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Until very recently, most of the Democratic candidates were afraid to criticise President Bush

on almost any subject. It is only since it became clear that such criticism resonated

with ordinary people that some candidates have found the guts to attack President

Bush on any of his multiple vulnerabilities.



Book by John Maxwell

How to Make Our Own News: A Primer for Environmentalist and Journalists

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Unending War

By John Maxwell


The Jamaican government is buying wholeheartedly into the United States War on Terror. The latest announcement that the Americans will be funding a new $135 million system to track foreign visitors is probably necessary because of the incompetence of our constabulary; the new Anti-terrorism Act is not. The Anti-Terrorism Act is designed to cure democracy and Freedom, both, hitherto considered  incurable.

On Wednesday in Los Angeles, the US Vice president, Dick Cheney, told the Los Angeles World Affairs Council that the US government intended to make sweeping changes  to mobilize the country for what appeared to be an unending War on Terror. According to Cheney, the US faced in Al Qaeda, an enemy “unlike any other that we have ever faced…[who are] plotting to kill on an ever larger scale including here in the United States. “

This will justify a 21st century version of the Inquisition, in which all of us will have to undergo rigorous examinations into our faith in capitalism, Cheney/Bush style. Cheney said weapons of mass destruction were a major priority, because “Instead of losing thousands of lives, we might lose tens or even hundreds of thousands of lives as the result of a single attack, or a set of coordinated attacks.” Which no doubt explains the war on Iraq and the fact that the United States has all but abandoned its crusade against Al Qaeda in its home-base, Afghanistan.

 The former US Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill  however, puts a somewhat different slant on things. He says that getting rid of Saddam Hussein was the number one priority of the new Bush Administration from Day One. O’Neill, quoted in a book “The Price of Loyalty” paints the Bush administration as a cynical cabal, obsessed with political power and ideology to the exclusion of almost everything else. O’Neill paints Dick Cheney, his former friend and associate in two earlier Republican administrations, as a calculating manipulator of the President, part of a Praetorian Guard who protects Bush from serious engagement with the public interest.

Ignorance and Freedom

According to the old saying, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. The problem is that in much of the world, and particularly in the United States, the designated watchmen of the public interest are asleep at their posts. The current campaign to find a Democratic Party candidate to oppose President Bush in November is a case in point. Until very recently, most of the Democratic candidates were afraid to criticise President Bush on almost any subject. It is only since it became clear that such criticism resonated with ordinary people that some candidates have found the guts to attack President Bush on any of his multiple vulnerabilities. The reason is simple: they risked being labelled and libelled as unpatriotic. Only Governor Howard Dean and congressman Dennis Kucinich had the courage or temerity to beard the lion in his den. As a result, the climate is changing, but slowly.

It is obvious from the television networks that Bush and his advisers and supporters fear Howard Dean more than any other possible Democratic presidential candidate. The result is a carefully executed strategy to keep his message from reaching the people. Dean is criticised for being hot-headed, for being leftist and for all kinds of characteristics which would seem to disqualify him for the presidency were they true. His attitude is the issue, not his message.

It was instructive to watch Paula Zahn on CNN a few days ago, refusing to deal with what Howard Dean had actually said, preferring to quote a partial excerpt from a speech to make him seem an irresponsible gossip monger. It was also instructive, a day or so later, to watch as she prevented a lawyer friend of Michael Jackson's from speaking about the absolute worthlessness of the case against the entertainer, preferring to concentrate on whether Jackson was not damaging his case by responding publicly to his army of well-wishers, especially in view of his injured shoulder.

The whole point of the mainstream press in the US these days is to avoid the substance and to deal, in detail, with the shadow and its reflections. And Michael Jackson and other peripheral stories provide perfect cover for Bush/Cheney.

Duplicity and Deceit

It was revealed a few days ago, that Vice President Cheney had gone on a hunting trip with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. No details of their discussions were made public, of course, but it is to be presumed that they carefully considered the proper way to skin an elk and the right sauces to serve with venison.

Meanwhile, the Vice President is deeply imbroiled in several cases before the Supreme Court, not the least of which is an attempt to get him to disgorge records of his Energy Task Force which he set up shortly after the Inauguration. It seems to me that a good guess as to why these documents are so secret is that they will reveal that the task force’s answer to the American energy problem was a simple one: Take Iraq.

As O’Neill testifies, that was item number one on the Bush agenda. The question was how to find an excuse to embark on it. September 11 provided the fortuitous answer. Cheney is involved in other legal matters, among them a criminal investigation by a French judge into bribery and corruption  in a oil deal in Nigeria when the VP was head of Halliburton. And, of course, Halliburton is under criminal investigation for its sweet deal in Iraq, in which the company charged the US Army twice as much as another Pentagon agency paid for oil brought into Iraq by the same means used by Halliburton’s suppliers.

As some of us were vainly protesting last year, there should be no blood shed for Iraqi oil. Next week in Britain, the report of the Hutton enquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly will probably shed some light on what really happened. We do know, however, that the British intelligence agency, MI6, was for years before the war, engaged in a public relations campaign to portray Iraq as a dangerous state, threatening world peace with its weapons of mass destruction.

This Way to The Egress!

It would appear that the Bush White House, unlike any other in history, is ruled by what used to be called, a "Press Agent". Before the invention of Public Relations, people who wanted to sell snake oil and other universal remedies  employed press agents to get their names ballyhooed about. These press agents would invent all kinds of stunts and use all sorts of gimmicks to attract public attention so that the ‘medicine man’ had an attentive audience for  his pitch. One lovely example of fairly harmless press agentry was P.T. Barnum’s labelling the exit to his freak show “This way to the Egress” to get his less literate  customers out of his tent as fast as possible, so that he could pack more suckers in. It was Barnum who said “There’s a sucker born every minute” and he appears to have some ardent acolytes in the Bush White House. Perhaps there are Weapons of Mass Destruction on Mars, which might explain the latest Bush initiative.

The United States has not only frightened the wits out of its own populace who are suffering from terror-alert-fatigue. It has frightened a number of foreign countries as well. Under the PATRIOT Act, the US has managed to curb an impressive array of civil liberties. And President Bush demonstrated this week, how determined he is to restrain others, when he went over the heads of Congress to appoint a racist, former KKK advocate as a Justice of a Federal Court of Appeals.

This continues the relentless campaign of the administration to ideologically skew the justice system in the United States as part of the campaign to undo and reverse a century of democratically ordained US public policy.  Al Gore, the man who got more votes than Bush in the; last Presidential election puts it this way:

“In almost every policy area, the Administration’s consistent goal has been to eliminate any constraints on their exercise of raw power, whether by law, regulation, alliance or treaty – and in the process they have in each case caused America to be seen by the other nations of the world as showing disdain for the international community.

“In each case they devise their policies with as much secrecy as possible and in close cooperation with the most powerful special interests that have a monetary stake in what happens. In each case the public interest is not only ignored but actively undermined. In each case they devote considerable attention to a clever strategy of deception that appears designed to prevent the American people from discerning what it is they are actually doing. Indeed, they often use Orwellian language to disguise their true purposes.”

It seems that this tendency is what environmentalists, might call “cross-border pollution.”  Armed sky marshals are to be put on planes all over the world, databases will track all travellers and we will all end up in the electronic  filing cabinets of some right-wing ideologue in some underground bunker somewhere.

TIME magazine’s latest issue contains a wrenching story by one of its own  reporter-interns. “Time reporter Aatish Taseer, a British citizen raised in India, experienced the new procedure for visitors to the US who require visas when he returned to New York City last week from a vacation in India and Pakistan. . . .” In his account Taseer reflects on the multiple characteristics he shares with  other people –terrorists – which could be misinterpreted, his colour, his citizenship, his birthplace. . . . “It’s unnerving to think that basic facts about my life – facts that belong to me –could, in others’ hands , have the power to land me in trouble.”

Other journalists have landed in trouble for no other reason that they were journalists because, as watchmen of the public interest, they cannot be trusted by the US government  to reports its version of the facts. Khawar Mehdi Rizvi, a Pakistani who has worked for a number of American media, has vanished in Pakistan and it is suspected that he is being tortured somewhere.

As I’ve previously reported  in this column, I got into trouble with the Americans a long time ago. In 1966, on my way to Germany on a trade union fellowship, I was separated from all the other Lufthansa passengers  in  Miami and put in a waiting room by myself. In 1991 exactly 25 years later, the US Embassy here told me that they had orders from Washington to deny me a visitor’s visa on political grounds which they could not specify. This was while Gorbachev and Trevor Monroe were making regular visits to the US.

Because of these apprehensions I have decided that I will not voluntarily travel again to the United States. Despite my age (70 next birthday) and the fact that my only sister is seriously ill in new York, I cannot take such a  chance with my life or my liberty.

Incidentally, this is my 400th column for the Observer.

Copyright 2004©John Maxwell

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

By H. W. Brands

In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power--and the enormous risks--of the dollar's worldwide reign.  The Economy

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

By Gil Scott Heron

Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. —Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)  / Gil Scott-Heron & His Music  Gil Scott Heron Blue Collar  Remember Gil Scott- Heron

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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