Born in London and raised in County Cork, Andrew Cockburn moved to the U.S. in 1979. He is a journalist, an author and a filmmaker. He is also the Washington editor of Harper’s Magazine. His books include: Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the U.S.-Israeli Covert Relationship and The Threat: Inside the Soviet Military Machine. His most recent book is Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins. His latest articles include The New Red ScareReviving the art of threat inflation; and Acceptable LossesAiding and abetting the Saudi slaughter in Yemen. You can read his latest articles for Harper’s here.
Donald Trump nominates Betsy DeVos to be his Secretary of Education. We discuss the topic with Diane Ravitch.
News or Propaganda? What is happening to the news and what is the “Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act” about? We discuss the topic with Rick Sterling.
More about this week’s guests:
Diane Ravitch is an historian of education and Research Professor of Education at New York University. She was born in Houston, Texas, attended the Houston public schools from kindergarten through high school, and graduated from Wellesley College in 1960. She received her Ph.D. in the history of American education in 1975. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. Ravitch is author of many books, including Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools and The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. She served as Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to the Secretary of Education from 1991-1993 under the George H. W. Bush administration. She now blogs at dianeravitch.net
Quote: “Betsy DeVos should not be approved by the Senate committee or confirmed by the Senate as U.S. Secretary of Education. She has no experience or qualifications for the job. She is a lobbyist for alternatives to public schools. Eighty-five percent of the students in the U.S. attend public schools. Her only plan is to weaken and destroy them by diverting public money to charter schools and vouchers for religious schools. DeVos is a billionaire who has never worked in a public school, never attended a public school, never sent her own children to public school. She has lived in a billionaire bubble of privilege. She has no understanding of the needs of our nation’s public schools, and she is in fact actively hostile to them. This is unacceptable. She is unacceptable. Our public schools are one of the cornerstones of our democracy. We have never had a Secretary of Education who was opposed to public schools. We should never have one.”
Rick Sterling is a retired electronics / aerospace engineer turned independent investigative journalist. He just wrote the piece “The War Against Alternative Information” for ConsortiumNews.com — which states: “The U.S. establishment is not content simply to have domination over the media narratives on critical foreign policy issues, such as Syria, Ukraine and Russia. It wants total domination. Thus we now have the ‘Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act’ that President Obama signed into law on Dec. 23 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017, setting aside $160 million to combat any ‘propaganda’ that challenges Official Washington’s version of reality. The new law mandates the U.S. Secretary of State to collaborate with the Secretary of Defense, Director of National Intelligence and other federal agencies to create a Global Engagement Center ‘to lead, synchronize, and coordinate efforts of the Federal Government to recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining United States national security interests.’ The law directs the Center to be formed in 180 days and to share expertise among agencies and to ‘coordinate with allied nations.’The new law is remarkable for a number of reasons, not the least because it merges a new McCarthyism about purported dissemination of Russian ‘propaganda’ on the Internet with a new Orwellianism by creating a kind of Ministry of Truth — or Global Engagement Center — to protect the American people from ‘foreign propaganda and disinformation.’ As part of the effort to detect and defeat these unwanted narratives, the law authorizes the Center to: ‘Facilitate the use of a wide range of technologies and techniques by sharing expertise among Federal departments and agencies, seeking expertise from external sources, and implementing best practices.’ (This section is an apparent reference to proposals that Google, Facebook and other technology companies find ways to block or brand certain Internet sites as purveyors of ‘Russian propaganda’ or ‘fake news.’) Justifying this new bureaucracy, the bill’s sponsors argued that the existing agencies for ‘strategic communications’ and ‘public diplomacy’ were not enough, that the information threat required ‘a whole-of-government approach leveraging all elements of national power.’ The law also is rife with irony since the U.S. government and related agencies are among the world’s biggest purveyors of propaganda and disinformation…”
Robyn O’Brien is a former financial and food industry analyst. She has been called “food’s Erin Brockovich” by Bloomberg and the New York Times. She is the author of The Unhealthy Truth published in May 2009 by Random House, which reveals the alarming relationship between the manipulation of our food and both the increase in dangerous allergies in our children as well as the increase in cancers in our families—and offers a road map to healthy living.
From a conservative Texas family, Robyn earned an MBA on a full scholarship, graduating as the top woman in her class before going to work as a financial analyst that covered the food industry. For ten years, she has led a food awakening among consumers, corporations and political leaders. Armed with data and analytics, food companies now responding to Robyn’s work include Bloomberg, Compass Food Group, Kraft, Coca Cola, Burger King, Chipotle, Nestle, Target and others. She sheds light on how the changing landscape of food and health are impacting the food industry and our economy. You can follow her on Twitter here: @foodawakenings
Michael Beer has been the Executive Director of Nonviolence International since 1998. Michael is a global activist for human rights, minority rights and against war and casino capitalism. He has trained activists in many countries, including Burma, Kosovo, Tibet, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, India, USA and Zimbabwe. He is a frequent public speaker on nonviolence and has been broadcast on CSPAN, CNN, and other major media. Michael is the co-parent of two children along with his life partner, Latanja.s the director of Nonviolence International.
Quote: “Turkey has invaded Syria without the support of the Assad government nor the United Nations nor the Arab League. This is another damaging blow to international laws meant to prevent war. Given hundreds of years of Turkish/Ottoman dominion over Arabs, this Turkish invasion is unlikely to gain much support in Syria or the Arab world. The timing is remarkable just as the vice president of the U.S. arrived in Turkey. The U.S. cooperated, in part, because the U.S. already has troops in Syria in violation of international law and the U.S. constitution and has no credible platform to protest. International protest has been slow to emerge: No attempt to bring this to the UN; the media refusing to label this an invasion/violation of international law. European governments support it, and the Iranians refuse to release a public statement. We are seeing more and more countries follow the U.S. and Russia’s example of using military force outside of international law. This is a dangerous direction for the future security of planet earth.”
A Muslim perspective on secularism and governance – an interview with Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im
Islam in Retrospect: Recovering the Message – an interview with Maher Mahmassani
More about this week’s guests:
Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im (from Sudan) is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory Law, associated professor in the Emory College of Arts and Sciences, and Senior Fellow of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion of Emory University. An internationally recognized scholar of Islam and human rights and human rights in cross-cultural perspectives, Professor An-Na’im teaches courses in international law, comparative law, human rights, and Islamic law. His research interests include constitutionalism in Islamic and African countries, secularism, and Islam and politics. Professor An-Na’im directed the following research projects which focus on advocacy strategies for reform through internal cultural transformation:
Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naʿim argues that the coercive enforcement of shariʿa by the state betrays the Qurʿan’s insistence on voluntary acceptance of Islam. Just as the state should be secure from the misuse of religious authority, shariʿa should be freed from the control of the state. State policies or legislation must be based on civic reasons accessible to citizens of all religions. Showing that throughout the history of Islam, Islam and the state have normally been separate, An-Naʿim maintains that ideas of human rights and citizenship are more consistent with Islamic principles than with claims of a supposedly Islamic state to enforce shariʿa. In fact, he suggests, the very idea of an “Islamic state” is based on European ideas of state and law, and not shariʿa or the Islamic tradition.
MaherMahmassani has written two books and numerous articles in anthologies and law journals, in Arabic, English and French, on matters ranging from Islamic law to finance, investment and family law. He earned his doctorate in 1972 and taught law in Beirut at the Lebanese University Law School and the Arab University Law School. For over two decades, he was Chief Counsel for the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia at the International Finance Corporation. He also served as General Counsel of Middle East Airlines, The Arab Investment Company and Solidere, the private sector company in charge of rebuilding the downtown area of Beirut, which was totally destroyed in the 17-year civil war. He now resides in McLean, Virginia.
From the book description online:
“Islam, in many of its current guises, no longer resembles its original Message. In a world of intractable conflicts plagued by political Islam and Islamophobia and where other forms of fundamentalism within the major religious creeds are on the rise, as well this book serves as a reminder. It aims to recover and reaffirm Islam s underlying and guiding principles. Setting out to distinguish the divine from the human in order to elucidate the pristine nature of the divine Message, Mahmassani reasserts Islam s universal, secular, and progressive character.
In Part One of this comprehensive and meticulously researched volume, the author places the Message of Islam within its historic, geographic, and cultural contexts. Focusing on the primacy of the Holy Qur’an among the sources of Islam, he examines the controversies which have surrounded the Prophetic Tradition Sunna and Hadith as a source of Islam, demonstrating the full scope of Islam s universality. In Part Two he goes on to clarify Islam s secular nature by reconsidering inherited beliefs about the relationship between Islam and the state, and Islam and Sharia a law, revealing Islam s inherent humanism. This leads, in Part Three, to reflections on the progressive nature of Islam, and on the importance of the role of the mind in understanding and taking full benefit of religion as an engine of progress. In particular, the author focuses on human rights, including issues of human dignity, freedom of faith, and gender equality.
Islam in Retrospect: Recovering the Message is a rich contribution to continuing efforts to reform perceptions of Islam. Scholars and students in the fields of Islamic studies, religion, and the humanities, teachers, policy makers, and general readers will find this carefully constructed sourcebook invaluable for its fresh outlook and approach to understanding Islam and Muslim Scriptures in the light of today s world. As Mahmassani affirms, Islam, as a divine message, has been and continuously remains perfect.”
On The Monitor this week is an extended interview with Barry Lando in which we discuss the terror attacks in Paris and Orlando in a broader context of history, international events, media coverage, and the relationship between government and media. This is the kind of exchange this show is known for – a freeform conversation about an important topic that moves beyond the media’s norm of decontextualized sound-bytes and ahistorical sensationalism.
More about this week’s guest:
Barry Lando was a producer for 60 Minutes for over 25 years, most of those producing stories for Mike Wallace. Lando produced the first interview with the Ayatollah Khomeini after the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, which aired 14 days after the hostages were captured. Another famous story he produced was on the 1990 Temple Mount riots.Wallace said of Lando and another producer, “if it wasn’t for [Marion Goldin] and Barry there would be no 60 Minutes.”
Lando pioneered the use of hidden cameras for investigative television reporting.He was awarded a George Polk award for Television Reporting in 1977.Lando and Wallace won a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism award in 1990 for the segment “40,000 a Day.” Lando also won two Emmys at 60 Minutes.
In 2004, Lando collaborated with Michel Despratx to produce a documentary for Canal+ called “Saddam Hussein, the Trial the World Will Never See.” Lando’s 2007 book, Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, From Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush, covered 85 years of Western intervention in Iraq. Lando has written for The Atlantic, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the International Herald Tribune, and Le Monde.
Issa Touma on events in Syria and the media’s coverage of the conflict
Matthew Charles Cardinale on the SMART alternative to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)
More about this week’s guests:
Issa Touma, a photographer and curator based in Aleppo (Syria). His photographic work has been show in international collections, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. From his bio on lensculture.com: “Finding himself isolated from the international art community in his own country, Touma established the Black and White Gallery, the first photography gallery in the Middle East, in 1992. After its closure in 1996, Touma founded Le Pont, an independent art organization and gallery that promotes freedom of expression and stimulates the local art scene through international events. In 1997, he started the International Photography Festival Aleppo, which despite the horrors and uncertainties of the conflict, continues to take place every year.”
You can see examples of his pictures online at Le Pont He recently made documentary called 9 Days – From My Window in Aleppo which you can also see online
Matthew Charles Cardinale is the founder and CEO of Atlanta Progressive News, an online, independent news service, founded in 2005. In its eleventh year of publication, APN has published approximately 2,500 original news articles and blog posts to date. Cardinale has an MPA from the University of New Orleans (2007), an MA in Sociology from U.C. Irvine (2005), and is currently in his third year of law school at Gonzaga University. He has some twenty years of advocacy experience, with a specialty in affordable housing policy. His interest in housing advocacy goes back to his experience as a homeless teenager in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, from 1995 to 1998, obtaining his first HUD-subsidized apartment at the age of sixteen. In 2012, at the age of thirty, he won a pro se lawsuit that had come before the Supreme Court of Georgia, Cardinale v. City of Atlanta, in which the Court struck down a secret vote taken by the City Council of Atlanta. He has written several ordinances and resolutions that are currently law in the City of Atlanta, including Affordable Housing Impact Statements.
After years of exposing the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)—the nation’s largest, secretive corporate spin machine and right-wing policy incubator- Cardinale became so fed up, he decided to form a progressive, grassroots, transparent alternative: SMART ALEC. Headquartered in Portland, Oregon, SMART ALEC’s founding Board members include Cardinale; Dr. Dwanda Farmer, one of the nation’s few PhDs in Community Development; Barbara Payne, the former Executive Director of the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation; and Christian Seppa, a web designer and progressive activist.
More information and Background:
Since 1973, ALEC’s elite task forces of right-wing lawmakers and corporate lobbyists have existed to carefully craft model bills to impose a one-size-fits-all agenda on the states. Their long-term goals: downsizing government, removing regulations on corporations, and making it harder to hold the economically and politically powerful accountable. Ever wonder where the surge to privatize education, break unions, deregulate major industries, pass voter ID laws, and more comes from? ALEC is the culprit: it has extended its tentacles to everything from education to housing to health policy. Their corporate board and billionaire benefactors (including Tea Party funders Charles and David Koch) are comprised of dozens of corporations who invest millions of dollars a year to write business-friendly legislation to be made into law in statehouses coast to coast, with absolutely no regard for the public interest. SMART ALEC offers a completely different agenda – a transparent, grassroots approach to public policy; and it will refocus attention on the battle to loosen the grip of corporate America and renew democracy at the state and local levels.
SMART ALEC stands for State and Municipal Action for Results Today / Agenda for Legislative Empowerment and Collaboration. SMART ALEC’s first model ordinance is Affordable Housing Impact Statements. This model ordinance was drafted by Cardinale, one of SMART ALEC’s founding members, in 2014, as a law school paper for Gonzaga University. The Model Ordinance for Affordable Housing Impact Statements offers a unique method for cities and counties to keep track of the impact of lawmakers’ public policy decisions on the affordable housing stock in their jurisdiction. It provides a Scorecard to track estimated changes in terms of numbers of units added and/or subtracted across various income brackets, and comes with a model administrative implementation memo. SMART ALEC’s policy focus is on affordable housing and environmental policy, and, particularly, on empowering low-income, homeless, and marginalized people to make a meaningful difference in shaping, and advocating for, policy solutions.
Affordable Housing Impact Statements were adopted by the City of Atlanta in November 2015, and are currently under consideration in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Albany, New York.
SMART ALEC is working with elected officials and stakeholders across the country as they consider adopted Affordable Housing Impact Statements. They are developing equitable policy solutions for local replication, and empowering marginalized communities to make a meaningful difference in the democratic process.http://atlantaprogressivenews.com/2016/05/10/apn-editor-co-launches-smart-alec-a-progressive-policy-think-tank/SMART ALEC hopes to supplement the work of the State Information Exchange (SIX), which primarily focuses on promoting progressive labor-related legislation at the state level. SMART ALEC will focus on affordable housing and the environment, and uniquely focus on municipal and county government.Currently, SMART ALEC has a Go Fund Me page to raise $100,000 to support the organization’s initial goal, which is to help get Affordable Housing Impact Statements adopted in ten U.S. cities and counties by 2018.
Toby C Jones on America’s Oil Wars and the military-energy complex in the Persian Gulf
Kani Xulam on Turkey’s “Dirty War” Against the Kurds
More about this week’s guests:
Toby C. Jonesis associate professor of history at Rutgers University, New Brunswick where he also directs the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and the M.A. program in Global and Comparative History. He teaches courses on global environmental history, energy, and the modern Middle East. Jones has traveled and worked extensively in the Middle East, including in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. His more recent work examines the global history of oil, including the recent energy boom in the United States. During 2008-2009 he was a fellow at Princeton University’s Oil, Energy, and the Middle East project. From 2004 to early 2006 Jones worked as the Persian Gulf political analyst for the International Crisis Group.
Jones is the author of two books. The first, Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia was published by Harvard University Press in 2010. The second, Running Dry: Essays on Energy, Water and Environmental Crisis, published by Rutgers University Press, appeared in 2015. He is currently working on a third book, America’s Long War, which is under contract at Harvard University Press. He has written for both scholarly and general audiences, including at the International Journal of Middle East Studies, Journal of American History, Middle East Report, Raritan Quarterly Review, The Nation, Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic, the London Review of Books, the New York Times, and elsewhere. In 2015 Jones was recognized as a Rutgers Chancellor’s Scholar for distinguished scholarship.
Jones appears regularly on local and national media discussing political developments and challenges in the Middle East, including at NPR, the BBC, Democracy Now!, and others.
Kani Xulam is director of the American Kurdish Information Network and a native of Kurdistan.He studied International Relations at the University of Toronto, holds a BA in history from the University of California Santa Barbara and an MA in the International Service program at American University. At the University of Toronto, he represented Kurdistan at the Model United Nations, which passed a nonbinding resolution recognizing the right of the Kurdish people to self-determination.At the University of California Santa Barbara, he was part of a group of peace activists who protested the first Gulf War by taking part in a sit-in at Chancellor’s office in January 1991. Everyone was arrested. Mr. Xulam pled not guilty, defended himself, and was sentenced to 18 hours of community service to plant saplings in Santa Barbara. In 1993, at the urging of Kurdish community leaders in America, he left his family business in Santa Barbara, California to establish the American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN) in the nation’s capital. AKIN is a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering Kurdish-American understanding and friendship.
In 1997, he took part in a hunger strike on the steps of the Capitol urging members of Congress to use their good offices on behalf of their imprisoned Kurdish colleagues. 153 members signed a letter urging President Clinton to intervene on the matter. Mr. Xulam, on the advice of his physician, ended his fast on the 32nd day.
Kani Xulam recently wrote the piece “A Kurdish Girl’s Lonely Death,” for CounterPunch and is continuing a vigil outside the Turkish embassy in Washington, D.C. — now in its eleventh week — protesting Turkish attacks on Kurds.