Mid-week Roundup 12/5

Here are some headlines rounded up from this week:

Is “Save Darfur” a PR Scam?

Drug giant Pfizer will boost outsourcing to Asia; also their Celebrex expert testifies in court without a license.

Private Contractors look to profit from domestic spying.

Hillary is quite tied up with Big Oil and defense contractors.

Guiliani’s ties to a terror shiek

Virginia primaries will demand oath of loyalty from Republican voters.

Bush Justice Department is okay with kidnapping.

100 Students walk out on former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Guantanamo heading to the Supreme Court.

The human costs of the Iraq Occupation.

Join the military, go to college… The Pentagon’s education recruitment pitch is a scam?

Iraq Vet is punished for seeking help.

US War Vets to speak publicly about war crimes this March.

Bush and Maliki agree to long-term US troop presence in Iraq.

Also, John Pilger has a new book called ‘Freedom Next Time,’ and here is a speech he gave in Chicago concerning media journalism…if you have 45 minutes to spare.

Health Care for All

One of the most critical issues for the vast majority of Americans is the rising cost of health care coverage in our country. Forty-seven million Americans have no health care coverage at all.

For those fortunate enough to receive coverage, many have inadequate, bare-bones policies that fail to cover them when they need it most. Others are dropped from their plans when they become problematic.

The main problem is the health insurance industry, which is composed of large corporations whose only concern is to maximize profits. They learned very early on that the less health care they provide, the more money they make. So they screen people and deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions and illnesses. One third of every dollar spent on private health insurance goes to the administrative costs and profits of the industry.

As a field canvasser fighting for state-wide health care in Washington, I’ve heard personal horror stories about the costs of health care. One lady was forced to sell her house to pay for her open-heart surgery after her insurance company dropped her coverage plan. Another could not get coverage at all because the insurance provider considered her pregnancy to be a pre-existing condition.

Many rely on their large employer to cover their health care costs. But what protection do they have when the employer moves abroad in search of higher profits? And what of the self-employed people and the small-business owners who get crushed by covering health care costs for their employees? Half of all bankruptcies in our country are caused by medical bills.

Each year in our great country, approximately 18,000 people die because they lack access to health care. That’s six times as many as were killed on 9/11. In the meantime, the health care and pharmaceutical industries spend billions each year lobbying the US government. How is it that we live in the wealthiest country in the world, yet nearly a third of our citizens have insubstantial health-care coverage?

The issue of health care was hardly mentioned at all in the 2004 Presidential debates. Fortunately, this year it is actually on the lips of our projected leaders. The Republicans speak of ‘tax deductions‘ and ‘free-market solutions‘ to solve the problems of American health care costs, while warning of the evils of ‘socialized medicine‘. And the Democratic front-runners all boast about ‘universal health care coverage‘.

But the fact is that there is only one candidate running with the proper solution to save America from its enormous medical costs and failures. He usually doesn’t receive questions about the issue during presidential debates, so in the most recent Democratic forum, Dennis Kucinich took the opportunity to ask himself a question:

That’s right; Dennis Kucinich is the ONLY candidate running with a single-payer, not-for-profit health-care plan. There is overwhelming public support for this system, yet the plans of all the other Democratic candidates still rely on the for-profit health insurance industry.

Did you notice the smug Hillary Clinton laughing it up? She happens to be the largest acceptor of donations from the private health care industry. Check here for an analysis of the health-care plans of the Democratic front-runners.

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Bolivia: Bechtel and the fight for public water

Back in 1999, the private construction contractor Bechtel took over control of the public water system in Bolivia’s third largest city, Cochabamba. The corporation then held a monopoly over this very basic human necessity and proceeded to raise rates by as much as 200 percent, far beyond what families could afford. The law even said that people had to obtain a permit to collect rainwater! (that means even rainwater was privatized!)

This is a country where indigenous farming communities previously had their own water rights, but their water sources were converted into property to be bought and sold by international corporations. When the company refused to lower rates, the people began to rise up and revolt against this injustice; they confronted Bechtel during five months of mobilization and managed to defeat them, breach the contract and change the law.

A 17-year-old boy named Victor Hugo Daza was killed in the protests along with four indigenous people from El Alto, while hundreds were injured. It was this popular uprising in Cochabamba that led to the election of their new president Evo Morales, the first ever indigenous head of state in Bolivia.

So Bechtel was thrown out of Bolivia, but months later they moved to do the exact same thing in Ecuador‘s largest city of Guayaquil. And in November 2001, they filed a lawsuit against Bolivia demanding $50 million, an amount which is just short of what the corporation makes in a day. The case will be decided behind closed doors in a secret trade court at the World Bank headquarters in Washington; it will tell whether the people of South America’s poorest country will have to pay $50 million to one of the world’s most wealthy corporations.

Recent Update: In 2006, Bechtel dropped their case against Bolivia.

Mid-week Roundup 11/28

Okay, I think I might start doing a semi-regular blog round-up. Some of the entries I’ve been making have been quite lengthy, so rather than boring you with text, I’ll occasionally make posts with a few links in them, commonly referred to as a ’round-up’. That way you can choose any stories that interest you and move past ones that don’t.

On that note, here are a few stories of interest:

  • And for anyone not scared of the future yet….a creepy video.

Iran: Another Old Friend

Many in the United States are not aware of their own government’s history. It’s not that we are stupid; it’s just that we are misinformed and misled. Selective events are highlighted in our history books while others are ignored.

So in upcoming entries, I will make an effort to highlight some of those lesser-known events, as they prove to be quite revealing. Let’s begin with a country that has been on the lips of our leaders in recent months: Iran.

Back in World War II, Britain occupied Iran to protect an oil supply route to its Soviet ally and to make sure the oil did not fall under Nazi control. They forced the ruling monarch, Reza Shah, to cede power to his son, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi (referred to as ‘the Shah’), who was thought to be more susceptible to Western influence.

Britain retained control of Iran’s oil after the war through the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which you might know better these days as British Petroleum (BP). However, in 1951, under the democratic leadership of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, Iran’s Parliament voted to nationalize the oil industry.

Britain would have none of it. They responded by pulling their oil technicians out of the country, imposing a worldwide embargo on the purchase of Iranian oil, and banning the export of goods to Iran. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (BP) even took their case against Iran’s oil nationalization to the World Court, but the court found in favor of Iran controlling its own oil.

British intelligence officials continued to persuade the United States that they shared an interest in maintaining Western control over Iranian oil. In 1953, the newly-elected Eisenhower administration approved the proposal for a joint operation to overthrow Prime Minister Mossadegh, to be known by the code name Operation Ajax.

CIA director Allen Dulles approved $1 million to be used “in any way that would bring about the fall of Mossadegh.” Kermit Roosevelt of the CIA (grandson of Teddy) traveled secretly to Iran to coordinate plans with the Shah and the Iranian military, and by the night of August 19, 1953, the coup was complete. The parliamentary government had been overthrown and the Shah was installed as ruler.

Two days after the coup, CIA officials funneled $5 million to help the shah consolidate his power. Mossadegh was imprisoned for three years and then put under house arrest; other government officials were rounded up and killed or imprisoned. The shah continued his rule as a friend of the United States, but a growing enemy of the Iranian people.

His brutal secret police force, SAVAK, managed by the CIA, was designed to control all aspects of political life in Iran. It suppressed opposition to the Shah’s government and kept the people’s political knowledge as minimal as possible. Its interrogation office used horrific torture tools and techniques to break dissenters while its censorship office prohibited books and monitored students, journalists, unions, and academics throughout the country.

In 1979, after 26 years of brutal rule and Western favoritism, the Iranian people erupted into a revolution that formed an Islamic republic led by Ayatollah Khomeini. The US came to be known as “The Great Satan,” and relations between our countries have become extremely tense.

We tried to stage another military coup in the early 80s, without success. Then we proceeded to support another friendly dictator (Saddam Hussein) during Iraq’s invasion of Iran, which killed hundreds of thousands of people. Since then, the US has imposed harsh sanctions on Iran, which it continues to escalate today.

In 2000, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made an admission rare to high-level government officials: “In 1953 the United States played a significant role in orchestrating the overthrow of Iran’s popular Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadegh. The Eisenhower Administration believed its actions were justified for strategic reasons; but the coup was clearly a setback for Iran’s political development. And it is easy to see now why many Iranians continue to resent this intervention by America in their internal affairs.”

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.