Wednesday, April 29, 2009

TONIGHT ON THE TERRORDOME: Carol Off on Blood Chocolate

FM 88.5 Edmonton
6 pm Mountain Time

In the Global North, chocolate is a major part of our lives. We give it as the generic token of affection at Christmas. On Valentine’s Day we send it as a sign of romantic love. When we need a mood booster or something to staunch our hunger, we grab a chocolate bar.

In recent years, it’s become a staple of corporate journalism to report on the supposed health benefits of consuming chocolate, or on the alleged debate over chocolate’s power as an aphrodisiac, or how the effects of chocolate on brain chemistry mimic those of post-orgasmic flush.

But what almost no one in the Global North realises is that chocolate is not simply big flavour or even big business, but a big, gaping wound in the body of human rights. The world’s number one supplier of cocoa beans, the central ingredient in chocolate, is Ivory Coast, a country whose cocoa farmers routinely employ child labourers who aren’t paid. That means they’re enslaved. These same children are often lured to be transported hundreds of kilometres from their homes. That’s human trafficking. The massive pr
ofits from cocoa exports are used by governments and militias to finance their arsenals against each other. That’s civil war.

As much a planetary killer as is Big Tobacco, its daily operation pales before the massive human rights abuse that is Big Chocolate, or what should be called Blood Chocolate.

As we’ll find out tonight, there’s plenty of blame to go around. Some of it belongs with the farmers in Cote d’Ivoire who are enslaving children, or the militaries feasting on chocolate profits. But much if not most belongs with massive Western corporations reaping profits in the billions while operating out of cartels which manipulate global markets and commodity prices, which permanently shackle the economies of Original World nations.

To explain this story, we’ll hear from
Carol Off, the acclaimed journalist and host of CBC’s As It Happens who’s author of Bitter Chocolate: Investigating the Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet.

A finalist for the Writers’ Trust Shaughnessy Cohen Award for Political Writing and for the National Book Award, Bitter Chocolate is a horrifying description of the tortured history of cocoa, from its use by megalomaniacal kings in Meso-America, to its role as an economic driver in European global conquest.

We’ll discover the fascinating story of a Canadian-French journalist assassinated for investigating Big Chocolate at its production source, cocoa money laundering in New York state, and the role of the IMF and the World Bank in crushing national sovereignty by economic manipulation.

We’ll also hear about the groups fighting against Big Chocolate, and why Carol Off declares that simply buying fair trade won’t amount to a hill of beans.

Carol Off spoke with me by telephone while on the road in Ontario on April 19.

She's also requesting help in setting up a Bitter Chocolate website to act as a clearing-house and meeting space for anyone interested in pursuing the issue of blood chocolate. If you're a skilled web-maker, you can reach Carol Off c/o the Bro-Log, or simply by contacting her directly:


Chocolate and Slavery: Child Labor in Cote d'Ivoire
Chocolate: Slave Trade or Fair Trade?
The Purefood Campaign Against Starbucks
Chocolate... by Slave Labour
Global Exchange on Harkin-Engel Protocol (2005)

The following links are courtesy of

Statement on slavery and chocolate production
Slave trade or fair trade - how can you tell?
Child trafficking from Benin to Gabon
Child trafficking from Mali to Côte d'Ivoire
Mali and Côte d'Ivoire agreement against child trafficking
Rehabilitating trafficked children in Mali
UN submission on child trafficking in Benin and Gabon
UN submission on child trafficking in West and Central Africa

Sunday, April 26, 2009

"War on Pirates": Deal with Mafia to poison Somalis with nuclear waste, starve them by stealing their fish, and call them pirates when the fight back

Many thanks to Br. James Ainsworth for letting me know about this article.

Johann Hari of The Huffington Post writes in a piece called "You Are Being Lied to About Pirates":

"Who imagined that in 2009, the world's governments would be declaring a new War on Pirates?

"As you read this, the British Royal Navy - backed by the ships of more than two dozen nations, from the US to China - is sailing into Somalian waters to take on men we still picture as parrot-on-the-shoulder pantomime villains.

"They will soon be fighting Somalian ships and even chasing the pirates onto land, into one of the most broken countries on earth. But behind the arrr-me-hearties oddness of this tale, there is an untold scandal. The people our governments are labeling as 'one of the great menace of our times' have an extraordinary story to tell -- and some justice on their side....

"In 1991, the government of Somalia - in the Horn of Africa - collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since - and many of the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country's food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.

"Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died.

"Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: 'Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury - you name it.' Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to 'dispose' of cheaply. When I asked Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: 'Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention.'"

At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia's seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish-stocks by over-exploitation - and now we have moved on to theirs.

"More than $300m worth of tuna, shrimp, lobster and other sea-life is being stolen every year by vast trawlers illegally sailing into Somalia's unprotected seas. The local fishermen have suddenly lost their livelihoods, and they are starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: 'If nothing is done, there soon won't be much fish left in our coastal waters.'"

Oh, and by the way, where has saviour Obama been in all of this?

Where he's always been: on the side of Western imperialism.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

TONIGHT ON THE TERRORDOME: Capitalism, the Meltdown, and Somali Pirates

FM 88.5 Edmonton
6 pm Mountain Time

Years ago when I was a university student, one of my Political Science professors quipped, “Nobody is more qualified than economists to be wrong about the economy.”

My prof's comment got me thinking: if economists really do know what they're talking about, shouldn’t they all be rich?

Jim Stanford has no plans to become a millionaire, but he wants you to understand why some people get and stay rich, while literally billions of others struggle--and millions fail--to escape death-by-poverty. Stanford’s an economist with one of Canada’s most prominent unions, the Canadian Auto Workers, and the author of
Economics for Everyone.

It’s less “Business for Dummies” than “Everything You Deserve to Know About Capitalism But Were Never Told,” and he’ll be launching it April 23 in Edmonton at an event sponsored by the Parkland Institute titled “Beyond the Meltdown: Why the Current Economic Crisis Forces Us to Re-Think Economics.”
As a columnist for The Globe and Mail, a frequent media voice on the economy, and a speaker at numerous union and community events, Stanford is ideally suited to aid that re-think.

As Stanford argues in Economics for Everyone, it’s necessary to push back against establishment economists because as a group, they specialise in mystifying citizens by invoking “complicated technical mumbo-jumbo--usually utterly unnecessary to their arguments--to make their case…. And since they study things that are measured in billions or even trillions of dollars, their sense of importance grows--in their own eyes, and in others.”

While economists present themselves as neutral scientists studying an impersonal system, like cosmologists measuring universal expansion, they’re actually all ideologically rooted, says Stanford; indeed, most economists, he says, work for business or schools of business, thus believing and reinforcing a business-knows-best, owner-takes-nearly-all philosophy in their analyses and recommendations. Economics is a human study, he counters, all about work and wealth.

There’s a companion website for the book with extensive Grade 12/first year teaching post-secondary materials and Powerpoint slides. While Stanford’s book isn’t likely to spark a revolution any time soon, there’s no question that if people are going to question the wisdom of a business-dominated society, it’s probably now or never.

Jim Stanford spoke with me by telephone from his home in Toronto on April 19.

WHEN: Not tonight... Stanford was recalled for CAW negotiations!
WHERE: Crowne Plaza Chateau Lacombe, Salon C
WHAT: Presentation and book signing, co-sponsored by
the Parkland Institute, the Alberta Federation of Labour, the Aspen Institute, and the Canadian Auto Workers.

Somali Pirates:
K’naan and Mumia Tell You What Corporate News Doesn’t Want You to Know

Recently, Somali has re-emerged into the news, not as the target of ongoing US bombing, or as the target of a US proxy-war waged by Ethiopian troops. Now Somali is making headlines because of piracy.

The story we’re being told is that pirates, using the pretext of protecting Somali sovereignty, are commandeering foreign vessels off their coast to steal their cargoes and ransom their captains, crews and passengers.

Of course, since the days of the international invasion of Somalia following the collapse of the Somali government, Western media has delighted in stories portraying Somalis as savages and killers, and Westerners as tragic victims and noble rescuers.

Tonight we’ll hear two counter-arguments, including a discussion of the origins for Somali piracy that corporate news doesn’t want you to know.
The second voice will be that of death-row resident and journalist Mumia Abu Jamal on the wider context of who gets to define piracy and why. But first will be Somali-Canadian rapper K’naan, as interviewed by American hip hop journalist Davey-D.

See the video of the K'naan video, and visit Davey-D’s site.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

TONIGHT ON THE TERRORDOME: Botswana's Future: Reflections on HIV/AIDS, Democratization, and U.S.-Botswana Relations

FM88.5 Edmonton Worldwide
6 pm Mountain Time

In an April 10th article on, Nigerian journalist Gbemisola Olujobi asked the question, “Who is Mogae?” And why, we might ask, has he received a five million dollar bonus? Is it because he’s a corrupt politician, a stereotypical African despot swindling his own people?

As Olujobi writes,
“Almost everyone ... knows about Zimbabwe’s sit-tight president, Robert Mugabe. But who is Mogae? Who is Chissano? Who is Kikwete? And who is Kufuor? Sadly, very few people outside Africa recognize these names.

“Festus Gontebanye Mogae is Botswana’s former president [and an Oxford-trained economist].... Botswana, acclaimed as Africa’s brightest star, rose from the ashes of grinding poverty to middle-income status in a generation. Its elections are peaceful, its politicians retire voluntarily, its civil society is vibrant and its natural resources are not a curse but a blessing shared by all.

“Mogae recently attracted meager attention when he won the [$5 million] Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. The annual prize was established by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and launched in October 2006 as an African initiative ‘to strengthen governance and affirm the importance of nurturing outstanding leaders on the continent.’”

Olujobi’s article continues: “The prize aims to encourage leaders like Mogae who dedicate their tenures of office to surmounting the development challenges of their countries, improve the livelihoods and welfare of their people and consolidate the foundation for sustainable development.”

Of course, anyone with such accomplishments is likely to be a complicated figure, and former president Mogae is no exception. As you’ll hear in his address tonight, he’s fulsome in his praise for the Bush administration’s role in Africa, and silent about its role elsewhere. He voiced no objection to the controversial aim of the US government to locate a military command base—Africom—inside an African country. And his position on labour conditions inside Botswana would likely raise the hackles of many union activists at home and abroad.

Nevertheless, Mogae’s achievements cannot be denied, especially on a continent so ravaged by imperialism and neocolonialism, and their destabilising effects upon nearly every aspect of social, political, economic and human development. Kofi Annan praised Mogae for his “outstanding leadership [which] has ensured Botswana's continued stability and prosperity in the face of an HIV/AIDS pandemic which threatened the future of his country and people.”

Festus Mogae spoke on September 21, 2007, at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, as part of its Statesmen's Forum series, on “Botswana's Future: Reflections on HIV/AIDS, Democratization, and U.S.-Botswana Relations." The event was moderated, and President Mogae was introduced, by Stephen Morrison, the Africa Program Coordinator of the Centre.

Read the transcript