29 October, 2010

Henry Grimes & Roscoe Mitchell - more photos



Here are some more shots from the duets in Berkeley on the 15th. Craig M. at Memory Select: Avant-jazz radio has a nice write-up. Mitchell performed on alto, bass & soprano saxophones; Grimes on double bass & violin.






















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25 October, 2010

Henry Grimes & Roscoe Mitchell - Berkeley Oct 15, 2010

Henry Grimes made a very special appearance at UC Berkeley's CNMAT (which used to be the home of Tom Buckner's 1750 Arch St), performing two sets of free improvisation with Roscoe Mitchell to an audience overflowing the small room. Two Masters at work - all ears on high alert. Here are a few photos from that evening:








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01 September, 2009

1992, fr. Cueva Alto Mono
Sierra de San Francisco, Baja CA

18 April, 2008

Aimé Césaire

And always this misdeal to negotiate step by step
stuck as I am with inventing each waterhole.


from "Banal," Noria, 1976, in Collected Poetry (Cal, 1983)


1913-2008 (obit)


One of the 20th Century's major voices died yesterday (bio). Co-founder of the Negritude movement, Césaire's was an anti-colonial voice that insisted on its own particular terms of articulation, its own resistant syntax, rhythms, namings.


Hear the white world
horribly weary from its immense efforts
its stiff joints crack under the hard stars
hear its blue steel rigidity pierce the mystic flesh
its deceptive victories tout its defeats
hear the grandiose alibis of its pitiful stumblings

Pity for our omniscient and naive conquerors!


(from Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, 1947, trans by Clayton Eshleman & Annette Smith)

Lenin, a few years ago, typed up a great snippet (he posted more) from the booklength Discourse on Colonialism (1955):

First we must study how colonization works to decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize him in the true sense of the word, to degrade him, to awaken him to buried instincts, to covetousness, violence, race hatred, and moral relativism; and we must show that each time a head is cut off or an eye put out in Vietnam and in France they accept the fact, each time a little girl is raped and in France they accept the fact, each time a Madagascan is tortured and in France they accept the fact, civilization acquires another dead weight, a universal regression takes place, a gangrene sets in, a centre of infection begins to spread; and that at the end of all these treaties that have been violated, all these lies that have been propagated, all these punitive expeditions that have been tolerated, all these prisoners who have been tied up and "interrogated", all these patriots who have been tortured, at the end of all the racial pride that has been encouraged, all the boastfulness that has been displayed, a poison has been distilled into the veins of Europe and, slowly but surely the continent proceeds toward savagery.


From "A Salute to the Third World / For Léopold Sedar Senghor", Ferraments (CP):
. . .
our Africa is a hand free of the cestus,
it is a right hand, palm forward,
the fingers held tight;

it is a swollen hand,
a-wounded-open-hand,
extended to
      all hands, brown, yellow,
white, to all the wounded hands
in the world.

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12 March, 2008

Dell's history of prison labor - the stain remains

A Public Relations spokesoid from Dell stopped by Constellations today to leave a response to Monday's the dollars in the bars - "we're offering you competitive prison labor" post. The note is a friendly little example of the mix of corporate marketing/branding/propaganda that infests US social discourse today:

BryantatDell said...

Hi - I work at Dell on corporate responsibility issues and noticed your post today - a good topic to be raised indeed.

One note - in the highlight Dell is among the companies listed. It's important to note that Dell absolutely prohibits the use of prison labor -- either directly or through our suppliers -- globally.

In fact, among the other companies listed in that higlight I'm sure our competitors HP and IBM have similar prohibitions. Dell, HP and IBM were among the founders of the Electronic Industry Code of Conduct (www.eicc.info ) which prohibits use of indentured labor in the industry's supply chain.

Mr. Hilton I presume?

Mr. Hilton is probably aware (which I wasn't when originally posting) that Vicky Pelaez' article is from 2005 and covers the growing prison labor industries of the previous quarter-century. He also knows very well that Dell had a contract with Unicor during that period, operating an e-waste recycling program at the Atwater, CA prison (see prison labor & e-waste—smashing a computer to pieces) before it received national publicity unfavorably comparing its recycling practices to those of HP.

Surely he recalls, after that outpouring of negative publicity, the 7-4-03 NYT article by LAURIE J. FLYNN headlined:

Dell to Stop Using Prison Workers:

Responding to concerns from both customers and environmental advocates, Dell Computer announced yesterday that it would no longer rely on prisons to supply workers for its computer recycling program.

Dell, the world's largest seller of PC's, said it had canceled its contract with Unicor, a branch of the Federal Bureau of Prisons that employs prisoners for electronics recycling and other industries.

. . .

Last week, an environmental group in California released a report criticizing Dell's reliance on prison labor.

The group, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, said in its report that inmates who work at the prison recycling operation were not protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act and were paid from 20 cents to $1.26 an hour.

The report also criticized Unicor for not properly disposing of toxic waste.

. . .

Bryant Hilton, a spokesman for Dell, said that the decision to replace Unicor with other recycling contractors was a business decision, based in part on the fact that many other vendors are now more competitively priced.

But he conceded that the company had heard from some customers complaining about the prison program.

"We did not make a decision based on special interest groups," Mr. Hilton said.

& from a related article:

Dell Computer disputed the accusations in the report, saying that the recycling operations met environmental standards and that the prison population benefited from them. "Our goal is keeping all of our recycling offers as low cost as possible," a spokesman, Bryant Hilton, said. "Unicor is part of the answer."

He added that the work program was voluntary, not forced, and that inmates who took part in it had a 24 percent lower recidivism rate than the rest of the prison population.

Dell officials also disputed the contention that the prison labor recycling effort undercut the formation of an American recycling industry. "There is currently not enough capacity for electronics recycling in the United States," Mr. Hilton said. "Unicor is not driving anyone out of business."

I'd assume Dell was included in Vicky Pelaez' article because it employed prison labor during the historical period she covers. It's certainly not inaccurate as BryantatDell's note implies.

Saying that the "Electronic Industry Code of Conduct (www.eicc.info ) . . . prohibits use of indentured labor" is not the same as saying that it prohibits the use of prison labor, which, as the company spokesperson points out in the NYT article, is entirely voluntary.

There is nothing in the EEIC (which, it should be noted wasn't developed 'til 2004, & is dated 10/14/2005) that I can find which would preclude participation in prison work programs, nor from paying less than minimum wage when the law allows it:

The labor standards are:

1) Freely Chosen Employment

Forced, bonded or indentured labor or involuntary prison labor is not to be used. All work will be voluntary, and workers should be free to leave upon reasonable notice. Workers shall not be required to hand over government-issued identification, passports or work permits as a condition of employment.

. . .

4) Wages and Benefits

Compensation paid to workers shall comply with all applicable wage laws, including those relating to minimum wages, overtime hours and legally mandated benefits. In compliance with local laws, workers shall be compensated for overtime at pay rates greater than regular hourly rates. Deductions from wages as a disciplinary measure shall not be permitted. The basis on which workers are being paid is to be provided in a timely manner via pay stub or similar documentation.


Let's recall the conditions at Unicor's Atwater operation that Dell contracted for and that Mr. Hilton has publicly praised to be a "part of the answer":

UNICOR’s operation is organized primarily to maintain a maximum-security facility, rather than to maximize the efficiency with which e-waste is sorted and disassembled. Its prison warehouse is organizationally and technologically backward. Cheap labor, paid .20 to $1.26 per hour at Atwater, offers little incentive to invest in worker productivity. In addition, prison workers have few rights and little ability to improve health and safety conditions. Inmates toil outside the protection of state and local environmental and labor regulations that private sector recyclers must follow. Prison laborers are not considered employees and are not protected against retaliatory acts by their employer (UNICOR) under the Fair Labor Standard Act. Inmates are not allowed to unionize or to serve on the prison health and safety committees.


All 'voluntary.'

Dell is certainly to be commended for halting its exploitative use of prison laborers working for pennies under highly toxic, under-regulated conditions. (Unicor however continues its Atwater & other prison e-waste operations.)
It's also "important" for everyone to understand that discontinuing the Unicor contract was merely "a business decision" on Dell's part, and that even then, the company was vigorously affirming the general practice of prison labor & Unicor's business specifically - "a good topic to be raised indeed."

From what I understand of Dell's current recycling program, the company has taken a positive step in the right direction on that issue, regardless of whether it was a business decision, a public relations decision, or a "corporate responsibility" decision.

I'm curious, given the misleading response, if Dell can unequivocally declare that it & its subcontractors have "absolutely" forsworn any further use of prison labor in all aspects of its operations?

While Dell no doubt would like to erase its part in the history of this ugly exploitation, the stain remains.

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10 March, 2008

dollars in the bars - "we're offering you competitive prison labor"

Capital demands growth.

Vicky Pelaez, from "The prison industry in the United States: big business or a new form of slavery?"
HISTORY OF PRISON LABOR IN THE UNITED STATES

Prison labor has its roots in slavery. After the 1861-1865 Civil War, a system of "hiring out prisoners" was introduced in order to continue the slavery tradition. Freed slaves were charged with not carrying out their sharecropping commitments (cultivating someone else's land in exchange for part of the harvest) or petty thievery - which were almost never proven - and were then "hired out" for cotton picking, working in mines and building railroads. From 1870 until 1910 in the state of Georgia, 88% of hired-out convicts were Black. In Alabama, 93% of "hired-out" miners were Black. In Mississippi, a huge prison farm similar to the old slave plantations replaced the system of hiring out convicts. The notorious Parchman plantation existed until 1972.

. . . "Today, a new set of markedly racist laws is imposing slave labor and sweatshops on the criminal justice system, now known as the prison industry complex," comments the Left Business Observer.

Who is investing? At least 37 states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations that mount their operations inside state prisons. The list of such companies contains the cream of U.S. corporate society: IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom's, Revlon, Macy's, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and many more. All of these businesses are excited about the economic boom generation by prison labor. Just between 1980 and 1994, profits went up from $392 million to $1.31 billion. Inmates in state penitentiaries generally receive the minimum wage for their work, but not all; in Colorado, they get about $2 per hour, well under the minimum. And in privately-run prisons, they receive as little as 17 cents per hour for a maximum of six hours a day, the equivalent of $20 per month. The highest-paying private prison is CCA in Tennessee, where prisoners receive 50 cents per hour for what they call "highly skilled positions." At those rates, it is no surprise that inmates find the pay in federal prisons to be very generous. There, they can earn $1.25 an hour and work eight hours a day, and sometimes overtime. They can send home $200-$300 per month.

Thanks to prison labor, the United States is once again an attractive location for investment in work that was designed for Third World labor markets. A company that operated a maquiladora (assembly plant in Mexico near the border) closed down its operations there and relocated to San Quentin State Prison in California. In Texas, a factory fired its 150 workers and contracted the services of prisoner-workers from the private Lockhart Texas prison, where circuit boards are assembled for companies like IBM and Compaq.

Oregon State Representative Kevin Mannix recently urged Nike to cut its production in Indonesia and bring it to his state, telling the shoe manufacturer that "there won't be any transportation costs; we're offering you competitive prison labor (here)."

PRIVATE PRISONS

The prison privatization boom began in the 1980s, under the governments of Ronald Reagan and Bush Sr., but reached its height in 1990 under William Clinton, when Wall Street stocks were selling like hotcakes. Clinton's program for cutting the federal workforce resulted in the Justice Departments contracting of private prison corporations for the incarceration of undocumented workers and high-security inmates.

Private prisons are the biggest business in the prison industry complex. About 18 corporations guard 10,000 prisoners in 27 states. The two largest are Correctional Corporation of America (CCA) and Wackenhut, which together control 75%. Private prisons receive a guaranteed amount of money for each prisoner, independent of what it costs to maintain each one. According to Russell Boraas, a private prison administrator in Virginia, "the secret to low operating costs is having a minimal number of guards for the maximum number of prisoners." The CCA has an ultra-modern prison in Lawrenceville, Virginia, where five guards on dayshift and two at night watch over 750 prisoners. In these prisons, inmates may get their sentences reduced for "good behavior," but for any infraction, they get 30 days added - which means more profits for CCA. According to a study of New Mexico prisons, it was found that CCA inmates lost "good behavior time" at a rate eight times higher than those in state prisons.

IMPORTING AND EXPORTING INMATES

Profits are so good that now there is a new business: importing inmates with long sentences, meaning the worst criminals. When a federal judge ruled that overcrowding in Texas prisons was cruel and unusual punishment, the CCA signed contracts with sheriffs in poor counties to build and run new jails and share the profits. According to a December 1998 Atlantic Monthly magazine article, this program was backed by investors from Merrill-Lynch, Shearson-Lehman, American Express and Allstate, and the operation was scattered all over rural Texas. That state's governor, Ann Richards, followed the example of Mario Cuomo in New York and built so many state prisons that the market became flooded, cutting into private prison profits.

After a law signed by Clinton in 1996 - ending court supervision and decisions - caused overcrowding and violent, unsafe conditions in federal prisons, private prison corporations in Texas began to contact other states whose prisons were overcrowded, offering "rent-a-cell" services in the CCA prisons located in small towns in Texas. The commission for a rent-a-cell salesman is $2.50 to $5.50 per day per bed. The county gets $1.50 for each prisoner.



related:

the new/old slave labor: prisoners in Colorado to replace migrant workers

private prison bulls

dollars in the bars - the private prison industry - "the war on drugs has . . . become a war on immigrants"

prison labor & e-waste—smashing a computer to pieces

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quick! before a Democrat's in the White House . . .

NEW DELHI, Feb 22 (IPS) - With the presidential race gathering momentum in the United States, a last ditch effort is being mounted to push through the controversial U.S.-India nuclear cooperation deal, before the window of political opportunity slams shut in Washington.

The latest impetus for this comes through a meeting that three top-level visiting U.S. senators, led by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph Biden, had with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Feb. 20, during which they warned that time is running out for Indian leaders to complete the necessary steps before the agreement can be ratified by Congress.

Biden said he told Singh that "it was critical if India wanted that deal, that they move on it relatively soon, within a matter of weeks. You cannot run the clock out and expect us to be able to get it done’’.

The senators said that unless India sends the deal back to Washington, preferably by early May, and latest by early June, it would be practically impossible for U.S. Congress to ratify it: "If it is not ratified by Congress by July-end (when Senate goes into recess), there is no prospect" of it being ratified during the tenure of the Bush administration.

Biden was accompanied by John Kerry, Massachusetts senator and the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, and Chuck Hagel, a leading Republican, from Nebraska.

Biden also warned: "If we do not have the deal now, it is highly unlikely that the next president will present the same deal to India.’’
link


NEW DELHI, Mar 6 (IPS) - Is the Indian government heading for a showdown with the domestic opposition on the controversial issue of the nuclear cooperation deal with the United States before the presidential election timetable closes that opportunity?

Going by the recent pronouncements of U.S. officials urging a May deadline to complete the deal, by statements by leaders of India’s ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, and by the Left parties’ latest reactions to them, that would indeed seem to be the case.

As the government seemingly ups the ante, the Left is reportedly considering issuing it an end-March ultimatum to decide on the deal, or face withdrawal of its crucial support, which would put the ruling coalition into a parliamentary minority.

The general secretary of the Communist Party of India -Marxist (CPI-M), the Left’s leading party, has written a letter to Mukherjee demanding a meeting of the special joint committee of the UPA and the Left on the deal by Mar.15.

Besides feverish U.S. lobbying, the impression that a final confrontation on the deal may be around the corner is strengthened by media reports which suggest that a section of the UPA wants to bow to U.S. pressure and seize the chance to complete negotiations on the deal so that it can be ratified by the Senate by the end of July.

. . .

"Within the past 10 days, both domestic and external factors which favour the deal have got strengthened," says a political source close to senior leaders of the Congress party, which leads the UPA, who insisted on anonymity.

"But on balance," says the source, "it is still not clear if the Congress’s top brass will want to sever the UPA’s relationship with the Left parties whose support it needs for a parliamentary majority."

. . . visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher tried to allay fears about a domestic U.S. law passed by Congress in 2006, called the Hyde Act, which enables the deal on certain conditions. The Act is a subject of much controversy in India, and mandates the U.S. government to cease nuclear cooperation with India, if India conducts a nuclear test.

India's opposition maintains that the Act trumps the bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement signed last July between India and the U.S., called the "123 agreement" because it pertains to section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act. Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice affirmed the supremacy of the Hyde Act and said the U.S. government would work within its bounds.

But Boucher backed the Indian government’s view that "we can move forward" with both the Act and the 123 agreement "in a consistent manner"; the Act is nothing to worry about.

. . .

"U.S. officials have conveyed two clear messages to India," says M.V. Ramana, a nuclear analyst based at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in the Environment and Development in Bangalore. "First, there is only a small window of opportunity for the deal if it is to be passed by Congress while President Bush is in power. So India must make up its mind very quickly."

The second message, adds Ramana, "is that the Bush administration has done its very best to facilitate the deal in the U.S. India should expect nothing more. Equally, India must be clear that the first commercial contracts from the deal should go to U.S. companies."

That explains part of the hurry to push the deal through. . . .

"This won't be an easy choice to make," argues Achin Vanaik. "A majority of parties in Parliament are opposed to the deal. This will compromise its legitimacy. If the Left withdraws support, the UPA will have to call an early election. But there is no guarantee that the UPA will not need the Left’s support yet again." link


& from an article last September:

The sequencing and timing of the process is being largely determined by the domestic political calculations of the Bush administration, which is heavily invested in the deal. The administration would like to present the agreement for the Congress’s ratification soon after its winter break.

"This only leaves a narrow window of opportunity for pushing the deal quickly through Congress," says M.V. Ramana, an independent nuclear affairs analyst at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment and Development, Bangalore. "Clearly, the Bush administration feels that it can use the deal before the next Presidential election in favour of the Republican Party by touting it as a major foreign policy achievement -- in contrast to Iraq and Afghanistan. That's why it seems to be in a hurry to speed up the negotiations process." link

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06 March, 2008

Ecuador, hostages & Columbian bodysnatchers

a collection of news & commentary links, but first a reminder from James Petras, writing in 2005 after Venezuela confronted Columbia over its covert recruitment of Venezuelan military figures in the kidnapping of a Columbian leftist leader:

Once direct Colombian involvement was established . . . [the] Colombian regime took the offensive, launching an aggressive defense of its involvement in the violation of Venezuelan sovereignty and, beyond that, seeking to establish in advance, under the rationale of "national security" the legitimacy of future acts of aggression. . . . In response the US Government gave unconditional support to Colombian violation of Venezuelan sovereignty and urged the Uribe regime to push the conflict further. What began as a diplomatic conflict over a specific incident has turned into a major, defining crises in US and Latin American political relations with potentially explosive military, economic and political consequences for the entire region.

In justifying the kidnapping of Rodrigo Granda, the Colombian leftist leader, the Uribe regime has promulgated a new foreign policy doctrine which echoes that of the Bush Administration: the right of unilateral intervention in any country in which the Colombian government perceives or claims is harboring or providing refuge to political adversaries (which the regime labels as "terrorists") which might threaten the security of the state.

. . .

Uribe's offensive military doctrine involves several major policy propositions:

1.) The right to violate any country's sovereignty, including the use of force and violence, directly or in cooperation with local mercenaries.

2.) The right to recruit and subvert military and security officials to serve the interests of the Colombian state.

3.) The right to allocate funds to bounty hunters or "third parties" to engage in illegal violent acts within a target country.

4.) The assertion of the supremacy of Colombian laws, decrees and policies over and against the sovereign laws of the intervened country.

The Uribe doctrine clearly echoes Washington's global pronouncements. While the immediate point of aggression involves Colombia's relations to Venezuela, the Uribe doctrine lays the basis for unilateral military intervention anywhere in the hemisphere. Uribe's doctrine is a threat to sovereignty of any country in the hemisphere: its intervention in Venezuela and the justification provides a precedent for future aggression. link


Prescient, eh? Meanwhile,

BOGOTA, Mar 3 (IPS) - European envoys met over the weekend with members of the FARC rebel group’s central leadership to discuss how to move ahead in the efforts to negotiate a humanitarian exchange aimed at securing the release of Ingrid Betancourt and the rest of the hostages held in the jungle by the guerrillas.

"The negotiations are alive. Nothing has changed. Or everything has changed, except the negotiations," a European source told IPS, on condition of anonymity. link


Heinz Dieterich, a Mexico-based German sociologist and economist "who coined the phrase 21st century socialism":

I believe Bogotá and its ally, Washington, made a serious political mistake and underestimated the cost of this action. They did not take into consideration the media reaction, the position that Chávez would take, and the firm stance that Correa would assume in Quito.

I would say that this mistake will benefit the South American integration aims of progressive countries like Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela.

IPS: What can be expected now from the sectors that are calling for a negotiated solution to Colombia’s armed conflict?

HD: In general terms, the situation strengthens the forces that want a negotiated solution, in Europe, Latin America and Colombia itself. We must not forget that Reyes was the middleman through whom France was negotiating in its attempt to secure the release by the FARC of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt (the highest profile hostage held by the guerrillas).

They killed the French government’s contact, and this has clearly led the countries of Latin America and many European nations to believe that this question can no longer be left solely in the hands of Uribe and Washington, whose war strategy has become a potential threat to regional peace and stability. link


"war strategy?" Plan Columbia.

Colombian officials later told reporters that U.S.-provided spying equipment and intelligence assistance had helped them track Reyes and guide them to the site, although officials here declined to comment on those reports.

U.S. diplomats "know they have very little credibility as a broker in this situation," said Michael Shifter, an Andes expert at the Inter-American Dialogue, a prominent think tank here.

"The U.S. is completely aligned with Colombia, and it's pretty widely believed that it helped with intelligence and provided technical support to help pinpoint the target, although I don't think there is any evidence that (the raid itself) was a U.S. decision." link


[As if there were any question that this operation, likely involving NSA assistance, was approved by Washington.]

According to the Colombian TV newscast Noticias Uno, Reyes had already been designated as the target of a military operation back in December.

His satellite phone was located "in late 2007." Although he almost always kept it turned off, every time he switched it on, even briefly, its coordinates were detected via satellite.

On Feb. 21, Colombian Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos and armed forces chief General Freddy Padilla reported that the government had located the site where the four hostages to be released were being held.

Both Santos and Padilla said one of the hostages, Jorge Eduardo Gechem, was seriously ill and offered safety guarantees for the FARC to hand him over immediately.

According to Noticias Uno, which based its report on official sources, the report was a ploy to force Reyes to use his satellite phone again, which he did, enabling the Colombian military to pinpoint his location. [Robert Knight mentioned last night, on Flashpoints Radio (Wed 3/5/08) that gps tracking devices in newer cellophones continue to work & be accessible to law enforcement, even though the user thinks it is disabled.]

Another phone call made by Reyes indicated that he would be at a specific spot on Feb. 29, Noticias Uno reported. The government added that it also obtained information from two individuals, in exchange for large rewards. link


In other words, the US signed off on & assisted a plan to sabotage hostage negotiations (involving our allies) by assassinating the rebels' most prominent contact with the outside world as a pre-emptive propaganda ploy.

Last night, the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, said that if Farc released Betancourt, feared to be gravely ill after six years as a hostage, some countries could be persuaded to stop designating the group as terrorists.

"If they let Ingrid Betancourt die, of course, there will be no discussion about that," Sarkozy told Colombia's RCN television. "If they free Ingrid Betancourt, maybe some place in the world will see them a little differently." link


No. Bring on the bombs.

Obama Statement on Recent Events near Colombia’s Borders - March 03, 2008

“The Colombian people have suffered for more than four decades at the hands of a brutal terrorist insurgency, and the Colombian government has every right to defend itself against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The recent targeted killing of a senior FARC leader must not be used as a pretense to ratchet up tensions or to threaten the stability of the region. The presidents of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela have a responsibility to ensure that events not spiral out of control, and to peacefully address any disputes through active diplomacy with the help of international actors.”

Statement from Hillary Clinton - 3/3/2008

“Hugo Chavez’s order yesterday to send ten battalions to the Colombian border is unwarranted and dangerous. The Colombian state has every right to defend itself against drug trafficking terrorist organizations that have kidnapped innocent civilians, including American citizens. By praising and supporting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Chavez is openly siding with terrorists that threaten Colombian democracy and the peace and security of the region. Rather than criticizing Colombia’s actions in combating terrorist groups in the border regions, Venezuela and Ecuador should work with their neighbor to ensure that their territories no longer serve as safe havens for terrorist groups. After reviewing this situation, I am hopeful that the government of Ecuador will determine that its interests lie in closer cooperation with Colombia on this issue. Hugo Chavez must call a halt to this provocative action. As president, I will work with our partners in the region and the OAS to support democracy, promote an end to conflict, and to press Chavez to change course.” link


Violation of sovereignty? Policy of assassination across borders? Bombing one's neighbors? Gruesome public exhibition of the bodies? Not a word of complaint. Just a tired old phrase.

. . . every right to defend itself

Heard that somewhere before.

Claims by the Colombian government to have acted in self-defense have been refuted by survivor testimonies and Ecuadorian government investigations which reveal evidence that it was a pre-planned "massacre" of a sleeping encampment.

On top of that, reports that U.S. Admiral Joseph Nimmich met with Colombian military leaders in Bogotá two days before Saturday`s attacks with the stated purpose of "sharing vital information in the fight against terrorism" have fueled suspicions of direct U.S. involvement in invasion.

Along the same vein, the international Spanish language news agency EFE and The Guardian report the use of cluster bombs in Saturday`s attacks, weapons which have been denounced by human rights organizations. link


Not something likely to be read in a US newspaper.
While some press in the United States question whether Chavez is using this situation as an opportunity to distract Venezuelans from their social problems, this excessive focus on him is in fact distracting people in the US from having a much needed dialogue on their own governments' role in fomenting this so-called "Andean Crisis". As a result, the tough realities and repercussions from the US government's support for a military solution in Colombia are being overlooked.

Emboldened and armed with the multibillion dollar support of Plan Colombia, the Uribe government has decided to violate international law rather than attempting mediated discussions with the FARC..
link


Why now? Peace, stability & regional unity outside US control are perceived to be a threat to its "interests." Senator Cristovam Buarque, a member of Brazil's Senate Foreign Relations Committee, believes that:

An armed conflict, even one of limited scope "lasting a single day and with as few as two soldiers killed, would leave a permanent blot" on South American relations, and would completely undermine the regional integration process . . . link


Further regionalizing Columbia's conflict looks like a desperate attempt to slow or derail current efforts under way both within and outside of Columbia that have been gathering steam. Commentators James J. Brittain and R. James Sacouman write that:

A few weeks after the Ecuadorian and Venezuelan state called on the Colombian government to respect the need for peace and negotiation with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC-EP), the administration of Álvaro Uribe Vélez (2002-2010) supported an extensive armed air and land assault against the insurgency movement--not within Colombia's borders but rather on the sovereign territory of Ecuadorian soil.

. . .

The actions of Saturday 1 March took place days before a major international demonstration scheduled for 6 March, 2008. Promoted by The National Movement of Victims of State-Sponsored Crimes (MOVICE), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), and countless social justice-based organizations, March 6th has been set as an international day of protest against those tortured, murdered, and disappeared by the Colombian state, their allies within the paramilitary United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) and the newly reformed Black Eagles. Recently, President Uribe's top political adviser, José Obdulio Gaviria, proclaimed that the protest and protesters should be criminalized. In addition, paramilitaries in the southwestern department of Nariño (not far from where the illegal incursions were carried out in Ecuador), have threatened to attack any organization or person associated with the activities scheduled for Thursday.

It is believed that the Uribe and Santos administration is utilizing the slaughter of Comandante Raúl Reyes and others as a method to deter activists and socially conscious peoples within and outside Colombia from participating in the March 6th events. Numerous state-controlled or connected media outlets, such as El Tiempo (which has long-standing ties to the Santos family), have been parading photographs of the bullet ridden and mutilated corpse of Raúl Reyes throughout the country's communications mediums. Such propaganda is clearly a tool to psychologically intimidate those preparing to demonstrate against the atrocities perpetrated by the state over the past seven years.

Over the past two months, numerous researchers, scholars, and lawyers have supported the call to declare the FARC-EP a legitimate force fighting against the corrupt Colombian state. In January 2008, Ecuador's Foreign Minister Maria Isabel Salvador argued that the FARC-EP should no longer be depicted as a terrorist organization. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez too announced that the FARC-EP are far from a terrorist force but are rather a real army, which occupies Colombian territory and shares in a Bolivarian vision for a new Latin America. Mexican deputy Ricardo Cantu Garza also has promoted the recognition of the FARC-EP as a belligerent force legitimately fighting against a corrupt and unequal sociopolitical system.

. . .

From Copenhagen to Caracas, numerous state officials have denounced the description of the FARC-EP as a terrorist organization. Progressive officials and administrations in Mexico, Ecuador, and Venezuela have rather opted for the status of belligerent or irregular forces to more accurately depict the FARC-EP domestic and geo-political stance. Disturbingly, in the face of this evidence and the FARC-EP's consistent promotion for a humanitarian prisoner exchange and peace negotiations with the state in a demilitarized zone in southwestern Colombia, the Uribe and Santos administration has moved ever farther away from supporting an end to the civil war within Colombia by opting for systemic violence.


Brazil can help itself here as it is taking a prominent role at the OAS discussions to de-escalate the situation. Clifton Ross, in an article last September, focuses on Ecuador's ties to Brazil and its role in the greater region. Napoleon Saltos Galazara, a writer/activist/politician from Ecuador's indigenous social movements, mentions that:

"[President Correa] says, 'we're going to confront imperialism and the oligarchy; we're going to take on the right wing, down with partyocracy!' And he won the election. However, even though Correa confronts this sector, he's allied with the second axis, the Manta-Manaus axis, or the China-Brazil, East-West axis."


Ross talks about the on-going complex jockeying for position in Latin America which is largely invisible to the US public:

This division between Brazil and Venezuela was best symbolized by the brand of energy each country promotes, ethanol and petroleum, respectively, but there is much more to the story than what goes into the gas tank of a car. And Ecuador may be the key chess piece in the regional Great Game. Among others, Ecuadoran writer Kintto Lucas in his book on recent Ecuadoran history, "Un pais entrampado," sees Ecuador as an integral part of Brazil's aspiration to carve a path to the Pacific, using what is called the "Manaos-Manta multi-modal corridor."

. . .

The U.S., in its National Security Strategy of September 17, 2002, proposed to prevent any possible players from challenging its supremacy, stating that "America (sic) will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed." On the American continent it hoped to contain such "emerging threats" as Brazil by means of walling it in along the Pacific by means of "free trade" agreements with Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. The 2006 election of Correa to the Presidency of Ecuador just as the nation considered such a treaty changed all that. Since that time, Ecuador has effectively broken the US-imposed barrier to the Pacific and now clears the way for the Brazilian dreams of empire, or at the very least, the further strengthening of a great regional power.

Nevertheless, the struggle to contain Brazil continues to be part of the greater problem of constructing a regional unity that will enable the southern nations to contend with their more immediate concern, and that is the still-present threat of the U.S. empire. Ecuador's current strategy seems to be to build alliances with Venezuela, Brazil and whatever other potential allies may offer to consolidate a block of power against U.S. hegemony.

Tomás Peribonio, ex-Minister of Foreign Trade under President Alfred Palacio, is now working as a contractor for the current Correa government designing the Manaos-Manta multi-modal corridor. . . . he emphasizes that "the most important thing is regional unity." The construction of this multi-modal corridor, he describes as a "mega-project" that would be constructed "over the course of years and perhaps even decades." The aim, he says, is to unite "Pacific Asia, which, from my point of view, is the area of major world commerce, managing about fifty percent of world trade" with the Atlantic, specifically Brazil, which is increasing its cultivation of soy and other grains with an eye on exports.

For Peribonio regional integration begins at home, with Ecuador, a country that commonly characterizes itself as the "nation of four regions," which are the Amazon, the mountains, the plains and coast, and the Galapagos. These regions have experienced strong tensions and this fact has often been posed as a primary problem confronting national leaders as they attempted to unite the country. This multi-modal corridor, Peribonio hopes, will serve to first unite the country and then go on to unite Ecuador with Peru and Brazil, since the corridor would also go through Peru. Finally, says Peribonio, the corridor would integrate Ecuador more firmly into the world economy.

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27 March, 2007

"there would have to be consequences" - ready, set . . .

Guardian:
Tony Blair is pushing the United Nations to declare a no-fly zone over Darfur, enforced if necessary by the bombing of Sudanese military airfields used for raids on the province, the Guardian has learned.

The controversial initiative comes as a classified new report by a UN panel of experts alleges Sudan has violated UN resolutions by moving arms into Darfur, conducting overflights and disguising its military planes as UN humanitarian aircraft.
. . .

According to Downing Street, he is pushing for a no-fly zone to be passed at the same time as the new sanctions package, in the form of a 'Chapter 7' security council resolution, allowing the use of force.

"The prime minister believes we can do them together," said a Downing Street source. "There could be an agreement in the security council that there could be a no-fly zone. If the Sudanese government broke that agreement there would have to be consequences."

The imposition of a no-fly zone, of the kind employed over Iraq before the invasion, has been widely dismissed by military experts as impractical over an area as large as Darfur, which is the size of France. But the Guardian has learned that US and British officials are considering a cheaper alternative: punitive air strikes against Sudanese air force bases if Khartoum violated the no-fly zone.

The example being considered is the Ivory Coast, where the French wiped out much of the Ivorian air force while its planes and helicopters were sitting on the tarmac, in November 2004. The air strikes were in reprisal for the deaths of nine French peacekeepers in an Ivorian raid on rebel-held areas in the north.
& Tony Blair on the captured British sailors:

"I hope we manage to get them to realize they have to release them," Blair said in an interview with GMTV. If not, then this will move into a different phase."
the Guardian again:

. . . the U.S. Navy staged its largest show of force in the Persian Gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, launching a mammoth exercise meant as a message to the Iranians.

The maneuvers with 15 warships and more than 100 aircraft were sure to heighten tensions with Iran . . .

F/A-18 fighter jets roared off the Stennis' flight deck all day, mounting a dozen rapid-fire training sorties against imaginary enemy ships and aircraft. A second task force with the carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower also took part in the drills.

"These maneuvers demonstrate our flexibility and capability to respond to threats to maritime security," said Navy Lt. John Perkins, 32, of Louisville, Ky., as the Stennis cruised about 80 miles off the United Arab Emirates after entering the Persian Gulf overnight.

"They're showing we can keep the maritime environment safe and the vital link to the global economy open."
. . .

None of America's naval coalition partners in the region joined the maneuvers.

. . . Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said . . . "The exercise should reassure our friends and allies of our commitment to security and stability in the region," Whitman said. "We are not interested in confrontation in the Gulf."

The war games involve more than 10,000 U.S. personnel mounting simulated attacks on enemy aircraft and ships, while hunting submarines and looking for mines.

"What it should be seen as by Iran or anyone else is that it's for regional stability and security," Aandahl said. "These ships are just another demonstration of that. If there's a destabilizing effect, it's Iran's behavior."

The U.S. drills were the latest in a series of competing American and Iranian war games. Iran conducted naval maneuvers in November and April, while in October the Navy led a training exercise aimed at blocking nuclear smuggling.
. . .

In February, the 5th Fleet's then-commander, Vice Adm. Patrick Walsh, said he had assured Arab allies that Washington was trying to avoid "a mistake that boils over into war" with Iran.
Can it get any thicker? Can smoke be any more transparent?

meanwhile, from Afghanistan comes this report of NATO's segregated toilets:

Under a bizarre policy that echoes the days of segregation in the United States, Afghans who work at the NATO base at Kandahar Airfield must use separate toilets marked "local nationals only." Several Afghans told The Globe and Mail the practice is insulting, but they are dependent on NATO for their livelihoods and reluctant to speak out.

Lieutenant-Colonel Jack Blevins, the U.S. officer in charge of administrative contracts, said the segregated toilet policy exists because the bathroom habits of the Afghans are different from those of the North Americans and Europeans who work at the base.

"We’ve always had this policy," Lt.-Col. Blevins said. "It’s not based on a racial thing; it’s just how they use the toilets. They’re not used to toilets. They use squats, or holes in the ground."

One Afghan, who has worked at the base for five years as an interpreter, laughed at this suggestion.
. . .

He said that foreign soldiers told him they wouldn’t use the same toilets as Afghans because they are afraid of catching something contagious.
. . .

Lt.-Col. Blevins said he thinks of the policy as a cultural accommodation, and it makes life easier for the cleaners.
. . .

A few Afghan employees have the privilege of being able to use either set of toilets because they have worked with the coalition long enough to be considered trusted agents.
. . .

More than 1,200 local people come through the gates of Kandahar Airfield most days, according to the Canadian guards who operate the main entrance.

They work in a variety of jobs, from manual labor to translation. They are the Afghans who, in a conflict increasingly characterized as a battle for hearts and minds, have the most direct contact with coalition forces.
ahem . . .

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24 March, 2007

Ruby Rodriguez - another transgender murder

from the mailbox;

A Nicaraguan transgender woman, Ruby Rodriguez, 24 years old, was murdered on Friday, March 16, 2007. Her body was found on the corner of Cesar Chavez and Indiana Streets in the Mission District of San Francisco. The murder is currently under investigation by the San Francisco Police Department. Community United Against Violence (CUAV), EL-LA, San Francisco LGBT Community Center, TRANS Project, allies, and community members [held] a community vigil in her honor on Friday, March 23, 2007 at 6:00PM, on the corner of 24th Street and Mission Street in the Mission District.

. . . She was an exceptional woman who was intent on improving her life. Ruby participated in various support groups and language classes, and idolized Chicana singer Selena.

This murder comes at the heels of at least two other violent deaths of transgender women of color in the San Francisco Bay Area over the past six months. Transgender people, particularly low-income transgender women of color, are disproportionately poor, homeless, criminalized and imprisoned as a result of systemic discrimination in our daily attempts to access safe housing, healthcare, employment, and education.

Unfortunately, Ruby's murder is not an exception, but an everyday fear for many transgender people who are targeted and brutalized by institutions and society at large. Our communities mourn Ruby's death and ask for a renewed commitment to real safety for transgender communities. It is vital that the Mayor's Office, the San Francisco Police Department, and the District Attorney's Office work to end the cycles of criminalization, poverty, and violence in transgender communities and communities of color.
After the 2002 murder of Hayward transgender teen Gwen Araujo, a jury found her killers (some of whom had sex with Gwen) guilty of second degree murder, but declined to return a conviction on a hate crime charge. Still, as the Transgender law Center pointed out:

. . . the Alameda County District Attorney’s office has set a new standard for prosecuting transgender murder cases. You don’t have to look any further than Fresno County to see what the standard still is in many DA’s offices. Last month, a Fresno County DA accepted a four year plea bargain for a person who confessed to stabbing and killing a transgender person. In stark contrast, the Alameda DA’s office devoted their office’s full resources to this case not once, but twice. Along the way, they faced and beat down some of the most egregious uses of transgender panic tactics that many of us hope to ever see in a courtroom.

This year, we also saw media coverage that had once been sensationalistic and oftentimes disrespectful of Gwen’s identity evolve into coverage that correctly identified the defendant’s as the people on trial (not Gwen) and their actions as the thing being judged (not Gwen’s identity). This evolution is not limited to Bay Area print, broadcast, and internet journalists. I’ve spoken with journalists from around the U.S. who have said that the coverage of this case has sparked dialogues and changes in their newsrooms as well.
Gwen's murder & the consquent trial resulted in CA Governor Schwarzenegger signing the Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act (AB 1160), which "puts California firmly on record as opposing a defendant’s use of societal bias against their victim in order to decrease their own culpability for a crime."

"Panic strategies are a cynical way for homicide defendants whose victims are members of a disfavored group to appeal to a jury’s worst impulses,” said Transgender Law Center Director Christopher Daley. “The Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act is a significant step towards preventing the same societal bias that killed Gwen and Joel from affecting a jury’s deliberations. It’s signage into law also advances California’s status as the most protective state in the nation for transgender people.”

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23 March, 2007

Joanne Kyger - "The Insurgents" - "belligerent naked Indy stalks"

The Insurgents


Surging in       like sea waves do
                Not a revolution     not belligerency

But an uprising   rising up
                            Of focused nameless opposition

                                                   Keeps you very busy
                      Farewell, I must leave, bye-bye

“The insurgency is sophisticated
              and stronger than anticipated…”

                           “My name is Isis” says a small child
                                             “and that means Egyptian Goddess”

“No it means    stupid dirty    little girl”
     says the California Secretary of Education

           Constantly create the enemy
                     Constantly create the war
                          “I’m a war president, I’m a war president”

Belligerent naked Indy stalks
   Completely without leaves

                   On a cliff above the high tide surging
                            In a huge gathering flow

                                  Can you beat THIS into submission?

                                                                                         July 20, 2004

by Joanne Kyger, first published in Night Palace as issue #96 of Sylvester Pollett's Backwoods Broadsides series. Eco-buddhist poet writing from the magical hamlet of Bolinas, CA on the southern tip of the Point Reyes peninsula, slowly slipping against the grain of the continental plate, on a long geological slide to Mexico, Joanne's poetry offers a whimsical yet unflinching take on the world. Attentive mind.

Don't miss the 10 poems from 2003 posted by Michael McClure & Ray Manzarek which are quite topical. Linda Russo edited a Kyger feature for Jacket 11; check out the interviews and Russo's intro placing Joanne in the gender poetry politics of '50s San Francisco, as well as the articles by Anne Waldman, Andrew Schelling, Jonathan Skinner & others.

Author of over 20 books, As Ever: Selected Poems (Penguin, 2002) is readily available.

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COPA falls in court — "impermissibly vague and overbroad"

Senior U.S. District Judge Lowell Reed Jr. in Philadelphia has found the Child Online Protection Act (COPA) unconstitutional on its face, with a ruling that puts the responsibility for keeping porn away from kids back where it belongs—on the parents:

"Perhaps we do the minors of this country harm if First Amendment protections, which they will with age inherit fully, are chipped away in the name of their protection," Reed wrote in his 84-page opinion in ACLU v. Gonzales [pdf].

The crux of Reed’s reasoning in striking down the law was that there are less-restrictive means available for protecting children than a criminal statute that will have a chilling effect. Parents, Reed said, can protect their children through software filters and other means that do not limit the rights of others to free speech.

The law would have criminalized Web sites that allow children to access material deemed “harmful to minors” by “contemporary community standards.” The sites would have been expected to require a credit card number or other proof of age. Penalties included a $50,000 fine and up to six months in prison.

Sexual health sites, the online magazine Salon.com and other Web sites backed by the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2004 upheld a temporary injunction Reed had issued early in the case that blocked the law from ever taking effect. [twice: Ashcroft v. ACLU and 2004 ruling Ashcroft v. ACLU, II.]
Reed didn't have to tackle the sticky question of how to apply "contemporary community standards" to the internet, so that the values of a conservative community in Somewheresville can't be used to prosecute someone living anywhere else in the country. NY photographer Barbara Nitke tried to raise this issue in court, but was required to offer near impossible levels of evidence of conflciting standards actually inhibiting speech, even though the trial court agreed that her artistic depictions of sexually marginalized communities put her at risk of prosecution under Miller definitions—which could be unknowingly violated at any time.

The COPA case did briefly flash across the public radar recently, when

[d]iscovery in the case sparked a legal firestorm last year when Google challenged a Justice Department subpoena over what information people seek online. Justice lawyers had asked Google to turn over 1 million random Web addresses and a week’s worth of Google search queries.

A judge sharply limited the scope of the subpoena, which Google had fought on trade secret, not privacy, grounds.

To defend the nine-year-old COPA, government lawyers attacked software filters as burdensome and less effective, even though they have previously defended their use in public schools and libraries.
Great uproar over the privacy invasion & rightly so. What should have also drawn broad condemnation from soi-disant liberals was that the language of the statute would clearly apply to a wide range of speech which the more liberal anti-porn crusaders (call 'em the Tipper crowd) would not have intended to restrict, such as sex education sites. With war the favored paradigm, and a fear of porn that runs deep through America's political fabric—shame shame shame cries the chorus—thankfully there are still a few judges left on the bench who won't pander to it:

. . . Reed disagreed, saying that argument [the credit card requirement] revealed the government’s “fundamental misunderstanding of the reach of COPA: COPA does not apply merely to commercial pornographers but to a wide range of speakers on the Web.”

Due to the broad wording of the statute, Reed said, the law “clearly covers far more speakers on the Web than those who might be defined as commercial pornographers.”

Specifically, Reed found that the law’s use of the terms “commercial purposes” and “engaged in the business” would allow for COPA to be applied to “an inordinate amount of Internet speech.”

As a result, Reed concluded that COPA “facially violates the First and Fifth amendments” because it is “impermissibly vague and overbroad” and was not “narrowly tailored to Congress’ compelling interest,” and the government failed to prove that the statute is the “least restrictive, most effective alternative” in achieving the compelling interest of protecting minors.
COPA was signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1998 without Al Gore uttering a peep of disapproval; it has only taken eight plus years to excise this attaack on free speech. Don't be surprised if the government appeals this decision.

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21 March, 2007

looters - creating poverty . . . & obscene wealth

James Petras, Meet the Global Ruling Class:

. . . the Market, or better still, the US-IMF-World Bank orchestrated Washington Consensus was the driving force behind the rise of the Latin American billionaires. The two countries with the greatest concentration of wealth and the greatest number of billionaires in Latin America are Mexico and Brazil (77 per cent), which are the two countries, which privatized the most lucrative, efficient and largest public monopolies. Of the total $157.2 billion owned by the 38 Latin American billionaires, 30 are Brazilians or Mexicans with $120.3 billion . The wealth of 38 families and individuals exceeds that of 250 million Latin Americans; 0.000001 per cent of the population exceeds that of the lowest 50 per cent. In Mexico, the income of 0.000001 per cent of the population exceeds the combined income of 40 million Mexicans. The rise of Latin American billionaires coincides with the real fall in minimum wages, public expenditures in social services, labor legislation and a rise in state repression, weakening labor and peasant organization and collective bargaining. The implementation of regressive taxes burdening the workers and peasants and tax exemptions and subsidies for the agro-mineral exporters contributed to the making of the billionaires. The result has been downward mobility for public employees and workers, the displacement of urban labor into the informal sector, the massive bankruptcy of small farmers, peasants and rural labor and the out-migration from the countryside to the urban slums and emigration abroad.

The principal cause of poverty in Latin American is the very conditions that facilitate the growth of billionaires. In the case of Mexico, the privatization of the telecommunication sector at rock bottom prices, resulted in the quadrupling of wealth for Carlos Slim Helu, the third richest man in the world (just behind Bill Gates and Warren Buffet) with a net worth of $49 billion . Two fellow Mexican billionaires, Alfredo Harp Helu and Roberto Hernandez Ramirez benefited from the privatization of banks and their subsequent de-nationalization, selling Banamex to Citicorp.

Privatization, financial de-regulation and de-nationalization were the key operating principles of US foreign economic policies implemented in Latin America by the IMF and the World Bank. These principles dictated the fundamental conditions shaping any loans or debt re-negotiations in Latin America.

. . . Half of Mexican billionaires inherited their original multi-million dollar fortunes on their way up to the top. The other half benefited from political ties and the subsequent big payola from buying public enterprises cheap and then selling them off to US multi-nationals at great profit. The great bulk of the 12 million Mexican immigrants who crossed the border into the US have fled from the onerous conditions, which allowed Mexico's traditional and nouveaux riche millionaires to join the global billionaires' club.

Brazil has the largest number of billionaires (20) of any country in Latin America with a net worth of $46.2 billion , which is greater than the new worth of 80 million urban and rural impoverished Brazilians. Approximately 40 per cent of Brazilian billionaires started with great fortunes ­ and simply added on ­ through acquisitions and mergers. The so-called 'self-made' billionaires benefited from the privatization of the lucrative financial sector (the Safra family with $8.9 billion ) and the iron and steel complexes.

. . . What is repeatedly demonstrated in both Russia and Latin America is that the key factor leading to the quantum leap in wealth ­ from millionaires to billionaires ­ was the vast privatization and subsequent de-nationalization of lucrative public enterprises.

If we add to the concentration of $157 billion in the hands of an infinitesimal fraction of the elite, the $990 billion taken out by the foreign banks in debt payments and the $1 trillion (one thousand billion) taken out by way of profits, royalties, rents and laundered money over the past decade and a half, we have an adequate framework for understanding why Latin America continues to have over two-thirds of its population with inadequate living standards and stagnant economies.

The responsibility of the US for the growth of Latin American billionaires and mass poverty is several-fold and involves a wide gamut of political institutions, business elites, and academic and media moguls. First and foremost the US backed the military dictators and neo-liberal politicians who set up the billionaire-oriented economic models. It was ex-President Clinton, the CIA and his economic advisers, in alliance with the Russian oligarchs, who provided the political intelligence and material support to put Yeltsin in power and back his destruction of the Russian Parliament (Duma) in 1993 and the rigged elections of 1996. And it was Washington, which allowed hundreds of billions of dollars to be laundered in US banks throughout the 1990's as the US Congressional Sub-Committee on Banking (1998) revealed.

It was Nixon, Kissinger and later Carter and Brzezinski, Reagan and Bush, Clinton and Albright who backed the privatizations pushed by Latin American military dictators and civilian reactionaries in the 1970's, 1980's and 1990's . Their instructions to the US representatives in the IMF and the World Bank were writ large: Privatize, de-regulate and de-nationalize (PDD) before any loans should be negotiated.

It was US academics and ideologues working hand in glove with the so-called multi-lateral agencies, as contracted economic consultants, who trained, designed and pushed the PDD agenda among their former Ivy League students-turned-economic and finance ministers and Central Bankers in Latin America and Russia.

It was US and EU multi-national corporations and banks which bought out or went into joint ventures with the emerging Latin American billionaires and who reaped the trillion dollar payouts on the debts incurred by the corrupt military and civilian regimes. The billionaires are as much a product and/or by-product of US anti-nationalist, anti-communist policies as they are a product of their own grandiose theft of public enterprises.

Sanjay Suri, Free Trade Enslaving Poor Countries:

The new free trade agreements being signed up between rich and poor countries are proving far more damaging to the poor than anything envisaged within WTO talks, Oxfam said in a report Tuesday.

Poor countries are being forced into very deep tariff cuts," Emily Jones, author of the Oxfam report 'Signing Away the Future' told IPS. "These are often being reduced to zero under reciprocal so-called free trade agreements they are being forced to sign with rich countries."

That means poor countries are having to open up their markets to subsidized agricultural products from places like the EU, she said.
. . .

The agreements undermine moves to development, the report says.

"In an increasingly globalized world, these agreements seek to benefit rich-country exporters and firms at the expense of poor farmers and workers, with grave implications for the environment and development," it says.

The United States and the EU are pushing through rules on intellectual property that reduce poor people's access to life-saving medicines, increase the prices of seeds and other farming inputs beyond the reach of small farmers, and make it harder for developing-country firms to access new technology, the report says.
. . .

"Some developing countries find themselves between a rock and a hard place," said Jones. "Many are signing up to these so-called economic partnership agreements for fear of losing preferences," Jones said. Many of these countries have been offered export preferences in return for dropping tariffs against imports from developed countries.

The North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has brought 1.3 million job losses in Mexico in ten years, Jones said. Increased exports to the United States have failed to generate growth, and some studies show that the real wages in 2004 were less than in 1994, Jones said.
. . .

"When Mexico liberalized financial services in 1993 in preparation for NAFTA, foreign ownership of the banking system increased to 85 percent in seven years, but lending to Mexican businesses dropped from 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to 0.3 per cent, depriving poor people living in rural areas of vital sources of credit."

Governments in developing countries usually come under strong political pressure to sign up to such deals, Simon Ticehurst from Oxfam in Bolivia told IPS. "But a lot depends also on the type of development models that governments present to their people," he said.

"Colombia and Peru have been signing up to these agreements. Others are more reluctant. "You now have a small country like Bolivia and many new governments across Latin America beginning to challenge the logic of free trade agreements."

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20 March, 2007

media & the courts

First Amendment Center:

. . . consider the raft of instances lately in which judges or prosecutors have decided to step into newsrooms in one manner or another in pursuit of notes, interviews, videotapes or telephone conversations, or have attempted to prevent publication or broadcast of information to readers and viewers.

According to Associated Press reports, in just the past few weeks:

In Missouri, a state judge ordered two newspapers not to publish material they had received about public utilities and air pollution, but the order was lifted after a state appeals court stepped in.

In California, federal officials investigating steroid use by famous athletes discontinued efforts to force two San Francisco reporters to disclose their sources, after a lawyer pleaded guilty to being the source. But a freelance videographer, Joshua Wolf, remains in jail in San Francisco for refusing to turn over to a grand jury his videotape of a protest event.

In Kansas, a newspaper and television station were ordered to turn over reporters' notes taken during interviews with a man who faces a capital murder charge in the death of a 14-year-old girl.

In Tennessee, a federal judge is considering whether to enforce a 1974 agreement that would close arrest information to reporters unless and until there’s a conviction based on the arrest.

In Florida, a state judge reversed his original order that Orlando’s WKMG-TV could not air investigative reports about a political consultant based on 84 boxes of documents it obtained at an auction.

In Massachusetts, a judge ruled that the news media could not reproduce the particularly graphic photos and videos from a murder trial that ended last year.

In Texas, a state judge resisted a request by prosecutors for an order telling Houston's KPRC-TV to turn over unaired footage of some interviews. An assistant district attorney had told the court the prosecution subpoenaed the video to help with investigations and possibly trial preparations.
Clearly, this is more than a tempest in an inkpot. Somewhere, somehow, for some reason a long-standing ethic that the news media are not just another investigative tool for police, nor subject to “editors of the court,” has broken down.

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18 March, 2007

Cynthia McKinney - "we must resist"

Cynthia McKinney speaking at a March 2 fundraiser for Pacifica Radio station KPFK, in LA:
. . . in order to solve the massive problems this country now has, it can no longer be business as usual for a critical mass of us.

Whether it's the thawing tundra in Siberia or the melting glaciers in Greenland, our contribution to global warming is something that must be dealt with.

Whether it's the massive amounts of money we spend on the war machine or the fact that we still don't know what happened on September 11th, the values and priorities of the American people must be reflected in the public policy we pursue. I do not believe that is the case today and there are specific reasons why.

Just voting isn't enough. Voting is necessary, but it isn't enough to get the kind of change we must now demand. We have to change the structure within which we cast our vote.

We must have a different kind of leadership than is possible now without the kind of change I'm talking about.

This is revolutionary in its impact.

And so, I will be fought even more fiercely than I've already been fought, and all I wanted to do was improve the lot of people of color in the U.S. and around the world; institute the kind of respect for human rights at home and abroad that would change the policies of our government toward the global community, including the American people; and make the U.S. government accountable to the taxpayers for the way it spends their dollars. Now, that's all I wanted to do. And you see what's happened to me!
. . .

Now, it would be nice if we could count on someone else to do it for us. And we would all join that person and make it happen. But, I reluctantly say that if no one else will do it, then I guess I'll have to do that, too!

The world's most marginalized and dispossessed are already ahead of us in taking their countries back! Of course, starting in 1959 with Cuba, but then Venezuela, Cote d'Ivoire, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, India, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Haiti, and Nicaragua all have stood up to imperial domination - and won!

In the meantime, we have to demand more from our representatives. How can you be against war if you finance war? And how can you be against George Bush if you won't impeach him?

"We will build a broad-based, rainbow movement for justice and peace."

The American people are being fed madness as sanity. But, this is not Oz, Wonderland, the Twilight Zone, and it's not 1984!

With every fiber in our being we must resist. Resist like Mario Savio told us to resist: with our entire bodies against the gears and the wheels and the levers of the machine.

We must resist because we claim no partnership in war crimes, genocide, torture, or crimes against humanity. We claim no complicity in crimes against the American people.

We will build a broad-based, rainbow movement for justice and peace. And we will win.
Greg Palast on American Blackout:

American Blackout, directed by Guerrilla News Network’s Ian Inaba uses a stunning mix of never before seen archive and firsthand interviews. Inaba knows how to make otherwise dull C-Span clips look like something completely new and interesting. He does this by split-screen and zooming so you know who you’re supposed to be looking at — Katherine Harris, Jeb Bush, ChoicePoint representatives. You see them lying to a Civil Rights panel, you see them sweat when questioned by Congresswoman McKinney. All I can say is that I am stunned that I’ve never seen this technique used before — it keeps you interested, on your toes and wanting for more. . . .

The story of Cynthia McKinney that sews the running thread through the film, is uglier than even I knew. Many only familiar with the Congresswoman’s press coverage will be aghast at just how distorted a picture the media has fed us.

It literally defies belief.

Here we see her cross-examining Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with such surgical precision and grasp of her brief that Rumsfeld is left stammering and ashen-faced. It makes us wonder what kind of country we might have right now if more had put this administration under such factual scrutiny. American Blackout lays out exactly why she has been so relentlessly hounded. Every one of her speeches brings to mind the hoarse pleas of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, a force to be reckoned with.


Ali Abunimah:
Obama has also been close to some prominent Arab Americans, and has received their best advice. His decisive trajectory reinforces a lesson that politically weak constituencies have learned many times: access to people with power alone does not translate into influence over policy. Money and votes, but especially money, channeled through sophisticated and coordinated networks that can "bundle" small donations into million dollar chunks are what buy influence on policy. Currently, advocates of Palestinian rights are very far from having such networks at their disposal. Unless they go out and do the hard work to build them, or to support meaningful campaign finance reform, whispering in the ears of politicians will have little impact. (For what it's worth, I did my part. I recently met with Obama's legislative aide, and wrote to Obama urging a more balanced policy towards Palestine.)

If disappointing, given his historically close relations to Palestinian-Americans, Obama's about-face is not surprising. He is merely doing what he thinks is necessary to get elected and he will continue doing it as long as it keeps him in power. Palestinian-Americans are in the same position as civil libertarians who watched with dismay as Obama voted to reauthorize the USA Patriot Act, or immigrant rights advocates who were horrified as he voted in favor of a Republican bill to authorize the construction of a 700-mile fence on the border with Mexico.

Only if enough people know what Obama and his competitors stand for, and organize to compel them to pay attention to their concerns can there be any hope of altering the disastrous course of US policy in the Middle East. It is at best a very long-term project that cannot substitute for support for the growing campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions needed to hold Israel accountable for its escalating violence and solidifying apartheid.

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15 March, 2007

US Social Forum - Atlanta, GA, June 27 - July 1, 2007

Hope for the future, I'm convinced, lies in this sort of local, grassroots internationalist organizing:

The US Social Forum is more than a conference, more than a networking bonanza, more than a reaction to war and repression. The USSF will provide space to build relationships, learn from each other's experiences, share our analysis of the problems our communities face, and bring renewed insight and inspiration. It will help develop leadership and develop consciousness, vision, and strategy needed to realize another world.

The USSF sends a message to other people’s movements around the world that there is an active movement in the US opposing US Policies at home and abroad.

We must declare what we want our world to look like and begin planning the path to get there. A global movement is rising. The USSF is our opportunity to demonstrate to the world

Another World is Possible!



Ted Glick:
How will we bring about significant change in the USA? There are a number of things that need to happen, but one bottom-line, essential requirement is the coming together of a critical mass of organizers and activists into a grassroots-based, politically independent, popular and progressive network, alliance and/or party. Given what we are up against here in the belly of empire, it's hard to see how we have any hope of change absent such a development.
. . .

. . . there is an important initiative underway that has the potential to advance a different kind of unity- and alliance-building process across lines of race, culture, issue and geographic region - a process that we desperately need: the United States Social Forum, happening in Atlanta, Georgia, June 27th to July 1st.

Organizing toward this event was initiated by Grassroots Global Justice, an alliance of over 50 grassroots organizations representing people of color and low-income communities in the US. Over the last couple of years, it has been putting the pieces in place to make this major event possible.

World Social Forum Origins

It is significant that the US Social Forum is emerging out of many years of World Social Forums that have been happening in countries of the Global South. Originally begun in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2001, the first World Social Forum (WSF) was organized as an alternative to the world ruling elite's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The second and third WSFs were held in Porto Alegre; the fourth one in Mumbai, India, and the fifth one back in Porto Alegre. Beginning with 12,000 people in 2001, it grew to 155,000 registered participants in 2005.

The sixth World Social Forum was "polycentric," held in January 2006 in Caracas, Venezuela, and Bamako, Mali, and in March 2006 in Karachi, Pakistan. The forum in Pakistan was delayed till March because of the Kashmir earthquake that had recently occurred in the area.

Earlier this year, in late January, the seventh WSF was held in Nairobi, Kenya, attended by 60,000 people.

There have also been regional and national social forums in Europe, Asia, the Mediterranean, Italy, and in the USA in Boston, the Southeast, the Midwest, the Southwest and just recently in Washington, DC.

This first national social forum in the US is coming at a particularly auspicious time. Bush, Cheney and the Republicans are on the defensive, struggling to maintain support for their agenda of wars and occupations for oil and empire abroad and, at home, the destruction of basic constitutional rights and cutbacks to education, health care, Social Security and other human needs. Yet there is also widespread, popular dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party and with corporate, big-money domination of both major political parties.

Jerome Scott and Walda Katz-Fishman, leaders of Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty and Genocide, a key group within the leadership of the US Social Forum process, recently summarized its importance in this way:

"The social forum process was initiated by social movements of oppressed and exploited peoples in the Global South; and no one group in the US 'owns it.' Second, the social forum is being brought home to the US by grassroots organizations - with people of color and low-income-led organizations in the leadership. Third, the social forum is a convergence process of all our fronts of struggle; it is multi-issue and multi-sector, and inclusive of all who are struggling for justice, equality and peace. Fourth, the social forum is a space where a broad range of political analysis is welcomed - from progressive to revolutionary.

"This is why the US Social Forum is the place to be this summer if you are a movement builder, if you have a vision of another world, if you want to make it happen!"

Let's make it happen. See you in Atlanta!


from the Preface to How the Rich Are Destroying the Planet by Hervé Kempf:

. . . we cannot understand the concomitance of the ecological and social crises if we don't analyze them as the two sides of the same disaster. And that disaster derives from a system piloted by a dominant social stratum that today has no drive other than greed, no ideal other than conservatism, no dream other than technology.

This predatory oligarchy is the main agent of the global crisis - directly, by the decisions it makes. Those decisions aim to maintain the order that has been established to its advantage and favor the objective of material growth: the only method, according to the oligarchy, of making the subordinate classes accept the injustice of the social situation. But material growth intensifies environmental degradation.

The oligarchy also exercises a powerful indirect influence as a result of the cultural attraction its consumption habits exercise on society as a whole, and especially on the middle classes. In the best-provided-for countries, as in developing countries, a large share of consumption answers a desire for ostentation and distinction. People aspire to lift themselves up the social ladder, which happens through imitation of the superior class's consumption habits. Thus, the oligarchy diffuses its ideology of waste throughout the whole society.

It's not the oligarchy's behavior alone that leads to deepening of the crises. Faced with opposition to its privileges, with environmental anxiety, with criticism of economic neoliberalism, it weakens public freedoms and the spirit of democracy.

A drift towards semi-authoritarian regimes may be observed almost everywhere in the world. The oligarchy that reigns in the United States is its engine, as it uses the terror that the September 11th, 2001, attacks elicited in American society.

In this situation, which could lead to either social chaos or dictatorship, it is important to know what it is right to maintain for ourselves and for future generations: not "the Earth," but "the possibilities of human life on the planet," as philosopher Hans Jonas calls them; that is, humanism, the values of mutual respect and tolerance, a restrained and rich relationship with nature, and cooperation among human beings.

To achieve those goals, it is not enough for society to become aware of the urgency of the ecological crisis - and of the difficult choices its prevention imposes, notably in terms of material consumption. It will further be necessary that ecological concerns articulate themselves as a radical political analysis of current relationships of domination. We will not be able to decrease global material consumption if the powerful are not brought down and if inequality is not combated. To the ecological principle that was so useful at the time we first became aware - "Think globally; act locally," - we must add the principle that the present situation imposes: "Consume less; share better."


Truthout's Leslie Thatcher summarizes:

However difficult the political decision to "accept humanity's self-moderation" may appear to be, Kempf maintains his optimism in that possibility. He urges us to get rid of several received ideas:

—belief in growth as the solution to social problems

— belief in technology as the solution to ecological problems

— the inevitability of unemployment ("a construct whereby capitalism keeps workers docile and salaries down")

— the necessary alliance of Europe, which embodies a universal ideal and the demonstrated ability to unite diverse states, and North America, "the obese power"

He encourages us to build on existing strengths:

— the public freedoms and concern for the public good that still characterize the system itself

— a mass media which may have "treacherously" supported the oligarchy in the recent past up until now, but which is capable of being once again a vehicle of real information and empowerment.

— the "Left" — which could be reborn by joining the causes of inequality and ecology

— nascent global solidarity movements.