Posts Tagged ‘poverty’


Iceland on the Brink

February 5, 2009

The Independent   header
Two years ago, Iceland was top of the UN living index. Now it is in the frontline of the global economic crisis after the failure of its banks, reports Sophie Morris in Reykjavik.

s-iceland-largeJust a few short years ago, Iceland had much to be proud of. The good times were rolling so fast that one expected the country’s almost round-the-clock summer daylight to last all year. Business was booming, society overfed, and the capital, Reykjavik, was in vogue as a travel destination for rich revellers, gastronomes and culture lovers.

Iceland is a country of dramatic natural beauty: lunar landscapes, spouting geysers, sheer glaciers and craggy volcanic rock formations; an impressive but inhospitable isle floating in mid-Atlantic isolation. When, in 2007, it topped the UN’s Human Development Index for its high standard of living, literacy and life expectancy, the tiny community of 310,000 felt they had proved their educated, hard-working and resilient character on an international scale.

The previous year, America had abandoned its long-standing naval air station at Keflavik. Symbolically, the move set Icelanders free from more than seven centuries of foreign domination, first as a Norwegian and then a Danish colony, and for the past 65 years, less formally, under the wing of the US.

“The Vikings” had risen again, and this is the admiring title the country bestowed upon the small group of aggressive businessmen whose high-risk investing bloated the island’s economy to 10 times its GDP, buying up chunks of the British and Continental European high streets in the process. French Connection, Debenhams, Karen Millen, Oasis, Warehouse, Mappin & Webb, Hamleys and many more fell into Icelandic ownership. So did West Ham United football club. When Icelanders visited Copenhagen, they would strut into its smartest department store to buy expensive fashions from “their” shop. Like many British chains, it too was owned by the “Viking” Jon Asgeir Johannesson’s Baugur group: one in the eye for the mother country.

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Report: Munk Debate on Humanitarian Intervention

December 12, 2008

imaging-logoGlobal Pundit Operation Itch Contributor
Toronto, Canada – Christiane Amanpour’s
 CNN special tonight Scream Bloody Murder on genocide was quite timely after this week’s Munk Debate on Humanitarian Intervention.  Both events hinged on the question of whether the international community has an obligation to intervene in situations of genocide and other man-made crises when a country is unable to protect  itself.  The most immediate example that comes to mind is that of Rwanda in the early 1990s. For one hundred days in 1994, a bloody genocide perpetrated by Hutu extremistsresulted in the deaths of 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates in Rwanda.  Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda, provided the United Nations with ample evidence that this massacre was coming, yet the UN refused to send him the troops and resources he requested. Weeks before the killing began Dallaire had been tipped off by a Hutu informant that weapons caches were hidden all around the capital city of Kigali and that the names of Tutsis were being compiled into lists in preparation for the slaughter.  All this information was presented to the United Nations numerous times, but to no avail.   Today we can look back and ask ourselves, if Dallaire had been given the 4500 troops he asked for, would the situation have been different?  How many lives would have been saved?  Is it safe to say that the international community, specifically the United Nations, failed General Dalliare, and most importantly, the people of Rwanda?  Asked tonight by Amanpour if he thinks he did enough to stop the genocide, he regretfully says no, he could have done more. 

In 1948, The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide  was passed by the United Nations, requiring nations to act to stop genocide.    The word genocide, which literally means race/group killing, was coined by Raphael Lemkin in 1944, a man who had lost 40 members of his family in the most horrific genocide the world has ever seen, the Holocaust.  Lemkin was instrumental in creating  The Convention on Genocide and hoped it would stop future massacres. Yet since the law officially came into effect in January 1951, we have witnessed the killing of millions of people around the world as a result of genocide.  (WITH VIDEO BELOW THE BREAK)
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India, Katrina, and the Bailout: How Poor People Everywhere Are Being Neglected

December 3, 2008

allisonkilkenny1Allison Kilkenny    •   Operation Itch Contributor
Written beside the American creed of hating terrorists and loving the Irish and Italians should be the footnote and we ignore poor people. Poor people always get the shit end of every deal usually because they can’t get the attention of politicians or pundits, and because of this the poor people in New Orleans and India have a lot in common.

India has more than 100,000 millionaires, and is creating new ones at a rate rivaled only be Russia. Meanwhile, nearly half of Mumbai’s 14-18 million residents live in slums. In the United States, poor people suffer under a specialized caste system that masquerades as a functioning democracy. In the good ole’ US of A, the top 10 percent, roughly those earning more than $100,000, reached a level of income share not seen since before the Depression.

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November 12, 2008

by Dennis Trainor, Jr

yesThe election of Barack Obama is a moment of undeniable power and significance. A nation built on the backs of slaves, a nation that- two generations ago, forced African Americans to use separate water fountains- not only elected an African American to the highest office in the land, but we have done so with the zealous fanfare that calls to mind the adulation lavished on the Beatles and the Kennedys.

I was in the streets of Washington DC on election night soaking in the atmosphere and talking to people. One woman, an African American in her 30’s, told me that she had never felt like she belonged. In her entire life she said, she had always felt like an outsider. “Until right now.”  I soaked that in as much as I could. Then she got into her 2008 Mercedes Benz, gave me a “god bless” and a pulled into the traffic on 14th street, joining the parade of cars with beeping horns and rhapsodic torso’s thrusting out of windows and sunroofs and screaming into the night.

Clearly these people were not wearing their seat belts. Ralph Nader would be horrified.

A few minutes later I spoke with another African American – a homeless man who was waiting for me as I parked my car in the street.  Willie, of course, was just after asking me for some money, but wanted a little conversation first. He was already setting the bar low for Obama: “One man, even the president, can’t do anything by himself”, he said. Even so, the smile on Willie’s face and the spring in his step nearly brought me to tears.

I said that one man, if he is the president, can – and has- take us to war.

But Willie was more concerned about domestic issues. “Poverty is not going anywhere, it is just gonna get worse.” Yes, he was obviously angling for some cash- and I gave him some. I almost made a joke about wealth redistribution as I took out what I thought was 3 bucks from my pocket, but (doh!) turned out to be a single wrapped around two twenty dollar bills. So Willie got $41 bucks from me.

Several forces collided in this election. A nation horrified into paralysis and embarrassment by the Bush administration, a country desperate- and ready- to wrestle the monkey of white guilt off of its back and smooth the scars of slavery and racism meet head on with the undeniably transformational figure of Barrack Obama. His ability as an orator to inspire hope is a rare gift. We could, and have many times in the past, settled for much less in a president.

But we also live in a time where marketing holds more sway over our lives than most of us will readily admit. For instance, and speaking of water fountains- in a land where the tap water would be the envy of most people in the world, we willingly pay more for a gallon of bottled water than we do for a gallon of gas. Marketing. Show business.

The presidential election was decided in this context, and Obama’s campaign will go down in history as a masterstroke of marketing. Show biz. In selling us change, the Obama campaign (with the cooperation of most major media outlets) was successful in getting most of us to suspend our critical thinking. Note that Chris Matthews of Hardball said on election night that it was his job to make sure the Obama presidency goes smoothly. A journalist with a news desk granted a major mouthpiece by MSNBC was comfortable enough to actually say this.

Now that we have bought the product of an Obama nation, we will spend the coming months opening the pretty package.  What will be inside?

In an ideal world, the American citizens, living as we do in a representative democracy, will (at least in part) get to fill up that package. By holding our elected officials accountable, particularly those members of congress who hold just as much constitutional power as the president, we can create the future.

Am I naïve enough to think that we live in an ideal world? My president elect is asking me to dream big. In Grant Park on election night Obama presented himself as proof that a government of the people by the people and for the people has not perished from the earth.

Now that Obama is elected, it is time for those of you who have been silent- those of you who want a shift away from the imperial, unilateral, bush doctrine foreign policy; those of you who want a single payer health care system, among many other things, to wake up. Making demands, actively shaping the change that Obama promises, that is the role that citizens play in this little pageant. Failure to play that role, to sit back uncritically and wait and see what a Washington DC controlled by the Democrats in the executive and legislative branch will do, cedes power to those who will not wait. Namely it cedes power to corporate interests. For all of your 5 and 10 dollar campaign donations it was Wall street that funded the Obama machine- and they will not will not sit passively back to “wait and see.”

Inauguration day is too late to mobilize.  The 1/20/09 bumper stickers have lulled us into a state of passivity worthy of sheep, not the energized and active electorate required to uphold our end of the promise of a government of for and by the people.

Contact your elected officials. Join congressional watchdog groups like NOVEMBER5.ORG.  Work with the Democratic majority. Making demands of the incoming administration and congress is not the same as making attacks.

“One man, even the president, can’t do anything by himself”, Willie said.

Well said, Willie. A sentiment worth much more than the $41 I paid for it.

Dennis Trainor, Jr is the writer & performer of “The Hermit With Davis Fleetwood”