Saturday, June 12, 2010

Rabe Review

2:30 Catskill Review of Books

Ian Williams talks to David Rabe, playwright, author about his latest novel "Girl by the Road at Night: A Novel of Vietnam ."


Catskill Review of Books
2:30 every Saturday on WJFF 90.5 Fm

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Tale of Two Lynchings

Sadly, this reincarnation of MEI has come to end and is being suspended, so this is my last article in the last issue. Anyone out there with a big chequebook and media ambitions should get in touch! Ian

A Tale of Two Lynchings

Passionate Detachment - Ian Williams' America

Middle East International 11 June 2010

In the Eastern Mediterranean, armed Israeli commandos equipped for ‘crowd control’ in that distinctively lethal way reserved for Palestinian crowds, faced a ‘lynching’ by ‘terrorists’ armed with bars. One of them even might have had a knife to confront the might of the IDF. One expects better from a country whose founding myths include David and Goliath.
Within a week, there was a much more plausible lynching, as veteran correspondent Helen Thomas was forced into premature retirement by the combined weight of successive White House spokespeople, and the supine press corps she had often shown up with her aggressive questioning.
In an impromptu interview with a rabbi at the White House, Thomas had suggested that Israeli Jews get out of Palestine and get back to Poland or Germany instead of occupying another people’s land. If she had been a neo-con saying that Palestinians should move out because they had all these Arab countries to move to, she would have been safe, respected and invited to all the major conferences. But at 89 years old, she had skipped on the nuance and failed to distinguish between settlers and people born in Israel. It was probably time for her to go gently into that good night, but in the end she went chased with torches and pitchforks.
Thomas played by normal journalistic rules, not those of a deferential royal palace reporter. New York Times correspondent Jeremy Peters started his story with unconscious irony: “To many in Washington, two sets of rules seemed to apply for journalists covering the president: those for regular White House correspondents, and those for Helen Thomas.” He should have explained that the rules of journalistic sycophancy are self-imposed. As they showed during the Iraq war, most correspondents would not have quibbled if the president had declared the Earth was flat.
Ari Fleischer, press secretary of George W Bush, washed the blood of Iraq off his hands and demanded she go. Judith Miller, the conduit for fictions that started the war, joined the fray for Fox News. Clinton’s press spokesman, Lanny Davies, followed suit. “If a journalist, or a columnist, said the same thing about Blacks or Hispanics, they would already have lost their jobs,” he inveighed, but failed to point out anywhere where a Black or Hispanic government had occupied another disenfranchised people’s country for over four decades in defiance of international law.
Barack Obama’s press secretary Robert Gibbs joined the mob with strong words – “offensive and reprehensible.” Now, it is true that Thomas’ longevity on the front row of the White House briefing room might have dulled her sharper edges, but the outrage of the American media at her remarks is a stunning contrast to the relative silence over the murder of eight Turks and one Turkish-American on the Mavi Marmara, and the way the media headlined each Israeli official lie and then ignored the retractions: on the 50 al-Qa’ida operatives who became undocumented, the ‘Auschwitz audio’ that was revealed to be edited and wrongly attributed, or even the alleged shots fired at the commandos.
Certainly the victims’ families and the Muslim world that Obama is trying to reassure, let alone those in the West who are concerned about human rights, have waited in vain for the White House to consider mass slaying on the high seas “offensive and reprehensible”. Sadly, in the US, many of those who profess concern for human rights have an Israeli exception. Patrick Buchanan, Thomas’ nativist alter ego on the right, quite correctly baited the liberal defenders of Binyamin Netanyahu’s latest outrage who rushed to sign the AIPAC letter supporting it despite a clear ethical stand from the J-Street lobby. He wrote, “today, liberal Democrats who regard Martin Luther King as a moral hero for championing non-violent civil disobedience to protest injustice are cheering not the unarmed passengers trying to break the Gaza blockade, but the Israelis enforcing the blockade.”
I am not alone in wondering at Buchanan’s conversion to civil rights and evocation of King, but it is true that it might come as a surprise to Mark Regev and the Democrats in Congress that Rosa Parks did not stay sitting on the bus to get comfortable, nor did her contemporaries go to the Greensboro Woolworth’s lunch counter for coffee, home fries and two eggs sunny-side up. They went to make a point. And the political descendants of their then southern conservative opponents are now shoulder-to-shoulder with liberal Democrats defending the murder of protestors.
While much of the American discussion on the fallout from the flotilla massacre is in line with a French states- man’s comment on one of Napoleon’s barbarism (“It was worse than a crime! It was a mistake”) Obama’s silence breeds impunity. At every level, from the Israeli cabinet down to the staff sergeant who killed six people at point blank range with a pistol, they have solid evidence that there will be no repercussions. Indeed, the sergeant is in line for a medal. Build settlements in defiance of the US – send more aid. Devastate Gaza to international condemnation – the US will double the stockpile of bombs and munitions available for immediate transfer.
The blockade of Gaza is against UN Security Council Resolution 1860 that the US allowed to pass. It is opposed by every country in the world and demurred at by the US. Yet Washington’s support is unwavering. What is a staff sergeant with a Glock supposed to think? Promotion and a medal, of course, and perhaps even a US congressional resolution of congratulations and a quick green card?

Monday, June 07, 2010

History through the bottom of a (BP) barrel

Letter From America
Tribune 4 June 2010

Ian Williams

BP is an icon for the previous century. Its consciously green but now sadly ironic logo recalls the period under Lord Browne when it stood for “Beyond Petroleum,” and was one of the first of the oil companies to break from the Seven Sisters’ solidarity of climate change denials.

The company has always suffered from the Confucian curse of living in “interesting times.” Who remembers now its genesis as the Anglo Iranian Oil Company, or the part First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill played in its founding to ensure the supply of fuel for the Royal Navy’s dreadnoughts and keep the Empire safe?

The company’s machinations in Iran and British and later American government involvement tapped a deep vein of fundamentalism in Teheran that is still gushing decades later. Just across the Persian Gulf, the US determination to get dibs on equal shares of Middle Eastern oil meant propping up the Saudi tribe who named the country after them, imposed its own fundamentalist cult on it, and then swamped more modern and tolerant forms of Islam in a gush of oil dollars.

The other thing about the company was of course that Churchill made sure the company was British government owned. It produced untold billions for the British Treasury over the years and functioned successfully and commercially for much of the twentieth century. When the New York Times automated epithet machine used to add to Margaret Thatcher “the Prime Minister who privatized the loss making state industries,” we used to protest this intrusion of ideological mythology by pointing out that the companies she privatised were in fact making bucketfuls of money for the public purse, and that she had in fact sold them to her friends at a huge discount. It was, of course, left to later prime ministers to privatise public services like British Rail so that the private owners could make even bigger losses and bill the Treasury for the difference.

And so on to the twenty-first century, where BP, having expanded by buying Rockefeller’s old Standard Oil of Ohio, inherited some sloppy management styles and seems to have added some its own. Standard Oil was split by trust-busting US governments a long time ago, but the well lubricated wheel of fortune spins around, and as BP’s stock price plummets, commentators muse the possibility of a merger with or takeover from Exxon. Exxon was renamed from Esso, that is SO, that is Standard Oil, and so it would reconstitute the old Rockefeller empire.

Exxon is rabidly ideological and has fought all climate change mitigation and conservation legislation in the US. It would be sweet payback to take over heretical John Browne’s former company, even if it left him spinning in his retirement. The merger would face far less regulatory problems than before because the once might big seven sisters now control much less of the world’s oil reserves than before. Why would that be? Because outside the Anglo-Saxon world, the reserves are all owned by state-owned companies – like BP used to be. But in the US, the merged company would probably dominate the US political process even more.

Sadly, in the US, the oil companies own the state and not the other way round, which brings us round to the present gusher in the Gulf. It now emerges that not only did oil lobbyists dominate legislative proceedings on Capitol Hill, undermining the power of regulators, but they effectively ran the inspectorate charged with enforcing the attenuated regulations. Of course, when it came to oil rig installations it was not just the oil companies. Playing a prominent role was Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s own gang, that managed so successfully to privatise war in Iraq.

The federal Minerals Management Service inspectors who were supposed to check the rigs passed on the forms to the companies to fill in themselves. And of course, the background, like a Greek Chorus accompanying the whole tragedy are those Republican Convention delegates who dithyrambed Sara Palin’s apotheosis chanting “Drill Baby Drill.” After all, it was Washington’s reluctance to install even European style conservation and mileage standards that leads oil companies to boldly go where no drills have gone before in the uncharted depths of the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico.

Of course, the Republicans are blaming this gush of oil on Obama, just as they blamed the gush of trillions of dollars in the financial crisis. And the worrying thing is that he is still trying to be bi-partisan and show that he is business friendly in the face of rabid and unscrupulous opponents whose fixed principle is that business is always right. Everytime Sarah Palin or similar Republican luminaries speak they should be greeted with “Spill Baby Spill!”

So what inhibits Obama? Well, reminiscent of New Labour’s worst exemplars it is difficult to attack the Drill Baby Drill crowd when so many Democrats had their hands in the till of the oil companies as well. In the end, perhaps that is the exiguous moral superiority of the Democrats that they are not shameless enough to go ahead and attack anyway.

And as for BP, should we not support it as an iconic British company? Well, check the share register. Like Cadbury’s, the other patriotic standard bearer, non-UK mostly US shareholders, , almost certainly own the majority of the company.

Come back Winston. If not all, much may be forgiven.