Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Vision on February 2010

A young man I know, who has taught me much in the last couple of years as he sought, himself, to learn, wrote this recently and gave me permission to post it here. As Arundahti Roy suggests, "Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."

~~Vision on February 2010~~

by Gregory Esteven

Memory is the mortar which binds us to time,
Like red bricks in columns stretching up to the sky.
Memory is heavier than air, water or any other element.
And yet, it is as elusive as a vapor.
We wade through it, as old hunters
Wade through water and mist out in canoes past Manchac,
Traversing the mystery of the Louisiana wetlands,
Spanish moss tickling the tops of their heads.

I hear an old Johnny Cash song playing in the distance
While I sit in the window of my apartment.
“Get rhythm when you get the blues,” he sings.
What advice!
Well, maybe we should take it.
It’s not over yet.
We can make the revolution now.
Memory and the past weigh down on us
Like heavy, stinking swamp mud.
But in every human being,
Increasingly—more and more!—
I perceive a beam of light, as if coming from the future.
“You can’t light a candle and hide it under the bushel,” they say.
I’m prepared to believe them.

Even in this place, where wealthy planters once kept black slaves
Separated from poor white workers
(while keeping the power and riches for themselves),
Even in this place, where migrant laborers from America Latina
Are worked like slaves by gigantic corporations,
Even in this place, where you can still get killed
for fucking someone of the same “sex”,
Even in this place, I see hope for revolution.

Where the mouth of the Mississippi meets the Gulf of Mexico--
this is none other than the vulva of the United States of America.
Ships come in, pollution goes out like menstrual blood
As people sing and dance in the streets of the city.
They shit and fuck and get drunk and get high and make money
and waste away from lack of funds.
In the eyes of the folk in the Ninth Ward
and the Bywater and the Marigny,
In the tacky streets of Baton Rouge steaming amid refineries
and humidity on the Banks of the Great River,
In our heads as we think of our sisters and brothers in Haiti…
I see a light which is coming forth and cannot be held back.
The Moment is eternal, the past a vast stage —
meaning lost, actors dead.
This white light blots it all out and, suddenly,
All the old distinctions — color, sex, object of desire — do not matter.
We are the revolution/God is nowHere.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Oil in Haiti? What a Surprise. Not!

A friend of mine in Haiti sent me the link to this article by Jerry Mazza a few days ago. It suggests that Haiti has as much oil as Venezuela and that the fear of those with the Power is that Haiti will nationalize its oil in the best interests of its poverty-stricken population the way Venezuela has done. The suggestion is that oil exploration may have caused the earthquake which, in turn, provided a convenient excuse for U.S. troops to once again occupy Haiti as they have been urged to do for some time by neo-liberal corporate interests.

I wish I could say the idea blew my mind. But it didn't. So I'm reprinting the whole thing here. Read it, consider the implications while you think about the hundreds of thousands of Haitians that were killed, maimed and displaced during the earthquake, and then ask yourself how in the world we can stop this machine before it eats us all alive.

Mazza writes:

This discovery comes from an incredibly deep well of information in the writings of Ezili Danto (Marguerite Laurent), in her article, Part 2, Oil in Haiti as the economic reasons for the US/UN occupation, written in January. Danto’s opening line links to Part 1 of the story from her website, and contains a cache of press clippings by her and other Haitian authors, dated October 2009. Both parts are worth their weight in the gold of truth, revealing recent events as part of an ongoing privatization of Haiti’s abundant assets, with Papa Clinton plus 20,000 US troops there to put a benign face on guarding those assets as a “humanitarian effort.”

She writes, “After the earthquake, I questioned whether oil drilling could have triggered the earthquake. (Did mining and oil drilling trigger the Haiti earthquake?)

Then suddenly, after spending years hitting myself against Officialdom’s colonial rock that kept denying Haiti had significant resources. After being called crazy and un-American for writing that the 2010 earthquake gives the US the perfect disaster-capitalism opportunity to come out from behind the UN and openly occupy Haiti to secure Haiti’s oil, strategic location and other riches for the corporatocracy. Just after I wrote about oil drilling causing earthquakes, on the following Tuesday, a veteran oil company man comes forward in Businessweek to say, and one wonders how he can so authoritatively speculate about the area of the faultline without intimate knowledge of the drillings, explorations, Haiti’s wellheads and oil map, et al, but nonetheless his sudden, seemingly unprompted revelation, is that Haiti lies in an area that has undiscovered amounts of oil, it must have oil and the earthquake ‘may have left clues’ to petroleum reservoirs! Oil that, uhmmm, ‘could aid economic recovery in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, a geologist said.’ (
Haiti Earthquake May Have Exposed Gas, Aiding Economy by Jim Polson, Jan. 26, 2010, Bloomberg.) Yep, yep he may really mean: ‘that could aid Haiti’s US-occupied economy recover its strategic oil reserves’ for the global elite. No? I could be wrong, but I am thinking ‘and the cover up, starts.’ But I won’t say so. Let Stephen Pierce tell the story.

The geologist, Stephen Pierce, who worked in the region for 30 years for companies like Mobil Corp, reported in a telephone interview with Business Week, “The quake may have cracked rock formations along the fault, allowing gas or oil to temporarily seep towards the surface.”

Pierce added that “A geologist . . . tracing that fault zone from Port-au-Prince to the border looking for gas and oil seeps, may find a structure that hasn’t been drilled.” Pierce, now working for Zion Oil & Gas Company, a Dallas-based company drilling in Israel, also said, “A discovery could significantly improve the country’s economy and stimulate further exploration,” as Danto said earlier.

He also contributed information that “The Greater Antilles, which includes Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and their offshore waters, probably hold at least 142 million barrels of oil and 159 cubic feet of gas, according to a 2000 report by the US Geological Survey. Undiscovered amounts may be as high as 941 million barrels of oil and 1.2 trillion cubic feet of gas, according to the report. Among nations in the northern Caribbean, Cuba and Jamaica have awarded offshore leases for oil and gas development. Trinidad and Tobago, South American islands off the coast of Venezuela, account for most Caribbean oil production, according to the US Energy Department.”

So, quite naturally, Haiti has a sizeable reserve of oil and natural gas. Why would it not? It shares the Caribbean waters with surrounding oil-producing islands. Also, it isn’t news to the US, but it definitely is not news to a 30-year geology veteran who worked for oil companies like Mobil Corp.

In fact, there’s always been oil in Haiti. US/USAID actually guaranteed an oil contract for a US businessman named Charles C. Valentine as far back as November, 1962, curiously a year before the JFK assassination, one of the things on JFK’s plate back then being the cancelation of oil-depletion allowances. Meanwhile, US/USAID gave Valentine’s company monopoly control over pretty much everything to do with oil in Haiti. Then the agency paid him to take a walk. He claimed $327,304 from the agency, which was itself able to “extract” it from the Haitian government, plus $4,398 in interest charges. So there’s a not-too-pretty picture here of what was going on then and, most probably, now.

Danto provides material from the Haitian scholar Dr. Georges Michel, who claims the US knew about oil and natural gas reserves back in 1908 and began explorations in the 1950s, locking up “strategic gas reserves for the US,” to be tapped when Mid-East oil became less valuable. The unspoken rule here is that hyped scarcities of oil keep prices high. Yet, oil companies have to have a full tank somewhere in case Mid-East supplies diminish sharply, raising prices for whatever reasons, the War on Terror, hostilities in Iraq, embargos on Iran, to mention a few.

But the US still needed to keep dictatorial governments in power in Haiti as its ace in the hole, and try to overthrow any duly elected democratic governments from 1991 on, for fear some popular president might want to nationalize oil and gas reserves for the benefit of the bitingly poor Haitian people as Hugo Chavez did in Venezuela. Ms. Danto points us to an article by Ginette and Daniel Mathurin that says there’s more oil in Haiti than in Venezuela.

As mentioned earlier, Danto writes, “The earthquake(s) may have just been a large hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ operation . . . to release the hydrocarbons from isolated pockets so oil and natural gas could be more easily accessed. Or, perhaps drilling at the existing wellheads in Port au Prince may have linked up with existing fractures and interconnected to affect the fault-line and cause the earthquake as an unintended consequence. There have been reports of minor earthquakes in Port au Prince these last few years of very small magnitudes. They could have caused damage that interconnected with the latest fracking to destabilize the fault line, cause the earthquake.” (And then there’s always the ever present HAARP).

That said, read every word of this article. Then move to the articles in Part 1, including one on Clinton’s reasons for being there, “Deep Water ports built to take tanker off-loads from other oil or Haitian oil sources.” Part 2 also provides you with a detailed history of US privatizing while Haiti battles for its life, struggling with human trafficking, abduction of children for slave labor and pedophilia. Frankly, I can’t write it any better than Ms. Danto and her fellow Haitian writers, whose hearts are as deep as the ocean, intellect clear as the Haitian sky, souls angry as the island hurricanes.

Beyond that look for a significant article from Part 2, Haiti’s Riches: Interview with Ezili Danto on Mining in Haiti. This interview goes beyond oil and gas to the US and other foreign powers mining for gold, copper, uranium, bauxite, and other natural resources in Haiti. Her comments note the potential environmental impact, poisoning of water, air, earth, and people, in the mining processes. It also deals with the absence of significant payment to the Haitian people for their resources, but rather using the people as low-paid, slave laborers to extract and give away their own national wealth. It’s the awful irony of colonialism revisited.

It includes tales of US deal-making with puppet governments under the first coup d’etat from 1991-4 (under Bush Sr.), and from the last coup d’etat in 2004 (under Bush Jr.). The 10-year period between coups, during which the duly elected Aristide was Haiti’s president, were halcyon years for Haiti. But Aristide, a catholic priest, was kidnapped after the last coup from his own country by US operatives. Consequently, the misery, human and natural, severely intensified by 2008.

This interview comes also with a call for accountability, transparency, and laws for a fair share of financial reparations to the people of Haiti. Danto points out that her people are not beggars, except through the actions of their foreign oppressors, primarily the US. This article, as the others, is well worth your time and attention. It will take the wind out of the sails of our current media rhetoric, projecting ourselves as Haiti’s benefactors fallen like angels from the sky.

In fact, Danto writes, “imposed famine from fraudulent ‘free trade’ policies are destroying Haitian food sovereignty, increasing violence and organized kidnappings, drug-dealings and arms trafficking, and, perhaps genocide and forced sterilization by this wholesale foreign-foreign-imposed (UNICEF/WHO [World Health Organization] $10 million dollar) vaccination program in UN occupied Haiti).” This is excerpted from Danto’s Note “Genocide by vaccination in Haiti” and “Is this a way to sterilize women, as was done to Puerto Rican women?” from June 15, 2008.

Let me sign off now, so you can get to read these links. Class is out. Life begins again, with all of us trying to make a united effort to help Haiti grab the helm of its future, and not drown in the schemes and avarice of the giant from the north, including some Canadian sharpies. They constitute, as Danto says, “the UN/US military proxy occupation securing oil/gas reserves from Haiti. The wealthy, powerful and well-armed . . . robbing the Haitian people blind.” In short, Danto’s writings and press-clippings constitute one of the few sources in the world where you will find these crimes against humanity so explicitly described.
Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer and life-long resident of New York City. Reach him at gvmaz@verizon.net.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

An acquaintance of mine that I've only seen a couple of times, but who occasionally sends me interesting information, sent me a link this morning to an article in Public Affairs Magazine. The piece, while hardly new news to many of us who pay any attention at all, compiles and presents a powerful argument that the current unemployment crisis (which shows, by the way, no sign of abatement and every sign of not only worsening, but being quite possibly permanent) intersects with the socially-constructed, political notion of race in a most lethal -- and well documented -- fashion.

It reports:

"The "official" unemployment figures for December 2009, compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), are 16 percent for African Americans, 13 percent for Latinos, nine percent for whites, yielding an average for all workers of 10 percent...The BLS survey attempts to count everyone who is actively looking for work, regardless of whether they are collecting unemployment. The real situation is far worse. The BLS also counts the invisible unemployed – those who want a job but are not actively looking, and who want a full-time job but can only find part-time work. The BLS' U-6 rate, which includes the invisible unemployed, is a far more realistic estimate of actual unemployment. The U-6 rate for all workers is 17.3 percent...The U-6 rate can be estimated as 28.0 percent for African Americans and 22.3 percent for Latinos...For African American men of prime working age (25-54), I estimate the "real" jobless rate at 26 percent. For African American teens (16-19), "real" unemployment is 74 percent...!

"...Before the economic crisis, roughly 79 percent of Black men aged 25-54 held jobs. Two years later, the figure was 69 percent. Did 10 percent of Black men become uneducated or lose their job skills in a two-year period? Did one quarter of working African American teens suddenly develop a 'bad attitude?' The more obvious and correct explanation is simply that the jobs are not there..."

To read the whole article, which outlines succinctly the true causes of African-American joblessness and what we can expect in the immediate future, go here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Nazaury Delgado: The Phoenix Rises

One of the beauties of the struggle is that we often get to see, glimmering through the ugliness, the stunning magnificence of the human spirit rising above the ashes of present reality. Yesterday morning, on one of the sites I visit regularly, I came across a presentation of photos by a young artist named Nazaury Delgado (above) who was featured last month in the New York Times and is subsequently taking both the internet and the art world by storm.

Delgado struggled with a learning disability in school, but was ultimately discovered by Cornelius Van Wright of the Fred Dolan Academy. The rest of the story, I suspect, will eventually be history.

"Two Faces"
The young artist puts photographic portraits on a black background and then overlays them twenty to fifty times to create images he vizualizes in his head. The effects are stirring indeed.

"Still Here, Searching for You"
The only downer about making this kind of discovery is that I always walk away more confident than ever that the world is absolutely brimming with glorious talent such as this, just waiting for the tiniest bit of sunshine, the meagerest offering of food, the weakest shred of encouragement to burst into full bloom, blessing us all with its gifts.

"The Artist's Eye"
No wonder it's so easy to fall into hopelessness. The best of what is intended to and surely would keep us alive is often crushed by the Powers-That-Be, held in abeyance, under the surface of our awareness so we don't exult in the startlingly lovely truth of who we are.

"My World Is Growing"

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Faubourg Treme': the Untold Story of New Orleans

"Faubourg Treme': The Untold Story of Black New Orleans" has been out since 2008 and appeared on PBS as early as January of last year. So initially, I was befuddled as to why they would offer me a preview copy at this late date. But living only 45 miles from New Orleans myself these days and making it a point to get there as often as possible, I followed through and requested the preview copy they offered, thinking I could at least write about it for Black History Month, mentioning that it would appear on PBS stations nation-wide during February.

As the weeks passed, however, and February came, I thought I had missed the cut and erased the email making the offer, sending only an apology that I wouldn't be reviewing the film as I hadn't gotten to see it. Then it arrived.

And now I find, after watching it three times in a week, that I don't know where to begin. It's beautifully produced and the music alone, heavily influenced and imbued throughout, I suspect, with Executive Producer Wynton Marsalis' genius, is worth the sixty minutes it takes to watch the film. But the story it tells crawled up inside me during my first viewing (after which I stared for some time at the blank television screen) and despite the subsequent viewings and more than three pages of notes, I can't seem to process it the way I normally might. It's more than a film. It's a love song. And if I ever buy a house again in life (which I have said for some time I wouldn't), it will likely be in Faubourg Treme' and I will feel that I've come home.

Films aren't supposed to carry that much weight if you're at all sophisticated. I tend to be, it is true, "an all or nothing kind of person," as my daughter once gently reminded me. That's why I rarely review anything I don't like. Why waste my time? But this is hardly my first time at the Black history party. And I've managed to watch a number of excellent films without wanting to sell the family farm and set up shop in a location with the problems of the Treme' (pronounced Tre-MAY). So why this one?

I mean, it hardly pulls any punches, what with the opening scenes of the destruction filling the neighborhood streets after Katrina, the discussion of how taxi drivers beg not to go to the Sixth Ward (the area's more recent identifying designation), the litany of how death stalks its more poverty-stricken residents, and the description of the wholesale attack on the area in the name of Redevelopment (better known colloquially as the I-10 overpass running right down Claibourne Street -- originally an oak-shaded promenade).

So what about this film is so compelling? The spirit of the tale. And to understand that, you're going to have to watch it yourself. Still, I can share a bit about it to encourage you, I hope, to move in that direction. It should be seen and discussed and heralded and, in truth, its website reports that it has been. So maybe there's nothing left to say except "Ditto." But you know me better than that.

The story interweaves the entire history of the Faubourg Treme' (the word faubourg meaning a suburb divided into small plots and Treme' being the name of the man who originally owned the area) with its more recent evolution. How filmmaker Dawn Logsden and New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Lolis Eric Elie managed to cover it all so elegantly without being confusing or making it seem rushed is beyond me. The film moves back and forth between drawings and old films from the sometimes long distant past (the area was settled two hundred years ago) and the streets and people just pre- and post-Katrina. And some of the connections are downright magical.

Elie, for example, hired 75-year-old Creole carpenter Irving Trevigne to restore an old house in the Treme' a few years before the infamous hurricane hit. Trevigne is charming and real-er than real when he first talks about how "anybody can build a new house; I like to take an old one and watch it come back to life" and then later describes with bitter and somewhat bewildered sadness what it was like during segregation to always be addressed as "boy," while going home to the Treme' with all its Black and White residents living right next door to each other, sharing their lives, but being separated at school and in church by law.

Irving Trevigne's ancestor, Paul, it turns out, edited the L'Union, the first African-American daily in the U.S. from his printshop in the Treme'. Veteran actor Lenwood Sloane, founder of the Louisiana Living History Project, plays the editor in scenes that thread through the documentary, speaking the words the earlier Trevigne published in the mid-1860's, words every bit as poetic and commanding as those of Martin Luther King, Jr., at his best.

Proclaiming the Declaration of Independence as the basis for their platform, L'Union editor Trevigne demanded full citizenship, including land, education, and the vote for free people of color, a group heavily represented in the area even then because slaves were allowed to make money, buy their freedom, and move around at will in New Orleans. In fact, local African-Americans, under the encouragement of Trevigne and the organizational tutelege of what was boldly called The Citizens Committee, had forced the de-segregation of public transportation in the city by 1867. And over the next decade, a Louisiana legislature that was more than half Black passed the most progressive state constitution in the country. Even the schools were de-segregated. Until Plessy v. Ferguson, that is.

Actually, Plessy v. Ferguson, the famous case that established the legality of separate-but-equal accomodations for White people and all others was initiated in New Orleans. It was The Citizens Committee's response to the White man's boot landing resoundingly back onto the necks of African-American people when the federal troops left the South after Reconstruction. Homer Plessy was chosen for his White appearance and his Black heritage to board the Louisiana Railroad car where he was subsequently arrested because he refused to go instead to the car reserved for Black folks. When the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, the Justices decided that "separate but equal" accomodations (which were, needless to say, rarely if ever anything close to equal and sometimes garishly and obviously unequal) satisfied completely the legal requirements of the U.S. Constitution related to U.S. citizens of varying skin tones.

The people of the Faubourg Treme' were devastated. Almost over night, 95% of the Black voters in Louisiana were purged from the registration files. Black children were thrown out of integrated schools using physical force and all educational programs for children of color past the fifth grade were shut down. Still, Paul Trevigne was intransigent. "If [our movement] did not succeed," he wrote, "it is because it was premature...Oh, the Courts, it is true, denied the demands of our people, but future generations will remember." And they have.

Lenwood Sloane believes that "New Orleans is living history...the presence of the past." Wynton Marsalis, describing how the heartsick Treme' residents took those feelings and pushed them through a horn, suggests that, for New Orleanians, every improvisational jazz riff simultaneously serves as "a moment that has never happened," even while also being "a moment that has always happened." "Our rich history doesn't shield us from our problems," explains Louisiana Poet Laureate Brenda Marie Osbey, "but it does help us deal with them."

Nevertheless, the bitter sorrow floats to the surface as the film demonstrates how continued legislated oppression, discrimination, and targeted "redevelopment," led only to the final stunning shock of poorly engineered levees creating a disaster of incalculable horror further exacerbated by a severely lacking governmental response. "I sincerely hope nobody ever asks me to say the Pledge of Allegience or sing God Bless America or any of those other dumbass songs ever again," declares trombonist Glen David Andrews. "because I don't feel like an American citizen. I know I'm not a citizen in the eyes of the Powers-That-Be."

Still, Osbey seems to reflect the long dead editor who had such faith in the ideals of the people of the Faubourg Treme' when she says in a post-Katrina reflection: "It's a great catastrophe truly, but it isn't a greater disaster than we are a people. And that's what has to come through -- that we hold onto this city for who we are and what we are and that everywhere we go, we take this city with us. We take the spirit of this city with us, the spirit of this city's heroes with us, and the will to live and fight again."

In doing my homework to write this post, I discovered the probable reason I was offered a review copy of this extraordinary documentary. HBO has sunk serious money into an up-coming series entitled "Treme'" and co-created by David Simon and Eric Overmyer (the pair that gave us "The Wire"). So, if you really want to have a clue when the time comes (projected for mid-April), you would do well to see "Faubourg Treme': the Untold Story of Black New Orleans" first, if at all possible and you haven't already. But I'll warn you now; this is powerful stuff coming out at an interesting time in history. And courage, I think, is catching.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Once Social Change Begins...

"Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore." Cesar Chavez, Address to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Nov. 9, 1984