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The Prism

Eye on the Media

by David Kirsh

Serious Matter
Banning Landmines

"A very serious matter"

Allegations that the Chinese government may have tried to funnel money to the Democratic Party are considered to be sufficiently scandalous as to deserve the immediate attention of the US public by our "free" press. The Raleigh N&O gave the story lead placement ("Clinton supports finance inquiry," Feb. 14, 1997).

The basis for the story may or may not turn out to be well-grounded. What is of interest to me is the unquestionably vile nature of such a heinous act-at least it is repeatedly indicated to be such in the discussions of foreign purchases of political influence. Our sainted democratic political process is most certainly not to be tampered with by alien influences. Above all, never shall a foreign government buy its way into the slightest leverage over American elections. That is highly illegal.

The possibility of Red Chinese donations to the Democratic National Committee is already the subject of an investigation by the Justice Department. As Clinton himself remarked, "Obviously it would be a very serious matter for the United States if any country were to attempt to funnel funds to one of our political parties, for any reason whatever."

Why this flap is interesting to me is that there is not only no outrage about US government funding of political parties in other nations but that there is outrage when foreign nations object to US attempts to buy the outcome of foreign elections. This is exactly the inverted intellectual and journalistic norm that applied to the case of Nicaragua during the 1980s and still applies in US financing of foreign electoral parties from Russia to France to Haiti.

During the 1980s, there was much consternation expressed in the US about the Nicaragua's initial unwillingness to allow foreign financing of political campaigns and opposition parties.

Perhaps the only conceivable defense that can be made of this Double-mint standard is the inherent superiority of US democracy over others' democracy. "Our" democracy is better and stronger and that's why it's unacceptable for our democracy to be subverted by foreign funding. (That doesn't make sense). Conversely, "their" democracy is fragile and weak and therefore in need of US funding, which enhances and does not subvert democracy. (Nah).

Of course, the notion of US superiority and entitlement to say, "Do what I say, and not as I do," is thoroughly promoted in the indoctrination provided by the media owned by the Wall Street chieftains who dominate the world.

In the Nicaraguan case, that nation, during a war taking place inside its borders, actually changed its electoral law in 1988 to permit unlimited foreign campaign financing, with 50% going towards a general fund for elections and 50% going to the specified party. That measure-if applied to the United States-would have enabled Nazi Germany to finance American campaigns during World War II (although there were no battle zones within US borders). As Envío magazine (June 1989) commented, "The [Nicaraguan] government no doubt figured that US funds would come in covertly if not overtly. The 50% rule provides a way to help cover general election costs, which will reach $25 million during a period of economic crisis and state budget-cutting."

An exchange with NPR about singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn: Banning landmines . . . Why should we get involved?

Mr. Simon, the following is a comment I sent last week, a bit late for possible inclusion on the air. In fact, as I think about a guest-hosted show, it's unlikely that Susan Stamberg and your show's staff would have used it last Saturday, with you away on assignment. So here it is again, for you to consider for the "letters from listeners" slot:

"Your interview with Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn didn't explain the relevance to us of the campaign to ban landmines. I don't think it was Canada that funded the laying of millions of landmines that are still blowing the legs off children and farmers in countries ranging from Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador to Iraq, Afghanistan, Mozambique*, Angola*, and Vietnam**.

To bury the details of our country's involvement in this ongoing tragedy robs us of the chance to keep it from happening again. Like you, I was interested in details of the jam session with Jimi Hendrix 30 years ago, but focusing so much attention on that story, defeats our opportunity to connect with Bruce Cockburn's current work. Thus Cockburn, for all his generous efforts, is left strangely burdened. Many of your listeners are probably wondering why a performer would sing about unpleasant topics that seem to have nothing to do with us."

*Mozambique and Angola, I believe, are two of the countries where people like Jesse Helms (along with operatives of our so-called intelligence agencies) have supported back-channel flow of money and arms to anyone who would attack governments that would dare put their own people ahead of outside interests. The people who manage such campaigns of violence know they can rely on our media to neglect details of our country's involvement-until, as in the El Mozote story in El Salvador, a decade or two later, if at all.

**Well, I'm not sure how much Canadian complicity there was in funding landmines in Vietnam. You need all your friends to pitch in, when you're ready to kill three million people. At least Canada's now leading an effort to ban landmines. Whether our government gets seriously involved in a complete ban depends in part on the indifference or dedication of programs like yours.

Thanks - Jerry Markatos

Scott Simon's response:

I don't disagree with what you say. But there is only so much an interview with a musician can do. We talk to plenty of people about the campaign to ban landmines and will talk to more. But I can't promise that an interview with a musician will necessarily lead to making that point. Mr. Cockburn could have mentioned that, too; but personally, we know too many people who have made hundreds of trips into those areas and are just as committed to the cause to treat Bruce Cockburn as our only or best source of information on the subject. On the other hand-how many people campaigning for the prohibition of land mines ever opened for Jimi Hendrix?

I have learned over the years: if you are always scolding an audience, they cease to listen.


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