Aletho News


‘Firedoglake’ is progressive– just don’t talk about Palestine

By Philip Weiss on August 28, 2010

Here is an important matter that I have been sitting on for days and that people who care about American support for Palestinian oppression need to be aware of: the extent to which Firedoglake, a leading progressive site, suppresses criticism of Israel. The battle demonstrates that even inside the left, the Israel lobby is a strong force. Indeed, the founder of the site, movie producer Jane Hamsher, has dismissed concern for Palestinians as a “pet issue.”

As I have said often, our country cannot make progress on this critical policy issue until people who care about Palestinian freedom find one another and make a political combination to take on the Israel lobby. And one way we will find one another is by taking on the corruption inside the left when it comes to human rights in Palestine.

The latest evidence of FDL’s entrenchment is an exchange yesterday at Firedoglake’s community site, The Seminal. An FDL author whom I follow– Kathleen Galt, who writes under the name Leen and for whom Palestine is front and center– did a post called “Change?” saying that Israel/Palestine continues to be off limits for the liberal mainstream media:

Does the Israeli Palestinian conflict, expanding illegal settlements, humiliation of Palestinians, bulldozing of Palestinians homes, destruction of Palestinian olive trees, continue to be off limits to so called progressive MSM host like Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Dylan Ratigan, Ed etc? I think this critical issue is still off limits to most MSM outlets.

Galt did a search of several progressive broadcasts and found not a peep about Palestine.

“So my question is this. Do folks think that anything has changed about the amount, depth, honesty of coverage by our T.V. MSM over the last several years? Has anything changed?”

In the subsequent comment thread, Galt complained that leftwing blogs were also blindered. And she specifically mentioned Rayne, the moderator of The Seminal.

I am also very interested in which so called progressive sites were blocked to discussing this critical issue, which sites drug their progressive feet on the issue, demanded higher standards of definitions of terms “zionism” than they demand of other over used general terms? Selective discrimination etc of certain issues but not others. Avoid having their heavy hitters or bringing on a heavy hitter to blog about this critical issue every week? Blog clogs of sorts specifically clogged on this issue.

Crooks and Liars has been closed down to this issue from the beginning, Huffington Post has opened up…

Still wondering why Rayne has specifically targeted this topic and is demanding higher standards for this issue more so than any other issue?

Rayne responded with a sharp rebuke:

…Let’s make this perfectly clear again that you are not an editor, moderator, site owner or host at this site, and that simply because you personally feel an issue should be handled in a particular fashion doesn’t mean it’s going to happen as you demand.

Give some thought to the possibility that your constant harangue about the manner in which this site operates drives off others — readers, commenters, diarists alike — who may not want to encourage your posts and posts like yours by recommending them.

Inside the last several weeks you’ve already attacked the owner/founder of the FDL family of sites for not fulfilling your personal expectations. You did not take the hint at the time about your behavior. And don’t think I haven’t seen your terse comments directed at me, either. This is yet another warning to you that you need to focus on subjects of your choice, stop haranguing the site’s policies and operations, or risk moderation….

Galt responded in her typically thoughtful manner:

Many of my posts have been recommended. There have been times where folks have come out of the woodwork and folks who regularly make comments here and stated that they greatly appreciate what I have posted here…. [I am] just suggesting that having a qualified individual do regular post[s] about the I/P conflict might just might be a path for FDL to take on this critical issue. This is not just my issue. You may personally [be] in the dark about this issue. For decades middle east leaders, former Presidents, former heads of the IAEA, former and present weapons inspectors, former and present CiA analyst etc have stated that the I/P issue is the most critical issue to resolve in the middle east. Now you can keep attempting to minimize the importance of this conflict but that does not change the situation. You can attempt to close down the discussion, debate etc here but that in and of itself says a great deal…

Beautiful, huh? And obvious.


August 28, 2010 Posted by | Full Spectrum Dominance | 3 Comments


Both will profit at expense of small-scale African farmers

AGRA Watch | August 25, 2010

Seattle, WA – Farmers and civil society organizations around the world are outraged by the recent discovery of further connections between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and agribusiness titan Monsanto. Last week, a financial website published the Gates Foundation’s investment portfolio, including 500,000 shares of Monsanto stock with an estimated worth of $23.1 million purchased in the second quarter of 2010 (see the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission). This marks a substantial increase from its previous holdings, valued at just over $360,000 (see the Foundation’s 2008 990 Form).

“The Foundation’s direct investment in Monsanto is problematic on two primary levels,” said Dr. Phil Bereano, University of Washington Professor Emeritus and recognized expert on genetic engineering. “First, Monsanto has a history of blatant disregard for the interests and well-being of small farmers around the world, as well as an appalling environmental track record. The strong connections to Monsanto cast serious doubt on the Foundation’s heavy funding of agricultural development in Africa and purported goal of alleviating poverty and hunger among small-scale farmers. Second, this investment represents an enormous conflict of interests.”

Monsanto has already negatively impacted agriculture in African countries. For example, in South Africa in 2009, Monsanto’s genetically modified maize failed to produce kernels and hundreds of farmers were devastated. According to Mariam Mayet, environmental attorney and director of the Africa Centre for Biosafety in Johannesburg, some farmers suffered up to an 80% crop failure. While Monsanto compensated the large-scale farmers to whom it directly sold the faulty product, it gave nothing to the small-scale farmers to whom it had handed out free sachets of seeds. “When the economic power of Gates is coupled with the irresponsibility of Monsanto, the outlook for African smallholders is not very promising,” said Mayet. Monsanto’s aggressive patenting practices have also monopolized control over seed in ways that deny farmers control over their own harvest, going so far as to sue—and bankrupt—farmers for “patent infringement.”

News of the Foundation’s recent Monsanto investment has confirmed the misgivings of many farmers and sustainable agriculture advocates in Africa, among them the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition, who commented, “We have long suspected that the founders of AGRA—the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—had a long and more intimate affair with Monsanto.” Indeed, according to Travis English, researcher with AGRA Watch, “The Foundation’s ownership of Monsanto stock is emblematic of a deeper, more long-standing involvement with the corporation, particularly in Africa.” In 2008, AGRA Watch, a project of the Seattle-based organization Community Alliance for Global Justice, uncovered many linkages between the Foundation’s grantees and Monsanto. For example, some grantees (in particular about 70% of grantees in Kenya) of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)—considered by the Foundation to be its “African face”—work directly with Monsanto on agricultural development projects. Other prominent links include high-level Foundation staff members who were once senior officials for Monsanto, such as Rob Horsch, formerly Monsanto Vice President of International Development Partnerships and current Senior Program Officer of the Gates Agricultural Development Program.

Transnational corporations like Monsanto have been key collaborators with the Foundation and AGRA’s grantees in promoting the spread of industrial agriculture on the continent. This model of production relies on expensive inputs such as chemical fertilizers, genetically modified seeds, and herbicides. Though this package represents enticing market development opportunities for the private sector, many civil society organizations contend it will lead to further displacement of farmers from the land, an actual increase in hunger, and migration to already swollen cities unable to provide employment opportunities. In the words of a representative from the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition, “AGRA is poison for our farming systems and livelihoods. Under the philanthropic banner of greening agriculture, AGRA will eventually eat away what little is left of sustainable small-scale farming in Africa.”

A 2008 report initiated by the World Bank and the UN, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), promotes alternative solutions to the problems of hunger and poverty that emphasize their social and economic roots. The IAASTD concluded that small-scale agroecological farming is more suitable for the third world than the industrial agricultural model favored by Gates and Monsanto. In a summary of the key findings of IAASTD, the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) emphasizes the report’s warning that “continued reliance on simplistic technological fixes—including transgenic crops—will not reduce persistent hunger and poverty and could exacerbate environmental problems and worsen social inequity.” Furthermore, PANNA explains, “The Assessment’s 21 key findings suggest that small-scale agroecological farming may offer one of the best means to feed the hungry while protecting the planet.”

The Gates Foundation has been challenged in the past for its questionable investments; in 2007, the L.A. Times exposed the Foundation for investing in its own grantees and for its “holdings in many companies that have failed tests of social responsibility because of environmental lapses, employment discrimination, disregard for worker rights, or unethical practices.” The Times chastised the Foundation for what it called “blind-eye investing,” with at least 41% of its assets invested in “companies that countered the foundation’s charitable goals or socially-concerned philosophy.”

Although the Foundation announced it would reassess its practices, it decided to retain them. As reported by the L.A. Times, chief executive of the Foundation Patty Stonesifer defended their investments, stating, “It would be naïve…to think that changing the foundation’s investment policy could stop the human suffering blamed on the practices of companies in which it invests billions of dollars.” This decision is in direct contradiction to the Foundation’s official “Investment Philosophy”, which, according to its website, “defined areas in which the endowment will not invest, such as companies whose profit model is centrally tied to corporate activity that [Bill and Melinda] find egregious. This is why the endowment does not invest in tobacco stocks.”

More recently, the Foundation has come under fire in its own hometown. This week, 250 Seattle residents sent postcards expressing their concern that the Foundation’s approach to agricultural development, rather than reducing hunger as pledged, would instead “increase farmer debt, enrich agribusiness corporations like Monsanto and Syngenta, degrade the environment, and dispossess small farmers.” In addition to demanding that the Foundation instead fund “socially and ecologically appropriate practices determined locally by African farmers and scientists” and support African food sovereignty, they urged the Foundation to cut all ties to Monsanto and the biotechnology industry.

AGRA Watch, a program of Seattle-based Community Alliance for Global Justice, supports African initiatives and programs that foster farmers’ self-determination and food sovereignty. AGRA Watch also supports public engagement in fighting genetic engineering and exploitative agricultural policies, and demands transparency and accountability on the part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and AGRA.

August 28, 2010 Posted by | Economics, Environmentalism | 1 Comment

Playing the genocide card

The Politics of Genocide, an unflinching attack on Western meddling in foreign affairs, challenges the idea that external intervention can be a force for good.

By Tara McCormack | The Spiked Review of Books | August 2010

What does it mean to oppose Western intervention and military campaigns today? In a sense, it appears to be a mainstream position, as the million-strong protests against the Iraq War showed. Anti-war sentiments are not only found amongst certain protest-prone sections of the public; they are also expressed amongst the highest echelons of the political class. For instance, UK prime minister David Cameron recently accused Israel of creating an open-air prison in Gaza, and Lib-Con deputy prime minister Nick Clegg claims to have been against the Iraq War form the outset. Clare Short, who was a key member of the New Labour administration, never tires of denouncing the military intervention in Iraq as a form of neo-imperialism.

However, while a kind of ersatz anti-interventionism and criticism of government propaganda is now mainstream in relation to Iraq, critiquing Western powers’ meddling in other conflicts – such as those in the Former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sudan – invites serious charges, including comparisons with Holocaust denial. These conflicts have become fixed moral signifiers in an age otherwise ridden with moral and political uncertainty. They have come to be understood as simple cases of good vs evil, conflagrations that have sprung up in previously harmonious societies, in which one side, driven by vicious ethnic hatred, attempts to exterminate their fellow citizens. To speak of political root causes or the impact of external intervention here will invite derision and fury – and in particular from those on the left.

In fact, one of the most striking aspects about the Western response to the conflicts in the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in particular was the way in which large sections of the left abandoned some core left-wing positions on foreign policy. There was a religious-style conversion to the merits of Western intervention. Erased from memory was the recent history of the West in the developing world (and in the poorer states of Europe): the exploitation, the establishment of murderous ‘friendly’ regimes, the role of the West in creating instability and war. In the 1990s, many on the left claimed that in the post-Cold War era, Western states could be a ‘force for good’ in the world. Demands for ‘humanitarian intervention’ became common; such intervention symbolised for many a new progressive post-national politics. Conflicts were no longer interpreted through a political framework, but through a moral one of victims and aggressors, innocents and ‘genocidaires’.

Certainly no one could accuse Edward Herman and David Peterson, authors of The Politics of Genocide, of being part of the new left that cheers on the humanitarian potential of Western guns and bombs. At times, their book reads like an old-school, left-wing polemic against Western intervention and the way in which the killing of millions by the West is widely ignored or accepted as a necessary evil.

The fundamental point of their book is that all killings are not treated as equal. We might assume that, in an era in which human rights are meant to be triumphant and the rule of law is supposedly being spread by supranational institutions such as the International Criminal Court, all ‘crimes against humanity’ will be judged equally. Yet mass murder committed by the US and its allies tends either not to be regarded as such or to be deemed as necessary for the greater good, as part of the fight against terrorism, the suppression of women, and so on.

Herman and Peterson begin with a discussion of what they term a ‘constructive genocide’: the sanctions inflicted on Iraq during the 1990s. The consequences of these sanctions have remained little discussed, despite later widespread opposition to military intervention. Yet this collective punishment of a nation resulted in the collapse of what had been a more or less developed country and in the deaths of hundreds of thousands due to extremely harsh limits on everything from medical equipment to basic tools.

In 1996, Madeleine Albright, then US secretary of state, was asked in a television interview if she thought that the reported deaths of half a million Iraqi children due to sanctions was a price worth paying. She replied that she did indeed think so. And, not content with the deaths of half a million Iraqi children, Albright went on to play a key part in the bombing of Serbia in 1999. In light of the ever-tightening sanctions on Iran by the Obama administration, this should give pause for thought to anyone who thinks that non-military intervention is more ‘humane’.

Herman and Peterson describe other mass killings as ‘benign bloodbaths’ – those committed by Western allies and which are far removed from normal media outrage, like the thousands of Turkish Kurds killed by Turkey during the 1980s and 1990s. While the US, under the Clinton administration, and the UK, under the Tony Blair-led New Labour government, were regularly bombing Iraq during the 1990s to enforce a ‘no-fly’ zone, ostensibly in order to protect Iraq’s Kurdish population, Turkey was engaging in a military campaign against its own Kurdish population. Turkey even regularly bombed the adjoining Kurdish area of Iraq, its military planes taking off from the same airport that British and American planes would take off from to patrol the ‘no fly’ zone in defence of Kurds…

Herman and Peterson also discuss the massacres committed by Indonesia after its occupation of East Timor in 1975. Whilst East Timor became a fashionable humanitarian cause in 1999 and 2000, journalists had largely ignored Western complicity in the arming and installing of General el-Haj Mohammed Suharto as leader of Indonesia as part of US-backed coup in the mid-1960s. Today, some of the key figures in the contemporary human-rights crusading brand of journalism, such as Samantha Power, Roy Gutman and Christiane Amanpour, simply tend to ignore Western-backed violence in their fiery polemics alerting the world to ‘war crimes’ and ‘human rights abuse’. As always, all rights are not equal and whether or not the world will pay attention to your plight depends on your relationship to powerful states.

In a sense, Herman and Peterson’s discussions of Iraq, Turkey, Indonesia and Latin America go over old ground. However, their arguments about Rwanda, Yugoslavia and Darfur threaten some of the most cherished certainties of the post-Cold War left. They argue that the wars in Yugoslavia have been completely misrepresented by the West as a simple tale of evil nationalistic Serbs seeking to exterminate innocent Muslims. And much of what has been accepted as indisputable fact has turned out to be totally fabricated. For example, the death toll has been vastly inflated and Serbs have been wrongly accused of setting up ‘rape camps’.

It is a little-known fact that the biggest single act of ‘ethnic cleansing’ during the Yugoslav civil wars was conducted by Croatian forces (trained by American private military contractors and supported by NATO jets) in 1995, when Croatia expelled the Serbian population of the Krajina region. But Serbs had been so demonised by the Western media by then that little attention was paid to the event other than perhaps to say that they got what they deserved. This was not considered an act of ‘genocide’, nor was it brought up at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Yet the expulsion of 250,000 Serbs from Croatia was, in Herman and Peterson’s terminology, a ‘benign bloodbath’.

The same process of propaganda and misrepresentation occurred in Kosovo in 1999. At least this time there were some vocal critics in the UK against Western intervention and against the way in which the conflict was being presented. Figures in the British Labour Party, such as Tony Benn, Tam Dalyell and Alice Mahon, were very vocal in their arguments against the NATO bombing and against the demonisation of the Serbs. At the time Clare Short, self-professed anti-war heroine during the Iraq invasion, compared her critical colleagues to Nazi appeasers.

As for the 1994 killings in Rwanda, Herman and Peterson suggest these may have been even more misrepresented than the Yugoslav wars. The events in Rwanda have been portrayed as one of the greatest acts of evil in the twentieth century, an event of unimaginable barbarism. The accepted narrative is simple: genocidal Hutus launched a sudden and inexplicable attack on fellow Tutsi citizens, massacring hundreds of thousands until stopped by the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) led by Paul Kagame. Herman and Peterson argue that this turns the real history of the conflict on its head. Kagame and the RPF, trained by American forces, in fact launched an invasion and occupation of Rwanda.

Any kind of evidence that has challenged the established tale has been quashed or dropped. For example, research done by the academics initially sponsored by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTFR) revealed that by far greater numbers were killed in areas controlled by the RPF than in those controlled by government forces. In 1994, a UN investigation and report commissioned by the UN High Commission for Refugees found similar patterns, but was subsequently suppressed. When a former ICTFR investigator brought forward evidence that the infamous assassination of Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana (supposedly a signal for the Hutu attacks to commence) was actually perpetrated by members of the RPF (which would clearly challenge the entire Western presentation of the conflict), chief prosecutor Louise Arbour dismissed his evidence. She argued that it was not within the remit of the ICTFR.

Kagame has gone on to rule Rwanda with an iron fist, killing thousands of Hutu refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and has been a key actor, along with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, in the destabilisation and looting of the DRC. In his spare time, Kagame hangs out with members of the global elite, such as former US president Bill Clinton, Microsoft-millionaire Bill Gates, and Starbucks-founder Howard Schultz.

The Politics of Genocide is a compact, sharp and unflinching attack on Western aggression, demolishing the propaganda that has structured Western orthodoxies around international conflicts. The only caveat is that Herman and Peterson raise several questions that they do not, in the end, answer. For instance, to the authors the explanation for post-Cold War Western involvement, deception and propaganda is simply ‘business as usual’ – the pursuit of Western interests. But when it comes to Iraq and Rwanda, for instance, it is unclear exactly what interests were at stake for the West.

Herman and Peterson argue that America sponsored Kagame as he was a willing ally, yet Habyarimana was not in the slightest hostile to Western interests. As for Saddam Hussein, he in no way threatened Western interests – quite the opposite, he was a loyal ally. Even his invasion of Kuwait was done with America’s knowledge. Yet Western powers turned Saddam into a pariah and began to stop Iraq from selling its oil.

In order to understand contemporary Western intervention we have to move beyond an assumption that material interests lie at the heart of it and reconsider the realities of the post-Cold War political context.

Tara McCormack is a lecturer in international politics at the University of Leicester. She is author of Critique, Security and Power: The Political Limits to Critical and Emancipatory Approaches to Security, published by Routledge.

August 28, 2010 Posted by | Book Review, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , , | 5 Comments