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John Dramani Mahama was inaugurated as president of Ghana in a well attended ceremony at Black Star Square in Accra.

Nana Kofi Acquah sums up the emotions many Ghanaians share:

Ghanaian culture thrives mainly on what is not said. Actually, it isn’t that some things are not said, but that they are said in not so plain language. What we think and believe as a people, is often shrouded in proverbs, symbols, songs, drum beats, dancing and even how we choose to wear our clothes.
There’s a Ghanaian proverb that says “it is the stranger that gets offered a blind chicken”. In other words, never fall for the sheepish, unending grin and amazing humility Ghanaians throw at strangers. We are smarter than we look. We are stronger than we pretend to be.

Our thriving democracy is not an accident. This country is built on belief systems that go far deeper than most people can imagine. There is more that unite than divide us. Ghana has proven beyond all reasonable doubt, that it is not just another unstable African country, in an unstable region, in an unstable continent in an unstable world. We knew governance when the Greeks were still barbarians. We believed in God, and even called Him “great friend” before the missionaries arrived. Our souls are rooted in history deeper than colonialism.

We are a people, blessed and powerful… and I pray we never forget this. The danger is when we forget. Once a people forget who they really are, they easily accept any identity someone else slaps on them.

Am I saying Ghana is special? Let me be “unGhanaian” for a moment and shout “YES. Ghana is special”.
Congratulations, Mr. President on this special day of your inauguration.
Congratulations, People of Ghana.

© Nana Kofi Acquah at 1/07/2013 02:38:00 PM

Nana Kofi Acquah is a professional photographer who takes stunning photos. Visit his blog to see more, and to read more of his observations.

The photos below came from tweets on Twitter using the #GHInaug hashtag.

Mahama giving his inaugural address

Mahama giving his inaugural address

Mahama giving inaugural speech in Black Star Square

Mahama giving inaugural speech in Black Star Square

Read the full text of Mahama’s inaugural speech He is sometimes known as Johnny Digital Mahama. He has a degree in Communications and usually uses a tablet computer as text teleprompter for his speeches. At the inauguration he used a Galaxy Note 10.1, but most of the accounts call it an ipad.

Ghana 2013 Presidential Inauguration dancers

Ghana 2013 Presidential Inauguration dancers

Ghana presidential inauguration 2013 Azonto dance troop.  Azonto is current popular dance, seach YouTube for videos and how to.

Ghana presidential inauguration 2013 Azonto dance troop. Azonto is a current wildly popular dance, search YouTube for videos and how to.

Ghana presidential inauguration 2013 Queen Mothers

Ghana presidential inauguration 2013 Queen Mothers

The Press at the Ghana presidential inauguration 2013

The Press at the Ghana presidential inauguration 2013

See more photos of the inauguration at GhanaWeb.

The Vim Views and Versions – Blogs of a MIghTy African gives us about as good an explanation as I have seen of Why John Mahama Won Ghana’s 2012 Elections - #GhanaDecides:

It’s clear many people voted for John Mahama the person vrs Nana Akufo-Addo rather than the NDC versus the NPP. Nana Akufo Addo is not liked very much in Ghana for his “arrogance and elitism”. Ask around.
… The NPP with its property-owning democracy and Republican-ish ness makes it appeal more to the rich and elitist folks in Ghana. The poorer folks, not so much? And we all know who makes the majority. 

The NDC focused on doing more around the country. If you don’t go around the country and sit in Accra or come to Ghana on holiday and sit around Accra, you wouldn’t know. Next time, travel around Ghana more. It’s quite clear that the NPP won in the urban areas. If you believe then they should be the true winner, . The real Ghana happens in the rural areas and those are the places that can really drive our economic development when they are up to speed with what we need to enjoy the Ghana we crave. I will suggest you pay more attention to these places if you care deeply about Ghana. 

We saw how Ghanaians lined up the night before to go and vote. We keep on celebrating our democracy. We see our democrazy selves demonstrate in the streets against politicians and policies. You know the demonstration of democrazy democracy I want to see? That we will hit the streets and demonstrate against indiscipline, corruption, bad mindset and the backward-thinking attitudes of Ghanaians. You know the beauty of this, you can actually make a difference here by influencing and impressing upon others.
 Let me give him a few pointers on being a great leader for Ghana and not just a president.  John Mahama should get the average Ghanaian to do more for him or herself and the community. Encourage us to work harder. Encourage us to take time off to help a child (and adult) learn to read and count, educate on health and cleanliness, teach people to be more efficient with time and resource, etc. He should motivate us to work for Ghana. Institute a volunteer day (preferably the Founder’s Day). That’s what I want from my president. Oh yeah, and leave a legacy. Like solving our electricity problems, once and for all. 

Follow the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, June 11 – July 11, online. The World Cup Wiki shows you the way.

… the world wide web is World Cup crazy. So put technology into play and follow the Jabulani no matter where you are.

The wiki contents include:

World Cup Websites
Follow News and where to Watch Video
Search and Twitter
World Cup for Mobile Web
Online Communities
Mobile Apps
Desktop Apps

Check out the World Cup Wiki.

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Photo gallery from GhanaWeb of Ghana v USA

These first two graphics come courtesy of The Strategist. I don’t know if this first one is intended for civilians or for military training. Let us hope it is not part of ACOTA or IMET ;)

US Air Force Aircraft Identification Chart

These first two are not new, but I got a chuckle out of them.  Right now I’m working hard on some farming projects, with not much time to write.  The need for this next one is obvious. Click on any of the graphics in this post to see the larger version.

Journalist's Guide To Firearms Identification

The following are not intentionally humorous. They come via The Strategist and Information is Beautiful, and come originally from The Guardian DataBlog. The following graphics are by David McCandless.  If you go to the originals at The Guardian DataBlog there is some commentary, but I prefer to present them without commentary.  As someone once said to me when I was trying to get a specific political opinion from them:  patriots may draw their own conclusions.

Who really spends the most on their armed forces?

Which country has the biggest military budget per year?

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The US military budget in context

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GDPs of major nations as combined earnings of US states

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Big spenders, yearly military budget as % of GDP

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Active forces - who has the most soldiers?

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Active forces - the number of soldiers per 100,000 people

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Total armed forces - the number of soldiers, reservists, and paramilitary per 100,000 people

With Haiti’s government “all but invisible” and its repressive security forces collapsed, popular organizations were starting to fill the void. But the Western powers rushing in envision sweatshops and tourism as the foundation of a rebuilt Haiti. This is opposed by the popular organizations, which draw their strength from Haiti’s overwhelmingly poor majority. Thus, if a neoliberal plan is going to be imposed on a devastated Haiti it will be done at gunpoint. (Arun Gupta)

And this is where the mercenaries come in.

IPOA conference in Miami, March 2010, how to capitalize on the Haitian earthquake

On March 9 and 10, there will be a Haiti conference in Miami for private military and security companies to showcase their services to governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the earthquake devastated country. (Bill Quigley, Center for Constitutional Rights)

On their website for the Haiti conference, the trade group IPOA (ironically called the International Peace Operations Association until recently) lists eleven companies advertising security services explicitly for Haiti. Even though guns are illegal to buy or sell in Haiti, many companies brag of their heavy duty military experience.

Patrick Elie, the former Minister of Defence in Haiti, told Anthony Fenton of the Inter Press Service that “these guys are like vultures coming to grab the loot over this disaster, and probably money that might have been injected into the Haitian economy is just going to be grabbed by these companies and I’m sure they are not the only these mercenary companies but also other companies like Haliburton or these other ones that always come on the heels of the troops.”

Naomi Klein, world renowned author of THE SHOCK DOCTRINE, has criticized the militarization of the response to the earthquake and the presence of “disaster capitalists” swooping into Haiti. The high priority placed on security by the U.S. and NGOs is wrong, she told Newsweek. “Aid should be prioritized over security. Any aid agency that’s afraid of Haitians should get out of Haiti.”

Security is a necessity for the development of human rights. But outsourcing security to private military contractors has not proven beneficial in the U.S. or any other country.

The U.S. has prosecuted hardly any of the human rights abuses reported against private military contractors. Amnesty International has reviewed the code of conduct adopted by the IPOA and found it inadequate in which compliance with international human rights standards are not adequately addressed.
Contractors like these soak up much needed money which could instead go for job creation or humanitarian and rebuilding assistance. Haiti certainly does not need this kind of U.S. business.
In a final bit of irony, the IPOA, according to the Institute for Southern Studies, promises that all profits from the event will be donated to the Clinton-Bush Haiti relief fund.

Jeremy Scahill reports:

Within hours of the massive earthquake in Haiti, the IPOA created a special web page for prospective clients, saying: “In the wake of the tragic events in Haiti, a number of IPOA’s member companies are available and prepared to provide a wide variety of critical relief services to the earthquake’s victims.”

The current US program under which armed security companies work for the State Department in Iraq—the Worldwide Personal Protection Program—has its roots in Haiti during the Clinton administration. In 1994, private US forces, such as DynCorp, became a staple of US operations in the country following the overthrow of Jean Bertrand Aristide by CIA-backed death squads.

As Scahill reported right after the earthquake:

We saw this type of Iraq-style disaster profiteering in New Orleans and you can expect to see a lot more of this in Haiti over the coming days, weeks and months. Private security companies are seeing big dollar signs in Haiti …

Among the services offered are: “High Threat terminations,” dealing with “worker unrest,” armed guards and “Armed Cargo Escorts.”

From Arun Gupta:

… “Security is not the issue. We see throughout Haiti the population themselves organizing themselves into popular committees to clean up, to pull out the bodies from the rubble, to build refugee camps, to set up their security for the refugee camps. This is a population which is self-sufficient, and it has been self-sufficient for all these years.”

In one instance, Ives continued, a truckload of food showed up in a neighborhood in the middle of the night unannounced. “It could have been a melee. The local popular organization…was contacted. They immediately mobilized their members. They came out. They set up a perimeter. They set up a cordon. They lined up about 600 people who were staying on the soccer field behind the house, which is also a hospital, and they distributed the food in an orderly, equitable fashion.… They didn’t need Marines. They didn’t need the UN.”

These weapons they bring, they are instruments of death. We don’t want them. We don’t need them. We are a traumatized people. What we want from the international community is technical help. Action, not words.”

That help, however, is coming in the form of neoliberal shock. With the collapse of the Haitian government, popular organizations of the poor, precisely the ones that propelled Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the presidency twice on a platform of social and economic justice, know that the detailed U.S. and UN plans in the works for “recovery” – sweatshops, land grabs and privatization – are part of the same system of economic slavery they’ve been fighting against for more than 200 years.

A new occupation of Haiti — the third in the last 16 years — fits within the U.S. doctrine of rollback in Latin America: support for the coup in Honduras, seven new military bases in Colombia, hostility toward Bolivia and Venezuela. Related to that, the United States wants to ensure that Haiti not pose the “threat of a good exampleby pursuing an independent path, as it tried to under President Aristide — which is why he was toppled twice, in 1991 and 2004, in U.S.-backed coups.

With the government and its repressive security forces now in shambles, neoliberal reconstruction will happen at the barrel of the gun. In this light, the impetus of a new occupation may be to reconstitute the Haitian Army (or similar entity) as a force “to fight the people.”

This is the crux of the situation. Despite all the terror inflicted on Haiti by the United States, particularly in the last 20 years — two coups followed each time by the slaughter of thousands of activists and innocents by U.S.-armed death squads — the strongest social and political force in Haiti today is probably the organisations populaires (OPs) that are the backbone of the Fanmi Lavalas party of deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Twice last year, after legislative elections were scheduled that banned Fanmi Lavalas, boycotts were organized by the party. In the April and June polls the abstention rate each time was reported to be at least 89 percent.

It is the OPs, while devastated and destitute, that are filling the void and remain the strongest voice against economic colonization. Thus, all the concern about “security and stability.” With no functioning government, calm prevailing, and people self-organizing, “security” does not mean safeguarding the population; it means securing the country against the population. “Stability” does not mean social harmony; it means stability for capital: low wages, no unions, no environmental laws, and the ability to repatriate profits easily.

There is far more in Arun Gupta’s article about the connection between, and history of, US military occupation and neoliberal capitalism in Haiti.

Additionally, as Ashley Smith points out:

… the catastrophe in Haiti revealed the worst aspects of the U.S. government and the NGO aid industry.

… As Mike Davis in The Planet of Slums:

Third World NGOs have proven brilliant at co-opting local leadership as well as hegemonizing the social space traditionally occupied by the Left. Even if there are some celebrated exceptions–such as the militant NGOs so instrumental in creating the World Social Forums–the broad impact of the NGO/”civil society revolution”…has been to bureaucratize and deradicalize urban social movements.

Davis argues that NGOs are, in fact, a form of “soft imperialism.” They play a role very similar to the one that missionary religious institutions played in the earlier history of empire. They provide moral cover–a civilizing mission of helping the hapless heathens–for the powers that are plundering the society. And just as religious institutions justified imperial war, many NGOs, abandoning their traditional standpoint of neutrality in conflicts, have become advocates of military intervention.

Nowhere is this pattern more clear than in Haiti.

… “The emasculation of the state is no accident…It is partly the consequence of the neoliberal regime implanted in the country by the major international financial institutions. By advocating the withdrawal of the state from its social and regulating obligations, and by promoting the supremacy of the market, this regime has contributed to an economic, political and social disaster.”

Haitians now commonly refer to their own country as the “Republic of NGOs.” But that is a misnomer, since Haitians have no democratic control over the NGOs. In reality, Haiti has been ruled by an American NGO Raj.

WHILE SOME NGOs like Partners in Health have been set up to develop Haitian grassroots self-organization and control, most major NGOs have been accomplices in the neoliberal catastrophe the U.S. wrought in Haiti.

First of all, the NGOs have reproduced and exacerbated class inequality in Haiti. …
The NGOs themselves are in the business of poverty, not its eradication, and they have proliferated in lockstep with the collapse in the Haitian standard of living. This has led many Haitians to rightly see them as profiting off their crisis.

NGOs aided and abetted the “plan of death”; exacerbated through failure, mismanagement and corruption the impact of neoliberalism on Haiti; and then supported the coup against the democratically elected government.

In so doing, they undercut the sovereignty of Haitian people, all under the gloss of helping people overcome their poverty–poverty that they, in fact, helped create.

Haiti led the world out of slavery, from the Boston Globe in 2004:

Historian Laurent Dubois thinks the world indeed owes something to Haiti. “Anyone who lives in a democratic society in which race doesn’t equal a denial of rights has some debt to the Haitian revolution,” he reflected in an interview. “The very notion of democracy that we consider commonsense emerged because of that revolution. If that’s something we cherish then we owe that to Haiti, which has suffered more for its victory rather than been rewarded for it. That is how I would picture the restitution.”

Haiti deserves help that actually helps, or deserves to be left alone. The Haitian people are enterprising and can take care of their country and their people. We all owe Haiti a debt, moral and monetary. Instead Haiti is treated to exploiters and thieves. The country that led us out of slavery is having neoliberal neoslavery imposed on it at gunpoint, by the US and the international community, with mercenaries as the enforcers.

Marriage has made my life richer, more interesting and more fun than I ever expected. We’ve had our share of wartimes as well as peacetimes. Among our pleasures, we both like to watch nature films, sometimes applying what we see as ad hoc metaphors to our own lives and to current events. And we both enjoy dueling with metaphors.

To the love of my life, I hope I may enjoy at least 30 more years in the luxury of your company.

Companies principally used offshore subsidiaries to hire U.S. workers providing services overseas on U.S. government contracts in order to avoid Social Security, Medicare–known as Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) — and other payroll taxes.

Considering the sheer amount of money that the Pentagon spends on contractors for support, approximately $396 billion on contracts for products and services in fiscal year 2008 according to the GAO, the money not spent on payroll taxes can amount to quite a lot. *

From AllGov:

Setting up foreign subsidiaries allows American defense contractors not only to utilize cheaper labor and more favorable regulations, but also avoid paying taxes that fund key government safety net programs. This conclusion was reached by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which examined 29 defense contractors and their reliance on offshore companies for their work overseas from 2003 to 2008.

GAO investigators found that companies primarily used offshore subsidiaries to avoid contributing to Social Security and Medicare. This avoidance was perfectly legal, thanks to the way Congress crafted the Federal Insurance Contributions Act. Since then, lawmakers passed new legislation in 2008, the Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax Act, which sought to close this loophole.

From the report (PDF) released yesterday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Companies principally used offshore subsidiaries to hire U.S. workers providing services overseas on U.S. government contracts in order to avoid Social Security, Medicare–known as Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) — and other payroll taxes. This practice allowed contractors to offer lower bids when competing for certain services and thereby reduce costs for DOD. Our analysis of two contracts showed that the use of offshore subsidiaries saved DOD at least $110 million annually prior to the HEART [Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax] Act, through payroll tax avoidance. While this practice provided contract cost savings for DOD, it resulted in these companies avoiding payroll taxes that would have contributed to the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds. The 2008 HEART Act resulted in offshore subsidiaries of U.S. companies paying FICA taxes for U.S. workers performing services overseas on U.S. government contracts. As a result, in fiscal year 2009, four of the case study contractors using offshore subsidiaries to support DOD work requested reimbursement from DOD of at least $140 million for new FICA payments. Federal and state unemployment payroll taxes, however, were not covered by the HEART Act, and several contractors that used offshore subsidiaries have continued to avoid these taxes. In one state, we reviewed documentation for about 140 former employees of several contractors who were denied unemployment benefits in 2009. State workforce officials indicated these benefits were denied because the employees worked for a foreign subsidiary and not an American employer.

David Isenberg writes in: Offshore Means Never Having to Pay Payroll Taxes

It seems ironically fitting that private military contractors — which are examples of the presumed benefits of outsourcing — devote so much effort to further outsourcing their operations. According to the GAO from 2003 through 2008, defense contractors increasingly used offshore subsidiaries. Their analysis of SEC filings found that in 2008, 29 of the top defense contractors — accounting for 41 percent of DOD contracting dollars in fiscal year 2008 — had at least 1,194 offshore subsidiaries.

Of the total offshore subsidiaries, about 200 were located in tax haven financial privacy jurisdictions such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Ireland, or Luxembourg. Firms like KBR, CSA, and AECOM all have subsidiaries in the Cayman Islands, well-known for its excessive secrecy in facilitating tax evasion. …

Interestingly, as many private military and security contracting advocates claim that the private sector is inherently more cost-effective than the public sector because it can hire lower-cost foreign workers the GAO report noted that the need for security clearances for U.S. personnel working on certain DOD contracts, as well export control provisions, limit the types of defense work that can be conducted through offshore subsidiaries.

None of this is illegal and the Pentagon is aware of the practice. It does not object, as it receives cost savings as the practice allowed contractors to offer lower bids. Of course, the public ends subsiding contractors because it pays reimbursement to those offshore subsidiaries that do make FICA payments. So in the end the only people who suffer, besides taxpayers, are workers who don’t make Social Security, Medicare, and similar contributions.

This is just another example of shifting risk and burden to the lowest level of contractors, those actually working on the ground.

This may be legal, but it is certainly unpatriotic. And it does not represent a cost saving, merely a cost shifting, and very likely a cost increase over having government workers do government work.

Map showing the number of active hate groups by state in 2008 from the Southern Poverty Law Center.  See the interactive version that lists the groups by state at http://www.splcenter.org/intel/map/hate.jsp

Map showing the number of active hate groups by state in 2008 from the Southern Poverty Law Center. See the interactive version of this map that lists the groups by state at http://www.splcenter.org/intel/map/hate.jsp

In Tangipahoa Parish Louisiana, slightly north of New Orleans, a white Justice of the Peace refused to marry an interracial couple:

NEW ORLEANS – Two civil and constitutional rights organizations called on a Louisiana justice of the peace to resign Friday after he refused to marry an interracial couple, saying any children the couple might have would suffer.

The leaders of the American Civil Liberties Union in Louisiana and the Center for Constitutional Rights and Justice in New York said Keith Bardwell, a white justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish in the southeastern part of the state, should quit immediately. Earlier this month, Bardwell refused to issue a marriage license to Beth Humphrey, who is white, and Terence McKay, who is black.

Perhaps he’s worried the kids will grow up and be president,” said Bill Quigley, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Justice, referring to President Barack Obama, the son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas.

Obama’s deputy press secretary Bill Burton echoed those sentiments.

I’ve found that actually the children of biracial couples can do pretty good,” Burton told reporters aboard Air Force One as it flew to Texas.

Marjorie Esman of the ACLU said the group was calling on Bardwell to resign “before he infringes on the constitutional rights of another person.”

Humphrey and McKay were eventually married by another justice of the peace, but are now looking into legal action against Bardwell.

“A justice of the peace is legally obligated to serve the public, all of the public,” Quigley said. “Racial discrimination has been a violation of Louisiana and U.S. law for decades. No public official has the right to pick and choose which laws they are going to follow.”

Tangipahoa Parish President Gordon Burgess said Bardwell’s views were not consistent with his or those of the local government. But as an elected official, Bardwell was not under the supervision of the parish government.

“However, I am certainly very disappointed that anyone representing the people of Tangipahoa Parish, particularly an elected official, would take such a divisive stand,” Burgess said in an e-mail. “I would hope that Mr. Bardwell would consider offering his resignation if he is unable to serve all of the people of his district and our parish.”

Bardwell, a Republican, has served as justice of peace for 34 years.

Racism is still a festering wound in the United States. And every so often it bursts open, pouring out its poison. As offensive as this is, in this incident no one was hurt or threatened with physical harm. Although Mr. Bardwell has shown a lengthy pattern of painful and discriminating behavior that did not offend his voters, this couple is both able and willing to seek legal redress. That has not always been true within my lifetime.

Recently there has been an upsurge in public racist rhetoric and hate speech, even making its way into what is loosely termed “news” on television. We saw it in the people who came armed to town meetings, especially during August, bearing overtly racist signs and symbols, and the way their behavior was covered by the news. The leadership of the Republican party has allied itself with those delivering this hate speech, which has escalated and increased the real threat of violence, by making it more socially acceptable. Especially since the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Republican Party has made itself the party of white supremacy, particularly in the south. Much of Republican opposition to social programs that help all the citizens of the US, comes from resistance to the possibility that any tax money might be spent to help people of color.

We are still hearing this from members of Congress, before Obama’s speech to Congress on Health Care in September: Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) said … “I think he’s gonna have to express some humility … “ or: During President Obama’s major health care speech on Wednesday, South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson (R) yelled out “You lie!”, something that has never before happened in a presidential speech to Congress.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, SPLC, traces the history and follows the activities of hate groups, as does the blog Orcinus. Both feature thoughtful articles and in depth research.

From a recent SPLC Report: Return of the Militias:

A key difference this time is that the federal government — the entity that almost the entire radical right views as its primary enemy — is headed by a black man. That, coupled with high levels of non-white immigration and a decline in the percentage of whites overall in America, has helped to racialize the Patriot movement, which in the past was not primarily motivated by race hate. One result has been a remarkable rash of domestic terror incidents since the presidential campaign, most of them related to anger over the election of Barack Obama. At the same time, ostensibly mainstream politicians and media pundits have helped to spread Patriot and related propaganda, from conspiracy theories about a secret network of U.S. concentration camps to wholly unsubstantiated claims about the president’s country of birth.

Almost 10 years after it seemed to disappear from American life, there are unmistakable signs of a revival of what in the 1990s was commonly called the militia movement. …

One big difference from the militia movement of the 1990s is that the face of the federal government — the enemy that almost all parts of the extreme right see as the primary threat to freedom — is now black. And the fact that the president is an African American has injected a strong racial element into even those parts of the radical right, like the militias, that in the past were not primarily motivated by race hate. Contributing to the racial animus have been fears on the far right about the consequences of Latino immigration.

… “All it’s lacking is a spark. I think it’s only a matter of time before you see threats and violence.”

In reference to Congressman Wilson’s outburst, and some of the other racist incidents and behavior around the country, I think President Carter is absolutely correct when he says:

“I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he’s African-American,” Carter told “NBC Nightly News.”

“I live in the South, and I’ve seen the South come a long way, and I’ve seen the rest of the country that shares the South’s attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African-Americans.”

President Carter grew up in racially segregated Georgia. I heard him say once in a television interview that he is good at monitoring elections around the world, because everything he has seen around the world he had already seen at home. He also knows first hand from long experience working through the civil rights struggles how to get people with uncompromisingly opposed views to talk to each other and to keep talking and to keep talking more, until some common ground and some progress can happen. We can learn a lot from his experience and wisdom. It is worth listening to what he has to say.

It looks like Obama is marching in zombie lockstep with Bush policy in Somalia and Honduras. It also looks like a Great Leap Backward to the days of US suported military coups in Latin America, and despots propped up by US aid in Africa. In both cases the United States provides the military training and the weapons.

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In Honduras, the leader of the coup:
… General Vasquez attended the School of the Americas and … a good part of the Honduran military were trained there and in its successor, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).
… the U.S. has a military base in Honduras, gives the Honduran military a few million dollars each year, and … most of the military equipment used against the people was from the U.S.
… a group that openly supported the coup, “Paz and Democracia” (Peace and Democracy), received money from the USAID. (Eva Golinger reported that the USAID pumps more than 50 million dollars into the country each year.)
… the immediate response from Washington was tepid and non-committal. … Dan Restrepo, the presidential advisor for Latin American affairs, said the administration was waiting to see how things would play out. (The response has been stronger since then, but still seems to lack the strength other America nations have put forward in their demands.)
This is most unfortunate for the Obama administration, or for any US government and ongoing relations with Latin America. Like Africa, most people in Latin America want the military back in the barracks, and want democratic governments. A coup is not democracy. Supporting, or even tolerating a coup is a US blow against democracy. Eva Golinger writes:
Yes, I know Fox News is not the best way to judge the political scene in the US, but this video clip is a hint into the way US media is now beginning to portray the coup events in Honduras over the past few days. And note the NPR correspondent’s comments, very similar analysis as to mine over the past few days regarding Washington’s ambiguity regarding this coup so as to buy time and possibly recognize the coup government as “transitory” until the elections in November…….very dangerous.

Note, this will isolate the US/Obama Administration from the rest of Latin America and definitely show Obama is not an agent of change.

Meanwhile, in Somalia, the US is still trying to prop up the TFG, the Transitional Federal Government, in Somalia. As one Somali commentator put it, the only true word in that name is the word transitional. The TFG is neither federal, nor a government. The TFG only controls a few blocks in Mogadishu.
Reuters:  Al Shabaab and allied fighters control much of southern and central Somalia and have boxed the government and 4,300 African Union peackeepers into a few blocks of Mogadishu.
The US has stepped up arms transfers and training, ostensibly to the AMISOM troups, but in actual fact it is violating the UN arms embargo, US, EA gunrunners violating UN’s Somalia arms ban.  And the US is stepping up the training of troops in Somalia.

US violations are said to include a missile attack on a target inside Somalia along with “intensive and comprehensive military training” conducted inside Ethiopia for officers from the breakaway Somalia region known as Somaliland.

The previous incarnation of the TFG was an alliance of the oppressive warlords and the hated and oppressive Ethiopian army. The current incarnation of the TFG was engineered by the US ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, in an election held in Djibouti. Because the TFG is under siege, and controls so little of Mogadishu, and none of the rest of Somalia, the TFG has invited the hated Ethiopians back in for help. The US, Ambassador Ranneberger, and the UN donor countries characterize the the TFG as a representative government, although they are the only ones it represents. They characterize the opposition as al Qaeda, although their only proof is to keep invoking the names of two men who bombed the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. al Qaeda has never been welcome or successful in Somalia. But as long as the US government and media say al Qaeda whenever any opposition in Somalia is mentioned, US citizens will shiver with fear and support more bombing and killing. And it looks like the US and the donor countries are stepping up their outside interference, rather than letting the Somalis settle their own affairs.

Daniel Volman writes on security policy in Somalia:

The only other indication we have about the president’s true intentions is provided by his decision to authorise the use of force to rescue the kidnapped captain of the Maersk Alabama in May 2009. When he was a candidate, President Obama declared that he believed that ‘there will be situations that require the United States to work with its partners in Africa to fight terrorism with lethal force.’ But his action during the kidnapping episode show that he is also willing to use military force in situations that have nothing to do with terrorism. According to recent news articles, a debate is currently underway within the administration about the wisdom of direct US military intervention against Somali pirates or against the al-Shabaab insurgents. Top administration officials and military officers are convinced that, in the words of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, ‘there is no purely military solution’ to piracy and political conflict in Somalia. And Johnnie Carson, the president’s new assistant secretary of state for Africa, told the BBC that ‘there would be no case of the US re-engaging on the ground with troops’ in Somalia. But some in the military and a number of prominent neo-conservative leaders contend that the United States must strike back at the pirates and the insurgents to prevent future acts of piracy and terrorism against Americans. It would be a mistake to assume that Obama will not take further military action if the situation in Somalia escalates.

If you read this transcript of the June 25 State Department daily press briefing, it sounds like the US government really does not know what it is doing in Somalia. And so far it looks like more US interference just recruits more Somali insurgents. US violence and interference will never resolve Somali problems. The US is interested in possible oil in Somalia. The EU continues to steal fish from Somali waters, and dump toxic and nuclear waste in those same waters. Keeping things unsettled in Somalia works to the advantage of all these outside meddlers.

As b real puts it:

the TFG2 has always been a weak actor in the mix. as i’ve elaborated on in multiple threads, there is more evidence that, rather than create a strong federal govt, the int’l community’s overriding objective has been to pit islamist factions against each other in order to engage them into battle amongst themselves rather than be united and [1] establish an independent govt and [2], so goes the reasoning of the unrestrained paranoid fantasies of the int’l actors, threaten & carry out ‘terrorist’ activities beyond the borders of somalia. letting them wage a war of attrition between themselves requires a minimal amount of overhead & a modicum of commitment.

their lip service to sh. sharif’s govt can be seen as an inside joke, directing, instead, the bulk of support to AMISOM and putting pressure on the UN to get more countries paying for the militarization of east africa. meanwhile, the main beneficiaries are int’l arms dealers, int’l NGOs, and, eventually, the wildcatters up through the big oil companies still comfortably playing the force majeure card.

In the long run it does not pay to be an international bully. It comes back to bite you. And the US cannot afford to garrison the entire world. It cannot afford the wars it is already waging. The proxy armies it is creating with the US Africa Command will go into business for themselves. President Obama has a lot on his plate at home. It may seem easier to let the policies that were already in place continue to run their course. In general Obama seems reluctant to get out front and lead on specific issues. If the US is going to retain its own democracy, and carry any moral weight in the world, President Obama will have to step forward and lead in the democratic direction. There is no hope and change without democratic leadership.

________
Note: the illustration above is from BibliOdyssey.

Voting for President in Ghana

Voting for President in Ghana

Check for results at GhanaWeb.

In light of recent events and in view of my readings on AFRICOM and PMCs I realized that what Bush is doing with the military is the same thing he and the Republicans have done to the banks, deregulate them and put them beyond the reach of US or any other law.

This was also the reason to call the Geneva Conventions quaint, to set up the prison at Guantanamo, and to debase American values by trying to make torture acceptable.  The intention of Cheney, Bush, and their cronies is to put government outside the law and outside the US Constitution, not subject to any oversight or review.  They are quite happy with big government. What they don’t want is responsive government, or any accountability. In regard to PMCs and deregulating the military, Frida Berrigan documents this in her recent article: Military Industrial Complex 2.0

Top to bottom, the Pentagon’s war machine is no longer just driven by, but staffed by, corporations.

Consider the following: In fiscal year 2005 (the last year for which full data is available), the Pentagon spent more contracting for services with private companies than on supplies and equipment — including major weapons systems. This figure has been steadily rising over the past 10 years. According to a recent Government Accountability Office report, in the last decade the amount the Pentagon has paid out to private companies for services has increased by 78% in real terms. In fiscal year 2006, those services contracts totaled more than $151 billion.

Ever more frequently, we hear generals and politicians alike bemoan the state of the military. Their conclusion: The wear and tear of the President’s Global War on Terror has pushed the military to the breaking point. But private contractors are playing a different tune. Think of it this way: While the military cannot stay properly supplied, its suppliers are racking up contracts in the multi-billions. For them, it’s a matter of letting the good times roll.

These have been the good times for defense contractors, if not for the military itself. Since September 2001, many companies have made a quantum leap from receiving either no Pentagon contracts or just contracts in the low hundred millions to awards in the billion-dollar range.

And in the course of this:

corruption, incompetence, and callous indifference become ever more ingrained in the military way of life.

Fighting wars for hire has become an essential part of the Pentagon’s MO since 2001, and the Blackwater employee gunning through Baghdad in a Kevlar vest, a kafiyah, and wrap-around shades is the ultimate symbol of the new moment.

But there’s another dimension of the Bush era’s privatization surge at the Pentagon that has gotten far less coverage: Private military firms are also doing the paperwork of war. …

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) looked at 21 different Pentagon offices and found that private contractors outnumbered Department of Defense employees in more than half of them. In the engineering department of the Missile Defense Agency, for example, employees from private contractors made up more than 80% of the work force. The GAO found that contractors were responsible for carrying out a wide range of tasks and were not subject to federal laws and regulations designed to prevent conflicts of interest — including the rules that concern personnel who want to take positions with companies they had awarded contracts to as federal employees.

Once private companies take on military and war-making tasks, where does the buck stop? It is not uncommon, for example, for a company hired to perform a service for the Pentagon to subcontract part of the job to another company, which may then subcontract part of its task to a third. Who, then, is in charge? When something goes wrong, who is culpable?

One result of this: The United States has ended up paying companies that are essentially enslaving Filipinos, Sri Lankans, and other “third country nationals” who drive supplies into Iraq. … these companies “openly flout U.S. labor laws by using cheap imported labor, withholding employee passports and housing workers in decrepit conditions.”

And if the U.S. military machine is now both oversized and staggeringly expensive, it is also more prone to breakdown in a more dangerous and unstable world. So think of George W. Bush’s legacy to us as a Pentagon bloated almost beyond recognition and crippled by its dependence on private military corporations.

As for Bush’s legacy to the Lockheed Martins, the KBRs and the Pentagon’s whole “Top 100″ crew, it’s been money beyond measure

This is why the PMCs and their lobbying association, the IPOA, are targeting AFRICOM.

Read the whole article here:
Military Industrial Complex 2.0
Cubicle Mercenaries, Subcontracting Warriors, and Other Phenomena of a Privatizing Pentagon
By Frida Berrigan

Carpenters with coffin in the shape of a Coca Cola bottle
Carpenters with coffin in the shape of a Coca Cola bottle. You can see more pictures at Ghana Web.

The Economist has an article up about how sales of Coke track economic change in Africa:

AFRICANS buy 36 billion bottles of Coke a year. Because the price is set so low—around 20-30 American cents, less than the price of the average newspaper—and because sales are so minutely analysed by Coca-Cola, the Coke bottle may be one of the continent’s best trackers of stability and prosperity.

“We see political instability first because we go down as far as we can into the market,” says Alexander Cummings, head of Coca-Cola’s Africa division. The ups and downs during Kenya’s post-election violence this year could be traced in sales of Coke in Nairobi’s slums and in western Kenya’s villages. Events in the Middle East, such as the 2006 war between Hizbullah and Israel, can dent sales in Muslim parts of Africa, though anti-American feeling usually wears off quite quickly.

At a macro-level, when Coke fails, the country whose market it is trying to penetrate usually fails too. Coca-Cola’s bottling plant in Eritrea hardly works because the country’s totalitarian government makes it impossible to import the needed syrup. The factory in Somalia sputtered on heroically during years of fighting but finally gave out when its sugar was pinched by pirates and its workers were held up by gunmen. Mr Cummings admits that Coca-Cola is “on life support” in Zimbabwe.

Still, if Coca-Cola’s predictions are anything to go by, Africa’s future is mostly bright. The company expects sales in Africa to grow by an annual 10-13% over the next few years, handily outstripping economic growth.

I have a new post up on at the African Loft: The Vultures are Gathering – Mercenary Corporations look to AFRICOM for new Contracts. The IPOA, the orwellianly named International Peace Operations Association is looking to AFRICOM and Africa for their next contracts. Take a look.

corn in Ghana

Corn in Ghana

The Guardian obtained an unpublished study by the World Bank. The reason it has not been published is probably because it would embarrass President Bush and create tensions between the World Bank and the White House. So it has been completed and sitting unpublished since April.

Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% …The damning unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally-respected economist at global financial body.

The figure emphatically contradicts the US government’s claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises. It will add to pressure on governments in Washington and across Europe, which have turned to plant-derived fuels to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce their dependence on imported oil.

“Political leaders seem intent on suppressing and ignoring the strong evidence that biofuels are a major factor in recent food price rises,” said Robert Bailey, policy adviser at Oxfam. “It is imperative that we have the full picture. While politicians concentrate on keeping industry lobbies happy, people in poor countries cannot afford enough to eat.”

Rising food prices have pushed 100m people worldwide below the poverty line, estimates the World Bank, and have sparked riots from Bangladesh to Egypt. Government ministers here have described higher food and fuel prices as “the first real economic crisis of globalisation”.

President Bush has linked higher food prices to higher demand from India and China, but the leaked World Bank study disputes that: “Rapid income growth in developing countries has not led to large increases in global grain consumption and was not a major factor responsible for the large price increases.”

Even successive droughts in Australia, calculates the report, have had a marginal impact. Instead, it argues that the EU and US drive for biofuels has had by far the biggest impact on food supply and prices.

… The basket of food prices examined in the study rose by 140% between 2002 and this February. The report estimates that higher energy and fertiliser prices accounted for an increase of only 15%, while biofuels have been responsible for a 75% jump over that period.

It argues that production of biofuels has distorted food markets in three main ways.

  1. First, it has diverted grain away from food for fuel, with over a third of US corn now used to produce ethanol and about half of vegetable oils in the EU going towards the production of biodiesel.
  2. Second, farmers have been encouraged to set land aside for biofuel production.
  3. Third, it has sparked financial speculation in grains, driving prices up higher.


“It is clear that some biofuels have huge impacts on food prices,” said Dr David King, the government’s former chief scientific adviser, last night. “All we are doing by supporting these is subsidising higher food prices, while doing nothing to tackle climate change.”

scene from torture training video in Mexico

Still from a video in which a US Contractor Leads Torture Training in Mexico.

AFRICOM plans to make Ghana its anchor in the west African version of the DoD “War on Drugs”. Drugs are the DoD (Department of Defense) tool of choice for coopting a country. Nevermind that the US “War on Drugs” has gone on for decades with no apparent success, and has often been allied with the same people who are trafficking and profiting from drugs, as in Columbia, Afghanistan and Southeast Asia.

The Drug War Expands to Western Africa describes the problems faced by Guinea-Bissau, but also states:


DoD has identified Ghana as its “anchor country” for emerging counternarcotics efforts through AFRICOM.

Whichever is your richest and strongest government department, that is where the most opportunities for corruption lie, and where you will find people taking advantage of those opportunities. By investing heavily in African militaries, the US strengthens the opportunities and the likelihood of corruption in the countries it targets, and increases the likelihood of military coups. When the military controls the government, it is much easier to control the trade in contraband, the profits, and to protect cronies from the law.

The article describes the military complicity in Guinea-Bissau:

The military is thought to be complicit in the drug trade; last year, two military personnel were detained along with a civilian in a vehicle carrying 635 kilos of cocaine. The army secured the soldiers’ release and they have not been charged.

When Ghana had military governments they regulated the price of cocoa. Then the military smuggled cocoa across the border and sold it for higher prices, and officers pocketed the profits. There was no point in most farmers investing much in cocoa, they could not profit on their own. Strengthening the military in the face of the drug trade just provides these same opportunities to make even more money through the same practices that harm the country and enrich corrupt elites. There are passionately patriotic Ghanaians who would oppose this, within the military and without. But there are always plenty of people who are corruptible. It is very difficult to fight corruption when corruption becomes the norm.

It is the current elites in Ghana, and the NPP party in power who have been most often associated with cocaine and drug scandals in the press, such as MP Eric Amoateng, and even rumors regarding the Asantehene.

It gets a lot uglier than this. Keep in mind that the Pentagon via AFRICOM plans to use PMCs, the Private Military Corporations, that are currently gathering to feed at the AFRICOM trough, now that Iraq is passing laws that strip the PMCs of immunity for their actions, and the Iraq war may be winding down.

PMCs have been training the military and police in a number of countries. They are training in Mexico where videos of torture training for the Mexican police by an American PMC have just emerged.

Supposedly the people being tortured are trainees who “volunteered”, and they are learning how to psychologically withstand torture. But according to the account, the torture techniques they are learning are not typical of those used by the local gangs and criminals. From the article:

Leon city Police Chief Carlos Tornero told the AP that the English-speaking man in the videos is a contractor from a private US security firm. Tornero refused to elaborate on the man’s identity, details about the US company, and who contracted the company.

The government’s response has been to defend the program, attack the media for reporting on the videos, and deny the illegality of torture.


Mexico’s national daily La Jornada was quick to point out that torture is in fact prohibited, contrary to the public security chief’s assertions: “Torture is a crime in Guanajuato: in accordance with Article 264 of the state Penal Code, the public servant who ‘intentionally exercises violence against a person, be it in order to obtain information or constituting an illicit investigation method,’ faces a punishment of 2-10 years in prison.”

The existence of a training led by a US defense contractor to teach Mexican police
torture tactics in order to combat organized crime and the local government’s adamant defense of the program is particularly disturbing considering the US government’s recent approval of the $1.6 billion Plan Mexico, also known as the Merida Initiative. Plan Mexico is an aid package specifically designed to support President Felipe Calderón’s deadly battle against organized crime. It will fund more US training for Mexican police and military, in addition to providing them with riot gear, spy equipment, and military aircraft. Plan Mexico allows funds for the deployment of up to fifty US defense contractors to Mexico.

This is not the first time US defense contractors have directed torture in foreign countries.

Representatives of the US training other countries’ police and military how to torture is not unprecedented, but it is still deeply shocking. Contraband and coups are the legacy of the US “War on Drugs” in Latin America. We do not need to spread that. Is this what AFRICOM and the US are bringing to West Africa?

Cornstalk in Ghana

Cornstalk in Ghana

Yash Tandon writes at Pambazuka that there are:

… five basic guidelines, or principles, that must form the basis of any food policy. These are:

1. The Principle of food sovereignty. This is not the same as “food security”. A country can have food security through food imports. Dependence on food imports is precarious and prone to multiple risks — from price risks, to supply risks, to conditionality risks (policy conditions that come with food imports). Food sovereignty, on the other hand, implies ensuring domestic production and supply of food. It means that the nationals of the country (or at the very least nationals within the region) must primarily be responsible for ensuring that the nation and the region are first and foremost dependent on their own efforts and resources to grow their basic foods.

2. The Principle of priority of food over export crops produced by small farms sustained by state provision of the necessary infrastructure of financial credit, water, energy, extension service, transport, storage, marketing, and insurance against crop failures due to climate changes or other unforeseen circumstances.

3. The Principle of self-reliance and national ownership and control over the main resources for food production. These are land, seeds, water, energy, essential fertilizers and technology and equipment (for production, harvesting, storage and transport).

4. The Principle of food safety reserves. Each nation must maintain, through primarily domestic production and storage systems (including village storage as well as national silos) sufficient stocks of “reserve foods” to provide for emergencies.

5. The Principle of a fair and equitable distribution of “reserve foods” among the population during emergencies.

He concludes:

A proper analysis of the food crisis is a matter that cannot be left with trade negotiators, investment experts, or agricultural engineers. It is essentially a matter of political economy.

Which is very similar to what Vandana Shiva writes:

In a democracy, the economic agenda is the political agenda.

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