Boycott Yahoo and Google

Apparently some companies like Yahoo and Google are assisting human rights abuses in China. Not only has Yahoo turned over account details and email of dissidents, but Google has installed censorware as part of its effort to appease authorites.

What would have happened if the apartheid regime had lasted another ten years and South African activists were still underground? Would Yahoo do as ABSA did and ambush ANC cadres using its electronic ATMs? Come to think of it, perhaps they already have us all under surveillance?


MEDIA: Cartoon Character terrorises the World, newspaper industry profiting from Islamophobia?

Is the Media and in particularly the newspaper industry profiting from Islamophobia and the cartoon crisis? How can anyone claim ignorance of the issue at stake (Muslim Angst), or the gravity of the situation (Global Media spreading riots, fear and terror?).

As a Jew I’m with my Moslem brothers on this one. What right do press barons have to fan the flames? As a believer in secular humanism, what can we do to save the middle ground, without falling into the trap of violence and aggression? I wouldn’t want to go to war merely for the sake of athiesm, or the rights of commies, peaceniks, people I adore and love.

So lets all avoid rushing into a secular society versus religion argument, without examining the wider context of Bush’s War against Terror, Washington’s own Theocracy, Hamas and the Israeli State.

Are Jews, Moslems and Christians able to distinguish between right and wrong? Can we make valid judgements and extrapolations from experience, for example the Russian Gulag, Srebenicia, Rwanda and the Nazi holocaust? If Moslems have become the Jews of Europe, how are their worst fears being realised and how can we stop an impending catastrophe where the entire World gets wiped out by the religious right and fundementalists on either side?

SO please keep those pictures of the conflict off the front page, until some reason prevails, wounds heal and we all have time to assess who or what is actually being depicted by some mad cartoonist who I’ve never seen or heard of, and who most assuredly doesn’t know the Prophet Mohammed, and wouldn’t know what Allah looked like either.

Clear Channel Media Bends the Rules

ONE of the world’s largest corporate media companies has drawn fire from critics. The de facto owners of South African dailies Cape Times and Star newspapers, Clear Channel Communications, the holding company of Clear Channel Independent is raising hell in Iraq, and has even been accused of cosying up to George W Bush and the Religious Right. Here’s an extract from a recent expose, published in the City Pages

THERE are many facets of Clear Channel’s corporate personality. The company continues to branch out, forging a presence in everything from theater to photography exhibits to halftime shows at sporting events. And it has a syndication arm that produces the Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura Schlessinger programs.

In fact, there is a political bent to the company that has been quite conservative. After 9/11, for example, a widely circulated memo contained a list of suggested songs that station managers might want to consider too sensitive for listeners, including “Imagine” and “Peace Train.” (During the controversy that followed, the company claimed that the list reflected the opinions of the executives who compiled it and did not constitute an official company blacklist.) After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a number of Clear Channel stations sponsored “Support the Troops” rallies that critics called naked pro-war endorsements of the Bush administration. Additionally, the company, which does not have its own news division, recently dropped its affiliation with ABC News Radio and partnered with Fox News to air hourly updates on some stations.

The company’s founder, L. Lowry Mays, is a close friend of the Bush family and has maintained professional and political ties with both Bush the elder and the son. When George W. was the governor of Texas, Mays was appointed to the state’s technology council in 1996; he later contributed $51,000 to Bush’s reelection campaign in 1998. Between 2000 and 2002, entities associated with Clear Channel–through PACs, soft money, and individual contributions–forked over $1 million to political campaigns, with 75 percent going to Republican candidates.

“You’re dealing with a super-large tastemaker who can make or break people more than any other company in any industry,” says Mick Spence, a Minneapolis entertainment lawyer. “‘Tastemaker’ has a positive connotation most of the time, but in this case, it’s all determined on marketability of any product. That’s what Clear Channel does.”

“We’re a big company, and you have the good and the bad,” counters Dan Seeman, the vice president and general manager for Clear Channel Radio Minneapolis-St. Paul. “It’s frustrating, because a lot of the perception is myth.” Still, he allows, “We have a lot of resources, and we take advantage of those resources.”

The company’s critics are legion, including a number of high-profile media personalities. In early 2004, Howard Stern, the self-proclaimed King of All Media, was dropped from six Clear Channel stations on the grounds of profane language. Stern countered that the real reason he was dropped is that he turned against George W. Bush just as the presidential campaign was kicking into high gear. Stern, who was once a Bush supporter, repeatedly railed against the president for the war in Iraq, and against FCC chairman Michael Powell, a Bush appointee who had levied hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines against stations that carried Stern.

In November, post-election, Stern appeared on the David Letterman show, ostensibly to promote his impending move off the airwaves and onto satellite radio. But instead, Stern repeatedly talked about the threat to the First Amendment in the current era, one in which he says he cannot do or say things on the air that he did 20 years ago.

“I’m doing this because of Clear Channel,” Stern told Letterman about moving to satellite. “There’s nowhere else to do my radio program.”

Clear Channel started humbly enough, when Texas A&M alum Mays bought KEEZ-FM in San Antonio in 1972. Mays, an ex-Air Force officer who was deeply entrenched in Texas Republican circles as an investment banker, ponied up $125,000 to buy the station.

His co-investor was a local used-car salesman by the name of B.J. “Red” McCombs. In 1975, the pair bought WOAI-AM, one of the old-school 50,000-watt behemoths of the AM dial, a station whose signal could be heard at night hundreds or even thousands of miles away–a “clear channel” station by virtue of its exclusive control of the frequency on which it broadcast.

In 1958, McCombs opened his first car dealership in San Antonio and saw it rack up the sixth-highest sales in the country in its very first year. He bought and sold several sports franchises, and along the way emerged as a major player in Texas oil and real estate. Among his friends is President George Bush I.

Each time a McCombs business move paid dividends, he and Mays went on a shopping spree. The pair accrued a broadcasting mini-empire by snatching up financially fumbling stations and turning them into moneymakers. They did this mostly by changing the formats to religious or all-news programming. In 1988, the duo bought its first television station; at the time, they also owned six AM stations and six FM stations in seven cities.

In 1992 the FCC relaxed ownership regulations. Soon after, the FCC increased the number of television stations a media company could own. By the mid-1990s, Clear Channel Communications owned 43 radio and 16 TV stations.

Then came the Telecommunications Act of 1996. On its face, the bill was supposed to loosen regulations regarding access to telephone lines. Additionally, the new law was to open up restrictions on who could provide digital television services.

Tucked into the bill, however, was a provision that would further expand the number of radio stations a broadcast company could own in one market, and essentially do away with any limits on ownership nationwide. It allowed for a broadcaster to own as many as eight stations on either the AM or FM frequencies in a single market.

There was resistance on Capitol Hill, but broadcast conglomerates argued that more media concentration would actually improve the variety of radio programming. For instance, they claimed, if ABC Radio owned one “classic rock” station in a market, and ABC or, say, Infinity Broadcasting (two prominent rivals at the time), bought the other locally owned classic rock station in the market, there would be little reason for two classic rock stations. “Diversity” became the industry’s buzzword for promoting the bill.

The industry had the ear of President Bill Clinton, who was seeking reelection that year. Clinton professed to be impressed by the arguments the broadcasters made, and was almost certainly impressed by the coin they contributed to his reelection campaign. The president pushed Congress to pass the measure, which he signed in February 1996.

What followed was an unprecedented wave of large corporations merging with large corporations. AOL fused with Time Warner. Viacom became one with Infinity Broadcasting, and then with CBS. ABC merged with Walt Disney. And so on.

For all the press these huge alliances garnered, there was a ripple effect among smaller owners as well. As the industry became deregulated, a mergers-and-acquisitions boom commenced in the industry. One of the first local harbingers of this effect came in 1992, when Colfax Communications, a south Minneapolis company headed by a WCCO radio general manager, bought WCTS-FM (100.3), which had been a Christian station, for $10 million. Then Colfax, with the help of investors who had made their cash off of the Craftsman tool company, purchased KQQL-FM (107.9), an oldies station.

In 1995, KDWB-FM (101.3), long considered one of the most influential top 40 stations not on either coast, was bought by Dallas-based Chancellor Communications for $22 million, a local record, and by the end of the year the company owned KTCZ-FM (97.1), KEEY-FM (102.1), and KFAN-AM (1130). The following year, Colfax bought nine more stations in Phoenix, Milwaukee, and Boise. Two months later, in August 1996, Colfax sold all 12 of its stations to Chancellor for $365 million. Suddenly Chancellor owned seven stations in the Twin Cities.

But the mergers didn’t stop, and local radio listeners could be forgiven for losing track of who exactly was programming the music coming out of their car stereos. In 1997, Chancellor Broadcasting merged with another Texas-based broadcaster, Evergreen Media, and was christened Chancellor Media Group. The company owned 103 stations in 21 major markets. (The Twin Cities market is the 15th-largest in the U.S.) By the end of that year, Chancellor had formed a new national network called AMFM Radio.

During this age of consolidation, it became evident that nobody did mergers and acquisitions better than Clear Channel. Though the company had operated below big-media radar in its early years, its deep pockets and deal-spotting acumen left the company in a position to make major purchases at will. Clear Channel was taken public in 1984, and during the 1990s, its stock went from $4.60 a share in 1993 to $95 a share in 2000. (Mays’s sons, Randall and Mark, have taken major roles in the company’s management over time; Mark Mays is currently the CEO and president of Clear Channel, Randall the CFO and executive vice president.)

In 1996, Clear Channel bought 49 radio stations. The next year, it bought 70. In 1998, it bought Jacor Communications and its 206 radio stations to the tune of $6.5 billion. Clear Channel bought AMFM in October 1999. That acquisition, for $24 billion, netted Mays and Clear Channel 830 more stations. (To assuage the rumblings of antitrust regulators, Clear Channel quickly sold off an additional 100-plus stations for $4.2 billion.) The next closest radio competitor was Cumulus, which had a relatively paltry 230 stations at the time.

After years spent amassing its radio empire, Clear Channel began to move vertically in its acquisitions, buying up companies elsewhere in the media/entertainment supply chain. The real watershed came in 2000, when Clear Channel bought a promotions company called SFX. SFX had become a corporate raider in the booking business, buying such longstanding promotions companies as Bill Graham Presents. By 2000, SFX was staging more than 26,000 events annually. Clear Channel bought SFX for $4.4 billion, and folded it into Clear Channel Entertainment. Suddenly Clear Channel was booking thousands of concerts a year.

In addition to the radio and television stations, the concert venues and outdoor advertising, there are such holdings as Clear Channel Satellite, based in Colorado, providing a variety of satellite transmission services; Clear Channel Wireless, a high-speed internet service based in Cincinnati; Inside Radio, an industry trade publication; and Katz Media Group, an ad firm in New York City that works with 2,100 radio stations, 350 television stations, and 1,700 cable operators.

And the list goes on. Clear Channel owns Motor Sports Group, promoter of more than 600 car and cycle racing events a year. There’s Premiere Radio Networks, which distributes Rush Limbaugh and other shows to 7,800 radio stations; Prophet Systems, a company that makes the technology that allows DJs to “voicetrack,” or record radio shows in one city for several stations in other cities; and SFX Sports Group, a talent management and marketing agency that represents 500 professional athletes, including Michael Jordan and Andre Agassi. Another spin-off of Clear Channel produces the television shows Smallville and Arli$$. The company also has a stake in XM Satellite radio. And Clear Channel owns the touring rights to the Broadway productions of The Lion King, Hairspray, and a chunk of The Producers. In fact, the company owns prominent theaters both on Broadway and in Chicago.

Needless to say, it’s a corporate portfolio that goes far beyond owning an unprecedented number of radio stations. As the e-mail signature line used by many local Clear Channel employees puts it, “What other markets or what other media can I help you with today?”

As Clear Channel grew, so did resentment toward what was deemed by many an evil empire. Pop music aficionados have long decried the homogenization of radio at the hands of the company, which, they say, uses market research to formulate repetitious, lowest-common-denominator playlists around the country. (Clear Channel Radio CEO John Hogan retorted in 2003 that the company had 6,700 playlists–a sentiment Seeman echoes. “All of our research and testing for all of our stations is done locally,” he says.)

The complaints of the company’s competitors and critics were exhaustively documented in a series of stories written by Eric Boehlert of in 2001. Boehlert wrote of Clear Channel’s alleged “pay for play” practices, recounted accusations that bands who booked shows with other concert promoters saw their airplay diminish on CC stations across the country, and compiled other charges of generally bad behavior. “Welcome to the world of Clear Channel,” Boehlert wrote, “radio’s big bully.”

Like any conglomerate, Clear Channel has sought to make its size pay off by reducing management ranks on the road to consolidation. As it snatched up multiple stations in one market, the company would merge operations, resulting in many lost jobs. According to a report published by Cornell University a year ago that was commissioned by the AFL-CIO, “Clear Channel’s cost-cutting practices” led to 1,500 to 4,500 jobs lost over four years.


Post-TRC Prosecutions: South Africans breathe a sigh of relief

FINALLY, after years of delay tactics and talk of a “blanket amnesty”, the much vaunted post-TRC prosecutions have arrived. A huge relief not only for the immediate victims of war-crimes and crimes against humanity but for all those South Africans who experienced apartheid and the military junta of Botha-Malan-Vlok.

If anything, the prosecutions will re-affirm the commitment by anti-apartheid activists to ending racial superiority in all its forms, and strike a note with those who criticised the TRC for not having any muscle. What is the use of granting amnesty to perpetrators of criminal activity if those crimes are later excluded from our social discourse?

There can be no Truth and Reconciliation without Justice and this missing element in our body politic will hopefully put the ghost of apartheid to rest,finally, as perpetrators are brought to book, in part for not having the guts to admit their wrongfulness or guilt before a world-wide audience.

Let there be peace, transparency and openness as the country watches, listens and waits for the post-TRC trials to start, and for the transgressors to be sentenced. Only then can we hope to achieve a national reconciliation built upon the moral structures of the anti-apartheid movement, one that refused to cowtow to the illegitimate structures of the apartheid government and which still aims to create a nation that is wider and broader than any single political structure or party.

As a war resistor I would also like to take this opportunity to renew my call for a national reckoning and atonement for the Border War and for our government to apologise to the frontline states, especially Namibia and Angola, for the war crimes carried out in the name of the Republic of South Africa.

KOEBERG MADNESS: Spanner in the works, or just plain stupidity?

When Scientific American announced the discovery of a new wonder material that would revolutionise the building industry, the world had no idea that asbestos would turn out to be extremely toxic. Asbestos-siding was advertised as being “safe, reliable and energy efficient” despite the fact that mining it resulted in asbestiosis and mesothelioma, a type of cancer.

Today, our Nuclear regulatory body, the Atomic Energy Corporation (AEC) and Eskom are lying to the public about the safety of Koeberg and the toxicity associated with production of the Pebble Bed Nuclear Reactor (PBMR). The extent of the damage to the power station is being played down and the negative effects of radiation from the plant, covered up so that business can go ahead as usual.

On numerous occasions I have challenged South Africa’s nuclear engineers to eat their words – try consuming uranium ore, or entering into a debate about toxicity and one is likely to arrive at the conclusion that not only are our scientists mad, but they are simply incapable of telling the truth. Radiation like Asbestos kills, and uranium ore is not only toxic but the cause of pollution in our environment.

Lets shut down Koeberg and the nuclear industry once and for all! Instead of spending billions on PBMR’s we should be spending money on fuel cell technology and harnessing the latest renewable technology for peaceful ends.


Link Trade with China to Human Rights and a Free Tibet

LINKING trade with China to human rights and a free Tibet, might sound like mutton cloth, but it could save South Africa’s textile and clothing industry. Hemmed in literally by the World Trade Organisation’s rules that determine how each nation conducts trade, South Africa is being swamped by cheap imports of fabric and clothing from abroad, in particular China.

Skirting around this issue may seem impossible in today’s globalised world, however there is nothing stopping our parliament from enacting trade sanctions that link imports to the development of human rights and even a Free Tibet. China, a nation still without a real democracy, occupied Tibet, a soveriegn nation during the fifties. Once home to a thriving Buddhist community, Tibetans along with the Dalai Lama were forced to flee their homeland.

When will South African’s cotton on, that such aggression is not only a travesty of justice but trade with China means sacrificing human rights — an issue measured not just in clothing, but in local unemployment that is ravishing the textile sector in the Western Cape. Time then to say Lhasa and to link the development of human rights in China, and democracy before trade?


CONTRA: Do Hermaphrodites enjoy the same rights as so-called Gays and Lesbians?

WITH the impending legalisation of same-sex marriage, our legal system now has the go-ahead to clear-up some logical ambiguities relating to the status of inter-sexed and trans-gender individuals. Unfortunately the old “gay and lesbian” rubric is like the group areas act of gender ideology. Not only is the supposed duality heuristically incorrect, but it seemingly negates queer culture by enforcing gender stereotypes.

The refusal to acknowledge other forms of identity and personal mythology has been the hallmark of South Africa’s anachronistic gender struggle – the “gay and lesbian” morass of sexual politics from a time before HIV, is not only dated, but has quixotically managed to divorce itself from women’s politics, and even the mens movement. Perhaps this will all change with the acceptance of same-sex marriage and the advances of a post-apartheid Queer Culture that includes freedom of sexual orientation, i.e. the freedom to reformat and reboot ones own gender identity, whatever the case, gay, straight, transexual or bi?

It is no surprise that rumblings can be heard of an expansion in the semiotic maelstroom that includes new age, post-gender politics in all their trans-sexualized, polymorphic nuances.

From the old school “G & L” still stuck in the closet, to the new-school B L T G I Q, which stands for Bisexual, Lesbian, Transgendered, Gay, Intersexed and Queer, that pretty much includes everyone with an IQ, except of course, Heterosexuals in an overt, butch sort of way. So what does one do if, like so many transexuals these days, one is actually, well, macho and straight?

The new Queer Culture includes everybody, not merely the dualistic clones of feminised masculinity or metrosexualised raging queens — biologically diverse examples of the human race, cross-gender indeterminate mutants. The real question – why not identify oneself as simply Queer (straight or square) and avoid the rush to evacuate the group areas act of gender ideology?

[copyleft, some rights reserved, reprint with permission]

SA’s new class system entrenching inequality.

THE idea that SA can convert its “masses” into an incipient “middle-class” whose affiliations are with Levi’s not Lenin, Mercedes Benz instead of Marx, and consumerism instead of Fidel Castro, needs to be dispensed with along with Trevor Manual’s trickle-down economics and Thabo Mbeki’s market fascism.

Firstly while South Africans may be marginally better off than they were before 1994, inequalities in society have deepened. Instead of narrowing the gap between rich and poor, the government’s liberal trickle-down economic policies has failed to address the problem of successive “middle classes”, each following upon the creation of South Africa’s first middle class arguably under Verwoerd.

The new, mainly black, politically empowered, commercially viable and attractive second “middle class” touted by the media, is in reality nowhere near as rich as the old middle class under apartheid, comprised of mainly whites, coloured and indians. Trickle down economics coupled with market fascism can never address such vast inequalities and neither can race-based affirmative action.

In order to buy into the myth of an emerging black middle class, conforming to the Bell Curve in which the majority of SA families occupy the centre bulge, creating a new market for business, one would have to search out and discover the actuality on the ground — the stark reality, instead of pipe dreams invented by advertisors and propogandists.

The second middle class is however, just as poor relative to the old middle class as they were under apartheid, and while the first middle class still occupies the upper strata of society, the distinctions based upon race and class remain. In other words, the rich are still rich, and the poor are still poor. The only direct changes we have experienced in our economy are shifts in the form and structure of wealth — producing the so-called hour-glass effect, in which there is no “middle class” to speak of occupying the centre, but rather the insane perception of “middle class values” shared with a state brand which is in reality a vacuum of unfulfilled desires seldom realised.

The mythology of an emerging second middle class, dreamt up by market fascists, is really an attempt to prevent agrarian and peri-urban revolt caused by narrow empowerment deals and market radicalism. The new mantra of “the middle class will save us” is just another way of depriving the working class of their power as workers. Wealth as we have witnessed from BEE does not trickle down, instead it continues to accumulate at the top, as industrialists continue to extract labour.

Even with a growth rate of over 6 percent, the majority of South Africans will still be poor in comparison to the upper echelons of society. One or two black billionaires do not make an equal opportunity society and cannot persuade us that change is occuring for the better. In fact as old “middle class values” whither and the second middle class fails, the minor gains to be had from such narrow attempts at propoganda and state tinkering with enterprises will diminish.

In short, we will lose the opportunity to create a great society built upon human rights and equality instead of the marketplace. South Africa may never escape its developmental phase, without a coherent debate about citizenship, the role of diversity and the global commons, and we could be doomed to an institutional failure to address fundemental inequalities within our society as South Africa splits into two states, comprised of the haves and have-nots.

[copyleft, some rights reserved, reprint with permission]

Down with Koeberg and Mini-Koeberg!

KOEBERG needs to be closed down, and the mini-Koeberg Pebble Reactors, stopped. Clearly concerns about safety are only half of the problem. A nuclear-chemical incident at the plant resulted in an outage and blackout across the country last week. Engineers have still not explained exactly how waste material will be disguarded, nor how much the decommissioning process is going to cost, nor how Capetonians would be evacuated in the event of a class 9 emergency. Koeberg has a lifespan of between thirty and forty years and is fast approaching its end.

The new Pebble Bed design is just as bad and only reproduces the Koeberg mess. While industrialists tinker with nuclear energy, wasting taxpayers money in the process, they are ignoring hot rocks in the ground – geothermal energy sources that are able to heat water and drive turbines with none of problems associated with mining uranium ore, extracting fissible material, and disposing of radiactive waste byproducts. Australia already has a thriving geothermal industry and South Africa’s geology is perfect for similar development.

Just look at all the hot water pouring out of the Capes’ Goudini Spa, from underground wells and fissues — proof that the energy exists and merely needs the know-how and willpower to be tapped. Will South Africa take a non-nuclear route, or simply reproduce the costly mistakes of the past? Only time can tell.


Mainstream Media still carrying reports of a “blackout” in Cape Town, despite Koeberg “accident”

THE Mainstream Media is still carrying reports of a “blackout” in Cape Town, despite allegations of an “accident” at Koeberg, South Africa’s only commercial nuclear power station. In an attempt to play down the consequences of human error and mechanical breakdown at the plant, the strange story about a possible “scram” at Koeberg, has now turned into a small fable about “tripped switches” and “accidental power outages”, caused by a freak of nature.

Despite consternation from residents and homeowners, and criticism from environmentalists, Eskom and the Atomic Energy Corporation, maintain that nuclear energy is safe and have no plans to either shutdown Koeberg, or halt the billion rand Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) project. Instead of spending money on safe, geothermal energy from beneath the earth’s surface, the South African government is wasting time and money on antiquated nuclear technology. The PBR was rejected by Germany decades ago after public concern about the safety of nuclear energy.

Check out for news about Australia’s geothermal programme that deploys “hot rocks” to create renewable energy and sustainable power resources.

PS: I tried using Smartcape’s public access terminal to post to my blog yesterday and sadly the system doesn’t work. 5 terminals hooked to one pentium acting as a server do not make for easy computing, so Smartcape is actually dumb and an example of cosmetic development.