US Court of Appeals upholds discriminatory ruling against transit ads critical of Israel

In a stunning 2-1 decision the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a discriminatory 2011 ruling in favor of King County Metro Transit’s refusal to run Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign (SeaMAC) bus ads “Israeli War Crimes: Your Tax Dollars at Work,” in violation of SeaMAC’s 1st amendment right to free speech. 

I spoke with SeaMAC’s Ed Mast on Friday and asked him what the group’s next move will be. Upbeat as always, even after waiting almost 3 years for the courts decision, he expressed they had not had time to plan their next move yet or talk to the ACLU who represented SeaMAC in the appeal of the 2011 ruling.

I asked Mast if doing nothing was an option. His response was swift and unwavering: “No. Not doing anything is not an option at all.”

The ongoing saga began when King County Metro approved SeaMAC’s ads in 2010 and then abruptly canceled the contract before the ads were displayed. The Metro claimed that threats of vandalism, including the warning that “Jews would take physical action” against the ads, could disrupt transit service. Since then the county metro system has claimed to take a “viewpoint neutral” policy of rejecting all ads relating to Israel/Palestine as part of an effort to ban debate of public issues in bus ads, but it undertook a “quiet policy change” to accommodate ads by Islamophobe Pamela Geller. The court’s decision supports this double standard which has in practice endorsed Geller’s views while censoring SeaMAC’s.

Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign (SeaMAC) ad on Portland’s TriMet buses with the slogan ISRAEL’S WAR CRIMES: YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK. (graphic: SeaMAC)

Mast doesn’t believe SeaMAC has been shown evenhanded treatment by the county:

“We have not been treated fairly by King County, since this case’s inception. King Country Metro has accepted ads by Pam Geller, and turned down another of our ads telling us it was factually incorrect which it is not. One particular ad, “The Palestinian Authority Is Calling for a Jew-Free State” is not a factual claim. We asked them ‘Show us what you have looked at’, and it was propaganda!  They ran it anyway.

We subsequently ran other ads, print ads with a Palestinian face, ‘Not allowed to ride on Israel segregated buses’ and they rejected it — said it was factually untrue and might cause disruption. We showed them Human Rights Watch reports, UN reports, B’tselm reports and they still rejected it. The courts have not treated us fairly either.”

The Los Angeles Times skewered the courts decision saying the “federal appeals court wrongly [has] ratified” the lower courts decision; “The 9th Circuit got this one wrong.” Citing dissenting Federal Judge Morgan Christen:

the majority “suggests the government may open and shut a forum, willy-nilly, in response to public uproar — a particularly dangerous precedent in light of modern technology.” Christen said the 9th Circuit should have sent the case back to the trial court to determine whether safety concerns supported the county’s action.


A transit agency isn’t required by the Constitution to sell advertising to proponents of various causes…But once an agency decides to turn its buses into public forums, the 1st Amendment prevents it from declaring an entire subject off-limits because it wants to avoid controversy. The 9th Circuit got this one wrong.

I asked Mast to address what the Times referenced as a “troubling aspect of the decision — a heckler’s veto” to shadowy protesters.” He responded asking why King County “took all those supposed threats, quotes, as credible but not credible enough to investigate or take any law enforcement action. They are applying their own rules unfairly, randomly, and unequally.  We’ve seen law enforcement take action against a lot less. Currently we have ads running in 3 other cities without disruption.”

Mast concluded, “This is bad for free speech and bad for Palestine. They, the courts, have no business making decisions when there are still factual disputes with King County. They are in the wrong side of history. We think King County has a lot to answer for, the court is letting them off the hook but we’re not.”


Apartheid is no longer verboten word for Israel in ‘NYT’ and ‘CNN’

Nine years ago when Jimmy Carter said that Israel was imposing apartheid on Palestine, he was angrily grilled by Wolf Blitzer and Terry Gross on their influential TV/radio shows. The next thing Carter was wandering the moors like King Lear, and exiled from the Democratic Party.

Conditions haven’t changed much in apartheid Palestine since then, but a big change happened in Israel last week, the reelection of Benjamin Netanyahu, and suddenly the apartheid label is no longer verboten in our mainstream media. I saw the word apartheid on the front page of the International New York Times the other day on my plane coming home: it was printed in the reefer (bottom left hand corner promotion) of Yousef Munayyer’s op-ed piece saying Netanyahu’s victory is good for Palestine. In the piece, Munayyer stated bluntly that Israel is an apartheid state:

the political dynamics in Israel and internationally mean that another term with Mr. Netanyahu at the helm could actually hasten the end of Israel’s apartheid policies. The biggest losers in this election were those who made the argument that change could come from within Israel. It can’t and it won’t.

And yesterday on CNN, Rula Jebreal from Jerusalem told Michael Smerconish that Israel/Palestine is one state, and an apartheid state at that.

It’s already de facto a one state with separate sets of rights…  So we have an apartheid state on one hand [in Jerusalem and the West Bank] and I would say an ethnocracy rather than a democracy [in Israel].

Smerconish didn’t push back, though Aaron David Miller was visibly upset and tried to argue that you could have the two state solution again with a click of your fingers.

And look at this. James Besser was the longtime DC correspondent for Jewish newspapers. Now retired, he declares in Haaretz that Israel has chosen the path of apartheid.

In my quarter century as Washington correspondent for Jewish newspapers, I frequently defended Israel against charges that it had created an apartheid system in the West Bank. But this week’s election, with Benjamin Netanyahu poised to serve another term with an even more hardline coalition, means that apartheid is the path Israeli voters have chosen. The inevitable results will include even greater international isolation for the Jewish state, a boost to effortsto apply boycotts and sanctions, diminished support from American Jews and endlessly intensifying cycles of violence…

Because apartheid is apartheid, and that’s exactly what Israeli voters chose this week as a course for their nation.

This is a trend, folks. It is becoming fashionable to state the truth about the place in mainstream media, calling a spade a spade; and that is a very good thing indeed.

Thanks to Max Blumenthal: Jim Besser, the unofficial dean of Washington Jewish press corps, declares: “Israel chooses the path to apartheid”

World water day: how the poor pay more in west Africa – in pictures

For many people in west Africa, accessing water is a lot more complex than just turning on a tap. While wealthier communities may benefit from a relatively regular supply of clean water and adequate sanitation, people living in poorer areas are rarely connected to the subsidised network and end up paying more for a basic necessity. All photos by Tara Todras-Whitehill for WaterAid

Regulation – why should it be one rule for the press?

Political stings and welcome verdicts have given Fleet Street a pleasing few days, but it doesn’t detract from the case against self-regulation

Lord Leveson with his report.
Lord Leveson with his report. Papers fear a government-imposed style of regulation. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian


Fleet Street was feeling pretty pleased with itself at the weekend. Four Sun journalists had been found not guilty of bribing public officials after mounting a public interest defence that impressed the jury. Good. The Sunday Times won an important point in an appeal against a former Tory treasurer in a cash-for-access case. Excellent. Among other attacks on the political class, the press (the Sun again) made allegations of EU expenses fraud involving a Ukip MEP. Well done.

That’s what the press is for, as it keeps reminding its readers in its self-satisfied way. But let’s not get carried away, lads, as sections of the press are busy doing. “A victory for freedom,” thundered the Daily Mail in a tendentious double-page spread after the four acquittals. Behind its paywall, the Sun was understandably thrilled. Monday’sGuardian editorial is more measured.

But at the same time as exposing some dodgy practices, the newspapers are claiming to be cowed by a chilling factor – fear of a government-imposed Leveson style of regulation. They want the self-regulation they deplore for everyone else.

That list now includes judges, who the Sunday Times case suggests are not sufficiently robust in declaring personal interests that may influence their judgment. A shame it’s behind the paywall (Rupert needs the cash) because the paper’s now-it-can-be-revealed account of its efforts to expose judicial conflicts of interest (lots of judges have Tory backgrounds) is spectacular. So is its account of the original trial judge’s mistakes (his son, as well as his ex-MP brother, turns out to be a Tory politician). It seems he conflated quotes. Isn’t that what us hacks are supposed to do?

But in the election runup, the rightwing press are also doing something more systemic and democratically more dangerous. In their determination to help David Cameron stay in power (despite his problems with ex-treasurer, Peter Cruddas) they are trying to persuade voters that the political parties are “all as bad as each other” in accepting donations from dubious sources or in rule-bending ways. This is not true and it needs constantly to be repeated.

Ed Miliband may have his occasional problem with a hedge fund donor and threats from Unite’s leader, Len McCluskey. Nick Clegg may have ended up on the Sunday Times front page (paywall) for telling a supporter he could retain his anonymity by splitting his modest £10k donation over two years.

The minor parties have their financial wobbles too in a system which ordinary voters won’t fund via membership subs or taxes, but don’t like seeing rich men filling the gap. The fact that they want to raise taxes on the rich makes it harder to get their donations. That might even be seen as admirable in the present climate.

But this is – and always has been – primarily a problem for the party of the rich. Long before Sunday’s Observer shone an academic spotlight on donations and peerages (for which Tony Blair was wrongly hounded by a dubious police probe), the future Lord Rothermere famously remarked: “When I want a peerage I will buy one like an honest man.”

The four Sun journalists who were acquitted of bribing public officials.

The four Sun journalists who were acquitted of bribing public officials. Photograph: Various

Guess which paper his family still owns? It’s a Tory democracy v plutocracy problem, as the plutocratic press knows all too well. Talking of which, another detail which gets overlooked in the excitement – Roy Greenslade acknowledges it here in passing – is that the Sun quartet would never have been charged if Rupert Murdoch’s henchfolk hadn’t handed over mountains of emails to the Met police in their very belated investigation into the (unrelated) phone-hacking scandal.

Rupert wept crocodile tears at the betrayal (it’s what crocodiles do) of his foot soldiers, but the deed was done to save his corporate skin in the US where they take fewer prisoners. This detail doesn’t get much play though its victims (sources betrayed and jailed too) are privately bitter at the sellout. There’s a layered irony in tabloids complaining about high-profile arrests, the sanctity of source protection and set-ups, but let’s leave it for now.

The Guardian’s Lisa O’Carroll sets out the Sun complex bribery case here including the extraordinary fact emerging from the two-month trial that the journalists did not realise that paying coppers or press officers bungs for information might be a criminal offence. I think I knew and I’ve never paid anyone. Having to compete with tabloid cheque book journalism (most of it legal if exploitative) is part of a broadsheet hack’s life.

But in Operation Elveden’s series of trials few tabloid journalists among the hundred or so arrested have gone before juries and there have been even fewer convictions, though some cash-for-information sources have been convicted, even jailed. More trials and even retrials are in the pipeline at the Crown Prosecution Service.

Is it a costly police and CPS witch-hunt against Fleet Street to make amends for egregious Met police failings (and complicity in the cover-up) during the phone-hacking era, newspapers and their mostly Tory supporters in parliament ask? That feeds the narrative that snooty lawyers (again evident in the Sun case), Lord Justice Leveson, vengeful politicians in all parties, lefty papers like the Guardian and campaigns like Hacked Off are trying to stifle a boisterous free press.

It’s a caricature, of course. No, the critics don’t get it all right. For instance, it is now clearer that the Sun – not least under the guidance of the newly-acquitted John Kay, a charismatic and admired colleague with an interesting CV – decided not to go down the road taken by its sister paper, the News of the World (also abandoned by Murdoch’s skin-savers), into phone hacking despite having to compete, we now all know, with its daily rivals at the Mirror who were up to their boots in it.

Sensible people have no qualms about the Guardian’s focus on what was then News International, Murdoch’s UK flagship which owned (and closed) the NoW because of the scale of the cover-up, police complicity and the politically complex background to the Murdoch global operation and its ways of doing business with governments from here to Beijing.

But the evolving Mirror case now in the courts is serious too. Let’s hope it’s not financially fatal. The Mirror may not be in its prime, but Labour is short of support in the media and the Mirror is its most loyal backer.

Nor does that excuse the Mail from repeating on Saturday the canard that it was Cameron’s decision “to take Andy Coulson (ex-NoW editor) into Downing Street” in 2010 which prompted the Guardian to pursue the phone-hacking affair to get at the Tories. It’s what Coulson believes – he told me so himself once – but it’s not true.

Why not? Because Nick Davies had long been working on the hacking scandal and cover-up – his first stories appeared before the 2010 election, with Murdoch’s power more in the frame than mere politicians. Moreover the Guardian privately warned Cameron’s office that Coulson, then his press adviser in opposition, was seriously compromised and that he should not take him into No 10.

So it was more generous to a political opponent than the Mail was when it unearthed conman Peter Foster’s conning of Cherie Blair. But Fleet Street needs to denigrate the Guardian’s campaign to justify its own position on press regulation.

So it also routinely states that the Guardian’s story about hacking Millie Dowler’s phone – her family’s too – was wrong because Surrey police (I can only assume they were the original source) later conceded the NoW might not – they could not prove it either way – have deleted Millie’s messages (an important detail in outraging public opinion in 2011).

But they DID hack the phones and Murdoch, not a sentimental man, did apologise and pay out millions to the distraught Dowlers. Why does this matter? Because the press regulation battle may have gone quiet in the runup to the election, but it is not over.Sir Alan Moses, a respected ex-judge, chairs the media’s own beefed-up regulator, but is unlikely to put up with the kind of insider manipulation which characterised the old regime.

We’ll see, but if the press wants doctors, hospitals and everyone else to have better independent regulation (greater transparency of private interests of judges too, it now seems) then everyone else is entitled to ask “ you too?”

DEEP WEB – Dark Net & Silk Road

By TheLipTV

DEEP WEB is the documentary that explores the Dark Net, Silk Road, and the arrest of Ross Ulbricht. We look at the film trailer and hear from director Alex Winter and Ulbricht’s mother, Lyn Ulbricht, about the miscarriage of justice going on against the advocates of the dark net. How the Prison Industrial Complex, the War on Drugs, and the vanquishing of online privacy is colliding to imprison Ross Ulbricht, plus the future of the Dark Net, and the human face of the struggle for internet freedom is explored in this BYOD interview, hosted by Ondi Timoner at the 2015 SXSW Festival.

Modern American Apartheid, Insidious and Undeclared

Economic and Social Crisis in Post Apartheid South Africa

The infamous era of apartheid in South Africa shares a strikingly parallel path with racial apartheid in present day America. One is globally notorious, the other sophisticated and subtle. 

Economic historians increasingly agree that racial economic inequality in America is worse than it was at any period in ancient Rome, or in slaveholding, colonial America during the late 18th century, or at the height of apartheid in South Africa.

South Africa’s apartheid regime is remembered as one of the worst crimes against humanity of the 20th century.

Today, America is exhibiting many of the racial excesses of apartheid South Africa: extreme racial income inequality, apartheid schools, a racialised for-profit prison system, institutionally racist police practices, and residential re-segregation.

Residential apartheid is, without question, at the heart of the U.S. system of racial oppression. For almost a century, America has been racially divided into two societies: one, predominantly black and poor, located in the inner cities; the other, largely white and affluent, located in the suburbs. White Americans have kept their residential neighborhoods white since roughly 1920. Initially, by simply murdering African-Americans trying to move in.

Then, the black ghetto was created by whites during the first half of the twentieth century in order to isolate growing urban black populations. Historian Kenneth B. Clark explains how:

“the dark ghetto’s invisible walls have been erected by the white society, by those who have power, both to confine those who have no power and to perpetuate their powerlessness. They are social, political, educational, and above all-economic colonies.”

American residential apartheid operated through a sophisticated patchwork system of racial non-laws and non-racial laws. Whites looking to keep their neighborhoods white knew that they could not rely on overt racial laws, so they relied on racial non-laws, such as restrictive covenants which restrict people of a certain race from moving into a given neighborhood. Then, you have the non-racial laws, such as zoning and mortgage supports. These laws are technically non-racial in the books, but have often been implemented in racial ways. Martin Luther King Jr. described these laws as camouflaged segregation that form a “system of internal colonialism.”

Despite the Fair Housing Act of 1968, segregation is perpetuated today through an interlocking set of individual actions, institutional practices, and governmental policies. A Harvard University report on intergenerational mobility in the United States illustrates how one’s Zip Code trumps talent when determining a child’s future prospects. Despite social mobility and the American dream being nationwide ideals, ultimately, in apartheid America, the geographical and racial happenstance of one’s birth is the key determinant of a child’s future success.
The residential apartheid system used in South Africa was based on the native reservation system, first used by the American government. At a stroke, the passing of the Natives Land Act on 19 June 1913 saw the majority of South African land reserved for whites, or Europeans. Just 7 percent of agricultural land was set aside on reserves for blacks, despite Africans being 70 percent of the population.

Much like residential apartheid in America today, this Act created a self-fulfilling, downward spiral of poverty and degradation, which white segments of society point at in order to justify ongoing residential re-segregation.

Residential segregation inevitably creates apartheid schools. Six decades after the U.S. Supreme Court determined that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional in the landmark ruling Brown vs. Board of Education, we are witnessing the precipitous re-segregation of America’s schools.

Black students are the most likely racial group to attend what researchers call “apartheid schools”, which Harvard’s Civil Rights Project describes as “virtually all non-white, with higher concentrations of poverty, much lower test scores, less-experienced teachers, and limited resources.”

South African anti-apartheid hero Steve Biko once remarked that “the most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” Apartheid in South Africa sought to create apartheid schools and utilize the education system as means of racial control and demobilization by establishing the Bantu Education Act. The Act ensured that black South Africans could not aspire to greatness, and they could be nothing more than cheap fuel for the highly profitable machine of Apartheid.

Impunity for white policemen and vigilantes who kill Blacks is yet another commonality between apartheid South Africa and modern American apartheid. Today, in the free and democratic United States, a black man will be killed every 28 hours by police, security guards or self-appointed vigilantes.

Black South Africans were only viewed as useful by the apartheid regime to the extent that they could provide cheap labour. The regime even enacted “pass laws” which required blacks to produce employment documents for any white person, police officer and 10-year-old white children alike.

One can clearly see parallels between the draconian “pass law” measure and the “stop-and-frisk” policies employed by the New York City Police Department. Latinos and Blacks make up 84 percent of all those stopped, although they make up respectively 29 and 23 percent of New York City’s population. Furthermore, statistics show that NYPD officers are far more likely to use physical force against Blacks and Latinos during stops.

The “stop-and-frisk” policy is an excellent example of an ineffective policy that, under the guise of upholding public safety, actively violates the rights of already disempowered communities of color.

The United States right now incarcerates more African-Americans as a percentage than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.
A Senate hearing on the Federal Bureau of Prisons reported that the American prison population hovered around 25,000 throughout the 1900s, until the 1980′s when America suddenly experienced a massive increase in the inmate population to over a quarter million. The cause was Ronald Reagan’s War on Drugs which intentionally, and disproportionately targeted blacks.

Historian Michelle Alexander illustrates how the drug war was part of a grand and highly successful Republican party strategy of using racially coded political appeals on issues of crime and welfare to attract poor and working-class white voters who were resentful of, and threatened by, desegregation and affirmative action.

Today, statistics show that white youth are more likely to use illegal drugs than black youth. Yet in some states, African Americans comprise eighty to ninety percent of all imprisoned drug offenders. Blacks are arrested for minor drug offenses because it is big business: there is the drug testing industry, prosecutors, police, lawyers, rehabilitation therapists, psychologists, parole officers, etc.

For decades, the African-American crime rate has been falling but black imprisonment rates have consistently soared. Aside from the War on Drugs, the rise in prison population may have another less publicized cause: gradual privatization of the prison industry, with its profits-over-justice motives. If the beds aren’t filled, states are required to pay the prison companies for the empty space, which means taxpayers are largely left to deal with the bill that might come from lower crime and imprisonment rates.

The private prison system was designed by the rich and for the rich. The for-profit prison system depends on imprisoning blacks for its survival. Much in the same way the United States was designed.

Some argue that an African American rising to the pinnacle of power in the land of slavery is evidence that American apartheid does not exist. In fact, Mr. Obama is the poster-child of post-racialism: the idea that America is now devoid of racial preference, discrimination, and prejudice. On the contrary, post-racialism is in fact the new racism and a key aspect of American apartheid. Post-racialism pretends that there is equal opportunity while ignoring the institutional and economic racism that infects inner cities and fills prisons. Racial apartheid is stronger now because it operates under the guise that it doesn’t exist and that race is no longer an issue in America.

Politically, morally, economically and philosophically, apartheid in America bares a striking resemblance to apartheid in South Africa. However, modern American apartheid is perhaps all the more abhorrent for being insidious and undeclared.

Garikai Chengu is a scholar at Harvard University. Contact him at

Putin Echoes Chinese President, Warns Against “Distorting History”

Ahead of visits by Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday spoke out against “attempts at distorting the events” of World War II. 

“Their goal is obvious: to undermine Russia’s power and moral authority, to deprive it of its status of a victorious nation, with all the ensuing international legal consequences, to divide peoples and set them against each other and to use historical speculations in their geopolitical games,”  said Putin at a meeting of the organizing committee of the Victory celebrations. The Russian President had earlier last year signed a law making the denial of Nazi crimes and distortion of the Soviet Union’s role in the World War II a criminal offence.

Vladimir Putin chaired the 36th meeting of the Russian Victory Organising Committee at the Grand Kremlin Palace on 17 March 2015 [PPIO]

Vladimir Putin chaired the 36th meeting of the Russian Victory Organising Committee at the Grand Kremlin Palace on 17 March 2015 [PPIO]

Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will be attending the commemoration events in Moscow in May.

Putin and Xi have both, in recent months, warned against “distorting history”.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said at a war commemoration event in December that “forgetting history means betrayal and denying the crime means committing it once again.”

Putin, on Tuesday, ordered the organizing committee, established for the 70th anniversary celebration of the victory of the Anti-Fascist War on May 9 in Moscow, to effectively counter worrying attempts to “rewrite history”.

“This is a very important work to involve the young people in preserving historical memory about the events of the Great Patriotic War, about the key role of the Soviet Union in the victory over Nazism,” a Kremlin statement quoted Putin.

More than a dozen countries are sending their military units to take part in the victory parade at the Red Square in Moscow on May 9th, which marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the war.

26 countries, including China, Greece, Vietnam, Netherlands, Egypt, have confirmed their attendance at the celebrations in Russia.

Russian and Chinese Presidents will exchange state visits to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II this year.

“As two of the main battlefields in Asia and Europe during World War Two, China and Russia will hold a series of celebrations, and state leaders will attend commemorations held in each other’s country,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying in January this year.

China’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, led to the death of some 20 million Chinese, according to Beijing’s estimates. It ended with Tokyo’s World War II defeat in 1945.

On May 9, Russia commemorates the sacrifice of the millions who fought and died to bring down the Third Reich and end Hitler’s expansionist whims.

Although most Western historians believe that 22 million Soviets died in the Great Patriotic War, Russian sources put the number higher – at 27 million people.

Russia’s Red Army lost 8.5 million troops – a figure comparable only with German losses. Another 18 million were civilians who died as a result of Hitler’s genocide.