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March 28, 2000

Editorial

The Sum-in-Lieu Issue

Mobile's public schools are in financial trouble. Painful program and staff cuts will be needed in order to fill a $10 million budget hole. Meanwhile, nine area businesses refuse to make promised payments to the school system for tax breaks that they received. It is shameful that the city's Industrial Development Board (IDB), which awarded the tax breaks almost 10 years ago, is either unable or unwilling to collect.

For years the Harbinger has been reporting on the sum-in-lieu issue. Our efforts to get information from IDB officials have been met with resistance and insults. Similar efforts by school board officials and at least one state legislator, Joseph Mitchell, have been no more successful. We hope that you will read Edmund Tsang's update in this issue of Harbinger. Back issues that contain additional articles about the IDB fiasco can be found on our web site. We hope that readers will inform themselves about the matter and get involved.

As parents watch the quality of our public education erode, they might ask themselves whether they would receive such generous treatment for nonpayment of taxes. The deadbeat businesses that refuse to pay should be held accountable, as should Mobile's Industrial Development Board.

-- Dan Silver


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Letters to the Editor

Dear Editor,

Last summer I had the opportunity to meet a very intelligent and gifted man. We would talk at length about things; I would listen mostly. On the subject of cars he mentioned that we lived in a society where cars are a necessity, that we depended on them to meet and greet people, to gather and transport goods. Instead of watching other people walk back and forth, we zoom by them, watching people pass in and out of our consciousness. In that state of mind they become objects, not humans. Things that we are either aggressive or indifferent to. Rarely polite.

I've had many long nights since then, thinking about this very conversation. Maybe we are cruel not because of evil, but because of our indifference, our way of seeing people as something other than conscious beings with rights and privileges. In this way we become very much the center of our own universe. My car takes me places. My waiter serves me the food that I eat. I earned my money, and so on. It is not a big leap then to suggest that crimes today, particularly that of murder, are greatly influenced by this philosophy. If people are seen as insignificant, even evil in some cases, what does it matter if they live? They are nothing; I am everything. I see traces of it on the news. Broadcasters scarcely cover the devastation in other countries, the injuries inflicted on other people. Many news organizations are afraid of giving their audiences so-called "compassion fatigue", that feeling that the problems of the world are too overwhelming for an individual person to deal with. I have my own problems and I can't help others. Egocentrism doesn't stop in childhood. It continues, subtly. It is reinforced by our culture, by our obsession with individualism and self-reliance. These are the goals to be strived for. Everyone can reach them.

But not everyone will. When we do not acknowledge that, if we ignore the obvious pitfall to our logic, we condemn ourselves. Our humanitarian efforts will be few and far between; our need to help ourselves greater than the desire to help others. We will shut off the world (we already have) and we will only see it through the objective lens of a camera, made unobjective by the person who uses that camera, and the people who possess the footage. Is this the American dream? To be manipulated into ignorance by way of feeding our own desires for personal success? To ignore the world because it does not relate to us? This should not be America. Our wealth and resources are abundant. We are educated. Now more than ever we are capable of reaching others, via telephone, television, and the Internet. Shouldn't we use our advantages to help the disadvantaged? Americans are turning America into a wall, not a door. The clock of progress for many countries has stopped, and we are the ones neglecting to fix it. We may do symbolic things, sending some money, a few soldiers and equipment. But we do not sacrifice, we do not go out of our way. Americans sit and wait for death, hoping that the people who we were closest to will remember us as good people, who provided and lived socially acceptable lives. We could care if another man we never met thinks of us as cruel, and uncaring. We are cruel and we will continue to be this way. Our spirits are tethered to the material world around us, and so will remain.

Am I being lofty? Only if I suggest that it is up to one or some of us to do the jobs that we have neglected to do. But if I suggest that all of us, all people choose to set things right, then it can be very real in our thoughts as well is in our reality. A rebirth would happen, another Genesis, one in which people can and do care for strangers. If we can all imagine that, if we can all dream that dream, mountains will yield to us. We will be an unstoppable force of compassion and wisdom, and others will follow our example. I maintain that it could happen. All we would have to do is try.

Dan Whisenhunt
Mobile, Al


Dear Editor,

Robert Frost once wrote, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." This summer, I will obey these words of wisdom by trading my hockey stick for a bike and pedaling 3,600 miles from Seattle to Washington, DC, as a participant of Bike Aid, a program of Just Act (youth ACTion for global JUSTice). JustAct is a non-profit organization founded in 1983 and based in San Francisco. JustAct works to develop in young people a long-long commitment to social and economic justice through supporting educational and experiential opportunities locally and globally. As for Bike Aid, the inaugural ride took place in the summer of 1986 as a means to raise funds and the consciousness of participants and people across the country. To date, over 1,000 riders have accepted the Bike Aid challenge, raising over $1,500,000 in the process. Through the physical challenge of pouring out sweat and energy, Bike Aid riders learn that big changes are possible from only a few dedicated individuals pulling for a common cause.

Three groups of riders, one each from Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, will leave in June to pedal across the country as a "community on wheels," converging on DC in August. As we pedal through the states, we will meet with various local groups and will be hosted along the way. On our weekly day off the pedal, we will lend a hand to various local projects, such as housing painting and trail building.

An undertaking of this kind would not be feasible without strong financial support. For this reason, JustAct requires each cyclist to raise $3,600, or one dollar per mile. The dollars collected go towards the logistical aspect of the trip, the community service projects we will aid in, and the international organizations and national grassroots projects supported by JustAct and the riders. All expenses for food, equipment and transportation to and from the route are the responsibility of the cyclist, so your contributions have a direct and positive impact.

How can you be a financial partner in this endeavor? If you are in Mobile, AL area, you can make a contribution in a number of ways:

1) Buy a Bike Aid 2000 T-shirt and/or Drayton Place dinner sold at the Civic Center during Mobile Mysticks games, Drayton Place, Cadence 120 or by contacting me.

2) Pledges are also accepted at the Mysticks Booster Club table or by contacting me. For those who wish you could be in sunny Mobile, you can contribute to this worthy cause by contacting me through the communication outlet of your choice. Note that checks must be made to Bike Aid and that donations are tax deductible. More information about Bike Aid and JustAct is available at http://www.justact.org.

Bye for now,
Benoit Cotnoir
909 Carlyle, #139
Mobile, AL 36609
USA
343-2908
benoitcotnoir@hotmail.com
P.S. "A Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" Confucius


Dear Editor,

Allan Nairn, an award-winning journalist, will visit Mobile and University of South Alabama (USA) April 5 and 6, 2000. He comes from New York. He will speak to Dr. Mark Moberg's anthropology class at USA on Wednesday, April 5. That evening he will present a public lecture in Room 150 of the Humanities Building at 7:30 p.m. A reception will follow. Nairn focuses on U.S. foreign policy, especially in trouble spots throughout the world. He has been a stern and highly respected critic of United States involvement in conflicts in East Timor, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Palestine and elsewhere. He has been an active proponent of the movement to close the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia.

His pre-visit biography states: "Award-winning journalist and human rights activist Allan Nairn has covered U.S. foreign policy and operations since 1980. His investigations have included the original expose (in 1984) of the U.S. role in creating the Salvadoran army death squads. He has authored field reports on the Guatemalan highland massacres (1982-83), the U.S. military strategy in Central America, and the Palestinian Intifada. In 1994 The Nation published his expose of U.S. military intelligence plans for the occupation of Haiti. His Guatemala, El Salvador and Haiti exposes sparked congressional investigations.

"As an activist, Nairn has campaigned against Washington's support for repression and in support of justice movements in the U.S., Latin America, Asia and elsewhere. He has spoken at thousands of schools, community meetings and actions in the U.S. and overseas and testified before the U.S., the U.S. Congress, foreign parliaments, the Council on Foreign Relations and similar groups, as well as in court cases on the sanctuary movement and asylum claims."

Nairn's articles have appeared in The New Yorker, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the New Republic, Harper's, The Nation, The Progressive, NACLA Report on the Americas, Der Spiegel, the London Guardian, Reader's Digest and USA Today, among others. He is contributing author to four books on U.S. policy and Central America and has worked as a consultant and correspondent for radio and TV networks. Most recently, Nairn's vigorous, on-the-spot activity resulted in his arrest in Dili, East Timor, where he was held in detention for six days and threatened with ten years imprisonment. After members of Congress, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and others mounted a campaign, he was released and deported to Singapore. In 1991, when he attempted to intervene in the Santa Cruz massacre, his skull was fractured, and he was threatened with death, a gun pressed to his head. Nairn was banned from Indonesia and East Timor in 1991 and designated "a threat to national security." Since then he returned to the area three times in defiance of the Indonesian government.

While in Mobile, Nairn will also speak to a political science class at Spring Hill College, appear on David Underhill's radio show on WABB-AM, visit the office of Sonny Callahan, and meet with the news media.

Greg Speltz
Mobile, AL


Dear Editor,

I am the chief executive of CQI Mission, which I created in 1998 to help the children and old people of Central America. CQI has been working in Honduras and Mexico for some years now. Recently, a group sponsored by the Society Mobile-La Habana, the sister city organization between Mobile and Havana, was in Cuba for humanitarian assistance, and we met them in Cuba for the same. I would like to share a first-hand account.

I saw a crowd of people waiting outside a government food dispensary to buy bread, and they said chicken is rationed and they only get it twice a year in Cuba.

Tours in central Cuba have once again employed the horse and cart as a means of public transportation.

I heard horror stories of the supposed benefits of higher education and free health care provided by the communist regime.

In spite of all the traffic congestion, pollution, and deteriorating buildings in Havana, a trip into the country's interior made me realize how favorable life was in the capital compared with the rural towns.

The train ride was approximately 2 hours and cost 15 -- a great ride. I took a bus back for 10. The people are full of spirit and love.

The basic wage for a man or woman to work in Cuba is $3 to $4 a month. Yes, a month.

They need help. So if you would like to help the children and the old people of Cuba, call or email us at cqimissions@zebra.net or call me at 342-0807.

Jerry Van Dyke
P.S. If you want to go to Cuba, you need a license from the Department of the Treasury.


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