Obama’s Nobel: Ignoble?

No one was more surprised than I was when Barack Obama received the Nobel Prize shortly after taking office. After all, he hadn’t had a chance to do much of anything yet and I’m not sure a few months of grappling with the large bag of burning dog poo left on his doorstep qualified him to be the bringer of world peace.

I thought then, as I do now, that Obama got the nod not so much for advancing peace as he did for not being George Bush. An honor for not being someone else isn’t much of a prize. Still, I thought it odd, but not troubling.

Although the Messiah-in-Chief donated the $1.4 million prize to charity, I would have preferred he politely decline it on the grounds he hadn’t done much peacifying yet. I think that would’ve been the classier move, but it was what it was and even John McThuselah supported the award.

Now Bolivian President Evo Morales and the Vice Chairman of Russia’s Duma, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, are agitating to take it away for attacking Libya. Being the great advocates of human rights they are certainly qualifies them to pass judgment – at least they think so.

Indian-giving peace prizes is petty, stupid, and more image destroying than awarding the prize to someone ill deserving it in the first place. That even goes for George McMakepeace Bush even in the highly unlikely event he had won it – or, if Newt Gingrich wins it after President Carebear shuffles off his mortal throne.

If this issue – and I use that term loosely – goes according to the usual form, a thousand nattering nabobs will rise up and feel obliged to make this into a latter-day flag pin drama. The only thing more surprising than Obama winning the award would be if the Republicans didn’t propose a Constitutional amendment disallowing Muslim Kenyans from becoming President. Maybe Sarah Palin will make a stern statement like, “That Russian guy Moldevort, thinks Nobama didn’t deserve it, and he’s a lamestream COMMIE. Didja know I can see Russia from my front porch? (Psst, I’m REALLY running for President. I just make a lot of money giving speeches saying I’m not.) You betcha…wink…wink. I’m a maverick rogue.”

There, I’ve said my peace so go ahead and say yours.

Just do it quickly please. We’re going to hell in a hand basket whether he deserved the award or not.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

Some Advice to Evo Morales

Most informed Americans do not have a high opinion of Bolivian president Evo Morales. They think that Mr. Morales is an anti-American leftist aligned with President Hugo Chavez and former President Fidel Castro.

None of these facts is strictly wrong. President Evo Morales is a leftist; he is an ally of Venezuela and Cuba; and he certainly hates the United States.

Yet Mr. Morales is not just this. To many people in Bolivia, Mr. Morales is the Barack Obama of their country. He is the first democratically elected indigenous president, much like Mr. Obama is America’s first black president, in a country where two-thirds of the people are indigenous.

“…imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever,” British author George Orwell once wrote. For six centuries, ever since the Spanish conquest of the Americas, that boot has been stamping on the faces of the indigenas in Bolivia and other Latin American countries. Mr. Morales represents, to many Bolivians, the end of this subjugation.

Many Americans are unaware of this other side to Mr. Morales because the American media does not report it. Partly this is because many journalists do not fully understand the history of Latin America.

Mostly, however, the American media is hostile to Mr. Morales because he takes every opportunity possible to spit in America’s face. Mr. Morales delights in making his anti-Americanism as public as possible – whether he is expelling America’s ambassador, or accusing the United States of assassination attempts against him, or talking about the evils of neoliberal economic policy.

To be fair, there is certainly a reason for Mr. Morales to hate the United States. In general, American policy has been more friendly to the right-wing (i.e. non-indigenous) elements in Bolivia, mainly because  left-wing Latin American movements often slip into communism. The United States policy against coca planting also goes against the interests of the people Mr. Morales represents.

Yet for all this, spitting in the face of the world’s superpower (as Mr. Morales loves to do) is not a wise policy. Whatever its recent troubles, the United States still holds an enormous amount of influence and power – influence that will be directed against Bolivia as long as Mr. Morales continues his current anti-American policies.

This is not hard power – the United States will not intervene militarily in Bolivia anytime soon (indeed, under Mr. Obama it would probably condemn a right-wing coup against Mr. Morales). This may not even be action taken by the U.S. government.

Rather, it may look something like this: American businesswoman Ms. Smith, director of corporate operations in Latin America, picks up her morning Wall Street Journal. On the front page is an article about Bolivian nationalizations and its increasingly hostile environment to foreign investment. Ms. Smith is in the middle of deciding where to locate the company’s new factory; reading this article, and thinking about that crazy leftist Evo Morales, she crosses Bolivia off the list and instead decides to build in Brazil, where the climate is much friendlier to business. Bolivia thus loses several million dollars in possible foreign investment, and several thousand potential jobs.

The funny thing about this hypothetical is that Brazil’s President Lula de Silva probably hates the United States just as much as Evo Morales does. Mr. de Silva, however, is smart enough to keep his anti-Americanism quiet and pursue good relations with the world’s superpower. A belligerent America would only be a distraction to Brazil’s continuing and successful efforts in reducing income inequality.

This is true for Bolivia as well – a hostile America would probably hurt Bolivia and therefore hurt Mr. Morales’s attempts to raise the status of Bolivia’s poor indigenas. Being friendly with the United States would probably be a bitter pill for Mr. Morales to swallow. In the end, however, it would be better for the people he is trying to help.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

Some Advice to Evo Morales

Most informed Americans do not have a high opinion of Bolivian president Evo Morales. They think that Mr. Morales is an anti-American leftist aligned with President Hugo Chavez and former President Fidel Castro.

None of these facts is strictly wrong. President Evo Morales is a leftist; he is an ally of Venezuela and Cuba; and he certainly hates the United States.

Yet Mr. Morales is not just this. To many people in Bolivia, Mr. Morales is the Barack Obama of their country. He is the first democratically elected indigenous president, much like Mr. Obama is America’s first black president, in a country where two-thirds of the people are indigenous.

“…imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever,” British author George Orwell once wrote. For six centuries, ever since the Spanish conquest of the Americas, that boot has been stamping on the faces of the indigenas in Bolivia and other Latin American countries. Mr. Morales represents, to many Bolivians, the end of this subjugation.

Many Americans are unaware of this other side to Mr. Morales because the American media does not report it. Partly this is because many journalists do not fully understand the history of Latin America.

Mostly, however, the American media is hostile to Mr. Morales because he takes every opportunity possible to spit in America’s face. Mr. Morales delights in making his anti-Americanism as public as possible – whether he is expelling America’s ambassador, or accusing the United States of assassination attempts against him, or talking about the evils of neoliberal economic policy.

To be fair, there is certainly a reason for Mr. Morales to hate the United States. In general, American policy has been more friendly to the right-wing (i.e. non-indigenous) elements in Bolivia, mainly because  left-wing Latin American movements often slip into communism. The United States policy against coca planting also goes against the interests of the people Mr. Morales represents.

Yet for all this, spitting in the face of the world’s superpower (as Mr. Morales loves to do) is not a wise policy. Whatever its recent troubles, the United States still holds an enormous amount of influence and power – influence that will be directed against Bolivia as long as Mr. Morales continues his current anti-American policies.

This is not hard power – the United States will not intervene militarily in Bolivia anytime soon (indeed, under Mr. Obama it would probably condemn a right-wing coup against Mr. Morales). This may not even be action taken by the U.S. government.

Rather, it may look something like this: American businesswoman Ms. Smith, director of corporate operations in Latin America, picks up her morning Wall Street Journal. On the front page is an article about Bolivian nationalizations and its increasingly hostile environment to foreign investment. Ms. Smith is in the middle of deciding where to locate the company’s new factory; reading this article, and thinking about that crazy leftist Evo Morales, she crosses Bolivia off the list and instead decides to build in Brazil, where the climate is much friendlier to business. Bolivia thus loses several million dollars in possible foreign investment, and several thousand potential jobs.

The funny thing about this hypothetical is that Brazil’s President Lula de Silva probably hates the United States just as much as Evo Morales does. Mr. de Silva, however, is smart enough to keep his anti-Americanism quiet and pursue good relations with the world’s superpower. A belligerent America would only be a distraction to Brazil’s continuing and successful efforts in reducing income inequality.

This is true for Bolivia as well – a hostile America would probably hurt Bolivia and therefore hurt Mr. Morales’s attempts to raise the status of Bolivia’s poor indigenas. Being friendly with the United States would probably be a bitter pill for Mr. Morales to swallow. In the end, however, it would be better for the people he is trying to help.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

Weekly Mulch: Citizens Lead Cochabamba Climate Negotiations

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Environmental advocates from around the world gathered in Cochabamba, Bolivia, this week and resolved that, a year from now, they would hold a world’s people referendum on climate change to marshal support for the rights of the planet.

“Although it is hoped that some states will cooperate, the participation of governments will not be essential to the referendum, as civil society organizations are to plan it according to their own lights and the traditions and customs of each local area,” reports Franz Chavez for Inter Press Service.

The conference’s democratic, citizen-oriented format starkly contrasted with March’s United Nations-led summit in Copenhagen. The conference at Cochabamba emphasized inclusion and a diversity of voices, providing an antidote to processes like the U.N. climate negotiations, where smaller countries were excluded from key discussions.

No official United States delegation attended the conference, but this week, the country held its own celebration of the environment: the 40th annual Earth Day. On Thursday, arguments over climate change were put on pause, as environmental leaders recognized both accomplishments and the unfinished business of cleaning up the air, land, and water.

“Environmentalism isn’t such a mysterious thing anymore. People are looking more at environmental values as being things that are tangible and relate to how we live our lives,” Pete Carrels of the South Dakota Sierra Club told Public News Service.

The mystery, now, lies in finding a way to shore up defenses against old environmental hazards—dirty water, dirty air, diminishing resources—and to agree on a path towards a low-carbon future that avoids the worst calamities of climate change.

At Cochabamba

“Bolivian music, indigenous ceremonies and the Bolivian army’s honor guard were on hand to greet the first indigenous president of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Evo Morales,” Democracy Now! reported from Tiquipaya, the town just outside Cochabamba where the actual conference is being held.

In a stadium crowded with fifteen thousand people, President Morales opened the event Tuesday morning with exhortations to choose life for the planet. Franz Chavez of Inter Press Service reports:

“The stadium, ablaze with the multi-coloured traditional garments of different Andean and Amazonian native communities and the flags of people from different countries around the world that contrasted with the cold formality of presidential summits, served as the stage for Morales, of Aymara descent, to call for an “inter-continental movement” in defence of Mother Earth.”

You can get a sense of the atmosphere in this GRITtv report or the below video from Yes! Magazine.

Too many cooks?

One of the main goals of the summit was to draft a “universal declaration of rights of Mother Earth,” envisioned as a complement to the United Nations declaration on human rights. There were also 17 working groups that dealt with issues like climate migrants, the Kyoto protocol, and technology transfer. Any conference participant could participate in up to five working groups.

The open format was, at times, chaotic. Cormac Cullinan, an environmental lawyer from South Africa who provide the baseline text for the declaration of rights, told Democracy Now! that on one day of the conference four hundred people were contributing revisions to the text. Another day, that number jumped to one thousand.

“The challenge is to make sure we integrated all the different comments and point of view,” he said. “We’re essentially expressing an entirely new world view from an indigenous perspective in legal language.”

Many voices, but what are the solutions?

Elizabeth Cooper affirms this emphasis on a diversity of voices in a report for Yes! Magazine. “This issue of valuing the knowledge and abilities of indigenous peoples and those from the South was an undercurrent to the rest of the afternoon as it is to the Summit as a whole,” she writes.

But this scale of participation also meant that conversations could veer from essential topics. Also at Yes! Magazine, Jim Shultz asks, “If forcing rich countries to pay a climate debt is a dead end, what is the plan to move “climate debt” from a catchy idea to a real proposal with a chance of delivering some results?”

“At a workshop today on that topic, there was an abundance of declarations about why climate debt is important, but few ideas of how to make it real,” he reports.

The need

There’s a need, though, for people to participate in these discussions, even if the conversations don’t take a smooth and tidy course. At The Nation, Naomi Klein writes that “Bolivia’s climate summit has had moments of joy, levity and absurdity. Yet underneath it all, you can feel the emotion that provoked this gathering: rage against helplessness.”

At a conference like Copenhagen, the worries and priorities of smaller countries were ultimately excluded from the debate. In Bolivia, Klein explains, glaciers—the water source for two major cities—are melting. Yet that problem did not earn the country a place in the Copenhagen discussions that could determine its fate. Cochabamba’s goals were, in part, to reestablish a more democratic system for decision-making about climate reform.

As Regina Cornwell documents at the Women’s Media Center, left to its own devices, international bodies like the United Nations easily exclude interested groups from the conversation.

“In early March, just as the entire area of Manhattan around the UN was crawling with women wearing their blue Conference for the Status of Women tags, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced a “High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing” composed exclusively of men,” she writes.

Earth Day 2010

The conferees at Cochabamba traveled to Bolivia because they saw a gap in leadership after UN climate talks at Copenhagen crumbled. The ideas developed this week could prompt the world’s leaders towards brave action on climate change. Strong leadership can make the difference between real change and status quo.

At The Nation, John Nichols reflects on the leadership of Sen. Gaylord Nelson, who helped create Earth Day. Nelson, was “a bold progressive who recognized the need to make the health and welfare of human beings, in the United States and abroad, a priority over the profits of multinational corporations,” he writes. Nelson’s vision for Earth Day was to produce an outpouring of empathy for the environment “so large that it would shake the political establishment out of its lethargy.”

It worked. The first Earth Day is credited with driving action on the environmental institutions that still protect Americans today: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency.

Today’s leaders

Today, other leaders are fighting the same fight as Nelson did. At Cochabamba, these climate leaders, profiled by Colorlines, are marshaling their communities to push back against global warming, as are these conference-goers. They lack official titles but are leading nonetheless. Young people, like those honored by the Brower Youth Award, are coming up with amazing ideas to ensure a healthy future for the planet, reports LinkTV. At The Progressive, Winona LaDuke explains how native communities are working to produce a new energy economy.

And all over the world, individuals are working to minimize their impact and the impact of their societies on the environment. AlterNet suggests “five ways you can help save life on earth,” and Care2 has two other suggestions: eat less meat and reduce use of water bottles.

For more inspiration, check out the climate rally on Sunday, April 25 on the Mall in Washington, DC; organizers are promising the largest climate rally ever, along with an awesome line-up of speakers and performers.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

The Return of Pachamama

Bolivians head to the polls on Sunday in a referendum on a new Constitution the drafting of which took over two years and was marked by an ever deepening conflict between Evo Morales' leftist government and the traditional parties that have dominated Bolivian politics for half a century. The conflict has led many observers to believe that the territorial integrity of Bolivia may be increasingly at stake. The heated debate that has on several occasions erupted into violence has exposed Bolivia as a fragile and cleft state splitting the country in two on north-east to south-west axis. Of Bolivia's nine provinces, five are likely to vote against the new Constitution and four in favour but its passage seems likely because the more heavily populated areas are likely to overwhelming back the new charter. The more populous but poor and heavily indigenous western provinces will vote for the Constitution but in the wealthier, natural gas rich and mestizo north-eastern provinces, support for the new Constitution is minimal.

The new Constitution is many things. Above all, it is a rejection of neo-liberalism, an economic ideology that in Latin America reaches the status of a pejorative. Under the new charter, the state will control all mineral and oil and gas reserves. Indigenous groups would get control of all renewable resources on their land. Water is recognized as a fundamental human right that cannot be controlled by private companies. The definition of water as a fundamental human right is noteworthy for it bears reminding that the Bolivian city of Cochabamba in 2000 became the epicenter of the battle against the excesses of neo-liberal privatization. Then an international consortium (US  Bechtel Corporation along with Italy's Edison and Spain's Abengoa) won the rights to the Cochabamba water public utility and then hiked water rates by as much as 200% after winning a 40-year concession in closed-door negotiations. After privatization, water bills amounted to 20% to 30% of the income of poor households that constituted over 60% of the residents of the city. Families earning as little as $80 to $100 dollars a month began to be charged $20 dollars a month for water. Not surprisingly, full-scale protests ensued. In retrospect, the Cochabamba water wars, as the episode came to be known, marked one of the tipping points in Latin America's rejection of neo-liberalism. The door on privatization, especially of public utilities, was closed. This Constitution locks that door and throws away the key.

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