Trudeau kowtows to Tricky Dick, Chomsky on secrecy & power

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The revelation that Pierre Trudeau phoned Richard Nixon at the height of the Watergate scandal to offer warm support is interesting news, but it’s not especially surprising. Canadian prime ministers often suck up to their masters in Washington, although they usually try to hide it.

A few days before the release of the Nixon/Trudeau tape, Noam Chomsky condemned Prime Minister Lester Pearson for secretly supporting massive American bombing raids on North Vietnam in the 1960s.

During a 24 minute interview on CBC Radio, Chomsky said that Daniel Ellsberg’s leak of the Pentagon Papers exposed Pearson, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, as a Cold War super hawk.  Chomsky was countering the notion that government secrecy is needed to protect national security. He argued that secrecy usually protects government officials, like Pearson, from exposure to their own people:

So, for example, exposure of Lester Pearson who was approached by President Johnson when he was planning the bombing of North Vietnam, a major crime of course, and he approached Pearson and Pearson responded, I don’t remember his exact words, but something like, well it’s a fine idea, but just don’t use atom bombs, just keep to iron bombs. Well, that’s the kind of thing that governments want to keep secret. They don’t want their population to know that their Nobel Peace Prize winner is a super war hawk who’s supporting massive aggression against another country.

An account of Pearson’s encounter with Johnson can be found here.

Here’s the full transcript of the Chomsky interview:

Monday, August 19, 2013. CBC Radio’s Studio Q. Guest host Kevin Sylvester (KS) interviews American linguist and activist Noam Chomsky (NC).

KS: Well, for years the Central Intelligence Agency in the United States denied that it had been keeping tabs on Noam Chomsky. After all, gathering information on domestic activities of U.S. citizens is something the CIA is specifically forbidden from doing unless there’s a reason to believe they are engaged in espionage or international terrorism. But considering the fact that the CIA spied on U.S. peace activists in the early 1970s along with the MIT professor’s longstanding criticism of U.S. foreign policy, many felt the CIA’s denials strained their credibility. Well it appears the CIA did in fact have a file on Chomsky. Last week, the website for Foreign Policy magazine published a memo that the FBI sent to the CIA in 1970 asking for information about a planned trip to North Vietnam that included references to Noam Chomsky. An expert who studies CIA-FBI information-gathering confirmed that at a minimum, Chomsky’s file would have contained that memo and the CIA’s response. We have reached out to esteemed linguist, philosopher and political activist Noam Chomsky to see what he makes of these revelations. Mr. Chomsky welcome to the show.

NC: Glad to be with you.

KS: What did you make of the FBI memo published by Foreign Policy magazine. Did it confirm your suspicions?

NC: First of all, I should say that just to give a little background, the release of it was the result of long and up-till-now failed efforts by Frederic Alan Maxwell who’s been trying to obtain FBI and CIA records and has been rebuffed at every turn, but apparently, I don’t know how this finally came out. The interesting part is what isn’t said. The CIA is legally barred from domestic surveillance of domestic activities and they destroyed the file, which raises the obvious question, how many more illegal acts have they carried out and how much more have they destroyed. That’s I think, the interesting part. Another question is, judging by the little that was released, it’s a little unclear why they even cared. The trip was perfectly public. In fact, even before the trip was announced, the State Department called me. They’d obviously picked up a personal interchange of some kind. There was no email then, but probably [a] telephone interchange in which it was discussed. The State Department called me, very friendly, they wanted me to meet with them when I came back. They were obviously interested in case I had some information that they could use somehow.

KS: Was this a trip you were going on?

NC: Yeah. I was invited actually, it was during a bombing halt, there was a brief bombing halt and I was invited to lecture at the Polytechnic University in Hanoi, actually the ruins of the Polytechnic University. People were able to gather there from various parts of the country to which they’d been dispersed because there was a brief pause. I spent several days, I suppose three full days, lecturing on just about any topic I knew anything about and also a couple of other things, travelled a little. I spent a week in Laos which was much more revealing in fact, but there was nothing secret about it. As I said, the State Department called me even before it was announced.

KS: What kind of activism were you up to at the time though that might have drawn the attention of these officials?

NC: I was involved, very actively involved in resistance against the war, resistance activities of various kinds, which are technically illegal. I was facing a very likely long jail sentence at that time. The trials were later called off.

KS: Then were you ever aware, you said you were contacted but were you ever aware that the CIA was keeping a dossier on you?

NC: I wasn’t aware, but I’m hardly surprised. I’m sure there’s plenty in the FBI files.

KS: Is there a Freedom of Information request for those?

NC: Mr. Maxwell has. I haven’t.

KS: I should mention by the way, we did reach out to officials at the CIA, trying to get a response from them. They did not have any comment for now, but we’ll let listens know if we hear back from them. Around this time you mentioned you were very active in, you said technically illegal things. Do you see any rationale that the CIA could have under their, I don’t know, grey area to have kept a file on you and not have it be an invasion of your privacy?

NC: Well as I say the CIA is theoretically not allowed to be involved in domestic activities. I can see why the FBI might have had a file [and I'm sure] surely did. CIA, I have no idea, maybe because it was some international affair, but they didn’t have to have any secret inquiries. They could have called the State Department. The more interesting part, to me at least, is that the State Department knew that I was going before it was public. Remember, no email in those days, no electronic surveillance, but presumably phone tapping of some kind. I never really looked into it.

KS: Did you ever feel paranoid?

NC: No. I mean you take for granted that uh, I mean there was much more serious things than this going on at the time. Got revealed later, but you could see bits and pieces of it. This was in the middle of the COINTELPRO period. Finally, a couple of years later, in the early 70s, documents on COINTELPRO were released under court order and they were pretty serious.

KS: COINTELPRO was a program where they would infiltrate organizations that were opposed to government policies, right?

NC: More than infiltrate. It literally went as far as FBI-ordered political assassination. Fred Hampton, a black organizer was murdered in his apartment in a 4 a.m. raid by the Chicago police that was set up by the FBI. That’s pretty serious. And there was a lot more disruption, concocted scandals, all kinds of things. For example, in the Hampton assassination case, a couple of months before the assassination, the FBI had written a letter to the head of a Chicago gang, the Blackstone Rangers, in kind of fake black dialect, telling the Rangers that Fred Hampton was going to try to assassinate their leader, so they should retaliate. They were hoping the Rangers would kill him. Well, it turned out that by then, there were already contacts between the Rangers and the Black Panthers so they knew that it was an FBI fraud and didn’t do it. So then, the murder was set up by the FBI themselves. They sent the Chicago police fake information that this apartment had guns in it, which wasn’t true. They had, Fred Hampton’s bodyguard was an FBI infiltrator. I mention this one case because it was the most serious, but there were plenty of others.

KS: Now, around this time, you were well known as a professor of linguistics. What was it about, I guess, the state of the world, the state of the United States, that made you speak out on politics and foreign policy?

NC: Several things. For one thing, the, I was involved in the Civil Rights Movement earlier and in fact, had been politically active long before, but when Kennedy invaded South Vietnam, which is what happened in 1961-62, it became quite serious and within a couple of years the invasion of Vietnam, of South Vietnam, later North Vietnam and all of Indochina became the greatest postwar crime. That was an horrendous crime. So, not to be involved was pretty remarkable.

KS: You told one interviewer this week that compared to today’s standards of government malpractice, the case, the keeping of files on you was a minor peccadillo.

NC: That’s correct. Compared with what’s going on now. Keeping files and illegally destroying them was pretty minor.

KS: So, let’s turn to today and what’s going on. You’ve been a very vocal critic of NSA surveillance programs and a vocal supporter, particularly of Edward Snowden. Do you see parallels, you say it’s a minor peccadillo in comparison, but do you see parallels between the NSA surveillance programs today and what was going on when you were an activist beginning in the 70s?

NC: Well, today there’s a massive program, which conceivably is legal, but it’s unconstitutional, a huge program of data collection and surveillance which is extremely intrusive into personal privacy. I’m sure you’ve seen the reports. I don’t have to review them and they’re conceded, there’s no question about them. And these data are, in fact, used [for disrupting activities] whether they have any connection to terrorism we could question. It’s worth noticing that while the government, of course, pleads security, but that’s meaningless. Every government pleads security for whatever they’re doing. So that claim actually carries no information whatsoever…so we can disregard that. The question is, is it real? Well, that’s a little hard to accept. For one thing, Obama himself is carrying out the world’s greatest global terrorist campaign, nothing like it anywhere. The drone campaign. I mean, that’s a terrorist campaign. If you’re sitting in your town and you don’t know whether two minutes from now somebody across the street is going to be blown up along with anyone nearby by some invisible object up there that’s controlled from thousands of miles away, you’re terrorized. Just think about it. And that’s going on over large parts of the world, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, other places. That’s a massive global terror campaign.

KS: There’s not really a denial on behalf of the Obama administration that that’s going on though.

NC: They don’t deny it. They say that they’re proud of it. They don’t call it global terrorism, but that’s what it is. If you want to get a sense of it, there’s a report by two universities, Stanford University and New York University law schools which runs through some of the details of it. They make it perfectly clear, which, in fact, is clear by reading the newspapers that it’s a terrorist campaign. And they’re murdering suspects. They talk about the problem of collateral damage, you know accidentally killing someone else, but what about the people they’re targeting? The people they’re targeting are suspects. There are principles of Anglo-American law which we like to forget. They go back 800 years to Magna Carta. As they’ve gradually been elaborated over the years in the American constitution and elsewhere, they effectively formulate the principle of presumption of innocence. You’re innocent until proved guilty in a speedy trial by peers. That’s the foundation of Anglo-American law. We’ll be commemorating it in a couple of years, the 800th anniversary and we won’t be celebrating it, we’ll be mourning it because it’s being torn to shreds. This campaign is one example of that.

KS: You brought up the central thing here, which is, is maintaining the privacy or the secrecy, I should say, the secrecy of these documents that Snowden released, is that, does that have something to do with security? I just want to, John Kerry, for example, the Secretary of State, said that he believes that people may die because Snowden released some information, that it puts real people at risk, I guess American troops in foreign locations, at risk. Is there not a reasonable reason or reasonable rationale for holding onto secrecy in some of these situations?

NC: There might be sometimes a rationale for secrecy, but it has to be shown. As I mentioned, governments always plead security. Constant. No matter what they’re doing. When they’re caught up in some improper or illegal activity, they say security. The fact that Kerry repeats it doesn’t mean anything. But there are such considerations. For example, when Dan Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers, he kept one volume secret, a volume on ongoing negotiations. I was actually helping him distribute the documents so I was able to read them in advance. I was also able to read the negotiations document, which did appear later, and if you read it, you’ll find that there was an issue of security namely, security of government officials from exposure. So, for example, exposure of Lester Pearson who was approached by President Johnson when he was planning the bombing of North Vietnam, a major crime of course, and he approached Pearson and Pearson responded, I don’t remember his exact words, but something like, well it’s a fine idea, but just don’t use atom bombs, just keep to iron bombs. Well, that’s the kind of thing that governments want to keep secret. They don’t want their population to know that their Nobel Peace Prize winner is a super war hawk who’s supporting massive aggression against another country. That’s secrecy. If you look over the volumes, you can read them, they’re public, you’ll find that there’s virtually nothing in them that had to do with authentic security other than security of the government from its own population. And in fact people who have worked, I’ve done a lot of work on declassified documents, the U.S. happens to be an unusually free society, more so than any other that I know of, so we have a treasure trove of declassified documents and when you read them you find that occasionally there’s some authentic justification in terms of real security, but for the most part, it’s protecting the government from exposure. We just saw an example of that yesterday in fact. There was an interesting CIA leak yesterday, a much more interesting one than in my case. The CIA finally released, partially released, documents that it’s been keeping secret for 60 years about the CIA involvement in the overthrow of the parliamentary government of Iran in 1953. It’s kind of been known. Scholarship has dug out bits and pieces of it, but they’ve been keeping their own records secret for 60 years. That’s security. That’s security of the US government from exposure by its own population of its crimes and incidentally, those are crimes that are very much alive today. The overthrow of the parliamentary government by a military coup in 1953 has resonances until this moment. That’s security.

KS: One of the interesting things out of particularly, Snowden’s leaks is that the reaction from so many of that population you mentioned has been a kind of a shrug, a kind of a we expect this in this day and age that privacy doesn’t really exist anymore.

NC: Not only that privacy is limited, but the population of the United States, more than any other country I know, is really terrorized. They’re in fear of terror. Osama bin Laden won that victory. The propaganda has, in fact, intimidated the population. The United States is a very secure country by comparative standards, but it’s probably one of the most frightened countries in the world. So people are afraid of terror.

KS: But isn’t it also a little bit of indifference? There’s a kind of a loss of the sense that privacy means anything in North American discourse.

NC: It’s dangerous when people are willing to give up their privacy which is supposedly guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. That was taken very seriously until recently. The idea that the government should probe into your private affairs was considered scandalous not long ago and the same is true of many other things. So, for example, shift over to Britain. Two days ago Glenn Greenwald, who was the journalist who’s been exposing the Snowden revelations, his partner who’s a Brazilian, was stopped at the Heathrow airport, London airport, interrogated for nine hours, which is the legal maximum, all of his electronic equipment was confiscated, his video games, his CDs, everything. Documents were taken from him. That reveals the extent to which Britain is subordinating itself to US power. The British, the people of Britain should be embarrassed by this subservience to the master across the seas. The Brazilian government protested. I don’t see other governments protesting because they’re intimidated too. I mean when several European countries, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, blocked their airspace to a plane, a presidential plane, the presidential plane of Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, they prevented it from entering their airspace because the master across the seas has them so intimidated that they’re afraid to allow a presidential plane to cross their airspace if it would annoy the masters in Washington. That’s shocking. Latin America protested. In fact, the Organization of American States protested strenuously with two exceptions, the United States and Canada refused to join in the protest. Europe didn’t protest. And this tells you something about the world.

KS: To look at the surveillance that was taking place when you were talking about this trip back in the 1970s and what Snowden has revealed today, is the difference in approach or do you think the difference is just in scale?

NC: Well, it’s hugely different in scale. But, you know, partly that’s just because of the change of technology. I mean traditionally the governments have tended to use whatever technology is available to try to control their own populations which is their major task, their major enemy in a way. So if you go back, to say the Woodrow Wilson administration at the end of the First World War1, it carried out a vicious repression, the Red Scare, which is probably the worst repression in American history and it made use of the highest technology of surveillance and control of the day, not what we have, but what they had then and that technology had, in fact, been developed for surveillance and control by the US Army in their pacification efforts in the Philippines. The U.S. invaded the Philippines in the early 20th century, killed a couple hundred thousand people, it was a brutal war and then they had to run a counter-insurgency campaign to control the country and they developed very high, highly sophisticated surveillance and control and disruption and other operations. There’s a very important book about this by Alfred McCoy who’s a historian…and he points out that the technology that was developed there was very quickly applied domestically and the same’s true here. The technology that’s being devised in the US wars abroad, sometimes terrorist wars like Obama’s, that’s very quickly coming back home. We’ll see the same with drones. Drones are already being used by police departments. If you read the technology magazines as I do, you’ll see that for years, robotics labs have been seeking to develop tiny drones that the military wants, maybe even drones the size of a fly, which in principle if they complete the development, it’s improving, it would be able to be up on the ceiling of your living room and you wouldn’t even notice it and could be recording what you’re doing.

KS: If the population that’s being monitored right now is, as you said, both fearful but also in some ways have given up on privacy, what advice would you have for people who are concerned about their privacy rights, who would like to bolster those privacy rights in this environment?

NC: Defend your rights. That’s the way people have protected themselves from governments from time immemorial. When governments are intrusive, disruptive, denying rights, people struggle against it. And there have been many victories. I mean right now happens to be the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous speech on the day of the march on Washington. [That was] people defending their rights against the government, state governments primarily in those cases, but the federal government too and that [led to] a great increase in freedom.

KS: Professor Chomsky, thank you very much for talking to us today.

NC: Yeah, thank you.

KS: That is Noam Chomsky, philosopher, political commentator and emeritus professor of linguistics at MIT.

1Chomsky actually said Second World War

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How not to interview: CBC host gives another lesson

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Don Connolly

Listeners to CBC Radio’s Information Morning in Nova Scotia are getting a well-deserved break as veteran host Don Connolly begins his summer vacation. Connolly is notable in the interviewing trade for shining the spotlight on himself and for his habit of making rambling statements instead of asking questions. During his last show on Friday, June 28, Connolly outdid himself, conducting one of his worst interviews ever — one that focused on his own opinions and impressions and ignored his guest’s experiences and observations almost completely.  The intro, read by co-host Louise Renault, went like this:

Well, the eyes of the world are on South Africa where Nelson Mandela remains in critical condition in a Pretoria hospital.  Mandela is on a life-support machine, which may indicate the end is near for one of the world’s most revered leaders. Ben John was born in South Africa and while he was working in neighbouring Botswana, he met Nelson Mandela in 1994. He also attended Nelson Mandela’s 80th birthday party in a stadium in Johannesburg. Ben John is now a Canadian citizen and he lives here in Halifax.

During his nine minute interview with Ben John, Connolly asked only one real question. After that, he made a series of long-winded statements inviting his hapless interviewee to confirm his (yes, Connolly’s) impressions of Nelson Mandela. True, this behaviour is typical of Connolly, but Friday’s interview was especially bad.

You can read the full transcript below, but first, I’ll highlight key parts of it to illustrate why I think CBC management should finally pry Connolly out of the Information Morning interviewing chair where he has been so comfortably ensconced for more than 37 years.

Poor Ben John

Although the intro says Ben John met Nelson Mandela in 1994 while he was working in Botswana, listeners never get to hear what happened during that meeting or how John felt about it. Here’s how Connolly manages to sidestep John’s experience to focus on his own:

ConnollyDid you have a sense of the kind of the palpable magic, you see him on television right from the beginning since he came off Robbens Island [Robben Island] and every time you saw him in public whether it was at home or elsewhere, you just had a sense that somehow or other, he transformed himself in a prison cell into something kind of magic.

Connolly’s question, which is really a statement, leaves John no room at all to talk about his meeting with Mandela.  Instead, John tries hard to articulate his own assessment of Mandela’s strengths after agreeing with Connolly about the man’s “palpable magic”:

JohnAbsolutely. For me, Nelson Mandela epitomizes freedom, forgiveness, resilience, endurance and, and, you know, being marginalized myself, it’s never been an easy task to have to forgive, but that’s what Nelson Mandela epitomizes. And just a man to come out of the 27 years being in prison in a four-feet by four-feet prison cell, to come out and forgive, I’ve actually visited his prison in Robben Island and now it’s closed to the public, but at that time when they opened it, you could go right in, so it was amazing and 27 years to come out, so it just shows the resilience of a man who was very particular and very passionate about his country. Nelson Mandela, madiba as he’s known as the father, the grandfather of many nations, he was a people’s man for the people.

Connolly ignores John’s experience of being “marginalized” as well as what his visit to Robben Island meant to him. Instead, he talks about his own view of Mandela’s ability to forgive:

ConnollyBut you mentioned forgiveness, when he championed the idea of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I remember going, “That can’t work, not after all that’s happened in South Africa, the oppressed can’t possibly buy into that, there would have to be too much hatred and resentment and desire to get revenge.” There probably, between he and Archbishop Tutu, if they weren’t there, you can never make that idea fly without some kind of incredible moral leadership.

John takes a deep breath and, after a pause, struggles to collect his thoughts:

JohnUm, yeah. Just, just for the fact that when Nelson Mandela was released out of prison, and his theory and his idea of, of uniting the nation and of course, you know he spent 27 years in prison and I’m sure he had an idea one day that he would be released and that’s what kept him going, you know, he finished his law degree in prison and, and, moving the country forward, and of course, divine intervention through Archbishop, what I think is you know through Archbishop Desmond Tutu, brought people together and many, many millions of people that came together and wanted to have this done and to meet their accusers, to meet their offenders in face and reconcile. Even the churches have done that.

 Connolly talks sports

As the interview continues to slide downhill, Connolly tries to demonstrate his knowledge of international sports, referring to how he watched “Louis Oosthuizen win the British Open a couple of years ago.” He adds, “a name like Oosthuizen, clearly not a cousin of yours from South Africa,” at which point, having nothing else to do, John laughs. Connolly goes on to say that he found himself wondering about Oosthuizen’s politics “and the first thing he said when he was handed the Claret Jug was ‘I want to thank Nelson Mandela.’”

Connolly adds that Mandela “sort of reintegrated that whole country back into the community for the white South Africans you know who had during the apartheid area [era] been felt that they were excluded from the world congress in a sense.” Not surprisingly, John again struggles to respond to Connolly’s rambling statement.

Later, without explaining anything about the teams, Connolly observes: “I remember for a lot of people when they saw him go to the rugby game between the All Blacks and the Springboks and he put the Springboks sweater on, with all that symbolized for black and white South Africans, it was one of the most chilling moments of politics and/or sports that I experienced in my entire life. For him to understand how the power of that potential symbol, just remarkable.”

JohnYeah. You know he took the passion of the people and then he formed a way and found a way of uniting people…

Connolly: For good

John: For good.

Connolly: He used the power for good (inaudible)

John: Absolutely. Absolutely…

And so it went, Connolly spinning his theories and observations and John agreeing, then struggling to add a few thoughts of his own. In the end, we learned a lot about Connolly and how he felt about Nelson Mandela, but very little about Ben John and his experiences as a South African meeting Mandela.

The celebrated CBC host Barbara Frum once remarked that “a lot of interviewing is actually just releasing someone to speak, just making it possible for them to speak.” She also said that the interviewer is there all the time, but the guest, only once. “Let’s hear what they’ve got to say.”

Connolly should take Frum’s words to heart, but after 37 years, I’d say it’s too late.

Transcript

CBC Radio Information Morning (Halifax), Friday June 28, 2013

Intro read by Louise Renault: Well, the eyes of the world are on South Africa where Nelson Mandela remains in critical condition in a Pretoria hospital. Mandela is on a life-support machine which may indicate the end is near for one of the world’s most revered leaders. Ben John was born in South Africa and while he was working in neighbouring Botswana, he met Nelson Mandela in 1994. He also attended Nelson Mandela’s 80th birthday party in a stadium in Johannesburg. Ben John is now a Canadian citizen and he lives here in Halifax.

Connolly: Morning Ben.

John: Good morning.

Connolly: You first meet Mr. Mandela in Botswana.

John: That’s correct yes.

Connolly: How? How did that come to be?

John: I was a resident there at that time. I was working in Botswana and I was invited by the South African High Commissioner to come out and meet him and being an activist myself in previous years, uh, many other South Africans were invited and it’s an honour to meet a well-renowned and established man.

Connolly: Because in a sense Mr. Mandela was visiting Botswana because the importance of Botswana to the ANC and the capacity to fight apartheid, the support in the sense of Botswana against the apartheid regime during the period before apartheid came apart.

John: That’s correct, yeah. Botswana was very instrumental in assisting South Africa particularly refugees and Nelson Mandela came out to just thank the Botswana people and the Botswana government for their input and their assistance with South Africa during the apartheid years particularly with many of, many areas in Botswana that had been bombed by the former regime, by the South Africans, accusations of military training camps, but they were nonexistent and lots of Botwanans have lost their lives through that and Nelson Mandela wanted to just come out and thank them for what they have done for South Africa.

Connolly: Did you have a sense of the kind of the palpable magic, you see him on television right from the beginning since he came off Robbens Island [Robben Island] and every time you saw him in public whether it was at home or elsewhere, you just had a sense that somehow or other he transformed himself in a prison cell into something kind of magic.

John: Absolutely. For me, Nelson Mandela epitomizes freedom, forgiveness, resilience, endurance and, and, you know, being marginalized myself, it’s never been an easy task to have to forgive but that’s what Nelson Mandela epitomizes. And just a man to come out of the 27 years being in prison in a four feet by four feet prison cell, to come out and forgive, I’ve actually visited his prison in Robben Island and now it’s closed to the public, but at that time when they opened it, you could go right in, so it was amazing and 27 years to come out, so it just shows the resilience of a man who was very particular and very passionate about his country. Nelson Mandela, madiba as he’s known as the father, the grandfather of many nations, he was a people’s man for the people.

Connolly: But you mentioned forgiveness, when he championed the idea of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I remember going, “That can’t work, not after all that’s happened in South Africa, the oppressed can’t possibly buy into that, there would have to be too much hatred and resentment and desire to get revenge.” There probably between he and Archbishop Tutu, if they weren’t there, you can never make that idea fly without some kind of incredible moral leadership.

John: Um, yeah. Just for the fact that when Nelson Mandela was released out of prison, and his theory and his idea of, of uniting the nation and of course, you know he spent 27 years in prison and I’m sure he had an idea one day that he would be released and that’s what kept him going, you know, he finished his law degree in prison and, and, moving the country forward and of course, divine intervention through Archbishop, what I think is you know through Archbishop Desmond Tutu, brought people together and many, many millions of people that came together and wanted to have this done and to meet their accusers, to meet their offenders in face and reconcile. Even the churches have done that.

Connolly: Very interesting too because I realize this is kind of weird, but watching Louis Oosthuizen win the British Open a couple of years ago, a name like Oosthuizen clearly not a cousin of yours from South Africa, [John laughs] he’s on the other side of the whole issue and I’m watching him (I’m) going, “He seems like a very nice man, but I wonder you know what are his sort of personal politics” and the first thing he said when he was handed the Claret Jug was “I want to thank Nelson Mandela.” You know for those people, even white South Africans, not all of them obviously, but for some white South Africans, he sort of reintegrated that whole country back into the community for the white South Africans you know who had during the apartheid area [era] been felt that they were excluded from the world congress in a sense.

John: Yeah. Um, he had the ability, to like I said you know to reunite, to unite people from all walks of life, from all races, from all cultures and I think when he became the president, there was a freedom for the black South Africans and those had been marginalized for many years, but also for the white South Africans to freedom because they were afraid you know that the country was going to turn into anarchy and there was going to be a civil war. As you know, at that time, the Rwanda genocide was taking place and the whole eyes was actually focussed on South Africa and not on the genocide. So, people round the world expected there was going to be something more, but I think in that sense there was a sense of freedom where here’s a man that has been 27 years in prison and yet to come out and say, “We need to unite, together we stand, divided we fall.”

Connolly: It must be an incredible weight, I mean, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that in the last couple of decades, he would be the consensus most admired human being, man or woman on the planet. Wouldn’t you think that’s true?

John: Absolutely.

Connolly: What a weight that must be.

John: Oh absolutely. I think you know he hasn’t died yet, but if he dies in the next few days or so, however long it takes, the world is going to lose a great man, the continent of Africa and particularly South Africans. Everybody knows it. You know when I tell people here that I’m from South Africa and they ask me which country, no South Africa, do you know Nelson Mandela? “Oh yeah.” So, you know, he’s a man that everybody knows of and you put name to the country, you know, it’s just and he has a certain aura about him whenever he walks around or whenever he speaks. He’s a well, well respected man throughout the world.

Connolly: I remember for a lot of people when they saw him go to the rugby game between the All Blacks and the Springboks and he put the Springboks sweater on, with all that symbolized for black and white South Africans, it was one of the most chilling moments of politics and/or sports that I experienced in my entire life. For him to understand how the power of that potential symbol, just remarkable.

John: Yeah. You know he took the passion of the people and then he formed a way and found a way of uniting people…

Connolly: For good

John: For good.

Connolly: He used the power for good (inaudible)

John: Absolutely. Absolutely. And he has, he had this ability, he’s a very wise man and that’s why he’s revered throughout Africa because all the people, all the Africans have always known as to be have wisdom and be very wise and people can turn to him for wisdom. You know there was an incident yesterday, I think one of his family members was very irate about people coming in and…

Connolly: Foreign journalists in particular?

John: (Chuckles) Exactly.

Connolly: (laughter)

John: But I think people are just concerned about him because he’s the father of people that he hasn’t met and that’s an amazing, amazing thing, an amazing trait for South Africans to feel the same way black or white.

Connolly: Ben, it’s great to see you. Thank you very much for coming in.

John: Thank you very much…

Connolly: It was a pleasure to see you.

John: Yeah and one last thing, you know they say in Africa “Nkosi Sikelel’”, God Bless Africa.

Connolly: Right on. Thanks Ben.

EXTRO read by Louise Renault: Ben John lives in Halifax and he met Nelson Mandela in 1994.

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CBC Nova Scotia promotes food banks as hunger continues to grow

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I could hardly believe my ears as I listened to a CBC Radio interview with Nick Saul on May 14th. He’s co-author of a book that argues traditional food banks may be doing more harm than good.

Yet here he was in Halifax on Information Morning, a program that relentlessly promotes Feed Nova Scotia, the charity that collects and distributes food to food banks across the province.

“I think you have to ask some very basic questions about food banks,” Saul told InfoMorn host, Don Connolly. “Do they reduce hunger? Do they improve health? Do they create pathways out of poverty? The answer to all of those things is no.”

Saul himself ran The Stop, a food bank in Toronto that he turned into a centre where people get together to grow and cook their own food. Now, as president of Community Food Centres Canada, he’s promoting that concept across the country. He sees it as an alternative to the “corporate bad food” packed full of salt, sugar and fat, which existing food banks hand out.

Saul told Connolly that we need to be more honest about traditional food banks. “Do they divide us as citizens between the haves and the have nots and do they create a moral release valve for government that collectively takes us all off the hook? I would say yeah.”

Connolly himself acknowledged that the food bank in Halifax was not supposed to be permanent; that there were plans to shut it down in the mid 1990s so that governments would be forced to shoulder their responsibility for helping the poor. But, the shut down never happened as politicians continued to cut welfare rates and housing programs in the name of fighting government deficits and debt. Nor did the politicians increase minimum wages enough so that the working poor could earn enough money to live on.

Now, nearly two decades later, poor people still depend on food banks. The most recent figures from Food Banks Canada show that in March 2012, more than 880,000 people received help from a food bank across the country, an increase of more than 30 per cent since 2008.

Bridging the gap

When Connolly suggested that without food banks “some people aren’t going to eat” and that food banks are still needed to bridge “a big gap,” Saul answered:

“There is a big gap, but you know I would argue sometimes that the food bank actually makes it worse. I mean if you look at say health, for example, if you look at any low-income neighbourhood and you overlay that with health indices, you’re going to see obesity, cancer, a whole raft of diet-related illnesses. You know we spend 50 cents of every dollar in probably every province in this country on health care, a big chunk of that is on diet-related illness, so you know, I just think we can do better.”

Saul’s comments came in the midst of Information Morning’s 4th annual campaign to raise money for Feed Nova Scotia by asking artists to submit paintings for a calendar and art auction. Last year, sales of the calendar and the auction of the paintings raised $106,000 for provincial food banks. Information Morning also takes part in the CBC’s annual Christmas food bank drive on behalf of Feed Nova Scotia.

Yet, in spite of these efforts, the number of hungry people continues to rise. In March 2012, for example, 23,561 Nova Scotians received food from a food bank, an increase of nearly 40 per cent since 2008 when the current economic slump began. But Food Banks Canada says the causes of hunger go much deeper than this latest recession.

“The key factor at the root of the need for food banks is low income,” Food Banks Canada writes. “People asking for help are working in low-paying jobs, receiving meagre social assistance benefits, managing on inadequate pensions.” The organization goes on to warn: “Hunger is toxic for those living through it and it is harmful to Canada as a whole. It reduces the economic contributions of individuals, and increases costs related to health care and social services.”

Or as Nick Saul told Don Connolly, “Being a passive recipient of food charity isn’t the answer in any way.  Hunger isn’t out there because we don’t have food. Hunger’s out there because of low minimum wage and inadequate social assistance rates. We don’t have a national housing strategy or child care programs.”

So why is Information Morning devoting so much effort and airtime to raising money for a food bank system that may only be making things worse? To be fair, the program does broadcast stories about such issues as the lack of affordable housing and inadequate welfare rates. But its coverage of poverty is episodic and nowhere near the intensity, for example, that it focussed on the misuse of expense accounts by provincial politicians.

The intense media coverage of the so-called “MLA expenses scandal” forced the politicians to bring in tighter spending rules. But the lack of sustained media focus on the scandal of poverty lets them off the hook. It also perpetuates a system in which food banks and media programs such as Information Morning collaborate on raising more and more money to feed the poor even as the toxic problem of hunger continues to grow.

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Whitewashing Israeli crimes: Derek Stoffel’s Middle East reporting

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Article submitted by Brooks Kind

StoffelThe great Israeli journalist Amira Hass once said the role of journalists is “to monitor the centres of power.” Based on his reporting, it would appear that CBC’s Middle East correspondent Derek Stoffel has a very different conception of a journalist’s role, one more in line with Henry Kissinger’s definition of an expert, i.e. “someone who articulates the consensus of power.”

Not only does Stoffel consistently fail to monitor the centres of power in Tel Aviv and Washington, he also regularly reports from their perspective, whitewashing or censoring their abuses in the Occupied Territories, attributing responsibility for the failure of the “peace process” to the Palestinians, and generally adopting all the standard conventions of western propaganda. Stoffel’s reports on US President Obama’s recent visit to Israel and the West Bank provide a case in point. Referring to Israel’s ongoing settlement building on Palestinian land, Stoffel said:

Israel continues to build settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on land the Palestinians say is rightfully part of their own future state. (World Report, March 20, 2013)

Israel continues to build settlements in the West Bank and East
Jerusalem on land the Palestinians want for a future state. (World Report, March 21, 2013)

[Obama] met with the Palestinian president who once again called on Israel to stop building settlements. The Palestinians say that land is rightfully theirs. (World at Six, March 21, 2013)

Asking Stoffel for answers

Following these reports, I e-mailed Stoffel to ask whether he considers it accurate journalism to describe the Occupied Territories as land the Palestinians simply “want”, or “say is rightfully part of their own future state” when there’s an overwhelming international consensus that Israel’s occupation is illegal and that it violates numerous UN resolutions and the Geneva Conventions, the treaties that regulate the conduct of war and that protect civilians from its effects. I also asked why he consistently refused to mention the legal status of Israel’s settlement policies under international law and the treaties just referred to, when this is so obviously critical in assessing Israeli policy and Palestinian resistance. As usual, my e-mail received no response.

Disclaimers of the type Stoffel uses are a standard method of whitewashing the flagrant illegality of Israel’s behaviour in the Occupied Territories and spinning matters of universally accepted international law as matters of mere opinion.  In an earlier report on the relationship between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Stoffel varied the formula slightly:

You have to remember that just last month the US did criticize Israel for its decision to press ahead with new settlement construction in a controversial area of East Jerusalem. (The World this Weekend, January 20, 2013)

In the past Stoffel has also referred to “disputed East Jerusalem.”

Controversial. Disputed. Land the Palestinians say is theirs. These are all deliberately misleading and obfuscatory terms when applied to the illegally occupied Palestinian territories and they are used over and over by the CBC despite the fact that this usage has been repeatedly challenged, leading to their acknowledgement of “error” on several occasions.

For example, on March 18, 2010, Lynda Shorten, then executive producer of As It Happens, responded to my e-mail asking if it was CBC policy to refer to occupied territory as disputed.

“No, it is not,” she wrote. “We regret the error. Israel annexed East Jerusalem and some 30 square miles of surrounding land to West Jerusalem after the 1967 war. Although Israel regards Jerusalem as an integral part of its territory and subject to Israeli law, that view is not widely shared. The international community, including Canada, the United States, Britain and the European Union, do not recognize the annexation of East Jerusalem and considered it to be occupied territory like the West Bank.”

Nevertheless, as we see in Stoffel’s reports, the same obfuscation continues. Apparently the need to whitewash a favoured state’s crimes outweighs the responsibility to tell the truth or even to observe one’s own organization’s policies.

Israel portrayed as peace seeker

Another standard media trope involves portraying the US and Israel as genuinely seeking peace, but not finding reciprocal good will among the Palestinians, particularly Hamas, whose occasional retaliation against Israeli repression is invariably portrayed as unprovoked violence which then elicits a harsh (but implicitly justified) Israeli response. In the same World at Six report of March 21, Stoffel gives us a striking example of this, speaking about Obama’s visit to the West Bank:

The difficulties of finding peace here all too visible. (sound of angry crowd chanting in Arabic.) In Ramallah, protesters burned an effigy of Obama, accusing the president of choosing sides, choosing Israel. Earlier today, two rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel: a clear message not everyone wants peace. Obama described Mahmoud Abbas as a true partner for peace. He met with the Palestinian president who once again called on Israel to stop building settlements. The Palestinians say that land is rightfully theirs.

In the same e-mail in which I challenged Stoffel on his misleading description of the Occupied Territories, I posed the following questions relating to the passage from his report quoted above:

“Why are the rockets and effigy and the stock audio clips – so beloved by Western reporters – of enraged Arabs chanting, ‘a clear message that not everyone wants peace’, while the continued ethnic cleansing of illegally occupied land and all the horrific repression that this entails and, that you regularly ignore, does not constitute such a ‘clear message’? And why do you report on this Palestinian violation of the cease-fire while suppressing – there is no other word for it – the over 100 Israeli violations, including at least four killings, dozens of wounded, and numerous administrative detentions (i.e. kidnappings) that have undoubtedly provoked the rocket attack, but that your audience is prevented from knowing anything about? I have sent you UNICEF reports on the criminal abuse of Palestinian children that you have also refused to report on. In the midst of such ongoing, criminal abuses by the Israeli state, how is it credible journalism to describe the victims of these atrocities as the side that does ‘not… want peace’?”

Stoffel’s refusal to answer these questions is understandable. As he and his producers are aware, this is not credible journalism but pure spin, a widely disseminated media fairy tale that portrays Israel and the US as pursuing peace and diplomacy, while in reality they are systematically, and with great violence and lawlessness, undermining any possibility of it. The US-backed settlements and ongoing land-theft alone are sufficient to establish this.

Responding to CBC propaganda

Concealing the illegality and extent of the settlements and Israel’s daily human rights abuses – such as the violations of the November 2012 ceasefire, the treatment of Palestinian children documented in the recent UNICEF report, or the misery inflicted by the ongoing blockade of Gaza – is what makes such fraudulent narratives possible. The routine suppression of the most salient and damning facts about Israel’s occupation – the modus operandi of CBC Middle East reporters past and present – is therefore the foundation of the whole propaganda framework. To quote Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, “when truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.”

It’s long past time to end this silence, these lies of omission.

An organized Israeli lobby responds very effectively whenever a piece critical of Israel appears in the mainstream media, creating flak – complaints, condemnations, criticisms, etc. – to intimidate journalists and producers (it probably doesn’t take much). Unless they get more flak from the other side, i.e. from those of us who are appalled by the ongoing violations of Palestinians’ basic rights, this bias will continue to frame its Middle East reporting.

Please write to the CBC challenging its coverage, and demanding that Canada’s public broadcaster begin reporting on the daily human rights abuses committed against the Palestinians and on the illegality of the occupation, settlements and land confiscations in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In order to promote constructive dialogue and debate, please use polite, non-aggressive language.

  1. Derek Stoffel, CBC Middle East correspondent: derek.stoffel@cbc.ca
  2. Don Spandier, executive producer, World at Six: don.spandier@cbc.ca
  3. Esther Enkin, senior news editor: Esther.Enkin@cbc.ca
  4. Jennifer McGuire, news editor in chief: Jennifer.McGuire@cbc.ca
  5. David Michael Lamb, senior producer, World Report david.michael.lamb@cbc.ca

For further information see:

For further analysis of CBC Middle East reporting:

Brooks Kind is an artist, activist and media critic who lives in Canmore, Alberta

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How should we remember Ralph Klein?

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Article submitted by Nick Fillmore

King KleinCondolences and praise poured in for former Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, who died on Friday, March 29, at the age of 70.”We remember what a force of personality he was, how driven he was, how motivated he was, how straightforward he was, and that we trusted him implicitly.”

………………………………………………– Alberta  Premier Alison Redford

“While Ralph’s beliefs about the role of government and fiscal responsibility were once considered radical, it is perhaps his greatest legacy that these ideas are now widely embraced across the political spectrum.” — Stephen Harper.

Yes, as the compliments poured in, it must be remembered that Klein was one of Canada’s most aggressive neo-liberals. “King Ralph”, as he was widely known, served as premier of Alberta from 1992 to 2006.

A blustering problem-drinker, Klein was forgiven for many of his personal blunders and drunken escapades by frontier-mentality Albertans who believed in rugged individualism and small government.

No matter how rude Klein became, he also was a darling of the mainstream media. When a drunken Premier berated poor unemployed men at midnight at a homeless shelter, telling them to get jobs and throwing money at them, he was forgiven by media and right-wingers because, well, it was Ralph and that’s just the way he was.

However, the homeless shelter incident is a clear sign of how the establishment and its media viewed the plight of the poor with indifference.

King Klein as deficit slayer

Klein’s true legacy is a string of anti-social policies and programs. He was possessed by the unnecessary goal of eliminating Alberta’s debt in what was becoming the country’s richest province. In just over a decade, he paid down the debt of $23-billion, cutting in critical areas such as health care, education and social services, killing the government pension plan and privatizing liquor stores.

Klein slashed thousands of job, and showed nothing but contempt for the tens-of-thousands of protestors who fought against his ideological-driven fanaticism.
Klein believed strongly that health care services should be provided by the private sector. His government paved the way to allow provincial health authorities to buy medical services from privately-owned medical companies. The federal government, committed to national health care, reminded Klein of his government’s commitments to deliver public health care. However, Klein cheated and allowed some questionable services to be privitized.

While Klein was “sold” as a man of the people, he clearly favoured the rich. In 2001, he made Alberta the first jurisdiction in North America to replace a progressive income tax with a “flat tax” – the dream of extreme right-wing ideologues in the U.S. The flat tax gave huge tax breaks to the rich. In 2009, the University of Alberta’s Parkland Institute said that the it was costing the province more than $5-billion a year in tax revenues.

 King Klein the ‘academic’

A key incident raises questions about Klein’s honesty. In 2004 – when he was premier – Klein was accused of plagiarizing a paper for his degree in communications from the University of Athabasca. The Edmonton Journal reported that about five pages of a 13-page report on Chilean politics and media were lifted directly from various Internet sites. Surprisingly, Klein was not failed, but instead was given a grade of 77 per cent on the paper.

After eliminating the deficit, Klein basically flunked out of politics because he had no idea what else to do in government.

When the tired and worn out Premier needed a soft “retirement” gig, it’s believed that about 20 of his wealthy oil and business friends chipped in to provide a $2.5-million anonymous gift to set up the Ralph Klein Chair in Media Studies at Mount Royal. Normally, endowed chairs are limited to academics of considerable distinction.

Students saw the Klein appointment as a sick joke. He got off to a bad start. The former premier – who couldn’t make it to his office before 10 a.m. – said journalists were lazy. They gasped when the man who ran the province for so many years admitted he didn’t read newspapers or watch TV news.

Klein can be praised – or blamed – for the early development of the tar sands. In the mid-1990s, it was unclear whether the tar sands would become viable. When Ottawa introduced a tax write-off (i.e. a give away) for oil sands investment, Alberta allowed oil companies to pay a royalty of one per cent (i.e. a give away) until developers recovered all project costs.  Talk about theft! The two tax ‘adjustments’ launched the massive ramp-up of tar sands production, helping the tar sands become today’s multi-billion dollar industry.

According to environmentalists, nearly every tar sands project was approved without any consideration given to the impact on the environment or greenhouse gas emissions.

In many ways, Klein was a tragic figure. A drunkard, a buffoon, unreasonably stubborn, and the sad victim of Alzheimer’s in his late 60s, he never had a vision for what should have been done in Alberta. He was a one-issue populist who got elected to eliminate the deficit dragon – a calling that damaged health care, education and social services so seriously critics say they still have not fully recovered.

Political leaders and journalists provided the usual hyperbole to describe a fallen man. Hopefully, history will do a better job of providing the true story of Ralph Klein.

Nick Fillmore is a freelance Toronto journalist and social activist who covered Canadian politics through the Klein era. Comments welcome: fillmore0274@rogers.com

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CBC melts down the news

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Book coverYes folks there is such a thing as journalism ethics. Even textbooks on the subject such as Deadlines and Diversity published in 1996. It contains an essay by veteran journalist Pierre Mignault that begins:

Public confidence in journalists is based on a simple premise: “Trust me, I was there, I saw what happened, I heard it from the horse’s mouth.”

Except that, as Mignault pointed out, journalists increasingly cover stories hundreds or even thousands of kilometres away using a technique known as a “melt-down.”

When Mignault was writing nearly two decades ago, the term applied to television news where pictures and interview clips from a variety of sources were “melted down” into a single report narrated by a reporter who did not need to leave the office. The technique saved money while conveying the impression that a news outfit was on top of the story when, in fact, it was actually far away from it. And the reporter who told the story was not actually reporting, but using wordsmithery and production techniques to package the work of others.

CBC Radio’s melt-down mania

Years ago,  CBC Radio news programs like World at Six prided themselves on what were called “direct reports” from on-scene reporters, correspondents or freelancers. Poor-cousin current affairs shows such as As It Happens, on the other hand, had to make do with cheap, phone-out interviews conducted by studio-bound hosts.

Today, at the cash-strapped CBC, melt-downs are flourishing, even in radio, the blind medium where listeners depend on reporters to be both their eyes and ears. Yeah, trust me, I was there. Well, not quite.

On tonight’s World at Sixfor example, listeners heard a two-minute report on the the Oscar Pistorius bail hearing in Pretoria, South Africa voiced by Peter Armstrong. His report began with sounds from outside the courthouse that ran underneath his opening script: “Oscar Pistorius arrived at court this morning locked in the back of a police van.”

Later, Armstrong took listeners to “the other side of the country” to the funeral of Pistorius’s girl friend, Reeva Steenkamp. He reported that her  uncle had said she should be remembered “as an activist fighting to prevent violence against women” followed by a seven-second clip of an incoherent and distraught Mike Steenkamp. Where Armstrong gathered his sounds, clips and information, he did not say though none of it could have been based on his own reporting. His final words: “Peter Armstrong, CBC News, Toronto.”

Loneliness of long-distance reporting

A few minutes after the Armstrong report, CBC Radio’s National Reporter for the Maritime Provinces, Stephen Puddicombe, told the story of the grim search for five missing fishermen from Woods Harbour, Nova Scotia, nearly 300 kilometres south of Halifax.

Puddicombe’s report included clips of George Hopkins, father of one of the young fishermen who “sits at his kitchen table, tapping, trying to stem the tears.” The report also had sounds from the wharf where a friend remembered he had coached most of the missing fishermen in hockey, adding that they were “just hard-workin young men, trying to make a livin.”

In the best CBC Radio tradition, Puddicombe’s reporting took World at Six listeners to an isolated community where they could share intense feelings of grief and loss. Yes, CBC listeners may have been taken to Woods Harbour, but, judging by his signoff, Puddicombe himself never ventured outside the CBC studios in Halifax where he “melted down” the work of his provincial CBC colleagues.

“Trust me, I wasn’t there and these are the facts I didn’t hear from the horse’s mouth!”

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