Thursday, February 23, 2023

The Rise of the Censorship-Industrial Complex

Since the First Amendment outlaws censorship by the U.S. government, our modern censors can't actually call themselves censors. They prefer to be known as "disinformation" specialists, whose mission is to "disrupt" any narratives and opinions that they don't like. They are particularly averse to criticism of their proxy war in Ukraine.

They operate under many different names and they get their funding from many different sources: various government agencies, the public-private war machine known as NATO, philanthropies, academia, and  corporations. Whenever the professional disinformation warriors inevitably get exposed as the blatant and often clumsy censors that they are, they retreat for about a minute before regenerating themselves under a new foundation, a new consortium, a new think tank. 

Last spring, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was forced to abandon its "Disinformation Governance Board" when it was called out as Orwellian by various civil liberties groups.

A couple of weeks ago, journalist Matt Taibbi exposed the German Marshall Fund's  "Hamilton68 Dashboard" as a Twitter-FBI partnership of a scam fed to a complicit establishment media in order to further the equally fraudulent "Russiagate" narrative. It turned out that hundreds of Twitter accounts flagged as belonging to Kremlin bots mostly belonged to innocent people.

 A couple of days ago, the government finances behind an outfit called the Global Disinformation Index (GDI) were revealed by columnist Jonathan Turley. With GDI's publication of the top ten allegedly most dangerous news sites, the State Department hastily cut off its own illegal funding - even though the GDI had tried to make a cute end-run around the First Amendment by declaring itself to be based in Great Britain, which doesn't have the same press freedoms as America supposedly does.

What the top ten most dangerous sites all have in common is that they are right-leaning, and they have been critical of the war in Ukraine. What the top ten "least dangerous" sites listed by GDI have in common is that they are generally liberal, and they have been non-critical of the war in Ukraine. Many of them, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Buzzfeed and HuffPo, had  also helped to amplify the Russiagate narrative in the years since Donald Trump took office. (Buzzfeed also had the unique distinction of being the first "safe" outlet to publish the fictional Steele Report, linking Trump to the Kremlin). The safe sites were also users of the discredited Hamilton 68 Dashboard. Their ongoing anti-Russia narratives not only served to generate and amplify the Trump hatred, it helped glean Democratic voters' support for the CIA, the FBI, and the US proxy war in Ukraine.

The GDI website comes right out and admits that its idea of "disinformation" includes any critical discussion of the US-fomented 2014 Ukraine coup and the US's role in instigating Putin's invasion last year: 

GDI has observed a number of ad tech companies monetising anti-Ukrainian and anti-democratic disinformation.

This deck includes examples of ad-funded stories promoting a range of harmful adversarial narratives: ● Western aggression: Under President Biden’s watch the U.S. has instigated a war with Russia. There was an anti-constitutional coup d'etat in 2014 in which Western-backed extremists overthrew the democratically elected government. ● NATO bioweapons threat: The U.S. and other NATO allies have military biological projects in Ukraine. ● Legitimate intervention: At the request of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the Russian Federation started a ‘special operation’ to protect them. These disinformation narratives have been identified across multiple websites in multiple languages.

GDI practices its "name and shame" censorship by putting pressure not only on the tech platforms which publish ads next to the antiwar discourse, but also on the corporations paying for the ads. They aim to squelch dissent by cutting off the financial wherewithal to publish it.

As an example of this indirect censorship, GDI posted a screenshot of a Zero Hedge article which lambasted Joe Biden's goading of Vladimir Putin into invading Ukraine. It named and it shamed Best Buy, Acer and other corporations for funding this "disinformation." It also prominently circled in red an ad for Harvard Medical School that was placed next to the antiwar piece.

GDI is careful not to accuse its media antagonists of actually lying about the coup, the war and about other topics. It's not so crass as to label critics disloyal or un-American. Instead, it defines the "disinformation" that it fights as the use of "adversarial language." It does not at all subscribe to the traditional notion that journalism is supposed to "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted." 

To hear them tell it, the security/war state is the afflicted one. Because they are just not comfortable with free speech.

Journalism, according to these current and former "intelligence community" apparatchiks, should strive to protect "institutions" and "established wisdom," as well as protecting such vulnerable groups as trafficked children and immigrants. Adversarial reporting - no matter whether those attacked are the powerful or the powerless -  can only sow divisions in society and cause the sort of "harm" that they never quite get around to specifying, but which can lead to "violence, illness and death."

The censors identify the following categories of potential victims that writers must avoid annoying or attacking, either implicitly or explicitly.

 ■ at-risk individuals or groups ■ current scientific consensus ■ democracy and key institutions ○ Most importantly, these adversarial narratives create a risk of harm. ● This definition transcends false binaries and identifies disinformation explicitly by adversarial narrative topic, such as anti-immigrant, misogyny, anti-vaccination, etc.

It's hard to overstate this essential insanity: the censors actually conflate genuinely at-risk individuals and groups with the very same powerful institutions that put people at such risk in the first place, with their wars and their savaging of domestic social contracts. GDI and its spider web of a cohort represent and protect themselves through the coercion and oppression of their own victims - and now, their media critics. It's a classic case of Freudian projection. The Disinformation Police are themselves the prime purveyors of disinformation.

And First Amendment be damned, because the killing of critique and dissent is a global enterprise, and other countries do, or at least they should, have censorship laws on the books to keep the masses in order and render free-speakers mute.

On the GDI to-do list:

GDI calls for effective policy enforcement This enforcement should prioritise the following areas at an EU and global level: ● Risk assessments: Guaranteeing that all systemic risks (e.g. disinformation, election manipulation, harms to minors online etc.) are catalogued by the Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs), rather than only the most prominent, recurrent risks. ● Data access: Ensuring civil society has access to relevant and timely platform data in order to provide third party scrutiny. ● Oversight: In the case of the Digital Services Act, establishing a multistakeholder advisory group to oversee implementation, with experts drawn from civil society. ● Effectiveness: Adversarial narrative framing of disinformation should be included within regulatory regimes to tackle the scope of harmful content. An urgent, long-term and industry-wide solution is needed to end the monetisation of harmful disinformation.

And to be effective, censorship and the murder of independent thought (not to mention the destruction of creative joy) has to start early, as soon as children learn how to read. They first have to be shielded by the censorship-sympatico Inclusivity Squad from harmful divisive words like "fat" and "ugly," which the late author Roald Dahl used to describe his lovably hideous fictional characters.

All I can say is, if the Speech Cops can stoop so low as to mangle a dead writer's words, then so can I! Apologies to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (or should I say Slenderperson?)

Thou, too, sail on, O Censorship of State!
Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
Humanity with all its fears,
With all the hopes of future years,
Is hanging breathless on thy fate!is th the majority of disinformation on the web is motivated by financial gain, the result of the dominat attention-driven business models that drive today’s intern

The Sinkable Crew of the Good Ship Global Disinformation

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Be Wary of Co-Opted Antiwar Rage

 I have nothing against right-left coalitions, especially right-left coalitions that protest against war. Any action that has the potential to rile up and inform people about the violence that is being waged in their names is an action that is long overdue. And with the potential that both the current U.S. proxy war in Ukraine against Russia, and the saber-rattling of the U.S. against China, will lead directly to a nuclear World War III makes a resurgent antiwar movement absolutely essential.

The problem with this Sunday's Rage Against the War Machine rally in Washington, D.C. is that both the organizations leading it are tainted.

 Most of the criticism has been leveled against the Libertarian Party side, whose ascendant Mises faction has been rightly called out for racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric. Leftist participants in the rally, including the respected journalist Chris Hedges, now find themselves the targets of all the "guilt by association" smears we've come to expect whenever disparate groups join together in common cause or even so much as talk to each other. 

Thus has the overriding narrative of the Rage Against the War Machine rally devolved into yet another of those circular firing squads, largely playing out on YouTube. The actual wars and the danger they pose to the world are taking a back seat.

And it certainly doesn't help that "the left" is being solely represented at this rally by a PAC calling itself Movement for a People's Party. I looked into this outfit back in 2021, and I didn't much like what I discovered. The details are here.

To synopsize that post: after five years of existence, the People's Party PAC has yet to put forth a single candidate for any local, state or national office. (It has, however, expressed great excitement that comedian Jimmy Dore, a rally headliner, "might run for president'.)  This PAC has conducted regular purges of its mostly volunteer staff, and its website even admonishes potential members that any internal arguments or outbursts of office rudeness will get them hauled before a "Regenerative Culture Circle."

Since I wrote that blog-post, the MPP's founder and director, Nick Brana, was accused of harassing and assaulting his paid communications consultant and one-time girlfriend, Zeynap Day. But rather than go before his own creepy regenerative culture circle, he hightailed it to Jimmy Dore's YouTube channel to defend himself. (Since you have to be paid subscriber of the Jimmy Dore Show in order to watch this clip, I can't link to it... sad, right?)

But according to Jordan Cheriton, another YouTuber and blogger, Brana ending up purging all the members of his own board for investigating the charges against him. He accused them of being "Democratic Party infiltrators" out to destroy both him and his PAC.

So the World Socialist Website absolutely nails it when it characterizes the organizers of this weekend's rally as an alignment of the far right with "many of the conceptions of the Stalinist Popular Front." Chris Hedges and other participants no doubt are striving to look past the personalities and the rhetoric involved in order to just get the antiwar message out, no matter what the sources and no matter what the cost and personal reputational damage to themselves that it might engender.

Isn't it possible ihat some attendees will be inspired enough to reject both organizations, forge partnerships of their own, and then go forth to protest the wars in new coalitions?

Perhaps the younger people attending the rally will not, as the World Socialists fear, be confused and disoriented by these phony factions posing as activists against the war in Ukraine. But it's still disappointing that in an essay defending his participation in the rally, the influential Chris Hedges approvingly quotes Nick Brana, who claims that the "left" (as opposed to his defective brand of authoritarian populism) is just concerned with identity politics and "condemns half the country as deplorables." Hedges fails to push back at Brana's characterization of the Democratic Party as the "left" - a ridiculous definition, by the way, and one that is wholeheartedly shared by Republicans unhappy that the Dems are horning in on their own right-wing turf. 

I'm not saying that people should boycott this rally. I'm saying that people who attend should keep their eyes and ears wide open and their bullshit detectors on high alert at all times. Engage with the people around you. But watch out for those FBI provocateurs as you march to the White House! You can usually spot them by how well-dressed or how poorly dressed they are compared to everyone else.

 Above all, don't give any of these organizing people and their vendors selling overpriced T shirts any of your money.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Let's Pop the Biden Balloon

The reviews are in, and from what I've read so far, they're damned near unanimous: Joe Biden totally "brought it" to Tuesday night's State of the Union (SOTU) spectacle. That means he did good, especially since everybody's who's anybody was bracing for disaster.  Some concerned critics were even resurrecting his advanced age in order to pre-excuse him and urge him not to run again.  Others pre-blamed his stuttering issue on what was feared to be a gaffe-a-thon. 

But as the New York Times emotively reported over the weekend, Biden had practiced for this event really, really hard. The cinematic "King's Speech" pathos is nothing next to Biden's own epic verbal struggles. 

His TelePrompter came complete with dashes for when he should pause, slashes for when he should raise his voice, and smaller font for when he should lower his voice. (OK, so I was only kidding about that last bit.) According to the Paper of Record,

“This is a guy who has been remarkably consistent over a very long career both in the values he brings to the job and the way he articulates those values,” said Jeff Nussbaum, a former Biden White House speechwriter. “When you’re writing for Joe Biden, you’re a session musician for a band that has already released 20 albums.”

But, Mr. Nussbaum added, there was a reason behind the consistency, which he said had led the president’s list of legislative victories: “Joe Biden has to say the same thing a thousand times before the world catches up to him.”

Preparations for Mr. Biden’s State of the Union speeches begin weeks in advance. Several aides described a process in which the president demands that sentences be written clearly — no acronyms! — and illustrate his legislative accomplishments in terms real people can understand. He spends weeks working on each speech with his writers, reading over and over again, top to bottom, and out loud.

I admit it, readers. I caved and watched the whole spectacle. I didn't even flinch when the camera panned to Bono sitting in the first lady's box. Stuttering was not that big of a deal. Rather, it was the slurring of his words, many of which were what the Times has delicately euphemized as exaggerations and uncontextualized - as opposed, let us say, to outright lying. All politicians lie, after all. Some of them, as Izzy Stone observed, even inhale the same hashish that they peddle to the masses.

It is only now, after nearly a half-century of calling for cuts to Social Security and Medicare, that Joe Biden has suddenly taken to verbally championing these programs and projecting his own historical position right onto the Republicans. When he remarked in his speech that "some but not all"  Republicans in the audience wanted to let the programs sunset, there were howls of outrage from the likes of a fur-clad Marjorie Taylor Greene, who yelled out "Liar!" They took Biden's bait, whereupon he smugly announced that all the nutjobs in the chamber were now officially on record as opposing the cuts, after all. Point, Uncle Joe. According to the refs in the media, he handled the heckling like a true champ.

Of course, he never defined his terms. No politician ever uses the word "cut" when they talk about imposing pain and austerity on the masses of people. Rather, these programs must be modernized, improved, reformed, and protected for future generations, Just because no self-serving politician will ever reduce benefits for current recipients  doesn't mean that they won't agree to raise the retirement age beginning in, say, 2035.

So what if Biden made a big show about vaguely taxing the wealthy? He didn't actually come right out and suggest that we scrap the cap on FICA contributions as a way to render Social Security solvent into perpetuity.

Later in the speech, when Biden introduced the grieving parents of Tyre Nichols, the Memphis man beaten to death by thugs with badges, he quickly -- too quickly, in my view - pivoted right from police brutality into restoring the ban on assault weapons. He slurred and he blurred state-sanctioned violence straight into a condemnation of renegade civilian violence  Perhaps it was to keep people from remembering that it was Biden himself who spearheaded the militarization of local police departments with his COPs legislation, which moved such surplus hardware as tanks and grenade launchers and assault weapons into even relatively small and extremely untrained police departments. 

Let’s come together to finish the job on police reform.

Do something. Do something.

That was the plea of parents who lost their children in Uvalde — I met with every one of them. Do something about gun violence.

Thank God, thank God we did. Passing the most sweeping gun safety law in three decades.

That includes things like that the majority of responsible gun owners already support: enhanced background checks for 18- to 21-year-olds. Red flag laws keeping guns out of the hands of people who are a danger to themselves and others.

His alleged disgust at weapons in dangerous hands at home does not extend to keeping them out of dangerous hands elsewhere. As a matter of fact, he has quietly allowed unqualified civilians at home to become freelance arms dealers, to supplement the billions of dollars in weaponry already appropriated by Congress for the US's proxy war on Russia in Ukraine.

The New York Times told the tale recently of a limo driver and a doctor with no prior experience in arms trading who partnered up and got almost instant permission from the Biden administration to pursue a lucrative $30 million weapons deal. Such an endeavor would normally take months of government vetting and subsequent stringent tracking, but in this and other cases, approval came within hours. The driver and the doctor apparently were not even subject to a mental health check or other requirements which are sometimes imposed on run-of-the-mill gun purchasers who buy a weapon or arsenal for their own direct, personal use. From the Times article:

Weapons sold through private brokers are far more likely to end up on the black market and resurface in the hands of American adversaries, according to government advisers and academics who study the trade. Recent experience in Afghanistan and Syria shows that, without strict tracing policies, weapons can end up with terrorist groups or hostile military forces....

 “It’s the Wild West,” said Olga Torres, a lawyer who represents arms exporters and serves on the federal Defense Trade Advisory Group. “We are seeing a lot of people who were previously not involved in arms sales getting involved now because they see the opportunity.”

It's capitalism, after all. And Joe Biden did find it necessary in his SOTU speech  to once again remind folks that, despite the crazy GOP smears of socialism leveled against him, he is indeed a diehard capitalist.

All the speech previews I'd read had also predicted that Biden would not be so crass as to brag about shooting down that Chinese spy or weather balloon this past weekend. But once again, stalwart Uncle Joe proved the pundits wrong.  Because when it comes to bellicose chest-thumping, even aged leaders are miraculously transformed into virile young studs whenever they order a phallic missile deployment:

 if China’s threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did last weekend.

And let’s be clear: winning the competition with China should unite all of us. We face serious challenges across the world.


I wish someone would explain to me why shooting down a balloon is a sign of winning some "competition. Maybe Joe thought he was throwing darts at balloons in a carnival booth, or maybe he was fomenting a new cold or hot war.

Whatever his meaning, how exactly would conflict with China "unite all of us?"  Because the only picture I'm getting in my head right now is a nuclear bomb melding everyone and everything on Earth into one great big gruesome blob of flesh and ashes.

The congress-critters in Biden's audience certainly were united in their own impervious and titillated reaction to death and destruction, however.  The prospect of war gets them amorously excited every single time. They all stood up as one great big orgasmic mass of session musicians, and broke right into that standard SOTU favorite:


Monday, February 6, 2023

The Horror of Congressional Hunger Games

Just as the Biden administration prematurely announced the end of the public health emergency, just as pandemic-related Medicaid coverage and enhanced food assistance are abruptly being yanked away from millions of vulnerable people, our elected congressional "representatives" in the lower house last week found it necessary to twist the knife in even further.  

 One hundred nine Democrats joined 218 Republicans in passing a resolution "denouncing the horrors of socialism."

Even the democratic, pluralistic socialism practiced in the Scandinavian countries will inevitably devolve into vicious authoritarianism, the document insinuates, as it falsely and hysterically conflates the regimes of Stalin and Pol Pot with the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Among the Democrats, you might be surprised to learn that Ro Khanna of California broke ranks with the progressive caucus,  justifying his own condemnation of socialism by pleading that he is a "progressive capitalist." Fourteen other progressives decided to just play it safe and simply voted "present" in response to the GOP's red-baiting resolution.

 My own newly-elected Democratic rep, Pat Ryan, had just delivered a rousing floor speech blasting our local, private equity-owned utility for ripping off its customers .But since he'd only demanded the resignation of its CEO, and didn't actually call for taking the gas and electric company public, I wasn't too surprised when he also condemned the "horrors" that a government-run utility would inflict upon its victimized customers.

It's a dog-eat-dog world out here in America. It doesn't matter to either establishment party that more than a million of their constituents are dead of Covid, and that at least 500 of us still are being killed by it every single day. 

 The anti-socialist resolution justifies its inherent cruelty and cynicism by pointing to the puritanical principle of rugged individualism upon which this nation was founded:

Whereas the Father of the Constitution, President James Madison, wrote that it is not a just government, nor is property secure under it, where the property which a man has in his personal safety and personal liberty, is violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the rest; and

Whereas the United States of America was founded on the belief in the sanctity of the individual, to which the collectivistic system of socialism in all of its forms is fundamentally and necessarily opposed: Now, therefore, be it resolved 

 That Congress denounces socialism in all its forms, and opposes the implementation of socialist policies in the United States of America.

The resolution, introduced by Florida Republican Maria Salazar, is no doubt also the result of socialist politicians winning a slew of recent elections in Central and South America  US-based corporations might be thwarted in their campaign to extract natural resources, such as oil, and exploit populations in the process. The actual and potential loss of predatory power, both at home and abroad, is really what the lords of global capital and their political servants find so horrific. 

But for all its paranoid craziness, this anti-social and anti-socialist proclamation should at least put paid to the notion that the Democratic Party is the lesser of two evils. In fact, too many Democrats want to be Republicans. Ro Khanna voted for the resolution because his bright future in the corporate California party depends on it.

The Covid pandemic has been both a curse and a blessing to the poor. While they have sickened and died in disproportionate numbers during the last three years, our government's temporary socialistic policies of guaranteed health care,  a trio of stimulus checks,  eviction protections and rent assistance, enhanced SNAP (supplemental nutrition) stipends, unemployment benefits, and child tax credits in the way of cold hard cash to families improved their lives so much that for the first time in their lives, millions of Americans discovered what it's like to live without financial precarity and hunger. It was socialism in action, and it has absolutely horrified Congress and the very wealthy and the very tax-averse people who fund the politicians and who nevertheless actually became even richer from the pandemic.

No wonder they're yanking benefits away from vulnerable people, whose version of getting back to  Normal means going without medical care and adequate food, and becoming even more prone to losing the roofs over their heads as evictions by private equity landlords have commenced in higher numbers than ever.

Just the enhanced SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits alone, set to abruptly stop in March in the 35 states that still disbursed them, had cut child poverty by 14 percent. About 42 million people will now see their monthly food allotments drop by at least $95 or as much as hundreds of dollars, depending upon household size and income. This austerity move, passed by Congress just before Christmas, with little fanfare or media coverage, comes at the worst possible time, becaise grocery prices are still increasing and food banks are strapped for donations.

Alice Reznikova, of the Union of Concerned Scientists warns of an approaching hunger cliff, a needless crisis directly caused by bipartisan congressional malfeasance:

In December, in a rush to prevent a government shutdown, but lawmakers pitted summer child nutrition programs against the still-needed continuation of pandemic expansion to SNAP dollars, which had offered low-income households additional SNAP dollars since April 2021. While we applaud the passing of hopefully permanent support to child nutrition programs, we called out Congress for presenting a false choice between alleviating food insecurity for all SNAP recipients during the continued national emergency… and alleviating food insecurity only for SNAP households with children, only during summers. 

But wait! It gets even more antisocially cynical, because at the same time that Congress allotted a measly $40 per month per needy child for a measly three months out of the year, it made the Hunger Games even more exciting by cutting out free school lunches for 30 million needy children for the other nine months of the year. That is because the income eligibility requirements relaxed due to the pandemic have now reverted to pre-Covid extreme poverty guidelines. As a result, previously enrolled families who once qualified for the program now find themselves deep in debt for their kids' school meals. 

As the New York Times reported in January, 

 It is difficult to estimate how many students are now going hungry. But school officials and nutrition advocates point to proxy measurements — debt owed by families who cannot afford a school meal, for example, or the number of applications for free and reduced-price meals — as evidence of unmet need.

  In a survey released this month by the School Nutrition Association, 96.3 percent of school districts reported that meal debt had increased. Median debt rose to $5,164 per district through November, already higher than the $3,400 median reported for the entire school year in
 the group’s 2019 survey

Older people and those on disability who have received enhanced SNAP benefits for the past three years now stand to lose an average of $300 a month in aid. Vulnerable recipients who relied on Instacart and other shopping services to purchase food, so as to avoid catching Covid, will not be able to afford to do so come March - not on a monthly food allotment of, in some cases,  only $18.

Meanwhile, the craven people who run the place are busily trying to make us forget about their own cruelty by creating yet another outside enemy for us to hate and fear. The latest deflection is a giant Chinese balloon, which Joe Biden bravely shot down over the weekend with a guided missile off the South Carolina coast, and whose remains are being heavily guarded by the Navy for our protection.

They really think we're idiots. So even if their xenophobic, saber-rattling propaganda doesn't work, they can at least try to starve us into submission and make us too weak to take to the streets in protest.

As centenarian Henry Kissinger ever so wisely instructed the ruling class: "Control oil, and you control nations. Control food, and you control the people."

Bleak House, USA (Mervyn Peake)