Gathered in the lobby at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, the participants arriving for the Stopping Merchants of Death (SMoD) Strategic Conference looked pretty innocuous. Except for the telltale signs of stacks of WIN Magazine and various other pamphlets and literature, one may never have guessed that an international conspiracy to stop war profiteers from pillaging the world’s resources was underway.
From September 29 to October 2, more than 60 activists from 37 different grassroots organizations throughout the country and beyond descended on the Twin Cities to share information and build and strengthen relationships. Participants represented a wide variety of groups including religious communities, environmentalists, veterans of the anti-nuclear movement, and student organizers and teachers. Each brought a particular focus and expertise to the overall struggle to expose and disarm war profiteers.
The conference was the result of a year-long collaboration between veteran organizers of the Honeywell Project, War Resisters League's Anti-Militarism Program, and Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. The Honeywell Project, a successful 30-year campaign to force the Honeywell Corporation to get rid of its military contracts in the wake of Vietnam, hosted the event from their home base in Minneapolis. The collective is now known as Alliant Action and continues its work against Honeywell's spin-off corporation Alliant Tech, the makers of depleted uranium munitions.
The opening session of the conference began with a screening of Robert Greenwald’s documentary film, "Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers," which was followed by comments from several panelists based on their extensive research and experience. Frida Berrigan of the Arms Trade Resource Center began by pointing out the enormous implications of a study mentioned briefly in the film. Commissioned by in 1992 by then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, the study was conducted by Halliburton and ultimately determined that privatization of formerly military contracts or outsourcing military logistics was both feasible and profitable. That same year, Berrigan explained, "Dick Cheney left public office to become the CEO of Halliburton, exemplifying the revolving door between government and corporations profiting from 'reconstruction;. These same corporations then influence public policy, instigating endless war."
David Meiran from the Uprise Tour on counter-military recruitment and corporate globalization suggested incorporating lessons from the struggle of Act Up! and other organizations who worked against drug profiteers in the 1980s. A successful strategy in those campaigns, Meiran says, was focusing on "pressuring individual CEOs and executives by exposing their deeds to the people in their own local community was very effective." He also stressed the importance of differentiating between "front end" merchants of death--companies that develop resources and military infrastructure to support war--and "back end" merchants, who are engaged in lobbying and clandestine efforts to further corporate globalization.
The above is from Mimi LaValley's "Reflections on Stopping the Merchants of Death Strategic Conference" (WIN -- periodical of the War Resisters League) and we're starting with it to make the point that a lot of activism goes on that you never hear about. Possibly, you can't devote all your 2007 time to covering the 2008 election and still find time to inform people who pay for your magazine of conferences. Besides, if you did, you might not be able to get in your slams about what you think the peace movement's doing wrong -- which is really all the coverage the peace movement gets from our biggy independent print mags. Before 2007 ends, you'll know every detail about a candidates personal life (nothing about their actual records other than sweeping generalities -- the sort of crap that allows some to pass Obey off as a "progressive" or "left" leader), but you won't be informed because American Idol: The Political Process isn't intended to inform, just to gas bag and waste a lot of time.
They're just there to try and make the people free,
But the way that they're doing it, it don't seem like that to me.
Just more blood-letting and misery and tears
That this poor country's known for the last twenty years,
And the war drags on.
-- words and lyrics by Mick Softly (available on Donovan's Fairytale)
Last Thursday, AP's number for the US troops killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war was 3194 and ICCC's was 3207. AP's count is 3230, ICCC's is also 3230. For those who forgot (or missed it, it got very little coverage), the 3200 mark was mid-week, last week. Over 30 deaths since the middle of last week. Do you see that covered? Big or small media? Do you see it covered? You get nonsense about how someone in DC knows more about a bombing (that they wouldn't give the day on -- later they would say it was Sunday) than the US military in Baghdad where the bombing took place, that gets a big story. That they run with. Inflated figures (which a number of outlets had to correct today) on bombings, that they run with. But telling the American people that, in the midst of the crackdown, in the midst of the escalation, we've seen thirty US service members die in approximately a week (a week and one day), that's not a story. And why do you suppose that is? 64 for the month. Imagine that no other US service members died for the rest of the month, that would still be approximately two deaths a day.
Where's the media, big and small?
Before we get to that, we'll note the report on today's violence in Iraq by Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers): 25 corpses discovered in Baghdad, 2 people shot dead in Baghdad, one police officer dead in Baghdad from a roadside bomb, and five wounded in a Baghdad mortar attack; in Basra: five prisoners are injured at Shi'aiba Prison, a clash between two militias led to one person killed and four injured and "A women's rights activist killed. Tuhfa Al-Bachari, was assassinated in her home, in Al-Jem'iyat neighborhood, 7 km west of Basra City centre, yesterday. She is sister of Belsem Al-Bechari, Member of the Governorate Council of Basra, and was head of a women's organization." And Reuters which took the day off (didn't announce it, didn't explain it)? Even at this late date they can't report what Issa did or, for that matter, what AP and others were able to. For a laugh, read their Factbox for today -- one that was updated "one minute ago"! And they can't even tell you the corpse count.
So where are they? Where is everyone? Largely covering for Democrats. Let's note David Swanson's "Why the Progressive Caucus Should Vote No on War Money" (Democracy Rising) which Lynda e-mailed to highlight:
The Supplemental spending bill proposed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi funds the war. It gives Cheney and Bush roughly another $100 billion. And you can be quite sure they will spend it as they choose, which may include attacking Iran. In fact, a measure in the bill requiring Bush to get Congress's approval before attacking Iran (an attack that would violate the US Constitution and the UN charter) has been removed.
The bill also requires Iraq to turn much of its oil profits over to foreign corporations. This illegally rewards the Bush and Cheney gang for their illegal war.
Beyond that, the bill does a number of things to nudge Bush in the direction of limiting the war, but most of them are for show.
This bill pretends to ban torture. Torture was always illegal. The framers of our Constitution sought to leave such practices behind in England. The US is a party to international treaties banning all torture. Nonetheless, the last Congress, the Republican Congress, banned torture, and Bush used a signing statement to announce his intention to ignore the ban. Now Pelosi wants credit for pretending to ban torture again. You cannot ban torture under a dictator who has publicly announced that he will ignore your bans. You can only end torture by ending the pretense that there is not a dictator living in the Vice President's house.
The bill also intends to pretend to limit how many days a soldier or Marine can be kept in Iraq. The Republican Congress did this in 2003, and Bush threw it out with a signing statement.
Some previous presidents had used signing statements, but never to announce their intention to disobey the law. And in many cases, including the two I've just mentioned, we know that Bush has in fact disobeyed those laws.
And don't imagine that Nancy Pelosi is unaware of this. She's a step ahead of you. She's included in the bill a right for the president to waive the restrictions. So, this time, no signing statement will be needed. Instead we'll get a waiver. I'm sure that'll make the soldier on his or her third tour of Iraq feel better when they're told that they're going to stay a little longer this time. In polls last year our troops in Iraq said they wanted to all come home last year.
Lynda wonders if the Dems are pushing this because of the oil? She wonders if, after Iraq's oil is privatized, suddenly Dems in Congress will be in agreement that it's time for US troops to withdraw? Who knows? It's a topic our independent media can't explore because they're too busy providing cover for the Dem leadership in the House. As Kat points out, in a devastating critique, even Free Speech Radio News' Leigh Ann Caldwell slants the coverage. That's really sad. When even Free Speech Radio News is slanting their coverage (and the editorial -- it was an editorial by Caldwell -- and only allowing a US House Rep who supports the measure to speak is slanting the coverage), it's really sad. I really thought the high minded purpose of journalism was to inform and it's really sad to see the usually dependable KPFA team be so eager to sell anything (the Pelosi measure in this case) that they're really not interested in informing but they are interested in slanting. That's really sad. By the way, Zach noted Kat's critique. And like Kat and myself, Zach listen to KPFA around the clock. It's been really sad.
Zach says he's not even sure if he's up to listening tomorrow. I understand. I heard Joy of Resistance (WBAI) today for that reason. I called a friend in NYC and said, "Please tell me WBAI has an actual program on with real information." He put the phone to the radio and I heard the NOW's New Jersey president talk about the importance of impeachment, Congress' need to listen to the people and also a lengthy report on women in Iran. After that, I held my nose and listened to NPR. I'll do that when I'm on the road and have no choice but you can count on one hand the number of times I do that when I'm home.
It's really strange to see KPFA marginalize the voices for peace. To act like it's some small group. It's not. It's bad enough when the likes of Obey want to lecture about how responsible they are, it's even worse when KPFA provides cover for that. (I'm referring to the news department.)
Now let's talk about the realities of responsibility. The Congress has been irresponsible. The Congress has allowed the illegal war to go on for four years. The Dem leadership didn't include Iraq in their 100 day list. The Congress only began doing what little they have done as a result of pressure from the people.
Apologists can offer all the excuses they want. They can talk about the pressure and how hard it is and blah blah boo hoo blah. If they want an easy job, they can resign. They ran for office. This is their job. An illegal war is dragging on, if that's too much for a Congress member to address, they need to offer their resignation. Iraqis don't have the opportunity of escaping reality. US service members serving in Iraq don't have the luxury our Congress does. Family members and friends who've lost someone or go through each day hoping that this isn't the day the military pulls up to deliver an announcement don't have the easy lives of Congress.
Poor Nancy Pelosi, she's having to serve a district and to be a national figure. Well, she wanted it. She got it. It's not just magazine covers and interviews. She's there to do the people's work, to work for the people.
They pulled the "no" to war on Iran, they gave Bully Boy easy outs that allow him to ignore their so-called "benchmarks." A lot more but we can't get coverage of that. We can get justifications, we can get excuses. Now you expect that from Congress -- which only acted this much due to significant pressure coming to bear -- but you don't expect apologists from the supposed left to pop off about how Obey's a nice guy and you just stop picking on him! And you don't expect KPFA or Free Speech Radio News which fought like crazy to be independent to throw out sop to listeners. I enjoy the work Caldwell has done but that editorializing was embarrassing. It was so against the principles that led to Free Speech Radio News that I honestly wondered why so many of us fought to save KPFA. That's how disappointed in KPFA's coverage. I found myself thinking today, "Maybe they should have been sold off."
People who fought for that station to be free did so with the understanding that they would be independent. When Caldwell's offering excuses (masking as reporting) for the Dem leadership, that's not independence -- it's not straight reporting either. And if KPFA does too much more of that, they better hope they don't come under attack again because too much more of that will result in people not fighting this time, listeners saying, "What's the point?"
The Evening News tonight? Never so much booing. A full house of people (over fifty, I didn't do a head count) booing as the evening news refused to report that the "benchmarks" had outs built in. They don't have to be for or against the Pelosi measure, they do have a responsibility to tell the listeners the truth about it. Mia shared similar sentiments in her e-mail and noted this (and that it wasn't noted on KPFA today), "Progressive Democrats of America: Disappointed in Democratic Leadership" (via Common Dreams):
WASHINGTON - March 22 - As the House debates the Iraq Supplemental, Progressive Democrats of America director Tim Carpenter issued this statement on the Democratic leadership's refusal to allow a vote on Barbara Lee's Amendment for fully-funded, orderly Iraq withdrawal by end of 2007:
"It is antiwar sentiment that put Democrats into majority control of Congress. The recent USA Today-Gallup poll showed 58 percent of Americans want U.S. troops out of Iraq within a year, or earlier. We are profoundly disappointed that the Lee Amendment – which reflects majority sentiment in the country -- was not allowed to be debated and voted upon by the full House."
Continued Carpenter: "In a free vote, we believe roughly 90 members of Congress would have supported the Lee Amendment and the desires of most Americans to get out of Iraq. Having prevented that vote, the leadership's weak supplemental that prolongs funding of an unwinnable occupation is now more susceptible to wrong-headed attacks from Republicans and certain media circles as somehow risky or extreme."
"We commend Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey and Maxine Waters for their years of brave leadership right up to this morning in the struggle to end the U.S. occupation -- a struggle that helped shift control of Congress last November."
A struggle? You wouldn't know it to listen to KPFA.
Pelosi and Reid have a job to do. The antiwar movement has a job to do. The jobs are not the same. This should be obvious -- but, judging from public and private debates now fiercely underway among progressive activists and organizations, there's a lot of confusion in the air. No amount of savvy Capitol-speak can change the fact that 'benchmarks' are euphemisms for more war. And when activists pretend otherwise, they play into the hands of those who want the war to go on . . . and on . . . and on.
That's from Norman Solomon's "The Pragmatism of Prolonged War" (CounterPunch) (which we picked as "Truest statement of the week" for last week. The peace movement's job is to keep the pressure on until the troops come home. It's job is not to hear lectures from weak asses who really shouldn't pass themselves off as "media" anymore than James Carville should -- if you work on campaigns, you shouldn't be considered journalists. The revolving door hasn't helped the maisntream and it doesn't help independent media. (I'm referring to the Obey apologist.) Now NPR, among other outlets, has in place what someone can and cannot cover if a spouse is working for a campaign. What does independent media have in place? Does anyone know? What about disclosures? Mike points out the laughable disclosure offered by Peter Rothberg. AlterPunk wants to create a Bloggers Council but it seems like he should worry about independent media policing itself.
One of the misconceptions of Democrats is that there was a "need" to build up think tanks, et al. There were already think tanks. True ones, not Democratic mills. Chief among them The Institute for Policy Studies. (There are a number of others, I'm not in the mood to hunt down links so I'll just note that one.) We already had organizations -- Center for Constitutional Rights, National Lawyers Guild, etc. We had FAIR. The Clintonistas (non-recovering -- I've admitted I was a big Bill Clinton supporter) with their Democratic organizations have a place and some do some strong work but there's no reason for The Nation to form alliances with them. (Some? The only one I've seen that does solid work is Media Matters. It's also the only one we link to and it's upfront about being a Democratic watchdog.) An Air America Radio (as it turned out) wasn't needed. (We've noted the exceptions before -- they're very few.) A noise machine for the Democratic Party wasn't the answer to the truth. It might be an answer to getting Democrats elected, but it's not an answer to the truth. In fact, many have hurt the truth. When Michael Ratner's trying to get Congress to take action on Guantanamo, which of the partisan organizations are backing him up by adding pressure?
As the same do-nothings who did nothing but provide cover for the Democrats inaction on the war, for the Democrats appeasement of Republicans, for the Democrats' silence on Guantanamo, they rushed out to assure you that this was what we had to settle for (whatever "this" was at the moment -- dependent upon the talking points being handed down at that moment), they now rush out again to tell you this is what everyone has to settle for, pipe down, don't object, fall in line.
Those organizations, if you don't remember, didn't do a damn thing to make Congress move on the war. And there's no reason to listen to an Obey apologist now. That The Nation has tied themselves to those organizations explains why there is so little independence in that magazine today.
Here's what happens if you listen to the apologists and take the happy pill: Congress goes back to doing nothing. The less they do, the Dems, other than scold Republicans, the better it is for the 2008 elections. The more problems they highlight (but don't solve), the more they can sell, "You need us in 2008." They're like drug pushers giving you a tiny fix to try and keep you coming back. Can the Democratic Party take brave steps? Yes, they can. If they're forced to stand upright. Can that happen between now and 2008? Who knows? (I think not.) But the only way anything will be accomplished is by people demanding action (on all issues) and by people owning their power which is not limited to the ballot box.
There's something very sick about the apologists (such as the one featured on Democracy Now! today) being disturbed by the fact that the people want to be heard, that the people want to demand action. Independent media's role is not to win elections. It's role is to provide the truth. Puff pieces on candidates isn't the truth. Independent media, like big media, will always fail. Like big media, it may get a fact wrong, but it shouldn't fail because it's hooked up with party organs. There's more that could be said but I'll leave it at that because we're talking about a piece for The Third Estate Sunday Review on this and other topics for Sunday. But it bears noting that when you hook up with MoveOn, you are not independent media. When you work with them on events or books, you aren't independent. You are a party organ.
The Nation didn't force Congress to act (as little as the Congress is acting). They didn't care about Iraq for all of 2006 (we're talking print edition). They didn't help the peace movement so they really have no right to hector it. They've never written about Abeer. They've never covered the destruction of women's rights in Iraq or the violence that women are targeted with.
Online, they've added a new blog. If you think it's about Iraq, you've missed the current state of the magazine -- it's a campaign blog. For those who didn't get enough in each week's issue. I'm going to word this poorly (I'm tired and want to get this posted) but Robert Parry (who is an independent journalist and not a partisan) can call out the Democrats on their collaboration with Republicans over the last few years. (And before. He's not one of the ones being silly and telling you that the press fall apart when Bill Clinton was running for president in 1992.) He could form alliances. It would probably allow Consortium News to be floating in the cash. But that's not journalism, so he struggles each year. The same thing with MediaChannel.org. And those are the outlets The Nation should be working with and highlighting. It's rather sad that instead they seem addicted to Clintonistas.
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and the war drags on