Tamara Straus

Meet the Doctor Big Pharma Can't Shut Up

For the last 34 years, David Healy, an Irish psychiatrist and professor at Cardiff University School of Medicine in Wales, has written heavily researched university press books and academic journal articles on various aspects of psychopharmaceuticals. His output includes 20 books, 150 peer-reviewed papers and 200 other published works. He is not only well-pedigreed, with degrees and fellowships from Dublin, Galway and Cambridge medical schools, he is a widely recognized expert in both the history and the science of neurochemistry and psychopharmacology.

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Meet the Doctor Big Pharma Can't Shut Up

For the last 33 years, David Healy, an Irish psychiatrist and professor at Cardiff University School of Medicine in Wales, has written heavily researched university press books and academic journal articles on various aspects of psychopharmaceuticals. His output includes 20 books, 150 peer-reviewed papers and 200 other published works. He is not only well-pedigreed, with degrees and fellowships from Dublin, Galway and Cambridge medical schools, he is a widely recognized expert in both the history and the science of neurochemistry and psychopharmacology.

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Women Lead the Progressive Charge

EMILY's List, the Washington, D.C.-based political network that supports pro-choice Democratic women, has some not-so-subtle advice for Democrats: hijack the family values debate. And do it by targeting the interests of female voters.

According to a research study released by EMILY's List on June 22 entitled "Women at the Center of Change," Republicans are losing the support among women that won them the White House in 2004. The national survey of more than 2,000 women and 600 men found that one third of women who voted for Bush are not planning to vote Republican in the 2006 Congressional election.

"There is a clear message from the women we spoke to: never stand between a woman and her desire to protect and care for her family," said EMILY's List President Ellen R. Malcolm of the study. "Republicans will continue to lose women if they fail to respect that women see themselves -- not government or politicians -- as the arbiter of family values."

This family values argument may seem like a no-brainer to those who wrung their hands (or, more likely, gnashed their teeth) as the Republicans made one masterfully manipulative move after one mind-bogglingly stinging stab around issues of marriage, religion and economics during the 2004 presidential election, but it is instrumental to any future electoral successes for the Democrats. The most significant element of the study is that the concept of family is at the center of women's values.

"There's been a lot of conversation about which is more important -- values or economic concerns," said Karen M. White, national political director for EMILY's List. "Our data shows that's a false choice. For women, it's not an either/or decision. Democrats will not reach women by stressing economics alone."

Among the other top findings of the study are:
  • The gender gap among voters has emerged strongly, as 43 percent of women say they would now vote Democratic and 32 percent would vote Republican. By contrast, a 41 percent plurality of men say they would vote Republican for Congress and 36 percent say they would vote Democratic. This 16-point gender gap is dramatically larger than the 2004 presidential election (7 points) and the 2002 midterm election (5 points).
  • Democrats lead Republicans in every age group, particularly among women age 45 to 54 (46 percent to 29 percent) and those age 55 to 64 (45 percent to 27 percent), Likewise, Democrats have the edge among younger women: 44 percent to 35 percent among those under 35, and 40 percent to 39 percent among those 35 to 44. Seniors give Democrats and eight-point advantage (49 percent to 32 percent).
  • The Republican drop-off is particularly apparent among the following seven demographic subgroups of women: social conservatives, non-college-educated whites, Midwestern whites, Catholics, white married women without children at home, women "in the ideological middle" (or swing voters) and "weak" Republicans.

Why this sea change? The study finds women have moved away from the Republicans since Bush's reelection for three reasons.

First, they are dissatisfied with the country's general direction and blame the Republicans, who now control both houses of Congress and the White House, for the current course.

Second, the issue terrain has shifted from the war on terrorism toward domestic and foreign policy agendas on which Democrats have the advantage. Women in the study volunteered Social Security (27 percent) as their greatest concern, followed by the war in Iraq (25 percent), health care (20 percent), education (19 percent), the economy (16 percent), cost of living and gas prices (12 percent) and jobs (8 percent). This means, the study argues, that the area where Republicans had greatest advantage -- the war on terrorism -- has receded for American women and with it their chances for another electoral sweep. By 60 percent to 25 percent, women choose a diplomatic foreign policy approach over one that hunts down terrorists.

Third, women believe the Republicans have overstated their bounds on issues of privacy, most notably in the recent controversy over Terri Schiavo and euthanasia, and in the relationship between science and religion. Fifty six percent of Republican women believe government shouldn't impose any moral or religious point of view on the country (78 percent of Democratic women feel that way). Also, 60 percent of women choose a pro-science position and worry that the U.S. will not remain a leader in scientific advances in the 21st century.

But these statistics do not foretell a slam dunk for Democrats in 2006, said Geoff Garin of the Garin, Hart, Yang Research Group, a Democratic political polling group that conducted the study for EMILY's List. "Women are pessimistic about the economy and Democrats must offer them hope, but values -- especially those regarding family and community -- must be part of the dialogue."

Michael Moore Bowls a Strike at Telluride

In 1989 Michael Moore's life was changed by one of the kindler, gentler establishments of the movie industry. "Roger and Me," his documentary eviscerating GM head Roger Smith, was accepted by the Telluride Film Festival and from there went on to get a distribution deal and international critical acclaim.

"I didn't know anything about the film industry," Moore said of his Telluride experience. "I was broke. My original plan had been to get the crew together, rent a van and tour the country for roadside screenings."

Moore could be seen ambling through the streets of Telluride, Colorado again this year, rich from his best-selling book "Stupid White Men" but still the jovial populist, yanking at his trademark baseball cap and talking to adoring fans about the North American premiere of his powerful new film, "Bowling for Columbine."

The documentary, which he hopes will spark a national conversation about America's obsession with violence, is a radical exploration of America's love affair with guns, its "paranoid mentality," as Moore calls it, and the violent nature of U.S. foreign policy.

"I made [Bowling for Columbine] because I was angry," said Moore. "I wanted to know, 'Why us?' Not only why did Columbine happen, but why are 11,000 people killed by guns in the U.S. every year when almost everywhere else the numbers are in the low hundreds?"

To answer that question, Moore took his camera and crew from Littleton -- where he interviewed still shell-shocked survivors of the Columbine massacre and townspeople who now specialize in security systems -- to Beverly Hills, for a bizarre tête-à-tête with NRA spokesman Charlton Heston, and across the border to Canada where Moore, in one of the more hilarious scenes, trespasses into strangers' homes to prove that Canadians don't lock their doors.

Like "Roger and Me," "Bowling for Columbine" is propelled by a humorously enraged quest to find the truth. The movie is a journey -- Moore's and ours -- and it begins with Moore positing that the solution to violence must be gun control. (The unforgettable opening scene shows Moore acquiring a free rifle when he opens a new account at a Michigan bank.) But soon enough, Moore, ever the Midwestern Platonist, is arguing that controlling individual gun purchases is too easy an answer, since there are as many weapons in countries with low murder rates.

From there, "Bowling for Columbine" races off into a series of broadly related violence-in-America questions that include the U.S.'s military-industrial complex, its fascination with televised bloodshed, its tradition of scapegoating blacks, ignoring poverty and sanctioning what he calls "state-sponsored violence."

Moore is most convincing in showing that Americans are reluctant to embrace progressive reform because they have become deeply fearful. Although violence is statistically down, every night they watch on television the day's roster of rapes, abductions and murders. It is this violent TV sensationalism, Moore argues, that is creating "a national atmosphere of fear and paranoia" and distracting Americans from important social issues. The film has no final point, no single answer for Columbine or other killing sprees, but it is undoubtedly the most intelligent, thought-provoking and entertaining film about violence in America to have come along in years.

All of Telluride was buzzing about "Bowling for Columbine" the morning after the premiere. In a public conversation in Telluride's Elk Park, Nation columnist Christopher Hitchens did his best to roil Moore about his usage of Serbian film clips, his Ghandian stance on American foreign policy, his strategy of throwing a dozen theories in a kettle and stirring, but ended up being uncharacteristically mild.

"You're a man of the people and I'm a snob and an elitist," said Hitchens with a wave of his cigarette, letting Moore steal the show. Telluride --- whether because of the abundance of remarkable films or the limited oxygen at 10,000 feet -- seemed to have a calming effect on Hitchens.

For regulars the Telluride Film Festival is a kind of religious experience, a Burning Man for adults whose drug of choice is dramatic scenarios from all over the world. For 29 years the festival has pushed into the increasingly commercialistic film world movies by new directors that fuse politics, technology and art. This year the program included the world premiere of Paul Schrader's "Auto Focus," about the sexually sordid private life - and murder - of "Hogan's Heroes" star Bob Crane; the world premiere of "Frida," Julie Taymor's ode to Frida Kahlo; a tribute to actor Peter O'Toole; the North American premiere of "Spider," the latest film from David Cronenberg and the North American premiere of "Talk to Her," a story about the friendship of two men from Oscar-winning Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, among others.

As usual, the festival offered a wide selection of independent and foreign films that need the kind of critical attention "Roger and Me" got to compete against Hollywood blockbusters. Chief among them was "City of God," a shattering epic about Rio de Janeiro's drug-riddled housing project Cidade de Deus directed by Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund. Based on the novel by Paolo Lin, the movie is at once a masterpiece of contemporary filmmaking and an education on the cyclical nature of 20th-century urban poverty.

Meirelles and Lund shot the film on location in Cidade de Deus and interviewed 2,000 resident street kids, eventually settling on a cast of largely non-professional actors to tell the story of dozens of intertwined Cidade de Deus lives from the 1970s and 1980s. "The focus was always on the truth," said Meirelles in an interview. "In Cidade de Deus, a 16-year-old kid is at the height of his life. He knows that if he is lucky he'll last another three or four years. The wasting of lives is the theme of the film."

"City of God" may well mark a new era in Latin American filmmaking. It falls on the heals of such riveting movies as "Central Station," "Amores Perros" and "Y Tu Mama Tambien," which take on contemporary social issues with plots that pop and ferocious visuals. "City of God" uses the lightning-fast editing techniques of music videos, but never seems to fall prey to aesthetic slickness. Some critics are beginning to call the new movies from Latin America the "Buena Onda" (the Good Wave), in reference to the 1960s French New Wave of which François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard formed a part.

Whether or not arty video stores will soon have a section for the Buena Onda, "City of God" will be recognized as a 2002 cinematic tour de force (Miramax will release it in the U.S. this fall). The movie is Meirelles and Lund's first feature and they, like Michael Moore, might look back at Telluride as the pivotal moment in their careers as film directors.

Tamara Straus is editor in chief of Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope: All-Story magazine (www.all-story.com).

Justice After the Schizoid War

Ever since the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals, the world has grown familiar with the idea of an international court putting to bed a brutal period in history. Nuremberg put a stark coda on the Holocaust, as may the United Nations' International Criminal Tribunal on the genocide that took place in Yugoslavia.

But what of the countless wartime human rights violations that have gone untried? In Gail Pellett's latest documentary, "Justice and the Generals," that question is applied to El Salvador. By extension, it also is applied to the United States, which between 1980 and 1992 provided billions of dollars in aid to the Salvadoran military, abetting a 12-year civil war that by 1992 had claimed 75,000 (mostly civilian) lives.

"Justice and the Generals" is an international human rights drama with a strong message about the need for international law. Pellett, who produced, directed and narrates the film, focuses her story on two landmark human rights cases -- one involving the 1980 murder of four American churchwomen, the other brought by Salvadoran torture survivors; both against two high-ranking Salvadoran generals, Guillermo Garcia and Vides Cassanova, who were trained by the U.S. military. The film sheds harsh light on the U.S.'s conduct in Central American during the Cold War.

But will Americans care? Watching "Justice and the Generals," one can't help but wonder how it will be received by an audience that is a decade away from the Salvador debacle and in the midst of the most patriotic (and pro-military) period in recent U.S. history. Pellett seems to know this, though. Her film casts a net beyond the two human rights cases addressed, to larger questions of conduct for military powers as different as El Salvador and the United States. And her story is not pretty.

The film is organized in two parts. The first follows Bill Ford, the brother of one of the murdered nuns, in his quest to discover the truth behind the killings. Ford is a hard-nosed, indefatigable sort, who rolls up his sleeves to sort through reams of State Department documents, the many censored sections of which he likens to "small black windows shades."

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Life and Debt

In the early '90s documentary filmmaker Stephanie Black found herself in a quandary. She had been visiting Jamaica for several years, and every time she stepped off the plane she was struck by three things: 1) the increasing Americanization of the place; 2) the intractable poverty; and 3) the continual stream of stories in the Jamaican press about the International Monetary Fund's influence on economic policy.

Black didn't know much about the IMF or its sister lending institution, the World Bank. "I thought they were something like the Red Cross," said Black, a New Yorker who talks and gestures with the energy of three people. But after she finished making "H2-Worker," a 1990 documentary about Caribbean sugar cane laborers in Florida, she decided to set aside some time for research.

Thus began Black's unsentimental education into the policies of the two major postwar lending institutions and their effect on developing countries like Jamaica. The result, a feature-length documentary called "Life and Debt," has been racking up festival awards and will have theatrical releases across the country through March 24 (for listings see LifeandDebt.org).

The film is earning raves from critics, for it achieves the near impossible: It turns the stale subject of structural adjustment policies and debates about export markets and free trade into a riveting narrative. Black does not shape her film around droning talking heads. Rather "Life and Debt" is told as a journey. The "eye" of the film is a typical American -- a person much like Black, who comes to Jamaica as a tourist and at first sees only swaying palm trees and natives splashing in warm turquoise water.

Black says many have criticized her for ridiculing the tourists she films. They are seen gloating over the worth of the dollar, getting hammered on tropical drinks, dancing like buffoons to reggae and taking "real life" excursions through Jamaican ghettoes in a ridiculous zebra-striped jeep. These images are cross-cut with conversations with Jamaican farmers, workers and politicians about their inability to achieve economic independence after 400 years of colonialism.

"The use of the tourist goes back to the initial way I tell this story," said Black. "I'm not making fun of them. The tourists are me, too. They are really a metaphor for all Americans and people from rich countries, who may not know about life outside their hotel gates."

In "Life and Debt," Black constantly moves the viewer in and out of those gates -- from plush hotel rooms to filthy factory floors, from pool parties to street protests -- to draw attention to the metaphorical gate that exists between those in the developed and undeveloped sides of the world.

Once this torn curtain is established, Black goes to the jugular with her analysis of the IMF. She introduces former Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley, who was elected on a non-IMF platform in 1976. In a powerful interview, Manley explains how he was forced to sign Jamaica's first loan agreement with the IMF in 1977 because he lacked viable alternatives -- something he emphasizes is a global pattern in the Third World.

"Going to the IMF and signing that agreement was one of the more bitter, traumatic experiences of my life," says Manley. "[There is not one] IMF country that has a good educational system, a good agricultural system, a good public health system ... All of them are caught in the old colonial chains."

Among Manley's many points is that the IMF and World Bank were created without the cooperation or interests of developing countries. Intentionally or not, he argues, the bankers and bureaucrats who have required Jamaica to tighten its fiscal belt, resulting in slashes in social spending, or open its markets to exports, resulting in the crippling of its agricultural economy, have benefited from Jamaican instability and poverty.

These points are then illustrated in Black's film, and not subtlely. In a series of segments, Black takes the viewer inside the Jamaican economy, to examine the circumstances of the textile, banana, milk, potato and poultry industries. Most disturbing is the part on Kingston's Free Economic Zones, where workers sew clothes for American corporations like Tommy Hilfiger and Brooks Brothers for $5 a day on large swaths of "nationless" land ringed by barbed wire.

The Zones, the film underscores, were meant to provide low-income jobs and help integrate Jamaica into the global economy. But after witnessing interviews with poor workers, who describe the Zones' working conditions as a "slave boat," and with corporate representatives, who admit the main attraction for Tommy Hilfiger is freedom from taxes and cheap labor, it is hard to feel good about the progress of economic globalization.

The segments on Jamaica's ravaged agricultural economy leave the same impression. Black presents interview after interview with farmers, who speak with frightening acumen about the repercussions of loan agreements and the workings of entities like the Inter-American Development Bank. "When you open up the marketplace to those in a better position than yourself, who do you 'tink is going to win?" said one onion farmer, who cannot compete against the large and cheap quantities of U.S. onions flooding the Jamaican markets.

One segment ends with tons of fresh milk being dumped on the ground, because its producers simply cannot sell it. "This new world order means there will be no more regulation in the trading of commodities," said the milk producer. His company has gone from producing several million to 600 liters of milk a day, because the IMF directed Jamaica to abandon its subsidies to milk farmers and abandon control of milk imports. Stanley Fischer, former deputy director of the IMF, is then shown explaining that if such directives are not followed the IMF cuts off economic aid.

If you are American or have ever visited a country like Jamaica for a carefree beach holiday, it is hard not to feel culpable after watching "Life and Debt." You might say it's an educational guilt trip. This feeling is only strengthened by the voice-over narrative, adapted from Jamaica Kincaid's blistering essay on third world tourism, "In a Small Place."

"I wanted Jamaica Kincaid's text because it captured the anger and militancy I was feeling," said Black. "I always felt sick in Jamaica. Every time I went there, I had to go deeper into the countryside not to feel the Americanization and imperialization that is everywhere. What doesn't make sense to me is that, according to the IMF, countries like Jamaica are supposed to be able to compete after centuries of enslavement and economic exploitation."

I asked Black whether she thinks Americans should feel responsible for the impact of the IMF policies on Jamaica. "Well, that is the point of the film," she responded. "The question I was asking myself when I made the film was, What is my role in this? Am I responsible in any way, if my country has the greatest influence on this economy?"

Tamara Straus is senior editor of AlterNet.org.

Trading Democracy

We all know that the U.S. is the most litigious society in the world, that there are more lawyers involved in more far-fetched lawsuits and more people working late into the night figuring out how to win more settlement cash than in any time in any place in history.

But did you know that litigation fever has stretched beyond Court TV to lawsuits in which corporations take on democratically elected governments in closed trade tribunals? Did you know, for example, that last October, Mexico paid over $16 million to an American landfill company on the grounds that the local Mexican government had "expropriated the company's investment" by turning the area into an ecological zone in order to protect its citizens from toxic pollutants?

Welcome to Chapter 11, an obscure provision of North American Free Trade Agreement and the subject of the latest Bill Moyers/Sherry Jones documentary, "Trading Democracy." In the one-hour investigation to be aired on most PBS stations the evening of Feb. 5, Moyers' team lays out what may very well be the acme of global corporate malfeasance.

Like many frightening things, this devil is in the fine print: a one-page specification (in the 555-page NAFTA document) which allows corporations to demand compensation from governments if city, state or even federal laws harm the companies financially. Basically, Chapter 11 makes the protection of corporate profit the rule of the land -- from Canada's Queen Elizabeth Islands, straight through America, to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

"When the North American Free Trade Agreement became the law of the land almost a decade ago, the debate we heard was about jobs," Moyers says at the beginning of the documentary. "One provision was too obscure to stir up controversy. It was Chapter 11 ... and since NAFTA was ratified, corporations have used [it] to challenge the power of governments to protect their citizens, to undermine environmental and health laws, even attack our system of justice."

And you thought credit card agreements were bad. But the horror of NAFTA's Chapter 11 is that unlike the small print in credit card contracts, the Chapter 11 agreement is not revocable. In fact, as the Moyers documentary clearly illustrates, Chapter 11 is being exploited with vigor by multinational corporations and their teams of savvy, high-paid lawyers -- the very people who helped draft NAFTA in the first place. Says one lawyer interviewed in the film, "Lawyers are creative people ... They are hired to be creative."

In "Trading Democracy" we hear of the case of Methanex, a Canadian company that is the world's largest producer of the key ingredient in the gasoline additive MTBE, which was found to be a carcinogen. In 1995, MTBE was discovered in wells throughout California, and by 1999 had contaminated 30 public water systems and 10 ground water sites. California, reasonably enough, ordered the additive to be phased out. Methanex then filed suit under Chapter 11, even though it knew its product could pollute water systems and cause cancer. Methanex is seeking $970 million in compensation from the U.S. government for loss of market share and future profits.

As of this writing, the Methanex case has not been decided, and one can only hope the company willdrop its suit, if only for fear of bad public relations. But there is no opportunity for the public -- particularly Californians whose homes or health have been damaged by MTBE -- to present their views in a court of law. The deliberations will be secret and decided by a three-man NAFTA-appointed tribunal consisting of experts on international law. It will be a test of whether international corporate trade is more powerful than a government's mandate to protect the health of its people.

"I call [the NAFTA tribunal] an exclusive court for capital," says journalist William Greider, who appears in "Trading Democracy." He points out that "If Methanex wins its billion dollar claim over California environmental law, there ain't gonna be many states enacting that law, are there?" Greider's main argument is that Chapter 11 "hobbles the authority of government to act in the broader public interest. And, in fact, that was the idea in the first place."

Moyers builds a pretty tight case against Chapter 11. True, he interviews only one proponent of the measure -- Edmund Williamson, legal counsel to the State Department during the NAFTA negotiations, who tepidly argues that governments abiding by Chapter 11 strengthen their country's "rule of law." But the lack of pro-NAFTA voices has more to do with interviews refused than requested. Why would Carla Hills, for example, want to talk to Moyers? Hills was chief NAFTA negotiator for the U.S. government, and is now president of her own international consulting firm. Since NAFTA's passage, she has used Chapter 11 to bully the Canadian government from creating more environmentally friendly cigarette packaging -- probably not something she wanted to discuss on-camera with Moyers.

In the end, Moyers makes clear that Chapter 11's main hope -- and chance for inclusion in the 31-country Free Trade of Americas Agreement -- is public ignorance. International legal experts, trade negotiators and corporate law attorneys may know about Chapter 11, but the public certainly doesn't. Nor, probably, do most elected officials.

Among Moyers' most effective illustrations of Chapter 11's political power for corporations is a segment taped south of the border. In the Mexican state of San Luis Postosi, we are treated to the lugubrious story of an American company called Metaclad, which seeks to reopen a toxic waste dump that many citizens claim is making them sick.

Metaclad managed to get the green light from the Mexican federal government to take over the dump on the condition that it remove the toxins within five years. However, the San Luis Postosi city council demanded the cleanup happen first. Metaclad refused. Protests erupted around the site. In the end, Metaclad sued the Mexican government under Chapter 11 and won $16 million in compensation. The suit didn't argue that Mexico had taken money or property from Metaclad -- simply that Mexico's actions were "tantamount to expropriation."

Said Martin Wagner, an attorney for the Earth Justice League Defense Fund, who appears in the film: "Not only do governments have to compensate when they expropriate or take away property, but they have to do so whenever they do something that is 'tantamount to expropriation.'"

Scary, huh? But perhaps even more scary is the last case covered in "Trading Democracy," which could conceivably open the U.S. civil justice system to challenge from NAFTA law. The case takes place in Mississippi, where a Biloxi funeral home owner was awarded punitive damages in a civil suit against a large Canadian corporation called the Loewen Group. The local funeral home owner alleged that the Loewen Group had engaged in "fraudulent" and "predatory" trade practices. The jury agreed with this allegation, awarding him $500 million. Three years later, the Loewen Group filed a Chapter 11 claim against American taxpayers, arguing the jury was biased against Canadians and seeking $725 million in compensation. The NAFTA tribunal has declared it a legitimate accusation.

"Politics get very interesting if a claim like Loewen's wins," says Greider, who has called Chapter 11 "a ticking time bomb in the politics of globalization." The question now is: When will it explode, and will anyone understand how the detonation began?

Tamara Straus is senior editor of AlterNet.org.

The War for Public Opinion

In 1922, social critic Walter Lippmann wrote, "Decisions in modern states tend to be made by the interaction, not of Congress and the executive, but of public opinion and the executive." Never has this been truer than in the war on terrorism. The Bush administration has justified its bombing campaign against Afghanistan not with a congressional declaration of war, but with polls indicating that close to 90 percent of Americans want military action.

In American politics today, public opinion polls have become a kind of Fifth Estate. As soon as they are released, poll results become fodder to justify policies, attack opponents or wage wars. When the numbers hover around 90 percent, as do Bush's current approval ratings, they are political gospel. After all, when nine out of 10 Americans agree, the country's resolve must be strong as steel. Or is it?

Therein lies the rub. Public opinion is a fickle thing, sometimes turning on as little as one horrific image or triumphant speech. A few well-placed media messages can cause sea changes in national opinion: Think of Southern cops turning dogs and fire hoses loose on desegregation marches; or the videotape of Rodney King; or napalmed villagers in Vietnam.

The Bush administration knows this media truism all too well. They also know its corollary -- that with the right pressure, public opinion can be manipulated. And so, as bombs began to fall on Kabul, the administration launched an equally aggressive front at home: the war for America's approval of war.

Back in 1922, Lippmann noted that public opinion tends to solidify during times of war and that the media, becoming more patriotic, aids in this solidification. That was the case during World Wars I and II, when news items smelled heavily of government propaganda and Hollywood's most talented filmmakers were hired to make inspirational war movies.

That was also the case during the Persian Gulf War. Had the U.S. government allowed reporters to file from the front lines, showing the effect of the war on civilians and the region, public opinion might have been different. Instead, the Gulf War came into American living rooms as a series of fuzzy Defense Department abstractions. From the couch, what happened in Iraq looked like a video game. Unlike the images that poured into the tube during Vietnam, there was very little to get upset about. The campaign seemed clean, technologically efficient. The majority of the public came away with a favorable impression, even if they failed to feel the war was a moral victory, as was the case during World War II.

That was the media success story of George I. Now along comes George II, waging a more complicated war that is a descendant of his father's. Since the first shots were fired, the Bush administration has successfully squelched negative news reports from Afghanistan. Asked at an October press conference how he would handle the media's war coverage, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld quoted Winston Churchill's statement about disinformation around the D-day invasion. "Sometimes the truth is so precious it must be accompanied by a bodyguard of lies," he said. "They plan to fight the war and then tell the press and the public how it turned out afterwards," said CNN Correspondent Jamie McIntyre, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

The Pentagon's tactics in the media war have been less than subtle. For starters, they bought up access to all commercial satellite photographs of the region, preventing any news outlets from obtaining them. They also have prevented journalists from accompanying soldiers or airmen on most missions, or even from interviewing them afterward.

Meanwhile, television news has been behaving more like a wing of the military than an objective Fourth Estate, with anchors like CBS’s Dan Rather pledging his allegiance on air: "Wherever [Bush] wants me to line up, just tell me where." CNN Chairman Walter Isaacson ordered news staff to limit reports of Afghan war casualties and use World Trade Center deaths to justify the killings. Newspaper editors have admitted to taking dead civilian Afghans off their front pages for fear of appearing unpatriotic.

In other words, so far, so good. Bush, far from being a brilliant statesman, has certainly proved himself an adept one, for he has never strayed from framing the war on terrorism as a fight of good against evil. Thus the further destruction of Afghanistan is just retribution against "evil doers," whether a majority of the Al Qaeda are in Afghanistan or not, whether military retaliation will quell terrorism or not. It's a message that domestic media outlets seem to like far more than reports of civilian casualties.

However, the Bush administration has had to contend with a new set of media forces arising from the "Information Revolution." The war on terrorism is the world's first war for the Internet and foreign news outlets. Never before have so many people ostensibly had access to so much news and opinion from so many sources. Never before has it been possible to gauge so many views, not only in the U.S., but from Europe and the Middle East. That is the quandary the Bush administration faces in "winning the war on ideas," as Bush phrased it. Public opinion is now vulnerable to what is reported outside the U.S.'s news borders.

In fact, of the 10 percent who don't approve of Phase I of the war on terrorism, many have probably taken to surfing the Internet for their information, reading critical reports on the progress and logic of the campaign from sites like the UK's Guardian, Dawn (Pakistan's English daily) and AlterNet.org (whose readership soared 500 percent in the days after Sept. 11). London's BBC has reported a record number of Americans tuning in to their Web site, radio and television broadcasts.

There is plenty of stomach-turning information out there to be found. In a Dec. 3 New York Times story, an Afghan man named Khalil, who survived U.S. bombs in the Tora Bora area, was quoted as saying, "The village is no more. All my family, 12 people were killed. I am the only one left in this family. I have lost my children, my wife. They are no more." According to AlterNet.org's David Corn, other Afghan refugees have reported similar slaughters: one said she had lost 38 relatives in a U.S. attack, another estimated up to 200 were dead in her village.

So what will Phase II of the war hold? According to a December Harris poll, more than eight of 10 Americans said the U.S. government's actions should be assisted by many countries, and that it is important to get support from the U.N. Security Council to expand the war. If this is true -- if multilateralism becomes increasingly important to Americans -- then views from Europe and the Middle East may suddenly become relevant.

In Europe, public approval of America's war in Afghanistan waned significantly in the month of November. In England, from a peak on par with U.S. public opinion right after the Sept. 11 attacks, support for the bombing campaign fell to two-thirds. In France, support dropped from two-thirds to half, and, in Germany and Italy, well over half the population wanted the attacks on Afghanistan to stop, according to the European press.

The reason for this wane in European support was fairly clear: The Europeans saw disturbing images of civilian casualties from the bombing campaign that Americans did not. "The public sees continuous bombing of buildings, and they see pictures from Al Jazeera of small villages that have made things immensely difficult," Helmut Lippelt, a German Green Party legislator, told the New York Times. This kind of negative opinion could come to haunt Americans if the war is widened or American troops get bogged down in civil unrest in Afghanistan.

Harder still to ignore will be views from the Middle East, where negative opinion about the war on terrorism has been of huge concern to the U.S. government. Never before in wartime has the U.S. had to work so hard to contain the views of its enemies. And that has everything to do with telecommunication advances as well as the growth of Middle Eastern news media. Back in August 1990, in the prelude to the Gulf War, news of Iraq's conquest of Kuwait did not hit the Arab world through official media for three entire days. There were no 24-hour Arab news networks, and Middle Eastern media were tightly controlled by government. Today, there are five pan-Arab news networks, including Al Jazeera, the 24-hour Qatar-based news station, which is watched by 35 million viewers in 20 Arab countries and airs sharp critiques of American policy in the region.

The Bush administration is well aware of the powers these news outlets possess, and has gone into high gear to convince Middle East citizens that the war on terrorism is aimed not at them, but at terrorists in their midst. As part of this effort, the Pentagon has hired the Rendon Group, a public relations firm in Washington, D.C., to help explain the U.S. military strikes to global audiences. The administration also has established a "coalition of information centers" in Washington, London and Islamabad to disseminate war news to Middle Eastern reporters -- a hard task since those in the region are 10 hours ahead of Washington.

Yet even with these recent moves, U.S. government officials have been quick to admit that, so far, they have lost the battle for Middle Eastern public opinion. The U.S. has almost no cultural organizations in the Middle East. As of Sept. 11 its main broadcasting arm, Voice of America, had an audience share of 2 percent in the region.

The chief problem is that the U.S. has low credibility in the Arab world -- in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and Iran, and especially in Iraq and Palestine. In order to explain the Afghan bombing campaign, officials of the Bush administration, such as Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell, have appeared on Al Jazeera. But, according to many news critics, the effect has not been positive. "Every time I see an American official speaking on Al Jazeera, I think of how much that person is inciting sentiment against America by promoting the American view," said Lamis Andoni, a Jordanian journalist who has covered the Middle East for 20 years. "It backfires. What does the U.S. have to say? That in order to get bin Laden it has to bomb all of Afghanistan and cause more misery in Afghanistan? This doesn't sell in the Arab world."

What does seem to sell is bin Laden's message -- not necessarily that a jihad should be waged against America, but that the U.S. is at fault for the economic, political and social problems of the Arab world. On Arab TV, bin Laden has listed the very issues that the U.S. government refuses to address: support of repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia, which permit the stationing of U.S. troops; the economic sanctions against Iraq, which have stifled Middle Eastern trade; and globalization, which has weakened the cultural traditions of Islam and caused a stark awareness of the haves and the have-nots.

Indeed, bin Laden has proved to be the U.S.'s chief foe, not only because he presents a terrorist threat but because he is the savviest of media manipulators, the fiercest of propagandists. His chief weapon on Sept. 11 was not so much the bodily damage that can be achieved with jetliners but the psychological impact of watching those jetliners take out America's most important economic and military symbols. Bin Laden understood well in advance that the destruction would be watched over and over again on American television.

The question now remains: What is the level of support for bin Laden in the Arab world? If he is captured and executed by the U.S. military, will there be blowback? Will bin Laden's death unleash a new wave of terrorism in the U.S. and abroad? And if that happens, will the U.S. media hew as closely to government propaganda as it has thus far? Or will the media widen its net and focus more on what is being said in Europe and the Middle East as well as by critics of the war in the U.S.? The answers to those questions will shape the public opinion war to come.

Tamara Straus is senior editor of AlterNet.org.

Weapons of Mass Destruction Easier to Get Than Ever

At a Nov. 27 New York University conference on weapons of mass destruction, Paul Walker of Global Green's military waste cleanup program, told a scary story. It went like this:

A short time ago Mr. Walker was visiting a chemical weapons depot near the Kazakhstan border in Russia. The depot holds 500,000 tons of nerve agent and other chemical weapons material and a couple million rounds of artillery topped with the stuff. The depot is above ground and constructed from aging corrugated metal and wood. It abuts a day care center and military living quarters and is protected by a couple of officers, one of whom circles by jeep the forest road that surrounds the depot.

Mr. Walker asked his Russian host, "How do you protect the facility?"

"We keep the door locked," he responded.

"What if five rounds were, say, missing?" pursued Mr. Walker.

"We would know," said the host. "We keep the door locked."

With that, the host secured the facility with a large bicycle lock and left Mr. Walker standing outside with his mouth agape, at which point he turned to the young officer guarding the bicycle-locked building, and asked:

"When were you last paid?"

"Just before the American delegation arrived," said the officer with unconcealed irony.

"And before that?"

"Six months ago."

This story was among the most instructive -- and frightening -- of the many instructive and frightening tales told at the NYU conference, "Weapons of Mass Destruction: Cold War Legacies in the Post-9-11 World," which gathered together military experts from New York, Washington and Moscow.

Let's just say the conversation was lugubrious. For the consensus was that whereas the post-9-11 world has taken the veil off a manifold of problems -- Islamic hostility toward modernization, U.S. greed, Middle East corruption, widespread poverty and the failures of globalization -- a shroud remains over the slippery spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Here's the news: Iran is two to three years away from becoming a nuclear power. Nuclear wastes are not being adequately disposed of in Russia or the U.S. Arsenals of biological and chemical weapons are in the hands of "known terrorist states," such as Libya, Iran and Iraq. And arms reduction treaties, namely the Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, are being disbanded by the U.S. with the result that nuclear weapon-seeking states can more freely seek nukes and strides in international law are in the toilet.

"The crazy part of the post-9-11 world," said Nation correspondent Jonathan Schell, "is that the line between conventional and nuclear war is blurring. The post-Cold War era did not end the old U.S.-Russia arms race. What it signaled was a new period of proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons to states like India, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq."

Of chief concern at the conference was the status of arms reduction treaties of the START and SALT variety, which were once considered the bedrock of deescalating the arms race. "No equivalent for these treaties exists today," said Michael Klare, director of the Five College Program in Peace and World Security Studies. "The Bush administration is making it clear they have no interest in negotiating mutually restrictive agreements."

Indeed, in July on CBS's Face the Nation, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice said, "The arms control treaties of the 1970s and 1980s came out of peculiar, abnormal relationship between the United States and Russia. [Today] Russia is not a strategic adversary of the United States. We are not enemies. So the process can look different." In an August Fox News interview Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld put it more succinctly. "Arms control treaties are not for friends," he said.

But is Russia really our friend? Kimberly Zisk, a professor at Columbia University's Harriman Institute, said at the conference, "We shouldn't have too high expectations of Russia," given that the Russian government is "limited in its ability to control dissemination of weapons of mass destruction."

Zisk warned that brain drain among Russian scientists is a very real problem -- 15 percent surveyed by the Carnegie Foundation this year said they would "go anywhere and work for anyone" -- and that Putin is in a struggle with the military to restructure the Russian weapons regime and armed forces. Meanwhile, the state is also under pressure to monetize its nuclear expertise. On Nov. 26 Russian energy officials began moving components of two 1,000 megawatt nuclear reactors to Iran.

"The problem with this," said Zisk, "is that Iran might be able to divert expertise for a nuclear reactor program to a nuclear weapon program." In a Dec. 3 article in The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh reported that American and Israeli intelligence believe Russian scientists have already provided enough expertise to help Iran build a bomb. (Israel has had a nuclear arsenal for decades, although it has never publicly acknowledged this.)

According to the conference speakers, the above security risks from Russia are reason enough to abide old treaties and write new ones. Referring to the gentlemanly terms of the recent Crawford Summit agreement, in which Presidents Putin and Bush promised to a three-fold reduction of nuclear warheads based on a handshake, William D. Hartung of the New School's World Policy Institute, said, "Given the risks of relying on a handshake and a smile, President Bush should think twice before renouncing arms control agreements. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, the president's credo should be "trust, but codify."

Hartung added Putin may have been smiling soulfully at his new American ally at the Crawford ranch, but he has been arguing for codifying reduction commitments in treaty language. Hartung also noted that the Crawford agreement, whereby Bush promised to reduce U.S. inventory to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads in a decade and Putin promised a goal of 1,500, were reiterations of agreements made by Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin in 1997 as part of the START III talks. Said Hartung: "Nothing is new here. And 1,700 warheads is still enough to obliterate large swaths of the world."

Speaking from Moscow by video teleconference, General Vladimir Dvorkin, chief of the Center for Strategic Nuclear Forces, commented, "If the U.S. will not abide by the ABM and other treaties, we will find ourselves in an international legal vacuum. Russia is willing to further cuts, but it needs incentives." No one could say for certain how concerned the Bush administration is with such incentives. Recent actions indicate not very much at all.

Then there is the question of Star Wars, Reagan's dream project to defend the United States from a nuclear attack with a National Missile Defense system that leading scientists say is unworkable for at least 10 years. The word on National Missile Defense has been, up until Sept. 11, that it was Bush's main military priority -- and the reason for abolishing the ABM Treaty. But according to Frances Fitzgerald, who has documented the Star Wars' saga in "Way Out of the Blue," the U.S.'s disdain for the ABM treaty is no longer linked to National Missile Defense.

"A January 2001 National Institute for Public Policy report lays it out," said Fitzgerald. "Its authors, who are Bush's nuclear advisors, argue treaties prevent U.S. flexibility." In other words, deep reductions may be made, but they should be made unilaterally, so that the U.S. is not bound to any one treaty. By the same token, should China become a nuclear state, the U.S. can increase its nuclear assets. "The report implies," concluded Fitzgerald, "that U.S. security is best assured by unfettered autonomy."

There is some good news within this morass of bad, however. The 8-year-old U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction program, designed to help Moscow implement its arms control obligations, has made great strides. By spending $400-500 million a year for a total of $4 billion, the U.S. has helped Russia destroy 5,000 warheads, 4,000 intercontinental ballistic missiles and 19 nuclear submarines. The CTR program also has given the U.S. some inkling of Russia's vast chemical weapons arsenal and helped hundreds of Russian scientists, once employed in the Soviet Union's closed military cities, find jobs.

But Amy Smithson, director of the Chemical and Biological Weapons Project of the Henry L. Stimson Center, argued the CTR program has not gone far enough. She said the CTR program is not adequately reducing threats from Russia's biological weapons program, which has weaponized 50 diseases like smallpox, anthrax and Marburg and put them on ICBMs facing the West.

"It costs $380 million to develop and test a gas mask for a U.S. soldier," she said. "Putting this kind of money toward preventing Russian brain drain is a no-brainer," especially when thousands of Russian weaponeers have lost their jobs and those still employed are getting paid wages equal to $1 a month. Smithson said she has interviewed Russian weaponeers who knew of colleagues who accepted offers to "teach" in Iran and North Korea. Others, she said, may have gone to China and Iraq.

So nukes are loose. There's nothing new in this. Both India and Pakistan, neighbor states of the tinderbox that is Afghanistan, have the bomb. By the end of the decade, the list of nuclear states will likely rise to nine. Chemical and biological weapons will be practically ubiquitous. And the U.S. will probably still have the greatest lethal capacity, and with that the greatest conviction of its safety.

"Now is the balloon mortgage of the nuclear age," said Robert Alvarez, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, "when the chickens are coming home to roost, regardless of National Missile Defense systems and deterrence."

Nonetheless U.S. leaders seem determined to pursue what Michael Klare called "unipolar dominance" -- or "supremacism," a combination of economic and military power not seen since the Roman empire. Klare said people like himself must now work on two fronts: they must deal with legacies of the Cold War in terms of nuclear and biological weapons, and "face a whole new raft of problems arising from unipolarity and globalization."

"The latter will be the hardest task -- the most difficult to persuade the American public of," said Klare. "Because of the dangers of National Missile Defense, abrogated treaties and supremacism are widely seen as sources of protection."

Tamara Straus is senior editor of AlterNet.org.

Falling Down in Qatar?

The latest World Trade Organization meeting in Doha, Qatar resembles the previous WTO meeting in Seattle about as much as Hollywood musicals resemble film noir. They might live in the same universe of substance, but they are galaxies apart in style.

In Doha, there have been almost no street protests, as an assembly of more than five people is illegal in this conservative Gulf emirate. Trade ministers and corporate heads are thus not racing through gauntlets of activists, but are sealed within a gulf shore complex surrounded by Qatari troops in purple camouflage and security guards in flowing white robes ready to defeat any hint of terrorism. Also, the world's booming economies have been replaced by teetering ones. The World Bank reported last week that international trade growth in 2001 was an anemic 1 percent compared to last year's 13.

Globalization also has a different connotation than it did in 1999. No longer is it easy to label those who oppose trade restrictions, such as those on genetically modified food or on the opening of agricultural markets, as violently anarchistic, technologically backward dunderheads. (I think here of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman's amazingly simplistic accusations.)

Rather, globalization has a new, and much more dangerous, foe: the Islamic fundamentalism of Osama bin Laden, who has turned "globalization" once more on its head, by aligning it not just with American economic hegemony but with the very idea of modernity, which, according to bin Laden, is an immoral force that has millions of opponents in the Arab world.

Basically, the globalization debate has been dusted by the threat of terror: economic, political and just plain mortal.

So it is a new, more complex world that those in the Doha convention hall look out on. Yet some issues remain the same. Developing nations may still prevent the new round of trade liberalization negotiations from going forward if, as in Seattle, they are treated like second-class citizens and refused trade conditions that allow them, particularly, to overrule medical patents when public health is at stake or to protect their farmers from economically catastrophic food dumps.

Those who oppose the lack of transparency and equity of the WTO negotiations -- as well as the impoverishing impacts of trade liberalization -- have also put on their battle gear. Small but vociferous demonstrations against the WTO are being held in cities around the world (see protest.net/qatar.html for more information). And there is even some dissent in Doha, where Jose Bove, the French anti-McDonalds activist, can be found chanting with the few hundreds activists who could afford the $3,000 plane ride, "What do we want? Democracy!"

No one can say, "All eyes are on Qatar," however. Coverage of the largest and most important international trade meeting has been scant in the U.S. The exceptions are stories about China's entry into the WTO, which could increase American exports by $2 billion annually, and the debate over patents on AIDS drugs for countries like Kenya, which face a cataclysmic health crisis. Even the most admirable publicity stunt on the part of activists -- the sailing of Greenpeace's boat, The Rainbow Warrior, into Doha's harbor with five "trade witnesses" -- has not really piqued the U.S. news media's interest.

"We've had a huge amount of publicity and a huge amount of media interest from the European, Asian and local press," said Sara Holden, a spokeswoman for Greenpeace from aboard the Rainbow Warrior. "The United States media seems to be completely caught up in covering the war."

Holden's group emphasizes that the WTO should use itself as a force for good, since that's why it claims to exist. "In its rules and charter," said Holden, "the WTO states it works toward trade that will achieve sustainable development. Our belief is that unless you take environmental issues into consideration, you cannot possibly claim that you are working toward sustainable development."

For that reason, Greenpeace is using its floating PR platform to publicize two messages: one, that the WTO should pressure the U.S. to ratify the carbon emissions-cutting Kyoto Protocol (which President Bush rejected in March on the grounds that such climate control would hurt the U.S. economy); and two, that the WTO should cease punishing developing nations for environmental and labor protections.

Holden raised the example of a recent WTO ruling in which the European Union was forced to pay $190 million a year in compensation to U.S. exporters for refusing imports of GMO-laden seeds. Sri Lanka was also penalized for its parliamentary decision not to allow GMO imports, though it was compelled to retract that decision since it could not afford the yearly bill of $190 million.

How will the 4th ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization end? Probably not with either of Greenpeace's goals met, or with the end of GMO penalizations. A new round of trade liberalization meetings may not even occur after Doha. In a Nov. 7 AlterNet article, former secretary of labor Robert Reich argued: "[D]on't expect a major new round of global trade talks to emerge from the World Trade Organization meetings ... Many poorer nations are feeling the double punch of a slowing global economy and political unrest at home. They want rich nations to open their borders to exports of agricultural commodities, textiles and steel. But rich nations, including the United States, aren't in any mood" -- because, explains Reich, their own economies are wobbling and terrorism has put brakes on open borders.

Add to this the fact that the anti-corporate globalization protest movement has, since 1999, put a blazoning spotlight on the imbalance of trade between rich and poor countries. Last week, the World Bank, in its continued effort to support (at least rhetorically) growth for all, released a report stating that trading rights are skewed toward the rich. The Bank advocated that talks in Doha focus on agriculture, textiles and clothing -- the main exports of the poor -- to bring developing nations an income of $1.3 trillion over 10 years.

It is doubtful Robert Zoellick, the U.S. Trade Representative, is sitting around figuring out how to implement the World Bank's study, though he has been busy negotiating anti-dumping rules and meeting with trade representatives on the question of public health exceptions to patent rules. This signals that to advance the interests of U.S. trade -- specifically, the opening of markets to U.S. goods -- he may be forced to make concessions. Implying the uncertainty of the WTO talk's progress, Zoellick has argued that the new ministerial round is a "test of world leadership." He and other trade representatives from rich nations speak of something called the "bicycle theory" of trade -- the need to move forward to keep from falling down.

Falling down may prove a symbolic victory for those who oppose the WTO. But it will not come as a result of activists' demands to link trade to improved labor standards, environmental protections or health care -- or the call, that has been somewhat heeded, to have more participation from civil society in the trade negotiations. Rather, the falling down will be viewed as yet another outcome of the terror-plus-recession knot, in which progressive issues get the least attention, the least public and government pressure and thus the least chance for action.

Watch this week for an eyewitness report on the World Trade Organization meeting in Doha by Lori Wallach, head of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch.

Tamara Straus is the senior editor of AlterNet.org.


Happy Holidays!