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Pulitzer Vindicates: Snowden Journalists Win Top Honor April 15, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Media, Whistle-blowing.
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Roger’s note: I don’t know why, but somehow I don’t expect that this vindication of Edward Snowden’s bravery will not get much play in the mainstream media, so I am posting it here.  As some of the comments on the Common Dreams web site have pointed out, there has been no or  little mention of those who made great sacrifices and paid a price for speaking out, such as Chelsea Manning (it is reported today that the General in charge of her kangaroo court martial has affirmed her 35 year sentence) and Julian Assange (held prisoner indefinitely in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy).  These should not be forgotten.

 

Guardian and Washington Post each honored with Pulitzer for Public Service

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Ewen MacAskill, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras in Hong Kong to meet NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden on June 10, 2013. (Photo by Laura Poitras)

The Washington Post and the Guardian/US were both awarded one of journalism’s top honors on Monday—the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service— for their separate but related reporting on the NSA’s widespread surveillance documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill from the Guardian and the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman sent shock waves across the globe for their reporting on the leaks—eliciting responses from citizens and governments alike and spurring a new era of backlash against government intrusion.

Following news of the honor, Snowden released a statement thanking the Pulitzer committee for recognizing those involved in the NSA reporting. He wrote:

Today’s decision is a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government. We owe it to the efforts of the brave reporters and their colleagues who kept working in the face of extraordinary intimidation, including the forced destruction of journalistic materials, the inappropriate use of terrorism laws, and so many other means of pressure to get them to stop what the world now recognizes was work of vital public importance.

This decision reminds us that what no individual conscience can change, a free press can. My efforts would have been meaningless without the dedication, passion, and skill of these newspapers, and they have my gratitude and respect for their extraordinary service to our society. Their work has given us a better future and a more accountable democracy.

The Pulitzer committee awarded the prize to the publications for their “revelation[s] of widespread secret surveillance by the National Security Agency,” specifying that the Guardian, “through aggressive reporting,” helped “to spark a debate about the relationship between the government and the public over issues of security and privacy.” They credited the Post for their “authoritative and insightful reports that helped the public understand how the disclosures fit into the larger framework of national security.”

The Guardian team broke the first report on the NSA’s collection of Verizon phone records and Gellman, with help from Poitras, reported on the wide-ranging surveillance program known as “PRISM.” In addition to Greenwald, Poitras, MacAskill and Gellman—who are primarily credited for the NSA revelations—a number of other reporters working at the publications also contributed to the reporting that followed.

Following the announcement, many hailed the selection as a vindication of the actions of both the journalists and the whistleblower, a number of whom have been threatened for their work and are forced to remain in exile for fear of persecution by the U.S. government.

“The stories that came out of this completely changed the agenda on the discussion on privacy and the NSA,” David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, said prior to the announcement. “There’s an enormous public good in that, and it’s yet to be proven at all that somehow did great damage to national security.”

“I can’t imagine a more appropriate choice for a Pulitzer Prize,” New York University media studies professor Mark Miller told AFP. Miller said that the winning team of reporters did what “American journalists are supposed to do, which is serve the public interest by shedding a bright light on egregious abuse of power by the government.”

“The real journalistic heroes in this country tend to be the mavericks, the eccentrics, those who dare to report stories that are often dismissed derisively as ‘conspiracy theory,’” Miller continued.

On Friday, Poitras and Greenwald returned to the U.S. for the first time since breaking the NSA stories to accept the prestigious George Polk Award for national security reporting.

During his acceptance speech for the George Polk award, Greenwald discussed the intimidation that both whistleblowers and journalists face.

“The only way to deal with threats,” he said, “is to just do the reporting as aggressively, if not more so, than you would absent those threats.”

_____________________

Putin or Kerry: Who’s Delusional? March 6, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Media, Russia, Ukraine.
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Roger’s note: Sometimes (most times?) I feel that I am living in a world of surrealism.  Watching Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama standing up and accusing Putin of violation of international law, and doing this with a straight face, I get the sense that I understand how Alice must have felt once she went done the rabbit hole.  The wonderland we live in is not so wonderful.  It is a nightmare.  Not so much for the likes of me, a middle class intellectual, but for the millions around the globe — including the victims of Putin’s racist and homophobic actions, if not so much in this case the Crimean population — who suffer from the corporate militarism of the major powers and their lap dog allies.

 

 

 

Official Washington and its compliant mainstream news media operate with a convenient situational ethics when it comes to the principles of international law and non-intervention in sovereign states.

 

When Secretary of State John Kerry denounces Russia’s intervention in Crimea by declaring “It is not appropriate to invade a country and at the end of a barrel of gun dictate what you are trying to achieve. That is not Twenty-first Century, G-8, major-nation behavior,” you might expect that the next line in a serious newspaper would note Kerry’s breathtaking hypocrisy.

John Kerry visits the Shrine of the Fallen in Independence Square, Kiev, on Tuesday. (Photograph: Sipa USA/Rex)

But not if you were reading the New York Times on Wednesday, or for that matter the Washington Post or virtually any mainstream U.S. newspaper or watching a broadcast outlet.

Yet, look what happens when Russia’s President Vladimir Putin does what the U.S. news media should do, i.e. point out that “It’s necessary to recall the actions of the United States in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya, where they acted either without any sanction from the U.N. Security Council or distorted the content of these resolutions, as it happened in Libya. There, as you know, only the right to create a no-fly zone for government aircraft was authorized, and it all ended in the bombing and participation of special forces in group operations.”

Despite the undeniable accuracy of Putin’s observation, he was promptly deemed to have “lost touch with reality,” according to a Washington Post’s editorial, which called his press conference “rambling” and a “bizarre performance” in which his words have “become indistinguishable from the propaganda of his state television network.”

You get the point. If someone notes the disturbing U.S. history of military interventions or describes the troubling narrative behind the “democratic” coup in Ukraine – spearheaded by neo-Nazi militias who overthrew a duly elected president – you are dismissed as crazy.

Revised Narrative

Yet, it has been the Post, Times and other U.S. news outlets which have led the way in developing a propaganda narrative at odds with the known reality. For instance, the violent February clashes in Kiev are now typically described as the Ukrainian police having killed some 80 protesters, though the original reporting had that death toll including 13 policemen and the fact that neo-Nazi militias were responsible for much of the violence, from hurling firebombs to shooting firearms.

That history is already fast disappearing as we saw in a typical New York Times report on Wednesday, which reported: “More than 80 protesters were shot to death by the police as an uprising spiraled out of control in mid-February.”

Those revised “facts” better fit the preferred narrative of innocent and peaceful demonstrators being set upon by thuggish police without provocation. But that isn’t what the original reporting revealed. Either the New York Times should explain how the earlier reporting was wrong or it should respect the more nuanced reality.

To do so, however, would undercut the desired narrative. So, it’s better to simply accuse anyone with a functioning memory of being “delusional.” The same with anyone who mentions the stunning hypocrisy of the U.S. government suddenly finding international law inviolable.

The history of the United States crossing borders to overthrow governments or to seize resources is a long and sordid one. Even after World War II and the establishment of the Nuremberg principles against “aggressive war,” the U.S. government has routinely violated those rules, sometimes unilaterally and sometimes by distorting the clear meaning of U.N. resolutions, as Putin noted.

No Accountability

Those violations of international law have done nothing to diminish the official reputations of presidents who broke the rules. Despite the slaughters of millions of people from these U.S. military adventures, no U.S. president has ever been punished either by U.S. judicial authorities or by international tribunals.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan, one of the most honored political figures in modern American history, ordered the invasion of the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada to overthrow its leftist government amid a political crisis that U.S. hostility had helped stir up. Reagan’s pretext was to protect American students at the St. George’s Medical School, though the students were not in any physical danger.

The U.S. invasion killed some 70 people on the island, including 25 Cuban construction workers. Nineteen U.S. soldiers also died. Though Reagan’s clear violation of international law was noted around the globe, he was hailed as a hero by the U.S. media at home and faced no accountability from the United Nations or anyone else.

When I went to Grenada to report on the invasion for the Associated Press, an article that I co-wrote about abuses committed by American troops, including the ransacking of the personal libraries of prominent Grenadians (in search of books such as Karl Marx’s Das Kapital), was spiked by my AP editors, presumably because it clashed with the feel-good U.S. public reaction to the invasion.

Last week, as I was reviewing documents at the Reagan Presidential Library at Simi Valley, California, I found a number of papers about how the Reagan administration used propaganda techniques to manipulate the American people regarding Grenada.

The files belonged to Walter Raymond Jr., a top CIA expert in propaganda and psychological operations who had been reassigned to Reagan’s National Security Council staff to oversee the creation of a global psy-op structure including one aimed at the U.S. public.

On Nov. 1, 1983, just a week after the invasion, White House public-relations specialist David Gergen advised Reagan’s image-molder Michael Deaver on steps to orchestrate the “follow-up on Grenada” to impress the American people,  including making sure that the phased U.S. withdrawals were “well publicized, the bigger the groups the better. When units of the fleet leave, that also ought to be done with fanfare.”

The P.R. choreography called, too, for using the “rescued” students as props. Gergen wrote: “Students Meet with Liberating Forces: Everyone sees this as a key event, and it needs to be done before RR [Reagan] leaves for the Far East. … Students Visit the Wounded: Many of the wounded would probably welcome a thank you visit from a student delegation.”

In a handwritten comment on the last suggestion, Raymond praised the idea: “Happy Grenada theme.”

More Recent Violations

Secretary Kerry might argue that Grenada was so Twentieth Century, along with such events as the Vietnam War, the invasion of Panama in 1989 and the Persian Gulf conflict of 1990-91, which involved the slaughter of Iraqi soldiers and civilians even after the Iraqi government agreed to withdraw from Kuwait in a deal negotiated by then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

However, if one were to take up Secretary Kerry’s challenge and just look at the Twenty-first Century and “G-8, major-nation behavior,” which would include the United States and its major European allies, you’d still have a substantial list of U.S. violations: Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and others. France and Great Britain, two other G-8 countries, have engaged in military interventions as well, including France in Mali and other African conflicts.

On Aug. 30, 2013, Secretary Kerry himself gave a belligerent speech justifying U.S. military action against Syria over murky accounts of a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus, a war that was only averted by Putin’s diplomatic efforts in convincing President Bashar al-Assad to agree to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons.

Plus, throughout his presidency, Barack Obama has declared, over and over, that “all options are on the table” regarding Iran’s nuclear program, a clear threat of another U.S. bombing campaign, another crisis that Putin has helped tamp down by assisting in getting Iran to the bargaining table.

Indeed, it appears that one reason why Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, a neocon holdover, has been so aggressive in trying to exacerbate the Ukraine crisis was as a form of neocon payback for Putin’s defusing the confrontations with Syria and Iran, when Official Washington’s still-influential neocons were eager for more violence and “regime change.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis.”]

In virtually all these threatened or actual U.S. military assaults on sovereign nations, the major U.S. news media has been enthusiastically onboard. Indeed, the Washington Post and the New York Times played key roles in manufacturing public consent for George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 under the false pretext of eliminating its non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

By promoting dubious and false allegations, the Post and Times also have helped lay the groundwork for potential U.S. wars against Iran and Syria, including the Times making the bogus claim that the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack east of Damascus was launched by Syrian government forces northwest of the city. Months later, the Times grudgingly admitted that its reporting, which helped bring the U.S. to the brink of another war, was contradicted by the fact that the Sarin-laden missile had a much more limited range. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Mistaken Guns of Last August.”]

However, when Russia has a much more understandable case for intervention – an incipient civil war on its border that involves clear U.S. interference, the overthrow of an elected president and the participation of neo-Nazi militias – the U.S. government and its compliant mainstream media lock arms in outrage.

Robert Parry

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat. His two previous books are Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’.

Federal Judge Orders ‘Compassionate Release’ of Attorney Lynne Stewart January 1, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Media.
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Roger’s note: amidst all the crap, some good news from a judge for a change.

 

alg-stewart-jpg

 

 

‘Today’s small measure of justice does little to repair the damage wrought by the government’s unjust prosecution of an advocate whose service to society has been widely documented.’

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

A federal judge ordered the “compassionate release” of former defense lawyer Lynne Stewart on Tuesday on the grounds that she has been diagnosed with terminal cancer with a life expectancy of less than 18 months.Lynn Stewart’s husband, Ralph Poynter, right, protests with others outside a Manhattan court in August (Reuters)

Stewart, 74, who is known for representing underserved and unpopular defendants, has served four years out of a ten-year sentence at the Federal Medical Center Carswell (FMC Carswell) in Fort Worth, Texas, in connection with her defense of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. Stewart allegedly helped pass messages between Abdel-Rahman, an Egyptian cleric convicted of planning terror attacks, and an organization designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States Secretary of State.

Presiding Judge John Koeltl wrote that Stewart’s “terminal medical condition and very limited life expectancy constitute extraordinary and compelling reasons that warrant the requested reduction [of her sentence.]… It is further ordered that the defendant shall be released from the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons as soon as her medical condition permits, the release plan is implemented and travel arrangements can be made.”

Stewart left prison on Tuesday and headed for New York City to live with her family.

Jill Shellow, Stewart’s attorney, told CNN her client’s supporters were “overjoyed that she will spend her remaining days with her family.”

“From arrest to sentencing, Lynne Stewart’s case was used by the Department of Justice to send a chilling message to attorneys: think twice about who you represent!” said Heidi Boghosian, Executive Director of the National Lawyers Guild, of which Stewart was a member. “Today’s small measure of justice does little to repair the damage wrought by the government’s unjust prosecution of an advocate whose service to society has been widely documented.”

Robert J. Boyle, one of Lynne Stewart’s attorneys added, “We are gratified and thankful that the government has agreed to Lynne’s compassionate release request. She has dedicated her life to fighting for justice for the underserved and unpopular. Lynne can now return home to her family and to the community that loves her.”

The Extraordinary Pierre Omidyar November 18, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Media, Poverty, Right Wing.
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Roger’s note: This is an incredible piece of investigative journalism.  When I first read that Glenn Greenwald (I sincerely hope he has or will read this article) was leaving The Guardian to enter into a new journalist project financed by eBay founder,  the billionaire Pierre Omidyar, my initial response was, “Glenn, say it isn’t so.”  This was based on instinct.  It just didn’t smell right.  The article you are about to read pinpoints the source of the odor.  Greenwald’s work as an investigative journalist, first with his own Blog, then with salon.com, and finally with the Guardian, even prior to the Snowden revelations, was of vital importance with respect to its exposing the crimes of the Bush and Obama administrations.  In a sense, the I.F. Stone of our day.  Even if Omidyar wasn’t the sleeze bucket neo-Liberal that is pictured by Ames and Levin, you don’t magically overnight create independent journalism via anyone’s big bucks.  Salon and The Guardian have roots and a history of journalistic development for which there is no substitute.  Apart from exposing Omidyar, this article is a clinic on the way the ultra and neo-fascist right is working to destroy what is left of the democratic public sector; and we know from Germany and Italy in the 1930s what to expect when private corporations are in total control of the state.

By Mark Ames, and Yasha Levin

http://www.nsfwcorp.com, 11:51 a.m. November 15, 2013

“We ought to be looking at business as a force for good.”Pierre Omidyar

“Like eBay, Omidyar Network harnesses the power of markets to enable people to tap their true potential.”Omidyar Network, “Frequently Asked Questions”

* * The world knows very little about the political motivations of Pierre Omidyar, the eBay billionaire who is founding (and funding) a quarter-billion-dollar journalism venture with Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill. What we do know is this: Pierre Omidyar is a very special kind of technology billionaire.

We know this because America’s sharpest journalism critics have told us.

In a piece headlined “The Extraordinary Promise of the New Greenwald-Omidyar Venture”, The Columbia Journalism Review gushed over the announcement of Omidyar’s project. And just in case their point wasn’t clear, they added the amazing subhead, “Adversarial muckrakers + civic-minded billionaire = a whole new world.”

Ah yes, the fabled “civic-minded billionaire”—you’ll find him two doors down from the tooth fairy.

But seriously folks, CJR really, really wants you to know that Omidyar is a breed apart: nothing like the Randian Silicon Valley libertarian we’ve become used to seeing.

“…billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo. Billionaires tend to have a finger in every pie: powerful friends they don’t want annoyed and business interests they don’t want looked at.

“By hiring Greenwald & Co., Omidyar is making a clear statement that he’s the billionaire exception….It’s like Izzy Stone running into a civic-minded plastics billionaire determined to take I.F. Stone’s Weekly large back in the day.”

Later, the CJR “UPDATED” the piece with this missing bit of “oops”:

“(UPDATE: I should disclose that the Omidyar Network helps fund CJR, something I didn’t know until shortly after I published this post.)”

No biggie. Honest mistake. And anyway, plenty of others rushed to agree with CJR’s assessment. Media critic Jack Shafer at Reuters described Omidyar’s politics and ideology as “close to being a clean slate,” repeatedly praising the journalism venture’s and Omidyar’s “idealism.” The “NewCo” venture with Greenwald “harkens back to the techno-idealism of the 1980s and 1990s, when the first impulse of computer scientists, programmers, and other techies was to change the world, not make more money,” Shafer wrote, ending his piece:

“As welcome as Omidyar’s money is, his commitment to the investigative form and an open society is what I’m grateful for this afternoon. You can never uphold the correct verdict too often.”

What all of these orgasmic accounts of Omidyar’s “idealism” have in common is a total absence of skepticism. America’s smartest media minds simply assume that Omidyar is an “exceptional” billionaire, a “civic-minded billionaire” driven by “idealism” rather than by profits. The evidence for this view is Pierre Omidyar’s massive nonprofit venture, Omidyar Network, which has distributed hundreds of millions of dollars to causes all across the world.

And yet what no one seems able to specify is exactly what ideology Omidyar Network promotes. What does Omidyar’s “idealism” mean in practice, and is it really so different from the non-idealism of other, presumably bad, billionaires? It’s almost as if journalists can’t answer those questions because they haven’t bothered asking them.

So let’s go ahead and do that now.

Since its founding in 2004, Omidyar Network has committed nearly $300 million to a range of nonprofit and for-profit “charity” outfits. An examination of the ideas behind the Omidyar Network and of the investments it has made suggests that its founder is anything but a “different” sort of billionaire. Instead, what emerges is almost a caricature of neoliberal ideology, complete with the trail of destruction that ensues when that ideology is put into practice. The generous support of the Omidyar Network goes toward “fighting poverty” through micro-lending, reducing third-world illiteracy rates by privatizing education and protecting human rights by expanding property titles (“private property rights”) into slums and villages across the developing world.

In short, Omidyar Network’s philanthropy reveals Omidyar as a free-market zealot with an almost mystical faith in the power of “markets” to transform the world, end poverty, and improve lives—one micro-individual at a time.

All the neoliberal guru cant about solving the world’s poverty problems by unlocking the hidden “micro-entrepreneurial” spirit of every starving Third Worlder is put into practice by Omidyar Network’s investments. Charity without profit motive is considered suspect at best, subject to the laws of unintended consequences; good can only come from markets unleashed, and that translates into an ideology inherently hostile to government, democracy, public politics, redistribution of land and wealth, and anything smacking of social welfare or social justice.

In literature published by Omidyar Network, the assumption is that technology is an end in itself, that it naturally creates beneficial progress, and that the world’s problems can be solved most effectively with for-profit business solutions.

The most charitable thing one can say about Omidyar’s nonprofit network is that it reflects all the worst clichés of contemporary neoliberal faith. In reality, it’s much worse than that. In many regions, Omidyar Network investments have helped fund programs that create worsening conditions for the world’s underclass, widening inequalities, enhancing exploitation, pushing millions of people into crippling debt and supporting anti-poverty programs that, in some cases, resulted in mass-suicide by the rural poor.

* * Pierre Omidyar was one of the biggest early backers of the for-profit micro-lending industry. Through Omidyar Network, as well as personal gifts and investments, he has funnelled around $200 million into various micro-lending companies and projects over the past decade, with the goal of establishing an investment-grade microfinance sector that would be plugged into Wall Street and global finance. The neoliberal theory promised to unleash billions of new micro-entrepreneurs; the stark reality is that it saddled untold numbers with crushing debt and despair.

One of his first major investments into micro-lending came in 2005, when Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam gave Tufts University, their alma mater, $100 million to create the “Omidyar-Tufts Microfinance Fund,” a managed for-profit fund dedicated to jump-starting the growth of the micro-finance industry. At the time, Tufts announced that Omidyar’s gift was the “largest private allocation of capital to microfinance by an individual or family.”

With the Tufts fund, Omidyar wanted to go beyond mere charitable donations to specific micro-lending organizations that targeted the developing world’s poorest. At the same time, he wanted to create a whole new environment in which for-profit micro-lending companies could be self-sustaining and generate big enough profits to attract serious global investors.

This idea was at the core of Omidyar’s vision of philanthropy: he believed that microfinance would eradicate poverty faster and better if it was run on a for-profit basis, and not like a charity.

“If you want to reach global scale — and we’re talking about hundreds of millions of people who need this — you can’t do it with philanthropy capital. There’s not enough charity capital out there. By connecting with an institutional investor like a university, we would like to increase the level of professional investor involvement in this sector to try to stimulate more commercially viable investment products,” Pierre Omidyar said in an interview at the time. “We ought to be looking at business as a force for good.”

The idea behind micro-loans is very simple and seductive. It goes something like this: the only thing that prevents the hundreds of millions of people living in extreme poverty from achieving financial success is their lack of access to credit. Give them access to micro-loans—referred to in Silicon Valley as “seed capital”—and these would-be successful business-peasants and illiterate shantytown entrepreneurs would pluck themselves out of the muck by their own homemade sandal straps. Just think of it: hundreds of millions of peasants working as micro-individuals, taking out micro-loans, making micro-rational investments into their micro-businesses, dutifully paying their micro-loan payments on time and working in concert to harness the deregulated power of the markets to collectively lift society out of poverty. It’s a grand neoliberal vision.

To that end, Omidyar has directed about a third of the Omidyar Network investment fund—or about $100 million—to support the micro-lending industry. The foundation calls this initiative “financial inclusion.”

Shockingly, micro-loans aren’t all that they’ve cracked up to be. After years of observation and multiple studies, it turns out that the people benefiting most from micro-loans are the big global financial players: hedge funds, banks and the usual Wall Street hucksters. Meanwhile, the majority of the world’s micro-debtors are either no better off or have been sucked into a morass of crippling debt and even deeper poverty, which offers no escape but death.

Take SKS Microfinance, an Omidyar-backed Indian micro-lender whose predatory lending practices and aggressive collection tactics have caused a rash of suicides across India.

Omidyar funded SKS through Unitus, a microfinance private equity fund bankrolled by the Omidyar Network to the tune of at least $11.7 million. ON boosted SKS in its promotional materials as a micro-lender that’s “serving the rural poor in India” and that exemplifies a company that’s providing “people with the means to address their needs and improve their lives.”

In 2010, SKS made headlines and stirred up bitter controversy about the role that profits should play in anti-poverty initiatives when the company went public with an IPO that generated about $358 million, giving SKS a market valuation of more than $1.6 billion. The IPO made millions for its wealthy investors, including the Omidyar-backed Unitus fund, which earned a cool $5 million profit from the SKS IPO, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal.

Some were bothered, but others saw it as proof that the power of the markets could be harnessed to succeed where traditional charity programs supposedly hadn’t. The New York Times reported:

“An Indian company with rich American backers is about to raise up to $350 million in a stock offering closely watched by philanthropists around the world, showing that big profits can be made from small helping-hand loans to poor cowherds and basket weavers.”

Controversy or not, SKS embodied Omidyar’s vision of philanthropy: it was a for-profit corporation that fought poverty while generating lucrative returns for its investors. Here would be proof-positive that the profit motive makes everyone a winner.

And then reality set in.

In 2012, it emerged that while the SKS IPO was making millions for its wealthy investors, hundreds of heavily indebted residents of India’s Andhra Pradesh state were driven to despair and suicide by the company’s cruel and aggressive debt-collection practices. The rash of suicides soared right at the peak of a large micro-lending bubble in Andhra Pradesh, in which many of the poor were taking out multiple micro-loans to cover previous loans that they could no longer pay. It was subprime lending fraud taken to the poorest regions of the world, stripping them of what little they had to live on. It got to the point where the Chief Minister of Andrah Pradesh publicly appealed to the state’s youth and young women not to commit suicide, telling them, “Your lives are valuable.”

The AP conducted a stunning in-depth investigation of the SKS suicides, and their reporting needs to be quoted at length to understand just how evil this program is. The article begins:

“First they were stripped of their utensils, furniture, mobile phones, televisions, ration cards and heirloom gold jewelry. Then, some of them drank pesticide. One woman threw herself in a pond. Another jumped into a well with her children.

“Sometimes, the debt collectors watched nearby.”

What prompted the AP investigation was the gulf between the reported rash of suicides linked to SKS debt collectors, and SKS’s public statements denying it had knowledge of or any role in the predatory lending abuses. However, the AP got a hold of internal SKS documents that contradicted their public denials:

“More than 200 poor, debt-ridden residents of Andhra Pradesh killed themselves in late 2010, according to media reports compiled by the government of the south Indian state. The state blamed microfinance companies – which give small loans intended to lift up the very poor – for fueling a frenzy of overindebtedness and then pressuring borrowers so relentlessly that some took their own lives.

“The companies, including market leader SKS Microfinance, denied it.

“However, internal documents obtained by The Associated Press, as well as interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees, independent researchers and videotaped testimony from the families of the dead, show top SKS officials had information implicating company employees in some of the suicides.”

The AP investigation and internal reports showed just how brutal the SKS microfinancing program was, how women were particularly targeted because of their heightened sense of shame and community responsibility—here is the brutal reality of financial capitalism compared to the utopian blather mouthed at Davos conferences, or in the slick pamphlets issued by the Omidyar Network:

“Both reports said SKS employees had verbally harassed over-indebted borrowers, forced them to pawn valuable items, incited other borrowers to humiliate them and orchestrated sit-ins outside their homes to publicly shame them. In some cases, the SKS staff physically harassed defaulters, according to the report commissioned by the company. Only in death would the debts be forgiven.

“The videos and reports tell stark stories:

“One woman drank pesticide and died a day after an SKS loan agent told her to prostitute her daughters to pay off her debt. She had been given 150,000 rupees ($3,000) in loans but only made 600 rupees ($12) a week.

“Another SKS debt collector told a delinquent borrower to drown herself in a pond if she wanted her loan waived. The next day, she did. She left behind four children.

“One agent blocked a woman from bringing her young son, weak with diarrhea, to the hospital, demanding payment first. Other borrowers, who could not get any new loans until she paid, told her that if she wanted to die, they would bring her pesticide. An SKS staff member was there when she drank the poison. She survived.

“An 18-year-old girl, pressured until she handed over 150 rupees ($3)—meant for a school examination fee—also drank pesticide. She left a suicide note: ‘Work hard and earn money. Do not take loans.’”

As a result of the bad press this scandal caused, the Omidyar Network deleted its Unitus investment from its website—nor does Omidyar boast of its investments in SKS Microfinance any longer. Meanwhile, Unitus mysteriously dissolved itself and laid off all of its employees right around the time of the IPO, under a cloud of suspicion that Unitus insiders made huge personal profits from the venture, profits that in theory were supposed to be reinvested into expanding micro-lending for the poor.

Thus spoke the profit motive.

Curiously, in the aftermath of the SKS micro-lending scandal, Omidyar Network was dragged into another political scandal in India when it was revealed that Omidyar and the Ford Foundation were placing their own paid researchers onto the staffs of India’s MPs. The program, called Legislative Assistants to MPs (LAMPs), was funded with $1 million from Omidyar Network and $855,000 from the Ford Foundation. It was shut down last year after India’s Ministry of Home Affairs complained about foreign lobbying influencing Indian MPs, and promised to investigate how Omidyar-funded research for India’s parliament may have been “colored” by an agenda.

But SKS is not the only microfinancing investment gone bad. The biggest and most reputable micro-lenders, including those funded by the Omidyar Network, have come under serious and sustained criticism for predatory interest rates and their aggressive debt-collection techniques.

Take BRAC, another big beneficiary of Omidyar’s efforts to boost “financial inclusion.”

Started in the early 1970s as a war relief organization, BRAC has grown into the largest non-governmental organization in the world. It employs over 100,000 people in countries across the globe. While BRAC is known mostly for its micro-lending operation activities, the outfit is a diversified nonprofit business operation. It is involved in education, healthcare and even develops its own hybrid seed varieties. Much of BRAC’s operations are financed by its micro-lending activities.

Omidyar Network praises BRAC for its work to “empower the poor to improve their own lives,” and has given at least $8 million to help BRAC set up micro-lending banking infrastructure in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

But BRAC seems to worry more about its own bottom line than it does about the well-being of its impoverished borrowers, the majority of whom are women and who pay an average annual interest rate of 40 percent.

This twisted sense of priority could be seen after one of the worst cyclones in the history of Bangladesh left thousands dead in 2007, destroying entire villages and towns in its path. In the cyclone’s wake, the Omidyar-funded BRAC micro-lending debt collectors showed up at the disaster zone along with other micro-lenders, and went to work aggressively shaking down borrowers, forcing some victims (mostly women) to go so far as to sell their relief/aid materials, or to take out secondary loans to pay off the first loans.

According to a study about micro-lenders in the aftermath of Cyclone Sidr:

“Sidr victims who lost almost everything in the cyclone, experienced pressure and harassment from non­governmental organisations (NGOs) for repayment of microcredit instalments. Such intense pressure led some of the Sidr­affected borrowers to sell out the relief materials they received from different sources. Such pressure for loan recovery came from large organisations such as BRAC, ASA and even the Nobel Prize winning organisation Grameen Bank.

“Even the most severely affected people are expected to pay back in a weekly basis, with the prevailing interest rate. No system of ‘break’ or ‘holiday’ period is available in the banks’ current charter. No exceptions are made during a time of natural calamity. The harsh rules practised by the microcredit lender organisations led the disaster affected people even selling their relief assistance. Some even had to sell their leftover belongings to pay back their weekly instalments.”

These tactics may be harsh, but they pay off for micro-lenders. And it’s a lucrative operation: BRAC primarily targets women, offers loans with predatory interest rates and uses traditional values and close village relationships to shame and pressure borrowers into selling and doing whatever they can to make their weekly payments. It works. Loan recovery rates for the industry average between 95 and 98 percent. For BRAC, that rate was a comfy 99.3 percent.

So do predatory micro-loans really help lift the world’s poorest people out of poverty? Neoliberal ideology says they do — and the Omidyar Network represents one of the purest distillations of that ideology put into practice in the poorest and most vulnerable parts of the world.

As Cambridge University economics professor Ha-Joon Chang argued, saying of micro-lending:

“[It] constitutes a powerful institutional and political barrier to sustainable economic and social development, and so also to poverty reduction. Finally, we suggest that continued support for microfinance in international development policy circles cannot be divorced from its supreme serviceability to the neoliberal/globalization agenda.”

Omidyar Network has followed the same disastrous neoliberal script in other areas of investment, particularly its investments into privatizing public schools in the US and in poor regions of Africa.

One of the earliest Omidyar investments went to an online private charity website for needy public schools here in the US. As David Sirota wrote, huge billionaire foundations and corporations have been holding children hostage by starving public-school funding and replacing it with “charity” money from the likes of the Wal-Mart Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Broad Foundation. We can add the Omidyar Network to this list as well.

Omidyar’s foundation invested in the same idea, but with a web 2.0 crowd-source twist: DonorsChoose.org allows individuals to pledge amounts as small as $10, and allows school teachers to get online asking for small sums to help their classrooms. The end result, of course, is that it normalizes the continued strangling of public schools and the sense that only private funding can save education.

Omidyar poured millions into DonorsChoose and organized donations from other Silicon Valley donors. At first, most public school teachers didn’t see the angle; many used the resource to raise funds for their own classrooms.

It wasn’t until DonorsChoose announced its partnership with the anti-public-education film “Waiting For Superman” that teachers realized they’d been duped. The movie promoted the myth that education could only be saved by the likes of Tea Party-backed school “reform” advocate Michelle Rhee. Teachers organized a boycott of DonorsChoose after the Omidyar-funded group announced it was essentially bribing its members with a $15 gift certificate to anyone who bought tickets for “Waiting for Superman.”

Two years later, DonorsChoose partnered and promoted yet another right-wing teacher-bashing propaganda film, “Won’t Back Down.”

Overseas, the Omidyar Network is embarking on a school privatization program that will make DonorsChoose look like Mother Theresa’s handiwork. Omidyar provided seed capital for a new Africa-based for-profit private school enterprise for the poor called Bridge International. In 2009, ON gave Bridge a total of $1.8 million; Matt Bannick, the top figure (managing partner) in the Omidyar Network, sits on Bridge International’s board of directors.

Bridge International’s first schools are being built in Kenya, and are slated to expand across the sub-Sahara, hoping to rope millions of poor African kids into its schools. Bridge’s strategic partner is the for-profit education giant, Pearson. Diane Ravitch, former US Assistant Secretary of Education and critic of school “reform” efforts, has warned about Pearson’s near-monopolistic power influencing the privatization of American education (see Ravitch’s article“The Pearsonization of the American Mind.”)

The idea behind Bridge International is to provide a franchised “school in a box” model under which each school teaches the exact same curriculum at the exact same time to every student. Teachers are given minimal training—they’re merely required to teach according to the script given to them and read out to their students, scripts delivered through Nook tablets. Students pay $5 a month—a lot for each student in areas as poor as sub-Saharan Africa. Currently one new Bridge International school is opening every 2.5 days around Kenya, overtaking public education—with plans to expand further.

It sounds like a good idea, but the problem is that Bridge’s business model has a very narrow set of supporters, namely: free-market think-tanks, the global for-profit education industry and proponents of a neoliberal utopia who want to defund public education and replace it with private schooling. Bridge is only a few years old, but criticism of its educational model is already piling up—even from centrist pro-business thinktanks like the Brookings Institution. Even at $4 or $5 a month, Bridge’s “low cost” education is too expensive for many in the developing world, forcing children to go to work and making families choose between buying food and paying for education. Naturally, food wins out. And that simply means that many children can’t afford to go school, which only increases and reinforces stratification and inequality.

The fight against illiteracy requires free, quality education that’s available to all children. What it doesn’t need is a bunch of neoliberal techno-disruptors who want to turn education into a for-profit industry that provides schooling only to those who can afford it. And anyway, the very notion that you can squeeze enough profit from millions of the poorest children in the world to attract mega venture capital, while providing quality education is absurd. That profit money is extracted from the very people Bridge is supposedly trying to help.

Still think that Pierre Omidyar is a “different” type of billionaire? Still convinced he’s a one-of-a-kind “civic-minded” idealist?

Then you might want to ask yourself why Omidyar is so smitten by the ideas of an economist known as “The Friedrich Hayek of Latin America.” His name is Hernando de Soto and he’s been adored by everyone from Milton Friedman to Margaret Thatcher to the Koch brothers. Omidyar Network poured millions of nonprofit dollars into subsidizing his ideas, helping put them into practice in poor slums around the developing world.

In February 2011, the Omidyar Network announced a hefty $4.96 million grant to a Peru-based free-market think tank, the Institute for Liberty & Democracy (ILD).

Perhaps no single investment by Omidyar more clearly reveals his orthodox neoliberal vision for the world—and what constitutes “civic-mindedness”—than his support for the ILD and its founder and president, Hernando De Soto, whom the ON has tapped to participate in other Omidyar-sponsored events.

De Soto is a celebrity in the world of neoliberal/libertarian gurus. He and his Institute for Liberty & Democracy are credited with popularizing a free-market version of Third World land reform and turning it into policy in city slums all across the developing world. Whereas “land reform” in countries like Peru—dominated by a tiny handful of landowning families—used to mean land redistribution, Hernando De Soto came up with a counter-idea more amenable to the Haves: give property title to the country’s poor masses, so that they’d have a secure and legal title to their shanties, shacks, and whatever land they might claim to live on or own.

De Soto’s pitch essentially comes down to this: Give the poor masses a legal “stake” in whatever meager property they live in, and that will “unleash” their inner entrepreneurial spirit and all the national “hidden capital” lying dormant beneath their shanty floors. De Soto claimed that if the poor living in Lima’s vast shantytowns were given legal title ownership over their shacks, they could then use that legal title as collateral to take out microfinance loans, which would then be used to launch their micro-entrepreneurial careers. Newly-created property holders would also have a “stake” in the ruling political and economic system. It’s the sort of cant that makes perfect sense to the Davos set (where De Soto is a star) but that has absolutely zero relevance to problems of entrenched poverty around the world.

Since the Omidyar Network names “property rights” as one of the five areas of focus, it’s no surprise that Omidyar money would eventually find its way into Hernando De Soto’s free-market ideas mill. In 2011, Omidyar not only gave De Soto $5 million to advance his ideas—he also tapped De Soto to serve as a judge in an Omidyar-sponsored competition for projects focused on improving property rights for the poor. The more you know about Hernando De Soto, the harder it is to see Omidyar’s financial backing as “idealistic” or “civic-minded.”

For one thing, De Soto is the favorite of the very same billionaire brothers who play villains to Omidyar’s supposed hero—yes, the reviled Koch brothers. In 2004, the libertarian Cato Institute (neé “The Charles Koch Foundation”) awarded Hernando De Soto its biannual “Milton Friedman Prize”—which comes with a hefty $500,000 check—for “empowering the poor” and “advancing the cause of liberty.” De Soto was chosen by a prize jury consisting of such notable humanitarians as former Pinochet labor minister Jose Piñera, Vladimir Putin’s economic advisor Andrei Illarionov, Washington Post neoconservative columnist Anne Applebaum, FedEx CEO Fred Smith, and Milton Friedman’s wife Rosie. Milton was in the audience during the awards ceremony; he heartily approved.

Indeed, Hernando De Soto is de facto royalty in the world of neoliberal-libertarian gurus—he’s been called “The Friedrich von Hayek of Latin America,” not least because Hayek launched De Soto’s career as a guru more than three decades ago.

So who is Hernando De Soto, where do his ideas come from, and why might Pierre Omidyar think him deserving of five million dollars — ten times the amount the Koch Brothers awarded him?

De Soto was born into an elite “white European” family in Peru, who fled into exile in the West following Peru’s 1948 coup—his father was the secretary to the deposed president. Hernando spent most of the next 30 years in Switzerland, getting his education at elite schools, working his way up various international institutions based in Geneva, serving as the president of a Geneva-based copper cartel outfit, the International Council of Copper Exporting Countries, and working as an official in GATT (General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs).

De Soto didn’t return to live in Peru until the end of the 1970s, to oversee a new gold placer mining company he’d formed with a group of foreign investors. The mining company’s profits suffered due to Peru’s weak property laws and almost non-existent cultural appreciation of property title, especially among the country’s poor masses—De Soto’s investors pulled out of the mining venture after visiting the company’s gold mines and seeing hundreds of peasants panning on the company’s concessions. That experience inspired De Soto to change Peruvians’ political assumptions regarding property rights. Rather than start off by trying to convince them that foreign mining firms should have exclusive rights to gold from traditionally communal Peruvian lands, De Soto came up with a clever end-around idea: giving property title to the masses of Peru’s poor living in the vast shanties and shacks in the slums of Lima and cities beyond. It was a long-term strategy to alter cultural expectations about property and ownership, thereby improving the investment climate for mining companies and other investors. The point was to align the masses’ assumptions about property ownership with those of the banana republic’s handful of rich landowning families.

In 1979, De Soto organized a conference in Peru’s capital Lima, featuring Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek as speakers and guests. At the time, both Friedman and Hayek were serving as key advisors to General Augusto Pinochet’s “shock therapy” program in nearby Chile, an economic experiment that combined libertarian market policies with concentration camp terror.

Two years after De Soto’s successful conference in Lima, in 1981, Hayek helped De Soto set up his own free-market think tank in Lima, the “Institute for Liberty and Democracy” (ILD). The ILD became the first of a large international network of right-wing neoliberal think tanks connected to the Mother Ships—Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, and Britain’s Institute for Economic Affairs, Margaret Thatcher’s go-to think tank. By 1983, De Soto’s Institute was also receiving heavy funding from Reagan’s Cold War front group, the National Endowment for Democracy, which promoted free-market think tanks and programs around the world, and by the end of Reagan decade, De Soto produced his first manifesto, “The Other Path”—a play on the name of Peru’s Maoist guerrilla group, Shining Path, then fighting a bloody war for power. But whereas the Shining Path’s political program called for nationalizing and redistributing property, most of which was in the hands of a few rich families, De Soto’s “Other Path” called for maintaining property distribution as it was, and legalizing its current structure by democratizing property titles, the pieces of paper with the stamps. Everyone would become a micro-oligarch and micro-landowner under this scheme…

With help and funding from US and international institutions, De Soto quickly became a powerful political force behind the scenes. In 1990, De Soto insinuated himself into the inner circle of newly-elected president Alberto Fujimori, who quickly turned into a brutal dictator, and is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for crimes against humanity, murder, kidnapping, and illegal wiretapping.

Under De Soto’s influence, Fujimori’s politics suddenly changed; almost overnight, the populist Keynsian candidate became the free-market authoritarian “Chinochet” he governed as. As Fujimori’s top advisor, Hernando De Soto was the architect of so-called “Fujishock” therapy applied to Peru’s economy. Officially, De Soto served as Fujimori’s drug czar from 1990-1992, an unusual role for an economist given the fact that Peru’s army was fighting a brutal war with Peru’s powerful cocaine drug lords. At the time Peru was the world’s largest cocaine producer; as drug czar, Hernando De Soto therefore positioned himself as the point-man between Peru’s military and security services, America’s DEA and drug czar under the first President Bush, and Peru’s president Alberto Fujimori. It’s the sort of position that you’d want to have if you wanted “deep state” power rather than mere ministerial power.

During those first two years when De Soto served under Fujimori, human rights abuses were rampant. Fujimori death squads—with names like the “Grupo Colina”—targeted labor unions and government critics and their families. Two of the worst massacres committed under Fujimori’s reign, and for which he was later jailed, took place while De Soto served as his advisor and drug czar.

The harsh free-market shock-therapy program that De Soto convinced Fujimori to implement resulted in mass misery for Peru. During the two years De Soto served as Fujimori’s advisor, real wages plunged 40%, the poverty rate rose to over 54% of the population, and the percentage of the workforce that was either unemployed or underemployed soared to 87.3%.

But while the country suffered, De Soto’s Institute for Liberty and Democracy—the outfit that Omidyar gave $5 million to in 2011—thrived: its staff grew to over 100 as funds poured in. A World Bank staffer who worked with the ILD described it as,

“a kind of school for the country. Most of the important ministers, lawyers, journalists, and economists in Peru are ILD alumni.”

In 1992, Fujimori orchestrated a constitutional coup, disbanding Peru’s Congress and its courts, and imposing emergency rule-by-decree. It was another variation of the same Pinochet blueprint.

Just before Fujimori’s coup, De Soto indemnified himself by officially resigning from the cabinet. However in the weeks and months after the coup, De Soto provided crucial PR cover, downplaying the coup to the foreign press. For instance, De Soto told the Los Angeles Times that the public should temper their judgment of Fujimori’s coup:

“You’ve got to see this as the trial and error of a president who’s trying to find his way.”

In the New York Times, De Soto spun the coup as willed by the people, the ultimate democratic politics:

“People are fed up, fed up…[Fujimori] has attacked two hated institutions at just the right time. There is an enormous need to believe in him.”

Years later, Fujimori’s notorious spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos testified to Peru’s Congress that De Soto helped mastermind the 1992 coup. De Soto denied involvement; but in 2011, two years after Fujimori was jailed for crimes against humanity, De Soto joined the presidential campaign for Keiko Fujimori, the jailed dictator’s daughter and leader of Fujimori’s right-wing party. Keiko Fujimori ran on a platform promising to free her father from prison if she won; De Soto spent much of the campaign red-baiting her opponent as a Communist. That led Peru’s Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa to denounce De Soto as a “fujimontesenista” with “few democratic credentials.”

So in the same year that De Soto was trying to put the daughter of Peru’s Pinochet in power and to spring the dictator from prison, Omidyar Network awarded him $5 million.

It was during Fujimori’s dictatorial emergency rule, from 1992-94, that De Soto rolled out a property-title pilot program in Lima, in which 200,000 households were given formal title. In 1996, Fujimori implemented De Soto’s property-titling program on a national scale, with help from the World Bank and a new government property agency staffed by people from De Soto’s Institute for Liberty and Democracy. By 2000, the magical promise of an explosion in bank credits to all the new micro-property owners never materialized; in fact, there was no noticeable difference in bank lending to the poor whatsoever, whether they had property title or not.

The World Bank and the project’s neoliberal supporters led by Hernando De Soto were not happy with data showing no uptick in lending, which threatened to unravel the entire happy theory behind property titling as the answer to Third World poverty. De Soto was in the process of peddling the same property-titling program to countries around the world; data was needed to justify the program. So the World Bank funded a new study in Peru in the early 2000s, and discovered something startling: In homes that had formal property titles, the parents in those homes spent up to 40% more time outside of their homes than they did before they were given title. De Soto took that statistic and argued that it was a good thing because it proved giving property title to homeowners made them feel secure enough to leave their shanties and shacks. The assumption was that in the dark days before shanty dwellers had legal titles, they were too scared to leave their shacks lest some other savage steal it from them while they were out shopping.

No one ever conclusively explained why shanty parents were spending so much more time outside of their homes, but the important thing was that it made everyone forget the utter failure of the property title program’s core promise—that property titles would ignite micro-lending thanks to the collateral of the micro-entrepreneur’s micro-shack as collateral. Thanks to De Soto’s salesmanship and the backing of the world’s neoliberal nomenklatura — Bill Clinton called De Soto “the world’s greatest living economist” and he was praised by everyone from Milton Friedman to Vladimir Putin to Margaret Thatcher. The disappointing results in Peru were ignored, and De Soto’s program was extended to developing countries around the world including Egypt, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia and elsewhere. And in nearly every case, De Soto’s Institute for Liberty and Democracy has taken the lead in advising governments and selling the dream of turning titled slum-dwellers into micro-entrepreneurs.

The real change brought by De Soto’s property-titling program has ranged from nil to nightmarish.

In Cambodia, where the World Bank implemented De Soto’s land-titling program in 2001, poor and vulnerable people in the capital Phnom Penh have suffered at the hands of land developers and speculators who’ve used arson, police corruption and violence to forcibly evict roughly 10% of the city’s population from their homes in more valuable districts, relocating them to the city outskirts.

An article in Slate titled “The De Soto Delusion” described what happened in Cambodia when the land-titling program was first implemented:

“In the nine months or so leading up to the project kickoff, a devastating series of slum fires and forced evictions purged 23,000 squatters from tracts of untitled land in the heart of Phnom Penh. These squatters were then plopped onto dusty relocation sites several miles outside of the city, where there were no jobs and where the price of commuting to and from central Phnom Penh (about $2 per day) surpassed whatever daily wage they had been earning in town before the fires. Meanwhile, the burned-out inner city land passed immediately to some of the wealthiest property developers in the country.”

De Soto and his Institute for Liberty and Democracy have advised property-title programs elsewhere too—Haiti, Dominican Republic, Panama, Russia—again with results ranging from nil to bad. Even where it doesn’t lead to mass evictions and violence, it has the effect of shifting a greater tax burden onto the poor, who end up paying more in property taxes, and of forcing them to pony up for costly filing fees to gain title, fees that they often cannot afford. Property title in and of itself—without a whole range of reforms in governance, corruption, education, income, wealth distribution and so on—is clearly no panacea. But it does provide an alternative to programs that give money to the poor and redistribute wealth, and that alone is a good thing, if you’re the type smitten by Hernando De Soto—as Omidyar clearly is.

Studies of property-titling programs in the slums of Brazil and Manila revealed that it created a new bitterly competitive culture and bifurcation, in which a small handful of titled slum dwellers quickly learn to benefit by turning into micro-slumlords renting out dwellings to lesser slum dwellers, who subsequently find themselves forced to pay monthly fees for their shanty rooms—creating an underclass within the underclass. De Soto has described these slums as “acres of diamonds”—wealth waiting to be unlocked by property titling—and his acolytes even coined a new acronym for slums: “Strategic Low-income Urban Management Systems.”

All of which begs the obvious question: If De Soto’s property-title program is such a proven failure in case after case, why is it so popular among the world’s political and business elites?

The answer is rather obvious: It offers a simple, low-cost, technocratic market solution to the problem of global poverty—a complex and costly problem that can only be alleviated by dedicating huge amounts of resources and a very different politics from the one that tells us that markets are god, markets can solve everything. Even before Omidyar committed $5 million to the dark plutocratic “idealism” De Soto represents, he was Tweeting his admiration for De Soto:

“Brilliant dinner with Hernando de Soto. Property rights underlie and enable everything.”

Indeed, property rights underlie and enable everything Omidyar wants to hear—but distract and divert from what the targets of those programs might actually need or be asking for.

Which brings us back to the wonderful words written about Pierre Omidyar last month: Where is the proof that he’s a “civic-minded” billionaire, a “different” billionaire, an “idealistic” billionaire who’s in it for ideals and not for profit? How is Omidyar any different from any other billionaire—when he is funding the same programs and pushing the same vision for the world backed by the Kochs, Soros, Gates, and every other neoliberal billionaire?

When you scratch the surface of his investments and get a sense of what sort of ideal world he’d like to make, it becomes clear that Omidyar is no different from his peers.

And the reason that matters, of course, is because Pierre Omidyar’s dystopian vision is merging with Glenn Greenwald’s and Laura Poitras’ monopoly on the crown jewels of the National Security Agency — the world’s secrets, our secrets — and using the value of those secrets as the capital for what’s being billed as an entirely new, idealistic media project, an idealism that the CJR and others promise will not shy away from taking on power.

The question, however, is what defines power to a neoliberal mind? We’re going to take a wild guess here and say: The State.

So brace yourself, you’re about to get something you’ve never seen before: billionaire-backed journalism taking on the power of the state. How radical is that? To quote “60 Minutes” producer Lowell Bergman:

“What has been adjudicated and established in the wake of Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement is the ability of the press to basically write or broadcast almost anything about the government.There’s very few restrictions in that way. It’s not true when we’re talking about private power, especially major Fortune 500 corporations, or people worth more than, say, a billion dollars.”

In other words: look out Government, you’re about to be pummeled by a crusading, righteous billionaire! And corporate America? Ah, don’t worry. Your dirty secrets—freshly transferred from the nasty non-profit hands of the Guardian to the aggressively for-profit hands of Pierre Omidyar—are safe with us.

Chomsky’s Right: The New York Times’ Latest Big Lie November 18, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Iran, Media.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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Salon.com / By Patrick Smith

 

More misleading half-truths from a paper too cowed by power and myth to tell the truth about U.S. foreign policy.

 

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Northfoto

Never before have I written a column concerning nothing more than a pair of quotation marks. Then again, never until now have I seen the power of punctuation so perniciously deployed.

It is not a new trick. Very popular in hackdom during the Cold War decades. Enclose something in quotation marks and all between them is instantly de-legitimized; no argument or explanation need be made. Here, try it:

“… the Cuban ‘doctors’ sent to Angola…”

Or: “… Soviet-made ‘farm equipment’ in Portugal since its 1974 revolution…”

Well, they were doctors and it was farm equipment. In the latter category I sat in a Soviet tractor out in the Portuguese vineyards, and damn it if the camponês did not find it useful.

In the end, this kind of thing is simply passive aggression, my least favorite neurosis. No one actively lies such that one can confront and reveal. It is lying by misleading and by implication, so sending us off full of groundless conviction and prejudice.

In this case, we have the irresponsible use of inverted commas, as the Brits say, to shape national opinion on a question of vital importance. The question is Iran. And now to the supine, corrupted and corrupting organ.

You have taken a wild guess, and you are right. We have our familiar problem with our friends on Eighth Avenue, the New York Times, faithful servants of the sanctioned orthodoxy. I give these folks an “A” for clever disguise this time, and I flunk them in the professional ethics class. Simply shameful, this round of reckless chicanery.

Here is the situation.

As all know, a deal with Iran over its nuclear program is the biggest game going these days — an historic opportunity, as previously asserted in this space. Fumble this, and the Obama administration will go down as hopelessly moronic on the foreign-relations side.

You may know, too, that a round of talks between six world powers and the Iranians just hit a pothole. It is essential to understand why.

The paradox is apparent, not real. Knowing why reveals what a nation with imperial ambitions looks like when it is nearing exhaustion and would rather decline than shape up, re-imagine itself, and take a new and constructive place in the global community. Not knowing why encourages Americans to preserve their righteous self-image even as the moths of history chew holes in it.

Best, in Washington’s view, that we do not know why talks in Geneva last weekend failed.

Complex story, but we can take care of it simply. Iran wants a nuclear program, and this includes the capacity to enrich uranium. This is Iran’s right under international law. Washington and the major European powers do not want Iran to have such a program because they worry Iran will eventually build a nuclear weapon. The talks in Geneva went sour because the U.S. and the Europeans demanded that Iran surrender its right.

O.K. Here is the lead in the Times report from the City of Diplomacy:

      The Iranian government’s insistence on formal recognition

      of its “right” to enrich uranium emerged as a major obstacle,

      diplomats said Sunday.

Two big problems. Nothing emerged as an obstacle in Geneva other than Secretary of State Kerry’s duplicity, given that his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, now charges him with misleading Iran as to demands to be made on the enrichment question. Iran has been quite clear all along: Enrichment under law will never get on the table. Zarif would have skipped the trip had he known Kerry’s plans; Kerry knew this.

Then the quotation marks. With them, the Times proposes to deprive Iran of its statutory rights so that Washington can lie to us as well as to the Iranians.

You are all set now for the corker. You search through the piece to understand the quotation marks, and you come to this, edited down so as to get to the point:

       Iran has asserted repeatedly that it has the right to enrich uranium….

       The Obama administration is prepared to allow Iran to enrich

      uranium to the low level of 3.5 percent…. But the administration

       is not prepared to acknowledge at this point that Iran has a “right”

       to enrich….

This is how the consciousness of empire is dribbled into us and sustained, one touch at a time. Iran asserts only the validity of international law. What the administration is prepared to allow or acknowledge has nothing to do with what Iran can and cannot do as a sovereign nation.

This is also why these talks are very likely to fail. If they do, it will be the fault of Washington and its allies and the complicit media. It is this kind of language that enables Congress to begin debates on new sanctions against Iran. Concessions and demands are different: Iran may choose to concede this or that; the U.S. cannot demand those things by pretending international law does not (somehow) apply.

In my view, we are amid a pandemic of misinformation as to our global behavior. The dishonesty with which we are given the world — an essentially fantastic version of it — is becoming abject to the point of danger. And it is frighteningly willful. Here is the paradox: We cannot bear to see things as they are because things as they are constitute a refutation of our dearest mythologies, but we must see things as they are if we are to make sense of ourselves in the 21st century.

The Iran case has just become urgent in this regard. As I have asserted previously, it will be profoundly detrimental if the U.S. and the Europeans do not pursue what is a patently serious effort on Iran’s part to claim its rights and ease the world’s worries as to its nuclear program.

If the honorable editor will permit the unconventional, two things belong in caps so that a modest few Americans might stop wandering in the dark purposely created by the Times and all the other media too weak-minded to make judgments without reference to the Times:

ONE: IRAN HAS AN UNAMBIGUOUS RIGHT UNDER LAW TO A NUCLEAR PROGRAM, INCLUDING ENRICHMENT, EVEN IF THIS MAKES IT (AS IT WILL) NEARLY CAPABLE OF WEAPONIZING. READ YOUR DAILY NEWS DOSAGE WITH THIS IN MIND.

TWO. THERE IS ZERO EVIDENCE THAT IRAN DESIRES A NUCLEAR WEAPON, AND DECADES OF POLICY TO INDICATE IT PREFERS A NUCLEAR-FREE MIDDLE EAST. THERE IS ONLY ONE REASON IRAN WOULD CHANGE ITS MIND: ISRAEL’S NEVER-MENTIONED ARSENAL OF NUKES. THE MOTIVE WOULD BE DETERRENCE, AND MOST OF US WORSHIPPED AT THE ALTAR OF DETERRENCE WELL ENOUGH DURING THE COLD WAR. IRAN HAS SIGNED THE NUCLEAR NON-PROLIFERATION TREATY; ISRAEL DECLINES TO DO SO.

The adage among properly cynical diplomats used to be that they were sent abroad to lie for their country. During the Cold War, as Washington’s sponsored atrocities grew evident, the thought took a turn: Diplomats were sent abroad to lie to their country.

Consider it a template and apply it to our press folk.

Correspondents used to be sent abroad to keep the country informed (in theory, at least). Now correspondents go forth to send home a simulacrum of truth, a semblance, while keeping their country misinformed.

It is no good positing some golden age of spotless integrity, some yesteryear when newspapers, the wires and broadcasters glistened with high principle. There never was such a time. A good press is ever a work in progress, requiring the calloused hands of each generation to make it however good it can, always and by definition short of any ideal.

Too far short when one considers this columnist’s cohort.

Patrick Smith is the author of “Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century” was the International Herald Tribune’s bureau chief in Hong Kong and then Tokyo from 1985 to 1992. During this time he also wrote “Letter from Tokyo” for the New Yorker. He is the author of four previous books and has contributed frequently to the New York Times, the Nation, the Washington Quarterly, and other publications.

‘The Voice of Greek Radio Falls Silent’ November 7, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Greece, Media.
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Despite the police raid against the occupied offices of the ERT, Margaronis declares says the popular Greek opposition to austerity will continue. “Of course, people won’t be silenced, especially not now.” (Photo: Getty images)

Even words lose their meanings,” says the disembodied voice. It’s speaking to fill the space before the silence, to be present. “Are these your orders? Yes, those are my things…Somewhere here we close, dear listeners. The voice of Greek radio falls silent. Good luck to everyone. We’ll find each other, we’ll meet again. These microphones are shutting down. Deep soul.”

Early this morning riot police broke into the Athens headquarters of ERT, Greek Radio and Television, which was officially closed by ministerial decree on June 11th but whose journalists and technicians have continued to broadcast over the Internet. After dispersing protesters outside with teargas, armoured police cleared the building room by room. Union representative Nikos Tsimpidas was last at the microphone, calling for a “magnificent demonstration, not just for ERT, not for our jobs, but for democracy itself, against…this virulent repression, this rewind through decades, for all the things we should have stood up for but couldn’t …”

Even words lose their meanings. Increasingly, a mark of the Greek crisis (not so much a crisis now as a condition) is the fragmenting of perceived reality, along with a desperate struggle to control the story of what’s happening. I imagine it’s always like this with authoritarian regimes—for Greece is clearly now an authoritarian regime masquerading as a democracy—but I’ve never seen it from close up before. We’re living (as well as everything else) a war of words, a propaganda campaign designed to drown out dissenting voices—even moderate ones. Questions about whether ERT was wasteful, or padded with cronies, or captured by special interests—questions that might have been addressed in a functioning democracy—became irrelevant the day the broadcaster was shut down by fiat. This morning the other shoe dropped. The image is the message: platoons of armoured representatives of the state evicting a few dozen journalists and locking the doors with handcuffs.

As always in Greece, the message is two-faced, one visage for foreign consumption, the other for domestic. What it’s supposed to say to representatives of the Troika who are, once again, in Athens (if they’re stupid enough to buy it, or diplomats enough to pretend they have) is that everything’s under control: we’re meeting our obligations, turning around the economy, cracking down on lawlessness, breaking the unions. (The original shut-down of ERT was ostensibly designed to meet the Troika’s demand for public sector lay-offs.) The message to Greeks is this: You may see a government that’s scrambling to appease its creditors without upsetting its cronies, that’s lost control of the streets and its own half-tamed heavies, that has no idea how to get out of the maze; you may be jobless, hungry, disoriented and lost, looking ahead at a winter without heat or hope; you may think some kind of resistance is still possible. But the evidence of your senses is false, or at least irrelevant. Look! We’re installling free WiFi all across the country! Greece is a success story! And if you won’t line up behind our version of reality, we have the power to persuade you. Against the voice of a man in a room with a microphone, we play helmeted troops with teargas and batons.

Of course, people won’t be silenced, especially not now. (A few days ago, a bunch of Dogberries from the Greek police turned up at Radiobubble, a citizen radio station run out of a café in Athens, and threatened to prosecute because people were “talking too loudly” in the street outside. Perhaps they had read about it in the New York Times.) But (let them eat WiFi notwithstanding) most Greeks get their news from private television stations owned by politically well-connected oligarchs–which were given control of the digital airwaves by a vote in parliament hours before this morning’s raid on ERT. And the cacophony of unsourced hysteria and conspiracy theories that has longed filled much of the Greek media, across the political spectrum, doesn’t help the quest for a coherent, usable description of what’s happening.

The moment when stories fragment and words lose their meanings is also one of possibility, when different futures and arrangements might emerge. The nexus of oligarchs, financial interests and politicians ruling Greece (in symbiotic struggle with its creditors) now seems determined at all costs to close that down. The sense of repression is palpable; the scary thing is how quickly you get used to it. Two weeks ago I went out to dinner with friends in Athens. As we left the taverna—almost empty on a Friday night—a heavily armoured Delta police patrol roared by, eight or ten men in black, on motorbikes, two abreast. No one even turned to look.

On the other hand, as I write, the left party, Syriza—some of whose MPs were violently prevented from entering ERT’s headquarters this morning—is tabling a motion of no confidence in the  government, to be debated tomorrow. The ruling coalition has a majority of only five MPs, some of whom blocked a motion to impose a new property tax a few days ago; of course, the pressure on them to conform will be immense. The private channels will broadcast this–with dire predictions of catastrophe–as another “thriller.” Meanwhile, protesters have gathered outside ERT’s headquarters in Athens and Salonika; one banner reads, “Deep Soul.” And ERT journalists and musicians are still broadcasting on the internet, from the street.

As Europe erupts over US spying, NSA chief says government must stop media October 28, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Democracy, Media, Surveillance State, Whistle-blowing.
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With General Alexander calling for NSA reporting to be halted, US and UK credibility as guardians of press freedom is crushed

 

NSA director Gen Keith Alexander.

NSA Director General Keith Alexander, earlier this month. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

 

The most under-discussed aspect of the NSA story has long been its international scope. That all changed this week as both Germany and France exploded with anger over new revelations about pervasive NSA surveillance on their population and democratically elected leaders.

As was true for Brazil previously, reports about surveillance aimed at leaders are receiving most of the media attention, but what really originally drove the story there were revelations that the NSA is bulk-spying on millions and millions of innocent citizens in all of those nations. The favorite cry of US government apologists -–everyone spies! – falls impotent in the face of this sort of ubiquitous, suspicionless spying that is the sole province of the US and its four English-speaking surveillance allies (the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand).

There are three points worth making about these latest developments.

First, note how leaders such as Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted with basic indifference when it was revealed months ago that the NSA was bulk-spying on all German citizens, but suddenly found her indignation only when it turned out that she personally was also targeted. That reaction gives potent insight into the true mindset of many western leaders.

Second, all of these governments keep saying how newsworthy these revelations are, how profound are the violations they expose, how happy they are to learn of all this, how devoted they are to reform. If that’s true, why are they allowing the person who enabled all these disclosures – Edward Snowden – to be targeted for persecution by the US government for the “crime” of blowing the whistle on all of this?

If the German and French governments – and the German and French people – are so pleased to learn of how their privacy is being systematically assaulted by a foreign power over which they exert no influence, shouldn’t they be offering asylum to the person who exposed it all, rather than ignoring or rejecting his pleas to have his basic political rights protected, and thus leaving him vulnerable to being imprisoned for decades by the US government?

Aside from the treaty obligations these nations have to protect the basic political rights of human beings from persecution, how can they simultaneously express outrage over these exposed invasions while turning their back on the person who risked his liberty and even life to bring them to light?

Third, is there any doubt at all that the US government repeatedly tried to mislead the world when insisting that this system of suspicionless surveillance was motivated by an attempt to protect Americans from The Terrorists™? Our reporting has revealed spying on conferences designed to negotiate economic agreements, the Organization of American States, oil companies, ministries that oversee mines and energy resources, the democratically elected leaders of allied states, and entire populations in those states.

Can even President Obama and his most devoted loyalists continue to maintain, with a straight face, that this is all about Terrorism? That is what this superb new Foreign Affairs essay by Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore means when it argues that the Manning and Snowden leaks are putting an end to the ability of the US to use hypocrisy as a key weapon in its soft power.

Speaking of an inability to maintain claims with a straight face, how are American and British officials, in light of their conduct in all of this, going to maintain the pretense that they are defenders of press freedoms and are in a position to lecture and condemn others for violations? In what might be the most explicit hostility to such freedoms yet – as well as the most unmistakable evidence of rampant panic – the NSA’s director, General Keith Alexander, actually demanded Thursday that the reporting being done by newspapers around the world on this secret surveillance system be halted (Techdirt has the full video here):

The head of the embattled National Security Agency, Gen Keith Alexander, is accusing journalists of “selling” his agency’s documents and is calling for an end to the steady stream of public disclosures of secrets snatched by former contractor Edward Snowden.

“I think it’s wrong that that newspaper reporters have all these documents, the 50,000 – whatever they have and are selling them and giving them out as if these – you know it just doesn’t make sense,” Alexander said in an interview with the Defense Department’s “Armed With Science” blog.

“We ought to come up with a way of stopping it. I don’t know how to do that. That’s more of the courts and the policy-makers but, from my perspective, it’s wrong to allow this to go on,” the NSA director declared. [My italics]

There are 25,000 employees of the NSA (and many tens of thousands more who work for private contracts assigned to the agency). Maybe one of them can tell The General about this thing called “the first amendment”.

I’d love to know what ways, specifically, General Alexander has in mind for empowering the US government to “come up with a way of stopping” the journalism on this story. Whatever ways those might be, they are deeply hostile to the US constitution – obviously. What kind of person wants the government to forcibly shut down reporting by the press?

Whatever kind of person that is, he is not someone to be trusted in instituting and developing a massive bulk-spying system that operates in the dark. For that matter, nobody is.

When Canada made Afghanistan worse October 14, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Iraq and Afghanistan, Media, War.
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Roger’s note:  I cannot agree with one of the author’s statements, to wit, that the West, including Canadians, “unintentionally” made things worse.  I don’t believe that “the West, including Canadians” (meaning governments, not necessarily citizens) gives a damn about the welfare of the Afghan people; the sole intention for the illegal invasion, occupation and destruction of the country has to do entirely with the geopolitical (oil, military, industrial, arms sales, etc.) objectives of the United States and its lackeys.  Nor do I agree with the conclusion that NATO involvement should continue, which in essence contradicts the rest of the article.

In those early, hopelessly naive years, when Canadian soldiers and their energetic general encamped in Kandahar to kill “scumbags” and set Afghanistan on the road to democracy, the accompanying media fell into line – in love with the general, the soldiers and their mission.

The early coverage was largely ahistorical, gung-ho, a big group hug for the Canadians – a travesty of journalism, really. What Canadians needed then was a clear-eyed analysis of the country and its history, an understanding of its regional antagonisms, an appreciation of the daunting, even impossible task Canada and its government – to say nothing of the entire North Atlantic Treaty Organization – had signed up for in that forbidding, post-medieval place.

Many years later, as the Americans prepare to withdraw their forces and the last Canadians (trainers for the Afghan army) can see the end of their time in Afghanistan, Westerners will have left behind graveyards of their fallen and a country still corrupt, tribally divided and closer to civil strife than civil peace.

After that first full flush of nonsense reporting that, in fairness, played well at home and was supplemented by the country’s biggest windbag on Hockey Night in Canada, along came another group of correspondents, sympathetic to the troops and their travails, of course, but willing to question the party line and explore beyond the perimeters of the Canadian base in Kandahar.

There were some very good journalists in this group, brave men and women in a place growing more violent every day. One lost her life. Another was held hostage. Another was seriously wounded.

The Globe and Mail’s Graeme Smith (now with the International Crisis Group in Kabul) was among them. He stayed longer than most, took extraordinary risks around Kandahar and in Quetta across the Pakistani border, interviewed the Taliban (despite criticism for giving a microphone to the enemy) and, more than anyone else, exposed the story of Afghan prisoner detainees turned over by Canadians and other NATO forces to local authorities, who tortured and abused them.

Canada’s government lied about many aspects of the detainee affair, insisting that Ottawa didn’t know what was happening or that Afghan authorities were examining all allegations of misconduct – despite memos from Canadian officials on the ground saying that wasn’t so.

Mr. Smith explains the detainee affair, from the prison where he visited and interviewed prisoners to the government’s mendacity in the House of Commons, in The Dogs Are Eating Them Now, a memoir of his correspondent days in Kandahar and Kabul. But the detainees represent but one small part of a wise, enthralling, detailed, realistic account of his time in Afghanistan.

Many are the lessons from Mr. Smith’s book, but one emerges above all: that the presence of foreigners did not necessarily turn the tide against the Taliban. Indeed, the foreigners’ military forays and strange (to the Pashtuns) ways may even have allowed the Taliban to survive and, ultimately, to grow.

Mr. Smith doesn’t say so, but he would be honest to admit that his portrait is of only one part of a sprawling, diverse country. There were and are much less violent parts of Afghanistan, where leaders fought against the Taliban before and might do so again after the Americans leave.

His is a picture of Kandahar and its surroundings, where the Pashtun code of tribal identity and revenge has for centuries proved difficult for foreigners to understand. In southern Afghanistan, at any rate, “we are leaving behind an ongoing war; at worst, it’s a looming disaster,” Mr. Smith says.

How the West, including Canadians, unintentionally made things worse is a textbook case of cross-cultural misunderstanding and hubris. The West will tell itself heroic stories, then forget about Afghanistan.

Perhaps unexpectedly, given his depressing account, Mr. Smith concludes that saying goodbye would be a mistake. The Afghan government Westerners leave behind will need support, and lots of it. Without foreign money and help, he argues, the chances of a moderately peaceful Afghanistan seem remote – as remote as that support continuing.

Journalist Seymour Hersh on Obama, NSA and the ‘Pathetic’ American Media September 27, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in History, Media.
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Roger’s note; Seymour Hersh is the exception that proves the rule of corporate dominated media.  He is a dying breed, especially in the realm of print and broadcast media.  It has for the most part been the Internet that has kept open the door to independent investigative journalism.  It was a foreign print media entity, the UK’s “Guardian” that printed the Snowden revelations, but its reporter was Glenn Greenwald, only recently hired by the Guardian after years of scorching independent reporting on salon.com.  God bless Seymour Hersh, who is indeed a hero of our times, but his proposed solution is a pipe dream, which doesn’t speak to the heart of the problem, which has to do with the relationship between huge concentrations of capital and the industry that provides information to the public.

Pulitzer Prize winner explains how to fix journalism, saying press should ‘fire 90% of editors and promote ones you can’t control’

 

by Lisa O’Carroll

Seymour Hersh exposed the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam war, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize. (Photograph: Wally McNamee/Corbis)

Seymour Hersh has got some extreme ideas on how to fix journalism – close down the news bureaus of NBC and ABC, sack 90% of editors in publishing and get back to the fundamental job of journalists which, he says, is to be an outsider.

It doesn’t take much to fire up Hersh, the investigative journalist who has been the nemesis of US presidents since the 1960s and who was once described by the Republican party as “the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist”.

He is angry about the timidity of journalists in America, their failure to challenge the White House and be an unpopular messenger of truth.

Don’t even get him started on the New York Times which, he says, spends “so much more time carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would” – or the death of Osama bin Laden. “Nothing’s been done about that story, it’s one big lie, not one word of it is true,” he says of the dramatic US Navy Seals raid in 2011.

Hersh is writing a book about national security and has devoted a chapter to the bin Laden killing. He says a recent report put out by an “independent” Pakistani commission about life in the Abottabad compound in which Bin Laden was holed up would not stand up to scrutiny. “The Pakistanis put out a report, don’t get me going on it. Let’s put it this way, it was done with considerable American input. It’s a bullshit report,” he says hinting of revelations to come in his book.

The Obama administration lies systematically, he claims, yet none of the leviathans of American media, the TV networks or big print titles, challenge him.

“It’s pathetic, they are more than obsequious, they are afraid to pick on this guy [Obama],” he declares in an interview with the Guardian.

“It used to be when you were in a situation when something very dramatic happened, the president and the minions around the president had control of the narrative, you would pretty much know they would do the best they could to tell the story straight. Now that doesn’t happen any more. Now they take advantage of something like that and they work out how to re-elect the president.

He isn’t even sure if the recent revelations about the depth and breadth of surveillance by the National Security Agency will have a lasting effect.

Snowden changed the debate on surveillance

He is certain that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden “changed the whole nature of the debate” about surveillance. Hersh says he and other journalists had written about surveillance, but Snowden was significant because he provided documentary evidence – although he is sceptical about whether the revelations will change the US government’s policy.

“Duncan Campbell [the British investigative journalist who broke the Zircon cover-up story], James Bamford [US journalist] and Julian Assange and me and the New Yorker, we’ve all written the notion there’s constant surveillance, but he [Snowden] produced a document and that changed the whole nature of the debate, it’s real now,” Hersh says.

“Editors love documents. Chicken-shit editors who wouldn’t touch stories like that, they love documents, so he changed the whole ball game,” he adds, before qualifying his remarks.

“But I don’t know if it’s going to mean anything in the long [run] because the polls I see in America – the president can still say to voters ‘al-Qaida, al-Qaida’ and the public will vote two to one for this kind of surveillance, which is so idiotic,” he says.

Holding court to a packed audience at City University in London’s summer school on investigative journalism, 76-year-old Hersh is on full throttle, a whirlwind of amazing stories of how journalism used to be; how he exposed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, how he got the Abu Ghraib pictures of American soldiers brutalising Iraqi prisoners, and what he thinks of Edward Snowden.

Hope of redemption

Despite his concern about the timidity of journalism he believes the trade still offers hope of redemption.

“I have this sort of heuristic view that journalism, we possibly offer hope because the world is clearly run by total nincompoops more than ever … Not that journalism is always wonderful, it’s not, but at least we offer some way out, some integrity.”

His story of how he uncovered the My Lai atrocity is one of old-fashioned shoe-leather journalism and doggedness. Back in 1969, he got a tip about a 26-year-old platoon leader, William Calley, who had been charged by the army with alleged mass murder.

Instead of picking up the phone to a press officer, he got into his car and started looking for him in the army camp of Fort Benning in Georgia, where he heard he had been detained. From door to door he searched the vast compound, sometimes blagging his way, marching up to the reception, slamming his fist on the table and shouting: “Sergeant, I want Calley out now.”

Eventually his efforts paid off with his first story appearing in the St Louis Post-Despatch, which was then syndicated across America and eventually earned him the Pulitzer Prize. “I did five stories. I charged $100 for the first, by the end the [New York] Times were paying $5,000.”

He was hired by the New York Times to follow up the Watergate scandal and ended up hounding Nixon over Cambodia. Almost 30 years later, Hersh made global headlines all over again with his exposure of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Put in the hours

For students of journalism his message is put the miles and the hours in. He knew about Abu Ghraib five months before he could write about it, having been tipped off by a senior Iraqi army officer who risked his own life by coming out of Baghdad to Damascus to tell him how prisoners had been writing to their families asking them to come and kill them because they had been “despoiled”.

“I went five months looking for a document, because without a document, there’s nothing there, it doesn’t go anywhere.”

Hersh returns to US president Barack Obama. He has said before that the confidence of the US press to challenge the US government collapsed post 9/11, but he is adamant that Obama is worse than Bush.

“Do you think Obama’s been judged by any rational standards? Has Guantanamo closed? Is a war over? Is anyone paying any attention to Iraq? Is he seriously talking about going into Syria? We are not doing so well in the 80 wars we are in right now, what the hell does he want to go into another one for. What’s going on [with journalists]?” he asks.

He says investigative journalism in the US is being killed by the crisis of confidence, lack of resources and a misguided notion of what the job entails.

“Too much of it seems to me is looking for prizes. It’s journalism looking for the Pulitzer Prize,” he adds. “It’s a packaged journalism, so you pick a target like – I don’t mean to diminish because anyone who does it works hard – but are railway crossings safe and stuff like that, that’s a serious issue but there are other issues too.

“Like killing people, how does [Obama] get away with the drone programme, why aren’t we doing more? How does he justify it? What’s the intelligence? Why don’t we find out how good or bad this policy is? Why do newspapers constantly cite the two or three groups that monitor drone killings. Why don’t we do our own work?

“Our job is to find out ourselves, our job is not just to say – here’s a debate’ our job is to go beyond the debate and find out who’s right and who’s wrong about issues. That doesn’t happen enough. It costs money, it costs time, it jeopardises, it raises risks. There are some people – the New York Times still has investigative journalists but they do much more of carrying water for the president than I ever thought they would … it’s like you don’t dare be an outsider any more.”

He says in some ways President George Bush‘s administration was easier to write about. “The Bush era, I felt it was much easier to be critical than it is [of] Obama. Much more difficult in the Obama era,” he said.

Asked what the solution is Hersh warms to his theme that most editors are pusillanimous and should be fired.

“I’ll tell you the solution, get rid of 90% of the editors that now exist and start promoting editors that you can’t control,” he says. I saw it in the New York Times, I see people who get promoted are the ones on the desk who are more amenable to the publisher and what the senior editors want and the trouble makers don’t get promoted. Start promoting better people who look you in the eye and say ‘I don’t care what you say’.

Nor does he understand why the Washington Post held back on the Snowden files until it learned the Guardian was about to publish.

If Hersh was in charge of US Media Inc, his scorched earth policy wouldn’t stop with newspapers.

“I would close down the news bureaus of the networks and let’s start all over, tabula rasa. The majors, NBCs, ABCs, they won’t like this – just do something different, do something that gets people mad at you, that’s what we’re supposed to be doing,” he says.

Hersh is currently on a break from reporting, working on a book which undoubtedly will make for uncomfortable reading for both Bush and Obama.

“The republic’s in trouble, we lie about everything, lying has become the staple.” And he implores journalists to do something about it.

Which Syrian Chemical Attack Account Is More Credible? September 2, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Chemical Biological Weapons, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Media, War.
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Roger’s note: the article referred to in Mint Press News is found in its entirety just below this article.
By , http://www.fair.org, September 1, 2013

Let’s compare a couple of accounts of the mass deaths apparently caused by chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21. One account comes from the U.S. government (8/30/13), introduced by Secretary of State John Kerry. The other was published by a Minnesota-based news site called Mint Press News (8/29/13).

The government account expresses “high confidence that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack” on August 21. The Mint report bore the headline “Syrians in Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack.” Which of these two versions should we find more credible?

The U.S. government, of course, has a track record that will incline informed observers to approach its claims with skepticism–particularly when it’s making charges about the proscribed weapons of official enemies. Kerry said in his address that “our intelligence community” has been “more than mindful of the Iraq experience”–as should be anyone listening to Kerry’s presentation, because the Iraq experience informs us that secretaries of State can express great confidence about matters that they are completely wrong about, and that U.S. intelligence assessments can be based on distortion of evidence and deliberate suppression of contradictory facts.

Secretary of State John Kerry making the case that Damascus has used chemical weapons (US State Department)

Secretary of State John Kerry making the case that Damascus has used chemical weapons (US State Department)

Comparing Kerry’s presentation on Syria and its accompanying document to Colin Powell’s speech to the UN on Iraq, though, one is struck by how little specific evidence was included in the case for the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. It gives the strong impression of being pieced together from drone surveillance and NSA intercepts, supplemented by Twitter messages and YouTube videos, rather than from on-the-ground reporting or human intelligence. Much of what is offered tries to establish that the victims in Ghouta had been exposed to chemical weapons–a question that indeed had been in some doubt, but had already largely been settled by a report by Doctors Without Borders that reported that thousands of people in the Damascus area had been treated for “neurotoxic symptoms.”

On the critical question of who might be responsible for such a chemical attack, Kerry’s presentation was much more vague and circumstantial. A key point in the government’s white paper is “the detection of rocket launches from regime-controlled territory early in the morning, approximately 90 minutes before the first report of a chemical attack appeared in social media.” It’s unclear why this is supposed to be persuasive. Do rockets take 90 minutes to reach their targets? Does nerve gas escape from rockets 90 minutes after impact, or, once released, take 90 minutes to cause symptoms?

In a conflict as conscious of the importance of communication as the Syrian Civil War, do citizen journalists wait an hour and a half before reporting an enormous development–the point at which, as Kerry put it, “all hell broke loose in the social media”? Unless there’s some reason to expect this kind of a delay, it’s very unclear why we should think there’s any connection at all between the allegedly observed rocket launches and the later reports of mass poisoning.

When the evidence isn’t circumstantial, it’s strikingly vague: “We intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the UN inspectors obtaining evidence,” the report asserts. Taken at face value, it’s one of the most damning claims in the government’s report–a veritable confession. But how was the identity of this official established? And what exactly did they say that “confirmed” chemical weapons use? Recall that Powell played tapes of Iraqi officials supposedly talking about concealing evidence of banned weapons from inspectors–which turned out to show nothing of the kind. But Powell at least played tapes of the intercepted communication, even as he spun and misrepresented their contents–allowing for the possibility of an independent interpretation of these messages. Perhaps “mindful of the Iraq experience,” Kerry allows for no such interpretation.

Colin Powell at the UN

Colin Powell making the case that Iraq possessed proscribed weaponry

Another key claim is asserted without substantiation: “Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of ‘Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21, near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin.” How were these personnel identified, and what were the signs of their operations? How was this place identified as an area used to mix sarin? Here again the information provided was far less detailed than what Powell gave to the UN: Powell’s presentation included satellite photographs of sites where proscribed weapons were being made, with an explanation of what they revealed to “experts with years and years of experience”: “The two arrows indicate the presence of sure signs that the bunkers are storing chemical munitions,” he said, pointing to an annotated photograph of bunkers that turned out to be storing no such thing. Powell’s presentation graphically demonstrated that US intelligence analysts are fallible, which is part of why presenting bare assertions without any of the raw materials used to derive those conclusions should not be very convincing.

Kerry did offer an explanation for why the report was so cursory: “In order to protect sources and methods, some of what we know will only be released to members of Congress, the representatives of the American people. That means that some things we do know, we can’t talk about publicly.” It is not clear, however, why intelligence methods that produced visual and audible evidence that could be shared with the public 10 years ago cannot be similarly utilized today. It does point to why the $52 billion the United States spends on surveillance annually, according to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden (Washington Post, 8/29/13), provides relatively little information that’s of value to American democracy: The collection of information is considered so much more valuable than the information collected that it rarely if ever can be used to inform a public debate. Instead, as we discuss the dreadful question of whether to launch a military attack on another country, we are offered an undemocratic “trust us” from the most secretive parts of our government–an offer that history warns us to be extremely wary of.

Mnar Muhawesh

Mnar Muhawesh

Unlike the U.S. government, Mint does not have much of a track record, having been founded only about a year and a half ago (CJR, 3/28/12). The founder of the for-profit startup is Mnar Muhawesh, a 24-year-old Palestinian-American woman who believes, reasonably enough, that “our media has absolutely failed our country” (MinnPost, 1/18/12).  One of its two reporters on its Syrian chemical weapons piece, Dale Gavlak, is a longtime Associated Press Mideast stringer who has also done work for NPR and the BBC. AP was one of the few US corporate media outlets to question official assertions about Iraqi WMDs, contrasting Powell’s assertions with what could be discerned from on-the-ground reporting (Extra!, 3-4/06).

Mint takes a similar approach to the Syrian story, with a reporter in Ghouta–not Gavlak but Yahya Ababneh, a Jordanian freelancer and journalism grad student–who “spoke directly with the rebels, their family members, victims of the chemical weapons attacks and local residents.” The article reports that “many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out” the chemical attack. The recipients of the chemical weapons are said to be Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al-Qaeda-linked rebel faction that was caught possessing sarin nerve gas in Turkey, according to Turkish press reports (OE Watch, 7/13).

Mint quotes Abu Abdel-Moneim, described as the father of a rebel killed in the chemical weapons attacks, as saying that his son had described carrying unconventional weapons provided by Saudi Arabia to underground storage tunnels–a “tubelike structure” and a “huge gas bottle.” A rebel leader identified as J describes the release of toxic weaponry as accidental, saying, “Some of the fighters handled the weapons improperly and set off the explosions.” Another rebel referred to as K complains, “When Saudi Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how to handle and use them.”

Dale Gavlak

Dale Gavlak

Of course, independent media accounts are not necessarily more credible than official reports–or vice versa. As with the government white paper, there are gaps in the Mint account; while Abdel-Moneim cites his late son’s account of carrying chemical weapons, the rebels quoted do not indicate how they came to know what they say they know about the origin of the weapons. But unlike the government, Mint is honest about the limits of its knowledge: “Some information in this article could not be independently verified,” the story admits. “Mint Press News will continue to provide further information and updates.”

This humility about the difficulty of reporting on a covert, invisible attack in the midst of a chaotic civil war actually adds to the credibility of the Mint account. It’s those who are most certain about matters of which they clearly lack firsthand knowledge who should make us most skeptical.

 

 

EXCLUSIVE: Syrians In Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack
Rebels and local residents in Ghouta accuse Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan of providing chemical weapons to an al-Qaida linked rebel group.

This image provided by by Shaam News Network on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, purports to show several bodies being buried in a suburb of Damascus, Syria during a funeral on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013, following allegations of a chemical weapons attack that reportedly killed 355 people. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network)

Clarification: Dale Gavlak assisted in the research and writing process of this article, but was not on the ground in Syria. Reporter Yahya Ababneh, with whom the report was written in collaboration, was the correspondent on the ground in Ghouta who spoke directly with the rebels, their family members, victims of the chemical weapons attacks and local residents. 

Gavlak is a MintPress News Middle East correspondent who has been freelancing for the AP as a Amman, Jordan correspondent for nearly a decade. This report is not an Associated Press article; rather it is exclusive to MintPress News. 

Ghouta, Syria — As the machinery for a U.S.-led military intervention in Syria gathers pace following last week’s chemical weapons attack, the U.S. and its allies may be targeting the wrong culprit.

Interviews with people in Damascus and Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital, where the humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders said at least 355 people had died last week from what it believed to be a neurotoxic agent, appear to indicate as much.

The U.S., Britain, and France as well as the Arab League have accused the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for carrying out the chemical weapons attack, which mainly targeted civilians. U.S. warships are stationed in the Mediterranean Sea to launch military strikes against Syria in punishment for carrying out a massive chemical weapons attack. The U.S. and others are not interested in examining any contrary evidence, with U.S Secretary of State John Kerry saying Monday that Assad’s guilt was “a judgment … already clear to the world.”

However, from numerous interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families, a different picture emerges. Many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the dealing gas attack.

“My son came to me two weeks ago asking what I thought the weapons were that he had been asked to carry,” said Abu Abdel-Moneim, the father of a rebel fighting to unseat Assad, who lives in Ghouta.

Abdel-Moneim said his son and 12 other rebels were killed inside of a tunnel used to store weapons provided by a Saudi militant, known as Abu Ayesha, who was leading a fighting battalion. The father described the weapons as having a “tube-like structure” while others were like a “huge gas bottle.”

Ghouta townspeople said the rebels were using mosques and private houses to sleep while storing their weapons in tunnels.

Abdel-Moneim said his son and the others died during the chemical weapons attack. That same day, the militant group Jabhat al-Nusra, which is linked to al-Qaida, announced that it would similarly attack civilians in the Assad regime’s heartland of Latakia on Syria’s western coast, in purported retaliation.

“They didn’t tell us what these arms were or how to use them,” complained a female fighter named ‘K.’ “We didn’t know they were chemical weapons. We never imagined they were chemical weapons.”

“When Saudi Prince Bandar gives such weapons to people, he must give them to those who know how to handle and use them,” she warned. She, like other Syrians, do not want to use their full names for fear of retribution.

A well-known rebel leader in Ghouta named ‘J’ agreed. “Jabhat al-Nusra militants do not cooperate with other rebels, except with fighting on the ground. They do not share secret information. They merely used some ordinary rebels to carry and operate this material,” he said.

“We were very curious about these arms. And unfortunately, some of the fighters handled the weapons improperly and set off the explosions,” ‘J’ said.

Doctors who treated the chemical weapons attack victims cautioned interviewers to be careful about asking questions regarding who, exactly, was responsible for the deadly assault.

The humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders added that health workers aiding 3,600 patients also reported experiencing similar symptoms, including frothing at the mouth, respiratory distress, convulsions and blurry vision. The group has not been able to independently verify the information.

More than a dozen rebels interviewed reported that their salaries came from the Saudi government.

 

Saudi involvement

In a recent article for Business Insider, reporter Geoffrey Ingersoll highlighted Saudi Prince Bandar’s role in the two-and-a-half year Syrian civil war. Many observers believe Bandar, with his close ties to Washington, has been at the very heart of the push for war by the U.S. against Assad.

Ingersoll referred to an article in the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph about secret Russian-Saudi talks alleging that Bandar offered Russian President Vladimir Putin cheap oil in exchange for dumping Assad.

“Prince Bandar pledged to safeguard Russia’s naval base in Syria if the Assad regime is toppled, but he also hinted at Chechen terrorist attacks on Russia’s Winter Olympics in Sochi if there is no accord,” Ingersoll wrote.

“I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us,” Bandar allegedly told the Russians.

“Along with Saudi officials, the U.S. allegedly gave the Saudi intelligence chief the thumbs up to conduct these talks with Russia, which comes as no surprise,” Ingersoll wrote.

“Bandar is American-educated, both military and collegiate, served as a highly influential Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., and the CIA totally loves this guy,” he added.

According to U.K.’s Independent newspaper, it was Prince Bandar’s intelligence agency that first brought allegations of the use of sarin gas by the regime to the attention of Western allies in February.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the CIA realized Saudi Arabia was “serious” about toppling Assad when the Saudi king named Prince Bandar to lead the effort.

“They believed that Prince Bandar, a veteran of the diplomatic intrigues of Washington and the Arab world, could deliver what the CIA couldn’t: planeloads of money and arms, and, as one U.S. diplomat put it, wasta, Arabic for under-the-table clout,” it said.

Bandar has been advancing Saudi Arabia’s top foreign policy goal, WSJ reported, of defeating Assad and his Iranian and Hezbollah allies.

To that aim, Bandar worked Washington to back a program to arm and train rebels out of a planned military base in Jordan.

The newspaper reports that he met with the “uneasy Jordanians about such a base”:

His meetings in Amman with Jordan’s King Abdullah sometimes ran to eight hours in a single sitting. “The king would joke: ‘Oh, Bandar’s coming again? Let’s clear two days for the meeting,’ ” said a person familiar with the meetings.

Jordan’s financial dependence on Saudi Arabia may have given the Saudis strong leverage. An operations center in Jordan started going online in the summer of 2012, including an airstrip and warehouses for arms. Saudi-procured AK-47s and ammunition arrived, WSJ reported, citing Arab officials.

Although Saudi Arabia has officially maintained that it supported more moderate rebels, the newspaper reported that “funds and arms were being funneled to radicals on the side, simply to counter the influence of rival Islamists backed by Qatar.”

But rebels interviewed said Prince Bandar is referred to as “al-Habib” or ‘the lover’ by al-Qaida militants fighting in Syria.

Peter Oborne, writing in the Daily Telegraph on Thursday, has issued a word of caution about Washington’s rush to punish the Assad regime with so-called ‘limited’ strikes not meant to overthrow the Syrian leader but diminish his capacity to use chemical weapons:

Consider this: the only beneficiaries from the atrocity were the rebels, previously losing the war, who now have Britain and America ready to intervene on their side. While there seems to be little doubt that chemical weapons were used, there is doubt about who deployed them.

It is important to remember that Assad has been accused of using poison gas against civilians before. But on that occasion, Carla del Ponte, a U.N. commissioner on Syria, concluded that the rebels, not Assad, were probably responsible.

Some information in this article could not be independently verified. Mint Press News will continue to provide further information and updates . 

Dale Gavlak is a Middle East correspondent for Mint Press News and has reported from Amman, Jordan, writing for the Associated Press, NPR and BBC. An expert in Middle Eastern affairs, Gavlak covers the Levant region, writing on topics including politics, social issues and economic trends. Dale holds a M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Chicago. Contact Dale at dgavlak@mintpressnews.com

Yahya Ababneh is a Jordanian freelance journalist and is currently working on a master’s degree in journalism,  He has covered events in Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Libya. His stories have appeared on Amman Net, Saraya News, Gerasa News and elsewhere.

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