Ladybrille® Blogazine


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Derrick Ashong on Barack Obama, McCain & his Band Soulfege

Derrick Ashong is the ultimate “Afropolitan.”Born in Accra, Ghana and having lived and attended schools both in Accra, Saudi Arabia Qatar, Voorhees, New Jersey and Cambridge Massachusetts, Ashong really came into the limelight when while campaigning for Senator Barack Obama, a reporter aggressively questioned him on why he supported Obama. The timing was perfect as media pundits insisted Blacks supported Obama simply because he was black. Ashong seemed to shut the pundits up with his thorough knowledge of the issues and excellent articulation of his positions. His interview was uploaded on YouTube and overnight, he became a sensation generating over a million hits.

Shortly after, the Harvard graduate began gaining media attention from the New York Times, the Economist, Vanity Fair,, Boston Globe, among many. Ashong has used his political limelight to continue to speak openly on the issues and to amplify his passion for music and his work as a singer in his band “Soulfege.” With just a day left before we elect the next President of the United States of America, caught up with Ashong, our main feature for this month, to discuss US politics, its influence on Africa and its fashion and entertainment industries and Ashong’s band, Soulfege. [The interview was conducted three weeks ago in Los Angeles, California] [I am in Derrick’s apartment in Los Angeles and it is quite late as I had a very busy day. It’s about 11:30pm when I meet up with him and his friend. He is preparing for a trip overseas, with a flight that leaves by 6:00am. Yet he is totally energetic when I begin talking politics] [After some chatting] Derrick, I know you have repeated the You Tube story so many times so I won’t make you do it again. [ Laughs] Let’s cut straight to the chase. Why don’t you tell us your take on the current political situation in the USA.

Ashong: In a nutshell, we are down to three weeks [now a day] before the election and we’ve seen that Obama has been rising in the polls particularly in the wake of this economic crisis. He has been very steady in his response to it, very methodical in the way in which he has expressed his ideas on where he stands to the people. McCain has been a little bit fractured. What do you mean by that?
Ashong: Yea. It’s almost as if they are grasping at straws. On the one hand it is like [in a deeper tone trying to mimick McCain’s campaign moves he says] “I am going to suspend my campaign.” “Oh, I am not going to be in the debate until the issue is resolved. Oh wait I am at the debate.

The issue is not quite resolved but it is pretty much wrapped up. Okay now Congress didn’t vote the way I said they were gonna vote and oh God the stock market is tanking, what are we gonna do?” Then it’s like,“here comes this bill and I hate pork [pork barrel spending] and I am never gonna vote for pork. [Raises his voice]. The week before I said I’d never sign it if it had pork, but [I] signed it anyway.” [switching to his regular voice] So, it starts to become evident that McCain as Obama put it, “seems a bit erratic.” The thing is that to the outside viewer it seems like maybe this guy doesn’t know what is happening. It is not that he does not know what is happening. It is that he does not have a firm grasp of what is going on in the marketplace but most people don’t. . Which makes sense because most people have no clue how we got into this mess. Ashong: Yes. But, his main issue is he does things for political expedience and we are looking at real significant time of change in the country and a legitimate crisis; and this is a man that is trying to leverage that crisis towards his own benefit as opposed to leveraging his experience to the benefit of the nation in a time of crisis. I also wonder about his mental health because of his actions of late.
Ashong: For one he has a notoriously bad temper. That is what is alleged.
Ashong: Yea and I think that is a very dangerous thing when you are talking about a leader with that degree of power both culturally, economically and militarily. As far as his age, it’s interesting. As I have been looking at McCain over the last four years, I have been seeing a lot of moves that he makes that I think are calculated and are foolish?

LADYBRILLE: Over the last four years? When exactly did you pick up an interest in McCain?
Ashong: About 1999 was when I started looking at McCain. Very specifically McCain?
Ashong: Yes, very specifically McCain because I was doing some work on some campaign finance reform and he was channeling the McCain Finegold bill. Oh!
Ashong: [continues] and it was the only substantive bill out there. [Pauses] Gosh. What was the house version? [He does not recollect. Sighs and moves on] Well, there was a house version. The senate version was the McCain Finegold and it eventually passed around 2003. . . when I looked at him back in 2000 and where he stood which I had a lot of respect for him then, and then in 2004 he started towing the Bush line, I started to ask, “what are you doing?!” You can also see his desperation . . . You see him trying to tap into [the party’s base] by saying don’t vote for Obama because he is [with emphasis] scary and different. Well let’s talk about that. Of late, some of McCain supporters have called Obama “Arab” etc. and McCain has had to defend Obama. What is your take on it? [I carry on] One of the things I have had a big problem with Obama’s campaign for a while was saying McCain is Bush. For a long time, that rhetoric was not working because it is simply not the case. However, since the economic crisis and McCain’s actions in response to it, that rhetoric now has more credibility. But, I don’t know why they keep saying McCain is not Bush. He is truly distinct. His party doesn’t even like him! Ashong: Yes, his party does not like him. They [the Democrats] have to tie him to Bush because Bush has got the lowest approval rating since Harry Truman so they want to exploit that. McCain, meanwhile, for a long time was very distinct from his party. Exactly.
[His voice getting excited] when it was good for him. But, in the last few years he has been virtually in lock step with most things. What he is effectively promising to do is continue many of the policies of George W. Bush on taxation, on military policy, on energy. I mean he talks a little bit more about green energy but there is no substantive distinction in policy. [Plus], he has so many of the Bush administration and neo-conservative establishment working for him that even if he decided I want to be different, it is going to be very very hard for him to break away from all of these people who are putting so much into him, including financing and all. McCain has put himself in a position where he has got to follow Bush because all of his backers are following Bush. Not necessarily. On the $700 billion bailout, it’s embarrassing when your party is not backing you up. They are not backing Bush. The party is strongly opposing him.
Yes and no. His party has been in lock step for so long and now they are getting scared because they are saying they are going to get routed again in congress, just like two years ago. So, what happened with the bailout is: 1) again a lot of people do not know what it is and;
2) the constituents are like, “Oh hell they are going to give $700 billion to Wall Street, no, no, no, no! You are going to give money to the people that screwed us over in the first place?!” So, the congressmen are like, “Oh my God, there is no way I can stay in office if I do this”and the problem with the republicans is they have always been deregulation, deregulation, deregulation. So, the reason they split with Bush is Bush is not up for re-election, he doesn’t care! So, they are looking out for their own political interest and they are saying we can’t go there.

ANTI-GLOBALIZATIION Let me direct your attention to the whole anti-globalization rhetoric you are hearing, even from Obama. Both candidates have said, “we are going to stop all the American jobs from going overseas!” First, is globalization a bad thing and secondly, how will these scale back on [outsourcing] affect the African continent?
Globalization is not necessarily a bad thing. It all depends on how it works. One of the things that has been happening historically is that globalization has been touted as this way of encouraging development through free markets. So, basically if you remove barriers to the operation of the free market, the idea is that your society will develop and your economy will prosper. Exactly.
The problem is the market is not truly free and that is not how it really works. What effectively we have done in the US is to promote these ideas of capitalism, free markets and democracy all together. But, what does not get discussed is for example . . . what happens is, we say we are going to help you develop democracy in your country and then we say we are going to have free markets. That means Western countries have had all this time to accumulate capital during the industrial revolution and our advance companies coming up in the developed world can then go into your markets and have market dominant positions in your country and also have undue influence over your political establishment.

There is a very interesting guy named John Perkins. He was an economist for the World Bank and he wrote a very interesting book called “The Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.” [There] he basically talked about how the structural adjustment programs and all of these recommendations from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund [IMF] and Foreign Direct Investments [FDI] are actually being used in a way that have a neo-colonization [effect] in people’s countries. Interesting.
You could be an African leader in an African country and Western leaders come in and say, “We wanna invest in your country. We wanna bring our product into your marketplace.” You say, “Oh okay. Here are the rules. You have to pay taxes, you have to build our schools and hospitals etc.” They say, “no we don’t wanna pay taxes. It’s a free market. We don’t want any problems, no taxes." You say, “No, we can’t do that. You gotta pay something if you are operating in our country.” They say, “Okay. We will go to the next country.” So they basically strong arm you into not paying taxes. So, people will tell you that Africa has got the highest return on FDI in the World and it’s true. Break it down even further for people who might not understand. What do you mean?Ashong: Basically the argument is that if you put your money in a business in Africa, you are going to get a greater return on your investment [ROI] than any other territory. Part of the reason for that is that African countries do not have effective control or influence over your business. For example if you made an FDI in Germany or France, they are gonna tax the hell out of you! Absolutely! Even here. If you are investing in the USA we want our citizens to prosper so we are gonna tax you heavily and the subsidies we provide for our people like our farmers, for example, will not provide for you etc.
Ashong: Exactly! But, if you came to do business in Ghana, you will make your profits, take the money and run and you don’t pay taxes for it. So, that is part of the problem. In talking about globalization as the answer to all problems, it not necessarily [the case] because it is not a fair system to begin with. The US is a protectionist system. For example, you talked about farm subsidies. Farm subsidies are one of the greatest sources of poverty in the world because you keep flooding the markets with all of these below market value products and these are agricultural products. For example, we give food aid but what does it mean. It means I give you a $50million check but say it must be spent with an American company. really?
Ashong: Yes! I have never heard that.
Ashong: Most people never hear about that. When that money comes in, it is not like your company got a check for $50 million. They are basically giving you a credit to spend with a company from where the loan originates. That $50 million in aid goes to that American company X that sends all of these . . . [interrupts] these rice and corn . . . whoa. . . . Ashong: Yea. The US effectively puts all these monies into its farm subsidies so all that corn that just came into your country is now sold below market value. Every person who use to grow corn in your country is now officially out of business. Whoa.
Ashong: Well, because they cannot sell at that price. They have to find something else to do. It reinforces the poverty regime. Meanwhile, you have to pay that money back and your infrastructure, your local economy has been further eviscerated. So, on the question of globalization, it depends on how it is used.
Ashong: Yes. For example, globalization can be very useful when you say, how can we get access to the intellectual property, to the technology to be able to refine our ability to do business. A lot of African governments have been very slow into moving into the 21st century and into the information age. But, you look at a country like Rawanda which out of necessity said, “Hey they killed over a million of our people in the space of three [3] months. We are suffering for it. What are we going to do to try to come back to the global table. What they did was they committed to new technologies and Rawanda is one of the most wired country. They’ve been laying fiber optic cable for three to four years now. So I have heard.
Ashong: Yes. They have really made a strong commitment to doing this. A lot of countries have been slow but countries like Ghana are now growing really fast. So, I think globalization can be a good thing. Now, when the US talks about our jobs are going overseas, the reason your jobs are going overseas is because there are people overseas who are better educated who will work for less money and do a better job and so long as that is the case, there is no way to stop it. You can stop it by educating your own workforce. The key question is whether you are willing to pay a higher wage for your educated workforce?
Ashong: Exactly. Americans are better educated and more industrious in a lot of areas but there are many areas in which we are lax. For example, math and science American kids don’t represent. If you look at the political discourse, the average American does not even know enough about the basic function of the American governance itself to make an informed decision. Many people are led by the sound bites and empty rhetoric. What needs to happen is that the United States has got to start investing again in building the best and brightest minds.



Anonymous said...

I became a fan of his when I came across him on youtube. I like the fact, he has tangible and authentic reasons for supporting Obama.He is an intelligent man.Ladybrille, you have no idea how I admire you so much. I wish you all the best in life.

Theme images by Jason Morrow. Powered by Blogger.

© 2007-2017 Ladybrille® Blogazine, All Rights Reserved.

Designed by ScreenWritersArena