Thursday, June 28, 2007

Why the Supreme Court Matters

In case there are those who still ponder the merits of voting, and who sits in the Oval Office, a quick glimpse of recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court might give you some pause for reflection.

In the first three rulings, all of them dealing with the First Amendmant, the Roberts Court estalished its conservative leanings. In a case involving student free speech, the so-called "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case, the court found in favor of the school against the student. The court also ruled in a separate case that taxpayers can't challenge the Bush Administration's faith-based program, And finally, in what is being called a blow to campaign finance reform, the court allowed corporate backed "issue ads" close to elections. In yet another ruling this Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that race could not be a deciding factor in attempting to diversify public schools--a decision that could have far reaching effects across the nation. The rulings highlighted a heavily divided court, where the newly assigned Chief Justice John Roberts helped lead the shift in a court that seems more friendly to corporate causes, authoritarianism, the erosion of the separation of Church and State and whining white males. What follows are some analyses, reactions and commentary on the court's rulings.

Three Bad Rulings

The New York Times Editorial
Tuesday 26 June 2007

The Supreme Court hit the trifecta yesterday: Three cases involving the First Amendment. Three dismaying decisions by Chief Justice John Roberts's new conservative majority.

Chief Justice Roberts and the four others in his ascendant bloc used the next-to-last decision day of this term to reopen the political system to a new flood of special-interest money, to weaken protection of student expression and to make it harder for citizens to challenge government violations of the separation of church and state. In the process, the reconfigured court extended its noxious habit of casting aside precedents without acknowledging it - insincere judicial modesty scored by Justice Antonin Scalia in a concurring opinion.

First, campaign finance. Four years ago, a differently constituted court upheld sensible provisions of the McCain-Feingold Act designed to prevent corporations and labor unions from circumventing the ban on their spending in federal campaigns by bankrolling phony "issue ads." These ads purport to just educate voters about a policy issue, but are really aimed at a particular candidate.

The 2003 ruling correctly found that the bogus issue ads were the functional equivalent of campaign ads and upheld the Congressional restrictions on corporate and union money. Yet the Roberts court shifted course in response to sham issue ads run on radio and TV by a group called Wisconsin Right to Life with major funding from corporations opposed to Senator Russell Feingold, the Democrat who co-authored the act.

It opened a big new loophole in time to do mischief in the 2008 elections. The exact extent of the damage is unclear. But the four dissenters were correct in warning that the court's hazy new standard for assessing these ads is bound to invite evasion and fresh public cynicism about big money and politics.

full article:

Did Student-Speech Rights Up in Smoke?

By David L. Hudson Jr.
First Amendment scholar

With a stroke of the powerful pen of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the U.S. Supreme Court limited student-speech rights this week, creating another exception to Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, its landmark 1969 First Amendment decision in which it declared that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

As a result of a colorful case colloquially known as “Bong Hits 4 Jesus,” the Court ruled June 25 that students just outside the schoolhouse gate lose their First Amendment rights if they speak even ambiguously about drugs. Though many associate the “war on drugs” with a loss of Fourth Amendment freedoms, the First Amendment also fell victim in the Court’s decision in Morse v. Frederick.

The question becomes whether the Court’s recent decision will curtail student-speech rights dramatically or will represent only a narrow “drug exception” to Tinker.

full article:

Resegregation Now

The New York Times Editorial
Friday 29 June 2007

The Supreme Court ruled 53 years ago in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated education is inherently unequal, and it ordered the nation's schools to integrate. Yesterday, the court switched sides and told two cities that they cannot take modest steps to bring public school students of different races together. It was a sad day for the court and for the ideal of racial equality.

Since 1954, the Supreme Court has been the nation's driving force for integration. Its orders required segregated buses and public buildings, parks and playgrounds to open up to all Americans. It wasn't always easy: governors, senators and angry mobs talked of massive resistance. But the court never wavered, and in many of the most important cases it spoke unanimously.

Yesterday, the court's radical new majority turned its back on that proud tradition in a 5-4 ruling, written by Chief Justice John Roberts. It has been some time since the court, which has grown more conservative by the year, did much to compel local governments to promote racial integration. But now it is moving in reverse, broadly ordering the public schools to become more segregated.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who provided the majority's fifth vote, reined in the ruling somewhat by signing only part of the majority opinion and writing separately to underscore that some limited programs that take race into account are still acceptable. But it is unclear how much room his analysis will leave, in practice, for school districts to promote integration. His unwillingness to uphold Seattle's and Louisville's relatively modest plans is certainly a discouraging sign.

In an eloquent dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer explained just how sharp a break the decision is with history. The Supreme Court has often ordered schools to use race-conscious remedies, and it has unanimously held that deciding to make assignments based on race "to prepare students to live in a pluralistic society" is "within the broad discretionary powers of school authorities."

full article:


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

More Blacks in College- Less in Military

Why mo' niggaz in the pen than in college?

The above rhetorical question was uttered by Ice Cube (pre-Mack 10/post-NWA) almost two decades ago, when frequent episodes of black-on-black crime fueled speculation that the "race" would "self-destruct." Those fears were probably over sold, though quite understandable during the "crack epidemic" era. And it turns out that while the prison industrial complex is indeed a rapacious devourer of black manhood, and increasingly black womanhood as well, the ratio of black males in prison vis-a-vis college reverse's from Ice Cube's lament when we take college aged youth into account.

A recent report now shows that blacks are actually increasing their presence in colleges, at least in the South. Of course, there are a great deal of caveats with this story--the state of public education is still dismal; the report doesn't measure black males specifically, who are less apt to attend college than black women; black college enrollment still trails behind white America. Still, the article is something to applaud--even if caution is urged. Another report was released recently, on the drop of blacks from military rosters. Makes you wonder if there's a possible correlation...

Black College Enrollment in South Passes Milestone

June 25, 2007

RALEIGH, North Carolina (AP) -- For the first time ever in the South, blacks are as well represented on college campuses as they are in the region's population as a whole -- something not yet true of the country overall.

The milestone is noted in a new fact book to be released Monday by the Southern Regional Education Board, a nonprofit organization that promotes education. In the 16 states measured, the number of blacks enrolled in colleges has risen by more than half over the last decade. They now make 21 percent of college students and 19 percent of the overall population.

The number represents progress but it also has to be seen in context. A major contributing factor is the South's rapidly growing Hispanic population, which has reduced the proportion of the population that is black, and thereby made the milestone easier to reach mathematically.

And educators also stressed that the number should not obscure the persistent achievements gaps affecting blacks both in the South and nationally. In particular, black enrollment rates for college-age students, while improving, still lag well behind those of whites, as do the graduation rates of black college students.

With a college degree now almost a prerequisite for high-paying jobs, those achievement gaps pose an economic threat -- and the South will be on the cutting edge of that. In 2005 about 61 percent of public high school graduates in the South were white, the education board said, but by 2018 that figure is expected to be 45 percent.

full article:

Sharp Fall of Blacks in Military Reported

Associated Press
June 25, 2007

WASHINGTON -- The number of blacks joining the military has plunged by more than one-third since the Afghanistan and Iraq wars began. Other job prospects are improving, and more relatives of potential recruits are discouraging them from joining the armed services.

According to data obtained by The Associated Press, the decline covers all four military services for active duty recruits. The drop is even more dramatic when National Guard and Reserve recruiting is included.

Walking past the Army recruiting station in downtown Washington this past week, Sean Glover said he has done all he can to talk black relatives out of joining the military.

"I don't think it's a good time. I don't support the government's efforts here and abroad," said Glover, 36. "There's other ways you can pay for college."

full article:,1,4615481.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed


Monday, June 25, 2007

Sweet Jesus I Hate Bill O'Reilly

Sweet Jesus I Hate Bill O'Reilly. So when a high school student put Mr. Loofah in his place about an over-hyped story regarding alleged "drug-use" advocacy by the "far-left," the moment was certainly deemed blog-worthy. Click Video to watch Bill get tripped up, and then resort to attacking the kid when exposed. Below is a more indepth story from Newshounds--who watch FOX News so we don't have to. (Yes Virginia, you can pause the page music. The Imeem box is on your lower right).

Boulder High Student, Jesse Lange, Calmly Exposes Bill O'Reilly's Hypocrisy

Reported by Deborah - June 21, 2007

Bill O'Reilly will go to any length to be right so he decided to keep poking sticks at Boulder, Colorado after the controversy about a student forum had been resolved reasonably despite his interference. When he learned that Bud Jenkins, Boulder High Principal, had apologized to the parents who found the sex and drug education assembly offensive, O'Reilly tried to suggest he was responsible. Anxious to gloat about his imagined victory, he invited two students on from the school, Andrew Wishner and Jesse Lange but things just didn't turn out the way he planned.

O'Reilly really wanted to make the issue sound provocative last night calling the situation a "sex and drug scandal". However the only thing scandalous has been O'Reilly's unrelenting barrage of attacks for the last four weeks against Boulder.

On 6/19, BOR announced that Bud Jenkins had apologized commenting how they had to chase him around as if his ambush in the school parking lot did the trick. Last night he claimed to have been a " driving force" making it seem like Jenkin's apology was some big deal and proved he had been right to carry on the destructive campaign.

Andrew Wishner, Boulder High Sophmore, had spoken out against the forum at a recent Boulder School Board meeting but according to several sources at the school, Wishner wasn't even there that day. So it seems that O'Reilly didn't have that information or just decided to overlook this important detail.

When Jesse Lange was originally contacted by O'Reilly producers,6/19, he was told he would be doing a one on one interview. He was not told about the addition of Andrew Wishner until yesterday late morning making the interview a 2 against 1 affair for Lange.

Despite the disadvantage, Jesse Lange, did an admirable job confronting O'Reilly calmly and rationally. In fact, he riled Bill so much , he got branded a pinhead which he considers a badge of honor. It's interesting to note that a reader contacted us to report that the pinhead comment had been scrubbed from The Factor late rerun. I was unable to confirm that since the the video of the segment was not posted on O'Reilly's page when I looked at 11AM. No doubt, it will show up later.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Media News Roundup- Sunday June 17th to Sat June 23rd

Keeping an eye on the failing Fourth Estate and looking for some TRUTH in journalism.

Media under reports CIA release of documents pertaining to illegal operations of the past few decades. News blackout on report by Global Policy Forum highlighting U.S. role in war-torn Iraq. Bright spot of the week: In the midst of simplistic media readings of the issues relating to the recent Palestinian internecine conflict, Adam Entous at Reuters provides some illuminating context.

Media Under reports CIA Release of Documents Pertaining to Illegal Operations of the Past Few Decades

One would think that in this sensationalist driven news culture--where Paris Hilton and missing blond women are considered "lead stories"--that at the least something as drama filled as espionage would make the cut. Tragically, that doesn't seem to be case. For when the CIA this past week stated it would soon declassify some 700 pages of previously heavily guarded secrets relating to illegal operations in its past, the major news outlets carried the story--but only briefly, and with little depth. Anyone interested would have to read local print journals or foreign publications to catch more than a passing mention. From DemocracyNow:

[T]he CIA is preparing to declassify hundreds of documents that detail some if its most infamous and illegal operations. The records are believed to cover the period from the 1950s to the 1970s. They include details on domestic spying, infiltrating leftist groups, drug tests on US citizens and assassination plots against foreign leaders. In advance of the release, the National Security Archive has published a new set of documents revealing the Ford administration was concerned about the documents’ eventual disclosure. In a memo to Ford, then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said a 1974 article by the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh on the CIA’s infiltration of anti-war groups was “just the tip of the iceberg.” Kissinger also warned that “blood will flow” if several other operations were exposed, including the Kennedy administration’s attempts to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro. Kissinger says former Attorney General Robert Kennedy personally managed the assassination plot. Announcing the release on Thursday, CIA Director Michael Hayden said: “Most of it is unflattering, but it is CIA’s history."

News Blackout on Global Policy Forum Report Detailing U.S. Role in Iraq

This past week the independent Global Policy Forum released a 117-page report titled "War and Occupation in Iraq." Executive Director James Paul summed up the purpose of the report:

While most people focus on the sectarian bloodshed, our report highlights the enormous violence of the occupation forces. There is an increasing air war that results in heavy casualties as well as the daily killing of civilians at checkpoints, during house searches, by snipers, and by ground bombardment. Nearly a million Iraqis have died due to the effects of the occupation and 4 million have fled from their homes. A dozen cities have been destroyed by U.S. attacks.
While the report was well received overseas and throughout the blogosphere, it remained almost invisible to the mainstream news media--which seems unwilling to hold the U.S. responsible for its central role in the chaos that is Iraq.

Bright Spot of the Week

Entous of Reuters Provides Context on Palestinian Conflict

In the midst of simplistic media readings of the issues relating to the recent Palestinian internecine conflict, Adam Entous at Reuters provides some illuminating context, most notably the role of the U.S. and Israel, sorely lacking in most depictions.

After Gaza, Some Question Who was Overthrowing Whom

Mon Jun 18, 2007
By Adam Entous

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The U.S. government began to lay the ground for President Mahmoud Abbas to dismiss the Hamas-led Palestinian government at least a year before the Islamist group's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip last week.

Western, Israeli and Palestinian official sources said over the weekend that, far from being an ad hoc response to Hamas's offensive, Abbas's declaration of a state of emergency and his replacement of a Hamas prime minister with Western favourite Salam Fayyad marked the culmination of months of backroom deliberations, planning and U.S. prodding.

In the end, pressure on Abbas to act against Hamas was as great -- if not greater -- from within his own Fatah faction as from Washington, which is seeking to play down its own role.

Only the triggering event, resulting in total Hamas control of the Gaza Strip, can be said to have come as a nasty surprise to the Americans. It left in tatters plans by U.S. and Arab allies to build up Abbas's own forces in Gaza against Hamas.

Many Western officials and analysts see the offensive as a pre-emptive strike by Hamas before Washington could build up Fatah. Hamas says it made its move against a U.S.-backed "coup".

for full article:


Thursday, June 21, 2007

The State of the Black Male in America- A Conference

Black and Male in America: A Three Day National Conference” was held last Friday, from June 15 through Sunday, June 17 in downtown Brooklyn. It was put together by writer and activist Kevin Powell, the culminating result of the much acclaimed "State of Black Men Townhall Meetings and Workshops," a 10-city national tour from 2004. While I supported the conference, and certainly encouraged others to attend, I remained inwardly skeptical. Was this going to be another gathering to preach "moral uplift" for black males while listing off one dysfunction after another? Should I be set to get a lot of "preaching to" about how I wasn't living up to the nostalgic days of my 1960s fore bearers? And worst of all, was I was going to be made to take some kind of pledge? With reluctance I tepidly made my way to the event...

When a good friend of mine told me he’d be in town for a 3-day weekend conference called "Black and Male in America," and that I should attend, I admit I was at first reluctant. After a five day work week that can often include grad school, I tend to live for the measly two days I’m afforded as leisure time—mostly used to run errands, indulge in a social life, create, catch up on my ever-packed DVR and allow my mind to rest. Thank you labor unions! So I wasn’t so keen on giving all that up for anything that cut into my personal time.

But my greatest reluctance was that I had attended these things before. Heck, to be clear, I’d put them on before. But my zeal for these ritual gatherings of black males has deeply waned. I knew how it would go—a smattering of black nationalists, the black corporatista, Afrocentric types and others—preaching the usual fare of moral uplift and black self-sufficiency. After telling me what black manhood and masculinity should be defined as, I would be treated to an endless chorus of... “Black men need to take care of their kids! Black men need to pull their pants up! Black men need to appreciate work! Black men need to treat their women better! Black men need to create their own businesses!” Black men need to do this; black men need to do that—complete with a dizzying array of negative statistics so depressing that by the time I left I often just wanted to pass the Henny.

As far back as the Million Man March of 1995 I had begun to develop this uneasy suspicion that these mantras of community moral uplift—"Values Conservatism" painted over for black consumption—were not actually dealing with the full spectrum of the problems faced by black America. By the time of Bill Cosby’s “Atlanta Compromise” redux, the famed “Poundcake Speech,” I began to opt out of these types of town hall meetings altogether. Sure, I’m all for personal responsibility—who isn’t?—but only in a context where the larger societal responsibility is acknowledged. Don’t shout down the shortcomings of black folks and leave the historical and present context that is the 800lb gorilla of white patriarchy, power and privilege—which sets standards of masculine achievement but dangles it out of black men’s reach—unnamed, unacknowledged and un-assailed. To define black manhood in terms of white power patriarchy, rather than deconstructing that system, seems a futile and insane exercise--unless we believe that one day like the Irish and Italians we too will "seize our whiteness." I'd had enough of the "black self-flagellation committee," and long ago decided to give up my whip.

But, with my friend not only in attendance but a presenter, I knew there was no escaping it. I arrived fashionably late, steeling myself to listening to a host of things that would probably make me grate my teeth. As I walked into the conference on its opening night, I found it well attended. Speaking at the podium was none other than the conference’s main organizer Kevin Powell—the Hip Hop culture persona, social critic and author who ran for political office in 2004, but who is probably best known as the “black guy” on the first season of MTV’s Real World.

Didn't really know what to expect, or what I thought I should expect. After all, we've all heard "stories about Kevin Powell," none of which are too flattering. I stood outside the main entrance rather than walk in, holding the professional looking packet that had been handed to me by a greeter at the door--one of many black women who seemed to be the organizing glue behind the scenes. Among me were workers running to and fro, numerous vendors with tables hawking their books or wares, and varied passer-bys who greeted me in a smattering of neo-Africana (Habri Gani. As Salaam alaikum. Whut up?). And as I adjusted myself to the sights and sounds around me, I began to listen to Powell’s speech and found something startling. It was different.

This speaker was giving an address that was a mixture of church preacher, street orator and emcee. His speech was filled with bursts of scholastically gained intellect between “nah means” while his body language had all the carefree attitude and seriousness of someone’s turn to spit in the cipha. Even his suit seemed to mimic Hip Hop’s love of the over-sized. And that wasn’t all. The speech was about something different. I heard references to Sean Bell. I heard talk about sexism. That’s right, Sexism! The "ism" which among black men—especially the self-proclaimed “conscious”—that dare not be named. And it wasn't the “black women need to be treated like virgin Queens” mantra either, but the kind that declared “black women need to be treated as humans.” Whoa! And then, as if attempting to launch a coup d’etat on all that these types of gatherings held holy, Powell even broached the topic of...wait for it... homophobia. If sexism receives little discussion at such conferences, black gay men might as well exist somewhere out in Alpha Centauri for all that they are ever mentioned—outside that of condemnation. It's a little hidden secret that for straight/heterosexual black men, homophobia might well just be our final frontier—what a friend of mine calls our "dealing with our inner Tim Hardaway." To bring it up in such an open forum, to that kind of crowd, is not just revolutionary, but damn brave. Powell even addressed many of those "stories about Kevin Powell," in a frank and honest manner, without excuses or endless apologies, but simply an admission of self-criticism with hopes for growth. And that is mostly what his speech actually promised--hope. In a memorable moment, he pointed out that we often spend so much time lamenting the ills that plague black males, we don’t take time out to see the good. And he implored us look around, and recognize that we were all actually gathered there—not in jail, not out on the streets, not on drugs, but together on a Friday night looking to build relationships with others and find pathways to solutions.

By the time Powell had finished his speech I had done as he had asked, gazing at those in attendance. They were men from 8 yrs old to 80. There were in suits, sagging jeans and colorful dashikis. They spoke in accents from African-American vernacular to Caribbean patois. And they were all excited--sharing opinions, thoughts and ideas, and all reflecting hope. I figured then, if they could, why couldn’t I?

So I went from reluctant attendee to conferene supporter, giving up my entire weekend to workshops ranging from Black male health to Hip Hop and Manhood. I attended panel discussions facilitated by Cheo Tyehimba and Dr. Jelani Cobb, featuring diverse speakers: HIV community worker Michael Hickerson, actor Hill Harper, activist Lumumba Bandele of Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Lasana O. Hotep, Program Coordinator of The African American Men of Arizona State University (AAMASU), David Banks, Founding Principal of The Eagle Academy for Young Men, Chuck "Jigsaw" Creekmur founder of All and more. They spoke about their lives, fatherhood, issues of gender and most of all our potential to overcome. Poets like Faro Z reminded me of the creative potential of black artistic expression to “do good,” and keynote speaker Dr. Michael Eric Dyson culminated the three day event in a powerful oratory that near literally brought down the rafters.

Of course, the conference had its shortcomings. Most of these have to do with logistics and are to be expected on any first attempt. Some presenters were definitely better than others: well organized, professional, critical thinkers able to engage in nuanced thought and provide examples of real life applications. Others, I wouldn’t bother to invite back. Next time around, perhaps we could get an even larger slice of the black male mosaic: scientists, mature young adults, humanists and more. And while it's a black male conference, doesn't mean that black women presenters couldn't perhaps be illuminating on more than a few issues. Most problematic however were the provocateurs and saboteurs, “super righteous” and eternally cynical, there to prosecute and judge, hurl hate speech in the name of their own sexual insecurities, peddling a host of pseudo-facts and finding ways to cause divisiveness. The sad reality is that at any such gathering, these types will always show up, and they remain one of the key reasons of late that I usually stay away. Thankfully, many voices among the conference speakers not only spoke out against them, but did so quite effectively, exposing these charlatans and their analog ideologies for all to see.

If the purpose of this gathering was to miraculously solve the many problems that plague black males in our society, then it was a failure—and deservedly so, as such is the usual price for hubris. If however it was meant to inspire, then it may have done so. If it was meant to provide the blueprint for a way forward, it was illuminating. If it was just a cry to ourselves, our communities and our world that despite all that we have endured—as Morpheus declared to the masses of Zion— “We are still here!" then it did what it set out to accomplish. What will come of the conference in the end will depend on those who put it together and those who participated. There are already plans for follow-up events, workshops and conferences. The website (BAMIA) will eventually feature video clips from the conference, papers and more. Time will tell what becomes of this burgeoning movement.

But for the moment, for one weekend, the state of the black males in America seemed decidedly, hopeful.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Media Propaganda & the Palestinian "Civil War"

The recent so-called "Civil War" in Gaza has been widely reported by the mainstream media. However the story that is most often told is blatantly one-sided and lacking in any context. Since Hamas came to power through democratic elections in 2006, the U.S. and Israel have done all they could to, beat, starve and push the more militant Palestinian faction from power, going as far as to cut-off aid and shooting down any proposals for reconciliation with Fatah. The key reason given for this is the refusal of Hamas to disarm and recognize the state of Israel--a crime somehow far greater than Israel's 40-year occupation and establishment of an apartheid system that routinely destroys Palestinian infrastructure, cuts off water and electricity as a tactic of war, carries out extra-judicial assassinations and more...

Following the White House administration line, the present conflict is presented by the mainstream press as the inevitable outcome of the "violence-prone" Hamas government. According to most U.S. news outlets there are definite "good" and "bad" guys here, with Fatah becoming America's allies and Hamas serving as intractable enemies. Yet As Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifadah stated on the June 15th Democracy Now, "What we've seen is really a direct result of the Bush doctrine. Since January 2006 when Hamas won the legislative election fair and square, the United States refused the election result and it has been arming several Palestinian militias, particularly those controlled by the Gaza warlord, Mohammed Declan." The arming of Fatah by the U.S. and Israel, noted as recently as this past May in major newspapers, has been all but buried in more recent news accounts--portraying the U.S. and Israel as disinterested observers rather than powerful state actors stirring the pot of conflict. Now the U.S., Israel and EU move to lift economic sanctions and supply aid to Fatah, while simultaneously denying the same to Hamas controlled Gaza--amounting to nothing less than a "seige" that places more than a million Palestinians at risk. Collected here are a few news stories that do not march in lock-step with the official government and media line.

After Gaza, Some Question Who Was Overthrowing Whom

By Adam Entous

JERUSALEM, June 17 (Reuters) - The U.S. government began to lay the ground for President Mahmoud Abbas to dismiss the Hamas-led Palestinian government at least a year before the Islamist group's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip last week.

Western, Israeli and Palestinian official sources said over the weekend that, far from being an ad hoc response to Hamas's offensive, Abbas's declaration of a state of emergency and his replacement of a Hamas prime minister with Western favourite Salam Fayyad marked the culmination of months of backroom deliberations, planning and U.S. prodding.

In the end, pressure on Abbas to act against Hamas was as great -- if not greater -- from within his own Fatah faction as from Washington, which is seeking to play down its own role. Only the triggering event, resulting in total Hamas control of the Gaza Strip, can be said to have come as a nasty surprise to the Americans. It left in tatters plans by U.S. and Arab allies to build up Abbas's own forces in Gaza against Hamas.

Many Western officials and analysts see the offensive as a pre-emptive strike by Hamas before Washington could build up Fatah. Hamas says it made its move against a U.S.-backed "coup".

full article:

Media Propaganda & the Palestinian Civil War

by Anthony DiMaggio; June 18, 2007

Hamas’ recent takeover of the Gaza Strip has been described as many things: an escalation of Palestinian civil war, a threat to Israel’s existence, and a major setback for Palestinian statehood. The last of these descriptions, prevalent throughout the American mainstream press, has dramatic consequences for those seriously interested in the peaceful co-existence of both Palestinian and Israeli states.

The American mainstream press has long prided itself in one-sided demonizations of the Palestinian leadership, perhaps most notoriously for blaming the late Yasser Arafat for monkey-wrenching the 2000 Camp David “Peace” proposal. However, with the popular election of Hamas in 2006, American reporters and editors have found a new whipping boy that can effectively be blamed for holding up Israeli-Palestinian peace.

American media coverage has been unequivocal in the placing of blame squarely at the feet of Hamas for hampering possibilities of Palestinian statehood in the foreseeable future. The New York Times reported that Palestinian President Mahmoud “Abbas faces the collapse of Fatah power in Gaza and a putative Palestinian state divided into a West Bank run by Fatah and a Gaza run by Hamas.” The Washington Post claimed: “the territorial cornerstones of a future Palestinian state have been reduced to strongholds of each faction.” Regional coverage has hardly fared better. The Chicago Sun Times commented that Abbas’ firing of Hamas leader and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh left Palestinians “struggling to adjust to a new political reality that has crushed their long-standing hopes for their own state.” Perhaps the most critical that any corporate media outlet has come to blaming the U.S. or Israel for the failure of a two-state solution was seen in the Chicago Tribune, where Ali Jarbawi, a professor of Political Science at Bir Zeit University was cited arguing that the U.S. has “failed to empower Abbas politically through genuine progress toward a negotiated two-state solution, leaving him domestically weakened.” Substantive condemnations of Israel and the U.S. for denying Palestinian statehood and engaging in terrorism against the Palestinian people have predictably been out of bounds, as only Hamas’ acts of terror are deemed to be a salient issue.

full article:

Decoding the media's Palestinian "civil war"
Ben White, The Electronic Intifada, 19 June 2007

Major news stories from Palestine/Israel are often accompanied by what becomes a self-reinforcing "vocabulary," typically generated by Israeli government ministries or other propaganda outlets, and then picked up by the Western media. A classic example was the redeployment of Israeli settlers and military from the Gaza Strip in 2005, which was successfully packaged as a "disengagement" that pitted "Israeli against Israeli," in a "painful compromise." This kind of marketing exercise often works even when there are widely available contradictory reports, such as how "disengagement" was openly trumpeted by Sharon and his advisors as a strategy for destroying the peace process.

This phenomenon went into overdrive recently, as dramatic events across the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but especially in Gaza, presented the evening news with a problem of how to reduce the conflict in the internal Palestinian political arena into an easily digestible sound bite. The solution was, as usual, lazy journalism and an almost total blackout on Israeli/US collusion in the dark events unfolding. Here then, is a guide to decoding the Palestinian "civil war," presented as a series of oft-repeated, yet entirely misleading, clichés.

full article:

Carter Blasts US Policy on Palestinians

By Shawn Pogatchnik
The Associated Press
Wednesday 20 June 2007

Dublin, Ireland - Former President Jimmy Carter accused the U.S., Israel and the European Union on Tuesday of seeking to divide the Palestinian people by reopening aid to President Mahmoud Abbas' new government in the West Bank while denying the same to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was addressing a human rights conference in Ireland, also said the Bush administration's refusal to accept Hamas' 2006 election victory was "criminal."

Carter said Hamas, besides winning a fair and democratic mandate that should have entitled it to lead the Palestinian government, had proven itself to be far more organized in its political and military showdowns with Abbas' moderate Fatah movement.

full article:


Monday, June 18, 2007

Armed Madhouse- Starving Masses

Last week the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute released a report on global military spending. In it they found the nations of the world spent a staggering $1.2 TRILLION on wars and weaponry--with none other than the U.S. leading the pack. The figure is staggering even more so, in the small rate of time it took the increase to occur. The report states, "The volume of conventional weapons traded internationally in 2006 was 50 percent higher than that of 2002." What kind of world do we live in where millions go hungry or live in poverty, where our ecosystems and our species face threats like global warming, where diseases like HIV ravage entire societies and treatable maladies like malaria are allowed to fester, and yet these "imagined communities" we call states--to whom we look to in order to protect the public welfare--spend TRILLIONS on varied machines created for the sole purpose of maiming, injuring, terrorizing and taking human life?

Ever wonder what our world might be like, if those resources were put towards a series of humane causes? The report states, "Millions of human beings' lives could be saved by health measures that would cost a tiny fraction of what the world spends every year on its armies." Amazing, yet unsurprising. There was a time when humanity (or best put, the colonial powers who had carved up the world to their liking) thought they could actually "outlaw war"--then World War I came, and abruptly drenched that dream in blood and reality. Seems we haven't been able to entertain that preposterous notion of perpetual peace since. I hope somewhere out there in the cosmos, there aren't some intelligent life forms looking at the dire state of humanity, and deciding that our criminally neglectful governments need a collective "regime change"--along with an ensuing occupation.

Global Arms Race Feeds Insecurity

June 18, 2007

Remember the "peace dividend"? That was what the United States and Russia hoped to save on defence when the Cold War ended.

Back in 1988, the world spent $1.2 trillion U.S. on the military. And for a few years there was a $400 billion dividend as spending fell to $830 billion in 1996. But the terror attacks in 2001 reversed that trend.

Last year spending surged back to $1.2 trillion, with U.S. spending leading the way at $530 billion, driven chiefly by the Iraq war, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported last week. The peace dividend is a fast-receding memory.

The report should be required reading for policy-makers not only in Washington but also Ottawa and other world capitals.

It focuses on three troubling post-9/11 trend lines – more military spending, more nuclear-armed countries and a greater willingness to contemplate using nuclear weapons. These factors pose a growing threat to international stability in the 21st century. They also divert vast resources away from priorities such as reversing climate change, world hunger and even battling terrorism effectively.

These grim findings should spur a spirited debate between Democrats and Republicans during next year's U.S. election. At the same time, Canadian politicians should weigh them before the next federal election, when Afghanistan and military spending will be an issue.

The stark fact is that efforts to curb military costs and to rein in the nuclear threat have stalled, with serious policy consequences.

What could a $400 billion peace dividend bankroll? A serious drive to reverse climate change, for one. Former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern estimated a campaign would cost 1 per cent of the world's $40 trillion economic output. That is, $400 billion.

The United Nations aspires to cut dire global poverty in half with a $100 billion program, helping many of the 1 billion people who live on less than $1 a day. As things stand, global aid grew by just $8 billion from 1990 to 2004, to $73 billion, according to the Reality of Aid Network. And the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria had to go begging at the Group of Eight summit for $6 billion to save some of the 6 million people who die from these diseases each year.

It is a tragedy that much of the United States' increased military spending, which represents nearly half of the entire world's outlay, was spent waging an unproductive war in Iraq, based on the false premise that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Those resources could have done so much more in Afghanistan, where the 9/11 terrorists planned their attacks.

But the U.S. is far from alone in misdirecting resources. In the past decade, relatively poor India, Pakistan and North Korea have spent fortunes getting nuclear weapons, joining the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Israel. Iran is now trying.

And even as the Americans and Russians plan to trim their deployed nuclear weapons from 5,000 each to 2,000 each by 2012, they are busy upgrading their arsenals. As are China, Britain and France.

They also are lowering the bar to their use. Military planners now envisage using "low-yield" nuclear weapons to fight even non-nuclear-armed foes. In years past, using such weapons was unthinkable, except in dire circumstances. They existed only to deter nuclear attack.

As the Stockholm research institute cautions, these trends to higher military spending, nuclear proliferation and a lower bar to using nuclear weapons are worrisome. The world needs to rethink its priorities, focusing first on effectively addressing climate change, hunger and disease. And it needs to do so to avert the unthinkable.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Media News Roundup- Sunday June 10th to Sat June 16th

Keeping an eye on the failing Fourth Estate and looking for some TRUTH in journalism.

Media plays disingenuous about roots of recent Palestinian conflict between Fatah and Hamas. MSNBC has day long discussion on immigration, featuring only conservatives. Bright spot of the week: Democracy Now's Amy Goodman Talks "Vulture Funds" with BBC Reporter.

Media Ignores Roots of Recent Palestinian Conflict Between Fatah and Hamas

The recent Civil War in Gaza has been widely reported by the mainstream media. However the story that is most often told is blatantly one-sided and lacking in any context. Since Hamas came to power through democratic elections in 2006, the U.S. and Israel have done all they could to, beat, starve and push the more militant Palestinian faction from power, going as far as to cut-off aid and shooting down any proposals for reconciliation with Fatah. The key reason given for this is the refusal of Hamas to disarm and recognize the state of Israel--a crime somehow far greater than Israel's 40-year occupation and an apartheid system that routinely destroys Palestinian infrastructure, cuts off water and electricity as a tactic of war, carries out extra-judicial assassinations and more. Following the White House administration line, the present conflict is presented by the mainstream press as the inevitable outcome of the "violence-prone" Hamas government. According to most U.S. news outlets there are definite "good" and "bad" guys here, with Fatah becoming America's allies and Hamas serving as intractable enemies. Yet As Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifadah stated on the June 15th Democracy Now, "What we've seen is really a direct result of the Bush doctrine. Since January 2006 when Hamas won the legislative election fair and square, the United States refused the election result and it has been arming several Palestinian militias, particularly those controlled by the Gaza warlord, Mohammed Declan." The arming of Fatah by the U.S. and Israel, noted as recently as this past May in major newspapers, has been all but buried in more recent news accounts--portraying the U.S. and Israel as disinterested observers rather than powerful state actors stirring the pot of conflict.

For Seven Hours, MSNBC Hosted Only Conservatives and Reporters to Discuss Immigration

The conservative bent towards the immigration debate in the mainstream media is now well known. On stations like FOX News, Bill O'Reilly opines that pro-immigrant activists "hate America, and they hate it because it's run primarily by white, Christian men." On the same channel Paul Gibson warned white Americans to "Make more babies" because in "[t]wenty-five years ... the majority of the population [will be] Hispanic." On the more mainstream CNN, host Lou Dobbs has made a name for himself through incessant attacks on "illegal immigrants," going as far as to say they will bring in leprosy. So it may not be too surprising that after the defeat of the flawed immigration bill, most mainstream news sources went straight to conservatives for opinions, with little or no time devoted to pro-immigrants rights activists or advocates. MSNBC proved to be a case in point:

From Media Matters:

During the seven hours of the June 11 edition of MSNBC Live (9 a.m.-4 p.m. ET), 15 segments aired about immigration or the Senate immigration bill, none of which featured a Democratic or progressive commentator. Indeed, in nine of the 15 segments, the anchor interviewed a conservative anti-immigration activist who had opposed the bill -- including six separate solo interviews with MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan. The remaining six segments consisted of two panels with Buchanan and conservative activist and Manhattan Institute senior fellow Tamar Jacoby (who, alone among the guests, favored the recent immigration bill), an interview with Congressional Quarterly immigration reporter Michael Sandler, an interview with MSNBC terrorism analyst Joe Cantamessa, and two reports from MSNBC congressional correspondent Mike Viqueira.

With such biased media coverage perhaps it's little wonder then that the entire discussion on immigration has been caught up in nativist rantings and fearmongering, stalling the needed debate as quickly as the doomed bill.

Bright Spot of the Week

Democracy Now's Amy Goodman Talks "Vulture Funds" with BBC Reporter

As with most anything dealing with the negative effects of global financial institutions, trade agreements and neoliberal policies, the mainstream media has neglected a massively important story surrounding the aptly named "vulture funds." Riding the coat-tails of so-called "aid" promised by the G-8, “vulture funds” are companies which buy up third world debt at low prices (like your average collection agency) and then sue those countries for the full value and more. Democracy Now's Amy Goodman has been one of the few reporters to cover this important story, but can do so only through European journalists like the BBC's Greg Palast. Palast exposed the case of one vulture fund, Donegal International owned by US resident Michael Sheehan, which was forcing collection of $40 million from the African country Zambia after buying one of its debts for $4 million. The story was so explosive that when it reached the ears of Congressman John Conyers, Chairman of the US House Judiciary, and Don Payne, head of the Africa Committee, who were listening to Democracy Now on the way to a White House meeting, they immediately pressed the matter with the President. Such incidents beg the question, would our politicians perform better if they were at least better informed by our news media?

For full story:

Democracy Now's Amy Goodman Talks "Vulture Funds" with BBC Reporter


Friday, June 15, 2007

So Now...It's the Iraqis' Fault ?

It's the Iraqis Fault! That's been the talking point now on both the Democratic and Republican side of the aisle, wrapped up in nice terms like "benchmarks." Vice President Dick Cheney flies off to Iraq to wag his finger scoldingly at the semi-puppet regime in Baghdad. "We've given the Iraqis freedom and what do they do with it?" asks Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA). House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) says we have to "hold the Iraqis accountable." The way the story is spun, Iraq was done a tremendous favor by America's illegal invasion to depose Saddam Hussein (one must assume there was also a favor back in the 1980s when the U.S. actively supported Saddam Hussein), and now the ungrateful wretches are bickering amongst themselves and biting the hands of their generous benefactors with a relentless insurgency. The White Man's Burden ain't been heavier...

I touched on this blame shifting tactic in a previous article:

A few words on benchmarks. This has become the darling term of both Democrats and Republicans—certain achievements placed on the Iraqi government threatening them with an American withdrawal if these goals are not met. Now the Iraqis are the ones who are blamed for the mess in Iraq. They are told to reconcile their differences peacefully, while the U.S. and its so-called “coalition” drop laser-guided bombs and “whiskey pete” to solve their differences. The Iraqis are told to get their government in order and include the Sunnis—when it was the U.S., under its gubernator overlord Paul Bremer, who instituted the inane Baathist purge. The Iraqis have to take back their country from insurgents, when it was the U.S. President who bravely declared from several thousand miles away "bring 'em on," and decided to use their country as a battle ground--"fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here." The Iraqis have to train their new army, when it was the U.S. that disbanded the old one—allowing them to take their guns with them. The Iraqis now have to sign away their oil in imbalanced policies to pay for the rebuilding of their country—the one the U.S. destroyed. The emerging “civil war” that now flares up around the country is the fault of the “ungrateful” Iraqis, and somehow those that unleashed those horrendous forces get to escape responsibility and point out that at least they got rid of their one-time ally Saddam Hussein.

Near 3000 Iraqis die a month. Perhaps over 600,000 have died since the war began. Their country is shattered. Their various ethnic groups have been set against each other. Car-bombings—non-existent before—are now everyday occurrences there. And they remain an occupied state in the midst of an endless war zone. Yet they, who are bearing the brunt of the U.S.’s misguided necon policies, are the ones who are being told to "take some responsibility." There’s something inherently wrongheaded about that entire line of thinking. Basically, after an illegal invasion that broke their country and set it into chaos, the United States is now saying—“hey get your act together or we won’t do you any MORE favors!”

Sorry Iraqis, take it from those of us in the know, America ain't big on owning up to its responsibilities much less implementing "reparations." Expect to be left holding the bag while we engage in bouts of selective amnesia into the role we played in bringing the present into being.

Well, it's good to know I wasn't the only one who thought this entire line of reasoning was off-kilter. But I had to go all the way to France to find out--or rather the good people at went to France for me.

From Now on, According to Americans, Everything "Is the Iraqis' Fault"

By Guillemette Faure
Rue 89

Wednesday 06 June 2007

"The Iraqis did not seize the opportunity they were presented." That's what Hillary Clinton said Sunday night during the Democratic debate. She explained that the American troops had fulfilled their mission. "They've overthrown Saddam and given them elections." And look what the Iraqis did with that ...

This is not the first time that Hillary has made the Iraqis responsible for the debacle in Iraq. Last summer at a conference at the Council of Foreign Relations, she accused the Iraqi government of "holding American credibility hostage." According to her, it was time to explain that, "American forces would not always be there to accommodate their refusal."

Has Hillary got chutzpah? She's not alone. To be able to justify a withdrawal without having to acknowledge an American defeat, Democrats and Republicans are now in agreement to blame the Iraqis. This way, the Republicans emphasize that it's not their policy that's in question; the Democrats avoid bearing the bad news of an American defeat and looking like a party of losers by demanding a departure from Iraq. And for Democrats who - like Senator Clinton - voted in favor of the war, the maneuver allows them not to have to reconsider their vote.

The tendency can be observed across the complete political spectrum from President Bush, who first mentioned that "[his] patience has limits" to Barbara Boxer, the very progressive senator from California who declared in November: "We've given the Iraqis freedom and what do they do with it? They kill each other ..." This type of discourse describes the Iraqis as adapting rather well to the present situation, as when Donald Rumsfeld wrote in a memo to the president before his resignation that a slight American military disengagement would push the Iraqis "to pull their socks up."

In the Senate, when Congress tried to obtain a schedule of withdrawal from Iraq, Democrat Carl Levin explained that it was, "time for Congress to explain to Iraqis that it's their country." A schedule of departure from Iraq would send "a good dose of reality to Iraqi leaders." So on what cloud are they living then, these Iraqis ...

Listen to the discourse of all the 2008 Democratic presidential candidates and you'll hear the same thing: we did what we could in Iraq, but the Iraqis are not good enough. "Enough coddling! Enough vacillating!" even expostulated Barack Obama last year.

It was even, indirectly, the exit strategy proposed by the nonetheless celebrated Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group: to condition American aid on goals the Iraqi government is supposed to reach, which, assuming that the goals would be unattainable, would then allow the Americans to leave with their heads held high. A strategy Zbigniew Bzrezinski has summarized as "blame and leave."

Democrats and Republicans should have read what well-known military analyst Anthony Cordesman explained as early as last November to Time magazine as he felt this tendency rising: "When someone lets an elephant loose in a china shop, you don't blame the china shop for the broken dishes."


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

President Lieberman ?

Joe Lieberman. From supporting the Iraq War, to restricting abortion rights to helping block legislation calling for a vote of no-confidence for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the Senator's name is one now hissed in progressive circles with the venom usually reserved for the likes of George Bush or Dick Cheney. Yet it was only 7 years ago that he was hailed as the last line of defense against those same GOP candidates. Who would have thought that the former running mate of Al Gore in 2000 would today become the walking incarnation of neoconservatism--dressed up in Democrat drag. Robert Scheer at The Nation ponders "President Lieberman" and "provides a cautionary tale for folks who talk of backing 'any Democrat' who can win."

President Lieberman: A Cautionary Tale

Robert Scheer

June 13, 2007

What if Al Gore had won the 2000 presidential election but died in office? Would President Joe Lieberman have been worse than George W. Bush? His recent actions suggest that he could have descended even lower in his illogical and immoral responses to the tragedy of 9/11. Although now an independent, Lieberman provides a cautionary tale for folks who talk of backing "any Democrat" who can win.

At a time when even President Bush has recognized the need for negotiations with Iran in order to stabilize Iraq, where disciples of Tehran's ayatollahs have risen to power, thanks to the US occupation he fervently supports, Lieberman urges war with Iran. "I think we've got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq," he told CBS on Sunday, "and to me, that would include a strike over the border into Iran."

He never learns. This is the joker who bought the Ahmad Chalabi line that invading Iraq would result in a pro-West and pro-Israel democracy with Chalabi (who later failed to get 1 percent of the vote) playing Iraq's George Washington. For five years before 9/11, Lieberman pushed funding for Chalabi's exile organization to lead the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Lieberman was also a principal author of the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, which threw $100 million in Chalabi's direction.

Even as late as June 2004, when Chalabi was exposed by the United States as a spy for Iran, Lieberman continued to profess admiration for the architect of a policy that replaced the secular despot of Iraq with Shiite fundamentalists trained in Iran. "I met Dr. Chalabi and others of the Iraqi National Congress," he said in a speech defending Chalabi after US intelligence uncovered his contacts with Iranian spies. "It's fair to say I found them to be patriotic Iraqis. Their counsel to us was important."

In fact, Chalabi's "counsel" concerning Iraq's WMD program and ties to Al Qaeda turned out to be totally fraudulent and as embarrassing to the United States as it was convenient to Iran's plans to overthrow Hussein. Lieberman's statement in support of Chalabi came two months after the National Security Agency reported that Chalabi informed Iranian agents that the United States had broken Tehran's encryption code. At the time of the revelation, Chalabi traveled freely within Iran, where he maintained a residence. Despite Lieberman's warm endorsement of Chalabi, "a person of strength, principle and real commitment," the Bush Administration ended his monthly $340,000 stipend.

Having fallen for the Iranian plot to gain control over Iraq, Lieberman now seeks to undo the damage by invading Iran. He is apparently unaware of public warnings that key Shiite leaders in Iraq would take up arms again in support of their co-religionists across the border. Indeed, the Iranian arms being smuggled into Iraq that Lieberman complains about are going to the Shiite militias dominating America's surrogate government in Baghdad.

Bush seems to grasp this reality, which is why the United States is now negotiating with the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad, leaving Lieberman to play the role of a hawkish critic of an Administration he apparently feels has lost its enthusiasm for yet another disastrous invasion. This is a man whom leading Democrats, including Bill Clinton, supported in his primary campaign against an intelligent Democrat who sought to end the Iraq nightmare.

But, as those "any Democrat is better" apologists will likely argue, Lieberman, as President, would have conducted the occupation in a more measured manner, sensitive to civil liberties and other enlightened concerns. That conceit was also smashed on Monday, when Lieberman voted against holding Attorney General Alberto Gonzales accountable for sabotaging the federal judiciary. At a time when Arlen Specter and six other Republicans voted to advance a no-confidence vote, Lieberman supported the attorney general, who may well be remembered most for his consistent support of torture.

No surprise there, given Lieberman's previous apologies for this Administration's assault on the rule of law. Indeed, even after the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib, Lieberman was able to find a bright spot, noting that "those who were responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001, never apologized."

Great. So we are now to be comforted by exceeding the standard set by Osama bin Laden. Lieberman also failed to acknowledge in his statement that the perpetrators of 9/11 had nothing whatsoever to do with Iraq before the invasion. The same can be said for Iran--but that does not quiet Lieberman's cry for wider war.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Media News Roundup- Sunday May 27th to Sat June 2nd

Keeping an eye on the failing Fourth Estate and looking for some TRUTH in journalism.

Media notes AIDS pledge at G8 but not massive cut of important medicare to those infected. Five stories of actual importance buried by the media's shameful Paris Hilton-mania. Bright spot of the week: Sam Seder show, taking cue from Media Matters report, shows what diversity in news media can look like.

Media Reports G8 AIDS Pledge; Misses Important Cut to Medicare of Infected

As noted by Democracy Now on June 7, while there was much publicizing of the G8 AIDS pledge, little coverage was given to deep medicare cuts for HIV/AIDS patients promised just two years prior. The Financial Times reported that under pressure from the U.S., the G8 has backtracked on a two-year old pledge to fund universal access to medical care AIDS sufferers. In 2005 at Gleneagles the leaders of the summit had agreed to reach ten million AIDS patients. However internal documents now show the G8 has proposed to cut that number by half--to five million. The lowered goal was introduced by U.S. negotiators, just one week after President Bush cited AIDS funding as a major priority. A senior G8 official called the proposal “a huge backward step.”

5 News Stories Buried by the U.S. Media's Shameful Paris Hilton-mania.

In a week that highlighted the shameless trend of the U.S. corporate news media to cover celebrity gossip in a chase for profits rather than conducting investigative journalism, several news stories of profound impact were woefully underreported or missed completely:

(1) Retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who commanded U.S. forces during the first year of the Iraq war, this week derided the idea of a military "victory" and stated that the best outcome America can hope for is to "stave off defeat."

(2) Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for lying to a grand jury and the FBI during the investigation into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson who challenged the White House on claims of Saddam Hussein-WMD ties to Niger during the lead up to the Iraq War.

(3) The Senate Judiciary Committee passed an important bill to restore habeas corpus, the fundamental right to challenge government detention in court. Last year Constitutional rights activists were stunned when the Military Commissions Act, passed by a GOP led Congress, revoked habeas corpus—an act that was widely criticized as unconstitutional and un-American.

(4) In back-to-back rulings, military judges threw out all charges against Canadian Omar Khadr and Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni national, who are detainees at the now infamous Guantánamo Bay prison. Khadr has been held there since he was 15; Hamdan has been fingered as the alleged chauffeur of Osama bin Laden. In a move that highlights weaknesses in the Bush administration’s unlawful definition of “enemy combatants,” the judges claimed the cases could not go on because the U.S. government had failed to “establish jurisdiction.”

(5) Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey told the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in written remarks this past Wednesday, that Vice President Dick Cheney blocked the promotion of a top Justice Department lawyer after the official called into question the legality of the White House's secret domestic spying program. Relatedly, this was the fourth week in which the wire-tapping hospital drama involving Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, White House Chief-of-staff Andrew Card and a gravely ill John Ashcroft went underreported in the mainstream press. As cited previously in this forum, James Comey's May 15 congressional testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on the matter was like a bizarre tale out of an Oliver Stone film.

Bright Spot of the Week

Sam Seder Show’s Diverse Political Roundtable

A recent report by Media Matters highlighted the manner in which women and people of color are all but shut out of most political news discussions. So it was a breath of fresh air this past weekend to hear the political roundtable on the Sam Seder Show on Air America Radio. Featured were not only media critics like Glenn Greenwald and a voice for women through FireDogLake blogger Christy Hardin Smith, but also Ron Daniels the Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and President for the Institute on the Black World 21st Century. Daniels was not simply invited on to discuss pertinent "African-American" specific issues, but was given the rare opportunity to voice his thoughts on political topics as diverse as the Iraq War, American foreign policy and more. Kudos to Sam Seder for recognizing that people of color have opinions on large topics that are not always bound to topics of race, something of which most mainstream media Sunday shows seem wholly unaware.


Friday, June 8, 2007

Attack of the Clones: Blackwater, Emergency Powers & the Endangered Republic

We go through episodes too, like Attack of the Clones.--Talib Kweli, "Get By"

In Star Wars lore, the Galactic Republic--in order to put down an insurgent rebellion--engineered a private guard of clone soldiers. Hailed as the protectors and saviors of the Republic, it was unknown that in fact they had truly been created by the Sith--as part of a complex plot to one day take power--and that the insurgency was more fabrication than reality. With the declaration of a grave emergency--the supposed "treason of the Jedi"--this clone army came under the sway of a Chancellor with thinly veiled aspirations of supreme power. In short time the Galactic Republic became an Empire, and the Chancellor its sole leader, with a vast private army answerable only to himself. Thankfully, we haven't gotten the science of cloning down past Dolly the sheep. And Sith Lords are mere fable. However, what the Star Wars mythology does warn, is that when you allow leaders with notions of unlimited power and religious messianic fervor to amass private armies wedded to similar notions, you might be asking for trouble--as a series of recent articles on the private firm Blackwater and White House directives reveal.

Earlier this year investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill released his book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, shedding insight into the private military outfit that has now become a staple and beneficiary of the Bush presidency. In an article titled Bush’s Shadow Army in March, Scahill detailed the origins and extensive nature of the organization:

Blackwater was founded in 1996 by conservative Christian multimillionaire and ex-Navy SEAL Erik Prince--the scion of a wealthy Michigan family whose generous political donations helped fuel the rise of the religious right and the Republican revolution of 1994. At its founding, the company largely consisted of Prince's private fortune and a vast 5,000-acre plot of land located near the Great Dismal Swamp in Moyock, North Carolina....Blackwater currently has 2,300 personnel deployed in nine countries, with 20,000 other contractors at the ready. It has a fleet of more than twenty aircraft, including helicopter gunships and a private intelligence division, and it is manufacturing surveillance blimps and target systems.
With the Iraq War, Blackwater became a darling of the Bush Administration and has been making a literal "killing"--receiving lucrative federal contracts. As its founder and CEO Erik Prince told FOX News, "The phone is ringing off the hook now."

Scahill notes:

Its [Blackwater] largest obtainable government contract is with the State Department, for providing security to US diplomats and facilities in Iraq. That contract began in 2003 with the company's $21 million no-bid deal to protect Iraq proconsul Paul Bremer. Blackwater has guarded the two subsequent US ambassadors, John Negroponte and Zalmay Khalilzad, as well as other diplomats and occupation offices. Its forces have protected more than ninety Congressional delegations in Iraq, including that of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. According to the latest government contract records, since June 2004 Blackwater has been awarded $750 million in State Department contracts alone. It is currently engaged in an intensive lobbying campaign to be sent into Darfur as a privatized peacekeeping force. Last October President Bush lifted some sanctions on Christian southern Sudan, paving the way for a potential Blackwater training mission there. In January the Washington, DC, representative for southern Sudan's regional government said he expected Blackwater to begin training the south's security forces soon.
The accountability of these mercenaries, who are authorized to use deadly force, is non-existent. Twice in the past week, they have been involved in shooting incidents in Baghdad which have sparked anger among Iraqis. In 2004 the death of four Blackwater mercenaries in Fallujah caused a U.S. reprisal which killed hundreds of Iraqis and caused over a 100,000 to flee the city, which was left in ruins--an act that many today cite as a key spark of the insurgency. More disturbing is that Blackwater recruits not only from the U.S., but from the more notorious secret police/paramilitary employment pool in places like Chile--where many once worked under the American installed/backed right-wing dictator Augustus Pinochet. Erik Kongshaug highlights this practice in a May article for Random Lengths News:

The story of Chile's involvement with Blackwater begins in 2003, when Blackwater's neo-con founder, Erik Prince, a former U.S. Navy Seal, was discovered by his Chilean parallel: Jose Miguel Pizarro Ovalle, an avid supporter of then-ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet and an ex-Chilean special forces, himself, of dual U.S.-Chilean citizenship....As a subcontractor for Blackwater, Pizarro began recruiting from the Chilean military and federal police....Pizarro had provided, by his own admission, some 750 Chilean forces to Blackwater and other private military firms operating in Iraq.
Besides Chile, one of the largest other pools of recruitment for Blackwater is none other than South Africa. Bill Berkowitz in his article Mercenaries 'R' Us points out "there are more than 1,500 South Africans in Iraq today, most of whom are former members of the South African Defense Force and South African Police"--that's the pro-white apartheid South African Defense Force and South African Police, in case you might have missed the significance.

As if this shadowy nexus of foreign policy, white supremacy, private armies and modern "gurkhas" wasn't bad enough, there is the fearful prospect of what could happen if any leader--as was done with the Clone Army of the Galactic Republic--decided to turn their hired guards loose on a domestic populace. Seems far-fetched of course, but it's not as if we don't have the mechanisms to take such speculation into reality.

This past May, in a story that was somehow missed by most of the main stream press, the Bush White House released a directive detailing plans for dealing with a "catastrophic emergency" titled "National Security Presidential Directive/NSPD 51" and "Homeland Security Presidential Directive/HSPD-20." Within, "catastrophic emergency" is defined as "any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government function." This vague definition can fit just about anything--a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, an environmental accident, a computer virus attack, a disease outbreak or otherwise. During this time the document claims that "the continued function of our form of government under the Constitution, including the functioning of the three separate branches of government," will remain. However, it also states "The President shall lead the activities of the Federal Government for ensuring constitutional government," and goes further to say that any such functioning government would be "coordinated by the President, as a matter of comity with respect to the legislative and judicial branches and with proper respect for the constitutional separation of powers." If you're not familiar with the term "comity"--it simply means "courtesy;" this means the President would decide the proper role for the other two branches of government, as he feels would be necessary or proper.

In an article this June titled The Unitary King George, president of the National Lawyers Guild Marjorie Cohen states:

This Presidential Directive is a blatant power grab by Bush to institutionalize "the unitary executive." A seemingly innocuous phrase, the unitary executive theory actually represents a radical, ultra right-wing interpretation of the powers of the presidency. Championed by the conservative Federalist Society, the unitary executive doctrine gathers all power in the hands of the President and insulates him from any oversight by the congressional or judicial branches. In a November 2000 speech to the Federalist Society, then Judge Samuel Alito said the Constitution "makes the president the head of the executive branch, but it does more than that. The president has not just some executive powers, but the executive power -- the whole thing."
Now I'm no conspiracy theorist and neither are any of the people I quote above. Yet is it so hard to imagine a situation where such a directive granting George Bush the Younger emergency power as a "unitary executive" could easily place thousands of Blackwater mercenaries on the streets of U.S. cities? All one would need is the excuse that the present national guard are off fighting for our "freedoms" elsewhere. No? Can't picture it? Well although the emergency power granting directive hasn't been used by this president (yet), the private army of Blackwater has occupied a U.S. city already once before.

As Scahill documents:

In 2005 after Hurricane Katrina its forces deployed in New Orleans, where it billed the federal government $950 per man, per day--at one point raking in more than $240,000 a day. At its peak the company had about 600 contractors deployed from Texas to Mississippi. Since Katrina, it has aggressively pursued domestic contracting, opening a new domestic operations division. Blackwater is marketing its products and services to the Department of Homeland Security, and its representatives have met with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The company has applied for operating licenses in all US coastal states. Blackwater is also expanding its physical presence inside US borders, opening facilities in Illinois and California.
In the case of New Orleans, the disaster was Katrina, or more accurately the horror of the floods and incompetent neglectful relief effort that left tens of thousands of American citizens to face unimaginable conditions. Added to this was an American news media who helped spread wild rumors of "black gangbangers" and "rapists" let loose in a type of dystopian Mad Max meets Birth of a Nation scenario. Today much of these rumors have been proven to be either grossly exaggerated or outright discredited. But at the time, it provided the rationale for sending in private mercenaries like Blackwater. Images of these private soldiers, toting M-16s throughout the devastated city, escaped much of the national news media attention, but was seen around the world as chilling comparisons to Iraq.

Scahill notes:

...the appearance of Blackwater fighters, heavily armed and wearing their trademark black uniforms, patrolling the streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, may be a grim taste of the future.
Before I'm accused of being an alarmist, naturally I realize we haven't reached that future--not yet. However neither should we lull ourselves into the belief that it is out of the realm of possibility. There is nothing in the policies of the Bush Administration that has told us otherwise. In fact, all that we have seen should warn us to err on the side of caution. This is a presidency that blatantly attempts to greatly expand not only the power of the executive, but the authority of government to spy on its citizens even before 9/11. This is an administration that hijacked an emergency like 9/11 to pass the troubling Patriot Act and then create a false set of threats to start a disastrous war in Iraq. This is the administration that makes bedfellows not only with the notorious Federalist Society, but pulls key members from the neo-conservative Project for a New American Century which advocates the creation of an imperial global-spanning "Pax-Americana." This is an administration that manipulates fear, announcing incredulous "terror plots" and "terror warnings" to push policy or deflect responsibility. This is a government that sanctions torture, refuses to close Gulag-like facilities such as Guantanamo and has secret prisons around the world, where people are "disappeared" to without warning or legal recourse. And now it finds itself allied with a private mercenary firm, run by a religious Dominionist who--like the Sith Lords of Star Wars lore--has his own rigidly religious beliefs that guide his politics.

Taken all together, to paraphrase a saying, "either you're very concerned--even afraid--or you haven't been paying attention."

The world of a Clone Army and Galactic Republic twisted to empire are the works of fantasy. But it is not without historical inspiration. As award winning journalist Chris Hedges reminds us in What If Our Mercenaries Turn on Us?:

The privatization of war hands an incentive to American corporations, many with tremendous political clout, to keep us mired down in Iraq. But even more disturbing is the steady rise of this modern Praetorian Guard. The Praetorian Guard in ancient Rome was a paramilitary force that defied legal constraints, made violence part of the political discourse, and eventually plunged the Roman Republic into tyranny and despotism. Despotic movements need paramilitary forces that operate outside the law, forces that sow fear among potential opponents, and are capable of physically silencing those branded by their leaders as traitors. And in the wrong hands, a Blackwater could well become that force.
Hedges warns further:

If the United States falls into a period of instability caused by another catastrophic terrorist attack, an economic meltdown that triggers social unrest, or a series of environmental disasters, such paramilitary forces, protected and assisted by fellow ideologues in the police and military, could ruthlessly abolish what is left of our eroding democracy. War, with the huge profits it hands to corporations, and to right-wing interests such as the Christian Right, could become a permanent condition.
Of course we would be remiss if we indulged in amnesiac recollections of the American past, as if this threat to domestic freedom was somehow new. The Republic was born and nurtured in imperfection--where slavery was legal, women were guaranteed little rights and the poor were to remain in their class. The Republic has flexed its Imperial muscles before--sailing warships to force Japan into trade; dethroning indigenous royals in Hawaii; engaging in massacres in the Philippines; initiating a war of aggression with Mexico; establishing the Monroe Doctrine proclaiming its dominance over the hemisphere and more. The notion that the U.S. never practiced colonialism only works if we pretend this continent was not filled with varied indigenous peoples that were conquered, oppressed or outright exterminated in the name of Manifest Destiny. As Founding Father Thomas Jefferson would prophecy of the tragic fate of Native Americans, "In war they will kill some of us; we shall destroy all of them." This is the Republic that gave us the capitalism worshipping Gilded Age, where scientific racism was normalized, black oppression was codified into law, Japanese-Americans were placed into internment camps and Red Scares dominated public life. This is the Republic that helped initiate wars in Southeast Asia that would kill millions, topple democratically elected governments from the Congo to Iran, prop up dictators like Saddam Hussein, and push a mix of neoliberal economic policies and neoconservative ideologies that have threatened the lives and well being of most of the world's inhabitants. No leader or party of the Republic is without the taint of pretensions to Empire that "American Exceptionalism" breeds.

Yet, as Howard Zinn reminds us, the Republic has also been people and voices struggling against those powerful and destructive forces towards a better ideal. The many accomplishments the Republic often now boasts about--ending slavery, granting women some semblance of equality, human rights, civil rights, labor rights, freedom of speech, social safety nets, liberties and more--would not exist at all if not for those voices who challenged the would-be Empire builders, and reined them in.

Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel It Can't Happen Here envisioned an America that had come under the sway of a fascism, where the would-be Empire builders had won. It was a work of both satire, and warning, as Lewis watched the happenings in Europe and similar themes erupting throughout the U.S. This year Salon columnist Joe Conason released his own take on Lewis's work, and our current society titled It Can Happen Here: Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush. Private mercenary firms like Blackwater are only one part of that peril. But perhaps if signing statements, secret directives, debates on torture and such aren't enough to compete with Paris Hilton's brief jail stint or the latest 50 Cent beef for our collective attention, then maybe the spectre of jack-booted thugs toting automatic weapons, garbed in black uniforms and sporting wraparound sunglasses standing guard at the corner Starbucks or bodega might jolt us into reality--or realities that may yet come.


Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Juan Cole Talks "Heroes" & American Politics

Nothing goes better together than sci fi and politics. Whether it's the philosophical dystopian Matrix Trilogy, or Marvel's foray into bigotry through the X-Men. So it was a treat to see one of my favorite analysts of Mid East affairs Juan Cole, who blogs at Informed Comment, talk politics about NBC's hit series "Heroes." Looking at the obvious inspirations of the show, namely the obsession with security in post-9/11 America, Cole points out how the worldview of "Heroes" clashes with the Bush White House's "1 percent doctrine" on terrorism.

Heroes- Dick Cheney's least favorite TV show?

Why the worldview of "Heroes" clashes with the vice president's "1 percent doctrine" on terrorism.

By Juan Cole

May. 30, 2007 NBC's hit series "Heroes" was the most-watched new show on network television this year despite its demanding plot lines and stretches of subtitled Japanese. Its season finale, which aired May 21, dominated the 9 p.m. time slot. What explains the show's popularity, especially with younger viewers? I think it is that, like the Fox thriller "24," "Heroes" is a response to Sept. 11 and the rise of international terrorism. But while "24" skews to the right politically, "Heroes" seems like a left-wing response to those events. In fact, it functions as a thoughtful critique of Vice President Dick Cheney's doctrine on counterterrorism.

In Bush and Cheney's "war on terror," the evildoers are external and are clearly discernible. In "Heroes," each person agonizes over the evil within, a point of view more common on the political left than on the right. Each of the flawed characters is capable of both nobility and iniquity. In Bush's vision, the main threat remains rival states (Saddam's Iraq, Ahmadinejad's Iran). States are absent from "Heroes," as though irrelevant. "Heroes" makes terrorism a universal and psychological issue rather than one attached to a clash of civilizations or to a particular race.

In its commentary on terror, "Heroes" thus avoids the caffeinated Islamophobia of "24." And at a time when "24," a favorite of older Republicans, is fading in the ratings, "Heroes" may also be a better guide to where the thinking of the young, post-Bush generation is heading when it comes to terror. It's certainly where their eyes are going. NBC's "Heroes" runs opposite Fox's "24" on Monday nights and snags a higher total of younger viewers, while the median age of "24" viewers keeps rising. As "Heroes" star Adrian Pasdar, who plays politician Nathan Petrelli, explained in an interview before this season's finale, "On Monday nights we own the demographics." He was referring to winning the ratings battle among the all-important 18-49 age group that advertisers love.

"Heroes" posits a world in which a small number of persons have been born with extraordinary powers drawn from the standard science fiction repertory. The powers include levitating objects, mind reading, flying, miraculous healing, bursting into flames and, as with the painter Isaac Mendez (Santiago Cabrera), prophesying the future. The plot that drives the first season has to do with a prophetic painting by Mendez that shows New York City being blown up. The bomb is not mechanical but is a human being, a mutant, who cannot control his powers and will ultimately explode in the midst of the city if not stopped. For much of the season the mutants do not know exactly who will explode or when, but they know it will happen unless they prevent it.

For full article:

Heroes- Dick Cheney's Least Favorite TV show?