Clear Channel inAction

Perhaps you think media consolidation does not affect our everyday lives. Please read the following story (from Democracy Now!) and try to explain that to the residents of Minot, ND.

Five years ago, a one-hundred-twelve car train derailed just outside Minot, North Dakota – the state’s fourth largest city. The accident occurred shortly before two in the morning on January 18, 2002. Minutes later, the train’s conductor called the local emergency dispatch.

Two hundred forty thousand gallons of anhydrous ammonia leaked out of the train producing a vapor plume that floated over the town. Limited exposure burns the eyes, the skin, and the lungs. Larger doses can shut down the human respiratory system.

The chemical leak in Minot ended up killing one person. Approximately 330 were treated for immediate health problems and more than 1,000 people needed medical care for recurring illnesses in the next month. But questions remain to this day over how the crisis was handled and the role played by media consolidation.

The radio giant Clear Channel owned all six commercial stations in Minot, North Dakota. None of them broke into regular programming to provide emergency information to the city’s residents. After the town’s Emergency Alert System failed, local officials tried to call the stations, but no one answered. The stations continued to play music piped in from out of state.

The independent media program ‘Democracy Now!‘ broadcast some of the emergency phone calls placed by Minot residents, which you can listen to here using Real Player.

I would like to repeat once again that radio airwaves are public property and should serve in the public interest.

Clear Channel

Broadcasting companies used to be constrained from owning too many radio stations; companies could own only two in any one market and no more than 28 nationwide. After all, radio airwaves are public property and should therefore serve in the public interest.

However, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 changed all the rules of media consolidation. Pushed through legislation by a GOP-controlled congress and signed into law by Bill Clinton, this law destroyed nearly all ownership restrictions on radio. These days, just a handful of companies control radio broadcasts in America’s largest markets.

The leading radio conglomerate by far is Clear Channel, which now owns over 1,200 stations nationwide and generates more than $3 billion in annual revenue. They own stations in 247 of the America’s 250 largest radio markets. Not only are they the world’s largest radio broadcaster, they are also the world’s largest concert promoter and billboard advertising firm…you’ve probably noticed their logo beneath hundreds of advertisements.

The company promotes a processed style of radio in which stations throughout the country play a standard selection of focus-group-approved songs. When it comes to talk radio, conservative pundits dominate their arsenal: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Dr. Laura, Neil Boortz, Glenn Beck, and Bill O’Reilly have some of the top-rated radio programs.

They have also mastered the art of voice tracking, which creates short, computer-assisted voice segments which the listener is meant to think is being locally produced. Identical content is often broadcast on up to of 75 stations nationwide from a central site, which allows the company to cut down on payroll for in-house DJs.

After September 11, company executives circulated a list of blacklisted songs (including John Lennon’s Imagine, Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World, and the Elton John’s Rocket Man). For a complete list of banned songs, check here. They have also blacklisted bands that express public dissent towards the war or the president (first the Dixie Chicks, now Springsteen, Mellencamp, and Neil Young).

Clear Channel has also become one of the first media companies to sponsor pro-war rallies in cities around the country before and during the invasion of Iraq. This does not represent the objective stance that a responsible media provider should maintain in a truly democratic society.

New Australian Prime Minister

Just a bit of news out of Australia…

Conservative Prime Minister (and Bush-buddy) John Howard was defeated Saturday in the Australian elections. He lost to Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd, who ran a campaign promising to sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and withdraw Australia’s combat troops from Iraq.

If you’re curious about their political affiliation, check the compass:

Australian Election 2007

John Howard was running on the Liberal party ticket, and Kevin Rudd was with the Labor party (comparable to Republican vs. Democrat in the US elections).

The coming months will tell whether Prime Minister Rudd chooses to fulfill his campaign promises.

Kevin RuddJohn Howard

Hello Rudd.             Goodbye Howard.

Invasion of Iraq

The supposed ‘war on terror‘ took a severe misstep with the US invasion of Iraq.

The groundwork for the preemptive invasion of Iraq was laid out by the National Security Strategy of 2002, which refined the concept of preventive war to say that the United States reserves the right to attack any country with the “intent and ability” to develop weapons of mass destruction, which essentially means any nation our leaders deem fit.

Subsequently, all of Bush’s initial reasons for invading Iraq were proven false: Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, he’s an imminent threat to US security, Saddam provided al Qaeda with weapons and training, and insinuations that Saddam was somehow behind the attacks of 9-11. With these reasons failing, Washington then shifted its stance to promoting the president’s ‘vision’ of spreading democracy throughout the Middle East.

So we are meant to believe that the United States has no interest in controlling the second-largest oil reserves in the world, which would give us leverage over Asian and European economies in the future. Rather, this is a mission in the name of ‘democracy’: to liberate the people of Iraq.

Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant; there’s no doubt about that, but Washington’s justifications to attack Iraq are lacking in credibility and timeliness. After all, Saddam was strongly supported by current administration officials and their mentors during the Iran-Iraq war in the eighties, and continually supported through his worst atrocities (the gassing of the Kurds in Halabja, the crushing of a Shi’ite rebellion that may have overthrown Saddam, etc.). The US continued to provide him with arms and funding (over $5 billion on credit between from ’83-90), as well as technology and biological agents that could be adapted to weapons of mass destruction.

In the early nineties, the Gulf War led to a decade of harsh economic sanctions on Iraq, which caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis (mostly children). When asked on national TV about the deaths of half a million Iraqi children, Secretary of State Madeline Albright said, “we think the price is worth it.” These sanctions crippled the Iraqi economy, destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure, increased civilian dependency on their dictator, and eliminated Saddam’s capacity for aggression. This made Iraq one of the weakest countries in the region; Kuwait and Iran did not even regard them as a threat. So you can see that the brutal Saddam was much more dangerous back when he was our friend and ally, rather than when we invaded Iraq in 2003.

Nevertheless, the drumbeat for war ensued; Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell and Rice each played on the fears and emotions of the American people. They warned of stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, uranium from Africa, aluminum tubes, mushroom clouds, yellow cake, mustard gas, al Qaeda ties, etc. Failing to obtain UN support, the invasion proceeded with a ‘coalition of the willing’ (primarily the UK & Australia), in which only four other countries supplied troops.

The war was deeply unpopular with the citizens of all the coalition countries, except within the United States, where the administration’s message resounded to exploit the fears of its citizens. They predicted we would be ‘greeted as liberators‘, that Iraqi oil would pay for the cost of the war, and Rumsfeld doubted it would ‘take 6 months‘. Post-invasion, they assured the public that the insurgency was in its ‘last throes‘, that the violence was just the ‘birth-pangs of a new Middle East‘, and that ‘major combat operations in Iraq have ended‘ in Bush’s famous ‘mission accomplished’ speech.

Contrary to their predictions and assurances, the Iraq occupation has lasted for over four years so far, cost the American people over half a trillion dollars, and caused the deaths of nearly 4,000 American troops (plus over 50,000 wounded). The country has fallen into sectarian civil war between Iraqi Sunni and Shi’a factions while American troops are left in the middle. About one million Iraqis have died as a result of this fighting; more than 1.7 million people are internally displaced, while two million refugees are living abroad. These results are unquestionably contributing to the destabilization of the Middle East.

“War on Terror”

We have all heard of the ‘War on Terror,’ re-declared by President Bush following the 9/11 attacks. I say ‘re-declared’ because pretty much the same rhetoric was used by Ronald Reagan in 1981, before much of Central America was devastated by terror with US involvement.

Anyhow, the real problem with the re-declared ‘war on terror‘ is that it prescribes endless war against a faceless enemy. Terrorism is a tactic used by people in many countries, including the US; it is not possible to wage war on such a thing; there is not a specific set of people that can be targeted…they are everywhere and more are created every day.

Terrorism, as defined by US Code, is the calculated threat or use of violence with the aim of intimidating and provoking fear and damage in order to achieve political, religious, ideological and other goals, typically directed against civilian populations.

If we apply this definition honestly, we will find that most of the rest of the world already regards the United States as a leading terrorist state. In the last half century, the US has taken or backed military actions in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Chile, Colombia, Panama, Bolivia, Peru, El Salvador, Haiti, Cuba, Bosnia, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, East Timor…you get the picture.

In fact, the US is the only nation ever to be condemned by the World Court for the ‘unlawful use of force‘ (in Nicaragua v. United States, 1986). Washington ignored the order to pay reparations to Nicaragua, then vetoed two UN Security Council resolutions calling on all states to ‘observe international law‘. So the ‘war on terror‘ is an extreme double-standard; the terrorism we target is only the terrorism of our enemies, not of our allies, nor of ourselves.

The goal following the September 11 attacks was to make our country more secure in order to prevent a future terrorist atrocity on our soil. Contrary to achieving this objective, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have increased the threat of terrorism and made our country less safe. Anyone with an understanding of history will realize that an open war on the Arab world would be the answer to Bin Laden’s prayers.

Massive military retaliation in Afghanistan and Iraq (while depleting our resources) will tear civilian families apart, leaving thousands of desperate parents and children left with nowhere to turn but to the cause of the terrorists. With the rising appeal of a global jihadi Islam, recruitment for the Al Qaeda networks have increased, while Iraq itself has become a ‘terrorist haven’ for the first time.

What sort of vicious enemies and horrendous atrocities will our children have to endure due to the ‘blowback’ caused by our actions in the Middle East and elsewhere? These ‘terrorists’ do not hate the freedoms of America; they hate American foreign policy, which has aggravated the struggles of their people.

If we devote our resources to addressing the roots of their sentiments and begin to break down terror networks through coordinated intelligence, rather than blind military invasion, we can reduce the threats we face here at home and make the world more livable for future generations.

Blowback

The attacks of 9/11 were truly a vicious act, causing the deaths of about 3000 innocent civilians. Such an atrocity is condemned the world over and those responsible should most certainly be brought to justice. Following the attacks, many people (including the president) asked the question: “Why do they hate us?

Indeed, how could someone hate such a benevolent nation, promoters of peace and democracy the world over? Bush’s response to this question was that those involved are evil-doers that “hate our freedoms“. This sort of answer fails to address the root of the problem. While it may be comforting to pretend that our enemies ‘hate our freedoms’, it is not smart to ignore the history of the real world, which reveals more important lessons.

If someone were to ask me why the US was attacked on 9/11, the most concise answer I could give would be one word: blowback. You may be familiar with the term; it was coined by the CIA, meaning the unintended consequences of covert operations. Back in the early eighties, the CIA (along with Pakistani, Egyptian, French & British intelligence) was involved in recruiting, training, and arming extreme Islamic fundamentalists to fight a ‘holy war’ against the Russian invaders of Afghanistan.

Osama bin Laden joined our call for resistance and accepted our military training and equipment, along with countless other mujahideen “freedom fighters” (as Reagan called them). After Afghanistan had been bombed to ruins and the Russians suffered a Vietnam-like defeat, the US turned their backs on the death and destruction they had helped to create.

With the country of Afghanistan left in a power vacuum, the Islamic militant groups struggled for power in civil war (using the arms we provided), eventually leading to the rise of the Taliban, whose extreme views caused the deterioration of Afghan rights and freedoms, especially for women.

Bin Laden continued to get angered by US policy abroad…its support for Israel’s military occupation, the bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, etc. The last straw for him was after the Gulf War, when we kept American military bases in Saudi Arabia to support its authoritarian regime. Saudi Arabia is bin Laden’s home country, but more importantly, it is the holy-land of Islam, in which bin Laden would not tolerate an ‘infidel’ presence (viewed as similar to the Soviet presence in Afghanistan).

Since then, bin Laden has declared jihad (holy-war) on the United States, the deadly consequences of which we all witnessed on September 11th. So we are badly mistaken if we think that we in the US are entirely blameless for what happened on 9/11. Believing it was a random act of aggression by people that ‘hate our freedoms’ is not only dishonest; it is a way of evading responsibility for the ‘blowback’ that US foreign policy has created.

Girl Punished for Being Raped

Recently in Saudi Arabia, a nineteen-year old gang rape victim was sentenced to six months in prison and two hundred lashes. You read that correctly. A gang rape victim was sentenced to six months in prison! The Shiite Muslim woman was convicted of violating Sharia law on contact between men and women.

The 19-year-old girl was traveling in a car with a male friend last October when the car was attacked by a gang of seven men who raped both of them. Four of the attackers were convicted of kidnapping, but the court also sentenced the rape victim and her friend to receive 90 lashes each for the crime of “illegal mingling”. Recently, the court increased the woman’s sentence to 200 lashes and six months in jail.

There has been little response from the US government, who considers King Abdullah and Saudi Arabia to be a key strategic ally in the region.

What does this say of our desire to promote human rights and “spread democracy in the Middle East“? We complain of the Taliban’s poor treatment of women, yet Saudi Arabia (our trusted ally) is the world’s most repressive regime. Women in the country are denied normal rights; they are not allowed to drive, vote, study engineering or law, travel without approval, testify in most courts, or work in most government offices.

The fact is that the United States government has a long history of supporting dictators and human rights violators, as will be shown concretely in future posts.