by Mr. Y

On Friday, April 8, as members of the U.S. Congress engaged in a last-minute game of chicken over the federal budget, the Pentagon quietly issued a report that received little initial attention: “A National Strategic Narrative.” The report was issued under the pseudonym of “Mr. Y,” a takeoff on George Kennan’s 1946 “Long Telegram” from Moscow (published under the name “X” the following year in Foreign Affairs) that helped set containment as the cornerstone of U.S. strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union. The piece was written by two senior members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a “personal” capacity, but it is clear that it would not have seen the light of day without a measure of official approval. Its findings are revelatory, and they deserve to be read and appreciated not only by every lawmaker in Congress, but by every American citizen.

The narrative argues that the United States is fundamentally getting it wrong when it comes to setting its priorities, particularly with regard to the budget and how Americans as a nation use their resources more broadly. The report says Americans are overreacting to Islamic extremism, underinvesting in their youth, and failing to embrace the sense of competition and opportunity that made America a world power. The United States has been increasingly consumed by seeing the world through the lens of threat, while failing to understand that influence, competitiveness, and innovation are the key to advancing American interests in the modern world.

Courageously, the authors make the case that America continues to rely far too heavily on its military as the primary tool for how it engages the world. Instead of simply pumping more and more dollars into defense, the narrative argues:

By investing energy, talent, and dollars now in the education and training of young Americans — the scientists, statesmen, industrialists, farmers, inventors, educators, clergy, artists, service members, and parents, of tomorrow — we are truly investing in our ability to successfully compete in, and influence, the strategic environment of the future. Our first investment priority, then, is intellectual capital and a sustainable infrastructure of education, health and social services to provide for the continuing development and growth of America’s youth.

Yet, it is investments in America’s long-term human resources that have come under the fiercest attack in the current budget environment. As the United States tries to compete with China, India, and the European Union, does it make sense to have almost doubled the Pentagon budget in the last decade while slashing education budgets across the country?

by HANS-INGE LANGØ / April 15th, 2011

Foreign Policy‘s John Norris has picked up on an article written by two U.S. military officers that seems to have gone largely unnoticed by the press. The article, titled “A National Strategic Narrative,” is being compared to George F. Kennan’s famous article “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” for laying out a new direction in U.S. foreign policy (Kennan used the pseudonym “X” for the article which was published inForeign Affairs in July 1947). The authors, U.S. Navy Captain Wayne Porter and U.S. Marine Corps Colonel Mark Mykleby, invite this comparison by signing it “Mr. Y” and making several references to Kennan’s important note. Whereas Kennan laid the intellectual foundation for a strategy of containtment vis-à-vis the Soviet Union, Porter and Mykleby are calling for a strategy of sustainment: “It is time for America to re-focus our national interests and principles through a long lens on the global environment of tomorrow. It is time to move beyond a strategy of containment to a strategy of sustainment (sustainability); from an emphasis on power and control to an emphasis on strength and influence; from a defensive posture of exclusion, to a proactive posture of engagement. We must recognize that security means more than defense, and sustaining security requires adaptation and evolution, the leverage of converging interests and interdependencies.”

The authors lay out three priorities as part of this new national strategy: investing in education to build the economy; relying less on military force and utilizing other parts of the foreign policy tool box, such as development and aid, to ensure long-term security; and developing sustainable access to, cultivation and use of natural resources. These are not ideas one would normally associate with the military, but something seems to be changing at the Pentagon. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has warned that the civilian side of U.S. foreign policy (e.g. the State Department and USAID) is underfunded. In a 2007 speech, he called cuts to ‘soft power’ tools during the 1990s “short-sighted,” saying it was a “gutting of America’s ability to engage, assist, and communicate with other parts of the world.” The message has not changed since then. In fact, both Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have vigorously opposed cuts to the State Department budget on repeated occasions. The Y article seems to be a continuation of this emphasis of ‘soft power’, and John Norris rightfully concludes that though the article was written in a personal capacity, “it would not have seen the light of day without a measure of official approval.”

It is a fundamentally optimistic proposition, confident in the capability of the United States to achieve positive influence in the world and the willingness of others to cooperate, rather than compete. Both these assertions are debatable. Should the United States move away from interventionism, it could find it has more influence through soft power than blunt coercion, yet there is no guarantee for that. As others countries rise, like the United States once did, they too will seek their place in the world, testing the boundaries of cooperation and accommodation. In the next couple of decades, Asia will be ripe for conflicts as China and India assert themselves, with Japan, South Korea and a host of other countries seeking physical and economic security. That is not to say that Asia is doomed to repeat the mistakes of Europe. One could make the case that economic and cultural developments, with their accompanying interdependencies, lessen the incentives for war. While China is asserting itself through territorial claims in the South China Sea and elaborate navy exercises, Beijing is primarily concerned with keeping the economy running at a brisk pace. War is bad for business, and China’s military remains inferior to that of the United States – let alone a coalition of U.S. and other regional forces. In addition, nuclear proliferation serves as a deterrent of total war that was woefully lacking in Europe during the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. Yet despite these disincentives, all the major players in Asia are building up their military capabilities, and some are even making significant changes to their national security strategies in anticipation of a more threatening China. This development is taking place largely independently of U.S. actions in the region and despite security guarantees given to South Korea and Japan. The United States is even encouraging Japan to take a larger share of its own security burden, which basically means more defense spending and a more offensive posture. Perhaps this is due to fiscal concerns, as the United States can ill afford to subsidize its allies’ security forever, but it might also come from a realization that there are limits to U.S. influence in the region. The Asian powers have their own national interests irrespective of U.S. concerns. This means that even if the United States adopts a more cooperative approach to foreign policy, others might not follow.

Direct confrontation is not the only challenge facing the United States. One could even make the case that war is not even at the top of the list. Competition for natural resources and access to markets is likelier to result in lawfare, economic sanctions and other soft power confrontations than kinetic actions. To solve these issues, the United States needs a large toolbox, so Porter and Mykleby are right in this respect to focus on ‘smart power’. The danger is that a normative approach to foreign policy might crash into a real world of realpolitik and hard power. Speaking softly will only get you so far, unless you carry a big stick. Looking beyond the emphasis on ‘soft power’, there is a more fundamental message coming out of the Y article. Though a cliché it may be, one is reminded of John Winthrop and his famous sermon “City Upon A Hill” from 1630 when reading the article. The authors urge policymakers, and Americans in general, to examine the role of the United States in an increasingly interdependent world: “This Narrative advocates for America to pursue her enduring interests of prosperity and security through a strategy of sustainability that is built upon the solid foundation of our national values. As Americans we needn’t seek the world’s friendship or to proselytize the virtues of our society. Neither do we seek to bully, intimidate, cajole, or persuade others to accept our unique values or to share our national objectives. Rather, we will let others draw their own conclusions based upon our actions.”

As Jonathan Monten describes it in his excellent article “The Roots of the Bush Doctrine,” American exceptionalism in foreign policy has historically taken on two distinct characters: exemplarism and vindicationism. We last saw the former during the presidency of George W. Bush, when foreign policy thinking was dominated by the belief that the United States had to take active measure to promote American values of liberty abroad. Merely being an example was not enough to cause change. The latter, which is on display in the Y article, is the idea that the United States should sort out its own house first and act as a beacon of light to the world, instead of forcing its ideals on others. The practical implication of this would likely be a policy of offshore balancing, and here is the real potential of Porter and Mykleby’s proposition. This would not be isolationism – as noninterventionism is often, and mistakenly, called. It would be a policy based on the genuine belief that the United States cannot, and should not, run the world. There are limits to U.S. power, and nationbuilding schemes like the ones Iraq and Afghanistan come with huge opportunity costs both abroad and at home.

Facts and Figures: U.S. Human Rights Situation

BEIJING, April 10 (Xinhua) — China’s Information Office of the State Council, or cabinet, published a report titled “The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2010” here Sunday. Following is the full text:

Human Rights Record of the United States in 2010

The State Department of the United States released its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2010 on April 8, 2011. As in previous years, the reports are full of distortions and accusations of the human rights situation in more than 190 countries and regions including China. However, the United States turned a blind eye to its own terrible human rights situation and seldom mentioned it. The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2010 is prepared to urge the United States to face up to its own human rights issues.

I. On Life, Property and Personal Security

The United States reports the world’s highest incidence of violent crimes, and its people’s lives, properties and personal security are not duly protected.

Every year, one out of every five people is a victim of a crime in the United States. No other nation on earth has a rate that is higher. In 2009, an estimated 4.3 million violent crimes, 15.6 million property crimes and 133,000 personal thefts were committed against U.S. residents aged 12 or older, and the violent crime rate was 17.1 victimizations per 1,000 persons, according to a report published by the U.S. Department of Justice on October 13, 2010 (Criminal Victimization 2009, U.S. Department of Justice, The crime rate surged in many cities in the United States. St. Louis in Missouri reported more than 2,070 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, making it the nation’s most dangerous city (The Associated Press, November 22, 2010). Detroit residents experienced more than 15,000 violent crimes each year, which means the city has 1,600 violent crimes per 100,000 residents. The United States’ four big cities – Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York – reported increases in murders in 2010 from the previous year (USA Today, December 5, 2010). Twenty-five murder cases occurred in Los Angeles County in a week from March 29 to April 4, 2010; and in the first half of 2010, 373 people were killed in murders in Los Angeles County ( As of November 11, New York City saw 464 homicide cases, up 16 percent from the 400 reported at the same time last year (The Washington Post, November 12, 2010).

The United States exercised lax control on the already rampant gun ownership. Reuters reported on November 10, 2010 that the United States ranks first in the world in terms of the number of privately-owned guns. Some 90 million people own an estimated 200 million guns in the United States, which has a population of about 300 million. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled on June 28, 2010 that the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives Americans the right to bear arms that can not be violated by state and local governments, thus extending the Americans’ rights to own a gun for self-defense purposes to the entire country (The Washington Post, June 29, 2010). Four U.S. states – Tennessee, Arizona, Georgia and Virginia – allow loaded guns in bars. And 18 other states allow weapons in restaurants that serve alcohol (The New York Times, October 3, 2010). Tennessee has nearly 300,000 handgun permit holders. The Washington Times reported on June 7, 2010 that in November 2008, a total of 450,000 more people in the United States purchased firearms than had bought them in November 2007. This was a more than 10-fold increase, compared with the change in sales from November 2007 over November 2006. From November 2008 to October 2009, almost 2.5 million more people bought guns than had done so in the preceding 12 months (The Washington Times, June 7, 2010). The frequent campus shootings in colleges in the United States came to the spotlight in recent years. The United Kingdom’s Daily Telegraph reported on February 21, 2011 that a new law that looks certain to pass through the legislature in Texas, the United States, would allow half a million students and teachers in its 38 public colleges to carry guns on campus. It would become only the second state, after Utah, to enforce such a rule.

The United States had high incidence of gun-related blood-shed crimes. Statistics showed there were 12,000 gun murders a year in the United States (The New York Times, September 26, 2010). Figures released by the U.S. Department of Justice on October 13, 2010 showed weapons were used in 22 percent of all violent crimes in the United States in 2009, and about 47 percent of robberies were committed with arms (, October 13, 2010). On March 30, 2010, five men killed four people and seriously injured five others in a deadly drive-by shooting (The Washington Post, April 27, 2010). In April, six separate shootings occurred overnight, leaving 16 total people shot, two fatally ( On April 3, a deadly shooting at a restaurant in North Hollywood, Los Angeles, left four people dead and two others wounded (, April 4, 2010). One person was killed and 21 others wounded in separate shootings around Chicago roughly between May 29 and 30 (, May 30, 2010). In June, 52 people were shot at a weekend in Chicago (, June 21, 2010). Three police officers were shot dead by assailants in the three months from May to July (Chicago Tribune, July 19, 2010). A total of 303 people were shot and 33 of them were killed in Chicago in the 31 days of July in 2010. Between November 5 and 8, four people were killed and at least five others injured in separate shootings in Oakland (World Journal, November 11, 2010). On November 30, a 15-year-old boy in Marinette County, Wisconsin, took his teacher and 24 classmates hostage at gunpoint (abcNews, November 30, 2010). On January 8, 2011, a deadly rampage critically wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Six people were killed and 12 others injured in the attack (Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2011).

II. On Civil and Political Rights

In the United States, the violation of citizens’ civil and political rights by the government is severe.

Citizen’ s privacy has been undermined. According to figures released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in September 2010, more than 6,600 travelers had been subject to electronic device searches between October 1, 2008 and June 2, 2010, nearly half of them American citizens. A report on The Wall Street Journal on September 7, 2010, said the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was sued over its policies that allegedly authorize the search and seizure of laptops, cellphones and other electronic devices without a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. The policies were claimed to leave no limit on how long the DHS can keep a traveler’ s devices or on the scope of private information that can be searched, copied or detained. There is no provision for judicial approval or supervision. When Colombian journalist Hollman Morris sought a U.S. student visa so he could take a fellowship for journalists at Harvard University, his application was denied on July 17, 2010, as he was ineligible under the “terrorist activities” section of the U.S.A. Patriot Act. An Arab American named Yasir Afifi, living in California, found the FBI attached an electronic GPS tracking device near the right rear wheel of his car. In August, ACLU, joined by the Asian Law Caucus and the San Francisco Bay Guardian weekly, had filed a lawsuit to expedite the release of FBI records on the investigation and surveillance of Muslim communities in the Bay Area. The San Francisco FBI office has declined to comment on the matter “because it’ s still an ongoing investigation.” (The Washington Post, October 13, 2010). In October 2010, the Transportation Security Administration raised the security level at U.S. airports requiring passengers to go through a full-body scanner machine or pat-downs. It also claimed that passengers can not refuse the security check based on their religious beliefs. Civil rights groups contended the more intensive screening violates civil liberties including freedom of religion, the right to privacy and the constitutional protection against unreasonable searches (AP, November 16, 2010). The ACLU and the U.S. Travel Association have been getting thousands of complaints about airport security measures (The Christian Science Monitor, November 20, 2010).

Abuse of violence and torturing suspects to get confession is serious in the U. S. law enforcement. According to a report of Associated Press on October 14, 2010, the New York Police Department (NYPD) paid about 964 million U.S. dollars to resolve claims against its officers over the past decade. Among them was a case that an unarmed man was killed in a 50-bullet police shooting on his wedding day. The three police officers were acquitted of manslaughter and the NYDP simply settled the case with money (China Press, October 15, 2010). In a country that boasts “judicial justice,” what justice did the above-mentioned victims get? In June 2010, a federal jury found former Chicago police lieutenant Jon Burge guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice. Burge and officers under his command shocked, suffocated and burned suspects into giving confessions in the 1970s and 1980s (The Boston Globe, November 5, 2010). According to a report on Chicago Tribune on May 12, 2010, Chicago Police was charged with arresting people without warrants, shackling them to the wall or metal benches, feeding them infrequently and holding them without bathroom breaks and giving them no bedding, which were deemed consistent with tactics of “soft torture” used to extract involuntary confessions. On March 22, a distraught homeless man was shot dead in Potland, Oregon, by four shots from a police officer (China Press, April 1, 2010). An off-duty Westminster police officer was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and raping a woman on April 3 while a corrections officer was accused of being an accessory (Los Angeles Times, April 6, 2010). On April 17 in Seattle, Washington, a gang detective and patrol officer kicked a suspect and verbally assaulted him (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 10, 2010). On March 24, Chad Holley, 15, was brutally beaten by eight police officers in Houston. The teen claimed he was face down on the ground while officers punched him in the face and kneed him in the back. After a two-month-long investigation, four officers were indicted and fired (Houston Chronicle, May 4, June 23, 2010). On August 11, three people were injured by police shooting when police officers chased a stolen van in Prince George’ s County. Family members of the three injured argued why the police fired into the van when nobody on the van fired at them (The Washington Post, August 14, 2010). On September 5, 2010, a Los Angeles police officer killed a Guatemalan immigrant by two shots and triggered a large scale protest. Police clashed with protesters and arrested 22 of them (The New York Times, September 8, 2010). On November 5, 2010, a large demonstration took place in Oakland against a Los Angeles court verdict which put Johannes Mehserle, a police officer, to two years in prison as he shot and killed unarmed African American Oscar Grant two years ago. Police arrested more than 150 people in the protest (San Francisco Chronicle, November 9, 2010).

The United States has always called itself “land of freedom,” but the number of inmates in the country is the world’ s largest. According to a report released by the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project in 2008, one in every 100 adults in the U.S. are in jail and the figure was one in every 400 in 1970. By 2011, America will have more than 1.7 million men and women in prison, an increase of 13 percent over that of 2006. The sharp increase will lead to overcrowding prisons. California prisons now hold 164,000 inmates, double their intended capacity (The Wall Street Journal, December 1, 2010). In a New Beginnings facility for the worst juvenile offenders in Washington DC, only 60 beds are for 550 youths who in 2009 were charged with the most violent crimes. Many of them would violate the laws again without proper care or be subject to violent crimes (The Washington Post, August 28, 2010). Due to poor management and conditions, unrest frequently occurred in prisons. According to a report on Chicago Tribune on July 18, 2010, more than 20 former Cook County inmates filed suit saying they were handcuffed or shackled during labor while in the custody, leaving serious physical and psychological damage. On October 19, 2010, at least 129 inmates took part in a riot at Calipatria State Prison, leaving two dead and a dozen injured (China Press, October 20, 2010). In November, AP released a video showing an inmate, being beaten by a fellow inmate in an Idaho prison, managed to plead for help through a prison guard station window but officers looked on and no one intervened until he was knocked unconscious. The prison was dubbed “gladiator school” (China Press, December 2, 2010).

Wrongful conviction occurred quite often in the United States. In the past two decades, a total of 266 people were exonerated through DNA tests, among them 17 were on death row (Chicago Tribune, July 11, 2010). A report from The Washington Post on April 23, 2010, said Washington DC Police admitted 41 charges they raised against a 14-year-old boy, including four first-degree murders, were false and the teen never confessed to any charge. Police of Will County, Illinois, had tortured Kevin Fox to confess the killing of his three-year-old daughter and he had served eight months in prison before a DNA test exonerated him. Similar case happened in Zion, Illinois, that Jerry Hobbs were forced by the police to confess the killing of his eight-year-old daughter and had been in prison for five years before DNA tests proved his innocence. Barry Gibbs had served 19 years in prison when his conviction of killing a prostitute in 1986 was overturned in 2005 and received 9.9 million U.S. dollars from New York City government in June 2010 (The New York Times, June 4, 2010).

The U.S. regards itself as “the beacon of democracy.” However, its democracy is largely based on money. According to a report from The Washington Post on October 26, 2010, U.S. House and Senate candidates shattered fundraising records for a midterm election, taking in more than 1.5 billion U.S. dollars as of October 24. The midterm election, held in November 2010, finally cost 3.98 billion U.S. dollars, the most expensive in the U.S. history. Interest groups have actively spent on the election. As of October 6, 2010, the 80 million U.S. dollars spent by groups outside the Democratic and Republican parties dwarfed the 16 million U.S. dollars for the 2006 midterms. One of the biggest spenders nationwide was the American Future Fund from Iowa, which spent 7 million U.S. dollars on behalf of Republicans in more than two dozen House and Senate races. One major player the 60 Plus Association spent 7 million dollars on election related ads. The American Federation of States, County and Municipal Employees spent 103.9 million U.S. dollars on the campaigns from October 22 to 27 (The New York Times, November 1, 2010). U.S. citizens have expressed discontent at the huge cost in the elections. A New York Times/CBS poll showed nearly 8 in 10 U.S. citizens said it was important to limit the campaign expense (The New York Times, October 22, 2010).

While advocating Internet freedom, the U.S. in fact imposes fairly strict restriction on cyberspace. On June 24, 2010, the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs approved the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act, which will give the federal government “absolute power” to shut down the Internet under a declared national emergency. Handing government the power to control the Internet will only be the first step towards a greatly restricted Internet system, whereby individual IDs and government permission would be required to operate a website. The United States applies double standards on Internet freedom by requesting unrestricted “Internet freedom” in other countries, which becomes an important diplomatic tool for the United States to impose pressure and seek hegemony, and imposing strict restriction within its territory. An article on BBC on February 16, 2011 noted the U.S. government wants to boost Internet freedom to give voices to citizens living in societies regarded as “closed” and questions those governments’ control over information flow, although within its borders the U.S. government tries to create a legal frame to fight the challenge posed by Wikileaks. The U.S. government might be sensitive to the impact of the free flow of electronic information on its territory for which it advocates, but it wants to practice diplomacy by other means, including the Internet, particularly the social networks.

An article on the U.S.-based Foreign Policy Magazine admitted that the U.S government’s approach to the Internet remains “full of problems and contradictions” (Foreign Policy Magazine website, February 17, 2011).

III. On Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

The United States is the world’s richest country, but Americans’ economic, social and cultural rights protection is going from bad to worse.

Unemployment rate in the United States has been stubbornly high. From December 2007 to October 2010, a total of 7.5 million jobs were lost in the country (The New York Times, November 19, 2010). According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Labor on December 3, 2010, the U.S. unemployment rate edged up to 9.8 percent in November 2010, and the number of unemployed persons was 15 million in November, among whom, 41.9 percent were jobless for 27 weeks and more ( The jobless rate of California in January 2010 was 12.5 percent, its worst on record. Unemployment topped 20 percent in eight California counties (The Los Angeles Times, March 11, 2010). Unemployment rate of New York State was 8.3 percent in October 2010. There were nearly 800,000 people unemployed statewide, and about 527,000 people were collecting unemployment benefits from the state (The New York Times, November 19, 2010). Employment situation for the disabled was worse. According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Labor on August 25, 2010, the average unemployment rate for disabled workers was 14.5 percent in 2009, and nearly a third of workers with disabilities worked only part-time. The jobless rate for workers with disabilities who had at least a bachelor’s degree was 8.3 percent, which was higher than the 4.5 percent rate for college-educated workers without disabilities (The Wall Street Journal, August 26, 2010). The unemployment rate for those with disabilities had risen to 16.4 percent as of July 2010 (The Wall Street Journal, August 26, 2010). In 2009, more than 21,000 disabled people complained to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) about their experience of employment discrimination, an increase of 10 percent and 20 percent over the numbers of 2008 and 2007 (The World Journal, September 25, 2010).

Proportion of American people living in poverty has risen to a record high. The U.S. Census Bureau reported on September 16, 2010 that a total of 44 million Americans found themselves in poverty in 2009, four million more than that of 2008. The share of residents in poverty climbed to 14.3 percent in 2009, the highest level recorded since 1994 (The New York Times, September 17, 2010). In 2009, Mississippi’s poverty rate was 23.1 percent ( Florida had a total of 2.7 million people living in poverty (The Washington Post, September 19, 2010). In New York City, 18.7 percent of the population lived in poverty in 2009, as an additional 45,000 people fell below the poverty line that year (New York Daily News, September 29, 2010).

People in hunger increased sharply. A report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in November 2010 showed that 14.7 percent of U.S. households were food insecure in 2009 (, an increase of almost 30 percent since 2006 (The Washington Post, November 21, 2010). About 50 million Americans experienced food shortage that year. The number of households collecting emergency food aid had increased from 3.9 million in 2007 to 5.6 million in 2009 (The China Press, November 16, 2010). The number of Americans participating in the food-stamp program increased from 26 million in May 2007 to 42 million in September 2010, approximately one in eight people was using food stamps (The Associated Press, October 22, 2010). In the past four years, 31.6 percent of American families tasted poverty for at least a couple of months (The Globe and Mail, September 17, 2010).

Number of homeless Americans increased sharply. According to a report by USA Today on June 16, 2010, the number of families in homeless shelters increased 7 percent to 170,129 from fiscal year 2008 through fiscal year 2009. Homeless families also were staying longer in shelters, from 30 days in 2008 to 36 in 2009, and about 800,000 American families were living with extended family, friends, or other people because of the economy. The number of homeless students in the U.S. increased 41 percent over that in the previous two years to one million (The Washington Post, September 23, 2010; USA Today, July 31, 2010). In New York City, 30 percent of homeless families in 2009 were first-time homeless ( The city’s homeless people increased to 3,111, with another 38,000 people living in shelters (The New York Times, March 19, 2010). New Orleans had 12,000 homeless people (News Week, August 23, 2010). An estimated 254,000 men, women and children experienced homelessness in Los Angeles County during some part of the year. Approximately 82,000 people were homeless on any given night. African Americans made up approximately half of the Los Angeles County homeless population, 33 percent were Latino, and a high percentage, as high as 20 percent, were veterans ( American veterans served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars could become homeless one year and a half after they retired, and about 130,000 retired veterans become homeless each year in the US ( Statistics from the National Coalition for the Homeless showed that more than 1,000 violent offences against homeless people have occurred in the U.S. which caused 291 deaths since 1999. (The New York Times, August 18, 2010)

The number of American people without health insurance increased progressively every year. According to a report by USA Today on September 17, 2010, the number of Americans without health insurance increased from 46.3 million in 2008 to 50.7 million in 2009, the ninth consecutive annual rise, which accounted for 16.7 percent of the total U.S. population. Sixty-eight adults under 65 years old died due to lack of health insurance each day on average in the US. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in November 2010 showed that 22 percent of American adults between 16 and 64 had no health insurance (Reuters, November 10, 2010). A report issued by the Center for Health Policy Research, University of California, Los Angeles indicated that 24.3 percent of adults under 65 in California State in 2009 had no health insurance, representing a population of 8.2 million, up from the 6.4 million in 2007. Proportion of children without health insurance in the state rose from 10.2 percent in 2007 to 13.4 percent in 2009 (The China Press, March 17, 2010, citing the Los Angeles Times).

IV. On Racial Discrimination

Racial discrimination, deep-seated in the United States, has permeated every aspect of social life.

An Associated Press-Univision Poll, reported by the Associated Press on May 20, 2010, found that 61 percent of people overall said Hispanics face significant discrimination, compared with 52 percent who said blacks do. The New York Times reported on October 28, 2010 that more than 6 in 10 Latinos in the United States say discrimination is a “major problem” for them, a significant increase in the last three years.

Minorities do not enjoy the same political status as white people. The New York city’s non-Hispanic white population is 35 percent, while more than 70 percent of the senior jobs are held by whites. Since winning a third term in November 2009, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has announced a parade of major appointments: bringing aboard three new deputy mayors and six commissioners. All nine are white. Of the 80 current city officials identified by the Bloomberg administration as “key members” on its Website, 79 percent are white. Of 321 people who advise the mayor or hold one of three top titles at agencies that report directly to him – commissioners, deputy commissioners and general counsels, and their equivalents – 78 percent are white. And of the 1,114 employees who must live in the city, under an executive order, because they wield the most influence over policies and day-to-day operations, 74 percent are white (The New York Times, June 29, 2010).

Minority groups confront discrimination in their employment and occupation. The black people are treated unfairly or excluded in promotion, welfare and employment (Chicago Tribune, March 12, 2010). It is reported that one-third of black people confronted discrimination at work, against which only one-sixteenth of the black people would lodge a complaint. The Washington Post reported on October 15, 2010 that about 30 black firefighters alleged systematic racial discrimination within the D.C. Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services, claiming that black employees faced harsher discipline. Shirley Sherrod, who was black, was fired by the Agricultural Department after a blogger posted her truncated comments that 24 years ago, she did not help a white farmer when she was working for a nonprofit agency established to help black farmers. The U.S. Agriculture Department in February, 2010 reached a 1.25-billion-dollar settlement in a decades-long struggle by African-American farmers who had suffered from discrimination within farm loans (The Washington Post, July 23, 2010). The New York Times reported on September 23, 2010 that by September 30, 2009, Muslim workers had filed a record 803 claims of complaints over employment discrimination, up 20 percent from the previous year.

Minority groups have high unemployment rate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in July 2010, among the population 16 to 24 years of age, 2,987,000 unemployed people were white, with unemployment rate reaching 16.2 percent; 992,000 were black or African American people, with unemployment rate of 33.4 percent; 165,000 were Asians, with unemployment rate of 21.6 percent; 884,000 belonged to Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, with unemployment rate of 22.1 percent ( According to a report of the working group of experts on people of African descent to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations in August 2010, unemployment was a very serious issue for the Afro-descendant community in the United States, with levels of unemployment being, proportionately, four times higher among this population than in the white community. Reference was made to a case where the New York City Fire Department was found to have discriminated against people of African descent who had applied for employment as firemen. Of the 11,000 firemen employed by the New York City Fire Department, only about 300 were of African descent, despite their being about 27 percent of the population of New York (UN document A/HRC/15/18). Nearly one-sixth of black residents in the city were unemployed in the third quarter of 2010. About 140,000 of the city’s 384,000 unemployed residents, or 36 percent, were black (The New York Times, October 28, 2010).

Poverty proportion for minorities is also high in the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau announced in September, 2010 that the poverty proportion of the black was 25.8 percent in 2009, and those of Hispanic origin and Asian were 25.3 percent and 12.5 percent respectively, much higher than that of the non-Hispanic white at 9.4 percent. The median household income for the black, Hispanic origin and non-Hispanic white were 32,584, 38,039 and 54,461 U.S. dollars respectively (The USA Today, September 17, 2010). A survey released by the America Association of Retired Persons on February 23, 2010 found that over the previous 12 months, a third (33 percent) of African Americans age 45+ had problems paying rent or mortgage, 44 percent had problems paying for essential items, such as food and utilities, almost one in four (23 percent) lost their employer-sponsored health insurance, more than three in ten (31 percent) had cut back on their medications, and a quarter (26 percent) prematurely withdrew funds from their retirement nest eggs to pay for living expenses. Even in the tough employment environment, 12 percent of African Americans age 65+ returned to the workforce from retirement, while nearly 20 percent of African Americans age 45 to 64 increased the number of hours worked and 12 percent took a second job (The Los Angeles Times, February 23, 2010). In 2009, there were more than 30,000 black children living in poverty in the nation’s capital, almost 7,000 more than two years before. Among black children in the city, childhood poverty shot up to 43 percent, from 36 percent in 2008. In contrast, the poverty rate for Hispanic children was 13 percent, and the rate for white children was 3 percent (The Washington Post, September 29, 2010).

The U.S. minority groups face obvious inequality in education. A latest report released by America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University showed that 81 percent of white, 64 percent of Hispanic, and 62 percent of African-American students graduated from high schools in 2008 (The World Journal, December 2, 2010). As of 2008, among white men aged 55 to 64, the college completion rate was 43 percent, while 19 percent of Hispanics. Among white men aged 25 to 34, the completion rate was 39 percent, compared with 14 percent of Hispanics (The Washington Post, October 20, 2010). In New York City, the number of white adults with a master degree were three times more than Hispanics. According to a report released by the Sacramento State University, only 22 percent of Latino students and 26 percent African American students completed their two-year studies in the university, compared with 37 percent of white students (The San Jose Mercury News, October 20, 2010). A report released from New York City’ s Department of Education in January 2010 found that 6,207 or 4.7 percent-out of a total of 130,837 disciplinary incidents reported in the City’s public schools during the 2008-09 school year were bias-related with gender, race/color, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation (The China Press, January 18, 2010). The USA Today on October 14, 2010 reported that African American boys who were suspended at double and triple the rates of their white male peers. At the Christina School District in Delaware, 71 percent of black male students were suspended in a recent school year, compared to 22 percent of their white male counterparts. African-American students without disabilities were more than three times as likely to be expelled as their white peers. African-American students with disabilities were over twice as likely to be expelled or suspended as their white counterparts (USA Today, March 8, 2010).

The health care for African-American people is worrisome. Studies showed that nearly a third of ethnic minority families in the United States did not have health insurance. Life expectancy was lower and infant mortality higher than average (BBC, the social and economic position of minorities). Mortality of African American children was two to three times higher than that of their white counterparts. African American children represented 71 percent of all pediatric HIV/AIDS cases. African American women and men were 17 times and 7 times, respectively, more likely to contract HIV/AIDS than white people, and twice more likely to develop cancer.

Racial discrimination is evident in the law enforcement and judicial systems. The New York Times reported on May 13, 2010, that in 2009, African Americans and Latinos were 9 times more likely to be stopped by the police to receive stop-and-frisk searches than white people. Overall, 41 percent of the prison population was estimated to be African American. The rate of African Americans serving a life sentence was more than 10 times higher than that of whites. Males of African descent who dropped out of school had a 66 percent chance of ending up in jail or being processed by the criminal justice system (UN document A/HRC/15/18). A report said 85 percent of the people stopped in New York to receive stop-and-frisk searches over the past six years had been black or Latino (The Washington Post, November 4, 2010). According to a report of the Law School of the Michigan State University, among the 159 death row inmates in North Carolina, 86 were black, 61 were white and 12 were from other ethnic groups. During the trial process of the 159 capital cases, the number of black members taken out from the jury by prosecutors more than doubled that of non-black members. According to statistics from the Chicago Police Department, the proportion of black people being the criminals and the victims of all murder cases is the highest, reaching 76.3 and 77.6 percent respectively ( The Homicide Report of the Los Angeles Times showed 2,329 homicides in Los Angeles County from January 1, 2007 to November 14, 2010, with victims of 1,600 Latinos and 997 black people (

Racial hate crimes are frequent. The FBI said in an annual report that out of 6,604 hate crimes committed in the United States in 2009, some 4,000 were racially motivated and nearly 1,600 were driven by hatred for a particular religion. Overall, some 8,300 people fell victim to hate crimes in 2009. Blacks made up around three-quarters of victims of the racially motivated hate crimes and Jews made up the same percentage of victims of anti-religious hate crimes. Two-thirds of the 6,225 known perpetrators of all U.S. hate crimes were white (AFP, November 22, 2010).

Immigrants’ rights and interests are not guaranteed. Lawmakers in the Arizona Senate in April 2010 passed a bill to curb illegal immigration. The law requires state and local police to determine the status of people if there is “reasonable suspicion” that they are illegal immigrants and to arrest people who are unable to provide documentation proving they are in the country legally (The Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2010). Another proposed Arizona law, supported by Republicans of the state, would deny birth certificates to children born in the United States to illegal immigrant parents (CNN U.S., June 15, 2010). A group of UN human rights experts on migrants, racism, minorities, indigenous people, education and cultural rights expressed serious concern over the laws enacted by the state of Arizona, saying that “a disturbing pattern of legislative activity hostile to ethnic minorities and immigrants has been established”. The Arizona immigration law requires state law enforcement officers to arrest a person, without a warrant. It also makes it a crime to be in the country illegally, and specifically targets day laborers, making it a crime for an undocumented migrant to solicit work, and for any person to hire or seek to hire an undocumented migrant. The law may lead to detaining and subjecting to interrogation persons primarily on the basis of their perceived ethnic characteristics. In Arizona, persons who appear to be of Mexican, Latin American, or indigenous origin are especially at risk of being targeted under the law. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on November 19, 2010 that a large group of human rights organizations prepared to hold a vigil in South Georgia in support of suspected illegal immigrants being held in a prison in Lumpkin. As of September 17, 2010, the prison was holding 1,890 inmates. Court cases for inmates at the prison were pending for 63 days on average. With regard to immigration detainees, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants said, in a report to the Human Rights Council in April 2010, that he received reports of detainees being willfully and maliciously denied proper medical treatment, to which they are entitled by legislation, while they are in the custody of the national authorities. The Special Rapporteur observed during his country missions that irregular migrant workers are often homeless or living in crowded, unsafe and unsanitary conditions (UN document A/HRC/14/30).

V. On the rights of women and children

The situation regarding the rights of women and children in the United States is bothering.

Gender discrimination against women widely exists in the United States. According to a report released on August 11, 2010 by the Daily Mail, 90 percent of women have suffered some form of sexual discrimination in the workplace. Just 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. A report by the American Association of University Women released on March 22, 2010 showed that women earned only 21 percent of doctorate degrees in computer science, around one-third of the doctorates in earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences, chemistry, and math. Women doing the same work as men often get less payment in the United States. According to a report on September 17, 2010 by the Washington Post, in nearly 50 years, the wage gap has narrowed by only 18 cents. The census report released on September 16, 2010 showed that working women are paid only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. The New York Times reported on April 26, 2010 that Wal-Mart was accused of systematically paying women less than men, giving them smaller raises and offering women fewer opportunities for promotion in the biggest employment discrimination case in the nation’s history. The plaintiffs stressed that while 65 percent of Wal-Mart’s hourly employees were women, only 33 percent of the company’s managers were (The New York Times, April 26, 2010).

Women in the United States often experience sexual assault and violence. Statistics released in October 2010 by the National Institute of Justice show that some 20 million women are rape victims in the country ( About 60,000 female prisoners fall victims to sexual assault or violence every year. Some one fifth female students on campus are victims of sexual assault, and 60 percent of campus rape cases occurred in female students’ dorms (World Journal, August 26, 2010).

According to the Human Rights Watch report released in August last year, 50 detainees in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers have been alleged victims of sexual assault since 2003. Most of these victims were women, and some of the alleged assailants, including prison guards, were not prosecuted. In one case, a guard in a Texas detention center pretended to be a doctor and sexually assaulted five women in the center’s infirmary (World Journal, August 26, 2010). According to figures from Pentagon, cited by the Time magazine on March 8, 2010, nearly 3,000 female soldiers were sexually assaulted in fiscal year 2008, up 9 percent from the year before. Close to one third of the retired female soldiers said they were victims of rape or assault while they were serving.

Women are also victims of domestic violence. In the United States, some 1.3 million people fall victim to domestic violence every year, and women account for 92 percent. One in four women is a victim of domestic violence at some point during her life, and the violence kills three women each day in the United States by a current or former intimate partner (CNN, October 21, 2010). In 2008, police in the New York City received reports of more than 230,000 domestic violence cases, which equals to 600 cases per day (China Press, April 3, 2010). In all homicide cases in 2009, of the female murder victims for whom their relationships to the offenders were known, 34.6 percent were murdered by their husbands or boyfriends ( In the Santa Clara County in California, police receive more than 4,500 domestic violence related calls every year, and more than 700 women and children live in shelters to avoid domestic violence (World Journal, October 15, 2010; China Press, October 9, 2010).

Women’s health rights are not properly protected in the United States. According to the Amnesty International, more than two women die every day in the United States from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. African-American women are nearly four times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than white women in the past 20 years. Native American and Alaska Native women are 3.6 times, African-American women 2.6 times and Latina women 2.5 times more likely than white women to receive no or late pre-natal care (UN document A/HRC/14/NGO/13).

Children in the U.S. live in poverty. The Washington Post reported on November 21, 2010, that nearly one in four children struggles with hunger, citing the U.S. Department of Agriculture. More than 60 percent of public school teachers identify hunger as a problem in the classroom. Roughly the same percentage go into their own pockets to buy food for their hungry students (The Washington Post, November 21, 2010). According to figures released on Sept. 16, 2010 by the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate increased for children younger than 18 to 20.7 percent in 2009, up 1.7 percentage points from that in 2008 ( Poverty among black children in the Washington D.C. is as high as 43 percent (The Washington Post, September 29, 2010), and some 2.7 million children in California live in impoverished families. The number of poor children in six counties in the San Francisco Bay Area has increased by 15 to 16 percent. Statistics show that at least 17 million children in the United States lived in food insecure households in 2009 (World Journal, May 8, 2010).

Violence against children is very severe. Figures from the official website of Love Our Children USA show that every year over 3 million children are victims of violence reportedly and the actual number is 3 times greater. Almost 1.8 million are abducted and nearly 600,000 children live in foster care. Every day one out of seven kids and teens are approached online by predators, and one out of four kids are bullied and 43 percent of teens and 97 percent of middle schoolers are cyberbullied. Nine out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school. As many as 160,000 students stay home on any given day because they’ re afraid of being bullied ( According to a report released on October 20, 2010 by the Washington Post, 17 percent of American students report being bullied two to three times a month or more within a school semester. Bullying is most prevalent in third grade, when almost 25 percent of students reported being bullied two, three or more times a month. According to a UN report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, 20 states and hundreds of school districts in the United States still permit schools to administer corporal punishment in some form, and students with mental or physical disabilities are more likely to suffer physical punishment (UN document A/HRC/14/25/ADD.1).

Children’ s physical and mental health is not ensured. More than 93,000 children are currently incarcerated in the United States, and between 75 and 93 percent of children have experienced at least one traumatic experience, including sexual abuse and neglect (The Washington Post, July 9, 2010). According to a report made by the Child Fatality Review Team from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, between 2001 and 2008, injury-related deaths among children aged one to 12 years old in the United States was 8.9 deaths per 100,000. The figure for those in the New York City was 4.2 deaths per 100,000 (China Press, July 3, 2010). Thirteen children and young adults have died at a Chicago care facility for children with severe disabilities since 2000 due to failure to take basic steps to care for them (Chicago Tribune, October 10, 2010). According to a study published on October 14, 2010 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, about half of American teens aged between 13 and 19 met the criteria for a mental disorder. Fifty-one percent of boys and 49 percent of girls aged 13 to 19 had a mood, behavior, anxiety or substance use disorder, and the disorder in 22.2 percent of teens was so severe it impaired their daily activities (World Journal, October 15, 2010). Pornographic content is rampant on the Internet and severely harms American children. Statistics show that seven in 10 children have accidentally accessed pornography on the Internet and one in three has done so intentionally. And the average age of exposure is 11 years old – some start at eight years old (The Washington Times, June 16, 2010). According to a survey commissioned by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 20 percent of American teens have sent or posted nude or seminude pictures or videos of themselves. (, March 23, 2010). At least 500 profit-oriented nude chat websites were set up by teens in the United States, involving tens of thousands of pornographic pictures.

VI. On U.S. Violations of Human Rights against Other Nations

The United States has a notorious record of international human rights violations.

The U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have caused huge civilian casualties. A trove, released by the WikiLeaks website on October 22, 2010, reported up to 285,000 war casualties in Iraq from March 2003 through the end of 2009. The documents revealed that at least 109,000 people were killed in the Iraq war, and 63 percent of them were civilians (World Journal, October 23, 2010). In an attack in Baghdad in July 2007, an American helicopter shot and killed 12 people, among whom were a Reuters photographer and his driver (The New York Times, April 5, 2010). On February 20, 2011, a U.S. military operation in northeastern Afghanistan killed 65 innocent people, including 22 women and more than 30 children, causing the most serious civilian casualties in months (The Washington Post, February 20, 2011). According to a report in the Washington Post on October 15, 2010, Iraq’ s Human Rights Ministry reported in 2009 that 85,694 Iraqis were killed from January 2004 to October 31, 2008. Iraq Body Count, an organization based in Britain, said that a total of 122,000 civilians had been killed since the U.S. invasion of Iraq (Newsday, October 24, 2010).

The U.S. military actions in Afghanistan and other regions have also brought tremendous casualties to local people. According to a report by McClatchy Newspapers on March 2, 2010, the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops had caused 535 Afghan civilian deaths and injuries in 2009. Among them 113 civilians were shot and killed, an increase of 43 percent over 2008. Since June 2009, air strikes by the U.S. military had killed at least 35 Afghan civilians. On January 8, 2010, an American missile strike in the northwestern region of Pakistan killed four people and injured three others (The San Francisco Chronicle, January 9, 2010). During an American Special Operation in Afghanistan on February 12, five innocent civilians were shot to death, and two of them were pregnant mothers (The New York Times, April 5, 2010, page A4). On April 12, American troops raked a passenger bus near Kandahar, killing five civilians and wounding 18 others (The New York Times, April 13, 2010). The Washington Post reported on September 18, 2010, that from January 2010, a “kill team” formed by five soldiers from the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, had committed at least three murders, where they randomly targeted and killed Afghan civilians, and dismembered the corpses and hoarded the human bones (The Washington Post, September 18, 2010).

The U.S. counter-terrorism missions have been haunted by prisoner abuse scandals. The United States held individuals captured during its “war on terror” indefinitely without charge or trial, according to a joint study report submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council in May 2010 by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The report said the United States established detention centers in Guantanamo Bay and many other places in the world, keeping detainees secretly. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) established secret detention facilities to interrogate so-called “high-value detainees”. The study said the U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stephen G. Bradbury had stated that the CIA had taken custody of 94 detainees, and had employed “enhanced techniques” to varying degrees, including stress positions, extreme temperature changes, sleep deprivation, and “waterboarding,” in the interrogation of 28 of those detainees (UN document A/HRC/13/42). The United States makes arrests outside its border under the pretext of the “war on terror.” According to a report of the Associated Press on December 9, 2010, documents released by the WikiLeaks website indicated that in 2003, some U.S. agents were involved in an abduction of a German citizen mistakenly believed to be a terrorist. The U.S. agents abducted him in Macedonia, and secretly detained him in a CIA-run prison in Afghanistan for five months. However, a top diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin warned the German government not to issue international arrest warrants against the involved CIA agents.

The United States has seriously violated the right of subsistence and right of development of Cuban residents. On October 26, 2010, the 65th session of the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution entitled “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba,” the 19th such resolution in a row. Only two countries, including the United States, voted against the resolution. The blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba qualifies as an act of genocide under Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which was adopted in 1948.

The United States refuses to join several key international human rights conventions, failing to fulfill its international obligations. To date, the United States has ratified neither the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, nor the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. In 2006, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Up to now 96 countries have ratified the Convention. The United States, however, has not ratified it. So far, a total of 193 countries have joined the Convention on the Rights of the Child as states parties, but the United States is among the very few countries that have not ratified it.

On August 20, 2010, the U.S. government submitted its first report on domestic human rights situation to the UN Human Rights Council. During the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the record on November 5, the United States received a record 228 recommendations by about 60 country delegations for improving its human rights situation. These recommendations referred to, inter alia, ratifying key international human rights conventions, rights of ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples, racial discriminations and Guantanamo prison. The United States, however, only accepted some 40 of them. On March 18, 2011, the UN Human Rights Council adopted the outcome of the UPR on the United States, and many countries condemned the United States for rejecting most of the recommendations. In the discussion on the United States, speakers from some country delegations expressed their regret and disappointment over the United States’ refusal of a large number of the recommendations. They noted that the United States’ commitment to the human rights area was far from satisfying, and they urged the United States to face up to its own human rights record and take concrete actions to tackle the existing human rights problems.

The above-mentioned facts illustrate that the United States has a dismal record on its own human rights and could not be justified to pose as the world’s “human rights justice.” However, it released the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices year after year to accuse and blame other countries for their human rights practices. The United States ignores its own serious human rights problems, but has been keen on advocating the so-called “human rights diplomacy,” to take human rights as a political instrument to defame other nations’ image and seek its own strategic interests. These facts fully expose its hypocrisy by exercising double standards on human rights and its malicious design to pursue hegemony under the pretext of human rights.

We hereby advise the U.S. government to take concrete actions to improve its own human rights conditions, check and rectify its acts in the human rights field, and stop the hegemonistic deeds of using human rights issues to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs.


Robert  B. Choate Jr. in 1972, in one of several Senate visits. He rose to national attention by telling a Senate subcommittee that most breakfast cereals barely qualify to be called food.

by paulaznyc

“It would be difficult to conceive of any topic of discussion that could be of greater concern and interest to all Americans than the safety of the food that they eat,” wrote District Judge Mary Lou Robinson in her unpublished order in Texas Beef Group v. Oprah Winfrey,[1] a test-case for Texas’ then-newly enacted food disparagement statute. In response to hearing about that Mad Cow disease is caused by feeding cows to cows during a live broadcast of her show, Oprah “disparaged” the beef industry by saying “It has just stopped me cold from eating another burger! I’m stopped!”

Angry cattle men sued. Oprah had to defend herself in an expensive libel action. It cost her $1 million, and significantly, she won. But just as significantly, she could afford to win. Currently in Texas and 12 other states, it is unlawful to say “disparaging” things about agricultural products. A list of these laws appears here: Since media crosses state lines so easily, these laws can be used to intimidate people anywhere in the country. The laws vary slightly from state to state, but all clearly violate the First Amendment of the Constitution; so far no court has been brave enough to step into the ring, take on agribusiness and say so.

Even though food disparagement cases rarely see the florescent lights of a courtroom – or actually because of this – the corporate interests responsible for getting these laws passed are very confident that they are working. Animal Feed Industry Foundation (AFIA), a nonprofit trade group funded by Purina, Cargill, assorted chemical and pesticide companies, and various agriculture associations, engaged the help of a Washington D.C.-based lawfirm, drafted model legislation and sent it to each state legislature around the country to be lobbied into law.[2] Steve Kupperud, AFIA executive, was frank about the legislation’s goals: “I think that to the degree that the mere presence of these laws has caused activists to think twice, then these laws have already accomplished what they have set out to do.” This means, as long as the laws are out there, and people are afraid of them, then they are “working” – that is, they are limiting what gets said about the safety and nutrition of food products in the US.

Looking for the chilling effects of these laws is no easy task, but enough anecdotes have emerged to suggest that it is fear of litigation that keeps critics of agribusiness practices quiet. In the words of David Bederman, an attorney involved in an unsuccessful facial challenge [3] to a newly enacted statute in Georgia in 1995,

Food libel and agricultural disparagement statutes represent a legal attempt to insulate an economic sector from criticism and also reflect a curious mixture of interest-group politics and industry protectionism. In this respect, they may be strikingly successful in chilling the speech of anyone concerned about (the safety of) the food we eat. The freedom of speech, always precious, becomes ever more so as the agricultural industries use previously untried methods as varied as exotic pesticides, growth hormones, radiation, and genetic engineering on our food supply. Scientists and consumer advocates must be able to express their legitimate, even if unproven, concerns. Food libel quells just that type of speech. At bottom, any restriction on speech about the quality and safety of our food is dangerous, unconstitutional, and undemocratic.

Food disparagement laws are potentially interfering with the public’s receipt of information about outbreaks of contaminants such as E. coli, semolina, cyclospora and hepatitus in food, because the laws prompt health officials to wait for outbreaks to be proven, instead of issuing preemptive warnings, for fear of financial liability.[4] They are certainly one of the reasons so little criticism of dangerous pesticide practices filters into the mainstream.

SI is calling for the public’s help in tracking down food disparagement intimidation efforts. We have collected some examples from a decade ago below. It is clear that threats like these continue to limit the public conversation about food product safety. Have you or someone you know received similar threats? Our plea for your assistance appears below.

1997 :
– Food & Water Watch, received a letter from a lawyer for the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, stating that the group should cease distribution of reports about the safety of irradiating fruits and vegetables. [5]
– Two Fox News reporters had a story about bovine growth hormone, [6] The Mystery In Your Milk, suppressed and edited in response to a letter from Monsanto that included a threat to sue for defamation.[7] When the reporters protested to having their story undergo 38 re-writes by Fox’s lawyers, they were fired. The reporters sued, bringing the first ever whistleblower lawsuit by journalists against a news corporation. [8]The lawsuit took eight years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the reporters won. [9]

1998 :
– Against the Grain: Biotechnology and the Corporate Takeover of Your Food, a book by Dr. Marc Lappé and Britt Bailey, was originally supposed to be published by Vital Health.[10] But the company canceled publication after receiving a threatening letter from a Monsanto lawyer, who said he believed the manuscript contained false statements about Monsanto’s biggest money-maker, the herbicide RoundUp.[11]

– Information about growth hormones in dairy cows was deleted from a manuscript written by research scientist J. Robert Hatherill.[12]
– The National Fisheries Institute warned that public activism designed to protect swordfish would be met with a food disparagement lawsuit.[13]
– A small book publisher in Portland reported that she felt threatened by a telephone call she received from a representative of the Pet Food Institute regarding a forthcoming book she was publishing about meat products. [14]The caller indicated that inaccuracies in the book could become the subject of legal action. [15]The book in question, Food Pets Die For, addressed the use of dead animals in pet food. [16]

– The Ecologist magazine published a special issue, “The Monsanto Files,” which took a critical look at the chemical/biotechnology giant. But The Ecologist’s printer, Penwells of Saltash Cornwall – with whom The Ecologist had worked for 29 years – destroyed the 14,000-copy print run without even notifying the magazine. Penwells refused to comment on its decision and Monsanto denied any responsibility for the action, prompting The Ecologist’s editor, Zac Goldsmith, to say, “The fact that Monsanto had nothing to do with the decision to pulp is, if anything, more scary than if they had made some kind of legal threat. It goes to show what a powerful force a reputation can be.” [17]

SI is seeking more recent evidence of these unconstitutional laws at work; as non-millionaire citizens, our one recourse is to track these coercive efforts and challenge them by exposing the tactics to the broader public. Have you or anyone you know been intimidated into silence, or otherwise threatened? We ask you please send in copies of any threats of litigation using food disparagement laws as their premise. We will keep your confidence (some of us are nearly lawyers and understand this stuff). Please email your anecdotes and pdf copies of any written threats to paulaznyc [at] gmail [dot] com – or ask for a real address to send photocopies.

[1] Ronald K.L. Collins, Book Publishing & Food Libel Laws, Nat. L. J. (Jun. 22, 1998)(citing N.D. Tex., CV-208-J). (back)
[2] Thomas Goetz, Venerable Talk Show Host Gets First Taste of Food Disparagement Laws, Village Voice April 29, 1997, 39, available at [herein Village Voice]; Ellen Gay Jones, Forbidden Fruit: Talking About Pesticides and Food Safety in the Era of Agricultural Product Disparagement Laws, 66 Brook. L. Rev. 823, 832 (2001); Colleen K. Lynch, Disregarding the Marketplace of Ideas: A Constitutional Analysis of Agricultural Disparagement Statutes, 18 J.L. & Com. 167, 178 (1998)(citing Hey, Your Zucchini Wears Army Boots, Time Magazine, Aug. 4, 1997, at 17); American Feed Industry Association Website, (“[In the 1990s, a]s members’ needs expanded, AFIA stayed on track with its historic focus on feed issues: feed research funding, model feed labeling rules, Good Manufacturing Practices regulations, state feed laws, nutrient requirements for swine, the Feed Manufacturing Short Course at Kansas State University, regional production schools and more. Its activities also reflected a broadening focus: fast-track authority for U.S. trade agreements, nutrient management programs for animal agriculture, national food regulation, food disparagement legislation, Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Environmental Protection Agency issues and responses to national media inquiries tied to food issues and bovine spongiform encephalopathy.”)(emphasis added). (back)
[3] David. J. Bederman, Food Libel: Litigating Scientific Uncertainty In A Constitutional Twilight Zone, 10 DePaul Bus. L. J. 191, 231 (1998). (back)
[4] See Joe Saltzman, Freedom of speech, hurt feelings, and economic loss – libel laws and food safety, USA Today, Nov. 1997, available at (back)
[5] Id. (back)
[6] Bovine growth hormone increases the risks of reduced pregnancy rates, ovarian cysts and uterine disorders, decreased lengths of gestation periods, lower birth weight of calves, retained placentas and twinning rates, may cause increased bovine body temperatures, indigestion, bloating, diarrhea, enlarged hocks, enlarged lesions, and injection site swellings. Stauber v. Shalala, 895 F. Supp. 1178, 1183 (W.D. Wis. 1995). It also increases milk production and is marketed to dairy farmers as a supplement to increase the milk production of a herd. (back)
[7] See Jane Akre & Steve Wilson, Modern Media’s Environmental Coverage: What We Don’t Know Can Hurt Us, 33 B.C. Envtl. Aff. L. Rev. 551, 553-4 (2006); for the substance of the report, go to (back)
[8] Id. (back)
[9] Id. (back)
[10] Laura Orlando, Industry Attacks on Dissent: From Rachel Carson to Oprah, Dollars & Sense (Mar. 2, 2002), available at (back)
[11] Id. Common Courage Press picked up the book and published it in 1998. (back)
[12] Ellen Gay Jones, Forbidden Fruit: Talking About Pesticides and Food Safety in the Era of Agricultural Product Disparagement Laws, 66 Brook. L. Rev. 823, 857(2001). (back)
[13] Id. (back)
[14] Id. (back)
[15] id. (back)
[16] Id.; Ann N. Martin, Food Pets Die For (1997). (back)
[17] Id. The magazine was able to line up another printer for the Monsanto issue. (back)




(Ricardo Arduengo/AP)



“EIS is exclusively operating for and on behalf of earthquake survivors, using local languages, French and Creole. The service is free and global. People in Haiti and families and friends around the world can register via a simple text message. Survivors will receive critical news and information direct to their mobiles”












Images of this week’s massive earthquake in Haiti are now flowing out of the country as aid workers and journalists flow in. What we have seen so far confirms the obvious: devastation is massive and widespread. Buildings collapsed. Homes destroyed. A country once inching back from the abyss has been thrown violently back. The photos above, courtesy of GeoEye and Google, show parts of Port-au-Prince before and after the quake. The white building in the bottom frame is the presidential palace, cracked along its axis. This morning, Google added GeoEye’s new imagery to Google Earth. It is available here. We’ve embedded it below. Google Earth Library also has a good collection of data and images from Haiti. Additionally, Google has launched a dynamic spreadsheet, called the “Haiti Situation Tracking Form” that allows people to post messages looking for loved ones and other updates.



Hundreds of web technicians, spurred into action by Haiti’s earthquake one week ago, have developed new web-based tools and services to help the relief effort. Volunteers in the US built and refined software for tracking missing people, mapping the disaster areas and enabling urgent text messaging. Tim Schwartz, a web programmer in San Diego, California, said that he feared that due to so many social-networking sites, crucial information about Haitian earthquake victims would “go everywhere on the internet [but] it would be very hard to actually find people”.

Acting on his concern, Schwartz and 10 other web developers built, an online lost-and-found site to help Haitians in and out of the country to locate missing relatives. The database, which anyone can update, was online less than 24 hours after the earthquake struck, with more than 6,000 entries due to a built-in “scraper” that gathered data from emergency relief organisations working at the site of the earthquake in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. Agencies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and the US federal emergency management agency [Fema], put the systems to use and two days later, Google, the US search engine giant, created PersonFinder, which consolidated all the information from various person-finding sites. Christopher Csikszentmihalyi, the director of media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said PersonFinder, which can be embedded in any website and thus far has more than 32,000 records, “greatly increases the chances that Haitians in Haiti and abroad will be able to find each other”.

Dispatching rescuers
Another volunteer project forged in the earthquake’s aftermath was a mobile phone text-messaging system that helps relief groups dispatch rescuers, food and water. Patrick Meier, the director of Crisis Mapping and Strategic Partnerships at Ushahidi, an online crisis-reporting platform, told Al Jazeera such tools allow near real-time disaster response. “One of the most recent developments in that effort has been the free text messages [they are usually in Creole but in 10 minutes we get them translated into English] … if anyone inside Haiti texts 4636, we get that information in near real time and can [then] map it [and get the information to organisations that need it],” he said. “We have had a number of success stories. One of the very first was a report that went up through Ushahidi about an orphanage that was desperately running out of water … soon after we had someone report they had dispatched 20 litres of water to the orphanage.” In another collaborative effort, volunteers from online OpenStreetMap “crisis mapping” project provide up-to-the-minute data, such as the location of new field hospitals and collapsed bridges.

online tool to Haitian disaster relief effort
BY Monica Hesse / January 16, 2010

Patrick Meier learned about the earthquakes at 7 p.m. Tuesday while he was watching the news in Boston. By 7:20, he’d contacted a colleague in Atlanta. By 7:40, the two were mobilizing an online tool created by a Kenyan lawyer in South Africa. By 8, they were gathering intelligence from everyplace, in a global effort to crowd-source assistance for Haiti. The site is, and it allows users to submit eyewitness accounts or other relevant information for disaster zones via e-mail, text or Twitter — and then visualize the frequency of these events on a map. By Friday, Ushahidi, which means “testimony” in Swahili, had received nearly 33,000 unique visitors, and several hundred personal reports that mainstream news organizations might not hear about. “Chantal Landrin is stuck under the rubble at a house in Turjo!” one user submitted via Twitter. “Please help me find my family in Haiti,” begins another poster. The majority of Ushahidi’s posts are from people — many from the United States — hoping to find information about missing relatives. “Route 9 is access point into [Port-au-Prince] but still precarious,” writes another, who has traveled the road.

Taken individually, these bits of data might not be terribly useful. The goal is that by aggregating the incidents in a visual format, people and organizations using the site will be able to see patterns of destruction, to determine where services should be concentrated. A red dot on the map, for example, signifies that looting is happening near a town called Pétionville; another shows that Hotel Villa Creole has become a site of medical triage. The practice is known as crisis mapping, a newer field of disaster analysis using geography-based data sets, employed by organizations like Ushahidi and Arlington-based GeoCommons. Although individuals have used Twitter and Facebook to share anecdotes for a few years — notably, during 2009’s contested Iranian elections — crisis mapping brings many data points together, making meaning out of randomness and spreading information about areas lacking well-developed records. “We’re providing a repository for all kinds of organizations,” says Meier, who in addition to working as Ushahidi’s director of strategic operations also founded the International Network of Crisis Mappers.

Ushahidi was originally founded in 2008 to map reports of violence in post-election Kenya. Ory Okolloh, a lawyer, had been trying to keep track of these incidents via her personal blog, “but I got swamped by how much information was coming in,” Okolloh says, “and I wanted to have a larger context of what was happening.” She appealed to the blogosphere for help, and soon had a site that allowed the entire Kenyan population to catalogue the injustices and atrocities they were witnessing — a real-time encyclopedia of unrest. Since then, the Ushahidi platform has been employed in many smaller projects, from monitoring elections in India to tracking medicine in various African countries. “Stop the Stock-outs,” as the medical project was known, involved volunteers swarming pharmacies to check the availability of common drugs and text their findings to be displayed on a map. In Kenya alone, more than 100 health centers were revealed to be operating without necessary medication, according to reports. The Kenyan government later allocated more funds for medication.

In Haiti, Meier says, it’s too early to tell what impact Ushahidi might have on relief efforts. Some of the rescue workers for whom Ushahidi was intended are currently too besieged by the chaos of the situation to attempt incorporating it into their work: “Our colleagues are not feeding information into crowdsourcing platforms for now,” writes Florian Westphal of the International Committee of the Red Cross via e-mail. “I don’t think they have the time.” Crisis mappers hope that their analytics will gain greater use in coming days, as rescue workers attempt to navigate the changed landscape. “Being one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti doesn’t have the infrastructure that a more developed country would have,” such as extensive Global Positioning System equipment that would aid in mapping the terrain, says Andrew Turner, chief technology officer of GeoCommons, which has also been producing Haiti-related maps. “Now you have all of these people needing to know how to get from here to there. . . . You need to know where the triage centers are, and the food and water. An old map would be irrelevant with road closings.”

The crowd-sourcing represents what Meier sees as the future of crisis response. “We’re going to need to collaborate, we’re going to need to share data,” he says. “The best way to provide humanitarian response is to be able to provide platforms” and tools that allow people to share on-the-ground information quickly. On Ushahidi, someone posts that the National Cathedral has collapsed, and the map gets another tiny dot of red.




The first reports are now emerging from Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams who were already working on medical projects Haiti. They are treating hundreds of people injured in the quake and have been setting up clinics in tents to replace their own damaged medical facilities.

The Martissant health center in a poor area of Port-au-Prince had to be evacuated after the earthquake because it was damaged and unstable. The patients are now in tents in the grounds and the medical staff have been dealing with a flow of casualties from the town. They have already treated between 300 and 350 people, mainly for trauma injuries and fractures. Among them are 50 people suffering from burns—some of them severe—many of them caused by domestic gas containers exploding in collapsing buidings. At the Pacot rehabilitation center another 300 to 400 people have been treated. In one of MSF’s adminstrative offices in Petionville, another part of Port-au-Prince, a tent clinic there has seen at least 200 injured people. More are getting assistance at what was the Solidarite maternity hospital, which was seriously damaged.

One of MSF’s senior staff, Stefano Zannini, was out for most of the night, trying to assess the needs in the city and looking at the state of the medical facilities. “The situation is chaotic,” he said. “I visited five medical centers, including a major hospital, and most of them were not functioning. Many are damaged and I saw a distressing number of dead bodies. Some parts of the city are without electricity and people have gathered outside, lighting fires in the street and trying to help and comfort each other. When they saw that I was from MSF they were asking for help, particularly to treat their wounded. There was strong solidarity among people in the streets.” Another MSF coordinator there, Hans van Dillen, confirmed that Port-au-Prince was quite unable to cope with the scale of the disaster. “There are hunderds of thousands of people who are sleeping in the streets because they are homeless,” said van Dillen. “We see open fractures, head injuries. The problem is that we can not forward people to proper surgery at this stage.”

So many of the city’s medical facilities have been damaged, healthcare is severely disrupted at precisely the moment when medical needs are high. MSF is also working to get more staff into the country. Around 70 more staff are expected to arrive in the coming days. MSF is sending out a 100-bed hospital with an inflatable surgical unit, consisting of two operating theaters and seven hospitalization tents. Nephrologists will be sent as part of the team in order to deal with the affects of crush injuries. However, transport links are difficult and it is not yet clear whether supplies and medical staff will have to go in through neighboring Dominican Republic. MSF is also concerned about the safety of some of its own staff. There are 800 of them and not all have yet been accounted for because of the poor communications and general disruption.

Doctors Without Borders Cargo Plane With Full Hospital and Staff Blocked From Landing in Port-au-Prince / 17 January 2009

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) urges that its cargo planes carrying essential medical and surgical material be allowed to land in Port-au-Prince in order to treat thousands of wounded waiting for vital surgical operations. Priority must be given immediately to planes carrying lifesaving equipment and medical personnel.

Despite guarantees, given by the United Nations and the US Defense Department, an MSF cargo plane carrying an inflatable surgical hospital was blocked from landing in Port-au-Prince on Saturday, and was re-routed to Samana, in Dominican Republic. All material from the cargo is now being sent by truck from Samana, but this has added a 24-hour delay for the arrival of the hospital.

A second MSF plane is currently on its way and scheduled to land today in Port- au-Prince at around 10 am local time with additional lifesaving medical material and the rest of the equipment for the hospital. If this plane is also rerouted then the installation of the hospital will be further delayed, in a situation where thousands of wounded are still in need of life saving treatment.

The inflatable hospital includes 2 operating theaters, an intensive care unit, 100-bed hospitalization capacity, an emergency room and all the necessary equipment needed for sterilizing material. MSF teams are currently working around the clock in 5 different hospitals in Port-au-Prince, but only 2 operating theaters are fully functional, while a third operating theater has been improvised for minor surgery due to the massive influx of wounded and lack of functional referral structures.



“NetHope members who have been active in our relief efforts firmly believe that NGOs on the ground require a lightweight “NetHope ICT Kit” they can carry in their baggage to provide instant communications from Day 1 onward. This kit must have the following features:”


IT Lends a Helping Hand: interview with NetHope’s Edward Granger-Happ / 2005-01-28

How to help the IT relief effort : “Donate laptops, desktops, network equipment and other technology. Donate bandwidth, especially satellite transponder space. Serve as a volunteer, and encourage your staff to do the same.”

The relief workers toiling in the tsunami-battered nations of southern Asia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia don’t just need money; they need IT support. Like all professionals, their effectiveness and productivity can be amplified by IT—only in their case it means saving more lives and restoring communities more quickly. But field workers for organizations such as Save the Children, Oxfam, and CARE must do their work in nightmarish conditions, often without electricity, phone lines and the human basics. Edward Granger-Happ, the chairman of the board and a founder of NetHope, Inc., is a CIO on the front lines of the tsunami relief effort. NetHope is an organization made up of IT executives from 15 non-government relief organizations who have banded together for cooperative effort rather than competitive advantage. NetHope members share information and know-how, and work together with corporate partners such as Cisco Systems, IBM and Microsoft to develop, share and supply equipment, software and communications services for their members’ relief workers.

Granger-Happ doubles as the chief technology officer of Save the Children, a Westport, Conn.-based charity and relief organization and a NetHope member. He left behind a 24-year career in the private sector, first as an executive with First Boston, Lotus, Chase and Data Broadcasting Corp., then as senior partner and founder of a management consulting firm, to join Save the Children about four years ago.

CIO Insight executive editor Allan E. Alter spoke with Granger-Happ about NetHope’s founding and mission, its work in tsunami relief, and how CIOs and other IT managers and professionals can help NetHope provide technical support.

Q. What is NetHope?
A. My 30-second description is that we’re a group of the largest international non-profits who have banded together to bring ICT – information and communication technology – out to the most challenged areas of the world in which we work. The members are 15 of the largest international non-profits, representing a collective $3.5 billion relief and long term development aid. NetHope is in Sunnyvale, Calif., because that’s where our executive director and finance director are. The members of the board come from throughout the U.S. and the U.K.

Q. What is its mission?
A. To make a difference in the world at the point where our members’ programs touch children and families. The analogy for the for-profit world is where the products meet the customers. Our primary focus is the field worker who is sometimes hours or miles away from even the central field office in the country, administering relief programs like those in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, as well as long-term development, HIV, education, economic opportunity, and conservation-type work.

Q. Why was NetHope started?
A. It started with a white paper, called “Wiring the Virtual Village,” I wrote during my first nine months at Save the Children and presented to Cisco Systems in March 2001. Essentially, it said if we band together as a group of non-profits, we can solve our communication and technology infrastructure problems faster and cheaper than if we continue to try to do it on our own. We all have the same IT issues: in the U.S and Europe IT infrastructure is taken for granted, but in the areas we work we can’t even take electricity for granted. My compelling hypothesis No. 2 is that if we band together to solve these problems, we would be much more attractive to corporate technology partners. A technology company that is interested in philanthropic work could benefit 15 non-profits if it contributed technology, money or people through NetHope, not just one. They would leverage their gifts and time much more than with one-off grants to individual non-profits. It’s also lower risk, because if one or two non-profits have difficulty implementing a grant (always a big concern for corporate partners), the other 12 or 13 who had success can help the other two come up to speed. I spent the first 24 years of my career in the for-profit world, and I was very encouraged by the openness and willingness of non-profits to share internal information and cooperate.

In early April 2001, I got a call from Cisco, when they were launching their Cisco Fellow program. Right after the bubble burst, companies like Cisco had a significant economic downturn. One expense-neutral alternative they found to downsizing was to give managers the option of working with a non-profit, and they would pay for a portion of the expenses. Financially, you come out better if you do this than if you lay off employees; otherwise, you’d have to pay severance and unemployment, and then hire a recruiter when you wanted to fill the position again at the end of the downturn. Two thirds of Cisco Fellows, however, return as an employee. They asked if we’d be interested in that, and I said absolutely. We hired the first Cisco Fellow in June 2001. That was Dipak Basu, and he’s been the executive director of NetHope for its first three years. Dipak gets the credit for taking this vision of a cooperative among non-profits and making it happen. I was really just the idea person.

By the way, when people returned to Cisco after doing this fellowship program, they all said it was critical to their development as leaders. So now Cisco employees have the option of doing this for several months. It’s become strategic for them.

Q. What is NetHope doing now to help the tsunami victims?
A. The key thing NetHope is doing is a project that began a year ago with some technology that had been developed by some Cisco engineers in North Carolina working with Inmarsat in London as a response to the Sept. 11 emergency, where communications and networking was knocked out in New York City. They came up with some off-the-shelf components they put together in a single box to provide what I call a “network-in-a-box.” In relief situations you want to establish voice and data communications in 72 hours or less. In the initial stages of disaster relief, the first relief workers are highly mobile; they are doing situation assessments, determining what the key needs are and marshaling the resources and the equipment that’s necessary to fulfill these needs. You need to have voice and data communications to make that happen. So we saw that network-in-a-box as a potential “net relief kit” (NRK). The kit, which is built by Cisco and now in its second generation, is the size of a weekender suitcase. It’s meant to be out in a field location; it’s ruggedized, runs off a car battery, and is cooled by multiple fans. It can support up to 50 laptops and four or more wireless telephones. It gives us a box with a handle that people flying to the disaster area can bring with them. NetHope has been the driving force behind developing that project, and Cisco has donated the engineering time and expertise to put the box together.

We had done two lab tests of the NRK and were scheduling field tests in Africa for this quarter when the tsunami hit. Our emergency people had reports about the problem within hours. Save the Children’s field office at Banda Aceh was hit and our field office people were lost; all but two were later accounted for. We also lost ten midwives with a community partner. Many of the NetHope managers, like Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, Save the Children and others, who are responding to this emergency in Indonesia and Sri Lanka and to a lesser extent in Myanmar and India, said we need to take this NRK and get it into the field. We said this emergency will become our trial. It’s not the typical way you build and do a trial, but if there’s anything we’ve learned in IT it’s that speed is essential in product development.

The way emergency response works, you get initial response people who try to get in there as soon as possible, determine the situation and what the needs are, and the people in headquarters try to martial the resources and goods—locally at first, so there’s no shipping, but longer-term usually from the U.S. and other sources. This first phase is highly individual and highly mobile. These initial response people took satellite phones, thanks to an agreement we had already worked out with Iridium. We had daily conference calls among members of NetHope during the first phase, and shared our technology assessment information and discussed who can bring what technologies to bear. That information sharing and consulting among members is of enormous value to organizations like Save the Children; we don’t have a large IT staff, and it feels especially small when we’re operating in triage and crisis mode. That happened in Afghanistan and Iraq, and now it’s happening in Indonesia.

The second phase in emergency response involves groups of people, but they’re also highly mobile and need to talk with one another. We’re now starting the second phase, and that’s when the NRK will be used. Many of these groups will operate in tent communities; when we get in with the NRK, we connect their laptops. The kit is just going over now. Our director of networks will be the point person for the first kit. He’s landed in Jakarta, and he’ll be gathering the equipment he needs and will be going to Banda Aceh in the next few days.

Q. How many NRKs will be going out?
A. We’ve asked for ten. That’s the preliminary request, and we haven’t heard back yet what’s possible. That’s the challenge. They are still custom-made; it’s the dedication of the engineers at Cisco in North Carolina that’s putting them together. We’re going to try to share the NRKs as much as possible, but there are bandwidth issues there. In some places we can only get a 64K connections, and there’s only so much bandwidth you can share. Bandwidth is always an issue. Not until the third phase do we establish a more permanent office, and we will outfit that office with a VSAT or other connections, LANs and desktop PCs. When you get to the third phase the NRK is irrelevant because you get a VSAT in a more permanent building. The final way NetHope will be of value will be taking its learning and experiences and sharing it with non-members and developing countries. That’s part of the philanthropic value of what NetHope is doing: Just as we benefit from our knowledge-sharing experiences, we want to turn around and open that to others.

Q. How will that knowledge-sharing be done?
A. NetHope members actually use IBM Lotus Domino QuickPlace, a donation IBM Lotus made to Save the Children. We have a library of posted documents and information, a discussion area, and folders for each of the emergencies and projects on which we’re working. It’s a fully searchable and indexed knowledge base of information, and we have close to four years of information in it now. And here’s the tie-back to how open non-profits are to sharing information: If the head of network engineering at Oxfam has discussions with three satellite phone providers in the European Union, he’ll summarize it and post it for the rest of the members. We don’t all have to talk to those three EU phone providers.

Q. What will you be doing in the next two to eight weeks to help the tsunami victims?
A. I think phase 2 will last at least 90 days, maybe longer. With the extent of the damage we’re seeing in the Banda Aceh area, it may take significantly longer before we can establish a field office that has electricity and communications. Again, NetHope is focused on that relief worker, the relief worker who is doing the food distributions and handling medical programs, crisis intervention in terms of psychological counseling for families and kids, and relocation services. Our job is to make that field workers’ job as easy as possible, by giving him communications and by minimizing the amount of paperwork he needs to do. If you remember what it was like to work without e-mail and a computer, and think about how much easier it is now to do that much more, we want to give the same advantages to the field worker. We’re bringing in laptops, LANs, wireless telephones, satellite telephones, portable satellite dishes, larger satellite dishes for the longer term, and the NRK is the network infrastructure that sits in the middle of that.

Communications is critical for security. In Iraq, communication is essential to make sure people are safe and accounted for. These areas we are going into now for tsunami relief have tenuous situations; there’s a civil war and insurrections going on. Security is an issue there as well. It used to be, before the UN was bombed in Baghdad, that non-profits were immune. We could go in as politically and religiously neutral and meet dire needs wherever we went. That whole world changed with the UN bombing in Baghdad; we’re no longer immune, we’re now one of the targets. There have been kidnappings and bombings. It’s a different world for non-profits. Now we have to spend time on security planning that we didn’t have to do before. And that requires better technology.

Q. What can IT executives do to help the tsunami victims and NetHope?
A. To the degree they have bandwidth or technology they can share, that is of significant interest to us. Many laptops and desktop PCs are on two-year leases; CIOs ought to take them as they come off lease and donate them to non-profits, and get the tax write-off if you do the buy-out. It’s a win-win. Check with your accounting department first, of course. We have a third-party “wiping service” to delete any data from the donated machines.

Q. How can companies share bandwidth?
A. Many companies have paid for large amounts of satellite transponder space; it’s the rented space on the bird itself. To the extent they have transponder space on satellites that cover India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, they can help. We still have to put satellite communications equipment on the ground, but the most expensive part is often the recurring transponder space rent. We’ve talked with some corporations about sharing network infrastructure, but global companies are in the major cities and that’s not where we typically are. But they will have satellite transponder space. Many companies rent space for peak periods. When it’s not peak time, there ought to be ways to donate transponder space.

There’s another way CIOs could help, and that is to volunteer to act as advisers to the non-profit IT directors, from NetHope to the individual IT directors at the non-profits. Save the Children spends less than 1.5 percent of revenue on IT, and our headquarters IT department is 23 people for a 3,200-person organization in 40 countries. So we’re excellent at taking slim resources and stretching them to do incredible things. But when you layer on top of it a disaster of this magnitude, where you have to turn your attention to those things, getting help and advice on more efficient ways to do the day-to-day blocking and tackling, or to even come and volunteer to fill in to do those things, would be very valuable. We’re good at stretching things thin to run a normal operation, but add a disaster like this and it becomes an abnormal operation. We have daily stand-up meetings to look at everyone’s top three things they are doing that impacts their response. There could be lots of other things that don’t happen. Having people who are experts at crisis management and in applying medical triage to business situation would be invaluable to non-profits.

Q. What kinds of people from an IT staff would you want as volunteers?
A. It could be as basic as help-desk people who can configure PC laptops before they go out in the field. It could be network engineers who can run our data centers. At senior-management level, advisers on how to apply triage and crisis management to most efficiently manage hour-to-hour with our limited resources. To help, go to There’s a link to contact us at Or call us at (408) 525-2451 or e-mail us at info [at] Those calls and e-mails will get funneled to Molly Tschang, our current executive director, who will take it from there. If anyone is interested in particular in Save the Children, contact me by email at ehapp [at] savechildren [dot] org rather than call.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A. NetHope doesn’t happen without our corporate partners, especially Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Immarsat and Eutelsat. Microsoft and Cisco have worked with us from day one when this tragedy struck, asking us how they can help. Cisco has responded by speeding up the Net Relief Kit, and employees at both organizations are donating to Save the Children. They’ve been incredible partners. Beyond business partners, these are organizations that really care about making a difference, and they have taken a keen interest in having NetHope succeed.

And just two human-interest points: This is my third career. I worked on Wall Street for the first 14 years of my career, with First Boston, Chase, Lotus and Data Broadcasting Corp. Then I ran my own management consulting business in IT and balanced scorecard work for ten years before joining Save the Children. Which leads me to my second point: I could double my income at any corporate firm, but what’s more important to me at this point in my career is having the ability to make an impact every day in what I do. When we get IT right, more kids get fed, more kids get inoculated, and more kids get educated and taught. The value of that is immeasurable. So my whole model has turned from pursuit of success to pursuit of significance.

Edward Granger-Happ
email : ehapp [@] savethechildren [dot] org / ehapp [at] hpmd [dot] com





Take a look at the designs for what could someday be the world’s cheapest PC, and you may start to wish you were a third-grade child in Burundi.
BY Andy Greenberg / 12.22.09

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte’s non-profit effort aimed at putting cheap educational laptops into the hands of developing world schoolchildren, is working on an upgrade to its so-called XO computer, once known as the “hundred-dollar laptop.” That revamped machine, known as the XO-3 and targeted for release in 2012, is still more of a pipe dream than a product. But early designs for the PC reveal a minimalist slate of touch-powered electronics that drops practically every feature of a traditional computer except its 8.5-by-11-inch screen, a scheme that would shed all of the first XO’s child-like clunkiness without losing its simple accessibility. “I wanted to bring the One Laptop Per Child identity to life in this new form,” says Yves Behar, founder of FuseProject, which designed the both the original and the XO-3. “That meant taking the visual complexity away, bringing tactility and friendliness, touch and color.”

Behar says he hopes to shrink the frame around the XO-3’s display down to practically nothing, opting for a virtual keyboard instead of a physical one, and no buttons. The result, in his mock-ups, is a screen surrounded by only a thin green rubber gasket. “Nicholas [Negroponte] asked for something extremely simple and practically frameless,” he says. “The media or content on the computer will be the prime visual element.” In fact, that new form factor is just the beginning of OLPC’s monstrous ambitions: It aims to make its tablet PC highly durable, all plastic, waterproof, half the thickness of an iPhone and use less than a watt of power, despite an 8-gigaherz processor. The price: an unprecedented $75.

Many of OLPC’s goals, to be fair, are more imagination than road map. And Negroponte has a history of overpromising. The original XO never hit its original goal of $100, (it currently sells for $172) and another touch screen upgrade to the XO that Negroponte announced in May 2008 was quietly scrapped this year based on costs. But in this case, Negroponte’s plan has a twist: As OLPC assembles the components for its dream machine, it plans to open the architecture of the device to allow any other PC maker to take over the project. Negroponte is more interested in pressuring the industry to make cheaper, more education-focused PCs than he is in manufacturing any specific machine. “We don’t necessarily need to build it,” Negroponte told Forbes. “We just need to threaten to build it.”

Regardless of who puts their stamp on the ultra-cheap tablet, OLPC’s biggest task may be getting the various components in line. A typical fragile, glass LCD screen hardly seems a wise choice in the hands of young children, or in countries with unpredictable and scarce electricity. So OLPC hopes to incorporate plastic back-plane components, possibly from Mountain View, Calif.-based Plastic Logic, that would be far more durable. The tablet will also likely use ultra low-power screens from start-up Pixel Qi with both reflective and LCD capabilities, created by former Negroponte disciple Mary Lou Jepsen. If Behar’s design comes to fruition, the XO-3 will feature a camera on the back of the device and a finger-hold ring on the computer’s corner. That loop, a metal cable that runs from the device’s rim and is encased in the same rubber as the screen frame, can be used to steady the computer in the user’s hand or to let it hang at one’s side. Magnets in the loop could also be used to keep it tucked behind the machine, out of the way.

Those simple additions are the only departures from the tablet’s minimalist design: Ideally, the machine won’t even have a charging port. Behar says OLPC wants to use induction to wirelessly charge the battery through its rubber frame. “We wanted to remove all the scars that you typically see on a laptop from Lenovo or HP,” he says. While the tablet isn’t slated to appear until 2012, OLPC has other plans in the meantime. An incremental upgrade of the XO set for release in January will have several times the memory, storage and processing power of the current machine. The next upgrade, in 2011, will boost the machine’s performance again and replace its AMD chip with a lower-power processor from phone chip maker Marvell.

When it comes to his plans for the $75 dream tablet, however, Negroponte admits his track record of lofty promises doesn’t offer much assurance that this latest fantasy machine will appear. But he warns the computer industry not to underestimate OLPC. “Sure, if I were a commercial entity coming to you for investment, and I’d made the projections I had in the past, you wouldn’t invest again,” he says. “But we’re not a commercial operation. If we only achieve half of what we’re setting out to do, it could have very big consequences.”

Nicholas Negroponte
email : nicholas [at] [dot] edu

BY Robert Evans / 23 Dec 2009

“One Laptop Per Child is a charity run by Nicholas Negroponte. Their goal is to provide laptops to every child in the developing world. One of the ways they do this is by selling their ultra-cheap machines to Westerners for double the price. That way you get a laptop, and you get to buy a laptop for some kid in Uganda or Somalia. While the current versions of the OLPC are fairly unimpressive, the XO-3, Negroponte’s design for the 2012 OLPC, looks incredible.

Forbes reports that this new OLPC is going to be a totally stripped down, 8.5″-11” tablet PC. The only features of this tablet will be the touchscreen, and a little ring on the side to act as a hand-hold or to loop into a belt. The XO-3 will be simple and durable; it’s going to be made entirely of plastic will be waterproof. It should pack an 8 GHz processor, but will use less than a watt of power. Remember; this thing isn’t scheduled to hit until 2012.

The price is expected to be $75. Whether or not this device will ever launch, let alone at that price, remains to be seen. I really hope it does, though. One Laptop Per Child is an incredibly beneficial charity that allows poor children all around the world to connect to the Internet. It makes possible a level of communication and exposure to information that none of these children would otherwise have. Plus, the XO-3 is supposed to have a camera. That means Flickr will soon be populated with thousands of shots from OLPC owners in exotic locales all around the world. That alone is worth a donation or two.


Fast, Cheap and Sustainable:
Ex-Pentagon Geek Plots Disaster Relief 2.0
BY Nathan Hodge / October 16, 2008

Linton Wells used to be one of the Pentagon geeks-in-chief — a prime mover in the military’s embrace of information technology. Now, he wants to encourage the Defense Deparment to network with relief agencies, civic organizations and the private sector in order to reboot disaster recovery. The goal of the tech-heavy effort is not only to avoid a Hurricane Katrina repeat. It’s to get better at stabilizing failed states that could easily slip into radical hands. But first, the boys in uniform have to get over their traditional reluctance to cooperate with civilians.

Nation-building, perhaps by default, has become a core mission for the U.S. military. Last week, the Army unveiled its new stability operations manual. And this week, the Department of Defense is hosting a demonstration of some of the more innovative new tools for disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.

The project is called STAR-TIDES (Sustainable Technologies, Accelerated Research-Transportable Infrastructures for Development and Emergency Support). The acronym may be long, but the concept is simple: it is supposed to pull together cheap and effective solutions for humanitarian emergencies or post-war reconstruction.

Among the items on display at the Pentagon demo: solar cooking panels; Solar Stik portable power generators (pictured); inflatable satellite antennas; and water purification systems. It’s an intriguing sight to see bureaucrats sip purified
Potomac River water in the Pentagon center court, or to watch a two-star general inspect a tree-hugger’s Hexayurt shelter.

The buzzwords here are “affordable solutions,” “sustainable support” or “capacity building” – all terms borrowed from the world of aid and development. STAR-TIDES is also part of a larger effort by Wells to spread the word these concepts within the Defense Department.

“We’re not an operating agency,” Wells said. “I’m coordinating this with a few colleagues on a more or less volunteer basis. If someone comes in and says, ‘coordinate the next Katrina,’ we’re not in a position to do that. We are in a position to try to perhaps help the decisionmakers to think ahead and maybe get some of these coalitions built so there’d be better planning for whole-of-government, civil society, and maybe different scenarios they might not otherwise think of.”

The current demo is set up for a few scenarios: disaster relief in Central America or the Western Pacific; stabilization and reconstruction in Afghanistan; and refugee support in sub-Saharan Africa. Some of the technology on display could also be used for “defense support to civil authorities” (think Hurricane Katrina).

A project like STAR-TIDES faces more than institutional resistance within the Pentagon; non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and aid groups are often wary of working with the military. Wells said he recognized the limitations.

“In many respects, the conflict-resolution NGOs are quite willing to work with the military, whereas the humanitarian assistance NGOs are more wary because their people are in the field and could be at risk,” he said. “If they are seen going in and out of military facilities or communicating routinely with the military, instead of being neutral parties in the crisis, one side or the other can attribute to them the motives of the U.S. military. So they actually see in some cases their people being at risk. … What we try to do is recognize their constraints, recognize their environment, in a social network, trust-building type of arrangement. Deliver something of value that’s useful to them and show how it’s advantageous for them to work with the U.S.”






Workers have also been preparing tents at Guantanamo Bay for Haitian migrants in case the earthquake spurs a mass migration. This is not a new role for the base: At any given moment, the facility temporarily holds small groups of migrants, mostly from Cuba. In the 1990s, Guantanamo housed tens of thousands of Haitian boat people until they could be sent home. About 100 tents, each capable of holding 10 people, have been erected. The U.S. has capacity to hold up to 13,000 at that site, which is on the opposite side of the base, separated by 2 1/2 miles of water, from the detention center for terrorism suspects. Blaisdell said he is considering additional places in case more space is needed.

At the prison, Friday’s deadline for the closure of the base prison was a nonevent. Behind walls of razor wire, officials say they will be on alert for protests by prisoners. But Army Col. Bruce Vargo, the guard force commander, said the reduced population and the decision to house nearly 75 percent of the men in communal settings has eased tensions. He does not expect significant trouble. The delay in closing the base has angered Guantanamo’s many critics, but attorneys for prisoners say most of their clients were always skeptical that they would be going home soon. Many of them now have regular access to the news and could read copies of Obama’s order posted around the camps. “When they saw how slow the review process became and the tiny trickle of men transferred from Guantanamo, they were realistic and saw it would be impossible to meet the Jan. 22 deadline,” said David Remes, a Washington attorney for 18 prisoners.

Navy Rear Adm. Thomas Copeman, commander of the task force that runs the detention center, views with pride the base’s role in trying to solve the humanitarian crisis. “The ability to conduct real-world humanitarian assistance and disaster relief … that’s more exhilarating at the moment then walking the block in the detention camp, not to say that walking the block is not an extremely important mission for the United States but probably not as gratifying as saving someone’s life.”

Why Did We Focus on Securing Haiti, Rather Than Helping Haitians?
Here are two possibilities, neither of them flattering.
BY Ben Ehrenreich / Jan. 21, 2010

By the weekend, it was clear that something perverse was going on in Haiti, something savage and bestial in its lack of concern for human life. I’m not talking about the earthquake, and certainly not about the so-called “looting,” which I prefer to think of as the autonomously organized distribution of unjustly hoarded goods. I’m talking about the U.S. relief effort.

For two days after the quake, despite almost unimaginable destruction, there were reasons to be optimistic. With a few notable exceptions—Pat Robertson and David Brooks among them—Americans reacted with extraordinary and unhesitating generosity of spirit and of purse. Port-au-Prince is not much farther from Washington, D.C., than, say, New Orleans, and the current president of the United States, unlike his predecessor, was quick to react to catastrophe. Taking advantage of “our unique capacity to project power around the world,” President Barack Obama pledged abundant aid and 10,000 troops. Troops? Port-au-Prince had been leveled by an earthquake, not a barbarian invasion, but, OK, troops. Maybe they could put down their rifles and, you know, carry stuff, make themselves useful. At least they could get there soon: The naval base at Guantanamo was barely 200 miles away.

The Cubans, at least, would show up quickly. It wasn’t until Friday, three days after the quake, that the “supercarrier” USS Carl Vinson, arrived—and promptly ran out of supplies. “We have communications, we have some command and control, but we don’t have much relief supplies to offer,” admitted Rear Adm. Ted Branch. So what were they doing there?

“Command and control” turned out to be the key words. The U.S. military did what the U.S. military does. Like a slow-witted, fearful giant, it built a wall around itself, commandeering the Port-au-Prince airport and constructing a mini-Green Zone. As thousands of tons of desperately needed food, water, and medical supplies piled up behind the airport fences—and thousands of corpses piled up outside them—Defense Secretary Robert Gates ruled out the possibility of using American aircraft to airdrop supplies: “An airdrop is simply going to lead to riots,” he said. The military’s first priority was to build a “structure for distribution” and “to provide security.” (Four days and many deaths later, the United States began airdropping aid.)

The TV networks and major papers gamely played along. Forget hunger, dehydration, gangrene, septicemia—the real concern was “the security situation,” the possibility of chaos, violence, looting. Never mind that the overwhelming majority of on-the-ground accounts from people who did not have to answer to editors described Haitians taking care of one another, digging through rubble with their bare hands, caring for injured loved ones—and strangers—in the absence of outside help. Even the evidence of “looting” documented something that looked more like mutual aid: The photograph that accompanied a Sunday New York Times article reporting “pockets of violence and anarchy” showed men standing atop the ruins of a store, tossing supplies to the gathered crowd.

The guiding assumption, though, was that Haitian society was on the very edge of dissolving into savagery. Suffering from “progress-resistant cultural influences” (that’s David Brooks finding a polite way to call black people primitive), Haitians were expected to devour one another and, like wounded dogs, to snap at the hands that fed them. As much as any logistical bottleneck, the mania for security slowed the distribution of aid.

Air-traffic control in the Haitian capital was outsourced to an Air Force base in Florida, which, not surprisingly, gave priority to its own pilots. While the military flew in troops and equipment, planes bearing supplies for the Red Cross, the World Food Program, and Doctors Without Borders were rerouted to Santo Domingo in neighboring Dominican Republic. Aid flights from Mexico, Russia, and France were refused permission to land. On Monday, the British Daily Telegraph reported, the French minister in charge of humanitarian aid admitted he had been involved in a “scuffle” with a U.S. commander in the airport’s control tower. According to the Telegraph, it took the intervention of the United Nations for the United States to agree to prioritize humanitarian flights over military deliveries.

Meanwhile, much of the aid that was arriving remained at the airport. Haitians watched American helicopters fly over the capital, commanding and controlling, but no aid at all was being distributed in most of the city. On Tuesday, a doctor at a field hospital within site of the runways complained that five to 10 patients were dying each day for lack of the most basic medical necessities. “We can look at the supplies sitting there,” Alphonse Edward told Britain’s Channel 4 News.

The much-feared descent into anarchy stubbornly refused to materialize. “It is calm at this time,” Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, deputy commander of the U.S. Southern Command, admitted to the AP on Monday. “Those who live and work here … tell me that the level of violence that we see right now is below pre-earthquake levels.” He announced that four—four, in a city of more than 2 million—aid-distribution points had been set up on the sixth day of the crisis.

So what happened? Why the mad rush to command and control, with all its ultimately murderous consequences? Why the paranoid focus on security above saving lives? Clearly, President Obama failed to learn one of the basic lessons taught by Hurricane Katrina: You can’t solve a humanitarian problem by throwing guns at it. Before the president had finished insisting that “my national security team understands that I will not put up with any excuses,” Haiti’s fate was sealed. National security teams prioritize national security, an amorphous and expensive notion that has little to do with keeping Haitian citizens alive.

This leaves the more disturbing question of why the Obama administration chose to respond as if they were there to confront an insurgency, rather than to clear rubble and distribute antibiotics and MREs. The beginning of an answer can be found in what Rebecca Solnit, author of A Paradise Built in Hell, calls “elite panic”—the conviction of the powerful that their own Hobbesian corporate ethic is innate in all of us, that in the absence of centralized authority, only cannibalism can reign.

But the danger of hunger-crazed mobs never came up after the 2004 Pacific tsunami, and no one mentions security when tornados and floods wipe out swaths of the American Midwest. This suggests two possibilities, neither of them flattering. The first is that the administration had strategic reasons for sending 10,000 troops that had little to do with disaster relief. This is the explanation favored by the Latin American left and, given the United States’ history of invasion and occupation in Haiti (and in the Dominican Republic and Cuba and Nicaragua and Grenada and Panama), it is difficult to dismiss. Only time will tell what “reconstruction” means.

Another answer lies closer to home. New Orleans and Port-au-Prince have one obvious thing in common: The majority of both cities’ residents are black and poor. White people who are not poor have been known, when confronted with black people who are, to start locking their car doors and muttering about their security. It doesn’t matter what color our president is. Even when it is ostensibly doing good, the U.S. government can be racist, and, in an entirely civil and bureaucratic fashion, savagely cruel.


Haiti escaped prisoners chased out of notorious slum Cité Soleil
Ed Pilkington and Tom Phillips, in Cité Soleil / 20 January 2010

When the 3,000 inmates of the central prison in Port-au-Prince unexpectedly gained their freedom, courtesy of the earthquake, everybody knew where they would be headed: Cité Soleil, the poorest area of this poorest city, in whose maze of streets they could vanish.

But the fugitives hadn’t counted on one thing: the determination of Cité Soleil’s people not to let them back. “We’ve got so many huge problems because of the earthquake, we have so little food, water and medicines, we can’t deal with another huge problem,” said Caries Rubens, 26, one of the area’s 300,000 people.

Several of the escapers had been gang leaders in the slum neighbourhood, ensnaring and terrorising the people with drugs and guns. Nobody wanted to see them regain their hold. When news that the earthquake had granted the prisoners early parole reached Cité Soleil, a committee was set up, then vigilante security teams. Prisoners spotted re-entering the area were chased and run out of town. Those who were caught came to a more definitive end. Bled, one of the most notorious gang leaders whose moniker derives from what happened to his many murder and kidnapping victims, was welcomed back by a lynch mob wielding machetes.

That the people of this downtrodden place have shown a determination to stand up to gang leaders is a sign of the change that has taken root in Cité Soleil. Between 2002 and 2006 the area was almost entirely in the grip of the gangs, but in the last three years, partly through the intervention of UN peacekeepers and partly through communal self-help, the gangs’ power has waned and the people’s confidence has grown.

Rubens is a member of a local charity that tries to help the young find an alternative path to adulthood through education rather than violence and drugs. “It’s very difficult to ask a young kid to stay out of the gangs in Cité Soleil,” said Fedora Camille Chevry, who set up the charity Fondation Roussan Camille. “To do that there has to be hope and in Cité Soleil there is so little hope. By providing them with a way of opening up their minds, we try and give them that hope.”

If the foundation is trying to work to shore up the community from within, from the outside UN forces are keeping a close eye on Cité Soleil for fear that the prison breakout might prompt a slide back into the dark past. Their commanding officer has vowed to “intensify” operations to recapture the escapees.

General Florianao Peixoto said his troops had drawn up a list of targets and had already begun making arrests. “We are going to have to carry out more intensive activities to get these elements back where they belong. The hypothesis is that these leaders will regroup to carry out collective operations. But I have a military force that is far superior to that of any gang.”

“We know the area and we have it under control,” said Captain Italo Monsores, a Brazilian marine, during a tour of Cité Soleil’s rubble-strewn streets. The threat, like in so much of this stricken city, is that the devastation will destroy the fragile gains of recent years. Cité Soleil is a chaotic jumble of concrete houses interspersed with corrugated iron shacks. Several of the structures have collapsed, including a school where the metal roof has fallen on to wooden desks stamped with the logo of the UN children’s agency Unicef.

The death toll here was probably lower than in other parts by dint of the houses being low-rise, but many people were wounded in an area with primitive medical services. We came across a woman whose left arm had been burnt to a blackened crust. She had been cooking when the earthquake happened, tipping a saucepan of boiling water over her. Her arm looked as though it were weeping and in risk of infection. Down the road a long line of women was queuing with buckets at a water tanker. There was scuffling and shouting at the front – unsurprisingly as Cité Soleil has been without drinking water for days. We were taken to see the central water tower, which had keeled over.

Food remains difficult to find. We passed a small shop selling balloons, brooms, salami, lollipops and other random items. The owner now sells his wares from behind a metal grille. “Times are hard,” he said. “People might be tempted to rob.” As Rubens puts it: “You want to know how we feel? We feel alone.” But there is grit and imagination here too. Up above the iron roofs, under the flight path of Black Hawk helicopters ferrying supplies, a kite made of plastic and paper flapped in the wind.

After the earthquake, how to rebuild Haiti from scratch
By Jeffrey D. Sachs / January 17, 2010

President Obama has declared that the United States will not forsake Haiti in its moment of agony. Honoring this commitment would be a first for Washington. To prevent a deepening spiral of death, the United States will have to do things differently than in the past. American relief and development institutions do not function properly, and to believe otherwise would be to condemn Haiti’s poor and dying to our own mythology.

In Haiti, we are facing not only a horrific natural disaster but the tectonics of nature, poverty and politics. Even before last week’s earthquake, roughly half of the nation’s 10 million inhabitants lived in destitution, in squalid housing built of adobe or masonry without reinforcements, perched precariously on hillsides. The country is still trying to recover from the hurricanes of 2008 as well as longtime social and political traumas. The government’s inability to cope has been obvious, but those of us who have been around Haiti for many years also know about the lofty international promises that follow each disaster — and how ineffectual the response has been each time.

In the past two decades, U.S. interventions have done much more harm than good to the Haitian economy. In the early 1990s, Washington thought it did Haiti a favor by imposing a crushing trade embargo to bring about democratization — specifically, the reinstatement of democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The embargo destroyed Haiti’s fragile manufacturing industries. Then, true to America’s political swings, ideologues in the Bush administration spent years trying to oust Aristide, first by foisting a de facto and illegal aid freeze on international development agencies, and then by brazenly toppling Aristide and carrying him to the Central African Republic. Congress took a pass on reviewing these sordid events, pausing only to declare its love for the Haitian people.

Now it’s time to save Haitian lives by the millions, or watch a generation perish. A serious response will require a new approach. President Obama should recognize that the U.S. government alone lacks the means, attention span and true regard for Haiti that is needed to see this through past the most urgent phase. After the coming weeks, during which U.S. emergency airlift assistance is essential, the effort should be quickly internationalized, in an effective manner that acknowledges U.S. political realities and leverages the help that Washington will give.

Typically, a tragedy such as this is followed by international pledges of billions of dollars, but then only a slow trickle of help. The government of Haiti, overwhelmed far before this earthquake, is in no position to pester 20 or more complicated donor agencies to follow up on designing projects and disbursing funds. The recovery operation needs money in the bank — in a single, transparent, multidonor recovery fund for Haiti and the world to see. Haiti does not need a pledging session; it needs a bank account to fund its survival and reconstruction. The Inter-American Development Bank would be an excellent venue; it is well-run and highly regarded, already serves as Haiti’s largest development financier and could bring in donor partners from around the globe.

How would a Haiti Recovery Fund be organized? It should receive emergency outlays from the United States and other donors; organize a board that includes members appointed by Haitian President René Préval, the U.N. secretary general and donors; and empower a management team to formulate and execute plans agreed to by the Haitian government. Very soon, the first phase of recovery operations in Haiti will end. Tragically, tens or hundreds of thousands will have died under the rubble, with relief and equipment arriving too late. Now the race is on to save Haiti itself. Its capital, a city without reserves of food, water, power, shelter, hospitals, medicine and other vital supplies, faces the real possibilities of hunger, epidemics and civil unrest. And the rest of the country is like a body without a head. The port is shut, the government is overwhelmed, many U.N. peacekeepers have transferred to Port-au-Prince, and the normal operations of government, skimpy as they once were, have broken down entirely.

The recovery fund would focus first on restoring basic services needed for survival. For months to come, medical supplies from abroad should be stockpiled and then distributed in the capital and beyond. Makeshift surgical units and clinical facilities will be essential. Power plants on offshore barges will be needed for electricity until new plants can be constructed. The salaries of public workers — especially teachers, police officers, nurses, reconstruction workers and engineers — must be assured, despite an utter collapse of revenues. Haiti’s currency will need to be backed by international reserves so that the demand for public spending does not create harrowing inflation. The Haiti Recovery Fund, together with a quick-disbursing grant from the International Monetary Fund, should provide the needed reserves and budget financing.

Emergency relief should quickly and seamlessly transform into reconstruction and development. Indeed, if we stop at humanitarian relief alone, Haiti will be back in crisis soon enough, after the next disaster. The first step in this transition is food security: Haiti’s farmers will need seed and fertilizer within weeks if they are to grow food for a destitute country. The displaced urban population will need income support or food transfers to subsist. The World Food Program’s effective food-for-work projects can help feed workers recruited to rebuild roads and buildings.

After the extreme emergency period over the next few weeks, growing more food in Haiti will be far cheaper, more reliable and more sustainable than living on imported food aid. Supplying the farm inputs to Haiti will require more grants — as impoverished farmers have no capacity to buy seeds, fertilizer and small-scale equipment — as well as official aid to help deliver such materials to Haiti’s remote villages.

New shelters must not be makeshift units that would be destroyed by Haiti’s frequent floods, landslides and hurricanes. The country will need a revived and expanded construction industry to produce the brick, reinforced concrete and other vital materials. Private companies, domestic and international, should be contracted to set up operations. China is capable of quickly dismantling a factory, putting it in containers on ships and reconstructing it within weeks in a foreign location. Such efforts are needed immediately. (The asphalt for Liberia’s roads comes from a Chinese factory assembled this way in the capital, Monrovia.) The list of needs goes on; it was very long and urgent even before last week’s calamity.

The Haiti Recovery Fund should be constituted for five years — a suitable period to respond to such a challenge. Electoral politics in Haiti should be suspended for at least one year as well. This is no time for national elections; the people’s survival is the first purpose of politics. How much money would the Haiti Recovery Fund need? And where should it come from? Here is a rough estimate: Before the earthquake but after the hurricanes, I had calculated an urgent (and unmet) development financing need of $1.4 billion per year for Haiti, up from about $300 million currently. Basic urgent reconstruction costs will add perhaps another $5 billion to $10 billion over the next few years. One can imagine annual disbursements of $2 billion to $3 billion annually over the next five years.

Obama should seek an immediate appropriation of at least $1 billion this year and next for a Haiti Recovery Fund, and ask other countries and international agencies to fill in the rest, not with promises but with cash. The obvious way for Washington to cover this new funding is by introducing special taxes on Wall Street bonuses, utterly unjustified payments that will be announced in the next days. Haiti will suffer a quick death of hunger and disease unless we act, and the United States will suffer a slow and painful moral death unless we respond to the extreme distress of our neighbors, whom we have neglected for so long and, at times, even put in harm’s way.

BY Jeremy Scahill /

“We saw this type of Iraq-style disaster profiteering in New Orleans, and you can expect to see a lot more of this in Haiti over the coming days, weeks and months. Private security companies are seeing big dollar signs in Haiti thanks in no small part to the media hype about “looters.” After Katrina, the number of private security companies registered (and unregistered) multiplied overnight. Banks, wealthy individuals, the US government all hired private security. I even encountered Israeli mercenaries operating an armed checkpoint outside of an elite gated community in New Orleans. They worked for a company called Instinctive Shooting International. (That is not a joke).

Now, it is kicking into full gear in Haiti. The Orwellian-named mercenary trade group International Peace Operations Association didn’t waste much time in offering the “services” of its member companies to swoop down on Haiti for some old-fashioned “humanitarian assistance” in the form of disaster profiteering. Within hours of the massive earthquake in Haiti, the IPOA created a special webpage for prospective clients, saying: “In the wake of the tragic events in Haiti, a number of IPOA’s member companies are available and prepared to provide a wide variety of critical relief services to the earthquake’s victims.”

While some of the companies specialize in rapid housing construction, emergency relief shelters and transportation, others are private security companies that operate in Iraq and Afghanistan, such as Triple Canopy, the company that took over Blackwater’s massive State Department contract in Iraq. For years, Blackwater played a major role in IPOA until it left the group following the 2007 Nisour Square massacre.

In 2005, while still a leading member of IPOA, Blackwater’s owner Erik Prince deployed his forces in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Far from some sort of generous gift to the suffering people of the US gulf, Blackwater raked in some $70 million in Homeland Security contracts that began with a massive no-bid contract to provide protective services for FEMA. Blackwater billed US taxpayers $950 per man per day.

The current US program under which armed security companies work for the State Department in Iraq–the Worldwide Personal Protection Program–has its roots in Haiti during the Clinton administration. In 1994, private US forces, such as DynCorp, became a staple of US operations in the country following the overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide by CIA-backed death squads. When President Bush invaded Iraq, his administration radically expanded that program and turned it into the privatized paramilitary force it is today. At the time of his overthrow in 2004, Aristide was being protected by a San Francisco-based private security firm, the Steele Foundation.

Beyond the establishment mercenary industry’s activities in Haiti, look for more stories like this one: On January 15, a Florida-based company called All Pro Legal Investigations registered the URL It is basically a copy of the company’s existing US website but is now targeted for business in Haiti, claiming the “purpose of this site is to assure construction and reconstruction companies considering a Haiti project that professional security is available.”

“All Protection and Security has made a commitment to the Haitian community and will provide professional security against any threat to prosperity in Haiti,” the site proclaims. “Job sites and supply convoys will be protected against looters and vandals. Workers will be protected against gang violence and intimidation. The people of Haiti will recover, with the help of the good people from the world over.”

The company boasts that it has run “Thousands of successful missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.” As for its personnel, “Each and every member of our team is a former Law Enforcement Officer or former Military service member,” the site claims. “If Operator experience, training and qualifications matter, choose All Protection and Security for your high-threat Haiti security needs.” Among the services offered are: “High Threat terminations,” dealing with “worker unrest,” armed guards and “Armed Cargo Escorts.” Oh, and apparently they are currently hiring.

What is unfolding in Haiti seems to be part of what Naomi Klein has labeled the “Shock Doctrine.” Indeed, on the Heritage Foundation blog, opportunity was being found in the crisis with a post titled: “Amidst the Suffering, Crisis in Haiti Offers Opportunities to the U.S.” “In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti earthquake offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti’s long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region,” wrote Heritage fellow Jim Roberts in a post that was subsequently altered to tone down the shock-doctrine language. The title was later changed to: “Things to Remember While Helping Haiti” and the wording changed to “In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti should address long-held concerns over the fragile political environment that exists in the region.””


“IPOA is a 501(c)(6) non-profit trade association. IPOA’s mission is to: promote high operational and ethical standards of firms active in the peace and stability operations industry; to engage in a constructive dialogue and advocacy with policy-makers about the growing and positive contribution of these firms to the enhancement of international peace, development and human security; to provides unique networking and business development opportunities for its member companies; and to inform the concerned public about the activities and role of the industry. IPOA is committed to raising the standards of the peace and stability operations industry to ensure sound and ethical professionalism and transparency in the conduct of peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction activities. All member companies subscribe to the IPOA Code of Conduct, which represents a constructive effort towards better regulating private sector operations in conflict and post-conflict environments. It reflects our belief that high standards will both benefit the industry and serve the greater causes of peace, development, and human security.”


CRISIS as OPPORTUNITY”amidst+the+suffering+crisis+in+haiti+offers+opportunities%%2022&cd=1&;hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us
Amidst the Suffering, Crisis in Haiti Offers Opportunities to the U.S.
BY Jim Roberts / January 13th, 2010

“In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti earthquake offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti’s long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region. The U.S. government response should be bold and decisive. It must mobilize U.S. civilian and military capabilities for short-term rescue and relief and long-term recovery and reform. President Obama should tap high-level, bipartisan leadership. Clearly former President Clinton, who was already named as the U.N. envoy on Haiti, is a logical choice. President Obama should also reach out to a senior Republican figure, perhaps former President George W. Bush, to lead the bipartisan effort for the Republicans.

While on the ground in Haiti, the U.S. military can also interrupt the nightly flights of cocaine to Haiti and the Dominican Republic from the Venezuelan coast and counter the ongoing efforts of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to destabilize the island of Hispaniola. This U.S. military presence, which should also include a large contingent of U.S. Coast Guard assets, can also prevent any large-scale movement by Haitians to take to the sea in rickety watercraft to try to enter the U.S. illegally.

Meanwhile, the U.S. must be prepared to insist that the Haiti government work closely with the U.S. to insure that corruption does not infect the humanitarian assistance flowing to Haiti. Long-term reforms for Haitian democracy and its economy are also badly overdue.
Congress should immediately begin work on a package of assistance, trade, and reconstruction efforts needed to put Haiti on its feet and open the way for deep and lasting democratic reforms. The U.S. should implement a strong and vigorous public diplomacy effort to counter the negative propaganda certain to emanate from the Castro-Chavez camp. Such an effort will also demonstrate that the U.S.’s involvement in the Caribbean remains a powerful force for good in the Americas and around the globe.


Today, the United States began surveying the damage inflicted by a devastating earthquake in Haiti this week. In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake should address long-held concerns over the fragile political environment that exists in the region.

The U.S. government response should be bold and decisive. It must mobilize U.S. civilian and military capabilities for short-term rescue and relief and long-term recovery and reform. President Obama should tap high-level, bipartisan leadership. Clearly former President Clinton, who was already named as the U.N. envoy on Haiti, is a logical choice. President Obama should also reach out to a senior Republican figure, perhaps former President George W. Bush, to lead the bipartisan effort for the Republicans.

While on the ground in Haiti, the U.S. military can also interrupt the nightly flights of cocaine to Haiti and the Dominican Republic from the Venezuelan coast and counter the ongoing efforts of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to destabilize the island of Hispaniola. This U.S. military presence, which should also include a large contingent of U.S. Coast Guard assets, can also prevent any large-scale movement by Haitians to take to the sea in dangerous and rickety watercraft to try to enter the U.S. illegally.

Meanwhile, the U.S. must be prepared to insist that the Haiti government work closely with the U.S. to insure that corruption does not infect the humanitarian assistance flowing to Haiti. Long-term reforms for Haitian democracy and its economy are also badly overdue. Congress should immediately begin work on a package of assistance, trade, and reconstruction efforts needed to put Haiti on its feet and open the way for deep and lasting democratic reforms.

The U.S. should implement a strong and vigorous public diplomacy effort to counter the negative propaganda certain to emanate from the Castro-Chavez camp. Such an effort will also demonstrate that the U.S.’s involvement in the Caribbean remains a powerful force for good in the Americas and around the globe.

Global Activism At Work: IMF Clarifies Loan
BY Richard Kim / January 21, 2010

“Last Friday I wrote about the IMF’s new $100 million loan to Haiti. I cited debt relief activists who told me that the new loan would be an extension of the IMF’s existing loan of $165 million. This information was confirmed by the IMF’s press release, which stated that “emergency financing would be provided as an augmentation to the existing IMF-supported arrangement with Haiti under the Extended Credit Facility [ECF].” The IMF’s announcement provided no further information about conditions that may or may not be attached to the loan and made no mention of future debt relief for Haiti.

My post was based largely on an analysis by Soren Ambrose, the development finance coordinator of ActionAid International, who concluded that augmenting the existing ECF loan to Haiti would impose the same conditions as the original loan. Those conditions include raising prices for electricity, refusing pay raises for any public sector employees except those making minimum wage and keeping inflation as low as possible. Ambrose says that he doesn’t know of any established procedure that would exempt an augmentation of an existing program from the program’s conditions. (His analysis also noted that Haiti’s existing program with the IMF was due to expire at the end of this month and that negotiations on the loan’s terms were likely underway already.)

As the IMF announced its $100 million loan under vague and presumably onerous terms, debt relief activists like the folks at Jubilee USA were already calling for a different kind of global response. They were demanding that aid to Haiti come in the form of grants, not loans. But given the magnitude of the crisis and the fact that the IMF does not issue grants, they welcomed the IMF loan in the hopes that its terms could be altered in the future and that Haiti’s entire debt could be canceled. At the same time, Naomi Klein and others warned about the possibility that the earthquake would be used as a pretext to amp up Haiti’s exposure to the shock doctrine. Activists started a Facebook group, No Shock Doctrine for Haiti, and in less than a week, it has attracted almost 18,000 members. Appeals for debt relief and for the recognition of Haiti’s economic sovereignty were written to the Obama administration, the IMF, the World Bank and anyone else who might play a role in Haiti’s reconstruction.

Today, the IMF put out an announcement clarifying the terms of its new loan to Haiti — it’s “an interest-free loan of $100 million in emergency funds.” A spokesman for the IMF emailed me to confirm that “the US $100 million loan does not carry any conditionality. It is an emergency loan aimed at getting the Haitian economy back to function again…” The IMF’s managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said in a statement that the IMF would immediately work to cancel the entirety of Haiti’s debt ($265 million) to the fund:

“The most important thing is that the IMF is now working with all donors to try to delete all the Haitian debt, including our new loan. If we succeed—and I’m sure we will succeed—even this loan will turn out to be finally a grant, because all the debt will have been deleted.”

In other words, as the IMF is processing a loan, it is also making a public promise to try to cancel it.

Klein says that this is “unprecedented in my experience and shows that public pressure in moments of disaster can seriously subvert shock doctrine tactics.” Neil Watkins, Executive Director of Jubilee USA, likewise hails the IMF’s response. “Since the IMF’s announcement last week of its intention to provide Haiti with a $100 million loan, Jubilee USA and our partners have been calling for grants and debt cancellation—not new loans—for Haiti. We are pleased that Managing Director Strauss-Kahn has responded to that call.”

Watkins and others will continue to follow the issue, holding the IMF to its commitment to debt relief and non-conditionality. They’re also pressing the case on Haiti’s other outstanding debt. The largest multilateral holders of Haiti’s debt are the Inter-American Development Bank ($447 million), the IMF ($165 million, plus $100 million in new lending), the World Bank’s International Development Association ($39 million) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development ($13 million). The largest bilateral loans are held by Venezuela ($295 million—hello, Chavez!?) and Taiwan ($92 million). The lesson: global activism can work, especially in a moment of such acutely visible human need. Keep up the mobilization, on Facebook and in real life.

for Responsible Lending and Expanded Debt Cancellation


IMF urges ‘Marshall Plan’ for Haiti

The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has called for an ambitious international recovery plan for earthquake-ravaged Haiti, similar to the US “Marshall Plan” that rebuilt Europe after World War II. “My belief is that Haiti, which has been incredibly hit by different things – the food and fuel prices crisis, then the hurricane, then the earthquake – needs something that is big,” Dominique Strauss-Kahn told reporters on Wednesday.

What is needed, he said, is “not only a piecemeal approach, but something which is much bigger to deal with the reconstruction of the country – some kind of a Marshall Plan that we need now to implement for Haiti.” While the primary focus remains on rescue and immediate relief efforts after the massive January 12 quake, international financial institutions say urgent measures are needed to help rebuild Haiti’s shattered economy.

Officials fear as many as 200,000 people were killed in the quake that reduced most of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince to rubble and impacted an estimated three million people, or one third of the country’s population. “The urgency, today, is to save the people. The urgency, in some weeks, will be the reconstruction,” Strauss-Kahn said. Last week, the IMF promised an interest-free loan of $100 million in initial emergency funds to the Haitian government. However, the loan has drawn criticism for adding to the country’s debt burden.

“The most important thing is that the IMF is now working with all donors to try to delete all the Haitian debt, including our new loan,” Strauss-Kahn said. The IMF and the World Bank classify Haiti among “heavily indebted poor countries” eligible for debt forgiveness. The Caribbean nation was granted $1.2bn in debt relief last June.

Economic recovery
Experts say cash flow needs to be urgently restored to begin recovery [Reuters] The IMF is also working with donors to get cash circulating again in Haiti’s devastated economy so people can buy food and civil servants can get paid, a senior IMF official said on Wednesday. According to Nicolas Eyzaguirre, director of the IMF’s western hemisphere department, banks will reopen shortly while some money transfer agencies are already functioning for remittances sent by Haitians living abroad.

Remittances for Haitian expatriates have been a major “We need to urgently help Haiti to get its economy functioning again,” he said. Eyzaguirre said the cost to the Haitian economy wrought by the quake would probably exceed the $900m – or about 15 per cent of the country’s GDP – caused by devastating hurricanes in 2008. However he said in the early days after the quake there was still a lot of uncertainty over the full impact.

Davos agenda
Disaster-hit Haiti will also be one of the top agenda items at this year’s gathering of the World Economic Forum (WEF), Klaus Schwab, the group’s chairman and founder, has said. The annual meeting, which will draw more than 2,000 government, business and religious leaders from around the world, is scheduled to begin on January 27, two weeks after the earthquake struck.

Schwab said a special panel on Haiti will be held on January 28, where a reconstruction initiative should be outlined. “We hope that we can present a major common effort to the world community showing true corporate global citizenship in Davos,” Schwab said during a news conference in Geneva on Wednesday. Former US president Bill Clinton, who acts as a special envoy for Haiti, and Helen Clark, the former New Zealand prime minister and administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, will support the WEF’s initiative.


Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution

It was the only successful slave insurrection in history. It grasped the full meaning of French revolutionary ideas — liberté, eqalité, fraternité — and used them to create the world’s first Black republic. It changed the trajectory of colonial economics…and led to America’s acquisition of the Louisiana territory from France. “It” was the Haitian Revolution, a movement that’s been called the true birth moment of universal human rights. Vaguely remembered today, the Haitian Revolution was a hurricane at the turn of the nineteenth century — traumatizing Southern planters and inspiring slaves and abolitionists, worldwide.

The man at the forefront of Haiti’s epochal uprising was Toussaint Louverture. He was world-known in his day and deserves a place among history’s most celebrated figures today. Born into slavery, Toussaint had been freed by his master before the revolt began. He owned property and was financially secure. He risked it all, however, to join then lead an army of slaves that would fight, in turn, the French, the British, and the Spanish empires for twelve years. He was often compared to George Washington. But his is military feats alarmed Thomas Jefferson… and ultimately provoked a full-scale attack from Napoleon Bonaparte. France’s final offensive would cost Toussaint his life. But France lost, nonetheless, and the richest colony in the Americas became an independent black republic.

The story of Haiti’s revolution is a story of extraordinary pathos. Half a million slaves dared hope for an unprecedented end to slavery and thousands died in the process. But the revolution’s history is also a story of forgotten people and milestones. Haitian slaves did not just fight with weapons. In 1794 a multi-racial delegation from Haiti traveled to Paris to address the national assembly. They spoke powerfully about slavery’s moral and physical violence. They argued that their struggle was part of France’s domestic revolution against despotism. And they won the day. The elocution of Haitian Blacks led to a sudden decree that not only freed the empire’s entire slave population, it made them French citizens, too.

the HAITIAN REVOLUTION of 1791-1803

The Slave Rebellion of 1791 / [data as of December 1989]

Violent conflicts between white colonists and black slaves were common in Saint-Domingue. Bands of runaway slaves, known as maroons (marrons), entrenched themselves in bastions in the colony’s mountains and forests, from which they harried white-owned plantations both to secure provisions and weaponry and to avenge themselves against the inhabitants. As their numbers grew, these bands, sometimes consisting of thousands of people, began to carry out hit-and-run attacks throughout the colony. This guerrilla warfare, however, lacked centralized organization and leadership. The most famous maroon leader was François Macandal, whose six-year rebellion (1751-57) left an estimated 6,000 dead. Reportedly a boko, or voodoo sorcerer, Macandal drew from African traditions and religions to motivate his followers. The French burned him at the stake in Cap Français in 1758. Popular accounts of his execution that say the stake snapped during his execution have enhanced his legendary stature.

Many Haitians point to the maroons’ attacks as the first manifestation of a revolt against French rule and the slaveholding system. The attacks certainly presaged the 1791 slave rebellion, which evolved into the Haitian Revolution. They also marked the beginning of a martial tradition for blacks, just as service in the colonial militia had done for the gens de couleur. The maroons, however, seemed incapable of staging a broad-based insurrection on their own. Although challenged and vexed by the maroons’ actions, colonial authorities effectively repelled the attacks, especially with help from the gens de couleur, who were probably forced into cooperating.

The arrangement that enabled the whites and the landed gens de couleur to preserve the stability of the slaveholding system was unstable. In an economic sense, the system worked for both groups. The gens de couleur, however, had aspirations beyond the accumulation of goods. They desired equality with white colonists, and many of them desired power. The events set in motion in 1789 by the French Revolution shook up, and eventually shattered, the arrangement.

The National Assembly in Paris required the white Colonial Assembly to grant suffrage to the landed and tax-paying gens de couleur. (The white colonists had had a history of ignoring French efforts to improve the lot of the black and the mulatto populations.) The Assembly refused, leading to the first mulatto rebellion in Saint-Domingue. The rebellion, led by Vincent Ogé in 1790, failed when the white militia reinforced itself with a corps of black volunteers. (The white elite was constantly prepared to use racial tension between blacks and mulattoes to advantage.) Ogé’s rebellion was a sign of broader unrest in Saint-Domingue.

A slave rebellion of 1791 finally toppled the colony. Launched in August of that year, the revolt represented the culmination of a protracted conspiracy among black leaders. According to accounts of the rebellion that have been told through the years, François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture helped plot the uprising, although this claim has never been substantiated. Among the rebellion’s leaders were Boukman, a maroon and voodoo houngan (priest); Georges Biassou, who later made Toussaint his aide; Jean-François, who subsequently commanded forces, along with Biassou and Toussaint, under the Spanish flag; and Jeannot, the bloodthirstiest of them all. These leaders sealed their compact with a voodoo ceremony conducted by Boukman in the Bois Cayman (Alligator Woods) in early August 1791. On August 22, a little more than a week after the ceremony, the uprising of their black followers began.

The carnage that the slaves wreaked in northern settlements, such as Acul, Limbé, Flaville, and Le Normand, revealed the simmering fury of an oppressed people. The bands of slaves slaughtered every white person they encountered. As their standard, they carried a pike with the carcass of an impaled white baby. Accounts of the rebellion describe widespread torching of property, fields, factories, and anything else that belonged to, or served, slaveholders. The inferno is said to have burned almost continuously for months.

News of the slaves’ uprising quickly reached Cap Français. Reprisals against nonwhites were swift and every bit as brutal as the atrocities committed by the slaves. Although outnumbered, the inhabitants of Le Cap (the local diminutive for Cap Français) were well-armed and prepared to defend themselves against the tens of thousands of blacks who descended upon the port city. Despite their voodoo-inspired heroism, the ex-slaves fell in large numbers to the colonists’ firepower and were forced to withdraw. The rebellion left an estimated 10,000 blacks and 2,000 whites dead and more than 1,000 plantations sacked and razed.

Even though it failed, the slave rebellion at Cap Français set in motion events that culminated in the Haitian Revolution. Mulatto forces under the capable leadership of André Rigaud, Alexandre Pétion, and others clashed with white militiamen in the west and the south (where, once again, whites recruited black slaves to their cause). Sympathy with the Republican cause in France inspired the mulattoes. Sentiment in the National Assembly vacillated, but it finally favored the enfranchisement of gens de couleur and the enforcement of equal rights. Whites, who had had little respect for royal governance in the past, now rallied behind the Bourbons and rejected the radical egalitarian notions of the French revolutionaries. Commissioners from the French Republic, dispatched in 1792 to Saint-Domingue, pledged their limited support to the gens de couleur in the midst of an increasingly anarchic situation. In various regions of the colony, black slaves rebelled against white colonists, mulattoes battled white levies, and black royalists opposed both whites and mulattoes. Foreign interventionists found these unstable conditions irresistible; Spanish and British involvement in the unrest in Saint-Domingue opened yet another chapter in the revolution.

Federal Research Division Library of Congress
Edited by Richard A. Haggerty / Research Completed December 1989

Although Hispaniola never realized its economic potential under Spanish rule, it remained strategically important as the gateway to the Caribbean. The Caribbean region provided the opportunity for seafarers from Britain, France, and the Netherlands to impede Spanish shipping, to waylay galleons crammed with gold, and to establish a foothold in a hemisphere parceled by papal decree between the Roman Catholic kingdoms of Spain and Portugal. This competition was carried on throughout the Caribbean, but nowhere as intensely as on Hispaniola. Sir Francis Drake of England led one of the most famous forays against the port of Santo Domingo in 1586, just two years before he played a key role in the English navy’s defeat of the Spanish Armada. Drake failed to secure the island, but his raid, along with the arrival of corsairs and freebooters in scattered settlements, was part of a pattern of encroachment that gradually diluted Spanish dominance.

French Settlement and Sovereignty
Reportedly expelled by the Spanish from Saint Christopher (Saint Kitts), the original French residents of Tortuga Island (Ile de la Tortue), off the northwest coast of Hispaniola, sustained themselves mostly through two means: curing the meat and tanning the hides of wild game, and pirating Spanish ships. The former activity lent these hardy souls the colorful designation of buccaneers, derived from the Arawak word for the smoking of meat. It took decades for the buccaneers and the more staid settlers that followed them to establish themselves on Tortuga. Skirmishes with Spanish and English forces were common. As the maintenance of the empire tried the wit, and drained the energies, of a declining Spain, however, foreign intervention became more forceful.

The freewheeling society of Tortuga that was often described in romantic literature had faded into legend by the end of the seventeenth century. The first permanent settlement on Tortuga was established in 1659 under the commission of King Louis XIV. French Huguenots had already begun to settle the north coast of Hispaniola by that time. The establishment in 1664 of the French West India Company for the purpose of directing the expected commerce between the colony and France underscored the seriousness of the enterprise. Settlers steadily encroached upon the northwest shoulder of the island, and they took advantage of the area’s relative remoteness from the Spanish capital city of Santo Domingo. In 1670 they established their first major community, Cap François (later Cap Français, now Cap-Haïtien). During this period, the western part of the island was commonly referred to as Saint-Domingue, the name it bore officially after Spain relinquished sovereignty over the area to France in the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697.

Colonial Society: The Conflicts of Color and Class
By the mid-eighteenth century, a territory largely neglected under Spanish rule had become the richest and most coveted colony in the Western Hemisphere. By the eve of the French Revolution, Saint-Domingue produced about 60 percent of the world’s coffee and about 40 percent of the sugar imported by France and Britain. Saint-Domingue played a pivotal role in the French economy, accounting for almost two-thirds of French commercial interests abroad and about 40 percent of foreign trade. The system that provided such largess to the mother country, such luxury to planters, and so many jobs in France had a fatal flaw, however. That flaw was slavery.

The origins of modern Haitian society lie within the slaveholding system. The mixture of races that eventually divided Haiti into a small, mainly mulatto elite and an impoverished black majority began with the slavemasters’ concubinage of African women. Today Haiti’s culture and its predominant religion (voodoo) stem from the fact that the majority of slaves in SaintDomingue were brought from Africa. (The slave population totalled at least 500,000, and perhaps as many as 700,000, by 1791.) Only a few of the slaves had been born and raised on the island. The slaveholding system in Saint-Domingue was particularly cruel and abusive, and few slaves (especially males) lived long enough to reproduce. The racially tinged conflicts that have marked Haitian history can be traced similarly to slavery.

While the masses of black slaves formed the foundation of colonial society, the upper strata evolved along lines of color and class. Most commentators have classified the population of the time into three groups: white colonists, or blancs; free blacks (usually mulattoes, or gens de couleur–people of color), or affranchis; and the slaves.

Conflict and resentment permeated the society of SaintDomingue . Beginning in 1758, the white landowners, or grands blancs, discriminated against the affranchis through legislation. Statutes forbade gens de couleur from taking up certain professions, marrying whites, wearing European clothing, carrying swords or firearms in public, or attending social functions where whites were present. The restrictions eventually became so detailed that they essentially defined a caste system. However, regulations did not restrict the affranchis’ purchase of land, and some eventually accumulated substantial holdings. Others accumulated wealth through another activity permitted to affranchis by the grands blancs–in the words of historian C.L.R. James, “The privilege of lending money to white men.” The mounting debt of the white planters to the gens de couleur provided further motivation for racial discrimination.

Eduardo Munoz/Reuters


On January 1, 1804, Haiti proclaimed its independence. Through this action, it became the second independent state in the Western Hemisphere and the first free black republic in the world. Haiti’s uniqueness attracted much attention and symbolized the aspirations of enslaved and exploited peoples around the globe. Nonetheless, Haitians made no overt effort to inspire, to support, or to aid slave rebellions similar to their own because they feared that the great powers would take renewed action against them. For the sake of national survival, nonintervention became a Haitian credo.

Dessalines, who had commanded the black and the mulatto forces during the final phase of the revolution, became the new country’s leader; he ruled under the dictatorial 1801 constitution. The land he governed had been devastated by years of warfare. The agricultural base was all but destroyed, and the population was uneducated and largely unskilled. Commerce was virtually nonexistent. Contemplating this bleak situation, Dessalines determined, as Toussaint had done, that a firm hand was needed.

White residents felt the sting most sharply. While Toussaint, a former privileged slave of a tolerant white master, had felt a certain magnanimity toward whites, Dessalines, a former field slave, despised them with a maniacal intensity. He reportedly agreed wholeheartedly with his aide, Boisrond-Tonnerre, who stated, “For our declaration of independence, we should have the skin of a white man for parchment, his skull for an inkwell, his blood for ink, and a bayonet for a pen!” Accordingly, whites were slaughtered wholesale under the rule of Dessalines.

Although blacks were not massacred under Dessalines, they witnessed little improvement in the quality of their lives. To restore some measure of agricultural productivity, Dessalines reestablished the plantation system. Harsh measures bound laborers to their assigned work places, and penalties were imposed on runaways and on those who harbored them. Because Dessalines drew his only organizational experience from war, it was natural for him to use the military as a tool for governing the new nation. The rule of Dessalines set a pattern for direct involvement of the army in politics that continued unchallenged for more than 150 years.

In 1805 Dessalines crowned himself Emperor of Haiti. By this point, his autocratic rule had disenchanted important sectors of Haitian society, particularly mulattoes such as Pétion. The mulattoes resented Dessalines mostly for racial reasons, but the more educated and cultured gens de couleur also derided the emperor (and most of his aides and officers) for his ignorance and illiteracy. Efforts by Dessalines to bring mulatto families into the ruling group through marriage met with resistance. Pétion himself declined the offer of the hand of the emperor’s daughter. Many mulattoes were appalled by the rampant corruption and licentiousness of the emperor’s court. Dessalines’s absorption of a considerable amount of land into the hands of the state through the exploitation of irregularities in titling procedures also aroused the ire of landowners.

The disaffection that sealed the emperor’s fate arose within the ranks of the army, where Dessalines had lost support at all levels. The voracious appetites of his ruling clique apparently left little or nothing in the treasury for military salaries and provisions. Although reportedly aware of discontent among the ranks, Dessalines made no effort to redress these shortcomings. Instead, he relied on the same iron-fisted control with which he kept rural laborers in line. That his judgement in this matter had been in error became apparent on the road to Port-au-Prince as he rode with a column of troops on its way to crush a mulattoled rebellion. A group of people, probably hired by Pétion or Etienne-Elie Gérin (another mulatto officer), shot the emperor and hacked his body to pieces.

Under Dessalines the Haitian economy had made little progress despite the restoration of forced labor. Conflict between blacks and mulattoes ended the cooperation that the revolution had produced, and the brutality toward whites shocked foreign governments and isolated Haiti internationally. A lasting enmity against Haiti arose among Dominicans as a result of the emperor’s unsuccessful invasion of Santo Domingo in 1805. Dessalines’s failure to consolidate Haiti and to unite Haitians had ramifications in the years that followed, as the nation split into two rival enclaves.



These men were known for the meat that they barbecued (French for smoked meat is viande boucanee), and so eventually were named… Buccaneers. When these hunters learned that piracy was more profitable than selling meat, they were soon making regular raids on the Spanish ships sailing the local trade routes. An early French governor named Jean le Vasseur used his training as an engineer to build a 24-gun fort by the harbor which helped to repel Spanish attacks. French governors preferred to use the buccaneers for local defense, as the British governors were later to do at Port Royal, and Tortuga Island became well-known for those men calling themselves the Brethren of the Coast. The most notorious among the pirates of Tortuga was Francois L’Ollonais, a psychopath whose method of choice was often horrible tortures and murder. Sir Henry Morgan started his career of piracy from this very island.


Tortuga was initially founded by the French in 1625, who realized Hispaniola was awfully thick with Spaniards and so turned their attentions to the large island just northward. There the French and some English with them began setting up plantations and making themselves at home. However, the Spaniards and their new neighbors took periodic swats at each other and control of the island switched back and forth a few times. Most of the English on Tortuga decided to move elsewhere, but a few remained to form their own small colony. For a time the French and English on Tortuga both had their own colonies and governors, and managed an uneasy co-existance.

It was the French who first encouraged privateers to use Tortuga as their base, in large part as a deterent to Spanish incursions. By 1633 Tortuga is a haven for the wolves of the sea. Tortuga comes under attack by the Spanish several times over the years, the struggle for control bloody and fierce. By 1641 the English colonists on Tortuga were expelled by the French – but this did not curtail English pirates or privateers, who continued to ply their trade with their French and Dutch brethren, and Tortuga’s uproarious career likewise continued. In 1653 the French governor was assassinated, whereupon the Spanish instantly pounced on his predecessor, and when the smoke cleared the English returned to hold the island from 1655-59. But once again the balance of power changed to French hands.

About 1665 the governor of Tortuga wished to somewhat civilize his piratical folk, and did his best to encourage proper colonization and trade of their hard-won goods. He met with dubious success, but the island continued to be the playground of the Brotherhood of the Coast. By 1670 a great many privateers sailed under commisions granted by the governor of Tortuga, not the least being the infamous Henry Morgan, who led his fleet to attack Santa Marta, Rio de la Hacha, Puerto Bello and Panama.

The death of the privateers came in the 1680’s, when English laws made it a felony to sail under a foreign flag. Thereafter if any Englishman was found privateering under any flag other than his own – and after the 1684 Treaty of Ratisbone England no longer issued letters of marque – he would be hanged. In 1688 Henry Morgan died in Jamaica, and the glory days of the privateers was over.

Freeport Tortuga + Don Pierson

In 1967, during the time that Don Pierson was attempting to lease the ship which had been the former homes of [pirate stations] Swinging Radio England and Britain Radio, he received a response from the Ambassador for Haiti in Washington, DC. Don Pierson’s original plan was to lease or sell the ship to the government of Haiti for it to establish two powerful 50 kW commercial radio stations aimed at American tourists visiting the old buccaneer stronghold of Tortuga island, which is located some 10 miles off the north coast of the main Haitian island of Hispaniola which is also shared by the Dominican Republic.

This offer became a plan to develop the island itself as a freeport and he was asked to assist the government of Haiti to encourage business investment in that poverty-stricken land. After years of research and negotiation, Don Pierson’s idea of a privately financed, privately managed free enterprise zone became a reality in 1971 when Haitian dictator François Duvalier (known as “Papa Doc”) and the Haitian government entered into a 99-year contract with Don Pierson’s company called Dupont Caribbean Inc. This contract provided for the establishment of Freeport Tortuga.

Within 18 months Don Pierson succeeded in building the island’s first airport, a loading dock for seagoing vessels, a rudimentary water and sewer system, an electricity generating facility, and six miles of paved road. Of equal importance. the project created jobs for some 400 previously unemployed Haitians and resulted in the establishment of a small school to teach various job skills. During this period he also became Honorary Consul of the Republic of Haiti to Texas from 1969 through 1974. Tragically, the free port project came to abrupt end in 1974 when, after it was announced that Gulf Oil Corporation was contemplating investing more than $300 million to build a resort on the island, the government of Jean-Claude Duvalier (known as “Baby Doc”), summarily expropriated the project, resulting in its collapse. A similar venture on the island of Dominica which was attempted in the wake of the failed project in Haiti, also met with disaster following governmental turmoil in Dominica.



Haiti: the land where children eat mud
What is the West doing to rescue the ‘nightmare republic’?
BY Alex von Tunzelmann / May 17, 2009

If you ever hear of Haiti, it is usually because of something frightening. It is famous for hurricanes, deforestation, poverty, drug smuggling, violence, dictatorships, voodoo and slavery. Half a century ago, when it was under the tyranny of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his “zombie” militia, Graham Greene called Haiti the “nightmare republic”. Though Papa Doc has long gone, the nightmares have never ended in this Caribbean dystopia. Haiti is the poorest country and only Third World nation in the western hemisphere, and it’s getting worse.

Two centuries ago, the political economist Robert Malthus postulated that a society in which the population grew too fast could reach a point where people simply could not be fed, leading to a total collapse. Over the past five years, Haiti has not only met but exceeded the conditions for a Malthusian catastrophe. The only things keeping the country from absolute disaster are imported food and charity. With a global economic crisis afoot, the question is how long that can be sustained. I had plenty of reservations about going to Haiti. It is a place born out of the darkest days of slavery: a country where white people have always been regarded, with some reason, as the enemy, and where, in some areas, half of all women and girls have been the victims of rape.

I am a historian, not a foreign correspondent or aid worker, but I wanted to see for myself what life was like in this haunted nation. Notables including Ban Ki-moon, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton have visited Haiti in the past couple of months, highlighting the fact that the country is poised on the brink of what could be a humanitarian crisis of terrifying proportions.

In the 1960s, Papa Doc decorated the “Welcome to Haiti” sign at Port-au-Prince’s airport with the dismembered corpses of his enemies. At least they’ve taken those down. Instead there’s a calypso band playing for tips, and a swarm of hustling taxi drivers. Immediately I hear the epithet by which I will be known for the next week: la blanche, the white woman.

At the hotel in the relatively affluent suburb of Pétionville, there is a long list of rules. Don’t go out alone. Don’t walk more than two kilometres in any direction. Don’t go out after dark at all. If you hear gunshots, stay inside. Smile at the man toting an assault rifle who stands at the hotel entrance. He’s here for your protection.

Just why is Haiti in such a dire situation, so much worse than any other country in the Americas, and as bad as anywhere on Earth? Some blame the United Nations. Some blame the Americans. Some have theories about the collision of global warming with global capitalism. All are careful to point out that the Haitian elite deserves its reputation for being greedy, negligent and kleptocratic. “I think the Haitian people have been made to suffer by God,” Wilbert, a teacher, tells me, “but the time will come soon when we will be rewarded with Heaven.”

History tells a different story. The appalling state of the country is a direct result of having offended a quite different celestial authority — the French. France gained the western third of the island of Hispaniola — the territory that is now Haiti — in 1697. It planted sugar and coffee, supported by an unprecedented increase in the importation of African slaves. Economically, the result was a success, but life as a slave was intolerable. Living conditions were squalid, disease was rife, and beatings and abuses were universal. The slaves’ life expectancy was 21 years. After a dramatic slave uprising that shook the western world, and 12 years of war, Haiti finally defeated Napoleon’s forces in 1804 and declared independence. But France demanded reparations: 150m francs, in gold.

For Haiti, this debt did not signify the beginning of freedom, but the end of hope. Even after it was reduced to 60m francs in the 1830s, it was still far more than the war-ravaged country could afford. Haiti was the only country in which the ex-slaves themselves were expected to pay a foreign government for their liberty. By 1900, it was spending 80% of its national budget on repayments. In order to manage the original reparations, further loans were taken out — mostly from the United States, Germany and France. Instead of developing its potential, this deformed state produced a parade of nefarious leaders, most of whom gave up the insurmountable task of trying to fix the country and looted it instead. In 1947, Haiti finally paid off the original reparations, plus interest. Doing so left it destitute, corrupt, disastrously lacking in investment and politically volatile. Haiti was trapped in a downward spiral, from which it is still impossible to escape. It remains hopelessly in debt to this day.

Like all cities, Port-au-Prince has better and worse neighbourhoods. Unlike all cities, several of its worst neighbourhoods are declared conflict zones. Some slums are so dangerous that even the United Nations peacekeeping troops, who carry machineguns, do not venture in. The UN is not popular here. Peacekeepers are rumoured to have massacred unarmed slum-dwellers on several occasions. “A lot of people say the UN soldiers trade guns and drugs,” a Haitian student tells me while we walk around Champs de Mars, the park by the National Palace, a line of soldiers just in front of us. Many Haitians palpably mistrust foreigners. Pedestrians and peanut-sellers keep their eyes on me but stay back, as if I were a predator.

Just 10 minutes’ drive from the National Palace, past a cemetery filled with elaborate pastel-coloured tombs, is Carrefour Feuilles. A perilous stack of breeze blocks, filth and human misery teetering on the hills overlooking the bay, it is considered to be among the most dangerous and deprived of the city’s slums. The streets are too narrow and rutted to drive. I walk up steep paths in between shacks of mud and rusting corrugated iron. At every turn, the route is obstructed by heaps of discarded packaging, decomposing rubbish and human waste, over which goats and children crawl, foraging for food. In the blazing midday sun, the stench is hard to endure.

This is a place where you come face to face with Haiti’s industrial collapse. Unemployment, which hovers around 75% nationally, is higher here. Most people are illiterate, unskilled and unhealthy. The only vaguely legal option open to the majority of residents is to buy a few items of cheap produce, and sell them at a tiny profit in the markets. Unfortunately, the city’s recent effort to clean up the streets in the centre has meant that many of these traders have been kicked out. The remaining jobs open to them make an unappealing list: selling drugs, selling weapons, robbery, blackmail, prostitution and kidnapping. It is the kidnappings that make headlines.

For the gangs, in a country that produces virtually nothing, terror is one of the few reliable sources of income. Gang members ambush an ordinary person, usually someone unlikely to resist, such as a woman or a child. They saw off one of the victim’s fingers or an ear, and take it to the family, along with a demand for money. Even if the ransom is paid, the victim often ends up dead. At one point, kidnappings were reported five times a day. There was another peak in the first few months of 2008, but some arrests of gang leaders were made over the summer, and now the official statistics have stabilised at something closer to one incident every couple of days.

Foreigners have been targeted, which is why nobody will let me walk around on my own, but the greatest danger is to ordinary Haitians. Even slum-dwellers are often abducted and tortured by the gangs, sometimes for a ransom as little as the price of a cocktail in London.

“Parents in Carrefour Feuilles are happy when their son joins a gang,” one Haitian woman, who runs an anti-violence project, tells me. “They are also happy when their daughters become child prostitutes. It means the family can afford to eat.” Posters advocating sexual abstinence can be seen on every street. So far, they do not appear to be having much impact: population growth is rising. Haiti was considered unsustainably overcrowded in the 1950s, when the population was 3m. Now it is 9m. Survival is a daily effort, and these starving slum-dwellers will seize on any opportunity to earn money, however unpleasant.

The new idea from the UN and the US is Hope II, a programme that would give Haitian companies duty-free access to the American market for nine years. The focus is on agriculture and garment factories. A similar scheme has been running since 2006, and the results look good on paper: 3,000 jobs are said to have been created. On the street, though, the word is not good. Pay is subsistence level at best, and does not keep pace with food prices. Conditions are dangerous and unsanitary. Workers are charged for going to the toilet. Abuse is widespread.

There are people who argue that rich countries, too, once went through a stage of sweatshop labour, and that this is some sort of necessary purgatory on the road to improvement. It is an easy argument to make from a comfortable armchair in the home counties, but it is ahistorical. Haiti’s path of development has been completely different from those of the rich countries. The reason it has not become sustainable is that, for two centuries, rich countries and their banks have menaced almost all of its wealth out of it. For how much longer should the Haitians do penance?

The country’s problems were only exacerbated when, in 1957, François Duvalier became president. Exploiting Haitian beliefs in the traditions of voodoo (most Haitians still practise it today), he established a personal militia, the Tonton Macoutes, rumoured to be zombies he had raised from the dead, who soon gained a chilling reputation for rape and torture.

Papa Doc himself affected the style of Baron Samedi, the spirit of the dead, appearing in a black top hat and pinstriped suit. Reports from Haiti brought forth disgust from the developed world, but the protests did not turn into action. Instead of moving to condemn and remove these dictators, the world’s richest countries opened their chequebooks. In 1967, American-owned plantations in the Dominican Republic paid Papa Doc directly for rounding up 20,000 Haitians to work on their lands. In 1972, his son and heir, Baby Doc’s minister of the interior, was exposed for literally selling Haitian blood to private American hospitals: $3 a litre, no questions asked. During the Duvaliers’ combined 28 years in power, up to 60,000 Haitians were “disappeared” by the regime. The Duvaliers swindled international creditors and aid agencies for enormous sums. The American government, via various agencies and banks, lent millions to both dictators.

Though there was anger in Washington about the Duvaliers and their 80% rate of aid embezzlement, no action was taken to remove them until 1986. The Duvaliers were always happy to sign up to new loans, and to give lucrative contracts to American corporations. Most of the projects went nowhere. Haiti is littered with half-built and abandoned schools, hospitals, bridges and roads.

Most of the money lent to the Duvaliers found its way into private bank accounts. When Baby Doc fled, he took millions with him: estimates go as high as $900m. The debts incurred by the Duvaliers make up 45% of Haiti’s total current debt. None of the creditors finds the fact of their complicity a compelling argument for cancellation. Those creditors include the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, the IMF and the governments of the US and France.

Debt relief is at the discretion of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, run by the World Bank and the IMF. Haiti must meet certain conditions, including poverty reduction and inflation controls, before any debt can be written off. By international standards, the sums are small, but for Haiti they are enormous. The World Bank alone demands an estimated $1.6m a month.

On April 14, in a speech at a conference on Haiti’s social and economic development, Robert B Zoellick, president of the World Bank Group, announced: “We are working closely with the authorities and the IMF to help expedite debt cancellation while ensuring that monies released go directly to support poverty reduction.” At the spring meeting of the World Bank and the IMF less than two weeks later, Haiti was judged again as having failed to show sufficient progress towards macroeconomic stability to qualify for debt cancellation. In a surprise move, however, the US government stepped in to cover Haiti’s debt service payments for the rest of this year.

Undoubtedly, the American gift is a boon, and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton do seem to be making a genuine effort to help. Obama’s tax return for this year revealed a personal donation of $2,000 to a Christian organisation working in Haiti. Clinton has also announced that she will re-examine US policy on Haitian migrants. At the moment, unlike the Cuban refugees who are given asylum, Haitians are considered economic migrants, and are imprisoned and deported.

Haiti’s record on political freedom is far from spotless, though it is in theory now a democracy. The most popular party among the impoverished majority, Fanmi Lavalas, was banned from contesting elections this month on the grounds that its leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, did not meet a very short deadline unexpectedly imposed for signing the hard copy of his party’s lists. He could not have done so: he is in exile in South Africa, having been ousted in a highly controversial UN intervention in 2004. There is some hope Clinton will award temporary work permits to Haitian illegals in the US. “But, at the same time,” she added in her announcement, “we don’t want to encourage other Haitians to make the dangerous journey across the water.” Both George W Bush in 2004 and Bill Clinton in 1994 justified military intervention in Haiti, partially on the basis that unmanageable numbers of “boat people” were turning up on their shores. “There is only one solution to Haiti’s problems, and that’s mass emigration,” one senior American foreign-policy expert told me. “But nobody wants to talk about it.” So Haiti remains in debt, relieved for now, but not for ever. And the question of France repaying some or all of the compensation it extracted for Haitian independence is not even on the agenda.

The Artibonite valley is the rural heart of Haiti. The potholed road out of the capital runs north through miles of bleak marshland. We drive past Titayen, a dumping-ground for the bodies of people murdered by political groups or criminal gangs. The hot air is oppressive with the weight of storm clouds. Near the town of Cabaret is a tent-city full of refugees. On both sides of the road, houses are stoved in, with walls and roofs ripped off, and whole floors of concrete folded in on themselves like origami. This is the parting gift left by Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike, four storms that devastated Haiti in three weeks last summer. All around the valley rise high mountains. Fifty years ago, these were covered in dense tropical jungle. Now, there is nothing but brownish scrub. Eighty per cent of Haitians live below the poverty line, and cook on charcoal from scavenged wood. As the population has shot up, the forests have been cut down. Haiti is now 98% deforested. The roots of those trees held the land together. Now, every time a hurricane hits Haiti, the rains and floods sweep topsoil and soft clay from these hills down to the valleys and the coast. Arable land is stripped back to barren rubble, while whole towns such as Gonaives — until last August a city of 250,000 people — are buried under sludge.

At a nearby village, Robuste, dozens of excited children ambush me. Not many strangers come here, and they are intrigued. Even in the middle of horrific poverty, the people have not lost their sense of humour. I raise my camera to take a picture, and an old woman immediately begins weeping and howling. Shocked, I lower the camera, and she points at me and roars with laughter. It was a joke, and a clever one: she was satirising the usual news-agency photos. But most of the devastation here is all too real. In the hurricanes, half the houses in Robuste were washed away.

The village pastor takes me into his church, a comfortless hall in which over 200 refugees have been sleeping rough. One woman lies here, suffering from unidentified sickness in the aftermath of the floods. There is no doctor. Her year-old baby is left unattended on the concrete floor. He crawls up to me, wide-eyed. Slavery did not end with the revolution. A grim fate awaits many of the children in Robuste. When destitute Haitian families cannot feed their children, they send them to the towns. There are 300,000 such children in Haiti, around 10% of the entire child population. They are known as restaveks — a Creole word from the French rester avec, to stay with. Host families provide restaveks with food, clothing, shelter and in some cases education, in return for having the child work as a servant. Often these children are beaten, sexually abused, starved, denied medical treatment. In a couple of years the baby in front of me could be given up to this modern form of slavery. Restaveks as young as three have been found in Port-au-Prince. His mother rolls over in her sleep. She looks desperately ill. Soon, nobody in this village will have enough to eat. At that point the sending away of their children will begin.

Even before the hurricanes hit, Haiti was in the grip of a food crisis. A year ago, when the price of rice soared across the world, Haitians began to starve. There were confirmed reports of people being reduced to eating dirt. Cookies made of mud mixed with vegetable oil were all they could scrape together. In the slums of Port-au-Prince, Oxfam is funding community restaurants in an attempt to provide something more nutritious. People bring tin pots and pay 10 gourdes (16p) to have them filled with rice, beans and vegetables. It is thought that charging a small sum preserves people’s dignity, and avoids giving them the impression that they can rely on hand-outs. The restaurant is at a busy intersection, surrounded by a huge mass of people, mostly young men, shouting, banging their tin pots and jostling to get to the front. Food riots are common.

A little boy of about eight wanders up to us. He looks even thinner and more nervous than the other children, and is barefoot, dressed in a worn-out black string vest and threadbare shorts. Ian, Oxfam’s British press officer, is good with children. He leans down, smiles and shakes the boy’s hand. The boy wanders back to join the people waiting for food. He goes to a woman in her late thirties. “Get away from me!” she screams at him, smacking him across the face. “You shook hands with the blanc! Koko rat!” The crowd gasps. The name she has called him is one of the strongest insults in Creole, literally a crude expression for the genitals of a female rat, but the implication is worse. The woman means that the little boy is a traitor. Ian is aghast, but of course it’s not his fault. The little boy runs off. Moments later, he appears beside me again. He looks lost, and wears an expression of unbearable sadness. He had a tin bowl before, but it has gone. “Where’s his bowl?” I ask my Creole translator. She asks him. “Someone took it from him.” “We’ve got to find him another one,” I say. “He hasn’t had any food yet.” “There aren’t any around,” she replies.

It’s true. Nobody has a spare, and everyone here needs to eat. Just down the street, market stalls display mouldy vegetables and half-rotten meat crawling with flies. Even rotting food is too expensive for most slum-dwellers. By now the crowd is getting seriously aggressive. Men are shoving each other, and punches are thrown. The organiser hurries back to us. “We have to leave. Now.” At another roadside stall I see a painting of a pregnant Haitian woman crying tears of blood, while demonic white babies with sharpened teeth scramble to suckle from her breasts.

Graham Greene’s “nightmare republic” has become a literal fact. The next morning I board a bus to make the long journey through the mountains to Santo Domingo, the capital of the neighbouring Dominican Republic. Driving through Haiti, there are almost no trees to be seen. The roads are lined with scrub, thorns and piles of refuse. At the exact point of the border line, the world surges back into life. Suddenly the road is thick with towering mature trees, their branches heavy with lush green leaves, fat blossoms, singing birds. It is beautiful but heartbreaking, a reminder, if any were necessary, that things need not be as they are.

The facts
– last year’s hurricanes devastated more than 70% of Haiti’s agricultural land
– more than 80% of the population lives on less than £2 a day
– some 3.8% of the population is HIV-positive, according to Save the Children; among them 17,000 minors. Medical provisions are scarce. There is one doctor for every 3,000 patients.
– life expectancy at birth is 61 years. The survival rate of newborns is the lowest in the western hemisphere. One-third are born underweight.
– there are 80 deaths per 1,000 live births. The mortality rate for children under five is 120 in 1,000

Benin voodoo to calm evil spirits in Haiti
BY Razzack Saïzonou / 15 January 2010

“We are deeply affected and feel solidarity with our Haitian brothers,” said an emotional Queen Djehami following Tuesday’s earthquake in Haiti. Djehami is the wife of Kpodégbé Toyi Djigla, King of Allada, a town in central Benin and one of the largest kingdoms of the country. “We are deeply affected, primarily because I am African, but mainly because I am from Allada. There is a sense of desolation at the palace.”

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Benin played a key role in the slave trade. Thousands of men and women were uprooted and sold as slaves to work in plantations in Europe, the Caribbean and America. Many of them came from Allada, as did the family of Toussaint L’ouverture, who later founded the Republic of Haiti.

Toussaint L’ouverture (1743-1803), nicknamed the Black Napoleon, was born on a plantation in the French colony of Saint Domingue. He was named Breda after the plantation as was the custom for slaves. His master, the relatively humane Mr Baillon de Libertat, encouraged Toussaint to learn to read and write, and appointed him as his coachman and then as his foreman. Later Toussaint led a revolution against slavery and Haiti became the first republic to be ruled by leaders with African ancestry.

Apart from the historical ties between Haiti and Benin, the two countries share the religion of their ancestors: voodoo. This religion is central to the worship and traditions of thousands of Haitians and Beninese. Queen Djehami believes that this week’s earthquake has happened because Haiti’s ancestors failed to carry out sacrifices. She explains that during his trip to Haiti six years ago, King Kpodégbé had warned the then President of Haiti of the need to organise sacrifices to appease angry spirits and ward off evil ones. His trip was part of bicentenary celebrations marking the death of Toussaint L’ouverture.

Although the Haitian authorities probably didn’t ignore the king’s warning, they did put off organising the rituals. “Haiti is profoundly African and these things should not be underestimated,” exclaims Queen Djehami. “His Majesty the King asked for a number of things to be done when we were there, but his wishes were not met. Was it negligence, was it that nobody believed in it?”

In an outburst of solidarity with the victims of the earthquake, the people of Benin and particularly those of Allada have organised traditional ceremonies to appease the spirits and seek the blessing of their ancestors for the Haitians.” A purification ceremony is planned for Haiti and a trip to the devastated island is even possible. We will continue to pray that it never happens again,” says the Queen of Allada.



“call Pat @ (800) 759-0700 to give your opinion of statements on Haiti, or put them on hold + just play music, it costs them money to wait for you”


Why it’s wrong to label Pat Robertson as a crackpot.
Posted Yesterday [1/14] at 4:12pm

“Pat Robertson has been called crazy, loony, and a crackpot based upon his comments regarding a 200 year old curse placed upon Haiti. This would be an inappropriate label. The story is based upon a myth created to justify a belief in White Supremacy, and has been maintained and repeated by Southern Christians to this day. Robertson was speaking in a code not understood by Northerners and Westerners, so it appears to fall to me to explain the origins off the myth, and the reasons it has survived in the South to this day, and continues to influence our foreign and domestic policy.

The myth is rooted in beliefs regarding the “Mark of Cain” [] which are widely held in the South. Most theologians believe the “Mark” referred to a curse to a nomadic lifestyle, and an inability to grow crops. The belief was used to justify the extermination of Native Americans, because they weren’t using the land profitably, while systematically burning their crops, and stealing their orchards. As long as taking lands could be justified through “making the land fertile” it was theologically justified. The irony of course is that world cuisines would be very different today without basic Native American crops such as potatoes, tomatoes, chili peppers, corn, blueberries, strawberries, and so on. But, that is another history for another day.

The “Mark of Cain” was made into skin color by Southern theologians, seeking to justify slavery. Therefore, to the degree that one’s skin was dark, it designated that person as less than human, and able to be exploited as any other animal with the approval of the Southerner’s God. I must add here, that is was not only the approval, but the destiny supported and guaranteed by the Southern God. When you hear a Southerner say, “Everything happens for a reason,” it means that everything that happens to a person, or a people, because it is their God’s will.

When Haiti achieved independence in 1804, the foundation of that set of beliefs was shaken. The only way to reconcile the belief of White Superiority with a Black Nation achieving independence was the intervention of the Devil. Therefore, a myth was created that said that the Haitians had made a deal with the Devil, and bore a new “Mark,” similar to that of Cain. The fact that Toussaint L’ouverture was an educated man, who fought to retain his freedom becomes obscured by the myth. This belief has influenced our dealings with Haiti, from Thomas Jefferson to the present day. Jefferson’s struggles with how to deal with Haiti have already been published, and I will not go through the history of our foreign policy with respect to Haiti with this entry.

This is not a fringe belief. In 1994, ONE HUNDRED AND NINTEY years after Haiti achieved independence, President Bill Clinton sent peacekeeping troops to Haiti under pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus when a military dictatorship supported by US business interests overthrew the popularly elected Aristede. Before the troops were sent to Haiti, they were briefed by a local expert chosen by the CIA, who said: “The briefing was only partly inexplicable to me. Many of the mindless prejudices of the briefing would resurface later as official documents, from Intelligence, Psychological Operations, and Civil Affairs. It was part of the attempt to minimize American contact with Haitian realities. It is going on to this day, and it is effective. Now, the bullshit is being disseminated by the United States Embassy. The press laps it up and regurgitates it for us uncritically, awed as always to be allowed so near the powerful.”

Robertson’s beliefs are neither crackpot, outside of the norm for many people in positions of power. They also inform the myth-building in Southern States on how to deal with the election of President Barack Obama. The mad scramble for a label from Anti-Christ to NAZI is a reflection of irreconcilable cognitive dissonance between Southern belief systems and reality. Within a day of Robertson’s remarks, a G.O.P. Spokesman stated that all ANYONE needed to do, INCLUDING THE UNITED NATIONS, was to heal the injuries, bury the dead, and GET OUT. This is belief and praxis, naked. Robertson is a GOP operative, and has advised presidents in the past, including Bush, and his bombing of Mayan villages coincided with Reagan’s support of the atrocities committed by the Contras, and by the systematic overthrow of democratically-elected governments in the Caribbean, Central, and South America and subsequent atrocities in this hemisphere.

To fail to recognize the importance of the system of beliefs in the behavior of Southerners, the praxis of those beliefs, and the way in which those beliefs are transmitted is to fail to recognize the danger of the situation. His belief in the Curse of Haiti, is supported by a belief system that cannot reconcile the United States having elected a Black President. The disbelief that Barack Obama is President along with the signs displayed at the various protests in the South, among significant portions of the South are indicative of the cognitive dissonance among that population. The situation parallels the cognitive dissonance caused by the independence of Haiti. It is a dangerous time for Pat Robertson, and that means it’s a dangerous time for all of us.

Does My God Hate Haiti?
BY Albert Mohler / January 14, 2010

The images streaming in from Haiti look like scenes from Dante’s Inferno. The scale of the calamity is unprecedented. In many ways, Haiti has almost ceased to exist. The earthquake that will forever change that nation came as subterranean plates shifted about six miles under the surface of the earth, along a fault line that had threatened trouble for centuries. But no one saw a quake of this magnitude coming. The 7.0 quake came like a nightmare, with the city of Port-au-Prince crumbling, entire villages collapsing, bodies flying in the air and crushed under mountains of debris. Orphanages, churches, markets, homes, and government buildings all collapsed. Civil government has virtually ceased to function. Without power, communication has been cut off and rescue efforts are seriously hampered. Bodies are piling up, hope is running out, and help, though on the way, will not arrive in time for many victims.

Even as boots are finally hitting the ground and relief efforts are reaching the island, estimates of the death toll range as high as 500,000. Given the mountainous terrain and densely populated villages that had been hanging along the fault line, entire villages may have disappeared. The Western Hemisphere’s most impoverished nation has experienced a catastrophe that appears almost apocalyptic. In truth, it is hard not to describe the earthquake as a disaster of biblical proportions. It certainly looks as if the wrath of God has fallen upon the Caribbean nation. Add to this the fact that Haiti is well known for its history of religious syncretism — mixing elements of various faiths, including occult practices. The nation is known for voodoo, sorcery, and a Catholic tradition that has been greatly influenced by the occult.

Haiti’s history is a catalog of political disasters, one after the other. In one account of the nation’s fight for independence from the French in the late 18th century, representatives of the nation are said to have made a pact with the Devil to throw off the French. According to this account, the Haitians considered the French as Catholics and wanted to side with whomever would oppose the French. Thus, some would use that tradition to explain all that has marked the tragedy of Haitian history — including now the earthquake of January 12, 2010.

Does God hate Haiti? That is the conclusion reached by many, who point to the earthquake as a sign of God’s direct and observable judgment. God does judge the nations — all of them — and God will judge the nations. His judgment is perfect and his justice is sure. He rules over all the nations and his sovereign will is demonstrated in the rising and falling of nations and empires and peoples. Every molecule of matter obeys his command, and the earthquakes reveal his reign — as do the tides of relief and assistance flowing into Haiti right now.

A faithful Christian cannot accept the claim that God is a bystander in world events. The Bible clearly claims the sovereign rule of God over all his creation, all of the time. We have no right to claim that God was surprised by the earthquake in Haiti, or to allow that God could not have prevented it from happening. God’s rule over creation involves both direct and indirect acts, but his rule is constant. The universe, even after the consequences of the Fall, still demonstrates the character of God in all its dimensions, objects, and occurrences. And yet, we have no right to claim that we know why a disaster like the earthquake in Haiti happened at just that place and at just that moment.

The arrogance of human presumption is a real and present danger. We can trace the effects of a drunk driver to a car accident, but we cannot trace the effects of voodoo to an earthquake — at least not so directly. Will God judge Haiti for its spiritual darkness? Of course. Is the judgment of God something we can claim to understand in this sense — in the present? No, we are not given that knowledge. Jesus himself warned his disciples against this kind of presumption.

Why did no earthquake shake Nazi Germany? Why did no tsunami swallow up the killing fields of Cambodia? Why did Hurricane Katrina destroy far more evangelical churches than casinos? Why do so many murderous dictators live to old age while many missionaries die young? Does God hate Haiti? God hates sin, and will punish both individual sinners and nations. But that means that every individual and every nation will be found guilty when measured by the standard of God’s perfect righteousness. God does hate sin, but if God merely hated Haiti, there would be no missionaries there; there would be no aid streaming to the nation; there would be no rescue efforts — there would be no hope.

The earthquake in Haiti, like every other earthly disaster, reminds us that creation groans under the weight of sin and the judgment of God. This is true for every cell in our bodies, even as it is for the crust of the earth at every point on the globe. The entire cosmos awaits the revelation of the glory of the coming Lord. Creation cries out for the hope of the New Creation. In other words, the earthquake reminds us that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only real message of hope. The cross of Christ declares that Jesus loves Haiti — and the Haitian people are the objects of his love. Christ would have us show the Haitian nation his love, and share his Gospel. In the midst of this unspeakable tragedy, Christ would have us rush to aid the suffering people of Haiti, and rush to tell the Haitian people of his love, his cross, and salvation in his name alone.

Everything about the tragedy in Haiti points to our need for redemption. This tragedy may lead to a new openness to the Gospel among the Haitian people. That will be to the glory of God. In the meantime, Christ’s people must do everything we can to alleviate the suffering, bind up the wounded, and comfort the grieving. If Christ’s people are called to do this, how can we say that God hates Haiti? If you have any doubts about this, take your Bible and turn to John 3:16. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. That is God’s message to Haiti.

[ “I am always glad to hear from readers and listeners. Write me at” ]

“See also these two articles from the Katrina disaster:”

The only golf course

GOP DeVore’s Spokesman: World Community Should Leave Haiti ASAP / 01-14-10

“Earlier today, I wrote about the push by several major foreign policy voices to ensure that America’s role in restructuring Haiti extends beyond emergency response to the earthquake. The politics seem logical — the impoverished country has endured plenty of socioeconomic chaos in addition to natural disasters in recent history. And now, more than ever, there is a moral and geopolitical imperative for the U.S. to be involved. But rallying domestic support for a long-term U.S. commitment to Haitian affairs has long proved difficult. And here is another example why:

The communications director for California Republican Senate candidate Chuck DeVore tweeted on Thursday that America, the world and even charity organizations should immediately leave the island once immediate and limited recovery is done. “[T]he best thing the int’l community can do is tend the wounded, bury the dead, and then LEAVE. That includes all UN and charity,” wrote Josh Trevino. This seems a bit blunt, even for the most non-interventionist of Republican candidates (DeVore is a Tea Party favorite). But it also is a reflection of Americans’ widespread skepticism about the prospects of building a functioning and stable Haitian society. I asked former National Security Adviser Tony Lake about the problem in sustaining U.S. interest in Haiti during an interview on Wednesday. He didn’t have any specific explanation, but acknowledged that it was problematic. “There are political voices in the United States that have spoken up for the Haitians, including the black caucus,” Lake said. “But generally the political weight of the Haitian community in the United States has been less than the community deserves. And I think that has been a problem in maintaining a consistent American interest.””

Soldier’s testimony: US intervention salvaged the thugs
BY Marshall Valentine (alias)

In September of 1994, when US forces entered the Republic of Haiti, I was the detachment operations NCO for a Special Forces A Team. My team was given the mission of controlling almost a thousand square kilometers in the Northeast Department of Haiti. We were to base ourselves out of Fort Liberte, a political center near the northern Dominican border.

In August of ’94, just one month before the decision was announced to occupy Haiti, we were instructed to attend an intelligence briefing on Haiti that had been coordinated through the 3rd Special Forces Group staff.

Prelude to the dance
This briefing would be the one and only predeployment intelligence briefing we were to receive. For this presentation, the staff had conscientiously avoided using any of the former Haitian nationals that worked and lived in Fayetteville and Fort Bragg. These included a professor of physics at Fayetteville State University, his wife, a Creole instructor at the Special Forces school, and various Haitian-American soldiers on active duty in Fort Bragg.

To ensure that we had a reliable source for this one and only predeployment brief, our intelligence gurus selected an expatriate, white, American, fundamentalist Protestant preacher. This gentleman had occupied himself for the last 11 years, in a small community outside of Cap Haïtien, salvaging the heathen souls of some 300 local congregants. He was an emaciated, blepharitic man, tall and thin, in a black suit, reeking of Calvinist austerity and burning with years of besieged righteousness.

He began his account with a personal introduction and a brief history of his mission. Then came a brief historical account of the nation of Haiti. The account was perfectly informative as long as it confined itself to events, personalities and dates. What followed his synopsis, however, was a bizarre narrative. He flatly declared that the successful Haitian revolution against the French Army was inaugurated with a bargain. Jean Jacques Dessalines, the Haitian leader of the revolution, according to this preacher, had struck a deal with the devil. With complete seriousness, our intrepid young missionary, explained that Satan himself, disguised as a voodoo deity, contracted with Dessalines to assure him a military victory. In exchange for the victory, Satan was to be given control of the new nation for a period of 200 years.

I’m not sure what surprised me the most at that briefing. The outlandish characterization of the first independent black nation in the Western Hemisphere? The fact that an Intelligence Officer on the Group staff had coordinated for his presence? Or the spellbound attention being paid this crackpot by hundreds of allegedly rational grown men who were in the room listening?

The problem was this. Most of the Special Forces soldiers there had no previous interest in Haiti. Most of them harbored cultural and racial preconceptions of Haiti. All had been exposed to the drumbeat of skewed media coverage of Haiti. Many were fans of both the CIA and Jesse Helms, both of whom were staging a concerted venture to shape foreign policy on behalf of the Cedras regime, by fabricating rumors about Aristide. Almost all of them were thoroughly ignorant of both the history of Haiti and the dynamics of the current crisis.

It was easy then, in support of the anti-Aristide sentiment already afoot in the special operations community, for this charlatan to get away with his prevarication. He was positively obsessed with voodoo, which he repeatedly characterized not as a religion (which it is, with components of West African polytheism and Catholicism), but as worship of demons. He stated that Haitians were childlike, and in need of outside direction, morally and spiritually lost, still practicing human sacrifice and cannibalism. The racist echoes were not lost on the largely white Special Forces audience.

Aristide was a particularly hot issue. Aristide was always in the company of voodoo priests and priestesses, he explained, explicitly stating that Aristide’s Christianity was a sham…that Father Aristide, too, was a devil worshipper. Aristide, the minister explained to the audience, was not really a priest, at all. He had been defrocked. This was a sidelong reference to Aristide’s expulsion from his religious order for political action on behalf of the poor. Aristide, also a closet communist, according to our preacher, had personally ordered riots and murders of countless people during his brutal eight month regime. Cedras and Francois showed up just in time to save the country, and any intervention to oust Cedras would be a terrible mistake, not to mention the dangers to young, Christian GIs, of working with HIV-riddled demon worshippers. When questioned about Aristide’s landslide victory in the elections, he said that the election was a fraud perpetrated by Lavalas (the popular movement). He stated that the reports of violence by the Cedras regime were exaggerated. And if they did support Aristide, that demonstrated that they were not yet ready for democracy.

The briefing was only partly inexplicable to me. Many of the mindless prejudices of the briefing would resurface later as official documents, from Intelligence, Psychological Operations, and Civil Affairs. It was part of the attempt to minimize American contact with Haitian realities. It is going on to this day, and it is effective. Now, the bullshit is being disseminated by the United States Embassy. The press laps it up and regurgitates it for us uncritically, awed as always to be allowed so near the powerful. I want to emphatically state that the distortions and prejudices of this one man can not be generalized to any particular group. There are numerous religious groups of many faiths, Protestant included, who have consistently and vigorously supported the Haitians’ rights to self-determination and freedom from violence.

Haitian landing
That said, I entered Port au Prince on the 19th of September, where we were summarily informed, in the wake of the Carter-Nunn-Powell agreement, struck, by the way, in the absence of a single legitimate representative of the democratically-elected government of Haiti, and signed by Emile Jonassaint, the Cedras-installed illegal president, that we would now become the friends, patrons and trainers of the Haitian armed forces, whom I shall refer to as the FAdH. Admittedly, this was during a period of policy confusion, when the Clinton administration couldn’t decide what to do about FAdH soldiers openly clobbering unarmed citizens senseless with ironwood batons in front of CNN’s cameras.

It’s important to note, though long-term objectives in Haiti have become clear, many short-term decisions at that point in time appeared to be typical indecisive bumbling on the part of the Administration. It’s important to remember that Clinton launched the operation under pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus and TransAfrica. These groups were illuminating the gross contradictions between policy toward Haiti and Cuba. By the same token, business interests, represented by Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, whose Madison Avenue public relations firm had a happy and lucrative history of dealings with key Duvalierist elites in Haiti, were strenuously opposing the reinstallation of Aristide.

By the time we escaped from the 10th Mountain Division’s clutches in Port au Prince, a unit that had dauntlessly undertaken to prevent contact between ordinary Haitians and American troops, the guidance had changed. We were instructed to stop all “Haitian on Haitian violence.” Worded this way, we were permitted to interfere with policemen cracking heads, gassing and shooting at anyone they disliked, so long as it was understood that we were protecting the police from civilian violence as well. It was by this bit of verbal legerdemain, that officials managed again to minimize the Haitian military police and paramilitary’s overwhelming share of the mayhem, and to provide support to the prevailing disinformation alleging widespread violence perpetrated by pro-Aristide people.

In a telling analysis of this phenomenon, Catherine Orenstein, anthologized in a highly recommended book called The Haiti Files, edited by James Ridgeway, points out the complete collaboration of the US mainstream press in this gross misrepresentation of Haitian reality. Of the total space devoted to covering Haiti by the popular press, less than 4% was devoted to reporting human rights abuses by the Cedras regime, while it was in power, when between 3,000 and 5,000 people were murdered. Under the Aristide government, human rights violations were reduced by more than 65% in eight months, but no mention of this trend appeared in the New York Times or on CNN. The Times, in the three weeks following the coup devoted three times as much space to allegations of Lavalas violence, by all accounts less than 2% of the total, as it did to massive, ongoing military violence being directed at unarmed civilians. Again, I don’t attribute this to an innate dishonesty on the part of the press, but to their unwavering tendency to truckle around after powerful people and reverently accept everything they say. Reporters who are not good sycophants do not last long in today’s corporate megamedia environment.

Regulating the tropical heat
The question of disarming the paramilitaries was another subject that shifted repeatedly in the conduct of the mission. Before the soft option entry negotiated by the Carter team, military necessity made the question of weapons clear cut. If you carried a firearm, you were hostile. If a weapon were discovered, it was confiscated. But with the permissive entry, the Rules of Engagement stated that we were obliged to behave as police do, demanding that an armed individual relinquish his weapon and giving that individual an opportunity to do so, before employing deadly force. This ROE, as it is known, did not present a great problem. It was the question of seeking out and confiscating weapons that changed.

By the time my detachment arrived in Gonaïves, en route to Fort Liberte, planned searches for weapons caches were put on indefinite hold by Task Force commanders. No reason was ever given. Though we still had the authority to confiscate displayed weapons, we were prohibited from searching buildings and houses, even if we received multiple reports alleging their presence. That prohibition against searches for the purpose of confiscating firearms and other ordnance remains in effect to the end. The eventual justification was that Haitians had a constitutional right to own firearms…even though we were an extraconstitutional force. This would not be the first time that we were subjected to selective interpretations of the Haitian Constitution. And what it ignored was the practical fact, that nearly every weapon in the country was owned by a supporter of the de facto regime, this being the means by which they had retained their power.

By itself, this shift could be interpreted as an error in judgment, which it certainly would be, but other facts on the ground tend to support the thesis that it was part of an overall effort to achieve a specific circumstance. When we left the intrepid 10th Mountain Division in Port au Prince, they had begun fanning out, not into the slums where human rights violations continued to be reported, but to protect the property of the rich in Petionville from anticipated angry mobs who never materialized. The task force set up its headquarters on the factory complex of the second richest family in Haiti.

In Gonaïves, where a series of incidents had strained our relationship with the FAdH, and endeared us to the local population (an eventuality not anticipated by the Task Force commanders), we were obligated to work with a Haitian commander named Captain Castra, originally on our “detain immediately” list as a dangerous and seedy character, a known drug trafficker, and the originator of a massacre of 27 civilians in the slum of Raboteau just three months earlier. He and hundreds of other charming members of the armed forces had been miraculously rehabilitated by the stroke of a pen.

These encumbrances were temporarily removed when four members of FRAPH, the Haitian paramilitary headed by CIA employee Emmanuel Constant, shot and wounded a Special Forces soldier on the 2nd of October in Les Cayes. Independent of the conventional commanders, special operations commanders sent us the order to squash FRAPH. In my own sector, we made three detentions the first day, two the second, and ten the third when we entered Fort Liberte, including Nyll Calixte, former Haitian ambassador to France, and chief financier to FRAPH in the Northeast Department. On the fourth day after the directive, we detained Rene Mozart, Northeast Department president of FRAPH, subordinate only to Emmanuel Constant.

Calixte was released within 24 hours on a presidential order from the United States, with apologies. Mozart was returned in three weeks, with the admonition that FRAPH was now to be recognized as a legitimate political party, kind of like the loyal opposition. All but one of the original detainees were released. We were told to stop all detentions unless we could provide a laundry list of information and evidence that would have daunted the average FBI agent, citing the need for due process. Our argument that due process implied the presence of a functional police force, a forensics capability, a viable court, and a normally operating government, was viewed as evidence of a smart-assed attitude.

With that, our participation in assisting Haitian justice ground to a halt, accompanied by directives to provide support to propaganda efforts pushing the theme of “reconciliation.” I was accused of failing to cooperate on two occasions with Psychological Operations Teams who wished to broadcast feel-good messages in my sector. These were accurate accusations, but in my own defense, our team had established effective rapport with the local population, predicated on our ongoing credibility and our open association with Lavalas, and broadcasting messages that insulted the intelligence of the local population with the transparency of the missive, stood to undermine that credibility.

Miller Time for Democrats
To understand how fragmented certain aspects of the operations were, it is important to explain that individual Special Forces Teams had a great deal of autonomy, much to the chagrin of a host of micromanaging, anal compulsive, career-obsessed commanders. My team, with only eight people on the initial entry, was responsible for hundreds of square kilometers of territory. For this reason, to this day, attitudes of Haitians in various sectors of the country will be wildly divergent with regard to American military. Some teams moved into FAdH garrisons, emplaced concertina wire, and built what appeared to be a Vietnam style firebase. Our team lived in a house, accessible to all, with neighbors on three sides, who listened to music with us on the porch and dropped by for coffee. We shopped at the local market, and drank an occasional Presidente beer from the little street store down the road. It was not at all unusual to shoo chickens out of the house in the morning.

In fact, the presence of beer, though its consumption by Special Forces was widespread in Haiti, was presented to us as a violation of a General Order in December of that year, and I was asked to leave the country. During the investigation regarding the General Order violation, the subject of beer seemed to preoccupy the investigating officer far less than our cozy relationship with Lavalas, to which I credited the remarkable stability of our sector throughout the operation.

The other subject that came up repeatedly was my failure to support the concept of the Interim Police Security Force, or IPSF. The original concept, briefed to us, was that the new police would be organized from the general population, even allowing certain decent, nonabusive gentlemen (and there were a few) from the original force, to continue employment. This sat well with the locals and with us. We were told to vet current members of the garrisons to determine which police had potential, and which were absolutely unacceptable to the general population. We did this, and were succinctly blown off. Instead of dropping the identified thugs from the rolls, a shell game was implemented, where Haitian police were abruptly reassigned to other towns, far away. We knew it. The Haitians knew it. Officialdom never acknowledged it. If I were attracted to conspiracy theories, I might have thought that someone was trying to protect the Haitian military from future legal action by removing them from places where they perchance would be deposed against.

The ostensible military action to restore democracy was launched on the heels of a bargain made with an outgoing military dictator and a phony president. The US military wasted no time setting up their headquarters on the industrial property of the Mev family, first stringers with the ultrarich, ruling elite. The operation advanced at a glacial pace, with emphasis placed on establishing security around the property of the wealthy. Soldiers were admonished not to take aggressive action to round up known criminals, not to search for weapons, and to observe a kind of “due process” in the treatment of former henchmen. US soldiers were given guidelines for detention so stringent that by the 5th of October, 1994, virtually all detentions had ceased. De facto government persecutors so notorious they were on “detain immediately” lists before the Carter-Nunn-Powell deal was cut, were allowed to continue in their present capacities, sometimes with US cooperation. Weapons buyback programs were implemented which allowed unserviceable weapons to be exchanged for money, while the serviceable ones were carefully cached for future use. In my own sector, dozens of reports came to us of large quantities of weapons being packed across the Dominican border, where many de facto criminals were being given sanctuary. The former military were dressed up in new uniforms, after a cosmetic vetting of past activities, and put back on the street with an apprehensive public who continually told American military authorities that this was an unacceptable arrangement. UN/US military policy stressed a “balanced” approach to dealing with Haitians, defining balance as “walking a line” between Lavalas, who represented the overwhelming majority of Haitians, and FRAPH, a terrorist organization working for the elite.

While there is no doubt that without intervention, the Cedras regime would have continued indefinitely, the best thing that could happen in Haiti at this moment would be the discontinuation of American, IMF, and World Bank influence. But, as always with both Democratic and Republican administrations, corporate wishes will prevail in the long term. The greatest miscalculation that the Haitian people can count on now, is the foolish but persistent belief that being illiterate means one is stupid.

Every Haitian has heard the old proverb… ‘You can send a snake to school but it’s hard to make him sit down.”

EARTHQUAKE PENTECOSTAL“biblical”_disaster:_understanding_religion_in_haiti/
“Biblical” Disaster: Understanding Religion in Haiti
BY Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado / January 13, 2010

Note to Pat Robertson: Haiti is not a nation of Vodou practitioners. It is, and continues to be, overwhelmingly Christian. Yesterday morning as I settled onto my elliptical at the gym, I anxiously turned to the television silently playing captioned CNN. It was before sunrise, and I knew it would be a good thirty minutes before daylight would reveal the devastation the 7.0 earthquake had unleashed on Haiti. The man on the neighboring machine, also watching the television, turned to me and said, “You know they killed all the white people after they gained independence … it is that Vodou … they deserve it.” I pedaled along speechless, not sure what shocked me more, that this man would think these things or that he felt comfortable enough with his hatred that he was fairly confident I would agree. I ignored him and I wish I had not. What I wanted to say is that Vodou is not some sort of sorcery, or the product of some “pact to the devil” (thank you Pat Robertson). I also wanted to correct his erroneous assumption that Haiti is a nation of Vodou practitioners. It is, and continues to be, overwhelmingly Christian.

I confess that I have been fairly glued to CNN in the past twenty-four hours, and two things have struck me as I watched the constant onslaught of images of suffering and destruction. The first is the erroneous fact that CNN keeps claiming on its ticker that Haiti is 80% Roman Catholic. The second is the sheer amount of U.S. missionaries on the island. The two are inter-related. Recent studies estimate that the Protestant population of Haiti is somewhere around thirty percent. In Port-au-Prince that number jumps to almost forty percent. The majority of these churches are Pentecostal. These churches are overwhelmingly independent, indigenous Haitian entities, though some are linked to North American denominational Pentecostal churches. Haiti, along with Jamaica and Puerto Rico, is home to one of the fastest growing Pentecostal populations in the Caribbean.

As I watch the drama unfold in Haiti, and feel it here in Miami, the home of the largest Haitian Diaspora in the United States, I cannot help but think of another earthquake, another country. In 1976 a 7.5 earthquake devastated Guatemala, leaving 23,000 dead and over 50,000 injured. My husband, a child at the time, has told me of the silence, the fear that followed this catastrophe. As a scholar of religion, I have often wondered of the theological impact of this natural disaster.

Thankfully, the scholarship of Virginia Garrard-Burnett provides some answers. She correlates the explosion of Pentecostalism in Guatemala, who like Haiti, is an epicenter of Pentecostalism in the Americas, in part as a response to the earthquake. An overwhelmingly high percentage of Guatemalans saw the earthquake as a form of divine punishment and a call for repentance. Arriving in the guise of aid and relief, Protestantism provided an alternative way of being Christian. Yet Pentecostalism primarily emerged in Guatemala, as it did in Haiti, disconnected from North American denominations. Indigenous Pentecostalism, with its apocalyptic theology, also gained momentum among Indigenous Guatemalans.

Haiti had barely recovered from the four devastating storms of 2008 prior to this earthquake. The Roman Catholic Cathedral in Port-au-Prince has collapsed, and Archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Monsignor Joseph Serge Miot’s lifeless body was pulled from the ruins of the diocesan offices. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has described the natural disasters that this nation has endured as “biblical” in nature. “It is biblical, the tragedy that continues to stalk Haiti and the Haitian people.” Clinton does not realize that her comments would strike a chord with many Haitians today. Haitian Pentecostals, with their biblical literalism and their certainty that the second coming of Jesus is imminent, could see this time of tribulation as a challenge where the faithful will be rewarded on judgment day. Religion will surely play a role in the manner in which Haitians make sense of this tragedy, and I suspect we will find growing numbers of Pentecostal converts as Haitians attempt to find meaning in what can only be described as senseless and inexplicable suffering.


for best effect (if your network can handle it) play them all at once

“Update: We are no longer recommending people set up plaintext squid proxies. The Iranian regime appears to be doing deep-packet inspection on all traffic now.”


AND THIS: TAQIYYA, KITMAN, KHOD’EH, TAAROF,+kitman,+khod’eh…-a0155873239
Iran’s Political Culture Of Righteous Deception


#IranElection #gr88 #CNNFail viaTwitter




Son’s Death Has Iranian Family Asking Why
BY Farnaz Fassihi  /  June 23, 2009

Tehran—The family, clad in black, stood at the curb of the road sobbing. A middle-aged mother slapped her cheeks, letting out piercing wails. The father, a frail man who worked as a doorman at a clinic in central Tehran, wept quietly with his head bowed. Minutes before, an ambulance had arrived from Tehran’s morgue carrying the body of their only son, 19-year-old Kaveh Alipour. On Saturday, amid the most violent clashes between security forces and protesters, Mr. Alipour was shot in the head as he stood at an intersection in downtown Tehran. He was returning from acting class and a week shy of becoming a groom, his family said.

The details of his death remain unclear. He had been alone. Neighbors and relatives think that he got trapped in the crossfire. He wasn’t politically active and hadn’t taken part in the turmoil that has rocked Iran for over a week, they said. “He was a very polite, shy young man,” said Mohamad, a neighbor who has known him since childhood. When Mr. Alipour didn’t return home that night, his parents began to worry. All day, they had heard gunshots ringing in the distance. His father, Yousef, first called his fiancée and friends. No one had heard from him.

At the crack of dawn, his father began searching at police stations, then hospitals and then the morgue. Upon learning of his son’s death, the elder Mr. Alipour was told the family had to pay an equivalent of $3,000 as a “bullet fee”—a fee for the bullet used by security forces—before taking the body back, relatives said.

Mr. Alipour told officials that his entire possessions wouldn’t amount to $3,000, arguing they should waive the fee because he is a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war. According to relatives, morgue officials finally agreed, but demanded that the family do no funeral or burial in Tehran. Kaveh Alipour’s body was quietly transported to the city of Rasht, where there is family.

Everyone in the neighborhood knows the Alipour family. In addition to their slain son, they have two daughters. Shopkeepers and businesses pasted a photocopied picture of Mr. Alipour on their walls and windows. In the picture, the young man is shown wearing a dark suit with gray stripes. His black hair is combed neatly to a side and he has a half-smile. “He was so full of life. He had so many dreams,” said Arsalan, a taxi driver who has known the family for 10 years. “What did he die for?”

“RT @LaraABCNews: from trusted source, eyewitness at protests: the acid attacks were real, dumped on protesters from above.”

Neda Soltan’s family ‘forced out of home’ by Iranian authorities

The Iranian authorities have ordered the family of Neda Agha Soltan out of their Tehran home after shocking images of her death were circulated around the world. Neighbours said that her family no longer lives in the four-floor apartment building on Meshkini Street, in eastern Tehran, having been forced to move since she was killed. The police did not hand the body back to her family, her funeral was cancelled, she was buried without letting her family know and the government banned mourning ceremonies at mosques, the neighbours said. “We just know that they [the family] were forced to leave their flat,” a neighbour said. The Guardian was unable to contact the family directly to confirm if they had been forced to leave.

The government is also accusing protesters of killing Soltan, describing her as a martyr of the Basij militia. Javan, a pro-government newspaper, has gone so far as to blame the recently expelled BBC correspondent, Jon Leyne, of hiring “thugs” to shoot her so he could make a documentary film. Soltan was shot dead on Saturday evening near the scene of clashes between pro-government militias and demonstrators, turning her into a symbol of the Iranian protest movement. Barack Obama spoke of the “searing image” of Soltan’s dying moments at his press conference yesterday.

Amid scenes of grief in the Soltan household with her father and mother screaming, neighbours not only from their building but from others in the area streamed out to protest at her death. But the police moved in quickly to quell any public displays of grief. They arrived as soon as they found out that a friend of Soltan had come to the family flat. In accordance with Persian tradition, the family had put up a mourning announcement and attached a black banner to the building.

But the police took them down, refusing to allow the family to show any signs of mourning. The next day they were ordered to move out. Since then, neighbours have received suspicious calls warning them not to discuss her death with anyone and not to make any protest. A tearful middle-aged woman who was an immediate neighbour said her family had not slept for days because of the oppressive presence of the Basij militia, out in force in the area harassing people since Soltan’s death.

The area in front of Soltan’s house was empty today. There was no sign of black cloths, banners or mourning. Secret police patrolled the street. “We are trembling,” one neighbour said. “We are still afraid. We haven’t had a peaceful time in the last days, let alone her family. Nobody was allowed to console her family, they were alone, they were under arrest and their daughter was just killed. I can’t imagine how painful it was for them. Her friends came to console her family but the police didn’t let them in and forced them to disperse and arrested some of them. Neda’s family were not even given a quite moment to grieve.”

Another man said many would have turned up to show their sympathy had it not been for the police. “In Iran, when someone dies, neighbours visit the family and will not let them stay alone for weeks but Neda’s family was forced to be alone, otherwise the whole of Iran would gather here,” he said. “The government is terrible, they are even accusing pro-Mousavi people of killing Neda and have just written in their websites that Neda is a Basiji (government militia) martyr. That’s ridiculous – if that’s true why don’t they let her family hold any funeral or ceremonies? Since the election, you are not able to trust one word from the government.” A shopkeeper said he had often met Soltan, who used to come to his store. “She was a kind, innocent girl. She treated me well and I appreciated her behaviour. I was surprised when I found out that she was killed by the riot police. I knew she was a student as she mentioned that she was going to university. She always had a nice peaceful smile and now she has been sacrificed for the government’s vote-rigging in the presidential election.”

Grave spaces at Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery reportedly set aside for those killed in Tehran clashes

Her fiance, Caspian Makan, told BBC Persian TV about the circumstances of Neda’s death: “She was near the area, a few streets away, from where the main protests were taking place, near the Amir-Abad area. She was with her music teacher, sitting in a car and stuck in traffic. She was feeling very tired and very hot. She got out of the car for just for a few minutes. And that’s when it all happened. That’s when she was shot dead. Eyewitnesses and video footage of the shooting clearly show that probably Basij paramilitaries in civilian clothing deliberately targeted her. Eyewitnesses said they clearly targeted her and she was shot in the chest. She passed away within a few minutes. People tried to take her to the nearest hospital, the Shariati hospital. But it was too late.

We worked so hard to get the authorities to release her body. She was taken to a morgue outside Tehran. The officials from the morgue asked if they could use parts of her corpse for body transplants for medical patients. They didn’t specify what exactly they intended to do. Her family agreed because they wanted to bury her as soon as possible. We buried her in the Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery in southern Tehran. They asked us to bury her in this section where it seemed the authorities had set aside spaces for graves for those killed during the violent clashes in Tehran last week.

On Monday afternoon, we had planned to hold a memorial service at the mosque. But the authorities there and the paramilitary group, the Basij, wouldn’t allow it because they were worried it would attract unwanted attention and they didn’t want anymore trouble. The authorities are aware that everybody in Iran and throughout the whole world knows about her story. So that’s why they didn’t want a memorial service. They were afraid that lots people could turn up at the event. So as things stand now, we are not allowed to hold any gatherings to remember Neda.

“(Late Sunday I watch Neda’s video. I suspect that I recognize Arash Hejazi, but I prefer not to believe in what I am seeing. I send him and email)

Sunday 21 June 2009 | Dear Arash
I need to know where you stand, if things that I am seeing/reading are true. Then I can myself take a position – depending on your advice, of course. love, Paulo

Mon, 22 Jun 2009 | Subject: your country | Dearest Paulo,
I am now in Tehran. The video of Neda’s murder was taken by my friend, and you can recognize me in the video. I was the doctor who tried to save her and failed. She died in my arms. I am writing with tears in my eyes. Please don’t mention my name. I’ll contact you with more details soon. Love, Arash

(At this point, I decide to put the video in my blog. For the rest of the day, I try to contact him. At one point, someone answers his phone as a “CNN journalist”. I start to become worried)

Monday 22 June 2009 | Dear Arash
so far, no news from you. After I published the video in my blog, it seems that it spread worldwide, including posts in NY Times, Guardian, National Review, etc. Therefore, my main concern now is about you. You NEED to answer this email, saying that you are all right
and the name of the person where we spend the New Year’s Eve in 2001 together, just to be sure that it is you really who is answering this email. I don’t buy this CNN person answering your mobile.
If you don’t do that, I may leak your name to the press, in order to protect you – visibility is the only protection at this point. I know this because I am a former prisoner of conscience. If you do that, unless instructed otherwise by you, I will stop the pressure for the moment. My main concern now is you and your family. love, Paulo
P.S. – there are several trusted friends in blind copy here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009 | Dearest Paulo
I am alright for now. I am not staying at home. I don’t know about CNN. The friend’s name was Frederick. Love Arash

Tuesday, June 23, 2009 | Dearest Paulo
Trying to leave the country tomorrow morning. If I don’t arrive in London at 2 pm., something has happened to me. Till then, wait.
My wife and my son are in (edited). Their phone (edited) Her email (edited) Please wait till tomorrow. If something happens to me, please take care of (name of wife) and (name of son), they are there, alone, and have no one else in the world. Much love, it was an honor having you as a friend. Arash

(At this point, a Brazilian journalist, Luis Antonio Ryff, who traveled to Iran to cover my visit, recognizes Arash in the video, and writes me to double-check. I confirm, but I ask him to keep his name secret until today. Ryff agrees – even knowing that this would be a major scoop for him. I would like to thank him here, for his dignity)

Wednesday 24 June 2009
Arash landed in London”


Primary Target: hosting protestor images
“Iran’s government is putting pictures of targeted protestors on the web for the Basij to identify and harass, arrest, or worse. These individuals could be jailed, or worse, dead by tomorrow. This website needs to die.”

Activists Launch Hack Attacks on Tehran Regime
“Pro-democracy activists on the web are asking supporters to use relatively simple hacking tools to flood the regime’s propaganda sites with junk traffic. “NOTE to HACKERS – attack – pls try to hack all iran gov wesites [sic]. very difficult for us,” Tweets one activist. The impact of these distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks isn’t clear. But official online outlets like,, and are currently inaccessible. “There are calls to use an even more sophisticated tool called BWraep, which seems to exhaust the target website out of bandwidth by creating bogus requests for serving images,” notes Open Society Institute fellow Evgeny Morozov. In both Iran and abroad, the cyberstrikes are being praised as a way to hit back against a regime that so blatantly engaged in voter fraud. But some observers warn that the network strikes could backfire — hurting the very protesters they’re meant to assist. Michael Roston is concerned that “it helps to excuse the Iranian regime’s own cyberwarfare.” Text-messaging networks and key opposition websites mysteriously went dark just before the election. Morozov worries that it “gives [the] hard-line government another reason to suspect ‘foreign intervention‘ — albeit via computer networks — into Iranian politics.” Iran has one of the world’s most vibrant social media communities. That’s helping those of us outside Iran follow along as this revolution is being YouTubed, blogged, and Tweeted. But Iran’s network infrastructure there is relatively centralized. Which makes Internet access there inherently unstable. Programmer Robert Synott worries that if outside protesters pour too much DDOS traffic into Iran, carriers there “will simply pull the plug to protect the rest of their network.” For the moment, however, those connections are still live. And activists are using them to mobilize mass protests in Tehran. Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has just appeared. Tens of thousands of protesters are chanting “‘No fear, No fear, we are with each other.’” Meanwhile, universities are recovering from assaults by pro-regime goons. Students were bloodied. Memory cards and software were swiped by police. Computers were smashed.”


[open letter by Isaac Levy, security researcher, IT professional, Defcon panelist, cyberwarfare analyst – we believe this information is correct, but we are not in Iran; please check for yourself]
“People in Iran please tell every person you know: EVERYONE use SSL proxy servers starting tomorrow on all internet traffic, or please stop using proxies! In spite of everyone’s best intentions, when used in limited numbers as they are right now, it’s likely that internet proxies are simply automating an opposition arrest list (or death list) for the regime. Please understand that Iran’s network-control is state of the art, and Iranian security can inspect ALL traffic easily in an automated fashion, through its centralized choke point. It’s likely that anyone using a proxy is quickly spotted and tracked. Proxies are an effective way to get information out, but the use of proxies will not be safe unless EVERY SINGLE PERSON in Iran uses one. EVERYONE.

SSL/TLS (https) can be about 4 to 5 times the packet size in transmission, which makes the bandwidth throttling of the Iranian Security forces more difficult (the Iranian internet is painfully, selectively, slow since it was shut down). If everyone were to use it, for all communications, then all traffic would look the same, and dissidents could not be so easily singled out. This is sometimes called ‘faking the weather.’ We must recommend either EVERYONE uses SSL proxies, in order to protect each other, or NO ONE does. IT/Networking professionals will recognize the tactics in commonplace IPS or IDS systems. Iran is clearly using payload inspection and filtering systems- both for blocking, and collecting information. This is done easily, since (without SSL) none of the material being sent is encrypted. Security professionals will understand that scaling firewalls to a national size is a solved problem. Cisco’s Netflow is used in network gear throughout the world to record network traffic, and common new style ‘deep packet inspection’ network products are capable of extremely efficient real-time network processing and data collection.

The longer you wait the more proxy users will be arrested. Tell your grandmothers, tell everyone you know: find a safe SSL proxy, learn to use it, and only use SSL/TLS proxies from now on. They are not difficult to use. If everyone does this, Iran will have an unfiltered internet; to block it the Iranian government would be forced to turn off their WHOLE internet connection (again). Also remember, anonymous proxies can be hijacked: SSL provides validation that you’re talking to the right person.

In Summation: Without maximum use in Iran of these SSL/TLS proxy technologies, in spite of best intentions, and with incredible efficiency, the outside internet community is most likely helping to automate an Iranian dissident death/arrest list. I can not overstate this. Everyone in Iran please start using ssl proxies immediately. today. now.

Once more, put simply?
On the outside, https proxies (SSL/TLS) for encryption and server validation* are absolutely necessary. Please set them up. (* validation to defend against Iran Security Forces performing man-in-the-middle attacks) On the inside, EVERY Iranian citizen must use SSL web proxies. If both of these things are not done, the best intentions of the internet community will only help automate death lists for citizens using the internet to protest the faked election, and document the violence and repression that has followed. If both of these things (inside and outside the country) ARE done, Iranians regain cheap and fast internal unblocked internet communications, as well as a very robust communications line to the outside world. Again, EVERYONE has to do it. Both sides. Iranian grandmothers must understand that they all must learn to do this, to protect Iranian opposition protesters. It is easy and you only have to do it once.

Inside Iran, look for things like this:
Outside of Iran, Tech Specs, 2 parts:
1 )SSL Capable proxy servers:
Apache 2.x (enable mod_ssl, mod_proxy)
Apache 1.x, (enable mod_ssl, mod_proxy)
2) Cheap, valid SSL certificates:
(Critical to avoid Iran Security mitm attacks!)

Isaac Levy
email : isaac [at] diversaform [dot] com

[NOTE : it should be understood that the obvious reason the internet was not simply turned off is that Iran’s entire financial sector needs it to conduct business, and many use tools like SSL.]

“any circumvention system, open proxy or not, requires an element of trust in the intermediary you’re using to get around the block. turning on SSL would be added comfort, i guess — if, as the author says, everyone else did as well, but it would also slow things down even more (that’s his point, i guess: then IRI would have to monitor less to keep traffic flowing at an acceptable speed). and anyway, there is some security in obscurity: there is a large and evolving population of open proxies, and many people of all stripes use them; open proxies have been commonly used since filtering was first deployed, years ago). to imagine that doing so without SSL will lead to one’s arrest would mean ascribing to The State a technologically perfect and comprehensive surveillance. while the Net certainly aids in data collection and monitoring that wasn’t previously possible, as we know, no system is without its cracks. it would probably be good if people outside of iran were reminded that the government of iran isn’t somehow omnipotent just because it has authoritarian elements.”

The More People Use It, The Stronger It Gets
“Tor is well known and respected as the best most efficient most anonymous proxy service. The Onion Routing makes the user almost completely untraceable.”

TOR BRIDGES,1000000189,39616925,00.htm
from Moxie Marlinspike:

“I’m not following the tech situation in Iran very closely, but it seems like activists within Iran who are trying to share information and coordinate actions should be using TOR rather than just SSL proxies. TOR can probably provide the most robust defense against attempts at censoring information, allowing Iranians to use social networking tools, as well as providing (at least) network-level anonymity.

The problems with SSL proxies are:
1) There are reports that port 443 is blocked. You could run an SSL proxy on another port, but most are on 443 right now. TOR bridges, however, are available on a wide range of ports.
2) Every time a list of SSL proxies is published, the government can just blacklist them all. While the government could ban direct access to the entire TOR directory, TOR bridges make it difficult for them to restrict TOR traffic outright.
3) Simple SSL proxies are more vulnerable to any number of attacks. For instance, it’s often not possible to determine who’s running the proxy (the government or not?), and while this is also true for any individual TOR node, no individual TOR node simultaneously knows both the client’s identity as well as the site they’re visiting. TOR is also more resilient to timing attacks and other MITM attacks on SSL traffic.”

Iranian Protests Becoming Crowd-Sourced Cyber War
BY Kit Eaton / Jun 17, 2009

“The really interesting thing about these attacks are not that they’re going on–DDoS attacks after elections apparently isn’t a new phenomenon–but how they’re being carried out. Rather than using simple code, with automated viral botnets and the like, these efforts are largely being driven by hand. There are a number of simple scripts going around that can be downloaded and which continually re-load the target Web sites in a browser window. It’s a simpler system, being coordinated by word of mouth, Twitter and other means, but it appears to be effective–all the target sites are offline, or have bandwidth issues.

And the subtlety that this is a crowd-sourced form of cyber war, or cyber revolution, rather than an anonymous automated network of infected PCs, shouldn’t go unnoticed. The new technological infrastructure is giving people a way to protest and act in ways that wouldn’t have been possible before. While the morality of DDoS attacks remains a grey area, it’s nevertheless a fascinating V for Vendetta-style effect in action.”


Web Attacks Expand in Iran’s Cyber Battle (Updated)
BY Noah Shachtman / June 16, 2009

More and more of Iran’s pro-government websites are under assault, as opposition forces launch web attacks on the Tehran regime’s online propaganda arms. What started out as an attempt to overload a small set of official sites has now expanded, network security consultant Dancho Danchev notes. News outlets like Raja News are being attacked, too. The semi-official Fars News site is currently unavailable. “We turned our collective power and outrage into a serious weapon that we could use at our will, without ever having to feel the consequences. We practiced distributed, citizen-based warfare,” writes Matthew Burton, a former U.S. intelligence analyst who joined in the online assaults, thanks to a “push-button tool that would, upon your click, immediately start bombarding 10 Web sites with requests.” But the tactic of launching these distributed denial of service, or DDOS, attacks remains hugely controversial. The author of one-web based tool, “Page Rebooter,” used by opposition supporters to send massive amounts of traffic to Iranian government sites, temporarily shut the service down, citing his discomfort with using the tool “to attack other websites.” Then, a few hours later, he turned on the service again, after his employers agreed to cover the costs of the additional traffic. is opening up 16 Page Reboot windows simultaneously, to flood an array of government pages at once.

Other online supporters of the so-called “Green Revolution” worry about the ethics of a democracy-promotion movement inhibitting their foes’ free speech. A third group is concerned that the DDOS strikes could eat up the limited amount of bandwidth available inside Iran — bandwidth being used by the opposition to spread its message by Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. “Quit with the DDOS attacks — they’re just slowing down Iranian traffic and making it more difficult for the protesters to Tweet,” says one online activist.

But Burton — who helped bring Web 2.0 tools to the American spy community — isn’t so sure. “Giving a citizenry the ability to turn the tables on its own government is, I think, what governance is all about. The public’s ability to strike back is something that every government should be reminded of from time to time.” Yet he admits to feeling “conflicted.” about participating in the strikes, he suddenly stopped. “I don’t know why, but it just felt…creepy. I was frightened by how easy it was to sow chaos from afar, safe and sound in my apartment, where I would never have to experience–or even know–the results of my actions.”

The Proxy Fight for Iranian Democracy
BY James Cowie / June 22, 2009

If you put 65 million people in a locked room, they’re going to find all the exits pretty quickly, and maybe make a few of their own. In the case of Iran’s crippled-but-still-connected Internet, that means finding a continuous supply of proxy servers that allow continued access to unfiltered international web content like Twitter, Gmail, and the BBC. A proxy server is a simple bit of software that you run on your computer. It effectively lets you share your computer with anonymous strangers as a “repeater” for content that they aren’t allowed to fetch themselves. For example, an Iranian web browser might be manually configured to use your computer (identified by an IP address and a port number) as a Web proxy. When your anonymous friend reads, or posts a tweet, the request goes via your computer, instead of to Twitter’s web server directly. Except for a little delay, and the fact that your friend gets to see what the uncensored Internet looks like from New York or London or São Paolo instead of Tabriz or Qom, surfing through a proxy is pretty much like surfing without one. As you might imagine, open web proxies are valuable commodities in places where it’s forbidden, possibly dangerous, to surf the Internet. Iran’s opposition movement has been vigorously trading lists of open proxies over the past week. And as you might further imagine, the Iranian government censors have worked overtime to identify these proxies and add them to the daily blacklists.

As an experiment, we geolocated a list of about 2,000 web proxies (unique IP addresses and port numbers) that were shared on Twitter and other web sites over the course of the last week, to see if we could discern patterns in the places that are hosting them. Most of these are no longer reachable from inside Iran, of course, precisely because they were made public. The USA and Western Europe were well-represented, but so were China, India, Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Vietnam, … 87 countries in all, a pretty impressive breadth of representation, considering the relatively small size of this sample. (You can also see about a dozen Iranian IP addresses represented in the set. Not surprisingly, all but one of these belong to networks originated by DCI, the government-run service provider who operates the modern-day Internet equivalent of the Alamūt Castle.)

In a geographic visualization of the proxies, drawn in Google Earth, each of the colored arcs represents a single open web proxy; they are “fountaining” out of a cable landing or Internet traffic exchange point that makes approximate sense for their Iranian Internet routing. For example, all of the web proxies in Europe are drawn from the Marseilles termination of the Sea-Me-We-4 cable. The web proxies in Turkey are drawn in light blue, radiating from Ankara, where the Iran-Turkey gas pipeline passes through on its way from Bazargan. Those unusual Iranian proxies emerge from Tehran, and so forth. If we rotate the globe, you can see how the countries of Asia are doing their part to keep the bits flowing in Iran. India, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Japan are all visible sources of web proxy activity.

I’d like to be able to say that these maps are a measure of the strength of the democratic impulse and volunteer spirit in all the countries of the world. But that might be a stretch. You see, looked at another way, an open proxy is a security hole, something you might find in a machine that’s been compromised, or at the very least, badly administered. Security purists think of them as the “unlocked gun cabinet” of the Internet — a resource for anyone who wants to abuse a website, commit fraud, cover their tracks. Some of the proxies in this dataset are undoubtedly fresh, created by people who want to keep the Internet alive for the Iranian people. But many of these proxies have probably been around for months or years, mapped out by those that map out such things. We did see a few organizers try to explain the concept of an ACL (Access Control List) to all the new proud parents of open proxies. If you are diligent, it is possible to restrict the anonymous users of your new proxy to just the Iranians, or even just the Iranian non-government networks, if you have a good enough list of the IP address blocks (network prefixes) in question. But I expect that the complexity of configuring anything tighter than an “open access” proxy is going to prove too high a barrier to entry for most people who might volunteer to run one.

For one thing, we know how hard this is. Renesys has pretty good lists of per-country networks and their transit patterns, based on our analysis of the global routing tables, and trust me, they take some work to maintain. And even given good maps of Iran’s address space to work from, ACLs are notoriously hard to test, if you don’t have Iranian friends who can try your server from inside the protest zone and report back to you with problems. Most people aren’t going to bother, and that’s probably okay. Freedom is messy. There’ll be time for security later. Perhaps the strangest thing of all, given how diverse and active and vocal the proxy server farmers have been, is that by and large, it isn’t working. The rate with which new proxies are being created has slumped over the last few days. It’s getting harder and harder to propagate new proxies to the people who need them, as the government consolidates its hold on the filtering mechanisms. Any new proxy addresses that are posted to Twitter, or emailed, will be blocked very quickly.

People we talk to inside Iran say that almost no proxies are usable any more. Freegate, a Chinese anti-censorship application that makes use of networks of open proxies, has proven popular in Iran. But this week, it, too, has been experiencing problems. Many popular applications, like Yahoo! Messenger, have stopped working. The authorities are said to be using power interruptions as a cyberweapon, causing brief outages during rallies that cause computers to reboot, just as people are trying to upload images and video. The net result, as Arbor’s excellent analysis shows, has been a drastic reduction in inbound traffic on filtered ports since the election.

If there’s a lesson here for the rest of the world, perhaps it’s this: Install a few proxy instances on machines you control. Learn how to lock them down properly. Swap them with your friends overseas who live in places where the Internet is fragile. Set up your tunnels and test them. And don’t wait until the tanks are in the streets to figure this out, because by that point, you may have already lost the proxy war.

Silicon Valley should step up, help Iranians
BY Cyrus Farivar / June 30, 2009

“Until Iran’s election and ensuing political crisis, many Silicon Valley companies had ignored Persian-language services almost entirely. It’s easy to understand why. First, there’s an American embargo against Iran, which forbids American companies from doing business with that country. Second, there is a perception that the Iranian community (particularly outside of Los Angeles) is not that large or significant. Third, most Iranians in the United States are well-educated, upper-class people who speak English very well.

So ignoring Iran has been convenient – there has seemingly been no real business motivation for tech companies to make their products useful for Iranians both inside and outside Iran. This thinking is despite the fact that there are more Persian speakers worldwide than Korean speakers. That’s about 100 million people, including the 75 million Iranians (including the diaspora) plus neighboring Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Sure, Korea is a much more wired society than Iran, but that also means there is that much more opportunity for Iranian online applications and software to take off in the marketplace.

So instead of superficial support, like Twitter users changing their avatars to green to support Iran’s reformist movement, Silicon Valley minds and money should pool resources as a way to help Iranians get around this information blockade by providing easier-to-use proxies, anonymizers and maybe even unfiltered Internet access through hardware.

Long-range Wi-Fi, 3G, satellite or other wireless communications devices from Iran’s neighboring countries or even the Persian Gulf could be used to get faster and better information in and out of Iran. One Arizona company, Space Data, even advertises the capability to use helium-filled balloons to provide Internet and mobile phone access. Much of Iran could theoretically be covered with one or two such balloons. All of that may sound crazy, but not helping Iranian reformers at their darkest hour would be crazier.”


“With all the turmoil and internet censorship in Iran making it difficult to get an accurate picture of what’s going, security researchers have found a way to locate gaps in Iran’s filtering by analyzing traffic exiting Iran. The short version is that SSH, torrents and Flash are high priorities for blocking, while game protocols like WoW and Xbox traffic are being ignored, even though they also allow communication. Hopefully, this data will help people think of new ways to bypass filtering and speak freely, even though average Iranians have worse things to worry about than internet censorship, now that the reformists have been declared anti-Islamic by the Supreme Leader. Given the circumstances, that declaration has been called ‘basically a death sentence’ for those who continue protesting.”

Reader CaroKann sends in a related story at the Washington Post about an analysis of the vote totals in the Iranian election (similar to, but different from the one we discussed earlier) in which the authors say the election results have a one in two-hundred chance of being legitimate.

Iranian Traffic Engineering
BY Craig Labovitz / June 17th, 2009

The outcome of the Iranian elections now hangs in the balance and perhaps, also on the availability of the Internet (or at least Twitter and Facebook according to the US State Department). Based on significant Internet engineering changes over the last week, the Iranian government seems to agree… While other countries (e.g. Burma in 2007) completely unplugged the country during political unrest, Iran has taken a decidedly different tact.

Before going further, I should note that we have no direct insight into Iranian political machinations nor telecommunications policy. But the 100 ISPs participating in the Internet Observatory provide some interesting hints on how the Iranian government may hope to control Internet access. The state owned Data communication Company of Iran (or DCI) acts as the gateway for all Internet traffic entering or leaving the country. Historically, Iranian Internet access has enjoyed some level of freedom despite government filtering and monitoring of web sites.

In normal times, DCI carries roughly 5 Gbps of traffic (with a reported capacity of 12 Gbps) through 6 upstream regional and global Internet providers. For the region, this represents an average level of Internet infrastructure (for purposes of perspective, a mid size ISP in Michigan carries roughly the same level of traffic).

Then the Iranian Internet stopped. One the day after the elections on June 13th at 1:30pm GMT (9:30am EDT and 6:00pm Tehran / IRDT), Iran dropped off the Internet. All six regional and global providers connecting Iran to the rest of the world saw a near complete loss of traffic. The below graph shows Iranian Internet traffic through Iran’s six upstream providers.

{Note: All data comes from analysis of Internet Observatory anonymous ASPath traffic statistics from which we infer upstream ISP traffic. Also a few caveats — Iranian traffic is such a small part of global Internet traffic levels that the Observatory data is fairly noisy. We used a number of standard statistical approaches to normalize the sampled dataset.}

As noted earlier, Iran normally sees around 5 Gbps of traffic with typical diurnal and weekly curves (though Iran sees dips both on Iranian weekend of Thurs / Friday as well as during western Sat / Sun weekends). From the view of the Observatory, most Internet traffic to Iran goes through Reliance (formerly Flag) Telecom, the major Asia Pacific region underseas cable operator. Singtel, a major pan-Asian provider and Türk Telekom also provide significant transit.

Initially, DCI severed most of the major transit connections into Iran. Within a few hours, a trickle of traffic returned across TeliaSonera, Reliance and SignTel — all well under 1 Gbps.

The below graph shows a zoomed in view of the outage and earlier graph.

As of 6:30am GMT June 16, traffic levels returned to roughly 70% of normal with Reliance traffic climbing by more than a Gigabit. So what is happening to Iranian traffic? I can only speculate. But DCI’s Internet changes suggest piecemeal migration of traffic flows. Typically off the shelf / inexpensive Internet proxy and filtering appliances can support 1 Gbps or lower. If DCI needed to support higher throughput (say, all Iranian Internet traffic), then redirecting subsets of traffic as the filtering infrastructure comes online would make sense.

Unlike Burma, Iran has significant commercial and technological relationships with the rest of the world. In other words, the government cannot turn off the Internet without impacting business and perhaps generating further social unrest. In all, this represents a delicate balance for the Iranian government and a test case for the Internet to impact democratic change. Events are still unfolding in Iran, but some reports are saying the Internet has already won.


Could Iran Shut Down Twitter?
BY Jonathan Zittrain / June 15th, 2009

Iran has been able to impose a finely grained Internet filtering regime, not having to deal with the sheer volume of traffic that, say, China has. It’s able to treat its Internet-using public the way a school can filter what its kids see on their PCs. All Internet traffic is routed through a server farm that applies the filtering. (The government used to run U.S. company Secure Computing’s (since acquired by McAfee) SmartFilter software. Secure Computing denied selling the software to Iran; see Wikipedia’s summary. Today Iran runs its own home-grown filtering software.)

So it’d be trivial for the Iranian government to block access to Twitter as it could to any particular Web site, and it could even block access to some Twitter users’ feeds there while leaving others open, by simply configuring its filters to allow some Twitter urls through while filtering others. But Twitter isn’t just any particular Web site. It’s an atom designed to be built into other molecules. More than most, Twitter allows multiple paths in and out for data. Its open APIs make it trivially easy for any other Web service provider to insert a stream of tweets in or to capture what comes out. Thus Twitterfall can provide a waterfall of tweets — all viewable by going there instead of to Twitter. Anyone using at Twitterfall can tweet from there as well. You can hook up your Facebook status in either direction, so that when you tweet it automatically updates your Facebook status — or the other way around.

The very fact that Twitter itself is half-baked, coupled with its designers’ willingness to let anyone build on top of it to finish baking it (I suppose it helps not to have any apparent business model that relies on drawing people to the actual Twitter Web site), is what makes it so powerful. There’s no easy signature for a tweet-in-progress if its shorn of a direct connection to the servers at And with so many ways to get those tweets there and back without the user needing, it’s far more naturally censorship resistant than most other Web sites. Less really is more. Publius points out that Iran could simply cut off all Internet access, or at least all access for most people there. Maybe it’ll come to that.

“Have you ever come across a web site that you could not access and wondered,”Am I the only one?” Herdict Web aggregates reports of inaccessible sites, allowing users to compare data to see if inaccessibility is a shared problem. By crowdsourcing data from around the world, we can document accessibility for any web site, anywhere.”

Iran Pro-Regime Voices Multiply Online
BY Christopher Rhoads and Geoffrey A. Fowler / July 3, 2009

Supporters of Iran’s regime are taking a cue from the opposition’s strategy: They’re mounting an online offensive. Thousands of Iranians used social-networking sites and blogs after Iran’s election last month to criticize the government and spread news of its violent clashes with protesters. But over the past week, a growing number of Iranian users of Twitter — the online service that allows users to send short messages — have been “tweeting” in favor of the regime, according to Internet security experts and others studying the development.

Some messages throw cold water on planned protests. “Staying at home tomorrow to avoid angering my elected govt,” one user with the name Eyeran wrote. Others make threats. A user with the name Vagheeiat (Persian for “realities”) said in an online message to an apparent opposition supporter: “The Basij [volunteer militia] protects the honor of the people and is the killer of you, liars and puppets of the U.S.” Ariel Silverstone, an Internet security expert in Atlanta, says the number of pro-government messages on Twitter in the past few days has increased to about 100 every six hours from just one every 12 hours or so earlier in the post-election period.

It is impossible to determine whether the comments come from members of Iran’s government or simply supporters. Attempts to reach such users of Twitter weren’t successful. But Internet experts see clues in certain patterns of use. In the case of Vagheeiat, the user biography on Twitter says the person who sent the message is a member of a unit of the Revolutionary Guard, which oversees the Basij. The user’s profile links to the Web site of the Revolutionary Guard unit. Vagheeiat used Twitter on only one day, last Thursday.

On Twitter, users can receive the messages of others by choosing to “follow” them, or joining in conversations on a certain topic. Many of the Iranian users sending pro-government missives opened accounts only a few days ago, and have few, if any, followers — nor are they following anyone else, Mr. Silverstone said. Also pointing to an orchestrated effort, some pro-regime messages are simultaneously blasted from different online accounts at regular intervals. Among them: “Mousavi the Instigator is in custody,” referring to opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. Twitter Inc.’s co-founder Biz Stone declined to comment.

The government “has made a concrete effort to fight the opposition online,” Mr. Silverstone says. “Over the past few days this has really increased.” While some of the tactics are new — particularly the use of Twitter — the regime and its supporters aren’t new to the Internet. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has had his own blogs, in English and Persian, since the summer of 2006, and posted four messages before the recent election. Earlier this year, the Revolutionary Guard put out a call online for 10,000 bloggers to spread its views.

In one instance, the regime has sought to tap into the power of the Internet to help identify and round up individuals for arrest. A Web site called Gerdab, which means “vortex” in Persian, shows nearly two dozen candid photos of individuals with their faces circled in red. The site, which says it is owned by the organized-crime-fighting unit of the Revolutionary Guard, states that these people were behind the post-election chaos, and seeks information about them. There are spaces for visitors to the site to enter names, addresses, phone numbers and other information about the people who are marked. The site says that so far two of the people pictured had been identified and arrested.

The technique — which is commonly called crowd-sourcing and relies on the shared knowledge of numbers of people — is typically used for things like working out the bugs in new software or rating restaurants. “It would not be the first time that a photo has led to trouble or imprisonment in a conflict. However, this is a new development in officially sanctioned stalking and persecution by crowd-sourcing information online,” an Iranian blogger in Brussels wrote under the pen name Hamid Tehrani. He is the Iran editor of Web site Global Voices Online, but declined to provide his real name.

The online protest movement appears to be losing steam. After the election, fan pages for Mr. Mousavi on the social-networking site Facebook were signing up several thousand new users a day. The number of supporters listed by the most popular Facebook fan page for Mr. Mousavi, which swelled from about 2,500 a few weeks before the election to more than 100,000, hasn’t grown much since last week. Sassan, a Californian in his 30s who declined to give his last name, says his cousin in Iran stopped using Facebook after his friends were shown pictures of their Facebook pages and copies of their emails while jailed after a protest.

Other observers say the action online is mirroring what is happening on the street. “There is a little less activity because there is a little less to take a picture of,” says Jonathan Zittrain, a co-founder of Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Richard Stiennon, the founder of Internet security firm IT-Harvest, notes the number of messages on Twitter relating to the Iranian unrest has plummeted in recent days — giving way to last week’s news of the death of pop star Michael Jackson.

A Deeper Look at The Iranian Firewall
BY Craig Labovitz

In the previous blog post about the Iranian firewall, we explored macro level Iranian traffic engineering changes (showing that Iran cut all communication after the election and then slowly added back Internet connectivity over the course of several days). Like many other news reports and bloggers, we also speculated on Iran’s intent — how was the government manipulating Internet traffic and why?

Thanks to the cooperation of several ISPs in the region and Internet Observatory data, we can now do a bit better than speculate — we have pieced together a rough picture of what the Iranian government’s Internet firewall appears to be doing. The data shows that DCI, the Iranian state run telecommunications agency, has selectively blocked or rate-limited targeted Internet applications (either by payload inspection or ports).

I’ll step through several of these applications. On average, Internet traffic is dominated by web pages (roughly 40-50% of all Internet traffic). And the vast majority of this web traffic (unless you happen to be Google or Facebook) goes into ISPs and the millions of associated end users (as opposed to traffic going out of a country or ISP). Iran is no exception.

The below graph shows web traffic (TCP port 80) into Iran over the days before and immediately after the election. Though the graph clearly shows a brief post-election outage followed by a decrease in web traffic, the Iranian web traffic was comparatively unaffected by Iran filter changes. Based on reports of Iran’s pre-existing Internet filtering capabilities, I’d speculate DCI did not require significant additional web filtering infrastructure.

In contrast, the next graph shows streaming video traffic (Adobe Flash) going into and out of Iran. Note the significant increase of video traffic immediately preceding the election (presumably reflecting high levels of Iranian interest in outside news sources). All video traffic immediately stops on the Saturday following the election (June 13th at 6:00pm Tehran / IRDT) and unlike the web, never returns to pre-election levels.

The next graph on Iranian applications filters shows email into and out of the country. Again note the run up in email traffic immediately preceding the election (especially outbound mails). And then? The data suggests DCI began blocking some outgoing email even before the election completed. Following the election, email returned at reduced levels (again, presumably because DCI had filtering infrastructure in place).

Finally, a look at the top applications now blocked by the DCI firewall(s). The chart shows average percentage decrease in application traffic in the days before and after the election. As discussed earlier, the Iranian firewalls appear to be selectively impacting application traffic. I’ll note that ssh (a secure communication protocol) tops the list followed by video streaming and file sharing.

While the rapidly evolving Iranian firewall has blocked web, video and most forms of interactive communication, not all Internet applications appear impacted. Interestingly, game protocols like xbox and World of Warcraft show little evidence of government manipulation.

Perhaps games provide a possible source of covert channels (e.g. “Bring your elves to the castle on the island of Azeroth and we’ll plan the next Ahmadinejad protest rally?”)

Why Twitter Doesn’t Mean the End of Iranian Censorship
BY Hal Roberts / June 16, 2009

Amid post-election protests in Iran, the government has apparently increased its filtering of sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, that host potentially offensive (to the government) content–and even reportedly turned off for a short period the Internet connection to the rest of the world. A question simple to ask–but difficult to answer–is whether Iranians are successfully bypassing the filtering through proxies or other filtering circumvention tools.

Academic research has established for years that the government of Iran closely filters its Internet connections, blocking sites that it does not like (mostly pornographic ones, but political and religious sites as well). The government of Iran can do this easily because virtually all traffic flows through a single government-controlled ISP. (In fact, Iran for years used McAfee SmartFilter, a product of a U.S. company, to perform this filtering, but it uses its own homegrown filtering tools now.)

Some users combat this filtering by employing proxies, routing their traffic through a machine outside of Iran so that the Iran filter sees only traffic to that proxy, effectively exchanging Iran’s control of the network for the proxy’s control of its network. Iran responds by blocking these proxies as it finds them, and these proxy users respond by continually looking for new, unblocked proxies or by using tools like UltraSurf that do the work of filtering out government interference themselves.

Data about proxy use is naturally hard to find (the point is to hide the users’ usage), but our best data indicate that interest in using proxies has increased substantially over the past year and has doubled in the past week. But such use is confined to a small portion of Iranian Internet users; it’s in the low single percentage points. Google searches for “proxy,” for instance, remain orders of magnitude less popular than searches for “election.” Likewise, a steady flow of information about the protests has come out of Twitter, but the number of Iranian users actually Twittering seems to be a tiny portion of Iranians. As far as we can tell, the Iranian government has done a pretty good job of blocking its citizens’ Web requests to sites that it does not want them to see, including during the current crisis.

But new technologies make the battle over filtering harder to judge. Even though the government has reportedly blocked, a defining attribute of Twitter is that it is an open system in that it allows a wide diversity of external tools and sites to read from and write to its service through its programming interface. Jonathan Zittrain and John Palfrey point out that as content is divorced from delivery through such open systems, blocking, for example, Twitter-as-a-network-system much harder than simply blocking Twitter the site, since there are dozens of tools and sites that directly read and write the Twitter data stream.

And as with other recent global crises, the widespread use of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks has made it possible to filter a site by flooding it with so much data that it can no longer respond to legitimate users, rendering proxies useless for those sites. The tools to launch DDoS attacks, including simple Twitter campaigns to overload a list of sites, have become easily available, so both pro-government and protest actors have directed these attacks at each other’s sites.

But the technical issue of whether a given site returns a response for a given set of people captures only one small part of the larger problem of determining who controls the flows of information on the Internet and through media and social networks in general. A fuller approach to the problem is to think about those flows of information and how they are being filtered, by social and political as well as technical means. We should ask, for example, whether the information from the core group of proxy/Twitter users is filtering out to the wider Iranian and global communities, how it is flowing to and through those communities, and what effect the information is having as it filters out. The answers to those questions are impossible to determine in real time from the outside, given the chaos and confusion of the situation. As with the protests, time and perspective will tell.

{As a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, Hal Roberts performs primary research into global Internet filtering.}


WSJ: Nokia, Siemens Help Iran Spy on Internet Users
BY Kim Zetter E / June 22, 2009

According to a somewhat confusing Wall Street Journal story, Iran has adopted NSA-like techniques and installed equipment on its national telecommunication network last year that allows it to spy on the online activities and correspondence — including the content of e-mail and VoIP phone calls — of its internet users. Nokia Siemens Networks, a joint venture between Germany’s Siemens and Finland’s Nokia, installed the monitoring equipment late last year in Iran’s government-controlled telecom network, Telecommunication Infrastructure Co., but authorities only recently engaged its full capabilities in response to recent protests that have broken out in the country over its presidential election.

The equipment allows the state to conduct deep-packet inspection, which sifts through data as it flows through a network searching for keywords in the content of e-mail and voice transmissions. According to the Journal, Iran seems to be doing this for the entire country from a single choke point. “Seems,” because although the Journal states that Nokia Siemens installed the equipment and that signs indicate the country is conducting deep-packet inspection, the paper also says “it couldn’t be determined whether the equipment from Nokia Siemens Networks is used specifically for deep packet inspection.”

Although the Journal has published questionable “spying” stories in the past, we’re willing to go with them on this one. It’s previously been reported that Iran was blocking access to some web sites for people inside the country as protesters took to the streets and the internet to dispute the results of the country’s recent presidential election. But sources told the Journal that the government’s activities have gone beyond censorship to massive spying. They say the deep-packet inspection, which deconstructs data in transit then reconstructs it, could be responsible for network activity in Iran having recently slowed to less than a tenth of its regular speed. The slowdown could be caused by the inspection at a single point, rather than at numerous network points, as China reportedly does it. A brochure promoting the equipment sold to Iran says the technology allows for “the monitoring and interception of all types of voice and data communication on all networks.”

A spokesman for Nokia Siemens Networks defended the sale of the equipment to Iran suggesting that the company provided the technology with the idea that it would be used for “lawful intercept,” such as combating terrorism, child pornography, drug trafficking and other criminal activity. Equipment installed for law enforcement purposes, however, can easily be used for spying as well. “If you sell networks, you also, intrinsically, sell the capability to intercept any communication that runs over them,” the spokesman told the Journal. He added that the company “does have a choice about whether to do business in any country” but said, “We believe providing people, wherever they are, with the ability to communicate is preferable to leaving them without the choice to be heard.” In March, the company sold off its monitoring technology to a German investment firm.

Deep-Packet Inspection in U.S. Scrutinized Following Iran Surveillance
BY Kim Zetter / June 29, 2009

Following a report last week that Iran is spying on domestic internet users with western-supplied technology, advocacy groups are pressuring federal lawmakers to scrutinize the use of the same technology in the U.S. The Open Internet Coalition sent a letter to all members of the House and Senate urging them to launch hearings aimed at examining and possibly regulating the so-called deep-packet inspection technology. Two senators also announced plans to introduce a bill that would bar foreign companies that sell IT technology to Iran from obtaining U.S. government contracts, legislation that is clearly aimed at the two European companies that reportedly sold the equipment to Iran. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Nokia Siemens Networks, a joint venture between Germany’s Siemens and Finland’s Nokia, recently gave Iran deep-packet inspection equipment that would allow the government to spy on internet users. According to the Journal, Iranian officials have used deep-packet surveillance to snoop on the content of e-mail, VoIP calls and other online communication as well as track users’ other online activity, such as uploading videos to YouTube. Iranian officials are said to be using it to monitor activists engaged in protests over the country’s recent disputed presidential election, though the Journal said it couldn’t confirm whether Iran was using the Nokia Siemens Networks equipment for this purpose or equipment from another maker. Nokia Siemens has denied that it provided Iran with such technology.

But similar technology is being installed at ISPs in the U.S. It spurred extensive controversy last year when Charter Communications, one of the country’s largest ISPs, announced that it planned to use deep-packet inspection to spy on broadband customers to help advertisers deliver targeted ads. The plan sparked a backlash and heated congressional hearings. Publicity about the issue died down, however, after Charter retreated from its plan, and Congress moved on to other matters. But deep-packet inspection didn’t go away. ISPs insist they need it to help combat spam and malware. But the technology is ripe for abuse, not only by ISPs but also by the U.S. government, which could force providers to retain and hand over data they collect about users.

In its letter to lawmakers urging them to investigate the technology, the Open Internet Coalition delicately avoided placing the U.S. government in the same category as Iran by not mentioning possible U.S. government abuses of the technology. “We do not believe U.S. network owners intend to interfere with political communications in the way the Iranian government is doing, but the control technologies they are deploying on the internet carry the same enormous power,” the Coalition writes. “And, whether an inspection system is used to disrupt political speech or achieve commercial purposes, both require the same level of total surveillance of all communications between end-users and the internet.”

At a House subcommittee hearing this year to examine the technology, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Virginia) also expressed alarm. “The thought that a network operator could track a user’s every move on the Internet, record the details of every search and read every e-mail or attached document is alarming,” he said. With regard to the sale of the technology to Iran, Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-New York) and Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) attempted to address the Nokie Siemens issue with a bill that would prevent foreign companies selling sensitive technology to Iran from either obtaining new government contracts or renewing existing ones, unless they halt their exports to Iran. According to NextGov, Nokia did more than $10 million in business with the U.S. government between 2000 and 2008; Siemens has nearly 2,000 U.S. government contracts and obtained $250 million in U.S. government contracts this year alone. Nokia Siemens Networks currently has more than $5 million in U.S. government contracts. Neither Schumer nor Graham mentioned how such a law would be enforced if foreign companies used proxies to sell their products to Iran to circumvent the regulation.

The U.S. government embargo against U.S. companies selling to Iran is one of the tightest. The embargo currently prevents any U.S. individual or company from obtaining a license to sell goods and technologies to Iran that could be used for, among other things, missile proliferation purposes, chemical and biological warfare proliferation, human rights and crime control. The embargo, however, has done little to prevent Iran from obtaining U.S. technology anyway. In the meantime, consumers called for a boycott of Nokia and Siemens products. And Hands Across the Mideast Support Alliance (HAMSA) has organized a writing campaign urging users to send a protest letter to Nokia. According to the organization’s site, nearly 4,000 people have acknowledged sending the letter so far.

Iranian Women Take To The Streets, Demand Equal Rights, Economic Opportunities
BY Martha Raddatz and Susan Rucci / June 19, 2009

The huge rallies this week in Iran, the largest seen since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, have included thousands of women, who have taken to the streets to oppose the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Some are dubbing itthe “lipstick revolution.” A week after the contested election that declared incumbent President Ahmadinejad the winner, protests over alleged voting fraud still continue strong.

Women, old and young, are visible at every rally — chanting, shouting, defiantly flashing V for Victory signs, carrying placards protesting the election results, defying the police and, in some cases, facing brutal retaliation. Others say the presence of so many woman is only the tip of the iceberg. “This movement is not about wearing lipstick and throwing their veil off,” Kelly Nikinejad, editor of, told ABC News. “It’s so much deeper than that.” Many Iranian women want what they have desired for so long — equal rights. Women make up an important part of Iran’s population. They constitute 65 percent of all university students, but only 12 percent of women are in the workforce. Additionally, under the current law, women do not have equal divorce, child custody or inheritance rights. Last year, Ahmadinejad’s government tried to push a “family protection law” through parliament. The law would ease restrictions on polygamy and taxing mehriyeh, the traditional payment a husband gives a wife upon marriage, angering many.

In this election, women, who have been on the forefront of many a political movement in the country including the 1979 Revolution, threw their weight boldly behind Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reformist candidate who enjoys overwhelming support but according to election results, was defeated by a wide margin by Ahmadinejad, leading the opposition and their supporters to cry foul. “They are very brave,” Nikinejad said. “They go and they get beat up every day and they come back and they say I hurt, I hurt there, and then the next day they go back and they get pepper sprayed, beaten up, it’s amazing.” The bold support for Mousavi does not mean that Ahmadinejad does not have a female base. In fact, many women showed up at his rallies as well and strongly believe that he would solve their problems — from housing to health care. But to many Iranian women frustrated about their lives, Mousavi’s message of change and hope and equal rights struck a deep chord.

Iranian Women Demand Equal Rights
And they saw hope not only in Mousavi, but also in his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, a reflection of themselves. Rahnavard became the first Iranian women to openly campaign with her husband. “She was the image of change in Iran,” Nikinejad said. “She’s a very educated woman. She has two PhDs. She’s authored 20 books.” Mousavi and his wife called for more economic and social rights for women. “Changing this mentality and picture [of women] can be very helpful because if we step toward improving the situation of our women then we have progressed along the path of elimination of discrimination,” Mousavi said at a rally last week. “Women will be educated and trained so that they can be employed,” he said at another event.

His wife has also spoken out openly against Ahmadinejad’s government. “Today, we feel that an atmosphere of freedom of speech, press and thought, which we are all interested in and have confidence in, is absent. We feel that we do not possess an independent and great economy because of the wrong policies and adventurous behavior at a national and international level, and because of unilateral decisions without consultation with experts,” Rahnavard said at a political rally. “Now is the time we feel that we must be present on the scene.” Over the last few years, women once fearful in many of parts of the world are finding the courage to speak out. In 2002, in Bangladesh thousands of women marched demanding equal rights, and earlier this year 300 Afghan women protested a Taliban law that allowed marital rape. But the big question that remains to be answered is whether these courageous acts witnessed around the world will make a difference in Iran.

“The SMS (Short Message Service) system in Iran has been taken down, just hours before polls open for Friday’s presidential election. The Ghalam News report, translated from Persian, says that the popular network “was cut off throughout the country.” The action occurred just before midnight local time, less than nine hours before the start of elections. “All walks of life from all over the country” are discovering that “messages on different cell phone networks will not send.” The disruption in communication occurred after reformist candidates have been increasingly using Twitter and text messaging to rally support, per the Wall Street Journal. Approximatey 110 millions SMS messages have been sent per day leading up to the election, according to The Tehran Times.”

“Persian blogger Hossein Derakshan says Iranian officials recently detained several staff and web technicians who worked on banned reformist websites, in order to gain control of the sites. They have now reportedly taken control of the servers, shut them down, and deleted all of their content.”

“The Islamic Republic of Iran continues to expand and consolidate its technical filtering system, which is among the most extensive in the world. A centralized system for Internet filtering has been implemented that augments the filtering conducted at the Internet service provider (ISP) level. Iran now employs domestically produced technology for identifying and blocking objectionable Web sites, reducing its reliance on Western filtering technologies. The regulatory agencies in Iran charged with policing the Internet continue to expand. The Revolutionary Guard has begun to play an active role in enforcing Internet content standards.”

Iran cancels foreign media accreditation


“A purge of reform-oriented individuals….” / 17 June 2009

PROXY WARS (cont.),1518,626412,00.html

Newspaper Roozonline has an interview (in Persian) with one of the young plainclothes militiamen who have been beating protesters. The Guardian’s Robert Tait sends this synopsis: “The man, who has come from a small town in the eastern province of Khorasan and has never been in Tehran before, says he is being paid 2m rial (£122) to assault protestors with a heavy wooden stave. He says the money is the main incentive as it will enable him to get married and may even enable him to afford more than one wife. Leadership of the volunteers has been provided by a man known only as “Hajji”, who has instructed his men to “beat the counter-revolutionaries so hard that they won’t be able to stand up”. The volunteers, most of them from far-flung provinces such as Khuzestan, Arak and Mazandaran, are being kept in hostel accommodation, reportedly in east Tehran. Other volunteers, he says, have been brought from Lebanon, where the Iranian regime has strong allies in the Hezbollah movement. They are said to be more highly-paid than their Iranian counterparts and are put up in hotels. The last piece of information seems to confirm the suspicion of many Iranians that foreign security personnel are being used to suppress the demonstrators. For all his talk of the legal process, this interview provides a key insight into where Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, believes the true source of his legitimacy rests.”

Suppression of Dissent – The Players

Currently, there are two or three, maybe four, groups who are suppressing the students on the ground that you’ll read about throughout this thread:
1. The Basij
2. Ansar Hizbullah (which I will refer to as Ansar)
3. Lebanese Hizbullah (Unconfirmed rumour but either a probable or a persistent one. Der Spiegel, based on a Voice of America report, says that 5,000 Hizbullah fighters are currently in Iran masquerading as riot police, confirming the independent reports. Iran Press News has posted two photographs of men they claim are Hizbullah and Hamas mercenaries. Many different independent reports and video point that way. Even in the last days other independent twitter feeds have declared witnessing thugs beating on people while shouting in Arabic; I will refer to them as Hizbullah)
4. Lebanese Hamas (unconfirmed and doubtful. This rumour has been cropping up, with some of the most twitter feeds saying they had visual confirmation of Lebanese Hamas fighters along with Lebanese Hizbullah member. You should definitely take with a grain of salt, but it has been mentioned often enough, by sources generally always right, that it deserves of a mention here. Iran Press TV also claims to have posted a picture of Hamas mercenaries. I will refer to them as Hamas)

– The Basij are your regular paramilitary organization. They are the armed hand of the clerics. The Basij are a legal group, officially a student union, and are legally under direct orders of the Revolutionary Guard. Their main raison d’être is to quell dissent. They are the ones who go and crack skulls, force people to participate in pro-regime demonstrations, and generally try to stop any demonstrations from even starting. They are located throughout the country, in every mosque, every university, every social club you can think of. They function in a way very similar to the brownshirts.

They were the ones who first started the crackdown after the election, but it wasn’t enough. While they are violent and repressive, they are still Persian and attacking fellow citizens. A beating is one thing, mass killings another.

– Another group was working with them, whose members are even more extreme, is Ansar. There is a lot of cross-membership between the Basij and Ansar, though not all are members of the other group and vice-versa. The vast majority of Ansar are Persians (either Basij or ex-military), though a lot of Arab recruits come from Lebanon and train with them under supervision of the Revolutionary Guard. They are not functioning under a legal umbrella, they are considered a vigilante group, but they pledge loyalty directly to the Supreme Leader and most people believe that they are under his control. They are currently helping the Basij to control the riots, but due to the fact that they are Persians and in lower numbers than the Basij, they are not that active.

– The Lebanese Hizbullah is a direct offshoot (and under direct control) of the Iranian Hizbullah (itself under direct control of the Supreme Leader) and cooperates closely with Ansar though Ansar occupies itself only with Iran’s domestic policies, while Hizbullah occupies itself only with Iran’s foreign policy unless there is a crisis like right now. However, Hizbullah has been called to stop violent riots in Iran in the past.

(The following paragraph includes some speculation based on reports from ground zero, it is no confirmed, this is what was reported early on by various twitter feeds considered credible, so do not take this as anything but unconfirmed rumours) Hizbullah flew in a lot of their members in Iran, most likely a good deal even before the elections in case there were trouble. They are the ones who speak Arabs and are unleashing the biggest level of violence on the Persians so far. Another wave arrived recently and there is chatter that yet another wave of Hizbullah reinforcements are coming in from Lebanon as we speak. According to Iranians on the ground, they are the ones riding motorcycles, beating men women and children indiscriminately and firing live ammunitions at students.

– The Lebanese Hamas is a branch of Hamas set-up in Lebanon. Like Hamas in Gaza, Hamas in Lebanon is directly under the orders of the Hamas council of Damascus known as Majlis al-Shurah. While it is surprising to hear that they might be involved, and as I said take these reports with a grain of salt until we get more confirmations, it is not illogical either. Iran has become the main benefactor of Hamas in the last years, branching out from only supporting Islamic Jihad. They now provide Hamas with the bulk of their budget, with advanced weaponry and training by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Not only does Hamas own them a lot, but if the Republic falls, Hamas finds itself in dire trouble. It is very likely that, at the call of Iran, the Majlis al-Shura would have decided to send fighters from their Lebanese Hamas branch along with Hizbullah fighters if it was requested of them.

Other Players
The Police – Iran’s police force is not dissimilar to your run-of-the-mill law enforcement apparatus in other dictatorships, with the difference that they are not generally as brutal and repressive. This is because the Basij are generally in charge of these activities, meaning that Iranian policemen generally concentrate more on the law and order aspect of Iranian daily life.

Today, it is thought that the Iranian police numbers close to 60,000 members, in contrast with up to a million Basij members. This is one of the reasons why we hear much more about the plainclothes militia than we do about the police right now, the other being that the Basij and Ansar are much more willing to violently assault their fellow citizens than even the regular police force. This is not as much a testament to the decency of your average police officers as much as a damning report of what the Basij and Ansar thugs are like.

There are also subdivisions and extra-legal forces attached to the police force. The major subdivision would be the riot police (So-called Unit 110) who are actually much more violent than regular police officers, but also in much, much smaller numbers. There is also VEVAK, the secret police. Very little is known and confirmed about them, except their extreme tactics include murder, kidnapping and torture.

The Army
In Iran, there are actually two armies. They are divided between Artesh and Pasdaran. Artesh is the regular Military apparatus of the Republic. Their numbers, including reservists, go up to a million members, but only half of them have received anything more than very basic training. As it is often the case in police states, there is very little known and confirmed about the structure of the Army itself. They were created prior to the Iranian Revolution, in fact this army has existed in one form or another, and is a continuation, for more than 2,500 years. This is not as impressive as it sounds, however, as they often underwent drastic changes, there is no real links between the current incarnations, and the top echelons were most often purged when new rulers took power. In fact, in the last 100 years, those purges happened between two or three times, depending on the count, the last time centered around the time of the Islamic revolution, when most generals were forced to flee, killed, or killed while in exile.

Artesh took the brunt of the military casualties during the Iran-Iraq war, the army is considered to very nationalist and not extremely religious, which explains why they have declared their neutrality and refusal to repress the situation, as they see their purpose to defend the Iranian population. Everyone agrees they will be the ultimate key to this Revolution when they finally decide to take a side, or alternatively force the Pasdaran to stay on the sidelines with them.

Pasdaran, also known as Iranian Revolutionary Guard
The Iranian Ground forces (I will focus on them, as the Navy and Air force are currently irrelevant, will update if the situation changes) have been estimated between 100,000 and 130,000 units total. As always, truth most likely resides somewhere in the middle. They are, much like the Basij and Ansar, subservient directly to the Supreme Leader, and ideologically created in the spirit of defending the Islamic Revolution ideals and Republic, not Iran per se. They also control the Basij.

They are a child of the revolution, and they are more geared toward guerilla warfare than they are for military engagements. They are also the force responsible for training the various terrorist groups financed and supported by the Iranian government. They are fanatically devoted to the Republic through intense indoctrination.

The elite troops are called Quds. They are considered the elite of the elite, but they only number between 2000-6000, although rumours say that they are twice or three time as big. They are, however, rumours and quite unlikely. Ultimately, the Revolutionary Council and the Supreme Leader will call on them if they think they are on the verge of losing power, however it is unlikely that the army will just stay on the sidelines if this happens.

The Grand Ayatollahs
The Grand Ayatollahs are Shiite clerics who first attained the position of Ayatollahs and then, through their knowledge of Islamic Jurisprudence, attained a supreme position and are regarded as the most important voice in Shia Islam today. They revolve around the holy Shiite city of Qom, though some live outside Iran.

Niruyeh Moghavemat Basij / Mobilisation Resistance Force

The Pasdaran was given the mandate of organizing a large people’s militia, the Basij, in 1980. Islamic Revolution Guards (Vezarat-e Sepah Pasdaran-e Enqelab-e Islamic) is in charge of the paramilitary national Mobilization of the Oppressed (Baseej-e Mostazafan) Organisation. It is from Basij ranks that volunteers were drawn to launch “human wave” attacks against the Iraqis, particularly around Basra.

The precise size of the Basij is an open question. Basij membership comprises mainly boys, old men, and those who recently finished their military service. Article 151 of the Constitution says the government is obligated to provide military-training facilities for everyone in the country, in accordance with the precepts of Islam under which all individuals should have the ability to take up arms in defense of their country

Iranian officials frequently cite a figure of 20 million, but this appears to be an exaggeration based on revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s November 1979 decree creating the Basij. Khomeini said at the time that “a country with 20 million youths must have 20 million riflemen or a military with 20 million soldiers; such a country will never be destroyed.” In a 1985 Iranian News Agency report, Hojjatoleslam Rahmani, head of the Basij forces of the Pasdaran, was quoted as stating that there were close to 3 million volunteers in the paramilitary force receiving training in some 11,000 centers.

General Yahya Rahim-Safavi, the commander of the IRGC, predicted that in the Third Five-Year Development Plan (2000-04) the number of Basijis will expand to 15 million (9 million men, 6 million women) to better counter potential domestic and foreign threats. While apparently falling short of the goal outlined in the plan, Basij commander Brigadier General Mohammad Hejazi estimated the number of Basij personnel at 10.3 million in March 2004 and 11 million in March 2005. Basij commander General Mohammad Hejazi said on 14 September 2005 that the Basij has more than 11 million members across the country.

Other estimates place the force at 400,000. There are about 90,000 active-duty Basij members who are full-time uniformed personnel; they are joined by up to 300,000 reservists. The Basij can mobilize up to 1 million men. This includes members of the University Basij, Student Basij, and the former tribal levies incorporated into the Basij (aka Tribal Basij). Middle-school-aged members of the Student Basij are called Seekers (Puyandegan), and high-school members are called the Vanguard (Pishgaman).

The Niruyeh Moghavemat Basij – the Mobilisation Resistance Force – was the strong right arm of Ayatollah Khomeini. Its volunteers were martyred in their tens of thousands in the Iran-Iraq war, and were given the role of moral police at home. The supreme leader’s equally conservative successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been careful not to let any of Iran’s overlapping security forces fall under the control of his elected rival.

Ashura Brigades were reportedly created in 1993 after anti-government riots erupted in various Iranian cities. In 1998 they consisted of 17,000 Islamic militia men and women, and were composed of elements of the Revolutionary Guards and the Baseej volunteer militia.

The Basij, or Baseej paramilitary volunteer forces, come under the control of the Revolutionary Guards. They have been active in monitoring the activities of citizens, enforcing the hijab and arresting women for violating the dress code, and seizing ‘indecent’ material and satellite dish antennae. In May 1999 the Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance stated in public remarks that the Government might support an easing of the satellite ban. However, Supreme Leader Khamenei, who makes the ultimate determination on issues that involve radio and television broadcasting, quickly criticised any potential change as amounting to “surrender” to Western culture, effectively ending any further debate of the idea. The “Special Basijis” are not permitted to participate in political parties or groups, although other members of the Basij can belong to political associations if they are not on a Basij mission and do not use the name or resources of the Basij for the association. Basijis can participate in specialist or trade associations.

Hezbollahi “partisans of God” consist of religious zealots who consider themselves as preservers of the Revolution. They have been active in harassing government critics and intellectuals, have firebombed bookstores and disrupted meetings. They are said to gather at the invitation of the state-affiliated media and generally act without meaningful police restraint or fear of persecution.

President Mohammad Khatami told the cabinet on 22 November 2000 that “the Basij is a progressive force which seeks to play a better role in maintaining religious faith among its allies, and acquiring greater knowledge and skills.” The deputy commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, Brigadier-General Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr, made comments in a similar vein at the annual Basij Supreme Association for Political Studies and Analysis gathering. He told the audience that the Basij pursued military activities in the first decade after the revolution because the main threat facing Iran at the time was a military one. Now, Zolqadr explained, the Basij will become “involved anywhere if the country’s security, goals, or national interests are threatened.” A statement issued by the Basij Center at the Science and Technology University on 23 November 2000 explained how this will be accomplished : “The Basij Resistance Force is equipped with the most modern and up-to-date weapons and is undergoing the most advanced training. It is making such achievements that if the enemy finds out it will tremble and have a heart attack.” The Basij demonstrated what it would do in case that faile during 23 November 2000 civil defense exercises, when armed Basijis took up positions in the streets and along strategic locations.

The Basij Resistance Force appeared to be undergoing something of a revival under the administration of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. This could be connected with the organization’s alleged role in securing votes for Ahmadinejad during the presidential campaign and on election day. Ahmadinejad appointed Hojatoleslam Heidar Moslehi, the supreme leader’s representative to the Basij, as an adviser in mid-August 2005. But the revival — along with changes in the paramilitary organization’s senior leadership — could also be connected with preparations for possible civil unrest. In late September 2005, the Basij staged a series of urban defense exercises across the country. General Mirahmadi, the first deputy commander of the Basij, announced in Tehran that the creation of 2,000 Ashura battalions within the Basij will enhance Iran’s defensive capabilities. Ashura units have riot-control responsibilities.

Street Survival Guide / 23-Jun-2009

“This is a document that a friend of mine who is an Iranian-American police officer has put together. He is the member of the SWAT team and he’s an expert on anti riot tactics. he has been watching and studying the videos and the tactics that basij has been using and he put the document together. It would be great to spread this document and pass it on to the kids in Iran. It might save their lives.” — “SB”

“Here are some simple ways of defending yourself when attacked by Basij or Security forces.

Anti riot attacks
Once caught by security forces, the best way to break free is by swinging relentlessly in all directions. Keep in mind that security forces have to hold on to you, which means they only can use one hand to deflect the blows. Brass Knuckle is extremely effective when trying to break loose from the grip of security forces. Wooden brass knuckle is strong and simple to make. The image above is a sample of a basic wooden brass knuckle that can be made with a piece of wood, a cutter and a drill. It should not take more than 30 minutes to make a wooden brass knuckle. Wooden brass knuckle is extremely strong, light weight and versatile. Make sure that the top edges are sharp and round.

Motorcycle attacks
Iranian Basij motorcycle units use attack and retrieve tactics which is meant to create fear more than anything else. The same tactic was used by US police forces on horsebacks when confronting the civil right protestors. The advantage of utilizing motorcycles in urban environment is obvious: motorcycles can go places that cars can’t. However, motorcycles have disadvantages which can handicap the force that uses them.

The most effective way of disabling motorcycles is using tire spikes. Though made of carbon cratnor material, the Basij motorcycle tires cannot withstand multiple punctures. The easiest way to spike Basiji’s tires is by using a simple tire spike system called Iron Caltrop. This simple device can be made in a matter of minutes by wrapping two pieces of nail together in a 65 degree angle. By dropping a handful of Iron Caltrop on the ground, you can deflate the tires of Basijis’ motorcycles in a matter of minutes. If you ride, you know how difficult it is to steer a motorcycle with two flat tires.

Tear gas
A fabric socked in vinegar can very well protect you against tear gas. Cover your nose and mouth with the fabric and keep plenty of water around to wash your eyes if you come in direct contact with tear gas. Urban Legend: burning tires will reduce the effect of tear gas. Not true, it actually increases the effect and it smells bad too.

Riot police is trained to use batons. They understand that it’s easy to hit a stationary target and much easier to hit a target that is running away. Hitting somebody with baton is a matter of timing. The worst thing you can do is to run away from baton whirling security guards because it allows them to time the strike perfectly. The most effective way to counter a security guard with baton is to throw off his timing by going directly at him. That’s right. Run away and turn and go directly at him. When you go directly at the guard and close the distance, you completely screw up his timing. A boxer cannot hit a person that is standing 2 inches away from his face. That’s why boxer bounce around. A baton whirling guard is just like a boxer, he needs to time his strikes. By going directly at the guard and closing distance you mess-up his timing and might even be able to take him down.

Riot formation
Basij and police security guardsmen perform best when crowd disperses and becomes separated. The worst scenario for the riot police is when the crowd is together and inseparable. South Korean labor protestors in the 90s were the best organized units in history of rioting. Thousands of them held on to each other (locked arms) and no matter what, they did not let go. It made it impossible for the riot police to disperse them.

Just a few tips. Please translate and send it back to the youth in Iran. This can save their lives.”

The Survivalist Guide To Protesting / 25 Jun 2009

“A twitterer named lettersoftheliv has published an exhaustive series of tweets as a how-to guide for non-violent demonstrations.

Here’s how to protect yourself from tear gas:
– Do not pick up/throw back tear gas canisters- will severely burn your hands.
– Vinegar soaked bandana helps you breath with tear gas. Contaminates fast, have extra.
– Most tear gas injuries come from PANIC/chaos,not the chemicals:Ppl lose heads.Effects intense but very short-term.
– Stay calm and yell “WALK, WALK” as you walk away from tear gas/pepper spray attack- spread calm.
– Do not wear contact lens- pepper spray can linger and damage your eyes.

How to protect yourself during a basij assault:
– Go limp – When rigid,easy to pick up & move. If limp weight,hard to pick up & move (Always tuck your head by looking at your belly) link arms, stay in large groups, never touch a basiji, consider Sit Down when attacked (depending on plan/setting/ and Weapon)
– If grp sits dwn & police grab at 1 to beat, that 1 should scoot back & ppl behind open up & pull thru to back.Ppl in front close gap.
– If sit in grp&1 beaten w/batons,Ppl drape selves over target:spread hits over 3 ppl’s butts, not 1 prsn’s head.Cover head & torso
– “No-Hit Strategy”-attacked ppl hv instinct 2 hit back:Never let ppl rcv more than 2 hits b4 swarming as group 2 protect.
– Swarm/Surround agitators who are becoming violent so they cannot escalate the situation.
– If police push u n grp,unsafe 2 push back:escalates situation.All cross ankles & sit in place.Impossible 2 push seated group.
– At times you deem appropriate, sing or chant- do things to keep groups spirit strong- this is unbelievably important.
– Stay alert, “Ignore” harassment- ignore yelling, throwing objects, etc Do not react emotionally- Do not engage baiting
– Most powerful weapon you wield is SHAME- from your own religious/cultural context, choose symbolic NV acts.
– Always scan for escape routes, easiest exits.

General preparation:
– Know and trust ppl u are protesting with- don’t mix NV and violent protesters
– Be prepared – with talking points, chants, alternative plans, exit strategy, contingency plans, supplies, etc
– Practice/Roleplay NV de-escalation & tolerating/surviving/escaping “basiji” in GROUPS. Discuss-strengths,weaknesses
– Share “if I get arrested” info-emergency contacts/needs
– Assign jobs- scout, scene assessment, food, map, exits, etc. Have 1 person off-site know where you are. appoint teams of people 4 tasks- a team 2 scout & swarm agitators, keep deescalated (assume agitators r plants)
– Avoid alcohol, drugs and caffeine- dehydrating. Don’t use anything that will impair judgement.
– Stay hydrated- use oral rehydration solution:1 ts salt,8 ts sugar,1 liter clean drinking water: Stir.
– If no bathroom available use privacy circle, group stands in circle around person, faces outward.

What to wear (or not to wear):
– Wear a waterproof, nonabsorbent outer layer if possible. Cover your arms and legs.
– Wear 2 pairs of underwear. If you get arrested, you have 1 to wear and 1 to wash.
– Dress in layers, appropriately for weather.
– WOMEN- Don’t wear tampons- wear pads (can’t remove if arrested or trapped, toxic shock syndrome)”






“Writings. Eyewitness accounts. Send your own articles to us at xyaban [at] gmail [dot] com
For subscriptions email khyaboon [at] gmail [dot] com

Long live popular sovereignty! Long live resistance to the Coup D’état! Death to dictatorship!
The Street – Issue 1 – 29 Khordad 1388 (June 19, 2009)

Aiming to negate students’ impact on the current developments: University dormitories ordered closed
Iran in a bloodbath
Workers of [car maker] Iran Khodro on Strike
Tens of thousands protesters march from Tupkhaneh Square to Haft Tir
In the provinces, coup-makers practice violent oppression

Media and the streets. A bloody page in Iran’s modern history seems to be turning in the events we are witnessing. In past days and nights, Tehran and many Iranian cities have not stayed calm as peoples’ burning rage has thrown daily life into flux. The people in the streets are playing a game of cat and mouse with violent thugs; youth are in revolt, and the elderly rack their memories for re-learned lessons of the calamitous events of the 1979 revolution to pass on to the young.

Again, after thirty years, people are leaving the doors of their homes open [to give refuge] to courageous youth, and we hear from many how great people are, and how quickly they can change. Over the past days’ witness to events, we were different people, different slogans. During the campaign until election day, the huge crowds of people that had taken to the street with the green wave were spirited, the bliss of unawareness reigning over them. Yet since the results were announced, the situation changed and people became angry, and sought the crest of the wave to propel them beyond the ignorance, repression and hundreds of lies. During recent days and nights, the tide has again turned.

Like Azar of 1953 [CIA-backed anti-Mossadegh coup] and Tir of 1999 [reformist protests and regime crackdown], and – according to many present at the time – even like the protests of the revolutionary years and 1963 [clergy-led anti-shah protests]!!! Yes, we are seeing the naked face of repression. We see the green wave of reformism in its entire expanse, as it brings us into a shared arena with the existing system

Killing us and calls for calm have only made the situation more acute. Now we have more questions; more than just issues with vote counting. We want a different voice. We do not want to be sacrificed to corruption and graft again, for the nth time, so that our interests are ignored. We do not want a slaughterhouse that would set society back thirty years. We do not want a repeat of the fraud of 1979. We do not have any media but the world has gotten smaller so we no longer experience one thing on the streets yet read something different in world media. We do not want the next generation to be ignorant about what happened on the streets of Tehran, Esfahan, Tabriz, Shiraz, Mashhad, Ahvaz, Kermanshah, and the rest of the cities, large and small. We will represent a new voice in this power play: the voice of the people crying out in the streets. The people who have no delusions about colors and who demand change.”

Khiaban Issue 7

Bullet in Baharestan
According to human rights and democracy activists in Iran, after 12 this afternoon, on Wednesday 3 Tir, all the access points to Baharestan Square were closed and no underground trains were stopping at Baharestan station. More special forces and anti-riot forces and even police had surrounded the Parliament building with their cars and motorcycles and ordered closed all the stores located on Baharestan Square, even stores along secondary roads terminating at the square. They threatened to burn down any stores that did not close. Despite strict control of all the approaches, a large crowd had reached the square by about 4:30 and was standing in silence. The security forces had warned them not to gather and to disperse. A number of people had black armbands on and a small number were holding proclamation signs above their heads. Those with signs were attacks by guard forces and civilian dressed forces. At about 4:40 guard and anti-riot forces surrounded the crowd gathered in the square and sprayed teargas to scatter the people, while the slogans ‘death to the dictator, people’ and ‘don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, we are all together’ could be heard. The people trying to enter the square from surrounding streets were the target of baton attacks, and a number were also arrested. The arrested were herded with batons to cars and beaten with batons inside the cars. As the pressure from the crowd trying to enter the square steadily built, several shots were fired in the air to break up the people. But as pressure built more, they began firing directly into the people, and cries of ‘we will protest, we will protest’ and ‘they killed my brother’ rose from the crowd. For nearly an hour the sound of gunfire could be heard on Baharestan Square and the surrounding streets. Every time a group of people would escape to surrounding streets under pressure from guard forces, they were chased down by men on motorcycles and assaulted with batons – moving the clash to surrounding streets. According to reports, a number were killed in the clashes, and 30 people were arrested and more than 50 wounded. As of yesterday, Basiji and guard forces positioned at the head of all the streets are stopping the people, especially, the young people, and searching photos and film taken on their mobile phones. They are even stopping and searching cars.

Baharestan Has Awoken
As expected, Baharestan was surrounded by security forces. They were continuously dispersing the people, and the people gathering in another corner. Everyone was expecting – and there were murmurings – that Mousavi would arrive, but no one saw him. They had stopped the people and prevented them from moving towards the Parliament building. Against the protests of people trying to reach their homes on that side, a security official was yelling: ‘We know that none of your houses are on that side.’ The security officials were openly filming the people. One point worth mentioning is the weak presence of Basiji or plain clothes security forces compared to the police forces. More anti-riot guard forces were intending to intimidate the people. They were dragging their batons against the barricades or striking them against their shields to produce a frightening noise. They are charging several people. The crowd is large, and the protests more crowded than usual. They are still openly threatening ‘If you go, the Special Forces will come and you will be beaten!!!!!!!!!’ They cleared out the pedestrian bridge in a savage way. Men on motorcycles were moving through the protesters and threatening them with batons. But the crowd, as if they had no fear, was constantly signaling to each other ‘don’t run, we are ordinary passersby.’ They released some teargas. There was an odd apprehension among the security forces. Even with violence it took about an hour to disperse the crowd. The sound of gunshots arose. There were clashes at several locations where the police quickly hauled people off to jail while beating and jeering at them. There were searching the bags of black-clad boys, searching for a pretext or green gangs. I heard that they killed a person. The Baharestan subway station was closed – up to Sa’adi. Helicopters were constantly hovering above the crowd. The plain clothes police were not intervening a lot, and they were noticeably few, but there were armed, plain clothed individuals among the crowd, and it was not difficult to identify them. Once or twice during the clashes they also struck onlookers. They shoved the crowd and dispersed them to the surrounding streets.

Civility of Religion
They have threatened families of the slain victims – agreeing to deliver the bodies of love ones only on condition that they sign away their right to file complaints against the assailants and police force. They are extorting 5 to 14 million from families as payment for delivering the bodies of their love ones slain in clashes over the last 10 days.

Will the cat above the precipice fall down?
BY Slavoj Zizek / June 25, 2009

When an authoritarian regime approaches its final crisis, its dissolution as a rule follows two steps. Before its actual collapse, a mysterious rupture takes place: all of a sudden people know that the game is over, they are simply no longer afraid. It is not only that the regime loses its legitimacy, its exercise of power itself is perceived as an impotent panic reaction. We all know the classic scene from cartoons: the cat reaches a precipice, but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is no ground under its feet; it starts to fall only when it looks down and notices the abyss. When it loses its authority, the regime is like a cat above the precipice: in order to fall, it only has to be reminded to look down…

In Shah of Shahs, a classic account of the Khomeini revolution, Ryszard Kapuscinski located the precise moment of this rupture: at a Tehran crossroad, a single demonstrator refused to budge when a policeman shouted at him to move, and the embarrassed policeman simply withdrew; in a couple of hours, all Tehran knew about this incident, and although there were street fights going on for weeks, everyone somehow knew the game is over. Is something similar going on now?

There are many versions of the events in Tehran. Some see in the protests the culmination of the pro-Western “reform movement” along the lines of the “orange” revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, etc. – a secular reaction to the Khomeini revolution. They support the protests as the first step towards a new liberal-democratic secular Iran freed of Muslim fundamentalism. They are counteracted by skeptics who think that Ahmadinejad really won: he is the voice of the majority, while the support of Mousavi comes from the middle classes and their gilded youth. In short: let’s drop the illusions and face the fact that, in Ahmadinejad, Iran has a president it deserves. Then there are those who dismiss Mousavi as a member of the cleric establishment with merely cosmetic differences from Ahmadinejad: Mousavi also wants to continue the atomic energy program, he is against recognizing Israel, plus he enjoyed the full support of Khomeini as a prime minister in the years of the war with Iraq.

Finally, the saddest of them all are the Leftist supporters of Ahmadinejad: what is really at stake for them is Iranian independence. Ahmadinejad won because he stood up for the country’s independence, exposed elite corruption and used oil wealth to boost the incomes of the poor majority – this is, so we are told, the true Ahmadinejad beneath the Western-media image of a holocaust-denying fanatic. According to this view, what is effectively going on now in Iran is a repetition of the 1953 overthrow of Mossadegh – a West-financed coup against the legitimate president. This view not only ignores facts: the high electoral participation – up from the usual 55% to 85% – can only be explained as a protest vote. It also displays its blindness for a genuine demonstration of popular will, patronizingly assuming that, for the backward Iranians, Ahmadinejad is good enough – they are not yet sufficiently mature to be ruled by a secular Left.

Opposed as they are, all these versions read the Iranian protests along the axis of Islamic hardliners versus pro-Western liberal reformists, which is why they find it so difficult to locate Mousavi: is he a Western-backed reformer who wants more personal freedom and market economy, or a member of the cleric establishment whose eventual victory would not affect in any serious way the nature of the regime? Such extreme oscillations demonstrate that they all miss the true nature of the protests.

The green color adopted by the Mousavi supporters, the cries of “Allah akbar!” that resonate from the roofs of Tehran in the evening darkness, clearly indicate that they see their activity as the repetition of the 1979 Khomeini revolution, as the return to its roots, the undoing of the revolution’s later corruption. This return to the roots is not only programmatic; it concerns even more the mode of activity of the crowds: the emphatic unity of the people, their all-encompassing solidarity, creative self-organization, improvising of the ways to articulate protest, the unique mixture of spontaneity and discipline, like the ominous march of thousands in complete silence. We are dealing with a genuine popular uprising of the deceived partisans of the Khomeini revolution.

There are a couple of crucial consequences to be drawn from this insight. First, Ahmadinejad is not the hero of the Islamist poor, but a genuine corrupted Islamo-Fascist populist, a kind of Iranian Berlusconi whose mixture of clownish posturing and ruthless power politics is causing unease even among the majority of ayatollahs. His demagogic distributing of crumbs to the poor should not deceive us: behind him are not only organs of police repression and a very Westernized PR apparatus, but also a strong new rich class, the result of the regime’s corruption (Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is not a working class militia, but a mega-corporation, the strongest center of wealth in the country).

Second, one should draw a clear difference between the two main candidates opposed to Ahmadinejad, Mehdi Karroubi and Mousavi. Karroubi effectively is a reformist, basically proposing the Iranian version of identity politics, promising favors to all particular groups. Mousavi is something entirely different: his name stands for the genuine resuscitation of the popular dream which sustained the Khomeini revolution. Even if this dream was a utopia, one should recognize in it the genuine utopia of the revolution itself. What this means is that the 1979 Khomeini revolution cannot be reduced to a hard line Islamist takeover – it was much more. Now is the time to remember the incredible effervescence of the first year after the revolution, with the breath-taking explosion of political and social creativity, organizational experiments and debates among students and ordinary people. The very fact that this explosion had to be stifled demonstrates that the Khomeini revolution was an authentic political event, a momentary opening that unleashed unheard-of forces of social transformation, a moment in which “everything seemed possible.” What followed was a gradual closing through the take-over of political control by the Islam establishment. To put it in Freudian terms, today’s protest movement is the “return of the repressed” of the Khomeini revolution.

And, last but not least, what this means is that there is a genuine liberating potential in Islam – to find a “good” Islam, one doesn’t have to go back to the 10th century, we have it right here, in front of our eyes.

The future is uncertain – in all probability, those in power will contain the popular explosion, and the cat will not fall into the precipice, but regain ground. However, it will no longer be the same regime, but just one corrupted authoritarian rule among others. Whatever the outcome, it is vitally important to keep in mind that we are witnessing a great emancipatory event which doesn’t fit the frame of the struggle between pro-Western liberals and anti-Western fundamentalists. If our cynical pragmatism will make us lose the capacity to recognize this emancipatory dimension, then we in the West are effectively entering a post-democratic era, getting ready for our own Ahmadinejads. Italians already know his name: Berlusconi. Others are waiting in line.



“The measure of a nation is its vote.” – Ayatollah Khomeini

‘Real’ vote count, allegedly showing Ahmadinijad in THIRD place

President of the Committee of Election Monitoring : Election is Invalid
from Iran Interior Ministry (Authenticity NOT VERIFIED)
“The chart that follows informs Khamenei of the vote’s “real” results. It says 42 million votes were cast with with Mousavi getting 19,075,623 votes, Mehdi Karroubi getting 13,387,104 votes, Ahmadinejad finishing a distant third with 5,698,417 votes, and Mohsen Rezaee getting 3,754,218.”


Rafsanjani: shark or kingmaker?
BY Simon Tisdall / 15 June 2009

More intriguing are similarly unsubstantiated claims that Rafsanjani is in the holy city of Qom, where he once studied and where he has strong links to a moderate clerical body, the Association of Combatant Clergy. Rafsanjani was said to be assessing whether he has sufficient votes in the 86-member Assembly of Experts to dismiss Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader and Ahmadinejad’s chief patron. Under Iran’s constitution, only the assembly has the power to do this.

The super-rich Rafsanjani, his family, and his supporters in the reformist Kargozaran party make no bones about helping finance and direct Mir Hossein Mousavi’s campaign to topple Ahmadinejad, whom they despise. But with Mousavi ostensibly beaten, the developing post-election struggle now pits Rafsanjani against Khamenei rather than the president – who is widely seen as a mouthpiece for the hardline fundamentalism typified by the Supreme Leader. Although he is supposed to stay above the fray, Khamenei endorsed Ahmadinejad this time, just as in the second round of the 2005 election.

Rafsanjani has made no secret of his belief that foreign and economic policies pursued during the past four years under Khamenei’s guidance have seriously damaged the Islamic Republic. His frustrations came to a head last week after Ahmadinejad was allowed to publicly accuse him of corruption. In an angry letter he lambasted Khamenei for failing to uphold the country’s dignity. In what was in effect an unprecedented challenge to Khamenei’s authority, he implied the Supreme Leader, normally above criticism, was negligent, partial, and possibly involved in plans to steal the election.

“I am expecting you to resolve this position in order to extinguish the fire, whose smoke can be seen in the atmosphere, and to foil dangerous plots,” Rafsanjani wrote. “If the system cannot or does not want to confront such ugly and sin-infected phenomena as insults, lies and false allegations, how can we consider ourselves followers of the sacred Islamic system?”

Rafsanjani remains unpopular with many Iranians who believe the corruption claims and blame him for a murderous, covert campaign to silence dissidents at home and abroad during his 1989-97 presidency. Those latter allegations earned him another nickname: the “grey eminence”. At the same time he is respected as one of the Islamic revolution’s founding fathers and a close associate of its first leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. As a result he can count on some powerful friends if he decides to try to shame Khamenei into allowing an election re-run or standing down.

Apart from his clerical allies in Qom, prominent establishment conservatives such as Ali Akbar Velayati and Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri have criticised Ahmadinejad. So, too, has Ali Larijani, the influential Majlis (parliament) speaker and former national security chief. The mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, is another potential ally, as are the former president Mohammad Khatami, Mousavi, the other defeated presidential candidates, and their millions of thwarted supporters.

If mobilised, his would comprise an elite coalition operating inside the hierarchy of the Islamic Republic, rather than from outside on the streets. It would not be a democratic movement; but it would be a dagger held to Khamenei’s breast. Not for nothing is the Machiavellian Rafsanjani, pistachio nut millionaire, pragmatist and ruthless political survivor, known by yet another nickname: the “kingmaker”. Iran awaits his next move.

Top Pieces of Evidence that the Iranian Presidential Election Was Stolen

1. It is claimed that Ahmadinejad won the city of Tabriz with 57%. His main opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, is an Azeri from Azerbaijan province, of which Tabriz is the capital. Mousavi, according to such polls as exist in Iran and widespread anecdotal evidence, did better in cities and is popular in Azerbaijan. Certainly, his rallies there were very well attended. So for an Azeri urban center to go so heavily for Ahmadinejad just makes no sense. In past elections, Azeris voted disproportionately for even minor presidential candidates who hailed from that province.
2. Ahmadinejad is claimed to have taken Tehran by over 50%. Again, he is not popular in the cities, even, as he claims, in the poor neighborhoods, in part because his policies have produced high inflation and high unemployment. That he should have won Tehran is so unlikely as to raise real questions about these numbers. [Ahmadinejad is widely thought only to have won Tehran in 2005 because the pro-reform groups were discouraged and stayed home rather than voting.)
3. It is claimed that cleric Mehdi Karoubi, the other reformist candidate, received 320,000 votes, and that he did poorly in Iran’s western provinces, even losing in Luristan. He is a Lur and is popular in the west, including in Kurdistan. Karoubi received 17 percent of the vote in the first round of presidential elections in 2005. While it is possible that his support has substantially declined since then, it is hard to believe that he would get less than one percent of the vote. Moreover, he should have at least done well in the west, which he did not.
4. Mohsen Rezaie, who polled very badly and seems not to have been at all popular, is alleged to have received 670,000 votes, twice as much as Karoubi.
5. Ahmadinejad’s numbers were fairly standard across Iran’s provinces. In past elections there have been substantial ethnic and provincial variations.
6. The Electoral Commission is supposed to wait three days before certifying the results of the election, at which point they are to inform Khamenei of the results, and he signs off on the process. The three-day delay is intended to allow charges of irregularities to be adjudicated. In this case, Khamenei immediately approved the alleged results.

I am aware of the difficulties of catching history on the run. Some explanation may emerge for Ahmadinejad’s upset that does not involve fraud. For instance, it is possible that he has gotten the credit for spreading around a lot of oil money in the form of favors to his constituencies, but somehow managed to escape the blame for the resultant high inflation. But just as a first reaction, this post-election situation looks to me like a crime scene. And here is how I would reconstruct the crime. As the real numbers started coming into the Interior Ministry late on Friday, it became clear that Mousavi was winning. Mousavi’s spokesman abroad, filmmaker Mohsen Makhbalbaf, alleges that the ministry even contacted Mousavi’s camp and said it would begin preparing the population for this victory. The ministry must have informed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has had a feud with Mousavi for over 30 years, who found this outcome unsupportable. And, apparently, he and other top leaders had been so confident of an Ahmadinejad win that they had made no contingency plans for what to do if he looked as though he would lose. They therefore sent blanket instructions to the Electoral Commission to falsify the vote counts. This clumsy cover-up then produced the incredible result of an Ahmadinejad landlside in Tabriz and Isfahan and Tehran. The reason for which Rezaie and Karoubi had to be assigned such implausibly low totals was to make sure Ahmadinejad got over 51% of the vote and thus avoid a run-off between him and Mousavi next Friday, which would have given the Mousavi camp a chance to attempt to rally the public and forestall further tampering with the election. This scenario accounts for all known anomalies and is consistent with what we know of the major players.”

“Professor Mebane has updated his analysis to incorporate 2005 second round district-level data. In 2005 some opposition politicians called for a boycott of the election. The surge in turnout in 2009 is widely interpreted as meaning that many who boycotted in 2005 decided to vote in 2009. Hence towns that have high ratios should have lower proportions of the vote for Ahmadinejad (the coefficient should be negative). He then tested this hypothesis using an over-dispersed binomial model, finding that it worked well for most districts. Suspiciously however, whenever this data significantly deviated from his model, it was in Ahmadinejad’s favor.”

Guardian Council: Over 100% voted in 50 cities / 21 Jun 2009

Iran’s Guardian Council has suggested that the number of votes collected in 50 cities surpass the number of people eligible to cast ballot in those areas. The council’s Spokesman Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei, who was speaking on the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) Channel 2 on Sunday, made the remarks in response to complaints filed by Mohsen Rezaei — a defeated candidate in the June 12 Presidential election. “Statistics provided by the candidates, who claim more than 100% of those eligible have cast their ballot in 80-170 cities are not accurate — the incident has happened in only 50 cities,” Kadkhodaei said. Kadkhodaei further explained that the voter turnout of above 100% in some cities is a normal phenomenon because there is no legal limitation for people to vote for the presidential elections in another city or province to which people often travel or commute. According to the Guardian Council spokesman, summering areas and places like district one and three in Tehran are not separable. The spokesman, however, said that the vote tally affected by such issues could be over 3 million and would not noticably affect the outcome of the election.

He, however, added that the council could, at the request of the candidates, re-count the affected ballot boxes, and determine ” whether the possible change in the tally is decisive in the election results,” reported Khabaronline. Three of the four candidates contesting in last Friday’s presidential election cried foul, once the Interior Ministry announced the results – according to which incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner with almost two-thirds of the vote. Rezaei, along with Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, reported more than 646 ‘irregularities’ in the electoral process and submitted their complaints to the body responsible for overseeing the election — the Guardian Council.

The Devil Is in the Digits
BY Bernd Beber and Alexandra Scacco / June 20, 2009

Since the declaration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s landslide victory in Iran’s presidential election, accusations of fraud have swelled. Against expectations from pollsters and pundits alike, Ahmadinejad did surprisingly well in urban areas, including Tehran — where he is thought to be highly unpopular — and even Tabriz, the capital city of opposition candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi’s native East Azarbaijan province.

Others have pointed to the surprisingly poor performance of Mehdi Karroubi, another reform candidate, and particularly in his home province of Lorestan, where conservative candidates fared poorly in 2005, but where Ahmadinejad allegedly captured 71 percent of the vote. Eyebrows have been raised further by the relative consistency in Ahmadinejad’s vote share across Iran’s provinces, in spite of wide provincial variation in past elections.

These pieces of the story point in the direction of fraud, to be sure. They have led experts to speculate that the election results released by Iran’s Ministry of the Interior had been altered behind closed doors. But we don’t have to rely on suggestive evidence alone. We can use statistics more systematically to show that this is likely what happened. Here’s how.

We’ll concentrate on vote counts — the number of votes received by different candidates in different provinces — and in particular the last and second-to-last digits of these numbers. For example, if a candidate received 14,579 votes in a province (Mr. Karroubi’s actual vote count in Isfahan), we’ll focus on digits 7 and 9.

This may seem strange, because these digits usually don’t change who wins. In fact, last digits in a fair election don’t tell us anything about the candidates, the make-up of the electorate or the context of the election. They are random noise in the sense that a fair vote count is as likely to end in 1 as it is to end in 2, 3, 4, or any other numeral. But that’s exactly why they can serve as a litmus test for election fraud. For example, an election in which a majority of provincial vote counts ended in 5 would surely raise red flags.

Why would fraudulent numbers look any different? The reason is that humans are bad at making up numbers. Cognitive psychologists have found that study participants in lab experiments asked to write sequences of random digits will tend to select some digits more frequently than others.

So what can we make of Iran’s election results? We used the results released by the Ministry of the Interior and published on the web site of Press TV, a news channel funded by Iran’s government. The ministry provided data for 29 provinces, and we examined the number of votes each of the four main candidates — Ahmadinejad, Mousavi, Karroubi and Mohsen Rezai — is reported to have received in each of the provinces — a total of 116 numbers.

The numbers look suspicious. We find too many 7s and not enough 5s in the last digit. We expect each digit (0, 1, 2, and so on) to appear at the end of 10 percent of the vote counts. But in Iran’s provincial results, the digit 7 appears 17 percent of the time, and only 4 percent of the results end in the number 5. Two such departures from the average — a spike of 17 percent or more in one digit and a drop to 4 percent or less in another — are extremely unlikely. Fewer than four in a hundred non-fraudulent elections would produce such numbers.

As a point of comparison, we can analyze the state-by-state vote counts for John McCain and Barack Obama in last year’s U.S. presidential election. The frequencies of last digits in these election returns never rise above 14 percent or fall below 6 percent, a pattern we would expect to see in seventy out of a hundred fair elections.

But that’s not all. Psychologists have also found that humans have trouble generating non-adjacent digits (such as 64 or 17, as opposed to 23) as frequently as one would expect in a sequence of random numbers. To check for deviations of this type, we examined the pairs of last and second-to-last digits in Iran’s vote counts. On average, if the results had not been manipulated, 70 percent of these pairs should consist of distinct, non-adjacent digits.

Not so in the data from Iran: Only 62 percent of the pairs contain non-adjacent digits. This may not sound so different from 70 percent, but the probability that a fair election would produce a difference this large is less than 4.2 percent. And while our first test — variation in last-digit frequencies — suggests that Rezai’s vote counts are the most irregular, the lack of non-adjacent digits is most striking in the results reported for Ahmadinejad.

Each of these two tests provides strong evidence that the numbers released by Iran’s Ministry of the Interior were manipulated. But taken together, they leave very little room for reasonable doubt. The probability that a fair election would produce both too few non-adjacent digits and the suspicious deviations in last-digit frequencies described earlier is less than .005. In other words, a bet that the numbers are clean is a one in two-hundred long shot.

{Bernd Beber and Alexandra Scacco, Ph.D. candidates in political science at Columbia University, will be assistant professors in New York University’s Wilf Family Department of Politics this fall.}


How to Confuse Iranian Censors on Twitter

Very briefly, preceding the recent elections in Iran, many leftists had been organizing protests and what not via facebook and other social networks. However, Iranian censors quickly jumped on this trend and blocked facebook’s site from the entire country. Following the elections, protests ensued and were organized and publicized on Twitter, which the luddite bureaucracy failed to block in time. Iranian censors are now combing the twitter network for dissidents in a Stasi like fashion. In retaliation, people around the world have tried to throw a wrench in their efforts:

1. Change Your Time zone and Home City:
Click Twitter Settings in the top right, change your Home City to Tehran and your time zone to GMT +3:30 Tehran Time. It’s likely that the first method of filtering will relate to the location of the user. If we flood twitter with accounts that all appear to be from Tehran, we build a bigger data cloud that the censors have to sift through in their search for Iranian dissidents. This is not full proof, but will likely buy them some time in the same way that searching “John Smith” on face book will yield a frustratingly large selection of people to search through.

2. Change the Name Associated with your Twitter Account
Click Twitter Settings and change your birth name to something Iranian. You can find a list of Iranian names here: . Should the censors end up on your account, your American (or whatever) name will be a likely clue that you aren’t worth their time.

3. Repost Content
Follow someone posting from Iran and repost their material. Content is the ultimate tell tale of who is and isn’t a dissident in this situation. By reposting someone else’s content censors be forced to look at the timestamp of the tweet to decipher who is the original writer. Ideally, your follow up tweet would be so close to the initial posting time that the two become indiscriminate. You can also go a step further and, if they have uploaded a photo, save the file and re upload it via your account (merely linking to their account is liable to clue the censors in). Edit: Be careful in reposting, there have been reports of false accounts going up to provide misinformation to the prostestors. More info here: . Do not repost things verbatim, paraphrase. Also, when retweeting to not use the original posters name.

4. Maintain the ‘false data cloud’
Even in the event that Iran blocks twitter as they did Facebook, it is likely that the censors will still have access to the site, and will continue to comb it. Sustaining your efforts could serve to further delay the censors. Obviously, none of these methods are full proof. The idea is to buy any of the said dissidents time to hide, evacuate or so on… “If only for an instant, we will unite what you have divided. Our calls will be heard from shore to shore, through borders, races, classes and languages, For we bear a torch that burns one hundred thousand years strong, we carry the flame of revolution.”

Down Time Rescheduled / June 15, 2009
“A critical network upgrade must be performed to ensure continued operation of Twitter. In coordination with Twitter, our network host had planned this upgrade for tonight. However, our network partners at NTT America recognize the role Twitter is currently playing as an important communication tool in Iran. Tonight’s planned maintenance has been rescheduled to tomorrow between 2-3p PST (1:30a in Iran).”

The Kid at State Who Figured Out the Iranians Should Be Allowed to Keep Tweeting / Jun 17 2009

Imagine our surprise, then, when we learned that, instead, it was a 27-year-old whiz kid whose job is to advise the State Department on how to use social media to promote U.S. interests the Middle East. And imagine our further surprise when we learned this young gentleman wasn’t one of Barack Obama’s social media geniuses, but instead was a Condi Rice pick hired specifically to advise the State Department on young people in the Middle East and how to “counter-radicalize” them. According to the New York Times, it was Jared Cohen, a member of the Policy Planning Staff, who contacted Twitter on Monday, inquiring about their plan to perform maintenance in what would be the middle of the day, Iran time. Following that contact, Twitter decided to postpone their maintenance so that it would take place in the middle of the night Iran-time, even though that meant it would be the middle of the day U.S. time. The Times noted that the move marked “the recognition by the United States government that an Internet blogging service that did not exist four years ago has the potential to change history in an ancient Islamic country.” So we wondered, who was this young guy with this remarkable insight?

Cohen was only 24 when he was hired into the Policy Planning Staff back in 2006. He’d received an undergraduate degree from Stanford and a master’s degree from Oxford, where he’d been on a Rhodes Scholarship. Oh, and he’d also talked his way into a visa for Iran (according to a December 2007 New Yorker profile), where he met young people his own age who threw underground house parties and made alcohol in bathtubs. “Iranian young people are one of the most pro-American populations in the Middle East,” Cohen told the New Yorker. “They just don’t know who to gravitate around, so young people gravitate around each other.” Cohen compiled his observations from that trip—and others to Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq—into a book released by Penguin, titled Children of Jihad: A Young American’s Travels Among the Youth of the Middle East (selected, by the way, as one of Kirkus Review’s “Best Books of 2007”).

The Times describes Cohen’s job today as “working with Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and other services to harness their reach for diplomatic initiatives in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.” In May, Cohen, whom CNN chose as one of its “Young People Who Rock,” organized a trip to Iraq for Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and other new media executives “to discuss how to rebuild the country’s information network and to sell the virtues of Twitter,” as the Times put it. According to Federal News Radio, Dorsey has now been working with mobile companies in the Middle East “to establish a short code so that Iraqis can get on Twitter without actually having to have access to the internet.” “I’m a strong believer in the fact that access drives innovation,” Cohen told Federal News Radio. “In order for young people to have their innovative minds tapped into, they need to have access to the tools to do it, and I believe that cellphones and the internet will bring that.” Given Cohen’s background, it’s not surprising that he was the one to make the call on (and to) Twitter. It’s also an interesting indication about how these young kids, with their social media, might actually understand a thing or two about how the world works and how to get it to move in the direction you want it to go.



“Since Twitter started getting coverage for its role in the goings-on in Iran, commentators have expressed concern over which Twitter feeds are fake, and whether Twitter could be used to spread disinformation. The unofficial Twitter watchdog Twitspam has a list of “fake Iran election tweeters,” and their feeds make for fascinating examples of reverse propaganda in action.

Their techniques have different approaches and levels of subtelty. Some simply make up silly stories, like one user’s claim “BREAKINGNEWS: Ahmedinejads plane take off from Russia 2 hours ago & lost over BlackSea! Does he know how to swim? confrmation?” or another’s insistence that “Mussavi concedes, pleads halt to protest.” Others take a more egotistical approach, such as this user generously volunteering to become the leader: “Saturday – small groups organized by “ERAN SPAHBOD RUSTAM” will attack government buildings and basij.women,children stay home.” Finally, some Tweeters, in their rush to spread violence, seem rather unclear as to correct grammatical usage of Arabic words: “Get a mask and gloves – lets intifada tonight on the streets of Teheran – My group will barricade one street. Make your group 2. kick ass”

The most pernicious fake Twitter user, though, has been Persian_Guy, who’s not only provided fake news ( “Mussavi overheard: ‘We don’t need a black man’s help, that’s humiliating, at least not arab.'”) and calls for violence (“”non-Iranian Arabs waving Hamas/Hezbollah flags around the protests. Kill Arabs now, they are scums!”), but has even brought Twitter into the fake narrative. According to this user, “Twitter’s staff are ecstatic by what’s happening in Iran, “We’re so glad there’s chaos in Iran, finally Twitter is ‘useful.'”” Somehow, I doubt that will endear him to his fellow Tweeters.”

How Iran’s Hackers Killed Big Brother
BY Douglas Rushkoff / 6.16.09

“Perhaps the best indication for Americans that something important is going on in Iran right now is the fact that Twitter has delayed a scheduled downtime for maintenance in order for Iranians and others involved in the post-election digital melee to keep at it. For anyone lacking a Twitter feed and thus missing the intense virtual crossfire, what’s happening is nothing short of a test of Internet users’ ability to challenge not only a regime’s power over an election, but over the network itself. The effort alone constitutes a victory. Unlike the United States, where Facebook friends, Meetup groups, and other online innovations successfully elected a candidate who (at least initially) lacked top-down support, the Iranian power structure has less compunction about snuffing digital democracy. Incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is widely believed to have shut down Iranian access to Facebook as soon as it was clear his opponent’s supporters were using the social network to organize rallies and motivate voters. Not that Mousavi’s 36,000 Facebook friends at that point would have led to the undeniable landslide the opposition leader would have needed to actually win—but the heavy-handed gesture hinted at what was to come. It was the opening salvo in a digital war with global implications, and a blueprint for the democratizing influence of the Internet.

Now that Ahmadinejad has claimed victory, the blogosphere, Twitterverse, and the rest of the social-networking sphere is on virtual fire. Tens of thousands of messages per minute condemning the results as fraud are passing to and from Iran, as angry Iranians and sympathetic outsiders exchange datapoints, analysis, and on-the-ground coordinates. While only a small minority of these posts are from people actually organizing protests, rooting out provocateurs, or sending aid to victims of violence, it’s too easy to discount the more virtual interactions as trivial. Ahmadinejad sure hasn’t. His regime is working hard to stifle protest without completely unplugging Iran’s telecommunications infrastructure. Their tactics: limit cell service to in-country only, shut off text messaging, block transmissions to and from Facebook, and even shut down access to Friendfeed, a messaging aggregator extremely popular in Iran. They’re also identifying and then blocking messages from offending users and Web sites.

Iran’s Internet-savvy youth have fought back, however, exploiting “proxy servers” to make their messages appear to be coming from different sources, and exchanging the digital addresses of the ever-changing list of servers still capable of transmitting packets. Iran’s government counterattacked with a blockade, closing off the four Internet access routes it controlled, leaving just one pipe through Turkey for messages to breach it. One particularly aggressive opposition group responded by facilitating a “denial of service” attack on the Iranian government’s servers. All over the Internet, users of all nations can get easy instructions for how to install a small program that “pings” the offending servers so frequently that they crash, unable to handle the incoming requests. Of course, the problem with this strategy is that it also overloads the few, compromised pipelines into and out of the country.”




“The purpose of this guide is to help you participate constructively in the Iranian election protests through twitter.
1.Do NOT publicise proxy IP’s over twitter, and especially not using the #iranelection hashtag. Security forces are monitoring this hashtag, and the moment they identify a proxy IP they will block it in Iran. If you are creating new proxies for the Iranian bloggers, DM them to @stopAhmadi or @iran09 and they will distributed them discretely to bloggers in Iran.
2. Hashtags, the only two legitimate hashtags being used by bloggers in Iran are #iranelection and #gr88, other hashtag ideas run the risk of diluting the conversation.
3. Keep you bull$hit filter up! Security forces are now setting up twitter accounts to spread disinformation by posing as Iranian protesters. Please don’t retweet impetuosly, try to confirm information with reliable sources before retweeting. The legitimate sources are not hard to find and follow.
4. Help cover the bloggers: change your twitter settings so that your location is TEHRAN and your time zone is GMT +3.30. Security forces are hunting for bloggers using location and timezone searches. If we all become ‘Iranians’ it becomes much harder to find them.
5. Don’t blow their cover! If you discover a genuine source, please don’t publicise their name or location on a website. These bloggers are in REAL danger. Spread the word discretely through your own networks but don’t signpost them to the security forces. People are dying there, for real, please keep that in mind.
6. Denial of Service attacks. If you don’t know what you are doing, stay out of this game. Only target those sites the legitimate Iranian bloggers are designating. Be aware that these attacks can have detrimental effects to the network the protesters are relying on. Keep monitoring their traffic to note when you should turn the taps on or off.
7. Do spread the (legitimate) word, it works! When the bloggers asked for twitter maintenance to be postponed using the #nomaintenance tag, it had the desired effect. As long as we spread good information, provide moral support to the protesters, and take our lead from the legitimate bloggers, we can make a constructive contribution.
Please remember that this is about the future of the Iranian people, while it might be exciting to get caught up in the flow of participating in a new meme, do not lose sight of what this is really about.”

Secure Connection Tools
“This site was made by people – ‘hacktivists’ – who are imbued with a set of skills related to Internet Technology, who saw what the Iranian government was doing to it’s people to suppress it’s messages for democracy and it’s hope for a free and fair electoral process. So, what I guess you could say is that computer nerds around the world saw what was unfolding and thought “We should help these people, we have the ability and the tools …why not help them?””

“Free Accounts for Iranian Citizens: We are offering free IPRental accounts to all Iranian citizens who want completely anonymous web browsing via untraceable USA IP addresses. Change Your IP Address Instantly….Constantly : If you have a need to access the web from different IP addresses, IPRental is your answer! Our revolutionary IP address rotation service allows you to connect to an ever-changing pool of fresh IPs for 100% anonymous web surfing, effective classifieds postings, creating ratings reviews and comments, accessing USA sites from overseas, or any other reason you may need to change or hide your IP address. IPRental is NOT JUST ANOTHER PROXY SERVICE which just gives you access to as many static IPs as they control, all of which are typically in a contiguous block and already blocked by the sites you wish to access. Instead IPRental gives you access to a vast ever-changing pool of non-contiguous residential USA IP addresses, allowing you to change your IP address whenever you like! To get your account email us at: iran [at] iprental [dot] com ”

From Austin Heap, who setup the instructions: “Please don’t run this on a machine that you’re worried about or is used for production sites; and take basic security precautions, ie: moving ftp off the default port, using a firewall package, etc.”

S.F. techie helps stir Iranian protests
BY Matthew B. Stannard / June 17, 2009

Little about Austin Heap’s first online venture, a site hosting free episodes of the cartoon “South Park,” suggested he would one day use his computer skills to challenge a government. But for the past few days, Heap, an IT director in San Francisco, has been on the virtual front lines of the crisis in Iran, helping people there protest the presidential election, which opponents of the incumbent regime maintain was fraudulent. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets since Saturday, organizing and sharing news on sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The Iranian government, in response, has blocked those sites, along with mobile phone service and other communications tools. But Iran has the highest number of bloggers per capita in the world, said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University, and they were undeterred. “People used Twitter, and people used their cell phones and used all kinds of mechanisms.”

Heap, 25, has never followed Iranian news much. But as reports of the election began dominating Twitter – but not, he believed, American mainstream news – Heap felt the same defiant frustration that led him in the past to butt heads with the music and movie industry associations by creating file-sharing sites. “I believe in free information,” he said Tuesday. “And I especially have no room for a tyrannical regime shutting up a whole population. I was 13 and able to take on a huge company like Comedy Central from my bedroom. With a computer, everybody has the power to do that.”

Proxy server a weapon
Heap’s weapon in the past few days was the proxy server, a computer configured to act as an intermediary between a computer user and the Internet. Such servers have many legitimate functions, such as speeding response times, and some illegitimate ones, such as helping spammers hide their identities. What interested Heap was the use of a proxy server to bypass censorship. Properly configured, a proxy server could identify Web surfers in Iran and route them to Twitter and other sites the government had restricted. People around the world were posting network addresses for such proxies on Twitter and elsewhere, Heap said, but there was no organization and the servers were unpredictable.

Simple first effort
Heap’s first effort was simple: a list of working proxy servers that he published Sunday afternoon. Almost immediately, those servers began to vanish. Perhaps spammers or pornographers, who constantly cruise the Internet looking for open proxies, were overwhelming the system, he thought.

It was only later that Iranians on Twitter warned Heap – and others publishing lists of open proxies – that by posting public lists they were exposing those proxies to attack. “I really didn’t expect their government to be this on top of it,” he said. “I know everybody knows about Twitter. But I didn’t think it was going to be to this extent.” So Heap took another tack, creating a password-protected list of proxy servers and giving only a handful of people access to each, reducing the possibility of a widespread attack. On his blog, he published simple instructions for configuring proxy servers.

Heap wasn’t the only techie setting up or promulgating proxies, but his easy-to-follow instructions quickly spread through Twitter and the blogosphere. Suddenly, people were sending him addresses for new proxy servers in Australia, Japan and Mexico. Traffic on his blog grew from a couple of dozen unique users a day to more than 100,000 in 24 hours. A woman in Canada asked him for help getting her Iranian family back online. On Twitter, a Tehran resident posted: “@austinheap Thank you for all you are doing to help my people. This support and kindness will never be forgotten.”

‘Almost made me cry’
“Most of the reactions from Iran have almost made me cry,” he said. “Having somebody tell me that their family thanks me – that’s the power of the Internet.” The last 24 hours have been less fun, Heap said. He’s had to figure out which of the professed Iranians contacting him he can trust and which might be seeking access to a proxy service to shut it down. Monday night, his site came under a denial-of-service attack – a flood of phantom file requests from the United Kingdom designed to bring his system to its knees. Tuesday morning he received his first e-mailed threats. Still, he thinks he’s doing the right thing. “If I can help them get their message out and help them tell the story and step back, that’s my job,” he said. “(But) my mom is terrified right now.”

By mid-Tuesday, Iran appeared to be blocking all non-encrypted Internet traffic, making the 1,600 new proxy-server addresses now in his in-box temporarily useless. But Heap was working with other professionals and companies seeking new ways to reconnect. “I haven’t been in the middle of an outpouring like this, ever. And it makes me incredibly proud of the IT community,” he said. While it’s not clear how much impact Heap’s efforts are having, history may look back on his tweets about proxy servers as a profound moment in political evolution, said Stanford’s Milani. “The regime probably doesn’t recognize it, but I can tell you, the marriage of civil disobedience with the social networking savvy is the death of despotism in these places,” he said. “If you combine these two, you have a very potent force.”





[RAND report by Paul de Armond in 2001 about 1999 WTO protest in Seattle]

“By the way, at the same press briefing, one reporter asked if the White House was considering beaming broadband capability into Iran via satellite so the opposition forces would be able to communicate with themselves and the outside world. Gibbs said he didn’t know such a thing was possible. (Is it?) But he said he would check on the technological feasibility and get back with an answer. That caused some head-scratching in the press room. If the United States could do that and was planning on doing so, wouldn’t this be one of those intelligence matters that Gibbs won’t discuss? But maybe some telecom entrepreneur or Silicon Valley whiz-kids can make this happen. The Google guys? The Twitter people? XM Radio? This is the sort of covert action that could be worth outsourcing—with the project manager actually taking full credit. Think of the endorsement possibilities: the Iranian Revolution…Brought to You by DIRECTV.”



Should We Spam Proxies to China? from the or-just-viagra-ads dept.
BY CmdrTaco / August 20 2007

“Frequent Slashdot Contributor Bennett Haselton is back with a story about fighting censorship with spam. He starts “Is it OK to send unsolicited e-mail to users in China, Iran, and other censored countries, telling them about new proxy sites for getting around Internet censorship? I hasten to add that I have NOT done this, am not planning on doing it and would not have any idea how to go about it anyway. Between the various companies that offer proxy services, I don’t know of anyone who is doing it (no, not even people who swore me to secrecy about it). But I think the question involves ethical issues that would not apply to most discussions of spam.”

It doesn’t seem that you could use conventional channels to advertise proxies to Chinese and Iranian users. If you bought ads on Google AdSense or a similar ad-serving network, China might threaten to block all ads served from that network unless they started screening out ads for anti-censorship services (especially in the case of Google, which seems to comply with most Chinese self-censorship demands). Then there’s the question of how to charge Chinese and Iranian users even small amounts for the services. It would not be a good idea to have the charges show up on their credit cards issued by Chinese banks. Paying small amounts with PayPal would be a little bit better since the charge would simply show up from “PayPal”, without revealing the recipient. And since all traffic to the PayPal site is encrypted over SSL, Chinese censors wouldn’t be able to detect or block users who were paying to circumvent the Great Firewall, unless they blocked all traffic to the PayPal site. But could PayPal be leaned on to provide the identities of Chinese users who were paying for circumvention services, under threat of having their site blocked otherwise? And the biggest impediment of all would be that once you start charging even $1 for a service, there’s a huge dropoff in people willing to sign up, even if they would have to spend much more than $1 worth of effort to find a free alternative somewhere else.

So, if circumvention services provide enough benefit to Chinese users, maybe spamming proxy sites would do more good than harm, and if the lack of freedom in the country means that you could not sell or advertise the services to Chinese users by conventional means, maybe that means spamming the proxy locations would be the only way to do this.”

Tiananmen Square and Technology
By David Houle / June 3, 2009

It was 20 years ago this week that the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square turned violent. After days of open demonstrations, the Chinese government had had enough and sent in the army. This led to one of the most iconic visual images of protest in recent decades: a single man standing right in front of four tanks, daring them to run him over.

The image is one that anyone over the age of 35 can remember as it flashed around the world, and represented the individual facing down superior force in a literal stand for freedom. It was this image that gave the communist Chinese government its first taste of international outrage as it was slowly moving toward a more open, capitalistic society. It was a government and a country unused to global scrutiny. While the crackdown on protestors continued, it was done quietly and out of camera range of foreigners and journalists. A single image had flashed around the world and had left an indelible mark on human consciousness.

One of the dynamics that led this single man to stand in front of the tanks was the impact of technology. When the government moved to end the demonstrations, it blocked all known communications channels, isolating the demonstrators. International TV and radio was jammed so the demonstrators had no idea whether there was support for them around the world. One thing the government missed was the new communications technology called the fax machine. Evidently in offices near Tiananmen Square and in universities there were fax machines. They were used by demonstrators to get the word out to the world. Much more importantly, the world responded, sending faxes by the hundreds, letting the demonstrators know that the whole world was watching. This is what gave the demonstrators strength. This is what emboldened the young man to stand in front of the tanks.

Fax technology was just a few years old in 1989. The fax machine first entered the office in the mid 1980s and didn’t make it into the home until the 1990s. It was this brand new technology of sending documents through phone lines that fueled the demonstrations. There were only a few million cell phones in the world in 1989, and certainly none available for the demonstrators at Tiananmen Square. So it was the fax machine using land lines that kept hope alive in Beijing.

What is striking is how much transformation in communications technology humanity has experienced in the 20 years since 1989. In 1995 there were 89 million cell phone subscribers in the world, in 2005 there were 2 billion, and today there are 4 billion! In 1995, the year the first commercial browser came to market, there were some 45 million people using the Internet. By 2005 that number had crossed 1 billion and there are close to 2 billion today. Cable and satellite TV was still in early stage growth in 1989, today they are global in reach. In 1989, the few laptops in the world were large, bulky and heavy and there weren’t very many of them.

Humanity is more globally connected than it has ever been. Terrorist attacks are caught on cell phone cameras and telecast to the world. Network news anchors speak live via videophone to correspondents anywhere in the world. Internet services such as Skype allow us all to cheaply communicate globally via video. Bandwidth expansion and data compression are such that a month’s worth of videos from YouTube equals what coursed through the Internet the entire year of 2000. We are constantly connected.

Communications technology may now provide us with more information than can possibly be absorbed and digested. The electronic feed trough of information is always on, and this can feel overwhelming. We move from the delight in access and availability to the desire to totally unplug. The good news for freedom and openness is that, with each technological step forward, barriers fall, dictators’ control lessens, ignorance decreases and people can take ever more informed actions.

The fax technology of 1989 provided the demonstrators with the knowledge that the whole world was watching, allowing one man to take an informed action that single-handedly stopped a phalanx of tanks. That was 20 years ago this week. How far we have traveled since then.

“Call these numbers to discuss the Iranian elections! Do NOT do from within Iran.”
President : 00989121196107 / 00989123274006
Esfandiyar Rahim-Masha’i – Vice President of Iran :
Council of Guardians : 00982166401012
Mojtaba Samareh-Hashemi – President’s trusted advisor and campaign manager : 00989121081443
Ali Akbar Javanfekr – Press advisor to the President : / 00989123279500 (telephone) / 00982164454028 (fax)
Gholamhoseyn Elham – Government spokesperson : 00989121486826

Amnesty International USA suggests the following:

write officials at:

Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic
Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei,
The Office of the Supreme Leader
Islamic Republic Street –
End of Shahid Keshvar Doust Street,
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran

Minister of the Interior
Sadegh Mahsouli
Dr Fatemi Avenue
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Fax: +98 21 8 896 203

Answers From Sealand HavenCo CTO Ryan Lackey / July 03 2000

“A few weeks ago, you asked questions of Ryan Lackey, CTO for HavenCo, a company dedicated to providing secure off-shore data hosting from Sealand, a principality off the coast of England. Ryan has lately survived dental emergencies, the loss of a laptop (it dropped into the North Sea — how many people can say that?) and other stresses, but he’s followed through with some interesting answers. He even has some ideas for how you can make a lot of money, and lists the tools you need to start your own data haven. Kudos to Ryan for taking the time to answer so thoroughly.

[by Jamie Zawinski] Q: Why do you need physical security at all?
Lots of people are asking questions about physical security, and how you’re going to repel missiles and commandos, but I’ve got the opposite question: why do you need physical security and a physical location at all? Would not the best way to protect your customers’ data be to wrap it in hard crypto and distribute it far and wide across the whole of the net, ensuring that there is not a single point of failure or a single physical installation that can be isolated? As we’ve seen again and again recently, the best protection against censorship and other legal attacks is massive redundancy and decentralization.

[Ryan Lackey] A: This actually brings up several issues, which I will address in turn.

1. Physical location vs. distributed presence
You seem to be suggesting a distributed data store, a la Eternity, by Ross Anderson. Basically, a federation of servers on the net, possibly hidden servers interfaced to the outside world through remailers (such as Blacknet) or ZKS Freedom. These servers would move data around among themselves, opaque to the outside world, and users would be able to store their data, manually or automatically, on as many servers as possible. There would presumably be some kind of payment system so users could anonymously pay for documents to be stored (as if you run the system for free, it will end up collapsing due to a flood of useless content; if you use a MRU/LRU scheme for your caches, script kiddies will just run scripts to keep their favorite documents in the cache, dropping real content out).

While this approach is interesting from a theoretical standpoint, there are no production-quality systems ready yet. Additionally, there are fundamental limits to distributed computation — latency, as you add nodes, or threat of compromise, if you have very few nodes. We’re going to be incorporating some distributed cache technology which should provide our datacenters with some of the benefits of freenet/eternity type systems. Our system will, however, have a small number of very secure nodes, such as our facilities on Sealand, in which customers can conduct trusted transactions — the intermediate results are guaranteed confidentiality and integrity in processing.

The distributed data serving systems are also not practical for any transaction oriented site, especially low-latency transaction oriented sites, at least without a small number of trusted nodes to do the processing. Due to security constraints, this means tamper-resistant hardware, and since this hardware is expensive, it needs to be purchased in limited quantity, and protected from theft/attack, meaning you want to put it in a small number of high security physical environments. Since it becomes a critical link in all of your transactions, you also need high quality bandwidth. These distributed hosting systems are certainly interesting, but don’t really meet all the neets of our customers. If we borrow 10% of the technology in building a secure distributed cache system, we’ll be able to offer 95% of the benefits, as well.

2. Secret physical location vs. single well-defended point
If you’re going to have a physical location, there’s no easy way to distribute to a very large number of physical locations; you have a base cost per site, and your security is incredibly low until you spend a substantial multiple of that. There are definite economies of scale in running larger datacenters. Keeping physical locations secret is difficult. Keeping active physical sites, with actual servers connected to the net, secret, while still having decent pingtimes and large pipes, is almost impossible. You would need to go with hidden fiber cables laid through some kind of territory in which you could destroy anyone or anything looking for them, and your physical site would need to have the same density as the surrounding area, as well as no magnetic anomaly, or unusual power consumption, or whatever. Or, you could communicate by non-DFable HF SS radio, but that would severely limit your bitrates. I’d say this is basically hopeless.

3. How much of our security is HavenCo, vs. Sealand
A fair bit of the security on Sealand is related to protecting the Principality of Sealand from the kind of takeover which was attempted in 1978, rather than strictly necessary for HavenCo itself. HavenCo’s security is primarily due to tamper-resistant hardware and cryptography, not the site security of Sealand

Silicon Valley should step up, help Iranians

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

At Capitol, slavery’s story turns full circle
BY Michael Kranish  /  December 28, 2008

Washington – When Barack Obama takes the oath of office at the US
Capitol, the first African-American to become president will be
standing amid stonework laid by slaves more than two centuries ago. He
will appear before a crowd massed on the Mall, where slaves were once
held in pens, ready for auction. He will end his inauguration route at
the White House, where the foundations were laid by slaves, and where
eight presidents held blacks as their human property.

At nearly every turn of Obama’s march to history, the thread that
deeply intertwines the founding of the nation with its great stain,
slavery, will be evident. Yet for all the attention on Obama’s racial
breakthrough, the full story of slavery in the nation’s capital
remains beneath the surface.

While the Lincoln Memorial on the far end of the Mall draws attention
to the fight to end slavery, there is no memorial at the spot near the
Capitol where slaves were once kept and sold in a three-story building
called the Yellow House. “Many people come down to the National Mall
and never realize that they are walking on the site of the slave
markets,” said Jesse J. Holland, author of the recent book, “Black Men
Built the Capitol.” Now, with Obama’s inauguration, historians are
hoping that the role of slaves in the history of building Washington
will become more widely recognized.

Obama is the son of a black African father and a white Kansan mother,
while his wife, Michelle, has a direct connection to America’s history
of enslavement, as Obama noted during the presidential campaign,
saying the next first lady “carries within her the blood of slaves and
slave owners.” Her great-great grandfather, on her father’s side, was
born into slavery and is believed to have lived in a small cabin at a
coastal South Carolina rice plantation.

Thus, a story that begins with slavery comes full circle with the
arrival of the Obamas. “It is an affirmation of the whole democratic
ideal in American history,” said historian William Seale, author of
“The President’s House.”

It was in the early 1790s that the government of the United States,
founded on the notion that “all men are created equal,” began to pay
slaveholders for the work of their slaves on both the Capitol and the
White House. “Keep the yearly hirelings at work from sunrise to sunset
– particularly the Negroes,” the commission that oversaw construction
of the Capitol instructed a supervisor, according to documents in a
recently compiled congressional report. From 1795 to 1801, there were
385 payments for what was called “Negro hire,” referring to the hiring
of slaves from their masters to help build the Capitol.

From quarrying sandstone to sawing giant logs, the slaves gradually
shaped the Capitol’s foundation. While the building has been
reconstructed and expanded many times over the years, the stonework
laid by slave labor can still be seen at the west elevation of the old
North Wing, near where Obama will take the oath of office. Relatively
little is known about the slaves who helped build the Capitol, but pay
records do provide some of their names, including Gerrard, who was
leased for $13, and Will, who was leased for $12.91. One record notes
that “Caleb Varnal’s Negro Sawyer” was leased for $20.33 on July 6,
1795. The documents don’t specify the duration of the slaves’ service.

Overlooking the inaugural scene will be the Statue of Freedom, the
figure that stands grandly atop the Capitol dome. Yet, as documented
in a congressional report, it was a slave named Phillip Reid who
played a crucial role in turning a plaster cast into the statue. It is
“one of the great ironies in the Capitol’s history,” the report says,
that the statue was made possible by “a workman helping to cast a
noble allegorical representation of American freedom when he himself
was not free.” Reid, who had been purchased for $1,200, later did
become free and may have seen the statue hoisted atop the dome.

Similarly, the President’s House, as the White House was first known,
was constructed with significant help from slave labor, as well as
free blacks and whites. Slaves lived in huts amid a cacophony of brick
kilns and sawing operations, probably on the site of what is now
Lafayette Park. One slave, George, was owned by James Claggett and
leased to the federal government for five months, according to a pay
stub recently put on display by the National Archives. The document,
in elegant script, says that “the commissioners of the Federal
District” paid Claggett “for hire of Negro George,” for “working at
the President’s House.”

The construction of the President’s House began in 1792, with slaves
often toiling “seven days a week during the high construction summer
months alongside white workers and artisans,” according to a history
compiled by the White House Historical Association. An estimated 120
slaves helped dig the foundation of the White House and brought
stonework to the site. Some of the stonework can still be seen in the
exterior of the original, central portion of the building.

The first president to move into the mansion, John Adams of
Massachusetts, was antislavery. But his successor, Thomas Jefferson,
at various times brought a number of slaves to live with him in the
White House. The other presidents who owned slaves while living in the
White House were James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, John
Tyler, William Henry Harrison, James Polk, and Zachary Taylor,
according to the historian Seale.

Part of the history of slaves who lived in the White House is
preserved in the thin but remarkable memoir of Paul Jennings, who was
owned by Madison and published a volume titled, “A Colored Man’s
Reminiscences of James Madison.” “When Mr. Madison was chosen
President, we came on and moved into the White House,” Jennings wrote.
“The east room was not finished, and Pennsylvania Avenue was not
paved, but was always in an awful condition from either mud or dust.
The city was a dreary place.”

Jennings recalled how he set up a table at the White House with “ale,
cider, and wine, and placed them in the coolers,” when a free black
raced up and announced that British invaders were on their way into
the city. “Clear out, clear out!” the man yelled. The Madison family
and Jennings fled just before the arrival of the British, who “ate up
the very dinner, and drank the wines, &c., that I had prepared for the
President’s party,” Jennings wrote.

After Madison died, Jennings was able to buy his freedom from Dolley
Madison, who later became relatively destitute for a time. Jennings,
hearing of the plight of Mrs. Madison, wrote that he “occasionally
gave her small sums from own pocket, though I had years before bought
my freedom of her.”

Now, exactly two centuries after Madison became president and brought
slaves with him to the White House, Barack and Michelle Obama will
move into the home.

A previous president from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, signed the
Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves. Asked to explain his
decision, Lincoln sat in his White House office, in what is now known
as the Lincoln Bedroom, and took out a piece of Executive Mansion
stationary. “If slavery is not wrong,” Lincoln wrote, “nothing is

Insights on Slavery, the Capitol, and Obama’s Inauguration  /
January 16, 2009

JESSE J. HOLLAND: “My name is Jesse J. Holland. I wrote the book
“Black Men Built The Capitol: Discovering African-American History in
and Around Washington, D.C.” One of the things that I found was that
actual African-American slaves were used in the construction of the
U.S. Capitol and the White House. Out of just about the 600 or so
people who worked on the Capitol, maybe about 400 were African-
American slaves.

So, they would bring in all these slaves from these plantations around
Washington, D.C. And the area where Barack Obama is going to take his
oath of office, right in front of that, there will be hundreds of
thousands of people sitting in chairs. That area used to be a tent
city for these slaves and workers. On Inauguration Day, that area will
be filled with dignitaries. It will be filled with politicians. But,
on that land where they’re sitting, African-American slaves actually
used to live while they worked on the Capitol.

The Statue of Freedom was created by an American art student named
Thomas Crawford. He actually won the competition to decide which
statue would crown the Capitol. He put together a statue of a woman.
And, on top of the statue, he put a liberty cap, which is a small hat.

The person in charge of the Capitol construction vetoed the whole
project. The person in charge was Jefferson Davis. And, when he saw
the picture of the Statue of Freedom, he noticed the cap that was on
top of the statue. And, being a student of Roman history, Jefferson
Davis knew that the only people in Roman history who wore liberty caps
were freed slaves.

Well, Jefferson Davis, who goes on to be the president of the
Confederacy, says, there’s no way he’s going to allow them to put a
statue of a freed slave on top of the Capitol. So, he tells Thomas
Crawford that, you either change the statue, or we’re going the
commission to someone else.

Now, like I said, Crawford was an art student. Art students always
need money. So, instead of changing the statue, what Thomas Crawford
did was, he took the liberty cap off, and he put an American eagle
helmet on. So, most people look at the Statue of Freedom now and they
think, this is the statue of an American Indian on top of the Capitol.
No, it’s not. It’s actually a statue of a freed slave with an American
eagle helmet on top.

D.C. had ‘robust’ slave trade
Slaves also helped construct the White House from the very beginning.
Pierre L’Enfant, the person who designed Washington, D.C., contracted
with slave owners to use their slaves to dig the foundation of the
White House. James Hoban, the architect of the White House, actually
brought some of his own personal slaves up to Washington, D.C., from
South Carolina to work on the White House.

What a lot of people don’t know about the National Mall, Capitol,
Supreme Court area is that African-American slaves were held in
bondage in slave jails on some of these sites. Here, on the site of
the Supreme Court, was a building that was called the Old Brick
Capitol. That’s the building that Congress used after the Capitol was
burned in the war of 1812.

Well, the slave market was so robust in the District of Columbia that
slave owners ran out of space to hold their slaves. So, they would
rent public jail space to use for storage for African-American slaves.
And one of the places they did this was here, at the Old Brick
Capitol, on the site of where the Supreme Court is right now. That
also happened on the National Mall in places like Robey’s Tavern,
which sits in between the Department of Education and the Smithsonian
Air & Space Museum is today, and also on the site of the National

White House used slave labor
There were large numbers of slaves in Washington, D.C., simply because
it was such a hub for travel. And, especially with Virginia being
right across the river, Washington, D.C. and the National Mall became
a natural point for people to bring slaves for sale. But very few
people took the time to actually record what the day-to-day lives of
African-American slaves were in Washington, D.C.

Some of the slaves who worked in the White House, we know that they
got to dress in fine clothes. We know that they were taught French
cuisine. But we also know that they must have not loved their life,
because we have records of several slaves who attempted to escape from
the work areas at the Capitol and at the White House.

Many unaware of D.C. slave history
They were still enslaved, and they still wanted to be free. That
history, the history of slavery in Washington, D.C., isn’t always
talked about. That’s one of the things that I hope that people can
take away from my book. They can look at it and say, this is a part of
that history that we don’t know, that we should actually take time to
go back and look at.

It closes a circle in American history to have an African-American
taking the oath of office, and becoming the most powerful person in
the United States, and yet still live in a building that was built by
some of the least powerful people in the United States, African-
American slaves. It shows the progress that we have made as a

Pennsylvania Avenue paved with pain, progress
BY Faye Fiore  /  January 19, 2009

When Barack Obama takes his triumphant ride along Pennsylvania
Avenue Tuesday, he will retrace the path of Ku Klux Klan marches and
roll past the ghosts of hotels and movie theaters that used to turn
away people like him.

This historic stretch, book-ended by the Capitol on one end and the
White House on the other, has witnessed many of the milestones that
made an Obama presidency possible. The Emancipation Proclamation and
the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were signed here. But it’s doubtful that
even a Harvard-educated wonder can get his arms around the scope of
the civil-rights drama that has played out on this 1.2-mile slice of
real estate.

There are places more famous for their scars — Selma, Birmingham —
but none captures the sweep of the story the way Pennsylvania Avenue
does, where laws were passed to enslave people and laws were passed to
free them, and at least a dozen of Obama’s predecessors would sooner
have considered him a piece of property than a peer.

Nearly every president has made this ceremonial trek since Thomas
Jefferson did it on horseback. But never has the setting been as
connected to the nation’s shame as much as its glory. “That
juxtaposition is the way I always think of Pennsylvania Avenue — a
place of great possibility and of great evil,” said Lonnie Bunch,
director of the National Museum of African American History and
Culture. “It is a mirror of change in America.”

Obama and his family will ride up the promenade in an armored 2009
black Cadillac limo after he takes the oath of office on Capitol steps
built by slaves. At 3rd Street, the motorcade will pass what used to
be the St. Charles Hotel, a popular stop in the early 1800s where
slaves were kept in underground cells while their owners enjoyed the
luxuries upstairs; reimbursement was guaranteed if any escaped. “That
hotel became a favorite of black patrons after the Civil War,” said
Charles Cobb, an author and professor of Africana studies at Brown

At 4th Street, a block from the hotel that made sure no slave escaped,
the new president will pass what used to be the American Colonization
Society Hall, founded in 1816 to return emancipated blacks to Africa,
an effort fueled in part by whites who believed there was no place in
America for a free black community.

Tension between races was inborn for a democracy founded on a
contradiction — 12 of the early presidents were slave holders, eight
while in the White House. From the start, the heart of the nation’s
capital — a broad avenue designed by Pierre L’Enfant that was a dusty
mess until it became the town’s first paved street — was a place of
mixed signals. Some freed blacks operated successful businesses while
their brethren continued to be sold off in chains.

While in the White House, President Jackson kept 150 house and field
slaves back on his Tennessee farm. It was under his nose one night in
1835, at 6th and Pennsylvania, that a white mob ransacked the
Epicurean Eating House and tried to lynch its black owner, a man named
Beverly Snow.

Today, just a few doors down, an elegant pink building with twin
spires stands as a monument to the civil-rights struggle: The National
Council of Negro Women headquarters, purchased with the help of Oprah
Winfrey six years ago, is the only black-owned property on this famous

Inside, Dorothy Height, 96, a lifelong activist and president emeritus
of the civil-rights advocacy group, keeps an office. “No inaugurated
president will leave the Capitol to go to his house without passing
our house,” she likes to say. Known for her trademark hats — one day
last week ti was dusty blue with a big rhinestone-studded bow — she
was preparing to attend a swearing-in ceremony she did not think she
would live to see.

“Barack Obama presents a strong symbol of what we have achieved under
the hardest conditions,” said Height, who won a scholarship to Barnard
College as a young woman but was denied admission because of her skin
color. The symbolism is even bolder considering the building is steps
from 7th and Pennsylvania, where a teeming market of slaves, penned up
in filth and misery awaiting sale, was a lucrative enterprise.

Obama will be halfway to the White House when he passes it. There is
little to mark that it even existed. But, according to Bunch, a
visiting British writer once noted that the business going on in the
Capitol was drowned out by the anguished wails of families being
separated and sold. “We forget, but slavery was so embedded into the
American system, it shouldn’t be a surprise that slaves were traded
within the shadow of the Capitol,” Bunch explained.

Slavery was outlawed by 1865, but the inequality persisted. Blacks
were barred from jobs, hotel rooms, toilets and restaurant counters.
Pennsylvania Avenue led the nation in a dance: two steps forward and
one step back. Franklin Roosevelt opened the war-industry jobs to
blacks after he was threatened with a massive march on Washington.
Woodrow Wilson segregated the federal workplace to appease his
offended wife.

And somewhere along this street, a sailor named Sam Harmon, stationed
in Virginia during World War II, was denied admittance to a movie
theater when the clerk saw the hand that reached for the ticket was
black. He walked the streets that night in tears. “As you move into
the ’50s and ’60s, Pennsylvania Avenue is reflective of a segregated
America,” Cobb said. “Black people cooked in the restaurants that
served the capital but couldn’t eat in them.”

For nearly 100 years after slavery was outlawed, Pennsylvania Avenue
did little to advance justice. Then in 1964, President Johnson signed
the landmark Civil Rights Act outlawing discrimination in hotels,
restaurants and department stores. Martin Luther King Jr. stood over
his shoulder at the White House. Four years later, smoke could be seen
rising from Pennsylvania at 7th Street when riots broke out as word
reached black neighborhoods north of downtown that King had been

At 10th Street, Obama will pass within a block of Ford’s Theater,
where Lincoln was shot by actor and Confederate sympathizer John
Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865. As if in a flurry to honor his legacy,
Congress would adopt the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments outlawing
slavery, making former slaves citizens and giving black men the right
to vote. One result: Black businessman James Wormley opened the
capital’s first integrated hotel at 15th and Pennsylvania, a block
from the White House.

Obama’s ceremonial journey will end at the nation’s most famous
address — 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. For decades, the windows offered a
view of slaves servicing the elegant homes on Lafayette Square. Today,
in that same spot, record crowds will gather — braving confounding
security, epic bathroom lines and biting cold — to watch Pennsylvania
Avenue dance another step forward.


Baghdad, Iraq (CNN)  — Their faces and darker skins make them look
different. They are routinely called “slave” by the majority, whatever
their profession. But Iraq’s black population hopes that Barack
Obama’s rise to the White House will mark a turning point for
minorities not just in the United States, but also in their country.

Jalal Thiyab Thijeel, general secretary of the “Movement of Free
Iraqis,” followed every detail of Obama’s election campaign.
“Inspiring,” he calls it. Inspiring politically, and personally. Like
Obama, Thijeel has family roots in Africa.

“We told our people, Inshalla, God willing, Obama is going to win, and
if he wins, it will be a victory for all black people in the world,”
he recalls. “We’re going to make him a model to follow. Even our old
women were praying for him to win.”

When news broke that Obama had won the election, it was early in the
morning of November 5 in Basra — but Thijeel excitedly called a
fellow member of his political party.

It was a moment, he tells me as we talk on a street in Baghdad, that
he’ll never forget. “Now we, the dark-skinned people, feel even closer
to the American people because Obama is one of us.”

Thijeel’s organization estimates there are approximately 2 million
black Iraqis. The country’s total population is more than 28 million,
most of them ethnic Arabs. It’s impossible to verify Thijeel’s
estimate, since the government does not keep statistics on race, but
there is no denying there are many black Iraqis in the southern city
of Basra.

Their history goes back 1,000 years to the time when Africans were
brought as slaves to the south of Iraq to drain marshes and build

Many Iraqis still call blacks “abed,” an Arabic word that means
“slave.” Thijeel grimaces when he pronounces it. It’s demeaning, he
says, and he wants the government to forbid its use. Many white Iraqis
claim the word isn’t meant to offend, but Thijeel says they have no
idea how hurtful it is. “I never want my son to go through this,” he

He also wants his son — and his daughters — to have access to good
jobs, something that is not the case now, he says. In Basra, many
black Iraqis have menial jobs. Although no one can point to any
official discrimination, there are no black members of the Iraqi

The Movement of Free Iraqis was founded two years ago and on January
31 it will run the first slate of black candidates in Iraq’s modern

Thijeel hands me the party’s documents that spell out its demands.
Foremost is that the government recognize blacks as an official
minority in Iraq. This is key, because power in Iraq is apportioned
along ethnic, religious and even tribal lines. The party also wants an
apology for slavery, although it is not asking for financial
reparations. The movement also wants laws to combat racial

The party has found some nonblack political allies. Awad Al-Abdan of
the National Dialogue Front says, “There’s been social oppression for
a long time. We have a tribal-based society and, according to
traditions and customs, the black man is considered to have lower

Some white Iraqis say that founding a political party on racial lines
is divisive, especially when Iraqis of different communities need to
pull together. But Thijeel, quoting Barack Obama, says it’s time for
change. Although he’s speaking in Arabic, he uses the English word

“There’s a change in international politics,” he tells me. “Obama won,
and not that long ago, in his country, black people were marginalized,
so this event has shattered all barriers.”




‘Coltan is the colloquial African name for columbite-tantalite, a
metallic ore from which is extracted the elements niobium and
tantalum. Tantalum from coltan is used in consumer electronics
products such as cell phones, DVD players, and computers. Export of
coltan from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to European
and American markets has been cited by experts as helping to finance
the present-day conflict in the Congo, with one aid agency asserting
that “much of the finance sustaining the civil wars in Africa,
especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is directly
connected to Coltan profits.”’



Inside Africa’s PlayStation War
BY John Lasker / 08 July 2008

In the rugged volcanic mountains of the Congo the conflict known as
Africa’s World War continues to smolder after ten grueling years. The
conflict earned its name because at the height of the war eight
African nations and over 25 militias were in the combatant mix. But
more recently the conflict was given another name: The PlayStation
War. The name came about because of a black metallic ore called
coltan. Extensive evidence shows that during the war hundreds of
millions of dollars worth of coltan was stolen from the Democratic
Republic of Congo (DRC). The UN and several NGOs claim some of the
most active thieves were the Rwandan military, several militias
supported by the Rwandan government, and also a number of western-
based mining companies, metal brokers, and metal processors that had
allegedly partnered with these Rwandan factions.

After it is refined, coltan becomes a bluish-gray powder called
tantalum, which is defined as a transition metal. For the most part,
tantalum has one significant use: to satisfy the West’s insatiable
appetite for personal technology. Tantalum is used to make cell
phones, laptops and other electronics made, for example, by SONY, a
multi-billion dollar multinational based in Japan that manufactures
the iconic PlayStation, a video game console. And while allegations of
plundering coltan from a nation in desperate need of revenue seem bad
enough, the UN also discovered that Rwandan troops and rebels were
using prisoners-of-war and children to mine for the “black gold.”

“Kids in Congo were being sent down mines to die so that kids in
Europe and America could kill imaginary aliens in their living rooms,”
said British politician Oona King, who was a Member of Parliament from
1997 to 2005. Most of the fighting from Africa’s World War ended in
2003 following a peace accord. But reports of troop tension,
instability and rampant sexual violence against women continue to
emerge from where the war was at its most intense: the eastern portion
of the DRC, near the city of Goma and in the DRC province of North
Kivu. This is a region where millions of Congolese live among active
volcanoes and endangered Mountain Gorillas.

But even if many have put down their guns, a London-based non-
government office called Rights and Accountability in Development
(RAID) continues to fight its own battle against scores of Western-
based mining companies that continued to work in the DRC, or purchase
minerals and metals allegedly stolen from the DRC, as the war raged
on. These companies, such as Eagle Wings Resources International of
Ohio, Cabot Corporation of Boston, Mass., and Chemie Pharmacie Holland
of the Netherlands, were charged with having stolen millions of
dollars worth of resources out of the DRC, or made millions processing
stolen resources from the DRC, namely coltan.

When the war started in 1998, the UN and others believed that one area
of the conflict was the product of tribal and ethnic rivalries. The
Rwandan government, for instance, told the world they invaded the DRC,
their neighbor to the West, to go after those who committed atrocities
during the 1994 genocide that killed over 800,000 people. Yet,
according to the UN, the Rwandans were shedding blood for something
far cheaper; they were shooting it out for the mines that pockmarked
the volcanic mountains of DRC’s eastern regions. These mines contained
deposits of cobalt, uranium, gold and, of course, coltan.

A UN Panel of Experts investigation would expose the resource war in
2001, releasing several reports entitled “The Illegal Exploitation of
Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the DRC”. The reports
made disturbing charges against scores of multinational mining
companies, like Eagle Wings Resources International and Chemie
Pharmacie Holland. The UN alleged the mining companies directly and
indirectly fueled the war, paralyzing the DRC government, and using
the conflict to keep the coltan flowing cheaply out of the Congo. Some
companies were also accused by the UN of aligning with elements of the
warring parties.

Fast forward to 2008, and RAID, which is funded by the Queen Elizabeth
House, remains determined to convince several of the world’s most
powerful governments to investigate the UN’s allegations. Stealing
natural resources amidst the chaos of a war violates guidelines set-
forth by the Organization for Economic Co-operation, which administers
these ethical standards endorsed by over 30 nations, says RAID. The
International Criminal Court has also started its own investigation,
and RAID is calling on all named governments to cooperate with the

But there’s one major problem: nearly all of the governments,
including the US State Department, have essentially brushed RAID off.
They’re refusing to initiate an investigation despite the assurance,
for example, of Richard S. Williamson, who was US Ambassador to the UN
at the time. He told the UN Security Council “the United States
government will look into the allegations against these companies and
take appropriate measures [and] not turn a blind eye to these

Not long after the report from the UN Panel of Experts went public,
the UN exonerated all US companies. RAID says diplomatic pressure from
the US and other governments made the UN cave. “The US government
was one of the most determined to quash the UN Panel’s reports but this
is also true of Canada, the UK and Belgium,” says Tricia Feeney,
executive director of RAID. “All (US companies) were exonerated. The
UN Panel said the cases had been resolved.”

Feeney says just because the UN laid down, doesn’t mean the companies
are innocent. “Essentially the UN was forced to drop the case but as
they explained (in their reports), ‘resolved’ didn’t mean that the
initial allegations were unsubstantiated,” she says. “The (US)
companies have tried to hide behind the technicality of ‘resolved’ but
the UN itself made clear that this classification didn’t mean that the
companies had not behaved in the way described in the UN reports.”

The UN said it stands by the report, but added it is up to the
governments to make their own investigation and prosecute if need be.
RAID says the UN has cowered because if Western-based mining
companies are prosecuted out of Africa, China may step in. It is widely
known the West grows more concerned by the day as China continues to
sign more and more resource concessions with African nations, such as
Sudan and Nigeria.

In interviews over the phone, several of the named companies insisted
they were not involved with any wrongdoing in the Congo. The CEO of
Eagle Wings Resources International, for instance, who did not offer
his name for publication, swore “on the Bible” he was unaware his
company may have been acting unethical. Both a mining company and
coltan broker, Eagle Wings was one of a handful of US companies
accused of using child labor in one of their mines in eastern DRC.
Eagle Wings was also an alleged business partners with an “elite
network” of Rwandan military officers, politicos and businessmen.
Accusations of child labor have bankrupted Eagle Wings, said the CEO.
After finding out his company had been charged by the UN, his
customers abandoned him.

But even if the mining companies take the brunt of the blame from RAID
and the UN, some experts say there’s a whole other dynamic when it
comes to blame for the “The PlayStation War”. When the war began in
1998, the race for every adult in the West to have a cell phone was
well past the starting line. A computer in every household was also
becoming a reality. And by the end of 2000, millions of Americans were
still waiting for a PlayStation 2, a second-generation video game
console, which SONY says was having manufacturing issues.

To fulfill the personal-tech desires of hundreds of millions of
consumers, SONY and other manufacturers needed electric capacitors.
These capacitors were made with tantalum, which is able to withstand
extreme heat. So as multiple technological revolutions occurred in
unison at the end of the 1990s, the worldwide demand for tantalum
began to boil. Like today’s demand for oil, this fever puts tremendous
stress on tantalum’s supply chain. From the beginning of 1999 to the
beginning of 2001, the world price of tantalum went from US $49.00 a
pound to $275.00 a pound. At the same time, the demand and price of
coltan also began skyrocketing; coltan is needed to make tantalum.

By 1999, the Rwandan army and several closely linked militias had
swarmed over the hills of eastern DRC and took many coltan mines by
force, said the UN. The Rwandan army that year would eventually make
at least $250 million by selling DRC coltan with the help of mining
companies and metal brokers. The estimates of the war’s dead range
from hundreds of thousands to several million. A couple million
Congolese are believed to have been displaced.

American-based Kemet, the world’s largest maker of tantalum capacitors
would eventually swear off coltan from the Congo because of human
rights violations, making suppliers certify origins. “But it may be a
case of too little, too late,” stated the UN Panel of Experts. “Much
of the coltan illegally stolen from Congo is already in laptops, cell
phones and electronics all over the world.”

David Barouski, a researcher and journalist from Wisconsin, says it is
certain that the coltan from this conflict is also in SONY video game
consoles across the world. “SONY’s PlayStation 2 launch (spring of
2000) was a big part of the huge increase in demand for coltan that
began in early 1999,” said Barouski, who has witnessed the chaos of
eastern DRC firsthand. “SONY and other companies like it, have the
benefit of plausible deniability,” he said, “because the coltan ore
trades hands so many times from when it is mined to when SONY gets a
processed product, that a company often has no idea where the original
coltan ore came from, and frankly don’t care to know.” He adds, “But
statistical analysis shows it to be nearly inconceivable that SONY
made all its PlayStations without using Congolese coltan.”

SONY still uses tantalum in some of its parts, Satoshi Fukuoka, a
spokesperson SONY from Japan, said in an e-mail. He said they are
satisfied with responses from suppliers the tantalum they use is not
“illegally mined Congo coltan”. This also goes for past purchases of
tantalum parts as well, he said, but he did not specify how far back
they began demanding parts without Congo coltan. Fukuoka said the
PlayStation 2, PSP and PlayStation 3, “are manufactured mostly from
independent parts and components that manufacturers procured

“The material suppliers source their original material from multiple
mines in various countries. It is therefore hard for us to know what
the supply chain mix is,” he said. “I am happy to state to you that to
the best of our knowledge, (SONY) is not using the material about
which you have expressed concern.” Like the war in the Congo itself,
the price of coltan has since cooled and is being priced at levels
pre-1999, as the demand for the “black gold” declines. Nevertheless,
experts such as Barouski say another Congo resource will take its
place as the next “hot commodity”, and the emergence of another
African resource war will not be far behind.



Blood on Your Phone? Unlikely It’s ‘Conflict Coltan’
Tales of coltan—tantalum ore—derived from exploitation in the Congo
seem mythical. But only a new tracking test could prove it
BY Jack Ewing / November 17, 2008

It sounded like a compelling story. During a visit to South Africa in
October, I saw a news report in which a refugee from the Democratic
Republic of the Congo described in wrenching terms how demand for a
metal used in consumer electronics is fueling a new outbreak of
bloodshed in the mineral-rich region.

A bit of searching on Google supported the notion that mobile-phone
users are helping create a humanitarian catastrophe because they make
a market for illegally mined coltan ore from the war zone in eastern
Congo. “Is there blood on your mobile phone?” asked Danish relief
group DanChurchAid on a Web page that dates back to 2006 but is still
available. But when I began investigating, the truth turned out to be
more nuanced—providing a lesson in how difficult it can be to know
whether your buying habits are socially responsible. In fact, the
story demonstrates how difficult it is for companies to be socially
responsible even if they try.

A Tantalum Shortage in 2000
The mineral in question is known as coltan, which is actually African
slang for ore that contains tantalum, a metal prized for electronics
use because of its resistance to corrosion and heat. In fact, mobile
phones do contain tantalum, as do a host of other products, including
MP3 players, gaming consoles, and even aircraft engines. A typical
Nokia handset has a tantalum capacitor, a component that temporarily
stores electrical charges, according to the Finnish handset maker.

The electronics industry is clearly sensitive to charges that it uses
“conflict coltan,” which was a big issue several years ago. In 2000,
during an earlier round of fighting in the Congo that killed millions
of people, fears of a global tantalum shortage—not related to the
conflict—pushed the price of the refined product to as high as $300
per pound, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. That’s at least
four times the current price. Tantalum became one of a host of minerals
—including gold, tin, and cobalt—exploited by various factions in the
Congo to purchase weapons or enrich themselves.

If you live in a lawless corner of the Congo, coltan might seem like
an attractive business, at least compared to subsistence farming. The
ore lends itself to so-called artisanal mining: Local people can dig
it up and concentrate it using homemade sluices, similar to how
California pioneers panned for gold. Guerilla factions in the Congo,
as well as their government backers in countries such as Rwanda or
Uganda, make money by controlling the coltan mines directly or by
extracting payoffs from small-scale miners and dealers.

Not So Much Congolese Tantalum
The coltan trade was even lucrative enough to attract the
international arms mafia. According to a 2003 U.N. report, one coltan
smuggler was Viktor Bout, a notorious former KGB agent now being held
in a Thai jail as he fights extradition to the U.S. on charges he
supplied weapons to terrorist groups. Bout used a fleet of cargo
planes to haul loads of illegally mined coltan and other minerals from
the Congo to foreign buyers, according to the U.N. “There are profits
to be made because it can be moved relatively easily,” says Jason
Burkitt, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers in London who follows the
mining industry. “It lends itself to entrepreneurial types, whether
they’re local business people or warlords.”

But does that mean your mobile phone is helping General Laurent
Nkunda— whose ethnic Tutsi militia recently overran swaths of eastern
Congo— buy AK-47s and land mines? That would be a stretch. As it
happens, the Congo is not a major source of tantalum. Most comes
from Australia, followed by Canada and such African countries as
Ethiopia and Mozambique. The U.S. Geological Survey groups the
Congo under “other” tantalum sources that together account for just
2% of world production. Recycled tantalum also is available. Even
tantalum from the Congo isn’t necessarily tainted: Foreign and
domestic companies mine it legally in some areas, providing an
important source of livelihood.

In addition, the earlier tantalum controversy inspired companies to
take steps to ensure their metal comes from legitimate sources. German
metals company H.C. Starck, which buys ore and refines it into
tantalum powder for industrial use, says it gets most of its raw
material from Australia and none from Africa.

Impossible to Be Certain
Nokia says it requires component suppliers to certify that none of
their tantalum comes from the Congo and it periodically checks
compliance. In any case, Nokia says that the mobile-phone industry
accounts for 2% of total tantalum demand and that each mobile phone
contains only 40 milligrams of the stuff.

The odds that your phone contains conflict coltan are pretty long. But
activists say the point is that even the relatively small amounts of
coltan coming from the Congo are providing revenue for the warring
factions. “I agree that a small percentage of coltan is coming from
the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but this small percentage is
very important to the DRC,” says Esther de Haan, a researcher at Dutch
activist group makeITfair, who notes that unsafe working conditions
are also a huge concern. “Companies are responsible for going down the
supply chain and finding out where [their supply] is coming from.”

London-based humanitarian group Global Witness has also revived the
conflict coltan issue, on Nov. 14 calling on companies to ensure they
are not buying coltan or other minerals such as tin ore or gold from
the North and South Tivu regions of the Congo, where the fighting is
taking place. But it is nearly impossible for companies to say with
absolute certainty that no tantalum of dubious origin makes it into
the supply chain. Shady operators have an incentive to buy black
market ore, which is cheaper because it avoids the costly customs-
clearance process that legitimate importers must undergo. Most
developed countries have strict controls. But some Chinese ports wave
shipments through, industry sources say. Once the ore has been refined
to nonradioactive tantalum powder, it’s impossible to trace.

Tracking Coltan Fingerprints
There may be a new way to keep illegally mined coltan and other
valuable metals off the market. Frank Melcher, a scientist at
Germany’s Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources in
Hanover, leads a team that has devised a way to identify where ore
comes from. Every coltan mine has its own geological history and
composition. Melcher’s team has already catalogued 600 unique coltan
“fingerprints,” and can tell precisely where ore comes from, even when
batches from different locations are mixed together.

With backing from the German government, Melcher is pushing to set up
a system in which legitimate mines would register their coltan
fingerprints. An independent organization would spot-check ore and
reject any that isn’t in the approved database. “Our goal is to
establish a certified trading chain between traders and consumers,”
Melcher says. Such a system could also be used to ensure that mines
provide decent working conditions and meet environmental standards.
The problem is that the testing procedure is costly and time-
consuming. But Melcher sounds optimistic that companies that use
components containing tantalum will support his plan. “They don’t want
to be in the news again,” he says.

Frank Melcher
email : F.Melcher [at] bgr [dot] de

Congo, Democratic Republic: Cell phones, forest destruction and death

Could anyone imagine that cell phones are tainted with the blood of
3.2 million deaths since 1998? Also, that the same thing happens with
some children’s video games? And that mega-technologies contribute to
forest depredation and spoliation of the rich natural resources of
paradoxically impoverished peoples?

In the case of these new high techs, it is Coltan that is at stake —
the minerals columbium and tantalite, or Coltan for short. Tantalite
is a rare, hard and dense metal, very resistant to corrosion and high
temperatures and is an excellent electricity and heat conductor. It is
used in the microchips of cell phone batteries to prolong duration of
the charge, making this business flourish. Provisions for 2004 foresee
sales of 1,000 million units. To these properties are added that its
extraction does not entail heavy costs –it is obtained by digging in
the mud– and that it is easily sold, enabling the companies involved
in the business to obtain juicy dividends.

Even though Coltan is extracted in Brazil, Thailand and much of it
from Australia –the prime producer of Coltan on a world level– it is
in Africa where 80% of the world reserves are to be found. Within this
continent, the Democratic Republic of Congo concentrates over 80% of
the deposits, where 10,000 miners toil daily in the province of Kivu
(eastern Congo), a territory that has been occupied since 1998 by the
armies of Rwanda and Uganda. A series of companies has been set up in
the zone, associated to large transnational capital, local governments
and military forces (both state and “guerrilla”) in a dispute over the
control of the region for the extraction of Coltan and other minerals.
The United Nations has not hesitated to state that this strategic
mineral is funding a war that the former United States Secretary of
State, Madeleine Albright called “the first African world war” (and we
understand by world wars, those in which the great powers share out
the world), and is one of its causes.

In August 1998, the Congolese Union for Democracy (Rassemblement
Congolais pour la Démocratie-RCD), launched a rebellion in the city of
Goma, supported by the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA). Since then, in a
struggle in which, behind the myth of ethnic rivalries, are hidden the
old colonial powers that continue to ransack the wealth of post-
Colonial Africa, the war has been rife between two, loosely defined
parties. On the one hand the RDC and the Governments of Rwanda and
Uganda, supported by the United States, relying on the military bases
such as that built in Rwanda by the United States company Brown &
Root, a branch of Halliburton, where Rwandese forces are trained and
logistic support is provided to their troops in the DRC, together with
United States combat helicopters and spy satellites. The other party
is made up of the Democratic Republic of Congo (led by one of Kabila’s
sons, after his father was assassinated by the Rwandese), Angola,
Namibia and Zimbabwe.

However, behind these states are the companies sharing out the zone.
Various joint companies have been set up for this purpose, the most
important one being SOMIGL (the Great Lakes Mining Company), a joint
company set up in November 2000, involving Africom, Premeco, Cogecom
and Cogear, (the latter two are Belgium companies –it should be
remembered that DRC, formerly the Belgium Congo, was a Belgium
colony), Masingiro GmbH (a German company) and various other
companies that ceased their activities in January 2002 for various reasons
(a drop in Coltan prices, difficult working conditions, suspension of
Coltan imports from DRC) and are waiting for better conditions: Sogem
(a Belgian company), Cabot and Kemet (U.S.) the joint United States-
German company Eagles Wings Resources (now with headquarters in
Rwanda), among others.

The transport companies belong to close family members of the
presidents of Rwanda and Uganda. In these virtually military zones,
private air companies bring in arms and take out minerals. Most of the
Coltan extracted is later refined by a small number of companies in
Germany, the United States, Kazakhstan and the Far East. The branch of
Bayer, Starck produces 50% of powdered tantalite on a world level.
Dozens of companies are linked to the traffic and elaboration of this
product, with participation of the major monopolizing companies in
Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United States.
As if this were not enough, the Trade, Development and Industry Bank,
created in 1996 with headquarters in the capital city of Rwanda,
Kigali, acts as correspondent for the CITIBANK in the zone, and
handles large amounts of money from Coltan, gold and diamond
operations. Thirty-four companies import Coltan from the Congo, among
these, 27 are of western origin, mainly Belgium, Dutch and German.

The Belgium air company, Sabena is one of the means of transporting
the mineral from Kigali (capital city of Rwanda) to Brussels, and
associated to American Airlines, announced last 15 June the suspension
of the service, under strong pressure from the world campaign “No
blood on my cell phone!” (or: “Pas de sang sur mon GSM”), exhorting
people not to buy cell phones containing Coltan due to its
repercussion on the prolongation of the civil war in the Congo. As a
result of this campaign, the Belgium research institute International
Peace Information Service (IPIS) produced a document in January 2002
“Supporting the War Economy in the DRC: European Companies and the
Coltan Trade,” which documents the leading role played by the
companies in promoting the war through their cooperation with the
military and exhorting that the international consideration of the
Coltan trade be given priority over its local aspects.

The main zones where Coltan is extracted are located in forest zones,
such as the Ituri forest (see WRM bulletin No. 67). The entry of
military commandos and workers (many of them farmers who have been
dispossessed of their lands and resources, seeking the promise of
better income), the installation of mining camps, the construction of
routes to reach and take out the coveted mineral, all this goes to
conspire against the forest as a whole. Formerly fulfilling functions
for the region and the neighbouring peoples, the forest, once the
traditional lands of the hunting and gathering indigenous peoples,
such as the Mbuti and a reserve for gorillas and okapis –a relative
of the giraffe– the habitat of elephants and monkeys, has become the
scenario for war and depredation.

The African journalist, Kofi Akosah-Sarpong has even stated that
“Coltan in general terms is not helping the local people. In fact, it
is the curse of the Congo.” He has revealed that there is evidence
that this material contaminates, pointing out its connection with
congenital deformations in babies in the mining zone, which are born
with bandy legs. Far from clean and innocent, these technologies, on
which the concentration of capitals is based and built, have acquired
through their “globalisation” their highest expression, contaminating
and breaking up the web of life in its multiple and rich
manifestations. In the meanwhile, over the tombs of the 2000 African
children and farmers who die every day in the Congo, can we
absentmindedly continue to use our cell phones?

{Article based on information from: “Supporting the War Economy in the
DRC: European Companies and the Coltan Trade” and “European
companies and the Coltan Trade: an Update”, International Peace
Information Service, ;
“Basta de matanzas y saqueo en el Congo”, Solidarité Europe-Afrique,
Belgium, ; “La fiebre
del coltan: el imperialismo continúa”, Ramiro de Altube, Observatorio
de Conflictos, correo electrónico: , ; “La fiebre del
coltan”, Ramón Lobo, El País Spain, 2/09/2001,; “UN
report accuses Western companies of looting Congo”, Chris Talbot,
26/10/2002, ;
“The Trouble With Coltan”, Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, }


Coltan and Gorillas
The main area where Coltan is mined, also contains the Kahuzi Biega
National Park, home of the Mountain Gorilla. In Kahuzi Biega National
Park the gorilla population has been cut nearly in half, from 258 to
130 as the ground is cleared to make mining easier. Not only has this
reduced the available food for the Gorillas, the poverty caused by the
displacement of the local populations by the miners has lead to
Gorillas being killed and their meat being sold as “bush meat” to the
miners and rebel armies that control the area. Within the Dem. Rep. of
Congo as a whole, the U.N. Environment Program has reported that the
number of eastern lowland gorillas in eight Dem. Rep. of Congo
national parks has declined by 90% over the past 5 years, and only
3,000 now remain.

Due to the damage caused to the Gorilla population and their natural
habitat, companies that use Coltan are now starting to demand that
their Coltan only comes from legitimately mined sources and is not a
byproduct of the war. American-based Kemet, the world’s largest maker
of tantalum capacitors, has asked its suppliers to certify that their
coltan ore does not come from Dem. Rep. of Congo or from neighbouring
countries. Such moves could lead to “Gorilla Safe ” cellphones being
marketed, much in the same way that Tuna meat is now sold as “Dolphin

Other sources
There are few alternative sources of Coltan apart from the Dem. Rep.
of Congo, although the University of St Andrews geologist, Dr Adrian
Finch recently reported that he has found Coltan inside extinct
volcanoes in the remote North Motzfeldt region of Greenland. Dr Finch
has now received a two year funding plan from the Carnegie Trust and
Gino Watkins Fund to investigate the commercial viability of mining
the volcanoes.

What to do ?
There is very little the “man on the street” can do to prevent Coltan
exploitation as it is not a “visible” component of cellphones that can
be differentiated when shopping, but continuing pressure on circuit
board manufacturers has lead to many demanding that their Coltan
supplies only come from legitimate sources. Similar pressure on other
users of Coltan can also help to ensure that only legitimately mined
and sold Coltan is used in circuit boards. At a government level,
pressure on local politicians to drive awareness of the ongoing civil
war in the Dem. Rep. of Congo and help to secure a resolution will
help to prevent the extinction of the Mountain Gorilla.

The Tantalum-Niobium International Study Center (T.I.C.), the industry
organisation representing producers, processors and consumers of
tantalum and niobium around the world, said that it deplores the
reported activities of illegal miners in the Kahuzi-Biega National
Park and the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in the Democratic Republic of
Congo. It was agreed at the T.I.C. Executive Committee meeting in
Brussels on April 3rd 2001 that the organisation would take a stand
regarding the use and production of coltan mined in these World
Heritage Sites.




Every year, an estimated 400 million units of obsolete electronics are
scrapped. Four billion pounds of electronic waste, or e-waste, was
discarded in the United States in 2005, accounting for between 2% and
4% of the municipal solid waste stream. As much as 87.5% of this was
incinerated or dumped in landfills. Of the remaining 12.5% collected
for “recycling,” industry sources claim that about 80% is exported to
developing countries where it is processed in primitive conditions,
severely endangering the environment, workers and communities.
Pollution created by irresponsible e-waste processing can also come
back to haunt those in the exporting countries as well in the form of
air pollution fallout via long-range transport.

The world faces an e-waste crisis because of the following factors:
* Huge volumes: The dual forces of rapid obsolescence of
electronic gadgetry combined with astronomically burgeoning use have
created mountains of e-waste—the largest growing waste stream our
economy produces.
* Toxic design: Electronic equipment contains some of the most
toxic substances known: mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, beryllium,
and brominated flame retardants, among others. Thus, when this
equipment becomes waste, it is toxic waste. When burned, even worse
toxins can be formed such as dioxins and polycyclic aromatic
hydrocarbons that can cause cancer and birth-defects. Until recently,
far too little emphasis has been placed by manufacturers on
eliminating toxic materials.
* Poor design and complexity: e-waste is full of many different
materials (such as multiple kinds of metals, plastics and chemicals)
that are mixed, bolted, screwed, snapped, glued or soldered together.
This makes separation for recycling difficult. Further, little
attention has been paid to designing equipment for recycling.
Therefore, recycling either requires intensive labor or sophisticated
and costly technologies.
* No financial incentive to recycle: There’s usually not enough
value in most electronic waste to cover the costs of responsibly
managing it in developed countries unless laws require such management
as a service industry. For this reason it is exported to countries
where workers are paid low wages and the infrastructure and legal
framework is too weak to protect the environment, workers and
* Reuse abuse: Sending equipment and parts for reuse – an
important solution – can easily be abused by falsely labeling scrap as
reusable or repairable equipment. Often this “reusable” equipment ends
up getting dumped in countries lacking any infrastructure to properly
manage it.
* Policy of “free trade in toxic waste”: In the U.S. and Canada,
the laws governing export of trade in hazardous electronic waste are
tragically inadequate, and thus these two countries are the primary
sources of the global crisis. The U.S. is the only developed country
in the world that has failed to ratify the 1989 Basel Convention, an
international treaty controlling trade in hazardous waste from richer
to poorer countries. In 1995, that treaty adopted a full ban on
exports from rich to poorer countries. Both the U.S. and Canada
actively oppose this prohibition. In Canada, the Basel Convention is
not properly implemented, allowing almost all e-waste to flow abroad
freely. In both countries, then, it is perfectly legal for businesses
to maximize profit by exporting toxic electronics to developing
countries, even when this export is a violation of the laws of
importing countries. The export of toxic electronic waste to
developing countries disproportionately burdens them with a toxic
legacy and allows for externalization of real costs.
* Prison laborers employed to process e-waste: Unlike other
countries in the world, the U.S. sends much of its hazardous e-waste
to U.S. prisons to process in less-regulated environments without the
worker protections and rights afforded in the private sector.
Moreover, such operations amount to government subsidies, undermining
the development of responsible private-sector recycling infra-
structure and distorting the economics of recycling.
* Private data is imbedded in electronic devices: Computers, PDAs,
mobile phones and even printers and fax machines hold private data
such as social security, bank account and credit card numbers and
private emails. These can be used by criminals involved in identity
theft to hijack bank accounts and conduct blackmail and extortion if
this data is not completely eradicated. Loss of confidential data is
another form of liability and irresponsibility stemming from improper
e-waste disposal.
* Lack of regulation requiring proper management: U.S. regulations
mostly exempt the electronic waste stream from environmental laws and
active OSHA oversight. Further, according to the laws of Canada and
the U.S., most toxic electronic waste is still perfectly legal to
dispose of in non-hazardous waste landfills and incinerators.

Documented harm
In 2002, the Basel Action Network (BAN) and the Silicon Valley Toxics
Coalition released the ground breaking report and film Exporting Harm:
The High Tech Trashing of Asia, that exposed the toxic “recycling” of
discarded electronics in China. A second film and report released in
2005 by BAN, The Digital Dump: Exporting Reuse and Abuse to Africa,
showed similar tragic results happening in Africa, this time in the
name of ‘reuse’ and ‘bridging the digital divide.’ Images of men,
women and children burning tons of toxic circuit boards, wires, and
plastic parts exposed the fast-cheap-and-dirty side of our consumption
of computers, televisions, faxes, printers, etc. Furthermore, BAN
analyzed hard-drives from exported computers collected in Africa and
found massive amounts of private data freely available for criminal
exploitation. We have also discovered that when U.S. prisoners are
used as cheap labor, they are exposed to these poisons as well. The
Federal Prison Industries’ UNICOR, which processes much of the e-waste
in the US, is now the focus of a Department of Justice investigation
for the toxic exposures prisoners suffer. Finally as much as 87
percent of discarded toxic e-waste is simply dumped in municipal
landfills or incinerators, ill equipped to contain or destroy such
toxic waste.

Unfortunately this grossly irresponsible waste mismanagement and toxic
trade is the norm in the North American recycling industry. It is
still all too commonplace for recyclers and even electronics
manufacturers, aided by the inadequate or non-existent policies of the
Canadian and U.S. governments, to leave the dirty and dangerous work
of managing our toxic waste to the poorest of the poor in developing
countries. The resulting environmental hazards and social injustice
ravage the land and people in these developing nations. Furthermore,
these poisons come back to our shores and into our bodies via long-
range air and ocean pollution, toxic imports and contaminated food.
Government failure: externalizing our toxic impacts

To date, unlike the 27 member countries of the European Union, the
United States and Canada have failed to create legislation providing a
national system to finance and responsibly deal with toxic e-waste.
Instead, an e-waste anarchy is sanctioned, where we can exploit the
cheap and dirty ‘solutions’ that ‘externalize’ (or pass on) the real
toxic impacts and their costs to others – poor communities in
developing countries, disempowered prisoners in this country, or local
municipalities and taxpayers who suffer from this material getting
dumped in local landfills or incinerated, polluting soil, air and
water. Further, the U.S. and Canada have failed to ratify or properly
implement the Basel Convention that prescribes international rules to
prevent such toxic waste trade.

US Congress’ watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office
(GAO) recently published a report entitled, “Electronic Waste: EPA
Needs to Better Control Harmful U.S. Exports through Stronger
Enforcement and More Comprehensive Regulation.“ [
new.items/d081044.pdf] The GAO report describes, in no uncertain
terms, the complete inadequacy of legislation to control e-waste
exports and the lack of EPA enforcement of the minimal regulations
that do exist, resulting in a flood of toxins to the developing world.

Instead of properly regulating electronic waste management and trade,
the EPA has tried to bring interest groups together to create
voluntary solutions. These efforts have ended in failure or have
produced little more than minimalist, ‘lowest-common denominator’
standards, which seemingly please everyone, including waste exporters,
but result in continued abuse to the environment and human health. One
of these efforts is the recently released “R2” Standard for
Responsible Recycling.

Meanwhile, in lieu of an appropriate federal response, states and
municipalities must cope with the national failure by passing a
variety of local laws and state laws. However, the U.S. Constitution
forbids these local governments from legislating international trade,
so states and municipalities are helpless to prohibit the flood of e-
waste leaving our shores. It is in this unregulated landscape, that
responsible electronics recycling companies are challenged to compete
against unscrupulous brokers, and exporters and those who deceptively
call themselves “recyclers.” These bad actors simply load up seagoing
containers and ship U.S. hazardous electronics to the highest bidders
globally. Almost always, this results in the wastes shipped to a
developing country to be processed by cheap, unprotected labor to
maximize profits. These “low road” operators are thriving while the
responsible companies, with their safer, more expensive methods,

Toxic “E-Waste” Gets Cached in Poor Nations, Report Says
BY Ben Harder / November 8, 2005

Reduce, reuse, recycle. This familiar environmentalist slogan outlines
an approach to minimizing how much trash ends up in landfills,
incinerators, and waterways. The concept is being employed to cope
with one potentially hazardous form of waste—electronic junk such as
old computers, cell phones, and televisions. But the process for
managing this so-called e-waste may get coopted for unscrupulous
purposes more often than it’s legitimately used, a recent report
suggests. “A lot of these materials are being sent [to developing
nations] under the guise of reuse—to bridge the digital divide,” said
Richard Gutierrez, a toxics policy analyst for the Seattle, Washington-
based Basel Action Network. Last month the activist organization
issued a report titled “The Digital Dump.” The paper concludes that
three-quarters of the supposedly reusable electronics shipped to
Africa’s largest port are broken.

One of the problems is that no one certifies whether donated machines
work before they hit the seaways. Because of this, the report says, e-
waste is a growing problem in Lagos, Nigeria, and elsewhere in the
developing world. Much of the waste ends up being discarded along
rivers and roads. Often it’s picked apart by destitute scavengers, who
may face dangerous exposure to toxic chemicals in the broken

Traders in places like Lagos are willing to receive this cast-off
junk, though many of their governments officially forbid it, Gutierrez
said. The importers sell the working machines. Then they pay workers a
pittance to burn the plastic casings and wire insulation in broken
machines and strip out sought-after materials such as gold and copper.
The low-tech recovery process could expose workers and the local
environment to lead, cadmium, mercury, and other hazardous materials
used to build electronics. Workers can also be exposed to carcinogenic
compounds called dioxins that are byproducts of incinerated plastics.

“Green Passport”
According to Gutierrez, this shadow economy exists because the guise
of recycling and reusing electronics gives dealers “a green passport”
to ship waste around the globe. Most of the waste comes from developed
nations that should know better, he said. “Forty-five percent of the
junk that’s coming in [to Lagos] is coming from the United States,” he
said. “Another 45 percent comes from Europe, and the other 10 percent
from Japan and Israel.” The European Union, Israel, Japan, and the
United States have signed the Basel Convention, which forbids
countries from exporting hazardous waste, including electronics.
“There is some responsibility that the developing nations must take
upon themselves,” Gutierrez said. But, he added, “a greater element of
this responsibility should fall on the exporting state.”

China, for example, has become a cache for vast amounts of e-waste.
The nation is beginning to take action to stem the flow of hazardous
material across its borders. “The Chinese government, after many years
of denial, is finally beginning to take the helm,” said Ted Smith,
founder and senior strategist of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.
Gutierrez noted that even if China enforces its existing laws and
keeps e-waste out, “it will flow to the next country with lax
environmental standards.” E-waste, he said, “follows the path of least
economic resistance.”

“That’s why we need to regulate this at the source end,” Smith agreed.
Laws should prevent e-waste exportation and require manufacturers to
shoulder the responsibility of recycling their products in the most
cost-effective manner, he said. Such a shift would make electronics
more expensive in the short term, he acknowledged, but environmental
damage and health hazards would be minimized. Gutierrez added that as
many toxic compounds as possible should be banned from new
electronics. Europe has already banned lead, cadmium, and a half dozen
other materials still permitted in U.S. products.

Problems Ahead
Gordon Davy, an engineer with technology firm Northrop Grumman in
Baltimore, Maryland, said such regulation would be coercive. Consumers
in developed countries would have to pay more for new electronics, and
poor laborers elsewhere would lose the income they now get from
stripping apart dead electronics. Davy also questions whether e-waste
is harming people. “Pollution in the third world is clearly
deplorable,” he said. “But as far as health consequences [of e-waste
is concerned], the environmental activists need to provide supporting
evidence. They need to identify and count their victims.” Gutierrez
countered, “We’re dealing with toxic substances that have been studied
to death. We need not come up with further studies. It would be an
overanalysis of an obvious problem.”

“The e-waste crisis is relatively young,” he said. “The problems [that
people] are being exposed to will germinate for years.” By the time
chronic diseases such as cancer arise, it will be too late to avert a
public-health disaster, he said. Smith, of the Silicon Valley Toxics
Coalition, concurred. “Right now [e-waste] doesn’t seem to be causing
any enormous environmental hazards. But over the next several
generations it’s going to create a problem.” University of Maryland
student Haibing Ma is planning ahead. The graduate student from China
aims to develop a framework that could help his homeland deal with its
e-waste problem.

While working toward a solution, Ma is loath to add to the problem, so
he purchased his computers from Hewlett Packard. That manufacturer is
one of several that have announced so-called takeback policies,
promising to safely dispose of obsolete equipment returned by
consumers. “I mailed one monitor back to HP last semester,” Ma said.
“But the [shipping] charge … we pay ourselves.” With other
electronics, manufacturers provide no such choice. “The television is
the problem,” Ma said. “We have so many different producers, and none
of them have a clear takeback policy.” When his TV dies, Ma says,
he’ll put it in the waste bin. “We don’t know where it will go.”

Following The Trail Of Toxic E-Waste / Nov. 9, 2008

60 Minutes is going to take you to one of the most toxic places on
Earth – a place government officials and gangsters don’t want you to
see. It’s a town in China where you can’t breathe the air or drink the
water, a town where the blood of the children is laced with lead.

It’s worth risking a visit because much of the poison is coming out of
the homes, schools and offices of America. This is a story about
recycling – about how your best intentions to be green can be
channeled into an underground sewer that flows from the United States
and into the wasteland. That wasteland is piled with the burning
remains of some of the most expensive, sophisticated stuff that
consumers crave. And 60 Minutes and correspondent Scott Pelley
discovered that the gangs who run this place wanted to keep it a
secret. What are they hiding? The answer lies in the first law of the
digital age: newer is better. In with the next thing, and out with the
old TV, phone or computer. All of this becomes obsolete, electronic
garbage called “e-waste.”

Computers may seem like sleek, high-tech marvels. But what’s inside
them? “Lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium, polyvinyl chlorides. All of
these materials have known toxicological effects that range from brain
damage to kidney disease to mutations, cancers,” Allen Hershkowitz, a
senior scientist and authority on waste management at the Natural
Resources Defense Council, explained. “The problem with e-waste is
that it is the fastest-growing component of the municipal waste stream
worldwide,” he said. Asked what he meant by “fastest-growing,”
Hershkowitz said. “Well, we throw out about 130,000 computers every
day in the United States.” And he said over 100 million cell phones
are thrown out annually.

At a recycling event in Denver, 60 Minutes found cars bumper-to-bumper
for blocks, in a line that lasted for hours. They were there to drop
off their computers, PDAs, TVs and other electronic waste. Asked what
he thought happens once his e-waste goes into recycling, one man told
Pelley, “Well my assumption is they break it apart and take all the
heavy metals and out and then try to recycle some of the stuff that’s
bad.” Most folks in line were hoping to do the right thing, expecting
that their waste would be recycled in state-of-the-art facilities that
exist here in America. But really, there’s no way for them to know
where all of this is going. The recycling industry is exploding and,
as it turns out, some so-called recyclers are shipping the waste
overseas, where it’s broken down for the precious metals inside.

Executive Recycling, of Englewood, Colo., which ran the Denver event,
promised the public on its Web site: “Your e-waste is recycled
properly, right here in the U.S. – not simply dumped on somebody
else.” That policy helped Brandon Richter, the CEO of Executive
Recycling, win a contract with the city of Denver and expand
operations into three western states. Asked what the problem is with
shipping this waste overseas, Richter told Pelley, “Well, you know,
they’ve got low-income labor over there. So obviously they don’t have
all of the right materials, the safety equipment to handle some of
this material.”

Executive does recycling in-house, but 60 Minutes was curious about
shipping containers that were leaving its Colorado yard. 60 Minutes
found one container filled with monitors. They’re especially hazardous
because each picture tube, called a cathode ray tube or CRT, contains
several pounds of lead. It’s against U.S. law to ship them overseas
without special permission. 60 Minutes took down the container’s
number and followed it to Tacoma, Wash., where it was loaded on a
ship. When the container left Tacoma, 60 Minutes followed it for 7,459
miles to Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong.

It turns out the container that started in Denver was just one of
thousands of containers on an underground, often illegal smuggling
route, taking America’s electronic trash to the Far East. Our guide to
that route was Jim Puckett, founder of the Basel Action Network, a
watchdog group named for the treaty that is supposed to stop rich
countries from dumping toxic waste on poor ones. Puckett runs a
program to certify ethical recyclers. And he showed 60 Minutes what’s
piling up in Hong Kong. “It’s literally acres of computer monitors,”
Pelley commented. “Is it legal to import all of these computer
monitors into Hong Kong?”

“No way. It is absolutely illegal, both from the standpoint of Hong
Kong law but also U.S. law and Chinese law. But it’s happening,”
Puckett said. 60 Minutes followed the trail to a place Puckett
discovered in southern China – a sort of Chernobyl of electronic waste
– the town of Guiyu. But we weren’t there very long before we were
picked up by the cops and taken to City Hall. We told the mayor we
wanted to see recycling. So he personally drove us to a shop. “Let me
explain what’s happening here,” Pelley remarked while in Guiyu. “We
were brought into the mayor’s office. The mayor told us that we’re
essentially not welcome here, but he would show us one place where
computers are being dismantled and this is that place. A pretty tidy
shop. The mayor told us that we would be welcome to see the rest of
the town, but that the town wouldn’t be prepared for our visit for
another year. “So we were allowed to shoot at that location for about
five minutes,” Pelley explained further. “And we’re back in the
mayor’s car headed back to City Hall, where I suspect we’ll be given
another cup of tea and sent on our way out of town with a police
escort no doubt.” And we were. But the next day, in a different car
and on a different road, we got in.

“This is really the dirty little secret of the electronic age,” Jim
Puckett said. Greenpeace has been filming around Guiyu and caught the
recycling work. Women were heating circuit boards over a coal fire,
pulling out chips and pouring off the lead solder. Men were using what
is literally a medieval acid recipe to extract gold. Pollution has
ruined the town. Drinking water is trucked in. Scientists have studied
the area and discovered that Guiyu has the highest levels of cancer-
causing dioxins in the world. They found pregnancies are six times
more likely to end in miscarriage, and that seven out of ten kids have
too much lead in their blood. “These people are not just working with
these materials, they’re living with them. They’re all around their
homes,” Pelley told Allen Hershkowitz. “The situation in Guiyu is
actually pre-capitalist. It’s mercantile. It reverts back to a time
when people lived where they worked, lived at their shop. Open,
uncontrolled burning of plastics. Chlorinated and brominated plastics
is known worldwide to cause the emission of polychlorinated and
polybrominated dioxins. These are among the most toxic compounds
known on earth,” Hershkowitz explained. “We have a situation where
we have 21st century toxics being managed in a 17th century

The recyclers are peasant farmers who couldn’t make a living on the
land. Destitute, they’ve come by the thousands to get $8 a day.
Greenpeace introduced us to some of them. They were afraid and didn’t
want to be seen, but theirs are the hands that are breaking down
America’s computers. “The air I breathe in every day is so pungent I
can definitely feel it in my windpipe and affecting my lungs. It makes
me cough all the time,” one worker told Pelley, with the help of a
translator. “If you’re worried about your lungs and you’re burning
your hands, do you ever think about giving this up?” Pelley asked.
“Yes, I have thought of it,” the worker said. Asked why he doesn’t
give it up, the worker told him, “Because the money’s good.”

“You know, it struck me, talking to those workers the other day, that
they were destitute and they’re happy to have this work,” Pelley told
Puckett. “Well, desperate people will do desperate things,” Puckett
replied. “But we should never put them in that situation. You know,
it’s a hell of a choice between poverty and poison. We should never
make people make that choice.” Pelley, Puckett, and the 60 Minutes
team passed by a riverbed that had been blackened by the ash of burned
e-waste. “Oh, man, this is – it’s unbelievably acrid and choking,”
Pelley said, coughing. “This is an ash river. This is detritus from
burning all this material and this is what the kids get to play in,”
Puckett explained.

After a few minutes in the real recycling area, we were jumped.
Several men struggled for our cameras. The mayor hadn’t wanted us to
see this place, and neither did the businessmen who were profiting
from it. They got a soil sample that we’d taken for testing, but we
managed to wrestle the cameras back. What were they afraid of?
“They’re afraid of being found out,” Puckett said. “This is smuggling.
This is illegal. A lot of people are turning a blind eye here. And if
somebody makes enough noise, they’re afraid this is all gonna dry up.”

Back in Denver, there’s no threat of it drying up. In fact, it was a
flood. And Brandon Richter, CEO of Executive Recycling, was still
warning of the dangers of shipping waste to China. “I just heard
actually a child actually died over there breaking this material down,
just getting all these toxins,” he said. Then Pelley told him we’d
tracked his container to Hong Kong. “This is a photograph from your
yard, the Executive Recycling yard,” Pelley told Richter, showing him
a photo we’d taken of a shipping container in his yard. “We followed
this container to Hong Kong.”

“Okay,” Richter replied.
“And I wonder why that would be?” Pelley asked.
“Hmm. I have no clue,” Richter said.
“The Hong Kong customs people opened the container…and found it full
of CRT screens which, as you probably know, is illegal to export to
Hong Kong,” Pelley said.
“Yeah, yep,” Richter replied. “I don’t know if that container was
filled with glass. I doubt it was. We don’t fill glass, CRT glass in
those containers.”
“This container was in your yard, filled with CRT screens, and
exported to Hong Kong, which probably wouldn’t be legal,” Pelley said.
“No, absolutely not. Yeah,” Richter said.
“Can you explain that?” Pelley asked.
“Yeah, it’s not – it was not filled in our facility,” Richter said.

But that’s where 60 Minutes filmed it. And we weren’t the only ones
asking questions. It turns out Hong Kong customs intercepted the
container and sent it back to Executive Recycling, Englewood,
Colorado, the contents listed as “waste: cathode ray tubes.” U.S.
customs x-rayed the container and found the same thing. 60 Minutes
showed Richter this evidence, and later his lawyer told us the CRTs
were exported under Executive Recycling’s name, but without the
company’s permission. “I know this is your job,” Richter told Pelley.
“But, unfortunately, you know, when you attack small business owners
like this and you don’t have all your facts straight, it’s
unfortunate, you know?”

But here’s one more fact: the federal Government Accountability Office
set up a sting in which U.S. investigators posed as foreign importers.
Executive Recycling offered to sell 1,500 CRT computer monitors and
1,200 CRT televisions to the GAO’s fictitious broker in Hong Kong. But
Executive Recycling was not alone. The GAO report found that another
42 American companies were willing to do the same.

Who Was Following Whom?
BY Solly Granatstein / Nov. 11, 2008

It was clear from the outset that this was a place with something to
hide. We had come to southern China to set up a TV shoot, but we were
the ones being filmed. A slim Chinese man, in his early 30’s, with
short-cropped hair, was taking our picture with his cell phone. He was
standing about 20 yards from me and our fixer, Lamy Li. It’s hard to
say what gave it away, but there was no doubt he was an undercover
cop. When I turned toward him, he walked briskly in the opposite

Lamy and I had been walking through the grim town of Guiyu attempting,
with marginal success, to speak with workers. The skies were low and
grey. Plumes of dank smoke rose from salvage workshops and piles of
burning waste. Guiyu is a community of 60,000 where most of the people
are employed in the mining of precious metals from electronic waste,
also known as “‘e-waste.” E-waste is junked old computers, TV’s, cell
phones, printers, most of it toxic, and much coming to this shabby
corner of China from wealthier environs like America.

What we saw in Guiyu was gut-wrenching. I had read in scientific
journals that given all the toxic compounds contained in electronic
products, breaking them down is hazardous work. But that was nothing
like witnessing it in person. The place was a hell on earth of acrid
smoke and noxious smells. The pungent air scorched the back of our
throats. On my way to Guiyu, a scientist in Hong Kong had said, “Every
part of Guiyu has a different, terrible smell.” Now I knew what she

Through the smoke, workers could be seen dismantling electronic
components by hand, or melting them down over coal fires, for the tiny
bits of precious metals inside. Some were clearly underage, and most
were working with little protection, with neither gloves to protect
their hands nor masks to shield their lungs. The salvage operations
took place in the same shanties where the workers and their children

Just before we encountered the undercover cop who took our picture, we
had a run-in with one of the owners of the salvage works. He was
overseeing gold extraction from circuit boards. His workers dipped the
boards into large drums of hydrochloric and nitric acid, using a
technique, known as aqua regia, that dates from the Middle Ages.
Plumes of orange smoke rose from the drums and doubtlessly seared the
lungs of the workers. The whole operation took place on the edge of a
river. The acid leeched into the water, which had long since become
undrinkable. As if to advertise where he worked, the boss wore a
prominent gold medallion that swung from a gold chain around his neck.
When he saw the two of us, he started yelling at Lamy. “Get out of
here! You’re not welcome here! Get out!” We did just that.

This visit was just a reconnaissance mission, to know what we would be
filming upon the arrival of our correspondent, Scott Pelley, and the
camera crews. I figured there was no point in drawing any more
attention to ourselves than I already had simply by being a non-
Chinese person walking around in this remote town. So when I saw our
picture being taken by the cop with the cell phone, I suggested to
Lamy that we leave.

It was gloomy and wet when we came back to town the next morning.
Lamy had arranged to meet a man who would be able to introduce us to
some workers. We drove our small car to an appointed corner, he jumped
into the back seat, and we drove off. The worker liaison was a small, wiry
fellow in a tan rain slicker. He had scarred, dark skin with handsome
features and a wary smile. As we rounded a corner and parked against
the edge of a building, he told us that the town authorities had
recently warned workers that they would spend 30 days in jail if they
spoke with foreign reporters. Lamy explained to me that the workers
are migrants from other parts of China. Since they’re not official
citizens of this province, they have no right to health care or other
protections. “I keep thinking that they are totally vulnerable” she

A short distance in front of the car, I noticed a man standing under
an umbrella in an alley way. “Isn’t that the same dude who was taking
our picture yesterday?” I asked Lamy. It was difficult to tell. His
face was partially obscured. Not wanting the worker liaison to be
discovered, we drove away and out of town. Our driver, a local, was
rattled and refused to drive for us again.

That evening, Lamy and I were in front of our hotel in Shantou, the
big city that’s a couple hours away from Guiyu. We hailed a taxi to
take us to a meet a local scientist who’s studied the effects of e-
waste operations on Guiyu’s children. I had read the studies. Seven
out of ten kids have blood lead levels in the Centers for Disease
Control’s danger zone. Then: There he was again, or so it seemed. The
same plainclothes cop was walking up the hotel driveway. I said, “Hey,
look! Isn’t that him?” Lamy said, “Stop! Now you’re scaring me!” But a
second look confirmed it. It was the same guy, two days later and a
hundred miles away from where we had first seen him. Suddenly, things
seemed serious. All the more so for Lamy who lives and works in Hong
Kong, under the authoritarian cloud of Chinese rule.

Not knowing what else to do, we proceeded with our original plan. We
hopped into a cab and headed across town. The cop jumped into a large
black sedan and followed close behind us. He had seen that we had
noticed him and dropped any pretense that he wasn’t trailing us. Our
taxi driver was a young guy whose hair was bleached at the ends and
who seemed more excited than scared when we told him that we were
being followed. He hit the accelerator, while the sedan fell behind
and got stuck in traffic. We managed to make a U-turn and whooped as
we saw our pursuers watch helplessly as we sped past in the other
direction. A minute later, we stopped congratulating ourselves. There
was a black sedan, a different one, right on our tail.

“I’ve lived in Shantou all my life,” our taxi driver proclaimed. “I
know the back streets. I’ll be able to lose them.” We sped around a
highway ramp and made a quick turn down a side street. The sedan
behind us took the same turn. We cut into an even smaller street and
plowed through a crowd of pedestrians. Three more turns in quick
succession. We came to a stop in an alley and waited. Several minutes
passed. The coast was clear. We made our way out of the neighborhood
back onto a main road. Within seconds, a third black sedan was close
behind us.

Our taxi driver stopped chattering. Lamy said he was probably scared
by the fact that our pursuers had so many vehicles and resources-that
is, they couldn’t be anyone other than a powerful security force. Lamy
was frightened herself. Part of her unease had to do with the fact
that we didn’t even know exactly who was following us. Were they Guiyu
town police or the provincial security services? Could they be agents
of some national intelligence directorate? There was even an off-
chance that they were local Mafiosi, the hired muscle of e-waste
businessmen who wanted to keep outside scrutiny away from their black
market operations. And how much did these people know about us and
our plans? Had they bugged our hotel room or our phones? Anything
seemed possible.

We gave up evasive maneuvers and went to the meeting. In a local
restaurant, while we spoke to the scientist and took notes, the
corners of our eyes tried to keep track of all the plainclothes
security men lounging in the street outside keeping track of us. At
the end of the evening, after being trailed back to our hotel, Lamy
marched straight up to one of the van that had been following us and
motioned for the driver to roll down the window. “Who are you? Why are
you following us?” she demanded. Fearlessly. “We’re going to call the
police if you don’t cut it out!” The driver panicked, had not expected
this. “I wasn’t! It’s not true!” he kept saying, and drove off.

Lamy and I talked late into the night. If we were followed night and
day, how were we going to be able to film this story, to document what
we had seen in Guiyu? The cops could shut us down as soon as our
cameramen started shooting. Was it even worthwhile to bring the rest
of our team to China? And if we were being constantly surveyed, how
could we possibly interview e-waste workers without putting their
lives in danger? Was there a way we could avoid being followed?

I called Scott Pelley, who was on a different shoot in northern
Canada, and discussed the situation with him at length. It was
agonizing. There was a decent chance that he would fly halfway around
the world and that we would not emerge with a story. Finally, we
decided. Though we agreed that there were no guarantees, we knew we
had to give it a try. Lamy and I figured that the only way to lose our
security escort was to leave the province altogether. We had to
convince the authorities that we were done with the place. The next
morning, Lamy flew to Hong Kong to meet the rest of our team. I had a
single entry visa and wouldn’t be able to return if I left the
Mainland. I flew an hour away to the city of Guangzhou, then hopped on
a bus to the city of Shenzhen. These were evasive maneuvers in the

A day later, our entire team gathered in Shenzhen. In addition to me
and Lamy, our full contingent included correspondent Scott Pelley; our
wonderful and efficient associate producer Nicole Young; two exemplary
cameramen, David Lom and Brad Simpson (who is also the CBS News
Beijing bureau chief); and assistant cameraman Jackie Chen. There were
also two non-journalists we’d invited along: Jim Puckett, the founder
of a toxic waste watchdog group called the Basel Action Network; and
Jamie Choi, a specialist in corporate environmental responsibility
with Greenpeace-Beijing. Very early the morning after that, we set off
on the 5-hour drive to the wasteland of Guiyu. Since we were now with
our camera crews, most of what happened next was deftly captured on
videotape. Much of that is in the 60 Minutes story.

We managed to speak with a group of workers in a location far from
Guiyu where, thank goodness, our gathering was not discovered. They
told us about the conditions of their work. They guessed, judging from
the script on the components, that much of the waste came from faraway
English-speaking countries like ours. Later, after we had left the
workers, our vehicles were stopped by the Guiyu police, and we were
brought to City Hall. The mayor prohibited us from filming in his
town. His police escorted us to the city limits.

We returned the next day nonetheless and began committing to
videotape the atrocious scenes we had come to document. Very quickly,
a gang of about a dozen men materialized and started roughing us up,
trying to grab the cameras that had recorded their dirty secret. Swinging
a tripod from side to side, I fought off two men who had grabbed either
end of David Lom’s camera. These men were enraged. One of them
clambered atop a mound of dirt, shouting, and threw fist-sized
batteries at us. Our situation was all the more perilous because our
drivers had driven away, fearing that they would be beaten up or that
their cars would be wrecked by the gang.

As a group, we walked away from the recycling area toward the center
of town. We were followed by men on motorbikes and in cars who waved
taxis away and beckoned us to into their vehicles so we could all
return to the mayor’s office. “Come with us. You’re not safe here,”
said these men who had just attacked us. In the end, we waited them
out. Scott came up with the brilliant and effective line that if they
took us back to the mayor’s office, we would consider it an arrest and
let the Foreign Ministry in Beijing know what had happened. “Oh no,
you’re not being arrested!” they assured us nervously. Suddenly, not
only were we free to leave the town, but the mayor and his men gave us
a lift for the two-hour ride to Shantou.

Somehow we had managed to escape with only a few scrapes and
bruises. Nicole Young, our AP, suffered the gravest injury: a sizable florid
bruise on her hip where she had pressed the tripod that a large man
tried to wrest from her. Most important, we got away with the tapes we
had shot. We had only been able to film for about 10 or 15 minutes
before we were attacked. But the wasteland was so awful, even that was

A day earlier, the workers we had secretly interviewed summed up their
experience of the wasteland. They had been peasant farmers, unable to
eke a living from the land. Now they spent their days melting circuit
boards, burning their hands, enduring headaches and shortness of
breath. They realized the work was hazardous, but felt they had little
choice. They were, as Lamy said, utterly vulnerable-both to the toxic
work and to the gangs who run this place. “The people in Guiyu have no
consideration for laws,” one of them said when asked why they
preferred to remain anonymous. “They treat people who come here to
work like thieves. And if someone from another province gets beaten
up, nobody in the government will take care of them. It’s totally
okay. You give a bit of money to the officials, and everything is
taken care of. The people there are very savage-like. And we don’t
want to be hurt.”

BY Luca Gabino / 9/2007

For years, I’ve heard fables and legends about a mysterious cemetery
somewhere in China. I heard whispers on the internet and from Chinese
friends about mountains of broken computers, heaps of chips,
motherboards, and printer cartridges virtually filling the streets of
a South Asian village. But it was kept quiet by the notoriously tight-
lipped Chinese government. It was kind of like the elusive elephant
graveyard, but with technological offal and guarded by mean
communists. I decided that I would make it my mission to go there.

I slowly discovered that 80 percent of all the electronic toxic waste
collected around the world ends up in Guiyu, a small town in the
southern China province of Guangdong. The town imports more than 1
million tons of this stuff every year. Almost 90 percent of Hong
Kong’s computers end up there, but 60 percent of the total waste
originates in the USA. The exact location of Guiyu has been kept
secret by the authorities, but I already knew that Shenzhen was the
biggest city in Guangdong and that it was just an hour and a half away
from Hong Kong.

Even with Hong Kong being Chinese again, we had to go through customs
to get into Shenzhen. We boarded the bus to Cheng Dian, guessing it
was the nearest city to Guiyu. On the bus the situation got even
creepier when the hostess pulled out a video camera and started
filming each passenger for “security reasons.” I was the only
Westerner on board. During the three-hour bus ride the same advert
looped on the in-bus televisions. It showed Shenzhen as a city of fun,
happiness, and luxury. Looking out the window at the gray factories,
the sea of cement, and the columns of smoke I had to ask myself if any
of the other passengers were falling for it. Toward the end of the
journey I found a university student who spoke a little English.
Taking a chance, I asked her where Guiyu was. She acted quite
perplexed at first and replied that no such place existed. But I could
tell she knew something, so I begged her until she scribbled
directions on a piece of paper.

We arrived in Cheng Dian at night and I took a room in a cheap hotel.
I spent the next day trying to find someone who would tell us more
about Guiyu. The locals denied its existence. Fortunately I found a
taxi driver who was willing to take me there for the relative mountain
of cash that is 40 euros. I handed him the directions that the girl on
the train had written for me, and we set off in almost total darkness.
The driver eventually dropped me off at the only hotel in the
proximity of Guiyu. From the car, all I could see was a big white
block of cement surrounded by garbage. I stepped out into the most
surreal landscape I have ever seen.

It was a sea of garbage. The heaps of trash began accumulating next to
the hotel walls and did not stop for as far as the eye could see. The
whole town was a construction site, with the old wooden barracks being
replaced by unfinished houses. You can still spot Guiyu’s rural past
in the barracks that once clearly constituted most of the town, but
the e-waste economy required more accommodation for the 200,000
migrant workers who moved to Guiyu in the past six years. Everywhere
around us people were busy carrying or unloading computer parts. Huge
piles of outer shells lay next to construction sites, layers and
layers of motherboards and CD players were dumped in the courtyards,
and thousands of bags of chips spilled inside and outside, forming
massive mountains between the tiny dwellings. Children were dividing
tiny chips by color in the street.

Adults were grilling circuit boards on barbecue grills. They melted
the soldering and removed the chips, and then the women would
separate the parts in different bags and wash them with water. After
the circuit boards were soaked in acid to recuperate bits of gold, they
were finally either burned or buried.

I witnessed kids between the ages of five and ten working in barracks
with no ventilation, with people all around them burning everything
from the metal components of computers to wires to extract the copper.
When the PVC and the brominated flame retardant around the wires
burn, they emit high levels of chlorinated dioxins and furans, two of the
most persistent organic pollutants. As a result, the local river is so
contaminated that the levels of acidity are almost total. The water
contains an estimated 2,400 times the recommended levels of lead, and
it’s not hard to notice: The river is literally black from the toner
of printer cartridges and from washing the burned motherboards. The
toner contains carbon black, a known carcinogen, but the locals wash
themselves, their clothes, and their food with this water. It’s so
toxic that even boiling it doesn’t come close to purifying it. Above
the water, the air was thick with smoke. Around it, the land is so
irreparably poisoned that nothing can grow. All the food and drinking
water is imported from out of town.

On my third day in Guiyu, I managed to get to the main dump. The
mountains of computer parts I had seen so far were nothing compared
with what awaited. The roads were in a constant state of traffic jam
with trucks, motorbikes, and even mules carrying parts to be
“recycled.” It was hell. Thick smoke hung like storm clouds. It hurt
to breathe.

As I stopped to take pictures, a furious woman came out of nowhere,
charging me with her broom, trying to grab my camera. Not wanting to
cause trouble in an illegal toxic-waste dump in southern China, I ran
back to the car. She followed, waving her broom around like a baseball
bat, banging on the windows. She broke the windshield. She was blind
with rage, trying to break the remaining bits of glass off with her
bare hands. When she saw she couldn’t do it she stuck her broom
through the hole she’d made and started smacking me in the head.

Then the police showed up to—I naively thought—rescue me from the
crazy woman. I was very wrong. They ordered me to wait in the car
while they interrogated all the witnesses except for the woman, whom
they let calmly walk back to her barrack. People crowded around the
car and stared at me as if I were an exotic animal in a cage. After an
hour the police told my driver to follow them to the station, where I
was interrogated for an hour with the aid of a translator. I told them
I was a university student on vacation. I had previously hid the
better rolls of film, so I could hand them the ones that were no good
to me. They let me go back to my hotel, chauffered by the poor driver
whose car had been beaten up by the crazy old woman.

A few days later there was a knock at my hotel door. It was the cops
again. They took me back to the station, where I was questioned by six
cops. I thought they were going to beat the shit out of me. After an
hour of repeating myself, I convinced them that I was merely a student
on holiday. They believed me! That is, until they got the owner of the
hotel to show them the ID card I’d used to sign in. Under job
description, it said “photographer.” Whoops. The interrogation started
again. I played it dumb, hung my head, and told them I was just a
silly student who takes amateur pictures and has no idea what is going
on in their town. Three hours later they finally released me and I
hightailed it right the fuck out of Guiyu. I will never go back.


DOWN 11%
An American Life Is Worth $1 Million Less Than It Was 5 Years Ago, EPA
Says  /  Jul. 10, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) – It’s not just the American dollar that’s losing
value. A government agency has decided that an American life isn’t
worth what it used to be. The “value of a statistical life” is $6.9
million, the Environmental Protection Agency reckoned in May – a drop
of nearly $1 million from just five years ago.

The Associated Press discovered the change after a review of cost-
benefit analyses over more than a dozen years. Though it may seem like
a harmless bureaucratic recalculation, the devaluation has real
consequences. When drawing up regulations, government agencies put a
value on human life and then weigh the costs versus the lifesaving
benefits of a proposed rule. The less a life is worth to the
government, the less the need for a regulation, such as tighter
restrictions on pollution.

Consider, for example, a hypothetical regulation that costs $18
billion to enforce but will prevent 2,500 deaths. At $7.8 million per
person (the old figure), the lifesaving benefits outweigh the costs.
But at $6.9 million per person, the rule costs more than the lives it
saves, so it may not be adopted. Some environmentalists accuse the
Bush administration of changing the value to avoid tougher rules – a
charge the EPA denies. “It appears that they’re cooking the books in
regards to the value of life,” said S. William Becker, executive
director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which
represents state and local air pollution regulators. “Those decisions
are literally a matter of life and death.” Dan Esty, a senior EPA
policy official in the first Bush administration and now director of
the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, said: “It’s hard to
imagine that it has other than a political motivation.”

Agency officials say they were just following what the science told
them. The EPA figure is not based on people’s earning capacity, or
their potential contributions to society, or how much they are loved
and needed by their friends and family – some of the factors used in
insurance claims and wrongful-death lawsuits. Instead, economists
calculate the value based on what people are willing to pay to avoid
certain risks, and on how much extra employers pay their workers to
take on additional risks. Most of the data is drawn from payroll
statistics; some comes from opinion surveys. According to the EPA,
people shouldn’t think of the number as a price tag on a life.

The EPA made the changes in two steps. First, in 2004, the agency cut
the estimated value of a life by 8 percent. Then, in a rule governing
train and boat air pollution this May, the agency took away the normal
adjustment for one year’s inflation. Between the two changes, the
value of a life fell 11 percent, based on today’s dollar. EPA
officials say the adjustment was not significant and was based on
better economic studies. The reduction reflects consumer preferences,
said Al McGartland, director of EPA’s office of policy, economics and
innovation. “It’s our best estimate of what consumers are willing to
pay to reduce similar risks to their own lives,” McGartland said.

But EPA’s cut “doesn’t make sense,” said Vanderbilt University
economist Kip Viscusi. EPA partly based its reduction on his work. “As
people become more affluent, the value of statistical lives go up as
well. It has to.” Viscusi also said no study has shown that Americans
are less willing to pay to reduce risks. At the same time that EPA was
trimming the value of life, the Department of Transportation twice
raised its life value figure. But its number is still lower than the

The environmental agency traditionally has placed the highest value of
life in government and still does, despite efforts by administrations
to bring uniformity to that figure among all agencies. Not all of EPA
uses the reduced value. The agency’s water division never adopted the
change and in 2006 used $.7 million in current dollars. From 1996 to
2003, EPA kept the value of a statistical life generally around $7.8
million to $7.96 million in current dollars, according to reports
analyzed by The AP. In 2004, for a major air pollution rule, the
agency lowered the value to $7.15 million in current dollars.

Just how the EPA came up with that figure is complicated and involves
two dueling analyses. Viscusi wrote one of those big studies, coming
up with a value of $8.8 million in current dollars. The other study
put the number between $2 million and $3.3 million. The co-author of
that study, Laura Taylor of North Carolina State University, said her
figure was lower because it emphasized differences in pay for various
risky jobs, not just risky industries as a whole. EPA took portions of
each study and essentially split the difference – a decision two of
the agency’s advisory boards faulted or questioned. “This sort of
number-crunching is basically numerology,” said Granger Morgan,
chairman of EPA’s Science Advisory Board and an engineering and public
policy professor at Carnegie Mellon University. “This is not a
scientific issue.” Other, similar calculations by the Bush
administration have proved politically explosive. In 2002, the EPA
decided the value of elderly people was 38 percent less than that of
people under 70. After the move became public, the agency reversed

A Price on Your Head
BY W. Kip Viscusi  /  01.07.08

The Environmental Protection Agency created a political firestorm back
in 2003 with an analysis that calculated that the lives of those over
age 70 were worth 37% less than the lives of younger people. Citizen
groups for the elderly were outraged at this “senior death discount”
and ultimately the EPA withdrew the report. Discussion of age
distinctions are off the table now, but the government routinely
places a dollar value on lives saved by regulation.

Although some may consider it immoral to even raise the question of
the dollar value of life, risk regulation agencies can’t avoid doing
so. We would soon exhaust all of our resources if we tried to do
everything that would make our lives safer. A zero pollution, risk-
free society is unattainable. To see why putting a price tag on
expected lives saved makes sense, it is helpful to see where these
numbers come from. The economic value of life is not the total of
one’s lifetime earnings, the taxes we contribute or any other
accounting measure that seems like economics. Rather, the value of
life reflects what people are willing to spend to reduce small risks
of death.

Consider the market for risky jobs. Suppose that on average, workers
face a fatality risk of 1/10,000 of being killed each year and that
they accept this risk in return for an extra $700 in annual wage
compensation. This means that if 10,000 workers faced a similar risk,
on average one worker would die, and so firms would pay a total of $7
million in compensation for the one expected death. The value of a
statistical life is consequently $7 million in this example, and the
number cited generally by most reliable estimates. A considerable
economics literature has documented the extra pay that workers receive
for fatality risks, the lower prices that risky products command and
the lower housing prices for houses in dangerous areas.

This number does not imply that people would accept certain death if
paid $7 million or that they could come up with $7 million to buy out
of certain death. Rather, it captures the rate at which people are
willing to spend money to reduce risk. Most government agencies, in
assessing the cost impact of regulations, use value-of-life numbers on
the order of $5 million to $7 million per expected life saved. But how
much they really spend to save lives is another matter. Sometimes it’s
driven by legislative mandates that do not require risk-cost
tradeoffs. Superfund hazardous waste cleanups, for example, prevent
cases of cancer at a cost of billions of dollars per expected case.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, on the other hand, historically
used wrongful death judgments to value life. It now places a value of
$3 million per life for efforts such as improving airline safety, a
figure that is too low and will produce too little safety regulation.
The question that the EPA was courageous enough to confront in 2003 is
whether all lives should have the same value. Should we value the
lives of the old the same as the young, the rich the same as the poor
and voluntary risk takers the same as those who choose safer

The age difference represents a good starting point for thinking about
such distinctions. The biggest gains in life expectancy generally
result from saving the lives of the young. But going back to first
principles, what matters in valuing life is people’s willingness to
pay to reduce small risks of death. Those values go up as we age,
along with overall spending. The fact that 60-year-olds drive safer
cars and lead safer lives than their children is not a coincidence.
Labor market studies show that workers at age 60 have a higher value
of statistical life than workers at age 20.

For those with very short life expectancies, the value of statistical
life does decline. How much is not known. But to effectively reduce
risks, agencies such as the EPA must grapple with the types of
unpleasant tradeoffs raised in its senior death discount analysis. If
air pollution regulations are expected to increase the life expectancy
of those with advanced respiratory disease by two months, is doing so
really as valuable as adding 70 years of life expectancy by preventing
the deaths of as many children?

Kip Viscusi
email : kip.viscusi [at] vanderbilt [dot] edu

Laura Taylor
email : laura_taylor [at] ncsu [dot] edu

Compensation For Bhopal Set  /  June 22, 1992

“India has finally fixed compensation for the victims of the Bhopal
poison-gas disaster after seven years of legal battles, officials said
today. Babulal Gaur, the Relief and Rehabilitation Minister of Madhya
Pradesh, told reporters that the compensation to the next of kin of
those killed ranged from $3,840 to $11,530. Those injured will be paid
$1,920 to $3,840, Mr. Gaur said.

More than 3,800 people were killed and tens of thousands injured in
the world’s worst industrial disaster when a pesticides plant owned by
an Indian subsidiary of an American company, the Union Carbide
Corporation, spewed deadly mythyl isocyanate gas on Dec. 3, 1984. The
legal battle, which began soon after the disaster, ended with the
Supreme Court of India ordering compensation of $470 million agreed to
by both the Indian Government and Union Carbide in February 1989. The
court upheld the settlement again in October. Mr. Gaur said the claims
for money would be settled by courts set up for the purpose. He said
17 special courts had so far completed hearing 2,000 claims related to
deaths. About 13,000 applications have been filed for compensation in
this category, he said.”

What is a Life Worth?  /  BY Ike Brannon

An unpleasant but necessary job of policymakers is to place a value on
saving a human life. Because society has limited resources that it can
spend on health and safety improvements, it should obtain the greatest
benefit for each dollar spent, and ascertaining an appropriate value
is necessary to that effort. As one would expect, the correct
numerical value to place on a life, typically called the value of a
statistical life, or vsl, is a matter of great controversy. Hundreds
of analyses using widely varying methodologies have been conducted to
determine this value. Despite their differences, most of the studies
center on one basic idea: The vsl should roughly correspond to the
value that people place on their lives in their private decisions.
Though most people may say they will spare no expense to avoid a
possibly fatal risk, their spending patterns dictate otherwise; we do
not all drive armored trucks to work, but instead drive somewhat less
safe — and considerably less expensive — cars. Our willingness to
accept some risk in exchange for a more easily affordable vehicle
suggests there is some limit to how much we will spend to protect our
lives. This article will examine how economists assign a number to the
value of a statistical life, and will consider criticisms of both
their methodologies and the very concept of a vsl.

Economists and other researchers have used a variety of analyses to
determine the value of a statistical life. Below are some of the most
common methods, along with some problems frequently ascribed to them.

Two jobs can differ in any number of ways: One can be in a nicer city,
or it can be in a more pleasant working environment, or it can have
better fringe benefits, or it can offer better opportunities for
advancement than the other job. Or, it can be safer. To estimate the
value of a statistical life, economists can exploit the difference in
pay between two jobs and determine how much of that difference stems
from the difference in the risk of injury or death. Then, the
researchers simply multiply that number by the inverse of the risk
difference and call the result the value of a statistical life.

For example, if I make $40,000 and my twin brother makes $42,000 at a
job that is identical to mine in all respects except for a 1 percent
greater chance of death, then an economist assumes that the $2,000
difference is a premium my twin brother requires to accept the riskier
job. If he requires $2,000 for a 1 percent greater risk, then I can
infer that he is placing a value on his life of $2,000 x(1 ÷0.01), or
$200,000. There are problems with this approach. University of Wyoming
professors Jason Shogren and Tommy Stamland argue that nearly all
revealed preference studies are biased upwards to some degree. They
observe that the wage at a particular job is just enough to entice the
marginal worker. The other workers require less money to accept the
risk. Thus, the “average” vsl is well below the “marginal” vsl obtained
with this method. Another problem is the need to decide the relevant
time period over which fatality rates should be measured when
assessing risk. Should we use the actual death rate for an occupation
over the previous year or the previous five years? Death rates
fluctuate quite a bit from year to year (think about the death rate
for commercial pilots in 2001 as compared to 2000), and this choice
can crucially affect the estimated vsl. Also, do we use the actual
death rates or the workers’ perceived chances of death? After all,
wage premiums are presumably based on perceived risk, not
actual risk, and the two can diverge. Another consideration
is that most occupations do not really carry a risk associated with
work. Should we include those occupations as well in our economy-wide
estimate of a risk premium? And is it all right to assume that we can
merely multiply the risk premium by the inverse of the risk assumed?
Economists who have studied this issue in depth have found that if the
risk doubles, the risk premium does not necessarily double. Alan
Krupnick of Resources for the Future shows that in most instances the
vsl imputed from comparing the difference in wages associated with a
0.1 percent to a 0.6 percent risk would be higher than the vsl imputed
from comparing the wage differences between a 1.1 percent and 1.6
percent risk. This nonlinearity in our valuation of risk reduction may
simply be the result of sorting — those people facing higher risks in
their job do not require the same amount of money to assume an
incrementally higher level of risk. The fact that we see evidence of
the same phenomenon when we calculate a vsl using the contingent
valuation approach (described below) leads some to theorize that it
may be more complicated than mere sorting. Researchers who estimate a
vsl using the revealed preference method have come up with a wide range
of values, from roughly zero (or even negative) to over $100 million.

Economists also estimate the value people place on their lives by just
asking them. Of course, this approach is a little bit more
sophisticated than that because the likely answer to the question,
“How much money would you need to allow us to kill you?” would be an
infinite amount of money. In a contingent valuation estimation of the
value of a statistical life, the economist surveys a number of people
and asks each person the amount of money that he would require to
accept a marginally higher chance of dying in the near future.
Generally, the subject answers yes or no to a series of questions; for
example, the opening question might be, “Would you accept $1,000 to
move from a one in 10,000 chance of death to a five in 10,000 chance
of death?” If the answer is yes, then the next question might be
whether the person would accept $800 to assume the higher risk, and so
on until the person says he would refuse the money for the risk. After
surveying a few hundred people in this manner, the
researcher imputes the implicit value that each subject places on the
value of a life, as is done in the revealed preference method
(multiplying the final dollar figure by the inverse of the additional
risk taken) and averages the valuations. Of course, problems exist in
this approach as well. First, many economists dislike it because of
its subjectivity. All of the questions are hypothetical, so why should
the answers given by the subjects actually reflect the tradeoffs that
they are willing to make? Indeed, a problem endemic to such studies is
the so-called “protest” vote in which someone insists that no amount
of money would entice him to accept a higher risk. If the project
consisted of 100 subjects and one person insisted his life is worth
$100 billion, should it be included in the final average? Should
researchers throw out that observation, or truncate the sample, or use
a median rather than a mean to dampen the rogue subject’s response? On
this matter, there is no consensus other than that the high value
should not remain in the estimate. Critics also question whether
people accurately perceive the actual changes in the small differences
presented to them in the surveys. A majority of people suffer from
innumeracy and have trouble distinguishing a three in 10,000 risk
from a seven in 10,000 risk. For those people (and maybe the rest
of us as well), their answers are little more than guesswork. Should
we include their answers? Would an estimate of vsl be reflective of
society if the mathematically challenged were not included?

A small literature has developed in recent years that infers our
implicit valuation of life from our product choices rather than our
labor-market choices. For example, we know that antilock brakes reduce
the incidence of crashes and death. If we can say for certain that
buying a car with that option reduces the probability of death by one
in 100,000 and the option costs $300, then we can infer that the
person is placing an implicit valuation on his life of at least $300
x100,000, or $30 million. Again, there are many criticisms of this
approach. People purchase thousands of devices that improve safety to
some degree. If the vsl estimated from, say, buying a bicycle helmet is
vastly different than the vsl derived from the decision on whether to
buy antilock brakes, then how can we interpret those numbers? Another
question is whether we separate safety characteristics from other
product attributes. A bicycle helmet that costs $80 and is slightly
safer than a $40 helmet may also be more comfortable, more stylish, or
available at a store closer to the consumer’s house. How are we to
determine the extent to which the buyer’s decision was influenced
by safety considerations? Many of the criticisms of the revealed
preference studies also can be made here. Do consumers accurately
perceive the safety improvements inherent in a purchase? Is it sensible
to compare vsls obtained from different products that have different
levels of risk reduction?

Enough studies have been done that a number of meta-analyses have been
performed on the existing studies in order to find some
“representative” value of a statistical life. Meta-analyses can vary
wildly in sophistication; the basic difference between a meta-analysis
and a simple averaging of a range of studies is that the meta-analysis
attempts to control or adjust for the exogenous factors that could
potentially affect the estimated vsl. For example, from revealed
preference studies we know that the extent of the assumed risk affects
the resultant vsl. A typical worker who assumes a one in 1,000 chance
of death on a job has a lower vslthan an identical worker with a one
in 10,000 chance of death. A sophisticated statistical meta-analysis
can take into account the relative differences in risk assumed in
different studies and “wash out” the effects of those differences on
the final vsl. Meta-analysis may seem like a good tool to establish a
consensus, but in reality it is very difficult to perform well. For
starters, a meta-analysis can only be done on similar studies that
employ the same statistical estimation technique; a
revealed preference study cannot be in a meta-analysis with a
contingent valuation study. In addition, if studies within a
particular method differ greatly in their approaches, it may not be
possible to combine all reputable studies using the same method in a
single meta-analysis.

When estimating the value of a statistical life for regulatory
purposes, economists are most comfortable with calculating a number
that is the by-product of decisions that people make every day that
manifest their willingness to pay for increased safety. Outside of the
realm of regulation, economists often place a value on a life after a tragic
death has resulted in the loss of future income to a household. For
such matters, the procedure of calculating the value of a lost life is
fairly straightforward: The economist calculates the present value of
the future stream of income that would have accrued to the decedent,
adjusted for taxes, consumption, and the cost of living for his
community. This approach may seem straightforward, but it is dependent
on a number of contestable assumptions. For example, what assumptions
should be made about lifetime income growth and retirement age for the
deceased? Is it correct to use population averages or should we
consider certain factors that might have influenced income growth and
retirement age, such as education or the age of children of the
deceased? As anyone who followed the travails of the special
administrator of the government’s official 9/11 survivors fund can
attest, this approach can invite any number of controversies and is
far from providing a value for a life that is free from criticism.

A common critique of the role of vsl in regulatory analysis is that it
fails to distinguish between the life saved of someone young as
opposed to someone close to the end of a life. For instance, many
would argue quite sensibly that a society should be willing to pay
more for a regulation that saves the lives of 10 young children than
for one that saves the lives of 10 senior citizens. There are two
variants of the vsl that make such adjustments: the quality-adjusted
life-year (qaly) and the value of a statistical life-year (vsly).
Both attempt to calculate the value of one additional year of life
saved, with the former adjusting for the quality as well as the amount
of life saved, and the latter adjusting the value of a life-year saved by
discounting life-years saved in the future, as is commonly done in
finance. Both approaches seem intuitively more appealing to many
policymakers than vsl calculations. John Graham, the administrator
of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, has expressed a
preference for using such measures to complement or even replace
the vsl when performing cost-benefit analysis. Both the qaly and the
vsly are fundamentally different than the vsl. The vsl is in essence a
metric derived from decisions made by people either directly in a
survey or observed indirectly in their market choices. Its use in
cost-benefit analysis makes perfect sense. Neither the vsly nor the
qaly are calculated in that way — no one is observing the behavior
of anyone when arriving at this metric. They are applicable only in
the context of cost-effectiveness analysis, where the researcher is
merely trying to rank a number of different policies or treatments.
For instance, if researchers are trying to decide which of a number
of different medical procedures should be done, they may decide
that the hospital feels that only procedures that cost less than
$100,000 per year of life saved, or qaly saved, make sense. Thus,
if a hospital performs a bone marrow transplant that prolongs the
life of a patient by one year, and analysts estimate that the patient
is at 80 percent of his previous life quality for the remaining year,
then they would conclude that 0.8 of a life year was saved. If the
procedure costs less than $80,000, then they would conclude that
it was cost effective under the $100,000 rule (which, incidentally,
is a rule of thumb that quite a few hospitals have been known to
use). In the case of a vsly, let us assume that we have a regulation
that prolongs the life of a young person by two years, on average,
at the end of his life, as might be the case with bans on smoking
inside of restaurants. It is not appropriate to compare that
regulation to a regulation that prolongs the life of a person by one
year today. The vsly requires the regulator to discount the two years
saved 50 years down the road so as to fairly compare it to the life-
year saved today. In this case, using a seven percent discount rate
(to reflect the cost of capital) we would find that the life-years
saved 50 years down the road are only worth 0.07 of a life-year saved
now, just as two $1 bills received 50 and 51 years in the future would
only be worth seven cents to someone today.

While the estimated vsls vary wildly between studies, a broad
consensus is beginning to coalesce around a fairly narrow range of
values, thanks to a number of very influential studies. Economists
Janusz Mrozek and Laura Taylor published a meta-analysis of a large
number of revealed preference studies that was almost universally
praised by researchers in the field for its thoroughness and
inclusiveness. After controlling for all possible factors that could
bias or influence the vsl, they estimated a number between $2 million
and $3 million. More recently, Kip Viscusi of Harvard, in his own meta-
analysis, concluded that the number was closer to $7 million. Viscusi
is one of the leading authorities in the field as the editor of the
Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, the preeminent journal
in risk analysis, as well as the author of numerous books and articles
on risk analysis. Given his stature, this paper has been taken very
seriously by regulators. But Viscusi analyzes occupational deaths not
by occupation but by industry. That distinction is important; grouping
workers by industry essentially treats the risks faced by secretaries
that work for a mining company identical to the risks faced by miners,
a result that obscures the true risk premium received by workers.
There is not necessarily any systematic bias in his analysis as a
result, but the studies he considers generally have higher standard
errors. On the contingent valuation front, Alan Krupnick, Maureen
Cropper, and a number of economists affiliated with Resources for
the Future conducted a series of sophisticated surveys in the United
States, Canada, and Asia that received kudos from other researchers
for sophistication and rigor. The resulting series of papers, which have
just begun to be published, conclude with a number surprisingly
close to the Mrozek and Taylor value, with a range of between $2
million and $3 million. A paper by John Leeth of Bentley University
and John Ruser of the Department of Commerce may prove to be the
last word when it comes to revealed preference studies. They obtained
an incredibly complete and disaggregated data set on death and injury
rates broken down by occupation, as well as a complementary data set
with wage and employment data for the same disaggregated occupations.
Leeth and Ruser estimate a vsl in the range of $2.6 to $4.7 million.

Scholars have spent many years researching and arguing about the
correct approach to determining the value of a statistical life, and
the field is only now beginning to gravitate toward a fairly narrow
range of numbers. But the federal government has been doing cost-
benefit analyses of various regulations for decades and, as a
necessary component of those analyses, has assumed different values in
order to compare costs to benefits. So what values do the feds use?
The Department of Transportation uses a figure of $3 million, which it
left unchanged after a 2002 review of the literature. Transportation
officials cited the Mrozek and Taylor research as a significant
influence of its decision. The Environmental Protection Agency
currently uses a mean value of $6.3 million for its cost-benefit
analysis, with an interval between $1 million and $10 million. While
some degree of flexibility is to be applauded (as I will explain
below), in reality every regulation issued by the epathat spent less
than $8 million to save a life has been approved. The epa commissioned
a large number of studies on the matter a few years ago, in an effort
to establish a reliable, uncontroversial number to use in its
analyses. Unfortunately, that work has led to nothing of the sort.
Having different agencies use different valuations may seem illogical,
but there is a hint of logic in this. Cass Sunstein of the University
of Chicago has argued that people place different values on avoiding
different types of risks — for instance, people fear dying of aids or
in a plane wreck much more than dying in an automobile accident.
Hence, it may make some sense for different authorities to apply
different vsls to different risks.

It is not uncommon for well-meaning people to object strenuously to
placing a value on a human life, judging such a practice to be callous
and demeaning of the value of existence. Is not every life worth an
infinite value to the person living it? Lisa Heinzerling, a Georgetown
University professor and the co-author of a book critical of the use
of vsl, claims that the difficulty in estimating such an amorphous
entity as the value of a statistical life leaves policymakers in the
position of being easily manipulated by the wonks who attempt to
estimate vsls in the first place. It would be much better, she argues,
to have “informed public debate drawing on moral, philosophical, and
societal considerations beyond market-based assessments.” While more
informed debate on regulatory matters might make sense, it is also
necessary to realize that society cannot spend an infinite amount of
money to protect and extend each person’s life, and some choices have
to be made in the realm of health and safety regulation. We have to
decide to what extent we are willing to expend resources to prevent
unnecessary death rather than improve education, increase handicap
access, or ensure a cleaner environment. To resist placing a dollar
value on a statistical life is to abdicate any sense of rational
decision-making in the regulatory realm.