Thursday, April 24, 2014

Shilling for "Our" Ukraine Story

When I worked in Washington during the Nixon Administration there were not very many reporters who covered government like stenographers and propagandists.  The few who did stood out like a bikini in a nunnery.  One such type who covered the Pentagon actually left his news organization to become a flack for the Pentagon.  “He didn’t change jobs,” an old pro remarked.  “He just changed offices.”

I was reminded of that situation this week when Michael Gordon of the New York Times got caught flacking for the administration in a story about Ukraine.  On Monday Gordon and two colleagues took a handout from the Pentagon and reported it as fact.  A trove of grainy photos provided to them by government officials, Gordon et al said, proved that Russian special forces were behind the popular uprisings in eastern Ukraine. It was the lead story  on the Times front page.

An online news outfit, probably tipped by BBC, revealed the truth; the photographer who took the pictures confirmed it: the pictures  were a red herring.  The Times published an “Oops!”, albeit one buried deep in a story on page 9 Wednesday. It wasn’t the first time Gordon was caught pushing the government line.  Alone and with the infamous Judith Miller, he helped propagate the myths that led to  the invasion of Iraq.

Whereas this kind of non-journalism once was rare, now it is the standard for inside-the-Beltway “reporting.”  Simply put, if you rely on the United States mainstream media for your information, you cannot possibly know the truth about Ukraine. (Or, for that matter, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Niger, Sudan  . . . .)

Our print and electronic media either did not make mention, or buried passing references deep in their coverage, of the role played in the Maidan demonstrations in Kiev by Svoboda and Right Sector, two quasi-military, pro-Nazi parties.  We were never told about the 300 members of these two extremist groups who were sent to Poland with U.S. funds ostensibly to take part in a student exchange program.  (Never mind the 40-somethings with bushy beards and crude speech unbefitting a college student.) In fact they underwent training by NATO and the CIA in in the violent arts of guerilla war and revolution, including how to post snipers on rooftops to randomly shoot demonstrators, and leave behind false evidence to link the shootings to others.  The new, unelected “president” of Ukraine was chosen by Victoria Nuland, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Europe, and Goffrey Pyatt, U.S. ambassador to UkraIne, in consultation with Washington powers in the CIA and State and Defense Departments.  Orders also came through black channels from the armed mercenary  wings of Chevron, Exxon-Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Repsol, who have already begun sinking their squid-suckers into Ukraine’s trove of shale gas reserves — more than 42 trillion cubic feet. For their role in tossing out the democratically elected president of Ukraine — Viktor Yanukovych — the neo- Nazi parties were rewarded with the directorships of four key agencies in the putsch government. The rest of the world knows, if our people don’t, that Nuland boasted to Pyatt that the US. had invested $5 billion in the overthrow of Ukraine’s elected government.

The insatiable craw of our endless war machine — principal source of the obscene wealth of our ruling oligarchs — has to have fresh meat daily.  The neocon pols and bureaucrats who front for it and for Israel cannot forgive Vladimir Putin of Russia for heading us off from war in Syria, which they consider to be an essential stepping stone to their real goal in the Middle East — bombing Iran, Russia’s friend, into bloody submission. And so Putin — who has far cleaner hands than Obama in Ukraine — has been dutifully demonized by the American stenographers of journalism.

They don’t even bother to change offices these days.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Whose Side Are the Demons On Now?

Seldom have so few done so much to block progress for so many.

The forces allied to sabotage the P5+1 talks in Vienna about Iran’s nuclear program — Israel’s government, its political lobby in the United States (AIPAC), the bomb-bomb-bomb neocon crowd in Washington, virtually all of the U.S. mainstream media — don’t represent a majority of anything in the Middle East, but they’ve got money, they’ve got influence in the halls of Congress and the White House and they’ve got decades of mutual loathing to work with.

Ever since the post-Shah hostage crisis in 1979-81, Americans and Iranians have been demonizing one another. The American academic, William O. Beeman, dissects the process in his superb book, “The ‘Great Satan’ vs. the ‘Mad Mullahs.’” Beeman, who heads the department of anthropology at the University of Minnesota, speaks fluent Persian and has 40 years of expertise on the people and politics of the Middle East.  His book shows how leaders in both countries “used vilification of the other as a political stratagem for domestic political purposes.”

“Forces in both the United States and the Middle East,” Beeman writes, “constructed a mythological image that served to demonize the other parties in vivid terms, calculated to be immediately understood by the man on the street.”

In the United States, an electorate easily brainwashed by sound bytes and misinformation got the message. More recently,  journalists like David Sanger of the New York Times, our most prestigious newspaper, and George Jahn of the Associated Press, sole source of foreign news for most of our local papers, serve to propagate the idea that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, or is close to having one. There isn’t a scintilla of evidence to support this notion. But the evil “Mad Mullahs” image is firmly implanted in the United States.

Even The Guardian UK, now the most reliable English-language newspaper in the world, is susceptible to the influence of mutual demonization. As background to the Vienna talks, it published a timeline of Iran’s nuclear program, beginning in 1967 when the United States provided Iran under the Shah with a 5-megawatt light-water reactor for research. Some subsequent items on the timeline contained errors or misrepresentations that were caught by another US.academic with longstanding nuclear and Middle East expertise, Behrad Nakhai, Ph. D., former professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Tennessee.

The false or misleading items, with Dr. Nakhai’s comments in bold italics, follow:

 August 2002 - Iran's secret nuclear program is revealed by a rebel group, Mujahideen e-Khalq, which exposes the existence of the enrichment plant in Natanz and the heavy-water plant in Arak. Iran agrees to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Natanz and Arak plant were under construction. According to the terms of NPT  (Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which Iran is a signatory), Iran was under no obligations to report these plants to IAEA. 

July 2005 US intelligence presents the IAEA with the contents of a stolen Iranian laptop that purported to show extensive experimentation with bomb design. The laptop's provenance is unclear.

A mysterious laptop claimed to be stolen from Iran, but does not contain a single document in Persian and its content “cannot be revealed.” Only allegations.

August 2006 Ahmadinejad defies UN ultimatum to halt uranium enrichment or face sanctions, and formally opens the Arak heavy-water plant. The international community, however, refuses to help build a heavy-water reactor.

Iran merely continued its lawful activities granted by NPT. "Defies" is Western press invention.

December 2006  First round of UN sanctions are approved.

 Amid heavy arm-twisting, bribes, and promises.

 September 2009 The leaders of US, UK and France announce the discovery of an underground enrichment plant at Fordow.

 An amusing "amateurish show" at UN -- except, Iran had already informed IAEA and IAEA had announced the existence of Fordow.

November 2011 In its quarterly report, the IAEA provides more detail supporting evidence that Iran may have had a nuclear weapons program before 2004, and may have continued some work after that.

"May" on part of IAEA shows a lack of sincerity in its evaluation. No proof has been provided by IAEA so far.

In addition to Dr. Nakhai’s pointed comments about it, the Guardian’s timeline raises the question of increased pressure from the United States and Israel after Yukiya Amano of Japan replaced Mohamed El Baradei of Egypt as director of the IAEA in December, 2009.  It was Dr. El Baradei who disproved the infamous U.S. claims about Niger, Iraq and yellow cake.  A skeptic of all the American arguments for invading Iraq, Dr. El Baradei was opposed by the United States when he sought a third term as director general —even though he and the IAEA had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 "for their efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible way.” 

With Mr.El Baradei out of the way and immersed in the politics of the Arab Spring, strange things began to happen to Iran’s nuclear research apparatus.  From the Guardian timeline:

August 2010 Iranian centrifuges are hit by a computer worm, Stuxnet, reportedly developed by Israel and the US.

November 2010 Assailants on motorbikes bomb two Iranian nuclear scientists in their cars on the way to work. One dies and one survives. They are part of a string of attacks on the country's nuclear researchers. 

(My aside: Of all the players in this game, whose spies would best be able to track Iranian scientists so accurately, and want most to intimidate them?)

September 2012 The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, brandishes cartoon image of a bomb at the UN general assembly and says Iran will be close to weapons capability by the following spring or summer.

When Iran elected the reformist, Hassan Rouhani, as its new president last June, a dramatic change took place in the signals from the Muslim republic.  Demons aside, Dr. Rouhani visited New York, spoke on the telephone with Barack Obama . . . et voila! . . . an interim agreement was reached in the P5+1 talks last November that swapped curbs on Iran’s nuclear program for slight easing of the UN sanctions on Iran.

Now, the quest for a final agreement is taking place in Vienna, and Bibi and his friends are throwing everything they’ve got into the negotiating machinery in hopes of disabling it.

Demonization is still at work, and might even be succeeding.  Some recent reports out of Washington suggest that Dr. Kidglove, who was oh, so resolute about a diplomatic resolution in November, may be changing his stance and now want, like Bibi, to sabotage the Vienna talks.

And we thought Kidglove couldn't top his Ukraine blunder.



In a rare diplomatic move, the United States announced Friday that it will not issue a visa to Iran's choice as envoy to the United Nations.
“We have informed the United Nations and the government of Iran that we will not issue a visa to Mr. Aboutalebi,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said Friday. 
She was referring to Hamid Aboutalebi, who  is alleged to have participated in a Muslim student group that held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days during 1979-81.Denying visas to U.N. ambassadorial nominees or to foreign heads of state who want to attend United Nations events in the United States is virtually without precedent.
Can you spell "demonization?"

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Political Sickness of the Highest Order

The condition medical science calls Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior Disorder must be a prerequisite to running for office as a Republican.

Sufferers have far stronger and more frequent obsessions than normal folk, and their obsessions trigger uncontrollable actions that are aggressive, irrational and socially inappropriate. They can’t help themselves.

For example, House Republicans yesterday made their 52nd attempt to repeal or emasculate the Affordable Care Act, which they derisively call “Obamacare.”  Like their previous attempts it was doomed even before it was written.  Still, at the mere mention of Obamacare, a right-wing Republican is likely to melt down, compulsively shouting “death panels,” “socialism,” and other nonsense slogans.  Both the AMA and the APA reportedly are considering making Obamacare Obsession a separate and extreme subform of OCBD.

Another extreme form of the disorder that is rampant among Republicans is Benghazi Obsession. Whenever a Republican gets a whiff of a nearby progressive idea, he is likely to begin trembling and compulsively shouting “Benghazi! Benghazi!”  At our local Congressman’s office the other day, a constituent asked him about incentives for development of wind power, and he turned crimson, leaped atop his desk and yelled “Benghazi” so loud that his plastic Jesus shattered.

No amount of truth can wean an OCBD sufferer from his or her favorite obsessions.  No wonder the so-called “birthers” are being compared to the “flat-earth society.”  An acquaintance of mine developed a clean-house obsession that was so strong she ultimately stopped living in her house after it had been cleaned, so as not to muss it up. The political equivalent is the Republican governors who refuse to let their aged citizens reap the benefit of expanded Medicaid under . . . the O-word.

Some historians believe the Tax-and-Spend obsession was the earliest form  of OCBD among Republicans.  An archivist says “Tax-and-Spend Democrats” was scrawled on the walls of Lafayette Hall in Pittsburgh at the first Republican national convention in 1856. “Tax-and-Spend Democrats” ranks third behind Momma and Dada as the most frequent first words spoken by Republican infants.. To this day it ranks with “Cut the Deficit” as the most compulsive Republican response to the mere mention of Social Security.

Doctors say OCBD isn’t contagious, but as the disorder becomes more and more extreme among Republicans, it has spread across the aisles of Congress. One of the first manifestations of this was the WMD syndrome.  Under its influence, most Democrats in Congress supported the authorization to invade Iraq.  Democratic immunity to Republicans’ Endless War Obsession had been weakened by the national endemic of Terrorism Obsession, which began on Sept. 11, 2001, and still rages throughout the population.

OCBD Democrats have a Compromise Obsession that causes them to compulsively accept defeat before the battle has even begun.  That’s why President Obama capitulated to Big Pharma and Big Insurance even before the Affordable Care Act was drafted.  

Republican Sex Obsession began during the Clinton Impeachment fiasco with Special Prosecutor Ken Starr’s intense fascination with the most lurid physical details of the Lewinski-Clinton relationship. It, too, has spread across the aisle to Democrats who join Republicans’ compulsive intrusion into the most intimate and private aspects of women’s lives.

While there are many obsessions that cause compulsive and bizarre behavior by our elected leaders, the most dangerous at this moment is the Iran Obsession.  An offshoot of the larger Arab Obsession, the Iran Obsession is a cousin of the WMD madness that put us into the disastrous Iraq war.  Its most seriously afflicted sufferers, like Dick Cheney and John McCain, compulsively attach “nuclear weapons program” to any mention of Iran. Even though that Muslim republic has no nuclear weapons program and doesn’t want to have one, the OCBD crowd wants to bomb-bomb-bomb it to smithereens.

Many OCBD sufferers fly into rages when their compulsive behavior is thwarted.  If that happens to one of the many rulers around the world who do have nuclear triggers, it doesn’t really matter which side they’re on.  The world’s toast either way.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Get to Know Your Real Rulers

I have this regret: that I won’t be around to read the judgement of future historians as to when, exactly, democracy died in the United States.

This week’s 5-4 Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission wasn’t the death knell; it was simply a reminder of how relatively easily Americans forfeited their democratic tradition.  Scarcely a whimper.

What was the actual fatal blow?  Was it a single stroke, death by guillotine or lightning bolt? Was it a long slow death from many causes — unhealthy lifestyle, ingestion of small bits of countless poisons, bad air, bad water, bad food, bad government?

Forced to opine, I would probably choose the second proposition, although a strong case can be made that the Supreme Court dropped the blade with its handover of the 2000 election to George W. Bush.  We’d had terrible presidencies before but we’d never had one imposed on us by the highest court in the land. Having thus established the principle of non-democratic governance, what followed was  predictable: the series of rulings for the corporate oligarchy and against the common man of which McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission now becomes one more part in an abominable whole.

The New Yorker humorist Andy Borowitz wrote more truth than comedy in summing it up:

By a five-to-four decision, the United States Supreme Court today defended the right of the wealthiest Americans to own the United States government.”

For the record, the majority was the usual gang of five: Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas. Their earlier Citizens United ruling had opened the door for all of our “free, democratic” elections to be bought by the rich and powerful.  The few fragile restraints remaining were erased this week. A single donor can now give more than $5 million in individual contributions to every House candidate, every Senate candidate, every state party committee, every national party committee and every leadership PAC connected to one political party.

And so, my fellow citizens, understand that the rulers of your country are not Obama, Biden, Boehner, McConnell et al.  They are mere chattels, owned lock, stock and bribe by your real rulers: Walton, Koch, Scaife, Adelsen, Simmons, Schwab, Groff, Nau, Perry, Marriott, Bommer, Hubbard, Ackerman, Gramm, Thiel, Perenchio, Penske, Singer . . . .and more.  They are the billionaires who are now endowed with the inalienable right to buy as much of, or any part of, government that they choose.

With these oligarchs calling all the shots, we are destroying our economy with the costs of endless war, destroying our environment by lack of controls on polluters and land abusers, destroying our health by letting agribusiness and giant food profiteers infuse our foods with god-only-knows what kind of poisons, making basic health care and medicine unaffordable, striking every last individual right and liberty out of our Constitution, making the electoral process a laughing stock, imposing a state religion and driving increasing numbers of us into the ranks of the poor.

With democracy dead and nuclear capabilities proliferating, Noam Chomsky wondered, in a recent speech, if the United States isn’t leading all of human civilization toward doom:

“In 1995,  the U.S. Strategic Command, or Stratcom, which is in charge of nuclear weapons, published a study, 'Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence.' A central conclusion is that the U.S. must maintain the right of a nuclear first strike, even against non-nuclear states. Furthermore, nuclear weapons must always be available, because they ‘cast a shadow over any crisis or conflict.’

“Thus nuclear weapons are always used, just as you use a gun if you aim it but don't fire when robbing a store.

“Another dire peril casts its shadow over any contemplation of the future - environmental disaster. It's not clear that there even is an escape, though the longer we delay, the more severe the threat becomes - and not in the distant future. The commitment of governments to the security of their populations is therefore clearly exhibited by how they address this issue.

“To put it bluntly, in the moral calculus of today's capitalism, a bigger bonus tomorrow outweighs the fate of one's grandchildren.

“What are the prospects for survival then? They are not bright. But the achievements of those who have struggled for centuries for greater freedom and justice leave a legacy that can be taken up and carried forward - and must be, and soon, if hopes for decent survival are to be sustained. And nothing can tell us more eloquently what kind of creatures we are.”

Today, we are the kind of creatures who meekly submit to outrages like McCutcheon v. FCC.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Experts in Greed Dispute Climate Science

When the world’s largest group of climate scientists put forth another dire report about the state of our planet, Forbes magazine immediately rounded up the usual suspects to attempt to rebut it.

You’d think even a corporate mouthpiece like Forbes would have tired by now of the same old bullshit from climate change deniers like the Infamous Idsos, Joseph Bast, Siegfried F. (“Fred”) Singer,   Freeman Dyson, Pat Michaels, Steve Milloy, and James Taylor — deniers whose blatant falsehoods about climate science prompted a Rochester Institute of Technology professor to write that they “ought to be jailed.”

Singer, the editor of the so-called study that Forbes cites, first gained wealth and notoriety as the paid science shill for the tobacco industry in its long campaign to persuade the public there were no health risks in smoking. Now he gets $11,600 a month from energy-industry-funded Heartland Institute to challenge the findings of a legion of climate science experts. Singer is affiliated with 11 foundations and associations that receive funding from the likes of Exxon-Mobil, Koch brothers, the Scaife family, Shell, Uniroyal and ARCO.  How “objective” can his work on behalf these corporate interests be?

Singer’s Ph.D. is in physics. He has no formal training in climate science, nor did he have any expertise in pulmonary medicine, heart disease  or any other of the recognized health hazards associated with smoking. His B.A. was in electrical engineering.Would you trust even so eminent a physicist as Einstein to treat your heart problem? Would you allow an electrical engineer to treat your lung cancer? What gives Singer standing to dispute the most massive accumulation of climate science ever put together?

Joseph Bast, president of Heartland,  wrote the Forbes piece, which appeared under the audacious headline, “The IPCC’s Latest Report Deliberately Excludes and Misrepresents Important Climate Science.”  “Important climate science”?  By whom? Singer and Pat Michaels of the Cato Institute are among the few climate deniers with solid science credentials, although neither is a climate specialist.  Bast, himself, studied economics at the University of Chicago, but never received a degree.

The Idsos — Sherman and his sons Keith and Craig — have academic credentials in geography, soil science, botany, agronomy and physics.  No climate science.  Their work is funded by the likes of the Western Fuels Association and Exxon-Mobil.  James Taylor studied law at Syracuse University, where he was president of the student chapter of the far-right Federalist Society.  

Steve Milloy of Fox rails against climate science, just as he did (for pay from Phillip Morris) against the medical research that condemned cigarette smoking. Now he’s got an anti-climate change organization that takes money from Exxon-Mobil. Like so many of his peers in the science skepticism industry, his real expertise is in greed.

The “IPCC” in the Forbes headline, of course, is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes peer-reviewed climate science from around the world.  Its latest summary, the second of three and the work of hundreds of scientists, was released yesterday. It concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct, and the Earth is warming so rapidly that unless humans can arrest the trend, we risk becoming ''extinct'' as a species.

Helen Berry of the University of Canberra in Australia, a contributor to the report’s chapter on health risks of  global warming, told an interviewer that humans “cannot possibly evolve to match the earth’s rate of warming since the 1970s, when we started burning fossil fuels in a massive way.” The  greatest challenges will come from undernutrition and impaired child development from reduced food yields; hospitalizations and deaths due to intense heat waves, fires and other weather-related disasters; and the spread of infectious diseases. “People won't be able to cope, let alone work productively, in the hottest parts of the year,” Dr. Berry said.

The oceans are rising at a pace that threatens coastal communities and are becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the carbon dioxide given off by cars and power plants, which is killing some creatures or stunting their growth, the report said. Organic matter frozen in Arctic soils since before civilization began is now melting, allowing it to decay into greenhouse gases that will cause further warming, the scientists said. And the worst is yet to come, the scientists said. 
If emissions are allowed to continue at a runaway pace, the report said, the result will be death or injury on a wide scale,  damage to public health, displacement of people and potential mass migrations. “Throughout the 21st century,” the scientists wrote, “climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security,  prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger.” There is a risk of violent conflict over land, water or other resources, to which climate change might contribute indirectly “by exacerbating well-established drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks.”
Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the intergovernmental panel, said, “Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.”
Forbes’s spinners-in-residence like to call the ICPP scientists “alarmists” and “extremists.” But they are mankind’s last, best hope.  We ignore them at our peril.