Making Money the Measure of Politics

U.S. pundits decry countries like Iran as undemocratic for having a screening process for candidates to high office. But U.S. politicians must pass muster with wealthy donors to be considered serious candidates, a system that the Supreme Court just made worse, says Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

On April 2, the U.S. Supreme took another step toward the destruction of campaign finance reform with a five-to-four decision known as McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission.

One gets the feeling that this is part of a general campaign, waged by class-biased, ideologically committed conservatives, against government regulation, which they see as somehow a violation of their constitutional rights. As if to suggest that this is so, the Court majority rationalized its decision in the name of “free speech.”

What does this ruling do? First, the ruling removes limitations on overall campaign donations given in an election cycle. The wealthy can now sit down and write checks to unlimited numbers of candidates and political organizations and thereby make themselves indispensable in an electoral process dependent on the raising of large sums, particularly for television advertising.

Indeed, in this way the influence and demands of wealthy donors continue to be more powerful and persuasive than the solicitations of ordinary constituents whose interests the elected official is pledged to serve. In other words, McCutcheon vs. FEC pushed forward the process of legalizing bribery within our political system – a phenomenon which already is well along in its development.

Second, the ruling corrupts the notion of free speech by equating it with the use of money. Thus, the Court majority confuses free speech with that very act of bribery noted above. They seem to be pretending that we are dealing with the transparent efforts of constituents seeking to convince their political representatives of a certain point of view.

This is an illusion. We are dealing with donor individuals and organizations funneling millions of dollars to politicians in need of small fortunes just to maintain their professional positions, and to do so in exchange for political and legislative favors. That is the exercise of free speech only if you equate it with the suborning of elected officials.

It is hard to believe that the five Supreme Court justices who voted in the majority do not know this. And if they do, they are guilty of using the Constitution to rationalize criminal behavior.

Specific Flaws

Argument One –  “Contributing money to a candidate is an exercise of an individual’s right to participate in the electoral process through both political expression and political association.”

In taking this line of argument the justices ignore an established principle that operates in the social (as well as physical) realm: that is, quantity can shape quality and in so doing “act as a causal mechanism in social behavior.” For instance, you can say that contributing of money to campaigns and parties is an inherent part of the right to political participation. But the quality of that right, that is its consequence, is dependent on the quantity of the donation and its source.

Thus, this form of political participation has different consequences if a multitude of citizens give small amounts to various candidates and parties than if a few citizens, cleverly bundling their donations, give millions. The former is unlikely to skew an election through overwhelming, and often distorting, media advertising or to compromise the integrity of the candidate once elected.

The latter is almost certain to do these things. In other words, so much money coming from a few sources into an electoral process dominated by the need for money transforms donations into bribes and payoffs. This transformation is exactly what effective campaign finance reform is designed to prevent.

Argument Two – Restricting contributions is like restricting the number of endorsements a newspaper can make. “Government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse.”

The problem with this assertion is that newspapers do not usually trade in favors. Big donors almost always do. Newspapers usually do not expect those they endorse to change the regulatory environment in which the newspaper operates. Big donors almost always do.

By making the comparison between newspaper endorsements and the actions of large donors, the justices are making a false analogy. They are mixing apples and oranges.

Argument Three –  “Spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties, does not give rise to quid pro quo corruption. Nor does the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner ‘influence over or access to’ elected officials or political parties.”

This statement contains one dubious assumption and one misstatement of fact. First, assuming that “spending large sums of money in connection with elections” is not done in an “effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties” and therefore does not result in “quid pro quo corruption” is, at best, dangerously naive.

Do these justices really believe that the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and a host of corporations and special interest organizations would spend millions of dollars in an election cycle apart from “an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties”?

The claim that “an individual who spends large sums” does not “garner ‘influence over or access to’ elected officials or political parties” is just wrong. What do these justices think the American Rifle Association or the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is doing if not buying influence and access?

It is odd that these justices, who undoubtedly recognize that they live in a capitalist country where just about everything is up for sale, would so blatantly pretend that politicians and elections are not also available for purchase.

Formula for Disaster

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, one of the sponsors of the bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, predicts that the recent Supreme Court decision will result in “major scandals in campaign finance contributions” and these, in turn, “will cause reform.”

Scandals there are sure to be. But I am not sure about reform. Past “major scandals” have not necessarily led to reform. In the United States, numerous school shootings have shocked the public but not resulted in the reform of the nation’s gun laws. Recent financial crises have led to recession and government bailouts for savings and loans, banks and mortgage houses, but have not resulted in sufficient regulatory reform to prevent a recurrence of these problems.

Therefore, campaign finance scandals may not yield the reform Sen. McCain foresees. All these scandals do indicate one thing, though, and that is that the Supreme Court justices don’t know what they are talking about when they deny that big money contributions are not corrupting.

Let us keep in mind that the U.S. citizenry is largely estranged from politics and ignorant of the workings of their national economy. Such indifference and ignorance allows power to default to the minority who are unethical enough and wealthy enough to not only buy politicians, but to buy public opinion through the manipulation of the media – a particular specialty of people like Rupert Murdoch.

This concentration of power usually results in periods of wholesale deregulation of business and politics leading inevitably to political unrest and economic ruin of one degree or another. Yet it is only when these consequences become so disastrous (I am talking here on the scale of the 1929 depression or the race riots of the 1960s) that the public’s backlash brings about significant reform.

And even then the nature of such events is cyclical. We have forgotten the corruption of the Gilded Age and the hardship of the Great Depression. Some of us have even forgotten the racist nature of our politics prior to the Civil Rights Movement.

So you should let your children know they may see these troubles again in the near future. Maybe they will be able to handle them better than we are.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

Making Iran’s UN Envoy a Wedge Issue

America’s neocons and their allies want an escalating confrontation with Iran, not a negotiated solution to the nuclear issue. So they seek out hot buttons to anger Iran and make President Obama’s job harder, such as blocking Iran’s choice of UN ambassador, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

The Obama administration has to perform a balancing act in handling the Iran account. On one hand it has the task, along with its diplomatic partners, of completing negotiations with Iran of an agreement to place unprecedented limits on the Iranian nuclear program to assure that it remains peaceful. Although the negotiators still have to iron out many details, this is actually the more straightforward part of the act.

The negotiations are on track, Iran is abiding by the terms of a preliminary agreement, and there is clear shape to a prospective agreement that would support nonproliferation goals as well as drawing down sanctions that have been damaging to the United States as well as to Iran.

The other part of the balancing act, which is the more troublesome part, is to deal with forces that are opposed to any agreement with Iran and are endeavoring to undermine the negotiation of one. These forces include most conspicuously the current government of Israel and its American supporters, who want to keep any Iranian competitor for influence permanently estranged and to keep the specter of an Iranian security threat around forever as a focus of attention.

They include American neoconservatives, who when they were giving us the Iraq War assigned Iran to the Axis of Evil and told the Iranians to “take a number.” They include political opponents of Barack Obama who reflexively oppose anything he favors and see a political incentive to sabotage what would be one of his most significant foreign policy achievements.

These elements overlap a lot and collectively do not constitute as large an opposition as this fractionated description might suggest. But anything they do under the label of opposing Iran is supported by the perceptual habits of a larger American public that has become accustomed to seeing Iran as nothing but an adversary to be confronted and opposed.

The administration has to manage these destructive forces, in a combination of parrying and propitiating, so as not to allow them to ruin the negotiations. This partly involves doing and saying certain things to display strength and resolution toward Iran, to refute accusations that the administration’s posture is one of weakness and to demonstrate that the agreement that emerges from the negotiations will be the best that could be obtained.

It also involves allowing people from time to time to let off some anti-Iranian steam. This applies not so much to those who are determined to sabotage a negotiated agreement anyway but rather to members of Congress who feel a need, given the political climate in which they have to operate, periodically to make confrontational gestures against Iran.

Thus the administration is prudent not to go to the mat over some gestures that, although they may be more directly unhelpful than helpful to the negotiations and may be promoted by those whose motives are ignoble, take steam and energy away from other possible measures that would be even more destructive.

We have seen this recently with some congressional letters that were a substitute for what would have been much more damaging sanctions legislation. We may be seeing it again with the denial of a visa to Iran’s newly designated ambassador to the United Nations, Hamid Aboutalebi, following Senate passage of legislation that would have had the same effect.

On the merits of the visa issue itself, the United States is acting wrongly. Denying the visa is a clear abrogation of the responsibilities of the United States as the host nation for the United Nations headquarters. No international organization could operate properly if the host nation were to behave in such a way for whatever rationale.

It is not true, as has been widely asserted, that there is a “security exception” permitting such a denial. The U.S. law implementing the U.N. headquarters agreement speaks of security considerations as a possible reason for limiting travel of duly designated national representatives to the U.N. headquarters district, not for denying access to the district itself. For the law to read otherwise would have made a mockery of the headquarters agreement that placed the United Nations at Turtle Bay in the first place.

In any case, it is hardly plausible that Aboutalebi, who is now a senior diplomat who has served as ambassador to Australia, Belgium, Italy, and the European Union, poses a security threat today.

If one looks beyond international legal obligations, there is room for arguing back and forth about denying a visa to Aboutalebi. If one were to take a stand in favor of reasonableness in policy toward Iran, this might not be the best place to take it. Although Aboutalebi has served as ambassador to other Western countries, it was the United States that was the victim of the hostage-taking in Tehran in 1979.

That was an inexcusable terrorist act. All those who participated in it share responsibility for it. That a particular individual played a lesser role than some others does not absolve the individual of all responsibility. Nor does the notion of youthful indiscretion hold water, as a matter either of personal integrity or of affecting the incentives of youthful would-be perpetrators of similar acts in the future.

Of course, the United States has hardly applied any such standard consistently in deciding whom to do business with. Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir come immediately to mind (appropriately so, as former heads of Likud governments in Israel, given the origin of much of the current opposition to diplomacy with Iran) as two who were welcomed to the White House as foreign leaders despite having been up to their eyeballs in terrorism.

In their cases, it wasn’t just providing interpretation services to kidnappers but instead being leaders of terrorist gangs that killed many innocent British and others in the 1940s. U.S. inconsistency, however, does not necessarily excuse whatever is the most recent episode of inconsistent policy.

How exactly the Aboutalebi matter will affect the political and diplomatic dynamics between Tehran and Washington remains to be seen. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has his own destructive hardliners to deal with, and this newest demonstration of U.S. unwillingness to deal normally with the Iranian government complicates his task in the first instance.

But perhaps his government can partly turn the situation around, as it shows signs of doing already, by using it as an occasion to demonstrate its own ability to take a hard-nosed stance against the United States. We should hope that the U.S. and Iranian governments are finding a way to communicate and commiserate privately about how they both have to play this kind of game from time to time if they are ever to get to a more normal relationship.

The fundamental underlying observation to make in evaluating this affair is that the Obama administration’s most difficult Iran-related task right now is not finding the right formulations in writing an agreement with the Iranians. It is heading off the attempts to sabotage an agreement.

Looked at this way, the otherwise unsupportable denial of a visa might be a prudent way of reducing the chance of something even more damaging, and of increasing the chance of moving Iran in a direction that achieves the nuclear nonproliferation goal while making inconceivable anything like a replay of the 1979 hostage-taking. Maybe for that reason it makes some sense for the administration to go along in this instance with the anti-Iranian huffing and puffing of the likes of Ted Cruz and Charles Schumer.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

Misunderstanding Jesus’s Execution

From the Archive: Over the centuries as Christianity bent to the interests of the rich and powerful, the story of Jesus’s fateful week in Jerusalem was reshaped to minimize its pivotal event, overturning the Temple’s money tables, a challenge to religious and political power, says Rev. Howard Bess.

By the Rev. Howard Bess (Originally published April 23, 2011)

Christians have special celebrations for the key events of Holy Week, but they often overlook one of the most important.

Palm Sunday celebrates the entry of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. Maunday Thursday is a solemn replay of his last meal with his disciples. Good Friday takes us through his mock trial and his death of horror on a Roman Cross. Easter is the Christians’ triumphant celebration of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead.

But there is a missing piece. The incident that gives sense to the week’s climactic events is Jesus’s overturning of the money tables at the temple.

Tradition says that the incident was a ceremonial cleansing of the temple of its commercial enterprises because those in charge of the temple had turned a house of worship into a commercial enterprise. Jesus disrupted the commercial operation by upsetting the tables where the temple lackeys sold required animals for sacrifice.

However, modern scholarship is putting an emphasis on understanding this historical incident in context. The first piece of the puzzle is the temple itself.

For nearly half a century, including the time of Jesus’s birth, Herod the Great had ruled Palestine as an ambitious king appointed by Rome’s Caesar. Herod was of mixed racial background and claimed some Jewish blood. He wanted to be known as King of the Jews, but acceptance by the Jews was difficult to attain.

Herod the Great also was a builder. Under his reign, he built civic buildings and ports, but his greatest building project was the rebuilding, expansion and refurbishing of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. It was known as Herod’s temple or is sometimes referenced as the Third Temple.

Because of that history, the reign of Herod and the operation of the temple were linked and locked. It was the near inseparable joining of government and religion. To offend one was to offend both.

Herod the Great died in 4 CE, when Jesus was still a child. During the years of Jesus’s teaching ministry, Herod’s son, Herod Antipas, was the ruler. The joining of kingdom and temple continued.

Jesus grew up and taught in a rural area 70 miles north of Jerusalem. His faith was shaped, not by Jerusalem and the temple, but by weekly gatherings of the community elders as they read Torah (Jewish law) and discussed its meaning.

Jesus and his followers had limited contact with Jerusalem’s social, political and religious leaders, mostly through the retainers (enforcers) of Herod’s Roman rule who also represented the Jerusalem temple. Retainers made regular trips into the rural north to collect tithes and taxes.

To understand Jesus, one must realize the depth of his contempt for both the rule of Herod and the religious rulers of the temple. To further understand Jesus and the last week of his life, the student needs to realize that the Old Testament contains not one religious tradition, but two. One is called the great tradition; the other is called the small (or lesser) tradition.

The great tradition is the definition of society laid down by those who rule and enforced by their retainers. The great tradition is centered in cities in which the controlling institutions are located. For Jesus, that place was Jerusalem. There is no evidence that Jesus ever visited Jerusalem as an adult before the last week of his life.

The small tradition is a critiquing and competing interpretation of life. It almost always arises with devout believers who have escaped the burden of the great tradition and its demand for conformity.

Northern Palestine, 70 miles removed from Jerusalem, was a hotbed for the small tradition. The leaders of the small tradition found heroes in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Micah and other Old Testament prophets. Almost every one of the Old Testament prophets was a critic of those who controlled the temple in Jerusalem.

John the Baptizer was the first of the little tradition prophets presented in the Gospel narratives. His harsh criticism of rulers led to his death. Jesus took up the mantle.

As modern New Testament scholars have reconstructed the context in which Jesus lived and taught, they have realized that Jesus was not simply a religious figure. He was a severe critic of those who controlled the temple, those who controlled the empire, and those who controlled the economic systems that starved and robbed the poor and left the orphan and the widow to fend for themselves.

To Jesus, these issues were all tied together.

Jesus was a largely unknown and harmless critic as long as he remained in his northern rural setting. He was clearly an apocalyptic preacher. He advocated overthrow of a corrupt system. He believed the days of the oppressors were numbered. But he believed the overthrow could be accomplished by love, mercy and kindness.

Jesus took his apocalyptic message to Jerusalem. However, to call his arrival a triumphal entry is to miss the point completely. He chose to enter Jerusalem riding on a donkey as mockery of the ruler’s horse. It was an ancient form of street theatre that Jesus and his followers used to make their point. The great tradition that was accepted by Jerusalem’s masses was being publicly taunted by a figure of the small tradition.

But the critical point of Jesus’s visit to Jerusalem came when he visited the temple. In no sense had he come to worship and make sacrifice. He came to disrupt and to make pronouncements about the judgment of God on the whole operation.

Jesus did not go to the temple to cleanse. He came to the temple to announce the destruction of a whole way of life. Those who operated the temple had no power to silence Jesus and put him to death. Those powers were held by the Roman retainers.

The charges that were leveled against him can be summed up as insurrection. There were three specific charges: encouraging non-payment of taxes, threatening to destroy property (the temple), and claiming to be a king. It was the temple incident that took Jesus from being an irritating, but harmless country rebel from the rural north to a nuisance in a city that controlled the great tradition. Rome’s retainers killed him on a cross.

The theological meaning of the series of events remains in our own hands. However, the key to understanding the week of Jesus’s crucifixion is the incident at the temple.

The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska. His e-mail address is

Playing Word Games on Iran and Nukes

In the U.S. propaganda war against Iran, a recurring tactic is to play games with words, conflating a nuclear program with a weapons program despite the longstanding judgment of  U.S. intelligence that Iran is not working on a bomb, as Gareth Porter reports for Inter Press Service.

By Gareth Porter

When U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz unsealed the indictment of a Chinese citizen in the UK for violating the embargo against Iran, she made what appeared to be a new U.S. accusation of an Iran nuclear weapons program.

The press release on the indictment announced that between November 2005 and 2012, Sihai Cheng had supplied parts that have nuclear applications, including U.S.-made goods, to an Iranian company, Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing, which it described as “involved in the development and procurement of parts for Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”

Reuters, Bloomberg, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune and The Independent all reported that claim as fact. But the U.S. intelligence community, since its well-known November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, has continued to be very clear on the public record about its conclusion that Iran has not had a nuclear weapons program since 2003.

Something was clearly amiss with the Justice Department’s claim. The text of the indictment reveals that the reference to a “nuclear weapons program” was yet another iteration of a rhetorical device used often in the past to portray Iran’s gas centrifuge enrichment program as equivalent to the development of nuclear weapons.

The indictment doesn’t actually refer to an Iranian nuclear weapons program, as the Ortiz press release suggested. But it does say that the Iranian company in question, Eyvaz Tehnic Manufacturing, “has supplied parts for Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.”

The indictment claims that Eyvaz provided “vacuum equipment” to Iran’s two uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow and “pressure transducers” to Kalaye Electric Company, which has worked on centrifuge research and development. But even those claims are not supported by anything except a reference to a Dec. 2, 2011 decision by the Council of the European Union that did not offer any information supporting that claim.

The credibility of the EU claim was weakened, moreover, by the fact that the document describes Eyvaz as a “producer of vacuum equipment.” The company’s website shows that it produces equipment for the oil, gas and petrochemical industries, including level controls and switches, control valves and steam traps.

Further revealing the political nature of the indictment’s nuclear weapons claim, it cites two documents “designating” entities for their ties to the nuclear program: the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737 and a U.S. Treasury Department decision two months later.

Neither of those documents suggested any connection between Eyvaz and nuclear weapons. The UNSC Resolution, passed Dec. 23, 2006, referred to Iran’s enrichment as “proliferation sensitive nuclear activities” in 11 different places in the brief text and listed Eyvaz as one of the Iranian entities to be sanctioned for its involvement in those activities.

And in February 2007 the Treasury Department designated Kalaye Electric Company as a “proliferator of Weapons of Mass Destruction” merely because of its “research and development efforts in support of Iran’s nuclear centrifuge program.”

The designation by Treasury was carried out under an Executive Order 13382, issued by President George W. Bush, which is called “Blocking Property of Weapons of Mass destruction Proliferators and Their Supporters.” That title conveyed the impression to the casual observer that the people on the list had been caught in actual WMD proliferation activities.

But the order allowed the U.S. government to sanction any foreign person merely because that person was determined to have engaged in activities that it argued “pose a risk of materially contributing” to “the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery”.

The Obama administration’s brazen suggestion that it was indicting an individual for exporting U.S. products to a company that has been involved in Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” is simply a new version of the same linguistic trick used by the Bush administration.

The linguistic acrobatics began with the political position that Iran’s centrifuge program posed a “risk” of WMD proliferation; that “risk” of proliferation was then conflated with nuclear proliferation activities, when that was transmuted into “development of nuclear weapons.” The final linguistic shift was to convert “development of nuclear weapons” into a “nuclear weapons program”.

That kind of the deceptive rhetoric about the Iranian nuclear program began with Bill Clinton’s administration, which argued, in effect, that nuclear weapons development could be inferred from Iran’s enrichment program.

Although Cheng and Jamili clearly violated U.S. statutes in purchasing and importing the pressure transducers from the United States and sending them to Eyvaz in Iran, a close reading of the indictment indicates that the evidence that Eyvaz provided the transducers to the Iranian nuclear program is weak at best.

The indictment says Cheng began doing business with Jamili and his company Nicaro in November 2005, and that he sold thousands of Chinese parts “with nuclear applications” which had been requested by Eyvaz. But all the parts listed in the indictment are dual use items that Eyvaz could have ordered for production equipment for oil and gas industry customers.

The indictment insinuates that Eyvaz was ordering the parts to pass them on to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz, but provides no real evidence of that intent. It quotes Jamili as informing Cheng in 2007 that his unnamed customer needed the parts for “a very big project and a secret one.” In 2008, he told Cheng that the customer was “making a very dangerous system and gas leakage acts as a bomb!”

The authors do not connect either of those statements to Eyvaz, but they suggest that it was a reference to gas centrifuges and thus imply that it must have been Eyvaz. “During the enrichment of uranium using gas centrifuges,” the indictment explains, “extremely corrosive chemicals are produced that could cause fire and explosions.”

That statement is highly misleading, however. There is no real risk of gas leaks from centrifuges causing fires or explosions, as MIT nuclear expert Scott R. Kemp told IPS in an interview. “The only risk of a gas leak [in centrifuge enrichment] is to the centrifuge itself,” said Kemp, “because the gas could leak into the centrifuge and cause it to crash.”

On the other hand, substantial risk of explosion and fire from gas leaks exists in the natural gas industry. So even if the customer referred to in the quotes had been Eyvaz, they would have been consistent with that company’s sales to gas industry customers.

Pressure transducers are used to control risk in that industry, as Todd McPadden of Ashcroft Instruments in Stratford, Connecticut told IPS. The pressure transducer measures the gas pressure and responds to any indication of either loss of pressure from leaks or build up of excessive pressure, McPadden explained.

The indictment shows in detail that in 2009 Eyvaz ordered hundreds of pressure transducers, which came from the U.S. company MKS. But again the indictment cites no real evidence that Eyvaz was ordering them to supply Iran’s enrichment facilities.

It refers only to photographs showing that MKS parts ended up in the centrifuge cascades at Natanz, which does not constitute evidence that they came from Eyvaz.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, was published Feb. 14.


South Africa’s Murder Trial Distraction

Despite South Africa’s transition into a multiracial democracy, profound economic inequality remains, a backdrop to both the high-profile murder trial of athlete Oscar Pistorius and the splintering of Nelson Mandela’s ANC, as Danny Schechter notes.

By Danny Schechter

With Nelson Mandela’s death, news from South Africa seemed to have died along with the world’s most famous ex-political-prisoner-turned-president. It was as if the people there don’t deserve to be covered unless there is a larger-than-life celebrity or scandal to focus on.

Happily for the media industry there is a now an anti-Mandela in the public eye, an athletic celebrity who is now less famous for his achievements than infamous for killing his girlfriend in what was either a tragic accident or the act of an angry lover.

Oscar Pistorius’s trial is getting far more coverage than the one that Mandela and his co-defendants went through in 1962 leading to his life sentence for acts of sabotage against South Africa’s white-supremacist government.

That’s partly because of today’s celebrity culture. Pistorius was a medal-winning athlete dubbed the “blade runner” because he had been a double amputee since childhood and overcame adversity to win races while wearing prosthetic devices. His late live-in lover, Reeva Steenkamp, was a stunning blonde model well known to local media.

This story is being given the full tabloid treatment with cover stories in People Magazine and lots of hype by the networks. Unlike the days of apartheid, a black judge is hearing this case with race rarely alluded to, although it is part of the back story because of Pistorius’s claims that he thought he was shooting at an intruder.

Pistorius lived in a pricey gated community where fear of black burglars is legion, all an unstated reflection of the dramatic inequality that remains in the country. If Pistorius had killed an unknown black intruder, instead of his celebrity paramour, this trial wouldn’t be news (if there would even be a trial).

The coverage of him has been mostly negative although he has fought back with his own communications team with a Twitter feed, @OscarHardTruth, designed to give “factual updates” on the trial. Its profile reads, “Truth Shall Prevail. Innocent until Proven Guilty.” In just 24 hours, it had over 16,400 followers, but only follows 28 mostly international media outlets.

South Africa’s media monitor, Media Tenor, said the local media is trying him as well as the court. According to researcher, Minnette Nieuwoudt, “my instinct tells me the media likes a damsel-in-distress type of story. The outright victim is something that resonates with a lot of people. The fact that she was very beautiful, it made her a bit of an icon. Pistorius, on the other hand, started getting increasingly negative coverage over the months after the shooting.

“There seemed to be a slight change in the tonality. Also, with regards to Oscar, he was initially compared to fallen sport heroes, then this changed to a more the general criminal comparison. First, he was an athlete who stumbled. Now, he’s a criminal, who used to be an athlete.”

But even as the world focuses on his courtroom tears and the aggressive and often bungled prosecution that aims to show the dark side of this Olympic hero, other issues of perhaps worst crimes in South Africa draw little interest from the global media machine.

The year 2014 is the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s “freedom” and the coming of democracy. It is an election year with national campaign underway pitting President Jacob Zuma, who was once part of the African National Congress’s armed struggle and is now a popular if controversial/detested politician seeking reelection, against a number of challengers.

Zuma is carrying lots of baggage because of a current theft-of-public-monies-for-private-use scandal involving lavish improvements on his home compound and an earlier rape case.

The ANC has a serious political challenge as well. On the center-right, there’s the DA, the Democratic Alliance, now transitioning from its roots in all-white politics into a multi-racial party that holds power in the Western Cape Province with Cape Town as its capital.

And, then there are two new outfits, among other players, contesting for seats in this parliamentary democracy. Businesswoman and educator Mamphela Ramphele, best known as the anti-apartheid icon Steve Biko’s girl friend, and her Agang Party is focusing on corruption and attracting women, while former ANC Youth League Leader Julius Malema has set up a militant radical sounding youth-oriented party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, and says the ANC died with Mandela.

South Africa’s powerful labor unions that have been in an alliance with the ANC for decades were expected to organize a worker’s party but they have been persuaded not to. None of these political divisions fall on strict left-right differences.

Many on all sides have strong disagreements with the ANC’s neo-liberal economic policies and complain about pervasive poverty and low growth. Outside the traditional political party structure, dissent is heard daily in noisy press stories exposing corruption and the “politics of concealment” by the ruling ANC party.

Long-time activists and ANC members are incensed by the lack of transparency and the arrogance of a political elite that seems more focused on enriching itself than serving the public.

Now, a former minister, Ronnie Kasrils, and supporters have launched a new Vote No campaign to put the issues of the ANC’s betrayal and corruption on the agenda. They have just issued this release:

A one-time minister and a deputy minister in ANC governments are among a group of former anti-apartheid activists who are backing a campaign calling on voters to come out and vote by either spoiling their ballots or to voting tactically in protest against corruption and current government policies.

“Former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils and former deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge are among a number of prominent figures who have endorsed a statement headed:  Sidikiwe! (We are fed up) Vukani! (Arise/Wake up), Vote ‘NO’ that will be released at the Press conference.”

It criticizes the economic policies of both the ANC and the main opposition, the DA, for supporting a system that has caused such alienation. Many participants are veterans of the struggle against apartheid and most of the signatories have supported the ANC throughout the years since the 1994 transition, but are appealing to the wider range of disillusioned voters. Their statement concludes:

“The ANC needs to know that it can no longer take for granted its traditional support and we would be failing South Africa and our democracy by not voting. After the elections efforts will be intensified to build an inclusive and transformative political program premised on social justice, redistribution, clean governance and democratic principles.”

All of this textured opposition politics does not meet the celebrity smell test that seems to motivate international media to pay attention. Corruption stories in Africa are widely covered although the focus is rarely ever on the corruptor, just the corruptee. It is virtually never on the disastrous impact of western corporations, banks and international financial institutions.

Years ago the anti-government song “Marching on Pretoria” was well-known. Today, with the media “marching on Pistorius,” the deeper, critical issues of a deepening economic and political crisis have been supplanted by another distraction what looks to all the world like another OJ Simpson trial for audiences relishing more “newstainment.”

News Dissector Danny Schechter edits and blogs at His latest book is Madiba AtoZ: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela ( Comments to

A Blind Eye to LBJ’s ‘X-File’

Exclusive: President Lyndon Johnson’s legacy is in the news whether his many domestic achievements should outweigh his disastrous escalation of the Vietnam War but no attention is being paid to evidence that LBJ might have ended the war if not for Richard Nixon’s sabotage, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Many important officials and journalists have spent time at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, this past week celebrating the half-century anniversary of one of President Lyndon Johnson’s signature achievements, the Civil Rights Act. But no one, it seems, took time to look at what the library’s archivists call their “X-File,” documents that could change how history views Johnson’s legacy.

The “X-File” is the nickname that the archivists gave to Johnson’s secret file on what he considered Richard Nixon’s “treason” in sabotaging Vietnam War peace talks to gain an edge over Hubert Humphrey in the close 1968 election. The “X-File” is actually “The X envelope,” the words scribbled on the outside by Johnson’s national security adviser Walt Rostow.


As a bitter Johnson was leaving the White House in January 1969, he ordered Rostow to take the top-secret file which included national security wiretaps of Nixon’s representatives urging South Vietnamese officials to boycott Johnson’s Paris peace talks and offering a better deal if Nixon won.

Johnson had hoped he could bring the war to a close before his presidency ended, but in late October 1968, South Vietnamese President Nguyen van Thieu balked at the peace talks as the Nixon team had requested. The failed negotiations gave a last-minute lift to Nixon who eked out a narrow victory over Humphrey.

Johnson chose to keep silent about what Nixon’s had done but wanted to keep the file out of Nixon’s hands. So LBJ entrusted it to Rostow who simply took the file home with him and kept it, as instructed, until after Johnson’s death on Jan. 22, 1973. For several months, Rostow struggled over what to do with the file before finally entrusting it to the LBJ Library with instructions to keep it secret for 50 years.

However, in 1994, library officials decided to open the file and began the work of declassifying the documents, a few of which remain classified to this day. I was given access to the file in 2012 and published a lengthy story at I also included the information in my latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative. After my reporting, the BBC published an account in 2013 recognizing the significance of the new evidence.

“The X-envelope” also played a role in two other controversies of the Nixon years: the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, offering insights into how the two events were tied together. The narrative goes this way:

After taking office in 1969, Nixon learned about LBJ’s wiretap file from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, but Nixon’s top aides, Henry Kissinger and H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, could not locate it. They had no idea that Rostow had taken the file home with him when he left the White House at the end of LBJ’s presidency.

Nixon’s concerns about the missing file became more urgent in June 1971 when the New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers, a secret history of the Vietnam War that had been leaked by former Pentagon official Daniel Ellsberg. The Pentagon Papers chronicled many of the deceptions that had led the United States into the bloody Vietnam conflict, but the historical chronology stopped in 1967.

As the Pentagon Papers dominated the U.S. news in mid-June 1971, Nixon understood something that few others did that there was a sequel somewhere that could have been even more explosive than the Pentagon Papers, the story of how Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign had conspired with South Vietnamese officials to extend the war.

If Rostow’s “X envelope” had surfaced then, Nixon’s reelection would not only have been put in jeopardy but he might well have faced impeachment. Just a month earlier, the May Day protests had brought hundreds of thousands of anti-war activists to Washington, government buildings had been surrounded, and thousands of people were arrested. It is hard to even imagine the fury that would have followed disclosure that Nixon had torpedoed peace talks for political gain.

With the May Day protests fresh in his mind and confronting the media frenzy over the Pentagon Papers, Nixon ordered Kissinger and Haldeman to resume their search for the missing file. In a tape-recorded conversation on June 17, 1971, Nixon even instructed his people to break into the Brookings Institution where he thought the file might be.

On June 30, 1971, Nixon returned to the topic, suggesting that ex-CIA officer E. Howard Hunt be brought in to put together a team to handle the job. “You talk to Hunt,” Nixon told Haldeman. “I want the break-in. Hell, they do that. You’re to break into the place, rifle the files, and bring them in. Just go in and take it. Go in around 8:00 or 9:00 o’clock.”

Haldeman: “Make an inspection of the safe.”

Nixon: “That’s right. You go in to inspect the safe. I mean, clean it up.”

For reasons that remain unclear, it appears that the planned Brookings break-in never took place, but Hunt did put together a team of burglars who conducted other operations, including breaking into the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate building where part of the team was captured on June 17, 1972. [See’s “The Dark Continuum of Watergate.”]

Though Rostow’s “X envelope” contains information that could dramatically reshape history’s understanding of both the Johnson and Nixon presidencies, it continues to attract very little attention even when groups of very important people visit the LBJ Library seeking to put President Johnson’s legacy in clearer focus.

Despite the visit by President Barack Obama and the traveling press corps on Thursday, Rostow’s documents still remain as mysterious as the spooky “X-Files” series that the archivists were referencing when they dubbed the papers their “X-File.” On Friday, when I ran a Google news search for “Johnson, Nixon, Rostow, Vietnam War,” nothing came up.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

‘War-Wise’ Skepticism Prevailed on Syria

Though nearly going to war with Syria last year over a chemical attack, the Obama administration has still not presented a shred of verifiable proof against the Syrian government. And, interest is waning now that suspicions have shifted to Syrian rebels aided by U.S. allies, Nat Parry reports.

By Nat Parry

Last summer, following a sarin nerve gas attack that left hundreds dead in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on Aug. 21, it seemed that U.S. intervention in Syria was a foregone conclusion. Having witnessed the scenario play out time and again in recent years as the United States has prepared for military action against various countries, it was clear in late August and early September 2013 that all signs were pointing to a looming attack, that the decision had been made to commit the U.S. on a path of military action, and that there was likely little that could be done to stop it.

A list of possible targets for a military strike was reportedly circulating in the White House and the Pentagon was moving warships into place in the eastern Mediterranean, following the general pattern of U.S. preparations before a strike. Reminiscent of George W. Bush’s push for war with Iraq a decade earlier, President Barack Obama even gave a speech at the United Nations unequivocally blaming the Bashar al-Assad regime for the attack, which Obama said would undermine the international norm against chemical weapons if left unchecked.

“If we fail to act,” Obama told the UN, “the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons. As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas, and using them.”

Yet, while pushing hard for military action, officials were also attempting to assure a war-weary American public that the U.S. intervention in Syria was necessary and right, and perhaps more importantly, that it would be limited in scope. The attack would primarily serve as punishment for Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons and as a deterrent, according to a report in the Washington Post citing administration officials, seeking to keep the U.S. from deeper involvement in the Syrian civil war.

But there were a couple major problems for the U.S. war planners, one of which being the widespread opposition to a military strike among the American people, with only nine percent supporting an attack and 60 percent saying Congress should vote against authorizing President Obama’s war plans. Another dilemma was the considerable doubt surrounding the main casus belli for the war the fact that there was no hard evidence to implicate the Bashar al-Assad regime in the Aug. 21 chemical attack.

It was this chemical attack that Obama claimed must be responded to, having crossed a proverbial “red line” that the President had earlier stated would compel the United States to intervene in the conflict. A senior Obama administration official said on Aug. 25 that “based on the reported number of victims, reported symptoms of those who were killed or injured, witness accounts and other facts gathered by open sources, the U.S. intelligence community, and international partners, there is very little doubt at this point that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians in this incident.”

Independent experts, however, pointed out that there was no way to be able to decisively assign blame simply based on the visual evidence provided by YouTube videos without forensic data. “It’s very difficult from a visual context to ascertain what’s going on,” said Federation of American Scientists fellow Charles Blair.

“In fact, it’s impossible to draw any sort of definitive conclusion,” he continued. “Some governments have relied entirely on visual confirmation to assert that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons but essentially what you need to do is you need to get people from the UN, for the prohibition of chemical weapons to go to these sites and conduct highly rigorous scientific investigations.”

But the U.S. government seemed reluctant to even give that investigation a chance to succeed, with an Obama administration official saying that a Syrian promise to allow United Nations inspectors access to the site of the attack was “too late to be credible.” Essentially, the U.S. was itself undermining the credibility of the UN investigation and pre-empting its findings with its own “assessments” relying on appeals to “conscience” and “common sense.”

As Secretary of State John Kerry stated on Aug. 26, “while investigators are gathering additional evidence on the ground, our understanding of what has already happened in Syria is grounded in facts informed by conscience and guided by common sense.” Pointing out that the victims’ symptoms “strongly indicate[d] that chemical weapons were used in Syria,” Kerry noted that “the Syrian regime maintains custody of these chemical weapons.”

“We know that the Syrian regime has the capacity to do this with rockets. We know that the regime has been determined to clear the opposition from those very places where the attacks took place. And with our own eyes, we have all of us become witnesses,” he said.

But while the United States was insisting that the regime in Damascus was responsible, based on dubious reasoning and inconclusive evidence, Assad denied any involvement, and Russia publicly raised the possibility of a “false flag” operation by the Syrian anti-government rebels.

“No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria,” wrote Russian President Vladimir Putin in a New York Times op-ed. “But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists.”

As Russia’s Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin asked, “Why would the Syrian government use chemical weapons on August 21? To cross the red line drawn by Washington and invite a missile strike upon itself? Why would the opposition use chemical weapons? Exactly because of the red line. To provoke foreign military intervention in the Syrian conflict.”

Indeed, it was this logic that seemed to make the most sense, not the narrative being promoted by Official Washington. “Firstly, the timing is odd, bordering on suspicious,” wrote BBC correspondent Frank Gardner. “Why would the Assad government, which has recently been retaking ground from the rebels, carry out a chemical attack while UN weapons inspectors are in the country?”

Former UN weapons inspector Rolf Ekeus agreed, telling Reuters, “It would be very peculiar if it was the government to do this at the exact moment the international inspectors come into the country. At the least, it wouldn’t be very clever.”

Several other commentators, including former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, openly discussed whether the attack was in fact a “false flag” operation intended to drag the United States into the conflict.

Wilkerson speculated on Current TV that it was an “Israeli false flag operation” claiming that the evidence tying the attack to the Syrian regime was “really flaky.” Congressman Paul said on Fox News, “I think it’s a false flag,” noting that it could have been perpetrated by al-Qaeda.

Moscow argued that the attack was a provocation by the Syrian anti-government rebels, with an official Russian analysis concluding that “home-made” sarin had been used in Syria. The sarin was likely delivered by a crudely made missile, most likely belonging to the rebels.

This version of events was also backed up by German intelligence, which concluded based on intercepted phone calls that Assad did not personally order the chemical weapons attack, that he was not involved either in the August attack or in other instances when government forces had allegedly used chemical weapons.

Western media and leading human organizations, however, rallied to the cause of U.S. military intervention, producing spurious investigative reports that purportedly proved the claim that Assad’s forces had carried out the attack.

A report published by Human Rights Watch based primarily on interviews with survivors, video footage and GPS data concluded that the “evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government forces were responsible for chemical weapons attacks on two Damascus suburbs on August 21, 2013.”

HRW’s 22-page report purportedly retraced the flight paths of two recovered rockets to a Syrian military base. This analysis received front-page coverage in the New York Times, and was touted as incontrovertible evidence of Assad’s guilt, providing the U.S. with the pretext it needed to intervene.

But questions soon arose regarding this analysis, including the fact that leading scientists concluded that one of the recovered devices had a maximum range of about 2 to 3 kilometers, and thus could not have originated from the area HRW claimed. Further, U.S. intelligence experts, such as former CIA analyst Larry Johnson, noted that the recovered rockets were not part of the Syrian military’s arsenal.

The New York Times then grudgingly backed off its earlier embrace of the HRW analysis.

Now, following a new report by veteran journalist Seymour Hersh, we have even stronger evidence that the entire U.S. case for war last summer was likely based on false pretenses. Citing U.S. and UK government sources, Hersh claims that British intelligence findings were sent to the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff in early September intended to send the Americans a message that “We’re being set up,” in order to drag the West into the conflict in Syria.

According to Hersh, “This account made sense of a terse message a senior official in the CIA sent in late August: ‘It was not the result of the current regime. UK & US know this.’)” Hersh reported that in fact, the sarin that was recovered from Ghouta was not the kind of sarin that exists in the Syrian arsenal, speculating instead that it was obtained from Turkey and carried out by the Syrian rebel group al-Nusra.

Hersh reported that the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency issued a classified memorandum two months before the Aug. 21 attack which stated that al-Nusra was operating a sarin production cell. According to the DIA, it was “the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre-9/11 effort.” Further, “Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria.”

The new revelations, laid out by Hersh in a 5,700-word article in the London Review of Books, provide fairly solid substantiation for the earlier skepticism shown by governments such as Russia. All of this leads to a number of important lessons that are especially important to consider as we lurch forward into another crisis, this time about a thousand miles northwest of Syria, in Ukraine.

Lesson number one is that Russia is sometimes right. Despite the fact that President Putin has been thoroughly vilified in the U.S. political establishment and western media, it appears that at least when it came to the sarin attack in Syria, he may in fact have been on to something when claimed that the gas “was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces.”

If he was right about that, who knows, perhaps he is also right when he claims that the people who recently took power in Kiev are “nationalists, neo-Nazis, Russophobes and anti-Semites” who “resorted to terror, murder and riots” in order “to seize power and would stop short of nothing” in order to do so.

Another lesson is that leading human rights organizations are sometimes not to be trusted. Although groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch often produce high-quality independent reporting on important issues, including hard-hitting analyses of U.S. human rights violations, too often their reporting is colored by an agenda that advocates military intervention based on the relatively new international doctrine of “responsibility to protect,” or R2P.

Also, the Syrian case study teaches us that the United States is sometimes more interested in finding a justification for intervention than it is in finding the truth about war crimes. While the U.S. government was more than willing to seize on any and every possible piece of circumstantial evidence tying the sarin attack to the Assad regime, now that considerable evidence is pointing to a different culprit, suddenly the moral outrage over the tragic deaths of hundreds of civilians is nowhere to be found.

As John Kerry said last August, after watching the videos of the chemical attack, he found it “really hard to express in words the human suffering that they lay out before us.”

“As a father,” he said, “I can’t get the image out of my head of a man who held up his dead child, wailing while chaos swirled around him; the images of entire families dead in their beds without a drop of blood or even a visible wound; bodies contorting in spasms; human suffering that we can never ignore or forget.”

But now that the actual evidence about the horrendous war crime doesn’t fit into the narrative that had been promoted by Washington, the silence is deafening and the evidence is duly ignored, all of which leads to a climate of impunity for the war criminals who were most likely responsible for the Aug. 21 attack.

The greatest lesson though might be that the initial reaction of the American people to the Obama administration’s push for war against Syria was the correct reaction. Regardless of political stripes, Americans were overwhelmingly against U.S. military intervention, which many pundits ascribed to being “war-weary,” but what antiwar activist Medea Benjamin called instead being “war-wise.”

Perhaps Americans are just weary of being manipulated into unnecessary, costly and potentially disastrous interventions based on lies, obfuscations, selective intelligence and shameless, manipulative appeals to conscience and morality.

Nat Parry is the co-author of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush. [This story is cross-posted at Essential Opinion.]

A Peace Ship’s Challenge to Nukes

In the 1950s, as the United States obliterated Pacific islands to test hydrogen bombs, anti-nuclear activists challenged this devastation by trying to sail a ship, The Golden Rule, into the test zone, a protest that helped create political pressure for a nuclear test ban, as Lawrence S. Wittner recalls.

By Lawrence S. Wittner

Is there an emotional connection between the oceans and the pursuit of peace?  For whatever reason, peace ships have been increasing in number over the past century. Probably the first of these maritime vessels was the notorious Ford Peace Ship of 1915, which stirred up more ridicule than peace during World War I.

Almost 40 years later, another peace ship appeared ―  the Lucky Dragon, a Japanese fishing boat showered with radioactive fallout from an enormous U.S. H-bomb explosion on March 1, 1954, in the Marshall Islands.  By the time the stricken vessel reached its home port in Japan, the 23 crew members were in advanced stages of radiation poisoning.  One of them died.

This “Lucky Dragon incident” set off a vast wave of popular revulsion at nuclear weapons testing, and mass nuclear disarmament organizations were established in Japan and, later, around the world. Thus, the Lucky Dragon became a peace ship, and today is exhibited as such in Tokyo in a Lucky Dragon Museum, built and maintained by Japanese peace activists.

Later voyages forged an even closer link between ocean-going vessels and peace.  In 1971, Canadian activists, departing from Vancouver, sailed a rusting fishing trawler, the Phyllis Cormack, toward the Aleutians in an effort to disrupt plans for a U.S. nuclear weapons explosion on Amchitka Island. Although arrested by the U.S. Coast Guard before they could reach the test site, the crew members not only mobilized thousands of supporters, but laid the basis for a new organization, Greenpeace.

Authorized by Greenpeace, another Canadian, David McTaggart, sailed his yacht, the Vega, into the French nuclear testing zone in the Pacific, where the French navy deliberately rammed and crippled this peace ship.  In 1973, when McTaggart and the Vega returned with a new crew, French sailors, dispatched by their government, stormed aboard and beat them savagely with truncheons.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, peace ships multiplied.  At major ports in New Zealand and Australia, peace squadrons of sailboats and other small craft blocked the entry of U.S. nuclear warships into the harbors.  Also, Greenpeace used the Rainbow Warrior to spark resistance to nuclear testing throughout the Pacific.

Even after 1985, when French secret service agents attached underwater mines to this Greenpeace flagship as it lay in the harbor of Auckland, New Zealand, blowing it up and murdering a Greenpeace photographer in the process, the peace ships kept coming.

Much of this maritime assault upon nuclear testing and nuclear war was inspired by an American peace ship, the Golden Rule. The remarkable story of the Golden Rule began with Albert Bigelow, a retired World War II U.S. naval commander.  Appalled by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, he became a Quaker and, in 1955, working with the American Friends Service Committee, sought to deliver a petition against nuclear testing to the White House.

Rebuffed by government officials, Bigelow and other pacifists organized a small group, Non-Violent Action Against Nuclear Weapons, to employ nonviolent resistance in the struggle against the Bomb.  After the U.S. government announced plans to set off nuclear bomb blasts near Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands―an island chain governed by the United States as a “trust territory” for the native people―Bigelow and other pacifists decided to sail a 30-foot vessel of protest, the Golden Rule, into the nuclear testing zone.  Explaining their decision, Bigelow declared:  “All nuclear explosions are monstrous, evil, unworthy of human beings.”

In January 1958, Bigelow and three other crew members wrote to President Dwight Eisenhower, announcing their plans. As might be expected, the U.S. government was quite displeased, and top officials from the State Department, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the U.S. Navy conferred anxiously on how to cope with the pacifist menace. Eventually, the administration decided to ban entry into the test zone.

Thus, after Bigelow and his crew sailed the Golden Rule from the West Coast to Honolulu, a U.S. federal court issued an injunction barring the continuation of its journey to Eniwetok. Despite the legal ramifications, the pacifists set sail. Arrested on the high seas, they were brought back to Honolulu, tried, convicted, and placed on probation. Then, intrepid as ever, they set out once more for the bomb test zone, were arrested, were tried, and, this time ― sentenced to prison terms.

Meanwhile, their dramatic voyage inspired an outpouring of popular protest. Antinuclear demonstrations broke out across the United States. The newly-formed National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy went on the offensive.

Moreover, an American anthropologist, Earle Reynolds, along with his wife Barbara and their two children, continued the mission of the Golden Rule on board their sailboat, the Phoenix. In July 1958, they entered the nuclear testing zone. That August, facing a storm of hostile public opinion, President Eisenhower announced that the United States was halting its nuclear tests while preparing to negotiate a test ban with the Soviet Union.

Even as test ban negotiations proceeded fitfully, leading to the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 and, ultimately, to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty of 1996, the Golden Rule dropped out of sight. Then, in early 2010, the vessel was discovered, wrecked and sunk in northern California’s Humboldt Bay.

Contacted by historians about preserving the Golden Rule for posterity, officials at the Smithsonian Museum proved uninterested. But peace activists recognized the vessel’s significance. Within a short time, local chapters of Veterans for Peace established the Golden Rule Project to restore the battered ketch.

Thanks to volunteer labor and financial contributions from these U.S. veterans and other supporters, the ship has been largely rebuilt, and funds are currently being raised for the final stage of the project. Veterans for Peace hope to take the ship back to sea in 2014 on its new mission: “educating future generations on the importance of the ocean environment, the risks of nuclear technology, and the need for world peace.”

As a result, the Golden Rule will sail again, restored to its role as America’s most important peace ship.

Lawrence Wittner (, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is What’s Going On at UAardvark? (Solidarity Press), a satirical novel about campus life.

Greasing Skids for the Comcast Deal

Americans often complain about their cable bills which always seem to be going up. Part of that money, however, goes not for entertainment but to curry favor with Congress and other officials who will judge the Comcast-Time Warner merger, as Michael Winship notes.

By Michael Winship

As the U.S. Senate holds its first hearing on the proposed Comcast-Time Warner deal, a $45 billion transaction that will affect millions of consumers and further pad some already well-lined pockets, it’s useful to get a look at how our elected officials have benefitted from the largesse of the two companies with an urge to merge.

Although the ultimate decision will be made by the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department, according to the Sunlight FoundationComcast_Logo.svg, a reliable, nonpartisan watchdog, “The number one and number two cable providers in the country are also big-time on the influence circuit, giving upwards of a combined $42.4 million to various politicians and groups since 1989.

The Sunlight Foundation’s Influence Explorer tool also shows that the two companies have spent a combined $143.5 million lobbying Congress since 1989 on issues including telecommunications, technology, taxes and copyright.

President Barack Obama benefitted the most, by far, from Comcast, whose employees and their family members contributed more than $537,800. Two Texans, Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, are the top recipients of contributions from Time Warner Cable, receiving $185,000 and $170,000, respectively.

Three Democratic and three Republican members of the Judiciary Committee are up for reelection this year and almost all have profited at least a bit from Comcast and/or Time Warner contributions, but the Democrats have come out ahead, the Sunlight Foundation reports.

Minnesota Democrat Al Franken, an outspoken critic of the merger described as “a fundraising powerhouse” by Sunlight, has received $15,050 from Comcast and $13,350 from Time Warner, as per the Center for Responsive Politics’, and has pulled in $54,500 from individuals who have worked for Comcast-owned NBC Universal, including “Saturday Night Live” executive producer Lorne Michaels.

As for the other two Democrats, Delaware’s Chris Coons and Senate majority whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, Comcast has been Coons’ third-highest overall contributor ($53,300) and the senator has gotten $3,000 from Time Warner Cable employees. Durbin has received $51,700 from Comcast-affiliated employees and $3,500 from Time Warner employees.

Of the three up for reelection on the Republican side, Alabama’s Jeff Sessions, John Cornyn of Texas and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, the Sunlight Foundation notes that none have been “significant Comcast beneficiaries,” saying:

“Overall, the three Southern state senators have received a total of $31,500 from Comcast and Comcast-affiliated employees, a sliver of the almost $70 million the three have raised in total during their respective runs for federal office. Time Warner employees have given $30,700 to Graham and $10,500 to Cornyn. Sessions has not received any money from Time Warner.

“It should be noted, however, that since 1989, Comcast has given at least $470,170 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and $640,625 to its Democratic counterpart.”

Yes, you might not be able to get decent cable service or a good Wi-Fi signal but when it comes to Congress, Comcast is quite the attentive suitor.

As Politico reported last month, including those up for reelection this year, “money from Comcast’s political action committee has flowed to all but three members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Checks have landed in the campaign coffers of Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Mike Lee (R-UT), who oversee the chamber’s antitrust panel.

“Meanwhile, the cable giant has donated in some way to 32 of the 39 members of the House Judiciary Committee, which is planning a hearing of its own. And Comcast has canvassed the two congressional panels that chiefly regulate cable, broadband and other telecom issues, donating to practically every lawmaker there, including Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).

“Comcast stresses its donations are a function of its business. ‘Comcast NBCUniversal operates in 39 states and has 130,000 employees across the country,’ said spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice. ‘It is important for our customers, our employees and our shareholders that we participate in the political process. The majority of our PAC contributions are to the senators and members who represent our employees and customers.’”

Clearly, Comcast is paying for the premium package. Its money was donated before the proposed big deal with Time Warner, but its “proactive giving,” as Sunlight’s executive director Ellen Miller calls it, “so that when a corporation needs access in a time of trouble, investigation or oversight, they have already built the quote-unquote relationships they need to soften or make their arguments to a sympathetic audience. It’s a long-term investment they make.”

Remember that the next time you get your ever-spiraling cable bill. Just think of it as a long-term investment.

Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at the public policy and advocacy group Demos, is senior writer of Moyers & Company, the weekly series on public television. To comment and for more information, go to and at Twitter, follow @MichaelWinship.

Get a Rare Look into a Dark History

From Editor Robert Parry: Our thank-you gift for donations of $100 or more to our spring fund drive is my book, America’s Stolen Narrative, detailing new evidence on the 1980 Reagan campaign’s secret contacts with Iran, plus a DVD of a “Frontline” documentary that I co-wrote featuring many of the same characters.

Since much of what we now know about this important turning point in American history has been ignored by the mainstream press despite a wealth of proof this package gives you the unique opportunity to see the evidence of the Republican skullduggery and the faces of the people who pulled the strings on our electoral process to make sure Ronald Reagan won.

America’s Stolen Narrative also reveals long-hidden records that I discovered in the National Archives exposing the immediate historical precedent, Richard Nixon’s sabotage of Vietnam War peace talks to ensure his election over Hubert Humphrey in 1968.

To get a signed copy of the book and the DVD, “Election Held Hostage,” just make your donation by credit card online (we accept Visa, Mastercard or Discover) or by mailing a check to Consortium for Independent Journalism (CIJ); 2200 Wilson Blvd., Suite 102-231; Arlington VA 22201. For readers wanting to use PayPal, you can address contributions to our account, which is named after our e-mail address: “consortnew @”. (Since we are a 501-c-3 non-profit, your donations may be tax-deductible.)

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Once you make the donation, send us a follow-up e-mail to with your precise mailing instructions. If you prefer a different one of my books to accompany the DVD such as Lost History, Secrecy & Privilege or Neck Deep (co-authored with Sam and Nat Parry) just say so in the e-mail. We’ll make the change.

Also, to help reach our $25,000 spring target, we will continue offering my three-book trilogy on the Bush dynasty   Secrecy & Privilege, Neck Deep and America’s Stolen Narrative for the discount price of only $34, less than half the cover price.

To get this special offer, just go to’s “Donate” button and make a $34 “donation” using Visa, Mastercard or Discover. We will read a “donation” of that amount as an order for the trilogy. If your mailing address is the same as your credit card billing address, we will ship the books to that address. If your mailing address is different, just send us an e-mail at and we will make the adjustment.

You can also take advantage of this trilogy offer by mailing a check for $34 to The Media Consortium; 2200 Wilson Blvd.; Suite 102-231; Arlington VA 22201. Or you can use our Paypal account, “consortnew @” Just make sure you include your mailing address in the message.

For U.S. orders of the trilogy, we will pay for the shipping. (Regrettably, this offer can only be made for U.S. orders because of increased international postal rates.)

Another way to help survive is to buy one of my last four books through the Consortiumnews’ Web site or my latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, through, either in paper or the e-book version. A portion of the sales will go to support our independent journalism.

And, we can now accept donations of stock or other equities, which I’m told can offer a tax advantage to donors if the stock has appreciated in value since it was purchased. (Our 18-year-old journalism project is recognized by the IRS as a 501-c-3 non-profit, meaning that contributions may be tax-deductible.)

If this stock-donation option appeals to you, I suggest you discuss it with your broker and then contact me at for specific instructions on how to transfer the stock. Or you can write to us at Consortium for Independent Journalism (CIJ); 2200 Wilson Blvd., Suite 102-231; Arlington VA 22201.

Again, thanks for your support and for making our 18-plus years of honest journalism possible.

Robert Parry is a longtime investigative reporter who broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for the Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. He founded in 1995 to create an outlet for well-reported journalism that was being squeezed out of an increasingly trivialized U.S. news media.