Saturday, 17 September 2005
by Hans Bennett; October 29, 2003
At the age of 15, death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal was Minister of Information of the Philadelphia Black Panther Party. Later, he was one of the founders of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, and was president when he was incarcerated in 1981. As a Philadelphia journalist reporting on the city's murderous repression of the MOVE organization, Mumia continued to be a target of the Philadelphia authorities.
Following the City of Philadelphia's 1978 assault on MOVE's Powelton Village home, Mumia used a press conference to confront Mayor Frank Rizzo. Rizzo was enraged and issued a public threat while looking at Mumia, proclaiming: "The people believe what you write and what you say-and it's got to stop! One day-and I hope it's in my career-you're going to have to be held responsible and accountable for what you do."
Recently declared an honorary citizen of Paris, France (the first time since Pablo Picasso was given that honor in the 70s), Mumia's support extends around the world.
From death row, Mumia has recorded radio-essays and written essays exposing US military aggression, the violence of poverty, white supremacy, and much more. His fourth book written from death row has just been released: Faith of Our Fathers: An Examination of the Spiritual Life of African and African American People. Mumia is a revolutionary public intellectual similar to others like Frantz Fanon, Walter Rodney, Angela Davis, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Antonio Gramsci, Emma Goldman, or Huey P. Newton. The incarceration and attempted execution is part of the state's overall attack on the public mind and democracy.
The attempt to execute Abu-Jamal is the ultimate form of state censorship. His journalism demonstrates the revolutionary potential of alternative media and the subsequent lengths to which the powers that be will go to censor those that threaten them.
Through a 1982 trial replete with both fabricated evidence as well as a denial of his constitutional right to represent himself, Mumia Abu-Jamal was framed for the murder of Daniel Faulkner. Other US revolutionaries have been framed the same way. Geronimo Ji Jaga (formerly Pratt) of the Los Angeles BPP was released after 27 years of imprisonment for a murder that the FBI knew he was innocent of. The FBI suppressed surveillance tapes proving he was at a BPP meeting in Oakland, CA the time of the LA murder. Dhoruba Bin Wahad of the New York BPP was released after being imprisoned for 19 years. Mumia Abu-Jamal is a prisoner of this same war and should be immediately released.
State Supreme Court Blocks New Evidence
On October 8, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Mumia's appeal of a lower state court decision that prevented him from entering new evidence into his federal appeal. Among the several rejected new statements from witnesses were those of Abu-Jamal himself (his first public account of Dec. 9, 1981), his brother William Cook, Arnold Beverly, and Terri Mauer-Carter.
In his statement, Abu-Jamal proclaims his innocence, saying that he was shot while crossing the street towards Faulkner and William Cook. Abu-Jamal recounts that he heard gun shots while sitting in his taxicab and after recognizing his brother, he left his taxi and headed across the street.
William Cook states that neither he or his brother shot Faulkner. Rather, he says that while he didn't see the actual shooting, his business partner Ken Freeman (who Cook says was with him that night) later confessed to him that he was involved in Faulkner's murder.
Arnold Beverly states that in 1981 corrupt Philadelphia police hired him as a known mob hit man to kill Faulkner who was suspected of working with the FBI in their documented investigation of the Philadelphia PD for corruption. Recounting the night, Beverly states that he "ran across Locust Street and stood over Faulkner, who had fallen backwards on the sidewalk. I shot Faulkner in the face at close range. Jamal was shot shortly after that by a uniformed police officer that arrived on the scene."
Terri Mauer-Carter was working as a stenographer in the Philadelphia Court system on the eve of Abu-Jamal's 1982 trail when she states that she overheard judge Sabo say in reference to the Abu-Jamal case that he was going to help the prosecution "fry the nigger." In his new book on Abu-Jamal's case, Dave Lindorff interviews Mauer-Carter's boss, Richard Klein, who was with Mauer-Carter when she states she overheard Sabo. A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge at the time who now sits on PA's Superior Court, Klein told Lindorff: "I won't say it did happen, and I won't say it didn't. That was a long time ago." Lindorff considers Klein's refusal to firmly reject Mauer-Carter's claim to be an affirmation of her statement.
Philadelphia journalist and Temple University professor Linn Washington writes that "Sabo's biased pre-trail profession is yet another reason to grant Abu-Jamal a new trial based on judicial misconduct. The 'system' still refuses to repudiate Sabo's biased and ethically illegal actions...Sabo, for example, refused to allow Abu-Jamal's trial attorney to inform the jury that the prosecutor's two prime witnesses each had extensive criminal records and thus were candidates for pressure from police to lie. These witnesses were an arsonist on probation and driving a cab without a driver's license and a prostitute facing multiple court cases."
Because of the Oct. 8 decision, Mumia's case is now back in the federal courts. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals will now consider appeals of the federal district court decision of December 2001 where Judge Yohn upheld Abu-Jamal's verdict of guilt (denying a new trail) but to somewhat overturned his death sentence. Because DA Lynne Abraham immediately appealed Yohn's decision, Mumia has never left death row (therefore unable to have full-contact visits with family) and faces the possibility that Abraham's appeal will be successful. While Abraham is appealing Yohn's overturning of the death penalty into one of life imprisonment, Abu-Jamal is appealing the affirmation of his guilty verdict.
If Judge Yohn's ruling on the death penalty is overturned, a new death date will be set for Mumia. But if Judge Yohn is upheld, Pennsylvania still has the option to impanel a new jury to rehear the penalty phase of Mumia's trial. This new jury could sentence Mumia to death and face the death penalty again, no matter which way the Circuit Court rules on the death penalty issue.
The Garlic Campaign
In August, Mumia reported an unexplained swelling, pain, and darkening in his feet. The ICFFMAJ is "concerned about Mumia's condition in part because health conditions easily become magnified in prison conditions, where forced inactivity, social isolation, a poor diet and mental & emotional stress take their toll on a prisoner's health. Death due to neglect and misdiagnosis of illness in prison is common and is an unrecognized but effective 'death penalty' in US prisons."
The prison physician that examined him on Aug. 22 concluded that it was caused by overly tight cuffs on his sweatpants that were cutting off circulation to his feet. Mumia and his supporters were not satisfied with this diagnosis. Given that he has still not been examined by an outside doctor of his choice or given the garlic he requested, supporters fought back. The prison authorities have been flooded with faxes & phone calls as well as cloves of garlic mailed to Mumia.
When Mumia wrote me on Sept.8, he said that while he doesn't really know what the problem is, he believes that it's healing. "Swelling is down, and discoloration is lessened, but I can't say definitively what happened; or why? I'm therefore thrilled that supporters have launched the 'garlic campaign,' and deeply appreciative too."
In response to these new events, the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal is organizing two events. On Saturday, Nov.1, protesters will gather outside of Philadelphia's new "Constitution Center." Afterwards supporters will meet to plan the event coming up on Dec. 13.
I spoke with Mumia on Aug.30, 2003.
Hans Bennett: The Black Panther Party long held a scathing critique of US foreign policy. How did your experience as a Panther shape your views on global politics?
Mumia Abu-Jamal: At an early stage in its development, the BPP became what was called a "revolutionary internationalist party," which meant that they looked to revolutionary anti-imperialist examples around the world. We looked to places like Cuba and the experience of the revolutionaries there like Che Guevara. Mao was very important. His red book was required reading. Frantz Fanon was also very influential. While Fanon was of West Indian heritage, he became very active in the Algerian Revolution.
Because we considered ourselves internationalists, we began to look at the world from a deeper perspective than most people that considered themselves black nationalists as well as many others on the left at the time.
HB: What did the Panthers believe was the motive for US foreign policy?
MAJ: I remember very early in the party's history, an article in the BPP paper by George Murray, (the former Minister of Education and an instructor at San Francisco State University). He set forth the real basis for the US intervention and occupation in Vietnam. He explained that the US capitalists were in search of raw materials that existed in Vietnam like bauxite, which is used to make aluminum and that car companies used to make bumpers, and so on. This was a very powerful argument-particularly when you think about what is happening today in Iraq.
People of the so-called right claim that the US is entering Iraq to promote democracy and get rid of a dictator. It's far more reasonable if you understand US history-especially with the Vietnam situation-that the rulers are interested in oil as a natural resource; as an economic bulwark against the loss of this resource. That's more probable than the claim about democracy and the anti-dictator stance that the state has used. When you have some inkling of US history, you understand that for all intents and purposes, there's never been a dictator that the Americans didn't like, especially when they are one of the many doing the US' bidding.
HB: Many today are criticizing George Bush and his foreign policy. Today it would seem Clinton has been able to kill more Iraqi children with his sanctions than both Pres. Bush's have been able to do combined. Furthermore Clinton named an illegal bombing attack on Iraq in late 1998 "Operation Desert Fox" after a famous WWII Nazi general (obviously much admired by the US ruling class). How do you think relations with Iraq would be different today if Gore was President instead of Bush?
MAJ: Some may disagree with me but I do believe that the difference would probably be one of degree and not of substance. As you were mentioning about the sanctions, Clinton did wage a low-intensity war all throughout his term, that probably resulted in more Iraqi deaths -we're here making an assumption because we don't really know how many Iraqis have died in the recent war. For the better part of a decade (certainly during the 8 years of the Clinton administration) the US and Britain -as well as most of the west when you think about it-waged a kind of sanctions war on Iraq that denied Iraqi citizens (not the Iraqi government) access to much needed medicines and other things that children, old people, and women, again average citizens could not have access to. The economic impact is also almost unheard of-certainly in this part of the world-but hundreds of thousands of children have lost their lives over that period of time.
HB: So in terms of hurting the Iraqi people, the democrats aren't much better?
MAJ: Well, that's my impression and the more I study it and look at what people have said in previous generations, I keep coming back to that conclusion. The great internationalist and Pan-Africanist WEB DuBois spoke similarly about those things way back in the 1930s when he criticized the Democrats and the Republicans. He was one who at a very early stage in US history talked about the development of a labor party or the support of a socialist party in the US. That was quite unpopular and he got tossed out of the NAACP because he was so radical, but he was a very insightful and honest and deeply thinking radical of his time. I'm looking at something in fact that he wrote in the organ of the NAACP: The Crisis. He wrote it in 1922 and the editorial he wrote is called "Kicking Us Out."
DuBois writes: "The Democrats won't have us and the Republicans don't want us. Is there anything to do but impotently wring our empty hands? There is, and this is our opportunity. This spells our political emancipation. We are invited not to support either of the old, discredited, and bankrupt political parties. In other words, we are being compelled to do what every honest thinking American wants to do, namely support some third party that represents character, decency, and ideals."
"Just as the 2 old parties have combined against us to nullify our power by a gentleman's agreement of non-recognition no matter how we vote, in the same way they have agreed to nullify the vote of every forward looking, thinking, honest American. The revolt against the smug and idiotic defiance of the demand for advanced legislation and intelligence is slowly sweeping the country. May God write us down as asses if ever again we are found putting our trust in either the Republican or Democratic parties."
This is 1922. He was a very forward thinking man, but something very similar of course could be written today when you look at the dilemma that African Americans face when they're dealing with the two major political parties. They really are a corporate party with two heads, but they have the same body, interests, and certainly the same bloodstream, which is corporate wealth.
HB: Looking back at the weeks and months leading up the recent invasion of Iraq when we were out in the streets trying to prevent more slaughter at the hands of "our" government, it was really intense. Why do you think we weren't able to stop the war?
MAJ: I think in a way it relates to the previous question. We don't have anything resembling a workers' party, a labor party, or a people's party. We have a corporate party as I suggested earlier. We really have a democratic system in name but not substance. Which means that you can have a president that essentially ignores not just the expressed will of millions of people in the country. I remember reading somewhere that something like 20 million people protested this war all around the world.
Its one thing to ignore the national sentiment that was very clear, but you essentially had to ignore global sentiment to promote this war. That's why he kept talking about "weapons of mass destruction" and saying the UN didn't know what it was talking about. Bush and others claimed to know where all this stuff was. You had Powell in the UN with these ridiculous maps. All of a sudden the maps don't work any more.
Both parties really depend on a very thin slice of the US electorate and according to the last election cycles, the vast majority of the people don't vote anyway. They don't care what the people want. They just care about their corporate sponsors. Literally, they don't give a damn about what the people want, because they just want to protect the wealthy.
HB: Do you think there is something we could be doing differently with our protest tactics so that we can stop the next war?
MAJ: I really do think that people should not have "knee-jerk stopped" when the military campaign started. For the most part that's what happened. I understand that people are conditioned into the "support the troops" stuff. But troops are not independent actors. Military people are told what to do by their leaders and their military leaders are told -theoretically at least-by the political leaders. If anything demonstrations should have intensified, not kind of decelerated with the mindset that "since it has already started, we can't do anything." I understand why people did it but I think it was the wrong thing to do.
I also think that civil disobedience has its place and people need to think about going to those lengths. I know they're afraid and don't want to go to prison or get hurt. But what's the alternative when what is being imposed on the American people is a kind of imperial occupation and a military stance that will last for generations now?
HB: Anything else that you'd like to add?
MAJ: People need to think in terms of continuing resistance because there are millions of people in this country that really share that position, but they feel isolated and afraid of expressing it.
The International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal is calling on supporters to send cloves or whole heads of garlic in a sturdy envelope with a note urging them to provide garlic to Mumia as well as an outside doctor of his choice. Mail this to:
c/o Superintendent Folino
169 Progress Drive
Waynesburg, PA 15370
Call the prison at (724) 852-2902. From 8am to 5pm ask for Superintendent Folino. After 5pm ask for Captain Hall.
For more information contact the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal at po box 19709 Philadelphia, PA 19143 / (215) 476-8812 or 476-5416 / www.mumia.org or write Mumia:
Mumia Abu-Jamal, #AM 8335
SCI Greene, 175 Progress Drive, Waynesburg, PA 15370-8090
Labor's election campaign, with Mark Latham at the helm, was on the back foot from the start, writes Annabel Crabb in her new book.
The document came to be known by the codename "Blizzard". Worked patiently backwards and forwards between Labor's deputy national secretary, Mike Kaiser, and the office of Mark Latham, "Blizzard" was the 33-day game plan for Labor's election campaign.
Kaiser began working on the plan in the middle of last year, in conjunction with Latham's office. It was not until a few months later, when Latham weighed in with suggestions, that the nickname developed. "This is a blizzard of shit!" Kaiser cried when battling through the ideas Latham wanted for the campaign. The name stuck.
Election campaigns are ripe breeding grounds for conflict between Labor Party leaders and their teams of party officials.
The story of the Blizzard, therefore, is a classic one. Latham, on a roll with his social messages about education and social responsibility, wanted to fill the campaign with events where he read to children. He proposed a campaign event casually called "Neighbours from Hell", in which he would advocate a policy making landlords responsible for the behaviour of their tenants. Kaiser, on the other hand, wanted at least 10 days on which the leader concentrated on economic issues.
Kaiser's boss, Tim Gartrell, held monthly meetings of a special "Campaign Strategy Group". By April, the group had identified a list of likely attacks the Coalition campaign would make on Latham and his team. Latham's inexperience, it knew, would be a strong theme - his CV to date included only the management of Liverpool Council, and its subsequent profound financial difficulties.
The group also believed Simon Crean would be a target, and that the high interest rates under previous Labor governments would be a major feature of the Coalition's campaign.
Gartrell and Kaiser, worried about how Labor's team would cope with the treacherous whitewater of an actual campaign, began a series of "war-game" simulations involving the team on the road and the key Canberra campaign staff.
Campaign staff were given half an hour to come up with a full media, advertising and strategic response to a Coalition advertisement listing the problems of Liverpool Council. "If he could do all that to Liverpool, imagine what he could do to the country?" was the punchline of the fictitious ad.
The immediate results of this simulation were not encouraging - Latham's advisers did not have a good enough grasp on the detail of the Liverpool story to rebut well-researched Coalition attacks. Gartrell immediately enlisted a campaign worker to comb through the records on Liverpool and construct a detailed, accurate rebuttal of the Coalition's likely allegations.
For much of last year, the Labor team existed in a constant state of suspense, believing John Howard could call an election at any time. But when the Prime Minister finally called on the Governor-General on August 29 to announce that Australia would vote on October 9, the ALP was still badly underprepared.
Latham's first election campaign destination was Melbourne, where his first "stunt" was scheduled for the following Thursday. The Victorian party had found a young suburban couple building a house, and the plan was for Latham to visit the building site with them and personally sign a guarantee of fiscal responsibility. As a precaution against interest rate rises, Labor would guarantee a surplus budget, a reduction in the size of government, and a reduction of net debt. According to the plan, the giant cardboard pledge would be nailed to the frame of the house, creating interesting TV pictures for the evening news services as the builders worked away in the background. Latham was not keen on the whole idea; he thought it would look stupid, but eventually agreed.
On Wednesday night, Latham met senior staff Simon Banks, Mike Richards and Glenn Byres in the Grand Hyatt Hotel, where the campaign team was staying, for a final run-through of the next day's program. Latham, who had some experience in "advancing" campaign stunts, having performed that function for Bob Carr in the early 1990s, wanted to know more about the couple, who were not Labor Party members. "Are they on side?" he asked. "Do they know they're going to be asked stuff about their mortgage? Do we know what they're going to say?"
"They're all right," Richards said. "What does that mean?" Latham persisted.
Eventually, Byres spoke with the husband, asking him his general opinions about the country and the economy. "We've got a problem," Byres announced as he hung up. The man's view of the Government was that it was doing a good job of running the economy; he thought John Howard was "all right" and that Australia was in good shape under his management. The trip to the suburbs was hastily abandoned.
Latham told Richards angrily that he had enough on his mind without having to do his own advancing. The incident effectively marked the death of Richards's already terminally ill working relationship with his boss.
The "interest rates guarantee" stunt went ahead, but in a hotel instead of on a building site. When Kaiser saw the resultant flat-footed television images on the evening news in Canberra, he was furious that the stunt had been sacrificed, and blamed Latham for being too risk-averse.
Frontbencher Stephen Smith arrived in Sydney on the Monday of the campaign's second week. Smith is a neat, feline man whose taste for order verges on the obsessive-compulsive; he once reproached colleague Julia Gillard for eating a banana at an afternoon shadow cabinet meeting, telling her crisply that she should be getting her potassium in the mornings. Smith arrived on the travelling team to find it in a mad scramble to complete Labor's tax policy, which was still being written even though it was due to be released at 11am the following day. Smith could not have been more horrified if he had discovered them all eating bananas in the afternoon.
"Mate, this is a bit of a shambles," he ventured to Senate leader John Faulkner, with whom he had travelled on the 2001 campaign. "You haven't seen anything yet," Faulkner laughed.
After a frantic night of work in Centenary House, during which Latham barked instructions on speaker phone to the designer fiddling with the final layout, the Labor tax policy was finally printed at 5 o'clock in Canberra on the morning of its Sydney release, Tuesday, September 7.
One campaign worker was loaded into a car with a box of the completed press kits to rush them to Sydney. Another was bundled onto the first Sydney flight with a second box, in case of car problems.
The policy offered a careful combination of carrots and sticks; tax breaks worth $8 a week to people earning less than $52,000 and further breaks for higher-income earners. Announcing it, Latham said he wanted to "ease the squeeze" on families - a phrase which would become a central campaign refrain.
The Labor team swept off to Queensland, but on Thursday, September 9, as the travelling group left a Bundaberg public meeting at which Latham had spoken, Byres heard the first whispers of an attack - a bombing - at the Australian embassy in Jakarta. Gartrell and Kaiser, in the months approaching the election, had handled this very situation - a bombing in the region - in their "war game" simulations.
Latham felt campaigning should be suspended for a couple of days out of respect for the Jakarta dead. Kaiser disagreed, but was in the minority, and Gartrell accordingly wrote to Brian Loughnane, the Liberals' federal director, requesting a formal cessation of hostilities until the televised leaders' debate, which was scheduled for two days away.
Latham was therefore unable for several days to mount the planned arguments about terrorism in the region and when he appeared opposite Howard in the Nine Network's debate, the words sounded new and arresting. It was a bravura Latham performance.
He surprised observers by devoting his entire opening statement to the subject of national security.
"We need to do so much more in our part of the world to fight the scourge of terrorism," he said. "We need to identify and eliminate these terrorists, we need to break up and destroy [Jemaah Islamiah] in particular. And this has been the problem with the commitment in Iraq. So many experts have pointed out it's made Australia a larger target, it's made us less safe in the war against terror."
Latham and his staff were wreathed in smiles as they emerged from the debate, an encounter he was widely judged to have won. The night after the debate, Latham and senior shadow ministers met in Melbourne's Grand Hyatt for an expenditure review committee. Their mission was to re-evaluate Labor's spending commitments in light of the news that the budget surplus, estimated in May to be $2.4 billion, had more than doubled to $5.3 billion.
They agreed to increase their spending on their planned child care and pension policies, but no mention was made of any likely spending on a forestry policy. When Martin Ferguson asked if the plan was still to outwait Howard, Latham told him: "That's the plan." Ironically, the amount of additional money spent at this quiet meeting would have been more than enough to erase all the "losers" from the Labor taxation package released only a week earlier.
As is now the fashion in election battles, each of the major parties scheduled its campaign launch to occur just before the end of the actual campaign.
The Government's launch disgorged a startling amount of money: $6 billion, announced in just over 20 minutes of Howard's speech, and spread among 11 separate policies. Gartrell, a man whose ability to remain calm amid Labor crises stems in large part from his acute appreciation of the ridiculous, delivered a one-liner right on cue. "It's Crazy John's end of career sale!" he cackled.
Latham was in Perth, where the party's child-care policy - a big-ticket item central to Labor's family platform - was to be launched the next day, Monday. Kaiser felt passionately that the announcement should be delayed to give Latham an uncluttered opportunity to spend the whole day making the case that the Government was being fiscally irresponsible. "We've got to clear the decks and hammer this, day in and day out," he argued.
Latham, who did not join the strategy group's phone conferences communicated back through his on-road attendants that he did not feel the child-care announcement should be delayed. An infuriated Kaiser viewed the episode as further evidence that Latham was becoming too risk-averse and inflexible.
Labor's private polling, on the Tuesday night after the Coalition campaign launch, confirmed the suspicions of those on the campaign strategy group who sensed an opportunity to profit electorally from a display of financial restraint. Pollster John Utting found that the gap between the two parties on the perceived strength of their financial management narrowed on that night to four points - the smallest difference of the campaign.
Labor's campaign launch centrepiece was Medicare Gold, an ambitious plan for the federal government to adopt responsibility for the health costs for all Australians over 75.
It had been conceived originally under Crean's leadership, was completed by mid last year, and was maintained as a tight secret among a small group of senior Labor MPs, and was referred to as "the policy which dare not speak its name". Only Gillard, the health spokeswoman, and two staffers possessed copies of what was to be Labor's silver bullet for the health system.
It, too, was an expensive policy - $2.9 billion - and a supremely Whitlamesque gesture to make service provision universal. Medicare Gold, which was announced by Latham at the launch after he was fondly introduced by his wife, Janine, had undergone only one change during the course of the campaign.
Among respondents aged over 50, Labor's two-party-preferred vote shot up seven percentage points, to the high 40s. But in Canberra there was an underlying sense of foreboding about the campaign's vulnerability on several fronts. One was, as ever, Latham's own image. The other was the economy.
Gartrell put a proposal to Latham; a tactic dreamed up by consultant Bruce Hawker, who felt Latham needed to offer something tangible as an assurance that Labor would not be profligate or irresponsible in government.
The Coalition was arguing that Labor would cause high interest rates in power by allowing the budget to slip into deficit. Under Hawker's plan, Latham would announce that his first act as prime minister would be to enact legislation mandating budget surpluses.
Latham didn't like the idea. He remained adamant that Labor would fight the campaign on its own turf, and not the Government's.
The other problem, of course, was the forestry policy, which remained unannounced with scarcely more than a week to go.The waiting game could go on no longer.
Latham decided on a "big bang" approach - $800 million in compensation and retraining funding for Tasmania in return for locking up the major part of 240,000 hectares of forest. It was far, far more - both in terms of money and of land - than had been considered to date in negotiations with any Tasmanian interest group. Latham made the whole plan contingent on an inquiry, figuring this would take some of the heat out of the issue.
The proposal to protect an additional 240,000 hectares of old-growth forest in Tasmania had already been tested on the island; in August, UMR, Labor's polling company, had conducted a poll among 1500 Tasmanian voters floating the policy.
Voters, asked on the phone if they supported the protection of areas "including the Tarkine, Styx, and Blue Tier forests", and informed that the plan "is supported by the Australian Conservation Foundation", responded favourably - 71 per cent supported the proposal either "strongly' or "mildly".
Only 10 per cent strongly opposed it. In the marginal seats of Bass and Braddon, 74 per cent and 66 per cent respectively expressed support.
When asked specifically whether stopping old-growth logging was more important than protecting jobs in the forestry industry, 43 per cent said that stopping logging was more important, while 38 per cent felt the industry should be preserved at all costs.
This piece of research was invoked powerfully in the strategy that Latham eventually decided upon as the campaign drew to a close. But the paper trail leading to Labor's forestry policy, investigated in retrospect, is otherwise confoundingly thin.
Staff members in the Labor policy unit knew that there were a range of options, ranging from a minimalist one all the way up to the "thermonuclear option" - an immediate logging ban.
In opting for a large carve-out backed by considerable compensation, Latham thought he was making a reasonable bid to satisfy all stakeholders. Moreover, he believed strongly that he was doing the right thing; saving the forests, but not forcing workers to suffer as a consequence.
Even though it involved spending nearly $1 billion, the forestry policy was not approved by Labor's internal expenditure review process. It was drawn up by a small team of advisers in Canberra presided over by Michael Cooney; an ironic birth for such a conservationist-friendly document, given Cooney's firm right-wing credentials. The $800 million figure was an educated guess from Cooney.
Two days after the Labor announcement, Howard arrived in Launceston to announce a minimal forestry package and was heartily backslapped by a cheering crowd of 3000 locals and timber workers. The television images of Howard being greeted as a workers' hero bit deeply into the final week of the campaign, and Labor's hopes of a solid week promoting its "ease the squeeze" message for families evaporated amid internal recrimination and accusations that Latham had betrayed Tasmania.
Labor's internal polling suggested, at the beginning of the final week, that there were many voters - as high as 15 per cent - who were still undecided. But as the days drained away amid the forestry furore, the "undecided" voters fell increasingly toward the Government. By Thursday, Gartrell had reconciled himself to the reality that the election was lost; his best estimate was that Labor could make up a few seats but would ultimately fall short of forming a government. Faulkner told Latham privately to expect a loss.
But on Friday night, Labor's internal polling detected a last-minute improvement in its fortunes. Asked, "Does Howard deserve re-election or is it time to give Latham a go?" the respondents to Labor's last-minute polling registered a tantalising level of indecision - 45 per cent to 43.
Latham's election-night function was staged at the Mount Pritchard Community Club, a huge glass edifice in western Sydney which teems with poker machines, bingo rooms and buffet restaurants. His mother, Lorraine, who waited with a greater degree of nervousness than others in the room, remarked to a Labor staffer: "I hope he won't lose. My boy doesn't like losing."
It did not take long for hope to be dispatched.
This is an edited extract from Losing It (Picador Australia, $25) by Annabel Crabb, to be published on September 28.
From Washington Post, September 15, 2005
By Tina Brown
Could the post Katrina mood swing take the heat off the bellicose Fox News brand?
Its media competitors keep scanning its ratings in vain at the moment for signs that Rupert Murdoch's cable station will wilt along with President Bush's poll numbers. At New York gatherings, one much masticated indicator of possible zeitgeist shift is that even though Fox still leads the pack, CNN's increases during Katrina were greater in percentage terms than Fox's.
Transatlantic Murdoch watchers can tell you that all this is wishful thinking even without the demonic TV skills of Fox's supremo Roger Ailes. Less publicized than Murdoch?s fierce political conservatism undoubtedly his private conviction is his readiness to turn on a dime when it's commercially expedient. That suppleness is one of the things that make him such a formidable opponent. Nothing distracts him from his business goals not ideology, not friendship, not some inconvenient promise, not even family.
No one in London believed that the Sun, Murdoch's rabidly Thatcherite tab, would ever support the Labor Party. But in the 1997 election Rupert was quick to spot Tony Blair's rising star. The tabloid cowboy editor, Piers Morgan, kept a diary of working for Murdoch while editing his scandal sheet the News of the World and wrote a book that rode the bestseller list all summer in Britain. "The Tories look like dying donkeys," he notes in a diary entry in August 1995, "and Blair is starting to resonate with the public as a fresh, dynamic, viable alternative. Murdoch doesn't back losers and he is talking in a way that suggests he might ditch the Tories."
That shift had begun privately in 1994, when Blair and Murdoch met for the first time over dinner in an upstairs room in the Belgravia restaurant Mosimann's, as another of Murdoch's Boswells, Sunday Times Editor Andrew Neil, records in his memoir: "Blair indicated that media ownership would not be onerous under Labour; Rupert that his newspapers were not wedded to the Tories."
The comparisons often made with William Randolph Hearst are misleading. Like Hearst, Murdoch was a liberal populist as a young man and moved far to the right in middle age. But Hearst, once he switched, kept his flag flying from the same ideological pole. When the vehemently anti communist Rupert wanted to expand his television beachhead in Asia, he didn't hesitate to cancel a book contract by his HarperCollins imprint with the former governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, rather than risk alienating the Chinese. Bruce Page, author of "The Murdoch Archipelago," described to me Murdoch's outwardly authoritarian character as "fluid nothingness at the core less a matter of drives than lack of the containing structure found in normal people."
Friends and colleagues were all floored in 1998 when he suddenly dispatched Anna, his second wife of 31 years, with breathtaking speed, fired her from the News Corp. board and married a 32 year old go getter, Wendi Deng. Anna, it's said, had wanted Rupert to ease down the work drive. Rather than change his life, he changed his wife, a familiar pattern in other moguls but surprising for the famously uxorious Rupert.
New York magazine's cover story this week is an epic survey of the dynastic dilemmas of Rupert Murdoch since the arrival of two new heirs and the departure from the company of his eldest son, Lachlan. But the question of what happens in the unlikely event he ever dies is irrelevant at least in the news arm of his organization. Even when not physically present, he lives so pervasively in the heads of his executives that he will find a way to channel his influence from wherever. Morgan's diaries bristle with paranoia about such psychic interventions. Whether he was yanking a photo of a dead gangster off the front page because someone told him Rupert hates pictures of dead celebrities ("stiffs don't sell papers") or ruminating that a fellow editor had been forced out for backing Margaret Thatcher's opponent in the Tory leadership contest, Piers couldn't get the boss out of his brain. (God knows he hung around in my own head for a time when he fired my husband, Harold Evans, as editor of the Times of London.)
Murdoch's newspapers British, American and Australian alike operate on a policy of what the historian Michael Marrus, author of "Vichy France and the Jews," has called "anticipatory compliance." French authorities were never instructed to round up the Jews but did so because that's what they thought their conquerors wanted.
There was a memorable Vichy moment in the New York Post at the end of August when the Iraq constitution deadline fell apart for the last time and the Page One screamer read "IRAQ DEAL!"
The difference between Fox News and Murdoch's other news outfits is that Ailes is almost as formidable a figure as the boss. And Ailes is a former GOP operative to boot. During the Katrina crisis Fox has excelled at the basics of covering the story while toning down some of the political bluster. Ailes does not spend his day reading Rupert's tea leaves, but if Bush continues to slump in the polls, a shift of gravity to the center or any rate a lowering of the bullhorn might ultimately serve his interests as well as Rupert's. Being constantly tagged as a Bush stooge has become a drag for Ailes, whose success at Fox owes more to his inventive TV gifts than to Republican positioning.
Recent friendly meetings between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Murdoch, recorded in the New York Observer, may be early signs of embryonic bet hedging. Has Rupert begun to stir and put his loyalties in play again? Given his oft expressed contempt for "gabfests" (second only to Bleeding Heart Journalism as a Murdochian term of abuse), it's interesting that he will be showing up for the Clinton Global Initiative that starts in New York today.
Murdoch knows that occasionally shifting his political support in an unexpected direction is a tactic that increases his power. It means no one can ever take him for granted, and it is an effective means of convincing politicians that helping him with his business interests is both prudent and wise that what's good for the News Corp. is good for America/Britain/Australia.
When Murdoch's executives start publishing diaries about working for Rupert in the Dubya years, my guess is you will see an entry, dated sometime in 2005 or 2006, about the shift in mood on the day he first murmurs that the neocons "have started to look like dying elephants."
by Robert Scheer
What the world has witnessed this past week is an image of poverty and social disarray that tears away the affluent mask of the United States.
Instead of the much-celebrated American can-do machine that promises to bring freedom and prosperity to less fortunate people abroad, we have seen a callous official incompetence that puts even Third World rulers to shame. The well-reported litany of mistakes by the Bush administration in failing to prevent and respond to Katrina's destruction grew longer with each hour's grim revelation from the streets of an apocalyptic New Orleans.
Yet the problem is much deeper. For half a century, free-market purists have to great effect denigrated the essential role that modern government performs as some terrible liberal plot. Thus, the symbolism of New Orleans' flooding is tragically apt: Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and Louisiana Gov. Huey Long's ambitious populist reforms in the 1930s eased Louisiana out of feudalism and toward modernity; the Reagan Revolution and the callousness of both Bush administrations have sent them back toward the abyss.
Now we have a president who wastes tax revenues in Iraq instead of protecting us at home. Levee improvements were deferred in recent years even after congressional approval, reportedly prompting EPA staffers to dub flooded New Orleans "Lake George."
None of this is an oversight, or simple incompetence. It is the result of a campaign by most Republicans and too many Democrats to systematically vilify the role of government in American life. Manipulative politicians have convinced lower- and middle-class whites that their own economic pains were caused by "quasi-socialist" government policies that aid only poor brown and black people ? even as corporate profits and CEO salaries soared.
For decades we have seen social services that benefit everyone ? education, community policing, public health, environmental protections and infrastructure repair, emergency services ? in steady, steep decline in the face of tax cuts and rising military spending. But it is a false savings; it will certainly cost exponentially more to save New Orleans than it would have to protect it in the first place.
And, although the wealthy can soften the blow of this national decline by sending their kids to private school, building walls around their communities and checking into distant hotels in the face of approaching calamities, others, like the 150,000 people living below the poverty line in the Katrina damage area ? one-third of whom are elderly ? are left exposed.
Watching on television the stark vulnerability of a permanent underclass of African Americans living in New Orleans ghettos is terrifying. It should be remembered, however, that even when hurricanes are not threatening their lives and sanity, they live in rotting housing complexes, attend embarrassingly ill-equipped public schools and, lacking adequate police protection, are frequently terrorized by unemployed, uneducated young men.
In fact, rather than an anomaly, the public suffering of these desperate Americans is a symbol for a nation that is becoming progressively poorer under the leadership of the party of Big Business. As Katrina was making its devastating landfall, the U.S. Census Bureau released new figures that show that since 1999, the income of the poorest fifth of Americans has dropped 8.7% in inflation-adjusted dollars. Last year alone, 1.1 million were added to the 36 million already on the poverty rolls.
For those who have trouble with statistics, here's the shorthand: The rich have been getting richer and the poor have been getting, in the ripe populist language of Louisiana's legendary Long, the shaft.
These are people who have long since been abandoned to their fate. Despite the deep religiosity of the Gulf States and the United States in general, it is the gods of greed that seem to rule. Case in point: The crucial New Orleans marshland that absorbs excess water during storms has been greatly denuded by rampant commercial development allowed by a deregulation-crazy culture that favors a quick buck over long-term community benefits.
Given all this, it is no surprise that leaders, from the White House on down, haven't done right by the people of New Orleans and the rest of the region, before and after what insurance companies insultingly call an "act of God."
Fact is, most of them, and especially our president, just don't care about the people who can't afford to attend political fundraisers or pay for high-priced lobbyists. No, these folks are supposed to be cruising on the rising tide of a booming, unregulated economy that "floats all boats."
They were left floating all right.
Wednesday, 14 September 2005
Wednesday, 14 September , 2005, 09:24
Perth: The inquest into Australia's loss of the Ashes to England is in full swing with fast bowling great Dennis Lillee on Wednesday calling for Shane Warne to replace Ricky Ponting as captain of the Australian cricket team.
Lillee weighed into the national debate over the immediate future of the team with players returning home on Wednesday after losing the series 2-1 to England on Monday.
Lillee, one the giants of Australian cricket with 355 wickets in 70 Tests from 1971-84, called for coach John Buchanan to go.
"If Australia want to regain the Ashes, they would dramatically improve their chances by appointing Shane Warne as captain," Lillee wrote in the West Australian newspaper.
Lillee, 56, believed Warne, the world's leading wicket-taker, acted as a "pseudo captain" during the drawn fifth Test and felt Ponting should be left to concentrate on his batting.
"I got the distinct impression Warne was the pseudo captain during the fifth Test at The Oval," wrote Lillee.
"Warne was heavily involved in helping set the field and whenever I turned on the television, he was speaking on behalf of the Australian team. There is no doubt Warne has an amazing cricketing brain - but not only that, any cricket he plays is at 120 percent and full of passion, guts and determination.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, but Warne led from the front throughout the tour and I wouldn't be worried about his previous indiscretions off the field," he said, adding that captaincy could extend the leg-spinner's career.
Warne, 36, was Australia's stand-out player of the series capturing 40 of the 100 wickets in the five-Test series and scoring 249 runs -- more than batsmen Simon Katich, Damien Martyn and Adam Gilchrist -- at an average of 27.66.
Lillee was wide-ranging in his criticism of the Australian team?s performance, railing on Cricket Australia officials and coach Buchanan.
Monday, 12 September 2005
The mayhem and misery engulfing New Orleans and its surrounds is more than a human tragedy of mammoth proportions, it is the product of a convergence of events that could shift our worldview every bit as much as the attacks on September 11, 2001.
The breakdown in American society that has been on display stands in stark relief to the response to the Asian tsunami. In Aceh the disaster stopped a civil war, in America it came close to starting one.
Experts are calling it a toxic gumbo - and who could argue? A potent mix of small government, federal funding starved by the War in Iraq, race-based wealth disparity, lax gun laws all set alight by what looks suspiciously like global warming.
There is no joy in saying that this is a case of chickens coming home to roost, but this looks more than a little like the end game down the road of rampant individualism.
Think about it; a society built on 'freedom' from government, where 'tax relief' is a self-evident good, 'gun ownership' is a right and prosperity is something enjoyed by the individual not the group.
And when that society faced an external threat, what happened? The rich fled, the poor had nowhere to go, the infrastructure collapsed and there was no effective 'state' to respond.
And in the void, the people who stayed starved, waiting for help to arrive as gunshots and looting rang out across the city, meaning the people who fled now have little to return to.
America now faces a challenge every bit as confronting as the aftermath to 9/11; while the insecurity felt after the terror attacks could be salved by military action, what will reassure those who have seen how brittle America's internal structures have become?
While it may be fun for us to watch the President try to spin and squirm his way out of this one, the big question is not who to blame, but how America can rebuild not just the damaged cities, but the damaged sense of self.
As American academic Thomas Kochan observed this week, the response needs to go beyond the rebuilding of the levee and the draining of the low lands.
Bush's tax program needs to be trashed and his social security 'reforms' put on hold, replaced by a commitment to invest in services, jobs, infrastructure - an FDR-style New Deal for a new time of crisis - overseen by a national unity council of business, government and labour.
As for Australians, we can't be too smug. After all, we are about to head down a path of labour relations that not just follows America, but leapfrogs the US model of individualism.
The question we must ask ourselves is: are we really prepared to take this journey? Is this the sort of society we want to build? Is it too late to blow the whistle and appreciate what we are about to lose?
We are luckier than the poor people of New Orleans; at this point we have a social safety net, a set of entrenched employment rights, a fair minimum wage, mechanisms that protect us - if not from Acts of God, at least from the reactions of our fellow humans.
As America comes to terms with Katrina and her aftermath, as the President dodges blame, as local officials cop heat, and as the people shake their heads in disbelief that the American Dream has become a nightmare, it should give us some pause to reconsider the path our own leader is taking us on.
This is a very convenient smoke screen to take the focus off the federal government. The Bush administration in all its wisdom chose to destroy the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) effectiveness by continually cutting their funding. It's about time FEMA is restored to Cabinet-level, independent federal agency status to ensure that it has the authority it needs to make sure that response efforts are conducted better in the future.
These so called leaders just aren't serious about some of the essential functions of government. They like waging war, feeding the Military-industrial complex but they don't like providing security, rescuing those in need or spending on preventive measures.
The South East Louisiana Flood Control Project, or SELA, was established in 1997, two years after a storm inundated the city with 460 millimetres of rain in 48 hours, causing millions of dollars in damage. Among the authority's jobs was to upgrade and replace the infrastructure that kept the water out.
The US Government was to provide 75 per cent of the money. That stipend, renewed annually, has been steadily dropping, from $US75 million in 1999 to $US10.4 million ($13.7 million) next year. The money has run out in the meantime.
The authority is overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers, which in turn is run by the huge Department of Homeland Security. Funds that have previously gone to the corps have been allocated to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to increasing national security, and to paying for massive tax cuts.
One of the most neo-conservative governments in history has spent $40 trillion in the past 5 years in the so called war on terrorism....how many people has terrorism killed in that time....maybe 5000 lives. This government couldn't be bothered to spend a few more $ on the levees in New Orleans.....how many more lives have been lost on the Gulf Coast because of this ineptitude and complete lack of respect for one of America's poorest cities?? I bet if Los Angeles is swallowed up by a massive earth quake there won't be any talk about giving up on that soulless city.
How government protects big media--and shuts out upstarts like me.
By Ted Turner
In the late 1960s, when Turner Communications was a business of billboards and radio stations and I was spending much of my energy ocean racing, a UHF-TV station came up for sale in Atlanta. It was losing $50,000 a month and its programs were viewed by fewer than 5 percent of the market.
I acquired it.
When I moved to buy a second station in Charlotte--this one worse than the first--my accountant quit in protest, and the company's board vetoed the deal. So I mortgaged my house and bought it myself. The Atlanta purchase turned into the Superstation; the Charlotte purchase--when I sold it 10 years later--gave me the capital to launch CNN.
Both purchases played a role in revolutionizing television. Both required a streak of independence and a taste for risk. And neither could happen today. In the current climate of consolidation, independent broadcasters simply don't survive for long. That's why we haven't seen a new generation of people like me or even Rupert Murdoch--independent television upstarts who challenge the big boys and force the whole industry to compete and change.
It's not that there aren't entrepreneurs eager to make their names and fortunes in broadcasting if given the chance. If nothing else, the 1990s dot-com boom showed that the spirit of entrepreneurship is alive and well in America, with plenty of investors willing to put real money into new media ventures. The difference is that Washington has changed the rules of the game. When I was getting into the television business, lawmakers and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took seriously the commission's mandate to promote diversity, localism, and competition in the media marketplace. They wanted to make sure that the big, established networks--CBS, ABC, NBC--wouldn't forever dominate what the American public could watch on TV. They wanted independent producers to thrive. They wanted more people to be able to own TV stations. They believed in the value of competition.
So when the FCC received a glut of applications for new television stations after World War II, the agency set aside dozens of channels on the new UHF spectrum so independents could get a foothold in television. That helped me get my start 35 years ago. Congress also passed a law in 1962 requiring that TVs be equipped to receive both UHF and VHF channels. That's how I was able to compete as a UHF station, although it was never easy. (I used to tell potential advertisers that our UHF viewers were smarter than the rest, because you had to be a genius just to figure out how to tune us in.) And in 1972, the FCC ruled that cable TV operators could import distant signals. That's how we were able to beam our Atlanta station to homes throughout the South. Five years later, with the help of an RCA satellite, we were sending our signal across the nation, and the Superstation was born.
That was then.
Today, media companies are more concentrated than at any time over the past 40 years, thanks to a continual loosening of ownership rules by Washington. The media giants now own not only broadcast networks and local stations; they also own the cable companies that pipe in the signals of their competitors and the studios that produce most of the programming. To get a flavor of how consolidated the industry has become, consider this: In 1990, the major broadcast networks--ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox--fully or partially owned just 12.5 percent of the new series they aired. By 2000, it was 56.3 percent. Just two years later, it had surged to 77.5 percent.
In this environment, most independent media firms either get gobbled up by one of the big companies or driven out of business altogether. Yet instead of balancing the rules to give independent broadcasters a fair chance in the market, Washington continues to tilt the playing field to favor the biggest players. Last summer, the FCC passed another round of sweeping pro-consolidation rules that, among other things, further raised the cap on the number of TV stations a company can own.
In the media, as in any industry, big corporations play a vital role, but so do small, emerging ones. When you lose small businesses, you lose big ideas. People who own their own businesses are their own bosses. They are independent thinkers. They know they can't compete by imitating the big guys--they have to innovate, so they're less obsessed with earnings than they are with ideas. They are quicker to seize on new technologies and new product ideas. They steal market share from the big companies, spurring them to adopt new approaches. This process promotes competition, which leads to higher product and service quality, more jobs, and greater wealth. It's called capitalism.
But without the proper rules, healthy capitalist markets turn into sluggish oligopolies, and that is what's happening in media today. Large corporations are more profit-focused and risk-averse. They often kill local programming because it's expensive, and they push national programming because it's cheap--even if their decisions run counter to local interests and community values. Their managers are more averse to innovation because they're afraid of being fired for an idea that fails. They prefer to sit on the sidelines, waiting to buy the businesses of the risk-takers who succeed.
Unless we have a climate that will allow more independent media companies to survive, a dangerously high percentage of what we see--and what we don't see--will be shaped by the profit motives and political interests of large, publicly traded conglomerates. The economy will suffer, and so will the quality of our public life. Let me be clear: As a business proposition, consolidation makes sense. The moguls behind the mergers are acting in their corporate interests and playing by the rules. We just shouldn't have those rules. They make sense for a corporation. But for a society, it's like over-fishing the oceans. When the independent businesses are gone, where will the new ideas come from? We have to do more than keep media giants from growing larger; they're already too big. We need a new set of rules that will break these huge companies to pieces.
The big squeeze
In the 1970s, I became convinced that a 24-hour all-news network could make money, and perhaps even change the world. But when I invited two large media corporations to invest in the launch of CNN, they turned me down. I couldn't believe it. Together we could have launched the network for a fraction of what it would have taken me alone; they had all the infrastructure, contacts, experience, knowledge. When no one would go in with me, I risked my personal wealth to start CNN. Soon after our launch in 1980, our expenses were twice what we had expected and revenues half what we had projected. Our losses were so high that our loans were called in. I refinanced at 18 percent interest, up from 9, and stayed just a step ahead of the bankers. Eventually, we not only became profitable, but also changed the nature of news--from watching something that happened to watching it as it happened.
But even as CNN was getting its start, the climate for independent broadcasting was turning hostile. This trend began in 1984, when the FCC raised the number of stations a single entity could own from seven--where it had been capped since the 1950s--to 12. A year later, it revised its rule again, adding a national audience-reach cap of 25 percent to the 12 station limit--meaning media companies were prohibited from owning TV stations that together reached more than 25 percent of the national audience. In 1996, the FCC did away with numerical caps altogether and raised the audience-reach cap to 35 percent. This wasn't necessarily bad for Turner Broadcasting; we had already achieved scale. But seeing these rules changed was like watching someone knock down the ladder I had already climbed.
Meanwhile, the forces of consolidation focused their attention on another rule, one that restricted ownership of content. Throughout the 1980s, network lobbyists worked to overturn the so-called Financial Interest and Syndication Rules, or fin-syn, which had been put in place in 1970, after federal officials became alarmed at the networks' growing control over programming. As the FCC wrote in the fin-syn decision: "The power to determine form and content rests only in the three networks and is exercised extensively and exclusively by them, hourly and daily." In 1957, the commission pointed out, independent companies had produced a third of all network shows; by 1968, that number had dropped to 4 percent. The rules essentially forbade networks from profiting from reselling programs that they had already aired.
This had the result of forcing networks to sell off their syndication arms, as CBS did with Viacom in 1973. Once networks no longer produced their own content, new competition was launched, creating fresh opportunities for independents.
For a time, Hollywood and its production studios were politically strong enough to keep the fin-syn rules in place. But by the early 1990s, the networks began arguing that their dominance had been undercut by the rise of independent broadcasters, cable networks, and even videocassettes, which they claimed gave viewers enough choice to make fin-syn unnecessary. The FCC ultimately agreed--and suddenly the broadcast networks could tell independent production studios, "We won't air it unless we own it." The networks then bought up the weakened studios or were bought out by their own syndication arms, the way Viacom turned the tables on CBS, buying the network in 2000. This silenced the major political opponents of consolidation.
Even before the repeal of fin-syn, I could see that the trend toward consolidation spelled trouble for independents like me. In a climate of consolidation, there would be only one sure way to win: bring a broadcast network, production studios, and cable and satellite systems under one roof. If you didn't have it inside, you'd have to get it outside--and that meant, increasingly, from a large corporation that was competing with you. It's difficult to survive when your suppliers are owned by your competitors. I had tried and failed to buy a major broadcast network, but the repeal of fin-syn turned up the pressure. Since I couldn't buy a network, I bought MGM to bring more content in-house, and I kept looking for other ways to gain scale. In the end, I found the only way to stay competitive was to merge with Time Warner and relinquish control of my companies.
Today, the only way for media companies to survive is to own everything up and down the media chain--from broadcast and cable networks to the sitcoms, movies, and news broadcasts you see on those stations; to the production studios that make them; to the cable, satellite, and broadcast systems that bring the programs to your television set; to the Web sites you visit to read about those programs; to the way you log on to the Internet to view those pages. Big media today wants to own the faucet, pipeline, water, and the reservoir. The rain clouds come next.
Throughout the 1990s, media mergers were celebrated in the press and otherwise seemingly ignored by the American public. So, it was easy to assume that media consolidation was neither controversial nor problematic. But then a funny thing happened.
In the summer of 2003, the FCC raised the national audience-reach cap from 35 percent to 45 percent. The FCC also allowed corporations to own a newspaper and a TV station in the same market and permitted corporations to own three TV stations in the largest markets, up from two, and two stations in medium-sized markets, up from one. Unexpectedly, the public rebelled. Hundreds of thousands of citizens complained to the FCC. Groups from the National Organization for Women to the National Rifle Association demanded that Congress reverse the ruling. And like-minded lawmakers, including many long-time opponents of media consolidation, took action, pushing the cap back down to 35, until--under strong White House pressure--it was revised back up to 39 percent. This June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit threw out the rules that would have allowed corporations to own more television and radio stations in a single market, let stand the higher 39 percent cap, and also upheld the rule permitting a corporation to own a TV station and a newspaper in the same market; then, it sent the issues back to the same FCC that had pushed through the pro-consolidation rules in the first place.
In reaching its 2003 decision, the FCC did not argue that its policies would advance its core objectives of diversity, competition, and localism. Instead, it justified its decision by saying that there was already a lot of diversity, competition, and localism in the media--so it wouldn't hurt if the rules were changed to allow more consolidation. Their decision reads: "Our current rules inadequately account for the competitive presence of cable, ignore the diversity-enhancing value of the Internet, and lack any sound bases for a national audience reach cap." Let's pick that assertion apart.
First, the "competitive presence of cable" is a mirage. Broadcast networks have for years pointed to their loss of prime-time viewers to cable networks--but they are losing viewers to cable networks that they themselves own. Ninety percent of the top 50 cable TV stations are owned by the same parent companies that own the broadcast networks. Yes, Disney's ABC network has lost viewers to cable networks. But it's losing viewers to cable networks like Disney's ESPN, Disney's ESPN2, and Disney's Disney Channel. The media giants are getting a deal from Congress and the FCC because their broadcast networks are losing share to their own cable networks. It's a scam.
Second, the decision cites the "diversity-enhancing value of the Internet." The FCC is confusing diversity with variety. The top 20 Internet news sites are owned by the same media conglomerates that control the broadcast and cable networks. Sure, a hundred-person choir gives you a choice of voices, but they're all singing the same song.
The FCC says that we have more media choices than ever before. But only a few corporations decide what we can choose. That is not choice. That's like a dictator deciding what candidates are allowed to stand for parliamentary elections, and then claiming that the people choose their leaders. Different voices do not mean different viewpoints, and these huge corporations all have the same viewpoint--they want to shape government policy in a way that helps them maximize profits, drive out competition, and keep getting bigger.
Because the new technologies have not fundamentally changed the market, it's wrong for the FCC to say that there are no "sound bases for a national audience-reach cap." The rationale for such a cap is the same as it has always been. If there is a limit to the number of TV stations a corporation can own, then the chance exists that after all the corporations have reached this limit, there may still be some stations left over to be bought and run by independents. A lower limit would encourage the entry of independents and promote competition. A higher limit does the opposite.
The loss of independent operators hurts both the media business and its citizen-customers. When the ownership of these firms passes to people under pressure to show quick financial results in order to justify the purchase, the corporate emphasis instantly shifts from taking risks to taking profits. When that happens, quality suffers, localism suffers, and democracy itself suffers.
Loss of Quality
The Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans exerts a negative influence on society, because it discourages people who want to climb up the list from giving more money to charity. The Nielsen ratings are dangerous in a similar way--because they scare companies away from good shows that don't produce immediate blockbuster ratings. The producer Norman Lear once asked, "You know what ruined television?" His answer: when The New York Times began publishing the Nielsen ratings. "That list every week became all anyone cared about."
When all companies are quarterly earnings-obsessed, the market starts punishing companies that aren't yielding an instant return. This not only creates a big incentive for bogus accounting, but also it inhibits the kind of investment that builds economic value. America used to know this. We used to be a nation of farmers. You can't plant something today and harvest tomorrow. Had Turner Communications been required to show earnings growth every quarter, we never would have purchased those first two TV stations.
When CNN reported to me, if we needed more money for Kosovo or Baghdad, we'd find it. If we had to bust the budget, we busted the budget. We put journalism first, and that's how we built CNN into something the world wanted to watch. I had the power to make these budget decisions because they were my companies. I was an independent entrepreneur who controlled the majority of the votes and could run my company for the long term. Top managers in these huge media conglomerates run their companies for the short term. After we sold Turner Broadcasting to Time Warner, we came under such earnings pressure that we had to cut our promotion budget every year at CNN to make our numbers. Media mega-mergers inevitably lead to an overemphasis on short-term earnings.
You can see this overemphasis in the spread of reality television. Shows like "Fear Factor" cost little to produce--there are no actors to pay and no sets to maintain--and they get big ratings. Thus, American television has moved away from expensive sitcoms and on to cheap thrills. We've gone from "Father Knows Best" to "Who Wants to Marry My Dad?", and from "My Three Sons" to "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance."
The story of Grant Tinker and Mary Tyler Moore's production studio, MTM, helps illustrate the point. When the company was founded in 1969, Tinker and Moore hired the best writers they could find and then left them alone--and were rewarded with some of the best shows of the 1970s. But eventually, MTM was bought by a company that imposed budget ceilings and laid off employees. That company was later purchased by Rev. Pat Robertson; then, he was bought out by Fox. Exit "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." Enter "The Littlest Groom."
Loss of localism
Consolidation has also meant a decline in the local focus of both news and programming. After analyzing 23,000 stories on 172 news programs over five years, the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that big media news organizations relied more on syndicated feeds and were more likely to air national stories with no local connection.
That's not surprising. Local coverage is expensive, and thus will tend be a casualty in the quest for short-term earnings. In 2002, Fox Television bought Chicago's Channel 50 and eliminated all of the station's locally produced shows. One of the cancelled programs (which targeted pre-teens) had scored a perfect rating for educational content in a 1999 University of Pennsylvania study, according to The Chicago Tribune. That accolade wasn't enough to save the program. Once the station's ownership changed, so did its mission and programming.
Loss of localism also undercuts the public-service mission of the media, and this can have dangerous consequences. In early 2002, when a freight train derailed near Minot, N.D., releasing a cloud of anhydrous ammonia over the town, police tried to call local radio stations, six of which are owned by radio mammoth Clear Channel Communications. According to news reports, it took them over an hour to reach anyone--no one was answering the Clear Channel phone. By the next day, 300 people had been hospitalized, many partially blinded by the ammonia. Pets and livestock died. And Clear Channel continued beaming its signal from headquarters in San Antonio, Texas--some 1,600 miles away.
Loss of democratic debate
When media companies dominate their markets, it undercuts our democracy. Justice Hugo Black, in a landmark media-ownership case in 1945, wrote: "The First Amendment rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public."
These big companies are not antagonistic; they do billions of dollars in business with each other. They don't compete; they cooperate to inhibit competition. You and I have both felt the impact. I felt it in 1981, when CBS, NBC, and ABC all came together to try to keep CNN from covering the White House. You've felt the impact over the past two years, as you saw little news from ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, Fox, or CNN on the FCC's actions. In early 2003, the Pew Research Center found that 72 percent of Americans had heard "nothing at all" about the proposed FCC rule changes. Why? One never knows for sure, but it must have been clear to news directors that the more they covered this issue, the harder it would be for their corporate bosses to get the policy result they wanted.
A few media conglomerates now exercise a near-monopoly over television news. There is always a risk that news organizations can emphasize or ignore stories to serve their corporate purpose. But the risk is far greater when there are no independent competitors to air the side of the story the corporation wants to ignore. More consolidation has often meant more news-sharing. But closing bureaus and downsizing staff have more than economic consequences. A smaller press is less capable of holding our leaders accountable. When Viacom merged two news stations it owned in Los Angeles, reports The American Journalism Review, "field reporters began carrying microphones labeled KCBS on one side and KCAL on the other." This was no accident. As the Viacom executive in charge told The Los Angeles Business Journal: "In this duopoly, we should be able to control the news in the marketplace."
This ability to control the news is especially worrisome when a large media organization is itself the subject of a news story. Disney's boss, after buying ABC in 1995, was quoted in LA Weekly as saying, "I would prefer ABC not cover Disney." A few days later, ABC killed a "20/20" story critical of the parent company.
But networks have also been compromised when it comes to non-news programs which involve their corporate parent's business interests. General Electric subsidiary NBC Sports raised eyebrows by apologizing to the Chinese government for Bob Costas's reference to China's "problems with human rights" during a telecast of the Atlanta Olympic Games. China, of course, is a huge market for GE products.
Consolidation has given big media companies new power over what is said not just on the air, but off it as well. Cumulus Media banned the Dixie Chicks on its 42 country music stations for 30 days after lead singer Natalie Maines criticized President Bush for the war in Iraq. It's hard to imagine Cumulus would have been so bold if its listeners had more of a choice in country music stations. And Disney recently provoked an uproar when it prevented its subsidiary Miramax from distributing Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 9/11. As a senior Disney executive told The New York Times: "It's not in the interest of any major corporation to be dragged into a highly charged partisan political battle." Follow the logic, and you can see what lies ahead: If the only media companies are major corporations, controversial and dissenting views may not be aired at all.
Naturally, corporations say they would never suppress speech. But it's not their intentions that matter; it's their capabilities. Consolidation gives them more power to tilt the news and cut important ideas out of the public debate. And it's precisely that power that the rules should prevent.
This is a fight about freedom--the freedom of independent entrepreneurs to start and run a media business, and the freedom of citizens to get news, information, and entertainment from a wide variety of sources, at least some of which are truly independent and not run by people facing the pressure of quarterly earnings reports. No one should underestimate the danger. Big media companies want to eliminate all ownership limits. With the removal of these limits, immense media power will pass into the hands of a very few corporations and individuals.
What will programming be like when it's produced for no other purpose than profit? What will news be like when there are no independent news organizations to go after stories the big corporations avoid? Who really wants to find out? Safeguarding the welfare of the public cannot be the first concern of a large publicly traded media company. Its job is to seek profits. But if the government writes the rules in a way that encourages the entry into the market of entrepreneurs--men and women with big dreams, new ideas, and a willingness to take long-term risks--the economy will be stronger, and the country will be better off.
I freely admit: When I was in the media business, especially after the federal government changed the rules to favor large companies, I tried to sweep the board, and I came within one move of owning every link up and down the media chain. Yet I felt then, as I do now, that the government was not doing its job. The role of the government ought to be like the role of a referee in boxing, keeping the big guys from killing the little guys. If the little guy gets knocked down, the referee should send the big guy to his corner, count the little guy out, and then help him back up. But today the government has cast down its duty, and media competition is less like boxing and more like professional wrestling: The wrestler and the referee are both kicking the guy on the canvas.
At this late stage, media companies have grown so large and powerful, and their dominance has become so detrimental to the survival of small, emerging companies, that there remains only one alternative: bust up the big conglomerates. We've done this before: to the railroad trusts in the first part of the 20th century, to Ma Bell more recently. Indeed, big media itself was cut down to size in the 1970s, and a period of staggering innovation and growth followed. Breaking up the reconstituted media conglomerates may seem like an impossible task when their grip on the policy-making process in Washington seems so sure. But the public's broad and bipartisan rebellion against the FCC's pro-consolidation decisions suggests something different. Politically, big media may again be on the wrong side of history--and up against a country unwilling to lose its independents.
Ted Turner is founder of CNN and chairman of Turner Enterprises. www.tedturner.com
The Storms of August
By Tom Whipple
It has become fashionable in peak oil circles to make the comparison between the current summer and that of 1914? just before the cataclysm of World War I. That year too, was a warm and idyllic summer in which the people went happily about their business unaware the assassination of an archduke was about to destroy the old order and plunge the world into decades of turmoil.
This time, the trouble spawned in the South Atlantic , strengthened in a global-warmed Caribbean and slammed into the heart of the US oil industry. The flooding of New Orleans and the destruction of miles of the Gulf coast will rank among the greatest natural disasters America has ever known, for a number of reasons.
For the Gulf oil industry, the approach of a Category 5 Hurricane was a signal to shutdown and run for cover. The super tankers bringing up to 900,000 barrels a day to the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (The LOOP) headed elsewhere. The 55,000 oil workers on platforms out in the Gulf shut off the pumps, plugged their wells, and boarded ships and helicopters to safety, thus halting the production of some 1.4 million barrels of oil a day ? some seven percent of US daily consumption.
Eight refineries in the path of the storm were shut down and the workers evacuated. This reduced immediately US refining by 1.8 million barrels a day.
As the storm moved towards shore, first the offshore oil platforms in its path were badly mauled. Some 30 rigs were sunk including hubs that concentrate and prepare the oil for transport to shore. We do not yet have a complete assessment of the damage to the undersea network of pipelines that brings the oil to shore, but if the damage done by much weaker Hurricane Ivan last year is any guide it should be considerable. In the opinion of one knowledgeable commentator, it will take years to bring production back to pre-hurricane levels.
Finally, the storm cut the electricity to the pipelines moving some 3 million barrels per day of gasoline, jet fuel, and heating oil from the Gulf refineries to consumers in the mid-west and the East Coast.
The week before the hurricane, the US gasoline inventory was down to 194 million barrels or about a 19-day supply. The loss of production from 10 refineries and the shutting down of the pipelines soon led to spot shortages running from the Rockies through the mid-west to the Southeast. The West Coast and north of New York are not part of the Gulf oil infrastructure.
As could be expected, spot shortages quickly developed as long as the pipelines were out of operation and local distributors had to rely on whatever inventory was in their tank farms. Panic buying added to the problem. In the Washington area, Exxon-Mobile reported that their sales doubled as people rushed to fill their tanks in face of rapidly rising prices and potential shortages.
By week's end, however, the electricity was restored to the pipelines and an additional 20 days supply became available to the south eastern states. (It takes about 20 days for a barrel of oil to pop out in Virginia once it has entered the pipeline.)
The reopening of the pipelines, of course, takes care of our fuel supply for the next couple of weeks, but what about the missing 1.4 million barrels of daily production from the Gulf and the gasoline from the four severely damaged refineries?
As soon as the Administration became aware of the extent of the losses, it made a decision. As any one who follows the world energy situation knows, the worldwide supply and demand situation is extremely tight. OPEC has no spare production capacity, except possibly for some sour, heavy, hard to refine crude from Saudi Arabia . US refineries have been running flat out for months. In this situation, the only choice was conservation or borrowing. They chose to borrow.
The first borrowing was from the US strategic petroleum reserve, which was just topped up to its authorized 700 million barrels last month. A release from strategic reserves is supposed to be a joint decision of all the 26 members of Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), so initially the Administration "loaned" petroleum to Louisiana refineries that were still operational, but had lost their crude supplies from the Gulf.
After a series of urgent meetings, the IEA agreed to honor international commitments and voted for a one-month release of 60 million barrels of crude and refined products from its members' strategic reserve stocks to stabilize the world energy situation during the crisis.
About half the "release," is to come from the US strategic reserve and the rest, mainly refined products, will come from other IEA members stockpiles. About 20 percent will come from Japan and other Asian countries, 10 percent from Germany , seven percent from France , and five percent from Spain .
Now we get to the key question of what all this means for those of us living here on the East Coast and who are hopelessly dependent on Gulf produced or refined oil for our lifestyles and livelihoods.
First, there will be an unprecedented natural gas problem this winter with prices increasing several fold and there will most likely be serious shortages. There is simply no way to replace the shut-in Gulf production in time for the winter heating season.
Next, our gasoline and jet fuel supplies here in Virginia , are precarious to say the least. For the next few weeks, inventories should be sufficient to prevent a general shortage. After that, much depends on the speed with which the heavily damaged refineries can be repaired and the willingness or ability of Europe and wealthy Asian nations to keep shipping us gasoline.
Already, European editorial writers and columnists are starting to grumble. They raise the specter of Americans in Hummers, gobbling up Europe's heating oil for next winter. The head of the IEA warned that there will be a worldwide energy crisis if the US tries to replace its missing oil production and gasoline refining by outbidding everyone else on the world market. As usual, it is the poor African nations that will suffer the most. Furthermore, it is becoming evident that $3-4 gasoline does not significantly reduce American consumption and that we will continue driving at our normal pace until stopped by still higher prices or general shortages.
What does the hurricane damage have to do with peak oil? World production and consumption are currently balanced at around 84 million barrels a day. Losing a million plus of this for an indefinite period certainly doesn't help increase production. This time, there is no sign of our Saudi friends coming to the rescue as in past oil crises. Given the decline of production taking place in most of the world's major oil fields, it is becoming increasing difficult to make a case for significantly higher levels of world oil production are on the horizon.
For the United States , borrowing our way out of the current predicament without any serious conservation measures (such as a 55 mph speed limit or rationing) certainly can't last long.
Several years ago Kenneth Deffeyes, one of the leading peak oil theorists, facetiously selected Thanksgiving 2005 as the exact date the world would reach Hubbert's peak. You know, it is starting to look as if he just might be right.
Sunday, 11 September 2005
By Mumia Abu-Jamal
The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians' intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i. e., to become bourgeois themselves. In a word it creates a world after its own image. -- Karl Marx & Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto (Chi.: Kerr, 18-19) (Orig. 1848)
Several weeks ago, I caught an astonishing sight on TV. It wasn't eye-stopping video, or big set explosions, or an unusually scantily-clad damsel dancing across the glass window. It was four men, sitting down discussing, in calm, deliberate terms, the nature and virtues of the American Empire.
They discussed the cost-benefit of invading this or that nation; how many troops would be required; how long it would take to 'pacify' the natives, and the like.
How many casualties? This was discussed mathematically, with totals rounded off to the next hundred.
Of course, when they spoke of 'casualties', they meant Americans, for it seemed clear to all concerned, that the deaths or lives of the sub-imperial 'others', what Germans in the '30s called, *der unterwenschen*, (or subhumans) were beneath 'civilized' discussion.
When I sat watching them, I thought that this could've been a scene out of 19th Century Berlin, when Bismarck and his other imperial cronies were carving up the world, like slices of pie, determining, for the next several centuries, the destinies of billions of people.
It dawned on me that we are truly captured in the midst of this imperial age.
Wars are fought with the selfish ease of eating a meal.
In the time it takes to blink an eye, politicians turn on a dime, campaigning for wars on a whim, and moments later, claiming that the war was 'for the benefit' of those warred upon!
I am often amazed at how similar such an argument was in favour of slavery. Tens of millions of Africans were dragged to the Americas, to toil in feverish hells, for centuries, 'for their own good.'
And what of the bloody nationalist uprisings raging across the occupied Iraq? They are "terrorists", we are assured by the manufactured politicians and their corporate media. It is but a bit part of this endless 'war against terrorism' that seemingly sparks 'terrorism' where it has not existed before.
After viewing how blithely the Americans (let us not speak of silly 'coalitions', ok?) have attacked, occupied, and installed its complacent puppets in control, is there any wonder why Al-Qaeda is growing by leaps and bounds, not just in the Arab World, but in Europe, as well?
In such a state as this, that promised greater loss, and hardship, and, well, terror, does the upcoming presidential race look like an exercise in utter futility? Will it really mean any substantive difference between what has come before, or mere differences in degree? What does it really matter, if all that happens is a 'kinder, gentler' imperialism? One which is, well, nice?
I am reminded of the words of Hitler's No. 2, Hermann Goering, regarding the ease with which wars are called for by leaders: "Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to do the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
The recollections coming from former members of the White House inner circle, are less surprising than they were simply obvious: The Bush White House wanted to wage war against Iraq from Day One? How shocking!
What would have truly been shocking is if they hadn't, for then, they would have flown in the face of 50 years of American post-world War II history.
What is needed won't, indeed, can't come from the corporate parties -- it must come from the people themselves.
© copyright 2004 by Mumia Abu-Jamal.