Thursday, January 18, 2007
BBC News, Gaza
Although Israel withdrew from Gaza more than a year ago, its control over the lives of Palestinians there is in some ways even tighter than before, a new report by an Israeli human rights organisation says.
In the days after Israeli troops and settlers pulled out of the territory, the then Israeli leader, Ariel Sharon addressed the United Nations.
He declared "the end of Israeli control over and responsibility for the Gaza Strip".
But a study by Gisha challenges that claim. The organisation says it aims to "protect the fundamental rights of Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories by imposing human rights law as a limitation on the behaviour of Israel's military".
"Israel continues to control Gaza through an 'invisible hand'," the organisation says, in a detailed, 100-page report.
Gaza residents know that significant aspects of their lives depend on decisions made by Israel's military
"In contrast to the rhetoric used to describe the disengagement plan, Israel has not relinquished control over Gaza but rather removed some elements of control while tightening other significant controls."
Gisha argues that this means that Israel still has extensive legal obligations for the wellbeing of the territory's population that are not being met.
It says: "Gaza residents know that significant aspects of their lives - the ability to exit or enter Gaza, the supply of medicine, fuel and other basic goods, the possibility to transport crops to export markets, the ability to use electric lights - depend on decisions made by Israel's military."
My husband's ID card says he is married, but the box for spouse's name is blank. My children were born in Gaza to a mother who, officially, does not exist
Palestinian lawyer with no ID
The report begins by referring to the continued, overt military pressure on Gaza.
Until the ceasefire declared in November, Israeli air raids, artillery fire and armoured incursions led to the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians.
This was all part of the army's confrontation with militant groups - like the Islamic Jihad organisation - which are based in Gaza.
On an almost daily basis they launch crudely made missiles at towns and villages in neighbouring southern Israel - often describing their attacks as retaliation for Israeli army actions in the occupied West Bank.
Less visible controls
But the new study focuses more on the much less visible forms of continuing Israeli control over Gaza.
GISHA: REMAINING CONTROLS
Effective control over Rafah crossing with Egypt, and frequent closure of Karni border crossing with Israel
Air and sea blockade
Control of Palestinian population registry
Control over aspects of areas of the Palestinian tax system
There is an air blockade. Israel has not allowed Gaza's international airport to re-open.
The Israeli navy continues to patrol the coastline in what it says in an effort to prevent arms smuggling. Palestinian fishing boats are sometimes fired on for straying outside Israeli-imposed zones.
The Israelis have also been able to maintain control over all Gaza's land links with the outside world - including the territory's border with Egypt.
There are no Israeli troops on the frontier any longer, but Israel's co-operation is required for the border crossing to function under an agreement struck between Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and the European Union.
That Israeli co-operation has frequently been withdrawn, and the border was closed for nearly half of the first year after Israel pulled out of Gaza.
Israeli control over the flow of goods in and out of the territory remains total. And frequent closures of the main cargo terminal at the Karni crossing point have had a devastating impact on the Gazan economy.
The Israelis say the restrictions have been necessary on account of continual security threats. Two years ago there was an attack by militants at Karni that left several Israelis dead.
We would argue that to say legally that Israel has control of what goes on inside the Gaza Strip when there are no Israeli police, soldiers or civilians there is very far fetched
Israeli foreign ministry
But Palestinians believe that the border closures are part of a deliberate effort to maintain pressure on Gaza by strangling its economy.
The report also highlights a range of administrative controls.
It points out that Israel has retained control of the Palestinian population registry. This enables it to decide who can be a resident of Gaza - and who can come and go.
The reports says that tens of thousands of people have been barred from the registry and consequently have no identity papers.
The study sites the case of Mirvat Alnahal, a lawyer of Palestinian origin and who has lived in Gaza since the mid-1990s.
"I am trapped here. I cannot leave for fear that I won't be allowed to return," she says.
"My husband's ID card says he is married, but the box for spouse's name is blank. My children were born in Gaza to a mother who, officially, does not exist."
The report stresses the importance of Israel's continuing control over areas of the Palestinian tax system.
And in its effort to apply pressure on the Hamas government, Israel has withheld payment of tax revenue it owes the Palestinians worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The report points out that this has had a crippling impact on the services that the government has been able to provide - and the policy has constituted another example of Israel's ability to continue to exert significant control in Gaza.
The study ends by saying that despite the withdrawal of its soldiers, Israel's role in the territory means that it remains bound under international and humanitarian law to allow freedoms of movement and economic activity.
With continuing control comes continuing legal responsibility, the report says.
The Israeli government has completely rejected this conclusion.
Responding to the study, a foreign ministry spokesman said: "We would argue that to say legally that Israel has control of what goes on inside the Gaza Strip when there are no Israeli police, soldiers or civilians there is very far fetched.
"It doesn't hold water under international law."
Andover High SchoolDr. Mazin Qumsiyeh
January 16, 2006
In hundreds of presentations we did at Middle Schools, high schools, colleges, universities, and elsewhere, this was only the second time we were "disinvited." We want to thank the teachers who invited us and the hundreds of students who worked diligently to make sure they hear us. The events went very well at the classes and we received countless positive emails from students, teachers, parents, and community members.
The Wheels of Justice brings eyewitness accounts to occupations in Iraq and Palestine. Our speakers come from various political backgrounds; the only requirement is that they support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and support nonviolence as an alternative to war and injustice. We also recognize that to achieve peace anywhere in the world, the root causes of injustice, racism, and oppression must be addressed. We also have speakers who are Jewish and even Holocaust survivors (e.g. 80 year-old Hedy Epstein).
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) led the effort to describe us and teachers who invited us as "anti-Israel" or even "anti-Semitic." In 1980, the ADL covertly distributed a 21-page booklet containing "background information on pro-Arab sympathizers active on college campuses." Later the ADL was fined and signed a statement pledging not to engage in spying and collecting information after federal investigators found that ADL had paid investigative police officers to gather information on Arab Americans and African Americans active in the movement against apartheid South Africa (see http://www.counterpunch.org/adlspying2.html).
But the ADL is not the only well-funded groups attempting to recruit Jews to support dubious agendas by attacking anyone who dares to speak out. For an understanding of these attempts to silence free speech on this issue in Congress, in the media, and at college campuses, people should read Congressman Paul Findley's book "They Dare to Speak Out."
We have significant history and experience working with Israeli Jews and other Jews collaboratively on peace projects. Yet, a vocal minority insists that if you do not support Zionism as a segregationist ideology, you are automatically "anti-Semitic" (or if Jewish "self-hating Jew"). This defamation is not only false, but is also dangerous. (I prefer the more accurate term "anti-Jewish" rather than "anti-Semitic" because many Jews are not Semites (e.g. European Ashkenazi Jews or Ethiopian Jews) and most Semites are not Jews - for example, Palestinians. But the term, initially coined by a racist German anti-Jew, is now so common so I use it here.)
Zionism is a colonial political movement with adherents among people of various religions, including Christian Zionists. Judaism on the other hand is one of the three great monotheistic religions. Most Jews are anti-Zionist, non-Zionist, or post-Zionist (as are most Christians and Muslims). Using the term anti-Semitic is wrong but also dangerous, because it cheapens and mocks the memory of all those who suffered truly because of their religion. It is also instructive to read books like those by Jews such as Norman Finkelstein (whose parents are survivors of Nazi atrocities), Lenni Brenner, Naeim Giladi, Israel Shahak and others about why Zionism is a mirror image of other segregationist ideologies.
So far we spent over $400 billion of our taxes to occupy Iraq for control of oil and other Zionist plans to reshape the Middle East, and over $1 trillion to support the Israeli government (highest recipient of U.S. aid, we gave it more than we gave to Africa as a continent). Yet, one-third of Israeli children live below the poverty line, while Israel is using billions of our tax money to ethnically cleanse and oppress the native Palestinians. Love of Israel becomes meaningless if it does not mean changing life for the better for these Israeli children (and millions of Palestinian children). Only a public outcry would force the U.S. government to change its policies of supporting oppression despite the strong lobbies in Washington. That is why groups like ADL attempt to stifle debate and any exposition of the truth. The attacks on President Jimmy Carter for his latest book on Israeli apartheid, like the attacks on Andover High School, are symptomatic.
Israel is the only country in the world that does not define itself as a country of its citizens (Jews and non-Jewish citizens). It defines itself as a country for and by the Jewish people everywhere. Every Jew in the world is considered as a national of the state whether they want it or not (part of 'Am Yisrael). Any Jew including converts can go there, get automatic citizenship and live on Palestinian lands while Palestinian refugees are not allowed to return simply because they are Christian or Muslim. Further, no other country has supra-national entities that are more influential in shaping policies than its national institutions (e.g. ADL, Jewish National Fund, Jewish Agency and World Zionist Congress).
Israeli artists declared in 2002: "If the state of Israel aspires to perceive itself as a democracy, it should abandon once and for all, any legal and ideological foundation of religious, ethnic and demographic discrimination. The state of Israel should strive to become the state of all its citizens. We call for the annulment of all laws that make Israel an apartheid state, including the Jewish law of return in its present form." That desire to improve one's country represents the ultimate love of country/patriotism, rather than the reflexive parroting of propaganda and blaming the victims of those policies (whether in Andover or Palestine). The same applied to U.S. citizens who spoke for civil rights, to end the war on Vietnam, to end support for apartheid South Africa and more recently to end support for the war on Iraq and on Palestine.
The school principal said to those who tried to disrupt the meeting in Andover: If we can't make peace here, how do we expect them to make peace there? Thus, we again urge those who consider themselves our opponents/enemies to agree to civic public dialogue. Our contact information is available on the Web.
Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh is a Christian Palestinian American and coordinator for the Wheels of Justice bus tour and author of "Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli-Palestinian Struggle." His Web site is www.qumsiyeh.org.
Zionists Vs Truth -The Wheels of Justice Battle for Andover
By Joe Carr, 6 January, 2007
From Hasan Fouda
Wheels of Justice prevailed and Zionist attempts as silencing failed in Andover, Massachusetts high school last Friday January 5, 2007.
As some of you know, the wheels of justice spoke at more than 200 high schools nationwide without incident. We were invited by social studies teachers from Andover, Mass high school to speak to their classes and were scheduled to speak on October 27, 2006. However, pressure from local Zionists led the school principal to cancel our appointment. The honorable teachers were indignant, and with the involvement of the local ACLU sued the school for interfering with their professional judgment as educators and for limiting free speech. The school principal and superintendent decided to reschedule our talk to Friday January 5, 2007. They also offered to pay the cost of transportation for our speakers. They hired a lawyer and held several meetings with representatives of ADL and other Zionist groups and to
accomdate them as much as possible decided to.
1. Send a note to every parent to provide an opportunity for their kids to be excused from attending our supposedly subversive presentation, if they so desire. It is remarkable that not a single parent opted to excuse their child from attending.
2. Held school sessions, by outside consultants, one week before our presentation about the constitutional guarantees of free speech. (We were described as a pro Palestinian anti Israeli group!)
3. Assign two “neutral” adult observers from the community to attend every one of our class presentations. No other adults were allowed.
4. Invite two Zionist professors from Harvard University to speak to the students two weeks after our presentation to rebut our information.
5. In another concession, we were also asked to repeat our presentations in the evening in a public event at school so that everyone will know what we told the students (and of course for the Zionists to help plan their rebuttal). We happily agreed to all this.
Despite the above, the Zionists were not satisfied. They continued to complain and engage in a campaign of smearing the teachers and wheels of justice. They also threatened the day before the talk to file for a court injunction to prevent our talks. Much of that was covered by the local media including a front-page feature article the morning of our presentation. See the links below for media coverage. Note the one sided coverage of all the hoopla; none of the so-called journalists saw it fit to contact us and ask for our comments. Also, the ADL provided each student with packets of misinformation and talking points to “prepare” the students for our appearance.
All the media coverage and manufactured controversy backfired and helped us raise awareness of what is going here and in Palestine–Israel. The students were quite attentive and engaging. Some read questions and comments from the ADL prepared material, which we were only happy to clarify. Many of the students thanked us sincerely for
the new information and were quite appreciative. I spoke about the Jews, Moslems and Christian people of conscience who are working together in Palestine –Israel and also on ICAHD work opposing house demolition and showed a 4 minutes video on resisting house demolition. The other presenters were noted Palestinian activist and author Mazin Qumsiyeh who introduced the concept of the wheels of Justice effort and provided a general overview of the situation in Israel-Palestine. Also presenting was, Joe Carr a young activist and Musician. Joe was an ISM volunteer who spent a lot of time in Palestine. He was demonstrating with Rachel Corrie when she was mercilessly killed by an Israeli
bulldozer and was also next to Tom Hurndall when he was shot by an Israeli sniper. Tom later died as a result of his injury. Joe Carr
was also in Iraq as a volunteer for the Christian Peace Makers team. Joe’s report on the events in Andover is reproduced at the end. See
also his web site lovinrevolution.org/beta/?q=node/36
From our perspective, the evening public presentation was also a great success. More than 300 people attended including many parents and many others who do not normally attend peace and justice talks. There were also a great many supporters and a large contingent of Zionists. The Zionists wasted more of their time and money. They distributed handouts smearing the teacher’s leader and accusing him of anti-Semitism. They also distributed many papers full of the typical ADL misinformation (Israel a democracy, no apartheid, disputed not occupied, etc.) Inside the presentation they made complete idiots of themselves by heckling, shouting interrupting and then fought among themselves with some aiming to disrupt and others shouting that they needed to know what we presented to the students. Even the principal who strove to accommodate every one had to admonish them for not making a good example for the students and the irony that the students behaved a lot better than the adults. We finished all of our presentations but during the question and answer period the heckling continued and the principal decided to end the program. Many many
people, including some students were so marvelous and so appreciative. Many stayed with the three us of for over an hour to express their gratitude, ask questions and apologize for the behavior of Zionist members of their community. We also received an invitation to speak again at a local church in the area which we are happy to schedule.
The heroes of the story are the high school teachers who stood their ground, were true to their principles and refused to be intimidated. The leadership of teacher Ron Francis, who is also the leader of divestment campaign in Somerville, was really inspiring. Members of the local peace and activist community also came together and lobbied
for peace and justice, for decency and fairness.
It is instructive that all the hysteria was about hiding the truth in Palestine-Israel. No one minded that we also criticized the U.S. government over the conduct of the war on Iraq.
For more information on the Wheels of Justice program go to http://www.justicewheels.org/
Mazin Qumsiyeh on Andover issue
I just wanted to expand on a few issues beyond what Joe covered (although I disagree with Joe's characterizations in many areas including what the principal did and why). We normally have four people: a bus manager, a bus driver, and two speakers. The physical bus could not come back to the school (it was in the Boston/Andover area giving talks in November) and now it is in Arizona. We had three people at this high school:
We gave introduction to the bus and where we have been. The bus speakers are all volunteers and we spoke at hundreds of middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities around the country. The bus supports the universal declaration of human rights and supports non-violence. We believe that to address violence (that kills far more native people than occupiers and colonizers) we must address the root causes of injustice, discrimination and racism. I then spoke of the Israel/Palestine situation by highlighting my own experiences, the destruction and ethnic cleansing of 530 Palestinian villages and towns between 1947-1949) and the subsequent nearly six decades of occupation, ethnic cleansing, and theft of land. The shrinking areas allocated to Palestinians now constitute less than 12% of historic Palestine. Zionists flinched when I showed President Carter's book cover on Israeli apartheid.
Dr. Hassan Fouda then spoke about non-violent resistance and showed many examples of people of various faiths and backgrounds working together for peace (Internationals, Israelis, Palestinians, Jews, Christians, Muslims, etc). Here are just two examples of groups mentioned by Hassan:
Breaking the silence: Israeli soldiers explaining the orders they are given and giving testimonies of the acts they or their comrades committed in the occupied areas (http://breakingthesilence.org.il/index_e.asp)
Bereaved Parents Circles: Israelis and Palestinians who lost relatives and who chose to grieve and work together for peace rather than for vengeance (http://www.theparentscircle.com/)
Israel Committee against Home Demolitions (http://www.icahd.org/eng/)
Hassan explained the long history of home demolitions and that Israelis do this to expand settlement areas on the richest Palestinian lands. He also showed a moving clip of an Israeli Jew (Jeff Halper) pleading with Israeli soldiers in hebrew not to demolish a Palestinian home by telling them that the Israeli laws they are implementing are unjust and should not be obeyed; parallels to the Nuremberg laws in Nazi Germany.
Joe Carr spoke of the atrocities committed in Iraq since the American occupation of 2003 (and before, US led sanctions killed over ½ million Iraqi Children). An excess Iraqi death toll of 655,000 Iraqis in 3.5 years constitutes genocide. He also spoke of the loss of three of his friends: Tom Fox (a member of Christian Peacemaker team who was killed in Iraq), Rachel Corrie (killed by an Israeli soldier driving a US made and paid-for Caterpillar bulldozer) and Tom Hurndall (shot by an Israeli sniper using a US made/paid for gun while Tom and Joe and others were helping Palestinian children in an area where snipers specifically targeted them).
The students and teachers were extremely interested and asked pertinent and good questions in the four presentations we made. In the evening, we were asked to do a public presentation. The Zionist movement was recruited from even nearby towns and cities (one of them in asking the question did not even know where he was). But there was even more people who are supportive of peace and justice (thanks to Meerimack Valley Peace community and others). The Zionists tried to shout the presentation down. One person stood and told them it would be good for their cause to “hear what we told the students”. This did not make a big difference and halfway into the Q&A session, the principal called the meeting off. People continued to mill around and engage in conversations. Some of the books we had on the wheels of justice table were stolen while people were busy talking to each other.
They tried various (and expected) strategies to intimidate, silence, discredit, shoot the messenger etc. They had the usual few bad cops and a couple of “good cops” to effect the desired change. All has parallels in Zionist history (1.5 million cluster bombs in Lebanese civilian areas this summer to leave a message while Peres talks as the "good cop"). They were getting frustrated and angry that most of their tricks did not work (and if anything backfired), as people do not like to pushed around/bulldozed. Similarly in Iraq, Lebanon and in Palestine, things are not quite working well for the agenda of apartheid and racism. The more aggressive and violent they are, the poorer they perform to achieve their own objectives of control whether in Iraq, Palestine, or Andover. I personally believe this is because of their biggest Achilles’ heel: that they think in racist/tribalistic fashion (us here them there as Rabin put it) and are trying to push other Americans to do the same. To them “the other” cannot be human or humanized (let alone have self-determination) or even engaged with in a civil way. Early Zionist founders said it very clearly in the late 19th century and early 20th century "We want to be feared not loved".
Despite repeated efforts to explain that we are three people with different backgrounds and different political outlooks, they still kept insisting that this is somehow a tribal conflict (we and the teachers who invited us were labeled as “pro-Palestinians” “anti-Israeli”, and even “anti-Semitic”). Despite our talk clearly showing the diversity of groups and people in that part of the world, they ignored all of that and pushed ahead as if the struggle is between Israelis and Palestinians (if it is binary, it is actually between those who support human rights and international law and those who don’t).
Of course I continue to challenge Zionists to public debates (most of them refuse). I am willing to travel for such debates with any leading Zionists (already covered Morton Kline of ZOA, David Harris of AJC, and a few others). Truth after all should be visible and the more light one sheds on things, the more the lies will get exposed. (the religions and non-violent philosophies WE follow teach us to hate the bad deeds but not the misled humans who do the bad deeds). We will continue to speak truth to power without hate or malice to anyone. The Wheels of Justice keeps rolling. Stay tuned.
PS: not one of the students opted-out of our talks (even the children of the the tiny minority of parents who demanded that option).
Here are some of the stories about our appearance. I put these in approximate order of unfairness (slightly unfair progressing to totally outrageous/hogwash):
BTW Isn't it amazing that the Eagle Tribune wrote four articles on this "controversy" denouncing us without ever interviewing one of the people from the Wheels of Justice bus tour??!! Write and call them if you are outraged.
Originally appeared in the Eagle Tribune
Middle East forum cut short as hecklers drown out speakers By Crystal Bozek , Eagle-Tribune January 06, 2007 http://www.eagletribune.com/local/local_story_006094545
Superintendent: Wheels of Justice visit is 'reasonable' By Colin Steele , January 05, 2007 http://www.eagletribune.com/siteSearch/apstorysection/local_story_005120446
FOX video is here
Protests, injunction threatened against pro-Palestinian speakers.http://www.eagletribune.com/local/local_story_004094558
And here are Zionist ratings (unrated :-); "Opinion" is too kind a word since most of these folks parrot others in the Zionist/racist camp and cannot come up with their own opinions:
Thursday, January 18, 2007; A23
I am concerned that public discussion of my book "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid" has been diverted from the book's basic proposals: that peace talks be resumed after six years of delay and that the tragic persecution of Palestinians be ended. Although most critics have not seriously disputed or even mentioned the facts and suggestions about these two issues, an apparently concerted campaign has been focused on the book's title, combined with allegations that I am anti-Israel. This is not good for any of us who are committed to Israel's status as a peaceful nation living in harmony with its neighbors.
It is encouraging that President Bush has announced that peace in the Holy Land will be a high priority for his administration during the next two years. On her current trip to the region, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called for an early U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian meeting. She has recommended the 2002 offer of the 23 Arab nations as a foundation for peace: full recognition of Israel based on a return to its internationally recognized borders. This offer is compatible with official U.S. policy, previous agreements approved by Israeli governments in 1978 and 1993, and the "road map" for peace developed by the "quartet" (the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations).
The clear fact is that Israel will never find peace until it is willing to withdraw from its neighboring occupied territories and permit the Palestinians to exercise their basic human and political rights. With land swaps, this "green line" can be modified through negotiations to let a substantial number of Israeli settlers remain in their subsidized homes east of the internationally recognized border. The premise of exchanging Arab territory for peace has been acceptable for several decades to a majority of Israelis but not to a minority of the more conservative leaders, who are unfortunately supported by most of the vocal American Jewish community.
These same premises, of course, will have to be accepted by any government that represents the Palestinians. A March 2006 poll by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah found 73 percent approval among citizens in the occupied territories, and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has expressed support for talks between President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and pledged to end Hamas's rejectionist position if a negotiated agreement is approved by the Palestinian people.
Abbas is wise in repeating to Secretary Rice that he rejects any "interim" boundaries for the Palestinian state. The step-by-step road-map formula promulgated almost three years ago for reaching a final agreement has proved to be a non-starter -- and an excuse for not making any progress. I know from experience that it is often more difficult to negotiate an interim agreement, with all its future uncertainties, than to address the panoply of crucial issues that will have to be resolved to reach the goal of peace.
Given these recent developments and with the Democratic Party poised to play a more important role in governing, this is a good time to clarify our party's overall policy in the broader Middle East. Numerous options are available as Congress attempts to correlate its suggestions with White House policy, and there is little doubt that the basic proposals of the Iraq Study Group provide a good foundation on which Democrats might reach something of a consensus (recognizing that individual lawmakers could still make their own proposals on details). This party policy would provide a reasonable answer to the allegation that Democrats have no alternatives of their own to address the Iraq quagmire.
A key factor in an Iraq policy would be strong demands on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government to cooperate in ending sectarian violence, prodded by a clear notice of plans for troop withdrawals. A commitment to regional cooperation, including opportunities for Iran and Syria to participate, would be beneficial in assuring doubtful Iraqis that America will no longer be the dominant outside power shaping their military, political and economic future.
Although Israel's prime minister has criticized these facets of the Iraq Study Group's report, the most difficult recommendation for many Democrats could be the call for substantive peace talks on the Palestinian issue. The situation in the occupied territories will be a crucial factor, and it would be helpful for both the House and Senate to send a responsible delegation to the West Bank and Gaza to observe the situation personally, to meet with key leaders and to ascertain the prospects if peace talks can be launched.
I am convinced that, with bipartisan support, this is a good opportunity for progress.
The writer was the 39th president and is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. His most recent book is "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid."
January 18, 2007
by Sam Kornell
Photo by Ron Haviv/VII
In April 2004, vivid photographs of American military and intelligence personnel torturing Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison facility were leaked to the press. Instantly iconic, the images became political rallying flags for terrorist recruitment throughout the Arab world, and within the United States they inspired shock and disgust.
Yet for all their brutal immediacy — or perhaps because of it — the Abu Ghraib photographs occupied only an isolated place in the American discussion of torture. Today, despite documented evidence of other American-ordered torture, Abu Ghraib is not just the signal scandal of the Bush administration’s extraordinary interrogation practices, but the only scandal. Journalist Mark Danner, who wrote what is now — and will likely remain — the authoritative account of Abu Ghraib in his book Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror, described this curious fact in a recent essay:
Beginning with a lecture by Danner this evening, UCSB will offer a six-month series of symposia and lectures meant to grapple with the questions that torture and indefinite detention pose for the United States. Open to the public, the series will give us a chance to reflect on the exceptional liberty the Bush administration has claimed in its commission to fight the war on terror. And it will give us the opportunity to examine whether the threat posed by Islamic terrorism warrants “work[ing] through the dark side,” as Vice President Dick Cheney put it five years ago when explaining on national television how the administration planned to stop terrorist acts.
Underlying the series, Torture and the Future: Perspectives from the Humanities, will be the extensive documentary record, amassed by journalists, human rights agencies, and government investigations, of what, apparently, Cheney’s “dark side” has entailed. That record is far from complete, but it reveals that since September 2001, the United States government has held thousands of men and boys rounded up during the war on terror, without criminal charge and without bail, at various prisons, military bases, and detention camps around the world. The detainees have not been allowed to make telephone calls, write letters, or contact embassies, have not, except in a few cases, been furnished with legal representation, and have in many cases been subjected to methods of interrogation that appear to legally constitute systematic torture.
Initiated by UCSB Professor Elisabeth Weber, the series will consider the foundational ideals embedded in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, and how these ideals have weathered other perceived national security crises. And it will seek to imagine how history will judge the Bush administration’s extraordinary measures in the war on terror. And, indeed, how we should judge them now.
Fighting Ideology with Ideology
Mark Danner Describes the Advent of Torture as U.S. Policy
A longtime staff writer at the New Yorker, Mark Danner is the recipient of numerous journalism awards. He has reported on war from South America, the Balkans, and the Middle East, and for the last three years has written in the New York Review of Books a number of widely read and influential essays on torture, the Bush administration, the war on terror, and the Iraq War (these essays have been compiled into two books — The Secret Way to War, about the Downing Street memo, and Torture and Truth). Our telephone interview with Danner has been edited to fit limited space. Danner will appear at UCSB’s Campbell Hall at 8 p.m. this evening. Admission is free to the public.
You’ve used a striking sentence in a number of your essays, something to the effect of: “The U.S. government, since 9/11, has been transformed from a country that officially prohibits and condemns torture to one that practices it.” What does that mean? What it means is that after the attacks of 9/11, the highest officials of the Bush administration decided one of the things that had to change — in the changed world of the war on terror — was the traditional American approach to interrogation. There were various public acknowledgments of this, beginning with the decision not to extend Geneva Convention protections to prisoners taken in Afghanistan. Another artifact of it is the category “unlawful enemy combatants” that was created.
What followed from these decisions were changes in what was permitted in interrogations, changes that led to, among other things, some of the abuses that were very well publicized in what came to be known as the Abu Ghraib scandal. These changes included the widespread use of waterboarding — which is the use of water to create the impression that a prisoner is drowning — the use of temperature manipulation, striking the prisoner, stress positions, sensory deprivation, and many other techniques that up to then had been prohibited, in particular by the U.S. military.
The Bush administration has responded to critics of its interrogation and detention practices by arguing that the war on terror is extraordinary, so that with torture, for example, traditional codes of conduct don’t apply. Well, I think members of the administration do believe that. But that isn’t in fact the argument they’ve made publicly. The argument they’ve made publicly is they don’t torture, and that the photographs from Abu Ghraib, for example, were of the actions of a few bad apples and don’t represent what is being done in interrogations of prisoners generally.
But they have argued that legally the president isn’t subject to traditional interpretations of international and American law on torture and due process. You’re quite right. From the beginning, members of the administration have looked at laws that seem rather forthright — the Geneva Convention Against Torture is one of them — and used lawyers to extract from those documents an almost absurdly, almost comically narrow reading of what they mean.
The Department of Justice documents really made the argument in a couple ways. The first was essentially that Congress cannot limit the president’s powers related to war. The second was somewhat contradictory because they said, “Okay, we’re committed not to torture. Fine. What is torture?” They essentially redefined it to say that for something to be torture it must cause pain equivalent to major organ failure or death. So basically they were saying, “Well, on the one hand, Congress cannot limit the president’s war powers, which encompass interrogations. But on the other hand, the law prohibits torture, and we’re not doing torture because torture actually has to do with activities that cause very, very large degrees of pain.” But of course you can do a lot to somebody that almost anyone would acknowledge is torture without necessarily going beyond the level of pain that’s caused by major organ failure.
The first part of this argument is strikingly broad. The implication seems to be essentially that the president is constitutionally unconstrained by the law. These people … believe in what they call a unitary executive. Essentially, it means there are certain powers on which the judiciary and Congress cannot tread. And one area where that is the case is in the president’s war-making powers. John Yoo, who was one of the central architects of the administration’s legal case … was at a public event recently and someone said, “So you’re saying that if the president wanted to order a child tortured in front of his parents in order to coerce his parents to give up information, there’s nothing Congress and the Judiciary can do about it?” He responded: “No, there’s nothing they can do about it.” He really believes the president is unchallengeable in these areas. And, you know, I don’t. And a lot of other people don’t. Most people don’t.
In June 2004, the Supreme Court decided Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which was a challenge to the administration’s definition of “enemy combatants” and its withholding of various prisoners’ rights. At the time, many observers took the decision to mean, if not necessarily the demise of Guantánamo, at least the reinstatement to some degree of due process rights. But now we have the Military Commissions Act (MCA), which was legislated by Congress in September 2006. How is the MCA related to Hamdan v. Rumsfeld? The Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision essentially said, your assumption that you can say the Geneva Conventions don’t apply [to prisoners captured in the war on terror] is wrong. The Geneva Conventions do apply. Period. The decision presented the administration with a very difficult problem, a problem having to do with the military commissions [proposed to try the prisoners], and a problem having to do with the consequences for people in the administration who acted in good faith in developing and applying this alternative set of procedures. If the Geneva Conventions do apply, those people may be subject to some kind of prosecution under the War Crimes Act.
The MCA was a response to all that, with the intent to nullify the effect of Hamdan. … It basically portrayed the decision as a usurping of the powers of the president and a usurping of the powers of Congress. There were these very highly publicized negotiations [with senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and John Warner], the result of which was really not terribly significant, frankly. That is, the law had in it a nod to the Geneva Conventions, but then let the president decide whether something was a violation of the Geneva Conventions. It put the power in his hands.
Will the MCA stand up under the new Congress? Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who is the incoming chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has declared his intention to revisit that law. My impression is there is a general recognition that this law was a disgrace. For reasons including not only the ones we’ve talked about, but also the stripping of habeas corpus, the placing in the president’s hands the power to declare virtually anyone an unlawful enemy combatant, the removal from the federal courts of oversight — not just habeas but other kinds of oversight … you can go down a list. I think there’s a general recognition this law is one of the great disgraces of American legal history.
Having said that, it’s very difficult to calculate what the politics are going to be. The reason the MCA became law to begin with is out of Democrats’ fear the president would use their opposition to the law as a way to brand them as soft on the war on terror going into the November midterms. So most of the Democrats hung back. Most of them voted against it, but they didn’t make an issue of it. They didn’t filibuster it, for example, as they could have done and should have done, I think.
The fact that it was politically expedient for Democrats not to filibuster a bill like the MCA raises an interesting issue about how torture has caught the American imagination — or how it hasn’t. And why it hasn’t. That’s a critical issue, and it’s something Americans have to come to grips with. It’s the question: Why is it that the president can get political mileage out of supporting a bill that essentially legalizes torture?
There are a lot of pop-culture markers that [help explain] this. One I often refer to is the Fox television program 24, which is enormously popular. I think it’s in the top 10 programs watched. And it is a program that has as a very important part of its narrative — it’s really in almost every episode — an episode of torture, usually committed by the hero. Torture in it is used essentially to signify the determination of the government to protect the population. I think anybody who wants to talk about torture has to come to grips with the fact that, you know, here we are. Americans seem to watch this show and approve of this behavior.
I think in some ways it is a response to fear. There is the notion that this kind of untrammeled government power is what is needed to protect people, and that is something that is in some way reassuring to people.
What if someone has information that can only be extracted by torture and that information will save lives? Would one be morally remiss not to torture that person? That is a prevalent argument — the so-called ticking bomb scenario, which is: What if you capture somebody, there’s a nuclear bomb in New York City, he knows where it is, you know he knows, so wouldn’t it be morally reprehensible not to torture him if that’s what’s necessary? You hear that a lot. But it’s a fraud, that argument, because that’s not how torture is used. You should always wonder when you’re looking at a case that’s actually happening — and torture is a case that’s actually happening — when the argument that’s always made about it is a hypothetical one.
Torture is used on suspects who are suspected to have some kind of knowledge, but it’s very unusual to actually know what knowledge they have. For example: You pick up somebody, you think they’re part of the Al Qaeda hierarchy, you thereby assume they know things, and you interrogate them using these [harsh] techniques. And what they usually give you is not plans for attacks — although that has happened, not immediate [plans] but eventual [plans] — but what they usually give you is names of other people. So one of the problems with this whole ticking bomb argument is that it’s quite unreal. It doesn’t have much relation to what’s actually happening.
How has American torture affected the political component of the war on terror? One of the ironies of what’s happened since 9/11 is the Bush administration was so keen to declare this war [on terror] an utterly new phenomenon with new rules, but in making many of these new rules, it ignored the damage these activities would have on the U.S. reputation, and the way they would undermine the president’s chosen response, which is, as he puts it again and again: You can’t fight an ideology without an ideology. President Bush believes only democracy can fight the overarching cause of jihadism that motivates the enemy in the war on terror. In fact, the use of torture really constitutes a kind of affirmation of the whole philosophy of jihadism because it shows the United States as the oppressor — as the oppressor of Muslims, as the ruthless underminer of Muslim dignity and Arab manhood — and all the other things embodied, for example, in that famous photograph from Abu Ghraib of Lynndie England holding the leash tied to the throat of the naked prisoner lying on the floor, his face contorted in agony. So there’s not only what it does to the tortured and the torturer, it’s what it does to the underlying cause of putting the U.S. forward as the democratic solution, rather than as the oppressor, which is the characterization the jihadists depend on.
Mark Danner speaks on Into the Light of Day: Torture, Human Rights, and the War on Terror. Tonight, Thursday, January 18 at 8 p.m. UCSB’s Campbell Hall, free.
How the Symposia on Torture Began
It was the Military Commissions Act that finally spurred Elisabeth Weber to take action. “The [MCA] gave President Bush the right to define torture,” Weber said recently. “Torture now means something different in almost every country in the world than it does in the United States.” Weber is a professor of comparative German literature at UCSB. The object of her anger is a congressional bill advocated by the Bush administration and signed into law in mid October. Introduced by Republican members of Congress, the Military Commissions Act allows the president to identify, imprison, and interrogate anyone he feels threatens the United States, without traditional court review. And it allows him to decide the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions, which stipulate laws and protocol for international conflicts, including the treatment and detention of prisoners.
“The Military Commissions Act and the ‘torture memos’ [memos prepared by the Department of Justice to legally define the Bush administration’s approach to interrogation] send a message to the whole society that it is okay to torture. I felt I had to say something to my students.” Most of Weber’s students “didn’t have a clue” what the Military Commissions Act was. But once they understood, she said, “they were horrified.”
To broaden the discussion, Weber and 12 of her colleagues at UCSB decided to organize a broad inquiry into U.S. government torture, which they called Torture and the Future: Perspectives from the Humanities. The series will last through June. So far, eight events are planned, as well as a film series; to view the events and learn more about the series, visit www.complit.ucsb.edu/projects/tortureandthefuture/index.html.
Democrats are eager to show they’re serious about reforming the way Congress does business. So they’re pushing a new ethics and lobbying bill that will ban gifts, meals, and free trips from lobbyists and their clients, and require that the legislative sponsors of all earmarks for pet projects be identified in the legislation.
But calling these reforms is like saying you’ve cleaned the house when all you’ve done is taken out the garbage.
The real scandal in Washington is the everyday bribery that remains legal. I’m talking about campaign contributions given for legislative favors – a particular provision in this or that bill, an amendment here, an earmarked appropriation there. Lobbyists orchestrate this contemptible process. And members of congress keep it going because the money buys television time for their re-election campaigns, and television advertising keeps them in power.
The system is out of control. It cost the average candidate three times more to run for Congress in 2006 than it did in 1990, adjusted for inflation. Members now devote most of their time to fund raising instead of representing their constituents.
The number of lobbyists in Washington has doubled over the past ten years. Now, there are 60 of them for every single member of Congress. They spent $2.4 billion last year. And at the rate they continue to spend, you can bet they’re getting every penny’s worth for their clients.
Banning gifts, meals, and junkets won’t make any difference to this everyday exchange of campaign money for legislative favors. And disclosing who sponsors what earmarks won’t reduce the amount of taxpayer dollars going to special interests because the incentives to make the deal are still there, on both sides. Under these circumstances, a disclosure is like an advertisement – look what I’ve done for my contributors! Ten years ago, there were 3,000 earmarks. Last year, there were 14,000, costing taxpayers over $47 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The problem extends beyond earmarks. Consider what happened to the Democrat’s Medicare drug bill. It was supposed to force Medicare to bargain for lower drug prices, but it doesn’t allow Medicare to remove from its approved list drugs not offered at a discount. Chalk up another one for Big Pharma and its campaign slush fund.
The only way to stop the system of legalized bribery is to cut it off at its roots. Require television and radio networks that use the public airwaves to offer candidates free time. Give public financing to candidates who agree to strict limits on fund-raising. And ban earmarks altogether. There’s no good reason why taxpayer money should be appropriated for any special interest.
The Democrats took over Congress a few weeks ago on a tidal wave of public outrage about the way business is done in Washington. But their ethics and lobbying bill won’t change the way business is done in Washington. It will only change the way it appears to be done.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Why do the Democrats fulminate against Bush’s surge but refuse to cut off funds for it? Why do they push a lobbying and ethics reform bill that doesn’t deal with the core scandal of campaign contributions for legislative favors? Why do they design a new Medicare drug benefit bill that will force Medicare to negotiate drug prices but not authorize Medicare to remove a non-discounted drug from coverage? Why do they push a minimum-wage increase that doesn’t index the minimum wage to inflation, and why are Senate Democrats so intent on tying the bill to tax favors for small business?
Because the voters who put the Dems in charge of Congress wanted change, but the Dems who took control of Congress know they (1) don’t have the votes to override a presidential veto, (2) still have lots of "blue-dog" conservative Democrats among them who don’t want change, (3) can’t do anything very dramatic without stirring up the business community – which has more lobbyists and more clout than ever before, and (4) want to show business they’re "responsible" in order to get corporate campaign contributions for 2008 and remain in power, and possibly even elect a Democrat president.
In other words, they want to create the impression of big change but not make big changes.They have to keep the Democratic base happy and fired up for 2008 and they have to keep a big distance from the failing administration of George W. Bush, but they can’t do anything that’s going to get too many corporate interests too riled up. It’s a tricky balance.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 18, 2007; A21
The announcement yesterday that the top two lawyers for the Federal Election Commission had resigned helped spread an undercurrent of concern about the diminishing role of a once-prominent public voice on the intersection of money and politics.
The stated reasons for the departures of FEC General Counsel Lawrence H. Norton and Deputy General Counsel James A. Kahl was that the two men had landed private-sector jobs at a large firm with offices in six states. Norton and Kahl, reached yesterday, said their resignations were not intended to send any broader message.
But those who monitor campaign finance law with some dedication said the departures coincided with a perceived shift in the way the commissioners have worked with the general counsel.
Paul S. Ryan, a lawyer who monitors the FEC for the Campaign Legal Center, said the general counsel was once free to opine publicly about pressing policy matters but that has not been the preference of the commissioners as of late.
"The influence of the general counsel has clearly been diminishing," Ryan said. The commissioners "no longer seek the general counsel's opinion publicly with respect to answering difficult questions of law."
Lawrence M. Noble, who served as general counsel for 13 years before leaving the FEC in 2001, said he has noticed the same trend, though he did not know if it contributed in any way to his successor's departure.
"It's fair to say the commissioners are looking less to the general counsel for policy advice than they may have previously," Noble said. "What we've seen, in certain areas, is that the general counsel's office is not coming up with recommendations as it once had, at least not publicly."
That shift, if it in fact is occurring, comes at a time when the agency will handle some vexing policy matters, including the continuing implementation of the 2002 campaign finance reforms, a persistent debate over the activities of independent groups and oversight of a presidential election that is expected to test the outer bounds of fundraising limits.
FEC Chairman Robert D. Lenhard said the commissioners, and the general counsel, will approach all of those matters in the same way they always have. He has not seen "much of a pattern or trend or evolution in the role there."
Some of those who put the FEC under a microscope "are reading too much into a couple of different cases," Lenhard said. "The general counsel is free to speak his mind in open session and in executive session."
One case under that microscope, Ryan said, examined whether political parties could raise and spend unlimited amounts of campaign money on recount drives.
When the parties asked the FEC in 2002 and 2004 to allow them to spend money that way, Ryan said, Norton's public comments opposing the idea persuaded the parties to withdraw their requests. In 2006, though, Norton made no recommendation, and the parties persevered, brokering a deal with the FEC on the issue, Ryan said.
"To me, it was an obvious sign that the general counsel was no longer being allowed to recommend a course of action," Ryan said.
Norton and Kahl dispute this analysis of why they resigned.
"I'm not shocked people would read that into our decision, but it has nothing to do with it," Kahl said.
He and Norton said they are leaving together to give the firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice a sizeable footprint in the fast-changing area of campaign finance law.
"I've had as free a hand as ever to give the commission unvarnished advice," Norton said. "I have had ample authority, all the authority I need."
A clip from a startling documentary for European television showing how the leaders in the west (and especially the US) were complicit in many of the atrocities Saddam committed over the course of his reign.
The movie is called: SADDAM HUSSEIN: The Trial The World Will Never See.
And indeed, as of yet, no one has seen this film in North America.
Lando's book, WEB OF DECEIT is a riveting and horrifying history of Western intervention in Iraq.
Shocking clip from an amazing French documentary exposing how governments and corporations in the west knowingly aided and abetted Saddam's most ruthless crimes.
The movie, by ex-60 Minutes producer Barry Lando for French TV is called "Saddam Hussein: The trial the world will never see."
Lando's book, WEB OF DECEIT is a riveting and horrifying history of Western intervention in Iraq.
We must not allow anyone to push us into a war with Iran.
Wesley Clark told Arianna Huffington about the push for war on Iran, "How can you talk about bombing a country when you won't even talk to them?" said Clark. "It's outrageous. We're the United States of America; we don't do that."
"When we asked him what made him so sure the Bush administration was headed in this direction, he replied: "You just have to read what's in the Israeli press. The Jewish community is divided but there is so much pressure being channeled from the New York money people to the office seekers.""
"For Clark, this is the biggest foreign policy issue facing the U.S. "I'm worried about the surge," he said. "But I'm worried about this even more."", Huffington wrote on her blog.
In his article, Eric Alterman warns about the push for President Bush to attack Iran. About Wesley Clark's concern that the attack is being pushed by "New York money people," Alterman writes, "I agree with Clark, but I agree that he also said what he said badly, though not anti-Semitically."
Alterman warns, "The Bush administration is clearly attempting to create a pretext to attack Iran" ... [this would result in] inciting worldwide terrorist attacks against Americans and their properties around the world, including inside the United States ... this being the Bush administration, you can count on it being done incompetently and dishonestly."
"Criticize the neocons for what they are actually doing -- or even use the word "neocon" -- and you're an anti-Semite. That means they get to keep doing it even if it means they are acting on behalf of what they believe are Israel's interests ... rather than America's."
"We saw during the Lieberman primary that The Weekly Standard actually does care more about what's good for Israel than for America -- they said American Jews should behave that way, and so do Newsweek's embarrassingly crazy Rabbi Gelman and Mona Charen and a few others. If anyone on earth thinks Marty Peretz cares more about the fate of the goyim in America than the heroes in Israel, I've never met him or her ... if you read this excellent New York Times Magazine piece on Abe Foxman, you'll get a small inkling of how the system works."
On Bloggingheads, Alterman said, "Wesley Clark, used probably some incautious language, when he said that New York money men, which many people interpret to mean Jews, were pushing us to war with Iran. However, Jews, in New York, who have a lot of money, are in fact pushing us to war with Iran. It was a factually true statement. AIPAC is pushing us to war with Iran. AIPAC is the reason that no Democrats are coming out strongly against war with Iran. AIPAC's funding is extremely wealthy American Jews and AIPAC is pushing for war with Iran. So, when people go to Democratic politicians and they say "listen, I don't want you gettin' out in front and opposing war with Iran, particularly since you have national aspirations," they don't say it in the New York Times." - Wesley Clark and the anti-Semitism charge
http://bloggingheads.tv/vid... ... (more)
Jan 12, 2007
By Bill Moyers
Delivered to the Media Reform Conference, Memphis, TN
It has long been said (ostensibly by Benjamin Franklin, but we can’t be sure) that “democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner. Liberty 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.
I salute the conviction that brought you here. I cherish the spirit that fills this hall and the camaraderie we share today. All too often the greatest obstacle to reform is the reform movement itself. Factions rise, fences are built, jealousies mount – and the cause all believe in is lost in the shattered fragments of what was once a clear and compelling vision.
Reformers, in fact, too often remind me of Baptists. I speak as a Baptist. I know Baptists.
One of my favorite stories is of the fellow who was about to jump off a bridge when another fellow runs up to him, crying: “Stop. Stop. Stop. Don’t do it.”
The man on the bridge looks down and asks, “Why not?”
“Well, there’s much to live for.”
“Well, your faith. Are you religious?”
“Me, too. Christian or Buddhist?”
“Me, too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?”
“Me, too. Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist?”
“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 1820, or Reformed Baptist Church of God Reformation of 1912?”
Whereupon the second fellow turned red in the face, shouted, “Die, you heretic scum,” and pushed him off the bridge.”
That sounds like reformers, doesn’t it?
By avoiding contentious factionalism, you have created a strong movement. I will confess to you that I was skeptical when Bob McChesney and John Nichols first raised 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 an inexorable force?
It seemed inexorable because over the previous two decades a series of mega-media mergers had swept the country, each deal even bigger than the last. The lobby representing the broadcast, cable, and newspaper industry is 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 conglomerates in the world – Goliaths whose handful of owners controlled, commodified and monetized everyone, and everything, in sight.
Call it the plantation mentality in its modern incarnation. Here in Memphis they know all about that mentality. 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 groundbreaking legislation of the mid-1960s. When Martin Luther King, Jr. 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 a people whose rights were still being trampled by an ownership class that had arranged the world for its own benefit. The plantation mentality was a phenomenon deeply insulated in the American experience early on, and it permeated and corrupted our course as a nation. The journalist of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine, had envisioned this new republic as “a community of occupations,” prospering “by the aid which each receives from the other, and from the whole.” But that vision was repeatedly betrayed, so that less than a century after Thomas Paine’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 lineup in this crisis is one that cuts deep to the foundations of government. Our democracy 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 a property right. 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. 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 and less security for a lifetime’s work. We are racially segregated in every meaningful sense except the letter of the law. And 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 someone 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 of power in favor of the powerful.” Indeed, nearly all of 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 gains in financial wealth. These households hold more than twice the share their predecessors held on the eve of the American Revolution. Of the early American democratic creeds, the anti-Federalist warning that government naturally works to “fortify the conspiracies of the rich” proved especially prophetic. So it is this that we confront today. America’s choice between two fundamentally different economic visions. As Norton Garfinkle writes in his 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 the economic security of middle-class families without restricting the ability of successful businessmen 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 to be 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 opportunity for all? In Garfinkle’s words, “When 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. We are talking about a force– media– that cuts deep to the foundation of democracy. When Teddy Roosevelt dissected the “real masters of the reactionary forces” in his time, he concluded that they “directly or indirectly control the majority of the great daily newspapers that are against us.” Those newspapers – the dominant media of the day– “choked” (his word) the channels of 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 basic 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 conglomerates. Two thirds of today’s newspaper markets 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 shift their focus in a “mainstream” direction, which means being more attentive to the establishment 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 the “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 company’s share price. More insidiously, this small group of elites determines what ordinary people do not see or hear. In-depth news coverage of anything, let alone of the problems 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 in content and perspective, so that what we see from the couch is overwhelmingly a view from the top.
The pioneering communications scholar Murray 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 can 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 how American values are perceived. 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 conservation,” “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 charging through a wire instead of blood spurting from a soldier’s ruptured veins. We have all 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 autonomy any more; now it means corporate domination and the shifting of risk from government and business to struggling families and workers. “Family values” now means imposing a sectarian definition on everyone else. “Religious freedom” now means majoritarianism and public benefits for organized religion without any public burdens. And “patriotism” now means 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 that people consume in their daily lives.
By no stretch of the imagination can we say the dominant institutions of today’s 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 interpretive, are contracting rather than expanding. I’m old fashioned in this, a hangover from my days as a cub reporter and later a publisher. I agree with Michael Schudson, one of our leading scholars of communication, 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, cable TV matters, 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, seems determined to eviscerate newspapers.” Meanwhile, despite some initial promise following the shock of 9/11, television has returned to its tabloid ways, chasing celebrity and murders – preferably both at the same time– while wallowing in triviality, banality and a self-referential view.
Worrying about the loss of real news is not a romantic cliché of journalism. It has 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 tyranny” in England (1629-1640) rested largely on government censorship operating through strict licensing laws for the publication of books. The Federalists’ infamous Sedition Act of 1798 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 freedom with the blunt instruments of the law – padlocks for the presses and jail cells for outspoken editors and writers. Over time, with spectacular wartime exceptions, the courts and the constitution have struck those weapons out of their hands. But now they’ve 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 what, in fact, 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 misnamed “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 neo-conservative 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 by a prominent beltway anchor that his responsibility is to provide officials a forum to be heard. Not surprisingly, the watchdog group FAIR found that during the three weeks leading up to the invasion, only three percent of U.S. sources on the evening news of ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, FOX, and PBS expressed skeptical opinions of the impending war. Not surprisingly, two years after 9/11, almost seventy percent of the public still thought it likely that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the terrorist attacks of that day. An Indiana school teacher told the Washington Post, “From what we’ve heard from the media, it seems like 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 buildup to the war– a propaganda feat that Saddam himself would have envied. 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.
There are many other ways the plantation mentality keeps Americans from 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, dogs and churches ablaze– for the public at large to finally 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 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-in-politics actually works, and concretely grasp the consequences for their pocket books and their lives, before they will act. Media organizations supply a lot of news and commentary, but almost nothing that would reveal 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. Whose financial interest are you serving here?”
Then there are the social costs 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 representatives– that gets in the way of unbridled greed. The broader negative consequence 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, formulaic 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 can help people weigh net 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 pooh-bahs of punditry only have to declare the world is flat for everyone to agree it is, without even going to the edge to look for themselves.
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. I’m working on a documentary about the role of the press in the run-up to the war, and over and again reporters have told me it just never occurred to them that high officials would manipulate intelligence in order to go to war.
Similarly, the question of whether our political and economic system is truly just or not is off the table for investigation and discussion by most journalists. Alternative ideas, alternative critiques, alternative visions rarely get a hearing, and uncomfortable realities are obscured, such as growing inequality, the re-segregation of our public schools, 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 fear 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 at their stooped and sweltering kin, and announce: “This can’t be the product of intelligent design. The bossman’s 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 their own story. Martin Luther King, Jr. came here to help them tell it, only to die on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. The bullet killed him, but it couldn’t kill the story. You can’t kill the story once the people start writing it.
So I’m back now where I started – and with you – will travel where the 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 in our hands the means to tell a different story than big media tells. Our story. The other story of America that says free speech is not just corporate speech, that news is not just chattel in the field, living the bossman’s story. This is the real gift of the digital revolution. The Internet, cell phones and digital cameras that can transmit images over the Internet, make possible a nation of story tellers…every citizen a Tom Paine. 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 the 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 the 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, and it’s not the product of natural forces; the media system we have been living under was created behind closed doors, where the power brokers meet 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 the advertisers took over. Despite what I teasingly told you in St. Louis the last time we were together, the star that shined so brightly in the firmament the year I was born –1934– did not, I regret to say, appear above that little house in Hugo, Oklahoma. It appeared over Washington when Congress enacted the Communications Act of 1934. One hundred times in that cornerstone or our communication policy you will read the phrase “public interest, convenience and necessity.” 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. Then the media lobby cut a deal with the government to make certain nothing would threaten the already vested-interests of powerful radio networks and the advertising industry. 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 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 that depend on their indulgence, including much of 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 words of how Wall Street views new media) “monetize” those eyeballs. Google became a partner in Time Warner, investing one billion in its AOL online service, and now Google 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 key media properties – many of them the leading online sites. The result 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 today.
So what do we do? Well, you’ve shown us what we have to do. Twice now you’ve shown us what we can do. Four years ago when FCC Chairman Michael Powell and his ideological side-kicks decided that it was OK if a single corporation owned a community’s major newspaper, 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, Consumers Union, Media Access Project, the National Association for Hispanic Journalists, and others, working closely with Commissioners Adelstein and Copps– two of the most public-spirited men ever to serve on the FCC – and began organizing public hearings across the country. People spoke up about how poorly the media was serving their communities. You flooded Congress with petitions. You never let up, and when the Court said Powell had to back off, 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.” That firm, by the way, made a bid to take over both the Tribune and Clear Channel, two mega-media companies that just a short time ago were under the corporate friendly purview of…you guessed it…Michael Powell. That whishing 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 plantations.
You made a difference. You showed the public cares about media and democracy. You turned a little publicized vote on a seemingly arcane regulation into a big political fight and public debate. Now, it’s true as Commissioner Copps has reminded us, since that battle three years ago, there have been more than 3,300 TV and radio 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, too, that even as we speak Michael Powell’s successor, Kevin Martin, put there by President Bush, is ready to take up where Powell left off and give the green light to more conglomeration. Get ready to fight. Inside the beltway plantation the media thought this largest telecommunications merger in our history was on a fast track for approval.
But then you did it again more recently – you lit a fire under 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 Bell South. Because of you, the so-called “Internet neutrality” – I much prefer to call it the “equal access” provision of the Internet – became a public issue that once again reminded the powers-that-be that people want the media to foster democracy. 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 could 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 hadn’t reckoned with this movement. FreePress and SavetheInternet.com orchestrated 800 organizations, a million and a half petitions, countless local events, legions of homemade videos, smart collaboration with allies in industry, and a topshelf 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 most powerful “new media” companies to fight for the Internet’s First Amendment ground? 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 rescued himself from the proceedings because of a conflict of interest. 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– requirements 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 offence 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. Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat, and Senator Olympia Snowe, a Republican, introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act in January of 2007, to require fair and equitable access to all content. And over in the House, those champions of the public interest – Ed Markey and Maurice Hinchley– will be leading the fight.
But a caveat here. Those other folks don’t give up so easily. Remember, this agreement is only for two years, and they’ll be back with all the lobbyists money can hire. Furthermore, 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 phone lines 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, it always wants more. And it will stop at nothing to get it. These are imperial conglomerates. Last week on his Web site mediachannel.org, Danny Schecter, 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, fronted 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 exploitative programming. They called for diversity and access for more perspectives. “It felt good,” Danny said, but “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, that’s exactly how they want us to feel – as if media and democracy is a fool’s errand. To his credit, Danny didn’t buy it. He’s never given up. Neither have some of the earlier pioneers in this movement – Andy Schwartzman, Don Hazen, Jeff Chester. Let me confess that I came very close to not 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. As Don Hazen writes in his review on Alternet this week, it’s a terrific book – “A respectful, loving, fresh, intimate 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 communications channel.”
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 unconsciousness to promote the ‘brandwashing 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 advertisers?
But this is also a hopeful book. After scaring the bejeepers out of us, as one reviewer wrote, Jeff offers a “policy agenda for the broadcast era.” Here’s 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 this movement’s mission. Media reform, yes. But as the Project in Excellence concluded in its State of the Media Report for 2006, “At many old-media companies, though not 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. 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 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 proved 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 its philosophy of universal access to all knowledge.” It means bringing broadband service to those many millions of Americans too poor to participate in the digital revolution. It means ownership for women and people of color. 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’t ignore – public affairs of which you’re a part, and a wide range of civic and cultural discourse that leaves no one out; you can have an impact here. We need to remind people that the Federal commitment to public broadcasting in this country is about $1.50 per capita compared to $28-$85 per capita in other democracies.
But there’s something else you can do. In moments of reverie, I imagine all of you returning home to organize a campaign to persuade your local public television station to start airing Amy Goodman’s broadcast of 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 movement really means business. We’ve got to get alternative content out there to people or this country’s going to die of too many lies. And the opening run down of news on Amy’s daily show is like nothing else on television, corporate or public. It’s as if you opened the window and a fresh breeze rolls over you from the ocean. Amy doesn’t practice trickle-down journalism. She goes where the silence is, she breaks the sound barrier. She doesn’t buy the Washington protocol that says the truth lies somewhere on the spectrum of opinion between the Democrats and Republicans– on Democracy NOW the truth lies where the facts are hidden, and Amy digs for them. And 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; you can get the bossman in the big house at the local station to listen.
Meanwhile, be vigilant about what happens in Congress. 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 non commercial – 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 public.
I’ll try to do my part. Last time we were together, I said to you that I should put detractors on notice. They just might 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. 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 my detractors. I wouldn’t torture them that way (I’ll leave that to Dick Cheney.) I’m coming back 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’ll succeed in this fight. The armies of the Lord are up against mighty hosts. But as the spiritual leader Sojourner Thomas Merton wrote to an activist grown weary and discouraged while 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 someone else’s story. I thought about how in time they rose up, one here, then two, then many, forging a great movement that awakened America’s conscience and brought us close to the elusive but beautiful promise of the Declaration on Independence. As we made our last approach to land, the words of a Marge Piercy poem began to form in my head, and I remembered all over again why we were coming 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 stop 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 organization. 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.
From The Moon Is Always Female, by Marge Piercy
Part 1- 32:20
Bill Moyers' address to the National Conference on Media Reform, Jan 12, 2007.
Part 2- 30:57