Wednesday, August 28, 2013

America Attacks, Again

 By Reginald Johnson

    Some years ago, I attended a rally and one of the chants went like this:

   “America attacks, the people fight back!”  “America attacks, the people fight back!”

 I thought of this chant yesterday, as news poured in that the United States was planning to launch a bombing strike against Syria in response to that nation’s alleged use of chemical weapons against insurgents in a civil war.

 Here we are again, on the precipice of yet another invasion into, incursion of, missile strike against, bombing campaign of, bludgeoning of, another country. Some other country has gone too far, someone is threatening someone else, someone has done something wrong, and we, the land of the pure and the righteous, have to set things straight. Others can’t do it, we have to do it.

  As former President George W. Bush might say, we have to smite the evil doers.

 So it is with Syria. That nation has, in the words of our current President Barack Obama, “crossed a  red line.”   There’s been a chemical weapons attack in the country, and the administration is maintaining it was perpetrated by the Syrian government. Hundreds have been killed. Syria has committed, in the words of our Secretary of State and former war protester John Kerry, a “moral obscenity.” It is an act, Kerry said, that demands a response.

  It is an absolute certainty, furthermore, according to Kerry and others, that forces loyal to Bashar Al-Assad, the Syrian leader, carried out this attack and not anyone else.  We know it for sure, because our “intelligence services” say so. Yes, we know the UN is investigating to get confirmation about the attack and who did it,  but we already know, they say.

  And just like with Iraq 10 years ago and the question of whether that nation had weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. is apparently not going to wait for the results of the UN investigation. No need to. We know. We’re going to send cruise missiles into Syria to hit “selected targets” and punish Syria.

 And hundreds, if not thousands, will die. Human beings, blown to bits in a massive carnage. Homes ruined, factories leveled, infrastructure destroyed. Of those who survive, many will be left with life-long, debilitating injuries.

   According to MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews, the bombing could come as early as Thursday.

   Just like ten years ago, no one in the press or in Congress seems particularly upset. It’s just kind of assumed that Assad is this really bad guy, and of course he’s used chemical weapons on his people. Reports of previous poison gas attacks by rebel forces are brushed away. Not many people are asking probing questions about what’s going on, and what American objectives really are with the planned attack.

  A few people in Congress are standing up and demanding answers, and insisting that Congress must give approval for the bombing. But this principled group is far from a majority. That’s very sad.

The fact is that Obama does have to get congressional approval before launching this intervention. The Constitution is clear: Congress must approve any move by this nation to engage in war. Dropping bombs on another country is surely an act of war.

 If Obama goes ahead without approval from Congress, he’s breaking the law and violating his constitutional oath of office. This is an impeachable offense.

  He and this nation will also be violating international law. The law is clear. One nation cannot just willy nilly strike another nation militarily because it wants to. They have to be acting in self-defense or get Security Council authorization to launch an attack. The U.S. right now would not be meeting either of those requirements.

 A U.S. president can’t say, ‘well these requirements of both national law and international law are annoying, and we’re just not bothering to fulfill them.’  Can’t do that.

And what of the categorical claims by intelligence officials that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons?  Didn’t we go through this before? Remember CIA Director George Tenet’s remark, prior to the U.S. attack on Iraq, that it was a “slam dunk” about the certainty that Iraq had WMDs? Months after that statement, and after the war had begun, a UN team found no WMDs. Zero.

 Is there a possibility the story about chemical weapons use by Syria has been falsified, that someone else used the weapons and the act is being falsely linked to Assad, so as to provide a pretext for invasion? Yes. It’s happened before. They’re called “false flag” operations. See the bombing of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor prior to the Spanish-American War or the Gulf of Tonkin incident prior to the Vietnam War as examples.

  When the U.S. really wants to do something, like intervene in another country, sometimes these things happen. America has wanted to intervene on behalf of Assad’s opponents in Syria for a long time, badly. This despite the fact that some of the opposition forces are terrorists, including al-Qaeda.

  The real objective here is Iran, a country loaded with oil --- just like Iraq was. Knock over Assad’s regime, and knock out a friend of Iran’s. Then outflank Iran, and depose that regime as well. That’s the game plan. We will gain control of Iran’s oil, keep it away from the Russians and Chinese, and eliminate an arch enemy of Israel as well.

  This whole affair with Syria has nothing to do with human rights, or the suffering caused by chemical weapons. If the U.S. was concerned about mass suffering, it wouldn’t have aided an Egyptian regime which has just killed hundreds.

  Maybe my analysis of events in Syria is wrong. Maybe for once, U.S. reports on an awful act by another government are correct. I’m willing to look at the evidence. But let’s allow the UN team to do their job --- to do a full investigation. Then, if the chemical attack by Syria is confirmed,  go before the UN and decide on a course of action.

  Don’t act unilaterally, or act with one or two allies in a bombing campaign before the evidence is in. This is morally and legally wrong.

  A bombing campaign now also puts the world in danger. Given the alliances involved, Syria with Iran, Russia and China with Syria and Iran, an American intervention could spark a wider and deadly Middle East war.

  It is shameful and quite frankly mind-boggling that on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech in Washington, President Obama will today give a speech honoring King, and then go back to his office and prepare for war with Syria. King was a man of peace, who stressed non-violence. In 1967, he spoke out against the Vietnam War.
  If President Obama really wanted to honor King, he would stop all plans for attacking Syria, and work for peace.

  Let’s hope he does.

 In the meantime, people have to raise their voices and say No to bombing Syria. Call your congressperson and senator, and demand they make sure Obama gets congressional approval for any intervention and that the U.S. works through the UN.

  As the chant I heard years go said, the people have to fight back.



Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Keeping WBAI Alive

 By Reginald Johnson



     For over 50 years, WBAI-FM in New York has been a mecca for people seeking real news and information about major social and governmental issues.

    While commercial stations up and down the radio dial bombard their listeners with news about fire, crime, sex and celebrities, or subject them to endless blather by right-wing commentators or hours of mindless “sports talk,”  listener-supported WBAI does something else --- it educates people.

   Whether it’s the acclaimed investigative news show, Democracy Now, or Law and Disorder, Economic Update, Guns and Butter, the Gary Null health show, Where We Live, or Building Bridges, WBAI does so much to help people better understand a range of vital issues.

   Now however, that beacon of light in a media wasteland is threatened with extinction. WBAI is in serious financial distress, and it’s an open question whether the station can survive.

   On August 10th, Summer Reese, the interim executive director of the Pacifica Foundation, which owns the station, said in an emotional report to listeners that due to the station’s substantial debt, a majority of the paid staff at WBAI had to be laid off.  In the process, most of the existing day-time programming  would be dropped. Only a skeleton crew would be kept on to maintain operations, she said.

    “We didn’t have the ability to continue the payroll at this station without making these layoffs,” said Reese.

 In addition to the day-time cuts, WBAI’s award-winning nightly news cast was knocked out, with long time news staffers such as Jose Santiago and Andrea Sears laid off.

  The reductions will save WBAI about $900,000 a year. The operating budget for WBAI runs about $2 million a year, said Reese. The station accepts no advertising and survives largely on donations from listeners.

  Already-produced programs from other stations at Pacifica, as well as FSRN news, have been slotted in to fill the gaps created by the cuts.

  The Pacifica Network has five main stations in New York, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Houston and Washington, D.C. and 200 affiliates.

  Reese said WBAI has run a deficit of “hundreds of thousands of dollars a year” for each of the last ten years. A number of factors have led to the shortfalls --- sky-high rental costs the station incurred while it was housed in offices on Wall Street; damage from Super Storm Sandy last fall; and in some cases, lackluster programs which failed to attract new listeners.

   To date, the Pacifica national office has subsidized WBAI to cover the station’s debt. But that’s no longer possible because Pacifica’s resources are now dried up.

  “There is no money,” Reese said.

To right the ship at WBAI, Reese has brought in Andrew Phillips to be interim program director. Phillips was recently the program director at KPFA in Berkeley, and 20 years ago, the program director at WBAI. Both Reese and Phillips said it is imperative to upgrade the programming in a number of time slots and expand the audience.

 Currently, that audience is not very big. WBAI has just 15,000 paid subscribers, despite being in a metropolitan area with 19 million people and a 50,000 watt antenna sitting on top of the Empire State Building.

  “This is a huge market. We have to adapt and change,” said Phillips in his remarks during the listener report.

  “We have to move forward. I don’t have to tell you why. NSA. Edward Snowden. Bradley Manning. Drones flying overhead, scaring the hell out of people in Pakistan and around the world….You all know what I am talking about. You all know other stations don’t carry these stories like Pacifica carries them,” said Phillips.
    Phillips called WBAI “the most important progressive radio station in the country.”

Reese expressed her determination to preserve WBAI with its current powerful signal --- coming from a transmitter which costs $50,000 a month to rent --- instead of selling the station’s lucrative licenses, and becoming a smaller operation.

  The next few months will be critical as changes take place at the station, and hopefully, there’s a positive response from listeners. Reese said there’s no margin for error.

  “The fate of this radio station, honestly, is in the balance as to whether it will continue to exist,” she said.

  She also noted that if that if the situation at WBAI is not stabilized, “it could pull down the whole network with it.”

  The threat to WBAI and Pacifica couldn’t come at a worse time for progressives and really anyone who values quality journalism.

  The vehicles for providing good, hard hitting journalism are disappearing. On the print side, well-regarded newspapers have either folded up or been sharply reduced in size. Others are being taken over by billionaire businessmen intent on using the publications to gain political advantage in Congress or with the White House. The objectivity of those papers and the credibility of their reporting could be undermined.

  As for commercial radio and television, with a few exceptions on cable TV, coverage of important news is a joke.

  At the same time, the need for strong reporting and for providing a forum for the discussion of key issues has never been greater. As Phillips noted, America is becoming a surveillance state, with privacy rights going out the window; the Obama administration is attacking people’s first amendment rights and the rights of journalists themselves to practice their craft; global warming grows worse by the day; the economy remains mired in a recession and an increasing number of Americans see their economic fortunes declining while a tiny minority live like kings; and racial injustice persists.

   It is critical to preserve WBAI, the Pacifica Network and all community radio stations, as they provide the space where vital news about their region, the nation and the world can be heard, and where issues can be analyzed and discussed in a free and open manner.