Category Archives: Donald Trump

The Row Over Jerusalem gives American Jews a Tough Choice

For decades most American Jews have claimed an “Israel exemption”: resolutely progressive on domestic issues, they are hawks on their cherished cause. Racism they would vigorously oppose if applied in the United States is welcomed in Israel.

Reports at the weekend suggested that Donald Trump was about to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, throwing a wrench in any peace plan.

If true, the US president will have decisively prioritised support for Israel – and pro-Israel lobbies at home – over outrage from Palestinians and the Arab world. But paradoxically, just as American Jews look close to winning the battle domestically on behalf of Israel, many feel more alienated from a Jewish state than ever before.

There has long been a minority whose concerns focused on the occupation, but most American Jews’ support for Israel itself was unwavering. A Law of Return denies non-Jews the right to migrate to Israel. Admissions committees bar Palestinian citizens – one in five of Israel’s population – from hundreds of communities. A refusal of family reunification has torn apart Palestinian families in cases where one partner lives in Israel and the other in the occupied territories.

Most Jews have justified to themselves these and many other affronts on the grounds that, after the European holocaust, they deserved a strong homeland. Palestinians had to pay the price.

Given that half the world’s Jews live outside Israel – the great majority in the US – their support for Israel is critical. They have donated enormous sums, helping to build cities and plant forests. And they have lobbied aggressively at home to ensure diplomatic, financial and military support for their cause. But it is becoming ever harder for them to ignore their hypocrisy.

The rift has grown into a chasm as Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government widens its assault on civil rights. It now targets not just Palestinians but the remnants of liberal Jewish society in Israel – in open contempt for the values of American Jews.

The peculiar catalyst is a battle over the most significant surviving symbol of Jewishness: the Western Wall, a supporting wall of a long-lost temple in Jerusalem.

Jews in the US mostly subscribe to the progressive tenets of Reform Judaism. In Israel, by contrast, the hard-line Orthodox rule supreme on religious matters.

Since the 1967 occupation, Israel’s Orthodox rabbis have controlled prayers at the Western Wall, marginalising women and other streams of Judaism. That has deeply offended Jewish opinion in the US.

Trapped between American donors and Israel’s powerful rabbis, Mr Netanyahu initially agreed to create a mixed prayer space at the wall for non-Orthodox Jews. But as opposition mounted at home over the summer, he caved in. The shock waves are still reverberating.

Avraham Infeld, a veteran Israeli liaison with the US Jewish community, told the Haaretz newspaper this week that the crisis in relations was “unprecedented”. American Jews have concluded “Israel doesn’t give a damn about them”.

Now a close ally of Mr Netanyahu’s has stoked the storm. In a TV interview last month, Tzipi Hotovely, the deputy foreign minister, all but accused American Jews of being freeloaders. She condemned their failure to fight in the US or Israeli militaries, saying they preferred “convenient lives”.

Her comments caused uproar. They echo those of leading Orthodox rabbis, who argue that Reform Jews are not real Jews – and are possibly even an enemy.

The Israeli right has opened a Pandora’s box. Its mounting attacks on liberal Jews in Israel – echoing Mr Trump’s rhetoric and policies towards minorities in the US – are gradually forcing American Jews to reassess their longstanding double standard.

For some time the Israeli government has tarred Israeli anti-occupation organisations like B’Tselem and the soldier whistle-blowing group Breaking the Silence as traitors. Last week it widened the assault.

The education minister accused the veteran legal group Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) – Israel’s version of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – of “supporting terrorists”. Forty years of ACRI programmes in schools are in jeopardy.

The move follows recent decisions to allow pupils to provide racist answers in civics exams and to expand gender-segregation to universities. Meanwhile, two new bills from Mr Netanyahu’s party would crack down on free speech for Israelis promoting a boycott, even of the settlements. One proposes seven years in jail, the other a fine of $150,000.

Defence minister Avigdor Lieberman is seeking stronger powers against political activists, Jews and Palestinians alike, including draconian restraining orders and detention without charge or trial.

And for the first time, overseas Jews are being grilled on arrival at Israel’s airport about their political views. Some have signed a “good behaviour oath” – a pledge to avoid anti-occupation activities. Already Jewish supporters of boycotts can be denied entry.

The Netanyahu government, it seems, prefers as allies Christian evangelicals and the US alt-right, which loves Israel as much as it appears to despise Jews.

Israel is plotting a future in which American Jews will have to make hard choices. Can they continue to identify with a state that openly turns its back on them?

• First published in The National

The American Dream Has Been Irreparably Broken

There are many respects in which America, if it can bring itself to act with the magnanimity and the empathy appropriate to its size and power, can be an intelligent example to the world. We have the opportunity to set an example of generous understanding in our relations with China, of practical cooperation for peace in our relations with Russia, of reliable and respectful partnership in our relations with Western Europe, of material helpfulness without moral presumption in our relations with the developing nations, of abstention from the temptations of hegemony in our relations with Latin America, and of the all-around advantages of minding one’s own business in our relations with everybody.

Most of all, we have the opportunity to serve as an example of democracy to the world by the way in which we run our own society; America, in the words of John Quincy Adams, should be ‘the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all’ but ‘the champion and vindicator only of her own.’

— U.S. Senator James W. Fulbright (1905-1995) The Arrogance of Power, 1966.

Despite having met and befriended some fine Americans over the years, my long-held opinion of the U.S. in particular and the American people in general — an opinion confirmed after I read Senator Fulbright’s book in the late 60s — has not only remained doggedly unchanged, but has, in fact, become more entrenched and pessimistic. Such entrenched pessimism stems from the inescapable truth that regardless of an illusory concept of the “American exceptionalism” that arrogantly presumes to present itself as the “superpower” champion of democracy and human rights, the U.S. is in reality the world’s biggest violator of the very ideals it so hypocritically claims to champion.

This superpower which straddles the world with some 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and territories abroad — Britain, France, and Russia combined have only about 30 foreign bases — has been responsible for the killing of more than 20 million people in 37 “Victim Nations” since World War Two.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defence with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

—  President Eisenhower in his 1961 farewell address to the nation.

Needless to say, Eisenhower’s warning fell on deaf ears and the latest Congressional homage to the military-industrial complex was recently paid in September to the tune of a $700 billion defence policy bill designed to maintain America’s position — with an endless War on Terror and military interventions including regime changes — as a global military power.

As a consequence of such largesse to the military-industrial complex and billions more in aid to a brutal Apartheid Israeli state bent on an expansion policy of Palestinian land grabbing to build more settlements for Jews only, the U.S. has become a nation where more than 50 million Americans live below the poverty line; where 48 million of them receive food stamps; where more than one in five children is on food stamps and living in poverty; where an astounding 15% of senior citizens live in poverty; where ethnic poverty rates are 28% for Blacks, 24% for Hispanics, 10.5% for Asians, and 10% for Whites; where being Black lowers one’s credit score by 71 points; where a new AFL-CIO study on corporate salaries found that CEOs made 335 times more than the average employee who earned $36,875 while the big company CEOs got approximately $12,400,000; where according to a Forbes survey 56% of Americans have less than $1,000 in their combined cheque and savings bank accounts; and where an observation once made in 1967 by Martin Luther King Jr. has become a stark reality:

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defence than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.

To make matters even worse, according to the most recent study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 32 million adults (14 percent of the population) in the U.S. can’t read; 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level; and 19 percent of high school graduates can’t read at all. The prevalence of such illiteracy in the U.S. may explain why 62,979,984 Americans voted for Donald Trump — an egocentric mentally disturbed racist illiterate with psychopathic tendencies — to become President of a nation whose government’s first allegiance is not to the welfare of the American people, but to the Apartheid policies of an Israeli state guilty of barbaric crimes against humanity. Some of the wide ranging downsides of illiteracy — the U.S. Federal Outlay on education is only 3% — are outlined on this link.

My continued scepticism regarding the American people’s ability to finally wake up to the reality of their dire straits and determine to do something about salvaging what little is left of their “American Dream” was recently justified when at a London restaurant I frequent, my friend and I met Danielle and Brian — an unusually civilised, intelligent, literate, and most likable American couple from Westminster, Colorado — who were on their first visit to England. After the initial introductions and customary friendly banter we eventually got round to the subject of America. While they readily acknowledged their distaste for Trump and the fact that much in America needed to be repaired, they were nonetheless resigned to a hopeless inability to do anything about it. Such hopeless resignation by decent and educated American people represents the sad reality of the “American Dream” with its distant mirage of an “American Democracy.”

Rotten to the core

We’ve all heard this story in one form or another. A person finally convinces themselves to go see their doctor for some innocuous but persistent problem. Their hope is for relief from a quick injection or a round of pharmaceuticals. Sadly, for our protagonist, it will not be that simple or easy. The seemingly benign symptoms mask a hidden carcinoma lying unseen in some forgotten region of their body, the mostly tranquil surface masking a concealed decay deep in the core that denies a healthy foundation.

It’s a sad story and for our purpose here, an analogy for a truly sad reality. It’s a tale buried deep in the American narrative, anathema to the patriotic rhetoric of our times. The connection for our analogy might not be immediately apparent but bear with me here for a few paragraphs and I think we may come to the same conclusions.

Our analysis begins here with the current controversy over the Alabama senate race and the Republican candidate Roy Moore. Mr. Moore, a self-described Christian conservative who sacrificed his position as an Alabama Supreme Court Justice on a stone monument to theological supremacy. Unfortunately for his current political ambitions the transition from state to national politics shinned exponentially more light on his professions of righteousness. It would seem that Mr. Moore’s predilection for under-aged girls was a not so well hidden local secret that has become a national issue.

Coming on the heels of the Harvey Weinstein revelations and following the election of the “grab them by the genitals” Commander-in-Chief the Moore controversy quickly became another chapter in the ongoing purge of predatory misogyny. To those on the right of the political spectrum the possibility that a secure senate seat is at risk seems to be more salient than the election of an accused child molester. To some on the left this represents another battle in the conservative “war on women.”

Of course, the misogyny highlighted by all these revelations is not confined to democrats or republicans, as the recent disclosures about Senator Al Franken make clear. Men behaving badly is not a partisan issue, neither is it a recent phenomenon. Patriarchy lies at the heart of civilization and in the bastion of western democracy, the United States of America. Let us not forget that America existed for almost one hundred and fifty years before women were even afforded the right to vote.

While our discussions range from Bill Clinton’s oval office indiscretions to pictures of Congressman Joe Barton’s junk we have to remember the historical context. While the beloved founding father who penned the immortal “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights;” seemed to have no compunction about fathering children by his slave. Despite the proclamations of freedom and liberty there existed a dark backdrop of bondage and suppression.

As marginalized segments of America’s population raise their voice in opposition to the repressive policies of the current administration their calls for justice are a continuation of an aged narrative. The plight of African-Americans highlighted by Black Lives Matter and Colin Kaepernick stretch back to the failure of Reconstruction, the quest for equal rights for women began long before the struggle for Women’s suffrage, and the basis of the protest at Standing Rock lies in the lack of America’s commitment to the treaties it signed with the Indigenous Nations of North America. The seemingly healthy facade of “We the People” belies the marginalization of those people that exist outside of the white, landed power structure that enshrined those words.

For those on the left of the political spectrum the danger lies in believing that the only solution comes with a “D” following its name. Their reasoning declares that women would be so much better off if America had elected its first woman president in 2016 instead of their first orange one. While it is, of course, obvious that the serial sexual abuser-in-chief is a worst case scenario for America’s female population we should not give an easy pass to his opponent.

As the head of Obama’s State Department Hillary Clinton bears a great deal of responsibility for the failed states that resulted in Libya and Syria because of their regime change policy. While I care deeply that the gains in healthcare afforded by the ACA remain in place and that Planned Parenthood’s assistance to poor and marginalized women in the United States continue unhindered I cannot forget the bodies of women and children that washed up on Mediterranean beaches as a result of the Obama/Clinton foreign policy.

I know the refrain well; the only option of our political duopoly is to choose the “lesser of two evils.” We are quick to declare this the price worth paying for our democracy, not giving a thought to how the Syrian mother who lost her children beneath the waves or the African man who now finds himself sold into slavery in Libya might feel. Can we decry the republican America-first mantra without also being honest about the duplicity inherent in the majority of the democracy and freedom rhetoric?

So what’s the answer? In a phrase, I don’t know, but what I do know or believe is that it has to start with leaders who are more dedicated to principals instead of politics. If we are going to lambaste the republican attempt to take away healthcare where is the legitimate proposal for healthcare for all? If we criticize conservative militarism where is the serious legislation to slash defense spending? If we really believe that Black lives matter where were the voices of the liberal elite when 12 year old Tamer Rice lay dying in the snow in Cleveland? In a word, honest, let’s have an honest conversation on what it will really takes for this to be a safer world for women and a better world for all of us.

How Israel is “cleansing” Palestinians from Greater Jewish Jerusalem

Israel is putting in place the final pieces of a Greater Jewish Jerusalem that will require “ethnically cleansing” tens of thousands of Palestinians from a city their families have lived and worked in for generations, human rights groups have warned.

The pace of physical and demographic changes in the city has accelerated dramatically since Israel began building a steel and concrete barrier through the city’s Palestinian neighbourhoods more than a decade ago, according to the rights groups and Palestinian researchers.

Israel is preparing to cement these changes in law, they note. Two parliamentary bills with widespread backing among government ministers indicate the contours of Jerusalem’s future.

One bill intends to annex to Jerusalem some 150,000 Jews in illegal West Bank settlements surrounding the city. As well as bolstering the city’s Jewish population, the move will give these additional settlers a vote in Jerusalem’s municipal elections, pushing it politically even further to the right.

Another bill will deny more than 100,000 Palestinians on the “wrong” side of the barrier rights in the city. They will be assigned to a separate local council for Palestinians only, in what observers fear will be a prelude to stripping them of residency and barring them from Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, a web of harsh Israeli policies, including late-night arrests, land shortages, home demolitions and a denial of basic services, are intensifying the pressure on Palestinian inside the wall to move out.

These measures are designed to pre-empt any future peace efforts, and effectively nullify Palestinian ambitions for a state with East Jerusalem as its capital, said Aviv Tartasky, a field researcher with Ir Amim, an Israeli group advocating fair treatment for Palestinians in Jerusalem.

“What is going on is ethnic cleansing, without guns,” Tartasky told Middle East Eye. “Israel hopes to get rid of a third of Jerusalem’s Palestinian population through legislative moves alone.”

Demographic Fears

Israel’s demographic concerns in Jerusalem date back to 1967, when it occupied and annexed East Jerusalem, combining the large Palestinian population there with West Jerusalem’s Jewish population. It also expanded the city’s municipal borders as a way to covertly annex West Bank land.

Israel initially set an upper limit of 30 per cent Palestinians to 70 per cent Jews in what it called its new “united, eternal capital”, but has been losing the battle to maintain that ratio ever since. Higher Palestinian birth rates mean that today there are more than 315,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem, comprising nearly 40 per cent of the city’s total population. Projections suggest Palestinians could be a majority within a decade.

Although few Palestinians in Jerusalem have taken or been allowed Israeli citizenship, and almost none vote in municipal elections, Israel fears their growing numerical weight will increasingly make its rule in the city untenable.

“What we have in Jerusalem is an apartheid system in the making,” Mahdi Abd al-Hadi, a Palestinian academic in Jerusalem, told MEE.

“Israeli policies are dictated by demographic considerations and that has created a huge gulf between the two societies. Palestinians are being choked.”

‘Save Jewish Jerusalem’

Fear of the demographic loss of Jerusalem provoked the launch of a high-profile campaign by political and security leaders last year: “Save Jewish Jerusalem”. Fearful that Palestinians will soon be a majority and might start voting in municipal elections, the campaign warned Jewish residents they would “wake up to a Palestinian mayor in Jerusalem”.

Over the past year government ministers, including education minister Naftali Bennett, have aggressively pushed for the annexation of Maale Adumim, a large settlement outside Jerusalem, in the West Bank. Gradually, they appear to be winning the argument.

Late last month a ministerial committee was set to approve a Greater Jerusalem Bill, legislation intended to expand Jerusalem’s municipal borders to include Maale Adumim and several other large settlements in the West Bank. It won Netanyahu’s backing.

The settlements would have been annexed in all but name, and their 150,000 residents become eligible to vote in municipal elections.

De facto annexation

Yisrael Katz, the minister of transport and intelligence who helped introduce the bill, has said its purpose is to “safeguard a Jewish majority” in the city. A recent poll showed 58 per cent of Israeli Jews support the plan.

Under pressure from the administration of US President Donald Trump, Netanyahu has temporarily put the bill on the back burner. Washington is reportedly worried that the legislation will stymie a peace initiative it is reportedly about to unveil.

Ir Amim fears the legislation is likely to be revived when pressure dissipates. A position paper it published last week warned that the legislation was the “first practical move since the annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967 to implement the de facto annexation of areas in the West Bank to Israel”.

After decades of implanting Jewish settlers in the midst of Palestinian areas to prevent their development and growth, Israel is beginning the difficult process of disentangling the two populations, said Tartasky.

Eviction notices

The effects are being felt keenly on the ground.

Last Friday, Israeli forces stormed the Bedouin village of Jabal al-Baba and issued “eviction” notices to its 300 residents. In August the Israeli army demolished the village’s kindergarten school.

Jabal al-Baba stands between East Jerusalem and Maale Adumim.

“These Palestinian communities outside Jerusalem are like a bone in the throat for Israel,” said Tartasky. “Israel is trying to make their life as hard as possible to force them to leave, and so create a territorial continuity between Jerusalem and the settlements.”

The latest raid on Jabal al-Baba came immediately after Israel notified the hundreds of residents of Walaja that a military checkpoint would be relocated close to the entrance to their village. That will cut them off from ancient agricultural terraces on Jerusalem’s uplands their families have farmed for generations.

Although many of Walaja’s residents have Jerusalem identity papers issued by Israel, the new move will effectively seal them off from the city, as well as their lands. The terraces and a nearby spring, where the villagers water livestock, will become “attractions” in an expanded Jerusalem metropolitan park.

Chokehold tightening

Meanwhile, Israel is tightening its chokehold on Palestinians in East Jerusalem’s built-up areas.

Those on the far side of the concrete wall have been effectively abandoned by the Jerusalem municipality, and are finding it ever harder to access the rest of the city, said Daoud Alg’ol, a Palestinian researcher on Jerusalem.

A bill by Zeev Elkin, the Jerusalem affairs minister, is designed to disconnect from the Jerusalem municipality Palestinian neighbourhoods such as Walaja, Kafr Aqab, Shuafat refugee camp and Anata, which lie beyond the separation wall.

They would be hived off into a separate local council for Palestinians, instantly reducing the city’s Palestinian population by a third.

“Once Palestinians are in a separate local council, Israel will say the centre of their life is no longer in Jerusalem and their Jerusalem residency papers will be revoked,” said Alg’ol. “This already happens, but now it will be on a much larger scale.”

Since 1967, Israel has revoked the residency permits of more than 14,000 Palestinians, forcing them to leave Jerusalem.

Twilight zones of neglect

Even though their residents pay taxes to the Jerusalem municipality, Palestinian areas outside the barrier are already “twilight zones” of neglect and lawlessness.

In Kafr Aqab, for example, which is sealed off from the rest of East Jerusalem behind the wall and a military checkpoint, residents receive few services. Israel, however, has also denied the Palestinian Authority access.

“They are living in a no-man’s land,” said Alg’ol.

These areas have become a destination both for criminals and for Palestinian families caught out by Israel’s intricate web of strict residency regulations. Palestinians in the West Bank are denied access inside Jerusalem’s wall, while Palestinians in Jerusalem risk being stripped of their residency papers if they move out of the city.

Couples who have married across that residency divide have found a refuge in Kfar Aqab as Israel slowly disconnects the neighbourhood off from East Jerusalem. Residents say the population there has rocketed from a few thousand to tens of thousands in the past few years.

As a result, a building boom has taken place beyond the wall as Palestinians take advantage of a lack of enforcement by Israel of its building regulations. That has offered demographic gains for Israel too, said Alg’ol.

Housing crisis

“Planning restrictions and land shortages inside the wall have created a housing crisis for Palestinians, making it too expensive for them to live there,” he said. “They have been forced to move to areas outside the wall to find more affordable housing. Economic pressure is creating a silent transfer.”

Palestinians in neighbourhoods inside the wall are being driven out in other ways, noted Tartasky.

Traditionally, Israel has used a range of policies to strip Palestinians of land and prevent development in Jerusalem and justify house demolitions.

Those have included declaring Palestinian areas “national parks”, thereby criminalising the homes in them; confiscating the last green areas to build Jewish settlements; and allowing settlers to take over Palestinian properties in the Old City and surrounding neighbourhoods as israel seek to strengthen its hold over the city’s holy sites, especially al-Aqsa mosque.

There are now some 200,000 Jewish settlers living in East Jerusalem.

“Palestinians are never part of the planning in Jerusalem, and their interests are never taken into account – they are always an obstacle to be removed,” Alg’ol told MEE. “Israel wants the land but not the Palestinians on it.”

Late-night raids

Pressure has mounted on Palestinians in Jerusalem, noted Tartasky, as their communities have been denied schools and basic municipal services. More than 80 per cent of Palestinian children live below the poverty line.

The Jerusalem municipality and police have also begun stepping up “law enforcement” operations against Palestinians – or what residents term “collective punishment”. Under claims of “restoring order”, there has been a wave of recent late-night raids in areas like A-Tur and Issawiya. Large numbers of Palestinians have been arrested, demolition orders issued and businesses closed.

“Israel is using the same militarised methods as in the West Bank,” said Tartasky. “The assumption is these pressures will encourage them to move to areas outside the barrier, where sooner or later they will lose their residency rights.

“Israel has realised that is an opportunity it can exploit.”

The office of Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, issued a statement to MEE denying that the situation of Palestinians in East Jerusalem was deteriorating. It said that there had been dramatic improvements in Palestinian areas in the provision of schools, community centres, sports fields, new roads, postal services and welfare.

It added that Barkat had “developed a plan unprecedented in scope and budget allocation to reduce gaps in East Jerusalem in order to address the 50 years of neglect he inherited from his municipal predecessors and successive Israeli governments.”

Alg’ol said the municipal claims were a denial of reality. “Israel wants to create a make-believe city free of Palestinians,” he said. “Where it can, it is ethnically cleansing them from the city. And where it can’t, it simply hides them from view.”

• First published in Middle East Eye

The Great American Sex Panic of 2017

I confess to being troubled rather than elated by the daily rumble of idols falling to accusations of “sexual misconduct,” the morbid masscult fixation that conceals private titillation, knowing smirks, and sadistic lip-smacking behind a public mask of solemn reproof.

Weinstein and Trump and Roy Moore and Bill Clinton are vile pigs and creeps, no doubt; I have always detested the smug neoliberal performance-art strut of Al Franken and the careerist-toady journalism of Glenn Thrush and Charlie Rose, the latest dominoes to tumble amid the barrage of public accusations of “inappropriate” advances or touching.

But the boundary between cultural tolerance/intolerance blurs and shifts with each passing revelation, as the litany of sins, ancient or recent, cardinal or venial, snowballs into an avalanche of aggrieved, undifferentiated accusation—a stampeding herd of “Me-Tooists.” Successive waves of long-forgotten gropes and slurps now overwhelm the news channel chyrons, leaving us with the sense that no greater crime against humanity is possible than an unsolicited horndog lunge of the hand or tongue, some of them from twenty or thirty years past but divulged only in the past few weeks.

Let’s be honest—these “shocking” revelations about Franken—that he tried to tongue-kiss a woman one time in a rehearsal and mock-grabbed her somnolent breasts in a silly frat-house pose or that maybe his hand strayed too far toward a woman’s derriere as he obliged her with a photo at a state fair five years ago—would have elicited nothing more than a public yawn just a few weeks or months ago in the BW (Before Weinstein) era; in fact, these two women, seemingly unperturbed enough to leave these incidents unreported for five or six years, would likely not have thought to join the solemn procession of the violated on national TV if not for the stampede effect of each successive cri de coeur.

But is it an advance in collective ethical consciousness when the public reservoir of shock and indignation is so easily churned up and tapped out over erotic peccadillos? And here I must, of course, distinguish between outright rape—always a viscerally sickening crime against human dignity— or implied or explicit threats to a woman worker’s livelihood over sexual “favors” on the one hand, and on the other the impetuous volcanic eruptions of erotic passion that inevitably leave one or both partners discomfited or embarrassed or forlorn by unexpected or unwelcome overtures, tactile or verbal. As the left blogger Michael J. Smith points out, “Not all acts are equally grave—an off-color joke is not as bad as a grope, and a grope is not as bad as a rape.” Then what interest of sanity or reason is served by this reckless lumping together of flicks of the tongue and forcible rapes into the single broad-brush term “sexual misconduct,” as though there is no important difference between an oafish pat or crude remark at an office party and a gang rape? This would be like applying the term “communist” alike to advocates of single payer healthcare and campaigners for one-party centralized control of the entire economy—oh wait, we have seen precisely that: during the McCarthy era. Now then . . . is all this beginning to have a familiar ring to it?

And not merely deeds but words have fallen under scrutiny: on Sunday Jeffrey Tambor joined the ranks of the accused, walking the plank by quitting his acclaimed Amazon series Transparent in the wake of two allegations of the use of “lewd” language in front of his assistant and a fellow actor. So the stain of ostracism has now spread from conduct to mere speech.

Alarmingly, the Pecksniffian word lewd has enjoyed a recent rehabilitation among the corporate-media “news” networks, cogs in giant infotainment conglomerates whose cash flow depends precisely on mass dissemination of HD cinematic depictions of explicit sexual “lewdness” and violence that their news departments then deplore when evidenced in real life. “Lewd” enjoyed a boomlet during the presidential campaign when the pro-Clinton newsies and talking-head strategists were professing daily bouts of horror at the revelations of the Donald’s coarse frat-boy talk on Access Hollywood. This seems to have been the first time this word had gained any traction since seventeenth-century Salem and Victorian England. This battalion of elite lewdness police are the same Ivy League graduates who in college probably considered Henry Miller a genius, not in spite of, but because of, his portrayal of raw lust in language that makes Trump’s private palaver or Tambor’s japes seem tepid and repressed by comparison. (It’s not impossible that some of these same people consider Quentin Tarantino, cinematic maestro of the vile obscenities of language and violence, a great auteur as well.) The whole spectacle is at once comical and nauseating.

And it indeed looks as though huge swaths of the world’s art and literature, from Pindar to Botticelli to Shakespeare to Joyce to Updike, will soon fall to the axe of the lewdness police. Let’s say that a college English professor, in a unit on American Transcendentalism, assigns the Whitman poem “I Sing the Body Electric,” and reads the poem aloud to his students, including the following passage:

This is the female form,
A divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot,
It attracts with fierce undeniable attraction,
I am drawn by its breath as if I were no more than a helpless vapor, all falls aside but myself and it,
Books, art, religion, time, the visible and solid earth, and what was expected of heaven or fear’d of hell, are now consumed,
Mad filaments, ungovernable shoots play out of it, the response likewise ungovernable,
Hair, bosom, hips, bend of legs, negligent falling hands all diffused, mine too diffused,
Ebb stung by the flow and flow stung by the ebb, love-flesh swelling and deliciously aching,
Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of love, white-blow and delirious juice,
Bridegroom night of love working surely and softly into the prostrate dawn,
Undulating into the willing and yielding day,
Lost in the cleave of the clasping and sweet-flesh’d day.

What if just one woman student were to wilt in distress at the sound of “quivering jelly of love” and then report the professor for imposing “lewd” and disturbing language on his students? Would he be hauled before the Ethics Committee? Stripped of tenure? Forced to resign? You find this preposterous? Then consider the following report from The Atlantic on the alarming trend of bowdlerizing the great canon of Western literature because of potentially offensive erotic content:

Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. . . . A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses. . . . Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.

Two terms have risen quickly from obscurity into common campus parlance. Microaggressions are small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless. . . . Trigger warnings are alerts that professors are expected to issue if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response. For example, some students have called for warnings that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart describes racial violence and that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby portrays misogyny and physical abuse, so that students who have been previously victimized by racism or domestic violence can choose to avoid these works, which they believe might “trigger” a recurrence of past trauma.

And this virus of censorious American PC puritanism has leapt across the Atlantic to inhibit even the teaching of Shakespeare—yes, Shakespeare—at British universities, as reported just last month in the The Independent:
Academics have criticised “trigger warnings” after Cambridge University students were warned about “potentially distressing topics” in plays by Shakespeare. English literature undergraduates were apparently cautioned that a lecture focusing on Titus Andronicus and The Comedy of Errors would include “discussions of sexual violence” and “sexual assault.” According to The Telegraph, the trigger warnings were posted in the English Faculty’s “Notes on Lectures” document which is circulated to students at the university. Academics have expressed concern that colleges trying to protect young adults from certain issues may render them incapable of dealing with real life when they graduate. Supporters of trigger warnings say they serve to help students who may be upset if a text reminds them of a personal traumatic experience.

However, critics such as Mary Beard, a Professor of Classics at Cambridge, say allowing students to avoid learning about traumatic episodes of history and literature is “fundamentally dishonest.” Beard said previously: “We have to encourage students to be able to face that, even when they find they’re awkward and difficult for all kinds of good reasons.” David Crilly, artistic director at The Cambridge Shakespeare Festival, said: “If a student of English Literature doesn’t know that Titus Andronicus contains scenes of violence they shouldn’t be on the course.”

But voices of sanity such as Beard’s and Crilly’s may be fighting a noble but lost cause against the PC cultural vigilantes, clamoring for the blood of the next prominent stumbler into errant sexual expression, in the lecture hall or office or rehearsal hall or bar. But if we may be allowed to descend from the High Courts of Sexual Inquisition to the land of the living—that is, the merely fallible, sex-tormented mortals who actually make up the human race—who hasn’t lived through anguished or comical moments, either as predator or prey or both at once, in the throes of the temporary madness of desire? And did such impulsive leaps of lust or passion strike anyone as a cause for ritual mass tongue-lashing and tongue-clucking and compulsive daily confessionals and public media crucifixions in the BW era, except perhaps among the most severe of anti-sex feminists like Andrea Dworkin, who considered every heterosexual act of intercourse to be a form of rape? Did anyone but reactionary blue-noses think about suppressing or avoiding the works of Henry Miller? Or D. H Lawrence? Or even Al Goldstein? Yet now even Shakespeare finds himself on the PC Index. Among the sexual-politics contingents of early second-wave feminists, there were, to be sure, literary eviscerations and cultural firestorms, but nothing like the current pell-mell instant media arraignment for crimes against humanity warranting public investigations, tribunals, denunciations and career death sentences. It all smacks of the hellfire zeal of a religious persecution, a jarring devolution of establishment liberals into old-fashioned American sexual head hunters and cultural bluenoses in the tradition of their forebears in Salem and the fundamentalist South.

Betraying a fundamentally elitist impulse to manage and control, the PC inquisitors instinctively recoil from the unruly tempests of human sexuality—the source of desire, the primal torrent driving all passion and pleasure, the wellspring of life itself—that at times deafens and blinds and exalts all of us. With the soul of an accountant and the temperament of the professional manager, the PC inquisitors seeks to confine the Dionysian chaos of Eros within the strictures of a bureaucratic handbook of procedure and etiquette, as though a sexual impulse or encounter were a banking transaction or a court proceeding. Thus do the neoliberal elites conduct this front in their incessant war on nature, including the unruly source of nature itself: behold the dismaying spectacle of these joyless, bloodless mortals doing futile battle with the god Eros. The vigilantes cannot win this battle, of course, but they can inflict needless damage on reputations, careers, on our entire cultural heritage in enforcing their groupthink compendium of trigger warnings, speech codes, and rules of order.

Something surpassingly strange is at work here—a wrong-headed authoritarian ire over the spasmodic misfires of the human comedy combined with some primal meltdown of a besieged and increasingly desperate ruling class and its longstanding winking sexual hypocrisies. It is a moral panic that is, ironically, immoral at its core: repressive and diversionary, an identity-politics orgy of misdirected moral energies that breeds a chilling conformity of word and deed and, in so doing, cripples the critical faculties and independence of spirit needed to challenge the status quo the PC monitors profess to abhor. In reality, their speech and conduct codes foster a spirit of regimentation rather than rebellion, thereby shoring up the power of the repressive elites that are leading the human race to social, economic, and ecological disaster.

So this is not just a moral panic—but a bizarre inversion of values in which Bill Clinton can murder 500,000 Iraqi children, throw millions of poor women and their children off welfare, and instigate the global rule of transnational corporations with NAFTA, but he is not impeached or stigmatized for any of those atrocities but rather for a workplace blowjob; in which Hillary Clinton can lead the charge for the destruction of Libya, reducing that country to primeval rubble, and is not only not fired or ostracized but is rewarded with the Democrats’ presidential nomination and lauded by corporate feminists as a champion of “inclusiveness”; in which Barack Obama pushed fraudulent health-care reform that leaves a barbaric 27 million people with zero coverage and millions more with crippling premiums and deductibles that render their “coverage” all but unusable, thus sentencing tens of thousands of people to death every year because they cannot afford timely medical care, and dropped 26,171 bombs in 2016 alone, and yet he is not only not reviled and abominated as a con artist but is worshipped as an icon of enlightened governance; in which the entire ruling elite and its associates in the corporate media are chronically underplaying—indeed, scarcely mentioning—the gravity of the climate change crisis, which could merely spell the end of the human species within a hundred years, yet no copycat 24/7 umbrage or five-alarm indignation on the part of anyone in those elite circles or their acolytes over this unprecedented planetary emergency.

Hence the long-buried, freshly unearthed ego bruises of the privileged identity-politics crowd eclipse mass murder and ecocide on the outrage meters of this country’s opinion shapers.  The same solemn cohort—mostly white and middle-class, many of them ardent McResistance DNC partisans (or, in the case of Leean Tweeden, Franken’s tongue-kiss accuser, a movement conservative who twice voted for George W. Bush)—is so easily roused to near-apoplexy about a naughty lunge of the hand or tongue yet discreetly ignores or openly cheers on unparalleled crimes against humanity: endless debilitating wars against nameless enemies abroad, the toxic mercenary corruption and annihilation of democracy, staggering political/social inequality (the top one percent of the world’s population now owns half of the world’s wealth), and ecocide everywhere—committed and abetted with impunity by the PC brigades’ culture heroes like the Clintons and Obama and their cohorts in the media and the corporate/political elites.

So yes—prosecute the rapists and pedophiles and let them suffer in jail. But you will excuse me if I stand aside from the stampede of outrage about Al Franken’s wayward tongue or even Donald Trump’s juvenile frat-house boasts while the world teeters on the brink. The scale of values of this country’s liberal elites, and the issues that fuel and exhaust their capacity for outrage, border on moral dementia. Their vaunted “values” lead us not to virtue and to spiritual renewal, but to the nauseating sanctimony of the custodians of a charnel house—to the abyss.

• This article originally appeared in CounterPunch

The Ongoing Agony of the Obama-Trump War on the People of Yemen!

We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation.

— Martin Luther King, “Beyond Vietnam”

Yemen, the poorest Arab nation on Earth, is the victim of a savage, illegal war waged by the Saudi Arabian monarchy.  Armed to the teeth with the most sophisticated weapons in the world manufactured and supplied by the merchants of death in the United States, the Saudis are providing another grotesque example of what happens when a powerful nation with modern weapons is unrestrained by law and basic human decency.

Flying hundreds of sorties and targeting the civilian infrastructure—water and sanitation plants, the electrical grid, agricultural fields, food storage facilities, hospitals, roads, schools the result is over 20 million people, or 70 percent of the population,  are now dependent on food imports; 7 million of them are facing famine-like conditions and rely completely on food aid to survive. Conservative reports put the number of dead from the Saudis’ barbaric air war since March 2015 at over 11,000, with the vast majority being innocent civilians. Meanwhile, untold millions have been displaced.

All of the above acts against the Yemenis are war crimes.

But the trauma and devastation of the people doesn’t end here.

For the last two weeks, the gangster family running the Saudi state has imposed a murderous air, sea and land blockade preventing vital aid to those millions now dependent on it for their basic survival.

However, the Saudis are not the only ones implicated in this unfolding international crime. Like most of the egregious, international human-rights crimes of the late 20th and 21st centuries, the U.S. state is once again complicit.

The fact is the Obama administration gave the green light to the Saudi war on Yemen. This is a war that could not then or today have been launched and executed without direct support from the U.S. military. The United States provided critical support in the form of intelligence sharing and targeting, air-to-air refueling, logistics support, participation in the naval blockade, and billions of dollars in weapons sales.

That support continues under the Trump administration, including the finalization of the multi-billion-dollar arms deal with the Saudis that was initiated under the Obama administration.

Starvation is rampant, and the innocents are dying but who cares when there is money to be made and geopolitical interests to protect. As the indispensable nation, the nation above all nations, it is of no real concern that starvation is a war crime. Rogue states, especially if they believe in their “exceptionality” don’t restrict themselves to the rules that apply to others. So like other elements of international law that the United States ignores, starvation according to the Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Defense considers starvation a legitimate weapon. Therefore, its use is strategic, and morality or its legality is of no concern to the masters of the universe.

Mass starvation is not the only tragedy the people are facing. Yemen is also experiencing one of the worst outbreaks of cholera in the world since the epidemic in Haiti that began in 2010. The Red Cross reports that there are over 750,000 cases of infection with the number expected to rise to over 900,000 by the end of the year. So far there have been over 3,000 deaths.

In this period when the corporate capitalist press and social media companies coordinate with the U.S. state to determine the range of acceptable information and selected facts presented to the U.S. public, it is not surprising Yemen has received scant coverage. Yet, in those few instances when the Obama administration felt compelled to comment on the situation—usually when the foreign press asked—it downplayed its role. When pressed, the Obama administration provided a ludicrous explanation: Apparently, Saudi Arabia was justified in intervening for its own security and to restore democracy in Yemen!

Today, the Trump administration doesn’t even need to bother to provide an explanation for continued U.S. support to the barbarism in Yemen. More focused on domestic political intrigue, his critics are not concerned about the crimes against humanity and war crimes being committed by the U.S. administration in Yemen. Recent legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in the form of a resolution to compel the administration to comply with the War Powers Act on Yemen or withdraw U.S. forces has stalled after generating miniscule interest. Since the people who are dying are “over there,” to borrow from Senator Lindsey Graham, who cares, and who cares if U.S. involvement is constitutional or not!

Once again, the hypocritical morality of the U.S. and the West is exposed. With all of its moralistic pontificating about human rights, humanitarianism, the responsibility to protect, the global public is reminded that U.S. and Western geo-political interests will always “trump” their supposed commitments to the rule of law, human rights, and all of the other high-sounding principles that they have consistently violated through practice.

Dr. King suggested 50 years ago that the United States was approaching spiritual death, that the deep malady in the “American” spirit was producing a sick people and making the United States a danger to the world. With mass shootings, the epidemic of suicides, pervasive drug addiction, intensifying anti-Semitism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, white supremacy, generalized narcissism, and the normalization of war, the conclusion should be obvious today, the United States is a much sicker nation and an even more dangerous threat to the world.

The people of Yemen are suffering. They cry out for help, for an end to their misery, respect, and protection of their human right to live. But their voices are unheard, drowned out by the noise of Russia-gate, arguments about the meaning of Trump’s latest tweet, and the latest episode of the TV show “Scandal”.

While many activists in the U.S. who are aligned with the democratic party would reject it, the people in the global South, the racialized “others” whose lives have never mattered, understand clearly that Trump is not an aberration, he is the reflection of the “American” spirit.

Trump’s “Ultimate Deal” Only offers Hard Choices for Abbas

The long wait appears to be coming to an end on Donald Trump’s “ultimate deal”, one supposedly capable of unlocking the impasse between Israel and the Palestinians.

The United States peace initiative may be unveiled as soon as January, marking the first anniversary of Mr Trump’s arrival in office. Other reports suggest it may be delayed until March. But all seem sure it will be upon us soon.

Neither Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, appear keen to enter another round of fruitless dialogue.

But for good reason, Mr Abbas is far more reticent.

This month, in statements presumably directed at Washington, he insisted he would not agree to a Palestinian state without Gaza, or one restricted to Gaza. He also warned again that, in the absence of a two-state solution, Israel would face demands from Palestinians for equal rights in one state.

That was presumably the context for Mr Abbas being called to Riyadh earlier this month, doubtless after the White House urged Saudi Arabia to use its leverage with the Palestinian leader to bring him onside. According to Palestinian sources cited by Israeli reporter Ben Caspit, Mr Abbas was told in no uncertain terms that he had to respond positively to the coming peace initiative.

Strong-arming Mr Abbas was doubtless also the motive behind US threats at the weekend to shut down what is effectively the Palestinians’ embassy in Washington – unless the Palestinian leader agrees to peace talks.

Outrage from Palestinian officials, who referred to the White House move as “extortion”, was an indication of their mounting exasperation.

Given that Mr Abbas is invested exclusively in diplomacy, his resistance to this round of US-led peacemaking should serve as warning enough of how bad a Trump peace is likely to prove.

At the weekend Israeli media offered the first substantive clues of what might be on offer.

The headline news is not entirely bad – so long as one ignores the small print. Most significantly, if reports are accurate – and Washington and Israel claim they are not – the US is said to be ready to recognise a Palestinian state.

It is a move characterised by the kind of bullishness that is Mr Trump’s trademark and has left Mr Netanyahu anxious. But everything else should reassure him.

The US will apparently agree that no one will be forcibly moved from their home. That may prove the answer to Israel’s prayers. It will finally have US blessing for all its illegal settlements, which have eaten into the bulk of the West Bank, turning it into a patchwork of Palestinian enclaves.

After five decades of Israel clearing most of the Palestinian population from the same area, penning them up in cities, the reported Trump deal will offer no restitution.

The most intractable issue, Jerusalem, will supposedly be kept off the table for now. But reports say Israel will be allowed to continue its military chokehold on the large agricultural spine of the West Bank, the Jordan Valley.

Everything else will be up for grabs – or as a US official noted, its role would be “not to impose anything” on the two parties. In practice, that means the strongest side, Israel, can impose its will by force.

All of this indicates that the “state” the US recognises will be a demilitarised archipelago of mini-Palestines. This Trumpian version of statehood could be the weirdest one ever conceived.

That should not surprise us. At a meeting in London this month to mark 100 years since the signing of the Balfour Declaration, Mr Netanyahu suggested that the Palestinians were an example of a people unsuited to “sovereignty”.

It is striking how little the prospect of a Trump peace process has ruffled the feathers of Israel’s far-right government.

That is in part because they have put in place measures to tie Mr Netanyahu’s hand. He is precluded from negotiating with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas, and he would have to refer any peace proposal to a referendum. And if he tests his colleagues’ loyalty too far, they can always bring down the coalition.

But their best hope is that the Trump deal will be so outrageously divorced from reality that Mr Abbas could never sign up to it, even if Washington secures Arab money to pay for its implementation.

The biggest danger may turn out to be the US president himself. Previous efforts at peacemaking, however skewed to Israeli interests, were at least premised on reaching a consensual agreement.

It is in Mr Trump’s nature to bargain ruthlessly and then cut a quick deal. In this environment, something has to give.

In one scenario, that could be the US president’s interest in solving the Israel-Palestine issue. But it could also be Mr Abbas and his increasingly authoritarian Palestinian Authority.

Forced into the corner by a bull-headed Trump administration, Mr Abbas may be faced with a hard choice: either he agrees to a series of non-viable statelets under Israel’s thumb, or he steps down and dismantles the Palestinians’ government-in-waiting.

In these circumstances, bringing down the house of cards that is the Palestinian Authority may be the best option, even if it delights many in Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet. It will leave a void, and one to be filled by a new generation of Palestinians no longer distracted by empty promises of statehood.

• First published in The National

Want to Help Coal Miners? Plan for the Future

Announcing its plans to eliminate rules reducing carbon pollution from power plants, the Trump Administration framed the repeal as necessary to prevent the demise of the coal industry and its miners. Predictably, environmentalists refuted this rationale, but they aren’t alone. Robert Murray, CEO of coal giant Murray Energy Corporation, is on record saying Trump “can’t bring [coal jobs] back.”

Coal executives recognize market forces, not public health and environmental protection laws, are driving coal to the margins. Ignoring that reality only deepens the harm to working people in coal country.

Far from the “War on Coal” alleged by Trump appointees, a government war supporting coal has been waged for many years, including subsidies that add up to about one billion dollars annually. Below-market fees charged for extracting coal from publicly-owned land in Montana and Wyoming by themselves constitute a gift to coal corporations comparable to all federal support for renewable energy.

Even so, coal produced only about 15% of all energy in the U.S. last year and the coal industry has faced declining market share and a string of bankruptcies and loss of market share over the past decade. Low prices for natural gas, reductions in demand from abroad, and technological improvements are eroding coal’s market. Researchers from Columbia University found public health and environmental protections instituted under President Obama account for just three to five percent of coal’s declining sales.

Coal-dependent areas would be wise to heed the lessons of Rochester, New York, whose one-time top employer, Kodak, stubbornly resisted the market’s shift from film to digital photography. This led to the company’s demise and the devastation of the region’s economy.

When facing circumstances like Rochester’s, guiding change proactively, and not having the terms dictated to you, is the best way to adapt with minimal loss of jobs and wealth. In Colstrip, Montana, where over half of the working-age adults are employed in the coal industry, outside utilities are shutting down coal-fired power plants. These shutdowns leave locals a shrinking window in which to build other businesses or flee the community.

Coal states across the country face a similar future, and while heel-dragging may help coal company owners maximize their profit in the short-term, it does nothing for coal miners and their families.

A new strategy for these places is needed. Declining domestic demand no longer can be replaced by foreign buyers like China, which is leading the world in adding solar and wind capacity and is eliminating coal plants.

“We are setting ourselves up to miss the boat,” says Karl Unterschuetz, head of business development at Itek Energy. “The U.S. is poised to be a global leader in renewable energy if we would just move away from coal.” Itek, based in Bellingham, Washington, is one of only five major solar panel manufacturers in the U.S., and faces an uphill battle against competitors in China, Germany and other nations thinking forward on energy.

Renewable energy already succeeds in the marketplace, and is a high-value industry employing far more people than coal, with decades of growth to come. Furthermore, decentralizing our energy supply carries the added benefit of greater durability and resistance to widespread power loss in the event of severe storms, sabotage, or other disruptions.

Beyond embracing renewable sources of power, we can adapt to our changing economy by taking that billion-dollar handout currently pocketed by coal companies and invest it into infrastructure for entrepreneurial opportunities – such as high-speed internet –  in coal communities.

The sooner government officials accept that coal’s life cycle has run its course, the greater the opportunity for coal communities to build positive alternatives and self-reliance, and perhaps avoid disaster.

James Clapper Wants Us to Trust Him: So Does Politico

In a recent piece published on Politico, former director of national intelligence James Clapper, that “crusty ex-cargo pilot,” makes us privy to another of his unnerving assessments of the world-at-large, “The Russians have succeeded beyond their wildest expectations.” The last time Mr. Clapper assured us of something, it was that the intel community wasn’t spying on us. We saw how that turned out. But that was under oath before Congress. This is an interview with a leading political website. Much higher stakes. Clapper has settled comfortably into his civilian role as the lead legitimizer of January’s farcical Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA), and sees Russian influence, and the tantalizing prospect of presidential treason, as a weighty black cloud hanging over the country, a semaphore of apocalypse.

Clapper is effectively a PR flack of the Democratic Party and the military-industrial-finance complex. The former is the Clinton wing of the DNC. The latter includes defense industries, the Pentagon, Fortune 500 manufacturing multinationals, and a handful of the world’s largest banks. These two entities have a common interest: demonizing the Russian Federation. The Democrats want it to deflect attention from the landfill of venality, graft, and other corruptions revealed by WikiLeaks, a rogue DNC insider, and now Donna Brazile. The ruling class community wants it to force President Trump to continue the hostile policies of George Bush and Barack Obama in the global arena, notably toward Russia. So, immediate Democratic interests dovetailed with permanent establishment interests. Hence Russia was employed to hide Democratic corruption and justify active measures against it. In other words, the establishment is working hard to preserve the status quo, against popular pressure to change the status quo. It was ever thus.

The Art of the Sell

If you are going to peddle a lie like Russia-gate, you need to establish two critical components: credibility and consensus. On the credibility side, major institutions and respected influencers must be enjoined to sell the right narrative to give the story a patina of legitimacy. This is Clapper’s job, and that of the intelligence agencies. On the visibility side, mainstream news channels must flood the airwaves with this story. This will provide crucial visibility for the story and, even more importantly, create a perception of consensus. This is the corporate media’s job. To simultaneously accomplish both, Clapper works with media companies like Politico  to broadly disseminate the anti-Russia tale in the voice of a credible servant of the state.

Clapper says Russia-gate is worse than Watergate. He darkly murmurs his innuendo to Politico international affairs correspondent Susan Glasser, another rapt reporter dutifully recording the wizened words of a man once privy to the inner chambers of American intelligence. The tone is suitably reverential. For the proven perjurer Clapper, Russia-gate is unprecedented because it shows “…a foreign adversary actively and aggressively and directly engaging in our political processes to interfere with them and to undermine our system, whereas in Watergate you were dealing with a two-bit petty burglary, domestic only.”

Clapper then says he fears that the extent of nefarious Russian actions go even deeper than he thought. One shudders to think. He talks flatly about Russian use of social media. Politico goes out of its way to claim that the social media non-story about a speculative Moscow-directed “influence” campaign is “extensive and sophisticated” and calls bots and trolls “false-front groups.” Any rhetorical formation that sounds more menacing than “fake” will work.

Glasser, a starry-eyed apostle of Russia-gate, “asked whether Russian President Vladimir Putin now believes he is winning in his campaign against the United States.” Mind you, no evidence has yet been produced to demonstrate Vladimir Putin ever launched a “campaign against the United States.” It’s fairly obvious from his foreign policy positions, offers, and statements that he’d rather cooperate with Washington than fight it, though Moscow surely preferred Trump to Clinton in the general election.

Clapper replies that, “Their first objective in the election was to sow discontent, discord and disruption in our political life, and they have succeeded…They have accelerated, amplified the polarization and the divisiveness in this country, and they’ve undermined our democratic system. They wanted to create doubt in the minds of the public about our government and about our system, and they succeeded…”

Incredible Claims

The Russia-gate narrative began as an accusation that Russia had hacked the DNC to destroy Hillary Clinton. Then it changed to an accusation of Russian influence to destroy Hillary Clinton. Then it changed to an accusation of Russian influence to sow division among American voters. All along, it has also charged that Donald Trump colluded with Russia to destroy Hillary Clinton. No such evidence has been produced.

The DNC hacking claim has been debunked. The claim about WikiLeaks as an agent of Russia is false, given it has released hundreds of thousands of documents critical of Russia itself. The claim Russia hacked into U.S. voting systems was fake news. The disgusting dossier is another fiction ginned up by the Clinton camp to smear Trump. Evidence is lacking that Trump himself is some kind of Russian puppet. Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller has merely found what most would expect: business contacts in Russia, plus some corrupt associates. Perhaps the most useful claim the Russia-gate promoters have is that Russia, in some capacity, tried to influence voters. Seems true to some extent. Most countries with money do this. The KGB did it for decades. But nothing unearthed by the New McCarthyites suggest that this was an extensive and sophisticated campaign. But Clapper attributes it all to the Kremlin and its insidious ruler Vladimir Putin.

Facebook found a total of $100,000 dollars had been spent by a huge variety of Russian accounts over a two-year period generated by the Internet Research Agency, which appears to be troll farm, funded by a Russian oligarch who is friends with Putin. Most of the ads didn’t even promote a candidate, which was the original claim—that Russia wanted to elect Donald Trump. This sounds suspiciously like a bot farm trying to scare up likes and traffic in order to sell those audiences to advertisers. Recall that Facebook got a billion in advertising revenue from last year’s presidential campaign alone. One hundred thousand dollars is a drop in the ad-spend ocean. Brands regularly burn through 100k in a few weeks, often with hazy results. It is difficult to know the origin of murky leak fronts like DCLeaks, Guccifer 2.0, and Fancy Bear. We know the CIA developed technology in order to falsely attribute hacks. Even so, Clapper and others of his ilk desperately want us to believe that this is all Putin-directed Russian advertising activity, that it amounted to a huge influence campaign, and that it sowed immense discord in American society and gravely undermined our democracy. Clapper’s is a case of special pleading, when one conjures a desired interpretation of reality and then hastily assembles ‘facts’ to prove it is so.

This is disingenuous on so many levels. First, one imagines some Russian money was spent to sway American opinion, and probably to support Donald Trump, who sounded a lot friendlier to Moscow during his campaign than the neoconservative warmonger Hillary Clinton. But buying ads to promote a different view is normal behavior. Nothing particularly wrong with it. To see what illegal and unethical efforts to destabilize countries looks like, you’d have to look at U.S. overt and covert action in Eastern Europe, Russia, and elsewhere. Russia in the mid-Nineties is an instructive example. We installed Boris Yeltsin in the presidency in 1996 and backed his anti-democratic authoritarian attacks on his own people. Clapper knows the extent of our shameless interference abroad. He knows he is inflating, for political purposes, a dubious and at any rate minor effort by Russia. He knows the disparity between Washington’s interventions abroad and a loose array of uncoordinated ads floating around on unread Facebook feeds. But he has buried this cognitive dissonance deep in his mind.

Next, Clapper and the MSM’s assertion that these Russia-linked ads sowed discord, particularly of a racial nature, in American society, is itself a deeply insulting claim. As Ajuma Baraka wrote, we don’t need foreign powers to produce racial conflict in America. We already do that perfectly well on our own. The implication that without foreign interference we would live in some kind of racial harmony is absurd on its face. Did the Kremlin produce Ferguson? Did Moscow fire the pistols of racist cops? Did Putin stir up this month’s uprising in St. Louis?

Lastly, Clapper knows we don’t live in a democracy. We live in an obvious oligarchy that serves the interests of elite plutocrats that own the military-industrial-finance complex of multinational corporations. Our society is almost wholly subservient to their money power. What was revealed about the Clintons and the DNC actually reinforced this reality. Instead of fearing that ‘our democracy’ has been undermined, Clapper instead wants to drop a bag over the truth of our plutocracy. That is what intelligence officials do.

Unreliable Sources

As John Kiriakou points out, the CIA has lied to us relentlessly. They said there was no torture program. Lie. They said there was no program of extraordinary renditions. Lie. They said there was no “archipelago” of foreign secret prisons. Lie. They said they were not hacking into Senate Intelligence Committee computers. Lie. Clapper told Congress when he said the NSA was not spying on American citizens. Lie. The National Intelligence Agencies collectively produced and supported the claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was trying to gain materials for a nuclear bomb. Lie.

Why would anyone in their right mind trust James Clapper or any of the intelligence agencies that now control the presidency? Moreover, why would any sane person trust the mainstream media outlets that peddled the intelligence lies noted above? The only answers I can come up with are ignorance, stupidity, or willful blindness. Sources and publisher must be believed. They are the twin scaffolding on which the credibility of the narrative hangs.

Halos for Heretics

To that end, the rest of the article devolves into a kind of hagiography. Not only does Clapper superficially possess the requisite CV of a reliable source, but he must also be made to look personally ethical. Casting someone in a noble light requires a few characteristic moves: he must have pure motives, relatable values, and must be bravely battling a demonic enemy. These are the ingredients of myth-making.

First one must paint the person’s motives as pure, ideally contrasted with a phalanx of ill-starred narcissists only out for themselves. Jesus among the Pharisees and money-changers is a workable template. Glasser is a trusted hand at this kind of thing. In order to depict the intel veteran as a chaste and honorable fellow, she begins by telling us that, “…this is no limelight-seeking politician trashing the man in the White House for a quick cable-TV adrenaline rush.”

Next you need to spotlight the person’s values, make them commensurate with those of your audience. You’ll also have to demonstrate that whatever the person is doing, he or she is doing against his better instincts, at risk to himself, under duress, at the cost of his own comfort.

Glasser rolls these two prerequisites into a couple of paragraphs. She says repeatedly that Clapper is not cut out for this role, but fills it out of some sense of duty to his country. Read uncompromising patriot. He “still carries the bearing of his three decades in the Air Force.” Gravitas. Decorum. Sagacity. You get the picture. Yet he finds being in the public eye, “unsettling” and “painful.” He “reveres” the office of the president and doesn’t like being seen as a critic of the president. Clapper reached out to Trump on the phone, but alas, he finally had to take his paranoia public. This is all self-serving and unprovable supposition.

But as a man who has training in shaping a narrative, Clapper soon winds his way back to the prize: the evil empire. This is, of course, the other critical element of any consecration, the relentless demonization of the enemy. Heroes must fight worthy causes, or they aren’t really heroes. On cue, Clapper finds it “worrisome” and “bothersome” that Russia is modernizing its nuclear forces. He makes no mention of the fact that Moscow recognizes it is being surrounded and harassed by a hostile, angry, aggressive superpower sensing the waning of its political power. Why wouldn’t it modernize its nuclear capacity? After all, that dove Barack Obama earmarked a trillion dollars to modernize American nukes.

No matter, the bad guy here is the Russian Federation. Oh, and also North Korea. Clapper doesn’t mention that the United States inflicted a genocidal scar on the Korean conscience during the Korean War. He doesn’t mention how that war has shaped Pyongyang’s attitude toward the imperial west. He simply criticizes the president, quite fairly, for his blustery exchanges with Kim Jong Un. He correctly sees this rhetorical sword fight increasing the odds of a “cataclysmic” exchange. But Clapper fails to see, as he did with Russia, that North Korea is actively trying to defend itself against a malicious empire that wants to literally overthrow its government and replace it with technocrats who will sanction the looting of Korean wealth. Instead, Clapper derides Jong Un as little more than a dictator, “surrounded by medal-bedecked sycophants, who dutifully follow him around like puppy dogs with their notebooks open, ascribing his every utterance…”

Glasser’s work is deftly done. It certainly helps that the current inhabitant of the White House is an enfant terrible who deserves plenty of derision. Nobody on the Democratic side of the spectrum trusts Donald Trump, and thus are particularly vulnerable to conspiracies about him committing treason. The best propaganda has a measure of truth in it; i.e., Trump is not an unscrupulous mogul. Begin with a kernel of fact and spin a factious yarn out of it.

It’s a question of time and money. The money end of it is bottomless. The media companies actually make money out of spinning incredible stories. The time side is thankfully out of the hands of the plutocrats. Readers have short attention spans, and sooner or later their interest will wane and subscriptions and page views will decline. Voters will become disillusioned. Diehard patriots will ask questions. Democratic funds will fall (as they already have). And the Democrats will have to gin up some fresh threat to enthrall a war-weary public.

Honor Among Thieves?

There is perhaps still some honor among thieves. The thieves of your private communications and the inveterate leakers that have taken over the White House using leaks were supposedly all in agreement that Russia ‘hacked our democracy.’ All 17 of them. That’s what the New York Times told us for months. Turns out that was a lie. It was only four agencies that agreed with that assessment, and all of their leaders were hand-picked to conclude just that. Could it be that those 13 other agencies declined to support an obvious fabrication?

Still, it is no surprise the Times made this claim for so long before whispering a retraction. Their doctrinal role is to legitimate wars of aggression. They have backed every American war in the last 30 years, never once asking whether these might be imperial capitalist wars foisted on us by a savage plutocracy that runs the country–and pays their bloated salaries.

Let’s be honest. You won’t get truth from our intelligence agencies and you won’t get it from mainstream media. The latter serves the former. The former serves the ruling class community of which it is a central part. They are beholden to the same ideology. They share the same motivations. If you want the real story, read non-corporate news media. If you want facts, find sources outside the state. If you want democracy, spread the inconvenient truth.

Idiot Voters and Trolling the Internet: Russia, Social Media Giants and US Elections

The program usually pokes fun, riddles and irks a fourth estate that has long given up the chase for verity.  Media Watch, after years of weather beaten but reliable service, remains Australia’s only real source of genuine critical comment about journalistic practice and its poorer practices. Over the years, it has exposed fictions, unearthed myths and lampooned incompetence.

Not, however, on this occasion. The November 13 program seemed to swallow the gruel on Russian interference in the US elections of 2016 with an un-ironic, unflinching insistence. Political figures from Congress and testimony from the Senate Judiciary Committee.  And, most of all, the US voter was made to look the fool.

Paul Barry, the host, explained that “Russians were spreading dirt on Hillary Clinton, using stolen Democratic Party emails, which Russian intelligence offered to the Trump campaign in 2016.”  Nothing is mentioned about any internal Democratic grievance, or dimension, that would have also fed this, not to mention the compromising accuracy of those emails.

What this program persistently emphasises is “dirt” – more appropriately gold dust, be it to elector or Trump supporter – that placed Clinton in a poor light.  Barry runs segments featuring a concerned Representative Adam Schiff, who claims to “now know as a result of the guilty plea by Trump campaign foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos, that the Russians approached the Trump campaign as early as April of 2016, to inform them that they were in possession of dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of stolen emails.”

It soon becomes clear that Barry, and, in fact, the individuals he cites, consider the means of obtaining such material more significant than what it discloses.  Why, after all, bother about the awe inspiring deficiencies of the Democratic campaign, with its tarnished leader?

It then follows that what was also used in the US election was a grand binge of misinformation, which the US voter, scented ignoramus, is supposedly incapable of discerning.  “In the two months up to polling day,” Barry advances, “Russian Twitter accounts put out 1.4 million tweets that were viewed 288 million times.”  What influence, albeit unmeasured and ungauged!

Facebook, claims the grave Barry, also featured, with the company admitting “to the Senate that between 2015 and 2017 one single Russian troll factory put out 80,000 Facebook posts that reached 126 million Americans.”

Barry does, at the very least, note the minute portion of Russian sponsored ads on Facebook – some 0.004 percent, though he goes on to claim, without any verifiable basis, that this was enough to stitch the election, given that “Trump won the presidency by a handful of votes.”

The sampling from Media Watch gives the impression that many in the US would not have had issues with the burqa, with “invaders”, or against police brutality were it not for those industrious Russians based at the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg busily attempting to woo, convince and deceive.

The interference issue is one matter that continues to rage, a story that features the to and fro typical of the Trumpland studio, fully equipped with pyrotechnic details.  Denials follow probes; probes, in turn, are followed by denials.

Anyone outside the US watching this would be revelling in smug awareness that what has been good for a certain goose has been terribly dissatisfying for the particular gander, given US global interference in a myriad of elections for decades.

That feeling would have been evident with the remarks made by Senator Richard Burr, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee: “I’ll say it again: agents of a hostile foreign power reached into the United States using our own social media platforms and conducted an information operation intended to divide our society.”  The genius of Silicon Valley turned against the United States to exploit pre-existing divisions – a calamitous state of affairs for the light-on-the-hill advocates.

The other point is also important: interference in the US elections has been habitual, a historical tic, a commonplace matter for outside powers keen to influence local opinion.  Britain was particularly keen in swaying US public opinion during both World Wars, backing candidates favouring an intervention posture.

Earlier this year, then White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus pointed the finger at an ambitious China and niggling North Korea.  “China has, North Korea has and they have consistently [interfered] over many, many years.”

Why, then, inflate the Russian bear, giving it prodigiously extensive claws, and a grope of influence more significant than Harvey Weinstein? The point is simple: a Trump victory in November 2016 remains unbelievable, a cosh to the head, a mugging in broad daylight.  The narcotised state that is current US politics, a Clinton defeat, and the inversion of the capital’s ceremonial rituals, has made it incumbent on members on Congress to find a culprit.

The moral tones in Monday’s Media Watch delivery seemed misplaced and, if taken to the next level, sinister.  Social media platforms, the suggestion goes, should be tasked with policing information placed on its own networks with comb-like assiduity.  The advertising police need to be charged.  As Louisiana Senator John Kennedy told representatives of Facebook, Google and Twitter pointedly, “I think you do enormous good, but your power sometimes scares me.”

Colin Stretch, Vice President and general counsel for Facebook, is quoted by Media Watch only to be scolded: “It pains us as a company. It pains me personally to see that we were, that our platform was abused in this way.”

Facebook, goes the claim by Barry, should have seen that its platforms were being misused, notably “when the Internet Research Agency was paying for those posts.” But Stretch, rightly, considered the inquisition on who was buying ads problematic – by Kennedy’s own observation, the company had 5 million advertisers.  “Of course the answer is no,” conceded Stretch to the question on whether the company had an eye out for those opportunistic foreign agents or purchasers of political ads.

The unmistakable inference here is not merely that the US consumer of news (dare one say reader?) is an unmitigated fool best kept away from social media accounts, or, more appropriately, drip fed vetted material. It is, seemingly, a pitch for control, restraint and policing for those consumers in a land where freedom of speech is both creed and dogma.  Leave it to those establishment patricians and censors who know best. The move towards patriotic proofing the social media giants is underway.