There's nothing quite so satisfying as watching a trillion-dollar corporation trip over its own virtue-signaling. It almost makes one forget that Hillary Clinton has risen from the grave and is running for president again. A longer article coming about that is coming in the near future. Don't eat before reading.
October 7: Net not neutral; Turks eating Trump's Kurds & whey; Clinton/Romney 2020 is Hollywood remake nightmare
October 8: Ellen throws gays under the Bush bus; deepfakes demand critical thinking; Blizzard between rock & hard place
October 9: Antisocial media; Apple shoots self in foot; billionaires sitting pretty as Trump hoodwinks working class
October 10: Amazon voyeurs; Catholic Church tries to go native; selfies enable stalkers; color revolution for the climate
October 11: Forced 'tolerance' is racist; Turkey won't be plucked; one last spacewalk; let's make a deal; Warren's transpandering™Add a comment
The US Army has warned its soldiers away from screenings of “Joker,” citing “disturbing and very specific chatter in the dark web” about a mass shooting planned for a movie theater - seemingly validating the concerns of the media establishment's film critics, who have been shrieking for weeks that the film will inspire real-life gun violence. But if the Pentagon is truly concerned about the cause of mass shootings, it would do well to look in the mirror.
"Joker," the latest Batman spinoff, has been the subject of endless pearl-clutching think-pieces decrying its “glorification” of vigilante violence. Actor Joaquin Phoenix, who plays the titular character, has been forced to defend it from sanctimonious reporters insisting he has a duty not to lead viewers morally astray. “I think that, for most of us, you’re able to tell the difference between right and wrong. And those that aren’t are capable of interpreting anything in the way they may want to,” he told Digital Spy, hitting back against scolds like the Time writer who slammed the film as “aggressive and possibly irresponsible idiocy” and the famously humorless crew at Vox, which dismissed it as “not edgy” while accusing it of “playing with fire” - all in a single review.
Phoenix reportedly walked out of an interview after a Telegraph writer asked him if the film would “perversely end up inspiring exactly the kind of people it’s about, with potentially tragic results.” Basing one’s creative decisions on the possibility that someone, somewhere, won’t “get it” is an artistic dead end, yet these self-styled cultural commissars want to impose it on Hollywood - without a hint of awareness that while violent films are screened worldwide, they never seem to inspire mass shootings outside US borders.
The AI algorithms governing speech on social media don’t have a sense of humor and can’t recognize sarcasm or irony. Now humans - those writing for the establishment press, at least - seem determined to emulate them. Like the internet platforms that censor anything remotely controversial as "hate speech," film critics denouncing “Joker” claim to speak out of concern for those who aren’t in on the "joke." They insist the “angry young men” who might see themselves in Phoenix’s character will take the film the wrong way - essentially claiming that they’re too stupid to tell the difference between reality and fantasy, or too amoral to care. Patronizing in the extreme, this motive indicates the wokesters don’t actually care about the group they’re supposedly trying to protect from artistic predators so much as fear it. Like anti-war commentators on social media, alienated young men are a foreign species to the critics who feel threatened by that which they do not understand.
The common thread running through the negative reviews is the fear that people will be inspired by "Joker" to commit real-life violence. But as Vox unwittingly admits, “you can find much scarier, more shocking stuff by…reading the news.” Angry young men, too, can and do find inspiration by reading the news. Time magazine sardonically dubbed the Joker “the patron saint of incels," forgetting mainstream society only knows what an “incel" is because Alek Minassian mowed down 10 people with a van in Toronto - no cinematic inspiration required. Indeed, Minassian was inspired by Elliot Rodger, another young mass murderer, who stabbed and shot six people to death in 2014 because he was frustrated that he couldn’t get laid.
The cathartic value of violent art has been recognized since ancient Greece, and the vigilante violence of "Joker" would seem an ideal conduit for the revenge fantasies and other bloodthirsty impulses of society's disaffected to dissipate harmlessly. But just as shutting down the notorious anonymous message board 8chan forces the angry young men (and women) who retreat there to vent their “extremist” fantasies after being censored on social media to find other, less benign outlets for their frustrations, banning or censoring cathartic films forces individuals frustrated with their place in society to find an outlet for that frustration in real life.
Do the cultural commissars truly believe it is better to be dead than offended?
The notion that filmgoers will go from sympathizing with Phoenix’s character to shooting up their local Wal-Mart is in itself a fantasy, one much more far-fetched than the film, rooted in a popular misunderstanding of mass shootings. These tragedies are blamed on everything from guns to video games, yet few who discuss them are willing to address the militarism that permeates all aspects of American society. Recruiters set up shop near high schools and colleges, while TV and internet ads attempt to seduce the young and impressionable to join up and kill people for Uncle Sam. Popular video games like Call of Duty acclimate players to fighting a war, even as the increasing popularity of drones turns actual war into a (deadly) video game. Heavily-armed “law enforcement” officers pose forbiddingly at airports and train stations, outfitted to look like battle-ready soldiers, while surplus military equipment filters down to the police from a Pentagon so glutted with taxpayer dollars it can’t even use all its weapons despite occupying most of the world's countries.
Even teens who are not belligerently inclined are seduced by the promise the military will pay for their college - an offer many can’t refuse, with college costing more than twice what it did 30 years ago and even the least sophisticated professions now requiring some kind of degree. Promised that just four years of service will get their schooling fully paid for, kids are turning over their bodies and minds to a Pentagon that has no problem sending them into whatever Middle Eastern meat grinder is currently raging, to die not just for their country but also for Israel - which USAF Third Air Force commander Lt.-Gen. Richard Clark admitted in a spasm of honesty last year - and for Saudi Arabia. Recruiters don’t tell them that the experience will warp their minds and potentially destroy their future.
More than a third of US mass shooters since 1966 have been vets, even though they only comprised at most 13 percent of the population at any given time. Those who don’t kill others often inflict violence on themselves - they’re 50 percent more likely to commit suicide than the general population, 10 times more likely to abuse opioids, and almost twice as likely to abuse alcohol. And they’re 50 percent more likely than civilians to become homeless. In fact, during some periods of the neverending "war on terror," more troops were dying of suicide than on the battlefield. The military chews up American youths and spits them out much the worse for wear, and even those who never don the uniform are affected by the militarism pervading American society.
Other countries where civilians have access to guns - Switzerland, for example, or Canada - don’t have mass shooting epidemics. Video games are played by kids worldwide. Even anti-depressants are not exclusively American, though the US does consume the lion’s share of those drugs and they do play a significant role in triggering mass shootings, with multiple studies confirming they increase both homicidal and suicidal behavior in patients.
But only one country spends more money on its military than the next eight countries combined, deeming itself the world’s policeman and occupying over 70 percent of the world's countries - some for decades at a time. War is in the air Americans breathe, and this pathology expresses itself in mass shootings. Wiping violent films off the face of the earth won’t help in eradicating the scourge of gun violence any more than barring citizens from legally owning guns will stop those determined to commit an illegal act - murder - with them.
It's not the violence, it's who's directing the violence that counts.
“Woke” critics taking aim at “Joker” are motivated by the same impulses that saw them attack “The Hunt” - the now-shelved horror-satire in which liberal elites kidnap and hunt red-state “deplorables.” That film skewered the cultural and political divide that has yawned ever wider since the election of 2016 (a gap the film’s dead-on satire could have helped to bridge - the script, released after its release was cancelled, has the audience sympathizing with the conservatives who’d been plucked from Middle America to be hunted down by the painfully rich for nothing more than posting anti-abortion comments or racist tweets). “The Joker” sees the “evil” title character become a folk hero of sorts for a revolution where where “the rich are taken down, the poor get everything they need and deserve” (a happy ending Time felt compelled to mock).
Both films are dangerous for the ruling class - and not dangerous in the same way as a mass shooting, which can reliably be manipulated into a call for more surveillance, more gun control, and more thought control. Art that contradicts the ruling class' divide-and-conquer programming, that pillories the threadbare fallacy of a meritocratic American Dream, and - worst of all - that suggests there's something the average American can do to take back their country is anathema to establishment scribes, from the heights of the New York Times oped page to the bowels of the arts section.
The woke brigades are curiously silent about violence when films glorifying war hit the screen, choosing instead to focus on the “toxic masculinity” and/or racism depicted therein. Presumably if the troops depicted storming the beaches of Normandy in “Dunkirk” were all non-binary people of color, the violence shown on screen would be fine. Even non-war films that depict “good guys” on killing sprees don’t inspire the backlash “Joker” is getting. Batman, the Joker’s nemesis in the “Dark Knight” films, is another extralegal vigilante, but an absurdly wealthy one, so his killings are acceptable - to both the audience and even onscreen law enforcement. Quentin Tarantino’s films have been getting slammed for racism and misogyny, but the violent revenge fantasies at their core - integral to the stories, unlike racism and misogyny which live in the eye of the beholder - are hardly mentioned at all.
Nor is it just easily-caricatured liberal “social justice warriors” who have turned out in force to criticize “Joker.” Four family members of victims of 2012's Aurora, Colorado theater shooting, which took place during a screening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises," wrote to Warner Bros. to request the studio advocate for gun safety amid screenings of the film. One wonders why they didn’t do the same for the studios behind any of the dozens of films and TV shows the Pentagon has “consulted” on since the shooting - films that unabashedly promote war ("Lone Survivor"), torture ("Zero Dark Thirty"), and intel-agency “wetwork” - otherwise known as murder ("Homeland"). Even 2016’s “Suicide Squad” - which saw a younger, prettier Joker plus half a dozen other stylish villains engaged in the usual kill-crazy rampages and firearms porn - somehow avoided arousing their ire; was it because the bad guys in that film were controlled by the military, the film’s director himself a military veteran, and all the violence thus officially consecrated to God And Country? Or was it that this Joker had a girlfriend?
Theaters in Los Angeles have banned dressing up for screenings of the film out of concern that - like Aurora gunman James Holmes - some Joker wannabe will shoot the place up in costume. A memo from Oklahoma’s Travis County Sheriff’s Office suggests a “credible potential mass shooting” will occur at an “unknown movie theater” when the film is released on October 4. If it does, we can expect blame to be placed everywhere except where it belongs. Angry young men will keep killing innocent people, abroad and at home, until the country wakes up to the reality that endless war leaves the aggressor nation in ruins.Add a comment
One sixth of the adult population of the US takes at least one psychiatric drug daily, a proportion that has risen steadily as a growing share of the emotional spectrum has been pathologized by the psychiatric profession. Anger and resentment are classed as "oppositional defiance disorder" and medicated with antipsychotics, while “hate” is actively criminalized. And with depression “conquered” by medication - even as both diagnosis rates and suicides are at an all-time high - the mental-health industry has a new target: loneliness. With pharmaceutical and even technological "cures" in the pipeline for this "condition," once considered part of the normal human emotional experience but now framed as a dire health risk on the level of obesity and smoking, our very ability to think for ourselves hangs in the balance.
Nearly half of Americans polled last year by health insurer Cigna said they lacked meaningful relationships or companionship, while a third of people in industrialized societies report they are lonely; this state of mind appears to significantly shorten one's lifespan. A solutions-based society might examine why so many people feel alienated from their peers despite the constant connectivity of smartphones and internet. A symptom-focused model, however, simply looks to stop them from feeling that way by any means necessary - never mind the cause, and never mind the consequences.
Loneliness is “worse than obesity,” according to a raft of studies that have emerged linking the emotion to increased risk of premature death - as much as 50 percent, says one meta-analysis by Brigham Young University professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad - and a dramatically lowered quality of life. And like obesity - big business not just for Big Pharma, but for gastric bypass surgeons, weight-loss gurus, and other parasitic professionals who have monetized the American public’s lack of self-control - anything that deadly requires medical intervention.
THERE’S A PILL FOR THAT
The University of Chicago’s Brain Dynamics Laboratory recently began an eight-week trial of the hormone pregnenolone, rounding up volunteers with “off-the-chart” scores on a psychological loneliness scale. Basing their treatment on animal studies suggesting the chemical can reduce the exaggerated threat reactions that they say characterize loneliness, they hope to normalize the lonely person’s self-centered hyper-vigilance, which drives them to both desire human connection and deal poorly with it.
Researchers insist the intention is not to cure loneliness with a pill, but the trial sets a precedent for doing just that. Oxytocin, the "love hormone," is also being considered as a potential treatment based on promising animal studies. Enterprising psychiatrists have previously medicalized aspects of loneliness as "social anxiety" and prescribed tranquilizers or antidepressants, but loneliness itself has never been so directly in the pharmaceutical crosshairs.
And if the hormone trials flop, there’s always Prozac. Already, doctors have claimed antidepressants make patients more sociable, and these drugs have for years been used (and abused) for conditions aside from depression - off-label prescribing of the antidepressants Paxil and Wellbutrin was the basis of the largest pharmaceutical company lawsuit in history. If loneliness is not an emotion but a crisis to be resolved, in which the ends justify the means (however barbaric and harmful they may be), why not bring out the heavy artillery?
Mental health professionals writing about the loneliness epidemic discuss behavioral interventions, community programs, and counseling, but the introduction of a pharmaceutical solution may prove too tempting for a profession that has learned to love the quick fix a pill provides. Like depression, loneliness has myriad possible causes, some of which are natural and healthy reactions to life circumstances. Other, obviously situational, causes would (before the magic pill, at least) call for clear behavioral solutions. Would a psychiatrist reach for her prescription pad when confronted with a lonely person who only socializes through Facebook, even though social media use has been found to correlate strongly with loneliness and studies have shown that just a week away from the platform can bring “significant” improvements in well-being? In this case, at least, correlation equals causation. A solution to the patient's loneliness seems obvious. But why force him to change his life when a pill will do the trick?
The loneliness plague is a real problem - the number of Americans who say they have no one to talk to has tripled since 1985, and the negative health effects are real. Alienation is epidemic. But medicalizing it will only make the situation worse, just as it has with depression. When the profit motive enters the equation and medicalization gives way to monetization, the incentive to get rid of the problem vanishes, replaced by the incentive to diagnose as many people as possible with the condition in order to “treat” them while the relevant drugs are still under patent. Nor is there any incentive to (or expectation of) cure - unlike most patients diagnosed with a treatable disease, individuals deemed mentally ill tend to remain on medication for years, if not for life. Each newly-diagnosed individual thus represents a sizable wad of cash on the table.
In a quick-fix society that prefers to treat the symptoms while ignoring the disease, a pill for loneliness will be embraced with all the fervor with which antidepressants were greeted before people began to realize that they cause suicidal and homicidal behavior, sexual dysfunction, weight gain, and a host of other problems - and that they don’t actually cure depression. Those drugs are still doled out like candy, even after the scientific explanation for their effect (and that effect itself) have been debunked, because it’s easier to take a pill than to come to terms with one’s reasons for being depressed in the first place, especially if they're reasonable responses to environmental factors. Nearly half of Americans struggle just to cover their basic financial needs every month; expecting the chronically stressed to enjoy the feel of the system's boot on their necks is unrealistic. With a similar array of thorny societal causes as depression, loneliness is just as likely to be pharmaceutically exploited.
A loneliness pill would not address Americans’ emotionally unhealthy digitally-addicted lifestyles, a society-wide sickness and source of significant stress. It would instead allow them to socialize exclusively in an online sphere whose boundaries are set by billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, without experiencing any of the discomfort they would naturally feel at having their gregarious impulses folded, spindled and mutilated to fit an increasingly stringent set of behavioral restrictions. Nor would it confront societal programming that equates solitude with loneliness, with abnormality, and teaches children that if they are not driven to socialize, they are defective. It's no coincidence that fictional dystopias from 1984 to the Handmaid's Tale minimize the amount of "alone time" their citizens are permitted - time alone with one's thoughts is time the state cannot control. But the police state of today is working to change that.
As human contact, including real-life socializing, has become a luxury - so says the New York Times, explaining that humans are expensive, screens and robots are cheap, and expecting the unwashed masses to be able to afford access to living, breathing humans like themselves is simply unrealistic - the "digital pets" millennials had as children have matured to "digital friends," even digital lovers as they themselves have grown up. And these digital companions double as the eyes and ears of a shockingly intrusive surveillance state.
BRIDGING THE UNCANNY VALLEY
If the “loneliness pill” doesn’t work out, AI is waiting in the wings. Already seen as the future of at-home healthcare for aging populations under the care of cash-strapped governments, friendly, helpful robots could find their way into the homes of the lonely. And everyone gets lonely sometimes! Certainly, the mass deployment of robo-buddies circumvents the surveillance hurdle faced by in-home AI snoops like Amazon’s Alexa, which many Americans find creepy (and not just for its tendency to burst into sinister laughter unprovoked). Frame the intruder as a medical benefit, however, and some of that opposition falls by the wayside. After all, loneliness kills, and no one wants to die.
As lonely humans become accustomed to conversing with their robot pals, their expectation for real human contact will diminish, and their sense of loneliness with it. After all, you can’t miss what you never had. Already, given the stunted level of discourse on social media, many of us have found ourselves tricked into talking to bots, sometimes exchanging several messages before realizing our interlocutor is not human. A study published earlier this month in First Monday found bots' online activity is becoming more human-like - and humans are behaving more like bots. The Voight-Kampff Test used by Philip K Dick’s “blade runners” to determine whether a suspect was human or android can be graded on a curve.
As the bar for “meaningful relationships” is lowered to the point where chatting with an AI can qualify, the loneliness epidemic vanishes - on paper, at least, and in US public health policy, sometimes that’s all that matters.
LONELY OR JUST ALONE?
The pathologization of loneliness will inevitably elide the difference between being alone and being lonely, as the mental health industry runs out of lonely people to treat with whatever therapeutic weapon wins this particular arms race and is forced to look further afield for patients. “Loners” - those dangerous types who actually enjoy solitude - are stigmatized as unpredictable weirdos who need to be brought into the fold. The man who shot up a Walmart in El Paso earlier this month was an “extreme loner,” according to media reports. Would we be reading about it if he was an “extreme extrovert,” someone so addicted to the company of other humans he couldn't stand to spend a second alone? Extroversion is a characteristic of the psychopathic personality, yet extroverts are not stigmatized for this, or treated as potential serial killers because they feel compelled to socialize - instead, the “introvert killer” trope is reliably trotted out after every tragedy, even though it has been repeatedly debunked.
With no loneliness pill on the market - yet - it is impossible to predict what’s next for the creeping medicalization of the human emotional experience. But the surveillance state is muscling into the “mental health” sphere as never before. The Trump administration has reportedly embraced a new Health Advanced Research Projects Agency, modeled after the Pentagon’s DARPA, that will develop a method for analyzing “neurobehavioral signs” to determine whether someone is “headed toward a violent explosive act.” HARPA’s proposal suggests a “multi-modality solution, along with real-time data analytics” to be garnered from technologies like Apple Watches, Fitbits, Amazon Echo, and Google Home. And in case you leave your smartphone at home, AI cameras are increasingly being deployed in public places equipped with advanced facial recognition and behavioral analysis capabilities
Researchers believe they can diagnose depression with nothing more than smartphone usage and GPS data, having tested this hypothesis using an app called iSee to monitor college students - ground zero for the "campus mental health crisis." Combine this diagnosis-at-a-distance with emergency service surveillance technology like Carbyne911 (developed by Israeli intelligence) and 911eye (developed by the West Midlands police department, pioneers of pre-crime technology in the UK) and you get surveillance-enabled AI empowered to call the authorities when they decide you're a threat to yourself or your peers. And Amazon’s Alexa has moved one step closer to the companion-robot model, rolling out a medical feature earlier this year which could conceivably be deployed to “check on” individuals at risk for loneliness. The devices that have been surveilling us for years may thus become empowered to have us committed - for our own good, of course, and the good of society.
In the aftermath of recent mass shootings, Trump declared open season on the “mentally ill,” floating the idea of involuntary confinement and institutionalization, while governors like New York’s Andrew Cuomo have proposed mental health databases that would affix an indelible scarlet letter to anyone seeking help with a psychological issue - effectively driving many of the people who actually need help away from the system out of fear of the repercussions for their personal and professional lives. The idea that “extreme loners” might find themselves medicated against their will, as a preemptive measure, is not far-fetched.
And Elon Musk’s Neuralink device proposes bringing the AI directly to your brain, “merging biological intelligence with machine intelligence,” so you never have to feel lonely again - or experience any inconvenient emotions. Musk envisions a future in which customers will have the devices installed in shopping mall kiosks, no more intrusive than an ear-piercing. Social scientists fear it’ll be “suicide for the human mind” - while no one knows for sure where consciousness resides, if it's anywhere near our squishy grey matter, it doesn't stand a chance against cold silicon precision. Even Musk acknowledges that Neuralink is an "if you can't beat them, join them" approach to a future AI takeover.
Implantable AI hands the state the tools to control our thoughts. Indeed, we will no longer be able to tell which thoughts are "ours," and which come from the device implanted in our skull. Transhumanists speak glowingly of "merging with the machines," forgetting (or perhaps deliberately omitting) that the machines have programmers, and those programmers work hand in glove with the military-industrial complex. If they get their way, you’ll never be able to feel lonely again, because Big Brother will take up residence inside your skull. Solitude - like privacy before it - will be a distant memory, assuming you're permitted to remember it at all. And like privacy, children born today may never know what it is like to experience loneliness - nor will they ever have the pleasure of being alone with their thoughts.
(originally published in much shorter form on RT)Add a comment
Infamous pedophile and likely intelligence asset Jeffrey Epstein was reportedly found dead in his jail cell last weekend. An autopsy was done, and after a week of “pending” results, the cause of his death was definitively pronounced suicide, despite telltale signs indicating murder. The week following his death has done little to clear up the matter of what actually occurred in Epstein’s cell on Saturday morning, though law enforcement sources on Monday told the New York Post he had hung himself with a bedsheet from the bunkbed frame in his cell - no mean feat for a six-foot, 200-pound man supposedly being checked on by guards twice an hour, and a physical impossibility owing to the paper-thin sheets, according to a former inmate of that prison. No other official narrative has emerged to challenge this, suggesting August 10, 2019 was just one of those rare days when the laws of physics - like the "guards" tasked with watching Epstein - were sleeping on the job.
What we do know is that he was officially alone in his cell when he died, having been taken off suicide watch at his lawyers' urging less than a week after he was found unconscious with marks on his neck last month. Epstein reportedly claimed someone tried to kill him during that incident, though others speculated he had “choked” himself in order to convince a judge to allow him bail or secure a transfer to a nicer facility. Did “someone” come back to finish the job, merely paying the guards to look the other way? An assassin would have had to spread his money around handsomely - like most areas of Manhattan, the Metropolitan Correctional Center where Epstein was confined is heavily surveilled - but that’s not difficult for the caliber of person who had reasons to want Epstein dead. So who killed him?
The convicted sex offender had blackmail material on dozens if not hundreds of powerful people. Epstein’s homes and aircraft were monitored with cameras and microphones, and his private island was completely wired for video, according to a friend of his alleged procuress, Ghislaine Maxwell. Safes found on his property contained piles of video discs marked young (name of girl) + (name of VIP) - alongside the diamonds, piles of cash and Saudi passport. Virginia Roberts Giuffre, one of his victims, says she was “debriefed” after sex sessions with Epstein’s famous friends, supplying him with the intimate details of their encounters in order to potentially weaponize the information. Even New York Times columnist James Stewart reports Epstein boasted to him about the trove of “potentially damaging or embarrassing” information he had on the “supposed sexual proclivities and recreational drug use” of the rich and famous. Epstein had mountains of dirt on presidents, princes, prime minsters, and lesser politicians. Any one of these (and probably more than one of these) could have taken out a contract on him, concerned that he might give away their little secret. If Epstein was not an intelligence asset, with connections high up in the Israeli and US governments, he would have been disposed of long ago, but it’s possible that one of the reasons he was not “suicided” earlier is because those who did want him dead had clashed with another faction concerned he had a “dead man’s switch” that would release even more incriminating material to the press.
Comparisons to the JFK assassination are apt. While Epstein was even more loathed by the American public than Kennedy was beloved, he had as many powerful enemies, and those speculating about his murder are already being smeared as irresponsible conspiracy theorists for demanding answers on the year's most unlikely "suicide." When the forces of the media establishment are so quickly marshaled against any attempts at investigating a full-of-holes "official story," even declaring that such malignant conspiracy-mongering "hurts kids" (Epstein's own child-trafficking apparently pales in comparison), it's safe to assume that official story is a pack of lies. So without further ado, let the (responsible, well-sourced) speculation begin. Coincidence theorists need not apply.
As soon as Epstein’s death was announced, the hashtag #ClintonBodyCount started trending on Twitter along with #Arkancide and other names for the phenomenon that has seen dozens of Clinton enemies, witnesses, and other liabilities die under mysterious circumstances since the early days of the former president’s political career. As a frequent flyer on the Lolita Express (26 times, according to flight logs, at least five of those without his Secret Service retinue), Bill Clinton had good reason to be concerned about Epstein’s continued existence. Certainly, the couple were an early favorite for Epstein's killer - even Donald Trump retweeted a Clinton Body Count meme.
However, Epstein is currently under investigation for sex trafficking. In court documents unsealed earlier this week from Giuffre’s lawsuit against alleged madam Ghislaine Maxwell, Giuffre testifies that Clinton was not involved in the actual trafficking of girls - though there seems to be little doubt he enjoyed the fruits of Epstein’s evil deeds. Epstein even had a hand in the founding of the Clinton Global Initiative, according to his lawyers. That Clinton has been accused of rape by too many women to count and is known for being unable to keep it in his pants is not exactly a secret, in Washington or anywhere else, but he is unlikely to be placed at legal risk by the current Epstein probe. Unless Epstein had dirt on Hillary as well - who is rumored to be plotting a move to insinuate herself back into national politics, most likely through her daughter - the family accomplishes little by icing Epstein except calling more attention to the #ClintonBodyCount. One guerrilla commentator even chalked “XOXO Hillary + Bill” on the sidewalk outside Epstein’s New York home.
The FBI immediately declared a probe into the suspicious circumstances surrounding Epstein’s death. Regardless of whether this makes them dangerous domestic extremists by their own reasoning - since any foul play would have had to be accomplished through conspiring with the guards to sneak into the jail and do away with the pedophile, and the FBI has unilaterally declared ‘conspiracy theorists’ to be dangerous extremists in need of heavy surveillance - the FBI’s interest does not rule out a US intelligence role in his murder. As 9/11 proved, the government’s right hand rarely knows what the left is doing even within a single agency, let alone where rival agencies are concerned. And Attorney General William Barr, the former CIA general counsel who specialized in helping intelligence assets caught with their hands in the cookie jar get off scot-free, has already made it clear he is treating the death as a terrible miscarriage of justice by the prison, one which might even prove financially remunerative for Epstein's relatives (he has a brother).
When former Florida prosecutor Alex Acosta was asked why he OK’d the appalling 2007 non-prosecution agreement with Epstein’s lawyers which saw the wealthy sex fiend spend just 13 months on work-release in a Palm Beach jail after pleading guilty to a lesser charge of soliciting underage prostitutes despite a 53-page federal indictment including 36 alleged victims hanging over his head, Acosta told the Trump transition team he was ordered to leave Epstein alone because “he belonged to intelligence.” That was sufficient reason for the Trump team to give him the green light for appointment as Secretary of Labor. While Epstein provided information to the FBI in 2008, according to their own documentation, individuals involved with the case who spoke to the Palm Beach Post don’t recall any cooperation.
“The Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office was willing to let Epstein walk free. No jail time. Nothing,” Acosta claimed by way of explanation during a press conference last month after he was forced to resign as Labor Secretary for his (mis)handling of the 2007 case. He insisted the sweetheart deal the wealthy pedophile's lawyers crafted was the lesser of two evils - that a slap on the wrist was better than nothing. And Palm Beach police told the Miami Herald they were hounded, harassed, and otherwise pressured in the service of getting Epstein’s case downgraded to a misdemeanor during the original 2007 investigation, with State Attorney Barry Krischer ultimately ignoring their recommendation to prosecute Epstein on high level child sex charges.
In the days preceding Epstein's death, Florida governor Ron DeSantis ordered the state to take over a probe into Epstein’s non-prosecution deal and the terms of his work release, an investigation that would presumably lead to the Palm Beach State Attorney's office, which was conspicuously handed to Fort Pierce State Attorney Bruce Colton. While Krischer is no longer in that position - in a nauseating irony, he trains law enforcement in prosecuting crimes of sexual violence and oversees placement of children in foster care - his apparent collusion with Epstein's attorneys will likely come to light, as well as the forces higher up that dictated the terms of the plea deal. Whatever US "intelligence" shared Epstein with the Mossad could have been motivated to take him out to prevent him from talking. While DeSantis - who has promised to be the most pro-Israel governor in the country - would likely pull the plug on that investigation before it got out of hand, the Justice Department opened its own investigation in February into whether prosecutors committed professional misconduct during the 2007 case. If Trump were to lose the 2020 election, Barr - the man who arguably saved the CIA from much-deserved extinction and an expert memory-holer of inconvenient inquiries - would be powerless to fix any federal probe, replaced by a Democratic appointee.
And what of Trump himself? For every three “ClintonBodyCount” hashtags, there was a “TrumpBodyCount” hashtag (which isn’t a thing, but don’t tell the #Resistance), insisting Trump was up to his neck in trafficked children and had good reason to ice the molest-happy millionaire. This is as doubtful as the Clinton hypothesis. If Epstein is being wielded as a weapon by Netanyahu against Barak, Netanyahu would not kill the golden goose that is Trump, who has obeyed his foreign policy dictates magnificently. And the documents unsealed from Virginia Roberts Giuffre’s lawsuit suggest that Trump did not physically engage with Epstein’s retinue of underage sex slaves. The president’s reported germ phobia is somewhat incompatible with girls who were being passed around from blackmail target to blackmail target like party favors, and he allegedly had Epstein booted from Mar-a-Lago for sexually assaulting a girl, suggesting that despite the chummy pictures of Epstein and Trump that surface on googling “Jeffrey Epstein Bill Clinton” (!), the real estate magnate realized early on that Epstein was a honeypot and kept his distance. Trump was mentored by Roy Cohn, whose own record as a blackmailer is legendary; if he wasn't involved in the Epstein ring himself, he certainly would have recognized its nature early on.
Epstein is extremely well-connected to the Israeli intelligence apparatus, and these are people with both means and motive to remove him from the chessboard. Former Israeli PM Ehud Barak has been photographed entering and exiting Epstein’s East 71st St residence in Manhattan, hiding under a jumble of hats and scarves, and has admitted to visiting the pedophile's private island, though insists he never went to parties or met girls with Epstein despite photographic evidence to the contrary. Barak and Epstein have been friends for over a decade, the Israeli having been introduced to the wealthy sex offender by his fellow former PM Shimon Peres. Barak has thrown his hat into the ring to challenge Bibi Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, who has made it clear he considers the PM post to be his by divine right and won’t give it up easily. Speculation has swirled that the reopening of the Epstein case is tied to the battle of the Israeli titans - that Netanyahu is sacrificing a Mossad asset to destroy his rival.
Barak, then, has plenty of reasons to want Epstein out of the way. Having formed a company with the mysterious financier as a vehicle to invest in Carbyne911, a company founded by high-level veterans of Israeli intelligence that allows a remote operator to surveil a person not only through the target’s own phone but also through all the internet-connected devices around them, Barak has put other dubious financial dealings at risk of coming under the Epstein probe’s microscope. Worse, Carbyne911 - which its opportunistic owners have marketed as the solution to mass shootings - has been exposed as a horrifying surveillance tool. Similar software has already been weaponized by the Chinese government to spy on its citizens, and Carbyne’s advisory board includes former Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, the Patriot Act co-author who reliably surfaces on the boards of every Orwellian initiative from the Atlantic Council to CyberDome to NewsGuard, ready to leverage his unique blend of experience and sociopathy to strip Americans of their privacy and civil liberties. Peter Thiel, the PayPal co-founder whose company Palantir openly “uses war on terror tools to track American citizens” on behalf of anyone with the funds to pay for their own private intelligence agency, is also an investor in Carbyne911. The idea that a company run by Israeli intelligence, advised and funded by a who’s-who of police-state cheerleaders, that sells a powerful surveillance tool isn’t using it to spy on Americans is too absurd to seriously consider, and such a program is too valuable to be sacrificed merely because Epstein’s stink suffuses it (and it does suffuse it - he and Barak are the company’s largest investors, and most of Barak’s stake was in fact put up by Epstein).
The electoral face-off between Barak and Netanyahu is scheduled for next month, by which time the frenzy over the Epstein case will have ebbed significantly, especially with no defendant as the focus of click-driving salacious speculation. While Netanyahu has demanded an investigation of his rival, it's not clear that Barak did anything financially illegal in accepting millions of dollars of Epstein's money. Investigators may still pursue other loose ends - that Maxwell has remained unindicted for so long beggars belief, for example, and victims’ lawyers have promised to go after Epstein’s “enablers” - but the sensationalistic coverage from mainstream news will peter out absent a body in the courtroom. Barak can thus get back to the business of attacking Netanyahu, who is currently facing indictment in multiple corruption probes, and potentially wresting Israel from his grasp. He has much to gain from snuffing Epstein and little to lose - unless Epstein’s dead man’s switch would unleash enough compromising material to end his political career for good. Certainly, Barak has a bad track record of associating with sexual predators. His president, Moshe Katsav, spent five years in prison on rape charges, and the vice-consul to Brazil during his tenure, Arie Scher, fled to Israel to avoid prosecution on child pornography charges; he also introduced notorious Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein to Black Cube, the private security firm staffed by ex-Mossad agents that Weinstein retained to harass his victims.
WHAT DIDN'T HAPPEN
The only certainty is that Epstein did not “commit suicide” without significant outside help. He had been taken off suicide watch less than a week after the previous month’s “suicide attempt,” contrary to standard procedure, which would require authorization (and documentation thereof). One source told the New York Post the suspicious marks discovered on his neck after he was found unconscious curled up in his cell last month appeared more like evidence he had been choked than evidence that he had attempted to hang himself, but his beefy ex-cop cellmate, an accused quadruple-murderer charged with shooting and then burying four men in his backyard after a coke deal gone wrong, insisted he had not only not harmed his notorious roommate and not heard anything, but that he had saved Epstein's life by discovering him unconscious and alerting a guard. How this happened if they shared a cell is unclear, and Tartaglione’s lawyer has only said they shared the unit - two other sources told NBC they shared the same cell. Epstein spent just six days on suicide watch, receiving daily psychiatric examinations, according to a law enforcement source who spoke to the New York Times. Thanks in part to the strenuous lobbying of his defense attorneys, whom he met with for up to 12 hours a day while under suicide watch, Epstein was soon moved back to his protective housing unit with a new cellmate where he was supposed to be checked every 30 minutes by guards instead - a procedure which was not followed the night of his alleged death - and that cellmate was mysteriously transferred just hours before the “suicide,” according to a source who spoke to Fox News.
Despite rumors of a “camera malfunction” that surfaced immediately following the announcement of Epstein’s death - traced back to a “social media entrepreneur” specializing in “information warfare” whose clients include American politicians - a corrections union representative has confirmed there were no cameras inside the individual cells in Epstein’s unit, creating perfect conditions for whatever happened the morning of August 10th. A former Brooklyn jail warden has confirmed that for Epstein to “commit suicide,” a cascade of errors would have been necessary - starting with removing him from suicide watch. While the officers staffing MCC are supposedly the cream of the crop, at least one of the officers tasked with watching Epstein was not "a regular guard," according to corrections union head Serene Gregg. Epstein's 'guards,' both working overtime, falsified records of the half-hour checks they had failed to conduct, an anonymous source told the AP - because they were asleep, the New York Times added. Those two at the very least would have to be paid off for any operation to go smoothly, and any investigation interested in finding out - as opposed to covering up - what really happened to Epstein should interview and monitor all of those working on the unit for financial changes, especially the guards who would normally have been working that night but opted not to, allowing the drowsy duo to step in and claim their overtime. Those two have reportedly been placed on administrative leave as of Tuesday, while the presiding warden has been reassigned to Philadelphia.
Epstein’s suspicious demise has several parallels with the "suicide" of Maxwell’s father, British newspaper baron (and Israeli spy) Robert Maxwell. Despite years of valuable service to the Mossad, Maxwell died after falling off his boat, allegedly committing suicide, as his newspaper empire was collapsing, and after attempting to pressure his Mossad connections to bail him out of the financial hole he’d dug himself into. Two of Maxwell’s biographers claim he was killed, three months after demanding the bailout and threatening to expose certain Mossad operations if he didn’t get it, because he simply became too much trouble; ex-Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky has explained how this was accomplished. The dead man was then feted with a star-studded funeral in Israel, attended by six Israeli intelligence chiefs and complete with eulogies by then-PM Yitzhak Shamir boasting he had “done more for Israel than can today be said,” and future PMs Ehud Olmert and Shimon Peres, who also praised his “services” for Israel. Those “services” included peddling an Israeli-backdoored version of the software program Promis to government agencies, a Trojan horse purporting to improve government efficiency which instead funneled information on government activities back to Tel Aviv - a 1980s equivalent of Carbyne911.
EPSTEIN IS DEAD; LONG LIVE EPSTEIN?
The possibility exists that Epstein isn’t actually dead. A 4chan post purporting to be from an MCC employee, posted before news of Epstein’s alleged demise was made public, claims the disgraced financier was taken to the jail’s medical unit just hours before his alleged suicide and points to a suspicious van coming and going, undocumented per the prison’s usual procedures, at the same time as his potential route of escape. A later 4chan post claimed the initial report was a joke, but comparisons of “Epstein”’s corpse to images of the living Epstein appear to show completely different ears, a unique and difficult-to-fake body part. Others have questioned why there was a photographer on hand to snap photos of the body leaving the prison in the first place and pointed out the article accompanying the photo referred to a "body believed to be Epstein's." Epstein's brother allegedly identified his body, but if there was a plot, he'd be in on it, ready to milk the jail for millions in a wrongful death suit - a possibility Barr seems to be setting in motion by attacking MCC for "failing to adequately secure" their famous charge. The "celebrity pathologist" who observed the autopsy on behalf of Epstein's lawyers also "helped investigate" the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr. There is no smoking gun, but there is an Epstein-sized plausible-deniability gap to slip through.
What would be the purpose of keeping Epstein alive? He’s too high-profile to use as an asset any further, and could be a liability if he becomes resentful for having lost his privileged position as the Mega Group’s #1 Honeypot and being left to rot in jail - a particularly nasty jail, at that ("Guantanamo was nicer," said an inmate who'd stayed in both). But any good blackmailer worth his salt has a dead-man’s switch with reams of sensitive material ready to go in event of death or accident. Could this be why FBI teams waited until he was dead to raid Little St. James, hoping to head off any unauthorized disclosures? If that’s the case, they were too late — computers appeared to have been removed in the weeks preceding Epstein’s apparent death.
Epstein hasn’t actually betrayed his intelligence backers, at least not publicly - though he has been disavowed by everyone from Trump to Clinton to Barak, even to his one-time mentor, Les Wexner, who after setting Epstein up with his Manhattan den of iniquity now claims the disgraced "money manager" for whom he has been the sole client since 1987 ripped him off. Even Alan "I kept my underwear on" Dershowitz has backed away from the radioactive pedophile. Epstein, on the surface, has no friends left. Yet he appears to have had advance knowledge of his own arrest, selling the evidence-laden “Lolita Express” jet just a few weeks before he was apprehended at Teterboro Airport. Why did he conveniently fly home to do the time the public so desperately wanted him to do - a situation that could have been avoided if he wasn't certain of having an escape route? Epstein was said to be in unusually good spirits before he "suicided."
But according to Ostrovsky, Robert Maxwell went to his death believing he'd get what he wanted, as well. And if Epstein was the raging sex addict his victims say - one girl claimed he told her he required three orgasms a day, that it was biological "like eating," while another confirmed that even if she brought him new girls "at breakfast, lunch, and dinner...it was never enough" - keeping him alive, even with a new face in a new country, would be highly risky. Meanwhile, Ghislaine Maxwell has been spotted first in Massachusetts and then in Los Angeles, improbably reading a book about the lives and deaths of CIA operatives. She doesn't seem worried about her "loose end" status making her a target for whoever killed Epstein, or that Epstein's victims will finally have their revenge on her in the courtroom. However, the media are turning against her, and prosecutors have vowed to go after Epstein's "enablers" - in which case, she's number one on the list. Will justice prevail? Has it ever?Add a comment
Americans celebrating Independence Day last week did so amidst levels of domestic discord unprecedented in their lifetimes. With the media establishment openly scoffing not merely at the “founding fathers,” who could stand to be removed from their pedestals once in a while, but at the Declaration of Independence itself and even at the notion of declaring that independence, Americans who never thought of themselves as patriots were nevertheless placed on the defensive. One need not believe in “my country right or wrong” to bristle at the idea that said country shouldn’t exist. But would-be defenders of the American Way are finding themselves increasingly at a loss for words. What does America actually stand for now that the “freedoms” once guaranteed its citizens are rapidly fading into the rearview mirror?
The New York Times led the parade of mainstream outlets sneering at America on its birthday, posting a sarcastic video showing the US’ poor performance against other developed countries on metrics like education and healthcare. But as usual, the Times left out the most important parts — the parts that would implicate it as guilty in the full-on plundering of the American dream. The Fourth Estate — the self-appointed watchdog of the people’s freedoms — was bribed with CIA steaks to lie down while craven opportunists dismantled the country and left a second-rate replica in its place. The Times went one better, actually aiding and abetting the neocon warmongers who lied the US into war — in Iraq, but also in Syria, Libya, and, they hope, Iran. For the Times to complain now that the country, out $6 trillion thanks to the “War on Terror” it enabled and cheered at the top of its lungs, is broke and broken, is hypocritical in the extreme.
Bill of rights, or bill of goods?
Freedom of speech, so important to the national identity it leads the Bill of Rights, has been so vilified in the media that the very notion of “defending free speech” has come to be associated with the extreme Right in establishment reporting. This is no accident, of course — truth is the first casualty of war, and anyone who speaks it has been told in no uncertain terms that they are next on that casualty list. The looming extradition of Julian Assange is a warning to all adversarial journalists and publishers that they are no longer protected by the laws that once enshrined press freedom in the country’s heart, and even those who never set foot in the US can be treated as disposable if they oppose its imperial project. The internet, once a refuge for those silenced by the bought establishment organs, has been quietly scrubbed of those same troublemakers thanks to private corporations doing the government’s dirty work. And the only group more enthusiastic about the police state than the government itself is the clique of Big Tech bandits that receive fat government contracts to enable it.
Private corporations can get away with a lot that governments can’t, even beyond the legal restrictions on the state imposed by the Bill of Rights. Thanks to “free market” orthodoxy, regulation of the private sector is considered borderline criminal, un-American even, allowing companies to do whatever they want — financially, legally and ethically. And Americans have a certain reverence for successful corporations that they have never had for their government. They were livid when they learned their government was spying on their phone calls and emails through the NSA’s StellarWind program, but when it’s Amazon doing the spying through an Alexa “smart” speaker, they not only don’t mind — they’ll pay $100 for the privilege.
Increasingly, corporations are the intelligence services. At least a quarter of American intelligence work is done by private contractors, most of whom work for 5 companies. The CIA has run off Amazon servers since 2014, while the DHS is rolling out an ultra-Orwellian new biometric database that will allow agents to cross-reference facial scans, fingerprints, DNA, and even social relationships(!) — using Amazon servers. Amazon is competing with Microsoft to host the entire Defense Department computing infrastructure in a process riddled with conflicts of interest. Even as the #Resistance flings around the word “fascist” with gusto, they never seem to apply it where it fits — to describe a system in which large corporations work hand in hand with an authoritarian state to suppress dissent and perpetuate the (myth of) national greatness.
Nor is the First Amendment the only one to go AWOL when most needed. The Fourth Amendment, protecting Americans against unreasonable search and seizure, was gutted by the PATRIOT Act under the reasoning that if the terrorists truly hate us for our freedoms, it’s best to just be safe and chuck those freedoms altogether. What the post-9/11 police state started, civil asset forfeiture exacerbated, institutionalizing the practice of confiscating the possessions of individuals merely suspected of committing a crime. While the Supreme Court decided earlier this year that the procedure violated the Constitution’s prohibition against excessive fines, police departments have already found a way around that problem — they simply classify the desired property as “evidence,” allowing them to hold it in the station indefinitely and, after four months, sell it.
The right to a speedy and public trial was destroyed for good under the watchful eye of Obama, whose 2011 National Defense Authorization Act allowed indefinite detention of Americans without charge or trial around the world. Someone clearly got a chuckle out of having a president who convinced voters he would close Guantanamo instead take the model global. Meanwhile, overcrowded courts and backlogged public defenders mean the Sixth Amendment is violated as often in practice as in letter, with innocent defendants urged to plead guilty just to get out of jail with a conviction that will follow them the rest of their lives — often not knowing they have any other options, let alone a constitutional right to them. Likewise, protection against excessive fines and bail has been superseded by systematic greed. Predatory courts have learned that offering impoverished defendants alternatives to jail like electronic monitoring can be just as lucrative as civil asset forfeiture, without the bad press — even if the target is eventually found innocent, he still has to pay to have the monitor removed, and if he doesn’t keep up with the payments mandated by the extortionate contract he signed to keep himself out of prison, he ends up there anyway.
Cruel and unusual punishment, meanwhile, has been renamed “enhanced interrogation” and embraced by unreconstructed thugs. Leaked vetting documents from Trump’s cabinet selection process revealed that “opposition to torture” was actually considered a “red flag” among those being considered for administration positions, suggesting the US has learned nothing from the horrors of the Bush years and Abu Ghraib. Or perhaps it has — the US’ “War on Terror” and the torture it enabled have been a terrorist recruiter’s wet dream, quadrupling the number of extremist Salafi Islamic militants since 2001 and ensuring a constant supply of propaganda-ready enemies.
So what’s left?
Americans still have the right to vote and the right to bear arms, but the first is a bad joke and the second we’ve primarily turned against ourselves. Suicides are at an all-time high, part of a phenomenon commentators have termed “deaths of despair” when combined with steep rises in deaths from alcohol and drug abuse, both of which are also at record or near-record highs. The pursuit of happiness has been replaced by the pursuit of oblivion. And given the future spread out before us, it’s not difficult to understand why.
Millennials and Generation Z are confronting an even wider gap than the previous generation between their expectations — the Shining City on a Hill conservatives unironically insist the US is, the example the rest of the world supposedly envies and wants to emulate — and reality. More than ever, Americans coming of age are finding it impossible to square the crippling debt, decaying infrastructure, impossible expenses, and absence of basic services that characterize their own experience with the propaganda they’ve internalized since their first day in school.
Whether they blame themselves for failing to measure up or blame the system that sold them a bill of goods depends on their programming. Americans are taught to think of poverty as punishment for personal shortcomings, a Calvinistic safeguard against socialist sentiment taking root in the working classes, but traps have been set even for those who realize the problem is larger than themselves. Too many fall for simplistic scapegoat-based explanations of the US’ problems: on the Right, immigrants and foreigners are blamed for stealing jobs without so much as a glance for the private equity firms and CEOs who actually shipped those jobs overseas. On the Left, the entire white race is presumed responsible, ensuring a working class that should be united is instead divided along racial lines, reenacting centuries-old oppression.
Even those who have managed to eke out a position of economic comfort are plagued by a nagging awareness that their country is not what it seems, but most are unwilling to peek behind the façade and admit something has gone drastically wrong with the whole American experiment. Instead, they keep their panic in check with the politically amnesiac view that it’s the fault of the current inhabitant of the White House. Orange-Man-Bad and Obama-the-Secret-Muslim are two sides of the same coin: these figureheads, not decades of neoliberal leprosy, are blamed for the country’s misfortunes.
What we once understood as “America” has been packaged off and sold, and not even to the highest bidder — just the best-connected one. In its place has arisen a series of gated communities that require a certain income level for entry. Those who do not meet the restrictions — “You must make this much money to matter” — are relegated to the few dilapidated public services that remain, the leftovers too unappealing to privatize. Flint’s water system, Washington DC’s metro, Stockton’s police force, Puerto Rico’s electrical grid. The middle class that might once have relied on these services has been erased, literally and figuratively — robbed of their assets during the crash of 2008, they have been written off as irredeemable as “middle class” was itself redefined as six-figure incomes. Meanwhile, private companies, unfettered by regulation in Milton Friedman’s free-market wet dream, can do everything the government can’t. The state of Alabama signed a law last month allowing schools and churches to operate private police forces, opening the door to Blackwater (or Xe, or Academi, or whatever bad press has forced it to change its name to now) operating in the US with the full complicity of the government.
The Pentagon is so overrun by contractors like Blackwater doing the jobs the military is no longer capable of doing that it admits it doesn’t know how many of them are lined up at the government trough, but in 2016 three quarters of US forces in Afghanistan were contractors. Which isn’t so strange — the Pentagon doesn’t know (or care) where most of its money goes, because there’s always more where that came from when you’re the world’s reserve currency. America’s once-mighty military-industrial complex — the last heavy industry standing post-NAFTA — has been picked over by predatory monopolies to the point where despite unprecedented levels of military spending, America can no longer compete on the global stage. The F-35 — the most expensive fighter plane ever produced — performs so poorly Washington has to threaten its allies with sanctions to get them to buy it (and presumably stash it in the back of the closet), while Russian and Chinese missile developments have rendered the US’ multibillion dollar aircraft carriers a flotilla of overpriced sitting ducks. Even Big Tech — the last great hope for American capitalism — is quietly migrating to Israel, sucking up subsidies from both US and Israeli governments and laughing all the way to the bank.
All the US can still “make” is deals — Wall Street gets fat on Main Street’s misfortunes. When the mortgage bubble popped in 2008, financiers turned to student debt, packaging and marketing loans as “Student Loan Asset Backed Securities” (SLABS). Over the last decade, as SLABS have become a $200 billion market, the total amount of debt held by American students has more than doubled, surpassing $1.47 trillion. It’s no coincidence that college costs more than twice what it did 20 years ago. Student debt is even more attractive than mortgage debt, because it can’t be forgiven or dismissed through bankruptcy, and its bearers are too young when they sign the papers to fully comprehend that they may never pay it off.
Colleges have turned students into “investments” with exploitative income-sharing agreements in which the student agrees to give a percentage of their future income to the school after graduation in order to guarantee loan payback, a model uncannily similar to indentured servitude (and, perhaps unsurprisingly, developed by Milton Friedman). Debtors’ prisons are back with a vengeance, too — SWAT teams and US Marshals are arresting people over unpaid student loan debts and predatory court fee systems have widened the pool of potential “criminals” the state can count on as a renewable financial resource. Broke municipalities are so excited when private prison corporations like GEO Group come knocking that they willingly sign agreements pledging to keep the facility a certain percentage full, offering their citizens up on a silver platter to appease their new corporate overlords.
What’s the government to do when there’s no “America” left to sell? How do you define yourself when you’ve sold your ideals, your heavy industry, your technological advancements, your land, and even your citizens? The American dream has always somewhat resembled a fairytale, and that has been part of its persistent attraction. People fleeing war-torn countries or economic wastelands believed they would live happily ever after if they just made it to the United States. But there was once something, however flawed, to back up the fantasy. Now, Americans celebrating their country’s independence are hard-pressed to find any traces of it left. No wonder we’re setting off more fireworks than ever — nothing banishes an existential crisis like a big explosion.
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Twitter has declared victory over disinformation, deplatforming thousands of pro-Iranian Twitter accounts this week to coincide with US Secretary of State “Rapture Mike” Pompeo’s evidence-free declaration that Iran had attacked two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. But the mass deletion is merely an effort to distract from the implosion of two anti-Iran troll campaigns dedicated to smearing pro-peace Americans, both tacitly Twitter-approved. And there’s plenty more where those came from. As US media and politicians continues to hyperventilate about Russian bots, who’s the real troll-master?
Pompeo was out front with the blame hours after the attack, absent a shred of proof beyond unspecified “intelligence” and a few other dubious incidents in the Middle East that the US has previously pinned on Iran (also absent a shred of proof). But even mainstream media has initially been reluctant to take his word for it, mostly because the narrative is so improbable - Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe was in Tehran when it happened, promising to make the “utmost effort” to de-escalate tensions, when, as if on cue, one Japanese ship and another carrying Japanese cargo were hit? What are the odds?
When even CNN acknowledged that the attack “doesn’t appear to benefit any of the protagonists in the region,” and Bloomberg admitted “Iran has little to gain” from blowing up the ships of its esteemed guest, Pompeo clearly understood another route of influence was required. Who better to call in for reinforcements than Twitter, which has demonstrated time and again its willingness to serve the US’ preferred narrative with mass deplatformings? 4,779 accounts believed to be “associated or backed by Iran” were removed - less than an hour after Pompeo's declaration of Iranian guilt - for nothing more than tweeting “global news content, often with an angle that benefited the diplomatic and geostrategic views of the Iranian state.” This was deemed “platform manipulation,” and therefore unacceptable.
One troll down, thousands more to go
Tweeting with an angle that benefits the diplomatic and geostrategic views of the American state, however, is perfectly acceptable - at least, it wasn’t Twitter that brought the “Iran Disinformation Project” crashing to a halt earlier this month. The State Department officially ended its @IranDisinfo influence operation after the social media initiative, ostensibly created to “counter Iranian propaganda,” went rogue, smearing any and all critics of Trump’s hawkish Iran policy as paid operatives of the Iranian government. Human rights activists, students, journalists, academics, even insufficiently-militant American propagandists at RFE/RL, Voice of America and other US-funded outlets were attacked by @IranDisinfo - all on the US taxpayer’s dime.
Congress only learned of the project in a closed-door hearing on Monday, when the State Department confessed the troll campaign had taken $1.5 million in taxpayers’ money to attack those same taxpayers - all in the name of promoting “freedom of expression and free access to information.” The group contracted to operate Iran Disinfo, E-Collaborative for Civic Education, is run by an Iranian immigrant and claims to focus on strengthening “civil society” and “democracy” back home, though its work is almost exclusively US-focused and its connections with pro-war think tanks like the Foundation for Defense of Democracies have alarmed congressional staffers.
“What rules are in place to prevent state-funded organization from smearing American citizens? If there wasn’t public outcry, would the Administration have suspended funding for Iran Disinfo?” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) tweeted after the mea culpa meeting. While the State Department was long barred from directing government-funded propaganda at its own citizens, that rule was quietly repealed in 2013 with the passage of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act, which gave its narrative-spinners free reign to run influence operations at home. And while the Pentagon is technically forbidden from running psychological operations (“psy-ops”) against American citizens, that rule goes out the window in case of “domestic emergencies” - and the domestic emergency declared by then-President George W. Bush days after the September 11 terror attacks remains in effect, 18 years later.
Trump's favorite anti-Iran troll
Nor was the State Department’s trolling operation the only anti-Iran psy-op to be unmasked in recent weeks. Heshmat Alavi, a virulently anti-Iranian columnist promoted by the Trump administration and published in Forbes, the Hill, and several other outlets, was exposed by the Intercept as a propaganda construct operated by the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a controversial Iranian exile group often called a cult that has only recently lobbied its way off the US’ terror list. The MEK is notorious for buying the endorsement of American political figures, and national security adviser John Bolton, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani are among those who have spoken at its events.
The fictional Heshmat Alavi’s stories were used to sell Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran deal to the Washington Post and other more reputable outlets, as well as to promote the MEK as a “main Iranian opposition group” and viable option for post-regime-change leadership of Iran - even though it is very much fringe and hated by the majority of Iranians for fighting on the side of Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Indeed, Alavi’s relentless advocacy for the MEK may have scared off a few of the sites that initially published his work - the Diplomat and the Daily Caller both quit publishing him in 2017, citing quality concerns.
None of the editors who’d published Alavi’s work had ever spoken to him or even paid him, and none could provide the Intercept with any evidence that he was not, in fact, “a persona run by a team of people from the political wing of the MEK.” Defectors confirmed that Alavi is a small part of a massive US-directed propaganda campaign.
“We were always active in making false news stories to spread to the foreign press and in Iran,” a Canadian MEK defector told the Intercept, describing a comprehensive online propaganda operation run out of the group’s former base in Iraq that sought to control the narrative about Iran on Facebook and Twitter. Alavi may be gone, his account quietly suspended by Twitter in the wake of the Intercept’s unmasking and his stories pulled from Forbes and the Diplomat, but there are more where he came from. The Intercept delivered Twitter all the evidence they needed to take down the MEK’s trolling network, a swamp of “coordinated inauthentic behavior” in which Alavi was a prominent node, but the social network sat on its hands.
Friends funding fiends
Add to this toxic US-approved stew the Israeli astroturf operation Act.IL, which in 2018 took $1.1 million from Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs to troll Americans critical of Israeli policies, including its hostility toward Iran. Initially founded to combat the Iran nuclear deal, the Ministry’s mission has pivoted to combating the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, for which it receives significant US funding (Israeli Lt-Gen Gabi Ashkenazi admitted in 2012 that American taxpayers contribute more to the country’s defense budget than Israeli taxpayers). Act.IL boasts it has gotten Americans fired from their jobs, and the app encourages users to accuse American students and journalists who support BDS of antisemitism, mass-report their posts, and otherwise engage in what would be called “coordinated inauthentic behavior” if any other country did it.
Act.IL is by no means the only Israeli trolling campaign aimed at American eyeballs, either. Psy-Group, the Israeli private intelligence company that infamously pitched a social media influence operation to the Trump campaign, ran a multi-pronged online smear operation to influence a local election in California in 2017 and has pitched dozens more. The Israel on Campus Coalition attacks pro-Palestinian student activists and professors through coordinated social media campaigns, while The Israel Project operates a network of Facebook groups whose admitted purpose is to smuggle pro-Israeli propaganda into users’ newsfeeds by concealing it among bland inspirational messages.
Such clear-cut deception by state-sponsored actors is a blatant violation of Facebook's policies as they've been applied to other users, but the site claims the Israeli groups are kosher. Yet of the pro-Iran accounts deleted by Twitter, one “set” included 248 accounts “engaged with discussions related to Israel specifically” - these were shut down for nothing more than their country of origin, even as inauthentic accounts run by Israel were given carte-blanche to spew propaganda. Twitter and Facebook don’t mind being weaponized in the propaganda wars, as long as they’re working for the “right” side.
As 21st century wars are fought more and more in the informational sphere, the brightly-colored propaganda posters of the previous century have been replaced with relatively sophisticated social media influence operations. What Pompeo can’t accomplish by lying to the American public, the State Department will attempt to achieve through the slow and steady drip of disinformation.
US politicians, meanwhile, remain so fixated on the “Russian trolls stole the election!” narrative they’ve been flogging for the last three years that the Senate last week unanimously passed a bill to restrict entry to any foreign national convicted of “election meddling,” a toothless piece of legislative virtue-signaling that reveals their utter disconnection from reality. It’s more than a little ironic that they’d embrace and even pay for foreign meddling as long as they believe the trolls are working for them.
As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.” Or a troll.
[originally published in abbreviated form at RT]Add a comment
The neoliberal establishment is wringing its hands in the wake of European elections that proved a resounding victory for populist parties across the continent, casting around for someone to blame but utterly incapable of realizing their own interference has doomed them. Doubling down on the censorship, they are determined to provoke the catastrophe they need to make free speech history.
The NGO-industrial complex was operating at maximum capacity in the weeks leading up to the election, shutting down hundreds of Facebook pages deemed “fake” or “hate speech” in the hope of controlling the messages reaching voters before they made the terrible mistake of voting for a candidate who represents their interests.
Led by Avaaz, which claims to be a “global citizens’ movement monitoring election freedom and disinformation,” this well-heeled fifth column whipped the press into paranoid frenzies with reports like “Fakewatch,” which breathlessly documented 500 “suspicious” pages and groups it claims are “spreading massive disinformation.” The groups have little in common other than their alleged “link[s] to right-wing and anti-EU organizations,” a capital offense for the promoters of “democracy,” which can only be permitted where it doesn’t stray from the center-left path of most #Resistance.
“Far-right and anti-EU groups are weaponizing social media at scale to spread false and hateful content,” the study warns, gloating that after sharing its findings with Facebook, the platform shut down an “unprecedented” number of pages on the eve of the election (77 out of the 500, according to VentureBeat, which has credulously signal-boosted every utterance of Avaaz as if it is divine truth from the Oracle of Delphi). Avaaz's reports frame the problem as an affliction of the right wing only, even though disinformation is second nature to political operatives at both ends of the spectrum (and, more importantly, in the sanctified center).
The Computational Propaganda Project, an Oxford-based research group, made no secret of its elitist leanings, declaiming, “On Facebook, while many more users interact with mainstream content overall, individual junk news stories can still hugely outperform even the best, most important, professionally produced stories,” as if users have no choice but to consume “professionally-produced” Oxford-approved material or wallow in junk content. And Facebook’s own statistics bear out the hypothesis that coordinated inauthentic behavior has surged - the site removed almost 3.4 billion “fake” accounts from October 2018 to March 2019, more than the number of actual users.
But Facebook is not simply targeting fake accounts for takedown. Last Sunday, as Europeans prepared to head out to the polls, Facebook froze the largest group used by the Yellow Vests to organize protests and share information, silencing its 350,000+ members at a critical moment in French politics. More than one group member, reduced to commenting on existing posts, pointed out that President Emmanuel Macron met with Facebook chief executive android Mark Zuckerberg three weeks earlier to discuss a first-of-its-kind collaboration in which French government officials are being given access to material censored from users’ newsfeeds, essentially permitting them direct control of what the French are allowed to see on social media. Facebook, then, is providing France with the same techno-fascist services it provides the US government: Facebook will take on the burden of actually censoring dissent, thus skirting any pesky free-speech laws that might otherwise trip up a government that attempted to do the same.
Avaaz focused on the Yellow Vests in its coverage of the French elections, complaining RT France was getting huge quantities of views compared to native French media - perhaps because native French media have been doing Macron’s bidding and attempting to minimize the protests. By framing RT as a perpetrator of “information warfare,” the NGO was making a deliberate effort to have it deplatformed under one of Macron’s controversial police-state laws passed in 2018, by which any outlet spreading so-called “false information” can be gagged for three months leading up to an election. Yet Macron’s own interior minister, Christophe Castaner, lied on Twitter when he claimed the Yellow Vests had attacked the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, and RT was the first outlet to publish the truth about the incident. Who is the disinfo agent?
When the election results came in, Avaaz and its political allies in the neoliberal center could only gape in disbelief. Surely they had wiped La Liga and the Front National (now National Rally) from social media, salting the earth in their wake? How had they won? And what happened in Germany, where Angela Merkel’s CDU performed worse than ever in European election history? Merkel could blame YouTube - 70 influential video stars put out a call to their followers to shun her coalition - but the creators also called for shunning the far-right AfD, so the platform couldn’t be demonized as a tool of the ever-present Nazi Threat. That didn’t stop her party from trying, of course - CDU party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer complained about online “propaganda” and promised to “tackle this discussion quite aggressively.”
The populist parties won in large part because of the establishment’s unseemly embrace of fascist tactics, from the UK’s totalitarian information warfare disguised as “protecting citizens” or France’s visceral police violence, maiming protesters as if for sport. Europeans voted out of disgust with an establishment so insecure in its control of the narrative that it has sought to annihilate all signs of dissent, dismissing euroskepticism as Russian astroturfing and xenophobia and plugging its ears to the legitimate grievances of its subjects. The National Rally may have beat Macron’s jackbooted thugs, who in the past two months have hauled half a dozen journalists in for questioning by intelligence agencies for publishing stories that embarrassed the regime, but nearly half of French voters refused to vote for anyone at all, according to an Ipsos poll, and Germany’s Greens mopped the floor with Merkel’s coalition among young voters.
The triumph of Nigel Farage’s Brexit party in the UK is the product of a populace wrestling with cognitive dissonance, forced to realize that the "constitutional monarchy" they believed they lived in isn't so constitutional after all, having jettisoned its democratic mask to cling to the EU under the guise of good old British pragmatism. Even passionate Remainers are happy to see Theresa Maybe go, though it remains to be seen whether her successor will be any more inclined to honor the result of 2016’s referendum. Meanwhile, the Guardian’s embarrassing attempt to shame Farage over a handful of appearances on the Alex Jones show - the paper claimed any reference to “globalists” and “new world order” were dog-whistles for the dreaded “antisemitic conspiracy theories” - proves the establishment media will never regain narrative primacy as long as alternatives exist. Jones, for all his flaws (and they are legion), has a massive audience; the Guardian, despite being propped up by the UK government’s Operation Mockingbird-esque “Integrity Initiative” (and the award for most ironic name ever goes to…), does not.
With the vast American election-fraud apparatus scrambling to prepare itself for 2020, now enabled by Pentagon-funded, Unit-8200-approved Microsoft “election security” software from the makers of the wrongthink-babysitter browser plugin NewsGuard, the US ruling class seems to be poised to make the same mistake as its global peers. Facebook, working hand in hand with the Atlantic Council, has banned and shadowbanned legions of anti-neoliberal activists over the past year, selectively applying (and inventing) new rules in an effort to keep popular content-creators jumping through hoops instead of influencing the discourse. Facebook has been allowed its place of privilege because as a “private corporation” it is legally permitted to violate users’ free speech rights in ways the US government cannot. But if Facebook can’t deliver a victory for the “right guys” this time around, it will be punished. Indeed, a massive anti-trust probe appears to be in the offing, 14 years of Zuckerberg apologies notwithstanding.
The site learned back when it tried to roll out a “disputed” tag for “wrongthink” stories that people were actually more likely to click on those stories; it learned the lesson again when its hugely expensive Facebook Watch news show featuring Anderson Cooper flopped last year. Zuckerberg is on the record begging for government regulation; will Facebook and Twitter use the outcome of this round of elections as a springboard for further crackdowns?
YouTube already has - thousands of creators found their channels demonetized and riddled with takedown notices this week in what has been dubbed the #VoxAdpocalypse after a pathologically whiny Vox blogger became the face of the mass deplatforming, but the censorship appears to be more of a response to Macron’s Orwellian “Christchurch call” to censor “extremism” - that ill-defined conveniently-variable catch-all whose borders are perpetually expanding to engulf all inconvenient speech - aided and abetted by the ADL than Google taking pity on a thin-skinned professional victim.
A sinister coalition of MEPs, "civil society" groups, and the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity - a who's who of war criminals, psychopaths, and oligarchs that includes Michael Chertoff, John "death squad" Negroponte, Victor Pinchuk, and Anders Fogh Rasmussen - has already demanded "parliamentary inquiries into the impact of the use and abuse of technology platforms on democracy and elections." It's no coincidence that several of these "election integrity" enthusiasts sit on the board of NewsGuard, which is currently trying to weasel into the EU's internet regulatory framework by playing up the "disinformation" threat.
The blue-check intelligentsia has been trying for years to convince the hoi polloi that “conspiratorial” thinking is somehow detrimental to democracy. Former Obama labor secretary Robert Reich told Buzzfeed exactly that - “If we become a conspiracy society, we all carry around a degree of paranoia and that’s not healthy for democracy.” But this divorces cause from effect, as if “conspiracy theorists” have formulated their theories out of whole cloth - as if there isn’t evidence for these theories piled knee-deep, as if once-trusted institutions haven’t proven themselves time and again to be as trustworthy as tabloid tales of Elvis risen from the grave. If paranoia is unhealthy for democracy, how is a media incentivized to lie, misdirect and obfuscate any better?
The populist wave has been conflated with an uptick in “hate” in an attempt to delegitimize and demonize it. Outside of groups like the ADL, whose statistics are easily debunked, there is no credible evidence bigotry is on the rise, but as an actual Nazi once said, tell a big enough lie often enough, and it might as well be real. Beginning around 2012, the establishment media began relentlessly flogging the “white privilege” narrative in an effort to fan the flames of interracial conflict. Political science doctoral student Zach Goldberg performed an analysis of several terms using the LexisNexis database and found evidence of heavy narrative manipulation - “whiteness” was mentioned in four times as many news articles in 2017 as in 2012, “white privilege” was mentioned ten times as often in 2017 as in 2012, and “racism” was mentioned ten times as often in the New York Times alone in 2017 as in 2012. Yet even as the media has seemingly talked of nothing else, actual prejudice - by whites against non-whites, at least - has declined since 2008, according to a University of Pennsylvania study published last month, and the FBI's own statistics show hate crimes against most minority groups are on the decline. Because few European governments separate "hate crimes" from "normal" crime statistics, information on bigotry in Europe often comes solely from NGOs and "civil society" groups that rely for their funding on the perception that Hate is on the march. Populists are capable of prejudice like anyone else, but it is their defining characteristic - a "prejudice" against oligarchy - that motivates the smears churned out by the media.
Protest votes like Trump and Brexit are cries for help from a disenfranchised populace. The European elections boasted the highest turnout in decades, and the ruling class ignores the results at its peril. When the election ritual no longer satisfies a population's need to feel it is exerting its free will on society, we get public hexings of political figures, people reasoning black magic is more likely to solve their problems than voting. This is the same desperation that leads people like Arnav Gupta to set themselves on fire in front of the White House. Europeans have demonstrated unequivocally that they are sick of unaccountable dictatorship from Brussels, where EC President Jean-Claude Juncker, never one for sympathy with the little guy, sneers at the "populist, nationalists, stupid nationalists" who are "in love with their own countries." They are sick of being displaced from their homes by a seemingly endless tide of migrants, just as those migrants themselves are displaced from their homes by a seemingly endless tide of American wars. Both groups are victimized by the IMF's neoliberal austerity policies, epitomized by Juncker, who has done more than perhaps any one person to help Europe's corporate "citizens" dodge taxes while nickel-and-diming the humans.
Instead of addressing these legitimate grievances, those in power on both sides of the Atlantic tighten the screws on online discourse - out of sight, out of mind. YouTube declares conspiracy theorizing a form of hate speech and plays whack-a-mole with a documentary confirming everyone’s long-standing suspicions that “save-the-migrants” NGOs are cashing in on the desperate human tide. Big Tech promises to work even more closely with Big Brother to crack down on dissident speech, tarring its victims as Nazis while hoping no one will point out such collusion is one of the defining characteristics of fascism.
These measures are guaranteed to further radicalize the discontent. Deleting social media accounts does not delete the people behind them, and France has already proven that starving a protest movement of media attention only makes it angrier. The ruling class may welcome their rage, aiming to use the inevitable outbreak of violence to choke off the last avenues of free expression, but once the guillotines come out, it isn't the masses' heads that will be rolling in the streets.
(also published at Ghion Journal, where my work will also be appearing going forward...)Add a comment
US media and government have united to demonize "anti-vax" parents, demanding censorship, fines and even jail for questioning scientific progress. If they wanted to end the "crisis," they could - but that would defeat the purpose, which is to keep the people divided, fearing and hating a malignant "enemy within" that threatens their beloved children.
When anti-vax activist Del Bigtree donned a yellow star in a melodramatic show of solidarity with Hasidic Jewish parents being pressured into vaccinating their children under a short-lived emergency law in upstate New York's Rockland County, many cringed. Sure, public opinion was against anti-vaxxers, but they weren't being rounded up and sent away to camps, or fenced into ghettos as Jews were in Nazi Germany.
Then the Washington Post took Bigtree's idea and ran with it in a bizarre, overwrought editorial that slammed anti-vax parents as "pro-plague" and called for them to be arrested, fined, and isolated, placed on registries like sex offenders (their comparison, not mine), and…fenced into ghettos ("force isolation on pockets of populations that might have been exposed to the outbreak").
This isn't how you defuse a controversy. No amount of catastrophizing - whether it's the World Health Organization declaring anti-vaxxers a threat on the level of ebola and HIV, or New York mayor Bill deBlasio sending "disease detectives" to Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods to hunt down unvaccinated kids, or Facebook removing photos of vaccine package inserts posted by parents concerned by the laundry list of side effects - will convince a vaccine skeptic to embrace inoculation. Indeed, these measures guarantee anti-vaxxers will become further entrenched in their beliefs. If vaccines are truly safe and effective, the argument goes, why are the authorities suppressing anything that questions them?
It's clear from the institutional response to the measles "crisis" that the powers that be are not interested in changing anyone's mind. It should be a simple matter for doctors to take scared parents aside, listen to their worries, and address them one by one - perhaps even offer to meet them halfway by developing an individualized health program that takes their child's needs into consideration.
Certainly, pretending there's no risk to vaccination when the government's own vaccine court has paid out $4 billion to the parents of vaccine-damaged children over the past 30 years is disingenuous, and only serves to convince skeptics that a cover-up exists. Many "anti-vaxxers" are parents of autistic kids who believe their children were damaged by vaccination; most have done a significant quantity of research on the subject. Treating them like gullible fools is guaranteed to alienate them further.
Nor is the US government's response to a measles "epidemic" that has infected 880 people since January in a country of 327 million people designed to put anyone at ease. With a vocal segment of the population already alarmed over unprecedented assaults on First Amendment freedoms of speech and of the press, several states have put forward bills to end religious exemptions to mandatory vaccination laws, thus inflaming another vocal segment of the population, this one concerned for the First Amendment freedom of religion. Headlines like the New York Times editorial earlier this month, titled "Infecting people isn't a religious right," deftly add insult to injury. If the government's goal was to create civic unrest, to encourage division in a country already more divided than ever, they couldn't have done a better job.
And this may indeed be the goal. "Wedge issues" - controversies which divide and inflame a population, despite often having little or no bearing on their day-to-day lives - are a time-honored means of manipulating popular sentiment. Divide and conquer as a political principle dates back to the Roman Empire. As the American Empire crumbles, with poverty and homelessness at record levels (despite the government's attempts to redefine poverty and hide unemployment) while companies like Amazon and Google break the trillion-dollar mark, even capitalism's biggest cheerleaders are concerned about the unwashed masses rising up and breaking things.
It's no coincidence that the vaccine debate is being amplified at the same time Americans are duking it out over abortion, another popular wedge issue. Threaten people's children, even other people's hypothetical children, and a strong emotional response is guaranteed. So why, if the end goal is universal vaccination, is the government threatening the parents of unvaccinated children with taking those children away?
If health authorities are serious about converting the anti-vaxxers, they will have to stop thinking in terms of war. This means engaging in civil dialogue, instead of refusing to debate the other side, and listening to parents' concerns - even treating those concerns as if they come from their own minds and not nefarious Russian influence campaigns - instead of censoring all criticism. It means conducting more safety studies, studies not funded by pharmaceutical companies or other institutions with a vested interest in the products being tested, and publicly admitting that even the Centers for Disease Control acknowledges certain pre-existing conditions can interact with vaccines to produce devastating developmental disabilities. It certainly does not mean treating anti-vaxxers like plague-loving brainwashed zombies.Add a comment
The Trump administration’s war hawks couldn’t have asked for a more docile casus belli than the Katyusha rocket that landed a mile outside the US embassy in Baghdad’s American-occupied Green Zone on Sunday night, sparing persons, property, and the pride of a president who must have begun to doubt whether the mounting tensions between the US and Iran had any basis in reality at all - or whether the deliberately vague "credible intelligence" on the Iranian "threat" supplied by the Mossad was not a trick to convince the US to take out Israel's last regional rival.
The plucky little rocket injured no one, and the launcher that fired it was immediately recovered by Iraqi security services in a canal in East Baghdad, which Israeli media breathlessly reported is “home to Iran-backed Shiite militias.” Authorities found no clues as to who had fired the rocket, but a narrative trap was clearly being laid. "Non-emergency" US government personnel had been safely bundled out of the Iraqi embassy by the State Department last Wednesday, supposedly due to an "imminent threat" from Iran, and even Exxon-Mobil had interrupted its plunder of Iraq’s resources, pulling 30 engineers off a Basra oil field as a "temporary precautionary measure."
Despite its apparent futility as an offensive measure, the lonely rocket fulfills the purposefully broad criteria set forth by “Rapture Mike” Pompeo earlier this month when he warned that any attacks on “US interests or citizens” by “Iran or its proxies” would be met with a “swift and decisive” response. In a “coincidence” that should surprise no one, the malignant manatee followed those remarks with a statement celebrating Israel’s National Day and promising to “work toward a safer, more stable, and more prosperous" - and presumably depopulated of all those pesky Persians - "Middle East.”
Trump met with Bolton and other members of his cabinet on Sunday night to discuss the strike. While the State Department made ominous noises, its statement officially found no responsibility as yet; the president, however, had apparently made up his mind who to blame, and Bolton made up his mind decades ago.
It’s unlikely this will be the last provocation. Despite an "emergency" visit from Pompeo to Baghdad earlier this month in which he paid lip service to Iraqi "independence" while warning "any attack by Iran or its proxies on American forces in Iraq would affect the Iraqi government too," Iraqi ambassador to Russia Haidar Mansour Hadi has said in no uncertain terms that Iraq will not allow the US to use it as a staging ground for an invasion of Iran. A few people would presumably have to die or be kidnapped before the Iraqis permit their country to be used as a launchpad for World War III by someone whose idea of international diplomacy is basically "that's a nice sovereign nation you got there - sure would be a shame if we had to invade it a third time." Though with 5,000 American troops still stationed in Iraq nearly a decade after Obama supposedly ended that war, the second invasion never really finished.
Unwilling to allow Mossad to hog the credit for predicting "Iran"'s curiously self-defeating act of amateur rocketry, the State Department issued a Level 4 travel advisory on Wednesday, warning US citizens in Iraq that they are at “high risk for violence and kidnapping” from “numerous terrorist and insurgent groups” as well as “anti-US sectarian militias” - who also threaten “western companies.” That warning followed a similar notice from the US Maritime Administration cautioning ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz to give the US a few days notice, the better to attack them and blame Iran - er, protect them.
The Baghdad rocket attack, almost a carbon copy of the pointless “Hamas rocket strikes” Israel stages whenever it wants to derail peace talks or just flatten a few blocks in Gaza, comes almost exactly a week after four oil tankers mysteriously sprouted holes in their sides just below the water line, large enough to attract attention but small enough not to spill a single drop of precious oil or risk sinking the vessels. An anonymous US military source was breathlessly quoted blaming the “sabotage” on Iran the day after the "attack," as if Americans had learned nothing in Syria other than that rushing into war without all the facts is a great way to cheer up Lockheed Martin stockholders.
Given the newly-leaked OPCW report confirming that last year’s “chemical attack” in Douma, which was immediately pinned on Bashar al-Assad without a shred of evidence based on the word of Oscar-winning terrorist head-choppers the White Helmets, was instead the work of anti-government rebels, the US should be doubly cautious about retaliating against any perceived attack. But Bolton and Pompeo have been baying for Iranian blood for over a decade now, and even the most transparently absurd excuse will do (the Onion's headline "Bleeding John Bolton stumbles into Capitol Building claiming that Iran shot him" barely counts as satire).
Even if Iran, which has repeatedly said it does not want war with the US, suddenly developed a death wish, it wouldn’t waste its critical first strike on an abandoned building a mile from the American embassy - not when there's billions of dollars worth of juicy American aircraft carrier sitting in the Gulf, one well-placed missile away from Davy Jones' locker.
Like the Douma "chemical attack," this rocket strike does not benefit the government in any way. Iran has nothing to gain by bringing down the full force of the American regime-change machine on its head by crossing Pompeo’s ridiculously vague red line (more of a red blob, really), even if, per the Pentagon’s own 2002 ‘war-gaming’ of the conflict, the US is unlikely to win the resulting war. Just as Nikki Haley's warning that Assad would be blamed for all chemical attacks was a green light to rebel groups to stage false flag events and pin them on the government, so the Trump administration has essentially issued an open invitation to all Iran's enemies to attack something - anything - in the CENTCOM region and point to Tehran as the culprit.
As usual, the only winner in this scenario is Israel, whose PM Benjamin Netanyahu actually had the chutzpah to tell US officials that his country wasn’t interested in direct participation in the war he’s been trying to start for the better part of three decades - even as his military official was in the New York Times trying to goad Trump into firing the first shot.
“If the Americans now act like nothing happened — ‘Iran didn’t spit on us, it’s only rain’ - it’s catastrophic, because it’s saying to the Iranians, ‘We won’t interfere.’ What kind of Middle East will we face when it’ll be clear to other countries that Americans are not ready to fulfill what people expect them to do?” Israeli military intelligence officer Yaakov Amidror asked, horrified by a world in which Israel is not able to run around throwing sand in the faces of the bigger kids on the geopolitical playground, safe in the knowledge that Big Daddy ‘Murica will come to its rescue, guns blazing. Saudi Arabia, too, has also claimed it wants no part of this war, even as it joins the US in blaming Iran for the holes in its ships and continues to blame Iran for the Houthis' refusal to lay down and die in Yemen.
Nor have the US' usual partners in war crime taken the bait. British Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika, deputy commander of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition, told reporters on Tuesday there was "no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria," triggering a sharp rebuke from the Pentagon, and Spain actually withdrew its ship from the US-led carrier strike group dispatched last month to the Gulf, determined to avoid getting roped into an extremely unattractive conflict.
I've already commented on the curiously threadbare quality of the US' anti-Iran propaganda - for some reason, the American people aren’t being fed the usual Manichaean dramas starring “animal Assad” or Gaddafi-the-rapist. It’s unsettling how little effort is being expended to sell us what will certainly be the most ruinous war we've faced in a lifetime: recycled physics-defying threats about missiles fired from small boats, warnings of sleeper-cell militias Tehran can activate with a word, and the constantly-repeated-but-still-untrue line that Iran is the world's top sponsor of terror are hardly sufficient to convince a country to act against its interests. Perhaps after the utter failure of the latest regime-change operation in Venezuela, the ruling class has realized that their persuasion skills have gotten soft. Meanwhile, instead of creating and amplifying western propaganda, they’ve merely silenced Iranian media, knocking out PressTV’s YouTube channel.
Americans are familiar with the tragedy of how shortsighted greed destroyed the country's industrial base in the latter half of the twentieth century. But can we no longer even manufacture consent? Or have the powers that be realized they no longer need the consent of the governed to wage war in the service of empire?Add a comment
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