Archive for the ‘NEW YORK TIMES’ Tag

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: HOW AMERICA SCREWS UP THE WORLD WITHOUT EVER LETTING ITS OWN PEOPLE KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING   2 comments

 

HOW AMERICA SCREWS UP THE WORLD WITHOUT EVER LETTING ITS OWN PEOPLE KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING

John Chuckman

 

Brian Williams, American television network anchor caught telling his audience a fantasy version of his experience on a foreign assignment, has unintentionally provided us with a near perfect allegory and tale of caution about American journalism and the role it plays in politics and foreign affairs.

I am not referring to the fact that a number of prominent Americans have done exactly the same thing Williams did making false public claims of risky deeds, this Münchausen-like condition being surprisingly common among American politicians. Hillary Clinton, in her 2008 nomination campaign, claimed she came under fire in Tuzla, Boznia in 1996, when her plane landed. Actual video of the harrowing event showed her being greeted peacefully by a young child with a welcoming poem. John Kerry, in his quick four-month “grab some glory for a future political career” stint in Vietnam made exaggerated claims of risk and bravery and certainly decency when indeed most of his activities involved shooting at peasant farmers working their fields from his heavily-armed patrol boat on a river, ferrying the odd cutthroat assassin for the CIA’s ghastly Operation Phoenix project, and killing a man, likely Viet Cong, who was lying on the ground badly wounded by the boat’s heavy machine gun fire. Rich men’s sons do get medals for rather hard to understand achievements.

The awful truth is, given the state of American journalism, stunts like that of Williams, despite their symbolism, are virtually without concrete importance. American network anchors like Williams are expected to have good looks, good voices, and sincere, home-townish demeanors while reading scripts. Beyond that, they have almost no connection with what most people understand as journalism. There is the odd effort by large American networks to make their handsome talking heads seem to be at the center of events, the most hilarious of which in my memory was CBS’s Dan Rather garbed in Afghan-style robes crawling around on the ground somewhere pretending to be secretly reporting something or other about Afghanistan, his soundman, lighting technician, cameraman, and make-up artist never making an appearance. Such absurdities lend theatrical flair to American news and probably help frustrated journalists stuck with million-dollar, talking-head jobs feel slightly useful, and you might say they are therapeutic, but they have nothing whatever to do with journalism.

Journalism, as it is taught in schools, is about discovering, or at least suggesting, through a series of well-defined techniques what is actually happening in events of interest and reporting the findings in a non-biased, almost scientific, way, but, remarkably, this is something which virtually never happens in American journalism. Truthfulness and journalistic principles simply have no place in the intensely politically-charged atmosphere of America where no event and no utterance is without political dimensions. Actually, this has been the case for a very long time, but it just hasn’t always been so starkly clear as it is now. The same Dan Rather mentioned above, rising star reporter back in 1963, shortly after the Kennedy assassination, told an audience of millions he had seen the legendary Zapruder film – an amateur 8mm film taken by a man named Zapruder which unintentionally recorded Kennedy’s death. Rather, in almost halting words and with eyes often turned downward suggesting the immensity of what he claimed to have seen, described to millions how the film showed Kennedy slumping forward after being hit in the back by a shot from the “sniper’s nest” with Governor John Connally then hit while turned around towards the President, coat open, widely exposing his white-shirted breast, and with a third shot causing the President “to move violently forward” as his head explodes. Except for the count of three shots striking the car’s occupants, Rather’s description was close to a complete fabrication, but the public didn’t know that until 1975, twelve years later, when the film was first broadcast. (There was actually at least one more on-target, non-lethal shot plus a missed shot hitting a street curb, but even Rather’s three shots, given before security officials had sorted out their story line, was ignored by the feebly-dishonest Warren Commission when it later told us there were only two shots plus a miss.) Even in the film’s almost-certainly doctored state – after all, it had been purchased immediately after the assassination, and held for years, by Life Magazine, a known cooperating resource for the CIA in its day – the film shows Kennedy in distress from a neck wound as he emerges from behind an expressway sign, almost certainly having been shot from the front owing to his body position and the motions of his hands. Connally does turn but his coat is not open exposing his shirt front, and, judging by the time interval involved, is hit by a separate bullet (something he himself maintained in all testimony). The film then shows Kennedy hurled backward as his head explodes, absolute proof by the laws of physics of a shot from the front.

American major news broadcasts and newspapers all have become hybrids of infotainment, leak-planting, suggestion-planting, disinformation, and other manipulative operations. Many of them, such as The New York Times or NBC, maintain a seemingly unassailable appearance of authority and majesty, but it is entirely a show much like a grand march being played as a Louis XIV sauntered into a room, at least when it comes to any important issue in foreign affairs and even most controversial matters in domestic affairs, as with the Kennedy assassination or a thousand other examples from election fraud to corporate bribery. Massive corporate media consolidation (six massive corporations supply virtually all the news Americans receive), the dropping of most foreign correspondent and investigative journalism efforts owing to high costs, the constant and ready compliance of the few remaining owners of news media to adhere to the government line no matter how far-fetched, plus America’s now non-stop interference into the affairs of other people, have made American television and newspapers into a kind of Bryan Williams Media Wonderland where no reported item of consequence can be accepted at face value.

The owners of America’s news media have every reason to comply with government wishes. Failure to do so would immediately cut them off from access to government officials and from the kind of juicy leaks that make journalists here and there look like they are doing their jobs. It would also be costly in the advertising department where the sale of expensive ads to other huge corporations is what pays the bills.  And it would simply not be in keeping with the interests of the very people who own massive corporate news outlets. After all, it was an American, A. J. Leibling, who told us with precise accuracy, “Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one.”

Americans, the broad mass of them, simply do not know what is happening in Ukraine or in Syria or in Palestine or in a score of other places under assault by America’s establishment, its de facto, ongoing, non-elected government. Those place names are mentioned of course, and regularly, and various interviews are conducted, and maps and charts are shown, but the careful listener or reader will see that none of what is offered is genuinely informative, all of it serving to build one pre-determined idea of events, many of the words resembling the kind of one-liners politicians repeat over and over in America’s literally content-free political campaigns. We see many bits and pieces of seeming information, but they are all just pieces taken from the same jig-saw puzzle, capable only of being assembled in one way.

Americans also have very little idea of the nature of the men who are the actors in these various places, America’s press and networks virtually never granting or soliciting the insights of foreign leaders and representatives not already toeing the American line. Thoughtful foreign leaders generally are only seen through brief images and highly-colored descriptions.

Americans also are rarely informed of the consequences of their government’s acts, informed in hard facts and numbers such as the number of deaths and injuries and the extent of destruction. America’s press has covered up countless facts such as the number of Iraqis killed in the First Gulf War, the number of Iraqi children who perished under an American embargo so feverishly championed by Madeline Albright, or the number of Iraqis killed and crippled by the George Bush’s “I’ll go one better than Pappy” invasion. They never saw pictures of women and children torn up by cluster bombs unless they deliberately searched them out on the Internet. When Americans are given numbers, such as deaths and refugees, as in the American-induced Syrian conflict, it is only because the numbers are said to be the Syrian government’s responsibility, with no reference to the gangs of foreign mercenaries and thugs paid and armed by America or its associates in the region.

For Ukraine, any numbers and facts Americans receive are shaped to fit the construct of an aggrandizing Russia, led by a new Czar intent on upsetting the balance of Europe, opposing a now free and democratic government in Kiev. You can almost imagine the smiles and snickers of the good old boys gathered in planning meetings at Langley a few years ago when they realized how their scheme could both give them Ukraine and discredit Putin, the only reasonable actor in the whole dirty business. No images of Ukrainian militias and thugs displaying swastikas and other neo-Nazi symbols, no discussion of repressive measures taken by the new crowd at Kiev against Russian-speakers, no discussion of a country starting a war on its own people who stood up for their rights, and no discussion of an incompetent Ukrainian military shooting down a plane-load of civilians.

I don’t know whether Brian Williams just became so comfortable over his years of work broadcasting fantasies that he grew easy about adding a personal tall tale or whether he may suffer from some unfortunate disability, but his ridiculous affair does provide us reason to focus on contemporary American journalism’s real function, which is anything but journalism. I think it likely the reason corporate news executives were in a flap over the affair, having handed Williams a 6-month suspension, is not scrupulous concern for truth – there simply is no such thing in such organizations – but fear of having one of the chief presenters of so many other misrepresentations made a laughing-stock.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: THE SICKLY SMELL OF LIES AND DEATH   Leave a comment

THE SICKLY SMELL OF LIES AND DEATH

John Chuckman

Only the other day, Benjamin Netanyahu earned a small note of immortality when he said the peace talks were ended by the new arrangements between the Palestine Authority and Hamas: Netanyahu’s announcement bundled a record number of lies into one mouthful of words.  There, of course, never was anything properly called peace talks with Israel. There has been only a long series of closed-door personal, and security-scrambled telephonic, exchanges with America’s superbly ineffectual John Kerry, exchanges in which the Palestinians played virtually no role and in which Mr. Netanyahu had absolutely no interest, Netanyahu always setting an impossible set of conditions as prerequisites to anything happening precisely because he does not want anything to happen, while undoubtedly periodically raging with one of his mind-numbing harangues which are impossible to answer rationally for the simple reason they are not rational.

Netanyahu’s announcement is larded with layers of lies much like layers of rock in stratigraphic formations. Perhaps the chief of these being that Hamas – that democratically elected party led by middle-class professionals whose only concerns have been to obtain a fair deal for Palestinians and to provide clean government after the long-term corruption of Fatah – is a dreadful terrorist organization. Of course, you do have to say something along those lines to excuse your warring on civilians, blockading their needs (starting with a viciously-calculated minimal calorie allowance per person), cutting off services, piracy on the high seas, denying fishing rights, kidnapping and murdering politicians, and constant menaces. You wouldn’t do all that to people just trying to run a democratic, clean government, now would you? You might if you viewed the Palestinians in Gaza as a nightmare (a past Israeli prime minister’s actual word), as a source of constant fear, resembling fears in the Old South of revolt in the slave quarters some dark night, something which caused uneasy sleep for plantation families with pistols and knives tucked under their pillows.

Israel, despite the meaningless outpourings and rages of Netanyahu, is not looking for clean government and it certainly isn’t looking for democracy in any of its neighbors’ arrangements. Israel loved thirty years of corrupt and completely undemocratic government in Egypt, and it is Israel’s silent influence with the United States that has returned Egypt’s eighty million people, after one year of democratic government, to tyranny and openly corrupt arrangements. Israel also likes the absolute government of Saudi Arabia because it makes many secret deals with the Saudi princes, eager themselves to suppress democratic tendencies in the region. Saudi Arabia, with its Islamic fundamentalism, once was viewed as an implacable enemy of Israel, but the less-than-idealistic gritty interests of both states have nicely, quietly meshed in recent years with the fabulously wealthy aristocracy of Saudi Arabia viewing democracy and clean government through the same lens as the Middle East’s Crusader garrison state.

Israel is not even looking for peace, peace as any thoughtful, disinterested person in the world would define it. I believe Netanyahu has given new ferocity to an old strategy towards what every past leader of Israel regarded as the problem of the Palestinians, and that involves the goal either of making them so miserable that they will leave en masse or become so compliant they will agree to arrangements which assure their perpetual isolation, inferiority, and servitude. Either or any combination of those two outcomes is what Netanyahu understands as peace. I don’t see any other way of interpreting years of appallingly abusive behavior and law-breaking and injustice on a scale affecting millions. And there is no other way to interpret the American government’s tolerance for the abuse and law-breaking and injustice beyond its secretly sharing the same hopes as Israel’s malevolent leaders, being sick and tired of having to hear about and deal with a grotesque situation involving a few million people in a world where it tries to direct the destinies of billions.

Israel’s limited dealings with the Palestinian Authority – a kind of quasi-government formed out of the Oslo Accords of 1993 for the purpose of managing basic local services and negotiating with Israel – are themselves built on lies. The existing head of that quasi-government, Mahmoud Abbas, was last elected to serve as president until 2009, but with the connivance of the United States and Israel he regularly extends his term, never receiving the least recrimination for doing so, another demonstration of Israel’s love for democracy and clean government. His democratic credentials are further enhanced by the fact that he “governs” only in the West Bank – at least in those portions not yet seized by Israel – having been driven out of Gaza. Yet he is the only one of the Palestinians even admitted to symbolic membership in the “peace talks.” The reason for this is simple: up until very recently, Abbas has been a passive figure who offers Israel no open challenge to the huge injustices of the status quo, very much in contrast to the late Yasser Arafat, who is believed by many to have been assassinated by Israel after an extended period of abuse and threats including the shelling of his house and denying his even attending religious services. Netanyahu, by the way, is on record as having vigorously denounced as unworkable the now pretty much failed Oslo Accords, a case of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Analyzing “the peace talks,” discovering their rotten construction and the dishonest motives of those involved, yields unpleasant surprises much like those from stumbling accidentally upon a rotten timber and seeing a myriad of critters scrambling and flying off in all directions. John Kerry carries on his charade in the Middle East while at the same time lying about Russian news sources and threatening a red line for Russia to make it pay dearly for its “transgressions” in Ukraine. And there is still the hypocritical pretence about the induced horrors of Syria for which Mr. Kerry along with his boss bear direct responsibility.

Russia Today, the newspaper Kerry recently publicly criticized, can have nothing to its shame to compare with The New York Times which one day published images supposedly proving Russian soldiers were active in Eastern Ukraine and shortly after retracted when the lie was hurled in its face. The same New York Times, it was revealed, passes its reportage on Israel through Israeli censors before publication, providing a standard of journalistic integrity it would be hard to match. What Kerry and Company are actually upset about is Russia’s new, sophisticated use of the press and broadcasting. Gone are the not-believable voices of the Soviet era, words by apparatchiks featuring such colorful expressions as “running dogs.” Instead we find thoughtful reportage and analysis reaching out to people in the West, correcting misrepresentations imposed by their own leaders through outlets like The New York Times and America’s major networks. America’s Cold War era monopoly on “credible press” is gone (in fact, it never was that credible, only seeming so by contrast to the old Soviet efforts). With the monopoly’s disappearance, America’s unrestricted ability to “get a story out there,” as someone from the CIA might say, also has suffered, and Mr. Kerry clearly isn’t happy about the fact.

As for Kerry’s comments about red lines and making Russia pay, it would be difficult to come up with a poorer example of diplomacy from America’s supposed chief of diplomacy. Of course, the last time we heard the expression “red line” concerned the use of chemical weapons by Syria’s government, something that never happened, but the American official words about a red line served as a kind of segue to the actual, totally-immoral use of such chemicals by some of the fanatics America secretly supports. And just a short while before that use of “red line,” we had the world’s most predictable liar talking about red lines for Iran, a country he threatened and continues to threaten but which has never threatened him.

Kerry’s public face on the situation in Ukraine is just as rankly dishonest as his “peace talks” in the Middle East and his words about Syria. The fact is that Ukrainian groups America has supported secretly for years with almost unlimited amounts of CIA-infiltrated money overthrew an elected government, and they did so before previously-agreed arrangements for new elections which were intended to appease the divided factions in Ukraine. Part of the way these groups seized power was through the dirty work of right-wing thugs, who, among other acts, served as snipers shooting many hundreds of people dead in the streets of Kiev. Now, we see this self-proclaimed government receiving visits by America’s CIA Director and Vice President for unexplained reasons. Was there ever a less honest effort at pretending democratic forces are at work in a crisis? Please, Mr. Kerry, who is it that you think you are convincing of anything, beyond your own dishonesty and remarkably limited diplomatic skills?

Posted April 26, 2014 by JOHN CHUCKMAN in Uncategorized

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JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: AMERICA’S RIDICULOUS POSITION ON SYRIA   2 comments

 

 

 

 

 

 

AMERICA’S RIDICULOUS POSITION ON SYRIA

John Chuckman

I read that an American Senator, Bob Menendez, wanted “to vomit” when he was supplied with a copy of Vladimir Putin’s New York Times’ op-ed piece about Syria.

Well, I’m sure it wasn’t just a matter of Sen. Menendez’s delicate stomach: there have been many times in the past I wanted to vomit over something in The New York Times.

It is, after all, an impossibly pretentious, often-dishonest publication faithfully serving America’s military-industrial-intelligence complex, one which never fails to support America’s countless wars, insurgencies, dirty tricks, and coups – all this while publicly flattering itself as a rigorous source of journalism and even a newspaper “of record.” Many regard The Times as simply the most worn-out key of that thunderous public-relations instrument an ex-Agency official once called his “mighty Wurlitzer.” Only in the antediluvian political atmosphere of America could The Times manage to have something of a reputation for being “liberal.”

Mr. Menendez, as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, holds a powerful position, one he has used in lockstep with President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry to promote illegal war. Like them he blubbers about rights and democracy and ethics while planning death and destruction to people who have done nothing against the United States except disagreeing with it and being hated by that greatest single outside determinant of American foreign policy, Israel.

Sen. Menendez’s personal anecdote actually provides a perfect miniature replica of the entire operation of America’s foreign affairs. American officials never fail to invoke words about democracy or human rights when addressing their next piece of dirty work or effort to pressure another people into doing what America wants.

So naturally the Senator might be a bit upset over Putin’s upstaging the top officials of the United States and proving himself the superior statesman and rational politician in every detail.

First, every honest, well-read person, not trying to promote American special interests, knows there is no proof that Assad used chemical weapons. Absolutely none. Even as I write, an Australian newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald, reports that the UN inspection team could find no evidence of chemical weapons used in the place cited by Syria’s rebel army.

A video which made the rounds among American allies and which purported to show the attack has been declared a fake by the UN. Russia’s secret services also declared it a fake.

The only other bit of “evidence” worth mentioning is a supposed recording of Syrian officials provided to American officials by Mossad. Yes, that’s Mossad, the very people who pride themselves on deception and who have a long track record of expertly using it, even in several cases successfully against the United States.

You do not kill thousands of people and destroy a country’s infrastructure citing rubbish like that.

Again, as I write this, a former British Ambassador, Craig John Murray, states that the United States has been deceived by Mossad with its purported recording and that Britain’s super-sensitive listening post in Cyprus, vastly superior to Israel’s listening assets, had picked up no such information.

Germany, based on its secret service operations, also has publicly stated that Assad did not use chemical weapons.

And, of course, after all America’s huffing and blowing and threatening in recent months, Assad and his senior associates would have to have been genuinely mad to use them, but there is no sign of madness. Assad remains a calm and thoughtful person whose voice is largely silenced in the West by his having been declared arbitrarily not an acceptable head of state.

Second, there is significant proof that ugly elements of the rebellion – the substantial al Qaeda-like components who hate Assad for his tolerance towards all religions in Syria – did indeed use limited amounts on more than one occasion, hoping, undoubtedly to create a provocation for American entry. The UN has said so and so have other agencies.

We have incidents, reported reliably, of rebel elements receiving small canisters of chemical weapons, likely from Saudi agents working on behalf of American policy. We also have an incident of a canister caught by authorities moving across the Turkish border in the hands of rebel fighters, the Turkish border having been used extensively since the beginning of the rebellion as a way to inject weapons and lunatic fighters into Syria and as a refuge for rebels when corned by Syria’s army. Even the American military confirms this last event.

Third, we absolutely know that Israel has a stockpile of this horrible stuff, Sarin, but not a word is said about it. This stockpile has been confirmed by CIA sources recently. Even before CIA sources, we knew of Israel’s chemical weapons from the 1992 crash of an El Al cargo plane in Amsterdam, a plane whose illegal cargo proved to be precursor chemicals for such weapons.

Now, if you were regarded as an enemy by Israel, the most ruthless country in the Mideast when simply measured by the number of times it has attacked its neighbors, wouldn’t you want weapons to counteract theirs? And, of course, to counteract not just Israel’s chemical weapons but secret nuclear ones? So it is hardly a terrible thing for Assad’s military to posses them.

Perhaps most importantly, the United States is in no position to draw lines or make public judgments about the behavior of anyone with regard to such weapons.

It stands as likely the greatest user of various chemical weapons over the last four or five decades. Napalm and Agent Orange were used on a colossal scale in Vietnam, a true holocaust in which the United States killed about three million people. The residue from millions of pounds of Agent Orange still causes horribly mangled babies to be born in Vietnam, and the United States has never lifted a finger to clean the mess or treat its victims.

In the terrible Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88, the United States supplied Iraq – the clear aggressor in the war – with the materials for chemical weapons which eventually killed many thousands of Iranian soldiers.

In the illegal invasion of Iraq – where the United States killed upwards of half a million people and created millions of refugees – it employed white phosphorus (a good substitute for napalm), flame-throwers, depleted-uranium (cancer-inducing) ammunition, and hideous child-crippling cluster bombs. The children of Iraq today suffer a plague of cancer caused by breathing tons of vaporized depleted-uranium the United States dumped there.

In the unnecessary invasion of Afghanistan, the United States used massive carpet bombing to support the thugs of the Northern Alliance, who happened to be old enemies of the Taleban, though often being equally horrible in behavior. This was one of the first instances of the strategy America employed in Libya and wants to employ in Syria: local rebels on the ground, supplied with money and intelligence and weapons, are supported by high-tech hell from the air, yielding the needed results with minimum American casualties.

Thousands of Taleban prisoners of war were “disappeared’ by members of the Northern Alliance by sealing them in trucks, driving them out to the desert to suffocate, and then dumping their bodies in mass graves – all this while American soldiers looked on and picked their noses.

Nothing which has happened in recent years so horrifyingly recalls the work of Hitler’s Einsatzkommandos using mobile killing-trucks before the death camps were built, yet there can be no question that senior American commanders and the White House were aware of these events.

And of course, the only nation on earth ever to actually use atomic weapons – twice, and both times on civilian, non-military targets – is the United States, a country which also seriously planned to use them in Cold War pre-emptive strikes against Russia and China and later in Vietnam.

The voice of the United States today is shrill with hypocrisy and dishonesty and self-interest when it is heard condemning Syria, or anyone else, for using unacceptable weapons. Where was that voice when its ally, Israel, committed atrocities, as it did in Lebanon and in Gaza and on the high seas against unarmed humanitarians or when it steals the land of defenceless occupied people? Indeed, the white phosphorus and cluster bombs Israel used in some of Israel’s attacks were supplied by the United States, as were the planes and artillery used to deliver them.

And this brings us to the real cause of the rebellion in Syria. Israel would like Assad gone and Syria reduced to a broken state the way Iraq was reduced. It does not want to do this directly because Syria is a serious military opponent and not easy prey, and Israel’s doing so would arouse new waves of anger in the Mideast and new difficulties for the United States.

So the United States has had a long-term program of creating a kind of cordon sanitaire around Israel, breaking all of its potential opponents for many hundreds of miles around, but doing so always under contrived circumstances of supporting peoples’ revolts or removing dictators. It surreptitiously supplies large amounts of money and useful intelligence to the genuinely disaffected peoples of various states, encouraging them to revolt, indicating air and other support once things are underway. This is reminiscent of the dirty work of Henry Kissinger carried out with Iraq’s Kurdish population in 1975, promising them anything if they revolted but failing to deliver and leaving them to face a massive slaughter by Saddam Hussein’s troops.

Today’s is a complex black operation using a bizarre collection of intermediaries and helpers. Events in Benghazi, Libya, never explained in the United States, were certainly one little corner of this with the CIA operating there to collect weapons and jihadist types for secret entry into Syria through Turkey.

Saudi Arabia too plays a large role, surprising as that may seem to some given that Israel is a major beneficiary. Saudi Arabia’s ruling family plays the anti-Israel card just enough to keep its own fundamentalist Wahhabi population from revolting. But in truth, the wealthy Saudi elites have always had more in common with American and Israeli elites than with popular leaders in the Mideast.

Those Saudi elites were rendered extremely vulnerable to American pressures during 9/11. George Bush, always a good friend and beneficiary of Saudi largess, secretly rounded up a number of them who were in the United States (at places like Las Vegas casinos) and shipped them back to Saudi Arabia for their safety. As it proved, the greatest number of perpetrators of 9/11 were Saudi extremists, and it was discovered, though not publicly announced, that bin Laden’s movement regularly received bribes from the royal family to keep his operations out of Saudi Arabia. Thus the royal family financed bin Laden. All this made the Saudis extremely nervous and willing to be of more conspicuous future assistance in the Mideast.

And so they are, supplying money and weapons through various routes to the rebels. There is also a report of the Saudis releasing more than twelve hundred violent prisoners in return for their training and going to Syria to fight as jihadist volunteers.

American officials know all these things while they stand and blubber about democratic rebels and “red lines” and other fairy stories. They want to bomb Syria because the recent success of Assad’s army has begun to endanger the huge effort to have him overthrown. Just as their planes and missiles tipped the scales in Libya with a phony zero-fly zone, they want to repeat that success in Syria.

Now, Putin appears to have upset the plan with admirable statesmanship, and Sen. Menendez will just have to console himself with Pepto-Bismol.

But then the Russians have always been great chess players.

Posted September 13, 2013 by JOHN CHUCKMAN in Uncategorized

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JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: TERROR IN TORONTO OR TEMPEST IN A TEAPOT?   Leave a comment

 

 

TERROR IN TORONTO OR TEMPEST IN A TEAPOT?

John Chuckman

The arrest in Toronto of seventeen men, mostly quite young, for conspiracy to bomb places in Southern Ontario has raised a storm of comment. Unfortunately, much of it has been either premature or wrong.

A Congressman from Northern New York, uninformed but still generous with his opinions, declared that Canada was thick with al Qaeda cells owing to its liberal (a truly filthy word in the United States) immigration and refugee laws. Sadly, the Congressman’s big red-nose talents are appreciated only in Canada, his ignorance being taken for insight in many parts of the United States.

Pat Buchanan parodies are also taken seriously by some in Canada, particularly in Alberta, and there are people here eager for any opportunity to prove their anti-terror bone fides to America’s unsmiling leaders. This strain in our society should alert us to the possibility, however remote, of skewed investigations where terror is concerned.

The New York Times, that tea-sipping, wealthy widow of American newspapers, went out of her way to recognize The Toronto Star for substantial coverage of events. That is not praise clear-headed people welcome, The Times often having been on the wrong side of human rights issues as well as having served as the official Wal-Mart Greeter on the path to war.

Condoleezza Rice, too, took approving note of events in Toronto, but that surely is the moral equivalent of a twinkle from the eyes of Joachim von Ribbentrop.

Members of any security and intelligence apparatus are not immune to such blandishments. Results or seeming results bring praise, promotion, and budget increases to establishments that normally enjoy little public recognition. I have no reason to believe there has been inappropriate behavior by officials here, but I emphasize the importance of healthy skepticism until a clear picture emerges. The lack of healthy skepticism in America is precisely what has reduced that society to a spineless acceptance of whatever authority says, no matter how uninformed or unreasonable.

The known facts of the Toronto case are simple. CSIS, Canada’s intelligence agency, identified one or more of these fellows on an Internet chat room about two years ago. This prompted additional investigation, and a group of young men sharing angry dreams was discovered. Finally, when a 3-ton load of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be used as a component for an explosive, was offered by the watchers and accepted by someone in the group, a wave of arrests quickly followed.

My first observation is that any group of young men thoughtless enough to reveal violent intentions on an Internet chat site represent a pretty low-level threat. After all, these chat sites are monitored constantly by police and intelligence services of many countries for child predators, traders in child porn, threats to governments, and for extreme political statements of every kind. Doing what these young men supposedly did is comparable to trying to build a bomb in a department-store display window on a busy avenue.

Well, maybe they are not very bright, and we do still need to be protected from people who are not very bright, but the bizarre nature of the accusations against them is suggested by statements from a lawyer for one of the accused.

While formal charges have not been produced and lawyers for the accused have received no discovery information, the lawyers were permitted, in a Darkness at Noon fashion, to read (but not copy) a synopsis of accusations which I understand is typically prepared by police. Apparently, such synopses have a history of great inaccuracy when compared to actual legal charges finally submitted in court. I believe that it was with this in mind and with the intention of alerting the thinking public to some odd stuff that a lawyer for one of the accused stood outside the court and recited some of the accusations. The points include a wish to behead the Prime Minister, take government hostages, blow up part of Parliament, and attack the CBC.

Behead the Prime Minister? Doesn’t that just sound like what you would expect from angry young men discussing violent fantasies in a chat room? How many pimply-faced young men annually express dire wishes for school principals, teachers, girlfriends’ fathers or others with some authority?

It may not be much of a legal charge, but it’s great stuff for the press, and we’ve had the words cell, al Quaeda, and terrorism repeated countless times. There is not the least justification yet for any of these words.

We must keep in mind that a group of unhappy young men can easily be manipulated by a clever intelligence agent or policeman. Seduction and psychological manipulation are at the very heart of producing what is called human intelligence. There is often a rather fine line between young conspirators being observed by undercover agents and foolish young men being manipulated into incriminating themselves.

The press loves turning to someone resembling authority at such times for incisive comments, so mysterious “terror experts” suddenly are everywhere on Canada’s airwaves. God, they seem to have descended like a great ugly flock of grief counselors, another questionable kind of expert, following a school killing.

I heard two terror experts on CBC radio. One an ex-British soldier and another an ex-CSIS official, both earning their livings now by selling security to private firms and governments. Ask an insurance agent whether you have enough life insurance and what response can you anticipate with virtually one-hundred percent certainty?

These experts warn of undefined fears, as in, who knows how many others are “out there”? Well, who knows how many dishonest terror experts there are out there hawking fear? The ex-CSIS man did it more subtly and gracefully than the ex-soldier, but shadowy nonsense remains shadowy nonsense, no matter the tone and vocabulary. The ex-CSIS man questioned the future application to Canada of a favorite expression of mine, “the peaceable kingdom,” while offering absolutely nothing of substance to warrant his statement.

Even if these young men are guilty of crimes, how is their case so different to that of a man in Montreal who shot fourteen women one day or a pig farmer outside Vancouver whose hobby for years was luring with drugs dozens of prostitutes to their deaths? Does political anger make it different? Religion? A violent crime is a crime, and those found guilty should be separated from society. What we have here is the demonstrated wisdom of keeping an eye on Internet chat sites and on people doing questionable activities, but that is the case for many crimes we emphasize more than we once did, as with child pornography. There is no reason for a special fear to take hold when the subject is terror. It is dangerous and destructive of our best values.

I’ve often wondered where people go to become “terror experts.” Is there a graduate degree offered by Bob Jones University or at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty U? We know that a true and effective terrorist organization like the IRA always keeps its business utterly secret. Those suspected of informing are murdered without hesitation.

Some of these “experts” have experience in Israel, but everything that comes out of Israel on the subject of terror resembles a script prepared by the state security apparatus. Israel vigorously promotes the idea of terror in the world the way some countries promote tourism. It is simply in its interest.

Many of the firms for which the experts work were founded by men like Henry Kissinger and William Colby as ways of keeping a high income in retirement and an oar in the waters of intrigue. The intentions of such firms are entirely suspect. In some cases the firms may well serve as ways for American intelligence to penetrate the existing security of unsuspecting firms and governments, at home and abroad.

America’s extreme, erratic, and often-uninformed attitudes towards terror provide the powerful gravitational field influencing and distorting current events. Why do I describe American attitudes as erratic and uninformed? First, terror did not begin with 9/11. Outfits like the IRA, ETA, and The Shining Path have decades of history, much of it unknown to average Americans who remain indifferent to what does not directly affect them.

America’s own history is rich with tolerated internal terrorist organizations. This starts at the beginning with the Sons of Liberty before the American Revolution beating and tar-and-feathering officials in the colonies who were just doing their duty for what was then the legal government. Often officials’ homes were attacked and either burnt or torn down. The same fate fell to Loyalists after the war. They were beaten, often burned-out, always run from their homes, and had their property stolen.

The tradition of internal terror vigorously continued with the Klu Klux Klan, an organization active for about a century, and it continued down through the fascist Bund of the 1930s and to the many armed, private militias that were so popular for decades until Timothy McVeigh’s shadow fell across them. There are many, many examples of this kind of terror in American history, another notable one being Cosa Nostra, whose violent operations were long ignored by an FBI busy tracking left-leaning school teachers.

America has never winced at supporting terror in other places for causes with which it felt sympathy. The greatest example of this was decades of lavish support for the IRA. Collections were openly made in Irish bars in Chicago, New York, and Boston to buy the IRA’s guns and bombs. Politicians and police were aware of this and did nothing, indeed some of them undoubtedly were contributors.

The most dreadful terror associated with America has been the state terror of its long series of colonial wars after World War II. Sometimes the terror is delegated to proxies, financed, trained, and given weapons and intelligence by the American government. This was the case in Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador, and a dozen other hells. Millions were spent by the CIA subsidizing thugs in Florida who carried out bombings and shootings in Cuba.

In Indonesia, with the end of Sukarno’s government in 1965, the U.S. supported what was then the greatest holocaust since Hitler’s, with five-hundred thousand Indonesians having their throats cut and their bodies dumped into rivers just because they were suspected of being communists. State Department officials are reported to have been on phones late into the night transmitting lists of names for the slaughter.

Vietnam was “hands-on” terror. Countless carpet bombings, search-and-destroy missions, napalmings, night-crawler assassinations, and other horrors chalked up maybe three million victims in an undeclared war against people in their own land. Along the way, interrogated suspects were thrown from helicopters and unknown thousands of helpless village women were raped and murdered. The terror spread to Cambodia when America’s secret bombings and incursions destabilized its government and gave the world “the killing fields” of Pol Pot.

The point of reciting these dark parts of American history is to demonstrate forcefully how often that nation has turned to inappropriate, violent responses, and it proved no different in the case of 9/11. A great crime was committed, and any criminals who survived deserved to be brought to justice. But that was not what happened. Instead two Muslim nations were invaded, tens of thousands killed, a giant, secret kidnapping-and-torture organization established, and many civil liberties cast aside. This is not a model for Canada or any civilized society.

No thinking person believes that Canada’s foreign policy should be driven by threats from any group. However, that is not the same thing as recognizing that great numbers of angry young men, here and abroad, are a symptom of something being very wrong.

Unless they are psychopaths, people do not just suddenly decide to blow things up. If they are psychopaths, then what they do cannot be called political and cannot be labeled as terrorism. America was advised privately, before its invasions, by many who understood that one result would be a huge wave of anger and alienation in the Muslim world. As with so many other wise words, this advice was ignored by Bush’s fanatics.

Canada’s new participation in Afghanistan is a ghastly mistake. It associates Canada’s good name with a failed, disastrous policy. The fact is that U.S. is already slowly, quietly withdrawing from the mess it created in Afghanistan. It has pressured a number of allies, notably Canada and Great Britain, to help cover this gradual withdrawal. That really is Canada’s dirty task in Afghanistan. Canada is not there to help people find peace and stability (although I am confident that Canada’s troops will do some of this wherever the possibility exists) because the truth is that the U.S. has already quietly given the task up as lost. It fought a “cheap” war in Afghanistan, using warlords every bit as nasty as the Taleban to gain a quick victory, and there is almost no possibility of constructing a modern democratic state from the remains.

I do believe we will see justice for the young men in Canada with nothing but facts determining their fate. Canadians are a sensible and decent people. All the rash and uninformed comments made in recent days will fade like yesterday’s headlines about miracles and aliens in The National Inquirer.

At the same time, I hope Canadians consider more carefully the deeply flawed policies Bush has imposed on the world. Two ancient Muslim nations are occupied and smoldering with resentment amidst economic ruin. A great, world cultural treasure has been pillaged and destroyed, making the Taleban’s thuggish destruction of statues some years ago seem small by comparison. Iraq has been driven into the destructive beginnings of civil war. The country still does not have even dependable water or electricity. The U.S. threatens a third Muslim country almost weekly. Palestinians are treated worse today by Israel, with smiling American acquiescence, than black Africans were under apartheid, and there is no hint of a just end to the situation. And the learning curve in guerilla fighting means nothing but more intense attacks against foreign armies in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Robert Fisk, the superb British journalist on Middle East affairs, had a fascinating column recently. He explained how at the Baghdad morgue, one of whose officials he knows, there are standing orders that bodies brought in by Americans are not to be autopsied. The bodies often come tagged with a cursory description of the cause of death along the lines of extreme trauma. This is the kind of gruesome, revealing detail you will never see broadcast on American networks.

Not only do America’s trigger-happy soldiers shoot innocent people regularly at roadblocks and in raids, but there is a secret dirty war going on in which political Iraqis are assassinated by America’s private mercenary forces. A large number of Iraqi scientists previously associated with weapons programs have been mysteriously murdered, almost certainly the work of Mossad being given a free hand in the country. Americans may be unaware of what is being done in their name, but the people of Western Asia are well aware of it, and memories in the Middle East are long.

The argument that Canada’s withdrawal from Afghanistan would make no difference is utterly false because the most important difference to be made involves our integrity and deepest principles.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: A TOXIN IN THE BLOOD   Leave a comment

A TOXIN IN THE BLOOD

John Chuckman

Like acrid fumes seeping from a chemical dump long thought dormant, attitudes of an unmistakably-fascist nature are drifting through American society. One catches whiffs of the dreadful stuff on almost every breeze from America.

Just the day before the recent Congressional election, the CIA laid claim to the assassination of six men in Yemen. The men were, of course, described as associated with al Qaeda, and may, for all I know, have been so, but just when did bragging about the public murder of six people by a government agency become acceptable practice to Americans? No charges, no trial, no evidence – just murder.

That act was in keeping with the spirit of America’s treatment of prisoners from its stupid, disastrous war in Afghanistan. First, many hundreds of prisoners were murdered under American auspices. Second, thousands were illegally detained and abused. Many were tortured. Hundreds remain prisoners in cages thousands of miles from their homes with no legal rights. A scholastic nonsense about these men being held away from the rights-protected soil of America appears adequate to make their treatment acceptable.

The murder also is in keeping with the alliances and interests America has been forming abroad. Perhaps the most murderous elected leader in recent memory, Mr. Sharon, responsible literally for the deaths of thousands and for keeping an entire people hopelessly crushed into apartheid-style camps is called a “man of peace.” His works of assassination and destruction are blessed and supported more cordially than I remember support for America’s old friend, the Shah of Iran, who smiled at dinners in the White House while his secret police, Savak, pulled out the fingernails of screaming opponents and suspects.

Russia’s Mr. Putin wages the most devastating small war of recent times, a relentless, murderous effort to hold a people who do not want to be held, reducing their towns and farms to burnt-out wasteland, and he, too, is regarded as a partner for peace and an opponent of terror. I wonder how many Americans caught the little-noted fact that not one Chechen left the theater in Moscow alive, despite all having been knocked out by gas. I’m not objecting to effort to free hostages, only to the clear fact that every Chechen was summarily murdered in scenes that must have recalled the old NKVD’s bullet to the back of the head. I wonder was the old Soviet practice of charging relatives for a cartridge followed?

A military dictator in Pakistan is regarded as an ally against terror, as are bestial war lords in Afghanistan.

The Attorney General of the United States tells Arab Americans they are fortunate not to be treated the way Japanese Americans during World War II were – that is, fortunate not to be thrown into concentration camps and have most of their property seized, never to be returned. More disgusting yet, coming as it does carefully wrapped in robes of reasoned debate, are the words of a American lawyer on the need for establishing legal procedures governing the proper use of torture in the country.

It does suit the tenor of times in which U.S. border officials have been routinely photographing, fingerprinting, and grilling visitors for hours from certain countries even though they may have taken up a new citizenship. Prize-winning Canadian author Rohinton Mistry, a man born in India and whose religious background is a form of Zoroastrianism, about as far removed as you can get from being a Muslim Arab, cut short his American reading tour after being stopped and interrogated every time he caught a plane.

Another Canadian, unfortunate enough to have been born in Syria many years ago, was refused entry to the U.S. and deported. Not serious you say? Well, yes, had he been deported to his home in Canada. But the INS in a frenzy to demonstrate appropriate zeal, deported the man to Syria, leaving his family in Canada desperate for some while trying to locate him. It’s the kind of activity Germans in the 1930s used to call fondly “working towards the Fuhrer,” that is, guessing what action might please the leader.

There’s been a lot of “working towards the Fuhrer” lately in America. It seems to come quite naturally to a significant number of people. I am reminded of the farce in Florida when a mindless police chase was created by the paranoid reports of an overheard conversation. Or the universities and colleges where dissenting views are punished. Or the lists published of dissenting voices. Or the nonsense that pours from mainstream American media like CNN or the New York Times, as when recently they deliberately underreported the size of an anti-war rally in Washington.

Ah, the New York Times, that courageous tribune of the people – people, that is, who make well in excess of $100,000 a year and think the word empire when applied to America is actually a benevolent concept. Does that motto about all the news “fit” to print not suit well?

This government has given America corruption, poor appointments to important posts, a huge and wasteful increase in military spending, not a single worthy humanitarian initiative, and it has set its jaw in grim contempt for the sensibilities of virtually the rest of the planet. It is determined to launch a war for which there is not one sound reason, a war that promises to send the world into a downward spiral of resentments, uncertainty and death.

Yet Americans have given it a vote of confidence.

A political party that in one generation has included as prominent spokesmen and leaders Jesse Helms, Tom De Lay, Phil Gramm, Dick Armey, John Ashcroft, Bob Barr, Pat Buchanan, and Newt Gingrich, that attracts vultures like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, and whose spokespeople include genuine hate-mongers like Ann Coulter cannot be regarded as harmless. There is a large enough cesspool of ignorance and arrogance here to threaten all people who regard human decency and rationality as important.

Students of history will know that not every member of the Nazi party in Germany at the height of its prestige and power around 1940 shared the poison dreams of its leadership. People joined because of social pressure or the requirements of career advancement or agreement with limited aspects of the Nazi program. Yet we do not sort this all out when we speak of Nazis. Who on the planet does not use the term Nazi as one of contempt and anathema?

Of course it is not just the bulk of “decent” Republicans who fail to speak against genuine evil. The Democrats are softer spoken, more benign in their use of words, but they have utterly failed to provide leadership here. They have not raised their voices against torture and abuse of prisoners, against public murder, against policies advocating unprovoked attack, against the wanton destruction of a generation’s work on treaties and conventions for international cooperation, or against unholy alliance with thugs like Sharon, Putin, Musharraf, and General Dostum.

Mr. Clinton’s eight years in the White House were not marked by particularly enlightened measures either at home or abroad, although almost anyone would agree that his smiling intelligence was more reassuring than the numb-faced, thick-tongued mumbling of Mr. Bush. All decent people had sympathy over the low-life dragging of Mr. Clinton’s private life into the glare of publicity, but that fact did not render him a particularly enlightened leader on the world’s scene.

America spends on its military as much the next thirty countries in the world combined spend on theirs. This gigantic flow of money, like a monstrously-swollen river roaring over the landscape, erodes every value and decent aspect of American life. It simply cannot be otherwise. And it erodes America’s every relationship with the rest of the world. It has been observed by numerous historians that the very presence of great armies helps induce war.

Please remember that not once did Hitler attack a country without a plausible excuse, and the emotional tug of his arguments resonated in many capitals outside Berlin. Moreover, he had what he regarded as a visionary purpose for his belligerence. He spoke of terror against the German people. He wanted to secure Germany’s long-term future as a great and powerful nation. He wanted to end the barbarism of Bolshevism. He also pleaded eloquently for peace at times. Yet the sum total of his work was the greatest destruction in human history.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: THOMAS FRIEDMAN, SPOKESMAN FOR ENLIGHTENMENT   2 comments

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, SPOKESMAN FOR ENLIGHTENMENT

John Chuckman

Thomas Friedman, columnist for the New York Times, is my favorite phony American liberal. Why phony? Over the years Mr. Friedman has written a number of remarkably parochial, jingoistic columns. Topics have included his protectionist views on competition with Japan, his militant views on Cuba, and his rambling, imperialist-stained notion of globalization.

But recently, on the matter of suicide-bombings in Israel, Mr. Friedman has set a new standard for American liberalism by offering views that for all the world cannot be distinguished from those of violent, right-wing extremists.

Mr. Friedman, on March 31, told readers, “Israel needs to deliver a blow that clearly shows that terror will not pay.”

“Pay?” Just what does Mr. Friedman mean by that? Would payment mean Israel’s occupation ends? That assassinations end? Improper arrests? Torture? Well, if any of these were the goals of the suicide-bombers, they hardly deserve to be called terrorists as Mr. Friedman does. In that light, they might well be regarded as some of Mr. Reagan’s freedom-fighters or as members of World War II’s resistance.

Mr. Friedman begs an important question by assuming suicide-bombers have any goal other than expressing hopelessness. Coming, as he does, from a country where children regularly bring loaded guns to school and shoot their classmates, you might think he’d be aware of the possibility. In that case, what Mr. Friedman advocates reduces to running tanks over the family homes of the disturbed boys responsible for the Columbine High School Massacre.

Of course, that word “disturbed” raises yet another possibility. The suicide-bombers may be sick or mentally unbalanced. In which case, Mr. Friedman’s proposal amounts to running tanks over the homes of Ted Kaczynski’s brother and parents.

But what I think Mr. Friedman clearly means is that Israel will exact four or five eyes for every one. He is talking about vengeance, plain and simple.

Whatever it is that Mr. Friedman means, his proposal is a very old one, one Israel has practiced for decades, and, to date, there is not a jot of evidence that it works. And Mr. Friedman seems unaware that it has been Mr. Sharon’s ruthless, bloody response to an Intifada that began with stone-throwing that, like the sowing of dragon’s teeth, has produced a terrible crop of young people sacrificing their lives.

Mr. Friedman glibly says that desperation is not a reason for suicide-bombing, that “a lot of people in the world are desperate, yet they have not gone around strapping dynamite to themselves.” Then what is the reason? You cannot order people, you cannot pay people, much less young people who normally are filled with God’s gift of a desire for life, to go and blow themselves up.

But Mr. Friedman brushes off all moral issues and other complexities by asserting that the suicide-bombing is “a strategic choice.” Cold, clinical, calculating – these are the connotations of his expression. And ,of course, therefore deserving of ruthless reprisal.

Mr. Friedman parrots American defenders of Israel’s worst excesses, people who, stunned and desperate themselves to explain horrific events, advocate a theory of child zombie-killers, the idea that the Palestinians have somehow perfected a process of brain-washing that eluded the CIA and KBG through the Cold War, to produce an army of murderous human automatons. If you believe this, you believe in the Manchurian Candidate.

Mr. Friedman sweeps on in magisterial, arm-chair outrage to demand that his government should not permit any Arab leader who even calls suicide-bombers “martyrs” enter the United States. These are frightening words. They surpass the soul-deadening depths of Mr. Ashcroft.

First, Mr. Friedman here attempts to bind the United States more intimately to Israel in the dispute, knowing full well the Palestinians need to retain some shred of hope in the United States as an intermediary that at least sometimes acts fairly.

Tell Arab leaders what words they must use? I do think we find here the measure of how carefully Mr. Friedman has thought about what he says. This suggestion is about as astute as building a fire in a dry-tinder forest.

Mr. Friedman appears influenced by the recent arrogant tendency of the United States to set laws that effectively govern the actions of people in other nations. This is contrary to of all accepted principles of international law, and recent efforts along these lines with the Helms-Burton Act or the Trading with the Enemy Act with regard to Cuba have earned the United States serious, entirely-avoidable resentment in Europe, Canada, and other places.

Well, Mr. Friedman would undoubtedly say that the survival of Israel justifies almost anything. And there might be some argument here were Israel’s survival at risk. But it is not. How on earth do a limited number of suicide-bombings, shocking as they may be, endanger the existence of Israel? London withstood The Blitz, Vietnam withstood some of the most horrific bombing in all of human history. Yet London and Vietnam are very much with us.

And this brings us back to the actual cause of the bombings, desperation, for they cannot under any imaginable circumstances achieve what Israeli extremists insist is their aim, the destruction of Israel. If it is isn’t desperation to be doing something that cannot possibly succeed, I don’t know what is. So, even assuming the extremists’ own definition of the bombers’ purpose, we come to the only question that means much here: When will Israel begin working to solve desperation instead of trying to crush it?

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: LIBERAL MEDIA? IN AMERICA? YOU MUST BE KIDDING   3 comments

LIBERAL MEDIA? IN AMERICA? YOU MUST BE KIDDING

John Chuckman

One the silliest expressions used in America is “liberal media.”

The word “liberal” itself has been so abused and twisted in the last few decades, you’d think the Ministry of Truth had decreed its meaning must be changed. “Liberal” has become a contemptuous epithet for opposition to economic liberty, Constitutional principles, and even religious expression.

This is a parody of the word. “Liberal” has to do with open-mindedness, dedication to principles of intellectual liberty, and a strong regard for human rights. Over the last two and a half centuries, expanding the franchise, achieving religious liberty, defending human rights, and concern for the environment were all liberal causes.

Not a bad record, that.

How was this fine word reduced to shabbiness? The answer is through endless repetition of the parody in magazines, newspapers, and on television. That’s not exactly prima fascie evidence for liberal bias in the media.

Nothing has changed to erode the truth of that wonderful remark about freedom of the press existing for those who own one. In fact, with massively increased concentration in the ownership of American corporations, including the news business, the remark is more pertinent than ever.

Just reeling off the names of some major owners of America’s press and broadcasting tells a story. Rupert Murdoch (Australian billionaire newspaper magnate), Disney Corporation, Dow-Jones, Tribune Corporation, Knight-Ridder, Hearst Corporation, and General Electric. In what possible sense are any of these liberal?

Even the New York Times, often regarded as the liberal paper in America, a paper whose very name causes sagebrush politicians to curl their lips in contempt, is actually a very cautious one, as befits the flagship publication of a multi-billion dollar enterprise.

The Times always defends the establishment. It becomes positively hot and bothered about supporting often-abusive institutions like the FBI over the rights of individuals, as in its hideous, long-term attack on Wen Ho Lee.

Where’s the liberal bias? In pompous editorials that read like press releases for the American Imperium? In a slick magazine whose mostly-vapid stories float in a thick ooze of advertising for expensive clothes, perfumes, and furniture? In a letters column whose writers often use two lines to give their titles? Try finding a tough op-ed piece in the New York Times. They’re as common as farts in a church service.

Ah, there’s public broadcasting, isn’t there? But America’s public broadcasting is the most sanitized, politically correct that I’m aware of. Public television is hopelessly fluffy,
featuring gorilla pictures narrated by authorities like Martin Sheen and puff-piece investigative reports.

Its evening news specializes in pseudo-debate, invariably with dependents of the two parties exchanging slogans. The program focuses on Beltway babble rather than investigation. Holders of think-tank sinecures are regular seat-fillers. American public radio, which does a better job than television, still lacks breadth of view, lacks bite, and, for the most part, contains precious little not found in mainstream media.

America’s public-broadcast officials collapsed in a heap when Newt Gingrich and his band of Texas Visagoths attacked them about running a sandbox for yuppies, and they haven’t recovered yet. Public broadcasting has lost much of its government financing over the years, and it lives under constant threat of losing more. After all, the party in power doesn’t even pay its UN dues. What’s support for public broadcasting compared to international-treaty obligations?

“Is Dan Rather a Republican? Peter Jennings? Tom Brokaw?” ask readers who think they have a definitive point, but the point they make is quite different to the one they think they’re making.

Who cares what these gentlemen are as long as they do their jobs? What is it about the right-wing (“conservative” is really too gentle a word) that insists on knowing the details of one’s political ties and bedroom habits? Isn’t this a little like what you would expect in the old Soviet Union? And who has more influence on the overall character of a news organization, a paid news reader or the guys paying the bills? Anyone with a very good job doesn’t have to be told not to seriously irritate the boss.

Reflect on events over some decades and ask yourself about the American press’s “liberal” role in them. Did the press ever tell us what happened in the Gulf War? Has it given us much more than Pentagon press releases on Afghanistan? Does the gloss on the Middle East ever go beyond what you’d expect from the State Department?

Did the press ever reveal to the American people what a manipulative monster J. Edgar Hoover was? Did the press tell people, while he was destroying people’s lives, that Joe McCarthy was a desperate drunk trying to revive a failing political career? Such questions are endless, and the answer to virtually all of them is “no.”