Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Massachusetts Election and the Challenges Ahead

The Massachusetts election and the challenges ahead

By Fred Goldstein
Published Jan 27, 2010 5:07 PM

The victory of right-wing candidate Scott Brown in the Massachusetts senatorial election throws into bold relief the crisis for the workers and the oppressed in this country. It is one of leadership, politics and organization.

Many lessons are being drawn by the Democratic Party leadership, various liberal pundits, labor union leaders and others about what happened in Massachusetts. But, simply stated, there is one overriding lesson. The dismal record of the Democratic Party leadership and the Obama administration’s utter subservience to the banks and corporate interests have left the base of the Democratic Party out in the cold — leading to disillusionment and confusion.

Having to choose between the needs of their base — the masses of workers, the poor and oppressed communities, and the progressive middle class — and their corporate masters, the top Democratic Party leadership showed once again that it is a captive of corporations and their lobbyists. The administration is surrounded by bankers, finance officials, corporate representatives, generals and admirals — just as every previous administration has been.
Hand-in-hand: Big business and government

The understandable enthusiasm and high hopes that accompanied the historic election of the first African-American president, and the pushing back of racism that this represented, are waning as Barack Obama follows the well-trodden path of all those who step into the role of chief executive for U.S. imperialism.

The disillusionment and anger that were bound to set in were first expressed in the defeat of liberal multimillionaire and former banker Gov. John Corzine of New Jersey. The defeat of Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate for senator in that state, is another expression of that same disillusionment.

The problem at the moment is that the right wing is feeding on that disillusionment, and will try to gain ground within the working class and the middle class to sow racism, militaristic ideology and division, in the midst of a deepening economic crisis.

The forces behind Brown

This is what let Brown, a little-known, right-wing Republican and Massachusetts state senator, defeat the state’s attorney general in the Jan. 20 Senate race for a seat held by Ted Kennedy for close to half a century.

The Brown victory has thrown the Democratic Party and the Obama administration into a crisis. It tipped the voting balance in the Senate, depriving the Democrats of a filibuster-proof majority and thus threatening the health care bill and possibly the rest of the Obama administration’s legislative agenda. The Brown victory further signified that Democratic candidates may be in jeopardy in the 2010 congressional elections.

Brown is a Republican who campaigned with a blend of right-wing, reactionary positions plus demagogic appeals to the working class. His campaign was supported by the so-called Tea Party movement — a network of ultra-rightists and fascist elements that surfaced during the town hall meetings and poured vile racism and fraudulent anti-communist attacks on President Obama.

The Tea Party groups are coordinated under the umbrella of Freedom Works, a right-wing foundation headed by Dick Armey. This former U.S. representative from Texas funneled funds from the health care industry and the oil, coal and utility companies into the creation of phony “grassroots” movements against the health care bill and environmental programs. Right-wing networks around the country directed millions of dollars into the Brown campaign.

Brown denounced the bloated health care bill, backroom deals by the Obama administration and government spending. He played on the fear of increased taxes and called for creating jobs. He drove around in a pickup truck to create the image of a “man of the people.”

At the same time he came out for waterboarding and denounced legal representation for prisoners, such as those in Guantánamo. He was a champion of the so-called “war against terror.” He opposed legislation legalizing undocumented workers. He condemned cap-and-trade legislation to reduce carbon emissions — not because it is totally ineffective, but because it is “big government intervention.”

To add to the confusion and deception, Brown praised Kennedy and did not play the race card against Obama. On the other hand, he was supported by the most virulent racist and fascist elements in capitalist society and undoubtedly strengthened them politically.

Martha Coakley, on the other hand, ran a lackluster and belated campaign, basically defending the program of the Obama administration on health care, job creation, etc.

There have been endless post-election analyses of the upset. Some attribute it to the poor campaign run by Coakley. They bemoan that the outcome would have been different if only she had run a more effective campaign and had not made blunders, like not recognizing the name of a famous Boston Red Sox pitcher; if only she had not been so aloof, had not gone on vacation, etc., etc.

But this is taking a completely narrow view of the defeat. What are the circumstances that allowed a gaffe or a lackluster campaign to become decisive in an electoral race for a “liberal” seat held by the multimillionaire Kennedy dynasty for decades? Obama won Massachusetts by 67 percent. Brown beat Coakley by 52 percent to 47 percent.

Economic emergency and backroom deals

Bob Herbert, the only African-American op-ed columnist for the New York Times, wrote an angry piece on Jan. 23 after the Brown victory, entitled “They Still Don’t Get It.” Wrote Herbert: “There is an economic emergency in the country with millions upon millions of Americans riddled with fear and anxiety as they struggle with long-term joblessness, home foreclosures, personal bankruptcies and dwindling opportunities for themselves and their children.”

Regarding the health care bill, which Coakley had to defend and Brown ran against, Herbert wrote: “No one in his or her right mind could have believed that a workable, efficient, cost-effective system could come out of the monstrously ugly plan that finally emerged from the Senate after long months of shady alliances, disgraceful backroom deals, outlandish payoffs and abject capitulation to the insurance companies and giant pharmaceutical outfits.”

Add to this that the banks have humiliated the Obama administration by first taking bailouts from the government and then giving out billions of dollars in bonuses to their executives. They are now pulling in record profits, refusing to lend money or readjust mortgages, and working to sabotage all restraint on their financial manipulations.

Meanwhile, unemployment together with underemployment is at 27 million to 30 million. Three million homes went into foreclosure last year, and millions more are expected. Hunger, poverty, wage cuts, pressures on the job, loss of health care and every other hardship are growing.

The big question on the minds of the workers is when this will stop and who will put a stop to it.

The greatest potential resource that the workers in this capitalist society have is the unions. But at the moment, the rank and file is paralyzed by the complete absence of any independence or struggle at the leadership level.

In the Massachusetts election 29 percent of Brown voters had voted for Obama in 2008. An AFL-CIO poll showed that union members voted 49 percent to 46 percent for Brown. These are the numbers that should be zeroed in on.

Workers and others who voted for an African-American president in 2008 have now swung to a right-wing candidate because of demagogy and because there was no place else to go.

A challenge to fight back

That is the challenge to all the advanced elements in the U.S. All those who are against capitalism, racism, imperialism, who are partisans of the workers and the oppressed in the unions, the communities, the political movements on the campuses, youth and students, must find an organizational form to come together on a national and regional level to launch a massive movement to fight back — to fight for jobs and to formulate a minimum program that can express the interests of the workers and the oppressed independently of the capitalist parties.

The liberals, social democrats and labor leadership are all fixated on the electoral arena as the primary form of political struggle. They are directly or indirectly supporters of or dependent upon the Democratic Party.

Electoral struggle is a legitimate form of struggle but cannot be substituted for mass mobilization and class combat. The way to influence legislation in this country historically has been through strikes, sit-ins, takeovers, rebellions and mass resistance of all types.

The crisis in the Democratic Party has become a crisis for the labor unions and social democrats in general. They have led the masses along behind the Democratic leadership. This is the party that just sent 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, rains down missiles from Predator drones in Pakistan, still occupies Iraq, sent 12,000 troops to occupy Haiti, supports Israel in its suppression of the Palestinians, builds bases in Colombia, sponsored a coup in Honduras, and so on.

The crisis of the Democratic Party should not be our crisis. It should be turned into an opportunity for the broad movement of the workers, especially the labor unions, to declare their independence, to expose the capitalist interests behind the economic crisis, to fight for class unity of the workers — organized and unorganized, documented and undocumented, employed and unemployed — to open up a struggle in the streets and workplaces, and to put forward its own political program.

We should not allow the right wing to co-opt disillusionment in the midst of an economic crisis. The working class in this country is a sleeping giant. It is time for every revolutionary to think long and hard about how to go about helping this giant awake and shake the ground under the decadent ruling class, whose profit system is bringing hardship without end.

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Strategic Interests: When the Jihadists Take Mogadishu

Strategic Interests

by J. Peter Pham, Ph.D.
World Defense Review columnist

When the Jihadists Take Mogadishu

Last Friday, the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council voted to extend for another six months the mandate of its woefully undermanned military force in Mogadishu. The AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), composed of some 5,000 soldiers from Uganda and Burundi, has been besieged by Islamist insurgents since its arrival nearly three years ago, losing dozens of its members to repeated attacks like the suicide bombing last September 17, which killed seventeen peacekeepers, including the deputy force commander, Brigadier General Juvénal Niyoyunguruza of Burundi, and wounded some forty others.

Despite the peacekeepers' valiant efforts, they cannot be expected to confer legitimacy and viability on Somalia's "Transitional Federal Government" (TFG) when it does not possess those qualities in its own right. Hence, the international backing of the regime may not be sufficient to ensure its survival and that it is very possible—if not likely—that, by the end of the year, the TFG's few remaining outposts in the capital will have fallen to its opponents. Thus policymakers and analysts need to consider what will be the consequences of such a victory by the jihadists.

Of course the mere possibility that the Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen ("Movement of Warrior Youth," al-Shabaab), the insurgent group declared a "specially designated global terrorist" by the United States two years ago and a "listed terrorist organization" by the Australian government last year, and its allies in the Hisbul Islam ("Islamic party") movement led by Sheikh Hassan Dahir 'Aweys, a figure who appears personally on both United States and United Nations antiterrorism sanctions lists, might actually triumph is so anathema to some members of the international community that they have essentially been rendered incapable of rational analysis about the situation.

As a result, their actions hasten the very outcome that they seek to prevent at all costs. Thus the shipment, first reported last week by the Mareeg news service, that the TFG had imported a large shipment of arms, including tanks—the latter representing a considerable escalation from the "technicals," improvised battle wagons constructed by mounting a machine or anti-aircraft gun on a pickup truck or four-wheel drive vehicle, which have been ubiquitous in the Somali conflict. It later emerged that the shipment came on Sierra Leonean-flagged vessel, the MV Alpha Kirawira, which, according to a press release by the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) Somalia's Operation Atalanta, was chartered by the UN Support Office for AMISOM (UNSOA) and escorted out of the Kenyan port of Mombasa by the Spanish frigate SPS Navarra and accompanied all the way to Mogadishu by the French corvette FS Commandant L'Herminier.

Unfortunately, what I noted here six months ago with respect to the unfortunate U.S. shipment of arms to the TFG earlier this year is also true about the current consignment: it is likely to prove that a "poorly thought-out gesture may have handed the Islamist extremists both the weapons and the nationalist (and anti-American) card to use in their fight against the TFG." (One does not have to agree with all her conclusions to acknowledge the validity of the assertion made in the essay by Bronwyn Bruton of the Council on Foreign Relations for the November/December 2009 issue of Foreign Affairs that "had it not been for the United States' counterterrorism efforts, the sharia courts and al-Shabaab might have remained marginal.")

In fact, as I have had occasion to argue, "if any further proof is needed of the failure of the policy of simply shipping weapons to the TFG is a mistake of startling proportions," it is the evidence from the open markets of Mogadishu that "the TFG is both so corrupt and so lacking in capacity that sending it materiel has only made it more convenient for the insurgents fighting it—who are well-financed thanks to their foreign donors, both state and non-state—to simply replenish their arsenals on the open market."

The observation about the weakness of the TFG should, of course, come as no surprise given the extra-legal machinations which were required one year ago by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and the appositely-created parliamentarians just to give birth to the regime's current incarnation under the supposed "moderate" Islamist Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed (see my report at the time on this episode).

My colleague, Michael Weinstein of Purdue University, is quite on target when he noted in an analysis last week that while, "in the sense of international recognition, the TFG is Somalia's 'legitimate' government and [al-Shabaab and Hisbul Islam] are the 'armed opposition'; in the sense of power and momentum, the TFG and the rest of the anti-Shabaab coalition ... form a variegated and divided opposition" as the jihadists go about their strategy of encircling the transitional regime in Mogadishu by achieving dominance in the central regions of Hiraan, Galguduud, and southern Mudug.

As I reported last week, it was Dhuusamareeb, the capital of the Galguduud region, which was being contested; it now appears that fierce fighting is taking place across the region, including its commercial hub at Guriceel. Even if the jihadists lose any specific battle, it is unlikely that their overall strategy will be frustrated given their broad momentum and deep resources.

Moreover, Professor Weinstein is also correct in dismissing the wishful thinking of some that fissures are opening up among the insurgents, noting both that al-Shabaab's "contending factions made a demonstration of unity on January 1 at a ceremony in Mogadishu showing off hundreds of newly trained fighters" and that "despite its conflicts with [Hisbul Islam] in the deep southern regions, [al-Shabaab] appears to be able to collaborate with Hisbul Islam tactically and, perhaps, strategically elsewhere." In fact, in fighting this week around Beledweyne, capital of Hiraan and Somalia's second largest city in terms of population, armed units from the two Islamist groups were fighting side by side.

These considerations are important when one begins to tally up estimates of relative strengths of the various opposing factions and compare their training and command-and-control structures. Well-informed analysts estimate that al-Shabaab has somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000 fighters in and around Mogadishu, at least one-third of whom have had advanced training from its foreign jihadist allies, who apparently exercise a great deal of control over them. In addition, al-Shabaab has up to 6,000 fighters scattered around the country.

The group also has anywhere between 500 and 1,500 foreign jihadists who have flocked to its banner from as far away as Nigeria and Pakistan as well as several hundred Somalis from the diaspora. Hisbul Islam's organization is more clan-based, with perhaps as up to 5,000 fighters around the capital, the majority of whom hail from the Hawiye clan of Habar Gidir, and perhaps as many as 3,000 elsewhere in the southern and central Somalia.

Although only about 10 percent of Hisbul Islam's forces have had advanced training, most of those more skilled fighters are deployed in or close to Mogadishu, thus increasing their impact. The Ahlu Sunna wal-Jama'a (roughly, "[Followers of] the Traditions and Consensus [of the Prophet Muhammad]") militias opposing al-Shabaab in the central regions have maybe several thousand members, but most of these are clansmen mustered on an ad hoc basis, rather than a standing force, notwithstanding Ethiopian efforts to train and assist them.

In contrast, the TFG claims to have 5,000 troops, although that figure is inflated with clan militiamen it manages to hire from time to time and over whom it has no effective control. At the most, the regime of Sharif Ahmed may actually command 1,500 poorly trained fighters. However, what it does have, thanks to the largess of its foreign benefactors, is an excess of armaments.

This, however, is a double-edged sword. As the representative of one Mogadishu-based Somali non-governmental organization told me over the weekend, the lack of training and the large amounts of ammunition means that TFG troops can and do fire at will—and the resulting high level of "collateral" civilian casualties hardly improve to the TFG's popularity.

So, what will happen if the TFG collapses?

First, the event, however undesirable, needs to be kept in perspective: while the jihadists in Somalia and their allies abroad will undoubtedly try to capitalize on the propaganda value of their victory, it really does not change the strategic balance that much. As I told a Congressional hearing last June, "even without taking Mogadishu, al-Shabaab and its allies have already succeeded in carving out a geographical space where they and like-minded jihadist groups can operate freely ... even without toppling the TFG, al-Shabaab has already achieved a major objective of jihadists worldwide by securing a territorial base from which they can carry out attacks elsewhere, especially against targets on the Arabian Peninsula."

Even a supporter of continued backing of the TFG like Ken Menkhaus of Davidson College has acknowledged in a RUSI Journal article last August: "While a Shabaab victory in Mogadishu would constitute a major political setback, it would not appreciably worsen the security threat that exists in Somalia."

Second, the jihadists' Wahhābist ideology is as alien to the Somali tradition of Islam as the foreign trainers and fighters they have imported along with it; therein lie the seeds of their downfall. The brutal hudud punishments that have been meted out in areas controlled by al-Shabaab this past year—including public stonings, beheadings, amputations, and floggings—have revolted the majority of Somalis even as the militants' petty social regulations—like the order, handed down last month and enforced last week with the imprisonment of dozens, requiring men in the port of Kismayo to have their moustaches and grow beards—have irritated them needlessly. Without a foreign "invader" like the AMISOM force to rally nationalist sentiment against them, al-Shabaab and its allies will be forced to rely on pure terror to keep the masses under control.

Third, conquering a collapsed state is easy enough when faced with a weak opponent like the TFG, but administering the country is another matter entirely. The very ties to foreign terrorist and other jihadist networks that will have facilitated al-Shabaab's military victory will leave any regime led by the group isolated internationally.

A sign of things to come, as it were, was last week's decision by the UN's World Food Program, which provides emergency food assistance to more than 3 million Somalis, to suspend its program in southern Somalia, which distributes food to one million people, because of what it described in a statement as "the imposition of a string of unacceptable demands." Nor is autarky an option given that the relatively few highly-qualified Somali professionals from the diaspora that the TFG has managed to lure back to the country would most certainly flee again in the face of a jihadist takeover.

Fourth, the defeat of the TFG will present the international community with logistical challenges of monumental proportions for which contingency plans ought to be developed now, even if it is not politically possible to publicly acknowledge their existence.

Someone will need to quickly evacuate the AMISOM peacekeepers and their equipment, including artillery and armored vehicles, to prevent them from falling into the hands of the insurgents—the AU certainly does not possess this type of massive airlift capability.

Then, the international community in general and relief organizations in particular will need to be ready to cope with large numbers of Somalis trying to escape Mogadishu's newly ensconced extremist rulers. The 20,000 refugees who, in response to the WFP pullout, trekked toward already-packed camps in Kenya this week from the immediate border districts of southern Somalia may just be the start of a mass exodus.

Fifth, the development will be a wake-up call: the combination of the irredentist claims of the some of the radical Somali Islamists and the wider jihadist agenda of others will galvanize regional opposition. Thus far, Ethiopia has been most sensitive to the challenge, but Kenya and other countries in the Horn of Africa have grown increasingly concerned.

The subregional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) rallied together last year for an unprecedented appeal for the sanctions on Eritrea which the UN Security Council imposed on the Asmara regime last month for its role in supporting the Somali insurgents. A Somali regime headed by al-Shabaab can expect similar treatment from neighbors anxious to prevent the spread of its noxious ideology as well as to protect their own territorial integrity and national security.

Sixth, the collapse of the TFG may have a silver lining insofar as it forces the international community to finally get over its nearly two-decade-long fixation with southern and central Somalia and move beyond repeated "top-down" efforts, each more disastrous than its predecessor, to install a central government (there have been fourteen such abortive attempts since 1991, with the current version of the TFG representing a fifteenth try). Instead, driven by the necessity of containing a jihadist regime in Mogadishu and, eventually, rolling it back, a "bottom-up" approach will have to be adopted.

Thus legitimate and functional Somali entities—whether they are found in the nascent states like Somaliland and, to a certain extent, Puntland in the northern regions or in local communities and civil society structures in parts of central and southern Somalia—may finally get the recognition and engagement that has been lacking for all too long.

The TFG has had its chance. If, after more than five years since its inception and hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid and military support, it has proven unable to rally to its banner the very populace it purports to represent, there is nothing that any outsider can or should do to impose its writ upon southern and central Somalia.

Rather, it is time for Somalia's neighbors and other international partners to undertake a long-overdue triage and henceforth refocusing scarce resources on minimizing the fallout from the interim regime's collapse and strengthening the salvageable parts of the former Somali state, thereby simultaneously safeguarding their own legitimate national interests in regional security and stability.
— J. Peter Pham is Senior Fellow and Director of the Africa Project at the National Committee on American Foreign Policy in New York City. He also holds academic appointments as Associate Professor of Justice Studies, Political Science, and African Studies at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and non-resident Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C. He currently serves as Vice President of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA).

Dr. Pham has authored, edited, or translated over a dozen books and is the author of over three hundred essays and reviews on a wide variety of subjects in scholarly and opinion journals on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to the study of terrorism and political violence, his research interests lie at the intersection of international relations, international law, political theory, and ethics, with particular concentrations on the implications for United States foreign policy and African states as well as religion and global politics.

Dr. Pham has testified before the U.S. Congress on numerous occasions and conducted briefings or consulted for the U.S. and foreign governments as well as private firms. He has appeared in various media outlets, including CBS, PBS, CBC, SABC, VOA, CNN, the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, National Public Radio, the BBC, Radio France Internationale, the Associated Press, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, USA Today, National Journal, Newsweek, The Weekly Standard, New Statesman, and Maclean's, among others.

China Leading Global Race to Make Clean Energy

January 31, 2010

China Leading Global Race to Make Clean Energy

New York Times

TIANJIN, China — China vaulted past competitors in Denmark, Germany, Spain and the United States last year to become the world’s largest maker of wind turbines, and is poised to expand even further this year.

China has also leapfrogged the West in the last two years to emerge as the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels. And the country is pushing equally hard to build nuclear reactors and the most efficient types of coal power plants.

These efforts to dominate renewable energy technologies raise the prospect that the West may someday trade its dependence on oil from the Mideast for a reliance on solar panels, wind turbines and other gear manufactured in China.

“Most of the energy equipment will carry a brass plate, ‘Made in China,’ ” said K. K. Chan, the chief executive of Nature Elements Capital, a private equity fund in Beijing that focuses on renewable energy.

President Obama, in his State of the Union speech last week, sounded an alarm that the United States was falling behind other countries, especially China, on energy. “I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders — and I know you don’t either,” he told Congress.

The United States and other countries are offering incentives to develop their own renewable energy industries, and Mr. Obama called for redoubling American efforts. Yet many Western and Chinese executives expect China to prevail in the energy-technology race.

Multinational corporations are responding to the rapid growth of China’s market by building big, state-of-the-art factories in China. Vestas of Denmark has just erected the world’s biggest wind turbine manufacturing complex here in northeastern China, and transferred the technology to build the latest electronic controls and generators.

“You have to move fast with the market,” said Jens Tommerup, the president of Vestas China. “Nobody has ever seen such fast development in a wind market.”

Renewable energy industries here are adding jobs rapidly, reaching 1.12 million in 2008 and climbing by 100,000 a year, according to the government-backed Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association.

Yet renewable energy may be doing more for China’s economy than for the environment. Total power generation in China is on track to pass the United States in 2012 — and most of the added capacity will still be from coal.

China intends for wind, solar and biomass energy to represent 8 percent of its electricity generation capacity by 2020. That compares with less than 4 percent now in China and the United States. Coal will still represent two-thirds of China’s capacity in 2020, and nuclear and hydropower most of the rest.

As China seeks to dominate energy-equipment exports, it has the advantage of being the world’s largest market for power equipment. The government spends heavily to upgrade the electricity grid, committing $45 billion in 2009 alone. State-owned banks provide generous financing.

China’s top leaders are intensely focused on energy policy: on Wednesday, the government announced the creation of a National Energy Commission composed of cabinet ministers as a “superministry” led by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao himself.

Regulators have set mandates for power generation companies to use more renewable energy. Generous subsidies for consumers to install their own solar panels or solar water heaters have produced flurries of activity on rooftops across China.

China’s biggest advantage may be its domestic demand for electricity, rising 15 percent a year. To meet demand in the coming decade, according to statistics from the International Energy Agency, China will need to add nearly nine times as much electricity generation capacity as the United States will.

So while Americans are used to thinking of themselves as having the world’s largest market in many industries, China’s market for power equipment dwarfs that of the United States, even though the American market is more mature. That means Chinese producers enjoy enormous efficiencies from large-scale production.

In the United States, power companies frequently face a choice between buying renewable energy equipment or continuing to operate fossil-fuel-fired power plants that have already been built and paid for. In China, power companies have to buy lots of new equipment anyway, and alternative energy, particularly wind and nuclear, is increasingly priced competitively.

Interest rates as low as 2 percent for bank loans — the result of a savings rate of 40 percent and a government policy of steering loans to renewable energy — have also made a big difference.

As in many other industries, China’s low labor costs are an advantage in energy. Although Chinese wages have risen sharply in the last five years, Vestas still pays assembly line workers here only $4,100 a year.

China’s commitment to renewable energy is expensive. Although costs are falling steeply through mass production, wind energy is still 20 to 40 percent more expensive than coal-fired power. Solar power is still at least twice as expensive as coal.

The Chinese government charges a renewable energy fee to all electricity users. The fee increases residential electricity bills by 0.25 percent to 0.4 percent. For industrial users of electricity, the fee doubled in November to roughly 0.8 percent of the electricity bill.

The fee revenue goes to companies that operate the electricity grid, to make up the cost difference between renewable energy and coal-fired power.

Renewable energy fees are not yet high enough to affect China’s competitiveness even in energy-intensive industries, said the chairman of a Chinese industrial company, who asked not to be identified because of the political sensitivity of electricity rates in China.

Grid operators are unhappy. They are reimbursed for the extra cost of buying renewable energy instead of coal-fired power, but not for the formidable cost of building power lines to wind turbines and other renewable energy producers, many of them in remote, windswept areas. Transmission losses are high for sending power over long distances to cities, and nearly a third of China’s wind turbines are not yet connected to the national grid.

Most of these turbines were built only in the last year, however, and grid construction has not caught up. Under legislation passed by the Chinese legislature on Dec. 26, a grid operator that does not connect a renewable energy operation to the grid must pay that operation twice the value of the electricity that cannot be distributed.

With prices tumbling, China’s wind and solar industries are increasingly looking to sell equipment abroad — and facing complaints by Western companies that they have unfair advantages. When a Chinese company reached a deal in November to supply turbines for a big wind farm in Texas, there were calls in Congress to halt federal spending on imported equipment.

“Every country, including the United States and in Europe, wants a low cost of renewable energy,” said Ma Lingjuan, deputy managing director of China’s renewable energy association. “Now China has reached that level, but it gets criticized by the rest of the world.”

Ensure Gender Balance Says ZANU-PF Women's League

Ensure gender balance: Muchinguri

Herald Reporter

Zimbabwe must honour its Sadc obligations and ensure gender balance in the composition of key committees in the constitution-making process, the Zanu-PF Women’s League has said.

Speaking after a Women’s League meeting at the party headquarters in Harare yesterday, secretary for women’s affairs Cde Oppah Muchinguri said thematic and outreach teams should reflect the number of women in the country.

The Women’s Parliamentary Caucus has already petitioned the Select Committee on constitution-making to ensure fair representation.

The Select Committee has rejected that appeal saying the political parties should have nominated lists reflecting these concerns.

"Zimbabwe has signed the Sadc Protocol on Gender which compels member States to ensure 50-50 representation in decision-making. We want the outreach teams that would gather people’s views to have more women.

"The Select Committee should not hide behind a finger; they should have returned the list to the respective political parties so that it complies with the GPA," said Cde Muchinguri.

On the recently elected Zanu-PF Women’s League national executive, Cde Muchinguri said members would go through an induction course in the next two weeks.

"We will also walk them through the various achievements the League has made since Independence and the effects of sanctions on ordinary persons.

"It is also in this context that we are urging the MDC-T to tell the West to remove sanctions," she said.

Women’s League’s secretary for information and publicity Cde Monica Mutsvangwa said the wing was concerned by the sustenance of illegal sanctions.

"David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary has finally owned up to the imposition of illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe. The Zanu-PF Women’s League appeals to Britain, the European Union and the United States to remove the sanctions.

"We call for a new Chapter in Africa-Europe relations," said Cde Mutsvangwa.

She said women had borne the brunt of the embargo.

"For the first 15 years of Independence, we went through the bliss of hard-won freedom. We saw our country make great progress in all human indices of progress as we filled our granaries.

"Alas our respite from pain and suffering was short-lived. Soon after we embarked on the land reform programme the West imposed sanctions," Cde Mutsvangwa said.

Autopsy Details Released Involving the Assassination of Detroit Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah

From the PANW Editor,

Autoposy Details Released in the Assassination of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah

This news agency immediately denounced the assassination of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah in Detroit on October 28, 2009. We helped organize and promote the two demonstrations held in the aftermath of the incident. One demonstration was held outside the McNamara Federal Building and the other in front of the Renaissance Center while Attorney General Eric Holder was speaking at a joint law-enforcement and community group dinner at the Marriot Hotel.

Both demonstrations were organized by the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI). The assassination of Imam Abdullah exposed the continuation of the repressive policies carried out by the previous administration of George W. Bush.

Check out the Fox 2 Detroit news report on the release of details from the suppressed autoposy

Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire

U.S. Targets Yemen, Expands 'War on Terror'

U.S. targets Yemen, expands ‘war on terror’

By Joyce Chediac
Published Jan 30, 2010 6:34 AM

On Jan. 4, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed “instability” in Yemen posed “a global threat.” Why is Yemen unstable? Where does the “threat” really come from? Why are U.S. cruise missiles killing civilians in Yemen?

Brief history of Yemen

The Republic of Yemen is strategically located in the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula and across from the Horn of Africa. It is bordered in the north by Saudi Arabia and in the east by Oman.

In modern times, this country’s struggle for sovereignty has drawn fire from the most powerful imperialist countries and their Middle Eastern clients.

Yemen was taken over by the British and made a colony in 1939. When the Suez Canal opened in 1869, the port of Aden — one of Yemen’s natural resources — became British colonialism’s refueling port.

When a wave of anti-imperialist struggle gripped the Arab world in the 1950s and 1960s, the Yemeni people threw out the British colonizers and formed the Yemen Arab Republic in 1962. The new state was supported by Egypt, then a leader in the Arab national struggle, which sent in troops to protect it.

Yemeni independence and self-determination was opposed by Saudi Arabia, a surrogate for Washington and to this day the oppressor regime in the Arabian Peninsula. The heavily armed Saudi regime has regularly interfered in Yemeni affairs and opposed any progressive measures there.

Yemenis in the southern part of the country took the struggle a step further. After a successful armed struggle, they set up a state which aspired to build socialism. In 1967, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen was born in the south. The new state aligned with the Soviet Union, China and Cuba.

The PDRY contained most of Yemen’s natural resources. The port of Aden and Yemen’s oil deposits are in the south. The PDRY controlled the Bab al Mandeb straits — a strategic oil tanker passageway — which the U.S. government now seeks to control. Despite these resources, relentless pressure from world imperialism and repeated attempts by the Saudis to destabilize the progressive government prevented the PDRY from developing its economy.

In 1990, after the collapse of the socialist camp, the socialist south and capitalist north reunited in a strained union to form the Republic of Yemen. The new government, headed by Yemen’s current president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, for a short time included a relative balance of representatives between Yemen’s north and south.

A year later, when the U.S. and its allies invaded Iraq for the first time, the Republic of Yemen opposed this attack on Iraq. The Saudi regime retaliated against Yemen for its progressive and independent stand by expelling a million Yemenis working and living in Saudi Arabia; thereby destabilizing Yemen, which could not absorb them all. A half million desperate people camped outside Sann’a, the capital city. Yemen’s poverty level shot up to 47 percent, and remains in the same range today.

The message was clear. Imperialism and its surrogates in the region would not tolerate independent positions from Yemen. The Yemeni government became an agent of the Saudis and the U.S. The resource-rich south was virtually annexed, its political leaders forced to flee, and its inhabitants treated like second-class citizens.

Since then, the Sann’a regime’s pro-imperialist and corrupt policies have isolated ever growing sectors of the population. Yemen oil money was used not to develop the country but to line the Swiss bank accounts of Yemen’s rulers and those they buy off. The drop in oil prices associated with the 2008 capitalist economic crisis struck a body blow to the Yemeni economy. As Yemen’s economy has become more unstable, its rulers have become more corrupt and more repressive.

U.S., Yemeni and Saudi regimes bombing Yemeni people

When Clinton raised concern over Yemen’s “instability” she never mentioned the root causes and imperialism’s role. Nor does she mention that right now, under the guise of fighting terror, the U.S., Yemeni and Saudi regimes are bombing and terrorizing the people of Yemen.

Today there are three distinct insurgencies in Yemeni. Most significant are the Houthi insurrection in the north and especially the secular Southern Movement. Most recently, at the behest of the U.S., Sann’a has begun attacking the small group called al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, not before seen as a threat.

The U.S. media claim that the Houthi fight with Sann’a is a Sunni-Shiite conflict based on religion. However, Edmund J. Jull, U.S. ambassador to Yemen from 2002 to 2004, calls this a “myth” and explains that “the Houthi and President Saleh are followers of the Zaidi sect of Shiite Islam.” The Houthis are fighting for cultural rights against a repressive regime. The Yemeni government has been destroying their villages since 2004, making tens of thousands refugees. Saudi jets regularly bomb Houthi positions.

The Southern Movement is a broad-based secular movement whose goal is the secession of the south. Its core is made up of former officials and military officers of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. It also includes Baathists, Nassarites and traditional local leaders.

Gary Leupp, writing in the Jan. 15-17 issue of Counterpunch, says the Southern Movement has “little in common with al-Qaida” and views Yemeni President Saleh as “a corrupt, nepotistic dictator using U.S. aid and the exaggerated al-Qaida threat to his own advantage.”

Tiny al-Qaida not seen as a Yemeni “problem”

As for al-Qaida in the Arabian Gulf, even U.S. intelligence estimates that the group is only loosely affiliated with the Bin Laden group and has no more than 200 people, most of whom do not have weapons. The group, however, is located in the oil-rich and strategic south.

Gregory Johnson, a Princeton graduate student specializing in Yemen, said, “The Yemeni government is much more concerned with fighting the Houthis in Saada and with the secessionists in the south. Al-Qaida ranks a distant third. The government doesn’t see it as a Yemeni problem. [It sees it as] a foreign problem.”

That was before government instability in this strategic country sounded alarm bells in Washington. Now, said Leupp, Yemeni President Saleh has “smeared” the Southern Movement “as an al-Qaida offshoot” to “strengthen his grip over the country with U.S. support” because “his government is weak and risks losing control over the oil-rich south without outside help.”

Washington claims “threats” from Yemen stem from an alleged al-Qaida connection and the aborted attempt to bring down a U.S. airliner on Dec. 25. Yet the Pentagon began air strikes on southern Yemen on Dec. 18, seven days earlier. CBS reports that the 60 victims were mostly civilians, including women and children. Additionally, the Houthis in north Yemen, far from al-Qaida, say that they have been bombed by U.S. drones.

The U.S. concern in Yemen is not al-Qaida “threats.” It is concern that imperialism remain in control of strategic and oil-rich Yemen and the nearby oil routes. Washington, however, underestimates the determination of the Yemeni people, who are very political, and have a long history of struggle.

Next: The Pentagon’s war on terror — does it make people in the U.S. safer?

Based on a talk given at a Workers World forum in New York City on
Jan. 16.

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Dangerous Legal Exception for Mumia Abu-Jamal

Dangerous legal exception for Mumia

By Betsey Piette
Published Jan 28, 2010 9:34 PM

On Jan. 19 the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that has opened the way for the reinstatement of the death sentence for Mumia Abu-Jamal. The federal court’s ruling, which moved away from earlier rulings regarding sentencing phase regulations, was the latest in a long history of state, local and federal courts changing or even reversing their own legal precedents in the case of this world-renowned journalist and political prisoner.

In fact, throughout over 28 years of legal proceedings in Abu-Jamal’s case, there have been so many instances in which courts reversed earlier decisions made in similar cases in order to rule against the U.S.’s most famous death row prisoner that Linn Washington Jr., a professor of journalism at Temple University, coined the phrase “the Mumia exception” to describe these rulings.

The Supreme Court’s decision granted the Philadelphia district attorney’s petition for a review of a 2001 ruling by Federal Judge William Yohn which overturned Abu-Jamal’s death penalty but not conviction. The Supreme Court went against this lower federal circuit court’s findings as well as the 2008 Third Circuit ruling which granted a new sentencing phase jury trial if the death penalty was to be reinstated in Abu-Jamal’s case. Now the case goes back to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to decide whether to reimpose the death penalty without the jury trial.

In the week before the Jan. 19 decision the Supreme Court ruled on Smith v. Spisak, a case that also involved questionable instructions to the jury during the sentencing phase, although the case differs from Abu-Jamal’s in legal and political aspects.

Neo-Nazi and white supremacist Frank Spisak killed three people and then bragged about it in court. Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther organizer, was convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner on Dec. 9, 1981, but has always maintained his innocence, and several prosecution witnesses from his 1982 trial have since recanted their testimony.

Spisak’s lawyers had appealed based on the 1988 Supreme Court ruling in Mills v. Maryland, which addresses confusing jury instructions. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals had overturned Spisak’s sentence based on Mills but the U.S. Supreme Court decided the standard did not apply in his case.

It would appear that the court, which had had the district attorney’s appeal of Yohn’s decision before them since 2001, was waiting for a case like Spisak’s so they could justify their reversal in Abu-Jamal’s case, even though the two cases and the two defendants differ as night from day. Even though Abu-Jamal’s case met the Mills standard, the Supreme Court refused to apply it, in what was clearly a decision motivated by politics and not law.

Abu-Jamal’s attorney, Robert R. Bryan, stated, “What occurred in Mumia’s case is different both procedurally and factually from the jury instructions in Spisak.”

A racist frame-up

Abu-Jamal’s supporters, including Amnesty International, members of the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP, and government leaders from France, Japan, Germany, South Africa and many others, say he was framed by police, that prosecution witnesses were coerced into false testimony by the police, and that ballistics evidence shows Abu-Jamal did not shoot Faulkner.

Abu-Jamal has also been the victim of a racist and notoriously pro-prosecution trial judge, now-deceased Albert Sabo, who ruled at the initial trial in 1982 and then was called back from retirement to preside at Abu-Jamal’s 1995 Post Conviction Relief Act hearing. According to a sworn affidavit by court stenographer Terri Maurer-Carter, Sabo was overheard to say, “Yeah, and I’m going to help them fry the n — — r.”

At a Jan. 20 press conference and rally outside the offices of Seth Williams, Philadelphia’s first Black district attorney, Kevin Price with Friends of MOVE stated, “The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision shows that something is clearly broken in the U.S. justice system.

“Mumia’s case contains every type of evidence that existed in other cases where death row prisoners were exonerated — tampered evidence, witnesses changing their testimony, and a clearly racially biased judge. If a case as glaringly unjust as Mumia’s is not thrown out, what does this say for thousands of other innocent people on death row and the millions incarcerated across the U.S.?”

Pam Africa, chairperson of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, said: “Mumia cannot get any fairness in this court system. Seth Williams ran on a platform that when he became district attorney, he would execute Mumia.”

Africa urged people to stay focused and to show their support right now by signing and circulating two petitions calling for civil rights investigations into this case. One petition is directed to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the second to President Barack Obama. Both are available at and .

“Time is running out,” Africa stressed. “The time for organizing is now, organizing with all the strength that you have. Tell the people they must get into the streets in order to save this brother who has been on the front lines, from death row, on every issue of social justice that there is.” (San Francisco Bay View, Jan. 20)

These sentiments were echoed by Berta Joubert-Ceci, of the International Action Center, who told Workers World: “The governor of Pennsylvania signed a death warrant to execute Mumia in 1995, but the people mobilized and forced them to back down. We have the power to stop this.”

Chants of, “Brick by brick wall by wall, we’re gonna free Mumia Abu-Jamal!” from protesters outside the district attorney’s office Jan. 20 and the sounds of car horns honking in response to “Honk for Mumia” signs demonstrated that people are ready to fight back.

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Sudan Like a Powder Keg, Says Africa Union Commission Chair

Sudan like a powder keg, says AU

A vote for independence in oil-rich Southern Sudan's referendum next year could be catastrophic, the African Union's top diplomat has warned.

In an interview with French broadcaster RFI, Jean Ping likened Sudan's situation to "sitting on a powder keg".

He suggested the nation could once again face north-south conflict and said other areas like Darfur would try to follow the south to independence.

Southern Sudanese are due to vote in an independence referendum next year.

The vote was agreed as part of a 2005 peace deal which ended a 22-year war between north and south.

The BBC's James Copnall, in Khartoum, says it is rare for such a senior official to be so outspoken.

War risk?

In his RFI interview, AU commission chairman Mr Ping said the AU was "very concerned" about Sudan.

"We have a feeling that we are sitting on a powder keg," he said.

"Is the war between north and south at risk of resuming despite what has been said?

"Will the independence of Southern Sudan not lead other players in Darfur and in other places, which are currently not asking for independence, to seek independence as Southern Sudan will have done?"

He described the sequence of events as a "catastrophic scenario".

Our correspondent says his outlook is similar to many national leaders, who hate the thought that Southern Sudan becoming independent could set a precedent.

Meanwhile, the new head of the international peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Unamid, says he wants it to become more involved in mediation.

In an interview with the BBC, Ibrahim Gambari said he was hopeful a solution to the conflict could be found.

Although the war between north and south ended officially in 2005, tensions and mistrust continue.

Some 2,000 people died in ethnic clashes in the south last year - more than in Darfur's low-level conflict.

Southern politicians routinely blame northern allies of President Omar al-Bashir for stirring up trouble in an attempt to force the referendum to be abandoned.

But northern officials deny the allegations and last week Mr Bashir surprised many by saying he would accept the result of the referendum - even if the south opted for independence.

As well as the referendum, all of Sudan will vote in an election in April - the first multi-party national vote in a generation.

The civil war between the mainly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south claimed the lives of some 1.5 million people.

Southern Sudan All Sudan Population: 7.5m to 9.7m Population: 42.2m Area: 640,000 sq km Area: 2.5m sq km Maternal mortality: 1,700 deaths per 100,000 births Maternal mortality: 1,107 deaths per 100,000 births Access to clean water: 50% Access to clean water: 70% Life expectancy: 42 years Life expectancy: 58.92 years

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2010/01/28 18:12:59 GMT

United Nations Secretary General Appeals for Sudan Unity

UN chief appeals for Sudan unity

The UN secretary general has urged African leaders to work for national unity in Sudan to avoid the south of the country seceding from the north.

Ban Ki-moon's appeal comes as the African Union is due to hold its summit in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

Mr Ban said both the UN and AU had a big responsibility "to maintain peace in Sudan and make unity attractive".

A referendum is due next year on whether the oil-rich south should become independent.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has said he will accept the result of the poll even if the south voted for independence.

The theme of the three-day AU summit in Addis Ababa is information and technology.

But heads of states will also be discussing, among other issues, the escalating violence in Somalia and who will take over the AU chairmanship from Libya.

The position should go to Malawi, the choice of the southern African regional grouping, SADC.

But Libya wants to extend its one-year term and has Tunisia's support.

With eastern and southern African countries apparently solidly behind Malawi, it could be a bruising contest for the AU chairmanship, writes the BBC's Uduak Amimo.

High tensions

"Whatever the result of the [southern Sudan's] referendum we have to think how to manage the outcome," Mr Ban said in a joint interview with AFP and RFI radio.

"It is very important for Sudan but also for the region. We'll work hard to avoid a possible secession," he added.

Sudan's mainly Muslim north and the Animist and Christian South ended their two-decade war in 2005 and joined a unity government.

But tensions remain high as in April the country holds its first genuine multi-party national elections since 1986.

The south, which has a semi-autonomous government, is likely to vote to secede from the north in the 2011 referendum, correspondents say.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2010/01/31 03:35:11 GMT

Niger Delta Militants Call Off Truce With Nigeria

Niger Delta militants call off truce with Nigeria


Lagos--The main militant group in the oil-rich Niger Delta called off its ceasefire with the government yesterday morning, dealing a potential death blow to a presidential amnesty programme aimed at ending violence that has crippled production in the West African nation.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta issued a statement saying it would no longer abide by the unconditional October 25 ceasefire President Umaru Yar’Adua had negotiated with the group.

The militants warned oil producers with pipelines and personnel working in the creeks and swamps of the Delta that it would wage an “an all-out onslaught” against them. The Mend “warns all oil companies to halt operations as any operational installation attacked will be burnt to the ground”, the statement read.

“Oil companies are responsible for the safety and welfare of their workers and will bear the guilt should any harm come upon their staff in the event of an attack.

“Militants in the Niger Delta have attacked pipelines, kidnapped petroleum company employees and fought government troops since January 2006. They demand that the federal government send more oil-industry funds to Nigeria's southern region, which remains poor despite five decades of oil production. Violence has cut Nigeria's oil production by about one million barrels a day, allowing Angola to surge ahead as Africa’s top oil producer.

Still, Nigeria remains the number three crude oil supplier to the US, offering the country nearly a million barrels a day in November, according to US government statistics.

Mend announced it had brokered an unconditional ceasefire with the Nigerian government on October 25, but later said it broke the agreement to attack a pipeline December 19.

The group said it attacked the line due to the long absence of Yar'Adua, who remains in Saudi Arabia receiving medical treatment for what his doctor described as a heart condition. Militants have questioned whether the amnesty programme Yar'Adua promised them — which included cash payments to former fighters — has been frozen in his absence.

Part of the amnesty programme included offering the Niger Delta improvements to its decaying roads and government facilities. The militants’ statement last Saturday claims nothing has been done so far and said states in northern Nigeria would receive benefits for having a pipeline pass through them.

“This government is hoping it can divide the people of the Delta in order to govern and plunder the Niger Delta,” the statement read.

“All who have misled the government and oil companies into such inanity will be put to shame.

“But questions remain about what power the Mend still wields. The amnesty programme pulled away some fighters and weapons. The militants said they sanctioned a recent attack on a pipeline owned by a subsidiary of Chevron Corporation, but didn't carry it out. They claimed to have no hand in the kidnapping of three Britons and a Colombian working as contractors on a Royal Dutch Shell plc project — the first high-profile ransom grab in months. The Nigerian military also didn’t confirm the pipeline attack the Mend said it carried out December 19. Still, the militant group struck a defiant tone.

“Acting like a victor over a conquered people, the government rolled out a list of its plans for the Delta which it assumed would end decades of agitation, promising at the same time to deal with all who remained dissatisfied with its lame effort to redress the injustice in the Niger Delta,” their statement read. —

Zambia Wants President to Hold University Degree

Zambia wants president to hold university degree


LUSAKA. Zambia’s new constitution could block anyone without a university degree from running for president, a move that opposition leader Michael Sata said last Friday would violate basic human rights.

The National Constitutional Conference, which is meant to adopt a new charter before next year’s elections, last week adopted a clause that required a presidential candidate to hold a degree.

Sata, leader of the main opposition Patriotic Front, does not have a degree. He said the clause would strip voters of their right to support the candidate of their choice.

“People should participate in the running of their country even without a degree,” Sata told AFP.

“We fought the white oppressors 45 years ago so that the majority can rule this country, but now it look like this government want the minority to rule,” he added.

Government spokesman Ronnie Shikapwahsa insisted that demanding a qualification for people seeking a job was not a violation of human rights.

“If anybody wants a job, the employer asks for a qualification,” he said.

“It’s the Zambian people that are asking for a degree from the holder of the presidency,” Shikapwahsa told AFP.

Sata served in government before forming his own party in 2001. He lost the last polls in 2008 by just 35 000 votes to President Rupiah Banda. —

Friday, January 29, 2010

Noted African-American Art Collector Dies in Ga.

Noted African-American Art Collector Dies in Ga.

Paul R. Jones, noted collector of African-American art, dies at 81 in Georgia

The Associated Press

Paul R. Jones, a collector of African-American art who donated troves of works to universities in Delaware and Alabama, has died. He was 81.

Jones died in Atlanta on Tuesday after a brief illness, said University of Alabama spokeswoman Angie Estes. The university established an art collection in Jones' name after receiving some 1,700 pieces valued at $5 million in 2008.

Despite humble beginnings in Alabama and never independently wealthy, Jones began buying pieces in the 1960s after noting African-American art was underrepresented in public galleries.

As the drawings, paintings, photographs, sculptures and other works grew into the hundreds, part of his collection was exhibited at the University of Delaware in 1993. He later made a gift of several hundred works to the school.

"My goal has been to incorporate African-American art into American art," he told The Tuscaloosa News in 2008 when he made his donation to the University of Alabama with a plan for it to be part of the curriculum.

He embraced the school even though he was turned down by the University of Alabama Law School in 1949 after it discovered he was black.

Born in Bessemer, Ala., in the central part of the state, he was raised in the Muscoda Mining Camp of an iron and steel corporation. Jones attended historically black Alabama State University in Montgomery and finished his education at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Described as a civil rights activist, he worked with an interracial community group in Birmingham, Ala., and held jobs with the federal government for 15 years before becoming deputy director of the Peace Corps based in Thailand.

When his collection grew into the hundreds, he decided it should be used for educational purposes.

"I knew I could sell the collection at its appreciated price, and get myself a chauffeur, a cook, a maid, and travel the world," he was quoted on a University of Delaware Web site devoted to his collection. "But, I realized I wanted to do something with my collection that would have a lasting impact, both in my lifetime and beyond."

Survivors include his son, P.R. Jones of California, according to the University of Alabama.

A funeral service will be held at Cascade United Methodist Church in Atlanta at a date to be determined.

Fela on Broadway, A Review: Feeling Unsettled at a Feel-Good Show

January 31, 2010

Feeling Unsettled at a Feel-Good Show

New York Times

“I KNOW there is nothing a white person can say to a black person about race which is not both incorrect and offensive,” James Spader’s hard-driving lawyer says in the new David Mamet play, “Race.” “I know that. Race is the most incendiary topic in our history. And the moment it comes out, you cannot close the lid on that box. That may change. But not for a long long while.”

That harsh sentiment, a classic bit of Mametian blunt speak, might earn a particularly sympathetic hearing from the friends of the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid. As much as we would like to think we live in a postracial America, having elected a black president, the potency of race as a topic for generating scandal — however cynical or bogus — suggests otherwise.

This partly explains why I’ve been finding plenty of reasons to put off airing my conflicted reactions to the new musical "Fela!" Mr. Mamet’s drama, about a legal case that ostensibly turns on perceptions of racism, seems intended to stoke controversy with its forthright title and its boiling arguments about who can say what to whom. But paradoxically the most provocative show in town in this regard may be the feel-good musical about the Nigerian singer and activist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

As much as I enjoyed the show, directed and choreographed by Bill T. Jones, it left me with lingering questions about the depiction of the African milieu it evoked. In short, the emphasis in “Fela!” on the spectacle of African culture tilted the show a little too closely toward minstrelsy. It evoked an unsettling feeling I can’t say I ever had before at the theater.

Hold the digital brickbats, please, while I make my case. By definition, of course, “Fela!” has nothing to do with literal minstrelsy, an American form of entertainment dating to the years after the Civil War. Minstrel shows were revues including musical numbers, sketches and jokes performed in blackface (by both blacks and whites, for both blacks and whites) that disseminated ugly racial stereotypes. “Fela!” is about the singer who synthesized various musical influences to invent a new sound called Afrobeat, and who became a galvanizing force behind the Nigerians’ fight against an oppressive and corrupt government. It’s vibrant, exciting and fabulously performed.

But there really are no characters, aside from Fela Kuti himself. True, his mother makes a couple of ghostly appearances and is described lovingly by her son, and during a sojourn in America Fela is shown interacting with a brash woman spouting black-power slogans. (It seems odd that the only character other than Fela Kuti who has any sustained dialogue is an American.) But the rest of the cast members — numbering more than 15 — have no clearly defined roles to play, spending most of the time performing Mr. Jones’s energetic, hip-wiggling riffs on African dance and joining in the songs.

A recent article in The New York Times revealed that the women who represent Fela’s many wives all have researched the back stories of their characters, but in the context of the show we learn virtually nothing about any of them. (You might not even pick up on the fact that they’re supposed to represent his wives.) In contrast with characters in recent plays like Lynn Nottage’s “Ruined” and Danai Gurira’s “Eclipsed” — both of which explore the hard experience of African women by depicting fully developed lives caught in trying, sometimes terrible circumstances — the women of “Fela!” are largely festive window dressing. Attired in eye-catching, vibrantly colored, flesh-baring ensembles, with their faces painted, they strut around the stage and the theater looking exotic, imperious and sexy. So too do the male members of the ensemble, who also bare a lot of flesh but have little to do other than sing and dance.

Hence my discomfort. The presentation of African culture as a feast of exotic pageantry has the potential, at least, to reinforce stereotypes of African people as primitive and unsophisticated, albeit endowed with astounding aptitudes for song and dance. Although some of the dancers have individual moments, none are given individual voices; sometimes they simply drape the stage like gaudy décor. And the way the dancers weave in and out of the audience repeatedly seems ingratiating, a sort of seduction that almost sexualizes the performers.

The fourth wall serves many purposes at the theater, but one is to allow the audience to have some intellectual perspective on the material. In frolicking so exuberantly among the theatergoers, “Fela!” sometimes seems to turn its ostensible characters into flashy sideshow entertainments, to elevate sensation over substance.

The absence of staged narrative that might allow for more richly developed characters partly derives from the way the show is structured. A more evolved kind of jukebox musical, “Fela!” is conceived as a concert taking place on the final night at the Shrine nightclub, where Fela’s fans gathered to party and to hear his political consciousness-raising patter.

The man himself does all the talking, providing snippets of his life history in between the songs and ecstatic dance numbers. But the storytelling is scattered and sometimes indistinct. (You learn more about the sociopolitical situation by reading the newspaper headlines in the video projections on the set.) I suspect that if the show struck a greater balance between pure dance and cogent storytelling — or managed to weave the two together a bit more consistently — my sense that the exotic was being overemphasized (even fetishized) would evaporate.

Context is key here too. Would I feel any discomfort if I were attending an African dance recital at Dance Theater Workshop? Probably not. An air of exuberant commercialism surrounds Broadway productions — you can buy $20 “Fela!” programs and T-shirts at the theater — that can sometimes add a surface layer of crassness to shows that are intrinsically free from it. Fine art can be cheapened by the need to compete in a commercial marketplace. The carnivalesque atmosphere at “Fela!” is more pronounced on Broadway than it was in the show’s earlier run Off Broadway. The theater is bedecked in vibrantly colored panels of corrugated metal and African gewgaws; the intention is to immerse the audience in a sense of being at the Shrine, but it is unintentionally a little like being in a Disneyland version of Africa.

And this parade of African experience is being staged for Broadway audiences who are still largely white, middle aged and middle class. (At the performances I’ve attended the audience looked to be about 60 percent to 70 percent white, which is nevertheless significantly smaller than at most Broadway shows.) Many will have had little exposure to African culture, and some may come away with the impression that the partying played a larger role in the lives of the people surrounding Fela than the grim political battles and the economic hardship. (For obvious reasons Fela Kuti cannot announce from the stage that he had AIDS and died in 1997.)

To be sure, the climax of the show describes in grim, harrowing detail the death of his mother and the horrific abuse of his wives during a government raid on his compound. Mr. Jones and Jim Lewis, who together wrote the book, have done their best to include as much pertinent history as the concept for the show can comfortably allow. The signal truth of Fela Kuti’s life is that his music was the vehicle for his political activism; the two cannot be separated. It’s for those in the audience — and I encourage everyone with an interest in new currents in theater to attend — to decide for themselves how effectively “Fela!” strikes a balance between presenting African experience as an audience-seducing entertainment and revealing the turbulent complexities of the culture behind it.

Civilians Killed in Somalia Clashes; Djibouti to Deploy 450 Troops

Friday, January 29, 2010
11:44 Mecca time, 08:44 GMT

Civilians killed in Somalia clashes

Al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the shelling on Friday

At least nine people, mainly civilians, have been killed in fresh fighting in the Somali capital, witnesses and medics have said.

Anti-government fighters clashed with African Union peacekeepers and government troops in southeastern Mogadishu in the early hours of Friday, resulting in the deaths.

"Around seven civilians died in the clashes, including women and children. Most of them were killed by mortar shells and stray bullets," Abdi Adan, an eyewitness, told the AFP news agency.

"Four civilians died in Wardhigley district and three others were killed in Holwadag and Bakara area. It was the worst fighting we have seen recently," Mohamoud Ahmed, a local resident, said.

Ali Musa, head of Mogadishu's ambulance services, said medics had collected around 22 injured from several locations in the city and "several people" had died.

"I don't have the full figures but I know that three of the dead are a mother and her two children," he said.

Responsibility claim

The armed group al-Shabab, whose leader late last year proclaimed his allegiance to al-Qaeda's Osama bin Laden, issued a statement claiming responsibility for Friday's shelling.

"Our holy warriors launched a fierce offensive on several locations in Mogadishu where the apostate militias and their Christian backers were stationed," the group said.

It referred to government troops, who they accuse of being puppets of the West, and to AU peacekeepers who they routinely describe as crusaders bent on introducing Christianity to Muslim Somalia.

In the statement, al-Shabab said two of its fighters had died in the clashes.

Somali government officials were not able to provide more details on the casualties.

"The violent elements attacked government positions overnight, firing mortar rounds and machine guns. The government forces defeated them," Abdullahi Hassan Barisse, a police spokesman, told reporters.

The densely-populated neighbourhoods where the fighting took place, halfway between the airport and the port, is on the edge of an area controlled by the African Union peacekeeping mission (Amisom).

Civilians there are often caught in the crossfire between Amisom troops and al-Shabab.

The clashes marred plans to celebrate the first anniversary of the election of Sharif Ahmed, the Somali president.

Officials had been preparing for celebrations in the presidential compound's theatre on Friday.

Source: Agencies

Friday, January 29, 2010

Djibouti to boost AU peace mission in Somalia

Nigerian Guardian

AUTHORITIES in Djibouti have planned to send 450 soldiers to Somalia possibly next month to boost the African Union (AU) peace mission that is protecting the fragile Western-backed government.

The move came as Somali gunmen yesterday hijacked a Cambodian cargo ship, the MV Layla-S, off Berbera after it unloaded at the port in the breakaway northern enclave of Somaliland.

Uganda and Burundi each have 2,500 peacekeepers in Mogadishu with the AU's AMISOM force in Mogadishu.

Its soldiers come under near-daily attacks from roadside bombs and rebel artillery. The force is struggling to raise its numbers beyond the 5,000 troops already present in the anarchic nation that has had no functional central government since 1991.

"We are preparing our troops. We are training them so that they can carry out their mission in a very efficient way," Djibouti's Foreign Minister Mahmoud Ali Youssouf told Reuters on the sidelines of an African Union foreign ministers' meeting.

Youssouf said he hoped his country's contribution would inspire others to do the same.

"Somalia is a neighbouring country. We have a very close relationship. We can see what is going on there and we have to contribute as Africans," he said.

Since the beginning of 2007, fighting between pro-government militia and the Islamist al Shabaab group - which Washington terms as al Qaeda's proxy in the region - has killed more than 21,000 Somalis and driven 1.5 million from their homes.

Separately, AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping said in a speech that Somalia's best hope was its transitional government and urged the international community to implement their pledges for aid.

International donors pledged $213 million at a conference in Belgium about a year ago, but Somalia's government complains that only a small proportion has so far been delivered.

Meanwhile, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud, the eight-year-old boy whose bullet-shattered face personified the brutal conflict in Somalia and drew offers of aid from around the world, has died in Kenya days after a reconstructive surgery.

Dr. Peter Nthumba said Ahmed died late Wednesday of intestinal bleeding that may have been caused by an ulcer or stress. Nthumba operated on the boy, whose face was almost entirely blown off in September when a bullet hit him in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

Relatives and well-wishers said they were shocked by the sudden death of Ahmed, a cheerful child who liked playing with a toy helicopter and spent time reading the Quran in his hospital bed. Doctors said he had not show any sign of ailment before the operation, which had gone well.

His heartbroken mother, Safi Mohamed Shidane, said that she had not expected her son's life would end.

The UN Security Council voted yesterday unanimously to authorise the AU peacekeeping force in Somalia to stay for another year and urged it to boost its strength to 8,000 troops.

Deployed in March 2007, the force known as AMISOM fields 5,300 Ugandan and Burundian soldiers and is currently charged with protecting strategic sites in the seaside capital such as the presidency, the port and the airport.

The 15-member council empowered AMISOM to stay until January 31, 2011 and asked it "to increase its force strength with a view to achieving (its) originally mandated strength of 8,000 troops, thereby enhancing its ability to carry out its mandate in full."

The mandate expires on Sunday.

The council resolution also directed the force to continue assisting Somalia's transitional government in developing the Somali Police Force and the National Security Force, and to help integrate Somali units trained by other UN member states or organizations inside and outside Somalia.

Earlier this month, the 53-member African Union renewed AMISOM's mandate for six months.

Somalia's internationally-backed transitional government has been boxed into a tiny perimeter in its capital Mogadishu by an insurgency launched in May 2009 by the Al-Qaeda-inspired Shebab group and its more political Hezb al-Islam allies.

It has owed its survival largely to AMISOM.

The force's top civilian official reassured the wobbly government of its total support in the fight against insurgent groups.

Insurgents accuse AMISOM of being an occupying force bent on introducing Christianity to Moslem Somalia. The force has also been criticised for killing scores of civilians during retaliatory shelling.

Somalia has had no effective government since President Mohamed Siad Barre was forced out of power in the early 1990s.

Nigerian High Court Backs President Yar'Adua: He Does Not Have to Leave Office Due to Illness

Friday, January 29, 2010
18:47 Mecca time, 15:47 GMT

Nigeria court backs sick president

More than 50 prominent Nigerians urged the president to resign and hand over power to vice-president

A Nigerian court has dismissed calls for a temporary head of state be appointed until Umaru Yar'Adua, Nigeria's president, returns from Saudi Arabia where he is undergoing hospital treatment.

The Nigerian Bar Association had demanded the vice-president's powers be extended, accusing Yar'Adua of acting unconstitutionally in failing to inform parliament of his absence.

But Dan Abutu, the federal court judge, ruled on Friday there was nothing illegal about Yar'Adua's failure to write to parliament about his absence when he left for treatment on November 23.

"The failure to transmit a written declaration to the national assembly before proceeding on vacation is not unconstitutional," he said.

Abutu also ruled that Goodluck Jonathan, the vice-president, could not assume the role of acting president without Yar'Adua making such a written declaration.

The senate, former heads of state, ex-ministers, the bar association and the opposition have all called on Yar'Adua, who is being treated for a heart condition, to formally notify parliament of his absence and allow Jonathan to become acting president.

Abutu ruled two weeks ago that Jonathan could perform executive duties but not be acting president.

'Crucial ruling'

Andrew Simmons, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Nigeria, said the decision has helped to clarify the confusing political situation there.

"It has clarified one of the areas - it means the vice-president can act with executive powers of the president but would not be termed formally as the acting-president.

"It might sound like a small point but it is a crucial one, particularly for the ruling party.

"There is an election next year and many people feel there is a lot of power play going on, they feel it is important that the power is not formally handed over as it would allow Goodluck Jonathan to be his own man and make his own changes.

"It also points out that the constitution is slightly ambiguous, but it's not for the judge here to rewrite it. There is still a lot of concern because the president hasn't made it clear what he wants done here."

Only the cabinet, which consists of Yar'Adua's own appointees, has the power to force the president to hand over powers.

It has twice passed resolutions saying it believes he remains fit to govern.

Yar'Adua is receiving treatment for a serious heart condition in Jeddah and his absence has raised fears of a constitutional and political crisis in Africa's most populous country.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Nigeria court backs ill president

A Nigerian court has dismissed a call for an interim leader to be appointed while President Umaru Yar'Adua is in hospital in Saudi Arabia.

The high court said there was no constitutional requirement for him to write formally to parliament, informing them he is on "medical vacation".

This would automatically lead to his deputy becoming acting president.

President Yar'Adua has been away for two months, raising fears of a power vacuum and calls for him to step down.

"The failure to transmit a written declaration to the national assembly before proceeding on vacation is not unconstitutional," said federal high court judge Dan Abutu, dismissing the case brought by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).

The judge also said that Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan could continue to act on the president's behalf, without needing to be formally appointed as interim leader - upholding a similar ruling in a previous case.

Nigeria's Justice Minister Michael Aondoakaa said the question of whether Mr Yar'Adua should hand over power was now "settled".

But the BBC's Ahmed Idris in the capital, Abuja, says there is a general feeling among Nigerians that the constitution needs a thorough, and immediate, review to avoid similar problems in the future.

'Not incapable'

On Wednesday, the Senate passed a resolution calling on the president to provide a formal letter informing parliament of his absence.

At the same, the cabinet issued a statement that President Yar'Adua was "not incapable" of running the country.

23 November 2009: Goes to hospital in Saudi Arabia
26 November 2009: Presidential doctors say he has pericarditis - inflammation of the heart lining
23 December 2009: First court case filed called him to step down
30 December 2009: Chief justice sworn in. Lawyers say this is illegal in president's absence
5 January 2010: Two more court cases filed and a human rights group wants president declared "missing"
12 January 2010: President gives first interview since going to Saudi Arabia
27 January: Cabinet declares president fit

Court says no need for formal transfer of power

This followed a previous court ruling giving ministers two weeks to make such a declaration.

The president flew to Saudi Arabia in late November for medical treatment and has not been seen in public since.

In his only broadcast interview since he left the country, he told the BBC's Hausa Service on 12 January that he would return to resume his duties as soon as his doctors would allow.

As well as the flurry of court cases brought by his opponents, crowds of demonstrators have sporadically taken to the streets in Abuja and Lagos demanding power be handed to Vice-President Jonathan.

Correspondents say it is unlikely Wednesday's ruling will do much to stop the intensifying pressure for something to be done about the perceived power vacuum.

The most recent move has come from powerful quarters: A group known as the Eminent Elders, including three former heads of state - civilian and military - asked Mr Yar'Adua to send a letter allowing Mr Jonathan to formally become acting president.

The group said Mr Yar'Adu's absence was causing concern not only to Nigerians but to anyone doing business with the country.

On Thursday, the United States and European Union expressed their concern about the political crisis for the first time.

In an open letter, they said they welcomed constitutional efforts to "resolve the question of governing authority in the president's prolonged absence".

Correspondents say one reason for Mr Yar'Adua's reluctance to allow Mr Jonathan to act on his behalf is the ruling People's Democratic Party's tradition of alternating power between north and south.

Mr Yar'Adua is a northerner, while the vice-president is from the south. So if Mr Jonathan took over, that would shorten the north's stay in power.

The president is suffering from an inflammation of the lining around the heart and has long suffered from kidney problems.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2010/01/29 16:41:56 GMT