Archive | December, 2007

Zuma got his Machine Gun

21 Dec

The choice for South Africa was clear. I mean, clearly fucked up. This week, the African National Congress had its party convention for the first time in five years. As the largest party in South Africa and the party of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, whoever the convention selected as the next president of the party would be, without a doubt, the next president of South Africa. And since South Africa is a bigger and richer nation in sub-Saharan Africa, what happens there affects the rest of the region which looks up to South Africa.

The choice was between a two-term president who cannot be re-elected, Thabo Mbeki, and his former deputy president, Jacob Zuma. President Mbeki is an educated man who lived abroad during the apartheid years. He was only the second post-apartheid president after Nelson Mandela. But he has some problems.

Apparently, in Africa, there is thing called AIDS caused by a virus called HIV. It is a very serious problem, and millions of people have it. But some people deny that HIV causes AIDS, and, though you’d be wrong, you would also be the president of South Africa.
Mbeki would routinely deny that AIDS was a problem and had to be sued by the Treatment Action Campaign up to the Supreme Court to force him to deliver nevirapine to pregnant mothers. Mbeki has also delivered a growing economy with growing gaps and massive crime that the people just won’t take anymore. The ANC and his business-friendliness even privatized water in Soweto and led many people to question whether racial apartheid was ended just to keep economic apartheid around.

In comes Jacob Zuma, the uneducated populist promising economic redistribution. A left-wing firebrand, he was endorsed by the two other partners of the ANC, the South African unions and the Communist Party. Zuma is Zulu and has two wives.

But Zuma has been charged with raping an woman with HIV. He admitted he had sex with her, but he didn’t use a condom. But that was okay, because he “took a shower afterwards” and that keeps you from getting AIDS. And this is supposed by the pro-AIDS patients candidate? AIDS organizations refused to endorse either candidate. Oh, and the ANC Women’s league still endorsed him.

And I forgot to mention that he is in a bribery scandal involving defense contracts which might explode after his election win. All these looming questions led Archbishop Desmond Tutu to tell ANC voters not to support Zuma. But he won anyway, and they played his campaign song, “Bring me my Machine Gun.” An ANC favorite they say.

Think about South Africa the next time you complain about American presidential candidates.

Independent Online (South Africa) – International press hail ‘machine gun man’
CorpWatch – Neoliberalism in South Africa
Guardian (U.K.) – Mandela attacks Mbeki AIDS policy
Der Spiegel (Germany) – Jacob Zuma interview

Other News

  • Oh baby – the outsourcing of surrogate mothering to Anand, India.
  • New Jersey ends the death penalty. Map of states with the death penalty.
  • Is Iraq’s Moqtada al-Sadr going to create the Iraqi version of Hezbollah? The Asia Times compares Sheik Hasan Nasrallah with al-Sadr.

Issue XII: The Case Against Everybody (The Loneliness of Mike Gravel)

15 Dec

Former Alaskan senator Mike Gravel may be a silly old man who throws rocks into water and raps to John Lennon, but the reason for the Alaskan’s angry sadness still resonates in today’s America, the innocent amnesiac America that forgets its own history.

Sen. Gravel was a senator during the Vietnam War and in the age of Nixon played a key role in ending the draft and revealing the origins for the war in Indochina. I think the most interesting part of this is his role in going public with the so-called “Pentagon Papers.”

Daniel Ellsberg is known as the “Forrest Gump” of the Vietnam War for conveniently being present at all the major events in Washington and Vietnam (Gulf of Tonkin Bay incident, Defense Secretary McNamara privately admitting the war was lost and then announcing to the media that there was progress, etc.) In 1967, the Pentagon instituted a review of all the key decisionmaking documents that led to the Vietnam War; those documents and the commentary on those documents were 7,000 pages long and were titled “History of U.S. Decision-Making Process on Vietnam Policy” aka the Pentagon Papers.

This top secret review of the true reasons for why the United States went to war to Vietnam was leaked to the media by Daniel Ellsberg .

The Washington Post and the New York Times started running excerpts of them. Richard Nixon sued the New York Times and got a judge to issue a restraining order, forbidding publication of the Papers. It was a classic “national security” versus the First Amendment argument.

In one of the quickest Supreme Court rulings ever, the New York Times v. the United States was ruled 6-3 in favor of the New York Times saying that even though it was a top secret document, it would be better to be published than not, and the First Amendment and the public’s right to know trumped executive secrecy.

During the lawsuits though when it was uncertain whether the Pentagon Papers would ever make it public, Mike Gravel (a very junior senator) was given the documents as well and decided to read the documents into the public record as Senate speeches/testimony so that the public would get the Papers regardless of what happened to the New York Times. Introducing the Pentagon Papers, Gravel said,

We now find policies on the most fundamental of issues, war and peace, adopted without the support or understanding of the people affected by them….

For it is the leaders who have been found lacking, not the people. It is the leaders who have systematically misled, misunderstood, and, most of all, ignored the people in pursuit of a reckless foreign policy which the people never sanctioned. Separated from the public by a wall of secrecy and by their own desires for power, they failed to heed the voice of the people, who saw instinctively that America’s vital interests were not involved in Southeast Asia. Nor could they bring themselves to recognize the knowledge and insight of that large number of private citizens who foresaw the eventual failure of their plans. As we now know, they were able even to ignore the frequently accurate forecasts of the government’s own intelligence analysts….

We were told that we had to make sacrifices to preserve freedom and liberty in Southeast Asia. We were told that South Vietnam was the victim of aggression, and it was our duty to punish aggression at its source. We were told that we had to fight on the continent of Asia so that we would not have to battle on the shores of America. One can accept these arguments only if he has failed to read the Pentagon Papers.

He read 4,100 pages into the microphone, and at times weeping at the horrors he was reading.

And now, over thirty years later, we doing the same damn thing and making the same damn mistakes and telling ourselves the same damn lies. Fighting them there so we don’t fight them here? Fighting for freedom and liberty? Presidential secrecy to protect the public security?

Wouldn’t you too say that Americans are getting “fatter and dumber“? Sometimes the inconvenient and impolitic truth pops its head up in form of disgruntled Alaskan senators.

The NationMike Gravel – On the Pentagon papers
Mike Gravel’s introduction to the Pentagon Papers

Dispatches from the Former United States

7 Dec

“Letters at 3AM” in the Austin Chronicle is probably the best newspaper column I have ever read with some of the best writing I have ever read. The following is the three part series set in 2107 about the people of the “former United States of America.” Reports one, two (delusions and debt), and three (ironies of our idealism).

As for me, I’m taking off to Brownsville, Texas this weekend with a campus group called Frontera de Salud. Then I have finals.

Enjoy ye-self.

Issue XI: Dear General Musharraf….

2 Dec

Dear General Pervez Musharraf:

I know you are a busy man and all, but I’d like you to consider what I have to say here. Look, I’m sure you are a cool guy and all. You kind of look like a harmless Indian uncle in a military uniform, but what you do is not harmless.

Calm the hell down, and end the state of emergency. Let the people vote.

You say you are the only person who can stand up to the Muslim fundamentalists in Pakistan and the Talibinization of Pakistan, but do you not remember that it was the military government of Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s that started the Islamicization of Pakistan? The father of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah was a secular Muslim that drank alcohol who wanted Pakistan to be culturally Muslim, not politically.

It also helps the Islamist parties when you had banned the two major Pakistani parties, the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Muslim League just like General Zia did. If people can’t vote for them, the only ones that can still run for election will be the Islamist parties like Jamaat-e-Islami and its allied parties. That’s why they run the Northwest Frontier Province on the Afghanistan border.

Which brings us to Afghanistan (and Tom Hanks/Julia Roberts/Charlie Wilson’s War). The two radical forms of Islam in Central Asia are Deobandi Islam, which started in India, and Wahabbi Islam from Saudi Arabia which was brought to Pakistan during the Afghan-Soviet war. After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, the United States under Reagan started a massive covert war against the Russians and dropped billions of dollars into Pakistan’s military government of Zia-ul-Haq. Saudi Arabia co-funded the jihad against the atheist Soviet Union and founded many religious madrassa schools in these mountainous border areas that preached fundamentalist Saudi Arabia-style Wahabbi Islam instead of the local Barelwi tradition. The children of the mujahadeen educated from these schools are now coming to tear apart Pakistan’s secular foundation.

The Soviets eventually dropped Afghanistan like a hot potato, and we (America) dumped Pakistan too. But the children of the mujahadeen and the madrassas stayed. Now the possibly the most radical age group are the people our age: taking over schools, attacking unveiled women, and demanding an Islamic state. Even your little farce attack on the Lal Masjid to show your liberalism against the homegrown Pakistan Taliban shows which age group is such a danger.

But you know General, spending money on health, education, and public welfare (less than 3% of the budget) instead of the military (more than 25% of the budget) would keep kids out of these radical schools, reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, and make people look to the government for charity rather than rich Saudi mosques. But that would mean you would have to cut away at your own beloved military.

And General (oh sorry, I mean Mr. President), the daughter of the military’s main opponent Benazir Bhutto is back. General Zia hung her father in 1979, and I know she has no love for you and your military. What do you plan to do with her and the opposition (including that heartthrob cricket player, Imran Khan)? You are just president now. Do you want to re-start the tripartite governments of the 1990s where the president had 1/3 of the power, the prime minister another third, and the military the other third? Are you going to restore the Supreme Court that you fired? The protest by the lawyers is what started your demise. And will Daddy America still be around to support you?

I think you pampered generals have done enough to fuck up Pakistan. Go back to your barracks and get out of politics.

National Geographic – “Pakistan at 60 Islam’s fault line”

Happy AIDS Day!

1 Dec

I know its a Saturday night, so y’all be sure to use this guy.

And if you didn’t see my talk two months ago on how pharmaceutical patents and American trade policy can work against getting essential AIDS drugs to people in the developing world, feast your eyes on the PowerPoint.