Save me from the well intentioned do-gooders

Save me from the well intentioned do-gooders
© David Burton 2007

Photo of the Save Darfur Die-in

     Our politically correct social activists are at it again. During the last week in April of this year, while rightly organizing and protesting against the Sudan-sponsored genocide in Darfur, they staged a ‘die-in’ on the Boston Common to urge everyone to pressure Fidelity Investments to “end its relationship with companies working in Sudan [i.e., Chinese owned oil companies]” (Ref. 1) and for American individuals and organizations to divest from Fidelity.

     Beyond Boston, “A national activist group [the Save Dafur Coalition] is planning to launch a media blitz against Fidelity investments and Berkshire-Hathaway for their investments in companies doing business with Sudan (Ref. 2).

     Fidelity has investments in PetroChina [a Chinese company] which does business in Sudan. A fidelity spokesman has stated that, “the firm is complying with all U.S. laws in regard to Sudan.”

     First, let’s get something straight. I vigorously support the efforts to “save Dafur” and I believe the way to do this is to destroy the Janjaweed and to vigorously punish the government of Sudan which is supporting the murderers, rapists, and torturers that they have unleashed and continue to support in Dafur (Ref. 3). In the last three years, an estimated 2 million people have been displaced, and reportedly between 200,000 and 400,000 people have died. In 2004, the U.S. Congress declared the trouble a “genocide”. But I am totally turned off by the above-mentioned idealistic social activists who have opted for the simple minded, but totally ineffective actions they are proposing. In point of fact, their position is counter-productive and results in a total turn-off for me, similar to the outrageous and unacceptable actions or other radical activist groups such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). The current actions by the Save Dafur Coalition constitute a blind “feel-good” desire to “do something” without any consideration of the possible consequences or effectiveness of their actions.

     These activists have focused their misguided actions on one American corporation that is four or five times removed from the actual perpetrators of the crimes in Darfur. Let’s see where Fidelity fits in the order of things.

  1. the Janjaweed murderers,
  2. the Sudan government that supports the Janjaweed,
  3. the companies/governments that do business in/with Sudan and provide the money and arms for the Sudan government to support the Janjaweed,
  4. organizations like Fidelity, college endowment funds, company pension funds, and union retirement funds that may have investments in some of the companies that do business in/with Sudan and provide the money for the Sudan government to support the Janjaweed.
     The efforts of groups like the Save Dafur Coalition should be focused on those directly responsible for the tragedy in Darfur. Why is it that radical Islamic fundamentalists can take up weapons for their cause and go off to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq while these American egg-heads can only lie down on the Boston Common or take out ads urging everyone to punish a reputable American company that is, at best, marginally connected to the problem?

Secondary Boycotts and Boycotts of Third and Fourth Parties

     The actions of the Save Dafur Coalition in calling for a fourth party boycott of Fidelity can be compared to the actions of a labor union that carries out a secondary boycott against a company.

     According to Ref. 4:

     “A secondary labor boycott is group's refusal to work for, purchase from, or handle the products of a business with which the group has no dispute.
     “A secondary boycott is an attempt to influence the actions of one business by exerting pressure on another business. Labor unions are the most common practitioners of secondary boycotts. Typically a labor union involved in a dispute with an employer will arrange a secondary boycott if less drastic measures to reach a satisfactory accord with the employer have been ineffective. Secondary boycotts have two main forms: a secondary consumer boycott, in which the union appeals to consumers to withhold patronage of a business, and a secondary employee boycott, in which the union dissuades employees from working for a particular business.
     “Generally a secondary boycott is considered an unfair labor practice when it is organized by a labor union. Congress limits the right of labor unions to conduct secondary boycotts because such activity is considered basically unfair and because it can have a devastating effect on . . . the general state of the economy.
     “On the federal level, the right of a labor union to arrange a secondary boycott is limited by the National Labor Relations Act. Under the National Labor Relations Act, no labor union may threaten, coerce, or restrain any person engaged in commerce in order to force that person to cease doing business with any other person.”

     Secondary boycotts by labor unions are illegal. What can we say about a fourth party boycott by the Save Dafur Coalition ? If the supposed defenders of Darfur want to do something really productive, let them get the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, China, Russia, the countries of Africa and others to a) stop providing arms to Sudan, b) stop selling goods and services to Sudan, c) stop buying anything from Sudan, d) intervene militarily to defeat and destroy the Janjaweed, and e) get the needed relief supplies and humanitarian services into Darfur. While the crusade against Fidelity assuages the consciences of these arm-chair do-gooders, it takes the focus away from real solutions and diverts attention from the real Dafur problem.

     Some practical steps are being taken (but not by the Save Dafur Coalition). Calling the human rights abuses in Sudan “intolerable,” Howard University’s Board of Trustees voted recently to cut off all ties with companies doing business in the war-torn African nation (Ref. 5) The resolution says the university will “bar investments in all companies doing business in the Sudan” This type of policy calls for the divestment of any investments in companies, banks or governments doing business with the offending nation and not with one selected fourth party that may peripherally be investing in these companies, banks or governments.

     Fortunately, in recent years, misguided divestment campaigns similar to that against Fidelity which have attempted to pressure Harvard to return endowment money from the Bin Laden family and to stop all investment in companies doing business with Israel have failed. Hopefully, so will this one. U.S. companies are not legally allowed to work in Sudan in protest of the country’s human rights abuses. However, foreign companies rushed into Sudan to fill the void, and they are much less receptive to U.S. divestment campaigns and global calls for human rights violations. The primary companies targeted are the Chinese oil and natural gas company PetroChina, the Swiss engineering company ABB and the Russian oil company Tatneft. Instead of targeting Fidelity, why not go directly after these companies?

The Law of Unintended Consequences

     What if the campaign against Fidelity were to succeed? Does anybody in the save Darfur movement care what the consequences might be? Would they care if they drove Fidelity out of business? Would they care about the American Fidelity work force that might be affected? Would they care about the consequences of shutting off Sudan’s oil to China? Have they even thought about the downside effects of their actions? It’s unlikely that they’ve thought through anything.

     These people are only concerned with simple-minded feel-good reflex reactions to very complex problems and situations. But, there are almost always unintended consequences to such simplistic reactions.

     Africa Malaria Day, April 25th, commemorates the 1.2 million people lost each year to a preventable and curable disease. Malaria is the biggest killer of African kids. Half a billion people suffer from it annually, reducing economic productivity around the world. (Ref. 6) Why does this disease continue to exist in the 21st century? The reason - social and environmental activists got the world to ban DDT some 30-plus years a go. The result - Some 50 million or more people, primarily in third world countries, have died of malaria and countless more millions have been sickened and incapacitated.

     Finally, in spite of the continuing opposition of many environmental activists, several African countries are now developing indoor residual spraying programs, some with DDT, a highly effective and safe insecticide.

     In 2005, President Bush launched the President's Malaria Initiative which has, among other things, helped support the use of DDT in many African countries. Africa Fighting Malaria (AFM) is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that helped bring DDT back in spite of the activist opposition.

     “Seven months after the World Health Organization reversed its deadly 30-year ban on the use of DDT to fight malaria, the anti-DDT movement is up to its old tricks [opposing any use of DDT]”. (Ref. 6)

     The African American Environmentalist Association (AAEA) believes that DDT should be used to prevent deaths from malaria in African countries. According to U.N. estimates, malaria kills one child every 30 seconds and more than a million people each year. (Ref. 7)

     AAEA believes that DDT should be used in African countries as it was in the United States for decades until malaria is eradicated. Malaria must be eliminated and DDT is the best way to eliminate the parasite.

     The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) held a conference in New York in January 2004 to address this issue, among others. The conference, titled, 'Eco-Imperialism: The Global Green Movement's War On The Developing World's Poor.' CORE supports the use of DDT in African countries. CORE spokesmen described how the traditional environmental movement is imposing the views of mostly wealthy, Americans and Europeans on mostly poor Africans. Paul Driessen, author of Eco-Imperialism: Green Power, Black Death, described how traditional environmental groups are "preventing needy nations from using the very technologies that developed countries employed to become rich, comfortable and free of disease." Patrick Moore, founder of Greenpeace and Greenspirit also supports these views. Conference moderator Deroy Murdock eloquently described how traditional environmental groups perpetuate poverty and misery in developing countries through 'eco-centric' policies.

     In 2000, says the World Health Organization (WHO) and other studies, malaria infected over 300 million people. It killed nearly 2,000,000--most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Over half of the victims are children, who die at the rate of two per minute or 3,000 per day. Since 1972, over 50 million people have died from this dreaded disease.

     Where DDT is used, malaria deaths plummet. Where it is not used, they skyrocket. For example, in South Africa, the most developed nation on the continent, the incidence of malaria had been kept very low (below 10,000 cases annually) by the careful use of DDT. But in 1996, environmentalist pressure convinced program directors to cease using DDT. One of the worst epidemics in the country's history ensued, with almost 62,000 cases in 2000. Shortly after this peak, South Africa reintroduced DDT. In one year, malaria cases plummeted by 80 percent. Next door, in Mozambique, which doesn't use DDT, malaria rates remain stratospheric. Similar experiences have been recorded in Zambia and other African countries.

     On September 15, 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a major policy change, stating that it would now actively back the controversial pesticide DDT as a way to control malaria. (Ref. 8)

     The WHO previously approved DDT for dealing with malaria, but didn't actively support it. While DDT repels or kills mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasite, it doesn't get much good press. In 1962, environmentalist Rachel Carson wrote a book, Silent Spring, about how it persists in the environment and affects not just insects but the whole food chain.

     In the early 1960s, several developing countries had nearly wiped out malaria. After they stopped using DDT, malaria came raging back and other control methods have had only modest success.

     Arata Kochi, head of the WHO's anti-malaria campaign, made the move to bring back DDT. His major effort at a news conference in Washington, D.C., was not so much to announce the change, but to deflect potential opposition from environmental groups. "We are asking these environmental groups to join the fight to save the lives of babies in Africa," Kochi said. "This is our call to them."

     But some environmental groups continue to oppose the use of DDT, saying that spraying DDT will be harmful.

     Another example of the law of unintended consequences concerns nuclear power. The end of April, 2007 was the 30th anniversary of actions by anti-nuclear groups to stop nuclear plant construction in the U.S. (Ref. 9) The results of the actions of these activists in the mid-1970’s have been to make the United States dependent upon unfriendly governments for our supplies of oil, to increase the cost of gasoline to $3 or more per gallon, to contribute to global warming, and to increase atmospheric pollution from hydrocarbon emissions into the atmosphere. Since the demonstrations by the Clamshell Alliance at the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant in New Hampshire, only 2 more nuclear power plants have been built in the U.S., despite the warning flags raised by the Arab oil embargo of the early 1970’s. Despite the activists’ dire warnings of death and destruction, the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant has been operating trouble-free from 1990. Interestingly, the founder of the Clamshell Alliance continues to live just 2 miles from the plant with no reported ill effects, except for the production of pollution-free electrical power that introduces no greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

     But, the heck with the rest of us. More power to OPEC and the rest of the American haters. Do you wonder why Asthma rates are skyrocketing in this country?

  1. Darfur die-in draws droves, Neal Simpson, Boston Herald, Page 5, April 30, 2007.
  2. National ads to hit Fidelity on Darfur, Jay Fitzgerald, Boston Herald, Page 25, May 1, 2007.
  3. Will the World Come to the Aid of the People of Darfur?, David Burton,, March 5, 2007.
  4. Secondary Boycott, Law Encyclopedia,, May, 3 2007.
  5. Howard University First HBCU to Divest From Sudan, Christina Asquith, Current News Web Site, April 1, 2007.
  6. Africa Fighting Malaria, April 23, 2007.
  7. DDT, Use It To Stop Deaths From Malaria In African Countries, African American Environmentalist Association Web Site, May 1, 2007.
  8. WHO Backs Use of DDT Against Malaria, Joanne Silberner, All Things Considered, September 15, 2006.
  9. Nuclear Reaction, Steven Rosenberg, Boston Sunday Globe, Pgs No 1 & 8, April 29, 2007.

  3 May 2007 {Article 24; Undecided_05}    
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