The dogs of Empire are howling for Iranian blood. Iran has dropped the petrodollar - banned the dollar from its markets entirely! - and it must be punished, lest other countries follow its example and start thinking they control their own economies. The US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, frustrated by their failure to take out Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, another petrodollar apostate, have shifted their sights to the next country on their checklist for remaking the Middle East in the image of Greater Israel.
As President Donald Trump prepares to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) despite Iran’s compliance, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a theatrical press conference last night, outlining Iran’s “secret nuclear program” and beating the drums for war against the Islamic Republic. Netanyahu’s report, based on 100,000 files stolen from Tehran by the Israeli Mossad, contains no new information, nor does it offer proof Iran is currently violating the nuclear agreement; instead, it fixates on Project Amad, a “secret program” already known to the IAEA which Netanyahu admits was shelved in 2003 but which he claims was merely placed on hold to be resurrected when the West least expects it. “Why would a terrorist regime hide and meticulously catalog its secret nuclear files if not to use them at a later date?” he asks, perhaps unaware that by pushing the US to scrap the deal, he is opening the door to Iran resuming development of nuclear weapons, at which point those “secret nuclear files” will come in handy. The performance served a clear propaganda purpose for Trump, who cited it as proof that he was correct in seeking to withdraw from the deal over the protests of other JCPOA signatories, including France, UK, Russia, China, and Germany.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has said there are no innocent people in Gaza, is fully on board with ramping up Iranian hostilities, explaining that Israel has three problems: “Iran, Iran and Iran.” UN Secretary Nikki Haley, who never met a country she didn’t want to bomb, admitted last month that the US would maintain a military presence in Syria against Assad’s wishes in order to “watch” Iran “because Iran is a national threat to American interests." John Bolton, Trump’s new national security advisor, is so bloodthirsty he gives even CNN pause. His enthusiasm for preemptively bombing Iran makes Haley look timid. He is affiliated with Mujahedin E Khalq, an Iranian terrorist cult that Mossad has used to leak fake documents intended to frame the regime as a nuclear threat. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, parroting the treasured neocon lie that Iran is the world’s top sponsor of terrorism, cozied up to Saudi Arabia (the actual top sponsor of terrorism) during his first official state visit, chiding Iran for “destabilizing the region” - an accusation that would be hilarious if he didn’t wield so much power. Pompeo was known during his time as CIA head for discussing the Rapture with co-workers. Trump couldn't ask for a more Strangelovian crew.
In March, Iran banned the use of the dollar in foreign trade, effectively signing its own death warrant, if history is any guide. Libya didn’t survive this move; neither did Iraq. Syria hangs on by the skin of its teeth after dropping the dollar in 2006 but seems to have scored a temporary reprieve from the fate of its neighbors now that Russia has stepped in. Putin's interference has caused no end of anguish to the neocons, who see Assad's continued existence as a finger in the eye of their economic hegemony, but so far they are unwilling to risk a direct confrontation with Russian forces.
Iran has been distancing itself from the petrodollar for years in the face of ongoing US hostility. In May 2017, the country signed an agreement with Russia to barter oil for goods, circumventing US sanctions on both countries. When Trump banned Iranian immigrants from entering the US last January, the country dropped the dollar as the official currency used in financial and foreign exchange reports. Following that move, Congress introduced a bill authorizing the use of military force in Iran. While it has not yet passed, the resolution “authorizes the President to use the US Armed Forces as necessary in order to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.” What a coincidence, then, that Netanyahu’s PowerPoint posits just that eventuality.
In 2008, Iran launched its International Oil Bourse, an exchange for trading oil, gas and petroleum products in non-dollar currencies, sparking another round of US sanctions. Far from impeding trade, however, the sanctions encouraged Iran's trade partners to work around the petrodollar, accelerating a global drift away from the imperial currency. In 2016, Iran switched to rupees in conducting oil trades with India. Earlier this year, China launched the petroyuan, an oil-futures contract denominated in the Chinese currency and a potentially serious threat to dollar hegemony now that China is the world’s largest oil importer. Russia, like Iran a victim of harsh US sanctions, has been quick to jump on board with the petroyuan, signing on to a payment system that allows the two countries to trade directly in their own currencies without dollar intermediaries. The imposition of further sanctions on Iran under Trump may accelerate the decline in relevance of the petrodollar as Iran, the third-largest oil producer, is pushed into China’s arms.
The official narratives employed to sell petrodollar wars to the American people vary, but their core remains constant. Any nation with the hubris to believe it controls its own economy - that it can sell its own oil in whatever currency it pleases, to whomever it pleases - must be punished, lest others follow its example and the petrodollar collapse like the house of cards it is. Offending nations are always disarmed first, because there’s nothing the Empire hates more than a fair fight. Saddam Hussein destroyed his weapons stockpiles after the first Gulf War, yet the ghosts of these weapons were used as casus belli for a second Iraq invasion. Muammar Gaddafi liquidated his arsenal as part of diplomatic rapprochement with the US and UK in the years before he himself was brutally liquidated. NATO forces didn’t even try to come up with a good reason for the disaster in Libya, citing concerns about the regime attacking civilians only to slaughter hundreds more civilians itself. Syria destroyed its chemical weapons four years ago; it has only recently been pulled back from the brink of oblivion through Russian intervention after nearly a decade fighting rebels backed by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Like Hussein, Assad continues to be accused of harboring more weapons. On the brink of defeat, Syrian rebels staged a chemical attack last month and blamed the regime, provoking hasty response strikes from Israel, US, UK, and France before OPCW inspectors could arrive on the scene and confirm that no chemical attack had in fact taken place.
Israel killed 26 soldiers, mostly Iranians, with a missile strike on the Brigade 47 base in Syria yesterday; the base, located in Hama, is one of the largest Iranian-linked sites in the country. The unprovoked strike suggests the Netanyahu regime has tired of complaining to the US and Russia about the Iranian presence in Syria and decided to take matters into its own hands. Bibi’s blustering press conference also distracts from Israeli Defense Forces’ flagrantly illegal slaughter of unarmed protesters and journalists in Gaza during the Palestinian March of Return. Even in a nation that routinely flouts international law, the scale of the violence that has left dozens dead and over a thousand wounded during the last few weeks has broken through the usual media blackout on Israeli war crimes and horrified the global community. Haley continues to veto UN resolutions against the IDF violence, but even prominent Jewish American celebrities like Natalie Portman are beginning to publicly distance themselves from Netanyahu's government.
Netanyahu has been crying wolf about Iranian nukes for over 25 years. In 1995, he claimed Iran was three to five years away from developing a nuclear bomb, an alarm he continues to sound every few years. Though most apocalyptic preachers who repeatedly predict the end of the world only to watch the dates pass without incident are laughed out of town, Netanyahu has escaped this fate, perhaps because he sits on his own uncatalogued stockpile of hundreds of nukes and bathes in US taxpayer dollars to the tune of $10.1 million in military aid every day. He has previously helped lie the US into war, warning the Bush regime in 2002 that there was “no question whatsoever” that Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear weapons. It doesn't take much critical insight to recognize the Israeli Prime Minister is a pathological liar.
Iran has complied with the JCPOA since its inception in 2015, meaning Trump has no legitimate cause to withdraw the US from the treaty. Netanyahu's theatrics provide the flimsy rhetorical cover Trump will need should he decide, as he almost certainly will, to back out of the deal against the wishes of the other parties. Pompeo promised the US would "stand with Israel against Iran" - even though Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani threatened to restart the country's nuclear program only if Trump canned the deal. Cause and effect work differently in the realms of Empire, apparently, but just like last month's standoff following the Douma "attack," this conflict has the potential to ignite World War 3. The US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia were all but defeated in Syria, and Saudi Arabia is also losing its proxy war in Yemen. Far from cautious even in the best of times, the allies may behave even more recklessly, and with Russian forces still on the ground in Syria, things could escalate quickly.
Iran has found itself in US crosshairs before. Last year, a wave of economic protests were hailed as the latest and greatest color revolution in the Arab Spring, but try as they might, US operatives were unable to convince the protesters the solution to their problems lay in overthrowing the Rouhani regime. A similar plan unfolded during the 2009 election, when opposition candidate Mousavi emerged as the figurehead of the so-called Green Revolution yet failed to unseat President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran was famously part of Bush’s iconic/moronic Axis of Evil with Iraq and North Korea, though Bush had already overextended the military in Afghanistan and Iraq by the time he could have launched an Iranian invasion, much to Bolton's chagrin. Netanyahu’s involvement, however, suggests that this round of Iranian sabre-rattling is more serious. Bibi doesn’t put on a performance like last night's conference - which memorably featured a slide reading in huge letters "IRAN LIED" - for nothing. The Empire is spoiling for a fight after losing in Syria, and Iran is about to feel the wrath of a nuclear-armed lunatic helming a government whose stated policy in the face of certain defeat is nuclear holocaust.
“I’m sure he’ll do the right thing. The right thing for the US, the right thing for Israel, and the right thing for the peace of the world," Netanyahu said in a pointed hint to Trump and his pack of rabid dogs. Too bad those three "right things" are mutually exclusive.Add a comment
The US strike against Syria, launched on Friday with the complicity of the UK and France, was a war crime executed in service to foreign policy objectives that run counter to US interests. As the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the UN chemical weapons watchdog, begins its fact-finding mission in Douma, journalists on the ground have been unable to confirm a chemical attack happened at all. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. We’ve been here before.
The US has a history of lying about chemical weapons in Syria. Attacks are invariably blamed on Assad, though this blame is never supported by conclusive proof. “Mad Dog” Mattis was forced to admit there is no evidence that Assad used chemical weapons, but he is “confident” it happened because of “social media” shared by the White Helmets, an anti-Assad group that has repeatedly been caught waving severed heads around while cavorting with terrorist leadership. The White Helmets’ reports have not been verified, and a doctor who treated the victims reported no injuries associated with chemical weapons, stating that the deaths were actually caused by suffocation.
But hasn’t Assad gassed his own people before? Previous gas attacks pinned on Assad don’t add up either. Last year’s Khan Sheikhoun attack, which followed Trump’s proclamation that the US military was no longer intent on regime change in Syria, was never conclusively linked to Assad. Patients turned up at hospitals with symptoms of gas exposure before the Syrian airplane believed responsible for the attack could have dropped its payload. A number of other inconsistencies were smoothed over with photographs of dead children, and a retaliatory strike preempted impartial investigation, just as would happen a year later in Douma. The White Helmets were on the scene here, too, and their dubious heroics provide further evidence against the official story.
The Ghouta incident in 2013, which famously followed Obama’s declaration of a “red line” - noticing a pattern here? - also fell apart on closer scrutiny. Weapons experts including MIT’s Theodore Postol analyzed the missile that delivered the sarin in the attack and concluded that its short range meant it had to have been fired from rebel territory. US intelligence identified more than one rebel group with the capacity to produce sarin, poking holes in the administration’s supposedly iron-clad case against Assad, which relied on the false assumption that only the regime possessed the munition.
After Obama stepped back from the brink of war in 2013, Russia came forward as peace-maker, offering to help Syria destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles and make everyone happy. Even Wikipedia, hardly an antiestablishment voice, states Syria disposed of its chemical weapons offshore by August 2014, with blame for the two subsequent chemical attacks tacked on without explanation as to where these new weapons came from. The OPCW certified Syria’s chemical weapons destroyed. If they lied, why are they still relied upon?
It should be obvious, then, that Assad has not been using chemical weapons. Aside from the fact that the US has been trying to remove Assad for over a decade and trying to control Syria for far longer, the timing of the “attack” was a dead giveaway. Trump’s surprise announcement that the US would pull out of Syria set off a flurry of activity among Trump’s handlers, including Israeli president Netanyahu, who personally called Trump to remind him he doesn’t actually have the authority to make foreign policy decisions for the country he was elected to run. Israel was also the first to respond to the Douma incident, launching its own missiles at the T4 airbase in Homs hours after the attack was reported. Good thing they had those missiles ready!
Trump’s timing in launching the “retaliatory” joint strike is also telling. The OPCW was due to arrive in Damascus the day after the strike. If Trump’s cabinet was so certain Assad had used chemical weapons, surely they could have waited for proof. This strike was an attempt to prevent clearer heads from prevailing and goad Syria or Russia into hitting back, escalating into a larger conflict. It may also have been designed to destroy evidence (or lack thereof).
The timing of the strike looks even more suspicious in light of former OPCW Director General José Bustani’s revelation that John Bolton, then Deputy Under-Secretary of Defense, pushed him out of his position in 2002 when Bustani had the gall to invite Saddam Hussein into the OPCW, which would have allowed UN weapons inspectors to visit Iraq and actually look for the WMDs Bolton and friends claimed were lurking around every corner. Since this was a fantasy, the presence of actual OPCW inspectors would have jeopardized the case for war, and Bolton finally gave Bustani 24 hours to resign, telling him “we know where your kids live.” Bolton is now national security advisor to Trump. If the US didn’t even believe the new, improved OPCW would give them the “proof” required for war in Syria, they truly have gotten lazy with their false flags, suggesting even the most cursory inspection of the attack site could absolve Assad.
It should be obvious, in any case, that the US does not really care about chemical weapons, since Saudi Arabia, one of its closest allies in the Middle East, has used white phosphorus in Yemen. Yet we don’t bomb Saudi Arabia - we sell them billions of dollars in weapons to facilitate their war crimes. Israel, too, has used white phosphorus in Gaza - yet Israel is the largest recipient of US military aid in the world. If Assad was using chemical weapons, he’d just be emulating the US’s best friends in the region. Hell, the US used chemical weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan - are we bombing ourselves? I hadn’t noticed.
The anti-Assad rebels have been caught using chemical weapons numerous times. Where do they get such things? When the US military overthrew Gaddafi’s government in Libya, it snatched up his chemical weapons and gave them to the “moderate” Syrian rebels - groups like al-Nusra and the Saudi-funded Jaysh al-Islam. The CIA in 2015 was spending $100,000 a head training these terrorists to overthrow Assad.
The US and its allies have not shied away from spreading propaganda to support their paper-thin rationale for overthrowing Assad. Despite the high level of support he enjoys among Syrian citizens, Assad is portrayed as an oppressive dictator, though every congressperson who actually visits Syria (only Tulsi Gabbard and Dick Black, so far) discovers that Syrians like their leader a lot more than we like ours.
So Assad is a beloved leader who hasn’t committed any war crimes. Why are we trying to overthrow him again? Nikki Haley gave away the game when she enumerated the three conditions that would have to be met for the US to withdraw from Syria. “We cannot have chemical weapons anywhere,” she said - an empty declaration for reasons stated above. ISIS - reason number 2 - is all but defeated, especially after having its US funding cut. Finally, she “wants to make sure that the influence of Iran doesn’t take over the area.” Overthrowing Assad has never been about Assad. The US’s goal of overthrowing seven countries - Iraq and Libya have already been crossed off the “to-do” list - is rooted in Israel’s Oded Yinon plan, which calls for the balkanization of the Middle East along ethnic and religious lines and the expansion of Israel from the Nile to the Euphrates. Saudi Arabia, once an enemy of Israel, has allied with its former nemesis against Iran, Syria, and Lebanon, the “Shia Crescent” the Sunni regime sees as its primary obstacle to regional dominance.
Israel has illegally occupied the Golan Heights, an oil-rich region of Syria, since 1967 and in 2013 began selling drilling rights to the land it does not own. Among the buyers: Newark-based Genie Energy, whose Board of Directors includes such luminaries as Dick Cheney, Rupert Murdoch, and Larry Summers. As long as the Syrian government is tied up fighting rebels in other parts of the country, it will leave the Golan Heights alone, allowing Israel and its US allies to extract the region’s natural resources in “peace.” Netanyahu has even called for international recognition of Israel’s claim to the Heights, despite the patently illegal nature of the whole situation.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, and Israel has openly admitted it prefers ISIS to the stable regimes of Assad and Iran’s Rouhani. The US has allowed itself to be led by its allies in choosing sides in this conflict to its detriment. We gain nothing from the overthrow of one of the few stable nations left in the Middle East. Taking out Assad would ignite a conflict sure to last decades and cost trillions of dollars. At a minimum, hundreds of thousands will die, many of them civilians, and many more will be displaced, turning up on European or American shores as refugees. The involvement of Russia and now China mean a local conflict could quickly spiral into World War 3, placing the future of human civilization at risk. The goals of our allies in Syria are not our goals. The US must choose its friends more carefully.
If you are unwilling to consider the possibility that the American government might be lying, put yourself in Assad’s place. You are the ruler of one of the last stable secular nations in a region destroyed by conflict, much of which was instigated by the US, Israel, and/or Saudi Arabia. You have been fighting a bloody war against foreign-funded terrorists for the better part of a decade, trying not to go the way of Gaddafi and Hussein. You have finally regained most of the territory held by the rebels seeking to overthrow your government - victory is in sight. Do you A) drive the rebels out of the last of their strongholds, declare victory, and throw a big parade or B) commit a sadistic war crime that serves no strategic goal but brings down the wrath of the same US military apparatus that so recently destroyed two of your neighbors? Even the most inexperienced, politically-inept ruler would pick A. Assad is neither inexperienced nor politically inept. Few heads of state last as long as he has when the US military wants them gone. There is literally no reason why he would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in this way.
If you are willing to continue in this thought experiment, place yourself in the head of a military strategist seeking regime change in Syria. Your target, the legitimate ruler of that nation, has nearly defeated the terrorists your country has been funding and supplying with weapons for the better part of a decade. Your ability to indiscriminately fund terrorist groups has been somewhat curtailed by an uppity president who disapproves of your preferred militants’ appetite for beheadings and other barbaric displays of power. You’re screwed unless you can convince that president and his cabinet to reverse their course on how they handle this country. You know he has a weakness for gas attacks and photos of dead kids, and your colleagues were careful to lay the groundwork for such a move last time this president threatened to thwart your careful plan. Do you A) honorably admit defeat, realizing the legitimate ruler of the nation in question has beaten you fair and square despite the dirty tricks you’ve employed over the preceding years B) frame him for the one war crime that would bring down the wrath of the US military apparatus even though it contradicts his best interests? Even the greenest intelligence operative would pick B.
Even if you don’t believe any of the above - in which case, I would ask what part of the establishment narrative is so compelling - it remains the case that the US and its allies broke international law by striking Syria. None of these nations obtained consent from their Congress or Parliament; Syria as a UN member state is protected under UN law from attack without provocation, and since no member state was attacked, no provocation occurred. Striking Syria was a war crime. If one class of countries can flout international law while another can be accused of breaking it without evidence, the entire concept is worse than meaningless.
The US has gone to war on false pretenses before; in fact, it’s standard operating procedure. The establishment media were certain that Saddam Hussein was hoarding Weapons of Mass Destruction with which he was intent on laying waste to the US. The Gulf of Tonkin incident falsified Vietnamese aggression to justify US involvement in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. “Remember the Maine!” was the rallying cry pitching the then-isolationist US into the Spanish-American War. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me; we can no longer count the number of times we’ve been fooled into feeding the military-industrial beast. The ruling class thinks we’re stupid. Don’t prove them right.
(also published at Global Research)Add a comment
In the wake of the Parkland high school shooting, Citibank has stepped into the breach as the US government once more drags its feet on legislating gun control. With popular support for such laws inching up a few points as it does in the wake of every mass shooting and media calls for cracking down on weapons sales rising to a fever pitch, our representatives on Capitol Hill (with the exception of opportunistic scumbag Rick Scott of Florida, so desperate to cling to his governorship he'll vote for anything that moves) hemmed and hawed about enacting more stringent regulation. Enter Citibank CEO Michael Corbat, boldly going where no corporation has gone before…
Citibank announced this week that it will “require new retail sector clients to adhere to these best practices: (1) they don’t sell firearms to someone who hasn’t passed a background check, (2) they restrict the sale of firearms for individuals under 21 years of age, and (3) they don’t sell bump stocks or high-capacity magazines.” At face value, this decree is innocuous, especially as it applies only to “new” clients and not Citi’s existing stable, which includes few firearms manufacturers or retailers anyway. The measures would have no real impact on the availability of guns or the ease with which they can be used in the commission of mass shootings - on the surface, it is a pure PR stunt.
Admitting they lack the technology or legal ability to track gun purchases at the payment-processing level, however, Citi optimistically noted that “the industry [is] discussing the possibility” of developing such privacy-invading technology so that it can terminate business relationships with companies who violate this policy. This is Citi staking its claim to the mechanics of legislation, the first tentative step down the fabled slippery slope to fascism. When corporations make and enforce the laws, they’ve successfully privatized government, and the idea of representative democracy finally limps the rest of the way to the dustbin of American history. There’s no turning back from that point - a point at which Americans will need all the guns they can get. Power usurped is not willingly relinquished.
As Americans, we understand - whether or not we admit it - that our country is run by an alliance of wealthy corporate interests and the politicians they pay to legislate in their favor. If you’re too young to remember Citizens United, every election since then should have hammered that point home. The power of the Koch Brothers, ALEC, George Soros, Sheldon Adelson, and their coterie of slimy supervillains is unequalled by any elected representative. Nevertheless, we cling to the illusion of freedom and electoral choice, operating under the assumption that our corporate overlords are benevolent - or at least that they don’t want the bad PR of mowing down citizens in the streets. This faith is proving to be misplaced.
Earlier this month Stephon Clark was gunned down in his own back yard for the unspeakable crime of climbing over a fence. Police claimed they thought he was behind a string of car break-ins in the area, but even if they believed they had their man, breaking into cars is not a capital crime and shooting first and asking questions later is not a valid response. According to killedbypolice.net, cops have killed over 300 civilians this year - a figure that is admittedly difficult to pinpoint due to the reluctance of police departments to correctly classify officer-involved fatalities and the difficulty of separating “justified” shootings from the rest. Mass shootings have killed 53. Many who support gun control, especially on the Left, also protest police violence. Do they actually believe that disarming their fellow citizens will transform the uniformed sociopaths who murdered Clark (and Gurley, and Garner, and Rice, and Bland, and Shaver, AND SO ON) into peaceful sheepdogs herding their wayward flock toward the straight-and-narrow?
Whether or not you agree with the idea that curtailing gun sales will cure the American people of their propensity for mass shootings, the fact remains that IF we are indeed a representative democracy, in which the people have some say in electing their government which then passes laws intended to benefit those people in some way, Citibank has NO BUSINESS butting into that process. No one elected Michael Corbat to the position of chief moral officer. Americans have been brainwashed to treat the rights of corporations in the so-called Free Market as superior to their own and defer to their corporate masters. We abase ourselves before financial institutions that have done nothing but abuse us to the best of their capability - are we really going to hand them even more of that capability?
The idea of one of the prime movers in 2008’s financial collapse nakedly usurping legislative power should be repulsive to anyone. Whether or not you support gun control, banning semi-automatic weapons, or any other modification to the Second Amendment, the fact remains that this is a corporation attempting to restrict the freedoms of private citizens, a corporation responsible for exponentially more suffering than any firearms retailer. Lest we forget, Citibank received billions of dollars in the TARP bailout after bankrupting itself gambling on mortgage-backed securities comprised of subprime loans it knowingly sold to people who couldn’t afford them. Millions of people lost their houses, their savings, their futures in the 2008 crash. Ten years later, many have not recovered, while Citi posts record profits every year and pays its executives more in bonuses than many of us will see in our entire lives. These are not the people we want serving as our moral compass.
Perhaps receiving such huge sums in government bailout funds gave Citi the idea that they ARE the government. Certainly the revolving door has spun faster there than at any other financial institution, with Peter Orszag, Michael Froman, Jack Lew, and of course Robert Rubin - arguably the architect of the 2008 crisis, who not only loosened financial regulations while serving as Treasury Secretary under Clinton but then pushed Citi to increase its appetite for risky investments - ping-ponging from private to public sector cashing huge checks along the way. Big banks actually reward their senior executives for securing employment in government, understanding that this is the quickest route to a friendlier regulatory climate. Why bother loosening regulations, though, when you can just make them yourself?
Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times published an article a few days after Parkland calling on banks to “set new rules” to restrict gun sales, excitedly citing the precedent of JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup’s recent ban on purchasing cryptocurrencies, a “completely legal” product. Earlier this month, he called for “big investors” to use their financial stakes in companies to force them to change their business practices in the direction of gun control. Less than a month later, Citibank made their big announcement. This week, former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens called for the wholesale repeal of the Second Amendment, a sentiment that has been echoed by Senator Dianne Feinstein, among other prominent politicians. This is a coordinated effort by the propagandists, the purse, and the puppets of the ruling class to deprive ordinary citizens of one of the few rights they have left. At last weekend’s March For Our Lives rally, Parkland student Delaney Tarr promised “When they give us that inch, that bump stock ban, we will take a mile.” Americans would be foolish to believe that this movement will end with the restriction of AR-15 sales to those over the age of 21 (unless they’re in the military, then they get all the “assault” weapons they want).
In the much-exalted Free Market, surely companies who disagree with Citi’s new policy can take their business elsewhere? Politico, approving of Citi's unprecedented power grab, referred to them as the “first financial institution” to restrict firearms sales - implying that others will follow suit, a likely assumption given the ideological uniformity of the big banks. Citi may have been chosen to test the waters, but Sorkin in a followup article enthused that “virtually all the major banks” and credit card companies, including JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Visa, and MasterCard, have now formed working groups to formulate their own responses to “the issue.” Citi itself in its press release expressed a desire to “convene those in the financial services industry and other stakeholders to tackle these challenges together and see what we can do.” Sorkin, for his part, suggested several dystopian measures to “help” the financial industry legislate its ideas, including “geofencing” gun shows to keep out under-21 buyers. Yes, customers can move to another bank, but not for long.
Citi is theoretically a private corporation, and one might argue that they have the right to make what policies they wish, as do Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods and other corporations that have restricted firearms sales in one way or another. But Walmart and Dick’s have never received hundreds of billions of dollars in interest-free loans from the US government, nor are they bristling with ex- (and future) government officials (though Walmart is owned by one of the richest and most powerful families in the country and has considerable political sway in its own right; their move to ban AR-15 sales in 2015 was intended as an example for the rest of the sporting goods industry to emulate, and three years later Dick’s has finally followed in their footsteps). The partial-nationalization and myriad government connections of Citibank and its financial-industry peers place them in a unique position to enact unpopular legislation in all but the most literal sense. The move is an experiment to see how much of the corporate-government fascist leviathan can be revealed without sparking a popular revolution. So far, so apathetic.
Polls suggest that a plurality of Americans continue to disapprove of gun control measures that go beyond background checks. Support peaks briefly after each mass shooting but ebbs as the event recedes into memory. With a government by the corporations, for the corporations, we are closer to open tyranny than at any point in our country’s history. Legal rights once taken for granted have been whittled away; the Fourth Amendment was sacrificed on the twin altars of Homeland Security and the War on Drugs, while the First Amendment hangs perilously in the balance as self-appointed thought police on both Right and Left redefine the limits of acceptable discourse and monopolistic content platforms blacklist users who deviate from that discourse. Why should we volunteer to give up the Second?
Our jingoistic, war-worshiping culture, where more than half of every tax dollar goes to fund the bloated military-industrial complex, looms large over every mass shooting. It’s tiresome at this point to have to remind people that murder is illegal; that outlawing guns will not stop criminals from committing crimes; that guns are already bought and sold illegally on the streets of every American city. One need only bring up little historical footnotes like the War on Drugs for examples of how prohibition rarely has the desired effect. The weapon does not make the killer, and restricting civilian access to firearms will not make our culture appreciably less violent. In 2015, police killed more people in 24 days than in the entire United Kingdom in 24 years. Mass shootings are only one side of a multi-faceted problem. More importantly, legislating gun control is the purview of government. Participants in the March For Our Lives should be wary of throwing their lot in with the corporate state. Their movement has power and momentum, and may yet succeed in convincing a majority of Americans that our country needs stronger gun control laws - in which case they could be passed through the normal channels instead of smuggled in under the aegis of corporate social responsibility.
It is my hope that Citibank’s attempt to step into the government’s shoes will galvanize Americans to begin standing up to their oppressors and ripping out the throats of the ruling class; however, I realize Citi customers are unlikely shock troops for any revolution, and even calling for them to withdraw their funds and deposit them in some less-fascist bank is a tall order. Still, any Citi customer with a spine, or who cares about the unholy alliance between corporate and governmental power, should take their business elsewhere and call on their friends and family to do the same. Citi’s gesture, while mediagenic and perfectly in line with the popular narrative that “enough is enough” regarding gun violence, is more disturbing than any mass shooting in what it represents. This is a naked power grab by the corporatocracy as it seeks to dissolve the few remaining checks on its power, allowing the rabid beast of neoliberal capitalism to run roughshod over the people.Add a comment
The architects of US foreign policy have officially run out of ideas in their quest to overthrow the Iranian government. Rather than holding off on another regime change attempt until they can cobble together a new plan of action, however, they've decided to insult the intelligence of the Iranian people by reheating 2009's leftovers and trying to pass them off as a genuine revolution. Fool me once - 1953’s CIA-sponsored overthrow of democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh - shame on you. Fool me twice - 2009’s failed “Green Revolution” intended to unseat President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, backed by the US State Department - shame on me (and a hint: don’t call it a ‘revolution’ until it succeeds or you might end up with geostrategic egg on your face). Fool me three times - you must think I’m a damn fool, or that Iranians are damn fools. Is the Trump regime offering the Iranians a political Groundhog Day scenario - a chance to "do it right" this time that the ghosts of strongmen past would surely kill for? Too bad Iran made the right choice in suppressing the State Department-backed Greens in 2009 and doesn't need our charity wormhole. Yet Trump, Nikki Haley and their band of merry neoconservative revenants tell Americans to line up once again to be spoon-fed propaganda about the Iranian people taking to the streets clamoring for “democracy,” that elusive utopian substance that only the US in its great hegemonic mercy (hegemercy?) can bestow upon a nation. But we've seen this movie before and we know how it ends. Subjecting Iran to the US's geostrategic reruns is the ultimate insult-plus-injury. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, those responsible for this "zombie revolution" should be permanently entombed in padded rooms where they can no longer harm vulnerable nations.
UN Ambassador Nikki Haley glowed with conviction as she quoted anti-government slogans that had supposedly come from “the brave people of Iran,” addressing reporters at her first press conference of 2018. Throwing off the shackles of truth that morally bind most officials at such events, she claimed anti-regime protests were taking place “in every city” in Iran, adding that dozens of protesters had been killed and hundreds arrested in response to the demonstrations, which as “we all know” are 100% spontaneous and not sponsored by Iran’s enemies at all. All we “know” from listening to Haley is that she either lacks basic understanding of geography and mathematics - the death toll including police and military had just cracked 20 when she spoke on Tuesday, and the protests are primarily economic in nature, with anti-regime demonstrations remaining extremely rare - or she’s a skilled liar accustomed to burying truth in the service of her masters’ ideology and equally adept at passing for a harmless if hawkish bimbo. Since her 2016 appointment, Haley has focused on lying the US into war with Iran, with a few attacks on North Korea and Palestine sprinkled in for variety’s sake. Last year, she threatened the Iranian government with military retaliation after the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack in Syria, blaming the actual attack on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but inviting Russia and Iran to share in the complicity should another chemical attack occur on her watch - essentially inviting the real perpetrators of the first two attacks, false flags intended to goad the US into taking out Assad, back for an encore. Last month, she boasted of “undeniable” evidence that Iran was supplying Yemen’s Houthi rebels with weapons, specifically the long-range ballistic missile that was fired at Saudi Arabia on November 4, stitching together her so-called proof from a Saudi Arabian government statement (why would they lie about something like that?!) and a UN report that actually stated there was no conclusive evidence Iran had armed the Houthis. Speaking to the UN Security Council yesterday, she held her belligerent line, putting the regime “on notice” for nonspecific human rights violations, but retreated from her earlier lies, aware that a room full of geopolitical experts might reject such clear-cut falsehoods. Haley, then, is not a fool, but a dedicated ideological servant of the neocon powers pulling the strings in Washington. Truth, as they say, is the first casualty of war, and when your foreign policy consists of all war, all the time, there are a lot of truths to bury.
Haley has remained silent on the crimes perpetrated by Saudi Arabia in Yemen in a war that has left millions on the brink of starvation, adhering to the official US policy of ignoring the atrocities our allies commit with the weapons we’ve sold them. Singling out Iran for the minimal support it has provided the Houthi rebels while allowing Saudi war crimes to go unquestioned epitomizes the hypocrisy of American foreign policy - Haley loves to wax poetic about the Iranian government’s human rights violations, yet sees no need to remark on the plight of the Palestinians kept in what is essentially an open-air apartheid prison in Gaza. She frequently parrots the claim that Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism, a beloved falsehood echoed by every administration since Clinton which represents an egregious case of projection by the country that brought the world al-Qaeda and ISIS. Iran, as a Shia country, is the mortal enemy of the extremist Sunni groups that commit almost all Islamic terror acts worldwide, and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing that was pinned on Hezbollah and earned Iran the top-terror-sponsor designation was actually an al-Qaeda (Sunni) operation. Facts have never stood between the US government and its wars, however; indeed, most of the wars ever fought with US troops involved some degree of trickery to launch, even though the barriers to entry have declined to the point where a president no longer even needs congressional approval. When Trump declined to recertify the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran nuclear deal) in October, he managed to blame Iran for almost every regional catastrophe in the last quarter-century. Kicking off with the terror-sponsor myth, he also accused the regime of harboring al-Qaeda terrorists, perpetuating the war in Yemen, enabling Assad in the gassing of Syrian civilians, killing US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and probably kicking a puppy or two. Untrue as these smears are, Trump is threatening to allow sanctions relief to lapse when the renewal bill crosses his desk next week. If he fails to sign, the US becomes noncompliant with the JCPOA, theoretically freeing Iran to return to enriching uranium. Such a move could be interpreted by the neocons who control the US war machine as a hostile gesture, sparking the regime-change war they’ve been dreaming of for decades - at least since Iran made the Project for a New American Century’s hit list in 2001. One can hear the PNAC alumni's salivary glands working overtime as they contemplate finally getting their Iran war.
The Trump regime’s cries of lust for Iranian blood have so far fallen on the deaf ears of a war-weary US populace unwilling to support yet another expensive regime-change invasion and an international community which has not forgotten how such arrogant world-policing aggression turned Iraq and Libya into failed states and all but shredded Syria. Haley’s recent speeches failed to hook allies at the UN, while Trump continues to be criticized for his efforts to tank the JCPOA. A more nuanced approach to regime change seems to be necessary at this point, barring an 11th hour false flag deus ex machina on the order of September 11th. As I’ve outlined before, in the playbook of institutionalized bullying that passes for US policy, when your overt attempt at regime change fails (or you can’t lie your way into war to begin with), the next step is to start a Gene Sharp-style “color revolution.” The script is a cliche by now, but we seem to be unable to break out of this big-budget tentpole production and its endless string of sequels. As in Hollywood, so in Washington.
Color revolutions involve uniting disparate protest groups - ethnic or religious minorities, students, poor people, or other marginalized populations - and turning them against the ruling regime. The protesters may not initially be opposed to the regime as such - they may be protesting income inequality, or police brutality, or another issue the resolution of which does not require the overthrow of their government - but the (successful) color revolution always ends in regime change. In most cases, the protesters’ initial grievances remain unaddressed, and the new regime takes on many characteristics of the old, though marked by a closer geopolitical alliance with the US or whatever hegemonic power is pulling the strings of the “revolution.” The trick of pulling off a successful color revolution lies in nurturing and harnessing the protest energy of marginalized groups airing genuine grievances and drawing on grassroots support, then shaping and redirecting that “people power” to topple the regime. Here, media coverage becomes extremely important. Foreign media paint the protesters as freedom fighters bravely combating a corrupt, despotic regime and play up any government or police response to the protests, especially if the crackdown is violent. The protesters, encouraged by the supportive coverage, redouble their efforts, adding “violent police crackdowns” to their list of grievances, and the regime intensifies the crackdown, a move interpreted by the media as a sign the government is worried about losing control of its people; emboldened by the good news, the protesters expand the movement, and so on, creating a self-perpetuating feedback loop building toward an explosive shift in power. If no violent crackdown is forthcoming, the media is not above inventing one, or sending in US-trained death squads to fire into both sides of a confrontation, as recently occurred in Maidan Square in Ukraine and was a staple of 1980s and 1970s South and Central American coups.
In 2009, the Iranian “green movement” contested the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who won a second term with a landslide two-thirds majority, defeating “reform” candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi. The greens took to the streets by the thousands to protest the legitimacy of the election and were cheered on by western media, which considered Ahmadinejad the regional bogeyman for his remarks about the Holocaust and Israel. The Iranian government quashed the movement within a year, claiming it was being directed by the US. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later admitted that the State Department had a role in “supporting” the uprising, which memorably featured protesters holding signs reading “Where is my vote?” in English, among other tells. US and allied media have painted the latest round of protests as a resurgence of the Greens, but the reality is more complicated, with legitimate if apolitical grassroots protests being recast by our illegitimate media as the spark inciting an astroturfed “revolution” meant to topple the Iranian government. The “greens” never really went away, with Mousavi and his fellow reformists reinventing themselves as the Green Path of Hope to continue their reformist work on a campaign basis without operating as a political party and drawing flak from the regime, but they are not involved in the current protests, which stem from mostly apolitical citizens airing economic grievances.
A 2009 Brookings Institution report concluded that a color revolution was the US’s best bet for solving its Iran problems at a “bearable” cost, compared to proxy terrorism, “limited airstrikes,” direct military invasion, and fomenting violent unrest. Surely it’s just a coincidence that the Green Movement, seemingly made to order to Brookings’ specifications, materialized that same year. The report bristles with arrogant reality-averse proclamations that would land any sub-hegemon in geopolitical time-out but which go unchallenged coming from the good ol’ US. Starting from the flawed premise that the US must “do something” about Iran, it then ponders “whether the United States should be willing to accept the Islamic Republic at all.” Iran is once again tarred as a major state sponsor of terrorism, though the writers are able to provide only one instance (a 1992 assassination in a Berlin restaurant) that could provably be traced back to the regime; all other examples are merely “widely believed” to be state-sponsored. The report does not mention among what population these beliefs are widely held, but one could conclude it is the same population comprising the majority of the members of think tanks like Brookings. The writers bring up implausible scenario after implausible scenario, only to reluctantly admit their implausibility before moving on to the next scare (the Iranian government will give nukes to terrorists! The Iranian government will nuke the US even though the US has enough nukes to flatten Iran! The Iranian government is run by religious zealots willing to destroy their own country in order to bring down their enemies! Actually, the last one sounds like Israel and its Samson Option, though like most US policy documents the paper tiptoes around the matter of Israel’s nuclear stockpile). Different groups’ revolutionary potential is evaluated - student groups, while ideal foot-soldiers for a protest movement, are deemed too likely to be infiltrated by regime agents, while “civil society organizations” stink so heavily of US involvement that even pro-reform Iranians won’t touch them with a ten-foot pole. “Reformers” are the logical choice. Cue the “green movement” and its champion, the “reformist” Mousavi.
Now, weeks after the Israeli and US governments devised a joint plan to “counter Iranian activity in the Middle East” and days before Trump is supposed to re-authorize the repeal of sanctions, Iranians are once again taking to the streets. Protesters initially turned out to demonstrate against high unemployment, rising food prices, inflation, and other economic issues. These grievances have been acknowledged and responded to by regime figures, who have proposed new policies and programs in dialogue with the protesters as part of efforts to de-escalate the demonstrations. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani publicly declared he shares protesters’ concerns regarding inflation. Negotiations are ongoing, but because peaceful grievance resolution never sparked a revolution, foreign media coverage depicts the protesters metamorphosing from nonpartisans demanding economic justice into “reformists” protesting Iran’s foreign policy (where it clashes with Israeli and US interests) and demanding both Ayatollah Khamenei and Rouhani step down. In reality, many protesters favor the Ahmadinejad-era policies (including price controls and subsidized goods) that helped heal an economy damaged by western-imposed sanctions, countering the narrative that Iranians are clamoring for regime change or otherwise taking up the mantle of the 2009 anti-Ahmadinejad “greens.” Reports from the ground suggest that small groups are hijacking the economic protests, yelling unrelated anti-government slogans which are then quoted in foreign media. The neocon-bots at Foreign Policy highlight a couple of protesters chanting “Not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran!” in a larger crowd demonstrating against high food prices, calling the whole thing a backlash against Iranian “expansionism,” but even they admit the protests are ultimately rooted in “economic complaints.” The BBC acknowledges that many economic protesters left rallies after small groups of interlopers showed up and started chanting anti-regime slogans. Twitter accounts purportedly belonging to Iranian protesters post old footage as current events, breathlessly railing against a draconian crackdown that has not occurred.
What violence has accompanied the protests reeks of US involvement, echoing previous color revolutions (attempted or successful) in Syria, Venezuela and Ukraine. Rouhani has openly condemned the “foreign elements” driving the violence, claiming a “small and minority group” is responsible for the rioting, shooting, and other criminal behavior. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani calls it a “proxy war” being waged on the streets and on the internet by Saudi Arabia, the UK, and the US and points out that 27% of the anti-government hashtags trending on social media originate with the Saudi government. The crackdown began only after gun-toting “protesters” shot a policeman, but the regime’s response has received much more coverage than the initial shooting. While the economic demonstrations have been peaceful, agents provocateurs continue their efforts to provoke police assigned to supervise the protests, seeking to trigger the crackdown their Twitter counterparts claim is already occurring.
Iran has not started a war in over a century, and the military and financial assistance it provides to allies like Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen is minuscule compared to the amounts funneled into Israel and Saudi Arabia by the US. Nevertheless, Foreign Policy expects its readers to believe Iranian protesters have taken to the streets to demand an answer to “why their money is spent in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza.” Western media stoke fears of a regional alliance between Iran and its neighbors, though why an alliance on the other side of the world between countries with no history of territorial aggression should keep Americans up at night is never satisfactorily explained. If anything, it is the mafiaesque swagger of the Israeli regime, with its brazen land-grabbing, flouting of international law, and flagrant disregard for the human rights of non-Israelis - all backed by a nebulous uncatalogued nuclear arsenal - that should worry us. The “Samson option,” named for the biblical character who brought down the temple over his own head in order to annihilate his enemies, is the ultimate geopolitical temper tantrum - facing certain destruction, Israel would rather nuke the planet than allow itself the ignominy of defeat. When such psychosis is official foreign policy, one must expect international repercussions. The surprising results of last month’s UN vote on Trump’s designation of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in which even US lackeys UK and Australia voted to abstain rather than stand with Trump and Israel in defiance of international law, revealed just how alone the rogue nation is. Even most US citizens, despite their government’s slavish devotion to Israeli primacy, oppose moving the embassy. Iran does not have a “Samson option.” It does not have an expansionist foreign policy or a history of aggression. It is not a threat to the United States, its people or its government. There is no legitimate reason to meddle in its affairs. Indeed, if the shoe were on the other foot and Iranians were trying to incite a revolution in the US, it would be considered an act of war.
American foreign policy, with its reliance on regime change and military intervention, has few alternatives at hand when one course of action fails. Accordingly, our motto has become “if at first you don’t succeed, try the same thing again a few years later, and hope no one remembers your failure.” The latest Iranian uprising narrative - as portrayed in US and allied media, at least - bristles with indications of a US-sponsored color revolution. A rash of legitimate economic protests has been twisted into an anemic echo of 2009’s Green Movement by unscrupulous policymakers desperate for war at any cost. Let’s hope the Iranians quickly put our goons in their place while doing the right thing for their people economically and socially. This is not to say that the Iranian regime is not deeply flawed, or there are not Iranians who long for democracy. There are US citizens who long for democracy as well. We’ll see who gets it first. Until then, we must ask our government - do they really think Iranians are dumb enough to fall for the exact same trick they tried nine years ago? Do they think we’re dumb enough to believe they’ll fall for it? Or have they ceased to care? Absolute power does not require the consent of the governed, and calling the US a democracy does not make it one. Before we blindly cheer on yet another dodgy color revolution with the potential to plunge Iran into failed-state hell, we should get our own house in order.
The middle class, the bedrock on which American society is supposedly built, is a hollow concept. Politicians pander to it and tell us their policies will benefit it. We imbue it with our fondest nostalgic notions and consider it the embodiment of the American dream. Most of us consider ourselves members of it, but rarely do we actually attempt to define what that means.
Sixty-nine percent of Americans have less than $1000 in savings. Let that sink in, then understand that 34% have nothing saved, up from 28% in 2015. Only a quarter have more than $10,000. We like to think of ourselves as middle class, but we're poor. This fact may hurt our pride, but the sooner we accept the truth, the sooner we can do something about it. It is time to stop voting for policies that favor the rich in the hopes that we will someday join their ranks. While you're busy hoping, working hard or buying lottery tickets or however you think you're going to bootstrap yourself into the one percent, those policies are screwing you over. Decades of growing inequality prove that “trickle down” does not work. If anything, the money is trickling up - just last year, $4 trillion entered the pockets of the richest 1% of Americans from the pockets of the 99%. Almost half of that came from the poorest 90% - meaning an average household lost $17,000 to the elites. Still think you’re going to buck the trend and bootstrap yourself? Good luck.
Trump constantly trumpets the gains of the stock market since his inauguration as an indicator that he is saving the US economy. His base points to these gains as proof that they were right. But the average American does not own stock. Anywhere. A rise in the stock market is purely academic for them. It may benefit the company that employs them, if they are lucky enough to be employed, but those stock market gains are not passed down to the American worker. Indeed, since the 2008 recession, only wealthy Americans have seen their net worth surpass pre-recession levels. “Upper-income” families now have seven times the median wealth of “middle-income” families and 75 (!) times the wealth of “lower-income” families - up from 3.5 and 28 in 1983, respectively [statistics explained here]. Taxpayers take on all the risk - on the hook for bailouts when too-big-to-fail banks tank the economy - and receive none of the benefits of stock market bubbles. For his part, Trump had better hope he's out of office by the time this bubble pops. He's hitched his reputation to the climbing Dow and it's not going to be pretty if (when) the market craters.
Meanwhile, unemployment is supposedly at a 16-year low, a statistic that leaves out the big fat caveat lurking within all jobs numbers - workers aren't counted as unemployed if they've timed out of collecting unemployment, if they've given up looking for a job, if they work more than one hour a week, if they never had a job that qualifies them for unemployment, and so on. The real numbers are much higher. The rise of the “gig economy” means even the employed are in a precarious position, often working as freelancers or “independent contractors” with no benefits, no retirement account, and no unemployment benefits should they lose their jobs. Others are kept just a few hours shy of full-time to avoid becoming eligible for benefits. There is always another wannabe worker just out of college with student loans to pay willing to do their job for less. The gig economy represents a race to the bottom. The unions, gutted under the Reagan administration, never recovered their power and fewer Americans than ever belong to them - just 10.7% of workers in 2016 were union members, compared to 20.1% in 1983, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking membership. While corruption was a fact of life in some unions, they did provide a net benefit to the working class, allowing millions to live comfortable middle-class lives and provide for their families.
Now, when workers try to unionize, their bosses waste no time in firing them, or even closing down their business. Wal-Mart's history of anti-union activity is well-known, but it isn't just the country's largest employer cracking down on worker organizing. Last week, billionaire and bison-meat entrepreneur (seriously) Joe Ricketts closed down Gothamist and DNAinfo - two New-York-centric news outlets that have filled the void in local coverage left by shrinking city desks at papers like the Times and the Post - a week after employees voted to unionize. Ricketts had founded DNAinfo in 2009, but he bought Gothamist less than a year ago, merging it with DNAinfo in a bid to make the money-hemorrhaging but beloved site profitable. The union issued a statement reporting that, in the tradition of Wal-Mart and all plutocratic corporations dating back to the robber barons, “threats were made” to workers during the organizing drive. The message is clear - under neoliberal capitalism, you can have a job or you can have the freedom to organize, but you can’t have both. Employers no longer need to send in the modern equivalent of the Pinkertons to break up strikes, because employees are too beaten-down to put up much of a fight. They are merely sent out the door to meet what is supposed to be a thriving job market and try to get themselves rehired - to compete against the throngs of overqualified college graduates willing to work for even less. “Real” wages - adjusted for inflation - have decreased 3.7% in the lowest tenth of the job market since 2000, only increasing noticeably near the top, where they climbed 9.7%. Average real hourly wages (averaging all income levels) have increased a little over a dollar since 1964 while rent and other cost-of-living expenses have steadily risen. Automation was supposed to give the worker more leisure time, shorten the workweek, and increase quality of life. Instead, we’re working longer and harder for less.
Denial is the American pastime, and our widespread conviction that we belong to the middle class is just another way we play that game. CNBC offered some rosy statistics earlier this year using a definition of “middle class” that includes two-thirds to double the national median, then warped even those numbers to give some completely unrealistic statistics. According to them, a single person in New York needs to make just $27,720 to be considered middle class - never mind that this person could not afford a Manhattan studio apartment and would be left with just $26 per month to spend on non-rent expenses in an average Brooklyn studio. The high end of middle class, represented in that article as $83,160, is more realistic, leaving the earner with several thousand dollars extra per month, but renting an apartment generally requires proof one is making 40 times the rent in income, meaning most places are off-limits to our hypothetical middle class New Yorker.
On the other end of the middle-class delusion are the rich people who feel self-conscious about their riches and affect middle-classness to quell their discomfort over what writer Rachel Sherman calls the “stigma of wealth." They black out the price tags on the furniture they have delivered to hide their consumption from domestics and other “help” (as if the presence of “help” didn’t already betray an income level in the one percent). They try to raise their children in a bubble, insulating them from the advantages of affluence by creating an artificially idealized middle-class environment (usually replicating their own rose-tinged childhood memories, transplanted to an area with higher property values). The idea is that by coopting middle-class values, they can deflect the intrinsic loathing the less-fortunate feel for the one percent, becoming honorary “salt of the earth” types. It’s OK to be rich as long as you don’t act like it. Sherman rightfully takes them to task for impeding a reevaluation of income inequality - while society is letting the “moral” uber-rich off the hook - because at least they’re not like those hedge fund douchebags flaunting their wealth all over the place - it is not reconsidering the economic model that allows them to get so filthy rich in the first place while others must scrape by on next to nothing.
No one likes to feel like a failure, and Americans, as citizens of the Land of Opportunity, hate to admit they’ve failed to bootstrap themselves into a comfortably middle-class existence. Particularly if they grew up privileged, or otherwise had help from parents or relatives, struggling young adults are less likely than their foreign counterparts to admit poverty or need. They spend outside their means, charging up credit cards to keep up appearances even as their bank accounts scrape bottom and checks start bouncing. A recent survey cited in Forbes suggests that less than half of Americans can even claim $1000 to their name. I find that difficult to believe, given all the houses in this country that obviously have people living in them, but the survey only covered respondents’ bank accounts, not their property. By any measure, we are struggling, and we are told we are alone in struggling. We must be makers, not takers. The economy is improving - just look at that stock market! - and so it’s our fault if we’re still out of work, or in a job we hate that doesn’t pay enough, or living with our parents or a pack of roommates because we can’t afford our own place.
So we tell ourselves money isn’t that important, that we’ve achieved the American dream even if we’re living in our parents’ basement or sleeping on a friend’s couch or working a dead-end job. Forty-six percent of Americans surveyed by Pew say they are “on their way” to achieving the American dream, while only 17% believe it is out of reach for their family. There is a thin line between hope and delusion, and we are crossing it en masse.
Trump’s tax plan, sadly, does not really address these problems. More than half of every tax dollar now goes to fund the bloated military-industrial complex, as our wars (declared and otherwise) continue to rage around the world. The social safety net is in shreds, Medicare and Social Security are chronically underfunded, and affordable housing is a pipe dream for most. The Trump tax plan repeals state and local income tax deductions, which benefited residents of high-tax states like New York and California. It cuts the corporate tax from 35 to 20 percent, a reduction which is largely academic for America’s wealthiest corporations, which employ platoons of lawyers to avoid paying any taxes whatsoever. The top one percent of earners would receive 22 percent of the benefit next year, increasing to half the benefit by 2027, according to the Tax Policy Center. Any benefits to the middle class, however it is defined, would evaporate within five years - by 2023, families earning between $20,000 and $40,000 as well as $200,000 and $500,000 would actually see their taxes increase. The plan would increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years, and you can bet when it comes time to draw up the next budget it won’t be the Pentagon feeling the bite.
As the middle class becomes extinct, it more closely resembles the perfect political constituency - it’s easy to serve a voting bloc that doesn’t exist. Politicians can trumpet the gains their policies have made for the middle class, and no one can argue with them. America needs to reverse its race to the bottom, stop hemorrhaging cash on endless and unwinnable foreign wars, and start rebuilding its economic base if we want to survive. The people who populate our Congress and White House have voted almost exclusively against our best interests. The time has come to replace them. It’s election day. Change starts with showing up.
The ruling class is getting sloppy with its Hegelian dialectic. The Las Vegas mass shooting unfolded as the “problem” meant to spawn a “reaction” - demands for more security at concerts and sporting events - leading to a “solution” of TSA-type screenings at all moderate- and large-sized cultural venues. Anyone with half a brain might recall that, no matter who actually shot all those people in Vegas, the shots came from outside the venue. No matter how many shooters there were, or where they were stationed, the gunman or gunmen were not mingling with the crowd. Metal detectors, patdowns, and body scanners would have had no effect on that day’s carnage. Yet here we are, on the other side of the country in New York, with a handful of metal detectors hastily dropped into what once was the beautiful lobby of the Beacon Theatre. A few meatheads herd concertgoers into one or the other grey plastic archway without rhyme or reason, most people requiring a second scan with a handheld paddle because they arrived at the venue not expecting to pass through airport security. Cell phones and keys are taken out of pockets and placed in baskets while their owners pass under the arches. Some bags are checked, some aren’t, and others are noticed only after their owners have cleared security and must be hastily called back to screening in order to be searched. It is a massive, ugly clusterfuck. This does not make anyone safer. This does not even make anyone feel safe.
Security theatre of the Beacon Theatre variety is on display all over New York. Perhaps because we were the site of the largest (false flag) terror attack in American history, we are also the site where most police-state measures are first rolled out. Our police force trains with its Israeli counterpart - the only force whose abuses of power are more legendary than those of American police. Too many New Yorkers are too busy - too busy working to pay rent, too busy trying to create meaningful art, too busy trying to find time to socialize and spend time with their families in between it all - to stand up to the boots stomping on their faces. There is a strong tradition of activism in this city, but it is matched by a strong tradition of repression. The city cannot sleep lest it wake up divested of what shreds remain of its civil liberties.
The truck attack in Tribeca earlier this week is no doubt going to be coopted into a call for even more security theatre, even though vehicular homicide is already illegal and more laws will not stop people bent on murder from killing people. The attack occurred in Lower Manhattan, within the infamous “Ring of Steel” launched in 2008 by Ray Kelly’s NYPD. The Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, later renamed the Domain Awareness System, proposed to install 3000 networked security cameras over three years at a cost of $106 million. It was sold as a means of preventing the next 9/11. In 2009, the program was extended to cover Midtown. It was finally completed in 2012, comprising 6,000 cameras. It did not stop Sayfullo Saipov, who was able to drive his rented pickup truck more than a mile down the West Side Highway bike path, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake before broadsiding a school bus. An article in Scientific American specifically mentions “a vehicle going the wrong way down a one-way street” as one of the “suspicious” activities that could be pinpointed by the LMSI. Oops. In a sane society, we might reconsider the wisdom of blanketing the city with surveillance cameras and consider whether that money could be better spent on, say, affordable housing, or fixing our perennially ailing subway system. Instead, we can expect more cameras, more bollards, more of those creepy submerged road-teeth that pop your tires if you back up over them, and less freedom of movement. When all you have is a police state, everything looks like a crime.
Short of banning all vehicles from Manhattan - and don’t assume they won’t try it - there isn’t much New York can do to beef up its already ludicrous levels of “security.” Between our all-war-all-the-time foreign policy, guaranteed to piss millions of people off; the FBI’s affinity for blithely creating its own terror plots in order to heroically “foil” them; and questionable immigration policy (lotteries? really?); we can be sure Saipov will not be the last of his kind. You are still more likely to be killed by falling in the bathtub than by a terrorist attack. A city-wide rollout of bathtub surveillance cameras is in the works.Add a comment
Those of us who aren’t still lamenting the results of the 2016 election are looking ahead to 2020. Anyone who thinks the current regime is bad had better hold on to their pearls, because things are about to get much worse. Mark Zuckerberg, the world’s richest sociopath, a man who made his fortune selling out people's pro-social impulses and friendships to advertisers and the national security state, is preparing to take the reins of power of US empire. This would be disastrous for the already-embattled concepts of free speech, privacy, and democracy.
Two years ago, there was no reason to think that Zuckerberg would go into politics. Why would he? He’s already got billions of dollars, runs one of the most successful companies in Silicon Valley, boasts a cozy relationship with the US government and owns fortified properties all over the world. What does he need more power for?
Last year, Zuckerberg announced he’d had a religious conversion: he believes in God now. Theism is an unwritten prerequisite for public office in America. While on paper we separate church and state, the majority of Americans still identify as Christians, and polls have revealed that most of us wouldn’t vote for a candidate that didn’t believe in some sort of Judeo-Christian deity. While his family is Jewish, Zuckerberg cannily realized he could go further with a vague, nonspecific Christianity - Jews are used to voting for non-Jewish candidates, but evangelical Christians would be unlikely to elect a Jew. There is no other explanation for his religious “revelation” - raking in billions of dollars a year has never once caused a person to find god. But political expediency is a powerful religious motivator.
Zuckerberg recently inserted a clause into Facebook’s charter that allows him to retain control of the company should he take a leave of absence to serve in government. He also hired David Plouffe, the campaign manager who brought Obama to victory in 2008, ostensibly to help run Zuckerberg's philanthropy. Even more bizarrely for someone who clearly loathes humanity, he spent several months during the summer traveling the country to meet "ordinary" Americans. It is telling that people at the locations of his visits were only informed an hour ahead of time of his arrival, for security reasons. In addition to bodyguards, his private jet was packed with a retinue of photographers, who meticulously documented every handshake and shared meal in Facebook posts so he could milk every last drop of public relations benefit out of these interactions. Readers of his feed were treated to heartfelt musings on the everyday obstacles faced by the salt-of-the-earth folks he encountered at rehab facilities, farms, factories, and small businesses - the same genre of bullshit we are treated to every election cycle by smarmy politicians trying to convince voters they Feel Their Pain.
In his 2016 Harvard commencement speech, Zuckerberg declared his support for universal basic income, a measure that has the potential to overcome the loathing all sane people feel when they see his smug face on their screens. As Americans are plunged deeper into poverty and jobs become fewer and further between with the rise of automation, universal basic income starts to look like our only chance for survival. Those who would vote for Zuckerberg because of this must realize his version of universal basic income looks nothing like their hopes for salvation. One condition will almost certainly be the demise of cash - this income will be distributed in a medium that irreversibly links it to one’s national ID and by extension Facebook profile. Like other government benefits - food stamps, subsidized housing - it will only be usable to pay for certain approved items or categories of items. Think of the restrictions in place on use of Facebook - the activities that get one temporarily banned, silenced or booted from the site altogether - and the laundry list of conditions placed on welfare recipients (criminal convictions, drug tests, and so on) and understand that every single one of these transgressions and more we haven’t even thought of yet will also block one from receiving that income, creating a permanent underclass of sub-subsistence individuals forced to live outside the system. Given that one percent of America's population is currently incarcerated, that underclass will be immense.
Zuckerberg’s smug sociopathy shone brightly when he strolled with sneering nonchalance down the aisle of a theater packed with VR-headset-wearing pod people. But it is his dystopian view of privacy that should really terrify anyone contemplating a Zuckerberg presidency. A Facebook administration would make the Bush boys and their Patriot Act look like amateur hour. Zuckerberg has come out as a vocal opponent of anonymity, even going so far as to state that he would like Facebook to act as an “internet driver’s license” - an identity marker that follows the user around non-Facebook sites and logs his behavior, and a technology already implemented to some extent in any site you visit that allows users to “like” or “share” posts. The US government is already developing its own “online drivers’ license,” called the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. Launched in 2011, the program seeks to partner with private-sector technology companies to offer users “trusted” online identity credentials for use across the internet. The program’s apologists tout its convenience and security while glossing over the new frontiers in identity theft it would open, to say nothing of the information bonanza for the national security state. Adoption would, of course, be optional - just like having a social security number is optional now. With Zuckerberg at the helm of the program, Facebook would no doubt replace NSTIC’s wishy-washy “competing private and public sector” options with its own.
Facebook’s “real name policy” has grown much stricter since the site’s inception, forcing activists and other dissidents to either provide a government ID or leave the network and forfeit the profile and connections they’ve built up over the years. The site claims the policy exists to protect users, as if anonymity is not in and of itself protective. Zuckerberg justifies Facebook’s abysmal record of privacy violations by claiming that “social norms” have evolved toward a devaluation of privacy, and that Facebook is merely reflecting the prevailing zeitgeist - then says that it was Facebook itself that got users “through this really big hurdle” of making their information public, and that he hopes the site will continue pushing users toward disclosing more information. According to Zuckerberg, users shouldn’t post what they don’t want the rest of the world to see. In other words, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about. Sound familiar? If these are the views he expresses openly, one can only shudder to imagine what he doesn’t make public. Oh, right, we don’t need to imagine - we have an actual IM exchange from the early days of Facebook in which he called users “dumb fucks” for trusting him with their personal info.
There’s a reason Zuckerberg’s rhetoric on privacy echoes that of the NSA and other government agencies. Facebook has worked hand in hand with the NSA as part of the PRISM program revealed by Edward Snowden since 2009. PRISM allowed the NSA direct access to data on Facebook’s servers, as well as those of Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, Youtube, Skype and Apple. Zuckerberg and Google’s Eric Schmidt tacitly admitted their knowledge of the program when they both issued the same statement denying that knowledge after Snowden’s revelations were published. The NSA has claimed it only collects foreign data approved by FISA courts, but analysts admit that American data is often swept up as well; given that those courts operate secretly, and that PRISM essentially provided blanket authorization to circumvent the need for individual FISA warrants, it is safe to assume PRISM has been hoovering up all our data, foreign and domestic, since the program launched with surveillance of Microsoft in 2007. When PRISM became public knowledge, Facebook and Google were in the process of creating secure portals for the NSA to more easily access their data, and anyone who thinks the agency stopped collecting that data after the leak doesn’t understand how the national security state operates. Far from sparking a public uprising or even a change in policy, the Snowden revelations largely sank without a trace as Americans collectively shrugged, said “that’s life,” and gave up any hope of privacy. A perfunctory denial from Zuckerberg and we settled back into our comfortable routine of spoon-feeding our data to the national security behemoth.
The mainstream US media point to the Chinese government’s censorship of Facebook as evidence of its authoritarianism (because a free country would have no problem allowing CIA-backed software into the homes of its citizens to harvest data for the US national security state unhampered by regulations or protective measures). They forget that the Chinese government had good reason to ban the social networking site when it did so in 2009. Facebook has been notoriously selective in cracking down on “resistance” movements on behalf of governments around the world. They regularly come to the aid of US police departments and government agencies in targeting dissidents and other inconvenient users - to say nothing of the aforementioned “real name policy” which flags activists while leaving regular citizens who use aliases alone. More recently, they blocked Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar from posting about the brutal military campaign against them, which UN officials have called ethnic cleansing. In China, however, during the 2009 Ürümqi riots, the site refused to comply with government requests to hand over the information of Xinjiang independence activists who had been using it to communicate. Facebook has remained blocked ever since. There is no doubt China’s internet censorship is a powerful tool of an authoritarian government, but Facebook’s own behavior toward activists is hypocritical in the extreme.
Zuckerberg has been essentially fellating China ever since in an attempt to regain entry into the country’s lucrative market, but they have stood fast in their refusal. His obsequiousness has made him something of a punchline among Chinese internet users - he actually asked Xi Jinping (in Mandarin, of course) to give his then-unborn child a Chinese name. More disturbing has been Zuckerberg’s eagerness to implement China-compliant censorship in the social network, on this side of the ocean as well. Posts that don’t fit mainstream media narratives are likely to fall into Facebook’s memory hole, more so now than ever in the wake of the “Russian meddling” revelations. The site has for years come under criticism for censoring and influencing users’ newsfeeds, promoting establishment-friendly political content while suppressing alternative viewpoints and psychologically manipulating users in ways that make them more susceptible to loneliness and instability. It’s a truly genius marketing scheme - a user who believes Facebook is their only friend is less likely to turn off the social network and go hang out with their real friends. As more and more people consume their news primarily through social media, the censorious tendencies of the Facebook algorithm become a bigger problem. Trust in the US media is at an all-time low, but many Americans don’t lump Facebook in with that media, believing they are receiving unfiltered content from their “friends” whom they do trust.
Are there roadblocks to a Zuckerberg presidency? Sure, but nothing $70 billion (and climbing) in personal assets won’t fix. He was briefly in trouble when it came out that a Russian company called Internet Research Agency bought $100,000 worth of ads on Facebook, supposedly to influence the 2016 election (whether this was before or after Russia “hacked” said election is not mentioned - the media seems to be hoping that particular preposterous allegation will quietly go away). A total of 3,000 ads on various issues, linked to 470 fake accounts now shut down, would represent literally the first morsel suggesting the year-long “Russian meddling” hysteria has any parallels with reality, even though the ads did not mention candidates’ names and thus are not covered by the law prohibiting foreign governments and citizens from spending money to influence American elections (and buying ads does not even approach the level of meddling the US perpetrates during other countries’ elections, and Internet Research Agency is not the Russian government). Zuckerberg, for his part, said after Trump’s win that the idea that “fake news” swayed voters was “pretty crazy” and that “both candidates were very unpopular” - a case of a broken clock being right twice a day, but anathema to the greater media narrative. He has since revised his stance, vowing to hire 1,000 new employees to review ads before they are posted and asking for “forgiveness.” Case closed!
(Not) paying taxes has sunk many a lesser man than Zuckerberg, and Facebook may owe as much as $5 billion to the IRS after undervaluing its assets as part of a popular tax dodge called the “Double Irish,” but there has been no action on the matter a year after the two parties went to court and it seems likely this will go away as well. Worse, “Facebook vs. the IRS” could be framed as a stand against government overreach, a David and Goliath narrative strengthening Zuckerberg’s admittedly nonexistent connection to the Tea Party crowd. Never mind that Facebook will have more money than the IRS by 2020 if it doesn't already.
Adding insult to the injuries of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, Zuckerberg recently released a demonstration of Facebook’s virtual-reality function showing an avatar of himself touring the devastated island; rather than use the opportunity to call attention to the urgent needs of Puerto Ricans, he merely extolled the virtues of the new function. One could argue this was the purpose of the video, but in that case why set it in Puerto Rico at all? Why engage in disaster-porn voyeurism when he could project his misshapen little avatar literally anywhere else?
Humans are creatures of habit, and social media is no exception to this rule. But if we want to live as free beings, we need to break the Facebook habit. Every Facebook user knows by now that the network sells users’ information to advertisers, and more people are learning every day about the central role the CIA played in making the site the behemoth it is today, yet people persist in using Facebook because that’s where their friends are. It is time to change that. We need a mass migration to another platform, one not controlled by a megalomaniac living out his revenge-of-the-nerds fantasy at our expense.
There are plenty of alternate social media sites, some of which allow you to transfer your entire profile from Facebook with one click. I have an account on minds.com and am building profiles at steemit.com, joindiaspora.com and gab.ai. Other suggestions welcomed. I propose a mass migration to another platform - ANY platform, though I’d like to hear suggestions as to which non-Facebook, non-Twitter platform people prefer.
I held off yesterday on posting about the Las Vegas shooting, perhaps naively thinking that as more facts emerged the event would start to make some sense or at least fit into some kind of larger narrative. Of course this did not occur; the whole thing embodies the concept of “senseless violence,” & I’m truly horrified by the scale of the carnage.
Incidents like these invariably trigger calls for gun control, even when the facts don’t fit the standard narrative of a dangerous madman acquiring an arsenal of weapons through legal channels because of America’s freewheeling gun culture. I don’t think stricter gun control laws are the answer to the mass-shooting problem. The shooter in this case did not acquire his weapons legally - nor have many of the other shooters in recent years. That being said, the fact that there ARE “many other shooters in recent years” points to the fact that there is definitely something wrong with a society that can be counted on to reliably produce these incidents time after time.
I do believe mental illness plays a major part in the problem, though not the kind of mental illness that can be tidied up by bludgeoning neurotransmitters into submission via antidepressants & other dangerous unproven “cures.” It’s more of a cultural sickness, a mass cognitive dissonance induced by a steady stream of messages that we as Americans have it better than everyone else - that we are living the democratic dream, that we can achieve anything we want to in this land of opportunity, etc. - when this narrative runs up against the cold hard reality of living paycheck to paycheck, barely scraping by in a job we hate, paying extortionate rent to a privileged class who thanks to the “free market” is free to charge whatever they want regardless of the average person’s means (let the average person live 5-to-a-room in glorified rabbit warrens, or supplement their meager income renting out their closet on airbnb), unable to buy a house or save for retirement or take a vacation or any of the other hallmarks of what used to comprise the American way of life. If this is the land of opportunity, where’s ours? We feel like whiners if we complain, & losers if we don’t. I’m not surprised people snap. I’m surprised so few do.
I can’t pretend to know why someone would commit such a senseless & horrific act (& as other articles have pointed out, white shooters like the one in Las Vegas somehow always get the benefit of the doubt not given to their nonwhite counterparts) but the undercurrents of resentment, rage, & despair in American society are palpable & bound to end in tragedy especially when automatic weapons are thrown into the mix. Desperate people do not act rationally. The same impulse that has driven an increasingly large segment of the population to medicate themselves into oblivion with opioids and other tranquilizers finds its expression in violence for others. Some turn inwards, others lash out. These are expressions of the same sickness.
As a country mired in an endless war against a nebulous, ever-shifting enemy, our fetishization of military violence only compounds the problem. The military-industrial complex is the only growth industry this nation has left; everything else has been sold off or outsourced to cheaper locales in the rush to globalization. Our defense budget is larger than that of the next ten countries combined. Just this year’s $80 billion increase in the Pentagon budget is enough to make public college free for all Americans. We send what might politely be called “mixed messages” when we dehumanize the residents of the Middle East, murdering civilians with endless drone strikes but calling our actions “nation building” and expecting to be welcomed as liberators by the people of whatever country we’re bombing. We hold ourselves up as a shining light of democracy while funding more than two thirds of the world’s dictatorships and running a pay-to-play political system at home. We wear our hypocrisy as a badge of honor, yet are baffled when any chickens return home to roost.
Should we be proud as a country to have more guns than people? No, it’s absurd. But when one looks at our hyper-militarized occupying army of a police force, the amount of guns owned by ordinary citizens makes a lot more sense. We are under siege. We can’t be blamed for wanting to defend ourselves. Every day, more reports emerge of police abusing their power and the citizens they are tasked with serving and protecting. From the murder of unarmed civilians, including children and the mentally ill; to confiscation of property without a trial or even a charge; to the matter-of-fact slaughter of harmless household pets who show their faces during SWAT raids; to horrific violations of dignity and bodily integrity running the gamut from dehumanizing roadside strip-searches to straight-up rape, the crimes of the police are legion and much more disturbing than those committed by civilians because the police are so rarely prosecuted. Gun control advocates are fooling themselves if they think a disarmed populace would be treated more fairly. The possibility that the civilian a cop is harassing might be armed could be the only thing that saves his or her life. Bullies don’t suddenly stop bullying when their victims stop fighting back. SWAT teams are being used to serve child support papers. The responsibility for de-escalation rests with the police force.
I don’t have an easy solution to this problem, but I think the answer starts with demilitarizing America, both at home & abroad. This constant state of war is literally driving us crazy. It has to end.
How do you distract the American people from the impending downfall of US hegemony, the coming economic chaos wrought by the disintegration of the petrodollar, the unflinching march toward World War 3 spurred on by decades of geopolitical bullying masquerading as foreign policy, and the US’s refusal to clean up its own mess? Why, football, of course. More specifically, you undermine their confidence in the warm fuzzy patriotism of football, by extension throwing their entire self-concept into question and forcing them to re-evaluate everything they thought was good and true in the world. Order out of chaos - it’s the American way.
Every media outlet on earth seems to be weighing in on the Great NFL Protest, which after Donald Trump’s attacks on ex-49er Colin Kaepernick has spread through entire football teams and into other sports including basketball. Even media outlets that don’t cover sports are jettisoning stories that actually matter in their pursuit of this catniplike mix of pro sports, celebrity, and the great orange sun around which our media is determined to orbit. This is exactly what Trump wants. As the media congregates like moths to his flame, his administration is up to all kinds of horrors in the surrounding darkness.
The choreography of this spectacle is simple. Trump's alt-right lapdogs rail against the protest, invariably using the phrase "love it or leave it" in their takedown of the "spoiled" millionaire NFL players, who owe everything they have to this country and its freedoms and are acting ungrateful by refusing to stand for the national anthem. The anti-Trump brigade predictably takes the bait, forgetting all about the president’s horrifically hypocritical speech before the United Nations General Assembly last week as they rush to call him out for his criticism of the kneeling footballers. “How dare he call Kaepernick a son of a bitch for exercising his right to free speech! Don't the 'freedoms' promised in the Constitution include the freedom to protest? Where was Trump's outrage during the Charlottesville riot?" They have already forgotten the president's UN address in which he paid fulsome lip service to nationalism, actually claiming “we do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone” before clarifying that such nationalistic independence in other countries was only acceptable when it aligned with US geostrategic interests.
Is Trump being hypocritical by condemning the NFL protests and calling for the players to be fired so soon after defending the free speech of “Unite the Right” rally participants? Sure, but his calling out Iran as a “rogue state” spreading “violence, bloodshed and chaos” through the Arab world while the US (along with allies Israel and Saudi Arabia) commits war crimes in Syria and Yemen and funds terrorist groups responsible for infinitely more carnage is hypocritical on a much more monstrous level. Trump calling Kim Jong-un’s six measly nuclear tests a threat to civilization while the US carries out thousands of its own nuclear tests - to say nothing of his refusal to negotiate with the North Korean government until it disarms, a condition which would leave the country defenseless yet surrounded with US missiles - is monumentally hypocritical. Trump’s criticism of Iran for its alleged noncompliance with the 2015 nuclear deal while US ally Israel has not once had its own nuclear weapons inspected or even inventoried is astronomically hypocritical. By allowing themselves to be distracted by this easy-bake insta-controversy, anti-Trumpers are proving themselves useful idiots. Get your priorities in order, please, before Trump literally gets away with murder.
Every two-bit “intellectual” in the blogosphere has used the NFL controversy as a springboard to proclaim their own superiority to the American masses - prefacing their opinions with disclaimers that football is beneath them, that they look down on pro sports, that they are too smart for this sort of thing, but they feel the need to comment anyway. I may appear guilty by association, but this post is an analysis of media (over)reaction to a tempest in a teapot clearly meant to distract from several larger and more troubling narratives, and the question of whether or not I watch football is irrelevant. A vast segment of the US population does watch it, and the national anthem controversy serves as perfect media flypaper - a devastating weapon of mass distraction.
The controversy also diverts us from examining our government’s role in rebuilding Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Americans are mostly unaware of our uncomfortably colonial relationship with Puerto Rico, whose citizens are not able to vote in US elections despite the territory being under full control of the US government. Decades of extortionate economic policies, including the Jones Act prohibiting foreign ships from unloading cargo on its shores, have plunged the island into $72 billion in debt, the effects of which have been exacerbated by US-imposed neoliberal austerity measures. Forty-five percent of the population lives in poverty - and this was before the storm.
Most US politicians, safe in the knowledge that Puerto Ricans are electorally incapable of holding them accountable for throwing the island under the bus, are uninterested in spending hurricane relief dollars on rebuilding the ruined territory. Immediately following the storm, Trump criticized Puerto Rico for its debt crisis and aging infrastructure in a series of jaw-droppingly insensitive tweets, and he has yet to even send a disaster aid request to Congress on Puerto Rico’s behalf, despite pleas from the island’s governor. While he has ordered some federal assistance, which will cover grants for home repairs and temporary shelter, Trump refused to suspend the Jones Act and allow foreign aid to flow in, and concerns remain about how to pay for aid to the debt-ravaged territory. A referendum earlier this year revealed that 97% of Puerto Ricans favor statehood, but no further action was taken at the time. This vote - the fifth such referendum - seems destined to be tabled like its predecessors, eclipsed by the hurricane's chaos, leaving the island an impotent colony subject to the whims of the US government.
Other stories falling by the wayside in the frenzy to dissect the minutiae of the NFL protest include a new treaty to ban nuclear weapons approved by 120 countries and signed by 42 nations so far. While nuclear-armed powers including the US have opposed it, the new ban’s supporters believe the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty - now 50 years old and missing several nuclear-armed powers as signatories, including Israel, India and Pakistan - does not go far enough. When 50 countries have signed the pact, it will go into effect, barring signatories from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, or otherwise acquiring and stockpiling nuclear weapons. Supporters cite Trump and Kim’s belligerent rhetoric as a major motivator behind treaty negotiations.
Trump’s staff are in 24/7 damage-control mode as he uses his Twitter platform to poke the North Korean hornets’ nest; Kim and his staff have read the president’s tweets as open declarations of war and have had to be talked down by long-suffering White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Trump seems determined to tweet the US into nuclear war, most recently boasting that North Korean leadership “won’t be around much longer” if it keeps up its “threats” - fighting words backed by US bombers flying the furthest north of the Korean de-militarized zone yet this century. North Korean foreign minister Ri Yong-ho answered the tweet by threatening to shoot down US bombers outside North Korean airspace. The rest of the world remains on high alert as both sides exchange rhetorical volleys, fearing the dispute could turn ballistic at any moment. But Trump doesn’t want Americans to worry their pretty heads about getting blown up in a nuclear strike, so let’s focus on a few football players “disrespecting” an inanimate object instead.
How do we know this controversy is a setup? Timing is everything. Kaepernick has been kneeling for the national anthem for over a year in protest of institutionalized racism. Michael Bennett joined in earlier this month because of his own experience with racist police. But why have so many other players suddenly opted to take a knee before the game? Did they all experience a crisis of conscience at the same time? Since his inauguration, Trump has proved himself quite savvy in the art of generating political theater in order to distract the American people from his administration's faults and failures. By calling Kaepernick a “son of a bitch,” he united footballers’ sentiment against him, growing the protest from a few players kneeling in opposition to racism to a large group of players rallying to the defense of a colleague. By framing the players’ support of Kaepernick as “anti-American,” Trump has parlayed a garden-variety Twitter insult into a media virus.
If you support the players’ protest, this controversy is great! Other players - particularly in sports outside football - joining Kaepernick’s protest is great! Trump revealing his hypocrisy, trying to quash protesters’ free speech with demands that they be fired, is great! Let’s discuss something else. We’re staring World War 3 in the face right now. US foreign policy is a disaster, and our economy is poised on the brink of utter destruction. Puerto Rico is a mess, and it’s our government’s responsibility to rebuild it. There are matters that deserve your attention much more urgently than the protest actions of pro sports players.
If you oppose the players’ protest, this controversy is also great! Your president agrees with you! NFL ratings are down eight percent! Americans are fleeing the sport in droves! You’ve discovered the sordid truth about “America’s sport” - that it’s not the bastion of patriotism you once thought it was - aren’t you glad you’ve escaped such deception? Let’s discuss something else. We’re staring World War 3 in the face right now. US foreign policy is a disaster, and our economy is poised on the brink of utter destruction. Puerto Rico is a mess, and it’s our government’s responsibility to rebuild it. There are matters that deserve your attention much more urgently than the protest actions of pro sports players.
I hope this “controversy” causes American football fans to rethink their love of the sport. I hope they opt to use the time they spent following, watching and discussing “the game” to read a book or otherwise improve their minds. As a student of human nature, however, I find this possibility extremely unlikely. Could the backlash to this protest put a damper on cities’ eagerness to throw taxpayer money away on the construction of boondoggle stadiums like downtown Brooklyn’s hideous blight-bringer Barclays Center? As America’s infrastructure crumbles, municipalities still find the money to fund the construction of expensive, unnecessary sports arenas, gifting billions of dollars in funds and tax breaks to teams and management organizations that are already filthy rich. This practice must end. Our cities cannot afford to subsidize the lifestyles of the rich and shameless while our bridges and tunnels disintegrate and American citizens - in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida or other pockets of dire poverty like Camden and Detroit - languish without basic shelter and necessities.
Professional sports are irrelevant to the lives of the vast majority of Americans. There is no reason to continue covering this inconsequential story while the world inches closer to nuclear war. We don't need to spend our days in a state of panic, but we cannot allow manufactured controversies to distract us from our reality.
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