Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Bill Moyers: 'Big Media is Ravenous...These Conglomerates are an Empire, and they are Imperial'

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007
Bill Moyers: "Big Media is Ravenous. It Never Gets Enough. Always Wants More. And it Will Stop at Nothing to Get It. These Conglomerates are an Empire, and they are Imperial."

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The veteran broadcast journalist Bill Moyers spoke on Friday before 3,500 at the opening of the National Conference on Media Reform in Memphis. He announced his return to the airwaves and outlined his vision of media reform. "As ownership gets more and more concentrated, fewer and fewer independent sources of information have survived in the marketplace; and those few significant alternatives that do survive, such as PBS and NPR, are under growing financial and political pressure to reduce critical news content and to shift their focus in a mainstream direction, which means being more attentive to establishment views than to the bleak realities of powerlessness that shape the lives of ordinary people." [includes rush transcript]
Thirty five hundred activists, journalists and concerned citizens gathered in Memphis, Tennessee this weekend for the third National Conference on Media Reform. Speakers called for the preservation of a free and open Internet, the end of media consolidation and a more democratic and diverse media system.

Among those who spoke were Helen Thomas, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Phil Donahue and Jane Fonda, to name a few.

But it was veteran journalist Bill Moyers who opened the conference on Friday with a stirring address. Today we spend the hour playing his remarks. A longtime journalist, Bill Moyers has produced many groundbreaking series on public television over the years. He is the winner of more than 30 Emmy Awards and the author three best-selling books.


This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution.
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BILL MOYERS: Benjamin Franklin once said, “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner.

“Liberty,” he said, “is a well-armed lamb, contesting the vote.”

My fellow lambs -- it's good to be in Memphis and find you well-armed with passion for democracy, readiness for action, and courage for the next round in the fight for a free and independent press in America. I salute the conviction that brought you here. I cherish the spirit that fills this hall, and the comradery that we share here. All too often, the greatest obstacle to reform is the reform movement itself. Factions rise, fences are erected, jealousies mount, and the cause all of us believe in is lost in the shattered fragments of what once was a clear and compelling vision.

Reformers, in fact, often remind me of Baptists. I speak as a Baptist. I know whereof I speak. One of my favorite stories is of the fellow who was about to jump off a bridge, when another fellow ran up to him crying, “Stop, stop, don't do it.”

The man on the bridge looks down and asks, “Why not?”

“Well, there's much to live for.”

“What for?”

“Well, your faith. Your religion.”


“Are you religious?”


“Me, too. Christian or Buddhist?”


“Me, too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?”


“Me, too. Methodist, Baptist, or Presbyterian?”


“Me, too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Savior?”

“Baptist Church of God.”

“Me, too. Are you Original Baptist Church of God or Reformed Baptist Church of God?”

“Reformed Baptist Church of God.”

“Me, too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God Reformation of 1879, or Reform Baptist Church of God Reformation of 1917?”


Whereupon, the second fellow turned red in the face and yelled, “Die, you heretic scum,” and pushed him off the bridge.

Doesn't that sound like a reform movement? But by avoiding contentious factionalism, you have created a strong movement. And I will confess to you that I was skeptical when Bob McChesney and John Nichols first raised with me the issue of media consolidation a few years ago. I was sympathetic, but skeptical. The challenge of actually doing something about this issue beyond simply bemoaning its impact on democracy was daunting. How could we hope to come up with an effective response to any measurable force? It seemed inexorable, because all over the previous decades, a series of megamedia mergers have swept the country, each deal bigger than the last. The lobby representing the broadcast, cable, and newspapers industry was extremely powerful, with an iron grip on lawmakers and regulators alike.

Both parties bowed to their will, when the Republican congress passed and President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. That monstrous assault on democracy, with malignant consequences for journalism, was nothing but a welfare giveaway to the largest, richest, and most powerful media conglomerations in the world. Goliaths, whose handful of owners controlled, commodified, and monetized everyone and everything in sight. Call it “the plantation mentality.”

That's what struck me as I flew into Memphis for this gathering. Even in 1968, the Civil Rights Movement was still battling the plantation mentality, based on race, gender, and power, that permeated Southern culture long before, and even after the ground-breaking legislation of the 1960s.

When Martin Luther King came to Memphis to join the strike of garbage workers in 1968, the cry from every striker's heart, “I am a man,” voiced the long-suppressed outrage of people whose rights were still being trampled by an ownership class that had arranged the world for its own benefit. The plantation mentality is a phenomenon deeply insinuated in the American experience early on, and it has permeated and corrupted our course as a nation.

The journalist of the American Revolution, Thomas Payne, envisioned the new republic as a community of occupations, prospering by the aid with which each receives from the other and from the whole. But that vision was repeatedly betrayed, so that less than a century after Thomas Payne's death, Theodore Roosevelt, bolting a Republican Party, whose bosses had stolen the nomination from him, declared, “It is not to be wondered at, that our opponents have been very bitter, for the line-up in this crisis is one that cuts deep to the foundations of democracy.”

“Our democracy,” he said, “is now put to a vital test, for the conflict is between human rights on the one side, and on the other, special privilege asserted as property rights. The parting of the ways has come.”

Today, a hundred years after Teddy Roosevelt's death, those words ring just as true. America is socially divided and politically benighted. Inequality and poverty grow steadily along with risk and debt. Too many working families cannot make ends meet with two people working, let alone if one stays home to care for children or aging parents. Young people without privilege and wealth, struggle to get a footing. Seniors enjoy less security for a lifetime's work. We are racially segregated today in every meaningful sense, except for the letter of the law. And the survivors of segregation and immigration toil for pennies on the dollar, compared to those they serve.

None of this is accidental. Nobel laureate economist, Robert Solow, not known for extreme political statements, characterizes what is happening as “nothing less than elite plunder,” the redistribution of wealth in favor of the wealthy, and the power in favor of the powerful. In fact, nearly all the wealth America created over the past 25 years has been captured by the top 20% of households, and most of the gains went to the wealthiest. The top 1% of households captured more than 50% of all the gains in financial wealth, and these households now hold more than twice the share their predecessors held on the eve of the American revolution.

The anti-Federalist warning that government naturally works to fortify the conspiracies of the rich, proved prophetic. It's the truth today, and America confronts a choice between two fundamentally different economic visions. As Norman Garfinkel writes in his marvelous new book, The American Dream vs. the Gospel of Wealth, the historic vision of the American dream is that continuing economic growth and political stability can be achieved by supporting income growth and economic security of middle-class families, without restricting the ability of successful business men to gain wealth.

The counter-belief is that providing maximum financial rewards to the most successful is the way to maintain high economic growth. The choice cannot be avoided. What kind of economy do we seek, and what kind of nation do we wish to be? Do we want to be a country in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, or do we want a country committed to an economy that provides for the common good, offers upward mobility, supports a middle class standard of living, and provides generous opportunities for all?

In Garfinkel's book, “When,” Garfinkel says, “the richest nation in the world has to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars to pay its bill, when its middle class citizens sit on a mountain of debt to maintain their living standards, when the nation's economy has difficulty producing secure jobs, or enough jobs of any kind, something is amiss.”

You bet something is amiss, and it goes to the core of why we are here in Memphis. For this conference is about a force, the media, that cuts deep to the foundation of democracy. When Teddy Roosevelt dissected what he called “the real masters of the reactionary forces” in his time, he concluded that indirectly or directly, they control the majority of the great newspapers that are against us. Those newspapers, the dominant media of the day, choked -- his words -- the channels of the information ordinary people needed to understand what was being done to them.

And today, two basic pillars of American society, shared economic prosperity and a public sector capable of serving the common good, are crumbling. The third pillar of American democracy, an independent press, is under sustained attack, and the channels of information are choked. A few huge corporations now dominate the media landscape in America. Almost all the networks carried by most cable systems are owned by one of the major media common conglomerates. Two thirds of today's newspapers are monopolies.

As ownership gets more and more concentrated, fewer and fewer independent sources of information have survived in the marketplace; and those few significant alternatives that do survive, such as PBS and NPR, are under growing financial and political pressure to reduce critical news content and to shift their focus in a mainstream direction, which means being more attentive to establishment views than to the bleak realities of powerlessness that shape the lives of ordinary people.

What does today's media system mean for the notion of an informed public cherished by democratic theory? Quite literally, it means that virtually everything the average person sees or hears outside of her own personal communications, is determined by the interests of private, unaccountable executives and investors whose primary goal is increasing profits and raising the country's share price. More insidiously, this small group of elites determine what ordinary people do not see or hear. In-depth coverage of anything, let alone the problems real people face day to day, is as scarce as sex, violence, and voyeurism are pervasive.

Successful business model or not, by democratic standards, this is censorship of knowledge by monopolization of the means of information. In its current form, which Barry Diller happily describes as “oligopoly,” media growth has one clear consequence. There is more information and easier access to it, but it's more narrow and homogenous in content and perspective, so that what we see from the couch is overwhelmingly a view from the top. The pioneering communications scholar, Mary Edelman, wrote that opinions about public policy do not spring immaculately or automatically into people's minds. They are always placed there by the interpretations of those who most consistently get their claims and manufactured cues publicized widely.

For years, the media marketplace for opinions about public policy has been dominated by a highly disciplined, thoroughly networked, ideological noise machine, to use David Brock’s term. Permeated with slogans concocted by big corporations, their lobbyists, and their think tank subsidiaries, public discourse has effectively changed the meaning of American values. Day after day, the ideals of fairness and liberty and mutual responsibility have been stripped of their essential dignity and meaning in people's lives. Day after day, the egalitarian creed of our Declaration of Independence is trampled underfoot by hired experts and sloganeers, who speak of the “death tax,” “the ownership society,” “the culture of life,” “the liberal assault on God and family,” “compassionate conservatism,” “weak on terrorism,” “the end of history,” “the clash of civilizations,” “no child left behind.” They have even managed to turn the escalation of a failed war into a “surge,” as if it were a current of electricity through a wire, instead of blood spurting from the ruptured vein of a soldier.

The Orwellian filigree of a public sphere in which language conceals reality, and the pursuit of personal gain and partisan power is wrapped in rhetoric that turns truth to lies, and lies to truth, so it is that limited government has little to do with the Constitution or local economy anymore. Now it means corporate domination and the shifting of risk from government and business to struggling families and workers. Family values now mean imposing a sectarian definition of the family on everyone else. Religious freedom now means majoritarianism and public benefits for organized religion without any public burdens. And patriotism has come to mean blind support for failed leaders.

It's what happens when an interlocking media system filters through commercial values or ideology, the information and moral viewpoints people consume in their daily lives. And by no stretch of the imagination can we say today that the dominant institutions of our media are guardians of democracy.

Despite the profusion of new information platforms on cable, on the Internet, on radio, blogs, podcasts, YouTube, and MySpace, among others, the resources for solid, original journalistic work, both investigative and interpretative, are contracting, rather than expanding.

I'm an old-fashioned -- I’m a fogy at this, I guess, a hangover from my days as a cub reporter and a newspaper publisher. But I agree with Michael Schudson, one of the leading scholars of communication in America, who writes in the current Columbia Journalism Review that while all media matter, some matter more than others. And for the sake of democracy, print still counts most, especially print that devotes resources to gathering news.

“Network TV matters,” he said. “Cable TV matters,” he said.

But when it comes to original investigation and reporting, newspapers are overwhelmingly the most important media.

But newspapers are purposely dumbing-down, “driven down,” says Schudson, by Wall Street, whose collective devotion to an informed citizenry is nil and seems determined to eviscerate those papers.

Worrying about the loss of real news is not a romantic cliché of journalism. It’s been verified by history. From the days of royal absolutism to the present, the control of information and knowledge had been the first line of defense for failed regimes facing democratic unrest. The suppression of parliamentary dissent during Charles I's eleven years of tyranny in England rested largely on government censorship, operating through strict licensing laws for the publication of books.

The Federalist infamous Sedition Act of 1798 in this country, likewise, sought to quell republican insurgency by making it a crime to publish false, scandalous, and malicious writing about the government or its officials. In those days, our governing bodies tried to squelch journalistic information with the blunt instruments of the law: padlocks for the presses and jail cells for outspoken editors and writers. Over time, with spectacular war time exceptions, the courts and the Constitution have struck those weapons out of their hand.

But now they have found new methods in the name of national security and even broader claims of executive privilege. The number of documents stamped “Top Secret,” “Secret,” or “Confidential” has accelerated dramatically since 2001, including many formerly accessible documents which are now reclassified as “Secret.” Vice President Cheney's office refuses to disclose, in fact, what it is classifying. Even their secrecy is being kept a secret. Beyond what is officially labeled

“Secret” or “privileged” information, there hovers on the plantation a culture of selective official news implementation, working through favored media insiders to advance political agendas by leak and innuendo and spin, by outright propaganda mechanisms, such as the mis-named public information offices that churn out blizzards of factually selective releases on a daily basis, and even by directly paying pundits and journalists to write on subjects of mutual interest.

They needn’t have wasted the money. As we saw in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the plantation mentality that governs Washington turned the press corps into sitting ducks for the war party, for government, and neoconservative propaganda and manipulation. There were notable exceptions, Knight Ridder's bureau, for example, but on the whole, all high-ranking officials had to do was say it, and the press repeated it until it became gospel. The height of myopia came with the admission -- or was it bragging? -- by one of the beltway's most prominent anchors that his responsibility is to provide officials a forum to be heard, what they say more newsworthy than what they do.

The watchdog group FAIR found that during the three weeks leading up to the invasion, only 3% of U.S. sources on the evening news of ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox, and PBS expressed skeptical opinions of the impending war, even though a quarter of the American people were against it. Not surprisingly, two years after 911, almost 70% of the public still thought it likely that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the terrorist attacks of that day.

One Indiana school teacher told the Washington Post, “From what we've heard from the media, it seems what they feel is that Saddam and the whole al-Qaeda thing are connected.” Much to the advantage of the Bush administration, a large majority of the public shared this erroneous view during the build-up to the war, a propaganda feat that Saddam himself would have envied.

It is absolutely -- I’m doing a documentary to air this spring called Buying the War on this period, leading up to the invasion -- it is absolutely stunning, frightening how the major media organizations were willing, even solicitous, hand puppets of a state propaganda campaign, cheered on by the partisan ideological press to go to war.

But there are many other ways the plantation mentality keeps the American people from confronting reality. Take the staggering growth of money in politics. Compared to the magnitude of the problem, what the average person knows about how money determines policy is negligible. In fact, in the abstract, the polls tell us, most people generally assume that money controls our political system. But people will rarely act on something they understand only in the abstract. It took a constant stream of images -- water hoses, and dogs and churches ablaze -- for the public at large finally to understand what was happening to black people in the south. It took repeated scenes of destruction in Vietnam before the majority of Americans saw how we were destroying the country in order to save it. And it took repeated crime scene images to maintain public support for many policing and sentencing policies.

Likewise, people have to see how money and politics actually worked and concretely grasped the consequences for their pocketbooks and their lives before they will act. But while media organizations supply a lot of news and commentary, they tell us almost nothing about who really wags the system and how.

When I watch one of those faux debates on a Washington public affairs show, with one politician saying, “This is a bad bill,” and the other politician saying, “This is a good bill,” I yearn to see the smiling, nodding, beltway anchor suddenly interrupt and insist, “Good bill or bad bill, this is a bought bill. Now, let's cut to the chase. Whose financial interests are you advancing with this bill?”

Then there's the social cost of free trade. For over a decade, free trade has hovered over the political system like a biblical commandment striking down anything: trade unions, the environment, indigenous rights, even the constitutional standing of our own laws passed by our elected representative that gets in the way of unbridled greed. The broader negative consequences of this agenda, increasingly well-documented by scholars, gets virtually no attention in the dominant media. Instead of reality, we get optimistic, multicultural scenarios of coordinated global growth. And instead of substantive debate we get a stark formulated choice between free trade to help the world and gloomy-sounding protectionism that will set everyone back.

The degree to which this has become a purely ideological debate, devoid of any factual basis that people can weigh the gains and losses is reflected in Thomas Friedman's astonishing claim, stated not long ago in a television interview, that he endorsed the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) without even reading it. That is simply because it stood for “free trade.”

We have reached the stage when the Poo-bahs of punditry have only to declare that “the world is flat,” for everyone to agree it is, without going to the edge and looking over themselves. It's called reporting.

I think what's happened is not indifference or laziness or incompetence, but the fact that most journalists on the plantation have so internalized conventional wisdom that they simply accept that the system is working as it should. That documentary I told you about, Buying the War, I can't tell you again how many reporters have told me that it just never occurred to them that high officials would manipulate intelligence in order to go to war. Hello?

Similarly, the question of whether or not our economic system is truly just, is off the table for investigation and discussion, so that alternative ideas, alternative critiques, alternative visions never get a hearing. And these are but a few of the realities that are obscured. What about this growing inequality? What about the resegregation of our public schools? What about the devastating onward march of environmental deregulation, all examples of what happens when independent sources of knowledge and analysis are so few and far between on the plantation?

So if we need to know what is happening, and big media won't tell us; if we need to know why it matters, and big media won't tell us; if we need to know what to do about it, and big media won't tell us, it's clear what we have to do. We have to tell the story ourselves. And this is what the plantation owners feared most of all. Over all those decades here in the South, when they used human beings as chattel, and quoted scripture to justify it, property rights over human rights was God's way, they secretly lived in fear that one day, instead of saying, “Yes, Massa,” those gaunt, weary, sweat-soaked field hands, bending low over the cotton under the burning sun, would suddenly stand up straight, look around, see their sweltering and stooping kin and say, “This ain't the product of intelligent design. The boss man in the big house has been lying to me. Something is wrong with this system.” This is the moment freedom begins, the moment you realize someone else has been writing your story, and it's time you took the pen from his hand and started writing it yourself.

When the garbage workers struck here in 1968, and the walls of these buildings echoed with the cry, "I am a man," they were writing this story. Martin Luther King came here to help them tell it, only to be shot dead on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. The bullet killed him, but it couldn't kill the story, because once the people start telling their story, you can't kill it anymore.

So I’m back where I started with you, and where this movement is headed. The greatest challenge to the plantation mentality of the media giants is the innovation and expression made possible by the digital revolution. I may still prefer the newspaper for its investigative journalism and in-depth analysis, but we now have it in our means to tell a different story from big media, our story. The other story of America that says, free speech is not just corporate speech. That news is not just what officials tell us. And we are not just chattel in the fields living the boss man's story. This is the great gift of the digital revolution, and you must never, never let them take it away from you. The Internet, cell phones and digital cameras that can transmit images over the Internet makes possible a nation of story tellers, every citizen a Tom Payne. Let the man in the big house on Pennsylvania Avenue think that over, and the woman of the House on Capitol Hill. And the media moguls in their chalets at Sun Valley, gathered to review the plantation’s assets and multiply them, nail it to their door. They no longer own the copyright to America's story. It's not a top-down story anymore. Other folks are going to write this story from the ground up. And the truth will be out that the media plantation, like the cotton plantation of old, is not divinely sanctioned. It's not the product of natural forces. The media system we have been living under for a long time now was created behind closed doors where the power brokers met to divvy up the spoils.

Bob McChesney has eloquently reminded us through the years how each medium -- radio, television, and cable -- was hailed as a technology that would give us greater diversity of voices, serious news, local programs, and lots of public service for the community. In each case, the advertisers took over.

Despite what I teasingly told you the last time we were together in St. Louis, the star that shines so brightly in the firmament the year I was born, 1934, did not, I regret to say, appear over that little house in Hugo, Oklahoma. It appeared over Washington when Congress enacted the 1934 Communications Act. One hundred times in that cornerstone of our communications policy, you will read the phrase “public interests, convenience, and necessity.”

I can't tell you reading about those days: educators, union officials, religious leaders, parents were galvanized by the promise of radio as a classroom for the air, serving the life of the country and the life of the mind – until the government cut a deal with the industry to make sure nothing would threaten the already vested interests of powerful radio networks and the advertising industry. And soon, the public largely forgot about radio's promise, as we accepted the entertainment produced and controlled by Jell-O, Maxwell House, and Camel cigarettes. What happened to radio, happened to television, and then it happened to cable; and if we are not diligent, it will happen to the Internet. Powerful forces are at work now, determined to create our media future for the benefit of the plantation. Investors, advertisers, owners, and the parasites who depend on their indulgence, including many in the governing class.

Old media acquire new media and vice versa. Rupert Murdoch, forever savvy about the next key outlet that will attract eyeballs, purchased MySpace, spending nearly $600 million, so he could, in the language of Wall Street, monetize those eyeballs. Goggle became a partner in Time Warner, investing $1 billion in its AOL online service. And now Goggle has bought YouTube, so it would have a better vehicle for delivering interactive ads for Madison Avenue. Viacom, Microsoft, large ad agencies, and others have been buying up key media properties, many of them the leading online sites, with a result that will be a thoroughly commercialized environment, a media plantation for the 21st century, dominated by the same corporate and ideological forces that have produced the system we have lived under the last 50 years.

So what do we do? Well, you've shown us what we have to do. And twice now, you have shown us what we can do. Four years ago, when FCC Commissioner Michael Powell and his ideological sidekicks decided it was ok for a single corporation to own a community's major newspapers, three of its TV stations, eight radio stations, its cable TV system, and its major broadband Internet provider, you said “Enough's enough!” Free Press, Common Cause, Consumer's Union, Media Access Project, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and others working closely with commissioners Adelstein and Copps, two of the most public, spirited members of that commission ever to sit there, you organized public hearings across the country where people spoke up deeply felt opinions about how poorly the media was serving their towns. You flooded Congress with petitions and you never let up. And when the court said Powell had to back off for then, the decision cited the importance of involving the public in these media decisions.

Incidentally, Powell not only backed off, he backed out. He left the commission to become senior advisor at a private investment firm specializing in equity investments in media companies around the world. And that firm, by the way, made a bid to take over both Tribune and Clear Channel, two media companies, that just a short time ago, were under the corporate-friendly purview of -- you guessed it -- Michael Powell. That whooshing sound you hear is Washington's perpetually revolving door through which they come to serve the public and through which they leave to join the plantation.

You made a difference. You showed the public cares about media and democracy. You turned a little publicized vote, little publicized because big media didn't want the people to know, a little publicized and seemingly arcane regulation into a big political fight and a public debate. Now it's true, as commissioner Copps has reminded us, that since that battle three years ago, there have been more than 3, 300 TV and radio TV stations that have had their assignment and transfer grants approved, so that even under the old rules, consolidation grows, localism suffers, and diversity dwindles.

It's also true that even as we speak, Michael Powell's successor, Kevin Martin, put there by George W. Bush, is ready to take up where Powell left off and give the green light to more conglomeration. Get ready to fight.

But then you did it again more recently. You lit a fire under the people to put Washington on notice that it had to guarantee the Internet's First Amendment protection in the $85 billion merger of AT&T and BellSouth. Because of you, the so-called Internet neutrality, I much prefer to call it the “equal-access provision of the Internet” -- neutrality makes me think of Switzerland -- the equal-access provision became a public issue that once again reminded the powers-that-be that people want the media to foster democracy not to quench it. This is crucial. This is crucial, because in a few years, virtually all media will be delivered by high-speed broadband. And without equality of access, the net can become just like cable television where the provider decides what you see and what you pay. After all, the Bush Department of Justice had blessed the deal last October without a single condition or statement of concern. But they hadn't reckoned with Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, and they hadn't reckoned with this movement. Free Press and SaveTheInternet.com orchestrated 800 organizations, a million and a half petitions, countless local events, legions of homemade videos, smart collaboration with allies and industry, and a top shelf communications campaign. Who would have imagined that sitting together in the same democratic broadband pew would be the Christian Coalition, Gun Owners of America, Common Cause, and MoveOn.org? Who would have imagined that these would link arms with some of the powerful new media companies to fight for the Internet's First Amendment? We owe a tip of the hat, of course, to Republican commissioner Robert McDowell. Despite what must have been a great deal of pressure from his side, he did the honorable thing and recused himself from the proceedings because of a conflict of interest. He might well have heard the roar of the public that you helped to create.

So AT&T had to cry “uncle” to Copps and Adelstein, with a “voluntary commitment to honor equal access for at least two years.” The agreement marks the first time that the federal government has imposed true neutrality -- oops, equality – on an Internet access provider since the debate erupted almost two years ago. I believe you changed the terms of the debate. It is no longer about whether equality of access will govern the future of the Internet. It's about when and how. It also signals a change from defense to offense for the backers of an open net. Arguably the biggest, most effective online organizing campaign ever conducted on a media issue, can now turn to passing good laws, rather than always having to fight to block bad ones. Just this week Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat, and Senator Olympia Snow, a Republican, introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2007 to require fair and equitable access to all content. And over in the House, that champion of the public interests, Ed Markey, is once again standing there waiting to press the battle.

But a caveat here. Those other folks don't give up so easy. Remember, this agreement is only for two years, and they will be back with all the lobbyists money can hire. As the Washington Post follows George Bush into the black hole of Baghdad, the press in Washington won't be covering many stories like this because of priorities.

Further caveat, consider what AT&T got in the bargain. For giving up on neutrality, it got the green light from government to dominate over 67 million phonelines in 22 states, almost 12 million broadband users, and total control over Cingular Wireless, the country's largest mobile phone company with 58 million cell phone users. It's as if China swallowed India.

I bring this up for a reason. Big media is ravenous. It never gets enough. Always wants more. And it will stop at nothing to get it. These conglomerates are an empire, and they are imperial. Last week on his website, MediaChannel.org, Danny Schechter recalled how some years ago he marched with a band of media activists to the headquarters of all the big media companies concentrated in the Times Square area. Their formidable buildings strutted with logos and limos, and guarded by rent-a-cops, projected their power and prestige. Danny and his cohorts chanted and held up signs calling for honest news and an end to exploited programming. They called for diversity and access for more perspectives.

“It felt good,” Danny said, “but it seemed like a fool's errand. We were ignored, patronized and marginalized. We couldn't shake their edifices or influence their holy business models. We seemed to many like that lonely and forlorn nut in a New Yorker cartoon carrying an ‘End of the World is Near’ placard.”

Well, yes, my friends, that is exactly how they want you to feel. As if media and democracy is a fool's errand. To his credit, Danny didn't give up. He’s never given up. Neither have the early pioneers of this movement: Andy Swartzman, Don Hazen, Jeff Chester. I confess that I came very close not to making this speech today, in favor of just getting up here and reading from this book, Digital Destiny, by my friend and co-conspirator, Jeff Chester. Take my word for it. Make this your bible, until McChesney's new book comes out. As Don Hazen writes in his review in AlterNet this week, “It's a terrific book. A respectful, loving, fresh, intimate conversation, comprehensive history of the struggles for a democratic media. The lost fights, the opportunities missed, and the small victories that have kept the corporate media system from having complete carte blanche over the communication channels.”

It's also a terrifying book, because Jeff describes how we are being shadowed online by a slew of software digital gumshoes, working for Madison Avenue. Our movements in cyberspace are closely tracked and analyzed, and interactive advertising infiltrates our consciousness to promote the brand-washing of America. Jeff asks the hard questions: Do we really want television sets that monitor what we watch? Or an Internet that knows what sites we visit and reports back to advertising companies? Do we really want a media system designed mainly for Madison Avenue?

But this is a hopeful book. “After scaring the bejeezus out of us,” as one reviewer wrote, “Jeff offers a policy agenda for the broadband era. Here is a man who practices what the Italian philosopher Gramsci called the ‘pessimism of the intellect and the optimism of the will.’ He sees the world as it is, without rose-colored glasses and tries to change it, despite what he knows”

So you'll find here the core of the movement's mission. You'll agree with much and disagree with some. But that's what a reform movement is about. Media reform -- yes. But the Project in Excellence concluded in its State of the Media Report for 2006, “At many old media companies, though not in all, the decades-long battle at the top between idealists and accountants is now over. The idealists have lost. The commercial networks are lost, too, lost to silliness, farce, cowardice, and ideology.” Not much hope there. You can't raise the dead.

Policy reform, yes. “But,” says Jeff, “we will likely see more consolidation of ownership with newspapers, TV stations, and major online properties in fewer hands.”

“So,” he says, “we have to find other ways to ensure the public has access to diverse, independent, and credible sources of information.” That means going to the market to find support for stronger independent media. Michael Moore and others have proven that progressivism doesn't have to equal penury. It means helping protect news-gathering from predatory forces. It means fighting for more participatory media, hospitable to a full range of expression. It means building on Lawrence Lessig’s notion of the “creative common” and Brewster Kahle’s Internet Archives with his philosophy of universal access to all knowledge.

It means bringing broadband service to those many millions of Americans too poor to participate so far in the digital revolution. It means ownership and participation for people of color and women. And let me tell you, it means reclaiming public broadcasting and restoring it to its original feisty, robust, fearless mission as an alternative to the dominant media, offering journalism you can afford and can trust, public affairs of which you are a part, and a wide range of civic and cultural discourse that leaves no one out.

You can have an impact here. For one thing, we need to remind people that the federal commitment to public broadcasting in this country is about $1.50 per capita, compared to $28 to $85 per capita in other democracies.

But there is something else I want you to think about. Something else you can do. And I'm going to let you in here on one of my fantasies. Keep it to yourself, if you will, because fantasies are private matters, and mine involves Amy Goodman. But I'll just ask C-SPAN to bleep this out and… Oh, shucks, what’s the use. Here it is. In moments of revelry, I imagine all of you returning home to organize a campaign to persuade your local public television station to start airing Democracy Now!

I can't think of a single act more likely to remind people of what public broadcasting should be, or that this media reform conference really means business. We've got to get alternative content out there to people, or this country is going to die of too many lies.

And the opening rundown of news on Amy's daily show is like nothing else on any television, corporate or public. It's as if you opened the window in the morning and a fresh breeze rolls over you from the ocean. Amy doesn't practice trickle-down journalism. She goes where the silence is, and she breaks the sound barrier. She doesn't buy the Washington protocol that says the truth lies somewhere in the spectrum of opinion between the Democrats and the Republicans.

On Democracy Now! the truth lies where the facts are hidden, and Amy digs for them. And above all, she believes the media should be a sanctuary for dissent, the underground railroad, tunneling beneath the plantation. So go home and think about it. After all, you are the public in public broadcasting and not just during pledge breaks. You live there, and you can get the boss man at the big house to pay attention.

Meanwhile, be vigilant about the congressional rewrite of the Telecommunications Act that is beginning as we speak. Track it day by day and post what you learn far and wide, because the decisions made in this session of Congress will affect the future of all media, corporate and noncommercial, and if we lose the future now, we'll never get it back.

So you have your work cut out for you. I'm glad you're all younger than me and up to it. I'm glad so many funders are here, because while an army may move on its stomach, this movement requires hard, cold cash to compete with big media in getting the attention of Congress and the people.

I'll try to do my part. Last time we were together, I said to you that I should put my detractors on notice. They might just compel me out of the rocking chair and back into the anchor chair. Well, in April, I will be back with a new weekly series called Bill Moyers’ Journal, thanks to some of the funders in this room. We'll take no money from public broadcasting because it compromises you even when you don't intend it to - or they don't intend it to. I hope to complement the fine work of colleagues like David Brancaccio of NOW, and David Fanning of Frontline, who also go for the truth behind the news.

But I don't want to tease you. I'm not coming back because of detractors. I wouldn't torture them that way. I'll leave that to Dick Cheney. I'm coming back, because it's what I do best. Because I believe television can still signify, and I don't want you to feel so alone. I'll keep an eye on your work. You are to America what the Abolition Movement was, and the Suffragette Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. You touch the soul of democracy. It's not assured you will succeed in this fight. The armies of the Lord are up against mighty hosts. But as the spiritual sojourner Thomas Merton wrote to an activist grown weary and discouraged, protesting the Vietnam War, "Do not depend on the hope of results. Concentrate on the value and the truth of the work itself.”

And in case you do get lonely, I'll leave you with this. As my plane was circling Memphis the other day, I looked out across those vast miles of fertile soil that once were plantations, watered by the Mississippi River, and the sweat from the brow of countless men and women, who had been forced to live somebody else's story. I thought about how in time, with a lot of martyrs, they rose up, one here, then two, then many, forging a great movement that awakened America's conscience and brought us closer to the elusive but beautiful promise of the Declaration of Independence. As we made our last approach, the words of a Marge Piercy poem began to form in my head, and I remembered all over again why I was coming and why you were here:

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can t walk, can’t remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can’t blame them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organisation. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.
It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

Thank you.

Escalation Against Iran: The Pieces Are Being Put in Place

January 16, 2007


The pieces are moving. They’ll be in place by the end of
February. The United States will be able to escalate military operations against Iran.

The second carrier strike group leaves the U.S. west coast on January 16. It will be joined by naval mine clearing assets from both the United States and the UK. Patriot missile defense systems have also been ordered to deploy to the Gulf.

Maybe as a guard against North Korea seeing operations focused on Iran as a chance to be aggressive, a squadron of F-117 stealth fighters has just been deployed to Korea.

This has to be called escalation. We have to remind ourselves, just as Iran is supporting groups inside Iraq, the United States is supporting groups inside Iran. Just as Iran has special operations troops operating inside Iraq, we’ve read the United States has special operations troops operating inside Iran.

Just as Iran is supporting Hamas, two weeks ago we found out the United States is supporting arms for Abbas. Just as Iran and Syria are supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon we’re now learning the White House has approved a finding to allow the CIA to support opposition groups inside Lebanon. Just as Iran is supporting Syria, we’ve learned recently that the United States is going to fund Syrian opposition groups.

We learned this week the President authorized an attack on the Iranian liaison office in Irbil.

The White House keeps saying there are no plans to attack Iran. Obviously, the facts suggest otherwise. Equally as clear, the Iranians will read what the Administrations is doing not what it is

It is possible the White House strategy is just implementing a strategy to put pressure on Iran on a number of fronts, and this will never amount to anything. On the other hand, if the White House is on a path to strike Iran, we’ll see a few more steps unfold.

First, we know there is a National Security Council staff-led
group whose mission is to create outrage in the world against Iran. Just like before Gulf II, this media group will begin to release stories to sell a strike against Iran. Watch for the outrage stuff. The Patriot missiles going to the GCC states are only part of the missile defense assets. I would expect to see the deployment of some of the European-based missile defense assets to Israel, just as they were before Gulf II.

I would expect deployment of additional USAF fighters into the bases in Iraq, maybe some into Afghanistan.

I think we will read about the deployment of some of the newly arriving Army brigades going into Iraq being deployed to the border with Iran. Their mission will be to guard against any Iranian movements into Iraq.

As one of the last steps before a strike, we’ll see USAF tankers moved to unusual places, like Bulgaria. These will be used to refuel the US-based B-2 bombers on their strike missions into Iran. When that happens, we’ll only be days away from a strike.

The White House could be telling the truth. Maybe there are no plans to take Iran to the next level. The fuel for a fire is in place, however. All we need is a spark. The danger is that we have created conditions that could lead to a Greater Middle East War.

Sam Gardiner is a retired colonel of the US Air Force. He has taught strategy and military operations at the National War College, Air War College and Naval War College.

Where's the outrage?

A real antiwar movement would end our Iraq disaster. But the middle class doesn't care enough to protest, so the kids who go to community college will keep dying.

By Gary Kamiya

Jan. 16, 2007 | So now we wait for the end. The man who led America into the most disastrous war in its history has run out of tricks, out of troops and out of time. It is no longer a question of whether George W. Bush's presidency will officially die, but when -- and how many more Americans will have to die before it does.

We find ourselves, almost four years into the Iraq war, in a very strange situation. What do you do when it has become obvious that the leader of your country is -- there is no kinder way to put this -- a delusional fool? And that his weird fantasy war is hopelessly and irretrievably lost? Apparently, you just wait. The Democrats are raging and ranting, but they will not cut off funds. Still crippled by their fear of being labeled "soft on national security," the majority party will watch the end from a safe distance, like survivors who quickly paddle away from a doomed ship to avoid being pulled down in the suction when it goes down.

It's no mystery why the Democrats will not pull the plug. Cutting off funding for an ongoing war is a radical move, one that would expose the Democrats to familiar stab-in-the-back charges that they don't "support the troops." Now that the ugly end of Bush's war is in sight, why on earth would the Democrats want to risk being blamed for losing it?

This makes a certain political sense, but it is deeply cynical. It implicitly accepts that more young Americans must die for a policy that has no chance of working. They must die so that a cowardly president can delay his day of reckoning a few more months. They must die so that Democrats can wash their hands of the whole mess.

The only thing that could move the Democrats to abandon this cold-blooded calculation and challenge Bush's war directly is a clear message from the American people. Not just their disapproval of Bush and his handling of the war -- that message was sent in the last elections, and in the recent CBS poll showing that only 23 percent of Americans support Bush's war leadership. That disapproval has emboldened the Democrats -- and some Republicans -- enough that they have dared to criticize Bush, something they didn't have the guts to do until now. But it isn't enough to make them try to end the war. For that to happen, large numbers of Americans would have to actually protest the war. A real, broad-based antiwar movement would immediately put an end to the war -- and put the Bush presidency out of its misery.

But there is no significant antiwar movement. And there isn't going to be one unless Bush completely loses it and decides to attack Iran. (Insane as this idea is, Bush might see it as the only way to simultaneously destroy what he regards as a Nazi-like threat and save his shattered presidency.) This isn't Vietnam, where hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest. This is the new, post-draft America, where a subclass of poorly paid professional warriors does the bidding of a power elite. With some notable exceptions, Cindy Sheehan being the most famous, the warriors and their families, those who pay the price, do not protest. And the rest of the country, not facing death or the death of immediate family members, doesn't care enough to.

The sad truth is that America is not one nation. We may not be Iraq, breaking up in hatred and a primeval battle for power, but the fissures are deep. There is one America that fights, and another America that doesn't. The elites talk and the kids who go to community college get blown up. Sens. James Webb and John McCain are anomalies: Almost none of the politicians in Washington who are debating the war have children whose lives are on the line. Neither do the pundits and commentators.

The fact is, except for that comparatively small number of Americans who have fought there, Iraq is just a name on a map. The deaths there, too, are unreal. And if by chance their reality becomes undeniable, they happen to other people.

When America got rid of the draft, it also got rid of the ultimate check against presidents who lead the nation into foolish wars: people power. I am not advocating a return of the draft. But its absence is undeniably the single largest reason that there is no antiwar movement. People are capable of genuine concern for their fellow citizens, but self-interest is an exponentially more powerful driving force.

There are other reasons the antiwar movement fizzled out after the massive protest rallies that took place before the war. The number of American deaths has been extremely low by historical standards: About 3,000 troops have died so far, compared to 58,000 in Vietnam. At this rate, it would take 73 more years for Iraq to match Vietnam's fatality totals. (It should be pointed out that these low death totals are in large part due to advances in battlefield medicine, advances that have allowed thousands of severely wounded troops, many of them now permanently disabled, to survive. These men and women, too, are victims of the war.)

There are also ideological reasons behind the absence of an antiwar movement. Bush's "we're fighting terror" justification for the war, while vigorously contested by the left and now exposed as not just hollow but also self-defeating, tapped into visceral emotions of patriotism, fear and a desire for revenge activated by 9/11, irrational passions that neither Congress nor the mainstream media, to their lasting shame, tried to check. To this day, we have never had a thoroughgoing national debate over Bush's entire misguided "war on terror," or America's deeply flawed Middle East policies. As a result, for many Americans the premises behind the Iraq war remain unchallenged, and disagreements over that war are merely over the way it was executed. And it's hard to get people to take to the streets over "de-Baathification" or insufficient force levels.

Finally, there's the fact that American casualties have remained discreetly hidden from view. (To say nothing of the horrendous numbers of Iraqis who have been killed as the result of the war, which the U.S. government has callously avoided tallying.) The Bush administration has tried to keep the dead and wounded out of sight, and the media, cowed by "taste" rules and patriotism, has mostly played along. The result is an abstract war, a play war, a dream war.

Together, these factors mean there will be no serious antiwar movement here, which in turn means that Democrats will not muster the courage to stop the war. The fate of Bush's last-chance gambit will be determined not by Ted Kennedy or Gordon Smith, but by Nouri al-Maliki and Muqtada al-Sadr.

And that means more young Americans will appear on page A-3 of the paper, blown up or shot or burned to death because America's political establishment decided that they should go door to door in Baghdad and Anbar province, trying to put the monsters that Bush unleashed back in the box. If there were any real chance that they could do that, it would be a job worth undertaking -- if only because we owe that much, and so much more, to the Iraqi people whom we have so grievously wronged. (Yes, we removed Saddam Hussein. But a right can also be a larger wrong -- an elementary moral finesse that many war supporters seem incapable of grasping.) But there is no longer any realistic chance of success -- if indeed there ever was. Would you want your child's tombstone to read "I died on Haifa Street trying to control a Sunni-Shiite power struggle my commander in chief unleashed"?

So now we must wait. Wait until there is no choice but to leave. Wait until the smoke and chaos and hatred have driven us away. Wait until we have asked another person's kid to be the last person to die for a mistake.

But there is one thing we can do while we wait. We can stretch out our fingertips and imagination and try to at least make this unreal war real. We can truly support our troops, whom many of us will never know, by doing everything we can to end this war. We owe those who have died in Iraq, and those we are about to send to die, that much.

Poetry, perhaps even more than pictures, makes war live. We understand the true horror of World War I not because of newsreels, but because of the searing words of Erich Maria Remarque and Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. And Iraq has produced its own poet, Brian Turner, who was an infantry team leader there for a year. In 2005, he published a collection of poems, "Here, Bullet," that is destined to endure long after the shrill arguments about the war have been forgotten.

In a poem titled "2000 lbs," Turner opens with a description of a suicide bomber in Mosul's Ashur Square, who is watching in his rearview mirror for a convoy. He writes of two men, an Iraqi taxi driver named Sefwan and an American Guardsman named Sgt. Ledouix, who are also in Ashur Square.

A flight of gold, that's what Sefwan thinks
as he lights a Miami, draws in the smoke
and waits in his taxi at the traffic circle.
He thinks of summer 1974, lifting
pitchforks of grain high in the air,
the slow drift of it like the fall of Shatha's hair,
and although it was decades ago, he still loves her,
remembers her standing at the canebrake
where the buffalo cooled shoulder-deep in the water,
pleased with the orange cups of flowers he brought her,
and he regrets how much can go wrong in a life,
how easily the years slip by, light as grain, bright
as the street's concussion of metal, shrapnel
traveling at the speed of sound to open him up
in blood and shock, a man whose last thoughts
are of love and wreckage, with no one there
to whisper him gone.

Sgt. Ledouix of the National Guard
speaks but cannot hear the words coming out,
and it's just as well his eardrums ruptured
because it lends the world a certain calm,
though the traffic circle is filled with people
running in panic, their legs a blur
like horses in a carousel, turning
and turning the way the tires spin
on the Humvee flipped to its side,
the gunner's hatch he was thrown from
a mystery to him now, a dark hole
in metal the color of sand, and if he could,
he would crawl back inside of it,
and though his fingertips scratch at the asphalt
he hasn't the strength to move:
shrapnel has torn into his ribcage
and he will bleed to death in minutes,
but he finds himself surrounded by a strange
beauty, the shine of light on the broken,
a woman's hand touching his face, tenderly
the way his wife might, amazed to find
a wedding ring on his crushed hand,
the bright gold sinking in flesh
going to bone.

What does poetry have to do with politics? Nothing -- and everything. It is too late to stop the fatal endgame of Bush's war. But at least we can honor those who have died in that war, Iraqis and Americans alike, by refusing to look away from their deaths. Poetry, as the great Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz once wrote, is a witness. And if we the living highly resolve, as we must, that these dead shall not have died in vain, the only way to do so is by ensuring that we never again launch an unjustified war.

On that subject, the poet should have the last word. Here is another Turner poem, whose title means "friend" in Arabic, prefaced with a quotation from Sa'di, the 13th century Persian poet.

It is a condition of wisdom in the archer to be patient because when the arrow leaves the bow, it returns no more.

It should make you shake and sweat,
nightmare you, strand you in a desert
of irrevocable desolation, the consequences
seared into the vein, no matter what adrenaline
feeds the muscle its courage, no matter
what god shines down on you, no matter
what crackling pain and anger
you carry in your fists, my friend,
it should break your heart to kill.

Death Watch in the Persian Gulf and Washington

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Dave Lindorff

Watching the slow-motion march to war against Iran is a bit like watching a terminal cancer patient in a hospice. We know how it's going to end. We know it's going to be tragic and ugly. But we are powerless to stop it.

There is a difference of course.

For the cancer patient, there really is no alternative.

For us, there is an alternative to the catastrophe which President Bush and his regent, Dick Cheney, are preparing for us all.

We could rise up as a nation and demand that our elected representatives pass a Boland-type amendment banning any use of the military in Iraq. We could demand that a resolution be passed revoking the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq. We could demand the revocation of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force which the president has improperly cited as giving him extra-Constitutional powers. And we could demand that Congress tell the president and vice president that if they attack Iran without explicit congressional authorization they will both be immediately impeached.

The votes could be there for such an action, as even some Republicans are clearly opposed to this insanity, but the courage to call the president’s hand and lay down the cards is not.

And so the horrible march to disaster continues.

The cynicism of this administration is beyond belief. We have the supposedly "straight talking" defense secretary Robert Gates telling Congress that there is no plan "at the moment" to attack Iran--even as he sends two aircraft carrier battle groups into the Persian Gulf and stockpiles Patriot anti-missile batteries in the region (of what use are carriers and anti-missile rockets in a counter-insurgency in Iraq?). We have the president authorizing a blatantly illegal and clearly provocative attack on an Iranian consulate in Irbil, Iraq, and violating international law by arresting six people in that raid.

Let's be clear. An attack on Iran, which poses no immediate or imminent threat to the United States, would be the most heinous of international war crimes--a "crime against peace" violating the UN Charter and the Nuremburg Charter. It would also be a strategic disaster that would dwarf even the president’s collassal strategic blunder in invading Iraq.

There are no more troops left to fight in Iran, so all the U.S. could hope to do would be to bomb that country. But bombing that country would do nothing to stop Iran from retaliating in myriad ways that could bring the U.S. to its knees.

Take sappers. Iran, which has a sophisticated and well-equipped espionage apparatus, could set out on a campaign of sabatoge, blowing up U.S. chemical plants, petrochemical refining and storage facilities, and power plants. Since these are all known to be on the target list of U.S. bombers in Iran, Iran would be well within its rights retaliating in kind inside U.S. borders. If the U.S. were to follow its usual criminal practice of also attacking Iraqi hospitals and other civilian targets, Iraqis could and likely would follow suit. I wouldn't be surprised, given how long the administration has been talking about attacking Iran, if its military strategists hadn’t already smuggled bombs into place in shipping containers, ready to blow if we attack.

Feeling safer?

Iran has other options too, to hurt us. The Shia militias in Iraq, which have largely ignored U.S. forces unless harassed, are tight with the Iranians, having received shelter and support from Iran during Hussein's brutal rule, and sharing, as they do, a common religion. If Iran comes under attack, it is hard to believe that the Iraqi militias will now turn their substantial firepower on outnumbered US forces in Iraq.

When you think of it, attacking Iran would be a wonderful way of doing what the U.S. claims it has been wanting to do for several years now: uniting the Sunni and Shia forces in Iraq and ending their fratricidal conflict. The only problem is that they will be joining hands the better to attack U.S. troops! How clever this administration is!

And then there's the economic costs of an Iran War. Here Iran really has to do nothing, though it could make things all the worse by using one of its high-tech anti-ship missiles to sink an American naval vessel or even just a civilian tanker in the gulf. Even without such an action, an invasion of Iran would lead to a shutdown of oil coming from the Persian Gulf. That's one quarter of all the oil supplies in the world. Even if Iran never fires a missile, the insurance industry will make it financially impossible for any ship-owner to sail into the gulf.

So forget $80/barrel oil. Crude oil would quickly soar past $100 a barrel, past $160 a barrel, probably. Some analysts have even talked of $200 a barrel. No matter—after $100 a barrel, the world economy would grind to a halt. And the American trade deficit would go through the roof. We're not talking slowdown here,; we’re talking global depression.

All this is clear,.

But it is also clear that the Congress doesn't have the guts and principle to halt this march to madness.

And so we just continue to watch the patient die.

8:58 am pst

Politician-Journalism Incest Matrix

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

This matrix is a spotlight on those members of the corporate media and public relations spin machine, and their mostly GOP/neo-con shill relatives, especially their spouses. (Additions are welcomed):



Job title of spouse/relative
Howard Kurtz, Washington Post and CNN Reliable Sources host Sheri Annis (wife) Pres. Fourth Estate Strategies, GOP campaign consultant, 2002 spokesperson for Arnold Schwarzenegger, media consultant for various anti-immigration California propositions, including Prop. 227, which eliminated various California bi-lingual education programs. Has written for the neo-con National Review.
Chris Matthews, NBC and MS-NBC, Hardball host Jim Matthews (brother) GOP Lt. Gov, running mate of GOP gubernatorial candidate in Pennsylvania Lynn Swann.
Campbell Brown, NBC News Dan Senor (husband) Former Coalition Provisional Authority chief spokesman, contributor to Fox News, former intern for American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), senior associate of The Carlyle Group. director US-Israel Business Exchange (USIBEX). Senor is working as an aide to Democrat-turned-independent/Republican candidate Joe Lieberman.

Wendy Senor Singer (sister-in-law) Head of AIPAC office in Jerusalem.

Saul Singer (brother-in-law) Opinion editor of Jerusalem Post.
Michael Ledeen, American Enterprise Institute, Karl Rove adviser, formerly with The New Republic. Barbara Ledeen (wife) Staffer, Senate Republican Conference.

Simone Ledeen (daughter) Former Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority adviser to occupation Iraqi Ministry of Finance for northern Iraqi affairs
Brit Hume, Managing Editor, Fox News, Washington Kim Schiller Hume (wife) Former Fox News Washington Bureau Chief, Vice President Fox News.
Carl Cameron, Fox News Pauline Cameron (wife) Campaigned for George W. Bush's 2000 election.
John Ellis, Fox News George W. Bush (cousin) In charge of 2000 election projections for Fox News.
Tucker Carlson, MSNBC Richard Carlson (father) Vice Chairman of neo-con Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), member Scooter Libby Legal Defense Fund Trust
Danielle Pletka, American Enterprise Institute Stephen Rademaker (husband) Acting Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation. Reported to John Bolton, then Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs prior to his appointment as UN Ambassador in 2005.
Veronique Rodman, American Enterprise Institute Peter Rodman (husband) Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. Former senior editor of National Review and signatory of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Although PNAC recently closed its doors, its core members are connected to successor neo-con elements, including FDD and the Committee on the Present Danger.
Bob Schieffer, CBS News Tom Schieffer (brother) U.S. Ambassador to Japan, former U.S. Ambassador to Australia, former President of the Texas Rangers baseball team when G. W. Bush made millions from a $700,000 investment as general partner.
Anne Applebaum, Washington Post Radek Sikorski (husband) Defense Minister of Poland, former Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
Jim VandeHei, Washington Post Autumn Hanna (wife) Former aide to Rep. Tom DeLay.
Andrea Mitchell, NBC News Alan Greenspan (husband) Former Chairman, Federal Reserve Bank
John Podhoretz, Fox News, New York Post, National Review, Weekly Standard, regular on CNN's Reliable Sources Norman Podhoretz (father)

Midge Decter (mother)

Retired Editor-in-chief Commentary (magazine of the American Jewish Committee) and Project for the New American Century member.

Heritage Foundation, Project for the New American Century, Harper's, Commentary, Jamestown Foundation, Hoover Institution, Hudson Institute, Accuracy in Media.

Francis B. Coombs, Jr. Managing Editor, Washington Times Marian Kester Coombs (wife) Contributor to anti-Semitic and racist Occidental Quarterly, edited by Kevin Lamb, former Managing Editor for Human Events and Evans-Novak Political Report.
Robert Kagan, Columnist, Washington Post, Co-founder of Project for the New American Century (PNAC), Victoria Nuland (wife) Bush administration Permanent Representative to NATO.

Fred Kagan (brother) Resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute and major force behind the "surge" in Iraq.

Housing Bottom? Not With News Like This: Bonddad

Jan 16, 2006

By Bonddad

This week earnings season begins on Wall Street. Unfortunately for homebuilders, the news has been pretty bad. Economists who are calling for a bottom in housing will argue that companies are loading all of the bad news into one quarter. Basically, companies know they already have a bad quarter on the books, so they go ahead and take a bunch of charges they would have to take anyway. However, we're seeing a ton of bad news come out in one quarter. It's difficult to think this is simply a mass move to write-off certain issues.

Centex Homes has big write-off

The Dallas-based company said it expects to lose $2 a share from continuing operations for the third quarter ended Dec. 31, hit by a $300 million land valuation adjustment and $150 million of option deposit and preacquisition walkaway costs. The quarter will also included a $60 million provision tied to a federal tax audit.

Excluding those costs, Centex expects to make 75 cents a share for the quarter, shy of the 81-cent Thomson Financial target.

The company says closings dropped 12% from a year ago in the third quarter, while orders slid 24%.

"We are navigating through one of the most challenging housing environments in the past 25 years," said CEO Tim Eller. "We are responding by reducing our land position and inventory, aligning our workforce to the current sales pace, and improving our overall cost structure."

Dominion Home Sales Drop 43%

The number of houses delivered for the quarter dropped 50.2 percent to 284, from 571 units a year earlier.

For the year, Dominion said it sold 1,171 houses with an aggregate value of $219.1 million, a 39.7 percent drop from 1,944 units with a total value of $370.6 million in 2005.

The company, which builds single-family housing in Central Ohio and Louisville and Lexington, Ky., delivered 1,335 houses last year, down 37.8 percent from 2,146 delivered in 2005.

Palm Harbor and M/I Homes report drops

M/I Homes Inc. Thursday said new contracts for the quarter ended Dec. 31 fell 61% from a year earlier to 353 homes.

The Columbus, Ohio-based home builder said its cancellation rate rose to 63% in the fourth quarter from 27% in the year-ago period, and from 42% in the third quarter. More buyers have been backing out as prices fall and as they experience more difficulty selling their existing homes.

Late Wednesday, factory-built home provider Palm Harbor Homes Inc. warned it expects to post a loss in its fiscal third quarter ended Dec. 29.

Chief Executive Larry Keener in a prepared statement said the manufactured-home industry "has continued to decline through the second half of calendar 2006, resulting in the weakest year for total factory-built housing shipments in history."

The Dallas company said it projects unit shipments for factory-built housing for 2006 were 156,000 to 158,000 homes, about a 17% decline from the prior year.

DR Horton and Meritage Homes report losses

n an indication that the housing sector has yet to reach a bottom, D.R. Horton and Meritage Homes both posted lower quarterly sales yesterday. D.R. Horton reported net sales orders of $2.3 billion for fiscal Q1, nearly $1 billion below last year's figure and widely missing Street forecasts of $2.74 billion. Cancellations came in at 33% -- not good, but better than last quarter's 40%. Horton has resisted offering incentives but has recently been compelled to discount properties, a move that will hurt profit margins.

Meritage reported net sales of $356 million in Q4, down precipitously from last year's $723 million. Q4 revenue was also down at $821 million versus $1.04 billion a year earlier, but this figure beat forecasts of $742.3 million. Neither company's shares took much of a hit on the news since the market had priced in its low expectations. Both Horton and Meritage are trading about 40% off their 12-month

And new home sales are probably overstated by as much as 20%:

New-home sales are tallied by the Census Bureau, based on a sampling of contracts signed by home buyers. Running at a pace of more than one million a year for the last four years, new-home sales have been a significant contributor to the housing boom — and to the economy. (Existing-home sales, reported monthly by the National Association of Realtors, count actual closings.)

But here’s the rub: If a contract to buy a home, signed in November, is canceled in December, the Census Bureau does not subtract the failed transaction from the number of sales, or add the house back to its inventory total. In the last year, as the housing market has cooled, the volume of cancellations has risen to epidemic proportions.


And so, in the quarter ended on Oct. 31, Toll Brothers, the high-end home builder, noted that cancellations totaled 37 percent of contracts signed in the quarter, up from 18 percent in the same quarter the previous year. Pulte Homes, the builder based in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., reported a 36 percent cancellation rate in its third quarter, up from 17 percent in the 2005 third quarter.

"Cancellations have really affected big, publicly held builders the most, because they are relatively heavily concentrated in what had been the hottest markets," said Dave Seiders, chief economist at the National Association of Home Builders. Basing his findings on a survey of 30 large builders, Mr. Seiders concluded that in November 2006, cancellations constituted 38 percent of gross sales, compared with 26 percent in November 2005 and about 18 percent in the first half of 2005.

Here's the basic problem: demand is decreasing and supply is high.

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Lower demand = lower prices.

Higher supply = lower prices.

Put the two together, and you get lower prices.

This isn't over yet -- not by a long-shot.

Update [2007-1-16 11:2:59 by bonddad]:: From Bloomberg, KB Home has a bad quarter:

Los Angeles-based KB Home said in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing its charges will affect earnings for the fiscal fourth quarter ended Nov. 30.

The company said on Dec. 8 that it would take a charge of $235 million to $285 million against its housing stock. The cost of exiting land purchases was estimated at $90 million at that time.

For economic and market commentary, go to the Bonddad Blog

Flailing About, Blindly

Count Robert Gates as among the masters of the obvious: in a meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels, he informed Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer that the Taliban threat will grow in 2007. This meeting took place in the context of calling for “broad international support” for the Afghanistan mission, even though those calls have been made since at least 2004.

At least it’s finally getting some attention, most recently of Democratic White House hopeful Hillary Clinton. She just completed separate meetings with Karzai and Musharraf; we’ll see if anything useful comes from them.

Meanwhile, down south in Helmand, some intense fighting cleared the way for USAID contractors to continue construction work on the Kajaki Dam, which is meant to provide electricity to nearly 2 million people.

What a tremendously bad idea. Infrastructure is not the problem in Afghanistan, it is the symptom—of a failed occupation, a failed national police force, a failed policy at the highest levels of both governments. The U.S. was dumb to assume the Northern Alliance warlords wouldn’t give up power voluntarily, just as it was dumb to assume that the Taliban wouldn’t regroup in the free areas in Pakistan. Worse is siphoning off troops from Afghanistan to plug holes in Iraq. Karzai, on his part, hasn’t been the best enemy of corruption, though in his defense neither has NATO.

It is a society-wide, society-deep problem. Building a dam is a nice gesture, but it is merely the continuation of the failed “let’s be nice and hope they like us” policy, in which NATO troops clear out a local Taliban stronghold, chasing them into the mountains, and try to hand out public works projects and candy to win “hearts and minds.” The locals are smarter: they know the militants aren’t really gone, and that it usually only takes until nightfall for their return, often with new violence and terror should anyone cooperate with the Westerners.

As I said before, it is fundamentally a crisis of manpower. There are not enough troops to properly secure the country, and there are not enough troops to hold territory once it has been cleared. This has resulted in heart-breaking cases like Panjwai, in which not even those public works projects have materialized.

The very lack of security and control is what is causing these failures. Upgrading a dam is wonderful, but when NATO rolls through and bulldozes your orchard to build a road the Taliban then use to re-occupy your village, gratitude toward the West is probably one of the last things on your mind.

This leads to the uncomfortable conclusion that we don’t really seem to know what we’re doing in Afghanistan. Policies and actions clash with rhetoric, and all seem to change by the week. NATO responds by throwing money at the locals, and USAID throw its resources into building dams instead of social or political institutions. And everyone is pointing their fingers at each other, refusing to take responsibility for the fact that, in reality, this entire half of the country is slipping through their fingers.

Debate? What debate?

Michael F. Brown, The Electronic Intifada, 15 January 2007

Not a bipartisan issue: US Vice President Dick Cheney at the AIPAC Policy Conference 2006: "The President and I are grateful for your counsel and your commitment to the security of our country and for all you do on behalf of America's friendship with Israel." (AIPAC)
Meanwhile, echoing the neoconservatives, democratic former Vice Presidential Candidate and Senator John Edwards called Iran's nuclear ambitions the single greatest security threat, not only to Israel, but to the United States. (AIPAC)

There is a misperception in various world locales of Washington's debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Namely, that substantive debate exists at all. In fact, the debate in the power corridors of Washington is highly constrained, almost non-existent. Should we engage with President Mahmoud Abbas now or require him to leap through several more hoops -- including civil war -- first? Serious argument on the injustice of Israel's long-running occupation simply does not take place other than at the margins.

The reason for the silence has become increasingly clear with the publication of President Carter's courageous book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid. CNN's Glenn Beck labeled the former president a "fathead". The Anti-Defamation League's Abraham Foxman went so far as to call Carter "bigoted" while Martin Peretz of The New Republic maintains that history will recall Carter "as a Jew hater". This is extraordinarily vicious language to direct at a former president who brokered Israeli-Egyptian peace.

In this climate, few Americans are prepared to say what they think. Why be denounced (falsely) as an anti-Semite when you can keep your mouth shut or work on other concerns? Religious communities in the United States are frequently unprepared to handle this divisive matter and instead resort to tiptoeing around the issue. Critical interfaith work is thought to be at risk if Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories were to become a matter of serious dispute.

Tremendous grassroots work -- as done here by the African National Congress regarding apartheid South Africa -- is the greatest necessity in expanding the debate parameters. Any substantive change in approach to the conflict will certainly not be initiated by Congress.

The shortcomings of the Democratic Party on Middle East issues will soon be exposed as the party retakes leadership of the House and Senate. Debate will permit Democrats to challenge President Bush on his disastrous foray into Iraq. Yet in doing so, many Democrats will feel compelled to cover their national security flanks by directing inflammatory rhetoric at Iran. As for Israel-Palestine, Democrats will likely urge more talks to distinguish themselves from Bush. Yet this will be more about "peace process" process than substance. Democrats are no more apt than Republicans to denounce the Maskiot settlement or apartheid practices in the West Bank.

Indeed, with Rep. Tom Lantos assuming chairmanship of the House Foreign Affairs Committee there is no reason to expect better of House Democrats. Lantos has long been an apologist for oppressive Israeli actions directed at Palestinians. Last month, I saw him at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, DC just moments before Israeli Minister of Strategic Issues Avigdor Lieberman was to address the Saban Forum audience. I quietly urged Lantos to challenge Lieberman on his racism. He walked away from me without saying a word. His silence spoke volumes.

There are, however, signs of an improving atmosphere in which the most optimistic can place some small hope. Muslim- and Arab-American organizations are slowly gaining a much-needed foothold in Washington in spite of lingering bigotry directed at them. Furthermore, Carter's book and the Mearsheimer-Walt piece on the "Israel lobby" have sent a jolt through American understanding of the conflict. A growing number of Christians and Jews are with painstaking slowness finding their voices.

Nonetheless, AIPAC appears virtually unshaken even while forced to manage a potentially explosive scandal related to classified documents and recently fired employees. Politicians do not seem to be distancing themselves, certainly not on policy grounds. Too many are either intimidated or perfectly content to follow AIPAC's legislative lead despite the obvious downward spiral in both the region and American regional standing.

Nancy Pelosi, the new speaker of the House, spoke to AIPAC in 2005. Her statement then makes clear just how little will change in Washington with Democrats retaking the House and Senate. "There are those who contend that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is all about Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. This is absolute nonsense. In truth, the history of the conflict is not over occupation, and never has been: it is over the fundamental right of Israel to exist." Her emphasis is squarely on Israel's existential concerns; the blinders remain regarding Palestinian suffering under the occupation.

Two years remain to President Bush in office. With the Iraq Study Group and Democrats ascendant, he may feel obliged to push for Israeli-Palestinian talks. They will be strictly limited. Abbas will be told that if he wants to remain relevant he must play ball. Enormous political and economic pressure will be brought to bear on Abbas and the Palestinians to accept a truncated Palestinian state as Bush seeks one Middle East legacy free of the violence in Iraq he will bequeath his successor.

One thing is for certain: The limited parameters of debate in Washington will feed directly into the highly restrictive boundaries pushed by the Bush administration for the envisioned Palestinian Bantustan.

Michael F. Brown is a fellow at the Palestine Center in Washington, DC. His views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Center. Previously, he was executive director of Partners for Peace and Washington correspondent for Middle East International. He is on the board of Interfaith Peace-Builders. This article was originally published by Bitter Lemons International on 11 January 2007 and is republished with the author's permission.

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