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.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Ethics

 *Updated below.

Why wait until Donald Trump is sworn in for the oligarchic free-for-all to get started with a vengeance?

House Republicans met under cover of darkness at the end of the Christmas break to gut the independent body tasked with overseeing their ethics or lack of same. People are shocked, shocked I tell you. Because corrupt politicians usually don't brag so openly about how they pulled one over on their constituents.

It was momentarily heartening, therefore, to read the New York Times headline announcing that President-elect Trump "rebuked" the GOP politicians over their "bid to gut ethics office." Maybe he's at least semi-serious about draining the swamp after all.

But not so fast. If you had time to actually read the article past the headline, your newly hopeful heart would have plummeted like a turbo-charged rock straight to the bottom of the Washington muck.
In a pair of postings on Twitter, Mr. Trump called the Office of Congressional Ethics “unfair,” but he said focusing on it now was a case of misplaced priorities. He appended the hashtag “DTS,” an apparent allusion to his promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington.

With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it

  2h2 hours ago

........may be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!
 The Times article, written by Eric Lipton and Julie Hirschfeld Davis, goes on to insist that Trump's alleged "rebuke" marks a major public break between Trump and the rank-and-file Republicans. The unannounced secretive move to effectively euthanize the independent ethics watchdog apparently caught even Donald Trump by surprise. And Donald Trump does not like to be caught by surprise. The congress critters were apparently "emboldened" to legalize their own corruption by the election of Trump, who has wasted no time signalling that his will be among the most corrupt administrations in American history.

You can't really accuse House Republicans of any actual creative genius here, either. After all, if the too-big-to-fail and jail banksters have been given the green light to police themselves, both in-house and under the protection of their revolving door government positions in the current administration, why shouldn't the lower legislative body openly and enthusiastically follow the same set of rules?

You'd think they were operating outside the de facto oligarchic norm or something, pulling a stunt like this.

 Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) had convinced his cohort that the Office of Congressional Ethics, set up in 2008 to investigate allegations of misconduct against lawmakers, should be run by the House Ethics Committee. Like vampires, Republicans voted to suck the blood out of oversight after sundown on Monday, without even bothering with the niceties of a seductive (public) debate beforehand.

As in other good public programs destroyed under the euphemism of "reform," Goodlatte said his proposal “builds upon and strengthens the existing Office of Congressional Ethics by maintaining its primary area of focus of accepting and reviewing complaints from the public and referring them, if appropriate, to the Committee on Ethics.” 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi then complained: “Republicans claim they want to ‘drain the swamp,’ but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions. Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.”

Notice that Pelosi carefully restricted her moral outrage to the "new" Republican congress. Because it might have been too challenging for her to remember the fate of the Stock Act, passed in 2011 to combat insider trading by members like Nancy Pelosi. She and her husband had profited handsomely when, right on the eve of the "surprise" 2008 financial meltdown, they bought Visa stock at rock-bottom prices and then made a cool $100,000 on the resale, literally overnight.  She was absolutely mum when Congress later gutted a key provision of the Stock Act outlawing insider trading by family members of congress critters. Pelosi's husband and other congressional spouses, siblings and spawn can still commit insider trading perfectly legally and with utter immunity and impunity.

But I digress. Here's my published comment on the New York Times piece giving undeserved immunity to Trump in its misleading headline:
 Trump's so-called rebuke of House Republicans is like the annoyed flick of one wet noodle.

He's not miffed that the gutting of the official ethics oversight body under cover of darkness is undemocratic and corrupt on its face. He's miffed because he thinks that the gutting of Obamacare, the ripping of health coverage away from millions of people should take top priority. He's miffed because such a ham-handed power grab by a group of miscreants will shine too harsh of a public spotlight on his more pressing need for rewriting the tax code in favor of the plutocrats who already have way, way too much.

So thanks, Goodlatte and company, for transparently putting your corruption right out there in the open for all to see, and also for, unintentionally or not, dumping some quick-sand in the way of Trump's authoritarian march to a full-fledged oligarchy.

Most people are no longer amenable to being fooled even some of the time.
An informed populace is tyranny's worst enemy.

*Update:  It seems that Goodlatte and Co. have seen the error of the timing of their ways, and have at least temporarily reversed course on their official ethics-gutting. Their evisceration of the safety net may now proceed apace... or so the bastards think.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Hopiest. New. Year. Ever

This might be a silly question. But would all the pseudo-mourners who seem blissfully exempt from any real trauma in their own lives be proclaiming that 2016 was the worst year ever if Hillary Clinton had won the election?

Correction: make that The. Worst. Year. Ever. Because enlarging the font to apocalyptic proportions and adding superfluous periods in between words is the cool way for serious churnalists to broadcast their rhetorical expertise.

Lake Superior State University has just come with its annual list of banished words and phrases. But in my opinion, they jumped the gun, bigly. Because The. Worst. Year. Ever absolutely deserves to be on the top of the list. It is so much more annoying than Post-Truth. It's almost as cringe-worthy as Echo Chamber -- which, come to think of it, is the perfect home for The. Worst. Year. Ever, given that each one of those punctuation points is like a fist punching you in the solar plexus. Over. And. Over. And. Over. Again.

When you Google "2016 Worst Year Ever" you get a grand total of 270,000 hits. Bam. Bam. Bam.

Just in case you still haven't gotten the message, The Huffington Post put it in a banner headline (since disappeared) of what has to be the hugest type size available to propagandists posing as news-hounds. But like much of the other stuff you read in the HuffPo, the scare headline turned out be pure click-bait. The actual article is about a survey that the website conducted with YouGov, which reveals:  

 Overall, 26 percent of Americans say that 2016 has been good or excellent for the country as a whole, 36 percent say that it has been only fair and 31 percent think that it has been poor. Those numbers, if somewhat pessimistic, are also basically in line with December of last year, when 25 percent said that 2015 had been good or excellent, 44 percent that was fair and 27 percent that it was poor.

In other words, it's the Goldilocks effect, which has been in effect since probably forever. About a third of the population thinks life is too hard, another third thinks everything is soft and comfy, and the middle Panglossian third claim that they feel, if not exactly just right, then at least as tolerable as can be expected. The Google search results I mentioned above contained approximately the same results from news items: 2016 was terrible; 2016 was actually pretty great and only seemed terrible because of the collective psychic blow of all those celebrities dying; or 2016, sucky as it was, could always have been worse.

The New York York Times was more circumspect in its own headline, which also had the decency to cast a little doubt on last week's favorite meme while still finding it necessary to add those superfluous punchy periods to make their point: 2016: Worst. Year. Ever?

Charles Nevins lists the awfulness without, thank goodness, resorting to a listicle: 

 Randomly, incompletely: Syria, Zika, Haiti, Orlando, Nice, Charlotte, Brussels, Bowie, Prince, Ali, Cohen. Not everyone was delighted by the results of important votes in the United States and Britain, either.

 Can you tell yet that Charles Nevins is based in London, where they apparently still do dry, understated humor?

He goes on to remember some truly Worst Ever Years, like when a Sumatran super-volcano erupted 75,000 years ago and another volcano blew up in the same region in the 19th century, producing a year without a summer and crop failure and famine. And as bad as Donald Trump and his militarized cabinet of oligarchs promise to be, life under siege by Vikings and Visigoths and the plague-carrying rats they brought along as extra baggage certainly would have beat out 2016 as some of the Worst. Years. Ever. And the examples go on. and. on. and. on. The Civil War, the two world wars, the Great Depression, for example.

What really seems to have pushed 2016-haters over the edge into the morass of despair were the deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds this week. It seems that more celebrities have died in 2016 than any pseudo-mourner can be humanly expected to bear. It's more unbearable, apparently, for the pundits singing the Worst Year Blues than the horrific uptick in opioid overdose deaths and the fact that 2016 has seen the highest increase in the general American death rate in more than two decades.

The New York Times editorial board puts 2016 in the new-ageish therapeutic terms of a Beatles hit: Take A Bad Year and Make It Better. Donald Trump's election, of course, is at the very top of the list of what they hiply noun-itize as "horribles."
 Yet so many bad things happened, from the unthinkable to the horrifying to the merely shocking. Things fell apart. Tyrants and terrorists trailed blood and rubble across the Middle East and Europe. Refugees drowned in the Mediterranean. Right-wing extremism and xenophobia were on the march. The American election let loose old racial hatreds. The planet got hotter; the Arctic went haywire. The world was burning or smoldering or blowing up or melting.
But good liberal propagandist that it is, the Times glosses right over the actual political and plutocratic culprits of all the mayhem, and urges us to just brace ourselves for more "headwinds" (neoliberal-speak for more market based atrocities posing as natural weather events) as we remember to thank the good guys for the memories:
National protests shone a harsh light on police killings of black civilians. Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama inspired millions, their achievements and grace rebuking the sour misogyny of the Trump campaign. American Indians in North Dakota braved rubber bullets and water cannons to protect their drinking water from an oil pipeline. Nations of the world — all threatened by a warming planet — ratified the Paris climate agreement. The global health community found ways to subdue the Zika virus and create an effective Ebola vaccine. The death penalty in the United States kept sliding into history’s dustbin. Some states, reflecting strong public support, began tilting the gun debate in the direction of sanity.
Putting Hillary Clinton, hawk and Wall Street maven that she is, in the same inspiring category as the Standing Rock protesters is a bit grotesque, given that she had coldly ignored their fight for clean water throughout her campaign. Also off-putting is the paper of record's denial of agency to the people advocating for their own civil rights:
That’s a message for these times. Lift up those in the Fight for $15, those fighting policing abuses and discrimination, those who are marginalized and poor and weak. This may be the most heartening development in a dismal year — the evidence all around that we know how to do this, and can indeed summon the will.
In other words, leave it to the experts to solve the problems of the underclass. Neoliberals still refuse to acknowledge that people need to be respected more than they need to be "lifted up" by the elites. This editorial was just another way of warning poor people to pipe down while they wait for the knowledge class to whimsically elevate them, and advising affluent people to relax, give to their favorite charities, or maybe even volunteer for an hour or two a week or a month. And before you know it, Trump or no Trump, you will start feeling pretty darned good about both yourself and about 2017.

Drew Brown of Vice has an opposite and more refreshing take on all the 2016 angst, which he describes as more kick in the ass than boot to the throat:
It's common to lament 2016 as a kind of spectacularly miserable year, a singularly awful global catastrophe where all the good celebrities died and all the bad ones became president. But 2016 is not sentient, and it's not deliberately tormenting you (no matter how much it sometimes feels that way). It's really just the year a number of cultural, technological, political, and ecological trends all collided into one another in the worst possible way.
In hindsight, it's easy to see how everything that boiled over this year was bubbling away for the better part of the decade. It feels like we live in a markedly—even unthinkably—different world than we did in 2011 or 2015. But we're really just catching a boomerang. This was the year our chickens came home to roost.
The oligarchs were taking over the planet and the planet was burning up long before Donald Trump was elected. But instead of looking climate disaster right in the face, we're supposed to be clutching our pearls over Russia, a fake epidemic of fake news, the alt-right, and post-truth. Contra the stuffy Gray Lady, Drew Brown does choose to acknowledge that oppressed people have innate power, and that the younger the people, the more socialism-minded they are likely to be: 
 Millennials take a lot of shit for being apathetic, flighty narcissists. But the other major Western political upheaval of 2016—the one spearheaded by a geriatric Jewish socialist named Bernie Sanders—shows that we'll come out in droves for anyone who will listen to us, for anyone willing and able to give voice to the demand that our lives don't have to get worse forever just so some monsters with suits and stock options can get rich off our labor while cities sink into the sea.
Don't pseudo-mourn, don't deplore the wrong people, and don't scapegoat the wrong people.

It's the class war, and no matter which legacy party is in power, we're still on the receiving end of the kicks and punches. So summon up hope wherever you can find it. But don't forget to be angry and stay angry as well.

Here's wishing all my readers and your families a very healthy and safe and tolerable new year. One thing is for certain: the sparks will be flying.