In the Twinkling of an Eye
It was there one minute and gone the next, like something seen out of the corner of your eye which disappears as you turn to give it your full attention. Fortunately, I had saved it to my hard disk and I could retrieve it. My mind was not playing tricks.
The story was frightening, as the headline suggests: 'HIV rate for blacks has doubled in 10 years'
It was from the Winston-Salem Journal and I'd found it on GoogleNews at about 8:30. Ten minutes later, it had vanished from GoogleNews, not to be found again. I checked one of my favourite US newspapers, the Los Angeles Times. It was not there.
It was not even in the archives. The New York Times was equally unproductive. But the NYT does carry a sidebar with links to Associated Press and Reuters. It wasn't on Reuters but on AP it was their top health story.
"The HIV infection rate has doubled among blacks in the United States over 10 years but is holding steady among whites - stark evidence of a widening racial gap in the epidemic, government scientists said yesterday.
"Other troubling statistics indicate that almost half of all infected people in the United States who should be receiving HIV drugs are not getting them.
"The findings were released in Boston at the 12th Annual Retrovirus Conference, the world's chief scientific gathering on the disease.
" 'It's incredibly disappointing,' " said Terje Anderson, the director of the National Association of People With AIDS. 'We just have a burgeoning epidemic in the African-American community that is not being dealt with effectively'.
"Researchers and AIDS-prevention advocates attributed the high rate among blacks to such factors as drug addiction, poverty and poor access to health care."
You would think, wouldn't you, that a story which affected millions of Americans would hit the front pages and stay there. You would be wrong. There are lots of other non-stories.
Male chauvinist and what else?
Mr Lawrence Summers, president of Harvard, the most prestigious university in the US and outside of Oxbridge, in the world, is in hot water because of sexist remarks he made at a seminar two weeks ago.
SUMMERS. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that
He tried to suggest that women were less qualified than men for certain pursuits. Having been identified as a sexist, or a male chauvinist pig, as they used to say, Mr Summers appears to have taken his deserved licks. The trouble is that Mr Summers is more than just sexist. He is racist as well.
Consider a memo he wrote when he was vice-president of the World Bank, advocating that the bank should give incentives to industry to move polluting activities to the developing world, where, according to him, the social cost would be lower.
"I've always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City.In his view, dumping toxic waste in poor countries would be "world welfare enhancing" cancers, like 'prostrate' cancer as he calls it, are relatively unimportant to those who, statistically, are unlikely to survive long enough to get it.
"From this point of view, a given amount of health-impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that."
"The demand for a clean environment for aesthetic and health reasons is likely to have very high income elasticity" or translated: the poor won't care what kind of air they breathe when they are starving. I do not wonder at the fact that such an obnoxious panjandrum is head of Harvard when the present US Administration can be reliably reported as chiding the Russians for their democracy deficit.
In a country that tolerates a worldwide gulag where people are tortured and held incommunicado and unrepresented, it is a little rich. In a country where the very result of the last presidential election is in serious doubt, it seems a little odd for its president to be lecturing anyone else about democracy.
Yet, satraps of the Administration are busy lecturing the United Nations, for example, about such things. One particularly repellent member of the species satrapus bushii, a certain Luigi Einaudi, has been telling the Security Council of his strenuous efforts on behalf of democracy in Haiti.
Last year, in Port-au-Prince, in the hearing of several witnesses, Einaudi delivered himself of the immortal words:
"The only trouble with Haiti is that it is run by Haitians." For the Security Council his message was different.
"Our most recent mandate from our own [ie OAS] General Assembly refers to support for the elections, to the institutional strengthening of the Haitian state, and the defence of human rights, all of that in co-operation with MINUSTAH and the United Nations.
"The first one is, I think, that good elections - that is to say, open, participative, nonexclusive elections in which the people can vote and have their votes counted and respected - are central to democratic stability and legitimacy in Haiti. I think there is absolutely no doubt of that among any of us."
Of course, Einaudi speaks of human rights against the background that tomorrow is the first anniversary of a coup which overthrew the democratically elected president of Haiti and replaced him with a barbarous regime which respects no human rights except those of its own members.
Nor does he refer to the fact that he and others, on behalf of the US Government, actively sabotaged Aristide in order to weaken him to the point where he would be overthrown. They didn't succeed, so they intervened themselves.
On Friday, it was reported that a Haitian woman had complained of being raped by two Pakistani members of the UN mission (MINUSTAH) - while a third watched. Yesterday, it was reported that a 'prostitute' has admitted being paid by the soldiers for her services. These services were performed in a canefield, a strange place for prostitutes to be plying their trade.
I wonder how much was paid out of UN funds?
Then a 14-year-old girl, the daughter of a trade union leader now in hiding, tells her story to human rights activists.
This girl testified that soldiers came looking for her father one night. Not finding him, they proceeded to rape her, her mother and an 11-year-old cousin staying with them. Not satisfied with that, the soldiers forced two young men, nephews of the girl's mother, to have sexual intercourse with the girl and her mother.
They were very open about all this. When the 14-year-old closed her eyes against the rape, she was threatened and hit.
This is the regime now defended by Mr Einaudi on behalf of its sponsors, the United States, Canada and France.
Never smile at a crocodile
Meanwhile, the Caribbean association - Caricom - has passed a resolution declaring themselves troubled by the human rights situation in Haiti.
There is a problem with feeding your neighbours to the crocodile: eventually the crocodile will eat you too. The hypocrisy of the UN Security Council is equalled only by its culpability for what is happening in Haiti. Blackmailed by the US, the council did nothing when President Aristide appealed for help last year. God knows what assurances it received then from the US.
But, as we end Black History Month, it is clear that the concerns of such as the Haitians carry very little weight where it counts, in the corridors of the World Bank or the United Nations, to say nothing of the Organisation of American States.
Why should they, when the US founding fathers decreed 200 years ago that blacks were only three-fifths human, and therefore made a mockery of their declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights which proclaimed the equality of man?
In Haiti, on the other hand, the slaves who abolished slavery proclaimed what we now recognise as a declaration of universal human rights and set out to help free the Americas from foreign domination. For these and other crimes against civilisation, the Haitians were sentenced to indefinite penal servitude - a sentence now being strictly enforced by the man who, as governor of Texas, signed more death warrants than anyone since Judge Jeffries.
Meanwhile, the US Press sets new standards for newsworthiness. The trials and travails of Michael Jackson are of far greater import than the fact that a male prostitute penetrated the White House Press Corps and gained close access to the president himself. This access was granted to a character named James Guckert, alias Jeff Gannon, while the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd is still awaiting her admission to the select company of the White House Press.
Mr Gannon/Guckert could be found on websites last week, nude and 'standing to attention', like the Marine he once was, offering his services as a male escort who caused no hurt - "leaving no scars only impressions". His fee was $200 an hour or $1,200 for a weekend. The Press has not found it newsworthy enough to expose the tremendous security breaches which allowed Gannon access to this most security-conscious White House.
Instead, they are busy claiming privilege to conceal sources who broke the law by disclosing the identity of Mrs Valerie Plame, a CIA undercover agent. One such law-breaker may have been Jeff Gannon himself. But the Press claims that it has special privilege to protect its confidential sources
As a poor third world journalist, I want to know how the New York Times, for instance, can defend a reporter's concealment of a crime by claiming privilege? In my kind of perhaps obsolete ethic, journalists are citizens, and as such, we have no more right to break the law than does say, a president, the police, the army or anyone else.
It may be remembered that as the secretary-general of the UN Kofi Annan recently discovered, the law was broken last year when the United States decided to attack, invade and destroy Iraq. And, of course, somebody broke several laws this time last year when President Aristide was kidnapped and transported back to Africa. But we won't go into that now, will we?
Suetonius reported that gladiators gallantly, before they began their contests, would say: "Ave, imperator, morituri te salutamus" - "Hail Emperor, we who are about to die, salute you."
They were, of course, observing protocol. We, too, should no doubt, gallantly embrace our fates. "We've got to fulfil the book," as Marley said.