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Yet an under-educated and easily led President has handed over to Ariel Sharon

the  power to  decide whether Peace and Justice can come to the Middle East and the world.



Book by John Maxwell

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

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Willful Suspension of Disbelief

By John Maxwell


I have been excoriated by some for blasting most of  the American Press for its supine kowtowing to the imperatives of George Bush and his claque. This week, the American Press began to admit that what people like me said about their performance was true.

I believe that the US and to some extent the British Press, were missing in action when the time came to fulfill their public duty. In the War on Terror, they were willing, if not eager, to give credence to any lie, exaggeration or misrepresentation of the truth as long as it seemed to serve the interest of the ruling elites.

For me, this was a long-running struggle, because I believe that the US Press was the Judas Goat which led millions of innocent investors down the garden path to the   bust and the huge stock market bubble which exploded a couple of years ago.

Now, this week, the New York Times says, in re its Iraq pre-war coverage:

“Some critics of our coverage during that time have focused blame on individual reporters. Our examination, however, indicates that the problem was more complicated. Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper. Accounts of Iraqi defectors were not always weighed against their strong desire to have Saddam Hussein ousted. Articles based on dire claims about Iraq tended to get prominent display, while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all.”

The New York Times is too easy on itself and its compatriots. By speaking the truth,  some others of  us courted opprobrium, hate mail, disruption of our internet service to mention only  the most minor annoyances and prosecutions.

The Story has changed

Paul Krugman, an economics professor, not a journalist, has consistently outperformed his journalistic colleagues  on the NYT –  with the exception of Maureen Dowd,  In his latest, Krugman lays out the real criticism of the Press’ unquestioning obeisance to  and almost hagiographic representations of George Bush:

“People who get their news by skimming the front page, or by watching TV, must be feeling confused by the sudden change in Mr. Bush's character. For more than two years after 9/11, he was a straight shooter, all moral clarity and righteousness.

“But now those people hear about a president who won't tell a straight story about why he took us to war in Iraq or how that war is going, who can't admit to and learn from mistakes, and who won't hold himself or anyone else accountable. What happened?

“The answer, of course, is that the straight shooter never existed. He was a fictitious character that the press, for various reasons, presented as reality.”

Krugman believes that there were many factors responsible for the failure of the journalists’ responsibility to tell the truth. Among them:

    • misplaced patriotism;

    • the tyranny of evenhandedness – attempting to balance the unbalanceable – “some reporters could not bring themselves to believe that "the president of the US was being dishonest about such grave matters”

    • Intimidation, by the President’s court and by other news media and  right-wing groups.

Writing as I do in Jamaica, a small and vulnerable country, subject to instant blackmail from such as the IMF and World Bank, I find it impressive that my publishers have given me no sign that they have been intimidated and pressed to stop me writing critically about the world crisis, although it is clear that the US Embassy, the State Department and various other actors, are monumentally displeased that the people who control such  vulnerable entities  as Air Jamaica and Sandals have not caved in to the more or less high-minded intimidation that is par for the course in these parts.

The Prime Minister and CARICOM have felt the pressure over their principled stand on Haiti, and much as I deplore their relative weakness of position, they must be saluted for the fact that alone in the world, with the exception of South Africa, they have stood for principle and defended the charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

When I reported that an American general had said, months before the war, that Iraq had so few targets  worth bombing that the air force  was “ reduced to bombing outhouses” I was not speaking from privileged information. Whatever I knew (and more ) was available to the panjandra of the New York Times, CNN and the rest.

Some people were surprised when a few weeks ago I said the Bush administration was coming apart. The signs are now obvious. On CNN’s (unscientific) instant polls the evidence is clear. On Wolf Blitzer’s programme  86%  of his respondents  (about 30,000) said they were more disturbed by the fuel price crisis than by the Administrations latest  ‘Terror Alert”.  One respondent said what was really necessary  a  system for grading the credibility of Mr Ashcroft’s announcements.

Asked whether they were likely to watch the president’s latest speech, 60% said no. Did they feel more secure against terrorism than two years ago? Eight (8%)  percent said yes, 92 percent said NO. The responses were similarly negative when asked whether Bush’s speech had made  them clearer about what his policies  in Iraq.

Wilful errors of judgment

The scientific polls take a little longer to reflect change, because their respondents are likely to be less volatile than the thousands  who email their responses to Lou Dobbs, Blitzer and Co. But it is now clear that Bush’s credibility has almost evaporated and it will take a miracle, or some serious criminality, to elect him president in November. Watching Bush, the decay of confidence is patent –the swagger is less pronounced, the strut is almost gone, and the smirk vanishes as mysteriously as the Cheshire Cat.

In the theatre, the willing suspension of disbelief is an essential component of really enjoying and participating in what is happening on stage. One knows that it is not real, but one decides that, for the next 90 minutes or so, it is real.

The US press has been trapped by the facility with which modern communications devices and software can produce virtual reality and they have  conned themselves into believing that these instruments can abolish  Mark Twain’s aphorism “ You can fool SOME of the people ALL of the time, you can fool  ALL of the people SOME of the time; but you can’t fool ALL of the People ALL of the time.” Their suspension of disbelief has not been just willing, but wilful.

Now, in Iraq, the Bush misadventure is having harsh consequences for the United States. Within the past two weeks the US  has surrendered power to the Ba'athists of Fallujah and the Shiites of Abu Sadr, and they have surrendered their nation-building to a Sunni Moslem, Lakhmar Brahimi of the United Nations.

Whatever will come out of the Iraq debacle is nothing like what Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith and company intended or expected.

In addition to all of which, the Abu Ghraib scandals have brought the United States reputation into what the Defamation Act describes as “Hatred, Ridicule and Contempt.”

Remember the arrogant dismissal of General Shinseki, because he disagreed with Rumsfeld about the number of troops needed to control Iraq after the war? Shinseki did what so many generals and journalists failed to do. He told the truth, defending the public interest.

All of us under Threat

But the war itself was based on false premises. Within the past few weeks we have seen the disgracing of the war party’s guru, Ahmed Chalabi;  worse, Chalabi is now suspected of having conned the United States into carrying out – at American expense in blood and treasure –  the  Ayatollahs' agenda. . They have unseated Saddam, unleashed the Shiites in Iraq and left the country open to the Ayatollahs. If this is not a coup of transcendental proportions, I don’t know what is.

In addition, the British Institute of Strategic Studies has confirmed my prognosis of 2001, that the war on terror would end up unleashing Bin Laden’s bees, rather than exterminating them.

The result is that all of us, all over the world, are now under threat and none of us has the slightest idea of how to deal with that.

Of course, one could start with Palestine, which people like me realised from Day 1, was the spark that lights the terrorists’ bomb. Yet an under-educated and easily led President has handed over to Ariel Sharon the  power to  decide whether Peace and Justice can come to the Middle East and the world.

For one president in three years the devastation wreaked in US foreign policy and influence has been stupendous. But there is more.

The threats against Cuba and the decapitation of Haitian democracy spring from the same roots as the war on Iraq, and they are equally flawed.

In Haiti, with probably more than 2,000 people swept away by floods, there is no government, no social services, no organised assistance for the thousands left homeless or otherwise suffering. Under the protection of the United States, killers and racketeers have taken charge of what was left of Haiti, killing off  the  grassroots leadership of the popular organisations because they resisted the fascist takeover. The corollary of course, is that there is no one to take leadership in a time of disaster.

Further, the urban elite in whose  interest President Aristide was deposed, have neither the vision nor the will to work for the redevelopment of Haitian infrastructure,to prevent future catastrophes:   the battle against soil erosion, the encouragement  of peasant food production. The new model ‘Democracy’ heralded by Colin Powell, Roger Noriega and Otto Reich, was never about popular empowerment, but about” free zones’ and sweated labour.

Outside the Box

As I said in November 2000, the United States needs to take greater care in selecting its leaders because in a very real sense, their leaders are willynilly, the leaders of the rest of us, whether we agree with them or not. In confronting this power we understand that the imperatives of the United States are not the imperatives of the rest of us. But we do demand to be treated fairly and equitably. If the United States preaches Freedom and Liberty, it must uphold Freedom and Liberty.

Robert Morris is  a diplomat who resigned 34 years ago from Richard  Nixon’s National Security Council in protest against the disastrous policy in South East Asia. In an open letter this last week, Morris made a passionate appeal to diplomats in the US Foreign Service – the trustees of the American conscience abroad. In urging them to resign in protest against the present situation, Morris said:

“The America that you sought to represent in choosing your career, the America that once led the community of nations not by brazen power but by the strength of its universal principles, has never needed you more. Those of us who know you best, who have shared your work and world, know you will not let us down. You are, after all, the trustees" (Common Dreams). 

Morris says that “My friends and I used to remark that the Nixon administration was so unprincipled it took nothing special to resign. It is a mark of the current tragedy that by comparison with the Bush regime, Nixon and Kissinger seem to many model statesmen. “

And Robert Reich, like Morris, no fire-breathing Liberal, believes that a second term for Bush will effectively mean the end of American democratic government. “Nothing is more dangerous to a republic than fanatics unconstrained by democratic politics. Yet in a second term of this administration, that's exactly what we'll have" (CommonDreams).

A year ago, people like Reich, Krugman and those of us in the darker corners of the earth were regarded as incendiary troublemakers, anti-American zealots who were pretty close to aiding and abetting terrorism.

Perhaps it may be time to start listening to them and us.

Copyright ©2004 John Maxwell / COMMON SENSE 419

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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The New Jim Crow

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Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

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Ancient African Nations

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