How to end the layoffs and concessions. STRIKE called March 2009 http://www.votestrike.com
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Sidebar for this video:
Aid agencies say the psychological effects of the Israeli offensive on Gaza have been heavy, particularly on children.
Al Jazeera's Jonah Hull talks to one nine year old boy about his experiences and how he is dealing with them now
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
We all need to keep on top of these Myths and hopefully the corporate media and the Republican Party will come to the realization that we are sick of the lies and propaganda.....
Hope all is well out there....Hope you are enjoying the fabulous new "Huffington Post" blogger that our Mac recruited to our blog. Georgianne Nienabar is awesome. We are proud to have her on our team.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Original Content at http://www.opednews.com/articles/The-Voice-ofthe-Wetlands-F-by-Mac-McKinney-081102-995.html
original article: November 3, 2008
The Voice of the Wetlands Festival, Part 3: The Cajun and the Lake
By Mac McKinney
(To read Part 1, click here)
(To read Part 2, click here)
Sunday morning, October 12, Houma, Louisiana:
I have been experiencing the Voice of the Wetlands Festival for the last two days, enjoying the music and learning more about the ecology of the wetlands. But now my wife and I have to cut short our visit, even though the festival will resume at Noon, and head on back to New Orleans International Airport to catch a mid-afternoon flight. But the plight of southern Louisiana has not been lost on me, nor hopefully, on you, the reader.
The wetlands of Louisiana are being destroyed by 1) blocking off the annual sediment deposits from the Mississippi River, 2) the building of endless canals crisscrossing the southern Louisiana wetlands that then invite the insidious spread of destructive saltwater intrusion, and of course, 3) by contractors being allowed to bulldoze, fill in and pave the wetlands in the interests of commercial development. But there is another factor that also affects, not only the wetlands, but all the waterways - rivers, lakes, bayous, etc., and that is urban, industrial and agricultural pollution of these waterways. This became clear to me as I was driving back from the festival this Sunday morning.
As we were leaving the outskirts of Houma, first I was able to get a good look at one of the many canals dredged out in Louisiana, canals that have become part of the environmental problem. This one was running under Floyd Duplantis Bridge below:
Floyd Duplantis Bridge on the outskirts of Houma, Louisiana
Here is the canal itself:
A canal running under the bridge. Note the large pipes running down into the water. I assume they are suction and discharge pipes connected to a pumping station just to the right in what I guess you can call a spill-over pond, or even secondary canal, because it runs parallel to the first canal as far as the horizon, as you will see in the second photo after the one of the pumping station directly below:
What must be a pump station for controlling canal water volume. Note the pollution and heavy surface vegetation that suggests water deterioration, even toxicity.
Looking south at this same "spill" canal, if I can technically call it that, you see that this thick film of aquatic vegetation coats the entire surface, suggesting a stagnant, perhaps even putrid body of eutrophic water. What happens when storms and hurricanes cause this canal to, in turn, exceed its boundaries and flood over the land, soaking into the soil, or even into other bodies of water?
The pea-green "spill canal" that the pumping station dumps water into
Continuing on back toward New Orleans on Highway 90, we eventually passed by the small city of Raceland, situated on Bayou Laforche in Lafourche Parish, and then a few minutes later saw a pier/souvenir shop complex just off the highway to my right. Curious to see if the shop was open, I pulled into the parking lot, grabbed my camera and hopped out. The business itself was closed so I walked toward the pier where a medium-sized, shallow-draft tour boat was moored, with no one about.
Pierside at Lac des Allemands
When I walked to the water's edge and peered right, I could see the pier wall extending south quite a ways, actually merging into a rather quaint canal adjoining the lake, with houses on both sides, the water level already almost lapping into their yards, creating a sort of mini-Venice between the highway and the lake. And this was likely just as prone to all the flooding problems that beset the good people of Venice, Italy.
A small community living on a canal adjoining the lake
When I turned and looked directly at the lake itself, I could see an extensive body of calm, blue water, with a small island in the foreground, probably once part of the landscape protruding into the lake, and dim tree lines in the far distance, quite a majestic view. After taking a few photos I turned back toward the highway and started to take a few more shots in that direction.
Looking out over Lac des Allemands
Meet Lee Richoux
At that same moment, a car pulled into the parking lot, drove right past me, and then started to make a large U-turn. I could see there was just the solitary driver inside. On the spur of the moment, I decided to hail him down to ask what the name of this lake was as he approached me again. As he stopped, I walked over to the driver's side as he rolled down his window and started shooting the breeze with him. I didn't try to record the conversation or photograph him, although at some point he realized I was a journalist without my telling him, and at that point I began to take some notes.
His name was Lee Richoux, and he was an elderly albeit sturdy and ruddy-faced, long-time resident of this enchanted part of Southern Louisiana that includes Lafourche, Terrebonne and St Charles Parishes, a one hundred percent Cajun man he related, and he spoke with a pleasant, rich Cajun voice, almost musical, at first simply replying to my query as to the name of the lake right behind me. "Lac des Allemands." (which means "Lake of the Germans" – not only Acadians settled in this area, but Germans too.) This topic gave him an opportunity to soon wax indignant about the long and still ongoing tragedy befalling this lake, which, I had been totally oblivious of until now:
"In the last seven or eight years we have seen great destruction occurring to all life in the lake, the birds, fish and vegetation. Lac des Allemands used to be a great haven for birds."
Now, he explained, the continuous salt-water intrusion coming up through Lake Savador has wrecked havoc on the bird population. "Vast flocks of every imaginable species of duck, French, Northern Pin, Teal", to name a few, as well as an abundance of egrets, he continued, used to hone in on the lake from their flyways from up north as Winter approached. Now they are close to gone, Lee lamented, conscious that the kind of aquatic life and vegetation that they depend on has been depleted by the insidious intrusion of saltwater.
To verify Lee's claims about the lake, I went online later and did some research. I couldn't find an outright salinity report on des Allemands, but unfortunately enough, Lac des Allemands is classified as a "eutrophic freshwater lake system", meaning that is in a later stage of erosion, although this doesn't necessarily mean it is high in salinity. However, there is a heavy nutrient content, with, particularly, more nitrogen and phosphorus than in an oligotrophic lake, which is an earlier, healthier stage in the life cycle of a lake, when there is an abundance of oxygen as well as fish, who depend, of course, on the oxygen.
An oligotrophic lake lacks what is called "high primary productivity", an ecological term that can best be described as the development of a large, blue-green algae population, which will increasingly degrade the water quality. Where there is a large algal bloom, there will be less and less fish and, consequently, less of the birds who feed on fish, such as the heron. Ultimately, a eutrophic lake will develop more and more vegetation with a larger and larger littoral zone (of aquatic plant life), and gradually transform into a marsh. This may be the ultimate fate of Lac des Allemands, which has dense algal blooms for nine to ten months of the year.
The degree of nutrients pollution in the lake is largely a man-made phenomenon. A study by C. A. Stow, R. D. De Laune and W. H. Patrick, Jr. from the Laboratory for Wetland Soils and Sediments, Center tor Wetland Resources, Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, entitled, "Nutrient Fluxes in a Eutrophic Coastal LouisianaFreshwater Lake" reports:
Increased urbanization, industrialization, and modern agricultural practices threaten to alter the balance of Louisiana's vast coastal wetlands. Effective management practices are becoming necessary in order to allow maximum resource usage while preserving the integrity of this wetland ecosystem. There is a need for an understanding of the basic regulatory mechanisms governing water quality in shallow coastal lakes in order to insure proper resource management of these water bodies. Effective management decisions must be based on a good understanding of the chemical, biologic, and geologic processes occurring in such systems. This study reveals factors that regulate nutrient fluxes, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus in Lac des Allemands, a large shallow lake in the Barataria Basin region of southern Louisiana. Barataria Basin lies between Bayou Lafourche and the Mississippi River. Leveeing of these two water courses has eliminated riverine flooding and limited hydrologic input to approximately 150 cm/year of precipitation. Lac des Allemands is a freshwater lake in the upper reaches of Barataria Basin. It has an area of approximately 65 km 2 and a depth ranging from 2 to 3 m. The lake is highly eutrophic with intense algal production from early spring through late autumn. The basin morphometry and fetch of the lake, and low relief of the surrounding area, prevent seasonal stratification. The lake is polymictic. The two main inlets feeding Lac des Allemands are Bayou Chevreuil and Bayou Boeuf. The bayous are sluggish (average velocity = 0.14 m/s) and turbid (average secchi depth = 0.29 m) (Butler 1975) and both empty into the southwest Corner of the lake. (source)
Whether or not increased salinity from Lake Salvador coming up through Bayou des Allemands on into Lac des Allemands is a key factor in the deterioration of the lake and its wildlife habitat, urban and agricultural runoff from New Orleans and other points north certainly is. But not to be completely forlorn, at least the lake still has good catfish.
Lee went on to say that he used to be a local entertainer in places like nearby Raceland, which was certainly reflected in his ease of speech, and he began to shift focus from the lake itself to the larger social and political environment that could allow, not only this one lake, but many lakes and waterways in Louisiana to suffer so much environmental deterioration and destruction. He deplored the culture of greed he now sees prevalent in the land that drives this callousness. He sees the situation both in local government and in Washington as pitiful. "It's the power they want!" he decried, and the money that goes with it that animates the whole American political system, and he described how the system keeps reproducing itself, as newly elected officials and appointees are sucked into its corrupt snares. "They bullshit these poor people", meaning political newcomers. "It's like they throw a spell over them and kidnap them." He could say this because he was speaking from experience.
"I used to be on the inside looking out", Lee recalled, meaning that at one point in time he was involved in local politics, and then life was good, financially. But once he was on the outside looking in, he saw how hard things were, and now they are getting worse.
"It's hard for me to make a living now", Lee quipped, alluding to the chaos on Wall Street and in the banking system, complaining that he can't make any money by investing in a bank, that CDs and saving accounts now pay next to nothing in interest. He doesn't even want to touch the stock market.
And as he looks around him, all Lee sees is growing impoverishment and environmental catastrophe in southern Louisiana. "Things definitely need to change. Our area has been crippled." So he hopes there will be a big change with the elections in November. Those were his last thoughts as he said Adieu and drove off.
I can't help but think that Lac des Allemands is a metaphor for the country right now, as the formerly clear, oxygenated waters of life supporting the teeming American masses have been clouded and degraded by the toxic runoff of financial capital and industrial excess, creating a satiated environment of the wrong kind of nutrients - unbridled power, unbridled concentration of wealth, unbridled pollution - leading to a debauched explosion of noxious weeds, parasite blooms so-to-speak, that are strangling the oxygen out of the land and the population.
After that moment at the lake, I didn't stop again until I reached New Orleans. I was trying to drive back to the Lower Ninth Ward one last time before my flight left, but we got stuck in some heavy traffic backed up around the Superdome for a Saints game. Finally we got through that mess and headed out Claiborne Avenue for the Ward. But we will talk about what transpired there next time.
In the back of my mind I kept thinking of how I had run into, of all things while driving through southern Louisiana today, a remarkable statue of Kwan Yin, as if this was a portent from the Universe:
Kwan Yin is pouring out her vase of holy dew as she gestures. She is the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, and she stands right off the highway near Houma. Will she bless southern Louisiana and America with her divine love this November (2008)?
Speak out for sing out for peace, human rights and an end to torture, war and exploitation.
Sidebar for this video:
December 19, 2008
A music video that brings together 16 of the worlds top musicians—some of whom have fled oppressive regimes—in a rousing musical plea to guarantee human rights for all. ...
A music video that brings together 16 of the worlds top musicians—some of whom have fled oppressive regimes—in a rousing musical plea to guarantee human rights for all.
The track, donated by Aterciopelados and arranged by fusion music guru Andres Levin, combines the voices of Hugh Masekela, Julieta Venegas, Stephen Marley, Angelique Kidjo, Yungchen Lhamo, Aterciopelados, Yerba Buena, Natacha Atlas, Rachid Taha, Kiran Ahluwalia, Chiwoniso and Emmanual Jal with those of U.S. artists Natalie Merchant, and Chali 2Na of Jurassic 5. Introduction by Laurence Fishburne.
Video produced by: Link TV: Television Without Borders for Amnesty International
Directed by: Joshua Atesh Litle
Music produced by: Andres Levin for Music Has No Enemies
Photos courtesy of Magnum Photos
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Check out the TV ad of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation about Israel's actions in the Gaza Strip that DIRECTV censored. Take action to protest DIRECTV's censorship by clicking here: http://endtheoccupation.org/article.php?id=1817
Check out the full End the Occupation webpage by clicking here:
To: The Honorable Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, Washington, DC 20520
To: The Honorable Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the United Nations, United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017
Dear Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice,
The humanitarian situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is disintegrating and it is time for the United States to intervene publicly and forcefully. According to report after report from human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), the violence is escalating, and the United Nations does not have enough peacekeeping troops to contain the violence. Already more innocents have died than in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. The world cannot say again that it had no idea of the scope of this disaster. Rwanda can no longer be given a free pass because of its suffering during the genocide, and Rwandan President Paul Kagame must be held accountable for the alliance he has formed with Congolese President Joseph Kabila who is turning a blind eye to the crimes committed against innocent Hutu civilians in eastern Congo.
In an urgent communiqué to independent media, the Congolese National Congress for the Defense of the People (French acronym, CNDP), is asking to meet with you precipitously regarding the Rwandan government’s unwarranted detention of CNDP leader, General Laurent Nkunda, and the corresponding increase in massacres of Congolese civilians since his January 22nd arrest. As documented by Human Rights Watch on February 13, 2009:
"The rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda(FDLR), which includes elements of the Interahamwe responsible for the1994 Rwandan genocide) brutally slaughtered at least 100 Congolese civilians in the Kivu provinces of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo between January 20 and February 8, 2009."Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice, in order to facilitate this urgent meeting on behalf of General Nkunda and the people of Eastern Congo, the CNDP will offer a delegation to meet in Washington with State Department officials and Rwandan President Paul Kagame. It is imperative that you understand that with every passing day since the General's detention, Rwandan Tutsi troops have slaughtered more and more Hutu civilians. Unless immediate assistance is provided and high level dialogue is initiated with the United States, the General will remain in grave danger (including the possibility of assassination), and civilian massacres will continue to rise.
"The FDLR have a very ugly past, but we haven't seen this level of violence in years," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior researcher in the Africa division at Human Rights Watch. "We've documented many abuses by FDLR forces, but these are killings of ghastly proportions."
In addition, Human Rights Watch has accused Rwandan Tutsi elements of the joint “peacekeeping” forces of "having raped several women since the start of operations against the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda)." HRW also said the joint force's "information- sharing has been scant and too late to permit the UN forces to be able to plan for providing the needed protection" of civilians.
“The Congolese government nominally leads the joint operations against the FDLR, but the coalition troops that attacked the FDLR in Ufamandu were largely soldiers from the Rwandan Defense Forces. These Rwandan soldiers were allegedly responsible for having raped several women since the start of operations against the FDLR,” HRW said.
You should be further aware that reports issued by corporate media, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, BBC and Voice of America regarding the General's unprecedented detention have neglected to include interviews with the General himself or testimonies by Hutu government officials. As a result of these omissions, the U.S. State Department and the people of the United States have not received the full story of the tragedy of Eastern Congo - including the deaths of 45,000 innocent people who are tragically and unnecessarily killed each month. These cataclysmic numbers should be sufficiently alarming to warrant America's immediate intervention.
The CNDP identifies itself as a populist young political party. It was created in 2006 on the eve of the first democratic elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It prides itself on its vibrancy and its democratic ideals. Its leader, General Nkunda, has always proclaimed his goals were the protection of civilians and the fight against the corruption of the Congolese Government and its President, Joseph Kabila. Independent journalists, Georgianne Nienaber and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Helen Thomas, who visited the CNDP controlled territory in early January 2009, report that the local population supports the CNDP because of the protection it offers. Nienaber and Thomas' complete unedited interview with General Nkunda prior to his January 22nd detention, can be seen in the 5 YouTube videos, two of which are provided below below:
Underscoring the dire situation in East Congo, “Hotel Rwanda” humanitarian Paul Rusesabagina sent an open letter to Barack Obama on January 27, 2009, asking him to intervene in what is becoming an apocalypse of violence, aided and abetted by mining interests from nations in the west. According to Rusesabagina, "The international community needs to intervene to prevent the lives of more innocents from being lost."
Regarding the arrest and detention of General Nkunda, Rusesabagina says:
“It [the arrest] is not a panacea for the violence. Rwanda’s President Kagame bankrolled and directed Nkunda in the past. His arrest is a “chess move” on Kagame’s part to try to get back on good terms with his [Kagame's] international donors. Both Sweden and the Netherlands, two of the four biggest donors to the Rwandan government, pulled their funding after the release of the U.N. Security Council report on the Congo in December 2008.”Ambassador Rice, you are already on record in your pledge of a new era in U.S. support of human rights. In a powerful statement during your first appearance in the United Nations Security Council as the United States Representative to the U.N., you stated the following on behalf of the protection of citizens:
"Civilian protection is not just a moral duty; it must be a core element of military operations. The United States government understands that protection of civilians is a vital priority – indeed that it must be an essential part of our missions."It is clear from this heartfelt statement that you plan to oversee a more proactive and humane policy toward international human rights.
Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice, in order to solicit your intervention in this monumental and ever growing catastrophe, civilian and military representatives from the CNDP reached out to the independent journalists who recorded the last video interview with Laurent Nkunda, prior to his detention by Rwandese officials on January 22nd. Through an ensuing series of emails and phone conversations with these journalists, the CNDP is providing you the following points of concern:
• President Paul Kagame should immediately free General Laurent Nkunda who is being illegally detained.Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice, you should also please consider that in a horrible twist of fate, the testimony of human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo was released hours before news came that Dr. Alison Des Forges was killed in the crash of Flight 3407 from New York to Buffalo on February 12, 2009. Des Forges, senior adviser to Human Rights Watch’s Africa division for almost two decades, dedicated her life to working on Rwanda and was the world’s leading expert on the 1994 Rwanda genocide and its aftermath.
•The Congolese parliament is not in agreement with the central Kabila government. The Congolese Government has stopped the legal proceedings initiated against Major General Laurent Nkunda Mihigo, President of the National Congress for people’s Defense-CNDP. This has not been reported in western media.
• General Nkunda was arrested because he has created powerful grass roots populist movement in eastern Congo, which exists to protect the riches of Congo for the Congolese people. Powerful business interests in Kigali, Rwanda, needed the CNDP to be placed under the control of Rwanda so that exploitation of Congolese minerals (which has been documented by the UN) can continue.
• Nkunda’s arrest is a major setback for the Nairobi peace talks. There was about to be a breakthrough in which Congolese refugees now in Rwandan detention camps would be allowed to return to Congo. If this were allowed to happen, the CNDP movement would become too strong for Rwandan interests to control.
• Powerful intelligence sources in Kigali, with or without the knowledge of President Paul Kagame, suggested that the removal of General Laurent Nkunda by assassination would assure political victory for Kinshasa, which was losing territory to the strong CNDP movement.
• There was pressure on the Rwandan government when Great Britain and the United States accused Rwanda of responsibility in the growing insecurity in the eastern DRC, especially the Kivu Provinces and its capitol city, Goma. American and British interests threatened to pull monetary support to Rwanda. As a gesture to this pressure, Rwanda offered up Laurent Nkunda as a concession.
• The chief of the Rwandan defense Forces, James Kabarebe, was sent to Kinshasa to strike a bargain with Rwanda for the removal of Nkunda. He is an ethnic Tutsi who helped Rwandan President Paul Kagame mastermind the overthrow of the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide. He is also on the United Nations list of 54 individuals linked to the exploitation of Congo’s natural resources. Link
•The plan was for Rwandan troops to dress in FARDC (Congolese) uniforms, assassinate Nkunda, and claim that his death was caused by his defense against FARDC forces in the fight against the FDLR. This would satisfy intelligence interests that already understood that the Kabila government has been in collusion with the FDLR to perpetuate unrest through displacement of the population, rape, lootings and
• Bosco Ntaganda is a former member of the Rwandan Patriotic Army and allegedly a former Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Forces Patriotiques pour la Libérationdu Congo (FPLC) who was used in an attempt to destabilize the CNDP. Rwandan intelligence infiltrated the CNDP and tried to bribe certain officers, telling them they would receive promotions and money in return for their betrayal of Nkunda. Ntaganda was promised a good position in the Congolese military hierarchy and $250,000. He was also offered a deal through Rwanda in which his indictment by The Hague for war crimes would be forgiven and erased. On 22 August 2006, a Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Ntaganda bore individual criminal responsibility for war crimes committed between July 2002 and December 2003, and issued a warrant for his arrest.
• As of May 2008, Bosco Ntaganda is wanted by the International Criminal Court for the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of fifteen and using them to participate actively in hostilities. Ntaganda is also known as "the Terminator." In early January, with support from the governments of Paul Kagame and Joseph Kabila, Ntaganda did attempt to unseat Nkunda and proclaimed himself to be the chairman of CNDP, but he failed in his attempt because the 7,000 CNDP soldiers were solidly behind Nkunda.
Des Forges represented all that is good with humanity in a region of the world that seems to have lost its grip on what it means to have human compassion. Before her death, President Paul Kagame banned her from entering Rwanda.
The following recent testimony from Human Rights Watch (HRW) says it all. There is no need for a filter or more explanation. Please do not allow what happened during 1994 to be repeated upon people who have absolutely no voice:
“The Tutsi [Rwandan] soldiers accused me of being the wife of an FDLR combatant, just because I’m Hutu,” said one woman who was raped by a Rwandan army soldier in Remeka. “After they raped me, they burned my house, saying it was the house of an FDLR. I was pregnant, but there’s no more movement in my womb. I think I have lost my first child,” says the February 13th press release from Human Rights Watch (HRW).
A woman from Lulere village in Ziralo told HRW that the FDLR said they would not leave Congo without “first exterminating the Congolese people.” The FDLR forces then killed her 73-year-old father and 80-year-old uncle by smashing their skulls with small hoes.
Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice, it is critical that you intervene in this matter. By complying with the CNDP’s urgent request, the United States can compensate in a small way for our inattention and negligence during the horrific days of 1994.
Linda Milazzo is a Los Angeles based writer, educator and activist. Since 1974, she has divided her time between the entertainment industry, government organizations & community development projects, and educational programs. Linda began her writing career over 30 years ago, starting out in advertising and promotions. From 1976 to 1989, she operated an independent public relations service providing specialty writing for individual and corporate clients. For the past six years, Linda has focused on political writing. Her essays, letters and commentaries have appeared in domestic and international journals, newspapers, magazines and on dozens of respected news and opinion websites. She’s an educator and creator of a writers’ program she’s taught privately and in public schools. She currently facilitates an advocacy writing workshop and is developing an advocacy writing program to be implemented in public and private educational institutions and in community based organizations.
Hedge Fund Pro Jim Rogers talks about the stupidity of the Federal Reserve and the Stimulus Package, rewarding incompetence while punishing the competent. It's all about good ole boys protecting their sycophants from the consequences of their own actions.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
The journalist I am referring to is Georgianne Nienaber, who recently traveled all the way to the war-torn and chaotic eastern Congo with Australian journalist Helen Thomas to interview General Laurent Nkunda of the rebel CNDP, as well as investigate facts on the ground, shortly before, in a shocking turn of events, Nkunda was deceived and detained by his Rwandan ally.
This was not Georgianne's first foray into Africa, nor is it likely her last. She has been writing about Africa for years and indeed even recently wrote a well-received book on the famous, tragically murdered gorilla researcher and protector, Dian Fossey, entitled Gorilla Dreams: The Legacy of Dian Fossey.
Georgianne seems to be a living embodiment of Amy Goodman's motto: "Go to where the silence is." Elie Wiesel, whom Georgianne met years ago, voiced similar sentiments to her once and she took them to heart, consistently going to where the silence is greatest, where suffering people have no voice and those who do are thick with lies. This concern has taken her not only to Africa, but into areas of suffering right here in America. She has written prolifically and passionately on the devastation of Katrina and its destructive aftermath for Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, magnified by the folly and corruption of men. She has also plunged into animal rights and written an investigative novel, Horse Sense, on the abuse of horses in insurance frauds.
Why am I telling you, the reader, all this by the way? Well, Georgianne has accepted an invitation to become a contributor to Mosquito Blog and has just posted her first piece below, Emmanuel DeMerode: Exclusive Interview on Fate of Humans and Wildlife in CONGO
Her gracious acceptance not only adds an internationally renowned author, writer and journalist to our ranks, but now takes us buzzing beyond the confines of Virginia and into Louisiana and New Orleans, where she currently resides when she is not traveling. The little Mosquito now has one wing on the East Coast and one wing on the Gulf Coast, with our many eyes on the whole planet.
So, dear readers, please welcome aboard Georgianne Nienaber.
If you would like to learn more about her, she also has two websites:
And here is her standard bio, somewhat out of date, that I lifted from one of her websites:
Georgianne Nienaber is a writer, author, and investigative journalist. She lives in the world. Her articles have appeared in The Huffington Post, SCOOP New Zealand, Glide Magazine, Rwanda's New Times, India's TerraGreen, COA News, ZNET, OpEdNews, The Journal of the International Primate Protection League, Friends of the Congo, Africa Front, The United Nations Publication, A Civil Society Observer, and Zimbabwe's The Daily Mirror. Her fiction exposé of insurance fraud in the horse industry, Horse Sense, was re-released in early 2006. Gorilla Dreams: The Legacy of Dian Fossey was also released in 2006. Nienaber spent much of 2007 doing research in South Africa, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. She was in DRC as a MONUC-accredited journalist, and recently spent six weeks in Southern Louisiana investigating hurricane reconstruction. She is currently developing a documentary on the Gulf of Mexico DEAD ZONE.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Last week, a coalition of 100 humanitarian and human rights organizations called on John Holmes, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, to insist that protecting civilians be a top priority of the joint Congolese and Rwandan military operation in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
In a public letter to Holmes, the Congo Advocacy Coalition expressed “alarm that the joint military operation has to date contributed to the flight of thousands of people from their homes in anticipation of violence, adding to the 1.2 million already displaced in earlier waves of fighting. The coalition further raised concerns about reprisal killings and the use of civilians as human shields by the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), as well as reports of rape and looting by all sides,” according to a report issued by Human Rights Watch.
Fate turns on a dime in eastern Congo, and at this writing, CNDP rebel General Laurent Nkunda is under house arrest in Rwanda, a country that until now had supported his movement.
On January 20, 2009, the Congolese and Rwandan governments began a joint military operation against the FDLR, an armed group based in eastern Congo. The FDLR includes members of the Interahamwe, responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. If more fighting breaks out, the consequences for humans and the endangered mountain gorilla will be dire. Local sources on the ground in Virunga Park confirm that Rwandan battalions have passed near Rutshuru and Rumangabo, in the heart of Virunga National Park, but so far no major fighting has broken out.
While in DR Congo at the beginning of January, Australian journalist Helen Thomas and I met with Emmanuel de Merode and discussed the human/wildlife conflict there. De Merode is the new head of the endangered and embattled Park.
Thomas and I had just left Goma, when an email came in from de Merode. He had read our interview with CNDP leader Laurent Nkunda in the Huffington Post and wondered if we could talk. Ordinarily this kind of request would not seem unusual, but I had been a relentless critic of de Merode and his association with gorilla conservationists as former head of Wildlife Direct. The same article had been cross-posted on OPEDNEWS.
De Merode crossed the border into the Rwandan town of Gisenyi and we sat on a hotel veranda for almost two hours. After a half hour of wary sparring, it seemed to me at least that we had much more in common than we shared in disagreement. Had we both changed? Perhaps we had both grown weary of the senseless and relentless assaults on both humans and wildlife in the Kivus.
At one time I had shared de Merode's passionate commitment to the preservation of the mountain gorilla, but my concerns shifted once I visited DRC and saw that 1.2 million humans were in as much danger as the gorillas. Western news reports have focused on the gorillas above all human concerns.
My impression was that multi-national and strategic interests, including those of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, fueled by white supremacy and cloaked in the mantle of 'conservation,’” killed the mountain gorillas. De Merode took issue with that conclusion.
What follows is a summary of our recorded conversation and subsequent emails. Some of it is paraphrased and in the interest of the fate of humans and wildlife and hope that two former adversaries can present the truth for the good of Congo, I ran this past de Merode and he stands behind it.
On Criticism that Humans Need Access to the Resources of Virunga
The Issue: Due to the ongoing fighting in eastern DRC, massive relocation camps are now located on the perimeter of Virunga Park. People need fuel to cook and keep warm and up until now, there has been an effort to keep the displaced from Virunga. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates there are 60,000 people in camps at Kibati, just north of the flashpoint Nord-Kivu provincial capital of Goma.
De Merode: After being appointed as chief warden in August last year, we removed the charcoal barrier at Kibati. Prices in Goma dropped from 33 to 16 dollars a sack in the weeks that followed as a result of a massive increase in supply from the park. We are still trying to a solution to the considerable damage that is being inflicted on the park as a result of my decision to abandon the barrier, but please understand that I do not believe that the wildlife should take priority over people's needs.
You are right in claiming that, by focusing on charcoal, we are neglecting some of the more pressing humanitarian needs. But we have to look ahead. Virunga's forests cannot last more than 5 years with the amount of charcoal that is coming out of the park. When the forests are gone, Goma will suffer a massive energy crisis, and that will quickly become a humanitarian catastrophe: domestic energy is key to people's survival. They need domestic energy for food and for their health.
Charcoal is incredibly destructive and inefficient. When people cut the tree they only use the branches because they don't have the tools to cut the trunk and it is a huge amount of waste. We have to find an alternative. It's a human priority as much as it is a priority for the wildlife.
What we have been working on was to launch a biomass briquette program as an alternative to charcoal. I feel confident about it as a viable solution.
You know as well as anyone that these are the richest soils in all of Africa. What we are doing...and I would like to invite you to see this...we launched a briquette program and I feel confident about it. The Legacy Foundation in the United States developed the system whereby fuel is created from local products of grass, debris and sawdust.
One press creates employment for six people. If we can create 5000 presses, it would replace the charcoal demand of Goma, and create 30,000 sustainable jobs.
Everyone gets accused of being wrong here. Even you.
The Involvement of Elite Rangers in Human Rights Abuses
The Issue: There is a video that demonstrates human rights abuses by an elite group of Virunga Park Rangers who were trained by British mercenary Conrad Thorpe. The Frankfurt Zoological Society on behalf of Wildlife Direct funded the training. The video can be viewed on the internet.
People are not dying because of a lack of resources - it's not food insecurity or drought that is the root cause of suffering in eastern DRC, but deep physical insecurity - a level of brutality inflicted on an innocent population that knows no limits. This is a tragedy that stems from the total breakdown of law and order. Congolese people are hard working and resourceful, but what can you do when you are repeatedly attacked by bandits, when your crops are destroyed and your livestock pillaged, when your livelihood is destroyed.
The Congolese Parks authority is a law enforcement agency, and has a responsibility towards the state, and towards the people to uphold the law. I feel they fill an important function, but to do so, its staff have to be trained and equipped as law enforcement officers.
Shortly after being appointed I also made the decision to disband the "advance force". They were formally disbanded in November and have returned to their original positions as regular rangers. These were the 50 rangers trained by Conrad Thorpe and his team and who was, I believe, the subject of your concern. This draws a line through that training programme in 2005, but I would appreciate the links to the images that you refer to as abusive acts by the rangers so that I can look into it.
The issues you raised are valid and difficult.
The training you wrote about took place, but for the record, we (Wildlife Direct) did not actually fund the training. The Frankfurt Zoological Society funded it, but I was fully aware training was going on. That said, and while it has proven controversial, I would stand by my position that it is essential that rangers are properly trained. Given the state of insecurity in the areas in which they operate, they have to be adequately trained and supported. I would much prefer it if there was no need to carry rifles, but there is another side to this story which is that poachers in this part of the world can be very well armed and affluent and willing to kill. If rangers have to carry rifles, then we have a fundamental obligation to ensure that they are able to handle those weapons responsibly. That means having discipline, leadership, and a sense of responsibility. Those are qualities that can only be obtained through training.
As to your question about torture being acceptable: it is absolutely not acceptable under any circumstances.
I believe there have been proven cases of unacceptable excesses by park rangers in the past. I will not conceal the truth on that, nor will I try to justify it in any way, but bear in mind that for many years the rangers have been abandoned and left to their own devices, which is a recipe for disaster. We still have a long way to go, but more recently, where there have been proven cases of unacceptable behaviour, there have been convictions against rangers, and there are rangers in prison because of what you are talking about. Impunity is not something we will allow, and the rangers understand that.
What can I say? I can only agree with you about that.
If Conrad was present and there is torture on the tape he will never work in Virunga as long as I am here.
However, there is another side that poachers can be very well armed and affluent and willing to kill. Richard Leakey (De Merode's father-in law) did not at anytime request that we work in Virunga National Park. He has never set foot here. I wanted to and did so against all advice to the contrary.
I have been criticized for being a Belgian prince, but I have never lived in Belgium. I grew up in Kenya and was born 50 years after that horrific episode of Belgium's history, but I am Belgian and I will not apologize for it...it was the way I was born.
There are moral and pragmatic issues. The Congolese will decide for themselves, and unless we are much more effective in bringing them into environmental programs, we are shooting ourselves in the foot
From a moral standpoint all I can say is I have lived here for 15 years. I was trained as an anthropologist not a biologist. My first job was in Gambra. I lived in the villages north of Dungu, which have since been destroyed by the LRA (Lord's Resistenc Army) My work there in the seven years. I worked entirely in the communities.
We were trying to work with the local communities on the issue of bushmeat. My initial feeling, and I still believe that, was that the people should be able to eat bushmeat. These positions, which I published, did not always sit well with the conservation community. But it is not acceptable that local people living adjacent to national parks in countries like Congo should forfeit their resources for the sake of a global, largely western, community that cares dearly about African wildlife, but not quite enough to compensate the local people who have to bare the cost of conservation. It's very simple, if wildlife is that valuable to us, we have to compensate those who own those resources.
The Issue: There was no investigative scrutiny of the trustees of the Africa Wildlife Foundation, whose most prominent member was Walter Kansteiner III. Kansteiner is not a conservationist. He has over 20 years of experience in African and emerging market issues, advising corporations on mergers ranging from forestry, to mining to aviation. Kansteiner has publicly attacked South Africa's Nelson Mandela as a "Marxist." Kansteiner has also worked in the arena of strategic mineral procurement for the United States Defense Department. As of 2007, Kansteiner was listed on Source Watch (Center for Media and Democracy) as a director of Wildlife Direct, and Emmanuel de Merode identified Kansteiner as a board member in an email in 2007. Kansteiner has since vanished from the web links to Wildlife Direct. The Source Watch page was modified to remove Kansteiner in November 2007 after independent media reports linked him with Wildlife Direct.
De Merode: Regarding Kansteiner's association with mining interests in Congo... I wasn't aware of it. You are right, and that was a mistake on my part and a failure of due diligence.
If I had known, I think things would have been different from the start. But, I must stress that I do not believe that he that he has done anything illegal in Congo. If you tell me that he has then that is a very serious problem. Mineral exploitation is not by definition illegal. It's a pillar for development in Africa, and key to poverty alleviation. Nevertheless, I do feel that there should have been full disclosure of his involvement in mining in Ituri, given the realities of what went on in the Ituri at the time. So your sharp criticism in that regard was justified.
If he (Kansteiner) had interests in Moto Gold in the Ituri it should have been disclosed. It does not sit well with what we were trying to do in eastern Congo, and I regret having not picked up on that.
Relations With Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda
The Issue: Wildlife Direct went on the record, blaming Nkunda's men for the deaths of mountain gorillas beginning in January 2007. A communiqué issued by the Laurent Nkunda's CNDP denied any involvement, but the communiqué was squashed by conservation interests at the time. Since then, investigations indicated that the gorilla killings were an inside job by some Congolese conservation authorities.
Nkunda has remained a passionate defender of the gorillas and a visit to his compound indicated that all was well with the gorilla population there in CNDP controlled territory. In an interview, Nkunda told Thomas and I that the gorillas were "an important resource" for the Congolese people, and invited us to visit the gorillas if we wished. Time constraints, regrettably, did not allow for the visit.
De Merode: I had a brief meeting with Nkunda in January 2007 after the killings of the 2 solitary silverbacks. Between then and November 2008, we had no contact at all. I was working for Wildlife Direct at the time.
In September 2007 we evacuated the camp from Bukima in the gorilla sector because of the fighting, and the area was subsequently occupied by CNDP forces. Because we (Wildlife Direct) were in a formal partnership with ICCN, which is a government authority, we stayed out of CNDP territory. This was the case for most of ICCN's staff, who where based at Rumangabo, in government held territory. A small handful of 12 ICCN rangers stayed behind in CNDP territory and effectively broke contact with ICCN. They were under the command of an assistant warden called Kanamahalagi.
In May 2008 I resigned as CEO of wildlifedirect, when ICCN advertised the position of provincial director of ICCN for North Kivu, which includes the function of chief warden of Virunga. I applied, and on 8th August I was nominated to the position and sworn in as a government official a week later. At the time, I did have some very tentative contact with CNDP to explore the possibility of doing a gorilla census, but this was done through an intermediary, and I had no direct exchanges with Nkunda or with anyone from CNDP.
In October 2008 the major confrontations between CNDP and FARDC began, after which all of the southern of the park came under the control of CNDP. The fighting started at Rumangabo, where the combat was extremely violent, and we were all forced to evacuate to Goma. We had about 2000 staff and their families in Kitutu, then Bolengo IDP camps. We were faced with a very difficult situation, because we didn't have the funds to maintain so many people. The humanitarian community would not support ICCN staff or their families because they are a government law enforcement agency, and we started having serious health problems in the camp (3 cholera outbreaks, 2 deaths etc). Given the difficult situation, with all our people in the IDP camps in Goma and no prospects of getting humanitarian assistance to support them, we needed to find a way to get them back to their homes.
So in mid November, I made the decision to ask the Congolese Government to allow me to formally establish contact with Nkunda. I went to Kinshasa and met with the Minister of the Environment, Jose Endundu. He gave me his full (verbal) support (A few weeks later he later reiterated his support in front of several ambassadors during a press conference). The director of National Parks also gave me his support.
I returned to Goma and drove up to Rumangabo, after meeting with Kanamahalagi at Kibumba. We met with some senior officials of CNDP (Benjamin Mbonimpa and Dr Alex), and they arranged for me to meet with Nkunda the following day. I informed them that I would do so in uniform so that it was absolutely clear that I was working for the government. We met for about one and a half hours. I explained that we wanted to continue our work, within the constraints of a mandate that was strictly limited to conservation. I also explained that I was a government law enforcement officer and that I had been sworn an oath to the Congolese flag. He was very supportive, said that he understood that my hands were tied. He also said that he thought I would probably fail, but that he would support our efforts to protect the park. He added that he was from the area and that the benefits from the park to the local community were long overdue.
Since then, we have met several times. He also came once to Rumangabo, and we held quite extensive discussions on the development options and the situation of the national park. He is very supportive of the biomass briquette programme, of the schools that we have started to build in the area.
Our situation remains very fragile. We are the only government authority to be operating in rebel territory, and we could get thrown out at any moment by either side. I hope that our presence might have a stabilizing effect and may provide a catalyst for some community development, in spite of the ongoing conflict. It is a small example of the fact that there can be solutions to the differences that exist between government and rebels if a dialogue is established, and if, as you say, one reaches out. But perhaps I am being naive.
Are We Being Naïve?
The Issue: Can a solution be found to address the needs of humans and wildlife? Must there always be a conflict, or can common ground be found?
In an email, DeMerode offered the following quote, taken from an interview with him on NPR.
De Merode: The terrible tragedy that has affected the people of eastern Congo ... is the greatest tragedy that exists at the moment. And I think it should be at the top of everybody's agenda, whoever they are, to do whatever they can to resolve that issue above everything else, including the protection of the mountain gorillas. That's how I feel personally and I think that's what's shared by most people here.
Last week, we established Virunga's priorities for the year, which were published on the park's website.
I am glad we were able to meet, and I truly appreciate your willingness to keep an open mind. In a painful sort of way, you have affected our thinking, and I hope that you may one day see something good come out of our efforts, not just for gorillas.
(But, these are) Just words. The Congolese people will be the judges of whether the park is worth keeping.
WAR ON WANT--Fight Global Poverty....this is a war I want to fight.
I apologize for the "lateness" of this post....some of you may have already bought flowers for your special someone. If not, ask for a Fair Trade product somewhere.
Vote for the world you want with your dollars!!
Friday, February 13, 2009
We need more reporters and fewer stenographers in the White House Press Room.
If any of our readers believe that Helen Thomas is wrong please comment with a citation of the example of the corporate controlled lapdogs challenging the Bush Administration Propaganda that allowed Bush and Cheney to illegally invade Iraq.
Bush has managed to set the bar so so low....I'm almost "thrilled" that Obama called upon Helen Thomas and didn't simply ignore or simply forget to answer her second question. However, he did NOT answer the second question. He skillfully evaded the obvious truth that any knowledgeable American already knows....yes Israel has Nukes and then he cut her off from asking the all important follow up.
We need more journalists like Helen Thomas in the room so they will continue to push for answers to the tough questions.
Hopefully Helen will keep asking the question until Obama either answers the question or if Obama decides to ignore Helen (ala Bush). I'm hoping he will end up answering the question. Many of us are hoping Obama will rise to the challenge and steer our nation to a more honest discussion that doesn't avoid the elephant in the room.
The bottom line is that Obama will need to confront many issues pertaining Israel if he is going to live up to his promise. I'm hoping that it's a matter of timing and not simply a sign of being tied in to the thinking of the powerful elites good club.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Will You Help Me With My Next Film? ...a request from Michael Moore
I am in the middle of shooting my next movie and I am looking for a few brave people who work on Wall Street or in the financial industry to come forward and share with me what they know. Based on those who have already contacted me, I believe there are a number of you who know "the real deal" about the abuses that have been happening. You have information that the American people need to hear. I am humbly asking you for a moment of courage, to be a hero and help me expose the biggest swindle in American history.
All correspondence with me will be kept confidential. Your identity will be protected and you will decide to what extent you wish to participate in telling the greatest crime story ever told.
The important thing here is for you to step up as an American and do your duty of shedding some light on this financial collapse. A few good people have already come forward, which leads me to believe there are many more of you out there who know what's going on. Here's your chance to let your fellow citizens in on the truth.
If you have any info that would help, please contact me at my private email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the rest of you on my email list who don't work in the financial industry, you're probably wondering, "What the heck is this all about? I thought he said he was making a romantic comedy!"
Well, I just can't say much right now. I'm sure you can understand why. One thing I can tell you is that you're gonna like this movie when I'm done with it. Oh, yeah...
So, again, if you work for a bank, a brokerage firm or an insurance company -- or if you have seen things or heard things that you believe the American people have a right to know -- please contact me at email@example.com.
Thank you in advance for your help!
From Grit TV:
Retired US army colonel Ann Wright talks about her recent trip to Gaza. Throughout Israel's intensive war in Gaza, reporters and international observers have been barred from entering the region. Wright says that the damage is extensive and Israel's disproportionate response "criminal." During her visit to Egypt and Gaza, Philip Rizk, a 26 year old student of Middle Eastern Studies at the American University in Cairo was detained after participating in a rally in support of Gazans. Rizk has been an outspoken critic of the Israeli invasion and of the Egyptian government's feeble response to the suffering of Palestinian civilians. His whereabouts remain unknown and no formal charges have been issued. A demonstration in support of his release will take place on Wednesday, February 11 at 11:30 in front of the Egyptian Consulate in New York.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
I hate the border crossing from Rwanda into Goma at Gisenyi. It frays nerves and sullies sunny dispositions in a heartbeat. Male street thugs prowl past luggage, waiting for that instant of inattention. Professional beggars steal into your personal space while the truly hungry are too afraid to ask for a franc or two, and the secret police pour over passports and personal possessions with imperious disregard for common courtesy.
Journalist Helen Thomas and a medical doctor from the States were joining me for a meeting with a midwife group from Goma, and we were waiting for my Congolese friend Omer to meet us with the required invitation from APROSAF (Action Pour la PROmotion de la Sage - Femme). I had not seen Omer in two years and cannot adequately express the relief I felt when I saw his round face and perpetual smile.
A Swahili welcome in song from the APROSAF midwives and mothers said it all. “Welcome and we wish you a long life.”
(To see the complete photoessay of 13 photos by Georgianne Nienaber, click here.)
After Omer smoothed the way through the border crossing, we piled into a small car and made our way through the mean lava streets of Goma to our hotel. It all looked familiar--nothing had changed in the two years since my last visit except for the increased MONUC (UN mission to DR Congo) visibility in the center of town.
It is a peculiar characteristic of Congolese society that people don't offer a request in a straightforward manner. Suggestions are made, and it is up to the listener to be sensitive to the fact that an offhand remark might actually be an important request. One of the young men helping us to get settled into our rooms mentioned to me that the volunteer APROSAF midwife group was having a meeting that afternoon. I asked Omer about it and he positively beamed, excited that we would consider attending. The doctor with us had brought medicines and supplies, so it seemed to us as good a time as any to deliver them, although we were all exhausted from work and travel.
After bouncing over streets filled with lava rock, we pulled into a school's parking area. Schools in this part of the world consist of a row of classroom doors facing a central area. Think of it as resembling an old-fashioned motel. What happened next was extraordinary and certainly an unforgettable experience for eyes and ears.
A whoop sounding for all the world like the battle cry of Native Americans in a B western, was followed by applause and a whirl of color as thirty to forty Congolese women, all singing and shouting in Swahili, poured through the door to one of the classrooms and surrounded us. Hands touching and hands holding reached for us. Eyes dancing with light and genuine welcome embraced us. These were the midwives. These were the brave women--the guardians of what remains of civilized society in Congo.
The midwives had been waiting hours for our arrival.
After the days we spent dodging drunken, angry men and opportunistic border guards, this was relief. This was healing. This also represented a personal sacrifice on the part of the midwives, some of who had hiked for miles to visit the American women writers and the male doctor who offered hope that they could find the tools they need to do their work.
Their work is simple and it is profound. The APROSAF midwives risk their own lives to bring new life into the world. An advisor to the Red Cross told us about them. Their lives are spent in service to the ancient rhythms of creation-- assisting the newborn and mothers. 45,000 people a month are dying from war-related caused in Congo, yet life refuses to capitulate to the war, and the midwives hold firmly to a banner of promise and hope. But they have nothing to work with. Their needs are simple by American standards of health care. Some textbooks, basic medical kits, which include surgical gloves, and a small clinic building for transfer cases and HIV counseling.
The classroom was arranged so that the visitors faced the midwives, our backs to the black slate board. The wooden benches and desks were tiny, with barely enough room for a notebook. Strong serious faces, some young, some older-- faces filled with expectation and wrapped in hats and scarves riotous with the colors of Africa watched as we fiddled with cameras and recorders. We were there to learn and it occurred to me that the classroom should have been arranged differently, with the visitors in the desks made for the students.
Doctor Kahavi Chrisogone, the APROSAF coordinator began the presentation Dr. Chrisogone has a regular practice at Heal Africa (The former DOCS Hospital) in Goma. In a quiet voice, Doctor Chrisogone outlined the pilot maternity project while Omer translated. The midwives need a small maternity center in Goma where they can bring pregnant women and rape cases in need of emergency care. All too often the pregnant woman and the rape victims are one and the same.
The midwives also risk rape and shootings to reach the women who need them.
Goma health authorities are supportive, feeling it necessary to find an adequate solution to risks faced by the newborn and mothers in the extreme wartime conditions of Nord Kivu Province.
Doctor Chrisogone completed his presentation, and what happened next was powerful and riveting. In response to a question from Thomas and myself: "What do the midwives want to say?" there was perhaps a minute of uncomfortable silence. Then, one after the other, in strong sure voices and demeanor, the midwives approached the head of the classroom and spoke to us through Omer.
There were tales of heinous abuse, gentle pleas for help, and simple requests.
There was no laughter this time. No smiling. Faces remained strong, but eyes welled up as the tales mounted and mounted until he listener felt that there was no way the stories could get worse, but they did. You could hear the murmurs of discontent while your head felt like it might explode from information that assaulted rational thought.
The dream of the midwives is simple by American standards. A ten-bed clinic with the supplies and capacity to deliver seven to ten babies a day. The pricetag? $112,000--the cost of ten good quality AK-47 assault rifles.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Sidebar for this video:
The housing crisis is not just a problem for families facing foreclosure it is a problem for every homeowner in America. As long as foreclosures persist, home values will keep going down, and everyone loses.
We are collecting stories from people all over the country who have been hit by the housing crisis so we can show what is really happening on Main Street and we need your help. Have you been affected by the housing meltdown? Foreclosed on? Underwater? Trapped in a predatory loan? Do you know anyone else whose life has been turned upside down by the collapse of the real estate market? Record your story, or the story of a friend, family member, co-worker, or neighbor, and send it to us. Learn more at http://fightingforourhomes.com.
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Sidebar for this video:
The first American song and video clip about Gaza, it will shock you, this is a part of the truth about Palestine.
You can download a high quality version of this clip at :
(To see Part 1 of the Mosquito Blog version, click here.)
Voice of the Wetlands Festival 2008, Part 2: Passion for Music and the Wetlands
By Mac McKinney
(Original Content for Part 2 is here)
Welcome to Houma, southern Louisiana
What is the Voice of the Wetlands Festival exactly? Well, the details are a little obscure, but the story starts with Tab Benoit, the well-known Cajun Blues singer who won the 2007 Contemporary Blues Male Artist of the Year and B.B. King Entertainer of the Year Awards. He grew up in the middle of Cajun country, Houma, Louisiana to be exact, although he was born in Baton Rouge on November 17, 1967, a passionate Scorpio for the astrologically inclined. He attended venerable old Vandebilt Catholic High, although school must have seemed secondary to his two true loves in life: the guitar and the wetlands. He started taking to both at an early, early age, including rope-swings overhanging the bayous, and has remained committed to both to this day, excelling with the one and struggling ferociously to save the other. And out of this intense emotional cauldron of music, art and deep love for Louisiana's wetlands was born the organization, Voice of the Wetlands.
Tab Benoit on guitar at the VOW Festival 2008, with Leon Medica on bass, right. CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO SEE THE ENTIRE PHOTO.
Vandebilt Catholic High on S. Hollywood Road, Houma, Louisiana, where Tab Benoit went to school.
Here are Tab's thoughts on his transformation to a wetlands activist:
Have you ever loved a place so much that you dedicate your life to saving it? You know, I believe that my highest calling is to be a steward of the environment. My first job was as a pilot. From up here the awful truth hits you: these wetlands are disappearing right before our eyes. The wetlands we've lost just since my parents were born is bigger than the whole state of Delaware. You see, coastal erosion in Louisiana picks everybody's pocket. (quoted from Hurricane on the Bayou)
This devastating realization drove Benoit to found, along with other concerned citizens, the Voice of the Wetlands in 2003, a nonprofit group dedicated to spreading the truth about Louisiana's disappearing coastline through, primarily, music. VOW, as they are also known, held their first music festival in 2004, well before Katrina struck, so they were already struggling to raise awareness about the relationship between hurricanes and wetlands loss. In fact, Tab was actually working with director Greg MacGillivray as one of the individuals highlighted on the 2006 IMAX documentary Hurricane on the Bayou, which was to be a critical look at what might happen if a large hurricane hit New Orleans. Just as they were wrapping up the movie, monstrous Katrina did hit New Orleans, life imitating art, compelling them to rewrite and reshoot the film to include Katrina as a living example of what can happen when the wetlands are dramatically reduced in a storm-prone region.
Here are the first paragraphs of Voice of the Wetland's mission statement:
"By redirecting the Mississippi River from it's natural flow, south Louisiana's wetlands are being taken over and destroyed by the stronger current of the Gulf of Mexico at an alarming rate. The loss of south Louisiana's wetlands contributes to the loss of our unique culture, our heritage, our wildlife, our people and their livelihood."
Voice Of the Wetlands (VOW) is an organization (click here for their website) that is made up strictly of volunteers who dedicate their talent, time and resources to bring global attention to south Louisiana and the world's coastal erosion problem.
Benoit expounds on this more fully in Hurricane on the Bayou:
"Well, basically what went wrong is that in the 1930s, well-meaning engineers (the Army Corps of Engineers) built levees or walls, so-to-speak, along the banks of the Mississippi to protect the farms from yearly floods. Those annual floods deposited the soil that rebuilt the wetlands. Now with those levees, that soil gets flushed into the ocean. All that brown in the ocean (aerial shot of brown-colored stream in the Gulf), soil that could be rebuilding the wetlands the way it used to, before we interfered with Mother Nature.
We also made a mistake by digging canals for boat navigation. These canals brought in saltwater from the ocean, killing the marsh grass and the trees. This whole forest (footage of wetlands forest) is now dead. Without the tree roots, erosion speeds up." (ibid.)
Tab is really referring, without naming names in the movie, to, primarily, the giant oil and gas companies and related industries, Shell, Exxon, Texaco, to name a few of the "land barons" in Louisiana who are responsible, according to the Gulf Restoration Network, for 40% to 60% of the wetlands loss, companies that for decades have been paying scant attention to the havoc they are wrecking on the environment while they pursue the bottom line, much like Great White Sharks swimming around in the ocean mindlessly devouring everything within sight and smell.
In fact, the Voice of the Wetlands itself has been criticized by another, older organization (which now calls itself, in a flash of jealousy rivalry, the "True Voice of the Wetlands") for being too timid in attacking these "sharks", the oil and gas companies, head on. This group is better known as SOWL, Save Our Wetlands, and one thing they are not is shy:
VOICE of the WETLANDS is SAVE OUR WETLANDS
Voice of the Wetlands is Save Our Wetlands and Save Our Wetlands is the true Voice of the Wetlands and the real Voice of the Wetlands. SOWL (http://saveourwetlands.org/) since 1974 has been fighting Louisiana politicians, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Levee Districts, and their corporate masters from developing wetlands into low lying areas extremely susceptible to hurricane tidal surges.
In the 70's-80's SOWL was a Voice of the Wetlands against the Eden Isle and Oak Harbor Subdivisions constructed over 5,200 acres of wetlands on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain, St. Tammany Parish, Slidell, Louisiana. SOWL lost this litigation, and thousands of homeowners were wiped out from the flood waters of Katrina.
SOWL was a Voice of the Wetlands against the Corps' and Orleans Levee District plans for their bogus Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Hurricane Barrier Project, which under guise of hurricane protection was actually going to destroy 28,000 acres of New Orleans east wetlands into the Orlandia Subdivision. SOWL won this litigation and saved on August 29,2005 over 60,000 future homes and over 100,000 families from flooding as a result of the Corps' disastrous Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MR-GO). The September 28, 2005 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report stated 'if the barriers had been constructed the flooding in New Orleans would have been worst."
SOWL has always been a Voice of the Wetlands against Shell and its greasy allies from walking away from their obligation to remedy the coastal erosion caused by their 10,000 miles of oil company canals and navigational channels. SOWL in 1980's filed suit against Corps for refusing to conduct an Environmental Impact Study under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) before issuing permis for oil canals. SOWL lost this litigation and in 2005, thousands of Louisiana citizens in St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Terrebonne, and Lafourche Parishes were flooded Hurricanes Katrina-Rita as a result of oil canal erosion........
SOWL is a Voice of the Wetlands against Shell's America's Wetlands spearheaded by its chairman R King Milling taking over as chairman of Coastal Protection Restoration Authority (CPRA) of Louisiana, and pushing an oil company propaganda campaign thru the coastal-political bowels of Louisiana. And so it goes. (Reference)
SOWL, we might say, is a get-in-the-trenches, lawsuit-filing, long-time political activist outfit, as distinct from VOW, the newer kid on the block, which prefers to spread its message primarily through education and music and hasn't chosen, as far as I know, to get heavily into the political/legal/lobbying arena. Whether they are going to feel compelled to in the future is another question. Logistically, this may be impossible since Benoit, president of VOW, is on the road performing most of the year, either with his own band or the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars. In fact, being on the road is Tab's way of spreading his message. Everywhere he goes, he asks his audiences to get directly involved in learning about and then saving the wetlands by calling, not just writing, their government representatives. He invites you, me, everyone to come to Louisiana and see what is really going on, and then speak out about it. And just to show you how far Tab's voice has carried, he actually briefed a Congressional committee on Capitol Hill on the plight of the wetlands this past June, hammering home the point that the situation in southern Louisiana is a crisis for America.
Regarding both SOWL's and VOW's efforts, they are both important voices of the wetlands, and both are raising awareness of the devastation taking place in Louisiana and beyond in their own ways.
What is the solution to the wetlands crisis? Well, this is not rocket science. Tab explains what has to be done rather succinctly in Hurricane on the Bayou:
(Katrina) washed away another 100 square miles of soil. We should have been ready in New Orleans and we should have been ready down here. But we can do better. We already know how.
We'll have to plant hundreds of acres of mangrove and other soil-retaining plants, and some places it will take stone walls, and other spots, rebuilding with sand, sometimes again and again. And most importantly, engineers can use flood gates like this one (aerial shot of flood gate shown) and special pipe-lines and other innovative solutions to allow the muddy Mississippi to once more naturally replenish the wetlands. And as the huge cost of Katrina shows us, good stewardship of the environment is good economics too. (quoted from Hurricane on the Bayou)
There is also other huge problem that must also be addressed: the dramatic loss of barrier islands fronting the Mississippi River delta plain that reduce the effects of wave erosion, salinity intrusion and tidal currents on the wetlands themselves, as well as serving as a first defense in the path of a hurricane. The barrier islands must also be restored.
Just remember something else Tab says in the documentary: "Every three miles of wetlands reduces the height of a hurricane's storm surge by one foot." (ibid.) A couple of feet these days can mean the difference between life and death for thousands of people during a hurricane, so there is no time to waste in rebuilding what has been lost.
Encroached upon wetlands in Houma, Louisiana. Will America save them or let them be destroyed? CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO SEE THE ENTIRE PHOTO.
The big question now is, will an Obama Admininstration be willing to accept the challenge of restoring the wetlands? Let us hope so. I personally think something on the scale of the great 1930s Tennessee Valley Authority project would be in order to salvage the Gulf states.
Mighty Fine Music
Now let's pick up where I left off in Voice of the Wetlands Festival, Part 1, watching great bands play. On this warm to hot, sometimes cloudy, sometimes sunny Saturday, October 11, the sounds of rock, blues, and Cajun music roared or cajoled through the atmosphere all afternoon and into the night with bands such as Freddy and the Freeloaders:
Freddy and the Freeloaders, with Fred singing. The band has been around a long time, wowing crowd for decades across America with blues and country music. CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO SEE THE ENTIRE PHOTO.
During the intermission after Freddy left the stage, Congressman Charlie Melancon, 3rd District, Louisiana, got up and addressed the crowd. He was one of the few invited politicians who actually showed up, which is not a great omen for government involvement right now, but nonetheless, Charlie had some solid things to say about saving the wetlands. I talked to him briefly later about Ecuador's new Constitution and its Bill of Rights for Nature, which he hadn't heard about but was quite interested in, promising to have his staff look into it.
Congressman Charlie Melancon addressing the crowd about the wetlands
After Charlie was done, the spectacular Josh Garrett Band hit the stage. Josh was a real guitar magician Saturday, wailing away with his band on some hot and heavy Blues numbers.
Josh Garrett pouring it on with his guitar. CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO SEE THE ENTIRE PHOTO.
After Garrett's intense and sweat-filled performance, the Mike Zito Band from Nederland, Texas, took the stage. Actually Mike was raised in St. Louis, where he was exposed to all those powerful southside Blues influences, but gradually developed his own unique style, eventually settling in Southwest Texas. He has a classic Blues voice.
Mike Zito on the left, belting out a song. CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO SEE THE ENTIRE PHOTO.
Zito was followed by one of the longtime Bluesmen in American music, Jimmy Hall, out of Nashville, Tennessee, originally singing and playing with famous Wet Willie in the 70s, then solo performing for a time, then working with Hank Williams Jr. and Jeff Beck, and now varying his performances and recordings between different groups and his own bands.
The great Blues singer, harmonica player and sax man, Jimmy Hall, with dynamic guitarist Ronnie Fruge to his right. CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO SEE THE ENTIRE PHOTO.
Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars
At this point my wife and I left the festival for a couple of hours to have dinner with some friends, and when we came back, the last big gig of the evening was just starting, the traditional Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars set. The Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars was also created in 2003 by Benoit as an artistic vehicle for spreading the word about the Wetlands as they tour, near and far. The illustrious, official members of the band, beyond the many guest performers who play with them, are Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Waylon Thibodeaux, George Porter, Jr., Johhny Vidacovich, Anders Osborne, Dr. John, Cyrille Neville, Tab Benoit and Jumpin Johhny Sasone. Click here for more info about the All-Stars.
Tonight the famous band, Louisiana's LeRoux, best known for their song, New Orleans Ladies, actually led off the final set, but never really left the stage, instead merging with the players representing the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars during this festival, who began filtering onto the stage one at a time: Jumpin Johnny Sasone, Tab Benoit, Jimmy Hall and others, and, in a sweepingly grand entrance, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux of the Mardi Gras Indians, dressed in fantastic Indian attire and headdress. Southdown Plantation was rocking madly in the night by the time Big Chief finished his number, and so it went until the end of the set.
Tab Benoit left, Jimmy Hall center, Leon Medica right. The VOW All-Stars had Southdown Plantation rocking Saturday night. CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO SEE THE ENTIRE PHOTO.
More of the VOW All-Stars: Hall on sax, Terry Brock (Louisiana's LeRoux) singing. CLICK ON THE IMAGE TO SEE THE ENTIRE PHOTO.
This would be the end of the festival this year for my wife and I, because we were going to have to fly out of New Orleans early Sunday afternoon, and with the festival reopening at Noon, there was no way we could hang around that late. Besides, I had to drive back to the Lower Ninth Ward, but more on that later.
I would also meet, driving back up highway 90, a very interesting Cajun gentleman by the name of Lee Richoux. More on him in Part 3.
By the way, if you would like to look at my photo album of the Voice of the Wetlands Festival, 2008, plus some interesting shots of southern Louisiana, click here to go to my Kodak Gallery webpage. Once there, just click on VIEW SLIDESHOW. You do not have to sign in.