Friday, July 30, 2010

Media Chases Murdoch down a Foxhole

Tribune 30 July 2010

Ian Williams, Letter from America

In a Tribune book review last week, Joe Haines seemed to be praising Tony Blair for winning Rupert Murdoch’s backing. If there is anything worse than Fox News, the Murdoch press and the Neocon intellectuals, it is the reflexive kowtowing to them by so-called liberal and left of centre politicians in the English-speaking world. The shrill screams of outrage mean that anyone mentioning the pervasive racism in American society is likely to be accused of racism themselves. It is not a recent phenomenon, but Obama’s presidency and the tea party movement have raised it to new heights.

Two of the most memorably indicative moments of Bill Clinton’s invertebrate political career were when he flew back from campaigning to Arkansas to sign the execution warrant for Ricky Ray Rector, a black murderer who had already blown half his own brains out. Clinton wanted to head off any suggestion that he was soft on (black) crime. Later, after the Wall Street Journal and the Neocon fraternity had declared that black political scientist Lani Guinier was a “quota queen” for her work on more democratic voting systems, Clinton rescinded her nomination as Attorney for Civil Rights, and he and Hilary cut their lifelong friend dead. Clinton used his coded phrases for black Americans, “special interest groups,” to woo the white voters who, even if they disclaimed any racist ideology, still had a strong prejudice against any over-favourable treatment for blacks or minorities.

Last week it looked almost like Obama was having a Guinier moment when Shirley Sherrod, a civil rights veteran and official in the Agriculture Department was ordered to resign after conservative dirty tricks operative Andrew Breitbart posted a clip on You-tube from 20 year old speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People that was completely torn out of context, which implied that she had discriminated against a white farmer while she worked for the Department of Agriculture. The doctored clip was immediately given the full Fox News treatment and it was the mere threat of that which provoked her boss to demand her resignation. The purpose of the canard was to triangulate a mild rebuke from the NAACP for the Tea Party’s tolerance of some overt racism into a counter accusation of black racism, as allegedly practiced by the Obama administration. Indeed so successful was the grovel reflex that even the NAACP condemned her before checking their own records.

In fact, the full speech, if Fox had had fact checkers instead of a doublethink department, went on to show that she had saved the farmer’s property and livelihood, and he promptly surfaced in public to support her and testify to their life long friendship. Obama seemingly had nothing to do with the firing and promptly stepped in to offer her a job. The right hit back: it was racist of Sherrod to suggest that Breitbart was racist for libeling her and getting her sacked.

Fox has never let facts stand in the way of a good coded racist message. They had no excuse not to check Breitbart’s work as a recidivist distorter in the pay of conservative foundations. His “exposé” of Acorn, the community advice and registration group was edited, cut and pasted to make it look like the group was advising a pimp on how to open a brothel. Even Congressional Democrats voted to stop funding the organization, before examination of the full tapes showed how they had been doctored to distort the story. The Republicans resented how successful the group had been in registering minority voters – who if they voted, unsurprisingly tended to vote against the party that was working so hard to disenfranchise them.

Apart from demonstrating from demonstrating the spinelessness of many Democrats in the face of malicious fact-free conservatism, it really brought out how race is still a potent political issue in the USA, especially among core Republican voters who can barely reconcile themselves to having a Democrat in the White House, but are still in a state of denial about having a black guy in there.

The problem is not confined to the old Confederacy. In Boston Professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested in his own home after he was uppity to a white police officer who had come to investigate an alleged break-in there while an all white jury in San Francisco found a policeman who shot in the back a handcuffed black lying on the floor guilty only of “involuntary manslaughter.”

When Obama raised the Gates issue the Fox hunt went on full “Tally-Ho” mode and forced him to apologise to the police officer for questioning his right to arrest a professor in his own home.

The inherent problem is how the shrill and utterly unprincipled conservative media chains have stampeded much of the rest of the media and the political establishment into accepting that it is thoughtcrime to suggest that there is racism, that there is avoidable poverty, that state intervention has a part to play in it, and that taxation has a role in a civilized society. There are indeed penalties: it is extremely unpleasant to be slimed by Rupert’s minions and camp-followers, but unless a critical mass of people do so, they will continue.

In this context, reading Joe Haines’ intemperate attack on Neil Kinnock in his Tribune review of Alasdair Campbell was indicative. He inveighs against Kinnock’s accurate listing the treachery of Blair’s New Labour and his condemnation of Blair’s pilgrimage to Murdoch to get News International support. Haines regards it as almost an example of sour grapes on Kinnock’s part that the Sun did not support him. For most of us, our estimation of Kinnock went up reading this section of the diaries. Sorry, Comrade Haines, if you lick Rupert’s fundament, you will get stickier stuff than grapes on your tongue. I have often been on Fox. I always take a long shower afterwards.

(Un)Happy Black Tot Day

 Ian Williams, Rumpundit, commiserates Black Tot Day
Saturday  31 July is the 40th Anniversary of Black Tot Day when the Royal Navy abandoned the daily grog ration for its sailors. Do hoist  a dark rum to mark the occasion. The British decision to abandon a centuries-old tradition of high octane fighting spirit and replace it with high megaton Trident submarines has proven to be a financial and naval disaster. When it waived the rum rules, Britannia abandoned all pretension of ruling the waves!

The first reference to Navy rum was by Samuel Pepys, who although best known for confiding his sex life to his diary, was the civil servant in charge of the Navy. He authorized the Navy in the Caribbean to issue rations of rum to the sailors based in Jamaica.

Soon, however, rum was a major constituent of the Navy’s fuel supply. Admiral Vernon, after whom George Washington’s home Mount Vernon was named, decided that it was better for the health and safety of his ships and crew to mix the rum with water before issuing it, and to issue the half pint in two servings. He was known as  “Old Grog” because he wore a waterproof cloak made of “grogram,” a mixed fabric that served before oil-skins and that gave the name to the mixture.

His orders were that the grog was to be mixed in a “scuttled butt.” The idea that scuttlebutt was sailor’s chat around the water cask is a post-Prohibitionist invention. It was the rum barrel that loosened the tongues of the eagerly waiting tars.

Navy regulations insisted that once the grog had been mixed, it had to be served promptly, otherwise it would thrown overboard, because it went “flat.” I’ve experimented, and it’s true! While the rum is in a colloidal suspension in the water the droplets of rum hit the tastebuds and taste as strong as normal spirits but once they are dissolved it tastes like watered rum!

The US Navy initially adopted British grog rations but then under influence from the growing whiskey industry, swapped over to what was presented as a more patriotic spirit after 1806. During the Civil War, the US Navy abolished the ration completely, perhaps taking advantage of the connection between abolitionism and prohibitionism, both of them gaining the upper hand with the departure of Confederate personnel. However it was only the ratings who were deprived.  It was not until 1913 that officers were coerced into official abstinence.

In contrast, the British Admiralty was frankly scared of the mutinous consequences  of depriving ratings of their historical entitlement, and it kept issuing Royal Navy rum, until 1970, when they overcame public nostalgia by breathalyzing the pilot of  a nuclear submarine after he had drunk his ration.

In fact, for centuries, the Royal Navy had maintained naval supremacy despite often inferior technology compared with its Spanish and French rivals, because its crews, pressganged or volunteers, outfought their enemies. And looking at it analytically, the major observable difference was the rum ration, which is why wanabee naval powers like Czarist Russia and Japan also served up rum.

British captains and admirals still have the discretion to order “Splice the mainbrace!” for special occasions, however, and naval lore is still steeped in rum, which in Britain was known as “Nelson’s blood,” since allegedly the devoted tars donated their rations to bring the Admiral’s body back from Trafalgar to London.

I checked it out in the Gibraltar library in the contemporary newspapers, and sadly,  the Admiral's body was carried back to London pickled in Spanish Brandy, aguardiente. Perhaps the tars did not want to waste the good stuff... but I have not been able to prove or disprove the story that the coffin was drained by the time it arrived in Britain. The tars might have preferred rum – but any spirit in a drought was long-standing tradition.

This week Sukhinder Singh of Speciality Drinks in London launched Black Tot – an exclusive bottling of Navy Rum over 40 years old – a find for rum-drinkers equivalent to discovering Tutankhamen’s pickled stiff, except the archaeologists never brought the young pharoah back to life, while the old rum has indeed been revived. It  was in sealed ceramic flagons allowing its unique biochemistry to play out over almost half a century.

In the Admiralty, the most coveted job was to sit on the committee that each year assessed what proportions of Jamaica, Trinidad and Demerara rums was consistent to maintain the formula, and Speciality's experts have topped up the work of all of those departed palates to ensure that the bottles live up to expectations.

If you can’t get some, then “up spirits” on Saturday with any dark rum and shed a tear for bygone glory!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Green indeed

Global fuming
Investor Relations Magazine

Jan, 2008

What’s green and intoxicating? Ian Williams fuels up

‘Green’ has different connotations, the most (over)used conjuring benign visions of environmental soundness. Another implies being gullible and easy to trick. The two sometimes even converge – for example, when health-conscious consumers are tricked into buying overpriced tap water decanted into disposable bottles made of potentially toxic petrochemicals and trucked across continents.

You may think nothing could be greener than bio-fuels, but there are ominous aspects to this issue. Sugarcane is one of the most potent sources of vegetable energy, which is why Brazilians began to put the stuff in their gas tanks when they weren’t drinking it in their caipirinhas. But even cachaca producers complain that bio-ethanol production is driving their costs up the spouts of their stills, while environmentalists note with concern that sugarcane plantations are encroaching on the Amazon rainforest, one of the globe’s last big carbon sinks.

For some Caribbean countries faced with huge imported fuel bills and idle fields because of US and EU protectionism, sugar alcohol as fuel makes sense. But in a world where billions go hungry every day, turning corn into gasoline seems obscene: the grain it takes to fill one SUV tank with bio-ethanol could feed a person for a year.

What’s more, the idea is as dubious economically as it is ethically. There are processes that use waste oils, cornstalks, grass or almost any organic garbage to make bio-diesel, but they do not have big lobbyists on the Hill. Corn gas is economically sustainable only in an insulated environment of corporate welfare, a cocoon of subsidies, tax breaks and high-tariff barriers against imported sugar. It is not even slightly environmentally sustainable. It uses almost as much carbon-based fuel in its production as it delivers, while the resulting higher corn prices will lead to the prairies being plowed, destroying the regrowing carbon sink there.

But corn ethanol makes lots of political sense because politicians collect sack-loads of campaign contributions from its manufacturers and the Florida sugar barons who could not otherwise compete with the Caribbean and Brazil. And in US politics, it’s never a bad thing to have the farm lobby on your side. In the current paranoid climate, it also helps to imply that every dollar that goes to the Midwest corn barons is not going to a fundamentalist Arab sheikh.

Most perniciously, the green glow around corn gas relieves the pressure on Washington and Detroit to do anything about the gas-guzzling monstrosities wallowing along America’s roads. Washington refuses to set carbon limits, enforce stricter fuel efficiency standards or in any way lessen the nation’s addiction to cheap liquid fuel, while simultaneously pumping tax dollars to the corn gas emitters.

Some years ago, Speculator predicted the imminence of the $100 barrel of oil. My grim satisfaction at being correct is made even grimmer by the acquisition of an oil-heated home in the mountains and a car to get to and from it. Even so, I still believe gas is far too cheap in this country – and only higher fuel taxes will force economic design on Detroit and rational planning on the cities.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

McChrystal Clear and on the Record

Ian Williams,
Letter from America
3 July 2010

When I came to the US in 1989, to begin with, I was euphoric. In Britain, Private Eye was spending half its cover price in fighting libel suits, and had even introduced the novel concept of fact checking to some of its bemused correspondents. However, in the US, a public figure could not sue for libel! My euphoria soon died down. The American media was bland and spineless.

Shortly after I arrived, one of the veteran anchormen of American television spoke at a seminar arranged by the BBC in of its last Reithian moments and explained how television was now breaking the stories. I got the first question. If TV was so good, how had it completely missed the Savings & Loans scandal, which was then the biggest financial scandal in US history (and which incidentally contained many of the lessons about the perils of deregulation that had so clearly not been learnt two decades later!)?

His answer was revealing. He admitted my point, but explained that, “No one had raised it on the Hill.” My riposte was that since everyone on the Hill had their hands in the till, why would they? But there was the principle: news was what the establishment deemed to me news.

A week ago, a real journalist, Michael Hastings, revealed in Rolling Stone magazine the culture of contempt that General Stanley McChrystal the commander in Afghanistan had for the civilian politicians they were supposed to be serving. His colleagues in the media excoriated him. No one disputed the accuracy of his reporting, but what he had said did not fit into the establishment template of our noble warriors fighting for freedom, even it did match the General’s recidivist record of using tame media to manipulate the politicians.

Media critics slammed Hastings for breaking the journalistic ethic of reporting what was said “off the record,” even though Pentagon rules specifically excluded such a category. Even more bemusingly, the press quoted off the record, un-named Pentagon sources to prove that Hastings had broken the rules!

The CBS foreign affairs correspondent, joining the wolf-pack, complained that Hastings had never served his country, unlike the General. Neither, of course, had she. But it seems that a military service was only essential for negative reporting. Boosting the Pentagon has lower application standards. Apart from establishment pressure, there was also the mundane professional detail. Any beat correspondent who went off at a tangent to the spin being given them would be barred from access to the public figures and their spinning spokespeople. Hastings had shown them up.

In the real world, journalistic etiquette about sources might have an ethical dimension when protecting whistleblowers’ risking their jobs, freedom and lives, but it does not when it comes to revealing that the US military thinks and acts as if they were the real authorities in a banana republic.

When Wikileaks distributed a video clip of a US helicopter gunning down Reuters reporters in Baghdad and the shooting up a van filled with children that came to help them, the US response has been to arrest the alleged leaker and put out a hue and cry against Wikileak founder Julian Assange. The Pentagon had denied it could find the video when Reuters asked for it under the Freedom Of Information act. There has been little or noise from the American commercial media about the incident, the leak, or the authorities’ reaction. But they could find the energy to calumniate Hastings.

Several years ago, however, Judith Miller of the New York Times went to prison for refusing to reveal her sources for the administration’s outing of a CIA agent. The journalists’ organizations jumped up and down with indignation, and tried to make her into a heroine of journalistic ethics, even though in the real world, she was part of a media-manipulation plot by the Bush-Cheney administration to pass off invented information about Iraqi weapons and to punish those, like CIA agent’s husband who had questioned the veracity of this information.

In an impromptu interview with a rabbi the doyenne of the White House press corps, Helen Thomas suggested that Israeli Jews get out of Palestine and get back to Poland or Germany instead of occupying another people’s land. At 89 years old she had skipped on the nuance, and failed to distinguish between settlers and people born in Israel. It was probably time for her to go gently into that good night, but in the end she went chased with torches and pitchforks wielded by reporters many of whom had cheered us into war in Iraq.

New York Times correspondent Jeremy Peters started his story with unconscious irony, “To many in Washington, two sets of rules seemed to apply for journalists covering the president: those for regular White House correspondents, and those for Helen Thomas.” But what he should have explained is that the rules of journalistic sycophancy are self-imposed. They too could have asked probing questions, or followed on when it was clear the answers were evasive or mendacious. But as they showed during the Iraq War, most correspondents would not have quibbled if the President had declared the Earth was flat. The more enterprising might have asked it was a circle, or square. No wonder journalistic ethics is an oxymoron. There is ethics and truth. And there is collaboration in establishment accepted evil.

The Ayatollah of Canterbury

The ayatollah of Canterbury

The life of ayatollah Hussein Fadlallah shows that Islam can be liberal without assisting Western policies

o Ian Williams

o, Tuesday 6 July 2010 09.00 BST
o Article history

Today Lebanon will see the funeral of Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, the Grand Ayatollah often described as the "spiritual advisor" to Hezbollah. Of course, in many parts of the West that immediately starts a chain of associations leading directly to terrorism, Islamo-fascism, anti-Westernism and so on. Some might even see significance in his death, at 75, on July 4th, which will doubtless bring up his support for the attack on the American marine barracks in Beirut. But then they might also think about the joint Saudi/alleged CIA operation that tried to kill the Ayatollah with a massive bomb but ended up killing 80 men and women worshippers at his Mosque.

The Saudis later apologised, but Washington's "whoops, sorry," must have been lost in the mail, which did not stop the Ayatollah from immediately denouncing the attack on the World Trade Centre.

In fact, the Ayatollah, who had his own website ( epitomised what Western critics, with varying degrees of sincerity have been suggesting Islam should be. He took the West at its face value, decried the idea of theocratic rule in affairs of state and indirectly paved the way for Hezbollah, formerly the party of economically, socially and politically excluded Lebanese Shi'a to become part of a, relatively, democratic polity.

In a small way, his indicative fatwa, allowing women to use nail polish by turning obscurantist Islamic doctrine around, symbolizes his achievement in helping Hezbollah and Lebanese Shi'a into the mainstream. It is almost inconceivable to think of middle class Lebanese women without manicures! More importantly, instead of being a strict constructionist as claimed by the Justices of the Supreme Court, he took into account the original intent of Islamic family law, and interpreted it in the light of modern society to emphasise women's rights.

There is no doubt that the Ayatollah Fadlallah was a modernising and progressive influence in Islam, much more "modern" than many of his Christian counterparts.

A year ago he told the Wall St Journal "I don't believe that Welayat al-Faqih has any role in Lebanon… Perhaps some Lebanese commit themselves to the policy of the Guardian Jurist, as some of them commit themselves to the policy of the Vatican. My opinion is that I don't see the Guardianship of the Jurist as the definitive Islamic regime."

Hopefully such statements will inoculate the Hezbollah against any Iranian-influenced successor who wants to reinsert theocracy. But this Ayatollah's stand against religious authorities interfering in the polls compares favourably with American bishops telling Catholics to vote against candidates who support a woman's right to choose, or indeed the Evangelical conservatives in the US – not to mention the Christian Democrats of Europe who have been known to support the Vatican's views on occasion.

The Ayatollah supported Hezbollah in their battle against Israeli occupation, and supported the Palestinians as well, which will of course militate against acceptance of him as a cozy Episcopalian Ayatollah, although Rowan Williams's predecessors have not been averse to claiming the support of the Almighty against Britain's enemies.

As the Ayatollah's funeral takes place, along with whatever sura from the Quran, maybe there should be a quotation from that eminent theologian Robert Burns for the benefit of Western commentators, "O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us/ To see oursels as others see us." As a happy atheist I can say, as religious leaders go, here went one of the better ones.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Hypocrisy Rules OK?

United Nations, Pages 31-32
Hypocrisy on the March—From the U.S. And Israel to France and Morocco
By Ian Williams

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. July 2010
Ahmed Bujari, representative of the Western Sahara’s Polisario Front, speaks to reporters on April 20, 2010, following the Security Council decision to extend the mandate of the MINURSO peacekeeping force by one year. (U.N. photo/Eskinder Debebe)
THE FIRST week in May saw a media storm in Israel when the Hebrew tabloid Yediot Ahronot broke the news that, while he was an appeals court judge in apartheid South Africa, Richard Goldstone was in some way linked to rejecting the appeals of 28 death sentences.

Alan Dershowitz once wrote a book called Chutzpah (not available from the AET Book Club), and in his response to the allegations he and Israel's odious Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman personified it, jumping up and down in righteous glee that Goldstone had been proven unfit to sit in judgment on a democratic state like Israel. Some of the usual suspects went even further in deep psychoanalytic studies of why Goldstone was expiating his deep guilt by beating up on Israel and thus currying favor with the U.N. Human Rights Council.
At no point did any of this newly principled mob raise any new evidence to rebut or refute the generally irrefutable Goldstone Report. Indeed, the fervor of their ad hominem attacks suggests that they can't find any.
Even by the usual hypocritical standards of Israel and its supporters, this is chutzpah on so many levels, one hardly knows where to begin. For a start, however, although Lieberman promptly circulated the news to Israeli embassies across the world, it was the newspaper that dug it up—probably inspired by the same South African Zionists who tried to stop Goldstone from attending his grandson's bar mitzvah.
So why had Israel's famed secret services not done a background check on Goldstone and unearthed this earlier? Could it be because they regarded him—as indeed he regarded himself—as a friend of Israel, and as such to be excused a few executions?
Or could it be that wiser heads in the Israeli Foreign Ministry had not wanted to stir up memories of Israeli's vital role in supplying the apartheid regime, its biggest customer, with weaponry? Its collusion in buying yellowcake from South Africa, and their mutual assistance in developing nuclear weapons and means of delivery? The sole purpose of the Boer Bomb, after all, was to kill untold millions of black Africans if the white redoubt ever was seriously threatened. Or maybe they did not want to remind people of years in which sanctions were violated by blood diamonds from South Africa being exported and processed in Israel?
While many South African Jews took an active part in the anti-apartheid struggle, they tended not to include strong Zionists and pro-Israel supporters. Judge Goldstone, by contrast, was embraced by Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. So who would you rather have validating your anti-apartheid credentials: Mandela or Lieberman? Tutu or Dershowitz?
Indeed, hearing the chorus of "gotcha!" and "Told you so!" from American pro-Israel types reminds me of the conversation I had with Rabbi Arthur Herzberg about the Lobby that dare not let you speak its name. Most American Jews and American blacks opposed apartheid, of course. How, I asked Herzberg, had the issue of the South Africa-Israel connection never been a matter of public discourse, even among liberals in the U.S.? He paused, and complimented me on my acuity, before telling me that the Jewish caucus and the Congressional Black caucus leaderships had essentially agreed on a pact. In return for the CBC not raising the issue, they were assured of full support from the Jewish caucus for their domestic agenda.
Goldstone does not need any ethical validation from people who still support apartheid in Israel and the occupied territories.
Human Rights Hypocrisy
Hypocrisy is always a good theme for a column, so let's move to the northern tip of the African continent from the U.N. Security Council—where we had the France of Sarkozy fighting tooth and nail to keep a human rights monitoring clause out of the current resolution to extend the mandate of MINURSO in Western Sahara, even in the face of calls from its European allies like the UK and Spain.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon weighed in that he "remains very concerned about alleged violations of human rights" and that "his Personal Envoy, Christopher Ross, and the Secretariat will continue to work to promote the human rights of Sahrawis." The U.S. faced firmly in both directions and claimed that it is "deeply concerned about the allegations of human rights abuses by the parties." However, reports from within the Council suggest that Washington's concern did not run so deep as pressuring France—which was otherwise almost totally isolated—from backing Morocco. The UK, Mexico, Uganda, Austria, Brazil, Spain and Nigeria all favored a monitoring exercise. Russia, China and other countries with human rights issues seemed to have sat out this battle, which is almost a shame, since if they had joined with Paris it might have led to even more public ignominy for the latter.
There is, of course, only one reason Morocco and its French patron do not want to include a human rights monitoring machinery in the Western Sahara peacekeeping mission—the only one in the world without one. It is the same reason Israel refuses to mount a credible investigation into Operation Cast Lead: because they know what any such mission will find.
There was a minor success in the resolution—920, for the record—the preamble of which read, "Recognizing that the consolidation of the status quo is not acceptable in the long term." But, of course, it did not answer the question so familiar and equally unanswered on resolutions about the other scofflaw state at the opposite end of the Mediterranean: "So what are you going to do about it?"
The answer, of course, is to call for negotiations with no preconditions—which in the case of both the Sahrawis and the Palestinians implies abandoning their legal rights to self-determination and their occupied territories.
Nukes, Nukes, Who's Got the Nukes?
And, while hypocrisy is under discussion, the visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to New York for the review conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty was not a bad example. It is worth recording that his human rights record is deplorable, that he may have stolen the last election and, even if he didn't, he certainly acted as if that was what he was doing. On the nuclear issue, however, he almost certainly is speaking for the majority of Iranians. While some might long for the good old days when the GOP, Israel and Iran colluded to arm the Contras, Iran's president has now, of course, become a pariah in the U.S.—and not, one might add, for his human rights record.
In fact the Iranian president called the possession of nuclear arms "disgusting and shameful," and added, "Even more shameful is the threat to use such weapons."
But while Iran was in the pillory for standing there and renouncing any attempts to build nuclear weapons, there was the stunning sound of silence regarding North Korea, whose human rights record makes Iran seem a civic paradise, not to mention Pakistan, India and, of course, Israel—all of whom actually do have nuclear weapons.
There does seem to be some movement, however. The Permanent Five, including the U.S., expressed support for a nuclear-free Middle East. Once again this is greeted with surprising silence—perhaps because for the pro-Israel camp to vent its customary indignation against the Obama administration's allegedly anti-Israeli stance would involve publicly admitting that peace-loving, defenseless Israel actually has nuclear weapons.
And then we complete the circle, since there is strong evidence that Israel's nuclear arsenal was built up with help from apartheid South Africa. Go fulminate, Alan Dershowitz.
4 July, Independence Day: a rum business

Nations' founding myths are just that. The US is no exception, with commerce and corruption alongside highminded heroics

* ian
o Ian Williams
o, Sunday 4 July 2010 14.00 BST
o Article history

Tea Party tax protest Revered memory: a modern Tea Party tax protest. Photograph: Getty Images

All countries have their special founding myths and legends. And all of them are eminently challengeable. 4 July no less than others. Independence Day is, of course, the special day for the Tea Partyers and Tea Baggers, when they can re-declare independence from their elected president and government, and maybe even free their Medicare from alien government control.

This Sunday, I will be at Tea Party-free barbecue, drinking and watching the fireworks. (The Third Benedict Arnold Appreciation Society annual barbecue is not until the Saturday after.) I used to love Guy Fawkes' night, (known in Boston before the Irish immigration as "Pope's Day") even though I deplore capital punishment and occasionally toast Mr Fawkes as the only man to enter parliament with honourable intentions.

In fact, Congress actually declared independence on 2 July, and then took two days to draw up an explanation of why they did it. And, says William Hogeland, author of the deliciously subversive book Declaration, it was not actually signed until later; while, indeed, many of those who did eventually sign had not even been at the meeting that declared independence, nor drew up the declaration. And showing a spirit that American politicians have shown ever since, some of those who did sign had, in fact, vigorously opposed the whole process.

Hogeland adds a whole new dimension, however. It was not the invisible hand of Adam Smith that brought the new country into being, but rather the carefully hidden hands of Sam Adams. He does not appear in the wonderful musical and film of 1776 – and one reason is that while he was there all along, he kept out of sight and did his work from behind the scenes, a composite Karl Rove and Dick Cheney of the era. His letters enjoined recipients to burn them on arrival. Most of them did, but enough were lax enough to show his fingerprints all over the actual Declaration, if not the document.

The Boston Tea Party itself is iconic and tied to 4 July in more ways than the obvious – certainly, in ways unsuspected by modern Tea Party types. It embarrassed many of the Bostonian leaders of the opposition to Britain such as John Adams, since they were well aware that the revolt was organised by his cousin Sam Adams to get rid of the cargo of duty-free tea, which was going to undercut the warehouses-full that he had smuggled in previously. Sam Adams knew that the worthy burgesses of Boston would buy the cheaper East Indian Company product if it hit the markets. But he also probably calculated that it would provoke the British into destructive countermeasures.

An affluent merchant, Sam Adams used and manipulated the poorer, genuine, revolutionary-minded citizenry and militiamen for his purposes; and he certainly did not share their anti-plutocratic sentiments.

Later, the heroic legend of the Tea Party covered up the sordid reality that the real issue of contention was the taxes on molasses the colonists used to make rum, for drinking, trading for slaves in Africa and helping wipe out the "savages". Needless to say, these were uncomfortable details for the abolitionists, prohibitionists and evangelists who later wrote the histories and drafted the legends of the new country.

Similarly, as Hogeland details, Congress began with a majority of "reconciliationists", who wanted to come to a deal with the British. Sam Adams wanted independence and worked behind the scenes to get it, including mounting what amounted to a military coup against the newly-elected government of the state of Pennsylvania, which was elected on a reconciliationist ticket. In effect, Congress overturned the state's charter – one of the many crimes alleged against King George in the Declaration.

The result was a document of some contradictions. Its original draft tried to blame the king for forcing the slave trade on the unwilling colonists, but Congress did not have the chutzpah of today's Astroturf cultivators behind the Tea Party, and pulled that one. Instead, it chose to ignore all those dark-skinned people who may have been "endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights", but from which so many of the signatories had alienated them.

The Declaration complained that King George had "endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalisation of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither", which ought to mean that he should be popular in Arkansas, and, indeed, with the Tea Party at large.

The perfidious George also "kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies, without the consent of our legislatures… He has affected to render the military independent of, and superior to, the civil power." Wow, who knew those founding fathers were against the military? Did anyone tell General McChrystal?

George even emulated his successor George W, since the founders reviled him for "depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury; for transporting us beyond seas, to be tried for pretended offenses." Of course, Guantánamo springs to mind – but what is this? No Hanoverian waterboarding?

But no hard feelings. Almost the only readily available American beer that is drinkable is named after Sam Adams, and its advertising slogan, which I came across on my first visit, was "Drink Revolting Beer". The bartender explained it was an awful, bitter and undrinkable brew, but then reconsidered: "Hey, you're a Limey, you'll love it."

I will hoist one to the memory he tried so hard to expunge.

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Spies of Life

The Cold War is so over
By Ian Williams

Asia Times 2 July 2010

WASHINGTON - It's not quite James Bond. The Murphy couple in their New Jersey Home with cans of coke, Bud Lite, and bottles of ketchup in front of them definitely made to be shaken not stirred. As for deep undercover, a Russian accent from someone with an archetypal Irish name like Murphy had even the friendly neighbors wondering what the deal was.

Now with the arrest of the Murphys and the rest of their, well, "unregistered agents of foreign governments ring", everyone is wondering what the deal was. The Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI) had been watching them for a decade, either as puzzled as everybody else, or collaborating in an elaborate implicit job-creation scheme between the Russian and American agencies.

The Murphys and three other couples were among 10 individuals suspected of acting as undeclared agents of a foreign country who the United States Department of Justice announced on June 28 had been arrested the previous day as a result of an FBI counter-intelligence investigation. Nine of the suspects were given fake identities and cover stories to establish themselves in the US, the FBI said.

When I came to the United States before the end of the Cold War, a stalwart of the foreign press corps was the only Russian journalist who did not live in their own walled compound. He had his own mid-town apartment, his own big American car, went to every reception and was clearly on another payroll apart from his newspaper for whom he never wrote. Did he collect information on the US, on journalists? He appeared on prime-time television, where he explained Soviet policy in flawless colloquial American English.

He would have made a good sleeper. Why send someone with an accent and a totally inappropriate name? Many of these 10 had notable Russian accents completely at odds with their assumed identities, and ironically, if they had used Russian names no one would have noticed with the massive post-Soviet immigration to the US.

It was the anomalies people noticed. Several of the couples had children whom the prosecutors alleged were to provide cover. The thought of James Bond pushing a baby buggy for deep cover seems unconvincing. There seems to be no evidence that they passed on serious secret information, and much of what they did allegedly seek, like information on administration personnel's attitudes to Russia
, could have been obtained by journalists or even by trawling the web.

That is why they are charged only with being unregistered agents of foreign governments - an accusation frequently made against lobbyists - rather than with espionage. Nor do spies traditionally post pictures and details on social networking sites like Facebook. Adding to the Keystone Cops ambience, sultry redhead Anna Chapman was arrested when she went to the police to hand in a fraudulent passport that an undercover FBI agent pretending to be an undercover SRV (Russian Foreign Intelligence Service) agent had given her that weekend.

The news of FBI involvement has to be taken into consideration, with the bureau's extensive record of using paid informants to provoke people into crime and then arresting them for it. Last week in upstate Newburgh, a defense attorney asked for bail for four alleged terrorists accused of conspiring to blow up a synagogue. [1]

The attorney assured the judge that her clients were in no danger of committing any crime - as long as they had no contact with the FBI paid informant who had put them up to it and provided the weaponry to do so. In fact, a disturbing number of "terrorist" trials show FBI plants instigating the criminal acts, but the magic word "terrorist" is usually enough to blow away any defense of "entrapment".

It is clear that the SRV was up to something, but was as clueless as the FBI. Both agencies continued their old Cold War habits when neither had much to gain for it, except gainful employment for their recruits and handlers. The SRV spent untold sums running this singularly useless network for a decade. The FBI was watching them all that time and only moved when they thought that some of them were leaving the country.

Moscow is huffing and puffing at Cold War moves, but it has not really explained why it was paying people who had assumed entirely inappropriate identities and gone undercover in the US. The FBI can't explain it either, although the Central Intelligence Agency could probably draw up a supporting brief since they are almost certainly running similar networks across the globe, including in Russia.

So what are their chances in court? The days of the Red Scare are down now, so they would certainly get a better hearing than the Cuban Wasp network, the five Cuban agents whose work in monitoring Cuban American exile groups got Draconian sentences - in Florida, dominated as it is by Cuban exiles. Jonathan Pollard, sentenced to life for spying for Israel, allegedly put US security at risk, which is why even the Israel lobby has not managed to get his sentence reduced.

But once the FBI gets onto a case, the Kafkaesque proceedings can destroy lives. Wen Ho Lee, accused of spying for China, eventually pleaded guilty to one charge to avoid over 50 others with the risk of being sentenced to life. In the end, president Bill Clinton apologized to him, and he won a substantial cash settlement from the government and media.

In this case the loud noise from Moscow and the absence of seriously damaging information offer a wide range of outcomes. Russia could simply round up a dozen or so Americans in Moscow and offer to swap. The FBI will need to be vindicated, which an admission could do. The prosecutors could offer deportation, since most of the false identities make accused illegal immigrants, or there could be plea bargaining of the traditional style. One mystery is what happens to the children born in the US. In a sense they are wards of state - but which state?

Would they want to stay in the land of ketchup and Bud Lite, or become pensioners of a grateful Russian state - which could find uses for the vernacular American English they have acquired?

There is clearly Inspector Clouseau-like culpability to go round on both the Russian and American side. It might be time for their respective presidents to order their respective spooks to note that the Cold War is over.

1. Trial of alleged synagogue bomb plot gang thrown into chaos over withheld evidence New York Daily News, June 4, 2010.

Ian Williams is the author of Deserter: Bush's War on Military Families, Veterans and His Past, Nation Books, New York.

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