12 May 2002

Shame and Scandal

John Maxwell

THE Daily Mirror used to be a good newspaper. When I lived in London 30 years ago, I bought the Guardian and the Mirror because between them I got a fairly balanced view of what was going on round me. In my job at the BBC World Service News (XSND) I got all the papers published in London as well as a few from outlying areas. Copytasters in the World Service were expected to know what was happening everywhere.

In those days the Mirror was Britain's largest circulation daily with about three or four million sales every day. It was rough, relevant, irreverent and accurate.

Now, alas, times have changed. A few weeks ago, the Mirror announced that it was trying to remake itself in the image of the sixties when it was a good newspaper. It even dropped the red masthead and modified its sensational make-up. But, as Tuesday, May 8 proved, it may be harder to be a good newspaper than for rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
"No one can hope to bribe or twist,
Thank God! the British journalist;
For, seeing what the man will do,
There's no occasion to."

-- Anon
English journalism has always been divided by class. At one end are the mandarins, rarefied beings who communicate only with God and the prime minister and at the low end, a stew of bottom-feeding, crotch-sniffing hacks whose basic instincts are to embarrass people by intruding into their privacy and to gain sales by sensational stories which add nothing to the sum of human information or knowledge.

When the Mirror launched its hatchet job on Jamaica on May 8, it was returning to sure-fire circulation grabber -- the Trouble in Paradise story. On a lean week, editors at their wits' end for something with which to shock, horrify or scandalise their readers can turn, as a last resort, to stories of wickedness in paradise, stories of dictators, sex, poverty or drugs in idyllic "destinations" frequented by the new jet set.

Malicious intent

A Mirror photograph of Air Jamaica aircraft is titled, simply, eloquently "Jet Mule: Air Jamaica has nine services a week to the UK".

Now, that's what I call responsible, unbiased, investigative journalism!

The story is headlined:

"On Board with Cocaine Air"

A further giveaway to the Mirror's malicious intent and its desperation journalism may be seen in the fact that Jamaica and its national airline were singled out for attention, although most journalists, even in Britain, are aware that the drug trafficking problem is a worldwide phenomenon which is driving dozens of governments and airlines crazy.

British Airways is just as badly affected by the drug trafficking as is Air Jamaica. Reportedly, KLM - Royal Dutch Airlines, wants to stop flying to the Netherlands Antilles because of the same problem. Airlines flying from Europe and North America to Third World countries are under siege from drug traffickers. In England, the drugs trade is estimated to be worth £3 billion annually - an admitted underestimate. The United States annually spends twice as much on its war against drugs as it spent on the Gulf War. And the international banking industry, in addition to all its other scandals, is the channel for billions in dirty money from the drug trade.

None of this is intended to minimise the scale of the problem faced by Air Jamaica and British Airways, and by the Jamaican and British police. But there needs to be some perspective.

Additionally, the Mirror story is not new. The Guardian and Observer carried long investigative reports on the story in January/February and the only thing new about the Mirror story is the report, on May 9, the day after "Cocaine Air", that a cocaine sniffer machine is to be given to the Jamaican police to detect those who had swallowed or been in contact with cocaine.

As Peter Phillips, minister of national security, admitted to the BBC's Tim Sebastian in January, "the survival of Jamaica could be called into question if Jamaica could not curb the power of the drug lords".

End-of-pipe solutions

The Mirror story, however, seems not directed at finding solutions, but at trashing Air Jamaica. One of the sidebars to the "Cocaine Air" main story was headlined thus:

"Stamp Out These Evil Drug Flights" as if shutting down Air Jamaica would solve the problem.

Politics and Journalism, like Big Business, essentially believe in end-of-pipe solutions. Create a problem, and when it is recognised by the public, try to cure the problem not at the source, but at the place where the damage is being done.

In the Guardian on March 29, Anne Perkins, writing about the British drug problem, reported that the Foreign Policy Centre, a think tank favoured by Tony Blair, had come to the conclusion that the war on drugs had failed and that instead of spending money to fight drugs, the government would be better advised to attack poverty and joblessness.

The report argues that
"soaring drug dependency statistics show the inadequacy of the government's attempt to clamp down, since it focuses disproportionately on the users of soft drugs rather than successfully convicting pushers of heroin and cocaine.

"A majority, 58%, of under 24 year-olds had used drugs, but only a tiny minority became dependent," the report said. "Thousands of people used drugs recreationally without coming to harm. Most grow out of it.

"Government policy was hampered by 'an unhealthy cocktail of acute public anxiety, simple nostrums, tabloid bile, vested interests and political opportunism'.

'The report said: "There is not a single piece of evidence to show prohibition works. Seizures can grow impressively but the quantities of illicit drugs hitting the streets show an unerring ability to keep pace."'
Most rational people are generally aware of the truths contained in the report, yet, just as we defend capital punishment, we defend drug policies which do not and cannot work. We are well aware that certain recreational drugs, to wit, alcohol and tobacco, cause millions of deaths and injuries on a scale that no one has suggested has ever been reached by cocaine, ganja, heroin, methamphetamines, psylocybin and ecstasy combined.

In a globalised world, why should taxpayers be asked to protect the interests of the purveyors of one kind of recreational drug against the interests of the purveyors of other recreational drugs? Perhaps this is a good question for the ginnigogs at the World Trade Organisation.

It is not as if we in Jamaica are innocents. President Clinton, imprisoned within a fundamentalist, punishment-loving society, was forced to admit that yes, he had smoked a joint, but no, he didn't inhale. Ridiculous! In a country where most people have tried ganja and other recreational drugs at one time or another.

I would find it hard to justify the statement that most of the people I know have smoked marijuana, because most of them would most certainly deny it. But in our hypocritical society we find it possible to wink at cops selling ganja and cocaine while locking up their customers.

In Stony Hill, many years ago, there was a man who most people identified simply as "the guy who sell weed for the cops".

Who exactly, are we fooling?

Tackling poverty instead

In a dysfunctional world, Jamaica seems more dysfunctional than most. While ministers of government and leaders of the opposition attend the funerals of people widely suspected to be drug dons, and where MPs and senators routinely ignore their civic duty to report their interests to Parliament, the prime minister can be taken absolutely seriously when he announces a new Code of Conduct for politicians.

Meanwhile, war breaks out in a school in Westmoreland, teenagers contemplate and commit suicide; murder each other, contract AIDS/HIV out of desperation and ignorance, and foolish young women, desperate for "a money" risk their lives, health and families for £3,000 to carry bootleg drugs to Britain.

This is where the rubber meets the road, where the promise of globalisation can be seen to be a curse. When we cannot find the money to build and properly staff our schools, and care for our children we can find the money to build a Highway to Doomsday, financed, not by foreign bankers, but by the poor people's savings in their National Housing Trust and their National Insurance.

We can in this society allow policemen to testify about swabbing dead men's hands for gunpowder residue, without apparently, ensuring that his actions were witnessed by a credible witness. We can connive at all sorts of corruption, in journalism, politics and business, because we don't want to rock the boat.

But I ask you, if rocking the boat will sink it, what use is the boat anyway?

We know, as does everybody else, that a desperately poor country like Cuba, poorer than we are, can produce a well-educated, healthy, well-nourished population of peaceful, creative people. We know that it does not take cash to care, simply informed compassion and will.

The Daily Mirror story is a symptom of what is wrong with Jamaica and the world. We are much more concerned about appearances than with reality, and we care more for the invisible hand of the master criminals than for the welfare of ordinary people.

And -- How many suicidal children have mothers languishing in Holloway jail?

03 March 2002

An Approved Terrorist

John Maxwell

AN American journalist, Jerry Mildon, says that the toughest challenge in defending the Central Intelligence Agency is that bad as its failures have been, its successes have often been worse. I was reminded of that by the killing last week of Jonas Savimbi, for 26 years, America's Man In Angola.

Jonas Savimbi was an integral part of the American destabilisation of Central Africa. Following the CIA-sponsored murder of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo in 1961, the Americans raised up and protected Joseph Mobutu who did for the Congo what King Leopold had begun 80 years before. Mobutu, in turn, was the main conduit for American money to his Angolan brother in law, Jonas Savimbi, enabling Savimbi over the years, to kill nearly a million people and to maim, disfigure, rape, burn and starve millions more of his countrymen.

Between those two, Mobutu and Savimbi, the cause of African unity and development was almost, but not entirely, derailed.

John Stockwell, who once headed the CIA operation in Angola, spoke to me in 1980 about how he had helped put together the CIA's plan for Angola, realising, before he was quite finished, the appalling error into which he had been led.

The Portuguese army mutinied in 1974, bringing democracy to Portugal and its colonies. For the last years of his life, the Portuguese dictator Salazar and Admiral Caetano, his heir, had been fighting a war to preserve Portugal's colonies against the increasingly successful anti-colonial movement.

Angola, on the west central coast of Africa, is a huge country, bigger than France, Germany and Spain put together. It is also enormously rich in minerals: oil, diamonds, gold are the major exports, but there are doubtless major discoveries to be made in a country which is still, largely un-prospected. Like its neighbour, the Congo, Angola at independence became the object of the west's economic lust. There were three independence movements at independence, the oldest, the socialist People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola being challenged by the FNLA of Holden Roberto and UNITA which split from the FNLA. UNITA stands for the Union for the Total Liberation of Angola, and UNITA means unity in Portuguese. Never has a movement been less appropriately named. During the final stages of the independence struggle, it was discovered that UNITA had an agreement with the Portuguese and spent most of its time fighting the other independence movements.

Jonas Savimbi was the grandson of a chief of the Ovimbundo, the largest nation in Angola, a chief who led an insurrection against the Portuguese early in the century. His grandson managed to get out of Angola to study in Portugal and Switzerland. He got a degree in social sciences. Later, he would claim to be Dr Savimbi.

Dr Kissinger intervenes

Returning to Angola, Savimbi joined the MPLA, but left quickly, because he was told he had to work his way up the ranks. He wanted a leadership position. After joining and leaving the FNLA in turn, he started UNITA, based on his tribe/nation -- the Ovimbundo.

As Angolan independence approached, US and South African interests found in Savimbi a man and a movement to support. Savimbi, hitherto known as a Maoist guerilla trained in China, suddenly became a staunch anti-communist and totally opposed to the MPLA.

Henry Kissinger funnelled $35 million to UNITA in 1975, and American aid continued to flow to this so-called freedom fighter as he battled the wicked socialists of the MPLA. In the process, Savimbi displayed an implacable taste for blood and butchery, burning women supposed to be witches, mining farms and attacking health clinics and schools, specifically targeting health workers and teachers, destroying water supplies, roads and public infrastructure in order to bring down the MPLA.

Had it not been for the intervention of Cuban troops in 1975, this bloodthirsty tyrant might now be the king of Angola. Despite a massive South African intervention and a movement by white mercenaries and Congolese troops, the Angolans and Cubans were able to defeat the enemies of the new state.

But, in the meantime, Savimbi had been mining the countryside, cutting off hundreds of thousands of hectares of productive land from farming, and converting the breadbasket of the country into an official zone of famine. Victims of the mines and malnourished children swamped the hospitals. Tens of thousands of children were kidnapped by UNITA and taken to areas controlled by Savimbi, to be impressed into the army or into slave labour in the diamond mines.

He became the darling of the most backward and racist elements of the western elite, fascinated by his cleverness and his linguistic skills. He spoke six European languages.

In 1986 President Reagan invited Savimbi to the White House and extolled him in a meeting in the Oval office. President Bush Sr was equally enchanted by the African "freedom-fighter". But Savimbi was even then weakening his own movement by killing or imprisoning some of his closest associates causing others to flee to the government side. Diamonds -- a ghoul's best friend

By 1991 the US had decided to cut its losses and tried to promote an agreement between Savimbi and MPLA. Both sides were required to disarm and demobilise. That was followed by a UN supervised election which the US expected Savimbi to win, since he represented the largest tribe in the country. The election went ahead, although Savimbi had not disarmed as agreed. Savimbi lost the election and immediately accused the government of stealing it. Almost immediately he began a new war and came close to toppling the government, killing and maiming hundreds of thousands more. Despite all this, the government continued to make overtures to Savimbi to come in from the cold. When the war began to turn against him, the government offered to make him vice-president. He actually signed a new peace accord in 1994, but never gave up his armed conflict nor his control of Ovimbundo areas. Savimbi was making himself rich, controlling the diamond mines and selling his blood-tainted spoil to western entrepreneurs. In 1998 the appearance of peace was abandoned and war broke out again.

There have been other Savimbis -- in Africa and elsewhere -- for as long as humanity has been around.

In the year 1526 AD, Affonso, Mani-Kongo (King of the Kongo) wrote the King John of Portugal as one Christian monarch to another. The Mani-Kongo complained that his Kingdom was being corrupted by the agents of King John. This was caused by the excessive freedom given to King John's agents who came to the Kongo "to set up shops with goods and many things which have been prohibited by us... in such an abundance" that they had effectively bought the loyalty of Affonso's vassals and subjects. Worse than that, "the merchants are taking every day our natives, sons of the lands and the sons of noblemen and vassals and our relatives, because the thieves and men of bad conscience grab them wishing to have the things and wares ... which they are so ambitious of; they grab them and get them to be sold; and so great is the corruption and licentiousness that our country is being completely depopulated, and Your Highness should not agree with this nor accept it in your service." Shades of Globalisation! It is the Savimbis of this world who allow Western apologists for slavery to say, with complete aplomb, that blacks were just as guilty in the slave trade because they sold each other.

03 February 2002

The Rich and the Poor

John Maxwell

There are two huge international conferences taking place this week: one, in New York is called the World Economic Forum and is attended by most of the richest and most powerful men in the world. There may, actually, be some women at this conference, but most of them are somebody's aide or spokesperson.

Half a world away, across the Equator in Porto Alegre, Brazil, another international meeting, The World Social Forum, is happening, attended probably by as many women as men, representing rich and poor people from all over the world.

As stark as the contrasts are between the two conferences, they are both discussing the same thing: the future of humanity. In New York, the main discussions centre on how to make capitalism palatable to the people of the world. Perhaps, I state the thing crassly. The real title is "Building a coalition for a stable world".

One of the speakers at the WEF meeting was Mr Paul O'Neill, US secretary of the treasury who warned poor nations of the dangers of debt. He should know, since he is the former head of Alcoa which pleads that it can't do business in Jamaica unless we give up the bauxite levy, which was some recompense for the enormous and unsightly craters bequeathed to us by Alcoa and its brethren.

The prime minister of Australia, Mr John Howard, told the WEF. "It's essential to slow the spread of terrorism around the world to stop violence and let diplomacy spread." As diplomacy spreads, so, no doubt, will the impact of AIDS be reduced.

Also addressing the WEF was Mr Niall FitzGerald, head of Unilever, who was at least aware that a billion of the world's people live on less than $1 a day. His recipe: "We must open markets," he said, making the claim that capitalism empowers people and reduces the possibility that they would seek violence as a solution to resolve problems.

Meanwhile, President George Bush has drawn a bead on everybody who does not seem to toe the American line, and caused consternation in Europe and elsewhere when he lumped together Korea, Iran and Iraq as probable targets -- since they constitute according to him, "an axis of evil".

The anti-Americans

American nationalism has now reached such a pitch that 85% of Americans approve of Mr Bush's presidency. In other places, commentators are so nervous of appearing to be anti-American that some are making declarations that they are not, before they express themselves.

Why should any journalist have to make such a declaration? It is shaming both to the journalist and to those he is afraid of. If one cannot safely criticise one's friend, who can one criticise?

Even such a distinguished academic such as Susan George, of the Transnational Institute, has felt the heat.

In an article to be published in the next issue of the American magazine, The Nation, she says inter alia:
"While the prestigious French daily Le Monde headlined 'We Are All Americans', others felt that this assertion very much depended on 'which' Americans. Yes, without question, if it meant mourning for the victims and their families; no, if it meant unqualified support for the corporate, financial and government elites, and for business as usual."
Nor were we surprised when these same elites in Europe, our neoliberal corporate adversaries and their domestics, instantly seized upon the atrocities to advance their cause. By the morning of the 12th they had already sharpened their sticks. Using crude, faulty but sometimes effective logic in an attempt to intimidate and criminalize the citizens' movement, they declared, "You're antiglobalization, therefore you're anti-American, therefore you're on the side of the terrorists." For weeks, the media gleefully and unrelentingly framed their coverage and their questions in that light alone.

The fact is that it now feels increasingly dangerous to say anything which could be thought to be disapproving of American actions. When Mr Bush and his administration declared that the terrorists would win if they changed the way Americans felt about freedom, they obviously were not thinking about people who did not agree with them.

A friend of mine in academia in North America sent my column of January 20 to several of his friends. Many were sympathetic to my views, but one professor was thoroughly outraged by my column which he thought, was full of "it". Fair enough. In that column I reported a metaphorical remark by an American general, to the effect that the Al Qaeda prisoners were so fanatical that they would try to chew through hydraulic lines on a C-17. According to this professor, that was no metaphor, but documented fact!

The power of the Press

Since I have not been able to find any story about anyone chewing through hydraulic lines, I trust that my original belief was correct. If anyone can steer me to the facts, please do.

If my surmise was correct, the fact that a professor can be so convinced of a palpable (I think) piece of hyperbole, says something about the media to which he has been exposed. It is quite obvious that war sells, and the media have set up their war-rooms and other grandly titled facilities to sell the war. These "war-rooms" bring to the American people the latest about this strangest war of all; one in which one side sustains almost no casualties because the hostilities are conducted either from the stratosphere, or by proxies.

Which is exactly why a Wall Street Journal reporter, going about his lawful business, one supposes, is captured by fanatics who want to use him as a bargaining chip with the US. It is also why Mr Bush's State of the Union address is so dangerous. In an instant crafted no doubt by speechwriters rather than politicians or generals, Mr Bush has destabilised the Middle East, throwing Iran into the lap of Iraq or vice versa, and emboldening those who want to overthrow the American-backed regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to name just two. The King of Jordan, a mere youth in age, is wise enough to try to moderate the American tone, and we are now told that the United States has no immediate intention to attack either Iraq, Iran or North Korea. Ironically, the latter two had been inching painfully toward some kind of accommodation with the United States.

It is no surprise, either, to read of Afghan warlords fighting among themselves and usurping the positions officially allotted to them by their "government". One essential thing about governments is that they, in most states, retain a monopoly on the use of force. It is quite clear that by this definition, the government of Mr Karzai is not a government as most of us understand it.

This unstable situation was foreseen in a general way by some commentators, who early on warned against a scattershot approach to the problem of terrorism.

The American approach has done exactly what some of us feared: it has scattered Al Qaeda to the four winds -- bin Laden's bees, I called them in an earlier column. What was needed in October and is still needed, is a criminal investigation into the events of September 11. We already understand how it was done, but we still don't know who really was responsible. It may very well have been bin Laden, but there still is no proof. The latest video makes it clear that he is fully in agreement with the terrorists, but he never comes out and claims paternity, in contrast to the video broadcast some time ago.

A war against an identifiable foe may be bloody and nasty; but at least the enemy forces can either be destroyed or made to surrender, after which he can be sanctioned to be of good behaviour. Identifiable enemies have identifiable aims, which can be dealt with, one way or another.

The motives of terrorists, on the other hand, are as infinitely variable as the motives of those teenagers who from time to time, blow away their classmates and teachers in American schools.

When that happens? We don't set out to exterminate teenagers: We ask -- WHY?

We recognise that something is wrong with the system, with the milieu, with the way things are. And hopefully, we try to ensure that other teenagers are not forced into similar destructive behaviour.

If we are all to continue inhabiting this earth, we need to recognise each other's humanity.

Perhaps, that is too simple.