February 7, 2010

Cause Marketing and Drug Addiction: Two Gifts the US Gives to the Americas

This weekend, I was desperate for a massage. In addition to my chronic pain, I returned to the gym this week and my entire body has been screaming at me ever since.The receptionist at my neighborhood spa said "10% of our proceeds on Sunday go to Haiti relief."

I didn't try--at any point--to express my opinion on retail fundraising. First of all, where exactly is this 10% going? (They never did give me a nonprofit name for their contribution.) Second, if I really cared about giving money to Haiti wouldn't it be more effective for me to give the money directly to a nonprofit? I rarely contribute to anything besides WILPF, but when the earthquake hit, I did donate to Partners In Health. But I don't make spa appointments based on my desire to help out the world. Mostly, I make them for personal reasons: like every muscle in my body being tight and the pain in my back and forearms being overwhelming.

The commodification of nonprofits demoralizes me. The insistence that for-profit models ("social entrepreneurship") is how we should all move forward towards a better world. And the way businesses use cause marketing to enhance their brand cache (and bring customers in on a slow Super Bowl Sunday) is just ridiculous.

But these are my problems with the system in general. I don't hold it against my local spa that they chose to jump on the bandwagon. Mostly, I've been plagued by the questions that family members raised: how can we be sure the money doesn't line the pockets of corrupt politicians (or greedy NGOs)? The answer to that is simple - give to Partners In Health. But to the larger question - how has Haiti persistently stayed the poorest country in the hemisphere? To that, I don't have the clearest answer.

I know some things in general terms: US governments backed coups. US corporations supported corrupt governments that suppressed the people of Haiti. US agriculture dumped food stuffs on Haiti that US consumers don't want to eat (all those chicken breasts we clamor for? They're attached to animals full of the other, other white meat. As in dark meat. As in the food we dump on developing countries at prices far lower than it would take to raise a chicken and slaughter it in the country.) While based on the experience of Jamaica, the documentary film Life and Debt can give insight into these issues.

But ultimately, and this I should have realized before reading an op-ed in the NYT, it comes down to a simple equation: US drug addicts fuel violence, instability, and class chasms throughout Latin America. I think it's a bit of a stretch to link a crack pipe in NYC to a terrorist cell in Yemen. But it's a much easier link between that crack pipe and the social/economic/political problems of Haiti and many other Latin American countries.

Ben Fountain details the connection in his brilliant op-ed, "Addicted to Haiti." If we want to give Haiti a fighting chance of recovering, instead of trying to adopt its orphaned citizens, we should start caring for the US'ians who are addicted to cocaine. We should start treating US addiction as the public health crisis it is, rather than continuing this nonsense about wars and czars. Black and white, law-based reaction to addiction has failed. Not just for Haiti. But for the survivors of never-ceasing blood baths in Juarez, Mexico. And the survivors of the never-ending civil war in Colombia. And every family who has struggled to put the pieces back together after a loved one diminishes his brain capacity by filling it with toxic substances. And for the addicts who struggle to stay sober; and the ones who don't make it.

Let's stop texting the Red Cross. Trust me, they'll keep going without you. Let's get real about regional development and start working to decrease demand, increase the availability of rehabilitation, de-criminalize addiction, increase social and economic opportunities so fewer kids seek out gangs for community identification / monetary gain. What do you say? What do we have to lose?

Posted by cj at 10:43 PM | Comments (0)

January 21, 2007

Notes from the Sunday Papers

Economic development in South America is directly tied to the ability to exploit natural resources. This can cause distress for both the rain forest and the indigenous people. It's also never clear whether The Government or The Government Corporation is really working in the people's interest. All of these problems are rolled up in Chavez's dream of a 5000 mile pipeline from Caracas to Buenos Aires. And in the current construction of a pipe line from the heart of the Amazon to a port city in Brazil. More deets at "Vast Pipelines in Amazon Face Challenges Over Protecting Rights and Rivers," by Larry Rohter in the Sunday NYT

The connection between the paramilitary and the government of Colombia is being proven, slowly but surely, but a few former heads of the paramilitary, who have come forward to accept plea bargains. Apparently, there's a document that was signed by a bunch of people known for massacring their countrymen and politicians - politicos from both sides of the aisle. Unfortunately, there's no evidence yet that the President of Colombia knew anything about the cruel civilian massacres and of course, no evidence has come forward that the USG understood the connection between its (continued) expenditures on Colombian military projects and the systematic murder of Colombian people by forces related to the government. Because, you see, the USG stands for one thing above all else: private property rights. And apparently, the massacred had it coming because they had extremely subversive notions about social equality through socialism. Not much more deets, but a few at "Colombian Government Is Ensnared in a Paramilitary Scandal," by Simon Rivera in the Sunday NYT.

On the happy front, you should know that there's a soccer team consisting entirely of refugees in the heart of the heartland. Apparently, this is not only worthy of the front page of the NYT, it deserves several pages of ink. "Refugees Find Hostility and Hope on Soccer Field," by Warren St. John on A1 of the Sunday NYT.

In Cali news, the head of the LA Transportation Dept still drives a Hummer and LA Times columnist Steve Lopez still has nothing else to write about in his column.

Also, the billionaires are duking it out over control of the LAT and/or its parent company, the Tribune Co. I really can't believe one of the idiots trying to buy the paper has such envy of the NYT that he wants to lure away MoDo and Friedman with gobs of cash. Seriously? MoDo and Friedman? We can really do better than that. Even for a city not known for its literary largesse, we can do better than a washed-up-snarky-pseudo-feminist-rich-bitch and a stuck-in-the-mud-truly-thinks-the-American-military-and-free-trade-capitalism-will-free-the-world-from-tyranny-economist.

Finally, every gotten annoyed at overly loud cell phone convos? Every been on one of those convos unable to tone down your voice? Well, watch out - that private info you're shouting is in the public domain as soon as it comes out of your mouth. And an annoyed citizen could just post your number on her blog and cause you to get plenty of creepy calls. More deets in Steve Harvey's Only in L.A. column.

Posted by cj at 9:44 PM | Comments (0)

May 7, 2006

1000 Preachers and No Choir - Part II

Notes from the Opening Plenary Speakers at the Chicago Social Forum

JR Fleming, Coalition to Protect Public Housing
The UN Declaration of Human Rights protects the right to adequate housing, regardless of income, health, or marital status. Forceful evictions: can happen when homeowners are taxed out of the ability to keep their homes and through gentrification. The US has been charged with crimes against humanity at the United Nations in Geneva for its inadequate public housing.

Suzanne Adley, Coalition to Protect People's Rights
The US claims the moral high ground and polices the globe, but refuses to be held accountable for its own human rights abuses. Chicago Mayor Daley is in Israel to get police training from the Israelis who have perfected racist and abusive police practices.

The Case of Mr. Muhammad Salah
In 1993, Palestinian-American Salah went to Palestine with aid. After visiting a hospital, he was picked up by Israeli Defense Forces and driven around for hours. He was brought into IDF custody and held for 80 days and tortured. He confessed to some crimes during this torture process and as sentenced to five years in an Israeli prison. In 1998 he returned to Bridgeview, Illinois and learned that he had been placed on the US "Special Designated Terrorist List," which means that his family's assets were frozen and he could not move around freely because under the terms of US law he would have to declare himself a terrorist when getting on a bus.

Salah was indicted by the Clinton administration, but the Justice Department threw out the charges.

The Bush administration recently indicted him based on the confessions in Hebrew he signed while being tortured by the Israeli government.

This is a landmark case because it is detrimental to due process and human rights.

The Coalition to Protect People's Rights was formed to address the issue of torture in all of its forms and to support due process.

More info: " Coalition Mobilizes for Man’s Rights in US Courts," By Sonia Nettnin on Scoop
Public Truth Hearing on the Case of Muhammed Salah, next Saturday, March 11 1-4pm at Chicago-Kent School of Law

Frank Borgers, PhD
This guy works for the California Nurses Association (CNA). In partnership with the Steelworkers, CNA is trying to expand its organizing into other states and other hospital workers. Apparently, they represent the nurses who work at Chicago public hospitals. These RNs have been without a contract for years and are threatening a one day strike.
CNA' s March 2, 2006 press release on the matter
SEIU announces the formation of the Nurse Alliance, a nation-wide membership organization by and for nurses (nurses who are connected to their fellow caregivers by being in the same union, SEIU, the largest healthcare workers' union in the country)

Jesse Sharkey, Save Senn Coalition
So, the Save Senn Coalition lost its fight. The board voted to establish a naval academy at Senn and 1/3 of the school was kicked out. Per Sharkey, our numbers are too small to be effective; but class consciousness is rising. There is a cumulative effect of our organizing and educating.

Abel Nunez, Associate Director of Centro Romero
Immigration is not just a domestic issue. Why are people forced to come? Because wealth is not being distributed fairly. There is state / corporate power over people. Why type of country do we want? A country of exclusion where only a small percentage of the population have everything? Or a country of inclusion, with justice for all?

We need to exercise our power.
It is great that the movement has diversified and de-centralized.
We have learned that it is easy to organize in reaction - for example to oppose specific legislation (HR4437).
But it is harder to mobilize to build.

[further notes must be postponed to a later date. must sleep. Also want to report back from the Walk for Peace and Justice in Israel / Palestine.]

Posted by cj at 10:19 PM | Comments (0)

1000 Preachers and No Choir - Part I

There's this dumb saying "preaching to the choir." Progressives often disparage their own work by saying they're just preaching to the choir, not gathering new converts to their cause.

Let's think about the words progressives use - they have a superiority complex based on their rational reaction to the world. Instead of claiming higher authority for their cause, they (usually) claim superior intellect. Now, it's true that some people come to their progressive activism from their religious heritage, but if that's the case they usually have a superiority complex about their religion (as opposed to their more conservative brethren). It's all a vicious cycle.

Conservatives, on the other hand, could care less if you the outsider sense their moral superiority. They enjoy preaching to the choir because it strengthens the base. They know these speeches cannot sway large numbers of people who aren't already inclined to agree. They also understand that evangelicalism begins with an individual relationship, not a Big Rally or Demonstration. Two people, talking to each other. That's how opinions are formed, questioned, and ultimately changed.

So, that's why I don't usually enjoy demonstrations, rallies, or day-long forums. It's not just that I'm sick of being preached at. It's that I'm sick of progressives having no plans. I spent all day Saturday listen to people talk at me about their particular issues. Not a single person or organization presented a plan for how to involve me in their issue.

Well, that's not exactly true. I could've signed up to walked the picket line with Chicago public nurses. And I did sign up to visit my alderman with teachers to protest the "Renaissance 2010" plan for education overhaul. But usually, after a day of meetings, I've accomplished more than giving people my email address. Dude - I did not have to wake up early and spend a gorgeous Saturday inside to sign up for more listservs!!!

You know, it's not bad to preach to the choir. What's even better is to be a conductor and teach the choir to sing in harmony. True change will not begin until we all work together with one voice towards one goal. Some people think it's a good thing that there are no charismatic leaders leading "the movement;" they think this means we're truly grassroots. I'm not sure about that. As long as we chatter at each other and don't unite, the corporate controllers of our society will continue to call us the restless rabble, and the majority of our sisters and brothers will believe them.

Posted by cj at 9:07 PM | Comments (0)

January 22, 2006

More Morales...because today is his inauguration day

Figured out the reasoning behind yesterday's coca coverage - today is Morales' inauguration. Today, the NYT reported Morales donned replications of traditional ancient indigenous leader garb for a ceremony at the pre-Incan capital Tiwanaku, which proclaimed him the leader of all of Bolivia's Indian tribes. It was the first such ceremony for a Bolivian president, which makes sense since Morales is the first indigenous president since Bolivia became independent.

Interesting historic note in article: There is still tension between Bolivia and Chile because Chile won a 19th century war and appropriated Bolivian access to the Pacific Ocean, making it a land-locked country. (FYI, Mexico similarly appropriated a large amount of Guatemalan territory.)

Morales met with the US Ambassador to Bolivia and the Undersecretary of State for the Western Hemisphere on Saturday and everyone declared it a productive first meeting.

On the other hand, Morales met with Cuban reporters this morning and La Prensa quoted him:

In his modest La Paz-based residency, and after admitting his nervousness for the task he is about to face, the new president underlined the commitment he has taken before the "Pacha Mama" (Motherland.)

"As president I ought to work for my country, regain its natural resources, think about the well-being of the Motherland, about its deities, about my parents, about Bolivia, either asleep or awake," he said.

I wonder if Morales is living in La Paz or Cochabamba, where his residence is, according to the NYT. Cochabamba is a poor suburb of La Paz, known best for its citizens fight against Bechtel's attempt to privatize all of their water supply, including rainwater. (Bechtel dropped its $25 million claim against Bolivia this week.)

I love the fact that an indigenous politician from the poorest country in the Americas has captured the world's attention. I hope people, especially the Bolivian people, give him time to get his government up and running before passing judgment on his administration.

As the NYT points out, even Hugo Chavez, leader of oil-rich Venezuela has infrastructure problems. (The main road between Caracas and its airport was shut down due to soil erosion, causing pressure on the domestic economy.) I think it takes a long time to overcome the problems of colonialism, especially when faced with the imperialist-style foreign policy of the Bush administration.

More info:
"Bolivia's Leader Solidifies Region's Leftward Tilt," by Juan Forero and Larry Rohter in the NYT
"Evo Morales Has a Dream for Bolivia," by Luis Enrique González of Prensa Latina
"Morales's rise inspires Andean groups: Indigenous organizations in the region hope to gain a boost from Evo Morales's victory in Bolivia." by Lucien Chauvin of the Christian Science Monitor
"Bolivia's Morales pledges to work with US," from Reuters via New Zealand's Stuff
"Bolivia's Morales Set to Take Office" by the AP via the IHT
"Bolivia to Hand Power to First Indigenous President," by Reuters via NYT

Posted by cj at 10:58 AM | Comments (0)

January 21, 2006

Coca, Morales, Bolivia, the World

I have to admit that I don't believe the USG's "War on Drugs" is effective or a good use of taxpayer money. It's not that I think all drugs should be legal; it's just that I think the bulk of our money should go to curbing addiction and lifting people up from whatever situation causes them to be prone to addiction (poverty, mental illness, natural proclivity for addiction, etc.) In other words, I believe curbing demand is much more effective than burning crop fields and criminalizing poor farmers. Additionally, I think the USG creates far too many rhetorical wars and instead should be creating healthy, peaceful cultural touchstones.

WaPo fronts an interesting article on Bolivian President-Elect Evo Morales and coca production. Like most articles written for US consumption, Monte Reel mentions the indigenous use of coca in passing and provides much more detail about how coca becomes cocaine, that evil and illicit drug. The article is sorta an evergreen - it doesn't really provide any new, immediate information. I suppose it is very scary to Washington types that the former head of the coca growers union is about to become Bolivia's first indigenous president.

I believe understanding the customary use of coca in South America is more useful for understanding Morales' position, than is a description of chemical process of creating cocaine. As a child of the 80s, I initially found it hard to believe that coca was really part of any culture - since cocaine (and crack) are such Evil, Destructive Drugs. As a more open-minded adult, I've met people who grew up drinking coca tea (in Peru) and enjoy chewing coca leaves when they visit their family. According to Wikipedia, coca was central to cultures in the pre-Incan and Incan periods:

The coca plant was so central to the worldview of the Yunga and Aymara tribes of South America that distance was often measured in units called "cocada", which signified the number of mouthfuls of coca that one would chew while walking from one point to another. Cocada can also be used as a measurement of time, meaning the amount of time it takes for a mouthful of coca to lose its flavor and activity. In testament of the significance of coca to indigenous cultures, it is widely believed that the word "coca" most likely originally simply meant "plant," in other words, coca was not just a plant but the plant.
Clearly, this plant has roots far deeper than the 1980s. And I respect cultural differences enough to not pass judgment on the use of coca leaves, especially since it seems to be a relatively mild stimulant in its natural form.

Another interesting thing I learned from Wikipedia is that coca is still used to create Coca-Cola. Originally, Coke used green coca leaves, with their naturally occurring cocaine (and other substances, including nicotine). Now, Coke creates cocaine with the coca leaves - sells the cocaine to pharmaceutical companies - and uses the "spent" leaves as an ingredient in its secret formula. So, today Coke contains less coca than it once did. (By the way, cocaine was never an ingredient in Coke.)

So, what's the problem with Bolivian coca manufacturing? The USG believes that a significant amount of it is exported as cocaine to Brazil, therefore negating all of the cultural uses for coca. And even though the USG foots the bill for the eradication of coca and supports farmers who transition to other export crops, the farmers are weary of making the move. Here's a quote from a coca farmer, the last paragraph of the WaPo story:

"We have to grow coca because it's the only crop that brings enough money to feed our families," said Ureña, 54, who paused from sweeping his leaves to fill the plastic bag of a passerby who wanted a little for chewing. "And with Evo, I think things are going to get a lot better."
Simple economics have always favored grey and black market activities - those items almost always provide more income than completely legal substitutes. I hope that more studies will be done on the health effects of coca and if possible, it will be accepted as an legitimate ingredient just as poppy seeds are legal, even though heroin is not.

Posted by cj at 5:20 PM | Comments (0)

January 16, 2006

Bachelet Elected President in Chile!

Hurrah! As I previously reported, Socialist Party candidate Michelle Bachelet won the first round of presidential elections in Chile and yesterday she won the final round, making her Chile's first female president! Yay! (To review: according to Chilean law, a presidential candidate must receive over 50% of the votes to win the office; since Bachelet had two major opponents in the first round, she got 46% of the vote. In the second round, she received 53%, while her opponent billionaire Conservative Sebastian Piñera received 46%.

Bachelet appealed to people's desire to acknowledge the terrible dictatorship of Pinochet (who killed her father and tortured Bachelet and her mother before allowing them to flee into exile), while moving forward into a new era. Bachelet is a pediatrician. Later in life, she studied strategic studies at the national war college and the Inter-American Defense College in Washington, DC. After her strategic studies, she became politically active and was named Minister of Health. Two years later, she was named Minister of Defense, the first woman to hold that position. I am impressed with all aspects of her life, especially her belief that you must fully understand the military in order to change its place in society.

"You know that I have not had an easy life, but who has had an easy life?" Bachelet told supporters Sunday night during a victory speech in downtown Santiago. "Violence entered my life, destroying what I loved. Because I was a victim of hate, I have dedicated my life to turn that hate into understanding, into tolerance and, why not say it, into love."
I am impressed that a Catholic, traditional country (where only 36% of women have paid employment) accepted an agnostic, single mother as their president. This level of cultural acceptance is just as profound as the political shift taking place elsewhere in South America. Bachelet trusts the USG and free trade much more than other South American leaders; but she tempers that trust with a desire to directly help the Chilean poor.

I am excited by her victory and look forward to her presidency.

More information:
Above quote from "Chile Elects First Female President: Bachelet, a Former Political Prisoner, Will Keep Socialists in Power," by Monte Reel in WaPo
"A Leader Making Peace With Chile's Past," biographical sketch by Larry Rohter in NYT
"What is Missing in This Woman's Victory? Coattails by Larry Rohter in NYT

Posted by cj at 11:36 AM | Comments (0)

December 19, 2005

This is What Democracy Looks Like

Evo Morales is poised to become the first indigenous president in Bolivia's history. The USG is fearful of his ties to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Fidel Castro in Cuba. Morales is a staunch supporter of the right to grow coca - which is traditionally used in tea, medicine, and religious uses. There is some concern that his political party, Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) is not left enough to maintain support among the more radical Bolivians who voted for Morales; and that if the government doesn't make sweeping changes in its first three to six months it is doomed for failure.

Bolivia has been a beacon of hope for global justice activists since 2000, when residents of Cochabamba took back the right to their water from Bechtel, the multinational corporation the Bolivian government had sold it to. (At one point, it was illegal for residents to catch rainwater because it was the "property" of Bechtel, which is based in San Francisco.) I learned about this struggle through WILPF and "The Corporation," which doesn't mention the fact that half of residents are still without water and water service is sporadic for residents who do have it, according to the NYT.

Despite the serious problems Bolivians still face, I believe they are part of the beacon of hope in South America. In Chile, the presidential elections don't hinge so much on a choice between right and left-leaning candidates as on their gender. On December 11, during the first-round of elections, the center-left ruling coalition's candidate, Michelle Bachelet, garnered 45.9% of the vote. Because she did not receive a majority, she'll face millionaire businessman Sebastian Pinera in a run-off election on January 15. Its a tight race, but if elected, Bachelet will be the second democratically-elected female head of state in Latin America.

In other news, the US continues to exemplify how to corrupt democracy, as POTUS rambled for an hour during his end-of-the-year press conference about why occupying Iraq is great for liberty, the Patriot Act "defends" liberty, and spying on US citizens without even the pretense of a warrant is actually a "constitutional right" of the Commander in Chief.

More info:
"Leftist Morales Claims Victory in Bolivia," by Fiona Smith with contributions from Bill Cormier for the AP via Yahoo News

"Evo Morales Becomes Bolivia's Next President, Now His Real Challenge Begin," by Gretchen Gordon on Znet

"Chilean election set for run-off," in BBC News

"Continuity and Change in Chile," editorial in Stabroek News of Guyana (home of the first democratically-elected Latin American female head of state)

"Chileans give a woman a boost toward presidency," by Jack Chang of Knight Ridder News Service in the Miami Herald

"Bush: Secret wiretaps won't stop," on CNN

Posted by cj at 8:53 PM | Comments (0)

November 29, 2005

US Congressmen Attempt to Meet with Venezuelan Officials, End Up in Aruba

A delegation of House politicians went to Venezuela yesterday to meet with Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel and others. Customs officials held them up in their airplane for approximately two hours and refused to let them de-board. After speaking with a US Embassy official, the politicians left Venezuela and headed for Aruba (presumably as a layover before returning to the States). According to the head of the airport, the US officials never contacted Venezuelan authorities, and that's the reason they weren't allowed to de-plane.

More info:
CQ Midday Update
"US: Venezuela scuttles visit by congressmen," by Reuters via ABC News
"Venezuela denies entry to Hyde, others," by AP via Chicago Sun Times
"Venezuelan, U.S. officials gave conflicting accounts of 'visit'," from wire reports in News from Russia

Posted by cj at 2:00 AM | Comments (0)