Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Explaining the strange game of politics in London

Among Mike Marqusee's distinctions is that he is an American who understands cricket. A native New Yorker who lives in London, he not only enjoys the game, but writes about it (and about Bob Dylan, Muhammad Ali, socialism, the anti-war movement, and other topics).
Mike is good at getting into stuff that others find complicated, and helping us understand what's going on.

A couple of years ago I heard Mike give a report on the anti-war movement in the United States, in its diversity, and more recently he has been explaining British life and politics for readers of The Hindu, India's leading daily. I only wish readers here in Britain were as well-served. Here's Mike' s take on recent events in London, for his Indian readers:-.


The news that the elected Mayor of London was to be suspended from office for a month at the direction of an appointed tribunal startled Londoners, partly because few had any idea that there existed a body with the power to overturn their democratic preference, and partly because the penalty seemed so disproportionate to the alleged offence.

The tribunal ruled that Livingstone had been "unnecessarily insensitive and offensive" to a Jewish journalist who approached him outside a private party in February last year. When the journalist identified himself as working for the Evening Standard, a long-time nemesis of the London Mayor, Livingstone chided him: "What did you do? Were you a German war criminal?" The reporter said he was Jewish and that he found the remarks offensive. Livingstone then told him he was acting "like a concentration camp guard -- you are just doing it because you are paid to."

The background here is that the right-wing Standard, London's biggest-selling daily paper, has been engaged in battle with the left-wing Livingstone, London's most popular politician, for a quarter of a century. The Standard is owned by Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Mail, which opposed Jewish immigration in the early years of the twentieth century and championed Hitler in the 1930s. Since then, it has waged inflammatory campaigns against black and Irish people, and more recently against asylum seekers and Muslims.

When the story broke, Livingstone was accused of boorishness, insensitivity towards holocaust victims, and even anti-semitism. He was asked to apologise but refused, basically arguing that he had every right to be rude to a journalist working for this particular organisation. On the question of the alleged offence to Jewish people, he said:
"I have been deeply affected by the concern of Jewish people in particular that my comments downplayed the horror and magnitude of the holocaust. I wish to say to those Londoners that my words were not intended to cause such offence and that my view remains that the holocaust against the Jews is the greatest racial crime of the 20th century."

For some reason, that plain-spoken statement was not good enough for the Board of Deputies of British Jews, who made a formal complaint to the local government watchdog. Now that this complaint has resulted, a year later, in Livingstone's suspension from office, many commentators shocked by the severity and undemocratic nature of the penalty nonetheless blame Livingstone for bringing it on himself by his refusal to apologise. That seems a perverse interpretation of events. It was the determination of the Board of Deputies to lay the matter before the statutory authorities that led to London being deprived of its elected Mayor for four weeks.

Just weeks before Livingstone's contretemps with the Evening Standard journalist, Prince Harry was photographed wearing Nazi regalia at a private party (guests had been asked to dress in "colonial or native" attire). In contrast to its aggressive pursuit of Livingstone, the Board of Deputies adopted an emollient approach to the third in line to the throne. "It was clearly in bad taste," said a spokesperson for the Board, but he added that the young royal had apologised and so there was no more to be said. When it was revealed, shortly after the Livingstone incident, that senior Daily Mail executives had donned Nazi costumes at a fancy dress party held in 1992, the Board said it was "not an issue at this moment in time". However, it did find the time and energy to denounce Interpal, a prominent Palestinian charity, as a "terrorist organisation". As a result of an out-of-court settlement following a libel action, the Board was forced to retract the charge and apologise for making it.

Recently, the Board joined the Chief Rabbi in condemning the decision of the Church of England to withdraw its £2.5 million investment in Caterpillar, the US-based corporation that manufactures the bulldozers used by the Israeli army to demolish Palestinian homes and farms. "The timing could not have been more inappropriate," the Chief Rabbi argued, because Israel at this moment found itself "facing two enemies, Iran and Hamas". The Caterpillar decision, he warned, would have "the most adverse repercussions on ... Jewish-Christian relations in Britain."

And here the agenda becomes increasingly obvious. It's not about protecting the rights of Jews in Britain; it's about protecting Israel from scrutiny and protest. The aim is to muddy the waters – and the reputations of critics of Israel like Livingstone - with charges of anti-semitism. In his denunciation of the Church's stand on Israel, the Chief Rabbi drew no distinction whatsoever between Jews as a whole and Israel as a state. Worse yet, he identified Jews in Britain with some of the most inexcusable policies of a particularly abhorrent Israeli government. I'm far from being the only Jew in Britain who finds these equations anti-semitic, whether they come from Iran's Ahmadinejad, Malaysia's Mahathir or those who claim to speak on behalf of Jews.

The British media treat the Chief Rabbi and the Board of Deputies as the authentic (and exclusive) representatives of Jews in Britain, despite the fact that neither is elected by or accountable to the Jewish community as a whole. The Chief Rabbi heads the Orthodox Synagogues, to which a minority of Jews are affiliated. He can make no claims on behalf of Reform, Chasidic, Sephardic or non-synagogue affiliated Jews. The Board of Deputies is a self-perpetuating collection of worthies and it's safe to say that 90% of British Jews have no idea how they're chosen.

Neither the vendetta against Livingstone nor the diatribe against the Church of England have served the real interests of Britain's diverse Jewish population. The cheapening of the grave charge of anti-semitism has made it harder to oppose and expose the real thing, which certainly exists. The elevation of brutal Israeli realpolitik into an article of faith is a mockery of the ethical, universalist strand of Judaism that once flowed into revolutionary social movements around the world. It's not Livingstone, but the Board of Deputies that has shown disrespect for the memory of the holcoaust – by seeking to exploit it in pursuit of a parochial political smear-campaign.

In recent weeks, many Muslims have professed despair over the antics of the self-proclaimed champions of their community. I think I know just how they feel.


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Monday, February 27, 2006

It all depends who says it

BY mere coincidence, or bei mir bist du shein (if Professor Hirsh will allow the pun), the fall-out from the absurd decision to suspend London mayor Ken Livingston comes as the cord of rumors and allegations tightens around the neck of Tony Blair's Sports and Culture Minister Tessa Jowell.

Don't get alarmed, the minister has not insulted a newspaper reporter, as far as I know, so there's nothing to excite the Board of Deputies (not even of British Italians, if such existed). But as her husband, rich-persons solicitor David Mills prepares to face an Italian court, this time not as lawyer or witness but defendant, it is reported that Mrs.Mills signed a mortgage deal used as a cover for her husband to receive a £350,000 "gift" from Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

"On September 27, 2000 - in the middle of the Labour party conference - both Mills and Jowell signed a document taking out a large mortgage on their £700,000 terraced home in Kentish Town, north London. This money was then placed in an obscure hedge fund. The mortgage was paid off less than a month later with the Italian "gift". (Sunday Times, February 26)

Mills helped Berlusconi set up offshore funds to conceal the extent of his media holdings as well payments like those alleged. The lawyer has insisted he and his wife had entirely separate finances. Well, it's a change on "it's all in my wife's name".

But even with my quirky memory that irritates politicians, and amuses and exasperates my friends (where did I put my keys?), why should news about Livingston have put me in mind of Berlusconi?

Well, it's less than three years since the Italian PM, in his role as European Union president, shocked Euro MPs and caused a diplomatic row by telling German Social Democrat MEP, Martin Schultz who had said something about his use of immunity to avoid bribery charges:
"Mr Schulz, I know there is a producer in Italy who is making a film on the Nazi concentration camps. I will suggest you for the role of commandant. You'd be perfect."

Before his rise as billionaire property and media magnate, Berlusconi's jobs included singing on a cruise liner, but if he'd doubled as a comedian, Euro MPs were not amused by his jibe implying all Germans are Nazis. Martin Schultz might well have pointed out that his party suffered persecution by the Nazis, its members were sent to the camps, whereas Berlusconi appointed a "post-fascist", Gianfranco Fini as his Foreign Minister. (What kind of fascist is a "post-fascist"? One that dons a smart Italian suit).

It was not the first time Berlusconi had aired his ignorance and prejudice. Soon after the September 11 attacks he attacked Arabs and Muslim civilisation, saying Westerners should be proud of the "superiority of our civilisation" over Islam, which was "1,400 years behind". Berlusconi has never apologised.

In 1994, at a dinner of world leaders, then Russian president Boris Yeltsin complained that the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) was not helping Russia end the Chechnya conflict. Since Italy was chairing the CSCE, Berlusconi was asked to reply. He spoke for 25 minutes about Europe and war. After the meal was over he sidled up to Spanish prime minister Felipe Gonzalez, and asked him: "What is the CSCE, anyway?"

According to Berlusconi himself, Gonzalez ended up splitting his sides on the floor laughing, and the Italian PM had to help him up.

Many people, particularly Italian Jews, were less amused by the interview Berlusconi gave the British Tory Spectator in September 2003. Discussing how the Iraqi people might need time to recover from 40 years of dictatorship, he was asked whether Italians had not had the same problem after fascism was defeated. He denied the comparison between dictators.. 'That was a much more benign dictatorship Mussolini did not murder anyone. Mussolini sent people on holiday to confine them [banishment to small islands such as Ponza and Maddalena which are now exclusive resorts].'

It was not the first time. When first elected in 1994 he told reporters "Mussolini did some good things here". Tullia Zevi, a former leader of Italy's Union of Jewish Communities, told the New York Times in a telephone interview, "He said fascism was a very mild dictatorship! It was so 'mild' there were many political murders from the very beginning, and also for the Jews."

Mussolini used gas against Ethiopians long before Saddam Hussein tried it on Kurds. Italy's fascist regime adopted anti-Semitic race laws in 1938 depriving Jews of civil rights and leading to expulsion from schools and employment. These measures enabled the later deportation of thousands of Jews to the Nazi concentration camps. Mussolini publicly announced his agreement with the "Final Solution."

So how did Jewish organisations in other countries respond to Berlusconi's defence of Mussolini, his promotion of neo-fascists, or his "joke" comparing someone to a Nazi concentration camp guard? After all, Ken Livingstone's jibe to a reporter was enough to set off an international campaign, promoted by the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre, accusing London's mayor of being an antisemite, even though he publicly stated that he had not wished to offend Jewish people or make light of the Holocaust.

Well, the established organisation in the United States claiming to combat antisemitism, the B'nai Brith Anti-Defamation League(ADL), proceeded with inviting Berlusconi to its dinner on September 23, 2003, to proclaim him "European Statesman of the Year".

On the eve of the dinner, the New York Times published a letter signed by three Nobel laureates, economists Franco Modigliani, Paul Samuelson and Robert Solow of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, calling the ADL award "shocking to anyone who knows Mr. Berlusconi's controversial history."

Several Jewish groups asked that the award be withdrawn. But just as American Zionists had ignored French Jewish protests when they invited Jean-Marie Le Pen in an earlier decade, ADL director Abraham Foxman dismissed complaints about Berlusconi as "politically laced", and went ahead with the award dinner.

It was quite an occasion. Among top media and business leaders present was Rupert Murdoch, who fondly recalled how Berlusconi had said he was "entering politics to save Italy from the communists". (Much as Winston Churchill once said praising Mussolini). Also among the guests was former US secretary of State Henry Kissinger. They gave Berlusconi two standing ovations. I don't know if he told any of his jokes.

As Foxman explained, justifying the award, Berlusconi had been a loyal friend of the United States in its war on Iraq when other European leaders hesitated. He admitted Berlusconi's recent comments were "inappropriate" and "uninformed," but "that's not enough for me to say he's no longer a friend." Besides, as Foxman told the Jewish Week, the Italian premier was a "good friend of Israel".. "He has spoken out that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism," Foxman said.

When Silvio Berlusconi went to the Middle East that year he refused to meet Yasser Arafat. Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas therefore declined the pleasure of meeting Berlusconi. But Ariel Sharon said the Italian PM was "Israel's best friend in Europe."

So, if Ken wants to win forgiveness from such leaders, all he has to do is apologise and - change his views on US war policies and Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. Not much to ask, is it?

.Wondering what, if anything, Britain's Board of Deputies had said about Berlusconi, I did a search, and found an item mentioning "football" and "Berlusconi". Thinking it must have something to do with Lazio player Paolo Di Canio, who keeps giving fascist salutes, to the delight of neo-Nazi fans and Berlusconi's coalition partners in the Alianza Nationale, I clicked on the item to see what it said, and read:
. .
"The Board of Deputies has written to European football's governing body to express its disapproval following the decision by UEFA not to allow Hapoel Tel Aviv to host their UEFA Cup quarter-final clash with Italian club AC Milan in Israel. The Israeli Government has condemned the decision coming, as it does, amid the growing crisis in Israel's tourist industry. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is also the owner of AC Milan, also supported Israel's stance and called for the tie to be staged in Israel".

So let nobody say the Board of Deputies does not keep its eye on the ball.

see previous items on: Turn Again, Livingstone?

Mills and Berlusconi

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Turn again Livingston?

WHILE there was a world campaign over supposed "offence" caused by London's mayor, Ken Livingston, it was left to socialists and Unite Against Fascism (hon.pres. one Ken Livingston) to organise this protest last year, uniting Jews, Muslims and other local people against massive desecration of Jewish graves in London's West Ham cemetery.

Late at night on February 8 last year a 60-year old man stepped out of City Hall in London, where he had been attending a party held by Gay and Lesbian staff, and was waylaid by a reporter asking him how the party had gone.

Whether it had been a long day or short drinks, Mayor Ken Livingston (for it was he) did not wish to be interviewed, and in the course of indicating this, asked the Evening Standard reporter if he had been "German war criminal". The reporter, Oliver Finegold replied that he was Jewish, and offended by that.

Livingston: "Ah right, well you might be [Jewish], but actually you are just like a concentration camp guard, you are just doing it because you are paid to, aren't you?

Finegold: Great, I have you on record for that. So, how was tonight?

Livingston: It's nothing to do you with you because your paper is a load of scumbags and reactionary bigots.

Finegold: I'm a journalist and I'm doing my job. I'm only asking for a comment.

Livingston: Well, work for a paper that doesn't have a record of supporting fascism.

With that the mayor walked off, and the journalist said something off-record..

As a result, elected Mayor Livingston is to be suspended (on full pay) for four weeks from March 1, by order of a non-elected Adjudication Panel, after the local government standards commission had only recommended a reprimand. He faces £80,000 in costs, but may appeal. The case arose from a complaint by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

There is quite an irony in this. As a spokesperson for the mayor was able to point out after the exchange became public a few days later, the Evening Standard is owned by the same firm as the Daily Mail, Associated Newspapers, whose founders were notorious admirers of Hitler fascism.

"In the 1930s Lord Rothermere and the Daily Mail were supporters of Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists. Rothermere wrote an article, 'Hurrah for the Blackshirts', in January 1934, in which he praised Mosley for his 'sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine', and the paper published articles lamenting the number of German Jews entering Britain as refugees after the rise of Nazism.

"Rothermere had several meetings with Adolf Hitler, and addressed him as 'My Dear Fuhrer' in letters and telegrams. He argued that the Nazi leader wanted peace, and in 1934 campaigned for the African land confiscated in the Versailles Treaty to be returned to Germany".

In the 1980s the Greater London Council, which KenLivingstone headed till it was abolished by Margaret Thatcher, decided to boycott the Evening Standard over its use of offensive cartoons depicting "the Irish" as all terrorists, and black people as savage cannibals.

In recent years the Mail has employed Jewish journalists (including the awful 'neo-con' admiring columnist Melanie Philips, "Mad Mel" as my friends call her), while following the tradition of its anti-Jewish refugee attacks with front-page stories attacking asylum seekers. On Britain's first official Holocaust memorial day there was a demonstration outside the Mail and Standard offices in Kensington, initiated by Jewish Socialists, and joined by refugee groups. When some anti-racist campaigners sought to repeat this the following year they were met by a counter-demonstration defending the Mail organised by the British National Party.

Mayor Livingston has not avoided connections with the Standard, which is London's only evening newspaper. London Underground co-operated with Associated Newspapers in distributing the free Metro paper at tube stations, and the mayor himself supplemented his not inconsiderable salary with earnings as a restaurant columnist.

Oliver Finegold could have accusedLivingstone of inconsistency. He could have complained to the National Union of Journalists - if he is a member - about the Mayor insulting him. While he was at it he could perhaps have criticised his employers for making him hang around outside City Hall on a cold February night in the hope of catching an off-guard remark from Livingston.

Maybe. But the remark "Great, I have you on record for that". suggests a man who, offended or not, felt he had got a result as a newspaperman.

(For anyone who has been worried about coming to London by fears of crime, racism, rip-off prices and terrorism, it must be reassuring to learn we have so little happening here a reporter is assigned to cover the mayor's social life).

In response to criticism, Livingston made clear that he had not wished to offend members of the Jewish community or to in any way belittle the racist crime of the Nazi Holocaust.

On February 22 2005, he was able to get back at suggestions he had made light of it by reports of something that had happened at a party in Associated Newspapers' own house.
"Ken Livingstone today wrote to the editors of the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard - both owned by Associated Newspapers - asking them to apologise for an incident in which senior Associated Newspaper staff appeared at a Daily Mail party dressed in Nazi uniforms. The revelations about the Nazi uniforms worn at the party were made in national newspapers this week, and a statement issued by Associated Newspapers yesterday confirmed that members of staff had attended the party in Nazi uniform. The mayor's letter came following demands from both newspapers, including an editorial in today's West End Final of the Evening Standard, that the mayor apologise for remarks made to an Evening Standard reporter.

In his letter to the editor of the Evening Standard, Veronica Wadley, the mayor said:
'Which may be taken as infinitely more offensive - my remarks or the appearance of five members of Associated Press staff in Nazi uniforms? If you consider I should apologise for my remarks why have you therefore not demanded that Associated Newspapers apologise for this event?
'In the press statement by Associated Newspapers it states that the former editor of the Daily Mail, Sir David English, considered this incident as in "bad taste". Why were those involved not asked to leave? Why were they not asked to apologise? Why was no disciplinary action taken against them? I assure you that if any member of my staff were to appear in Nazi uniforms they would be instantly dismissed. It is also still not clear if any of those present at the party, including those who wore Nazi uniform, are still on the staff of Associated Newspapers.'

(press release)

But the Zionist-dominated Board of Deputies has never forgiven Livingston for his support for the Palestinians and opposition to Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. They blamed him for a cartoon in Labour Herald depicting Menachem Begin in Nazi uniform.

When the GLC announced a programme to assist ethnic minorities in London for an "anti-racist year", the Board announced that Jews wanted nothing to do with it. Hearing then that several Jewish groups had already applied for grants, the Board offered to vet applications. Some Orthodox Jews said the Board had no business deciding for them, and GLC proceeded without the Deputies' advice. Among its grants, unforgivable in the eyes of Tories and Zionists alike, was one to the Jewish Socialists' Group.

This was used for the Jewish Cultural and Anti-Racist Project (JCARP), fostering Diaspora culture, links with other minorities, and anti-racist campaigning. Not on the surface a directly "anti-Zionist" programme, except it ran right against Established interests and Zionist priorities.

Some years later, when the GLC had been abolished and Livingston was sitting in parliament, I had a phone call from someone wondering if I'd be willing to help with a book about Ken Livingston. Flattered though I was, I confessed that I'd only very briefly met Livingston once, and knew nothing about him that had not appeared in the newspapers. My friendly go-between then explained that the would-be author had been given access to Board of Deputies files, and seeing my name in connection with Labour Herald, thought I might know something about it.

Maybe I should have gone along for a free lunch, and to find out what they had in those Deputies files. But, much as I'd become critical of Livingston (not least for his accusation that comrades of mine were "MI5 agents"!), I had no inside information and besides, what sort of writer was being assisted by the Board of Deputies?

I have not seen the promised book, but when Livingston stood in 2000 for the newly-created post of London Mayor, newspapers received a dossier of stale material about him from the Board of Deputies. So far as a majority of Londoners were concerned, being opposed by Thatcher and Tony Blair was an accolade, and the Board's 'dirt' made no difference. The one-time "Red Ken" was elected twice, in 2000 and 2004, but still they try.

Some Jewish officials have alternated between claiming "deep offence" to the entire Jewish community and saying Livingston could have avoided the row if he apologised to the reporter (ignoring his apology if any offence was caused to Jewish people). But the Board has been joined in this recent campaign by the more strident voice of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

Demanding that Livingston "Apologise Now for Antisemitic and Anti-Israel Comments", the well-funded SWC persuaded some US mayors to announce they would have nothing to do with London's mayor. Its international campaign accusing Livingston of "fuelling" antisemitic attacks has been echoed by some Zionist websites, outraged that the mayor not only insulted a Jewish reporter but "slandered Ariel Sharon" (as though the mayor said anything worse about Sharon than could be read in Israeli newspapers).

The Community Security Trust, whose stewards have often seemed more concerned with "protecting" Jewish events from subversive left-wing Jews than from right-wing antisemites, has claimed that antisemitic incidents increased after Livingston's remarks - as though anyone would have heard about the remarks except from the papers attacking Livingston, and the fuss aroused in the Jewish community.

If they were really worried about antisemitism, perhaps they should consider the possible effect on many Londoners, even those no longer fond of Livingston, on learning that their democratically elected mayor has been even temporarily removed from his office by an unelected three-man panel which few people had previously heard of; And that this was at the behest of two minority bodies, one of them American, and both of them largely taking their cue from Israeli policies.

Livingston's deputy mayor Nicky Gavron who temporarily takes over is Jewish, and the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Used to working with the mayor she has firmly rejected the accusation that he is anti-Jewish, and criticised the way he was suspended by an unelected body. Prominent Labour and trade union figures have also rallied behind Livingston. Having lost popularity in recent years through things like congestion charges, alienated a lot of left-wing support by his attitude to tube trade unions, and antagonised others by his ill-advised invitations (and over-paid advisers), Livingston might come out of all this smiling, as support returns.

Some Tory papers seem to have trained our so-called leaders when to bark and whom to bark at. They tell us when we are supposed to be "offended", as with the manufactured outrage last year over a poster cartoon of Michael Howard.

Many Jewish people disagree with the Board of Deputies's choice of friends as well as enemies. Many disliked Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks' attempt to make Jewish-Christian relations in Britain supposedly depend on the Church of England synod reversing its decision to disinvest from Caterpillar (supplier of bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes). Leaders like these drag the community's name in dirt by associating it with obnoxious policies. They also increase the danger that having cried wolf so many times falsely accusing the wrong people, there will be nobody to speak, or listen, against real antisemitism. These leaders don't speak for us. It is time we made our own voices heard more loudly. .
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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Fifty years ago - Khruschev's report to 20th Congress

FIFTY years ago, the world was a different place. From the Baltic to the Pacific, one large slice was seen as 'Socialist'. Not only did all these states look to Moscow for leadership, but so did Communists around the world, some leading mass parties and major trade unions, and influencing important intellectuals and artists.
Clinging to the hopes aroused by the Great October 1917 Revolution, and feeling a debt to the Soviet people for the defeat of Nazi Germany, they resisted any doubts or disillusion they had themselves experienced, let alone admitting any truth in hostile Western propaganda.

Trotsky's opposition had been decimated by Stalinist and fascist repression, and its surviving voices stood little chance between Cold War social democracy and "actually existing socialism".

Then on February 25, 1956, approaching the 20th anniversary of the infamous Moscow Trials, delegates at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union were treated to a bombshell report on Stalin's crimes and the "cult of the personality" by the Party's First Secretary, Nikita S.Khruschev.
He brought out Lenin's warnings against Stalin's tendencies, revealed the scale of the purges, refuted the myths about the Great Leader's part in the War.
Khruschev's "secret speech" soon rebounded around the world, cracking the monolith that was official "Communism", shattering faiths and consciences.

For some it was the end, for others a new beginning. Khruschev, part of the ruling elite, could not take his critique of Stalin into an end of Stalinism. Before the year was out he was sending the tanks into Hungary.
Today there are still Old Believers who blame Khruschev for bringing down their idol, and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. Seeking faith, even when their hero's icon is carried alongside that of another moustached dictator, they alternately deny or glory in Stalin's crimes. But they can never reclaim the leadership of working-class revolution.
For anyone who seriously seeks a socialist future today, the historic questions raised by Khrushev's 1956 report still need an adequate answer. But facing and acknowledging what went wrong in the Soviet Union is not a source of weakness, but of strength.


Having at its disposal numerous data showing brutal willfulness towards party cadres, the Central Committee has created a party commission ...charged with investigating what made possible mass repression against the majority of the Central Committee members and candidates elected at the 17th Congress of the All-Union Communist Party(Bolsheviks).

The commission became acquainted with a large quantity of materials in the NKVD archives and with other documents and has established many facts pertaining to the fabrication of cases against Communists, to false accusations, to glaring abuses of socialist legality, which resulted in the death of innocent people. It became apparent that many party, Soviet and economic activists, who were branded in 1937-1938 as 'enemies', were actually never enemies, spies, wreckers, etc., but were always honest Communists; they were only so stigmatised and, often, no longer able to bear barbaric tortures, they charged themselves (at the order of the investigative judges-falsifiers) with all kinds of grave and unlikely crimes.

The commission has presented to the Central Committee Presidium lengthy and documented materials pertaining to mass repressions against the delegates to the 17th Party Congress and against members of the Central Committee elected at that Congress. These materials have been studied by the Presidium of the Central Committee. It was determined that of the 139 members and candidates of the party's Central Committee who were elected at the 17th Congress, 98 persons, i.e. 70 per cent, were arrested and shot (mostly in 1937-1938). (Indignation in the hall.)

What was the composition of the delegates to the 17th Congress? It is known that 80 per cent of the voting participants of the 17th Congress joined the party during the years of conspiracy before the Revolution and during the civil war; this means before 1921. By social origin the basic mass of the delegates to the Congress were workers (60 per cent of the voting members).For this reason, it was inconceivable' that a congress so composed would have elected a Central Committee a majority of whom would prove to be enemies of the party. The only reason why 70 per cent of the Central Committee members and candidates elected at the 17th Congress were branded as enemies of the party and of the people was because honest Communists were slandered, accusations against them were fabricated, and revolutionary legality was gravely undermined. The same fate met not only the Central Committee members but also the majority of the delegates to the 17th Party Congress.

Of 1,966 delegates with either voting or advisory rights, 1,108 persons were arrested on charges of anti-revolutionary crimes, i.e., decidedly more than a majority. This very fact shows how absurd, wild and contrary to common sense were the charges of counter-revolutionary crimes made out, as we now see, against a majority of participants at the 17th Party Congress. (Indignation in the hall)

We should recall that the 17th Party Congress is historically known as the Congress of Victors. Delegates to the Congress were active participants in the building of our socialist state; many of them suffered and fought for party interests during the pre-Revolutionary years in the conspiracy and at the civil war fronts; they fought their enemies valiantly and often nervelessly looked into the face of death. How, then, can we believe that such people could prove to be 'two-faced' and had joined the camps of the enemies of socialism during the era after the political liquidation of Zinovievites, Trotskyites and rightists and after the great accomplishments of socialist construction? This was the result of the abuse of power by Stalin, who began to use mass terror against the party cadres.

What is the reason that mass repressions against activists increased more and more after the 17th Party Congress? It was because at that time Stalin had so elevated himself above the party and above the nation that he ceased to consider either the Central Committee or the party. While he still reckoned with the opinion of the collective before the 17th Congress, after the complete liquidation of the Trotskyites, Zinovievites and Bukharinites, when as a result of that fight and socialist victories the party achieved unity, Stalin ceased to an ever greater degree to consider the members of the party's Central Committee and even the members of the Political Bureau.

Stalin thought that now he could decide all things alone and all he needed were statisticians; he treated all others in such a way that they could only listen to and praise him. After the criminal murder of Sergei M. Kirov, mass repressions and brutal acts of violation of socialist legality began. On the evening of December 1, 1934, on Stalin's initiative (without the approval of the Political Bureau -which was passed two days later, casually), the Secretary of the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee, Yenukidze, signed the following directive :

'1. Investigative agencies are directed to speed up the cases of those accused of the preparation or execution of acts of terror.

'2. Judicial organs are directed not to hold up the execution of death sentences pertaining to crimes of this category in order to consider the possibility of pardon, because the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR does not consider as possible the receiving of petitions of this sort.

'3. The organs of the Commissariat of Internal Affairs are directed to execute the death sentences against criminals of the above-mentioned category immediately after the passage of sentences.'

This directive became the basis for mass acts of abuse against socialist legality. During many of the fabricated court cases, the accused were charged with 'the preparation' of terroristic acts; this deprived them of any possibility that their cases might be re-examined, even when they stated before the court that their 'confessions' were secured by force, and when, in a convincing manner, they disproved the accusations against them.

It must be asserted that to this day the circumstances surrounding Kirov's murder hide many things which are inexplicable and mysterious and demand a most careful examination. There are reasons for the suspicion that the killer of Kirov, Nikolayev, was assisted by someone from among the people whose duty it was to protect the person of Kirov. A month and a half before the killing Nikolayev was arresteon thehe grounds of suspicious behaviour, but he was released and not even searched. It is an unusually suspicious circumstance that when the Chekist assigned to protect Kirov was being brought for an interrogation, on December 2, 1934, he was killed in a car 'accident'in which no other occupants of the car were harmed.

After the murder of Kirov, top functionaries of the Leningrad NKVD were given very light sentences, but in 1937 they were shot. We can assume that they were shot in order to cover the traces of the organisers of Kirov's killing. (Movement in the hall) Mass repressions grew tremendously from the end of 1936 after a telegram from Stalin and Zhdanov, dated from Sochi on September 25, 1936, was addressed to Kaganovitch, Molotov and other members of the Political Bureau. The content of the telegram was as follows :
'We deem it absolutely necessary and urgent that Comrade Yezhov be nominated to the post of People's Commissar for Internal Affairs. Yagoda has definitely proved himself to be incapable of unmasking the Trotskyite-Ziniovievite bloc. The OGPU is four years behind in this matter. This is noted by all party workers and by the majority of -the representatives of the NKVD.'

Strictly speaking, we should stress that Stalin did not meet with and, therefore, could not know the opinion of party workers. This Stalinist formulation, that the 'NKVD is four years behind' in applying mass repression and that there is a necessity for 'catching up' with the neglected work directly, pushed the NKVD workers on the path of mass arrests and executions.


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Skies are Weeping: BBC apologises for misleading report

DEBBIE FINK singing Cantata for Rachel Corrie

A top BBC official has admitted that BBC television misled viewers in the way it reported a concert dedicated to those who have lost their lives during the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.

Fraser Steel, head of the Beeb's editorial complaints commission, has written to opera singer Deborah Fink, asking her to accept his apologies on behalf of the corporation.

Soprano Debbie sang "The Skies Are Weeping", Philip Munger's Cantata Opus 75 for Rachel Corrie, at the Hackney Empire on Tuesday, November 1. The concert also featured The Singer of Wind and Rain, by Gregory Youtz, as well as jazz fusion music from Tsivi Sharett 's TS Ensemble and a debka performance from the al-Hurriya Dance Troupe.

Cindy Corrie, whose daughter Rachel was killed trying to stop an Israeli bulldozer destroying Palestinian homes, flew in to introduce the concert. The family of British photographer Tom Hurndall, shot dead while trying to shepherd Palestinian children away from gunfire, was also present.

This was the world premiere for Philip Munger's cantata. A previous attempt to stage it in Anchorage, Alaska, where he lives had to be cancelled after threats to the composer and performers. In London, too, although the evening was billed as A Concert for Justice and Peace, and expressedly dedicated to all "the lives lost during the occupation", Zionist protestors turned up outside the theatre ostensibly complaining that it wasn't honouring Jewish victims of terror bombings.

One woman, perhaps misinformed what she was protesting about, carried a placard saying ingenuously "Peacemakers preach peace not hatred". The impression was belied by thugs with her, honestly wearing tee shirts proclaiming their backing for right-wing settlers in Hebron, and threatening passers-by and concert-goers.

Most people ignored them and went in to enjoy the concert. A small group from Jews Against Zionism gave out a leaflet to counter the Zionist protest. Police moved the two groups away to opposite corners away from the theatre entrance.

On the following evening BBC TV London and South East news had an item about the concert, including some words from Philip Munger and Rachel Corrie, and a shot of musicians rehearsing, but going on to report "Jewish protests" against the concert, (no mention of the Z-word!) while depicting the leafletters from Jews Against Zionism, much to their chagrin, and giving the last word to a Zionist spokesman repeating the line that the concert ignored Jews who had died.

So the impression given viewers was - Palestinians and their supporters on one side, Jews on the other. One might have put this down to poor reporting, which was bad enough, but in fact the BBC had interviewed Debbie Fink, who was not only the singer of the cantata but the main organiser of the concert. Debbie made a point of mentioning that she was Jewish, as were many of the people supporting the concert.

Tsivi Sharett is Israeli, Steve Marks who compered is a member, like Debbie, of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, and among the concert's sponsors were Noam Chomsky, Harold Pinter (a Hackney lad, incidentally), Morris Farhi, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Miriam Karlin, Miriam Margolyes, Anthony Sher, Susie Orbach, Tom Stoppard and Prof.Avi Shlaim, plus Jews for Justice and the Jewish Socialists' Group.

Quite a line-up of Jewish talent, and a very different picture from the one which BBC viewers were given. Or the impression which the Zionist protestors wished to give.. But the interview with Debbie Fink and any mention of her or the others was excised from the broadcast.
Debbie complained, as did yours truly, and others (including Roland Rance of Jews Against Zionism, horrified to see himself and friends depicted as part of the Zionist protest, when they had been abused and threatened by the Zionists!)

The letter that Debbie has now received, more than three months after, is below. You may think as I do that it is inadequate, as a correction, but at least it is an admission that the BBC got it wrong.

By the way, if you'd like to see more, visit the website http://weepingskies.blogspot.com/
where you can also order souvenir programmes, with words of the Cantata and Gregory Youtz' songs from Palestinian poems.

My previous blogs on this subject, in November:

A Night at the Empire

One State, two State, E8

BBC letter:

I believe that, in broad terms, the item was even handed in the way it reported the views of those supporting the concert and those protesting against it. However, I am concerned that this approach inadvertently created a situation where an over simplification may have mislead viewers.

Though the item made no distinction between the protesting groups, its reference to them, over shots of the protest, was immediately followed by a contribution from a protester opposed to the concert. I think this risked giving the impression to viewers that all the Jewish protestors opposed the concert, which was not, in fact, true.

Taken together with this juxtaposition, I do believe the absence of any further detail of those organising the concert gave rise to the potential for misunderstanding. In view of the circumstances surrounding the event, once the reporter included a general reference to Jewish protest there was, in my judgement, an obligation to make some allusion, however brief, to the difference of opinion within the Jewish community. To the extent that this did not happen, I am therefore upholding your complaint, and I hope you will accept my apologies on behalf of the BBC.

Fraser Steel


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Punishing civilians is a war crime!

Green Hamas flags and Gush Shalom's two-state emblem amid the placards.

The Israeli and US governments are waging war on the Palestinian people. Israeli armed forces have taken up position to cut off the Palestinian West Bank from the Jordan valley, and are ready to seal off the Gaza strip.

Elected representatives from the Gaza area were prevented from travelling to Ramallah for the swearing in of parliament. The army reportedly also wants to stop goods and people travelling to work.

The Israeli cabinet decided on Monday to halt the transfer of funds, mostly about $50m (£29m) a month in tax and customs receipts, to the Palestinian Authority(PA), and to appeal to foreign governments to do the same until Hamas renounces violence and recognises Israel's "right to exist".

Hamas has already said it would agree a long-term truce, for a generation, but that it cannot renounce the right to resist while Israeli troops occupy Palestinian land. Most Palestinians have indicated in polls that they favour renewed peace negotiations. But evidently that is not good enough for Israeli politicians competing to be "hard" for their own elections, nor for the US administration gearing its public up for another war in the Middle East.

The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, began a tour of the Middle East this week during which she is expected to press Arab governments not to finance Hamas. (this in contradiction of previous US hints that they would reduce their own aid but let Arab states step in to prevent collapse and exercise a moderating influence). Washington has also demanded that the PA repay $50m in aid that could fall under Hamas control.

A New York Times article on February 13, 'US and Israel are said to talk of Hamas ouster,' said the governments hoped to use economic pressures to make Palestinians remove the Hamas government they have just elected.

"The intention is to starve the Palestinian Authority of money and international connections to the point where, some months from now, its president, Mahmoud Abbas, is compelled to call a new election,...The hope is that Palestinians will be so unhappy with life under Hamas that they will return to office a reformed and chastened Fatah movement...

"If a Hamas government is unable to pay workers, import goods, transfer money and receive significant amounts of outside aid, Mr. Abbas, the president, would have the authority to dissolve parliament and call new elections, the [US and Israeli] officials say, even though that power is not explicit in the Palestinian basic law."
Although US officials tried to play down the report, Condoleezza Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 15 that no US money would be given to a Hamas-led government. As well as cutting US funding the Bush administration is pressuring the European Union, individual European states, and America’s allies in the Middle East to follow suit.

The PA's annual budget totals some $1.9 billion and is $750 million in deficit. International contributions provide approximately $1 billion of all Palestinian revenue. The PA's 140,000 employees use their income to support an estimated one-third of the entire Palestinian population.

Rice told the Foreign Relations Committee that some US money would continue to go to humanitarian projects in Gaza and the West Bank, but only on the condition that none of the programs were connected to the PA. Dov Weissglas, advisor to acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said cynically "It's like meeting with a dietician. We have to make them [i.e., the Palestinians] much thinner, but not enough to die."

In the last decade the loss of income from workers in the Gulf and closures affecting Palestinians going to work in Israel, combined with interference with land use and development in the occupied territories, have combined to create levels of poverty comparable to those in Africa. A report a few years said many families could not afford enough food. "In the Gaza Strip 13.2 per cent of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition, which means they suffer stunted growth and mental development".

It is the contrast between a "peace process" that got nowhere and the reality of suffering and humiliations that drove masses of Palestinians to turn to Hamas. Making civilians, and especially children, suffer for what the powerful consider the wrong political decision, compounds the felony of Israeli governments and their US patron who previously made sure moderate Palestinian leaders, from Arafat to Abbas, had nothing to show for their moderation. It is also a crime under international law. Not that this may weigh heavily with the Israeli and US governments. But what is the difference between a sniper shooting up a Sarajevo bread queue, or a terrorist punishing ordinary British or American people for Blair and Bush, and US or Israeli governments seeking to punish Palestinians by seeing their children deprived of medicines or food?

Other Voices in Israel
and the United States

In Israel and in the United States, voices have been raised against the wisdom, let alone morality, of those in power. The ad. below appeared in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz at the weekend:-


The pro-Israeli New York Times disclosed this week an American-Israel plan to starve the Palestinians, in order to bring about new elections and a Fatah victory. How stupid can you get? The Palestinians, like us or any other people, will react with fury to such a despicable outside pressure. They will not overturn Hamas but give it even greater power.
Contacts with the elected Palestinian leadership must be opened at once, in order to achieve their recognition of the State of Israel within the pre-1967 borders and our recognition of the State of Palestine in all the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
That is possible - if only we want it.
Gush Shalom ad published in Ha'aretz, February 17, 2006

In the United States, Jewish Voice for Peace has issued the following call:

" Tell Your Congressional representatives and the President that Americans do not wish to cause innocent Palestinians to suffer because our government is unhappy with the outcome of the Palestinians' democratic election.

The Senate unanimously passed S. Con. Res. 79, which expressed a "sense of Congress" that no funding should go to the Palestinian Authority. The House last week also voted to pass that bill, by a margin of 418-1. Only Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) voted against the bill. But that bill was meaningless, as it had no effect on any aid, but merely expressed Congress' view.

A much more dangerous bill, HR 4681, the "Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006" is now being considered in the House. This bill would severely restrict all funds to the PA, even making humanitarian aid more difficult. And last week, the US even demanded that the PA return $50 million in aid that had already been given to them. US funds do not go to the Palestinian Authority but instead provide development assistance, humanitarian aid, and vital support for building democratic institutions in the West Bank and Gaza.

Take action now to send a clear message that Americans won't stand by while Palestinians are punished for exercising their democratic rights. In addition to sending this e-mail, you might want to contact your congresspeople directly. You can enter your zip code and get their phone and fax numbers by clicking here. During the Presidents' Day week, many of your representatives will be in their home districts. Now is the time to call them and set up meetings with them or their staff".

Jewish Voice for Peace, in contrast to Britain's Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sachs, has welcomed the Church of England Synod decision to disinvest from Caterpillar, whose bulldozers are used in Israeli house demolitions and clearances.

You can get more information about Jewish Voice for Peace and its campaigns at:
and Gush Shalom gives its views and reports on its activities at

If such voices are not much heard, for which the media must take some blame, it is is up to us to amplify them. Otherwise we are complaisant in what the US, British and Israeli governments are doing in our name.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Tony's Crony? Berlusconi!

Opening up TV ownership and gambling law, Tessa Jowell, Culture Secretary.

ADORATION of George Dubya. Blair and (right)Berlusconi

HOLIDAYS for Tony Blair and his family, and alleged cash gifts for the partner of one of his ministers. Italian prime minister and media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi is a generous man.
At least, he is to his friends.

David Mills, lawyer husband of Britain's Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, was a witness in the Italian premier's trial for allegedly giving bribes and secret political

Detectives raided Mills' office earlier this month and took away computer discs and documents.

A report in the Observer on Sunday, February 19 says Mills has admitted in a letter that he avoided telling the full truth about Berlusconi, to keep the media tycoon out of a 'great deal of trouble'. Mills later received a £350,000 'gift' allegedly linked to a senior executive working for Berlusconi's media organisation.

The letter, obtained by The Observer, was written by Mills on 2 February, 2004, and sent to his London accountant. Mills, who was Berlusconi's legal adviser, wrote: 'I kept in close touch with the B [Berlusconi] people... they also knew quite how much the way in which I had been able to give my evidence (I told no lies, but I turned some very tricky corners, to put it mildly) had kept Mr B out of a great deal of trouble I would have landed him in if I had said all I knew.'

The letter was uncovered by Italian prosecutors who are set to charge Mills with corruption in connection with the alleged £350,000 payment. They allege the payment to Mills was made by Berlusconi as a bribe to give false evidence at the earlier trials - a claim that both Mills and Berlusconi have always strenuously refuted. Mills has always denied receiving the money from Berlusconi or anybody connected with the Italian leader, claiming that it came from another client.

Yet the letter has been described as the 'smoking gun' in Italy because Mills appears to be admitting receiving the money from Berlusconi for his help. Mills's letter to his accountant, Bob Drennan at Rawlinson & Hunter, states:
'At around the end of 1999, I was told I would receive money, which I could treat as a long-term loan or a gift. $600,000 was put in a hedge fund and I was told it would be there if I needed it. (It was put in the fund because the person connected to the [Berlusconi] organisation was someone I had discussed this fund with on many occasions, and it was a roundabout way of making the money available.)

'For obvious reasons of their own (I was at that stage still a prosecution witness, but my evidence had been given), it needed to be done discreetly.'

Mills added: 'I regarded the payment as a gift. What else could it be? I wasn't employed, I wasn't acting for them, I wasn't doing anything for them, I had already given my evidence, but there was certainly the risk of future legal costs... and a great deal of anxiety.'

The Observer says Mills confirmed the letter was genuine, but insisted he was innocent of all charges and that he was a 'pawn' in a politically inspired witchhunt ahead of the Italian election. He insists he has given prosecutors 'absolute proof' the money was not from Berlusconi or anybody connected with him. He said: 'My own private papers have been intercepted and grossly and maliciously misinterpreted by people with a motive to do it. I come back to the simple fact: these magistrates are accusing Berlusconi of corrupting me. They have to prove he paid me money and I received it... they know for a certain fact that that money did not come from anyone who had anything to do with Berlusconi.

'I am largely the author of my own misfortune in all of this, in writing the letter... At the end of the day I am innocent of being corrupted.'

  • Mills has acted for Berlusconi for more than twenty years, helping the billionaire TV and newspaper owner set up a chain of companies in places like the British Virgin islands to avoid millions of pounds in tax, and to get around restrictions on ownership of TV channels. Over the past six years he has given evidence in a series of fraud investigations.
  • At one stage Mills became owner of one of Berlusconi's channels through a Virgin Islands company called Horizon. The channel was eventually sold off, and Mills' law firm received £2 million.
  • Mills' partner Tessa Jowell, has had a say as Culture Secretary in bringing the BBC into line with policy, but also championed a Communications Bill, to allow greater foreign ownership of British TV channels.
  • Italian investigators looking into two British Virgin Island companies, Century One and Universal One, ised by Berlusconi to buy film rights and sell them on to Mediaset, Berlusconi's Italian media empire, focussed on money flowing through Swiss bank accounts, at Banca della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano, Switzerland. In particular, they wanted to trace where £35 million in cash went after being withdrawn from the accounts. , magnate indirectly to keep control of his media empire.

    The latest news gets another angle from Corriere del Sera:

The most convincing evidence is a sort of confession made at an unsuspected time by Mr Mills, who is the husband of Tessa Jowell, the culture secretary in the Blair government, and whose house was searched by police again a week ago. That evidence comes from London, indirectly thanks to the Inland Revenue chasing income Mr Mills omitted to declare. To defend himself from the taxman’s demands, and the icy embarrassment of his partners, on 2 February Mr Mills made a written statement to his accountants giving his version of the "dividends and gifts from Mr Berlusconi and Fininvest", in which he attributed 600,000 dollars to a very special gift.

It was made by Carlo Bernasconi, Mr Berlusconi’s late cousin and at that time in charge of Fininvest television rights, in compensation for the risks and business repercussions that Mr Mills claimed to have faced when giving evidence in Milan in December 1997 – at the trial for Finivest bribes paid to the Guardia di Finanza – and in January 1998 – at the All Iberian hearings on false accounting by Fininvest and illegal payments to Bettino Craxi.Mr Mills confirmed the contents of the letter during questioning in Milan on 18 July but then in November began to back-pedal in a memorandum to the public prosecutor’s office. He claimed he had made false statements in the letter to his accountants in order to evade the attentions of the UK tax authorities, and had invented the Berlusconi-Bernasconi connection for that reason. Why? Mr Mills wanted to conceal the true story behind the 600,000 dollars, which he claimed had passed through a managed client account in dealings involving three clients in particular, the shipowner Attanasio, convicted in Naples for bribery in the court of first instance, the businessman Paolo Marcucci and socialite Flavio Briatore. On questioning, all three contradicted Mr Mills, which may be the source of the incorrect reports in some newspapers that Mr Briatore had given evidence against Mr Berlusconi. The three witnessed realised the Mr Mills had been carrying out operations through their accounts without their knowledge.


Poverty in the richest country

AFTER reading what happened to the US soldier they called "Marlboro Man", (previous blog) we get another look at the kind of background from which young Americans are recruited to fight for "freedom" for the rich to get richer, under spoilt brat George Dubya.

Paul Harris in Kentucky
Sunday February 19, 2006
The Observer

The flickering television in Candy Lumpkins's trailer blared out The Bold and the Beautiful. It was a fantasy daytime soap vision of American life with little relevance to the reality of this impoverished corner of Kentucky.
The Lumpkins live at the definition of the back of beyond, in a hollow at the top of a valley at the end of a long and muddy dirt road. It is strewn with litter.

Packs of stray dogs prowl around, barking at strangers. There is no telephone and since their pump broke two weeks ago Candy has collected water from nearby springs. Oblivious to it all, her five-year-old daughter Amy runs barefoot on a wooden porch frozen by a midwinter chill.

It is a vision of deep and abiding poverty. Yet the Lumpkins are not alone in their plight. They are just the negative side of the American equation. America does have vast, wealthy suburbs, huge shopping malls and a busy middle class, but it also has vast numbers of poor, struggling to make it in a low-wage economy with minimal government help.

A shocking 37 million Americans live in poverty. That is 12.7 per cent of the population - the highest percentage in the developed world. They are found from the hills of Kentucky to Detroit's streets, from the Deep South of Louisiana to the heartland of Oklahoma. Each year since 2001 their number has grown.

Under President George W Bush an extra 5.4 million have slipped below the poverty line. Yet they are not a story of the unemployed or the destitute. Most have jobs. Many have two. Amos Lumpkins has work and his children go to school. But the economy, stripped of worker benefits like healthcare, is having trouble providing good wages.

Even families with two working parents are often one slice of bad luck - a medical bill or factory closure - away from disaster. The minimum wage of $5.15 (£2.95) an hour has not risen since 1997 and, adjusted for inflation, is at its lowest since 1956. The gap between the haves and the have-nots looms wider than ever. Faced with rising poverty rates, Bush's trillion-dollar federal budget recently raised massive amounts of defence spending for the war in Iraq and slashed billions from welfare programmes.

For a brief moment last year in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina brought America's poor into the spotlight. Poverty seemed on the government's agenda. That spotlight has now been turned off. 'I had hoped Katrina would have changed things more. It hasn't,' says Cynthia Duncan, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire.


Oklahoma is in America's heartland. Tulsa looks like picture-book Middle America. Yet there is hunger here. When it comes to the most malnourished poor in America, Oklahoma is ahead of any other state. It should be impossible to go hungry here. But it is not. Just ask those gathered at a food handout last week. They are a cross section of society: black, white, young couples, pensioners and the middle-aged. A few are out of work or retired, everyone else has jobs.

They are people like Freda Lee, 33, who has two jobs, as a marketer and a cashier. She has come to the nondescript Loaves and Fishes building - flanked ironically by a Burger King and a McDonald's - to collect food for herself and three sons. 'America is meant to be free. What's free?' she laughs. 'All we can do is pay off the basics.'

Or they are people like Tammy Reinbold, 37. She works part-time and her husband works full-time. They have two children yet rely on the food handouts. 'The church is all we have to fall back on,' she says. She is right. When government help is being cut and wages are insufficient, churches often fill the gap. The needy gather to receive food boxes. They listen to a preacher for half an hour on the literal truth of the Bible. Then he asks them if they want to be born again. Three women put up their hands.

But why are some Tulsans hungry?

Many believe it is the changing face of the US economy. Tulsa has been devastated by job losses. Big-name firms like WorldCom, Williams Energy and CitGo have closed or moved, costing the city about 24,000 jobs. Now Wal-Mart embodies the new American job market: low wages, few benefits.

Well-paid work only goes to the university-educated. Many others who just complete high school face a bleak future. In Texas more than a third of students entering public high schools now drop out. These people are entering the fragile world of the working poor, where each day is a mere step away from tragedy. Some of those tragedies in Tulsa end up in the care of Steve Whitaker, a pastor who runs a homeless mission in the shadow of a freeway overpass.

Each day the homeless and the drug addicted gather here, looking for a bed for the night. Some also want a fresh chance. They are men like Mark Schloss whose disaster was being left by his first wife. The former Wal-Mart manager entered a world of drug addiction and alcoholism until he wound up with Whitaker. Now he is back on track, sporting a silver ring that says Faith, Hope, Love. 'Without this place I would be in prison or dead,' he says. But Whitaker equates saving lives with saving souls. Those entering the mission's rehabilitation programme are drilled in Bible studies and Christianity. At 6ft 5in and with a black belt in karate, Whitaker's Christianity is muscular both literally and figuratively. 'People need God in their lives,' he says.

These are mean streets. Tulsa is a city divided like the country. Inside a building run by Whitaker's staff in northern Tulsa a group of 'latch-key kids' are taking Bible classes after school while they wait for parents to pick them up. One of them is Taylor Finley, aged nine. Wearing a T-shirt with an American flag on the front, she dreams of travel. 'I want to have fun in a new place, a new country,' she says. Taylor wants to see the world outside Oklahoma. But at the moment she cannot even see her own neighbourhood. The centre in which she waits for mom was built without windows on its ground floor. It was the only way to keep out bullets from the gangs outside.

During the 2004 election the only politician to address poverty directly was John Edwards, whose campaign theme was 'Two Americas'. He was derided by Republicans for doing down the country and - after John Kerry picked him as his Democratic running mate - the rhetoric softened in the heat of the campaign.

But, in fact, Edwards was right. While 45.8 million Americans lack any health insurance, the top 20 per cent of earners take over half the national income. At the same time the bottom 20 per cent took home just 3.4 per cent. Whitaker put the figures into simple English. 'The poor have got poorer and the rich have got richer,' he said.

Dealing with poverty is not a viable political issue in America. It jars with a cultural sense that the poor bring things upon themselves and that every American is born with the same chances in life. It also runs counter to the strong anti-government current in modern American politics. Yet the problem will not disappear. 'There is a real sense of impending crisis, but political leaders have little motivation to address this growing divide,' Cynthia Duncan says.

There is little doubt which side of America's divide the hills of east Kentucky fall on. Driving through the wooded Appalachian valleys is a lesson in poverty. The mountains have never been rich. Times now are as tough as they have ever been. Trailer homes are the norm. Every so often a lofty mansion looms into view, a sign of prosperity linked to the coal mines or the logging firms that are the only industries in the region. Everyone else lives on the margins, grabbing work where they can. The biggest cash crop is illicitly grown marijuana.

Save The Children works here. Though the charity is usually associated with earthquakes in Pakistan or famine in Africa, it runs an extensive programme in east Kentucky. It includes a novel scheme enlisting teams of 'foster grandparents' to tackle the shocking child illiteracy rates and thus eventually hit poverty itself.

The problem is acute. At Jone's Fork school, a team of indomitable grannies arrive each day to read with the children. The scheme has two benefits: it helps the children struggle out of poverty and pays the pensioners a small wage. 'This has been a lifesaver for me and I feel as if the children would just fall through the cracks without us,' says Erma Owens. It has offered dramatic help to some. One group of children are doing so well in the scheme that their teacher, Loretta Shepherd, has postponed retirement in order to stand by them. 'It renewed me to have these kids,' she said.

Certainly Renae Sturgill sees the changes in her children. She too lives in deep poverty. Though she attends college and her husband has a job, the Sturgill trailer sits amid a clutter of abandoned cars. Money is scarce. But now her kids are in the reading scheme and she has seen how they have changed. Especially eight-year-old Zach. He's hard to control at times, but he has come to love school. 'Zach likes reading now. I know it's going to be real important for him,' Renae says. Zach is shy and won't speak much about his achievements. But Genny Waddell, who co-ordinates family welfare at Jone's Fork, is immensely proud. 'Now Zach reads because he wants to. He really fought to get where he is,' she says.

In America, to be poor is a stigma. In a country which celebrates individuality and the goal of giving everyone an equal opportunity to make it big, those in poverty are often blamed for their own situation. Experience on the ground does little to bear that out. When people are working two jobs at a time and still failing to earn enough to feed their families, it seems impossible to call them lazy or selfish. There seems to be a failure in the system, not the poor themselves.

It is an impression backed up by many of those mired in poverty in Oklahoma and Kentucky. Few asked for handouts. Many asked for decent wages. 'It is unfair. I am working all the time and so what have I done wrong?' says Freda Lee. But the economy does not seem to be allowing people to make a decent living. It condemns the poor to stay put, fighting against seemingly impossible odds or to pull up sticks and try somewhere else.

In Tulsa, Tammy Reinbold and her family are moving to Texas as soon as they save the money for enough petrol. It could take several months. 'I've been in Tulsa 12 years and I just gotta try somewhere else,' she says.


From Tom Joad to Roseanne

In a country that prides itself on a culture of rugged individualism, hard work and self-sufficiency, it is no surprise that poverty and the poor do not have a central place in America's cultural psyche.

But in art, films and books American poverty has sometimes been portrayed with searing honesty. John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath, which was made into a John Ford movie, is the most famous example. It was an unflinching account of the travails of a poor Oklahoma family forced to flee the Dust Bowl during the 1930s Depression. Its portrait of Tom Joad and his family's life on the road as they sought work was a nod to wider issues of social justice in America.

Another ground-breaking work of that time was John Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a non-fiction book about time spent among poor white farmers in the Deep South. It practically disappeared upon its first publication in 1940 but in the Sixties was hailed as a masterpiece. In mainstream American culture, poverty often lurks in the background. Or it is portrayed - as in Sergio Leone's crime epic Once Upon A Time In America - as the basis for a tale of rags to riches.

One notable, yet often overlooked, exception was the great success of the sitcom Roseanne. The show depicted the realities of working-class Middle American life with a grit and humour that is a world away from the usual sitcom settings in a sunlit suburbia, most often in New York or California. The biggest sitcoms of the past decade - Friends, Frasier or Will and Grace - all deal with aspirational middle-class foibles that have little relevance to America's millions of working poor.

An America divided · There are 37 million Americans living below the poverty line. That figure has increased by five million since President George W. Bush came to power.

· The United States has 269 billionaires, the highest number in the world.

· Almost a quarter of all black Americans live below the poverty line; 22 per cent of Hispanics fall below it. But for whites the figure is just 8.6 per cent.

· There are 46 million Americans without health insurance.

· There are 82,000 homeless people in Los Angeles alone.

· In 2004 the poorest community in America was Pine Ridge Indian reservation. Unemployment is over 80 per cent, 69 per cent of people live in poverty and male life expectancy is 57 years. In the Western hemisphere only Haiti has a lower number.

· The richest town in America is Rancho Santa Fe in California. Average incomes are more than $100,000 a year; the average house price is $1.7m.


When the US bombed Tulsa

TULSA has a bit of history that's worth looking at, too. Not many governments have bombed their own country's cities. America has. You can read about it in the Renegade Eye blog http://advant.blogspot.com/

Sunday, February 19, 2006

What happened to Marlboro Man

Abridged article by Matthew Stannard, San Francisco Chronicle, January 29.

The photograph hit the world on Nov. 10, 2004: a close-cropped shot of a U.S. Marine in Iraq, his face smeared with blood and dirt, a cigarette dangling from his lips, smoke curling across weary eyes.

It was an instant icon, with Dan Rather calling it "the best war photograph in recent years." About 100 newspapers ran the photo, dubbing the anonymous warrior the "Marlboro Man."

The man in the photograph is James Blake Miller, now 21.
He's quieter now -- easier to anger. He turns to fight at the sound of a backfire, can't look at fireworks without thinking of fire raining down on a city. He has trouble sleeping, and when he does, his fingers twitch on invisible triggers.
The diagnosis: post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I don't see a whole lot," he said. "I see a day I won't care to remember, but that I'll never forget."

James Blake Miller was born in Pike County in the hills of eastern Kentucky, where Daniel Boone is said to have walked and where moonshine is still consumed. An average family here makes about $24,000; the only decent-paying jobs are down at the coal mine.

His paternal grandfather was a Marine in '53; a heavy smoker, like most of the men in the family, he died of cancer before he was 40. The man Miller grew up calling "Papaw" was his grandmother's second husband, an Army vet of Vietnam. Sometimes, Papaw would get crying drunk and start telling the story about the boy who came into the camp in Vietnam one night, and how they had to shoot him. Then he would stop speaking, and look at the little boys hanging on his every word. "You've had enough, Joe Lee," his wife would say then. "It's time to go to bed."

"It wasn't that he liked to drink -- that was how he dealt with it," Miller said.
Miller grew up in Jonancy, a tiny hamlet 20 miles from the county seat of Pikeville. He got his first job -- washing cars at the local auto dealership -- at age 13, about a year after he took up smoking.

Before long, he began working in a body shop, where the owner told him the most extraordinary thing: Miller could get his auto body repair certification for free -- just by joining the military. A Marine recruiter offered more: insurance, housing, college money.

"I thought, 'Well, damn, that's amazing,' " Miller said. "Hell, here I am, 18 years old -- I can have all this in the palm of my hands just by giving them four years." Following his grandfather's footsteps, he went infantry, and left for boot camp in November 2002. Four months later, the war in Iraq broke out.
"Before I knew it," Miller said, "I was thrown into the mix without even thinking about it."

Miller was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment of the 2nd Marine Division, based in Camp Lejeune, N.C.
"Right before we got ready to leave for Iraq, I guess I was a little nervous. I started smoking more -- I went from about a pack-and-a-half a day to 2 1/2 packs a day," he said. "When we got to Iraq ... I was smoking 5 1/2 packs."
For a while, Iraq didn't seem all that bad. Miller and his fellow Marines settled into a routine in Anbar province in western Iraq, setting up hiding places among the palms and sand, and watching for the white pickups that insurgents would use to plant bombs and fire mortars.

There also was time for candy and laughter with the Iraqi children who came running to see the American troops. Miller felt like he was helping.
Then, on Nov. 5, 2004, in the middle of a sandstorm, the Marines got the word that they might be heading for an assault on Fallujah -- at the time, the capital of the Iraqi insurgency.

No American forces had gone inside the city in months. And now Miller would be among the first. He had been a Marine for less than two years.
"It puts butterflies in my stomach right now," he said. "I don't know if you can describe it. I don't think words can."

The days before the assault were an intense blur of training, preparation and fear. But there was one bright spot, when Miller ran into a good friend in the chow hall -- Demarkus Brown, a 22-year-old from Virginia.
Miller met Brown in infantry school, when the smiling African American introduced himself to the white Kentucky native with a grinning, "What's up, cracker?"

Miller quickly realized Brown didn't mean the word seriously -- didn't mean much of anything seriously. Brown liked to party all hours and go dancing, then call Miller to come pick him up. "It didn't matter what you told him or how s -- ty it was," Miller said. "He was always the one guy who had a smile on his face."
But one thing Brown took seriously was music: He loved raves and techno music, and Miller played bluegrass on bass and guitar. Their styles somehow harmonized, and they became close friends. Now they were together outside Fallujah.

The night before U.S. forces went into the city, Miller gathered with his fellow Marines and led them by memory through a passage from the Bible, John 14:2-3. "In my Father's house, there are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I leave this place and go there to prepare a place for you, so that where I may be, you may be also."

The assault on Fallujah began Nov. 8, 2004, when U.S. planes, using a combination of high explosives and burning white phosphorus, hammered the city in advance of the artillery push. Miller was under fire from the moment he stepped out of the personnel carrier.

It lasted into Nov. 9 -- the day that, for a while, would make Miller's face the most famous in Iraq. As Miller remembers that day, he was on a rooftop taking fire and calling for support on his radio - a 20-pound piece of equipment that he had to lug around along with nine extra batteries, hundreds of extra rounds of ammunition, and a couple of cartons of cigarettes.

As insurgent bullets from a nearby building pinged off the roof, a horrified Miller heard footsteps coming up the stairs behind him. He raised his rifle -- and barely had time to halt when he saw it was embedded Los Angeles Times photographer Luis Sinco.

Miller returned to his radio, guiding two tanks to his position. When they opened fire, he said, the thunder left his body numb -- but the building housing the attackers had collapsed. Later, he said, they would find about 40 bodies in the rubble.

"I was never so happy in all my life to take that handset away from my head," Miller said. "I lit up a f -- cigarette." His ear was bleeding from the sound of the tank firing -- Miller still can't hear out of his right ear. His nose bled from a nick he took when his rifle scope and radio got tangled up midfire. He looked at the sunrise and wondered how many more of those he would see.

He was vaguely aware that elsewhere on the rooftop, Sinco was taking pictures.
At a briefing the next day, Miller's gunnery sergeant walked up to him, grinning, and said: "Would you believe you're the most famous f -- Marine in the Marine Corps right now? Believe it or not, your ugly mug just went all over the U.S."

The Marines wanted to pull him out of Fallujah at that point, Miller said, not wanting the very public poster boy to die in combat. But he stayed.
He won't talk about the weeks that followed. He only mentions moments, like still frames from a film. The day his column barely survived an ambush, escaping through a broken door as bullets struck near their feet.
The morning he woke up to discover that a cat had taken up residence in the open chest cavity of an Iraqi body nearby, consuming it from within.
The day he discovered that Demarkus Brown had been killed.
"When we found out, I told a couple of my buddies who were close to him, too. We just sat around, and we didn't say much at all," Miller said. "You didn't have the heart to cry."

But it wasn't those terrible benchmarks that affected him the most, Miller said. It was the daily chore of war: the times he had to raise his rifle, peer through the scope and squeeze the trigger to launch a bullet, not at a target, not at a distant white truck, but at another human being.

"It's one thing to be shot at, and you shoot a couple rounds back, just trying to suppress somebody else," Miller said. "It's another thing when you see a human being shooting a round at you, knowing that you're shooting back with the intent to kill them. You're looking through a scope at somebody. It's totally different. You can make out a guy's eyes."

When Miller returned to America, he brought back a big duffel bag packed with numerous letters and gifts from those who had seen his photo. It was only later that he discovered he'd brought home some of the war, too.

None of the Marines talked much about the strain that war puts on one's emotions, Miller said. The "wizards" -- military psychologists -- gave the returning troops a briefing on the subject, but nobody paid much attention. Even guys who were taking antidepressants to help them sleep didn't think much about the long-term consequences.

"What the hell are those people going to do once they get out? They ride it out until they get an honorable discharge, and then they're never diagnosed with anything," Miller said. "How the hell are you going to do anything for them after that? And that's how so many of these guys are ending up on the damn streets."

Miller dismissed the early signs, too. When he and his buddies reacted to a truck backfire by dropping into a combat stance and raising imaginary rifles, well, that was to be expected. And when his wife, Jessica -- the childhood sweetheart whom Miller had married in June -- told him he was tightening his arm around her neck in the night, that was strange, but he figured it would pass. So would the nightmares he began to have about Iraq, things that had happened, things that hadn't.

Then one day, while visiting his wife at her college dorm in Pikeville, Miller looked out the window and clearly saw the body of an Iraqi sprawled out on the sidewalk. He turned away. "I said, 'Look, honey, I just got to get out of here.' I couldn't even tell her at the time what had happened," he said. "(I thought), 'Well, that's it. That's my little spaz I'm supposed to have that the psychiatrists were talking about ... I'm glad I got it out of the way."

But he hadn't. Jessica, a psychology student, tried to help with a visualization technique. But when he looked inside himself, Miller found a kind of demonic door guarded by a twisted figure in a black cloak. Under the cloak's hood, he spotted the snarling face of the teufelhund, a Marine Corps icon -- the devil dog.
"So I come out again, without closing the door," he said. "After all this happened, my nightmares started getting a lot f -- ing worse."

Finally, Miller went to a military psychiatrist, who diagnosed him with signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. Miller thought that meant he could not be deployed. But in early September, he joined a group of Marines headed to police New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

"I really didn't want to go. ... There was a possibility we would be shooting people," he said. "We could be going into another (urban warfare) environment just like Iraq, except this would actually be U.S. citizens.
"Here we go, Fallujah 2, right here in the states.
Not long after they arrived, as Hurricane Rita bore down on them, the Marines were packed into the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima to wait out the storm offshore. And one day, as Miller headed for the smoke deck with a Marlboro, a passing sailor made a whistling sound just like a rocket-propelled grenade.
"I don't remember grabbing him. I don't remember putting him against the bulkhead. I don't remember getting him down on the floor. I don't remember getting on top of him. I don't remember doing any of that s -- ," Miller said. "That was like the last straw."

On Nov. 10, 2005 -- the Marine Corps' 230th birthday and one year to the day after the Marlboro Man picture appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Miller was honorably discharged after a medical review. His military career was over.
Miller returned to eastern Kentucky, the place he had spent years trying to escape. He wanted the familiarity and safety of the people and land he'd known since birth.
"Maybe it made me think twice about what I had lost," he said. "What I was really missing."

In a way, though, his family is still missing Blake Miller -- the Miller who left Kentucky for Iraq a couple of years ago.
The man who left was easygoing, quick to laugh, happy to sit in a relative's house and eat and smoke and talk. The man who came back is quick to anger, they say, and is quiet. He still smiles often but does not easily laugh.

And when he takes a seat in his adoptive grandmother's home, amid her collection of ceramic Christ figurines, it is in a chair that faces the door.
Mildred Childers, who owns those figurines, sees Miller's difficulties as a crisis of faith. She still remembers Miller's call just before the assault on Fallujah, and his terrible question: "How can people go to church and be a Christian and kill people in Iraq?"

"He was raised where that's one of the Ten Commandments, do not kill," she said. "I think it's hard for a soldier to go to war and have that embedded in them from small children up, and you go over there and you've got to do it to stay alive."

Recently, some of his Marine buddies have been calling Miller up, crying drunk, and remembering their war experiences. Just like Papaw Joe Lee used to do when Miller was a boy. "There's a lot of Vietnam vets ... they don't heal until 30, 40 years down the road," Miller said. "People bottle it up, become angry, easily temperamental, and hell, before you know it, these are the people who are snapping on you."

Jessica interrupted. "You're already like that," she said.
She recalled her own first glimpse of the Marlboro Man -- an image seen through tears of relief that he was alive, and misery at how worn he looked.
"Some people thought it was sexy, and we thought, 'Oh, my God, he's in the middle of a war, close to death.' We just couldn't understand how some people could look at it like that," she said. "But I guess for some people it was glory, like patriotism."

She looked at her quiet husband through the smoke drifting from his right hand.
"But when it comes out and there's actually a personality behind that picture, and that personality, he has to deal with all the war, and all he's done, people don't want to know how hard it actually is," she said.
"This is the dark side of the reality of war. ... People don't want to know the Marlboro Man has PTSD."

Miller stood outside his father's home in Jonancy, looking over the beaten mobile homes, the rows of corn, potatoes and cabbage. For a change, he wasn't smoking - he's down to a pack-and-a-half a day.
"There ain't a goddamn thing around here," he said. "My whole life, all I did was watch my old man bust his ass."
It was why he joined the Marines -- why part of him wishes he could go back.
"My whole life, all I've ever known is working on cars, doing body work, cutting grass, manual labor, you know? It was something different," he said. "You always hear those commercials -- it's not just a job, it's an adventure. It was, you know?"

On the other hand, Miller isn't sure he'd want to go back to combat -- nor sure he'd ever let any kid of his enlist. He has mixed feelings about the oversize copy of the Marlboro Man picture proudly displayed in the lobby of the Marine recruiting station in Pikeville.

Some of his relatives and friends are against the war; others see it as a fight against terrorism. Miller himself seems torn -- proud of the troops fighting for freedom, but wondering whether there was a peaceful way, to find terrorists in Iraq without invading.

There was no time for such questions in Fallujah. But now, at night, when he can't sleep, Miller thinks of the men he saw through his rifle scope, and wonders: Were they terrorists fighting against America? Or men fighting to protect their homes?
"I mean, how would we feel if they came over and started something here?" he asked. "I'm glad that I fought for my country. But looking back on it, I wouldn't do it all over again."

It helps, sometimes, to talk about it -- last week, Miller did what he hopes other veterans do: He had his first visit with a Veterans Administration counselor.
"I've got my whole life ahead of me," he said. "I'm too young to lay down and quit; too young to let anything beat me."

Down the road, Miller hopes to start a business. For now, he is waiting for his disability benefits to kick in. Maybe then, he and Jessica can afford the big wedding they had always wanted. She already has her white wedding dress. He still intends to wear his Marine Corps blues.

Veterans and stress
Post-traumatic stress disorder is an ailment resulting from exposure to an experience involving direct or indirect threat of serious injury or death. Symptoms include recurrent thoughts of a traumatic event, reduced involvement in work or outside interests, hyper alertness, anxiety and irritability.
About 317,000 veterans diagnosed with the disorder were treated at Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers and clinics in fiscal year 2005. Nearly 19,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were seen for the disorder in veterans' medical centers and Vet Centers from fiscal year 2002 to 2005.
A recent study of soldiers and Marines who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan found that about 17 percent met criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or generalized anxiety disorder. Of those whose responses were positive for a mental disorder, 40 percent or fewer actually received help while on active duty.
For more information, contact your local veterans facility, call (877) 222-VETS or visit one of the following Web sites:
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: http://www.ncptsd.va.gov//
San Francisco Chronicle Guide for Returning Veterans: www.sfgate.com/returningvets/
Sources: Department of Veterans Affairs, New England Journal of Medicine
E-mail Matthew B. Stannard at mstannard@sfchronicle.com.

For the article in full:

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