Journalism On Trial: Egypt's Kangaroo Court Tries to Crush Al Jazeera

CAIRO—As Canada’s Foreign Affairs minister left Egypt last Friday after warming relations with Egypt’s military installed regime, Mohamed Fahmy and his two Al Jazeera colleagues continued to languish in Cairo’s infamous Tora prison. The Canadian award winning journalist and two colleagues face unfounded charges that link journalism with terrorism.   

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How I Stopped Pill Popping

Who the hell twisted my arthritic spine into a hideous, agonizing, excruciating knot? Crippled and weeping, I believed that this time it was the 10 count and I was heading for that long-promised wheelchair. My chronic debilitating pain had finally overwhelmed me – or that's what I thought.

Unfortunately, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, possibly the only doctor I could trust, was still imprisoned at Michigan's Thumb Correctional Facility. The Mercitron, his self-created assisted suicide device, probably sat in some police storage locker where it couldn't be used to end my suffering.

Finally I grasped the truth: all this mental and physical torture was "merely" drug withdrawal. I didn't put myself through this junkie sickness with smack or coke, but with prescription medication approved by Health Canada. After three years of crazy pill-popping to ease the pain and depression caused by my bunched-up degenerated discs, I'd decided it was time to discontinue my antidepressant, Effexor XR.

As a sicky, I believed I was an educated consumer when it came to my medication. An excellent dialogue with my doctor and a smattering of knowledge made me aware of the dangers of popping and not popping meds that alter brain chemicals. However, nothing prepared me for the agony of stopping them.

Now that I've done the research, I know the symptoms associated with the discontinuation of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRRIs) like Remeron RD, Luvox, Zoloft, Effexor, Paxil, Prozac and Celexa, as well as Wellbutrin SR or Zyban. I know the same about serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) like Effexor XR.

In '93, Health Canada (HC) began noting discontinuation symptoms in the drug product monographs (PMs) accessed by physicians. The first to be tagged for these side effects was Paxil. Soon, all SSRIs and SNRIs had withdrawal characteristics listed in their PMs. The government regulator's PMs, which run about 400 pages and are not written in laymen's terms, aren't made available to the public. Says HC spokesperson Catherine Saunders, "The prescribing physician is considered an important source of information for the patient."

If he or she shares, that is. Certainly, it's not easy getting the drug companies to be conversational. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals still hasn't returned my repeated phone calls over a weeklong period.

It's interesting that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, concerned about "adverse events" associated with stopping these drugs, forced 10 Big Pharma companies to issue "Dear Healthcare Professional" letters (DHPL) in the summer of 2004. HC, though clearly aware of the situation, hasn't gone that route.

The DHPL from Wyeth Pharmaceuticals is the most detailed. "During marketing of Effexor XR and other SNRIs and SSRIs, there have been reports of adverse events occurring upon discontinuation, particularly when abrupt, including the following; dysphoric mood, irritability, agitation, dizziness, sensory disturbances (paresthesias such as electric shock sensations), anxiety, confusion, headaches, lethargy, emotional lability, insomnia, hypomania, tinnitus and seizures."

D'ya think? As my liver flushed three years of toxins, my body checked that symptom list to ensure that I got them all, in mega-doses: deadly back pain, constant stun-gun shocks, endless twitching, How-I-Could-Just-Kill-a-Man anger, suicidal thoughts, ringing ears, muscle rigidity, shortness of breath and panic attacks. Like a junkie craving, raving and demanding his narcotic, I went through such horrors that at times during the 72 hours I was bedridden I considered relenting. Had the nasty pills been in my medicine chest, I most certainly would have downed them.

However, it was during these moments of weakness, confusion and sweating that another side emerged. My dogged determination came from the realization that if these medications were causing me to be this ill, they certainly couldn't be too beneficial. Perhaps serious withdrawal is the body's way of saying, "Don't ever poison me like that again."

I fought bouts of subterranean depression with late-night long-distance phone calls to my friend Nat in Australia. I cuddled Gonzo, a lanky sable ferret, who demonstrated many great sleeping techniques while curled on my chest.

On day four, a few new problems emerged. Waking up to cold, clammy sheets, boxers and T-shirt, I experienced a sensation not unlike what it must feel like to be hit by a stun gun. Some daring grade schoolers demonstrate their bravery by putting their tongues on a 9V battery. It gives a good little jolt. This was more like licking a car battery or being tossed into electrified barbed wire by Cactus Jack or getting blasted by an army field phone battery.

After many weeks of cleansing my system, the sickness continues mildly. The lightning bolts haven't ceased, but the charge, thank god, has dimmed.  

A Just Deserter

After three days of listening to graphic testimony at the refugee hearing of South Dakota war resister Jeremy Hinzman, one observer sitting near me shakily remarks, "If you're not a pacifist after sitting through this then nothing will make you into one." In this harshly lit hearing room on Victoria, a refugee board adjudicator is going to have to rule on a most shocking proposition: whether this former soldier of the U.S. 82nd Airborne ought to be granted asylum because he fears participating in war crimes in Iraq.

Those packing the room - mostly Quakers and other peace types - are busy trying to send subliminal messages to presiding member Brian Goodman through their anti-war buttons and peace quilts.

Round one has already been lost. A technical legal ruling forbids Hinzman's counsel, Jeffry House, from arguing the illegality of the war in Iraq and a soldier's duty not to participate in such a war. House considers the ruling a huge ground for appeal should Hinzman be denied refugee status.

But House has another card up his sleeve - an Ontario Court of Appeal precedent in the case of Fereidoon Zolfagharkhani, who deserted from the Iranian military upon learning that Iran intended to gas Kurds. Zolfagharkani was a paramedic, and it would have been his job to treat Kurdish people who didn't die from the attacks so they could withstand interrogation. He won the right to asylum in Canada, and House hopes a similar logic will work in Hinzman's case.

The point at issue is whether Hinzman, as a member of the 82nd, would have been forced to kill civilians or participate in violations of the Geneva Convention during his tour of duty. So House has entered exhibits of media reports from the Washington Post, Democracy NOW and Human Rights Watch with such titles as U.S. Military Attacks On Population Centers, U.S. Military Attacks On Health Clinics and U.S. Military Attacks On Civilians.

Info relating specifically to the exploits of the 82nd Airborne are easy enough to Google. I did the search myself and found a Human Rights Watch report documenting actions of the 82nd Airborne that resulted in the deaths of seven unarmed civilians.

As that report details, "soldiers from the 82nd Airborne's 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment raided the apartment of Fadhil Hamza Hussain al-Janabi in al-Mahmudiyya on the outskirts of Baghdad after receiving a tip from a local pool hall about 'bad guys' in the neighborhood... Al-Janabi's 19-year-old daughter Farah was killed, as was a neighbor."

Outside reports of the 82nd, Hinzman's case turns on how well he can articulate the growing worries he harbours about becoming a killing machine. During his wife's pregnancy back in South Dakota, Hinzman began to disdain his training, which included chanting, "Trained to kill! Kill we will!" Fatherhood, he says, cemented his belief that, unlike the other soldiers, he couldn't make the grass grow with bright red blood.

Two months after his baby's birth and several months before shipping out to Afghanistan, he filed a very complicated conscientious objector (CO) application. "I didn't feel I could kill. I could have done other jobs in the Army," Hinzman says.

What happened then isn't entirely clear. Somehow, the papers were lost and Hinzman resubmitted his CO application. At this point he was in Afghanistan doing kitchen duty. Then one day while scrubbing pots, he says, superiors pulled him from his duties, brought him in front of a tribunal and quickly denied him CO status.

Upon returning to the U.S., he came to realize his only option was to flee to Canada. He led a hard double life, he says - by day training to deploy to Iraq and by night planning an escape route north.

"We were going to Iraq to jack up terrorists. We were told this was a new kind of war, that these people weren't human and that they were not to be treated in a humane way. We were told by commanders in pep talks that these people are evil."

Needing more specifics on who the army considered evil, presiding member Goodman asks, "Who were they referring to as terrorists?"

Hinzman chillingly replies, "They associate everyone in the area as a terrorist."

"The entire population of Iraq was considered a terrorist?" Goodman asks.

"We referred to Iraqis, Saudis, Kuwaitis, Yemenis, Iranians as terrorist, as they came from the Middle East," comes Hinzman's reply.

Somewhat disbelieving, Goodman asks again, "All Arabs from that region were terrorists?"

"Correct, sir."

Though the war in Iraq isn't on trial, House manages to highlight U.S. soldiers' propensity to kill Iraqi civilians. When he introduces his star witness, Marine Staff Sgt. Jimmy J. Massey, immigration rep Janet Chisholm weakly objects. "He doesn't have a similar position in the Army," she says of Massey, and suggests he couldn't possibly be an expert on the Geneva Convention.

The soft-spoken, bespectacled Massey, who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from his tour in Iraq, was not only trained in the Geneva Convention since boot camp but was also assigned to ensure firefights were clean - i.e., carried out according to the army's Standing Operating Procedures and the Geneva Convention.

Within Massey's first 48 hours in Iraq, his platoon of 45 had slaughtered 30 unarmed men, women and children at checkpoints. Marines are trained to set up checkpoints according to a set procedure, but Massey testifies that military fearmongering "was giving us the mindset that every Iraqi was a terrorist."

Now the former Marine even questions whether their procedure for trying to stop a vehicle entering a checkpoint could have been sending the wrong message to approaching Iraqis. As cars moved towards them, a Marine would flash what they believed was the international "Halt" hand symbol, a closed fist in the air. Of course, it is easily mistaken for the internationally recognized brotherhood or solidarity gesture, which is exactly the same.

All this happened in a matter of seconds as the fear of suicide bombers created itchy trigger fingers. "We fired at a cyclic rate. We pulled the trigger and didn't stop," Massey says.

"I witnessed Marines putting rounds into enemy combatants who were expiring. It is not uncommon for a Marine to put rounds in the head of someone playing possum," he says.

Besides trying to establish the realities of soldiering in Iraq, the hearing also puts Hinzman's religious beliefs under the microscope. The war resister and his family attend twice-weekly Quaker gatherings. They are tenders, not members, but Hinzman says that after years of quiet contemplation, he would apply to become a member.

The other question before the refugee board is whether Hinzman is a refugee by reason of a well-founded fear of persecution. To establish this, he would have to show that the U.S. government and its military would persecute him for reasons of political opinion, religion or membership in a social group - namely conscientious objectors to military service in the U.S. Army in Iraq.

All this Goodman will have to weigh to determine if the horrors that he repeatedly heard in gross, exacting detail meet the requirements set out by the Court of Appeal. With written submissions from House and Chisholm not due until the end of January, a ruling probably won't drop until March. Then the world will learn whether Canada considers the actions of the U.S. Army in Iraq to be so dire that conscientious objectors are in need of our protection.

Interview with George Lakoff

Following is a transcript of NOW's co-host David Brancaccio interviewing linguist George Lakoff on PBS.

David Brancaccio: Four years ago, [George Lakoff] and colleagues at the University of California Berkeley and UC Davis decided to start a think tank called the Rockridge Institute. They felt Republicans were awfully good at winning the battle of words and they wanted to come up with new rhetorical weapons for the other side.

Lakoff is a noted linguist and the author of eight books including "Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think." We began our conversation with ways that language builds the frame in which we view political issues.

Now you say "frame," that's a key to understanding this. What kind of frame?

George Lakoff: Well, frames are everywhere. Think of what happened on the very first day that George Bush took office. A press release came out using the words "tax relief." Now a linguist who looks at the word "relief" would say, "Ah-hah, there's a frame in which there is an affliction, an afflicted party who's harmed by this, a reliever, who takes away this affliction. And if anybody tries to stop them, they're a bad guy.

You add "tax" to that, and you get taxation is an affliction. And if the Democrats oppose the President's tax relief plan, they're bad guys.

Bush We need tax relief now…in fact we need tax relief yesterday. And I will work with Congress to provide it.

Lakoff: So the word "tax relief" goes out to every radio station, every TV station, every newspaper, day after day after day. Soon, everybody's thinking tax relief with the idea that taxation is an affliction unconsciously, automatically.

Bush We're going to talk about some of that tax relief right quick.

What was in the tax relief package…

If you pay taxes you're going to get relief…

Tax relief…

Tax relief…

Because of the tax relief we passed.

Lakoff: And then the words become part of normal everyday language, and the conservative frame becomes part of the way you think about it.

If you're a Democrat, you want to really change the frame. The problem is that there is no existing frame out there. You have to create it.

How do you think about taxes? Taxes are what you pay to be an American, like paying your dues to have democracy and freedom and opportunity, and all the infrastructure that America provides.

Brancaccio: At what point do we, as voters, notice that being used on us? Whether or not we're conservative, whether or not we're liberal?

Lakoff: Only when it's framed in the right way.

A lot of liberals believe that the facts will set you free. It's in our inheritance from the enlightenment. Where, in the enlightenment that everybody is a rational person, all you have to do is just tell them the facts, they'll reason to the right conclusion. It's false.

And the Republicans have learned that it's false. They've set up a frame, they set up a narrative, and they set it up in terms of their values. And they get it as part of normal, everyday language and normal everyday thought.

Once they've done that, the facts are irrelevant unless the Democrats can learn to re-frame the issues from their point of view, and then make the facts fit other frames.

Brancaccio: Well, controversial issue that perhaps frames would help: trial lawyer. John Edwards is one. How do you use that as a political weapon or an asset?

Lakoff: Well, you use it as a weapon because it's been made into a weapon with terms like "frivolous lawsuits," and so on.

Lakoff: That is a frame that has been constructed by conservatives to attack trial lawyers, because trial lawyers, you know, support the Democratic Party in many parts of the country. So they're trying to de-fund the Democrats by attacking trial lawyers.

Now instead of trial lawyers, you should say what folks really are doing. These are public protection attorneys. They're doing public protection law. These are…

Brancaccio: Protecting the public.

Lakoff: Protecting the public from corporations and professionals who are either negligent or unscrupulous. And they're the last line of defense we have.

That's what, you know, public protection law is really about. And the Democrats need to come back and talk about public protection law and public protection.

Brancaccio: It's interesting how these phrases get inserted into the synapse. You say through repetition is one good way. Want you to take a look at this. We have President Bush couple years ago talking about his Healthy Forest Initiative. And he doesn't, as you'll see, talk about cutting down trees.

Bush Forest policy can be common sense policy.

A policy that is based upon common sense.

We need to make our forests healthy by using some common sense.

Common sense.

Common sense.

Common sense forest policy.

Brancaccio: If I were covering that speech, I'd say that the lead might have something to do with common sense.

Lakoff: Yes. And what does that mean? It means experts are not needed. And who are the experts? They're ecologists, environmentalists. This says, "Don't listen to the experts. Just think about it yourself. And we're going to tell you how to think about it."

Now when they say Healthy Forest for a bill that's going to, you know, clear cut forests and destroy forests, what do you do if you're on the other side? Well, what you have to do is rename it.

Now, I mean, if it had been renamed something like Leave No Tree Behind, that would have been, you know, perfect. Or, you know, The Forest Destruction Act. You know?

Then what that does is allow you to bring it up as an issue, and allow you to ask the experts in as the arbiters. That's the way you deal with the attempt of common sense to say, "This isn't an expert issue. We don't listen to the experts."

Now the person who I think taught me most about this is one of your former guests, Frank Luntz.

Brancaccio: Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster and opinion researcher.

Lakoff: That's right.

Luntz puts out a little workbook every year or so. And last year in his section on the environment, he said something very interesting.

He said that on global warming, the Democrats have the science on their side, but we can win with language. What we need to do is use words environmentalists like, like "healthy," "clean," and "safe."

Now what that does is each word like that evokes a frame. But what they do is they evoke frames that are the opposite of what they know they mean. These are sort of Orwellian frames. These are ways to manipulate the public.

So whenever you hear an Orwellian term like "Clear Skies Act" or "Compassionate Conservative," means they know they're weak on something. And what you have to do is rename it. Rename it to fit the truth.

It is the Dirty Air Act. It is the Forest Destruction Act.

Brancaccio: A lot of the hot button political issues of the moment really can be framed and re-framed. Big debate this summer over gay marriage. You might re-frame it, I don't know, you could call it "right to marry the one you love." That's a different kind of frame.

Lakoff: Exactly right.

You have to change the terms and change the words to make them your words all the time. As soon as you say, "gay marriage," the image of gay sex is going to come up.

Most people, you know, if you say, "Are you in favor of gay sex," will say, "Who me? No." But if they say, "Do you think the state should tell people who they should marry?" Different question. Different frame.

Brancaccio: So what do you do, say it over and over?

Lakoff: Over and over and over, just as they say it over and over. That's how they get people to think the way they want them to think.

And it's not an unfair, people think it's an unfair tactic. It's an effective tactic. It's true. It works that way. That's how people do think.

Brancaccio: Republicans tend to talk about being moral, family values. But I don't know if you've seen some of Kerry's speeches this summer.

Kerry: For values that make America strong.

The values that matter most.

Values that you live by.

The values that unite us, the values that define us.

Values, values.

Narrow values.

Shared values.

Now I'll tell you what values mean.

Brancaccio: Spot the key word there. I think it has something to do with values. About a 40 minute speech, we counted 28 usages of the word "values." What's he trying to do there?

Lakoff: Well, he's bringing up the issue of values, and he's right. You have to say it over and over. But now here's the next step, you can't just repeat the word "values." You have to say what they are. You have to start talking about things like fairness, safety, freedom, community, trust, honesty. I mean these are values. Integrity.

Then he has to say why he has them, why progressives have them, why the Democratic Party has them, in detail. And then every time he mentions a program or an idea, he has to say why they follow from these values, and what they have to do with values. That's the sort of things that conservatives have been doing for many, many years.

Brancaccio: When you see that, though, where's that values word going? Who does John Kerry hope this word will resonate with?

Lakoff: Everybody. Because everybody is looking for a candidate who shares their values.

Brancaccio: And that applied to George W. Bush as well? In other words, people who voted for him saw something in him that they could identify with?

Lakoff: Absolutely. They saw it not only in the words, but in his body. They saw it in his gestures, they saw it in his dialect, in his choice of a particular, this kind of bubba dialect.

This is a guy who grew up in Kennebunkport, Maine around his father. His father didn't use that dialect. He went to Andover. He went to Yale. He went to Harvard Business School. He heard people not using the bubba dialect all the time.

But he also grew up in Texas, and he learned the other dialect, too. And he's used that very effectively to get people in the red states to identify with him and to say, "Hey, that guy is like me."

Brancaccio: You sometimes see that when you see a conservative critique of John Kerry. They say, "Well, that guy went to Yale." Now of course the President of the United States also went to Yale.

Lakoff: Exactly. They both went to Yale. You know? President United States went to Andover. I mean these are, you know, elite institutions.

Brancaccio: A couple of times you've used the word "progressive" interchangeably with I think the other word is liberal.

Lakoff: Yes.

Brancaccio: We moving away from liberal? Is liberal finally… even you admitting it's a dirty word?

Lakoff: Well, it's been branded by the other side. For the last 20, 30 years they've been putting other adjectives with liberal, like limousine liberal, latte liberal, you know, Chardonnay and brie liberal, even though more Republicans eat brie than Democrats do. Very important, you know…

Brancaccio: There's research about this?

Lakoff: There's research about this. Everything has market research. But the fact is that the identity has been given to the word "liberal." And people talk about the liberal elite when, in fact, it's the conservatives who have the real money in the country and the elitism. The Democrats should use that. The Democrats have to call the people who get those big tax cuts, not just the rich, but the elite. "Rich" is a good word in America. You know, remember, you have rich experiences. You want a rich life. You know? "Rich" is a good word. But "elite" isn't a good word.

Brancaccio: If you ever watch the Comedy Central program the "Daily Show", they have a mock newscast. But they seem to have caught the conservatives trying to use this word "liberal" as a weapon. Take a look.

[Clips from "Daily Show" with John Stewart]
CNN CLIP: "two of the foremost liberal senators"
CNN CLIP: "two of the foremost liberal US senators"
MSNBC CLIP: "the most liberal member of the United States Senate"
CNN CLIP: "the most liberal member of the United States Senate"
FOX CLIP: "who was the number one rated liberal in the United States Senate"
FOX CLIP: "the number one most liberal senator in the United States Senate"

STEWART: Wow! Those guys are liberal! In fact if I didn't know better I'd say they were the first and fourth most liberal senators in the whole Senate. And while we don't have any idea what that means or where those rankings come from or how they were arrived at or whether it's even true, I don't like the sounds of it.
[End clip]

Brancaccio: Liberals have lost the battle to hold onto the word "liberal," wouldn't you say?

Lakoff: They've lost it at least temporarily. There's no way they can get it back before November. They could take the word back over a period of years.

Now remember that the word "conservative" used to be a dirty word. Back in 1964, when Goldwater lost, nobody wanted to be called a conservative. But the conservatives took the word back over many, many years of working at it.

Brancaccio: Let's take a look at the President of the United States this summer. And he's making a speech, and he has a refrain which you're about to see.

Bush: [TV clips played] And the American people are safer.

The American people are safer.

And the American people are safer.

Brancaccio: Post-Iraq, presumably, the American people are safer.

Lakoff: He has to say the American people are safer, whether they are or not. Now notice what would happen if you went out and said the opposite. The American people are not safer. That's why…

Brancaccio: Say you were a Democrat…

Lakoff: You're…

Brancaccio: You said, "The American people are not safer."

Lakoff: Yeah. It's like Richard Nixon getting up there and saying, "I am not a crook," and people think of him as a crook. Right?

They think of the American are safer… not. Right? You have to say why they're not safer. You don't just say they're not safer. They say you have to say, "More terrorists have been created by the war in Iraq than were eradicated in, you know, in Afghanistan."

You have to say that things are more dangerous now.

Brancaccio: Are you going to hear that from Kerry-Edwards, all that their opponents will say is, "Well, you voted for the war, too?"

Lakoff: I don't know. So far a lot of Democrats are used to simply negating what the other side said. You know, like "Not safer." They have to learn to re-frame and put it in their terms.

Take, for example, the war on terror. You should never use the word "war on terror." Why? First of all, "war" gives the President war powers. And secondly, "terror" talks about everything that could possibly make anyone afraid. It's like it's a pervading thing in the world.

Whereas if you talk about terrorists, there are only a handful, several thousand terrorists. They're dangerous. But if you're a nation of 250 million people, you can deal with the several thousand terrorists if you really go at it.

The issue is fighting terrorists. You know, as opposed to this general thing on terror. If you use "war" then you have the President having war powers. He's Commander-In-Chief. And, you know, you go on a wartime basis where people can't criticize the government.

Brancaccio: But Democrats don't want to understate the threat. There's more than a couple of hundred or a couple thousand terrorists.

Lakoff: Whatever the estimate is, it's not millions. It's not hundreds of millions of al-Qaeda. The point is there is a threat, and there's a threat having to do with groups of individuals, not nations.

Brancaccio: Among George Lakoff's latest books is "Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think." George Lakoff, thank you so much for having come by NOW.

Lakoff: Okay. My pleasure

The Media Consolidation Beat Goes On

Editor's Note: This is an expanded version of an essay that will air on a special edition of NOW with Bill Moyers airing on Friday, November 28, 2003 at 9pm on PBS devoted to media issues. Tune in to watch the complete interviews with Jim Bouton and John Leonard.

In some markets NOW may be pre-empted or moved from its regular timeslot due to your local public television station's pledge drive. Please check your local schedules to find out when NOW will be airing in your market. We also encourage you to support your local station during this pledge period and when you do, please be sure to tell them that you support NOW.

If you miss some or all of this week's NOW broadcast or you would like to watch it again, go to the PBS website to watch this episode online beginning Monday, December 1.

I am often asked why, as a journalist, I keep coming back to the story of media and democracy -- how newspapers, radio stations, television and cable are being swallowed up by huge conglomerates. One answer comes from the former Yankee pitching star, Jim Bouton, who told me in an interview this week exactly what can happen when there's only one newspaper in a town and it's owned by a media conglomerate far from home.

Bouton, you may remember, jolted the baseball world back in 1970 with his truth-telling diary of a season in the big leagues. Lo and behold, as "Ball Four" revealed to a shocked -- shocked! -- America, that the "boys of summer" were just that -- adolescents with overstuffed hormones who, when they weren't making double plays, home runs, and leaping catches, liked to drink, smoke, and run around with, ahem, "girls who do." "Ball Four" may well be the best baseball book ever, but it's more than that: the New York Public Library recently chose it as one of the l00 "Books of the Century." Whatever is meant by the word "classic," "Ball Four" fits.

Now Bouton is back with another truth-teller that deserves to be a bestseller. Media conglomeration, like baseball after Bouton, will never be the same. Turns out the newspaper in the town near where Bouton lives -- Pittsfield, Massachusetts -- wanted to use $l8.5 million dollars of taxpayer money to build a new baseball stadium on property it owns. Turns out the property is polluted, although the newspaper didn't bother to disclose the fact, and that the new stadium was a way of passing off the liability to the public even while enhancing the value of the newspaper's property.

Turns out the newspaper, which Bouton thought was locally owned, is owned by MediaNews Group, based in Denver, Colorado, which counts among its 100 "media properties" the Salt Lake Tribune and the Denver Post. When Bouton and his partner went to the local publisher with a proposal to renovate the existing -- and historic stadium -- at no expense to the taxpayer, they were told: Out of our hands; check it with Dean (Dean Singleton is the mogul who runs MediaNews). They tried; Singleton didn't bother to answer, even when Bouton sent him a signed copy of "Ball Four."

Turns out the conglomerate wanted its own stadium, on its own property, at public expense, despite the fact that the public voted down the proposal -- three times. But, hey, what's a little democracy when the only daily newspaper and the largest law firm in town, and -- hold on to your hat -- General Electric (yes, that GE, which has title to its own media universe) want the indulgence of taxpayers for their little profit-making schemes. The local newspaper publisher, Bouton tells me, "was being controlled by his boss in Denver. And the local politicians were being controlled by the local publisher. So there was a sort of puppeteer controlling the decisions that were made by the local government."

I'm not going any further to give away a crackling good story except to say that when his book publisher received a call from somebody close to GE, the big league publisher caved and wouldn't publish the book. Bouton says he was told he could keep half the advance if he remained silent about the whole affair; he refused and published "Foul Ball" himself. Rush out and buy a copy and read for yourself how every monopoly is a tyranny lying in wait. The only daily paper in Bouton's town didn't want the public to know what was going on, and there was no competitor to throw a light on the shenanigans taking place between its publisher and the politicians. As the old saying goes, freedom of the press belongs to the fellow who owns one.

What happened in Bouton's town happens all over the country, alas; two-thirds of the newspaper markets in America are monopolies. Oh, by the way: When their side of the story was distorted by the paper, Bouton and his partner got their story out through the radio stations in town. If Dean Singleton and the FCC have their way, such insubordination by mere citizens won't happen again. Singleton was last seen in Washington making the case for the FCC decision to enable him to own more media properties -- broadcasting and print -- in one town. Talk about silencing the lambs! Truth is, when the big broadcasters and publishers lobby Congress, the FCC, and the White House for the green light to merge, consolidate, and eliminate the competition, they don't bother to report to their readers or viewers what they're up to. They prefer to keep us in the dark.

John Leonard gives us another insight into why it's important to keep coming back to this story of media conglomeration. John Leonard may be our most prolific social critic. He's everywhere -- Harper's, the New York Times Book Review, The Nation, the New York Review of Books, "CBS Sunday Morning." Most recently he has edited a wonderful array of writers who have produced for Nation Books a reminder of just how much we need our maverick voices.

"These United States" is a series of essays, articles, reports -- they fit no neat description -- by some wondrously talented writers and journalists commissioned to describe the sights, smells, and politics of America in each of the 50 states. But I bring John Leonard up here because in preparing to interview him this week, I re-read a brilliant essay he wrote some years ago about what happens when reporters, editors and critics become caged birds singing the company tune in the information-commodities racket. When they begin to have more in common with the chairman of the board than with the working stiffs who read and watch, journalism turns to slush; pretty soon they figure out it doesn't pay to cover the working stiffs standing out there with their noses pressed against the window.

So, yes, I keep coming back to the subject of media conglomeration because it can take the oxygen out of democracy. The founders of this country believed a free and rambunctious press was essential to the protection of our freedoms. They couldn't envision the rise of giant megamedia conglomerates whose interests converge with state power to produce a conspiracy against the people. I think they would be aghast at how this union of media and government has produced the very kind of imperial power against which they rebelled. So, yes, media conglomeration has become a beat for my colleagues and me. We think this is the most important story of all, the one that determines what other stories get told -- and how.

On the Role of a Journalist In a Democracy

From your letters I know some of you are curious as to why journalists like me keep opening the Pandora's box of democracy; why we come round and round to what ails America -- the bribing of Congress, the desecration of the environment, corporate tax havens, secrecy, fraud on Wall Street, the arrogance of ideology, the pretensions of power. Do we delight in the dark side of human experience, you ask? Do we never see good in the world? Or was Nietzsche right: that the Christian resolution to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad?

I can only speak for myself, of course. And I confess to thinking of journalism as the social equivalent to a medical diagnosis. My doctor owes me candor; I pay him for it. Candor could save my life.

I like to think journalists are paid for candor, too; society needs to know what could kill us, whether it's too many lies or too much pollution. Napoleon left instructions that he was not to be awakened if the news from the front were good; with good news, he told his secretary, there is no hurry. But if the news were bad, he said, "Rouse me instantly, for then there is not a moment to be lost." Think of journalism as a kind of early warning system -- iceberg spotting in the choppy waters of democracy.

But there's another reason for what we do. I'm reminded of it every year at this time, when my thoughts about the honor and respect we pay to our nation's soldiers on Memorial Day are colored by its proximity to D-Day.

I was just 10 years old when the allies landed on Normandy on June 6, 1944. I couldn't then imagine what it must have been like on those beaches when our world was up for grabs and men spilled their blood and guts to save it. I never knew what it was like until 15 years ago when I accompanied some veterans from Texas who had fought at Normandy and survived, and were now returning to retrace their steps. Jose Lopez was one of the veterans that joined me on that journey.

Lopez said of his experiences as a soldier, "I was really very, very afraid. That I want to scream. I want to cry and we see other people was laying wounded and screaming and everything and it's nothing you could do. We could see them groaning in the water and we keep walking."

Jose Lopez went on to win the Congressional Medal of Honor, our nation's highest honor for gallantry in action. But searching for the place he landed that day, he didn't want to talk about the Medal of Honor. He just wanted to be alone with his memories.

Howard Randall took a bullet in his ankle and almost had his leg amputated. His buddy Ed wasn't so lucky. (Edward J. Myers, First Lieutenant, fought in the 17th Infantry, 76th Division.)

Randall spoke of his friend Ed during our trip, "He's from the State of Washington, Puyallup, Washington. March 1, 1945. That was the same day I was wounded. He was behind me probably a hundred yards, maybe 200 yards. And he caught a piece of mortar fragment in the stomach, lived until that night. I didn't know he'd died until a couple of days later."

Every Memorial Day I think about what these men did and what we owe them. They didn't go through hell so Kenny Boy Lay could betray his investors and workers at Enron, or for a political system built on legal bribery. It wasn't for corporate tax havens in Bermuda, or an economic system driven by the law of the jungle, or so a handful of media buccaneers could turn the public airwaves into private sewers.

Sure, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, freedom makes it possible for people to be crooks, but so does communism, and fascism, and monarchy. Democracy is about doing better. It's about fairness, justice and human rights, and yes, it's about equality, too; look it up.

I was never called on to do what soldiers do; I'll never know if I might have had their courage. But a journalist can help keep the record straight, on their behalf. They thought democracy was worth fighting for, even dying for. The least we can do is to help make democracy worthy of them.

Bill Moyers is the host of NOW With Bill Moyers, a weekly television show on PBS.

Virgin Protesters

Going to your first anti-globalization protest can be a scary experience. Protesters tell you to bring goggles, vinegar-soaked bandanas, liters of water, even gas masks. But is it over-blown hype? Do we really think cops will use tear gas on citizens? And what is an affinity group supposed to do at these protests anyway? Geoffrey Chan followed seven curious twenty-something friends to Quebec over the course of three days and came back with this diary.

Friday 6:30 am.

We arrive at Laval University after a back-aching nine-hour bus ride, and immediately feel the cold in our bones. Half asleep, we stumble to the gym which is to serve as our sleeping area. As we enter the large building, Cheyenne shoots me a worried look. She's looking at this -- 3,000 sleeping bags lined wall to wall, full of snoozing protesters, filling what looks like every inch of space available. That could mean a large radius of snore pollution. "I feel like I'm in a refugee camp," says Ann. "This is so disorienting."

10:30 am.

Boredom sets in as we wait for the Carnival against Capitalism march to get going. We've been waiting for an hour now and people are getting grumpy. "Let's go!" shouts Ayse, who's had 6 hours of sleep in the last two days. While waiting, we make our first two decisions as an affinity group. One -- stick to green events, and two -- pick a name. Mark suggests something symbolic, like the Emiliano Zapata's or the Rosa Luxembourg's. The group settles on Lasagne -- simple, yet multi-layered, with a slight nod to Oka's most famous militant.

5:15 pm.

The march goes off smoothly, but begins morphing into something less predictable when we hit rue Charest and Dorchester. Protesters are heading up the hill toward the wall, where riot cops are lying in wait. The determined crowds march upwards. Lasagne members, dying with hunger, stop to eat instead. And proceed to miss all the action at Rene Levesque and Claire-Fontaine. Instead, we become glued to the live tv footage at the cafe where we're eating. By the time we've finished, the skirmishes are over. "Will we get another chance?" wonders Cheyenne.

3:00 am.

Back at Laval, I'm woken up by a thud against my right side, and turn to see a 300 pound guy, reeking of beer breath, spread-eagled at right angles to my hip. He's passed out and probably nowhere close to where his own sleeping bag should be. I'm more concerned about Ayse, though, who looks like she's been steam-rolled.

Saturday 2:15 pm.

We're on the official People's Summit march, which is buzzing from euphoria and celebration after the packed public forum attended by Maude Barlow and Jose Bove. Soon, however, we reach the street where it branches off towards the wall. Six of us decide we want to go up and reach the fence. Then we catch our first whiff of tear gas wafting down from the hill, and the mood immediately changes from one of festivity to one of fear. Not everyone is down with heading that way anymore. Half of the group doesn't have goggles and vinegar bandannas. "We're not comfortable doing that," say Ayse, Sanaz and Hon, who want to split and follow the green march. The group agrees to meet up later in the day.

2:40 pm.

We're walking up a tiny side street above rue D'Agarnon near the wall. The cops are tear-gassing the area like crazy. I have this eerie feeling that I'm in a war movie, as if we're heading up a dangerous flank towards an unseen enemy. Mark, who doesn't have goggles, starts bawling, and he decides he can't go further. We push on ahead, and finally reach Rene Levesque. Huge crowds are spread out between the wall and rue St Jean. We keep ourselves close to an easy exit but it's no use when the sky suddenly starts raining teargas canisters. We scatter like flies down the slope. Richard is blinded and starts panicking, and we lose Ann. Cheyenne gives his eyes a flush while a stranger offers saline solution. It's not enough to save him from extreme nausea later, though. "I was overcome by this horrible sensation, where I couldn't see or breathe," he says later.

5:00 pm.

In the middle of another gas attack, Cheyenne gets a call from Sanaz, Ayse and Hon, who are quaffing beer at the green festival in Victoria Park. They say hi.

9:30 pm.

Reunited, we head to the overpass at Charest, where dozens of young protesters are banging on metal objects in defiance of the cops. Outrage fills the air as tear gas canisters spill into this green zone. "What the fuck are they doing?" screams Mark "Look at that!" Later on, a small group of youths start a bonfire, and before long, the wooden fencing nearby is being ripped up to feed it. "They're acting like this because they don't feel they're being heard," says Ayse.

Sunday 11:00 am.

Laval U. is emptying out fast as protesters return to their cities and towns, while jail solidarity vigils start at D'Orsainville. On the bus back to Toronto, we reflect on the two days just passed, not really sure whether it's all been just one bad dream. "Something like this happening in Canada? It's surreal," says Richard. Cheyenne: "I try to imagine what it would've been like if I hadn't come and I had to rely on media like the dailies to get information. It was important to see it with my own eyes. I felt I had to be a witness. And what I saw of the police actions was shocking and sick."

Infiltrating a Spy Conference

Here I am, watched by dozens of spies representing almost the entire alphabet -- CSIS, CSE, CIA, NSA, MI5. Especially MIB, Men In Black. Sombre, dark tones are obviously still in style for the discerning intelligence professional.

We're all at the annual conference of the Canadian Association of Security and Intelligence Studies. This is where many of the leading sages, celebrities and underbosses of the Anglo-Saxon spy world gather to exchange secret handshakes and plots for world domination.

I arrive at Ottawa's historic Chateau Laurier, next to Parliament Hill, for the three-day affair, minus cloak and dagger. Why wear a cloak when you've got a name tag?

Inside are 200-odd spies, 90 per cent of them men, 97 per cent white. The only black people are out in the hall serving drinks. Not a single francophone voice can be heard.

Lyndon Johnson once remarked, "The CIA is made up of boys whose families sent them to Princeton but wouldn't let them into the family brokerage business." Thirty-five years later, change seems to have passed this little fraternity by.

Even the end of the Cold War left it fundamentally unchanged. Today, intelligence agencies are resurgent and badder than ever. For that, spies thank the Internet and other fashionable new security "threats": native people, anti-globalization activists, foreign companies, organized crime, even polluters.

"The future is far from bleak for SIGINT collectors around the world. Most feel it is a time of plenty," enthuses Matthew Aid, a former officer at the U.S. National Security Agency, which spies on the Internet, phone calls and faxes (SIGINT in spy speak, or Signals Intelligence). "There will be more surreptitious entries, more theft of foreign encryption tools and more clandestine eavesdropping," he assures the audience.

Alistair Hensler, former director-general of operations at CSIS, says the covert agent's human touch is needed more than ever to combat the "cyber-threat" and hordes of new terrorist groups. "HUMINT (Human Intelligence, or covert agents) in the ethnic community could help," he tells the conference.

It wasn't supposed to be like this. In the wake of the Cold War it was expected that that there would be reductions in intelligence spending.

There was even discussion in the U.S. of shutting down the Central Intelligence Agency. But today, the U.S. spends an estimated $30 billion on spying, 50 per cent more after inflation than in 1980.

Why did intelligence reform lose steam? Some say change is a double-edged sword. When the U.S. Congress tried to restrict CIA operations in the 70s, agency operatives simply worked harder to cover their tracks, according to Louis Wolf of CovertAction Quarterly, a Washington, D.C.-based intelligence watchdog.

Wolf, whom I contacted for some insights after the conference, says the CIA did this by contracting out some of its most sensitive operations to trusted private firms not subject to congressional oversight. If Congress didn't approve funds for an operation, the CIA developed other sources of money, like arms deals or drug trafficking, he said.

But not everyone has given up. One of the lonely voices still fighting for intelligence reform is Mel Goodman, former CIA senior analyst of Soviet affairs and now a professor at the Pentagon's National War College. "People just don't want to go near the issue," he says.

At the conference, Goodman argues that a string of CIA fiascos show that the U.S. should no longer conduct covert action in the post-Cold War era. That includes paramilitary operations, manipulating foreign elections and planting stories in foreign media, he says.

This point is later driven home by Jim Littleton, the CBC's director of journalistic ethics, who recounts how the CIA tried to infiltrate an agent into the CBC's Lebanon bureau in the 1980s.

"In my own experience, it's not at all unusual for agencies to try to recruit journalists," he says, adding that reporters wrongly suspected of being spies have been murdered in the Balkans and Africa.

Flick on the Ropes

The Hurricane, the film based on former boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter's struggle to overturn his conviction for a triple murder he didn't commit, has taken another hit.This time it's a lawsuit claiming that crucial parts of Carter's story were "deliberately fabricated" to pump up its dramatization of the evils of racism and maximize profits at the box office.It's another bruised eye for the film, which has been wracked by controversy and last month was snubbed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the upcoming Oscars. (Only Denzel Washington was nominated for a best-actor prize.)In the U.S., The Hurricane has taken shots for embellishing parts of Carter's life -- in particular, the character of the racist cop who seems to dog Carter throughout his life.Fixed FightHowever, the most recent suit, filed in Pennsylvania district court last month by former middleweight boxing champion Carmine Tilelli, aka Joey Giardello, goes further.It claims the film's producers "deliberately fabricated" scenes in the movie dealing with Carter's failed bid for the title against Giardello in 1964.The suit claims the scenes depicted were made up in order to fit the overall theme of the movie, namely that Carter's life was destroyed by racial prejudice.Giardello's lawyer claims the scenes in question make his client out to be "a hapless fighter who benefits from a racially motivated or fixed scoring system ... an individual who would accept ill-gotten fruits of racism ... (and) that Giardello was part of a racist conspiracy to harm Carter."Says the Philadelphia-based lawyer, George Bochetto: "They completely altered who he was, what he was about and what his legacy is. They trashed a lifetime's worth of work."The suit also takes issue with the where-are-they-now epilogue at the end of The Hurricane.In one scene, Carter is shown receiving an honourary middleweight championship belt from the World Boxing Council (WBC) in 1993, which the suit claims has the effect of "implying that even the sanctioning body (for boxing) now admits Carter was robbed of the title and that the championship, like his new- found freedom, rightly belonged to Carter."Symbolic TributeBut what The Hurricane fails to convey, the suit says, is the fact that the WBC was not the sanctioning body for the 64 fight.And the symbolic championship belt was awarded to Carter "as a tribute and an apology for his false imprisonment ... and had nothing to do with the decision in the Giardello-Carter fight."In fact, this lawsuit claims, Giardello attended the ceremony where Carter received the belt.Carter himself has recently offered publicly that he thinks Giardello won the fight fair and square.Carter is presently on a speaking tour and is unavailable for comment, but his assistant at the office of the Association in the Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, where he is executive director, says, "As far as Rubin is concerned, Mr. Giardello won the fight."The film, though, gives a very different impression of what happened at the Philadelphia Convention Hall that night in December 64.In the film, Giardello is shown being pummelled by Carter's right-hands and left hooks and bleeding from the pulverizing onslaught.When the decision goes to Giardello, the crowd protests and the voice of an announcer declares it a travesty.None of that ever happened, Giardello's suit says. According to the suit, "Contemporaneous news reports and expert analysis generally agreed Giardello had won the fight, and that Carter had not done enough to take the championship away."The three judges who scored the fight all had Giardello winning convincingly, the claim says.Then the kicker. Giardello's suit claims The Hurricane's makers "acted with malice toward the rights and reputation of Giardello solely in an effort to enhance the emotional impact of The Hurricane and to inexcusably symbolize at Giardello's expense the harshness of the injustices visited upon Carter by the New Jersey criminal justice system."All of this, the suit claims, was "designed to increase profits."Giardello is asking for no less than $150,000 in damages, and he wants video copies of The Hurricane, when released, to include clips of the actual Carter-Giardello fight at the end of the film.Bochetto says his client, who's retired and living in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, was never consulted during the making of the film and was shocked by its portrait of him.The film, he says, has ruined Giardello's reputation in the community where he's active as a volunteer and has tarnished his image among fight fans as a "courageous, talented, duck-no-fighter competitor whose in-the-ring accomplishments made him legendary in boxing circles worldwide."Sam Chaiton, a member of the Toronto commune whose efforts helped spring Carter from jail, is co-author of Lazarus And The Hurricane, one of the two books on which the movie is based. It has Carter losing "a controversial split decision" to Giardello.Chaiton says he doesn't know anything about the current controversy. "We have nothing to say about it."NOW's calls to Universal Pictures and Rudy Langlais, a producer of the film, went unanswered.Michael Levine, a T.O.-based entertainment lawyer who produced the Terry Fox film, says, "There isn't a film made that doesn't take some licence. It's de rigueur. To have Carter lose the fight (fair and square) just doesn't make the point that the system is stacked against him."

Principles of Self-pleasure

In the early 1900s, schoolboys were terrorized by social purity educator Arthur W. Beall and the Women's Christian Temperance Union on the potential damaging effects of "self-abuse," including lesson number 9: "The more you use the penis muscle, the weaker it becomes."

And much to Beall's horror, there could be a lot of weak willies in the wind soon (leading to nervous degeneration and insanity), because the second annual national masturbate-athon is coming on May 7.

Chronic masturbators should take the day off work to raise money for the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention.

"I think of it like Mother's Day," says Sandra Haar, the co-owner of Come as You Are, one of several sex shops across North America participating in the marathon.

San Francisco's Good Vibrations, the big mama of the funky sex shop universe, declared May National Masturbation Month five years ago. It is not, however, in The Farmer's Almanac.

Masturbation, says Haar, has poked its head out of the social stigma closet, but it still needs encouragement.

"It's seen as an adolescent thing -- like if you're an adult and doing it, you're kind of a loser."

Historically, masturbation has certainly been dealt a bad hand. In Genesis, God condemned Onan for spilling his seed on the ground rather than conceiving an heir by his widowed sister-in-law, Tamar. In the 16th century, a famous anonymous treatise entitled "Onanaia: or the heinous sin of self-pollution, and its frightful consequences in both sexes considered, with spiritual and physical advice to those who have already injured themselves by this abominable practice" set the tone for the anti-"self-abuse" diatribes of later generations.

Ills thought to be brought on by masturbation included stunted growth, cowardice, causing one's eyes to have a "dull, sheepish look" (well, duh), blindness, nymphomania and death.

"We are socialized to look at our bodes as a site of sin rather than a site of pleasure. Masturbation allows us to be in unity with all of who we are," says Juanita Smith, executive director of Black CAP sagely.

Joan Marsman, a sex therapist who runs orgasm support groups for women, says she encourages masturbation as a nice way to get to know yourself, but "if it causes you anxiety or nightmares, than don't do it. It is optional."

But if you think that just because the era of seeing masturbation as a sign of insanity is over, you try to get people to pay you -- by the minute -- for a masturbate-athon. (Is that a sponsorship form in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?)

It is fraught with social peril, as is evidenced by the prompt response I received from the first person to call when you're trying to raise money for a cause -- Mom.

"No. Go away. Get lost, you meshugina. What do you want from my life?"

Also included in the litany of responses were: several comments (one from boss) to the effect that "this could get expensive," two requests for pictorial evidence, one offer of webcam services, one offer of "No money, but you can fantasize about me," three mentions of my likely relative expertise in the area, and polite quantitative inquiries as to length of my personal record before committing to a per-minute rate.

"Maybe they're worried you'll wear yourself out," offers Haar helpfully.

I am truly devoted, but so far I've only raised a sorry $45.

So c'mon, Mom. Puleeze. Your donation will come in handy.


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