The Terrible Truth

It’s hard to chose which deserves the coarser jeer: the excited baying in the press about the non discovery of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or the wailing in the press about the 3-2 decision of the Federal Communications Commission last week to allow corporate media giants to increase their domination of the market.

Actually they’re all part of the same binding curve of nonsense, and if we meld the two, we’re left with the following ridiculous proposition, most keenly promoted by Democrats eager to impart the impression that only greedy Republicans are serfs of the corporate media titans, and that the Telecommunications “Reform” Act of 1996 was actually a well-intended effort to return the airwaves to Us The People.

The ridiculous proposition: Until the FCC vote this week, We the people, surfing through the tv channels, or across the AM/FM radio dial, were afforded diversity of choice, the better to form those reasoned political judgments essential in the functioning of this democratic republic.

The ridiculous proposition continued: In the run-up to the US/UK attack on Iraq and before the latest FCC ruling unleashed darkness upon the land, we were afforded a multiplicity of analyses, not just from hole-in-the-wall operations like Pacifica or satellite-based LINKS TV. Night after night the bulk of the American people were able to enjoy well-informed reporting, suggesting that the Bush administration’s accusations that Saddam Hussein had WMDs ready to use in as little as 45 minutes no factual foundation.

But now, after the FCC decision, these voices will be stilled. We are entering the era of Big Brother.

You think I’m joking? Here’s what one of the two Democratic FCC commissioners, Michael J. Copps, said before the vote, with his grand words now approvingly quoted by liberal editorial writers and pundits: “Today the Federal Communications Commission empowers America’s new media elite with unacceptable levels of influence over the ideas and information upon which our society and our democracy so heavily depend. The decision we five make today will recast our entire media landscape for years to come. At issue is whether a few corporations will be ceded enhanced gatekeeper control over the civil dialogue of our country; more content control over our music, entertainment and information; and veto power over the majority of what our families watch, hear and read.”

Now, didn’t this happen, oh, forty, fifty, maybe seventy years ago? Of course it did. The damage was done long, long since, and all that happened on June 2 is that it got slightly worse, but not to any degree instantly apparent to the long suffering national audience. So, just as you suspected, we were getting lousy info from the corporate press before the FCC vote this week.

The press is now happily passing the buck to the intelligence services, and quoting former analysts from CIA and DIA wailing that objectivity collapsed in the face of political pressure. We’re shocked, shocked! Anyone remember how the neo-cons forced an outside posse of experts, known as Team B, into the CIA in the mid 1970s because Team A, the CIA regulars were turning in reports saying that the Soviet Union was not quite the fearsome power the neocons supposed it to be. Anyone remember all those accusations, by the late Sam Addams and others, that the CIA fudged the numbers in the Vietnam war because of political pressure from the White House.

Intelligence services, or at least their chiefs, invariably succumb in the face of political bullying. But it didn’t matter that the CIA and DIA were cowed by the wild men in Rumsfeld’s DoD, who said Iraq was still bristling with WMDs. Any enterprising news editor could have found (and some did) plenty of solid evidence to support the claim that Saddam had destroyed his WMDs; that he had no alliance with Al Qaeda.

In the run-up to the attack on Iraq, the worst journalistic outrages came in two publications at the supposed pinnacle of the profession: the New York Times, which recycled the Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi’s agenda through its reporter, Judith Miller; and the New Yorker, which printed Jeffrey Goldberg’s nonsense about the Saddam-Al Qaeda “connection”. That was no consequence of media concentration, or the perversion of intelligence analysis by political priorities.

Simply on the grounds of common sense about the prejudices of her source, Howell Raines, the now ousted executive editor of the New York Times could have told Miller to qualify her reports. David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, could have as easily punched holes in Goldberg’s story. Instead, they delightedly hyped shoddy journalism that played a far greater role in the White House’s propaganda blitz than the performance of the cowed CIA and DIA.

It’s easy to be right after the event. It takes fiber to stand out against the war party when it was in full cry. The bulk of the mainstream press failed dismally in its watchdog role, and a little more forthrightness about this failure would be welcome indeed. But can we expect the hounds of war, like Tim Russert, to apologize? Of course not. Some senator will probably, sometime soon, grill the CIA’s George Tenet and the other intelligence chiefs who failed in the our of need,”, but Russert, or Miller, or Raines, or Remnick or Punch Sulzberger? Never.

Ed Rosenthal: Further Thoughts on That One Day Sentence

As noted here a couple of days ago, Ed Rosenthal got one day in prison and a $1000 fine from federal judge Charles Breyer for supplying medical marijuana under the aegis of the city of Oakland. Of course we’re delighted Ed didn’t get the prison time the prosecutor was calling for; also that Breyer had to acknowledge the public outcry and the fury of the jury he misled.

But there is a downside, and it’s set forth well by Clay Conrad, chairman of the Fully Informed Jury Association. Here are some notes Conrad sent us last week:

This result is good for Ed – it is great for Ed. It is in itself a major news event.

However, we’ve got to deal with the fact that FOR THE ISSUE, it sucks. A huge injustice is the best headline grabber for motivating future juries to nullify.

Here are a few of the problems I see with this:

1. The next jury says: hey, it’s not like these folks will do any serious jail time.

2. The focus of the media is no longer on the Rosenthal jury. Breyer

stole their thunder.

3. Some activists preparing to work on future cases figure it’s a waste of energy because it’s not like a MAJOR injustice is being done.

4. Some of the Rosenthal jurors may “abandon ship,” figuring Ed’s liberty was not interrupted, so they have achieved their major purpose and can go back to their non-activist lives.

A few of the things I think we need to focus on:

1. Ed’s sentence is in the news because it is such a surprise. If he got a predictable 5 years, nobody would have raised an eyebrow at the sentence itself. Just as this judge departed downwards, the next may depart upwards. One reason why juries need to nullify in these cases is because they CANNOT know what sentence the judge may impose – a day, or a lifetime.

2. Breyer only gave a one-day sentence because the JURY put the pressure on him. Again, this underlines the power and importance of independent juries. Breyer was ashamed and chastised by the jurors, who can take the real credit for the one-day sentence. Had the jury not gone public, Breyer very likely would have given the far longer sentence the Gov’t was asking for.

3. The activists need to know that this sentence means they are winning, at least some battles, and there is no excuse for not redoubling our efforts.

4. The Rosenthal jurors should know that this isn’t a sprint – it’s a marathon. The government took some lumps this time on sentencing, but they might well get a life sentence in the next round. The injustice isn’t what was done to Rosenthal – it’s what is being done to defendants all across California.

5. We must also remember that the government may well appeal Rosenthal’s sentence, arguing that the judge abused his discretion on the grounds for, or the extent of, the downward departure. The government often WINS these types of appeals. And, reversals on appeals rarely make headlines. Ed could end up doing 78 months after all – and nobody in the public will even be aware of it.

Clay S. Conrad

Why Do Africans Get AIDS?

Initially we were much taken with an interesting piece in the latest issue of Discover, Vol. 24 No. 6, dated June, 2003, containing an article, “Why Do So Many Africans Get AIDS?” by Josie Glausiusz. (Note particularly the Malthusian interest in population control in the minds of some researchers.)

“Every major campaign against AIDS in Africa has been based on the premise that heterosexual sex accounts for 90 percent of transmission in adults. Yet safe-sex efforts have not stopped the spread of the epidemic, which now affects 30 million people. Economic anthropologist David Gisselquist therefore suspected that HIV might be spreading primarily by another route.

“After analyzing 20 years of epidemiological studies, he and his colleagues concluded that unsafe injections, blood transfusions, and other medical procedures may account for most AIDS transmission in African adults. Their analysis indicates that no more than 35 percent of HIV in that population is spread through sex.

“Gisselquist’s interest in AIDS was stimulated by the guidance he received while traveling through Africa as a World Bank consultant. ‘They give you a syringe and say, “Carry this with you, and avoid all the health care that you can.” We’ve been paying for third-world health care while advising ourselves to avoid it,’ he says.

“When he examined hundreds of papers on AIDS in Africa, he found evidence to back up those concerns. A study in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for instance, found that 39 percent of HIV-positive, vaccinated infants had uninfected mothers. In contrast, Gisselquist could not uncover any clear data proving that sexual intercourse dominates the spread of African AIDS. In Zimbabwe, HIV incidence rose by 12 percent per year during the 1990s, even as sexually transmitted diseases sank by 25 percent overall and condom use rose among high-risk groups.

“Gisselquist recently reported his findings in four papers published in the International Journal of STD & AIDS. Medical researchers may have overemphasized sexual transmission of African AIDS in part because condom-use campaigns dovetail with their concerns about overpopulation, Gisselquist says. They also fear that people in Africa will lose faith in modern health care. Gisselquist urges new efforts to halt the spread of AIDS: “Aid programs need to push infection control in health care. And we need to give the public the advice and the tools for protecting themselves in medical situations,” such as new syringes and single-dose vials.”

We liked Gisselquist’s noting of Malthusian concerns about overpopulation but then talked to our friend Cindra Feuer who worked on the AIDS oriented New York magazine POZ and has also spent considerable time in Africa. Feuer points out that the argument of noxious health care doesn’t look so good if one recalls that most poor Africans don’t have access to health care.

The core problem is that safer sex advisories and programs fare badly in poor regions in large part because people don’t have the safe sex option.

* A woman can’t negotiate a condom with her husband. Being married confers one of the highest risks of getting HIV in Africa.

*A sex worker gets more money from her trick if she doesn’t use a condom.

* No condoms are available.

* They can’t afford a condom.

Safer sex tactics don’t work when people are poor, and indeed safer sex interventions are failing in industrialized nations.

Treatment, a strategy that had to overcome furious opposition from the keep-your-legs-together crowd), is the best course. If you have treatment, people will then get AIDS drugs; they’ll get tested; if they get tested they’re not as likely to have unprotected sex with their partners; if they test positive, they’re not as likely to go have unprotected sex. If they test negative they have more incentive to stay that way.

So treatment helps to boost prevention. If you don’t have treatment, there’s no incentive to get tested and rates will remain high.

Raines Statue Downed

E-Bay is already being flooded with the “Raines pack”, cards of ousted NYT editor Howell Raines and his inner circle, believed to have been issued by Times dissidents. The downing of Raines’ statue in midtown Manhattan was a jovial affair, though wide-angle photos show that what seemed on the networks to be large throngs were in fact relatively sparse, maybe 200 in all. According to one participant, the statue toppled swiftly, lacking an adequate base. Interim administrator Joe Lelyveld is promising “a new era”, though relief workers warn that supplies of credibility are “near zero”.


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.