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Monday, April 28, 2008

Bill Moyers interview with Rev Wright

April 25, 2008

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the JOURNAL.

Barack Obama's pastor was in the news again this week. North Carolina Republicans are preparing to run an ad tying Obama to some controversial sound bites lifted from Reverend Jeremiah Wright's sermons. And CBS and MSNBC led their broadcasts with reports about the ad.

DEAN REYNOLDS: In North Carolina the Republicans put their ad on the internet and say they're going to broadcast it as well.

KEITH OLBERMANN: Republican hit job the North Carolina GOP plans a Willie Horton style TV ad against Obama.

BILL MOYERS: Jeremiah Wright will be in Washington Monday for a news conference at the National Press Club -- his first since the controversy erupted over those incendiary sound bites. You've heard them; who hasn't heard them: Wright suggesting the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were payback for American policy; Wright repeating the canard heard often in black communities that the u.s. government spread HIV in those communities; Wright seemingly calling on God to damn America.

But just who is this man? That's the question I asked when those sound bites began popping up.

I'd heard the name Jeremiah Wright -- his church in Chicago belongs to the fellowship of the United Church of Christ. I joined a UCC church on Long Island 40 years ago and attend Riverside Church in New York City, which is affiliated with American Baptists and the UCC. But I couldn't remember ever having met Reverend Wright. So I wanted to know more about the man, the ministry, and the church.

BILL MOYERS NARRATION: In 1972, Jeremiah Wright became pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. He inherited a struggling congregation of just 87 members.

REVEREND WRIGHT (FROM TAPE:) I have a friend who every time you greet him, every time you ask him how you doing, he answers, just trying to make it man, just trying to make it.

BILL MOYERS: But by the mid 1980s, when PBS' Frontline shot this film about Wright, he'd grown the congregation to several thousand.

REVEREND WRIGHT: In our homes! Help us to be your church! In our private lives, help us to be your church! In our dealings one with another, help us to be your church Though our minds wander, our souls love only you. Let the church say Amen. Say Amen again.

BILL MOYERS: Trinity Church is located in a largely black neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago - a mixture of working class people and the poor.

REVEREND WRIGHT: Unfortunately, most churches now are "status quo." And so that, to the extent that they're not trying to feed the poor, they're not trying to hook up jobs and people, they're not concerned about the lowest, the least, the left out. They're not concerned about the youth, they're concerned about "Let me come here on a Sunday, hear something that tells me I'm ok, and I'm going to back to where I've been going. Don't rock the boat…"

REVEREND WRIGHT: How about the fact that we have pledged to take what we've got as black people and put it back into the black community? That's what I want to ask you…

BILL MOYERS: He challenged his growing congregation not to lose sight of the needs of their neighbors.

YOUNG MAN: I want to be a vehicle designer.

BILL MOYERS: That meant soup kitchens, day care, drug and legal counseling, and mentoring for young people.

YOUNG MAN: I've watched TV and looked at lawyers in past years and I've basically like the feel of being a lawyer. It's like really exciting.

MENTOR: As a matter of fact, there are a couple lawyers here in the church that maybe we can just hook you up with

YOUNG MAN: I'd like to be a doctor.

REVEREND WRIGHT: You can't be whatcha ain't seen. And so many of our young boys haven't seen nothing but the gangs and the pimps and the brothers on the corner. They've never sat and talked to lawyers, they've never sat and talked to a man, a black man, with 2, 3 degrees!

They've never had a chance, they've never had an option in terms of thinking I could do this? I can be this? They see a doctor when they're sick. They don't get to sit and talk-me go to med school? They don't talk to somebody who writes programs and analyzes systems and computers.

A black guy? I can do this? I can-never have their horizons lifted.

BOYS: The commitment to the black community The commitment to the black family

BILL MOYERS: He spoke out about racism from segregation in America's cities to the racist apartheid regime of South Africa.

REVEREND WRIGHT: What the word says about racism comes through loud and clear! Botha is wrong! South Africa is wrong! Apartheid is wrong! Oppression is wrong! Anybody who feels white skin is superior to black skin is wrong!

BILL MOYERS: Around that time a young Barack Obama came to Chicago and went to work as a community organizer on the South Side. As he describes in his book, Obama was a religious skeptic at first, and sought out Pastor Wright for his knowledge of the neighborhood. But soon Obama began attending Sunday Services, and in 1988 was baptized there as a Christian.

Twenty years later, Trinity has built a new building for its burgeoning congregation: now over six thousand members. Its ministry has grown as well: including tutoring for kids, women's health programs, and a HIV/AIDS ministry.

Trinity has long had strong ties with the African roots of its faith. Parishoners are asked to respect what they call "the black value system:" to rededicate themselves to God, the black family and the black community. Reinforcing the motto that they are quote "Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian."

You see the connection to Africa in the stained glass windows Wright installed in the new church. They depict many of the biblical stories that took place there.

REVEREND JEREMIAH WRIGHT: We wanted our stained-glass windows to tell the story of the centrality of Africans in the role of Christianity from its inception up until the present day. We play some interesting games educationally with the kids to help kids understand -- can you name the seven continents? As a kid, you learn that in school. All right, on what continent did everything in the Bible from Genesis to Malachi take place? And they'll give you an eighth continent: the Middle East. No, no, no, you just named seven continents. So, what continent do these things take place on in your Bible? It's that kind of biblical truth put in stain glass so kids can understand this is not something somebody made up. This is not something from black power "Oooh." This is actual biblical, historical fact that you have a central role in the Christian faith that is yours.

BILL MOYERS: Several years ago Jeremiah Wright and the church began the search for his successor, and after 36 years as pastor, he will be retiring at the end of next month.

REVEREND WRIGHT: In Genesis:2 it says God breathes into the nostrils of what God had formed from the dust. God donated some divinity to some dirt and we became living souls.

That's God breath you have in you, that's God's breath that you just breathed. God is the giver of life. Let me tell you what that means. That means we have no right to take a life whether as a gang banger living the thug life, or as a President lying about leading a nation into war. We have no right to take a life! Whether through the immorality of a slave trade, or the immorality of refusing HIV/AIDS money to countries or agencies who do not tow your political line! We have no right to take a life! Turn to your neighbors and say we have no right to take a life!

BILL MOYERS: That was Jeremiah Wright three years ago, and he's with me here today.

Welcome to the JOURNAL.

REVEREND WRIGHT: Thank you for having me.

BILL MOYERS: Let's start with first things. When did you hear the call to ministry? How did it come?

REVEREND WRIGHT: I was a teenager when I heard the call to ministry. I grew up in a parsonage. I grew up a son of and grandson of a minister, which also gave me the advantage of knowing that there were more things to ministry than pastoring. I had no idea that I'd be preaching or pastoring a church at that teenage year. As a matter of fact I left Philadelphia going to Virginia Union University. And unfortunately, I was starting during the civil rights movement.

And the civil rights movement showed me a side of Christianity that I had not seen in Philadelphia. I had not seen Christians who, as I saw in Richmond, Virginia, who loved the lord, who professed faith in Jesus Christ and who believed in segregation, saw nothing wrong with lynching, saw nothing wrong with Negroes staying in their places. I knew about hatred. I knew about prejudice. But I didn't know Christians participated in that, in that kind of thinking.

BILL MOYERS: So what did that do to you?

REVEREND WRIGHT: It made me question my call. It made me question whether or not I was doing the right thing. It made me pause in my educational pursuit. I stopped school in my last year, senior year, and went into the service.

BILL MOYERS: He served six years in the military: two as a marine, and four in the Navy as a cardiopulmonary technician. That's where our paths crossed for the only time.

That's Jeremiah Wright, behind the I.V. pole, monitoring President Lyndon Johnson's heart as he was recovering from gall bladder surgery at Bethesda Naval Hospital. And right behind him is a very young me. I was the President's Press Secretary.

REVEREND WRIGHT: As you know, the President had to be operated on and out of surgery by 9:00 when the stock market opened. And talking and wide awake. So, we scrubbed in, like, 3:00 in the morning.

When he awakened, unlike other patients, you did not move him to recovery. You didn't move him to ICU. They kept him right there for security reasons. Secret Service all around, there was secret service in the whole operating suite and nobody else allowed in the operating suite except Secret Service.

So, after about an hour and a half, I went to get some coffee. And as I was coming back from the lounge where the coffee was, going back to monitor, I saw the guys talkin' into their wristwatches and I was nodding, speaking to them. So, I turn to go into the room to check the pace. And secret service guys standing there grabbed me, knocked the coffee outta my hand, burned me with the hot coffee, twisted my arm up behind my neck and screams into his phone, "I got him." And I was, "Got him?" And I'm screamin' in pain. And my assistant comes running out of the booth. He sees me jacked up and he starts laughing. I said, "Joe, don't laugh. Tell him who I am." And he said, "He's been here all morning."

BILL MOYERS: Standing above the President.

REVEREND WRIGHT: Guy looked at me, pulled my mask up over face, "Oh, yeah." And that was it.

BILL MOYERS: After the military, Wright graduated from Howard University, then went to the University of Chicago Divinity School for a Masters in Religious History.

But his path took a turn back to his first calling - when he was asked by that struggling little church on the South Side of Chicago to become its pastor.

BILL MOYERS: So, when you looked out on that handful of worshippers that first Sunday morning, 87 members, I'm sure all of them weren't there--

REVEREND WRIGHT: Oh, yeah. They all knew they heard this new kid was there with a big natural. So, they came to see--

BILL MOYERS: They were there.


BILL MOYERS: So, what did you see and what did you think you had to do?

REVEREND WRIGHT: Well, actually a good friend of yours, I believe, and one of my professors, got me in the predicament I'm in today, Dr. Martin Marty, one of my professors at the University of Chicago--

BILL MOYERS: One of the great distinguished historians of religion in America.

REVEREND WRIGHT: He put a challenge to us in 1970, late '69, early '70, I'll never forget. He said, "You know, you come into the average church on a Sunday morning and you think you've stepped from the real world into a fantasy world. And what do I mean by that?" He said pick up the church bulletin. You leave a world, Vietnam, or today you leave a world, Iraq, over 4,000 dead, American boys and girls, 100,000, 200,000 depending on which count, Iraqi dead.

Afghanistan, Darfur, rapes in the Congo, Katrina, Lower Ninth Ward, that's the world you leave.

And you come in; you pick up your church bulletin. It says, there is a ladies tea on second Sunday. The children's choir will be doing. He said, "How come our bulletins, how come the faith preached in our churches does not relate to the world in which our church members leave at the benediction?" Well, it hit me. And it hit me several different ways. Number one, I know there's a church publication, the bulletin, the weekly bulletin. But what about the ministry? And what about the prophetic voice of the church that's not heard? We're talking about things that our members are wrestling with a whole bunch of other things. And the sermons and the ministries of the church don't touch those things.

So, when, I looked and said this church had said to me, in fact not just to me, the church, the congregation has said, "OK, we were started by a white denomination. We were started in this community to be an integrated church. Ten years, that hasn't happened. Are we gonna be a black church in this community? What are we doing for this community?" They put together a statement that shows all the candidates for the pulpit. I was one of the candidates. They said, "Can you lead us in this new direction? How do we minister to this community in which we sit?"

Not just on Sunday, first you have to attract people to come-- or even be interested in our worship experiences on Sunday. But what do we do in ministry that speaks to the community and the world in which we sit? That's Martin Marty. That's Martin Marty.

BILL MOYERS: Marty told me that you launched a strenuous effort to help the members of that church overcome the shame, and I'm quoting him, "they had so long been conditioned to experience." What was the source of that shame?

REVEREND WRIGHT: What Carter G. Woodson calls the miseducation of the Negro. That Africa is ignorant, Africans are ignorant; there is no African history, there is no African music, there is no African culture, anything related to Africa is negative, therefore you are not African.

Chinese come to the country, they're still Chinese-American. We have Chinatown. Koreans come, they're still Korean. They have Koreatown. Africans come, they're colored. They're Negro.

They're anything but Africa. In fact, we don't even call them Ebbu, Ebibu, Fulani, Fanti, Ga, no, no, no -- they're all "Negro." Portuguese, "Negro" Spanish. They're all gettin' lumped into black, but we're not black, we are Negro with a capital N.

The shame of being a descendant of Africa, was a shame that had been pumped into the minds and hearts of Africans from the 1600s on, even aided and abetted by the benefit of those schools started by the missionaries, who simply carried their culture with them into the South and taught their cultures being synonymous with Christianity. So that to become a Christian, you had to let go of all vestiges of Africa and become European, become New Englanders and worship like New England, worship God properly and right. Well, that shame was a part of the shame that many Africans in the '60s and the '70s were feeling.

Dr Reuben Sheares is my predecessor -- he was the interim pastor at Trinity -- coined the phrase "unashamedly black," where blacks coming outta the '60s were no longer ashamed of being black people, nor did they have to apologize for being Christians. Because many persons in the African-American community were teasing us, Christians, of being a white man's religion.

And no, we're not ashamed of Christianity. And we don't have to apologize for who we are as African-Americans. So that, I think, is what Marty was talking about.

BILL MOYERS: So, when Trinity Church says it is unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian, is it embracing a race-based theology?

REVEREND WRIGHT: No, it is not. It is embracing Christianity without giving up Africanity. A lotta the missionaries were going to other countries assuming that our culture is superior, that you have no culture. And to be a Christian, you must be like us. Right now, you can go to Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, and see Christians in 140-degree weather. They have to have on a tie. Because that's what it means to be a Christian. Well, it's that kind of assuming that our culture, "We have the only sacred music. You must sing our music. You must use a pipe organ. You cannot use your instrument." It's that kind of assumption that in the field of missions, people say, "You know what? We're doing this wrong. We need to take Christ and leave culture at home. We need to learn the culture of people into which we're moving, and preach the methods of Jesus Christ using the culture that we are a part of." Well, the same thing happened with Christians in this country when they said, "You know what? Because those same missionaries who went south, they didn't let us sing gospel music." That was not sacred--

BILL MOYERS: They were singin' the great Anglican hymns.

REVEREND WRIGHT: Correct, correct. And make sure you use correct diction. Well, the-- Africans in the late-- African-Americans in the late '60s started saying, "You know, no, no, no, no, no, no, no." Even-- I was in Virginia Union, I was soloist at Virginia Union in the college, in the concert choir. We were not allowed to sing anything but anthems and spirituals. The same thing with the Howard University concert choir. The same thing with all the historical black choirs until '68. When King got killed, black kids started saying wait a minute. We're not givin' up who we are as black people to become-- to show somebody else that we -- in fact, the music majors at Howard when I was-- teaching assistant at La Vern they said to the choir director there, "We're tired of singin' German Lieder and Italian aria to prove to you that we-- you know, we can sing foreign songs. But we have our own music tradition." Prior to '68, there was no gospel music at Howard University. Prior to '68, there was no jazz major. The white universities are giving Count Basie and Duke Ellington degrees. We don't even the jazz course. We don't have blues. We don't have any of our music on this black college campus. Because the missionaries had not allowed us to teach our own music.

And at that point in history, all across the country and all across denominational lines, the-- the college-age kids started saying, no more. No mas. Nada mas. We're gonna do our people. We're gonna do our culture. We're gonna do our history. And we're gonna embrace it and not put-- to say one is superior to the other. Because we are different. And different does not mean deficient, that we just different like snowflakes. We're different. We talk about God of diversity? God has diverse culture, God has -and we're proud of who we are because that's the statement the congregation was making, not a race-based theology.

BILL MOYERS: So, God is not, contrary to some of the rumors that have been circulated about Trinity, God is not exclusively or totally identified with just the black community?

REVEREND WRIGHT: Of course not. God-- I think Jesus said to Nicodemus, "God should love the world," not just the black community-- that we have our church is what some would call multicultural. We not only have Hispanic members, we not only have members--

BILL MOYERS: When you said, "No mas," I was gonna say that's not a spiritual. That's not out of the spirituals or the blues.

REVEREND WRIGHT: We have members from Cuba. We have members from Puerto Rico. We have members from Belize. We have members from all of the Caribbean islands. We have members from South Africa, from West Africa, and we have white members.

BILL MOYERS: What does the church service on Sunday morning mean in general to the black community?

REVEREND WRIGHT: It means many things. I think one of the things the church service means is hope. That tell me that there is hope in this life, almost like Psalm 27 when David said, "I would have fainted unless I lived to see the goodness of the right in this life." Don't tell me about heaven. What about in this life-- that there is a better way, that this is not in vain, that it is not Edward Albee or Camus' absurd, the theater of the absurd. It is not Shakespeare full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. That life has meaning and that God is still in control, and that God can, and God will, some people of goodwill working hard do something about the situation.

We can change. We can do better. We can change policy. We can look back and say, "Well, 40 years ago when King was alive, we did not have right before his death, a civil rights act. We did not have a voting rights act." So, change is possible. But I'm getting my head whipped. The average member in the black church five days a week, "tell me that this is not all there is to this." So, they come looking for hope. And as we've tried to do, move a hurt. People who are marginalized, marginalized in the educational system, marginalized in the socioeconomic system -- to move them from hurt to healing, that there is really is a balm in Gilead.

BILL MOYERS: Are you saying that the members of Trinity leave the world of unemployment, leave the world of discrimination, leave the world of that daily struggle and come to church for-
REVEREND WRIGHT: For encouragement, to go back out and make a difference in their world.

To go back out and change that world, to not just talk about heaven by and by, but to get equipped and to get to know that we are not alone in this struggle, and that the struggle can make a difference. Not to leave that world and pretend that we are now in some sort of fantasy land, as Martin Marty called it, but that we serve a God who comes into history on the side of the oppressed. That we serve a God who cares about the poor. That we serve a God who says that as much as you've done unto the least of these, my little ones, you've done unto me, so that we are not alone. Because that same God says I'm with you, and I'm with you in the struggle.

Our United Church of Christ says courage and the struggle for justice and peace that is an ongoing struggle.

BILL MOYERS: Lots of controversy about black liberation theology. As I understand it, black liberation theology reads the bible through the experience of people who have suffered, and who then are able to say to themselves that we read the bible differently, because we have struggled, than those do who have not struggled. Is that a fair bumper sticker of liberation theology?

REVEREND WRIGHT: I think that's a fair bumper sticker. I think that the terms "liberation theology" or "black liberation theology" cause more problems and red flags for people who don't understand it.

BILL MOYERS: When I hear the word "black liberation theology" being the interpretation of scripture from the oppressed, I think well, that's the Jewish story--

REVEREND WRIGHT: Exactly, exactly. From Genesis to Revelation. These are people who wrote the word of God that we honor and love under Egyptian oppression, Syrian oppression, Babylonian oppression, Persian oppression, Greek oppression, Roman oppression. So that their understanding of what God is saying is very different from the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians. And that's what prophetic theology of the African-American church is.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah. But talk a little bit about that. The prophets loved Israel. But they hated the waywardness of Israel. And they were calling Israel out of love back to justice, not damning--


BILL MOYERS: Not damning Israel. Right?

REVEREND WRIGHT: Right. They were saying that God was-- in fact, if you look at the damning, condemning, if you look at Deuteronomy, it talks about blessings and curses, how God doesn't bless everything. God does not bless gang-bangers. God does not bless dope dealers. God does not bless young thugs that hit old women upside the head and snatch their purse. God does not bless that. God does not bless the killing of babies. God does not bless the killing of enemies.

And when you look at blessings and curses out of that Hebrew tradition from the book of Deuteronomy, that's what the prophets were saying, that God is not blessing this. God does not bless it- bless us. And when we're calling them, the prophets call them to repentance and to come back to God. If my people who are called by my name, God says to Solomon, will humble themselves and pray, seek my faith and turn from their wicked ways. God says that wicked ways, not Jeremiah Wright, then will I hear from heaven.

BILL MOYERS: One of the most controversial sermons that you preach is the sermon you preach that ended up being that sound bite about Goddamn America.

REVEREND JEREMIAH WRIGHT (SERMON TAPE): Where governments lie, God does not lie.

Where governments change, God does not change. And I'm through now. But let me leave you with one more thing. Governments fail. The government in this text comprised of Caesar, Cornelius, Pontius Pilate - the Roman government failed. The British government used to rule from East to West. The British government had a Union Jack. She colonized Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Hong Kong. Her navies ruled the seven seas all the way down to the tip of Argentina in the Falklands, but the British government failed. The Russian government failed. The Japanese government failed. The German government failed.

And the United States of America government, when it came to treating her citizens of Indian descent fairly, she failed. She put them on reservations. When it came to treating her citizens of Japanese descent fairly, she failed. She put them in internment prison camps. When it came to treating citizens of African descent fairly, America failed. She put them in chains. The government put them on slave quarters, put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton fields, put them in inferior schools, put them in substandard housing, put them in scientific experiments, put them in the lowest paying jobs, put them outside the equal protection of the law, kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education and locked them into position of hopelessness and helplessness. The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law, and then wants us to sing God bless America? No, no, no. Not God bless America; God damn America! That's in the Bible, for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating her citizen as less than human. God damn America as long as she keeps trying to act like she is God and she is supreme!

BILL MOYERS: What did you mean when you said that?

REVEREND WRIGHT: When you start confusing God and government, your allegiances to government -a particular government and not to God, that you're in serious trouble because governments fail people. And governments change. And governments lie. And those three points of the sermon. And that is the context in which I was illustrating how the governments biblically and the governments since biblical times, up to our time, changed, how they failed, and how they lie. And when we start talking about my government right or wrong, I don't think that goes.

That is consistent with what the will of God says or the word of God says that governments don't say right or wrong. That governments that wanna kill innocents are not consistent with the will of God. And that you are made in the image of God, you're not made in the image of any particular government. We have the freedom here in this country to talk about that publicly, whereas some other places, you're dead if say the wrong thing about your government.
BILL MOYERS: Well, you can be almost crucified for saying what you've said here in this country.

REVEREND WRIGHT: That's true. That's true. But you can be crucified, you can be crucified publicly, you can be crucified by corporate-owned media. But I mean, what I just meant was, you can be killed in other countries by the government for saying that. Dr. King, of course, was vilified. And most of us forget that after he was assassinated, but the year before he was assassinated, April 4th, 1967 at the Riverside Church, he talked about racism, militarism and capitalism. He became vilified. He got ostracized not only by the majority of Americans in the press; he got vilified by his own community. They thought he had overstepped his bounds. He was no longer talking about civil rights and being able to sit down at lunch counters that he should not talk about things like the war in Vietnam. He preached--

BILL MOYERS: Lyndon Johnson was furious at that. As you know-

REVEREND WRIGHT: I'm sure he was.

BILL MOYERS: That's where they broke.

REVEREND WRIGHT: And that's where a lot of the African-American community broke with him, too. He was vilified by Roger Wilkins' daddy, Roy Wilkins. Jackie Robinson. He was vilified by all of the Negro leaders who felt he'd overstepped his bounds talking about an unjust war.

And that part of King is not lifted up every year on January 15th. 1963, "I have a dream," was lifted up, and passages from that - sound bites if you will - from that march on Washington speech. But the King who preached the end of- "I've been to the mountaintop, I've looked over and I've seen the Promised Land, I might not get there with you,"- that part of the speech is talked about, not the fact that he was in Memphis siding with garbage collectors. Nothing about Resurrection City, nothing about the poor--

BILL MOYERS: Resurrection City was the march in Washington for the poor.

REVEREND WRIGHT: For the poor. That part of King is not talked about because we want to keep that away from the public eye, and the public memory, and it's been 40 years now.

BILL MOYERS: What is your notion of why so many Americans seem not to want to hear the full Monty - they don't want to seem to acknowledge that a nation capable of greatness is also capable of cruelty?

REVEREND WRIGHT: I think I come at that as a historian of religion. That we are miseducated as a people. Or because we're miseducated, you end up with the majority of the people not wanting to hear the truth. Because they would rather cling to what they are taught. James Washington, now a deceased church historian, says that after every revolution, the winners of that revolution write down what the revolution was about so that their children can learn it, whether it's true or not. They don't learn anything at all about the Arawak, they don't learn anything at all about the Seminole, the Cheek-Trail of Tears, the Cherokee. They don't learn anything. No, they don't learn that. What they learn is 1776, Crispus Attucks was the one black guy in there. Fight against the British, the- terrible. "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal while we're holding slaves." No, keep that part out. They learn that.

And they cling to that. And when you start trying to show them you only got a piece of the story, and lemme show you the rest of the story, you run into vitriolic hatred because you're desecrating our myth. You're desecrating what we hold sacred. And when you're holding sacred is a miseducational system that has not taught you the truth. I also think people don't understand condemn, D-E-M-N, D-A-M-N. They don't understand the root, the etymology of the word in terms of God condemning the practices that are against God's people. But again, what is happening is I talk a truth. Reading the scripture or the hermeneutic of a people who have-

BILL MOYERS: Hermeneutic?

REVEREND WRIGHT: Hermeneutic is an interpretation, it's the window from which you're looking is your hermeneutic. And when you don't realize that I've been framed- this whole thing has been framed through this window, there's another world out here that I'm not looking at or taking into account, it gives you a perspective that-- that is-- that is informed by and limited by your hermeneutic. Dr. James Cone put it this way. The God of the people who riding on the decks of the slave ship is not the God of the people who are riding underneath the decks as slaves in chains. If the God you're praying to, "Bless our slavery" is not the God to whom these people are praying, saying, "God, get us out of slavery." And it's not like Notre Dame playing Michigan. You're saying flip a coin; hope God blesses the winning team, no. That the perception of God who allows slavery, who allows rape, who allows misogyny, who allows sodomy, who allows murder of a people, lynching, that's not the God of the people being lynched and sodomized and raped, and carried away into a foreign country. Same thing you find in Psalm 137.

That those people who are carried away into slavery have a very different concept of what it means to be the people of God than the ones who carried them away.

BILL MOYERS: And they say, "How can we sing the song of the Lord of a foreign land?"


BILL MOYERS: That chapter ends up with some very brutal words.


BILL MOYERS: You used them in one of your sermons--

REVEREND WRIGHT: Yes, I did. I was trying to show how people- how the anger- and we felt anger. I felt anger. I felt hurt. I felt pain. In fact, September 11th, I was in Newark. September 11th, I was trapped in Newark 'cause when they shut down the air system I couldn't get back to Chicago. September 11th, I looked out the window and saw the second plane hit from my hotel window. Alright, I had members who lost loved ones both at the Pentagon and at the World Trade Center. So, I know the pain. And I had to preach to them Sunday. I had to preach. They came to church wanting to know where is God in this. And so, I had to show them using that Psalm 137, how the people who were carried away into slavery were very angry, very bitter, moved and in their anger from wanting revenge against the armies that had carried them away to slavery, to the babies. That Psalm ends up sayin' "Let's kill the baby-let's bash their heads against the stone." So, now you move from revolt and revulsion as to what has happened to you, to you want revenge. You move from anger with the military to taking it out on the innocents.

You wanna kill babies. That's what's going on in Psalm 137. And that's exactly where we are. We want revenge. They wanted revenge. God doesn't wanna leave you there, however. God wants redemption. God wants wholeness. And that's the context, the biblical context I used to try to get people sitting again, in that sanctuary on that Sunday following 9/11, who wanted to know where is God in this? What is God saying? What is God saying? Because I want revenge.

REVEREND WRIGHT (SERMON TAPE): The people of faith have moved from the hatred of armed enemies, these soldiers who captured the king, those soldiers who slaughtered his son and put his eyes out, the soldiers who sacked the city, burned the towns, burned the temples, burned the towers, and moved from the hatred for armed enemies to the hatred of unarmed innocents, the babies, the babies . "Blessed are they who dash your baby's brains against a rock." And that my beloved is a dangerous place to be. Yet, that is where the people of faith are in 551 BC and that is where far too many people of faith are in 2001 AD. We have moved from the hatred of armed enemies to the hatred of unarmed innocents. We want revenge. We want paybacks and we don't care who gets hurt in the process.

I heard Ambassador Peck on an interview yesterday. Did anybody else see him or hear him? He was on Fox news. This is a white man and he was upsetting the Fox news commentators to no end. He pointed out. You see him John? A white man he pointed out -an Ambassador! He pointed out that what Malcolm X said when he got silenced by Elijah Mohammad was in fact true. America's chickens are coming home to roost! We took this country by terror away from the Sioux, the Apache, the Arawak, the Comanche, the Arapaho, the Navajo. Terrorism! We took Africans from their country to build our way of ease and kept them enslaved and living in fear.

Terrorism! We bombed Grenada and killed innocent civilians, babies, non-military personnel.

We bombed the black civilian community of Panama with stealth bombers and killed unarmed teenagers and toddlers, pregnant mothers and hard-working fathers. We bombed Gadafi's home and killed his child. "Blessed are they who bash your children's head against a rock!" We bombed Iraq. We killed unarmed civilians trying to make a living. We bombed a plant in Sudan to payback for the attack on our embassy. Killed hundreds of hard-working people; mothers and fathers who left home to go that day, not knowing that they would never get back home. We bombed Hiroshima! We bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye! Kids playing in the playground, mothers picking up children after school, civilians - not soldiers - people just trying to make it day by day.

We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and Black South Africans, and now we are indignant? Because the stuff we have done overseas has now been brought back into our own front yards! America's chickens are coming home to roost! Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred and terrorism begets terrorism. A White Ambassador said that y'all not a Black Militant. Not a Reverend who preaches about racism. An Ambassador whose eyes are wide open, and who's trying to get us to wake up and move away from this dangerous precipice upon which we are now poised--

BILL MOYERS: You preached that sermon on the Sunday after 9-11 -- almost 7 years ago.

When people saw the sound bites from it this year, they were upset because you seemed to be blaming America. Did you somehow fail to communicate?

REVEREND WRIGHT: The persons who have heard the entire sermon understand the communication perfectly. What is not the failure to communicate is when something is taken like a sound bite for a political purpose and put constantly over and over again, looped in the face of the public. That's not a failure to communicate. Those who are doing that are communicating exactly what they wanna do, which is to paint me as some sort of fanatic or as the learned journalist from the New York Times called me, a "wack-a-doodle." It's to paint me as something. Something's wrong with me. There's nothing wrong with this country. There's -its policies. We're perfect. We-our hands are free. Our hands have no blood on them. That's not a failure to communicate. The message that is being communicated by the sound bites is exactly what those pushing those sound bites want to communicate.

BILL MOYERS: What do you think they wanted to communicate?

REVEREND WRIGHT: I think they wanted to communicate that I am- unpatriotic, that I am un-American, that I am filled with hate speech, that I have a cult at Trinity United Church of Christ. And, by the way, guess who goes to his church, hint, hint, hint? That's what they wanted to communicate. They know nothing about the church. They know nothing about our prison ministry. They know nothing about our food share ministry. They know nothing about our senior citizens home. They know nothing about all we try to do as a church and have tried to do, and still continue to do as a church that believes what Martin Marty said, that the two worlds have to be together-the world before church and the world after postlude. And that the gospel of Jesus Christ has to speak to those worlds, not only in terms of the preached message on a Sunday morning but in terms of the lived-out ministry throughout the week.

BILL MOYERS: What did you think when you began to see those very brief sound bites circulating as they did?

REVEREND WRIGHT: I felt it was unfair. I felt it was unjust. I felt it was untrue. I felt for those who were doing that, were doing it for some very devious reasons.


REVEREND WRIGHT: To put an element of fear and hatred and to stir up the anxiety of American who still don't know the African-American church, know nothing about the prophetic theology of the African-American experience, who know nothing about the black church, who don't even know how we got a black church.

BILL MOYERS: What can you tell me about what's happened at the church since this controversy broke?

REVEREND WRIGHT: Well, the church members are very upset. Because they know it's a lie, the things that are being broadcast. Church members have been very supportive. The church members have been upset by behavior of some of the media; picking up church bulletins to get the names and addresses and phone numbers of the sick and shut-in, calling them to try to get stories. One lady they called in hospice. My members are very upset about that, our members are very upset about that. Our members are very upset about that. Our members know that this is what the media is doing. And our members know they're only doing it because of the political campaign. What have we gotten into here? People threatening, you know, Christians, some of 'em, threatening us, quoting scripture and telling us how they're going to wipe us off the face of the earth in the name of Jesus

BILL MOYERS: There had been death threats?

REVEREND WRIGHT: Yes, there have. At, both on myself and on Pastor Moss, and bomb threats at the church.

BILL MOYERS: Did you ever imagine that you would come to personify the black anger that so many whites fear?

REVEREND WRIGHT: No. I did not. I have been preaching as I've been preaching since I was ordained 41 years ago. I pointed out to some of the persons in Chicago who find all of this, new to them that the stance I took in standing against apartheid along with our denomination back in the '70s and putting a "Free South Africa" sign in front of the church put me at odds with the government. Our denomination's defense of the Wilmington Ten and Ben Chavis put me at odds with the establishment. So, being at odds with policies is nothing new to me. The blow up and the blowing up of sermons preached ten, fifteen, seven, six years ago and now becoming a media event, not the full sermon, but the snippets from the sermon and sound bite having made me the target of hatred. Yes, that is something very new and something very, very unsettling.

BILL MOYERS: I think of how important music is to your church at times like this, that's intentional isn't it?

REVEREND WRIGHT: It is. It's been a part of our tradition. And what I tried to do again in bringing together, how do you take a people who are hurting and bring healing? How do you take a people who are suffocating with hate and give them hope? Well, a part is through the musical tradition. One of the things in our tradition that I mentioned a moment ago that's so key is blues.

The Blues. We learned how to sing the blues. That's why suicide rate wasn't much higher. 'Cause we started singing the blues. Well people sittin' there every Sunday they know that tradition. Many of them, as they turn their keys off coming into church we're not listening to gospel music.

They were listening to our music out of our tradition. Blues, Doo-wops, rock and roll. Anita Baker. Luther Vandross. That's our music tradition. That's a part of what helps us hold it together. So it's the same thing that helps them to hold it together out there. Helps them to hold it together in here

BILL MOYERS: What is it you said about suicide?

REVEREND WRIGHT: Blacks learn how to sing the blues rather than just giving up on life. A guy's wife walks out on him with his best friend. And he's crushed. So what does he say? Instead of going out and taking a gun and killing he sings a song. "I'm going down to the railroad to lay my poor head on the track. I'm going down to the railroad to lay my poor head on the track.

"And when the locomotive comes I'm gonna pull my fool head back." I'm not giving up life over this. That life goes on beyond this. Pain is just for a moment. This whole notion about what we're going through is only a season. And this came to pass, didn't come to stay. That's what the blues do. And that's what the music tradition does. That's what the spirituals have done and that's what the gospel music has done, historically, in our church. So, yeah, trying to keep that as an integral part of worship is crucial for us.

BILL MOYERS: So what blues are you singing right now?

REVEREND WRIGHT: Don't know why they treat me so bad. I'm singing the sacred blues. The songs of our gospel tradition. That I'm so glad trouble don't last always. That, what man meant for evil, God meant for good. That what--

BILL MOYERS: What man meant for evil God meant for good.

REVEREND WRIGHT: That's a quote from Joseph, in the bible, the Book of Genesis.

BILL MOYERS: And what do you take that to mean?

REVEREND WRIGHT: That Human beings, many times, do things for nefarious purposes. And God can take that and turn something- make something good out of it. That, for instance, using that Joseph passage, when his brother sold him into slavery, and they thought, after daddy's gone, he's gonna get us. And Joseph reassured them by saying, "No, no, what you meant for evil, God has turned into something good. I'm not trying to do revenge or payback. In fact, restoration is what God is. And I restore you. As brothers, we're all brothers." That those sound bytes, those snippets were taken for nefarious purposes. That God can take that and do something very positive for it- with it. That, in Philadelphia, in response to the sound bytes, in response to the snippets, in Philadelphia Senator Obama made a very powerful speech in terms of our need as a nation to address the whole issue of race. That's something good that's already starting. That because of you guys playing these sound bytes now what's getting ready to happen as something very positive, and something very powerful that God can take what you meant to try to hurt somebody to help the nation come to grips with truth. To help a nation come to grips with miseducation. To help a nation come to grips with things we don't like to talk about. To help a nation--

BILL MOYERS: You know, you mentioned Senator Obama. In the 20 years that you've been your pastor, have you ever heard him repeat any of your controversial statements as his opinion?

REVEREND WRIGHT: No. No. No. Absolutely not. I don't talk to him about politics. And so here at a political event, he goes out as a politician and says what he has to say as a politician. I continue to be a pastor who speaks to the people of god about the things of God.

BILL MOYERS: Here is a man who came to see you 20 years ago wanting to know about the neighborhood. Barack Obama was a skeptic when it came to religion. He sought you out because he knew you knew about the community. You led him to the faith. You performed his wedding ceremony. You baptized his two children. You were, for 20 years, his spiritual counselor. He has said that. And, yet, he, in that speech at Philadelphia, had to say some hard things about you.

How, how did it go down with you when you heard Barack Obama say those things?

REVEREND WRIGHT: It went down very simply. He's a politician, I'm a pastor. We speak to two different audiences. And he says what he has to say as a politician. I say what I have to say as a pastor. Those are two different worlds. I do what I do. He does what politicians do. So that what happened in Philadelphia where he had to respond to the sound bytes, he responded as a politician. But he did not disown me because I'm a pastor.

BILL MOYERS: But even some of your admirers say it would be wrong to gloss over what Martin Marty himself called- who loves you- called your "abrasive edges." For example, you know, Louis Farrakhan lives in the south part of Chicago, doesn't he? You've had a long complicated relationship with him, right?


BILL MOYERS: And he, you know, he's expressed racist and anti-Semitic remarks. And, yet, last year-

REVEREND WRIGHT: Twenty years ago.

BILL MOYERS: Twenty years ago, but that's indefensible.

REVEREND WRIGHT: The Nation of Islam and Mr. Farrakhan have more African-American men off of drugs. More African-American men respecting themselves. More African-American men working for a living. Not gang banging. Not trying to get by. That's not indefensible in terms of how you make a difference in the prisons? Turning people's lives around. Giving people hope.

Getting people off drugs. That we don't believe the same things in terms of our specific faiths. He's Muslim, I'm Christian. We don't believe the same things he said years ago. But that has nothing to do with what he has done in terms of helping people change their lives for the better. I said direct quote was what? "Louis Farrakhan is like E.F. Hutton. When Lewis Farrakhan speaks, black America listens. They may not agree with him, but they're listening.

BILL MOYERS: What does it say to you that millions Americans, according to polls, still think Barack Obama is a Muslim?

REVEREND WRIGHT: It says to me that corporate media and miseducation or misinformation or disinformation, I think we started calling it during the Nixon years, still reigns supreme.

Thirty some percent of Americans still think there are weapons of mass destruction. That you tell a lie long enough that people start believing it. What does the media do? "Barack Hussein Obama! Barack Hussein Obama! Barack Hussein. It sounds like Osama, Obama. That Arabic is a language. So that's why many people still think he's a Muslim. He went to a madrasah. What's a madrasah? I don't know, but I know it was one of those Muslim schools that teaches terrorism.

The kind of I don't want to think, just tell me what to think mentality is why so many Americans still think that.

BILL MOYERS: Our denomination, the United Church of Christ has called for a sacred conversation on race in America. What are the steps that you think from all of your experience can be taken to move race relations forward?

REVEREND WRIGHT: I think there are many - to start using Bill Jones' paradigm, about how one sees God. Your theology determines one's anthropology. And how you see humans determines your sociology. To look at how we've come to see race, and in others of other races, based on our understanding of God who sees others as less than important. Less than my people.

And where in our religious traditions are there passages in our sacred scriptures that are racist? They're in the Vedas, the Babylonian Talmud, they're in the Koran, they're in the Bible. How do we grapple with these passages in our sacred texts? The same way you grapple with Judges:19, where it's alright for a preacher to have a concubine and cut her up into 12 pieces. We gotta argue with our texts that are, as we've been struggling with, battling with, wrestling with, anti-Semitic. The Christian, "The Jews killed Jesus." No, we gotta come to grips with, you know, these texts were written by certain people at certain times with certain racist understandings of others who are different. That different meant deficient. That doing that with adults and starting with kids. that begins the conversation that Senator Obama talked about that we need to have.

And re-writing the curriculum in our schools to tell the truth in our schools.

BILL MOYERS: Jeremiah Wright, thank you very much for this opportunity.

REVEREND WRIGHT: Well, thank you for having me Bill. Thank you sir.

BILL MOYERS: That's it for the JOURNAL. We'll see you next week and on line.

I'm Bill Moyers.

© 2007 Public Affairs Television. All Rights Reserved.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Cheney camp 'behind Syrian reactor claim'

Apr 25, 2008

US Government allegations that North Korea helped Syria build a nuclear reactor have been greeted with scepticism because of their timing.

Israeli jets bombed the alleged site in Syria's eastern desert last September.

Today, after months of whispers, the White House publicly claimed that the target of the strike was a nuclear reactor.

It said the reactor was being built with North Korean help and was not intended for peaceful purposes.

US intelligence officials said the reactor had been close to becoming operational when it was destroyed.

But Mike Chinoy, from the Pacific Council on International Policy, says the claim needs to be taken in its political context, as North Korea's denuclearisation reaches a critical stage.

"Everything I'm hearing from my own sources in Washington is that what you have now is a kind of push back by Vice-President [Dick] Cheney and his office and other hardliners who are opposed to diplomatic dealings with North Korea," he said.

"[They are] hoping that by making public these allegations of nuclear cooperation it will torpedo the diplomatic process."

Earlier White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the US would be continuing its six-country talks with North Korea.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Hacker testifies News Corp unit hired him

By Tori Richards
Apr 23, 2008

A computer hacker testified on Wednesday that a News Corp (NWSa.N) unit hired him to develop pirating software, but denied using it to penetrate the security system of a rival satellite television service.

Christopher Tarnovsky -- who said his first payment was $20,000 in cash hidden in electronic devices mailed from Canada -- testified in a corporate-spying lawsuit brought against News Corp's NDS Group (NNDS.O) by DISH Network Corp (DISH.O).

The trial could result in hundreds of millions of dollars in damage awards.

NDS, which provides security technology to a global satellite network that includes satellite TV service DirecTV, denies the claims, saying it was only engaged in reverse engineering -- looking at a technology product to determine how it works, a standard in the electronics industry.

After an introduction by plaintiff's attorney Chad Hagan as one of the "two best hackers in the world," Tarnovsky told the court that he was paid on a regular basis by Harper Collins, a publishing arm of News Corp, for 10 years.

Tarnovsky said one of his first projects was to develop a pirating program to make DirectTV more secure.

But lawyers for DISH Network claim Tarnovsky's mission was to hack into DISH's satellite network, steal the security code, then flood the market with pirated smart cards costing DISH $900 million in lost revenue and system-repair costs.

Smart cards enable satellite TV converter boxes to bring in premium channels.

The suit was brought by EchoStar Communications, which later split into two companies, DISH and EchoStar Corp, with DISH being the primary plaintiff.

"I never got money for reprogramming Echostar cards," Tarnovsky said. "Someone is trying to set me up."

DISH attorney Chad Hagan asked, "This is all a big conspiracy?"

"Yes," Tarnovsky answered. He conceded that he constructed a device called "the stinger" that could communicate with any smart card in the world.

Another hacker, Tony Dionisi, testified on Tuesday that Tarnovsky bragged about creating "the stinger" and that he knew of another hacker and NDS employee who reprogrammed 50 EchoStar smart cards with the device.

The trial is expected to last another two to three weeks. It is being heard in southern California because both Tarnovsky and NDS are located there.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A blunt former Fed chairman takes on Bernanke

Take heed of what he says

By Avner Mandelman
April 12, 2008

A few days ago an unusual event took place: Paul Volcker, the mythical U.S. Federal Reserve Board chairman from the Reagan years, criticized the policy of the current Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, in a speech to the Economic Club of New York.

Just so you grasp how extraordinary this was, you should first understand that normally a past Fed chairman scrupulously avoids saying anything at all about current Fed policy - for the simple reason that the current Fed chairman's words are one of his most important tools: They can sway markets.

This ability does not fade entirely when a Fed chairman leaves.

So when a past Fed chairman speaks, his words can clash with those of the present one and make that one's job difficult. Out of professional courtesy, past Fed chairmen therefore keep quiet; Mr. Volcker especially - the man who hiked interest rates to 20 per cent to kill inflation, at the cost of a deep recession. But last week Mr. Volcker spoke his mind bluntly. He said, in effect, that the current Fed is not doing its job.

This would have been unusual enough. But Mr. Volcker went further. Not only is the Fed not doing its job, he said, but it is doing the wrong job: It is defending the economy and the market, instead of defending the dollar. And just to stick the knife in, Mr. Volcker added that this bad job now will make the real job - defending the greenback - much harder later. It'll cause even greater economic suffering.

In plain words, Mr. Volcker implied that the current Fed is not only incompetent, but that its actions are dangerous.

There is no record of Mr. Bernanke's reaction, nor that of anyone else inside the Fed. But there was plenty of buzz in the market because what Mr. Volcker said amounted to a rousing call to raise interest rates. Yes, raise rates, and do it now.

Can you imagine what this would do to the market? I sure can, which brings me to the gap between physical economic reality as we witness it every day in our physical investigations, and the surreal market chatter we see and hear on TV. This gap has never been wider - but it will inevitably close as markets catch up to reality - as just forecast by former president Ronald Reagan's Fed chairman. Let me cite three items, then go back to Mr. Volcker.

First, commercial real estate. You surely have read about the residential real estate problems - subprime loans syndicated and resold, causing the implosion of several U.S. financial institutions. The writeoffs and damage here total close to a trillion dollars, said the IMF recently. That's about one-seventh of the U.S. gross domestic product, or more than three years of growth.

But what of commercial real estate? I heard recently from some savvy private real estate investors that although commercial real estate fell by 20 per cent, it should fall by a further 20 to 30 per cent before it provides a reasonable rate of return. So whatever economic damage was done to the economy by residential real estate speculation may eventually be equalled by commercial real estate. Say another 10th or seventh of GDP erased, or another two-three years of growth gone.

Second, there's also the war in Iraq. Some U.S. economists recently estimated it has cost about two trillion dollars to date - another two-sevenths of U.S. GDP. That's five more years of GDP growth gone.

And third, we haven't even begun to tally the private equity blowups that are surely coming.

Taken all together, the economic damage spells a very bad and long recession. How to fix it? No problem, say the actions of Mr. Bernanke's Fed. Let's print the missing money - and it doesn't matter if it causes inflation and tanks the dollar. Because that's not our job.

Up to now Mr. Volcker kept quiet, but no more. In his speech he just said, in effect, that the recession is not the Fed's problem. It's the government's. The Fed's job is to defend the currency and fight inflation - exactly the opposite of what this Fed is doing. The solution? Raise interest rates, Mr. Volcker practically said, no matter the consequences now, because if you don't, you'll have to raise them even more later, with even more awful consequences.

Will rates indeed rise? I have no doubt they must. Not now, perhaps, but at the end of this year or the beginning of 2009, with a new president in the White House. The stock market, which usually looks six to nine months ahead, already understands this and may soon react. In fact, when Mr. Volcker's words sink in, the markets are likely to sink as this bear market rally ends.

For surely you understand we are still in a bear market - and only in the beginning of it? Yes, we are experiencing a rally, and like most bear rallies, it is sharp and spiky. But when bear rallies end, they leave a lot of spiked bulls behind - and this rally should be no different. When it is over - in the next few weeks, methinks - the waterfall could continue, as the market begins to digest the inevitability of higher inflation and higher interest rates ahead.

Against all protocol, Mr. Volcker just went out on a limb and warned you of this. I urge you to heed his words.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Unraveling Iraq12 Answers to Questions No One Is Bothering to Ask about Iraq

by Tom Engelhardt
Common Dreams
April 21, 2008

Can there be any question that, since the invasion of 2003, Iraq has been unraveling? And here’s the curious thing: Despite a lack of decent information and analysis on crucial aspects of the Iraqi catastrophe, despite the way much of the Iraq story fell off newspaper front pages and out of the TV news in the last year, despite so many reports on the “success” of the President’s surge strategy, Americans sense this perfectly well. In the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, 56% of Americans “say the United States should withdraw its military forces to avoid further casualties” and this has, as the Post notes, been a majority position since January 2007, the month that the surge was first announced. Imagine what might happen if the American public knew more about the actual state of affairs in Iraq — and of thinking in Washington. So, here, in an attempt to unravel the situation in ever-unraveling Iraq are twelve answers to questions which should be asked far more often in this country:

1. Yes, the war has morphed into the U.S. military’s worst Iraq nightmare: Few now remember, but before George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, top administration and Pentagon officials had a single overriding nightmare — not chemical, but urban, warfare. Saddam Hussein, they feared, would lure American forces into “Fortress Baghdad,” as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld labeled it. There, they would find themselves fighting block by block, especially in the warren of streets that make up the Iraqi capital’s poorest districts.

When American forces actually entered Baghdad in early April 2003, however, even Saddam’s vaunted Republican Guard units had put away their weapons and gone home. It took five years but, as of now, American troops are indeed fighting in the warren of streets in Sadr City, the Shiite slum of two and a half million in eastern Baghdad largely controlled by Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia. The U.S. military, in fact, recently experienced its worst week of 2008 in terms of casualties, mainly in and around Baghdad. So, mission accomplished — the worst fear of 2003 has now been realized.

2. No, there was never an exit strategy from Iraq because the Bush administration never intended to leave — and still doesn’t: Critics of the war have regularly gone after the Bush administration for its lack of planning, including its lack of an “exit strategy.” In this, they miss the point. The Bush administration arrived in Iraq with four mega-bases on the drawing boards.

These were meant to undergird a future American garrisoning of that country and were to house at least 30,000 American troops, as well as U.S. air power, for the indefinite future. The term used for such places wasn’t “permanent base,” but the more charming and euphemistic “enduring camp.” (In fact, as we learned recently, the Bush administration refuses to define any American base on foreign soil anywhere on the planet, including ones in Japan for over 60 years, as permanent.) Those four monster bases in Iraq (and many others) were soon being built at the cost of multibillions and are, even today, being significantly upgraded. In October 2007, for instance, National Public Radio’s defense correspondent Guy Raz visited Balad Air Base, north of Baghdad, which houses about 40,000 American troops, contractors, and Defense Department civilian employees, and described it as “one giant construction project, with new roads, sidewalks, and structures going up across this 16-square-mile fortress in the center of Iraq, all with an eye toward the next few decades.”

These mega-bases, like “Camp Cupcake” (al-Asad Air Base), nicknamed for its amenities, are small town-sized with massive facilities, including PXs, fast-food outlets, and the latest in communications. They have largely been ignored by the American media and so have played no part in the debate about Iraq in this country, but they are the most striking on-the-ground evidence of the plans of an administration that simply never expected to leave. To this day, despite the endless talk about drawdowns and withdrawals, that hasn’t changed. In fact, the latest news about secret negotiations for a future Status of Forces Agreement on the American presence in that country indicates that U.S. officials are calling for “an open-ended military presence” and “no limits on numbers of U.S. forces, the weapons they are able to deploy, their legal status or powers over Iraqi citizens, going far beyond long-term U.S. security agreements with other countries.”

3. Yes, the United States is still occupying Iraq (just not particularly effectively): In June 2004, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), then ruling the country, officially turned over “sovereignty” to an Iraqi government largely housed in the American-controlled Green Zone in Baghdad and the occupation officially ended. However, the day before the head of the CPA, L. Paul Bremer III, slipped out of the country without fanfare, he signed, among other degrees, Order 17, which became (and, remarkably enough, remains) the law of the land. It is still a document worth reading as it essentially granted to all occupying forces and allied private companies what, in the era of colonialism, used to be called “extraterritoriality” — the freedom not to be in any way subject to Iraqi law or jurisdiction, ever. And so the occupation ended without ever actually ending. With 160,000 troops still in Iraq, not to speak of an unknown number of hired guns and private security contractors, the U.S. continues to occupy the country, whatever the legalities might be (including a UN mandate and the claim that we are part of a “coalition”). The only catch is this: As of now, the U.S. is simply the most technologically sophisticated and potentially destructive of Iraq’s proliferating militias — and outside the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, it is capable of controlling only the ground that its troops actually occupy at any moment.

4. Yes, the war was about oil: Oil was hardly mentioned in the mainstream media or by the administration before the invasion was launched. The President, when he spoke of Iraq’s vast petroleum reserves at all, piously referred to them as the sacred “patrimony of the people of Iraq.” But an administration of former energy execs — with a National Security Advisor who once sat on the board of Chevron and had a double-hulled oil tanker, the Condoleezza Rice, named after her (until she took office), and a Vice President who was especially aware of the globe’s potentially limited energy supplies — certainly had oil reserves and energy flows on the brain. They knew, in Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz’s apt phrase, that Iraq was afloat on “a sea of oil” and that it sat strategically in the midst of the oil heartlands of the planet.

It wasn’t a mistake that, in 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney’s semi-secret Energy Task Force set itself the “task” of opening up the energy sectors of various Middle Eastern countries to “foreign investment”; or that it scrutinized “a detailed map of Iraq’s oil fields, together with the (non-American) oil companies scheduled to develop them”; or that, according to the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, the National Security Council directed its staff “to cooperate fully with the Energy Task Force as it considered the ‘melding’ of two seemingly unrelated areas of policy: ‘the review of operational policies towards rogue states,’ such as Iraq, and ‘actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields’”; or that the only American troops ordered to guard buildings in Iraq, after Baghdad fell, were sent to the Oil Ministry (and the Interior Ministry, which housed Saddam Hussein’s dreaded secret police); or that the first “reconstruction” contract was issued to Cheney’s former firm, Halliburton, for “emergency repairs” to those patrimonial oil fields. Once in charge in Baghdad, as sociologist Michael Schwartz has made clear, the administration immediately began guiding recalcitrant Iraqis toward denationalizing and opening up their oil industry, as well as bringing in the big boys.

Though rampant insecurity has kept the Western oil giants on the sidelines, the American-shaped “Iraqi” oil law quickly became a “benchmark” of “progress” in Washington and remains a constant source of prodding and advice from American officials in Baghdad. Former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan put the oil matter simply and straightforwardly in his memoir in 2007: “I am saddened,” he wrote, “that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” In other words, in a variation on the old Bill Clinton campaign mantra: It’s the oil, stupid. Greenspan was, unsurprisingly, roundly assaulted for the obvious naiveté of his statement, from which, when it proved inconvenient, he quickly retreated. But if this administration hadn’t had oil on the brain in 2002-2003, given the importance of Iraq’s reserves, Congress should have impeached the President and Vice President for that.

5. No, our new embassy in Baghdad is not an “embassy”: When, for more than three-quarters of a billion dollars, you construct a complex — regularly described as “Vatican-sized” — of at least 20 “blast-resistant” buildings on 104 acres of prime Baghdadi real estate, with “fortified working space” and a staff of at least 1,000 (plus several thousand guards, cooks, and general factotums), when you deeply embunker it, equip it with its own electricity and water systems, its own anti-missile defense system, its own PX, and its own indoor and outdoor basketball courts, volleyball court, and indoor Olympic-size swimming pool, among other things, you haven’t built an “embassy” at all. What you’ve constructed in the heart of the heart of another country is more than a citadel, even if it falls short of a city-state. It is, at a minimum, a monument to Bush administration dreams of domination in Iraq and in what its adherents once liked to call “the Greater Middle East.”

Just about ready to open, after the normal construction mishaps in Iraq, it will constitute the living definition of diplomatic overkill. It will, according to a Senate estimate, now cost Americans $1.2 billion a year just to be “represented” in Iraq. The “embassy” is, in fact, the largest headquarters on the planet for the running of an occupation. Functionally, it is also another well-fortified enduring camp with the amenities of home. Tell that to the Shiite militiamen now mortaring the Green Zone as if it were… enemy-occupied territory.

6. No, the Iraqi government is not a government: The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has next to no presence in Iraq beyond the Green Zone; it delivers next to no services; it has next to no ability to spend its own oil money, reconstruct the country, or do much of anything else, and it most certainly does not hold a monopoly on the instruments of violence. It has no control over the provinces of northern Iraq which operate as a near-independent Kurdish state. Non-Kurdish Iraqi troops are not even allowed on its territory. Maliki’s government cannot control the largely Sunni provinces of the country, where its officials are regularly termed “the Iranians” (a reference to the heavily Shiite government’s closeness to neighboring Iran) and are considered the equivalent of representatives of a foreign occupying power; and it does not control the Shiite south, where power is fragmented among the militias of ISCI (the Badr Organization), Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, and the armed adherents of the Fadila Party, a Sadrist offshoot, among others.

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has been derisively nicknamed “the mayor of Kabul” for his government’s lack of control over much territory outside the national capital. It would be a step forward for Maliki if he were nicknamed “the mayor of Baghdad.” Right now, his troops, heavily backed by American forces, are fighting for some modest control over Shiite cities (or parts of cities) from Basra to Baghdad.

7. No, the surge is not over: Two weeks ago, amid much hoopla, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker spent two days before Congress discussing the President’s surge strategy in Iraq and whether it has been a “success.” But that surge — the ground one in which an extra 30,000-plus American troops were siphoned into Baghdad and, to a lesser extent, adjoining provinces — was by then already so over. In fact, all but about 10,000 of those troops will be home by the end of July, not because the President has had any urge for a drawdown, but, as Fred Kaplan of Slate wrote recently, “because of simple math. The five extra combat brigades, which were deployed to Iraq with the surge, each have 15-month tours of duty; the 15 months will be up in July… and the U.S. Army and Marines have no combat brigades ready to replace them.”

On the other hand, in all those days of yak, neither the general with so much more “martial bling” on his chest than any victorious World War II commander, nor the white-haired ambassador uttered a word about the surge that is ongoing — the air surge that began in mid-2007 and has yet to end. Explain it as you will, but, with rare exceptions, American reporters in Iraq generally don’t look up or more of them would have noticed that the extra air units surged into that country and the region in the last year are now being brought to bear over Iraq’s cities. Today, as fighting goes on in Sadr City, American helicopters and Hellfire-missile armed Predator drones reportedly circle overhead almost constantly and air strikes of various kinds on city neighborhoods are on the rise. Yet the air surge in Iraq remains unacknowledged here and so is not a subject for discussion, debate, or consideration when it comes to our future in Iraq.

8. No, the Iraqi army will never “stand up”: It can’t. It’s not a national army. It’s not that Iraqis can’t fight — or fight bravely. Ask the Sunni insurgents. Ask the Mahdi Army militia of Muqtada al-Sadr. It’s not that Iraqis are incapable of functioning in a national army. In the bitter Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88, Iraqi Shiite as well as Sunni conscripts, led by a largely Sunni officer corps, fought Iranian troops fiercely in battle after pitched battle. But from Fallujah in 2004 to today, Iraqi army (and police) units, wheeled into battle (often at the behest of the Americans), have regularly broken and run, or abandoned their posts, or gone over to the other side, or, at the very least, fought poorly. In the recent offensive launched by the Maliki government in Basra, military and police units up against a single resistant militia, the Mahdi Army, deserted in sizeable numbers, while other units, when not backed by the Americans, gave poor showings. At least 1,300 troops and police (including 37 senior police officers) were recently “fired” by Maliki for dereliction of duty, while two top commanders were removed as well.

Though American training began in 2004 and, by 2005, the President was regularly talking about us “standing down” as soon as the Iraqi Army “stood up,” as Charles Hanley of the Associated Press points out, “Year by year, the goal of deploying a capable, free-standing Iraqi army has seemed to always slip further into the future.” He adds, “In the latest shift, the Pentagon’s new quarterly status report quietly drops any prediction of when local units will take over security responsibility for Iraq. Last year’s reports had forecast a transition in 2008.” According to Hanley, the chief American trainer of Iraqi forces, Lt. Gen. James Dubik, now estimates that the military will not be able to guard the country’s borders effectively until 2018.

No wonder. The “Iraqi military” is not in any real sense a national military at all. Its troops generally lack heavy weaponry, and it has neither a real air force nor a real navy. Its command structures are integrated into the command structure of the U.S. military, while the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy are the real Iraqi air force and navy. It is reliant on the U.S. military for much of its logistics and resupply, even after an investment of $22 billion by the American taxpayer. It represents a non-government, is riddled with recruits from Shiite militias (especially the Badr brigades), and is riven about who its enemy is (or enemies are) and why. It cannot be a “national” army because it has, in essence, nothing to stand up for.

You can count on one thing, as long as we are “training” and “advising” the Iraqi military, however many years down the line, you will read comments like this one from an American platoon sergeant, after an Iraqi front-line unit abandoned its positions in the ongoing battle for control of parts of Sadr City: “It bugs the hell out of me. We don’t see any progress being made at all. We hear these guys in firefights. We know if we are not up there helping these guys out we are making very little progress.”

9. No, the U.S. military does not stand between Iraq and fragmentation: The U.S. invasion and the Bush administration’s initial occupation policies decisively smashed Iraq’s fragile “national” sense of self. Since then, the Bush administration, a motor for chaos and fragmentation, has destroyed the national (if dictatorial) government, allowed the capital and much of the country (as well as its true patrimony of ancient historical objects and sites) to be looted, disbanded the Iraqi military, and deconstructed the national economy. Ever since, whatever the administration rhetoric, the U.S. has only presided over the further fragmentation of the country. Its military, in fact, employs a specific policy of urban fragmentation in which it regularly builds enormous concrete walls around neighborhoods, supposedly for “security” and “reconstruction,” that actually cut them off from their social and economic surroundings. And, of course, Iraq has in these years been fragmented in other staggering ways with an estimated four-plus million Iraqis driven into exile abroad or turned into internal refugees.

According to Pepe Escobar of the Asia Times, there are now at least 28 different militias in the country. The longer the U.S. remains even somewhat in control, the greater the possibility of further fragmentation. Initially, the fragmentation was sectarian — into Kurdish, Sunni, and Shia regions, but each of those regions has its own potentially hostile parts and so its points of future conflict and further fragmentation. If the U.S. military spent the early years of its occupation fighting a Sunni insurgency in the name of a largely Shiite (and Kurdish) government, it is now fighting a Shiite militia, while paying and arming former Sunni insurgents, relabeled “Sons of Iraq.” Iran is also clearly sending arms into a country that is, in any case, awash in weaponry.

Without a real national government, Iraq has descended into a welter of militia-controlled neighborhoods, city states, and provincial or regional semi-governments. Despite all the talk of American-supported “reconciliation,” Juan Cole described the present situation well at his Informed Comment blog: “Maybe the US in Iraq is not the little boy with his finger in the dike.

Maybe we are workers with jackhammers instructed to make the hole in the dike much more huge.”

10. No, the U.S. military does not stand between Iraq and civil war: As with fragmentation, the U.S. military’s presence has, in fact, been a motor for civil war in that country. The invasion and subsequent chaos, as well as punitive acts against the Sunni minority, allowed Sunni extremists, some of whom took the name “al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia,” to establish themselves as a force in the country for the first time. Later, U.S. military operations in both Sunni and Shiite areas regularly repressed local militias — almost the only forces capable of bringing some semblance of security to urban neighborhoods — opening the way for the most extreme members of the other community (Sunni suicide or car bombers and Shiite death squads) to attack. It’s worth remembering that it was in the surge months of 2007, when all those extra American troops hit Baghdad neighborhoods, that many of the city’s mixed or Sunni neighborhoods were most definitively “cleansed” by death squads, producing a 75-80% Shiite capital. Iraq is now embroiled in what Juan Cole has termed “three civil wars,” two of which (in the south and the north) are largely beyond the reach of limited American ground forces and all of which could become far worse. The still low-level struggle between Kurds and Arabs (with the Turks hovering nearby) for the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in the north may be the true explosion point to come. The U.S. military sits precariously atop this mess, at best putting off to the future aspects of the present civil-war landscape, but more likely intensifying it.

11. No, al-Qaeda will not control Iraq if we leave (and neither will Iran): The latest figures tell the story. Of 658 suicide bombings globally in 2007 (more than double those of any year in the last quarter century), 542, according to the Washington Post’s Robin Wright, took place in occupied Iraq or Afghanistan, mainly Iraq. In other words, the American occupation of that land has been a motor for acts of terrorism (as occupations will be). There was no al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia before the invasion and Iraq was no Afghanistan. The occupation under whatever name will continue to create “terrorists,” no matter how many times the administration claims that “al-Qaeda” is on the run. With the departure of U.S. troops, it’s clear that homegrown Sunni extremists (and the small number of foreign jihadis who work with them), already a minority of a minority, will more than meet their match in facing the Sunni mainstream. The Sunni Awakening Movement came into existence, in part, to deal with such self-destructive extremism (and its fantasies of a Taliban-style society) before the Americans even noticed that it was happening. When the Americans leave, “al-Qaeda” (and whatever other groups the Bush administration subsumes under that catch-all title) will undoubtedly lose much of their raison d’être or simply be crushed.

As for Iran, the moment the Bush administration finally agreed to a popular democratic vote in occupied Iraq, it ensured one thing — that the Shiite majority would take control, which in practice meant religio-political parties that, throughout the Saddam Hussein years, had generally been close to, or in exile in, Iran. Everything the Bush administration has done since has only ensured the growth of Iranian influence among Shiite groups. This is surely meant by the Iranians as, in part, a threat/trump card, should the Bush administration launch an attack on that country. After all, crucial U.S. resupply lines from Kuwait run through areas near Iran and would assumedly be relatively easy to disrupt.

Without the U.S. military in Iraq, there can be no question that the Iranians would have real influence over the Shiite (and probably Kurdish) parts of the country. But that influence would have its distinct limits. If Iran overplayed its hand even in a rump Shiite Iraq, it would soon enough find itself facing some version of the situation that now confronts the Americans. As Robert Dreyfuss wrote in the Nation recently, “[D]espite Iran’s enormous influence in Iraq, most Iraqis — even most Iraqi Shiites — are not pro-Iran. On the contrary, underneath the ruling alliance in Baghdad, there is a fierce undercurrent of Arab nationalism in Iraq that opposes both the U.S. occupation and Iran’s support for religious parties in Iraq.” The al-Qaedan and Iranian “threats” are, at one and the same time, bogeymen used by the Bush administration to scare Americans who might favor withdrawal and, paradoxically, realities that a continued military presence only encourages.

12. Yes, some Americans were right about Iraq from the beginning (and not the pundits either): One of the strangest aspects of the recent fifth anniversary (as of every other anniversary) of the invasion of Iraq was the newspaper print space reserved for those Bush administration officials and other war supporters who were dead wrong in 2002-2003 on an endless host of Iraq-related topics. Many of them were given ample opportunity to offer their views on past failures, the “success” of the surge, future withdrawals or drawdowns, and the responsibilities of a future U.S. president in Iraq.

Noticeably missing were representatives of the group of Americans who happened to have been right from the get-go. In our country, of course, it often doesn’t pay to be right. (It’s seen as a sign of weakness or plain dumb luck.) I’m speaking, in this case, of the millions of people who poured into the streets to demonstrate against the coming invasion with an efflorescence of placards that said things too simpleminded (as endless pundits assured American news readers at the time) to take seriously — like “No Blood for Oil,”Don’t Trade Lives for Oil,” or “”How did USA’s oil get under Iraq’s sand?”

At the time, it seemed clear to most reporters, commentators, and op-ed writers that these sign-carriers represented a crew of well-meaning know-nothings and the fact that their collective fears proved all too prescient still can’t save them from that conclusion. So, in their very rightness, they were largely forgotten.

Now, as has been true for some time, a majority of Americans, another obvious bunch of know-nothings, are deluded enough to favor bringing all U.S. troops out of Iraq at a reasonable pace and relatively soon. (More than 60% of them also believe “that the conflict is not integral to the success of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts.”)

If, on the other hand, a poll were taken of pundits and the inside-the-Beltway intelligentsia (not to speak of the officials of the Bush administration), the number of them who would want a total withdrawal from Iraq (or even see that as a reasonable goal) would undoubtedly descend near the vanishing point. When it comes to American imperial interests, most of them know better, just as so many of them did before the war began. Even advisors to candidates who theoretically want out of Iraq are hinting that a full-scale withdrawal is hardly the proper way to go.

So let me ask you a question (and you answer it): Given all of the above, given the record thus far, who is likely to be right?

Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute’s, is the co-founder of the American Empire Project. His book, The End of Victory Culture (University of Massachusetts Press), has been updated in a newly issued edition that deals with victory culture’s crash-and-burn sequel in Iraq.


Monday, April 21, 2008

America's Role in Haiti's Hunger Riots

By Bill Quigley
t r u t h o u t Report
Monday 21 April 2008

Riots in Haiti over explosive rises in food costs have claimed the lives of six people. There have also been food riots worldwide in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivorie, Egypt, Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen.

The Economist, which calls the current crisis the silent tsunami, reports that last year wheat prices rose 77 percent and rice 16 percent, but since January rice prices have risen 141 percent. The reasons include rising fuel costs, weather problems, increased demand in China and India, and the push to create biofuels from cereal crops.

Hermite Joseph, a mother working in the markets of Port-au-Prince, told journalist Nick Whalen that her two kids are "like toothpicks - they're not getting enough nourishment. Before, if you had $1.25, you could buy vegetables, some rice, 10 cents of charcoal and a little cooking oil. Right now, a little can of rice alone costs 65 cents, and is not good rice at all. Oil is 25 cents. Charcoal is 25 cents. With $1.25, you can't even make a plate of rice for one child."

The St. Claire's Church Food program, in the Tiplas Kazo neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, serves 1,000 free meals a day, almost all to hungry children - five times a week in partnership with the What If Foundation. Children from Cité-Soleil have been known to walk the five miles to the church for a meal.

The costs of rice, beans, vegetables, a little meat, spices, cooking oil and propane for the stoves, have gone up dramatically. Because of the rise in the cost of food, the portions are now smaller. But hunger is on the rise, and more and more children come for the free meal. Hungry adults used to be allowed to eat the leftovers once all the children were fed, but now there are few leftovers.

The New York Times lectured Haiti on April 18 that "Haiti, its agriculture industry in shambles, needs to better feed itself."

Unfortunately, the article did not talk at all about one of the main causes of the shortages - the fact that the US and other international financial bodies destroyed Haitian rice farmers to create a major market for heavily subsidized rice from US farmers. This is not the only cause of hunger in Haiti and other poor countries, but it is a major force.

Thirty years ago, Haiti raised nearly all the rice it needed. What happened?

In 1986, after the expulsion of Haitian dictator Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) loaned Haiti $24.6 million in desperately needed funds (Baby Doc had raided the treasury on the way out). But, in order to get the IMF loan, Haiti was required to reduce tariff protections for Haitian rice and other agricultural products and some industries, to open up the country's markets to competition from outside countries. The US has by far the largest voice in decisions of the IMF.

Doctor Paul Farmer was in Haiti then and saw what happened. "Within less than two years, it became impossible for Haitian farmers to compete with what they called 'Miami rice.' The whole local rice market in Haiti fell apart as cheap, US subsidized rice, some of it in the form of 'food aid,' flooded the market. There was violence ... 'rice wars,' and lives were lost."

"American rice invaded the country," recalled Charles Suffrard, a leading rice grower in Haiti in an interview with the Washington Post in 2000. By 1987 and 1988, there was so much rice coming into the country that many stopped working the land.

The Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste, a Haitian priest who has been the pastor at St. Claire and an outspoken human rights advocate, agrees. "In the 1980s, imported rice poured into Haiti, below the cost of what our farmers could produce it. Farmers lost their businesses. People from the countryside started losing their jobs and moving to the cities. After a few years of cheap imported rice, local production went way down."

Still, the international business community was not satisfied. In 1994, as a condition for US assistance in returning to Haiti to resume his elected presidency, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced by the US, the IMF and the World Bank to open up the markets in Haiti even more.

But Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere; what reason could the US have for destroying the rice market of this tiny country?

Haiti is definitely poor. The US Agency for International Development reports the annual per capita income is less than $400. The United Nations reports life expectancy in Haiti is 59, while in the US it is 78. Over 78 percent of Haitians live on less than $2 a day, more than half live on less than $1 a day.

Yet, Haiti has become one of the top importers of rice from the United States.

The US Department of Agriculture 2008 numbers show Haiti is the third-largest importer of US rice - at over 240,000 metric tons of rice. (One metric ton is 2,200 pounds).

Rice is a heavily subsidized business in the US. Rice subsidies in the US totaled $11 billion from 1995 to 2006. One producer alone, Riceland Foods of Stuttgart, Arkansas, received over $500 million in rice subsidies between 1995 and 2006.

The Cato Institute recently reported that rice is one of the most heavily supported commodities in the US - with three different subsidies together averaging over $1 billion a year since 1998 and projected to average over $700 million a year through 2015.

The result? "Tens of millions of rice farmers in poor countries find it hard to lift their families out of poverty because of the lower, more volatile prices caused by the interventionist policies of other countries."

In addition to three different subsidies for rice farmers in the US, there are also direct tariff barriers of three to 24 percent, reports Daniel Griswold of the Cato Institute - the exact same type of protections, though much higher, that the US and the IMF required Haiti to eliminate in the 1980s and 1990s.

US protection for rice farmers goes even further. A 2006 story in The Washington Post found that the federal government has paid at least $1.3 billion in subsidies for rice and other crops since 2000 to individuals who do no farming at all; including $490,000 to a Houston surgeon who owned land near Houston that once grew rice.

And it is not only the Haitian rice farmers who have been hurt.

Paul Farmer saw it happen to the sugar growers as well. "Haiti, once the world's largest exporter of sugar and other tropical produce to Europe, began importing even sugar - from US-controlled sugar production in the Dominican Republic and Florida. It was terrible to see Haitian farmers put out of work. All this speeded up the downward spiral that led to this month's food riots."

After the riots and protests, President Rene Preval of Haiti agreed to reduce the price of rice, which was selling for $51 for a 110-pound bag, to $43 dollars for the next month. No one thinks a one-month fix will do anything but delay the severe hunger pains a few weeks.

Haiti is far from alone in this crisis. The Economist reports a billion people worldwide live on $1 a day. The US-backed Voice of America reports about 850 million people were suffering from hunger worldwide before the latest round of price increases.

Thirty-three countries are at risk of social upheaval because of rising food prices, World Bank President Robert Zoellick told The Wall Street Journal. When countries have many people who spend half to three-quarters of their daily income on food, "there is no margin of survival."

In the US, people are feeling the worldwide problems at the gas pump and in the grocery.

Middle-class people may cut back on extra trips or on high price cuts of meat. The number of people on food stamps in the US is at an all-time high. But in poor countries, where malnutrition and hunger were widespread before the rise in prices, there is nothing to cut back on except eating. That leads to hunger riots.

In the short term, the world community is sending bags of rice to Haiti. Venezuela sent 350 tons of food. The US just pledged $200 million extra for worldwide hunger relief. The UN is committed to distributing more food.

What can be done in the medium term?

The US provides much of the world's food aid, but does it in such a way that only half of the dollars spent actually reach hungry people. US law requires that food aid be purchased from US farmers, processed and bagged in the US and shipped on US vessels - which cost 50 percent of the money allocated. A simple change in US law to allow some local purchase of commodities would feed many more people and support local farm markets.

In the long run, what is to be done?

The president of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who visited Haiti last week, said "Rich countries need to reduce farm subsidies and trade barriers to allow poor countries to generate income with food exports. Either the world solves the unfair trade system, or every time there's unrest like in Haiti, we adopt emergency measures and send a little bit of food to temporarily ease hunger."

Citizens of the US know very little about the role of their government in helping create the hunger problems in Haiti or other countries.

But there is much that individuals can do. People can donate to help feed individual hungry people and participate with advocacy organizations such as Bread for the World or Oxfam to help change the US and global rules which favor the rich countries. This advocacy can help countries have a better chance to feed themselves.

Meanwhile, Merisma Jean-Claudel, a young high school graduate in Port-au-Prince, told journalist Wadner Pierre "... people can't buy food. Gasoline prices are going up. It is very hard for us over here. The cost of living is the biggest worry for us; no peace in stomach means no peace in the mind.... I wonder if others will be able to survive the days ahead, because things are very, very hard."

"On the ground, people are very hungry," reported Father Jean-Juste. "Our country must immediately open emergency canteens to feed the hungry until we can get them jobs. For the long run, we need to invest in irrigation, transportation, and other assistance for our farmers and workers."

In Port-au-Prince, some rice arrived in the last few days. A school in Father Jean-Juste's parish received several bags of rice. They had raw rice for 1,000 children, but the principal still had to come to Father Jean-Juste asking for help. There was no money for charcoal or oil.

Jervais Rodman, an unemployed carpenter with three children, stood in a long line Saturday in Port-au-Prince to get UN-donated rice and beans. When Rodman got the small bags, he told Ben Fox of The Associated Press, "The beans might last four days. The rice will be gone as soon as I get home."

Bill Quigley is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. He can be reached at People interested in donating to feed children in Haiti should go to People who want to help change US policy on agriculture to help combat worldwide hunger should go to: or