Category Archives: News

State of the Union address 2015: so earnest, so meaningless

OBAMA 2015

No need to do an exegesis of Obama’s speech last night–so earnest, so pompous, so absolutely meaningless. He had nothing to say on the several US wars, & less to say on Ferguson & civil rights or immigration rights. That is, he had nothing to say on the life & death issues facing millions of working people.

In an attempt to be inspirational he spoke of equality. But his words are so at odds with his deeds–& now he gets to blame it all on the Republicans. What a bait & switch operation it all is.

Let’s do a simple fact check on his claims the economy is growing. (Though, to be fair he never did say who it was growing for.) If employment levels are looking so good why are food banks around the country reporting soaring demands for food assistance? Is it because the new minimum wage jobs don’t cut it if you want to have housing & eat too? Why are schools having to deal with starving kids before they even start the day’s lessons?

A little over two years ago the government cut the food stamp program $5 billion across-the-board & are gradually implementing $6 billion more cuts through 2016. Through all sorts of new restrictions which have nothing to do with hungry kids, they expect to cut food stamp recipients by one million hungry people. Such is the character of Obama’s compassion. He could try to blame this on the Republicans too but the cuts were implemented in 2013 when Democrats were the majority. So much for that baloney.

And one last point about that speech. It was a masterpiece of xenophobia. At what point do you grow up & realize the US is not the be-all & end-all of human civilization? Or is neoliberal barbarism just not capable of making that judgement? (PS: it isn’t & it’s gotta go.)

(Photo by Mandel Ngan/AP)

“Je suis Charlie” is code for Je suis merde

Now that the furor over the Charlie Hebdo massacre has abated we can appreciate some of the comedy involved. Like people arguing with great umbrage that the satire of the cartoons is very French & not racist & xenophobic as they appear to the rest of the world. Are the French really that backward politically? Imbecility is not a flattering defense. It’s the kind of political defense you expect from Brigitte Bardot or Gerard Depardieu & that should give pause.

We can also cut the crap on that free speech stuff. The demand for free speech is something you direct at governments, not three dead gunmen. Reportedly, France is cracking down on people who make smart cracks & arrested a kid who did a satiric post about CH on FB, accusing him of defending terrorism. Is that French sarcasm too?

What’s not comical is that attacks on Muslim businesses & mosques in France have increased (60 since the CH event); that an Islamophobic march in Germany attracted 20,000 thugs; & that the Belgian police had a shootout against what they called an Islamist terrorist cell. They took them all out by claiming they were conspiring to commit acts of terror. Since when do you summarily execute people on an allegation? Why didn’t they arrest them, interrogate them, prosecute them instead of killing them all? What about that free speech thing?

This Islamophobic stuff is going to crescendo & the only way to respond to it is to build the antiwar movement & Palestinian solidarity (which both involve Islamophobia). You can’t talk people out of this rubbish. You have to answer it with power–which if it doesn’t persuade does silence the haters & intimidate the thugs.

Solidarity with those facing tear gas assaults today in defense of freedom

Haiti (REUTERS:Jeanty Junior Augustin) Jan 19 2015

We salute the thousands of protesters across the globe today facing tear gas assaults for defying tyranny: this man in Port-au-Prince, Haiti against the Martelly regime; in Manama, Bahrain protesting political prisoners; in Nairobi, Kenya protesting land grabbing & education cutbacks; in Lima, Peru protesting cutbacks in unemployment benefits for young workers; in Sao Paulo, Brazil protesting new increases in public transportation.

We stand in solidarity with you as the political & social forces that will bring change by challenging neoliberalism, the barbaric phase of capitalism.

(Photo of Haitian man being treated for tear gas by Jeanty Junior Augustin/Reuters)

Children in Kenya against neoliberal depredation

Nairobi Kenya (Tony Karumba:AFP) Jan 19 2015

Today Nairobi, Kenyan cops with attack dogs, truncheons, & firing tear gas attacked & chased schoolchildren protesting the seizure & land grab of their school playground by a property developer. The children, who were between 8 & 13-years old, pushed over the newly-built wall separating the playground from the school buildings. Several children required medical treatment & two were arrested.

For the past several months, there have been protests in Kenya against the austerities imposed on higher education–with riot cops chasing protesters into classrooms with tear gas canisters. This is the first time 8-year-olds are reported as entering the fray. There is probably no more promising development in Africa against the depredations of neoliberal plunder & IMF-World Bank austerity programs.

To whichever Hollywood celebrity is covering Kenya for the US State Department, we say “Eat that, buster!”

(Photo by Tony Karumba/AFP)

Haiti reconstruction five years on from the 2010 earthquake

Haiti ( Gregory Bull:Dieu Nalio Chery:AP) Jan 19 2015

In January 2012, on the 2nd anniversary of the Haitian earthquake, Oxfam issued a report saying reconstruction was moving ahead “at a snail’s pace,” that 500,000 Haitians were still homeless, most didn’t have running water, a toilet, or access to a doctor in a cholera epidemic caused by UN troops–but there was progress because half of all earthquake rubble had been removed. Unicef issued a similar report about the evidence of “meaningful & positive change.”

This photo is Port-au-Prince taken nine days ago. There are still 400,000 homeless living in tent camps without water or toilets, & it’s reported that 91 out of 250 cholera treatment centers have been closed. The Martelly regime, associated closely with the Obama regime, is now forcibly evicting people from the tent camps to live on the streets so land developers can take over. This might be the time for Oxfam & Unicef to make a further accounting–since we don’t expect any accounting from the US & other international donors.

Most of the billions of pledged international aid was never delivered. USAID is hardly a model of transparency but what they did report is that nearly 90% of aid delivered to Haiti was to US companies & NGOs for “agriculture, infrastructure & other projects.” Projects like the $300 million sweatshop complex set up by the Clintons, the power plant that dispossessed hundreds of Haitian farmers, & the airport so Haiti can develop its tourist industry. But no homes or toilets or clinics.

US companies actually set up a lobbying group called the Council of International Development Companies (CIDC) so they have a voice in the US Congress to drown out the voices of the Haitian people. But there have been many protests in Haiti which UN troops & Haitian riot cops have fired on. So much for that UN peacekeeping crap! The UN refuses responsibility for the cholera epidemic & doesn’t even have the elementary decency to maintain clinics for those afflicted.This is what you call plunder & colonialism & it would be good if the hundreds of NGOs operating in Haiti would speak out about this. Or is the aid they receive from USAID nothing more than hush money?

Our fullest solidarity with the people of Haiti. It’s long-since time we get off the schtick & make it an active solidarity.

(Photo by Gregory Bull/Dieu Nalio Chery/AP)

On Clint Eastwood and psycho snipers

“American Sniper” is Clint Eastwood’s new film based on the 2012 biography of Chris Kyle, a US Navy Seal from Texas. Kyle, who served four tours in the Iraq War, has several combat medals from the Navy & Marine Corps. He claimed with pride to have taken out more than 255 people in long-range kill shots & described killing as fun & something he loved to do. “I hate the damn savages,” he wrote. “I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis.” He also bragged about murdering looters during Hurricane Katrina. He & another guy were murdered on a gun range by a Marine Corps veteran with PTSD in 2013.

Reviewers tell us “American Sniper” is a morally ambiguous, emotionally complex film. Morally ambiguous, my ass! You don’t have Bradley Cooper, Hollywood’s hunk du jour, play Kyle unless you’re trying to whip up sympathy with him–& quite frankly with his racism & Islamophobia.

Eastwood is a right-winger & in no way distinguishes himself from the spate of films & TV series glorifying US assassins & spies & misrepresenting US military policy. You can look for nuance in this damn thing but that doesn’t raise it above the level of propaganda. How many shades of psycho are there?

Increasing popular opposition to neoliberal plunder in Africa

Burkina Faso (sopitas.com) Jan 17 2015

Bono & Bob Geldof have been excoriated (even if not enough) for their paternalist & white supremacist humanitarian aid campaigns for Africa. The same treatment needs to be accorded A-list Hollywood who make a seamless transition from strutting the red carpet to touring conflict zones in Africa not just touting humanitarian aid but US foreign policy in Africa. The list of movie stars playing great white savior is a mile long but George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio distinguish themselves in an unfortunate way.

Whether their concern is genuine isn’t relevant. What does matter is what political forces they ally with & what political agenda they promote for Africa. All of them are in league with the highest echelons of US government power–from the Council on Foreign Relations to the Pentagon & US Congress. Even their so-called humanitarian aid foundations are linked to US power.

Clooney operates in league with John Prendergast, a shadowy figure identified as a human rights activist in Africa but more likely a CIA operative who has numerous connections to US government agencies. The two frequently grandstand in Congress to testify for US military intervention in Darfur. Prendergast has a few foundations which media cite authoritatively on politics in central African countries. Last year, the Guardian reported Prendergast’s Enough Project (with links to the Clinton & Obama administrations & World Bank) declared the mines of DR Congo out of the control of war lords & the metals extracted conflict-free due to a US federal law passed in 2010. That absurd claim takes consumer heat off companies like Intel & Apple, leaves the mines in the hands of foreign mining interests strip-mining them for profit, & the continuing 17-year civil war inscrutable.

To promote US intervention in Darfur & other African countries, Prendergast, Clooney, Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, & other Hollywood hot shots formed Not On Our Watch Project. The Project gave half a million bucks to Oxfam in the Chad-Darfur region in 2008–a grant that likely involves less largesse than drawing NGOs into collusion in the region. It also provided seed money for the Satellite Sentinel Project founded by Clooney & Prendergast to do satellite surveillance of the region.

Jolie operates most often through the UN as a goodwill ambassador. Most recently (2014) she collaborated with William Hague, then a British Secretary of State, about the use of rape as a weapon of war, especially in DR Congo. She also frequently tours refugee camps in Africa–without ever bringing an iota of insight to what is causing the mass rapes or the refugees. One could claim that humanitarian aid is above politics except that such a distinction is entirely false. And Jolie as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations knows that. One of her frequent collaborators in the field is the International Rescue Committee, Kissinger’s group which is funded over 50% by the US government.

Affleck formed his own foundation, the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) in 2010 focusing on DR Congo which allows him to promenade media & testify in Congress as an expert on Africa. The co-founder of ECI is Whitney Williams, who also set up Matt Damon’s foundation for Africa. Williams is a humanitarian aid consultant with links to the Clintons, USAID, the Gates Foundation, the International Rescue Committee, John Prendergast & the Enough Project, & Bono’s foundation ONE. In 2011 ECI & the Enough Project jointly called on the US to intervene in DR Congo around elections. It’s all of a piece & not just of noblesse oblige but to serve US foreign policy & neoliberal plunder.

This narrative of Africa as a continental basket case of war, genocide, & famine is curiously at odds with investment agencies promoting foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa. Since the late 1990s, the UN, World Bank, other investment groups, & Forbes magazine have issued regular reports that rue the lack of FDI & promote African countries as among the fastest growing economies in the world. In fact, in that period FDI grew from $9 billion to $62 billion, mostly in the mining industries. In a recent list the World Bank listed the DR Congo as among the top six African economies. The DR Congo has been in a 17-year civil war with over four million civilian deaths & is occupied by UN troops. How the hell is economic performance calculated?

Mauritius, a small island country off the east coast of Africa, is held up by the World Bank & economist Joseph Stiglitz as the “Mauritius miracle” & among the top forty best economies in the world for doing business. What price glory! Sweatshops where workers earn pennies an hour, sleep 16 to a ward, have no labor rights; child labor; child prostitution for the tourist industry; sky high property costs so most workers can’t afford homes or rent.

Investment bankers project growth in Africa from a US $ 2 trillion to a $29 trillion economy by 2050 but their measure of growth & that of Africa’s working people is entirely different. A couple years ago the African Development Bank (a major player in all this) issued a report on Africa’s growth touting the extraction of oil & minerals as the primary source of economic growth. They didn’t elaborate that much of this depends on the dispossession of small farmers & the use of child labor. They reported major inroads into poverty so that those living below the poverty line of US $1 a day has fallen from 51% to 39%. They gloat that now 350 million Africans (out of 1.11 billion) earn between US $2 & $20 a day. $730 or $7,300 a year is nothing to gloat about. They never addressed the estimated one million African refugees every year making arduous treks to Europe, Saudi Arabia, Israel, & elsewhere seeking asylum & economic opportunity.

Foreign investment is in fact draining Africa of resources. An estimated $134 billion flows into the continent each year, in the form of loans, investment & aid, but an estimated $192 billion is taken out, mainly in profits made by foreign companies. The result is that Africa suffers a net loss of $58 billion a year. That’s called plunder.

The basket case narrative serves a political purpose or it wouldn’t be promoted. Partially it’s to cover for IMF-World Bank austerity programs which dispossess farmers & rural workers, create urban slums, destroy public health, education, & social services, allow multinational corporations to strip mine & wreak environmental catastrophe, & allow foreign corporations to maraud & freeboot in the name of development.

There have been popular uprisings in nearly 30 countries against pauperization & neoliberal plunder. These are seldom reported because they are at odds with both the basket case narrative about Africans & the promotion of FDI. These aren’t just spontaneous inchoate uprisings but involve political groups with explanations for the neoliberal devastation in their own countries. In the period after independence from colonial powers & before the onset of neoliberal plunder, there was considerable economic & social development that is being reversed. It is in these rebellions that the future of Africa lies–not in movie stars with white savior complexes.

Last fall, uprisings in Burkina Faso in western Africa deposed the president who was one of Africa’s longest serving leaders. Hundreds of thousands protested to stop him from running for a fifth term & after months of protest, he fled the country in October. This photo is of a protest in the capital Ouagadougou.

(Photo from sopitas.com)

Ayotzinapa protests continue in Mexico against disappearance of 43 student teachers

Guerrero, MX (Jorge Dan Lopez:Reuters) Jan 13 2015

The defiance of protesters against superior armed force not only evokes immense respect but also an understanding of the depth & power of their fury. This activist in Guerrero, Mexico is kicking the shields of military police as protesters tried to enter an army base near the town of Iguala. Such defiance is remarkable against an army that has killed over 70,000 people & disappeared thousands just in the past decade. The Mexican government admits to 8,000 disappeared & blames it on criminal gangs; human rights groups estimate the disappeared at 30,000–& we don’t know if that includes undocumented immigrants from Central America. We now know the distinction between the Mexican regime & criminal gangs has become irrelevant since last September local officials handed over 43 student teachers to a criminal gang to murder & incinerate–like they were garbage.

In Chilpancingo, the capital of Guerrero, teachers broke into several public buildings including the ministry of education. They evacuated staff & painted the number 43 on the walls. They broke into the national election commission & said they would not allow scheduled elections to be held on June 7th. They moved on to the State Congress & Government Palace facilities, broke windows, & painted 43 on the vehicles in the parking lot. Those who consider this lawless should keep in mind they have been stonewalled nearly four months by the Mexican government in answering questions about the crime, taking responsibility, & finding the remains of the 43 students.

There must be a considerable amount of fear among teachers & activists that such a large group can be picked off so easily & disappeared with no accountability. It sends chills just thinking about it. The only way to oppose such horrors is the kind of mobilization & fearlessness they are showing now. We need to find ways to build active solidarity with the political movement in Mexico especially in the US since the US bankrolls a good share of the operation.

Our fullest respect & solidarity with the activists of Guerrero. Give ’em a good kick for us!

(Photo by Jorge Dan Lopez/Reuters)

Starvation in Afghanistan and emancipation US-style

Kabul child (Omar Sobhani:Reuters ) Jan 13 2015

Caricature this. Emancipation US-style: this little guy is lined up with his mother at a refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan to receive food from the World Food Program (WFP), a UN agency. Studies done by the World Bank & WFP show that nearly one-third of the 31 million Afghanis are “food-insecure.” In normal language that means they don’t have enough food to eat. A staggering 60% to 85% of children suffer chronic malnutrition. One study parsed things even finer & said about five million more people are “borderline food-insecure.” You have to admire the bureaucratic mind that can make a distinction between starving & borderline starving. How do you measure that? Does a spud a day tip the balance?

Afghanistan has an agricultural economy. It grows potatoes, wheat, cereals, several fruits & nuts, & of course, poppies for the opium market. But much of this is for export & all is governed by the market economy. The food prices are reportedly sky high & if you don’t have money, you don’t eat. That makes sense under capitalism.

The WFP is the very soul of diplomacy in explaining why so many Afghanis are starving. They talk about uncontrolled grazing, illegal logging, drought, environmental degradation. They say “insurgent activity & military operations have affected food security in some regions.” Maybe they could spell it out & admit that farmland for food staples is more profitably used for poppies & that war & drone bombing have proven incompatible with farming.

In 2009, WFP announced it would provide food for 8 million people. Two years later, it announced it would cut food aid to over 3 million Afghanis because of a shortage of money from donor nations. Just like in Haiti & Gaza, regimes pledge donations they never deliver. WFP said then it needed at least $220 million more to continue at previous levels.

In 2014, USAID claimed it provided over $30 million of “in-kind food assistance” to WFP operations to feed 3.6 million people through 2017. What in the hell is “in-kind food assistance”? Can you eat it? Is it a chit for the supermarket? USAID also boasted it was the largest contributor of food assistance to WFP in 2014 but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the money it usually spends bribing Afghani officials.

It should be said that a country that occupies another, destroys its agriculture, creates millions of homeless & refugees, & makes life a living hell for millions has a hell of a lot of nerve treating humanitarian aid like noblesse oblige.

(Photo by Omar Sobhani/Reuters)