January 27, 2010

Talking Points on the US Role in the Haitian Earthquake Crisis (1/26/2010)

1. The US government's response to the crisis has been military, not humanitarian. This is the most important single thing to understand about what is happening in Haiti today.

The Obama administration has ordered a massive armed intervention in Haiti in the guise of carrying out a rescue and relief mission. The goals of this intervention are to enforce US interests in Haiti, both immediate interests (preventing earthquake refugees from coming to the US--see point 3) and longer term ones (continuing US dominance of Haiti's government and economy--see point 8).

2. US military intervention is blatant.

Flights into Port-au-Prince's small and damaged airport are being directed by an emergency flight control center at a US military base in Florida to insure that 20,000 US troops are in place in country and offshore by this week. Non-military flights have been given second priority for landing.

US naval vessels have played a similar role in Port-au-Prince's damaged port facilities. The US aircraft carrierCarl Vinson sailed into the Haitian waters amid reports hailing it as a "floating airport." This is a colossal lie--the only planes that land on and take off from aircraft carriers are fighter jets. Giant cargo planes or smaller planes bringing aid from around the world need not apply.

Haiti is already under occupation by a United Nations-sponsored stabilization force called MINUSTAH, which was set up with the active approval of the Bush administration. Its commander, a Brazilian, has complained that this UN-recognized occupation force has been pushed to the side by the US.

3. The main immediate concern of the US government is not to help in the catastrophe but to prevent Haitians from fleeing their devastated country to safety of the US, where many of them have kin.

A long-standing US military plan called Operation Vigilant Sentry has been implemented. Haiti is now effectively under an air and sea blockade to prevent refugees from leaving.

After political struggle in the US and global attention, the administration first announced a moratorium on deportation of Haitians, then that it is extending 18 month Temporary Protection Status (TPS) to undocumented Haitians already in the US. Both announcements were accompanied by firm declarations that any new incomers would be stopped on the high seas and returned to Haiti immediately.

4. The US military intervention badly hurt true relief efforts in the critical early days of the disaster.

Early on, Secretary of Defense Gates rejected proposals for airdrops of water, food and medicine, saying it was "simply going to lead to riots as people try and go after that stuff," although only very minimal violence ever did occur. Four days later, US occupation forces quietly started some helicopter drops to affected areas. No rioting ensued.

Meanwhile, US military air traffic controllers monopolized the airport for military purposes. In the first week, Doctors Without Borders got one plane full of supplies and medical personnel in. Four others were turned back, one of them three times!

Even government aid from other countries was blocked while US troops and their equipment were shipped in. The lesson was soon learned and donors started flying or shipping supplies and staff into the neighboring Dominican Republic and hiring coastal vessels or renting trucks for the long, difficult, overland journey. Venezuela, for instance, pledged a million gallons of desperately needed fuel and announced plans to ship it through the Dominican Republic to avoid blockages.

5. There has been no mass outbreak of rioting--a spokesman for the US Southern Command acknowledged that the level of violence in Port-au-Prince has been lower than before the earthquake.

There have been reports of looting but these are strongly reminiscent of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when starving people took food from submerged supermarkets to stay alive and were called "looters."

We are told about how the earthquake shook the central prison and allowed the escape of all the prisoners, but we are not told that 80% of them had never even been charged with a crime.

We should not be Pollyannas and pretend that desperately poor people fighting for survival for themselves and their families won't break laws, nor deny that local criminals and opportunists will seek to gain power and make a gourde (the Haitian currency) out of disaster. The fact remains that the response so far has been one of remarkable restraint, civility and cooperation.

6. The role of the US mainstream media has been disgraceful. Not only do they act as stenographers for government and Pentagon claims, they work to buttress the official line.

A NY Times article on rioting a week in (which finally acknowledged that there wasn't much) was illustrated by a photo of "looting" which actually showed folks throwing food from a wrecked supermarket to a crowd below.

By the end of the first week, the media was leading with "human interest" stories--a woman who had been buried for seven days rescued, a Marine who lost family members in the earthquake, etc.

There have been no human interest headlines on places like, for instance, the Delmas neighborhood, where community groups based in a Catholic hospitality house called Matthew 25, organized the neighborhood. When food and water did arrive, they set up an orderly distribution line that doled out life-saving supplies equitably.

7. The economic interests of corporations and global capital are being protected above all else.

Just as in Katrina, survival scavenging is denounced as "looting" and "the breakdown of law and order" because private property rights are more important than human life. Big hotels have US military guards.

And new forces are looking to turn a buck. The International Peace Operations Association has volunteered its member groups for hire to help in the crisis. What is IPOA? A mercenary company trade group! Meanwhile, air freight charter rates to Haiti have increased anywhere from 10% to 100% in the days since the quake.

One ugly snapshot: the Florida-based Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines continued to drop passengers for an afternoon of seashore frolic and b-b-q, only 60 miles from the quake's epicenter, on a heavily guarded and fenced private beach at Labade, leased from the corrupt Haitian government. They had no trouble passing through the anti-refugee naval blockade.

8.The military character of the US earthquake response is also intended to maintain the whip hand the rulers of the US have over the destiny of the people of Haiti, including what kind of government and economy their country has.

This is a continuation of US policy running back even before the first US occupation of Haiti, from 1915-1934 and continuing through US-backed coups that overthrew the popular and democratically-elected leader of the country, Jean-Bertrand Aristide--twice, in 1991 and in 2004. The political party he started, Fanmi Lavalas, Haiti's largest, has been banned from participating in elections there since 2004, without a peep of "pro-democracy" protest from the US.

Similarly US-imposed economic policies that have entrenched poverty and dependence are expected to continue with little change. The US-dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced the day after the earthquake that it was making an immediate $100 million dollar loan to Haiti--on the previously imposed conditions that the price of electricity be raised sharply and that there be no pay increases for public workers. A global howl of outrage forced the IMF first to turn the loan into a grant and later to drop the conditions, but the intent is clear enough.

9. Large US-based and global charities (know as Non-Governmental Organizations, or NGOs for short) serve in effect as arms of US policy in Haiti. Once Aristide ran again in 2000 after returning from exile and won the presidency, the US government started funneling most of its foreign aid through NGOs. So ineffectual and corrupt has the US-installed regime been since the 2004 coup that overthrew Aristide a second time that this policy still stands. This has made the big NGOs reliant on US money to fund and staff their Haitian operations, and who pays the piper calls the tune.

10. Obama's pledge of $100 million to aid Haiti must be seen in context. White House publicity surrounding his West Point speech on the escalation in Afghanistan reported that maintaining one soldier or Marine on the ground in Afghanistan for one year costs a million dollars. In short, one troop-year=one million dollars. So that $100 million could be offset just by keeping 100 troops home from the 30,000 he is sending into harm's way. Keep 500 home and that's a half a billion not spent on trying to force the Afghan people to knuckle under. That could go a long way toward giving Haiti a future, as long as it's not spent on the costs of one more protracted military occupation.

11. In exposing and criticizing US actions and intentions in Haiti, we should be careful to acknowledge the contributions that individual US troops can make. Those from medical field hospitals, motor pools and engineering units will be playing a critical role in weeks to come. Many will be enormously sympathetic to the plight of the Haitians and make big sacrifices to help them.

This is even more true of the on-the-ground staff and volunteers from NGOS who will be descending on Haiti in droves in the coming months.

But none of this changes the character or goals of the US occupation, or our responsibility to address it. It may not look like an occupation--the brass is desperate to avoid scenes of the 82nd Airborne gunning down starving Haitians. But the largest military force in the country, and the best armed and equipped, is the US military, and that amounts to veto power.

12. A lot of progressive suggestions for big changes in US policy toward Haiti are being put forward. Two deserve particular prominence:

Cancel the enormous debts to foreign creditors and global outfits like the IMF that have been strangling the Haitian economy since the 1800s.

Return Jean-Bertrand Aristide to Haiti and ensure that all future elections include the party he leads, Fanmi Lavalas.

13. A final word: Racism.

Haiti is populated overwhelmingly by Black people, Black people who don't even speak English. Given the deeply white supremacist foundations of US society and culture, this seeps into everything that is happening.

From the blame-the-victim line on Haitian poverty to the assumption that rioting was right around the corner (not made in the case of Asians after the 2004 tsunami), it will have to be challenged again and again.

It will be an uphill battle. The reactionary right is already laying the foundation for a campaign to have the people of this country turn their backs on Haiti. The racist subtext of Pat Robertson's "pact with Satan" nonsense is obvious but it will go right along with exposes of high-living NGO officials and reportage on corruption and inefficiency in Haiti itself. The upshot will be "compassion fatigue." The idea that Haiti is hopeless and beyond helping will be driven more deeply into popular consciousness.

Our job is to unite with the Haitian people in their efforts to rebuild, and to demand they be given the tools and resources to do so. This can't happen, won't happen, with US Navy gunships off their coasts and international bankers dictating "free market" economic policies to them. There's our target.

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January 13, 2010

Haiti Emergency Step One: Donations!

[Crossposted from the Freedom Road Socialist Organization website.]

As this is being written, there is no way to tell how bad the catastrophe that has hit Haiti will get. The government there is estimating the earthquake has caused an almost unbelievable 100,000 deaths!

There are important political lessons to be drawn, and already analyses and denunciations of US imperialism's culpability are flooding the left blogosphere. This is well and good--important work--but it is not the main task before us in the next few days.

Millions of folks in this country, and around the world, are filled with horror and sympathy and want to respond. When Katrina hit, people all over took up collections of food and supplies, threw everything in the biggest truck around, popped the clutch and headed towards NOLA. Communities opened their homes to the displaced. That stuff is not so easy to do in Haiti's case and the main thing people are doing, besides praying, is giving money.

Several charities have set up phone numbers one merely has to dial or text to make an automatic $5 or $10 donation. Oxfam and the Red Cross and other big dogs in what we might call the NGO-industrial complex are spamming and phonebanking like crazy. So are religious charities.

The immediate task for progressives and revolutionaries for the next couple of days is to try and capture some of those resources for the grassroots organizations of the Haitian people (and of course to do some education in the process).

One such group is the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, established by a group of folks in the US who have been doing Haiti solidarity work since 1991, working closely with Haitians to build and support mass-based civic groups on the ground there--unions, peasant cooperatives, schools, women's organizations and more.

These groups desperately need resources to survive, to rebuild, and to organize and give a voice to the people who have been devastated by this disaster. Please encourage all of your friends, family and contacts to donate to the Haiti Emergency Rescue Fund or similar initiatives. Every dime goes to these grassroots groups and will be critical in the weeks and months ahead.

The immediate emergency response can only be handled at the state level--governments are rushing in search crews, heavy equipment, field hospitals, canteens and tons of food. What happens next is key.

The record of the big "official" international NGOs is not a pretty one. A Indonesian friend of FRSO describes what happened when she was in Aceh area immediately following the deadly tsunami there. Weeks after it hit, the NGOs were hiring relatively few local people and flying in whole teams of non-Indonesian-speaking foreign staffers, who were paid something like 20 times what the locals got. These imported crisis teams were even instructed not to fraternize with the locals, for fear of resentment of their privileges and pay. Even with the best of resources and motives, such outsiders cannot do what local people with basic organization in place and years of experience can.

To underline the urgency of the task of directing resources to the Haitians themselves, here's a blunt prediction. Given that this is not only a foreign country but one whose population is overwhelmingly Black and does not speak English, media-promoted "compassion fatigue" can be expected to start kicking in within a week. Reactionaries are already trying to stir up a backlash, blaming the Haitian people for the misery imperialism has imposed upon them. So please act and spread the word quickly--before we're back to somebody new leading off the evening news detailing what she used to do with Tiger Woods.

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January 9, 2010

Protesting Works! (and not much of anything else does...)

[Crossposted from the Iraq Moratorium website.]

It’s no surprise that the anti-war movement is in a lull. The war in Afghanistan this month passes the War of Independence to become the second longest in US history. Thanks to a feeble news media, many in this country don’t even know that there are still 120,000 US occupation troops in Iraq (and about as many “private contractors” your tax dollars are paying for).

Now Barack Obama, the 2008 “peace candidate” whose victory drew heavily on support from voters sick of these wars, is sending 30,000 more young men and women into harm’s way in a country where drone attacks kill kids and create new insurgents on a weekly basis.

Many who have organized against and demonstrated against the wars since 2002 are worn out and hear the mournful strains of the old “protest is just self-indulgent and ineffective” song in their mind’s ear.

Well, folks, let me present to you the students in the California.higher education system and their allies: teachers, staff, parents and the community at large. They started fighting budget cuts last spring and in November, when the U of C trustees announcedan additional 32% increase in tuition, they erupted in militant protest, closing classes, seizing buildings and blocking traffic.

The authorities responded with police attacks and arrests, while denouncing the students as selfish and spoiled for failing to do their part to help with the state’s budget crisis. Politicians and media mouthpieces tut-tutted about their strident language and inappropriate tactics.

Guess what? On Wednesday, Republican governor Arnold Schwarznegger proposed an amendment to the California constititution prohibiting the state from spending more on its prisons than its educational system, a long-standing practice in the state. He proclaimed that “choosing universities over prisons” would be “a historic and transforming realignment of California’s priorities.”

And what made the Governator change his tune? His chief of staff spilled the beans to the NY Times: “Those protests on the U.C. campuses were the tipping point. Our university system is going to get the support it deserves.”

Let’s savor that: “Those protests...were the tipping point.”

We may not be close to the tipping point that will end the occupations, but let’s not get sidetracked. The more we protest, the sooner the tipping point will be reached. The more we shrug and sigh, the longer the killing and dying, the waste of lives and money will go on.

As the Moratorium slogan says: It’s Got To Stop. We’ve Got To Stop It.

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January 7, 2010

Revolutionary Recipes: Bean Pie for the Panther 21

Panther 21 demo, NYC

I first learned of the theological importance of bean pies at NYU in late 1968, Jerry 10X, a basketball player and a leader of Katara, the Black student organization at NYU’s then-Uptown Campus in the Bronx, had recently converted to the Nation of Islam but was still willing hang with the SDS crew as we had supported Katara in a building seizure earlier in the semester. Jerry instructed me as to the central role that the bean pie (sort of a Platonic ideal of a bean pie) played in keeping the cosmos balanced. I wish I could remember the details--it was a doozy of a piece of religious reasoning.

No mention of bean pies occurs in NOI patriarch Elijah Muhammed’s How To Eat To Live, but the book passionately advocates for small navy beans as an ideal food for NOI members (and strenuously warns against the large white beans). By the 1950s bean pies were being made and sold by members of the faith in cities across the country, and became a kind of signifier of Black nationalism, even among non-Muslims.

This recipe though is dedicated to the New York-based Panther 21. The Black Panther Party formed a New York section in the summer of 68 and grew rapidly. An early recruit was Lumumba Shakur, a follower of Islam and Malcolm X, and the son of a Muslim family. In a whirlwind of activity frantic even for those revolutionary times, Lumumba headed and built the Harlem branch, coordinated with the heads of other NYC branches, oversaw mass campaigns demanding community control of hospitals, spoke publicly for the new organization public, recruited, trained and drilled new members—and met, proposed to and married a young woman named Alice Faye Williams, who became Afeni Shakur.

Afeni recalls, "Lumumba introduced me to hot bean pie. We would buy them on the corner of One Twenty-sixth and Lenox. Bring them home. Heat them in the oven. Slice them up and eat the whole thing. Delicious. Sweet. We’d eat the whole thing…Just happy…"

Less than a year later in April, 1969 the NYC police rounded up Lumumba, Afeni and a dozen and a half other members of the BPP on various conspiracy charges, signaling the start of an all-out nation-wide assault on the growing and influential revolutionary organization.

The Panther 21 faced two years of grueling court battles before all those still facing charges were exonerated by juries of their peers. Meanwhile, splits between the East and West Coast Panthers and divisions within the ranks of the 21 defendants themselves sent Lumumba and Afeni and the others spinning on very different trajectories, to more struggle, to burnout, to death, to life in prison, to crime, to addiction, to a quiet everyday life…to Afeni’s loss of her son Tupac Shakur in the hip-hop wars of the ‘90s.

But this recipe is for those days when the Panthers were playing a vanguard role in this country, the struggle was ripping, the people’s movements were erupting and every day held the possibility of "Just happy"…and more.

Damn Good Bean Pie

This recipe is for the filling, enough for two pies. Use your own personal favorite piecrust recipe—one of the best bean pies I ever et had a Graham cracker crust. Or in a pinch, a good commercial piecrust, the kind you unfold or unroll into your own pan, like Pillsbury, will do fine.

2 cups dry small Navy beans
Check ‘em over for stones, rinse ‘em well in a colander and let ‘em soak in 5 cups of water overnight. Drain and rinse, add fresh water to cover by 1.5" and bring to a boil. Then just simmer for about 90 minutes, skimming and adding water if necessary.

Preheat oven to 350.

Beat into beans for about 3 minutes:

1 stick butter

2 tbsp flour

4 eggs

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp cinnamon

1 standard can evaporated milk (not condensed!)

Finally mix in:

2 cups sugar

2 tbsp real vanilla

Now pour the glop into your crust and pop it in the oven for an hour. It should be golden brown on top and smell fabulous.

(I like to add a half tsp mace, but if you don’t have any, it’s completely optional.)

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January 3, 2010

Black NJ: P.O.P. Celebrates Kuumba (creativity) on 6th Day of Kwanzaa

New Years Eve 2009, was the People's Organization for Progress' evening this past year to host one of Newark's Kwanzaa celebrations. For years, each night's observance has been sponsored by a different local organization and because POP's weekly General Assembly is Thursday, this year our turn corresponded to Kuumba, the celebration of creativity.
And because Thursday was New Years Eve, the usual meeting location, the Abyssinian Baptist Church, was completely committed Watch-Night activities and unavailable to POP. But since one of our senior members, Mr. Aminifu Williams is also associated with REFAL we were fortunate enough to get access to their Kommuniversity location. POP Elder Aminifu was also associated with Dr. Maulana Karenga's US Organization in Los Angeles back at the time Kwanzaa in the U.S. originated in the middle-1960s, so POP's Griot, Aminifu, was also able to provide historic background on Kwanzaa's origins that many other celebrations of the holiday lack.

Bringing our celebration back to issues in the community:
Because this was the People's Organization for Progress celebration, we didn't simply follow the order of the activities designated by the Nguzo Saba (the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa). As a community-based festival Kwanzaa demands that we link each of the Seven Principals, Umoja (Unity); Kujichagulia (Self-Determination); Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility); Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics); Nia (Purpose); Kuumba (Creativity); and Imani (Faith) back to our ongoing activism. This year's Kwanzaa had two themes, as well as the principle of creativity that we recognized.
Because Sundiata Acoli (Black Panther Party member and a political prisoner incarcerated for 36 years) is scheduled for a parole hearing scheduled for February, New Black Panther Party Minister of Culture Zayid Muhammad presented a letter-writing campaign aimed at winning Acoli's parole (see link for more information about this campaign). Sundiata (who is 73 years old) is a former NASA mathematician who was arrested and imprisoned for alleged involvement in the shooting death of NJ State Trooper Werner Foerster. Acoli was convicted in 1972 and sentence to Life plus 30 years. This is the same shooting incident that our sister Assata Shakur was framed for after being shot twice.

The second theme for this year's POP Kwanzaa was Youth. Some of the People's Organization for Progress' most successful and inspiring campaign this past year have been thanks to the involvement of our Youth Committee (see The Community Fights for Water Rights & Wins for one electrifying example). Andrea Jones, C0-Chair of the POP Youth Committee, reviewed the past year and presented the committee's plans for 2010.
Lawrence Hamm, POP's chairman, introduced and closed the program explaining the need for self-esteem in the context of the historic experiences of African Americans. Kwanzaa was developed as a component of this assertion of dignity and achievement. The holiday is based on the historic harvest celebrations of many African civilizations. It takes its name from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first fruits."
K'Sakhem Wé, Chairman of REFAL People's Organization for Progress Chairman Larry Hamm
To view more photos from this event, go to People's Organization for Progress Kwanzaa 2009. Thanks to POP photographers Ingrid Hill, chair of POP's Reparations Committee, Labor Committee chair Jon Levine.

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