Monday, January 29, 2007

Un-photogenic demonstrators?

We get to see every mass demonstration in every country on this earth - except our own.  You have to wonder whether it's because somehow, American demonstrators are less photogenic than those of other countries...

When I was a rookie journalist at the French News Agency in Rome, I learned one rule of journalism.  It's called the death/kilometer ratio: the farther away an incident is from the public that is going to learn about it, the more deaths there have to be for the story to be newsworthy.

That's a rough rule of thumb everywhere for journalists - or at least it's supposed to be.  But it doesn't apply here.  It's Monday and I still haven't a clue how many people showed up on Saturday in the capital of my country to protest an illegal war. Thanks to Friday's  "Democracy Now", I do know that several legislators, including Maxine Waters, were to be present.

This morning, I endured a couple of hours of CNN without Saturday's event being mentioned.  Then, after dunning presidential candidate John Edwards  with the usual silly questions, Miles O'Brien terminated his interview just after Edwards said he disagreed with Hillary Clinton's position on funding for the war in Iraq.  The look on Edwards' face showed clearly that he was expecting to be asked what his own position was when he was thanked and O'Brien moved on to something else.

I see two possibilities: a boycott of the media, or a fund drive to send our top journalists back to basic training.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Davos Chills Over Global Warming

I'm not being lazy, but I do want to draw attention to Julian Glover's blog on the Guardian and the Huffington Post entitled: "Davos 07: Rome before the fall?"

"The people meeting here at Davos get richer every year. One day, you can see them thinking, their luck will run out."

Glover notes that the financial big whigs who come together every year in this Swiss resort to determine the future are suddenly this year very concerned with global warming. Behind it he sees a fear of the poorer becoming more powerful.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Global Warming Trimming Middle East Sails?

No ideas out there about the revolution?  Okay, how about this: Bush's 180 degree turnabout on greenhouse gases results from the Neocon realization that it might just be too much trouble to conquer the Middle East with its oil fields, and we better have a back-up.
The problem is, the media still treats the various conflicts involving Muslims as separate problems.  But they are not.
From Lebanon to Afghanistan, Muslim populations are in revolt against two things: rule by elites (Shia vs Sunni) and American interference in their internal affairs, which at best involves coopting the elites, in most cases involves setting up governments disposed to do our bidding.
This co-opting of the elites has been going on since the end of World War II, but a remarkable piece by William Pfaff in the current New York Review traces the policy back to our involvement in World War I and Wilson's obssession with internationalism.

Pfaff's piece is the culmination of half a century of pondered attention to the world scene. It ranges widely over the factors that brought the United States to the dire straits it is in today.  The somewhat misleading title is;  A Manifest Destiny: A New Direction for America, and its conclusions, which may seem surprising represent a wisdom which is entirely appropriate for our times.

The piece is too complex to be expedited in a few words, and deserves to be read in its entirety.  I recommend it to anyone who wants to get a more helpful idea of what needs to happen than can be found on the op-ed pages of even our best newspapers, or in the sound bites of our clamorous visual media.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


How humble he sounded, last night!  But don't be deceived: lurking in the uncleared brush of the Bush farm was a statement that portends more for the future than the sweet talk about education and health care.  It was only one sentence, but that sentence should be investigated by those who know how.

The sentence announces the creation of a civilian volunteer corps for Iraq.  He - or his advisors - realize there's potential for trouble with the number of civilian contractors making big decisions and big bucks in Iraq.  So, ispo presto, they are to become a civilian volunteer corps!

As for how the speech was received by the Dems, first, a word about Obama's first name, since some are trying to exploit his middle name (Hussein): I don't know whether it's authentic Arabic, but a colloquial expression in France, with its large North African population is "la baraka", meaning good luck.  I'm sure most Americans would take the bearer of "baraka" over the inventor of "makaka" any day.

BUT, Obama "recognizes" the "crucial interests" we have in the Middle East without spelling out the words "OIL" - or big business.  I don't know whether Edwards did any better - too late for me to watch.

Not even "The Nation"'s ringing cover editorial suggesting we may no longer be a constitutional republic talks about our government's plans to take over the world, one economy at a time.

And yet, when we intervene in strategically located Somalia, having taken over the base of neighboring Djibouti after the French lease expired, and when we arrest five Iranians who are in Iraq by invitation of the Maliki government, can a reasonable observer doubt that's the agenda?

Would bringing stability to Iraq be so difficult if the only problem was the Sunni/Shia antagonism, which has been going on for 1400 years? No government that buys into the economic dismemberment of its country can retain the loyalty of its citizens, whatever their religious stripe. It's not about what share of oil revenues the different religious communities will get,  but about whether Iraqis are going to own their own oil. That's why we have a "quagmire' in Iraq.

The American people don't think foreign oil companies should own Iraq's oil reserves either, but how can we to resist those plans if our elected officials are as ambiguous as the Iraqi's?  One of my commentators suggested a general strike.  Any more ideas out there?

Monday, January 22, 2007


Several strands are involved in this post, so I ask my readers to take it on faith that it will all come together: an eight hundred pound gorilla hurtling barrels of oil.

I'd never even heard of the monthly "In These Times", much less been solicited.  It came to me as a freebe in my kit at the conference on media reform and I didn't get to peruse it until a week later.  It's like "The Nation" and "Z" rolled into one, a must for reform-minded people.

By far the most important contribution to the January issue is the one by Antonia Juhasz, a young scholar whose recent book is entitled" "The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time".  The article is partly based on this work and will tell you everything you need to know about the real purpose of the war in Iraq - which newscasters have never asked, or are afraid to tell.

Once in a while you hear one of them protest:  "So why are we building all those permanent bases in Iraq?"  But they don't really expect an answer, they just want you to believe they're not letting the wool be pulled over their eyes.

In fact, it's not wool, it's armor.  Juhasz spells out what many of us have suspected: that the administration didn't fumble the ball after the invasion;  all those crazy decisions were deliberate sequiturs to the plan written by Cheney's Energy Task Force before the war even started.  The plan is not only to hand Iraq's oil to American companies, but the entire economy.

It isn't often mentioned, but Iraq was a centralized economy: the government owned the oil wealth and did with it what the Saudis did with theirs: it built hospitals and other social services.  Unlike the Saudis, however, but like what Hugo Chavez is doing with Venezuela's oil wealth, it also built schools which women were encouraged to attend. (Every once in a while someone mentions that Iraq had a lot of highly trained people, but the link is never made to how they got that way...)  Now one of our main goals is to privatize the socialist economy that made all that possible (the Ba'ath is a secular, socialist movement, which is why we sided with Saddam against the  religious regime in Iran...).

So all this hemming and hawing about more troops is merely to hide the real issue: how agreeable the Iraqi regime is to adopting an American capitalist system.  It would appear that they're not enthusiastic. (As I mentioned in a previous post, the Shia, who run the government, are traditionally "for the people", which is another thing that sets them at loggerheads with the Sunni's secular side..).

Now that the U.S. presidential election season has started, and candidates are taking a stand, it's more important than ever to keep all this in mind.  Hillary surprised me by stating flat out that she's against giving more money and equipment to the Iraqi forces, YET THEY'RE SUPPOSED TO STAND UP SO WE CAN STAND DOWN, and Maliki is complaining about not getting enough stuff to do the job.

So what's the score?  Could it be that we're setting the elected Iraqi government up to fail so that we can have an excuse, in the name of "national security"to take over the country?  (That would make it convenient to keep Iran in it's place...)

I suggest we ask each presidential candidate the only question that matters:  Do they agree with Cheney's plan to take over the Iraqi economy?

That question goes for Obama too: I'm convinced he could win the presidency, but if he didn't break with America's plan to take over the world one economy at a time, it would hardly be worth it.

Friday, January 19, 2007


This old left expression is worth thinking about.  The National Conference for Media Reform held last weekend in Memphis, showcased the diversity of views about political reform.  It also showed a troubling similarity between the semi-paralysis of the Democratic Party and members of "the movement".

For all the hollering about the Democrats, I heard few voices ready to go further than hoping for change. As one of the few people there to suggest guerilla-type media actions, I came away mulling our fear of the word revolution.

Revolutions don't have to be violent, and they don't have to lead to communism!  The useful question, I think, is, if we could accomplish a relatively peaceful revolution, what kind of society would we want to create?  There are plenty of places to look for inspiration, from Parecon (participatory democracy) theories and realities (for example in Argentina) to science fiction.

I say we shouldn't allow ourselves to be hung-up on 20th century associations with the word revolution.  Just look at how different Chavez'direction is from the one undertaken fifty years ago by Castro.

And bear in mind two things: 1) power ALWAYS goes to the limit of what the powerless will accept; 2) vis a vis other powers, all governments will indulge in brinkmanship, as China has just shown by shooting down one of its own rockets.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Five minutes ago Zain Verjee almost disclosed the secret newscasters have been dancing around for months, when she remarked that President Ahmadinejad of Iran may have more in common with Latin Asmerican left wing leaders than with his neighbors.

Current events would make a lot more sense to a lot more people if they knew that of the two main Islamic sects, Shi'ism is and has always been about equality.  Thus, the Iranian president's Latin American tour, scheduled to coincide with the inauguration of yet another left-wing leader, in Equador, makes perfect sense.  And when he asks in a too briefly shown interview what the United States has done recently for its southern neighbors, that is anything but rhetoric.

Moving on now to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who just won a third six-year term in an election that nobody thinks was rigged, the U.S. press's comments about his plans to nationalize power and telecommunications remind me of President Bush's post re-election declaration:  "I've got political capital, and I intend to spend it."  It wouldn't' hurt skeptics to reflect on the comparative human value of what our president did with his political capital and Chavez's announced intention to spend his oil money to help the poor. One comentator (sorry, too tired after Memphis to remember the name, mea culpa) came close to telling it like it is when he explained that the Venezuelans need to feel that they own their own independence.

Aside from shedding much needed light on the real reason for the Shia- Sunni violence (the importance of who should have succeeded Mohamed 1400  years ago being one of equality versus elitism),  it's not surprising that the leader of the largest Shia nation should cosy up to the newly empowered socialist-oriented Latin American leaders, in a world far too heavily dominated by American capitalism.  The fact that these two entities - Latin America and Iran - are located in opposite areas of the world, with the United States in between, should receive equal attention with the rise of China.

I can't wrap up this coverage of the evening news without signaling that Condi Rice's current junket to the Middle East would seem to indicate that the Bush administration got at least one thing right from the Baker report: the Palestinians have got to have their state if ever things are to settle down in that part of the world. Notwithstanding her claim that this has nothing to do with Iraq, I wager she's got a deal going with the Saudis to accept an eventual American withdrawal that would leave their fellow Sunnis to their fate, in exchange for settling the Palestinian claim once and for all.

Some readers will wonder why the Saudis should care about the Palestinians.  It's their hutzpa they care about.

P.S.  This morning (Jan 16) CNN confirmed the deal with the Saudis.....

Monday, January 15, 2007


That is the goal of the Third National Conference for Media Reform being held in Memphis this weekend.

But before we can do that, we need to be clear about how and when the media went from being the people's voice and the people's resource to being an extension of government spin machines.

The only speaker to emphasize this was Juan Gonzalez, co-host with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, the too little known news program whose subtitle is "The War and Peace Report", and which has been airing on Pacifica radio and tv for the last ten years.

Gonzalez, who comes across both on the screen and in person as anything but in-your-face, gave an impassioned plea for greater recognition of the fact that media repression didn't start with the Bush administration.  He traced it back to the 1830's, with particular emphasis on Teddy Roosevelt's disenchantment with the fourth estate.

I'd always thought the problem pretty much started with McCarthy, so I'll certainly be reading up on whatever Gonzalez or others have written on the subject.

Meanwhile, I'm passing on the fact that Democracy Now has a team of people ready to instruct and lobby local radio and tv stations about The War and Peace Report, so if you can't get it in your areas, go to to let them know you're out there and want them to be there too.

Friday, January 12, 2007


That's a quote from the rousing speech given an hour ago by Bill Moyers to the more than 3,000 attendees at the Third Conference on Media Reform that opened today in Memphis.

He was referring to the realization by the powers that be that there is an alternative media out there, that is getting stronger and more widespread by the day,  and the corporate media habit of killing any story that let's people know about things they're not supposed ot know about, or that doesn't promote the corporate agenda.

I have only one gripe with Moyers' position: I think in a world that is going to sink or survive as one, we out to kill the term patriotism.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Imagine seeing a documentary on the struggle of Cannon employees throughout the company's history to become unionized....on NBC.

Imagine seeing an interview with a former high-ranking UN official now writing for an English-language paper in Kenya about the activities of US warships off the coast of Mogadishu.....on NBC.

In sum, imagine ALL the media outlets seeking and presenting ALL the news to ALL the people.

Inagine there being no more "n" words, no more "l" words, no more "s" words (God forbid!) and of course no more "r" words and no more "i" words.....

Imagine jounalists no longer having to get muscle cramp when they report IN A TONE OF CONDEMNATION that Hugo Chavez is using his oil wealth to help the poor.

As this conference for media reform gets under way, we need to think outside the box about ways to disseminate OUR news to more people - even if it means dropping leaflets or stuffing mailboxes - and to win over the highly paid journalists who seem to have forgotten that journalism originated as a way of letting citizens in to the back rooms of power.


On December 1, 2006, I wrote in this blog (Thieves and Elves in Baghdad):

"Speaking of Iran, my bet is on Ahmadinejad for Time's Person of the Year.  It will probably be a toss up between the Iranian president and Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president.  Both of them are acknowledged leaders among the populations of a Third World, which we will probably continue to blow off until it's too late: they are the majority in this world, the developed countries are the minority, and the United States is, if I may abuse scientific terminology, is the absolute minority."

Tonight, Lou Dobbs alerts his listeners to the fact that the newly elected or reelected leaders of Latin American are cultivating friendly ties with Iran.  Too bad that when Dobbs has the right ideas, it's usually for the wrong reasons, securing him a listenership much of which is unaware of his basic conservatism.

Off to the Third National Conference on Media Reform that starts tomorrow in Memphis.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007


There was a time when I would occasionally get the different languages I speak mixed up - especially when it came to metaphors, but the title of this piece is deliberate: journalists used to be equated with "Twelve Angry Men".  Now they're multiples of "The Three Stooges".  (And yes I know the "Twelve Angry Men" were jurors, a little respect for political license, please.)

In the post-election euphoria, America's fourth estate allowed itself a moment of quasi enthusiasm: Barak Obama was shown exercising his magical effect on people from all walks of life.

Now, apparently, the watchdogs of government have been ordered to tow the line - the Democratic Party line.  The candidate is Hillary (even if she hasn't yet declared), Obama is too young and inexperienced.  Let him wait his turn.

The unaninimity of Chris Matthews' Sunday panel would have made Stalin blush. Journalism's abdication is worse than a one-candidate election.
It occurs to me that the reason why Hillary hasn't declared yet is that she is waiting for Obama to "play by the rules" and declare he isn't running.  Almost irrelevant are the questions will she offer him the number two spot, and will he accept.

Meanwhile, the obedient soldiers trundle out Harold Ford as the up and coming black political figure, just in case voters are only looking at skin color.

Not that the left is behaving any better.  I caught an admirable lecture on Latin America by Noam Chomsky, broadcast on Democracy  Now, in which he dismissed Obama with contempt.  He's right to believe that nothing short of a revolution will save America, but every revolution is different, and ours may have to start with a different kind of President.

Obama is probably the only candidate who understands the significance of what is happening in Latin America - and Africa - today: I wager he also recognizes the effect Latinos are having on the American political process. It's not just that Latino voters have "abandoned" the Republican Party, as pontificators pointed out Sunday, it's that Latinos immigrants have given new life to the trade union movement - and to mass demonstrations - the only way the popular will can be heard.

Don't hold your breath waiting for the press to ressuscitate. Watch the Latino and broader immigrant community for signs of change.