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December 31, 2004


The excellent William Rivers Pitt, author and master of revels at the first-rate news-site truthout, has joined the blogosphere, with  Will Pitt's FYI. He promises that, starting this coming Monday (Jan. 3) " I will be updating this page several times per day, and on days when an important story is breaking, the updates will likely come in a blizzard." We're looking forward to it. Welcome, Will, to the blogosphere!

A LATER P.S./CORRECTION: Will has quite properly reproved me for the above item's giving him too much credit, as I was laboring under a misapprehension. truthout's real "Master and Commander," as Will put it, is its founder and executive director, Marc Ash. My apologies to Marc and the other members of the far-flung truthout collective for not giving them proper credit.

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In the December 9 Washington Post, the editor of The New Republic, Peter Beinart, unleashed a tirade against the Democrats' left wing entitled, "Can the Democrats Fight? Cold War Lessons for Reclaiming Trust on National Security."  My old friend Norman Birnbaum has just sent me a reply to Beinart's article which was refused by a number of other so-called "liberal" outlets. Norman is University Professor Emeritus, Georgetown University Law School, and author--most recently--of After Progress: American Social Reform and European Socialism In The Twentieth Century (Oxford University Press), among other books. He was a founding editor of New Left Review, was on the editorial board of Partisan Review, and is on the editorial board of The Nation. Norman, who got his doctorate in sociology from Harvard, has also taught at the London School of Economics, Oxford University, the University of Strasbourg and Amherst College, has had academic appointments in Italy and Germany, and has been a consultant to the National Security Council.

What The New Republic’s Editor Doesn’t Know –Or How To Fill Volumes --by Norman Birnbaum

Do you think that the "war on terror" has served as a pretext for a determined drive to limit, if not terminate, our Constitutional liberties? Do you believe that the President of Afghanistan’s authority extends only to the streets around his Kabul palace, patrolled by foreign soldiers—while the rest of liberated Afghanistan concentrates on growing poppy? Are you sceptical about the imposition of a western model of democracy on a tribal society like Iraq? Do you fear that the US attack on Iraq has brought discredit and shame to our nation? If so, according to the editor of The New Republic, Peter Beinart, writing in the Washington Post on 9 December, it is not because you are exercising the rights of a citizen to think about public affairs. It is because you lack a passion for liberty, and are a deserter from the war on "totalitarian Islam."

At his command post on H street, Beinart is alarmed by the approach of the enemy—not terrorists threatening his lunch table at The Palm, but MoveOn and a great part of the Democratic Party, militant only in its refusal to fight. That is why, he suggests, we lost two elections. I was under the impression that 11 September 2001 came after the electoral theft of 2000.---which was preceded by Bush’s campaign against Clintonian "nation building ." Perhaps Beinart’s confusion about recent chronology is due to his concentration on the more distant past.... An earlier generation of Democrats, he informs us, met the challenges of the Cold War by forming Americans for Democratic Action to defend liberty—and so maintained the honor of the party as a guardian of our national security.

The charge that the Democrats are congenitally weak on national security is as tiresome and untrue now as it was when first uttered by adversaries of Franklin Roosevelt’s conduct of World War II. . After all, quite apart from that war, the Democrats are responsible for the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, NATO and the rearmament of Germany, the founding of the CIA, a comprehensive purge of "Communists" and those suspected of Communism from government employment , and the defense of Korea. For that considerable part of the nation which did not listen to that alcoholic swine, Senator Joseph McCarthy, the serious issue of the years 1945-52 was not the Democrats’ loyalty to freedom but how to contend with the disorders of the post-war world.

There was a debate occasioned by George Kennan’s insistence that the threat from the USSR was not ideological (he eschewed the term, totalitarian) but that of a gravely weakened power, in control of territory and imperial in ambition, but fearful of attack. On the other hand, Republican Senator Vandenberg, once leader of the isolationists and a convert to our new world role, instructed Truman how to obtain Congressional backing for his new system of alliances: "Scare the hell out of them, Harry." The menace of an expansive Communism was invented to serve as the theology of a new foreign policy—and it had the considerable domestic consequence of contributing to the delegitimation of proposals for an extension of the New Deal: national health insurance., worker participation in the governance of industry, an end to segregation and progress in race relations and the situation of women. Socially, the most important domestic event of this period was the return to domesticity as women were forced out of the labor market and returned to their homes. The defense of American patriarchy, absurdly, was fused with the struggle for western civilization.

Did a foreign policy originally intended to contain the USSR (and China) inevitably entail domestic regression? That was the issue that led Eleanor Roosevelt, Arthur Schlesinger Jr, John Kenneth Galbraith, Walter Reuther and Reinhold Niebuhr to found Americans for Democratic Action. They had no illusions about the USSR, but were quite aware that the American Communist party had shriveled. This was, after all, a period in which the then Provost of Harvard University, McGeorge Bundy, cleared appointments to his faculty with the FBI. The ADA did oppose McCarthy (and a comrade of his who lived, politically, much longer, Richard Nixon) . It sought a return to the rule of law and good sense in an epoch in which Charlie Chaplin was deported as a menace to the nation. The ADA was also an energetic proponent of the legacy of the New Deal. Praise for it does comes strangely from an ardent backer of the groups in the Democratic party which see no difference between a nation and a market. The New Republic under Beinart has also allowed some of its authors to indulge in the most vulgar sorts of Europhobia. The ADA prided itself on its ties to the European socialists and social democrats. Unfortunately, the ADA never managed to confront a critical issue. Was the Cold War, in the form in which it was fought, necessary?

Anti-Communism was systematically cultivated by academics, exiles, disillusioned revolutionaries. The Central Intelligence Agency put many of the world’s most eminent intellectuals on its payroll, using the Congress for Cultural Freedom as a front. Criticizing American intellectuals a while ago in The New Yorker for their supposed indifference to liberty in the Mideast, George Packer mentioned this Congress as a splendid example of moral commitment: he overlooked its sordid side.

Of course, a great many participants in the post-war debate did know a lot about Marxism, Stalinism and world Communism. They were functionally blind to the fact that the world Communist movement was split. Stalin distrusted Mao and preferred Chiang Kai Shek as an ally in China, Ho Chi Minh wanted to deal with the US. The Yugoslav schism was emerging, nationalist tendencies were visible in the restless nations of eastern Europe. Colonial independence movements were interested in their separate struggles, not in obedience to Moscow. The large Communist parties of France and Italy were ready to remain in governments of national unity —until, acting at US behest, our political clients expelled them. When successive American Secretaries of State, James Byrnes, General George Marshall and Dean Acheson devised alliance systems to contain the USSR and China, they thought in terms of great power diplomacy, and not about ideological mobilization.

Truman obtained funding to take over Britain’s imperial role in Greece and Turkey in 1947 by following Senator Vandenberg’s advice .He succeeded all too well. A frightened nation--especially after the Soviet Union developed nuclear weapons, and North Korea attacked South Korea--needed ever more convincing demonstrations of ferocious strength. What rigid opposition to Communism achieved was to preclude an earlier ending to the Cold War. In 1952, the Stalin note proposing the reunification of a neutralized Germany was rejected without being discussed. In 1953, Churchill as British Prime Minister offered to go to Moscow to sound out Stalin’s heirs on a grand bargain to end the Cold War: Eisenhower and his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, rejected the idea.

The professionalized anti-Communists obsessively repeated their warnings that "Communism" could not be dealt with because it was unchangeable. They ignored the evidence of its inner conflicts and fragilities--like the East German rising of 1953, the Polish Catholic-Communist compromise of 1956, the Hungarian revolution of the same year, and early evidence of Sino-Soviet hostility. Khrushchev’s closing the concentration camps, did not induce them to rethink. Writing his bitter critique of the USSR in 1956, Jean-Paul Sartre entitled it, "The Phantom of Stalin." That phantom dominated Western and American thought for years after the tyrant’s death.

Meanwhile, our Cold War apparatus went looking for and found new enemies. National liberation movements, Third World governments, were scrutinized for their willingness to align themselves with the US in the Cold War---and found wanting. What Beinart describes as a passion for liberty had some exceedingly singular consequences.

Quite apart from the inclusion of fascist Portugal and authoritarian Turkey in NATO (and the explicit alliance with Franco’s Spain), the US organized the destruction of democratic regimes in Brazil, Indonesia, Iran. Kennedy’s assumption of Eisenhower’s plans for an attack on Cuba ended at the Bay of Pigs---and terminated any chance of converting Castro into a Caribbean Tito or Mao, independent of the USSR.

Kennedy, about whom the ADA was distinctly ambivalent, in the end decided that the nation and the rest of the world would benefit from an end to the Cold War. His speech in June of 1963 at American University delivered a message about the common interest of humanity in survival totally at odds with the rhetoric of his Inaugural address.

Kennedy, of course, had not only actually fought in a war---he had looked into the abyss during the Cuban missile crisis. After his death, a schematized anti-Communism (and fear of being thought weak) led Johnson into disaster in Vietnam. Even after that, the institutional and ideological momentum of the Cold War continued until China and the USSR began reforms from within.

The ideological anti-Communists had their faults, but many of them knew what they were talking about. The notion of "Islamic totalitarianism" is an invention of a new sort of expert on Islam.These are persons who know no Arabic, have never lived in an Arabic or Muslim nation, and are ignorant of the history of colonialism and imperialism in the Mideast and Asia. I met their ancestors as a boy when I visited the legendary Eighth Street Cafeteria in Greenwich Village. Its habitues had hardly been north of Fourteenth Street or west of the Hudson in their lives. They did debate, loudly, the doings of the world’s leaders. These amiable Luftmenschen have more dangerous contemporary descendants-- the neo- conservatives and their liberal fellow travelers.

Democrats are right to reject the ideological fraud that is the Bush war on behalf of "freedom." Behind that supposed front, of course, there are parts of our own nation where evolution cannot be taught, where libraries are scrutinized lest they stock suspicious books. Peter Beinart published his unoriginal cliches a day before we learned that a new "Intelligence" act allows an ever closer surveillance of our citizens. Meanwhile, the international meeting on freedom in the Muslim world which met in Morocco a few days ago was thoroughly down sized by an embarrassed Bush government. Our great message to it was the usefulness of small business as a pre-condition of democracy: one imagines that the American delegation did not mention Wal-Mart. The embarrassment came when the host, the King of Morocco, left town before the meeting. Secretary Powell then had to endure the reproaches of the Arab and Muslim foreign ministers, that unconditional alignment with Israel undermined American claims to disinterested benevolence in the region. True, Powell’s interlocutors were hardly Jeffersonians. Beinart might ask what we have done lately for the citizens of Jordan, Kuwait, Kazakhstan, Pakistan Saudi Arabia or Uzbekistan where the US supports the tyrannies that rule over them. It is too much, of course, to expect a New Republic editor to consider what liberty is afforded to an occupied nation, Palestine, by Israel. He might compare the government’s arrogance in telling countries without nuclear weapons to fall into line with the respectful discretion with which it approaches China. The Bush gang is capable of blundering into confrontation with China on the geopolitical issue of Taiwan, but will not (whatever its passions) put Los Angeles at risk for human rights in Shanghai.

Like a bit of learning, a measure of sobriety goes a long way. The Democrats would do well to reflect on the lesson of the Cold War. They were overly frightened—not of the USSR, but of our own terrible simplifiers and the mass anxiety and ignorance they could mobilize. Had the Democrats made common cause with the conservative realists of their time, much might have been gained.

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IN CUBA'S PRISONS: Today's Le Monde has an interview from Havana with two political prisoners just released from Fidel Castro's jails, in which they recount the sadistic, inhumane treatment meted out to dissenters from Fidelismo and to ordinary law violators. Voltaire's famous dictum, that one should judge a society by the quality of its prisons, leads to a severe judgment about the Cuban dictatorship if one reads these two testimonies.

Jorge Olivera, 43, was a Cuban TV commentator before quitting to work for an independent Internet press service--journalism that put him in prison. First, he was the target of one of Fidelismo's organized neighborhood lynchings, the repudio. Organized by the political police, the repudio consists of stone-throwing, name-calling near-riots, all designed to make a dissident collapse and recant his thought crimes. (Olivera was forced to move and had his marriage destroyed after one such campaign). Thrown in jail in 2003, he was crammed into a tiny cell with 18 other common-law prisoners, many of them dangerous murderers and drug dealers with psychological disorders (a co-habitation that is in itself a sadistically refined extra punishment), all forced to use a common toilet--which consisted of a hole in the floor. The food, deliberately rotten and containing little nourishment, is also designed to break down a prisoner physically and psychologically.

Manuel Vazquez Portal, 53, a poet and writer for the government-run cultural press for a decade, during which he won three official prizes before being purged, is described by the Le Monde journalist who talked to him as having the face of a man who has "passed through hell." That hell has a name: the notorious prison of  Boniato, not far from Santiago de Cuba--it is the same, dilapidated 60-year-old prison in which Castro himself was incarcerated after his famous 1953 attack on the Moncada barracks. Vazquez Portal compares his 15 months in Boniato prison as "like living in a barracks latrine, or a pigsty"--subhuman conditions, inedible rotten food, water-logged cells in which the numerous leaks are never repaired and the floors are covered in the rancid, infectious liquid overflow from other cells. Three months of his sentence were spent in total, terrifying  isolation.

There are some 600 political prisoners still languishing in these horrific conditions. Vazquez Portal, whose health was broken by his imprisonment, says that "there are are many still in jail whose health is worse than mine. Only some of the better-known prisoners were released to try to bring down the level of international pression for the release of them all," notably by the European Union.  Both he and Olivera were released provisionally, and live under the threat of being returned to prison at any moment on the whims of the political police. And, he adds, even though he is now out of jail, "I do not feel free, because no Cuban is free." To read the entire, heart-rending Le Monde interview with these two victims of the Castro dictatorship, click here.

I have always opposed the U.S. blockade of Cuba. In a statement against repression in Cuba, released last year by the Campaign for Peace and Democracy and signed by a hundred left-wing, anti-war American intellectuals (including myself), we affirmed: "The Cuban government's violations of democratic rights do not justify sanctions or any other form of intervention by the United States in Cuba. The government of the United States — which employs the rhetoric of human rights when doing so promotes its imperial goals, but maintains a discreet silence or makes only token protests when U.S. allies are involved, and which fully supports the barbaric practice of capital punishment, routinely inflicted in the U.S. — is hardly in a position to preach democracy and human rights."

That said, there is no excuse for those on the left who claim to be progressives or democrats turning a blind eye to the realities of the liberticide Cuban regime. And the New Year seems an appropriate time to recall the plight of those Fidel has thrown in jail for daring to think differently than he....

PR Watch, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy, has begun a new, end-of-year prize, the "Falsie Awards," which are designed "To remember the people and players responsible for polluting our information environment." Among this year's winners: video news releases (propaganda disguised as news), Ahmed Chalabi, stealth marketing, "Food Industry Foxes Guard the FDA Hen House," fake Republican "grass-roots" mail and e-mail campaigns, WalMart, Ogilvey and Mather, and more....check 'em all out by clicking here.......

A NEW CRIME: BANKING WHILE MUSLIM: Reason magazine's Jeff Taylor has just published an eye-opening dissection of one repressive aspect of the Patriot Act which has been ignored by the mainstream media: how banks have been terrorized by it into refusing to accept the custom of American Muslims and Muslim organizations. Taylor demonstrates how the Act victimizes "innocent people just trying to enjoy the immense benefits of a modern financial system. The PATRIOT Act's veil of secrecy is beginning to bite in this regard without any evidence that the United States is made safer in the bargain." Nice work, Jeff--to read the entire article, click here.....

MORE ON AIDS ACTION: Andy Humm, the veteran gay journalist/activist, a former member of the New York City Human Rights Commission, and co-host host of the New York-based Gay USA cable TV news show (available LIVE nationally on FSTV, Dish Network Channel 9415), has just reported for New York's weekly Gay City News on the political scandal at AIDS Action which DIRELAND broke in an earlier post -- and Andy harvested some interesting new comments by AIDS activists....

BUSH'S FOREIGN POLICY BAD FOR BUSINESS: According to a new survey just released by the Seattle-based Global Market Insite, the Bush administration's foreign policy may be costing U.S. corporations business overseas. The survey notes that, " Brands closely identified with the U.S., such as Marlboro cigarettes, American Online (AOL), American Airlines, and Exxon-Mobil are particularly at risk." to read more, click here.

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December 28, 2004


I was quite pained to learn just now of the death of Susan Sontag, who left us this morning at 7:00 AM in New York.  I first encountered Susan on the page when I was a teenager, through her groundbreaking essays in the Partisan Review--where she helped introduce Americans to European intellectuals of the first rank, like Roland Barthes, among many. We finally met in the late '70s, when Dick Sennett had asked me to be a Fellow at the Institute for the Humanities at New York University--a sort of glorified chat shop for intellectuals which we used to refer to jokingly as "the Humane Society"-- where Susan was a regular at the seminars. We became friends, and I passed many agreeable hours in her company in the years before I left for France. On several occasions we shared a joint together--although I felt rather guilty about giving one to her, as she had already had lung problems and bouts of cancer. Most of the obituaries will undoubtedly speak of Susan's brilliance. But I also remember her humor and wit, her love of gossip, her openness to the new, her capacity for lucid self-analysis, her ravishing smile, and her distinctive laugh. We often talked about sexuality--she was quite amusing in recounting her own amorous adventures with women. I confess I never cared as much for her fiction, although it was always interesting, as I did for her inimitable essays on culture, literature, and politics. Against Interpretation was masterful; Regarding the Pain of Others, which almost won the National Book Award last year, should be in everyone's library. Hers was a truly original mind.

Susan was the epitome of the intellectuelle engagée. She never shirked the responsibility of living in her time, and brought her acute analysis, and empathy with victims of state oppression wherever it was felt, onto the page with memorable effect. She was also a tireless activist in the service of other writers and writers' liberties. The last time she made headlines was when, during the second U.S. war in Iraq, Susan was pilloried by the philistines --and in the most vile terms -- after a Nightline appearance in which she compared the Congress's repeated standing applause for George Bush's war speech to the knee-jerk ovations of the Party Congresses in the Soviet Union (post-Stalin.) She got it exactly right, of course.

Susan is not replaceable. She will be missed.

P.S. After reading the above, Steve Wasserman, the L.A. Times literary editor, just sent me his obit on Susan for his paper. He captures her importance rather nicely. In his note to me, Steve says of Susan's death, "I'm undone." He is not alone in that feeling.....Later still: It's now 5:00 P.M. , and Susan's removal hangs in the air of the dying day like a bad omen. I've just read the irritating obit the N.Y. Times has posted, which contains this decidedly snarky paragraph:

"Over four decades, public response to Ms. Sontag remained irreconcilably divided. She was described, variously, as explosive, anticlimactic, original, trendy, iconoclastic, captivating, hollow, rhapsodic, naïve, sophisticated, approachable, abrasive, aloof, attention-seeking, charming, condescending, populist, puritanical, sybaritic, sincere, posturing, ascetic, voluptuary, right-wing, left-wing, mannered, formidable, brilliant, profound, superficial, ardent, bloodless, dogmatic, challenging, ambivalent, accessible, lofty, erudite, lucid, inscrutable, solipsistic, intellectual, visceral, reasoned, pretentious, portentous, maddening, lyrical, abstract, narrative, acerbic, opportunistic, chilly, effusive, careerist, sober, gimmicky, relevant, passé, facile, illogical, ambivalent, polemical, didactic, tenacious, slippery, celebratory, banal, untenable, doctrinaire, ecstatic, melancholic, humorous, humorless, deadpan, rhapsodic, aloof, glib, cantankerous and clever. No one ever called her dull." After reading this, my chum John Berendt sent me this note: "By my rough count there are 25 words in the list that could be considered positive, 33 negative, and 19 that could be read either way.  Strangely, the words 'aloof' and 'ambivalent' appear twice; I only counted each of them once, but their appearance made the list seem even more heavily weighted on the negative side."

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UPDATE ON THE POLITICAL SCANDAL AT AIDS ACTION--Plus, the AIDS organizational crisis and diversification

There are serious new developments that underscore the AIDS community's organizational crisis. At AIDS Action, the "national voice" for AIDS service organizations and the largest AIDS lobby in Washington, the condoheads and AIDScrats who run it are quaking in their boots as they await the release of a soon-to-be-published report from the Ford Foundation.

The Ford Foundation commissioned a study evaluating the effectiveness and advocacy of the national AIDS organizations; it was written by Derek Hodel. And, we hear, the report is absolutely devastating in its comments on AIDS Action's lack of effectiveness or consistency as an advocate for the community it claims to serve. During the years I wrote a column on the politics of AIDS for POZ magazine, I was constantly hearing from gay staffers on Capitol Hill, who were fighting to get federal help for those with HIV and AIDS , on how AIDS Action was AWOL from any legislative or bureaucratic fight that wasn't related to the Ryan White Act, from which most of the 3000-plus local AIDS service organizations (ASOs) which are members of AIDS Action and sent it money get their funding.

To take just one example, AIDS Action was completely absent from the successful struggle that got Congress to legislate compensation for hemophiliacs who were infected with HIV by government neglect in the supervision of the nation's blood supply. This year, AIDS Action boycotted the scrupulously non-partisan AIDSVote project--designed to register the HIV positive and make sure they could vote by absentee ballot, as well as soliciting and publicizing the candidates' positions on AIDS issues--even though AIDSVote was endorsed by virtually every major AIDS-fighting organization. And the list goes on....

In May last year, the Washington Blade's Lou Chibarro reported on a study commissioned by AIDS Action's own board of directors, which found that "AIDS Action's presence and visibility in Washington within the AIDS community is either nonexistent or minimal, and its previous leadership role as the voice of that community has vanished." When the press got wind of this report, AIDS Action's bureaucrats tried to disown and suppress it. The new Ford Foundation report will echo the findings of AIDS Action's own report last year.

Today, The Advocate's daily news service has just posted a lengthy account, based on DIRELAND's December 24 report, of the political scandal at AIDS Action--whose executive director has joined in organizing an Inaugural "Salute" banquet to Bush and the Republicans, with the proceeds going to a Big Pharma front group that fights against getting cheap generic AIDS meds to the world's poorest victims of the epidemic.

AA's executive director, Marsha Martin, is now trying to squirm away from her shocking actions, telling people that she "never saw" the invitation's wording before it went out. Well, Marsha, it's hard to believe an old political bureaucrat like you didn't know exactly what you were doing when you joined a host committee made up entirely of Republicans and people on various GOP payrolls. Are you now also going to claim you didn't know what the banquet's sponsoring group with the deceptively anodyne name, the AIDS Responsibility Project (ARP), was really all about? It's a matter of record that the ARP is run by a Republican political hack and funded by Big Pharma to crusade for the maintenance of the drug multinationals' monopoly on AIDS-fighting meds and the suppression of any attempt by the U.S. government, by telling lies about the effectiveness of cheap generic AIDS drugs and crusading against their adoption or use. If you, Marsha, didn't know about ARP's deplorable and mendacious campaigning against the interests of the world's poorest victims of the pandemic, then you're too bloody ignorant to pretend to leadership of the AIDS community. And if you did know, your betrayal of People With AIDS all over the planet is--the word is mild--reprehensible. Either way, your actions in this matter are stomach-turning...and you should be fired.

I understand that AIDS Action is already beginning to hear vigorous protests against Marsha Martin's unacceptable sellout not only from People With Aids, but from some of its funders, and even from some of its own past and present board members. If, after reading my earlier report, you wish to join in the protests, you should e-mail AIDS Action board chairman Craig Thompson (executive director of the AIDS Project Los Angeles) at advocacy@apla.org.

Even though I broke this story on Christmas Eve Day amid the holiday's distractions, I'm already getting feedback from AIDS activists who plan on demanding their local AIDS service organizations disaffiliate from AIDS Action and stop sending money to this useless and collaborationist bureaucracy. After the Ford Foundation's report and its findings on AIDS Actions are published, those calls for disaffiliation will no doubt increase.

BUT, BEYOND AIDS ACTION, the AIDs community faces a deeper organizational crisis. The Washington Post reported yesterday that, "Across the country, more and more AIDS organizations that have provided food, housing, legal aid, medical treatment and other help to those infected with HIV/AIDS are diversifying.

"But the expansion has drawn concerns from those who note that 40,000 new HIV infections occur annually in the United States and that 18,000 people a year die of AIDS. They say that those afflicted by HIV/AIDS will be shunted aside in the rush to diversify [and take up other diseases' victims]....

"Kandy Ferree, president of the National AIDS Fund, which helps finance about 400 community AIDS groups, said she is concerned that some AIDS groups may expand into fields where they aren't as qualified just to get more funding. " ' It is absolutely critical that organizations . . . not chase dollars for the sake of chasing dollars,' Ferree said. 'It's very dangerous.' " You should read the entire WashPost story.

The problems of diversification by AIDS orgs in their money chase are also problems of accountability, stemming in part from the fact that too many AIDS groups are run by people who are not HIV-positive (like AIDS Action's Martin) or in which People With AIDS (PWAs) are under-represented on their governing councils.

I e-mailed the WashPost story to a number of prominent AIDS activists with long organizational experience in fighting the epidemic, and asked for their comments. Among the most thoughtful responses was this one, from someone who has done more in fighting the pandemic than most:

"The expansion of services is typically--but not always--a result of the agency altering its mission in order to chase funding.  These are decisions made, or largely influenced, by the bureaucrats and administrators of these agencies, who are more concerned with self-preservation and institution-building than advocacy on behalf of or service to people with AIDS.

"That may or may not mean they have insufficiently served their original mission, as that varies from organization to organization.  It is admirable and, quite frankly, typical, that organizations and efforts built on the blood of people with AIDS have served as examples and inspiration and as platforms for expansion of services to others in need.

"But the real danger here is the extent to which control of community-based and community-built ASOs has been taken away from people who themselves have the disease.  If these are organizations with a powerful and controlling presence of people with AIDS on their boards, I would be less skeptical than if they had boards that have followed an all-too-familiar path towards token representation of PWAs on their boards. 
"These non-profits are a powerful community asset, yet we have, for a variety of reasons, allowed many of them to drift out of the community's control into the hands of careerists and empire builders.  That isn't necessarily bad in every circumstance, but as an overall trend, I find it disturbing.
"What has distinguished the AIDS activist movement has been the principle that people with the disease need to take charge of their own destinies and be a powerful voice in all decision-making that affects their lives.  That has been forgotten in many quarters.
"And, sadly, a bureaucrat or non-profit administrator with HIV seems to too often respond better to the self-interest and institutionalization of his or her bureaucracy than to the interests of others with HIV.  When I look at PWA empowerment on boards of directors, I partially discount the PWA board members who work for AIDS bureaucracies.  Their 'inside' view doesn't have quite the 20/20 focus of those on the outside with AIDS who are struggling to get healthcare, stay sober, find housing and to survive. 

"AIDS was once a singular problem for urban gay white men; they basically had no other comparable burden or challenge in their life.  But the disease today is inextricable from a raft of other problems of the poor, particularly the urban poor.  Addiction, mental illness, homelessness, racism, poverty, etc.  So to the extent that these services are expanded to others in that spectrum, it is great and also potentially useful to building a sufficiently secure safety net to help people prevent infection. 
"Housing Works is a good example.  I don't know that they 'require' their clients to have HIV before they can help them and, quite frankly, I don't care, because the most pressing front in the battle against AIDS in NYC is also a battle against homelessness and being underhoused.  But the Housing Works governance model guarantees PWA representation--real representation and power--in a manner matched by few agencies.  So I have confidence that whatever they are doing is truly being done in the name of providing service to those in need, particularly people with AIDS, rather than as a fundraising ploy or even a controlling mechanism to diminish the voice of those pesky activist PWAs."  Well said......
RELATED READING:  A disturbing story on Sunday from the Associated Press (picked up by 365gay.com):
"Federal Workers May Be Fired For Blowing Whistle On Dangerous AIDS Drugs". Read it and weep....

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December 24, 2004


It's mind-boggling: Marsha Martin, the executive director of AIDS Action--the AIDS community's largest, most visible, and wealthiest Washington lobby, with a multi-million dollar budget--has jumped into bed with the Bush-Rove Republicans with both feet. In a perfectly scandalous act of betrayal of the AIDS community, Martin is one of a small committee sponsoring a pricey celebration of Bush's November victory, and that of the Republicans in Congress. And guess who gets the money from this orgy of felicitations to the GOP? A front group for Big Pharma that crusades against giving cheap, generic AIDS-fighting meds to the world's poorest victims of the AIDS pandemic.

The invitation, on which Martin's name prominently appears as part of a small "host committee", is to an expensive, upcoming January 20 event at Washington's J.W. Marriott on Pennsylvania Avenue, just a few blocks from the White House. The event is billed as a "Salute a Second Term: Celebrating Freedom, Honoring Service--an Inaugural Dinner Invitation." And the invitation to this deluxe, black-tie banquet ($125 a plate, with "corporate sponsorships" going for $5000)  goes on to say, "You are cordially invited to join in celebrating the Presidential Inauguration and Republican electoral success."

This event, which as a member of the "host committee" Martin is helping to organize, is for the benefit of something called the Aids Responsibility Project (ARP). And just what, you may ask, is the ARP? As the Center for Media and Democracy has carefully documented, ARP is a pharmaceutical industry front group--it even boasts of its "partnership" with the Big Pharma lobby, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), as well as with Pfizer and other drug multinationals. ARP's primary function has been to crusade against the manufacture and use of effective but generic AIDS-fighting drugs produced by Third World companies like India's Cipla (whose tripartite AIDS-fighting "cocktail" costs 20 times less than the U.S.-manufactured version). ARP wants thus to insure that only the infinitely more expensive AIDS meds manufactured by Big Pharma companies are used to prolong the lives of the HIV-infected.

As a result, Bush administration policies allow U.S. monies for Bush's phony Global AIDS Initiative to be used only for buying Big Pharma drugs--a task made even easier when Bush appointed to head his AIDS initiative someone with no experience with AIDS and none with diseases in developing countries: Randall L. Tobias, the former chairman of the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co. Tobias was chosen as Big Pharma's enforcer, to ensure that countries getting U.S. help can't themselves buy generic AIDS drugs at the lowest possible prices — meaning the Bush initiative's money won’t go nearly as far as it should.

ARP's founder and executive director, Abner Mason, is a Republican hack who had no previous AIDS experience when George Bush named him to the President's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, which Bush has stacked with opponents of science-based sex education and anti-condom crusaders. (Mason had previously worked for two Republican Massachusetts Governors -- Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift -- as chief policy adviser, and served them as the Massachusetts Undersecretary of Transportation, and as Deputy General Manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.)

During the the 15th International AIDS Conference, held in Bangkok in July 2004, Mason's ARP took out a full-page ad in the Bangkok Post which attacked generic AIDS drugs and lied about their effectiveness. This caused Asia Russell, of the AIDS-fighting group Health GAP Coalition, to say, "It is hard to gauge whether the global AIDS treatment community is more shocked to learn that a drug industry stooge is at the highest advisory level of AIDS policy in the United States, or to learn the lengths to which he and his paymasters would go to falsely undermine confidence in proven and effective treatment options."

AIDS Action bills itself as the "national voice" for the some 3200 AIDS service organizations (ASOs) around the country which make up its membership. Thus, it is in their name that Martin, as AIDS Action's executive director, is calling for a "celebration" of an administration that has promulgated regulations demanding that any ASO getting federal money teach that condoms don't work to prevent AIDS; perverted the use of tax-payer dollars intended to help fight AIDS by funneling them into political patronage for the Christian Right disguised as "faith-based initiatives"; gutted the Centers for Disease Control's AIDS work by censoring and banishing any educational material that recognizes sexual practices the Bushies don't like (homosexuality foremost among them); and, at the same time, Martin wishes us to hail a Republican Congress that has virtually flat-lined domestic AIDS spending. Moreover, Martin wants us to shout for joy at the GOP's "electoral success" which just elevated to the Senate a phalanx of anti-condom religious primitives-- like Coburn of Oklahoma (the AIDS community's number one enemy when he was in the House), DeMint of South Carolina, Burr of North Carolina, Vitter of Louisiana, and Martinez of Florida.

When Martin was named AIDS Action's executive director in February 2002, she told the Washington Blade that "We are going to be on AIDS what [the Human Rights Campaign] is on gay rights issues." But Martin exceeded even the Republican-endorsing HRC's collaborationist policies by her constant effusive praise for Bush's sorry record on AIDS. When Bush made an election-year campaign speech on AIDS in Philadelphia this past February--a speech whose phony hypocrisy I exposed for The Nation--Martin gushed to USA Today that Bush had given "unprecedented leadership" on AIDS. And she praised Bush's Global AIDS Initiative as "absolutely exceptional" to CNN, despite its tilt to the religious right's condom opponents. That compulsive ass-kissing doesn't strike most people in the AIDS community as conforming to the frightening reality they know all too well.

But Martin has now allied herself firmly with a Republican president and a Republican Congress who have been hurting the very community she claims to serve, and who have done everything possible to destroy science-based, life-saving HIV prevention methods. Moreover, she has done so as a shill for a banquet to benefit a lobbying group that wants to deny poor people with AIDS around the world cheap meds that can keep them alive.

Sean Strub, the founder of the award-winning magazine POZ (which serves the HIV-positive community) and one of the AIDS community's most respected activists, has just sent a letter to AIDS leaders in which he says of Martin's latest and most stomach-turning sellout, "Why don't we just dissolve AIDS Action, spend the money on cyanide pills, and speed the whole thing up? Martin is responsible for protecting the interests of people with AIDS--and yet she celebrates those who have supported Bush's campaign to control and criminalize us, to deny us treatment and care, to guarantee the further spread of the disease by teaching young people that condoms don't work. She might as well go to work for HRC for all the good she's doing us. We cannot let this stand."

So, Strub tells AIDS leaders in his e-mailed letter, "we must demand that AIDS Action board members, and the executive directors of the agencies that fund AIDS Action, fire Marsha Martin and find an executive director whose celebratory priorities are more appropriate to a constituency struggling to survive, to keep from becoming totally invisible, totally ignored, totally discarded."

Strub is, of course, right-- the kapo Martin should be fired. And there should a firestorm of outrage at her actions from the AIDS community to insure her eviction.

P.S. An 11:30 AM UPDATE:

Larry Kramer just sent me a copy of an e-mail he sent to a number of AIDS Action board members, AIDS leaders and HIV-positive writers. It is below--followed by my response to him:

as one of the original founders of aids action council with the late paul popham, i raise these piercing questions: who is this marsha martin and why  is she doing and saying these really dumb and stupid things? is aids action turning into a second and equally as useless hrc, run by idiots who do not know the first thing about activism? why are board members, some of whom i know and respect so out to lunch in minding this once valuable store? what is it with this growing list of our once noble organiztions that they are appearing to go down the toilet? are they all being taken over silently by karl rove, like everything else in this country?

what is happening to us? i no longer know who we are, what our goals are, of if we even have goals anymore, or remotely similar goals. across the board, everywhere i look, we are self-destructing, that much is certain.


My response:

My dear Larry--
I assume your questions below were largely rhetorical, for I can't believe you don't know perfectly well what AIDS Action's misdeeds and misjudgements are all about: money. Nothing has changed since three years ago, when Jamie Fox (who ran the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee brilliantly) quit as AIDS Action's executive director after only a couple of weeks-- in disgust with the board and its domination by the Big 6 Divas of the ASOs, who have nothing but Ryan White Act $$$ signs in their eyes.....I wrote about Jamie's (and my) diagnosis of all this at the time in POZ --you can find it at http://www.poz.com/index.cfm?p=article&art_id=553, but here are a couple of relevant extracts from that column:

"I didn't seek the job -- the search committee came to me," Fox told POZ in an exclusive interview. "And, as an openly gay man, I was looking forward to putting my governmental experience to work on the AIDS crisis -- to giving something back." Fox had big plans to broaden the group's agenda beyond simply renewing Ryan White CARE Act funding (on which the 3,500 AIDS service organizations, or ASOs, that make up AIDS Action depend). He wanted the group to fight, too, for universal health care, for an effective national prevention campaign and for a response to the global AIDS crisis commensurate with our country's wealth.

His ideas immediately met resistance because, said Fox, "We've created a generation of AIDS execs who go from one organization to another, and some ASOs have become bloated, preoccupied with making sure their bureaucracies are well funded, rather than moving to the next level on how we battle the epidemic. Most ASO leaders do tremendous work," Fox continued, but some board members "are self-promoters. Like too many other nonprofits and movements, we've created a class of people who are mostly interested in preserving their revenue sources and status. For example, some of the largest ASOs mouth support for universal health care, but there's no real enthusiasm -- with universal health care, a lot of organizations would lose their bureaucracies."

Fox is hardly alone in identifying this problem -- openly gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) sarcastically talks about "AIDS, Inc." And Fox is particularly critical of the undue influence on AIDS Action's board (composed mostly of ASO execs) wielded by the major urban-based ASOs -- dubbed the "Big Six," or "Divas." This group provides fully a quarter of AIDS Action's $2.2 million annual budget. A champion fund-raiser, Fox corralled more than $84 million as director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee last year, helping to achieve the new 50/50 Senate split. This, he says, made the Divas "wary of me": Fox had planned to diversify the group's funding sources, and the Divas feared losing control.

Expanding the AIDS agenda, Fox says, means understanding that "Ryan White funding can't last forever. It's a battle every five years, and we've been lucky to keep increasing it. But if we face an economic downturn, these programs will attract more scrutiny. We can't keep building bureaucracies with ever-increasing overheads and a narrow, self-preserving focus -- we'll give ammunition to the right wing," which is always looking for reasons to chop AIDS funds.... [end of excerpt]

So, you see, Larry dear, not much is different at AA today, except its gotten worse--the Republicans now have a hammer-lock on both Houses of Congress (which they didn't then) as well as the White House, so the AA crowd has deployed their collective tongue to the polishing of the Bushies' boots to try to beg, "Please, Sir, I Want Some More"...but these servile Dickensian moans for a few more grudgingly conceded Ryan White dollars won't get us much, because the only thing the Bush-Rove Republicans respect is strength. If AA had put more energy and money into organizing the AIDS vote, and into building coalitions with other communities (as I've endlessly argued) they might have had a bit of impact.....as it is, La Martin scurries to the W. House for photo ops with The Shrub and thinks that's progress.....

Jingle Balls, may Baby Jesus not crap on your head, and have a safe passage into 2005, xoxo Doug

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December 23, 2004


This morning's Los Angeles Times reports -- under the headline "Democratic Leadership Rethinking Abortion"-- that the national Democrats are seriously debating a shift in their all-out commitment to a woman's right to choose to have an abortion. Both of the Democrats' Congressional leaders--Nancy Pelosi in the House and Harry Reid in the Senate--are backing a candidate for Democratic National Committee chair, Tim Roemer, "an abortion foe who argues that the party cannot rebound from its losses in the November election unless it shows more tolerance on one of society's most emotional conflicts." And Roemer "said he would encourage the party to eliminate its 'moral blind spot' when it comes to late-term abortions."

"Tolerance"? For returning to the era of coat-hanger abortions? For recreating a new criminal class of unlicensed abortionists? That ain't tolerance, bro', that's a cave-in to the theocrats. Moreover, since people with money can always go abroad to get perfectly legal abortions performed in safe medical conditions, a retreat on abortion by the Dems would be aimed solely at the economically disadvantaged: the poor, as usual, would be hardest hit. Yeah, that's a great Democratic program, alright--let's torture poor women!

Oh, and guess who's also encouraging the watering-down of the Democrats' full-throated defense of a woman's right to control her own body? Why, that noble Democrat of principle John Kerry--the L.A. Times tells us that, "after his election loss, the Massachusetts senator concluded that the party needed to rethink its stance. Addressing supporters at a meeting held by the AFL-CIO, Kerry said he discovered during trips through Pennsylvania that many union members were also abortion opponents and that the party needed to rethink how it could appeal to those voters, Kerry spokesman David Wade said." (Another flip-flop--a sure sign that he's thinking of running again.)

Having blamed their election loss on uppity gays and planned to shun the movement for their rights, now the Democratic elite is scurrying toward positions that will reaffirm the right of religion to legislate morality and throw women overboard in the process. Some, like Nancy Pelosi, have already suggested that the privatization of Social Security is a negotiable issue--there go the seniors...At this rate, if the Democrats keep mowing down their base constituent groups in this cross-fire of post-defeat recriminations, you'll have to have a paid-up membership in the Southern Baptists to be a Democrat (indeed, right-wing Dems like Chris Matthews have already suggested that the party's next nominee for president must be a Southern Baptist).

One of the "softenings" of the party's abortion position its cretinous honchos are suggesting is requiring parental consent to have one. That means subjecting, BY LAW, teenage girls of 17, 18, 19, and 20 (depending on where they live) to the dictatorship of parents who are religious primitives--just like, say, those beacons of liberty Pakistan and Morocco.

Is there no limit to the poll-driven cowardice of the Democratic Party's elite? The Chinese have a saying: "Half the sky is women." If the Democrats forget that, their continuing lurch to the center-right will be a suicidal one.

YULE YUKS: If you missed that hilarious and irreverent Robert Smigel puppet video on Santa from Saturday Night Live--the one that shows Rush Limbaugh passed out in a pool of vomit from a drug overdose, sends up Al Franken for his unfunny brand of dumb epithet-throwing, and even mentions Tom Frank's must-read new book--you'll find a link to the video at Crooks and Liars. Pounce!

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One of several  reasons I value highly the daily press review Undernews--edited by the excellent Sam Smith, a veteran independent D.C.-based journalist--is that, despite the brain-damaging quantities of U.S. and foreign media I ingurgitate, Sam always comes up with insightful facts and analysis I've missed. In the December 22 Undernews, for example, one finds a sharp-eyed piece on Iraq by Abhay Mehta of the large-circulation Indian newsweekly Outlook in its December 20 issue. Entitled "The End of Warfare," Mehta uses the fact that Fallujah has still not been "secured" by the U.S.-led forces some 50 days after the assault on that martyred city began as a prism through which to view the limits of American military might in a country hostile to U.S. occupation:

"Against the most heavily armed opponent in the history of war, Fallujah has still not let itself be 'taken' to date. The mightiest military machine in history has met its match. A turning point in military affairs? The end of warfare, as practiced by the Americans - the application of overwhelming force to obtain a victory?

"Fallujah per se, on the face of it, is not a strategic or a militarily significant target. It however represents the 'great challenge' to the US/UK's military occupation of Sovereign Iraq since April 2003.

"On the face of it, it appears as if none of these tactical/military objectives have been met, including, it appears, the desire to presumably meet Mr Satan, resident of Fallujah.

"As for the other very laudable and rationally quantifiable objectives including that of stuffing democracy into a city by simply obliterating it, all of these seem to be a bit astray. . .
"[Fallujah remains 'untaken"] despite being flattened (perhaps about 12,000 to as much as 20,000 homes out of an estimated 50,000 razed) by the application of, as US Army Gen. John Abizaid put it, 'more military power per square inch than anybody else on earth]....

"At the peak of the assault, the Americans held no more than 35-40% of Fallujah (largely the north on or around the 18th of November) Thereafter, they appear to have been steadily repulsed and in fact the coalition forces currently have been repulsed to where they were on November 13th or thereabouts and to the outskirts of Fallujah. . .

"Short of using a neutron or a nuclear bomb (the Americans did use chemical weapons in Fallujah), despite all efforts, what the Americans have been able to achieve is relatively little, if anything at all, even in the best case estimates of the official narrative...." I urge you to read the rest of Mehta's piercing analysis, which suggests why Bush's claims that we can "win" in Iraq are imperial fantasies, nourished by the bunkered blindness of the Pentagon's chiefs from the ignorant safety of their offices on the Potomac--far, far away from the Tigris and Euphrates.

The dining-tent bombing of the U.S. base at Mosul has blown Fallujah out of the U.S. mass media's news cycle--but before it did, can you remember hearing or reading as clear and plain-speaking account of our failure in Fallujah as this one from India? (Mehta's piece is proof again that it's quite useful to break out of our navel-gazing and insular nationalism and look at us as others in the world see us).

The largest chunk of Americans still get their war news through television--specifically from the simple-minded summaries on local TV news--so, as I wrote in this week's L.A. Weekly, it's no surprise that a majority in this country still believe we need to stick it out in Iraq until "democracy" is installed (at gunpoint) and the insurgents "defeated."

If you want to know why public opinion in Western Europe has been so overwhelmingly against the U.S. war in and occupation of Iraq, there’s one obvious answer: the difference in television news between theirs and ours. You can easily determine this for yourself: Spend a week watching the news broadcasts and TV magazines of the BBC, France2 and Deutsche Welle, all available on many U.S. cable systems. The footage of dead Iraqi babies and children — victims of U.S. attacks on "terrorists" — that you will regularly see on European public television is rarely aired on U.S. networks. The regular interviews in Iraqi hospitals with doctors recounting the slaughter of the innocents that show up on European news broadcasts aren’t often seen on the all-news cable networks here, let alone on the Big Three broadcast nets’ newscasts. Iraqis, of course, know this daily reality all too well — which explains their overwhelming hostility to the U.S. occupation. And why that occupation cannot succeed.

An on-the-ground study of Iraqi casualties between April and September by Nancy Youssef of Knight Ridder newspapers demonstrated that "Operations by U.S. and multinational forces and Iraqi police are killing twice as many Iraqis — most of them civilians — as attacks by insurgents." But you’re not told this by U.S. TV’s "embedded" reporters, who’ve traded their reportorial independence for access to the boom-boom footage that drives what Time magazine has labeled the "militainment" proffered by American television. In fact, embedded reporters are enrolled in what the Pentagon calls "information operations" — a counterpart to military operations designed to exact the rosiest possible picture of the U.S. occupation from accredited reporters. Those who don’t toe the Pentagon line, and who report negatively on the occupation of Iraq and the indiscriminate effects of U.S. forces’ combat there, are simply blacklisted.

The demagogic nationalism of Fox News, the ratings king, has dragged the other networks down to its level as they seek to win back lost viewers. In a must-read article on "Iraq, the Press and the Election" in the December 16 issue of The New York Review of Books, the Columbia Journalism Review’s Michael Massing dissects U.S. media coverage of Iraq with devastating effect. CNN, for example, he portrays as "careening wildly between an adherence to traditional news values on the one hand and a surrender to the titillating, overheated, nationalistic fare of contemporary cable on the other. In the end, CNN . . . offered the superficiality of Fox without any of its conviction."

No wonder our couch potatoes haven't grasped that there is no end in sight in Iraq. Senator Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, reported recently from  a tour of Iraq that he hasn’t talked to a single U.S. military commander who doesn’t believe the U.S. occupation will last "three, or five, or seven years more" at least (did I hear someone say the word "Vietnam"?). And the longer it lasts, and the more Iraqi civilians are consumed in the flames of that occupation, the more the mad mullahs who dream of returning the Arab world to the 12th century will find willing listeners for their brand of hysterical religious poison, fertilizing the terrain from which new suicidal martyrs--like those who blew up the soldiers of the only hyperpower's army in Mosul this week--will sprout like mushrooms after a rainstorm. We cannot "win" in Iraq, any more than we could in Vietnam--but it will take Washington a long time to even begin to admit it....

MORE MUST READING: There's a sharp multi-parter, the first installment of which has just been posted on PersonalDemocracy.com, by Chris Nolan -- "MoveOn: No Longer a Startup or an Upstart" -- which dissects how "what started out as an on-line political revolution turned over the course of the election into little more than upbeat marketing chatter designed to keep the customers happy and paying...." Nolan's acute diagnosis provides fresh reporting and analysis that helps understand Marc Cooper's slicing up of MoveOn's mushy politics in the L.A. Weekly three weeks ago. I'm eager to read Nolan's second installment, due to be posted later today...

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December 21, 2004


When Gary Webb killed himself ten days ago, it was, in a way, his second death. When Gary was a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, his groundbreaking series on drug-dealing by the Nicaraguan Contras with the collusion of the CIA, "The Dark Alliance," brought him an avalanche of media condemnation from the Big Boys (like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times) who'd missed the story. They destroyed Webb's reputation, and his career.

If only they'd put as much energy into investigating the CIA itself. A huge amount of what Webb wrote was later confirmed in a CIA Inspector General's report, and in the findings of investigators for the Senate committee that investigated the CIA-drug links (as the top investigator for the Senate Select Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations, the admirable Jack Blum, testified in 1996).

On Webb's death, the L..A. Times--as my friend and colleague Marc Cooper has written in a stinging L.A. Weekly column--"decided to give his corpse another kick or two, in a scandalous, self-serving and ultimately shameful obituary. It was the culmination of the long, inglorious saga of a major newspaper dropping the ball journalistically, and then extracting relentless revenge on an out-of-town reporter who embarrassed it." Don't miss Cooper's exposure of the L.A. Times' spavined ethics in its outrageous post-mortem treatment, and the vilification which preceded it, of Gary Webb--whom we salute as a courageous, groundbreaking, and sometimes humanly fallible journalist who deserved better at the hands of his confreres on the national dailies. To read about it all, click here.


Have you ever heard of an entire publishing house going on strike? Well, that's what's happened in Paris, where the whole staff of Seuil--the last remaining large independent publisher and distributor of quality books--yesterday walked out to protest its takeover by another, smaller company. Seuil is considered one of the Big Three in French publishing, along with Gallimard and Grasset--a trio of publishing houses whose incestuous domination of the Prix Goncourt, France's most presitigious literary prize, has been consecrated with the nick-name Galligrasseuil.

At stake in this musical chairs ownership shuffle (which has been marked by an insider trading scandal by the Seuil C.E.O. who engineered the house's sale) is Seuil's distribution network. Seuil distributes a dozen other, smaller imprints -- including the invaluable Phebus, which among other works publishes translations and reprints of current and historic texts on North Africa's Arab culture, with a backlist that includes many jewels.

The new owner plans to rake in a fortune by selling off Seuil's various distribution organs--and because of Seuil's privileged relationship with independent booksellers and its generous terms to them, the impact on the book trade as a whole of this death-by-division of Seuil will be great indeed.

One of the great pleasures of my years living in Paris was the astonishing number of books from other countries that the French publish in translation--most of which are not available in English. To take just one favorite example: of Pier Paolo Pasolini's 50-plus books, only five have appeared in English--but nearly all were available in French, to my great delectation. Many translations are published by Seuil and the other houses it distributes, offering an extraordinary window on world literature to those who read French. We say a grand bravo to the Seuil strikers. You can get details on what's up with the Seuil takeover, and its larger meaning, in a December 17 op-ed piece from the daily Liberation .....And, for an in-depth, insider look at the incestuous world of publishing in France, the investigative/satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine last month published a folio paperback in its series Les dossiers du Canard, about the publishing industry, entitled "Tant qu'il y a des tomes" (As Long AsThere Are Books). It contains background on the Seuil scandal, and a lot of other secrets usually known only to publishing initiates--plus it's a great read. You can order it for 5.35 Euros, plus postage, from Le Canard Enchaine, 173 rue Sant-Honore, 75001 Paris.

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A dispatch from Reuters yesterday reports on a new European Union-funded study showing that radio waves from mobile phones harm body cells and damage DNA in laboratory conditions. Mutated DNA cells of the kind reported in the study are seen as a possible cause of cancer. According to Reuters, the study's director, Dr. Franz Adlkofer of Germany, "advised against the use of a mobile phone when an alternative fixed line phone was available."

This is not the first such study of mobile phone dangers. In October, a Swedish study  (published in the journal Epidemiology) by epidemiologists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm found that those who used cell phones for ten years double the danger of getting tumors on the acoustic nerve (called acoustic neromas).

And two years earlier, a study published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention reported that brain tumors nearly doubled among those who used mobile phones for ten years.

If you're interested in this under-reported issue, you'll find credible, science-based information at Microwave News, which the scientist/journalist Louis Slesin has run for 25 years. Slesin has been a lonely voice trying to get attention paid to the dangers of cell phones despite an industry-funded campaign to stifle such information, in which the major media have been complicit.

I confess to a particular dislike for mobile phones--I consider them irritatingly anti-social, as Umberto Ecco painted them in a witty anti-cell phone essay a couple of years ago (it has, unfortunately, not been published in English as far as I know) proclaiming that only doctors and similar folk really needed these self-indulgent apparatuses. People who drive while talking on their cell phones are maddeningly dangerous (many European countries now have laws against doing so, as do some states here, like New York and New Jersey). On the streets, pedestrians who don't look where they're going because they're yammering on their cells constantly jostle one needlessly. The frequent interruptions of conversations with someone calling from a cell phone are rivaled in their annoyance factor only by the often watery, scratchy, and feeble voice signal mobile phones can produce. And now those of us with Luddite sympathies can bolster our aesthetic arguments with more than enough credible evidence to suggest that these noxious instruments are dangerous to one's health as well. Stick to your land lines, kids....

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