Words

US media and government have united to demonize "anti-vax" parents, demanding censorship, fines and even jail for questioning scientific progress. If they wanted to end the "crisis," they could - but that would defeat the purpose, which is to keep the people divided, fearing and hating a malignant "enemy within" that threatens their beloved children.

When anti-vax activist Del Bigtree donned a yellow star in a melodramatic show of solidarity with Hasidic Jewish parents being pressured into vaccinating their children under a short-lived emergency law in upstate New York's Rockland County, many cringed. Sure, public opinion was against anti-vaxxers, but they weren't being rounded up and sent away to camps, or fenced into ghettos as Jews were in Nazi Germany.

Then the Washington Post took Bigtree's idea and ran with it in a bizarre, overwrought editorial that slammed anti-vax parents as "pro-plague" and called for them to be arrested, fined, and isolated, placed on registries like sex offenders (their comparison, not mine), and…fenced into ghettos ("force isolation on pockets of populations that might have been exposed to the outbreak").  

This isn't how you defuse a controversy. No amount of catastrophizing - whether it's the World Health Organization declaring anti-vaxxers a threat on the level of ebola and HIV, or New York mayor Bill deBlasio sending "disease detectives" to Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods to hunt down unvaccinated kids, or Facebook removing photos of vaccine package inserts posted by parents concerned by the laundry list of side effects - will convince a vaccine skeptic to embrace inoculation. Indeed, these measures guarantee anti-vaxxers will become further entrenched in their beliefs. If vaccines are truly safe and effective, the argument goes, why are the authorities suppressing anything that questions them?

It's clear from the institutional response to the measles "crisis" that the powers that be are not interested in changing anyone's mind. It should be a simple matter for doctors to take scared parents aside, listen to their worries, and address them one by one - perhaps even offer to meet them halfway by developing an individualized health program that takes their child's needs into consideration.

Certainly, pretending there's no risk to vaccination when the government's own vaccine court has paid out $4 billion to the parents of vaccine-damaged children over the past 30 years is disingenuous, and only serves to convince skeptics that a cover-up exists. Many "anti-vaxxers" are parents of autistic kids who believe their children were damaged by vaccination; most have done a significant quantity of research on the subject. Treating them like gullible fools is guaranteed to alienate them further.

Nor is the US government's response to a measles "epidemic" that has infected 880 people since January in a country of 327 million people designed to put anyone at ease. With a vocal segment of the population already alarmed over unprecedented assaults on First Amendment freedoms of speech and of the press, several states have put forward bills to end religious exemptions to mandatory vaccination laws, thus inflaming another vocal segment of the population, this one concerned for the First Amendment freedom of religion. Headlines like the New York Times editorial earlier this month, titled "Infecting people isn't a religious right," deftly add insult to injury. If the government's goal was to create civic unrest, to encourage division in a country already more divided than ever, they couldn't have done a better job.

And this may indeed be the goal. "Wedge issues" - controversies which divide and inflame a population, despite often having little or no bearing on their day-to-day lives - are a time-honored means of manipulating popular sentiment. Divide and conquer as a political principle dates back to the Roman Empire. As the American Empire crumbles, with poverty and homelessness at record levels (despite the government's attempts to redefine poverty and hide unemployment) while companies like Amazon and Google break the trillion-dollar mark, even capitalism's biggest cheerleaders are concerned about the unwashed masses rising up and breaking things.

It's no coincidence that the vaccine debate is being amplified at the same time Americans are duking it out over abortion, another popular wedge issue. Threaten people's children, even other people's hypothetical children, and a strong emotional response is guaranteed. So why, if the end goal is universal vaccination, is the government threatening the parents of unvaccinated children with taking those children away

If health authorities are serious about converting the anti-vaxxers, they will have to stop thinking in terms of war. This means engaging in civil dialogue, instead of refusing to debate the other side, and listening to parents' concerns - even treating those concerns as if they come from their own minds and not nefarious Russian influence campaigns - instead of censoring all criticism. It means conducting more safety studies, studies not funded by pharmaceutical companies or other institutions with a vested interest in the products being tested, and publicly admitting that even the Centers for Disease Control acknowledges certain pre-existing conditions can interact with vaccines to produce devastating developmental disabilities. It certainly does not mean treating anti-vaxxers like plague-loving brainwashed zombies.

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The Trump administration’s war hawks couldn’t have asked for a more docile casus belli than the Katyusha rocket that landed a mile outside the US embassy in Baghdad’s American-occupied Green Zone on Sunday night, sparing persons, property, and the pride of a president who must have begun to doubt whether the mounting tensions between the US and Iran had any basis in reality at all - or whether the deliberately vague "credible intelligence" on the Iranian "threat" supplied by the Mossad was not a trick to convince the US to take out Israel's last regional rival.

 

The plucky little rocket injured no one, and the launcher that fired it was immediately recovered by Iraqi security services in a canal in East Baghdad, which Israeli media breathlessly reported is “home to Iran-backed Shiite militias.” Authorities found no clues as to who had fired the rocket, but a narrative trap was clearly being laid. "Non-emergency" US government personnel had been safely bundled out of the Iraqi embassy by the State Department last Wednesday, supposedly due to an "imminent threat" from Iran, and even Exxon-Mobil had interrupted its plunder of Iraq’s resources, pulling 30 engineers off a Basra oil field as a "temporary precautionary measure."

 

Despite its apparent futility as an offensive measure, the lonely rocket fulfills the purposefully broad criteria set forth by “Rapture Mike” Pompeo earlier this month when he warned that any attacks on “US interests or citizens” by “Iran or its proxies” would be met with a “swift and decisive” response. In a “coincidence” that should surprise no one, the malignant manatee followed those remarks with a statement celebrating Israel’s National Day and promising to “work toward a safer, more stable, and more prosperous" - and presumably depopulated of all those pesky Persians - "Middle East.” 

 

Trump met with Bolton and other members of his cabinet on Sunday night to discuss the strike. While the State Department made ominous noises, its statement officially found no responsibility as yet; the president, however, had apparently made up his mind who to blame, and Bolton made up his mind decades ago.

 

It’s unlikely this will be the last provocation. Despite an "emergency" visit from Pompeo to Baghdad earlier this month in which he paid lip service to Iraqi "independence" while warning "any attack by Iran or its proxies on American forces in Iraq would affect the Iraqi government too," Iraqi ambassador to Russia Haidar Mansour Hadi has said in no uncertain terms that Iraq will not allow the US to use it as a staging ground for an invasion of Iran. A few people would presumably have to die or be kidnapped before the Iraqis permit their country to be used as a launchpad for World War III by someone whose idea of international diplomacy is basically "that's a nice sovereign nation you got there - sure would be a shame if we had to invade it a third time." Though with 5,000 American troops still stationed in Iraq nearly a decade after Obama supposedly ended that war, the second invasion never really finished.

 

 

Unwilling to allow Mossad to hog the credit for predicting "Iran"'s curiously self-defeating act of amateur rocketry, the State Department issued a Level 4 travel advisory on Wednesday, warning US citizens in Iraq that they are at “high risk for violence and kidnapping” from “numerous terrorist and insurgent groups” as well as “anti-US sectarian militias” - who also threaten “western companies.” That warning followed a similar notice from the US Maritime Administration cautioning ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz to give the US a few days notice, the better to attack them and blame Iran - er, protect them.

 

The Baghdad rocket attack, almost a carbon copy of the pointless “Hamas rocket strikes” Israel stages whenever it wants to derail peace talks or just flatten a few blocks in Gaza, comes almost exactly a week after four oil tankers mysteriously sprouted holes in their sides just below the water line, large enough to attract attention but small enough not to spill a single drop of precious oil or risk sinking the vessels. An anonymous US military source was breathlessly quoted blaming the “sabotage” on Iran the day after the "attack," as if Americans had learned nothing in Syria other than that rushing into war without all the facts is a great way to cheer up Lockheed Martin stockholders.

 

Given the newly-leaked OPCW report confirming that last year’s “chemical attack” in Douma, which was immediately pinned on Bashar al-Assad without a shred of evidence based on the word of Oscar-winning terrorist head-choppers the White Helmets, was instead the work of anti-government rebels, the US should be doubly cautious about retaliating against any perceived attack. But Bolton and Pompeo have been baying for Iranian blood for over a decade now, and even the most transparently absurd excuse will do (the Onion's headline "Bleeding John Bolton stumbles into Capitol Building claiming that Iran shot him" barely counts as satire).

 

Even if Iran, which has repeatedly said it does not want war with the US, suddenly developed a death wish, it wouldn’t waste its critical first strike on an abandoned building a mile from the American embassy - not when there's billions of dollars worth of juicy American aircraft carrier sitting in the Gulf, one well-placed missile away from Davy Jones' locker.

 

Like the Douma "chemical attack," this rocket strike does not benefit the government in any way. Iran has nothing to gain by bringing down the full force of the American regime-change machine on its head by crossing Pompeo’s ridiculously vague red line (more of a red blob, really), even if, per the Pentagon’s own 2002 ‘war-gaming’ of the conflict, the US is unlikely to win the resulting war. Just as Nikki Haley's warning that Assad would be blamed for all chemical attacks was a green light to rebel groups to stage false flag events and pin them on the government, so the Trump administration has essentially issued an open invitation to all Iran's enemies to attack something - anything - in the CENTCOM region and point to Tehran as the culprit.

 

As usual, the only winner in this scenario is Israel, whose PM Benjamin Netanyahu actually had the chutzpah to tell US officials that his country wasn’t interested in direct participation in the war he’s been trying to start for the better part of three decades - even as his military official was in the New York Times trying to goad Trump into firing the first shot.

 

“If the Americans now act like nothing happened — ‘Iran didn’t spit on us, it’s only rain’ - it’s catastrophic, because it’s saying to the Iranians, ‘We won’t interfere.’ What kind of Middle East will we face when it’ll be clear to other countries that Americans are not ready to fulfill what people expect them to do?” Israeli military intelligence officer Yaakov Amidror asked, horrified by a world in which Israel is not able to run around throwing sand in the faces of the bigger kids on the geopolitical playground, safe in the knowledge that Big Daddy ‘Murica will come to its rescue, guns blazing. Saudi Arabia, too, has also claimed it wants no part of this war, even as it joins the US in blaming Iran for the holes in its ships and continues to blame Iran for the Houthis' refusal to lay down and die in Yemen.

 

Nor have the US' usual partners in war crime taken the bait. British Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika, deputy commander of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition, told reporters on Tuesday there was "no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria," triggering a sharp rebuke from the Pentagon, and Spain actually withdrew its ship from the US-led carrier strike group dispatched last month to the Gulf, determined to avoid getting roped into an extremely unattractive conflict.

 

I've already commented on the curiously threadbare quality of the US' anti-Iran propaganda - for some reason, the American people aren’t being fed the usual Manichaean dramas starring “animal Assad” or Gaddafi-the-rapist. It’s unsettling how little effort is being expended to sell us what will certainly be the most ruinous war we've faced in a lifetime: recycled physics-defying threats about missiles fired from small boats, warnings of sleeper-cell militias Tehran can activate with a word, and the constantly-repeated-but-still-untrue line that Iran is the world's top sponsor of terror are hardly sufficient to convince a country to act against its interests. Perhaps after the utter failure of the latest regime-change operation in Venezuela, the ruling class has realized that their persuasion skills have gotten soft. Meanwhile, instead of creating and amplifying western propaganda, they’ve merely silenced Iranian media, knocking out PressTV’s YouTube channel.

 

Americans are familiar with the tragedy of how shortsighted greed destroyed the country's industrial base in the latter half of the twentieth century. But can we no longer even manufacture consent? Or have the powers that be realized they no longer need the consent of the governed to wage war in the service of empire?

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Americans are sick of fighting a 20-year war against an undefined enemy they can’t seem to beat. With morale and recruitment scraping bottom, the world’s best-funded military reckons that, if it can’t win, it can at least look like a winner.

The US Army looked to World War II, the last war the US could decisively be said to have “won,” for inspiration when designing its new service uniform to invoke “the most prominent time the Army’s service to our nation was universally recognized,” as sergeant major Daniel Dailey, the Army’s highest-ranking enlisted soldier, told the New York Times. But the specter of World War II – when Americans were hailed as “the good guys” – was conjured up long before the military decided to reenact its golden age through cosplay. Indeed, the US has been borrowing from the WWII playbook since before the War on Terror officially began.

Like WWII, the US’ forever-war, which has long since spilled beyond the Middle East, is being fought on multiple fronts against countries that, left alone, would pose no threat to the US. In both cases, the American people had to be tricked into supporting long, bloody, expensive conflicts that served little strategic purpose for the US – but strongly benefited their allies.

Neocon think tank Project for a New American Century (PNAC) infamously called for a “new Pearl Harbor” to advance its foreign policy goals, and the attacks of September 11 were used to shred the Constitution and pitch the country headlong into nearly two decades of unparalleled destruction, destabilizing the Middle East for generations and bankrupting the US. Neither attack happened without plenty of warning, however, and both were arguably permitted to take place in order to manufacture consent for extremely unpopular wars.

With the US barely out of World War I, President Franklin Roosevelt faced a population 80 to 90 percent opposed to entering another global conflict; he even ran on the promise that “your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.” Not only did Roosevelt deliberately place the US’ Pacific fleet in harm’s way by anchoring it in Pearl Harbor against the advice of fleet commander Admiral James Richardson; he relieved Richardson of his command for complaining, reportedly telling him “Sooner or later the Japanese will commit an overt act against the United States and the nation will be willing to enter the war.” US military intelligence, which had cracked the Japanese encryption codes, intercepted radio messages indicating Japan planned to attack Hawaii. The attack was allowed to happen, and overnight, a population allergic to war was baying for Japanese blood.

Several government agents, including FBI Minneapolis field office chief counsel Coleen Rowley and FBI Special Agent Robert Wright, came forward before September 11, troubled by evidence that seemed to point to a foreign group planning an attack on American soil. Saudi nationals training at flight schools and Israeli “art students” probing security vulnerabilities in government buildings set off alarms in government agencies all over the country.  But the administration of President George W. Bush, packed with PNAC alumni, ignored and even punished these whistleblowers. The Twin Towers were destroyed, the PATRIOT Act (pre-written and ready to go) was rammed through a docile Congress and, less than a month later, according to General Wesley Clark, the decision to invade Iraq had been made, even as hostilities had barely commenced in Afghanistan. Clark was told of a classified memo from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that described how “We’re going to take out seven countries in five years,” and while their timetable is a little behind, Iran is the only country on that list where the US and its allies haven’t attempted a regime change.

It’s worth looking at what triggered the Pearl Harbor attack, because it is happening again. When Japan refused to pull its forces out of China, the US imposed an oil embargo on Japan, cutting the nation off from 80 percent of its oil supply and leaving it no choice but to seek fuel elsewhere. The closest oil was in then-Dutch Indonesia, but US-controlled Philippines physically barred the way. The US had thus almost guaranteed Japan would have to attack the US, allowing Washington to enter the war with the American people’s approval in order to fight Germany, whom Roosevelt perceived as the “real” enemy.

The US has imposed the strictest sanctions on Iran yet, repealing the last waivers last week in the hope of forcing the country into a similarly suicidal act. Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if it is blocked from using the waterway, which sees 20 percent of the world’s oil traffic. US officials have deemed such a move “unacceptable,” suggesting massive retaliation would follow, and a US carrier strike group is on its way to the region, supposedly acting on a "credible threat" that Iran plans to target US interests. Regardless of who fires the first shot - and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has warned Trump a false flag attack is extremely likely - war with Iran would be the result, and Americans would be cheering it on. The question is not if, but when.

War with Iran wouldn’t benefit the US at all – a 2002 Pentagon wargame simulation has even indicated the US would lose. But Iran is the strongest enemy of Israel left standing, and Trump's inner circle – like the neocons at PNAC (whose members included John Bolton) – has made it clear where his priorities lie. Just as laying waste to Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen only created an endless supply of enemies for the US while crossing Israel’s regional rivals off the list, attempting to destroy Iran will have devastating repercussions for the US while ensuring no one is left to challenge Israel’s regional dominance. It is no coincidence that the intel suggesting Iran was plotting an attack on American targets in the Middle East - the tip that triggered the deployment of the carrier strike group Abraham Lincoln to the region last month - came from the Mossad, the Israeli intel agency whose motto is "by deception, thou shalt do war." Israel has been lying about Iran's ambitions for decades. In the same way, Britain, not the US, stood to benefit from the US attacking Germany in WWII. While the US did eventually profit from Germany’s defeat, splitting a destroyed Europe with the Soviets, Britain needed US intervention if it hoped to survive at all.

World War II was a golden era for propagandists on both sides, and the US’ reliance on the art has only grown since the days when buck-toothed racist Japanese caricatures spoke to American civilians in broken English and riding alone meant riding with Hitler. And Hitler remains the exemplar of evil in the American mind only because history is written by the victors – Stalin, whose body count was significantly greater, was cast as kindly Uncle Joe, until the military-industrial complex required a new enemy to maintain military spending levels and the Soviet Union was transformed from powerful friend into formidable foe. Anti-Nazi propaganda has flourished since the war's end, with lurid tales of lampshades and soap made from concentration camp victims, and "Nazi" itself has become shorthand for anyone we disagree with politically.

Americans are told again and again that military intervention is the only way to “save” the people of Libya, Syria, or Iraq, especially their women and children. While Libya may have taken the cake for most bizarre propaganda narrative yet, with stories that Muammar Gaddafi was doling out Viagra to his soldiers to ensure they were at the top of their rape game, the terrorist White Helmets in Syria won an Oscar for their convincing portrayal of a noble civil defense force, convincing the folks back home that Bashar Assad was a gas-happy monster instead of the cosmopolitan statesman who’d received the French Medal of Honor just a few years before.

An important part of both eras' successful propaganda campaigns was bringing the war closer to home. Most Americans couldn’t care less about what is happening halfway around the world, no matter how many babies are supposedly being thrown into ovens or out of incubators. During WWII, this was accomplished with a speculative story in Life magazine on how the Nazis might invade the US. One of the routes took the Nazis up through Mexico. The narrative hasn’t changed much since then, except now it’s ISIS camped out at the border, lustily eyeing our "freedoms."

Trump isn’t the only American aware that the US is no longer “winning.” But enacting the rituals of the last time it tasted victory is not going to catapult the world back into the golden age of the American empire. Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it – worse, they are doomed to think repeating it is a good idea.

 

 

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The New York Times has begged forgiveness for printing a cartoon that supposedly "included anti-Semitic tropes" in its international edition, but no amount of shameless groveling will stop the Israeli weaponization of the "anti-Semitism" smear as it steamrolls America's once-sacred First Amendment freedoms. This is a crusade to silence all legitimate criticism of a criminal regime, and if the Times has anything to apologize for, it is its complicity in that quest.

The offending cartoon depicts President Donald Trump as a blind man being led by a guide dog with the face of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, identified by a star-of-David collar. It's unclear what the "anti-Semitic trope" in this case is supposed to be - the collar is arguably necessary to confirm the dog is Netanyahu, and the reader would have to be a political illiterate to interpret that as a stand-in for "all Jews." The Times' willingness to slap the "anti-Semitic trope" label on the cartoon anyway should put to rest the ridiculous "anti-Semitic trope" trope that is tirelessly deployed to smother accusations of wrongdoing by Israel or its lobbying organizations inside the US. 

Netanyahu himself has boasted that Trump acted on his orders when he declared Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization earlier this month, and Trump's willingness to flout international law to unilaterally "give" the Golan Heights to Netanyahu as a re-election present shocked the world, unsettling even some Zionists who believe the land is rightfully theirs but worry the US' official declaration will galvanize regional opposition to the occupation. Netanyahu's last election campaign was arguably based on his ability to "lead" the US president blindly off the edge of a geopolitical cliff. Is he guilty of perpetuating anti-Semitic tropes for bragging about it?

Most papers only apologize when they've printed something erroneous. The Times has chosen instead to issue a correction for one of the few accurate depictions of the relationship between Israel and the White House, a glimmer of truth even more notable for its contrast with the paper's usual disinformation painting Trump as some sort of foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Semite.

The Times' decision to apologize for this cartoon while remaining silent when a cartoon depicting Trump in a gay love affair with Vladimir Putin was condemned by LGBT readers last year betrays the editorial board's high moral dudgeon as the most transparent hypocrisy. US media has long smeared Putin's government as homophobic, yet here they were presenting him half-clothed in a stomach-turning romantic embrace with Trump - a president who, it should be noted, has presided over the deterioration of US-Russia relations to levels not seen since the Cold War. But LGBT Twitter ultimately has little power in society, unlike the Israeli lobby, and the unfavorable depiction of Trump ensured most influential LGBT organizations steered clear of criticizing the cartoon. Outrage has become yet another commodity to be traded, not a genuine response to offense.

If it's in a repentant mood, however, the Times could apologize for its one-sided coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - much of it fed to them by The Israel Project, which skews US coverage of the facts on the ground in Israel by supplying American reporters with talking points in order to "neutralize undesired narratives." From these spinmeisters we get the passive voice used to frame IDF soldiers mowing down unarmed protesters as "clashes occurred" and "Palestinian protesters were killed," as well as breathless coverage of tunnels, kites, and rocket attacks that rarely seem to hit anyone. 

The Times could apologize for its failure to expose the global campaign to redefine "anti-Zionism" as "anti-Semitism," instead of playing into it by pretending a truthful cartoon is somehow an affront to Jews - as if all Jews support the racist policies of the Israeli government. Indeed, to assume all Jews back the criminal Netanyahu regime in its openly genocidal campaign to eradicate the Palestinians from the few enclaves of the West Bank in which they remain while maintaining an open-air concentration camp in Gaza is wildly anti-Semitic.

The Times could apologize for failing to report on the massive Israeli spying operation - funded, in no small part, by the US taxpayer - targeting American activists on American soil, exposed in detail in the suppressed al-Jazeera documentary "The Lobby," which leaked last year to deafening silence in the media. Journalist Max Blumenthal actually spoke with a Times journalist who wanted to cover the explosive revelations of the documentary, but no story ever appeared. As Ali Abunimah, founder of the Electronic Intifada, has pointed out, the suppression of the documentary should have been a story in and of itself - and would have, had it involved any other country. 

"Imagine that this had been an undercover documentary revealing supposed Russian interference, or Iranian interference…in US policy, and powerful groups had gone to work to suppress its broadcast and it had leaked out. Just that element of it - the suppression and the leak - should be front page news in the Washington Post and the New York Times," he told Chris Hedges, whose RT program was the closest thing to mainstream coverage the documentary received in the US. 

The Times instead chooses to cover up the actions of groups like the Israel on Campus Coalition as they surveil and smear pro-Palestinian activists - college students, professors, and others sympathetic to Israel's sworn enemy - using a strategy the ICC's executive director Jacob Baime admits is based on US General Stanley McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq. "The Lobby" revealed that agents working for the Israeli government infiltrate pro-Palestinian, pro-peace groups using fake social media accounts and report their findings back to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a shocking fact that none of the organizations named in the film have disputed. A foreign government operating a military-style surveillance network to target and smear American citizens in their own country - for nothing more than exercising their freedom of speech - gets a pass from the Times, but a cartoon showing Trump's blind loyalty to Israel for what it is must be condemned.

It's tough to electrify an outrage mob based on a story that wasn't printed, but the Times' failure to address the very real threat to Americans exercising their free speech - a threat all the more dire because it is funded by US tax dollars to the tune of $3.8 billion per year - merits at least a full-page apology. Compounding the insult is a domestic economic crisis, with many American cities facing record homelessness, skyrocketing cost of living, a dearth of secure employment and an excess of exploitative "gig economy" temp work, and a rapidly-disappearing social safety net. Israel is a wealthy country, as Netanyahu often boasts, a successful country. Only a truly blind government could continue to fork over such enormous sums of money while Americans languish in poverty.

"The anti-Semitism smear is not what it used to be," one lobbyist laments to al-Jazeera's hidden camera-equipped reporter. Perhaps this is why the state of Florida has advanced a bill to criminalize "anti-Semitism," now broadly redefined to include "alleging myths…that Jews control the media, economy, government, or other institutions." The bill passed the House unanimously, the one holdout bullied into submission when she voiced concerns about its incompatibility with the First Amendment, yet to point out - as AIPAC does - that this bipartisan approval exists because the Israeli lobby has influence over both parties, or that this influence can make or break a candidate, is about to become illegal. When even a milquetoast like Democratic congressman Beto O'Rourke has stuck his neck out to call Netanyahu a racist - and he receives more money from the Israeli lobby than most of his House colleagues - the Times should be ashamed of itself for pushing the fiction that criticism of Israel and its iron grip on the US government is equivalent to anti-Semitism.

The Times' own article about its apology quotes an interview with the "guilty" party, Portuguese cartoonist Antonio Moreira Antunes, from the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack, when four cartoonists and the magazine's editor were murdered, supposedly for printing an offensive cartoon. There is a definite parallel with the Zionist outrage mobs calling for Antunes' head - figuratively, if not yet literally; many are unsatisfied with the Times' apology and insist Antunes suffer for his insolence by losing his job, if not his life. Antunes, in the interview, called his job "a profession of risk," but states "there is no other option but to defend freedom of expression." 

The New York Times, and everyone else who demanded they apologize for a truthful cartoon while ignoring their failure to oppose genuine bigotry in the Netanyahu regime and supporters of Zionism, clearly do not agree that freedom of expression is worth defending. A press that cannot even defend itself does not deserve to be called "free.'

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Former president and smooth (war) criminal Barack Obama paid a visit to his old pal Angela Merkel in Germany this week, reminiscing about the good old days when NATO could declare a no-fly zone in order to wipe out a Middle Eastern nation without a whiff of protest - and collecting a fat check for a speech at a "leadership conference."

Merkel looked pleased as punch to see her old pal from the pre-Trump era, flashing an unusually genuine smile during their embrace as he left the chancellery. Obama, for his part, has called Merkel one of his "favorite partners" during his two terms in office. Her "hands-off" style of governance dovetailed perfectly with his "speak suavely, but carry a big drone" model of foreign policy - the velvet glove placed over the Bush-era iron fist in order to repair the damage done to the US' international standing by Dubya's uncouth stampede to make his daddy proud by finishing off Saddam Hussein.

The pair reportedly discussed "trans-Atlantic relations" during their meeting. The nostalgia session must have proved therapeutic for Merkel after being taken to task by Obama's successor Donald Trump over Germany's failure to cough up the two percent of GDP expected from NATO member countries as tribute to the aging military alliance, which just celebrated 70 years of standing tall against an enemy that no longer exists, but remains very much alive in the minds of the military-industrial complex and its media enablers.

And trans-Atlantic relations aren't in the best shape, with the Trump administration promising recriminations for Germany's resistance to the non-stop flood of US sanctions against trading partners like Russia and Iran. Certainly, Obama has been much better than his successor at buttering up the German leader, giving her a Presidential Medal of Honor in 2011 - while Trump infamously chucked Starburst candies in her direction during the most recent G7 summit. 

But what did they really talk about during their meeting? Merkel could have allayed her fears that Germany would be cut off from US intelligence over its determination to purchase Huawei 5G tech, with Obama reminding her that US intel isn't all it's cracked up to be - with the NSA's notorious "Stellar Wind" program failing to stop a single terrorist attack even as it had Merkel's own phone tapped for over a decade. And most of the "terrorism" that takes place in Europe is committed by NATO's Operation Gladio stay-behind networks anyway, so joke's on whoever's tasked with sifting through the "chatter" in the name of national security! They could have shared a big chortle over that one.

And speaking of "terrorists" real and imagined, Obama could have congratulated Merkel on finally admitting that the US was running its drone warfare operations out of Rammstein air base - how brilliant of her to drop that bombshell after Trump's election and thus focus popular anger on him, as if the drones hadn't been coming and going for over a decade, mowing down wedding parties and journalists alike as they ticked names off Obama's infamous "disposition matrix!" He may also have dispensed some sage advice on defanging the local anti-war movement, which got a shot in the arm from the news that Germany was implicated in the extrajudicial US killings that skyrocketed under Obama's watch. 

And Obama might have given Merkel some friendly advice on her love life, advising on her burgeoning relationship with the Obama-like pretty-boy-with-Wall-Street-ties president of France, Emmanuel Macron (we already know he has a thing for older women - you go, Angie!) - or just advised her how to relax and learn to love Germany being permanently swamped with refugees created by the wars his administration began or continued.

If the talk drifted to intra-EU politics, Merkel could rely on Obama to lend a sympathetic ear to her complaints about Greece's failure to show gratitude during her recent visit for the austerity measures imposed by the EU with Germany at the helm, which have placed one in three Greeks in poverty or close to it, ten years later. Under Obama, most Americans never recovered from the 2008 crash either, with nearly 4 out of 5 reporting in 2017 that they were living paycheck to paycheck. But Wall Street is doing better than ever, and that's what's important, Obama could have consoled her - what's the little guy gonna do, blog about it?

But Obama wasn't just in town to flirt with the outgoing German chancellor - he had a paycheck to collect, courtesy of the World Leadership Summit in Cologne, where attendees paid anywhere from €85 to €5,000 for the chance to hear the former president pontificate on such pressing issues as climate change, feminism, activism, and - of course - leadership.

The €5,000 VIP ticket not only gave them a chance to watch a person who used to be president eat, but a chance to be photographed alongside the last US leader to enjoy teen-idol levels of international celebrity, on the off-chance some of that fabulousness would rub off on them. Those unable or unwilling to shell out the big dollars reportedly crowded toward the stage, attempting to selfie their way into the president's aura. As is to be expected from an event billed as a "global leadership summit," Obama had plenty of vague platitudes for the audience, which lapped them up graciously.

"A good leader is someone who listens and feels what people feel. What drives you forward as leader is the work, not the applause, so focus on what you want to do and not what you want to be," Obama told the packed hall, to thunderous applause.

He continued his pattern of passive-aggressive treatment of Trump, refusing to speak his successor's name while making it clear exactly on whom he was throwing shade. "I'm a friend of the facts," he said, to applause from the similarly fact-loving audience. "This is a table," Obama then said, indicating the object next to him that was indeed a table. "If somebody says it's a tree, what, yeah, what should I say?"

Obama was also asked to weigh in on one of the more controversial aspects of his presidency, the 563 (known) drone strikes he oversaw that left between 384 and 807 civilians dead, not including the thousands of casualties inflicted in "active battlefield" countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Iraq - or deaths not reported as civilian casualties, a persistent problem during his presidency, with records showing up to 90 percent of those killed in such strikes were not the intended targets. Obama admitted the decision to rain fiery death hadn't been an easy one, but said that ultimately he believes drones led to less collateral damage than if he had sent troops into all the places he bombed. Refraining from bombing at all apparently didn't cross his mind. 

"To be effective today, people have to relate to you," Obama told his adoring fans, and nothing says relatable like a €5,000-a-head VIP dinner. No wonder the ruling class is nostalgic for the days the American Way had such a smooth salesman at its helm - for all Trump's determination to sell the US out, he can barely get his foot out of his mouth long enough to seal the deal.

(originally published in heavily-abridged form at RT. photos © Reuters)

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The US is so enamored of its role as sole world superpower that it thinks nothing of mistreating allies, never believing they might tire of the abuse and run away – into the arms of China, or – perish the thought – Russia.

The Trump administration has never met a failed policy it wouldn’t embrace, from attempting to ignite a color revolution in Iran (after stamping out actual democracy there half a century ago), to throwing good money after bad in the two-decade-long quagmire of Afghanistan. With a stranglehold on the world’s reserve currency, even the most expensive mistakes – and at $22 trillion in debt, a lot have been made – have largely theoretical consequences, and just as Wall Street is able to outsource risk to Main Street, the US can sleep well at night knowing the fallout of its bad decisions is unfolding largely outside its borders.

Bristling with nuclear enthusiasm after throwing aside the INF with a Strangelovian flourish, promising to take its bloated and over-equipped military to space “the better to menace you with,” brutalizing even its own citizens both physically and psychologically with constant surveillance, and wielding punitive sanctions against putative allies for daring to defy its petty economic vendettas, the US is the geopolitical equivalent of an abusive romantic partner. And its allies are finally waking up to the realization that perhaps it’s time to break things off.

The biggest indignity yet was the ludicrous demand that NATO allies pay to host the American troops permanently garrisoned there – to essentially bankroll their own occupations. Last week, it was reported the US would begin asking some of its most hospitable allies – those nations home to hundreds of thousands of soldiers – to foot the bill for the cost of keeping them “safe.” While the cost breakdown hasn’t been decided yet, it may include the actual salaries of the soldiers stationed there – which would make the “quartering” policy that helped set off the American Revolution look positively civilized in comparison. Over two-thirds of the residents of Okinawa, where the US wants to relocate a military base, voted against the plan in a referendum last month. Construction is going ahead anyway. With allies like these, who needs enemies?

Adding insult to this financial injury, those countries whose policies “align closely” with the US would get an unspecified “discount” on their occupation bill – while those countries who didn’t play ball would, presumably, face the prospect of hundreds of thousands of disgruntled, well-armed American troops on their soil. “Gee, that’s a nice country you got there. Would be a real shame if something happened to it.” The US has been accused of acting like a mafia state before, but prior to Trump, its leaders seldom embraced the designation with such zest. One has to respect his honesty, at least – as Ilhan Omar said (and then quickly tried to un-say), Barack Obama’s policies were almost indistinguishable, except they were delivered by a pretty face, with a smile capable of speaking in complete sentences.

And where would an abusive relationship be without gaslighting? The US insists, to all who will listen, that its puppet Juan Guaido is recognized the world over as the legitimate ruler of Venezuela, even though no more than 54 countries have fallen in line behind his self-appointed leadership. Even the mainstream US media – hardly a pack of truth-tellers – has come under attack by Sen. Marco Rubio, who accused CNN of Russian collusion for referring to Guaido as the “self-proclaimed” president of Venezuela. Not to be outdone, Abrams has threatened second-order sanctions against those nations that refuse to declare 2 + 2 = 5 and embrace the unelected frontman for another good old-fashioned South American resource-grab. Never mind international law – second-order sanctions are not, in fact, a thing – but almost three-quarters of the UN still backs Nicolas Maduro, the elected President of Venezuela.

Like any abusive partner, the US is wildly jealous. Germany is the primary target of its covetous rages, courted as it is both by Russia, with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, and China, whose Huawei is currently in talks to build 5G wireless infrastructure. Huawei has even opened a “cybersecurity and transparency center” in Brussels in a bid to sway the whole EU into acknowledging its technological superiority, even as the US attempts to jail the company’s CFO and ban its products across the western world. So far, this is a battle the US is losing, despite their efforts to convince allies that Huawei is secretly a Chinese spy plot – concerns Berlin perhaps feels justified in ignoring since learning that US intelligence spent over a decade listening in on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone calls – so on Monday they upped the ante, issuing an ultimatum to Berlin that should they scorn the wishes of the world’s only superpower, the US would no longer be able to cooperate with German security agencies. Officially, this is because of the risk of Chinese backdoors built into the equipment. Realistically, this is the behavior of a petty, jealous lover. Germany can do so much better. So can the rest of the world.
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The myth of American exceptionalism has been busted. An era of global hegemony, fueled by rapacious growth and backed by military muscle, built the world’s largest echo chamber, reassuring Americans of their greatness even as their country crumbled into a shadow of its former self. The ruling class became complacent, relying upon an increasingly threadbare series of clichés, magic words and images without substance (democracy! humanitarian intervention! tolerance!). These talismans worked to keep us alienated and powerless: too busy to notice the bodies piling up in the street, and too demoralized to speak up when we did.

Then came 2016. Too late, the ruling class realized that the powers they had harnessed after 9/11 to shred the Constitution and impose police-state totalitarianism could not be taken for granted and might even have escaped their control, particularly with the rise of social media facilitating the dissemination of alternate narratives even as it enabled the unprecedented growth of the surveillance state. In an effort to stop reality from poisoning the narrative, President Barack Obama authorized the establishment of a Ministry of Truth as he walked out the door in December 2016, his parting gift to a government in the throes of utter existential panic - but it was too little, too late. Narrative supremacy has become such a crutch for our foreign and domestic policies that the country is no longer capable of functioning if when we say jump! the rest of the world does not obediently shout how high? 

Thus, what was supposed to be a morale-boosting quickie regime-change operation to cheer up the rank and file on the road to Tehran - the overthrow of Nicolas Maduro’s sanctions-starved socialist state in Venezuela, the oil-rich fly in the ointment of “our own backyard” - has become just another entry on a long list of ignominious failures. Even the truest of true believers can no longer pretend that the US is in the business of spreading democracy - not when all the evidence and information available points the other way. The only remedy left for the “sole superpower” is to cut off the flow of information entirely and build an informational Iron Dome, an epistemological missile shield capable of withstanding all truth.

Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?

Lazy propaganda is largely to blame for the lapse in narrative superiority. The same tawdry psy-ops are recycled again and again, as we see now in Venezuela, where Iran-Contra felon and smirking genocide enthusiast Elliott Abrams has been wheeled out of cold storage to work his death-squad magic on a population we’ve already tried and failed to hypnotize with the promises of neoliberalism. Just as the one-two punch of fake Iranian revolutions made the fatal error of running the same script twice in most “protesters’” lifetimes, the attempt to overthrow Maduro comes less than two decades after the US-backed effort to overthrow Chavez – also led by Abrams – and it’s not fooling anyone. It doesn’t help that the total nobody they picked to lead the charge was a stranger to 80% of all Venezuelans, or that John Bolton couldn’t even keep from blurting out the truth - that this entire pantomime of humanitarian intervention is being conducted to pillage Venezuela’s sweet, sweet oil, which has the gall to sit beneath one of the last socialist holdouts in the western hemisphere. The Milton Friedman-style, “make the economy scream” model that worked so well in Chile and Argentina fell flat in Venezuela in 2002 - the people did not trust an opposition movement willing to tank the economy in order to take over, and refused to vote for the barbarians at the gate, no matter how slickly produced their “revolution.” With even Washington’s subservient allies in the Lima Group refusing to back military action, elections would be Trump’s only way to climb out of this hole gracefully, short of Libya-style indiscriminate slaughter - and that option is far too tempting for a country whose very existence is an affront to neoliberalism, as evidenced by the chillingly sociopathic tweets of Marco Rubio.

With Abrams at the helm, we know what's next. There will be no graceful extrication. Trump has said over and over that there's no going back, and the loss of face after such a public coup attempt would make him a laughingstock among his neocon pals, if not his dwindling base. Abrams’ Central American genocides of the 1980s are not forgotten, and the same old script is playing out - Venezuelan authorities have already caught a CIA-linked airline unloading crates of weapons bound for the opposition in Valencia. Buying elections is not an option - Venezuela's electoral system is markedly less corrupt than the American model, and the slickly-produced Juan Guaido - who might as well have been grown in a vat at Langley - would never prevail in an electoral contest. The Lima Group - a body created with the sole purpose of de-legitimizing Maduro's government! - will not green-light the military invasion the US is so desperately itching to conduct as its regime-change operation melts down. Even Brazil - whose leader, Jair Bolsonaro, served under the last crop of military dictatorships imposed on the country and prefers such a model to democracy - has categorically refused to allow US forces to use its borderlands as a staging ground for invasion. A UN resolution calling for Maduro to step down was blocked last week. Absent a spectacular false flag - not really Abrams' specialty - only a sustained, high-level propaganda campaign can win the hearts and minds of the “broad coalition” Bolton now says the administration wants.

One must give the establishment media credit for working with the few scraps of plausibility they’re thrown - CNN has featured entire segments on Venezuelan military defectors who are neither Venezuelan, nor in the military. We are told again and again they are eating dogs, they are eating zoo animals, they are eating rats (the “babies flung out of incubators” Wag the Dog myth of the 21st century). Wikipedia, Facebook and Instagram all stamped their seal of approval on Guaido the moment he became the Emperor Norton of the southern hemisphere - sometimes before. Richard Branson was pressed into service, bringing his (uneaten) dog-and-pony show to town as soundtrack to the Standoff On The Bridge that was supposed to be Maduro’s Waterloo. The myth unraveled quickly as the opposition was caught on film fire-bombing a USAID truck, then trying to blame the conflagration on Maduro’s forces. Maduro staged his own musical intervention to drown out Branson’s sparsely-attended PR stunt. Colombian hirelings and provocateurs threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at the looming squadron of US aid delivery vehicles (cluelessly labeled USAID - as if everyone in South America isn’t aware of what it means when USAID shows up in your country) while Guaido’s “human avalanche” evaporated into a trickle when the Boy Wonder himself vanished at the height of the action. The Abrams brigade was caught disguising themselves as Red Cross workers, lest a distinct brand lead to White Helmets-style infamy if one were to be caught mid-atrocity.

 

Venezuelan foreign minister Jorge Arreaza accused the US of staging the bombing of the aid convoy and exposed the "humanitarian" fraud for what it is - a pastiche of photo-ops, “crumbs” of spoiled food, expired medicine, barricade-construction materials, and weapons for the opposition framed as manna from heaven; the Venezuelan regime depicted as selfish and self-sabotaging, valuing their pride over the full bellies of their people. Meanwhile, millions of dollars in aid continues to pour in from Russia, Turkey, China, and other countries that aren’t interested in installing a pliable puppet to plunder petroleum. The Potemkin aid supply operation - complete with fake crowd numbers for Branson’s concert, fake atrocities to protest against, even fake terrorist collaborators (watch Rapture Mike Pompeo bloviate about Hezbollah) - would have been laughable if it were not so deadly serious.

The UN human rights rapporteur Alfred De Zayas has exposed the fraud that is the Venezuelan “humanitarian crisis,” demanding the US answer for its own violations of international law in creating the situation. “I see human rights more and more being instrumentalized to destroy human rights,” he told Abby Martin - not the UN, which isn't interested in hearing his recommendation to haul the US before the International Criminal Court for the sanctions he calls a "crime against humanity" as well as its violation of Venezuela's sovereignty. This is to say nothing of Venezuela’s stolen gold, a crime which bodes ill for every other country that has ever stored its bullion with the Bank of England. Even Australia, one of the Five Eyes, has never been permitted to fully audit its gold reserves there, raising the question: does the City of London no longer care, with the dollar due to collapse at any minute, whether its customers find it trustworthy? Or has the gold long since been sold or traded to points east?

“Progressive” stooges are deployed at home to sell this war to Americans, and the 2020 hopefuls (except Tulsi Gabbard) have all scored media points shilling for regime change. Bernie Sanders, whose last act as a 2016 candidate was to sell his supporters out to his erstwhile enemy Hillary Clinton, has dragged his feet jumping on the regime-change bandwagon, but at the same time refuses to support Maduro - despite ostensibly sharing his socialist values. Even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressives’ Great Brown Hope, has been less than forthcoming in her support for Maduro and the poor Venezuelans whose interests he represents. But then, she’s more Guaido’s hue anyway. Not even the most virulently anti-Trump US lawmakers are willing to publicly question the idea that putting a loaded gun to a country’s head and demanding they swear fealty to a total stranger is “democracy.” Twitter, ever the helpful servant of the ruling class, deleted thousands of pro-Maduro accounts in January in an effort to manufacture consent while permitting doxxing and hacking attacks on pro-regime entities and even the Venezuelan currency itself by a dodgy group of Venezuelan expats called DolarToday - the very “coordinated inauthentic behavior” Maduro’s supporters are blamed for. Facebook and Instagram signed off on Guaido’s legitimacy with blue check-marks they withheld from Maduro - and Wikipedia declared Guaido President before Guaido had a chance to do it himself. The propaganda operation is running at full capacity, 24/7 – so why isn’t it working?

Crisis of Quality

When you tell a population the sky is orange, they must never be permitted to look out the windows, lest they catch even a glimpse of blue. With the quality of American propaganda at an all-time low, the delivery systems are on overdrive, with the knowledge that full Orwellian totalitarianism is the only way the ruling class can ever hope to regain control of the narrative. Mainstream media is taking a cue from the politicians it protects to shore up its dying credibility, hoping the illusion of a personnel shakeup will inspire renewed trust. Mass layoffs - over a thousand in one week alone at Buzzfeed, Vox, Gannett, Verizon, and Vice - gave the impression of clearing out dead wood, even as nervous Mockingbirds framed the losses as a crisis of democracy. They may be untrustworthy as hell - a Gallup poll found just 33% of Americans trust journalists, while 34% don’t - but they’re still doing better than Congressmen, who have an 8% trustworthy-58% untrustworthy ratio, worse than used-car salesmen. Edelman’s yearly “trust barometer” bristled with pearl-clutching about a “distrust crisis” last year, with 20 of 28 countries studied soundly in “distruster territory” and the US experiencing a sharper decline in institutional trust than any other country. Worse, the sharpest declines were among the “informed public,” who apparently know when they're being lied to. Pollsters from the Knight Foundation were dispatched to tell Americans that 2/3 of them still rely on TV news “a great deal” for staying informed, despite record-low ratings across networks, and that TV and newspapers are “most trusted.”  Despite rumors that the Center for Information Analysis and Response - the American Ministry of Truth - had run out of cash, there’s always money in the budget for war, and the Pentagon itself has said lies are cheaper than bombs. We can expect a closer-than-ever collaboration between cash-strapped mainstream media and their Defense Department sugar daddies.

Given the shoddy quality of official propaganda, the average internet user must be prevented at all costs from reading the truth. The blacklist model that was debuted after the 2016 election - “other,” smear, deplatform - is fraying at the edges, having fallen far since the fake news panic of 2016 convinced the gullible that there were Russian bots and Macedonian spammers lurking behind every off-brand Facebook post. There’s still a fake news panic - Edelman says 73% of us are lying awake at night worrying fake news is being weaponized against us - but mainstream credibility is so devastated that merely declaring a site blacklisted, as Washington Post attempted to do by uncritically republishing the infamous Ukrainian “PropOrNot” smear of the 200 most popular independent media sites as Russian stooges after Trump was elected, is not enough to keep people away. Indeed, that list served as a resource for those who, distrusting mainstream media (which after all had just predicted a landslide victory for a losing presidential candidate), weren’t sure what else was out there. Two years later, with Russiagate so thoroughly discredited even its biggest cheerleaders are quietly backing away, a new battle plan is needed.

Weaponizing "Fake News"

Facebook attempted to leverage the Fake News panic early on by adopting the Wikipedia model of propaganda, sheep-dipping approved neoliberal narratives in the wisdom of "the crowd" by allowing users to flag “untrustworthy” stories. They soon realized users were more likely to flag stories they didn’t like, or stories posted by users they were feuding with, than news they thought was fake, and had to modify the algorithm and bring in third-party fact checkers like Snopes and the Associated Press to lend their imprimatur to the checks. Even then, users actually clicked on flagged stories morenot trusting the scandal-soaked social media firm. So Facebook hid the "trust" ratings altogether, down-ranking or boosting content based on "user surveys" they may or may not have actually conducted concerning those outlets' trustworthiness - a black-box model perfect for squelching dissent. At the same time, they officially partnered with the Atlantic Council - the shadowy NATO-backed think tank that has pushed Russiagate and other recycled Cold War cold cuts - to ensure no wrongthink slipped through the cracks.

With NATO’s goons at the helm, armed with their “Digital Forensics Research Lab” in which every post not toeing the line of western imperialism is the work of Kremlin agents, the Great Deplatforming began. It was chillingly effective for a while, because those deprived of a platform are necessarily unable to refute whatever slander the ruling class and its media mouthpieces perpetuate about them. Alex Jones served as an ideal test case - while enormously popular among Trump supporters, most of the mainstream media’s core audience only knew of him secondhand, and it was easy to put the most abhorrent words in his mouth and induce cheers for censorship from the Left - once the most stridently anti-censorship part of the political spectrum. After Jones, hundreds of other users winked out of existence as Facebook covered up the carnage with some bland language about inauthentic behavior and a report on Iranian spam accounts from a captive cybersecurity firm. The deletions were coordinated - users took to Twitter to complain their Facebook was gone, only to be locked out of there as well. Those without millions of followers were un-personed as effectively as if Stalin himself had purged them. Jamie Fly, of the neocon Alliance for Securing Democracy, proclaimed this was “only the beginning” in an ominous soundbite clearly meant to be whispered about in underground meetings.

Mass deplatformings work well to spread panic and induce self-censorship in some content creators, but they only work on one end of the information consumption circuit. NewsGuard went live in December as the ultimate individualization of the police state, a pocket-snitch that lives in your phone and decides what sites you can and cannot access. NewsGuard’s blacklist does not offer the user a choice. It inhabits their browser, silently recording their browsing habits and location and reporting back to a command center whose advisory board includes such gargoyles as Michael Hayden - the former CIA and NSA director who’s never met a civil liberty he didn’t want to squash - and Tom Ridge, the former secretary of Homeland Security who devised the color-coded terror warning system that eventually exhausted the American amygdala in the aftermath of 9/11. While color-coded warnings were poorly suited to a concept like “terrorism,” in which it’s wise to maintain fear levels at a low boil lest one’s target run out of fear and cease quivering abjectly at the mere mention of Muslims with boxcutters, they’re ideal for a “trust rating” system like NewsGuard, where it’s desirable to create a Pavlovian aversion to “fake news.”

As if the presence of these two police-state thugs isn’t ominous enough, former Time editor Richard Stengel - now a “distinguished fellow” at the Atlantic Council, where Hayden is also a fellow - sits on NewsGuard's advisory board. Stengel, who also worked as undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy during the Obama presidency, described his duties as “chief propagandist.” “Every country creates their own narrative story. I’m not against propaganda. Every country does it, and they have to do it to their own population, and I don’t think it’s that awful," he told the Council on Foreign Relations, further lamenting that “the [news] cartels don’t have hegemony like they used to.” In light of these comments, NewsGuard’s slavish adherence to the primacy of death’s-door dinosaur media over internet news sources makes perfect sense.

MintPress has done the hard work of digging up the dirt on NewsGuard, and there are several bulldozers’ worth. One of its major investors is the Publicis Groupe, whose subsidiary Qorvis took $6 million in 2017 to whitewash Saudi Arabia’s odious human rights record as the kingdom starved half the Yemeni population to the brink of death. Publicis also represents Monsanto, Merck, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Procter & Gamble, and the government of Australia, among other dystopian conglomerates. Another major donor is the Blue Haven Initiative, run by the Pritzker family, the second-largest donor to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. The site’s investors and advisors couldn’t be more cartoonishly evil if they tried - yet they hope to sit in judgment of what is Truth. 

Armed with a made-to-order poll declaring 89% of users thirsted after a built-in browser babysitter, NewsGuard was midwifed into the American consciousness by Microsoft, whose unconditional support includes packaging the plugin with its “Edge” browser in all new Windows 10 installations as part of its not-at-all-Orwellian “Defending Democracy Program.” Why a software company should be involved in defending democracy is never explained, but it doesn’t have to be. Microsoft’s operating system runs the lion’s share of the world’s computers, and even though its browser - a zombie revamp of Internet Explorer - is not popular, it’s worth remembering that Microsoft was also the first to join the NSA’s PRISM program, way back in 2007 when Big Tech still hesitated before running roughshod over its customers’ civil liberties. It was soon followed by Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Apple. Now that these companies know they face no repercussions from trampling on their users’ rights - that indeed they will be rewarded handsomely with government contracts for doing so – it’s easy to see how widespread adoption of NewsGuard might not be far behind.

PRISM has been largely forgotten in the wake of more recent NSA/CIA scandals, but at the time of its exposure, Facebook and Google were in the process of creating secure portals to allow the NSA to more easily access their data, and it’s absurd to think they halted that project because of a silly leak. The Snowden revelations managed to change precisely nothing about how Americans interact with the security state, except to erode the expectation of privacy we once had. A browser plugin, backdoored to the NSA, tracking one’s un-American activities, is the setup for the worst kind of Minority-Report-esque pre-crime detention. And thanks to the same National Defense Authorization Act that allowed the Pentagon to turn its venerable propaganda apparatus on American citizens, the security state can detain us indefinitely without a warrant should the mood strike - even mow us down like dogs in our homes if it doesn’t like our web history.

NewsGuard itself is supposedly staffed by “real journalists” as opposed to the algorithm that protects us from conspiracy theories on YouTube, and it has already been exposed as hopelessly corrupt. Those in the mainstream media who’ve heard of NewsGuard were perplexed by its rating of Fox News as “trustworthy,” believing a right-leaning network could not possibly rate the coveted green checkmark. All was made clear when Fox broadcast a puff piece hailing NewsGuard as the “killer app” that would save journalism - a clip NewsGuard immediately added to the list of "endorsements" on their website. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

This corruption became even clearer when NewsGuard was persuaded to change its “untrustworthy” rating of the Daily Mail, the British tabloid which was also the first mainstream news source to be declared untrustworthy by just a handful of editors on Wikipedia. The Mail, for all its flaws - and there are many - has more traffic than any other online news outlet (not counting aggregators like Drudge). When an anonymous Mail editor wrote a polite point by point refutation and sent it to NewsGuard, their rating was changed to green, ensuring the Mail would not publish a scathing attack on the noble censor - which could have smothered it in its cradle - while also making the plugin look eminently reasonable (see, they do change their ratings if they’re wrong!). Everybody wins! MintPress, of course, tried the same thing months ago, only to be ignored and vilified.

Breitbart, miffed after being slighted by the NewsGuard team despite their diligent cheerleading for every neocon regime-change operation, compiled a telling list of proven hoaxes the extension has approved. More than anything else, the list highlights the obvious perils of a blacklist - scare stories like the Washington Post’s infamous “Russia hacked Vermont utilities” are never properly retracted because they’re designed to percolate in the reader’s subconscious so the next time they read about Russian malfeasance they’re more favorably inclined toward the idea. Facts are stupid things that merely get in the way of a good narrative. In the same way, a story published on Breitbart or RT - even if it came from ur-Reliable Source the Associated Press - gets the scarlet shield of shame through guilt by association. NewsGuard is laughably, irredeemably flawed, and no intelligent person would ever download it.

Locked in the Echo Chamber

That’s why they don’t have to. It isn’t just Microsoft’s built-in browser that’s forcing the new extension down users’ throats. NewsGuard has been diligently targeting libraries and school systems across the country for the better part of a year, trying to force its browser extension on unsuspecting students (hook ‘em while they’re young, etc). Libraries in Hawaii and Illinois have installed the extension, and other states are sure to follow. NewsGuard itself is quite certain of its success, and given its impressive pedigree, why shouldn’t it be? These are individuals familiar with all the dirty tricks that enable American power. “NewsGuard will be available on mobile devices when the digital platforms such as social media sites and search engines or mobile operating systems add our ratings and Nutrition Labels directly,” newsguardtech.com predicts - meaning Facebook, Google, Twitter, and so on are next in line to integrate the app into their very fabric.

When Snopes and AP both announced they had ended their fact-checking partnerships with Facebook last month, releasing carefully-worded statements that left open the possibility of future collaboration, Facebook was deep in the throes of a multifaceted PR disaster that has been raging for months. It was easy to think the companies were merely extricating themselves from a sinking ship. But Snopes VP Vinny Green spilled the Orwellian beans when he told Poynter that rather than checking individual “facts” - an inefficient, time-consuming model that allowed metric tons of misinformation to slip through - “fake websites” should “just be reported through other means” - accompanied, of course, by “a body of evidence that these people shouldn’t be on your platform because of their nefarious activity.” This is NewsGuard’s business model - all that remains to be seen is whether the erstwhile Facebook fact checkers are building their own NewsGuard for the platform or merely integrating into the national security state’s version. The social media platform has already admitted it has developed a “trust rating” for users, and Zuckerberg has let slip on more than one occasion that he wants the site to be an “internet drivers’ license.” The dots are not difficult to connect here.

But there have been hints that all is not going well for the 21st century blacklist. In a presentation last month before EU authorities, Brill attempted to sell NewsGuard by claiming it had already been sold - alleging it would be fully operational in the UK, Italy, France and Germany by April while at the same time expressing hope that EU-funded and -connected fact checkers would sign on and lend their credibility to the platform. It’s very likely this is the same kind of psychological operation they deployed to sell the plugin in the States, in which the intolerable prospect is presented as a fait accompli and the brain sets to work reframing it as a tolerable, if undesirable, reality. Still, Brill's desperation glistened – had someone called his bluff, all those surveillance-state backers’ cash would have gone up in smoke, and he’d probably end up succumbing to a mysterious heart attack.

NewsGuard isn’t completely DoA in the US, of course - it merely hasn’t found much love among the big tech companies whose financial backing is necessary for it to turn a profit. Microsoft’s good example has not been followed by Facebook, Google, or Twitter - perhaps because they too remember PRISM, see NewsGuard’s NSAesque collection of location and browsing-history data (totally unnecessary to operate the plugin, but perfect for a surveillance state looking to target dissidents for special attention) plus the presence of Mr. NSA data-collection himself, Michael Hayden, on the board, and think better of taking on another guaranteed PR disaster. And if it is adopted by the EU, American tech companies could be forced to embrace it anyway, having signed on to the EU's Code of Practice on Disinformation, a formal promise to curtail the spread of "fake news" on their platforms. At any rate, Microsoft’s operating systems are installed on the vast majority of the world's computers, and most people are too lazy or tech-illiterate to take the time to install a second browser or find a workaround if NewsGuard is integrated into the default setting. When an option is presented as the default, the lion's share of humanity does not question it or even realize there is something to question. 

For now, NewsGuard is a mere visual annoyance, dogging wrongthink sites with its patronizing nutrition labels. It would be too Orwellian even for the most oblivious individuals to start out by blocking all access to dissident sites. But once all devices and new computers are running this literal spyware, this Pocket Stasi, there is nothing to stop the developers from forcing an “upgrade” that blocks devices from accessing the blacklisted sites altogether. Facebook has already intimidated the mainstream media into paying it protection money - now it has to deliver a VIP experience. NewsGuard make no secret of its affection for the police state, either - “A SWAT team of NewsGuard analysts operates 24/7 to identify suddenly trending purveyors of unreliable news among sites that NewsGuard has not yet rated and warn internet users about them in real time." Nor does it conceal its ambitions regarding world domination: "After launching in the U.S., NewsGuard will expand to serve the billions of people globally who get news online.”

Stopping the Content Before It's Created

Content creators, don’t think the ruling class has forgotten about you. The Department of Homeland Security began building its global database of journalists and media professionals last year, and the Anti-Defamation League is hard at work with UC-Berkeley to stop dissenters in mid-sentence with the dreaded “hate speech” label. Like quicksand, being smeared as a “hater” only destroys you more quickly if you struggle - best to go under gracefully, or so this anti-speech mafia would like us to believe - maybe they'll let you back on social media after you've served an appropriate time-out. The next step is to criminalize so-called “hate speech,” the definition of which changes daily, making it the perfect crime. Like the witch trials of old, all a hate speech case needs is an accuser. Stalin would be kicking himself for not thinking of the idea first.

France is serving as a testing laboratory for some of the most extreme measures. With his approval rating at subterranean levels, it is no wonder President Emmanuel Macron has tried every weapon in the ruling class arsenal to dispose of the Yellow Vests, now in their fourth month of protest against his soulless sellout regime, from tarring them as Putin's puppets to smearing them as virulent anti-Semites. Last month, his psychosis crackled with genius, as the media declared a wave of antisemitism had crested over Paris. Anti-Zionism, the Rothschild puppet declared, would now translate to antisemitism. He would rewrite no laws - even “Jupiter” knows his limits - but the dictionary was fair game. Police and educators would be advised that millions of antisemites had just been created out of whole cloth, and the time had come to silence them. Now, finally, here was a weapon to crush those protesters' pesky populism, and ensure their rebellious spirit would not infect other nations. There are some talismanic words that haven’t lost their effect, particularly in Europe.

Because Macron doesn’t just want to criminalize the movement - he’s already tried that, with a law passed earlier this year that makes non-state-sanctioned protests and the wearing of masks illegal. Thousands of protesters have been arrested and thousands more injured, some gravely, but still they protest as his approval rating declines further with every eye blown out by a gendarme’s rubber bullet. Macron sees no way out but depriving these unruly plebeians of the social media they use to organize. Now, those convicted of "hate speech" - which now includes anti-zionism - will be banned from social media entirely, if the measure passes Parliament in May.

In a groveling, sycophantic speech before France's largest Jewish organization CRIF, Macron likened such an unprecedented ban to barring football hooligans from stadiums, declaring the internet had to be re-civilized, and the EU's own heavy-handed crackdown on "hate speech" was moving "too slow." When his minister of digital culture piped up with an admission that France lacked the technology to stop someone from merely creating another account to circumvent the ban, he declared social media platforms should demand identity documents from individuals creating accounts - even suggested France do away with anonymity on the internet altogether. His sinister proposal has elicited drools of envy from across the Atlantic, where groups like the Alliance for Securing Democracy helped him smear his enemies as Russian bots. Of course all he’d really need to keep tabs on social media users trying to create new accounts to get around a ban is a little browser plugin, maybe one that tracks users’ browsing history and reports back to NSA HQ…

It was Macron, after all, who was able to do what US elites could not, barring "antagonistic" media like RT and Sputnik from his press briefings on the grounds that they were (what else?) "fake news" - his hands unchained by any Bill of Rights, his ego free to run roughshod over his people's liberté. The ominous “fake news” law passed in France in November was openly aimed at RT and Sputnik and allows any candidate or party to appeal to a judge to silence any media outlet in the three months preceding an election; while it was perceived as largely unenforceable, even counter-productive, it demonstrated the lengths the government would go to silence all dissenting narratives.

Not to be outdone, the UK has actually proposed criminal charges for social media platforms that don’t remove wrongthink quickly enough, taking the already-draconian German hate speech law - which calls for €55 million fines for those who don’t dance to the hate speech tune - and throwing in a pair of handcuffs. The UK law doesn’t stop at “illegal hate speech,” either - “problematic” content and “misinformation” are also fair game for soaking Facebook, Google, or whatever platforms pop up to replace them for up to 4% of their global revenue and hauling their executives into court. While the likelihood of Mark Zuckerberg spending one second in a London dungeon over some Facebook user’s post, we can be sure this law will be used to silence dissent on both sides of the Atlantic, just as Israel and the US’ own deplatforming demands have resulted in enforcement far beyond their borders.

Coming Soon to the Land of the Free

The US, for now, can only dream about such power. Hampered by the Bill of Rights, it must collaborate with the social media companies instead of threatening financially-ruinous enforcement measures. For this reason, every tough-talking prosecutor who talks about grilling Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey over their horrific abuses of users’ privacy, or their privileging of the neoliberal center over the Left and Right, is spitting into the wind - even if they’re sincere, their bosses know they need Silicon Valley’s cooperation to do an end-run around the First Amendment and silence those nasty dissidents. For now, the US must settle for cooperating with the corporations like the fascists of old.

Perhaps ironically for a state embracing the governing style made famous by the Nazis, the US has decided it has its own “problem” with “antisemitism.” Despite all the money flowing in from the Lobby that dare not speak its name, Congress can barely pass a law shredding the Constitution in order to ban participation in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement! AIPAC’s lackeys shot themselves in the foot when they pounced on Ilhan Omar for accusing the lobby of doing its job too well, revealing where their true loyalties lie, and thus another hasty round of legislation was prepared to try to bring the American definition of antisemitism in line with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition. This sprawling gag order not only conflates anti-zionism with antisemitism but also forbids comparison of Israel to apartheid or Nazism (though, it's true, the Nazis only had a few years to experiment on their concentration camp inmates - Israel has been using the Palestinians as pharmaceutical guinea pigs and outdoor weapons labs for over half a century) and the questioning of lawmakers’ dual loyalty. AIPAC, meanwhile, launched a fundraising campaign on Omar’s back, and both houses of Congress introduced resolutions handing Israel sovereignty over the long-occupied Golan Heights - a parting ‘fuck you’ to Syria in retaliation for vanquishing the might of the best mercenaries Israel’s money doesn't have to buy. 

The constant hammering at hate speech has crowned groups like the ADL and SPLC, which rely on bigotry to fill their coffers, as the arbiters of what can and cannot be said. PayPal is openly collaborating with the SPLC to deplatform “haters,” while Chase Bank has picked up the baton and actually started closing the bank accounts of “haters.” We are well on our way to a two-tiered society and lest you think yourself safe because you do not “hate,” YouTube has declared war on “borderline" videos - those that don’t break any rules but express some form of wrongthink - and declared that even playing host to off-color comments can get one booted from the platform. Facebook and YouTube have both announced a crackdown on vaccine-skeptical content (are pharmaceuticals a protected class, now?). This has nothing to do with hate speech (whatever the definition is today), yet it is enough to get one deplatformed, now that all the haters have been driven underground. Freedom of speech is a distant memory. The question becomes whether we have the courage to take it back before AI prevents us from even expressing such a possibility.

Because the next step is for this censorship to operate in real-time. Facebook has been using AI to “more effectively block fake accounts” alongside its government collaborations, while Google’s shadowy “Jigsaw” arm recently conducted a successful behavior-modification experiment, ostensibly to redirect potential ISIS recruits to more wholesome pursuits through gentle suggestion in the form of Google AdWords. A later incarnation of that program even included online “social workers” masquerading as their fellow forum members, and the program’s director openly admitted to assisting law enforcement in apprehending these “dangerous” folks for their wrong-think google searches. They proudly announced their next target was American far-right extremists, and with "alt-right" rivaling "Russian bot" for most frequently-misapplied epithet, the collateral-damage body count is sure to be immense. The ADL is collaborating with Berkeley in order to redirect “haters” in real time, though its methodology has not yet been made public; we can assume, fed reams of comments sections from Wikipedia and Reddit, that it has internalized a strong pro-establishment bias, and the friendly lady in the instructional video says the next step is to turn it loose on “targeted populations,” other social media platforms, and use it “more broadly” (even though it is only 85% accurate at best). Like Macron, the ADL just wants to “bring more humanity to the internet” - no matter how many humans are sacrificed in the process.

While we wait for our AI overlords to tell us what we cannot say, different strains of fascism compete to silence us in the interim. Rania Khalek and Anissa Nouai's pages were booted off Facebook without warning after a desperate-sounding non-story report by CNN based on publicly-available information revealed that their company, Maffick Media, was 51% owned by RT video agency Ruptly. Despite everything about the company being legal, Facebook took its cue from CNN's “journalists” and silenced the immensely popular duo, allegedly because it did not disclose that ownership, even though this was not mandated. Maffick was only able to get its pages back by agreeing to include ownership information in their bio, a line which no other state-backed media has ever been forced to include. They are not the first to be deplatformed for breaking a rule that didn’t exist at the time they were silenced, nor will they be the last. CNN had acted on a “tip” from the Alliance for Securing Democracy - the same group behind the notoriously bogus Hamilton68 “Russian bot” dashboard whose own creator has since disavowed it. The ASD is backed by the German Marshall Fund, which is funded by the US and German governments. This kind of collaboration is the definition of fascism: governments and corporate interests working together to silence opposition, manufacturing consent through absolute control of all information channels. When the process is complete, you will not realize 2+2 could equal anything other than 5.

No matter what well-intentioned rationale individual governments give for this crackdown, no matter how high a legislative wall they build out of hate speech codes, the core act of censorship remains an intellectually dishonest, craven cosmic copout. The ruling class has lost control of the narrative, and this full frontal assault on freedom of speech is their panic as they try with all their might to regain it. Once tasting freedom, who would voluntarily return to servitude, unless they were unaware it was happening? 

When you tell a person the sky is orange, it’s imperative to block out the windows so that they don’t accidentally catch a glimpse of blue. But better yet is to build the house with no windows at all.
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The US’ support for Venezuelan National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó’s coup may not be as solid as it looks. While Vice President Mike Pence personally gave Guaidó the go-ahead to declare himself president in a phone call earlier this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo apparently doesn’t even know the American puppet’s name, referring to him as “interim president Juan Guido.”

“We’ll have announcements from…other places later today, talking about how we anticipate interim president Juan Guido will have the resources he needs to lead the government of Venezuela forward,” Pompeo announced in a press conference, looking somewhat dyspeptic while mangling the name of the man Washington has chosen to lead the Venezuelan people into a shiny, democratic future - minus the actual democracy.

“Guido,” once a racial slur used in the US against Italians, has more recently been reclaimed by reality TV fans to describe tanned, over-muscled hair-gel aficionados of all ethnicities, but no one ever looked at the cast of Jersey Shore and thought, "That's who I want to lead my coup!" Until now.

Even mainstream media admits Guaidó was an “unknown figure on the international stage” until last week, and it’s entirely possible no one had heard of him in Washington until then, either. Pompeo and equally rabid anti-Maduro national security adviser John Bolton have a bad habit of rushing to support literally any group willing to oppose a regime they dislike, which has led to some questionable alliances in Iran, Syria, and everywhere else they’ve chosen to aim their peculiar brand of ‘freedom.’

However, it’s important to make your chosen patsy feel needed - loved, even. Hence Bolton’s chummy speeches to Iranian-exile terror cult Mujahedin e-Khalq and the late John McCain posing for photos with "moderate rebels" linked to al-Nusra in Syria.

Pompeo seems to understand on some gut level that Guaidó isn't going to be around for too long. Why bother learning his name when he's destined for the scrap-heap that has claimed so many others anointed by Washington to lead the Venezuelans out of the frying pan of socialism into the towering inferno of neoliberalism? 

Guaidó's first act as self-appointed leader - to apply to the IMF for a loan with the promise of privatizing Venezuela's vast oil reserves (the largest in the world) - bears this theory out. Even he knows he has a limited window of opportunity. The Venezuelan army remains loyal to President Maduro, who recently won his second term in an election the opposition boycotted in order to deem it illegitimate. As former Venezuelan minister Moises Naim told a Davos panel, "guys with guns" are largely responsible for what happens next in Caracas. While Pompeo has blustered that "no options are off the table," the US is unlikely to run a full-scale ground invasion in Venezuela when their usual Latin American takeover model has worked so well in the past, especially now that they've gotten Iran-Contra ghoul Elliot Abrams out of cold storage and named him "special envoy" to the country.

Still, Pompeo isn’t the only one tongue-tied over the Venezuelan boy wonder. Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez also struggled to get Guaidó’s name out, and he speaks the same language and lives on the same continent.

 

The speed at which the western hemisphere recognized Guaidó without, apparently, knowing who he is raises a few questions. Did the State Department send out a chain letter to South American governments warning “Forward this to five other countries or Trump will sanction you?”

 

(a version of this article appeared on RT.com)

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[originally published Nov 7 at PRN.fm - reposted for anyone who came here from Kevin Barrett's excellent False Flag Weekly News, where I was interviewed this week]

Wikipedia is one of the most popular websites in the world. It’s free, it’s educational, and it’s democratic — what’s not to like? The average user has no reason to think the material it publishes is anything but true, and it has become the go-to authority for anyone looking to quickly educate themselves on a topic. Qualifications and expertise are beside the point — this is an open-source repository of all human knowledge, and surely the cream rises to the top; if information is wrong, surely editors are standing by to correct the record.

But as Andrew Lewis said, “If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.”¹ Our in-depth investigation has found that everything we’ve been led to believe about Wikipedia is a lie. Wikipedia serves as a warning that if something sounds too good to be true, it isn’t true. Scratch the surface of the “free encyclopedia anyone can edit” and you find a finely-honed propaganda machine manipulated by experts and used to destroy the reputations of those who dare question the status quo.

The casual user sees the “edit” button next to an entry and assumes all users can make changes on an equal footing. In reality, many areas of the encyclopedia are tightly controlled by ruling cliques operating with the blessing of Jimmy Wales, the co-founder and self-styled “benevolent dictator” of Wikipedia. The experience of trying to correct information about oneself on Wikipedia is akin to being trapped in a Kafka novel — enclosed by an impenetrable thicket of unevenly-enforced rules, subject to the whims of powerful groups that officially do not exist, helpless to stop millions of Wikipedia users from happening across false and even libelous information about yourself or your work. For those trapped in Wikipedia’s internet gulag, there is no escape — not even deletion. Wikipedia, Wales gloats, does not believe in the right to be forgotten.² 

While Wales has said he considers his role akin to that of a constitutional monarch — largely ceremonial but ultimately powerless³ — he has the ability to override the actions of any other user and has deployed these godlike powers to shape the narrative. Favoritism, rules enforced unevenly, pay-for-play editing, ideological hit squads, hundreds of factions conspiring to various degrees of secrecy to game the system — all this goes on with Wales’ blessing. A case can be made that the Wikimedia Foundation has violated its charter as a non-profit and stripped itself of the immunity conferred by section 230 of the Communications Decency Act by involving itself editorially in the content it hosts, by choosing which editors are allowed a platform, and by choosing when and where to enforce its rules.

J’ACCUSE

Jimmy Wales did not create Wikipedia, though he has edited his biographical article more than half a dozen times to give the impression that he did. Larry Sanger, whom Wales attempted to airbrush out of history, left Wikipedia in disgust soon after its launch: “Wikipedia never solved the problem of how to organize itself in a way that didn’t lead to mob rule. On the one hand, it isn’t a mob at all. It’s highly organized and structured and there’s a lot of rules…But on the other hand, the way that the community is organized isn’t codified or decided upon in any type of constitutional way. So there might be some people who selectively apply rules according to positions that other people take on their pet issues. And that’s inherently unfair.”⁴ The inmates have taken over the asylum, and they are running it with the blessing of Wales himself.

Wales may not have founded Wikipedia, but as its public face he has influenced the character of the site more than anyone else. It is his face users see during the fundraising campaigns that bring in far more cash than the site requires to operate — $89 million last year⁵ — fueling the growth of an unaccountable bureaucracy, top-secret projects hidden from the Wikipedia rank and file, and an increasingly detached sense of responsibility for the very real harms caused by its contents. Wikipedia has allowed itself to be weaponized to do the dirty work of the ruling class, and anything that deviates from the establishment line is fair game to be smeared, attacked, and destroyed.

Wikipedia’s elite operates in secrecy. In general, the more a user or group on Wikipedia protests that there is no “cabal” of powerful editors running the show, the more likely they are to be members of it. Wales himself joked about forming a “cabal” to enforce policy back in September 2001 when the site was just getting off the ground.⁶ His idea became the Arbitration Committee, which some have likened to Wikipedia’s “supreme court.” Skilled in navigating the dense thicket of rules that has grown up around Wikipedia, ArbCom and the hundreds of administrators who form the next layer of bureaucracy are able to control what remains on the encyclopedia and what (or who) is deleted. If these powers were wielded fairly, their influence would be welcome — but the rules are instead used as a cudgel to enforce ideological conformity.

Wikipedia isn’t just dismissive of expertise –it’s actively hostile to experts. While one of the site’s many policies discourages editors from removing something just because they dislike it (WP:IDONTLIKEIT), Wales and the ruling don’t-call-it-a-cabal have made an exception for themselves. From the beginning, Wales surrounded himself with a cadre of admirers willing to do his bidding — editing his biography when his own self-editing was exposed (and then editing it again to remove a paragraph about the self-editing),⁷ or attacking his enemies when they ask difficult questions on his talk page — and these internet hitmen became Wikipedia’s ruling class — shaping narratives made to order and serving them up as more real than reality.

ABUSE OF NONPROFIT STATUS

The IRS forbids 501(c)(3) organizations like the Wikimedia Foundation from participating in political campaigns “on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office,” a ban which extends to “contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.” IRS policy clearly states that “violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.” The policy further explains that “voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.”⁸

The Wikimedia Foundation has dipped its toe into political waters on several occasions. Management is aware of the perils of getting politically involved — one of the first major Wikipedia scandals broke in February 2006 when it was discovered that US Congressional staff were scrubbing the biographies of their politicians — removing broken campaign promises,⁹ scandals, and other undesirable details and adding “glowing” tributes and favorable information.¹⁰ At the same time, negative information was appended to the biographies of their opponents, and some ambitious staffers were replacing their candidates’ biographies wholesale with staff-authored versions. Wikipedia responded initially by banning Congressional IP addresses, lest the site appear to be complicit in the political self-promotion, which would have torpedoed their nonprofit status.

When Google search results returned “Nazism” as the ideology of the California Republican Party just a week before that state’s primaries earlier this year, Google blamed Wikipedia, explaining that the Google “knowledge box” that contained the offending term is often populated with Wikipedia text.¹¹ The “vandalism” had remained on the party’s Wikipedia page for six days before it was corrected, hidden in a “piped link” where the link text and “alt text” read differently; meanwhile, other edits were reverted within a few minutes, suggesting this one was allowed to persist, deliberately hidden so it would only appear in Google search results.¹² Whether or not it was deliberate, it is not the first time Wikipedia has appeared to promote the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party.

Such apparent political bias makes more sense in light of the fact that the Wikimedia Foundation contracted the Minassian Group, run by Clinton Foundation Chief Communications Officer Craig Minassian, to train Wikimedia’s own C-level employees, directors and managers in media strategy for the year 2014–2015.¹³ Minassian was further tasked with conducting a “communications audit” in 2016.¹⁴ Some editors among the Wikipedia rank and file were unhappy about having their territory politicized,¹⁵ particularly given how much of Wikimedia’s money was going to Minassian — $436,104 in 2015 and $406,957 in 2016.¹⁶ While the details of Minassian’s activities are not public, the group did issue a report detailing its audit findings, which primarily consisted of parsing media coverage by subject, country, publication, and author and ranking outlets in terms of prestige. Wikipedia was advised to focus on portraying itself as trustworthy and neutral in the media even while “seeking out and dispelling controversial issues.” The audit recommended concentrating on building a rapport with “friendly” journalists writing for what Wikipedia’s editors would call “reliable sources.”¹⁷ Minassian has a history of planting stories favorable to the Clinton Foundation in “friendly” media, as WikiLeaks revealed in its Podesta emails dump, which included a message from Craig Minassian himself boasting of favorable coverage he had secured for the foundation on the Colbert Report.¹⁸

Wikipedia editor SashiRolls linked the Minassian hire to the arrival of a crew of militant editors on the Clinton Foundation article who kept it scrupulously clean of any mention of the billions of dollars the Foundation took in for victims of the Haitian earthquake but never distributed to victims, opting to construct a lucrative industrial park in an undamaged area of the island instead.¹⁹ Clinton’s own Wikipedia article is similarly spotless, bearing only a sanitized summary of her “email controversy” and no mention at all of the revelations from WikiLeaks’ DNC and personal email document dumps. No mention is made of the invasion of Libya on false pretenses or the fallout from that invasion — indeed, reality is directly contradicted with a mystifying sentence reading “there was a trend of women around the world finding more opportunities and in some cases feeling safer, as the result of [Clinton’s] actions and visibility,” sourced to a book called The Hillary Doctrine. The article is “protected” — frozen so that only high-level administrators can make changes — and includes the option to listen to it as audio, indicating it will stay frozen in that state.²⁰

The efforts of a clique of ideologically-motivated editors to whitewash political entries are of particular interest given the deployment of such teams on other social media sites like Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, and Twitter during the 2016 election. Clinton strategist and fundraiser David Brock’s Correct the Record (CTR) superPAC spent at least $1 million during the election to “push back against” negative posts about Clinton as part of a program called “Barrier Breakers,”²¹ and it’s unlikely that such an operation would have overlooked Wikipedia, which other social media sites often use as a fact-checking tool. Brock has come under scrutiny before for bending campaign finance rules — superPACs aren’t supposed to participate in individual elections, and Media Matters for America, the organization for which he is best known, is a 501(c)(3) and therefore barred from conducting political activity on behalf of any candidate,²² much like Wikimedia. A former CTR contractor estimated the group’s expenditures at $5–6 million as of August 2016 in a post on 4chan in which he encouraged others to sign up for easy cash, explaining that CTR employees were given high-ranked and backdated accounts on Reddit and Twitter so as to more easily blend into the discussion.²³ Infiltrating Wikipedia is even easier — editors can change usernames and sometimes choose to leave their history with a previous username behind, especially if it was associated with disciplinary sanctions, as ideologically-motivated editors’ often are. Any Wikipedia editor who attempts to look into this sort of infiltration can find themselves indefinitely banned from the site, as SashiRolls found when he tried to blow the whistle on Sagecandor, an editor who racked up hundreds of edits on articles related to Clinton’s 2016 campaign around the time of the election — 904 edits to “fake news websites,” 631 edits to “Russian interference in the 2016 election.”²⁴ Sagecandor, implying that SashiRolls was part of a Kremlin disinformation campaign,²⁵ had him hauled before Wikipedia’s disciplinary committee, where he was accused of “wiki-hounding” and indefinitely banned from editing. Sagecandor and his allies continued to smear Sashi while he was prohibited from responding, until another administrator found incontrovertible proof Sagecandor was in fact a “sockpuppet” of a previously banned user — vindicating SashiRolls, but too late, as he remains banned.²⁶

“Charitable organizations” like Wikimedia are also barred from operating for the benefit of “private interests,” with no part of a group’s “net earnings” accruing “to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.”²⁷ Yet Wales used his Wikimedia credit card so much that he was relieved of it in 2006, after it was revealed that he was billing $1,300 steak dinners and other outsize expenses to the “charity.”²⁸ At one point he was on the hook for $30,000 in expenses billed to the Foundation for which he could not show receipts; he reportedly reached an agreement with the Foundation’s lawyer to pay less than a third of that. More recently, Wales took the results of Minassian’s audit, which the Wikimedia Foundation paid for, and used it as the business plan for WikiTribune, pitched as a scrupulously neutral news platform helmed by “friendly” journalists and supported by an army of volunteer editors and fact-checkers. The professional journalists would be funded by reader subscriptions, while the volunteers would operate much in the manner of Wikipedia itself. WikiTribune’s mission? To combat “fake news.”

In 2011, the XKCD web comic coined the term “citogenesis” to describe the process by which a piece of nonfactual information is written into Wikipedia, used in stories by “real” journalists with poor research hygiene, and then re-cited in the original Wikipedia article (using the “reliable” source that found the information on Wikipedia). It’s impossible to calculate how common a phenomenon this is, but in January 2015, as ArbCom churned through a complex disciplinary case involving dozens of editors on both sides of the GamerGate controversy, the Guardian (on whose Board Wales sat until 2017) reported the proceedings had ended in a ban on five feminist editors. The story fit the prevailing media narrative concerning GamerGate — that the internet was full of sexism and misogyny, that some form of online affirmative action was needed to increase female representation in gaming, coding, even Wikipedia — and numerous other outlets reposted the Guardian story without fact-checking it. At least one Wikipedia editor emailed the original author, to no avail. With all these reliable sources discussing the results of the GamerGate ArbCom case, a Wikipedia article on “ArbitrationGate” was published to reflect the media’s version of reality. Protests that its content was false fell on deaf ears: certainly there were no reliable sources claiming the case hadn’t been closed — Wikipedia is not a reliable source, even about itself.²⁹ Like a similar case in which author Philip Roth was told he was not a reliable source for information about his own books, the GamerGate affair laid bare the absurdity of Wikipedia’s policy on reliable sources. Yet Wales envisioned the Wikipedia model as the answer to “fake news,” and told any interviewer who would listen that WikiTribune would save the endangered Fact.

The Wikimedia Foundation already has a news subsidiary — WikiNews — that boasts few users but operates within the strictures of the nonprofit. For Wales to title his new venture WikiTribune suggests he deliberately sought to capitalize on the brand confusion engendered by the name. Last month, WikiTribune announced it was switching to an all-volunteer model, bringing the company even closer to direct competition with WikiNews in a way that is at least unethical if not illegal (Wales is both a trustee of the Wikimedia Foundation, of which WikiNews is a subsidiary, and CEO of WikiTribune). It is also worth asking what will happen to subscribers’ donations now that WikiTribune is switching to a volunteer-only model. Now that readers are not paying writers’ salaries, they cannot expect to have any say in what topics are covered, even though this was an initial selling point in WikiTribune’s subscription-based business model. Wales never planned to offer subscribers real input into the site’s editorial process anyway, according to a Reddit Ask Me Anything he held in 2017: “if 10,000 advocates of Pizzagate sign up to have us investigate Pizzagate, they might be disappointed with the results.”³⁰ And pay-for-play journalism would indeed have taken Wikipedia’s flaws to a terrifying new level. But Wales did convince the initial group of subscribers to join WikiTribune with the implied promise that a cadre of cryptocurrency enthusiasts could direct their subscription dollars to hiring a reporter to write in-depth stories on Bitcoin.³¹ Was he lying? Where does Bitcoin end and Pizzagate begin? According to a note posted on WikiTribune’s website, the firing of the journalists was only a temporary step — with an eye toward hiring more “community-minded” journalists in the future.³² Apparently, the volunteers didn’t like being bossed around by the experts, a problem which has been endemic to Wikipedia since the very beginning, and which eventually caused co-founder Larry Sanger to throw up his hands and leave. Wikipedia’s oligarchy depends on maintaining the illusion of democracy, but it took less than a year for the first admins to self-appoint, and the ruling power structure has only calcified since then.

QUID PRO QUO PAID EDITING

Wikipedia policy is made less for effect than for the sake of appearances, a problem which becomes clear when one examines the conflict of interest problem. Paid editing has been a thorny moral issue for Wikipedians since the site’s early days, which were marred by scandal after scandal breaking to Wales’ neverending chagrin. In 2009, he finally allowed a policy change to permit paid editing. The new rules didn’t permit an outright free-for-all, of course — that would look even worse than the scandal parade — but allowed editors employed by third parties to edit to their hearts’ content, provided they disclosed any possible conflicts of interest on their user page. The policy has enough loopholes that major PR firms like Bell Pottinger, which has repeatedly been caught with its hands in the Wikipedia cookie jar on behalf of clients like South Africa’s Oakbay Investments and Paramount Group, can portray their clients in a favorable light without their edits being reverted. In general, as with any propaganda outlet, the bigger the lie, the more effective it is.

The entire structure of Wikipedia depends on user anonymity, so this policy of disclosing conflicts of interest has always depended on an honor system. Even if an editor registered under their real name and was known to work for some group, it would be a simple matter for them to create another username and commence editing. Wales’ own perspective shifts on the matter have been so frequent it’s hard to tell where he stands on the matter, but given what he permits under his own roof — his wife, Katherine Garvey, works for Freud Communications, which has edited its own Wikipedia entry along with those of clients for years — it’s safe to say his conflict with paid editors isn’t philosophical. Indeed, he was personally accused of editing in exchange for “donations” to the Wikimedia Foundation in 2006, when software developer Jeff Merkey claimed the Wikipedia founder had offered to cleanse his biographical article for an annual $5,000 donation to the Foundation. Wales denied everything, but Merkey’s talk page showed he had in fact blanked the entry and warned other editors to “be extra careful here to be courteous and assume good faith,” adding a layer of editorial protection to prevent unregistered users from altering the text. Merkey claimed he’d only gone public after being banned by ArbCom in retaliation for stopping his yearly donation. Meanwhile, it’s worth a look at Wales’ exact denial: “I would never offer, nor accept any offer, whereby a donation would buy someone special editorial treatment in the encyclopedia.”³³ Maybe it’s not special at all — the Foundation’s donor list includes a rogue’s gallery of corporate heavies like Pfizer, Goldman Sachs, Boeing, Bank of America, and GE, in addition to preposterously wealthy individuals like George Soros, David Koch, and Mark Zuckerberg. None of these names have ever been dragged through the mud on the “people’s encyclopedia,” and there’s no reason to think they’re supporting Wales’ do-gooder impulses out of their own sense of social duty — time and time again, they’ve made it clear they have none. For Wales, the problem is not quid pro quo, but subtlety. Sites like Wiki-PR and MyWikiBiz, with their whiff of crass commercialism, spoil the illusion of the perfectly neutral encyclopedia even as they offer nothing individual editors don’t provide under the table on freelancing sites like Fiverr.

POLITICAL MANIPULATION

Companies and individuals are far from the only entities interested in rewriting history, and Wales’ own biographical revisionism is small potatoes next to the ambitions of some of Wikipedia’s editors, but even seemingly inconsequential changes can have butterfly-effect-like impact. Wales learned his foreign policy approach from Tony Blair, his wife’s former employer, and correspondingly sees no moral conflict in selling favorable coverage to the world’s most brutal regimes while mouthing platitudes about freedom through knowledge. Wales personally groomed the Wikipedia pages of an executive at the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, admitting on the article’s talk page that he had been “informally advising” the group on its internet strategy as he oversaw the removal of two scandals from the woman’s biography. When an editor took Wales’ “informal advisory” role and inserted it into the Foundation’s article, Wales removed it himself, conflict of interest be damned. He continued to massage the Blairs’ articles and they returned the favor with a photo op, cutting a cake for Wikipedia’s 10th anniversary.³⁴ By the time Wales married his third wife, Blair’s former diary secretary — a wedding both Blairs attended — Wales was banning Wikipedia users who mentioned his friendship with Blair from his talk page. What went wrong?³⁵

While Wales was buffing out the spots on Blair’s reputation, Blair was doing the same for some of the worst human rights violators of modern times. In April 2016, leaked emails revealed that Nursultan Nazarbayev, the dictator of Kazakhstan, had paid Blair $29.1 million to whitewash the crimes of the Central Asian dictatorship over the previous five years. As the tin-pot dictatorship dropped eight spots on the World Press Freedom Index and 18 places on the Corruption Perceptions Index, Blair helped Nazarbayev stonewall an international investigation into the massacre of 15 protesters during an oil strike in Zhanaozen and touted the country as “a remarkable success story.”³⁶ Wales followed Blair to Kazakhstan in 2011, awarding the first-ever “Wikipedian of the Year” prize to Rauan Kenzhekhanuly for his work in essentially facilitating the takeover of the Kazakh language Wikipedia by a group allied with (and funded by) the ruling family. Wales’ pleas that Kenzhekanuly’s WikiBilim organization was “not political” rang hollow, as a cursory examination revealed that Kenzhekanuly was both a former government official and a former employee of the state TV channel and that WikiBilim had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in financing from the Kazakh sovereign wealth fund. In May 2011, Wikimedia Foundation trustee Samuel Klein asked WikiBilim staff how best to automate the transfer of all 15 volumes of the government-backed Kazakh encyclopedia into Kazakh Wikipedia.³⁷ The discussion revealed several Kazakh government officials among WikiBilim’s “active community members,” and the Kazakh-language Wikipedia dutifully morphed into the state-sanctioned version of history. By the end of 2011, WikiBilim was described in Creative Commons documents as “a non-profit organization which also operates as the local representative of Wikimedia. Wikibilim in turn is supported by the Government of Kazakhstan and personally by the Prime-Minister Mr. Karim Masimov.”³⁸

With Kazakh Wikipedia safely in the hands of the local Ministry of Truth, Wales began criticizing the Kazakh regime on the website for his Jimmy Wales Foundation.³⁹ It’s unclear when the relationship soured between Wales and the regime. He was still claiming WikiBilim was apolitical in December 2012, when he closed a discussion on his talk page after he was confronted with incontrovertible evidence of WikiBilim’s links to the regime.⁴⁰ In 2014, Kenzhekanuly was named deputy governor of the Kyzylorda region of Kazakhstan, and in an April 2015 Reddit “Ask Me Anything,” Wales lamented his lack of foresight in naming him Wikipedian of the Year, saying he wouldn’t do it again. He even seemed to turn on his former mentor Blair: “Tony Blair absolutely should be slammed for taking money from Kazakhstan. I condemn it without reservation.”⁴¹

The very existence of the Jimmy Wales Foundation is evidence of Wales’ moral flexibility. In December 2014, he was awarded the newly-minted “Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Award,” half a million dollars from the United Arab Emirates. Given the UAE’s abysmal human rights record, Wikipedians urged him to refuse the award. Instead, Wales opted to have his cake and eat it too, taking the money (the Foundation’s Wikipedia page says he “was not allowed to give it back,” citing an article which says nothing of the sort⁴²) and using it to start a ‘human rights foundation’ which, despite its stated mission of fighting for freedom of expression in repressive regimes, has done nothing since hiring Israeli human rights lawyer Orit Kopel to repost articles condemning a selection of repressive regimes.⁴³ Not a single article denounces the abysmal state of press freedom in the UAE. Nor does the Foundation call out Israel, whose snipers deliberately shot journalists covering the Palestinian March of Return this summer. Palestinian journalists, activists, and ordinary social media users are increasingly prosecuted for “incitement” for merely “liking” Facebook posts that may be entirely devoid of political content. Since October 2015, over 280 social media users have been arrested for “online incitement to violence,” and many influential Palestinian journalists’ accounts have been unilaterally shut down.⁴⁴ Such repression would seem like a situation tailor-made for Wales’ Foundation — yet he and Kopel are silent. Wales received the $1 million Dan David prize from Israel in 2015, but his loyalty was purchased long before that. Perhaps he sees the closeness of the relationship between Wikipedia and the Israeli government as something to emulate — the chairman and spokesman of Wikimedia Israel, Itzik Edri, who for two years also sat on the global WMF’s funds dissemination committee, also manages PR for former Israeli president Shimon Peres (who was interviewed by WikiNews in 2004). Lest his propaganda efforts be in any doubt, Edri received the 2014 Roaring Lion Award from the Israeli Public Relations Association for his work on Wikipedia’s tenth anniversary campaign. He also worked directly with Tzipi Livni, then-chairperson of Israel’s Hatnua party (now Zionist Union) and current Knesset opposition leader.⁴⁵

Israel was on the cutting edge of Wikipolitics, having burrowed into the editorial ranks of the site long before tin-pot dictators like Nazarbayev and his Azerbaijani counterpart Aliyev (who sponsored a “WikiDays” initiative in 2014 to “protect interests of Azerbaijan in Wikipedia and prevent distortion of information about Azerbaijan”⁴⁶) thought of using it for state propaganda purposes. An April 2008 exposé revealed that the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) had been teaching agents how to rewrite history on Wikipedia for years, instructing them to avoid alerting other editors to their mission by sticking to neutral content for a few months before getting to work on Israel-related articles. They were taught how to game Wikipedia’s ever-growing system of rules to get unfriendly edits reverted and unfriendly editors banned, told to form alliances with non-affiliated Wikipedians, and encouraged to work towards admin status in order to help their fellow agents. All collaboration occurred offline in a private Google group called “Isra-pedia.”⁴⁷ When the scandal came to light, it was duly written up in CAMERA’s Wikipedia entry, only to be erased by a user working from the offices of the US Department of Justice. An admin blocked all DoJ IP addresses for several days while other users implicated in the CAMERA edits were topic-banned from editing articles relating to Arab-Israeli conflict, and one user was banned entirely,⁴⁸ but such obstacles are easily overcome on a site where anonymity is paramount. Any users patient enough to make hundreds of neutral edits to gain the community’s trust before embarking on a Zionist crusade to rewrite history are patient enough to repeat the process.

In 2010, two more groups began publicly offering classes in “Zionist editing” — My Israel and the Yesha Council.⁴⁹ Yesha Council was formed in the 1970s to promote Jewish settlements in the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip — settlements that flagrantly violate international law and which are notorious for taking land by force. None of this is in their Wikipedia article. Instead, we are treated to the words of Ayelet Shaked, now the Israeli minister of justice, who organized Yesha’s Wikipedia project: it was definitely “not a Zionist conspiracy to take over Wikipedia.” When the extent of these Zionist editing cells within Wikipedia was brought to his attention, Wales merely slapped token protection on the “Israel” article, claiming the three groups’ work had amounted to essentially nothing.⁵⁰ Like Shaked, he is forever reassuring WIkipedians there is no ruling cabal even as packs of roving administrators vote en bloc on political matters. Yesha has since expanded to Facebook and YouTube, claiming 12,000 members in 2010.⁵¹ Act.IL, a smartphone app co-developed by Israeli intelligence agencies, followed in its footsteps, launching in 2013 to gamify “hasbara,” the Hebrew term for propaganda. The app offers users a chance to score “points” by completing quick “missions” — edit a Wikipedia article, post a Tweet, “like” a post — creating the illusion of thousands of independent pro-Zionist actors all working toward a common public relations goal. This practice has been duplicated in recent years by non-Israeli groups and has resulted in many controversial accounts being “deplatformed” from social media after redefining non-mainstream political speech as “hate.” Twitter accounts like SleepingGiants specialize in a form of mass-reporting known as “brigading” which leads to their targets having their social media accounts suspended whether or not they are actually guilty of any terms of service violations.

The ultimate dystopian use of Wikipedia may come from Google, whose Jigsaw subsidiary developed a program called Conversation AI to root out “hate speech” and online harassment before it can proliferate on social media and in comments sections. One AI tool, called Detox, was fed 14 years of Wikipedia comments sections in order to “teach” it to recognize patterns of “abusive behavior.” Faced with a hopelessly heterogenous data set — 100,000 comments from Wikipedia talk pages, evaluated for personal attack content by 4,000 people — researchers claimed the algorithm was able to distinguish personal attacks from benign comments as well as a three-person team. They then ran 63 million comments through the algorithm and called the results science. The results (which any Wikipedian would happily have volunteered) indicated that over half of abusive comments came from registered users, putting the notion of “anonymous trolls” — so vital to Google and other social media platforms’ agenda of expunging anonymity from the web — to rest.⁵² While commenters do not retain copyright on their words once posted on Wikipedia, it’s not unreasonable to think that editors might not want their words fed to some unaccountable AI database operated by a tech conglomerate that has expressed marked hostility toward the concept of freedom of speech in the past and is actively working to censor users’ internet experience in the US and abroad. Editor retention is a very real problem for Wikipedia, where just one percent of users make 77% of the edits.⁵³ Wikipedia is a reflection of the society that spawned it, further distorted through the image of the man who made himself its public face.

SHUTTING DOWN SCHOLARLY INQUIRY/SECTION 230

Wikipedia’s stated mission of open access to knowledge is itself false, if the short-lived Wikiversity Ethics project was any indication. When a group of users attempted to create a project called “The Ethics of Breaching Experiments” in early 2010 — essentially an experiment meant to test Wikipedia’s defenses against vandalism and other rule violations — Wales used his site-wide moderating powers to delete the project entirely and ban the associated users. Wales, who had never before shown any interest in Wikiversity, was thrown off guard by the backlash to his actions — unlike Wikipedia, where he is only semi-ironically revered as the “god-king,” Wikiversity harbored several users banned from the encyclopedia for “ethical breaches” like those described in the project, none of whom appreciated his barging into their virtual classroom. When users protested his unilateral suppression of free inquiry — the ostensible mission of the Wikimedia Foundation itself — Wales threatened to shut down Wikiversity entirely. Hundreds of users in return voted to strip Wales of his founding privileges, condemning him for betraying the stated mission of the project. He finally backed down, unbanning the wrongthinkers and self-limiting his admin powers⁵⁴, but not before telling them that he had “the full support of the Wikimedia Foundation” and could shut them down whenever he liked. Technically, this isn’t even true — Wikiversity is owned by its contributors, not the Wikimedia Foundation, and while it is hosted on Foundation servers, it is only by the agreement of its members that it agrees to advance Wikimedia’s mission.⁵⁵ When the self-styled “benevolent dictator” of Wikipedia shuts down a semi-autonomous project for doing what it was supposed to do — Wikiversity was launched to encourage the kind of “original research” barred from Wikipedia pages — the site is broken beyond repair. Such behavior would appear to violate section 230 as well, since it represents deliberate curation of content on Wales’ part.

Wales himself has admitted Wikipedia is not merely a neutral platform of the sort protected by section 230. “People get frustrated when they thought it was all about voting. But we’re writing an encyclopedia here; it’s not an open democratic experiment.”⁵⁶ Like the US government, Wikipedia offers its users the illusion of participation in a democratic system, but when they stray beyond the accepted behavioral parameters, enforcers are waiting to restore order. Touting this system as the best of all possible world, he explains that formerly neutral platforms actually have a duty to “build better software to give communities better control, so that your best voices come to the front, and the people who aren’t there for constructive reasons are marginalized and asked to leave.” Such policies are in flagrant violation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects sites like Wikipedia from lawsuits stemming from the content available on their platforms, but Wales may feel that living in London he does not have to abide by US laws. Unfortunately, the Wikimedia Foundation is still based in Silicon Valley, and Wikipedia — like Facebook and Twitter and the rest of the social media sites that have come under fire for their increasing censorship of users — must choose whether exercising editorial oversight is worth jettisoning those legal protections. Given the number of people who have been casually libeled by Wikipedia and its editors, it might want to think twice about throwing section 230 to the wind.

LIBEL

As an open-source site with tens of thousands of contributors, Wikipedia should not have a ‘point of view,’ and indeed it officially does not. Articles are supposed to be written from a Neutral Point of View (NPOV) and there are further policies in place to protect living people from slander. Once strongly enforced, these are now ignored, as malicious actors have developed an alternate channel of rules to circumvent them. Entire sections of Wikipedia — alternative medicine, nutrition, progressive political movements and activism — have become reputational prisons, where indelible scarlet letters are branded on the persons associated with them. Alternative healing is shackled with the “pseudoscience” tag, allowing admins to punish anyone making unsanctioned changes to these pages with a block or a ban; politically-sensitive pages are also booby-trapped with administrative sanctions, chilling any attempts to correct false information. Classifying a person or topic as “FRINGE” invokes a set of policies largely exempting editors from the rules surrounding the NPOV rule, and ideologically-motivated editors have wasted no time in corralling their victims into this internet ghetto.

Wikipedia does not require editors to display some familiarity with a topic before editing. Even — especially! — when they don’t understand the terminology or even the concepts in an article, editors are encouraged to jump right in by groups like Susan Gerbic’s Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia. The so-called Scientific Skeptic movement has become extremely powerful on Wikipedia, to the point that they have been able to convince ordinary editors that personal attack sites like Stephen Barrett’s QuackWatch, written by individuals with no expertise beyond a massive axe to grind, are “reliable sources” for Biographies of Living Persons, which according to Wikipedia’s own rules require a higher standard of reliability to avoid libeling their subjects. Wales declared open season on alternative medicine in 2014, rejecting a petition that called for Wikipedia to treat such topics with the respect offered by the scientific community and dismissing entire fields of healing as “lunatic charlatans,”⁵⁷ but the Skeptics had infiltrated Wikipedia long before. Through years of “meatpuppeting” efforts — bringing in backup from outside Wikipedia to support one’s viewpoint in editorial or administrative disputes — the webmaster for QuackWatch’s email list, Paul Lee, was able to attain a quorum to have his mentor’s page declared a Reliable Source. He canvassed Skeptic email lists, message boards devoted to “debunking” chiropractic, and the now-defunct SkepticWiki in order to amass an army of Skeptic editors to shift the official Wikipedia point of view.

The extent of Lee’s interactions with Wales are not known, though Lee made numerous supportive posts on Wales’ talk page during this time. Somehow, Wales’ stated policy morphed from “editors who don’t stop to think that reverting someone who is trying to remove libel about themselves is a horribly stupid thing to do…. Real people are involved, and they can be hurt by your words. We are not tabloid journalism, we are an encyclopedia” (July 2006)⁵⁸ to “What we won’t do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of “true scientific discourse.” (March 2014)⁵⁹. Wales has never been tolerant of alternative healing modalities — he believes homeopathy should be illegal⁶⁰ — but Lee, Gerbic, and the other Skeptics’ efforts seem to have emboldened him to abandon his pretense of neutrality concerning the “lunatic charlatans” he clearly disdains. Were it merely a matter of personal preference, Wales would be entitled to his beliefs, but when they become policy, superseding the rights of individuals not to be libeled on public platforms, they are problematic.

In a Vanity Fair interview released just last week, Wales told a new version of the ever-evolving Wikipedia founding myth in which he was moved to launch the encyclopedia after his daughter was born with a rare lung defect. In this retelling, he brought her to an expert doctor — the top in his field — who wanted to try an unorthodox treatment. The treatment was successful, and Wales decided then and there to create an encyclopedia so that this doctor’s knowledge — a “miracle cure,” in his words — could be available for the benefit of everyone.⁶¹ This isn’t the first time Wales has told this story — he shared it with a credulous Forbes India reporter in 2009, wiping a tear from his eye as he describes his realization that right then and there, holding his now-healthy baby in his arms, that “no one other than this doctor would ever know about this whole thing” if the knowledge wasn’t preserved somehow,⁶² perhaps forgetting that doctors share their findings with others in their profession as a matter of course. Given Wales’ legendary antipathy toward alternative medicine, “untested cures,” and anything else that is not “conclusively proven,” it’s unlikely he would have submitted his daughter for such a procedure, and if she had actually been saved by some maverick physician, his disdain for alternative practitioners would be inexplicable. The use of the phrase “miracle cure” is a dog-whistle to the Skeptics — no reputable alternative medicine practitioner describes their work as a “miracle cure,” and Wales is aware of this.

Wikipedia’s ruling class have made it clear that they set themselves to be above the site’s rules just as they set themselves above the law. Not only is Wales allowed to revise his own biography, rewriting history to order, but those he disdains — progressive political activists, alternative healing practitioners, anyone outside of the neoliberal establishment that has welcomed him with open arms — are fair game for thousands of anonymous editors to smear as they see fit. History is rewritten to order to suit Wales’ and his allies’ version of history, and all those whose reputations are destroyed in the process are just collateral damage. Wales and his Skeptic allies think nothing of the millions of people who could have been helped by alternative medicine but were discouraged from seeking treatment because of something they saw on Wikipedia. There is no way to calculate the harm done in this manner, but it is surely massive, and should weigh heavily on the consciences of those editors who think they are doing a service by assassinating the character of alternative health practitioners.

Wikipedia’s insistence on anonymity facilitates its use as a platform for attacks both ideologically and personally motivated. There is no way to tell if an editor has knowledge of the subject they are editing or if they are motivated by malice, financial gain, or other factors conducive to producing dishonest coverage of a topic. Conflict of interest, as we have seen, is more the rule than the exception on Wikipedia, where the only rule regarding paid editing seems to be “don’t get caught.”

EXAMPLES

John Pilger is an Australian journalist and award-winning documentary filmmaker. His 1979 documentary Year Zero, filmed after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, inspired viewers to raise substantial donations for the UK’s first relief shipment to Cambodia, purchasing much-needed medicines, food, and clothes. Pilger worked as a war correspondent for the Daily Mirror in Vietnam, Biafra, Bangladesh, and Cambodia. He has also made several documentaries about indigenous Australians and exposed the 1998 legislation that deprived them of their common-law rights. His documentary on the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, Death of a Nation, scored record ratings and contributed to the massive international outcry that culminated in Indonesian withdrawal from the province in 2000. The audience response to his films has been cited as proof that humanity has not yet succumbed to “compassion fatigue.” Yet Wikipedia calls his work “full of falsehoods,” quoting conservative journalist Oliver Kamm, who is not an authority on journalism, international conflicts, or documentary filmmaking.⁶³ Unfortunately, Wikipedia’s libels are beginning to have a real-world effect: Pilger has stated that “my written work is no longer welcome” in mainstream publications, a chilling thought given his stellar track record. His last column was dropped in 2015 from the Guardian, whose Board includes such luminaries as Jimmy Wales.⁶⁴

Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist and author best known for the concept of morphic resonance, which posits that “self-organizing systems inherit a memory from previous similar systems.” Organisms and groups develop or change along teleological “paths” worn by their predecessors, and patterns are imposed on otherwise random or indeterminate activity according to the previous and contemporaneous iterations of that system. The theory radically reimagines everything from memory (memories no longer have to be stored inside the brain in a fixed location) to the notion of a collective unconscious (members of a species have access to the sum total of their knowledge). Sheldrake has written 13 books and 85 scientific papers. He has a PhD in biochemistry from Cambridge University. As a Fellow of the Royal Society, he discovered the chemiosmotic model of polar auxin transport in plants (auxin is a plant hormone that influences cell differentiation). His Wikipedia bio focuses almost exclusively on negative responses to his work without giving a proper explanation of that work. But then, Sheldrake is a vocal critic of what he calls the “dogmatic materialism” endemic to much of current science, which he likens to religion. His outspokenness on this front has made him the enemy of organized Skepticism, and the outcry they orchestrated following his TEDxWhitechapel talk in January 2013 both spilled into and fed off of his Wikipedia page.

Guy McPherson is an author and professor emeritus of conservation biology and natural resources at the University of Arizona, where he has taught for 20 years. He is the leading authority on abrupt climate change leading to near term human extinction, having coined the term “Near-Term Extinction” to designate the possibility of human extinction before the year 2030. McPherson became a tenured full professor before the age of 40 and is among the most accomplished faculty members at the University. His works include Walking Away from Empire, Going Dark, and Letters to a Young Academic. McPherson is also one of the most slandered scientists in the climate change field, and Wikipedia has not hesitated to jump on the bandwagon, taking a New York Times quote that describes him as an “apocalyptic ecologist” far enough out of context to imply he’s some sort of cult leader with an “End of Days following,” then shoehorning in a quote from science blogger (and unreliable source, according to the Wikipedia rule which bars blogs and personal websites from being used as sources for the biographical articles of living persons) Michael Tobis, who accuses him of climate denialism “of a different stripe,” whatever that means — even though McPherson’s whole thesis is that mainstream climate science is itself denying the reality of humanity’s impending extinction.⁶⁵

Sharyl Attkisson is an author and television journalist who currently hosts the public affairs program Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson on channels owned by the Sinclair Broadcasting Group. Her book Stonewalled was a New York Times e-book bestseller. Attkisson began her journalism career on a PBS affiliate in Gainseville, Florida, and worked at local stations in West Palm Beach, Columbus, and Tampa before moving to CNN. She moved to CBS in 1993 and spent 21 years there, working as an investigative correspondent on the channel’s Washington DC bureau. From 1996 to 2001, she also hosted a medical news program on PBS. Attkisson has won Emmy awards for her reporting on the American Red Cross (2002), the Troubled Asset Relief Program (2009), and the BATF’s “Fast and Furious” program (2012). Wikipedia drags in the ubiquitous vaccine defender Dr. Paul Offit to criticize Attkisson’s reporting as “damning by association”⁶⁶ because of a piece she aired on vaccines. Several other awards she received are also omitted, while the better part of a page is devoted to making her claims of being hacked for surveillance purposes seem less than credible.

Jeremy Corbyn is a UK politician currently serving as Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition. A Member of Parliament since 1983, he identifies as a Democratic Socialist. Corbyn opposes military intervention and austerity cuts to public services and supports renationalizing the UK’s public utilities, including its railway network. He has proposed the Bank of England issue funds for large-scale public spending such as housing, energy, and transportation projects, calling the policy “People’s Quantitative Easing” to contrast it with existing quantitative easing policies that attempt to stimulate the economy by buying commercial banks’ assets. He has been a strong campaigner for nuclear disarmament and active in the anti-war movement since his youth. Corbyn’s public support of the Palestinian cause has led to predictable allegations of anti-Semitism perpetuated by the Israeli lobby despite his widespread support among British Jews, and such allegations have metastasized to consume a third of his Wikipedia biography — certainly more space than his actual political views — and spawned several articles of their own.

Vandana Shiva is an Indian environmental activist, eco-feminist, and author who promotes seed freedom and water rights. She has brought global awareness to the destructive effects of GMO farming in her native India, where Monsanto seeds have largely supplanted natural crops and thus must be purchased year after year, leaving farmers so hopelessly in debt that many commit suicide. She exposed genetically modified “golden rice” as a fraud with negligible health benefits and fought against the patenting of living organisms. Shiva began her activist work in the aftermath of the Union Carbide leak in Bhopal. She was also an early voice warning the public about the carcinogenic effects of glyphosate. Beloit College, honoring her with its Weissberg Chair in International Studies, called her a “one-woman movement for peace, sustainability, and social justice.”⁶⁷ Wikipedia opts to focus on criticism of her work, giving half a page to a single article written in response to a New Yorker piece about her.

Craig Murray is a former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan turned whistleblower and human rights activist. While working for the UK Foreign Office in Samarkand, he informed his superiors that the Uzbek regime was torturing thousands of dissidents every year, employing such techniques as rape, asphyxiation, pulling out fingernails, and immersion in boiling liquids. Because the regime had just permitted the US military to move into a military base near the Afghan’s border to facilitate the hunt for Osama bin Laden — a privilege it was paying for with half a billion dollars in annual aid payments — it enjoyed a privileged status with regard to international human rights law; Murray was outraged at the “conspiracy of silence” perpetrated by his fellow diplomats, and spoke out against the regime’s abuses at an October 2002 human rights conference. He was subsequently drummed out of the Foreign Office with a series of fictional and trumped-up charges.⁶⁸ While much of the worst material in his Wikipedia article has been removed — the editor responsible was banned from editing topics related to contemporary British politics for six months after several of his victims brought his misdeeds to media attention — the article is also missing any reference to Murray’s achievements before becoming Uzbek ambassador, including his roles brokering a peace deal in Sierra Leone, supervising Ghana’s first democratic election, and negotiating the UN’s convention on the law of the sea. The main “Craig Murray” page was even set up to redirect to the biographical article of an ice hockey player before it was fixed.

Deepak Chopra is an author and speaker known for bringing Ayurvedic medicine to a mainstream audience. He is board certified in internal medicine and endocrinology and focuses on mind-body spiritual healing through multiple modalities, aiming to integrate Ayurveda with quantum mechanics to create “quantum healing,” linking shifts in consciousness to shifts in biology. Chopra runs a spa retreat featuring meditation, yoga, massage, and Ayurvedic meals. Because he was one of the first holistic practitioners attacked by Richard Dawkins on his “Enemies of Reason” television series, he has been hounded by the Skeptics who idolize Dawkins. They flock to Chopra’s Wikipedia page to pay homage, and as a result it is cluttered with derogatory phrases in quotation marks, linked to blogger and oncologist David Gorski, who appears to take great joy in verbosely mocking alternative medicine practitioners.

Susan Sarandon is an Academy Award-winning actress with dozens of film and TV credits to her name, including Thelma and Louise, The Lovely Bones, The Hunger, and Cloud Atlas. Reading her Wikipedia page, however, you would have no idea she was also an impassioned political activist. Sarandon most recently made appearances at multiple rallies for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. Entire paragraphs detailing her history of activism for third party candidates like Sanders, Jill Stein, and Ralph Nader, against the war in Iraq and other imperialist conflicts, for economic justice with Occupy Wall Street, and against mass incarceration have been removed, with no substantial explanation given for their deletion. Does Wikipedia think actresses should confine their work to the screen, or just shut up and look pretty?

These are just a few examples of the type of reputational attacks found on Wikipedia — some quite subtle, some lying by omission, some giving undue weight to minor incidents in a figure’s life or giving space to “opposition voices” when no such courtesy is afforded voices who disagree with establishment dogma. They are not limited to politicians, scientists, journalists, or activists. There are as many ways to smear a person on Wikipedia as there are victims of Wiki smears. Because Wikipedia is among the first results to appear in an online search, being smeared on the site can have very destructive real-life consequences. Wikipedia’s victims have no recourse to a higher authority — section 230 protects the site from lawsuits, and individual editors hide behind their usernames. The Wikimedia Foundation receives hundreds of requests every year from people requesting their biographical entries be taken down, and takes pride in rejecting every single one.

FINAL NOTE

Wikipedia is trusted by more people than the news media and the government, yet its articles are written by anonymous editors who could very easily be working on behalf of special interests to control the narrative. Manipulating reality through Wikipedia is easy. The blind trust users place in the site is wholly unwarranted, and the examples we have given are only a tiny fraction of the falsehoods and deliberate manipulation it contains. As George Orwell says, he who controls the past controls the future, and he who controls the present controls the past. Wikipedia controls the past, or at the very least the internet’s idea of the past, and as it becomes more influential, used as a “fact-checking” authority by sites like Google and Facebook, it increasingly controls the present. We must think long and hard about whether we want the kind of future a Wikipedia would give us. Wikipedia may seem too big to fail, having grown in size and power to the point that it can take on governments, but this is precisely why it must fail. We cannot allow the future of human knowledge to be controlled by a group of unaccountable anonymous editors with no understanding of the material, their motivations unknown, their backers unseen. This is the recipe for a totalitarian nightmare.

Time and again, the actions of Wikipedia’s ruling class reveal that their primary concern is how the site appears to observers. Wikipedia’s own reputation is dependent on how it is perceived by the millions of people who read its articles every day. If public opinion takes a nosedive, so does its traffic, and so do its donations. Now that it is Wikipedia’s turn for its reputation to hang in the balance, we will see how forgiving its victims are.

 

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