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Archive for January 2019
Flash-Balls, Pitchforks, And A Backstop

Flash-Balls, Pitchforks, And A Backstop

Authored by Raul Ilargi Meijer via The Automatic Earth blog,

It’s educational and even somewhat entertaining to observe the role of the western press in the ongoing erosion and demise of democracy in Europe. But while it’s entertaining, it also means their readers and viewers don’t get informed on what is actually happening. The media paints a picture that pleases the political world. And it it doesn’t please politicians to lift a veil here and there, too bad for the public.

The Shakespearian comedy that was performed this week in the UK House of Commons is a lovely case in point. Basically, MPs voted whether or not to allow PM Theresa May to change the Brexit deal she had told them about a hundred times couldn’t possibly be changed. Brexit has turned full-blown Groucho by now: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”

It was exactly two weeks ago last night that lawmakers voted by a historic 432 to 202 count to reject May’s Brexit deal. And now they voted to a) let her change it and b) go talk to the EU about changing it though Brussels has said as often as May herself that it cannot be changed. Remember: the UK is set to leave the EU 59 days from now, and counting.

It’s like in a game of chess that has long turned into a stalemate or threefold repetitionsituation: you stop playing. No such luck in British politics. The only way the parliament could find ‘unity’ (in a narrow vote) was to agree to ditch the Irish backstop that is an integral part of why the EU accepted May’s deal to begin with.

There are/are even serious voices saying Ireland should leave the EU along with the UK, to make it easier for the latter to do what the former absolutely doesn’t want. That’s also part of the kind of mindset in which this plays out. Brexit has turned into a complete delusion, in which bickering and blame-games have been more important than practical solutions, for all sides.

A hard Brexit is used as some ultimate deterrent, and 59 days before the big moment it may actually turn into the disaster some Project Fear or another has been talking about for over 2.5 years. If that time has been used the way it should have, adapting deals, agreements, contracts, laws, all might have been fine(r).

What the role of May’s opposition in all this consists of is ever more confusing. It certainly never was to profile itself or come up with original ideas. In the process, Jeremy Corbyn appears to have hurt his reputation as much, if not more, than May. Quite the achievement. And now May says Corbyn “has no plan for Brexit”, but she does: only, it was voted down in the largest defeat in modern parliamentary history.

And then all of a sudden, as everyone is busy doing something else, Britain finds itself in a huge crisis of democracy.

Over Two Thirds Of UK Public Don’t Feel Represented By Political Parties

More than two thirds of the British public feel they are not represented by the main political parties, according to a new report on the divisions caused by Brexit. Research by campaign group Hope Not Hate found that the disconnect had increased from 60% to 67% over the last six months as Theresa May negotiated the EU withdrawal agreement.

The poll of nearly 33,000 people and results from focus groups also revealed that many felt they were being left in the dark or were “overwhelmingly bored” by the process. It has also seen an increase in the proportion of the public feeling pessimistic about the future – with very few believing that Brexit will address the frustrations and inequalities that lay behind the vote to leave the EU in 2016.

More people also believe that Brexit is feeding prejudice and division and taking the UK “backwards”, up from 57% in July 2018 to 62% last month. Just 20% of people said they could trust the government to deliver a “good Brexit”. Almost as many Leavers (66%) as Remainers (75%) said they do not trust the government to deliver a Brexit that works for them.

None of the options being considered by parliament have consensus support across the UK, according to the report, and 42% of people think that it would be sensible to delay leaving the EU by a few months so we can agree a better deal with the EU or hold a Final Say vote.

Perhaps that is the topic that should have been discussed yesterday in the House of Commons. But the MPS far preferred to regurgitate long discredited useless stalemate ‘moves’. That’s how much they all care for their own voters. They go from one election to the next, and why would they care about the time in between, what could possibly happen to them?

Well, for one thing, pitchforks could happen. Which methinks is a clean poetic link to another European country that finds itself in deep crisis and distress but refuses to recognize it. France.

The interwebs are full of video’s and photos of police brutality perpetrated during the by now 11 Saturdays the Yellow Vests have protested president Macron and their people’s overall situations. It didn’t start out with all that violence, and sure, part of it may have been in response to protests, but what’s gone on in the last few Saturdays is something else.

And the media once again are silent, or mostly. Macron gets more coverage for telling Venezuela’s Maduro to resign than for his own regime’s cruelty towards its own people. But the French people do watch those videos, social media trump traditional ones in these cases, so there’s something good about them after all.

And the Yellow Vests, though the people don’t like the violence, still very much have their sympathy. Seeing Macron’s police beating them up the way they have will only increase the resolve. People losing their eyes, their hands, hundreds if not thousands with less severe but still serious injuries, it’s all being added to Macron’s tally.

French Police Weapons Under Scrutiny After Gilets Jaunes Injuries

The French government is under growing pressure to review police use of explosive weapons against civilians after serious injuries were reported during gilets jaunes street demonstrations, including people alleged to have lost eyes and to have had their hands and feet mutilated.

France’s legal advisory body, the council of state, will on Wednesday examine an urgent request by the French Human Rights League and the CGT trade union to ban police from using a form of rubber-bullet launcher in which ball-shaped projectiles are shot out of specialised handheld launchers. France’s rights ombudsman has long warned they are dangerous and carry “disproportionate risk”.

Lawyers have also petitioned the government to ban so-called “sting-ball” grenades, which contain 25g of TNT high-explosive. France is the only European country where crowd-control police use such powerful grenades, which deliver an explosion of small rubber balls that creates a stinging effect as well as launching an additional load of teargas.

The grenades create a deafening effect that has been likened to the sound of an aircraft taking off. France’s centrist president, Emmanuel Macron, is facing renewed calls to ban such weapons after Jérôme Rodrigues, a high-profile member of the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) demonstrators was hit in the eye on Saturday in Paris. He is said by his lawyer to have been disabled for life.

Rights groups say Rodrigues’s case is the tip of the iceberg. Lawyers estimate that as many as 17 people have lost an eye because of the police’s use of such weapons since the start of the street demonstrations, while at least three have lost their hands and others have been left with their face or limbs mutilated. Injuries have happened at demonstrations in Paris and other cities, including Bordeaux and Nantes.

The whole thing is utterly insane, but the craziest thing may well be the European Court of Human Rights rejecting a temporary ban on flash-balls last month. Go ahead, Emmanuel, we won’t tell a soul! Flash-balls being an improved -and ‘home-grown’- form of rubber bullets, which in turn have been ‘improved’ upon.

French ‘Flash-Ball’ Row Over Riot-Gun Injuries

Appalling injuries caused by French police riot guns during the yellow-vest protests have triggered anger and calls for the weapon to be banned. The LBD launchers known by protesters as “flash-balls” have left 40 people severely wounded, reports say. France’s human rights chief has called for the weapon’s use to be halted, but the government insists it is deployed only under very strict conditions.

Since the “gilets-jaunes” protests began in November, 3,000 people have been injured or even maimed and thousands more arrested. The LBD40 is described as a non-lethal weapon which in fact replaced the old “flash-ball” in France. But the old name is still widely used. It shoots 40mm (1.6in) rubber or foam pellets at a speed of up to 100m per second and is not meant to break the skin. However, some of the accounts of people hit by flash-balls have been shocking.

Volunteer firefighter Olivier Béziade, 47, was shot in the temple by a riot gun during a protest on 12 January in Bordeaux. Video at the time caught him running from police and then collapsing in the street, his face covered in blood. He was taken to hospital, treated for a brain haemorrhage and left in an artificial coma, from which he emerged on Friday. He was one of five seriously wounded on that day alone.

Many of those wounded have been young. One teenager called Lilian Lepage was hit in the face in Strasbourg on Saturday and suffered a broken jaw. His mother said he had been shopping in the city centre when a policeman fired at him. Two schoolboys were badly wounded by flash-ball pellets in separate protests last month. Campaigners say a dozen people have lost an eye ..

A lawyer for some of the victims, Étienne Noël, said many had been maimed. He said police did not have sufficient training in use of the riot guns and many victims had been hit in the head. Earlier this week police made clear the riot gun would be used only where security forces faced violence or if they had no other means of defence. Only the torso and upper or lower limbs could be targeted.

Interior Minister Laurent Nuñez told the French Senate on Thursday that the use of force by police was always proportionate and under very strict and controlled conditions. “If the police hadn’t used these means of defence perhaps some of them would have been lynched,” he said. The European Court of Human Rights rejected a temporary ban on flash-balls last month, in a case brought by several people who said they had been hit by flash-balls.

There is also a grenade version of the flash-ball, named the sting-ball. Throw it into a crowd and everyone around gets hit by rubber balls at high speed.

But of course it’s not the weapons that cause the injuries and deaths, it’s the people deploying them. And the people deploying these people. The instructions to use excessive violence because the government feels threatened by its own citizens. And after that the pitchforks and guillotines, real or not. Yanis Varoufakis was right a few weeks ago, Macron is a spent force.

Only a blind fool would use these things against his own people. Or a dictator with absolute power, but Macron doesn’t have that.. By the way, when is Brussels going to condemn Macron for his use of violence?

And this is all before the European elections, and Merkel’s goodbye that will throw Germany into chaos, and and and. Europe, we never knew ya.

What Would You Do If Putin Cut Your Heat Amid Extreme Temperatures?

What Would You Do If Putin Cut Your Heat Amid Extreme Temperatures?

Extreme weather, merciless cold in the Midwest United States, snow squalls bringing near-whiteout conditions to the Northeast, nine dead, schools and postal service in many states canceled, and airports closed  an "act of God" as they say, yet MSNBC's Rachel Maddow still found a way to make it all about Putin

She breathlessly reported Wednesday evening that life-threatening cold weather in the US could be weaponized by Russia. Maddow invoked a recent intelligence assessment which speculated over Russia and China's abilities to launch cyber-attacks on critical US infrastructure, including natural gas pipelines. Running with this "what if" scenario, she launched into her now well-known conspiracy theorizing and fear-mongering, saying "It is life-threatening! And it is like negative 50 degrees in the Dakotas right now."

Maddow told her MSNBC audience:

We're relying on their [Russia and China's] good graces that they're not [attacking us]. It is life-threatening. And it is like negative 50 degrees in the Dakotas right now. What would happen if Russia killed the power in Fargo?

Posing more questions that perhaps rival Condoleezza Rice's infamous "mushroom cloud" statement when it was Iraq and not Russia as the media's latest boogeyman, she continued:

What would happen if all the natural gas lines that service Sioux Falls just poofed on the coldest day in recent memory and it wasn't in our power whether to turn them back on? What would you do if you lost heat indefinitely as the act of a foreign power?

...On the same day the temperature in your backyard matched the temperature in Antarctica... What would you and your family do? 

This was enough for journalist Glenn Greenwald to request that the network scrub the absurdly embarrassing segment from the internet altogether. "I'm not even joking. I have so much work to do and I can't stop watching this," he said. "MSNBC often removes its most embarrassing debacles from the internet. Someone please do that here so I can get to work."

He followed by posing a serious question for liberal media in 2019: "For anyone who prides themselves on being a rational, fact-based person who shuns fear-mongering and unhinged conspiracies, please answer honestly - I'm genuinely interested in your answer: do you feel any embarrassment at all while you watch this???"

Flashing extreme temperatures on the screen while Vladimir Putin is the commentary...

Sadly we expect the answer to by and large be "no" — but at least this will bring more future hours of news coverage unhinged-conspiracy-fearmongering-as-entertainment TV watching.

However, as independent journalist Aaron Maté points out, this is also serious business given the way Maddow is manipulating a truly dangerous extreme weather situation. 

"I generally argue that Russiagate conspiracy and fear-mongering distracts us from serious issues," Maté said. He concluded, "This is a good example of Russiagate peddlers like Maddow not ignoring, but using serious issues like life-threatening cold weather for conspiracy and fear-mongering."

Martial Law Is Unacceptable Under Any President

Martial Law Is Unacceptable Under Any President

Authored by Brandon Smith via Alt-Market.com,

In the midst of the three ring circus known as the false Left/Right paradigm it is sometimes easy to forget that there is a motive behind the chaos; that there is an intended end-game. Part of that end-game, I believe, is the eventual erasure of individual liberties and the implementation of martial law in the US.   However, the establishment quest for government lockdown requires something very special in order to succeed – They need a considerable percentage of the population to support and defend it.

Governments rarely attempt outright martial law. The reason should be obvious; no military, no matter how advanced, has the capacity to suppress a unified citizenry. If the public is armed, the task becomes even more impossible. The laws of attrition alone would make the conflict bloody and costly.

Martial law is a mechanism that cannot be exploited in a vacuum. The-powers-that-be understand that it can only be used when a large percentage of the public is conned into supporting it. This is usually accomplished through the triggering of engineered crisis events, but there is also another method for getting the masses to back martial law, and that is to push both sides of the political spectrum to extreme zealotry until one side decides to use government as a weapon against the other.

Whether by disaster or political division, the public can be influenced to rationalize government dominance of every aspect of life.

The agenda to engineer crisis is evident. In past articles such as 'The Federal Reserve Is A Suicide Bomber With A Deeper Agenda', I have outlined the facts behind economic decline and how it is often utilized by central banks and their international banking partners to accumulate and centralize wealth while also manipulating society into accepting reduced living standards for generations to come. There is another more important motive, though. The banking elites also use the controlled demolition of the economy as a tool to create fear.

The Hegelian Dialectic of problem-reaction-solution is a powerful potion that mesmerizes the unaware population. Those who are dependent are easily frightened because they have no control over their own futures. They become reactive rather than proactive; they seek to be led rather than to lead. They will readily accept promises and solutions from anyone in apparent authority rather than maintaining their objectivity and reason. They become slaves to the social and political tides, always waiting for someone else to fix the problems around them.

This conundrum also transfers over to political conflict. In my article 'Order Out Of Chaos: The Defeat Of The Left Comes With A Cost', published just after the 2016 election, I explored the dangerous possibility that Trump supporters were being fooled into participating in the false Left/Right paradigm while believing that they had transcended it.

When we refer to the “false Left/Right paradigm” in the alternative media, we are referring to the fact that the political gatekeepers within government actually tend to share the same beliefs and agenda regardless of the “party” or ideology they claim to support. That is to say, Republican and Democratic leaders play their respective roles and their battles are scripted, not legitimate. The Trump campaign was a rather different animal, in that Trump was a candidate without a longstanding political record. He was a relative unknown compared to Clinton, and this made him enticing to conservatives and liberty activists that had all but abandoned participation in US elections.

It takes time to identify a political fake or controlled opposition. With Trump, we had no point of reference. Two years have changed this...

Trump's campaign was built upon two very important positions:

First, Trump promised small government conservatives that he was going to “drain the swamp” in Washington of the kind of globalists and banking elites that Clinton was notorious for associating with. Trump's background already had at least one red flag in this regard – his empire was bailed out by the Rothschild banking family in the 1990's during his debt crisis and Taj Mahal casino failures. This alone was not enough to discount him, though. Many businessmen have at least some interactions with banking elites by necessity and the way the system is designed. Unfortunately Trump's relationship with the bankers did not stop there.

Trump's cabinet picks were a perfect opportunity for him to establish his independence from globalists, bankers and their think tank partners. This did not happen. Trump brought in Wilber Ross as Commerce Secretary, the same Rothschild agent who arranged his bailout in the 1990's. He brought in people like Steve Mnuchin, formerly of Goldman Sachs, Larry Kudlow, formerly of the NY Fed, and John Bolton from the Council On Foreign Relations. Trump was adding to the swamp, not draining it.

Second, Trump also argued for economic transparency during his campaign, which for many of us was a breath of fresh air. Trump pointed out the fallacy of the stock market and the fact that the Fed had been supporting a fabricated rally for years using artificially low interest rates and stimulus. Trump argued against false economic stats like mainstream unemployment numbers, which ignore the 95 million jobless people in the US that are no longer counted by the BLS.

Yet, as soon as Trump entered office, all of this changed. Trump immediately started taking credit for the bull market rally in stocks as if it was his own rather than a product of Fed manipulation. He took credit for fraudulent jobs numbers too, despite the tens of millions of people still listed as “non-participatory”. Trump has tied his administration to the performance of a fake economy sitting atop a massive deflating bubble.

I would also note that during Trump's campaign and in the two years since Trump has barely mentioned the word “Constitution”. This is rather odd to me. A liberty advocate should be defending constitutional protections regularly, driving home the need for the Bill of Rights to be secured and honored. Our very society depends upon the survival of such principles, after all.

It has become clear that Trump is not the “savior” that the liberty movement was hoping for, but many people will continue to applaud him all the same because of a specific factor: The increasingly deranged political left.

Consider the endless absurdity of Russiagate; a conspiracy theory with absolutely no evidence to back it. It never seems to die despite all logic and reason, but the motives behind this are not what conservatives usually assume. Russiagate is a drug, a drug for leftists. They love it, they need it, it dulls the pain of their loss in 2016 and it confirms their biases. They didn't “fail” in 2016, and they aren't the biggest losers of all time; the election was “stolen” from them by Trump and his Russian handlers. Therefore, they are now justified in any level of insanity they display in their activism and opposition. They believe they are righteous.

At the same time, conservatives are ever more bewildered by the cultism and zealotry of the left. Each new incident pokes at their ribs with a pointy knife. Trump is being “railroaded”, they think to themselves. The left must be planning a coup. They won't let him build the border wall. They try to delay or obstruct his State Of The Union Address. They spew nonsensical drivel and froth at the mouth and scream and wail and act like overgrown toddlers. They are dangerous. Drastic measures might need to be taken...

And so we are confronted with a perilous choice; do we as conservatives becomes zealots ourselves in order to defeat the zealotry of leftists?

But this is a false choice. The left hand of the paradigm has reached full bore lunacy, but this is designed to push conservatives into our own brand of blindness. The goal? To get conservatives to champion actions that are completely contrary to our principles. The goal, I believe, is to condition us into cheering for greater government power and centralization in the name of stopping the leftist menace.

Three weeks from now the government shutdown fight is set to return. The mainstream media has been avidly reporting that the uncertainty is over, but this is a preposterous conclusion. What the nation faces now is even greater confusion as the shutdown fight prepares to return in February or a national emergency is declared, or both. My concern is that this is leading to conservative support for extreme measures.

Consider the current geopolitical environment in the western hemisphere today.  South America is on the verge of potential implosion, in no small part due to the failures of socialism, but also due to Trump's globalist infested administration seeking destabilization of an already fragile region.  Increasing US sanctions on Venezuela, Trumps support for Madruro's political opponent (John Guaido), and John Bolton's notepad snafu would suggest there are military plans being made to take advantage of the chaos.

I have warned in the past that the ongoing breakdown in South America is suspiciously similar to the martial law scenario described in the US government's secretive Rex 84 plan which was exposed during the Iran/Contra hearings.  To summarize, it suggests that a South American crisis would lead to mass migrations to the southern US border, and that this would be used as a rational for martial law measures in America.  I have to say, this sounds a lot like what is happening now.

If you think the border wall debate is a hot button issue this year, just wait until a collapse in Venezuela or an economic disaster in Brazil or Argentina results in millions of people seeking refuge illegally in the US.  Trump's wall will be all that any conservatives talk about, while leftists will be blaming his administration for the very calamity that brought about the migrant hordes in the first place.  Both sides would be fully disillusioned with each other if they are not already.  Conservatives would certainly support a declaration of national emergency for the wall.

The cleverness of this ruse is that both sides would be partly right, but also mostly wrong.

What would a national emergency entail? Simply building a border wall? Building a border wall using the military? What about martial law on the border? Why stop there?  Why not have martial law throughout the entire country?  That would finally put an end to leftist interference, right?  Knowing what we now know about Trump's associations with banking elites, how can we trust that it will end at the border?

It seems to me that the fight between left and right is being driven beyond the information wars and beyond activism into a realm that could include actual civil war. If the current trend continues, I see no other outcome.

But as always we must ask who benefits the most from this?

While the left has gone off the deep end into cartoonland and must be stopped, the real threat to America is the banking cabal which influences both sides of the paradigm.  The fact is, Trump works with them everyday in the White House. Economic crisis and geopolitical crisis are inevitable catalysts for greater centralization and totalitarianism, and the left is being used as a cattle prod to ensure that the political right is infuriated enough to jump on the bandwagon.

The only right answer, the only solution is to refuse to support martial law under any circumstances or under any president, and to fight against it should it ever arise.  Borders can and should be secured without giving government carte blanche to do whatever it pleases without restriction.  In fact, any problem can be better resolved without selling our souls to big government in exchange for temporary power over our political opponents.

I would remind liberty activists that by opening such a Pandora's box, there is no going back. It is a power that would allow for infinite and irreversible corruption, a power that can only be used for evil and never for good.  Even if you truly believe Trump's motives to be honorable, there are no guarantees that these measures will ever be rescinded once they are started, nor can we be sure that they will not be used by a future president with ill intent once Trump is gone. Some people might argue that my concerns are unwarranted; that it will never come to martial law. We shall see. The trend developing today is certainly not encouraging.

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Russian Pilot Releases New Footage Of Aggressive Maneuver Against US F-15 Jet

On Monday Russia’s Defense Ministry published video showing a dangerous aerial encounter between US and Russian aircraft that took place in the skies above the Baltic Sea. The incident involved a Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jet intercepting a US P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft after  as Russian statements claimed  the US Air Force spy plane was picked up on radar rapidly approaching approaching the Russian maritime border in the Baltic Sea.

But more video has surfaced late this week showing spectacular footage in what a appears to be a separate and previously unknown incident, also over the Baltic Sea. It was put online by a purported retired Russian pilot and appears to be a separate video taken from a Russian fighter jet on an unknown date. The new video shows a Russian Air Force Su-27 Flanker aggressively banking into a U.S. Air Force F-15.

In recent years, there's been a significant uptick in such dangerous incidents between Russian and US Air Force jets over the Baltic and Black Seas, and it follows reports last week about a tense standoff between Russian bombers and Canadian military aircraft in the Canadian Air Identification Zone.

It's another reminder of just how quickly a major crisis could flare up in an instant based on such intercepts.

Prior video released Jan. 28 of Russian fighters shadowing the US P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft over the Baltic.

The Aviationist aerial analysis site narrows down the possible timeline for when the new video of the US-Russian jets incident may have occurred

A clip that shows a Russian Air Force Su-27 Flanker aggressively banking into a U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle has appeared online. It’s not clear where and when the footage was taken but, provided it is genuine (it seems so), it was probably filmed in the Baltic region, when the U.S. Air Force F-15C) were supporting NATO BAP (Baltic Air Policing) mission.

Last time U.S. Air Force supported BAP was during the 45th BAP rotation between August and December 2017.

American defense officials have been increasingly vocal in condemning what they've consistently described as "aggressive maneuvers" carried out by Russian jets against US aircraft.

The Aviationist notes further multiple major instances over the past few years where this was the case:

 As happened on Jan. 29, 2018, when a U.S. EP-3 Aries aircraft flying in international airspace was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 over the Black Sea; on Apr. 29, 2016, when a Russian Su-27 Flanker barrel rolled over the top of a U.S. Air Force RC-135 aircraft operating in the Baltic Sea; on Apr. 14, 2016, when another Su-27 carried out the same dangerous maneuver on another US Rivet Joint over the Baltic; on Jan. 25, 2016 when a Russian Su-27 Flanker made an aggressive turn that disturbed the controllability of the RC-135; or on Apr. 7, 2015, when a Flanker flew within 20 feet of an RC-135U over the Baltic Sea.

There's been no official government confirmation by either side concerning the events shown in the new video that surfaced Thursday. 

The Russian Defense Ministry described this week's prior incident as follows: “A quick reaction alert Su-27 fighter jet from the Air Defense Force was scrambled to intercept the target in the air. The Russian fighter’s crew approached the air object at a safe distance and identified it as a P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance plane of the US Air Force,” the ministry noted.

However, the new video of the Russian fighter banking into the US F-15 reveals an incident that was anything but "safe" — so it'll be interesting to hear a detailed account if any official details are released over the incident. 

The Unseen Costs Of Humanitarian Intervention

The Unseen Costs Of Humanitarian Intervention

Authored by Ryan McMaken via The Mises Institute,

In domestic policy, a time-honored strategy for ramming through ill-considered legislation is to insist that it is better to do something than to just stand around doing nothing. Are "too few" people earning advanced degrees? Then we are told we must increase subsidies for college tuition. Will that solve the problem? Who knows? What's important is that we did something.

This sort of thing is politically valuable, of course, because the new program and the new spending can be seen and measured.

The true costs of the program, however, are not seen. We can, for example, easily ignore the fact that subsidies tend to increase tuition levels, which in turn increase student-loan debt levels. Students then put off purchasing homes and starting families until later, in order to pay off debts. These realities impose costs on students. But they aren't easily seen or measured.

Thus, the benefits of the program are showcased, while the costs remain hidden.

In the realm of foreign policy, and especially with humanitarian interventions, this problem is even worse, partly because the stakes are higher. The methods employed here, by now, are quite familiar. Advocates for humanitarian intervention repeatedly showcase real or assumed human rights abuses in a foreign country. It is then assumed that it will be a simple matter for the United States military to intervene to solve the problem — probably in a short amount of time. The costs of intervention, both financial and non-financial are assumed to be minor, at most. Thus, we are to conclude that it is better to do something than nothing. Those who insist on opposing humanitarian interventions are then portrayed as being motivated by a lack of empathy, or perhaps by outright hostility and cynicism.

The Rise of the Humanitarian Interventionism as a Favored Policy

For more than twenty years this narrative and method has grown in popularity and influence, as humanitarian interventions have become a more and more acceptable option for the United States in addressing global human rights issues.

Almost never are the true costs and uncertainties of these interventions addressed in detail in mass-media commentary and news coverage. The focus is on highlighting the benefits and necessity of intervention while ignoring the unintended consequences of these actions.

Moreover, ignoring these costs has become more urgent for advocates of intervention as ostensibly humanitarian intervention has become a larger cornerstone of US foreign policy. While these interventions began sporadically, Stephen Wertheim notes in the Journal of Genocide Research how after 1991,

humanitarian intervention become a central and insistent preoccupation in US discourse, routinely posited as a raison d’eˆtre of US global leadership. Only then was humanitarian intervention mainly imagined not as an emergency response to extraordinary episodes but rather as a permanent programme requiring special doctrines, which US and British leaders issued.1

Much of this growth in acceptance for humanitarian interventions centered around the world's non-response to the Rwandan Genocide in 1994. This, coupled with ethnic-cleansing campaigns in the former Yugoslavia, led to numerous calls for more active international attention to potential humanitarian interventions worldwide.

As Wertheim notes, however, a problem with the debate has long been an assumption that human rights violations can be addressed with relative ease by large, wealthy states like the United States:

A dramatic shift began around 1998. It brought a new belligerence, confident that US troops would have ended Rwanda’s genocide easily and should stop any other. This view permeated the US foreign-policy establishment in 1999 and 2000, appearing in both government doctrines and popular commentary, among neoconservatives and humanitarian interventionists alike...

But were things really as simple as advocates assumed?

For Wertheim, the answer is "no," continuing:

[H]umanitarian interventionists often assumed military challenges away, failing to think concretely how intervention might unfold...[But] a war to stop the Rwandan genocide would have been nothing like as simple as interventionists later claimed...Interventionists truly committed to achieving humanitarian results must appreciate the difficulties of forging peace after war — and register the potential harms of postconflict occupation in the calculus of whether to intervene in the first place ... On the whole, humanitarian interventionists tended to understate difficulties of halting ethnic conflict, ignore challenges of postconflict reconstruction, discount constraints imposed by public opinion, and override multilateral procedures.

In real life, though, these costs and constraints are numerous. For example, there is always a "losing" side when interventions occur. Once the intervening force leaves, will the losing side engage in reprisals? If the intervention required bombing campaigns, who will pay for reconstruction of infrastructure? And, how long will an occupation force be necessary? What if counterinsurgency becomes necessary? How many locals will the interventionists be willing to kill in counterinsurgency battles in order to implement a "humanitarian" solution?

Nor are these questions matters of mere logistics and administrative resolved. Political constraints imposed on states by voting populations are very real. For example, the US invasion of Somalia at first appeared to be an easy sell to American voters. After 18 US soldiers were killed in the Battle of Magadishu, however, President Bill Clinton quickly removed the troops. It's easy to win public support when interventions are short, and produce no casualties. But things don't always go that way.

Indeed, such care is often taken to avoid casualties among occupying troops (in cases primarily justified on humanitarian grounds) that this causes other tactical problems. In the Kosovo intervention, for example, planes flew at an unusually high 15,000 feet to minimize danger to themselves. But this increased danger to civilians and severely limited the credibility of claims that the NATO coalition was engaging in "precision bombing."

But the strategy nonetheless worked. The fact that the US and NATO were able to win capitulation from the Serbian government in the Kosovo intervention — even without risking a domestic political backlash — furtherstrengthened calls for more openness to humanitarian interventions.

Second Thoughts Among Advocates for Interventionism

A decade after Rwanda, though, even many advocates for at least some use of humanitarian intervention were beginning to have second thoughts.

In his 2006 book At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention, David Rieff, an influential journalist who had enthusiastically supported humanitarian interventions in the 1990s, had become more cautious. For Rieff, humanitarian interventions had become so common, and so often invoked to justify a wide variety of foreign-policy goals, that:

I have changed my mind in the sense that I did not imagine Bosnia, or, had it happened, Rwanda, would become a template for the messianic dream of remaking the world in either the image of American democracy or of the legal utopias of international human rights law.

In the wake of Afghanistan and the Iraq War, Rieff was more aware of the real costs of "fixing" foreign regimes that behaved in undesirable ways. Rieff also noted that many interventionists on the left continued to deny this reality.

For example, in her book A Problem from Hell, US Ambassador to the UN (under President Obama) Samatha Power laments that none of the Saddam-era persecutors of the Kurds "had been punished." But Rieff responds:

But how was the punishment to be meted out? At times, human rights activists behave as if one can have Nuremberg-style justice without a Nuremberg-style military occupation of the countries where the war criminals live. ... These human rights regimes will be imposed by force of arms or they will not be imposed at all.

Worryingly, the future of humanitarian intervention looks more like Iraq than it does like NATO's Kosovo mission.

This isn't to say Rieff opposes all humanitarian interventions. He still explicitly thinks Western states should intervene in cases like the Rwandan Genocide. But, as Rieff states, his position is

...the polar opposite of [neoconservative Robert] Kagan. I believe we should lean away from war, lean as far as possible without actually falling over into pacifism. Of course there are just wars ... [b]ut I would insist that there are not many just wars, and that the endless wars of altruism posited by so many human rights activists ... or the endless wars of liberation (as they see it) proposed by American neoconservatives — Iraq was supposed to be only the first such step — can only lead to disaster.

The realities of Iraq remain a problem for humanitarian interventionists. While the war was initially justified only partly as a humanitarian effort of liberation, it is now justified almost wholly on the grounds of humanitarianism. Only the most obtuse policymakers and pundits still insist (wrongly) that Saddam Hussein's regime was any threat to the United States, or was involved in the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Today, Iraq is justified almost entirely as a humanitarian war of liberation. The invasion of Afghanistan followed a similar pattern. Americans were told the invasion would liberate women from Islamist oppression just as much as invasion would bring terrorists to heel.

The costs of occupation, however, have been immense in terms of Iraqi (and Afghani) life and health, and US casualties (at least relative to other humanitarian efforts).

In his 2005 book The Dark Sides of Virtue, historian David Kennedy explores the real record of humanitarian interventions, and the habit of overstating its benefits, noting:

As with humanitarian activism ... it is easy to overstate the humanist potential of international policy making. Many of the difficulties  encountered with human rights activism arise equally in humanitarian policy-making campaigns. Policymakers can also overlook the dark sides of their work and treat initiatives which take a familiar humanitarian form as likely to have a humanitarian effect. It is always tempting to think some global humanitarian effort has got to be better than none. Like activists, policymakers can mistake their good intentions for humanitarian results or enchant their tools — using a humanitarian vocabulary can itself seem like a humanitarian strategy. ... It is all too easy to forget that saying "I'm from the United Nations and I've come to help you," may not sound promising at all.

In other words, don't confuse the visible government programs with the actual costs and benefits.

One answer, Kennedy concludes, is to stop assuming rosy, best-case scenario outcomes, to acknowledge the many unknown and unpredictable variables, and to

develop a new posture or character for international humanitarianism — informed by the vertiginous experience of disenchantment, of seeing that one is responsible and yet does not already know.

Nine Issues for Policymakers to Contemplate

In light of seventeen years of non-stop war since 9/11 — with most of it conducted in the name of national liberation and humanitarian intervention — policymakers would benefit from far more rigor when it comes to evaluating the true costs of intervention.

In his review essay "The Limits of Intervention — Humanitarian or Otherwise," J. Peter Pham of the Atlantic Council presents a list of problems that policymakers need to address when advocating for foreign intervention:

  1. Since most violence is perpetrated more quickly than commonly realized, an intervention will almost inevitably come too late for many, if not most, victims.

  2. Intervention addresses symptoms rather than underlying causes.

  3. Interventions will have significant, possibly unintended, effects on the value to particular individuals of positional and distributional goods.

  4. Intervention opens the political space to new, often unexpected, actors. Outside intervention, by displacing the old political order, allows new forces to emerge.

  5. Intervention may foster warlordism.

  6. Intervention is the starting point for a complex political process whose eventual end point cannot be predicted.

  7. Economic progress will be difficult if the intervention distorts pre-existing incentive structures.

  8. Intervention can exacerbate, rather than reduce, the humanitarian crisis.

  9. Interventions may have significant impact on trust, social capital, and the character of society, but it is difficult to produce positive effects directly.

We might also add to Pham's list the problems that interventions pose in terms of of further crippling international respect for national sovereignty and its potential for further enhancing the power of hegemons at the expense of smaller states.

Within the target country, though,the problems remain ones in which entire economic and political systems are thrown into disarray. This can lead to human rights abuses of their own as formerly out-of-power groups assert their newfound power. All the while, economic recovery may elude the newly "liberated" population for many years. An end result may be no net overall advantage for the population as a whole.

Any debate over suggested new interventions, whether among voters or alleged policy experts, must present convincing information and arguments suggesting all these issues can be addressed with the resources and time that advocates claim is necessary. The burden of proof is on the advocates for intervention, and if they cannot bring sufficient rigor to the debate to account for all these issues, intervention ought to be emphatically disregarded.

Moreover, evaluating success, even after the fact, will remain an impossible task. Even when interventions appear to be a success, we are left with what is essentially a major economic calculation problem. Foreign policy tends to be examined in broad aggregates, with description of entire national populations — or certain factions —  as if all members of these groups shared roughly similar goals and outcomes as intervention progresses. This, is, of course, no more true in foreign policy than in domestic policy where it is impossible for governments to plan, regulate, and measure outcomes for individual persons or households. In the end, we're left dealing with little more than an immense top-down effort of nationwide central planning. Evaluating outcomes outside enormous aggregated averages will be impossible. Consequently, the true costs to individuals are likely to remain hidden forever.

As it is now, however, those who are currently advocating for new interventions in Syria and Venezuela appear to have little interest in confronting the real costs of intervention. They see the political advantages of saying they "did something," even if those things will turn out to be disastrous.

How Rich Is Rich?

How Rich Is Rich?

With an ever-growing chorus of 'soak the rich' rising from the left-er of the leftists, it is becoming increasingly important to know what "rich" is - How much would you have to earn in a year in the U.S. before someone considered you rich?

Statista's Niall McCarthy has the answer. According to a recent YouGov poll, that depends heavily on you ask...

The research found that the American public considers an annual income between $90,000 and $100,000 necessary to be deemed rich. The fieldwork for the survey was carried out in September 2018 and it found that 76 percent of respondents think an annual income of $10,000 constitutes being poor.

That label gets shaken off once yearly earnings hit $30,000 with half of the population saying someone in this income category is neither rich nor poor.

Infographic: How Rich Is Rich? | Statista

You will find more infographics at Statista

While there is a sense of division as to whether a $90,000 paycheck makes someone rich of poor, a majority of 56 percent of respondents agree that a person earning $100,000 a year is rich. The survey also asked people how rich or poor they consider themselves with 64 percent saying they are neither.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the 2019 poverty line for a family of four in the U.S. is an income of $25,470 a year. 12.3 percent of the population, 39.7 million people, were classed as living in poverty in 2017.

How Russia-gate Rationalized Censorship

How Russia-gate Rationalized Censorship

Authored by Joe Lauria via ConsortiumNews.com,

Russia-gate mania spread beyond a strategy for neutralizing Donald Trump or removing him from office into an excuse for stifling U.S. dissent that challenges the New Cold War...

At the end of October 2017, I wrote an article for Consortium News about the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign paying for unvetted opposition research that became the basis for much of the disputed story about Russia allegedly interfering in the 2016 presidential election on the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Hillary Clinton speaking with supporters at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, March 21, 2016. (Gage Skidmore)

The piece showed that the Democrats’ two, paid-for sources that have engendered belief in Russia-gate are at best shaky. First was former British spy Christopher Steele’s largely unverified dossier of second- and third-hand opposition research portraying Donald Trump as something of a Russian Manchurian candidate.

And the second was CrowdStrike, an anti-Putin private company, examining the DNC’s computer server to dubiously claim discovery of a Russian “hack.” In a similar examination using the same software of an alleged hack of a Ukrainian artillery app, CrowdStrike also blamed Russia but its software was exposed as faulty and it was later forced to rewrite it. CrowdStrike was hired after the DNC refused to allow the FBI to look at the server.

My piece also described the dangerous consequences of partisan Democratic faith in Russia-gate: a sharp increase in geopolitical tensions between nuclear-armed Russia and the U.S., and a New McCarthyism that is spreading fear — especially in academia, journalism and civil rights organizations — about questioning the enforced orthodoxy of Russia’s alleged guilt.

After the article appeared at Consortium News, I tried to penetrate the mainstream by then publishing a version of the article on the HuffPost, which was rebranded from the Huffington Post in April this year by new management. As a contributor to the site since February 2006, I was trusted by HuffPost editors to post my stories directly online. However, within 24 hours of publication on Nov. 4, HuffPost editors retracted the article without any explanation.

This behavior breaks with the earlier principles of journalism that the Web site claimed to uphold. For instance, in 2008, Arianna Huffington told radio host Don Debar that, “We welcome all opinions, except conspiracy theories.” She said: “Facts are sacred. That’s part of our philosophy of journalism.”

But Huffington stepped down as editor in August 2016 and has nothing to do with the site now. It is run by Lydia Polgreen, a former New York Times reporter and editor, who evidently has very different ideas. In April, she completely redesigned the site and renamed it HuffPost.

Before the management change, I had published several articles on the Huffington Post about Russia without controversy. For instance, The Huffington Post published my piece on Nov. 5, 2016, that predicted three days before the election that if Clinton lost she’d blame Russia. My point was reaffirmed by the campaign-insider book Shattered, which revealed that immediately after Clinton’s loss, senior campaign advisers decided to blame Russia for her defeat.

On Dec. 12, 2016, I published another piece, which the Huffington Post editors promoted to the front page, called, “Blaming Russia To Overturn The Election Goes Into Overdrive.” I argued that “Russia has been blamed in the U.S. for many things and though proof never seems to be supplied, it is widely believed anyway.”

After I posted the updated version of the Consortium News piece — renamed “On the Origins of Russia-gate” — I was informed 23 hours later by a Facebook friend that the piece had been retracted by HuffPost editors. As a reporter for mainstream media for more than a quarter century, I know that a newsroom rule is that before the serious decision is made to retract an article the writer is contacted to be allowed to defend the piece. This never happened. There was no due process. A HuffPost editor ignored my email asking why it was taken down.

Support from Independent Media

Like the word “fascism,” “censorship” is an over-used and mis-used accusation, and I usually avoid using it. But without any explanation, I could only conclude that the decision to retract was political, not editorial.

The New York Times’ connect-the-dots graphic showing the Kremlin sitting atop the White House.

I am non-partisan as I oppose both major parties for failing to represent millions of Americans’ interests. I follow facts where they lead. In this case, the facts led to an understanding that the Jan. 6, 2017 FBI/NSA/CIA intelligence “assessment” on alleged Russian election interference, prepared by what then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called “hand-picked” analysts, was based substantially on unvetted opposition research and speculation, not serious intelligence work.

The assessment even made the point that the analysts were not asserting that the alleged Russian interference was a fact. The report contained the disclaimer: “Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation, and precedents.”

Under deadline pressure on Jan. 6, Scott Shane of The New York Times instinctively wrote what many readers of the report must have been thinking: “What is missing from the public report is what many Americans most eagerly anticipated: hard evidence to back up the agencies’ claims that the Russian government engineered the election attack. … Instead, the message from the agencies essentially amounts to ‘trust us.’”

Yet, after the Jan. 6 report was published, leading Democrats asserted falsely that the “assessment” represented the consensus judgment of all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies – not just the views of “hand-picked” analysts from three – and much of the U.S. mainstream media began treating the allegations of Russian “hacking” as flat fact, not as an uncertain conclusion denied by both the Russian government and WikiLeaks, which insists that it did not get the two batches of Democratic emails from Russia.

(There is also dissent inside the broader U.S. intelligence community about whether an alleged “hack” over the Internet was even possible based on the download speeds of one known data extraction, which matched what was possible from direct USB access to a computer, i.e., a download onto a thumb drive presumably by a Democratic insider.)

However, because of the oft-repeated “17 intelligence agencies” canard and the mainstream media’s careless reporting, the public impression has built up that the accusations against Russia are indisputable. If you ask a Russia-gate believer today what their faith is based on, they will invariably point to the Jan. 6 assessment and mock anyone who still expresses any doubt.

For instance, an unnamed former CIA officer told The Intercept last month, “You’ve got all these intelligence agencies saying the Russians did the hack. To deny that is like coming out with the theory that the Japanese didn’t bomb Pearl Harbor.”

That the supposedly dissident Intercept would use this quote is instructive about how imbalanced the media’s reporting on Russia-gate has been. We have actual film of Japanese planes attacking Pearl Harbor and American ships burning – and we have the eyewitness accounts of thousands of U.S. soldiers and sailors. Yet, on Russia-gate, we only have the opinions of some “hand-picked” intelligence officials who themselves say that they are not claiming that their opinions are fact. No serious editor would allow a self-interested and unnamed source to equate the two in print.

In this groupthink atmosphere, it was probably easy for HuffPost editors to hear some complaints from a few readers and blithely decide to ban my story. However, before it was pulled, 125 people had shared it. Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst and frequent contributor to Consortium News, then took up my cause, being the first to write about the HuffPost censorship on his blog. McGovern included a link to a .pdf file that I captured of the censored HuffPost story. It has since been republished on numerous other websites.

Journalist Max Blumenthal tweeted about it. British filmmaker and writer Tariq Ali posted it on his Facebook page. Ron Paul and Daniel McAdams interviewed me at length about the censorship on their TV program. ZeroHedge wrote a widely shared piece and someone actually took the time, 27 minutes and 13 seconds to be exact, to read the entire article on YouTube. I began a petition to HuffPost’s Polgreen to either explain the retraction or restore the article. It gained 3,517 signatures. If a serious fact-check analysis was made of my article, it must exist and can and should be produced.

Watchdogs & Media Defending Censorship

Despite this support from independent media, a senior official at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, I learned, declined to take up my cause because he believes in the Russia-gate story. I also learned that a senior officer at the American Civil Liberties Union rejected my case because he too believes in Russia-gate. Both of these serious organizations were set up precisely to defend individuals in such situations on principle, not preference.

Vladimir Putin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on May 10, 2015, at the Kremlin. (Russian government photo)

In terms of their responsibilities for defending journalism and protecting civil liberties, their personal opinions about whether Russia-gate is real or not should be irrelevant. The point is whether journalists should be permitted to show skepticism toward this latest dubiously based groupthink. I fear that – amid the frenzy about Russia and the animosity toward Trump – concerns about careers and funding are driving these decisions, with principles brushed aside.

One online publication decidedly took the HuffPost’s side. Steven Perlberg, a media reporter for BuzzFeed, asked the HuffPost why they retracted my article. While ignoring me, the editors issued a statement to BuzzFeed saying that “Mr. Lauria’s self-published” piece was “later flagged by readers, and after deciding that the post contained multiple factually inaccurate or misleading claims, our editors removed the post per our contributor terms of use.” Those terms include retraction for “any reason,” including, apparently, censorship.

Perlberg posted the HuffPost statement on Twitter. I asked him if he inquired of the editors what those “multiple” errors and “misleading claims” were. I asked him to contact me to get my side of the story. Perlberg totally ignored me. He wrote nothing about the matter. He apparently believed the HuffPost and that was that. In this way, he acquiesced with the censorship.

BuzzFeed, of course, is the sensationalist outlet that irresponsibly published the Steele dossier in full, even though the accusations – not just about Donald Trump but also many other individuals – weren’t verified. Then on Nov. 14, BuzzFeed reporter Jason Leopold wrote one of the most ludicrous of a long line of fantastic Russia-gate stories, reporting that the Russian foreign ministry had sent money to Russian consulates in the U.S. “to finance the election campaign of 2016.” The scoop generated some screaming headlines before it became clear that the money was to pay for Russian citizens in the U.S. to vote in the 2016 Duma election.

That Russia-gate has reached this point, based on faith and not fact, was further illustrated by a Facebook exchange I had with Gary Sick, an academic who served on the Ford and Carter national security staffs. When I pressed Sick for evidence of Russian interference, he eventually replied: “If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…” When I told him that was a very low-bar for such serious accusations, he angrily cut off debate.

Part of this Russia-gate groupthink stems from the outrage – and even shame – that many Americans feel about Trump’s election. They want to find an explanation that doesn’t lay the blame on the U.S. citizenry or America’s current dysfunctional political/media process. It’s much more reassuring, in a way, to blame some foreign adversary while also discrediting Trump’s legitimacy as the elected president. That leaves open some hope that his election might somehow be negated.

And, so many important people and organizations seem to be verifying the Russia-gate suspicions that the theory must be true. Which is an important point. When belief in a story becomes faith-based or is driven by an intense self-interest, honest skeptics are pushed aside and trampled. That is the way groupthink works, as we saw in the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq when any doubts about Iraq possessing WMD made you a “Saddam apologist.”

As the groupthink grows, the true-believers become disdainful of facts that force them to think about what they already believe. They won’t waste time making a painstaking examination of the facts or engage in a detailed debate even on something as important and dangerous as a new Cold War with Russia.

This is the most likely explanation for the HuffPost‘s censorship: a visceral reaction to having their Russia-gate faith challenged.

Why Critical News is Suppressed

But the HuffPost’s action is hardly isolated. It is part of a rapidly growing landscape of censorship of news critical of American corporate and political leaders who are trying to defend themselves from an increasingly angry population. It’s a story as old as civilization: a wealthy and powerful elite fending off popular unrest by trying to contain knowledge of how the insiders gain at the others’ expense, at home and abroad.

Trump being sworn in on Jan. 20, 2017. (Whitehouse.gov)

A lesson of the 2016 campaign was that growing numbers of Americans are fed up with three decades of neoliberal policies that have fabulously enriched the top tier of Americans and debased a huge majority of the citizenry. The population has likewise grown tired of the elite’s senseless wars to expand their own interests, which these insiders try to conflate with the entire country’s interests.

America’s bipartisan rulers are threatened by popular discontent from both left and right. They were alarmed by the Bernie Sanders insurgency and by Donald Trump’s victory, even if Trump is now betraying the discontented masses who voted for him by advancing tax and health insurance plans designed to further crush them and benefit the wealthy.

Trump’s false campaign promises will only make the rulers’ problem of a restless population worse. Americans are subjected to economic inequality greater than in the first Gilded Age. They are also subjected today to more war than in the first Gilded Age. American rulers today are engaged in multiple conflicts following decades of post-World War II invasions and coups to expand their global interests.

People with wealth and power always seem to be nervous about losing both. So plutocrats use the concentrated media they own to suppress news critical of their wars and domestic repression. For example, almost nothing was reported about militarized police forces until the story broke out into the open in the Ferguson protests and much of that discontent has been brushed aside more recently.

Careerist journalists readily acquiesce in this suppression of news to maintain their jobs, their status and their lifestyles. Meanwhile, a growing body of poorly paid freelancers compete for the few remaining decent-paying gigs for which they must report from the viewpoint of the mainstream news organizations and their wealthy owners.

To operate in this media structure, most journalists know to excise out the historical context of America’s wars of domination. They know to uncritically accept American officials’ bromides about spreading democracy, while hiding the real war aims.

Examples abound: America’s role in the Ukraine coup was denied or downplayed; a British parliamentary report exposing American lies that led to the destruction of Libya was suppressed; and most infamously, the media promoted the WMD hoax and the fable of “bringing democracy” to Iraq, leading to the illegal invasion and devastation of that country.  A November 2017 60 Minutes report on the Saudi destruction of Yemen, conspicuously failed to mention America’s crucial role in the carnage.

I’ve pitched numerous news stories critical of U.S. foreign policy to a major American newspaper that were rejected or changed in the editorial process. One example is the declassified Defense Intelligence Agency document of August 2012 that accurately predicted the rise of the Islamic State two years later.

The document, which I confirmed with a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. and its Turkish, European and Gulf Arab allies, were supporting the establishment of a Salafist principality in eastern Syria to put pressure on the Syrian government, but the document warned that this Salafist base could turn into an “Islamic State.”

But such a story would undermine the U.S. government’s “war on terrorism” narrative by revealing that the U.S.-backed strategy actually was risking the expansion of the jihadists’ foothold in Syria. The story was twice rejected by my editors and has received attention almost entirely — if not exclusively — on much-smaller independent news Web sites.

Another story I pitched in June 2012, just a year into the Syrian war, about Russia’s motives in Syria being guided by a desire to defeat the growing jihadist threat there, was also rejected. Corporate media wanted to keep the myth of Russia’s “imperial” aims in Syria alive. I had to publish the article outside the U.S., in a South African daily newspaper.

In September 2015 at the U.N. General Assembly, Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed my story about Russia’s motives in Syria to stop jihadists from taking over. Putin invited the U.S. to join this effort as Moscow was about to launch its military intervention at the invitation of the Syrian government. The Obama administration, still insisting on “regime change” in Syria, refused. And the U.S. corporate media continued promoting the myth that Russia intervened to recapture its “imperial glory.”

It was much easier to promote the “imperial” narrative and to ignore Putin’s clear explanation to French TV channel TF1, which was not picked up by American media.

“Remember what Libya or Iraq looked like before these countries and their organizations were destroyed as states by our Western partners’ forces?” Putin said. “These states showed no signs of terrorism. They were not a threat for Paris, for the Cote d’Azur, for Belgium, for Russia, or for the United States. Now, they are the source of terrorist threats. Our goal is to prevent the same from happening in Syria.”

Why Russia Is Targeted

So, where are independent-minded Western journalists to turn if their stories critical of the U.S. government and corporations are suppressed?

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the Kremlin wall, Dec. 6, 2016. (Photo by Robert Parry)

The imperative is to get these stories out – and Russian media has provided an opening for some. This has presented a new problem for the plutocracy. The suppression of critical news in their corporate-owned media is no longer working if it’s seeping out in Russian media (and through some dissident Western news sites on the Internet).

The solution has been to brand the content of the Russian television network, RT, as “propaganda” since it presents facts and viewpoints that most Americans have been kept from hearing. But just because these views – many coming from Americans and other Westerners – are not what you commonly hear on the U.S. mainstream media doesn’t make them “propaganda” that must be stigmatized and silenced.

As a Russian-government-financed English-language news channel, RT also gives a Russian perspective on the news, the way CNN and The New York Times give an American perspective and the BBC a British one. American mainstream journalists, from my experience, arrogantly deny suppressing news and believe they present a universal perspective, rather than a narrow American view of the world.

The viewpoints of Iranians, Palestinians, Russians, North Koreans and others are never fully reported in the Western media although the supposed mission of journalism is to help citizens understand a frighteningly complex world from multiple points of view. It’s impossible to do so without those voices included. Routinely or systematically shutting them out also dehumanizes people in those countries, making it easier to gain U.S. popular support to go to war against them.

Russia is scapegoated by charging that RT or Sputnik are sowing divisions in the U.S. by focusing on issues like homelessness, racism, or out-of-control militarized police forces, as if these divisive issues didn’t already exist. The U.S. mainstream media also seems to forget that the U.S. government has engaged in at least 70 years of interference in other countries’ elections, foreign invasions, coups, planting stories in foreign media and cyber-warfare.

Now, these American transgressions are projected onto Moscow. There’s also a measure of self-reverence in this for “successful” people with a stake in an establishment that underpins the elite, demonstrating how wonderfully democratic they are compared to those ogres in Russia.

The overriding point about the “Russian propaganda” complaint is that when America’s democratic institutions, including the press and the electoral process, are crumbling under the weight of corruption that the American elites have created or maintained, someone else needs to be blamed. Russia is both an old and a new scapegoat.

The Jan. 6 intelligence assessment on alleged Russian election meddling is a good example of how this works. A third of its content is an attack on RT for “undermining American democracy” by reporting on Occupy Wall Street, the protest over the Dakota pipeline and, of all things, holding a “third party candidate debates.”

According to the Jan. 6 assessment, RT’s offenses include reporting that “the US two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a ‘sham.’” RT also “highlights criticism of alleged US shortcomings in democracy and civil liberties.” In other words, reporting on newsworthy events and allowing third-party candidates to express their opinions undermine democracy.

The report also says all this amounts to “a Kremlin-directed campaign to undermine faith in the US Government and fuel political protest,” but it should be noted those protests by dissatisfied Americans are against privileges of the wealthy and the well-connected, a status quo that the intelligence agencies routinely protect.

There are also deeper reasons why Russia is being targeted. The Russia-gate story fits neatly into a geopolitical strategy that long predates the 2016 election. Since Wall Street and the U.S. government lost the dominant position in Russia that existed under the pliable President Boris Yeltsin, the strategy has been to put pressure on getting rid of Putin to restore a U.S. friendly leader in Moscow. There issubstance to Russia’s concerns about American designs for “regime change” in the Kremlin.

Moscow sees an aggressive America expanding NATO and putting 30,000 NATO troops on its borders; trying to overthrow a secular ally in Syria with terrorists who threaten Russia itself; backing a coup in Ukraine as a possible prelude to moves against Russia; and using American NGOs to foment unrest inside Russia before they were forced to register as foreign agents. Russia wants Americans to see this perspective.

Accelerated Censorship in the Private Sector

The Constitution prohibits government from prior-restraint, or censorship, though such tactics were  imposed, largely unchallenged, during the two world wars. American newspapers voluntarily agreed to censor themselves in the Second World War before the government dictated it.

In the Korean War, General Douglas MacArthur said he didn’t “desire to reestablish wartime censorship” and instead asked the press for self-censorship. He largely got it until the papers began reporting American battlefield losses. On July 25, 1950, “the army ordered that reporters were not allowed to publish ‘unwarranted’ criticism of command decisions, and that the army would be ‘the sole judge and jury’ on what ‘unwarranted’ criticism entailed,” according to a Yale University study on military censorship.

After excellent on-the-ground reporting from Vietnam brought the war home to America and spurred popular anti-war protests, the military reacted by instituting, initially in the first Gulf War, serious control of the press by “embedding” reporters from private media companies which accepted the arrangement, much as World War II newspapers censored themselves.

It is important to realize that the First Amendment applies only to Congress and not to private companies, including the media. It is not illegal for them to practice censorship. I never made a First Amendment argument against the HuffPost, for instance. However, under pressure from Washington, even in peacetime, media companies can be pressured to do the government’s dirty work to censor or limit free speech for the government.

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen an acceleration of attempts by corporations to inhibit Russian media in the U.S.  Both Google and Facebook, which dominate the Web with more than 50 percent of ad revenue, were at first resistant to government pressure to censor “Russian propaganda.” But they are coming around.

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, said on Nov. 18, 2017 that Google would “derank” articles from RT and Sputnik in the Google searches, making the stories harder for readers to find. The billionaire Schmidt claimed Russian information can be “repetitive, exploitative, false, [or] likely to have been weaponized,” he said. That is how factual news critical of U.S. corporate and political leadership is seen, as a weapon.

“My own view is that these patterns can be detected, and that they can be taken down or deprioritized,” Schmidt said.

Though Google would effectively be hiding news produced by RT and Sputnik, Schmidt is sensitive to the charge of censorship, even though there’s nothing legally to stop him.

“We don’t want to ban the sites. That’s not how we operate,” Schmidt said cynically. “I am strongly not in favor of censorship. I am very strongly in favor of ranking. It’s what we do.”

But the “deranking” isn’t only aimed at Russian sites; Google algorithms also are taking aim at independent news sites that don’t follow the mainstream herd – and thus are accused of spreading Russian or other “propaganda” if they question the dominant Western narratives on, say, the Ukraine crisis or the war in Syria. A number of alternative websites have begun reporting a sharp fall-off of traffic directed to their sites from Google’s search engines.

Responding to a deadline from Congress to act, Facebook on Nov. 22, 2017 announced that it would inform users if they have been “targeted” by Russian “propaganda.” Facebook’s help center will tell users if they liked or shared ads allegedly from the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, which supposedly bought $100,000 in ads over a two-year period, with more than half these ads coming after the 2016 U.S. election and many not related to politics.

(The $100,000 sum over two years compares to Facebook’s $27 billion in annual revenue. Plus, Facebook only says it “believes” or it’s “likely” that the ads came from that firm, whose links to the Kremlin also have yet to be proved.)

Facebook described the move as “part of our ongoing effort to protect our platforms and the people who use them from bad actors who try to undermine our democracy.” Congress wants more from Facebook, so it will not be surprising if users will eventually be told when they’ve liked or shared an RT report in the future. [The suppression of dissident news and manipulation of information has since grown worse with the advent of NewsGuard and the discovery of the Integrity Initiative.]

While the government can’t openly shut down a news site, the Federal Communications Commission’s  vote on whether to deregulate the Internet by ending net neutrality will free private Internet companies in the U.S. to further marginalize Russian and dissident websites by slowing them down and thus discouraging readers from viewing them.

Likewise, as the U.S. government doesn’t want to be openly seen shutting down RT operations, it is working around the edges to accomplish that.

After the Department of Justice forced, under threat of arrest, RT to register its employees as foreign agents under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nuaert said last Tuesday that “FARA does not police the content of information disseminated, does not limit the publication of information or advocacy materials, and does not restrict an organization’s ability to operate.” She’d earlier said that registering would not “impact or affect the ability of them to report news and information. We just have them register. It’s as simple as that.”

Then on Wednesday the Congressional press office stripped RT correspondents of their Capitol Hill press passes, citing the FARA registration. “The rules of the Galleries state clearly that news credentials may not be issued to any applicant employed ‘by any foreign government or representative thereof.’ Upon its registration as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), RT Network became ineligible to hold news credentials,” read the letter to RT.

Even so, Russia-gate faithful ignore these aggressive moves and issue calls for even harsher action. After forcing RT to register, Keir Giles, a Chatham House senior consulting fellow, acted as though it never happened. He said in a Council on Foreign Relations Cyber Brief on Nov. 27, 2017: “Although the Trump administration seems unlikely to pursue action against Russian information operations, there are steps the U.S. Congress and other governments should consider.”

commented on this development on RT America. It would also have been good to have the State Department’s Nuaert answer for this discrepancy about the claim that forced FARA registrations would not affect news gathering when it already has. My criticism of RT is that they should be interviewing U.S. decision-makers to hold them accountable, rather than mostly guests outside the power structure. The decision-makers could be called out on air if they refuse to appear, as many may well do.

Growing McCarthyite Attacks

Western rulers’ wariness about popular unrest also can be seen in the extraordinary and scurrilous attack on the Canadian website Globalresearch.ca. The attack started with a chilling study by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into the relatively obscure website, followed by a vicious hit piece on Nov. 18 by the Globe and Mail, Canada’s largest newspaper. The headline was: “How a Canadian website is being used to amplify the Kremlin’s view of the world.”

Lawyer Roy Cohn (right) with Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

“What once appeared to be a relatively harmless online refuge for conspiracy theorists is now seen by NATO’s information warfare specialists as a link in a concerted effort to undermine the credibility of mainstream Western media – as well as the North American and European public’s trust in government and public institutions,” the Globe and Mail reported.

“Global Research is viewed by NATO’s Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence – or StratCom – as playing a key accelerant role in helping popularize articles with little basis in fact that also happen to fit the narratives being pushed by the Kremlin, in particular, and the Assad regime.”

I’ve not agreed with everything I’ve read on the site. But it is a useful clearinghouse for alternative media. Numerous Consortium News articles are republished there, including a handful of mine. But the site’s typical sharing and reposting on the Internet is seen by NATO as a plot to undermine the Free World.

Drawing from the NATO report, The Globe and Mail’s denunciation of this website continued: “It uses that reach to push not only its own opinion pieces, but ‘news’ reports from little-known websites that regularly carry dubious or false information. At times, the site’s regular variety of international-affairs stories is replaced with a flurry of items that bolster dubious reportage with a series of opinion pieces, promoted on social media and retweeted and shared by active bots.”

The newspaper continued, “’That way, they increase the Google ranking of the story and create the illusion of multi-source verification,’ said Donara Barojan, who does digital forensic research for [StratCom]. But she said she did not yet have proof that Global Research is connected to any government.”

This sort of smear is nothing more than a blatant attack on free speech by the most powerful military alliance in the world, based on the unfounded conviction that Russia is a fundamental force for evil and that anyone who has contacts with Russia or shares even a part of its multilateral world view is suspect.

High-profile individuals are now also in the crosshairs of the neo-McCarthyite witchhunt. On Nov. 25 The Washington Post ran a nasty hit piece on Washington Capitals’ hockey player Alex Ovechkin, one of the most revered sports figures in the Washington area, simply because he, like 86 percent of other Russians, supports his president.

“Alex Ovechkin is one of Putin’s biggest fans. The question is, why?” ran the headline. The story insidiously implied that Ovechkin was a dupe of his own president, being used to set up a media campaign to support Putin, who is under fierce and relentless attack in the United States where Ovechkin plays professional ice hockey.

“He has given an unwavering endorsement to a man who U.S. intelligence agencies say sanctioned Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election,” write the Post reporters, once again showing their gullibility to U.S. intelligence agencies that have provided no proof for their assertions (and even admit that they are not asserting their opinion as fact).

Less prominent figures are targeted too. John Kiriakou, a former CIA agent who blew the whistle on torture and was jailed for it, was kicked off a panel in Europe on Nov. 10 by a Bernie Sanders supporter who refused to appear with Kiriakou because he co-hosts a show on Radio Sputnik.

Then last week, Reporters Without Borders, an organization supposedly devoted to press freedom, tried to kick journalist Vanessa Beeley off a panel in Geneva to prevent her from presenting evidence that the White Helmets, a group that sells itself as a rescue organization inside rebel-controlled territory in Syria, has ties to Al Qaeda. The Swiss Press Club, which hosted the event, resisted the pressure and let Beeley speak.

Russia-gate’s Hurdles

Much of this spreading global hysteria and intensifying censorship traces back to Russia-gate. Yet, it remains remarkable that the corporate media has failed so far to prove any significant Russian interference in the U.S. election at all. Nor have the intelligence agencies, Congressional investigations and special prosecutor Robert Mueller. His criminal charges so far have been for financial crimes and lying to federal authorities on topics unrelated to any “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russians to “hack” Democratic emails.

Former FBI Director James Comey.

There may well be more indictments from Mueller, even perhaps a complaint about Trump committing obstruction of justice because he said on TV that he fired Comey, in part, because of the “Russia thing.” But Trump’s clumsy reaction to the “scandal,” which he calls “fake news” and a “witch hunt,” still is not proof that Putin and the Russians interfered in the U.S. election to achieve the unlikely outcome of Trump’s victory.

The Russia-gate faithful assured us to wait for the indictment of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, briefly Trump’s national security adviser. But again there was nothing about pre-election “collusion,” only charges that Flynn had lied to the FBI or omitted details about two conversations with the Russian ambassador regarding policy matters during the presidential transition, i.e., after the election.

And, one of those conversations related to trying unsuccessfully to comply with an Israeli request to get Russia to block a United Nations resolution censuring Israel’s settlements on Palestinian land.

As journalist Yasha Levine tweeted: “So the country that influenced US policy through Michael Flynn is Israel, not Russia. But Flynn did try to influence Russia, not the other way around. Ha-ha. This is the smoking gun? What a farce.”

There remain a number of key hurdles to prove the Russia-gate story. First, convincing evidence is needed that the Russian government indeed did “hack” the Democratic emails, both those of the DNC and Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta – and gave them to WikiLeaks. And, further that somehow the Trump campaign was involved in aiding and abetting this operation, i.e., collusion.

There’s also the question of how significant the release of those emails was anyway. They did provide evidence that the DNC tilted the primary campaign in favor of Clinton over Sanders; they exposed the contents of Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street, which she was trying to hide from the voters; and they revealed some pay-to-play features of the Clinton Foundation and its foreign donations.

But – even if the Russians were involved in providing that information to the American people – those issues were not considered decisive in the campaign. Clinton principally pinned her loss on FBI Director James Comey for closing and then reopening the investigation into her improper use of a private email server while Secretary of State. She also spread the blame to Russia (repeating the canard about “seventeen [U.S. intelligence] agencies, all in agreement”), Bernie Sanders, the inept DNC and other factors.

As for the vaguer concerns about some Russian group “probably” buying $100,000 in ads, mostly after Americans had voted, as a factor in swaying a $6 billion election, is too silly to contemplate. That RT and Sputnik ran pieces critical of Hillary Clinton was their right, and they were hardly alone. RT and Sputnik‘s reach in the U.S. is minuscule compared to Fox News, which slammed Clinton throughout the campaign, or for that matter, MSNBC, CNN and other mainstream news outlets, which often expressed open disdain for Republican Donald Trump but also gave extensive coverage to issues such as the security concerns about Clinton’s private email server.

Another vague Russia-gate suspicion stemming largely from Steele’s opposition research is that somehow Russia is bribing or blackmailing Trump because Trump has done some past business with Russians. But there are evidentiary and logical problems with these theories, since some lucrative deals fell through (and presumably wouldn’t have if Trump was being paid off) — and no one, including the Russians, foresaw Trump’s highly improbable election as U.S. President years earlier.

Some have questioned how Trump could have supported detente with Russia without being beholden to Moscow in some way. But Jeffery Sommers, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, wrote a convincing essay explaining adviser Steve Bannon’s influence on Trump’s thinking about Russia and the need for cooperation between the two powers to solve international problems.

Without convincing evidence, I remain a Russia-gate skeptic. I am not defending Russia. Russia can defend itself. However, amid the growing censorship and a dangerous new McCarthyism, I am trying to defend America — from itself.