Bush's Hand Opening Iraq for Big Western Oil Companies

The clandestine love story between big Western oil companies and Iraq continues to unfold. This time the New York Times digs deeper and uncovers the Bush administration’s role as Cyreno de Bergerac to big oil’s Christian de Neuvillette:
A group of American advisers led by a small State Department team played an integral part in drawing up contracts between the Iraqi government and five major Western oil companies to develop some of the largest fields in Iraq, American officials say.

The disclosure, coming on the eve of the contracts’ announcement, is the first confirmation of direct involvement by the Bush administration in deals to open Iraq’s oil to commercial development and is likely to stoke criticism.

In their role as advisers to the Iraqi Oil Ministry, American government lawyers and private-sector consultants provided template contracts and detailed suggestions on drafting the contracts, advisers and a senior State Department official said.

It is unclear how much influence their work had on the ministry’s decisions.

The advisers — who, along with the diplomatic official, spoke on condition of anonymity — say that their involvement was only to help an understaffed Iraqi ministry with technical and legal details of the contracts and that they in no way helped choose which companies got the deals.

Repeated calls to the Oil Ministry’s press office for comment were not returned.

At a time of spiraling oil prices, the no-bid contracts, in a country with some of the world’s largest untapped fields and potential for vast profits, are a rare prize to the industry. The contracts are expected to be awarded Monday to Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP, Total and Chevron, as well as to several smaller oil companies.

The deals have been criticized by opponents of the Iraq war, who accuse the Bush administration of working behind the scenes to ensure Western access to Iraqi oil fields even as most other oil-exporting countries have been sharply limiting the roles of international oil companies in development.

For its part, the administration has repeatedly denied steering the Iraqis toward decisions. “Iraq is a sovereign country, and it can make decisions based on how it feels that it wants to move forward in its development of its oil resources,” said Dana Perino, the White House spokeswoman.

Yet its difficult to believe in Iraq’s sovereignty when America’s had such a heavy hand in the rebuilding of the country, “advising” on everything from “electricity to education”, not to mention training Iraq militarily. Oh, and Halliburton being the primary company contracted to maintain and repair the country’s oil pipelines. This latest development in the role big oil will play in Iraq is no doubt going to hand opponents to the war proof that Bush’s five-year military blunder was, indeed, blood for oil. This will, no doubt, be a confirmation for those in the Middle East who believed all along that that was the case. But the Bush administration doesn’t want to listen to comments like this one from a CSIS adviser:
“We pretend it is not a centerpiece of our motivation, yet we keep confirming that it is,” Frederick D. Barton, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in a telephone interview. “And we undermine our own veracity by citing issues like sovereignty, when we have our hands right in the middle of it.”

But the questions still remain: will big media delve even deeper in this latest move of big oil and the poetic hand of the Bush administration in aiding it. To read the rest of the Times report, click here.

Notes On A New Life For 'Soul Train'

It was disheartening to hear this past Wednesday that Don Cornilelius was selling Soul Train. But it was reassuring and a source of anticipation to hear what the show’s new owners are planning. MadVision, the media company which made the purchase, was looking to give Soul Train a new life on DVD. Finally, someone with the power and money and the bright idea (duh!) to do what people—ages 36 to 56— have been hoping and silently screaming for Don to do for years: package this historical dance show for everyone to own and share with new generations (instead of getting bootleg versions from Japan).

For nostalgic reasons, the idea is a no-brainer. Millions of black, brown, yellow, and even white folks have grown up with Saturday morning memories of watching the Hippest Trip in America. The Soul Train lines. The ever-evolving fashions. The dance moves. The music and the artists. Don Cornelius’s back-handed interviews with male musical guests and the occasional inappropriate comments, of the sexual nature, he’d make to the female ones. All were the ingredients that made watching Soul Train an experience, one definitely worth reliving. And many do, if you’re able to watch the repeats that come on.

But, more importantly, Soul Train should be preserved on DVD for historical reasons. With its start in 1970 (syndication would come in 1971), the show was the flashpoint between the demise of the civil rights/black power movements, the mainstreaming of black culture and the impending rise of hip-hop culture. (A point made in the first chapter of my book). Where American Bandstand became groundbreaking platform for rock n roll and white youth culture, Soul Train, especially in its early days, became a groundbreaking and history-making platform for black urban youth culture. Particularly, dancing. Aside from the music and fashion, the show single handedly gave rise to—by prominently displaying—the street dance revolution of the later half of the 20th Century. Popping. Locking. Roboting. And, from the floorwork of some dancers, pre-hip-hop b-boying. One of my fondest and earliest memories of Soul Train was watching folks lock as if their life depended on it or watching the pioneering dance group Electric Boogaloo in the late 70s perform as guests of Soul Train. That a number of these dancers would go on re-write the rules of American dance—the Lockers, Boogaloo, etc—puts Soul Train in a category of television history all its own. Oh, and also, it was tremendous source of pride for young black folks looking for images of themselves and their ideals.

Before the show went on to encapsulate the evolution of black culture in America—from ‘70s disco escapism to the 80’s racially-neutralized pop to the 90’s rise of a hip hop nation—Soul Train showed the power of black media ownership. Not only economically but culturally, as was also the point I made in my book. The example I gave was in the above Youtube clip. It’s Damita Jo Freeman, another Soul Train dancing star (who’d go on to star in the film Private Benjamin), dancing while James Brown performs “Super Bad.” After giving James a show, locking and roboting on stage with him, Freeman raises her fist in a black power salute to James and the Soul Train dancers, a move you would have never seen on American Bandstand.

Don, thanks for doing the right thing, and putting the show in a position to live on and bring joy in a new form.

Black Music Month: Where Does Hip Hop Fit? An Interview

Here's an interview I did with Felicia Pride's Blog "More Than Words" on AOL Black Voices. Funny, but of all the print interviews I've done for the book, I like this one the best. I tend to be a bit long- winded (as most writers are), and for this one I did my best to keep answers as concise and simple as possible. Oh, and I got to talk about why I think rap music is still one of the most important art forms leading into the twenty-first century.

The Real Fruit of the Iraq War: There's Oil in Them There Sand Dunes

Remember the rallying cry of "No Blood For Oil" among those opposed to the Iraq War. Well, while the notion that the biggest reason America went to war was to horde the country's black gold has died down—an idea never even raised by the media—new developements in Iraq may revive the slogan. The New York Times reports that four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiating no-bid contracts to get oil from Iraq's largest fields.
Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat.

The deals, expected to be announced on June 30, will lay the foundation for the first commercial work for the major companies in Iraq since the American invasion, and open a new and potentially lucrative country for their operations.

The no-bid contracts are unusual for the industry, and the offers prevailed over others by more than 40 companies, including companies in Russia, China and India. The contracts, which would run for one to two years and are relatively small by industry standards, would nonetheless give the companies an advantage in bidding on future contracts in a country that many experts consider to be the best hope for a large-scale increase in oil production.

There was suspicion among many in the Arab world and among parts of the American public that the United States had gone to war in Iraq precisely to secure the oil wealth these contracts seek to extract. The Bush administration has said that the war was necessary to combat terrorism. It is not clear what role the United States played in awarding the contracts; there are still American advisers to Iraq’s Oil Ministry.

Sensitive to the appearance that they were profiting from the war and already under pressure because of record high oil prices, senior officials of two of the companies, speaking only on the condition that they not be identified, said they were helping Iraq rebuild its decrepit oil industry.

Ok, forget the "helping Iraq" spin of big oil, which goes in the trash bin with Bush's spin of liberating Iraq. Let's start connecting some dots. The Senate refuses to tax oil companies for their windfall profits. Bush is currently yammering about ending a ban on offshore drilling (even though its reported they have 68 million acres of offshore waters under lease). Oh, and these companies are a part of a possible NO-BID CONTRACT. Cheney and Halliburton. The Bush family and their connection to oil. The chief of staff for the White House council on environmental quality, Philip Cooney, who's a former lobbyist for the oil industry. All old news, yes. But, with this latest move to get at Iraq's oil fields, my stomach is turning at a possible confirmation that Iraq, ultimately, was about advancing big business.

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Rocking WBAI on Fatherhood

Soon I'll be back to bloggering about things I know best. But today, on WBAI 99.5 FM at 11am, I will be discussing fatherhood on the show Special Delivery with Host Ifé Dancey. Although I've only been in the game for 3 months, I'll do my best to share what I know. If you can't catch it live, then catch the archive at http://archive.wbai.org.

A Hip Hop Head (I think) Half-Blasts "Scream!"

With so many great reviews of Somebody Scream, for this go 'round I'd like to give shine to a not-so positive review from the online mag Cooleh (never heard of it). But anyway, seems writer C. Benz, while impressed with the history, was not impressed with the delivery. Hey, Benz, I'll try harder next time, juuuust for you...Jes kiddin'. Thanks for the honesty, though.

Hoping Obama Kills Hip-Hop

With all the pundits projecting what an Obama White House might mean,Slate blogger Mickey Klaus hopes it will mean the death of hip hop:
Will Obama Kill Bling? Mary Battiata thinks maybe. ... Now that she mentions it, I kind of hope Obama's election will kill off much of hip-hop, at least the gangsta-inspired parts. But just killing off bling and gangsta fashion would be a start. ...

The comment was Klaus's reaction to Mary Battiata's piece in the Huffington Post where she hopes Obama's conservative fashion sense will trickle down to young, Negroes on the corners with their baggy pants and their underwhelming sense of self to inspire them to step-up their wardrobe. Like popular black politicians or civil rights leaders have EVER changed black fashion with a wave of their hand? ( Martin Luther King's suits or hard denim outfits didn't set off any fashion trends). That's because the civil rights movement was a political movement. Now the black power movement...that set off trends. Huey and Bobby and the Panthers nationalized the "righteous nigga on the corner" look with black leather blazer, scruffy afro, and the no-joke facial expression. Ron Karenga and Us set off the African garb craze and Kawanzaa. The Black Arts Movement changed the direction of black poetry and play wrighting. That's because black power dealt with culture. And it was culture that would not only trickle down to the black masses, but would cross over to the white majority (one result would be Radical Chic—thanks Mr. Wolf— and the other would be white folks "giving five" and hip-bumps on the Flip Wilson Show). The cultural exchange, along with that good ole civil rights legislation would give rise to the promise of Jesse Jackson becoming the first serious candidate for pres.

Which brings me to my point. As much as folks want to continuously bash hip-hop and the colored generation(black and brown) that spread it, they need to also understand that the popularization of that movement is what helped make an Obama possible. What initially set Obama's primary run a blaze was a new generation of young white folks, weaned on NWA, Public Enemy, Tupac, Snoop, and the urban souls of black folks. For this new generation, the idea of an African-American running things wasn't foreign (hell, young blacks have been telling them how to dress and speak for over 15 years) and they could totally relate to the idea of a black politician saying, in a sense, "keep it real" (forgive me for using a deathly overused term). This discussion could be looked at from a multitude of angles, but I don't have the time right now (maybe another entry). But the influence of hip hop on the phenomenon of Obama has as many positive effects as the negatives folks want to heap on it.

Somebody Scream, The Radio show, Is Coming Back For the Takeover

Sorry, I haven't posted since Barack's "presumptive nomination. It wasn't that I was so overwhelmed with the victory, I just had my hands full with my newborn son (is 3 months still considered newborn...Hmmmm). But anyway...Just got word that WBAI will be doing another Hip Hop Takeover weekend on August 30. And, as a part of the the block of programming, I will, once again, be hosting my hour-long talk/music mix show, Somebody Scream (yes, I named the show after my book. Gots to cross promote.) Since this year's theme of the HH Takeover will be the election—politics basically—my show, in between the mix of classic hip hop musak, I will have a high-powered panel of guests to discuss much-anticipated presidential contest and OOOOOObama. Given that I've fashioned my show into a kind McLaughlin Group for Generation Hip Hop, guests will be writers and scribes of the generation. Currently, I'm firming out my list of in-studio guests, and when I get the details hammered out, they will definitely be posted (if you have questions you might want asked and answered please feel free send them to me).

As this is the second installment of Somebody Scream, I want to give a shout-out and another huge thanks to DJ Max Jerome for making my show possible. After twice having me as a guest on his Last Hip Hop Show (also a part of the HH Takeover), he suggested I have my own show. He got me to shake hands with the right person, and Viola! In a business where folks are always hoarding the blessings, it's great to meet folks who helping you make the connection....And lastly, I want to thank Mimi Valdés Ryan, Michael A. Gonzales, and Chloé Hilliard for adding their voices to the first installment of my show.

Stay tuned....

Obama Knocked "Em Out!

As has been the case with Obama's run for the nomination, history just keeps getting made. And with his win of the Democratic nomination for president, the ultimate historical moment occurred (next to actually getting elected). It was a moment where common sense trumped race, where a deep and genuine need for a new direction overcame the well-worn script of a political dynasty and divisive tactics of race used by white politicians. I'll have more to say during the presidential race. Right now, I'm speechlesss.....

Crack is Wack, But So Were Crack Laws

The Washington Post Magazine profiles former drug dealer Michael Short, putting a face on the unfair drug laws of the 1980's.

As he navigated traffic from his girlfriend's house in Charles County and boarded the subway to Capitol Hill, he braced himself for the inevitable questions, the scrutiny of his crime, the dissection of his punishment. His commutation had taken half a dozen years to materialize and, by Mike's calculation, had shaved only six months off the time he would have served. He had spent more years in prison than many murderers.

He arrived at the basement room in the Rayburn House Office Building a half-hour early and looked around, taking in the raised dais, the plaque that said "Ways and Means." He might have spent this drizzly morning at the Greenbelt health club where he had recently landed a job as a personal trainer. Instead, he was here, wondering what was meant by the term "majority whip" and hoping that he wouldn't stutter.

The room slowly filled with the most sympathetic crowd he would encounter all day: lawyers, ex-prisoners and advocates who believed that federal crack cocaine laws were unfair and had gathered to lobby for new ones. The subcommittee hearing would not take place until afternoon; this was just a practice session to give Mike and other lobbyists some last-minute pointers. Someone handed him a big red button that said, "CRACK the disparity," a reference to the vast difference in prison terms to which crack and powder cocaine offenders are sentenced. He pinned it to his shirt.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Texas who has introduced a bill to remedy the disparity, walked to the lectern. An imposing woman in an emerald green suit, she wondered aloud what America's founders would have thought, had they been able to look into the future and see how many times the country fell short of its ideals.

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