Tuesday, March 18, 2014

UKRAINE, COVERAGE AND NON-COVERAGE ARE MAKING ME NUTS


Having retired from the mainstream media, and having, I think I may claim, swum for 50-plus years within it, more or less finding my own currents, I wonder that I have so much agita about some of the recent attacks on it for coverage of Ukraine.  


I was first set off by a series of provocative, to me often provoking, articles by the formidable investigative reporter Robert Parry, who is full of rage at the alleged complicity of the American news media in official Washington’s undeniable falsification of the crisis in Crimea and Ukraine.

The articles include these:


 


 


 


 

What first got me riled up was Parry’s repeated labeling of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych as “democratically elected,” as if he were Allende or Aristide, and his repeated echoing of the Russians' self-interested assertion that the Ukrainian opposition is dominated, even defined by the presence of neo-Nazis.   

His description of "the independent-minded and strong-willed Putin," set off another Rolaids roller-coaster.  Such language is disingenuous at best, willfully ignorant at worst.  Putin is a totalitarian who, in his desperation as the leader of a failing state, -- life expectancy in Russia continues to fall, industrial productivity levels are third-world, unemployment is huge, the economy is barely holding on, with the dropping global price of natural gas an "existential threat,” -- he is busy creating external enemies and manufacturing distracting international crises. Acting as if a new regime in Kiev might attack Mama Rus may boost his rating in short term, both declaring war on Iraq and claiming “success” did for George W. Bush.  In the short-term this hyper-nationalist nonsense, backed by the radical suppression of dissident voices from Russia's intelligencia and mass media, seems to be working right now.  But the Russian stock market is falling, and the threat of economic isolation may, in the long-run, prove to be much more dangerous to Putin's survival, than the now suppressed, shouted down, democratic opposition.  By 2020, Putin may be gone, and Pussy Riot still major celebrities.

Parry is correct that Ukraine’s "interim" government is an important and undercovered story, unfortunately completely buried by coverage of the conflict on the eastern fringe of the country.  But is the loony right influence the hart of that story, as Parry asserts?  I don’t think so, any more than the alleged American neocon influence on the Kiev opposition movement.  Both are, I would say, “White herrings.”  It is true the right has been given (with American approval) some important posts in the temporary government, while only a few "new oppositionists" have been placed in fringe Cabinet seats -- tourism, culture sport, etc etc.  But the real story is whether this hapless and nasty interim group is the future for Ukraine, of just the last gasp of the completely discredited old regime. This is the story I want followed, and the media story that I wish I had a better sense of is what kind of news are Ukrainians getting.  I do know that whole new generation of internet-based news media are active there and support the progressive opposition.  Have they continued their popular ascendancy at the expense of old and old regime dominated media?

Parry's attempts to discredit many of the Ukrainian oppo NGOs because they took American money is exactly how Putin outlawed many of the most valuable NGOs in Russian, attacking them for taking "foreign money," ignoring how they were using it.

And crying neocon this, neocon that is just sticks and stones, as long Parry shirks the hard work of reporting what the NGOs and their American backers have been up to, and how they have been received by their target audiences.

As Simon Orlovsky's brilliant reporting for the internet-based Vice News has showed, Russia has been infiltrating provocateurs and thugs into Ukraine to stir Russophile emotions and bully Ukrainian nationalists (who are for the most part in no way Hyper-nationalists or neo-Nazis).  Orlovsky showed video of how Russia had by the middle of last week, crossed into "mainland" Ukraine, well beyond the provincial borders of Crimea, and had set up not only heavily armed checkpoints but minefields on Ukrainian territory.  I guess Parry doesn't watch Vice News, because Russian military and paramilitary aggression simply don't appear in his copy.

I loathe the neocon politics of the Kagan brothers, and have for years, but so f--ing what?  Their influence in Ukraine, like the National Endowment for Democracy’s Carl Gershman's is small.  This is, I keep repeating, a Ukrainian story, and American kibitzing, whether helpful or obstructive is just kibitizing.  The important decisions and the important upcoming votes will be taken by Ukrainians, not neocons.

One key to Ukraine's future, I believe, is some form of debt forgiveness.  The lenders demanding their money back knew the crooks they were dealing were crooks, so when crooks do what crooks do....no one should bail their willing business partners out.  Anyone heard this idea in either the mainstream or progressive media.  It ain’t in Parry either.

Nobody elected the anti-Semitic temps in the interim government that Parry and Steve Weissman are so worried about, and it is possible, even likely, few will vote for them in the May elections to reconstitute the government.  The story in Ukraine is not whether change there is good for the Jews or the neocons, but for the Ukrainians.  These guys haven't even talked to one between 'em.

In another Parry piece, he proposes parallel "invasions" of Ukraine by the US and Russia. His charge against the US is that Blackwater (now known as Academi) mercenaries are patrolling the streets of Donetsk.

Where did he get this from?  His recommended source "For a thorough account of the uprising” is “’The Ukrainian Pendulum’ by Israeli journalist Israel Shamir."
Shamir's is a brand as authentic and multi-nonymous as Blackwater/Xe/Academi.  He is an ex-Israeli, living in Sweden and publishing under several aliases who, according to his many doubters, specializes in anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.  

The main source for "Shamir" and Parry's American mercenary charge is a pair of anonymous short videos posted on YouTube by someone writing in Russian.  Although "Shamir" talks about hundreds of  Academi mercenaries in eastern Ukraine, the video shows fewer than 10, and aside from saying that people in the Donetsk crowd called them "Blackwater, Blackwater," there seems to be no verification anywhere Googleable that they are indeed from Academi or the US.
The most mainstream source to pick up the story, the right-wing UK newspaper the Daily Mail cites an "expert," Nafeez Ahmed, who is, oddly enough, a writer for The Mail’s despised rival The Guardian, who specializes in environmental issues.

Nevertheless, the Mail went to him and: "Asked whether the soldiers seen in the videos could be from Academi, Dr Nafeez Ahmed, a security expert with the Institute for Policy Research & Development, said: ‘Difficult to say really. It's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility - Academi have been deployed in all sorts of theatres. 
'I think the question is whether the evidence available warrants at least reasonable speculation.

"‘On the face of it, the uniforms of the people in the videos are consistent with US mercs - they don't look like Russian soldiers mercs. On the other hand, why run around in public making a show of it?’

"He added: ‘Of course the other possibility is it's all Russian propaganda.’
This is not a possibility Parry addresses.  And doesn't Parry have an obligation to try to identify and explain his sources?  I think he does, and I think his choice not to when they are so shaky, is telling.

But even if Parry and Shamir have hit the covert jackpot here, a dozen, or even 300 mercenaries are not equal to a combination -- whose existence and actions are well described and widely sourced -- of Russian Army troops and equipment and Russian, Serbian Chetnik, and local Crimean "Cossack" paramilitaries occupying several cities, manning armed checkpoints all over Crimea and crossing the border to set up military posts and minefields inside "mainland" Ukraine.  Parallel "invasions", my ass.
I agree with Parry's assessment of the stupid and malign "diplomacy" of John Kerry, and loathe poor old John McCain's doddering war-mongering.  There are lots of arguments to be made against both, but Parry goes way beyond or beneath that to brand his alleged neocon conspiracy.

And still, has he talked to any Ukrainians?  Not on his own evidence.
Another good example of foolish and intellectually dishonest media-baiting is this recent piece from i24 news and University of Maryland scholar Leon Hadar: Analysis: The Good Guy, Bad Guy media narrative in Ukraine

Hadar acts like he's uncovering a secret that there are and have been right-wing, hyper-nationalist “bad guys” in the Ukrainian opposition.  But, this has never been a secret, even from "top 3 paragraph" readers of the conventional media.

Actually this has gotten more coverage than the "moderate, centrist, technocrat" old regime remnant “bad guys” who actually run the so-called government in Kiev.  This is because conventional media sources, most of them in government, don't like to talk about the kinds of criminals and boobs they are comfortable seeing in other people's governments. 

Conventional Western politics is to "play the cards you’re dealt” (no matter how bad they may be), rather than risk seeing in power people you do not know, and may not be able to control.

But the key word missing from Hadar's piece (and to me it is a damnable absence) is "interim."  The guys we gave the nod to are just holding the keys till May.  It is true they, and the real neo-fascist rats alongside them -- also tolerated by our "realists -- will have all the advantages of incumbency when elections are held in May, and in a place where "democratically elected" has always been enclosed in the quotation marks of endemic fraud and frequent intimidation and universal corruption, that may be decisive.

So, Ukraine may wind up with another government it is hard to condemn anyone (even the neo-soviet Russians of Crimea) for fleeing.  And the Times, the Post, the Guardian and the TV guys will all say, "democratically elected."

Of course they should say –quote-- "'democratically elected'" and wink or look faux-nauseous, but they won't.  And everyone from Obama and Kerry to Cameron and Hague and Rasmussen and Ashton will solemnly approve.

Or, Ukraine might do better, might use the electoral opportunity to replace the whole rotten lot with people who, if not guaranteed to be better, will at least be new, different, and indebted to voters rather than mafias, oligarchs or party hacks.

This is the big failure of our media, not reporting on what’s happening in the run-up to elections.  Are Ukrainian democrats organizing, or are they fading away, as they did in Egypt (though not in Tunisia)?  Have the parties of the right gathered strength among the people?  Those questions are as unasked and unanswered as the basic one – how much and what kind of governing is the interim government providing, and how is this playing with Ukrainian voters?

To smaller points:  Leon, why is it mandatory now to give Marine LePen a pass on the right-wing nationalist nutball, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic party her father raised her to run, even should she actually have a chance at power in France, but a failure not to sound the alarm about analogous rightist/nativist pols in Ukraine, who have every chance to be marginalized and out of their temporary power in May?  Le Pen has Jews in the FN?  Well Svoboda is in bed with a temporary government and an opposition movement which includes several Jews presently more powerful than their guys (or M LeP is in France).  

And the Croatian government has frequently contained people, even leaders like the noxious Fanjo Tudjman, the US' wartime and post-war ally as Prime Minister, with long ties to organized crime, the right-wing and Croatia's notably vicious anti-Semitic organizations. Slovakia, I dunno about, but the former Nazis in Croatian politics I reported on 20 years ago, and others did too and have since.

Hadar's assertions about media coverage of Egypt, that it failed "to recognize the ethnic, religious, and tribal forces driving events in the Arab Middle East," and paid too little "attention to the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the ouster of Hosni Mubarak," is just plain horse-spit.  
In the first place, neither ethnic, nor tribal issues have been important in Egypt (he must be thinking of Syria and Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, in all which those issues have been prominently covered).  In Egypt the Islamist roots and continuing religious identification of the MB was covered frequently, in the months between the revolution and the coup.  

Perhaps the media gave too much credit to the MB narrative that it had become more secular, pragmatic, and political in the democratic sense, but then so did Barack Obama, the leadership of Europe, and a sizable portion of the MB's own, now betrayed, rank and file.
The crucial fact, that the MB was the best organized group in post-Mubarak Egypt, and likely destined for success in elections, and that this might not work out to America’s or Egypt's benefit, was prominent in most mainstream coverage.

Finally, says Hadar, "in Syria" the media portrayed anti-Assad forces “as ‘freedom fighters’ without acknowledging that many of them were reactionary Muslim fundamentalists."  This is much too simple, and mostly flat wrong.  It was as the fighting went on, after mass protests had demonstrated that many, if not most, Syrians wanted their own “Arab Spring,” -- Assad gone and a new government more lawful and democratic, -- after it became obvious that without direct aid from outside which was not forthcoming, the tyrant could not be displaced, that the fundamentalist militias started to rise in power.  This shift from Tahrir Square to Fallujah III was well and frequently reported.  Papers from Europe to the Americas to Asia were reporting on the rising power of the Al-Qaeda affilliated Al Nusra front by 2012.

And this guy calls the media "intellectually lazy."

One final rantish thought...why are Crimea and Kosovo bracketed as if their secessions were matched pieces on some kind of global chessboard?  Who, knowing anything about the last 1000 years, much less the previous dozen, of vicious and unrelenting persecution and brutalization of the 90% majority Kosovars by the 8% Serbs, would not approve of a political liberation?  Pretty much, only the Serbs themselves and their cynical allies in Moscow.
Frankly, given that Crimea has long been a military concession of Russia, granted by Ukraine, and that the Russian military not only dominates the place, but is the heart of its economy and employment, and that Russian (especially military Russia) is the majority culture, it is just posturing to pretend to be surprised at the secession.  Not only does Crimea have its reasons, but as I said above, anyone in his right mind would have doubts about continuing an association with the governments that have always, always, run things from Kiev.  

And, other than a pain in its pride, there nothing about the loss of Crimea which does great existential damage to Ukraine.
Donetsk, Kharkiv, etc –that’s another story.  But let’s hope we, and Putin, can avoid going there.

But this shadow-play of mutually falsified morality and emotion, this blustering and club-waving on both sides over Crimea, amplified on all sides by irresponsible media simply selling papers of clicks, is doing more and more serious damage to the world.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

BUY INTO A POSSIBLE DREAM


Having once again fallen into an opportunity at a kind of professional heaven, I am asking you to help me furnish it.

Taking a share of the news director job (with Zelie Pollon) at KSFR, Santa Fe, NM’s community radio station has presented me with a multiplicity of opportunities in which, I am hoping, you will invest.   

Here’s my plan.

First, nothing about KSFR’s news programming is broken; nothing needs fixing.  Already we offer 2 hour-long news programs at 7AM and Noon, and news summaries that feature local news and BBC bulletins hourly from 6AM to 7PM.  We program 4 hours of BBC World Service news overnight and an hour of BBC News at 6PM, and Amy Goodman and Democracy Now every afternoon at 3.

To that, I propose to add energy, innovation, and lots of shoe-leather.  Zelie and I will be recruiting an at first small, but rapidly growing group of volunteers and interns who will be trained in the fine crafts of reporting, editing, writing, producing and delivering radio journalism.  It is my hope to have a well-prepared reporter with a digital recorder covering every neighborhood, every community, every police or political jurisdiction, every pueblo and tribe in our listening area.  With their help, we will bring to our listeners both the finest and the fullest coverage of our incredibly varied, diverse, accomplished region.

I guarantee that anyone who listens carefully and works hard will graduate from the Marash Kollege of Newsical Knowledge a clearer thinker, a better writer, and should this be their ambition, a more employable broadcast journalist.

But the hard truth is, only Zelie and I come cheap.  The equipment interns will need, digital recorders, a few office computers to edit and assemble their packaged reports, even the new office furniture that will help make a former cd music library into a newsroom cost money.  This is where you come in.

News is an indispensable element for a successful democracy.  News not only informs citizens, it’s constant process of creating, destroying and recreating conventional wisdom provides the basis for reasoned dialogue, for civil disputation.  News done well enables people to make their own opinions based on established facts.

“Doing” news may involve managing complex subjects and conflicting interpretations, but it is a simple process aimed at 4 simple goals, which, when I first devised them for my students at Shantou University in China, I called “The 4 C’s:”  factual Correctness, presented in Context, with Clarity, to be perfectly understood, and Communication, to be remembered.

We will also be teaching how reporters prepare, gather elements, assemble and order them, then how they edit the sound and write the script and voice it for maximum impact.

Then we turn ‘em loose, and when they come back to base, monitor and mentor them as they construct their reports.

Oh, there’s one more thing I’d like to sell you.  Once our building program is well launched, I plan to take myself back to the airwaves for an hour-long news interview show tentatively titled Dave Marash: Here and There.

The title reflect the focus of the show: 2 interview segments, one examining a story or issue local to Santa Fe or New Mexico, the other, bringing to our listeners the observations of reporters or experts who are where world or national news is being made.

53 years of experience in radio, TV and even print journalism, covering news, sports, science and the arts (what I call “the most various and least cumulative resume in broadcast news,”) will inform my interrogations of informed people who are or have recently been “at the scene of the crime.”

Your contributions will help get me some assistance in putting these shows together (We’ll start with one a week and see…) as well as underwriting a training program that could become a model, not just for digital reporting, but for local or independent news coverage.

Here’s the best news, you (and everyone else in the world) can listen to the result on ksfr.org’s 24 hour livestream.

Here’s how to give.  If you go to the website, repeating – ksfr.org – you will see in the upper right, a button soliciting contributions.  Easy instructions will follow your keystroke.

Or you can call in your contribution, locally at 505 428 1383 or there’s a toll-free number 1 866 907 5737.  Call between 9AM and 9PM ET (7A-7P MT).  And yes, there is swag, baseball caps, tote bags, stainless steel water bottles and tumblers, all proudly bearing the KSFR logo.  Ask the volunteer who answers the phone.

Feel free to mention my name or the news training project (or not).  But please call and help.

Good things will happen.

Friday, March 7, 2014

REFLECTIONS ON A NEWS CAREER (NOT MINE)

BILL MCLAUGHLIN, FORMER CBS NEWS
CORRESPONDENT DIES AT 76
Bob Gibson, magnificent chronicler of all things broadcasting, caught me up on this release from CBS News, an obituary for a fine broadcast journalist.
I did not know Bill, but I remember his work from Vietnam and the Middle East.  He was  the very model of a television foreign correspondent, even down to looking great in a trench coat.  His reports looked even better.
But this is what in the obit caught me:   "McLaughlin joined CBS News as a reporter in 1966 in Paris.  His reporting from Europe, the Middle East, Cyprus and Athens earned him a promotion to correspondent and the title of bureau chief in Bonn, Germany in 1968.  He served there until being sent to cover the Vietnam War in 1969.   After leaving the Saigon Bureau in June 1970, he was sent back in 1972 to cover the North Vietnamese offensive and the battles for Hue and Kontum City. He returned once more in 1975 to report on the fall of Vietnam and Cambodia.
"In 1971, he was named bureau chief in Beirut, from which he covered conflicts in the Middle East, including the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.  He also reported from the Six-Day War in 1967, the conflict between India and Pakistan in 1971 and the aftermath of the attack by the Black September Group, the Palestinian terrorists who killed 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. The Olympic terror coverage won an Overseas Press Club award.
"McLaughlin was the reporter in the June 1974 CBS Reports: “The Palestinians,” which won the OPC’s award for Best TV Documentary on World Affairs that year.  The next year he landed an interview with Arabia’s King Faisal that turned out to be the king’s last filmed interview with a foreign journalist before his assassination. McLaughlin’s report became a central part of the CBS News Special Report, 'Death of a King: What Changes for the Arab World?'”  
Will there ever be careers like this again in television news?  Will correspondents ever gain the depth of knowledge and experience that allows them to capture both what is happening in a foreign location and why?
And, bottom line, I guess one could say, will the American people ever benefit from knowledge, experience and dedication to craft like that which Bill McLaughlin, over the years, developed? 

And notice, Bill didn't just report from just about everywhere, he did long-term investigative projects, like that into Black September, and in-depth interviews like that with Saudi King Faisal, and broadcast documentaries, like the one that pondered the possible consequences of the king's death.  Who at CBS News gets to do any of that anymore?  Who, anywhere in TV news can help Americans understand their world like Bill did?
Having said that, let me say that Simon Ostrovsky's reporting from Crimea for Vice News (check 'em out -- where else? --  on Youtube!!) seems to me up to that Hall of Fame standard, especially his longest, Dispatch #3.   
Below is CBS News' full obituary for McLaughlin.
Bill McLaughlin, an award-winning diplomatic and foreign correspondent who headed bureaus in Germany and Lebanon for CBS News in the late 1960s and ‘70s died early this morning (7).  He was 76 and lived in France.    McLaughlin died from cardiac arrest in a Waterbury, Conn., hospital.  He was visiting friends in the U.S.
McLaughlin’s television news career spanned 27 years, nearly all of it with CBS News; he left for two years in late 1979 to report for NBC News as its United Nations correspondent.
He spent a decade overseas on his CBS news assignments, including the Paris bureau, where he met his wife, the former Huguette Cord’homme, who survives him. He covered the gamut of overseas events, from the Vietnam War, to terrorism to the conflicts in the war-torn Middle East, appearing on the “CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite,” CBS Radio News  and other CBS News broadcasts, include “CBS Reports” documentaries.
From 1983 to 1993, when he left CBS news, he was a State Department correspondent, and general assignment reporter in the Washington Bureau.  This job, too, sent him overseas on a regular basis, covering the diplomatic travels of secretaries of state, including George Shultz.
McLaughlin joined CBS News as a reporter in 1966 in Paris.  His reporting from Europe, the Middle East, Cyprus and Athens earned him a promotion to correspondent and the title of bureau chief in Bonn, Germany in 1968.  He served there until being sent to cover the Vietnam War in 1969.   After leaving the Saigon Bureau in June 1970, he was sent back in 1972 to cover the North Vietnamese offensive and the battles for Hue and Kontum City. He returned once more in 1975 to report on the fall of Vietnam and Cambodia.
In 1971, he was named bureau chief in Beirut, from which he covered conflicts in the Middle East, including the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.  He also reported from the Six-Day War in 1967, the conflict between India and Pakistan in 1971 and the aftermath of the attack by the Black September Group, the Palestinian terrorists who killed 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. The Olympic terror coverage won an Overseas Press Club award.
McLaughlin was the reporter in the June 1974 CBS Reports: “The Palestinians,” which won the OPC’s award for Best TV Documentary on World Affairs that year.  The next year he landed an interview with Arabia’s King Faisal that turned out to be the king’s last filmed interview with a foreign journalist before his assassination. McLaughlin’s report became a central part of the CBS News Special Report, “Death of a King: What Changes for the Arab World?”
Before joining CBS News, he held several posts in Europe, including covering the Common Market from Brussels for various American business magazines and for Radio Press International. After leaving, he was an associate professor of Communication at Quinnipiac  University in Connecticut.
McLaughlin was born on April 21, 1937 in New York City, where he graduated from Fordham University with a bachelor in science degree in 1961. He also studied at the Sorbonne in Paris. He served in the U.S. Army from 1955 to ’56.
Besides his wife, he also leaves behind a son, Liam, and his wife Joslyn, of New York City; a granddaughter, Jolie, also of New York; and a stepson in Paris, Julien Bodard.
 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: THE SLOWDOWN EXPLAINED


Dear Readers,

As I'm sure you've noticed, the pace of observations from this corner has slowed.  Considerably.

Part of that had to do with two glorious weeks in NYC, seeing friends, hearing music, and er.... eating.  But the rest of the diversion has to do with my new job.

This week, I started as News Director of KSFR, the public radio station in Santa Fe, NM, a job I am delighted to be sharing with Zelie Pollon, a superb journalist with experience covering stories in depth from New Mexico to Iraq. 

For me, this is a perfect opportunity to teach once again my philosophy and practice of news, to create an old-fashioned workshop of news, which turns out, not only superior radio journalism, but trained newspeople.

KSFR, 101.1 on your FM dial, but more to the point, universally available, livestreaming on the internet at www.ksfr.org  already benefits from a stream of volunteers from the diverse, but highly sophisticated and engaged communities of Santa Fe.  Our next step will be to recruit at every local high school and college wannabe journalists ready to trade time and energy for training and mentoring and a chance truly to "do news" as interns.

The possibilities are inspiring.

Beyond that, I hope soon to begin, probably in April, a once-a-week (at least to start) one-hour interview show focused on news, local and global.

The resulting podcast should be accessible here and at the KSFR website mentioned above.  Once it's ready to launch, I will, of course, let you know through the usual routes, Facebook, Twitter (thank you, Amy) and email.

As I will when I launch future text posts which will, I fear, be fewer and farther between, as I absorb and am absorbed by this new adventure in my first medium: radio.


Friday, February 28, 2014

BOSNIA: HOPE AGAINST FEAR

The bitter joke in Sarajevo, during the war-torn 1990s was “Only the odd-numbered world wars start here.”

World War I, for sure, was triggered there -- by the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz-Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, by the Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip in 1914.  And, if you consider the spate of sectarian, tribal, ethnic and nationalist wars in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Bahrain, Mali, Ivory Coast, Somalia and Nigeria, over the past 20 years to be a kind of conglomerate World War III, think of Sarajevo. That's where the tone (and some of the strategies and tactics) was set during the devolutionary wars of the Former Yugoslavia, whose flashpoint and moral nadir was the Siege of Sarajevo.

Right now, this week, Bosnia balances on a knife-edge of temporary quiet, suspended between two global antagonisms, the old one of “national” or “ethnic” conflict (I use quotes because the claim that Serbs, Croat and Muslims in Bosnia represent separate “nations” or “ethnicities” is at best questionable if not largely bogus), and the newly-recognized world-wide fracture line, between self-sustained oligarchies of wealth, force and political power and the general populace who are sinking into poverty and desperation..

The present peaceful pause follows a week of violent and large-scale protest that burned significant government headquarters in Bosnia’s 4 largest cities: Sarajevo, Tuzla, Zenica and Mostar. 

Caroline Hopper, a veteran human rights worker in the Balkans, calls the demonstrations “the largest anti-government protests since the war; unprecedented, not only in size, but also in their very nature.” 


But, you may be surprised to hear, she adds,”These protests offer a real sense of optimism that is so uncommon for the suffering state.

“Masses have organized themselves behind universal grievances regarding severe economic woes that are the fault of both individual politicians as well as the system of government as a whole. Resolutely non-ethnic, these protests have crossed both social and physical boundaries, occurring in both the [Bosnian-Croat] Federation and in Republika Srpska, and in rural and urban areas alike. Fires lit around the country should not be seen as signals of pending warfare, but if anything, as an embodiment of the universal rejection of embedded nationalism, and with it stagnation, corruption, and nepotism.

In Hopper’s judgment, frequently repeated by scholars in Europe and America, and citizens across Bosnia, (and yes, asserted previously in my blogs) the failures, the “stagnation, corruption, and nepotism,” are direct consequences of American diplomatic irresponsibility, or as the one time UN High Commissioner in Sarajevo, Miroslav Lajcak has asserted, Bosnia is “a prisoner of Dayton.” 

The 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, also known as the Dayton Agreement, driven principally by the American diplomat Richard Holbrooke, ended an almost 4 year war of savage ferocity (estimates range between 100,000 and 200,000 Bosnian civilians were killed, at least twice as many driven into exile). 

Unfortunately, it did so, by handing power back to the very armed hyper-nationalists  guilty of most of the mass murders.  Dayton set in place a “temporary” governmental structure that ratified and institutionalized rivalries exploited and magnified by the crooked politicians and criminal mafias who misled and exploited Bosnia’s Serb, Croat and Muslim minorities (the Muslims, now called Bosniaks, make up an estimated 40% of the population). 

Then, with equally uncaring cynicism, the political leaders of the US and Europe looked the other way as the grafters and thugs harrowed the whole society.

As Bosnian scholars Aleksandar Hemon and Jasmin Mujanovic wrote in the NY Times:  


“[Dayton] effectively awarded to the cleansers their ethnically cleansed territories, and was practically designed to prevent the state it defined from functioning as a civic society.

“In a country smaller than West Virginia and with a population the size of Oregon’s, there exist 142 municipalities, two highly autonomous entities, 10 cantons, a special district, a national government and an internationally appointed high representative to oversee them all. It amounts to approximately 180 ministers, 600 legislators and an army of about 70,000 bureaucrats.”

This infestation of faux-governors has had one over-arching product: impunity for the political-criminal elite.  

“What the war didn’t destroy,” they wrote, “has been wrecked by Mafioso capitalism, practiced with equal zeal across ethnicities, in which private initiative is expressed in the form of corruption and cronyism. The political system’s primary function is allowing wealth to be amassed by the leaders of political parties, fully united, despite their presumed cultural and ideological differences, in their commitment to impoverish the people they lead.”

Finally, it seems, the Bosnian people have had enough.

Most important, the protests seem to include representatives of all the Bosnian peoples, Serbs, Croats, Muslims, Roma, and Jews protesting, not as oppressed and mutually hate-filled minorities, but as an oppressed majority whose hatred is focused not on ethnic groups, but corrupt government officials, violent paramilitary gangs and their beneficiaries, a cohort of super-rich oligarchs.

Predictably, the progenitors of minority abuses are the first to warn that the protests aimed at them are actually signs of ethnic pandemonium.  Equally predictably, they have been the first to call on their European and American enablers to intervene.

Council on Foreign Relations researcher Amelia M. Wolf calls out Bosnian police director Himzo Selimovic.


If protests turn violent again, Wulf quotes Selimovic as saying, “The international community and the EU should consider [deploying] international military forces in Bosnia.”

Then she adds, “Selimovic resigned shortly thereafter. [He] represents the Directorate for Coordination of Police Bodies, one of the institutions against which Bosnians are protesting. An estimated 62 percent of Bosnians believe the police, including Selimovic’s agency, are corrupt or extremely corrupt."

Polls show that 98% of Bosnians – that’s right, 98% -- believe corruption is a serious problem, reports Wulf, and 70% say the government has failed to control it.  The man presently on top of this despised regime Prime Minister Vjekoslav Bevanda told Reuters he’s not worried.


The recent unrest in Bosnia is a local "fire," he told Euro-bankers he was begging for more money to misspend.  "We will be able to extinguish it very quickly."  

Maybe not.  
Hemon and Mujanovic report, “The Bosnian people have found a voice. In Tuzla, after the initial chaos and police violence, the protesters forced the resignations of the cantonal prime minister. They formed a plenum — an open parliament of citizens where everyone is welcome, and which has by now gone through a number of sessions. They formulated demands, including establishing a cantonal government of non-party-affiliated experts and a thorough investigation of the privatization process. In Sarajevo, the first plenum had to be rescheduled when the organizers were overwhelmed by the turnout.

Or as Alida Vracic, executive director of the Think Tank Populari in Sarajevo told USA Today, "The political elite feels fear and is insecure about its position for the first time in 20 years.”


“For the first time,” Vracic said, “people see that they have to take power in their hands.”
This is a perception that is also alive (and under monumental challenge) in other places around the world where government and all its political elements have failed the people: Ukraine, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Venezuela, even (if less violently) in Scotland. 

As the Bosnian scholar Igor Stiks wrote in The Guardian:


 “This is not a rebellion of discriminated and ghettoized groups, territorially contained on the outskirts of big cities. It is a rebellion of the whole population that has been subjected to economic impoverishment, social devastation and political destitution.”

The Nobel prize winning Bosnian novelist Ivo Andric, from my years in the area, still the most authoritative source on Bosnian culture, called his homeland, “the land of endless hatreds.” But he also showed in his novels what history has shown, that for every outburst of communal killing and alienation, there are intervening decades when all factions live together civilly.  

Notwithstanding expectable attempts by the political and community “leaders” who have benefited from the dissonance to push their peoples to mindless conflict again, there are signs that many people remember that history, and embrace their capability to live as a single Bosnian nation.

Some people see similar signs in Ukraine, that persistent, consistent political failure and exploitation of historic fault lines have robbed both politicians and fractional populisms of all credibility and allegiance, driving once disparate groups together in a campaign for real democratic, rule of law reform.

Please, God, let it be so.

In the new world of instant, ubiquitous global communication confronting rampant impunity, injustice and inequality, people do find themselves with lots of new, and newly collective power in their hands.  Using it against their political and economic oppressors relentlessly as well as civilly may shift the balance of yet another global struggle.  Call it World War IV (the better one): of common humanity against greed and exploitation.   


Friday, February 21, 2014

GARRICK UTLEY, GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

My friend Garrick Utley died this week.  He was 74.  The cause was prostate cancer.

Garrick was the very model of a television journalist.

First, his curiosity knew no bounds.  He was as passionate about music and art as about politics and economics.

He was always well prepared.  His formal education at Westtown School and Carleton College supplemented what he must have absorbed at home as the child of two respected journalists, Clifton and Frayn Garrick Utley.  He was fluent in Russian, German and French, eloquent and elegant in English.  He never stopped learning, never stopped reading, never stopped hearing, and most important to his colleagues and his students, he never stopped teaching and never stopped sharing.

Even though he was often appalled at the changes in contemporary journalism, particularly the substitution of talking heads, interminably blabbing far from the scene for working reporters at the scene, he never lost hope for news.  He taught his trade proudly and humbly to students he encouraged to ignore all invitations to despair, but to get involved and to do their reporting the right way.   

At 6 foot six, Garrick stood, literally, head and shoulders above the crowd, but his manner, like his formidable intellect, was inviting not imposing.  In his classic trench coat or blue blazer, he looked like a model foreign correspondent, but he reported like an all-terrain-vehicle.  If that meant mud on the coat or scuffs to the blazer, so be it.  He had faith in good editors and good cleaners.  He made sure you knew how much he loved his wife Gertje.

He covered more big stories in more storied places than almost anyone of his generation, but like all the best newsies, he cherished the next one, not the last, biggest or best ones.

He made time for colleagues and students, even when he knew his time was running out.

The NY Times supplied an excellent, far more complete obituary.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/22/business/garrick-utley-former-nbc-anchor-and-foreign-correspondent-dies-at-74.html?hpw&rref=obituaries&_r=0

During his days in London for ABC News, he always kept his office door open to transient visitors.  His invitations to guest teach by Skype to his classes at SUNY Oswego were a delight.  His questions were always intelligent and focused. 

He listened superbly.

He was a great man and a good one. 

Gosh, I miss him.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

TIME RUNS OUT


It’s a story worthy of Charles Dickens.  Time, Inc., the venerable publisher of Time, Fortune and Sports Illustrated magazines, is now an orphan, having been sold off by its parent, the media mega-moron, and placed in the hands of a perfect example of the evil step-father, Joseph A. Ripp.

The first ripples of the Ripp-tide are a pair of announcements that epitomize what is wrong with American corporate journalism, if not America itself in 2014.


Joe the Ripper’s second move was to fire about 500 people, many of them working journalists.  His first move as the orphan’s guardian had been to bring on as Time’s “content editor” Norman Pearlstine.

What wrong with that?  After all, Pearlstine had once been Time’s editor-in-chief before the utter collapse of the print magazine economy and before the poor little newsmag had been tossed into the snow.  Well, for one thing, Pearlstine’s hallmark decision as boss man at Time was to force his reporter Matt Cooper to give up his sources to prosecutors in the infamous Valeria Plame—Scooter Libby (stand in in every way but the consequences for his boss, Vice President Dick Cheney) scandal.

Short-term thinkers might salute Editor Pearlstine’s decision since it did help convict Libby and further disgrace his “shoot your friend in the face and flee” employer.  But longer-term considerations point to worry about precedents that destroy a source’s confidence that he can talk freely to a journalist without being fingered later.  This worry may seem quaint in the days of NSA surveillance of “suspect” reporters’ phone and email communications, and both the rigorous prosecutions and worse "spy-on-your-office-mates" imperatives from the Obama White House, but both at the time, and today, nearly a decade later, it seems to me to be very important.

But that’s just old grudge.  Far worse about Pearlstine’s hiring just days before 500 firings is this, as reported by the Washington Post’s media blogger Eric Wemple:


According to an SEC filing, Pearlstine has a three-year contract that pays him (not less than) $900,000 per year, with a “bonus target” of $900,000 and a $1.4 million “sign-on bonus.” He’s also eligible for a “long term incentive compensation” with an annual target of $500,000.

It is absolutely inaccurate to say Pearlstine’s hiring cost 500 less-paid people their jobs, but, rough-number estimates suggest his pay could have kept at least 7 to10 working newspeople on the job for at least the next 3 years.

Sad, but necessary, says Ripp, about the layoffs, “When we enter the public markets in a few short months, our success will depend on how investors view the momentum we are generating at the new Time Inc.”     

His logic? Investors need to see management that is ready to shed blood, if that’s what it takes, to “succeed.”  Of course, the investment in one executive that displaces 7 to 10 workers could only count as a prelude to success to people who have no investment in the quality of the product, only in the return to… them.

This is the world, of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%.  It is not the world of journalism which exists only to inform its customers.
My guess: it ain’t gonna work.

In fact, I’m gonna guess it won’t even pretend to work for 3 years, which means to get his promised money, Pearlstine’s lawyers are gonna have to squeeze Ripp’s Time lawyers to get those last millions.

As TV news proves every damned day: reporting without reporters never works, no matter how many executives scream and yell and bleed the product dry.
The title for Time’s final days: Corpse and Robbers.