Category Archives: Social media

Guest Media Alert by John Pilger: “Hold the Front Page. The Reporters are Missing”

Note From Media Lens

This is a slightly amended version of the foreword to the new Media Lens book, Propaganda Blitz – How The Corporate Media Distort Reality, published today by Pluto Press. Warm thanks to John Pilger for contributing this superb piece to our book.

*****

The death of Robert Parry earlier this year felt like a farewell to the age of the reporter. Parry was “a trailblazer for independent journalism”, wrote Seymour Hersh, with whom he shared much in common.

Hersh revealed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and the secret bombing of Cambodia, Parry exposed Iran-Contra, a drugs and gun-running conspiracy that led to the White House. In 2016, they separately produced compelling evidence that the Assad government in Syria had not used chemical weapons. They were not forgiven.

Driven from the “mainstream”, Hersh must publish his work outside the United States. Parry set up his own independent news website Consortium News, where, in a final piece following a stroke, he referred to journalism’s veneration of “approved opinions” while “unapproved evidence is brushed aside or disparaged regardless of its quality.”

Although journalism was always a loose extension of establishment power, something has changed in recent years. Dissent tolerated when I joined a national newspaper in Britain in the 1960s has regressed to a metaphoric underground as liberal capitalism moves towards a form of corporate dictatorship. This is a seismic shift, with journalists policing the new “groupthink”, as Parry called it, dispensing its myths and distractions, pursuing its enemies.

Witness the witch-hunts against refugees and immigrants, the willful abandonment by the “MeToo” zealots of our oldest freedom, presumption of innocence, the anti-Russia racism and anti-Brexit hysteria, the growing anti-China campaign and the suppression of a warning of world war.

With many if not most independent journalists barred or ejected from the “mainstream”, a corner of the Internet has become a vital source of disclosure and evidence-based analysis: true journalism. Sites such as wikileaks.org, consortiumnews.com, wsws.org, truthdig.com, globalresearch.org, counterpunch.org and informationclearinghouse.com are required reading for those trying to make sense of a world in which science and technology advance wondrously while political and economic life in the fearful “democracies” regress behind a media facade of narcissistic spectacle.

In Britain, just one website offers consistently independent media criticism. This is the remarkable Media Lens — remarkable partly because its founders and editors as well as its only writers, David Edwards and David Cromwell, since 2001 have concentrated their gaze not on the usual suspects, the Tory press, but the paragons of reputable liberal journalism: the BBC, the Guardian, Channel 4 News.

Their method is simple. Meticulous in their research, they are respectful and polite when they ask a journalist why he or she produced such a one-sided report, or failed to disclose essential facts or promoted discredited myths.

The replies they receive are often defensive, at times abusive; some are hysterical, as if they have pushed back a screen on a protected species.

I would say Media Lens has shattered a silence about corporate journalism. Like Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in Manufacturing Consent, they represent a Fifth Estate that deconstructs and demystifies the media’s power.

What is especially interesting about them is that neither is a journalist. David Edwards was a teacher, David Cromwell is a former scientist. Yet, their understanding of the morality of journalism — a term rarely used; let’s call it true objectivity — is a bracing quality of their online Media Lens dispatches.

I think their work is heroic and I would place a copy of their just published book, Propaganda Blitz, in every journalism school that services the corporate system, as they all do.

Take the chapter, Dismantling the National Health Service, in which Edwards and Cromwell describe the critical part played by journalists in the crisis facing Britain’s pioneering health service.

The NHS crisis is the product of a political and media construct known as “austerity”, with its deceitful, weasel language of “efficiency savings” (the BBC term for slashing public expenditure) and “hard choices” (the willful destruction of the premises of civilised life in modern Britain).

“Austerity” is an invention. Britain is a rich country with a debt owed by its crooked banks, not its people. The resources that would comfortably fund the National Health Service have been stolen in broad daylight by the few allowed to avoid and evade billions in taxes.

Using a vocabulary of corporate euphemisms, the publicly-funded Health Service is being deliberately run down by free market fanatics, to justify its selling-off. The Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn may appear to oppose this, but does it? The answer is very likely no. Little of any of this is alluded to in the media, let alone explained.

Edwards and Cromwell have dissected the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, whose innocuous title belies its dire consequences. Unknown to most of the population, the Act ends the legal obligation of British governments to provide universal free health care: the bedrock on which the NHS was set up following the Second World War. Private companies can now insinuate themselves into the NHS, piece by piece.

Where, asks Edwards and Cromwell, was the BBC while this momentous Bill was making its way through Parliament? With a statutory commitment to “providing a breadth of view” and to properly inform the public of “matters of public policy”, the BBC never spelt out the threat posed to one of the nation’s most cherished institutions. A BBC headline said: “Bill which gives power to GPs passes.” This was pure state propaganda.

There is a striking similarity with the BBC’s coverage of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s lawless invasion of Iraq in 2003, which left a million dead and many more dispossessed. A study by Cardiff University, Wales, found that the BBC reflected the government line “overwhelmingly” while relegating reports of civilian suffering. A Media Tenor study placed the BBC at the bottom of a league of western broadcasters in the time they gave to opponents of the invasion. The corporation’s much-vaunted “principle” of impartiality was never a consideration.

One of the most telling chapters in Propaganda Blitz describes the smear campaigns mounted by journalists against dissenters, political mavericks and whistleblowers. The Guardian’s campaign against the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is the most disturbing.

Assange, whose epic WikiLeaks disclosures brought fame, journalism prizes and largesse to the Guardian, was abandoned when he was no longer useful. He was then subjected to a vituperative – and cowardly — onslaught of a kind I have rarely known.

With not a penny going to WikiLeaks, a hyped Guardian book led to a lucrative Hollywood movie deal. The book’s authors, Luke Harding and David Leigh, gratuitously described Assange as a “damaged personality” and “callous”. They also disclosed the secret password he had given the paper in confidence, which was designed to protect a digital file containing the US embassy cables.

With Assange now trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy, Harding, standing among the police outside, gloated on his blog that “Scotland Yard may get the last laugh”.

The Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore wrote, “I bet Assange is stuffing himself full of flattened guinea pigs. He really is the most massive turd.”

Moore, who describes herself as a feminist, later complained that, after attacking Assange, she had suffered “vile abuse”. Edwards and Cromwell wrote to her: “That’s a real shame, sorry to hear that. But how would you describe calling someone ‘the most massive turd’? Vile abuse?”

Moore replied that no, she would not, adding, “I would advise you to stop being so bloody patronising.”

Her former Guardian colleague James Ball wrote, “It’s difficult to imagine what Ecuador’s London embassy smells like more than five and a half years after Julian Assange moved in.”

Such slow-witted viciousness appeared in a newspaper described by its editor, Katharine Viner, as “thoughtful and progressive”. What is the root of this vindictiveness? Is it jealousy, a perverse recognition that Assange has achieved more journalistic firsts than his snipers can claim in a lifetime? Is it that he refuses to be “one of us” and shames those who have long sold out the independence of journalism?

Journalism students should study this to understand that the source of “fake news” is not only trollism, or the likes of Fox news, or Donald Trump, but a journalism self-anointed with a false respectability: a liberal journalism that claims to challenge corrupt state power but, in reality, courts and protects it, and colludes with it. The amorality of the years of Tony Blair, whom the Guardian has failed to rehabilitate, is its echo.

“[It is] an age in which people yearn for new ideas and fresh alternatives,” wrote Katharine Viner. Her political writer Jonathan Freedland dismissed the yearning of young people who supported the modest policies of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as “a form of narcissism”.

“How did this man ….,” brayed the Guardian’s Zoe Williams, “get on the ballot in the first place?” A choir of the paper’s precocious windbags joined in, thereafter queuing to fall on their blunt swords when Corbyn came close to winning the 2017 general election in spite of the media.

Complex stories are reported to a cult-like formula of bias, hearsay and omission: Brexit, Venezuela, Russia, Syria. On Syria, only the investigations of a group of independent journalists have countered this, revealing the network of Anglo-American backing of jihadists in Syria, including those related to ISIS.

Supported by a “psyops” campaign funded by the British Foreign Office and the US Agency of International Aid, the aim is to hoodwink the Western public and speed the overthrow of the government in Damascus, regardless of the medieval alternative and the risk of war with Russia.

The Syria Campaign, set up by a New York PR agency, Purpose, funds a group known as the White Helmets, who claim falsely to be “Syria Civil Defence” and are seen uncritically on TV news and social media, apparently rescuing the victims of bombing, which they film and edit themselves, though viewers are unlikely to be told this. George Clooney is a fan.

The White Helmets are appendages to the jihadists with whom they share addresses. Their media-smart uniforms and equipment are supplied by their Western paymasters. That their exploits are not questioned by major news organisations is an indication of how deep the influence of state-backed PR now runs in the media. As Robert Fisk noted recently, no “mainstream” reporter reports Syria, from Syria.

In what is known as a hatchet job, a Guardian reporter based in San Francisco, Olivia Solon, who has never visited Syria, was allowed to smear the substantiated investigative work of journalists Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett on the White Helmets as “propagated online by a network of anti-imperialist activists, conspiracy theorists and trolls with the support of the Russian government”.

This abuse was published without permitting a single correction, let alone a right-of-reply. The Guardian Comment page was blocked, as Edwards and Cromwell document. I saw the list of questions Solon sent to Beeley, which reads like a McCarthyite charge sheet — “Have you ever been invited to North Korea?”

So much of the mainstream has descended to this level. Subjectivism is all; slogans and outrage are proof enough. What matters is the “perception”.

When he was US commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus declared what he called “a war of perception… conducted continuously using the news media”. What really mattered was not the facts but the way the story played in the United States. The undeclared enemy was, as always, an informed and critical public at home.

Nothing has changed. In the 1970s, I met Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s film-maker, whose propaganda mesmerised the German public.

She told me the “messages” of her films were dependent not on “orders from above”, but on the “submissive void” of an uninformed public.

“Did that include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie?” I asked.

“Everyone,” she said. “Propaganda always wins, if you allow it.”

Deplatforming Germaine Greer

The flexibility of English, and thriving sign that it is not a dead language, permits repeated atrocities to be committed in the name of new terms.  We are told that what is new is supposedly good, a sign of evolution. More accurately, such terms simply describe an old phenomenon, giving the false impression that the novel has appeared before the old.

The term “deplatforming” is de rigueur at the moment, a creature of the social media age and lecture circuit.  Invitations to writers’ festivals can be withdrawn at a moment’s notice because the invitee has either not observed the current fashion, or has done something distinctly against it.  Users of social media have their carpet, or platform, as it were, taken from under them.

The star recipient of that treatment was Alex Jones, who has found himself, and his Infowars, expelled beyond the city gates of social media babble. Social media giants, pressured by the very individuals who believe that free speech is vital oxygen to the body politic, have taken it upon themselves to police expression. “It’s implausible to imagine a future,” observed a bleak David Harsanyi, “in which liberal activists don’t demand that Republican groups be de-platformed.”

A creature of argumentation and debate very different to Jones is Germaine Greer, a permanent voice of insurrection whose The Female Eunuch still retains, even after a half-century, the sense of being both iconoclastic and holy.  When your book becomes a household weapon of feminist liberation, an item to be found on reading lists to perturb, you know you have made it.  While she has never quite emulated the initial triumph of that deliciously confronting text, she has always managed to take stage and floor, to back into the limelight.  Her enemies are many, and there are as many amongst the fractious sisterhood as they are outside it. Having never been a full card carrying ideologue, Greer has never, thankfully, belonged.

On the ABC’s Q&A program, Greer was again found showing how her opinions and essays can still strike appropriate chords, ruffle the occasional, fixed feather and disrupt the nonchalant with a discomforting start.  On this occasion, it was rape, that tool of power, appropriation and control that has preoccupied analysts of sexuality since cognition was discovered.   Greer’s reaction was hardly surprising, a no-nonsense slap down on how victimhood should be treated.  “Trauma is something that is dictated really by the sufferer.  You know, I can’t bear huntsman spiders.  It is not their fault. It’s my fault… I decided to be frightened of them.”

The program merely saw a reiteration of Greer’s views outlined in her latest essay On Rape, which does not disparage victims but provides a trenchant critique of the justice system that reduces such victims to the minutiae of “evidence”.  “Rape,” she contends, “is a jagged outcrop in the vast monotonous landscape of bad sex; we can only understand its prevalence and our inability to deal with it if we position it correctly within the psychopathology of daily life.”

It is “banal rape” that poses the greatest problem, wrapped, as it were, in the dilemmas of the incommunicable, the gulf between sexual participants.  To that end, and here, Greer supplies the kindling for her critics, a different sentencing regime is required, one that focuses on convicting “on the assault charges while leaving the rape issue moot”.

It is such views that have seen Greer disinvited to the Brisbane Writers’ festival, a move which has been couched in the lingo of organisational guff.  Melbourne University Press publisher Louise Adler was far from impressed by the decision of the organisers, claiming that it “seems counter to the ethos of freedom of speech”.

The response from the festival was resoundingly cowardly: “Brisbane writers’ festival does not shy away from controversy or challenging ideas, but as all festival organisers know, it’s invariably difficult to choose between the many authors currently promoting books and the need to provide engaging choices for our audience along a curatorial theme.”

There will always be fashions and tyrannies of thought, attempts to close off argumentation if not ignore it altogether.  Liz Duck-Chong reflects this tendency, and finds it necessary to preface any views with the identity descriptor “trans” (because identities are mysterious, self-justifying ideas rather than markers). Having accepted with a heavy reluctance that there is a “market place of ideas”, she proceeds to dictate, akin to a book banning commissar, what constitutes that market.  “Greer and her ilk” are not “worth listening to” and have nothing to add to the “on going conversation”.  Talk about tolerance is “tired”, an old excuse best left by the wayside.  What such opinions do is remind us that the oldest of ideas, intolerance, remains ever threatening, the censor, a dangerous reality.  The market place is enjoyable, till you encounter ideas you do not like.

It is important to note that Australia had, at one point, a censorship record of such astounding ferocity it rivalled that of Ireland.  Books of interest were not published for fear of stirring scurrilous thoughts or fostering wayward behaviour.  Banning as an instinct of paternal control came first.  To remove Greer, a well read, tutored figure strides ahead of many of her critics, is to deny audiences not merely an intellectual draught of consequence but a poking sense of fun.  Disliking her ideas is hardly an excuse to avoid entertaining them.

As for Greer herself, some humour prevails. “The Brisbane writers’ festival is very hard work.  So, to be uninvited to what is possibly the dreariest literary festival in the world, with zero hospitality and no fun at all, is a great relief.”

The Bourgeois Conception of “Free Speech” in the U$

In Part 1, I talked about the power of social media giants and claims of “free speech” on their platforms. Again, I am referring just to the U$, as I am most familiar with the debate on “free speech” there. In the future I may expand this analysis to other capitalist countries. The bourgeois conception of “free speech” is so ingrained that Nadine Strossen, a former president of the ACLU, can spout on The Real News about a “we the people” government in the U$, while declaring that government regulation through net neutrality and antitrust laws, along with consumer pressure, and “free speech” (or counter speech) can stop the bigots in their tracks. This is a laughable notion from a person who says porn should be tolerated (not restricted or banned), is currently a contributor for the Federalist Society, criticized campus speech restrictions, and was a friend and fan of Antonin Scalia! She also, infamously, defended the actions of former ACLU president Anthony Romero, who had agreed to “screen the organization’s employees against terrorist “watch lists”…in order to qualify as an officially approved charity for federal employees,” advising the “Ford Foundation to “parrot” the Patriot Act in formulating controversial new restrictions on the speech of its grantees,” and trying to impose “very broad confidentiality agreement and technology rules on ACLU employees,” as argued by former ACLU board member Wendy Kaminer, who also harshly criticized the organization for its policies on civil liberty. As The Onion joked in one article, when Strossen was president, the ACLU declared that it would “”vigorously and passionately defend” the Georgia chapter of the American Nazi Party’s First Amendment right to freely express its hatred of the ACLU by setting its New York office ablaze on Nov. 25.” That’s how ridiculous the ACLU is, without a doubt.

Last year, the Supreme Court held in Packingham v. North Carolina that a North Carolinian law that restricted access of sex offenders to social media violated the First Amendment. More than that, this case, which was the first major case on the topic since the Reno v. ACLU case in 1997, opens the floodgates for “free speech” to apply to the internet as the latter is considered analogous to a public forum, perhaps leading to further jurisprudence. But more than being a supposed victory for “free expression,” which was likely cheered on by the ACLU, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion raises the question of what parts of the internet would fall under First Amendment protection. In this opinion, followed by a blistering dissent from Samuel Alito, Kennedy, clearly a tech optimist, wrote that the First Amendment is a “fundamental principle” meaning that “all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more,” adding that this now applies to cyberspace, including social media, with users engaging in a “wide array” of “First Amendment activity” that is “legitimate” and “protected.”

He added that the digital age has a “vast potential to alter how we think, express ourselves, and define who we want to be” which can quickly change, while implying that the First Amendment may offer some protection for access to social media and the internet. As for social media, he argued that it not only allows “users to gain access to information and communicate with one another about it on any subject that might come to mind” but that it is the “modern public square” that, in his view, allows for people to explore “the vast realms of human thought and knowledge…mak[ing] his or her voice heard.” This is clearly an optimistic view of social media which often is filled with utter and mundane garbage. I think social media includes many more pictures of people showing off their dogs, newborn babies, and silly cat videos, than those who engage in discussion that opens “human thought and knowledge.” What is Kennedy smoking here?

With this decision, the arguments of those like the ACLU that want “an uncensored Internet, a vast free-speech zone,” the EFF that wants “sufficient legal protections for users and innovators,” and Strossen, are clearly boosted. Still, this does not mean there will be “free speech” on the internet anytime soon. While the general conception is that “anyone can say anything online,” this is not only changing but it is inaccurate because intimidation is not protected speech on the internet, along with inciting violence, making threats of violence, privacy invasion, defamation, copyright infringement, inciting a riot or inducing lawbreaking, “fighting words,” false advertising, and disrupting school activities, to name a few. While some say that the First Amendment asserts that one can express themselves “without interference or constraint by the government,” the fact is that a government can “place reasonable restrictions on free speech, such as those that restrict the time, place, and manner of the speech.”

Some have tried to use the Packingham decision to declare that there should be “free speech” on the internet. Others, like White nationalists and Neo-Nazis, have gone even further to draw a parallel between private shopping centers and social media platforms! If this connection was to be made, which is a remote and absurd possibility, those on social media would not be able to “unreasonably intrude” on the private property rights of these platforms, having to “reasonably exercise” their rights while their ideas would not be allowed to have “free rein.” Additionally, their words and actions would have to be deemed peaceful, orderly, and not disturbing the functioning of these platforms, with the latter allowed to restrain the “time, place, and manner” of user’s speech. They could be prohibited from imposing “blanket and total prohibition on the exercise of First Amendment activities” of users but they would also be allowed to restrict those engaging such speech so they did not obstruct or unduly interfere with “normal business operations” or does not impede, distract, or interfere with the business itself.

Furthermore, anyone who engaged in substantial damage or physical obstruction of social media could be restricted or banned, along with being prohibited from annoying and harassing individuals. At the same time, while users could have the right to “freedoms of speech and religion” they could also be restricted if there was a public space where they could use their rights apart from social media, and by the fact that the U$ Constitution provides no protection or redress from a private person or corporation, with the 1st and 14th Amendment not applying to action “by the owner of private property used only for private purposes.” This is not what the bigots would want! Even with these interpretations, Twitter could still say it is a private sector company, which requires users to abide by their rules. Additionally, it is worth noting that these social media platforms are not public since the “supposed public square is actually a small group of digital platforms owned by an even smaller group of giant transnational corporations,” a fact that should be obvious.1. Even Mozilla, which says that “the principle of free speech is a foundation of Western democracy” admits that “free speech gets more complicated in private spaces – that is, spaces not owned by the government…private businesses have every right, legally, to refuse service to individuals who don’t adhere to their stated policies.”

Jimmy Dore and others have said the First Amendment should be applied to Facebook (and other social media) because they see it as a public space and have also said that such outlets should be public utilities. Now, in order to be a public utility, these social media companies would have to be classified the same as other companies providing “a service to the public such as transport, energy, telecommunications, waste disposal, or water and any other public goods and services.” The question arises: are companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, to give a few examples, public service corporations that engage in operations that “serve the needs of the general public or conduce to the comfort and convenience of an entire community,” which currently includes “railroads, gas, water, and electric light companies”? Well, we know they are clearly private companies with operations which are “executed by private individuals,” comprising some of those in the corporate (or private) sector which is “responsible for the allocation of the majority of resources” within a capitalist economy.

Now, to be a public service company, they would have to “provide a service to the public” which includes “transport, communications and the like.” These social media platforms likely would fall into the category of public service company rather than a public service corporation because they do not necessarily serve the needs of the general public or conduce convenience or comfort of an entire community. Instead they gather private information and make it public, selling it for profit, having great power over people’s lives. Likely such efforts to make social media a public utility will fall flat because the U$ government is legally obligated to “preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet and other interactive computer services, unfettered by Federal or State regulation” even with other provisions on civil liability.

The bourgeois conception of “free speech” is broadly held across the Western World. Even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that recognizes the “right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” (Article 18) and “right to freedom of opinion and expression” (Article 19) is limited by the fact that everyone can be subject to legal limitations to secure respect and recognition for freedom and rights of others, along with meeting “the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society” (Article 29).

There are many laws across the world when it comes to speech, with some countries trying to experiment different levels of censorship online, irking those who defend the bourgeois conception of “freedom of speech,” with some even bringing in anti-communist rhetoric to complain about “the lack of transparency found in Soviet-style governance structures” disappearing in Eastern Europe. Some, like the horrid organization, FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) have declared that “the best antidote to tyranny is free and spirited debate, not suppression of speech,” which Jimmy Dore basically expressed on his show, while others like HRW or The Guardian complain about the “Great Chinese Firewall” and challenges “journalists, bloggers and dissidents” have to undertake. This has led to a list of “enemies” of the internet and efforts to break through claimed “closed societies” (one organization gives the examples of Iran and China), believing that making these societies “open” will bring goodness to the world. This id despite the fact that the internet has “been a revolution for censorship as much as for free speech” as The Guardian admitted back in 2008, which anyone with sense would recognize.

Clearly, the majority of those in the Western Left are indoctrinated to think they are free, leading them attack other leftists across the world who holding power as noted by Andre Vltchek. However, his analysis is faulty since he incorrectly describes China, part of the revisionist triad (the other two countries in this triad are Laos and Vietnam), as communist when it has actually been on the capitalist road since 1976, with a form of state-supported form of capitalism which is different from that of the West, and saying that Russia’s policy is “clearly anti-imperialist” when it is actually just nationalistic.

Clearly, some individuals have more of an ability for speech than others. As the subreddit of /r/communism puts it rightly, which I still agree with even though I was ousted as a mod after I began criticizing China as capitalist rather than saying it is socialist (consensus of the subreddit’s mods), “speech, like everything else, has a class character, and that some speech can be oppressive.” This is something those who believe in the bourgeois conception of “free speech” cannot and will not acknowledge. As one person put on Twitter, after responding to a story that the court system in the U$ repealed a law forcing porn companies to “prove that their performers are of age,” that the principle of “free speech” in the U$ almost seems that it is “inherently bourgeois.”

In the capitalist society of the U$ this bourgeois conception of free speech manifests itself by capitalists like Robert Mercer, the Koch Brothers, George Soros, Pierre Omidyar, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and many others, having the ability to publish and project their speech more than those on meager budgets. Basically, this means that ordinary people, the proletariat, have no influence (or power in) on the decision-making and politics of the U$ despite all rhetoric claiming they have such influence. How this manifests itself in the world of “free speech” is it means that those capitalists who are hatemongers can spread their horrid message far and wide while those who try to counter them get less exposure.2

We do not have to give such speech “respect” as some have declared we should, since there is the idea of the heckler’s veto, where a public event is canceled or suppressed due to “interruptions, protests, or violence” or the threat of such actions, one of the many tools, apart from de-platforming (not by social media outlets, but literally in person or by organizing against them online) which can be used to fight against bigoted or otherwise detestable individuals. In the end, there should be criticism (and efforts to counter) corporate control over information but this does not mean we have to defend hateful speech. Instead, those who speak truth to power, especially on the political Left, should be vigorously defended. As Michael Parenti once put it, “democratic victories, however small and partial they be, must be embraced…We need to strive in every way possible for the revolutionary unraveling, a revolution of organized consciousness striking at the empire’s heart with the full force of democracy, the kind of irresistible upsurge that seems to come from nowhere while carrying everything before it.” Victory to the proletariat! A socialist world is possible!

  1. Paul Blumenthal, “The Problem Isn’t Alex Jones’ Free Speech, It’s Digital Platform Monopolies,” HuffPost, August 11, 2018.
  2. The U$ is standing against principles outlined in many international agreements like the UN’s Millennium Declaration (in its section about equality between men and women and “participatory governance), the Vienna Declaration (has a section saying that the international community should comprehensively and speedily elimination all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and other intolerance), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) (which says that all states have to pursue a policy of eliminating all forms of racial discrimination, promoting racial understanding, condemn racist propaganda, eradicate all incitement to discrimination, and declare those organizations that engage in racist propaganda illegal), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) (with a section about how freedom of religion and beliefs is protected by subject to certain limitations, and that “propaganda of war” along with any “advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred” has to be prohibited).

A “Sudden Bout of Atypical Decency”?

Recently, there has been much talk about “free speech” in light of Alex Jones’s Infowars being cast out in a seemingly organized campaign of censorship by social media platforms, such as YouTube, Spotify, Pinterest, Facebook, and Apple, which some called “the great de-platforming of Alex Jones.” Unsurprisingly, Jones has decried it as “censorship” and abridging his “free speech.” Those who support such actions of these platforms include liberal Amanda Marcotte of Salon who said that it was a “sudden bout of atypical decency and common sense” in fighting against “disinformation” and Mike Snider of USA Today noting that “free speech is a principle that businesses often choose to follow, but aren’t bound to.”1

Similarly, Christine Emba blares in the Washington (Amazon) Post that the social media companies were within their rights and did “nothing wrong,” as they are not obliged to “host your speech on their platforms…[or] promote your content” and The Economist, a magazine that represents the interests of the British bourgeoisie, declared that these companies are “not the state,” meaning they are able to “write their terms of service as they wish and police posts as they choose.” Following in suit was Hartford University Professor Adam Chiara, who declared that “tech companies are private…they have the right to decide what content goes on their platforms…social media platforms own the access to his [Jones’s] audience, and they have every legal and moral right to cancel it.” T.C. Sottek of The Verge write that InfoWars was hypocritical because it still claims the right to purge “objectionable” content from their website while Kevin Drum of Mother Jones wrote that “…if no one else on the planet feels like giving him [Alex Jones] a soapbox to extract money from gullible conspiracy theorists, that’s fine with me.”

Furthest in this viewpoint was David Zurawik, an oft media critic for the Baltimore Sun, who openly applauded the action against Jones: “Finally, the giants of digital media are showing some social responsibility…It is long overdue…it is a step in the right direction…Here’s hoping the crackdowns continue.” Even the libertarians of Reason.com jumped on board.  While they expressed some reservations about selectively “policing” harmful speech and claimed that conservatives “need to worry,” arguing that “private companies are under no obligation to provide a platform” to those like Jones and that “Facebook, YouTube, and other media…have a right to dictate the contours of permissible speech on their sites and to enforce those standards…No one seriously disputes this…There’s no God-given right to be on Facebook or Twitter.” Even some in the ACLU seemed to accept the power of these social media platforms, only asking for transparency and “protections…against misuse” with nothing much more.

On the other side was Cory Doctrow, co-editor of Boing Boing, who argued that the “online world has almost no public spaces…and a tiny handful of incredibly large, powerful companies control the vast majority of our civic discourse online,” with Harvey Silvergate of NY Daily News adding that “when the haters are allowed to expose themselves through their words, we are all safer for knowing who they are and who, over time, they morph into,” saying the current debate over the actions against Jones is really “about what it means for our society if a few tech companies should be able to decide for everyone what information is available.” At the same time, Black Agenda Report’s Margaret Kimberley quipped that “there is no reason for anyone on the left to cheer Jones being censored. The move against him will be used to defend further censoring of left wing voices…His absence helps no one except the intelligence apparatus.”

Even, Matt Taibbi, a piece of bourgeois trash for other reasons (like not supporting reproductive rights while smearing Venezuela and Karl Marx), wrote in Rolling Stone that there is a “union of Internet platforms and would-be government censors” and that “the sheer market power of these companies over information flow has always been the real threat. This is why breaking them up should have long ago become an urgent national priority”, admitting that “there was no First Amendment issue with the Jones ban.” Beyond the views of The Economist, Reason.com, some ACLU members, Marcotte, Snider, Emba, Chiara, Sottek, Drum, Sottek, Zurawik, Doctrow, Silvergate, Kimberley, and Taibbi, many others expressed their views on the actions against Jones, a number of whom worried about “free speech” and the power of these social media platforms over people’s lives.2

Taking all the views mentioned in the last paragraph into consideration, we don’t need a number of Loyola University academics or David Pozen of Columbia Law School to tell us that social media has become an important “one stop shop” for many, allowing the internal rules, a form of private regulations of these platforms, to shape the existing public discourse. Undoubtedly, huge social media giants, such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Pinterest, Instagram (owned by Facebook), and Tumblr (owned by Yahoo), have control of vast amounts of information.3 Amazon has a related role with its web services controlling “roughly 40 percent of the cloud market, running the backend for Netflix, Pinterest, Slack and dozens of other services with no visible connection to the company,” showing the reach of their “server empire.”

Additionally, a recent study by Gallup showed that the populace of the U$ not only opposes news personalized toward them, but the role of the companies as gatekeepers of content, with companies having to disclose why they have selected certain content for users. However, these companies, legally, have the right to determine the speech that is allowed on their sites. As such, Ron Jacobs, a  writer for CounterPunch, is right: while the action against Jones “may effect the ability of leftist and anarchist groups and individuals to provide content and share events on these corporate platforms” it isn’t right to support “those liberals and leftists who think they need to defend Alex Jones” since the latter should not “have unfettered access to spout his outright lies and hate,” and, I might add, those on the Left are under no obligation to protect the speech of bigots, war criminals, or otherwise detestable people. Jacobs concludes, correctly, by saying that “free speech will be further limited to those who can afford to pay for it…[with] propagandists funded by wealthy…millionaires and billionaires…strengthen[ing] their control over the so-called free press,” meaning that we should let “Alex Jones fight his battles without our help.” Such societal dynamics mean that certain people have more privilege to speak than others.

Without a doubt the Left is on the chopping block, but this is due to Russiagate and efforts by social media giants to pander to the Right, which dominates the political scene in the U$.  After all, when Twitter was in “hot water” since it had not fallen in line with other social media giants on efforts against Jones, its CEO, Jack Dorsey, did his first interview on the subject with  Sean Hannity, who can accurately be described as a right-wing loud-mouth.4  While the social media network temporarily suspended Infowars for seven days, Alex Jones still continues to spout unflinching support for the current sitting US President including anti-immigrant racism, anti-socialism, anti-vax nonsense, and harping on the “censorship” card, even tweeting cartoons drawn by Ben Garrison, whose drawings notoriously smear the Left, to support his “case.”

According to news reports, Jones made direct appeals to the current sitting US President to make “censorship” a big issue in the upcoming election and deal with purported (by him) “Chinese infiltration” of the Democratic Party and tech industry. Such claims of censorship by Jones and others ring a bit hollow as the right-wing in the U$ has their ready propaganda network of video platforms, social media sites, and even dating apps!5 Alex Jones can be promoted there, apart from his Twitter account which still has over 895,000 followers. So, he isn’t going anywhere.

Recently, Senator Chris Murphy infamously wrote on Twitter that “Infowars is the tip of a giant iceberg of hate and lies that uses sites like Facebook and YouTube to tear our nation apart. These companies must do more than take down one website. The survival of our democracy depends on it.” Despite Don Trump, Jr complaining about “Big Tech’s censorship campaign” is about “purging all conservative media,” and conspiracist David Icke decrying censorship, conservatives are not really the target of these proposed measures.

Sure, some fascists, apart from Jones, have been removed from social media, like the hideous Proud Boys or Milo Yiannopoulos (for harassing Black actress Leslie Jones), while some liberal groups like Media Matters, Share Blue, and American Bridge have called for social media platforms to take more action against the right-wing.6  The conservative narrative of themselves as victims of social media censorship is only strengthened when those like Marcotte of Salon, quoted earlier in this article, say that journalists (and social media outlets) should serve as “gatekeepers” against conservatives!

Instead, it is the Left that is under attack by these outlets. Just look at the permanent removal of the Haiti Analysis on Facebook, the temporary de-publishing of TeleSur English‘s page on the same site, with the same happening to Venezuela Analysis, the takedown of an Occupy London page which had “pro-Palestinian posts,” censoring the alternative media outlet SouthFront out of existence, and Facebook’s deletion of pages which had up to 40 million followers, including a number of alternative media outlets. Yet another example is when an episode of Abby Martin’s The Empire Files (currently targeted by U$ sanctions on Venezuela) on YouTube, which highlighted military violence of Zionists, was “blocked…in 28 countries for supposedly violating “local laws,”” possibly due to the participation of the stalwart Zionist group, the Anti-Defamation League, in “YouTube’s flagging system” since the group “considers actions tied to Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment…and opposition to Israeli occupation as racism.” Also YouTube banned a video showing a boy murdered by Zionist soldiers, Google downranked and alternative website named Dandelion Salad, Facebook began ranking news sources by their “truthworthiness” with the help of establishment organizations, and social media giants meeting about “information operations” for the upcoming midterm elections in the U$.

Most recently, Google, Facebook, and Twitter have begun going after Iranians whom they declare (and claim) are “government trolls,” another clear act of censorship. This isn’t surprising since Facebook is, as one should note, letting the Digital Forensics Lab of the Atlantic Council sort through content, leading to a further crackdown on the left. Even the changing of YouTube’s algorithm which turns the site into a  “censored, walled garden which gives you search results from a tiny cadre of establishment media outlets,” will not “hurt” conservatives as some declare, but will undoubtedly hurt those on the Left even more, as there is so much propagandistic content about left-leaning ideas out there!

Such an attack on the Left could possibly intensify for a number of reasons: if these social media companies adopt the Chinese or European models of net regulation, the former being easily accepted by more tech companies every day, and if the U$ government is successful in forcing Facebook to help break the end-to-end encryption of their voice calls in messenger in order to supposedly fight the MS-13 gang.7 Twitter’s policy of ranking tweets and search results in an effort to downgrade those they deem “bad faith actors,” like the Russians perhaps, “who intend to manipulate or detract from healthy conversation,” and the uneven moderating on Facebook doesn’t help matters. The same applies to the removal of accounts by Twitter following the indictments of 12 Russians by Robert Mueller and an effort to target so-called “fake” accounts, and Reddit removing 944 “suspicious” accounts which they claimed were tied to the Russians even though they had little impact.

Most worrisome is YouTube working with establishment media organizations to promote “quality journalism” with breaking news highlighting videos from CBS, Fox News, the New York Times, and CNN, to go by their examples, while YouTube is also showing information from “third parties” (so-called “information cues”) from sites such as Encyclopaedia Brittanica and Wikipedia on “a small number of well-established historical and scientific topics that have often been subject to misinformation” or those that are the “center of debate.” The latter effort by YouTube to link to Wikipedia, which wasn’t informed about the initiative beforehand and expressed their concerns about content scraping, to counter “misinformation” and define certain media outlets is uneven. Looking at Wikipedia links on the videos of the Channel News Asia, TeleSur, TeleSur English, RT, SABC Digital News, and Al Jazeera, they are all described as “funded” by specific governments. However, for BBC, it is only called a “British broadcast service,” not that it is directly funded by the British government! Additionally, videos on the CNN, Bloomberg, ABC News, Vice News, Vox, Fox News, MSNBC, Washington Post, National Geographic, and The Guardian channels have no links to third-party websites even though they are funded and owned by corporate entities! Hence, this effort by YouTube will, without a doubt, disadvantage outlets like TeleSur and RT, which buck the general narrative of the corporate media, as it will assist in imperialist propaganda about those outlets.

And no, YouTube, TeleSur is not funded by “the Latin American government” as it says below every single video from their two channels (TeleSur and TeleSur English), a racist conception that denies the reality in the region, as this news organization is funded jointly by the Cuban, Bolivian, Venezuelan, Nicaraguan, and Uruguayan governments. Such actions by YouTube and many other major social media platforms are led in part by what Hiroyuki Hamada rightly called the “Putin panic, an epidemic spewing hatred against anything Russian” while ignoring that “Russia was subjected to political and economic intervention by the US in the 90s” with the U$ backing Boris Yeltsin who helped rip apart the country’s social fabric. Currently, the U$ is waiting for “Russia to jump on its Pearl Harbor or a 9/11,” with such a panic being an “obvious scheme of imperialism” leading to war. As such, as he rightly notes, “we must not be a voice for the capitalist lords nor for the hitmen…we must reach out to people like us in Russia, China, Syria, Iran, and other peoples of the planet, and people like us in our communities, with messages of peace, sharing and mutual respect.” As such, not only should there should be support for those on the Left who have been censored on these social media platforms but there should be local and international connections in the way that Hamada describes in order to counter the general narrative spread in capitalist societies.

  1. There were many articles on this subject, so it is hard to pick just a few, but I would say that the articles on Boing Boing, Washington Post, The Verge, New York Times, Washington ExaminerReason.com, The American Conservative, and Rolling Stone were most informative on this subject. For those that want he full list of sources I used to make this determination, you are free to email me, and I will send you the list of sources I’m talking about here.
  2. At the same time, left-leaning comedian, Jimmy Dore, posted many YouTube videos on the topic, with him and his guests rightly criticizing corporate control of social media, arguing that social media should be public utility, and defending (especially by Jimmy himself) the right of Alex Jones to speak, sticking to the free speech absolutist line, even defending the ACLU’s stance of defending the speech of horrid bigots. To the credit of Jimmy and his guests, they are right that Russiagate can be used to silence the Left, while criticizing U$ wars and the corporate press.
  3. Some, like Reuters, define social media giants as only encompassing Facebook, YouTube (owned by Google), Twitter and Microsoft. But there are many more, as noted by LifeWire and DreamGrow, like LinkedIn, Google+, Instagram (owned by Facebook), Pinterest, Tumblr (owned by Yahoo!), Snapchat, Reddit (mainly owned by Advance Publications), Flickr (owned by SmugMug), Swarm (owned by Foursquare), Kik (owned by Kik interactive), Periscope (owned by Twitter), Medium (owned by A Medium Corporation), Soundcloud (owned by SoundCloud Limited), Tinder (owned by IAC (InterActiveCorp), WhatsApp (owned by WhatsApp Inc.), Slack (owned by Slack Technologies), Musical.ly (owned by Tik Tok, Chinese company), Meetup (owned by WeWork), and Peach (“a tiny journaling service of Byte, Inc” according to their terms of use). Others, most of which are not for English speakers but for those of other languages, include Weibo (owned by Sina Corp), Ask.Fm (owned by Noosphere Ventures), VK (owned by Mail.Ru Group), Odnoklassniki (owned by Mail.Ru Group), and Qzone (owned by Tencent Holdings Limited). For more about Amazon’s Web Services, see Russell Brandom, “Using the internet without the Amazon Cloud,” The Verge, July 28, 2018.
  4. Also consider a recent post by the Twitter company saying that “while we welcome everyone to express themselves on our service, we prohibit targeted behavior that harasses, threatens, or uses fear to silence the voices of others” saying they have certain rules, policies and enforcement options in place for a safe environment, while working to “Twitter better for everyone” admitting they have a role to play in society and a “wider responsibility to foster and better serve a healthy public conversation.” As for Apple, it still offers the InfoWars mobile app in its App Store even after removing many of Jones’s podcasts, saying they support “all points of view being represented” in their online marketplace. Additionally, the App is still in the Google Play store! The above information is extracted from Daisuke Wakabayashi, “Gatekeepers or Censors? How Tech Manages Online Speech,” New York Times, August 7, 2018, Casey Newton, “Twitter’s fear of making hard decisions is killing it,” The Verge, August 17, 2018, and Avery Anapol, “Twitter CEO on decision not to ban Alex Jones: ‘He hasn’t violated our rules’,” The Hill, August 7, 2018.
  5. Brandy Zadrozny, “Right-wing platforms provide refuge to digital outcasts — and Alex Jones,” NBC News, August 9, 2018. This article lists Mike Adams’s Real.Video (like YouTube), Andrew Torba’s Gab.ai (like Twitter), Codias (like Facebook), Conservapedia (like Wikipedia), Hatreon (like Patreon), TrumpSingles (like Tinder), and Rebel Media (like YouTube) as examples. And that’s not counting right-wing media sites like The Daily Caller, Drudge Report, Fox News, Newsmax, The Blaze, One America News Network, National Review, The American Conservative (more critical of U$ imperialism than other outlets), The American Spectator, The Weekly Standard, The Washington Examiner, American Thinker, The Daily Wire, Gateway Pundit, The Federalist, TownHall, Breitbart, Hot Air, Instapundit, and Red State, along with talk radio shows and various others!
  6. Jim Hoft, “Top Far Left Organizations Bragged About Working with Facebook and Twitter to Censor and Eliminate Conservative Content,” The Gateway Pundit, August 20, 2018; Rob Shimshock, “Twitter Suspends Libertarian Commentator Gavin McInnes And His Activist Group,” The Daily Caller, August 11, 2018; Keith Wagstaff, “Twitter suspends Proud Boys and Gavin McInnes,” Mashable, August 10, 2018. And, no, these are NOT “far left” organizations. That’s what Jim Hoft gets wrong, like many people on the Right, who think that liberal organizations are more left-leaning than they actually are in reality!
  7. Daniel Taylor, “Free Speech Under Fire: Globalists Bet On Chinese Dominating the Internet’s Future,” Old Thinker News, Aug 13, 2018; Xeni Jardin, “Feds ask court to force Facebook to break Messenger’s end-to-end voice encryption for MS-13 gang probe,” Boing Boing, Aug 17, 2018; Sam Haysom, “Undercover footage exposes Facebook moderators’ disturbing policies,” Mashable, July 18, 2018; Bruce Haring, “Twitter Account Purges Continue As Service Cuts Guccifer 2.0 And DCLeaks,” Deadline, July 14, 2018; April Glaser, “YouTube Is Adding Fact-Check Links for Videos on Topics That Inspire Conspiracy Theories,” Slate, August 14, 2018; Lucas Matney, “Reddit has banned 944 accounts linked to the IRA Russian troll farm,” TechCrunch, April 11, 2018.

Jeremy Corbyn is Being Destroyed …

The latest “scandal” gripping Britain – or to be more accurate, British elites – is over the use of the term “Zionist” by the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the head of the opposition and possibly the country’s next prime minister.

Yet again, Corbyn has found himself ensnared in what a small group of Jewish leadership organisations, which claim improbably to represent Britain’s “Jewish community”, and a small group of corporate journalists, who improbably claim to represent British public opinion, like to call Labour’s “anti-semitism problem”.

I won’t get into the patently ridiculous notion that “Zionist” is a code word for “Jew”, at least not now. There are lots of existing articles explaining why that is nonsense.

I wish to deal with a different aspect of the long-running row over Labour’s so-called “anti-semitism crisis”. It exemplifies, I believe, a much more profound and wider crisis in our societies: over the issue of trust.

We now have two large camps, pitted against each other, who have starkly different conceptions of what their societies are and where they need to head. In a very real sense, these two camps no longer speak the same language. There has been a rupture, and they can find no common ground.

I am not here speaking about the elites who dominate our societies. They have their own agenda. They trade only in the language of money and power. I am speaking of us: the 99 per cent who live in their shadow.

First, let us outline the growing ideological and linguistic chasm opening up between these two camps: a mapping of the divisions that, given space constraints, will necessarily deal in generalisations.

The trusting camp

The first camp invests its trust, with minor reservations, in those who run our societies. The left and the right segments of this camp are divided primarily over the degree to which they believe that those at the bottom of society’s pile need a helping hand to get them further up the social ladder.

Otherwise, the first camp is united in its assumptions.

They admit that among our elected politicians there is the odd bad apple. And, of course, they understand that there are necessary debates about political and social values. But they agree that politicians rise chiefly through ability and talent, that they are accountable to their political constituencies, and that they are people who want what is best for society as a whole.

While this camp concedes that the media is owned by a handful of corporations driven by a concern for profit, it is nonetheless confident that the free market – the need to sell papers and audiences – guarantees that important news and a full spectrum of legitimate opinion are available to readers.

Both politicians and the media serve – if not always entirely successfully – as a constraint on corruption and the abuse of power by other powerful actors, such as the business community.

This camp believes too that western democracies are better, more civilised political systems than those in other parts of the world. Western societies do not want wars, they want peace and security for everyone. For that reason, they have been thrust – rather uncomfortably – into the role of global policeman. Western states have found themselves with little choice of late but to wage “good wars” to curb the genocidal instincts and hunger for power of dictators and madmen.

Russian conspiracies

Once upon a time – when this camp’s worldview was rarely, if ever, challenged – its favoured response to anything difficult to reconcile with its core beliefs, from the 2003 invasion of Iraq to the 2008 financial crash, was: “Cock-up, not conspiracy!”. Now that there are ever more issues threatening to undermine its most cherished verities, the camp’s response is – paradoxically – “Putin did it!” or “Fake news!”.

The current obsession with Russian conspiracies is in large part the result of the extraordinarily rapid rise of a second camp, no doubt fueled by the unprecedented access western publics have gained through social media to information, good and bad alike. At no time in human history have so many people been able to step outside of a state-, clerical- or corporate-sanctioned framework of information dissemination and speak too each other directly and on a global stage.

This new camp too is not easy to characterise in the old language of left-right politics. Its chief characteristic is that it distrusts not only those who dominate our societies, but the social structures they operate within.

This camp regards such structures as neither immutable, divinely ordained ways for ordering and organising society, nor as the rational outcome of the political and moral evolution of western societies. Rather, it views these structures as the product of engineering by a tiny elite to hold on to its power.

These structures are no longer primarily national, but global. They are not immutable but as fabricated, as man-made and replaceable, as the structures that once made incontestable the rule of a landed aristocracy over feudal serfs. The current aristocracy, this camp argues, are globalised corporations that are so unaccountable that even the biggest nation-states can no longer contain or constrain them.

Illusions of pluralism

For this camp, politicians are not the cream of society. They have risen to the surface of a corrupted and corrupting system, and the overwhelming majority did so by enthusiastically adopting its rotten values. These politicians do not chiefly serve voters but the corporations who really dominate our societies.

For the second camp, this fact was well illustrated in 2008 when the political class did not – and could not – punish the banks responsible for the near-collapse of western economies after decades of reckless speculation on which a financial elite had grown fat. Those banks, in the words of the politicians themselves, were “too big to fail” and so were bailed out with money from the very same publics who had been scammed by the banks in the first place. Rather than use the bank failures as an opportunity to drive through reform of the broken banking system, or nationalise parts of it, the politicians let the banking casino system continue, even intensify.

Likewise, the media – supposed watchdogs on power – are seen by this camp as the chief propagandists for the ruling elite. The media do not monitor the abuse of power, they actively create a social consensus for the continuation of the abuse – and if that fails, they seek to deflect attention from, or veil, the abuse.

This is inevitable, the second camp argues, given that the media are embedded within the very same corporate structures that dominate our societies. They are, in fact, the corporations’ public relations arm. They allow only limited dissent at the margins of the media, and only as a way to create the impression of an illusory pluralism.

Manufactured enemies

These domestic structures are subservient to a still-bigger agenda: the accumulation of wealth by a global elite through the asset-stripping of the planet’s resources and the rationalisation of permanent war. That, this camp concludes, requires the manufacturing of “enemies” – such as Russia, Iran, Syria, Venezuela and North Korea – to justify the expansion of a military-industrial machine.

These “enemies” are a real foe in the sense that, in their different ways, they refuse to submit to the neoliberalising reach of the western-based corporations. But more significantly, they are needed as an enemy, even should they want to make peace. These manufactured enemies, says the second camp, justify the redirection of public money into the private coffers of the military and homeland security industries. And equally importantly, a ready set of bogeymen can be exploited to distract western publics from troubles at home.

The second camp is accused by the first of being anti-western, anti-American and anti-Israel (or more mischievously anti-semitic) for its opposition to western “humanitarian interventions” abroad. The second camp, it says, acts as apologists for war criminals like Russia’s Vladimir Putin or Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, portraying these leaders as misunderstood good guys and blaming the west for the world’s ills.

The second camp argues that it is none of these things: it is anti-imperialist. It does not excuse the crimes of Putin or Assad, it treats them as secondary and largely reactive to the vastly greater power a western elite with global reach can project. It believes the western media’s obsession with crafting narratives about evil enemies – bad men and madmen – is designed to deflect attention from the structures of far greater violence the west deploys around the world, through a web of US military bases and Nato.

Putin has power, but it is immeasurably less than the combined might of the profit-seeking, war-waging western military industries. Faced with this power equation, according to the second camp, Putin acts defensively or reactively on the global stage, using what limited strength Russia has to uphold its essential strategic interests. One cannot reasonably judge Russia’s crimes without first admitting the west’s greater crimes, our crimes.

While the whole US political class obsess over “Russian interference” in US elections, this camp notes, the American public is encouraged to ignore the much greater US interference not only in Russian elections, but in many other spheres Russia considers to be vital strategic interests. That includes the locating of US military bases and missile sites on Russia’s borders.

Different languages

Two camps, two entirely different languages and narratives.

These camps may be divided, but it would seriously misguided to imagine they are equal.

One has the full power and weight of those corporate structures behind it. The politicians speak its language, as do the media. Its ideas and its voice dominate everywhere that is considered official, objective, balanced, neutral, respectable, legitimate.

The other camp has one small space to make its presence felt – social media. That is a space rapidly shrinking, as the politicians, media and the corporations that own social media (as they do everything else) start to realise they have let the genie out of the bottle. This camp is derided as conspiratorial, dangerous, fake news.

This is the current battlefield. It is a battle the first camp looks like it is winning but actually has already lost.

That is not necessarily because the second camp is winning the argument. It is because physical realities are catching up with the first camp, smashing its illusions, even as it clings to them like a life-raft.

The two most significant disrupters of the first camp’s narrative are climate breakdown and economic meltdown. The planet has finite resources, which means endless growth and wealth accumulation cannot be sustained indefinitely. Much as in a Ponzi scheme, there comes a point when the hollow centre is exposed and the system comes crashing down. We have had intimations enough that we are nearing that point.

It hardly needs repeating, except to climate deniers, that we have had even more indications that the Earth’s climate is already turning against humankind.

Out of the darkness

Our political language is rupturing because we are now completely divided. There is no middle ground, no social compact, no consensus. The second camp understands that the current system is broken and that we need radical change, while the first camp holds desperately to the hope that the system will continue to be workable with modifications and minor reforms.

It is on to this battlefield that Corbyn has stumbled, little prepared for the heavy historic burden he shoulders.

We are arriving at a moment called a paradigm shift. That is when the cracks in a system become so obvious they can no longer be credibly denied. Those vested in the old system scream and shout, they buy themselves a little time with increasingly repressive measures, but the house is moments away from falling. The critical questions are who gets hurt when the structure tumbles, and who decides how it will be rebuilt.

The new paradigm is coming anyway. If we don’t choose it ourselves, the planet will for us. It could be an improvement, it could be a deterioration, it could be extinction, depending on how prepared we are for it and how violently those invested in the old system resist the loss of their power. If enough of us understand the need for discarding the broken system, the greater the hope that we can build something better from the ruins.

We are now at the point where the corporate elite can see the cracks are widening but they remain in denial. They are entering the tantrum phase, screaming and shouting at their enemies, and readying to implement ever-more repressive measures to maintain their power.

They have rightly identified social media as the key concern. This is where we – the 99 per cent – have begun waking each other up. This is where we are sharing and learning, emerging out of the darkness clumsily and shaken. We are making mistakes, but learning. We are heading up blind alleys, but learning. We are making poor choices, but learning. We are making unhelpful alliances, but learning.

No one, least of all the corporate elite, knows precisely where this process might lead, what capacities we have for political, social and spiritual growth.

And what the elite don’t own or control, they fear.

Putting the genie back

The elite have two weapons they can use to try to force the second camp back into the bottle. They can vilify it, driving it back into the margins of public life, where it was until the advent of social media; or they can lock down the new channels of mass communication their insatiable drive to monetise everything briefly opened up.

Both strategies have risks, which is why they are being pursued tentatively for the time being. But the second option is by far the riskier of the two. Shutting down social media too obviously could generate blowback, awakening more of the first camp to the illusions the second camp have been trying to alert them to.

Corbyn’s significance – and danger – is that he brings much of the language and concerns of the second camp into the mainstream. He offers a fast-track for the second camp to reach the first camp, and accelerate the awakening process. That, in turn, would improve the chances of the paradigm shift being organic and transitional rather than disruptive and violent.

That is why he has become a lightning rod for the wider machinations of the ruling elite. They want him destroyed, like blowing up a bridge to stop an advancing army.

It is a sign both of their desperation and their weakness that they have had to resort to the nuclear option, smearing him as an anti-semite. Other, lesser smears were tried first: that he was not presidential enough to lead Britain; that he was anti-establishment; that he was unpatriotic; that he might be a traitor. None worked. If anything, they made him more popular.

And so a much more incendiary charge was primed, however at odds it was with Corbyn’s decades spent as an anti-racism activist.

The corporate elite weaponised anti-semitism not because they care about the safety of Jews, or because they really believe that Corbyn is an anti-semite. They chose it because it is the most destructive weapon – short of sex-crime smears and assassination – they have in their armoury.

The truth is the ruling elite are exploiting British Jews and fueling their fears as part of a much larger power game in which all of us – the 99 per cent – are expendable. They will keep stoking this campaign to stigmatise Corbyn, even if a political backlash actually does lead to an increase in real, rather than phoney, anti-semitism.

The corporate elites have no plan to go quietly. Unless we can build our ranks quickly and make our case confidently, their antics will ensure the paradigm shift is violent rather than healing. An earthquake, not a storm.

A Specter of Peace Is Haunting Nicaragua

After four months of violence, peace may be breaking out in Nicaragua, which has gotten those North American partisans opposed to Nicaraguan President Ortega worried. But they have one last hope.

The latest in a series of anti-Ortega articles in The Nation is entitled “An eternal night of persecution and death.” We are told: “Despite mass killings and newly authoritarian laws, a diverse opposition says the movement to oust Ortega is far from over.”

Although some analysts understand the relative calm that has befallen Nicaragua is mainly due to the failure of the opposition to sustain public support, this article maintains it is because it is “too dangerous for resistors to rally publicly.” The article is primarily based on an interview with an anonymous source “whose name has been altered for his safety.” Toward the end of the article, we find out that the anonymous source is “at a coffee shop in New York.” Ever vigilant, he has his back to the wall “facing out at the rest of the café.”

With the opposition in quiescence, The Nation is still hopeful for regime change. The anonymous source “laments” that “the only way Ortega would concede to that would be with US and international pressure.” The article concludes that “while the United States is not the perfect partner, options are limited.”

The article condemns Ortega, who “no longer represents the ideals of…anti-imperialism,” but does not extend that criticism to publications calling for the US to partner in regime change in Nicaragua.

Will Uncle Sam Come to the Rescue?

Academic Latin Americanist William I. Robinson, an opponent of Ortega, questions whether the US will oblige. He contends “Washington’s primary interest in Nicaragua is not getting rid of Ortega but in preserving the interests of transnational capital.”

Much of Robinson’s analysis is consistent with those who oppose US involvement in the recent violence in Nicaragua. Robinson agrees that the CIA surrogate, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), “funding started in the mid-1980s and has never ceased. It is not new to the Ortega-Murillo period.” However, Robinson’s assertion that the US funding has “not been aimed at overthrowing Ortega” is mistaken. The so-called “democracy promotion” dollars from the US went to the opposition who are intent on overthrowing Ortega.

Robinson agrees a viable left alternative within the opposition to Ortega is lacking: “These popular sectors from below have no project of their own to put forward as a viable alternative to replace the regime. This opens up the popular resistance to manipulation or cooptation by the third force.” This third force, Robinson explains “is the bourgeoisie, organized in the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), the oligarchic elite, transnational capital, and the United States.”

And Robinson agrees: “Finally, have right-wing forces taken advantage of the uprising to try to gain control over it? Absolutely. Have these forces deployed their own violence. Yes. Have they manipulated a disorganized and politically incoherent grassroots opposition to Ortega-Murillo? Yes.” To his rhetorical question “would the post-Ortega scenario (that) the Right seeks to achieve be ‘more, not less, neoliberal, repressive, and authoritarian’ than the regime?” Robinson answers “probably.”

The Threat of an Alternative to Empire

So what’s Robinson’s beef with what he characterizes as “the infantile manichean view of a significant portion of the US Left”?

Robinson is a major proponent of the view that US imperialism has been eclipsed by a “transnational capitalist class.” Robinson does allow that on a world scale Nicaragua weighs in as being more progressive: “Has the Ortega regime, with its assistancialism (sic), been anywhere near as ‘bad’ as these other neoliberal regimes? Certainly not.” But, less bad is not enough. The crux of his difference with the anti-imperialist left is that they uphold Nicaragua as worthy of defense, whereas in Robinson’s post-US imperialist world no nation passes his litmus test.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union and its allies, all countries are compelled to be integrated into the world capitalist market, including Nicaragua. This is well described by Robinson in his academic work.

But Robinson is less insightful regarding the coercive aspect of US relations with progressive countries such as Nicaragua and its allies in ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) such as Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia. These countries and their leaders are very much in the crosshairs of US regime change efforts precisely because they represent some degree of a challenge to neoliberalism and because they are not compliant to every dictate of the empire.

Robinson may label this view as “manichean,” (i.e., seeing a binary world of good or evil), but it is a reality imposed by the US. George W. Bush, in his own eloquent way, summed up US strategy best: “You’re either with us or with the enemy.”

For Nicaragua, a tipping point between US cooperation and US coercion was the adoption of a trans-oceanic canal project with Chinese financing, which fundamentally challenged US geopolitical interests.

Nicaragua and its allies represent a breathing space in a world dominated by the US empire. The US government recognizes the alternative posed by Nicaragua as a threat and has targeted the Ortega government, even if some academics are less perceptive.

Fleeing Nicaragua

Meanwhile, the US has imposed sanctions against top Nicaraguan officials. USAID received an additional $1.5 million to promote “freedom and democracy” in Nicaragua. The NICA Act has passed the House by unanimous consent and is pending in the Senate. The NICA Act is designed to restrict international financing and thereby create misery among the Nicaraguan people to pressure the Ortega government. And the bulk of the US diplomatic corps has been withdrawn from Nicaragua.

The US State Department’s travel advisory warns that the remaining “US government personnel are prohibited…from entering…gentlemen’s clubs throughout the country due to crime.”

“Non-emergency government personnel” have been evacuated to go back home, presumably where gentlemen’s clubs are still safe.

 

Camilo Comes to San Francisco and Analyzes the Soft Coup Attempt in Nicaragua

Western media has described the unrest and violence in Nicaragua as a “campaign of terror” by government police and paramilitary. This has also been asserted by large non governmental organizations (NGOs). In May, for example, Amnesty International issued a report titled “Shoot to Kill: Nicaragua’s Strategy to Repress Protest”.

A Miami Herald op-ed summarized, “It’s not like there’s any confusion over who’s to blame for the recent killings amid Nicaragua’s political violence. Virtually all human rights groups agree that Ortega’s police-backed paramilitary goons are the culprits.”

Much less publicized, other analysts have challenged these assertions. They claim the situation is being distorted and the reality is very different. For example, Camilo Mejía wrote an open letter condemning the Amnesty report for being biased and actually contributing to the chaos and violence.

To learn more about the situation, Task Force on the Americas (TFA) invited Camilo Mejía to speak in the San Francisco Bay Area. TFA has a long history of work in Central and South America educating the public, lobbying around US foreign policy and leading delegations to see the reality in Central and South America.

Veterans for Peace (VFP) quickly agreed to co-sponsor events with Camilo in San Francisco and Oakland. Veterans for Peace also has a long history with Nicaragua. VFP was founded partially in response to US aggression in Central America. VFP members protested against US shipments to the Nicaraguan Contras. VFP member Brian Willson had both legs cut off when a train carrying weapons destined for Central America ran over him. The current VFP president, Gerry Condon, was at that protest and helped stop the blood gushing from Willson’s severed legs. Brian Willson lives in Nicaragua today.

Camilo Mejía was born in Nicaragua, the son of famous musician Carlos Mejía Godoy. His mother was a staunch Sandinista activist but separated from the father soon after his birth. She brought Camilo to the United States as a single mother in 1994, four years after the Sandinista electoral defeat. Living in Florida, Camilo struggled to make ends meet and joined the US Army to pay for college. Just a few months before completing his service, Camilo was ordered into the 2003 invasion of Iraq. After serving one tour of war duty, he refused to return and was imprisoned for 9 months.

Camilo was honored as a “Prisoner of Conscience” by Amnesty International. Thus Camilo’s criticism of the Amnesty report on Nicaragua has special significance. Camilo is Nicaraguan, a member of Veterans for Peace, and a hero to both VFP and Amnesty. He is also the author of the compelling autobiography Road from Ar Ramadi.

As news of Camilo’s upcoming visit to San Francisco was spread, we quickly started to feel a reaction. There is a large and diverse Nicaraguan exile community in San Francisco. While some support the Sandinista government, others are adamantly opposed and some even supported the Contras decades ago. Anti-Ortega Nicaraguan exiles in San Francisco began organizing a protest.

Camilo’s visit to speak on Nicaragua also prompted a reaction from some Americans who had once supported the Sandinistas but now support the opposition. They campaigned to have their viewpoint presented at our events. TFA and VFP organizers thought there was no need to include the opposition voice since their characterization of the conflict is widespread. However, Camilo wanted to be transparent and not exclude the opposition. He thought that if we allowed an opposition supporter to speak briefly, they were more likely to listen to his analysis and he could directly address their concerns.

At the San Francisco event, protesters arrived early in front of the War Memorial Veterans Building. When the event started, protesters flooded into the venue. As promised, an opposition supporter was invited to speak briefly.The audience of about 120 was split between those who wanted to hear Camilo and those who came to protest. Camilo’s talk was repeatedly interrupted and police arrived to prevent violence. Camilo asked what kind of “democracy” was this they claimed to want for Nicaragua when they would not listen or allow him to speak here in San Francisco?

Camilo showed two short video clips. The first video showed opposition activists torturing a Sandinista supporter under the oversight of a Catholic priest and the remains of a Sandinista burned alive.

A second video showed a statement from an American who has lived in Nicaragua for many years. He described how gangs had invaded his town, set up road blocks, intimidated and abused local civilians. He described the joy of the community when the roadblocks were removed and masked “protesters” departed.

The audience got increasingly disruptive during the question period. A prominent Nicaraguan opposition supporter came forward, offering to quiet the disrupters. After receiving the microphone from Camilo, she did the opposite. The disruptions escalated and the event had to be ended early. The protesters had completed their mission: they had prevented Camilo from being able to present his perspective.

Organizers from TFA and Veterans for Peace decided the Sunday event in Oakland needed to be handled differently. Members of Veterans for Peace, including chapter president Paul Cox and others, prevented the protesters from entering. Ultimately the venue was packed with interested listeners. The anti-Ortega crowd protested on the sidewalk and street but were not able to disrupt the event.

Camilo Mejía speaking in Oakland (Photo by Bill Hackwell)

With the loud opposition outside, Camilo was introduced by VFP President Gerry Condon. He gave a clear and concise history of key events in Nicaraguan political history including:

* Nicaragua was connected to the gold rush in California in the the mid 1800’s. That is when the idea of a trans-oceanic passage through Nicaragua was born.

* When Cesar Sandino launched guerrilla war in the 1920’s and 30’s there were two priorities: advancing the working class and anti-imperialism.

* The Frente Sandinista which carried out the 1979 revolution had nine commanders: three from each of three factions.

After the Sandinistas lost the 1990 election, splits emerged and ultimately Sergio Ramirez formed the Movimiento Renovador Sandinista (MRS). The more affluent members plus intellectuals, writers, and musicians gravitated toward it. But though they were well connected to western solidarity activists, they had no popular platform nor base. They did poorly in elections and moved toward neoliberal policies and the NGO world.

* Since taking power in 2007, Daniel Ortega and Sandinistas have improved living conditions for the poor with free healthcare, free education and better economic policies. Nicaragua now supplies 80 – 90% of its own food needs.

* Up until April, Nicaragua was vastly safer than neighboring countries. Their “community policing” is considered a model.

* Support for Ortega and the Frente Sandinista has steadily increased. In 2006, they won 38% of the vote; in 2011, it increased to 62%; in 2016 support increased to 72% with 68% turnout.

* There has been much misinformation about the proposed changes in social security which sparked the protests in April. To stabilize the social security funding, the IMF wanted to implement an austerity plan which would have doubled the work requirements and raised the qualification age from 60 to 65. The Sandinista proposal was much more progressive, requiring wealthy individuals and businesses to pay much more with minor changes for others.

* The death count has been manipulated. Some deaths are counted twice; people who were said to be dead have turned up alive; dead Sandinista supporters have been counted as protesters. The first deaths on April 19 were one student, one police officer and one bystander killed by sniper fire. Camilo asks: Was this done by the government or by outside forces?

* The National Endowment for Democracy and other US agencies have trained students and others in using social media, video and symbols to stir up dissent and destabilize Nicaragua.

At the Oakland event, Camilo showed a torture video which demonstrates opposition violence. He also showed video of the huge July 19 celebration of the the revolution anniversary. His talk was followed by many questions including from opposition supporters.

At times during the event, there was tension and concern about violence from the protesters outside. Some Nicaraguan families were afraid for their safety. After the event, they had to be escorted with protection to their cars. The car of one Nicaraguan family was besieged by the anti-Ortega crowd. Camilo and his young daughter had to be quickly taken away amidst shouts and waving placards.

Ultimately Camilo’s visit accomplished the goal. Media interviews in Spanish and English reached many thousands.  In these and the public presentations, he brought information and analysis which has been largely censored or ignored in coverage of Nicaragua.

Camilo believes Nicaragua has temporarily defeated a “soft coup” attempt but the danger is not over. The opposition forces internally and internationally are still there.

The Anti-President

Raids by U.S. commandos in Afghanistan. (I could be talking about 2001 or 2018.)

A U.S. drone strike in Yemen. (I could be talking about 2002 or 2018.)

Missions by Green Berets in Iraq. (I could be talking about 2003 or 2018.)
— Nick Turse, Chronicles Magazine, July 2018

The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.
— Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, 1967

The U.S. is now a endless machine for war profiteering and endless war itself. Simultaneously a hyper Imperialist machine directed toward global hegemony. Domestically it is a McCarthyesque empire of propaganda and censorship and mass incarceration. On both fronts it is a machine for channelling money directly to the ruling class.

The U.S. has 900 military bases around the world. Everything is contracted out. Where once soldiers and marines built their own barracks and peeled their own potatoes, the new military is one in which construction, maintenance, and operations are handed over to private companies, many of whom have as their sole reason for existence, to service the US war machine.

…U.S. bases overseas have become a major mechanism of U.S. global power in the post-Second World War era. Alongside postwar economic and political tools like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the United Nations, the collection of extraterritorial bases—like colonies for the European empires before it—became a major mechanism for “maintaining [U.S.] political and economic hegemony,” advancing corporate economic and political interests, protecting trade routes, and allowing control and influence over territory vastly disproportionate to the land bases actually occupy. Without a collection of colonies, the United States has used its bases, as well as periodic displays of military might, to keep wayward nations within the rules of an economic and political system favorable to itself.
— David Vine, Monthly Review, 2014

Many of these bases are as large as small cities. Camp Liberty in Iraq has concrete sidewalks, traffic signals, spas and cinemas as well as coffee shops and Burger Kings. Generals and Admirals employ private jets, and siphon off taxpayer money for vacations at luxury resorts and shopping trips for their wives and family. The bookeeping has been described as functionally fictive. The vast amounts of monies misplaced or unaccounted for is in the trillion of dollars. Everything….from shower heads to gym equipment, to electrical cable is from private firms that usually have spent small fortunes lobbying Pentagon officials or even state department higher ups to *win* these contracts. So ponder that a moment: TRILLIONS of dollars. When anyone asks why *we* are still in Afghanistan after 17 years, this is but one of the answers.

As the FOB2012 conference neared its end, I asked another conference attendee (who asked that I not use his name) if during his wartime deployments in Iraq he had seen the problem Major Elliott had described of a base with private security guards protecting privately contracted cooks, who were cooking for the same private security guards, who were protecting the privately contracted cooks. “A lot,” he replied. It’s the “self-licking ice cream cone”—by which he meant a self-perpetuating system with no purpose or function except to keep itself going.
— David Vine, Monthly Review, 2014

The U.S. has accepted that they are now fighting generational wars. There are children born in just the special-op fronts, the hot spots that Special Operations forces fight in, who are now of fighting age. Teenagers who have never not known American occupation. From Iraq to Afghanistan, to Somalia, to Libya, to Yemen, to Philippines and Niger and Syria there are conflicts that the U.S. seems intent on keeping active. The idea of solution is now forgotten.

And watching Donald Trump and his traveling insult party it struck me that only such clearly intentional behavior and statements could make a ghoulish war criminal like John Brennan attractive to the American public. And then something began to nag at me.

While Trump is seeking to develop a framework for authoritarian rule—including the cultivation of far-right and fascistic forces based on anti-immigrant chauvinism—there is not an ounce of democratic content in the campaign of his critics within the state and political establishment. In the name of opposing Trump—and the supposed Russian plot that sustains him—they are developing their own arguments for dictatorship.
— Joseph Kishore, WSWS, August 18, 2018

Brennan has, besides suggesting intensifying foreign theatres of operation, now openly outlined a plan for Orwellian thought control at home, and wholesale censorship of dissent.

More from Joseph Kishore…

This is the significance of Brennan’s column, “President Trump’s claims of no collusion are hogwash,” published in the print edition of the New York Times on Friday. The pages of the Times were turned over to Brennan by James Bennet, the newspaper’s highly-connected editorial page editor, brother of right-wing Democratic Senator Michael Bennet and son of Douglas Bennet, a former top State Department official with CIA connections. { } More than Russia, the targets of Brennan’s attack are domestic organizations and individuals. He writes: “Electoral politics in Western democracies present an especially inviting target, as a variety of politicians, political parties, media outlets, think tanks and influencers are readily manipulated, wittingly and unwittingly, or even bought outright by Russian intelligence operatives.” Who are these “politicians, political parties, media outlets, think tanks and influencers?” The answer is: Anyone who does not accept uncritically the narrative of the intelligence agencies and the military, including the lies used to justify war in Syria and aggression against Russia.

The liberal class in the U.S. is now embracing with laudatory accolades the most malign sadistic authoritarians possible. Men like Brennan, James Comey, Robert Mueller, and nary a peep from them about the confirmation of serial torturer and all around liar Gina Haspel. With Vietnam there were massive protests against the war. Today there are none. Nobody cares in the U.S. They do not care it is year 17 in the occupation of Afghanistan, or that in Yemen there is such human suffering that statistics are an insult to even mention. Shoot a school bus in Yemen? Unfortunate but hardly headline news. Google and Facebook are now in the process of widespread censoring of dissenting voices. How dare anyone criticize the ogre John McCain. That is *hate speech*. Hollywood continues to avoid ANY criticism EVER of the U.S. military or domestic police forces. In fact, they continue to produce one jingoistic narrative after another in which service in the armed forces is uniformly expressed as a noble choice, a honorable patriotic sacrifice. Hollywood is, in fact, creating (and has done for two decades at least) a indelible mythology of fascistic martial love.

But that is really the core of what is nagging at me.

The curious exaggerated response in the U.S. to the Trump presidency is understood, partly, by the failure of previous conflicts and even by 9/11, to produce a sense of national regeneration in the usually willing masses. No amount of revisionist history about Vietnam or Korea produced a real national sense of military purpose. Grenada and Somalia just didn’t, frankly, kill enough people. This is a Puritan nation that has never left its roots in blood atonement. Organized corporate owned sports provides only a limited refuge from the crushing economic reality. Not many are fortunate enough to feel pride in what they do. And deep down nobody really believes the lies. They may work overtime and very hard to do so, but I don’t believe they do. But hating Trump has now become, at least in part, a new mythology for America. For the educated classes anyway, Trump is now the anti-president.

…one of the syndromes that people working with Vietnam veterans suffering from PTSD was something called John Wayne Syndrome where the young men had internalized the John Wayne model of heroism and one of their problems was they felt they had failed somehow to live up to that model.

And that’s the psychology we’re talking about here. You internalize a model of heroic behavior from the media that purvey the myths that shape your society. And there’s a whole spectrum of responses you might have in relation to that internalized model.

You might not do anything yourself. You might simply consent that the government or somebody act on your behalf, you don’t make the war yourself, but you consent that somebody make the war for you, kill the bad guy for you.
— Richard Slotkin, Interview, Truthout 2013

I remember Slotkin (whose trilogy on the American West is essential reading) pointing out that the first significant shift in consciousness for America was …“1890, the moment when the landed frontier of the United States was officially declared ‘closed’, the moment when ‘frontier’ became primarily a term of ideological rather than geographical location.” And that is when Americans began to codify this idea of violence and conquest as acts of purification and nobility. One must cross into *Indian territory*, or for many, just into Mexico — for these symbols and tropes of white supremacism represent a metaphoric shadow world that must be overcome in order to be reborn as a proud white American. The U.S. has fought no wars that could be sold as heroic without inordinate amounts of propaganda and indoctrination in a sort of kitsch patriotism. I think of the Chris Kyle memorial event at the Cowboys Stadium where fifty thousand people showed up. But it is likely that 99% of the wars in human history also needed propaganda. Just, perhaps, not quite at the level we see today.

But such observations must be understood against a backdrop of an eroded education system, a society of screen and anti-depressive addictions. There is no way to grasp the mental illness in play today. For the anti Trump hysteria, and that is what it is, comes out of a kind of backhanded schadenfreude. The disfigured mental state of America has arrived at some kind of critical mass. (As an aside vis a vis Lacan, in his one actual public speaking appearance -Catholic University of Louvain, mid 70s- he opened his lecture by asking the audience “can you bear the life that you have”?

Today, the sense of misery in the U.S. is acute and operative in about three different registers. There is the exponential spike in homelessness and poverty, and that is obvious. But there is another register of psychic torment and depression that blankets life on a day to day basis. And it is a sense of this absolute counterfeit existence — coupled to feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, and inadequacy that is causing widespread depression and driving more and more desperate narratives of American privilege. And no wonder, I mean look at the most powerful men in the country; Trump, the Koch Brothers, Mike “Domionist” Pompeo, John fucking Bolton…I mean JOHN BOLTON for christ sake, and Brennan, the Clintons and their posse, and Jeff Bezos and Zuck, not to mention Pierre Omidyar, and these are just off the top of my head. Not a single person in that list is not reprehensible. Then the DC think tanks. And there is no way to overestimate the influence of these institutions; The Brookings Institute, CATO, Council on Foreign Relations, RAND Corporation, Heritage Foundation, Center for American Progress, Center for Strategic and International Studies – the list goes on. These places advice the State Department and Pentagon, the intelligence agencies, Unified Commands of the Marines and Navy, not to mention congress and the Attorney General, and the Executive Branch. As I glanced at the bios of the leadership at CSIS I came across this in a bio…..”…held the Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy”. These people live in an alternate universe. They are Martians. But they are very powerful. That is the reality we live in.

So no wonder misery is endemic. And I guess the question begged here is how did the most powerful nation on earth (though defining powerful is perhaps useful) arrive in the hands of people who think the Brzezinski chair in Global Suffering is something to aspire to?

But this sense of the counterfeit is in no small measure the result of the lost counter culture, and alternative press. Again during Vietnam there were important writers protesting and speaking everywhere. Papers like the East Village Other, the L.A. Free Press. Berkeley Barb, et al had importance. People were rejecting the idea of ruling class privilege. They also understood the ruling class were the real criminals. Today Google would just erase them. Now we get Rachel Maddow, Fox News and Jordan Peterson. Where once Robert Bly and Alan Ginsburg gave readings to protest the war, in trips they paid for themselves across the entire country. Today were have celebrity war pimps like Angelina Jolie and George Clooney.

We have a 1950s throwback cracker as AG. If a movie is made of these years it’s too bad Strother Martin has passed on because he was born to play Jeff Sessions. But I digress. (And George Kennedy as Mike Pompeo?). I gotta stop.

I was reading Paul Goodman recently. Whatever place in the annals of American letters that Goodman may finally rest, there is a serious shortage of that kind of wisdom out there today. And Goodman was remarkably prescient as well as wise.

I keep resorting to the metaphor school-monks, the administrators, professors, academic sociologists and licensees with diplomas who have proliferated into an invested intellectual class worse than anything since the time of Henry VIII. Yet I am convinced – as they got their grants and buildings and State laws that give them sole competence — that the monks are sincere in their bland faith in the school. The schools provide the best preparation for everybody for a complicated world, are the logical haven for unemployed youth, can equalize opportunity for the underprivileged, administer research in all fields, and be the indispensable mentor for creativity, business-practice, social work, mental hygiene, genuine literacy — name it, and there are credits for it leading to a degree. The schools offer very little evidence of their unique ability to perform any of these things — there is plenty of evidence to the contrary — but they do not need to offer evidence, since nobody opposes them or proposes alternatives.
— Paul Goodman, Compulsory Miseducation

Over fifty years ago William Burroughs, a contemporary of Goodman, was asked what he thought of contemporary America:

At the official level a nightmare. Difficult to believe that people in positions of power who form the foreign and domestic policies of America could be so stupid and so basically ill-intentioned.

So what we are seeing today is not new. What is new is this phenomenon of the anti-president. All the things that were not really believed in by themselves become valuable, even sacrosanct symbols of an imaginary Good America.

I was told by a teacher recently that her high school students are hugely reluctant to volunteer answers in class. Later she asked one why. The student said everyone was afraid of being made fun of on social media later that night. Best to keep quiet and invisible. This does not portend well for the future of the West. Burroughs added a bit later (in the under-read The Job) about the term nightmare. He said it’s less a nightmare than a non dream. For the ruling class, dreams must be eradicated. The masses cannot be allowed dreams.

Only today, I think, there is — either by accident or design — a manufactured dream. The dream of stopping the anti-president. The obvious contradictions are brushed aside. After all, this is mythology. I remember Robert Bly noting that when a society confuses the mythic with the real, it is a sign of terminal sickness in that society. Witch burning is an example. Of course, there were historical and economic determinants involved in both the wave of European witch hunts in the 16th century (see Sylvia Federici) and those in Salem. But nonetheless the populace believed in witches. They believed the Church propaganda. Today, the hatred of Trump is so exaggerated that only a deep conviction in something bigger than just politics has to be involved. Hating Trump has become a secret handshake among liberals. A part of spiritual self improvement, right alongside Yoga classes and TM.

Of course, Trump is horrid. And somewhere in him, or somewhere in the story of how he got elected, he knows this or at least suspected it. I was put here to be who I am and ergo, I was put here to be hated. He plays to it. He insults the queen for cryin’ out loud. What a cad!

There is another aspect to this, though. One that has to do with how the U.S. government and the ruling elite are expressing their own hysteria. A quick survey here, then.

Mike Pompeo is another example of the foulness that holds power in the U.S. Pompeo has helped form something called the Iran Action Group. What this is, and Pompeo and Mattis openly state this, is an organization devoted to orchestrating a coup d’etat in Iran. They want to overthrow a sovereign government by any means necessary. If this seems a contradiction given the hand wringing and howls of indignation about Russian collusion in OUR elections; well, it is. It’s a breathtaking contradiction. But such is the hubris and arrogance of the U.S. government. What, you might well ask, has Iran done to us? The answer is nothing. Oh rather, it has offended those who stride the corridors of power in the U.S. by not doing what it was told.

Look at the official list of American enemies. Iran, China, Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, Syria, and the DPRK. What do they have in common? They are independent. They have refused all those World Bank and IMF overtures to drain profit from the country. They don’t accept U.S. bases in their country. And they refuse to allow western Capital to buy up their resources. The horror!!!

So, the US government, and in particular Pompeo’s CIA, will form committees and pay for studies (from the aforementioned think tanks) to figure out how to kill the leaders (like Gaddafi, and Lumumba) of these recalcitrant nations, or exile them or TRY to kill them. But most of all, to get rid of them and replace them with compliant client governments. For the only acceptable form of foreign government is a vassal state. All those leaders who have defied US diktats, have suffered endless persecution. Why were Chavez and Milosevic demonized? What did they do? Why was the former Yugoslavia bombed, broken up, and its president illegally kidnapped and stuck in a prison? And then handed over to an ad hoc tribunal for a show trial meant to demonstrate how good and gracious is the U.S. (and its European clients) but they couldn’t even get that right. So they dropped the trial from their TV line up. And Milosevic died in jail. Chavez and Milosevic and Castro and Gaddafi et al — were not threats to world peace. They were not tyrants.

I have said before, if the US targets you, then you deserve to be defended. Full stop. Only the most privileged of leftists make distinctions about whatever they don’t like and get mealy mouthed and start using racist terms like “thug”. Or call independent states “regimes” just like Mad Dog Mattis does.

You know that cognitive dissonance must be rampant when the two biggest U.S. allies are Saudi Arabia and Israel. I mean, the Saudis are set, as I write this, to publicly behead a woman’s right activist (and her husband). For….*protesting*. This is our ally. We sell them billions in weapons. We train them. We visit them and they visit us. Or Israel. I mean Israel is an official apartheid state now where politicians openly call Arabs “dogs” and “vermin”.

The Iran Action Group is illegal by all and any international legal conventions. No matter.

I want to add, again, Pompeo is another Christian extremist in this administration and one with a deep hatred of Islam. Back in 2015

…Pompeo, then a Congressman, attacked Barack Obama, who, according to him, took the side of the “Islamic East” in its conflict with the “Christian West”. “Every time there has been a conflict between the Christian West and the Islamic East, the data points all point to a single direction.
— Peter Beinart, The Atlantic, 2017

Pompeo’s Islamaphobia is shared by Pence and, really, the entire Trump cabinet. But this is the standard sensibility of the contemporary evangelical community. And why that is so hard for people to recognize is beyond me. But I want to get back to the state of consciousness in the U.S.today. To the new mythology…or pseudo mythology anyway.

A recent survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that at one point last year, 74% of adults in the UK were so stressed that they felt overwhelmed and unable to cope. One-third were suicidal and 16% had self-injured at some point in their lives. These figures were much higher among young people.

In the United States, death rates are rising steadily, especially for middle-aged white men and women, due to “desperation,” which includes deaths from drug and alcohol addiction as well as suicides and many car accidents. An pidemic of distress seems to be affecting some of the richest nations in the world.
— Manuel E. Yepe, Counterpunch, August 2018

When Richard Nixon switched his Vietnam policy from winning the war to “rescuing” US POWs, he was consciously reclaiming another American myth which was the basis of the Puritans’ earliest literature: the captivity narrative. This pointed the way for the revisionist Rambo histories of Vietnam, whose betrayal scenarios blamed loss on dissenters at home. What was Ronald Reagan, asks Slotkin, if not America’s last attempt to reclaim the beliefs American myths told Americans should bind society together, even when they were known to be untrue.
— Michael Carlson, Irresistible Targets, 2008

These two things, then. Epidemic levels of extreme anxiety and depression, and the system’s doubling down on the mythology of individualism and the frontier; but a doubling down that has meant an ever more distilled nativist zealotry. Those who went to Chris Kyle’s memorial are the NASCAR flyover state true believers, but now liberal America is, as I say, buying in. For them, there seems no alternative. For the liberal, the educated classes in America, the status quo is sacred. And they would rather have any version of Brave New World, than to contemplate actual radical change. You know where the most rabid bulging eye, popping veins, hatred of communism can be found? In white liberal America. And it was Malcolm X. who said “The white liberal is the worst enemy to America, and the worst enemy to the black man.” It is the new fall collection for American Exceptionalism.

The liberal educated white American is now shoehorning some contradictory ideological threads into this new belief system. Trump is a fascist they say (true, but he isn’t the first) and stopping Trump eclipses all other concerns (like Obama’s bloody policies, or Bill Clinton’s, or Bush’s etc, etc). And this sense of purposeful hating of Trump is a bit like the new frontier. One must cross into the land (or underworld…or maybe high rise…I don’t know) of Trump evilness to come out the other side, reborn, redeemed. Trump is a kind of prismatic reincarnation of Reagan, I think. Those who hated Reagan and those who loved Reagan are on the same side regards Trump. And again, it is clear there are elements in the system, the so called deep state if you like, that want Trump gone. Right? That is the common wisdom out there. And there is truth in that perspective I think. I think. But it’s not the whole truth. For Trump serves the interests of even those who seem to want him gone. Why are we to believe this CIA and NSA and Pentagon cabal hate Trump and want him impeached? Why? What is he doing to hurt them? It seems to me he is carrying out policy that serves their interests. The ruling class is always united in the end. His statements are only that. I mean the guy *tweets* for Christ sake. A compulsive tweeter, in fact. He is probably not much in charge of anything, I suspect. He doesn’t know the names of countries, or their histories. He is a typically ignorant American.

But domestically, that is where the real story is unfolding. That’s all Americans care about anyway. They have no idea where Yemen is, or Syria. They have no idea where Vietnam is, for that matter. They DO-NOT-CARE. But Trump’s pandering to white racists and all the Christian evangelicals, and, of course, Jeff Sessions; those things do have a Trump imprint. And it’s ugly. And that ugliness was always there. I mean, literally always there. Since Salem, in fact. Since the first slave ship landed in Virginia. Remember the civil rights fight? Remember there were race riots early in the 20th century in at least a dozen cities. It’s not new. Trump didn’t invent it. But he has allowed it to surface again. And it is in this Manichaean melodrama of the NEW Exceptionalism meets the old racism that the surreal and hallucinatory story of American madness is playing out. The United States is sinking under the weight of its contradictions, ideologically, and it’s also materially crumbling. And it is economically propped up in part by those trillions of dollars associated with the defense industry. With those 900 bases. And with an expanding NATO. I mean if NATO gets much bigger there wont be many places for NATO to attack. And that’s a sobering thought. The homeless encampments around every city in America are the legacy of so called American Century. That is the end of the line for Western capital and rugged individualism. The postscript to Manifest Destiny is a nation of absolute misery, over medicated, and trying hard to NOT see the misery around them. To not see their neighbors have moved….to the nearest homeless encampment. Not see that yet more record days of heat have arrived. Not see that everything is poisoned and wrapped in plastic anyway. Of polluted lakes and scorched earth. A nation of narcissism and despair in equal measures. But at least they can hate Trump together. In that sense the Anti-President is a gift.

In detaining Peter Beinart, Israel has declared Millions of Jews Enemies of the State

There are few places in Israel where its apartheid character is more conspicuous than the imposing international airport just outside Tel Aviv, named after the country’s founding father, David Ben Gurion.

Most planes landing in Israel have to circle over the West Bank before making their descent. Below, more than two million Palestinians living under cruel Israeli occupation are barred from using the airport. Instead, they depend on capricious decisions from military officers on whether they will be allowed to cross a land border into Jordan.

They are comparatively better off than nearly two million more Palestinians in besieged Gaza, who are denied even that minimal freedom.

Meanwhile, a similar number of Palestinians living ostensibly as citizens inside Israel have to run a gauntlet of racial profiling checks before they can board a flight.

Armed security guards at the perimeter entrance listen for Hebrew spoken with an Arab accent. Passports are branded with barcodes that can entail humiliating interrogations, delays, strip searches and security escorts on to planes.

Security alone could never have justified the arbitrary and sweeping nature of these decades-old practices against Israel’s largely quiescent Palestinian minority.

Racial profiling at the airport was always chiefly about controlling and intimidating Palestinians, collecting information on them and ghettoising them. Palestinians struggled to get out while Arabs and Muslims struggled to get in.

But these efforts to “lock in” Palestinians have become all but futile in recent years as globalisation has shrunk the world. Prevent a Palestinian attending a conference in New York or Paris and they will deliver their talk via Skype instead.

But the controls long endured by Palestinians and Arabs are now being turned more aggressively against other kinds of supporters. With escalating criticism worldwide and the rapid growth of an international boycott movement, the circle of people Israel wishes to “lock out” is growing rapidly.

For foreigners, Ben Gurion airport is the gateway not only to Israel but to the occupied territories. It is the main way they can witness firsthand the appalling conditions Israel has imposed on many millions of Palestinians.

There is an ever-growing list of academics, lawyers, human rights groups, political advocates for ending the occupation and boycott supporters detained by Israel on arrival and subjected to questioning about their political views. Afterwards they are denied entry or required to keep out of the occupied territories.

In an ever more interconnected world, Israel can identify those it wants to exclude simply by scouring Twitter or Facebook.

The problem for Israel is that increasingly those most critical of it include Jews.

That should be no surprise. If Israel argues that it represents Jews everywhere, some may feel they have a right to speak out in protest. Recent polls suggest that an ideological gulf is opening up between Israel and many of the Jews overseas it claims to speak for.

The latest victim of Israel’s political profiling is Peter Beinart, a prominent American-Jewish commentator. He regularly appears on CNN, contributes to prestigious US publications and is a columnist for the Jewish weekly Forward.

Last week Mr Beinart revealed that he had been detained on landing at Ben Gurion, separated from his wife and children and “interrogated about my political activities” for an hour. After repeated assurances that he was simply attending a family bar mitzvah, officials allowed him in.

Mr Beinart is no Noam Chomsky or Norman Finkelstein, dissident Jewish thinkers who have harshly criticised Israel’s policies – and been denied entry as a result.

His views echo those of many liberal American Jews no longer willing to turn a blind eye to Israel’s systematic abuses of Palestinians. In detaining him, Israel effectively declared that it no longer represents millions of Jews overseas. It made clear that the core message of Zionism – that Israel was created as a sanctuary for all Jews – is no longer true.

The right-wing government of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants fealty from Jews overseas – public support, donations, lobbying on domestic governments – but not their opinions.

Further, Mr Netanyahu’s Israel wants Jewry divided, with Israel determining which Jews are considered good and which bad. The measure of their virtue is no longer their support for a Jewish state but blind allegiance to the occupation and a Greater Israel lording it over Palestinians.

That divide is increasingly apparent inside Israel too, with growing numbers of dissident Israeli Jews reporting that they have been pulled aside for questioning on landing at Ben Gurion. They are being explicitly warned off political activism, in a setting intended to imply that their continued citizenship should not be taken for granted.

After an outcry over Mr Beinart’s detention, Netanyahu made a formulaic apology, calling his treatment an “administrative error”.

Few believe him. Israel’s liberal daily Haaretz called it the latest “systematic error”. The paper argued that in the “best tradition of benighted regimes”, Israel had drawn up “blacklists to silence criticism and to intimidate those who don’t toe the line”.

Certainly, the current questioning and bullying – not as passengers prepare to board a flight but as they arrive in Israel – has little to do with security, any more than it does when Palestinians and other Arabs are abused at the airport.

Rather, Mr Netanyahu wants to send a loud message to progressive Jews in Israel and abroad: “You are no longer automatically considered part of the Zionist project. We will judge whether you are friend or foe.”

That is intended to have a chilling effect on progressive Jews and send the message that, if they want to visit family in Israel or attend a wedding, funeral or a bar mitzvah, they should stay loyal or keep quiet. From now on, they must understand that they are being monitored on social media.

These are just the opening salvos in the Israeli right’s war against Jewish dissent. It is a slope liberal Jews will find gets ever more slippery.

• First published in The National

Political Nuance

“The trouble with socialism is eventually you run out of other people’s money.”

This was the text of the bumper sticker adorning the old Chevy pickup in front of me in traffic today. As fate would have it, it was actually the second anti-socialist bumper sticker that I would see during my daily commute. The odd, coincidental nature of the two messages got me thinking about the nature and content of political expression these days and more specifically the lack of depth of those expressions.

While I am hesitant to be overly judgmental of Mr. Chevy experience has taught me that he likely would have difficulty explaining to me the difference between communism, fascism, and socialism. He likely has little or no concept that there are socialist governments that produce things such as universal healthcare, free college tuition, and progressive environmental policies and have made no efforts at global domination.

Here in the rural south such anti-socialist sentiment is, of course, not usual and I cannot lay all the blame on the drivers’ lack of political education. Beyond this region there is a portion of the American public at large that is woefully deficient in basic civics, misunderstanding not only foreign political philosophies but also the structure of their own government.

This is not a new reality for us, reducing true political nuance to catch phrases such as the expression of Mr. Chevy. We have heard these from “Just Say No” to “Make America Great Again” and everything in between. All of these exclamations are presented as succinct answers when, in fact, they leave much more unsaid and unexplained than they enlighten. Their appeal is to the emotions and not to the intellect encouraging us not to look too deeply into our political belief systems. I’m sure my fellow drivers’ fundamental disdain for socialism would not include any efforts to curtail his police and fire protection or his Medicaid and Medicare which are decidedly socialist programs.

Politicians are more than willing to play into these tendencies, offering simpleminded solutions to complex problems that they know are insufficient but that play well in media sound bites. On the right this strategy is usually all too easy to spot. A factory worker with two kids, a mortgage, and a car note loses his job because the business automated or outsourced his position. To call out the actual cause would put a republican politician at odds with the corporate interest that are a major funding source to his party. Instead said politician expresses some vague claims about the unregulated immigration system and connects unemployment problems to a supposed porous border.

For conservatives it has been an effective strategy as they use simplistic political stances such as “pro-life” to drive wedges into the American electorate. This action plan has produced results such as senior citizens who reliably vote for a party dedicated to taking away their Medicare and Social Security because they feel a moral obligation to oppose abortion. There is no examination on the policies that advocate defunding things like early childhood nutrition programs, medical care for poor or underserved children, or educational programs for children and youth. They simply look for the pro-life label and vote accordingly.

We would be remiss, however, if we did not admit to the prevalence of similar policies and tactics on the left. As we approach the midterm elections of 2018 the catch phrase of the democrats is “Vote Blue no matter who.” This dovetails with the rhetoric of progressive pundits that continue to castigate any non-republican that did not vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. They have no compunction about telling those that cast their ballots for a third party candidate that they effectively voted for Donald Trump. The Green Party and the Russians, we are told, are responsible for stealing the election.

The discussion of the hacking of DNC emails centers on the duplicity of the Russian hackers and avoids any discussion of the substance of those emails. There are no serious conversations about the machinations of the democratic political establishment to assure that Hillary Clinton and not Bernie Sanders would be the party nominee. The dialog is always anti-Russian or anti-Trump (admittedly both are well worthy of criticism) and not on the qualifications are lack thereof of the democratic candidate.

We are told to forget the body of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler whose body washed up on that Turkish beach in 2015. A victim of the Syrian conflict, he epitomized the thousands of dead and displaced children that can be partially blamed on the regime change strategy perpetuated by the Obama administration. This was a part of the foreign policy initiatives that included the deposing of the democratically elected President of Honduras, the destabilization of the Brazilian government, and the destruction of Libya. The fact that these actions were enthusiastically carried out by Secretary of State Clinton is irrelevant. We are to simply “Vote Blue no matter who.”

Am I saying that in the end the Trump administration and the Obama administration are the same or that this is some kind of zero sum game?  Of course not. There is no ignoring the regressive goals of the Trump presidency, the flagrant personal greed and self-aggrandizement, or the disregard for any semblance of democratic principles. What are we to make, however, of a more palatable democratic administration that continues to funnel millions into the armed forces of Israel and Saudi Arabia which in turn sacrifices the lives of more Palestinians or Yemenis? Is it a simplistic equation that exchanges thousands of dead Muslims for a possible Supreme Court Justice? Were the record deportations under President Obama the price paid for the implementation of Obama Care?

So the hard questions are avoided or ignored and we follow the lead of Mr. Chevy and adorn our vehicles with our catch phrase political philosophies. The simplistic logic is always that we republicans are better than you democrats or we democrats are better than you republicans. You don’t have to look any deeper or apply any nuance as the answers are simple; the republicans want to make the rich richer at the poor’s expense, the democrats want to take your hard earned money and give it to lazy immigrants or any one of a thousand arguments that reduce issue analyzation and political discourse down to digestible soundbites.

The truth is that life is complicated and none of those easily digested slogans adequately elucidates the complexity of our world or the thoughts and motivations that drive it. We should not be able to look at the body of young Alan Kurdi lying dead in the surf and separate it from the policies of regime change or the body of Tamir Rice on that Cleveland playground and not understand why Colin Kaepernick took to his knee. No amount of flag waving or anthem singing can erase the blame or wash the blood away.

If I could have a real conversation with Mr. Chevy I would tell him that properly implemented socialist programs could assure him universal healthcare, low cost education, and a cleaner environment. Unfortunately he will likely continue to hold to those simple sound bites; real honest political dialog won’t fit on his bumper sticker.