Saturday, January 23, 2010

MSM's Haiti Narrative Ignores Biggest, Glaring Problem

Imagine if, after we drove out the British and drafted our Constitution in 1787, that the British suddenly decided that we owe them a debt totaling more than twice the amount of our total national net worth, and that if we didn't pay, all of our allies would place a trading embargo on our newly-founded nation, and we may even be attacked. That would be all kinds of wrong, would it not?

Well, that's exactly what the French did to Haiti after they drove out Napoleon.

In 1806, all major players in the global trading game, including the United States under President Thomas Jefferson (then serving his second term), had agreed to embargo the newly-independent, mostly Black nation in the Caribbean. Napoleon had encouraged world leaders to antagonize the newly-freed "pearl of the Antilles" by propagating fear around what would happen if similar slave nations also demanded their freedom, inspired by the Haitians. Thus, Haiti was forced to pay 150,000 francs (equivalent to $21 billion today) in reparations to France for the lost economic productivity of the formerly-enslaved population that was now free. France was not solely complicit for such oppression; the United States had also sent over $750,000 to quell the initial slave revolt in 1791. For 58 years, the US refused to acknowledge Haiti's existence. When we finally did acknowledge Haiti, it was through invading, and then occupying the nation from 1915 until 1934 because we were afraid that populist movements would endanger our efforts at enriching our economy at Haiti's expense.

Only after Haiti agreed to pay reparations to their former oppressors in 1825 did other nations allow the Haitians into the global financial arena. To add insult to injury, Haiti had to borrow some of the debt to pay France back from France itself, at a 6% interest rate. The debt Haiti owed their former occupiers was ten times the amount they made in export revenue, so paying it off would be an eternal effort. Thus, slavery had begun again. And that financial slavery continues to this day.

Sure, the earthquake this month that ravaged Port-Au-Prince was terrible. And it's great that we can send our money to Haiti, and that the media has us all crying over the tragedy in Haiti. But one must remember that Haitians, despite living in a destabilized country with no food or resources, are still not allowed to seek refuge here. We can support their aim of democracy all we want, but only if they let our corporations have unrestricted access to their people and resources.

(One small example of Haitian exploitation is the multitude of mercenary companies providing "security" at a high cost. One group currently operating in Haiti is partially-owned by the controversial head of Blackwater, who charged US taxpayers $950 per person per day in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Those same people are disaster profiteering under the guise of "humanitarian efforts.")

The mainstream media has been pushing the flawed narrative of the Helpless Haitians, victims of their corrupt government. But the media fails to ask the questions of how such oppressive regimes were able to sustain themselves as long as they did. When digging beneath the surface, one can see the bulk of Haitian oppression and debt was incurred under the Duvalier dynasty, led by Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, and then by his son, Jean-Claude, who incurred $500 million alone during his last six years in office.

Their regimes, backed by both France and the US because of their stance against Communism, consisted of brutal political violence exacted by what the locals called the "Tonton Macoutes," a creole term lossely translated to "Uncle Gunnysack." This term was used as parents would warn children of the boogeyman who would stuff them into his gunnysack to disappear forever if they didn't behave. However, the voodoo term stuck, as the regime's secret police was known to imprison political dissidents in Fort Dimanche, known by many as the "Dungeon of Death." The Tonton Macoutes, under the order of the US-backed Duvalier regime, killed and tortured thousands by brutal means.

We had supported President Jean-Bertrand Artistides' election in 1990, and helped him regain power in 1994 after a coup had driven him out of power. The US, however, required that the newly re-established administration incur unpayable debt brought on by arms of the global corporatocracy such as the World Bank, IMF and USAID. Thanks to that continued indebtedness, Haiti still spends a bulk of her annual budget on debt service, rather than needed services like education and health care.

While the death dungeon is empty today, western powers have yet to apologize to Haiti for suppressing her efforts at a democratic government, and the western media has yet to focus their narrative upon the oppression that we supported, which has led to why Haiti has never had the money to bring herself from poverty to prosperity.

So yes, give freely to help Haiti in her time of greatest crisis. But let's ask our media to report the full story, instead of pushing forced, pre-conceived narratives that ignore the real issues. If you really want to help Haiti out of poverty and despair, call your elected officials and push for them to forgive Haiti's debt.

To end this, I'll cite Brown Man Thinking Hard, who originally inspired me to write this:

"If we are saving people today so they can die in sweatshops for our corporations later, THAT is a travesty."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The United States of America- The Only Industrialized Country Where Health Care is Not a Right

The United States has long had the most advanced and powerful and well-funded military in the history of the world. Our quality of life is unparallelled, as is our consumption of resources, as is the availability of those resources. However, our health care system is ranked #37 in the world. The other 36 countries ranked above us are not as wealthy nor as powerful as we are. But the difference between us and them is that they provide health care for their citizens, and see health care as a human right, not a for-profit industry.

Just to put this in perspective, 44,000 people die EVERY YEAR in this country, the richest, most powerful country in the world, because health care is not a right.

Now, this note will require some small participation from you. Don't worry, I'm not asking you to call your congressmen and senators and tel them to push for a single payer system, although that'd be nice. I just want you to watch a few short videos.

I want you to tell all of these people below, who could only get health care through a free clinic that happened to be open in their town for a few days, that health care shouldn't be a right. That they should only be able to have health care if they have enough money. That it's perfectly okay for health insurance CEOs to get hundreds of millions of dollars in salary and bonuses while they have to pray not to get sick, because a hospital visit would bankrupt them.

Watch these videos of these people. Then tell them that.

Here are people waiting in line to get some sort of care at a clinic that is already above capacity even for those who have made appointments.

Victoria Moss, who was laid off from Citibank. She doesn't want a handout, just a mammogram.

Rand Hodson is a cardiac patient with no insurance.

Nicole Abel has type 1 diabetes and no insurance.

Carol Dale is a working-class American who simply can't afford the insurance premium for herself, nor her daughter.

Gina Williams works for Hilton Hotels, and has three children. One of those children has state insurance, but the other two have no coverage. Her mother has unaffordable junk insurance.

Diandria Pigese
lost her job and her health coverage.

Diandra Owens had been suffering excruciating pain from a tooth that needed to be pulled, but she couldn't afford a trip to the dentist.

Diane Smith lost her job, her health insurance, had unaffordable insurance, and no health care. She hadn't been able to see a doctor in SEVEN YEARS before the free clinic.

Dennis Cahill had two heart attacks with no medication. And he is uninsured.

Natasha Stevenson has three kids who need dental care. One was a 7 year-old who had never been to a dentist.

Kayla: "I have cavities."
Eve: "Why didn't they get filled?"
Kayla: "We didn't have the money."

Sara Clark lost her job. She got a new one, but that job doesn't have health coverage.

Keith Hitchcock is an amputee without health insurance, who needs a prosthesis.

Little Rock, Arkansas resident Oneida Whiteside had a stroke. Her health insurance company dropped her coverage.

Cindy Howell is from Dallas, Texas. She drove 5 hours to the free clinic in Arkansas to get free health care. She's put herself into $30,000 worth of credit card debt solely because of her insurance premiums. Tell her that she doesn't have a right to health care.

59 year-old Frank Wood visited the Little Rock free clinic to get treated for his hernia. His job is very physically demanding, and he has no health insurance. Before the free clinic, he had to labor with a hernia.

Meet Michelle and Sheila. Michelle is jobless and needs health care for a medical problem she doesn't want to disclose. Her friend, Sheila, has heart problems, fibromyalgia, and needs a hip replacement. She is also without health insurance.

The 120,000 square-foot convention center that held the free clinic couldn't accommodate everyone in Kansas City, even at its size.

The Kansas City clinic ran all day, morning to evening. At 5 PM, this was the line. These people would have to be turned away.

This is the check out, where they also give free blankets. Free blankets for Americans who lost their jobs, who don't have homes, who may have to sleep on the streets.

This is ALL happening in the USA, the greatest, richest, most powerful country in the world. These people aren't welfare queens or trailer trash or any of the things the FOX news anchors would like us to believe. They're regular, hard-working Americans who are victims of a system that believes in profit before people.

Tell them all that they don't have a right to health care. Tell them that they deserve to suffer until they have the money to fork over to the corporate fat cats who run the private insurance industry.

Tell them that.

Friday, January 1, 2010

"Avatar" and James Cameron Waxing Poetic on Global Imperialism

I saw "Avatar" today. And I was moved, along with some audience members sitting near me, by the underlying anti-imperialist message of this movie.

Before I get started, if you haven't seen the movie, go see it. You'll understand what you're about to read a lot more if you have. But if not, I'll do my best to summarize without giving too many spoilers.

Basically, the story is about a young marine who participates in a highly-advanced military research project, where humans can tap into the bodies of native Na'Vi people from the planet Pandora, and move, walk and talk as they do. The marine learns through talking with the natives that the company who hired the marines to fly to Pandora is exploiting the natives' land for a pricey mineral that lies underneath.

The marines eventually roll in, destroying the natives' homes and surrounding forest, which they view as a sacred part of their existence, so the company can move in and extract the resources. The young marine ends up siding with the Na'Vi, and leads a resistance against the marines. There's an epic battle scene and a happy ending.

Now, if you omit the happy ending, and replace the word "Pandora" with Ecuador, and replace "Na'Vi" with the Shuar tribe or Zaparo tribe, and I've just told you a true story that's happening today. The only difference is that the mineral in that case is oil, and the company doing the extraction and using military force to do the dirty work is Texaco. There's not quite an epic battle scene in Ecuador, but it's certainly getting close to the boiling point.

The story of Avatar also mirrors the story from the late '90s/early '00s about Texaco and Unocal in Burma. Burma, or Myanmar, is perhaps best known through its outrageously oppressive and violent military junta government.

Texaco had a large investment in a natural gas pipeline through Burma/Myanmar, as it was said 6 trillion feet of natural gas lay underneath in Southeast Burma.

This project was taken over by Unocal, whose progress was impeded somewhat by local resistance. Because indigenous locals, like the Karen people near the Thailand border, refused to move from their homes so construction could take place, the Burmese military provided "security forces" to clear out the Karen.

Thus, much of the Karen land was deemed a "Free-Fire Zone," where forces were free to shoot whoever was in the way. This means US-owned oil companies were complicit in genocide, as they stood to profit from the Karen's forced exodus and mass murder on behalf of the Burmese regime. The Burmese also helped Unocal expand the project by forcing the Karen into slave labor.

From the first link:

"The pipeline project into Thailand has been widely criticised by human rights organisations because the concession funding, worth some $400 million a year, goes to the Burmese junta."

"Unocal has remained steadfast in pressing ahead with its oil and gas program in Burma, despite pressure for it to pull back."

"Company officials last year denied allegations that slave labour had been used to clear land for the new pipeline, saying they were "patently false, absolutely unfounded".

"two US envoys, retired Ambassador Mr William Brown and Mr Stanley Roth, a former US National Security Council director, acknowledged in Bangkok recently the use of forced labour involving American companies in Burma."

From a Karen Human Rights report:

We ran every time we heard the Burmese were coming. If they see you in the forest they don’t ask questions, they just shoot you.

We had to build their roads, and give money also. I was staying there with my 2 daughters. If we didn’t go [for forced labour] we couldn’t stay in the village, so my daughter had to go. They didn’t give her anything. No food.

The campaign, which intensified in January 1997, involved the forced relocation and destruction of at least 60 Karen villages as well as clampdowns on Burman and Mon villages...

Villagers are ordered to destroy their own houses by removing the floor, walls, and roof, and if they do not then troops will burn their entire village.

Avatar's story is their story. It is the story of the indigenous Shuar tribes fighting foreign occupiers. It is the story of the Karen people, who have had their homes burned to the ground because they refused to move. It is the story of the African tribes forced into labor to pan for gold and mine diamonds. And, dare I say it, it is the story of the Iraqis who had their homes destroyed by American firepower's collateral damage.

And all of this was done not because those doing it were necessarily evil people, but because the system they support requires such actions to be taken. Were it not for Unocal/Texaco's actions in Burma, shareholders would have lost money and taken their stock elsewhere. Were it not for the actions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo's military, whose presence is used for "security" while contracting companies extract Tantalum, we wouldn't have cheap computers. Were it not for the forced diamond mining labor in Zimbabwe, jewelry stores wouldn't be able to sell us cheap diamonds.

Some have accused Avatar of having an anti-American/anti-capitalism message. However, there is nothing at all wrong with capitalism or America. Capitalism has been the dominant form of economics for several centuries. America was founded on the ideal of an individual being free to prosper as long as that person's prosperity doesn't infringe on the rights or property of others.

Avatar's message is rather against imperialism, being that imperialists come without invitation, take without asking, and do so without regard to human life or mutual respect. The fact that there are some interpreting this movie as anti-American instead seem to be upset that American policy has been deemed to be imperialistic.

I propose to these detractors that rather than defending imperialism as some corrupt, mutant form of capitalism and saying that it's okay to hurt others if we can make money off of it, that they instead accept that maybe the system they support is unsustainable, and hurtful to others.