Saturday, March 26, 2005

Of Chavez, Economic Hit Men, and Desert Wildflowers

This year, the Los Angeles area has received more rain in this year than in any season in the last hundred years. We’re within 2 inches of making an all-time record for the region.

While some residents complain, I took the opportunity to see what some have called the bloom of a lifetime - the amazing wildflower display in the desert. An hour and a half Southwest of Palm Springs is the Anza Borrego National Park - a place so quiet the beating of a bird’s wings sounds like an intrusion. I drove out at 2am from Los Angeles so I could catch the desert at sunrise.

After watching the desert go from dark to light, I unfolded a camping chair under a palm tree and took out Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, by John Perkins. As I lay there hearing the humming birds feed, watching desert hares hop by, and surrounded by a flurry of butterflies, I read about the doings of a small group of people in third world countries. These people have the job of going into third-world countries projecting their future economic growth so that they will borrow more than they can afford from the World Bank, incur more debt than they can repay, and therefore become subject to not simply US interests but private interests ostensibly representing the US.

Perkins described sitting in an Amazon jungle next to a concrete dam, a blight upon the otherwise magical landscape. The damn was built with a loan from the World Bank, so that power could be drawn from the might Amazon. But who got the contract to build the damn? The natives, whose land was being taken? Guess again. American companies.

Over and over, his story was always the same. Give us your promise to pay us back, and we’ll give you all the trappings of modern society, but the money you borrow has to be spent on American contractors and paid back to American investors. Sorry - there’s nothing left for YOUR country. And if you default? We’ll extract more than a pound of flesh. We’ll carve out American military bases. We’ll take your oil as payment. Or whatever else your fine country has to offer. Oh - and if you don’t comply, you’ll be killed in a coup by CIA thugs.

I thought of the pristine desert, where even the Park Center was designed to be as unobtrusive as possible. What if the World Bank had spent the money? Would there be some ugly rectangular concrete structure there instead of the graceful, arcing, built-into-the-ground park center? It’s not like we don’t know how to build beautiful things. But when it’s only about money, of course we don’t.

I’m tired of being a rapist. I’m tired of people going to other countries, in my name, under the banner of my country, and giving people a raw deal simply because we can, because we’re so rich and so powerful that none dare stand against us. I’m tired of those who see no wrong in screwing someone less powerful, because we assume, wrongly, that they’re less intelligent and therefore, less deserving. It’s not right. It’s never right. And what’s really appalling is how often this is done in the name of freedom, capitalism, or even religion.

Right now, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez is walking perilously close to death. He’s working with Castro, with Iran, and in an amazingly bold move, with India to try to find alternatives to succumbing to American imperialism. He’s even threatened an oil boycott. Perkins makes clear that when the Economic Hit Men (EHM) fail, the “jackals”, as he call them, come next. The jackals are the CIA hitmen who take out leaders who refuse to bend to the World Bank and US business interests. The Southern half of the Americas is littered with leaders who tried to save the wealth of their country’s resources for their own people. Arbenz. Goulart. Allende. Guevara. Castro, had they ever managed to kill him. I fear Chavez is practically taunting us, daring us to kill him. Threatening an oil embargo as he is seems like a near declaration of war. I want him to quiet down, not for my sake, but for the sake of the people in his country who do not deserve to lose a leader to American imperialism.

I wish the rich could just go sit in the desert for a few days. The quiet peace is amazing, and tranquil, and beautiful. It was a real reminder that the American way of working so many hours enables us to build only fake wealth. Real wealth can be found in the sounds of the hummingbird’s wings, and in the beauty of a red/yellow/purple blaze of blossoms in an otherwise gray desert. I am wealthy beyond imagination out there. I felt poorer by the minute as I returned to LA.

Fellow Los Angelinos. Treat yourself while you still can. Some things can't be bought - only experienced.

Apologies to all for not posting pictures. My time is short these days. And the few pictures I have do not do the blooms justice. Go and see the desert in bloom some spring for yourself sometime. You'll thank me for the suggestion.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Calling Eason Jordan!

After I posted the previous entry, I had a Homer Simpson moment. Doh! I had completely left out the fact that Eason Jordan had been fired from CNN after stating that the US did indeed seem to be targeting journalists.

I barely scratched the surface in my earlier post. Jason Kernahan, in this excellent article, provides many more examples and damning articles that describe in detail the media death toll attributable to Americans. It's really appalling, when you look at all these instances together.

Here are some nuggets found in the leads presented by Kernahan:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) wrote the Pentagon in April, 2003, questioning the attack that day on Al Jazeera as well as the earlier attack on the Palestine Hotel:
This morning, Baghdad time, U.S. air strikes severely damaged the Baghdad office of the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite network, killing journalist Taraq Ayyoub. Al-Jazeera cameraman Zouhair al-Iraqi was injured in the blast, according to the station. Moments later, another explosion damaged the nearby office of Abu Dhabi TV. Some 30 journalists are trapped in the station’s offices, said Abu Dhabi TV officials.

While we recognize that both stations, which are located near the Presidential Palace and the Information Ministry, were operating in an area where combat was occurring, the missile strike on the Al-Jazeera facility raises questions about whether the building was deliberately targeted.

The strike against these facilities is particularly troubling because both Al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV have been openly operating from these locations in Baghdad for weeks, providing images of the war to the rest of the world.

In addition, prior to the commencement of hostilities in Iraq, both stations told CPJ that they provided the specific coordinates of their Baghdad offices to the Pentagon. CPJ has seen a copy of Al-Jazeera’s February letter to Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke outlining these coordinates.

The attack against Al-Jazeera is of particular concern since the stations’ offices were also hit in Kabul, Afghanistan in November 2001. The Pentagon asserted, without providing additional detail, that the office was a “known Al-Qaeda facility,” and that the U.S. military did not know the space was being used by Al-Jazeera.

In a separate incident today, a U.S. tank opened fired on the Palestine Hotel—the main base for dozens of international journalists covering the conflict from Baghdad—killing two journalists and wounding at least three others. Reuters reported that its cameraman Taras Protsyuk died in the blast, while reporter Samia Nakhoul and photographer Faleh Kheiber suffered facial and head wounds. Cameraman José Couso of Spain’s Telecinco television was also killed in the attack. U.S. officials have stated that they were responding to sniper fire from the roof of the hotel. Eyewitnesses said they heard no gunfire coming from the hotel.
Unmentioned by CPJ was the report by BBC reporter Kate Adie made just a month before CPJ's letter, in which Kate said the following:
what actually appalls me is the difference between twelve years ago and now. I've seen a complete erosion of any kind of acknowledgment that reporters should be able to report as they witness.

The Americans... and I've been talking to the Pentagon ...take the attitude which is entirely hostile to the free spread of information." I was told by a senior officer in the Pentagon, that if uplinks --that is the television signals out of... Bhagdad, for example-- were detected by any planes ...electronic media... mediums, of the military above Bhagdad... they'd be fired down on. Even if they were journalists ...
MSNBC reported, "One of the chief U.S. weapons in the battle to win Iraqi hearts and minds is Al-Iraqiya — a Pentagon-funded TV station with an optimistic, pro-American slant." Al-Iraqiya is run by the Iraqi Media Network. "After Baghdad fell, the Pentagon sent equipment and media experts from Science Applications International Corp., a U.S. defense contractor whose staff is packed with ex-U.S. military and intelligence officials. SAIC hired 350 Iraqis for the network, which went live May 13." The November MSNBC report explained:
The Pentagon is seeking bids for a $100 million upgrade to the IMN network, adding an all-news channel that would eventually be broadcast via satellite - in direct challenge to the Arab satellite channels.

The winner of that contract will play a large role in shaping Iraq’s media. The British Broadcasting Corp. is one of those in the running.

IMN and Al-Iraqiya were conceived during the State Department’s war preparations and are funded by the Defense Department.
So clearly, the Iraqi media was directly targeted as a strategic asset that America needed to control. Dissenting voices were not to be allowed. Now I have no fantasies of seeing a memo signed by Rumsfeld authorizing the killing of journalists. But I believe the sentiment is strongly implied by these activities.

Journalists have even been tortured. According to this report,
Those who forego the safety of being embedded to gain independence and breadth of reporting are known as "unilaterals" who find themselves vulnerable and are denied information from the U.S. military - sometimes even harassed. There have been many confirmed instances of journalists being detained, their equipment confiscated and even assaulted by U.S. soldiers. According to The Guardian, two Reuters journalists were detained by U.S. forces for 72 hours, bags were put over their heads and they were intimidated and brutalized. At one point, a soldier allegedly shoved a shoe into the mouth of one of the journalists.
I've long been aware of how subdued the press has been because of my investigations into the assassinations of the country's most effective leaders on the left in the sixties - John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy. I've seen from those cases how controlled the American media is. I have read and written about the CIA's deep embedded relationship with the media. Why would it stop at home? If the goal is to rule the world, and surely no one can pretend that is not our goal (although I hope readers here agree that should NOT be our goal), then controlling the worldwide media must be a necessary step.

We live, more in more, in a matrix of information that is neither accurate nor, to a large degree, important. We get sports shows and sitcoms, but we don't get news about important new scientific discoveries that could save hundreds of thousands of lives. We see car chases and local news stories, but when have we seen the horror of the war being waged in Iraq on the nightly news?

But the measure of how censored we are is this: Boston Legal, a FICTIONAL TV show, was forced to remove references to Fox News in their next (March 13) episode. Here is some of what you are missing:
Stuart: "It’s called a Fox Blocker. Sold off the internet. You attach it to the coaxial cable on your television and it basically blocks out all Fox News transmissions… My high school principal attached these liberal, left-wing devices to all the televisions in the building. Meanwhile, the kids are free to watch CBS, CNN, NBC, even ABC, But not Fox. It’s censorship."
The network insisted that be changed to,
Stuart: "It’s called a news blocker. Sold off the internet. You attach it to the coaxial cable on your television and it basically blocks out news transmission…. My high school principal attached these devices to all the televisions in the building. The problem is… turns out it only blocks out one network, the most fair and balanced one. All the others, kids can watch."
What will they censor next?

To me, the most important issues facing our democracy right now are 1) protecting our vote and 2) reclaiming the media. We can't effect any other changes until we take care of those items. Without those, we are voices in a moral wilderness, crying in the dark with no option to effect change.

Re our vote, you can join up with any of the numerous voting rights groups that have sprung to life in the past year. Join a few as they aren't all yet talking to each other so you'll want to get info from as many places as possible on that.

As for the media, start by asking for a return of the Fairness Doctrine. Had this not been gutted by President Reagan in 1987, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly would have to share airtime with Big Eddy and Al Franken. As the saying goes, the pen is mightier than the sword. That's why the US is so concerned about the media in Iraq. That's why we all need to be a lot more concerned about it at home.

In reading about coup attempts in other countries, I've been struck by the fact that the first action is nearly always the taking over of the country's airwaves. So in the decade past, when people like Oliver North, G. Gordon Liddy, and other right-wing criminals started taking over the talk radio airwaves, I felt I was witnessing a slow-motion coup here at home. I have never been so disappointed to be right.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Are We Targeting Journalists Again?

What a bizarre story. A month ago, Iraqis took an unlikely hostage: Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena. They captured her simply because she was Italian, and they used her to plead their case to Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to withdraw the roughly 2,700 Italian troops from Iraq.

What makes her capture so ironic is that the Iraqi’s picked the wrong hostage. Sgrena was on their side. She had spoken out repeatedly against the war, and was currently working for the Communist publication Il Manifesto. She had refused to participate as an embedded journalist because she really wanted to get to the truth of the war, what was really happening to ordinary citizens on the ground. But, to her surprise, that made her an enemy of her captors as much as it made her an enemy to the forces behind the war. As she recounted a couple of days ago,
I wanted to tell about the bloodbath in Falluja through the refugees' tales. And that morning the refugees and some of their "leaders" didn't listen to me. I had in front of me the evidence of what the Iraqi society has become with the war and they threw their truth in my face: "We don't want anyone. Why don't you stay home? What such interview can be useful for?". The worst collateral damage, the war killing communication, was falling on me. On me, who had risked it all, challenging the Italian government that didn't want reporters gong to Iraq, and the Americans who don't want our work that gives witness to what that country has really turned into with the war, despite what they call elections.
What did she get for her pains? A month in Iraqi jail, and then being shot at by Americans upon her release.

Was she targeted in the shooting? Certainly, it appears the American version of the episode is not true. This Tehran Times piece raises serious questions:
"The Americans and Italians knew about (her) car coming," Pier Scolari said on leaving Rome's Celio military hospital where Sgrena is to undergo surgery following her return home. "They were 700 meters (yards) from the airport, which means that they had passed all checkpoints."

The shooting late Friday was witnessed by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's office which was on the phone with one of the secret service agents, said Scolari.

"Then the U.S. military silenced the cell phones," he charges.

"Giuliana had information, and the U.S. military did not want her to survive," he added.
I have friends who just can’t fathom that American troops would target journalists. Why would we do that? It makes no sense, they tell me. But after a decade of research on cover-ups, I can tell you that journalists who dare to tell the truth about important misdeeds have always been targets, both physically and via character assassination. I don’t know what happened to Sgrena. Perhaps the real target was the Iraqi intelligence agent who was shepherding her to safety. But the possibility that Sgrena was the target would hardly be out of character.

In the course of this war, so many journalists have been killed that Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) had to ask, “Is Killing Part of Pentagon Press Policy?” FAIR recounted how an American tank fired on the Palestine Hotel on April 8, 2003, when it was well known that the hotel housed most of the non-embedded foreign press. The pentagon claimed the tank was firing back at combatants, but footage shot by a French TV station showed no activity in the area. According to FAIR's report:
Journalists who witnessed the attack unequivocally rejected Pentagon claims that the tank had been fired on from the hotel. "I never heard a single shot coming from any of the area around here, certainly not from the hotel," David Chater of British Sky TV told Reuters (4/8/03).”
Earlier that same day, the Baghdad offices of Al Jazeera were hit in an airstrike. At the time, Al Jazeera had been airing graphic footage of the bloody victims of the Iraqi war. Such footage made America out to be the bad guys - bad idea, if you’re the Pentagon. FAIR’s report stated:
International journalists and press freedom groups condemned the U.S. attacks on the press corps in Baghdad. "We can only conclude that the U.S. Army deliberately and without warning targeted journalists," Reporters Without Borders declared (4/8/03). "We believe these attacks violate the Geneva Conventions," wrote the Committee to Protect Journalists in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (4/8/03), referring to the protection journalists receive under the laws of war. The attacks on journalists "look very much like murder," Robert Fisk of the London Independent reported (4/9/03).
It amazes me that the most prestigious award for investigative journalism is named after a journalist whose own murder has never been completely solved: George Polk. I. F. Stone called Polk “the first casualty of the Cold War.” Polk was reporting in Greece at the time the OSS was transitioning to become the CIA. He reported on the corruption of the American-backed Greek dictator and turned up bound, waterlogged, murdered. While a Communist was accused in a show trial of perpetrating the deed, Kati Marton in her excellent book The Polk Conspiracy showed that in fact it appeared American and British intelligence, in conjunction with the Greek authorities, were very involved in covering up the facts of his death, and were likely responsible for his murder.

Robert Parry realized during the Iran Contra hearings that the truth was not anything the mainstream media dared to tell. And of course, Gary Webb met a brick wall in the mainstream media when he tried to tell the truth about the crack cocaine connection. Kristina Borjesson, in her book Into the Buzzsaw, recounts several stories of newspeople who got chopped to bits by a system designed for maximum propaganda value, not for maximum truth. Robert Novak gets a pass for exposing CIA operative Valerie Plame - an action punishable by up to $50,000 under the law. Jeff “Hire Me For Gay Sex but SHUSH 'Cuz I’m a Right-Winger” Gannon gets to be part of the White House press corp. But Dan Rather loses his job for reporting on documents that could not be authenticated, despite the fact the story the documents purported to support has never been successfully denied - that Bush shirked his service in the National Guard.

The reason to control the press it to control the perception of events. The OSS (which later became the CIA) was sold to Roosevelt on the notion that propaganda was on the rise in Germany and the only way to survive was not to counter it, but rather, to do it at least as well, if not better. As George Orwell explained in his novel 1984: Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past. The best way to control the future is to control the presentation of recent history to fit the agenda.

Sgrena was not fitting the agenda. I don’t know if she was targeted. But it would sure fit a very old, familiar, and, for the powers that be, successful pattern. And what is conspiracy theory if not, first and foremost, pattern recognition?

I’m grateful for the Internet these days more than ever. I have met incredible people through this medium. I have learned incredible things. I can read first-hand accounts from Iraq (check out Riverbend and Free Iraq). I watch bloggers report on important stories at Daily Kos. I can even read about the future of the world, and marvel out how explicit and public the plan is, and wonder in frustration how no journalists of note in this country dare mention it. Are they so lazy? Ignorant? Or are they afraid they’ll be killed, literally or figuratively, for exposing the true agenda of the powers that be? I believe this is where I came in.