All posts by natyliesb

Chris Hedges Interviews Matthew Hoh About Status of Afghanistan War; Jimmy Dore Deconstructs CNN’s Whitewashing of Libyan War

Chris Hedges Afghanistan

Image courtesy of Dandelion Salad blog

 

On this week’s episode of On Contact, Chris Hedges takes an in-depth look at the 16-year-old conflict in Afghanistan with Matthew Hoh, a Marine Corps veteran and diplomat who resigned his State Department post in Afghanistan in protest over the war. RT Correspondent Anya Parampil looks at the decades of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.

Watch this important interview here:

https://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/2017/07/15/chris-hedges-and-matthew-hoh-afghanistan-war-keeps-going-because-the-money-keeps-flowing-in/

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A few days ago, Jimmy Dore did a show deconstructing how misleading a recent CNN segment on what’s going on in Libya was.   CNN started it’s timeline after the overthrow of Qaddafi and conveniently left out how the various militias fighting for control of the country emerged and who has been backing them.

As Dore shows, it’s not like this important contextual information isn’t out there.  Hillary Clinton’s emails, which were voluntarily released at the beginning of 2016, revealed that the desire to overthrow the Qaddafi government (which had always allowed women’s rights and had achieved the highest standard of living in all of Africa with a welfare state that would put Scandinavia to shame) was primarily driven by then-French president Nicholas Sarkozy who wanted to acquire control of Libyan oil, maintain influence in the former French colonies of Africa, and to stop Qaddafi’s plan to establish a gold-backed currency that would have provided African economic independence.   The emails also show that western special ops agents were in country at the beginning of the protests, creating provocations.   Genocide by NATO-backed “rebels” against black Libyans who were considered to be loyal to Qaddafi are also documented.

Watch Dore’s brilliant critique of the CNN report here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECko3KDC2w8

Trump & Putin’s Meeting at the G20 Summit Results in Ceasefire Agreement for Southwest Syria; China & Russia Issue Joint Statement re Tensions on Korean Peninsula; Iraq Government Declares Victory Over ISIS in Mosul; New Academic Study Says Hillary Lost Voters in Areas Most Affected by War Casualties

US President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany July 7, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Carlos Barria

US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the their bilateral meeting at the G20 in Hamburg, Germany July 7, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Carlos Barria

Trump and Putin finally met for the first time at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany this past Friday.  And, while it can’t be characterized as a major breakthrough, it did manage to exceed the paltry expectations that many had, myself included.   First, it was noted by Tillerson that the two leaders seemed to have a good rapport and the meeting went well past the allotted time of 30 minutes, clocking in at around 2 hours and 15 minutes.   Reportedly, the issues of alleged Russian hacking of the U.S. presidential election, Ukraine, cyber-security, terrorism and Syria were all addressed.  The last of which resulted in a ceasefire in the southwestern area of Syria.  But those who rely upon the corporate media or even the pseudo-alternative media (e.g. Huffington Post) would be hard-pressed to know this since most of the coverage mentioned the allegations of Russian hacking being discussed but either omitted the part about the Syria ceasefire or buried it at the bottom of the article.

Did the editors of these outlets think that the ceasefire was not newsworthy?

One of the few outlets that did headline the Syria ceasefire development was the Associated Press:

HAMBURG, Germany (AP) — The United States and Russia struck an agreement Friday on a cease-fire in southwest Syria, crowning President Donald Trump’s first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is the first U.S.-Russian effort under Trump’s presidency to stem Syria’s six-year civil war.

The cease-fire goes into effect Sunday at noon Damascus time, according to U.S. officials and the Jordanian government, which is also involved in the deal.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who accompanied Trump in his meeting with Putin, said the understanding is designed to reduce violence in an area of Syria near Jordan’s border that is critical to the U.S. ally’s security.

It’s a “very complicated part of the Syrian battlefield,” Tillerson told reporters after the U.S. and Russian leaders met for more than two hours on the sidelines of a global summit in Hamburg, Germany.

Of the agreement, he said, “I think this is our first indication of the U.S. and Russia being able to work together in Syria.”

It should be remembered, however, that the Obama administration, working via then-Secretary of State John Kerry, also worked out a ceasefire deal in Syria with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov last September, which was later torpedoed by the Pentagon’s “accidental” bombing of a heavily monitored airbase where Syrian army troops had been stationed for a long period of time.

Given how zealous members of the deep state have been to sabotage any move by Trump toward detente by keeping the empty accusations of Russiagate at high pitch, folks should be very cautious in their optimism for the long-term success of this recently agreed ceasefire.   Attempts to sabotage it will likely become obvious in the near future.

Ex-CIA analyst and expert on Russia/Soviet Union, Ray McGovern, reminds readers of this in his analysis of the Putin-Trump meeting and the Syria ceasefire at Consortium News:

With the ceasefire in tatters, Kerry publicly complained on Sept. 29, 2016: “Syria is as complicated as anything I’ve ever seen in public life, in the sense that there are probably about six wars or so going on at the same time – Kurd against Kurd, Kurd against Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sunni, Shia, everybody against ISIL, people against Assad, Nusra [Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate]. This is as mixed-up sectarian and civil war and strategic and proxies, so it’s very, very difficult to be able to align forces.”

Only in December 2016, in an interview with Matt Viser of the Boston Globe, did Kerry admit that his efforts to deal with the Russians had been thwarted by then-Defense Secretary Ashton Carter – as well as all those forces he found so difficult to align.

“Unfortunately we had divisions within our own ranks that made the implementation [of the ceasefire agreement] extremely hard to accomplish,” Kerry said. “But it … could have worked. … The fact is we had an agreement with Russia … a joint cooperative effort.

“Now we had people in our government who were bitterly opposed to doing that,” he said. “I regret that. I think that was a mistake. I think you’d have a different situation there conceivably now if we’d been able to do that.”

….As the new U.S.-Russia agreed-upon ceasefire goes into effect on Sunday, Putin will be eager to see if this time Trump, unlike Obama, can make a ceasefire in Syria stick; or whether, like Obama, Trump will be unable to prevent it from being sabotaged by Washington’s deep-state actors.

According to Democracy Now!, so far the ceasefire appears to be holding since it went into effect on Sunday afternoon:

Monitoring groups say a ceasefire brokered by Trump and Putin for parts of southwest Syria does appear to be holding, as a new round of U.N.-sponsored peace talks open today in Geneva. The territory covered by the ceasefire includes rebel-held areas of Daraa, where opposition officials say weeks of intense bombing by the Syrian government stopped after the ceasefire took effect Sunday. However, fighting continues in other parts of the country, including in Raqqa, where the journalistic group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently says 23 civilians were killed by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes and shelling by U.S.-backed forces over the weekend.

As journalist and geopolitical analyst, Pepe Escobar, pointed out in his thoughts on the meeting, this was actually only one in a series of diplomatically critical meetings that Putin participated in.  Several days earlier Putin met with Chinese leader Xi on which they agreed upon several important geopolitical points:

And then, there’s the big story of the G-20 in Hamburg, which actually started three days earlier in Moscow, in a full-fledged official summit between Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Xi repeatedly extolled the “strategic alliance”, or “the fast-growing, pragmatic cooperation”, or even the “special character” of China’s ties with Russia.

Putin once again pledged to support the New Silk Roads, or One Belt, One Road initiative (Obor), “by all means”, which includes its interpenetration with the Eurasia Economic Union (EEU).

The Russian Direct Investment Fund and the China Development Bank established a joint $10 billion investment fund.

Gazprom and China’s CNPC signed a key agreement for the starting date of gas deliveries via the Power of Siberia pipeline; December 20, 2019, according to Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller. And that will be followed by the construction of Power of Siberia-2.

They kept discussing a military cooperation roadmap.

And at a closed Kremlin meeting the night before their official summit, in which they clinched yet another proverbial raft of deals worth billions of dollars, Putin and Xi developed a common North Korea strategy; “dialogue and negotiation”, coupled with firm opposition to the THAAD missile system being installed in South Korea.

Alexander Mercouris has posted the entire Joint Statement by Russia and China on the North Korean situation, along with his own comments, here.

Just prior to Xi’s meeting with Putin,  the Chinese leader proclaimed the best period of Sino-Russian relations in history in an interview with the Russian state media outlet TASS.   The comments were reported in the Chinese media outlet Xinhua as follows:

BEIJING, July 3 (Xinhua) — Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday said China-Russia relations are at their “best time in history,” and expressed hope the Group of 20 major economies (G20) will continue their support for multilateral free trade and leadership in innovation-driven growth.

….China and Russia have built high-level political and strategic mutual trust, Xi said, noting that China and Russia have completely resolved their border issues left over from history, turning the 4,300-km boundary line into a bond of friendship between the two peoples.

“Our two countries have built a high level of political and strategic trust,” Xi said, adding that the two nations are each other’s most trustworthy strategic partners.

“I believe the visit will lend new impetus to the growth of bilateral relations,” said Xi.

Xi said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin both think China and Russia should deepen economic and trade cooperation so as to reinforce their interests bond and better benefit the two peoples.

“Economic cooperation and trade is the most wide-ranging area in our practical cooperation and enjoys great potential,” Xi said, adding that the structure of China-Russia economic cooperation and trade continues to improve and quite a few new areas of growth have emerged.

China is also set to play a dominant role in the re-construction of Syria as reported yesterday by Syria’s state media outlet SANA:

Syrian Ambassador in Beijing Imad Mustafa said that Chinese companies are expected to play a big role in the reconstruction phase in Syria after the end of the crisis, pointing out that the Syrian government will give top priority to Chinese companies in investment and reconstruction opportunities.

Media Recklessness

Stephen Cohen gives his commentary on the Hamburg meeting in an interview with Tucker Carlson, lamenting the corporate media’s narrative of constantly demonizing Putin and Russia and creating an atmosphere in which any attempt by President Trump to constructively work together with Russia on mutual interests and to decrease tensions between the world’s nuclear superpowers is either pilloried and sabotaged or ignored.   Watch the 5-minute video here

The excellent foreign policy journalist Max Blumenthal goes over the history of the corporate media’s dangerously disingenuous coverage of the war in Syria as well as U.S.-Russia relations.  Watch the video or read the transcript here.

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The Duran reports , along with other media outlets, that the Iraqi government has now regained full control over the ISIS stronghold of Mosul:

The Iraqi army has won the battle of Mosul.  Though ISIS has resisted with fierce determination, and has held the Iraqi army off for 9 months, the last buildings in Mosul’s Old City still under ISIS control have now been freed.

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Reason Magazine has written an article about an academic study done by a political science professor at Boston University and a law professor at University of Minnesota, Douglas Kriner and Francis Shen, showing that Hillary Clinton’s support of war policies cost her support in areas that were most affected by military casualties in America’s myriad wars:

A new study attributes Donald Trump’s victory last year to communities hit hardest by military casualties and angry about being ignored. These voters, the authors suggest, saw Trump as an “opportunity to express that anger at both political parties.”
The paper—written by Douglas Kriner, a political scientist at Boston University, and Francis Shen, a law professor at the University of Minnesota—provides powerful lessons about the electoral viability of principled non-intervention, a stance that Trump was able to emulate somewhat on the campaign trail but so far has been incapable of putting into practice.

 

The study, available at SSRN, found a “significant and meaningful relationship between a community’s rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump.” The statistical model it used suggested that if Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin had suffered “even a modestly lower casualty rate,” all three could have flipped to Hillary Clinton, making her the president. The study controlled for party identification, comparing Trump’s performance in the communities selected to Mitt Romney’s performance in 2012. It also controlled for other relevant factors, including median family income, college education, race, the percentage of a community that is rural, and even how many veterans there were.

“Even after including all of these demographic control variables, the relationship between a county’s casualty rate and Trump’s electoral performance remains positive and statistically significant,” the paper noted. “Trump significantly outperformed Romney in counties that shouldered a disproportionate share of the war burden in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Spotlight on Corporate Media Malfeasance on Syria, Russia, etc.; A Few Facts About Russia; Leader of Afghan Taliban Says U.S. Occupation is Main Obstacle to Peace; Trump & Putin to Meet at G20

Seymour Hersh

Renowned investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has published a report detailing how President Trump ordered the Tomahawk missile strike in Syria this past April even though he received reporting from his intelligence and military advisers that stated there was no concrete evidence at the time that the Assad government was guilty of a sarin (or any intentional chemical) attack in the rebel town of Khan Sheikhoun.  Hersh wrote:

The available intelligence made clear that the Syrians had targeted a jihadist meeting site on April 4 using a Russian-supplied guided bomb equipped with conventional explosives. Details of the attack,  including information on its so-called high-value targets, had been provided by the Russians days in advance to American and allied military officials in Doha, whose mission is to coordinate all U.S., allied, Syrian and Russian Air Force operations in the region.

Some American military and intelligence officials were especially distressed by the president’s determination to ignore the evidence. “None of this makes any sense,” one officer told colleagues upon learning of the decision to bomb. “We KNOW that there was no chemical attack … the Russians are furious. Claiming we have the real intel and know the truth … I guess it didn’t matter whether we elected Clinton or Trump.“

…..To the dismay of many senior members of his national security team, Trump could not be swayed over the next 48 hours of intense briefings and decision-making. In a series of interviews, I learned of the total disconnect between the president and many of his military advisers and intelligence officials, as well as officers on the ground in the region who had an entirely different understanding of the nature of Syria’s attack on Khan Sheikhoun. I was provided with evidence of that disconnect, in the form of transcripts of real-time communications, immediately following the Syrian attack on April 4. In an important pre-strike process known as deconfliction, U.S. and Russian officers routinely supply one another with advance details of planned flight paths and target coordinates, to ensure that there is no risk of collision or accidental encounter (the Russians speak on behalf of the Syrian military). This information is supplied daily to the American AWACS surveillance planes that monitor the flights once airborne. Deconfliction’s success and importance can be measured by the fact that there has yet to be one collision, or even a near miss, among the high-powered supersonic American, Allied, Russian and Syrian fighter bombers.

Read Hersh’s full article at Die Welt.   While nothing in this article should be a surprise to anyone who has been reading this blog for any length of time, it is nonetheless important to have the details and confirmation from a reputable journalistic source like Hersh.   It’s a sad commentary that this kind of investigative reporting has become so rare in the U.S.  One must ask themselves why, after the Bush administration ended, Hersh has had to publish at the London Review of Books and Die Welt.

Moving right along on the topic of pathetic mainstream (corporate) media in the U.S., Glenn Greenwald has written another great primer on the latest installment of horrible reporting on Russia and “Russiagate.”  Since it never ends, the few good journalists have to keep track of the misinformation and counter it on a regular basis.   In this latest piece, Greenwald discusses the larger context of the recent resignations of 3 journalists at CNN – one a Pulitzer Prize winner who was formerly a regular for the NYT – due to sloppy journalistic practices in writing an article that relied on one anonymous source with respect to allegations that Trump associate Anthony Scaramucci was tied to a Russian investment bank that was being probed by Congress.  The story turned out to be bogus and, as I noted previously, the concept of due diligence in contemporary corporate reporting is apparently considered to be out of fashion, something only pedantic un-hip nerd types and old maids who purse their lips would insist on.

From Greenwald:

In announcing the resignation of the three journalists — Thomas Frank, who wrote the story (not the same Thomas Frank who wrote “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”); Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Eric Lichtblau, recently hired away from the New York Times; and Lex Haris, head of a new investigative unit — CNN said that “standard editorial processes were not followed when the article was published.” The resignations follow CNN’s Friday night retraction of the story, in which it apologized to Scaramucci.

….BUT CNN IS hardly alone when it comes to embarrassing retractions regarding Russia. Over and over, major U.S. media outlets have published claims about the Russia Threat that turned out to be completely false — always in the direction of exaggerating the threat and/or inventing incriminating links between Moscow and the Trump circle. In virtually all cases, those stories involved evidence-free assertions from anonymous sources that these media outlets uncritically treated as fact, only for it to be revealed that they were entirely false.

Read Greenwald’s entire skewering of the corporate media’s reporting here.

But, as a producer at CNN admitted in a recent video, there is no proof of any of the Russiagate accusations but it is constantly hammered on at the media outlet because it gets great ratings.  Watch the video here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdP8TiKY8dE

But CNN isn’t the only mainstream outlet that’s finally being forced to acknowledge it’s less than stellar journalistic record on “Russiagate.”  As Robert Parry reports, the New York Times just issued a retraction of its repeated claim that all 17 intelligence agencies signed off on the “assessment” – note that an assessment is not at all the same thing as an intelligence estimate.  In fact, only the CIA, NSA, FBI and the DNI signed off on the estimate earlier this year about Russia’s supposed hacking of the election.  Furthermore, only a handful of cherry-picked analysts from those few agencies contributed to the assessment.

On Thursday, the Times appended a correction to a June 25 article that had repeated the false claim, which has been used by Democrats and the mainstream media for months to brush aside any doubts about the foundation of the Russia-gate scandal and portray President Trump as delusional for doubting what all 17 intelligence agencies supposedly knew to be true.In the Times’ White House Memo of June 25, correspondent Maggie Haberman mocked Trump for “still refus[ing] to acknowledge a basic fact agreed upon by 17 American intelligence agencies that he now oversees: Russia orchestrated the attacks, and did it to help get him elected.”

However, on Thursday, the Times – while leaving most of Haberman’s ridicule of Trump in place – noted in a correction that the relevant intelligence “assessment was made by four intelligence agencies — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community.”

The Times’ grudging correction was vindication for some Russia-gate skeptics who had questioned the claim of a full-scale intelligence assessment, which would usually take the form of a National Intelligence Estimate (or NIE), a product that seeks out the views of the entire Intelligence Community and includes dissents.

The reality of a more narrowly based Russia-gate assessment was admitted in May by President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan in sworn congressional testimony.

Parry has just been awarded the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism for his steady and astute reporting and analysis at Consortium News.   He was awarded the prize in London on June 27th by another iconic journalist (whom I’ve admired since reading his book Heroes in college), John Pilger.  Here is an excerpt of Pilger’s comments when he presented Parry with the award:

There are too many awards for journalism. Too many simply celebrate the status quo. The idea that journalists ought to challenge the status quo — what Orwell called Newspeak and Robert Parry calls “groupthink” — is becoming increasingly rare.

 

More than a generation ago, a space opened up for a journalism that dissented from the groupthink and flourished briefly and often tenuously in the press and broadcasting. Today, that space has almost closed in the so-called mainstream media. The best journalists have become – often against their will – dissidents.

The Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism recognizes these honorable exceptions. It is very different from other prizes. Let me quote in full why we give this award:

“The Gellhorn Prize is in honor of one of the 20th century’s greatest reporters. It is awarded to a journalist whose work has penetrated the established version of events and told an unpalatable truth – a truth validated by powerful facts that expose what Martha Gellhorn called ‘official drivel.’ She meant establishment propaganda.”

Martha was renowned as a war reporter. Her dispatches from Spain in the 1930s and D-Day in 1944 are classics. But she was more than that. As both a reporter and a committed humanitarian, she was a pioneer: one of the first in Vietnam to report what she called “a new kind of war against civilians”: a precursor to the wars of today.

She was the reason I was sent to Vietnam as a reporter. My editor had spread across his desk her articles that had run in the Guardian and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. A headline read, “Targeting the people.” For that series, she was placed on a blacklist by the U.S. military and never allowed to return to South Vietnam.

She and I became good friends. Indeed, all my fellow judges of the Martha Gellhorn Prize  – Sandy and Shirlee Matthews, James Fox, Jeremy Harding — have that in common. We keep her memory.

She was indefatigable. She would call very early in the morning and open up the conversation with one of her favourite expressions – “I smell a rat.”

Martha Gellhorn – this is what a real journalist looks like

When, in 1990, President George Bush Senior invaded Panama on the pretext of nabbing his old CIA buddy General Noriega, the embedded media made almost no mention of civilian suffering. My phone rang. “I smell a rat,” said a familiar voice.

Within 24 hours Martha was on a plane to Panama. She was then in her 80s.  She went straight to the barrios of Panama City, and walked from door to door, interviewing ordinary people. That was the way she worked – in apartheid South Africa, in the favelas of Brazil, in the villages of Vietnam.

She estimated that the American bombing and invasion of Panama had killed at least 6,000 people.

She flew to Washington and stood up at a press conference at the Pentagon and asked a general: “Why did you kill so many people then lie about it?”

Imagine that question being asked today.  And that is what we are honoring this evening. Truth-telling, and the courage to find out, to ask the forbidden question.

Robert Parry is a very distinguished honorable exception.

Read the full speech here.

Speaking of war reporting.   Adam Johnson at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) has written a great piece on how corporate media outlets all characterize the U.S. as being the hapless humanitarian that is constantly being “sucked into” or “stumbling into” wars against its will.   They are mediasplaining to us rubes how the political class in Washington consists of a bunch of well-meaning clowns who bumble around not knowing what to do with all that humanitarian concern welling out of them so they are slipping and sliding around and if others get hurt, well, gee shucks, we’re just a great big well-meaning dufus.

Sliding,” “stumbling,” ”sucked into,” “dragged into,” ”drawn into”: The US is always reluctantly—and without a plan—falling backward into bombing and occupying. The US didn’t enter the conflict in Syria in September 2014 deliberately; it was forced into it by outside actors. The US didn’t arm and fund anti-Assad rebels for four years to the tune of $1 billion a year as part of a broader strategy for the region; it did so as a result of some unknown geopolitical dark matter.

When US empire isn’t reluctant, it’s benevolent. “Initially motivated by humanitarian impulse,” Foreign Policy‘s Emile Simpson (6/21/17)  insisted, “the United States and its Western allies achieved regime change in Libya and attempted it in Syria, by backing rebels in each case.”

“At least in recent decades, American presidents who took military action have been driven by the desire to promote freedom and democracy,” the New York Times editorial board (2/7/17) swooned.

“Every American president since at least the 1970s,” Washington Post’s Philip Rucker (5/2/17) declared, “has used his office to champion human rights and democratic values around the world.” Interpreting US policymakers’ motives is permitted, so long as the conclusion is never critical.

Johnson goes on to contrast this with how other nations’ actions are characterized, like Russia.

Russia isn’t “drawn into” Crimea; it has a secret “Crimea takeover plot” (BBC, 3/9/15). Putin doesn’t “stumble into” Syria; he has a “Long-Term Strategy” there (Foreign Affairs, 3/15/16). Military adventurism by other countries is part of a well-planned agenda, while US intervention is at best reluctant, and at worst bumfuzzled—Barney Fife with 8,000 Abrams tanks and 19 aircraft carriers.
Johnson’s full article can be read here.

 

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I’ve noted a lot of polls, surveys and statistics that have come my way recently that readers may find interesting or enlightening about the Russian economy or Russian attitudes toward various things.

1) According to Russia’s Finance Ministry, Russians’ real incomes rose by 3% in May;

2) Despite that increase – and Russia’s official exit from recession this year – many Russians still worry about wages, the economy overall, and health care – which is undergoing a process of streamlining and reform that has prompted dissatisfaction in some quarters;

3) After suffering one of the worst mortality crises of any nation in peacetime during the 1990’s, Russia is enjoying its 3rd year in a row of natural population growth;

4) The vast majority of Russians – 86% – have no desire to leave Russia and relocate to another country;

5) Russians view the U.S. and Ukraine as the most hostile nations toward them and just over half see no sign of improvement in U.S.-Russia relations on the horizon.

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At the close of Ramadan recently, the leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, declared that the main obstacle to peace in his country was the U.S. occupation:

“Americans should understand that continuation of war in Afghanistan, upsurge of bombardment … will never usher in success for them. The Afghans are not a people to kowtow to someone,” he said.

The fact is, all occupiers eventually pack up their tents and go home. The only variable is how long the occupier continues his folly and how much death and destruction he is going to be responsible for before the light bulb goes on.

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And to wrap up today’s post, it has been reported by Russia’s TASS news agency, that Putin and Trump will meet for the first time at the upcoming G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 7 – 8.   The AP further reports that some of Trump’s advisers say the president is eager for his first meeting with his Russian counterpart.
How the actual meeting goes between Trump, who is notoriously unpredictable, and the calm, cool and collected Putin (who doesn’t impress easily) is anyone’s guess.  Should be interesting to watch video of it.

 

U.S. Shootdown of Syrian Plane, Russia’s Response; Oliver Stone’s 4-Part Interview of Putin; Europeans Express Displeasure at Latest Round of Sanctions on Russia; Comey Says NYT Article False, But NYT Still “Newspaper of Record”?

(Photo: mashleymorgan/flickr/cc)

On Sunday, a U.S. fighter jet shot down a Syrian military plane over Raqqa.  In response, Russia has severed the deconfliction channel between the U.S. and Russian militaries and said any threatening and unauthorized aircraft in Syrian airspace could be targeted.  As Commondreams reports :

In what is being characterized as an act sure to further escalate already alarming tensions between the United States, Syria, and Russia, an American fighter jet shot down a Syrian warplane over Raqqa on Sunday, prompting Moscow to cut off its deconfliction channel with the U.S.

“As of June 19 this year, the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation has ended its interaction with the U.S. side under a memorandum for preventing incidents and providing for safe flights during operations in Syria and demands that the U.S. command carry out a careful investigation and report about its results and the measures taken,” a statement from Moscow reads.

The Defense Ministry continued:

The shooting down of a Syrian Air Force jet in Syria’s airspace is a cynical violation of Syria’s sovereignty. The US’ repeated combat operations under the guise of ‘combating terrorism’ against the legitimate armed forces of a UN member-state are a flagrant violation of international law, in addition to being actual military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic.

The U.S. decision to shoot down the Syrian warplane—which, according to American officials, was retaliation against the plane’s bombing of nearby U.S.-backed ground troops—came “on the same day that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps launched several midrange missiles from inside Iran at targets in Syria, hoping to punish Islamic State forces responsible for last week’s terrorist attacks in Tehran,” the New York Times reported.

  • The move, the Times noted, marks “the first time the American military has downed a Syrian aircraft since the start of the civil war in 2011.”

  • The Pentagon issued a statement: “The coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian, or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend coalition or partner forces from any threat.”

  • According to the Associated Press, the Pentagon’s efforts to de-escalate following the strike do not appear to have been successful: “Russia says it will treat US-led coalition planes in Syria, west of the Euphrates, as targets after US downed Syrian jet.”

  • Here is what the Russian Defense Ministry said: “Any aircraft, including planes and drones of the international coalition, detected in the operation areas west of the Euphrates River by the Russian air forces will be followed by Russian ground-based air defense and air defense aircraft as air targets.”

Since then, CNN has reported that the U.S. has also shot down an Iranian drone near At Tanf in Syria.

Due to the recent progress that the Syrian army is making, with help from Iran and Russia, to retake most of the country from jihadists, this is likely a provocation designed to get Russia to overreact in the hopes that it will take its eye off the ball and the progress will be sabotaged.  Of course, the Russian leadership is not that stupid and Washington should know this by now.  Washington simply can’t accept that its unquestioned hegemony is coming to an end and consequently is flailing around dangerously.  For more context, Mike Whitney provided the following analysis over at Counterpunch:

On June 10, the Syrian Army blitzed across an arid stretch of countryside in southeastern Syria to reach the Iraqi border for the first time in three years. The move,  which caught US war-planners off guard, prevents US-backed rebels from moving north from al Tanf to join the fight against ISIS in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor. More important, the move makes it impossible for Washington to achieve its broader strategic objective of consolidating its territorial gains into a contiguous landmass along the Euphrates River.  Washington wants to control the eastern part of the country so it can continue its attacks on the regime while overseeing the construction of gas pipelines from Qatar to Turkey. The prospects of that plan succeeding are now greatly in doubt due to the surprise advance of the SAA.

Aside from the humiliation of being caught flat-footed by a Syrian Army that has been battered by 6 consecutive years of war,  Washington has allowed loyalist troops to seize a swath of land that splits US proxies on the ground and establishes a critical land corridor connecting Damascus to Baghdad to Tehran, a Shia superhighway that allows for the transport of commercial goods, people and weapons from east to west. Washington wanted to avoid that linkage at all cost, but simply wasn’t prepared to respond. Now any attempt to reverse the situation will involve crossing SAA lines which increases the probability of a direct confrontation with Russia. This is why it is essential to pay attention to events on the ground as they take place. The US and Russia are basically cheek-to-jowl on a topsy-turvy battlefield where any miscalculation could have grave consequences.

This latest move by the Syria Army has only added to Washington’s frustration. Ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the creation of four “de-escalation zones”  on May 5, the so called Axis of Resistance (Russia, Syria, Iran and Hezbollah) has been marching eastward along three parallel tracks with the clear intention of liberating cities captured by ISIS and reestablishing Syria’s sovereign borders.  It’s been a hard-fought slog, but the progress has been steady and ISIS has been pushed back or beaten wherever they’ve been met.

At the present pace, the fight against ISIS could be over in a matter of months, but that doesn’t mean the hostilities will end. No one really knows whether the Turks,  the Kurds or the US-backed militias will agree to withdraw from the territories they’ve captured during the war, but the general consensus seems to be that they won’t. In fact,  the US has actually  accelerated its operations in order to grab as much land as possible before ISIS is defeated. Here’s a clip from an article in the New York Times that helps to explain what’s going on:

“American-backed forces have begun an assault on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s hub in northern Syria, and signs are that they could capture the long-sought target with relative ease. Yet the militant group’s commanders, who have already withdrawn their toughest forces from the city, and most everyone else in Syria’s multifaceted war are looking ahead to an even more decisive battle in the south.

There, a complex confrontation is unfolding, with far more geopolitical import and risk. The Islamic State is expected to make its last stand not in Raqqa but in an area that encompasses the borders with Iraq and Jordan and much of Syria’s modest oil reserves, making it important in stabilizing Syria and influencing its neighboring countries.

Whoever lays claim to the sparsely populated area in this 21st-century version of the Great Game not only will take credit for seizing what is likely to be the Islamic State’s last patch of a territorial caliphate in Syria, but also will play an important role in determining Syria’s future and the postwar dynamics of the region.

With the stakes so high, the United States, Iran and Russia are all scrambling for advantage. They are building up their forces and proxy fighters and, increasingly, engaging in inflammatory clashes that threaten to escalate into a larger conflict…..

What is really at stake are even larger issues. Will the Syrian government re-establish control of the country all the way to its eastern borders? Will the desert straddling the Syrian-Iraqi border remain a no man’s land ripe for militant control? If not, who will dominate there — forces aligned with Iran, Russia or the United States? Which Syrian factions will wield the most influence?” (“Beyond Raqqa, an Even Bigger Battle to Defeat ISIS and Control Syria Looms”, New York Times)

Repeat: The outcome of the battle for east Syria will determine “the postwar dynamics of the region.”

Robert Parry, with his usual sharp eye, points out that not only is this an incredibly reckless move by the Pentagon but it is not in the U.S.’s long term interests:

The [recent Wall Street] Journal editorial criticized Trump for having no strategy beyond eradicating ISIS and adding: “Now is the time for thinking through such a strategy because Syria, Russia and Iran know what they want. Mr. Assad wants to reassert control over all of Syria, not a country divided into Alawite, Sunni and Kurdish parts. Iran wants a Shiite arc of influence from Tehran to Beirut. Mr. Putin will settle for a Mediterranean port and a demonstration that Russia can be trusted to stand by its allies, while America is unreliable. None of this is in the U.S. national interests.”

But why isn’t this in U.S. national interests? What’s wrong with a unified secular Syria that can begin to rebuild and repatriate refugees who have fled into Europe, destabilizing the Continent?

What’s the big problem with “a Shiite arc of influence”? The Shiites aren’t a threat to the United States or the West. The principal terror groups – Al Qaeda and ISIS – spring from the extremist Saudi version of Sunni Islam, known as Wahhabism. I realize that Israel and Saudi Arabia took aim at Syria in part to shatter “the Shiite arc,” but we have seen the horrific consequences of that strategy. How has the chaos that the Syrian war has unleashed benefited U.S. national interests?

And so what that Russia has a naval base on the Mediterranean Sea? That is no threat to the United States, either.

But what is the alternative prescription from the Journal’s neocon editors? The editorial concludes: “The alternative would be to demonstrate that Mr. Assad, Iran and Russia will pay a higher price for their ambitions. This means refusing to back down from defending U.S. allies on the ground and responding if Russia aircraft or missiles attempt to take down U.S. planes. Our guess is that Russia doesn’t want a military engagement with the U.S. any more than the U.S. wants one with Russia, but Russia will keep pressing for advantage unless President Trump shows more firmness than his predecessor.”

So, rather than allow the Syrian government to restore some form of order across Syria, the neocons want the Trump administration to continue violating international law, which forbids military invasions of sovereign countries, and keep the bloodshed flowing. Beyond that, the neocons want the U.S. military to play chicken with the other nuclear-armed superpower on the assumption that Russia will back down.

I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me how any of our interventions since WWII were really in the long-term interests of the average American.   And I certainly can’t fathom how risking a nuclear war over Syria would be.   But then, hey, maybe I’m the crazy one.

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As you may have heard, Oliver Stone did a lengthy and in-depth interview with Putin which aired as a 4-part series recently on Showtime.  As you may also have heard, Stone has taken a lot of heat for even attempting to allow Putin to speak at length for himself, put it out for public consumption and allow Americans to draw their own conclusions without the usual gatekeepers of how to think inserting themselves into it.  Of course, that is exactly what the NYT, Washington Post, and a plethora of talking heads who are passed off as journalists on the network and cable news shows did by shrieking condemnations of the series either through editorials or hostile interviews of Stone.  The subtext was always “if you’re a right-thinking person you will not bother watching this at all.  And if you do watch it, you should be ashamed to admit it in polite company.  It would sort of be like admitting you’re a pedophile or a long-time celibate.  Just don’t.”

One of the more serious and respectful interviews of Stone was by Amy Goodman at Democracy Now!.   You can watch or read the transcript here:

https://www.democracynow.org/2017/6/14/oliver_stone_interviews_putin_on_us?utm_source=Democracy+Now%21&utm_campaign=f0ae52757f-Daily_Digest&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_fa2346a853-f0ae52757f-191485825

You can also watch the entire 4-part series by Stone here:

Part one https://vimeo.com/222012543

Part two https://vimeo.com/221567261

Part three https://vimeo.com/222016191

Part four https://vimeo.com/222019557

Transcript of The Putin Interviews here:
http://skyhorsepublishing.com/titles/13188-9781510733428-putin-interviews

Official Showtime series site:
http://www.sho.com/the-putin-interviews#/closed

Earlier this month, Robert Parry and Consortium News awarded Stone the Gary Webb award for courage in taking the flack for making controversial but necessary documentaries, including interviewing several leaders that Washington opposed (Huge Chavez, Fidel Castro, Vladimir Putin, etc.) and allowing the other side of the story to be told.  Video and transcript of Stone’s remarks can be viewed here:

https://consortiumnews.com/2017/06/14/oliver-stone-receives-gary-webb-award/

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Last week, congress passed a new round of sanctions on Russia (and Iran) for interfering in the election, actions in Syria and Ukraine, the heat wave in the southwest, Mickey Rourke’s bad plastic surgery….oh, wait.  Sorry.  In any event,  Austria and Germany wasted no time in crying foul, stating that the U.S. had no right to interfere in Europe’s economic affairs with Russia, especially in regards to its energy deals with its neighbor.   Zerohedge had more details:

Less than a day after the Senate overwhelmingly voted to impose new sanctions against the Kremlin, on Thursday Germany and Austria – two of Russia’s biggest energy clients in Europe – slammed the latest U.S. sanctions against Moscow, saying they could affect European businesses involved in piping in Russian natural gas.

Gabriel and Kern also accused the U.S. of having ulterior motives in seeking to enforce the energy blockade, which they said is trying to help American natural gas suppliers at the expense of their Russian rivals. And they warned the threat of fining European companies participating in the Nord Stream 2 project “introduces a completely new, very negative dimension into European-American relations.”

In their forceful appeal, the two officials urged the United States to back off from linking the situation in Ukraine to the question of who can sell gas to Europe. “Europe’s energy supply is a matter for Europe, and not for the United States of America,” Kern and Gabriel said. The reason why Europe is angry Some Eastern European countries, including Poland and Ukraine, fear the loss of transit revenue if Russian gas supplies don’t pass through their territory anymore once the new pipeline is built.

Alexander Mercouris commented on Merkel’s remarks the next day reinforcing the criticisms of the sanctions:

For instance, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8, former FBI Director James Comey cast doubt on a Feb. 14 New York Times report titled “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence.

”The article, which relied on “four current and former government officials,” said that “Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election” and that “the intercepts alarmed American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in part because of the amount of contact that was occurring while Mr. Trump was speaking glowingly about the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin.”

Comey was asked about the report during an exchange with Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho.

RISCH:  I remember, you — you talked with us shortly after February 14th, when the New York Times wrote an article that suggested that the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians. This is not factual. Do you recall that?

COMEY: Yes.

RISCH: OK. So — so, again, so the American people can understand this, that report by the New York Times was not true. Is that a fair statement?

COMEY: In — in the main, it was not true.

Later in the hearing, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, asked Comey: “Would it be fair to characterize that story as almost entirely wrong?” To which Comey replied: “Yes.”

Looks again like NYT didn’t do due diligence like real journalists are supposed to do.  Instead, they just took the word of government officials (anonymous ones at that) and ran with it as though it were correct.  Where have we seen this before?  How about with claims that Iraq had WMD?  How about the genocide that was claimed to be going on in Yugoslavia in 1999?  How about the Gulf of Tonkin incident?  How about Qaddafi ordering Libyan troops to commit mass rape while pumped up on Viagra and targeting civilians in 2011?  All of these turned out be bogus and in not one of these instances did the NYT sufficiently question the government narrative and rush to war.   Hey, it only resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and destruction of entire countries.   Easy come, easy go when you’re the “newspaper of record.” 

The Intercept Article – A Bombshell or a Dud?; Megyn Kelly’s Interview with Putin – the Final NBC Version & the Unedited Version; Delegation of Americans Return from Russia; Saudi-Qatar Conflict; Terrorist Attacks in Iran; Tillerson Instructed to Re-Engage with Russia Despite Domestic Politics

Kremlin Wall, Red Square, Moscow; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin

On this past Monday, The Intercept – an outlet I normally admire for Glenn Greenwald and others’ feisty journalism and independence of mind – published what purported to be a bombshell about Russian interference in our recent presidential election via a cyber-attack of county-level election officials in the U.S..  At last, there was supposed to be some actual documentary evidence provided by a whistle-blower at the NSA.

But within 24 hours, there had been much criticism of the article – the NSA document in question is an analysis and does not contain actual data or intelligence – as well as The Intercept’s sloppy methods in dealing with its source, who has already been arrested.

The Intercept article is here and the reader comments are worth perusing as well.

One critical analysis of the article is by military analyst Moon of Alabama who points out the following with respect to the significance of the leaked document:

The NSA “intelligence report” the Intercept publishes along the piece does NOT show that “Russian military intelligence executed a cyberattack“. The document speaks of “cyber espionage operations” – i.e someone looked and maybe copied data but did not manipulate anything. Espionage via computer networks is something every nation in this world (and various private entities) do all the time. It is simply the collection of information. It is different from a “cyberattack” like Stuxnet which was intended to create large damage,

The “attack” by someone was standard spearfishing and some visual basic scripts to gain access to accounts of local election officials. Any minor criminal hacker uses similar means. No damage is mentioned in the NSA analysis. The elections were not compromised by this operation. The document notes explicitly (p.5) that the operation used some techniques that distinguish it from other known Russian military intelligence operations. It might have been done by someone else.

The reporters note that the document does not provide any raw intelligence. It is an analysis based on totally unknown material. It does [not] include any evidence for the claims it makes.

Moon of Alabama also discusses the serious lapses of the outlet in dealing with its source:

FBI search (pdf) and arrest warrant (pdf) applications unveil irresponsible behavior by the Intercept‘s reporters and editors which neglected all operational security trade-craft that might have prevented the revealing of the source. It leaves one scratching the head if this was intentional or just sheer incompetence. Either way – the incident confirms what skeptics had long determined: The Intercept is not a trustworthy outlet for leaking state secrets of public interests.

Julian Assange has defended the 25-year old NSA contracting employee who is the alleged leaker of the document and has publicly excoriated The Intercept for its negligence in protecting its source. Consequently, Wikileaks is offering a $10,000 reward for the exposure and firing of the “reporter” responsible for the bungling.  Assange told The Daily Beast:

“If the FBI affidavit is accurate the reporter concerned must be named, shamed and fired by whomever they work for to maintain industry standards,” Assange said via Twitter direct message through the WikiLeaks account on Tuesday.

“Source burning reporters are a menace,” he said. “They chill trust in all journalists which impedes public understanding.”

WikiLeaks offered a $10,000 reward for information “leading to the public exposure & termination” of the reporter.

 “It seems likely that the FBI affidavit refers to The Intercept, but not certain, hence we say ‘suspected Intercept reporter,’ said Assange. “But whomever this reporter was they are a menace not only to sources but to all journalists by decreasing the trust between sources and journalist and ultimately the public. Democracy dies in darkness.”
Readers can follow the links provided and draw their own conclusions.
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There has also been lots of buzz about Megyn Kelly’s new debut show on NBC and the exclusive interview she conducted with Vladimir Putin during the recently concluded St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.  The final edited version that was shown on NBC can be viewed here.

However, a longer version of the interview can be watched here in which it is clear that the version that appeared on NBC edited out a few things, which makes one wonder why they chose to do so.  Note that the last question in this version, which did not appear in the NBC version at all, has to do with Kelly’s conversations with Russians who all noted that Putin has brought Russia back to a respectable place and how the presidency for the last 17 years has affected him personally.  Putin’s answer is very insightful and humanizes Putin by providing some contextual background of who he is and his connection to the country he governs.   Even Kelly is not unmoved by it.

Another item left out of the NBC version is part of Putin’s answer to Kelly’s question about his response to those in the West who view Russia as a country lacking in democracy and human rights.   The partial answer that NBC omitted has Putin discussing the U.S. government’s response to the Occupy Wall Street movement and pointing out that Russian police have not resorted to the use of tear gas and other more serious weapons to quell protests.   Hmm.

In a conversation with the Today Show’s Willie Geist, Kelly acknowledged that she spent a good amount of time with Putin and that off-camera, Putin was warm, polite and personable.  Of course, on camera, in the more combative debate style interview, he was sharp and argumentative.  This is consistent with the characterization that many people who have actually interacted with Putin have provided – polite and honest but also intelligent, gets things done and doesn’t take any crap.   It’s a combination that makes him popular with the average Russian.  And if he were an American leader, it would no doubt make him popular with average Americans.

It’s why a majority of Russians are ready to re-elect Putin for another term as president, according to the independent Levada Center.

I must also add that, based on my conversations with Russians during both of my visits there, the majority of them do not view Putin as a dictator – they know what real dictators look and act like. Putin is considered a strong leader who gets things done.   This is not to say that Russians are totally uncritical of Putin either or that they are afraid to express any criticism of Putin – that was not my experience during either visit.   But this whole narrative that Americans are bombarded with from corporate media and mainstream politicians about Russia being an autocracy and Putin being some kind of new Stalin should be viewed very skeptically, to say the least.  From what I’ve been able to glean, most Russians would laugh at anyone who seriously tried to compare Putin to Stalin and would think them profoundly ignorant.

Speaking of my recent trip to Russia, my photos should be posted on the blog by next week.  🙂

In the meantime, readers can view a sneak peek from the recent delegation of Americans who visited Russia, organized by Sharon Tennison of the Center for Citizen Initiatives.   Sharon’s group arrived in Moscow just as I was leaving the capital for St. Petersburg.

 

American delegation meets with Mikhail Gorbachev, May 2017; photo by Volodya Shestakov

 

Some of Sharon’s comments on the delegation are excerpted below:

Over the past fifteen years very few Americans have traveled to Russia. Most who did were on cruise ships who met tour operators and a few local people where they docked. Hence there has been little real information about what is actually occurring throughout Russia as the world’s largest country continued to evolve from the bleak Soviet and Yeltsin years which ended in 2000 when Vladimir Putin came to power.

CCI, the largest citizen diplomacy organization between the two nations, determined this year to carry out a first-ever “information-gathering” delegation of American citizen investigators who simultaneously would travel to ten major Russian cities to learn what is happening across Russia––since any type of allegation can be made in U.S.mainstream media and none will know whether it is truth or misinformation.

An invitation was released in January 2017 for “up-to-100 mainstream Americans” to self select for this purpose. Some 80 persons applied and by the end 30 citizen investigators made it through the process to travel. They understood there would be no scheduled museum or palace tours––only intense meetings with Russian peoples and experts of all persuasions in areas as far out as mid-Siberia. These cities included Moscow, Novosibirsk, Ekaterinburg, Krasnodar, Kazan, Volgograd, Simferopol, Sevastopol, Yalta and St.Petersburg.

In Moscow travelers would have only formal meetings with Russian experts such as President Mikhail Gorbachev, ballistic weapons specialist Vladimir Kozin, Russia’s all-time TV Icon Vladimir Pozner, national journalists, and several specialists in business, private health care and international finance. Delegates submitted their questions for each expert a month in advance of these meetings. CCI summarized the queries and sent the final list to each of the experts. For instance President Gorbachev was given 19 questions, Pozner 29 questions, the others varying numbers of inquiries. This was likely a rather unexpected procedure, but we didn’t wish to sit through stock presentations––we wanted specific information from each specialist.

The expert meetings were two hours each. Most of the speakers arrived with their lists of questions in hand to keep themselves on target. Presentations were to the point. After two hours, the speakers and Americans weren’t ready to part; excitement filled the conference rooms as both sides clamored to get the last bits of information asked or answered before parting. Some experts stayed on for lunches or dinners where additional informal give-and-take was possible.

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Unfortunately, more conflict seems to be brewing the Middle East as Saudi Arabia has led a campaign of exclusion and isolation of Qatar in retaliation for a policy of no overt hostility toward Iran, among other things.  The best summation I’ve heard or read yet of the origins and dynamics of this problem are from an interview conducted by the Real News Network‘s Aaron Mate with journalist Max Blumenthal who has a good track record of reporting on Israel-Palestine and Syria.  Here is some of what he had to say:

The rift with Qatar, it’s really a campaign against Qatar led by Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, and it was triggered by Trump’s visit to Riyadh last week as part of his tolerance tour where he called for an Arab NATO, which really shows how he views the region, the Middle East, in a sectarian lens, the same way Saudi Arabia does, and demanded Sunni unity against Iran and its allies in the region. So Qatar wasn’t seen as on board, and the Saudis wanted to go after Doha.

Trump has not just claimed credit for what could potentially be a really catastrophic escalation in hostilities within the Persian Gulf, but he has ratified the extremely aggressive posture of Saudi Arabia with this tweet. I don’t know if Trump is reflecting some of the discussions in his National Security Council. It does seems like the Bannon faction of the Trump administration, the supposedly America First faction, and the Kushner faction, the more internationalist, interventionist faction that’s pro-Israel and very favorable to Saudi Arabia, are actually aligned on this issue of hostility to Qatar.

Because for the Bannon faction, they get to push the Muslim Brotherhood ban again, which they’d been wanting, and which is something that the UAE desperately wants. And Saudi Arabia, of course, wants it because the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is one of Qatar’s main proxies, and in the Gaza Strip, their cousins in Hamas. Then the Kushner faction gets the isolation, if not the total elimination, of the one force in the Persian Gulf, Qatar, which hasn’t been on board with the Israeli-Saudi de facto alliance. So this is good for Israel in many ways. Israel’s come out openly along with Trump and supported what Saudi and UAE are doing to Qatar.

Trump, by doing this, however, has really done serious damage to what I think the Pentagon and the State Department are attempting to do to quell tensions. The Pentagon and the military has not stepped away from Qatar one bit. The CENTCOM has a forward command station inside Qatar, as well as there’s an Air Force base. They do not want to give these up. So Trump is seriously complicating American interests in the region by kind of letting the cat out of the bag.

….I think Qatar understands, especially as a smaller country but one that produces an enormous GDP, has the highest per capita income of any country in the region, that they can punch above their weight if they don’t do exactly what the US wants, and if they embrace, excuse me, a policy of what you could call strategic hedging.

So Qatar kind of is friends with everyone. They maintain relations with Iran. They are funding the Muslim Brotherhood. They’re welcoming dissidents from Egypt, mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood, but there are secular dissidents from Egypt being hosted inside Qatar. And in Syria, what they’ve done is support groups that are actually more extreme than the proxies that even Saudi Arabia has directly supported. We’re talking about direct overt support. So here we’re talking about Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda faction, which Saudi Arabia has supported Jaysh al-Islam, which doesn’t have this international jihadist tendency.

The reason they do all that is to project their influence wherever they can and to suppress opposition because if they’re paying all these different forces off, and they maintain a relationship with Iran, they’re not going to be opposed. That makes it harder for Saudi Arabia to get them on board with Sunni Arab NATO, and they’re seen as sort of a bad player right now, especially with the new king and crown prince in Saudi Arabia who want to take an aggressive position to Iran that’s sort of unprecedented. No relations with Iran, just total hostility.

So that’s come to a head this week with the aerial and land blockade of Qatar, which I really … It’s kind of shocked me. I think if it weren’t for the US military installations there, and were the US military and the State Department, the diplomats not standing by Qatar, you can imagine them being overrun by the Saudi military much as Kuwait was overrun by Saddam Hussein’s military.

….One of the trigger points for Saudi hostilities against Qatar was discussed in the Financial Times by Erika Solomon. I think she laid it out pretty well, but it’s been sort of well-known for a while. In 2015, a party of about 26 Qatari royals was kidnapped. They were a hunting party in Iraq. The kidnapping was a sort of clever device by Iran and the Qataris to carry out a series of diplomatic moves. First of all, Qatar agreed to a $700 million payment to Kata’ib al-Hezbollah, the Shia militia linked to the Iranian government that carried out the kidnapping. At the same time, they paid $80 million to Ahrar al-Sham, a Salafist militia inside Syria dedicated to overthrowing Bashar al-Assad and hostile to Iran. And 120 million more to Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, which is an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria.

So what’s going on here? Why did they pay both sides? Well, this is consistent with their policy of strategic hedging. But it also was part of Qatar trying to exert its diplomatic muscle because it allowed for the evacuation of two Shia towns under siege by Sunni militias in Syria and two Sunni towns, which were opposition towns under siege by the Syrian government. So the payment took place under the cover of this evacuation deal of these four towns.

When Saudi Arabia found out about it, they were furious because $700 million went through the Iranian government from Qatar. That’s a massive cash infusion that actually empowered the Syrian government. The reason they had to kind of pay off the jihadists and Salafist militias as opposed to Assad is to say, “Look, you guys get some, too.” So it actually wound up escalating the conflict. It demonstrated to Saudi Arabia that Qatar was just not on board with Sunni NATO, with opposing Iran at all costs and ramping up hostility.

So I think this came to a head, I think, a week ago or so when Qatari state media contained a report that showed the Emir stating his refusal to break off relations with Iran. Qatar said this was hacked, but it could have been very well been something that the Emir said. In any case, the media war led to a political war, and now we stand on the brink of a hot war….

Watch the full interview or read the whole transcript here

There are also reports that Saudi Arabia has given Qatar, via the Kuwaiti government, an ultimatum with a 24-hour deadline to agree to a set of demands, including cutting off all ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.   Other details of the ultimatum remain sketchy, but recent reports claim that Qatar has moved its military to high alert in order to defend against any potential invasion.   Turkey is also reportedly preparing a bill to provide both civilian and military aid to the embattled Gulf nation.  Qatar, which is heavily dependent on food imports, is also in negotiations with Iran to possibly provide food aid since being blockaded by Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries.

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In Iran terrorist attacks have targeted the Majlis (Iran’s parliament) and the shrine honoring the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini, killing 12 people and wounding many others.  ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The following details were provided by Euronews:

Suicide bombers and gunmen attacked the Iranian parliament and the Mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran on Wednesday, killing at least 12 people in a twin assault which Iran’s Revolutionary Guards blamed on regional rival Saudi Arabia.

Islamic State claimed responsibility and released a video purporting to show gunmen inside the parliament building. It also threatened more attacks against Iran’s majority Shi’ite population, seen by the hardline Sunni militants as “heretics”.

….They were the first attacks claimed by Islamic State inside the tightly controlled Shi’ite Muslim country, one of the powers leading the fight against IS forces in nearby Iraq and Syria.

Iranian police said they had arrested five suspects over the attacks and the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, struck a defiant tone.

“These fireworks have no effect on Iran. They will soon be eliminated … They are too small to affect the will of the Iranian nation and its officials,” state TV quoted him saying.

Khamenei added that Iran, which is helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fight rebels including Islamic State fighters, had prevented worse attacks through its foreign policy.

The powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps accused Riyadh of being behind the attacks and vowed to seek revenge.

“This terrorist attack happened only a week after the meeting between the U.S. president (Donald Trump) and the (Saudi) backward leaders who support terrorists. The fact that Islamic State has claimed responsibility proves that they were involved in the brutal attack,” a Guards statement said.

The deputy head of the Guards, Brigadier General Hossein Salami, was quoted later by Tasnim news agency as saying: “We will take revenge on terrorists and their supporters who martyred our people.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, speaking in Berlin, said he did not know who was responsible for the attacks and said there was no evidence Saudi extremists were involved.

The U.S. State Department and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres both condemned the attacks.

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To end on a somewhat positive note, during a recent trip to New Zealand, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that he has been instructed by president Trump to ignore the political hoopla going on in the domestic policy arena and work toward re-engaging Russia.  The AP reported on June 6th:

The top U.S. diplomat spoke in Wellington, New Zealand, where he met with Prime Minister Bill English during a brief visit.

Tillerson said he couldn’t comment on the details of the Russia investigations or whether they could bring down the administration because “I have no direct knowledge.”

He said Trump has told him he should not allow the uproar to impede him from working on the relationship.

“He’s been quite clear with me to proceed at whatever pace and in the areas I think we might make progress,” Tillerson said. “I really am not involved in any of these other issues.”

 

Brzezinski Exits; Russiagate & Back Channels; Eurasian Century Continues to Emerge

Visiting a Pakistani Army outpost in 1980, Mr. Brzezinski used the sights of a machine gun to look across the Afghan border. He supported billions in military aid for Islamic militants fighting invading Soviet troops in Afghanistan – this description is according to the NYT obituary on Zbig, but in actuality, he admitted in a 1998 interview with a French newspaper that he played a role in goading the Soviet Union into invading Afghanistan in order to give the USSR its own “Vietnam” quagmire. 

On May 26th, Washington’s most famous Russophobe, Zbigniew Brzezinski, exited the stage at the age of 89, having wreaked much havoc on the world.  For further details on Zbig and why no one should be shedding any tears at the demise of this architect of hatred and mayhem, see my previous posts on his background and Grand Chessboard philosophy here and his most recent nonsense here reflecting a man who once was touted as a geopolitical genius in the nation’s capital but had been recently reduced to pathetic attempts to try to stay relevant, still claiming that Russia and China could be seduced away from their strategic partnership by the whispering of a few sweet nothings from the fetid breath of Washington’s political class.

Veteran investigative journalist, John Helmer, who had an advisory role in the Carter administration and had a front row seat to Zbig’s machinations, did a write-up of him here.

Perhaps Zbig can dust off a few seats next to him in the underworld for Kissinger, Cheney, Albright and other warmongers.

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Well, it’s been over 3 weeks since I made my trek to Russia for a working vacation and to report on what I saw, and now that I’ve returned to look at the American news cycle, it’s still all about how Russia hacked our democracy and is guilty of all sorts of shenanigans to take down America.

The first thing of note.  According to CNN’s May 23rd report on former CIA director John Brennan’s testimony before the Senate on this very topic, he could not say definitively that any contacts with any potential Russians amounted to collusion.   Furthermore James Clapper recently admitted that there was no full assessment on this topic by all 17 intelligence agencies as Americans had been initially led to believe, but that analysts were hand-picked from only 4 intel agencies (FBI, CIA, NSA and office of DNI).  This, of course, is the antithesis of an objective analysis.  As Robert Parry, notes:

Yet, as any intelligence expert will tell you, if you “hand-pick” the analysts, you are really hand-picking the conclusion. For instance, if the analysts were known to be hard-liners on Russia or supporters of Hillary Clinton, they could be expected to deliver the one-sided report that they did.

In any event, Brennan’s admission of no actual evidence follows Dianne Feinstein’s admission to Wolf Blitzer on CNN a few weeks back that, after a classified intelligence briefing on the matter, she was provided no evidence of collusion.  And that follows former DNI James Clapper admitting in an earlier interview in March that, as of January 20th of this year, there was no evidence of any actual wrongdoing in terms of collusion between the Trump camp and Russia to interfere in the election.

After 10 months of investigating, we still have no evidence for any of these claims being made and kept alive in the interests of the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party.  According to a recently released book on why Hillary Clinton’s campaign failed, called Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, members of her campaign began cooking up the blame-Russia excuse for her loss in the immediate aftermath of the concession.

And as Jimmy Dore has pointed out, no one ever defines what is meant by “collusion” and what criminal laws may have been broken by these shadowy activities that the Trump administration and Russia are accused of.   A recent article by Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi sums up what a head-scratcher this whole inquiry has turned into:

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper appeared on This Week Sunday, and said some head-scratching things.

Clapper back in March told Meet the Press that when he issued a January 6th multiagency intelligence community assessment about Russian interference in the election, the report didn’t include evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, essentially saying he hadn’t been aware of any such evidence up through January 20th, his last day in office.

On Sunday, he said that didn’t necessarily mean there was no such evidence, because sometimes he left it up to agency chiefs like former FBI Director James Comey to inform him about certain things.

“I left it to the judgment [of] Director Comey,” Clapper said, “to decide whether, when and what to tell me about counterintelligence investigations.”

Clapper said something similar when he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last Monday. In prepared remarks, he essentially said that there was nothing odd about his not being informed about the existence of an FBI counterintelligence investigation involving Donald Trump’s campaign.

Speaking generally, Clapper seemed to imply that the Trump-Russia-collusion scandal, the thing colloquially known as #Russiagate all over the world now, may have originated in information gleaned by the intelligence community, who in turn may have tipped off the FBI.

“When the intelligence community obtains information suggesting that a U.S. person is acting on behalf of a foreign power,” he said, “the standard procedure is to share that information with the lead investigatory body, which of course is the FBI.”

He went on, explaining that in such a situation, it wouldn’t be unusual for the DNI to not be informed about an FBI counterintelligence investigation.

“Given its sensitivity,” he said, “even the existence of a counterintelligence investigation’s closely held, including at the highest levels.”

In his Senate testimony, Clapper went out of his way to say this didn’t contradict his earlier statements. But if he’s not contradicting himself, he’s certainly added a layer of confusion to what is already the most confusing political scandal ever.

Back on March 5th, when Clapper gave that interview to Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, he sounded definitive on a number of counts.

Todd for instance asked Clapper if he would know if the FBI had a FISA court order for surveillance. Clapper answered unequivocally: “Yes.”

Clapper made it clear that he would have known if there were any kind of surveillance authority against “the president elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign.”

Taibbi goes on to describe how Clapper’s interviewer on Meet the Press asked the question again, more than once, in order to ensure that Clapper understood the gravity of the question and would give a consistent answer.   He did the same with questions about knowledge of any evidence in support of the charge of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.  Again, Clapper said he was aware of no such evidence at the time he left office.

Taibbi also points out logical inconsistencies in what Clapper has subsequently told both the Senate and the media and what recently fired FBI director James Comey has said.

Comey was saying that he hadn’t briefed the DNI because between January 20th, when Clapper left office, and March 16th, when former Indiana senator and now Trump appointee Dan Coats took office, the DNI position was unfilled.

But Comey had said the counterintelligence investigation dated back to July, when he was FBI director under a Democratic president. So what happened between July and January?

If Comey felt the existence of his investigation was so important that he he had to disclose it to DNI Coats on Coats’ first day in office, why didn’t he feel the same need to disclose the existence of an investigation to Clapper at any time between July and January?

Furthermore, how could the FBI participate in a joint assessment about Russian efforts to meddle in American elections and not tell Clapper and the other intelligence chiefs about what would seemingly be a highly germane counterintelligence investigation in that direction?

Again, prior to last week, Clapper had said he would know if there was a FISA warrant issued on this matter. But then on April 11th, law enforcement and government officials leaked – anonymously, as has been the case throughout most of this story – that the FBI had obtained a FISA warrant for surveillance of Trump associate Carter Page.

So what’s going on here?

Taibbi provides some theories from Washington insiders about what may explain these inconsistencies, but ultimately, no satisfactory answers are given in light of the gravity of the vague accusations and the constant barrage of innuendo.

But it’s our job in the media to be bothered by little details, and the strange timeline of the Trump-Russia investigation qualifies as a conspicuous loose end.

What exactly is the FBI investigating? Why was it kept secret from other intelligence chiefs, if that’s what happened? That matters, if we’re trying to gauge what happened last week.

….But when it comes to the collusion investigation, there are serious questions. A lot of our civil liberties protections and rules of press ethics are designed to prevent exactly this situation, in which a person lingers for extended periods of time under public suspicion without being aware of the exact nature, or origin, of the accusations.

It’s why liberal thinkers have traditionally abhorred secret courts, secret surveillance and secret evidence, and in the past would have reflexively discouraged the news media from printing the unverified or unverifiable charges emanating from such secret sources. But because it’s Donald Trump, no one seems to care.

We should care. The uncertainty has led to widespread public terror, mass media hysteria and excess, and possibly even panic in the White House itself, where, who knows, Trump may even have risked military confrontation with Russia in an effort to shake the collusion accusations. All of this is exacerbated by the constant stream of leaks and hints at mother lodes of evidence that are just around the corner. It’s quite literally driving the country crazy.

Not only is it driving the country crazy, it is conveniently taking coverage away from pressing domestic issues that need to be addressed, such as increasing poverty, health care, and failing infrastructure (among others) and it is also preventing any chance of decreasing tensions with the world’s other nuclear superpower.

Now, the talk is about Jared Kushner and others allegedly wanting to set up a back channel of communication with Russia. According to Alexander Mercouris’ analysis, the back channel was an idea apparently intended to facilitate the discussion of actions in Syria and was never followed up on.

This leak alleges that in early December at a meeting with Russian ambassador Kislyak in Trump Tower which General Michael Flynn also attended Kushner discussed with Kislyak the setting up of a back channel between General Flynn and the Russians.

The idea apparently was that Flynn would use this back channel to discuss with the Russians the conflict in Syria and other security issues.

….There is no suggestion here that the back channel was intended to discuss possible collusion between the Trump team and the Russians relating to the US political process.  Of course by this point the election was over, so this proposal for a back channel can have no bearing on the allegations of secret collusion during the election between the Trump campaign and the Russians, which are the subject of the Russiagate investigation.

And the implication is, of course, that the establishment of such a back channel, had it occurred, is necessarily a bad and nefarious thing.  A little history lesson is in order here.   John Kennedy set up a back channel of communication with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and that back channel came in very handy when dealing with the Cuban Missile crisis.  Some even plausibly claim that that back channel enabled the de-escalation of the crisis and prevented a nuclear war.

Establishing as much direct communication as possible between the world’s two nuclear superpowers, especially during times of high tension, is a GOOD thing.  Any rational person whose brain is not irredeemably compromised by pathological partisanship should be able to recognize this.

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Meanwhile, Russia is putting its head down and continuing on with its plans to participate in the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) plan for peaceful trade and infrastructure investment spearheaded by China. Two of the most knowledgeable writers on the OBOR initiative, F. William Engdahl and Pepe Escobar, have each recently published articles providing additional insights and updates on the plan’s progress, which could make the 21st century the Eurasian Century – supplanting the world hegemony that Washington has enjoyed since 1945.

Engdahl’s piece describes the failure of Washington’s plan to divide Russia and China (a plan advocated by both Henry Kissinger and the late Brzezinski, as noted above) and focuses in on the decision of the Nixon administration to take the U.S. off the gold standard, in violation of the Bretton Woods framework, as the beginning of Washington’s gradual decline:

It’s very essential in my view to appreciate where the post-1944 development of America’s role in the world went seriously wrong. The grandiose project dubbed by Henry Luce in 1941 as the American Century, if I were to pick a date, began its twilight on August 15, 1971.

That was the point in time a 44-year-old Under-Secretary of the Treasury for International Monetary Affairs named Paul Volcker convinced a clueless President Richard Milhous Nixon that the treaty obligations of the 1944 Bretton Woods Treaty on a postwar Gold Exchange Standard should be simply ignored. Volcker rejected the express mandate of the Bretton Woods Treaty which would have seen a devaluation of the dollar in order to rebalance world major currencies. By 1971 the economies of war-ravaged countries such as Japan, Germany and France had rebuilt at a significantly higher level of efficiency than the US.

A devaluation of the dollar would have given a major boost to US industrial exports and eased the export of dollar inflation in the world arising from Lyndon Johnson’s huge Vietnam War budget deficits. The de-industrialization of the USA could have thereby been avoided. Wall Street would hear none of that. Their mantra in effect was, “Nothin’ personal, just bizness…” The banks began the destruction of the American industrial base in favor of cheap labor and ultra-high-profit manufacture abroad.

Instead of correcting that at a point it could have had an enormously positive economic effect, Volcker advised Nixon to in effect spit on America’s international treaty obligations and to brazenly dare the world to do something about it. On Volcker’s advice, Nixon simply ripped the treaty in shreds and ended Federal Reserve redemption of dollars held by foreign central banks for US gold reserves. The US dollar overnight was no longer “as good as gold.”

….The American Century is crumbling before our eyes, and has been doing so for the near-five decades since August, 1971. That willful ignoring of the health of the economy of the United States over decades has created a vast moral, political and economic vacuum in the world today.

Into that vacuum other nations outside Washington’s NATO control are building what I have termed a Eurasian Century, a very lawful and positive response to an increasingly totalitarian Washington role in the world.

The contrast between what China, together with Russia, and the other nations of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Eurasia are doing to build up their common economic space, and what the United States, Britain and other NATO nations are doing to destroy, could not be more stark.

Read the full article here

Escobar’s article covered the recently-convened “Belt and Road Forum” which took place in Beijing where the Chinese president followed his usual custom of the past several years when he invites Putin to an important forum – he placed him right at his side.  It’s the kind of move that seasoned international observers know is not done willy-nilly.

History will record the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing marked the juncture where the 21st century New Silk Roads assumed their full character of Globalization 2.0, or “inclusive globalization,” as defined by President Xi Jinping in Davos earlier this year.I have dealt with the monumental stakes here and here. Terminology, of course, remains a minor problem. What was once defined as One Belt, One Road (OBOR) is now promoted as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Much is still somewhat lost in translation in English, what matters is that Xi has managed to imprint the myriad possibilities inbuilt in the concept especially across the Global South.

….President Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were guests of honor at the forum – alongside leaders such as Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev and Turkey’s Erdogan. At a business breakfast discussion, Xi seated Putin to his right and Lavrov to his left.

At a Leaders Roundtable summit on the second day of the forum – a sort of Silk Road United Nations, with the microphones open equally to all – Putin touched on a key point; the symbiosis, formalized since 2015, between OBOR/BRI and the Russia-driven Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), currently formed by Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Armenia.

As Putin said, “some 50 European, Asian and Latin American states” are interested in cooperation with the EEU. While the EEU and China are discussing their own, wide-ranging trade/economic deal, the EEU is also consulting, among others, with Iran, India, Serbia, Singapore, and Egypt.

But it was during his speech at the inaugural session of the forum that Putin managed to distill what amounts to a concentrate of Russian foreign policy.

Here are the key topics.

– Through “integration formats like the EEU, OBOR, the SCO, and ASEAN, we can build the foundation for a larger Eurasian partnership.”

– There is now a “unique opportunity to create a common cooperation framework from the Atlantic to the Pacific – for the first time in history.” Essentially, this is what Putin himself had once proposed – then shunned by EU/NATO – even before Xi announced OBOR in 2013.

– “Russia is not only willing to be a reliable trading partner but also seeks to invest in the creation of joint ventures and new production capacities in partnering states, to invest in industrial facilities, sales, and services.”

– Russia is investing in building “a system of modern and well-connected transport corridors,” “expanding the capacity of the Baikal-Amur Mainline and the Trans-Siberian Railway, investing significant resources into improvements to the Northeast Passage.”

– And then, looking at the Big Picture, “the infrastructure projects within the EEU and the One Belt, One Road initiative in conjunction with the Northeast Passage can completely reconfigure transportation on the Eurasian continent.”

– Putin expects “newly established financial institutions like the New Development Bank (BRICS Development Bank) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to offer a supporting hand to private investors.”

And then, the clincher, fully aligned with Xi’s vision; “Greater Eurasia is not an abstract geopolitical arrangement but, without exaggeration, a truly civilization-wide project looking toward the future.”

Read the full article here

Washington doesn’t seem to have a constructive or even workable policy to deal with this.  Instead, it is humiliating itself with its Nora Desmond act on the world stage.

Victory Day & The Thwarted Quest to See Lenin’s Tomb

Geography has been a double-edged sword for Russia.  On the one hand, geography has blessed it with much beauty and prodigious natural resources. But geography has also made Russia vulnerable due to a lack of oceans and mountain ranges to fend off invaders.  This combination has made Russia an irresistible temptation to megalomaniac leaders, like Napoleon and Hitler, who thought they could conquer this vast land that straddles two continents.

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And what did Napoleon and Hitler get for their hubris? Russians galloping into Paris and rolling tanks into Berlin, to paraphrase Dmitry Orlov.

 

But don’t let that dark humor fool you about Russians’ general attitude toward war. They hate war and have a visceral fear of it.  (Although, if backed against the wall, they will fight to the death for their home.  Picking a fight with these people is not recommended).  That is because they have not forgotten the terrible price they have paid.  The Soviets lost about 27 million people fighting off the Nazis – 17 million of them civilians – and one third of their country was destroyed in the process.  General Eisenhower wrote in his memoirs of what he saw when he went into the Soviet Union in 1945:

 

When we flew into Russia, in 1945, I did not see a house standing between the western borders of the country and the area around Moscow. Through this overrun region, Marshal Zhukov told me, so many numbers of women, children and old men had been killed that the Russian Government would never be able to estimate the total.

Although many Americans and Europeans have now bought into the America-centric rhetoric of the U.S. winning WWII in Europe, it was not controversial in the aftermath of WWII to acknowledge that the Soviet Union had, in fact, broken the Nazi Wehrmacht, likely saving many American lives by bearing the brunt of the fighting as one of FDR’s advisers had talked him into going into North Africa in late 1942, which significantly delayed the U.S. opening up a western front attack on Germany.

 

It’s a shame that the Cold War and Washington’s post-Cold War triumphalism have undermined our ability to acknowledge the sacrifices and achievements of the Soviet Union when we were allied against the Nazis.

 

But with or without the west’s approval, Russia solemnly commemorates Victory Day each year with elaborate parades in major cities, like Moscow and St. Petersburg.  The Russian president gives a speech before the Moscow parade and the parade is followed by the Immortal Regiment Rally in which Russians march through the streets carrying photos of family members who fought and/or died in the Great Patriotic War (WWII).

 

The nights leading up to Victory Day this year included light shows on a trio of large high-rise buildings near where we’ve been staying.  Alternating images of the St. George Ribbon (more below), the Red Star, and the years 1941 and 1945 and other related iconography were projected onto the buildings.

 

Part of the parade route included New Arbat which is the street our apartment is located on, so I headed outside about a half hour or so before the start time and braved the cold. I was able to find a good vantage point to watch and take pictures, having decided that I wouldn’t walk all the way over to Red Square, reasoning that it would be too crowded and I likely wouldn’t be able to get in for a good view.  I later learned my intuition was correct and that only people who have permission can actually get into the square on Victory Day – probably officials, foreign dignitaries and special guests.

 

More people came out to line the streets as the time drew near.  Lots of families, people with their phones out ready to snap pictures, and a smattering of individuals waving Russian flags thronged the edge of the modest barricades and tape that separated the spectators from the road.  In terms of security, the atmosphere was fairly low-key.  Police officers were stationed every 25-30 feet. At one point I spotted an officer on the roof of one of the buildings across the street surveying the scene.  When I looked up again a while later he was gone.

 

Many officers wore wind breakers and some had on rain coats.  I did not see any guns. There was no riot gear.

 

As people waited, earnest Russian music spilled out of loudspeakers.  Then the music stopped and a brief announcement was made.  A short motorcade of military officers in their crisp uniforms drove by about 5 minutes before the rest of the procession of tanks and other military vehicles began their ride down the street.  Some soldiers in the procession waved to the cheering crowds as they rode by, sometimes honking their horns.

 

I saw several people sporting the St. George’s ribbon, which is common on Victory Day (image below) as it’s a symbol of patriotism and solidarity.  The ribbon has its origins in the Czarist period as representing the highest military order. In recent years some nationalist groups have tried to co-opt the symbol or variations of it.

 

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The official transcript of Putin’s speech is available here.  It was fairly short, acknowledging the great sacrifices that made the defeat of Nazi Germany possible, and emphasizing that Russia will never be conquered and that international cooperation is the key to preventing any future world war.

 

The holiday celebrations concluded with a fireworks display at 10:00 pm, which I watched from our kitchen window as the balcony was too crowded with other residents from our floor of the building.  Fireworks could actually be seen in different parts of the city, but the largest display lit up over Red Square and the Kremlin.

 

According to a recent survey by the Levada Center, 76 percent of Russians planned on celebrating Victory Day this year.  Interest and participation was relatively equal among Russians, regardless of age, education or income level.

 

 

Lenin’s Tomb

 

I thought it would be an appropriate stop given that it’s the centennial of the Russian Revolution, but it just wasn’t meant to be for me to see the inside of Lenin’s Tomb.  It was not open at all on Tuesday due to the parade.

 

Below are a couple of photos of what Lenin in repose is supposed to look like.

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(For details on the process used to embalm Lenin, go here)

 

From what I can ascertain, admission into the tomb is free but it is a very solemn and formal atmosphere. There is no talking or picture-taking allowed.

 

Interestingly, over half of Russians polled now think that Lenin’s body should be laid to rest and no longer displayed in public, though they want the monument itself to remain in Red Square. However, the Putin government has been hesitant to remove the body, presumably to avoid offending any of the people who grew up in the Soviet era or giving the impression that an important part of Russian history is somehow being denied. There has also been some criticism about money from the Russian budget going to maintain the preservation of Lenin’s remains.

 

My next dispatch will cover my all-day guided tour of Moscow that will include visits to the Elbe Monument, the Gulag Museum and the Museum of Contemporary History, which has an exhibit on the Russian Revolution. And to top off the day, I’ll be taking a river boat ride.

 

*Note:  Photos I’ve taken on this trip will not be available until after I return and get them developed.

Greetings from Moscow

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Moscow River. Photo courtesy of 123RF.com. 

The first thing one sees to their right as they begin the descent down into Moscow’s largest airport is the sun glistening off the Moscow river surrounded by lots of greenery.  It gave me the pick-up I needed after an exhausting 24 hours of minimal sleep, being crammed on several airplanes and literally running from one end of an airport to another because one flight was almost 2 hours late and nearly made me miss a connecting flight.

 

We were blessed with sunny weather in the Russian capital, which was a welcome change from the rain and dreariness at both New York and Paris.

 

I had to snicker in the back seat of our cab as my travel companion this time, who had never been to Russia before, freaked at the high speeds and improvised lanes that one sees on some of the major roads in Moscow.  Our taxi driver, a young military veteran who works in the veterinary profession and drives for extra money on the weekends, kept getting an earful from my friend but took it in stride.

 

I did not smell the pungent odor of gasoline in the air this time so the city not only looks clean but smells clean – at least, the section we’ve been in.

 

Later in the evening I heard music at various times out in the distance from our apartment, alternating between classical piano and a lady’s voice singing.  I couldn’t pinpoint exactly where it was emanating from, but it was pleasant nonetheless.

 

On Sunday morning, just before 10:00 am, as I was sitting in the kitchen drinking my herbal tea, enjoying the breeze through the open window, I heard the lovely sound of church bells ringing followed by a beautiful piano sonata.

 

About a half hour later, I ventured out to the street where many spectators were standing along the sidewalk waiting for the procession to pass by in rehearsal for Tuesday’s Victory Day Parade.  Lots of families out with little ones in tow and babies being pushed in strollers.

 

I made my way down the street until I found a small grocery store where I could pick up some necessities.  Along the way I tried out my pathetically small Russian vocabulary on a couple of the city police officers who were providing security.  They politely acknowledged me but I noted their perplexed expressions as they’d just heard me speaking American English with my travel companion. Probably thinking “I thought you guys hated us.  WTF?”

 

The apartment where we are staying is not as close to Red Square as we were led to believe.  So I started out a little later on a long trek to the square to visit Lenin’s Tomb, which was closed the last time I was there.

Red Square. Squat building in distant center is Lenin’s Tomb. Photo by Natylie Baldwin, Oct. 2015

Walking along, this time solo, I was thinking about how I’m traipsing around in a country on the other side of the world where I don’t know much of the language, largely without an experienced guide this time.  I guess I’ve gotten more adventurous as I’ve gotten older – or maybe just stupid. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

 

I start to smile at people around me to indicate friendliness and then I remember that Russians don’t really smile at strangers and will likely tag a smiling stranger as a foreigner or a crazy person as the old joke goes, so I keep my expressions of random good cheer to myself.

 

I wrote in one of my dispatches from my last visit – in Krasnodar – that there was piped in music throughout a pedestrian thoroughfare, including American and British popular music, interspersed with Russian music. Russians love music and are very fond of western music.  I had the same experience today.  In front of one set of shops, I heard piped in music – more specifically, it was a Muzak version of “Staying Alive” by the BeeGees

Pedestrian thoroughfare in Krasnodar. Photo by Natylie Baldwin, Oct. 2015

By the time I reached the front of Red Square, I realized it was barricaded off on the side I could see.  It looked as though there might be some other way in but it would require me to circumambulate and risk not being able to easily find my way back to our apartment.  So I decided to turn around and enjoy the walk back.

Entrance to Red Square, Moscow. Photo by Natylie Baldwin, Oct. 2015

I’ll have to wait until Tuesday after the parade to see Volodya in all his mummified glory.

 

My next dispatch will be in a few days and will cover the Victory Day celebrations and my guided tour.

 

It’s Time to Talk About the Media

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(Putin/Trump Power Play.  Screenshot: MSNBC; https://theintercept.com/2017/04/12/msnbcs-rachel-maddow-sees-a-russia-connection-lurking-around-every-corner/)

With the CIA chief Michael Pompeo announcing last week that the agency is looking into bringing charges against Wikleaks founder Julian Assange and the publication of an expose at The Intercept quantifying just how much Rachel Maddow – who used to be a decent journalist – has now jumped the shark with respect to her obsession with hammering away on the Russia-Trump conspiracy – even though there is still no evidence of such 6 months after the election – it’s time to talk about the problem with the mainstream corporate media.

First of all, when it comes to Assange and Wikileaks, I’m amused at how people go from loving them to hating them and back depending on how they are perceived to be somehow helpful to Trump or not. Many liberals and lefties years ago were singing Wikleaks’ praises when it was exposing the crimes of the Bush administration.   Many of these same liberals turned on Assange/Wikileaks like a mad dog when they started exposing material that made Clinton look bad and was perceived to somehow be helping Trump.  Trump himself, and later Pompeo, praised Wikileaks when its published materials were perceived to be in their political interests.  Now Trump’s CIA has declared war on the organization for releasing a trove of CIA documents that reveal the extent of its’ ability to illegally spy on Americans and conduct cyber warfare in such a way as to make it look like it is originating from a foreign government (Russia or China) – i.e. false flag attacks that can lead to a dangerous escalation of tensions between nuclear-armed powers.

Of course, anyone who has done their homework on the history of the CIA’s machinations since the end of WWII will not be surprised at any of this, only the technology has changed and makes things even more dangerous.

It seems to me that if Assange and Wikileaks is able to piss off all sides, then that proves their independence which is something that real journalistic outlets are supposed to practice:  report and expose without fear or favor.

Here is what James Goodale, attorney who represented the New York Times in the case of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, had to say in his 2013 book, Fighting for the Press, about the implications of the U.S. government prosecuting Assange (thanks to Alex Emmons for drawing attention to this on his Twitter feed recently):

Assange sought out secret information by setting up a private website for the anonymous transmission of information to him.  Journalists asking sources to reveal secrets is the essence of journalism.  The only thing that has changed is that online chats and a digital submissions system have replaced meeting over a cup of coffee and a P.O. Box.  Charging Julian Assange with conspiracy to commit espionage could be more accurately characterized as charging him with a conspiracy to commit journalism.

While Assange’s role may seem to be passive compared with the image of hard-driving reporters of the past, journalism is quite different today.  News is gathered through the use of the Internet with reporters sitting at their desks.

This is in contrast to someone like Rachel Maddow – a sad figure because it is clear from her past journalism that she knows better.   Her reporting on the Flint water crisis and other issues showed that she had the skills and intelligence to be a great investigative journalist.   Now she has sunk to appearing as an obnoxious smirking sock puppet on behalf of the Hillary wing of the Democratic Party by using her MSNBC show as a platform from which to obsessively pontificate on innuendo about Russia and its alleged compromise of the Trump presidency.  It might be different if there was actually some substance to what she says and the nefarious connections she draws, but there isn’t and Aaron Mate at The Intercept has quantified just how much time she has spent beating the Russia drum:

The Intercept conducted a quantitative study of all 28 TRMS episodes in the six-week period between February 20 and March 31. Russia-focused segments accounted for 53 percent of these broadcasts.

That figure is conservative, excluding segments where Russia was discussed, but was not the overarching topic.

Maddow’s Russia coverage has dwarfed the time devoted to other top issues, including Trump’s escalating crackdown on undocumented immigrants (1.3 percent of coverage); Obamacare repeal (3.8 percent); the legal battle over Trump’s Muslim ban (5.6 percent), a surge of anti-GOP activism and town halls since Trump took office (5.8 percent), and Trump administration scandals and stumbles (11 percent).

People in Flint, Michigan still don’t have clean water, half of Americans are effectively poor, 1/3 of Millenials are living with their parents due to economic stress, even when they have an education, more oil and gas pipelines are failing and spilling fossil fuels into America’s waterways, and we’re still illegally involved in military interventions in at least 7 nations.   Trump not only has the lowest approval ratings of any US president this early into his term, but recent polls show that people think the Democratic Party is even more out of touch than Trump. Yet Maddow spends over half of her time flogging conspiracy theories about Russia:

Maddow has acknowledged that allegations of Trump-Russia collusion are unverified. But she has ignored claims that cast them in a more skeptical light. For instance, James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, told NBC News on March 5 that U.S. intelligence has “no evidence” of collusion between Trump and Russia. On March 15, former CIA Director and Hillary Clinton surrogate Michael Morrell said “there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all.” Those statements have gone unmentioned.

Considering how much Maddow and other liberal pundits hate Trump – and there is plenty of reason to despise many of his policy positions – the anti-Trump rhetoric was finally muted when he had American missiles fired illegally into a sovereign nation earlier this month on the pretext of a chemical weapons attack in Idlib province blamed on Assad.  Adam Johnson at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a left-leaning media watchdog, counted how many editorials in major corporate media outlets criticized the airstrikes within days of the event:

Of the top 100 US newspapers, 47 ran editorials on President Donald Trump’s Syria airstrikes last week: 39 in favor, seven ambiguous and only one opposed to the military attack.

In other words, 83 percent of editorials on the Syria attack supported Trump’s bombing, 15 percent took an ambivalent position and 2 percent said the attack shouldn’t have happened. Polls showed the US public being much more split: Gallup (4/7–8/17) and ABC/Washington Post (4/7–9/17) each had 51 percent supporting the airstrikes and 40 percent opposed, while CBS (4/7–9/17) found 57 percent in favor and 36 percent opposed.

A list of the editorials with quotes showing support or opposition can be seen here. The list of the top 100 editorial boards in the country was taken from a 2016 Hill piece (10/5/16) on presidential election endorsements.

Eight out of the top ten newspapers by circulation backed the airstrikes; the Wall Street Journal (4/7/17), New York Times (4/7/17), USA Today (4/7/17), New York Daily News (4/8/17), Washington Post (4/7/17), New York Post (4/10/17), Chicago Sun-Times (4/7/17) and Denver Post (4/7/17) all supported the strikes with varying degrees of qualification and concern.

The San Jose Mercury News (4/7/17) and LA Times (4/8/17) were ambiguous, highlighting Trump’s past opposition to bombing Syria and insisting, in the Mercury News’ words, that he get “serious about setting policies and pursuing diplomacy.”

The one editorial that expressly opposed the attack, in the 15th-ranked Houston Chronicle (4/7/17), did so mainly on constitutional—not moral or geopolitical—grounds, writing, “As we said a year-and-a-half ago, the president cannot and should not use military force against Syria without a legislative framework.”

The Chronicle—like all of the editorials on the list—accepted the government of Bashar al-Assad’s guilt in the April 4 chemical attack on Khan Shaykhun, omitting qualifiers such as “alleged” or “accused.”

A consistent theme in the bulk of the editorials was that the airstrikes were necessary, but Trump needed a broader strategy as well as a constitutional or congressional “framework.” As FAIR (4/7/17) noted last week, the editorial and op-ed pages of top five newspapers in the country were uniformly in support of the airstrikes in the day after the attack, offering up 18 positive columns and zero critical.

Some spoke in emotional or visceral terms, most notably the New York Times (4/7/17), which insisted “it was hard not to feel some sense of emotional satisfaction” at the attack. “The US decision to launch cruise missiles at Syrian President Bashar Assad’s airfield felt good,“ the Denver Post (4/7/17) wrote.

This emotional satisfaction was presumably in response to Assad’s alleged atrocity of gassing civilians, including children.  These victims needed to be avenged and the moral balance restored, the thinking went.   However, as political comedian Jimmy Dore points out, terrorists (called rebels by western media outlets) lured and bombed up to 80 children in an atrocity last week in Syria.   Dore points out how the western media treats this intentional atrocity against children with far less outrage and no retaliatory moves being suggested for Washington to establish moral balance in the universe.   Any group or individual who intentionally targets children cannot be called a rebel but is more appropriately labeled a terrorist.  However,  Dore shows examples of western journalists refraining from using the term terrorist and insisting on referring to the perpetrators as “rebels.”    Furthermore, calls are made to wait for further investigation of the incident.

Why are these incidents treated so differently by the mainstream western press?   To watch the video, go here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xIXiSq3K_c

There are explanations for why these incidents would be treated differently and they require an understanding of how the corporate MSM works in the U.S.   Below I reprint an article I wrote for OpEd News a while back on the topic:

American Propaganda and the Mass Media

By Natylie Baldwin

Edward Bernays and the Manipulation of the Public Mind

 

Edward Bernays was the nephew of pioneering Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud.  His parents had settled in the U.S. and Bernays grew up American, but came to be deeply influenced by his uncle’s ideas about the unconscious, its role as the repository of repressed sexual and aggressive impulses and its potential use as a means of manipulating the masses.  Bernays was also influenced by social psychologist Wilfred Trotter’s theories on crowd psychology and the “herd instinct.”

 

During WWI, which threw Freud into a deep depression because he saw it as confirmation of his worst fears about human behavior, Bernays was working as a press agent and was asked to assist the war effort by participating in the American government’s committee on public information, known as the Creel Committee.  His great contribution was effectively promoting president Woodrow Wilson’s narrative of the war as a fight to spread democracy to Europe.  During the Paris Peace Conference, Bernays would see first-hand the success of his propaganda efforts as the Paris crowds greeted Wilson as “a liberator of the people.  The man who would create a new world in which the individual would be free.”

 

Inspired by the achievements of propaganda during wartime, Bernays, looking to make his fortune, set to work on turning Americans from citizens into passive consumers who would be controlled by channeling their unconscious desires into a constant quest for goods and services that they would associate with their deepest yearnings for beauty, freedom and fulfillment.  Bernays would come up with tactics to bombard the public with messages that would cement this objective.

 

One of his first successes involved helping the tobacco industry expand their market by breaking the taboo against women smoking in public.  After soliciting the advice of the top psychoanalyst in America who told him that cigarettes were a phallic symbol and represented male sexual power, he realized that if cigarettes could be associated with challenging men’s power, women would respond positively to smoking as it would be connected to the ideas of freedom and rebellion – two of the most common marketing concepts to this day.

 

At the annual Easter Day Parade in New York City, Bernays staged a memorable event in which a group of “rich debutantes” lit up cigarettes in theatrical fashion at Bernays’ pre-arranged signal.  He had tipped off the media that a group of “suffragettes” would be lighting up what they called “torches of freedom.”  As Bernays knew, who could argue against freedom in America?  By associating cigarettes with freedom to women, Bernays had helped the tobacco companies hit the jackpot.

 

Bernays and his insights soon became indispensable to corporate America, which was worried that consumer demand for their products would plateau as mass production had been mastered and people at the time tended to buy goods based on need and durability.  Only a small group of wealthy people could buy a significant number of luxury items.  Consequently, to continue growing their markets, they needed to “transform the way the majority of Americans thought about products” as Paul Mazen, a Leahman Brothers Wall Street banker said.  Mazen turned to Bernays for implementation of this transformation.

 

As Peter Solomon, investment banker for Leahman Brothers, said about Bernays in the documentary film Century of the Self:

“Prior to that time there was no American consumer, there was the American worker.  And there was the American owner.  And they manufactured and they saved and they ate what they had to and the people shopped for what they needed.  And while the very rich may have bought things they didn’t need, most people did not.  And Mazen envisioned a break with that where you would have things that you didn’t actually need, but you wanted as opposed to needed.”

 

As the New York banks financed the spread of chain department stores across the country to serve as oases of consumerism, Bernays came up with many methods of product promotion that would become pervasive later on, such as linking products with movie stars who were also his clients, adorning those same movie stars in clothes and accessories made by other corporate clients during public events, and prominently placing products in films.

 

He also paid psychologists to issue reports claiming that certain products and services were good for people’s well-being and celebrities to push the idea that clothes were not merely necessities but a means of self-expression.  This became known as the “third party technique” of conferring legitimacy by what appears to be a disinterested party or an authoritative source.

 

The dramatic growth in consumerism that Bernays actively facilitated contributed to the stock market boom.  After it crashed in 1929, however, challenges were presented to the idea that Americans were consumers rather than citizens as the consumer boom could no longer be sustained and Franklin Roosevelt’s administration actively lobbied against it as part of the New Deal program.   Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter in a letter to Roosevelt described Bernays and his PR colleagues as “professional poisoners of the public mind, exploiters of foolishness, fanaticism, and self-interest.”  Unlike Bernays, Roosevelt and his colleagues believed that people could be trusted to make rational decisions if their fears, desires and insecurities were not manipulated in other directions as reflected in Roosevelt’s famous admonition, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

 

Bernays eventually saw his ideas transferred into the realm of political philosophy as renowned political writer and repentant former socialist Walter Lippmann, who had served with Bernays on the Creel Commission, began to apply Freud’s ideas to a need to control the masses politically, viewing the Russian Revolution as an example of the dark forces of the rabble being unleashed.  Bernays was intrigued by Lippmann’s interpretation of his uncle’s ideas – contained in Freud’s books which Bernays professionally promoted in the U.S.  Lippmann had begun to openly question the feasibility of democracy:

 

The lesson is, I think, a fairly clear one.  In the absence of institutions and education by which the environment is so successfully reported that the realities of public life stand out sharply against self-centered opinion, the common interests very largely elude public opinion entirely, and can be managed only by a specialized class whose personal interests reach beyond the locality.

 

In his 1922 book, The Phantom Public, Lippmann stated plainly:  “The public must be put in its place [so that we may] live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd.”

 

In 1930’s Germany, the Nazis were also asserting that democracy was not feasible and Joseph Goebbels, who emerged as the Nazis’ pre-eminent propagandist, had taken note of Bernays methods of public manipulation based on Freudian theory as a way to channel the desires of the population in a particular direction favored by the leaders.  Goebbels reportedly admitted putting Bernays’ book Crystallizing Public Opinion to use in the regime’s genocidal campaign against the Jews in terms of creating a public environment of hatred and scapegoating.

 

Having honed his propaganda skills since WWI, Bernays would once again provide his services on behalf of the martial ambitions of the U.S. government.   He served as an advisor to Eisenhower and believed that the best way to deal with Americans’ fear of Communism and the nuclear arms race was to manipulate those fears to support America’s mobilization in the Cold War.

 

In 1954, Bernays assisted the CIA’s overthrow of Guatemala’s democratically elected leader, Jacobo Arbenz, a democratic socialist with no ties to the Soviet Union.   The CIA had a propaganda program in place called Operation Mockingbird, in which numerous journalists and editors – both paid and unpaid – published and broadcast stories sympathetic to the increasingly aggressive and unaccountable agency.  Led by Frank Wisner, Operation Mockingbird was also used to suppress reporting that would expose the agency’s nefarious covert activities or present them in a negative light.

 

Bernays’ role was to create a narrative that portrayed the coup as the popular overthrow of a Communist dictator and puppet of Moscow whose removal represented the spreading of democracy.  In reality, Arbenz’s ouster was to preserve the profits of United Fruit Company, a company that Bernays had worked for in a PR capacity since the 1940’s while the head of the CIA, Allen Dulles, had made investments in United Fruit in his earlier years as a lawyer at the Sullivan and Cromwell firm which served as United Fruit’s corporate counsel.

 

Bernays exploited the ignorance of most Americans in relation to foreign affairs as well as the Red Scare of the McCarthy era by planting false stories in American newspapers and magazines, providing phony “intelligence” sources to the media, and bringing members of the press on a carefully orchestrated “fact-finding” mission to Guatemala paid for by the United Fruit Company.

 

As PR Watch noted in a 2010 article, “Bernays’ carefully planned campaign successfully created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion in the U.S. about the Guatemalan government, compelling a U.S. intervention that advanced Chiquita’s [then known as the United Fruit Company] interests and was internationally condemned.”

 

Bernays biographer, Larry Tye, commented in Century of the Self:

 

“[Bernays] totally understood that the coup would happen when conditions in the public and the press allowed for a coup to happen and he created those conditions.  He was totally savvy in terms of just what he was helping create in terms of the overthrow.  But ultimately he was reshaping reality, and reshaping public opinion in a way that’s undemocratic and manipulative.”

 

Bernays’ propaganda narrative, combined with CIA director Allen Dulles’ ability to restrict the travel of independent journalists to Guatemala, ensured the success of the coup.  Arbenz’s overthrow led to a decades-long civil war that resulted in 200,000 dead and 100,000 disappeared.

 

Bernays rationalized his work at manipulating the masses – or “engineering consent” as he referred to it – as necessary to control what he saw as the dangerous and irrational forces that guided human behavior, particularly in large groups.  Bernays’ daughter, Ann, said the following about her father in Century of the Self:

 

“What my father understood about groups is that they are malleable.  And that you can tap into their deepest desires or fears and use that to your own purposes.  I don’t think he felt that all those publics [sic] out there had reliable judgment; that they may very easily vote for the wrong man or want the wrong thing.  So they had to be guided from above.”

 

Subsequent psychological studies as well as observation of humans throughout history demonstrate that they are indeed malleable and capable of a wide range of behaviors; but there is nothing indicating that humans are doomed to act like brutal mobs or genocidal maniacs unless they are led in that direction by powerful social forces.

 

Bernays’ work and the philosophy underpinning it have paved the way for the cynical use of grand ideas like freedom, democracy and human rights to sell mindless consumption, wars, coups, color revolutions (i.e. contrived regime changes under the pretense of spreading democracy or “western values”), and instability – all in the service of a small group of people who benefit.

 

The CIA, NED and Democracy Promotion

 

The CIA, in fact, engaged in numerous covert actions in the decades following WWII to effect what is now referred to as regime change – assassinations, coups, civil wars and destabilizations – throughout the third world as historian and former State Department official, William Blum, has documented in several books and essays, along with other researchers and CIA whistleblowers.   These actions involved killing, torture, destruction of infrastructure, delayed development, and impoverishment in the target countries.  In most cases, the victims were guilty only of supporting policies that were anathema to the American political class, such as socialism, economic populism and national sovereignty in terms of control of natural resources and financial assets.

 

Congressional hearings in the 1970’s, led by Frank Church, combined with a brief window of relative media openness, exposed some of this ugly program to the American people.  Rather than cease these kinds of actions, the American political establishment’s response to the negative publicity was to create a separate entity that would take over for many of these covert operations.  An entity that would obscure the nature of its activities under the guise of spreading democracy and would be funded by the U.S. Congress.  In 1983, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was born and Allen Weinstein, who helped write the legislation that brought it into existence, admitted in 1991, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”

NED funds many innocuous sounding groups, both domestic and foreign.  One such domestic group is Freedom House.  While receiving the majority of its funding from NED, Freedom House presents itself as an objective nonprofit interested in freedom, democracy and human rights and publishes regular reports rating various countries on these supposed criteria.  However, upon closer examination, the ratings tend to reflect well on those countries aligned with U.S. economic and geopolitical interests and poorly on countries that are rivals.  Freedom House’s assessment of the American media’s coverage of the Tet offensive during the Vietnam War and its recent assessment of post-coup Ukraine are evidence of its lack of credibility in measuring a free and democratic media, among other issues

In the international arena, NED has funded numerous “opposition” and “democracy” groups in Russia (before being booted out by the government), Venezuela and pre-coup Ukraine.  These groups are not funded out of the goodness of the U.S. government’s heart to advance human rights and authentic democracy but to create tension that is to be ratcheted up in the hopes of culminating in a coup, civil war or other destabilization to remove or undermine governments that are viewed as a threat to the interests of the oligarchy that, according to a 2014 academic study, now officially governs the U.S.

For all of uncle Freud’s faults – such as his stultifying preoccupation with sex and violence – he never intended for his theories to be used in this fashion, serving as the basis for justifying a never ending sequence of actions that caused him so much worry for mankind:  war.  Freud, who did not like American culture, expressed disgust when Bernays encouraged him to write articles for clients in the popular media, which Freud perceived as a cheapening of his work.

 

Bernays, on the other hand, was a manipulative, arrogant and self-aggrandizing man who essentially believed that humans were too stupid and too dangerous to be trusted with the truth or self-governance.  He was an elitist who was right at home with the oligarchs and hawks of his day and their agenda of control, consumerism, militarism and ignorance.  What’s more, he was paid handsomely for his work, in both money and stature.

 

It should be noted, of course, that fear of the rabble was articulated centuries prior to Freud, Trotter and Bernays – although its underlying psychological dynamics may not have been clearly understood.  This included a segment of the founding fathers like Alexander Hamilton and John Jay whose ideas justified an effective rule by the elite.

 

Going back even further, David Hume made observations in the 17th century about the need to control the opinions of the masses to protect the rule of the few in light of the English political upheaval which saw demands for universal education, democratization of the law, and social protections.  Noam Chomsky has delineated the line of political thought stretching from Hume to John Locke to today:

 

“In the contemporary period, Hume’s insight has been revived and elaborated, but with a crucial innovation:  control of thought is more important for governments that are free and popular than for despotic and military states.  The logic is straightforward.  A despotic state can control its domestic enemy by force, but as the state loses this weapon, other devices are required to prevent the ignorant masses from interfering with public affairs, which are none of their business.  These prominent features of modern political and intellectual culture merit a closer look. (emphasis in original)”

 

French writer and political analyst, Jean Bricmont, expounded on the dynamics of this strategy of propaganda control in the seemingly free and open societies of today in his 2007 book Humanitarian Imperialism: Using Human Rights to Sell War:

 

“Today’s secular priesthood is made up of opinion makers, media stars of all kinds, and a considerable number of academics and journalists.  They largely monopolize public debate, channeling it in certain directions and setting the limits on what can be said, while giving the impression of a free exchange of ideas.  One of the most common ideological reinforcement mechanisms is to focus debate on the means employed to achieve the supposedly altruistic ends claimed by those in power, instead of asking whether the proclaimed aims are the real ones, or whether those pursuing them have the right to do so.”  (p. 32)

 

The Mass Media – Who’s Platform?

 

That secular priesthood with its opinion makers, academics and journalists must have an effective and pervasive platform through which to inculcate and constantly reinforce their message on behalf of the oligarchy that now effectively controls all substantive public policy in the U.S. while the populace is reduced to participating in dog and pony show elections at regular intervals.

 

Award winning journalists Robert Parry, Chris Hedges and Paul Craig Roberts have been marginalized by the corporate mass media after refusing to go along with the false narratives presented in connection with economic and foreign policy.  They each tell a similar story in terms of their exile after refusing to toe the line on U.S. support for violent militias and destabilization in Central America in the 1980’s, the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003 and the misrepresentation of economic conditions in the U.S..  Their experiences indicate there are three things that a journalist who wants to have a long-term and lucrative career will generally not report on:  1) stories that will offend the corporate media owners, 2) stories that will offend the corporate media advertisers, and 3) stories that will jeopardize their relationships with those in power.

 

Enabled by the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which saw a major deregulation of mergers in the media industry, 90% of what most people read, watch, or listen to in the U.S. comes from an entity that is owned by 1 of 6 corporate conglomerates:  Comcast, Disney Company, News Corporation, Time Warner, Viacom and CBS Corporation. Each of these six conglomerates, in turn, has financial relations through boards of directors who have ties to other corporate interests, namely the Military-Industrial Complex (MIC), Fossil Fuels, Banking, Big Ag, and Big Pharma. A few examples include:  Disney has relations with Boeing and City National Bank; NBC with Honeywell, Chase Manhattan, and New York Stock Exchange; Viacom with Honeywell, Bear Stearns, Chase Manhattan, Morgan Chase and Pfizer; CNN/Time with Chevron, Citigroup, and Pfizer; News Corporation with Phillip Morris, Rothschild Investments and New York Stock Exchange; New York Times Company with Alcoa, Bristol Myers Squibb, Carlyle Group, Chase Manhattan, Lehman Bros., and Texaco; Wall Street Journal with Clear Channel, Pfizer, Texaco and Shell Oil; Knight Ridder with Bank of America, Eli Lilly, GE, Raytheon and Phillips Petroleum.

 

 

The Mass Media – Mechanisms of Control

 

The experiences of journalists like Hedges, Perry and Roberts should come as no surprise according to the propaganda model outlined by analysts Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in the seminal 1988 book Manufacturing Consent:  The Political Economy of the Mass Media.  Their model identifies five sets of filters that represent the methods by which a private and reputedly “free” media actually serve as the means by which the population is conditioned to believe what the elites who control American society want them to believe:  that America is governed by a fair, democratic and legitimate system, despite actual evidence to the contrary.  We will focus on the first three filters below.

 

The first filter, which we’ve already discussed, is the corporate ownership of the mass media.  The corporate boards hire and/or approve editors who will enforce acceptable narratives based on their interests.

 

A second filter of corporate control related to profit motive that is less obvious is the media’s reliance on advertising to make money rather than selling a quality news product.  Newspapers, magazines, broadcast and internet programming make most of their money from selling space to corporate advertisers, which consequently drives the motivation to produce content that will grab people’s attention in order to attract advertising dollars. Thus, the emphasis is on sensationalist stories focused on sex, violence and celebrities. According to the Pew Research Center’s Journalism & Media project, “69% of all domestic news revenue is derived from advertising.”

 

The third filter involves the reliance by journalists on representatives of the government and corporate elites as sources of inside information, along with “experts” who often represent elite interests in the tradition of those created by Edward Bernays.   As Chomsky and Herman state:

 

“The mass media are drawn into a symbiotic relationship with powerful sources of information by economic necessity and reciprocity of interest.  The media need a steady, reliable flow of the raw material of news.  They have daily news demands and imperative news schedules that they must meet.  They cannot afford to have reporters and cameras at all places where important stories may break.  Economics dictates that they concentrate their resources where significant news often occurs, where important rumors and leaks abound, and where regular press conferences are held.  The White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department, in Washington D.C., are central nodes of such news activity.  On a local basis, city hall and the police department are the subject of regular news beats for reporters.  Business corporations and trade groups are also regular and credible purveyors of stories deemed newsworthy.”    (pp. 18-19)

 

Government Elites

 

With respect to government and military elites, numerous “news” shows allow a bevy of retired military leaders – many of whom have financial relationships with defense contractors – to provide commentary and analysis in connection with foreign policy, commentary and analysis that inevitably rationalizes a military solution of some sort with most “debate” turning on just how much military power or which military tactics to use.  Very seldom are academics, activists or journalists allowed to air alternatives to militarist policy, despite the availability of people who could articulate the benefits of such policies while providing historical, cultural and geopolitical context that is often missing in a typical broadcast of shallow and self-serving sound bites.

 

Other pundits and journalists will sound articulate and provide a compelling narrative, but due to the fact that the average American doesn’t know much about countries like Vietnam in the 1960’s or today’s Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Russia, they won’t know enough to realize what they’re being told is false or seriously distorted.

 

One case in point is the Ukraine crisis which touched off a civil war in early 2014.  The American media narrative relied upon the repetition of two main ideas:  1) the portrayal of the color revolution instigated by the West – with Neo-Nazis as the muscle and an Association Agreement from the EU filled with empty promises as the catalyst – as aggression by Russia; and, 2) the demonization of Russian president Vladimir Putin, mostly based upon distortions, exaggerations, innuendo and outright falsehoods.  Victoria Nuland and her NED cronies, who helped shape the narrative in western Ukraine during the color revolution and have contributed to shaping it in the western media ever since, have taken Bernays’ playbook and refined it.

 

One of the mass media’s favorite authorities on the topic of Russia and Ukraine is Anne Applebaum.  By way of background, Applebaum is a widely published author and columnist, formerly with the Neocon think tank American Enterprise Institute, and has worked with NED – an organization she describes as “independent.”  She has also taken a position with the Legatum Institute in London where she churns out anti-Russia propaganda with her Neocon playmates Peter Pomerantsev and Michael Weiss.  Legatum was founded by Christopher Chandler, who made billions off of the corrupt voucher program in Russia during the Yeltsin years.  Applebaum is also the wife of Radoslaw Sikorski, who was the foreign minister of Poland until last year.  Sikorski gained notoriety when he told Politico reporter Ben Judah that he overheard a 2008 conversation between Putin and the Polish leader in which Putin suggested that Ukraine be divided up between Russia and Poland.  It didn’t take long for Sikorski’s story to fall apart and he was forced to publicly retract the allegation and apologize to the Polish government.

As Moscow based investigative journalist John Helmer has reported, there is controversy in Poland surrounding Applebaum’s income shooting up from $20,000 in 2011 to $565,000 in 2013 with no details provided as to where the surge in income came from and whether it was related to her husband’s political activities.  Helmer’s Polish sources express a suspicion that Applebaum is receiving money from revived US government programs that have as their objective the dissemination of anti-Russia material.  Helmer’s attempts to find out from Applebaum’s publishers and the Legatum Institute if the significant income increase was attributable to their compensation were stonewalled.

 

Notorious Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s family nonprofit, Institute of Modern Russia, has admitted that it is working with Applebaum through the Legatum Institute on a “series of studies” on Applebaum’s persistent themes relating to Russia, including its “postmodern dictatorship.” The papers were used as the foundation for public panels, including one in Washington D.C. co-sponsored by NED.   Several scholars and writers who specialize in Russia and geopolitics have expressed concern about one of the papers that was hailed at these panels, “The Menace of Unreality,” which attempts to legitimize what amounts to censorship of any reporting or analysis of Russia and related issues that does not adhere to the narrative outlined by government officials and their mass media lapdogs.

 

Applebaum flogged the same anti-Russia and Putin demonization themes during the Munk debates in Canada in April of this year.  In arguing on behalf of the position that the West should continue to keep Russia in the naughty corner and eschew engagement, Applebaum turned reality on its head.  In regards to Putin’s relations with the West, notably the U.S., she claims that the West bent over backwards to welcome Putin and Russia into its paradise of peace, prosperity and democracy only to have Putin cheat, steal and aggress on his neighbors – accusations that take particular temerity given the enriching schemes by the Legatum Institute’s founder in the 1990’s, an era that Applebaum thinks was better for Russia.  The truth, as documented by Stephen F. Cohen (one of her opponents in the Munk debate), Jack Matlock, and Angus Roxburgh (among others) is that Putin made numerous attempts to have a mutually respectful and cooperative relationship with the U.S. and received little for his efforts except for several swift kicks to the shins in the form of NATO expansion, unilateral withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, provocations on his borders and interference in Russia’s internal affairs on a level that would never be tolerated by the U.S.  Despite Applebaum’s gross distortions, her side swayed the audience and won the debate.

 

In addition to NED darlings like Applebaum, there is a possibility that the CIA has revived or never really shut down its Operation Mockingbird program.  A recent book by Dr. Udo Ulfkotte, the former editor of a major German newspaper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, has stated that numerous journalists and editors in the German – as well as other European – mass media are on the payroll of the CIA.  He describes how he put his name to and published articles that were actually penned by the CIA, articles that pushed whatever militarist narrative the U.S. political elites and security apparatus wanted.  The book, Bought Journalists, has been a best-seller on Amazon but the mass media in both the US and Western Europe have dummied up instead of reporting on the book or its allegations.  One is left to look to the independent and non-western media to learn about its existence.

 

Corporate Elites

 

“Marketing is a battle of perception, not products.  The truth has no bearing on the issue.  The role of public relations is to deliver the exact same thing as advertising.”

-Jack Trout, advertising executive

In terms of the separate but often related interests of corporate elites, Investigative journalists John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, in their book Trust Us, We’re Experts, discuss what could best be described as corporate prostitutes serving as experts and the methods they use in framing Americans’ understanding of a range of issues affecting their health, finances and public policy.

 

Corporations and the PR firms they hire make abundant use of the “third party technique” pioneered by Bernays. One of the most common tactics is the use of astroturf organizations that confuse the public with names that sound like they represent the public interest but are actually front groups for corporations.  These front organizations often do their work with the assistance of mass media outlets that disseminate their propaganda by citing their biased and bogus data, without always disclosing that corporations are really behind the groups.

One of the earliest examples of this type of entity was the Air Hygiene Foundation (later known as the Industrial Hygiene Foundation and then the Industrial Health Foundation).  The foundation was initiated in 1935 by Andrew and Richard Mellon in the aftermath of the Hawk’s Nest scandal to counter the exposure of the deadly effects of silicosis on the health of workers and the potential for financial accountability in the form of lawsuits and regulatory changes.  Leading scientists and public officials were recruited as members and trustees of the foundation and were quoted in trade publications and the media, lending a veneer of legitimacy to their agenda.

The Hawk’s Nest scandal saw the death of up to 2,000 poor black workers from silicosis through the reckless working conditions of Union Carbide in a West Virginia project involving the digging of a tunnel through a mountain that was almost pure silica.  The negligence was compounded by the company doctors’ refusal to disclose what ailment the workers had contracted after the development of symptoms.  The dangers were well known to the company as engineers and managers regularly took precautions while in the tunnels, such as wearing masks or respirators.

During Roosevelt’s administration, the court system had finally begun to shift away from its early bias by which employees were rarely able to effectively hold their employers legally accountable, even for the most egregious abuses.  The industry begrudgingly began to limit some of the worst abuses.  As Stauber and Sheldon state:

“With the Air Hygiene Foundation, industry had found an effective propaganda formula:  a combination of partial reforms with reassuring “scientific” rhetoric, under the aegis of an organization with a benevolent, independent-sounding name….By 1940, the AHF had 225 member companies, representing such major polluters of the day  as American Smelting and Refining, Johns-Manville, United Steel Company, Union Carbide, and PPG Industries….In 1941, it changed its name to the Industrial Hygiene Foundation, broadening its agenda beyond dust-related diseases to encompass other industrial health issues.  By the 1970’s, it had more than 400 corporate sponsors, including Gulf Oil, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Kawecki Berylco Industries, British Beryllium, Consolidated Coal, Boeing, General Electric, General Mills, Goodyear, Western Electric, Owens-Corning Fiberglass, Mobil Oil and Dow Chemical.” (p. 79)

Similar campaigns were run by industry with regard to asbestos and leaded gasoline and, more recently, with genetically modified foods and pesticides.  In each case, industry knew full well the serious dangers associated with their products and practices.

In addition to the use of astroturf groups, PR firms often provide a range of services with the goal of using various tools in the art of deception to protect and/or further the interests of their corporate clients.  These include advising clients how to evade substantive interaction with the public and questioning by journalists or activists, and how to mislead based on the avoidance of words that the public reacts unfavorably to – in other words, obfuscating to the point of rendering the truth irrelevant.  Some firms even conduct spying operations on genuine public interest groups and advocates with the goal of blackmailing them or attacking their credibility.

But one shouldn’t underestimate the mileage PR firms get out of more mundane methods, such as inundating media outlets with press releases that portray their corporate clients in the best possible light.  Instead of being treated with sufficient skepticism, corporate and PR press releases are often used as the basis of articles and reports as newsrooms cut back their staff and budget for investigative reporting.  As a 2014 survey by Business Wire revealed, the vast majority of journalists rely on press releases to provide them with breaking news (77%) and factual support for articles (70%).

 

There is even a term now for this kind of press release-based reporting, “churnalism.”  In fact, it was recognized as a serious enough problem by the Media Standards Trust to motivate the creation of a website, churnalism.com, which provides a “churn engine” that viewers can paste press releases into and find articles in the database that quote directly from or heavily rely upon “reproduced publicity material,” receiving a high score on the churnalism meter.

 

As Chomsky and Herman point out, all of this reliance upon elite sources and “experts” is cost-effective, not only in terms of newsrooms starved of staff and resources to perform due diligence and provide a truthful and balanced journalism, but also in terms of the media protecting themselves from powerful moneyed interests who can afford to punish media outlets through libel litigation or government agencies that can suspend licenses and permits for broadcasters to operate.  All of the aforementioned mechanisms contribute to perverting what journalistic “objectivity” means in practice.

 

Americans’ Growing Distrust of the Mass Media

 

Ironically, those bombarded constantly with propaganda, especially when it becomes more and more obvious as reflected in numerous reports over the past 18 months originating from official government sources that Russia had invaded Ukraine only to have the photographic evidence debunked within days or even hours, are bound to reach a point of distrust.  According to a September 2014 Gallup poll, Americans’ trust in the mass media is at an all time low of 40%.  Moreover, British studies requested by Sputnik News reveal that most westerners, including Americans, are suspicious of mass media’s coverage of the Ukraine war and would like to be provided with alternative media sources.  This probably explains why RT’s YouTube channel was leaving Al Jazeera, CNN, and BBC in the dust by 2012 and by the end of 2014 had been viewed over 2 billion times – triple that of CNN or Euronews, even though it has a smaller budget than the Western international media outlets, despite histrionic claims to the contrary.

 

This sentiment no doubt reaches beyond foreign policy as more Americans recognize that the narrative being pushed on them by the mass media doesn’t resemble what they see and experience on a daily basis:  increasing economic insecurity, a degraded environment, spending on more wars than they can keep up with, and the social and cultural decay that inevitably emerges with rule by a militarist oligarchy.