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Eduardo Galeano’s Words Walk the Streets of a Continent April 15, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Latin America, Media, History, Uruguay.
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Roger’s note: Two literary giants and champions of social justice — Eduardo Galeano and Gunter Grass — passed away earlier this week.  Not surprisingly, North American media paid more attention to the latter, a European, than they did to one of the Western Hemisphere’s own super heroes, who nevertheless was not exactly a household name in the North American imperium.  Not to take anything away from Grass, the importance of the life and work of Eduardo Galeano for the peoples of Latin America and the notion of social, political and economic  justice cannot be overestimated.  If you read only one analysis of Latin American history, make sure it is his “Open Veins …”  One reviewer characterized Galeano as a cross between Pablo Neruda and Howard Zinn.  That is not an overstatement.

 “She’s on the horizon…”

by BENJAMIN DANGL

0-1-0-Galeano

The world lost one of its great writers yesterday. Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano died at age 74 in Montevideo. He left a magical body of work behind him, and his reach is as wide as his continent.

During Argentina’s 2001-2002 economic crisis, Galeano’s words walked down the streets with a life of their own, accompanying every protest and activist meeting. Factories were occupied by workers, neighborhood assemblies rose up, and, for a time, revolutionary talk and action replaced a rotten neoliberal system. Galeano’s upside-down view of the world blew fresh dreams into the tear gas-filled air.

In the streets of La Paz, Bolivia, pirated copies of Galeano’s classic Open Veins of Latin America are still sold at nearly every book stall. There too, Galeano’s historical alchemy added to the fire of many movements and uprisings, where miners of the country’s open veins tossed dynamite at right-wing politicians, and the 500-year-old memory of colonialism lives on.

Up the winding mountain roads of Chiapas, past Mexican state military checkpoints, lies the autonomous Zapatista community of Oventic. One day a few years ago, Galeano’s familiar voice floated over the foggy, autonomous land, reciting children’s stories over stereo speakers.

At a World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Galeano entered a steaming hot tent where hundreds had gathered to hear him speak about the Uruguayan water rights movement in which the people had “voted against fear” to stop privatization. What I remembered most about the talk is how much he made the crowd laugh.

And one night in Paraguay, with the smell of cow manure and pesticides lingering in the air, small farmers besieged by toxic soy crops gathered to tell stories of resistance, stories they linked to Galeano’s accounts of the looting of Latin America and struggles against greed and empire that were centuries in the making.

With the small mountain of books and articles he left behind, Galeano gives us a language of hope, a way feel to feel rage toward the world while also loving it, a way to understand the past while carving out a better possible future.

“She’s on the horizon,” Galeano once wrote of utopia. “I go two steps, she moves two steps away. I walk ten steps and the horizon runs ten steps ahead. No matter how much I walk, I’ll never reach her. What good is utopia? That’s what: it’s good for walking.”

Benjamin Dangl has worked as a journalist throughout Latin America, covering social movements and politics in the region for over a decade. He is the author of the books Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America, and The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. Dangl is currently a doctoral candidate in Latin American History at McGill University, and edits UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America, and TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events. Twitter: https://twitter.com/bendangl Email: BenDangl(at)gmail(dot)com

Some more tributes:

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/04/14/galeano-bolivar-with-a-pen/

http://www.democracynow.org/2013/5/8/eduardo_galeano_chronicler_of_latin_americas

http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/04/14/we-will-miss-you-eduardo/

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/apr/13/eduardo-galeano-open-veins-of-latin-america-writer-dies

 

NY Times Covers Up Washington’s Monstrous Evil April 10, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Asia, History, Imperialism, Laos, Media, Water.
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Roger’s note: There are so many war crimes to report, going back to the days of Manifest Destiny.  Here is another one, in our time, all the more pernicious for its killing and maiming of children.  Every bomb that goes off in Laos represented a financial benefit for the war profiteer who produced it.  The real unindicted criminals, of course, are the Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon and the those around them who made it all possible.  And the rest who knew better and went along.

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Hiding America’s War Crimes in Laos, While Reporting on the Grim Results
by DAVE LINDORFF

The NY Times on Monday ran a lengthy piece (“One Woman’s Mission to Free Laos from Millions of Unexploded Bombs”) on Channapha Khamvongas, a 42-year-old Laotian-American woman on a mission to get the US to help Laos clean up the countless unexploded anti-personnel “bombis” that it dropped, which are still killing peasants — especially children — half a century after the so-called “Secret War” by the US against Laos ended.

The article explained that Khamvongas, as a young adult in Virginia, had read a book by anti-war activist Fred Branfman, Voices from the Plain of Jars: Life Under an Air War (originally published in 1972 and reissued in 2013), which featured accounts and hand drawings by refugees from that war of the deadly US aerial attacks and bombings of their farms and villages. It was a book that sparked revulsion in the US over the saturation bombing of Southeast Asia’s smallest and least developed country — a nation of under six million people.

While the Times article mentioned that the secret air war, launched by Lyndon Johnson against Laos in 1964 and continued by Richard Nixon through 1973, was “one of the most intensive air campaigns in the history of warfare,” and that it had made Laos, a country the size of Great Britain with a population of only a few million peasants, into “one of the most heavily bombed places on earth.” What it did not make clear was that this bombing and strafing campaign, which Branfman’s research showed was so intense that US jets were even killing individual water buffalo, and so continuous that any Lao person, including children, who dared to venture out from underground shelters during the daytime, was targeted.

Instead, Times reporter Thomas Fuller simply parrots the official US line about the Laos air war, which was kept secret from the American public at the time, writing that the campaign’s “targets were North Vietnamese troops — especially along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a large part of which passed through Laos — as well as North Vietnam’s Laotian Communist allies,” the Pathet Lao.

This is a patent falsehood.

 

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press) and author of Killing Time: an Investigation Into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu Jamal.

 

The US is Pushing The World Towards Nuclear War April 8, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Europe, Imperialism, Media, Russia, Ukraine, War.
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Roger’s note: we live in a world where the ruling capitalist elites in the United States (and its allies), Russia, China, etc. drive their governments to greater imperial adventures, at the risk of nuclear war.

The Crucial Role of the ‘Alternative Media’
by COLIN TODHUNTER

NATO countries are to all intents and purposes at war with Russia. The US knows it and Russia knows it too. Unfortunately, most of those living in NATO countries remain blissfully ignorant of this fact.

The US initiated economic sanctions against Russia, has attacked its currency and has manipulated oil prices to devastate the Russian economy. It was behind the coup in Ukraine and is now escalating tensions by placing troops in Europe and supporting a bunch of neo-fascists that it brought to power. Yet the bought and paid for corporate media in the West keeps the majority of the Western public in ignorance by depicting Russia as the aggressor.

If the current situation continues, the outcome could be a devastating nuclear conflict. Washington poured five billion dollars into Ukraine with the aim of eventually instigating a coup on Russia’s doorstep. Washington and NATO are supporting proxy forces on the ground to kill and drive out those who are demanding autonomy from the US puppet regime in Kiev. Hundreds of thousands have fled across the border into Russia.
Yet it is Washington that accuses Moscow of invading Ukraine, of having had a hand in the downing of a commercial airliner and of ‘invading’ Ukraine based on no evidence at all – trial by media courtesy of Washington’s PR machine. As a result of this Russian ‘aggression’, Washington slapped sanctions on Moscow.

The ultimate aim is to de-link Europe’s economy from Russia and weaken Russia’s energy dependent economy by denying it export markets. The ultimate aim is to also ensure Europe remains integrated with/dependent on Washington, not least via the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and in the long term via US gas and Middle East oil (sold in dollars, thereby boosting the strength of the currency upon which US global hegemony rests).

The mainstream corporate media in the West parrots the accusations against Moscow as fact, despite Washington having cooked up evidence or invented baseless pretexts. As with Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and other ‘interventions’ that have left a trail of death and devastation in their wake, the Western corporate media’s role is to act as cheerleader for official policies and US-led wars of terror.

The reality is that the US has around 800 military bases in over 100 countries and military personnel in almost 150 countries. US spending on its military dwarfs what the rest of the world spends together. It outspends China by a ratio of 6:1.

What does the corporate media say about this? That the US is a ‘force for good’ and constitutes the ‘world’s policeman’ – not a calculating empire underpinned by militarism.

By the 1980s, Washington’s wars, death squads and covert operations were responsible for six million deaths in the ‘developing’ world. An updated figure suggests that figure is closer to ten million.

Breaking previous agreements made with Russia/the USSR, over the past two decades the US and NATO has moved into Eastern Europe and continues to encircle Russia and install missile systems aimed at it. It has also surrounded Iran with military bases. It is destabilising Pakistan and ‘intervening’ in countries across Africa to weaken Chinese trade and investment links and influence. It intends to eventually militarily ‘pivot’ towards Asia to encircle China.

William Blum has presented a long list of Washington’s crimes across the planet since 1945 in terms of its numerous bombings of countries, assassinations of elected leaders and destabilisations. No other country comes close to matching the scale of such criminality. Under the smokescreen of exporting ‘freedom and democracy’, the US has deemed it necessary to ignore international laws and carry out atrocities to further its geo-political interests across the globe.

Writing on AlterNet.orgNicolas JS Davies says of William Blum’s book Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since World War II: if you’re looking for historical context for what you are reading or watching on TV about the coup in Ukraine, ‘Killing Hope’ will provide it.

Davies argues that the title has never been more apt as we watch the hopes of people from all regions of Ukraine being sacrificed on the same altar as those of people in Iran (1953); Guatemala(1954); Thailand (1957); Laos (1958-60); the Congo (1960); Turkey (1960, 1971 & 1980); Ecuador (1961 & 1963); South Vietnam (1963); Brazil (1964); the Dominican Republic (1963); Argentina (1963); Honduras (1963 & 2009); Iraq (1963 & 2003); Bolivia (1964, 1971 & 1980); Indonesia (1965); Ghana (1966); Greece (1967); Panama (1968 & 1989); Cambodia (1970); Chile (1973); Bangladesh (1975); Pakistan (1977); Grenada (1983); Mauritania (1984); Guinea (1984); Burkina Faso (1987); Paraguay (1989); Haiti (1991 & 2004); Russia (1993); Uganda (1996);and Libya (2011).

Davies goes on to say that the list above does not include a roughly equal number of failed coups, nor coups in Africa and elsewhere in which a US role is suspected but unproven.

The Project for a New American Century (PNAC) is a recipe for more of the same. The ultimate goal, based on the ‘Wolfowitz Doctrine, is to prevent any rival emerging to challenge Washington’s global hegemony and to secure dominance over the entire planet. Washington’s game plan for Russia is to destroy is as a functioning state or to permanently weaken it so it submits to US hegemony. While the mainstream media in the West set out to revive the Cold War mentality and demonise Russia, Washington believes it can actually win a nuclear conflict with Russia. It no longer regards nuclear weapons as a last resort but part of a conventional theatre of war and is willing to use them for pre-emptive strikes.

Washington is accusing Russia of violating Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty, while the US has its military, mercenary and intelligence personnel inside Ukraine. It is moreover putting troops in Poland, engaging in ‘war games’ close to Russia and has pushed through a ‘Russian anti-aggression’ act that portrays Russia as an aggressor in order to give Ukraine de facto membership of NATO and thus full military support, advice and assistance.

Washington presses ahead regardless as Russia begins to undermine dollar hegemony by trading oil and gas and goods in rubles and other currencies. And history shows that whenever a country threatens the dollar, the US does not idly stand by.

Unfortunately, most members of the Western public believe the lies being fed to them. This results from the corporate media amounting to little more than an extension of Washington’s propaganda arm. The PNAC, under the pretext of some bogus ‘war on terror’, is partly built on gullible, easily led public opinion, which is fanned by emotive outbursts from politicians and the media. We have a Pavlov’s dog public and media, which respond on cue to the moralistic bleating of politicians who rely on the public’s ignorance to facilitate war and conflict.

Former US Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst has spoken about the merits of the Kiev coup and the installation of an illegitimate government in Ukraine. Last year, he called the violent removal of Ukraine’s democratically elected government as enhancing democracy. Herbst displayed all of the arrogance associated with the ideology of US ‘exceptionalism’. He also displayed complete contempt for the public by spouting falsehoods and misleading claims about events taking place in Ukraine.

And now in Britain, the public is being subjected to the same kind of propaganda by the likes of Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond with his made-for-media sound bites about Russia being a threat to world peace:

“We are now faced with a Russian leader bent not on joining the international rules-based system which keeps the peace between nations, but on subverting it… We are in familiar territory for anyone over the age of about 50, with Russia’s aggressive behaviour a stark reminder it has the potential to pose the single greatest threat to our security… Russia’s aggressive behaviour a stark reminder it has the potential to pose the single greatest threat to our security.”

In a speech that could have come straight from the pen of some war mongering US neocon, the US’s toy monkey Hammond beats on cue the drum that signals Britain’s willingness to fall in line and verbally attack Putin for not acquiescing to US global hegemonic aims.

The anti-Russia propaganda in Britain is gathering pace. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has said that Putin could repeat the tactics used to destabilise Ukraine in the Baltic states. He said that NATO must be ready for Russian aggression in “whatever form it takes.” He added that Russia is a “real and present danger.” Prior to this, PM David Cameron called on Europe to make clear to Russia that it faces economic and financial consequences for “many years to come” if it does not stop destabilising Ukraine.

Members of the current administration are clearly on board with US policy and are towing the line, as did Blair before. And we know that his policy on Iraq was based on a pack of lies too.

If Putin is reacting in a certain way, it is worth wondering what the US response would be if Russia had put its missiles in Canada near the US border, had destabilised Mexico and was talking of putting missiles there too. To top it off, imagine if Russia were applying sanctions on the US for all of this ‘aggression’.

What Russia is really guilty of is calling for a multi-polar world, not one dominated by the US. It’s a goal that most of humanity is guilty of. It is a world the US will not tolerate.

Herbst and his ilk would do well to contemplate their country’s record of wars and destabilisations, its global surveillance network that illegally spies on individuals and governments alike and its ongoing plundering of resources and countries supported by militarism, ‘free trade’ or the outright manipulation of every major market. Hammond, Fallon and Cameron would do well to remember this too. But like their US masters, their role is to feign amnesia and twist reality.

The media is dutifully playing its part well by keeping the public ignorant and misinformed.  A public that is encouraged to regard what is happening in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Afghanistan and Libya, etc, as a confusing, disconnected array of events in need of Western intervention based on bogus notions of ‘humanitarianism’ or a ‘war on terror’, rather than the planned machinations of empire which includes a global energy war and the associated preservation and strengthening of the petro-dollar system.

Eric Zuesse has been writing extensively on events in Ukraine for the last year. His articles have been published on various sites, but despite his attempts to get his numerous informative and well-researched pieces published in the mainstream media, he has by and large hit a brick wall (he describes this here).

This is because the corporate media have a narrative and the truth does not fit into it. If this tells us anything it is that sites like the one you are reading this particular article on are essential for informing the public about the reality of the aggression that could be sleepwalking the world towards humanity’s final war. And while the mainstream media might still be ‘main’, in as much as that is where most people still turn to for information, there is nothing to keep the alternative web-based media from becoming ‘mainstream’.

Whether it involves Eric’s virtually daily pieces or articles by other writers, the strategy must be to tweet, share and repost! Or as Binu Mathew from the India-based Countercurrents website says: “It is for those who want to nurture these alternative communication channels to spread the word to tell the world about these avenues. ‘Each one reach one, each one teach one’ can be a good way to sum up.”

Colin Todhunter is an extensively published independent writer and former social policy researcher based in the UK and India.

 

Why is the US So Frightened of Venezuela? April 4, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Cuba, Imperialism, Latin America, Media, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: Israel is armed to the teeth and possesses a formidable nuclear armory, the only one in the Middle East, yet the prostituted mainstream media would have us believe that the real nuclear danger is an Iran, which has zero nuclear weapons (of course, this is not to mention the United States, Russia, UK, China, France, etc. who have enough nuclear power to destroy the globe many times over).  And now we have a medium third world power in totally nuclear weapons free South America declared a security threat to the United States.  Does the mainstream media point out to us the ridiculous nature of this measure and the hidden agenda behind it; or does it lie low and wait for its instructions from official Washington?  This article shows us how absurd is the notion of Venezuela posing a material threat to Uncle Sam unless you consider the bad example of a government dedicated to social and economic equality.  Indeed, that hurts.

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Standing Up to the Empire

by MARIA PAEZ VICTOR

Obama is not in Kansas anymore, but he does not seem to know it. Latin America no longer slavishly accepts orders from the USA; it is no longer the USA’s “back yard”.

The mainstream media has downplayed the fact that President Obama has just declared yet another country an enemy of the USA –one in the American Hemisphere. He has issued an Executive Order declaring Venezuela an “extraordinary and unusual threat to the national security of the United States” [i]

How a nation that spends less than 1% of its GDP on military expenditures, has no latest state-of-the-art military weaponry, and an army of merely 120,000 can possibly threaten the security of the mighty United States, is entirely incomprehensible.

And yet, an invasion of Venezuela, before a theoretical possibility, after Obama’s order has become a scenario with real probabilities. The Venezuelan government is not taking this threat lightly having seen what the greed for oil has done to Iraq, Libya, and Syria.

After recovering from the initial surprise and bewilderment of being labeled a threat to the world’s superpower, Venezuelans have been left with one great consolation: that it is not alone before the threats of the empire of the North.

The media have ignored even more the fact that 138 nations of the world have openly sided with Venezuela against Obama’s surreal decree. This includes the United Nations G-77 countries, all of the regional associations of Latin American and Caribbean, plus Russia and China.[ii]

In the diplomatic world where finessing and weasel words are customary, the strong, categorical language with which Latin America condemned Obama’s decree has been remarkable. The decree was -in no uncertain terms- reviled.

The union and integration of Latin America and the Caribbean has been an amazing achievement. Simón Bolívar in the 19th Century urged and longed for it, however, it was President Hugo Chávez who laid the institutional base that made it possible. These two giants of Latin American history saw very clearly that only through unity could the republics of the region defend themselves from the rapacity of the world powers, especially of the United States.

Latin America (with the exception of that fiefdom of a country, Panama) has repudiated Obama’s decree, including those with right wing governments. They have all seen what the executive order really is: a gross intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign state, thus violating international law, specifically the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other nations, and it also violates the United Nations Charter.

While the blockade against Cuba affected mainly only that island nation, the region knows very well that this decree affects them all and if not repudiated, no country will be secure from USA attacks.

The first country to express its solidarity with Venezuela was Cuba who labeled Obama’s order, arbitrary and aggressive. The Cuban support has an altruistic, humanist and unique merit in the history of international politics, one that reveals the greatness of the Cuban people. Just at the moment when the USA offers to re-establish relations with Cuba after 50 years of the suffering of the Cubans people due to the criminal blockade that the USA has unjustly maintained against them, just at this delicate and crucial diplomatic moment, Raúl Castro firmly denounced the aggression against Venezuela declaring, “The United States should understand once and for all that it is impossible to seduce and buy Cuba, nor to intimidate Venezuela. Our unity is indestructible.”[iii] Venezuela can never forget such solidarity.

At an Extraordinary Summit of Heads of State of the ALBA countries[iv] on 17 March 2015, Obama’s decree was denounced as false and unjust, unilateral and disproportionate and Venezuela was given unconditional support. [v.] 

Argentina stated Obama’s decree caused stupor and surprise. “ It is absolutely implausible to any moderately informed person that Venezuela or any country in South America or Latin America could possibly be considered a threat to the national security of the United States.”[vi] Its Foreign Minister said that any attempt to destabilize a democratic government of the region, Argentina will take as an attack on itself “[vii]

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales demanded that the USA beg pardon to Latin America and especially to Venezuela.These undemocratic actions of President Barack Obama threaten the peace and security of all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Bolivia reiterates its full support for the legitimate government of brother Nicolas Maduro, a president democratically elected by his people, and pledge our solidarity to the Venezuelan people in this unfair and difficult time in which democracy is again trying to be sacrificed to serve foreign interests.”[viii]

 

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa said sarcastically that the only thing missing is for the USA to sanction Venezuelan voters, and added: “It must be a bad joke, which reminds us of the darkest hours of our America, when we received invasions and dictatorships imposed by imperialism… Will they understand that Latin America has changed?[ix]

Nicaragua expressed its “profound rejection and indignation before an unacceptable imperial declaration.” President Daniel Ortega condemned the “criminal and futile attempts of the Empire to undermine the Bolivarian Revolution”[x]

Pepe Mujica, former president of Uruguay who enjoys almost universal admiration in Latin America, said: “Anyone who looks at a map to say that Venezuela could be a threat has to be quite mad. Venezuelans have a marvelous Constitution – the most audacious in all of Latin America.” [xi]

As for the regional associations, they all condemned Obama’s order and supported Venezuela: UNASUR, CELAC, ALBA, OAS, PARLATINO, MERCOSUR, ALADI. Plus the UN’s G-77 plus China and Russia added their condemnation[xii]

UNASUR (Union of South American Countries) rejected the decree “because it constitute an interventionist threat to sovereignty and to the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other nations.”

The MERCOSUR Parliament expressed its most energetic and categorical rejection of the USA sanctions denouncing it as “ a real threat to sovereignty, peace and democratic stability (of Venezuela) and consequently, of MERCOSUR.[xiii]

The Latin American Parliament (PARLATINO) which includes 23 countries, stated, “What is at risk here is the defense of our independence, control of our natural resources and the freedom to decide our own destiny.” [xiv]

The Latin American Association for Integration (ALADI) called Obama’s decree inexplicable and arbitrary, stating, “The world knows that no country in Latin America is a threat to peace.” [xv]

At the Organization of the American States (OAS) on March 7th, Obama’s decree was rejected by a majority of 29 countries, with only three nations opposed: (no surprise) the USA, Canada and Panama.

At the United Nations, the Council of Human Rights in Geneva, denounced Obama’s aggressive policy. The UN G-77 plus China also rejected it, saying: “The Group of 77 and China conveys its solidarity and support to the Venezuelan Government affected by these measures which do not contribute, in any way, to the spirit of political and economic dialogue and understanding among countries.”[xvi]

The Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations (CELAC), composed of 33 nations, unanimously condemned the decree and its coercive unilateral measures denouncing them as mechanisms of political and economic pressure that violate the UN Charter. [xvii]

In Great Britain, 100 members of parliament signed a declaration repudiating Obama’s decree and affirming their “opposition to all external interference and all USA sanctions against Venezuela.” Among those signing were members of 6 different British political parties from the British Parliament, the House of Lords, the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly of Wales and the Assembly of London.

There have been demonstrations all over the world in favour of Venezuela but have been given little or no media attention.

The Summit of the Americas is scheduled for April 10 and 11 in Panama. Instead of the USA being welcomed for recently thawing its relationship with Cuba, Obamas’ decree has assured that the USA will receive a very cold shoulder. A united Latin America and the Caribbean will stand up to the  will stand up to the empire and say: Venezuela is not alone!

María Páez Victor, Ph.D. is a Venezuelan born sociologist living in Canada. 

Notes.

[i] https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/03/09/fact-sheet-venezuela-executive-order

[ii] http://www.primicias24.com/nacionales/maduro-138-paises-apoyan-a-venezuela-y-piden-que-se-derogue-el-decreto-obama/

[iii] http://www.michelcollon.info/Rechazo-mundial-de-la-agresion-de,5071.html?lang=es

[iv] The ALBA countries are: Antigua & Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Grenada, Nicaragua, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Venezuela. Observers: Iran, Syria and Haiti

[v] https://youthandeldersja.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/alba-extraordinary-summit-supports-maduro-rejects-obamas-executive-order/

[vi] Salim Lamrani, Rechazo mundial de la agresión de EEUU a Venezuela, Rebelión, 25-03-2015

[vii] http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1664954-el-gobierno-manifesto-total-y-absoluto-apoyo-a-nicolas-maduro

[viii] http://rt.com/news/240325-venezuela-sanctions-obama-america/

[ix] http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Ecuadors-Correa-Calls-US-Sanctions-on-Venezuela-a-Bad-Joke–20150310-0003.html.

[x] http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Nicaragua-Offers-Backing-for-Venezuela-against-Coup-Plot—20150214-0021.html

[xi] El Observador, “Mujica no duda de que’los gringos se meten en Venezuela”, 12 marzo 2015

[xii] Resumen Latinoamericano/ Russia Today, 26 March 2015

[xiii] Salim Lamrani, Rechazo mundial de la agresión de EEUU a Venezuela, Rebelión, 25-03-2015

[xiv] PARLATINO, 17 March 2015 http://parlatino.org.ve/index.php/noticias/politica-nacional-e-internacional

[xv] Salim Lamrani, Rechazo mundial de la agresión de EEUU a Venezuela, Rebelión, 25-03-2015

[xvi] http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Venezuelan-President-Maduro-Appreciates-Support-from-G-77-20150326-0009.html

[xvii] http://www.aporrea.org/internacionales/n267602.html

 

Extolling Ukraine’s Extreme-Right March 9, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Imperialism, Media, Russia, Russia, Ukraine, War.
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Roger’s note: it borders on the surrealistic.  The mainstream corporate media, not to mention Goebbels like US government propaganda,  have flooded our brains with a narrative that describes the Ukraine conflict is a matter of Putin led Russian aggression.  This, of course, ignores the reality of the US assisted right wing coup against an elected, albeit corrupt, Ukraine government and NATO’s push up against the very Russian border.  Putin, of course, is no saint; he is corrupt and dictatorial, and this only feeds into the US ability to demonize him.  However, it is not Russian corruption that bothers the US government lackeys, rather Putin as a defender of Russian sovereignty.  It is all about the expansion of the US led western empire.  And, with the growing influence of right wing eschatological nutcase Republicans in the United States government, not to mention macho uberhawk Hillary Clinton, there is the real possibility it will escalate into a nuclear conflagration.

 

Canada’s Toronto Star and Globe and Mail Join In

by ROGER ANNIS

Writers at the largest national daily newspaper in Canada, the Globe and Mail, have lately joined writers at the Toronto Star in publishing articles extolling the fundraising efforts in Canada of Ukraine’s extreme-right.

This comes in the form of two recent news articles in the Globe, including one by its long-standing correspondent in Europe, Mark MacKinnon.

MacKinnon reported on Feb. 27 in the Globe and Mail from the warehouse in Kyiv where ‘Army SOS’ gathers the military supplies that it purchases or receives and then provides to the extreme-right battalions fighting Ukraine’s war against its citizens in the east of the country.

As an article by me on Feb. 20 reported, writers at the Toronto Star have also been promoting ‘Army SOS’. The military equipment provided by financial or direct donations has included technology for improving the accuracy of Ukrainian rocket and artillery attacks against the towns and cities of eastern Ukraine.

MacKinnon describes ‘Army SOS’ as “a volunteer organization that aids Ukraine’s warriors in the field”. He writes, “Ukraine’s myriad volunteer battalions are famed for their bravery, as well as for their sometimes-extreme nationalism. Along the front line, they are often the ones engaged in the toughest fighting against the rebel army that Kiev and NATO say is armed by Moscow.”

Actually, MacKinnon’s “warriors” are mostly “famed” for their extreme-right or neo-Nazi views. The most well-known among them, including the ‘Donbass’, ‘Aidar’, Azov and Dniper battalions, have been cited by journalists and human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, for kidnappings, torture and executions. They have been condemned for blockading humanitarian shipments into eastern Ukraine.

The rightists do not limit their crimes to warmaking in Ukraine’s east. They are also organized politically, including as members of Ukraine’s Parliament (Rada). Some are represented through their own political parties, such as the openly fascist ‘Right Sector’, while others have entrenched themselves in the ‘parties’ (actually, electoral machines) of President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

Across Ukraine today, free expression is severely curtained. The extreme right conducts vigilante attacks against public expressions of concern about the war or the disastrous state of Ukraine’s economy and national finances. The rightists are at the forefront of advocating draconian laws and pushing them through the Rada. These laws have closed down newspaper and television stations and allow the government to control internet publishing. A law currently before the Rada would authorize lengthy jailing of those protesting the government’s war in the east or its economic policies.

The violence and crackdown in Ukraine is couched in the language of fighting “separatism” and “pro-Russian separatism”. To close down an uncomfortable idea in Ukraine, it is enough to shout “separatism” loudly enough. The word refers to the demands of Russian-speaking and other nationally-distinct Ukrainians who want a voice in their political and economic destiny.

Fundraising in Toronto for Ukrainian rightists

A second Globe and Mail article along the same lines as that of MacKinnon was published on March 2 by commissioned writer Sahar Fatima. She reported on a fundraising dinner for ‘Army SOS’ in Toronto on February 28 that raised $52,000.

The young journalist wrote, “Throughout Saturday’s event, speakers and organizers tried to drill home the message that Ukraine is a David fighting a malicious Goliath, Russia, bent on snatching its freedom and autonomy. The only way Ukraine stands a chance is if organizations such as Army SOS help level the playing field using donations from the public, attendees heard.”

A keynote speaker at the event was Ihor Kozak, a “defence and security expert” and a retired Canadian military officer. He wants the NATO confrontation with Russia to be escalated, the Globe article reports, including by providing more advanced weapons to Ukraine, extending the economic sanctions in place against Russia, and more bankrolling of the Ukrainian government and its military.

The ‘all-out war’ theme was also cited by MacKinnon when he quoted Lenna Koszarny. She is the head of the Kiev arm of the extremist Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC). He reported:

“Is the [Ukrainian] diaspora at war with Russia? Absolutely,” says Ms. Koszarny, 45. “The diaspora is helping Ukraine defend itself. How do we do that? In any which way we can.”

MacKinnon neglected to mention an interesting fact about Koszarny. She is Chief Executive Officer and a founding partner in 2006 of the Horizon Capital investment firm in Ukraine. Another of the founding partners is none other than Natalie Jaresko, the U.S. citizen who was appointed late last year to be Ukraine’s minister of finance.

Jaresko is currently embroiled in legal battles for her handling of an investment fund that was created in 1994 with $150 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The fund was earmarked for spurring capitalist business activity in Ukraine. Horizon Capital took over the managing of it when the firm was created.

Another of the rightist fundraising efforts in Canada mentioned in both the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star is ‘Patriot Defense’.

A prominent player in the rightist fundraising efforts and in the pages of the Globe and Star, is the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. Recently, the organization co-organized and sponsored a speaking tour to Canada and the United States of one of the extremist members of the Ukrainian Rada, Andriy Paruiby.

Parubiy was feted by the Conservative Party government in Ottawa on February 23. He met with Minister of Foreign Affairs Rob Nicholson and with members of Parliament. His message to the government, reported in the Globe and Mail, is that he wants Canada to use its influence in Washington to convince the U.S. government to provide more lethal and advanced weaponry to Ukraine.

Parubiy is one of the founders of modern-day, extreme-right politics in Ukraine. He founded the Social-National Party of Ukraine (SNPU) in 1991. It went on to spawn other fascist or extreme-right formations, including the large, present-day Svoboda Party. Svoboda’s leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, was a founder with Parubiy of the SNPU.

Parubiy has sought to moderate his image in recent years, but he wrote in 2008: “I was one of the founders of SNPU and since that time, my political views and ideology haven’t changed.” During the EuroMaidan protest movement in 2013/early 2014, he was a commander of the extreme-right shock troops that battled police and closed off Maidan Square to political forces with less extreme, pro-Europe views.

In a briefing note to the Canadian government on Feb. 9, 2015, the UCC listed four things it wants the government to do “in order to assist the people of Ukraine as they fight bravely to protect their country from foreign aggression”:

1. Provide lethal, defensive military weapons, intelligence, equipment and military advisors.

2. Enact decisive sectoral economic sanctions against the Russian Federation’s military.

3. Ensure the political isolation of the Putin regime.

4. Declare the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk “Peoples’ Republics” as terrorist organizations, and designate the Russian Federation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

The UCC note says, “Thousands of regular and irregular Russian troops are in Ukraine along with tanks, missiles, heavy artillery, and are directly engaged in an invasion of sovereign Ukrainian territory”.

This paranoid, detached-from-reality description is also sounded in a lobbying document in early 2015 co-authored by the very influential, neo-conservative and pro-NATO Atlantic Council, in the United States. The document is titled ‘ Preserving Ukraine’s independence, resisting Russian aggression: What the United States and NATO must do’. It argues vigorously in favour of arming Ukraine to the teeth. “The West has the capacity to stop Russia. The question is whether it has the will.”

The ceasefire which Kyiv and its backers were obliged to accept last month should be serving as a time to address the underlying political issues in the conflict in Ukraine, notably the demands of the people in eastern Ukraine and other regions of the country for a real say in the running of the country–or even for the right to a future independent of Ukraine, should they so choose.

Instead, there is the danger that the pause in fighting may serve merely as an occasion for Ukraine’s government and extremist paramilitaries to regroup and re-arm, while NATO presses ahead with its sanctions and other threats against Russia. Unfortunately, that’s the message coming from the ‘war parties’ in NATO capitals.

It is disturbing, to say the least, to see the extreme right in Ukraine being extolled in the pages of the leading newspapers of Canada. And if anyone in the Parliament in Ottawa is opposed to the drive for war against Russia and the feting of extremists, they are not making their voices heard. Progressive-minded Canadians need to push back against all this. Encouragingly, the torrent of critical commentary by readers of the Globe and Mail in response to the articles it published soft-pedaling Ukraine’s extreme-right is a strong indicator that Canadians are wanting to do just that.

Roger Annis is an editor of the website ‘The New Cold War: Ukraine and beyond‘.

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Deadly WWII firebombings of Japanese cities largely ignored March 9, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Asia, History, Japan, Media, War.
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Roger’s note: governments and media parrot the lie that such barbarism was “necessary” in order to save lives (sic).  I am sure Dante could find a special place in Hell for them.  I just want to point out the murderous cycle of capitalist war profiteering.  The same shareholders (of Dow Chemical, for example, the manufacturer of napalm gas) who finance and profit from the bloodbath fall in line to profit from the reconstruction.  We see this today in Iraq, where during the initial stages of reconstruction of areas annihilated by US bombing, only US firms were allowed to bid for reconstruction contracts.  As General Smedley Butler famously said, “War is a Racket.”

 

TOKYO (AP) – It was not Hiroshima or Nagasaki, but in many ways, including lives lost, it was just as horrific.

On March 10, 1945, U.S. B-29 bombers flew over Tokyo in the dead of night, dumping massive payloads of cluster bombs equipped with a then-recent invention: napalm. A fifth of Tokyo was left a smoldering expanse of charred bodies and rubble.

Today, a modest floral monument in a downtown park honors the spirits of the 105,400 confirmed dead, many interred in common graves.

It was the deadliest conventional air raid ever, worse than Nagasaki and on par with Hiroshima. But the attack, and similar ones that followed in more than 60 other Japanese cities, have received little attention, eclipsed by the atomic bombings and Japan’s postwar rush to rebuild.

Haruyo Nihei, just 8 when the bombs fell, was among many survivors who kept silent. A half-century passed before she even shared her experiences with her own son.

“Our parents would just say, ‘That’s a different era,'” Nihei said. “They wouldn’t talk about it. And I figured my own family wouldn’t understand.”

Now, as their numbers dwindle, survivors are determined to tell their stories while they still can.

‘HELLISH FRENZY’

Where earlier raids targeted aircraft factories and military facilities, the Tokyo firebombing was aimed largely at civilians, in places including Tokyo’s downtown area known as “shitamachi,” where people lived in traditional wood and paper homes at densities sometimes exceeding 100,000 people per square mile.

“There were plenty of small factories, but this area was chosen specifically because it was easy to burn,” says historian Masahiko Yamabe, who was born just months after the war’s end.

Another departure from earlier raids: the bombers flew low.

“It was as if we could reach out and touch the planes, they looked so big,” said Yoshitaka Kimura, whose family’s toy store in downtown Tokyo’s Asakusa was destroyed. “The bombs were raining down on us. Red, and black, that’s what I remember most.”

Nihei, now 78, was mesmerized as she watched from a railway embankment.

“It was a blazing firestorm. I saw a baby catch fire on its mother’s back, and she couldn’t put out the fire. I saw a horse being led by its owner. The horse balked and the cargo on its back caught fire, then its tail, and it burned alive, as the owner just stood there and burned with it,” she said.

Firefighter Isamu Kase was on duty at a train parts factory. He jumped onto a pump truck when the attack began, knowing the job was impossible.

“It was a hellish frenzy, absolutely horrible. People were just jumping into the canals to escape the inferno,” said Kase, 89. He said he survived because he didn’t jump in the water, but his burns were so severe he was in and out of hospital for 15 years.

Split-second choices like that determined who lived and who died.

Kimura, a 7-year-old, escaped the flames as he was blown into the entrance of a big department store while running toward the Sumida River, where tens of thousands of people died: burned, crushed, drowned or suffocated in the firestorm.

Masaharu Ohtake, then 13, fled his family’s noodle shop with a friend. Turned back by firefighters, they headed toward Tokyo Bay and again were ordered back. The boys crouched in a factory yard, waiting as flames consumed their neighborhood.

“We saw a fire truck heaped with a mountain of bones. It was hard to understand how so many bodies could be piled up like that,” said Ohtake.

After about two hours and 40 minutes, the B-29s left.

Survivors speak of the hush as dawn broke over a wasteland of corpses and debris, studded by chimneys of bathhouses and small factories. Police photographer Koyo Ishikawa captured the carnage of charred bodies piled like blackened mannequins, tiny ones lying beside them.

“It was as if the world had ended,” said Nihei, whose father sheltered her under his body, as others piled on top and were burned and suffocated. All her family survived.

Michiko Kiyo-oka, a 21-year-old government worker living in the Asakusa district, survived by hiding under a bridge.

“When I crawled out I was so cold, so I was warming myself near one of the piles that was still smoldering. I could see an arm. I could see nostrils. But I was numb to that by then,” she said. “The smell is one that will never leave me.”

FIGHTING TO BE REMEMBERED

From January 1944-August 1945, the U.S. dropped 157,000 tons of bombs on Japanese cities, according to the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey. It estimated that 333,000 people were killed, including the 80,000 killed in the Aug. 6 Hiroshima atomic-bomb attack and 40,000 at Nagasaki three days later. Other estimates are significantly higher. Fifteen million of the 72 million Japanese were left homeless.

The bombing campaign set a military precedent for targeting civilian areas that persisted into the Korean and Vietnam wars and beyond. But the non-atomic attacks have been largely overlooked.

“Both governments, the press, media, radio, even novelists … decided the crucial story was the atomic bomb,” said Mark Selden, a Cornell University history professor. “This allowed them to avoid addressing some very important questions.”

Survivors of the Tokyo firebombing feel their pain has been forgotten, by history and by the government. After the war, only veterans and victims of the atomic bombings received special support.

“We civilians had no weapons and no strength to fight,” Kiyo-oka said. “We were attacked and got no compensation. I am very dissatisfied with how the government handled this.”

No specific government agency handles civilian survivors of firebombings or keeps their records, because there is no legal basis for that, said Manabu Oki at the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.

Yamabe, the historian, said authorities “are reluctant to acknowledge civilian suffering from the wartime leaders’ refusal to end the war earlier.”

“If they don’t disclose such data, it can’t be discussed. If the victims remain anonymous then there’s less pressure for compensation,” said Yamabe, a researcher at the privately funded Tokyo Air Raid and War Damages Resource Center, Japan’s main source of information about the firebombings.

Some survivors now refuse to be anonymous. Nihei often travels from the distant suburbs to the Tokyo Air Raid center to share her story with students and other visitors.

Years ago, Ohtake began walking the city to draw up guide maps of areas destroyed by the bombings – maps the resource center now uses.

“The United States went too far with the firebombing, but I don’t quite understand why the Japanese government and the rest of the Japanese don’t talk about this very much,” he said.

“We are not just statistics. I don’t think we’ll still be around for the 80th anniversary,” Ohtake said. “So the 70th anniversary is pretty much the last chance for us to speak up.”

___

Associated Press writer Emily Wang contributed.

 

Maduro Confirms Arrest of Caracas Mayor for Coup Plotting February 24, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Cuba, Imperialism, Latin America, Media, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: One dimension of US foreign policy can be summarized in two words: regime change.  And, with apologies to Malcolm X, one would add, “by any means necessary.”  They achieved it a few years ago in Honduras, which today under the US puppet regime has become the most violent country on earth.  They achieved it last year in the Ukraine, thanks to a popular revolt against a corrupt, albeit democratically elected government, aided and abetted by neo-Fascist gangs.

Syria and Venezuela are next on the list, but Syria may be useful in combating ISIS, so that leaves Venezuela (they would love to achieve regime change in Ecuador and Bolivia, but that remains on the back burner for a future date).   The New York Times published the other day an updated report on Venezuela, which was somewhat more balanced, but which parroted the US official line that the government’s opposition is a victim of government oppression, thereby ignoring the reality that it is being being held criminally responsible for its attempt to overthrow the government with a military coup

The opposition leader under arrest, Antonio Ledezma, as Mayor of Caracas was responsible for multiple deaths during the failed 2002 coup and the 1987 and as Mayor he directed state troops which assassinated as many as 4000 civilians during the Caracazo uprising of 1989.  For this he has to now gotten off Scott free.

Here is the latest on Venezuela. 

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Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with supporters at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, February 19, 2015. | Photo: Reuters

 

Published 19 February 2015, Telesur

Antonio Ledezma was arrested Thursday afternoon in Caracas after being named in the recently-foiled U.S.-backed coup in Venezuela.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro confirmed the detention on Thursday of the ultra-right wing Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, who is accused of participating in the thwarted coup attempt against the democratically-elected government.

“He was detained and will be tried by the Venezuelan justice system” due to his link to plans to topple the government of Maduro with backing from Washington, the Venezuelan president added.

Maduro emphasized that the White House is directly involved in the coup plans that were foiled last week by the Venezuelan government.

Also see: Venezuela Coup Thwarted

Also see teleSUR’s special coverage: The War on Venezuela’s Economy

The Speaker of Parliament Diosdado Cabello said Ledezma was involved along with opposition lawmaker Juolio Borges in a plan to kill Leopoldo Lopez, an opposition leader in jail for his participation in last year’s Guarimbas violence that left 43 people dead in an opposition and U.S.-backed attempt to overthrow Maduro.

Ledezma is one of the persons responsible for ordering the massacre of up to 400 students during the Caracazo of Feb. 27, 1989, which was a popular rebelion against the ill-conceived neoliberal policies imposed by the U.S. and its allies in many countries, including Venezuela.

Antonio Ledezma is accused of plotting to overthrow the government of Nicolas Maduro.

Antonio Ledezma was arrested for plotting to overthrow the democratically-elected government of President Nicolas Maduro. (Photo: teleSUR)

“Today, [Ledezma] is being processed by the Venezuelan justice system, the constitution. I ask for all the people’s support in order to consolidate justice. Enough with the conspiracy,” said Maduro. “Those who do not agree with the revolution, that’s fine, we respect that. They can organize, they can launch their own political party. There are elections this year.”  Ledezma, a long-time opposition leader to the Bolivarian process who has been linked to ultra-right wing attempts to destabilize the Venezuelan government, published on his personal Twitter account earlier today that officers from the Bolivarian Intelligence Service (SEBIN) Officers were attempting to enter his office in the wealthy Chacao district of Caracas.

His wife, Mitzsy Capriles, said that he was taken to SEBIN headquarters in Plaza Venezuela.

On Feb. 13, President of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello gave a televised address providing information about the foiled coup plans, with those detained providing information about the involvement of Ledezma and other opposition leaders in the plot.

Socialist legislator and President of the Latin American Parliament Angel Rodriguez announced that Friday he would formally report Ledezma and right-wing opposition leader Maria Corina Machado to the Venezuelan general prosecutor for their “National Agreement for Transition” statement, which was published one day before the coup plot was to take effect.

The document alleges that Nicolas Maduro’s government is in its “final stage” and called for a dissolution of powers, the privatization of the country’s oil industry, and the deregulation of the economy, among other measures.

President Maduro has also said that “almost all” opposition leaders had known about the plans.

Last year, Ledezma was also linked to Lorent Saleh, a young opposition activist who organized violent protests, but who was arrested after being deported from Colombia for registering in a military college with false documentation. The Venezuelan government released several Skype video conversations where Saleh speaks openly about having weaponry, as well as plotys schemes to generate violence, including through assassinations.

In one of the videos released in September 2014, Saleh says, “Ledezma is key…he is an old fox, you cannot sell nor buy that kind of experience … the politician that has most supported us is Ledezma, for that reason he was our presidential candidate.”

The young opposition leaders explicitly named Ledezma as providing material support for the 2014’s violent opposition-led protests, which claimed 43 lives.

The Bolivarian government continues to defend the country’s institutions despite ongoing destabilization attempts. During a nationally televised speech Thursday night, Maduro reiterated his allegations that the U.S. embassy was participating in the plans, including attempting to turn officials on the government via bribery.

 

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Op-Ed on Venezuela Slips Past NYT Factcheckers

Raul Castro of Cuba and Venezuela President Nicholas Maduro in this file photo. (Photo: AFP)

A February 15, 2015, op-ed on Venezuela by Enrique Krauze seems to have slipped by the New York Times‘ factcheckers.

Krauze’s thesis (a tired one, but very popular with Venezuelan and Cuban right-wingers in South Florida) is that Venezuela has not only followed “the Cuban model,” but has recently outdone Cuba in moving Venezuela further along a socialist path even as Cuba enacts economic reforms. This idea is not merely an oversimplification–as it might appear to the casual observer of Latin American politics–but is largely misleading. To bolster his case, Krauze–a prominent Mexican writer and publisher–includes numerous false statements and errors, which should have been caught by the Times‘ factcheckers.

Krauze begins by claiming that the Venezuelan government, first under President Hugo Chávez and then his successor Nicolás Maduro, has taken control over the media. Chávez “accumulated control over the organs of government and over much of the information media: radio, television and the press,” we are told, and then Maduro “took over the rest of Venezuelan television.”

A simple factcheck shows this to be false. The majority of media outlets in Venezuela–including television–continue to be privately owned; further, the private TV audience dwarfs the number of viewers watching state TV. A 2010 study of Venezuelan television found that

as of September 2010, Venezuelan state TV channels had just a 5.4 percent audience share. Of the other 94.6 percent of the audience, 61.4 percent were watching privately owned television channels, and 33.1 percent were watching paid TV.

A 2013 Carter Center report found that Venezuela’s private TV outlets had about 74 percent of the audience share for coverage of “recent key newsworthy events.”

The media landscape has changed little since. National opposition station Globovisión was sold in 2013, but to a private party; it was not “taken over” by the government. And opposition voices continue to appear on national TV outlets–even the ones that are often described as “pro-government”–free to make the harshest criticisms of the government and to encourage people to protest, as several prominent opposition figures did last year during the violent street blockades and demonstrations aimed at forcing Maduro to step down.

Globovisión, for example, aired interviews–following its change in ownership–with opposition leader María Corina Machado and Juan Guaido of Leopoldo López’s Voluntad Popular party; during her interview, Machado argued that people have the right to overthrow the democratically elected government. And many other Venezuelan networks also frequently broadcast opposition voices.

In fact, the New York Times issued a correction last year after reporting that Globovisión was “the only television station that regularly broadcast voices critical of the government.” It’s a shame that the same standards for accuracy in the Times‘ news section apparently do not apply to the opinion page.

Krauze then says that Maduro “confronted” those “protesting students with arrests and gunfire,” and that “many were killed” as, supposedly, Maduro “suppressed demonstrations by the opposition.” A quick review of events last year–as covered by the New York Times, among others–reveals a wholly different story.

First, most of those killed were either pro-government or were bystanders. Many of those killed (at least 11, according to David Smilde of the Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog, who in turn cites the opposition paper El Universal) were National Guard officers, police or pro-government counter-protesters. A number of bystanders and motorists (at least 10) were also killed as a result of the protesters’ violent tactics, which included stringing barbed wire across the streets in order to decapitate Chavista motorcyclists. (Two died this way.) Demonstrators fired on Guard and police officers, killing at least seven.

It is true that some security forces fired on demonstrators, killing at least three. Yet as over a dozen members of Congress noted in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, the Maduro government arrested some 20 security state agents in connection with these incidents. This was not a case of government-ordered crackdown on protests; if it were, the opposition’s street blockades might have been cleared in days–instead, they remained for weeks–and motorists and cyclists might have been saved from decapitation, crashing into barricades, or getting shot when they got out of their stopped cars.

Having attempted to present the Venezuelan government as some sort of dictatorial regime where freedom of press and assembly are crushed, Krauze goes on to present a series of flawed statements about Venezuela’s economic relationship with Cuba.

First, Krauze writes that “Venezuela absorbs 45 percent of Cuba’s trade deficit.” Official data on Venezuela/Cuba trade is opaque, so it is unclear where Krauze is getting his figure. In terms of its overall trade, Cuba does not have a trade deficit, but a small trade surplus ($697 million USD, according to the WTO). So this statement is false.

Krauze states, “Chávez-era economic agreements with Cuba were all highly favorable to the island nation.” But that the agreements are favorable to Cuba does not preclude them from being favorable to Venezuela as well. They are complementary exchanges: Venezuela has a surfeit of oil yet lacks human capital in some sectors. It could be the case that what Venezuela receives is of a lesser value than what it sends, but unfortunately there is a paucity of information to prove this either way.

What is certain is that the services exported to Venezuela extend far beyond the services of 40,000 Cuban medical professionals. Venezuela sends hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans to Cuba for various operations (including Operación Milagro, which extends eye treatments to people in numerous Latin American countries at the joint cost of Venezuela and Cuba). Thousands of Venezuelans have been given scholarships, particularly for the study of medicine. Cuba also exports substantial quantities of pharmaceuticals to Venezuela. It also sends educators and other professionals.

In further arguing that Venezuela is somehow putting Cuba’s interests before its own, Krauze claims, “The expenses for the Missions…involved Venezuelan payments of about $5.5 billion annually, of which the Cuban regime retained 95 percent, the rest going toward paying the doctors.” But this ignores that Cuba provides other services to Venezuela. It also ignores the difficulties in comparing salaries with Cuba, given the vast subsidies for goods that exist in the Cuban economy. The salaries for medics on these foreign postings are vastly larger than normal public sector salaries in Cuba.

Krauze also writes that “thousands” of the Cuban doctors that Venezuela is paying for “have defected to other countries in recent years.” Despite US government efforts to actively encourage such defections, which the New York Times has condemned, the overall defection rate of Cuban medics on overseas missions is less than 2 percent (as of 2011, using US figures on the number of defectors and Cuban figures for the number of medics on overseas missions). The amount of defections  in Venezuela from 2006-11 was 824, which works out to a rate of about 1.1 percent–slightly less than the overall rate.

Krauze claims: “Oil was supplied at such low prices that Cuba could turn around and refine and export some of it at a profit.” This makes something normal sound very conspiratorial–those two-faced Cubans, getting oil on the cheap from Venezuela then selling it out the back door! Actually, Venezuela has invested heavily in Cuba’s downstream capabilities–renovating a moribund Soviet-era refinery in Cienfuegos, Cuba.

Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA, owns a 49 percent stake in the refinery and therefore shares in its proceeds. The aim of the investment project was to create a refinery that could help satisfy Cuba’s domestic requirements but also turn Cuba into a hub for exports of refined products to the Caribbean. Thus it guarantees purchases of Venezuelan oil and allows Venezuela to better access Caribbean markets (i.e. it has a similar justification to Venezuela’s ownership and investments in several US refineries).

Krauze writes, “Mr. Maduro’s government insists that the crisis is an ‘economic war’ conducted by the right and refuses to alter the nation’s currency controls.” Krauze may have missed the news last week, but the Times‘ fact-checkers shouldn’t have: As reported by the Times, the Venezuelan government announced “an easing of the tightly controlled exchange rates that critics say have fed the nation’s economic crisis.”

Maduro’s claim of “economic war”? While there’s little doubt that most of Venezuela’s economic woes stem from its problematic exchange rate regime, the government’s recent documented busts of massive hoarding of essential items by private companies should not be dismissed out of hand, either.

Perhaps Krauze wouldn’t have felt he needed to stretch the truth so far–and present so many inaccurate claims–if his thesis weren’t so flawed. Chávez and Maduro have never claimed that they wanted to bring the Cuban model to Venezuela; this is a fantasy of the Venezuelan right. To the contrary, after announcing his plan for “Socialism for the 21st Century,” Chávez said, “Some are saying that we want to copy the Cuban model. No…. It would be a very serious mistake for Venezuela to copy a model like the Cuban, or any other.”

For his part, Raúl Castro has also expressed support for Latin American countries pursuing their own respective economic and political choices: “Each [leader] is learning their own identity and finding their own identity within the continent. We aren’t the godfathers and they aren’t the heirs,” he told Oliver Stone in the 2010 documentary South of the Border.

The fact is, whether Krauze wants to admit it or not, Venezuela is a democracy, and the Maduro government was democratically elected–as were the Chavista municipal officials who won a majority of elections half a year after Maduro was elected, in a stunning defeat for the opposition. Krauze doesn’t have to like the current Venezuelan government, but he shouldn’t confuse it with an unelected one, as in Cuba.

Nor should he be so easily confused by the Venezuelan economic system–where the private sector enjoyed strong growth in the years after Chávez took office–versus the Cuban model of socialism. More worrying is that the New York Times opinion page would be so baffled by these important differences.

Steve Ellner has taught economic history at the Universidad de Oriente in Venezuela since 1977. His most recent book is his edited Latin America’s Radical Left: Challenges and Complexities of Political Power in the Twenty-First Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014).

To Be or Not To Be … Charlie January 15, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Europe, France, ISIS/ISIL, Media, Racism, Religion, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: when I heard the news of the bombing in Paris my first reaction was to want every journal in the world the print the offending cartoons, show the terrorists that their unspeakable murderous action was counterproductive, that it provoked the publication by the millions of the the very images they seek to restrain (and to a large degree this has happened, albeit not universal).  But that reaction, of course, implies a rationality on the part of the perpetrators.  It was purely emotional.   None the less, I was “Je suis Charlie” all the way.

Then I noticed something.  Marching in Paris under the banner of “Je suis Charlie” and press freedom are some of the world’s most notorious war criminals, led by none the less than Benjamin Netanyahu, a man with enough blood on his hands to supply the Red Cross for years to come.  And next I read a few articles under the theme of “hey, wait, I may not exactly be Charlie,” that is, Charlie of “Charlie Hebdo,” an often (so I read) racist, sexist, homophobic, misanthropic publication.  Does freedom of speech, I thought to myself, trump bigotry?

I haven’t reached a conclusion yet, but it has become clear to me that it is definitely not a simple question of the values of Western Civilization versus Muslim extremism.  Today it is reported that a former Republican congressman wants the next ISIS beheading to be of those media outlets that didn’t print the current Charlie cover.  A strange freedom of speech and “Je suis Charlie” bedfellow to go along with Netanyahu, Merkel, Hollande, and the rest of the Western world’s murderous leadership.

Something else has just popped into my mind, the famous Barry Goldwater quote from the 1964 election: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”  So, I guess we in the West can boast that we got to extremism well before the Muslims.

Here are some views on the issue.

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Monsters of Our Own Creation

by JOHN WIGHT

The huge march and rally in Paris that took place in the wake of the horrific events that took place in the French capital was a festival of nauseating hypocrisy.

Watching the leaders of governments which, between them, have been responsible for carnage and mayhem on a grand scale – the likes of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for example – leading a march against terrorism and extremism qualified not so much as the theatre of the absurd but as the theatre of the grotesque; impostors at an event that millions of people allowed themselves to hope would mark a step-change in a world scarred by war, barbarism, and injustice.

Sadly, they will be disappointed, as the circular relationship that exists between Western extremism and Islamic extremism will not be broken anytime soon. Indeed, if at all, it will be strengthened after the massacre in Paris, as the congenital condition of Western exceptionalism reasserts itself.

When Frantz Fanon wrote, “Violence is man re-creating himself,” he could have been describing the Kouachi brothers striding up and down the street outside the offices of Charlie Hebdo, assault weapons in hand, prior to and after murdering the French-Algerian police officer lying on the pavement with the ease of men for whom all restraint had been abandoned.

The irony of men acting in the name of Islam callously taking the life of a fellow Muslim should not have come as a surprise, however. The vast majority of victims of Islamic extremism, after all, are Muslims, just as they comprise the vast majority of victims of Western extremism. The point is that at this point the Kouachis at that point appeared euphoric, filled with a sense of their own power and strength, having broken through the final barrier that exists between the agony of powerlessness and liberation from it. They had been transformed by the ‘deed’.

“What is good?” Nietzsche asks, before answering, “All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man.”

Behind them the brothers had left a scene of carnage. For us it was an act of sheer evil, for them justice and power. Within them had taken root a more powerful idea than the one they had been inculcated with growing up with in the heart of Europe. It willed them to seek meaning not in life but in death – that of others and their own.

When confronted by such total rejection of the moral foundations upon which our cultural, social, and human consciousness rests, we dismiss it automatically and unthinkingly, ascribing it to evil, madness, and insanity. Our coping mechanism dare not deviate for a second in this regard. But what if such deeds are acts of rebellion against the evil, madness, and insanity of the status quo, matching evil with evil, madness with madness, and insanity with insanity? What if that?

It is far too simplistic, if understandable, to dismiss such individuals as evil. It allows us to negate their humanity and anything we may recognise in ourselves. They aren’t human beings, such people, they are monsters, beyond the pale and therefore beyond any serious consideration. Ritual condemnation and calumniation is all that society accepts when it comes to those who perpetrate such horrific acts.

Yes, the act of mass murder carried by the Kouachis and Amedy Coulibaly in Paris was monstrous. But was it any more monstrous than the carnage that has been unleashed over many years by men who claim to act in our name? Wasn’t the brutality and barbarism we witnessed on our TV screens, crashing into our collective consciousness, merely a microcosm of the brutality and barbarism that goes by the name Western civilisation? For just as the Enlightenment provided the basis for modern liberal democracy, producing huge advances in science, medicine, and philosophy, it also provided justification for centuries of slavery, colonialism, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and super exploitation.

Je suis Charlie (‘I am Charlie’) describes the delimitation of our solidarity with all victims of extremism and barbarism. It allows us to avoid confronting the ugly truth of our culpability in the fate of those victims. When Aime Cesaire warned that “a civilization which justifies colonization—and therefore force—is already a sick civilization, a civilization which is morally diseased, which irresistibly, progressing from one consequence to another, one denial to another, calls for its Hitler, I mean its punishment,” he was talking to us.

The Kouachis and Coulibaly were not products of radical Islam. They, like it, were the products of Western civilization. They were and are monsters of our own creation.

John Wight is the author of a politically incorrect and irreverent Hollywood memoir – Dreams That Die – published by Zero Books. He’s also written five novels, which are available as Kindle eBooks. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnWight1

 

The Spectacular Media Failure on Charlie Hebdo

by SHAMUS COOKE

A core tenet of journalism is answering the question “why.” It’s the media’s duty to explain “why” an event happened so that readers will actually understand what they’re reading.  Leave out the “why” and then assumptions and stereotypes fill in the blank, always readily supplied by politicians whose ridiculous answers are left unquestioned by the corporate media.

Because the real “why” was unexplained in the Charlie Hebdo massacre, an obviously false culprit was created, leading to a moronic national discussion in the U.S. media about whether Islam was “inherently” violent.

For the media to even pose this question either betrays a blinding ignorance about the Middle East and Islam, or a conscious willingness to manipulate public sentiment by only interviewing so-called experts who believe such nonsense.

Media outlets should know that until the 1980’s Islamic fundamentalism was virtually inaudible in the Middle East — outside of the U.S.-supported dictatorship of Saudi Arabia, whose ruling monarchy survives thanks to U.S. support. The official religion of Saudi Arabia is a uniquely fundamentalist version of Islam, which along with the royal family are the two anchors of Saudi government power.

Before the 1980’s, the dominant ideology in the Middle East was pan-Arab socialism, a secular ideology that viewed Islamic fundamentalism as socially and economically regressive. Islamic fundamentalists engaged in terrorist attacks against the “pan-Arab socialist” governments of Egypt, Syria, Libya, Iraq and other governments that aligned themselves with this ideology at various times.

Islamic fundamentalism was virtually extinguished from 1950-1980, with Saudi Arabia and later Qatar being the last bastion and protective base of fundamentalists who were exiled from the secular countries. This dynamic was accentuated during the cold war, where the U.S. aligned itself with Islamic fundamentalism — Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states — while the Soviet Union became allies with the secular nations that identified as “socialist.”

When the 1978 Saur revolution in Afghanistan resulted in yet another socialist-inspired government, the United States responded by working with Saudi Arabia to give tons of weapons, training, and cash to the jihadists of the then-fledgling fundamentalist movement, helping to transform it into a regional social force that soon became the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The U.S.-backed Afghan jihad was the birth of the modern Islamic fundamentalist movement. The jihad attracted and helped organize fundamentalists across the region, as U.S. allies in the Gulf state dictatorships used the state religion to promote it.  Fighters who traveled to fight in Afghanistan returned to their home countries with weapon training and hero status that inspired others to join the movement.

The U.S. later aided the fundamentalists by invading Afghanistan and Iraq, destroying Libya and waging a ruthless proxy war in Syria.  Fundamentalists used these invasions and the consequent destruction of these once-proud nations to show that the West was at war with Islam.

Islamic fundamentalism grew steadily during this period, until it took another giant leap forward, starting with the U.S.-backed proxy war against the Syrian government, essentially the Afghan jihad on steroids.

Once again the U.S. government aligned itself with Islamic fundamentalists, who have been the principal groups fighting the Syrian government since 2012. To gain thousands of needed foreign fighters, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf states promoted jihad with their state-sponsored media, religious figures, and oil-rich donors.

While the Syria jihad movement was blossoming in Syria, the U.S. media and politicians were silent, even as groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS were growing exponentially with their huge sums of Gulf state supplied weapons and cash. They were virtually ignored by the Obama administration until the ISIS invasion of Iraq reached the U.S.-sponsored Kurdish region in 2014.

In short, the U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria have destroyed four civilizations within Muslim-majority nations. Once proud people have been crushed by war — either killed, injured, made refugees, or smothered by mass unemployment and scarcity. These are the ideal conditions for the Saudi-style Islamic fundamentalism to flourish, where promises of dignity and power resonate with those robbed of both.

Another U.S. media failure over Charlie Hebdo is how “satire” is discussed, where Hebdo’s actions were triumphed as the highest principle of the freedom of the media and speech.

It’s important to know what political satire is, and what it isn’t. Although the definition isn’t strict, political satire is commonly understood to be directed towards governments or powerful individuals. It is a very powerful form of political critique and analysis and deserves the strictest protection under freedom of speech.

However, when this same comedic power is directed against oppressed minorities, as Muslims are in France, the term satire ceases to apply, as it becomes a tool of oppression, discrimination, and racism.

The discrimination that French Muslims face has increased dramatically over the years, as Muslims have been subject to discrimination in politics and the media, most notoriously the 2010 ban on “face covering” in France, directed at the veil used by Muslim women.

This discrimination has increased as the French working class is put under the strain of austerity. Since the global 2008 recession this dynamic has accelerated, and consequently politicians are increasingly relying on scapegoating Muslims, Africans, or anyone who might be perceived as an immigrant.

It’s in this context that the cartoons aimed at offending Muslims by ridiculing their prophet Muhammad — a uniquely and especially offensive act under Islam — is especially insulting, and should be viewed as an incitement of racist hatred in France, where Arabs and North Africans are especially targeted in the right-wing attacks on immigrants.

It’s a sign of how far France has politically fallen that people are claiming solidarity with Charlie Hebdo, which has produced some of the most racist and inflammatory cartoons directed at Muslims, Arabs, and people of North Africans, which contributes to the culture of hatred that resulted in physical attacks against Muslims after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. This is the exact same political dynamic that led to Hitler’s racist scapegoating of the Jews.

Racism in France may have surpassed racism in the United States, since it’s unimaginable that, if the Ku Klux Klan were attacked in the United States for anti-Mexican hate speech, that the U.S. public would announce “I am the KKK.”

Hebdo is of course not a far-right publication. But the consistent attacks on Muslims and Africans show how far Charlie had been incorporated into the French political establishment, which now relies increasingly on scapegoating minorities to remain in power, in order to prevent the big corporations and wealthy from being blamed by the depreciating state of the French working class. Better to blame unions and minorities for the sorry state of the corporate-dominated French economy.

The only way to combat political scapegoating is to focus on the social forces responsible for the economic crisis and have them pay for the solutions that they are demanding the working class to pay through austerity measures and lower wages.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org). He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail.com

 

 

WHAT ‘DEMOCRACY’ REALLY MEANS IN U.S. AND NEW YORK TIMES JARGON: LATIN AMERICA EDITION October 19, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Democracy, Foreign Policy, Imperialism, Latin America, Media, Venezuela.
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Roger’s note: I read the New York Times (it is the most right wing site I go to online; and, when asked how I keep up with the “other side,” I reply that one absorbs it by osmosis), there is often good reporting and feature articles; but on U.S. foreign policy, the Times is as Neanderthal as Bush/Obama/Clintons.

 

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BY GLENN GREENWALD

One of the most accidentally revealing media accounts highlighting the real meaning of “democracy” in U.S. discourse is a still-remarkable 2002 New York Times Editorial on the U.S.-backed military coup in Venezuela, which temporarily removed that country’s democratically elected (and very popular) president, Hugo Chávez. Rather than describe that coup as what it was by definition – a direct attack on democracy by a foreign power and domestic military which disliked the popularly elected president – the Times, in the most Orwellian fashion imaginable, literally celebrated the coup as a victory for democracy:

With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona.

Thankfully, said the NYT, democracy in Venezuela was no longer in danger . . . because the democratically-elected leader was forcibly removed by the military and replaced by an unelected, pro-U.S. “business leader.” The Champions of Democracy at the NYT then demanded a ruler more to their liking: “Venezuela urgently needs a leader with a strong democratic mandate to clean up the mess, encourage entrepreneurial freedom and slim down and professionalize the bureaucracy.”

More amazingly still, the Times editors told their readers that Chávez’s “removal was a purely Venezuelan affair,” even though it was quickly and predictably revealed that neocon officials in the Bush administration played a central role. Eleven years later, upon Chávez’s death, the Times editors admitted that “the Bush administration badly damaged Washington’s reputation throughout Latin America when it unwisely blessed a failed 2002 military coup attempt against Mr. Chávez” [the paper forgot to mention that it, too, blessed (and misled its readers about) that coup]. The editors then also acknowledged the rather significant facts that Chávez’s “redistributionist policies brought better living conditions to millions of poor Venezuelans” and “there is no denying his popularity among Venezuela’s impoverished majority.”

If you think The New York Times editorial page has learned any lessons from that debacle, you’d be mistaken. Today they published an editorialexpressing grave concern about the state of democracy in Latin America generally and Bolivia specifically. The proximate cause of this concern? The overwhelming election victory of Bolivian President Evo Morales (pictured above), who, as The Guardian put it, “is widely popular at home for a pragmatic economic stewardship that spread Bolivia’s natural gas and mineral wealth among the masses.”

The Times editors nonetheless see Morales’ election to a third term not as a vindication of democracy but as a threat to it, linking his election victory to the way in which “the strength of democratic values in the region has been undermined in past years by coups and electoral irregularities.” Even as they admit that “it is easy to see why many Bolivians would want to see Mr. Morales, the country’s first president with indigenous roots, remain at the helm” – because “during his tenure, the economy of the country, one of the least developed in the hemisphere, grew at a healthy rate, the level of inequality shrank and the number of people living in poverty dropped significantly” – they nonetheless chide Bolivia’s neighbors for endorsing his ongoing rule: “it is troubling that the stronger democracies in Latin America seem happy to condone it.”

The Editors depict their concern as grounded in the lengthy tenure of Morales as well as the democratically elected leaders of Ecuador and Venezuela: “perhaps the most disquieting trend is that protégés of Mr. Chávez seem inclined to emulate his reluctance to cede power.” But the real reason the NYT so vehemently dislikes these elected leaders and ironically views them as threats to “democracy” becomes crystal clear toward the end of the editorial (emphasis added):

This regional dynamic has been dismal for Washington’s influence in the region. In Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, the new generation of caudillos [sic] have staked out anti-American policies and limited the scope of engagement on developmentmilitary cooperation and drug enforcement efforts. This has damaged the prospects for trade and security cooperation.

You can’t get much more blatant than that. The democratically elected leaders of these sovereign countries fail to submit to U.S. dictates, impede American imperialism, and subvert U.S. industry’s neoliberal designs on the region’s resources. Therefore, despite how popular they are with their own citizens and how much they’ve improved the lives of millions of their nations’ long-oppressed and impoverished minorities, they are depicted as grave threats to “democracy.”

It is, of course, true that democratically elected leaders are capable of authoritarian measures. It is, for instance, democratically elected U.S. leaders who imprison people without charges for years, build secret domestic spying systems, and even assert the power to assassinate their own citizens without due process. Elections are no guarantee against tyranny. There are legitimate criticisms to be made of each of these leaders with regard to domestic measures and civic freedoms, as there is for virtually every government on the planet.

But the very idea that the U.S. government and its media allies are motivated by those flaws is nothing short of laughable. Many of the U.S. government’s closest allies are the world’s worst regimes, beginning with the uniquely oppressive Saudi kingdom (which just yesterday sentenced a popular Shiite dissident to death) and the brutal military coup regime in Egypt, which, as my colleague Murtaza Hussain reports today, gets more popular in Washington as it becomes even more oppressive. And, of course, the U.S. supports Israel in every way imaginable even as its Secretary of State expressly recognizes the “apartheid” nature of its policy path.

Just as the NYT did with the Venezuelan coup regime of 2002, the U.S. government hails the Egyptian coup regime as saviors of democracy. That’s because “democracy” in U.S. discourse means: “serving U.S. interests” and “obeying U.S. dictates,” regardless how how the leaders gain and maintain power. Conversely, “tyranny” means “opposing the U.S. agenda” and “refusing U.S. commands,” no matter how fair and free the elections are that empower the government. The most tyrannical regimes are celebrated as long as they remain subservient, while the most popular and democratic governments are condemned as despots to the extent that they exercise independence.

To see how true that is, just imagine the orgies of denunciation that would rain down if a U.S. adversary (say, Iran, or Venezuela) rather than a key U.S. ally like Saudi Arabia had just sentenced a popular dissident to death. Instead, the NYT just weeks ago uncritically quotes an Emirates ambassador lauding Saudi Arabia as one of the region’s “moderate” allies because of its service to the U.S. bombing campaign in Syria. Meanwhile, the very popular, democratically elected leader of Bolivia is a grave menace to democratic values – because he’s “dismal for Washington’s influence in the region.”

Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Fog Machine of War: The US Military’s Campaign Against Media Freedom June 16, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Media, Wikileaks.
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Katie Couric, anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News, speaks with Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander, Multinational Corps – Iraq and Col. Jeffrey Bannister, commander, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, during a visit with Soldiers in the Rusafa district of Baghdad on September 2, 2006. (Credit: flickr / cc / US Army)FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. —

WHEN I chose to disclose classified information in 2010, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others. I’m now serving a sentence of 35 years in prison for these unauthorized disclosures. I understand that my actions violated the law.

However, the concerns that motivated me have not been resolved. As Iraq erupts in civil war and America again contemplates intervention, that unfinished business should give new urgency to the question of how the United States military controlled the media coverage of its long involvement there and in Afghanistan. I believe that the current limits on press freedom and excessive government secrecy make it impossible for Americans to grasp fully what is happening in the wars we finance.

If you were following the news during the March 2010 elections in Iraq, you might remember that the American press was flooded with stories declaring the elections a success, complete with upbeat anecdotes and photographs of Iraqi women proudly displaying their ink-stained fingers. The subtext was that United States military operations had succeeded in creating a stable and democratic Iraq.

Those of us stationed there were acutely aware of a more complicated reality.

Military and diplomatic reports coming across my desk detailed a brutal crackdown against political dissidents by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior and federal police, on behalf of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. Detainees were often tortured, or even killed.

Early that year, I received orders to investigate 15 individuals whom the federal police had arrested on suspicion of printing “anti-Iraqi literature.” I learned that these individuals had absolutely no ties to terrorism; they were publishing a scholarly critique of Mr. Maliki’s administration. I forwarded this finding to the officer in command in eastern Baghdad. He responded that he didn’t need this information; instead, I should assist the federal police in locating more “anti-Iraqi” print shops.

I was shocked by our military’s complicity in the corruption of that election. Yet these deeply troubling details flew under the American media’s radar.

It was not the first (or the last) time I felt compelled to question the way we conducted our mission in Iraq. We intelligence analysts, and the officers to whom we reported, had access to a comprehensive overview of the war that few others had. How could top-level decision makers say that the American public, or even Congress, supported the conflict when they didn’t have half the story?

Among the many daily reports I received via email while working in Iraq in 2009 and 2010 was an internal public affairs briefing that listed recently published news articles about the American mission in Iraq. One of my regular tasks was to provide, for the public affairs summary read by the command in eastern Baghdad, a single-sentence description of each issue covered, complementing our analysis with local intelligence.

The more I made these daily comparisons between the news back in the States and the military and diplomatic reports available to me as an analyst, the more aware I became of the disparity. In contrast to the solid, nuanced briefings we created on the ground, the news available to the public was flooded with foggy speculation and simplifications.

One clue to this disjunction lay in the public affairs reports. Near the top of each briefing was the number of embedded journalists attached to American military units in a combat zone. Throughout my deployment, I never saw that tally go above 12. In other words, in all of Iraq, which contained 31 million people and 117,000 United States troops, no more than a dozen American journalists were covering military operations.

The process of limiting press access to a conflict begins when a reporter applies for embed status. All reporters are carefully vetted by military public affairs officials. This system is far from unbiased. Unsurprisingly, reporters who have established relationships with the military are more likely to be granted access.

Less well known is that journalists whom military contractors rate as likely to produce “favorable” coverage, based on their past reporting, also get preference. This outsourced “favorability” rating assigned to each applicant is used to screen out those judged likely to produce critical coverage.

Reporters who succeeded in obtaining embed status in Iraq were then required to sign a media “ground rules” agreement. Army public affairs officials said this was to protect operational security, but it also allowed them to terminate a reporter’s embed without appeal.

There have been numerous cases of reporters’ having their access terminated following controversial reporting. In 2010, the late Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings had his access pulled after reporting criticism of the Obama administration by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and his staff in Afghanistan. A Pentagon spokesman said, “Embeds are a privilege, not a right.”

If a reporter’s embed status is terminated, typically she or he is blacklisted. This program of limiting press access was challenged in court in 2013 by a freelance reporter, Wayne Anderson, who claimed to have followed his agreement but to have been terminated after publishing adverse reports about the conflict in Afghanistan. The ruling on his case upheld the military’s position that there was no constitutionally protected right to be an embedded journalist.

The embedded reporter program, which continues in Afghanistan and wherever the United States sends troops, is deeply informed by the military’s experience of how media coverage shifted public opinion during the Vietnam War. The gatekeepers in public affairs have too much power: Reporters naturally fear having their access terminated, so they tend to avoid controversial reporting that could raise red flags.

The existing program forces journalists to compete against one another for “special access” to vital matters of foreign and domestic policy. Too often, this creates reporting that flatters senior decision makers. A result is that the American public’s access to the facts is gutted, which leaves them with no way to evaluate the conduct of American officials.

Journalists have an important role to play in calling for reforms to the embedding system. The favorability of a journalist’s previous reporting should not be a factor. Transparency, guaranteed by a body not under the control of public affairs officials, should govern the credentialing process. An independent board made up of military staff members, veterans, Pentagon civilians and journalists could balance the public’s need for information with the military’s need for operational security.

Reporters should have timely access to information. The military could do far more to enable the rapid declassification of information that does not jeopardize military missions. The military’s Significant Activity Reports, for example, provide quick overviews of events like attacks and casualties. Often classified by default, these could help journalists report the facts accurately.

Opinion polls indicate that Americans’ confidence in their elected representatives is at a record low. Improving media access to this crucial aspect of our national life — where America has committed the men and women of its armed services — would be a powerful step toward re-establishing trust between voters and officials.

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