Wednesday, May 21, 2003

War on Drugs
Bristol is a front line in the ongoing global war on drugs. Our streets are battle lines, our parks - bunkers and our poverty is ammunition. Drugs have been part of human society since time immemorial and yet were fighting them, and by all accounts - loosing. Some claim that this is a war of moral values for the soul of our society. Some even claim its a winnable war and yet 50 years later and over 1 trillion pounds of resources and drugs are cheaper, easier to get and more widespread than ever before.

I for one am sick and tired of walking past junkie and dealers, day after day. Thanks to the actions of local residents, our local park is now mainly used by kids to play it rather than junkies to fix in. However thanks to the council, the park is once more a battle ground. For those who don't know, the notorious 'Frontline' of St.Pauls, the renowned centre for crack dealing in the South West has now got CCTV cameras up. A blow struck in the war on drugs?

Nope - all its done is move the drugs from one area to another. I'm still tired of walking past junkies and dealers it just that I see them in different areas now. Here is a war the state cannot win - for the very fundamentals of our system - of supply and demand mean it cannot be won. If the police 'close down' and area, it simply re-appears elsewhere because stopping supply does not change demand. Indeed, successful police seizures will reduce the available supply, up the demand and so force the price and so profits of the most cunning and ruthless gangs up and up.

Of course the other side is the vast paramilitary police state that comes crashing down on the not-so-organised crime; a kid with a reefer, a student avoiding loans with a bit of dealing on the side or the stoners with a few plants in the window box - easy to find and good for crime figures.

So why are we fighting this war? Stay with me as I going to go round the houses, but it will all re-connect: In the US, the largest consumer of drugs in the world, their anti-drugs propaganda tells us all about it on the state-run website:

Most people know that doing drugs will have negative consequences on their health, but they may not realize the harm they cause the environment.

Good point, Mr Bush. I suppose it never entered your head when you were stuffing your nose with coke? But do go on.

The U.S. consumes nearly 260 metric tons of cocaine every year, which is grown and processed in the fragile environments of South America....Each year, millions of pounds of chemicals are used to process coca and then dumped into waterways or onto the ground in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia.

Of course you don't mention the millions of tones of toxic defoliant your government sprays on Colombia to destroy the cocoa crops. A pesticide made by Monsanto and delivered by private defence corporations in contracts worth billion$. Do go on.

The loss of rainforests also contributes to changes in the global climate...

Sorry? I am hearing you right? The man who tried to wreak the Kyoto treaty is now using climate change as a reason for the war on drugs? Hypocrisy, you'd think he was high or something.

Now cast you minds back to October 2001, the 51st State Governor Tony Blair declared that one of the reasons why we should bomb Afghanistan was drugs; "The biggest drugs hoard in the world is in Afghanistan, controlled by the Taliban. Ninety per cent of the heroin on British streets originates in Afghanistan." Well, now we've bombed Afghanistan Britain has drug free streets!? Does anyone want to explain that since the Taliban were removed we've had armed police on our streets, armed drug gangs taking shots at each other (and anyone unlucky enough to be in the way) and the amount of Heroin coming from Afghanistan has rocketed. They have lost the war on drugs; they just don't want to admit it because it works well for them. How did it come to this?

Bristol, as we know has a huge drugs problem. It's a transit point for groups into South Wales as well as a distribution point to cities further North. Drugs are probably Bristol's biggest export. Drugs mean money. Supply and demand. And still they peruse the same policy of war. Ever wondered why? I have; "In late June, numerous news services reported that Chairman Grasso [Chair of the New York Stock Exchange]...flew to Colombia to meet with.....the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), the country's largest leftist rebel group. The purpose of the trip was 'to bring a 'message of cooperation from U.S. financial services' and to discuss foreign investment and the future role of U.S. businesses in Colombia......We can deduce from this incident that the liquidity of the NY Stock Exchange is sufficiently dependent on high margin cocaine profits that the Chairman is willing for Associated Press to acknowledge that he is making 'cold calls' in rebel controlled peace zones in Colombian villages."

Grasso meets the FARC

Unfortunately for Grasso, the FARC told him to, well to FARC-off and a few months later the US and the EU (yup - you're helping to pay for it) started 'Plan Colombia' to wipe the FARC from the face of the earth, even though they don't control the majority of Colombia's drugs trade. Where is Bristol in all this? On our streets you can buy Heroin from Afghanistan and Crack from Colombia. Drugs are the best example yet that we live in a global world. So, it's time to 'think global, act local' as the lefties say. We must start to realise that the cops or the usual political suspects can not or will not solve the drugs problem; it time for us to act. I for one am sick of walking past junkies and dealers: I don't have the answers, but I do knew the war on drugs is a sham and a farce that costs in lives, families and money and worst of all - it does not work

We need new answers. The war on drugs only benefits the state. I don’t want to have to navigate my way past junkie when I leave the house, I don’t want some Colombian villager murdered in my name. I don't want drug problems shifted from one poor area into another. I don’t want two-faced financial institutions who benefit from the money generated either by the drugs trade or fighting it.

We need new answers.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

The First Casualty of War & Peace.
Media activists based Bristol, UK working alongside Iraqis also based the city and with the support of peace campaigners - have set up what is arguably the first truly uncensored and democratic media outlet since Saddam's Ba'ath Party, with the aid of the CIA, brutalised its way into power. Their collective efforts have created ', the Iraq Witness', a way for the people of Iraq to write and comment on their own experiences and share this information with the world at large. Al Muajaha is an open access news website based on the Indymedia technology system. For those that are unaware of the Indymedia movement (IMC), from its beginnings in the Seattle protests in 1999 the model and its underlying technology has grown to encompass every continent on the globe, where it allows anyone to post writings, news stories, comments, films and photos. So successful has it become as a democratic source of information that activists involved with it have often been on the blunt end of a states unhappy with such information freedom, most notable being the raids on the IMC Genoa centre and CIA tailing of the IMC Prague activists during the NATO 2002 summit.

Truth is a tricky thing to pin down and in times of war its virtually impossible. Years after each war, and once the patriotic shrink-wrap has been removed, the historians begin picking it apart and we start to discover the surprising and often unpalatable truths of the conflict. But with more wars on the horizon, the spectre of Depleted Uranium and the death toll from both state and private terrorism rising, we cannot wait. Finding out what really happened, who it really happened too and why - this process must begin now. Part of this means the people of Iraq need their own free media, and the activists helping with this area are showing practical mutual aid in the fullest of effects. The US is already making moves to colonise the post-Saddam media landscape; "We have every right as an occupying power to stop the broadcast of something that will incite violence," remarked Maj. Gen David Petraeus of the Army 101st Airborne Division as he assumed 'editorial control' of the only TV station in Mosul because it was showing Al-Jazeera; "Yes, what we are looking at is censorship but you can censor something that is intended to inflame passions." Iraq doesn’t have a 1st Amendment, though as journalist Greg Palast noted, maybe they could borrow the American one as they aren’t using it much these days. There are also $64 million worth of plans the first-ever 24-hour Arabic-language satellite television network - as the planners say; "The aim is to provide the Middle East's tens of millions of viewers with an alternative to their usual viewing diet of unremediated anti-American propaganda.." by replacing it with unremediated American propaganda. Yeah-ha, can’t wait till they graffitiAnn Coulter sound-bites on the 6000 year old ziggurat next to the US Marine Corps slogan; Always Faithful.

Just before Gulf War II the writer and activist and writer Arundhati Roy gave a speech to the Porto Alegre social forum where she exhorted us to; "...turn the war on Iraq into a fishbowl of the U.S. government's excesses." Media activism is part of this process, and not just of the US government, but of all governments, of all organisations who kill, destroy and oppress to maintain their privileged positions. To all those we have a message - welcome to the fishbowl, the world is watching.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Freedom of Speech, Rightwing Stylee!
One of the forums I post to, the progressive-leaning, had an interesting thread where a few members from the site tried to join the rightwing forms at an interesting tale and arguably a microcosm of the larger ideological battles that are on going the world over.

The first scary thing was the amount of trouble the 'free' conservatives went to in order to ensure they had control of the forums; it was not an easy task to join with obvious searches against any new members in a petty McCarthyist display of censorship and paranoia.

Even when a couple of people did manage to join, there was no debate only insults. Any sources of information not from sites or publications they subscribed to the ideology of, were dismissed and derided. It could be the case that the sources they so hated were wrong, but analysis and references as to why they were wrong were virtually absent. In the Borg-mind of so-called conservative ideas there could be no exceptions and it reminded me of a Stalinist state with an information ministry.

So how were dissenters treated in the forum-of-the-free? Well they were utterly persecuted. I assume they are going on the 'attack is their best form of defense' approach, which is cool in warfare, but with ideas? Insipid. Here's a few choice quotes from the attack on one of the GNN crew. First up is Large_Al replying to investigations as to the back ground of the new members and suspects of the forums:

So I was correct after all he was a drug induced Anarchist (teenager). At least a teenager in maturity level and intellect....And as he gazes out his window at the beautiful NZ landscape with the rolling hills with lush vegetation and thousands of sheep almost looking like clouds against a green sky. He'll stop and think! Then he'll say to himself. So Many Sheep and so little time!!

I'm sorry! Did Large_Al use the words 'maturity level' and teen based animal-sex insults in the same post? He did. Ah. Still, Large_Al has his own definition of 'the land of the free'...

It's a shame we can't hang these two from the big oak tree in the entrance of our community. You know like in the old west. We could put a sign on their bodies that reads "This is what happens to Weak Minded Individuals who come to our town and start trouble."

Indeed Large_Al, kinda makes me hope Bush visits your ranch. After that, the rest of the forum join in the sheep/New Zealand jokes until the moderator Warlady injects a little sense into the intellectual debate:

All those two trolls succeeded in was proving how immature and what a bunch of liars the left are. Grow up children. It's much more fun being an adult.

Thanks Warlady! So there you have it; elitism, American exceptionalism, immaturity, McCarthyism and pure basic intolerance. If this is being rightwing; you can keep it. The scary thing is that people like these are in control of the largest military force in history. But if this is a sample of the strength of their ideas, the the future belongs to us. There are the willing cannon fodder of a system that does not care for them any more than it cares for me or you, its just that i'd like to think that I'm under no illusions. Still, it makes me realise why most people are turned off by arguments of the 'left' or 'right' - both are historically bankrupt ideologies whos time has come. I'll leave you with this comforting thought; when the rubble of their arguments is matched by the rubble of their empires, maybe we can really have the American ideals of all being created equal and the free speech the world over.

Friday, May 09, 2003

Clear Channel's Media War
Walking along the M32 I noticed the interesting change in the billboards that clutter the road into Bristol, normally I check out the adverts admiring the work of the subvertisers, but this time there was something new that caught my eye; the 'Adshel' logo under each board has bean replaced with the name of the new owner - Clear Channel. The arrival of Clear Channel means there is a storm coming...

Most people in the UK won't know the name, but in the US they are well known with 1,225 radio stations, 37 television stations and 776,000 billboards. They are a major player in the music business where their stations can promote a band, their ticket agencies can sell you tickets to see them play in venues they control. But there's nothing new about a media empire? Well remember the Bond film 'Tomorrow Never Dies' where media mogul Elliot Carver decides the best way to get ratings is to make the news rather than simply report it? Well the department of life-imitates-art can report that Clear Channel as doing a similar thing. In the US, the corporation has been using its 1225 radio stations to promote pro-war rallies by a group called 'Rally for America(tm)'. Notice the trade mark? The protest group are owned by Clear Channel. Yup, clear channel was making the news it was then reporting. Why? Well its pretty clear (pun) as the corporation about as big as it can get in the states without changes to the rules. So who makes the decision on the rules? Secretary of State Colin Powell's son, Michael Powell who’s the head of the Federal Communications Commission and being pro-war ain't gonna harm their case is it?

So what has that go to do with the UK? Well Clear Channel have been busy shopping and came home with lots of goodies including advertising firms Adshel, More and Taxi Media, the billboard arm of Scottish Radio Holdings. Its entertainment division SFX also manages live event arenas such as the Edinburgh Playhouse theatre and also promotes footballers Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and David Beckham. And that's not all. As the government plans to allow overseas companies to own UK media companies, Clear Channel boss Mays remarked that, "...nothing would give me more pleasure than to be able to bring one of the leading UK radio groups into the Clear Channel family..."

Remember the furore over the Dixie Chicks comments and backlash against their right to free speech? Well Clear Channel was the cheerleader of that particular hate campaign, which hasn't stopped the band selling out their shows, but has lead to allegations of censorship.

Remember allegations of bias in reporting the war? In a leaked memo on war coverage, the company listed pundits it could interview and at the bottom of the list of 33 suggestions are 'Anti-war types'. Yup, if you were against the war then your views rank well below that of Terrorism experts, Chemical/Biological warfare experts, High ranking local, military or ex-military officials, Military History professors, Former G-Men, Veterans of Desert Storm or the recent Afghanistan Conflict, Local families with loved ones currently in the Middle East and so on.

So get ready for the next war, 'cause when the War On Terror (tm) Axis of Evil (tm) round-two occurs the streets might be full of protestors from 'Rally for Britain(tm)' calling for the bombing of Iran organised by your local radio stations in your name!

But there is an alternative. Bristol has a burgeoning indy media scene and it is fast becoming the only bastion of grass-roots democracy; so buy the current issue of Bristle, support the Indymedia fundraiser of the 16th May at the Black Swan and the community media day; because the only people who benefit from a free and objective media are us and the best way to ensure that is to create our own media.