The Trump administration’s war hawks couldn’t have asked for a more docile casus belli than the Katyusha rocket that landed a mile outside the US embassy in Baghdad’s American-occupied Green Zone on Sunday night, sparing persons, property, and the pride of a president who must have begun to doubt whether the mounting tensions between the US and Iran had any basis in reality at all - or whether the deliberately vague "credible intelligence" on the Iranian "threat" supplied by the Mossad was not a trick to convince the US to take out Israel's last regional rival.
The plucky little rocket injured no one, and the launcher that fired it was immediately recovered by Iraqi security services in a canal in East Baghdad, which Israeli media breathlessly reported is “home to Iran-backed Shiite militias.” Authorities found no clues as to who had fired the rocket, but a narrative trap was clearly being laid. "Non-emergency" US government personnel had been safely bundled out of the Iraqi embassy by the State Department last Wednesday, supposedly due to an "imminent threat" from Iran, and even Exxon-Mobil had interrupted its plunder of Iraq’s resources, pulling 30 engineers off a Basra oil field as a "temporary precautionary measure."
Despite its apparent futility as an offensive measure, the lonely rocket fulfills the purposefully broad criteria set forth by “Rapture Mike” Pompeo earlier this month when he warned that any attacks on “US interests or citizens” by “Iran or its proxies” would be met with a “swift and decisive” response. In a “coincidence” that should surprise no one, the malignant manatee followed those remarks with a statement celebrating Israel’s National Day and promising to “work toward a safer, more stable, and more prosperous" - and presumably depopulated of all those pesky Persians - "Middle East.”
Trump met with Bolton and other members of his cabinet on Sunday night to discuss the strike. While the State Department made ominous noises, its statement officially found no responsibility as yet; the president, however, had apparently made up his mind who to blame, and Bolton made up his mind decades ago.
It’s unlikely this will be the last provocation. Despite an "emergency" visit from Pompeo to Baghdad earlier this month in which he paid lip service to Iraqi "independence" while warning "any attack by Iran or its proxies on American forces in Iraq would affect the Iraqi government too," Iraqi ambassador to Russia Haidar Mansour Hadi has said in no uncertain terms that Iraq will not allow the US to use it as a staging ground for an invasion of Iran. A few people would presumably have to die or be kidnapped before the Iraqis permit their country to be used as a launchpad for World War III by someone whose idea of international diplomacy is basically "that's a nice sovereign nation you got there - sure would be a shame if we had to invade it a third time." Though with 5,000 American troops still stationed in Iraq nearly a decade after Obama supposedly ended that war, the second invasion never really finished.
Unwilling to allow Mossad to hog the credit for predicting "Iran"'s curiously self-defeating act of amateur rocketry, the State Department issued a Level 4 travel advisory on Wednesday, warning US citizens in Iraq that they are at “high risk for violence and kidnapping” from “numerous terrorist and insurgent groups” as well as “anti-US sectarian militias” - who also threaten “western companies.” That warning followed a similar notice from the US Maritime Administration cautioning ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz to give the US a few days notice, the better to attack them and blame Iran - er, protect them.
The Baghdad rocket attack, almost a carbon copy of the pointless “Hamas rocket strikes” Israel stages whenever it wants to derail peace talks or just flatten a few blocks in Gaza, comes almost exactly a week after four oil tankers mysteriously sprouted holes in their sides just below the water line, large enough to attract attention but small enough not to spill a single drop of precious oil or risk sinking the vessels. An anonymous US military source was breathlessly quoted blaming the “sabotage” on Iran the day after the "attack," as if Americans had learned nothing in Syria other than that rushing into war without all the facts is a great way to cheer up Lockheed Martin stockholders.
Given the newly-leaked OPCW report confirming that last year’s “chemical attack” in Douma, which was immediately pinned on Bashar al-Assad without a shred of evidence based on the word of Oscar-winning terrorist head-choppers the White Helmets, was instead the work of anti-government rebels, the US should be doubly cautious about retaliating against any perceived attack. But Bolton and Pompeo have been baying for Iranian blood for over a decade now, and even the most transparently absurd excuse will do (the Onion's headline "Bleeding John Bolton stumbles into Capitol Building claiming that Iran shot him" barely counts as satire).
Even if Iran, which has repeatedly said it does not want war with the US, suddenly developed a death wish, it wouldn’t waste its critical first strike on an abandoned building a mile from the American embassy - not when there's billions of dollars worth of juicy American aircraft carrier sitting in the Gulf, one well-placed missile away from Davy Jones' locker.
Like the Douma "chemical attack," this rocket strike does not benefit the government in any way. Iran has nothing to gain by bringing down the full force of the American regime-change machine on its head by crossing Pompeo’s ridiculously vague red line (more of a red blob, really), even if, per the Pentagon’s own 2002 ‘war-gaming’ of the conflict, the US is unlikely to win the resulting war. Just as Nikki Haley's warning that Assad would be blamed for all chemical attacks was a green light to rebel groups to stage false flag events and pin them on the government, so the Trump administration has essentially issued an open invitation to all Iran's enemies to attack something - anything - in the CENTCOM region and point to Tehran as the culprit.
As usual, the only winner in this scenario is Israel, whose PM Benjamin Netanyahu actually had the chutzpah to tell US officials that his country wasn’t interested in direct participation in the war he’s been trying to start for the better part of three decades - even as his military official was in the New York Times trying to goad Trump into firing the first shot.
“If the Americans now act like nothing happened — ‘Iran didn’t spit on us, it’s only rain’ - it’s catastrophic, because it’s saying to the Iranians, ‘We won’t interfere.’ What kind of Middle East will we face when it’ll be clear to other countries that Americans are not ready to fulfill what people expect them to do?” Israeli military intelligence officer Yaakov Amidror asked, horrified by a world in which Israel is not able to run around throwing sand in the faces of the bigger kids on the geopolitical playground, safe in the knowledge that Big Daddy ‘Murica will come to its rescue, guns blazing. Saudi Arabia, too, has also claimed it wants no part of this war, even as it joins the US in blaming Iran for the holes in its ships and continues to blame Iran for the Houthis' refusal to lay down and die in Yemen.
Nor have the US' usual partners in war crime taken the bait. British Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika, deputy commander of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition, told reporters on Tuesday there was "no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria," triggering a sharp rebuke from the Pentagon, and Spain actually withdrew its ship from the US-led carrier strike group dispatched last month to the Gulf, determined to avoid getting roped into an extremely unattractive conflict.
I've already commented on the curiously threadbare quality of the US' anti-Iran propaganda - for some reason, the American people aren’t being fed the usual Manichaean dramas starring “animal Assad” or Gaddafi-the-rapist. It’s unsettling how little effort is being expended to sell us what will certainly be the most ruinous war we've faced in a lifetime: recycled physics-defying threats about missiles fired from small boats, warnings of sleeper-cell militias Tehran can activate with a word, and the constantly-repeated-but-still-untrue line that Iran is the world's top sponsor of terror are hardly sufficient to convince a country to act against its interests. Perhaps after the utter failure of the latest regime-change operation in Venezuela, the ruling class has realized that their persuasion skills have gotten soft. Meanwhile, instead of creating and amplifying western propaganda, they’ve merely silenced Iranian media, knocking out PressTV’s YouTube channel.
Americans are familiar with the tragedy of how shortsighted greed destroyed the country's industrial base in the latter half of the twentieth century. But can we no longer even manufacture consent? Or have the powers that be realized they no longer need the consent of the governed to wage war in the service of empire?Add a comment
My site is back up, for now, if you're reading this. Who knew cockroaches hated having light shined on them so much? Get used to it, guys.
May 13: Israel spying, moon shrinking, China retaliating; US bloviating
May 14: Intel processors zombified; San Francisco saves face; Trump outlaws competition; Alabama loves fetuses
May 15: Alabama really loves its fetuses; US resists Christchurch creep; Munchhausen by proxy; Trump wants your sob story
May 16: Israeli election meddling ubiquitous; 102 years of Pei; Indian soldiers leaking all over Facebook; dark matter matters
May 17: Venezuelan protesters released; French journalists face prison; men officially women; lechery on the high seasAdd a comment
The Strait of Hormuz is the new Gulf of Tonkin. The Pentagon's own war games show the US would suffer badly in a hypothetical conflict with Iran, & that's without other countries getting in on the game - given current geopolitical realities, the false flag Trump's b-team is angling for would be nothing short of apocalyptic. Bye, my fellow 'muricans, was nice knowing you.
May 6: Guaido goes full Hillary re: failed coup; Mnuchin sits on Trump's taxes; Twitter ices AOC parody account bc who could tell
(note: this was originally written as an op-ed for RT)
May 7: Auschwitz takes offense; Venezuela takes revenge; Pompeo takes a shit on Iraq; Arizona clutches porn pearls; so much for security
May 8: Trump readies the mop for 2020 victory; Pompeo thugs out over Huawei in UK; Florida arming teachers; Barr buried in subpoenas
May 9: Pompeo's trigger finger itches; Bezos plots Amazon Moon; Rubio's Chinese fever dreams dovetail with Trump's; US repos DPRK ship
May 10: Biden demands 40-story border fence on video; moar subpoenas for Trump, moar missiles from the Pentagon, moar casualtiesAdd a comment
Americans are sick of fighting a 20-year war against an undefined enemy they can’t seem to beat. With morale and recruitment scraping bottom, the world’s best-funded military reckons that, if it can’t win, it can at least look like a winner.
The US Army looked to World War II, the last war the US could decisively be said to have “won,” for inspiration when designing its new service uniform to invoke “the most prominent time the Army’s service to our nation was universally recognized,” as sergeant major Daniel Dailey, the Army’s highest-ranking enlisted soldier, told the New York Times. But the specter of World War II – when Americans were hailed as “the good guys” – was conjured up long before the military decided to reenact its golden age through cosplay. Indeed, the US has been borrowing from the WWII playbook since before the War on Terror officially began.
Like WWII, the US’ forever-war, which has long since spilled beyond the Middle East, is being fought on multiple fronts against countries that, left alone, would pose no threat to the US. In both cases, the American people had to be tricked into supporting long, bloody, expensive conflicts that served little strategic purpose for the US – but strongly benefited their allies.
Neocon think tank Project for a New American Century (PNAC) infamously called for a “new Pearl Harbor” to advance its foreign policy goals, and the attacks of September 11 were used to shred the Constitution and pitch the country headlong into nearly two decades of unparalleled destruction, destabilizing the Middle East for generations and bankrupting the US. Neither attack happened without plenty of warning, however, and both were arguably permitted to take place in order to manufacture consent for extremely unpopular wars.
With the US barely out of World War I, President Franklin Roosevelt faced a population 80 to 90 percent opposed to entering another global conflict; he even ran on the promise that “your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.” Not only did Roosevelt deliberately place the US’ Pacific fleet in harm’s way by anchoring it in Pearl Harbor against the advice of fleet commander Admiral James Richardson; he relieved Richardson of his command for complaining, reportedly telling him “Sooner or later the Japanese will commit an overt act against the United States and the nation will be willing to enter the war.” US military intelligence, which had cracked the Japanese encryption codes, intercepted radio messages indicating Japan planned to attack Hawaii. The attack was allowed to happen, and overnight, a population allergic to war was baying for Japanese blood.
Several government agents, including FBI Minneapolis field office chief counsel Coleen Rowley and FBI Special Agent Robert Wright, came forward before September 11, troubled by evidence that seemed to point to a foreign group planning an attack on American soil. Saudi nationals training at flight schools and Israeli “art students” probing security vulnerabilities in government buildings set off alarms in government agencies all over the country. But the administration of President George W. Bush, packed with PNAC alumni, ignored and even punished these whistleblowers. The Twin Towers were destroyed, the PATRIOT Act (pre-written and ready to go) was rammed through a docile Congress and, less than a month later, according to General Wesley Clark, the decision to invade Iraq had been made, even as hostilities had barely commenced in Afghanistan. Clark was told of a classified memo from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that described how “We’re going to take out seven countries in five years,” and while their timetable is a little behind, Iran is the only country on that list where the US and its allies haven’t attempted a regime change.
It’s worth looking at what triggered the Pearl Harbor attack, because it is happening again. When Japan refused to pull its forces out of China, the US imposed an oil embargo on Japan, cutting the nation off from 80 percent of its oil supply and leaving it no choice but to seek fuel elsewhere. The closest oil was in then-Dutch Indonesia, but US-controlled Philippines physically barred the way. The US had thus almost guaranteed Japan would have to attack the US, allowing Washington to enter the war with the American people’s approval in order to fight Germany, whom Roosevelt perceived as the “real” enemy.
The US has imposed the strictest sanctions on Iran yet, repealing the last waivers last week in the hope of forcing the country into a similarly suicidal act. Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if it is blocked from using the waterway, which sees 20 percent of the world’s oil traffic. US officials have deemed such a move “unacceptable,” suggesting massive retaliation would follow, and a US carrier strike group is on its way to the region, supposedly acting on a "credible threat" that Iran plans to target US interests. Regardless of who fires the first shot - and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has warned Trump a false flag attack is extremely likely - war with Iran would be the result, and Americans would be cheering it on. The question is not if, but when.
War with Iran wouldn’t benefit the US at all – a 2002 Pentagon wargame simulation has even indicated the US would lose. But Iran is the strongest enemy of Israel left standing, and Trump's inner circle – like the neocons at PNAC (whose members included John Bolton) – has made it clear where his priorities lie. Just as laying waste to Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen only created an endless supply of enemies for the US while crossing Israel’s regional rivals off the list, attempting to destroy Iran will have devastating repercussions for the US while ensuring no one is left to challenge Israel’s regional dominance. It is no coincidence that the intel suggesting Iran was plotting an attack on American targets in the Middle East - the tip that triggered the deployment of the carrier strike group Abraham Lincoln to the region last month - came from the Mossad, the Israeli intel agency whose motto is "by deception, thou shalt do war." Israel has been lying about Iran's ambitions for decades. In the same way, Britain, not the US, stood to benefit from the US attacking Germany in WWII. While the US did eventually profit from Germany’s defeat, splitting a destroyed Europe with the Soviets, Britain needed US intervention if it hoped to survive at all.
World War II was a golden era for propagandists on both sides, and the US’ reliance on the art has only grown since the days when buck-toothed racist Japanese caricatures spoke to American civilians in broken English and riding alone meant riding with Hitler. And Hitler remains the exemplar of evil in the American mind only because history is written by the victors – Stalin, whose body count was significantly greater, was cast as kindly Uncle Joe, until the military-industrial complex required a new enemy to maintain military spending levels and the Soviet Union was transformed from powerful friend into formidable foe. Anti-Nazi propaganda has flourished since the war's end, with lurid tales of lampshades and soap made from concentration camp victims, and "Nazi" itself has become shorthand for anyone we disagree with politically.
Americans are told again and again that military intervention is the only way to “save” the people of Libya, Syria, or Iraq, especially their women and children. While Libya may have taken the cake for most bizarre propaganda narrative yet, with stories that Muammar Gaddafi was doling out Viagra to his soldiers to ensure they were at the top of their rape game, the terrorist White Helmets in Syria won an Oscar for their convincing portrayal of a noble civil defense force, convincing the folks back home that Bashar Assad was a gas-happy monster instead of the cosmopolitan statesman who’d received the French Medal of Honor just a few years before.
An important part of both eras' successful propaganda campaigns was bringing the war closer to home. Most Americans couldn’t care less about what is happening halfway around the world, no matter how many babies are supposedly being thrown into ovens or out of incubators. During WWII, this was accomplished with a speculative story in Life magazine on how the Nazis might invade the US. One of the routes took the Nazis up through Mexico. The narrative hasn’t changed much since then, except now it’s ISIS camped out at the border, lustily eyeing our "freedoms."
Trump isn’t the only American aware that the US is no longer “winning.” But enacting the rituals of the last time it tasted victory is not going to catapult the world back into the golden age of the American empire. Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it – worse, they are doomed to think repeating it is a good idea.
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After another failed coup attempt in Venezuela, could Trump finally be getting the message? Not if the media have anything to say about it - not one media establishment figure has spoken out against regime change in the last three months, according to FAIR. Can we stop calling them journalists & just outfit them in cheerleader uniforms with "Lockheed Martin" & "Boeing" across the chests?
April 29: Tulsi's truth trending; Wohl's lies neverending
(note: this was originally written as an op-ed for RT)
April 30: So i herd u liek embargoez; NSA doxxing up 75%; Russiagate flames fanned; FAA teases no-fly zone over Venezuela
May 1: Media embrace faux diversity & regime change; Bolton mocks "hiding" Maduro speaking at rally; record high NYC homelessness
May 2: Poynter declares unreliable sources list unreliable; liberals embrace Facebook fascism; Papadopoulos exposes multipronged spy ops
May 3: EPA is a regulatory slut; Trump finally condemns Facebook bans; US & S. Korea cry wolf on DPRK launch; media foam as Trump talks peaceAdd a comment
The New York Times has begged forgiveness for printing a cartoon that supposedly "included anti-Semitic tropes" in its international edition, but no amount of shameless groveling will stop the Israeli weaponization of the "anti-Semitism" smear as it steamrolls America's once-sacred First Amendment freedoms. This is a crusade to silence all legitimate criticism of a criminal regime, and if the Times has anything to apologize for, it is its complicity in that quest.
The offending cartoon depicts President Donald Trump as a blind man being led by a guide dog with the face of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, identified by a star-of-David collar. It's unclear what the "anti-Semitic trope" in this case is supposed to be - the collar is arguably necessary to confirm the dog is Netanyahu, and the reader would have to be a political illiterate to interpret that as a stand-in for "all Jews." The Times' willingness to slap the "anti-Semitic trope" label on the cartoon anyway should put to rest the ridiculous "anti-Semitic trope" trope that is tirelessly deployed to smother accusations of wrongdoing by Israel or its lobbying organizations inside the US.
Netanyahu himself has boasted that Trump acted on his orders when he declared Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization earlier this month, and Trump's willingness to flout international law to unilaterally "give" the Golan Heights to Netanyahu as a re-election present shocked the world, unsettling even some Zionists who believe the land is rightfully theirs but worry the US' official declaration will galvanize regional opposition to the occupation. Netanyahu's last election campaign was arguably based on his ability to "lead" the US president blindly off the edge of a geopolitical cliff. Is he guilty of perpetuating anti-Semitic tropes for bragging about it?
Most papers only apologize when they've printed something erroneous. The Times has chosen instead to issue a correction for one of the few accurate depictions of the relationship between Israel and the White House, a glimmer of truth even more notable for its contrast with the paper's usual disinformation painting Trump as some sort of foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Semite.
The Times' decision to apologize for this cartoon while remaining silent when a cartoon depicting Trump in a gay love affair with Vladimir Putin was condemned by LGBT readers last year betrays the editorial board's high moral dudgeon as the most transparent hypocrisy. US media has long smeared Putin's government as homophobic, yet here they were presenting him half-clothed in a stomach-turning romantic embrace with Trump - a president who, it should be noted, has presided over the deterioration of US-Russia relations to levels not seen since the Cold War. But LGBT Twitter ultimately has little power in society, unlike the Israeli lobby, and the unfavorable depiction of Trump ensured most influential LGBT organizations steered clear of criticizing the cartoon. Outrage has become yet another commodity to be traded, not a genuine response to offense.
If it's in a repentant mood, however, the Times could apologize for its one-sided coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - much of it fed to them by The Israel Project, which skews US coverage of the facts on the ground in Israel by supplying American reporters with talking points in order to "neutralize undesired narratives." From these spinmeisters we get the passive voice used to frame IDF soldiers mowing down unarmed protesters as "clashes occurred" and "Palestinian protesters were killed," as well as breathless coverage of tunnels, kites, and rocket attacks that rarely seem to hit anyone.
The Times could apologize for its failure to expose the global campaign to redefine "anti-Zionism" as "anti-Semitism," instead of playing into it by pretending a truthful cartoon is somehow an affront to Jews - as if all Jews support the racist policies of the Israeli government. Indeed, to assume all Jews back the criminal Netanyahu regime in its openly genocidal campaign to eradicate the Palestinians from the few enclaves of the West Bank in which they remain while maintaining an open-air concentration camp in Gaza is wildly anti-Semitic.
The Times could apologize for failing to report on the massive Israeli spying operation - funded, in no small part, by the US taxpayer - targeting American activists on American soil, exposed in detail in the suppressed al-Jazeera documentary "The Lobby," which leaked last year to deafening silence in the media. Journalist Max Blumenthal actually spoke with a Times journalist who wanted to cover the explosive revelations of the documentary, but no story ever appeared. As Ali Abunimah, founder of the Electronic Intifada, has pointed out, the suppression of the documentary should have been a story in and of itself - and would have, had it involved any other country.
"Imagine that this had been an undercover documentary revealing supposed Russian interference, or Iranian interference…in US policy, and powerful groups had gone to work to suppress its broadcast and it had leaked out. Just that element of it - the suppression and the leak - should be front page news in the Washington Post and the New York Times," he told Chris Hedges, whose RT program was the closest thing to mainstream coverage the documentary received in the US.
The Times instead chooses to cover up the actions of groups like the Israel on Campus Coalition as they surveil and smear pro-Palestinian activists - college students, professors, and others sympathetic to Israel's sworn enemy - using a strategy the ICC's executive director Jacob Baime admits is based on US General Stanley McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq. "The Lobby" revealed that agents working for the Israeli government infiltrate pro-Palestinian, pro-peace groups using fake social media accounts and report their findings back to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a shocking fact that none of the organizations named in the film have disputed. A foreign government operating a military-style surveillance network to target and smear American citizens in their own country - for nothing more than exercising their freedom of speech - gets a pass from the Times, but a cartoon showing Trump's blind loyalty to Israel for what it is must be condemned.
It's tough to electrify an outrage mob based on a story that wasn't printed, but the Times' failure to address the very real threat to Americans exercising their free speech - a threat all the more dire because it is funded by US tax dollars to the tune of $3.8 billion per year - merits at least a full-page apology. Compounding the insult is a domestic economic crisis, with many American cities facing record homelessness, skyrocketing cost of living, a dearth of secure employment and an excess of exploitative "gig economy" temp work, and a rapidly-disappearing social safety net. Israel is a wealthy country, as Netanyahu often boasts, a successful country. Only a truly blind government could continue to fork over such enormous sums of money while Americans languish in poverty.
"The anti-Semitism smear is not what it used to be," one lobbyist laments to al-Jazeera's hidden camera-equipped reporter. Perhaps this is why the state of Florida has advanced a bill to criminalize "anti-Semitism," now broadly redefined to include "alleging myths…that Jews control the media, economy, government, or other institutions." The bill passed the House unanimously, the one holdout bullied into submission when she voiced concerns about its incompatibility with the First Amendment, yet to point out - as AIPAC does - that this bipartisan approval exists because the Israeli lobby has influence over both parties, or that this influence can make or break a candidate, is about to become illegal. When even a milquetoast like Democratic congressman Beto O'Rourke has stuck his neck out to call Netanyahu a racist - and he receives more money from the Israeli lobby than most of his House colleagues - the Times should be ashamed of itself for pushing the fiction that criticism of Israel and its iron grip on the US government is equivalent to anti-Semitism.
The Times' own article about its apology quotes an interview with the "guilty" party, Portuguese cartoonist Antonio Moreira Antunes, from the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack, when four cartoonists and the magazine's editor were murdered, supposedly for printing an offensive cartoon. There is a definite parallel with the Zionist outrage mobs calling for Antunes' head - figuratively, if not yet literally; many are unsatisfied with the Times' apology and insist Antunes suffer for his insolence by losing his job, if not his life. Antunes, in the interview, called his job "a profession of risk," but states "there is no other option but to defend freedom of expression."
The New York Times, and everyone else who demanded they apologize for a truthful cartoon while ignoring their failure to oppose genuine bigotry in the Netanyahu regime and supporters of Zionism, clearly do not agree that freedom of expression is worth defending. A press that cannot even defend itself does not deserve to be called "free.'Add a comment
Former president and smooth (war) criminal Barack Obama paid a visit to his old pal Angela Merkel in Germany this week, reminiscing about the good old days when NATO could declare a no-fly zone in order to wipe out a Middle Eastern nation without a whiff of protest - and collecting a fat check for a speech at a "leadership conference."
Merkel looked pleased as punch to see her old pal from the pre-Trump era, flashing an unusually genuine smile during their embrace as he left the chancellery. Obama, for his part, has called Merkel one of his "favorite partners" during his two terms in office. Her "hands-off" style of governance dovetailed perfectly with his "speak suavely, but carry a big drone" model of foreign policy - the velvet glove placed over the Bush-era iron fist in order to repair the damage done to the US' international standing by Dubya's uncouth stampede to make his daddy proud by finishing off Saddam Hussein.
The pair reportedly discussed "trans-Atlantic relations" during their meeting. The nostalgia session must have proved therapeutic for Merkel after being taken to task by Obama's successor Donald Trump over Germany's failure to cough up the two percent of GDP expected from NATO member countries as tribute to the aging military alliance, which just celebrated 70 years of standing tall against an enemy that no longer exists, but remains very much alive in the minds of the military-industrial complex and its media enablers.
And trans-Atlantic relations aren't in the best shape, with the Trump administration promising recriminations for Germany's resistance to the non-stop flood of US sanctions against trading partners like Russia and Iran. Certainly, Obama has been much better than his successor at buttering up the German leader, giving her a Presidential Medal of Honor in 2011 - while Trump infamously chucked Starburst candies in her direction during the most recent G7 summit.
But what did they really talk about during their meeting? Merkel could have allayed her fears that Germany would be cut off from US intelligence over its determination to purchase Huawei 5G tech, with Obama reminding her that US intel isn't all it's cracked up to be - with the NSA's notorious "Stellar Wind" program failing to stop a single terrorist attack even as it had Merkel's own phone tapped for over a decade. And most of the "terrorism" that takes place in Europe is committed by NATO's Operation Gladio stay-behind networks anyway, so joke's on whoever's tasked with sifting through the "chatter" in the name of national security! They could have shared a big chortle over that one.
And speaking of "terrorists" real and imagined, Obama could have congratulated Merkel on finally admitting that the US was running its drone warfare operations out of Rammstein air base - how brilliant of her to drop that bombshell after Trump's election and thus focus popular anger on him, as if the drones hadn't been coming and going for over a decade, mowing down wedding parties and journalists alike as they ticked names off Obama's infamous "disposition matrix!" He may also have dispensed some sage advice on defanging the local anti-war movement, which got a shot in the arm from the news that Germany was implicated in the extrajudicial US killings that skyrocketed under Obama's watch.
And Obama might have given Merkel some friendly advice on her love life, advising on her burgeoning relationship with the Obama-like pretty-boy-with-Wall-Street-ties president of France, Emmanuel Macron (we already know he has a thing for older women - you go, Angie!) - or just advised her how to relax and learn to love Germany being permanently swamped with refugees created by the wars his administration began or continued.
If the talk drifted to intra-EU politics, Merkel could rely on Obama to lend a sympathetic ear to her complaints about Greece's failure to show gratitude during her recent visit for the austerity measures imposed by the EU with Germany at the helm, which have placed one in three Greeks in poverty or close to it, ten years later. Under Obama, most Americans never recovered from the 2008 crash either, with nearly 4 out of 5 reporting in 2017 that they were living paycheck to paycheck. But Wall Street is doing better than ever, and that's what's important, Obama could have consoled her - what's the little guy gonna do, blog about it?
But Obama wasn't just in town to flirt with the outgoing German chancellor - he had a paycheck to collect, courtesy of the World Leadership Summit in Cologne, where attendees paid anywhere from €85 to €5,000 for the chance to hear the former president pontificate on such pressing issues as climate change, feminism, activism, and - of course - leadership.
The €5,000 VIP ticket not only gave them a chance to watch a person who used to be president eat, but a chance to be photographed alongside the last US leader to enjoy teen-idol levels of international celebrity, on the off-chance some of that fabulousness would rub off on them. Those unable or unwilling to shell out the big dollars reportedly crowded toward the stage, attempting to selfie their way into the president's aura. As is to be expected from an event billed as a "global leadership summit," Obama had plenty of vague platitudes for the audience, which lapped them up graciously.
"A good leader is someone who listens and feels what people feel. What drives you forward as leader is the work, not the applause, so focus on what you want to do and not what you want to be," Obama told the packed hall, to thunderous applause.
He continued his pattern of passive-aggressive treatment of Trump, refusing to speak his successor's name while making it clear exactly on whom he was throwing shade. "I'm a friend of the facts," he said, to applause from the similarly fact-loving audience. "This is a table," Obama then said, indicating the object next to him that was indeed a table. "If somebody says it's a tree, what, yeah, what should I say?"
Obama was also asked to weigh in on one of the more controversial aspects of his presidency, the 563 (known) drone strikes he oversaw that left between 384 and 807 civilians dead, not including the thousands of casualties inflicted in "active battlefield" countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Iraq - or deaths not reported as civilian casualties, a persistent problem during his presidency, with records showing up to 90 percent of those killed in such strikes were not the intended targets. Obama admitted the decision to rain fiery death hadn't been an easy one, but said that ultimately he believes drones led to less collateral damage than if he had sent troops into all the places he bombed. Refraining from bombing at all apparently didn't cross his mind.
"To be effective today, people have to relate to you," Obama told his adoring fans, and nothing says relatable like a €5,000-a-head VIP dinner. No wonder the ruling class is nostalgic for the days the American Way had such a smooth salesman at its helm - for all Trump's determination to sell the US out, he can barely get his foot out of his mouth long enough to seal the deal.
(originally published in heavily-abridged form at RT. photos © Reuters)Add a comment
The myth of American exceptionalism has been busted. An era of global hegemony, fueled by rapacious growth and backed by military muscle, built the world’s largest echo chamber, reassuring Americans of their greatness even as their country crumbled into a shadow of its former self. The ruling class became complacent, relying upon an increasingly threadbare series of clichés, magic words and images without substance (democracy! humanitarian intervention! tolerance!). These talismans worked to keep us alienated and powerless: too busy to notice the bodies piling up in the street, and too demoralized to speak up when we did.
Then came 2016. Too late, the ruling class realized that the powers they had harnessed after 9/11 to shred the Constitution and impose police-state totalitarianism could not be taken for granted and might even have escaped their control, particularly with the rise of social media facilitating the dissemination of alternate narratives even as it enabled the unprecedented growth of the surveillance state. In an effort to stop reality from poisoning the narrative, President Barack Obama authorized the establishment of a Ministry of Truth as he walked out the door in December 2016, his parting gift to a government in the throes of utter existential panic - but it was too little, too late. Narrative supremacy has become such a crutch for our foreign and domestic policies that the country is no longer capable of functioning if when we say jump! the rest of the world does not obediently shout how high?
Thus, what was supposed to be a morale-boosting quickie regime-change operation to cheer up the rank and file on the road to Tehran - the overthrow of Nicolas Maduro’s sanctions-starved socialist state in Venezuela, the oil-rich fly in the ointment of “our own backyard” - has become just another entry on a long list of ignominious failures. Even the truest of true believers can no longer pretend that the US is in the business of spreading democracy - not when all the evidence and information available points the other way. The only remedy left for the “sole superpower” is to cut off the flow of information entirely and build an informational Iron Dome, an epistemological missile shield capable of withstanding all truth.
Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?
Lazy propaganda is largely to blame for the lapse in narrative superiority. The same tawdry psy-ops are recycled again and again, as we see now in Venezuela, where Iran-Contra felon and smirking genocide enthusiast Elliott Abrams has been wheeled out of cold storage to work his death-squad magic on a population we’ve already tried and failed to hypnotize with the promises of neoliberalism. Just as the one-two punch of fake Iranian revolutions made the fatal error of running the same script twice in most “protesters’” lifetimes, the attempt to overthrow Maduro comes less than two decades after the US-backed effort to overthrow Chavez – also led by Abrams – and it’s not fooling anyone. It doesn’t help that the total nobody they picked to lead the charge was a stranger to 80% of all Venezuelans, or that John Bolton couldn’t even keep from blurting out the truth - that this entire pantomime of humanitarian intervention is being conducted to pillage Venezuela’s sweet, sweet oil, which has the gall to sit beneath one of the last socialist holdouts in the western hemisphere. The Milton Friedman-style, “make the economy scream” model that worked so well in Chile and Argentina fell flat in Venezuela in 2002 - the people did not trust an opposition movement willing to tank the economy in order to take over, and refused to vote for the barbarians at the gate, no matter how slickly produced their “revolution.” With even Washington’s subservient allies in the Lima Group refusing to back military action, elections would be Trump’s only way to climb out of this hole gracefully, short of Libya-style indiscriminate slaughter - and that option is far too tempting for a country whose very existence is an affront to neoliberalism, as evidenced by the chillingly sociopathic tweets of Marco Rubio.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) February 24, 2019
With Abrams at the helm, we know what's next. There will be no graceful extrication. Trump has said over and over that there's no going back, and the loss of face after such a public coup attempt would make him a laughingstock among his neocon pals, if not his dwindling base. Abrams’ Central American genocides of the 1980s are not forgotten, and the same old script is playing out - Venezuelan authorities have already caught a CIA-linked airline unloading crates of weapons bound for the opposition in Valencia. Buying elections is not an option - Venezuela's electoral system is markedly less corrupt than the American model, and the slickly-produced Juan Guaido - who might as well have been grown in a vat at Langley - would never prevail in an electoral contest. The Lima Group - a body created with the sole purpose of de-legitimizing Maduro's government! - will not green-light the military invasion the US is so desperately itching to conduct as its regime-change operation melts down. Even Brazil - whose leader, Jair Bolsonaro, served under the last crop of military dictatorships imposed on the country and prefers such a model to democracy - has categorically refused to allow US forces to use its borderlands as a staging ground for invasion. A UN resolution calling for Maduro to step down was blocked last week. Absent a spectacular false flag - not really Abrams' specialty - only a sustained, high-level propaganda campaign can win the hearts and minds of the “broad coalition” Bolton now says the administration wants.
One must give the establishment media credit for working with the few scraps of plausibility they’re thrown - CNN has featured entire segments on Venezuelan military defectors who are neither Venezuelan, nor in the military. We are told again and again they are eating dogs, they are eating zoo animals, they are eating rats (the “babies flung out of incubators” Wag the Dog myth of the 21st century). Wikipedia, Facebook and Instagram all stamped their seal of approval on Guaido the moment he became the Emperor Norton of the southern hemisphere - sometimes before. Richard Branson was pressed into service, bringing his (uneaten) dog-and-pony show to town as soundtrack to the Standoff On The Bridge that was supposed to be Maduro’s Waterloo. The myth unraveled quickly as the opposition was caught on film fire-bombing a USAID truck, then trying to blame the conflagration on Maduro’s forces. Maduro staged his own musical intervention to drown out Branson’s sparsely-attended PR stunt. Colombian hirelings and provocateurs threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at the looming squadron of US aid delivery vehicles (cluelessly labeled USAID - as if everyone in South America isn’t aware of what it means when USAID shows up in your country) while Guaido’s “human avalanche” evaporated into a trickle when the Boy Wonder himself vanished at the height of the action. The Abrams brigade was caught disguising themselves as Red Cross workers, lest a distinct brand lead to White Helmets-style infamy if one were to be caught mid-atrocity.
Venezuelan foreign minister Jorge Arreaza accused the US of staging the bombing of the aid convoy and exposed the "humanitarian" fraud for what it is - a pastiche of photo-ops, “crumbs” of spoiled food, expired medicine, barricade-construction materials, and weapons for the opposition framed as manna from heaven; the Venezuelan regime depicted as selfish and self-sabotaging, valuing their pride over the full bellies of their people. Meanwhile, millions of dollars in aid continues to pour in from Russia, Turkey, China, and other countries that aren’t interested in installing a pliable puppet to plunder petroleum. The Potemkin aid supply operation - complete with fake crowd numbers for Branson’s concert, fake atrocities to protest against, even fake terrorist collaborators (watch Rapture Mike Pompeo bloviate about Hezbollah) - would have been laughable if it were not so deadly serious.
The UN human rights rapporteur Alfred De Zayas has exposed the fraud that is the Venezuelan “humanitarian crisis,” demanding the US answer for its own violations of international law in creating the situation. “I see human rights more and more being instrumentalized to destroy human rights,” he told Abby Martin - not the UN, which isn't interested in hearing his recommendation to haul the US before the International Criminal Court for the sanctions he calls a "crime against humanity" as well as its violation of Venezuela's sovereignty. This is to say nothing of Venezuela’s stolen gold, a crime which bodes ill for every other country that has ever stored its bullion with the Bank of England. Even Australia, one of the Five Eyes, has never been permitted to fully audit its gold reserves there, raising the question: does the City of London no longer care, with the dollar due to collapse at any minute, whether its customers find it trustworthy? Or has the gold long since been sold or traded to points east?
“Progressive” stooges are deployed at home to sell this war to Americans, and the 2020 hopefuls (except Tulsi Gabbard) have all scored media points shilling for regime change. Bernie Sanders, whose last act as a 2016 candidate was to sell his supporters out to his erstwhile enemy Hillary Clinton, has dragged his feet jumping on the regime-change bandwagon, but at the same time refuses to support Maduro - despite ostensibly sharing his socialist values. Even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressives’ Great Brown Hope, has been less than forthcoming in her support for Maduro and the poor Venezuelans whose interests he represents. But then, she’s more Guaido’s hue anyway. Not even the most virulently anti-Trump US lawmakers are willing to publicly question the idea that putting a loaded gun to a country’s head and demanding they swear fealty to a total stranger is “democracy.” Twitter, ever the helpful servant of the ruling class, deleted thousands of pro-Maduro accounts in January in an effort to manufacture consent while permitting doxxing and hacking attacks on pro-regime entities and even the Venezuelan currency itself by a dodgy group of Venezuelan expats called DolarToday - the very “coordinated inauthentic behavior” Maduro’s supporters are blamed for. Facebook and Instagram signed off on Guaido’s legitimacy with blue check-marks they withheld from Maduro - and Wikipedia declared Guaido President before Guaido had a chance to do it himself. The propaganda operation is running at full capacity, 24/7 – so why isn’t it working?
Crisis of Quality
When you tell a population the sky is orange, they must never be permitted to look out the windows, lest they catch even a glimpse of blue. With the quality of American propaganda at an all-time low, the delivery systems are on overdrive, with the knowledge that full Orwellian totalitarianism is the only way the ruling class can ever hope to regain control of the narrative. Mainstream media is taking a cue from the politicians it protects to shore up its dying credibility, hoping the illusion of a personnel shakeup will inspire renewed trust. Mass layoffs - over a thousand in one week alone at Buzzfeed, Vox, Gannett, Verizon, and Vice - gave the impression of clearing out dead wood, even as nervous Mockingbirds framed the losses as a crisis of democracy. They may be untrustworthy as hell - a Gallup poll found just 33% of Americans trust journalists, while 34% don’t - but they’re still doing better than Congressmen, who have an 8% trustworthy-58% untrustworthy ratio, worse than used-car salesmen. Edelman’s yearly “trust barometer” bristled with pearl-clutching about a “distrust crisis” last year, with 20 of 28 countries studied soundly in “distruster territory” and the US experiencing a sharper decline in institutional trust than any other country. Worse, the sharpest declines were among the “informed public,” who apparently know when they're being lied to. Pollsters from the Knight Foundation were dispatched to tell Americans that 2/3 of them still rely on TV news “a great deal” for staying informed, despite record-low ratings across networks, and that TV and newspapers are “most trusted.” Despite rumors that the Center for Information Analysis and Response - the American Ministry of Truth - had run out of cash, there’s always money in the budget for war, and the Pentagon itself has said lies are cheaper than bombs. We can expect a closer-than-ever collaboration between cash-strapped mainstream media and their Defense Department sugar daddies.
Given the shoddy quality of official propaganda, the average internet user must be prevented at all costs from reading the truth. The blacklist model that was debuted after the 2016 election - “other,” smear, deplatform - is fraying at the edges, having fallen far since the fake news panic of 2016 convinced the gullible that there were Russian bots and Macedonian spammers lurking behind every off-brand Facebook post. There’s still a fake news panic - Edelman says 73% of us are lying awake at night worrying fake news is being weaponized against us - but mainstream credibility is so devastated that merely declaring a site blacklisted, as Washington Post attempted to do by uncritically republishing the infamous Ukrainian “PropOrNot” smear of the 200 most popular independent media sites as Russian stooges after Trump was elected, is not enough to keep people away. Indeed, that list served as a resource for those who, distrusting mainstream media (which after all had just predicted a landslide victory for a losing presidential candidate), weren’t sure what else was out there. Two years later, with Russiagate so thoroughly discredited even its biggest cheerleaders are quietly backing away, a new battle plan is needed.
Weaponizing "Fake News"
Facebook attempted to leverage the Fake News panic early on by adopting the Wikipedia model of propaganda, sheep-dipping approved neoliberal narratives in the wisdom of "the crowd" by allowing users to flag “untrustworthy” stories. They soon realized users were more likely to flag stories they didn’t like, or stories posted by users they were feuding with, than news they thought was fake, and had to modify the algorithm and bring in third-party fact checkers like Snopes and the Associated Press to lend their imprimatur to the checks. Even then, users actually clicked on flagged stories more, not trusting the scandal-soaked social media firm. So Facebook hid the "trust" ratings altogether, down-ranking or boosting content based on "user surveys" they may or may not have actually conducted concerning those outlets' trustworthiness - a black-box model perfect for squelching dissent. At the same time, they officially partnered with the Atlantic Council - the shadowy NATO-backed think tank that has pushed Russiagate and other recycled Cold War cold cuts - to ensure no wrongthink slipped through the cracks.
With NATO’s goons at the helm, armed with their “Digital Forensics Research Lab” in which every post not toeing the line of western imperialism is the work of Kremlin agents, the Great Deplatforming began. It was chillingly effective for a while, because those deprived of a platform are necessarily unable to refute whatever slander the ruling class and its media mouthpieces perpetuate about them. Alex Jones served as an ideal test case - while enormously popular among Trump supporters, most of the mainstream media’s core audience only knew of him secondhand, and it was easy to put the most abhorrent words in his mouth and induce cheers for censorship from the Left - once the most stridently anti-censorship part of the political spectrum. After Jones, hundreds of other users winked out of existence as Facebook covered up the carnage with some bland language about inauthentic behavior and a report on Iranian spam accounts from a captive cybersecurity firm. The deletions were coordinated - users took to Twitter to complain their Facebook was gone, only to be locked out of there as well. Those without millions of followers were un-personed as effectively as if Stalin himself had purged them. Jamie Fly, of the neocon Alliance for Securing Democracy, proclaimed this was “only the beginning” in an ominous soundbite clearly meant to be whispered about in underground meetings.
Mass deplatformings work well to spread panic and induce self-censorship in some content creators, but they only work on one end of the information consumption circuit. NewsGuard went live in December as the ultimate individualization of the police state, a pocket-snitch that lives in your phone and decides what sites you can and cannot access. NewsGuard’s blacklist does not offer the user a choice. It inhabits their browser, silently recording their browsing habits and location and reporting back to a command center whose advisory board includes such gargoyles as Michael Hayden - the former CIA and NSA director who’s never met a civil liberty he didn’t want to squash - and Tom Ridge, the former secretary of Homeland Security who devised the color-coded terror warning system that eventually exhausted the American amygdala in the aftermath of 9/11. While color-coded warnings were poorly suited to a concept like “terrorism,” in which it’s wise to maintain fear levels at a low boil lest one’s target run out of fear and cease quivering abjectly at the mere mention of Muslims with boxcutters, they’re ideal for a “trust rating” system like NewsGuard, where it’s desirable to create a Pavlovian aversion to “fake news.”
As if the presence of these two police-state thugs isn’t ominous enough, former Time editor Richard Stengel - now a “distinguished fellow” at the Atlantic Council, where Hayden is also a fellow - sits on NewsGuard's advisory board. Stengel, who also worked as undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy during the Obama presidency, described his duties as “chief propagandist.” “Every country creates their own narrative story. I’m not against propaganda. Every country does it, and they have to do it to their own population, and I don’t think it’s that awful," he told the Council on Foreign Relations, further lamenting that “the [news] cartels don’t have hegemony like they used to.” In light of these comments, NewsGuard’s slavish adherence to the primacy of death’s-door dinosaur media over internet news sources makes perfect sense.
At a Council on Foreign Relations forum about "fake news," former Editor at Time Magazine Richard Stengel directly states that he supports the use of propaganda on American citizens - then shuts the session down when challenged about how propaganda is used against the third world pic.twitter.com/ClAT5POv7G— William Craddick (@williamcraddick) May 11, 2018
MintPress has done the hard work of digging up the dirt on NewsGuard, and there are several bulldozers’ worth. One of its major investors is the Publicis Groupe, whose subsidiary Qorvis took $6 million in 2017 to whitewash Saudi Arabia’s odious human rights record as the kingdom starved half the Yemeni population to the brink of death. Publicis also represents Monsanto, Merck, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Procter & Gamble, and the government of Australia, among other dystopian conglomerates. Another major donor is the Blue Haven Initiative, run by the Pritzker family, the second-largest donor to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. The site’s investors and advisors couldn’t be more cartoonishly evil if they tried - yet they hope to sit in judgment of what is Truth.
Armed with a made-to-order poll declaring 89% of users thirsted after a built-in browser babysitter, NewsGuard was midwifed into the American consciousness by Microsoft, whose unconditional support includes packaging the plugin with its “Edge” browser in all new Windows 10 installations as part of its not-at-all-Orwellian “Defending Democracy Program.” Why a software company should be involved in defending democracy is never explained, but it doesn’t have to be. Microsoft’s operating system runs the lion’s share of the world’s computers, and even though its browser - a zombie revamp of Internet Explorer - is not popular, it’s worth remembering that Microsoft was also the first to join the NSA’s PRISM program, way back in 2007 when Big Tech still hesitated before running roughshod over its customers’ civil liberties. It was soon followed by Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Apple. Now that these companies know they face no repercussions from trampling on their users’ rights - that indeed they will be rewarded handsomely with government contracts for doing so – it’s easy to see how widespread adoption of NewsGuard might not be far behind.
PRISM has been largely forgotten in the wake of more recent NSA/CIA scandals, but at the time of its exposure, Facebook and Google were in the process of creating secure portals to allow the NSA to more easily access their data, and it’s absurd to think they halted that project because of a silly leak. The Snowden revelations managed to change precisely nothing about how Americans interact with the security state, except to erode the expectation of privacy we once had. A browser plugin, backdoored to the NSA, tracking one’s un-American activities, is the setup for the worst kind of Minority-Report-esque pre-crime detention. And thanks to the same National Defense Authorization Act that allowed the Pentagon to turn its venerable propaganda apparatus on American citizens, the security state can detain us indefinitely without a warrant should the mood strike - even mow us down like dogs in our homes if it doesn’t like our web history.
NewsGuard itself is supposedly staffed by “real journalists” as opposed to the algorithm that protects us from conspiracy theories on YouTube, and it has already been exposed as hopelessly corrupt. Those in the mainstream media who’ve heard of NewsGuard were perplexed by its rating of Fox News as “trustworthy,” believing a right-leaning network could not possibly rate the coveted green checkmark. All was made clear when Fox broadcast a puff piece hailing NewsGuard as the “killer app” that would save journalism - a clip NewsGuard immediately added to the list of "endorsements" on their website. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
This corruption became even clearer when NewsGuard was persuaded to change its “untrustworthy” rating of the Daily Mail, the British tabloid which was also the first mainstream news source to be declared untrustworthy by just a handful of editors on Wikipedia. The Mail, for all its flaws - and there are many - has more traffic than any other online news outlet (not counting aggregators like Drudge). When an anonymous Mail editor wrote a polite point by point refutation and sent it to NewsGuard, their rating was changed to green, ensuring the Mail would not publish a scathing attack on the noble censor - which could have smothered it in its cradle - while also making the plugin look eminently reasonable (see, they do change their ratings if they’re wrong!). Everybody wins! MintPress, of course, tried the same thing months ago, only to be ignored and vilified.
Breitbart, miffed after being slighted by the NewsGuard team despite their diligent cheerleading for every neocon regime-change operation, compiled a telling list of proven hoaxes the extension has approved. More than anything else, the list highlights the obvious perils of a blacklist - scare stories like the Washington Post’s infamous “Russia hacked Vermont utilities” are never properly retracted because they’re designed to percolate in the reader’s subconscious so the next time they read about Russian malfeasance they’re more favorably inclined toward the idea. Facts are stupid things that merely get in the way of a good narrative. In the same way, a story published on Breitbart or RT - even if it came from ur-Reliable Source the Associated Press - gets the scarlet shield of shame through guilt by association. NewsGuard is laughably, irredeemably flawed, and no intelligent person would ever download it.
Locked in the Echo Chamber
That’s why they don’t have to. It isn’t just Microsoft’s built-in browser that’s forcing the new extension down users’ throats. NewsGuard has been diligently targeting libraries and school systems across the country for the better part of a year, trying to force its browser extension on unsuspecting students (hook ‘em while they’re young, etc). Libraries in Hawaii and Illinois have installed the extension, and other states are sure to follow. NewsGuard itself is quite certain of its success, and given its impressive pedigree, why shouldn’t it be? These are individuals familiar with all the dirty tricks that enable American power. “NewsGuard will be available on mobile devices when the digital platforms such as social media sites and search engines or mobile operating systems add our ratings and Nutrition Labels directly,” newsguardtech.com predicts - meaning Facebook, Google, Twitter, and so on are next in line to integrate the app into their very fabric.
When Snopes and AP both announced they had ended their fact-checking partnerships with Facebook last month, releasing carefully-worded statements that left open the possibility of future collaboration, Facebook was deep in the throes of a multifaceted PR disaster that has been raging for months. It was easy to think the companies were merely extricating themselves from a sinking ship. But Snopes VP Vinny Green spilled the Orwellian beans when he told Poynter that rather than checking individual “facts” - an inefficient, time-consuming model that allowed metric tons of misinformation to slip through - “fake websites” should “just be reported through other means” - accompanied, of course, by “a body of evidence that these people shouldn’t be on your platform because of their nefarious activity.” This is NewsGuard’s business model - all that remains to be seen is whether the erstwhile Facebook fact checkers are building their own NewsGuard for the platform or merely integrating into the national security state’s version. The social media platform has already admitted it has developed a “trust rating” for users, and Zuckerberg has let slip on more than one occasion that he wants the site to be an “internet drivers’ license.” The dots are not difficult to connect here.
But there have been hints that all is not going well for the 21st century blacklist. In a presentation last month before EU authorities, Brill attempted to sell NewsGuard by claiming it had already been sold - alleging it would be fully operational in the UK, Italy, France and Germany by April while at the same time expressing hope that EU-funded and -connected fact checkers would sign on and lend their credibility to the platform. It’s very likely this is the same kind of psychological operation they deployed to sell the plugin in the States, in which the intolerable prospect is presented as a fait accompli and the brain sets to work reframing it as a tolerable, if undesirable, reality. Still, Brill's desperation glistened – had someone called his bluff, all those surveillance-state backers’ cash would have gone up in smoke, and he’d probably end up succumbing to a mysterious heart attack.
NewsGuard isn’t completely DoA in the US, of course - it merely hasn’t found much love among the big tech companies whose financial backing is necessary for it to turn a profit. Microsoft’s good example has not been followed by Facebook, Google, or Twitter - perhaps because they too remember PRISM, see NewsGuard’s NSAesque collection of location and browsing-history data (totally unnecessary to operate the plugin, but perfect for a surveillance state looking to target dissidents for special attention) plus the presence of Mr. NSA data-collection himself, Michael Hayden, on the board, and think better of taking on another guaranteed PR disaster. And if it is adopted by the EU, American tech companies could be forced to embrace it anyway, having signed on to the EU's Code of Practice on Disinformation, a formal promise to curtail the spread of "fake news" on their platforms. At any rate, Microsoft’s operating systems are installed on the vast majority of the world's computers, and most people are too lazy or tech-illiterate to take the time to install a second browser or find a workaround if NewsGuard is integrated into the default setting. When an option is presented as the default, the lion's share of humanity does not question it or even realize there is something to question.
For now, NewsGuard is a mere visual annoyance, dogging wrongthink sites with its patronizing nutrition labels. It would be too Orwellian even for the most oblivious individuals to start out by blocking all access to dissident sites. But once all devices and new computers are running this literal spyware, this Pocket Stasi, there is nothing to stop the developers from forcing an “upgrade” that blocks devices from accessing the blacklisted sites altogether. Facebook has already intimidated the mainstream media into paying it protection money - now it has to deliver a VIP experience. NewsGuard make no secret of its affection for the police state, either - “A SWAT team of NewsGuard analysts operates 24/7 to identify suddenly trending purveyors of unreliable news among sites that NewsGuard has not yet rated and warn internet users about them in real time." Nor does it conceal its ambitions regarding world domination: "After launching in the U.S., NewsGuard will expand to serve the billions of people globally who get news online.”
Stopping the Content Before It's Created
Content creators, don’t think the ruling class has forgotten about you. The Department of Homeland Security began building its global database of journalists and media professionals last year, and the Anti-Defamation League is hard at work with UC-Berkeley to stop dissenters in mid-sentence with the dreaded “hate speech” label. Like quicksand, being smeared as a “hater” only destroys you more quickly if you struggle - best to go under gracefully, or so this anti-speech mafia would like us to believe - maybe they'll let you back on social media after you've served an appropriate time-out. The next step is to criminalize so-called “hate speech,” the definition of which changes daily, making it the perfect crime. Like the witch trials of old, all a hate speech case needs is an accuser. Stalin would be kicking himself for not thinking of the idea first.
France is serving as a testing laboratory for some of the most extreme measures. With his approval rating at subterranean levels, it is no wonder President Emmanuel Macron has tried every weapon in the ruling class arsenal to dispose of the Yellow Vests, now in their fourth month of protest against his soulless sellout regime, from tarring them as Putin's puppets to smearing them as virulent anti-Semites. Last month, his psychosis crackled with genius, as the media declared a wave of antisemitism had crested over Paris. Anti-Zionism, the Rothschild puppet declared, would now translate to antisemitism. He would rewrite no laws - even “Jupiter” knows his limits - but the dictionary was fair game. Police and educators would be advised that millions of antisemites had just been created out of whole cloth, and the time had come to silence them. Now, finally, here was a weapon to crush those protesters' pesky populism, and ensure their rebellious spirit would not infect other nations. There are some talismanic words that haven’t lost their effect, particularly in Europe.
Because Macron doesn’t just want to criminalize the movement - he’s already tried that, with a law passed earlier this year that makes non-state-sanctioned protests and the wearing of masks illegal. Thousands of protesters have been arrested and thousands more injured, some gravely, but still they protest as his approval rating declines further with every eye blown out by a gendarme’s rubber bullet. Macron sees no way out but depriving these unruly plebeians of the social media they use to organize. Now, those convicted of "hate speech" - which now includes anti-zionism - will be banned from social media entirely, if the measure passes Parliament in May.
In a groveling, sycophantic speech before France's largest Jewish organization CRIF, Macron likened such an unprecedented ban to barring football hooligans from stadiums, declaring the internet had to be re-civilized, and the EU's own heavy-handed crackdown on "hate speech" was moving "too slow." When his minister of digital culture piped up with an admission that France lacked the technology to stop someone from merely creating another account to circumvent the ban, he declared social media platforms should demand identity documents from individuals creating accounts - even suggested France do away with anonymity on the internet altogether. His sinister proposal has elicited drools of envy from across the Atlantic, where groups like the Alliance for Securing Democracy helped him smear his enemies as Russian bots. Of course all he’d really need to keep tabs on social media users trying to create new accounts to get around a ban is a little browser plugin, maybe one that tracks users’ browsing history and reports back to NSA HQ…
It was Macron, after all, who was able to do what US elites could not, barring "antagonistic" media like RT and Sputnik from his press briefings on the grounds that they were (what else?) "fake news" - his hands unchained by any Bill of Rights, his ego free to run roughshod over his people's liberté. The ominous “fake news” law passed in France in November was openly aimed at RT and Sputnik and allows any candidate or party to appeal to a judge to silence any media outlet in the three months preceding an election; while it was perceived as largely unenforceable, even counter-productive, it demonstrated the lengths the government would go to silence all dissenting narratives.
Not to be outdone, the UK has actually proposed criminal charges for social media platforms that don’t remove wrongthink quickly enough, taking the already-draconian German hate speech law - which calls for €55 million fines for those who don’t dance to the hate speech tune - and throwing in a pair of handcuffs. The UK law doesn’t stop at “illegal hate speech,” either - “problematic” content and “misinformation” are also fair game for soaking Facebook, Google, or whatever platforms pop up to replace them for up to 4% of their global revenue and hauling their executives into court. While the likelihood of Mark Zuckerberg spending one second in a London dungeon over some Facebook user’s post, we can be sure this law will be used to silence dissent on both sides of the Atlantic, just as Israel and the US’ own deplatforming demands have resulted in enforcement far beyond their borders.
Coming Soon to the Land of the Free
The US, for now, can only dream about such power. Hampered by the Bill of Rights, it must collaborate with the social media companies instead of threatening financially-ruinous enforcement measures. For this reason, every tough-talking prosecutor who talks about grilling Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey over their horrific abuses of users’ privacy, or their privileging of the neoliberal center over the Left and Right, is spitting into the wind - even if they’re sincere, their bosses know they need Silicon Valley’s cooperation to do an end-run around the First Amendment and silence those nasty dissidents. For now, the US must settle for cooperating with the corporations like the fascists of old.
Perhaps ironically for a state embracing the governing style made famous by the Nazis, the US has decided it has its own “problem” with “antisemitism.” Despite all the money flowing in from the Lobby that dare not speak its name, Congress can barely pass a law shredding the Constitution in order to ban participation in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement! AIPAC’s lackeys shot themselves in the foot when they pounced on Ilhan Omar for accusing the lobby of doing its job too well, revealing where their true loyalties lie, and thus another hasty round of legislation was prepared to try to bring the American definition of antisemitism in line with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition. This sprawling gag order not only conflates anti-zionism with antisemitism but also forbids comparison of Israel to apartheid or Nazism (though, it's true, the Nazis only had a few years to experiment on their concentration camp inmates - Israel has been using the Palestinians as pharmaceutical guinea pigs and outdoor weapons labs for over half a century) and the questioning of lawmakers’ dual loyalty. AIPAC, meanwhile, launched a fundraising campaign on Omar’s back, and both houses of Congress introduced resolutions handing Israel sovereignty over the long-occupied Golan Heights - a parting ‘fuck you’ to Syria in retaliation for vanquishing the might of the best mercenaries Israel’s money doesn't have to buy.
The constant hammering at hate speech has crowned groups like the ADL and SPLC, which rely on bigotry to fill their coffers, as the arbiters of what can and cannot be said. PayPal is openly collaborating with the SPLC to deplatform “haters,” while Chase Bank has picked up the baton and actually started closing the bank accounts of “haters.” We are well on our way to a two-tiered society and lest you think yourself safe because you do not “hate,” YouTube has declared war on “borderline" videos - those that don’t break any rules but express some form of wrongthink - and declared that even playing host to off-color comments can get one booted from the platform. Facebook and YouTube have both announced a crackdown on vaccine-skeptical content (are pharmaceuticals a protected class, now?). This has nothing to do with hate speech (whatever the definition is today), yet it is enough to get one deplatformed, now that all the haters have been driven underground. Freedom of speech is a distant memory. The question becomes whether we have the courage to take it back before AI prevents us from even expressing such a possibility.
Because the next step is for this censorship to operate in real-time. Facebook has been using AI to “more effectively block fake accounts” alongside its government collaborations, while Google’s shadowy “Jigsaw” arm recently conducted a successful behavior-modification experiment, ostensibly to redirect potential ISIS recruits to more wholesome pursuits through gentle suggestion in the form of Google AdWords. A later incarnation of that program even included online “social workers” masquerading as their fellow forum members, and the program’s director openly admitted to assisting law enforcement in apprehending these “dangerous” folks for their wrong-think google searches. They proudly announced their next target was American far-right extremists, and with "alt-right" rivaling "Russian bot" for most frequently-misapplied epithet, the collateral-damage body count is sure to be immense. The ADL is collaborating with Berkeley in order to redirect “haters” in real time, though its methodology has not yet been made public; we can assume, fed reams of comments sections from Wikipedia and Reddit, that it has internalized a strong pro-establishment bias, and the friendly lady in the instructional video says the next step is to turn it loose on “targeted populations,” other social media platforms, and use it “more broadly” (even though it is only 85% accurate at best). Like Macron, the ADL just wants to “bring more humanity to the internet” - no matter how many humans are sacrificed in the process.
While we wait for our AI overlords to tell us what we cannot say, different strains of fascism compete to silence us in the interim. Rania Khalek and Anissa Nouai's pages were booted off Facebook without warning after a desperate-sounding non-story report by CNN based on publicly-available information revealed that their company, Maffick Media, was 51% owned by RT video agency Ruptly. Despite everything about the company being legal, Facebook took its cue from CNN's “journalists” and silenced the immensely popular duo, allegedly because it did not disclose that ownership, even though this was not mandated. Maffick was only able to get its pages back by agreeing to include ownership information in their bio, a line which no other state-backed media has ever been forced to include. They are not the first to be deplatformed for breaking a rule that didn’t exist at the time they were silenced, nor will they be the last. CNN had acted on a “tip” from the Alliance for Securing Democracy - the same group behind the notoriously bogus Hamilton68 “Russian bot” dashboard whose own creator has since disavowed it. The ASD is backed by the German Marshall Fund, which is funded by the US and German governments. This kind of collaboration is the definition of fascism: governments and corporate interests working together to silence opposition, manufacturing consent through absolute control of all information channels. When the process is complete, you will not realize 2+2 could equal anything other than 5.
No matter what well-intentioned rationale individual governments give for this crackdown, no matter how high a legislative wall they build out of hate speech codes, the core act of censorship remains an intellectually dishonest, craven cosmic copout. The ruling class has lost control of the narrative, and this full frontal assault on freedom of speech is their panic as they try with all their might to regain it. Once tasting freedom, who would voluntarily return to servitude, unless they were unaware it was happening?
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