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Monthly Archive for January, 2009

ACTIVIST SAYS BONO’S PRO BONO IS A NO NO

WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 20…Can a man who has been honored by the Queen of England, given a TED award for social activism, named a Time  Magazine Person of the Year, nominated for an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a Grammy and a Nobel Peace Prize be all bad?

Leah Schildkraut thinks he can.

Bono, lead singer of U2, billionaire financier and globetrotting philanthropist, has devoted much time and energy to raising money for African causes.   

But Schildkraut, Emerging Economies Specialist, with the Anarcho-Feminist Alliance, thinks he and other celebrities are doing more harm than good.

“Africa doesn’t need handouts,” she said. “It needs a level playing field.”

On the eve of President-elect Obama’s inauguration, she traveled to Washington with a delegation of African entrepreneurs to expose what she called the “cult of celebrity charity,” and to lobby officials of the incoming administration for free trade agreements with Africa, investment initiatives and aid to local businesses.

They stood in the happily milling crush near the Lincoln Memorial holding signs, demanding “Independence, not Dependence,” and  “Trade Not Aid for Africa.” Schildkraut had set up a table with a selection of African exports–Ghanaian grapefruit, Nigerian prints, Ugandan coffee–and a colorful leaflet explaining the wide range of products and services that Africa offers. Holding a portable mike she harangued the crowd. “Africa is being kept in a state of colonial subservience by capitalist donor fronts, the World Bank and the IMF. The same people who give them a useless pittance are holding them back from real prosperity…”  Hundreds of TV News people, photographers and You Tubers walked by, but no one stopped. All eyes were on the Memorial where a troupe of A- list performers were entertaining the star struck crowd. 

“Maybe this was not a good time, Leah,” Edward, a free press advocate from Zimbabwe said gently. “Nobody wants controversy today.”

“U2 ,” someone shouted excitedly and the crowd surged forward for a better look.

At the top of the steps, Bono was being cheered on as he sang “Pride…In the name of Love”, the song U2 wrote in honor of Martin Luther King.

“U2 is the problem, not the solution,” Schildkraut shouted. She erased the “Trade not Aid” sign and hurriedly printed “BONO IS A HYPOCRITE” in black block letters. 

“That is a little strong, Leah,” said Miriam, an anti-slavery activist from Niger.

People paused for a moment, but then moved on as Schildkraut grabbed a hand mike. “Bono and Geldof and all the celebrity dilettantes present a distorted picture of Africa…”

A tall man in a colorful dashiki fixed her with a scornful look. “What do you know about Africa, lady?” And moved on before Schildkraut answered:

“Don’t listen to me. Listen to Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda. He says that the celebrity charities offer ‘a portrayal of Africans as unable to think, empty…’ He says that Africa has been stripped of self-initiative…That giving money to governments makes them accountable to the donors, the World bank, the IMF, the celebrities and not their own people…He says that the billions donated to corrupt governments are used to pay off political allies and bolster police forces that maintain  repressive rule.”

Humanity flowed around them. Only one person stopped and watched in indignant disbelief. He was carrying a sign that read: U2 MEETUPS and identified himself as Efraim Durg, head of the Brooklyn chapter. 

“Listen to Professor William Easterly,” Schildkraut said. “He says that the typical African is a long way from being a starving AIDS victim at the mercy of child soldiers. He says that between 1/2 and 1 per cent of Africans died of AIDS in 2007. That only one out of 10,800 died as a result of armed conflict…”

“That’s because people like Bono are making a difference,” Durg said.

“Easterly says that in 2006 Sub-Saharan Africa registered its third straight year of GDP growth above 6%, better than most western countries,” Schildkraut said. “Economist Michael Clemens says that Africa has expanded elementary school enrollment at more than twice the rate of western economies, which kept peasants and workers functionally illiterate for centuries…”

“No one is lis-ten-ing,” Durg jeered.

Schildkraut climbed a chair and turned up her mike. “At a recent conference Mwenda, who was imprisoned twice in Uganda for criticizing the government, challenged the G8 countries to liberalize trade rules so African products could compete in the world market. ‘Did any country ever become rich by holding out the begging bowl?’ Mwenda asked…And Bono…” She gulped, speechless with rage..”Bono heckled him. Said what he was saying was ‘bollocks.’”

Durg blinked in puzzlement. “What’s bollocks?”

“Bono was angry because Mwenda was upstaging him,” Schildkraut said.

“Oh yeah, can he sing?” Durg asked.

“Professor Easterly says he wonders if Africa is saving celebrity careers more than celebrities are saving Africa.”

This was too much for Durg. “Bono runs himself ragged trying to raise money for poor, sick people and this is the thanks he gets…He gets billions of dollars of debts forgiven…”

“So the corrupt rulers don’t have to repay money they used to buy limos, pay off cronies and strengthen their police forces,” Schildkraut said. “And meanwhile the G8 is keeping African cotton, sugar and produce out of the world market…”

“Bono started the “Red” products campaign,” Durg said.

“Which is a complete flop,” Schildkraut said, her voice breaking. “After a $100 million marketing campaign only $18 million has been raised…”

“It’s just getting started,” Durg said.

“And it’s the typical shallow consumerist meliorism that the Africans object to,” Schildkraut scoffed. “Buy an iPod nano and provide 83 treatments to relieve the risk of AIDS transmission. Buy a billion nanos and wipe out AIDS. Buy a trillion and wipe out world poverty… Meanwhile, the nano is manufactured at factories in Longhua and Suzhou, China where the workers put in 15 hour days for $50 a month…”

“That’s not Bono’s fault,” Durg said.” He can’t solve all the world’s problems.”

“Let him start with his own company, Elevation Partners,” Schildkraut said. “They own a piece of Palm electronics, whose products are manufactured in Guanzhou, China by Casio where four thousand workers walked off the job in protest at low wages and poor conditions and the riot police were called in to force them back to work and 20 were injured. They own BioWare/Pandemic game producers whose components are manufactured by Atari at factories in Guangdong where workers are made to stand for hours at a time…”

“You couldn’t afford any of those products if they were made in the US,” Durg said.

Schildkraut sagged and stepped off the chair. “I know,” she said. “I’m the contradiction. I’m the problem…”

“Look Leah, there’s Stevie Wonder,” Miriam said.

Durg pointed to Obama who was smiling benignly from behind a glass shield.

“You should try to lighten up,” he said. “Today’s a great day.”

“I know,” Schildkraut said. She gave him a bag of Good African Coffee. “Try this,” she said. “It’s really good.”

INSURERS CRY “BETRAYAL!” SEEK IMMEDIATE BAILOUT

LONDON, England, Jan 12…Insurance companies face “total extinction” if the global economic crisis continues, an executive warned today.

“We are being inundated by a tsunami of fraudulent claims,” said Walter Neff, VP Adjustments for AIG. “Our trust is being betrayed by desperate, unscrupulous insurees. Forget the bankers, brokers, auto makers and porn merchants. Our boat is the leakiest. We need a bailout now.” 

Neff told attendees at the annual Assurers and Actuaries convention that failed business people, destitute mortgage holders and disgraced CEO’s had put an “intolerable” burden on the system. 

“We’re optimists, we make our money betting against disaster,” he said. “We trusted our clients to stay in their homes, keep their jobs and outlive their insurance policies. And they let us down.”

Since the recession  began three years ago, “insurees have been wreaking havoc on our actuarial tables,” Neff said.

It began with the fires, he said. In normal times there is a very slight probability that a house will be destroyed by fire so the insurers could fatten the homeowner’s premium with extra fire protection. 

But when the subprime meltdown began the companies saw an incredible upsurge in fire claims.

“Houses were going up in flames all over the country,” Neff said. “We had to hire extra adjusters to keep up with claims.”

After a few investigations uncovered arson, the companies realized that people who couldn’t keep up with their mortgages were burning down their dream houses to squeeze  out one last bit of equity. “We could nail the few who had moved valuables and furniture before the fire,” Neff  said, “but it was hard to prove a case against the ones who were willing to let heirlooms and family keepsakes be consumed. These small domestic tragedies added up to a tremendous loss for us.”

Small businesses were the next flag. “Fire, theft, flood, spoiled shipments, vandalism,” Neff said. “I’m talking about family businesses that had been around for generations and were now ruined…Respectable people whose only recourse was fraud.”

Corporate insurance had been a cash cow for years. “We sold hundreds of millions of liability protection,” Neff said. 

“But suddenly, companies were shedding CEO’s like a sheepdog sheds hair. Faced with illegal dismissal suits they were  opening those golden parachutes. And we were providing the soft landing.”

“Corporate officers whose contracts indemnified them against legal action were getting sued and indicted left and right,” Neff said. “And all those expensive lawyers were on us.”

And now comes a new and potentially lethal wrinkle, which Neff says “could sink the industry”–Tycoon suicides.

In the last few months four prominent and–according to Neff–heavily insured executives have killed themselves. Investment banker Thierry Magon de La Villehuchet, who lost $1.4 billion of his  clients money in the Madoff scandal slit his wrists in his midtown Manhattan office. German billionaire Adolf Merckle, ranked as the 92nd. richest man in the world and often described as Europe’s Warren Buffet, took a $600 million loss when he sold Volkswagen short. He wrote a suicide note and lay down on the railroad tracks about 300 yards from his home.  In September London financier Kirk Stephenson, CEO of struggling private equity firm Olivant Partners, stepped in front of a railroad train going 100 mph. Last week Chicago real estate mogul Stephen Good was discovered in his car, a bullet wound in his head.

“These were devoted family men,” Neff said. “The only liquid asset they had left was an insurance policy.  It’s possible that they killed themselves to leave some cash for their heirs…”

All insurance policies contain a clause that cancels payment if the insured commits suicide in the first two years the policy is in force.  “Our actuarial tables showed no significant incidence of suicide after the cut off date, so we felt safe with that clause,” Neff said. 

But now the actuaries have determined that executive suicides could become a copycat phenomenon. Agents have been calling clients seeking to rewrite their policies. 

“It’s tricky,” Neff said. “Some of these guys are in bad shape. We don’t want to give them any ideas.”

Companies have been talking about an industry-wide agreement to change the terms of the standard policy to  forbid suicide entirely.

“That probably won’t work, either,” Neff said. “Would you buy a policy that doesn’t let you kill yourself in forty or fifty years if you get a terminal disease or are just tired being old?”

Most policies have a clause which pays double for accidental death. “That was a good deal when only 4.5% of deaths were accidental,” Neff said. But now he  is afraid resourceful execs will stage their deaths to look accidental. “We’re watching out for scuttled yachts, totaled Ferraris, crashed private planes,” Neff said. “We’re on alert for death by salmonella, botulism, the ebola virus…”

Lobbyists have been put to work in all the major capitals seeking a bailout. “There are thousands of young, healthy men in the prime of life, who qualified for  billions of dollars of life insurance,” Neff said. “With more companies going bankrupt, more dismissals and indictments we could have an epidemic of dead executives on our hands.”

Who is Zizek and Why is He Corrupting My Son?

Igor Yopsvoyomatsky, editor of paranoiaisfact.com, answers readers’ questions.

Dear Igor,

My son came home for winter break with a new culture hero–Slavoj Zizek. Zizek had taken his university by storm, giving two sold-out lectures and sitting for an online interview that lasted hours. “He’s a post-modern ironist,” my son said. It was nice to hear him use words I didn’t think he knew. It was great that he went to hear a philosopher-any philosopher-give a lecture. But then I read some of Zizik’s essays and I was appalled. Zizik says that Islamic terrorists are not fundamentalists or even revolutionaries, but the casualties of global capitalism. That on 9/11 a paranoid America got what it had been fantasizing about for decades. That Mohammad Atta and his terrrorist hijackers represented the “good as the spirit of and actual readiness to sacrifice in the name of a higher cause.” That when prisoners were tortured in Guantanamo they were really being initiated into the true essence of American culture. And if Americans really believed in Democracy they would not vote themselves, but would let the rest of the world choose their leader. My son says I should lighten up. It’s just a big joke-”post modern, dad-” meant to make people question conventional assumptions. But then I read an article which calls Zizek “the most dangerous philosopher in the west.” Is this paranoia or fact?

60′s Liberal

Shaker Heights, Ohio

Dear Liberal,

First…If you want to cure your son of his post-modern tendencies cut off his allowance.

Now to your question. This is pure paranoia. If Zizik were dangerous you would never have heard of him. The capitalist culture welcomes and rewards only harmless iconoclasts, who do not challenge the economic order. To Zizek goes the lucrative honor of being this generation’s token anarchist.

Slavoj Zizek is Slovenia’s most famous culture hustler. (Admittedly, it is a small country.) You could say he is the Jon Stewart of the academic lecture circuit. He plies a nice trade on the well-endowed campuses of the world, making statements that seem to be outrageous, but are really clever panderings to the politics of his audience. He is a living oxymoron-a best-selling philosopher. He publishes prodigiously dense, obscure musings, but always inserts a sensational easy-to-understand headline about the US, Nazism, Stalinism, Jihadism, Christianity, Zionism, Anti-Semitism (a particular favorite) which creates controversy and adds to his box office appeal.

If Zizek didn’t exist, Woody Allen would have had to invent him. He is the subject of a full length documentary, has had a punk band (Laibajh) and a virtual nation (NSK) founded in his honor. He has his own academic journal (International of Zizek Studies,) has written copy for the Abercrombie and Fitch Catalogue and is recently married to a beautiful Argentine model.

He cultivates publicity, responding to every request for a quote or an interview. He loves to tweak Americans and Jews because they can be counted to respond with howls of injured indignation. In his book The Borrowed Kettle he is quoted as saying: “Better the worst Stalinist dictatorship than the most liberal capitalist democracy.” He is modishly anti Israel, saying that Nazism and Zionism were allied in their programs to “change violently the ratio of ethnic groups in a population.” He has been quoted as supporting the view that “the only true solution to the Jewish question is the final solution (their annihilation) because the Jews are the ultimate obstacle to the final solution of history of overcoming of divisions in unity and flexibility” while offering an exemption from extermination “to Jews resisting identification with the state of Israel.” When challenged he responds with rhetorically raised eyebrow that Jews are “the majority of my friends and theoretical collaborators.”

Zizek’s politics are shared by many on the lifestyle left. But he stands out because of his clever use of American popular culture to disarm his critics. He is an expert on Hitchcock, finds great significance in the Matrix trilogy and leavens his diatribes with movie references, jokes and humorous anecdotes. How angry can you be at a man who claims to see the world as a Marx Brothers’ out take?

In the spirit of Zizek I can offer you an anecdote for consolation. In my student days I worked as an orderly on the psychiatric ward of the Pinsk hospital. A man marched back and forth, a sheet wrapped around him like a toga.

“He thinks he’s Julius Caesar,” a nurse said with a smile.

Another man stood by the window, whining and strumming on an air guitar…”Thinks he’s Bob Dylan,” she said.

In a shadowy corner a man sat crooning to himself, while he rocked back and forth on a pile of soiled, fetid sheets.

“Who does he think he is?” I asked.

“An intellectual,” the nurse said.

ACTIVIST URGES BOYCOTT OF “FASCIST FAST FOODS”

NEW YORK, N.Y., Jan. 6th…Fast food franchises are “insidiously” planting sexist, anti-labor and neo-imperialist propaganda in their commercials, a consumer advocate charged today.

Leah Schildkraut, Corporate Malfeasance specialist with the Anarcho-Feminist Coalition, called for an immediate boycott of Taco Bell, Carl’s Jr. and Burger King.

In a press conference to kick off a nationwide campaign, Schildkraut spotlighted three commercials which she said “reinforced reactionary tendencies in the young male demographic.”  

In the Taco Bell ad, a customer is about to tip the counterman. “Keep the change,” he says. But his friend stops him and says he can get another Taco Bell for what he just tipped. The customer changes his mind and quickly scoops up his change.  “You only pushed a button,” he explains to the stiffed counterman. As he walks away his friend shrugs  as if to say “sorry, but he’s right.”

“Close analysis of this commercial reveals a very subtle message of class prejudice,” Schildkraut said.

A man in the audience jumped up. “Get a life.”

Schildkraut ignored him. “The customers are young, smug and obviously more intelligent than the counterman who is portrayed as an unskilled, retard, undeserving of a tip. This is a not so subtle attempt to devalue labor in the minds of the young and produce an anti-union mentality…”

The heckler who identified himself as Efraim Durg, founder of MalesInRevolt. com, looked  to the crowd for support. “It’s a not so subtle attempt to sell burritos, you mean.”

“Only on the surface,” Schildkraut said. “What’s important are what advertising people calls hidden persuaders…”

She cued up another commercial. “Now we turn to the blatantly sexist Carl’s Jr.”

A young man is seen devouring an enormous  Carl’s Jr. burger while mechanics sand splashes of white paint off his car. A voice informs us that the man has  several girlfriends and “there was nothing wrong with that” until they found out about each other. The mechanics work away with knowing, complicit smiles.  As the commercial ends we see that one or all of the scorned females has painted “CHEATER” on the man’s car. 

“Notice his gloating look,” Schildkraut said, seething. “This commercial endorses infidelity, deceit and male conspiracy against women.”

“It endorses cheap food for young guys on a budget, you mean,” Durg said.

“Everything has a political context,” Schildkraut said. “Have you ever seen a commercial in which a woman is congratulated for cheating on her boyfriend?”

“Maybe not, but it happens in real life every day,” Durg said with an aggrieved look. “Young, broke guys can’t get women…”

“You really believe it’s all about money, don’t you?” Schildkraut said. “You’re a victim of fast food propaganda…”

A large woman stood over Durg.  “You’re pathetic,” she jeered.

Schildkraut screened a Burger King spot entitled “Whopper Virgins.” A picnic table of Greenlanders in colorful indigenous dress, taste a Burger King Whopper and a Big Mac. They choose the Whopper.

“The manifest content of the commercial is that unspoiled palates will prefer Burger King,” Schildkraut said. “But the subtext is that  fast food – American popular culture- is embraced by all. The fast food empires, having saturated their domestic markets, have now invaded these unspoiled lands…They hope to create a colonial dependency with their new weapons of conquest— transfat, sugar and sodium…”

“It’ll still be  a whole lot better than seal blubber,” Durg said.

The crowd erupted.

“Typical.”

“Redneck!” 

“Burger Kings, Dunkin’ Donuts, Kentucky Fried will pollute the pristine beauty of Nuuk,” Schildkraut warned, her voice rising. “Imperialism will bring obesity, diabetes, cardiac arrest to the Inuit just as it brought alcohol opium and syphilis to other unsuspecting people in the past…”

The audience was inflamed. 

“How about that Taco Bell commercial where the dude sends the valet parking lot guy to get him a Triple Steak and doesn’t tip him or even say thank you,” somebody shouted. 

“Or the Del Taco where the kid’s mom turns out to be a cougar.”

Schildkraut clapped. “Shut ‘em down…” The audience joined her, clapping and chanting. “Shut ‘em down…Shut ‘em down…”

“Hey don’t take our cheap food away,” Durg pleaded. “It’s the only thing we have.”

The audience quieted, struck by the anguish in his tone.

“Imagine, you’re a young guy who just got laid off from his dead end job,” Durg said. “You’re back living in your old room. Mom does your laundry. You have to borrow from dad to gas up the car. Can’t even take a girl out for a non fat vanilla latte. But you know  for a coupla bucks you can get a cheeseburger, fries, a coke and feel satisfied…Don’t take this small consolation away.”

Chairs scraped. There were murmurs of sympathy.

Schildkraut looked intently down at Durg. “Wait a minute, I know this guy.”  She jumped off the platform, pointing an accusing finger. “He’s the manager of the Jack-in-the-Box at the Paramus Mall.”

The crowd surged…

“He’s a spy.”

“Corporate goon!”

Durg was immediately surrounded by members of the Lesbian Cage Fighting Cooperative, who had been providing security.

“Okay buddy, take a hike…”

“Hold it!” Durg with a dramatic gesture.He pushed through the crowd to confront Schildkraut. “I know you too,bitch,” he said. “You come in every morning for a breakfast bowl. I didn’t recognize you without the Mets cap and the sunglasses,”"

Schildkraut turned away, blushing. 

“I’m trying to kick the habit,” she explained to her stunned colleagues. “I’m off Wendy’s and Long John Silver’s…But that nitrite rich bacon, the molten plastic cheese…”

“Busted!” Durg shrieked with a demonic glee. “From now on no more extra cibatta for you…”