Jan 302011

By Rob Kall | January 30, 2011


After thirty years of dictatorship, the idea of an Egypt free from the reign of Hosni Mubarak is attractive to many. But removing Mubarak may not bring freedom, democracy or a better situation.

We can learn from the bungled disaster of the Iraq invasion by George W. Bush and his neocon morons club. Instead of democracy and freedom, that invasion brought a thugocracy disrupting the fragile balance that had held Iranian and Shia fundamentalist power in check. Saddam was bad news but he also held many worse problems in check. What did it cost to get rid of him? Over a million Iraqi lives have been lost, millions have been displaced. The final outcome of the invasion will probably hand most of Iraq’s resources over to China, Russia and transnational corporations. The net gain for the US is hard to say, even harder to see any benefits for America’s middle class.
   Egypt’s bottom up youth revolution is, of course, very different. But there could be some similarities. Taking down Mubarak’s police state could produce an even worse situation.
Outside of Mubarak’s power base, the largest, most organized power in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood, known as Gamaat Islamiya , described by wikipedia as a group considered to be a terrorist organization by the US. There is some evidence that they were actually behind the assassination in 1981 of popular Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, which led to the installation of Hosni Mubarak.  Gamaat Islamiya has called for Egypt to become an Islamic state with Sharia law. Operating underground, the Muslim Brotherhood has systematically attacked Coptic Christian Egyptians, stabbing, running them over with automobiles, raping the women, threatening families in efforts to force them to convert to Islam. This has been reported repeatedly by Christian Egyptians seeking asylum in the US.
   Another factor emerging is there are hundreds and possibly thousands of prisoners being released. Hundreds of them are Muslim Brotherhood prisoners. Others may be members of crime groups or gangs.
   Most of the protesters are young people, what with 60% of Egypt’s population under 20. They know they want change and jobs and better opportunities. But one has to ask what kind of power net or base or system or organization is lying waiting, or has been built, waiting for Mubarak’s regime to fall.
   Chaos will surely ensue and then power will begin to aggregate. The Muslim Brotherhood is one nationally organized power base. The military is another. Perhaps there will be some gangs that hold some power. They could even kidnap family members of the heads of the military to grab power. The police seem to have disappeared at the time of this writing.

My point in writing this article is to raise the concern that the Egyptian people may need some help from the rest of the world if they depose Mubarak. One solution that has clear liabilities is for the Egyptian military to help the nation go through a legitimate process of democratically electing leaders. But we saw in Iran how fundamentalist Shia forces, mainly powerful mullahs, used secular figureheads to gain power for their forces. Then the Mullahs killed or eliminated the secular people, once the Shah was gone.
   Most of the world wants to see the youth revolution in Egypt bear democratic fruit. It is likely that it will be necessary to provide some gentle international help to achieve that outcome. Otherwise we may see a situation in Egypt like what we see in Lebanon, where Iran’s fundamentalist Shia Hezbollah has taken over. Is that a democratic situation. It’s hard to consider that when Democratically elected leaders have been repeatedly assassinated.
   I’m no expert on the middle east, but I’ve seen enough to know that things are never simple there and there are always lurking groups waiting to grab power. I’m sure that’s a big part of the conversations going on at the White House and the State Department.
   I’m very excited to see the bottom  up power of the masses standing up to and potentially toppling Mubarak the dictator, with all of his ensconced power. But the masses need their own leadership and bottom up infrastructure. They need leaders. If the Egyptian people are lucky, the military leaders will give the people the space and time they need to find the leadership personnel and infrastructure to create a true Democracy. That kind of luck may be amenable to external help. This is where the USA and the United Nations may be able to lend a benign hand. But providing that kind of help could be dicey since the help may be used by other parties to be spun into adverse framing. Imagine Islamic fundamentalist forces framing US help as anti-Islamic, “American Devils” talk. On the other hand, we know that the US has an ugly history of supporting dictators, so the Egyptian people would be wise to carefully scrutinize any helping “hand” the US offers.
   The media of the world will have a role to play here. Al Jazeera has already played an important role, just showing the massive demonstrations, forcing the rest of the world’s media to also cover them. This article raises some questions which I hope are reflected in the conversations the mainstream media explore.
All across the US and the world, people are gathering to demonstrate to support the Egyptian people. This is good. But we need to also come up with ways to help the Egyptian people so their revolution fulfills their hopes and dreams, so it is not stolen from them by another totalitarian regime, possibly one that is worse than the existing one.
   I’m thinking that people like Jimmy Carter, people who have a track record of monitoring elections, of helping shepherd democracy should be heading to Egypt.
Author’s Bio:
Rob Kall is executive editor, publisher and site architect of OpEdNews.com. He is also published regularly on the Huffingtonpost.com

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Jan 302011

By Paul Craig Roberts | December 29, 2010
Anyone who doesn’t believe that the US is an incipient fascist state needs only to consult the latest assault on civil liberty by Fox News (sic). Instead of informing citizens, Fox News (sic) informs on citizens. Jason Ditz reports (antiwar.com Dec. 28) that Fox News (sic) “no longer content to simply shill for a growing police state,” turned in a grandmother to the Department of Homeland Security for making “anti-American comments.”

The media have segued into the police attitude, which regards insistence on civil liberties and references to the Constitution as signs of extremism, especially when the Constitution is invoked in defense of dissent or privacy or placarded on a bumper sticker. President George W. Bush set the scene when he declared: “you are with us or against us.”
    Bush’s words demonstrate a frightening decline in our government’s respect for dissent since the presidency of John F. Kennedy. In a speech to the Newspaper Publishers Association in 1961, President Kennedy said:
    “No president should fear public scrutiny of his program, for from that scrutiny comes understanding, and from that understanding comes support or opposition; and both are necessary. . . . Without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed, and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian law makers once decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment.”
    The press is not protected, Kennedy told the newspaper publishers, in order that it can amuse and entertain, emphasize the trivial, or simply tell the public what it wants to hear. The press is protected so that it can find and report facts and, thus, inform, arouse “and sometimes even anger public opinion.”
    In a statement unlikely to be repeated by an American president, Kennedy told the newspaper publishers:
    “I’m not asking your newspapers to support an administration, but I am asking your help in the tremendous task of informing and alerting the American people, for I have complete confidence in the response and dedication of our citizens whenever they are fully informed.”
    The America of Kennedy’s day and the America of today are two different worlds. In America today the media are expected to lie for the government in order to prevent the people from finding out what the government is up to. If polls can be believed, Americans brainwashed and programmed by O’Reilly, Hannity, Beck, and Limbaugh want Bradley Manning and Julian Assange torn limb from limb for informing Americans of the criminal acts of their government. Politicians and journalists are screeching for their execution.
    President Kennedy told the Newspaper Publishers Association that “it is to the printing press, the recorder of man’s deeds, the keeper of his conscience, the courier of his news, that we look for strength and assistance, confident that with your help man will be what he was born to be: Free and Independent.” Who can imagine a Bill Clinton, a George W. Bush, or a Barack Obama saying such a thing today?
   Today the press is a propaganda ministry for the government. Any member who departs from his duty to lie and spin the news is expelled from the fraternity. A public increasingly unemployed, broke and homeless is told that they have vast enemies plotting to destroy them in the absence of annual trillion dollar expenditures for the military/security complex, wars lasting decades, no-fly lists, unlimited spying and collecting of dossiers on citizens supplemented by neighbors reporting on neighbors, full body scanners at airports, shopping centers, metro and train stations, traffic checks, and the equivalence of treason with the uttering of a truth.
    Two years ago when he came into office President Obama admitted that no one knew what the military mission was in Afghanistan, including the president himself, but that he would find a mission and define it. On his recent trip to Afghanistan, Obama came up with the mission: to make the families of the troops safe in America, his version of Bush’s “we have to kill them over there before they kill us over here.”
    No one snorted with derision or even mildly giggled. Neither the New York Times nor Fox News (sic) dared to wonder if perhaps, maybe, murdering and displacing large numbers of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen and US support for Israel’s similar treatment of Lebanese and Palestinians might be creating a hostile environment that could breed terrorists. If there still is such a thing as the Newspaper Publishers Association, its members are incapable of such an unpatriotic thought.
    Today no one believes that our country’s success depends on an informed public and a free press. America’s success depends on its financial and military hegemony over the world. Any information inconsistent with the indispensable people’s god-given right to dominate the world must be suppressed and the messenger discredited and destroyed.
    Now that the press has voluntarily shed its First Amendment rights, the government is
working to redefine free speech as a privilege limited to the media, not a right of citizens. Thus, the insistence that WikiLeaks is not a media organization and Fox News (sic) turning in a citizen for exercising free speech. Washington’s assault on Assange and WikiLeaks is an assault on what remains of the US Constitution. When we cheer for WikiLeaks’ demise, we are cheering for our own.

PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS, who at one time served loyally in the abominable Reagan administration, has apparently seen the light. Like his fellow erstwhile Reaganite David Stockman, now he is often found in the frontline of systemic critics as an articulate denouncer of America’s imperialist, class-exploitative policies at home and abroad.

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Jan 302011

By Stephen Lendman
[print_link]  Jan. 28, 2011
Make no mistake. He didn’t quit. He was pushed, the final straw perhaps being the January 18 FCC-approved Comcast-NBC Merger. Its chairman/CEO Brian Roberts co-chaired the 2000 Republican Convention host committee, and COO Stephen Burke/now NBC Universal CEO tilts heavily to Republicans. According to Public Citizen and Think Progress, he raised at least $200,000 for Bush’s 2004 campaign, served on his Council on Science and Technology, and may wish to make MSNBC another Fox, despite pledging no “interference with NBC Universal’s news operations.”
    Think Progress asked: “Why would Comcast be interested in silencing progressive voices?” Because it opposes issues they support, including Net Neutrality, stiffer media regulation, and restraints on being able to buy telecommunications and media companies freely.

   Despite having MSNBC’s highest ratings, Olbermann’s gone like (once top-rated) Phil Donahue ahead of Operation Iraqi Freedom. At the time, a leaked network February 25, 2003 memo to All Your TV.com, said he presented a:
“difficult public face for NBC in a time of war….He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration’s motives.” It outlined a nightmare scenario of his show becoming “a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity,” promoting war, not diplomacy and peace.
MSNBC’s remaining prime time hosts take note.
    On January 23, Washington Post writer Paul Farhi headlined, “Olbermann-MSNBC split had been brewing for a while,” saying:
    He “often clashed with his employers, condemning – sometimes quite publicly – directives with which he has disagreed. His departure fit a pattern (of) frequent run-ins (often) result(ing) in (him) leaving a job….His sudden exit prompted widespread suspicion of interference by Comcast.”
    According to one MSNBC insider, “there were strong indications that the timing wasn’t coincidental. (It was) right,” but not for the first time. After leaving ESPN in 1997, a network official said “He didn’t burn the bridges here; he napalmed them.” This time, ideology, not contentiousness, made the difference, but neither side is saying.
    Earlier articles criticized his less than pure progressive credentials, accessed through the following links:
At issue was unabashedly supporting Obama/Democrat policies, including:
— imperial wars without end;
— anti-labor opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), and agenda to destroy, not create, jobs when they’re most needed;
— a “Race to the Top” scheme to destroy public education;
— stiff-arming budget-strapped states, and freezing out millions trapped by poverty, homelessness, hunger and despair;
— militarizing Haiti, opposing democracy, and backing the Honduran coup, ousting a democratically elected leader;
— supporting banker bailouts and bogus financial reform for Wall Street, not main street;
— endorsing preventive detention, police state surveillance, and plans to assassinate US citizens named terrorists, with or without proof; and
— bogus health care reform, for many weeks the top Countdown story; Olbermann shamelessly promoting Obamacare – a destructive scheme to ration care and enrich corporate providers, making a dysfunctional system worse.
    For months he was staunchly one-sided, revealing flawed progressive credentials for a pro-business agenda when not jousting with Fox News or his nightly buffoonery, acting more like Bozo the Clown than a newsman. It’s why critic David Forsmark called his program “Meltdown,” nightly “public ravings,” not real news and information. Too often, it was evident by  topics chosen, preferred guests, and discussions, supporting Democrat party politics, not good governance and public needs.
    Georgetown history Professor Michael Kazin called him “O’Reilly on the left – completely predictable, unfunny, and arrogant.” University of Chicago Professor Harold Pollack said he “can be smart and funny, but I’ve basically had my fill. My life is full of shticky and rude blowhards already. Why add another?” Harper’s editor Luke Mitchell described him as “irritating and his obvious sexism is reprehensible,” despite some positive attributes, putting him head and shoulders above his Fox and CNN counterparts.
    On June 23, 2008, New Yorker writer Peter Boyer called him “One Angry Man,” saying:
At home one night, he penned “the first draft of a lacerating indictment of Bush, a twelve-minute-long j’accuse, addressed personally to” (him). The denunciation hit the high notes of the most fevered antiwar rhetoric, accusing Bush….his alleged puppet master (Dick Cheney and those around them) of perpetrating a ‘panoramic and murderous deceit’ on America and the world, (saying) ‘you yoked this nation and your place in history to the wrong war, in the wrong place, against the wrong people.’ ”
However, he rarely “j’accused” Obama’s wars or other policies the same way. In reports or commentaries, he largely exempted Democrats from jeremiads, reserved mainly for Republicans and Teabaggers, bashed separately in nightly Tea Time segments.
    Perhaps he should have stuck with sportscasting, the right venue for fun and games, pranks, horseplay, and tomfoolery. Consumers of real news and information didn’t find much on Countdown.        Overall of course daily, the entire corporate media deliver a diet of managed news, junk food news and infotainment, supporting pro-business, pro-imperial, and pro-anti-progressive policies.
    Occasionally, however, Olbermann stood tall, earlier as a fierce Bush/Cheney critic, and what a recent article explained, accessed through the following link:
    Despite turning his program into a commercial for Democrats, his December 8 special comment accused Obama of turning his back on his base, saying:
“In exchange for selling out a principal campaign pledge, and the people to whom and for whom it was made, in exchange for betraying the truth that the idle and corporate rich….have gotten unprecedented and wholly indefensible tax cuts for a decade (besides unmentioned earlier ones under Reagan and generous favors from Clinton), in exchange for giving the idle and corporate rich….two more years to accumulate still more and more vast piles of personal wealth with which they can buy and sell everybody else.”
    “In exchange for extending what he spent the weeks before the midterms calling tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires” money they’ll keep, not spend. “In exchange for injecting new vigor into the infantile, moronic, disproved-for-a-decade three-card Monte game of an economic theory (what Michael Hudson calls junk economics) purveyed by these treacherous and ultimately traitorous Republicans, that tax cuts for the rich will somehow lead to job creation,” a shameless lie.
    “In exchange for giving tax cuts for the rich which the nation cannot afford,” and they don’t deserve. “In exchange for this searing and transcendent capitulation, the President got just 13 months of extended benefits for those unemployed less than 100 weeks. And he got nothing, absolutely nothing for” the millions unemployed longer, “the 99ers.”
    Yet Obama is “celebrating….Mr. President, for these meager crumbs, you have given up costly, insulting, divisive tax cuts for the rich, and you have given in to Republican blackmail, which will be followed by more Republican blackmail….This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip of a bitter cup (without) a supreme recovery of moral health and political vigor (to) rise….and take our stand for what is right.”
    It was a rare Olbermann moment, bashing Obama like Bush, but apparently his new bosses thought sometimes was too much, tolerating little to the left of Fox.
    Not according to New York Times writers Bill Carter and Brian Stelter, however, headlining their January 23 article, “Olbermann Split Came After Years of Tension,” saying:
    No matter his “track record of attacking his superiors and making early exits, (news) of his abrupt departure (came) as a shock to his many fans, some of whom accused Comcast” of sacking him.
TV insiders, however, “are astonished that (MSNBC’s) highest-rated host….would be ushered out the door with no fanfare, no promoted farewell show, and only a perfunctory thanks for his efforts.” Calling the decision “not a termination but a ‘negotiated separation,’ (it followed) years of behind-the-scenes tension, conflicts and near terminations,” besides being unabashedly pro-Democrat.
    Now he’s gone, leaving left-of-center hosts Rachael Maddow, Ed Schultz and Lawrence O’Donnell, filling his vacated time slot. Key, however, is NBC’s power shift right, likely portending two choices for remaining hosts – softened rhetoric or new employment, but expect new corporate bosses to offer little, if any.
Senior Editor Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.


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Jan 302011

This is the great fear, in Israel and in Washington, too: that revolution in Egypt will reveal the despotism of the existing order for the Palestinian people, who have seen their rights and properties and security and water taken from them during an endless peace process that Egypt has helped sustain.                                                                                                                              

by Philip Weiss  | Mondoweiss   | [print_link]
January 29, 2011

I’m thrilled by what I see in the Cairo streets, but when I turn on American television I see only grim faces. Robert Gibbs looked frightened during his long-delayed press briefing yesterday afternoon, he stumbled and didn’t know what to say. Obama’s comments last night were equivocal and opaque: I’m with Mubarak, for now. This feels like Obama’s 9/11– the day Arabs blindsided a president.

I’d thought this is what he wanted for the Arab world: democracy! But the market dropped, and the cable shows teem with mistrust of the Arab street. The talking heads can’t stop going about the Islamists. Chris Matthews cried out against the Muslim Brotherhood and shouted, Who is our guy here?– as if the U.S. has a role to play on the streets. While his guest Marc Ginsberg, a former ambassador to Morocco whose work seems to be dedicated to finding the few good Arabs out there, said that forces outside Egypt are funding the revolt– an insulting statement, given the homegrown flavor of everything we’ve seen; and when Matthews pressed him, Ginsberg said, Hamas… Iran.

Matthews’s other interpreter was Howard Fineman. Why aren’t there more Arab-Americans on US television? I give PBS credit for gathering Mary-Jane Deeb and Samer Shehata (along with the inevitable Steven Cook of CFR) to speak of the real political demands of the protesters (and not galloping Islamism!)– but when CNN aired Mona Eltahawy saying that the protesters are not violent, the moderator stomped on her and said, what about those burning vehicles?

As if eastern Europe changed without similar destruction. 

So racism against Arabs is shutting down the American mind once again. And my friends turn to Al Jazeera English to get the soul of the story: these events are electrifying to Arabs everywhere, a heroic mobilization. And not only to Arabs. When El Baradei says, I salute the youth for overturning a pharaonic power, lovers of human freedom everywhere must be thrilled. We are seeing a dictator dissolve before our eyes. These are the events we cherished in history books and Shakespeare; so let us embrace the Egyptian movement.

Why is America so afraid?

Because we are seeing a leap in Arab power, in which the people of the largest Arab nation demand that they be allowed to fulfill their potential. This change portends a shift in the balance of power in the region. For the U.S. has played only a negative role in the Egyptian advance, supplying the teargas [and much more], and it seems inevitable that Egypt will cease to be a client state to the U.S. And thereby threaten the order of the last 30 years.

Whatever government replaces the current one in Egypt, it will not serve American interests, which have been largely defined by Israel, the American-Israeli “imperium,” as Helena Cobban put it. Since the 1970s (as Joel Beinin shows here), Egypt has been the lynchpin of a US strategy of supporting Israel. The special relationship with Israel has steered our foreign policy, encouraged the destruction and occupation of Iraq, and even fed American Islamophobia. Key to preserving this order has been our ironclad support for the Arab dictatorships in Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere– by providing out policy with a “moderate Arab” seal. Look: Egypt was a bulwark against the Islamists, and Egypt was crucial to the peace process, as the correspondents tell us over and over on American TV.

The danger to America and Israel is that the Egyptian revolution will destroy this false choice of secular dictator-or-crazy Islamists by showing that Arabs are smart articulate people who can handle real democracy if they get to make it themselves. And when they get it, they are likely to strip the mask off the peace process. On Al Jazeera English, they don’t mind talking about the Palestinians. One commentator said that the “humiliation” of the Palestinians is feeding the Egyptian revolt. I know; I will never forget how Egyptian construction workers put down their tools to stand and applaud the Code Pink buses as we left El Arish for Gaza in June 2009. And in his beautiful statement calling on Mubarak to serve his country by leaving it, ElBaradei said a government responsive to the will of the people would turn soon to the Palestinian issue.

This is the great fear, in Israel and in Washington, too: that revolution in Egypt will reveal the despotism of the existing order for the Palestinian people, who have seen their rights and properties and security and water taken from them during an endless peace process that Egypt has helped sustain. 

The grimness on the faces of American Establishment figures reflects the greatest threat to any authority, the crumbling of the existing order. Support for Israel has defined order in this region for decades and required us to support dictators. Ever since Truman defied the State Department in 1947-48, we have been committed to maintaining a Jewish state in the Middle East despite local opposition. This has required great American expenditure, and probably cost Bobby Kennedy his life, but it has been an order. That order has meant frequent lip service to Arab democracy, but hey, Mubarak is better than those Islamists.

Now that true Arab democracy is finally coming on stage, the moral structure falls apart. I say moral, because support for Israel has always had a moral rationale. The American establishment could feel good about supporting Israel because it seemed like the right thing: We had helped to solve the age-old Jewish Question of Europe. We had ended Jewish persecution. Israel was the answer to Never again! If you doubt that this is the moral calculus of our policy, step into the Center for Jewish History in New York this month. There must be four or five exhibits that touch on Jewish persecution in the Middle East and Europe. The destruction of Italian Jews. The destruction of Berlin businesses that provided the finest linens, photography, interiors… The persecution of Moroccan Jews. It never ends, along with an exhibit dedicated to the “miracle” of Israel’s creation with American Jewish support. 

Thus the Jewish community has hunkered down in an anachronistic identity of victimization– secure in the completely-contradictory knowledge that the American power structure will support Israel.

All this is changing in Egypt. An Arab liberation story is forcing itself into world consciousness. “The vast, vast majority of protesters are peaceful people, mostly middle class, and they are showing great solidarity. People are still defending the Egyptian Museum,” Issandr El-Amrani reports, inspiringly. There is bound to be great suffering in Egypt, we pray for a smooth transition, but if the Egyptians are only left to handle their own affairs, who doubts that the polity that will emerge from this chaos will be more responsive to human rights, and will strike a blow against the fetters of anti-Arab racism that have chained the American mind.


THE MONDOWEISS site is maintained by Philip Weiss and Adam Horowitz. Weiss is 55 and lives in New York state. Horowitz is 37 and lives in New York City. They  maintain this blog because of 9/11, Iraq, Gaza, the Nakba, the struggling people of Israel and Palestine, and our Jewish background.

ORIGINAL at http://mondoweiss.net/2011/01/the-egyptian-revolution-threatens-an-american-imposed-arabophobic-order.html

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Jan 302011

BY LOUIS PROYECT | January 28, 2011


For obvious reasons, the New York Times does not like Julian Assange very much although they don’t spell out their political differences,  preferring to use cheap ad hominem attacks. For example, John Burns described him as “erratic and imperious” in an October 23rd story. Indeed, it seems almost impossible for the Times to write about Assange without including such terms. <<<  ABOVE LEFT: Bill Keller

This Sunday the magazine section will include an 18 page article on Assange by the paper’s executive editor, one Bill Keller. It is basically an exercise in character assassination relieved only by a pro forma defense of the Wikileak founder’s right not to be kidnapped, tortured, killed or imprisoned. Keller writes:

But while I do not regard Assange as a partner, and I would hesitate to describe what WikiLeaks does as journalism, it is chilling to contemplate the possible government prosecution of WikiLeaks for making secrets public, let alone the passage of new laws to punish the dissemination of classified information, as some have advocated. Taking legal recourse against a government official who violates his trust by divulging secrets he is sworn to protect is one thing. But criminalizing the publication of such secrets by someone who has no official obligation seems to me to run up against the First Amendment and the best traditions of this country. As one of my colleagues asks: If Assange were an understated professorial type rather than a character from a missing Stieg Larsson novel, and if WikiLeaks were not suffused with such glib antipathy toward the United States, would the reaction to the leaks be quite so ferocious? And would more Americans be speaking up against the threat of reprisals?

If Keller had simply left it at this, one might have forgiven him despite his extensive record as a willing accomplice to imperialist war. Implicit in his hatchet job on Assange is the idea that someone hostile to American foreign policy is beyond the pale. For a newspaper that has been responsible for Judith Miller’s lies that led to a massive loss of Iraqi lives, it is high time for it to reexamine its role as propagandist. Of course, as long as there is a class system in the US, this is not likely to happen.

On February 8th, 2003, Keller wrote an op-ed piece in the Times titled The I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk Club that stated among other stupidities:

We reluctant hawks may disagree among ourselves about the most compelling logic for war — protecting America, relieving oppressed Iraqis or reforming the Middle East — but we generally agree that the logic for standing pat does not hold. Much as we might wish the administration had orchestrated events so the inspectors had a year instead of three months, much as we deplore the arrogance and binary moralism, much as we worry about all the things that could go wrong, we are hard pressed to see an alternative that is not built on wishful thinking.

This is really what sticks in their craw when it comes to someone like Julian Assange or a Noam Chomsky. These two dissidents stubbornly refuse to buy into the “arrogance and binary moralism” that are at the heart of American foreign policy whichever party is in power. Furthermore, despite Keller’s assurance that he “deplores” such a stance, he is the living embodiment of it. The only reason the NY Times has written anything critical of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that they have turned sour. If you go back and review coverage of the invasions of Grenada or Panama, you will find nothing of the sort. Imperialist liberals of Mr. Keller’s persuasion only begin to think twice about American foreign policy when it fails to achieve its immediate goals.

In the first paragraph of Mr. Keller’s attack, he makes sure to remind his readers that his target is an “eccentric former computer hacker”. Okay, we get it. Our enemies are “eccentric” while the inhabitants of the White House are normal. It doesn’t matter very much if these normal people are killing thousands of civilians just as long as they wouldn’t raise eyebrows at a cocktail party thrown at some NY Times editor’s house in the Hamptons.

In order to establish that Assange would never get such an invitation, Keller cites a communication from Eric Schmitt, a reporter assigned to work with Wikileaks:

On the fourth day of the London meeting, Assange slouched into The Guardian office, a day late. Schmitt took his first measure of the man who would be a large presence in our lives. “He’s tall — probably 6-foot-2 or 6-3 — and lanky, with pale skin, gray eyes and a shock of white hair that seizes your attention,” Schmitt wrote to me later. “He was alert but disheveled, like a bag lady walking in off the street, wearing a dingy, light-colored sport coat and cargo pants, dirty white shirt, beat-up sneakers and filthy white socks that collapsed around his ankles. He smelled as if he hadn’t bathed in days.”

Despite these fashion notes, it appears that Schmitt’s background is not in the fluffy, idiotic Style section that appears in the Thursday edition of the NY Times. Of course, if Assange had shown up in a perfectly fitting Armani suit, that would have made little difference to these cheap propagandists. With respect to his body odor, one could only assume that it is difficult sometimes to bathe when you are on the run. We can assume that Mr. Keller and Mr. Schmitt are perfectly groomed since their professional life would hardly ever make them the targets of Interpol, the CIA, MI5 or other armed bodies on the same side of the class divide as the newspaper of record.

The article continues to paint Julian Assange as a kind of dirt bag. On page three, we learn that “reporters came to think of Assange as smart and well educated, extremely adept technologically but arrogant, thin-skinned, conspiratorial and oddly credulous.” I have never been in Assange’s position, but I probably would find myself rather “thin-skinned” in the presence of a sartorial hawk like Eric Schmitt especially since my own socks have occasionally dropped around my ankles.

While the NY Times decided to form a partnership with Wikileaks (one that no longer exists because of John Burns’s hatchet job, no doubt), it was obvious that it recoiled at some of the more incendiary leaks that pointed to American war crimes. It was one thing to include chatty obiter dicta from American embassies overseas (that is, until Tunisia exploded) but it was another to publicize anything that proved we were involved with war crimes. Keller writes:

The Guardian, which is an openly left-leaning newspaper, used the first War Logs to emphasize civilian casualties in Afghanistan, claiming the documents disclosed that coalition forces killed “hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents,” underscoring the cost of what the paper called a “failing war.” Our reporters studied the same material but determined that all the major episodes of civilian deaths we found in the War Logs had been reported in The Times, many of them on the front page. (In fact, two of our journalists, Stephen Farrell and Sultan Munadi, were kidnapped by the Taliban while investigating one major episode near Kunduz. Munadi was killed during an ensuing rescue by British paratroopers.) The civilian deaths that had not been previously reported came in ones and twos and did not add up to anywhere near “hundreds.” Moreover, since several were either duplicated or missing from the reports, we concluded that an overall tally would be little better than a guess.

Of course, it is understandable why Keller would be agnostic on whether casualties amounted to “hundreds” based on the reporting of Stephen Farrell. The Kunduz incident alone resulted in the death of 90 Afghans, but you really could not tell from Farrell’s article whether the dead people were insurgents or innocent civilians. He made sure to include these disclaimers:

Though there seemed little doubt some of the dead were militants, it was unclear how many of the dead were civilians, and with anger at the foreign forces high here, NATO ordered an immediate investigation.

In explaining the civilian deaths, military officials speculated that local people were conscripted by the Taliban to unload the fuel from the tankers, which were stuck near a river several miles from the nearest villages.

German forces in northern Afghanistan under the NATO command called in the attack, and German military officials initially insisted that no civilians had been killed. But a Defense Ministry spokesman in Berlin later said the ministry believed that more than 50 fighters had been killed but could give no details about civilian casualties.

This kind of “balance” is what makes the NY Times so worthless. If there were 90 people supposedly dead as a result of a Taliban attack, trust me that one of its reporters would not be so careful to include “the other side” of the story.

Finally, a word about Keller’s likening of Assange to figures in a novel that I am currently reading:

I came to think of Julian Assange as a character from a Stieg Larsson thriller — a man who could figure either as hero or villain in one of the megaselling Swedish novels that mix hacker counterculture, high-level conspiracy and sex as both recreation and violation.

As one of my colleagues asks: If Assange were an understated professorial type rather than a character from a missing Stieg Larsson novel, and if WikiLeaks were not suffused with such glib antipathy toward the United States, would the reaction to the leaks be quite so ferocious? And would more Americans be speaking up against the threat of reprisals?

I will have a lot more to say about Stieg Larsson after I am finished reading “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” but one wonders if Mr. Keller has read the author. The obvious connection is between Julian Assange and Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, the two extremely likable characters who come together as partners in an investigation of murders committed by members of a bourgeois family with Nazi connections and corporate crime carried out by another wealthy magnate. One wonders what would make them villainous in Keller’s eyes. Was it their willingness to take on corporate power?

Indeed, it is very likely that the NY Times would have had exactly the same bourgeois snobbery and anti-leftist animosity when it came to Stieg Larsson who created these memorable characters. As a young man, Larsson was a militant of the Trotskyist group in Sweden and dedicated to bringing down the system that Julian Assange is opposed to. If Larsson had not died as the result of a heart attack, I can easily imagine him participating in Assange’s defense. The main message of his novels is the abuse of corporate power, something that American writers need to adopt as well in the face of financial collapse, greed and, class divisions on a scale not seen since the Great Depression or earlier. If I had the ear of such a novelist, I would tell them to take a close look at Bill Keller, a real villain by any estimation.

Protean in his interests and accumulated knowledge, the esteemed LOUIS PROYECT is one of the sharpest observers of current political realities at home and abroad. He maintains a blog —defiantly named The Unrepentant Marxist—at http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/

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