Tag Archives: Propaganda

81 Wrongs

The United States tried to overthrow or directly interfere in the elections of at least 80 countries throughout the Cold War alone. How exactly is it in a position to complain if it turns out to be true that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election?

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Russian Hacking: Where’s the Evidence?

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At the smallest, crappiest newspaper in the world – even at a high school paper – no sane editor would publish a story that wasn’t backed by solid evidence. As the 20th century print journalism cliché goes, if your mother says she loves you check it out. So why are the nation’s most prestigious multi-Pulitzer-winning newsgathering organizations repeatedly claiming that hackers working for the Russian government stole emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, and gave them to WikiLeaks?

Because the CIA says so.

Well, not the actual CIA. Some unidentified people who claim to have seen some report say so.

The charge against Russia is explosive. “In a ‘closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill last week,’ intelligence officials told senators that it was now “quite clear’ that electing Trump was Russia’s goal,” according to Vox. Hothead Sarah Palin enabler and senior Arizona Senator John McCain called it “an act of war.”

Even Times op-ed columnist Paul Krugman — historically a voice of reason and prescience — dove into the neo-Red-baiting morass of this weird month, writing that “bad guys hacked the election” thanks to “useful idiots” (a Cold War slur used against lefties like, um, Krugman, pinned here to Trump and his advisors).

(Hypocrisy alert! I’ll save my catalog of covert U.S. attacks against other nations’ democratic elections — Obama’s role in the recent coup in Honduras comes to mind — for some future book, a format where word counts aren’t as constricting.)

explainersmallAnyway, newspapers and magazines and radio and television and Internet news sites say that Russia was behind the hacks. So, as my editor at the Columbia Daily Spectator would surely have asked, what is the basis of this contention?

“The CIA.’s conclusion does not appear to be the product of specific new intelligence obtained since the election, several American officials, including some who had read the agency’s briefing, said on Sunday,” wrote the Times’ Mark Mazzetti and Eric Lichtblau. “Rather, it was an analysis of what many believe is overwhelming circumstantial evidence — evidence that others feel does not support firm judgments — that the Russians put a thumb on the scale for Mr. Trump, and got their desired outcome.”

The primary basis of this “overwhelming circumstantial evidence” appears to be that whoever hacked the DNC also hacked the RNC but only released the DNC stuff to WikiLeaks. “If the Russians were going to interfere, why on earth would they do it to the detriment of the candidate that was pro-Russian?” asked Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

My editor at the Spec would not have been impressed.

As Sam Biddle writes at The Intercept, “you can’t help but notice all of the qualifying words: Possibly, appears, connects, indicates.”

This is one of those awkward times when you have to admit that Donald Trump has a point: why should we take the CIA, whose BS Iraqi WMD intel led to the deaths of over a million people, at its word?

Why would the very same journalists who let themselves get duped 13 years ago dutifully transcribe what amounts to nothing more than unsubstantiated allegations?

I don’t know if Russia is innocent of hacking those emails — any more than the New York Times and the Washington Post and CBS News and so on know that they’re guilty.

No one knows.

Well, the CIA (and the hackers, if there indeed were hacks) might know. But if the spooks have any evidence, much less proof, they aren’t showing it to us or those idiotic media outlets. Which makes this an unsourced story — and one whose geopolitical implications, involving the world’s most heavily-armed nuclear states makes it incomprehensibly, irredeemably irresponsible to spread around.

If the government wants to warn us that a Russian puppet is about to move into the White House, they ought to take a cue from JFK, who went on television to show secret US spy photos of Soviet missiles in Cuba.

Show us the evidence or shut up.

As if this “Russia hacked the election” episode wasn’t enough to showcase the intellectual bankruptcy of America’s state-controlled news media, the stenographers are ignoring a far more credible explanation for how WikiLeaks got the Podesta/DNC emails: they were leaked, not hacked.

Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and WikiLeaks associate, told The Daily Mail that a DNC insider motivated by “disgust at the corruption of the Clinton Foundation and the tilting of the primary election playing field against Bernie Sanders” personally gave it to him in Washington. “Neither of [the leaks] came from the Russians,” Murray says. “The source had legal access to the information. The documents came from inside leaks, not hacks.”

Murray is a paragon of integrity, having sacrificed his diplomatic career in order to call out Islam Karimov, the sadistic tyrant of Uzbekistan known for boiling political dissidents to death and his cozy ties to the U.S. (His account “Murder in Samarkand” is highly recommended for its brutal honesty.)

Regardless of your politics, Murray is infinitely more believable than the CIA.

WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange confirms that “the Russian government is not the source.” Assange too has an impeccable reputation.

As far as I can tell, only one U.S. outlet, the right-wing Washington Times, has covered the Murray angle.

Everyone “knows” that Russia hacked the election. But it may or may not be true. To the contrary! The facts point to a leak.

There is “overwhelming circumstantial evidence” that the moral midgets of American corporate media don’t have the slightest interest in uncovering the truth. How perfect as we enter the Age of Trump.

(Ted Rall is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. Please consider supporting Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Bernie Sanders Could Win. America Could Become Socialist. Are We Witnessing the Failure of Propaganda?

The independent senator from Vermont says the economic system is rigged against working-class Americans. He’s right.

The electoral political system is a subsidiary of those who rule the economy. Which is why Bernie Sanders never stood a chance. The political system was rigged against him.

And yet, despite the formidable institutional obstacles stacked against him, Sanders is doing great: largely considered a shoo-in to win New Hampshire, leading in Iowa, closing the gap nationally. Surprised pundits are marveling at his popular momentum, ground organization and fundraising prowess. There is now a credible path to the Democratic nomination and, if he runs against GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, to the White House.

Center-right Hillaryworld wants to know: how did this happen?

Leftists wonder: is this cause for hope?

It is an amazing story. Everyone in a position to block Sanders’ campaign did everything they could to sabotage him.

Knowing that coverage is the essential oxygen of politics, the media mostly ignored him. By one measure, corporate media gave Trump 23 times more coverage than Sanders! On the few occasions when they spilled a little ink on Bernie, it was to insult him and his socialist politics. (My personal Exhibit A was a New York Times piece that carried a photo that emphasized his bald spot.)

Marginalization always used to work. Remember John Edwards? His 2008 primary campaign was doomed because TV networks refused to cover him. But the media’s cold shoulder isn’t hurting Bernie.

In the bag for Hillary Clinton and remembering the lesson of 2008 — the more voters hear from her the less they like her — the Democratic National Committee fed her aura of inevitability by refusing to give Bernie the exposure and legitimacy offered by a robust round of debates. Debates, the few of them the manipulative DNC chair and Hillary toady Debbie Wasserman Schultz allowed to take place, were scheduled for the nights known for low television viewership.

That tactic backfired. Hillary did better than Bernie in the first three debates. But no one saw her flex her foreign-affairs muscles.

Bernie got nothing but chicanery from the DNC, to the point that the Sanders camp had to sue to access its own voter data. Which only reinforced his image as a rebel — not easy for a U.S. senator — and further endeared him to his supporters.

Despite everything, Sanders could win.

Moreover, it’s not just Sanders the candidate who is doing well. His “unusual” politics are becoming usual.

Sanders’ self-labeling as a democratic socialist — universally considered political suicide in the United States — is catching on. In one of the most surprising poll results of the 2016 race, a recent survey of likely Iowa caucus-goers finds that more of them call themselves socialist (43%) than capitalist (38%).

Where did Iowa’s socialists come from? They certainly weren’t indoctrinated by the mainstream system. No ideology, not even radical Islam, has come under heavier systemic assault than socialism. From the Palmer Raids of a century ago to McCarthyism to the Tea Party’s (sadly mistaken) insinuations that President Obama is a secret red, socialism has been the bête rouge of mainstream American politics: reviled in ridiculous movies, misrepresented and excluded from acceptable public debate, even on the watered-down liberalism that passes for a “left.” Even in schools, socialism and communism are lied about — if they’re mentioned at all.

My friend the film critic Cole Smithey calls what we’re seeing “the failure of propaganda.”

It’s certainly a notable moment. The ruling elite’s old tricks are indeed failing them. But it’s too early to declare propaganda dead and gone. Propaganda works. That’s why those in power keep using it.

Here’s what I think is really going on: old institutions have been discredited. Sanders’ growing support and Iowa’s surprisingly socialist hordes reflect public contempt for everyone in charge.

Pundits have mostly focused on populist anger on the right, embodied by the wild neofascist-lite pronouncements of Donald Trump. But there is just as much rage on the left excluded from the Democratic Party since George McGovern’s 1972 defeat to Richard Nixon. Divided or not, one thing Americans can agree upon is that they don’t trust government — on the right to leave them alone, and on the left to help them out.

Propaganda is still effective. But when it’s broadcast by elites who are widely despised, its effect is opposite of what’s intended.

Hillary Clinton racks up endorsements from unions and left-leaning organizations like Planned Parenthood. In the past, these would have given her a boost. This year, it reinforces a negative framing of her as bought and paid for by special interests.

In days of yore the endorsement of a young actress starring in a hip TV show would have been a feather in Hillary’s cap. In 2016, it’s hard to imagine how poor Lena Dunham will wash away the stink of Hillary’s hard-edged corporatism.

Hillary has an incredible resume: first lady, senator, secretary of state. This year, she’d be better off as an outsider. Credentials subtract from her credibility. What’s wrong now, voters feel, is partly her fault.

Bernie Sanders’ campaign gets accused of improperly accessing Hillary’s data on DNC servers. In the old days, the smell of an ethical breach might have doomed his candidacy. Now, because Democratic voters are disgusted by the DNC’s brazen attempt to fix the primaries for Hillary, the controversy looks like another sleazy attack on Bernie the outsider.

Because the public distrusts journalists, the media blackout works in Bernie’s favor. Through the lens of this new politics of contempt, if the powers that be want to censor the “wild and crazy” socialist senator, he musn’t be that bad after all.

What Bernie really needs is for Hillary to receive Obama’s endorsement (which she obviously, foolishly, wants.) That would be the end of her.

The same reverse-propaganda paradigm holds true for socialism. As America’s continuously lauded state religion, capitalism takes the blame for all its associated evils: layoffs, stagnant wages, home foreclosures, health insurance companies that don’t pay claims. If socialism is anti-capitalism, an alienated populace has evidently concluded, it doesn’t matter that they don’t know very much about it. Socialism can’t be that bad.

If elected, President Sanders will be ineffective. Either that, or he’ll sell us out. Such is the nature of this system: it chews up and spits out those who don’t go along to get along.

A Sanders victory would nonetheless mark an important prerevolutionary moment. As Ché Guevara observed, people will not resort to armed struggle before they exhaust every last opportunity to nonviolently reform the existing system by casting their votes in elections.

A Sanders Administration would be our best, last, 100% doomed shot at fixing a rigged regime.

(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is being released today.)

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Look At Their Evil Propaganda, Not Our Identical Evil Propaganda

Originally published by ANewDomain.net:

America, they tell us, is exceptional.

Exceptionally wrong about how exceptional it is.

Here comes today’s New York Times to re-re-re-reconfirm that with an Opinion piece headlined “The New Dictators Rule by Velvet Fist.”

“In recent decades, a new brand of authoritarian government has evolved that is better adapted to an era of global media, economic interdependence and information technology. The ‘soft’ dictators concentrate power, stifling opposition and eliminating checks and balances, while using hardly any violence,” write Professors Sergei Guriev and Daniel Treismanmay. “These illiberal leaders — Alberto K. Fujimori of Peru, Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Viktor Orban of Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela — threaten to reshape the world order in their image, replacing principles of freedom and law — albeit imperfectly upheld by Western powers — with cynicism and corruption.”

“Imperfectly upheld,” indeed.

They Depose Democratically Elected Presidents, Don’t They?

Like, for example, how the democratically elected president of Venezuela – the above-mentioned Hugo Chávez was overthrown by a corporate junta backed by the CIA and the Bush administration, as well as the slobbering editorial page and front page of — ahem — the New York Times.

Or how the democratically elected president of Honduras was overthrown by military coup backed by the CIA and the Obama administration, and, oh yeah, the New York Times.

Or how Judith Miller used the Times to convince the American people who Saddam had WMDs, used to justify the disastrous Iraq War.

“The West needs to understand how these regimes work and how to confront them.”

We Do the Same Exact Stuff

Read on, and it doesn’t take long to see that the West, and in particular the United States, well understand how these regimes work – because the US deploys many of the same strategies and tactics to quash opposition.

“The new autocrats often get to power through reasonably fair elections. Mr. Chávez, for instance, won in 1998 in what international observers called one of the most transparent votes in Venezuela’s history,” Guriev and Treismanmay admit. This, I suppose I should concede, is different from the American model, which included two consecutive presidential elections widely viewed as having been stolen: the 2000 judicial coup d’état precipitated by the Florida recount, and the stealing of the pivotal state of Ohio in 2004 via poll manipulation, both to the benefit of George W. Bush.

“The new autocrats use propaganda, censorship and other information-based tricks to inflate their ratings and to convince citizens of their superiority over available alternatives,” say Guriev and Treismanmay.

Here, in the meat of the matter, it is difficult to see any difference between the United States and these so-called “soft dictatorships.” No American newspaper, for example, employs a socialist opinion columnist, much less a communist one – even though these leftist ideologies are very popular among American citizens. Instead, in the United States, the only acceptable “mainstream” ideological discourse takes place on what is, by global standards, the far right: militantly procapitalist, contemptuous of such liberal ideals as leniency in sentencing, opposition to the death penalty, anti-militarism, and basic social safety net policies, like paid parental leave.

“They dominate the Internet by blocking access to independent websites, hiring ‘trolls’ to flood comments pages with pro-regime spam, and paying hackers to vandalize opposition online media sites,” Guriev and Treismanmay point out. How awful! But the same thing happens here, as numerous reports of trolls hired by the Bush and now the Obama administrations attest.

A “Pocket of Democratic Opposition”…to Hillary

“The new dictatorships preserve a pocket of democratic opposition to simulate competition.”

Um…Bernie Sanders, anyone?

“The new autocrats are not squeamish — they can viciously repress separatists or club unarmed protesters. But violence reveals the regime’s true nature and turns supporters into opponent.”

See, for example, the Obama Administration-coordinated police crackdown on the nonviolent Occupy Wall Street movement.

“And violence is not just costly — it’s unnecessary. Instead, the new authoritarians immobilize political rivals with endless court proceedings, interrogations and other legal formalities.”

Yup. The US does that too. The IRS conducts audits of political rivals. They harass them at TSA checkpoints at the airport, and when they cross US borders. They even force them into exile.

My favorite part comes at the end: “Western democracies should provide objective native-language news broadcasts to counter the propaganda and censorship.”

Can we start with the US? That would be…exceptional.

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Right Attacks Hillary From Left

Right-wing groups are feeding material attacking Hillary Clinton from the left in the hope that it will weaken her support among progressives. What are liberals supposed to do, ignore her perfidy because they’re learning about it from conservatives?

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The Killing of Osama Bin Laden: Seven Questions Americans Should Ask Now

Originally published by ANewDomain.net:

Legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has unleashed a ferocious debunking of the official Obama Administration narrative, dramatized in the Oscar-winning movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” of the 2011 assassination by Navy SEALS of Osama bin Laden. Everything you think you know about the killing of the Al Qaeda leader accused of ordering the 9/11 attacks, Hersh asserts, is total bullshit.

For its part, the White House is kind of sort of denying Hersh’s alternative history.

“The White House’s story might have been written by Lewis Carroll,” Hersh writes in the London Review of Books.

Here are the seven things Hersh’s piece makes one wonder about:

Osama Bin Laden Seymour Hersh allegationsOne: According to Hersh, the Pakistani ISI intelligence agency kept bin Laden under house arrest in Abbottabad between 2006 and 2011, kind of the way the Burmese junta did to hot dissident lady Aung San Suu Kyi. So when the SEALs came to kill him, it was less like bad-ass, well, SEALs, than shooting fish in a barrel. Anyway, they hid America’s most wanted man ever from us. Why are we paying the Pakistanis $1.6 billion a year? If we paid them $2.6 billion, would they be nicer to us?

Two: According to Hersh, careful intelligence gathering, torture, tracking that courier guy, none of that stuff led to bin Laden.

It was greed: ISI agent Amir Aziz walked into the U.S. embassy in Islamabad with evidence bin Laden was in ISI custody. “Aziz had been rewarded with a share of the $25 million reward the US had put up,” Hersh says. He adds: “The informant and his family were smuggled out of Pakistan and relocated in the Washington area. He is now a consultant for the CIA.” If you came into what we must assume is a significant share of $25 million — even if it’s just $5 million — wouldn’t you retire? Are all Pakistanis workaholics?

the killing of osama bin ladenThree: Hersh says there was no firefight, that bin Laden never resisted, much less got off a shot. “The White House’s initial account claimed that bin Laden had been brandishing a weapon; the story was aimed at deflecting those who questioned the legality of the US administration’s targeted assassination programme,” he says.

What about when the assassinations are executed with drones? Does the Obama Administration pretend drone victims first have to point a gun at the drone before the Hellfire missiles are loosed?

Four: After the raid, the SEALs were ordered to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) so the public wouldn’t learn that the rubout was a cowardly act of, one might say terrorism. “On 5 May, every member of the Seal hit team – they had returned to their base in southern Virginia – and some members of the Joint Special Operations Command leadership were presented with a nondisclosure form drafted by the White House’s legal office; it promised civil penalties and a lawsuit for anyone who discussed the mission, in public or private,” Hersh wrote.

But two SEALs did talk, including Matt Bissonnette, who wrote the book “No Easy Day” (which was actually a walk in the park for all involved, excepting UBL and his family). Is it a violation of your NDA if you squawk, but it’s a lie, and it’s the same lie as the government’s?

Five: “Five days after the raid the Pentagon press corps was provided with a series of videotapes that were said by US officials to have been taken from a large collection the Seals had removed from the compound, along with as many as 15 computers.” Hersh says there was never a “trove of terrorist information” because bin Laden was a prisoner, no longer the tactical head of Al Qaeda.

If the tapes weren’t terror stuff, what were they? Where are the videos now? Note to Langley: if there’s a VHS version of the 1988 cult movie “Tapeheads” in the bin Laden trove, do get in touch — I’ve been looking for that one.

Six: Remember the Pakistani doctor, still in prison, accused of using his vaccination program as a ruse to collect UBL’s DNA? Hersh says he did nothing of the kind — that the CIA threw him under the bus to cover for Aziz. “A sacrificial lamb was needed, and the one chosen was Shakil Afridi, a 48-year-old Pakistani doctor and sometime CIA asset, who had been arrested by the Pakistanis in late May and accused of assisting the agency. ‘We went to the Pakistanis and said go after Afridi,’ the retired official said. ‘We had to cover the whole issue of how we got the DNA.’” What did Afridi do to get picked as a scapegoat? Is this what happens when you refuse to contribute to the Abbottabad Fraternal Order of Police fundraiser?

Seven: Hersh says “the funeral aboard the Carl Vinson didn’t take place… there had been ‘no burial at sea.’ added that ‘the killing of bin Laden was political theatre designed to burnish Obama’s military credentials.’” There was also what Hersh terms “a complication”: “some members of the Seal team had bragged to colleagues and others that they had torn bin Laden’s body to pieces with rifle fire. The remains, including his head, which had only a few bullet holes in it, were thrown into a body bag and, during the helicopter flight back to Jalalabad, some body parts were tossed out over the Hindu Kush mountains – or so the Seals claimed.”

Do terrorist body parts often rain from the sky in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Were any goatherds, or goats, bonked on the head by bin Laden bits?

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: “Our Hearts and Prayers Go Out…”

 

When Did Post-Disaster News Conferences Become Long-Winded Oscar Acceptance Speeches?

This is for you older readers: when did news conferences become long-winded acceptance speeches?

I’m too young to remember for sure, but There must have been a time when, after a train derailment or a tornado or a flood or a race riot or whatever, public officials stepped up to the microphones to deliver a status update (“as soon as we learn more, we’ll let you know”), and perhaps some advice to the public (“avoid downed live wires, especially the ones that are sparking, like in that movie The Ice Storm”), answered reporters’ questions and left the stage.

Today’s news conferences are a dreary, undignified mélange of pro forma acknowledgements and sentimental pabulum.

A news conference following this week’s fatal high-speed derailment of an Amtrak passenger train in Philadelphia was a typical example:

SENATOR PAT TOOMEY (R-PA): The scene is a horrific and heartbreaking scene. My prayers go out to the people who lost their lives in this terrible tragedy, to those who were injured, to all of their families. I also want to take a moment to express my appreciation to the first responders, the men and women of this city’s police and fire forces who have responded with such professionalism. Mayor Nutter deserves a great deal of credit. He and his team have pulled together a very, very effective and well-coordinated effort that’s included the federal as well as the city officials. So we appreciate what they’re doing. And we wanted to express both our condolences and our appreciation for that effort. As Senator Casey pointed out, a big part of my being here and his being here is to make sure that Mayor Nutter and city of Philadelphia knows if there’s anything the federal government can be doing to help, we want to make sure it does that.
MAYOR MICHAEL NUTTER (D-Phila.): Senators Casey and Senator Toomey, thank you both. The response at the federal level has been tremendous here. With that in mind, let me also report to you that shortly after the earlier press conference today, I had the honor and opportunity to speak directly with President Barack Obama, who called, wanting to get on-the-ground information and facts. The president is very concerned about what has happened here, expressed his condolences as well, but also pledged the full support of the federal government and all the agencies under the executive branch of the government. The president feels very saddened by what has happened, but he was tremendously supportive and encouraging of our efforts here on the ground. For that, I want to say thank you to President Barack Obama for all of his leadership and support in these difficult and tragic times. With that, let me open to some questions for anything that we can answer.

I’m only picking on Philly because it’s the most recent example. I could quote the same crap, virtually verbatim, from press briefings following 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Deepwater Horizon disaster, you name it. Our prayers always “go out to the victims and their families.” We always praise the sainted “first responders.” If you’re a federal politician, you thank the local hack; if you’re a local politician, you suck up to the leech who just parachuted in from the Beltway.

In pro forma post-bad-things-happening briefings, natural and manmade disasters are heartbreaking, devastating, tragic, incomprehensible, terrible and/or horrific. Crimes of mass violence, especially those committed by terrorists, are always brutal and vicious, cowardly acts. Killing children is always unthinkable.

Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, shortly after the Aurora shootings, after the 2012 Newtown elementary school shootings: “The heart of every person in Colorado goes out to every person in Connecticut.”

Secy. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2003, after a helicopter carrying U.S. soldiers crashed in U.S.-occupied Iraq: “My heart and prayers go out to the families and the loved ones of those people.”

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014, commenting on the first death from Ebola on U.S. soil: “Our hearts go out to all the families who have been affected and our prayers are with them.”

House Speaker John Boehner after tornadoes killed people in 2014: “Our hearts and our prayers go out to those in Oklahoma who have been victimized by this storm.”

I could fill a book.

It is possible that politicians like President Obama, seen biting his lip in apparent sadness while announcing that one of his drones accidentally killed an American hostage held by Al Qaeda in Pakistan earlier this year, really meant it when he offered his “grief and condolences” to the poor dead SOB’s family…even though he was yukking it up with the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots about “deflategate” a few hours later.

It is possible. But it isn’t likely.

Fair or not cut-and-paste expressions of grief (“our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and their families”) come off as ridiculously insincere — just as fake and phony as those Academy Award-style “I’d like to thank my agent, my children, and my dog” thank-yous while we’re waiting to find out if and when the trains will begin running again.

But you know what’s worse than listening to our lame political class pretend to care? Their low regard for our intelligence, as evidenced by their obvious assumptions that they don’t have to try harder, and that we believe them.

We may be dumb. But we ain’t stupid.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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The Traitors Within

Shockingly for patriotic Muslims, thousands of naive young Muslims are committing treason against their own people, rejecting their homeland to travel to the United States, where they join the terrorist military. Why would anyone join a group responsible for horrific atrocities, which have been documented on video?

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On Torture Photos: The US Thinks You Can’t Handle the Truth

Originally published by ANewDomain.net:

America: land of the free and brave. But that’s not how your federal government sees you. It thinks Americans are too prissy and delicate to “handle the truth,” as Jack Nicholson’s character famously calls it in “A Few Good Men,” an otherwise stupid film.

Officially, of course, US government lawyers are arguing that releasing hundreds of photos depicting abuse of kidnapped Muslim detainees at US torture facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan would inflame terrorists and hand radical insurgent groups propaganda that they would use in order to recruit new members.

But that’s a pretty thin argument, given the fact that anti-American organizations like ISIS and Al Qaeda are doing quite well as it is minus the photos.

What’s the real concern?

The real concern is pretty obvious: that if the American people were to see visual documentation of the horrific abuse inflicted by America’s armed forces and intelligence agents upon low-level insurgents, political dissidents and people who have absolutely nothing to do with politics, they might become so disgusted that they would demand substantial changes in American foreign policy – like accountability for torture, and turning off the flow of billions of dollars in our taxes to the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, and dozens of politically connected corporate contracting firms who own Congress and the White House.

The government has been sitting on thousands of photos that reportedly depict “sexual assault, soldiers posing with dead bodies, and other offenses” at US owned and run concentration camps in occupied Afghanistan and Iraq for over 10 years.

The Intercept reports:

Hellerstein first ordered the government to hand over a subset of the pictures in 2005 . President Obama decided to release them in 2009, but Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the top American general in Iraq implored him not to. Congress then passed a law amending the Freedom of Information Act to allow the Secretary of Defense to certify that publishing the pictures could put American lives at risk, which then-secretary Robert Gates did. The ACLU continued to fight the issue in court, and last August, Hellerstein ordered that the government needed to justify withholding each picture individually.”

The Pentagon claims that it took a look at all the pictures again, and decided – surprise surprise – that every single one of them should not be released.

In a hearing last week, Judge Hellerstein made clear that he was not satisfied by the government’s continued stonewalling. “It’s too easy and too meaningless,” he said about the government’s censor-it-all strategy.

torture-photos-abu-ghraibThe usual standard in such matters is public interest: is the material in question newsworthy? Clearly, in this case the answer is yes. National security is another consideration, but because the Obama administration has admitted that the United States is a torture nation, and the events in question have been widely reported in a number of news stories and books, it seems easily disposed of.

Even if and when the photos and videos of detainee abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq are released, one wonders whether media outlets will publish or broadcast them. Many of the worst photographs from Abu Ghraib never showed up in print. If anything, the media is engaging in even more self-censorship than during the Bush years. Case in point: the only major media outlet to post last week’s propaganda video by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria burning a captured Jordanian pilot to death was Fox News.

But instead of being praised for refusing to separate news consumers from the news, the network got slammed for aiding and abetting terrorism: ” are literally – literally – working for Al Qaeda and ISIS’ media arm,” Rick Nelson, a senior associate in homeland security and terrorism at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Guardian. “They might as well start sending them royalty checks.”

(One wonders if Nelson’s supervisors at CSIS are aware of their employee’s ignorance about radical Islamism; Al Qaeda and ISIS do not work together, but are bitter rivals.)

In a separate case late last year, a federal district court rejected the Obama administration’s refusal to release 28 videotapes showing the brutal force-feeding of a Guantánamo hunger striker. Again, the government had argued that the videos risked inflaming anti-Americanism.

I am not insensitive to the concern that the United States, its armed forces and its civilian citizens are at greater risk of attack as the result of its torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Seems to me, however, that continuing to stonewall and cover up photographic evidence of these heinous crimes — even though, as a cartoonist, I understand that a picture really can be worth 1000 words — isn’t the solution.

Besides, those photos belong to you and me. They were taken by US government employees, on the clock, carrying out duties that they were ordered to do, in many cases using government-owned equipment.

If torture of Muslims is the problem, the United States government should commit itself to no longer torturing Muslims. To be taken seriously, such a change of policy would necessitate closing the torture camps, releasing all the detainees, investigating allegations of torture and prosecuting those responsible from the low-level prison guards to the lawyers and top government officials who were aware of and authorized their actions – and those investigations require the complete airing of all evidence, including the photos in question here.

Torture photos are not the biggest threat to national security; Being a country that tortures is. Or, to put it the same way that government defenders of the NSA’s intrusive surveillance of the private lives of the American people do, you don’t have anything to worry about if you aren’t doing anything wrong.

 

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What Is ISIS Thinking? Deconstructing the Pilot Immolation Video

Originally published at ANewDomain.net:

What is ISIS thinking? Last week’s release of a video depicting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) execution by the burning alive of a captured Jordanian pilot has many in the West wondering if the self-proclaimed restoration of the Islamic caliphate has lost its collective mind.

Certainly there is something novel about this cruelly medieval killing being presented using the latest modern technology, filled with high-resolution cameras and disseminated via social media outlets backed by billion-dollar corporations.

Furthermore, the political implications have been explosive. In just one week of executions ISIS’ leadership has managed to rile up the populations of two countries: Jordan, whose “Arab Street” had previously been less than wildly enthusiastic about the Hashemite kingdom’s role in the US-led anti-ISIS air campaign and is now screaming for revenge; and Japan, whose citizens were so shocked and angered by the beheading of two journalists that popular opinion is calling for re-militarization for the first time since the Second World War.

But it’s safe to say that ISIS’ leadership, though more than willing to embrace small-scale murder as well as ethnic cleansing, has made a calculated decision in which Jordan, Japan and indeed the Western world are relatively minor considerations compared to their main objective: defining themselves as the world’s leading, and strongest, opposing force to the United States and its allies in what since 9/11 has been dubbed the Global War on Terror.

Western media outlets have limited their coverage of the execution of Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh to the way he was killed: placed inside what looks like a bear cage, soaked in kerosene, a line of kerosene leading out to a spot where, like a villain in an old movie, a masked executioner lights it with a torch.

The camera follows the flame to the doomed pilot, who screams and flails before succumbing to his horrific death.

What these reports leave out is the way that the video frames this dénouement: as righteous, just retribution against a man they describe as a traitor against Islam, a volunteer lackey of the United States and the West, who had rained death and destruction upon innocent men, women and children via bombs dropped from his fighter jet safely soaring thousands of feet overhead.

The video is not a depiction of wanton violence meant simply to terrorize, but rather an indictment, an attempt to lay out the case to justify the execution.

“The fiery death of pilot Muadh al-Kasasbeh is the relatively brief climax in a 22-minute film narrative that imitates the production values of documentaries aired on outlets like the History Channel,” Loren Thompson writes in Forbes. “It is crafted as a morality play featuring an extended monologue by the captured pilot in which he details how the coalition of Western countries and local Arab states wages its air war against ISIS.  After describing the military systems being used and the bases from which they originate, the video shows searing images of civilians who allegedly have been killed or injured by coalition bombs — many of them children.”

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The 22 1/2 minute video opens with the King of Jordan, Abdullah II, being interviewed by Charlie Rose about the anti-ISIS air campaign. (He is described as a “taghut,” an Arabic word that roughly translates to “apostate.”)

“We said to all the pilots, for the airstrikes against ISIS, we are only looking for volunteers,” Abdullah says. “So anybody who wants to volunteer, please step forward. Every single pilot raised his hand and stepped forward.”

The implication is obvious: the lieutenant we are about to watch being immolated wasn’t drafted. He wasn’t just following orders. He voluntarily agreed to be part of an air campaign that, to date, has included at least 16,000 airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, which have killed and wounded an unknown number of fighters as well as civilians. He is thus responsible for his actions.

This is justice, they imply.

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Next we see a series of quick cuts of war, some apparently from Hollywood film productions. Then we move to an image of King Abdullah next to President Barack Obama.

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This is part two of ISIS’ indictment: against Jordan as a nation, for aligning itself with not a non-Muslim country, but one that has invaded Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and waged bombing campaigns against Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Syria, not to mention kidnapping and torturing Muslims at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and elsewhere. This reminder, it is safe to assume, plays well among many Muslims.

We see images of Jordanian generals and other members of the armed forces palling around with their American counterparts, firing missiles and dropping bombs and shooting at Muslim civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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As a narrator continues to read calmly, the pilot makes his first appearance in a series of newscasts pulled from throughout the region, subtly noting the panic in those descriptions of his crashed plane, lost in ISIS-controlled territory.

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As usual, the ISIS captive is forced to wear an orange jumpsuit reminiscent of those that became famous because detainees captured by the Bush administration were forced to wear them at Guantánamo Bay and other extrajudicial detention facilities. Make no mistake: this is a direct attempt at equivalence. More to the point, for the Muslims they are hoping to recruit using these videos, they are extolling the virtues of revenge: After 14 years of repeated humiliations by the US against Muslims, they are finally striking back, an eye for an eye, a jumpsuit for a jumpsuit.

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At length and in great detail, Lt. al-Kaseasbeh describes his target, the mission, the specific laser guided bombs he was charged with dropping, and the other countries – the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia – that participated in that sortie.

His “testimony” accounts for almost half of the video. What follows is a series of images interspersed images: videotapes of bombs being dropped as seen from in-flight computers, a severely wounded Arab child, more bombings as seen from above, another wounded child, over and over again. The message is clear: this Jordanian pilot is guilty of wounding and killing innocent children.

Finally, seven minutes before the end of the video, we see the lieutenant walking by himself past a line of masked ISIS fighters. Lest you miss the point, this last walk is interspersed with images of bombs falling on civilian targets, pilots climbing into their jets, rubble, civilians being pulled out from shattered buildings. The impression is of the condemned man experiencing his sins through flashback as he prepares to meet judgment.

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Things get quiet. Aside from random background noise, wind, there’s no talking. Cinematically, the video’s producers slowly bring up the sound of a beating heart, faster and faster. He’s already covered with kerosene. The executioner lights his torch.

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The death is, as reported elsewhere previously, gruesome and horrible.

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Afterwards, an earthmover dumps soil and debris on top of the cage and the charred corpse, and pushes them into the ground and covers them up. The video’s producers are crystal clear in their message: Just as the anti-ISIS bombing campaign is reducing buildings in their territory to rubble, and killing people, they’re doing the same thing to the pilot that they captured.

Finally, the narrator notes that ISIS has the names and photographs of pilots and declares them wanted men, going so far as to offer an award of “100 gold dinars to whoever kills a Crusader pilot.”

Abu Ibrahim al-Raqqawi, a member of an anti-Assad militant group inside Syria told the International Business Times: “Today when I saw the video I was really, really shocked. I didn’t imagine ISIS would do that. There is nothing like this in Islam and the ISIS say they are just living under the rule of Islam. But they judge you like this: ‘If someone bombs your families and women and children and burns them with these bombs, you must burn him.’”

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No matter where they stand on this issue, Americans should understand that ISIS sees itself not as aggressors but as victims. In the territory that it controls, yes, they have carried out numerous atrocities. But they have never attacked the West. There has never been an ISIS-backed terrorist act anywhere in the world.

As they see it, the West is attacking them for challenging corrupt secular regimes in Syria and Iraq, and for trying to restore a fundamentalist caliphate that returns Islam to its pure original form.

While it is easy to dismiss ISIS as wild-eyed extremists for whom violence is its own reward, as many Western commentators do, that’s neither the way that they see themselves or – more importantly – the way that they seek to be portrayed to their target audience, Muslims are angry at the West but have not yet undertaken the path of radical jihad against it. This execution video is merely the latest entry in a propaganda war that, like it or not, ISIS appears to be winning.

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