Kudos to veteran 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer for lambasting the New York Times for its "paean" to Wal-Mart heir Alice Walton, and taking aim at Wal-Mart's "systematic obliteration of thousands of family businesses and of course the creation of hundreds of thousands of sweatshop jobs."
Safer's letter (posted below) succintly captures the grand irony of Walton's recent $35 million purchase of a famous landscape painting. ("All that Wal-Mart money was gleaned from the systematic destruction of the very American landscape Ms. Walton so expensively celebrates.")
Here's hoping that Safer's hardhitting letter is the basis of a forthcoming 60 Minutes segment.
New York, May 14, 2005
To the Editor:
Your paean to Alice L. Walton, the Wal-Mart heir who recently purchased Asher B. Durand's landscape painting "Kindred Spirits" for $35 million ("A Determined Heiress Plots an Art Collection," Arts pages, May 14), ignored a grand inherent irony.
All that Wal-Mart money was gleaned from the systematic destruction of the very American landscape Ms. Walton so expensively celebrates. Not to mention the equally systematic obliteration of thousands of family businesses and of course the creation of hundreds of thousands of sweatshop jobs.
The robber barons of yore, through contrition or vanity, also established enduring cultural institutions, but surely in this age of alleged transparency, it behooves the newspaper of record to make at least passing reference to the human and environmental price we all pay to satisfy Ms. Walton's ambition.
A vote to end debate on the nomination of extreme conservative Priscilla Owen to the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled for Tuesday, May 24--the first strike in the so-called "nuclear option" to eliminate the use of the filibuster in judicial nominations. Now is the time to tell your senators that you oppose eliminating the filibuster. Click here to do so today.
Filibuster opponents have pulled out all the rhetorical stops in their quest to consolidate more power for the executive branch, advancing numerous falsehoods and distortions in the process, as the excellent website Media Matters for America has documented. So click here if you're not convinced that the elimination of the filibuster would be catastrophic or if you just need some good talking points.
Bill Moyers says that journalists have a responsibility to question those in power.
Rush Limbaugh, speaking for the economic and political elites that currently occupy positions of authority, responds by charging that Moyers is "insane."
A debate has opened regarding the role of reporting in George W. Bush's America. But this debate is about a great deal more than one president or one moment in history. At the most fundamental level, it is about whether the American experiment as imagined by the most visionary of its founders can long endure.
Moyers set the stage at the National Conference for Media Reform last week, where he delivered a call for the redemption of American journalism. Though he was appearing less than a week after it had been revealed that the Bush administration ally who chairs the Corporation for Public Broadcasting had waged a secret campaign to drive him off the air, the former host of PBS's "NOW" program was calm and collected. The winner of thirty Emmy Awards reflected upon his own work and that of his colleagues on "NOW." But his real purpose was to defend the craft of journalism against the battering it has taken from those who believe reporters should be little more than stenographers to power. At a time when too many prominent journalists have accepted the diminished standards that their critics would impose upon them, Moyers raged against the dying of the light -- not so much for himself as for the Republic that will not stand without a free, skeptical and courageous press.
"We're seeing unfold a contemporary example of the age-old ambition of power and ideology to squelch and punish journalists who tell the stories that make princes and priests uncomfortable," Moyers explained to the 2,300 journalists, academics and activists who had gathered in St. Louis.
Moyers proceeded to describe the behind-the-scenes pressure that CPB board chair Ken Tomlinson and other White House allies exerted in a campaign to get the NOW team to trim its sails. The "crime" committed by Moyers and his crew was not one of liberal bias, as became evident when the former host of the program described the ideological diversity of the guests on NOW, read a letter praising the show from conservative Congressman Ron Paul, R-Texas, and recalled the support it had received from the widow of a New York City firefighter who died at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Rather, Moyers explained, "One reason I'm in hot water is because my colleagues and I at NOW didn't play by the conventional rules of Beltway journalism. Those rules divide the world into Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and allow journalists to pretend they have done their job if, instead of reporting the truth behind the news, they merely give each side an opportunity to spin the news."
The former White House aide, newspaper publisher, author and documentary filmmaker committed the cardinal sin of the contemporary moment: he practiced the craft of journalism as the authors of the "freedom of the press" protection in the Bill of Rights intended -- without fear or favor, unbought and unbossed, and in the service of the public interest rather than the private demands of the economically and politically powerful. Such trangressions are punished as severely in George W. Bush's America as they were in the America that was ruled by another, equally regal George 230 years ago. And just as King George III had henchmen who attacked the rebels against his rule, so the contemporary King George has his Tories. Chief among them is Limbaugh, the bombastic radio personality whose microphone is always at the ready for a denunciation of those who dare suggest that the emperor has no clothes.
No one polices the discourse more aggressively than Limbaugh.
So when word got out that Moyers was telling the American people that they should expect more from their media than a slurry of celebrity gossip and propaganda, there was hell to pay.
Typically, Limbaugh did not attack the substance of Moyers's remarks. Rather, the viscount of viciousness devoted a substantial portion of his nationally-syndicated radio program Thursday to claiming that Moyers had come "unhinged" and that, "The things coming out of his mouth today are literally insane." The most self-absorbed personality in America media -- who regularly declares that he's got "talent on loan from God" and says, "I'm doing what I was born to do. That's host. You're doing what you were born to do. That's listen." -- even went so far as to suggest that Moyers had a messiah complex.
So agitated was Limbaugh that he attacked another speaker at the media-reform conference, Newspaper Guild President Linda Foley -- in Limbaugh parlance, "this Linda Foley babe" -- for expressing concern about the killing of journalists in Iraq. And, for good measure, he closed off his rant by claiming that the millions of Americans who are demanding a more civic and democratic media are "off their rockers" and dismissing the notion of reforming the media as "an oxymoron."
It would be easy to counter Limbaugh by climbing down into the gutter of character assassination and recycled Washington spin with the nation's No. 1 peddler of those commodities. Whole books been written regarding Limbaugh's personal and professional foibles.
But this is not about Limbaugh. After all, it's not as if he speaks for himself. When the economic and political elites of the nation says "Jump!" Limbaugh response has always been an enthusiastic, "How high?" And never does he jump higher or quicker than when he is going for the throat of someone who has committed the sin of telling the American people that there is more to a broadcast than talking points and cheerleading for those who refuse to play fair. Of course, Limbaugh thought Moyers was nuts. Limbaugh has been bending the facts for so long that he, undoubtedly, believes that trying to get them straight is madness.
This places him very much at odds with Moyers, who wants the American people to know that there is a reason why they get so little useful information from their radio programs and the nightly reports on network television.
Thus, the best counter to Limbaugh is not an attack on the radio babbler, but rather a return to the high ground with Moyers.
Let Limbaugh bellow, like the Wizard of Oz when he was trying to keep his machinery hidden. Moyers is pulling the curtain away and telling the American people what is wrong with the "rules of the game" by which so much of today's so-called "journalism" is practiced.
"These 'rules of the game' permit Washington officials to set the agenda for journalism, leaving the press all too often simply to recount what officials say instead of subjecting their words and deeds to critical scrutiny. Instead of acting as filters for readers and viewers, sifting the truth from the propaganda, reporters and anchors attentively transcribe both sides of the spin, invariably failing to provide context, background or any sense of which claims hold up and which are misleading," Moyers explained last week.
"I decided long ago that this wasn't healthy for democracy. I came to see that 'news is what people want to keep hidden and everything else is publicity.' In my documentaries -- whether on the Watergate scandals 30 years ago or the Iran-Contra conspiracy 20 years ago or Bill Clinton's fundraising scandals 10 years ago or, five years ago, the chemical industry's long and despicable cover-up of its cynical and unspeakable withholding of critical data about its toxic products from its workers -- I realized that investigative journalism could not be a collaboration between the journalist and the subject. Objectivity is not satisfied by two opposing people offering competing opinions, leaving the viewer to split the difference. I came to believe that objective journalism means describing the object being reported on, including the little fibs and fantasies as well as the Big Lie of the people in power. In no way does this permit journalists to make accusations and allegations. It means, instead, making sure that your reporting and your conclusions can be nailed to the post with confirming evidence. This is always hard to do, but it has never been harder than today. Without a trace of irony, the powers-that-be have appropriated the newspeak vernacular of George Orwell's 1984. They give us a program vowing 'No Child Left Behind,' while cutting funds for educating disadvantaged kids. They give us legislation cheerily calling for 'Clear Skies' and 'Healthy Forests' that give us neither. And that's just for starters."
The difference between Limbaugh and Moyers is as profound as the difference between FOX and PBS. One man plays by the "rules of the game," the other sticks to principle. One man defends a corrupt status quo, the other seeks to expose it. One is a master propagandist, the other wants to break the stranglehold of "The Big Lie." One fears the damage done by the practice of journalism, the other knows that great journalism is the essential element in the making of great nations. One is a Tory who serves his King George, the other is a rebel against the throne.
It is not a fair fight. On one side are Limbaugh and his Tories, with all of their economic and political might. On the other are Moyers and his media reformers, with only the truth -- and the echo of Tom Paine crying across the centuries: "O Ye that love mankind! Ye that dares oppose not only the tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth!"
Here's a posting I put up on the HuffingtonPost site. It may not be as juicy as Robert Evans' celebration of a menage a trois. But I do hope that this issue--the chief Pentagon spokesperson misleading the public about allegations concerning the desecration and mistreatement of the Koran at Gitmo--will get some attention:
The Bush administration really knows how to exploit a tragedy and deflect attention in order to duck responsibility. After Newsweek retracted its ten-sentence Koran-in-a-john item, Lawrence Di Rita, the chief Pentagon spokesman, claimed that the Pentagon had never received any "credible allegations" about "the willful desecration of the Koran as a component of interrogations" at Guantanamo. At a press briefing on Tuesday, Di Rita said that after the Pentagon had checked logs and found "several instances...that suggested that detainees have, for whatever reason, torn pages from the Koran." But these log reports, he added, were not corroborated. He claimed that
standard operating procedures at Guantanamo are very focused on the proper respect for the Koran, and in fact those standard operating procedures have been reviewed over time to make sure that they are as careful as they should be. We, I think, provided that to most of you all in the last day or two. But I think what you'll see there is a command philosophy that is clearly one of treating religious items, including the Koran, with a great deal of respect.
That being said, there have been instances, and we'll have more to say about it as we learn more, but where a Koran may have fallen to the floor in the course of searching a cell. And so they've reviewed the standard operating procedures to see if perhaps we could have been more careful in those cases/ But as I said, the philosophy as reflected in the standard operating procedures is one of great respect for the Koran and other religious articles, and for the detainees' practice of their faith, and that's what we're doing.
And he repeated his main point: "We have received no credible and specific allegations" of Koran desecration or Koran mistreatment conducted by US personnel at Gitmo.
How then does Di Rita explain the International Committee of the Red Cross' claim--which became news yesterday and today--that in 2002 and 2003 it told the Pentagon multiple times that prisoners in Guantanamo had said that US officials there showed disrespect for the Koran. Here's the lead of the Chicago Tribune's piece on this:
The International Committee of the Red Cross documented what it called credible information about U.S. personnel disrespecting or mishandling Korans at the Guantanamo detention facility and pointed it out to the Pentagon in confidential reports during 2002 and early 2003, an ICRC spokesman said Wednesday.
And Reuters noted:
The International Red Cross told the Pentagon as early as 2002 detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison had reported U.S. officials mishandled the Koran, Red Cross and Pentagon officials said on Thursday.
The acknowledgment of the documentation of alleged abuse of the Koran came as Washington sought to defuse anger in the Muslim world after a U.S. news magazine reported the Muslim holy book was flushed down the toilet at the Guantanamo prison. The magazine later retracted the article.
The International Committee for the Red Cross told the Pentagon "multiple" times in 2002 and early 2003 that prisoners at Guantanamo said U.S. officials showed "disrespect" for the Muslim holy book, said Simon Schorno, an ICRC spokesman.
"The U.S. government took corrective measures and those allegations have not resurfaced," Schorno said.
The ICRC spokesman declined to specify if the allegations included the flushing of the Koran down the toilet or if U.S. officials used the disrespect as part of interrogations.
This sure indicates that, despite what Di Rita said on Tuesday, the Pentagon did receive credible allegations about the mistreatment of the Koran--credible enough to do something about the matter. Reuters further reported:
In January 2003, the U.S. military issued guidelines to personnel at the base outlining how to handle and inspect detainees' Korans.
The memorandum included the order: "Ensure that the Koran is not placed in offensive areas such as the floor, near the toilet or sink, near the feet or dirty/wet areas."
"The guidelines didn't come out of nowhere. You don't get such orders unless there's some problem, concern or controversy," a U.S. official, who asked not to be named, said.
This report does undermine Di Rita's assertions that there were no hints of any problems with the Koran in Gitmo except for a few log entries that raised the possibility the prisoners themselves had defaced their holy book. Will there be pressure on Di Rita to retract his remarks? To apologize? Has he undermined US credibility abroad? Has he been caught in a fib?
If you don't know much about the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), you should. With 50-plus members, it's the single largest caucus in the House, and according to a study by Chris Bowers of MyDD, by far the most loyal to core Democratic values.
At a time in which too many Dems have lost their way (read: spine), CPC members--from co-chairs Barbara Lee (CA) and Lynn Woolsey (CA) to outspoken figures like founder (and Senate hopeful) Bernie Sanders (VT), Dennis Kucinich (OH), Jan Schakowsky (IL), John Conyers (MI), Maurice Hinchey (NY) and Barney Frank (MA)--continue to fight for working Americans, stand against the war, and discuss honorable ways out of Iraq. This week, Lee and Woolsey took a significant step towards strengthening the CPC, hiring grassroots organizer, former AFL-CIO staffer, and Capitol Hill veteran Bill Goold as its first full-time staffer. "There are a growing number of people who are getting involved with politics because they are drawn to the basic principles of fairness and justice that the Progressive Caucus has long represented in Congress," said Lee. "Adding a staff member of Bill's experience will allow the Progressive Caucus to more effectively continue our commitment to these principles."
Goold's arrival should ensure that the CPC builds on its great work to date. Here are some of highlights of the CPC's decade-long struggle for justice (thanks to Karen Dolan of the Institute for Policy Studies):
**The Annual Alternative State of the Union Address and the Alternative Budget, done jointly with the Congressional Black Caucus each year.
**The Preservation of Civil Rights Protections Act of 2001. This bill would protect workers' rights to a trial for alleged violations of their statutory and constitutional rights.
**Pushing the House Democratic caucus to adopt three key reforms improving unemployment insurance: increasing benefits by 25 percent or $65 per week, whichever is greater; broadening elgibility criteria to include part-time workers; and extending unemployment insurance benefits up to 52 weeks in case of long recessions.
**The "American People's Dividend" of 2001, a progressive alternative to Bush tax cuts when the federal budget was in surplus.
**The Economic Human Rights Bus Tour, in which Caucus members travel across the nation with grassroots organizations highlighting the adverse affects of budget priorities on rural and inner-city populations and people of color.
With Goold on board and several other unfolding plans to ramp up the CPC, expect this list to grow significantly in the coming months.
We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by e-mailing email@example.com.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.
I respect the work of the liberal media watchdogs of Media Matters. I appreciate that its website has occasionally linked to my personal blog. Max Blumenthal, a staffmember at Media Matters, has written for The Nation and is a fellow blogger of mine (who isn't?) at HuffingtonPost.com.
I am a friend of Michael Isikoff, who has been catching much flak for his 10-sentence Koran-in-a-john Newsweek item (cowritten with John Barry, another Newsweeker I know and like) that led to deadly rioting in Afghanistan.
Thus, I am saddened to see Media Matters piling on Isikoff in a selective manner. The MMers have a right to criticize Isikoff's performance in this episode and to draw whatever conclusions they wish to regarding Isikoff's and Newsweek's reporting practices. But their primary beef is that the mainstream media, while covering the Newsweek controversy, has not focused on Isikoff's "checkered journalistic record." What particularly ticks off the good folks at Media Matters--which was founded by David Brock, the right-wing journalist who defected from the conservative movement--is that Isikoff was a "leading reporter on the so-called 'Clinton scandals' in the 1990s, including the Paula Jones, Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky cases."
Media Matters' critique of Isikoff draws heavily from Sidney Blumenthal's The Clinton Wars. (Sidney is Max's justifiably proud father.) In that book, Sidney notes, "Isikoff never hesitated in plunging himself excitedly into a wilderness of sex rumors." Using The Clinton Wars as its key source, Media Matter observes, "Isikoff's leading role in reporting sex stories relied heavily on his relationships with [Linda] Tripp and [Lucianne] Goldberg, who provided leads, testimony, and tapes of secretly recorded conversations. However, Tripp's and Goldberg's actions were motivated by their personal interests: specifically, animosity toward Clinton and financial windfall."
I have little desire to paddle about in the muck of those days. At the time, there was much debate on whether reporters should pursue stories on the personal lives of officials and politicians. (And journalists working all sorts of stories--sex-related or not--often have to deal with sources with ulterior motives. I've exposed one or two conservatives via such sources.) I have always had mixed feelings about in-the-bedroom stories. I was the first reporter to confirm the allegation that Representative Henry Hyde, the Republican chairman of the House judiciary committee and a chief foe of Bill Clinton, had been in an extramarital affair decades earlier. But the editors at The Nation chose not to publish that story. Salon had no such reluctance and exposed Hyde's affair without me. When Brock was a journalist of the right he skewered Anita Hill, who had accused Judge Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, as "a little nutty and a little slutty." (No hard feelings. Brock has apologized and made amends for that.) In the 1990s, I also followed up tips that Newt Gingrich, then the House Speaker leading the pro-family values Republicans, was cheating on his wife with a congressional aide. I never was able to confirm the leads and published nothing. But, as we know now, the whispers were true. Would The Nation had published that story? I don't know. But Gail Sheehy in Vanity Fair slyly wrote about the relationship without nailing down the story.
Did Isikoff go too far in his pursuit of Clinton's sexual shenanigans? Media Matters list what it deems to be mistakes committed by Isikoff in that period. Ultimately, the Monica Lewinsky story--which Isikoff was set to break before Matt Drudge, in a way, scooped him--turned out to be all-too true and sordid, while the harassment charge Paula Jones hurled at Clinton (with the help of secret conservative allies) was never proven. Historians and participants can continue to debate the details of all that unpleasantness and the legitimacy of the accompanying journalism.
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on triumphalism and the fall-out from the Iraq elections, and the phony and troubling excuses for Bush's bike ride.
My point is that the MM slam on Isikoff is one-sided. His "checkered" past includes work that liberal media-watchers might consider rather positive. He broke the story of how Alberto Gonzalez, when he was Texas Governor George W. Bush's chief counsel in 1996, connived to get Bush out of a jury duty so that Bush would not have to acknowledge he had once been arrested for drunk driving. (Today Gonzalez is the nation's attorney general.) Isikoff also was a lead debunker of the allegation that Vice President Dick Cheney tossed about before the invasion of Iraq concerning a supposed meeting between Mohamed Atta, the 9/11 ringleader, and an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague. (Isikoff accurately reported that the CIA and FBI had found nothing to this charge.) Last year, after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, Isikoff unearthed the first Justice Department memos showing that the Bush administration had stripped Geneva Convention protections from the prisoners at Guantanamo. He and Mark Hosenball--who together write Newsweek's "Terror Watch" column--recently disclosed that Haliburton had cut a hush-hush deal in Iran and that former GOP presidential candidate Jack Kemp had been questioned by federal investigators about his ties to a businessman under investigation in the oil-for-food scandal. Last year, they detailed how CBS--in the wake of the Dan Rather fiasco--had censored a 60 Minutes segment on the forged documents purporting to show Iraqi efforts to obtain uranium in Niger.
At the start of his administration, President George H.W. Bush delivered a major speech on the drug war in which he exclaimed that crack was even being sold across the street from the White House, and he held up a vial of crack that supposedly had been confiscated during this arrest. Isikoff revealed that this arrest had been a setup, that drug agents had lured a dealer to the spot in order to obtain ammo for Bush's speech. In 2000, Isikoff broke the news that the Bush presidential campaign was giving tracking numbers to its fundraisers so the campaign could monitor how much each industry was contributing to Bush.
There's a technical term in journalism for this sort of reporting: good stuff. Isikoff has been around a long time. I'm not going to defend what he did during the Monica madness. (He wrote a book on all that.) Nor am I going to make excuses for what happened with the Koran item. But there is much more to his career than these two chapters. He has produced a good share of standout journalism.
Admittedly I have a bias in favor of a friend. Still, here's a modest suggestion to Media Matters (and I do hope my friends there consider this constructive criticism): don't use this occasion to revive the old battles of the Clinton days; Isikoff is not the enemy. Instead, consider this slice of Elisabeth Bumiller's piece in today'sThe New York Times:
Republicans close to the White House said that although President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were genuinely angered by the Newsweek article, West Wing officials were also exploiting it in an effort to put a check on the press.
"There's no expectation that they're going to bring down Newsweek, but there is a feeling that there is no check on what you guys do," said one outside Bush adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to be identified as talking about possible motives of the White House.
"In the course of any administration," he continued, "you have three or four opportunities, at most, with a high-profile press mistake. And if you're going to make a point - and no White House is ever going to love the way it's covered - you have to highlight those places where there is a screw-up."
So the White House is eagerly waging war on the media. (By the way, as another Media Matters report says, "top U.S. military officials contended that other factors led to the violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan.") I and other never-forget war skeptics have noted previously that the Bush gang got a lot more wrong than Newsweek did with the story of a Koran in a toilet. The Bushies peddled the phony tale that Iraq posed a WMD threat, and they have not apologized for that or retracted the war. Worse, the White House, the Pentagon, the Republicans in Congress are enthusiastically taking advantage of Newsweek's mistakes to weaken a mainstream media that already does not challenge the administration sufficiently. (After all, where's all the media fuss about the infamous Downing Street memo that provided further evidence Bush misled the public on the way to war?) True, the Newsweek screw-up has handed the administration and its comrades a delicious opportunity. But those who yearn for an assertive and independent media ought to fret more about the ongoing campaign to exploit this matter than Isikoff's past, checkered or otherwise.
IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. SO DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research.... [I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer.... Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations.... Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."
For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there.
Norm Coleman is a fool.
Not an ideological nut case, not a partisan whack, not even a useful idiot -- just a plain old-fashioned, drool-on-his-tie fool.
The Minnesota Republican senator who took Paul Wellstone's seat after one of the most disreputable campaigns in American political history has been trying over the past year to make a name for himself by blowing the controversy surrounding the United Nations Oil-for-Food program into something more than the chronicle of corporate abuse that it is. The US media, which thrives on official sound bites, was more than willing to lend credence to Coleman's overblown claims about wrongdoing in the UN program set up in 1996 to permit Iraq -- which was then under strict international sanctions -- to buy food, medicine and humanitarian supplies with the revenues from regulated oil sales. Even as Coleman's claims became more and more fantastic, he faced few challenges from the cowering Democrats in Congress.
But when Coleman started slandering foreign politicians, he exposed the dramatic vulnerability of his claims that the supposed scandal was much more than a blatant example of US corporations taking advantage of their powerful connections in Washington to undermine official US policy, harm the national interest and profit off the suffering of the poor.
The Senate investigation that Coleman sought regarding the Oil for Food program has already revealed that the Bush Administration failed to crack down on widespread abuse of the Oil for Food program by US energy companies, and that US oil purchases accounted for the majority of the kickbacks paid to Saddam Hussein's regime in return for sales of inexpensive oil. Indeed, the report concludes, "The United States (government) was not only aware of Iraqi oil sales which violated UN sanctions and provided the bulk of the illicit money Saddam Hussein obtained from circumventing UN sanctions. On occasion, the United States actually facilitated the illicit oil sales."
Instead of forcing the President, his aides and the executives of Bayoil, the Texas oil company that the report shows paid "at least $37 million in illegal surcharges to the Hussein regime" -- money that helped the Iraqi dictator solidify his grip on power -- Coleman started to make wild charges about European officials such as British parliamentarian George Galloway.
The problem for Coleman is that Galloway is not a standard-issue American politician -- the kind who has nothing to say and says it poorly. He is a veteran of the rough-and-tumble politics of Glasgow and the equally rough-and-tumble politics of the British Parliament. In other words, Galloway comes from places where voters and politicians do not suffer fools. And anyone who has ever followed British politics knows that George Galloway has beaten every political challenge he has faced -- even those posed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Galloway called Coleman's bluff and flew to Washington for a remarkable appearance before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. "I am determined now that I am here, to be not the accused but the accuser," Galloway announced as he stood outside the Capitol Tuesday. "These people are involved in the mother of all smokescreens."
The member of Parliament tore through Coleman's flimsy "evidence," issuing an unequivocal denial that began, "Mr. Chairman, I am not now, nor have I ever been an oil trader, and neither has anyone been on my behalf. I have never seen a barrel of oil, owned one, bought one, sold one, and neither has anybody on my behalf." He accused Coleman of being "remarkably cavalier with any idea of justice" and pointed out error after error in the report the senator had brandished against him.
For instance, Galloway noted that he had met Saddam twice -- not the "many" times alleged by the report. "As a matter of fact I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times that [Secretary of Defense] Donald Rumsfeld met him," said the recently re-elected British parliamentarian. "The difference is that Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns."
For good measure, Galloway used the forum Coleman had foolishly provided to deliver a blistering condemnation of Coleman's war.
"Now, Senator, I gave my heart and soul to oppose the policy that you promoted. I gave my political life's blood to try to stop the mass killing of Iraqis by the sanctions on Iraq which killed one million Iraqis, most of them children, most of them died before they even knew that they were Iraqis, but they died for no other reason other than that they were Iraqis with the misfortune to born at that time. I gave my heart and soul to stop you committing the disaster that you did commit in invading Iraq. And I told the world that your case for the war was a pack of lies," Galloway informed the fool on Capitol Hill.
"I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims, did not have weapons of mass destruction. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to Al Qaeda. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11, 2001. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end but merely the end of the beginning.
"Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong, and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1,600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies.
"If the world had listened to [UN Secretary General] Kofi Annan, whose dismissal you demanded, if the world had listened to [French] President Chirac, who you want to paint as some kind of corrupt traitor, if the world had listened to me and the antiwar movement in Britain, we would not be in the disaster that we are in today. Senator, this is the mother of all smokescreens. You are trying to divert attention from the crimes that you supported, from the theft of billions of dollars of Iraq's wealth," argued Galloway.
Then the Brit turned the tables on Coleman and steered the committee's attention toward "the real Oil for Food scandal."
"Have a look at the fourteen months you were in charge of Baghdad, the first fourteen months when $8.8 billion of Iraq's wealth went missing on your watch. Have a look at Halliburton and other American corporations that stole not only Iraq's money but the money of the American taxpayer," Galloway said.
"Have a look at the oil that you didn't even meter, that you were shipping out of the country and selling, the proceeds of which went who knows where. Have a look at the $800 million you gave to American military commanders to hand out around the country without even counting it or weighing it. Have a look at the real scandal breaking in the newspapers today, revealed in the earlier testimony in this committee. That the biggest sanctions busters were not me or Russian politicians or French politicians. The real sanctions busters were your own companies with the connivance of your own Government."
(John Nichols's new book, Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books), was published January 30. Howard Zinn says, "At exactly the time when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift -- a collection of writings, speeches, poems and songs from throughout American history -- that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country." Frances Moore Lappé calls Against the Beast "brilliant! A perfect book for an empire in denial." Against the Beast can be found at independent bookstores nationwide and can be obtained online by tapping the above reference or at www.amazon.com.)
In January, I wrote my first Annals of Outrage weblog about the waste, fraud and abuse that the Bush Administration has perpetrated against the US taxpayer. But so much has happened in just the last three months--a cornucopia of corruption stemming, in large part, from the war in Iraq and the growing scandal that is Rumsfeld's Department of Defense--that I felt the time had arrived to do another top ten list of the most serious GAO and Inspector Generals' (IG) reports that have recently become available. It's a bracing series of studies, revealing the ever-widening scandals in this post-9-11, say-and-do-anything political environment. Happy Reading.
1) Halliburton Redux: The revelations seem to never stop when it comes to the Defense Department's favorite corporate client, Halliburton. In April, Henry Waxman released summaries of five reports in which the Defense Contract Audit Agency cited as questionable $212 million that Halliburton's subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root spent in Iraq under a no-bid contract. The money given to Halliburton by Defense was part of a $1.69 billion no-bid contract awarded the company. The auditors told the Army that it should withhold some of Halliburton's money. The Army refused. Halliburton continues to do its work and make millions in Iraq.
2) Democracy in the Middle East: Iraq is a "free-fraud zone." That's the description that a bravewhistleblower Frank Willis--who had served as a senior advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq--called Iraq a few weeks ago. It's hard to know where to begin. The scope of the corruption beyond Halliburton is so widespread and endemic that multiple investigations by the government and non-governmental organizations are underway to see how much the fraud, waste and abuse have cost the US taxpayer. One corruption watchdog organization, Transparency International, reported in March that the US had completely mismanaged Iraq's oil revenues, used "faulty procedures for awarding reconstruction contracts," and that we were now potentially facing "the biggest corruption scandal in history."
In addition to all of the problems associated with Halliburton, our reconstruction efforts have also come under fire from IGs and the GAO because US officials failed to provide the proper training and oversight for private security firms doing contract work in Iraq. CACI International Inc., for instance, had an essentially free hand to conduct interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison. The Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction Stuart Bowen reported as well that US officials have been unable to account for how nearly $100 million slated for Iraqi reconstruction projects had been spent. The IG is now investigating whether anyone in the US-led Development Fund for Iraq committed outright fraud.
3) Bagram Out-of-Control: According to reports written by the Army Criminal Investigation Command that Human Rights Watch obtained last month, the US military committed some of its worst prisoner abuses in Afghanistan. The reports reveal in new, horrifying details the extent to which American soldiers abused Afghan prisoners so severely that two detainees died at the Bagram Control Point where the military was holding them. ("The deaths took place nearly a year before the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq," the New York Times reported.)
4) DOD's Fraud: In January, the GAO faulted the Department of Defense as the most-fraud prone agency within the federal government. David Walker, the Comptroller General of the GAO, said that DOD's repeated failures to curb waste and other abuses "results in billion of dollars in waste each year and inadequate accountability to the Congress and the American taxpayer." The DOD is asleep at the wheel in such areas as mismanaging finances and contracts, giving personnel security clearances, mismanaging military bases and failing to modernize its computer systems. A Defense Department spokeswoman responded to the GAO's findings by saying that "it's a little bit premature at this time for us to have a full response."
5) DOD's Fraud, Part 2: Nowhere, perhaps, has the DOD run into more trouble than in its lax procurement procedures. Boeing has been at the center of this storm. Former Defense Department official and Boeing executive Darleen Druyun went to jail because she did favors for Boeing while working in the procurement office of the Defense Department--and then got a plum job with Boeing as a reward. The government has launched a whopping 48 investigations because of the Druyun scandal, and the Druyun controversy also gave birth to the Procurement Fraud Working Group, a federal task force that investigates procurement fraud in the federal government. With John McCain and other members of Congress criticizing the DOD's procurement practices including its relationship with Boeing, the Army took the step of changing at least one Boeing contract and "the Air Force restructured a contract with Lockheed Martin Corp. for C-130J transport planes," the Washington Post reported.
6) TSA's Egregious Spending: That's right. The agency responsible for protecting America's skies has its priorities all wrong. The Inspector General for the Dept. of Homeland Security reported in April that TSA has spent lavishly--to the tune of $500,000--buying artwork and silk plants for a TSA operations center whose mission is monitoring transportation security incidents. It's certainly not the first time that TSA has mismanaged taxpayer dollars. The agency--created by the Administration after the Sept. 11th, 2001 attacks--wasted almost $500,000 on creating an office suite for its first leader, hosted a birthday party (for itself) and awards banquet costing another nearly half a million dollars, bought Sub-Zero refrigerators at $3,000 a pop, and spent thousands of dollars over three years to put cable television in employees' offices. TSA employees "ignored federal contracting rules and appeared to conceal their spending," the Washington Post explained, and a different IG report revealed that TSA is still failing to find guns and knives when tests were run at airport security checkpoints.
7) Mercury Politics: Nikki Tinsley, the EPA's Inspector General, disclosed in February that Administration officials had instructed the EPA's staff to set artificially low limits on mercury pollution and then find a way to justify a pre-determined policy. Doing the bidding of coal-burning power plants and other industries, the Administration, Tinsley courageously charged, dismissed scientific evidence and ignored the agency's procedures to reach a policy that allows more mercury into the environment, which has been shown to be especially harmful to children and pregnant women.
8) "The Jungle": In February, the GAO issued a groundbreaking report about the flaws in protecting workers employed by the meat and poultry industries. The GAO found, for instance, that while statistics in the numbers of injuries on the job appear to be declining, the industries might not be reporting these figures accurately, and that working at such plants remains hazardous work. No single federal agency monitors the line speed at the plants and protects workers from getting injured because of the pressures of production. The GAO and the Department of Health and Human Services encountered resistance from the big poultry and meatpacking companies in gaining access to their facilities.
9) DoJ's White-Collar Friends: In March, the GAO discovered that the Justice Department had failed to collect fines and other forms of restitution from white-collar criminals who were high-ranking corporate officials. (They went unnamed in the report because their cases are still pending.) While some of the criminals claimed to be wiped out--saying that they lacked the resources to pay the fines to the federal government--they were still luxuriating in million dollar homes. Some of the criminals had hidden their assets from the government. The Justice Department acted like it didn't care one way or the other. And the GAO also reported that two of the criminals in question traveled overseas while they were on supervised release--adding fuel to the fire that white-collar criminals are living large even as they avoid paying the fines the courts ordered them to pay. Only about seven percent of the $568 million in court-ordered restitution to crime victims has been collected, the GAO reported.
10) Do Tell: Also in February, the GAO reported that the cost of the government's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policies amounted to nearly $200 million from 1994 to 2003. The costs involved the amount of money needed to recruit and train replacements including translators and other highly skilled troops for the men and women discharged under the Army's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Marty Meehan, the Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts, wants to pass legislation that will repeal the policy which forces soldiers out of the Armed Forces and causes the country to lose access to these talented people willing to serve.
In 2000, Bush vowed that he would restore "integrity" to the White House. No surprise, that hasn't happened. But at least these reports show there are federal investigators who--unlike many Administration officials--are willing to do the hard work to promote ethics in government.
I'm just back from St. Louis, where Free Press staged its second National Conference on Media Reform. Bringing together more than 2,000 of the country's most dedicated and innovative media activists and content producers with dozens of bold-face progressive names for three days of panels, meetings, strategy sessions and parties, the conference showed both the strengths and weaknesses of what now must be called an actual media reform movement.
The most obvious problem was the lack of significant representation of the vibrant non-white media movements in the US. But this conference was better on that front than the last, and the paucity of black and brown faces at the confab made it difficult for attendees and organizers to avoid this elephant in the room.
Other than the composition of the crowd, what most struck me was everyone's seriousness. Not just the panels and seminars but even the conversations in the hallways and bars spoke of fervor and conviction. People really care about creating independent media. The range of innovative projects on display and up for conversation was awesome. I could pen a year's worth of ActNow posts just by highlighting all the great ideas I heard over drinks on my first day in St. Louis.
DeGraf describes the idea as "collective intelligence and activist e-commerce" (and made a good pitch, along with his collaborator Jennifer Nix of CG, for The Nation to come on board). As his site explains, "it is something we (the users) are building together, an open resource on books: which are great, why, on what subjects, in whose opinion." It's also "a way to use online shopping to effect change. BWL collectivizes online book (actually any product at Amazon, Powells, etc.) purchases, maximizes the resulting sales commissions, and pools them to fertilize progressive independent media." Click here to learn more.
Later that day, I met some local St. Louis activists who operate a website called TrueBlueLiberal which seeks to make clear the strong presence of many so-called "blues" living and fighting in the so-called "red" states.
That night, I saw a brilliant presentation by Kim Spencer of LinkTV and Paul Jay, a Canadian visionary intent on creating the world's first global independent news network. Operating online and on TV, the idea is to deliver independent news and real debate--without funding from governments, corporations or commercial advertising. Jay convincingly argued that internet fundraising makes it possible, as he laid out the details of his Independent World Television project. In a few years, IWT could be big. (And LinkTV is already on the air in 25 million homes in America. Click here for info on how to sign up.)
Much later, way past when I thought I'd still be learning things, I heard about microbicides, which could be the most important innovation in reproductive health since the pill. No effective microbicide is yet available to the public but ultimately, an inexpensive gel or cream could be produced which could be used by either men or women to prevent the sexual transmission of STDs, most importantly AIDS. The problem is that the economic self-interest of pharmecutical companies is not served by investing in necessary microbicide R&D. So click here to help support the campaign to press for a massive infusion of government investment to fill this R&D gap.
Apologies to all the many great ideas on display in St. Louis unremarked on here. I will try to get to them. And check out the Free Press site for coverage of the conference and info on how you can get involved in the fight for a more democratic media system.
As I wrote in March, charismatic SEIU leader Andy Stern has been anything but shy about triggering the most far-reaching strategic debate in labor in more than a generation. And while I disagree with some of SEIU's argument about what is to be done, I admire Stern's call for dramatic structural changes, his openness to remake labor's traditional ties to the Democratic Party and create new institutions and alliances for working people. His sense of urgency, even desperation about the future of labor is admirable and welcome.
On Monday, SEIU--along with its insurgent allies, including the Teamsters, Laborers and UNITE HERE --issued an unprecedented joint statement of principles, "Restoring the American Dream: Building a 21st Century Labor Movement That Can Win." (Click below to find Andy Stern's blog, and then scroll to the end where he encourages you to read the unions' joint proposal.)
Together these unions represent 5.5 million members, and the majority of the major organizing unions in the private sector. (The UFCW was also involved in drafting the statement and will take it to their executive board meeting for endorsement; the proposal is also being discussed with the Carpenters Union.)
The joint plan, Stern is proud to report, has been sent to local unions--just another sign of how savvy SEIU and Stern have been in using the Internet to communicate with the rank and file.
I caught up with Stern in NY on Monday, where he was attending a Personal Democracy Forum conference on blogging and democracy. After doing one of his trademark podcasts, and on his way to meet with the NYT's Steven Greenhouse to lay out the AFL insurgents' latest salvo, Stern quipped, "Wouldn't it be great if we could get the locals to vote on this? Someday."
As veteran labor commentator Jonathan Tasini notes today in his blog, Working Life, "The main political point of this proposal--and the public comments of the insurgent leaders--is to express a no-confidence vote in the Sweeney leadership and turn up the hear for a change in leadership."
Fundamental change is needed, but I still despair of the consequences of a split in the House of Labor --which is under such fierce attack by the most anti-labor Administration in modern history. Can a compromise be found? One that will bring about a revival of the AFL, create a federation that can truly change workers' lives, and address the larger problem of how to revitalize a broader movement for economic democracy and social justice? I hope so.
We'll soon find out when labor gathers in Chicago this July.
Andy Stern's blog: www.unitetowinblog.org/print/2005/5/16/131154/400.