IPS Blog

From the Frontlines: June 21, 2010

Oil spill cleanup in the Niger Delta“Conservatives have declared a new class war, but it’s not on bankers earning seven-figure bonuses,” even though “[a] recent study [finds] that when such factors as education and work experience are accounted for, state and local employees earn 11 to 12 percent less than comparable private sector workers…By attacking public workers, they can demonize “big labor” and “big government” at the same time, while deflecting attention from the more logical target of Middle America’s rage: the irresponsible Wall Street traders, whose risky, high-profit business practices brought down the economy, and the lax regulators who let them get away with it.” (The Nation) If GOP senators are saying this, maybe they should volunteer to have their salaries cut first?

“It’s as if the Earth has been smoking two packs a day,” say the authors of a new Australian report on the decline of our oceans. (Scientific American)

The Guardian interviews Story of Stuff‘s Annie Leonard (with whom we collaborated on the Story of Cap and Trade) on her new book:”If you’re going to vote with your dollar that’s fine,” Leonard says. “But you need to remember that Exxon has a lot more dollars than you. We need to vote with our votes; re-engage with the political process and change the balance of power so that those who are looking out for the wellbeing of the planet dominate, instead of those who are just looking out for the bottom line.”

Anger at the BP oil disaster is turning into action. Yes! Magazine shows how. (You could also take a page from Rep. Barton’s book and apologize to BP. Via OpenLeft.)

But if you think the situation in the Gulf is bad, take a look at the Niger Delta. By IPS board member Ethelbert Miller, in the FPIF Focal Points blog. You can also go to Niger Delta Rising for more background.

Unemployed? Laid off and left out? The National Employment Law Project wants to hear your story, because America’s workers deserve better.

Children At War (With Funding From the U.S.)

While our children go off to school, many Somali children are going off to war. 80 percent of the Somali rebel groups are comprised of children. The rebel groups, however, are not the only perpetrators. 20 percent of the Somali transitional government is made up of children, some as young as 9 years old.

These child soldiers, only occasionally paid $1.50 a day, sport fully loaded assault rifles as they roam the dilapidated streets of lawless Somalia. They are employed by the Somali army, almost entirely armed and financed by the United States. Some of the children have even claimed to have recently returned from training in Uganda, where U.S. military officers have been overseeing the training for Somali soldiers.

The U.S. funding going to training and arming child soldiers in Somalia, exemplifies the effects of AFRICOM. AFRICOM is an independent military command for Africa and represents an increased expansionism by the U.S. military.

One of AFRICOM’s chief functions is to train and equip African militaries such as the one in Somalia. According to the New York Times, when questioned about how the U.S. was ensuring that it’s funding was not going to support child soldiers in Somalia, a U.S. official responded, “I don’t have a good answer for that.”

Furthermore, AFRICOM’s efforts generally contribute to further destabilization and conflict, rather than peace. The New York Times also recorded former defense minister Sheik Yusuf Mohamed Siad saying, “All this international training, it’s just training soldiers for the Shabab [rebel group].” This conclusion stems from the increasing number of defections from the Somali army.

Despite the recent failures of AFRICOM in the Congo and Mauritania, President Obama increased its budget for fiscal year 2010.

Where do you want your tax dollars to go? To the Department of Defense to arm and train child soldiers and fuel aggression?

Or you could urge the U.S. government to give it to nonmilitary agencies that will help build schools and provide children in Somalia and the rest of Africa with the education necessary to end the cycle of conflict. Learn more about how to resist AFRICOM.

The U.S. is also not in the best position right now to pressure Somalia end the use of child soldiers. It is the only country, besides Somalia, to not have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty that prohibits the use of children under the age of 15 in armed conflict.

The U.S., as the world hegemon and the leading provider of humanitarian assistance to Somalia, could have immense sway in preventing their use of child soldiers. The U.S. failure to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, however, hurts its credibility to pressure Somalia.

While campaigning, President Obama agreed that our failure to ratify the Convention “is embarrassing”; however, we have still not seen a move made to rectify the situation.

The U.S. must be held more accountable. Action must be taken immediately both to ratify the Convention on the rights of the Child and to prevent U.S. funding of military conflicts in Africa. These steps cannot be delayed when children’s innocence is at stake.

Wednesday, according to the New York Times, the UN Security Council discussed the use of child soldiers and declared a “readiness” to adopt sanctions against those who participate in this practice. While this is a positive step, rhetoric is not enough; the U.S. should take a leadership role in enacting this change immediately.

Reader Challenge: Trade Flotilla Investigation for Blockade?

Earlier today, Marc Lynch posted a piece entitled “A Good Deal For Gaza” in which he noted reports that the Israeli government is to “significantly ease the blockade of Gaza in exchange for American support for a whitewash of the investigation of the flotilla incident” and argued that “trading off the investigation for the blockade was the right move” for Gazans.

. . . writes Steve Hynd at Newshoggers in Accepting Crumbs? More:

Newshoggers’ pal Tehranchick writes in an email published with her kind permission:

. . . Throwing a few crumbs in their (Palestinians) direction isn’t going to help when we know that the Israeli government can just as easily stop with the crumbs. I see this issue of ‘easing’ as nothing more than concession and appeasement after murderous attack on the flotilla. So please, convince me that Palestinians are going to get real help from ‘the easing.’ Convince me that Netanyahu is serious about change.

That these “crumbs” can be stopped and started at Israeli whim is something Issandr El Amrani at The Arabist worries about too. …

The devil will be in the details, such as the list of allowed goods Israel still has to publish and the character and length of the border procedures for people and goods moving in and out.

To be honest, I think it will take more than one. But I also think that the Gaza Flotilla episode has undermined something crucial in the united-we-stand wall that the US and Israeli have presented to the world. … Thus, although it sticks in my craw to countenance a lack of legal accountability for the Flotilla assault, I’ll reluctantly take the product, if that leads to a wall being tore down, instead.

Finally, Abu Aardvaark himself tweeted:

To all: I’m skeptical about implementation of new Gaza rules too, but still think it’s better to take positive move and work with it.

Do Focal Points readers stand in agreement with Steve Hynd and Marc-Abu Ardvark-Lynch?

Loose Oil Is a Way of Life in West Africa

I believe it was Amiri Baraka who once said, “one man’s fast is another man’s slow.” The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has destroyed a way of life for many American fishermen. This should be accepted as fact not fiction. The landscape of our nation is going to change soon and not for the better. The recent oil spill is not an aberration. Just look at the story in The New York Times (June 16, 2010) about the awful conditions in the Niger Delta. It’s obvious we need the media to expand its coverage of oil spills. How soon will toxic wastelands become a normal sight for Americans, the way it is for some Nigerians? It’s unfortunate that Africa is still a “dark continent” when it comes to shedding light on the operations of the oil industry. When I read the following in the newspaper, I wanted to weep:

Big oil spills are no longer news in this vast, tropical land. The Niger Delta — where the wealth underground is out of all proportion with the poverty on the surface — has endured the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every year for 50 years by some estimates. The oil pours out nearly every week, and some swamps are long since lifeless.

BP is talking about cleaning up the mess they made. But what does clean-up really mean? Is it no visible oil on the surface of the water? How can life survive after being embraced by oil? What fish or birds would ever want to make love?

In the Niger Delta the villain is Shell. Oil leaks in the region are also a result of oil thieves and aging pipelines, no longer properly being maintained. The people in the Niger Delta have been battling for years to control their destiny and protect their environment.

One wonders what will happen here in the United States? Will a populist movement organize against a big oil company? Will the “small” people fight back?

It might be a good idea to bring Nigerian fishermen and folks from Louisiana to Washington and have them sit side by side and tell their stories. There is a similar (if not singular) narrative taking place and it is beginning to sound too much like science-fiction.

The fear of a black planet could be one engulfed by oil.

Protesters Speak Out Against U.S. Support for Ethiopian Government

protestersNearly 200 protesters gathered in front of the White House on the afternoon of June 14 to denounce continued U.S. support for Ethiopia’s incumbent regime. Chanting in native Amharic and rallying around the Ethiopian flag, the crowd members were predominantly from DC’s sizable Ethiopian diaspora.

On May 23, Ethiopia held its fourth national election since transitioning to democracy in 1993. The transition away from dictatorship seems incomplete, however, when all four election have reelected President Meles Zenawi and his monolithic EPRDF party by landslide majorities. This year’s officially reported win margin was 99.6% vote for Zenawi, representing the government’s repression of opposition, use of voter intimidation, and rejection of election monitors. This is a significant regression in democratic governance since the last election Ethiopia held in 2005.

The protesters reacted strongly to this regression, calling on the U.S. to change its foreign policy and aid practices, which currently help prop up Zenawi’s regime. Ethiopia receives the third largest amount of foreign aid from the U.S. after Israel and Egypt, receiving $862 million in foreign assistance in 2009. This inundation of aid and diplomatic silence by the U.S. is projected to be because Ethiopia is such valuable U.S. ally in the volatile horn of Africa and in the War on Terror.

But Ethiopians, both in the Horn of Africa and in the U.S. diaspora, are enraged that the U.S. is prioritizing the stability and anti-terrorism policies of their corrupt despot, Zenawi, over encouraging free and fair elections.

The State Department’s assistant press secretary has remained markedly vague and diplomatic, promising, “We will work diligently with Ethiopia to ensure that strengthened democratic institutions and open political dialogue become a reality for the Ethiopian people.”

Split This Rock Poem of the Week: Lori Desrosiers

A weekly featured poem of provocation and witness. You can find more poetry and arts news from Blog This Rock.

That Pomegranate Shine

Two brides arise from the river, shivering and shining like pomegranate seeds.
– Words from an Armenian Song

I was the wrong kind of bride,
more sweat than glisten,
more peach than pomegranate.
At twenty-three, in love with marriage,
not the man,
I plunged into rough water,
bringing grandmother’s candlesticks,
mother’s books and two silver trays.
Ten years later, I emerged shivering,
dragging my ragged volumes,
one candlestick and two babies.
On the bank, I shook off the water
and breathed.
Standing with my children,
looking out over the river,
the new brides asked me where
I got that pomegranate shine.

– Lori Desrosiers

Poking a Stick Into the Honor Killing v. Domestic Violence Debate

Islamic girlsFirst, we could start by abandoning this ridiculous, self-indulgent ideological debate over the taxonomy of honour killings. Those on the left who abhor the term are right about one thing: A good few of the people who constantly shout it from the rooftops are mostly interested in demonizing Islam. But that doesn’t change the fact that honour killings can . . . rather easily be distinguished from other cases of domestic violence. A murderer who kills a relative in certainty that his peers will approve is a very different animal from one who does so out of anti-social, purely secular rage.

. . . writes Chris Selley in Recipe to reduce honour killings at Canada’s National Post (gleaned from a Tweet by Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail). More:

Between 1998 and 2007 . . . 65 Canadian children between the ages of 12 and 17 were killed by a family member. One of them was Aqsa Parvez. … Muhammad Parvez felt humiliated by his daughter’s dress, her behaviour and her choice of friends, and his remedy was to choke the life out of her. “My community will say you have not been able to control your daughter,” he lamented to his wife.

If honour killings are on the rise in Canada. … it’s not as if this is a leading cause of death in Canada, or even of domestic homicide. … The question is not whether this is a problem for the diaspora communities in question, and for Canada. It is. The question is whether it demands sweeping, perhaps structural, changes to Canadian society — for example, “the immigration debate we don’t want to have,” as a Globe and Mail headline darkly intoned yesterday. I don’t think it does. I think it just means we need to try harder.

For example . . .

An unapologetic, incessant message to women and girls living in abusive situations that they don’t have to, and should not, put up with it, backed up with well-funded resources like safe houses and punitive criminal sanctions for offenders.

Asking “What’s the alternative?” Selley concludes:

In a highly theoretical world, we could ban immigration from countries or communities where honour crimes are common. That’s obviously not going to happen. And if it did, we’d be denying people like Aqsa Parvez even the chance to be Canadian. [He] came to Canada as a refugee, not as an immigrant. … Canada granted him asylum from persecution . . . and he repaid the favour by persecuting his daughter for wanting to be free. Because of this cretin, we should turn the country upside down? No thanks.

Do Focal Points readers agree that honor killings can easily be distinguished from other cases of domestic violence? Do you agree with the author that all of us in North America need to guard against over-reacting to honor killings?

What Does Gary Brooks Farber’s Quixotic Mission Say About the Rest of Us?

His brother said: “He’s not crazy. He’s not a psychopath. He’s not a sociopath. He’s a man on a mission.” His sister described him as a “very patriotic,” man who “had grown frustrated with the public debate over [our] two major wars [as] the main cause had been forgotten [which was that] a man ordered a hit on our country, so we went to war.”

. . . reports the New York Times on Gary Brooks Farber:

An ailing, middle-age construction worker from Colorado [who] armed himself with a dagger, a pistol, a sword, Christian texts, hashish and night-vision goggles and headed to the lawless tribal areas near the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan to personally hunt down Osama bin Laden.

First question for Focal Points readers: Is this vigilante, however much he may be tilting at the windmill of a possibly dead bin Laden, deserving of any admiration whatsoever? Flipping this around, personally I’ve long been somewhat embarrassed by how little interest most Americans have ever shown in tracking bin Laden & co. down. It’s also rendered inexplicable by how we as a nation gorge ourselves on vengeance-based entertainment.

Updating what I wrote in Counterpunch in 2005 . . .

Let’s examine the forces that are ostensibly strong enough to make us jettison the impulse to vengeance.

1. We’re too busy. Living in the most overworked developed nation, we scarcely have the time, even if inclined, to chew over how we were wronged as others in the developed world might, or stew over it like the underemployed of developing nations.

2. Vengeance is so primitive. To many on the East Coast, anger and vengeance are akin to fire and brimstone, that is, the Red states. It’s aggravated by therapy-nation’s credo that anger is not about how we deal with what provoked us, but how we handle the feeling itself. While recent polls [at the time] show Americans favor restrictions of Muslims’ civil liberties, in Manhattan no one turns a head at Arab music issuing from a Middle-Eastern, sidewalk-food-vendor’s boombox. Unfortunately, this comes off less as a commendable reluctance to profile than, once again, an inability to feel and express anger.

3. We’re not actually angry. Many Americans dwelling in points distant from the attacks felt unaffected by 9/11. Others, though it’s seldom spoken of in polite company, we’re secretly glad that New York and Washington were struck. Despite their disdain for the Islamic religion, they weren’t above feeling grateful to its most extreme representatives for wreaking havoc on their biggest enemy: big government and liberals.

4. We ain’t got no quarrel with them Arabs (no disrespect to Muhammad Ali intended). The conventional wisdom on why President Bush was reelected was summed up by Jeff Jacoby in a Boston Globe column: “Americans trust Bush’s judgment on the overriding issue of our time: the West’s life-and-death struggle against Islamist fanaticism. . . he got the core meaning of 9/11 right.” If that’s true, it’s only because the administration sensed, perhaps because of their own pet Saudis, that Middle-Americans had no innate antipathy toward Middle-Easterners. Thus, the string of terror alerts that the administration issued during the election year [2004] may, in part, have been a means of jolting Middle America into upgrading Middle-Easterners to their “A” list of hatred along with gays, Mexicans, and the aforementioned liberals.

5. Bin Laden is not enough. Half of those polled by Zogby International in New York City on the eve of the [2004] Republican National Convention agreed that the administration had foreknowledge of the attacks. While that may be chalked up to fashionable urban cynicism, more and more Americans suspect the administration either commissioned or was complicit in 9/11.

Second question: Granted — 9/11 was a form of blowback. Nor am I personally calling for revenge. My concern is what does our continued nonchalance about bringing back the head of bin Laden say about the mood of our country?

Leave Afghanistan and Declare bin Laden Dead in One Fell Swoop

Someone recently posted a blurb to a security list I play on, quoting a noted Mid East analyst (whose work I admire, incidentally) as saying that the Democrats can’t leave Afghanistan, because that would make them losers, and as a result, they would lose elections for decades to come.

I guess I was either under or over-caffeinated at the moment, because this is a polite version of what spewed out of my terminal . . .

Get over it, people! This is pure legacy thinking!

The Democrats are forever angsting over being accused of ‘losing China’ or being ‘soft on communism’. Time to get their meds titrated.

Between debt, disinterest and rising casualties, it will likely be far more dangerous politically for Obama NOT to bring the boys home quickly.

And here’s how he can do it.

  1. Frame it as a bad war, started by the bozos across the aisle, which he tried to fix, but – so sorry – it was just too late after years of mismanagement under those duplicitous Republicans. And, really folks, we can’t justify more blood and treasure for people who look and talk funny, and don’t like us anyway. Also, dear voters, let’s talk about all that money we’ll save, and how, as your leader in a new term, I’ll use it to create jobs, rebuild your communities and bake a whole ton of apple pies using my dear, old Nona’s secret recipe
  2. Throw (SecDef) Gates under the bus as an example of what happens when you try to be a nice guy and let those duplicitous Republicans help govern and they go and lose a war for you. Dump Hillary, too, for totally bricking it as SecState, being a general pain in the butt, and for a little righteous payback. I mean, it will be time for a cabinet shuffle prior to the election anyway. Also, with any luck, Petraeus will be collateral damage, just as people start to call for drafting him as the Great Republican Hope in 2012.
  3. Blend this with a righteous maskirovka claiming ‘We got UBL!’ (like we ‘got’ all those other muj who later turn out to be inconveniently alive) and claim victory. By the time anyone burns through the jamming, it will be beyond the attention span of the Average American Voter. (Currently estimated at the length of one Idol episode, or until the beer runs out.) Great October Surprise payback, too. Plus, the thought of Osama jumping up and down in front of a video camera screaming, ‘I’m alive, you idiot infidels!’ is just too funny. Imagine it with a Bart Simpson voice-over. Could set the movement back 20 years and the BBBG (big, bad, bearded guy) might even be tempted to wave at a drone pilot just to be taken seriously.
  4. If it turns out the polls say POTUS needs some tough guy creds (if saying ‘kick some ass’ wasn’t tough enough, although it totally scared me) he can just send the Secret Squirrels over and blow the bejeebers out of Somalia, Yemen or some other third world backwater in the name of freedom, democracy and using up the ordnance so the contractors who own congress can replace it all with newer (and more expensive, if not better) models.
  5. Start practicing the tango with Michelle because you’ll look soooo cool at the (second!) inaugural ball.

Oh, gotta run. The phone’s ringing, and I think it’s Rahm Emanuel offering me a consulting gig.

(Yeah, I know I’m being cynical, but am I being cynical enough? And I DO need the work.)

Tax Wall Street to Pay for Jobs

Yesterday, the Senate rejected an urgently needed jobs bill that would reauthorize several expired necessary stimulus programs, including the extension of unemployment benefits. The bill failed 45-52, with 12 Democrats voting against it.

Senator Ben Nelson, one of the dozen Democrats, reasoned that, “I’ve said all along that we have to be able to pay for what we’re spending…$77 billion or more of this is not paid for and that translates into deficit spending and adding to the debt, and the American people are right: We’ve got to stop doing that.”

Senator Nelson is wrong. The country is not facing a debt crisis, but a jobs crisis. Ordinary people on Main Street are still suffering from the consequences of Wall Street’s reckless mismanagement of capital that led to our current economic crisis. Extending programs like Unemployment Insurance and providing more aid to local and state governments are necessary acts to stimulate our economy. Yet the 12 moderate Democratic Senators are unwilling to address our 9.7% unemployment rate and our weak job growth in the past few months because they are concerned about having too much debt.

If these Senators are serious about stimulating the economy in a budget neutral way, they should pass a Financial Speculation Tax (FST). An IPS report released today, Taxing the Wall Street Casino, illustrates that an FST is the best way of creating the necessary revenue, while also discouraging the irresponsible financial speculation that is common on Wall Street today.

According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, an FST, a small levy on all financial transactions (0.25% or less) would create about $177 billion in revenue per year. Not only would this tax stabilize our financial markets, but it would also provide more than enough revenue to support a robust jobs program and deal with other urgent needs.

Compared to other proposals on the table, an FST is the plan that would generate the most revenue:

FST chart

The Senate should be looking for ways to jumpstart our economy in a fiscally responsible manner. However, they shouldn’t be doing it at the expense of those who suffered the most from the crisis. A financial speculation tax is the solution to getting those who caused the crisis to pay for the damage that they have created.

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