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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. 

maduro12.jpg_1718483346

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.

In Historic Vote, FCC Advances Rules to Kill ‘Open Internet’ May 15, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Media.
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Roger’s note: some day the capitalists will find a way to tax the air we breathe.

Democratic commissioners betray net neutrality rhetoric by approving consideration of rules that would create ‘two-tiered internet’

- Jon Queally, staff writer

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, right, with Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, is one of three Democrats on the five-member commission. (Photo: Daniel Rosenbaum/NYT)

Despite national outcry and protests both outside and inside a packed hearing room in Washington, DC, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted in favor of advancing a set of rules that threaten the heart of the “open internet” by allowing the creation of “paid priority fast lanes,” supplanting the principle known as ‘net neutrality’ which says all online content must receive equal treatment by the nation’s broadband networks.

(Credit: SaveTheInternet.com)

In a vote of 3 to 2, with the Democrats on the commission making up the majority, the FCC approved a proposal by Chairman Tom Wheeler which critics say would not just alter net neutrality, but destroy it.

As the Washington Post reports:

The plan, approved in a three-to-two vote along party lines, could unleash a new economy on the Web where an Internet service provider such as Verizon would charge a Web site such as Netflix for the guarantee of flawless video streaming.

Smaller companies that can’t afford to pay for faster delivery would likely face additional obstacles against bigger rivals. And consumers could see a trickle-down effect of higher prices as Web sites try to pass along new costs of doing business with Internet service providers.

The proposal is not a final rule, but the three-to-two vote on Thursday is a significant step forward on a controversial idea that has invited fierce opposition from consumer advocates, Silicon Valley heavyweights, and Democratic lawmakers.

Condemnation by those opposing the rule changes was swift.

“If Chairman Wheeler is sincere in his objections to a fast-lane, slow-lane Internet, then reclassification is the only way to prevent this terrible scenario from becoming a reality.”
—Craig Aaron, Free Press

Craig Aaron, president of Free Press, which has led the charge of a broad coalition fighting on behalf of net neutrality, acknowledged that nothing about the FCC rule changes is final and now that a public comment period has officially begun, the real fight for lasting reforms has now started.  In a statement in response to Thursday vote, Aaron said:

Millions of people have put the FCC on notice. A pay-for-priority Internet is unacceptable. Today, both Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel stated that they support prohibitions on paid prioritization and other forms of unreasonable discrimination. Tom Wheeler spoke passionately about the open Internet, but his rousing rhetoric doesn’t match the reality of his proposal. The only way to accomplish the chairman’s goals is to reclassify Internet service providers as common carriers.

The Commission says it wants to hear from the public; it will be hearing a lot more. This fight will stretch into the fall, but there’s one clear answer: The American people demand real Net Neutrality, and the FCC must restore it.

We’re encouraged by much of what was said during today’s meeting. But words amount to little without the rules to back them up. If Chairman Wheeler is sincere in his objections to a fast-lane, slow-lane Internet, then reclassification is the only way to prevent this terrible scenario from becoming a reality.

Expressing the need for continued public engagement and activism and the overall importance of reclassifying broadband, Michael Weinberg, vice president of Public Knowledge, said: “This will be the summer of net neutrality. Net neutrality supporters will make it clear to the FCC and Congress that only robust net neutrality rules that prevent paid prioritization, grounded in clear Title II authority, will suffice. Any rules that allow for harmful discrimination cannot truly be called net neutrality. And any rules based on creaky legal authority are just a waste of everyone’s time.”

In a statement released by the public advocacy group Common Cause, former FCC chairman Michael Copps, now a special adviser to the group, said the FCC’s vote should make Thursday “an alarming day for anyone who treasures a free and open Internet.”

“Let’s be clear. Any proposal to allow fast lanes for the few is emphatically not net neutrality.”
—Michael Copps, Common Cause

Copps continued: “Let’s be clear. Any proposal to allow fast lanes for the few is emphatically not net neutrality. The clear common-sense prerequisite for an Open Internet is Title II reclassification, guaranteeing the agency’s authority to protect consumers and ensure free speech online.”

“The FCC could have moved decisively to guarantee that the Internet remains an open platform for free expression and the exchange of democracy-sustaining communications,” said Copps. “Instead, the Commission again left broadband users without the protections they deserve.”

Under the hashtags #savetheinternet and #realnetneutrality other critics of the FCC vote were expressing their deep disappointment in the Democratic commissioners who vote in favor of the rules:

The CIA Aided Polio’s Comeback, But Media Have Forgotten the Story May 8, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Media, Pakistan.
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Roger’s note: just another example of how the US taxpayers’ dollars are used to spread misery around the globe.

A Pakistani police officer stands guard as a health worker marks a child after giving her the polio vaccine in Lahore. (Photo: ARIF ALI / AFP/GETTY)

Polio had been battled to near-extinction after decades of effort, but this year the WHO confirmed 68 new cases and declared it an international public health emergency. Nearly 80 percent of those cases are in Pakistan.

Why is this? According to the New York Times‘ Donald McNeil Jr. (5/6/14), “Polio has never been eliminated there, Taliban factions have forbidden vaccinations in North Waziristan for years, and those elsewhere have murdered vaccine teams.” McNeil also quotes a WHO spokesperson towards the top of the piece: “So we’re saying to the Pakistanis, the Syrians and the Cameroonians, ‘You’ve really got to get your acts together.”‘

The Times underlined the emergency today in an editorial, explaining that Pakistan has such high numbers “largely because Taliban factions have forbidden vaccinations in conservative tribal areas and attacked healthcare workers elsewhere.”

There’s a crucial piece of information missing here—one that these outlets know full well. In 2011, the British Guardian (7/11/11) reported that the CIA used a fake vaccination drive led by Pakistani Dr. Shakil Afridi to gain entry to bin Laden’s compound and gather DNA to confirm his presence there. As McNeil himself reported in 2012 (7/9/12), that revelation led to suspicion and banning of vaccination teams in the tribal areas of Pakistan. At the time, the WHO argued that, while it was a “setback…unless it spreads or is a very longtime affair, the program is not going to be seriously affected.”

Then the killings started; the Times reported several times on killings of polio vaccination workers in Pakistan, noting in June 2013 that these attacks “escalated” after the revelation of the CIA plot. And the following month, McNeil reported that after Dr. Afridi was sentenced to 33 years in prison for treason, “Anger deepened when American lawmakers called Dr. Afridi a hero and threatened to cut off aid if he was not released.”

Fast forward to this week, and CBS Evening News (5/5/14) likewise avoided the CIA connection in reporting the most recent story, as anchor Scott Pelley noted: “Most cases are in Pakistan, where vaccine workers have been murdered on suspicion that they’re spying for the United States.”

The PBS NewsHour (5/6/14) was one of the only outlets that mentioned the CIA issue, in a report by correspondent Jeffrey Brown:

BROWN: Dr. Anita Zaidi, a pediatrician, cited a fake vaccination campaign that the CIA used in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

 ZAIDI: Which has hugely damaged public health programs, not only in Pakistan, but in many, many countries, because people ask all kinds of questions. They now think that they might—the vaccine programs might be actually spy operations.

This story was well-reported in the past, particularly by the Times; why the silence now that the problem has been declared an international emergency?

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

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

 

Guardian and Washington Post each honored with Pulitzer for Public Service

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_____________________

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revised Narrative

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

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

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

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

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

No Accountability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Recent Violations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Parry

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

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