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Media Hate Fest for Venezuela Keeps on Keepin’ On February 1, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Media, Venezuela.
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Published on Friday, February 1, 2013 by Al-Jazeera

by Mark Weisbrot

Last week there was a real media hate-fest for Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, with some of the more influential publications on both sides of the Atlantic really hating on the guy. Even by the hate-filled standards to which we have become accustomed, it was impressive.

Spanish flagship newspaper El Pais – known to be hostile to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez – retracted its online and print editions after publishing on its front page a fake photo of Chavez using a breathing tube. (Reuters)

It’s interesting, since this is one of the only countries in the world where the reporting of the more liberal media – NPR or even the New Yorker – is hardly different from that of Fox News or other right-wing media (more on that below).

The funniest episode came from El País, which on Thursday ran a front page picture of a man that they claimed was Chavez, lying on his back in a hospital bed, looking pretty messed-up with tubes in his mouth. The picture was soon revealed as completely fake. Oops! The paper, which is Spain’s most influential publication (and with a lot of clout in Latin America, too), had to pull its newspapers off the stands and issue a public apology. Although, as the Venezuelans complained, there was no apology to Chavez or his family. Not surprisingly, since El Pais really hates Chavez. For a really funny pictorial response to El Pais, click here.

The New York Times, for its part, ran yet another hate piece on its op-ed page. Dog bites man. Nothing new here, they have doing this for almost 14 years – most recently just three months ago. This one was remarkably unoriginal, comparing the Chavez government to a Latin American magical realist novel. It contained very little information – but being fact-free allowed the authors to claim that the country had “dwindling productivity” and “an enormous foreign debt load”. Productivity has not “dwindled” under Chavez; in fact real GDP per capita, which is mostly driven by productivity growth, expanded by 24 percent since 2004 (for an explanation of why 2004 is a reasonable starting point, see here). In the 20 years prior to Chavez, real GDP per person actually fell. As for the “enormous foreign debt load”, Venezuela’s foreign public debt is about 28 percent of GDP, and the interest on it is about 2 percent of GDP. If this is enormous – well let’s just say these people don’t have a good sense of quantity.

The authors were probably just following a general rule, which is that you can say almost anything you want about Venezuela, so long as it is bad – and it usually goes unquestioned. Statistics and data count for very little when the media is presenting its ugly picture.

This is especially true for Jon Lee Anderson, writing in the January 28 issue of the New Yorker (“Slumlord: What has Hugo Chávez wrought in Venezuela?“). He mentions in passing that “the poorest Venezuelans are marginally better off these days”. Marginally? From 2004-2011, extreme poverty was reduced by about two-thirds. Poverty was reduced by about one-half. And this measures only cash income. It does not count the access to health care that millions now have, or the doubling of college enrollment – with free tuition for many. Access to public pensions tripled. Unemployment is half of what it was when Chavez took office.

I shouldn’t have to emphasise that Venezuela’s poverty reduction, real (inflation-adjusted) income growth, and other basic data in the Chavez era are not in dispute among experts, including international statistical agencies such as the World Bank or UN. Even opposition economists use the same data in making their case against the government. It is only journalists like Anderson who avoid letting commonly agreed upon facts and numbers get in the way of their story.

Anderson devotes many thousands of words, in one of America’s leading literary magazines, to portraying the dark underside of life in Venezuela – ex-cons and squatters, horrible prisons: “A thick black line of human excrement ran down an exterior wall, and in the yard below was a sea of sludge and garbage several feet deep.” He draws on more than a decade of visits to Venezuela to shower the reader with his most foul memories of the society and the government. The article is accompanied by a series of grim, depressing black-and-white photos of unhappy-looking people in ugly surroundings (I couldn’t help thinking of all those international surveys that keep finding Venezuelans to be among the happiest people in Latin America and the world – did Anderson never meet even one of these Venezuelans?).

I am all in favour of journalism that exposes the worst aspects of any society. But what makes this piece just another cheap political hack job is the conclusions that the author draws from his narrow, intentionally chosen slice of Venezuelan reality. For example:

They [Venezuelans] are the victims of their affection for a charismatic man… After nearly a generation, Chavez leaves his countrymen with many unanswered questions, but only one certainty: the revolution that he tried to bring about never really took place. It began with Chavez, and with him, most likely it will end.

Really? It sure doesn’t look that way. Even Chavez’s opponent in the October presidential election, Henrique Capriles, had to promise voters [SP] that he would preserve and actually expand the Chavez-era social programmes that had increased Venezuelans’ access to health care and education. And after Chavez beat him by a wide margin of eleven percentage points, Chavez’s party increased its share of governorships from 15 to 20 of 23 states, in the December elections that followed. In those elections, Chavez was not even in the country.

But it’s the one-sidedness of the New Yorker‘s reporting that is most overwhelming. Imagine, for example, writing an article about the United States at the end of President Clinton’s eight years – interviewing the homeless and the destitute, the people tortured in our prisons, the unemployed and the poor single mothers struggling to feed their children. Could you get away with pretending that this is all of “What Clinton has wrought in America?” Without mentioning that unemployment hit record lows not seen since the 1960s, that poverty was sharply reduced, that it was the longest-running business cycle expansion in US history?

This is an imperfect analogy, since many people outside the US know something about the country, and wouldn’t buy such a one-sided story line. And also because the improvements of the Clinton years didn’t last that long: the stock market bubble burst and caused a recession in 2001; the gains from the recovery that followed went mostly to the richest one percent of the population; and then the housing bubble burst, causing the worst recession since the Great Depression – from which we are still recovering. Unemployment today is considerably above the level of Clinton’s first year in office, and poverty has rebounded dramatically; and we could take another decade to get back to full employment. Whereas in Venezuela, progress has not been reversed; there really is no going back now that the majority of the country has gotten used to sharing in the country’s oil wealth – not just through government programmes but primarily through a higher level of employment and income in the private sector. Maybe that’s not “revolutionary” enough for Anderson, but it’s enough for Venezuelans to keep re-electing their president and his party.

As for the media, it is a remarkable phenomenon, this outpouring of animosity towards Chavez and his government, from across the western media spectrum. How is it that this democratically elected president who hasn’t killed anyone or invaded any countries gets more bad press than Saddam Hussein did (aside from the months immediately preceding invasions of Iraq)? Even when he is fighting for his own life?

The western media reporting has been effective. It has convinced most people outside of Venezuela that the country is run by some kind of dictatorship that has ruined it. Fortunately for Venezuelans, they have access to more information about their country than the foreigners who are relying on one-sided and often inaccurate media. So they keep re-electing the president and the party that has improved their lives – much to the annoyance of the major media and its friends.

© 2012 Al-Jazeera
Mark Weisbrot

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis. E-mail Mark: weisbrot@cepr.net

US attack kills 5 Afghan kids May 8, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Media, War.
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The way in which the U.S. media ignores such events speaks volumes about how we perceive them

By , www.salon.com, May 8, 2012

Yesterday, I noted several reports from Afghanistan that as many as 20 civilians were killed by two NATO airstrikes, including a mother and her five children. Today, the U.S. confirmed at least some of those claims, acknowledging and apologizing for its responsibility for the death of that family:

The American military claimed responsibility and expressed regret for an airstrike that mistakenly killed six members of a family in southwestern Afghanistan, Afghan and American military officials confirmed Monday.

The attack, which took place Friday night, was first revealed by the governor of Helmand Province, Muhammad Gulab Mangal, on Monday. His spokesman, Dawoud Ahmadi, said that after an investigation they had determined that a family home in the Sangin district had been attacked by mistake in the American airstrike, which was called in to respond to a Taliban attack. . . . The victims were the family’s mother and five of her children, three girls and two boys, according to Afghan officials.

This happens over and over and over again, and there are several points worth making here beyond the obvious horror:

(1) To the extent these type of incidents are discussed at all — and in American establishment media venues, they are most typically ignored — there are certain unbending rules that must be observed in order to retain Seriousness credentials. No matter how many times the U.S. kills innocent people in the world, it never reflects on our national character or that of our leaders. Indeed, none of these incidents convey any meaning at all. They are mere accidents, quasi-acts of nature which contain no moral information (in fact, the NYT article on these civilian deaths, out of nowhere, weirdly mentioned that “in northern Afghanistan, 23 members of a wedding celebration drowned in severe flash flooding” — as though that’s comparable to the U.S.’s dropping bombs on innocent people). We’ve all been trained, like good little soldiers, that the phrase “collateral damage” cleanses and justifies this and washes it all way: yes, it’s quite terrible, but innocent people die in wars; that’s just how it is. It’s all grounded in America’s central religious belief that the country has the right to commit violence anywhere in the world, at any time, for any cause.

At some point — and more than a decade would certainly qualify — the act of continuously killing innocent people, countless children, in the Muslim world most certainly does reflect upon, and even alters, the moral character of a country, especially its leaders. You can’t just spend year after year piling up the corpses of children and credibly insist that it has no bearing on who you are. That’s particularly true when, as is the case in Afghanistan, the cause of the war is so vague as to be virtually unknowable. It’s woefully inadequate to reflexively dismiss every one of these incidents as the regrettable but meaningless by-product of our national prerogative. But to maintain mainstream credibility, that is exactly how one must speak of our national actions even in these most egregious cases. To suggest any moral culpability, or to argue that continuously killing children in a country we’re occupying is morally indefensible, is a self-marginalizing act, whereby one reveals oneself to be a shrill and unSerious critic, probably even a pacifist. Serious commentators, by definition, recognize and accept that this is merely the inevitable outcome of America’s supreme imperial right, note (at most) some passing regret, and then move on.

(2) Yesterday — a week after it leaked that it was escalating its drone strikes in Yemen — the Obama administration claimed that the CIA last month disrupted a scary plot originating in Yemen to explode an American civilian jet “using a more sophisticated version of the underwear bomb deployed unsuccessfully in 2009.” American media outlets — especially its cable news networks — erupted with their predictable mix of obsessive hysteria, excitement and moral outrage. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer last night devoted the bulk of his show to this plot, parading the standard cast of characters — former Bush Homeland Security adviser (and terrorist advocate) Fran Townsend and its “national security analyst” Peter Bergen — to put on their Serious and Concerned faces, recite from the U.S. Government script, and analyze all the profound implications. CNN even hauled out Rep. Peter King to warn that this shows a “new level” of Terror threats from Yemen. CNN’s fixation on this plot continued into this morning.

Needless to say, the fact that the U.S. has spent years and years killing innocent adults and children in that part of the world — including repeatedly in Yemen — was never once mentioned, even though it obviously is a major factor for why at least some people in that country support these kinds of plots. Those facts are not permitted to be heard. Discussions of causation — why would someone want to attack a U.S. airliner? – is an absolute taboo, beyond noting that the people responsible are primitive and hateful religious fanatics. Instead, it is a simple morality play reinforced over and over: Americans are innocently minding their own business — trying to enjoy our Freedoms — and are being disgustingly targeted with horrific violence by these heinous Muslim Terrorists whom we must crush (naturally, the solution to the problem that there is significant anti-American animosity in Yemen is to drop even more bombs on them, which will certainly fix this problem).

Indeed, on the very same day that CNN and the other cable news networks devoted so much coverage to a failed, un-serious attempt to bring violence to the U.S. — one that never moved beyond the early planning stages and “never posed a threat to public safety” — it was revealed that the U.S. just killed multiple civilians, including a family of 5 children, in Afghanistan. But that got no mention. That event simply does not exist in the world of CNN and its viewers (I’d be shocked if it has been mentioned on MSNBC or Fox either). Nascent, failed non-threats directed at the U.S. merit all-hands-on-deck, five-alarm media coverage, but the actual extinguishing of the lives of children by the U.S. is steadfastly ignored (even though the latter is so causally related to the former).

This is the message sent over and over by the U.S. media: we are the victims of heinous, frightening violence; our government must do more, must bomb more, but surveil more, to Keep Us Safe; we do nothing similar to this kind of violence because we are Good and Civilized. This is how our Objective, Viewpoint-Free journalistic outlets continuously propagandize: by fixating on the violence done by others while justifying — or, more often, ignoring — the more far-reaching and substantial violence perpetrated by the U.S.

(3) If one of the relatives of the children just killed in Afghanistan decided to attack the U.S. — or if one of the people involved in this Yemen-originating plot were a relative of one of the dozens of civilians killed by Obama’s 2009 cluster bomb strike — what would they be called by the U.S. media? Terrorists. Primitive, irrational, religious fanatics beyond human decency.

* * * * *

This point cannot be emphasized enough.

Who–and What–Are Behind the “Official History” of the Bin Laden Raid? August 17, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in 9/11, Media, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: This is straight out of Alice in Wonderland.  Given the total capitulation of  the mainstream media to the corporate, partisan political and industrial-military intersts, the kind of journalism found in whowhatwhy,com and a handful of other Internet sites are the Zamizdat of today.  

 

Published on Wednesday, August 17, 2011 by WhoWhatWhy.com

  by Russ Baker

The establishment media just keep getting worse. They’re further and further from good, tough investigative journalism, and more prone to be pawns in complicated games that affect the public interest in untold ways. A significant recent example is The New Yorker’s vaunted August 8 exclusive on the vanquishing of Osama bin Laden.

The piece, trumpeted as the most detailed account to date of the May 1 raid in Abbottabad Pakistan, was an instant hit. “Got the chills half dozen times reading @NewYorker killing bin Laden tick tock…exquisite journalism,” tweeted the digital director of the PBS show Frontline.  The author, freelancer Nicholas Schmidle, was quickly featured on the Charlie Rose show, an influential determiner of “chattering class” opinion. Other news outlets rushed to praise the story as “exhaustive,” “utterly compelling,” and on and on.

To be sure, it is the kind of granular, heroic story that the public loves, that generates follow-up bestsellers and movie options. The takedown even has a Hollywood-esque code name: “Operation Neptune’s Spear”

Here’s the introduction to the mission commander, full of minute details that help give it a ring of authenticity and the most intimate reportorial access:

James, a broad-chested man in his late thirties, does not have the lithe swimmer’s frame that one might expect of a SEAL—he is built more like a discus thrower. That night, he wore a shirt and trousers in Desert Digital Camouflage, and carried a silenced Sig Sauer P226 pistol, along with extra ammunition; a CamelBak, for hydration; and gel shots, for endurance. He held a short-barrel, silenced M4 rifle. (Others SEALs had chosen the Heckler & Koch MP7.) A “blowout kit,” for treating field trauma, was tucked into the small of James’s back. Stuffed into one of his pockets was a laminated gridded map of the compound. In another pocket was a booklet with photographs and physical descriptions of the people suspected of being inside. He wore a noise-cancelling headset, which blocked out nearly everything besides his heartbeat.

On and on went the “tick-tock.” Yet as Paul Farhi, a Washington Post reporter, noted, that narrative was misleading in the extreme, because the New Yorker reporter never actually spoke to James—nor to a single one of James’s fellow SEALs (who have never been identified or photographed–even from behind–to protect their identity.) Instead, every word of Schmidle’s narrative was provided to him by people who were not present at the raid. Complains Farhi:

…a casual reader of the article wouldn’t know that; neither the article nor an editor’s note describes the sourcing for parts of the story. Schmidle, in fact, piles up so many details about some of the men, such as their thoughts at various times, that the article leaves a strong impression that he spoke with them directly.

That didn’t trouble New Yorker editor David Remnick, according to Farhi:

Remnick says he’s satisfied with the accuracy of the account. “The sources spoke to our fact-checkers,” he said. “I know who they are.”

But we don’t.

On a story of this gravity, should we automatically join in with the huzzahs because it has the imprimatur of America’s most respected magazine? Or would we be wise to approach it with caution?

***

Most of us are not the trusting naïfs we once were. And with good reason.

The list of consequential events packaged for us by media and Hollywood in unsatisfactory ways continues to grow. It starts, certainly, with the official version of the JFK assassination, widely discredited yet still carried forward by most major media organizations. (For more on that, see this.) More and more people realize that the heroic Woodward & Bernstein story of Nixon’s demise is deeply problematical. (I’ve written extensively on both of these in my book Family of Secrets.)

And untold millions don’t think we’ve heard the real (or at least complete) story of the phenomenal, complex success of those 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001. Skeptics now include former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke, who recently speculated that the hijackers may have been able to enter the US and move freely precisely because American intelligence hoped to recruit them as double agents—and that an ongoing cover-up is designed to hide this. And then, of course, there are the Pentagon’s account of the heroic rescue of Jessica Lynch in Iraq, which turned out to be a hoax, and the Pentagon’s fabricated account of the heroic battle death of former NFL player Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, who turned out to be a victim of friendly fire. These are just a few from scores of examples of deceit perpetrated upon the American people. Hardly the kind of track record to inspire confidence in official explanations with the imprimatur of the military and the CIA.

Whatever one thinks of these other matters, we’re certainly now at a point where we ought to be prudent in embracing authorized accounts of the latest seismic event: the dramatic end to one of America’s most reviled and storied nemeses.

The bin Laden raid presents us with every reason to be cautious. The government’s initial claims about what transpired at that house in Abbottabad have changed, then changed again, with no proper explanation of the discrepancies. Even making allowances for human error in such shifting accounts, almost every aspect of what we were told requires a willing suspension of disbelief—from the manner of Osama’s death and burial to the purported pornography found at the site. (For more on these issues, see previous articles we wrote on the subject, here, here and here.)

Clarke’s theory will seem less outrageous later, as we explore Saudi intelligence’s crucial, and bizarre, role at the end of bin Laden’s life—working directly with the man who now holds Clarke’s job.

Add to all of this the discovery that the reporter providing this newest account wasn’t even allowed to talk to any raid participants—and the magazine’s lack of candor on this point—and you’ve got an almost unassailable case for treating the New Yorker story with extreme caution.

***

We might begin by asking the question: Who provided The New Yorker with its exclusive, and what was their agenda in doing so? To try and sort out Schmidle’s sources, I read through the piece carefully several times.

One person who spoke to the reporter, and who is identified by name is John O. Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser. Brennan is quoted directly, briefly, near the top, describing to Schmidle pre-raid debate over whether such an operation would be a success or failure:

John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, told me that the President’s advisers began an “interrogation of the data, to see if, by that interrogation, you’re going to disprove the theory that bin Laden was there.”

The mere fact of Schmidle’s reliance on Brennan at all should send up a flare for the cautious reader. After all, that’s the very same Brennan who was the principal source of incorrect details in the hours and days after the raid. These included the claim that the SEALs encountered substantial armed resistance, not least from bin Laden himself; that it took them an astounding 40 minutes to get to bin Laden, and that the White House got to hear the soldiers’ conversations in real time.

Here’s a Washington Post account from Brennan published on May 3, less than 48 hours after the raid:

Half an hour had passed on the ground, but the American commandos raiding Osama bin Laden’s Pakistani hideaway had yet to find their long-sought target.

…The commandos swept methodically through the compound’s main building, clearing one room and then another as they made their way to the upper floors where they expected to find bin Laden. As they did so, Obama administration officials in the White House Situation Room listened to the SEAL team’s conversations over secure lines.

“The minutes passed like days,” said John O. Brennan, the administration’s chief counterterrorism adviser. “It was probably one of the most anxiety-filled periods of time, I think, in the lives of the people who were assembled.”

Finally, shortly before 2 a.m. in Pakistan, the commandos burst into an upstairs room.Inside, an armed bin Laden took cover behind a woman, Brennan said. With a burst of gunfire, one of the longest and costliest manhunts in modern history was over.

.. The commandos moved inside, and finally reached bin Laden’s upstairs living quarters after nearly 40 minutes on the ground.

Osama bin Ladens compound in Abbottabad Pakistan where he was killed in a raiding operation by US Navy-SEALS.

Almost all that turns out to be hogwash—according to the new account produced by The New Yorker three months later. An account that, again, it seems, comes courtesy of Brennan. The minutes did not pass like days. Bin Laden was not armed, and did not take cover behind a woman. And the commandoes most certainly were not on the ground for 40 minutes. Some of them were up the stairs to the higher floors almost in a flash, and it didn’t take long for them to run into and kill bin Laden.

For another take, consider this account from NBC News’ Pentagon correspondent—also reported the week after the raid— two days after Brennan told the Washington Post a completely different story. This one appears to be based on a briefing from military officials who would have been likely to have good knowledge of the operational details:

According to the officials’ account, as the first SEAL team moved into the compound, they took small-arms fire from the guest house in the compound. The SEALs returned fire, killing bin Laden’s courier and the courier’s wife, who died in the crossfire. It was the only time the SEALs were shot at.

The second SEAL team entered the first floor of the main residence and could see a man standing in the dark with one hand behind his back. Fearing he was hiding a weapon, the SEALs shot and killed the lone man, who turned out to be unarmed.

As the U.S. commandos moved through the house, they found several stashes of weapons and barricades, as if the residents were prepared for a violent and lengthy standoff — which never materialized.

The SEALs then made their way up a staircase, where they ran into one of bin Laden’s sons. The Americans immediately shot and killed the 19-year-old son, who was also unarmed, according to the officials.

Hearing the shots, bin Laden peered over the railing from the floor above. The SEALs fired but missed bin Laden, who ducked back into his bedroom. As the SEALs stormed up the stairs, two young girls ran from the room.

One SEAL scooped them up and carried them out of harm’s way. The other two commandos stormed into bin Laden’s bedroom. One of bin Laden’s wives rushed toward the Navy SEAL, who shot her in the leg.

Then, without hesitation, the same commando turned his gun on bin Laden, standing in what appeared to be pajamas, and fired two quick shots, one to the chest and one to the head. Although there were weapons in that bedroom, bin Laden was also unarmed when he was shot.

Instead of a chaotic firefight, the U.S. officials said, the American commando assault was a precision operation, with SEALs moving carefully through the compound, room to room, floor to floor.

In fact, most of the operation was spent in what the military calls “exploiting the site,” gathering up the computers, hard drives, cellphones and files that could provide valuable intelligence on al-Qaida operatives and potential operations worldwide.

The U.S. officials describing the operation said the SEALs carefully gathered up 22 women and children to ensure they were not harmed. Some of the women were put in “flexi-cuffs” the plastic straps used to bind someone’s hands at the wrists, and left them for Pakistani security forces to discover.

***

Given that Brennan’s initial version of the raid was strikingly erroneous, his later account to The New Yorker is suspect as well. So who else besides Brennan might have been Schmidle’s sources? At one point in his piece, he cites an unnamed counterterrorism official:

A senior counterterrorism official who visited the JSOC redoubt described it as an enclave of unusual secrecy and discretion. “Everything they were working on was closely held,” the official said.

Later, that same unnamed counterterrorism official is again cited, this time seeming to continue Brennan’s narrative of the meeting before the raid, in which participants disagreed on the likely success of such a mission:

That day in Washington, Panetta convened more than a dozen senior C.I.A. officials and analysts for a final preparatory meeting. Panetta asked the participants, one by one, to declare how confident they were that bin Laden was inside the Abbottabad compound. The counterterrorism official told me that the percentages “ranged from forty per cent to ninety or ninety-five per cent,” and added, “This was a circumstantial case.”

From the story’s construction, one could reasonably conclude that the unnamed counterterrorism official is indeed still just Brennan. If not, who could it be? How many different white House counterterrorism officials would have debriefed the SEALs, if indeed that is even their role? How many would have been privy to that planning meeting? And how many different officials would have gotten authorization to sum up the events of that important day for this New Yorker writer? Also, it’s an old journalistic trick to quote the same source, on and off the record— thereby giving the source extra cover when discussing particularly delicate matters.

So, we don’t know whether the article was based on anything more than Brennan, under marching orders to clean up the conflicting accounts he originally put out.

UNEXPLAINED DISPUTES

It’s curious that the source chooses to emphasize the fundamental disagreement over whether the raid was a good idea. Presumably, there was a purpose in emphasizing this, but the New Yorker’s “tick-tock”, which is very light on analysis or context, doesn’t tell us what it was. It may have been intended to show Obama as brave, inclined toward big risks (thereby running counter to his reputation)—we can only guess.

This internal discord will get the attention of anyone who remembers all the assertions from intelligence officials over the years that bin Laden was almost certainly already dead—either of natural causes or killed at some previous time.

Here’s a bit more from The New Yorker on officials’ doubts going into the raid:

Several analysts from the National Counterterrorism Center were invited to critique the C.I.A.’s analysis; their confidence in the intelligence ranged between forty and sixty per cent. The center’s director, Michael Leiter, said that it would be preferable to wait for stronger confirmation of bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.

Those doubts are particularly interesting for several reasons: the CIA has had a long history of disputes between its covert action wing, which tends to advocate activity, and its analysis section, historically prone to caution. The action wing also has a history of publicizing its being right—when it could purport to be right—and covering up its failures. So when an insider chooses to make public these disagreements, we should be willing to consider motives.

This dispute can also be seen as an intriguing prologue to the rush to dump Bin Laden’s body and not provide proof to the public that it was indeed bin Laden. What if it wasn’t bin Laden that they killed? Would the government announce that after such a high-stakes operation? (“While we thought he’d be there, we accidentally killed someone else instead”? Seems unlikely.)

***

Now, let us go to the next antechamber of this warren of shadowy entities and unstated agendas.

Who exactly wanted bin Laden shot rather than taken alive and interrogated—and why? There’s been much discussion about the purported reasons for terminating him on sight, but the fact remains that he would have been a source of tremendous intelligence of real value to the safety of Americans and others.

Yet, early in the piece, Schmidle writes:

If all went according to plan, the SEALs would drop from the helicopters into the compound, overpower bin Laden’s guards, shoot and kill him at close range, and then take the corpse back to Afghanistan.

That was the plan? Whose plan? We’ve never been explicitly told by the White House that such a decision had been made. In fact, we’d previously been informed that  the president was glad to have the master plotter taken alive if he was unarmed and did not resist. So, that’s a huge and problematical discrepancy that is only heightened by Schmidle’s misleadingly matter-of-fact treatment of the matter.

GET ME RIYADH

If the justification for killing Osama presented in The New Yorker warrants concern, the account of how—and why—they disposed of his body ought to send alarm bells clanging.

At the time of the raid, the decision to hastily dump Osama’s body in the ocean rather than make it available for authoritative forensic examination was a highly controversial one—that only led to more speculation that the White House was hiding something. The justifications, including not wanting to bury him on land for fear of creating a shrine, were almost laughable.

So what do we learn about this from The New Yorker? It’s truly bizarre: the SEALS themselves made the decision. That’s strange enough. But then we learn that Brennan took it upon himself to verify that was the right decision. How did he do this? Not by speaking with the president or top military, diplomatic or legal brass. No, he called some foreigners—get ready–the Saudis, who told him that dumping at sea sounded like a good plan.

Here’s Schmidle’s account:

All along, the SEALs had planned to dump bin Laden’s corpse into the sea—a blunt way of ending the bin Laden myth. They had successfully pulled off a similar scheme before. During a DEVGRU helicopter raid inside Somalia in September, 2009, SEALs had killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, one of East Africa’s top Al Qaeda leaders; Nabhan’s corpse was then flown to a ship in the Indian Ocean, given proper Muslim rites, and thrown overboard. Before taking that step for bin Laden, however, John Brennan made a call. Brennan, who had been a C.I.A. station chief in Riyadh, phoned a former counterpart in Saudi intelligence. Brennan told the man what had occurred in Abbottabad and informed him of the plan to deposit bin Laden’s remains at sea. As Brennan knew, bin Laden’s relatives were still a prominent family in the Kingdom, and Osama had once been a Saudi citizen. Did the Saudi government have any interest in taking the body? “Your plan sounds like a good one,” the Saudi replied.

Let’s consider this. The most wanted man in the world; substantive professional doubts about whether the man in the Abbottabad house is him; tremendous public doubts about whether it could even be him; the most important operation of the Obama presidency; yet the decision about what to do with the body is left to low-level operatives. Keep in mind SEALs are trained to follow orders given by others. They’re expected to apply what they know to unexpected scenarios that come up, but the key strategic decisions— arrived at in advance—are not theirs to make.

Even more strange that Brennan would discuss this with a foreign power. And not just any foreign power, but the regime that is inextricably linked with the domestically-influential family of bin Laden—and home to many of the hijackers who worked for him.

Is it just me, or does this sound preposterous? Obama’s Homeland Security and Counterterrorism adviser is just winging it with key aspects of one of America’s most important, complex and risky operations? And the Saudi government is the one deciding to discard the remains of a man from one of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful families, before the public could receive proper proof of the identity of the body? A regime with a great deal at stake and perhaps plenty to hide.

Also please consider this important caveat: As we noted in a previous article, the claim that the body had already been positively identified via DNA has been disputed by a DNA expert who said that insufficient time had elapsed before the sea burial to complete such tests.

King Abdullah meets John Brennan, assistant to the US President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism

The line about Brennan himself having been a former CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia is just sort of dropped in there. No recognition of what it means that a person of that background was put into that position after 9/11, no recognition that a person of that background and those fraught personal connections is controlling this narrative. He’s not just a “counterterrorism expert”—he is a longtime member of an agency whose mandate includes the frequent use of disinformation. And one who has his own historic direct links to the Saudi regime, a key and problematical player in the larger chess game playing out.

It’s relevant to note that Brennan is not only a career CIA officer (they say no one ever really leaves the Agency, no matter their new title) but one with a lot of baggage. He was deputy director of the CIA at the time of the 9/11 attacks. He was an adviser to Obama’s presidential campaign, after which Obama initially planned to name him CIA director. That appointment was pulled, in part due to criticism from human rights advocates over statements he had made in support of sending terrorism suspects to countries where they might be tortured.

Of course, there could have been other sources besides Brennan. In addition to the unnamed “counterterrorism official” previously cited, the New Yorker mentions a “special operations officer,” as in:

…according to a special-operations officer who is deeply familiar with the bin Laden raid.

Subsequent quotes from him indicate that this had to be a supervisory special ops officer. His comments are surprising:

“This wasn’t a hard op,” the special-operations officer told me. “It would be like hitting a target in McLean”—the upscale Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C.President Barack Obama listening to John Brennans report.

Whoops! Here’s a Special Ops guy saying the Special Ops raid was actually no big deal! Shouldn’t that, if a valid assessment, get more attention? Especially given the endless praise and frequent statements of how difficult the operation was. I mean, the toughness and diciness of the Abbottabad mission is the prime reason we want to read the New Yorker’s account in the first place!

To further underline the point, consider that this fellow is not alone in his assessment:

In the months after the raid, the media have frequently suggested that the Abbottabad operation was as challenging as Operation Eagle Claw and the “Black Hawk Down” incident, but the senior Defense Department official told me that “this was not one of three missions.”…. He likened the routine of evening raids to “mowing the lawn.”

Why would a person overseeing an operation like this deflate the bubble of adoration? It doesn’t seem helpful to the interests of Special Operations – and it doesn’t seem credible, either. So there’s presumably a reason that this person is—again speaking to The New Yorker after this important exclusive has been carefully considered and strategized. We just don’t know what it is, and the magazine doesn’t even bother to wonder.

***

Most of the other sources seem to play bit roles. One is “a senior adviser to the President” whose only comment is that Obama decided not to trust the Pakistanis with advance notice of the raid—which we already knew.  Another— named—source is Ben Rhodes, a deputy national-security adviser, who does not evince any intimate knowledge of the raid itself.

The New Yorker also includes a few other officials who brief Schmidle on general background, like a “senior defense department official” explaining the overall relationship between Special Operations and CIA personnel, and a named former CIA counsel explaining that the Abottabad raid amounted to “a complete incorporation of JSOC [Joint Special Operations Command] into a C.I.A. operation.”

That’s only slipped into the article, but it is perhaps one of the most important aspects of the piece, along with a brief mention of the way in which former Iraq/Afghan commander General David Petraeus has gone to CIA while CIA director Panetta has been made Defense Secretary. (For more on these important but confusing games of high-level musical chairs, which were not deeply scrutinized in the conventional media, see our WhoWhatWhy pieces here and here.)

This may sound too technical for your taste, but the takeaway point is that fundamental realignments are afoot in that vast, massively-funded, powerful and secretive part of the US government that is treated by the corporate press almost as if it does not exist. The tales of internal intrigue that we do not hear would begin to provide us with the real narratives that are not ours to have.

In the New Yorker piece, we do learn lots of things we did not know before—for example, that Special Ops considered tunneling in or coming in by foot rather than helicopter. We learn that CIA director Robert Gates wanted to drop massive bombs on the house. General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shared that view—Cartwright is one of the few who is directly identified as a source for Schmidle. That’s important stuff, and worth more than brief mention. And, once again, we need more effort to try and understand why we are being told these things.

“WE REALLY DIDN’T KNOW…WHAT WAS GOING ON”

About two-thirds of the article is a sort of scene-setter, a prologue to on-the-ground story we’ve all been waiting for. But when the big moment arrives, The New Yorker’s Schmidle instead punts:

Meanwhile, James, the squadron commander, had breached one wall, crossed a section of the yard covered with trellises, breached a second wall, and joined up with the SEALs from helo one, who were entering the ground floor of the house. What happened next is not precisely clear. “I can tell you that there was a time period of almost twenty to twenty-five minutes where we really didn’t know just exactly what was going on,” Panetta said later, on “PBS NewsHour.”

Until this moment, the operation had been monitored by dozens of defense, intelligence, and Administration officials watching the drone’s video feed. The SEALs were not wearing helmet cams, contrary to a widely cited report by CBS. None of them had any previous knowledge of the house’s floor plan, and they were further jostled by the awareness that they were possibly minutes away from ending the costliest manhunt in American history; as a result, some of their recollections—on which this account is based—may be imprecise and, thus, subject to dispute.

Schmidle claims that the SEALs’ “recollections—on which this account is based”—are subject to dispute. But as I’ve noted, the article is NOT based on their recollections, but on what some source claims to Schmidle were their recollections. Why the summary may be imprecise and thus subject to dispute after it has been filtered by a person controlling the scenario, must be asked. Perhaps this is why The New Yorker is not permitted to speak directly to the SEALs—because of what they could tell the magazine.

Now, killing the men who lived in the compound: First, the SEALs shot and killed the courier, who they say was armed, and his wife, who they say was not, when they emerged from the guesthouse. Then they killed the courier’s brother inside the main house, who they say was armed. Then they moved up the stairs:

…three SEALs marched up the stairs. Midway up, they saw bin Laden’s twenty-three-year-old son, Khalid, craning his neck around the corner. He then appeared at the top of the staircase with an AK-47. Khalid, who wore a white T-shirt with an overstretched neckline and had short hair and a clipped beard, fired down at the Americans. (The counterterrorism official claims that Khalid was unarmed, though still a threat worth taking seriously. “You have an adult male, late at night, in the dark, coming down the stairs at you in an Al Qaeda house—your assumption is that you’re encountering a hostile.”) At least two of the SEALs shot back and killed Khalid.

Ok, that’s pretty strange. First, Schmidle asserts that Khalid bin Laden was armed and fired with an AK-47. Then he quotes the “counterterrorism official” saying that Khalid was unarmed. Why does The New Yorker first run the “Khalid was armed” claim as a fact, and then include Brennan’s disclaimer? What’s really going on here, even from the New Yorker’s editorial standpoint?

Here’s another such instance: a dispute over where Osama was when they first saw him:

Three SEALs shuttled past Khalid’s body and blew open another metal cage, which obstructed the staircase leading to the third floor. Bounding up the unlit stairs, they scanned the railed landing. On the top stair, the lead SEAL swivelled right; with his night-vision goggles, he discerned that a tall, rangy man with a fist-length beard was peeking out from behind a bedroom door, ten feet away. The SEAL instantly sensed that it was Crankshaft [codename for Osama]. (The counterterrorism official asserts that the SEAL first saw bin Laden on the landing, and fired but missed.)

What’s the purpose of all this? How good is intelligence work when they can’t reconstruct whether the singular focus of the operation was first spotted peeking out from a doorway, or standing on the landing above them?

And then one of the most interesting passages, about the kill:

A second SEAL stepped into the room and trained the infrared laser of his M4 on bin Laden’s chest. The Al Qaeda chief, who was wearing a tan shalwar kameez and a prayer cap on his head, froze; he was unarmed. “There was never any question of detaining or capturing him—it wasn’t a split-second decision. No one wanted detainees,” the special-operations officer told me. (The Administration maintains that had bin Laden immediately surrendered he could have been taken alive.)

Uh-oh. So who is this Special Operations officer? He is directly disputing the administration’s claim on what surely matters greatly—what were President Obama’s intentions here? And did they always plan to just ignore them? That The New Yorker just drops this in with no further analysis or context is, simply put, shocking.

It seems almost as if Panetta, Obama, and the people in the story who most closely approximate actual representatives of the public in a functioning democracy, were basically cut off from observing what went down that day—or from influencing what transpired.

Consider this statement from Panetta, not included in the New Yorker piece:

“Once those teams went into the compound I can tell you that there was a time period of almost 20 or 25 minutes where we really didn’t know just exactly what was going on. And there were some very tense moments as we were waiting for information.

“We had some observation of the approach there, but we did not have direct flow of information as to the actual conduct of the operation itself as they were going through the compound.”

Panetta’s “lost 25 minutes” needs to be seen in the context of a man with civilian roots, notwithstanding two mid-60s years as a Lt. in military intel: Former Congressman, Clinton White House budget chief and Chief of Staff, credentials with civil rights and environment movements—a fellow with real distance from the true spook/military mojo.

Taken together, here’s what we have: President Obama did not know exactly what was going on. He did not decide that bin Laden should be shot. And he did not decide to dump his body in the ocean. The CIA and its Special Ops allies made all the decisions.

Then Brennan, the CIA’s man, put out the version that CIA wanted. (Keep in mind that, as noted earlier, CIA was really running the operation—with Special Ops under its direction).

What we’re looking at, folks, is the reality of democracy in America: A permanent entrenched covert establishment that marches to its own drummer or to drummers unknown. It’s exactly the kind of thing that never gets reported. Too scary. Too real. Better to dismiss this line of inquiry as too “conspiracy theory.”

If that sounds like hyperbole, let me add this rather significant consideration. It is the background of Nicholas Schmidle, the freelancer who wrote the New Yorker piece. It may give us insight into how he landed this extraordinary exclusive on this extraordinarily sensitive matter—information again, significantly, not shared by The New Yorker with its readers:

Marine Lt. General Robert E. “Rooster” Schmidle Jr.

Schmidle’s father is Marine Lt. General Robert E. “Rooster” Schmidle Jr.  General Schmidle served as Commanding Officer of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (Experimental)—that’s essentially Special Operations akin to Navy SEALs. In recent years, he was “assistant deputy commandant for Programs and Resources (Programs)”—where, among other things, he oversaw “irregular warfare.” (See various, including contract specs here on “Special Operations,” and picture caption here) In 2010, he moved into another piece of this, when Obama appointed him deputy commander, U.S. Cyber Command. Cumulatively, this makes the author’s father a very important man in precisely the sort of circles who care how the raid is publicly portrayed—and who would be quite intimate with some of the folks hunkering down with Obama in the Situation Room on the big day.

You can see a photo of Gen. Schmidle on a 2010 panel about “Warring Futures.” Event co-sponsors include Slate magazine and the New America Foundation, both of which, according to Nicholas Schmidle’s website, have also provided Schmidle’s son with an ongoing perch (with Slate giving him a platform for numerous articles from war zones and the foundation employing him as a Fellow.) These parallel relationships grow more disturbing with contemplation.

***

So let’s get back to the question, Who is driving this Ship of State?

First, consider this passage:

Obama returned to the White House at two o’clock, after playing nine holes of golf at Andrews Air Force Base. The Black Hawks departed from Jalalabad thirty minutes later. Just before four o’clock, Panetta announced to the group in the Situation Room that the helicopters were approaching Abbottabad.

John Brennan and Obama

To be really useful reporting here, rather than just meaningless “color”, we’d need some context. Was the golf game’s purpose to blow off steam at an especially tense time? Did Obama not think it important enough for him to be constantly present in the hours leading up to the raid? Is this typical of his schedule when huge things are happening?  We desperately need a more realistic sense of what presidents do, how much they’re really in charge, or, instead, figureheads for unnamed individuals who make most of the critical decisions.

Here’s something just as strange: we are told the President took a commanding role in determining key operational tactics, but then didn’t seem interested in important details, after the fact.

Forty-five minutes after the Black Hawks departed, four MH-47 Chinooks launched from the same runway in Jalalabad. Two of them flew to the border, staying on the Afghan side; the other two proceeded into Pakistan. Deploying four Chinooks was a last-minute decision made after President Barack Obama said he wanted to feel assured that the Americans could “fight their way out of Pakistan.”

Now, consider the following climactic New Yorker account of Obama meeting with the squadron commander after it’s all over, with bin Laden dead and the troops home and safe. Schmidle decides to call the commander “James…the names of all the covert operators mentioned in this story have been changed.” The anecdote will feature a canine, one who, in true furry dog story fashion, had already been introduced early in the New Yorker piece, as “Cairo” (it’s not clear whether the dog’s name, too, was changed):

As James talked about the raid, he mentioned Cairo’s role. “There was a dog?” Obama interrupted. James nodded and said that Cairo was in an adjoining room, muzzled, at the request of the Secret Service.

“I want to meet that dog,” Obama said.

“If you want to meet the dog, Mr. President, I advise you to bring treats,” James joked. Obama went over to pet Cairo, but the dog’s muzzle was left on.

Here’s the ending:

Before the President returned to Washington, he posed for photographs with each team member and spoke with many of them, but he left one thing unsaid. He never asked who fired the kill shot, and the SEALs never volunteered to tell him.

Why did the president not want to ask for specifics on the most important parts of the operation—but seemed so interested in a dog that participated? While it is certainly plausible that this happened, we should be wary of one of the oldest p.r. tricks around—get people cooing over an animal, while the real action is elsewhere.

Certainly, Obama’s reaction differs dramatically from that of other previous presidents who always demanded detailed briefings and would have stayed on top of it all throughout—including fellow Democrats JFK, Carter and Clinton. At minimum, it shows a degree of caution or ceremony based upon a desire not to know too much—or an understanding that he may not ask. Does anyone doubt that Bill Clinton would have been on watch 24/7 during this operation, parsing legal, political and operational details throughout, and would have demanded to know who felled America’s most wanted?Nicholas Schmidle

Summing up about the reliability of this account, which is now likely to become required reading for every student in America, long into the future:

  • It is based on reporting by a man who fails to disclose that he never spoke to the people who conducted the raid, or that his father has a long background himself running such operations (this even suggests the possibility that Nicholas Schmidle’s own father could have been one of those “unnamed sources.”)
  • It seems to have depended heavily on trusting second-hand accounts by people with a poor track record for accurate summations, and an incentive to spin.
  • The alleged decisions on killing bin Laden and disposing of his body lack credibility.
  • The DNA evidence that the SEALs actually got their man is questionable.
  • Though certain members of Congress say they have seen photos of the body (or, to be precise, a body), the rest of us have not seen anything.
  • Promised photos of the ceremonial dumping of the body at sea have not materialized.
  • The eyewitnesses from the house—including the surviving wives—have disappeared without comment.

We weren’t allowed to hear from the raid participants. And on August 6, seventeen Navy SEALs died when their helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. We’re told that fifteen of them came, amazingly, from the same SEAL Team 6 that carried out the Abbottabad raid—but that none of the dead were present for the raid. We do get to hear the stories of those men, and their names.

Of course, if any of those men had been in the Abbottabad raid—or knew anything about it of broad public interest, we’d be none the wiser—because, the  only  “reliable sources” still available (and featured by the New Yorker) are military and intelligence professionals, coming out of a long tradition of cover-ups and fabrications.

Meanwhile, we have this president, this one who according to the magazine article didn’t ask about the core issues—why this man was killed, who killed him, under whose orders, what would be done with the body.

Well, he may not want answers. But we ought to want them.  Otherwise, it’s all just a game.

© 2011 WhoWhatWhy.com

The Great Pakistani Deluge Never Happened September 9, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Pakistan.
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Thursday 09 September 2010

by: Juan Cole  |  TomDispatch | Op-Ed

The Great Deluge in Pakistan passed almost unnoticed in the United States despite President Obama’s repeated assertions that the country is central to American security. Now, with new evacuations and flooding afflicting Sindh Province and the long-term crisis only beginning in Pakistan, it has washed almost completely off American television and out of popular consciousness.

Don’t think we haven’t been here before. In the late 1990s, the American mass media could seldom be bothered to report on the growing threat of al-Qaeda. In 2002, it slavishly parroted White House propaganda about Iraq, helping prepare the way for a senseless war. No one yet knows just what kind of long-term instability the Pakistani floods are likely to create, but count on one thing: the implications for the United States are likely to be significant and by the time anyone here pays much attention, it will already be too late.

Few Americans were shown — by the media conglomerates of their choice — the heartbreaking scenes of eight million Pakistanis displaced into tent cities, of the submerging of a string of mid-sized cities (each nearly the size of New Orleans), of vast areas of crops ruined, of infrastructure swept away, damaged, or devastated at an almost unimaginable level, of futures destroyed, and opportunistic Taliban bombings continuing. The boiling disgust of the Pakistani public with the incompetence, insouciance, and cupidity of their corrupt ruling class is little appreciated.

The likely tie-in of these floods (of a sort no one in Pakistan had ever experienced) with global warming was seldom mentioned. Unlike, say, BBC Radio, corporate television did not tell the small stories — of, for instance, the female sharecropper who typically has no rights to the now-flooded land on which she grew now-ruined crops thanks to a loan from an estate-owner, and who is now penniless, deeply in debt, and perhaps permanently excluded from the land. That one of the biggest stories of the past decade could have been mostly blown off by television news and studiously ignored by the American public is a further demonstration that there is something profoundly wrong with corporate news-for-profit. (The print press was better at covering with the crisis, as was publically-supported radio, including the BBC and National Public Radio.)

In his speech on the withdrawal of designated combat units from Iraq last week, Barack Obama put Pakistan front and center in American security doctrine, “But we must never lose sight of what’s at stake. As we speak, al-Qaeda continues to plot against us, and its leadership remains anchored in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Even if Pakistan were not a major non-NATO ally of the United States, it is the world’s sixth most populous country and the 44th largest economy, according to the World Bank. The flooding witnessed in the Indus Valley is unprecedented in the country’s modern history and was caused by a combination of increasingly warm ocean water and a mysterious blockage of the jet stream, which drew warm, water-laden air north to Pakistan, over which it burst in sheets of raging liquid. If the floods that followed prove a harbinger of things to come, then they are a milestone in our experience of global warming, a big story in its own right.

News junkies who watch a lot of television broadcasts could not help but notice with puzzlement that as the cosmic catastrophe unfolded in Pakistan, it was nearly invisible on American networks. I did a LexisNexis search for the terms “Pakistan” and “flood” in broadcast transcripts (covering mostly American networks) from July 31st to September 4th, and it returned only about 1,100 hits. A search for the name of troubled actress Lindsay Lohan returned 653 search results in the same period and one for “Iraq,” more than 3,000 hits (the most the search engine will count). A search for “mosque” and “New York” yielded 1,300 hits. Put another way, the American media, whipped into an artificial frenzy by anti-Muslim bigots like New York gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio and GOP hatemonger Newt Gingrich, were far more interested in the possible construction of a Muslim-owned interfaith community center two long blocks from the old World Trade Center site than in the sight of millions of hapless Pakistani flood victims.

Of course, some television correspondents did good work trying to cover the calamity, including CNN’s Reza Sayah and Sanjay Gupta, but they generally got limited air time and poor time slots. (Gupta’s special report on the Pakistan floods aired the evening of September 5th, the Sunday before Labor Day, not exactly a time when most viewers might be expected to watch hard news.) As for the global warming angle, it was not completely ignored. On August 13th, reporter Dan Harris interviewed NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt on ABC’s “Good Morning America” show at 7:45 am. The subject was whether global warming could be the likely cause for the Pakistan floods and other extreme weather events of the summer, with Schmidt pointing out that such weather-driven cataclysms are going to become more common later in the twenty-first century. Becky Anderson at CNN did a similar segment at 4 pm on August 16th. My own search of news transcripts suggests that that was about it for commercial television.

The “Worst Disaster” TV Didn’t Cover

It’s worth reviewing the events that most Americans hardly know happened:

The deluge began on July 31st, when heavier than usual monsoon rains caused mudslides in the northwest of Pakistan. Within two days, the rapidly rising waters had already killed 800 people. On August 2nd, the United Nations announced that about a million people had been driven from their homes. Among the affected areas was the Swat Valley, already suffering from large numbers of refugees and significant damage from an army offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in the spring-summer of 2009. In the district of Dera Ismail Khan alone, hundreds of villages were destroyed by the floods, forcing shelterless villagers to sleep on nearby raised highways.

The suddenly homeless waited in vain for the government to begin to deliver aid, as public criticism of President Asaf Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani surged. President Zardari’s opulent trip to France and Britain (during which he visited his chateau in Normandy) at this moment of national crisis was pilloried. On August 8th in Birmingham, England, a furious Pakistani-British man threw both his shoes at him, repeating a famously humiliating incident in which an Iraqi journalist threw a shoe at President George W. Bush. Fearing the response in Pakistan, the president’s Pakistan People’s Party attempted to censor the video of the incident, and media offices in that country were closed down or sometimes violently attacked if they insisted on covering it. Few or no American broadcast outlets appear to have so much as mentioned the incident, though it pointed to the increasing dissatisfaction of Pakistanis with their elected government. (The army has gotten better marks for its efficient aid work, raising fears that some ambitious officers could try to parlay a newfound popularity into yet another in the country’s history of military coups.)

By August 5th, the floods had taken an estimated 1,600 lives, though some aid officials complained (and would continue to do so) that the death toll was far larger than reported. Unlike the Haitian earthquake or the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, this still building and far more expansive disaster was initially greeted by the world community with a yawn. The following day, the government evacuated another half-million people as the waters headed toward southern Punjab. At that point, some 12 million Pakistanis had been adversely affected in some way. On August 7th, as the waters advanced on the southernmost province, Sindh, through some of the country’s richest farmlands just before harvest time, another million people were evacuated. Prime Minister Gilani finally paid his first visit to some of the flood-stricken regions.

By August 9th, nearly 14 million people had been affected by the deluge, the likes of which had never been experienced in the region in modern history, and at least 20% of the country was under water. At that point, in terms of its human impact, the catastrophe had already outstripped both the 2004 tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. On August 10th, the United Nations announced that six million Pakistanis needed immediate humanitarian aid just to stay alive.

On August 14th, another half-million people were evacuated from the Sindhi city of Jacobabad. By now, conspiracy theories were swirling inside Pakistan about landlords who had deliberately cut levees to force the waters away from their estates and into peasant villages, or about the possibility that the U.S. military had diverted the waters from its base at Jacobabad. It was announced that 18 million Pakistanis had now been adversely affected by the floods, having been displaced, cut off from help by the waters, or having lost crops, farms, and other property. The next day, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, surveying the damage, pronounced it was “the worst disaster” he had ever seen.

The following week a second crest of river water hit Sindh Province. On August 30th, it submerged the city of Sujawal (population 250,000). The next day, however, there were a mere 16 mentions of Pakistan on all American television news broadcasts, mostly on CNN. On Labor Day weekend, another major dam began to fail in Sindh and, by September 6th, several hundred thousand more people had to flee from Dadu district, with all but four districts in that rich agricultural province having seen at least some flooding.

Today, almost six million Pakistanis are still homeless, and many have not so much as received tents for shelter. In large swaths of the country, roads, bridges, crops, power plants — everything that matters to the economy — were inundated and damaged or simply swept away. Even if the money proves to be available for repairs (and that remains an open question), it will take years to rebuild what was lost and, for many among those millions, the future will mean nothing but immiseration, illness, and death.

Why the Floods Weren’t News

In the United States, the contrast with the wall-to-wall cable news coverage of the Haitian earthquake in January and the consequent outpouring of public donations was palpable. Not only has the United Nations’ plea for $460 million in aid to cover the first three months of flood response still not been met, but in the past week donations seem to have dried up. The U.S. government pledged $200 million (some diverted from an already planned aid program for Pakistan) and provided helicopter gunships to rescue cut-off refugees or ferry aid to them.

What of American civil society? No rock concerts were organized to help Pakistani children sleeping on highways or in open fields infested with vermin. No sports events offered receipts to aid victims at risk from cholera and other diseases. It was as if the great Pakistani deluge were happening in another dimension, beyond the ken of Americans.

A number of explanations have been offered for the lack of empathy, or even interest, not to speak of a visible American unwillingness to help millions of Pakistanis. As a start, there were perfectly reasonable fears, even among Pakistani-Americans, that such aid money might simply be pocketed by corrupt government officials. But was the Haitian government really so much more transparent and less corrupt than the Pakistani one?

It has also been suggested that Americans suffer from donor fatigue, given the string of world disasters in recent years and the bad domestic economy. On August 16th, for instance, Glenn Beck fulminated: “We can’t keep spending. We are broke! Game over… no one is going to ride in to save you… You see the scene in Pakistan? People were waiting in line for aids [sic] from floods. And they were complaining, how come the aid is not here? Look, when America is gone, who’s going to save the people in Pakistan? See, we got to change this one, because we’re the ones that always ride in to save people.”

Still, the submerging of a fifth of a country the size of Pakistan is — or at least should be — a dramatic global event and even small sums, if aggregated, would matter. (A dollar and a half from each American would have met the U.N. appeal.) Some have suggested that the Islamophobia visible in the debate about the Park 51 Muslim-owned community center in lower Manhattan left Americans far less willing to donate to Muslim disaster victims.

And what of those national security arguments that nuclear-armed Pakistan is crucial not just to the American war in Afghanistan, but to the American way of life? Ironically, the collapse of the neoconservative narrative about what it takes to make the planet’s “sole superpower” secure appears to have fallen on President Obama’s head. One of the few themes he adopted wholeheartedly from the Bush administration has been the idea that a poor Asian country of 170 million halfway around the world, facing a challenge from a few thousand rural fundamentalists, is the key to the security of the United States.

If the Pakistani floods reveal one thing, it’s that Americans now look on such explanations through increasingly jaundiced eyes. At the moment, no matter whether it’s the Afghan War or those millions of desperate peasants and city dwellers in Pakistan, the public has largely decided to ignore the AfPak theater of operations. It’s not so surprising. Having seen the collapse of our financial system at the hands of corrupt financiers produce mass unemployment and mass mortgage foreclosures, they have evidently decided, as even Glenn Beck admits, it’s “game over” for imperial adventures abroad.

Another explanation may also bear some weight here, though you won’t normally hear much about it. Was the decision of the corporate media not to cover the Pakistan disaster intensively a major factor in the public apathy that followed, especially since so many Americans get their news from television?

The lack of coverage needs to be explained, since corporate media usually love apolitical, weather-induced disasters. But covering a flood in a distant Asian country is, for television, expensive and logistically challenging, which in these tough economic times may have influenced programming decisions. Obviously, there is as well a tendency in capitalist news to cover what will attract advertising dollars. Add to this the fact that, unlike the Iraq “withdrawal” story or the “mosque at Ground Zero” controversy, the disaster in Pakistan was not a political football between the GOP and the Democratic Party. What if, in fact, Americans missed this calamity mostly because a bad news story set in a little-known South Asian country filled with Muslim peasants is not exactly “Desperate Housewives” and couldn’t hope to sell tampons, deodorant, or Cialis, or because it did not play into domestic partisan politics?

The great Pakistani deluge did not exist, it seems, because it was not on television, would not have delivered audiences to products, and was not all about us. As we saw on September 11, 2001, and again in March 2003, however, the failure of our electronic media to inform the public about centrally important global developments is itself a security threat to the republic.

Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History and the director of the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan. His latest book, Engaging the Muslim World, is just out in a revised paperback edition from Palgrave Macmillan. He runs the Informed Comment website. You can catch him discussing flooded Pakistan on the latest TomCast audio interview by clicking here or, to download it to your iPod, here.

Copyright 2010 Juan Cole

All republished content that appears on Truthout has been obtained by permission or license.

Answering Helen Thomas on Why They Want to Harm Us January 9, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War on Terror.
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(Roger’s note: I would like to add one minor aside to Ray McGovern’s incisive and tightly reasoned article posted below.  It has to do with President Obama.  Many, including myself, felt a profound relief that the exit of the barely literate Bush boy was followed by the ascendency to the presidency of a constitutional scholar.  How many times have I seen mention of relief that we finally have a president who can generate a readable sentence and who respects scientific analysis.  And yet …  And yet, here we see, as McGovern points out, the facile and banal manner in which Obama addresses the serious and vital question of al Qaeda and anti-American terrorism.  Instead of analysis, he gives us platitudes.  What is my point?  My point is that it is not intelligence or rhetoric or charisma — qualities which abound in the person of Barack Obama — but rather the policies, and the driving force behind those polices — read military-industrial complex — that are key.  Sadly, it has become all to clear that the differences between the Bush presidency and the Obama presidency are largely cosmetic.)
Published on Saturday, January 9, 2010 by CommonDreams.orgby Ray McGovern

Thank God for Helen Thomas, the only person to show any courage at the White House press briefing after President Barack Obama gave a flaccid account of the intelligence screw-up that almost downed an airliner on Christmas Day.

After Obama briefly addressed L’Affaire Abdulmutallab and wrote “must do better” on the report cards of the national security schoolboys responsible for the near catastrophe, the President turned the stage over to counter-terrorism guru John Brennan and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

It took 89-year old veteran correspondent Helen Thomas to break through the vapid remarks about channeling “intelligence streams,” fixing “no-fly” lists, deploying “behavior detection officers,” and buying more body-imaging scanners.

Thomas recognized the John & Janet filibuster for what it was, as her catatonic press colleagues took their customary dictation and asked their predictable questions. Instead, Thomas posed an adult query that spotlighted the futility of government plans to counter terrorism with more high-tech gizmos and more intrusions on the liberties and privacy of the traveling public.

She asked why Abdulmutallab did what he did.

Thomas: “Why do they want to do us harm? And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.”

Brennan: “Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents… They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he’s (sic) able to attract these individuals. But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.”

Thomas: “And you’re saying it’s because of religion?”

Brennan: “I’m saying it’s because of an al Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.”

Thomas: “Why?”

Brennan: “I think this is a – long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.”

Thomas: “But you haven’t explained why.”

Neither did President Obama, nor anyone else in the U.S. political/media hierarchy. All the American public gets is the boilerplate about how evil al Qaeda continues to pervert a religion and entice and exploit impressionable young men.

There is almost no discussion about why so many people in the Muslim world object to U.S. policies so strongly that they are inclined to resist violently and even resort to suicide attacks.

Obama’s Non-Answer

I had been hoping Obama would say something intelligent about what drove Abdulmutallab to do what he did, but the President limited himself to a few vacuous comments before sending in the clowns. This is what he said before he walked away from the podium:

“It is clear that al Qaeda increasingly seeks to recruit individuals without known terrorist affiliations … to do their bidding. … And that’s why we must communicate clearly to Muslims around the world that al Qaeda offers nothing except a bankrupt vision of misery and death … while the United States stands with those who seek justice and progress. … That’s the vision that is far more powerful than the hatred of these violent extremists.”

But why it is so hard for Muslims to “get” that message? Why can’t they end their preoccupation with dodging U.S. missiles in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Gaza long enough to reflect on how we are only trying to save them from terrorists while simultaneously demonstrating our commitment to “justice and progress”?

Does a smart fellow like Obama expect us to believe that all we need to do is “communicate clearly to Muslims” that it is al Qaeda, not the U.S. and its allies, that brings “misery and death”? Does any informed person not know that the unprovoked U.S.-led invasion of Iraq killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and displaced 4.5 million from their homes? How is that for “misery and death”?

Rather than a failure to communicate, U.S. officials are trying to rewrite recent history, which seems to be much easier to accomplish with the Washington press corps and large segments of the American population than with the Muslim world.

But why isn’t there a frank discussion by America’s leaders and media about the real motivation of Muslim anger toward the United States? Why was Helen Thomas the only journalist to raise the touchy but central question of motive?

Peeking Behind the Screen

We witnessed a similar phenomenon when the 9/11 Commission Report tiptoed into a cautious discussion of possible motives behind the 9/11 attacks. To their credit, the drafters of that report apparently went as far as their masters would allow, in gingerly introducing a major elephant into the room:

“America’s policy choices have consequences. Right or wrong, it is simply a fact that American policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and American actions in Iraq are dominant staples of popular commentary across the Arab and Muslim world.” (p. 376)

When asked later about the flabby way that last sentence ended, former Congressman Lee Hamilton, Vice-Chair of the 9/11 Commission, explained that there had been a Donnybrook over whether that paragraph could be included at all.

The drafters also squeezed in the reason given by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as to why he “masterminded” the attacks on 9/11:

“By his own account, KSM’s animus toward the United States stemmed … from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.”

Would you believe that former Vice President Dick Cheney also has pointed to U.S. support for Israel as one of the “true sources of resentment”? This unique piece of honesty crept into his speech to the American Enterprise Institute on May 21, 2009.

Sure, he also trotted out the bromide that the terrorists hate “all the things that make us a force for good in the world.” But the Israel factor did slip into the speech, perhaps an inadvertent acknowledgement of the Israeli albatross adorning the neck of U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Very few pundits and academicians are willing to allude to this reality, presumably out of fear for their future career prospects.

Former senior CIA officer Paul Pillar, now a professor at Georgetown University, is one of the few willing to refer, in his typically understated way, to “all the other things … including policies and practices that affect the likelihood that people … will be radicalized, and will try to act out the anger against us.” One has to fill in the blanks regarding what those “other things” are.

But no worries. Secretary Napolitano has a fix for this unmentionable conundrum. It’s called “counter-radicalization,” which she describes thusly:

“How do we identify someone before they become radicalized to the point where they’re ready to blow themselves up with others on a plane? And how do we communicate better American values and so forth … around the globe?”

Better communication. That’s the ticket.

Hypocrisy and Double Talk

But Napolitano doesn’t acknowledge the underlying problem, which is that many Muslims have watched Washington’s behavior closely for many years and view pious U.S. declarations about peace, justice, democracy and human rights as infuriating examples of hypocrisy and double talk.

So, Washington’s sanitized discussion about motives for terrorism seems more intended for the U.S. domestic audience than the Muslim world.

After all, people in the Middle East already know how Palestinians have been mistreated for decades; how Washington has propped up Arab dictatorships; how Muslims have been locked away at Guantanamo without charges; how the U.S. military has killed civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere; how U.S. mercenaries have escaped punishment for slaughtering innocents.

The purpose of U.S. “public diplomacy” appears more designed to shield Americans from this unpleasant reality, offering instead feel-good palliatives about the beneficence of U.S. actions. Most American journalists and politicians go along with the charade out of fear that otherwise they would be accused of lacking patriotism or sympathizing with “the enemy.”

Commentators who are neither naïve nor afraid are simply shut out of the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM). Salon.com’s Glen Greenwald, for example, has complained loudly about “how our blind, endless enabling of Israeli actions fuels terrorism directed at the U.S.,” and how it is taboo to point this out.

Greenwald recently called attention to a little-noticed Associated Press report on the possible motives of the 23-year-old Nigerian Abdulmutallab. The report quoted his Yemeni friends to the effect that the he was “not overtly extremist.” But they noted that he was open about his sympathies toward the Palestinians and his anger over Israel’s actions in Gaza. (Emphasis added)

Former CIA specialist on al Qaeda, Michael Scheuer, has been still more outspoken on what he sees as Israel’s tying down the American Gulliver in the Middle East. Speaking Monday on C-SPAN, he complained bitterly that any debate on the issue of American support for Israel and its effects is normally squelched.

Scheuer added that the Israel Lobby had just succeeded in getting him removed from his job at the Jamestown Foundation think tank for saying that Obama was “doing what I call the Tel Aviv Two-Step.”

More to the point, Scheuer asserted:

“For anyone to say that our support for Israel doesn’t hurt us in the Muslim world … is to just defy reality.”

Beyond loss of work, those who speak out can expect ugly accusations. The Israeli media network Arutz Sheva, which is considered the voice of the settler movement, weighed in strongly, branding Scheuer’s C-SPAN remarks “blatantly anti-Semitic.”

Media Squelching

As for media squelching, I continue to be amazed at how otherwise informed folks express total surprise when I refer them to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s statement about his motivation for attacking the United States, as cited on page 147 of the 9/11 Commission Report.  Here is the full sentence (shortened above):

“By his own account, KSM’s animus toward the United States stemmed not from his experience there as a student, but rather from his violent disagreement with U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.”

One can understand how even those following such things closely can get confused. On Aug. 30, 2009, five years after the 9/11 Commission Report was released, readers of the neoconservative Washington Post were given a diametrically different view, based on what the Post called “an intelligence summary:”

“KSM’s limited and negative experience in the United States – which included a brief jail-stay because of unpaid bills – almost certainly helped propel him on his path to becoming a terrorist … He stated that his contact with Americans, while minimal, confirmed his view that the United States was a debauched and racist country.”

Apparently, the Post found this revisionist version politically more convenient, in that it obscured Mohammed’s other explanation implicating “U.S. foreign policy favoring Israel.” It’s much more comforting to view KSM as a disgruntled visitor who nursed his personal grievances into justification for mass murder.

An unusually candid view of the dangers accruing from the U.S. identification with Israel’s policies appeared five years ago in an unclassified study published by the Pentagon-appointed U.S. Defense Science Board on Sept. 23, 2004. Contradicting President George W. Bush, the board stated:

“Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf States.

“Thus, when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.”

Abdulmutallab’s Attack

Getting back to Abdulmutallab and his motive in trying to blow up the airliner, how was this individual without prior terrorist affiliations suddenly transformed into an international terrorist ready to die while killing innocents?

If, as John Brennan seems to suggest, al Qaeda terrorists are hard-wired at birth for the “wanton slaughter of innocents,” how are they also able to jump-start a privileged 23-year old Nigerian, inculcate in him the acquired characteristics of a terrorist, and persuade him to do the bidding of al Qaeda/Persian Gulf?

As indicated above, the young Nigerian seems to have had particular trouble with Israel’s wanton slaughter of more than a thousand civilians in Gaza a year ago, a brutal campaign that was defended in Washington as justifiable self-defense.

Moreover, it appears that Abdulmutallab is not the only anti-American “terrorist” so motivated. When the Saudi and Yemeni branches of al Qaeda announced that they were uniting into “al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula,” their combined rhetoric railed against the Israeli attack on Gaza.

And on Dec. 30, Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, a 32-year-old Palestinian-born Jordanian physician, killed seven American CIA operatives and one Jordanian intelligence officer near Khost, Afghanistan, when he detonated a suicide bomb.

Though most U.S. media stories treated al-Balawi as a fanatical double agent driven by irrational hatreds, other motivations could be gleaned by carefully reading articles about his personal history.

Al-Balawi’s mother told Agence France-Presse that her son had never been an “extremist.” Al-Balawi’s widow, Defne Bayrak, made a similar statement to Newsweek.  In a New York Times article, al-Balawi’s brother was quoted as describing him as a “very good brother” and a “brilliant doctor.”

So what led al-Balawi to take his own life in order to kill U.S. and Jordanian intelligence operatives?

Al-Balawi’s widow said her husband “started to change” after the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. His brother said al-Balawi “changed” during last year’s three-week-long Israeli offensive in Gaza, which killed about 1,300 Palestinians. (Emphasis added)

When al-Balawi volunteered with a medical organization to treat injured Palestinians in Gaza, he was arrested by Jordanian authorities, his brother said.

It was after that arrest that the Jordanian intelligence service apparently coerced or “recruited” al-Balawi to become a spy who would penetrate al Qaeda’s hierarchy and provide actionable intelligence to the CIA.

“If you catch a cat and put it in a corner, she will jump on you,” the brother said in explaining why al-Balawi would turn to suicide attack.

“My husband was anti-American; so am I,” his widow told Newsweek. Her two little girls would grow up fatherless, but she had no regrets.

Answering Helen

Are we starting to get the picture of what the United States is up against in the Muslim world?

Does Helen Thomas deserve an adult answer to her question about motive? Has President Obama been able to assimilate all this?

Or is the U.S. political/media establishment incapable of confronting this reality and/or taking meaningful action to alleviate the underlying causes of the violence?

Is the reported reaction of a CIA official to al-Balawi’s attack the appropriate one: “Last week’s attack will be avenged. Some very bad people will eventually have a very bad day.”

Revenge has not always turned out very well in the past.

Does anyone remember the brutal killing of four Blackwater contractors on March 31, 2004, when they took a bad turn and ended up in the wrong neighborhood of the Iraqi city of Fallujah – and how U.S. forces virtually leveled that large city in retribution after George W. Bush won his second term the following November?

If you read only the Fawning Corporate Media, you would blissfully think that the killing of the four Blackwater operatives was the work of fanatical animals who got – along with their neighbors – the reprisal they deserved. You wouldn’t know that the killings represented the second turn in that specific cycle of violence.

On March 22, 2004, Israeli forces assassinated the then-spiritual leader of Hamas in Gaza, Sheikh Yassin – a withering old man, blind and confined to a wheelchair. (Emphasis added)

That murder, plus sloppy navigation by the Blackwater men, set the stage for the next set of brutalities. The Blackwater operatives were killed by a group that described itself as the “Sheikh Yassin Revenge Brigade.”

Pamphlets and posters were all over the scene of the attack; one of the trucks that pulled around body parts of the mercenaries had a large poster photo of Yassin in its window, as did store fronts all over Fallujah.

We can wish Janet Napolitano luck with her “counter-radicalization” project and President Obama with his effort to “communicate clearly to Muslims,” but there will be no diminution in the endless cycles of violence unless legitimate grievances are addressed on all sides.

It would certainly also help if the American people were finally let in on the root causes for what otherwise gets portrayed as unprovoked savagery by Muslims.

This article appeared first on Consortiumnews.com.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his career as a CIA analyst, he prepared and briefed the President’s Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

The Joys of Airstrikes and Anonymity December 30, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, War.
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Published on Sunday, December 27, 2009 by Salon.comby Glenn Greenwald

Each time the U.S. bombs a new location in the Muslim world, the same pattern emerges.  First, officials from the U.S. or allied governments run to their favorite media outlet to claim — anonymously — that some big, bad, notorious, “top” Al Qaeda leader “may have been” or “likely was” killed in the strike, and this constitutes a “stinging” or “devastating” blow against the Terrorist group.  These compliant media outlets then sensationalistically trumpet that claim as the dominant theme of their “reporting” on the attack, drowning out every other issue. 

As a result, and by design, there is never any debate or discussion over the propriety or wisdom of these strikes.  After all, what sane, rational, Serious person would possibly question a bombing raid or missile strike that “likely” killed a murderous, top Al Qaeda fighter and struck a “devastating blow” to that group’s operationg abilities?   Having the story shaped this way also ensures that there is virtually no attention paid to the resulting civilian casualties (i.e., the slaughter of innocent people); most Americans, especially journalists, have been trained to ignore such deaths as nothing more than justifiable “collateral damage,” especially when a murderous, top Al Qaeda fighter was killed by the bombs (besides, as Alan Dershowitz once explained, “civilians” in close enough proximity to a Top Terrorist themselves may very well bear some degree of culpability).  The adolescent We-Got-the-Bad-Guy! headline also ensures there is no attention paid to the radicalizing effect of these civilian deaths and our attacks for that country and in the region.

Yet over and over and over, it turns out that these anonymous government assertions — trumpeted by our mindless media — are completely false.  The Big Bad Guy allegedly killed in the strike ends up nowhere near the bombs and missiles.  Sometimes, the very same Big Bad Guy can be used to justify different strikes over the course of many years (we know we said we killed him four times before, but this time we’re pretty sure we got him), or he can turn up alive when it’s time to re-trumpet the Al Qaeda threat (we said before we killed him in that devastating airstrike, but actually he’s alive and more dangerous than ever!!).  Just like the “we killed 30 extremists” claim or the we got Al Qaeda’s Number 3″ boast, this is propaganda in its purest form, disseminated jointly by the U.S. Government and American media, and it happens over and over, compelling a rational person to conclude that it’s clearly intentional by both parties.

In the last week alone, this pattern just asserted itself — twice — with regard to the air strikes in Yemen.  The first set of strikes, it was immediately leaked, was allegedly aimed atthe presumed leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, Qaaim al-Raymi,” yet it turned out he was not among the dozens of people killed, though “U.S. officials believe one of his top deputies [unnamed] may have been killed.”  Then, after a second set of strikes on Thursday, it was claimed that “a Yemeni air raid may have killed the top two leaders of al Qaeda’s regional branch,” and an American Muslim preacher linked to Nidal Hasan, “the man who shot dead 13 people at a U.S. army base [Anwar al-Awlaki] may also have died.”  

But while ABC News had identified “the presumed leader of al Qaeda in Yemen” as “Qaaim al-Raymi” when he was the target of last week’s strikes, Reuters decided that the “top two leaders of al Qaeda’s regional branch” were completely different people — “Nasser al-Wahayshi, the Yemeni leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and his Saudi deputy, Saeed al-Shehri” — and then excitedly announced that they “may have been killed” by this week’s air strikes.  Whoever we claim we kill is the “key leader of Al Qaeda’s operations”– and it can change from day to day.  And now, it turns out, the “radical cleric” who reportedly spoke at length with the accused Fort Hood shooter and thus packs the most emotional punch for Americans is not dead at all, but “is alive and well following reports he may have been killed in a Yemeni airstrike against suspected al-Qaida hideouts.”

Just watch how this obvious propaganda tactic works again and again:

Last week’s Yemen strike – ABC News, December 18, 2009:

The presumed leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, Qaaim al-Raymi, has frequently appeared on internet videos, . . . Qaaim al-Raymi was considered a prime target of the attack Thursday but was reported to have escaped the attack. However, U.S. officials believe one of his top deputies may have been killed.

This week’s air strikes in Yemen, Reuters, December 24, 2009:

A Yemeni air raid may have killed the top two leaders of al Qaeda’s regional branch on Thursday, and an American Muslim preacher linked to the man who shot dead 13 people at a U.S. army base may also have died, a Yemeni security official said. Nasser al-Wahayshi, the Yemeni leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and his Saudi deputy, Saeed al-Shehri, were believed to be among more than 30 militants killed in the dawn operation in the eastern province of Shabwa, said the official, who asked not to be identified.

U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki may also have died in the air strike which targeted a meeting of militants planning attacks on Yemeni and foreign oil and economic targets, he said. If all the deaths are confirmed, the air strike would appear to have struck a severe blow against AQAP, seen as the most dangerous regional offshoot of Osama bin Laden’s network.

False – Associated Press, December 25, 2009:

A U.S.-born radical cleric is alive and well following reports he may have been killed in a Yemeni airstrike against suspected al-Qaida hideouts . . .

In addition to al-Awlaki, the top leader of al-Qaida’s branch in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Naser Abdel-Karim al-Wahishi, and his deputy Saeed al-Shihri were also believed to be at the meeting, Yemen’s Supreme Security Committee said. But Yemeni officials still have no access to the area, which is controlled by armed gunmen and supporters of al-Qaida, and could not confirm for certain who was killed in the attack.

______________

CNN – January, 2006 U.S. airstrike in Pakistan:

Ayman al-Zawahiri — Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in the al Qaeda terrorist network — was the target of a CIA airstrike Friday in a remote Pakistani village and may have been among those killed, knowledgeable U.S. sources told CNN. . . . the sources said there was intelligence suggesting he was in one of the buildings hit during the strike.

False – Fox News, January 31, 2006 – “Zawahiri, in New Videotape, Says He Survived Airstrike:

Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri said in a videotape aired Monday that President Bush was a “butcher” and a “failure” because of a deadly U.S. airstrike in Pakistan targeting the bin Laden deputy, and he threatened a new attack on the United States. A U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking on condition of anonymity in compliance with office policy, said there was no reason to doubt the authenticity of the tape.

_____________

CBS News, July, 2008 U.S. airstrike in Pakistan:

Ayman al-Zawahiri – the second most powerful leader in al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden’s No. 2 – may be critically wounded and possibly dead, CBS News chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan reports exclusively. . . . CBS News has obtained a copy of an intercepted letter from sources in Pakistan, which urgently requests a doctor to treat al-Zawahiri. . . . The letter is dated July 29 – one day after a U.S. air strike that killed al Qaeda weapons expert Abu Khabab al-Masri, and five other Arabs in South Waziristan. . . . a counter-intelligence expert and other U.S. officials confirmed to CBS News that the U.S. is looking into reports that al-Zawahiri is dead.

False – NY Daily News, April 30, 2009 – “Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri calls the shots, says State Department”:

Al Qaeda’s No. 2 thug has “emerged” as its operational leader after seven years on the run with the same $25 million bounty on his head as Osama Bin Laden. Despite years of Bush administration claims that Ayman al-Zawahiri – an Egyptian doctor turned Bin Laden deputy – was on the lam with his boss and unable to exert control, the opposite is now true, a State Department report said Thursday. . . .”Although Bin Laden remains the group’s ideological figurehead, Zawahiri has emerged as Al Qaeda’s strategic and operational planner,” the report added.

 ________________

January, 2006 missile strike in Pakistan, New York Times:

Two senior members of Al Qaeda and the son-in-law of its No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, were among those killed in the American airstrikes in remote northeastern Pakistan last week, two Pakistani officials said here on Wednesday. . . .If any or all were indeed killed, it would be a stinging blow to Al Qaeda’s operations, said the American officials, who were granted anonymity because they were not authorized by their agencies to speak for attribution. . . . The airstrikes, which killed 18 civilians, among them women and children, have caused anger across the country . . . At least one of the men believed by the Pakistani officials to have been killed, an Egyptian known here as Abu Khabab al-Masri, is on the United States’ most-wanted list with a $5 million reward for help in his capture. His real name is Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, 52, who according to the United States government Web site rewardsforjustice.net, was an expert in explosives and poisons. . . . The target of the raid, American officials have said, was Al Qaeda’s No. 2, Mr. Zawahiri, but they have acknowledged that he was not killed in the attack and Pakistani officials say that Mr. Zawahiri failed to show up for the dinner that night.

January, 2006 missile strike in Pakistan, ABC News:

ABC News has learned that Pakistani officials now believe that al Qaeda’s master bomb maker and chemical weapons expert was one of the men killed in last week’s U.S. missile attack in eastern Pakistan. Midhat Mursi, 52, also known as Abu Khabab al-Masri, was identified by Pakistani authorities as one of four known major al Qaeda leaders present at an apparent terror summit in the village of Damadola early last Friday morning. 

False —  LA Times, February 3, 2008:

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials now believe that the Egyptian, Abu Khabab Masri, is alive and well — and in charge of resurrecting Al Qaeda’s program to develop or obtain weapons of mass destruction.

 ____________

January, 2006 airstrike in Pakistan, New York Times:

Another Egyptian, known by the alias Abu Ubayda al-Misri, was also believed killed, the Pakistani officials said. He was the chief of insurgent operations in the southern Afghan province of Kunar, which borders Bajaur in Pakistan, the area where the airstrikes occurred, according to one of the Pakistani officials.

False – Fox News, April 9, 2008:

Abu Ubaida al-Masri, one of Al Qaeda’s top operatives and the mastermind behind a plot to use liquid explosives to blow British passenger jets out of the sky, is dead, a U.S. official confirmed to FOX News Wednesday.  The unidentified official said it is believed that al-Masri died of natural causes, possibly hepatitis, in Pakistan, and are staying away from a report that he was killed in a January CIA predator strike.

 ______________

Summer, 2008 Predator strikes in Pakistan, Telegraph - “Al-Qa’eda’s American-born propaganda chief may have died in predator attack”:

Months of attacks by unmanned US predator aircraft have caused carnage among the middle ranks of terrorist leaders in the lawless lands along the border with Afghanistan . . . Their victims have included experienced Arab leaders and, it is now thought, Adam Gadahn, a former heavy-metal fan and so-called “killer computer nerd” originally from California. Nothing has been heard from him for months, leading intelligence experts to conclude that he may be dead.

False — LA Times, June 14, 2009:

Adam Gadahn, a Southern California-raised man self-described as American Al Qaeda has released a new video in which he talks about his Jewish ancestry.

______________

July, 2009 airstrike in Pakistan, Fox News:

U.S. officials believe Usama bin Laden’s son, Saad bin Laden, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Pakistan. Sources confirmed to FOX News late Wednesday that officials believe the younger bin Laden was killed by hellfire missiles from a U.S. Predator drone strike earlier this year.

Highly questionable – Middle East News:

A close friend of Osama bin Laden told Al Arabiya that he thought the al-Qaeda mastermind’s son was probably still alive casting doubt on reports by American media that he was killed in Pakistan. Yemeni national Rashad Saied, who stayed with bin Laden in Afghanistan before the September 11, 2001 attacks, said there is no proof to U.S. media reports last week that Saad bin Laden was killed in an American airstrike on Pakistan earlier this year.  “If Saad had been killed, al-Qaeda would have announced that,” Saied told Al Arabiya. “They announced the death of many key figures in the organization before. It is considered a source of pride for them.”

New York Times, December 23, 2009:

A teenage daughter of Osama bin Laden, who has lived with at least five of her siblings in a guarded compound in Iran since 2001, took refuge last month in the Saudi Embassy in Tehran . . . The status of another son, Saad, remained uncertain. American officials said last summer that they believed that Saad bin Laden had traveled from Iran to Pakistan and had been killed by an American missile fired from a drone. Omar and Zaina bin Laden said Saad was still in the Tehran compound when the missile attack was said to have occurred, but they said that they did not know where he was now or whether he was still alive.

_____________

I could literally spend the rest of the day chronicling events very similar to these.  A few caveats are in order.  It’s not surprising that facts are sometimes difficult to obtain in the immediate aftermath of a strike, particularly in remote areas such as Western Pakistan and Yemen.  Sometimes, these air strikes do actually result in the death of the specific targets alleged to lead various Islamic radical groups

But far more often, these boasting claims regarding a controversial U.S. air attack or missile strike turn out to be completely false.  It’s painfully obvious that these assertions are made to overwhelm, distort and suppress any discussions of the actual effects of the attack — who the strike really killed, whether it was justified, legal or wise, whether we should continue to drop bombs in more and more Muslim countries.  Yet no matter how many times these claims prove to be false, American media outlets not only dutifully and mindlessly print them without challenge or skepticism, but also allow these claims to dictate their headlines and the overwhelming focus of their “reporting” on the attacks (U.S. Air Strike Said to Kill Top Al Qaeda Leaders).  As a result, Americans are innundated with false claims about things that never actually happened — pure myths and falsehoods — while the actual consequences of our actions (the corpses of innocent Muslim men, women and children being pulled from the rubble) are widely disseminated in the Muslim world, yet are barely mentioned by our media.  And then we walk around, confounded and confused, about how there could be such a grave disparity in perception among our rational, free and well-informed selves versus those irrational, mislead, paranoid, and primitive Muslims.

Because it’s all done under the corrupt cover of anonymity, there’s never any accountability (reporters will simply say that they printed this because their government sources whispered it in their ears — so what choice did they have? — and they’ll keep the government officials’ identity concealed to ensure they can never be questioned).  The whole process is blatantly designed not to convey what happened, but to obscure what happened and to prevent any discussion of its consequences.

Copyright ©2009 Salon Media Group, Inc.

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.

My Number One Pick for the Top Censored Story of 2009–Check Out Top 25 December 21, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Media, Political Commentary.
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www.opednews.com, December 21, 2009 

Diary Entry by Grant Lawrence (about the author) 

Many, if not all, of these stories have been reported on by great alternative and progressive sites, like OpEd News. Click on the ones that you may be unfamiliar with and send them to others.

All of these stories need to come into greater public awareness.

But the events leading up to the mysterious death of Mike Connell exposes vote fraud and points to corruption at the highest level.

So My pick for the Number One Censored Story of 2009

The Mysterious Death of Mike Connell–Karl Rove’s Election Thief

Karl Rove’s chief IT consultant, Mike Connell–who was facing subpoena in connection with 2004 Presidential election fraud in Ohio–mysteriously died in a private plane crash in 2008. Connell was allegedly the central figure in a longstanding plot to electronically flip votes to Republicans…..

Top Censored Stories of 2009/2010

    * 1. US Congress Sells Out to Wall Street
    * 2. US Schools are More Segregated Today than in the 1950s
    * 3. Toxic Waste Behind Somali Pirates
    * 4. Nuclear Waste Pools in North Carolina
    * 5. Europe Blocks US Toxic Products
    * 6. Lobbyists Buy Congress
    * 7. Obama’s Military Appointments Have Corrupt Past
    * 8. Bailed out Banks and America’s Wealthiest Cheat IRS Out of Billions
    * 9. US Arms Used for War Crimes in Gaza
    * 10. Ecuador Declares Foreign Debt Illegitimate
    * 11. Private Corporations Profit from the Occupation of Palestine
    * 12. Mysterious Death of Mike Connell–Karl Rove’s Election Thief
    * 13. Katrina’s Hidden Race War
    * 14. Congress Invested in Defense Contracts
    * 15. World Bank’s Carbon Trade Fiasco
    * 16. US Repression of Haiti Continues
    * 17. The ICC Facilitates US Covert War in Sudan
    * 18. Ecuador’s Constitutional Rights of Nature
    * 19. Bank Bailout Recipients Spent to Defeat Labor
    * 20. Secret Control of the Presidential Debates
    * 21. Recession Causes States to Cut Welfare
    * 22. Obama’s Trilateral Commission Team
    * 23. Activists Slam World Water Forum as a Corporate-Driven Fraud
    * 24. Dollar Glut Finances US Military Expansion
    * 25. Fast Track Oil Exploitation in Western Amazon

Source: Project Censored

 I work as a school counselor and mental health counselor in Gallup New Mexico.

Is the Obama Health Care Plan Really Better Than Nothing? July 27, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
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Published on Monday, July 27, 2009 by Black Agenda Report

The health care debate inside and outside the matrix

by Bruce Dixon

Like just about everything else, your take on the national health care debate depends on whether you’re inside or outside the matrix.

Within the bubble of fake reality blown by corporate media and bipartisan political establishment, the health care news is that theObama Plan is at last making its way through Congress. It’s being fought by greedy private insurance companies, by chambers of commerce, by Republican and some Democratic lawmakers.

Under the Obama plan, we’re told, employers will have to insure their employees or pay into a fund that does it for them. Individuals will be required under penalty of law to buy private insurance policies and for those that can’t afford it or prefer not to use a private insurer there will be something called a “public option.” This “public option, the story goes, is bitterly fought by the bad guys because it will make private insurers accountable by competing with them, forcing them to lower their costs. Both the president’s backers and opponents agree that the whole thing will be fantastically expensive, and the president proposes to fund it with cuts in existing programs like Medicaid which pay for the care of the poorest Americans and a tax on those making more than $300,000, later raised to $1 million a year.

The “public option” has that magic word “public” in it, and that’s reassuring to progressives and to most of the American people. Taxing the rich is a popular idea too. So if you rely on corporate media, the administration, or some of the so-called progressive blogs to identify the players and keep the score, it seems a pretty clear case of President Obama on the side of the angels, battling the greedy insurance companies, Republicans and blue dog Democrats to bring us universal, affordable health care.

That whole picture has about as much reality as the ones the same corporate media and most of the same politicians drew for us about Iraq, 9-11, weapons of mass destruction and some people over there who wanted us to free them. Iraq and the White House were and remain actual places, and there really is a problem called health care. But the places, problems and solutions are very different from the bubble of fake reality blown around them.

What sustains this fake reality is the diligent suppression from public space of any viewpoints, observations or proposals to Obama’s left. As long as the illusion that nobody has a better idea, that the only choice we have is Obama’s way or the Republicans’ way can be maintained, the crooked game can go on.

But bubbles are delicate things. Keeping this one intact requires so many vital topics to be avoided, so many inquiring eyes to be averted, so many fruitful conversations to be squelched that it’s hard to see how the president, the bipartisan establishment and the corporate media can pull it all off.

The real Obama Plan: doesn’t cover the uninsured till 2013, if then.

The first clue that something is deeply wrong with the Obama health care proposal is its timeline. According to a copyrighted July 21 AP story by Ricardo Alfonso-Zaldivar,

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare law on July 30, 1965, and 11 months later seniors were receiving coverage. But if President Barack Obama gets to sign a health care overhaul this fall, the uninsured won’t be covered until 2013 – after the next presidential election.

In fact, a timeline of the 1,000-page health care bill crafted by House Democrats shows it would take the better part of a decade – from 2010-2018 – to get all the components of the far-reaching proposal up and running.”

According to a peer reviewed 2009 study in the American Journal of Medicine, 62% of the nation’s 727,167 non-business bankruptcies were triggered by unpayable medical bills in 2007. Most of these had health insurance when they fell ill or were injured, but with loopholes, exclusions, high deductibles and co-payments, or were simply dropped when they got sick. In 2008 that figure was 66% of 934,000 personal bankruptcies and in 2009 it could approach 70% of 1.1 million bankruptcies. And 18,000 Americans die each year because medical care is unaffordable or unavailable. Waiting till 2013 means millions of families will be financially ruined and tens of thousands will die unnecessarily.

If the Johnson administration with no computers back in the sixties could implement Medicare for 45 million seniors in under a year, why does it take three and a half years in the 21st century to cover some, but not all, of America’s fifty million uninsured? And why does the Obama Plan make us wait till after the next presidential election? Politicians usually do popular things and run for election on the resulting wave of approval. Delaying what ought to be the good news of universal and affordable health care for all Americans till two elections down the road is a strong indication that they know the good news really ain’t all that good. And it’s not.

Inside the matrix of TV, the corporate media and on much of the internet, discussion of the Obama plan’s timeline, the human cost of another three years delay, and the comparison with Medicare’s 11 month rollout back in the days before computers are almost impossible to find. We can only wonder why.

The Obama plan is about health insurance, not health care.

As BAR has been reporting since January 2007, the Obama plan is not a health care plan at all, it is a health insurance plan. Based largely upon the failed model in place in Massachusetts since 2006, the Obama plan will require employers to provide coverage or pay a special tax. Everybody not covered by an employer will be required to purchase insurance under penalty of law, in much the same manner as you’re currently required to buy car insurance.

“In my state,” testified Dr. Steffie Woolhandler of the Harvard Medical School last month before Congress, “beating your wife, communicating a terrorist threat and being uninsured all carry $1,000 fines.”

As in Massachusetts, the health insurance plans people are forced to buy will cost a lot and won’t cover much. In a July 20 National Journal article Dr. David Himmelstein says,

Nearly every day that he is in the clinic, Himmelstein says, he sees a patient who has problems paying for care “despite this reform.’ Some of them had free care before the 2006 law took effect but are now expected to handle co-payments. If you’re not poor enough to get a subsidy, say you’re making $30,000 a year, you’re required to buy a policy that costs about $5,000 a year for the premium and has a $2,000 deductible before it pays for anything. For substantial numbers of people, it’s effectively not coverage,’ Himmelstein said. The policy he described is about the cheapest Massachusetts plan available, according to the Physicians for a National Health Program report, which Himmelstein co-wrote.”

A family of four making under $24,000 a year in Massachusetts gets its insurance premium free, but is still expected to cough up deductibles and co-payments and live with loopholes and exclusions that often deny care to those who need it. And in both the Massachusetts and Obama plans, funds to pay those premiums come out of the budgets of programs like Medicaid that already pay for care for the poorest Ameicans.

The Obama plan’s “public option” is a bait-and-switch scam

A July 21 pnhp.org article titled “Bait and Switch: How the Public Option Was Sold” outlines how the public option is neither public, nor an option.

Public option” refers to a proposal… that Congress create an enormous “Medicare-like” program that would sell health insurance to the non-elderly in competition with the 1,000 to 1,500 health insurance companies that sell insurance today…

Hacker (its author) claimed the program, which he called “Medicare Plus” in 2001 and “Health Care for America Plan” in 2007, would enjoy the advantages that make Medicare so efficient – large size, low provider payment rates and low overhead…

Hacker predicted that his proposed public program would so closely resemble Medicare that it would be able to set its premiums far below those of other insurance companies and enroll at least half the non-elderly population.”

The White House is committed to twisting arms in the both houses of Congress and reconciling the two versions of Democratic bills to emerge from the House and Senate. What emerges will be the Obama plan. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Senate version of the Democrats’ pending health care legislation leaves 33 million uninsured and omits the public option altogether. The House version includes a “public option” estimated to cover only 10-12 million people, a number far too small for it to create price pressure on private insurance companies, while leaving 16 or 17 million uninsured. Instead of setting prices for health care, it will be forced to pay whatever tthe private insurers already pay, and perhaps more.

As private insurers use their marketing muscle to recruit younger, healthier people who’ll pay for but not use their benefits, the public option will be a dumping ground for the customers they don’t want… the middle-aged, the poor, those with pre-existing conditions. And of course the Obama plan’s “public option’ will be managed by contractors from the private insurance industry.

Private insurers spend a third of every health care dollar on non-health related things like bonuses, denial machinery, advertising, lobbying and bad investments. Medicare spends 2 or 3% on administrative overhead. Bush’s “enhanced Medicare” administered by private insurance contractors, spends about 11% on overhead. That’s about what we should expect from the Obama public option. So much for change.

So far, discipline is holding. Nobody in corporate media, the administration, or among Democrats in Washington has gotten round to telling us that the public option has been eviscerated. But its powerful appeal and the awesome power of the word “public” are offered by Obama supporters as the central reasons to shut up, clap harder, and get behind the president on this.

Taxing the rich, paying for health care. How the Obama Plan stacks up against single payer.

Along with being funded by cuts in Medicaid, the Obama plan is supposed to be funded by taxing those who make $300,000 or more per year. That’s not a bad thing. The wealthy don’t pay nearly enough taxes. But the US already spends more on health care than anyplace else on the planet while leaving a greater portion of its population uninsured than anybody.

The Obama plan will not contain costs. It will subsidize the insurance vampires well into the next decade. On the other hand, single payer would eliminate the private insurance industry altogether. In many advanced industrial countries, most of the practices private insurers follow here, such as cherry picking healthy patients while dumping and denying sick ones, are illegal. Why can we do that?

Single payer, according to a study by the California Nurses Association would eliminate 550,000 jobs in private insurance while creating 3.2 million new ones in actual health care. It would be responsible for $100 billion in wages annually and a source of immense tax revenues for local governments.

So is the Obama plan really better than nothing?

The Obama plan seems calculated to buy time for private insurers, to end the health care discussion for a decade or more without solving the health care problem, do so in a way that discredits the very idea of everybody in- nobody out health care. It will leave tens of millions uninsured, a hundred million or more underinsured, and the same parasitic private interests in charge of the American health care system that run it now.

The Obama plan as it now stands requires us to let another 18,000 die for each of the next three years and allow more than a million additional families to be bankrupted by medical expenses before we can judge whether or not the plan is working. It’s easy to imagine Obama partisans telling us in mid 2013 that it’s still too early to be sure.

The Kucinich amendment, which allows the few states wealthy enough to try it the liberty to fashion their own single payer regimes is intended to attract progressives and single payer votes in Congress without breaking the bubble. By itself, it should not be a reason to support this bill.. The wealthiest state in the union is probably California, and it’s handing out IOUs instead of salaries this month. It’s hard to see what would be lost if this health care bill went down in flames, and we started over again next year.

Can he get away with it?

Maybe. Maybe not. If the corporate media and the president can keep discussion of the devilish details to a minimum, if they can silence, co-opt and intimidate the forces to Obama’s left — if they can keep most of the public inside their bubble of fake reality, Barack Obama may achieve his goal of thwarting the reform that most of the American people want — an everybody in, nobody out single payer health care system on the model of Canada or Australia, or Medicare for All. It won’t be close, it won’t be easy, and with nothing to be gained, progressives shouldn’t make it any easier.

Since the president’s success depends mostly on keeping people silent and in the dark, he will probably be unable to mobilize the 13 million phone numbers and email addresses collected during the recent presidential campaign, and now held by OFA, his campaign arm. If an organizing call went out to them, too many would try to read the bill and discuss the options, and such a discussion could easily get out of hand. When OFA called house meetings on health care last December, the most frequently advanced question was why we couldn’t or shouldn’t get a single payer health care system.

Single payer isn’t dead yet. It’s very much alive among Barack Obama’s own supporters. To succeed, he has to bury it alive, to keep them in the bubble, in the dark and quiet, or clapping so loudly they cannot hear themselves or each other think. It’s not over.

© 2009 Black Agenda Report

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor of the Black Agenda Report

Celebrating Cronkite While Ignoring What He Did July 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in History, Media, Vietnam.
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Published on Saturday, July 18, 2009 by Salon.com by Glenn Greenwald

“The Vietcong did not win by a knockout [in the Tet Offensive], but neither did we. The referees of history may make it a draw. . . . We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. . . .

“For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. . . . To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past” — Walter Cronkite, CBS Evening News, February 27, 1968.

“I think there are a lot of critics who think that [in the run-up to the Iraq War] . . . . if we did not stand up and say this is bogus, and you’re a liar, and why are you doing this, that we didn’t do our job. I respectfully disagree. It’s not our role” – David Gregory, MSNBC, May 28, 2008.

 

When Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstam died, media stars everywhere commemorated his death as though he were one of them — as though they do what he did — even though he had nothing but bottomless, intense disdain for everything they do.  As he put it in a 2005 speech to students at the Columbia School of Journalism:  “the better you do your job, often going against conventional mores, the less popular you are likely to be . . . . By and large, the more famous you are, the less of a journalist you are.” 

In that same speech, Halberstam cited as the “proudest moment” of his career a bitter argument he had in 1963 with U.S. Generals in Vietnam, by which point, as a young reporter, he was already considered an “enemy” of the Kennedy White House for routinely contradicting the White House’s claims about the war (the President himself asked his editor to pull Halberstam from reporting on Vietnam).  During that conflict, he stood up to a General in a Press Conference in Saigon who was attempting to intimidate him for having actively doubted and aggressively investigated military claims, rather than taking and repeating them at face value:

Picture if you will rather small room, about the size of a classroom, with about 10 or 12 reporters there in the center of the room. And in the back, and outside, some 40 military officers, all of them big time brass. It was clearly an attempt to intimidate us.

General Stilwell tried to take the intimidation a step further. He began by saying that Neil and I had bothered General Harkins and Ambassador Lodge and other VIPs, and we were not to do it again. Period.

And I stood up, my heart beating wildly — and told him that we were not his corporals or privates, that we worked for The New York Times and UP and AP and Newsweek, not for the Department of Defense.

I said that we knew that 30 American helicopters and perhaps 150 American soldiers had gone into battle, and the American people had a right to know what happened. I went on to say that we would continue to press to go on missions and call Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins, but he could, if he chose, write to our editors telling them that we were being too aggressive, and were pushing much too hard to go into battle. That was certainly his right.

Can anyone imagine any big media stars — who swoon in reverence both to political power and especially military authority — defying military instructions that way, let alone being proud of it?  Halberstam certainly couldn’t imagine any of them doing it, which is why, in 1999, he wrote:

Obviously, it should be a brilliant moment in American journalism, a time of a genuine flowering of a journalistic culture . . .

But the reverse is true. Those to whom the most is given, the executives of our three networks, have steadily moved away from their greatest responsibilities, which is using their news departments to tell the American people complicated truths, not only about their own country, but about the world around us. . . .

Somewhere in there, gradually, but systematically, there has been an abdication of responsibility within the profession, most particularly in the networks. . . . So, if we look at the media today, we ought to be aware not just of what we are getting, but what we are not getting; the difference between what is authentic and what is inauthentic in contemporary American life and in the world, with a warning that in this celebrity culture, the forces of the inauthentic are becoming more powerful all the time.

All of that was ignored when he died, with establishment media figures exploiting his death to suggest that his greatness reflected well on what they do, as though what he did was the same thing as what they do (much the same way that Martin Luther King’s vehement criticisms of the United States generally and its imperialism and aggression specifically have been entirely whitewashed from his hagiography).

So, too, with the death of Walter Cronkite.  Tellingly, his most celebrated and significant moment — Greg Mitchell says “this broadcast would help save many thousands of lives, U.S. and Vietnamese, perhaps even a million” — was when he stood up and announced that Americans shouldn’t trust the statements being made about the war by the U.S. Government and military, and that the specific claims they were making were almost certainly false.  In other words, Cronkite’s best moment was when he did exactly that which the modern journalist today insists they must not ever do — directly contradict claims from government and military officials and suggest that such claims should not be believed.  These days, our leading media outlets won’t even use words that are disapproved of by the Government.

Despite that, media stars will spend ample time flamboyantly commemorating Cronkite’s death as though he reflects well on what they do (though probably not nearly as much time as they spent dwelling on the death of Tim Russert, whose sycophantic servitude to Beltway power and “accommodating head waiter”-like, mindless stenography did indeed represent quite accurately what today’s media stars actually do).  In fact, within Cronkite’s most important moments one finds the essence of journalism that today’s modern media stars not only fail to exhibit, but explicitly disclaim as their responsibility.

 UPDATE:  A reader reminds me that — very shortly after Tim Russert’s June, 2008 death — long-time Harper‘s editor Lewis Lapham attended a party to mark the release of a new book on Hunter Thompson, and Lapham said a few words.  According to New York Magazine‘s Jada Yuan, this is what happened:

Lewis Lapham isn’t happy with political journalism today. “There was a time in America when the press and the government were on opposite sides of the field,” he said at a premiere party for Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson on June 25. “The press was supposed to speak on behalf of the people. The new tradition is that the press speaks on behalf of the government.” An example? “Tim Russert was a spokesman for power, wealth, and privilege,” Lapham said. “That’s why 1,000 people came to his memorial service. Because essentially he was a shill for the government. It didn’t matter whether it was Democratic or Republican. It was for the status quo.” What about Russert’s rep for catching pols in lies? “That was bullshit,” he said. “Thompson and Russert were two opposite poles.”

Writing in Harper‘s a few weeks later, Lapham — in the essay about Russert (entitled “An Elegy for a Rubber Stamp”) where he said Russert’s “on-air persona was that of an attentive and accommodating headwaiter, as helpless as Charlie Rose in his infatuation with A-list celebrity” — echoed Halberstam by writing:

Long ago in the days before journalists became celebrities, their enterprise was reviled and poorly paid, and it was understood by working newspapermen that the presence of more than two people at their funeral could be taken as a sign that they had disgraced the profession.

That Lapham essay is full of piercing invective (“On Monday I thought I’d heard the end of the sales promotion. Tim presumably had ascended to the great studio camera in the sky to ask Thomas Jefferson if he intended to run for president in 1804″), and — from a person who spent his entire adult life in journalism — it contains the essential truth about modern establishment journalism in America:

On television the voices of dissent can’t be counted upon to match the studio drapes or serve as tasteful lead-ins to the advertisements for Pantene Pro-V and the U.S. Marine Corps. What we now know as the “news media” serve at the pleasure of the corporate sponsor, their purpose not to tell truth to the powerful but to transmit lies to the powerless. Like Russert, who served his apprenticeship as an aide-de-camp to the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, most of the prominent figures in the Washington press corps (among them George Stephanopoulos, Bob Woodward, and Karl Rove) began their careers as bagmen in the employ of a dissembling politician or a corrupt legislature. Regarding themselves as de facto members of government, enabling and codependent, their point of view is that of the country’s landlords, their practice equivalent to what is known among Wall Street stock-market touts as “securitizing the junk.” When requesting explanations from secretaries of defense or congressional committee chairmen, they do so with the understanding that any explanation will do. Explain to us, my captain, why the United States must go to war in Iraq, and we will relay the message to the American people in words of one or two syllables. Instruct us, Mr. Chairman, in the reasons why K-Street lobbyists produce the paper that Congress passes into law, and we will show that the reasons are healthy, wealthy, and wise. Do not be frightened by our pretending to be suspicious or scornful. Together with the television camera that sees but doesn’t think, we’re here to watch, to fall in with your whims and approve your injustices. Give us this day our daily bread, and we will hide your vices in the rosebushes of salacious gossip and clothe your crimes in the aura of inspirational anecdote.

That’s why they so intensely celebrated Tim Russert:  because he was the epitome of what they do, and it’s why they’ll celebrate Walter Cronkite (like they did with David Halberstam) only by ignoring the fact that his most consequential moments were ones where he did exactly that which they will never do.

© 2009 Salon.com

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.

The Bad PR of Dead Civilians May 11, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Media, War.
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Afghan airstrikes and the corporate media

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)

Early reports of a massive U.S. attack on civilians in western Afghanistan last week (5/5/09) hewed to a familiar corporate media formula, stressing official U.S. denials and framing the scores of dead civilians as a PR setback for the White House’s war effort.

Scanning the headlines gave a sense of the media’s view of the tragedy: “Civilian Deaths Imperil Support for Afghan War” (New York Times, 5/7/09), “Claim of Afghan Civilian Deaths Clouds U.S. Talks” (Wall Street Journal, 5/7/09), “Afghan Civilian Deaths Present U.S. With Strategic Problem” (Washington Post, 5/8/09).

As is frequently the case with such incidents (Extra! Update, 8/07), the primary fallout would seem to be the damage done to U.S. goals. The New York Times reported that civilian deaths “have been a decisive factor in souring many Afghans on the war.” As CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric put it (5/6/09), “Reports of these civilian casualties could not have come at a worse time, as the Obama administration launches its new strategy to eradicate the Taliban and convince the Afghan people to support those efforts.” Other outlets used very similar language to explain why the timing was “particularly sensitive” (Washington Post, 5/7/09) or “awkward” (Associated Press, 5/7/09) for the Obama administration.

While it is important to be cautious about early reports of such atrocities, many accounts played up U.S. denials. Some anonymous U.S. military officials vigorously denied that they were responsible, instead blaming the deaths on Taliban grenades and use of “human shields.”

The New York Times reported (5/7/09):

“Defense Department officials said late Wednesday that investigators were looking into witnesses’ reports that the Afghan civilians were killed by grenades hurled by Taliban militants, and that the militants then drove the bodies around the village claiming the dead were victims of an American airstrike.

“The initial examination of the site and of some of the bodies suggested the use of armaments more like grenades than the much larger bombs used by attack planes, said the military official, who requested anonymity because the investigation was continuing.”

It is troubling to see an anonymous source given so much space to make such an elaborate case, seemingly based on little evidence. By the next day’s edition of the Times (5/8/09), military sources appeared to be backtracking: “Initial American military reports that some of the casualties might have been caused by Taliban grenades, not American airstrikes, were ‘thinly sourced,’ a Pentagon official in Washington said Thursday, indicating that he was uncertain of their accuracy.” That “thin” sourcing was good enough for most of the press, though, and similar instances continued.

On CNN’s American Morning (5/8/09), anchor Kiran Chetry announced, “CNN is learning that the Taliban may have been using women, children and men as human shields during U.S. air strikes earlier this week.” That would stretch the meaning of “learning” quite a bit, since CNN’s reporter from Afghanistan, Stan Grant, had little to report beyond vague official assertions (“We’re still waiting for a formal statement, a formal report to come down from the U.S. military here in Kabul”). CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr had already (5/6/09) floated the “much grimmer scenario” coming from U.S. officials–that the Taliban had killed civilians and then paraded them around the area.

On May 8, the Washington Post was stressing the notion that, whatever the truth, Afghans are going to believe what they want: “The truth of what happened in Farah may be less important than what the Afghan people believe took place in the remote western region. [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates said that a cornerstone of the Taliban campaign is to blame civilian deaths on U.S. troops.”

CBS’s Couric (5/6/09) likewise posited to U.S. Army General David McKiernan: “Whatever the outcome, rumors alone that many civilians were killed by U.S. airstrikes–that is very problematic, particularly at this moment in time.” Couric closed her report by paraphrasing McKiernan’s assessment: “The general added, because it takes time to uncover the truth, the U.S. is at a distinct disadvantage in the propaganda war with the Taliban, who often blame the United States for any civilian deaths.”

It is difficult to see the corporate media’s credulous, cursory coverage of these killings as evidence of a U.S. public relations “disadvantage.”

FAIR, the national media watch group, has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986. We work to invigorate the First Amendment by advocating for greater diversity in the press and by scrutinizing media practices that marginalize public interest, minority and dissenting viewpoints.
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