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Kids Who Die August 6, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Police, Race, Racism.
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Why Chavez Won Again October 31, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Venezuela.
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Published on Wednesday, October 31, 2012 by Foreign Policy in Focus

  by  Danny Glover

I had the privilege of traveling to Venezuela and witnessing the country’s October 7 presidential election and watching the South American country’s extraordinarily active and engaged citizenry in action. An impressive 81 percent of the electorate participated in a transparent and secure electoral process that former president Jimmy Carter reportedly referred to as the best in the world.

President Hugo Chavez’s 10-point margin of victory over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles stands as a testament to the enduring popularity of his participatory democracy programs and his government’s focus on addressing the needs of the poor.

Capriles campaigned on a platform that supported the government’s social programs, while criticizing inefficiencies in many government sectors and capitalizing on fears over high rates of violence and unchecked corruption. In reality, as former key supporters revealed, and the majority of voters affirmed at the ballot box, Capriles and his allies backed a sweeping neo-liberal program fundamentally opposed to the current government’s state-led, pro-social economic policies and support for direct collaboration with citizens in improving their wellbeing.

In contrast to his prior contempt for the democratic decisions of Venezeulans—including a failed coup in 2002—Capriles formally conceded defeat shortly after the election results were announced. Although media coverage of Venezuelan politics might have led one to think otherwise, these presidential elections were about much more than Chavez, as significant as he may be as torch-bearer of the poor and marginalized.

Venezuela’s Afro-Descendents

I began to get a sense of the bigger picture when I visited the country for the first time nine years ago at the invitation of the Afro-Venezuelan Network. I saw how Venezuela’s Afro-descendents—among the most under-educated, marginalized, and impoverished people in the country—were becoming proactive as full citizens under the Chavez government, increasingly participating in political decision-making at the local level and claiming a voice in regional, national, and even international affairs. And I became increasingly aware of the growing political collaboration among Afro-Venezuelans, the Chavez government, and the approximately 150 million people of African descent throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

My initial impressions, informed by my university studies in economics and my professional experience in community development in San Francisco, were confirmed on each of my subsequent visits. I observed numerous social, educational, cultural, and economic development projects that were improving the lives of marginalized communities and facilitating direct citizen participation and critical engagement in broader national, regional, and global affairs.

The Chavez government has also helped raise awareness about the historical links between racial exploitation and disempowerment and the socio-cultural relationship between wealth and luxury versus inequality and misery. The government’s policies, for which the majority of Venezuelan citizens of all backgrounds have voted for the last 13 years, are addressing the legacy of slavery and helping expose and overcome generations of discrimination based on race, class, and gender.

On my most recent trip to witness the elections, I was greatly moved by the extraordinary civility and enthusiasm of voters from across the political spectrum, despite the fact that the opposing campaign agendas clearly represent radically different visions for the people and the country. Though media accounts create the impression that extreme political polarization is pervasive throughout Venezuela, I witnessed an atmosphere of respect and tranquility at the voting centers. At every voting booth, volunteers from both campaigns were present to ensure that citizens had access to the ballot box and could freely exercise their choice for president.

But the most important moment of my trip was the day after the election when I met with local leaders and activists from the Afro-Venezuela community of San Jose in Barlovento, on the northern coast of Venezuela. I conversed with community leaders descended from the “maroons”—Venezuelans who had escaped slavery and created self-sustaining communities over 400 years ago.

Youth leaders described the educational missions and government programs that provided them with unprecedented access to higher education. Members of workers’ cooperatives discussed new state cacao processing factories co-managed by managers and workers that had helped lift the local economy and offered fair prices and social support to poor farmers. Other representatives of the community explained how new health and education missions were addressing the needs of communities that had had little or no access to basic services. In the small, poor community I visited, I learned about a state-run clinic focused exclusively on women’s health issues. Though local leaders by and large expressed admiration for President Chavez and his policies, they also noted unresolved issues that they wanted to see addressed.

A Better Life

More generally, life has improved for a great number of Venezuelans over the last decade. Poverty has been cut in half and extreme poverty cut by 70 percent. Free health care, education, and public pension programs have been greatly expanded, the minimum wage has steadily increased, and unemployment has dropped below 8 percent.

The most promising aspect of the Venezuelan government’s social development agenda is the proactive effort to promote democratic engagement and citizen control over local conditions and possibilities. We should all take note that these efforts are taking place in the middle of a global financial, economic, and ethical meltdown, when many countries are sharply scaling back social policies and embracing the neoliberal polices Venezuela has repeatedly rejected.

A great deal of the foreign media coverage of Venezuela gives the impression that Chavez’s social and economic policies are incoherent, unsustainable, and based on short-term electoral considerations. For years, the financial press has predicted an imminent collapse of the Venezuelan economy. But, in fact, Venezuela enjoys a large trade surplus and has relatively little public debt. That provides the government with lots of room for continued expansionary fiscal, monetary, and social development policies.

The press also often vilifies Chavez and portrays his supporters—a strong majority of the country—as poor, reverent masses who are blindly manipulated by populist rhetoric and occasional cash handouts. This portrayal is not only false, it is denigrating and injurious to the basic workings of democracy: ordinary people expressing their desires with visions of an improved quality of life, development projects, and a choice of political stewards to achieve their goals. Yet, nearly 14 years after Chavez was first elected, misrepresentations and outright fabrications still prevail in mainstream U.S. papers, television news programs, and in the statements of politicians from both major parties.

If you want to understand how the Chavez administration continues to win free and fair elections, you need only hear the stories of formerly marginalized communities and look more carefully at the country’s social and economic indicators. As I spoke with Afro-Venezuelans about their support for President Chavez and his agenda, I was reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said that we as a nation must undergo a “true revolution of values.” As King explained, “A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth…and say, ‘This is not just.'”

In the Oct. 7 elections, as in more than a dozen previous electoral cycles, Venezuela has shown that the majority of its people have a clear notion of justice and how it can be achieved. It is now time for those of us in the United States to look at our alliance with the elites of Latin America and say: This is not just.

© 2012 Foreign Policy in Focus
Danny Glover is an actor and political activist.

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Danny Glover

Environmental Leaders Call for Civil Disobedience to Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline June 23, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Environment.
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Published on Thursday, June 23, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

  by Naomi Klein, Wendell Berry, Maude Barlow, Bill McKibben and Others

Dear Friends,

This will be a slightly longer letter than common for the internet age—it’s serious stuff.

The short version is we want you to consider doing something hard: coming to Washington in the hottest and stickiest weeks of the summer and engaging in civil disobedience that will likely get you arrested.

The full version goes like this:

As you know, the planet is steadily warming: 2010 was the warmest year on record, and we’ve seen the resulting chaos in almost every corner of the earth.A coalition of clean energy advocates march from the Canadian Embassy to the White House to condemn a proposed pipeline that would bring tar sands oil, allegedly toxic, from Canada to the United States, in Washington D.C. in July 2010. (Photo: ZUMA Press)

And as you also know, our democracy is increasingly controlled by special interests interested only in their short-term profit.

These two trends collide this summer in Washington, where the State Department and the White House have to decide whether to grant a  certificate of ‘national interest’ to some of the biggest fossil fuel players on earth. These corporations want to build the so-called ‘Keystone XL Pipeline’ from Canada’s tar sands to Texas refineries.

To call this project a horror is serious understatement. The tar sands have wrecked huge parts of Alberta, disrupting ways of life in indigenous communities—First Nations communities in Canada, and tribes along the pipeline route in the U.S. have demanded the destruction cease. The pipeline crosses crucial areas like the Oglalla Aquifer where a spill would be disastrous—and though the pipeline companies insist they are using ‘state of the art’ technologies that should leak only once every 7 years, the precursor pipeline and its pumping stations have leaked a dozen times in the past year. These  local impacts alone would be cause enough to block such a plan. But the Keystone Pipeline would also be a fifteen hundred mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent, a way to make it easier and faster to trigger the final overheating of our planet, the one place to which we are all indigenous.

How much carbon lies in the recoverable tar sands of Alberta? A recent calculation from some of our foremost scientists puts the figure at about 200 parts per million.  Even with the new pipeline they won’t be able to burn that much overnight—but each development like this makes it easier to get more oil out.  As the climatologist Jim Hansen (one of the signatories to this letter) explained, if we have any chance of getting back to a stable climate “the principal requirement is that coal emissions must be phased out by 2030 and unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, must be left in the ground.” In other words, he added, “if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.” The Keystone pipeline is an essential part of the game. “Unless we get increased market access, like with Keystone XL, we’re going to be stuck,” said Ralph Glass, an economist and vice-president at AJM Petroleum Consultants in Calgary, told a Canadian newspaper last week.

Given all that, you’d suspect that there’s no way the Obama administration would ever permit this pipeline. But in the last few months the president has signed pieces of paper opening much of Alaska to oil drilling, and permitting coal-mining on federal land in Wyoming that will produce as much CO2 as 300 power plants operating at full bore.

And Secretary of State Clinton has already said she’s ‘inclined’ to recommend the pipeline go forward. Partly it’s because of the political commotion over high gas prices, though more tar sands oil would do nothing to change that picture. But it’s also because of intense pressure from industry. TransCanada Pipeline, the company behind Keystone, has hired as its chief lobbyist for the project a man named Paul Elliott, who served as deputy national director of Clinton’s presidential campaign. Meanwhile, the US Chamber of Commerce—a bigger funder of political campaigns than the RNC and DNC combined—has demanded that the administration “move quickly to approve the Keystone XL pipeline,” which is not so surprising—they’ve also told the U.S. EPA that if the planet warms that will be okay because humans can ‘adapt their physiology’ to cope. The Koch Brothers, needless to say, are also backing the plan, and may reap huge profits from it.

So we’re pretty sure that without serious pressure the Keystone Pipeline will get its permit from Washington.  A wonderful coalition of environmental groups has built a strong campaign across the continent—from Cree and Dene indigenous leaders to Nebraska farmers, they’ve spoken out strongly against the destruction of their land. We need to join them, and to say even if our own homes won’t be crossed by this pipeline, our joint home—the earth—will be wrecked by the carbon that pours down it.

And we need to say something else, too: it’s time to stop letting corporate power make the most important decisions our planet faces.

We don’t have the money to compete with those corporations, but we do have our bodies, and beginning in mid August many of us will use them. We will, each day through Labor Day, march on the White House, risking arrest with our trespass. We will do it in dignified fashion, demonstrating that in this case we are the conservatives, and that our foes—who would change the composition of the atmosphere are dangerous radicals. Come dressed as if for a business meeting—this is, in fact, serious business. And another sartorial tip—if you wore an Obama button during the 2008 campaign, why not wear it again? We very much still want to believe in the promise of that young Senator who told us that with his election the ‘rise of the oceans would begin to slow and the planet start to heal.’ We don’t understand what combination of bureaucratic obstinacy and insider dealing has derailed those efforts, but we remember his request that his supporters continue on after the election to pressure the government for change. We’ll do what we can.

And one more thing: we don’t want college kids to be the only cannon fodder in this fight. They’ve led the way so far on climate change—10,000 came to DC for the Powershift gathering earlier this spring. They’ve marched this month in West Virginia to protest mountaintop removal; Tim DeChristopher faces sentencing this summer in Utah for his creative protest.  Now it’s time for people who’ve spent their lives pouring carbon into the atmosphere (and whose careers won’t be as damaged by an arrest record) to step up too. Most of us signing this letter are veterans of this work, and we think it’s past time for elders to behave like elders. One thing we don’t want is a smash up: if you can’t control your passions, this action is not for you.

This won’t be a one-shot day of action. We plan for it to continue for several weeks, to the date in September when by law the administration can either grant or deny the permit for the pipeline. Not all of us can actually get arrested—half the signatories to this letter live in Canada, and might well find our entry into the U.S. barred. But we will be making plans for sympathy demonstrations outside Canadian consulates in the U.S., and U.S. consulates in Canada—the decision-makers need to know they’re being watched.

Winning this battle won’t save the climate. But losing it will mean the chances of runaway climate change go way up—that we’ll endure an endless future of the floods and droughts we’ve seen this year. And we’re fighting for the political future too—for the premise that we should make decisions based on science and reason, not political connection.  You have to start somewhere, and this is where we choose to begin.

If you think you might want to be a part of this action, we need you to sign up here. As plans solidify in the next few weeks we’ll be in touch with you to arrange nonviolence training; our colleagues at a variety of environmental and democracy campaigns will be coordinating the actual arrangements.

We know we’re asking a lot. You should think long and hard on it, and pray if you’re the praying type. But to us, it’s as much privilege as burden to get to join this fight in the most serious possible way. We hope you’ll join us.

Maude Barlow
Wendell Berry
Tom Goldtooth
Danny Glover
James Hansen
Wes Jackson
Naomi Klein
Bill McKibben
George Poitras
David Suzuki
Gus Speth

p.s.—Please pass this letter on to anyone else you think might be interested. We realize that what we’re asking isn’t easy, and we’re very grateful that you’re willing even to consider it.

Barack Obama and Langston Hughes on “Grumblers” and “Merry Christmas” December 27, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Asia, Barack Obama, Cuba, Economic Crisis, Haiti, History, Iraq and Afghanistan, Race, War.
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Posted Wed, 12/23/2009 – 17:24 by Bruce A. Dixon

When US presidents offer us their holiday greeting messages, do we know what are they really saying?  How hard can it be to figure that out?  Langston Hughes died in 1967, but he knew what every US president, including Barack Obama is really saying, underneath and behind the mask.  

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

In a recent interview with one of the few black reporters privileged to be part of the White House press corps, President Obama wasasked

April D. Ryan: Speaking of the African American community, this seems to be a shift in black leadership, as it relates to supporting you. You have the CBC that’s upset with you about targeting on the jobs front — African Americans, 15.6 percent unemployment rate, expected to go to 20 percent; mainstream America 10 percent. Then you have black actors who supported you — Danny Glover, who’s saying that you’ve not changed, your administration is the same as George W. Bush. What are your thoughts about the fact that black leadership is grumbling, and the fact that people are concerned with you being the first African American President, and they thought that there would be a little bit more compassion for black issues?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, April, I think you just engaged in a big generalization in terms of how you asked that question. If you want me to line up all the black actors, for example, who support me, and put them on one side of the room, and a couple who are grumbling on the other, I’m happy to have that.

I think if you look at the polling, in terms of the attitudes of the African American community, there’s overwhelming support for what we’ve tried to do. And, so, is there grumbling? Of course there’s grumbling,

Obama was referring to the relatively mild and tentative criticisms of the Congressional Black Caucus, along with other expressions of disappointment on the part of such activists as actor Danny Glover. The president can ignore, dismiss or disparage the divide between his policies and the opinions of the African American community which supported him. But it’s deep, it’s real, and it’s growing. It’s even historic.

Presidents have been issuing holiday greeting messages from their homes or cozy offices for a long time now, and Obama’s will be on line any minute now. Those interested can probably find it at JackandJillPolitics.com, at whitehouse.gov, and any number of other places. But the ironic 1930 Christmas message of Langston Hughes, the poet laureate of Black America sounds, with the most minor edits, like it could have come from the lips any US president of the past hundred years, including Barack Obama.

Sixty-nine years ago Langston Hughes began his holiday poem Merry Christmas with these lines

Merry Christmas China

From the gun-boats in the river

Ten inch shells for Christmas gifts

And peace on earth forever

At the moment, the U.S. was hip-deep in the Chinese civil war, bankrolling and advising a string of opium-soaked warlord armies against communists and agitators, and conducting naval operations in Chinese rivers and off its coasts. Today our first black president’s Pentagon, headed by the same team that ran George Bush’s Pentagon, sits atop some 800 overseas military bases in a hundred countries with more than 2 million uniformed personnel. Our president will spend more on this military machine than the all the rest of the planet combined, fighting and preparing to fight what the National Security Doctrine calls “multiple overlapping wars” to control resources in distant lands in the interest “free trade and free markets.”

Langston’s Christmas poem draws our attention to a part of the world much in today’s headlines.

Merry Christmas, India

To Gandhi in his cell

From righteous Christian England

Ring out bright Christmas bell

Under our first black president, Afghanistan and Pakistan are part of a vast law-free zone in which daily shellings and air raids go unreported and unremarked except by the families of victims. Assassinations and kidnappings to fill America’s world-wide network of secret prisons have replaced the open incarceration of real and suspected political foes. At least we knew Gandhi’s name, what he was charged with, where he was locked up, what his sentence was, whether he got a day in court and whether his keepers mistreated him. We can’t say that about hundreds or thousands of Obama’s prisoners.

Merry Christmas Africa

From Cairo to he Cape

Sing hallelujah, praise the Lord

For murder and for rape

Some things have changed very little indeed. The four part series “The Ravaging of Africa” to which a link appears in our left column, is a comprehensive indictment of US policy in Africa, which has caused the death of some 26 million Africans since the 1960s, including nearly ten million in Congo alone. America’s role as conscienceless predator was reaffirmed last week in Copenhagen, when the US categorically rejected the notion that it owed the rest of the world a debt for being the single major contributor to climate change over the last century and a half. Africans can drown or starve due to US -initiated climate change, but there will be no technology sharing, no reparations, nothing in the way of human solidarity between Africa and the West if the son of Africa in the White House has anything to say about it.

Langston Hughes draws our attention to the Caribbean, where the US has enforced its will at gunpoint for much of two centuries.

Ring Merry Christmas Haiti

And drown the voodoo drums

We’ll rob you to the Christmas hymns

Until the next Christ comes

Ring Merry Christmas Cuba

(Where Yankee domination

Keeps a nice fat president’s

in a little half-starved nation.)

In Cuba at least, Yankee domination is over. President Obama seems to resent this fact just as much as the last nine presidents, and continues to enforce a warlike economic blockade on Cuba.

And in Haiti, after more than a dozen US invasions and occupations, the US engineered the kidnapping of that country’s elected president, whom Obama will not even allow back in the Western hemisphere. In the name of international cooperation, the US pays for a multinational occupation force from Brazil and other countries to hunt down and kill members of Haiti’s Lavalas party, freeing US Marines for duty elsewhere.

Under the rules, Haiti is to be kept starving and terrorized, prevented by law from feeding or funding itself, owning its own infrastructure or employing its own people. Some things don’t change much.

The Christmas message of Langston Hughes doesn’t forget about domestic affairs either.

And to you down and outers

(“Due to economic laws”)

Oh, eat, drink, be merry

With a breadline Santa Claus–

Jobless levels are the highest they’ve been anywhere since the Great Depression, when Hughes penned his Christmas greeting. But now, just as in 1930, we have a president with an unshakable belief that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” a saying popularized by John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. In this time of economic crisis, President Obama has transferred more wealth to Wall Street from the real economy than all his predecessors combined.

But hard-pressed homeowners and those with heavy debts due to unpayable medical bills remain underwater. Their bailout isn’t coming. The only ones, apart from Wall Street who’ll get anything under an Obama administration will be the military.

President Obama began this December with a belligerent address that used the cadets at West Point as human stage props. At mid-month he went to Copenhagen to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and offer another bald-faced set of excuses for wars, kidnappings, secret prisons and the whole panoply of empire. He or his vice president may end it treating us to a Christmas or New Year’s message posing with the troops in occupied Iraq or Afghanistan. The more some things change, the more they stay the same.

We don’t know exactly what Obama will say in his holiday message. But Langston Hughes knew seventy years ago what he will mean.

While all the world hails Christmas

While all the church bells sway

While better still the Christian guns

Proclaim this joyous day

While holy steel that makes us strong

Spits forth a mighty yuletide song

SHOOT Merry Christmas everywhere

Let Merry Christmas GAS the air.

Presidents can always find sycophants, yes-men or yes-women eager to agree to whatever they say, often before they can even say it. All that comes with the job, along with Air Force One and that song they play every time he enters a crowded room. But the the truth is always true, no matter how hotly or how many the deniers, and most of Black America is not in denial on war, peace, mass incarceration or poverty.  The heroes, and the just plain honest will always be those who speak the truth to power.

Langston has been gone from us a long time now. We’ll never know what he might say to a son of Africa in the White House, married to a girl from the south side of Chicago. But nobody on either side of the grave speaks more directly to what our first black president has become than Langston Hughes did seven decades ago. Barack Obama is in power. He can ignore, disparage or dismiss the truth. But it’s still true.  And most of us know it.

We wish the president and first family, along with all our readers and friends around the world a joyous and fulfilling holiday.

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and based in Atlanta. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport. Langston Hughes is the poet laureate of Black America and can be reached at public libraries, and at independent and other bookstores everywhere.