Aug 242010

Count me among those who get a significant portion of their daily news from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.  I want to heart these guys for their usually brilliant take on the world.  But then there are those awful moments when they shamelessly remind us of the not so funny male whiteness of the liberal progressive establishment.  This is a screenshot of the writers of the Colbert Report taking a bow on the Aug. 23rd episode:

In the a picture is worth 1000 words department, nuf said.

 August 24, 2010  Posted by on August 24, 2010 1 Response »
Aug 242010

Despite  the official spill over mantra regarding the BP Gulf oil disaster, it is becoming abundantly clear that it is anything but over as more and more evidence mounts of oxygen dead zones, oil and dispersant in seafood and the chemical stench and oil residue that is still painfully visible along and in the gulf.  Not only is the damage to the environment ongoing, but the full impact on human health will be unknown for years.  However, there is every reason to be very concerned, particularly for our most vulnerable populations including pregnant women and children (something I pointed out back in early June).   Dr. Gina Solomon of the NRDC explains further why this is so crucially important and why we need to change our assumptions about how we view this problem:

The FDA used faulty assumptions (described below) to determine how much contamination is OK to eat in Gulf seafood. This means that they set the bar too high and lower levels of contaminants could pose a risk to vulnerable populations – like pregnant women, children and communities who eat a lot of Gulf seafood.

  • By using an adult average body weight of 176 pounds the FDA does not adequately protect children, or even many women

The average body weight of a 4-6 year old child is about 47 pounds and half of American women weigh less than about 155 pounds. These smaller people would be getting a bigger dose of contaminants per pound of bodyweight than the FDA is estimating they’re getting. Not all of us are big men, after all.

  • FDA fails to account for the increased vulnerability of the developing fetus and young children

Children are particularly vulnerable to contaminants in seafood because their bodies are still developing, they ingest a larger portion of contaminants relative to their size, and they often don’t process chemicals as well as adults.  Human epidemiologic studies have found that fetuses can’t clear the genetic damage from PAHs as easily, and also that babies may be at increased risk of neurological effects from these chemicals.

There is nothing new in this one size fits all approach to measuring human impact.  For years Reference Man, who was

was born in 1974, but he remains perpetually between 20 and 30 years old. He stands 5 feet seven inches (170 cm), weighs 154 pounds (70 kilograms) and is a Caucasian from Western Europe or North America.

was used to assess the impact of X-rays on the human body.  It apparently didn’t occur to researchers that what was good  for Reference Man might be lethal to women or children.  It is unfortunate to see that ignorance once again playing out in data assumptions about the gulf.

In addition to Solomon’s blog, to fully understand what is happening in the Gulf, I highly recommend the ongoing coverage by Alexander Higgins Blog, this article on Sign of the Times and BP Oil Slick and Mother Jones’ Mac McClelland, Kate Sheppard and Julia Whitty.

 August 24, 2010  Posted by on August 24, 2010 Comments Off on Faulty Assumptions In Assessing Impact Of Gulf Contamination Put Children At Particular Risk
Aug 172010

Sunday’s appearance of General David Petraeus on Meet The Press (see below) provided further confirmation not only of the U.S. use of Afghan women’s lives to make a case for war but also media complicity in this strategy.  In the interview, Petraeus referred to what is now understood to be a deeply flawed excuse for journalism in the August 9th edition of Time Magazine that appeared with the picture of a badly maimed Afghan woman with the caption, “What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan”.  There is no question mark in the title, it is a statement, despite Time Managing Editor Rick Stengel’s claim that the magazine is not taking sides in the debate about continuing U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.  That claim however does not pass the smell test for a number of reasons:

1.  Before we even went into Afghanistan, the lives of Afghan women were being used to make a pitch for the war, even though we had not previously been concerned about their welfare under the Taliban or before the Taliban came into power and the release of the CIA memo earlier this year touting the use of Afghan women to illicit sympathy for the war in Europe makes it clear that stories such as the one that appeared in Time are very useful to the  military’s deliberate efforts to drum up support for the war. That argument is further bolstered by pieces in a similar  vein that were run by New York Times and McClatchy the same week as the Time piece appeared and the NYT piece that appeared the day after Petraeus’ appearance on Meet The Press.

2.  Making matters far worse, as John Gorenfeld at The New York Observer pointed out last week, there are substantial questions about the impartiality of the author, Aryn Baker and also about the accuracy of the piece itself, something confirmed by long time Afghan reporter Ann Jones:

I heard Aisha’s story from her a few weeks before the image of her face was displayed all over the world. She told me that her father-in-law caught up with her after she ran away, and took a knife to her on his own; village elders later approved, but the Taliban didn’t figure at all in this account. The Time story, however, attributes Aisha’s mutilation to a husband under orders of a Talib commander, thereby transforming a personal story, similar to those of countless women in Afghanistan today, into a portent of things to come for all women if the Taliban return to power. Profoundly traumatized, Aisha might well muddle her story, but what excuses reporters who seem to inflate the role of the Taliban with every repetition of the case? Some reports have Aisha “sentenced” by a whole Taliban “jirga.”

3.  In a followup piece, Gorenfeld provides additional history regarding the use of the media by the CIA (see also The real story behind Time’s Afghan woman cover: American complicity by Ralph Lopez) and makes the important point that the story of Aisha, the young woman on the cover of Time is not a new one, The Daily Beast reported Aisha’s story last December and Diane Sawyer did a segment on it last March, so one has to ask why Time is just now pointing to this incident which it must be pointed out took place last year when U.S. forces were in Afghanistan, which hardly gives credibility to the idea that our presence is protecting Afghan women.

4.  In addition, it is important to understand that it isn’t only under the Taliban that women in Afghanistan have suffered as James Fergusson writes in The Guardian,

The maltreatment of women is by no means exclusive to the Taliban, nor even to Pashtuns. It is practised all over Afghanistan, including by the state that Nato troops are currently dying to support.

5.  The Time piece  does not make any effort to look at what happens if we stay, how continued U.S. military actions have and will continue to impact women’s human rights in Afghanistan.  It reads far more like propaganda than news and is an unfortunate testament to the sorry state of mainstream media in this country and the damage publications like Time daily commit to freedom of the press.


Here is the relevant excerpt of David Gregory’s interview with General Petraeus on Meet the Press:

MR. GREGORY:  Did you see that cover of Time magazine in the last couple of weeks, an example of the brutality of the Taliban, with a woman whose nose was cut off of her face, a reminder of what Taliban rule was.  How often do you think about that as there is the prospect of the Taliban returning, reconciling in some way, becoming a part of this country’s future?

GEN. PETRAEUS:  Well, we think about it all the time.  And again, we think about it in the human context, which that photograph so visibly represented and horrifically represented.  We also think about it when it comes to our core objective.  The fact is that it was the Taliban that allowed al-Qaeda to establish its bases and sanctuaries in Afghanistan when it controlled a good bit of the country.  And that gives big pause, needless to say, and that is why, again, this insurgency has to be combated.

MR. GREGORY:  The bottom line question that I’ve been thinking about asking you is, if we win in Afghanistan, what do we win; and if we lose, what do we lose?

GEN. PETRAEUS:  Well, the, the latter is almost easier because, if you lose, it has, I think, some significant repercussions, not just for this country, although they would be enormous, and start with the cover of Time magazine for starters.  Then think about our security interests, and then think about the region and what it could do to the region if, in fact, extremists were able to take over all or part of this country again after what presumably would be a very bloody civil war in which different countries in the region would take sides.  And, again, the prospect is, I think, is pretty frightening.

Here is the interview I did last night with Dennis Bernstein on Pacifica radio station KPFA’s Flashpoints about these issues (the interview starts at about the 9 minute mark):

Flashpoints – August 16, 2010 at 5:00pm

Click to listen (or download)

Many thanks to the Institute for Public Accuracy work which facilitated that interview.

And finally, here are links to my earlier posts on the Feminist Peace Network blog on the Time Magazine piece:

–Lucinda Marshall

 August 17, 2010  Posted by on August 17, 2010 Comments Off on Media Complicity In The U.S. Exploitation Of Afghan Women’s Lives As A Call For War
Aug 132010

Still recovering from the website being hacked yesterday.  Unfortunately the graphic look of the website was compromised beyond repair and we weren’t able to reinstall it.  So I am working with a new layout and will probably be tweaking it over the next week or so.  If you happen to see something that looks weird, definitely bring it to my attention :-)

 August 13, 2010  Posted by on August 13, 2010 Comments Off on Website Problems–Update
Aug 132010

Over the last several weeks, substantial questions have been raised about the context and slant of the Time Magazine article and cover about the consequences of a U.S. pullout from Afghanistan.  The Feminist Peace Network covered these issues extensively (see below), including looking at a CIA document released by Wikileaks that makes it clear that such stories have  been an actively encouraged U.S. policy used to drum up support for the war.

Leaving aside that the horribly maimed young woman whose haunting eyes pull at our heartstrings from the Time cover was injured last year while U.S. forces were firmly in place in Afghanistan, the New York Observer is now raising questions about the accuracy of the story and also the impartiality of the Time reporter,

But there was more than a question mark missing from the Time story, which stressed potentially disastrous consequences if the U.S. pursues negotiations with the Taliban. The piece lacked a crucial personal disclosure on (reporter Aryn) Baker’s part: Her husband, Tamim Samee, an Afghan-American IT entrepreneur, is a board member of an Afghan government minister’s $100 million project advocating foreign investment in Afghanistan, and has run two companies, Digistan and Ora-Tech, that have solicited and won development contracts with the assistance of the international military, including private sector infrastructure projects favored by U.S.-backed leader Hamid Karzai.

In other words, the Time reporter who wrote a story bolstering the case for war appears to have benefited materially from the NATO invasion. Reached by The Observer, a Time spokesperson revealed that the magazine has just reassigned Baker to a new country as part of a normal rotation, though he declined to say where.

The New York Observer goes on to flesh out this very troubling conflict of interest and should be read in its entirety.  However, it isn’t just Baker’s impartiality that is at stake here.  It is also the accuracy of the story itself in claiming that this woman’s injuries  were inflicted because of the Taliban,

And what about Aisha, a new war emblem? While it’s long been evident that women have suffered unimaginable horrors under customs practiced in Afghanistan, Aisha’s brutal mutilation occurred in 2009, almost eight years into the American invasion.

Meanwhile, in a story light on specifics, there remains some question as to whether the unnamed Afghan judge who ordered Aisha’s mutilation qualifies as a “Taliban commander” in any formal sense. And if Aisha’s is the face of the notoriously cruel Taliban justice system, the Taliban aren’t taking credit. A Taliban press release on August 7 condemned the maiming as “unislamic” and denied that the case was handled by any of its roving judges — to whom many Afghans are now turning, distrustful of Karzai officials.

In the long run, the NATO-backed president, Hamid Karzai, may not be the friend Aisha and other persecuted Afghan women so desperately need. Last August he signed the Shia Personal Status Law, allowing men to starve wives who withhold sex and to punish those who walk outdoors without permission. Under this law — passed by a parliament that is 25 percent female as mandated by the new Afghan consitution — Aisha’s decision to leave home would have been considered a crime.

The veracity and impartiality of this piece need to be fully investigated and Time’s credibility as a ‘news’ magazine needs to be thoroughly questioned.  It is  abundantly clear that the mainstream media in this country did precious little fact checking when they became complicit in selling this war beginning in 2001 and it is also clear that this sort of mis-use of the media is being encouraged by our government. In the absence of journalistic integrity or a government that truly represents the people, our job is to call it out and refuse to accept the ‘truth’ when it is found to be lies and to insist on an end to this unacceptable war.


Here are links to previous posts on the Time Magazine article:

 August 13, 2010  Posted by on August 13, 2010 Comments Off on Time’s Story About Afghan Women–Questions Raised About Author’s Vested Interests And Accuracy Of The Story