Saturday, January 14, 2017

Topsy-Turvy Duopoly

The fact that Donald Trump is a very dangerous man shouldn't distract us from the naked truth that corporate Democrats and their surrogates are trying their damnedest to overthrow his election by every slimy method at their disposal. By aligning themselves with the de facto fourth branch of government alternately known as the Deep State, the Surveillance State and the Intelligence Community, they're actually accomplishing the feat of attacking a right-wing demagogue from the very far right.

You'd almost think that they were repudiating democracy (such as still even exists) itself.

So you have to ask yourself: Just who, exactly, is the fascist thug in this mix? The whiff of beer hall putsch disguised as a Champagne brunch is wafting up the Potomac.

While the "socially liberal" oligarchic faction pretends to battle the sadistic oligarchic faction (step right up and buy our chic pink Pussycat hats for the big anti-Trump march, ladies!) ordinary people schlepping to their temporary service gigs will get caught in the crossfire. 

 The ruling class racketeers on both sides of the Uniparty are ignoring social and economic problems in favor of joining forces to scapegoat a third oligarchic faction named Vladimir Putin. They accuse him, with little to no evidence, of personally ordering the "hacking" of the presidential election and costing Hillary Clinton her prize of Empress of the Free World. By gluing the national attention, once again, to an Enemy Over There rather than toward the very real class war enemies over here, they're doing nothing less than preparing our hearts and minds for World War Three. Thousands of NATO (American) troops are massing on the Russian border even as we speak. From The Guardian: 
But their arrival was not universally applauded. In Moscow, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We perceive it as a threat. These actions threaten our interests, our security. Especially as it concerns a third party building up its military presence near our borders. It’s [the US], not even a European state.”
The Kremlin may hold back on retaliatory action in the hope that a Donald Trump presidency will herald a rapprochement with Washington. Trump, in remarks during the election campaign and since, has sown seeds of doubt over the deployments by suggesting he would rather work with than confront Putin.

But on Thursday Nato officials played down Trump’s comments, saying they hoped and expected that he would not attempt to reverse the move after he became president on 20 January. 
 That prediction was reinforced by Trump’s proposed defence secretary, James Mattis, and his proposed secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who backed Nato during Senate confirmation hearings.
As we have (apparently not) learned from history, it will be much harder to get out of a war than it will be to start one. And given that both the USA and Russia are nuclear weapons powerhouses, this could indeed be the war to end all wars. By whispering in Trump's ear that his alleged pal Putin has been spying on him, the "intelligence community" and their political enablers are trying to provoke (or blackmail) him into going along with plans for corporate hegemony put in place by the "defense industry" long before his shocking victory over Clinton. It seems to matter not a whit to Democrats that military men like Mattis are supposedly not allowed to lead the "Defense" Department out of a very real concern that we might end up with a domestic military coup.

How to persecute a persecutor who flits from idea to idea to idea with no regard for facts or respect for "norms?"  How do you solve a problem like Maria? Many a thing they know they'd like to tell him (and they have certainly tried to "brief" him, given his reputed short attention span.) How do you catch a wavy comb-over on the sand?

And he's been warned, as Chuck Schumer so elegantly put it on national TV, that the Deep State will exact its revenge "six ways from Sunday" if Trump doesn't go along to get along... with his actual life.

So while the liberal corporate Democrats are aligning with the unaccountable authoritarian surveillance/war state and attacking Trump from the right, those of us with a more socialist perspective find ourselves in the weird position of defending Donald Trump from the left via our criticism of liberal overreach.

For example: why on earth would a Democratic president be gifting Trump with such unprecedented extensions of the Authoritarian State if liberals are really so terrified of him? Obama quietly signed off on creation of a global/domestic propaganda bureau just before Christmas. Its unprecedented scope and funding would make even Joseph Goebbels green with brown-shirted envy. And in his most recent weekend dump on his sprint to the finish-line, Obama signed a terrifying order allowing the NSA to begin sharing all our personal email and telephone communications with all 17 police state ("intelligence community") agencies, including the CIA and the FBI. 

Given the current Democratic establishment's posturing over FBI Director James Comey's own alleged coup against Hillary Clinton, you'd think they'd be enraged by Obama's action. However, this latest blockbuster of a power grab has basically gone under the radar, thanks to the current epidemic of Russophobia making all the important people break out in a total body rash. So, do be sure to read Glenn Greenwald's piece on it at The Intercept if you haven't already done so.

Meanwhile, I have a sinking feeling that people are still making the mistake of underestimating Trump. He will no doubt use the ongoing manufactured mass hysteria to his own distinct and powerful advantage. After all, if even thinking people believe that he's got a valid point about being persecuted by a corrupt surveillance state, he's won half the public relations battle already.

Although some if not most of the comparisons of Trump to Adolf Hitler are overblown, there are eerie similarities in the political climates of both Weimar Germany and End-Stage Capitalistic 21st Century America. People are out of work or underpaid. Xenophobia is simmering while global demagogues suddenly made hate not only politically correct, but something to be encouraged. Democratic political systems institute austerity for impoverished people in order to pay off onerous IMF/World Bank debt and bail out banksters and CEOs, while billionaires off-shore their record wealth in hidden tax-free accounts. Income disparity soars to unprecedented levels.

 The left wing becomes the whipping boy of both right-wingers and corporate centrists. "Moderate" leaders in both Weimar and America barred leftist candidates from public discourse and coverage before the elections, of Hitler and Trump respectively. Intellectuals and pundits nearly all prophesied, regarding both Trump and Hitler, that such an extremist clown would never last. They yawned when Hitler became chancellor. They similarly predict that Trump will be impeached and kicked out of office before the year is over.

All it took for Hitler to gain sole dictatorial power after a series of perfectly legal democratic victories was one traumatic event: the burning of the Reichstag in his first year as Chancellor. He was able to unite all of Germany against one scapegoat. You guessed it: Communist Russia. Jews had always been the enemy, but blaming the arson on a Marxist, with absolutely no evidence, was pretty much the same thing in Adolf's fevered little brain.

All it might take for Trump to, if not seize dictatorial power, at least enjoy a mass uptick in his public approval ratings and the strengthening of his personality cult, would be for a terrorist attack or other catastrophe to occur within our borders. George W. Bush and Barack Obama have certainly paid forward some of the most extreme and violent executive/deep state powers in American history for him to play around with and shoot up with his own designer steroids. Americans have been programmed all too well to see threats and dangers wherever we're told to look.

It certainly hasn't helped the weakened Democratic Party's cause to continue demonizing both the Sanders/Warren wing and the independent leftist media as being just as dangerous and extremist as Trump. They're ironically employing the same tactics as Joseph Goebbels did in Nazi Germany. In their fevered campaign of equating fascism with socialism, they are only stifling dissent and solidifying further our pre-existing condition of obedience, repression, and fear. 

Influential centrist pundit Jonathan Chait is a case in point. As Timothy Shenk describes Chait's "dead center" Cold War 2.0 straw-manning worldview,
Chait has been less successful at interpreting the left, which in his analysis becomes an undifferentiated mass of rabid Marxists, politically correct ideologues, and postmodern academics. Rather than attacking these distinct factions at their strongest points, he lumps them together as products of the illiberal left, and then takes fire at the caricature he has drawn. “Marxist theory does not care about individual rights,” his readers learn, while, “Political correctness borrows its illiberal model of political discourse from Marxism”—as if Marxist theory and political correctness are buddies who meet up for drinks to plot the demise of free speech.

 Such topsy-turvy "right is left, and left is right" centrist propaganda tactics have historically not ended well.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Obama's Biggest Regret: Insufficient B.S.

A media goodbye which rivals even Ronald Reagan's funeral for overkill and hagiography is rapidly reaching its apogee. Or, if you cynically wish, its low point. Because this Sunday, Barack Obama will claim that it was mainly his own faulty propaganda which prevented regular folks from happily accepting their nasty, brutish fates under the plutocrat-serving neoliberal policies of the Duopoly.

In a tantalizing preview of a self-eulogy promoted as his last presidential appearance on network television, Obama tells 60 Minutes' Steve Kroft that if only his bullshit had flowed a little more slickly, the citizens of America would be satisfied and Donald Trump would never have been able to co-opt their grievances and pain.

Obama is also pitifully proud of the fact that he was able to keep his pants on during his entire eight-year tenure -- as though "major scandals" don't include such things as droning people to death at his whim, preaching austerity and urging people to "share the sacrifice" via his deficit reduction "Catfood" commission, deporting more Latinos and prosecuting more whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined, imprisoning refugee families, bombing seven different countries, force-feeding Gitmo hunger-strikers at a prison he'd promised to close, and siding with Wall Street bankers over people losing their jobs and their homes and dying ever younger in the process. 

Obama's inability to "get stuff done" is such a shock to him personally, given how his initiatives have largely been conservative and market-based. Look at Obamacare, for crying out loud, the biggest gift to the predatory health insurance cartel in history. He even secretly scuttled the public option to placate those nasty old Republicans and a passel of Blue Dog Democrats. And then they wouldn't even consider his last Supreme Court nominee, the most conservative law-and-order high court candidate ever suggested by a modern Democratic president.

Don't people get that Obama is a truly nice, smart guy who only aims to please rich and powerful people on behalf of all of us?  Why did people vote against their own interests, a/k/a  the interests of Obama's and Clinton's socially liberal donors? Why couldn't people envision their future ladders of opportunity and level playing fields 20 years from now as clearly as Obama could? 

Obama is the epitome of elite liberal victimhood. Nonetheless, he nobly offers to accept some of the blame for his party's implosion --  not by admitting his deliberate chronic failures to match his words and campaign promises with ensuing deeds, but by acknowledging his failure to bury the electorate in a large enough avalanche of sweet-smelling bullshit:
Steve Kroft: You couldn’t even get a (Supreme Court) hearing.

President Barack Obama: But we couldn’t even get a hearing. Trying to get the other side of the aisle to work with us on issues, in some cases, that they professed, originally, an interest in, and saying to them, “Hold on a second. You guys used to think this was a good idea. Now, just because I’m supporting it, you can’t change your mind.” But they did.And what that did, I think, made me appreciate. And I’ve said this before. But it’s worth repeating. Because this is on me. Part of the job description is also shaping public opinion. And we were very effective, and I was very effective, in shaping public opinion around my campaigns.
But there were big stretches, while governing, where even though we were doing the right thing, we weren’t able to mobilize public opinion firmly enough behind us to weaken the resolve of the Republicans to stop opposing us or to cooperate with us. And there were times during my presidency when I lost the P.R. battle.
Since CBS at this point cuts off the promo of the full interview, we'll have to wait until Sunday night to discover just what specific times in his presidency Obama is talking about. This is assuming, of course, that Steve Kroft presses him for details and Obama isn't allowed to veer off into more bathos about Michelle and the troops and the kids and the dogs and the dogs crapping in the Lincoln Bedroom and other sweet-smelling bullshit.

Judging from the pre-eulogy teaser, it is painfully obvious that Obama is either oblivious or cynical. Given his much-vaunted intelligence, I would guess the latter. He probably knows full well, in his heart of hearts, that if we had Medicare for All, Republicans would not even be daring to whisper about repealing it. That's because they wouldn't be able to co-opt resentment and use it as a divide-and-conquer weapon. The expensively and inadequately insured population would not be attacking the "undeserving" poor Medicaid recipients who are not required to pay costly premiums and deductibles. There'd be no 30 million people deliberately exiled from health care staying silent rather than harassing their congress critters on behalf of their fellow citizens deemed to be more privileged than they are.

"All against all" is how we roll in this neoliberal political system created by the movers and shakers of the two right wings of one duopoly. Divide-and-conquer is the real propaganda tool which political leaders utilize time and time again to keep the rich comfortable, and the poor and middle class either apathetic or pitted violently against one another in a constant battle for sheer survival.

The Democratic wing "lost" this time because resentment and pain can no longer be tempered by false hope. And probably next time the Republican wing will "lose" because that's the normal cyclical tendency; from frying pan to fire and back again to scorched frying pan.

 And maybe a miracle will happen, and the remaining ashes of any legitimacy they still possess will go the way of the funerary urn.

Notice how Obama himself frames his failure in "public relations" in terms of one elite faction at war with another elite faction. He and Steve Kroft are members of the same class, the media-political complex. They're having a private conversation that, through the magic of TV, we're allowed to witness. But we are not allowed to participate or contribute to it in any meaningful way. We're supposed to take it for granted that a bunch of experts and technocrats were "doing the right thing" and these busy bees with credentials had simply neglected to tell us proles about their total awesomeness. If only we'd known, we would have stormed Washington in support of... what, exactly?

It seems never to have occurred to Obama that the "folks" whom his propaganda campaign failed to reach were out in the streets in 2011 protesting Wall Street greed and wealth inequality, and that his police state and his Democratic governors summarily broke up the Occupy camps in one week-long orchestrated campaign of state-sanctioned violence.

Yes, Republicans are and always will be nihilistic sadists. And as long as basic insight and awareness and empathy continue to be deliberately scrapped from its own agenda, the Democratic Party will never recover. The utter lack of respect for the intelligence of American citizens displayed by Barack Obama in just the interview clip above is what is truly shocking and scandalous.

 When one-quarter of all American children are going to bed hungry, he wants us to think that all we need is a more comforting bedtime story.

Please don't let the door hit you on the way out, Obama. Good night, and good riddance.


On my own personal and self-serving behalf, meanwhile, I am proud to announce that today marks the sixth anniversary of Sardonicky. 

Here's a reprise of my very first post, entered on Jan. 13, 2011. (Remember the good old days when all good liberals were so shocked and appalled at Sarah Palin? Little did we guess about the fright-fest that was truly in store for us. "Caribou Barbie" has actually improved with age, though, because now she's bipartisanly warning us about Trump's crony capitalism and blaming Obama for the "Mexican Muslim" airport shooter.)

Out, Out Damned Spot! 

Blaming Sarah Palin for the Tucson Massacre is just as unfair as blaming Lady Macbeth for the mayhem at Inverness Castle.  All these two maligned ladies did was lay out the weapons: Sarah, her cross-hair graphics and Lady M, a few carelessly placed daggers.  Subtle hints do not a murderess make.
Along with their histrionics and lust for power, both women have a fixation with blood. Palin, subdued from her usual frenzied harangues, looked like a robot on tranquillizers  as she You-tubed herself into the queen of the martyrs and the victim of “blood libel” of the biased liberal lamestream punditocracy.  To give her credit, I doubt she knows the anti-Semitic origin of the phrase, but the blood part likely was what appealed to her.  And Lady Mac was  totally obsessed with blood, even to the point of sleepwalking and being unable to wash the imaginary stains from her hands. Sarah, of course, also had difficulty scrubbing her website clean of the infamous Cross-Hairs map.  It had already gone viral all over cyberspace. “Out, out damned cache!” could be heard echoing through the valley, according to Wasilla lore.
The Lady Sarah really doth protest too much, methinks, and all the sanguineous references in the world can’t mask the fact that this anti-mother/mama grizzly has ice water running through her veins and a stony heart totally lacking in the warmth of human kindness.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Leave Us Poor Plutocrats Alone!

It's been quite the week for rich and powerful people whining about how oppressed they are, hasn't it?

Most recently and famously, Celebrity Apprentident Donald Trump complained Wednesday that he feels like he's in Nazi Germany, what with that John LeCarré fan-fic of a dossier alleging that he'd enjoyed a "golden shower" from Russian prostitutes on a Moscow hotel bed once occupied by Michelle and Barack. This claim is ridiculous on its face, said Trump, because he is a well-known germophobe. And that, in turn, reveals Trump's profound scientific ignorance, given that normal urine is, if not exactly sterile, usually free of some of the nastier microbes that can make us sick.  I don't think that Donald Trump ever would have engaged prostitutes who were unable to produce certificates of health completed by the Mayo Clinic any later than five minutes ago. Moreover, I don't think that Donald Trump has ever had to pay direct cash money for sexual favors. Cash is way too contaminated.

Naturally, the dossier leakage in the national press has only helped Trump to rise, once again, in the court of public opinion. His fans are paying more attention to his persecution at the hands of the "intelligence community" than they are to the fact that he adamantly refuses to divest from his global business empire while he acts out the role of leader of the free world. 

Since oppression flows downhill as readily as any bodily effluvia, the pundits and mainstream press are beside themselves in a frenzy of victimhood at Trump's short-fingered hands. Thanks to his insults aimed directly at them, they are ignoring his big Freudian slip at the press conference, when he actually seemed to confuse the United States with his company. He as much as announced that America will hereby be known as Trumpistan, Inc: 
 As president, I could run the Trump organization, great, great company, and I could run the company—the country. I’d do a very good job [at both], but I don’t want to do that.
  So when Trump talks about draining the swamp, perhaps what he really means is that he is germophobically placing some tissue paper on the toilet seat and "stanitizing" it for his own protection.

The more he insists that he's doing America a solid, the less we're supposed to notice when the solid starts inexorably flowing downhill.

And speaking of ignorance, I think that a more apt comparison for what poor old Tweety is going through would be Stasi East Germany under Communist rule. That was the true spy state. Under Hitler, enemies of the state just tended to get killed instead of being blackmailed or discreetly graced with years and years of surveillance.

Preceding L'Affaire Golden Showers by just a few days was Hollywood's Golden Globes affair. Meryl Streep used the occasion of one of her lifetime high achiever awards to lambast Trump for his own poor "performance" imitating a disabled New York Times reporter. But forget Meryl using her pulpit to advocate for rights for disabled people and perhaps alerting the nation that the Republican Congress is always aiming to reduce or discontinue Social Security benefits for the chronically sick and disabled. On the contrary: Trump has his beady sights aimed directly at Hollywood's "diverse" group of multimillionaires and their publicists in the media. To hear Meryl Streep tell it, movie actors who were born in Canada or Africa or Israel are right on the top of Donald's basket of deportees.

She didn't give one mention to the hundreds of poor Central American mothers and children who, fleeing drug and gang violence in their home countries, are currently locked up in so-called family detention centers. She didn't mention that regardless of his lip service to "Dreamers," President Obama has deported more Latinos than in all previous administrations combined.

Instead, Streep informed her audience that were it not for her and other professional actors, we poor slobs would never know what it's really like to be a poor slob. On second thought, she wasn't really talking to the TV audience, was she? She was virtue-signaling to her liberal peers:
 An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us, and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that. Breathtaking, compassionate work.
Like many Democratic surrogates criticizing Trump, Meryl Streep daintily refused to actually call him out by name. And while she rightly advocated for a strong independent press to hold Trump to account, she has never done likewise during the Obama regime, which has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined. Maybe this oversight had something to do with Meryl being exhausted after partying into the wee, wee hours with Barack and Michelle and hundreds of other aggrieved A-Listers just two nights before the Globes extravaganza. 

And who, really, can be more oppressed by Donald Trump than the current president himself? Obama might have partied hearty at the White House over the weekend, but his whole political party has just imploded. Millions of people might lose their health coverage, and much of the population stands to become even more impoverished under direct oligarchic rule. But to hear the hagiographic mainstream media tell it, this is all about the destruction of Obama's precious personal legacy. His star-studded, golden-voiced farewell address in Chicago was so maudlin a performance that even he was reduced to tears by it. Or so I've read - I forgot to remember to watch it.

And then there's the parade of plutocratic creatures being "grilled" by the Senate this week in preparation for the rubber-stamping of their cabinet appointments. Xenophobic reprobate Jeff Sessions, who aims to selectively safeguard our civil rights as Trump's attorney general, used his biracial granddaughter as a human shield at his confirmation hearing as his "history of making racist statements" was carefully differentiated from any specific racist actions. Plus, he is an equal opportunity bigot: he opposes legal immigration as heartily as he opposes illegal immigration. His cordial Democratic colleague Dianne Feinstein did the obligatory civil rights concern-trolling before she praised him for his fealty to the "intelligence community." So all is fair in hate and war. He looks like a shoo-in for the job.

 Oil magnate Rex Tillerson, meanwhile, prissily fretted over his own privacy rights when questioned about his finances and tax returns, while at the same time casually admitting that, as potential Secretary of State, he has never even discussed foreign policy specifics with his new boss. Because of his cordial history with Vladimir Putin and the epidemic of Russophobia bipartisanly plaguing Congress at the moment, however, Tillerson doesn't look like a done deal quite yet. The members of the senate judiciary committee nonetheless carefully kept their grilling on Exxon-Mobil's long sordid history of global pollution and plunder and corporate welfare and political bribery to an absolute discreet minimum.

And last but not least, and to demonstrate that they can do a bravura performance every bit as well as Meryl Streep, the downtrodden millionaire Democrats of the Senate staged another one of their "rare" protests in the wee overnight hours. It seems that the Republicans have filibuster-proofed the repeal of Obamacare. As the New York Times reported it,
One by one, Democrats rose to voice their objections. Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington said that Republicans were “stealing health care from Americans.” Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said he was voting no “because health care should not just be for the healthy and wealthy.”
The presiding officer, Senator Cory Gardner, Republican of Colorado, repeatedly banged his gavel and said the Democrats were out of order because “debate is not allowed during a vote.”
No Democrat, of course, actually brought his or her emotive acting to the level of introducing a true single payer health bill as the most cost-effective and humane replacement for the kludge known as the "Affordable" Care Act.

After all, they're only there in supporting roles.

There's so much elitist trickle-down going on that we regular folk will be lucky to catch even one golden beneficent drop of it.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Anti-Propaganda Propaganda

I'll give credit where it's due. A New York Times "explainer" piece about how Russian propaganda gets done in the United States is a pretty slick piece of propaganda itself.

It insidiously casts doubt upon independent media at the same time it tries to get the patriotic war drums pounding in the brains of its readers.

The headline blares out its piercingly shrill dog-whistle of a warning to the reading public: Russian Hackers Find Ready Bullhorns in the Media. In other words, the media outlets that published DNC and Clinton campaign emails are, if not exactly traitorous, extremely careless and naive. And if you the reader don't want to be considered traitorous or careless or naive yourself, you'll be very, very careful about what you choose to peruse.

Reporter Max Fisher, who recently arrived at the Times's new "Interpreter" beat from previous explaining gigs at Vox and the Washington Post, immediately asserts that Russian hacking of Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign emails is an established fact. Despite much skepticism from a wide variety of sources about the results of the government's investigation, the Russian infiltration of our democracy is no longer even up for debate, as far as the Times is concerned:
As the dust settles on Russian interference in the United States election, journalists are confronting an aspect that has received less scrutiny than the hacking itself but poses its own thorny questions: Moscow’s ability to steer Western media coverage by doling out hacked documents.
Fisher enhances the official narrative by moving beyond the Russian red herring, which deflected attention from the actual damaging content of the emails. Now it's time to inflict shame on the reporters who wrote about them, and to warn them off covering future non-sanctioned leaks. Since the Russian messenger of the email story has already been vanquished as far as Max Fisher is concerned, he can now safely move on to smearing -- in a smarmy, concern-trolling way, of course - the "stenographers" of the message. The reporters who published mainly banal exposures of the self-interest, money-grubbing and petty backbiting within Hillary Clinton's Democratic Party without vetting the original sources are as good as accessories after the fact. And if you, dear readers, pay any more attention to these emails, then you too are complicit. 

Any journalism from here on out now that is critical of the Wall Street/war faction of the duopoly will have Putin's bloody hand-prints all over it. And, the article hints, this whole First Amendment thing might need to be reconsidered because the Russians are spoiling it:
 By releasing documents that would tarnish Hillary Clinton and other American political figures, but whose news value compelled coverage, Moscow exploited the very openness that is the basis of a free press. Its tactics have evolved with each such operation, some of which are still unfolding.
Fisher goes on to quote cyber-security expert Thomas Rid, a professor at Kings College London, who has been allegedly tracking the hacking since last summer, when Obama administration officials apparently first learned of it but did nothing. They believed, like nearly everybody else, that Hillary would beat Trump, a "Pied Piper" candidate whom they themselves had set up as the perfect loathsome target for her. They did nothing, even after the embarrassing emails started appearing in print the month before the election. Obama reportedly did not want to be seen as placing his own thumb on the electoral scales by making a huge issue out of what basically is standard international mutual spying procedure.

But that was then, and the agenda now is to delegitimize the renegade Trump victory by calling him a Manchurian candidate and simultaneously beating the drums for war on Russia. And so Thomas Rid is quoted as saying that this goes well beyond run-of-the-mill hacking. "It's political engineering, social engineering on a strategic level," he ominously told the Times.

In other words, they want you to believe that Vlad Putin not only wants to eat your brains for breakfast, he wants to steal your breakfast table and all your furniture and your house and your money and the entire American consumer culture that makes us so great.

"A New Dark Art" is how Fisher balefully describes the Russian propaganda scourge in a bold subhead.

Because unlike run-of-the mill spying and meddling, Russia is using front organizations and proxies to disseminate its propaganda across our borders. Never mind what Edward Bernays revealed almost a century ago: most propaganda you read in newspapers originates from a front group or public relations agency. In his seminal work on the topic, he singled out the New York Times: 
      The extent to which propaganda shapes the progress of affairs about us may surprise even well informed persons. Nevertheless, it is only necessary to look under the surface of the newspaper for a hint as to propaganda's authority over public opinion. Page one of the New York Times on the day these paragraphs are written contains eight important news stories. Four of them, or one-half, are propaganda. The casual reader accepts them as accounts of spontaneous happenings. But are they? Here are the headlines which announce them: "TWELVE NATIONS WARN CHINA REAL REFORM MUST COME BEFORE THEY GIVE RELIEF," "PRITCHETT REPORTS ZIONISM WILL FAIL," "REALTY MEN DEMAND A TRANSIT INQUIRY," and "OUR LIVING STANDARD HIGHEST IN HISTORY, SAYS HOOVER REPORT....
     These examples are not given to create the impression that there is anything sinister about propaganda. They are set down rather to illustrate how conscious direction is given to events, and how the men behind these events influence public opinion. As such they are examples of modern propaganda. At this point we may attempt to define propaganda.
      Modern propaganda is a consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of the public to an enterprise, idea or group.
      This practice of creating circumstances and of creating pictures in the minds of millions of persons is very common. Virtually no important undertaking is now carried on without it, whether that enterprise be building a cathedral, endowing a university, marketing a moving picture, floating a large bond issue, or electing a president. Sometimes the effect on the public is created by a professional propagandist, sometimes by an amateur deputed for the job. The important thing is that it is universal and continuous; and in its sum total it is regimenting the public mind every bit as much as an army regiments the bodies of its soldiers.
But now Thomas Rid and the Times act as though this tactic is both brand-new and lethal. As Fisher breathlessly Timesplains: 
Great powers have long meddled in one another’s affairs. But Russia, throughout 2016, developed a previously unseen tactic: setting up fronts to seed into the press documents it had obtained by hacking.
“Doing public relations work in order to get the hacked material out as an exclusive story with the Daily Caller or Gawker or the Smoking Gun, that is new,” Mr. Rid said.
That public relations work was initially done by two web presences that appeared this summer, Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks, each posing as activist-hackers in the mold of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks chief. Though neither acknowledged it, and the links were not immediately known, online security experts later concluded that both were Russian fronts.
Of course, Professor Rid is being disingenuous. Fisher doesn't inform his readers that his source is an alumnus of the RAND Corporation, a public-private think tank which has been churning out imperialistic American propaganda since the end of World War Two. Many of its activities and position papers are highly classified. 

 RAND was once castigated by the Soviet news agency as the "American Academy of Science and Death" and by Stanley Kubrick as the BLAND Corporation in Dr. Strangelove. It was the physical source of the eventually stolen top-secret Pentagon Papers, which revealed the lies and coverups about the Vietnam War. As Alex Abella outlined in a book he wrote about RAND, it received most of its corporate and taxpayer money during the Cold War decades:

 I worked for RAND as a national security analyst from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, and people there spoke of those earlier times with wonder and nostalgia. Thanks to ever-expanding cold-war budgets, the Air Force essentially dumped a truckload of money at RAND’s front door every year. The organization was permitted to spend that money at its discretion. Although most of it funded useless research—I recall a 1960s-era report on the Black Death in the Middle Ages as an example of societal catastrophe and recovery—some of it helped to invent nuclear strategy, Sovietology, and systems analysis (probably RAND’s most lasting contribution to its military clients). Other analysts developed such far-reaching pursuits as game theory and rational-choice theory.
Speaking of game theory, and going back to Max Fisher's slick propaganda explainer piece in the Times, propaganda just wouldn't be slick if its practitioner didn't also play the Both Siderism game. Fisher continues with his 'splaining about those dastardly Russian PR shops and how they so easily fool dumb journos:
In July, for instance, DCLeaks published emails belonging to retired Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove. The Intercept, a left-leaning site, covered the emails in a story that portrayed Mr. Breedlove as trying to foment hostility against Russia. The story did not note Russian links to the hack. Its lead author, Lee Fang, said he had no interactions with DCLeaks and pointed out that the group’s suspected Russian ties were not widely publicized at that time.
Lee Fang is a respected independent investigative reporter. But never mind all that. Because when it comes to shilling for Putin, Fisher implies, he's just as Strangelovingly "preverted" as the often-scurrilous Daily Caller: 
In September, DCLeaks contacted Peter Hasson, a reporter at the Daily Caller, a right-leaning site, with an offer: password-protected access to hacked emails belonging to Colin Powell, the former secretary of state.
The Daily Caller’s story also did not note the growing belief that the documents had been hacked by Russia and leaked as part of an influence operation. Mr. Hasson said he was unaware of the alleged Russian links at the time.
And to give a good back-handed smack to smaller independent ("peripheral") news sites, Fisher, in a more subtle variation of the discredited PropOrNot way of smearing them as Russian propaganda tools, actually praised the conspiracy site InfoWars as being moral enough to refuse to publish some of the leaked DNC  emails. If InfoWars of all places is turning down Russian leaks, then why can't more reputable organizations? Or so Fisher slickly implies in his article.

But Fisher is not done yet. Because as the final sinister subhead to his article prescribes, it's way past time to be "Developing Antibodies" to all this Russian mental germ warfare.

Get it? Independent news that afflicts the powerful is like contaminated food. You just never know who packaged the bread on that sandwich you're eating. The baker, in turn, has no real way of knowing the provenance of the flour she used, and the farmer has no earthly idea where his seed came from, or whether the pesticides he used on his crops are more toxic than the manufacturer asserted.

Ergo: we had all better quit reading and listening to consuming unsanctioned stuff that embarrasses or damages our betters and their agendas. We must not become angry and take to the streets in protest. At the very least, we should restrict our diets to such BLAND and healthy establishment sources as the Times and CNN and the Washington Post and MSNBC.

"I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion, and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.... It's incredibly obvious, isn't it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids, without the knowledge of the individual, certainly without any choice. That the way a hardcore Commie works." -- Dr. Strangelove, 1964.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Caveat Lector

"Let the reader beware" is especially important in this new age of McCarthyism, Trumpism and consolidated corporate-sponsored churnalism setting the agendas and formulating the group-think narratives.

Of course, discerning truth from lies, truth from truthiness, opinion from fact, fact from factoid and ad infinitum is difficult even in so-called normal times. We tend to seek information from sources that confirm our own biases. For example, if we want to be reassured that Trump voters really are a basket of deplorables, we look no further than Salon. If we're convinced that everybody in the government is out to get us, then Alex Jones's Infowars is manna from heaven (or should I say mannequins from outer space wearing tin foil helmets?) If we're comfortable trusting establishment figures and experts with credentials a mile long, we delve into the New York Times and the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal and call it a news-consumption day.

Better yet, we read them all. We go outside our comfort zones, if only to find out what the alleged "opposition" is thinking and writing and imagining. I was particularly pleased last week when a reader left a comment on this blog stating that although she rarely agrees with me, she still reads my stuff. This is called having an open, curious mind.

It's healthy to be critical and discerning. As the motto on RT says: "question more."

And as Peter Van Buren writes in a Reuters op-ed, we need to go beyond this simple skepticism and learn the fine art of espionage.

Van Buren, a former State Department official who used to blog frequently at the Firedoglake (now Shadowproof) progressive site, says that given Donald Trump's paranoia and secretiveness about his shady business empire, journalists will probably have no choice but to rely on anonymous sources.

So how is one to judge? Van Buren writes,
Since an article’s unnamed sources are fully unknown to you as the reader, not every test applies, but thinking backwards from the information in front of you to who could be the source is a good start on forming a sense of how credible what you are being told might be.
For example, is a source in a position to know what they say they know, what intelligence officers call spotting? A story claiming bureaucrats are unhappy with the new president might be legitimately sourced from a contact in the human resources office of a large cabinet agency. But how many people’s opinions would that source be in a position to know, beyond cafeteria gossip? Tens out of a workforce of tens of thousands? So if the finished story reads “State Department officials are unhappy with the incoming administration,” how credible is such a broad statement? Is it news what a handful of people think?
One warning sign that an anonymous source has an ulterior motive other than whistleblowing in the public interest is if he or she purports to know the "why" of any given revelation, or claims to have knowledge of the inner workings of the target's mind. Always question the source's possible hidden agenda.

Reporting that something "might be true" or "we can't prove that this is not true" are also warning signs of propaganda or a planted story. So is what Van Buren calls "piggybacking" off an existing narrative. For example, just because Donald Trump took possession of a luxury hotel in Washington doesn't necessarily mean that all foreign guests are staying there for purposes of pay-to-play. Just because something is probably accurate doesn't mean that every potentate visiting Washington has a bag full of cash for Donald Trump hidden in his Louis Vuitton luggage.

Van Buren suggests that readers emulate the CIA and the FBI when they assess the possibility that Russia had hacked the Democratic Party's emails or otherwise interfered with our elections. Don't take officials' word for it that it's "stunning" or "shocking." Read the fine print. Rate each report with your own level of low, medium, or high confidence. 

In plain English, take everything with a grain of salt. This is especially true if the publication is funded by a political party, or more commonly, by a PAC or a think tank offshoot. I always try to find out if the reporters of thinly-sourced pieces which rely upon "officials granted anonymity to speak freely given the sensitivity of the issue" are themselves members or "fellows" of a ruling class or defense industry think tank.

David Sanger of the New York Times, for example, who has written many of the recent stories about Russian hacking, is affiliated with both the Council of Foreign Relations and the Aspen Institute, an elite group of policy-makers and "thought leaders" focusing on US-Russia relations and national security. I always read his articles with the salt shaker close to hand.

The one quibble I have with Van Buren's piece is its failure to address the secrecy and propaganda and First Amendment assaults by the outgoing Obama administration. James Risen of the New York Times called the Democratic White House "the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation" after being hounded for years to betray the sourcing for his exposé on Deep State malfeasance.

In another case originating in the Obama justice department, Fox News reporter James Rosen was named a "co-conspirator" in a different leak investigation.

And it was Obama who instituted the Orwellian "Insider Threat" initiative which requires government employees to spy on one another, even to the point of reporting their colleagues' reading materials and extramarital affairs back to their superiors.

There's a precedent for Trumpism and the incoming president's threatened purges of various government agencies and his threats to reporters. Or as Donald himself might Tweet it, the ingrained assaults on press freedoms and the public's right to know are not "unpresidented."  

Each commander in chief has this annoying habit of always paying his evisceration of the Bill of Rights forward. They take care of their own. They euphemise it as "continuity of government."

Because if they were ever prosecuted for torture or obstruction of justice or lying us into a war, where would our exceptional nation be in the court of manufactured public opinion?

Friday, January 6, 2017

Psy-Ops For Greed and Profit

Deep within his weasel-worded testimony before a Senate committee about alleged Russian cyber-threats, outgoing National Intelligence Director James Clapper called for a new "USIA on steroids" -- not once, but twice.

He was referring to the defunct United States Information Agency, the Cold War-era propaganda department whose reputed purpose was to battle the godless Soviet scourge. It was the Clinton administration, ironically enough, which finally abolished the agency in 1999 as capitalism replaced communism as Russia's go-to ideology. Bill Clinton welcomed with open arms the emerging Russian oligarchy and kleptocracy to his neoliberal project of trickle-down prosperity and big bubbles inflated by deregulation.

There was no mention at Thursday's hearing of the newly-enacted Global Engagement Center for the dissemination of American propaganda both within and without our national borders. So I'd hazard a guess that Clapper deems it too insufficient and poorly funded when compared to the operations of the unaccountable sprawling multi-billion-dollar USIA in its heyday.

President Dwight Eisenhower established the USIA in 1953, just as the Red Scare (code for dismantling the social programs of the New Deal) was getting underway with a vengeance. His administration outlined the psy-ops agenda in typically banal terms:
  • To explain and advocate U.S. policies in terms that are credible and meaningful in foreign cultures;
  • To provide information about the official policies of the United States, and about the people, values and institutions which influence those policies;
  • To bring the benefits of international engagement to American citizens and institutions by helping them build strong long-term relationships with their counterparts overseas;
  • To advise the President and U.S. government policy-makers on the ways in which foreign attitudes will have a direct bearing on the effectiveness of U.S. policies. 
Feel-good Americana was broadcast to audiences in Soviet bloc countries via Voice of America radio programs. To give the propaganda shop an aura of professional journalism, there was even a clause added in the 70s that required the broadcasts to be "fair and balanced."

Also included in the USIA was the Fulbright Scholarship program for foreign students, as well as publications and films to counter what cold warriors then construed as "liberal" Hollywood's failure to play along with the anti-Soviet propaganda program.

After the alleged Soviet threat became moot, the USIA was drastically downsized into a sub-agency at the State Department, dubbed Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy.

But back to Clapper's testimony. Besides twice calling for a belated Christmas gift of a more powerful USIA pumped up on metaphorical banned substances, he also added the curious non sequitur that he himself has never been interested in getting rich while spying on people. 

(graphic by Kat Garcia)

Never mind that in his numerous spins through the revolving doors, Clapper has made some truly big bucks, along with the usual generous exit bonuses typically granted to executives as they leave one private sector job for a stint serving "the public."

As Ken Delanian reported,
 In October 2006 he was hired full-time by DFI International, which was trying to boost its consulting with intelligence agencies. In April 2007, when he returned to public service as the chief of the Pentagon's intelligence programs, DFI paid him a $50,000 bonus on his way out the door, according to his financial disclosure statement. Five months later, DFI landed a contract to advise Clapper's Pentagon office, though company officials do not recall collecting any revenue from the deal.
Whenever he is questioned about his ethics, Clapper's typical response is that it was all legal, or that he didn't recall his private firm getting a profit, and anyway, who better to deal with greedy federal contractors than a guy who used to work with greedy federal contractors? He's a veritable Anderson Cooper with the slogan "keeping 'em honest." Never mind that he lied under oath to Congress in 2014  about collecting the communications of every man, woman and child in America.

Clapper's most recent private sector stint was at Booz Allen Hamilton, the murky multibillion-dollar NSA subsidiary and erstwhile employer of whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Clapper's denial that there is any greed factor in the American Deep State smacks of Lady Macbeth protesting a bit too much. As Michael Parenti writes in his introduction to former USIA diplomat Nancy Snow's revealing book about the agency, its hidden core mission was always all about hiding corporate greed and plunder under such anodyne niceties as "democracy" and "prosperity." To go along with weaponized interventions there must be cultural interventions.

 And that's where the USIA came in:

"A benign-sounding unit of government supposedly dedicated to informational and cultural goals, USIA is actually in the business of waging disinformation wars on behalf of the Fortune 500. 

Operating as a propaganda unit of a corporate-dominated US foreign policy, USIA ran interference for NAFTA, in Snow's words, 'doing nothing to advance the noble goals of mutual understanding and education,' while leaving a trail of broken promises about jobs and prosperity. USIA's efforts on behalf of NAFTA and other such undertakings have brought fantastic jumps in profits for big business, at great cost to the environment, democratic sovereignty and worker and consumer well-being."
Enter Donald Trump and his opposition to the moribund Trans-Pacific Partnership, and you begin to understand why the Powers-That-Be are throwing such a red herring of a hissy fit over Russian "hacking."

Donald is not a plutocrat's plutocrat. He doesn't like to share. Like a subversive FDR, and notwithstanding his own cabinet of millionaires and billionaires, he is being construed as a traitor to his class. His recklessness is bad for business and the smooth operation of the global hegemony. He is either unwilling or unable to accept that although regular folks elected him to the presidency, his real boss is the Deep State.

Trump has broken nearly 70 years of tradition by openly questioning the "intelligence community." This failure to grovel has so rattled our de facto oligarchy that one of its favorite henchmen, Senator Chuck Schumer of Wall Street, felt it incumbent to go on national television this week to issue a veiled threat to the president-elect:
 Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,” Schumer told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.
“So even for a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this.”
Actually it's Schumer who is pretty dumb, letting the cat out of the bag like that and admitting that what is now creepily called The Homeland is more Stasi state than representative democracy.

Schumer is, once again, doing his patriotic part for capitalism. This is the guy who tried to deflect public attention from Wall Street malfeasance during the Season of Occupy by suggesting that all citizens, including protesters, be stopped and frisked and vetted before being allowed to get on a New York bus or subway.  His plan went nowhere, but it hasn't stopped him from serving his true masters in every fear-mongering way that he can muster.

(graphic by Kat Garcia)

There are at least two fronts, or factions, in the Donald Trump resistance movement. The first, which I wrote about last week, entails delegitimating both the election and the coming administration in the interests of the ruling class racketeers of the financialized global economy and its enablers in the corporate media and the political duopoly.

The second involves we the people, a diverse platoon of working class grunts who refuse to be expendable any longer, acting in behalf of ourselves and for our neighbors all over this burning planet.  As Nancy Snow outlines in her treatise on propaganda, solidarity fights against "free trade" have always enjoyed varying degrees of success.

Despite President Obama's best efforts to propagandize the Trans-Pacific Partnership corporate coup as being good for people and jobs, concerted citizens' campaigns against it, both here and abroad, have effectively killed it. Trump was only capitalizing on popular dissent against global oligarchy when he co-opted populism and made opposition to the  TPP and NAFTA a cornerstone of his platform.

Hillary Clinton's own championing of trade deals before she feebly disavowed them may well have helped cost her the election. And it may have cost Obama his own legacy as well.

As ever, whenever you feel confused or uncertain about what is going on in the highest echelons of power on any given day, always ask yourself the essential question:  Cui bono? (who benefits?)

Follow the money. You might not belong to what George Carlin called the club you're not allowed to be in, but there's nothing stopping you from making a big noise outside its gates. Afflicting the comfortable may not reverse the trajectory of all the wealth going straight to the top, but it might help slow it down. It's the struggle that truly counts.

And remember. It's a two-pronged war. We're not only doing battle with Trump, we're doing battle with the forces which produced Trump in the first place. And that includes the corrupt duopoly as it currently exists.