Friday, February 06, 2009

Pilger: Politics Of Bollocks

The Politics Of Bollocks
By John Pilger

Growing up in an Antipodean society proud of its rich variety of expletives, I never heard the word bollocks. It was only on arrival in England that I understood its majesterial power. All classes used it. Judges grunted it; an editor of the Daily Mirror used it as noun, adjective and verb. Certainly, the resonance of a double vowel saw off its closest American contender. It had authority.

A high official with the Gilbertian title of Lord West of Spithead used it to great effect on 27 January. The former admiral, who is security adviser to Gordon Brown, was referring to Tony Blair's famous assertion that invading countries and killing innocent people did not increase the threat of terrorism at home.

"That was clearly bollocks," said his lordship, who warned of the perceived "linkage between the US, Israel and the UK" in the horrors inflicted on Gaza and the effect on the recruitment of terrorists in Britain. In other words, he was stating the obvious: that state terrorism begets individual or group terrorism at source. Just as Blair was the prime mover of the London bombings of 7 July 2005, so Brown, having pursued the same cynical crusades in Muslim countries and having armed and disported himself before the criminal regime in Tel Aviv, will share responsibility for related atrocities at home.

There is a lot of bollocks about at the moment.

The BBC's explanation for banning an appeal on behalf of the stricken people of Gaza is a vivid example. Mark Thompson, the director general, cited the BBC's legal requirement to be "impartial... because Gaza is a major ongoing news story in which humanitarian issues... are both at the heart of the story and contentious."

In a letter to Thompson, David Bracewell, illuminated the deceit behind this. He pointed to previous BBC appeals for the Disasters Emergency Committee that were not only made in the midst of "an ongoing news story" in which humanitarian issues were "contentious", but demonstrated how the BBC took sides. In 1999, at the height of the illegal Nato bombing of Serbia and Kosovo, the TV presenter Jill Dando made an appeal on behalf of Kosovar refugees. The BBC web page for that appeal was linked to numerous articles meant to support the gravity of the humanitarian issue. These included quotations from Blair himself, such as "This will be a daily pounding until [Slobodan Milosevic] comes into line with the terms that Nato has laid down." There was no significant balance of view from the Yugoslav side, and not a single mention that the flight of Kosovar refugees began only after Nato had started bombing. Similarly, in an appeal for the victims of the civil war in the Congo, the BBC favoured the regime of Joseph Kabila without referring to the Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and other reports accusing his forces of atrocities. In contrast, the rebel leader Nkunda was "accused of committing atrocities" and was ordained the BBC's bad guy. Kabila, who represented western interests, was clearly the good guy – just like Nato in the Balkans and Israel in the Middle East.

While Mark Thompson and his satraps richly deserve the Lord West of Spithead Bollocks Blue Ribbon, that honour goes to the cheer squad of President Barack Obama, whose cult-like obeisance goes on and on.

On 23 January, the Guardian's front page declared, "Obama shuts network of CIA 'ghost prisons' ". The "wholesale deconstruction [sic] of George Bush's war on terror", said the report, had been ordered by the new president who would be "shutting down the CIA's secret prison network, banning torture and rendition...".

The bollocks quotient on this was so high that it read like the press release it was, citing "officials briefing reporters at the White House yesterday". Obama's orders, according to a group of 16 retired generals and admirals who attended a presidential signing ceremony, "would restore America's moral standing in the world". What moral standing? It never ceases to astonish that experienced reporters can transmit PR stunts like this, bearing in mind the moving belt of lies from the same source under only nominally different management.

Far from "deconstructing [sic] the war on terror", Obama is clearly pursuing it with the same vigour, ideological backing and deception as the previous administration. George W. Bush's first war, in Afghanistan, and last war, in Pakistan, are now Obama's wars – with thousands more US troops to be deployed, more bombing and more slaughter of civilians. On 22 January, the day he described Afghanistan and Pakistan as "the central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism", 22 Afghan civilians died beneath Obama's bombs in a hamlet populated mainly by shepherds and which, by all accounts, had not laid eyes on the Taliban. Women and children were among the dead, which is normal.

Far from "shutting down the CIA's secret prison network", Obama's executive orders actually give the CIA authority to carry out renditions, abductions and transfers of prisoners in secret without the threat of legal obstruction. As the Los Angeles Times disclosed, "current and former intelligence officials said the rendition program might be poised to play an expanded role." A semantic sleight of hand is that "long term prisons" are changed to "short term prisons"; and while Americans are now banned from directly torturing people, foreigners working for the US are not. This means that America's numerous "covert actions" will operate as they did under previous presidents, with proxy regimes, such as Augusto Pinochet's in Chile, doing the dirtiest work.

Bush's open support for torture, and Donald Rumsfeld's extraordinary personal overseeing of certain torture techniques, upset many in America's "secret army" of subversive military and intelligence operators as it exposed how the system worked. Obama's nominee for director of national intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, has said the Army Field Manual may include new forms of "harsh interrogation", which will be kept secret.

Obama has chosen not to stop any of this. Neither do his ballyhooed executive orders put an end to Bush's assault on constitutional and international law. He has retained Bush's "right" to imprison anyone, without trial or charges. No "ghost prisoners" are being released or are due to be tried before a civilian court. His nominee for attorney-general, Eric Holder, has endorsed an extension of Bush's totalitarian USA Patriot Act, which allows federal agents to demand Americans' library and bookshop records. The man of "change", is changing little. That ought to be front page news from Washington.

The Lord West of Spithead Bollocks Prize (Runner-up) is shared. On 28 January, a national Greenpeace advertisement opposing a third runway at London's Heathrow airport summed up the almost willful naivety that has obstructed informed analysis of the Obama administration. "Fortunately," declared Greenpeace beneath a God-like picture of Obama, "the White House has a new occupant, and he has asked us all to roll back the spectre of a warming planet." This was followed by Obama's rhetorical flourish about "putting off unpleasant decisions". In fact, Obama has made no commitment to curtail the America's infamous responsibility for the causes of global warming. As with Bush and most modern era presidents, it is oil, not stemming carbon emissions, that informs the new administration. Obama's national security adviser, General Jim Jones, a former Nato supreme commander, made his name planning US military control over the exploitation of oil and gas reserves from the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea to the Gulf of Guinea in Africa.

Sharing the Bollocks Runner-up Prize is the Observer, which on 25 January published a major news report headlined, "How Obama set the tone for a new US revolution". This was reminiscent of the Observer almost a dozen years ago when liberalism's other great white hope, Tony Blair, came to power. "Goodbye Xenophobia" was the Observer's post-election front page in 1997 and "The Foreign Office says Hello World, remember us". The government, said the breathless text, would push for "new worldwide rules on human rights and the environment" and implement "tough new limits" on arms sales. The opposite happened. Last year, Britain was the biggest arms dealer in the world; currently it is second only to the United States.

In the Blair mould, the Obama White House "sprang into action" with its "radical plans". The new president's first phone call was to that Palestinian quisling, the unelected and deeply unpopular Mohammed Abbas. There was a "hot pace" and a "new era", in which a notorious name from an ancien regime, Richard Holbrooke, was dispatched to Pakistan. In 1978, Holbrooke betrayed a promise to normalise relations with the Vietnamese on the eve of a vicious embargo that ruined the lives of countless Vietnamese children. Under Obama, the "sense of a new era abroad", declared the Observer, "was reinforced by the confirmation of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state". Clinton has threatened to "entirely obliterate Iran" on behalf of Israel.

What the childish fawning over Obama obscures is the dark power assembled under cover of America's first "post-racial president". Apart from the US, the world's most dangerous state is demonstrably Israel, having recently killed and maimed some 4,000 people in Gaza with impunity. On 10 February, a bellicose Israeli electorate is likely to put Binyamin Netanyahu into power. Netanyahu is a fanatic's fanatic who has made clear his intention of attacking Iran. In the Wall Street Journal on 24 January, he described Iran as the "terrorist mother base" and justified the murder of civilians in Gaza because "Israel cannot accept an Iranian terror base (Gaza) next to its major cities". On 31 January, unaware he was being filmed, Israel's ambassador in Australia described the massacres in Gaza as a "pre-introduction" - dress rehearsal - for an attack on Iran.

For Netanyahu, the reassuring news is that Obama's administration is the most Zionist in living memory – a truth that has struggled to be told from beneath the soggy layers of Obama-love. Not a single member of Obama's team demurred from Obama's support for Israel's barbaric actions in Gaza. Obama himself likened the safety of his two young daughters with that of Israeli children while making not a single reference to the thousands of Palestinian children killed with American weapons - a violation of both international and US law. He did, however, demand that the people of Gaza be denied "smuggled" small arms with which to defend themselves against the world's fourth largest military power. And he paid tribute to the Arab dictatorships, such as Egypt, which are bribed by the US Treasury to help the US and Israel enforce policies described by the United Nations Rapporteur, Richard Falk, a Jew, as "genocidal".

It is time the Obama lovers grew up. It is time those paid to keep the record straight gave us the opportunity to debate informatively. In the 21st century, people power remains a huge and exciting and largely untapped force for change, but it is nothing without truth. "In the time of universal deceit," wrote George Orwell, "telling the truth is a revolutionary act."

Thursday, February 05, 2009


MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

February 5, 2009


The BBC has no doubts about the aims of Israel's 22-day offensive in Gaza:

"The operation was launched to halt or significantly reduce rocket fire from Gaza, and to degrade the military capability of the Hamas militant group that controls the territory." (

These really were the goals, notice, not the declared goals. Some translation is required: the "operation" was in fact a massacre. The "Hamas militant group" that "controls the territory" is the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people.

On December 31, a Guardian leader commented of Israel: "there must be growing doubts as to whether it can achieve by military means even the modest objective it has set itself: the ending of rocket fire on southern Israel." (Leader, 'Gaza: Quiet of the grave,' The Guardian, December 31, 2008)

The Guardian, then, was also happy to accept Israel's claim that it was "targeting Hamas" with a view to ensuring "the ending of rocket fire".

For the Times, the intention was clear:

"The goal for Israel in targeting Hamas is to hamper the ability of terrorist groups to operate." (Leader, 'Security Dilemmas in Gaza - Israel is entitled to defend its civilians against rocket attacks, but its military options are constrained and shrewd diplomacy would serve its interests,' The Times, December 31, 2008)

It was of course inconceivable that the Israeli Defence Force - then terrorising the entire civilian population of Gaza - could be deemed a "terrorist group", just is it could not be considered a "militant group".

The rest of the media followed the same pattern of reporting.

But this mainstream version of events did not explain the sadistic destruction of civilians and civilian infrastructure: the targeting of medical facilities, UN buildings and schools, apartment blocks, farmland. The Observer reports that between 35% and 60% of the agriculture industry in Gaza was wrecked by the Israeli attack. Scores, perhaps hundreds, of wells and water sources were damaged and several hundred greenhouses flattened, as well as severe damage inflicted on between a third and one-half of Gaza's farmable land. (

The mainstream explanation is also strongly counter-intuitive. We know from any number of imperial and colonial wars - not least the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq - that while high-tech military force can certainly terrorise civilians it is a blunt instrument against insurgents. Resistance fighters melt away into civilian populations, into residential areas - there are few military "assets" to target with laser-guided bombs and missiles.

The fact is that, despite the input of hundreds of journalists working for numerous large, well-resourced corporations, we were unable to find a mainstream account that made sense of what was happening in Gaza. For a detailed credible explanation, we had to turn to a lone, non-corporate source: Noam Chomsky.

Pre-Planned - "Go Crazy"

Chomsky presented his explanation in an article on Znet, '"Exterminate all the Brutes": Gaza 2009,' on January 19 (

He commented on Israel's offensive:

"The planning had two components: military and propaganda. It was based on the lessons of Israel's 2006 invasion of Lebanon, which was considered to be poorly planned and badly advertised. We may, therefore, be fairly confident that most of what has been done and said was pre-planned and intended.

"That surely includes the timing of the assault: shortly before noon, when children were returning from school and crowds were milling in the streets of densely populated Gaza City. It took only a few minutes to kill over 225 people and wound 700, an auspicious opening to the mass slaughter of defenseless civilians trapped in a tiny cage with nowhere to flee." (Ibid.)

Chomsky was suggesting that Israeli leaders had actually +intended+ to kill large numbers of Palestinian civilians for reasons which, from their perspective, were entirely rational. In support of this claim, Chomsky quoted an article by the New York Times correspondent Ethan Bronner, 'Parsing gains of Gaza War.' Bronner argued that Israel calculated that it would be advantageous to appear to "go crazy," by causing massive destruction:

"The Israeli theory of what it tried to do here is summed up in a Hebrew phrase heard across Israel and throughout the military in the past weeks: 'baal habayit hishtageya,' or 'the boss has lost it.' It evokes the image of a madman who cannot be controlled.

"'This phrase means that if our civilians are attacked by you, we are not going to respond in proportion but will use all means we have to cause you such damage that you will think twice in the future,' said Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser." (Bronner, 'Parsing gains of Gaza war,' New York Times, January 18, 2009)

Bronner added:

"The Palestinians in Gaza got the message on the first day when Israeli warplanes struck numerous targets simultaneously in the middle of a Saturday morning. Some 200 were killed instantly, shocking Hamas and indeed all of Gaza." (Ibid.)

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had earlier said that the offensive had "restored Israel's deterrence... Hamas now understands that when you fire on its citizens it responds by going wild - and this is a good thing". (Kim Sungupta and Donald Macintyre, 'Israeli cabinet divided over fresh Gaza surge,' The Independent, January 13, 2009;

An Israeli soldier who gave only his first name, Alon, provided a first-hand account of Israel's military tactics to the Times:

"I'm not a newcomer in the army. Both my brothers served in combat units that saw action in Gaza. And I can say that this is the most aggressive line that we have ever taken towards fighting the Palestinians. As you say in English, the gloves were off." (Sheera Frenkel, 'Gaza: Israeli troops reveal ruthless tactics against Hamas,' The Times, January 14, 2009;

Alon said he was shocked by some of the scenes inside Gaza, describing how whole neighbourhoods had been razed to the ground:

"It doesn't look like we've been there a few weeks - it looks destroyed, demolished, like we were bombing it for years. You can't imagine what damage we have done." (Ibid.)

The tactic of "going crazy" appears to have been successful, Bronner concluded in the New York Times, with "limited indications that the people of Gaza felt such pain from this war that they will seek to rein in Hamas". (Bronner, op. cit)

This is the "mad man" theory of international relations in action. In a key document from 1995, the US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) advised that American planners should not portray themselves "as too fully rational and cool-headed". Instead, the impression that the US "may become irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked should be a part of the national persona we project." It is "beneficial" for our strategic posture if "some elements may appear to be potentially 'out of control.'" (Quoted, Chomsky, 'Hegemony Or Survival,' Hamish Hamilton, 2003, p.218)

Intolerable Acts Of Diplomacy

Chomsky cited another example of Israel deliberately going "crazy". In June 1982, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon opened with the bombing of the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila:

"The bombing hit the local hospital - the Gaza hospital - and killed over 200 people, according to the eyewitness account of an American Middle East academic specialist. The massacre was the opening act in an invasion that slaughtered some 15-20,000 people and destroyed much of southern Lebanon and Beirut, proceeding with crucial US military and diplomatic support." (Chomsky, '"Exterminate all the Brutes": Gaza 2009,' op. cit)

Thirty years ago, Israeli Chief of Staff Mordechai Gur commented that since 1948, "we have been fighting against a population that lives in villages and cities." Israel's most prominent military analyst, Zeev Schiff, summarised Gur's remarks: "the Israeli Army has always struck civilian populations, purposely and consciously... the Army, he said, has never distinguished civilian [from military] targets...[but] purposely attacked civilian targets." (Ibid.)

The reasons for the brutality were explained by the Israeli statesman Abba Eban: "there was a rational prospect, ultimately fulfilled, that affected populations would exert pressure for the cessation of hostilities." (Ibid.)

In commenting, Chomsky made the key point in his analysis:

"The effect, as Eban well understood, would be to allow Israel to implement, undisturbed, its programs of illegal expansion and harsh repression. Eban was commenting on a review of Labor government attacks against civilians by Prime Minister Begin, presenting a picture, Eban said, 'of an Israel wantonly inflicting every possible measure of death and anguish on civilian populations in a mood reminiscent of regimes which neither Mr. Begin nor I would dare to mention by name.'" (Ibid.)

In other words, Israel has repeatedly and deliberately set out to kill Palestinian and other civilians in order to terrorise them into abandoning their efforts to resist Israeli expansion. But why not pacify the same people with concessions, diplomacy and agreement?

Chomsky argued that the 1982 Israeli attack on Lebanon had nothing to do with responding to "intolerable acts of terror," as claimed at the time. Instead, it had to do with "intolerable acts: of diplomacy." Shortly after the invasion began, Israel's leading academic specialist on the Palestinians, Yehoshua Porath, wrote that PLO leader Yasser Arafat's success in maintaining a ceasefire represented "a veritable catastrophe in the eyes of the Israeli government," since it opened the way to a political settlement. The government hoped that the PLO would resort to terrorism, undermining the threat that it would be "a legitimate negotiating partner for future political accommodations." (Ibid.)

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir stated that Israel went to war because there was "a terrible danger... Not so much a military one as a political one." Historian Benny Morris recognised that the PLO had observed the ceasefire, and explained that "the war's inevitability rested on the PLO as a political threat to Israel and to Israel's hold on the occupied territories." (Ibid.)

Similarly, Chomsky noted that Israel's breaking of the ceasefire on November 4, killing six Palestinians, happened at a significant time. The attack came shortly before a key meeting in Cairo when Hamas and its political rival Fatah were to hold talks on "reconciling their differences and creating a single, unified government," the Guardian reported. It would have been the first meeting at such a high level since the near civil war of 2007. (

Chomsky wrote that the meeting "would have been a significant step towards advancing diplomatic efforts. There is a long history of Israel provocations to deter the threat of diplomacy, some already mentioned. This may have been another one." (Chomsky, '"Exterminate all the Brutes": Gaza 2009,' op. cit)

The attack also came on the day of the US presidential elections. Israeli leaders knew the world would be focusing elsewhere - this would help obscure the fact that Israel, not Hamas, had broken the ceasefire. It would also help provide a rationale for the slaughter planned for later in the month and clearly timed to end just before Obama's inauguration.

Chomsky summarised the appalling truth:

"The effort to delay political accommodation has always made perfect sense... It is hard to think of another way to take over land where you are not wanted." (Ibid.)

Machine Truth

Israel, then, consistently shows a preference "for expansion over security." Peace is actually a threat to a programme of illegal expansion that can be achieved only through violence under cover of conflict and war.

And so, from this perspective, inflicting horrific violence on a defenceless civilian population makes perfect sense. When a high-tech military power demolishes schools, mosques and medical centres it enrages, divides and demolishes the "political threat" of peaceful negotiation.

So while it is true that Israel's bombs were intended to destroy Hamas and to stop the rockets, they also had a much uglier aim. And although, as we have seen, there is serious evidence in support of this argument, it cannot be found in the mainstream press.

During the latest crisis, the Independent's Robert Fisk has not proposed Chomsky's argument in any of his numerous articles on Gaza. Instead, he commented:

"Hamas is not Hizbollah. Jerusalem is not Beirut. And Israeli soldiers cannot take revenge for their 2006 defeat in Lebanon by attacking Hamas in Gaza - not even to help Ms Livni in the Israeli elections." (Fisk, 'The self delusion that plagues both sides in this bloody conflict,' The Independent, December 31, 2008)

But according to Chomsky, the massacre was about far more than revenge, electoral success and restoring military credibility.

Similarly, the Guardian's Seumas Milne cited Israeli journalist Amos Harel who commented that, "little or no weight was apparently devoted to the question of harming innocent civilians". (Milne, 'Israel's onslaught on Gaza is a crime that cannot succeed,' The Guardian, December 30, 2008)

Again, the evidence suggests that the question of harming civilians +had+ been carefully considered.

Only John Pilger offered essentially the same argument as Chomsky in his January 8 article in the small circulation New Statesman magazine. Pilger wrote:

"Every subsequent 'war' [since 1947] Israel has waged has had the same objective: the expulsion of the native people and the theft of more and more land." (Pilger, 'Gaza under fire,' New Statesman, January 8, 2009;

The above analysis, then, answers the question posed to us by Steve Roberts' of the Open University (See Part 1):

"Do you think that blogs and websites such as 'medialens', 'Digg' and 'Twitter' provide a viable alternative to 'mainstream media news'?" (

As discussed, the question should be reversed. The mainstream media will never provide a viable alternative to honest, compassionate individuals writing as free human beings outside the corporate machine.


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The Dolphins of Taiji: Japan's Other Mammal Massacre

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Tankers is Loonie

Oil protest uses loonie, hoping that money talks
The Canadian Press

February 3, 2009

VANCOUVER -- A Victoria-based environmental group is using the Canadian dollar to spread a very graphic message.

Dogwood Initiative, which is dedicated to sustainable land reform, is distributing 200,000 decals to stick on the one-dollar coin's loon design.

The black decal would cover the loon and the horizontal lines depicting water to create an illusion that the bird and its surroundings are coated in oil.

Dogwood Initiative hopes the campaign warns Canadians about potential federal support for proposals to allow oil tankers along B.C.'s north coast, including Hecate Strait, Queen Charlotte Sound and Douglas Channel.

Calgary-based Enbridge Inc. plans to build a 1,170-kilometre pipeline to carry oil-sands oil from Edmonton to Kitimat, B.C., where it would be loaded onto tankers for transport to Asian markets.
Environmentalists say a ban on oil tanker traffic off the West Coast has been in place for more than 40 years and construction of a supertanker port in Kitimat raises the potential for a devastating oil spill.

"We're on our way to distributing about 200,000 of them," Dogwood spokesman Charles Campbell said of the decals.

The group is working with some businesses that will apply the decals to loonies that come into their stores through customers.

He cited a chocolate shop on Denman Island and some coffee outlets in Ottawa as examples of businesses that would participate.

Dogwood has already received a call from the Royal Canadian Mint in Ottawa, he said.

"They're not very fond of what we're doing," Mr. Campbell said. "They said we were in breach of the Currency Act. The issue doesn't seem to be defacing. It seems to be using currency for purposes other than legal tender."

The decal sticks to the coin by "static cling" and can be removed without damaging the coin, Mr. Campbell said.

"We think we're on the right side of the law regarding defacing coins because it doesn't do any damage to the coins."

The goal of the campaign is legislation in support of the moratorium, he said.

"What we are asking for is a legislated tanker ban on the coast."

homelessness numbers rising

US homelessness numbers rising
Most foreclosure victims are renters whose landlords failed to pay their mortgages.

Dateline: Monday, February 02, 2009
by Sherwood Ross

Every Christmas season a large electric star visible for miles is illuminated on a mountainside overlooking Bethlehem, Pa, to commemorate the time the holy family of Christianity took refuge in a manger on the night of Christ's birth.

This past Christmas, this city of 71,000 - whose principal landmark is the rusting remains of the once thriving Bethlehem Steel Corporation - was unable to shelter its own growing number of homeless families from bitterly cold weather.

Last year, 3.2 million foreclosures were filed in the US
As in the New Testament account, there was no room at the inn for some and the city, citing "liability issues," turned down requests to house the homeless on freezing nights in its jail or in the parking garage under City Hall.

"Here is what we are facing in the Lehigh Valley," writes Marcie Lightwood, a social worker at Trinity Episcopal Church in the local Morning Call:

"Thousands of jobs have been lost in the past six months. When this happens, renters (and some homeowners) have two or three months before they get evicted. Then they may have another month or two of living in a vehicle (if they have one) or sofa surfing with friends and relatives. If they had foresight, they got on one of the waiting lists for one of the shelters, which are full... " The churches alone, she notes, can't do it all.

"We also have the chronically homeless, people whose income will never allow them to pay rent, who may have had mental illnesses, substance abuse or criminal histories." And she warns many others "are fast approaching homelessness."

Bethlehem is no isolated example. As Patrick Markee of the Coalition for the Homeless and reporter Lizzy Ratner write in the February 9 The Nation magazine, "Long before subprime mortgages, credit default swaps and the most recent stock market crash, the United States was in the grip of the longest period of sustained mass homelessness since the Great Depression."

Even as George Bush's war of aggression forced 4-million Iraqis from their homes, triggering what the United Nations termed a "humanitarian crisis," there were nearly as many Americans, 3.5 million, including 1.4 million children, "that experienced homelessness in the course of a year," Markee observed. Surely, their plight also qualifies as an "humanitarian crisis," yet public indifference left many, as in Bethlehem, to sleep in the cold.

"As people have lost their paychecks, or as the homes they were renting were foreclosed - most of today's homeless foreclosure victims are renters who were evicted, even though they paid rent, because their landlord had not kept up with the mortgage - their tenuous grip on stability has slipped away," Markee wrote.

Last year, 3.2 million foreclosures were filed nationally, the magazine said, and Markee predicts "the number of homeless families will likely continue to spike."

According to the Los Angeles-based Institute For The Study of Homelessness and Poverty, Los Angeles leads the nation with 91,000 homeless, followed by New York City with 48,000, Detroit with 14,000; Houston with 12,000; and San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago, and Philadelphia, all with about 6,000.
Markee traces the homeless surge back to the early days of President Reagan who "set about systematically dismantling federal housing programs, (and) slashing funds for federal rental vouchers and public housing. He also initiated the shift in federal low-income housing policy away from subsidized development to tax-credit programs, which fail to help the poorest families."

And even as President George W Bush "made a show of doling out small increases to the homeless services budget (though never enough to meet the need)," Markee writes, his administration "hacked away at public housing, Section 8 vouchers and other housing programs, undermining any attempt at reducing family homelessness." The housing expert added that since 2004 funding for affordable housing programs declined by $2.2 billion.

Bush's mean-spirited Federal philosophy has been echoed nationally by cities that enacted laws to criminalize the homeless by arresting them for panhandling or even sitting, eating, and sleeping in public places. Some towns even ticket them for trivial offenses. "When you are giving out trespassing and jaywalking tickets to homeless people, it's just harassment," Linda Lera-Randle El, a homeless advocate in Las Vegas, Nev, told The Review-Journal.

Apparently, a good many people regard the homeless as drifters and bums. House The Homeless, an Austin, Tex-based advocacy non-profit, however, found 38 percent of the Austin homeless are employed. "Presently, there are over one million minimum wage workers experiencing homelessness on an annual basis," HH reports. "The current minimum wage structure does not elevate the minimum wage worker to a level where they can afford basic housing and other core necessities of life."
Although a majority of the Austin's 4,000 homeless are unemployed, 89.7 percent told HH that they want to work but gave health issues, disability, or inability to find work as barriers. Twenty-three percent said they are veterans.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition, with 40 other policy groups, is urging Congress to enact a $45 billion proposal to create permanent housing with support services for the mentally ill and to provide housing vouchers or low-income housing to homeless families. According to The Nation, the plan calls for a minimum of 400,000 new rental vouchers as well as a $10 billion infusion over two years in the recently created National Housing Trust Fund - "a move that would jump-start construction of badly needed low-cost homes."

The plan also urges expanded aid for foreclosure victims, $15.4 billion to upgrade and improve the energy efficiency of neglected public housing, and to devote $2 billion to homelessness prevention. "Taken together, these initiatives will help more than 800,000 vulnerable households and create more than 200,000 jobs," Markee writes.

"Cleaning up the wreckage of three decades of failed federal housing policy will take more than one stimulus," he concludes, as "these measures are just the beginning of what's needed. But if change is the order of the day, dismantling the Reagan-Bush legacy of modern homelessness would be a promising way to start."

Sherwood Ross formerly reported for the New York Herald-Tribune and the Chicago Daily News. He currently directs a public relations firm that serves colleges, non-profits, and publications. Reach him at the email linked below.

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MEDIA LENS: Correcting for the distorted vision of the corporate media

February 4, 2009


Writing in the Independent last week, Robert Fisk commented on the BBC's refusal to broadcast an appeal for Gaza by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC):

"The BBC's refusal to handle an advertisement for Palestinian aid was highly instructive. It was the BBC's 'impartiality' that might be called into question. In other words, the protection of an institution was more important than the lives of children."

Even taken at face value, then, the BBC's decision was monstrous. But the idea that it was primarily motivated by a commitment to impartiality makes little sense.

In 1999, the corporation allowed its own high profile newsreader, Jill Dando, to present a DEC appeal for Kosovo at the height of NATO's 78-day bombing campaign against Serbia. This, also, was an ongoing and highly controversial conflict, one that involved fraudulent US-UK government and media claims of a Serbian "genocide" in Kosovo (claims which have since been quietly abandoned).

Shortly after broadcasting the appeal, with bombing still underway, the BBC reported:

"Millions of pounds of donations have been flooding in to help the Kosovo refugees after a national television appeal for funds." ('UK Millions pour in to Kosovo appeal,' BBC online, April 6, 1999. See David Bracewell's excellent work on this in our forum:

This article linked to related reports on the conflict, which included comments from then prime minister Tony Blair:

"This will be a daily pounding until he [Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic] comes into line with the terms that Nato has laid down." (

The BBC apparently had no concerns that this might damage its alleged reputation for impartiality.

The BBC argument is also made absurd by its consistent and very obvious pro-Israeli bias. An early version of a January 28 BBC online article (since amended) commented:

"Israel has carried out an air attack in the Gaza Strip and launched an incursion with tanks and bulldozers across the border... The incursion follows a bomb attack which killed one Israeli soldier and wounded three near the Gaza border." (

As usual, this presented the Israeli attack as a response to Palestinian violence. The BBC's Middle East correspondent, Jeremy Bowen, told one Media Lens reader that this was reasonable since the killing of the Israeli soldier "is the most serious incident since the ceasefire because it is the first loss of life on either side since then." (Media Lens message board, January 27, 2009)

This was the standard view for anyone uninterested in the facts - most mainstream journalists. Alison Weir noted on Counterpunch:

"Virtually every media outlet reported this action as a major breach in the ceasefire that had begun on January 18th: CNN, AP, NPR, the New York Times, The Washington Post, Fox News, ABC, CBS, the Christian Science Monitor, the LA Times, the McClatchy Newspapers, etc, all pinned the resumption of violence on Palestinians."

Weir added:

"There's just one problem. Israeli forces had already violated the ceasefire at least seven times:

"Israeli forces killed a Palestinian farmer in Khuza'a east of Khan Yunis on Jan 18

"Israeli forces killed a Palestinian farmer east of Jabalia on Jan. 19

"Israeli naval gunboats shelled the Gaza coastline, causing damage to civilian structures

"Israeli troops shot and injured a child east of Gaza City on Jan 22

"Israeli gunboat fire injured 4-7 Palestinian fishermen on Jan 22

"Israeli shelling set a Palestinian house on fire on Jan 22

"Israeli tanks fired on the border town of Al Faraheen, causing damage to homes and farms on Jan 24." (Weir, 'Killing Palestinians Doesn't Count,' Counterpunch, January 29, 2009;

Senior BBC journalists and managers like to claim that the high volume of complaints from both sides of the debate indicates that they are getting the balance about right. But complaints sent by pro-Israeli individuals and groups (fiercely active in Israel and the US) defending their own perceived interests do not have the same credibility as emails sent by people arguing that Palestinians should not be subordinated to those interests. Of course self-interest also promoted pro-Palestinian complaints. But of the 22,000 emails sent to the BBC in complaint, we received hundreds from individuals whose only concern was the protection of human life. The difference is real and matters.

The letters page of the latest issue of Ariel, the BBC's internal staff magazine, featured ten letters on the BBC's refusal to air the Gaza appeal: all were critical of the decision. Jonathan Renouf, a BBC series producer, commented courageously:

"There is a smell of fear about this decision - fear of controversy, fear of criticism, fear of repercussions. Perhaps this is the true fallout from the Hutton report, Queengate and Jonathan Ross; an organisation so mired in fear that it finds itself able to sacrifice aid to the victims of war for a principle that nobody (outside the BBC higher echelons) seems to believe was at stake."

The title of the BBC's letters page was "In blocking Gaza appeal we are taking sides." As the Roman proverb tells us:

"The Senate is a beast, the senators are good men."

The Impartiality Delusion

God and love aside, it seems to us that more nonsense has been written about "impartiality" than any other issue.

The legendary Guardian editor C.P. Scott righteously observed: "Comment is free, but facts are sacred." (Manchester Guardian, May 5, 1921)

But facts are +not+ sacred, pristine, untouchable. They are gathered by human beings on the basis of imperfect, worldly, often compromised motives. And anyway, to mention 'this' fact over 'that' fact is already to express an opinion. To highlight 'this' fact over 'that' fact is to comment. Facts +are+ comment!

The media would have us believe that news reporting is an almost technical task. Journalists are presented as collecting 'hard facts' on the ground much as a geologist collects rocks for research. In reality, journalists report on a world controlled, and harmed, by the same powerful interests. The harm needs to be exposed; but the control makes it a simple matter to punish those who would do the exposing.

This is why journalistic truth-telling requires far more than mere professional competence. Success depends on quite rare human qualities: compassion, independence of thought; the willingness to disobey authority, to disregard the carrots of conformity (status, wealth, power).

An honest journalist is someone who instinctively reviles the notion that he should take his side (his corporation, his class, his country, his career interests) at the expense of others. She agonises about, feels wounded by, the thought that she might be subordinating someone else's interests to her own. The honest journalist does not merely believe, but +feels+ that all happiness is of equal value, that all suffering is equal. He or she will be moved by the words of the Buddhist sage Shantideva:

"Mine and other's pain - how are they different?
Simply, then, since pain is pain, I will dispel it.
What grounds have you for all your strong distinctions?" (Shantideva, The Way Of The Bodhisattva, Shambhala, 1997, p.124)

We, also, have written for the mainstream. And we have experienced the moments of moral crisis: 'This needs to be said. But if I say it, I might not be invited back.' A reassuring set of thoughts is always on hand: 'I can do more good on the inside than on the outside - why take a chance? Nobody will notice. How much difference would it make anyway?' We have thought exactly these thoughts even though we have faced utterly trivial temptations by mainstream standards. How willing would you be to risk alienating powerful groups allied to your proprietor, or parent company, if you were paid a six-figure salary to type out a few hundred words every week?

Nobody ever talks about these choices but everyone is aware of them, on some level, all the time. Everyone knows that there are things that you just do not say about the host newspaper, the owner, the editor, the advertisers, the government, the government's allies. BBC journalists know what they should and should not say about Israel.

For some, these moments of crisis will barely reach awareness. They will be experienced as a vague sense of unease, easily ignored. Successful corporate journalists may wonder why anyone would even waste time on such nonsense. They know the barriers, the taboos (how else could they avoid them with such precision?), and they simply play by the rules. They may have convinced themselves that the 'rules' are for the best in the long run anyway (because our society is fundamentally benevolent in an otherwise primitive and threatening world).

This all casts a different light on a question posed to us last month by MA student Steve Roberts of the Open University:

"Do you think that blogs and websites such as 'medialens', 'Digg' and 'Twitter' provide a viable alternative to 'mainstream media news'?" (

In our view, the question should be reversed: Do the mainstream media provide a viable alternative to non-corporate sources of news and commentary? The answer is they do not and never have.

Consider, for example, that it is an unwritten rule of corporate reporting that very ugly motives cannot be imputed to our government or its leading allies. They may err and blunder, but it is unthinkable that they would kill thousands, or millions, of people because it was in the best interests of elite power. It is unthinkable that they would deliberately kill the poor to terrorise other poor people to accept poverty. It is unthinkable that they would actively seek to promote violent conflicts because they have a monopoly on violence. It is unthinkable that they would seek to create enemies because doing so has multiple benefits in pacifying the domestic population, justifying arms budgets, and providing a rationale for attacking poor people overseas.

One might speculate as to why these possibilities are deemed beyond the pale of 'respectable', expressible views, given that journalism is supposed to be a coldly clinical, technical task. An underlying rationalisation (again, not openly discussed) assumes that the media should serve the status quo called "democracy". Serving democracy, naturally, does not extend to 'undermining' a government 'freely' elected by the British electorate. This is implicit in the whole notion of professional media 'balance'. If it is the role of the media, to fairly represent the Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat view of the world, why would it be the role of the media to suggest that these views are fraudulent, hiding much darker truths?

Bearing these comments in mind, the Israeli attack on Gaza that began on December 27, 2008 provides a good test for Steve Roberts' question. How did the mainstream and "alternative" media answer this simple question: Why did the Israeli army massacre hundreds of Palestinian civilians?

As we will see, hundreds of well-resourced journalists across the media failed to provide a credible explanation. We had to turn to a single article by a single author on an internet website to discover the answer.

Part 2 will follow shortly...

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Winds of Rhetoric Blow Change

The Anti-Empire Report
February 3rd, 2009
by William Blum

Change (in rhetoric) we can believe in.
I've said all along that whatever good changes might occur in regard to non-foreign policy issues, such as what's already taken place concerning the environment and abortion, the Obama administration will not produce any significantly worthwhile change in US foreign policy; little done in this area will reduce the level of misery that the American Empire regularly brings down upon humanity. And to the extent that Barack Obama is willing to clearly reveal what he believes about anything controversial, he appears to believe in the empire.

The Obamania bubble should already have begun to lose some air with the multiple US bombings of Pakistan within the first few days following the inauguration. The Pentagon briefed the White House of its plans, and the White House had no objection. So bombs away — Barack Obama's first war crime. The dozens of victims were, of course, all bad people, including all the women and children. As with all these bombings, we'll never know the names of all the victims — It's doubtful that even Pakistan knows — or what crimes they had committed to deserve the death penalty. Some poor Pakistani probably earned a nice fee for telling the authorities that so-and-so bad guy lived in that house over there; too bad for all the others who happened to live with the bad guy, assuming of course that the bad guy himself actually lived in that house over there.

The new White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, declined to answer questions about the first airstrikes, saying "I'm not going to get into these matters."1 Where have we heard that before?

After many of these bombings in recent years, a spokesperson for the United States or NATO has solemnly declared: “We regret the loss of life.” These are the same words used by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on a number of occasions, but their actions were typically called “terrorist”.

I wish I could be an Obamaniac. I envy their enthusiasm. Here, in the form of an open letter to President Obama, are some of the "changes we can believe in" in foreign policy that would have to occur to win over the non-believers like me.

Just leave them alone. There is no "Iranian problem". They are a threat to no one. Iran hasn't invaded any other country in centuries. No, President Ahmadinejad did not threaten Israel with any violence. Stop patrolling the waters surrounding Iran with American warships. Stop halting Iranian ships to check for arms shipments to Hamas. (That's generally regarded as an act of war.) Stop using Iranian dissident groups to carry out terrorist attacks inside Iran. Stop kidnaping Iranian diplomats. Stop the continual spying and recruiting within Iran. And yet, with all that, you can still bring yourself to say: "If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us."2

Iran has as much right to arm Hamas as the US has to arm Israel. And there is no international law that says that the United States, the UK, Russia, China, Israel, France, Pakistan, and India are entitled to nuclear weapons, but Iran is not. Iran has every reason to feel threatened. Will you continue to provide nuclear technology to India, which has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, while threatening Iran, an NPT signatory, with sanctions and warfare?

Stop surrounding the country with new NATO members. Stop looking to instigate new "color" revolutions in former Soviet republics and satellites. Stop arming and supporting Georgia in its attempts to block the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhasia, the breakaway regions on the border of Russia. And stop the placement of anti-missile systems in Russia's neighbors, the Czech Republic and Poland, on the absurd grounds that it's to ward off an Iranian missile attack. It was Czechoslovakia and Poland that the Germans also used to defend their imperialist ambitions — The two countries were being invaded on the grounds that Germans there were being maltreated. The world was told.

"The U.S. government made a big mistake from the breakup of the Soviet Union," said former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev last year. "At that time the Russian people were really euphoric about America and the U.S. was really number one in the minds of many Russians." But, he added, the United States moved aggressively to expand NATO and appeared gleeful at Russia's weakness.3

Making it easier to travel there and send remittances is very nice (if, as expected, you do that), but these things are dwarfed by the need to end the US embargo. In 1999, Cuba filed a suit against the United States for $181.1 billion in compensation for economic losses and loss of life during the almost forty years of this aggression. The suit held Washington responsible for the death of 3,478 Cubans and the wounding and disabling of 2,099 others. We can now add ten more years to all three figures. The negative, often crippling, effects of the embargo extend into every aspect of Cuban life.

In addition to closing Guantanamo prison, the adjacent US military base established in 1903 by American military force should be closed and the land returned to Cuba.

The Cuban Five, held prisoner in the United States for over 10 years, guilty only of trying to prevent American-based terrorism against Cuba, should be released. Actually there were 10 Cubans arrested; five knew that they could expect no justice in an American court and pled guilty to get shorter sentences.4

Freeing the Iraqi people to death ... Nothing short of a complete withdrawal of all US forces, military and contracted, and the closure of all US military bases and detention and torture centers, can promise a genuine end to US involvement and the beginning of meaningful Iraqi sovereignty. To begin immediately. Anything less is just politics and imperialism as usual. In six years of war, the Iraqi people have lost everything of value in their lives. As the Washington Post reported in 2007: "It is a common refrain among war-weary Iraqis that things were better before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003."5 The good news is that the Iraqi people have 5,000 years experience in crafting a society to live in. They should be given the opportunity.

Saudi Arabia
Demand before the world that this government enter the 21st century (or at least the 20th), or the United States has to stop pretending that it gives a damn about human rights, women, homosexuals, religious liberty, and civil liberties. The Bush family had long-standing financial ties to members of the Saudi ruling class. What will be your explanation if you maintain the status quo?

Reinstate the exiled Jean Bertrand Aristide to the presidency, which he lost when the United States overthrew him in 2004. To seek forgiveness for our sins, give the people of Haiti lots and lots of money and assistance.

Stop giving major military support to a government that for years has been intimately tied to death squads, torture, and drug trafficking; in no other country in the world have so many progressive candidates for public office, unionists, and human-rights activists been murdered. Are you concerned that this is the closest ally the United States has in all of Latin America?

Hugo Chavez may talk too much but he's no threat except to the capitalist system of Venezuela and, by inspiration, elsewhere in Latin America. He has every good historical reason to bad-mouth American foreign policy, including Washington's role in the coup that overthrew him in 2002. If you can't understand why Chavez is not in love with what the United States does all over the world, I can give you a long reading list.

Put an end to support for Chavez's opposition by the Agency for International Development, the National Endowment for Democracy, and other US government agencies. US diplomats should not be meeting with Venezuelans plotting coups against Chavez, nor should they be interfering in elections.

Send Luis Posada from Florida to Venezuela, which has asked for his extradition for his masterminding the bombing of a Cuban airline in 1976, taking 73 lives. Extradite the man, or try him in the US, or stop talking about the war on terrorism.

And please try not to repeat the nonsense about Venezuela being a dictatorship. It's a freer society than the United States. It has, for example, a genuine opposition daily media, non-existent in the United States. If you doubt that, try naming a single American daily newspaper or TV network that was unequivocally against the US invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Panama, Grenada, and Vietnam. Or even against two of them? How about one? Is there a single one that supports Hamas and/or Hezbollah? A few weeks ago, the New York Times published a story concerning a possible Israeli attack upon Iran, and stated: "Several details of the covert effort have been omitted from this account, at the request of senior United States intelligence and administration officials, to avoid harming continuing operations."6

Alas, Mr. President, among other disparaging remarks, you've already accused Chavez of being "a force that has interrupted progress in the region."7 This is a statement so contrary to the facts, even to plain common sense, so hypocritical given Washington's history in Latin America, that I despair of you ever freeing yourself from the ideological shackles that have bound every American president of the past century. It may as well be inscribed in their oath of office — that a president must be antagonistic toward any country that has expressly rejected Washington as the world's savior. You made this remark in an interview with Univision, Venezuela's leading, implacable media critic of the Chavez government. What regional progress could you be referring to, the police state of Colombia?

Stop American diplomats, Peace Corps volunteers, Fulbright scholars, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, from spying and fomenting subversion inside Bolivia. As the first black president of the United States, you could try to cultivate empathy toward, and from, the first indigenous president of Bolivia. Congratulate Bolivian president Evo Morales on winning a decisive victory on a recent referendum to approve a new constitution which enshrines the rights of the indigenous people and, for the first time, institutes separation of church and state.

Perhaps the most miserable people on the planet, with no hope in sight as long as the world's powers continue to bomb, invade, overthrow, occupy, and slaughter in their land. The US Army is planning on throwing 30,000 more young American bodies into the killing fields and is currently building eight new major bases in southern Afghanistan. Is that not insane? If it makes sense to you I suggest that you start the practice of the president accompanying the military people when they inform American parents that their child has died in a place called Afghanistan.

If you pull out from this nightmare, you could also stop bombing Pakistan. Leave even if it results in the awful Taliban returning to power. They at least offer security to the country's wretched, and indications are that the current Taliban are not all fundamentalists.

But first, close Bagram prison and other detention camps, which are worse than Guantanamo.

And stop pretending that the United States gives a damn about the Afghan people and not oil and gas pipelines which can bypass Russia and Iran. The US has been endeavoring to fill the power vacuum in Central Asia created by the Soviet Union’s dissolution in order to assert Washington's domination over a region containing the second largest proven reserves of petroleum and natural gas in the world. Is Afghanistan going to be your Iraq?

The most difficult task for you, but the one that would earn for you the most points. To declare that Israel is no longer the 51st state of the union would bring down upon your head the wrath of the most powerful lobby in the world and its many wealthy followers, as well as the Christian-fundamentalist Right and much of the media. But if you really want to see peace between Israel and Palestine you must cut off all military aid to Israel, in any form: hardware, software, personnel, money. And stop telling Hamas it has to recognize Israel and renounce violence until you tell Israel that it has to recognize Hamas and renounce violence.

North Korea
Bush called the country part of "the axis of evil", and Kim Jong Il a "pygmy" and "a spoiled child at a dinner table."8 But you might try to understand where Kim Jong Il is coming from. He sees that UN agencies went into Iraq and disarmed it, and then the United States invaded. The logical conclusion is not to disarm, but to go nuclear.

Central America
Stop interfering in the elections of Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, year after year. The Cold War has ended. And though you can't undo the horror perpetrated by the United States in the region in the 1980s, you can at least be kind to the immigrants in the US who came here trying to escape the long-term consequences of that terrible decade.

In your inauguration speech you spoke proudly of those "who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom ... For us, they fought and died, in places like ... Khe Sanh." So it is your studied and sincere opinion that the 58,000 American sevicemembers who died in Vietnam, while helping to kill over a million Vietnamese, gave their life for our prosperity and freedom? Would you care to defend that proposition without resort to any platitudes?

You might also consider this: In all the years since the Vietnam War ended, the three million Vietnamese suffering from diseases and deformities caused by US sprayings of the deadly chemical "Agent Orange" have received from the United States no medical attention, no environmental remediation, no compensation, and no official apology.

Stop supporting the most gangster government in the world, which has specialized in kidnaping, removing human body parts for sale, heavy trafficking in drugs, trafficking in women, various acts of terrorism, and ethnic cleansing of Serbs. This government would not be in power if the Bush administration had not seen them as America's natural allies. Do you share that view? UN Resolution 1244, adopted in 1999, reaffirmed the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to which Serbia is now the recognized successor state, and established that Kosovo was to remain part of Serbia. Why do we have a huge and permanent military base in that tiny self-declared country?

From protecting Europe against a [mythical] Soviet invasion to becoming an occupation army in Afghanistan. Put an end to this historical anachronism, what Russian leader Vladimir called "the stinking corpse of the cold war."9. You can accomplish this simply by leaving the organization. Without the United States and its never-ending military actions and officially-designated enemies, the organization would not even have the pretense of a purpose, which is all it has left. Members have had to be bullied, threatened and bribed to send armed forces to Afghanistan.

School of the Americas
Latin American countries almost never engage in war with each other, or any other countries. So for what kind of warfare are its military officers being trained by the United States? To suppress their own people. Close this school (the name has now been changed to protect the guilty) at Ft. Benning, Georgia that the United States has used to prepare two generations of Latin American military officers for careers in overthrowing progressive governments, death squads, torture, holding down dissent, and other charming activities. The British are fond of saying that the Empire was won on the playing fields of Eton. Americans can say that the road to Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and Bagram began in the classrooms of the School of the Americas.

Your executive orders concerning this matter of utmost importance are great to see, but they still leave something to be desired. They state that the new standards ostensibly putting an end to torture apply to any "armed conflict". But what if your administration chooses to view future counterterrorism and other operations as not part of an "armed conflict"? And no mention is made of "rendition" — kidnaping a man off the street, throwing him in a car, throwing a hood over his head, stripping off his clothes, placing him in a diaper, shackling him from every angle, and flying him to a foreign torture dungeon. Why can't you just say that this and all other American use of proxy torturers is banned? Forever.

It's not enough to say that you're against torture or that the United States "does not torture" or "will not torture". George W. Bush said the same on a regular basis. To show that you're not George W. Bush you need to investigate those responsible for the use of torture, even if this means prosecuting a small army of Bush administration war criminals.

You aren't off to a good start by appointing former CIA official John O. Brennan as your top adviser on counterterrorism. Brennan has called "rendition" a "vital tool" and praised the CIA's interrogation techniques for providing "lifesaving" intelligence.10 Whatever were you thinking, Barack?

Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi
Free this Libyan man from his prison in Scotland, where he is serving a life sentence after being framed by the United States for the bombing of PanAm flight 103 in December 1988, which took the lives of 270 people over Scotland. Iran was actually behind the bombing — as revenge for the US shooting down an Iranian passenger plane in July, killing 290 — not Libya, which the US accused for political reasons.11 Nations do not behave any more cynical than that. Megrahi lies in prison now dying of cancer, but still the US and the UK will not free him. It would be too embarrassing to admit to 20 years of shameless lying.

Mr. President, there's a lot more to be undone in our foreign policy if you wish to be taken seriously as a moral leader like Martin Luther King, Jr.: banning the use of depleted uranium, cluster bombs, and other dreadful weapons; joining the International Criminal Court instead of trying to sabotage it; making a number of other long-overdue apologies in addition to the one mentioned re Vietnam; and much more. You've got your work cut out for you if you really want to bring some happiness to this sad old world, make America credible and beloved again, stop creating armies of anti-American terrorists, and win over people like me.

And do you realize that you can eliminate all state and federal budget deficits in the United States, provide free health care and free university education to every American, pay for an unending array of worthwhile social and cultural programs, all just by ending our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not starting any new ones, and closing down the Pentagon's 700+ military bases? Think of it as the peace dividend Americans were promised when the Cold War would end some day, but never received. How about you delivering it, Mr. President? It's not too late.

But you are committed to the empire; and the empire is committed to war. Too bad.

Washington Post, January 24, 2009 ↩
Interview with al Arabiya TV, January 27, 2009 ↩
Gorbachev speaking in Florida, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, April 17, 2008 ↩ ↩
Washington Post, May 5, 2007, p.1 ↩
New York Times, January 11, 2009 ↩
Washington Post, January 19, 2009↩
Newsweek, May 27, 2002 ↩
Press Trust of India (news agency), December 21, 2007 ↩
Washington Post, November 26, 2008 ↩ ↩

William Blum is the author of:

Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2
Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower
West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir
Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire
Portions of the books can be read, and signed copies purchased, at

Previous Anti-Empire Reports can be read at this website.

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Iraq: Relatively Speaking

Security in Iraq: Relatively Speaking

by Dahr Jamail
February 3rd, 2009 | T r u t h o u t

Read piece, with photograph, here

If there is to be any degree of honesty in our communication, we must begin to acknowledge that the lexicon of words that describes the human condition is no longer universally applicable.

I am in Iraq after four years away.

Most Iraqis I talked with on the eve of the first provincial elections being held after 2005 told me “security is better.”

I myself was lulled into a false sense of security upon my arrival a week ago. Indeed, security is “better,” compared to my last trip here, when the number of attacks per month against the occupation forces and Iraqi collaborators used to be around 6,000. Today, we barely have one American soldier being killed every other day and only a score injured weekly. Casualties among Iraqi security forces are just ten times that number.

But yes, one could say security is better if one is clear that it is better in comparison not to downtown Houston but to Fallujah 2004.

Compared to days of multiple car bomb explosions, Baghdad today is better.

Is it safer? Is it more secure?

Difficult to say in a place when the capital city of the country is essentially in lock-down and prevailing conditions are indicative of a police state. We have a state in Iraq where the government is exercising rigid and repressive controls over social life (no unpermitted demonstrations, curfews, concrete walls around the capital city), economic (read - the 100 Bremer Orders that were passed under the Coalition Provisional Authority - all of the key laws over economic control still in place), and political life of the citizenry.

By definition, a police state exhibits elements of totalitarianism and social control, and in today’s Iraq, we have plenty examples of both.

The Oxford American Dictionary defines security as “The state of being free from danger or threat.”

I visited the Dora area of Baghdad, which is completely walled off with thanks to US occupation forces. Umm Shihab, a tired-looking woman selling vegetables in the local market, told me, “Our sons are still in jail and we want them released. We want the government to lift these walls. Why do they keep them?”

Walking around Dora, I wondered how anyone could feel secure surrounded by so many soldiers, police and weapons.

I did not, and I am certain neither would you. But then we are American and our notion of security is different.

Armed with a media permit, we were allowed to drive along the empty streets of Baghdad on the Saturday of the elections. What struck me during the drive, and later at a polling station, was that there was no escaping the feeling that anywhere, anytime, a bomb could be detonated. It was omnipresent, as was the fear of being kidnapped. This latter threat, though vastly diminished as compared to a year back, is still real. As Western journalists, we are worth a pretty packet of ransom.

But I am able to travel, gather information and file stories, when earlier I could never be sure that I would be able to make my way alive from the airport into the city, so let me assure you, Iraq today is certainly better than it has been since the first year of the occupation.

For the provincial elections on January 31, traffic bans were ordered in Baghdad and other major cities. Security forces deployed on the occasion include hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Police and Army personnel, over 130,000 US military personnel and an estimated 50,000-75,000 mercenaries.

The closely monitored frontiers with Iran and Syria were sealed off completely. A nighttime curfew was implemented at 10 p.m. Friday and remained in place till roughly 6 p.m. Saturday.

Stretching from the foothills of the lower Kurdish-controlled north to the Persian Gulf in the south, double-ring security cordons surrounded thousands of polling sites located in schools, offices and civic centers.

The illogical question that rears its head each time I push it back is, “What does a ’secure’ country need that kind of security for on election day, or for that matter on any other day?”

I would like to mention here that through the entire period of my four-year absence I have maintained regular correspondence with my friends and contacts in Iraq, and therefore have had accurate information all along about the totally abnormal life that the average Iraqi has been living. Yet, witnessing it on arrival has left me reeling.

I’m surprised at myself for being surprised that the situation is as unbearable as it continues to be. As a succinct summary after a week’s stay, I have this to offer: The situation in Iraq has not changed except to worsen. What the passage of four years of occupation during my absence has brought to the people of Iraq is greater displacement, more economic degradation, extreme desperation, untreatable sickness and a near-total loss of hope.

What does this do to the psyche of a normal human being?

And yet, “God willing, these elections will help us, because we need more security,” said Ahmed Hassan after he voted on Saturday, “The Iraqi people are tired. We want to be able to relax.”

You may wonder what for him and his fellow Iraqis would constitute security. Perhaps like us in America; to go through a day without negotiating streets filled with armed men, military hardware, and U.S. military helicopters and jets roaring overhead.

Or is that too much for them to expect as so many millions of my fellow Americans stand mute witnesses to:

The long, long war (that) goes on ten thousand miles from home.


So, men are scattered and smeared over the desert grass,
And the generals have accomplished nothing.

-Nefarious War
Li Po (Circa 750)



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Monday, February 02, 2009

A Field Man in Pakistan

The Kidnapping of a Field Man in Pakistan
by Richard Bulliet

The news broke today, February 2, about the kidnapping of John Solecki, the top UN official in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. When I heard the news, I could not help but think back to earlier moments in John's career. He had been a student of mine in Columbia College, and I got to know him even better when he worked for a master’s degree in the School of International and Public Affairs. We became good friends, and in those days I remember him often wondering about the kind of career he might have.

Then he started working with refugees, first on a contract basis and then for the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. A few years later he told me he had found his calling. “I’m a field man,” he said. Working with refugees in the field is what he does best. He is imperturbable. He soothes the feelings of people in distress. They know without his having to say it that he is doing his best to help them. And he does help them.

Though his career path has pushed him toward being an administrator, he seems to always end up in the field again and again. John has brought aid and comfort to people in the Gaza Strip, the Saudi-Iraqi border, Kurdistan, Egypt, and finally Quetta in Pakistan. The next stop is supposed to be Kabul, Afghanistan. He is looking forward to that: John goes where the refugees are.

Why would anyone kidnap a man who has spent his entire career serving the needs of people in distress under the auspices of the United Nations? He is an American citizen, but he doesn’t work for or represent the United States government. John has been moving from one chaotic region to another, not as a soldier or a military contractor, but rather, as a “field man” for the world’s desperate refugees. The refugee camp is his beat, not the field of battle. He does not travel with a bodyguard or shun populated areas.

When he was in New York City recently he told me a bit about his job in Quetta. He said that the Baluch nationalists that sometimes agitate for autonomy from Pakistan are not suspicious of him and his work. The Afghan Taliban, too, did not strike him as threatening. He said they were everywhere in Quetta. They set off from there on raids into Afghanistan. But for them Quetta is a quiet rear area, not a place to stage an international incident.

On the other hand, he spoke warily of the Pakistani Taliban. These, he explained, are Pakistanis who share the religious dedication and militant determination of their Afghan counterparts. But their objective is undermining Pakistan’s government, not Afghanistan’s.

It is not yet known who took John or what they have done or intend to do with him. My guess is that he is already trying to talk to them in his direct and unflappable manner. And he is probably aware that people in many governments and agencies are working to secure his release. I’m sure he is calmer than I or anyone else I know would be under similar circumstances.

Some years ago, when he came back from a year’s assignment in Gaza, he showed me a picture of his car. I think it was a Land Rover. It had inch-in-diameter holes in the windows. He chuckled as he explained that they were made by Israeli rubber bullets. I asked him whether he had been frightened. He shrugged and said that that was what a field man has to expect.

Good luck, John. Keep the faith.

Richard Bulliet is Professor of History at Columbia University and author of Islam: The View from the Edge and The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization.

Copyright © 2009 Richard Bulliet – distributed by Agence Global

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Separation of Corp. and State

"Fisherma'am" Proposes 28th Amendment: Separation Of Corporation And State
from Chelsea Green
Huffington Post
November 10, 2008

Every so often an idea comes along that rings with such clarity and purpose that it ignites the imaginations of millions of people. That spark of excitement becomes hope, hope becomes action, action becomes community, and that community grows to become a movement. Marine biologist, author, fisherma'am, and Exxon Valdez survivor, Dr. Riki Ott has such an idea.

Exxon's recently reported record profits marks a new height of American corporate corruption and influence over our federal government--corporations find more protection under the law than American citizens, health and safety regulations are stripped away to serve profits ahead of people, politicians serve only their corporate backers, and our environment is falling victim to the lustful greed of this disaster capitalism. How did it come to this?

Dr. Riki Ott is launching the movement for the 28th Amendment to the Constitution: Separation of Corporation and State. In the video above, she explains what a 28th Amendment will accomplish, how it is possible, why it is necessary for our democracy.

In Riki's own words:

In my book, Not One Drop, I answer the question I frequently heard on the streets in Cordova. (It's a small town where people often visit in groups on Main Street or at the post office.) How did corporations get so big where they could manipulate our legal system?

As survivors of the Exxon Valdez spill and 20-year lawsuit, practically everyone in town has first-hand experience with a legal system that failed to deliver justice and Exxon's promise to make us whole.

In researching our nation's legal history, I found the answer. In this 4-minute video, I explain the solution--passing the 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution: separation of corporation and state.

Please listen. Then ask others to listen. In Not One Drop, I explain this idea more fully. Together we can build a movement to restore government of, for, and by the people.

There's even a Facebook group dedicated to the movement.


I am a survivor and witness of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. It happened in my backyard, Prince William Sound, Alaska.

We have been in a lawsuit now for nearly two decades, and Exxon has managed to drag this out while it has managed to increase its profits to, basically, obscene levels: over $40 billion in net profits now. How did things get this bad?

The conclusion that I came to in Not One Drop is that we need the 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution: the separation of corporation and state.

Starting in 1886, judges started recognizing corporations had rights accorded to people. The first one was the 14th Amendment. And nowhere in the Constitution, nowhere in the Bill of Rights, do we find the word "corporation." This is totally judicial fiat. What this has done is allow a consolidation of wealth and power to the corporations that now threatens to destroy the republic. We want separated church and state—we now need to separate corporation and state.

On March 24, 1989—which is when [the] Exxon [Valdez] grounded and spilled 11–38 million gallons of oil in Prince William Sound, I was commercial fishing. I held a commercial fishing permit, and I fished salmon. I also held a Masters and a PhD in marine toxicology. Exxon came to Cordova, Alaska, stood in our high school gym, and promised us, "We will make you whole." Instead, Exxon worked behind the scenes to eliminate thousands of business claims. Exxon threw an army of attorneys at this case. And it's not just the Exxons of the world, it's any of these big transnational corporations have the ability, because of their wealth and power, to completely overwhelm small communities that get in their way.

If we had had the 28th Amendment to the Constitution, Exxon would not have been able to use the 5th Amendment and the 7th Amendment.

The 7th Amendment is that facts tried by a jury cannot be undermined or revisited by higher courts. So in this case, a jury of peers, ordinary people, determined that the price that Exxon had to pay was one year's net profit. Exxon challenged the amount, and also that punitive damages should be held at all.

Exxon also used, in a related lawsuit, the 5th Amendment. The 5th Amendment is a takings—takings of property. After the Exxon Valdez oil spill, there was a federal law passed (the Oil Pollution Act of 1990) that essentially banned the Exxon Valdez from Prince William Sound. It banned any tanker that has spilled over a million gallons from transporting oil in Prince William Sound. Exxon said, that is a takings of our future profit: that's illegal under the 5th Amendment. If Exxon was not a person, Exxon would not have been able to apply the 5th Amendment.

Five years after the Exxon Valdez ran aground, we had our hearing, and the jury awarded us—the fishermen, the natives—$5 billion in punitive damages and $287 million in compensatory damages. Exxon appealed that $5 billion for over fourteen years, and ultimately, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals finally threw its hands in the air and cut the 5 billion in half. The Supreme Court, in June of 2008, slashed the $2.5 billion to $507 million.

If we're planning on passing a livable planet onto future generations, the democracy debate needs to be entwined with the sustainable future debate, and I believe now that the best way to do that is to pass the 28th Amendment to the Constitution—separation of corporation and state—and strip corporations of their personhood.

Huffington Post, 10-Nov-2008