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In the summer of 1951, Senator Joe McCarthy's burgeoning red scare had intimidated not just official Washington but the nation's media. Free speech was taking a hit everywhere, but especially in McCarthy's home state of Wisconsin, where the senator had been peddling his politics of fear for years. It was in this context that John Patrick Hunter, a new reporter for The Capital Times, a newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin that had frequently tangled with McCarthy, was assigned to write a Fourth of July feature story. Stuck for an idea, Hunter grabbed a copy of the Declaration of Independence from the office wall, and said to himself, "This is real revolutionary. I wonder if I could get people to sign it now."
Hunter typed the preamble of the Declaration, six amendments from the Constitution's Bill of Rights and the 15th amendment into the form of a petition. Then, he headed to a park where families were celebrating the Fourth. Of the 112 people he approached, 20 accused Hunter of being a communist. Many more said they approved of sentiments expressed in the petition but feared signing a document that might be used by McCarthy, who frequently charged that signers of petitions for civil rights, civil liberties or economic justice were either active Communists or fellow travelers. Only one man recognized the historic words and signed his name to the petition.
Hunter's petition drive became a national sensation. Time magazine, The Washington Post and, of course, The Nation cited it as evidence of the damage done by McCarthy and his 'ism to the discourse. President Harry Truman called The Capital Times to praise the paper and cited Hunter's article in a speech. Hunter and his colleagues on The Capital Times would battle McCarthy for the next six years, gathering evidence of wrongdoing and deception that would eventually embolden other journalists and help shift the political climate sufficiently to permit the Senate's censure of the red-baiting senator.
After McCarthy died in 1957, Hunter continued to champion the free speech rights of civil rights activists, antiwar protesters and anti-apartheid campaigners. Until his death this past November 26 at age 87, he maintained that it was the job of journalists -- especially those working on small-town and regional dailies far from Washington and New York -- not merely to report the news, but also to defend democracy and the liberties that underpin it. In his last years, Hunter fretted that the consolidation and homogenization of media was robbing the nation of maverick journalistic voices. And he worried a lot about the state of our civil liberties.
Even as his health failed him, Hunter could be stirred to high passion by the mention of Attorney General John Ashcroft's name. He despised the Patriot Act, the internment of immigrants and other assaults on individual liberty crafted by Ashcroft and his ilk in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. He even talked about dusting off his 1951 petition and taking it out on another July 4. "The thing is to remind people that when these bastards take away anyone's freedom, we're all threatened," Hunter told me a few months before he died. "In the 1950s it was McCarthy. Now it's Ashcroft. Same fight."
George W. Bush's Thanksgving Day campaign stop in Baghdad said everything that needed to be said about the success of the US occupation of Iraq. The president, who likes to refer to the invasion of Iraq as a mission of liberation, traveled in secret, arrived unannounced and with plane lights dimmed, remained closeted at the heavily guarded Baghdad International Airport for 150 minutes and then hightailed it out of the country before the Iraqi people knew their liberator was among them.
It was hardly a triumphal visit. Yet, the Bush political team could count on the cheerleading squads that have taken over the so-called "news departments" of the nation's television networks to hail the tarmac tap in Baghdad as "dramatic," "courageous" and "historic." "What the president did today was show he was willing to put himself in harm's way, like the troops," chirped CNN commentator Douglas Brinkley, whose enthusiasm was echoed on every Thanksgiving night news report. ABC's World New Tonight devoted the better part of 15 minutes to breathless reporting on the trek, closing off with an apparently serious recreation of the President's not-exactly-harrowing transit from his ranch in Crawford to the airport in Waco, Texas.
For realistic reporting on the President's tour of a completely secure airport hangar in Baghdad, Americans were again forced to turn to foreign news sources. Beyond the borders of the United States, practioners of a craft called journalism treated the trip with the respect it was due. While US commentators babbled on about how the President had erased the embarrassing image of himself bundled into a flightsuit for that "Mission Accomplished" photo op in May, international reporters sought out honest assessments, such as that of Mahmoud Othman, a member Iraq's governing council. "(Bush's) visit cannot be considered as a visit to Iraq," Othman told Britain's Guardian newspaper. "It was really a visit to an American military base in the country to boost the morale of the troops." Another member of the governing council told the Guardian that the "excessive secrecy" surrounding the presidential trip could end up strengthening the image not of the US but of the insurgents opposing the US occupation. "They will be able to boast that they forced the most powerful man in the world to come in through the back door," the governing council member explained.
London's Independent newspaper referred to the Baghdad visit as a "lightning public relations strike on Baghdad" designed to provide the president "with powerful television imagery with which to launch his reelection campaign next year." In a report headlined, "The Turkey Has Landed," The Independent explained to British readers that the trip was organized "to secure valuable prime-time television coverage on Thanksgiving Day, featuring pictures of a determined president rallying his troops after a grim month in which 70 lives have been lost."
Perhaps anticipating the worshipful reporting of the US media, the Times of London simply characterized the trip as "one of the most audacious publicity coups in White House history."
If anything, the British press was generous. Beirut's Al-Mustaqbal newspaper bluntly announced, "Bush's secret visit to Baghdad opens the presidential election season." In Paris, the newspaper Liberation described the Thanksgiving Day jaunt as an "electoral raid on Baghdad" arranged because "Bush knows that Iraq could become the Achilles heel of his (reelection) campaign." Italy's La Republica characterized the President's two-and-a-half hours in Baghdad as "obviously an electoral blitz, a Hollywood style stunt of the kind we will see again and again throughout the (2004) campaign."
Madrid's El Mundo, a conservative newspaper that is frequently friendly to US policies, dismissed the presidential juggernaut as "a publicity stunt which will not solve the problem of Iraq." Barcelona's Vanguardia newspaper was even rougher, declaring that, "George W. Bush does not attend the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq, but has dinner in Baghdad with those who dream of coming home alive."
In fairness, however, it should be noted that at least one foreign media outlet has commented favorably on Bush's travels. The only Arab journalists allowed to witness Bush's banquest in Baghdad were from the Al-Iraqiya television station. Their report was every bit as enthusiastic as the coverage that appeared on US television. It should, perhaps, be noted that Al-Iraqiya is funded by the Pentagon as part of the Iraqi Media Network (IMM), a television and radio initiative set up to provide positive news about the occupation and the US-led Civilian Provisional Authority (CPA).
Of course, as Don North, who quit his post as a trainer and adviser at Al-Iraqiya, noted, "IMM has become an irrelevant mouthpiece for CPA propaganda, managed news and mediocre foreign programs."
That's a troubling assessment of Pentagon-financed media in Iraq. What's even more troubling is that, considering the irrelevant, managed and mediocre coverage of the President's trip to Baghdad that aired on CNN, Fox, ABC and other networks, it is clear that the assessment applies as well to US media.
"The truth is the truth. Not just the government's truth or the church's truth or the truth that won't upset the advertisers and stockholders but THE TRUTH and the TRUTH is that when the very institutions that we depend on to inform us and guide us omit any part of the truth for any reason whatsoever then that is called a lie." -- Steve Earle
Furious with the Bush Administration's deceptions, and even more furious with the failure of major media outlets to expose and challenge those deceits, thousands of Americans are chanting, "Tell us the truth!" Their cries are being met not with the stony silence of Washington but with a protest chorus that mixes rock, rap, folk, soul and alt-country into a call to arms.
The Tell Us the Truth Tour has set the sentiments of millions of angry Americans to music, and taken the show on the road. Traveling by bus across the eastern United States on a tour that began November 7 in Madison, Wisconsin and will finish November 24 in Washington, some of the most innovative artists in American music -- and a comrade from Britain -- are raising a ruckus about the Bush administration's push for greater media consolidation and for international economic policies that are devastating the economies of both the U.S. and its trading partners.
"Media consolidation needs smashing and globalization needs unmasking," says Tom Morello, the guitarist for Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, who has joined the tour along with keyboardist Mike Mills of REM, British folk rocker Billy Bragg, genre-bending singer-songwriter Steve Earle, rapper Boots Riley of The Coup and Lester Chambers of the Chambers Brothers. They'll be joined at a number of later shows by singer Jill Sobule and comedian Janeane Garofalo, and perhaps by other artists. Morello, who is performing as The Nightwatchman on the tour, sums up the sentiments of the musicians who have donated their time to the effort by explaining that, "When presidents and politicians lie, it is the job of the press to expose those lies. When the press fails, the lie becomes the law. The point of the Tell Us the Truth Tour is to help others make connections, and to show them that activism can change the policies of this country."
The core group kicked off the tour at the National Conference on Media Reform in Madison, Wisconsin, where AFL-CIO President John Sweeney joked during his remarks about "opening for Billy Bragg" and a crowd of 1,700 ended the first night of the conference dancing to a version of the Chambers Brothers 1968 hit Time Has Come Today that featured Chambers and Riley trading vocals and chanting, "Now the time has come... to tell us the truth."
Bragg, who has gained international acclaim for his work with the family of Woody Guthrie to put music to lyrics that were left without tunes at the time of the folk music legend's death, helped organize the tour and has insisted from the start that the music be as strong as the message. "Bush is a serious threat, not just to America but to the world," says Bragg, who gave up a chance to join protests against the President's visit to Britain this week in order to join the tour. "We're talking about that threat, the message will get through. But this isn't a seminar. This is a show, we want people dancing, singing, getting into the music."
People are doing just that. While Bragg performs overtly political songs, such as his anti-WTO epic "NPWA (No Power Without Accountability)," he also does favorites such as "Waiting for the Great Leap Forward" and "Sexuality." Earle offers up a sampling of his recent songs, including the brilliant "John Walker's Blues." Playing acoustic guitar, Morello sings new songs, some written in preparation for the tour. Riley raps and Chambers turns in brilliant blues performances. Mills even straps on a guitar and sings, trying out a great version of Macy Gray's "I Try" at some shows. Invariably, the highlights each night are the ensemble performances, featuring all the musicians. In addition to "Time Has Come Today," the group has perfected a remarkable song cycle that begins with Chambers singing Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" and then slides into Bragg singing Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey," samples some Marvin Gaye and then closes with the whole group joining Chambers again to sing: "People get ready, there's a train comin'/You don't need no baggage, you just get on board."
The music is so good at times that it is, indeed, easy to forget the politics. But the message never gets lost. Working with the AFL-CIO, Common Cause, Free Press, the Future of Music Coalition and Morello's Axis of Justice, the tour features at every stop information about the current fight to block Federal Communications Commission rule changes that would further media consolidation and the struggle to prevent corporations and the Bush administration from undermining workers rights, human rights and the environment by developing a Free Trade Area of the Americas. And, while the emphasis is on entertainment, the band members frequently draw the show back to fundamental, and often dramatic, messages. Morello closes his set in silence, holding a clenched fist above his head as, invariably, the crowd erupts in thunderous applause. But most nights the loudest sound of all are those chants of "Tell us the truth!" Riley says that's the signal to him that the crowds understand what is at stake, and what the struggle is about. "All we're doing is bringing people some more information, telling them how to get connected with these movements and getting them energized," says Riley.
After performing Sunday night in Atlanta (Variety Playhouse) and Monday night in Tampa (Tampa Theater), the tour will hit Miami where, on Wednesday night, it will join the People's Gala for Global Justice. The Gala, one of a number of protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas Ministerial being held this week in Miami, is expected to draw more than 10,000 people. After Miami, the tour roars up the east coast to the Philadelphia area (Keswick Hall: November 21), New York (Webster Hall: November 22), Boston (Berklee Performance Center: November 23) and, finally, Washington, DC (930 Club: November24).
In Washington, the tour will perform at the 930 Club, not far from the White House. Morello says they will bring some bad news to the current occupant. "I'm certain Bush won't be reelected," explains the activist musician. "From the economy being in the toilet to American kids dying every day in a war we should never have gotten into, that's not a very solid resume. All of his personal jack-assed-ness aside, the one thing that was clear at the end of the day is that The Dixie Chicks were right. They had every right to be embarrassed that that guy is from Texas."
-- For more information on the Tell Us the Truth Tour, and information on how to obtain tickets to upcoming shows, visit the official website at www.tellusthetruth.org
-- For more information on Morello's political work, check out the www.axisofjustice.org website. For more information on Billy Bragg, go to the www.billybragg.co.uk website. For more information on Steve Earle, go to the www.steveearle.com website. All of these websites contain details regarding the Tell Us the Truth Tour.
-- With Robert W. McChesney, John Nichols is a co-founder of Free Press, the media reform network that organized the National Conference on Media Reform. The Free Press website is www.mediareform.net
In 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson sought a major supplemental appropriation to fund the rapidly expanding US presence in Vietnam, ten members of Congress said "no." The group, all Democrats, included three US Senators--Oregon's Wayne Morse, Alaska's Ernest Gruening and Wisconsin's Gaylord Nelson--and seven members of the House: Californians Phil Burton, George Brown and Don Edwards, New Yorkers Bill Ryan and John Dow, Oregon's Edith Green, and a newly-elected representative from Detroit, Michigan, named John Conyers.
Of the ten, only Conyers remains in the Congress. And, on Friday, he again cast his vote against a presidential demand for the appropriation of money to fund a distant war that critics have begun to refer to as a "quagmire." A fierce critic of the Bush Administration's domestic and international policies -- Conyers likes to say, "We need a regime change in the United States" --the Congressman voted against the Bush Administration's request for an $87 billion supplemental appropriation, most of which will be used to fund the continued occupation of Iraq. "(The Administration is) adding $87 billion on top of the $67 billion already spent, and there is no end in sight," Conyers said, echoing his criticism of appropriations for Vietnam
When he voted against the Iraq appropriation, however, Conyers had a lot more company.
One hundred and thirty-seven members of the Congress -- 125 in the House and 12 in the Senate -- resisted the Administration's demand for the $87 billion. While the vote against the appropriation was insufficient to stop the war, it served as a signal that opposition to the US occupation of Iraq is more politically potent than analysts with short memories of past fights over military funding fights would have Americans believe.
Among the dozen senators who opposed the $87 billion appropriation were the chamber's two senior members, Democrats Robert Byrd, of West Virginia, and Edward Kennedy, of Massachusetts, both of whom supported that 1965 Vietnam appropriation. Byrd, whose passionate opposition to the Iraq war made him something of a hero to young activists, left no doubt about his feelings during Friday's debate. Comparing the Administration's promotion of the war in Iraq with Nazi Reich Marshall Hermann Goring's propaganda before and during World War II, Byrd declared, "The emperor has no clothes. This entire adventure in Iraq has been based on propaganda and manipulation. Eight-seven billion dollars is too much to pay for the continuation of a war based on falsehoods."
Kennedy and Byrd were joined by nine Democrats, California's Barbara Boxer, North Carolina's John Edwards, Florida's Bob Graham, Iowa's Tom Harkin, South Carolina's Ernest Hollings, Massachusetts' John Kerry, New Jersey's Frank Lautenberg, Vermont's Patrick Leahy and Maryland's Paul Sarbanes. Vermont Independent Jim Jeffords joined them in voting "no." Notably, Harkin, Edwards and Kerry voted for the October, 2002, resolution that Bush used as an authorization to invade Iraq.
Edwards and Kerry, both Democratic presidential candidates, have taken hard hits on the campaign trail for their support of last year's resolution. On Thursday, they sided with Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich in opposing the $87 billion spending scheme. Kucinich, the only Democratic presidential candidate who voted against the October, 2002, resolution, again helped to organize House opposition to the war.
"We must end the occupation," Kucinich, a representative from Ohio, said of the $87 billion request. "Seventy-seven percent of these funds would go for an occupation that is unjust and counterproductive. The Iraq occupation destabilizes an already turbulent region, and we should not risk the death of a single additional American soldier to perpetuate it."
In the House, Kucinich was one of 118 Democrats, six Republicans and an independent, Vermont's Bernie Sanders, who opposed the appropriation. The majority of House Democrats opposed the $87 billion appropriation. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, joined the opposition, as did Wisconsin's David Obey, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, New York's Charles Rangel, the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, Michigan's John Dingell, the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. Conyers is also the ranking member of the Congressional Black Caucus, which provided much of the opposition to the appropriation. "We are leading this Congress and the Democratic Caucus in saying 'no' to the president," said California Democrat Maxine Waters, a key player in both the Black Caucus and the Progressive Caucus.
California Democrat Diane Watson, a former diplomat, summed up the sentiments of members of the Black and Progressive caucuses, when she announced, "We cannot afford to give this president another blank check to spend on his Iraq adventure when so many people are suffering through a recession here at home and when our nation's critical infrastructure needs are being neglected. My vote against the Iraq supplemental is a vote for the American people and our troops, who will continue to bear the burden of the president's failed policy."
Among the Democrats voting with Bush were former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, and Senator Joe Lieberman, D-Connecticut, both Democratic presidential candidates who have been steady supporters of the war. While Gephardt and Lieberman could not bring themselves to disagree with Bush's request, six House Republicans did. Among them were moderates such as Wisconsin's Tom Petri, conservatives such as Tennessee's John Duncan Jr. and Idaho's C.L. "Butch" Otter, and consistent war critic Ron Paul of Texas.
Vice President Dick Cheney has a special interest in this week's Congressional debate on the Bush administration's request for $87 billion to maintain the occupation of Iraq and other military adventures abroad. If approved by the House and Senate in its current form, the proposal would allocate roughly $20 billion to reconstruct Iraq, with most of the rest of the money going to cover the costs of the occupation.
Approval of the $87 billion package would be good news for Cheney, who it is now evident, retains ties to his former employer, the energy and construction conglomerate Halliburton. Halliburton is, of course, a prime benecificary of military and reconstruction expenditures in Iraq.
The US Army Corps of Engineers has already awarded Halliburton's engineering and construction arm, Kellogg, Brown & Root, a no-bid contract to restore Iraq's oil industry. Halliburton parlayed an initial $37.5 million contract to put out oil-field fires into a range of responsibilities that has already run up roughly $1 billion in costs. "War is hell, but it has turned into financial heaven for Halliburton," said Senator Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, who with Representative Henry Waxman, D-California, has led the charge to expose details of Halliburton's dealings in Iraq. "This sweetheart, no-bid contract given to Halliburton spikes up by hundreds of millions of dollars each week. It's outrageous."
The outrageousness does not stop there. The value of a contract between the Pentagon and Halliburton to manage military bases could end up costing as much as $2 billion.
Thus, if Congress approves the $87 billion spending bill, Halliburton will be well positioned to collect maximum payments on its existing contracts and to go for more gold as the Pentagon opens the dollar spigots. It is important to remember that Halliburton would not merely benefit from an increase in funding for reconstruction of Iraq's oil industry. Halliburton has also integrated itself into the military side of the operation. As much of one-third of the current $3.9 billion-a-month cost of maintaining US troops in Iraq is paid to private contractors such as Halliburton, according to independent analysts.
A Washington Post report in August revealed that, "Services performed by Halliburton, through its Brown and Root subsidiary, include building and managing military bases, logistical support for the 1,200 intelligence officers hunting Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, delivering mail and producing millions of hot meals. Often dressed in Army fatigues with civilian patches on their shoulders, Halliburton employees and contract personnel have become an integral part of Army life in Iraq."
So it should come as no surprise that, if Congress approves another $87 billion to maintain the occupation of Iraq and to pay for reconstruction initiatives, analysts expect the value of Halliburton stock to increase. And that's where the Congressional vote gets interesting for Cheney. As the former CEO of Halliburton, which saw its stock value sink during the energy crisis and after revelations about its long history of ties to the scandal-plagued Enron Corp., he could benefit from an uptick in Halliburton's fortunes.
Despite Cheney's claim during a September "Meet the Press" appearance that he had "severed all my ties with the company, gotten rid of all my financial interest" in Halliburton, Lautenberg argues that Cheney retains significant financial ties to the company. A successful businessman and investor before his election to the Senate, Lautenberg notes that Cheney, who received a $34 million package when he left Halliburton to become Vice President, continues to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in deferred salary and retains $433,333 in unexercised stock options.
According to an analysis distributed by Lautenberg, if Cheney were to exercise his options, the Vice President could:
* Buy 100,000 shares of Halliburton stock at $54.50 before the end of 2007. That adds up to $5,420,000.
* Buy 33,333 shares of Halliburton stock at $28.13 by the end of 2008. That adds up to $937,657.29.
* Buy 100,000 shares of Halliburton stock at $39.50 by the end of 2009. That adds up to $3,950,000.
Cheney says that he would donate profits from the sale of these stock options to charity, and he says he will not take tax deductions for such donations. But he would still be able to enjoy the prestige and honor of delivering substantial resources to a favored charity -- perhaps the Richard Cheney Vice Presidential Library -- and he could also provide Halliburton with a sizable tax deduction.
Unfortunately for Cheney and his former firm, Halliburton shares have been selling for under $25. Thus, for Cheney to be able to cash out, Halliburton stock prices must move upward -- as they might well do once the Congress approves the $87 billion.
Does this all add up to a conflict of interest? Cheney's office says "the answer to that is, 'no.'" But that's because they interpret the Vice President's retention of unexercised stock options as something other than a tie to Halliburton. Lautenberg notes that, in addition to sitting on the stock options, the Vice President received $205,298 in deferred salary paid by Halliburton in 2001 and $162,392 in deferred salary paid by Halliburton in 2002, and he notes that Cheney is apparently scheduled to collect similar payments in 2003, 2004 and 2005. "The Vice President says he does not have any financial ties to Halliburton, but his own financial disclosure filings suggest something else," says Lautenberg. "In 2001 and 2002, Vice President Cheney was paid almost as much in salary from Halliburton as he made as Vice President."
Lautenberg is not alone in viewing the deferred salary payments and unexercised stock options as a lingering linkage between Cheney and Halliburton. A new Congressional Research Service report describes deferred salary and stock options as "among those benefits described by the Office of Government Ethics as 'retained ties' or 'linkages' to one's former employer."
So, while the Vice President and his aides spin their way around the question of whether conflicts exist, Lautenberg says, "I ask the Vice President to stop dodging the issue with legalese."
Assuming the Vice President does not take his advice, Lautenberg and other Senate Democrats are proposing an amendment to the $87 billion spending bill that would force Cheney to finally cut what the Congress Research Service describes as "retained ties" and "linkages" to Halliburton. The amendment would prevent companies with financial ties to Bush, Cheney and their Cabinet secretaries from obtaining Pentagon contracts in Iraq. And it would require members of the Bush Administration who retain stock options to exercise them in 90 days or forfeit the benefits.
Cheney aides claim all the talk about the Vice President's ties to Halliburton are a "a political cheap shot."
But as the details of Halliburton's sweetheart contract, its overcharging of the U.S. government and the ever expanding value of its contracts with the Pentagon are revealed, what Cheney aides call a "cheap shot" is starting to look like a smoking gun.
For the latest on US Senator Frank Lautenberg's examination of Cheney's lingering ties to Halliburton, click here
For the latest on US Representative Henry Waxman's examination of Halliburton's contracts with the Pentagon, click here.
Edward Said closed one of his last published essays with the lines: "We are in for many more years of turmoil and misery in the Middle East, where one of the main problems is, to put it as plainly as possible, U.S. power. What the U.S. refuses to see clearly it can hardly hope to remedy."
Said's frustration was obvious, but so too was the determination of the man Salman Rushdie once said "reads the world as closely as he reads books." No one worked harder and longer than Said to awaken Americans to the damage their government's policies had done to the prospects for peace and justice in the Middle East. It cannot be said that he succeeded in that mission, but nor can it be said that he failed. If successive presidents refused to listen to Said's wise counsel, millions of citizens were influenced directly and indirectly by his speeches, writing and tireless advocacy. To the extent that there has been a broadening of sympathy for the cause of Palestine and Palestinians in the United States in recent years -- especially among younger Americans -- it can be traced in no small measure to the work of the world-renowned scholar, author, critic and activist who has died Thursday at age 67 after a long battle with leukemia.
Born in 1935 in British-ruled Palestine, and raised in Egypt, Said came to the United States as a student. He would eventually become a professor at Columbia University and the author of internationally acclaimed books on literature, music, culture and imperialism. His groundbreaking 1978 book, Orientalism, forced open a long-delayed and still unfinished debate about Western perceptions of Islam.
Said was horrified by the ignorance and distrust of Islam, Arabs and, in particular, of Palestinians that he found in the United States. "Every empire... tells itself and the world that it is unlike all other empires, that its mission is not to plunder and control but to educate and liberate. These ideas are by no means shared by the people who inhabit that empire, but that hasn't prevented the U.S. propaganda and policy apparatus from imposing its imperial perspective on Americans, whose sources of information about Arabs and Islam are woefully inadequate," Said wrote in July. "Several generations of Americans have come to see the Arab world mainly as a dangerous place, where terrorism and religious fanaticism are spawned and where a gratuitous anti-Americanism is inculcated in the young by evil clerics who are anti-democratic and virulently anti-Semitic."
Said bemoaned the "blind imperial arrogance" of the United States and argued that, "Underlying this perspective is a long-standing view -- the Orientalist view -- that denies Arabs their right to national self-determination because they are considered incapable of logic, unable to tell the truth and fundamentally murderous."
Echoing the concern he had expressed for many years, Said reminded his American readers that, "Since Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798, there has been an uninterrupted imperial presence based on these premises throughout the Arab world, producing untold misery -- and some benefits, it is true. But so accustomed have Americans become to their own ignorance and the blandishments of U.S. advisors like Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami, who have directed their venom against the Arabs in every possible way, that we somehow think that what we do is correct because "that's the way the Arabs are." That this happens also to be an Israeli dogma shared uncritically by the neo-conservatives who are at the heart of the Bush administration simply adds fuel to the fire."
Forget about the economy. Forget about the environment. Forget about the mess that he has made of US relations with the rest of the world. The issue that is on George W. Bush's mind is more basic: Does a leader end up paying a political price if voters think he lied his country into an unwise and unnecessary war in Iraq?
For the answer to that question, the president and his aides might want to look to Britain, where Bush's closest comrade-in-arms before, during and since the Iraq invasion, Prime Minister Tony Blair, just took a political body blow.
In a multi-ethnic, working-class section of London that has for decades been a political stronghold for Blair's Labour Party, voters used a special election to fill a vacant seat in the Parliament to send the prime minister a message that has shaken the British political establishment. It is a message that ought to be heard, as well, in the United States.
In the parliamentary elections of two years ago that saw Blair's Labour Party sweep to victory across Great Britain, London's Brent-East constituency gave the Labour Party candidate 63 percent of the vote, for a majority of 13,047 votes over his closest challenger.
In the special "by-election" held Thursday to fill the vacancy created when the area's member of parliament died, the Labour Party candidate won only 34 percent of the vote. That 29 percent drop in support for Blair's party cleared the way for a headline-grabbing victory by the candidate of the Liberal Democrats, a third party that opposed the Bush-Blair rush to war.
The defeat marked Labour's first loss of a seat in a parliamentary by-election in 15 years. And the BBC described the swing by traditional Labour voters against the party as "one of the most stunning turnarounds in British electoral history."
No one doubts that anger over Blair's approach to the Iraq war, as well as doubts about his honesty, played a role in that turnaround.
Sarah Teather, a 29-year-old local charity worker and Liberal Democrat party activist, won the Brent-East seat after a campaign in which she said, "It has been inevitable as I have gone door-to-door in such a cosmopolitan area that the war in Iraq has come to the fore. People have said they feel let down and cheated." Teather, who serves on the local council for the neighborhood of Islington, where Blair made his home before he moved to 10 Downing Street, criticized Labour's increasingly conservative domestic policies, as well. But, after the votes were counted, London's Daily Mirror newspaper argued that, "Mr Blair was skewered by an angry backlash over the war in Iraq and a collapse in public trust."
"Labour found itself struggling against the perception that the government is untrustworthy," observed the Guardian newspaper.
The British press, which is far more aggressive than the U.S. media, has pursued stories about inconsistencies in Blair's arguments for going to war. That led to a parliamentary investigation of whether the prime minister and his aides "sexed up" a dossier making the case action against Iraq. (That dossier, which was released last fall, was used by the Bush administration to convince Congress to give the president the authority to attack Iraq. See "Bogus Blair, Bogus Bush" at: http://www.thenation.com/thebeat/index.mhtml?bid=1&pid=895)
Amid the controversy over charges that Bush and Blair inflated perceived threats in order to gain support for an attack on Iraq, David Kelly, a British scientist who had provided information to journalists, committed suicide. The suicide led to a high-profile investigation of charges that the Blair government had made life "hell" for Kelly, and that in a broader sense the government had sought to punish those who questioned government claims about Iraq's supposed stashes of weapons of mass destruction. In the course of the inquiry by Lord Brian Hutton, a respected senior jurist, Blair's closest aide, Alastair Campbell, has been forced to resign, and Minister of Defense Geoff Hoon has become the subject of widespread speculation that he too will have to go.
The political impact of the controversy over whether Britain was "spun into war" has been devastating for Blair. His approval ratings have plummeted -- according to a poll published by London's Daily Telegraph in late August, only 22 percent of respondents said they felt Blair's government was trustworthy.
But poll numbers can be disputed. Elections are the measures of voter sentiment that politicians take most seriously. And the Brent-East by-election was framed from the start as a test of Blair's personal popularity and the appeal of the war that he and Bush promoted.
Teather, who will become the youngest member of Parliament, celebrated her victory by declaring,"Tony Blair, I hope that you are listening tonight. The people of Brent have spoken for the people of Britain."
Considering the fact that Bush used Blair's doctored dossier in his campaign to convince Congress and the American people that war was necessary, that statement might be extended. As there have been no special elections for Congress in recent months, perhaps there is room for a coalition of the willing (to ask tough questions) that would say, "George Bush, we hope you were listening Thursday night. The people of Brent East have spoken for people all over the world who believe that you and Tony Blair need to be held accountable for your war in Iraq."
That is a theme that Democrats in Congress, and on the presidential campaign trail, need to embrace. While the debate about whether the Blair government lied Britain into war remains red hot, the discussion of Bush's claims regarding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction has been allowed to cool somewhat since mid-summer. When Britain's main opposition party, the Tories, failed to challenge Blair effectively, Sarah Teather's Liberal Democrats filled the void. Instead of complaining about the Greens and the prospect of another presidential campaign by consumer activist Ralph Nader, Democrats should fill the void. They can start by following the lead of Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, who charged Thursday that Bush administration officials relied on "distortion, misrepresentation, a selection of intelligence" to press their case for war. "There was no imminent threat. This was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican leadership that war was going to take place and was going to be good politically," said Kennedy. "This whole thing was a fraud."
As the results from across the sea attest, that is a winning political message.
When the World Trade Organization's fifth ministerial conference in Cancun collapsed Sunday without reaching agreement on how to launch new free-trade initiatives, American activist Gretchen Gordon declared, "This is a major victory for the social movements of the world, and a reality the Bush administration can't ignore if it continues to pursue the same failed policies in other regional trade agreements."
Gordon, the director of the Washington-based Citizens Trade Campaign, was right to turn the attention to Bush. The collapse of the WTO's Cancun summit represents a serious blow for the president. How serious a blow remains to be seen -- with much of the impact to be determined by the willingness of Bush's Democratic challengers to make an issue of trade policy in the 2004 election campaign. But there is no question that the administration's free-trade policies and politics took a hit in Cancun. Gordon and her allies are hoping the blow could prove sufficient to weaken the president's secretive effort to negotiate a Fast Track agreement for a Free Trade Area of the Americas that would create a hemispheric corporate free-trade zone stretching from Argentina to Alaska.
The optimism and enthusiasm displayed by Gordon was echoed by her allies in the labor, farm and human rights organizations that worked around-the-clock in recent weeks to prevent the WTO from writing trade policies that would help global corporations to further dominate the economic, social and political life of the planet.
Developing countries walked out of the WTO meeting in Cancun after the United States, the European Union and Japan rejected demands for trade policies that address the needs of the world's poor, rather than the bottom lines of the multinational corporations that are the prime beneficiaries of WTO rule making. When they refused to negotiate any longer, the representatives of India, Brazil and smaller countries caused the collapse of what had been a critical gathering for the international organization that came into being nine years ago with a charge to define global rules for trade.
Groups representing workers, farmers, environmentalists and human rights campaigners the world over had organized to prevent the WTO from launching a new push to restructure trade rules. There was particular concern that an agreement reached in Cancun could lead to a major assault on the limited protections that remain for small farmers around the world. Such an initiative would have provided tremendous benefits for agribusiness corporations, but it could devastate family farms from Iowa to India.
Farmers from around the world traveled to Mexico to protest against the WTO's corporations-first, people-last agenda. One of their number, South Korean farm activist Lee Kyung-Hae, took his life in a tragic attempt to illustrate the message of the sign he carried: "WTO kills farmers."
The loud protests from farmers, workers and environmental activists were heard by negotiators for developing countries, if not by US representatives. That message was summed up by Mark Ritchie, president of the Minnesota-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy who said, "We can't continue a global trading system that primarily benefits the interests of multinational corporations and doesn't address the serious concerns of farmers, workers and people around the world."
No one lost more credibility in Cancun than President Bush. "The Bush administration calls itself the great promoter of democracy, free trade and the global trade system, but it just imploded the WTO summit by rejecting the demands of the majority of WTO signatory nations for a little democracy, free trade and multilateralism after those countries refused to sign off on the corporate agenda for the WTO pushed by the U.S. and its small rich-country coalition of corporate shilling," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch campaign.
The Bush Administration continues to position the US as the primary advocate for multinational corporations. And it is unlikely that the president, who collects most of his campaign money from individuals and groups associated with those corporations, will change course.
But it is possible to change the politics of the United States. As Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and to a slightly lesser extent former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, have long argued, trade issues must be discussed on the 2004 presidential campaign.
In 2000, Republican Bush and Democrat Al Gore sounded way too much alike on trade issues. Gore's failure to distinguish himself cost him votes in critical states such as Ohio, where a Democratic win would have tipped the electoral college in Gore's favor. Democrats who want to oppose Bush in 2004 appear to have learned from Gore's mistake. Kucinich greeted the news from Cancun by declaring, "Working people the world 'round have the same complaints about the WTO: it's bad for their jobs, bad for their livelihoods and bad for their income. Small farmers in Africa lose their jobs just like steelworkers in Ohio. The evidence of the failure of the WTO to deliver anything like the prosperity its promoters have promised is plain for everyone to see. That is why the WTO talks in Cancun collapsed, and that is why the US Congress should reevaluate the WTO and rewrite the trade agenda our trade representative advocates."
Kucinich and Gephardt are no longer alone in questioning the wisdom of the Bush administration's trade policies. As manufacturing job loss figures have continued to mount, most of the contenders -- with the exception of Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, a free trader every bit as militant as Bush -- have been talking tough on trade. Even former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, a one-time defender of the corporate free-trade agenda, now says he favor policies that protect American workers and farmers.
Dean echoes Paul Wellstone, the late US senator from Minnesota, when the Vermonter claims on the campaign trail to be the candidate of "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party." Hopefully, he and other Democratic contenders will be inspired by the news from Cancun to echo Wellstone in a more substantial way. After activists halted the WTO's attempts to launch new free-trade initiatives in the fall of 1999, US Senator Paul Wellstone said Democrats needed to make a major issue of failed U.S. trade policies in order to distinguish themselves from Republicans. Gore and too many other Democrats failed to follow Wellstone's advice in 2000. If Democrats are to succeed in 2004, the contenders who would carry the party's banner into next year's contest with George W. Bush cannot afford to make the same mistake as their party's last presidential nominee.
Later this year, Rick Rubin's American Recordings label will release a collection of Johnny Cash songs including a collaboration between the legendary country singer and one of his greatest fans, the Clash's Joe Strummer. The pair's version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" will serve as a poignant reminder of why Cash, who died Friday at age 71, was so revered by his fellow musicians -- if not always by a music industry that had a hard time figuring him out.
"In a garden full of weeds," explained U2's Bono, Cash was "the oak tree."
Cash loved playing with younger artists who shared his recognition that a song ought to come with an edge -- and maybe even a little politics. His collaborations with Bob Dylan, U2 and Strummer, and the delight with which he covered songs by Nine Inch Nails, Nick Cave, Beck, Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteen, made it impossible to slot Cash into the narrow categories where contemporary radio programmers consign artists. "He's an outsider, never been part of a trend," Rubin said of Cash.
In his remarkable 1997 autobiography, Cash reflected on a career that began with hit singles but eventually saw him searching for a proper record label -- a search that ended only when Rubin, a groundbreaking rock and rap producer, signed him to American Recordings and produced four starkly brilliant albums. When people wondered why a country singer was on his label, Rubin said, "A rock star is a musical outlaw and that's Johnny."
Cash embraced that outlaw image, singing in his signature song, "Man in Black":
"Well you wonder why I always dress in black/Why you never see bright colors on my back/And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone/Well there's a reason for the things that I have on/I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down/Livin' in the hopeless hungry side of town/I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime/But is there because he's a victim of the times."
Later in the song, he referenced the war in Vietnam, singing: "I wear the black in mourning for the lives that could have been/Each week we lose a hundred fine young men."
Cash took sides in his own songs, and in the songs he chose to sing. And he preferred the side of those imprisoned by the law -- and by economics. Cash's obituaries are quick to quote the lines at the start of his classic song, "Folsom Prison Blues," which go:
When I was just a baby my mama told me son/Always be a good boy don't ever play with guns/But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die...
Later in the song about a prisoner listening to a passing train, however, Cash sings:
I bet there's rich folks eatin' in some fancy dining car/They're probably drinkin' coffee and smokin' big cigars/Well I know I had it comin' I know I can't be free/But those people keep a movin' and that's what tortures me
Though he was not known as an expressly political artist, Cash waded into the controversies of his times with a passion. Like the US troops in Vietnam who idolized him, he questioned the wisdom of that war. And in the mid-1960s, at the height of his success, he released an album that challenged his country's treatment of Native Americans. That album, Bitter Tears, featured an powerful version of Peter LaFarge's "As Long as the Grass Shall Grow," a sad, angry rumination on the mistreatment of the Seneca tribe of the Iroquois nation, and of how the US government "broke the ancient treaty with a politician's grin."
Years later, Cash would remember that, as he prepared Bitter Tears, "I dove into primary and secondary sources, immersing myself in the tragic stories of the Cherokee and the Apache, among others, until I was almost as raw as Peter. By the time I actually recorded the album I carried a heavy load of sadness and outrage; I felt every word of those songs, particularly 'Apache Tears' and 'The Ballad of Ira Hayes.' I meant every word, too. I was long past pulling my punches."
The Bitter Tears project inspired one of Cash's many disputes with a music industry that wanted him to entertain rather than educate.
"I expected there to be trouble with that album, and there was," Cash wrote in his autobiography. "I got a lot of flak from the Columbia Records bosses while I was recording it -- though Frank Jones, my producer, had the sense and courage to let me go ahead and do what I wanted -- and when it was released, many radio stations wouldn't play it. My reaction was to write the disc jockeys a letter and pay to have it published as a full-page ad in Billboard. It talked about them wanting to 'wallow in meaninglessness' and noted their 'lack of vision for our music.' Predictably enough, it got me off the air in more places than it got me on."
Even in the 1960s, Cash said, "craven worship of the almighty dollar" was interfering with the ability of artists to get good music heard.
Thirty years later, as Clear Channel and other radio conglomerates sucked what life there was out of radio, Cash would argue, "The very idea of unconventional or even original ideas ending up on ‘country' radio in the late 1990s is absurd."
In 1998, after Cash won the Grammy award for best country album, American Recordings purchased a full-page ad in Billboard that was addressed to country radio programmers who had failed to play his music. The ad featured a picture of a much younger Cash with his middle finger held high in a fierce gesture of defiance.
Even as Cash was widely honored in his last years, his music was seldom played on mainstream country radio. And, yet, Johnny Cash kept being heard, singing the last track of a U2 album, appearing in a haunting video that somehow found a place on MTV and joining in that one last "Redemption Song" with a late British punk named Strummer who recognized that no one rocked like the Man in Black.
The Federal Communications Commission's attempt to implement rule changes that would permit big media companies to dramatically extend their control over communications in the United States hit a surprising and potentially major road block Wednesday, when the Third US Circuit Court of Appeals halted implementation of the new rules.
After a two-hour hearing, the three-judge panel voted unanimously to stay the effective date for implementation of the FCC's rewrite of the ownership regulation and ordered that the prior ownership rules remain in effect pending a judicial review of the new rules. "This is a matter of significant public interest," explained Circuit Judge Julio Fuentes, while Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro suggested that the delay was appropriate because the courts need to resolve "a difficult, serious question" of whether the public interest was threatened.
The appeals court ruling was a stunning victory for the Prometheus Radio Project, a Philadelphia-based media activist group that is part of the broad coalition that has opposed FCC chair Michael Powell's push to implement radical changes in the rules governing media ownership at the national and local level.
Among the rule changes backed by Powell and the media companies is a scheme to increase the number of television stations that one company could own across the US to a level where one network could reach up to 45 percent of the national television audience. Another rule change is written to allow a single corporation to control the newspaper, television stations and radio stations in the same town.
Despite opposition from Common Cause, the National Organization for Women, the AFL-CIO, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the National Rifle Association and dozens of other groups from across the political spectrum, the FCC voted 3-2 to make the rule changes on June 2. Since then, the House of Representatives has voted overwhelmingly to block implementation of the move to allow television networks to expand their reach at the national level, while the Senate is moving on a number of fronts to overturn all the rule changes. (Senate Appropriations Committee votes on several moves to roll back the FCC rule changes are expected Thursday.)
The leading Senate advocate for overturning the rule changes hailed the appeals court decision to issue the stay -- and the suggestions from the jurists that the rule changes raised significant public-interest concerns. "The ruling recognizes what I hope most of the Senate recognizes: These rules are inappropriate," said US Senator Byron Dorgan, D-North Dakota, who said the decision would boost Senate efforts to roll back the rule changes.
Most of the focus of the broad-based opposition to the FCC rule changes has been on Congress, which has been inundated with hundreds of thousands of calls, emails and letters from Americans who want to prevent media consolidation. Activists tend to believe that Congressional action will ultimately be needed to block the rule changes. But the appeals court decision to stay implementation of the rule changes provides breathing room for those seeking to prevent a new wave of media consolidations at both the national and local levels. And the fact that the decision of the appeals court was unanimous suggests that legal strategies could prove to be more significant than initially expected.
For the FCC and the communications giants it has sought to serve, the appeals court ruling was another indication that it is difficult for independent observers to take seriously the suggestion that limits on media mergers and acquisitions might in any way harm the public interest. When lawyers for the FCC and the intervenors on its behalf -- Fox Entertainment Group, Inc.; Fox Television Stations, Inc.; National Broadcasting Company, Inc.; Telemundo Communications Group, Inc.; and Viacom, Inc. -- claimed during a hearing regarding the suit that the interests of media conglomerates would be harmed by any delay of acquisitions under the new rules, Circuit Judge Anthony Scirica retorted, "You couldn't have done it (used the opening provided by the rule changes to acquire new media properties) a month ago. If you can't on September 4 but you can on Oct. 4 or Nov. 4, is there a difference?"
The court's ruling answered that question by declaring, "At issue in this litigation are changes adopted by the FCC that would significantly alter the agency's ownership rules for multiple media properties, including national television networks, local broadcast affiliates, radio stations, and newspapers. Petitioner has alleged harms from industry consolidation contending they would be widespread and irreversible if they occurred. The harm to petitioners absent a stay would be the likely loss of remedy (the ability to reverse mergers and acquisitions) should the new ownership rules be declared invalid in whole or in part. In contrast to this irreparable harm, there is little indication that a stay pending appeal will result in substantial harm to the Commission or to other interested parties... Given the magnitude of this matter and the public's interest in reaching the proper resolution, a stay is warranted pending thorough and efficient judicial review."
Those who have battled the FCC ownership rule changes on multiple fronts hailed the decision as a dramatic breakthrough. Though the court victory may only be temporary, US Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, said, "The decision of the Third Court of Appeals is a major victory for the American people who, in my view, do not want to see media in America owned by a smaller and smaller number of huge multi-media corporations. This decision will give Congress time to pass legislation that will substantially increase media diversity, protect localism and allow for more competition."
The Philadelphia-based Prometheus Project has played a leadership role in advocating for the devlopment of low-power community radio stations. Arguing before the appeals court this week, lawyers for the group made the case that the ability to broadcast would be harmed by the expansion of already dominant media conglomerates. Samuel Spear, an attorney for Prometheus, said the group sought the judicial review because the rule changes would allow "the big media companies to grow bigger and to monopolize the industry more."
For the time being, at least, concern for the public interest in diverse ownerhip of the media has led the federal judiciary to prevent that growth.