline in that sexually transmitted disease."

The doctors said that forced testing creates further stigma as well as ethical questions.

A reasonable approach can be found in the CDC's general HIV testing recommendations. This roadmap for identifying those unknowingly living with HIV calls for testing to be routinely offered to most everyone participating in medical care, just like screening tests for abnormal cholesterol or prostate cancer. Those at high risk are offered testing regularly.

The CDC testing strategy respects the magnitude of the threat of undiagnosed HIV infection but also the right of an individual to make an informed decision regarding whether to be tested.

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4/25/2008

Student "twitters" out of Egyptian jail


Description: James Buck, a graduate student from the University of California-Berkeley, was in Mahalla, Egypt, covering an anti-government protest when he and his translator Mohammed Maree were arrested April 10. On his way to the police station, Buck took out his cell phone and sent a message to his friends and contacts using the blogging site Twitter.

Tools Used for the Action: Twitter

Outcome: Within seconds, colleagues in the United States and his blogger-friends in Egypt – many of whom had taught him the tool only a week earlier — were alerted of the arrests. Twitter is a social-networking blog site that allows users to send status updates, or “tweets,” from cell phones, instant messaging services and Facebook. Buck sent only one message with his cell phone – “Arrested.” Buck’s friends started to write regular updates on their blogs about his arrest, as they weren’t sure how long he was going to be able to communicate with them. Fortunately, he was able to continue to send updates, and his entries set off a chain of events that led to his college hiring a lawyer on his behalf. Buck was released from prison the next day, and sent another update saying “Free.” However, his translator, Maree, was transferred to another police station, and has not been heard from since. There are conflicting reports from the Egyptian government about whether Maree was freed and his whereabouts. Buck has now started another campaign on his Twitter page as a way to find Maree.

“James’ case is particularly compelling to us because of the simplicity of his message — one word, ‘arrested’ — and the speed with which the whole scene played out,” said Twitter co-founder Biz Stone. “It highlights the simplicity and value of a real-time communication network that follows you wherever you go.”

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4/24/2008

HIV/AIDS Update: Jamaica and Zimbabwe


I present to you two recent examples of progress – or lack thereof – in the fight against HIV/AIDS around the world that we should take note of.

Jamaica

2,731,832: population of Jamaica
25,000: Estimated number of people living with HIV/AIDS
1.5%:Estimated percentage of adults (ages 15-49) living with HIV/AIDS
28%: Estimated percentage of HIV cases that occured among women (ages 15-49)
Less than 500: Estimated number of children (ages 0-15) living with HIV/AIDS
1,300: Estimated number of deaths due to AIDS

(Source: UNAIDS)

From The Jamaica Gleaner

In empowering women to have more control over protecting themselves, the FC2 will be unveiled by the National Family Planning Board in the next few weeks.

It the second generation of the female condom, some changes have been made to the original to be both pleasurable while being highly protective against HIV/AIDS, other STIs and unwanted pregnancy. The FC2 is made from polyurethane and the FC2 is made from nitrile polymer, which is thin, odourless and stronger than latex from which male condoms are made.

In the coming month, the National Family Planning Board will be conducting a workshop on the new cost-effective female condom. It is intended for both genders to get involved in the use of the female condom to help rid the product of some of the negative stigma which became attached to the female condom in its inception years, for example, its association with prostitution and a 'bad girl' image.

It is hoped that with the coming on of the second generation of the female condom FC2, this newer product will help to demystify these myths and promote widespread use.

Also, unlike the male condom, the female condom helps in the protection against human papilloma virus (HPV) because it provides a barrier between the penis and vagina, cervix and external genitalia.

Since the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the female condom has provided another avenue of protection and prevention of unwanted pregnancy.

Benefits of FC2

Is stronger than latex from which male condoms are manufactured.
In studies so far conducted, it is reported that the FC2 is less noisy.
Is hypoallergenic so there is no risk of allergic reaction.
Unlike latex condom the FC2 can be used with oil and water based lubricants.
Can be inserted for up to eight hours before sexual intercourse.
Is not tight or constricting.
Does not deteriorate in high temperatures or humidity, so it does not require special storage conditions.
Has a shelf life of up to five years.

Zimbabwe

12,236,805: population
1,700,000: Estimated number of people living with HIV/AIDS
20.1%:Estimated percentage of adults (ages 15-49) living with HIV/AIDS
59%: Estimated percentage of HIV cases that occured among women (ages 15-49)
160,000: Estimated number of children (ages 0-15) living with HIV/AIDS
180,000: Estimated number of deaths due to AIDS
1,100,000: Estimated number of children who have lost one or both parents to AIDS and who were alive and under the age of 17

(Source: Global Health Reporting)

From The Herald (Harare)

The Zimbabwe HIV and Aids Activists' Union has urged organisations in the fight against the pandemic to desist from testing people when they cannot offer post-testing services.

Speaking at the launch of the Treatment Campaign Programme in Bulawayo last week, ZHAAU president Mr Bernard Nyathi said organisations like the New Start Centre should desist from testing people when they cannot provide adequate services like CD-4 count tests.

"When a person tests positive, the next thing needed is treatment, so testing organisations should see to it that the people they have tested receive enough treatment.

"Testing without treatment is a death sentence," he said.

Many people in Bulawayo expressed concern over lack of treatment services.
All the CD-4 count machines in Bulawayo's Government hospitals are currently down yet many people are getting tested everyday, and need to undergo these tests.

Mr Nyathi said that these organisations should not expose the people when they cannot offer treatment to them because they will burden the Government since many people will have to depend upon Government hospitals as private hospitals are expensive.

They should introduce CD-4 count machines at their organisations so that they test and treat people.

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Obituary: Aimé Césaire 1913-2008


When anti-colonial literary giant Aimé Césaire passed away last week, he left behind a lasting legacy of using the written word to promote social justice.

Césaire was best known for initiating Negritude, a political and literary movement that rejected colonialism and promoted black pride. He also served as an inspiration to Franz Fanon, one of the great thinkers of our time. I first learned about Césaire when I was in college, where I minored in post-colonial studies. I read his book, Discourses on Colonialism, and I was blown away by his passion for political engagement.

My fondest memory of him is when he criticized the then minister of the interior Nicolas Sarkozy endorsement for legislation citing the “good things” that come out of colonialism. The language was immediately taken out of the bill thereafter.

“I remain faithful to my beliefs and remain inflexibly anticolonialist,” Mr. Césaire said at the time.

Could you imagine if he had a blog!

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4/23/2008

John McCain: John Edwards Redux?


In case you haven’t been paying attention because you were to busy trying to figure out who the Democratic presidential nominee is going to be, the presumptive Republican nominee is on a mission, apparently, to reach out to America’s poor and disenfranchised. Yes, you heard me right; John McCain is on a “poverty tour” that will be stopping in a town near you this week, trying to convince Americans that he can play the part of John Edwards too.

He began the tour in Selma, Alabama, the home of many historic moments from the Civil Rights Movement, trying to convince his mostly white audience (Selma is 70 percent black) that the party of Lincoln does care about black people – really.

From MSNBC:

"There must be no forgotten places in America, whether they have been ignored for long years by the sins of indifference and injustice, or have been left behind as the world grew smaller and more economically interdependent," McCain said outside the St. James Hotel, several hundred yards away from the historic bridge. [He is referring to Emdund Pettus Bridge, where the “Bloody Sunday” attacks occurred in 1965]

"In America, we have always believed that if the day was a disappointment, we would win tomorrow. That's what John Lewis believed when he marched across this bridge," McCain said.


While it sounds noble to "care" about people of color and low income communites and their current plights in American society, if McCain really wants to reach out to black folks, why doesn’t he put out an extensive urban policy? I went to his website today, and I don’t see anything about what he will do to alleviate the root causes of problems minorities and low income communities face in the inner city, such as crime and the war on drugs. The only thing that comes close is his position on “poverty” is on public education. But even here, he doesn’t come out explicitly against “No Child Left Behind,” which has had an opposite effect on minority students by most accounts.

Also, what is he going to do to provide more summer jobs for inner city youth? Giving kids jobs in the summer time has always been a good way to get them off the street and do something productive with their time, instead of hanging out on a street corner doing God knows what. With the high rate of gang violence so far this year, especially in cities like Philadelphia and Chicago, street violence will only get worse without more summer jobs.

From The Wall Street Journal:

After sinking to a new low in 2007, teen summer employment is expected to fall again, to the lowest rate in the 60-year history of government jobs data. Working teens ages 16 to 19 will slide to 34% of the population, from 34.5% last year, predicts Andrew Sum of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. That's down from 45% in 2000 and a high of 48.5% in 1989.


My point here is that if McCain is really serious about reaching out to people of color, he needs to look at issues that affect them today, and recognize that there are still issues that weren’t resolved during the Civil Rights Movement. Not only would he have an advantage over the two candidates who seem to spend their time these days fighting over petty comments and American flag lapel pins, but maybe, just maybe, the Republicans can look like they are doing the right thing for once.

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Where's the Outrage?


Did anyone see this?

From The Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON -- A fight between the White House and Congress has stymied the release of reports detailing millions of dollars in contributions generated by lobbyists for presidential and congressional campaigns, even though public disclosure of those reports is required by law.

Thousands of lobbyist-spending reports filed to Congress Monday were supposed to include, for the first time, the amounts and sources of campaign checks for lawmakers that were "bundled" by those lobbyists. Similar reports for contributions to presidential candidates were due April 15.

The reports could shed new light on lobbyists' bids for influence in a pivotal election year. Many lobbyists bundle, or cobble together, big campaign contributions by asking friends and associates to give to a favored candidate. They typically deliver the funds in a way that identifies themselves as the instigator of the fund-raising effort.

The requirement for disclosing bundled campaign contributions was among the most significant parts of a package of measures passed by the Democrat-led Congress last year in the most sweeping ethics overhaul since Watergate.
Any lobbyist who bundled more than $15,000 for a congressional candidate last quarter would have been required to disclose the information. Presidential candidates would have to report bundled contributions above the same amount on a monthly basis.

But the disclosures have fallen prey to a standoff between Senate Democrats and President Bush over appointees to fill four vacancies on the Federal Election Commission. The commission was supposed to issue a regulation to enforce the bundling provision, but with only two of the commission's six seats occupied, it can't vote on a final rule.

"A big piece of the disclosure puzzle is missing without the enactment of these provisions," said Kenneth Gross, an ethics and lobbying attorney at the Washington office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, who testified before Congress on the provision. Mr. Gross said it was "unconscionable" that a fight over appointees would hinder the release of the information.

The situation underscores a larger problem: The FEC, charged with policing the most expensive political campaign season in history, is powerless to do so. "It's really a sad day in the history of our country when the FEC is not viable," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said last week…

…Meanwhile, "There's not only no cop, there's no regulatory body to enforce or to run things -- that's the FEC's job," said Sarah Dufendach, vice president for legislative affairs for government-watchdog group Common Cause, which has been pressing for a resolution of the impasse. "If there's an irregularity, who do the candidates appeal to? They can't decide anything."

The continued delays are a potential embarrassment to Democratic supporters of the ethics overhaul, who beat back opposition to the bundling-disclosure provision from Republicans and several in their own ranks. Months of backroom dealing preserved the provision, which originally would have forced disclosure of bundling campaigns totaling $5,000 or more.


Where is the outrage from the American people? There is none. Why? Because no one is paying attention to this. Don’t expect the corporate media to talk about this either. Why? Because media lobbyists are some of the biggest special interests gravy trains in Washington, and they are not going to do anything to kill their momentum. It’s like throwing a rock in a glass house… I am surprised that even "pro-free enterprise" WSJ would even bother to write an article on this.

Maybe the only good thing to come out of this – at the moment – is that special interest groups were required on Monday to disclose their non-election lobbyist expenditures. But then again…what's the point.

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4/22/2008

Jimmy Carter: The Consummate Diplomat?


Former US president Jimmy Carter got slammed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today following his controversial meeting with militant group Hamas yesterday. Following a meeting with Iraqi officials, Rice said that Carter’s meeting might give the wrong impression as the US pursues peace in the Middle East.

From MSNBC:

"I just don't want there to be any confusion," Rice said. "The United States is not going to deal with Hamas and we had certainly told President Carter that we did not think meeting with Hamas was going to help" further a political settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.


Apparently there is confusion over whether or not the State Department gave Carter clearance to go to Tel Aviv for the meeting. The US is one of Israel’s strongest supporters; however, many observers feel that its support is so blind that it is interfering with having transparent and fair policies in the region. Because of its perceived blind support for Israel, it is believed that most US politicians reject having any balanced conversations with the Palestianians and allies about their grievances. Because of this, in the United States one is considered to be anti-Semitic is they question US/Israeli policy.

Carter's book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, was quickly chastised following its publication for alleged anti-Israeli sentiment. While he stated in his book that Arabs and Israelis were entitled to equal rights, he also criticised Israel's current policies in the Palestinian territories constitute "a system of apartheid, with two peoples occupying the same land, but completely separated from each other, with Israelis totally dominant and suppressing violence by depriving Palestinians of their basic human rights."

Nonetheless, Jimmy Carter has always been one of those people who would go against the grain to do what he thinks is the right thing to do. When he was President during the late 1970s, Carter made many controversial decisions while in office that left both good and bad effects on the international stage. During his presidential tenure, he brokered a peace deal with Israel and Egypt in 1979, which still stands today. However, the Carter administration is best remembered for Iran hostage crisis, which many believed led to him not being reelected.

However, many would agree that Carter has been a better ex-president with his initiatives through the Carter Center to discuss human rights and public policy. He notably spoke out against President Bush on the onset of the Iraq War.

While it is questionable what Carter's legacy is going be, shouldn't he be praised for taking a stand, which is more than I can say for other people? Maybe the current presidential candidates should take notes.

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Chinese Attempts to Smuggle Swag into Zimbabwe, Angola


In case you needed another reason to despise the Chinese government and its cronies in ZANU-PF...

From BBC News:

China may recall Zimbabwe weapons

The ship carrying weapons to Zimbabwe may return to China after being prevented from unloading in South Africa, a Chinese official has said.

Zambia's president has called on other African countries not to let the ship enter their waters, in case the arms escalate post-election tensions.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said the weapons were ordered last year and were "perfectly normal".

But she said the ship's owners were considering bringing the ship back.

Ms Jiang said this was because it was proving impossible for Zimbabwe to receive the arms but this has not been confirmed by the Chinese shipping company.

The Chinese vessel was said to be bound for Angola but the US is reported to be pressuring port authorities there and in Namibia not to allow them to dock.

Zambia's President Levy Mwanawasa said: "I hope this will be the case with all the countries because we don't want a situation which will escalate the [tension] in Zimbabwe more than what it is."

The International Transport Workers Federation says it has asked its members across Africa not to help unload the An Yue Jiang, which is reportedly carrying three million rounds of ammunition, 1,500 rocket-propelled grenades and 2,500 mortar rounds.

The opposition says the weapons could be used to "wage war" on its supporters ahead of a possible run-off in the presidential vote.

This is strongly denied by the government, which has accused the opposition of exaggerating claims of recent political violence.

'Not authorised'

The ship, which had been anchored off the port of Durban for four days, was forced to move on Friday after a South African court refused to allow the weapons on board to be transported across the country to landlocked Zimbabwe.


Despite reports the ship was heading for Angola, an ally of Zimbabwe's government, the director of the Institute of Angolan Ports said the vessel had not asked for permission to dock in Angola.

"This ship has not sought request to enter Angolan territorial waters and it's not authorised to enter Angolan ports," Filomeno Mendonca told local radio.

But the agent handling the ship said its next port of call would be the Angolan capital, Luanda, AFP news agency reports.

A South African military spokesman said the ship was no longer in South African waters.

Zimbabwe's Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said it was their right to defend themselves and buy weapons from any legitimate source.

"I don't understand all this hullabaloo about a lone ship," he told reporters.

The country has yet to publish the results of its 29 March presidential election, which the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says was won outright by its candidate Morgan Tsvangirai.

'Torture camps'

Meanwhile, the southern African regional body, SADC, rejected Mr Tsvangirai's calls for South Africa's Thabo Mbeki to be replaced as the chief mediator for Zimbabwe.

"We have complete faith in President [Thabo] Mbeki," AFP quoted Mauritius Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam as saying.

Mr Tsvangirai wants President Mwanawasa to take over, with some opposition supporters saying Mr Mbeki was close to Mr Mugabe.


Please turn on JavaScript. Media requires JavaScript to play.

A Chinese arms ship heads for the African coast on its mission to deliver weapons to Zimbabwe

A recount in 23 out of 210 parliamentary seats, which had been due to end on Monday, has been delayed for an unknown period.

The MDC rejected the recount as illegal and insisted it beat President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party outright in presidential and parliamentary polls.

The leader of the governing African National Congress in South Africa - Jacob Zuma - has again criticised the delays in publishing the election results - further distancing himself from Mr Mbeki.

"It's not acceptable. It's not helping the Zimbabwean people who have gone out to ... elect the kind of party and presidential candidate they want, exercising their constitutional right," he told Reuters news agency.

He called on African leaders to take action to solve the political deadlock that has set in since last month's disputed election.

Violence

Post-election violence has displaced 3,000 people, injured 500 and left 10 dead, according to MDC secretary general Tendai Biti.

Human rights groups say they have found camps where people are being tortured for having voted "the wrong way".

But Mr Chinamasa denied that anyone had died in political violence.

Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said that of the 10 people reported dead, only four names had been supplied and "of these three no basis whatsoever while the fourth is still under investigation and will be concluded soon", he was reported as saying by the state-owned Herald newspaper.

Zimbabwe's church leaders are also calling for intervention to prevent the violence reaching genocidal proportions.

"If nothing is done to help the people of Zimbabwe from their predicament, we shall soon be witnessing genocide similar to that experienced in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and other hot spots in Africa and elsewhere," leaders of the main denominations said in a joint statement.

"We appeal to the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union and the United Nations to work towards arresting the deteriorating political and security situation in Zimbabwe," a statement said.


BTW, lets not forget that the US government used to provide weapons and "freedom fighters" (CIA) to help out Cold War "friends" on the continent back in the day.

This only begs the question: Is America jealous that China is becoming the new imperialist pimps in the world?

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4/20/2008

The Turban Question


On September 11, 2001 the world was shocked and dismayed by the sight of two airplanes crashing into the Twin Towers. Americans were traumatized at the senseless killing of over 3,000 innocent lives in New York, Washington D.C and Pennsylvania.

However, four days later another senseless killing took place at the other side of the country. Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot five times by a gunman and died instantly outside his gas station in Mesa, Arizona. Apparently, he had been confused with a person of Middle Eastern ethnicity because of the clothes he wore, his turban, and his beard. Within 25 minutes of his death, the Phoenix police reported four further attacks on people who either were Middle Easterners or who dressed with clothes thought to be worn by Middle Easterners.

Frank Roque, Sodhi’s murderer, drove to another gas station 10 miles away, where he shot at a Lebanese-American clerk from his truck, but missed. Roque then drove to his former residence which had been purchased by a local Afghan family and fired multiple rounds at the outside of the house.

After fleeing from the final shooting, Roque was reported to have gone to a local bar and boasted that "They're investigating the murder of a turban-head down the street." Roque would later be convicted an sentenced to death, but his sentence was reduced to life without parole due to his defense claiming insanity.

Sodhi’s murder made initial headlines because his death was the first post-9/11 hate crime. However, most people don’t know that there have been over 700 post-9/11 related crimes that have taken place since Sodhi's murder, including the death of his brother Sukhpal, who was murdered under mysterious circumstances while driving a cab in San Francisco in 2002.

Another fact is that many of the victims have been members of the Sikh religion, a faith originating from India 500 years ago. Due to the turbans Sikhs wear and the relative scarcity of Sikhs in the United States, there have been incidents of mistaking Sikhs for Middle Eastern men and/or Muslims. This has negatively affected Sikhs living in the West not only with respect to the 9/11 terrorist attacks as well as with the war in Iraq. Of course, even if a Middle Eastern man and/or Muslim were the only ones wearing turbans, it still doesn’t mean it’s okay to harm them because of this either.

A fabulous new film I saw over the weekend called A Dream In Doubt, not only documents the events around Singh’s death, but also how the Sikh community in the U.S. has handled intensified bigotry since the 9/11 attacks.

Following the film, there was a panel discussion led by Navjeet Singh, North East Representative of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Omar Baddar, executive director of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee. They discussed how the Sikh and Muslim community are trying to shatter stereotypes about their faiths.

I was concerned mostly about how these groups were working with the media on religious sensitivities as it covered the U.S. elections. This was in particular regard to how some media outlets are covering Democratic Candidate Barack Obama's alleged Muslim past. Obama’s Kenyan father was Muslim and as a child the Senator lived in Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population. When a photo happened to “appear” a couple of months ago of Obama in a traditional men’s garb while on an official trip to Somalia in 2006, it was clear the Clinton campaign and other opponents wanted to stir up some Americans’ deep-seated anti-Muslim sentiment and bring back the fears of 9/11. Conservative talk radio in particular used the photo to pander to the lower common denominator by letting hosts and their callers make the most acidic statements about anyone or anything that might even be indirectly related to the Islamic faith.

Baddar said during the panel that the Muslim community has stayed mum on speaking out about this blatant bigotry because many of them actually like Obama and would like to see him become president, but they feel that if they do there would be a backlash and Obama would be further associated with the faith.

But my question is to what extent is it okay to let this hate mongering go on at the expense of potentially tarnishing the presidential hopes of a candidate or even your own pride. If Obama is, indeed, selected to become the Democratic nominee, the Republicans will already have enough anti-Muslim bombs ready to throw at him until Election Day. The fact of the matter, religious tolerance, whether its Sikhism, Islam or any other faith, needs to be taken more seriously.

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4/18/2008

The Hero Within


Sometimes it takes the most egregiously painful events in our lives to trigger us to rise to the occasion to get things done.

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster in US history, tested Americans’ willpower to deal with a terrible situation and become heroes.

Alice Craft Kerney is one of those heroes.

After being evacuated with her family to New Mexico in the immediate aftermath of the storm, Kerney came back to New Orleans to start life all over.

In the process of rebuilding the city, it became very apparent that many resources that existed before the storm no longer existed, most notably healthcare. Before the storm, Charity Hospital was the only healthcare space in the city that provided medical and mental health services for low-income residents. Louisiana State University, which operated the hospital, did not reopen it after the levees failed and the hospital’s basement flooded. Due to the closure, Kerney, who worked for Charity for 20 years, was one of many to lose their jobs.

With the hospital gone, the health needs of Kerney’s neighbors in the Lower 9th Ward were going unaddressed, especially the mental health needs of Katrina survivors suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

A friend came up with the novel idea of Kerney starting up a clinic in the community to address these needs. At first she was hesitant to do it because she had no administrative experience, but after realizing that no one else was going to deal with the growing health crisis in the community, she changed her mind.

So, her friend, who owned a mansion in the neighborhood, allowed Kerney to turn it into a community health center. After major refurbishing and construction, the Lower 9th Ward Health Clinic opened its doors to the community in February 2007.

“We do our part to provide quality, culturally sensitive healthcare to our patients,” Kerney said at a recent panel discussion in Boston. “Everyone who comes through the clinic treats each other with respect.”

While the clinic doesn’t have all the modern tools and conveniences that would be found in a typical American hospital, it does provide a space for those who otherwise wouldn’t have anywhere else to go. Many of the clinic's small staff are people entired paid with private funds and there is a larger number of volunteers from around the country. Kerney said that unlike big hospitals that only treat patients when they get sick, her clinic attempts to deal with patients’ overall wellness even when they have no ailment. Since the clinic opened Kerney says that mental and dental healthcare are the most chronic problems.

Many patients also come into the clinic that are disgruntled about the rebuilding process, such as price gouging at nearby retailers and contractors stealing money – all issues the mainstream media hasn’t discussed too much since the storm occurred.
While the media and the federal and local governments have all but forgotten about the victims of Katrina, Kerney wants others to keep telling the story of her community.

“You can tell people that there is still a lot of work to do,” she continued. “It is a tale of two cities in New Orleans – one for the haves and the other for the have-nots. So we ask that you keep the discussion going."

Read more about the clinic's work here.

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4/17/2008

America is a Failed State


I get emails from people all the time asking why I tag my posts about this U.S.elections as “American’s Dereliction ’08” or America’s Abandonment/Failure. If you saw last night’s debate, you will now know why.

My thoughts on last night’s Democratic debate between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama:

I can honestly admit that Obama didn’t have a good night at the debate. Furthermore, I think he should have been better prepared to answer the questions about Rev Wright and the “bitter” comments.

With that said, I also don’t think so much time should have been spent on these “semantics games” by over examining every little thing that either the candidates or affliates have said.

There is a mortgage foreclosure crisis, crude oil is now over $110 a barrel, people are rioting worldwide over soaring food prices, America’s on the verge of a recession with unemployment especially among people of color at an all time high, people are worried about paying for health care, college tuitions, retirement…

…and all the candidates and the moderators could talk about was who isn’t wearing an American flag lapel pin!

Hell, you would have thought that someone would have wanted to talk about the high murder rate in the city (Philadelphia) were the debate was being held. (That reminds me that no candidate has yet to present an urban policy that would make sense.)

And people wonder why no one cares about politics anymore. Politics don’t care about people!

FYI, if you were as disappointed with the debate as I was, please let ABC know by sending them an email or giving them a call:

The following were obtained from the Huffington Post.

Natalie.J.Raabe@abc.com, aberke@constitutioncenter.org, feedback@abcnews.go.com, newsradio@abc.com, cristi.d.landes@abc.com, wayne.fisk@abc.com, jeffrey.t.fitzgerald@abc.com, heidi.b.oringer@abc.com, jonathan.m.newman@abc.com, joyce.a.alcantara@abc.com, james.f.kane@abc.com, andrew.l.kalb@abc.com, robert.garcia@abc.com, peter.salinger@abc.com, steve.jones@abc.com

OR CALL ABC NOW: dial 212-456-7777 or 818-460-7477 press 2 then 6 then 639

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Wal-Mart raises funds, questions in black Hub


By Talia Whyte
Originally Published in The Bay State Banner


Retail giant Wal-Mart is the world’s largest private employer, with estimated net revenues of $378.8 billion for 2008. It is also one of the world’s most generous companies. Last year, its philanthropic arm, the Wal-Mart Foundation, donated $296 million to charities around the world — including many organizations geared towards African Americans.

Over the past few months, the foundation has turned its charitable gaze toward the Boston area. In February, the Museum of African American History received $250,000 from the Wal-Mart Foundation to help restore the African Meeting House. While the donation was made during Black History Month, a press release accompanying its announcement noted that “Wal-Mart has a long tradition of supporting diverse communities throughout the year.”

A few weeks later, the foundation made another donation, this one to the Grove Hall Youth Outreach Connection (GHYOC), a program of the faith-based Boston Ten Point Coalition that helps local at-risk youth through one-on-one mentoring, exploratory trips, peer leadership counsels, court advocacy and social activities held at the Roxbury YMCA. According to the coalition, the donation will be used specifically to purchase bicycles for GHYOC youth workers, allowing them to be more accessible and visible to those in community who need their help.

“I think this is a wonderful donation,” said GHYOC Director Emmanuel Tikili, who is also director of programs for the Boston Urban Youth Foundation. “We are trying to figure out how to better serve the youth in our community, and the donation put us in a better position to deal with youth violence.”

But for all the good Wal-Mart’s money appears to be doing in Boston, and all the good will it seems to engender, there are those in the black community who feel that the corporation is being deceitful, arguing that the company’s claims of charity ring hollow as it treats its own employees poorly.

Wal-Mart has for years faced criticism about its business practices. Some argue that the scores of massive retail outlet stores it has built around the country put “Mom and Pop” stores out of business.

Others decry company practices that they claim provide irresponsibly low wages and poor benefits to Wal-Mart’s U.S. employees, many of whom are low-income people and people of color, at the same time as it exploits sweatshop workers for their cheap labor in the developing world. It has been previously reported that some American Wal-Mart employees receive such low pay that they qualify for government assistance programs like food stamps.

When contacted by the Banner for this article, Wal-Mart spokesperson Christi Gallagher said that she was “not aware of any criticisms.” She said that Wal-Mart has listened to the opinions of its employees, and has made changes to its health care plan options to better serve their needs.

“Associates now have more than 50 ways of customizing their health care coverage options, which will allow them to select among various deductibles, health care credits, and premiums, depending on their needs,” Gallagher said in a recent e-mail. “The plans also give them access to more than 2,000 generic prescriptions for $4, and have no lifetime maximums. Our goal is to be their employer of choice, offering competitive wages and benefit packages for all associates.”

Nonetheless, black community leaders have organized against the corporate giant in recent years, specifically in opposition to Wal-Mart’s attempts to build stores in Chicago and Los Angeles and what they claim is a continuing adversarial stance toward workers’ rights.

Black leadership and Wal-Mart briefly became strange bedfellows in 2006, when Civil rights leader and former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young was roundly criticized for agreeing to become chairman of Working Families for Wal-Mart, a group The New York Times said was “created and financed by the company to trumpet its accomplishments” and “improve [the corporation’s] public image.”

Young abruptly resigned that position, after just six months on the job, following the publication of an interview in the weekly Los Angeles Sentinel newspaper in which he offered a controversial response to a question about whether it was good that Wal-Mart may drive small businesses out of the market.

“Well, I think they should,” Young told the Sentinel. “Those are the people who have been overcharging us, selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they’ve ripped our communities off enough. First it was the Jews, then it was the Koreans and now it’s the Arabs. Very few black people own these stores.”

In Boston, community leaders are also speaking out about Wal-Mart’s practices.

“Wal-Mart provides slave wage jobs,” said City Councilor Chuck Turner. “They exploit people. Wal-Mart comes into communities and takes away livelihoods, and turns around and gives back the money in donations.”

Tufts University professor and urban policy analyst James Jennings wonders if the Wal-Mart donations are a result of vacuum that is not being filled through other vehicles.

“This development in large donations by corporations like Wal-Mart could be a result of the government pulling back funds to the black community,” Jennings said. “The smaller the nonprofit is, the more attractive Wal-Mart’s money looks. If Wal-Mart is doing this as a purely altruistic effort, that’s fine. But if there is something else going on, that’s another issue. If Wal-Mart really cared about the community, it would provide better health care and wages to its employees.”

The discussion over Wal-Mart’s place in the black community does not appear to be one that will end any time soon. While Tikili, of the Grove Hall Youth Outreach Connection, said he is very aware of the controversy, he also said he hopes that the Wal-Mart Foundation’s donation to the GHYOC will provide an opportunity for community stakeholders to have a discussion with Wal-Mart over many of these issues.

“We need to look at the quality of life in our community,” he said. “We need to figure out what is in the best interest of the black community.”

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4/16/2008

Black Women, Can We Talk?


What is the difference between “desperation” and “reality?” This is a question I have been pondering since I went to a panel discussion last weekend on the HIV/AIDS epidemic among African Americans.

On this panel was controversial author JL King, or better known to the world as “the down low guy.” I guess he makes his living nowadays going around the country stressing the importance of being honest about one’s sexual behavior. Hey, looking at the most recent HIV rates among black women, somebody has to do this. Anyway, King is best known for his ground-breaking book, On the Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of 'Straight' Black Men Who Sleep with Men, which chronicles his undercover bisexual ways while he was still married to his wife.

The soaring HIV rate among black women who were infected by black men living on the “down low” is terrifying proof of how this problem has impacted the African-American community. While King was quick to point out that all gay and bisexual black men should not be vilified for the HIV epidemic and that BOTH partners are responsible for taking measures for having safe sex, he also said that many black women are just so “desperate” to get AND keep a black man, that sometimes they are willing to overlook obvious signs that their man is having ‘side deals’ at the risk of not only their health, but also their dignity. Though he admits that he was wrong to be carrying out a secret life and putting his wife at risk of an STD, why was his wife not seeing the obvious signs, or did she?

Today, it is said that there are not many romantic opportunities for African American women due to many factors. After eliminating black men who are openly gay, date interracially, broke or incarcerated, there are not many options for black women, and these women will take desperate measure to snatch up ANY available man because of pressure from family and friends to settle down.

I have to admit that I haven’t dated in a while…okay, a long while. Being a journalist, I am busy person with limited free time, but not so limited that I don’t have a social life. I am relatively okay looking, financially stable and very out-going, but not able to find the right man.

I like to think to myself sometimes “I am just waiting for Idris Elba to come to his senses and finally get around to proposing to me.” But sometimes you can only live in a fantasy world for so long.

But, believe me, I would not date a man who I suspected even slightly might be batting for the other team. I am not that “desperate.” Other women might be “desperate,” but this might be the “reality” of the dating world for most black women today.

It is a “reality” that a great deal of our men are in prison, gay, interracially inclined or otherwise not available to be a partner. While it is okay to have an ideal in mind when seeking out a mate, should we also consider opening up to other dating options?

1. Interracial dating
There is a theory that black women feel obligated to “racial solidarity,” due to America’s racial history. However, some say that if black men are going to dating interracially, why not black women.

2. Lesbianism
You have to be really “open-minded” to consider having a female partner, but like Samantha from Sex and the City once said “I’m a try-sexual – I will try anything at least once.”

3. “Dating Down”
The growing number of college-educated, professional black women has created an interesting construct of class within the black community. Many of these black women refuse to date a man who is not also college-educated and has a six-figure job.

Personally, lesbianism is out because I am not inclined that way at this time, although I am open-minded and very supportive of my LGBT friends and fans. I have done interracial dating and, like any other dating partner, there are pluses and minuses to this, but I personally prefer black men. Dating down is the most interesting to me. I am a college-educated professional and have no problems with dating someone who is less educated and has a lower paying job. All and all, at the end of the day I want to be with someone who is good to me.

I am really just saying all this to start a conversation on this timely subject.

Are black women desperate or realistic about the romance department?

Discuss

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4/15/2008

E-Petition Saves Rainforest in French Guiana


I am starting a new feature on Global Wire in conjuction with DigiActive called Tech Watch.

I was inspired by 08NTC to look more into how technology is changing the way the world connects, with specific attention to how traditionally marginalized populations are using it for advancement and social justice. Check it out below:

Description: The French government was scheduled to start gold mining in a nature reserve in French Guiana, but an email campaign started by a concerned scientist and his student made all the difference in saving the ecosystem in this South American protectorate. The duo started the campaign with organization Ecological Internet weeks before the French Government gave the final contract to Canadian gold corporation Cambior.

Scientist Pita Verweij and her student Liesbeth Fontein researched consequences of gold mining, like deforestation and water pollution and took action.

Digital Activism tools: website, e-petition campaign

How These Tools Are Being Used: An action alert was post on Ecological Internet’s website in September 2006, describing the detrimental effects of industrial mining on the area’s environment and indigenous people. Below the action alert is space for activists to co-sign their names to a pre-generated protest letter that would automatically be emailed to then French President Jacques Chirac.

Outcome: According to Verweij, ten thousands of protest mails were sent to the French government. The project stalled in October 2006 due to the volume of emails. The government finally decided not to grant the contract and cancelled the project in February 2008.

“The world needs to stop looking for easy answers to failing global ecosystems; and commence radical, even revolutionary, means to protect our atmosphere, land, water and oceans, said Ecological Internet president Glen Barry in a statement.“The Earth and humanity’s very survival — being — depends upon protecting and restoring intact ecosystems, ending burning of fossil fuels, reducing human population and consumption, and other sufficient actions to avert global ecological collapse.”

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4/10/2008

A Lesson in Democracy and Leadership


Be nice to America…
Or we will have to bring democracy to your country!

-on a bumper sticker I saw the other day


As the election wrangling continues in Zimbabwe, many are thinking out loud about what Robert Mugabe will do when (and if) he finally steps down from the presidency.

The folks at Foreign Policy in Focus have already thought about the road most journeyed by most former African dictators:

In 2002, Boston University established the lyrical-sounding Presidents in Residence program for former African leaders. The idea was to lure the dictatorially inclined away from their countries so that a new generation of democratic leaders could take their place. As a spokesperson for the program put it more tactfully, "The vision is that having a very respectable position, which honors the individual and his achievements, will be seen as an enticement to those in power, or perhaps newly out of power but contemplating a return, that there is an appropriate civil course for them to pursue." Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia was the first recipient of the fellowship.

What better way out of the current fracas in Zimbabwe than to bring Robert Mugabe to Boston for a little academic R and R. Mugabe was part of the great generation of African leaders who guided their countries to independence. But now he has become an obstacle. At 84, he presides over a country that has fallen into economic ruin. As the world awaits the outcome of the recent elections - the opposition claims to have won a parliamentary majority while the ruling party demands a recount and a presidential runoff - it would be the perfect time for the West to reach out to Mugabe. After all, as Heidi Holland has argued in The New York Times, isolation has certainly not worked.


But, I also loved their suggestion that this so-called “academic R & R” shouldn’t just be for African leaders. There should also be a reverse invitation for “Northern politicians of dubious democratic credentials for a year of exposure to what colonialism and neo-liberalism have wrought.”

And George W. Bush should be on the top of the list.

As Patrick Quirk points out in a recent article, 'Bush and the United States need some serious brushing up on the democracy front. For all its talk of promoting democracy abroad, and particularly in Zimbabwe, the Bush administration has done a poor job of it at home: permitting only selective access to outside election observers, cutting funds for civic education, and keeping the United States at the bottom of the list of democracies in terms of voter turnout. "U.S. citizens deserve the same attention to democratic process as the U.S. government claims to offer the world's dispossessed," Quirk concludes.'

New York Times columnist Nick Kristoff said today in his article that he should use the occasion of this week being the 14th anniversary of the Rwanda Genocide to take a stand on the Darfur question as a way to save his legacy. While Kristoff made really good suggestion, his third point was the most feasible:

3. Right before or after this summer’s G-8 summit, President Bush should convene an international conference on Sudan, inviting among others Mr. Sarkozy, Gordon Brown of Britain, Hu Jintao of China, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Sudanese leaders themselves. The conference should be convened in Kigali, Rwanda, so that participants can reflect on the historical resonance of genocide.

One aim would be to pressure China to suspend arms transfers to Sudan until it seriously pursues peace in Darfur (we’ll get further by treating China as important rather than as evil). Such an arms suspension would be the single best way to induce Sudan to make concessions needed to achieve peace. The conference would also focus on supporting the U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur with helicopters, training and equipment.


I suggest the President go even further than this, but taking a real stand on the Beijing Olympics. And, no, I don't mean being a no-show at the opening ceremonies, even though it wouldn't be the worst idea. What President Bush should really do is put pressure on business that are sponsoring this year's Olympics.

Hurt China where she will really feel it, and shame big business for supporting a regime that is financing human rights abuses in Tibet, Burma and Sudan.

In today's LA Times, there is a report that Olympic sponsors are starting to feel the heat from the recent pro-Tibet protests in San Francisco, London and Paris.

Mr Bush, if you want to have a better legacy and not end up like Mugabe, maybe this is the footprint you need to leave behind.

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‘Wire’ creator talks urban decline in Hub


By Talia Whyte
Originally published in the Bay State Banner

Few television shows impact the way viewers think about their place in society; the critically acclaimed HBO drama “The Wire,” which ended its five-season run last month, was one.

Although the series never found the high ratings enjoyed by some of the cable network’s other flagship programming, the multifaceted drama developed a devoted audience that included many critics, who frequently called it “the best show on television no one is watching.”

“The Wire” gained its notoriety for its realistic portrayals of the major players in the war on drugs. While the show took place in Baltimore, many of its recurring themes — substance abuse, poverty, crime, unemployment and the declining state of education in the black community — sounded a familiar note to residents of inner cities around the country.

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, community leaders, activists and academics joined “Wire” creator David Simon at Harvard University last Friday for a panel discussion about how much — or how little — social and economic injustices among African Americans have changed since King’s death.

Before a packed house at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, Simon said that the inspiration for the show came from his years working as a crime reporter at The Baltimore Sun, a position that gave him a first-hand look at these complex problems.

“It was hard to sell this show to HBO at first because the media doesn’t talk about these issues,” he said. “Eventually, HBO signed us on and we went about spending each season slicing off a different part of the city. We got the ball rolling, and here we are today.”

During its five-year run, the show explored the roles that the drug dealers, police authorities, politicians, educators and the media play in the seemingly endless drug cycle.

“The show treated the characters as human beings,” said Columbia University Professor Sudhir Venkatesh, and author of the new book, “Gang Leader for a Day.” “There is decency in these characters, and in a way, there is inspiration.”

Venkatesh compared the show’s true-to-life depictions to the experiences he wrote about in his book, drawn from seven years spent tagging along with gang leaders in Chicago. One comparison he said he noticed was how black gang leaders who wanted the respect of the corporate world wore business suits. This phenomenon was exemplified on “The Wire” in the character of Stringer Bell, played by actor Idris Elba, who tried unsuccessfully to reform the “drug game” by getting involved in Baltimore’s development projects.

Another member of the panel, Harlem Children’s Zone President and CEO Geoffrey Canada, agreed with Venkatesh’s assessment that a dysfunctional educational system and a dearth of job opportunities in American inner cities have led black youth to a point where they can’t see a better life for themselves beyond the drug world.

In Boston, the statistics are grim. Nearly 50 percent of high school students in the Boston Public Schools system don’t graduate in four years, and black and Latino males drop out of school at higher rates than any other ethnic or demographic group. Unemployment rates among black men in Boston are comparable to national rates, as 40 percent of black men in Boston are without jobs — in fact, the joblessness rate is higher now than it was at the time of Dr. King’s death.

The sense of desperation permeating “The Wire” was palpable for many viewers, including Canada.

“The show was too real,” Canada said. “I felt like the kids had no chance. A lot of people watched this show to see a happy ending, but it didn’t happen.”

Boston Police Deputy Superintendent Nora Baston agreed that sometimes life on the streets doesn’t have a happy ending. She said that the Boston Police Department is working with community leaders to address problems stemming from drugs and violence in Boston streets, with particular attention to the issue of reform to the state’s Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) laws.

“The Boston Police realizes that CORI is a problem when it comes to people who want to change their lives,” she said. “Everyone needs a job. We are trying to work with community groups on this issue.”

However, Simon has serious doubts that socioeconomic problems in the inner city are ever going to change — particularly if political and business leaders fail to realize how they are contributing to the problem, he said, citing the number of American jobs going overseas due to free trade agreements and the government’s recent bailout of Wall Street giant Bear Stearns.

With opportunities dwindling and the number of black men in prison growing, Simon added, the system is now designed to hold African Americans back.

“The drug war has accomplished nothing, but no one says anything about it,” he said. “The drug war destroyed quality police work. Many of the drug laws restrict police from doing their jobs right. If we wanted to figure out a way to drive kids into drugs, put less money into education. People who control the budgets don’t care about these problems. This is not a democracy, it’s an oligarchy.”

As for the lasting impact of “The Wire,” Simon said he believes there probably will not be another show like it because network executives want to “appease and entertain” audiences, rather than bog them down with the kinds of serious topics “The Wire” covered. However, he is happy with what he and his colleagues accomplished, and hopes a conversation will continue on the subjects brought up in the show.

“It’s a show about something,” he said. “We may have gotten some things wrong, but I think we were doing something right.”

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4/09/2008

Crisis in the Corn Fields


Corn is just one of many crops that is causing a price meltdown on the world stage recently. But unlike wheat and rice, corn has been a source of political and social divisiveness for years in the international arena. From public health to foreign policy, corn is really just bad for everyone.

Why?

1. Ethanol
Corn prices have risen sharply -- nearly doubling just in the last few month -- almost entirely because refineries are using corn to produce ethanol, a gasoline additive that became popular among environmentalists who want to seek a more earth-friendly alternative and a way to get out of Middle East oil politics. But, now it seem like this is backfiring according to New York Times columnist Paul Krugman:


The subsidized conversion of crops into fuel was supposed to promote energy independence and help limit global warming. But this promise was, as Time magazine bluntly put it, a “scam.”

This is especially true of corn ethanol: even on optimistic estimates, producing a gallon of ethanol from corn uses most of the energy the gallon contains. But it turns out that even seemingly “good” biofuel policies, like Brazil’s use of ethanol from sugar cane, accelerate the pace of climate change by promoting deforestation.

And meanwhile, land used to grow biofuel feedstock is land not available to grow food, so subsidies to biofuels are a major factor in the food crisis. You might put it this way: people are starving in Africa so that American politicians can court votes in farm states.


2. Farm Subsidies

The US government gives the corn industry billions of dollars in subsidies every year, creating tons of excess produce. Because of the excess US corn is shipped, redistributed (or dumped) in places like Mexico, and it is sold below market value. As a result Mexican farm workers are put out of jobs and look for greener pasteurs – in the United States. A considerable number of undocumented immigrants in the US are from south of the border are former farm workers.

3. Livestock

Corn is used to feed our livestock, particularly cows, hogs and chickens, because it is cheaper and quicker than the feed animals usually eat like grass. When you watch the film King Corn, you see the detrimental effects of this practice:

From King Corn’s website:

In Colorado, rancher Sue Jarrett says her cattle should be eating grass. But with a surplus of corn, it costs less to raise cattle in confinement than to let them roam free: “The mass production of corn drives the mass production of protein in confinement.” Animal nutritionists confirm that corn makes cows sick and beef fatty, but it also lets consumers eat a $1 hamburger. Feedlot owner Bob Bledsoe defends America’s cheap food, but as Ian and Curt see in Colorado, the world behind it can be stomach turning. At one feedlot, 100,000 cows stand shoulder-to-shoulder, doing their part to transform Iowa corn into millions of pounds of fat-streaked beef.


4. Food

Corn can be found in almost everything Americans eat, from hamburgers to soda. And it is having a bad effect on the nation’s diet. The following statistics are from United States Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics.

Rank of refined sugar, or sucrose, among most-used sweeteners in the U.S. in 1966: 1
Rank in 2007: 2
Rank of high-fructose corn syrup in 2007: 1

Estimated percentage of high-fructose corn syrup consumed from beverages: 66
Rank of soft drinks among top beverages consumed by Americans: 1

Minimum percentage of a soda that is made up of high-fructose corn syrup: 7
Maximum percentage: 14
Percentage by which high-fructose corn syrup is cheaper than sugar : 60

Average, in pounds, of high-fructose corn syrup consumed by an American in 1970: 0.6
Average, in pounds, consumed in 2000: 73.5

Size, in ounces, of McDonald’s Supersize soda, discontinued in 2004: 42
Size, in ouces, of McDonald’s new extra-large soda, Hugo, introduced in 2007: 42

Percentage of Americans categorized as overweight or obese in 1971 : 47.7
Percentage in 2004: 66
Percentage of American children categorized as overweight or obese in 1971: 4
Percentage in 2004: 17.5

Most importantly, let’s not forget that more Americans affected by the above percentages are generally low income folks and people of color.

5. American Farmers

When I talk about who is receiving the billions of dollars in farm subsidies, I am not talking about the small farmers in Iowa, even though most corn is grown in Iowa. Most subsidies go to “corporate farms.”

So...

With this latest food crisis, don’t hold you breath to see if any of the presidential candidates to say anything about it.

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4/08/2008

Colombia Trade Smack Down in Congress


For a moment there, I was beginning to like that our lame duck President was being trumped in the news due to the wrangling between the politicians who want to take over his job in January.

But, no, it doesn’t seem like President Bush is going out on a whimper.

From The Wall Street Journal

President Bush on Monday formally asked Congress to approve the [Colombia trade] pact, giving the Democratic-controlled Congress 90 legislative days to approve or reject it. The move puts the trade issue squarely in front of the Democrats at a time when trade has been greeted skeptically by voters. Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have said they oppose the pact.


So, let’s review the presidential candidates’ score cards on this controversial trade initiative with Colombia. John McCain is obviously in the tank with the Republicans and big business. On the other side of the aisle, recently departed Clintonista Mark Penn resigned his position in the Hillary camp due to a big conflict of interest – advising Senator Clinton on how to reject the trade pact while his public relations firm is helping the Colombian government support the pact. Sen. Clinton has tried to spend the last few months distancing herself from NAFTA, the world’s largest free trade agreement her husband signed when he was in office. Barack Obama, like Clinton, says that he also opposes the pact. Although his position is weak on the topic because he, too, had an advisor resign from his campaign recently for doing double talk on NAFTA with Canada. Ralph Nader (yes, he is still running for president) is the only candidate with a staunch anti-free trade position, but since he has no chance of winning the election, why bother talking about him.

One can argue that Bush’s move to fast-track this bill is a realization that there is nothing good to say about his legacy, and he wants to say he did something significant(even if it’s not good) during his tenure. But I think he is really doing this to influence the November election. Bush is trying to place the Democrats between a rock and a hard place. If the Democrats vote for the pact, they will in effect be standing against their base – trade unionists and human rights activists. On the other hand, if they don’t vote for it they will lose momentum with the surge of businesses taking a sudden liking to the Democrats, and the White House will make them look like sour heads for letting the pact die.

Let’s get it on!

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4/07/2008

Why aren’t black folks protesting the Beijing Olympics?


"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
- Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963


Watching the pro-Tibet protesters clashing with the police during the torch relays through London and Paris the last couple of days made me think about how we as human beings have become disconnected from real injustices going on around the world.

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Dr King’s assasination, I went to a panel discussion at a local college on how much – or little – racial equality has progressed in America over the weekend. After the panel discussion, I met up with an African American friend I haven’t seen in a while for drinks and catching up on each other’s lives.

The discussion about protesting the Beijing Olympics over Tibet, Darfur and other “abuse ventures” China takes part in came up.

“I don’t think the Olympics is an appropriate place to protest politics,” she said. “I watch the Olympics to escape all the bad things going on in the world and to support good athleticism and feel like a part of the international community.”

I stopped her there. I can’t think of a better place than the Olympics to demonstrate on behalf of a cause. With the evolution of the internet and 24-hour cable news networks, now more than ever anyone or anything can become an instant cause celebre.

Furthermore, doesn’t she know that Olympics has always been a staging ground for political activism?

This year also happens to be the 40th anniversary of sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos making black power fists when they received their medals in response to racial injustice in America at the Mexico Olympics. This begs the question: Why are African American athletes not questioning the racial injustice of China financially supporting Sudan, a country that is persecuting thousands of blacks in Darfur?

Gone are the days of a Muhammed Ali-like figure standing up for what is right.

Debra Dickerson and Orin Starn made great points recently about the deafening silence from today’s black athletes on politics.

From Orin Starn

This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the famous black power protest at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

Two American sprinters, John Carlos and Tommie Smith, raised black-gloved fists on the medal stand during the Star Spangled Banner. They wanted to spotlight poverty and racism just months after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. and riots in Newark and Detroit.

Can we expect any such protests at the Beijing Olympics this summer?

No. The era of the activist athlete is over. We’ve entered the age of the corporate sports champion, the superstar as a global brand who shies from politics to keep full market share.

Consider the contrast between 1968 and a more recent medal ceremony controversy. At the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, Reebok was the official U.S. Olympic team sponsor, but Michael Jordan and other American basketball stars had big Nike endorsement deals. The players decided to drape American flags over the offending Reebok logo on their team sweats during the gold medal ceremony. Here the dispute no longer concerned the great social questions of the day. It was about the arithmetic of marketing and the endorsement dollar.


A couple of weeks ago there was outrage in the blogosphere about the “controversial” Vogue magazine cover with basketball star LeBron James and model Giselle Bunchen. What we really should be protesting about is the fact that James refuses to sign a letter about the killings in Darfur drafted by his Cleveland Cavaliers teammates.

What would Dr King say about this today?

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4/02/2008

Outrage continues in the Gulf Region


There are four news stories just in the last week I wanted to bring to your attention that proves that even after two and a half years, this country continues to fail the victims of Hurricane Katrina:

Not only have some Katrina victims not received rebuilding funds from the federal government, but now they are being taxed on money they haven't even received yet. Find out how in this article. Follow the conversation on Field Negro's blog.

In yesterday's New York Times an article that show that Ray Nagin and company has failed New Orleans by making promises they can't keep.

Louisiana-based construction company EPCO will give $100,000 to a "lucky child" who writes the best essay about why their family deserves to have their home rebuilt. Is it just me, or I thought everyone deserved to have their home rebuilt???

New Orleans City Councilor Stacey Head had this to say about people who need to stay in FEMA trailers beyond the May 30 deadline in a recent Times-Picayune article:

“At what point are we going to say that in New Orleans it’s not OK to live in a trailer as a lifestyle choice?” she asked. “There are many, many trailers in the non-flooded areas (where) people just would rather live there than deal with a house that they didn’t put any money into for a long time before that.”


No, she doesn't blame FEMA, Ray Nagin or even herself; she chooses to people who didn't choose to be in this situation.

Jesus, take the wheel!

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Eyes on Zimbabwe


While the wrangling between Zanu-PF and the opposition groups continues over who won the elections in Zimbabwe last weekend, some enterprising folks over at the anti-Mugabe website, Sokwanele, take the elections to a whole new level.

The above map charts how free and fair the election really was, mapping problems that may have had an effect on how much democracy there really is in the country. Some of the problems mapped include state propaganda, homicides, gerrymandering, vote buying and looting. The map also shows how articles listed in the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections have been breached by the Zimbabwean government.

To better understand what is being breached and how to read it, click on the above map.

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4/01/2008

Radical Music Videos: Mutabaruka

In honor of National Poetry Month, lets give it up to the revolutionary Jamaican dub poet and DJ Mutabaruka. He has been doing poetry on social injustice and Pan Africanism for over 20 years. A really cool guy who you can check out at Asylum in Kingston, Jamaica once in a while spinning African party grooves. Check him out doing 'Dis Poem' on Def Poetry Jam below.

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A Letter From Zimbabwe

The Associated Press is reporting right now that Robert Mugabe is negotiating with the opposition about the possibility of leaving office. More on this as infomation comes in.

In the meantime, I received this email this morning from my friend "John M." (real name witheld) a former journalist and social critic living in Harare.

Dear Sister Talia

I read your blog all the time, and I wanted to thank you on behalf of Zimbabweans who want to give praised to the worldwide African Diaspora for their warm support during this time of need in our country. It is a glorious feeling here in Harare that a new day is dawning. The MDC opposition has declared an early victory, but we are still wary that the president will try to rig the elections. We wish Mugabe would just move on and let Zimbabwe go back to a peaceful existence. I have been without a job for over a year, and myself and my three children are dependent on my wife’s meager teacher’s salary. Because of the inflation, it is hard to buy food and petrol. So, it is a blessing indeed if a new day is dawning.

Give thanks and praise to the Creator,

"John M."

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