Evolution and Eden: Integrating Genesis with Fossil Records

Friday, January 26, 2007

This week is a crucial turning point in the war. Ron Kovic

By Joshua Scheer

In an interview with Truthdig research editor Joshua Scheer, Ron Kovic, author of “Born on the Fourth of July,” argues that Americans this week have a patriotic and generation-defining duty to speak out against Bush’s proposal to escalate the war in Iraq with more U.S. troops.

Truthdig: I understand you’re very incensed by Bush’s intention to escalate the Iraq war with a troop surge.

Kovic: Absolutely. This week is a very crucial turning point in the war. We’re being led in a very reckless and dangerous direction. I don’t want to see more men and women come home like me—in wheelchairs for the rest of their lives. How many more have to die in a war that makes no sense? I feel like I’m seeing the mirror image of another Vietnam unfolding all over again, and I think we have never needed to break that silence and begin to speak more than we do now.

Truthdig: Has this war surpassed the Vietnam War in any way?

Kovic: I think President Bush plans to provoke an even wider war in the Middle East in the coming months. That’s my prediction. He is going to escalate the war by sending more troops to Iraq in a war that we cannot win—a war that is only going to cause more violence, make us even bigger targets of terrorist attacks.

Like many veterans of the Vietnam War, I’ve been in this wheelchair for almost 40 years. I’ve lived with the wounds of American foreign policy for almost four decades now. I saw American foreign policy firsthand, as did many others of my generation. And we learned the lessons of that war. I have serious doubts whether President Bush or the architects of this particular policy in the Middle East right now learned those lessons. And how many of those who are making the decision this week—how many of those talking heads, those so-called experts, who made the decision to have a troop surge, to escalate this war, to put more young men and women’s lives in harm’s way, to put more Iraqi civilians at risk—how many of them really served in a war, how many really understand the human cost of a war? How many really understand what it means to be wounded—whether you’re American or Iraqi? How many understand what it means to come home wounded? What it means to lose a son or daughter in a war? How many of them have been directly affected by this war?

Truthdig: We hear so much about “support the troops” while they’re in war. But what does it mean to support the troops when so many of them are coming back home wounded?

Kovic: I don’t see how this administration is supporting the troops when they’re clearly cutting back the budgets of the veterans hospitals around the country. That is outrageous. That is unacceptable. How can you spend billions of dollars fighting a war in Iraq and not care for those who are wounded when they come back home?

I have opposed this war from the very beginning. I was speaking out against it before it began. I sensed we were being deceived just as we were deceived during the Vietnam War. I wasn’t going to let it happen again. I made one promise to myself in 1968 after I was shot and paralyzed in Vietnam. (During those years that I was involved with the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, so I was speaking not only for myself, but for many, many other Vietnam veterans like myself who opposed that war, who went to jail with me.) We said back then, “We’re never going to allow what happened to our generation to ever happen again.” And to watch this nightmare unfold all over again....

And in particular this week, the outrage that not only I feel, but also all my brothers and sisters in the antiwar movement, and all my fellow citizens all over this country ... that outrage that all of us feel, that the majority of the people of this country oppose this war, including many of our generals and the architects of this policy.... And yet the president of the United States is acting like a dictator. He’s not listening to the people. What do we have to do? How many demonstrations do we have to have? How many hearings and investigations do we have to have before this president begins to listen to the people? Because isn’t that what America is supposed to be about?

We can make a difference, and I think this is an important week of reflection. For every single American; not just me, Ron Kovic, sitting in this wheelchair, or people who have been directly affected by the wars of this government, and who have been so grievously injured by policies that should never have been to begin with—we are more important than we realize. I think this is a week of important reflection for all of us. We have to really think about the direction this country is heading in right now. We have to ask ourselves, “Have we done enough? Have we the courage to really say what needs to be said? Have we the courage to really do what needs to be done?” Because lives are at stake, and people are dying on both sides. This is unacceptable. This is outrageous. Rather than listening to the voice of the people of the United States, and rather than listening to the Iraq Study Group’s conclusions, rather than listening to reason, the president of the United States has decided to do the exact opposite. He’s putting us all in greater danger. He’s creating the potential for a wider war, for a potential cataclysm, and he’s putting Americans’ lives in jeopardy. If the United States is attacked again, if, God forbid, there’s another 9/11, it should be directly attributed to the fact that, this crucial week, Bush decided to push forward in this very reckless agenda.

Truthdig: You really think another 9/11 will happen because of the actions Bush takes this week?

Kovic: I think the potential for another 9/11 or worse is there with this type of behavior. This is absolutely reckless. Talk to the generals. Talk to the average citizens on the street. I think there is great foreboding in this country, and I think there’s a tremendous amount of apprehension about the direction that the so-called commander in chief is leading this country in. We are making a decision that could very well affect the lives of the people of our country—not to mention the good and decent people of the Middle East, who are suffering because of this policy.

To speak out now and raise your voice against this policy, that’s what being an American is all about. That’s what patriotism is really all about. What is unpatriotic is allowing this all to happen—continuing to allow this administration to move our country into this dangerous situation that can only have consequences that I don’t even want to think about in the end. There’s going to be a sharp escalation in the rhetoric this week, and it’s going to be an opportunity for all of us as individual citizens to speak against this policy because we know it’s wrong for America, and because we know it’s hurting our troops, hurting this country. If you really love this country, if you really want to support the troops, you’re going to oppose this policy. You’re going to say: “Mr. President, you’re wrong. Mr. President, I’m just a regular citizen, I’m just a working person, but Mr. President, you’re leading us in the wrong direction. I know as a citizen that it is my right under the Constitution to speak freely and to say how I feel. And I’m not going to be intimidated by the events of Sept. 11. I sense what’s good for this country. I sense what’s wrong for this country, and you are taking a turn this week that is very dangerous. I sense, and we sense, that this direction must be altered.”

What do we have to do? Turn to civil disobedience? Well, every citizen must do what their heart tells them they must do. If you really care and love this country, you’re going to raise your voice. You’re going to speak out. You’re not going to remain silent anymore. And I think it was Martin Luther King Jr. who said in April 1967—a year before he was assassinated, during the height of the Vietnam War—“A time comes when silence is betrayal.” And the time has come in this country for us no longer to be silent. A time has come for every single one of us, whether we’re a part of academia, or whether we drive a taxi cab, or whether we’re a teacher or a professor, a time has come for every single one of us to take a stand. Whether we’re a college student in the confines of the finest universities in the country. If we have that privilege and good fortune to not be on the front lines, to not be in the war zone, we must take that step this week. And the voices must be heard. If you love this country, you’re going to step over that line that you’ve not stepped over before and you’re going to speak in a way you’ve never spoken before. You’re going to find the courage to do that.

Truthdig: During the Vietnam War, there were more protests, more arrests than we’re seeing now, even though the approval rating for the war in Iraq is very, very low. It seems people aren’t taking to the streets en masse, as your generation did 40 years ago. Would you suggest they do that?

Kovic: Absolutely. Absolutely. I’ll tell you another result of this week: We’re going to lose more American soldiers. First, let’s make clear what this troop surge really means: It means more wounded. It means more dead. It means more Iraqis killed. It means more enraged citizens from not only Iraq but all over the Middle East. This escalation is going to enrage the Middle East even more. The region is going to become even more enraged and alienated from America with this policy. We’re going to lose friends everywhere. This war has done nothing but isolate America more and more. First of all, let’s look at the fact that before this war began, one of the biggest peace movements in the history of the world took to the streets. I believe it was Feb. 15, 2003. Make no doubt about it: That could happen again. But this time, you’re going to see folks who have never demonstrated before taking to the streets of this country. They’re going to demonstrate peacefully, in the spirit of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. You may see great numbers of people in the streets before this is over with. Because the people of this country, at a certain point—and it may just be starting this week—are not just going to take this anymore. There’s going to be a tipping point, and I think we’re reaching it. I think this week will go down in history as a moment when people began to awaken to the fact that they have been terribly misled in this country.

There’s a potential for great numbers of Americans going to the streets. There’s a fierce outrage that’s growing in this country. And believe me: That outrage is going to be felt and heard by this administration. I don’t know what it’s going to take to stop this war, but I know that at a certain point—and it’s already beginning to happen—the dam is going to break, and this country is going to experience demonstrations and civil disobedience to this war in a way it’s never experienced before in its history.

Truthdig: Thanks very much.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Did you listen to Jim Webb's response to Bush? Lessons for Dems

Webb Offers the Democratic Response. . .to Hillary and Obama
by Jeff Cohen

If you watched freshman Virginia Sen. Jim Webb deliver the Democratic response to Bush’s State of the Union speech, you witnessed something historic -- a Democrat on national TV unabashedly ripping into six years of Bush rule for an uninterrupted 10 minutes.

With no O’Reilly or Hannity to disrupt or out-shout him.

Webb offered a populist, anti-corporate stand on economics and a blunt attack on Bush for “recklessly” dragging our country into the Iraq war – a sharply-worded address that must have startled millions of TV viewers accustomed to Democrat vacillation.

It was the kind of stirring appeal, both progressive and patriotic, that could win over voters at election time -- including swing voters, NASCAR dads, soccer moms, even Republican leaners. The new Senator – a novelist and former Secretary of the Navy -- reportedly discarded the speech handed him by Democratic leaders, and wrote his own.

But Webb’s speech was not just a rebuttal to Bush. It was also a pointed response to the tepid pablum that comes out of the mouths of mainstream media-anointed Democratic presidential candidates: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

TV viewers could easily see the contrast between Webb’s words and those of Clinton and Obama, since the two candidates were featured one after another on TV network after network soon after Bush and Webb. Yet they said so little.

Clinton and Obama were the only two Democrats so heavily spotlighted last night – which is how corporate media shape and bias the Democratic race while pretending to just be covering it. John Edwards appeared on a couple shows last night, and was more forceful.

Dennis Kucinich was invisible, though Webb seemed to be channeling Kucinich on economics.

In case you missed it, here’s a bit of what Webb said.

When one looks at the health of our economy, it's almost as if we are living in two different countries. Some say that things have never been better. The stock market is at an all-time high, and so are corporate profits. But these benefits are not being fairly shared. When I graduated from college, the average corporate CEO made 20 times what the average worker did; today, it's nearly 400 times. In other words, it takes the average worker more than a year to make the money that his or her boss makes in one day.

Wages and salaries for our workers are at all-time lows as a percentage of national wealth, even though the productivity of American workers is the highest in the world. Medical costs have skyrocketed. College tuition rates are off the charts. . .

In the early days of our republic, President Andrew Jackson established an important principle of American-style democracy: that we should measure the health of our society not at its apex, but at its base. Not with the numbers that come out of Wall Street, but with the living conditions that exist on Main Street. We must recapture that spirit today.

And Webb, a Marine in Vietnam, offered a blistering attack on the Iraq adventure:

The President took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command. . .and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable - and predicted - disarray that has followed.

Webb called for reversing direction in Iraq: “an immediate shift toward strong regionally-based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq's cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq.”

Webb ended his speech with references to two Republican presidents. He praised Dwight Eisenhower for recognizing the Korean War as a “bloody stalemate” and quickly bringing that war to an end.

And Webb invoked Teddy Roosevelt for standing up to “improper corporate influence” at the beginning of the 20th century:

America was then, as now, drifting apart along class lines. The so-called robber barons were unapologetically raking in a huge percentage of the national wealth. The dispossessed workers at the bottom were threatening revolt.

Whether intended or not, Webb was offering a way for Democrats to win elections -- a script for any presidential candidate who wants to distinguish him or herself in the primaries, and then defeat the Republicans in Nov. 2008.

And if taken from the realm of mere rhetoric to actual policy, a means to reform our country in a way that would give Democrats majority support for years to come.

Jeff Cohen is a media critic, recovering TV pundit and author of “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media”. He consults for Progressive Democrats of America.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Stop this egomaniac before he kills again.

The World Agrees: Stop Him


Posted on Jan 23, 2007

By Robert Scheer

Stop him before he kills again. That is the judgment of the American people, and indeed of the entire world, as to the performance of our president, and no State of the Union address can erase that dismal verdict.

President Bush has accomplished what Osama bin Laden only dreamed of by disgracing the model of American democracy in the eyes of the world. According to an exhaustive BBC poll, nearly three-quarters of those polled in 25 countries oppose the Bush policy on Iraq, and more than two-thirds believe the U.S. presence in the Middle East destabilizes the region.

In other words, the almost universal support the United States enjoyed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks has been completely squandered, as a majority of the world’s people now believe that our role in the entire world is negative.

“The thing that comes up repeatedly is not just anger about Iraq,” said Steven Kull, the director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, which helped conduct the global poll. “The common theme is hypocrisy. The reaction tends to be: ‘You were a champion of a certain set of rules. Now you are breaking your own rules, so you are being hypocritical.’ ”

More depressing, that judgment is shared by those who know us best: our allies in Britain, the only country still willing to share our sacrifices in Bush’s once ballyhooed “Coalition of the Willing.” Despite British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s dogged support of his American chum, fully 81 percent of Britons told the BBC they are opposed to U.S. actions in Iraq, while a scant 14 percent still believe the United States is a stabilizing force in the Mideast.

But it is not just our failure in that all-important region that disgraces us. Those around the world who still believe we play a positive global role has dropped to a miserable 29 percent, strikingly similar to Bush’s overall performance numbers at home, according to the most recent CBS poll. So it’s true: Bush is “a uniter, not a divider”—uniting people across the world in their opposition to his policies.

With a whopping 71 percent saying in an ABC-Washington Post poll that the country is seriously off track, the Post called it “the highest such expression of national pessimism in more than a decade.” And that’s at a time when the economy, presumed to be the all-important bellwether, is in halfway decent shape.

It’s the war, stupid, and ending it is the major concern of most Americans, while all other issues are in single digits of importance to them.

In a shocking twist, Americans are now turning to the Democrats in Congress for leadership on foreign policy. “Three in 5 Americans trust congressional Democrats more than Bush to deal with Iraq, and the same proportion want Congress to try to block his troop-increase plan,” reported the Post. That is a mandate the Democrats ignore at their own peril.

Even an increasing number of congressional Republicans, most recently Sen. John Warner of Virginia, have made it clear that ending this disastrous adventure is vital to their electoral future. Warner, along with several moderates in both parties, proposed legislation on Tuesday opposing Bush’s sending of 21,500 additional troops to Iraq.

In fact, it seems as if everyone gets it except the president and those still hunkered down with him in the White House. “They’ve backed themselves into a tough corner,” GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio told the Post, “and the problem is his continued insistence for the troop increase, which flies in the face of what 70 percent of Americans want.”

He added that it makes Bush seem to say, “I’ll listen to you, but I’ll do what I want anyway.” Hardly the message that the leader of the world’s greatest experiment in representative democracy should be sending to the world. It is a message voters in the midterm election soundly rejected, along with the association of this great country with torture and chicanery, and it is the basis of what the Post calls a mainstream America “honeymoon” with the Democrats.

Americans understand in their gut that the long-term consequences of disillusionment with democracy, here and abroad, would be disastrous. In the same way Congress repudiated an out-of-control president three decades ago, the House and Senate must show the world today that our celebrated system of checks and balances is not just a fanciful mirage.

Spreading the ideal of democracy throughout the world remains a compelling obligation of those who enjoy freedom, making this an excellent occasion to demonstrate that we still possess a system capable of holding a deceitful and egomaniacal leader accountable.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Bush's Iraq "Surge" is a Fraud

Bush's Iraq "Surge": The Fraud Exposed
by Robert Freeman

If ever proof was needed that the president's "surge" plan in Iraq is actually a ruse, a guise for something else, it came yesterday.

Five American soldiers were killed when a group of Iraqis dressed in American army uniforms penetrated a secure government compound in the Baghdad suburb of Karbala. The insurgents drove an armored GMC SUV - standard US government issue - through multiple checkpoints to enter the compound, one of the most protected areas in Iraq.

Once inside, they drove directly to a building housing security officials planning counter-insurgency activity. They opened fire on a meeting in progress, targeting only Americans. After 20 minutes of exchanged gunfire, the attackers got back in their SUV and drove away. Iraqi officials noted that the attack was striking for the sophistication of its planning and execution.

Amid all the carnage and chaos that is Iraq, why is this attack noteworthy? And what does it say about the plausibility of the president's "surge" strategy?

The attack is noteworthy because it mirrors some of the reasons for failure of the American war in Vietnam. Simply put, the US could never get the Army of South Vietnam (ARVN) to carry the burden in fighting the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army. That is why in 1965 Lyndon Johnson decided that if the war was to be won, he would have to pour in hundreds of thousands of US troops to do the fighting themselves.

The reasons for ARVN's refusal to fight were straightforward. They perfectly presage the problems with the Iraqi army today.

First, many of the soldiers in the South Vietnamese Army were themselves either indifferent or even hostile to the U.S. presence in Vietnam. They saw the damage the war inflicted on their country and wanted the U.S. to leave. They took every opportunity - sometimes passive, sometimes active - to sabotage their government's cooperation with the Americans.

Second, because promotion in the army was based not on experience or leadership but rather on loyalty, corruption, or family connections, the quality of the officer corps was exceptionally poor. Soldiers refused to put their lives at risk under the direction of inexperienced, cowardly, or corrupt officers. They routinely failed to show up for important missions and showed no initiative in the field, holding back under fire to avoid injury or death.

Finally and most importantly, the whole of the army (and the civilian bureaucracy as well) had been infiltrated by the Viet Cong. As a consequence, army maneuvers were routinely disclosed to the enemy before they ever began. This made it a near certainty that aggressive operations would be ambushed, that fighting would be fierce, and that losses would be high.

The U.S. military understood this infiltration well.

Thus, whenever possible, to preserve its own element of surprise and protect its own forces, the U.S kept ARVN out of the loop of planning for field operations.

All of these conditions apply literally unchanged in Iraq. When over 80% of the population want the Americans to leave, when more than 60% believe it is acceptable to target Americans, it is quite literally impossible to constitute an army that does not contain much of the same poisoned sentiment.

And when jobs are obtained by tribal or sectarian connections, and when the job is more a matter of a paycheck than of putting your life on the line, it is inevitable that discipline and ardor will be weak.

And the greatest vulnerability, of course, is infiltration. When everything the U.S. does - from getting food on the mess tables to the logistics of ammunition, fuel, and weapons transport - depends on the goodwill and assistance of Iraqis, the mission is already lost. For it only takes one infiltrator to doom a patrol, to sabotage a firefight, to pass killers through checkpoints as friends.

All of this is very well known to commanding officers in Iraq, all of whom have studied the reasons for U.S. failure in Vietnam. This is why the U.S. army refuses to provide any more weapons to the Iraqi army: they know they will just end up in the hands of hostile insurgents, the way the uniforms and SUV did in the firefight yesterday. The same thing happened in Vietnam. A 1967 study in the field revealed that 36% of weapons captured from Viet Cong soldiers were of American manufacture.

But if the U.S. cannot trust those it is training to take over the fighting, if it will not provide them the arms to take over the fighting, what are the odds they will be able to, in fact, take over the fighting? Of course, they are zero. For that is not really the plan.

The "surge" plan has always been a fraud. If, as president Bush has claimed, loss in Iraq would be "catastrophic for the U.S." does 21,000 troops begin to rise to the level of the purported threat? Before the war began, General Eric Shinseki told Donald Rumsfeld it would take 500,000 to 600,000 troops to secure the country. There are now 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and the bedlam vastly exceeds what it was going in. Can raising the troop level to 161,000 now possibly make any difference? It is patently a sham.

Whatever the "surge" is really for - whether it's to support an attack on Iran or just a cynical ploy to not "lose" the war on Bush's watch - it is clearly not about winning. We need to end the charade and demand an immediate reversal before the escalation becomes worse.

Robert Freeman writes about economics, history, and education. Email to: robertfreeman10@yahoo.com. His earlier piece, "Is Iraq Another Vietnam? It is Already Lost" also appeared on CommonDreams.org.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Unbelievable, bold-faced lying from Cheney and Bush, etc.

Lying Like It's 2003
By Frank Rich
The New York Times

Sunday 21 January 2007

Those who forget history may be doomed to repeat it, but who could imagine we'd already be in danger of replaying that rotten year 2003?

Scooter Libby, the mastermind behind the White House's bogus scenarios for ginning up the war in Iraq, is back at Washington's center stage, proudly defending the indefensible in a perjury trial. Ahmad Chalabi, the peddler of flawed prewar intelligence hyped by Mr. Libby, is back in clover in Baghdad, where he purports to lead the government's Shiite-Baathist reconciliation efforts in between visits to his pal Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran.

Last but never least is Mr. Libby's former boss and Mr. Chalabi's former patron, Dick Cheney, who is back on Sunday-morning television floating fictions about Iraq and accusing administration critics of aiding Al Qaeda. When the vice president went on a tear like this in 2003, hawking Iraq's nonexistent W.M.D. and nonexistent connections to Mohamed Atta, he set the stage for a war that now kills Iraqi civilians in rising numbers (34,000-plus last year) that are heading into the genocidal realms of Saddam. Mr. Cheney's latest sales pitch is for a new plan for "victory" promising an even bigger bloodbath.

Mr. Cheney was honest, at least, when he said that the White House's Iraq policy would remain "full speed ahead!" no matter what happened on Nov. 7. Now it is our patriotic duty - politicians, the press and the public alike - to apply the brakes. Our failure to check the administration when it rushed into Iraq in 2003 will look even more shameful to history if we roll over again for a reboot in 2007. For all the belated Washington scrutiny of the war since the election, and for all the heralded (if so far symbolic) Congressional efforts to challenge it, too much lip service is still being paid to the deceptive P.R. strategies used by the administration to sell its reckless policies. This time we must do what too few did the first time: call the White House on its lies. Lies should not be confused with euphemisms like "incompetence" and "denial."

Mr. Cheney's performance last week on "Fox News Sunday" illustrates the problem; his lying is nowhere near its last throes. Asked by Chris Wallace about the White House's decision to overrule commanders who recommended against a troop escalation, the vice president said, "I don't think we've overruled the commanders." He claimed we've made "enormous progress" in Iraq. He said the administration is not "embattled." (Well, maybe that one is denial.)

This White House gang is so practiced in lying with a straight face that it never thinks twice about recycling its greatest hits. Hours after Mr. Cheney's Fox interview, President Bush was on "60 Minutes," claiming that before the war "everybody was wrong on weapons of mass destruction" and that "the minute we found out" the W.M.D. didn't exist he "was the first to say so." Everybody, of course, was not wrong on W.M.D., starting with the United Nations weapons inspection team in Iraq. Nor was Mr. Bush the first to come clean once the truth became apparent after the invasion. On May 29, 2003 - two days after a secret Defense Intelligence Agency-sponsored mission found no biological weapons in trailers captured by American forces - Mr. Bush declared: "We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories."

But that's all W.M.D under the bridge. The most important lies to watch for now are the new ones being reiterated daily by the administration's top brass, from Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney on down. You know fiasco awaits America when everyone in the White House is reading in unison from the same fictional script, as they did back in the day when "mushroom clouds" and "uranium from Africa" were the daily drumbeat.

The latest lies are custom-made to prop up the new "way forward" that is anything but. Among the emerging examples is a rewriting of the history of Iraq's sectarian violence. The fictional version was initially laid out by Mr. Bush in his Jan. 10 prime-time speech and has since been repeated on television by both Mr. Cheney and the national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, last Sunday and by Mr. Bush again on PBS's "NewsHour" on Tuesday. It goes like this: sectarian violence didn't start spiraling out of control until the summer of 2006, after Sunni terrorists bombed the Golden Mosque in Samarra and forced the Shiites to take revenge.

But as Mark Seibel of McClatchy Newspapers noted last week, "the president's account understates by at least 15 months when Shiite death squads began targeting Sunni politicians and clerics." They were visible in embryo long before that; The Times, among others, reported as far back as September 2003 that Shiite militias were becoming more radical, dangerous and anti-American. The reasons Mr. Bush pretends that Shiite killing started only last year are obvious enough. He wants to duck culpability for failing to recognize the sectarian violence from the outset - much as he failed to recognize the Sunni insurgency before it - and to underplay the intractability of the civil war to which he will now sacrifice fresh American flesh.

An equally big lie is the administration's constant claim that it is on the same page as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as we go full speed ahead. Only last month Mr. Maliki told The Wall Street Journal that he wished he "could be done with" his role as Iraq's leader "before the end of this term." Now we are asked to believe not merely that he is a strongman capable of vanquishing the death squads of the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr, his political ally, but also that he can be trusted to produce the troops he failed to supply in last year's failed Baghdad crackdown. Yet as recently as November, there still wasn't a single Iraqi battalion capable of fighting on its own.

Hardly a day passes without Mr. Maliki mocking the White House's professed faith in him. In the past week or so alone, he has presided over a second botched hanging (despite delaying it for more than two weeks to put in place new guidelines), charged Condi Rice with giving a "morale boost to the terrorists" because she criticized him, and overruled American objections to appoint an obscure commander from deep in Shiite territory to run the Baghdad "surge." His government doesn't even try to hide its greater allegiance to Iran. Mr. Maliki's foreign minister has asked for the release of the five Iranians detained in an American raid on an Iranian office in northern Iraq this month and, on Monday, called for setting up more Iranian "consulates" in Iraq.

The president's pretense that Mr. Maliki and his inept, ill-equipped, militia-infiltrated security forces can advance American interests in this war is Neville Chamberlain-like in its naiveté and disingenuousness. An American military official in Baghdad read the writing on the wall to The Times last week: "We are implementing a strategy to embolden a government that is actually part of the problem. We are being played like a pawn." That's why the most destructive lie of all may be the White House's constant refrain that its doomed strategy is the only one anyone has proposed. Administration critics, Mr. Cheney said last Sunday, "have absolutely nothing to offer in its place," as if the Iraq Study Group, John Murtha and Joseph Biden-Leslie Gelb plans, among others, didn't predate the White House's own.

In reality we're learning piece by piece that it is the White House that has no plan. Ms. Rice has now downsized the surge/escalation into an "augmentation," inadvertently divulging how the Pentagon is improvising, juggling small deployments in fits and starts. No one can plausibly explain how a parallel chain of command sending American and Iraqi troops into urban street combat side by side will work with Iraqis in the lead (it will report to a "committee" led by Mr. Maliki!). Or how $1 billion in new American reconstruction spending will accomplish what the $30 billion thrown down the drain in previous reconstruction spending did not.

All of this replays 2003, when the White House refused to consider any plan, including existing ones in the Pentagon and State Department bureaucracies, for coping with a broken post-Saddam Iraq. Then, as at every stage of the war since, the only administration plan was for a propaganda campaign to bamboozle American voters into believing "victory" was just around the corner.

The next push on the "way forward" propaganda campaign arrives Tuesday night, with the State of the Union address. The good news is that the Democrats have chosen Jim Webb, the new Virginia senator, to give their official response. Mr. Webb, a Reagan administration Navy secretary and the father of a son serving in Iraq, has already provoked a testy exchange about the war with the president at a White House reception for freshmen in Congress. He's the kind of guy likely to keep a scorecard of the lies on Tuesday night. But whether he does or not, it's incumbent on all those talking heads who fell for "shock and awe" and "Mission Accomplished" in 2003 to not let history repeat itself in 2007. Facing the truth is the only way forward in Iraq.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Can Psychologists participate in coercive interrogation: views of APA candidates

anuary 21, 2007

American Psychological Association Presidential candidates on coercive interrogations

By Stephen Soldz

During the campaign for the 2008 Presidency of the American Psychological Association the candidates were asked a series of questions, based on the most frequent submissions from members. One of these questions concerned APA policy toward psychologist participation in coercive interrogations. The question was:

Do you think APA should have an explicit policy, including sanctions, against members enabling/participating in/advising about the coercive interrogation of prisoners/enemy combatants?


The good news is that all five candidates tried to appear be against participation in coercive interrogations. This suggests that all these candidates assumed that the APA membership is clearly against psychologist participation in coercive interrogations.

However, two of the candidates -- Stephen Ragusea and James Bray -- subtly changed the topic to whether APA was against "torture," a policy long adopted by APA and reiterated in their 2006 Resolution Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. As usual, the devil, and in this case it is a real devil, is in the details. The question is what actually is going on at Guantanamo and elsewhere and whether it falls under the terms of the Resolution. According to the UN Committee on Torture, unlimited detention without trial is itself an instance of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment:

The Committee, noting that detaining persons indefinitely without charge, constitutes per se a violation of the Convention, is concerned that detainees are held for protracted periods at Guantánamo Bay, without sufficient legal safeguards and without judicial assessment of the justification for their detention.

In contrast, the APA has used fine-sounding its Resolution Against Torture as a fig leaf to cover psychologist participation in coercive interrogations while resolutely refusing to conduct any kind of investigation of what psychologists actually are doing to detainees.

As the evidence mounts that the purpose of psychologists in the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams [BSCTs] is precisely to exploit detainee weaknesses to break down detainees [see The Experiment, Torture Teachers, Inside the Interrogation of Detainee 063, Secret Orcon Interrogation Log Detainee 063, Gitmo Interrogations Spark Battle over Tactics, and Can the '20th hijacker' of Sept. 11 stand trial?], the APA maintains a fiction that they are struggling against interrogator "behavioral drift" into torture or other abusive behavior. In fact, the APA went even further: it secretly appointed several of the trainers of these BSCTs to a special Presidential Task Force [the PENS task Force] to form association policy on interrogations.

Thus, the details matter greatly, and Ragusea's and Bray's good-sounding but equivocal responses would have had the effect of allowing the status quo of psychologist participation in abusive interrogations to have continued unhindered. What is needed now is not fine-sounding words against "torture," that sound like mom and apple pie, but clear, unequivocal action against the continuing participation of psychologists in the the insult to human rights that occurs daily in Guantanamo and numerous other detention centers around the world.

One of the advocates of a strong, unequivocal approach, Alan Kazdin, won the election and is now President-Elect, set to take the Presidency in January 2008. Hopefully the APA membership will have exerted so much pressure that the issue of psychologist participation in coercive interrogations will be settled by then. But if not, we must be ready to keep the pressure on Dr. Kazdin to make sure he keeps his promises as he becomes part of the APA leadership and is subject to the multiple pressures that will undoubtedly be exerted upon him to "become reasonable" and not threaten the numerous ties between the APA and the military and intelligence communities.

It is encouraging that, during the campaign, Dr. Kazdin responded to an email from me on this issue by stating:

I agree with you. We needed swifter an unequivocal action. Among the issues, the organization of APA, i.e., how it is structured, can dilute action and swift action and we look like we are not doing much. I am eager to take a stronger position--there is only one moral ground here and it hurts us not to lead.

I am eager in hearing more from you in relation to this issue but also other issues. Not so clear what a president can do at APA, but I have the energy to try to make a difference and to bring issues to the fore that will genuinely help people world wide.

An APA President may not be able to accomplish much on his own. We have to make sure that President Kazdin has an energized membership behind him on this issue.

Here are the responses of the five candidates:

"Dr. Pauline Wallin: Now onto our last question and I want to thank the audience who is with us and again the recording will be posted on the APA website and you will get notification of that. Our last question is quite complex so please listen: Do you think APA should have an explicit policy, including sanctions, against members enabling/participating in/advising about the coercive interrogation of prisoners/enemy combatants? Dr. Ragusea.

Dr. Stephen Ragusea: The short answer is absolutely yes. I think that APA tried to provide a complex answer to this issue a few months ago and got ourselves in a public relations mess even though our heart and minds were in the right place. People who are listening should know that in August, at the Convention, the Council Representatives passed a very complex resolution addressing this issue that essentially clearly established that APA is against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments or punishment. I think that we need to send as clear and concise a message as we can to the world that we are against these things. I think the resolution that was passed by the Council should become integrated with our ethical standards and people who violate that ethical standard as well as all the other ethical standards have steps that are taken against them to address that violation of our standards. This is a critically important issue. Psychology should have nothing to do with torture. We should be seen as the antithesis, the antonym to it, not in anyway synonymous with the concept of torture. Thank you.

Dr. Pauline Wallin: Thank you, Dr. Ragusea. Dr. Bingham, do you think APA should have an explicit policy, including sanctions, against members enabling/participating in/advising about the coercive interrogation of prisoners/enemy combatants?

Dr. Rosie Phillips Bingham: Yes, psychologists should not be engaged in any kind of coercive interrogation. We are a healing science and practice profession. We should not be participating in and/or advising in anyway coercive practices. In fact, we should be issuing statements on peace. We should be telling people how to get along and how to help each other. We should make even stronger the resolution that we passed. And I stood on Council. We should make that even stronger. We need to stand up and stand out and be against torture. We do need to go through our ethical process and right now there are members of the division of social justice working on some wording to offer up to the membership to put into our ethics code and I firmly believe that what we must do then is follow the ethics code. We can't sanction without having it in the code. And do you know the other thing I absolutely believe is that the threat of sanctions should not be the thing that helps us live up to what we believe in as psychologists. We ought to be well beyond a sanction. We really need to take seriously our call to do no harm. Psychologists must do no harm and beyond that we must light the way to peace.

Dr. Pauline Wallin: Thank you, Dr. Bingham. Dr. Bray, do you think APA should have an explicit policy, including sanctions, against members enabling/participating in/advising about the coercive interrogation of prisoners/enemy combatants?

Dr. James Bray: Yes, the APA has a long history of being on record against this as we have already heard APA Council reaffirmed this during the August 2006 meeting and I strongly support this policy. As a family psychologist, we know that from both research and practice that coercive behavior is destructive and does not lead to good outcomes for any human being. It's my belief that psychologists should be about enhancing people's lives and not tearing them down and we should take a strong stance about this issue. This question exemplifies some of the important social policies work that psychologists engage in. Through the work of the Public Education Directorate at APA, divisions like the division for social justice and state associations, we need to continue to provide research based support for changes in social policy that improve the health and well-being of our nation and I look forward to doing that as APA president and I thank you for hanging in there and listening us.

Dr. Pauline Wallin: Thank you Dr. Bray. Dr. Kazdin, do you think APA should have an explicit policy, including sanctions, against members enabling/participating in/advising about the coercive interrogation of prisoners/enemy combatants?

Dr. Alan Kazdin: I think that APA definitely should have a policy and this is in keeping with our long history of concern for human rights. The violations in the world in general that are going on are apart from torture are so extensive that we need to get this policy worked out and handle the abuse of women world wide, the abuse of children world wide. This is a part of a larger issue for me. We need a policy and, of course, we need sanctions as part of our ethical codes as well. I would like to see APA have such a policy that it's a guideline that is really adopted by other organizations. The APA Publication Manual, as it were, of the ethical guidelines moving to a higher level and a higher plain. I think we need to really integrate this and take an unequivocal look on what we are doing. At the same time, there is more we should do on the other side, as Dr. Bingham said, which is a stronger commitment to peace, a stronger commitment to non-coercion. What can we do to help achieve world-wide peace, national goals that do not involve coercion at all and this is what psychology can do to fill out the other side of this. Thank you.

Dr. Pauline Wallin: And finally, Dr. Newcombe, do you think APA should have an explicit policy, including sanctions, against members enabling/participating in/advising about the coercive interrogation of prisoners/enemy combatants?

Dr. Nora Newcombe: Yes. Some time ago Mike Dukakis got himself in a lot of trouble by saying he was a card carrying member of the ACLU, but I am proud to say, and I think I won't get in trouble with this audience, that I have been for many years a card carrying member of Amnesty International and I was actually quite shocked to find that this was a matter of any kind of debate within APA and to realize that over the winter there was an APA taskforce that actually did not recommend what I considered to be a strong enough position for the APA, so I was very heartened to hear and to read what came out of Council this past August. Even so I think there is a remaining area of ambiguity that concerns the issue of what extent we're subscribing to the current laws and practices in the United States which I consider far too weak and far too lenient and far too allowing of torture. But rather, we could instead subject ourselves to the commandments of the Geneva Convention and the international bodies that regulate this. I think that we should unequivocally go with the international standards. I was quite dismayed actually to see in the Council resolution any mention of the McCain amendment and so forth, all of that is too weak in my opinion."

Authors Website: http://soldzresearch.com/stephensoldz

Authors Bio: Stephen Soldz is psychoanalyst, psychologist, public health researcher, and faculty member at the Institute for the Study of Violence of the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis. He is a member of Roslindale Neighbors for Peace and Justice. He maintains the Psyche, Science, and Society blog.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Life off the Plantation, by Bill Moyers, Jan 12 address to Media Refrom group in Memphis

Published on Wednesday, January 17, 2006 by CommonDreams.org
Life on the Plantation
by Bill Moyers
Delivered to the Media Reform Conference, Memphis, TN
January 12, 2007

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.”

“Like what?”

“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
Copyright (c) 1980 by Marge Piercy

Bill Moyers, Chairman of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy delivered these remarks at the Media Reform Conference on January 12, 2007 in Memphis, Tennessee.