Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Missing Bill Hicks today

The anniversary of Bill Hicks' death passed. I was too sick to blog about it, but I'm feeling better and didn't want to let the occasion go by unmarked.

Have you ever been so blown away by someone's intelligence and wit that there were no words left to describe the experience?

That's how I felt when I saw Bill Hicks perform his show "Revelations." It was one of the bravest, most astonishing, subversive acts of truth-telling I have ever witnessed. That performance will live in me always. Reading quotes or even the transcript is nothing compared to watching the master deliver the performance of his life, one that ended, ironically, with his simulated assassination - the price of all who stood up and tried to act on the most important truths.

In real life, Bill died young, an apparent victim of nearly a lifetime of smoking. [CORRECTION: he died of pancreatic cancer, which is not caused by smoking.] Billy Joel's song "Only the Good Die Young" plays in my mind whenever I think of Hicks. He was a Sagittarius, the centaur, using his man's brain and his horse's hooves to stomp all over the establishment, shooting his arrows of truth into the heart of all that matters.

Most geniuses are not known for their compassion. Hicks wore an odd mix of both, and hid it under that rough, sardonic armor he donned when he wished to do battle with all that was wrong with the world. "Think of me as Chomsky with dick jokes," he told audiences.

Get a DVD. Meet this performer posthumously and let him move your mind and heart and tickle your funny bone in places you didn't know existed. These quotes are but a paltry substitute for the real thing. Bear in mind this was performed in the early 90's, when the 'evil' Bush was Shrub's father:
People ask me where I stood politically you know. It's not that I disagree with Bush's economic policy or his foreign policy. But that I believe he was a child of Satan here to destroy the planet Earth. Yeah, I'm a little a little to the left there, I was. I was leaning that way. Yeah you know who else is going, little Quayle boy. Little Damien. Is that guy Damien? Tell me those blank empty eyes aren't gonna glow red in the very near future. [eyes roll back in head] Stop makingjokes about meee. Nrrr. I'll spell potato any fucking way I want. Nrrrr. Rioters in LA, let's nuke them. Bush was a pussy Nrr He held me back. Frightening people man. Bush tried to buy votes towards the end of the election. Goes around, you know, selling weapons to everyone, getting that military industrial complex vote happening for him. Sold 160 fighter jets to Korea and then 240 tanks to Kuwait and then goes around making speeches why he should be Commander-in-Chief because, "We still live in a dangerous world." Thanks to you, you fucker!
Not a lot has changed, eh? He told the lesson of all recent wars in American history in this fantastic scene:
I'm so sick of arming the world, then sending troops over to destroy their fucking arms, you know what I mean? We keep arming these little countries, then we go and blow the shit out of them. We're like the bullies of the world, y'know. We're like Jack Palance in the movie Shane, throwing the pistol at the sheepherder's feet.

"Pick it up."

"I don't wanna pick it up, Mister, you'll shoot me."

"Pick up the gun."

"Mister, I don't want no trouble. I just came downtown here to get some hardrock candy for my kids, some gingham for my wife. I don't even know what gingham is, but she goes through about ten rolls a week of that stuff. I ain't looking for no trouble, Mister."

"Pick up the gun."

(He picks it up. Three shots ring out)

"You all saw him - he had a gun."
One of Hicks' favorite topics was the Kennedy assassination:

I love talking about the Kennedy assassination because to me it's a great example of, er, a totalitarian government's ability to, you know, manage information and thus keep us in the dark any way they... Oh sorry wrong meeting... Ah shit. That's the meeting we're having tomorrow at the docks. [winks]

I love talking about Kennedy. I was just down in Dallas, Texas. You know you can go down there and, er, to Dealey Plaza where Kennedy was assassinated. And you can actually go to the sixth floor of the Schoolbook Depository. It's a museum called... 'The Assassination Museum'. I think they named that after the assassination. I can't be too sure of the chronology here but... Anyway they have the window set up to look exactly like it did on that day. And it's really accurate, you know, 'cuz Oswald's not in it. "Yeah, yeh so wow that's cool." Painstaking accuracy, you know. It's true, it's called the 'Sniper's Nest'. It's glassed in, it's got the boxes sitting there.

You can't actually get to the window as such but the reason they did that of course, they didn't want thousands of American tourists getting there each year going [Mimes looking out of window] "No fucking way! I can't even see the road. Shit, they're lying to us. Fuck! Where are they? There's no fucking way. Not unless Oswald was hanging by his toes, upside down from the ledge."

"Either that or some pigeons grabbed onto him, flew him over the motorcade... Surely someone would have seen that. You know there was rumours of anti-Castro pigeons seen drinking in bars... Someone overhead them saying 'coup, coup.'" Coo. Unbelievable.

And you know what's wild? People's, er, attitudes in the States about it. Talking about Kennedy, people come up to me: "Bill, quit talking about Kennedy, man. Let it go. It's a long time ago - just forget about it." And I'm like alright, then don't bring up Jesus to me. As long as we're talking shelf life here. "Bill, you know Jesus died for you." Yeah, well it was a long time ago. Forget about it! How about this. Get Pilate to release the fucking files. Quit washing your hands Pilate - release the goddam files. Who else was on that grassy Golgotha that day? "Bill, it was just, you know, hur, taking over of democracy by a totalitarian government, let it go."

[Skipping a rant about creationists, and a bit re how Jesus wouldn't really want to see a cross around your neck when he came back, would he?]

You know, kinda like going up to Jackie Onassis with a rifle pendant on, you know. "Thinkin' of John, Jackie. We love him. Just tryin to keep that memory alive, baby." [mimes sniper, mimes being shot in the head] Back and to the left, back and to the left, back and to the left, back and to the left. Which, by the way, that action you see Kennedy's head go through in the Zapruder film - caused by a bullet... [points behind him] comin from up there, ha. Yes, I know it looks to the layman or someone who might dabble in physics... This action here would be caused by a bullet coming from... Well... [thinks] Up here, did you see that? Did everyone see that?

Yeah, but no. What happened was Oswald's gun went off, causing an echo to echo through the buildings of Dealey Plaza and the echo went by the limo on the left up into the grassy knoll hitting some leaves causing dust to fly out which 56 witnesses testified was a gun shot, cos immediately... Kennedy's head went over. But the reason his head went over is cause the echo went by the motorcade one the left and he went "What was that?"

So there, we have figured it out. Go back to bed America, your government has figured out how it all transpired. Go back to bed America, your government is in control again. Here. Here's American Gladiators. Watch this. Shut up! Go back to bed America. Here's American Gladiators. Here's 56 channels of it. Watch these pituitary retards bang their fuckin skulls together and congratulate you on living in the land of freedom. Here you go America, you are free, to do as we tell you, you are free, to do as we tell you.

"Oh good. Honey, I heard on the news that they've figured out that the gun, what happened is, is that there was an echo and Kennedy was, er, asking Jackie what it was, and that that's why his head flew u... Honey what time's Gladiators on? Are we missing it? I'm so glad we're free, Honey."
Hicks was a case study in manipulation. After he had you howling with laughter, he'd sock you in the gut with something outrageous:
By the way if anyone here is in advertising or marketing... kill yourself. No, no, no it's just a little thought. I'm just trying to plant seeds. Maybe one day, they'll take root - I don't know. You try, you do what you can. Kill yourself. Seriously though, if you are, do. Aaah, no really, there's no rationalisation for what you do and you are Satan's little helpers. Okay - kill yourself - seriously. You are the ruiner of all things good, seriously. No this is not a joke, you're going, "there's going to be a joke coming," there's no fucking joke coming. You are Satan's spawn filling the world with bile and garbage. You are fucked and you are fucking us. Kill yourself. It's the only way to save your fucking soul, kill yourself. Planting seeds. I know all the marketing people are going, "he's doing a joke..." There's no joke here whatsoever. Suck a tail-pipe, fucking hang yourself, borrow a gun from a Yank friend - I don't care how you do it. Rid the world of your evil fucking machinations. Machi... Whatever, you know what I mean.

I know what all the marketing people are thinking right now too. "Oh, you know what Bill's doing, he's going for that anti-marketing dollar. That's a good market, he's very smart." Oh man, I am not doing that. You fucking evil scumbags! "Ooh, you know what Bill's doing now, he's going for the righteous indignation dollar. That's a big dollar. A lot of people are feeling that indignation. We've done research - huge market. He's doing a good thing." Godammit, I'm not doing that, you scum-bags! Quit putting a godamm dollar sign on every fucking thing on this planet! "Ooh, the anger dollar. Huge. Huge in times of recession. Giant market, Bill's very bright to do that." God, I'm just caught in a fucking web. "Ooh the trapped dollar, big dollar, huge dollar. Good market - look at our research. We see that many people feel trapped. If we play to that and then separate them into the trapped dollar..." How do you live like that? And I bet you sleep like fucking babies at night, don't you?" "What didya do today honey?" "Oh, we made ah, we made ah arsenic a childhood food now, goodnight." [snores] "Yeah we just said you know is your baby really too loud? You know," [snores] "Yeah, you know the mums will love it." [snores] Sleep like fucking children, don't ya, this is your world isn't it?
And then just when you were nearly dizzy from his spell, he'd slip you some insight so smooth it almost went down without you noticing:
The world is like a ride at an amusement park. It goes up and down and round and round. It has thrills and chills and it's very brightly coloured and it's very loud and it's fun, for a while. Some people have been on the ride for a long time and they begin to question, is this real, or is this just a ride? And other people have remembered, and they come back to us, they say, "hey - don't worry, don't be afraid, ever, because, this is just a ride..." And we... kill those people. Ha ha "Shut him up." "We have a lot invested in this ride. Shut him up. Look at my furrows of worry. Look at my big bank account and my family. This just has to be real." Just a ride. But we always kill those good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok. Jesus mudered; Martin Luther King mudered; Malcolm X murdered; Gandhi murdered; John Lennon murdered; Reagan.... wounded. But it doesn't matter because: It's just a ride. And we can change it anytime we want. It's only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings and money. A choice, right now, between fear and love.

The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love, instead, see all of us as one. Here's what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money that we spend on weapons and defences each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.
R.I.P., Bill Hicks. You tried to tell us. Some of us even tried to listen.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Pentagon plans Iran bombing - can go in 24 hours

Reuters is reporting:

Despite the Bush administration's insistence it has no plans to go to war with Iran, a Pentagon panel has been created to plan a bombing attack that could be implemented within 24 hours of getting the go-ahead from President George W. Bush, The New Yorker magazine reported in its latest issue. [...]

The panel initially focused on destroying Iran's nuclear facilities and on regime change but has more recently been directed to identify targets in Iran that may be involved in supplying or aiding militants in Iraq, according to an Air Force adviser and a Pentagon consultant, who were not identified.

The consultant and a former senior intelligence official both said that U.S. military and special-operations teams had crossed the border from Iraq into Iran in pursuit of Iranian operatives, according to the article.
Even as Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman denies there are any plans to go to war with Iran, separately, this report out of Australia states that Dick Cheney said "All options are still on the table" re Iran, including war.

The Scotsman tells us:

Tehran refused to comply with an August 31 deadline to suspend enrichment, triggering a Security Council resolution ordering all countries to stop supplying it with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programmes, and to freeze assets of ten key Iranian companies and 12 individuals related to those programmes.

Iran has offered unconditional talks, but accuses the West of having double standards.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week said Iran would halt its nuclear fuel work if those making such demands did the same. Iran also points to Israel, which is known to have nuclear weapons, yet refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as Iran has done.
According to the Scotsman piece, Cheney is the chief hawk on Iran:

Leading the hawkish camp is Cheney, who is urging the Pentagon to press ahead with war planning.

But as well as Rice, Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, says he is unequivocally opposed to military action on the grounds that it would inflame the Islamic world, and make success even harder in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Scotsman article states that "The key question is whether Bush himself will seek a dramatic denouement of the Iran question by ordering military action before he hands over to his successor." But I think the key question is this: If Congress refuses to pay for an attack against Iran, but Bush orders one nonetheless, who will the military obey?

According to this piece from the Sunday Times of London:

“There are four or five generals and admirals we know of who would resign if Bush ordered an attack on Iran,” a source with close ties to British intelligence said. “There is simply no stomach for it in the Pentagon, and a lot of people question whether such an attack would be effective or even possible.”

A British defence source confirmed that there were deep misgivings inside the Pentagon about a military strike. “All the generals are perfectly clear that they don’t have the military capacity to take Iran on in any meaningful fashion. Nobody wants to do it and it would be a matter of conscience for them.

“There are enough people who feel this would be an error of judgment too far for there to be resignations.”

A generals’ revolt on such a scale would be unprecedented. “American generals usually stay and fight until they get fired,” said a Pentagon source. Robert Gates, the defence secretary, has repeatedly warned against striking Iran and is believed to represent the view of his senior commanders.
Meanwhile, America obsesses about Anna Nicole Smith's death, Britney Spear's head-shaving antics, the upcoming Oscars, and of course, who to vote for on American Idol. It's shame most don't have a taste for the only reality show that matters: Using American men and woman to secure private profit for individuals under the guise of the military and in the fake name of "National Security."

You know what would make us all more secure? Pulling our nose and oil drillbits out of other people's countries.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Dangers of Wikipedia

Ah, the sweet seduction of open source. The fantasy of a place where honest people meet and correct each others mistakes before you reach the page, sigh. Yes, I can see the appeal of Wikipedia. We all can. Many fewer, however, seem able to see the danger inherent in a centralized source for information.

I believe impassionedly the control of information is a goal to those who would subvert our independence, and Wikipedia enables, rather than impedes, that goal.

I agree with all those who recommend Wikipedia as a starting point. But I disagree strongly with anyone and everyone who suggests it's okay to end with Wikipedia.

For support of my view, just search Google news:

Cornell Profs Slam Use of Wikipedia:

Prof. Aaron Sachs, history, said Wikipedia should be used with caution in research.

"I tell my students that Wikipedia is sometimes a decent option for a getting a basic overview," he said. "But even then it takes a lot of practice to recognize when an entry might be more or less reliable."

In UCLA's Daily Bruin, we learn:

Many educators agree ... that Wikipedia is a valuable place to start research, but should not be treated as an authoritative source.

The history department at Middlebury College in Vermont announced a policy last week forbidding students from citing Wikipedia articles in research papers, said Middlebury history Professor Neil Waters. The policy states that "Wikipedia is not an acceptable citation, even though it may lead one to a citable source."


"Wikipedia is a great resource for students to get a good overview of a topic, but it should not be cited in papers or exams since it is not an authoritative source," said Sandy Ordonez, communications manager for Wikipedia.

In answer to the question posed by Prospect Magazine in the UK, "Left and right defined the 20th century. What's next?", distinguished critic and novelist A S Byatt responded:

We will be governed by a kind of consensus populism-beliefs, ideas and policies that arise on blogs, websites, focus groups and so on. (Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton announced their candidacies on the web.) This has its appeal. It is also frightening, as Tocqueville found American democracy, because it leads to tyranny of the majority. It goes with vast quantities of not wholly accurate information- Wikipedia is splendid and maddening.

All the above is assuming a completely innocent world, where people want to share correct information and are just fallible. But that's not even the right model for the world. Imagine the following scenario.

The same group that has controlled the print media and the publishing media in an effort to ensure secret history never reaches the public becomes ecstatic. I'm not talking about all of history. I'm talking about specific events that, if properly exposed, could cause a revolution in the way we think, act, and ultimately, in the kind of government we'd choose. Revolutionary history, such as who was really behind the Kennedy assassination, for example.

Now, to control history, they only need to control a single source: Wikipedia.

The group I'm referring to is the CIA, and this is not really an imagined scenario. Check out Carl Bernstein's 16-page article in the October 1977 issue of Rolling Stone. Guess what? It's not online. You miss a huge portion of history if you limit yourself to what's online.

Separately, find a copy of the Pike Report. It's not online either. It's hard to find. Why? Because the CIA doesn't want you to find it:

On 19th January, 1976, Pike sent the final draft of a 338 page report to the CIA. Mitchell Rogovin, the CIA's Special Counsel for legal affairs, responded with a scalding attack on the report. He complained that the report was an "unrelenting indictment couched in biased, pejorative and factually erroneous terms." He also told Searle Field, staff director of the House Select Committee: "Pike will pay for this, you wait and see....There will be a political retaliation.. We will destroy him for this."

Rogovin's threat proved true. Pike's career was ended by his pursuit of the truth about intelligence activities, and especially activities involving the control of the media. And the CIA has never showed that any data in there was inaccurate. Just inconvenient.

I have a copy of the report. In there, you'll find essentially the result of a constitutional crisis: When the Pike Committee, the House Select committee established to investigate the CIA's domestic abuses, they ultimately came to the conclusion that the CIA was able to get away with so much because they controlled the press. When our elected officials, charged legally with oversight over the CIA, demanded the names of the CIA's acknowledged 400 media assets (as opposed to the ones they'd never acknowledge), the CIA refused. They claimed their right to secrecy superceded Congress's right to oversight. A compromise was brokered, but essentially, the CIA won.

In addition, a member of the CIA, now dead, told me the CIA employs groups of people to buy up books to take them out of circulation. They enlisted rooms of people to watch all channels on TV, with 24-hour coverage, to look for 'objectionable' material so they can counter it and dissuade that media outlet from continuing with such "attacks" as the Agency saw it.

The CIA has put its own people on the radio to persuade us. Several "former" employees have become noted radio hosts. ("Former" is a term one can't use, because the secrecy oath is lifelong. Once you join the CIA, the only way to really leave it is by death.)

So regarding Wikipedia, we're up against a formidable enemy. The CIA can afford to employ people fulltime to "watch" for changes to these articles. And there are multiple precedents as to why and how they'd do this. By centralizing history, we've made its modification by those who would control us easier, not harder.

For all these reasons, I am very much in favor of a ban on citing Wikipedia as a final authority on any subject anywhere. I personally will not recognize anything cited from Wikipedia alone as "fact," and will continue to consider those who stop there lazy. It's a starting place, NOT a destination. And if it becomes people's destination on a widespread scale, God help us all.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

ACTION ALERT: Help a reporter find Real History on Capitol Hill

David Sirota is one of the strongest progressive voices we have in journalism. He is a Senior Editor for In These Times magazine as well as a regular contributor to Working Assets' "Working For Change" site. He has appeared on CNN and The Colbert Report.

For those of you who are already up on this issue, skip to the bottom for the call to action. You can help Sirota get press credentials by taking the actions requested below. If the name or incident is not familiar to you, read on.

Sirota is currently writing a book about some first-term Senators, including his former boss, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Sirota asked to get media credentials to Capitol Hill to pursue his research [UPDATE - his research for In These Times - not his book]. But the press galleries turned down his request.

Mary Ann Akers discussed this episode in a recent entry in her blog "The Sleuth" on the Washington Post site:

According to the gallery rules, "Persons eligible for admission to the Periodical Press Galleries must be bona fide resident correspondents of reputable standing, giving their chief attention to the gathering and reporting of news."

The Executive Committee of the Periodical Correspondents' Association, which is comprised of credentialed journalists, felt that Sirota's chief intention is not to the gathering of news but to the advancement of Democratic causes and candidates.

[...] It is also the policy of the House and Senate periodical galleries not to accredit people who seek press credentials for the purpose of writing a book, according to Woellert. Employed, credentialed journalists may write books and use their press passes to gain access in the process, but non-credentialed people who apply for press passes for the sole purpose of writing a book are turned down as a matter of policy.

But... but... Sirota is a journalist! He's just apparently not one the "mainstream" has vetted and anointed. He hasn't proven willing to hide national security secrets, or cave on important stories. He hasn't promised to keep his politics out of his writing (like Tim Russert and Bill O'Reilly and Pat Buchanan do, right?) Never mind that "Jeff Gannon" (James Guckert), a male prostitute, was given press credentials so that he could throw George Bush this softball question:

Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the U.S. economy: Harry Reid, who's talking about soup lines, and Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet in the same breath, they say that Social Security is rock solid and there's no crisis there. You've said you're going to reach out to these people. How are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?

Regarding Sirota, Akers quotes Jeff Weaver, the Chief of Staff from Sen. Sanders's office:

"He was refused on some pretty unjustifiable grounds -- that he was a political partisan," Weaver said, pointing out that the periodical press galleries have issued credentials to the likes of Weekly Standard columnist Fred Barnes. "Fred Barnes has credentials, he espouses political views."

"My concern is that partisans of a certain stripe, people don't have a problem with them. Of another, they do," Weaver said. He added that the whole process of smacks of insider favoritism and elitism and "raises serious questions" about whether journalists should be deciding who gets in the club.

Akers then asked Barnes what he thought. While Barnes said his background as a longtime reporter for the Washington Evening Star, the Baltimore Sun, the New Republic, and the Weekly Standard put in him a different league from Sirota, whose background is more centered in political activism, Akers noted:

Barnes was quick to say he believes the press galleries ought to give Sirota credentials to cover Congress. "I think their rules shouldn't be so cramped that they can't make accommodations for people like Sirota. Even if he is an activist. In this case, he's a journalist writing a book."

Bottom line, Barnes said, "I think [the press galleries] ought to be broad minded about this rather than restrictive."


Here are three things you can do TODAY to help Sirota get a press pass:

1. Email the Press Gallery ( and ask them to give him a pass.

2. Write to Speaker Pelosi ( and ask her to help. Send her a copy of your email to the press gallery (copy and paste into the form on this page).

3. Make your voice heard at the Washington Post blog where this issue is being discussed.

Thank you for helping to ensure access to those who are writing history.

Monday, February 05, 2007

A Brief History of Blood Diamonds

It all started with a 15-year-old’s discovery. Over a century of bloodshed would follow.

Somewhere between December, 1866, and February, 1867, a 15-year-old boy named Stephanus Erasmus Jacobs found a shiny white pebble on the grounds of the De Kalk farm. The farm was located on the south bank of the Orange River in what was then known as the Cape Colony, a Dutch-founded but then British-controlled region in what is now South Africa.

After the boy had played with it for a while, Jacobs gave the stone to a neighbor farmer friend, Schalk van Niekerk, who collected unusual stones. Niekerk in term gave it to a traveling peddler named John O’Reilly, who took it to nearby Colesberg and showed it to Lourenzo Boyes, the magistrate. When Boyes found the stone could etch glass, he proclaimed, “I do believe this is a diamond. Boyes then transmitted the stone in an unsealed package to Dr William Guybon Atherstone, a pharmacist in Grahamstown. Atherstone recognized the stone as a 21.25 diamond of a brownish yellow hue. The stone was purchased by the Governor of Cape Colony, Sir Philip Wodehouse, for 500 pounds sterling and was later show at the Paris Exhibition (World’s Fair) in 1867. The large stone was named, appropriately, the “Eureka” diamond. But an even more spectacular diamond fell into Niekerk’s hands soon after.

The stone was the subject of some controversy. Because the Northern Cape area was not believed to hold stones of value, some speculated that the stone had been planted there. But that speculation was demolished with the discovery of a larger, more valuable stone.

In 1869, again near the banks of the Orange River, a Griqua witch doctor named Swartbooi found an 83.5 carat stone, a brilliant white diamond, nicknamed the “Star of Africa,” on the Zandfontein Farm, owned by two Afrikaner farmers, Diederik De Beers and Joahannes De Beers. Niekerk heard of the stone, and traded nearly all his possessions, including 500 sheep, 10 oxen, and a horse, to the young man for the stone. He sold the diamond to the Lilienfeld brothers for 11,000 pounds sterling. The brothers then sold it to the Earl of Dudley for 30,000 pounds sterling, sparking the diamond rush to South Africa.

Worried about damage from diamond seekers invading their land, which contained two valuable mines, the De Beers sold their diamond-rich land, and Cecil Rhodes took over several of the claims and incorporated the De Beers Consolidated Mines in 1871. Among the mines that Rhodes owned in whole or part were the super-productive Kimberly and Premiere mines.

De Beers, through a cartel that Rhodes helped form, at one point controlled nearly the entire market in diamonds:

In the 1930's, Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, the chairman of De Beers Group and leader of Anglo American, came up with the idea of "single channel marketing" which he defined as "a producers' co-operative including the major outside, or non-De Beers producers in accordance with the belief that only by limiting the quantity of diamonds put on the market, in accordance with the demand, and by selling through one channel, can the stability of the diamond trade be maintained."

This new single channel marketing structure eventually came to be known as the Central Selling Organisation (CSO) ( Basically, Oppenheimer formed a cartel on the premise that he was operating a legitimate enterprise. He stomped out all competition and kept a stranglehold on the supply of diamonds, upping their value and rarity through a limited supply that De Beers doled out carefully. It is safe to say that during this time De Beers Group owned and controlled about 90% of diamond production in the world; thus they could control the "rarity" and value and keep a hold on the lucrative industry. Many of their dealings were shady, and they were known for particular ruthlessness against their competitors.
The poverty caused by the depression in the 1930s and World War II in the forties severely depressed the diamond market. Oppenheimer’s son Harry took over De Beers and went to America to hire an ad company to help them sell more diamonds. He hired N.W. Ayer to launch a marketing campaign, which garnered De Beers the world-famous slogan “A Diamond is Forever.” As the article linked above states:

The goal behind the marketing campaign was to ensure that women kept their diamonds literally forever. The goal was to prevent a secondary market for diamonds by persuading women that diamonds should be untouched by another woman to really have any meaning. This allowed De Beers to maintain control of the diamond trade at wholesale level and retailers to sell diamonds at a high price without competition from secondary markets. [...] It was this marketing campaign that made diamond wedding and engagement rings so popular, and pushed diamonds to become the number one coveted gem by women.
Do you feel manipulated yet? You should.

The sad horror of this is that, as diamonds became more precious, efforts to extract them became more violent:

They are called either blood diamonds or the much less evocative term, conflict diamonds. They can come from Angola, Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, or The Congo. They are mined and sold by rebel armies (such as the Revolutionary United Front) largely to finance the purchase of arms, arms that will be used in the attempted toppling of legitimate, internationally recognized governments. Mass murder, amputation, and the use of child soldiers are an all too common part of the process.

Rough, unfinished diamonds hold many lucrative advantages for these armed insurgents: they are difficult to trace, easy to transport, and are accorded great value all over the world. There's really no currency exchange issues when you're dealing with "ice," as it's referred to in underworld lingo. In rebel-held diamond mining regions, the little subsistence farmland available to local populations is razed and gutted by this gem-lust. Farmers are taken from their land and forced to work as prisoner-labourers in the open pits, being shot on the spot for such crimes as disobedience and under-productivity. More than 1500 of the miners in Sierra Leone's Kona region were children, who could just as easily find themselves drugged, press-ganged, and holding a diamond-bought AK-47, an underaged combatant in a conflict they could have little understanding of. While political stability has increased in Sierra Leone, the same problems are beginning to flare up in other nations, such as Cote d'Ivoire.
Sierra Leone descended into unspeakable horror in the 1990s. As the rebels clashed with the government, elections were scheduled, but people had to vote with a thumbprint. To keep people from voting, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) instituted a campaign of amputation, to chop off people’s limbs so they could not vote. The violence was so gruesome that Nigerian troops and a United Nations peacekeeping force was sent in to remove the people in power and try to bring about a semblance of normality. In 1999, the RUF and the government of Sierra Leone signed the Lome Peace Accord, marking the cessation of ten years of violence.

To reiterate, the rebels would not have had the resources to wage war were it not for the diamonds within their borders. The rebels used the diamond profits to force more people into slave labor camps to dig up more diamonds to buy more weapons in what was nearly a perpetual circle of violence. So the next time you look at a diamond, don’t think just of its beauty. Think of the blood that might have been shed before that diamond reached your hand, wrist, ear, or neck.

Because of growing international concern over “blood diamonds” from countries such as Sierra Leone, the South African diamond producing states met together in May of 2000 in Kimberly, South Africa, home of one of the original De Beers mines, to find a way to prohibit the purchase or sale of diamonds from regions of conflict. In December of 2000, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution supporting a scheme for a certification scheme to indicate a diamond’s point of origin. This became know as the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme (KPCS).

While some in the diamond industry, notably De Beers, tout KPCS as the solution to blood diamonds, the guidelines are voluntary, and have reduced, but not eliminated, the problem. It’s up to consumers to demand conflict-free diamonds, to ask to see the certificate of origin. People will still lie and game the system. But the more customers press for this, the more the people who sell diamonds will try to guarantee their customers are satisfied. The worst thing for the diamond companies and the African nations combined would be if people stopped buying diamonds altogether.

I just saw the movie Blood Diamond, which provided the inspiration for this research. As a reporter played by Jennifer Connelly in the film states (paraphrased), no one would wear a diamond if they knew it had cost someone their hand. So ask. Speak up. And support the organizations that are trying desperately to bring peace and aid to the ravaged countries of Africa.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Superbowl - A Civil Rights Victory

Today marks a landmark day in NFL history. For the first time, two black coaches head the teams that face off against each other in the Superbowl.

Is their success a result of a gradual evolution of understanding re civil rights? Proof that racial tensions are going away? I wish that was the story. But the real history of today's event is, as usual, a little different.

I just got this email from the director of, which explains the history:

When I was growing up, football was dominated by Black players, but we weren't allowed to be quarterback. And we certainly couldn't be the coach.

I don't even care much about football, but I can't wait to watch the game this afternoon. Today, America celebrates a first—two Black coaches in the Super Bowl. It may seem like an accident, or the inevitable result of time's passage, but it's not. Like most civil rights gains, it's the result of active struggle.

In 2002, attorneys Cyrus Mehri and Johnnie Cochran Jr. decided that Blacks had been shut out of coaching long enough. They released a report entitled "Black Coaches in the National Football League: Superior Performances, Inferior Opportunities" that called out the NFL's "dismal record of minority hiring." Two facts stood out in the report: 1) while Blacks comprised 70% of NFL players, only 6% of coaches and 28% percent of assistant coaches were Black; and 2) while only six of 400 NFL head coaches hired since 1929 were Black, they significantly outperformed their white counterparts in wins and playoff appearances. Mehri and Cochran threatened a lawsuit, and the NFL agreed to change.

Later that year the NFL adopted the "Rooney Rule," requiring teams to interview at least one non-white candidate for any open coaching position. In 2004, two of the seven vacancies were filled by Black coaches. The Rooney rule did what happy accidents and the passage of time could not—make a dent in race-based discrimination in the NFL.

Today, we've got two black coaches in the Superbowl (and a Black Presidential candidate in the wings), but these are small steps towards a much greater goal of equality and racial justice. Most Black people still have second-class access to quality health care, jobs and education; an increasing number of Black men go to prison instead of college; and Katrina made clear that protecting the lives of Black folks, especially if they are poor, is of little importance to those in power.

Van and I started ColorOfChange because we know that change doesn't happen without a fight, and because we have faith—and great hope—that all of us, together, can keep pushing forward to make major change for Blacks in America.

Today, let's celebrate these two amazing brothers—Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears and Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts—and pay tribute to those who helped them get to the top of the game. And then tomorrow, let's continue the work of raising our collective voices, applying pressure, and fighting for greater justice for us all.

Thank you for being a part of this work,

-- James Rucker
Executive Director,
February 4th, 2007
So if you're watching, or watched, the game today, I hope you realize the fight for equality is not over, and requires constant vigilence.

May the better team win! And may all of us win someday through a permanent elimination of racism.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Coming Iran War

Are we going to Iran or not?

To hear our new Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, a former head of the CIA, tell it, we’re not:

Nobody is planning, we are not planning for a war with Iran.
Given Gates' background in the Iran-Contra affair, the illegal arming of Iraq prior to the first Gulf War, and more, I give no weight whatsoever to his protestations.

And in direct contrast, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing yesterday in which President Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski had this to say:

If the United States continues to be bogged down in a protracted bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and with much of the world of Islam at large. A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a “defensive” U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Brzezinski made clear the path is not just paved, but we are already on it:

A mythical historical narrative to justify the case for such a protracted and potentially expanding war is already being articulated. Initially justified by false claims about WMD’s in Iraq, the war is now being redefined as the “decisive ideological struggle” of our time, reminiscent of the earlier collisions with Nazism and Stalinism. In that context, Islamist extremism and al Qaeda are presented as the equivalents of the threat posed by Nazi Germany and then Soviet Russia, and 9/11 as the equivalent of the Pearl Harbor attack which precipitated America’s involvement in World War II.

This simplistic and demagogic narrative overlooks the fact that Nazism was based on the military power of the industrially most advanced European state; and that Stalinism was able to mobilize not only the resources of the victorious and militarily powerful Soviet Union but also had worldwide appeal through its Marxist doctrine. In contrast, most Muslims are not embracing Islamic fundamentalism; al Qaeda is an isolated fundamentalist Islamist aberration; most Iraqis are engaged in strife because the American occupation of Iraq destroyed the Iraqi state; while Iran—though gaining in regional influence—is itself politically divided, economically and militarily weak. To argue that America is already at war in the region with a wider Islamic threat, of which Iran is the epicenter, is to promote a self-fulfilling prophecy. [...]

One should note here also that practically no country in the world shares the Manichean delusions that the Administration so passionately articulates. The result is growing political isolation of, and pervasive popular antagonism toward the U.S. global posture.
I’m persuaded that Brzezinski would not testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to the above were he not absolutely certain this is the direction in which we are headed. Scott Ritter, Robert Parry, and others who have been so accurate in the past are giving us the same warning.

Ritter offers a suggestion to the Democrats on the hill as to what to do to prevent a war with Iran:

I would strongly urge Congress, both the House of Representatives and the Senate, to hold real hearings on Iran. Not the mealy-mouthed Joe Biden-led hearings we witnessed on Iraq in July-August 2002, where he and his colleagues rubber-stamped the President's case for war, but genuine hearings that draw on all the lessons of Congressional failures when it came to Iraq. Summon all the President's men (and women), and grill them on every phrase and word uttered about the Iranian "threat," especially as it has been linked to nuclear weapons. Demand facts to back up the rhetoric.
And what can YOU do? Sign this petition to send a message to the government that you want no part of a war with Iran.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Of Blackouts, Payoffs, and Conspiracies

First, the good news. Lookie here. Not only did the lights go out across Paris, but in several other European cities as well:

Authorities in Rome switched off the lights at two of the Italian capital's most popular monuments, the Colosseum and the Capitol.

In Spain, Madrid's city hall turned off one of the capital's most emblematic monuments, the Puerta de Alcala arch. In the southern city of Seville, local authorities did the same with the famous Giralda Tower, and in the Mediterranean city of Valencia, the Ciudad de las Ciencias complex went dark.

In the Greek capital, Athens, lights illuminating several public buildings, including the parliament, city hall, and Foreign Ministry, were temporarily turned out.

Austria's Green party urged citizens to unplug and switch off for five minutes, though organizer Robert Grueneis conceded the symbolic lights-out had an almost imperceptible effect.

"But it's still the right thing to do," he said. "Cutting back on power usage is always in the interests of the environment."
But the growing attention to the issue of global warming, and the scientific consensus represented by the report, is making someone more than obviously nervous.

The Guardian, an hour ago, posted a story by Ian Semple, science correspondent, saying that the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the neocon temple of war profiteers, funded by ExxonMobile, sent letters to scientists offering a $10,000 bribe to dispute the findings of the report presented today in Paris by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

The AEI has received more than $1.6m from ExxonMobil and more than 20 of its staff have worked as consultants to the Bush administration. Lee Raymond, a former head of ExxonMobil, is the vice-chairman of AEI's board of trustees.

The letters, sent to scientists in Britain, the US and elsewhere, attack the UN's panel as "resistant to reasonable criticism and dissent and prone to summary conclusions that are poorly supported by the analytical work" and ask for essays that "thoughtfully explore the limitations of climate model outputs".

Climate scientists described the move yesterday as an attempt to cast doubt over the "overwhelming scientific evidence" on global warming. "It's a desperate attempt by an organisation who wants to distort science for their own political aims," said David Viner of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.
So let me back up and connect some dots you may have missed.

1. ExxonMobile, a direct descendent of the infamous Rockefeller empire of the Standard Oil trust, gives mega bucks to and works directly with members of the American Enterprise Institute.

2. Michael Ledeen, a resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, is a strong candidate for having been involved in the Niger forgeries that made up the sole evidence of WMD that was used (as a fig leaf) to justify our war in Iraq.

3. Qui bono? Who benefits from the war? Consider this:
Iraq possesses the world’s second largest proven oil reserves, currently estimated at 112.5 billion barrels, about 11% of the world total and its gas fields are immense as well. Many experts believe that Iraq has additional undiscovered oil reserves, which might raise the total well beyond 250 billion barrels when serious prospecting resumes, putting Iraq closer to Saudi Arabia and far above all other oil producing countries. Iraq’s oil is of high quality and it is very inexpensive to produce, making it one of the world’s most profitable oil sources. Oil companies hope to gain production rights over these rich fields of Iraqi oil, worth hundreds of billions of dollars. In the view of an industry source it is “a boom waiting to happen.”(1) As rising world demand depletes reserves in most world regions over the next 10-15 years, Iraq’s oil will gain increasing importance in global energy supplies. According to the industry expert: “There is not an oil company in the world that doesn’t have its eye on Iraq.”(2) Geopolitical rivalry among major nations throughout the past century has often turned on control of such key oil resources.(3)

Five companies dominate the world oil industry, two US-based, two primarily UK-based, and one primarily based in France.(4) US-based Exxon Mobil looms largest among the world’s oil companies and by some yardsticks measures as the world’s biggest company.(5) The United States consequently ranks first in the corporate oil sector, with the UK second and France trailing as a distant third. Considering that the US and the UK act almost alone as sanctions enforcers (and as advocates of war against Iraq), and that they are the headquarters of the world’s four largest oil companies, we cannot ignore the possible relationship of their policy with this powerful corporate interest.
4. What is the biggest threat to oil profits? A reduction in consumption, the very thing called for by those who argue that global warming is caused in large part by the release of carbon from the burning of fuel.

5. So who does ExxonMobile return to? The very people who brought them the war in Iraq: the AEI.

Everything is connected.