Saturday, July 25, 2015

Fatal Prescriptions and OTC Death Sentences

Picked Out a Coffin Yet? Take Ibuprofen and Die

by Mike Whitney - ICH

“Today we know that the risk of heart attack and stroke may occur early in treatment, even in the first weeks … “There is no period of use shown to be without risk,” says Judy Racoosin, M.D., M.P.H., deputy director of FDA’s Division of Anesthesia, Analgesia, and Addiction Products.” - FDA website
In case you missed it: The FDA has just issued a warning on various prescription and non-prescription drugs that Americans ingest by the boatload. As it happens, these seemingly benign pain relievers can kill you even if you scrupulously follow the recommended dosage.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s a blurb from the FDA website:

“FDA is strengthening an existing warning in prescription drug labels and over-the-counter (OTC) Drug Facts labels to indicate that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can increase the chance of a heart attack or stroke, either of which can lead to death. Those serious side effects can occur as early as the first few weeks of using an NSAID, and the risk might rise the longer people take NSAIDs.” (FDA Strengthens Warning of Heart Attack and Stroke Risk for Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, FDA website) 

Notice how the FDA refers to “death” as “a serious side effect.” How’s that for an understatement? Here’s more from the FDA warning:

“The OTC drugs in this group are used for the temporary relief of pain and fever. The prescription drugs in this group are used to treat several kinds of arthritis and other painful conditions. Because many prescription and OTC medicines contain NSAIDs, consumers should avoid taking multiple remedies with the same active ingredient.” The New York Times includes “Motrin IB, Aleve and Celebrex” in this group of “widely used painkillers”. 

Why isn’t this headline news? People take tons of these chemicals everyday thinking they’ve been thoroughly tested and are totally safe. Now we find out that’s not the case. Now we discover that you can get a heart attack or stroke “as early as the first few weeks of using” them. Doesn’t that come as a bit of a shock to you, dear reader? Doesn’t that make you suspect that the FDA is not telling the whole truth here, but is simply covering up for a profit-obsessed industry that doesn’t give a rip about its customers health?

Take a look at some of these articles I dredged up on Google News on the topic: 

“Doctors issue Ibuprofen toxicity warning.” Daily Telegraph. “Warning: Runners May Be At Risk From Ibuprofen Use.” Australian Marathon Review. “Ibuprofen ‘trebles the risk of a stroke’ doctors warn”, Daily Mail Online. “Ibuprofen Side Effects Land Thousands in the Hospital”, Side-Effects. com. “The FDA’s Dilemma About Ibuprofen And Cardiovascular Risk”, Forbes. “Ibuprofen Blunts Aspirin’s Cardioprotection. FDA Issues Warning”, “Aspirin, Ibuprofen Warnings Advised–Health: Consumers need to be told the painkillers can cause internal bleeding and kidney damage, a panel tells the FDA.”, LA Times. 

And how reliable is FDA in determining the toxicity of these medications anyway? Wasn’t the so-called “watchdog” agency implicated in pay-to-play flap just a couple years ago? Some readers might recall another incident when the FDA was caught in a “spying program on its own scientists, lawmakers, reporters and academics” to “discourage whistleblowing.” 
According to Truthout’s Martha Rosenberg: 
“top FDA managers “committed the most outrageous misconduct by ordering, coercing and intimidating FDA physicians and scientists to recommend approval, and then retaliating when the physicians and scientists refused to go along.” Review procedures at the agency (which approves stents, breast implants, MRIs, and other devices and machinery) were so faulty that unsafe devices – including those that emit excessive radiation – were approved, charged the scientists, provoking an OSC investigation … For reporting the safety risks, the scientists became targets of the now-disclosed spy program and some lost their jobs. “…
(According to FDA drug reviewer Ronald Kavanagh) 

“While I was at FDA, drug reviewers were clearly told not to question drug companies and that our job was to approve drugs. We were prevented, except in rare instances, from presenting findings at advisory committees. In 2007, formal policies were instituted so that speaking in any way that could reflect poorly on the agency could result in termination. If we asked questions that could delay or prevent a drug’s approval – which of course was our job as drug reviewers – management would reprimand us, reassign us, hold secret meetings about us, and worse. Obviously in such an environment, people will self-censor.” (Former FDA Reviewer Speaks Out About Intimidation, Retaliation and Marginalizing of Safety, Martha Rosenberg, Truthout)

Nice, eh? And this is the agency that’s supposed to protect the public from risky drugs? 

Right. Does the name “Vioxx” ring a bell? If not, here’s a little refresher from an article by Fred Gardener in Counterpunch titled “Merck Pays a Pittance for Mass Deaths”:

“Merck has agreed to pay $950 million and has pleaded guilty to a criminal charge over the marketing and sales of the painkiller Vioxx,” the New York Times reported Nov. 23 … 
The FDA had initially approved Vioxx (after a hasty “priority review”) in May, 1999 to treat osteoarthritis, acute pain, and menstrual cramps. By September 30, 2004, when Merck announced its “voluntary recall,” some 25 million Americans had been prescribed the widely hyped drug. Evidence that using Vioxx doubled a patient’s risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke —based on a review of 1.4 million patients’ records— was about to be published in Lancet by David Graham, MD, an FDA investigator. The FDA director’s office, devoted valet of Big PhRMA, had contacted the Lancet in a futile effort to stop publication of their own scientist’s findings. 

Graham’s data indicate that 140,000 Americans suffered Vioxx-induced heart attacks and strokes; 55,000 died, and many more were permanently disabled. The Merck executives’ real crime was conspiracy to commit murder … An early clinical trial had alerted them to the fact that Vioxx caused coronary damage. Their response was to exclude from future trials anyone with a history of heart trouble! 

Once Vioxx was approved, Merck spent more than $100 million a year advertising it … Sales hit $2.5 billion in 2003. And when brave Dr. Graham first presented his irrefragable evidence to an FDA advisory committee in February 2004, Merck argued that the “unique benefits” of Vioxx warranted its remaining on the market. The FDA committee voted 17-15 to keep it available with a black box warning. Ten of the 32 committee members had taken money from Merck, Pfizer or Novartis (which were pushing drugs similar to Vioxx) as consultants. If these MDs had declared their conflicts of interest, Vioxx would have been pulled from the market by a vote of 14-8. By buying an extra seven and a half months, Merck made an extra billion or two, and killed 6,000 more Americans. 

Worldwide, Vioxx was used by 80 million people. Assuming their dosages were similar to the 1.4 million Kaiser Permanente patients whose records Dr. Graham analyzed, the death toll exceeds 165,000.”
(Merck Pays a Pittance for Mass Deaths, Fred Gardner, CounterPunch) 

Is that what’s going on? Is some prestigious organization like Lancet about to release a damning report on these dubious pain relievers, so the FDA is trying to get ahead of the story to save their own kiester? How much has the culture at the FDA really changed since the Vioxx scandal? Is the agency still owned and operated by the industries its supposed to regulate? 

Do you really need to ask? The better question would be: What regulatory agency in the U.S. ISN’T owned corporate America? They own it all; lock, stock and barrel. 

And, keep in mind, (according to Gardner) Vioxx killed over 165,000 people.

Now guess how many Merck executives went to jail? 

Yep. Zero. 

I’m not saying these medications don,t help to relieve chronic pain from “debilitating conditions, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis‎, gout and other rheumatological and painful conditions”. They do. But whether they’re useful or not doesn’t change the fact that “even small amounts” of this crap can put you at risk of a heart attack or stroke. That’s what the public needs to know, and that’s the FDA’s job. Here’s an excerpt from an article in the NYT that tries to minimize the dangers:

“The broader context is important. The relative risk of heart attack and stroke from the drugs is still far smaller than the risk from smoking, having uncontrolled high blood pressure or being obese.” 

True, and it’s probably less risky that bungee-jumping off the Empire State Building, but what difference does that make. The fact is, it can kill you, the FDA KNOWS it can kill you, and yet they haven,t done anything to counter the relentless tsunami of industry generated propaganda that has convinced the American people that these medications are risk free. Here’s more on that from the Times:

“The agency said it would ask drug manufacturers to change the labels to reflect new evidence that the drugs increased the risk of heart attack and stroke soon after patients first started taking them, and that while the risk was higher for people with heart disease, it surfaced even for people who had never had heart problems.” 

Let me get this straight: The FDA knows that these anti inflammatories are killing people and they’re going to “ask” the drug companies if they’ll change the labels? Is this how regulation works in the US nowadays; the agencies basically have to grovel before these cutthroat industries just to get them to do the right thing? 

I have a better idea: Why not just prosecute a few of these drug-pushing executives for manslaughter?

That ought to do the trick, don’t you think? 

Here’s one last blurb from the Times

“There is great concern that people think these drugs are benign, and they are probably not,” (said Dr. Peter Wilson, a professor of medicine and public health at Emory University in Atlanta) “The thought is these are good for short-term relief, probably for your younger person with no history of cardiovascular trouble.” 

There it is from the horses mouth. Do not presume that these medications are safe just because they’re hyped in the media. Do your own research and decide for yourself whether the benefits outweigh the risks.

Mike Whitney
lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at

Can the Pacific Orca Be Saved by Us from Us?

Can We Still Save the Killer Whales?

by Chris Genovali - Raincoast Conservation Foundation

This article was co-authored by Raincoast Conservation 
Foundation biologist Misty MacDuffee.

Southern resident killer whales (southern residents) feature prominently these days as their struggle for survival in the Salish Sea has become symbolic of the unsustainable nature of our economy, and often, our lifestyles. The mounting ecological cost of unrestrained economic growth presents a stark choice about our future and that of the whales -- will future generations of children grow up with a healthy population of southern residents or will we only save memories of what once was?

Raincoast Conservation Foundation recently submitted 500 pages of scientific evidence for the federal review of Kinder Morgan's proposed Trans Mountain pipeline and oil tanker expansion project. Central to our evidence is a new analysis on the status and probable fate of southern residents. Considering the declining quality of habitat in the Salish Sea -- a region facing increasing industrialization with proposals for oil, coal, and gas ports, and more container terminals -- our findings are offered with a sense of urgency.

Already critically endangered, southern resident killer whales are struggling to find enough salmon to eat in a noisy and polluted ocean. Sound is as important to killer whales as vision is to humans. Their most important seasonal feeding grounds are international shipping lanes; places where the opportunity to communicate (out to a range of 8 kilometres) is consistently compromised by noise from ships and boats. Nearly all opportunity for whales to speak with each other while hunting for food is lost during periods of busy traffic. Their primary food, chinook (a.k.a. spring) salmon, is managed for commercial and recreational fishing, not hungry whales. The abundance of chinook strongly influences birth, growth, and death rates ofsouthern resident killer whales. Lastly, the southern residents' popularity means a flotilla of whale watching boats follows them every day from spring to fall.

To assess this problem in a measurable way, Raincoast teamed with leading scientists studying killer whales, acoustic disturbance, and endangered wildlife to conduct an analysis of the southern residents' population viability. "Population viability analysis (PVA) can examine risks to wildlife populations over time and evaluate the likely effectiveness of recovery options," explains Raincoast senior scientist Dr. Paul Paquet. "We assessed the viability of the whales in light of cumulative disturbances and threats, including noise from existing and planned vessel traffic, ship strikes, oil spills, and Chinook salmon food supply."

The southern resident population has experienced almost no growth during the past four decades, and has declined in the last two decades to around 80 whales. Our study identified reduced consumption of chinook salmon has the largest effect on depressing the southern residents' population size, possibly leading to extinction. Reduced food consumption can occur through several ways: inhibiting the ability of whales to locate and catch fish as a result of physical and acoustic disturbance from boats and ships, exploitation by fisheries throughout the U.S. and Canada, and further declines in salmon abundance from factors like oil spills and climate change.

Another important factor in killer whale survival is the risk from exposure to oil spills. Our PVA found that a catastrophic oil spill has the potential to reduce the population to such a small number of whales (less than 30) that recovery would be unlikely. A comparable circumstance befell a population of transient killer whales in Alaska following the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Given existing conditions, the southern residents cannot withstand the additional pressures that would result from proposed increases in the Salish Sea's shipping traffic, recover from their endangered status, and survive in perpetuity.

However, our PVA also had encouraging news as we determined what might happen if the Salish Sea were quieter, less polluted, and had more chinook salmon. We found that killer whale numbers could slowly build (up to 1.9 per cent with 20 per cent more salmon consumption) and the population could survive at larger and viable numbers into the future.

Increases in Chinook salmon abundance will benefit, and could save, the southern residents. More than one million chinook are typically caught every year in U.S. and Canadian commercial and recreational fisheries. Allowing more of these fish to reach maturity and their spawning grounds is key to rebuilding chinook abundance.

Associated with catching and consuming more food is reducing the disruption of feeding activity in the presence of boats and ships. Vessels are present an estimated 78 per cent of the time that the southern residents forage and feed. The presence of vessels cause whales to spend 25 per cent less time catching and eating salmon, translating to a 16 per cent reduction in food intake.

If we want to save more than memories of southern resident killer whales, we have to act now. This might include restricting the numbers and routes of vessels that travel through their critical habitat; addressing fisheries that adversely affect the age, size and abundance of chinook salmon; and cleaning up polluted waters while preventing additional contamination from new pollutants.

Federal dollars identified to recover endangered whales also need to flow to stakeholders economically affected by such recovery measures. Finally, we need to stop Kinder Morgan's pipeline and oil tanker project, and other similar projects, that degrade the marine waters of the Salish Sea.

A version of this article recently ran in the Vancouver Sun.

Domino Uno: Paraguay and the Yankee Reclamation of South America

They Say Paraguay is in Africa: Mosaic of Horror

by Andre Vlthek - CounterPunch

I have always liked this country of red earth, mighty rivers and rough cobblestone streets. I have liked its bougainvillea, its long silent nights, and its endless open spaces.

But almost everything that could went wrong for the Paraguayan people, or at least for its indigenous majority.

Remembering the massacre of Indigenous people

Before Evo Morales became the President, Bolivia had been the most destitute country in South America. Paraguay was slightly “above it” – the second poorest nation. Now, most likely, it is the most deprived.


It is pitch dark outside, and the road is flooded. As in other extreme right wing countries worldwide, from Indonesia to Kenya, the drainage system is far from being a priority of the rulers.

I am inside an impressive art museum, the Museo de Barra, a hangout of local intellectuals, most of them from the Left. Across the table from me sits Ms Lia Colombino, a curator and one of the museum directors. One floor below, a huge exhibition depicts the horrific massacre of indigenous people that took place at Curuguaty, in 2012. Powerful artwork is everywhere: photographs raw footage, and paintings.

Ms. Lia is clearly depressed about the state of her country:

“This does not look or feel like South America, does it? It is more like Central America…”

I know exactly what she means.

To me it still feels like South America, but long before the great wave of revolutions changed everything to the core. But I understand what she means. Paraguay does feels like Central America, like Honduras or Guatemala, where the indigenous people are treated with absolute spite, as “un-people”, where the owner of some plantation would not hesitate to blow out the brains of a ‘peon’, just because he is in foul mood or in need to flirt with a trigger. 2 percent of people in Paraguay own more than 75 percent of all the land. That says a lot.

“Paraguay could also be in Africa”, I was told by a Paraguayan doctor, on board of an airplane, en route from Buenos Aires to Asuncion:

“My country reminds me of some depressing, plundered sub-Saharan nation, still controlled by the West’s interests. I know what I am talking about; I spent several years in Africa. There I witnessed the same disrespect for human life as I am witnessing here.”

Next to my hotel, there is a huge Porsche showroom, and just a few minutes away, a luxury mall. “Shopping del Sol” is boasting its sleek modern design and luxury brands. But in both of its bookstores, not one single book by Eduardo Galeano or Elena Poniatowska could be found.

Right across the street from my hotel, there is a luxury steakhouse, but there is no way to cross the street, no zebras for pedestrians. Crossing is humiliating. Cars accelerate. If you don’t drive, you are treated like sub-human.

Modern skyscrapers are growing all around, but in between them, like in Indonesia there are broken houses and shacks, dirty alleys and streets without sidewalks.

All over the country, the descendants of European Nazis are still living in comfort, enjoying impunity and even respect. British and US intelligence facilitated the escape of thousands of notorious European Nazis to South America, often with the loot of golden teeth from the concentration camps, after they helped to break the left-wing political parties prior to post-war elections. It is believed that the notorious Hotel del Lago in San Bernardino (40 kilometers from Asuncion) offered shelter to several prominent Nazis, including Joseph Mengele, the Angel of the Death, a German SS officer and physician in the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.

But San Bernardino on Lake Ypacarai is now also notorious for shameless land grabs. There is hardly any public access to the lake, the shore being gradually ‘privatized’ by the country’s ‘elites’ and their ‘nautical clubs’.

The social situation in Paraguay is so bad that tens of thousands of its citizens are regularly crossing the border to much wealthier and to certain extend socialist Argentina, where they are provided with free medical care and free education for their children.

Hundreds of kilometers away from the capital, in the countryside, the mainly indigenous people are still living in the most horrific conditions.

Slammed in the middle of South America, Paraguay is a staunch ally of the West, surrounded by a rapidly changing, increasingly socialist part of the world.

“Paraguay was the most violent and vicious dictatorship and the place of origin of Operation Condor in which many people from throughout the continent were tortured and killed. Paraguay is a vital and strategic location that sits over the largest fresh water aquifer in the world with very fertile lands. The population lives as sharecroppers in the countryside, similar to conditions found in the U.S. after the Civil War or worse,” commented Joseph J. García, Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of New Mexico.


The most vicious dictatorship… Perhaps it was, although in South America there had been many contestants to that sad prize.

On the ground floor of the Palace of Justice, Ms. Rosa M. Palau, coordinator of the “Center of Documentation and the Archive for Defense of Human Rights”, is bringing out one shocking historic document after another.

“Here, these are police archives… all that you see here, passed through the military intelligence. You can read here about all that dirty work done by the police… “Operation Condor”… There is some correspondence between the US and the regional governments. In these papers you can read about the ‘education’ that the US provided to the local police, as well as about the centers of torture in Asuncion.”

I am in the middle of what is called “Archives of Terror”, an enormous quantity of documents, and part of The Memory of the World Programme of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). According to the UNESCO:

“The Archives of Terror are official documents of police repression during the thirty-five years of Alfredo Stroessner’s dictatorship. They also contain supporting evidence of Operation Condor activities as a part of a campaign of political repressions involving assassination and intelligence operations which was officially implemented in 1975 by the right-wing dictators of the Southern Cone of South America.”

The Archives describe the fates of countless Latin Americans who had been secretly kidnapped, tortured, and killed by the security services, military and police of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay, mostly on behalf of the US foreign policy. This is the barbaric and coordinated action of terror known as Operation Condor.

According to the archives, 50,000 people were murdered, 30,000 people disappeared and 400,000 were imprisoned. Many of those imprisoned were tortured and raped.

Sitting here, surrounded by files and papers, I kept recalling those days, some two decades ago, when the archives were made public, for the first time, in the suburb of Asuncion called Lambare. All of us, who came to investigate, from different parts of Latin America and the world, were overwhelmed, emotionally and professionally. What we had always suspected was suddenly in front of us, black on white, proof after proof, showing that the United States, together with the local elites who were backed by ‘security’ services, had been systematically liquidating people guilty of harboring desires to live in just, egalitarian and socialist fatherlands.

We were all taking notes, photographing, going page after page through the horrifying evidence. Some people sat on the floor, squeezing their heads between palms of their hands. Others were crying.

One day, a lawyer, a friend of mine, approached me in a neighborhood cafeteria. He sat next to me, and slowly declared:

“Do you think that anything changed in Paraguay? They, those responsible for the horrors, are looking at you going through those documents, and they are laughing at you, because they know that nothing will ever change in this country. They are laughing at me, too. I was tortured savagely. They pulled my nails out and they broke my balls. And now, when I go to watch a football match at a stadium, I see them, my torturers, and there is nothing that I can do. We greet each other, politely. We pretend that everything is fine; that nothing really happened… And then, at night, I scream.”

As if reading my thoughts, Ms. Rosa M. Palau suddenly breaks the silence. She can hardly contain her emotions:

“This was a terrible chapter of our history! Later, so many things happened, during the transition period. But now it is becoming obvious that we did not learn much about democracy. We learned almost nothing!”


Two successive coups – those in Honduras and Paraguay – are often quoted as proof that the United States never really ‘closed its eyes’ and let go of its perpetual victim – Latin America.

On 3 July 2012, Bill Van Auken published his analyses of the Paraguay coup at The World Socialist Web Site:

There is every reason to believe that the hurried impeachment of Lugo—forced through both houses of the Paraguayan parliament in barely 30 hours after he was charged by the two traditional parties of the country’s ruling oligarchy—was carried out with the indispensable complicity of US imperialism.

A former Catholic cleric and proponent of Liberation Theology, Lugo was elected in 2008, promising to combat corruption and promote “socially responsible capitalism.”

Committed to the defense of private property and with all the real levers of power remaining in the hands of the Liberals and Stroessner’s Colorados, who ruled the country for six decades before the 2008 election, Lugo was able to carry out little in the way of reforms, while he adapted himself continuously to Paraguayan reaction.

Nonetheless, the ruling oligarchy as well as the transnational agricultural interests found his presidency intolerable, fearing that it was generating false expectations among the masses of Paraguayan workers and oppressed. In particular there was concern that masses of landless peasants, receiving nothing in the way of genuine agrarian reform from the government, would take matters into their own hands…

The principal pretext for the impeachment was a massacre unleashed by Paraguayan security forces as they attempted to evict some 100 peasant farmers occupying the land of a wealthy former Stroessner-era Colorado politician. Eleven peasants and six policemen were killed, while scores more were wounded and arrested. The right-wing parties in the Paraguayan Congress blamed Lugo not for gunning down peasants, but for failing to carry out more thorough repression.

Ms. Clyde Soto, a social researcher at “Centro de Documentacion y Estudios” (CDE) in Asuncion, spoke to me about the events of 2012 that began with the massacre at Curuguaty:

“The massacre of 15 June 2012 was well planned. It was performed in order to expel the farmers who decided to occupy the lands, demanding the agrarian reform. Farmers knew that these were the lands unjustifiably seized by Blas N. Riquelme and his company Campos Morombi, with long and entangled legal process behind the case; the systematic strategy of seizure of land and territories still belonging to farmers and indigenous people. This plan was identical in substance to what was taking place throughout the history of post-colonial state of Paraguay (where definition of “post-colonial” is highly questionable). The second objective of the massacre was to create “space” for a “soft coup”, which removed Fernando Lugo from power, through a political trial full of irregularities. What happened in Curuguaty was clearly serving the interests of the powerful and of the business, both legal and illegal.”

Then she added:

“On Saturday, June 27, early in the morning, a group of farmers from Curuguaty once again occupied lands of Marina Kue, where the massacre took place in 2012. They are demanding both clarification of what happened 3 years ago, and the land titles.”

It appears that Paraguay is, once again, reaching the boiling state. People are now ready to fight, to risk their lives. Political and economic elites lost their trust, fully. And so the land is being taken over by farmers, at several locations.

One evening Mr. Fernando Rojas gave me a lift. He and his comrades from “Decidamos” (citizen’s campaign “We will decide”) were heading north, to yet another area where farmers dared to take a decisive action and occupy the land that used to belong to them.

“We have to monitor what is going on in the provinces”, explained Fernando. “To make sure that what happened in Curuguaty will never happen again.”

The same night, at the Museo de Barro in Asuncion, a film about the massacre at Curuguaty is screened. It is called “Fuera de campo”, directed by Hugo Gimenez, who is actually present at the screening.

Fuera de campo is a minimalistic, honest, experimental piece of art. On the screen, people are speaking slowly, decisively. Farmers are still protesting, still dreaming about better fatherland… a mother remembering her son, his love for this land: “We have to resist… If they kill us, then let them do it!” There are shots of injured police, being taken away by the ambulances… while injured farmers are being executed, point blank.


“Two weeks ago, the military was marching here, during the anniversary of the Military Academy of Paraguay. They were marching shoulder to shoulder with the US military personnel that is operating in this country,” recalls Ms. Rosa M. Palau.

There could be no doubts that the United States is trying to solidify its military and economic presence in this region, antagonizing progressive neighboring nations like Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina.

The US presence in Paraguay consists of the military and air force bases, and of surveillance bases used for spying on the countries of the region.

As clearly shown in the “Archives of Terror”, the US has, historically, great links with both Paraguayan elites and its military; links that have been used for torturing, assassinating and imprisoning tens of thousands of South American patriots.

The US is regularly conducting secretive operations, particularly in the areas near Bolivian border, and also in the space where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet.

There is already a huge US military air force base in Mariscal Estigarribia, Paraguay, which is located just 200 kilometers from the border with Bolivia and may be utilized by the US military in case that there is a US-backed coup against the socialist government of Evo Morales in Bolivia. That base is capable of housing over 16.000 troops. Near Mariscal Estigarribia are Bolivia’s natural gas reserves, the second largest in Latin America. The area has also huge significance, as the Guarani Aquifer is one of the world’s largest reserves of water.

Two years ago, Nikolas Kozloff wrote for Al-Jazeera:

“Recently, a host of individuals and organizations throughout Latin America called attention to the tumultuous state of politics in Paraguay, where democratically elected President Fernando Lugo was impeached by the country’s Congress under somewhat dubious circumstances. In a letter of protest, the signatories sketched out a rather inflammatory theory. They claim, for example, that the US Southern Command wanted Lugo gone as the Paraguayan leader who had opposed US militarization in his country.

“We already know who overthrew Fernando Lugo and why,” they added. “El Chaco … cannot be allowed to belong to [Paraguay]… nor its people; [the region has] been bound for occupation and extraction by multinationals through megaprojects and terror financed with public resources. The coup in Paraguay, like similar ones throughout Latin America, was carried out by and for multinationals and their partners among the local elites.”

Fernando Lugo was not really a socialist. He was never in the same league with Chavez, Morales or Correa. He is a liberation theology priest, a former bishop. After he was deposed, he did not leave the country, eventually becoming a senator. But even his center-left government became intolerable for the US interests and for the Paraguayan ‘elites’.

Ms. Lilian Soto, former Presidential Candidate, and foremost Paraguayan socialist politician and feminist described to me unsettling political situation in her country:

“These days, in Paraguay, political leaders are defending interests of big businesses and their owners; consequently, they are ruling our country in a way that serves these interests and not the interests of Paraguayan people. These leaders are pushing for extreme consumerism, promoting deals that are serving interests of big multinational corporations, putting at risk our national sovereignty, allowing foreign military interventions, unleashing so-called ‘war against drugs,’ which turns itself into the excuse for the presence of the American armed forces in Paraguay. This radically reverses the relationship between the USA and Latin America, back to the point of direct military interventions, similar to what used to happen to Paraguay during the Cold War in the 70’s, when Paraguay used to be a pillar of the US aggression in the region.”


In the 1990’s, as a young journalist, I had witnessed several joint operations of the Paraguayan military and the agents of the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Twice I flew on board military helicopters to the border with Brazil, where several plants of marijuana were burned just for the lenses of us – foreign correspondents.

It was all a charade, but it was well orchestrated. “War on drugs” was always one of the main ‘justifications’ and covers for the US military presence in Paraguay.

Now “War on terror” is added to the list. In the tri-border region (Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil), around Ciudad del Este, several thousands of citizens of Syrian and Lebanese origin are accused of collecting funds for Hezbollah in Lebanon, an organization loved in Lebanon but hated in the West, consequently appearing on the US terrorist list. The US ‘feels obliged’ to monitor the situation.

In reality, what is at stake is the very independence of Latin America and its revolutions. The US is attempting to destabilize countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina, through cooperation with local ‘elites’, but also through its military bases in Colombia, Guyana and Paraguay.

In the process, millions of poor, mainly indigenous people, are being sacrificed.

Ms. Rosa M. Palau is lamenting:

“Here, again, poor people who are mostly indigenous are fully exposed, unprotected. We all know that the US is involved. On this rapidly changing continent, Paraguay is becoming an isolated country.” 

Welcome to Asuncion.

Archives of Horror – Chile section.

Hotel del Lago where Mengele used to live.

Lic. Rosa M. Palau, coordinator, archives of horror.

Similar to Jakarta – sidewalks of Asuncion.

Slums of Asuncion.

US military marching in Asuncion.

Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His latest books are: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire” and “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”.Discussion with Noam Chomsky: On Western Terrorism. Point of No Return is his critically acclaimed political novel. Oceania – a book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about Indonesia: “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. Andre is making films for teleSUR and Press TV. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and the Middle East. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

New York Times Carrying Water for Dubious MH-17 Downing Story

NYT Enforces Ukraine ‘Group Think’

  by Robert Parry - Consortium News

 July 23, 2015

It’s good that Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t substitute The New York Times’ editorial board for Sherlock Holmes in his stories because, if he had, none of the mysteries would have gotten solved or the wrong men would have gone to the gallows.

President Barack Obama talks with President Petro 
Poroshenko of Ukraine and Commerce Secretary 
Penny Pritzker following a bilateral meeting in 
the Oval Office, Sept. 18, 2014.
 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Thursday’s editorial on last year’s shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 reveals that the Times’ editors apparently find nothing suspicious about the dog-not-barking question of why the U.S. government has been silent for a full year about what its intelligence information shows.

This reticence of U.S. intelligence is especially suspicious given the fact that five days after the July 17, 2014 tragedy which killed 298 people, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence rushed out a “government assessment” citing “social media” and pointing the finger of blame at ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine and the Russian government.

But once U.S. intelligence analysts had time to evaluate the satellite photos, electronic intercepts and other data, the U.S. government went silent. The pertinent question is why, although that apparently is of no interest to the Times which aimed its editorial against Russia for seeking a more inclusive investigation, which the Times does find suspicious.

“On the face of it, that looks like an accommodating gesture from the government that is backing the Ukrainian separatists believed to have fired the fatal missile on July 17, 2014, and that probably supplied it to them. It’s not.

“The real goal of the draft resolution Russia proposed on Monday at the Security Council is to thwart a Dutch-led criminal investigation of what happened and a Western call for a United Nations-backed tribunal.”

So, the Times castigates the Russians for seeking to involve the United Nations Security Council and the International Civil Aviation Organization in the slow-moving Dutch-led inquiry, which includes the Ukrainian government, one of the possible suspects in the crime as one of the investigators. But the Times takes no notice of the curious silence of U.S. intelligence.

Appeal to Obama

If the Times really wanted to get at the truth about the MH-17 case, its editorial could have cited a public memo to President Barack Obama from an organization of former U.S. intelligence officials who urged the President on Wednesday to release the U.S.-held evidence.

“As the relationship with Moscow is of critical importance, if only because Russia has the military might to destroy the U.S., careful calibration of the relationship is essential,” wrote the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, a group first created to challenge the bogus intelligence used to justify President George W. Bush’s Iraq invasion in 2003.

The memo signed by 17 former officials, including Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, continued:

“If the United States signs on to a conclusion that implicates Russia without any solid intelligence to support that contention it will further damage an already fractious bilateral relationship, almost certainly unnecessarily. It is our opinion that a proper investigation of the downing would involve exploring every possibility to determine how the evidence holds up. …

“What is needed is an Interagency Intelligence Assessment – the mechanism used in the past to present significant findings. We are hearing indirectly from some of our former colleagues that the draft Dutch report contradicts some of the real intelligence that has been collected. …

“Mr. President, we believe you need to seek out honest intelligence analysts now and hear them out, particularly if they are challenging or even opposing the prevailing group-think narrative. They might well convince you to take steps to deal more forthrightly with the shoot-down of MH-17 and minimize the risk that relations with Russia might degenerate into a replay of the Cold War with the threat of escalation into thermonuclear conflict. In all candor, we suspect that at least some of your advisers fail to appreciate the enormity of that danger.”

Along the same lines, I was told by one source who was briefed by some current analysts that the reason for the year-long U.S. silence was that the evidence went off in an inconvenient direction, toward a rogue element of the Ukrainian government, rather than reaffirming the rush-to-judgment by Secretary of State John Kerry and DNI James Clapper implicating the ethnic Russian rebels in the days after the shoot-down.

According to Der Spiegel, the German intelligence agency, the BND, had a somewhat different take but also concluded that the Russian government did not supply the Buk anti-aircraft missile suspected of shooting down the passenger jet. Der Spiegel reported that the BND believed the rebels used a missile battery captured from Ukrainian forces.

Yet, whatever the truth about those intelligence tidbits, it is clear that the U.S. intelligence community has a much greater awareness of what happened to MH-17 – and who was responsible – than it did on July 22, 2014, when the DNI issued the sketchy report. [See’s “MH-17 Case Slips into Propaganda Fog.”]

No Update for You

When I asked a DNI spokeswoman on July 17, the first anniversary of the shoot-down, if I could get an update on the U.S. intelligence analysis, she refused, claiming that the U.S. government didn’t want to prejudice the Dutch-led investigation. But, I pointed out, the DNI had already done that with the July 22, 2014 report.

I also argued that historically investigations into airline disasters have been transparent, not opaque like this one, and that the American public had an overarching right to know what the U.S. intelligence community knew about the MH-17 case given the existential threat of a possible nuclear showdown with Russia. But the DNI’s office held firm in its refusal to provide an update.

The New York Times’ editorial board could have lent its voice to this need for openness. Instead, the Times used the prime opinion-leading real estate of its editorial page to demand obeisance to Official Washington’s prevailing group think on the Ukraine crisis, that everything is the fault of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The editorial stated:

“Throughout it all, President Vladimir Putin … has blamed Ukrainian ‘fascists’ manipulated by the United States and its allies for all the troubles in Ukraine. Nobody outside Russia believes this, and the Russians themselves make little effort to conceal their extensive military support for the separatists. …
“The relatives of the people who died on the Malaysian airliner, most of whom were Dutch, deserve answers and justice. There is little question that Russia will block any tribunal. But the Security Council should not be fooled into believing that the Russian counterproposals are an honorable alternative, any more than anyone should be fooled by any of Mr. Putin’s lies about Russia’s military interference in Ukraine.”

The Times’ strident editorial bordered on the hysterical as if the newspaper was frightened that it was losing control of the permissible narrative derived from its profoundly biased coverage of the Ukraine crisis from its beginning in February 2014 when a U.S.-backed coup overthrew the democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych.

The Times also put the word “fascists” in quotes – presumably to suggest that Ukrainian brown shirts are just one of Putin’s delusions. The Times insisted that “nobody outside Russia believes this” suggesting that if you take note of the key role played by Ukraine’s neo-Nazis, you belong in Russia since “nobody outside Russia” would believe such a thing.

Yet, even the Times’ own correspondents have on occasion had no choice but to describe a central reality of the Ukraine crisis – that neo-Nazi and other ultranationalist militias provided the muscle for the February 2014 coup and have served as the point of the spear against ethnic Russians in the east who have resisted the U.S.-backed coup regime.

Just this month, Times correspondent Andrew E. Kramer reported on the front-line fighting in which the Kiev government has pitted the neo-Nazi Azov battalion and Islamic militants (some of whom have been described as “brothers” of the Islamic State) against the ethnic Russian rebels. [See’s “Ukraine Merges Nazis and Islamists.”]

The neo-Nazis and ultranationalists also have squared off against Ukrainian police and politicians, including firefights and protest marches demanding President Petro Poroshenko’s removal, as reported by the BBC. [Also see’s “The Mess that Nuland Made.”]

But deviation from the “it’s all Putin’s fault” group think infuriates the Times’ editors into chanting something like the “go back to Russia” insult directed at Americans in the 1960s and 1970s who criticized the Vietnam War. It is just that sort of anti-intellectual conformity that now dominates the debate over Ukraine.

And, unlike Sherlock Holmes who had the astuteness to unlock the mystery of the “Silver Blaze” by noting the dog not barking, the Times editors ignore the curious reticence of the U.S. government in refusing to update its “assessment” of the MH-17 crash. If the editors really wanted to know the truth and achieve some real accountability, the Times would have joined in demanding that the Obama administration end its suspicious silence.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

Fossil Fuel Divestment Rally Greets Council Motion

Climate Action Rally for Fossil Fuel Divestment in Victoria

by Divest Victoria

Victoria, BCIn the hours before today’s momentous city council meeting, citizens of Victoria will be rallying at City Hall to pressure the Municipal Government to take city dollars out of fossil fuel investments.

Mayor and council will then be debating and voting on Victoria’s first ever motion concerning fossil fuel divestment.

Award winning Canadian artist, author and activist, Franke James, will display her artwork and give one of the speeches at the event, which starts at 6pm.

In the lead up to the July 23rd event, Victoria residents have been voicing their concerns about widespread droughts, rampant forest fires and climate change, as well as their support for taking municipal dollars out of fossil fuel companies.

Listen. Hear.

Tristan Ryan, an organizer for Divest Victoria and Divest UVic, spoke to city council earlier this month stating,

“We are not going to reduce our footprint overnight, but we can reduce our complicity, and we can give young, engaged people some faith that participating in formal systems can actually make a difference.”

The idea of divestment already has traction with some members of Victoria City Council. Earlier this year, Councillors Isitt and Loveday hosted a packed townhall event on the ethical investing of public funds.

"The City of Victoria should lead the way, it's time to ensure that our public dollars are being invested socially and environmentally responsibly" said Councillor Jeremy Loveday.

Laurel Collins, an instructor at the University of Victoria in social justice studies, applauded the mayor and council for considering taking the initial steps towards fossil fuel divestment. But she also urged the council “to commit to full divestment of the city’s financial services, investments and pensions... [and] to commit to seeking reinvestment strategies acting with the direction and consideration of Indigenous communities.”

Mayor Helps and Councillors Isitt and Loveday put forward the July 23rd motion. If passed, Council would appeal to the Municipal Finance Authority, the Municipal Pension Plan, the Union of BC Municipalities and the Provincial Government to explore mechanisms for municipalities to divest from fossil fuels. Later this year, Helps, Loveday and Isitt plan to bring forward a motion to align the City's procurement of financial services with principles of the divestment movement.

The fossil fuel divestment movement has recently had global recognition with high profile endorsements from the Pope, Barack Obama, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, as well as Al Gore and Naomi Klein. Hundreds of institutions, foundations, and individuals, including the Rockefellers and the Church of England, have joined the divestment movement, with commitments for more than $50 billion in assets that will be divested from fossil fuels.


July 23, 2015

For further information, please contact:

Laurel Collins, Divest Victoria

Jeremy Loveday, Victoria City Council

Divest Victoria is a grassroots community organization made up of local residents who are concerned about climate change and who are advocating for the City of Victoria to focus municipal dollars in social responsible investments.



Twitter: @DivestVictoria, #DivestVictoria

Laurel Collins
Instructor - Social Justice Studies & Sociology
PhD Candidate - Interdisciplinary Studies
PO Box 3050 STN CSC
University of Victoria, V8W 3P5
Unceded Coast Salish and Straits Salish Territories

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Can an Arab-Iranian Reconciliation Grow from Nuclear Deal?

A Chance for Arab-Iranian Reconciliation: An Opportunity in the Iran Nuclear Deal

by Ramzy Baroud -

The Americans have taken the Shia Muslim side in the Middle East’s sectarian war,” declared Robert Fisk in the “Independent” newspaper on July 15, a day after the US and five major world powers reached a landmark agreement with Iran about its nuclear programs.

Fisk’s proclamation is quite cursory. Aside from the fact that he is accepting the premise that the war in the Middle East is essentially sectarian, he implies that the Americans are purposely facilitating their policies based on sectarian agendas. They are not.

The fundamentals of American foreign policy approach have not changed. In the Middle East, it is governed by two overriding variables: one, economic – oil, gas, and strategic control and influence over countries that produce such essentials to the US and global economy – and Israel. Unlike other US allies in the region, Israel has managed to break away from the role of client regime into a party that has tremendous influence over US policies. Between powerful lobbies and an obedient US Congress, the likes of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have made Israel a top American priority.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Although Netanyahu has angled for war against Iran, supported by numerous allies within the Republican and Democratic Party – propelled by lobby perks and pressure, and a huge media apparatus – his wish is yet to come true. In fact, according to the 100-page-plus agreement of July 14, that wish is, perhaps, suspended for at least another 10 years as Iran has agreed to curb its nuclear capabilities and to allow international monitoring, in exchange for the lifting of US-led UN sanctions which have greatly harmed the Iranian economy.

Despite the saber-rattling, the fiery speeches and all the chest-thumping that has lasted for many years, Israel has lost its battle to lead another regional war against a formidable enemy in the Middle East. Israel has hoped for a repeat to the Iraq war scenario, which was almost a blueprint of Israel’s current attitude towards Iran: starting with the handy discourse of Iraq/Iran being an existential threat, Saddam/Ahmadinejad being another Hitler, the humiliating inspections of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that never existed, to the invasion, the civil war, and all the calamities that have happened since then.

However, the US is not above reproach either. The war on Iran was, and remains, a staple in US media. They paint the same horrifying image about Iran as they did Iraq prior to the invasion which resulted in the destruction of the country, and now, consequently, the region.

That destruction suited Israel well, of course, since another obstacle was removed from Israel’s path towards regional dominance. Meanwhile, though, Iran expectedly rushed to secure post-invasion Iraq as an ally, not a springboard for a potential US invasion.

Iran succeeded in mending fences with Baghdad, but that success was at a great price for Iraq since it undermined its sovereignty and spread the seeds of sectarianism within Iraq. The rise of a pro-Iran Shia-dominated Government in Iraq was initially welcomed, if not partly facilitated by the US, which led a campaign of ‘De-Ba’athification’ of Iraq. That, essentially, meant the dismantling of the Sunni centers of powers, creating a vacuum that was naturally filled by empowered Shia militias, armed and trained by both Iran and the US.

Fearing an empowered Iran, the US policies in Iraq eventually shifted to create a more balanced political equation, by arming Sunni tribes in the hope that they would fight not only the rising influence of extremist groups but also homegrown Iraqi Resistance. The plan worked to an extent, but al-Sahwat tribal Sunni militias soon found themselves at odds with Shia groups and were isolated, eventually targeted by their own Sunni communities for what was understood as an act of treason.

The American sectarian experiment in Iraq and the whole region never truly ceased even long after the troop ‘surge’ of George W. Bush, which, arguably, laid the groundwork for withdrawal under the presidency of Barak Obama.

Working with Iran and against Iran simultaneously has been a trademark American policy, itself symptomatic of American opportunistic foreign policy. For the US, it is a matter that goes beyond Sunni and Shia, into exploiting existing differences, which the Americans themselves hyped and manipulated.

Although deep theological divides do exist between the Sunni and Shia, the conflict is essentially political, and the Americans never hesitate in exploiting the existing fault lines in the region (or any region for that matter) for political purposes, no matter how devastating the outcome is in terms of destruction and death toll.

There should be little confusion that the rise of the so-called ‘Islamic State’ was a direct outcome of US meddling combined with the astounding degree of irresponsibility exhibited by its allies and foes in the region. It should have been clear to everyone, including US Gulf allies, that the US does not base its alliances and conflicts on ethical grounds. It is not a matter of honor but sheer self-interest.

Obama, who in a recent interview with New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, praised both Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon for their pragmatic foreign policies – in his defense, he also highlighted differences – which truly showed how little respect he has for his Arab allies in addition to a lack of respect for Iran, as well. He boasted about leading the world to set up a “sanction regime that crippled the Iranian economy and ultimately brought them to the table,” as if collective punishment for political purposes is a virtuous act.

On one hand, Iran proved durable and resourceful, while US allies could not affect the desired change they set out to achieve – regime change in Syria, stabilizing the region following the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, and so on. Israel, on the other hand, has showed itself to be a liability to its major ally, as its rightwing government and society exist in a world of paranoia and wars with horrible consequences. Meanwhile, ‘ISIS’ was gaining ground at a frightening speed, carving a country for itself between Iraq and Syria.

Considering US financial woes and lack of military appetite, Obama desperately needed a deal with Iran. The US foreign policy in the Middle East has lost every sense of direction for years. It seemed to have no clear purpose, aside from fighting for political relevance and it was marred with contradictions. With time, it became indefinable, a fact that historians will find difficult to expound or explain.

The US is, perhaps, hoping that the next ten-year truce with Iran will allow it to realign its foreign policies to cope with the region’s momentous conflicts, beginning with the crisis of democracy and going on to the rise of ‘ISIS’. A decade is long enough, from a US politics viewpoint, to co-opt Iran and/or for Washington to regain its Middle East initiative. At best, it will defer the problem to a later date.

However, both Iran and its Arab foes could, in fact, see this as an opportunity. Instead of waiting for the cunning US to regroup and re-adapt to strike more division, Arabs and Iran should understand that it is, ultimately, their countries and peoples who will continue to suffer the consequences of war, sanctions, divisions and extremism.

By his own admission, in his Freidman’s interview, Obama stated that the US was hardly affected by the sanctions on Iran, although others greatly suffering as a result of the economic siege. This is true in all aspects of US relations with the region. It is, in fact, Arabs and Iranians, Muslims and Christian, Sunni and Shia and other groups who are truly suffering the bitterness of conflict.

Thus, it is time for Arabs and Iran to realize that their rivalry is fundamentally hollow, and dominance over a broken, disastrous region is, essentially, frivolous. The Iran nuclear deal should usher in an opportunity for rapprochement among all countries in the region. Iran is an important country that cannot be eternally designated as a ‘threat’, but it cannot survive on its own in a hostile region, either, for geopolitical and also cultural reasons.

To appease angry Netanyahu, the US Government has reportedly agreed to provide Israel with $1.5 billion of additional weapons and military supplies per year. This is an indication that the US regional policies have not changed in the least, and it is up to the region itself to confront the US militaristic and conflict-driven policies.

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is:

Picked Up Messages from Last Centuries

Requiem for the Home Front: A Cheer for Irma the Caricaturist

by Tom Engelhardt - TomDispatch

Almost three quarters of a century ago, my mother placed a message in a bottle and tossed it out beyond the waves. It bobbed along through tides, storms, and squalls until just recently, almost four decades after her death, it washed ashore at my feet. I’m speaking metaphorically, of course. Still, what happened, even stripped of the metaphors, does astonish me. So here, on the day after my 71st birthday, is a little story about a bottle, a message, time, war (American-style), my mom, and me.

Recently, based on a Google search, a woman emailed me at the website I run, TomDispatch, about a 1942 sketch by Irma Selz that she had purchased at an estate sale in Seattle. Did it, she wanted to know, have any value?

Now, Irma Selz was my mother and I answered that, to the best of my knowledge, the drawing she had purchased didn’t have much monetary value, but that in her moment in New York City -- we’re talking the 1940s -- my mom was a figure. She was known in the gossip columns of the time as “New York’s girl caricaturist.” Professionally, she kept her maiden name, Selz, not the most common gesture in that long-gone era and a world of cartoonists and illustrators that was stunningly male. 
Tomgram: Engelhardt, A Message in a Bottle from My Mother

[Note for TomDispatch Readers:& This website has paid special attention to the crucial role of the whistleblower in an era when so much about our government’s operations has been made secret and a fierce campaign against such figures is ongoing. So I take particular pride in the fact that the Whistle Blower Summit has given me (and so TomDispatch) its 2015 award in print journalism. In reality, that award belongs to figures like Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and Peter Van Buren, the State Department whistleblower who writes regularly for this site. Their urge to let the American people know what their government has been doing in their name couldn’t be more important. But in their stead, I’m proud to accept it. Tom]

Requiem for the Home Front: 

A Cheer for Irma the Caricaturist

by Tom Engelhardt

From the 1930s through the 1940s, she drew theatrical caricatures for just about every paper in town: the Herald Tribune, the New York Times, the Journal-American,PM, the Daily News, the Brooklyn Eagle, not to speak of King Features Syndicate. She did regular “profile” illustrations for the New Yorker and her work appeared in magazines like Cue, Glamour, Town & Country, and the American Mercury. In the 1950s, she drew political caricatures for the New York Post when it was a liberal rag, not a Murdoch-owned right-wing one.

Faces were her thing; in truth, her obsession. By the time I made it to the breakfast table most mornings, she would have taken pencil or pen to the photos of newsmakers on the front page of the New York Times and retouched the faces. In restaurants, other diners would remind her of stock characters -- butlers, maids, vamps, detectives -- in the Broadway plays she had once drawn professionally. Extracting a pen from her purse, she would promptly begin sketching those faces on the tablecloth (and in those days, restaurants you took kids to didn’t have paper tablecloths and plenty of crayons). I remember this, of course, not for the remarkable mini-caricatures that resulted, but for the embarrassment it caused the young Tom Engelhardt. Today, I would give my right arm to possess those sketches-on-cloth. In her old age, walking on the beach, my mother would pick up stones, see in their discolorations and indentations the same set of faces, and ink them in, leaving me all these years later with boxes of fading stone butlers.

She lived in a hard-drinking, hard-smoking world of cartoonists, publicists, journalists, and theatrical types (which is why when “Mad Men” first appeared on TV and no character ever seemed to lack a drink or cigarette, it felt so familiar to me). I can still remember the parties at our house, the liquor consumed, and at perhaps the age of seven or eight, having Irwin Hasen, the creator of Dondi, a now-largely-forgotten comic strip about a World War II-era Italian orphan, sit by my bedside just before lights-out. There, he drew his character for me on tracing paper, while a party revved up downstairs. This was just the way life was for me. It was, as far as I knew, how everyone grew up. And so my mother’s occupation and her preoccupations weren’t something I spent much time thinking about.

I would arrive home, schoolbag in hand, and find her at her easel -- where else did mothers stay? -- sketching under the skylight that was a unique attribute of the New York apartment we rented all those years. As a result, to my eternal regret I doubt that, even as an adult, I ever asked her anything about her world or how she got there, or why she left her birth city of Chicago and came to New York, or what drove her, or how she ever became who and what she was. As I’m afraid is often true with parents, it’s only after their deaths, only after the answers are long gone, that the questions begin to pile up.

She was clearly driven to draw from her earliest years. I still have her childhood souvenir album, including what must be her first professionally published cartoon. She was 16 and it was part of an April 1924 strip called “Harold Teen” in the Chicago Daily Tribune, evidently about a young flapper and her boyfriend. Its central panel displayed possible hairdos (“bobs”) for the flapper, including “the mop,” “the pineapple bob,” and the “Buster Brown bob.” A little note under it says, “from sketches by Irma Madelon Selz.” (“Madelon” was not the way her middle name was spelled, but it was the spelling she always loved.) She would later go on to do theatrical sketches and cartoons for the Tribune before heading for New York.

I still have her accounts book, too, and it’s sad to see what she got paid, freelance job by freelance job, in the war years and beyond by major publications. This helps explain why, in what for so many Americans were the Golden Fifties -- a period when my father was sometimes unemployed -- the arguments after I was officially “asleep” (but of course listening closely) were so fierce, even violent, over the bills, the debts, and how to pay for what “Tommy” needed. But other than such memories and the random things my mother told me, I know so much less than I would like to about her.

“A Lady Drew It for Me”

As I turn 71 -- two years older than my mother when she died -- I can’t tell you how moved I was to have a small vestige of her life from the wartime moments before my birth wash ashore. What my correspondent had bought in that estate sale -- she later sent me a photo of it -- was a quick portrait my mother did of a young man in uniform evidently being trained at the U.S. Coast Guard Machine School on Ellis Island (then occupied by that service). On it, my mother had written, “Stage Door Canteen” and signed it, as she did all her work, “Selz.” It was April 1942, the month of the Bataan Death March and Doolittle’s Raid on Tokyo. And perhaps that Coast Guardsman was soon to head to war. He signed my mother’s sketch “To Jean with all my love, Les” and sent it to his sweetheart or wife.

”Les" sketched by my mother at the 
Stage Door Canteen on April 20, 1942.

Later that April night in the midst of a great global war, Les wrote a letter to Jean in distant Seattle -- the framed sketch from that estate sale contained the letter -- filled with longing, homesickness, and desire. (“Well, I see it is time for the ferry, so I will have to close and dream about you, and can I dream. Oh boy.”) And here’s how he briefly described the encounter with my mother: “Well, I said I would send you a picture. Well, here it is. I was up to the Stage Door Canteen, a place for servicemen and a lady drew it for me.”

That institution, run by the American Theater Wing, first opened in the basement of a Broadway theater in New York City in March 1942. It was a cafeteria, dance hall, and nightclub all rolled into one, where servicemen could eat, listen to bands, and relax -- for free -- and be served or entertained by theatrical types, including celebrities of the era. It was a hit and similar canteens would soon open in other U.S. cities (and finally in Paris and London as well). It was just one of so many ways in which home-front Americans from every walk of life tried to support the war effort. In that sense, World War II in the United States was distinctly a people’s war and experienced as such.

My father, who volunteered for the military right after Pearl Harbor, at age 35, became a major in the Army Air Corps. (There was no separate U.S. Air Force in those years.) In 1943, he went overseas as operations officer for the First Air Commandos in Burma. In Terry and the Pirates, a popular comic strip -- cartoonists of every sort “mobilized” for the war -- his unit’s co-commander, Phil Cochran, became the character “Flip Corkin.” Strip creator Milton Caniff even put my father jokingly into a May 1944 strip using his nickname, “Englewillie,” and in 1967 gave him the original artwork. It was inscribed: “For Major ENGLEWILLIE himself... with a nostalgic backward nod toward the Big Adventure.”

My mother did her part. I’m sure it never occurred to her to do otherwise. It was the time of Rosie the Riveter and so Irma the Caricaturist lent a hand.

Here’s a description from her publisher -- she wrote and illustrated children’s books years later -- about her role at the Stage Door Canteen. “During the war, she was chairman of the Artist’s Committee of the American Theatre Wing. She helped plan the murals, which decorate the Stage Door Canteen and the Merchant Seaman’s Canteen. Miss Selz remembers setting up her easel and turning out caricatures of servicemen. Some nights she did well over a hundred of these skillful, quick line drawings and many servicemen still treasure their ‘portraits’ by Selz.”

My mother and father in front of a mural she painted for 
the Stage Door Canteen.

Imagine then that, on the April night when she drew Les, that “lady” might also have sketched another 100 or more soldiers and sailors, mementos to be sent home to family or sweethearts. These were, of course, portraits of men on their way to war. Some of those sketched were undoubtedly killed. Many of the drawings must be long gone, but a few perhaps still cherished and others heading for estate sales as the last of the World War II generation, that mobilized citizenry of wartime America, finally dies off.

From photos I have, it’s clear that my mom also sketched various servicemen and celebrities on the set of The Stage Door Canteen, the 1943 home-front propaganda flick Hollywood made about the institution. (If you watch it, you can glimpse a mural of hers at the moment Katharine Hepburn suddenly makes a cameo appearance.) In those years, my mother also seems to have regularly volunteered to draw people eager to support the war effort by buying war bonds. Here, for instance, is the text from a Bonwit Teller department store ad of November 16, 1944, announcing such an upcoming event: “Irma Selz, well-known newspaper caricaturist of stage and screen stars, will do a caricature of those who purchase a $500 War Bond or more.”

Bonwit Teller ad -- my mother "at war."

While my father was overseas, she also mobilized in the most personal of ways. Every month, she sent him a little hand-made album of her own making (“Willie’s Scrap-Book, The Magazine for Smart Young Commandos”). Each of them was a remarkably intricate mix of news, theatrical gossip, movie ads, pop quizzes, cheesecake, and cartoons, as well as often elaborate caricatures and sketches she did especially for him. In the “March 1944 Annual Easter Issue,” she included a photo of herself sketching under the label “The Working Class.”

I still have four of those “scrap-books.” To my mind, they are small classics of mobilized wartime effort at the most personal level imaginable. One, for instance, included -- since she was pregnant at the time -- a double-page spread she illustrated of the future “me.” The first page was labeled “My daughter” and showed a little blond girl in a t-shirt and slacks with a baseball bat over her shoulder. (My mother had indeed broken her nose playing catcher in a youthful softball game.) The other is labeled “Your daughter” and shows a pink-cheeked blond girl with a giant pink bow in her curly hair, a frilly pink dress, and pink ballet slippers.

Inside one of those little magazines, there was even a tiny slip-out booklet on tracing paper labeled “A Pocket Guild to SELZ.” (“For use of military personnel only. Prepared by Special Service Division, Eastern Representative, Special Project 9, Washington, D.C.”) It began: “If you start worrying about what goes with Selz, here is your reference and pocket guide for any time of the day or night.” Each tiny page was a quick sketch, the first showing her unhappily asleep (“9. A.M.”), dreaming of enemy planes, one of which, in the second sketch (“10 A.M.”), goes down in flames as she smiles in her sleep. The micro-booklet ended with a sketch of her drawing a sailor at the Merchant Seaman’s Club and then, in front of the door of the Stage Door Canteen, heading for home (“11:30 P.M.”). “And so to bed” is the last line.

The cover of one of my mother’s "scrap-books" 
sent to my father at war.
I know that my father wrote back fervently, since I have a letter my mother sent him that begins: “Now to answer your three letters I received yest[erday]. No. 284, 285 & 289, written Apr. 26, 27, and 29th. It was such a relief to read a letter saying you’d had a pile of mail from me, at last, & also that the 1st of the Scrap-Books finally reached you, & better yet, that you enjoyed it.”

For both of them, World War II was their moment of volunteerism. From 1946 on, I doubt my parents ever again volunteered for anything.

People-less Wars

Here’s the strange thing: the wars never ended, but the voluntarism did. Think of it this way: there were two forces of note on the home front in World War II, an early version of what, in future years, would become the national security state and the American people. The militarized state that produced a global triumph in 1945 emerged from that war emboldened and empowered. From that moment to the present -- whether you’re talking about the Pentagon, the military-industrial complex, the intelligence services, private contractors, special operations forces, or the Department of Homeland Security and the homeland-industrial complex that grew up around it post-9/11 -- it's been good times all the way.

In those seven decades, the national security state never stopped expanding, its power on the rise, its budgets ever larger, and democratic oversight weakening by the decade. In that same period, the American people, demobilized after World War II, never truly mobilized again despite the endless wars to come. The only exceptions might be in the Vietnam years and again in the brief period before the 2003 invasion of Iraq when massive numbers of Americans did mobilize, going voluntarily into opposition to yet one more conflict in a distant land.

And yet if its “victory weapon” robbed the planet of the ability to fight World War III and emerge intact, war and military action seemed never to cease on “the peripheries.” It was there, in the Cold War years, that the U.S. confronted the Soviet Union or insurgencies and independence movements of many sorts in covert as well as open war. (Korea, Tibet, the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Libya, to name just the obvious ones.) After the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991, the wars, conflicts, and military actions only seemed to increase -- Panama, Grenada, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo, Iraq (and Iraq again and yet again), Afghanistan (again), Pakistan, Libya (again), Yemen, and so on. And that doesn’t even cover covert semi-war operations against Nicaragua in the 1980s and Iran since 1979, to name just two countries.

In the wake of World War II, wartime -- whether as a “cold war” or a “war on terror” -- became the only time in Washington. And yet, as the American military and the CIA were loosed in a bevy of ways, there was ever less for Americans to do and just about nothing for American civilians to volunteer for (except, of course, in the post-9/11 years, the ritualistic thanking of the troops). After Vietnam, there wouldn’t even be a citizens’ army that it was your duty to serve in.

In those decades, war, ever more “covert” and “elite,” became the property of the national security state, not Congress or the American people. It would be privatized, corporatized, and turned over to the experts. (Make what you will of the fact that, without an element of popular voluntarism and left to those experts, the country would never win another significant war, suffering instead one stalemate or defeat after another.)

My mother draws a soldier on the set of the movie The Stage Door Canteen.

In other words, when it comes to war, American-style, the 73 years since Irma Selz sketched that jaunty young Coast Guardsman at the Stage Door Canteen might as well be a millennium. Naturally enough, I’m nostalgic when it comes to my mother’s life. There is, however, no reason to be nostalgic about the war she and my father mobilized for. It was cataclysmic beyond imagining. It destroyed significant parts of the planet. It involved cruelty on all sides and on an industrial scale -- from genocide to the mass firebombing of cities -- that was and undoubtedly will remain unmatched in history. Given the war’s final weapon that took out Hiroshima and Nagasaki, such a war could never be fought again, not at least without destroying humanity and a habitable planet.

My mother welcomes me into a world still at war, 
July 20, 1944. My birth announcement drawn by "Selz.”

Nonetheless, something was lost when that war effort evaporated, when war became the property of the imperial state.

My mother died in 1977, my father on Pearl Harbor Day 1983. They and their urge to volunteer no longer have a place in the world of 2015. When I try to imagine Irma Selz today, in the context of America’s new wartime and its endless wars, conflicts, raids, and air assassination campaigns, I think of her drawing drones (or their operators) or having to visit a Special Operations version of a Stage Door Canteen so secret that no normal American could even know it existed. I imagine her sketching soldiers in units so “elite” that they probably wouldn’t even be allowed to send their portraits home to lovers or wives.

In these decades, we’ve gone from an American version of people’s war and national mobilization to people-less wars and a demobilized populace. War has remained a constant, but we have not and in our new 1% democracy, that’s a loss. Given that, I want to offer one small cheer, however belatedly, for Irma the Caricaturist. She mattered and she’s missed.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

[Note: I’d also like to offer a final salute to Henry Drewry, one of the last of the World War II generation in my life and one of the great ones. He died on November 21, 2014. Tom]

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Copyright 2015 Tom Engelhardt