The Gatekeepers

 

When they silenced Alex Jones, I was certain that that wouldn’t be the end of the online censorship.

And, now the other shoe has dropped with Facebook’s and Twitter’s recent purging of alternative sites and accounts that challenge conventional wisdom. Popular pages like The AntiMedia (2.1 million fans), The Free Thought Project (3.1 million fans), Press for Truth (350K fans),  Police the Police (1.9 million fans), Cop Block (1.7 million fans), and Punk Rock Libertarians (125K fans) are just a few of the ones which were taken off the internet.

This censorship is significant because social media is a massive source of information and influence today.

From the actions of Twitter and Facebook, it’s apparent that this purge was coordinated. The entity that is making censorship decisions for Facebook is the Atlantic Council, a think tank funded by NATO, weapons manufacturers, Middle-Eastern oil-state monarchies, billionaires and different branches of the US military. In short, it has been described as being nothing less than NATO’s unofficial propaganda wing.

The Atlantic Council recently published a very interesting 21-page document discussing a US military conference detailing, in present tense, how Silicon Valley tech giants are being used to nullify the threat that the new media landscape poses to the US power establishment.

“The central theme of the report is “sovereignty,” or the state’s ability to impose its will upon the population. This “sovereignty faces greater challenges now than it ever has in the past, due to the confluence between growing political opposition to the state and the internet’s ability to quickly spread political dissent. Technology has democratized the ability for sub-state groups and individuals to broadcast a narrative with limited resources and virtually unlimited scope. In the past, the general public had limited sources of information, which were managed by professional gatekeepers.”

Since this is America, where we’re subsumed by neoliberalism, the solution involves privatization. Enter the social media companies. The best mechanism for suppressing oppositional viewpoints and promoting pro-government narratives is to farm-it-out to the technology corporations, including Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Twitter, which can determine the content that people view.

To make sense of this new burst of censorship it’s important to recall some recent history. In November 2016, the Washington Post published a puff-piece on a shadowy and up to then largely unknown organization called PropOrNot, which had compiled a list of organizations and alternative blogs it claimed were part of a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign. Indeed, Russia-gate, has been an essential part of this demonization of un-official news, where the empire gatekeepers are absent.

The clear implication of all this is that the censorship will not end with Google’s manipulation of its search platform or the removal of accounts by Facebook and Twitter. We must fear that their ultimate aim is the total banning of oppositional news web sites.

On Tuesday, Google admitted in an internal document that it and other technology companies had “gradually shifted away from unmediated free speech and towards censorship and moderation.” The document stated that an aim of the censorship was to “increase revenues” under conditions of growing government and commercial pressure. The document acknowledged that such actions constitute a break with the “American tradition that prioritizes free speech for democracy.”

Our dystopian social media environment is now coming into view. Commercial speech is totally cool. You can also share all the pictures of cute cats and children dressed in their scary Halloween costumes you want. But political speech will now have to be approved by the corporate gatekeepers.

We’re headed towards what George Orwell’s totalitarian 1984 would have looked like if Oceania had been privatized. In our brave new world, it’s corporations who will deploy the Thought Police to persecute independent thinking.

 

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Après moi, le déluge

 

Last week, I neglected to mention one of the key drivers of American nihilism–elite impunity.

As David Sirota recounts in a new article, since Enron, America has become an elite accountability free-zone.

“Our society has been fundamentally altered by a powerful political movement whose goal is not merely another court seat, tax cut or election victory. This movement’s objective is far more revolutionary: the creation of an accountability-free zone for an ennobled aristocracy, even as the rest of the population is treated to law-and-order rhetoric and painfully punitive policy.

In less than two decades, America has experienced the Iraq war, the financial crisis, intensifying economic stratification, an opioid plague, persistent gender and racial inequality and now seemingly unending climate change-intensified disasters. While the victims have been ravaged by these crime sprees, crises and calamities, the perpetrators have largely avoided arrest, inquisition, incarceration, resignation, public shaming and ruined careers. That’s because the United States has been turned into a safe space for a permanent ruling class. Inside the rarefied refuge, the key players who created this era’s catastrophes and who embody the most pernicious pathologies have not just eschewed punishment – many of them have actually maintained or even increased their social, financial and political status.”

I couldn’t agree more.

In the years since 9/11, Americans have watched as the neocon architects of America’s worst foreign policy disaster–the invasion of Iraq–completely escaped responsibility, while being rewarded for their failure. Same goes for their cheerleaders in the corporate media. They’ve all gone on to bigger and better things. War, it seems, is good for ones career.

Ditto for the bankers who caused the Wall Street Crash. They walked off with million dollar bonuses while the rest of us took it in the neck.

Who says that crime doesn’t pay?

In fact, it’s hard to keep up with the sheer volume of elite malfeasance without a scorecard.

Just off the top of my head there’s the CIA’s torture regime; the CIA’s torture memo that was destroyed; the banks rigging interest rates; the retroactive legal immunity for the telecom’s role in the government’s mass surveillance system; and, most galling, Purdue Pharma, where the pharmaceutical company made obscene profits overprescribing opioids, and is now turning around and profiting off the treatment.

Like I say, you can’t make this shit up.

Despite the elegant prose written in the Constitution, it was so 18th century. Today, the feral elite in this country have declared themselves above the law and beyond accountability on too many occasions for it to be an accident. Rather, it’s policy, where Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, laid it out explictly–executives may commit crimes with virtual impunity, and the mega-banks are simply too big to jail.

The dangers of a feral elite was articulated many years ago by Arnold Toynbee in his majestic A Study Of History. Empires in decline, Toynbee wrote, divide into two unequal parts–a dominant minority that controls the political and economic systems with its rewards, and a majority proletariat that bears the costs of this relationship. As this relationship lengthens, the minority forgets the basic law of politics–the people will only remain loyal to their leaders if their leaders remain loyal to them. When this relationship goes off the rails, the people respond by rejecting not only the elites leadership, but their values and ideals as well.

Donald Trump, anyone?

History demonstrates that in declining empires the feral elite very frequently don’t get the memo, even as some of them are dimly aware of the consequences of their actions.

“Après moi, le déluge”

Update: The consequences of  a feral elite. All-American edition:

“Kavanaugh’s career should have ended at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. His new role as Supreme Court justice is what happens when democratic societies don’t hold criminals in the government accountable for their actions. At a bare minimum, everyone involved with the Bush administration’s war in Iraq and post-9/11 torture and detainee programs should have been thoroughly discredited and rejected from polite society. That they weren’t may end up being one of the defining moments in the 21st century.”

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American Nihilism

 

Why are Americans so desperately unhappy? What’s up with the opioid addiction, the mass murders, the deaths of despair, and the deep cynicism, that I’ve come to call American nihilism?

Maybe this is all because we’ve embraced economic policies that condemned millions of Americans in the working classes to poverty and misery, while treating our natural world like an open sewer?

One of those ruinous economic policies pushed so enthusiastically by our elite was free trade. Free trade allowed US corporations to close America factories and relocate to foreign sites where desperate workers would do the same work as American workers for a fraction of the cost.

Free trade was touted endlessly as beneficial to all Americans. In reality, free trade, despite the misleading moniker has been wonderful for the elite and terrible for the rest of us. What’s more, these effects weren’t acts of God. The mass unemployment, stagnant job market, and soaring rents that have driven so many working class Americans into destitution and misery since Reagan’s time aren’t bugs, they’re features, meant to increase the wealth of those who benefit from lower labor costs and asset ownership.

And that brings us to another economic policy that’s led to the immiseration of Americans and the corresponding nihilism–austerity. A modern economy depends on consumer expenditures for prosperity. When most consumers don’t have enough money to meet the ordinary requirements of life, much less the occasional luxury, the economy contracts. That’s the unmentionable fallacy at the heart of the austerity policies so dear to neoliberal economists and our sociopathic elite. As Henry Ford demonstrated by paying his workers more, the prosperity of the whole economy depends on the prosperity of the working classes. Austerity policies that impoverish the working classes for the temporary enrichment of the privileged thus always end badly. Can you say Third Reich?

Then, there’s our vaunted American democracy where both political parties have come to be solely concerned with the interests of the privileged classes and opposed to the interests of working-class Americans, even as they pretend to be rivals. There’s no doubt in my mind that this kayfabe arrangement is an enormous contributor to American nihilism.

For an example, let’s examine how we elect a chief-executive. The entire rhetoric of presidential politics in my lifetime has focused on the claim that we have to vote for the Democratic candidate because if the Republican candidate wins he’ll get to nominate a horrible Supreme Court justice or get us into another war or destroy the environment, even though it’s beyond obvious that the Democratic candidate supports the very same policies and is bought and sold by the same corrupt interests. Any suggestion that a presidential candidate might be expected to do something positive is dismissed out of hand as “unrealistic.”

Voting for the lesser evil means that the best the American people are supposed to hope for is the continuation of the current state of affairs, and for most Americans today, the current state of affairs is unbearable. If you don’t happen to belong to the privileged classes, life in today’s USA is rapidly becoming intolerable and the “realistic” policies pursued enthusiastically by both political parties are directly responsible for making it intolerable.

Trump surprising victory demonstrates that the American people have had enough of voting for the lesser-evil.

Still, there’s another important reason for American nihilism, but it’s one of those topics that’s largely unmentionable. I think that most Americans, whether they will admit it or not, know in their heart of hearts that the American way of life–the happy motoring to the suburbs, constant shopping and endless growth–are sacrificing our future. Peak oil and global warming are only a couple of the looming disasters that represent the dark side of the American dream.

Going further, I believe that we can point to a specific historical point where American nihilism began. I have in mind 1979, when President Carter gave his famous malaise speech, where in response to the energy crisis, he called on Americans to unify around a sense of civic sacrifice. Carter, also, correctly identified the roots of the nihilism that plagues us today–the American way of life with its rampant consumerism and materialism.

Here’s just a little of what Carter had to say. “The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.”

Unfortunately, Americans were not ready for the sacrifice that was required, especially when Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan’s campaign theme of the 1980 election was “Morning in America”.

The economic and environmental decisions we made back in the 1970’s had a common denominator that a certain pro-wrestling Hall-of-Fame-president used to muscle his way into the White House. This Faustian bargain–throwing working class Americans and the environment under the bus–were supposed to make America great again, except these policies have abjectly failed. The policies we’re talking about–the lavish subsidies for corporations and the wealthy, punitive austerity for the poor, endless wars in the Middle-East, malign neglect of domestic infrastructure, and willful ignorance in the face of the obvious consequences of climate change–were supposed to bring prosperity to America and maintain our place as the preeminent hegemon.

These policies have failed and yet no one wants to talk about it.

Perhaps American nihilism is ultimately about our long-running deal with the devil, where it’s dawning on us that he got the better of the deal.

 

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Kayfabe

 

The resistance to President Trump leaves much to be desired.

While it’s true that substantial numbers of Americans oppose Trump, the #Resistance, led by establishment Democrats is anything but resistance. More like kayfabe.

The recent Defense spending bill is a case in point. The US Senate has just passed Trump’s mammoth military spending increase by a landslide 92-8 vote. The eight senators who voted “nay”? Seven Republicans, and Independent Bernie Sanders. Every single Democrat supported the biggest war budget since the height of the Iraq war.

Yay, Resistance!

What’s really funny is the way in which Trump is portrayed. If you watch MSNBC and Rachael Maddow, you probably believe that Trump is a Nazi/Kremlin agent who presents an unprecedented threat to America, while if your news source is Fox News you believe that Trump is protecting you against the nefarious deep state. Overall, there’s a maniacal focus on Trump, as though he is the cause, rather than the by-product and symptom of decades-old systemic American pathologies.

However, it’s become quite apparent that Trump is continuing the same policies as Obama and Bush. He’s simply the latest imperial president–albeit a crazy, texting one.

Not that the corporate media can explain this concept, they’ve managed to co-opt political language quite effectively. Goebbels would have approved. It’s the big lie.

Yet, it’s everywhere because it serves so many powerful interests in the US right now. Most significantly, it excuses and empowers the ancien-régime-on-the-Potomac, now starring in the #Resistance as heroic champions of democracy.

Indeed, what the #Resistance has accomplished is to turn our attention away from the real villains–the U.S. political establishment that is ensconced within both parties, along with the financial elites who own and control both of them for their own ends.

I find it quite fitting that Donald Trump is a member of the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame, while it would certainly be appropriate for the #Resistance to don spandex tights and a cape.

Update: Caitlin had this representation of our political process that says it all.

 

 

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Ten Years After

 

Ten years ago the US stock market tanked, and for the next several weeks financial markets were a cluster-fuck of panic and chaos. Americans were frightened of what was happening in the economy. The real estate market had collapsed. Venerable Wall Street firms Bear Sterns and Lehman-Brothers vanished.

Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and Federal Reserve Bank of New York President Timothy Geithner, rushed to Congress to plead for $700 billion to bail out the banks. They argued to lawmakers that without the bailout, the United States faced a catastrophic collapse of the financial system and a second Great Depression. Bernanke was hyperbolic. “If we don’t do this today we won’t have an economy on Monday.”

It was a big lie. The prospect of a modern repeat of the Great Depression was just a scare tactic used by Bernanke, Paulson and other proponents of the bailout to get the political support needed to save the Wall Street banks and their bondholders.

Meanwhile, millions of Americans suffered through the Great Recession, losing homes and jobs. 9 million homeowners were turfed-out. Saving the banks became the priority of the president and Congress. Saving people’s homes and jobs mattered much less or not at all.

Today, Ben Bernanke, Hank Paulson and Timothy Geithner insist they did what they had to under conditions of extreme pressure. Mistakes were made, the government’s former top financial overseers acknowledge in a recent piece for The New York Times, but they did ultimately “prevent the collapse of the financial system and avoid another Great Depression.”

Except here’s the thing. They didn’t really rescue the financial system. They transformed it into an unaccountable criminal syndicate. Too-Big-To-Jail. For example, in the years since the crash, the biggest Wall Street banks have been caught laundering drug money, violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and Cuba, bribing foreign government officials, making illegal campaign contributions to a state regulator and manipulating the market for U.S. government debt. Citibank, JPMorgan, Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays and UBS even pleaded guilty to felonies for manipulating currency markets.

When poor people engage in such activity, we call it looting. But for the bankers and their minions at the Fed and the Treasury, this was described as saving the economy.

Not a single banker has served a day in jail for any of it.

It could have been different. When Obama took office, he promised to hold bankers accountable and to spend up to $100 billion from the bank bailout to prevent foreclosures. He ultimately spent just $21 billion. But the dollar amount was only a fraction of the failure. The bailout gave the government unprecedented authority over the foreclosure process ― it could have required banks to adjust monthly payments or reduce debt burdens for homeowners in distress. Instead, as Geithner put it, the foreclosure relief plan was designed to “foam the runway” for banks coming in for a hard landing. This, crucially, allowed banks to slow down the pace of foreclosures, but did not actually help families keep their homes.

One theory posits that Mr. Obama’s decision to forego prosecution of Wall Street executives for crimes that led to the financial meltdown of 2008 and the Great Recession that followed was motivated by class-sympathy— they were his friends, acquaintances, campaign contributors and school-mates. Of course, Obama’s class-sympathy also came with a big payday. Since leaving office Mr. Obama has enriched himself giving speeches to those he failed to prosecute and that senior members of his cabinet returned to lucrative careers working for or otherwise representing the interests of Wall Street firms. This is participation in plunder, not sympathy.

Politics is about who wins vs who pays the costs. The bailout and the ten years since have provided a sobering view of this dynamic. Ultimately, the crash and bailout led to a breakdown and a lack of trust in institutions. It raised a lot of questions about who controls society ― banks or the elected government.

Looking back, what’s so infuriating is that there was a blueprint for a different course of action. In the wake of the Great Depression a wealthy president and enough of the members of his class realized that the only way to stop the rising spiral of depressions that threatened to end here, as in much of Europe, in fascist takeovers was to allow a much larger share of the national wealth to go the working classes.

Today there seems to be no such awareness among our elite. They talk about the brutal, merciless, sink or swim economy as if it were inevitable, beyond anyone’s control. But collapsing economic security is not inevitable. It is the direct and intended result of elitist policy, designed, built, and maintained by the people at the top: the CEOs and the Wall Street bankers, and of course their political puppets in congress, the executive branch and the courts.

Trump is the result of this elite malfeasance. Americans growing sense of economic insecurity is the primary force behind the populist surge, and it is the reason voters in 2016 rejected the mainstream elitist candidates in both the Republican and Democratic parties. The reality of mass economic insecurity must be confronted for the grave and long-standing crisis that it is. This is why we’re in a populist period, and why populism won’t be going away anytime soon.

 

 

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Profiles in Courage

 

In a courageous speech delivered on the House floor just two days after the nation memorialized 9/11, Democratic Hawaiian Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard on Thursday slammed Washington’s longtime support to anti-Assad jihadists in Syria, while also sounding the alarm over the current build-up of tensions between the US and Russia over the Syria crisis.

Two days ago, President Trump and Vice President Pence delivered solemn speeches about the attacks on 9/11, talking about how much they care about the victims of al-Qaeda’s attack on our country. But, they are now standing up to protect the 20,000 to 40,000 al-Qaeda and other jihadist forces in Syria, and threatening Russia, Syria, and Iran, with military force if they dare attack these terrorists.

This is a betrayal of the American people, especially the victims of al-Qaeda’s attack on 9/11 and their families, first responders, and my brothers and sisters in uniform who have been killed or wounded in action and their families. For the President, who is Commander in Chief, to act as the protective big brother of al-Qaeda and other jihadists must be condemned by every Member of Congress.”

At a time when the “Resistance” to Trump is fanning the flames of Russia-gate and pushing for more bellicose foreign policies, it’s refreshing to see such unprecedented truth telling from a member of congress.

Any bets on when the DNC will primary Gabbard?

 

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Quagmires

 

I still wonder if Trump would have carried out his promise of better relations with Russia and less interventionist foreign policies absent Russia-gate?

I ask this question because a confluence of events in Syria is increasing the danger of war with nuclear-armed Russia. From Trump’s cluelessness, to the neocons whispering in his ear, to the corporate media braying for war, to the political pressures of the upcoming mid-term elections, the conditions have never been more dangerous.

In a new memo addressed to President Trump, the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, warn that the risk of a direct military confrontation between the US and Russia in Syria is at “an all-time high” as the Syrian government moves to recapture the province of Idlib from the Al-Qaeda affiliates who have taken it hostage.

In my opinion, Russia-gate has been used to carry out a so-called soft-coup against the chief executive. In fact, there has to be some question about who is actually determining the policies that come out of the White House, which is reported to be in more than usual disarray due to the New York Times, anonymous op-ed, describing a “resistance” movement within the West Wing that has been deliberately undermining and sometimes ignoring the president to further Establishment/Deep State policies. One section of the op-ed in particular reeks of neocon ideology, describing how the White House staff has succeeded in “calling out countries like Russia…for meddling and having them punished accordingly”, in spite of the president’s desire for détente.

Going further, the United States’ industrial-military-intel-security complex profits from a compounded annual budget of roughly US$1 trillion. The only justification for such enormous expenditures is to manufacture a lethal external threat: Russia. That’s the crucial reason the complex will not allow US President Donald Trump even to try to normalize relations with Russia.

You can observe this dynamic at work in Syria. The Russian intervention in Syria in 2015, in effect halting the neocons attempted regime change operation, laid the foundation for the current anti-Russian hysteria in the US.

The pressure is having its desired effect. Trump, after promising to pull out of Syria and identifying the nature of the Syrian rebels, has now been pushed by the neocons to threaten Syrian President Bashar Assad. Despite his having expressed his desire to get U.S. troops out of Syria only months ago, a report published Friday in The Washington Post claims that President Donald Trump is allegedly “on board” with a new “indefinite military and diplomatic effort in Syria.” That effort claims to seek the “establishment of a stable, non-threatening government “acceptable to all Syrians and the international community,”

Unfortunately, Russia and Syria, in cooperation with Iran and Turkey, have begun the assult on Iblid province, the last stronghold of Washington’s proxy army consisting of Al Qaeda, Al Nursra, and ISIS mercenaries hired by Washington.

Which brings up the awkward and largely unmentionable reality that in Syria, our allies are Al Qaeda. While it may seem hard to believe that the US government is helping the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11, there’s a method to the madness. The neocons who run Trump’s foreign policy have determined that an alliance with terrorist groups is necessary to fight their greater enemy Iran, who is allied with Syria. The nature of the militants occupying Idlib is well known to Washington, London, Brussels, and the Persian Gulf nations sponsoring them. In fact, it was admitted by Brett McGurk, the U.S. government’s Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL (Daesh, ISIS), who called Syria’s Idlib province “the largest Al Qaeda safe haven since 9/11″, tied directly to Ayman al-Zawahiri [current leader of Al Qaeda].

I believe that the confluence of forces I mentioned earlier is driving Trump towards war. The corporate media has been unrelentingly hostile towards Trump with one exception–when he has decided to launch cruise missiles at Syria. As the pressures mount, I fear that he might be tempted to launch another attack. Crucially, another U.S. attack on Syria would help U.S. President Trump on domestic issues, most importantly in the upcoming elections for Congress.

What’s so infuriating is that after campaigning on a promise to “Make America Great Again”, Trump is being herded into the same endless wars as his predecessors–BushBama.  The Trump administration’s Syria policy is just one of many parts of its foreign policy that make a mockery of the idea that Trump puts American interests first.

The most remarkable thing about the present moment is that the crisis of U.S. foreign policy—a series of radical missteps—are systemic, and have been a long time coming.

These radical missteps continue uninterrupted. In a revealing interview an administration official told The Washington Post’s David Ignatius, “Right now, our job is to create quagmires until we get what we want.”

Great. If we somehow manage to avoid nuclear war, we’ll always have quagmires to look forward to.

 

 

 

 

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