To the US military: Leave humanitarian aid to NGOs
In response to the June 22 article, "Military focuses on development in Africa": I have some concerns. Even though the concept of military humanitarian aid may be intuitively appealing, it is redundant and can actually be harmful. There already is a set of organizations that are focusing on diplomacy and development. They are the dozens of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that have been busy in Africa working on diminishing the "root causes of terrorism" for the past 50 years or so.
Humanitarian aid involves complex strategies. Since the US military has little experience and probably few strategists, errors are likely. When civilians in Africa see armed men and women in military uniforms providing humanitarian aid, it sends the wrong message.
For years, NGO vehicles have prominently displayed the "no arms on board" stickers as they drove, mostly unchallenged, through contested areas. The presence of "armed aid" changes this dynamic. It puts humanitarian workers at risk. The US military should stick to defense and training and leave humanitarian aid to the pros. (I was a humanitarian aid worker in Africa for six years.)
Big Oil should fund alternative energy
Regarding the June 22 article, "In quest to go green, US firms retool car fleets": Oil companies and their political allies in Congress managed to prevent the current energy bill from requiring them to pay their fair share of fees to the government for drilling in US waters.
Seeing how their margin of escape is growing much smaller on matters such as fees, maybe the oil companies should seriously consider contributing a lot more funding toward alternative energy projects. For instance, the hybrid school bus could save a lot of fuel as well as expense for school districts. But the districts could use a little help buying them. A factory is producing the buses. How about Big Oil stepping up to the plate? Cough it up, guys, before Congress makes you do it.
Antisaggin' laws are discriminatory
Kudos to the writer of the June 18 article, "In Louisiana town, wearing low-rider pants may cost you," about the saggin' fashion phenomenon. Shame on those who waste the public's time legislating against this wacky form of rebellious self-expression. These young men have merely accomplished the same thing as generations before them by sporting a style of dress that baffles, enrages, and most important, clearly delineates them from their elders. Two historical references: pegged pants and bell-bottoms.
Passing laws against this droopy fashion statement is just another means of harassing and marginalizing young African-Americans, similar to the way some bars and nightclubs in my city permit whites to enter wearing any raggedy old baseball cap with a curved brim but turn away African-Americans with spotless flat-brimmed caps for "improper hip-hop dress."
And are these same self-righteous, predominantly male protectors of morality in Louisiana and elsewhere passing ordinances about young white ladies going around scantily clad, as I'm sure many do? Are preachers holding rallies to get girls to stop wearing short tops and supertight low-rider pants? Probably not – that's good, clean, all-American titillation, as opposed to the "indecent exposure" of boxer shorts.
Call this antisaggin' crusade what it is: racist, sexist hypocrisy.
West Papua and Indonesian democracy
I write in response to John Hughes's June 13 Opinion column, "Indonesia: an Islamic force for peace and progress."
Mr. Hughes writes that Indonesia's "people are enjoying a period of peace and relatively harmony" but doesn't mention the ongoing conflict in West Papua, the Indonesian colony on the Western half of the island of New Guinea that borders the nation of Papua New Guinea.
Indonesia's current president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, may have come to power in elections that were largely free and fair, but in West Papua the veneer of democracy is a sham.
West Papua was annexed by Indonesia during the 1969 Act of Free Choice. Many West Papuans call it the Act of No Choice. Indonesia is certainly no longer the authoritarian state that it was under Suharto, but implementation of democratic reforms has been uneven.
In West Papua the military remains outside civilian control, human rights violations remain widespread and systematic, and human rights defenders are routinely harassed and intimidated.
Certainly it is true that the emergence of human rights groups in West Papua is a sign that freedom is inexorably on the march, but the converse is equally true. The ongoing harassment of human rights defenders in West Papua and closure of the province to international humanitarian organizations and the foreign media by the current Indonesian government is a clear indication that political freedom is under threat.
The Institute for Papuan Advocacy and Human Rights
Mexicans didn't agree to adverse effects of free-trade agreements
The June 21 article, "Mexican farmers replace tequila plant with corn," struck a chord with me. The agave-farming of Jalisco state is one of the most beautiful areas of Mexico, not to mention a cultural icon. I cannot fathom these fields being converted to corn farming just to meet US energy demands. Even though the article focuses on the energy debate, it also touches on a largely avoided element of the current immigration debate: the role of capital and multinational corporations. So-called free-trade agreements allow corporations and capital to move freely across international borders with minimal laws and VIP treatment for those involved with that movement. Yet people whose lives and cultures can be undermined by such "agreements" must adhere to strict governmental restrictions regarding their rights.
Since NAFTA was enacted, US-subsidized agribusiness has flooded Mexican markets, which has put large numbers of Mexican farmers out of business. With no viable work left on their fields, these farmers have had basically two choices: Look for work in the larger metropolises of the country, especially in overcrowded Mexico City; or migrate (illegally) to the US and gamble on the American Dream. I seriously doubt that many of these farmers "agreed" to that.
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