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
Americans are sick of fighting a 20-year war against an undefined enemy they can’t seem to beat. With morale and recruitment scraping bottom, the world’s best-funded military reckons that, if it can’t win, it can at least look like a winner.
The US Army looked to World War II, the last war the US could decisively be said to have “won,” for inspiration when designing its new service uniform to invoke “the most prominent time the Army’s service to our nation was universally recognized,” as sergeant major Daniel Dailey, the Army’s highest-ranking enlisted soldier, told the New York Times. But the specter of World War II – when Americans were hailed as “the good guys” – was conjured up long before the military decided to reenact its golden age through cosplay. Indeed, the US has been borrowing from the WWII playbook since before the War on Terror officially began.
Like WWII, the US’ forever-war, which has long since spilled beyond the Middle East, is being fought on multiple fronts against countries that, left alone, would pose no threat to the US. In both cases, the American people had to be tricked into supporting long, bloody, expensive conflicts that served little strategic purpose for the US – but strongly benefited their allies.
Neocon think tank Project for a New American Century (PNAC) infamously called for a “new Pearl Harbor” to advance its foreign policy goals, and the attacks of September 11 were used to shred the Constitution and pitch the country headlong into nearly two decades of unparalleled destruction, destabilizing the Middle East for generations and bankrupting the US. Neither attack happened without plenty of warning, however, and both were arguably permitted to take place in order to manufacture consent for extremely unpopular wars.
With the US barely out of World War I, President Franklin Roosevelt faced a population 80 to 90 percent opposed to entering another global conflict; he even ran on the promise that “your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.” Not only did Roosevelt deliberately place the US’ Pacific fleet in harm’s way by anchoring it in Pearl Harbor against the advice of fleet commander Admiral James Richardson; he relieved Richardson of his command for complaining, reportedly telling him “Sooner or later the Japanese will commit an overt act against the United States and the nation will be willing to enter the war.” US military intelligence, which had cracked the Japanese encryption codes, intercepted radio messages indicating Japan planned to attack Hawaii. The attack was allowed to happen, and overnight, a population allergic to war was baying for Japanese blood.
Several government agents, including FBI Minneapolis field office chief counsel Coleen Rowley and FBI Special Agent Robert Wright, came forward before September 11, troubled by evidence that seemed to point to a foreign group planning an attack on American soil. Saudi nationals training at flight schools and Israeli “art students” probing security vulnerabilities in government buildings set off alarms in government agencies all over the country. But the administration of President George W. Bush, packed with PNAC alumni, ignored and even punished these whistleblowers. The Twin Towers were destroyed, the PATRIOT Act (pre-written and ready to go) was rammed through a docile Congress and, less than a month later, according to General Wesley Clark, the decision to invade Iraq had been made, even as hostilities had barely commenced in Afghanistan. Clark was told of a classified memo from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that described how “We’re going to take out seven countries in five years,” and while their timetable is a little behind, Iran is the only country on that list where the US and its allies haven’t attempted a regime change.
It’s worth looking at what triggered the Pearl Harbor attack, because it is happening again. When Japan refused to pull its forces out of China, the US imposed an oil embargo on Japan, cutting the nation off from 80 percent of its oil supply and leaving it no choice but to seek fuel elsewhere. The closest oil was in then-Dutch Indonesia, but US-controlled Philippines physically barred the way. The US had thus almost guaranteed Japan would have to attack the US, allowing Washington to enter the war with the American people’s approval in order to fight Germany, whom Roosevelt perceived as the “real” enemy.
The US has imposed the strictest sanctions on Iran yet, repealing the last waivers last week in the hope of forcing the country into a similarly suicidal act. Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if it is blocked from using the waterway, which sees 20 percent of the world’s oil traffic. US officials have deemed such a move “unacceptable,” suggesting massive retaliation would follow, and a US carrier strike group is on its way to the region, supposedly acting on a "credible threat" that Iran plans to target US interests. Regardless of who fires the first shot - and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has warned Trump a false flag attack is extremely likely - war with Iran would be the result, and Americans would be cheering it on. The question is not if, but when.
War with Iran wouldn’t benefit the US at all – a 2002 Pentagon wargame simulation has even indicated the US would lose. But Iran is the strongest enemy of Israel left standing, and Trump's inner circle – like the neocons at PNAC (whose members included John Bolton) – has made it clear where his priorities lie. Just as laying waste to Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen only created an endless supply of enemies for the US while crossing Israel’s regional rivals off the list, attempting to destroy Iran will have devastating repercussions for the US while ensuring no one is left to challenge Israel’s regional dominance. It is no coincidence that the intel suggesting Iran was plotting an attack on American targets in the Middle East - the tip that triggered the deployment of the carrier strike group Abraham Lincoln to the region last month - came from the Mossad, the Israeli intel agency whose motto is "by deception, thou shalt do war." Israel has been lying about Iran's ambitions for decades. In the same way, Britain, not the US, stood to benefit from the US attacking Germany in WWII. While the US did eventually profit from Germany’s defeat, splitting a destroyed Europe with the Soviets, Britain needed US intervention if it hoped to survive at all.
World War II was a golden era for propagandists on both sides, and the US’ reliance on the art has only grown since the days when buck-toothed racist Japanese caricatures spoke to American civilians in broken English and riding alone meant riding with Hitler. And Hitler remains the exemplar of evil in the American mind only because history is written by the victors – Stalin, whose body count was significantly greater, was cast as kindly Uncle Joe, until the military-industrial complex required a new enemy to maintain military spending levels and the Soviet Union was transformed from powerful friend into formidable foe. Anti-Nazi propaganda has flourished since the war's end, with lurid tales of lampshades and soap made from concentration camp victims, and "Nazi" itself has become shorthand for anyone we disagree with politically.
Americans are told again and again that military intervention is the only way to “save” the people of Libya, Syria, or Iraq, especially their women and children. While Libya may have taken the cake for most bizarre propaganda narrative yet, with stories that Muammar Gaddafi was doling out Viagra to his soldiers to ensure they were at the top of their rape game, the terrorist White Helmets in Syria won an Oscar for their convincing portrayal of a noble civil defense force, convincing the folks back home that Bashar Assad was a gas-happy monster instead of the cosmopolitan statesman who’d received the French Medal of Honor just a few years before.
An important part of both eras' successful propaganda campaigns was bringing the war closer to home. Most Americans couldn’t care less about what is happening halfway around the world, no matter how many babies are supposedly being thrown into ovens or out of incubators. During WWII, this was accomplished with a speculative story in Life magazine on how the Nazis might invade the US. One of the routes took the Nazis up through Mexico. The narrative hasn’t changed much since then, except now it’s ISIS camped out at the border, lustily eyeing our "freedoms."
Trump isn’t the only American aware that the US is no longer “winning.” But enacting the rituals of the last time it tasted victory is not going to catapult the world back into the golden age of the American empire. Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it – worse, they are doomed to think repeating it is a good idea.
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The New York Times has begged forgiveness for printing a cartoon that supposedly "included anti-Semitic tropes" in its international edition, but no amount of shameless groveling will stop the Israeli weaponization of the "anti-Semitism" smear as it steamrolls America's once-sacred First Amendment freedoms. This is a crusade to silence all legitimate criticism of a criminal regime, and if the Times has anything to apologize for, it is its complicity in that quest.
The offending cartoon depicts President Donald Trump as a blind man being led by a guide dog with the face of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, identified by a star-of-David collar. It's unclear what the "anti-Semitic trope" in this case is supposed to be - the collar is arguably necessary to confirm the dog is Netanyahu, and the reader would have to be a political illiterate to interpret that as a stand-in for "all Jews." The Times' willingness to slap the "anti-Semitic trope" label on the cartoon anyway should put to rest the ridiculous "anti-Semitic trope" trope that is tirelessly deployed to smother accusations of wrongdoing by Israel or its lobbying organizations inside the US.
Netanyahu himself has boasted that Trump acted on his orders when he declared Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization earlier this month, and Trump's willingness to flout international law to unilaterally "give" the Golan Heights to Netanyahu as a re-election present shocked the world, unsettling even some Zionists who believe the land is rightfully theirs but worry the US' official declaration will galvanize regional opposition to the occupation. Netanyahu's last election campaign was arguably based on his ability to "lead" the US president blindly off the edge of a geopolitical cliff. Is he guilty of perpetuating anti-Semitic tropes for bragging about it?
Most papers only apologize when they've printed something erroneous. The Times has chosen instead to issue a correction for one of the few accurate depictions of the relationship between Israel and the White House, a glimmer of truth even more notable for its contrast with the paper's usual disinformation painting Trump as some sort of foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Semite.
The Times' decision to apologize for this cartoon while remaining silent when a cartoon depicting Trump in a gay love affair with Vladimir Putin was condemned by LGBT readers last year betrays the editorial board's high moral dudgeon as the most transparent hypocrisy. US media has long smeared Putin's government as homophobic, yet here they were presenting him half-clothed in a stomach-turning romantic embrace with Trump - a president who, it should be noted, has presided over the deterioration of US-Russia relations to levels not seen since the Cold War. But LGBT Twitter ultimately has little power in society, unlike the Israeli lobby, and the unfavorable depiction of Trump ensured most influential LGBT organizations steered clear of criticizing the cartoon. Outrage has become yet another commodity to be traded, not a genuine response to offense.
If it's in a repentant mood, however, the Times could apologize for its one-sided coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - much of it fed to them by The Israel Project, which skews US coverage of the facts on the ground in Israel by supplying American reporters with talking points in order to "neutralize undesired narratives." From these spinmeisters we get the passive voice used to frame IDF soldiers mowing down unarmed protesters as "clashes occurred" and "Palestinian protesters were killed," as well as breathless coverage of tunnels, kites, and rocket attacks that rarely seem to hit anyone.
The Times could apologize for its failure to expose the global campaign to redefine "anti-Zionism" as "anti-Semitism," instead of playing into it by pretending a truthful cartoon is somehow an affront to Jews - as if all Jews support the racist policies of the Israeli government. Indeed, to assume all Jews back the criminal Netanyahu regime in its openly genocidal campaign to eradicate the Palestinians from the few enclaves of the West Bank in which they remain while maintaining an open-air concentration camp in Gaza is wildly anti-Semitic.
The Times could apologize for failing to report on the massive Israeli spying operation - funded, in no small part, by the US taxpayer - targeting American activists on American soil, exposed in detail in the suppressed al-Jazeera documentary "The Lobby," which leaked last year to deafening silence in the media. Journalist Max Blumenthal actually spoke with a Times journalist who wanted to cover the explosive revelations of the documentary, but no story ever appeared. As Ali Abunimah, founder of the Electronic Intifada, has pointed out, the suppression of the documentary should have been a story in and of itself - and would have, had it involved any other country.
"Imagine that this had been an undercover documentary revealing supposed Russian interference, or Iranian interference…in US policy, and powerful groups had gone to work to suppress its broadcast and it had leaked out. Just that element of it - the suppression and the leak - should be front page news in the Washington Post and the New York Times," he told Chris Hedges, whose RT program was the closest thing to mainstream coverage the documentary received in the US.
The Times instead chooses to cover up the actions of groups like the Israel on Campus Coalition as they surveil and smear pro-Palestinian activists - college students, professors, and others sympathetic to Israel's sworn enemy - using a strategy the ICC's executive director Jacob Baime admits is based on US General Stanley McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq. "The Lobby" revealed that agents working for the Israeli government infiltrate pro-Palestinian, pro-peace groups using fake social media accounts and report their findings back to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a shocking fact that none of the organizations named in the film have disputed. A foreign government operating a military-style surveillance network to target and smear American citizens in their own country - for nothing more than exercising their freedom of speech - gets a pass from the Times, but a cartoon showing Trump's blind loyalty to Israel for what it is must be condemned.
It's tough to electrify an outrage mob based on a story that wasn't printed, but the Times' failure to address the very real threat to Americans exercising their free speech - a threat all the more dire because it is funded by US tax dollars to the tune of $3.8 billion per year - merits at least a full-page apology. Compounding the insult is a domestic economic crisis, with many American cities facing record homelessness, skyrocketing cost of living, a dearth of secure employment and an excess of exploitative "gig economy" temp work, and a rapidly-disappearing social safety net. Israel is a wealthy country, as Netanyahu often boasts, a successful country. Only a truly blind government could continue to fork over such enormous sums of money while Americans languish in poverty.
"The anti-Semitism smear is not what it used to be," one lobbyist laments to al-Jazeera's hidden camera-equipped reporter. Perhaps this is why the state of Florida has advanced a bill to criminalize "anti-Semitism," now broadly redefined to include "alleging myths…that Jews control the media, economy, government, or other institutions." The bill passed the House unanimously, the one holdout bullied into submission when she voiced concerns about its incompatibility with the First Amendment, yet to point out - as AIPAC does - that this bipartisan approval exists because the Israeli lobby has influence over both parties, or that this influence can make or break a candidate, is about to become illegal. When even a milquetoast like Democratic congressman Beto O'Rourke has stuck his neck out to call Netanyahu a racist - and he receives more money from the Israeli lobby than most of his House colleagues - the Times should be ashamed of itself for pushing the fiction that criticism of Israel and its iron grip on the US government is equivalent to anti-Semitism.
The Times' own article about its apology quotes an interview with the "guilty" party, Portuguese cartoonist Antonio Moreira Antunes, from the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack, when four cartoonists and the magazine's editor were murdered, supposedly for printing an offensive cartoon. There is a definite parallel with the Zionist outrage mobs calling for Antunes' head - figuratively, if not yet literally; many are unsatisfied with the Times' apology and insist Antunes suffer for his insolence by losing his job, if not his life. Antunes, in the interview, called his job "a profession of risk," but states "there is no other option but to defend freedom of expression."
The New York Times, and everyone else who demanded they apologize for a truthful cartoon while ignoring their failure to oppose genuine bigotry in the Netanyahu regime and supporters of Zionism, clearly do not agree that freedom of expression is worth defending. A press that cannot even defend itself does not deserve to be called "free.'Add a comment
Former president and smooth (war) criminal Barack Obama paid a visit to his old pal Angela Merkel in Germany this week, reminiscing about the good old days when NATO could declare a no-fly zone in order to wipe out a Middle Eastern nation without a whiff of protest - and collecting a fat check for a speech at a "leadership conference."
Merkel looked pleased as punch to see her old pal from the pre-Trump era, flashing an unusually genuine smile during their embrace as he left the chancellery. Obama, for his part, has called Merkel one of his "favorite partners" during his two terms in office. Her "hands-off" style of governance dovetailed perfectly with his "speak suavely, but carry a big drone" model of foreign policy - the velvet glove placed over the Bush-era iron fist in order to repair the damage done to the US' international standing by Dubya's uncouth stampede to make his daddy proud by finishing off Saddam Hussein.
The pair reportedly discussed "trans-Atlantic relations" during their meeting. The nostalgia session must have proved therapeutic for Merkel after being taken to task by Obama's successor Donald Trump over Germany's failure to cough up the two percent of GDP expected from NATO member countries as tribute to the aging military alliance, which just celebrated 70 years of standing tall against an enemy that no longer exists, but remains very much alive in the minds of the military-industrial complex and its media enablers.
And trans-Atlantic relations aren't in the best shape, with the Trump administration promising recriminations for Germany's resistance to the non-stop flood of US sanctions against trading partners like Russia and Iran. Certainly, Obama has been much better than his successor at buttering up the German leader, giving her a Presidential Medal of Honor in 2011 - while Trump infamously chucked Starburst candies in her direction during the most recent G7 summit.
But what did they really talk about during their meeting? Merkel could have allayed her fears that Germany would be cut off from US intelligence over its determination to purchase Huawei 5G tech, with Obama reminding her that US intel isn't all it's cracked up to be - with the NSA's notorious "Stellar Wind" program failing to stop a single terrorist attack even as it had Merkel's own phone tapped for over a decade. And most of the "terrorism" that takes place in Europe is committed by NATO's Operation Gladio stay-behind networks anyway, so joke's on whoever's tasked with sifting through the "chatter" in the name of national security! They could have shared a big chortle over that one.
And speaking of "terrorists" real and imagined, Obama could have congratulated Merkel on finally admitting that the US was running its drone warfare operations out of Rammstein air base - how brilliant of her to drop that bombshell after Trump's election and thus focus popular anger on him, as if the drones hadn't been coming and going for over a decade, mowing down wedding parties and journalists alike as they ticked names off Obama's infamous "disposition matrix!" He may also have dispensed some sage advice on defanging the local anti-war movement, which got a shot in the arm from the news that Germany was implicated in the extrajudicial US killings that skyrocketed under Obama's watch.
And Obama might have given Merkel some friendly advice on her love life, advising on her burgeoning relationship with the Obama-like pretty-boy-with-Wall-Street-ties president of France, Emmanuel Macron (we already know he has a thing for older women - you go, Angie!) - or just advised her how to relax and learn to love Germany being permanently swamped with refugees created by the wars his administration began or continued.
If the talk drifted to intra-EU politics, Merkel could rely on Obama to lend a sympathetic ear to her complaints about Greece's failure to show gratitude during her recent visit for the austerity measures imposed by the EU with Germany at the helm, which have placed one in three Greeks in poverty or close to it, ten years later. Under Obama, most Americans never recovered from the 2008 crash either, with nearly 4 out of 5 reporting in 2017 that they were living paycheck to paycheck. But Wall Street is doing better than ever, and that's what's important, Obama could have consoled her - what's the little guy gonna do, blog about it?
But Obama wasn't just in town to flirt with the outgoing German chancellor - he had a paycheck to collect, courtesy of the World Leadership Summit in Cologne, where attendees paid anywhere from €85 to €5,000 for the chance to hear the former president pontificate on such pressing issues as climate change, feminism, activism, and - of course - leadership.
The €5,000 VIP ticket not only gave them a chance to watch a person who used to be president eat, but a chance to be photographed alongside the last US leader to enjoy teen-idol levels of international celebrity, on the off-chance some of that fabulousness would rub off on them. Those unable or unwilling to shell out the big dollars reportedly crowded toward the stage, attempting to selfie their way into the president's aura. As is to be expected from an event billed as a "global leadership summit," Obama had plenty of vague platitudes for the audience, which lapped them up graciously.
"A good leader is someone who listens and feels what people feel. What drives you forward as leader is the work, not the applause, so focus on what you want to do and not what you want to be," Obama told the packed hall, to thunderous applause.
He continued his pattern of passive-aggressive treatment of Trump, refusing to speak his successor's name while making it clear exactly on whom he was throwing shade. "I'm a friend of the facts," he said, to applause from the similarly fact-loving audience. "This is a table," Obama then said, indicating the object next to him that was indeed a table. "If somebody says it's a tree, what, yeah, what should I say?"
Obama was also asked to weigh in on one of the more controversial aspects of his presidency, the 563 (known) drone strikes he oversaw that left between 384 and 807 civilians dead, not including the thousands of casualties inflicted in "active battlefield" countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Iraq - or deaths not reported as civilian casualties, a persistent problem during his presidency, with records showing up to 90 percent of those killed in such strikes were not the intended targets. Obama admitted the decision to rain fiery death hadn't been an easy one, but said that ultimately he believes drones led to less collateral damage than if he had sent troops into all the places he bombed. Refraining from bombing at all apparently didn't cross his mind.
"To be effective today, people have to relate to you," Obama told his adoring fans, and nothing says relatable like a €5,000-a-head VIP dinner. No wonder the ruling class is nostalgic for the days the American Way had such a smooth salesman at its helm - for all Trump's determination to sell the US out, he can barely get his foot out of his mouth long enough to seal the deal.
(originally published in heavily-abridged form at RT. photos © Reuters)Add a comment
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