Whataboutism is a Nonsensical Propaganda Term Used to Defend the Failed Status Quo

Authored by Mike Krieger via Liberty Blitzkrieg,

If you spend any time on Twitter, you’ll probably be familiar with the latest pathetic attempt to defend and insulate the U.S. status quo from criticism. It centers around the usage of an infantile and meaningless term, “whataboutism.”

Let’s begin with one particularly absurd accusation of “whataboutism” promoted by NPR last year:

When O’Reilly countered that “Putin is a killer,” Trump responded, “There are a lot of killers. You got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?”

This particular brand of changing the subject is called “whataboutism” — a simple rhetorical tactic heavily used by the Soviet Union and, later, Russia. And its use in Russia helps illustrate how it could be such a useful tool now, in America. As Russian political experts told NPR, it’s an attractive tactic for populists in particular, allowing them to be vague but appear straight-talking at the same time.

The idea behind whataboutism is simple: Party A accuses Party B of doing something bad. Party B responds by changing the subject and pointing out one of Party A’s faults — “Yeah? Well what about that bad thing you did?” (Hence the name.)

It’s not exactly a complicated tactic — any grade-schooler can master the “yeah-well-you-suck-too-so-there” defense. But it came to be associated with the USSR because of the Soviet Union’s heavy reliance upon whataboutism throughout the Cold War and afterward, as Russia.

This is a really embarrassing take by NPR. First, the author tries to associate a tactic that’s been around since humans first wandered into caves — deflecting attention away from yourself by pointing out the flaws in others — into some uniquely nefarious Russian propaganda tool. Second, that’s not even what Trump did in this example.

In his response to O’Reilly, Trump wasn’t using “whataboutism” to deflect away from his own sins. Rather, he offered a rare moment of self-reflection about the true role played by the U.S. government around the world. This isn’t “whataboutism,” it’s questioning the hypocrisy and abuse of power of one’s own government. It’s an attempt to take responsibility for stuff he might actually be able to change as President. It’s the most ethical and honest response to that question in light of the amount of violence the U.S. government engages in abroad. If our leaders did this more often, we might stop repeatedly jumping from one insane and destructive war to the next.

Had O’Reilly’s question been about the U.S. government’s ongoing support of Saudi Arabia’s war crimes in Yemen and Trump shifted the conversation to Russian atrocities, he could then be fairly accused of changing the subject to avoid accountability. In that case, you could condemn Trump for “whataboutism” because he intentionally deflected attention away from his own government’s sins to the sins of another. This sort of thing is indeed very dangerous, especially when done by someone in a position of power.

But here’s the thing. You don’t need some catchy, infantile term like “whataboutism” to point out that someone in power’s deflecting attention from their own transgressions. I agree wholeheartedly with Adam Johnson when he states:

He’s absolutely right. One should never rely on the lazy use of a cutesy, catchy term like “whataboutism” as a retort to someone who points out a glaring contradiction. If you do, you’re either a propagandist with no counterargument or a fool who mindlessly adopts the jingoistic cues of others. Responding to someone by saying “that’s just whataboutism” isn’t an argument, it’s an assault on one’s logical faculties. It’s attempt to provide people with a way to shut down debate and conversation by simply blurting out a clever sounding fake-word. Here’s an example of how I’ve seen it used on Twitter.

One U.S. citizen (likely a card carrying member of “the resistance”) will regurgitate some standard intel agency line on Syria or Russia. Another U.S. citizen will then draw attention to the fact that their own government plays an active role in egregious war crimes in Yemen on behalf of the Saudis. This person will proceed to advocate for skepticism with regard to U.S. government and intelligence agency war promotion considering how badly the public was deceived in the run up to the Iraq war. For this offense, they’ll be accused of “whataboutism.”

The problem with this accusation is that this person isn’t switching the subject to bring up another’s transgression to deflect from scrutiny of his or her behavior. In contrast, the person is putting the conversation in its rightful place, which is to question the behavior of one’s own country. When it comes to issues such as nation-state violence, the primary duty of a citizen is not to obsess all day about the violence perpetrated by foreign governments, but to hold one’s own government accountable. This is as true for an American citizen in American as it is for a Russian citizen in Russia.

NPR explained how the Russian government used “whataboutism” to deflect away from it’s own crimes, but Trump actually did the opposite in his interview with O’Reilly. He wasn’t deflecting away from his own country’s crimes, he was pointing out that they exist. That’s precisely what you’re supposed to do as a citizen.

The problem arises when governments deflect attention away from their own crimes for which they are actually responsible, by pointing out the crimes of a foreign government. This is indeed propaganda and an evasion of responsibility. Calling out your own government’s hypocrisy in matters of state sanctioned murder abroad is the exact opposite sort of thing.

Noam Chomsky put it better than I ever could. Here’s what he said in a 2003 interview:

QUESTION: When you talk about the role of intellectuals, you say that the first duty is to concentrate on your own country. Could you explain this assertion?

CHOMSKY: One of the most elementary moral truisms is that you are responsible for the anticipated consequences of your own actions. It is fine to talk about the crimes of Genghis Khan, but there isn’t much that you can do about them. If Soviet intellectuals chose to devote their energies to crimes of the U.S., which they could do nothing about, that is their business. We honor those who recognized that the first duty is to concentrate on your own country. And it is interesting that no one ever asks for an explanation, because in the case of official enemies, truisms are indeed truisms. It is when truisms are applied to ourselves that they become contentious, or even outrageous. But they remain truisms. In fact, the truisms hold far more for us than they did for Soviet dissidents, for the simple reason that we are in free societies, do not face repression, and can have a substantial influence on government policy. So if we adopt truisms, that is where we will focus most of our energy and commitment. The explanation is even more obvious than in the case of official enemies.

Naturally, truisms are hated when applied to oneself. You can see it dramatically in the case of terrorism. In fact one of the reasons why I am considered “public enemy number one” among a large sector of intellectuals in the U.S. is that I mention that the U.S. is one of the major terrorist states in the world and this assertion, though plainly true, is unacceptable for many intellectuals, including left-liberal intellectuals, because if we faced such truths we could do something about the terrorist acts for which we are responsible, accepting elementary moral responsibilities instead of lauding ourselves for denouncing the crimes official enemies, about which we can often do very little.

Elementary honesty is often uncomfortable, in personal life as well, and there are people who make great efforts to evade it. For intellectuals, throughout history, it has often come close to being their vocation. Intellectuals are commonly integrated into dominant institutions. Their privilege and prestige derives from adapting to the interests of power concentrations, often taking a critical look but in very limited ways. For example, one may criticize the war in Vietnam as a “mistake” that began with “benign intentions”. But it goes too far to say that the war is not “a mistake” but was “fundamentally wrong and immoral”. the position of about 70 percent of the public by the late 1960s, persisting until today, but of only a margin of intellectuals. The same is true of terrorism. In acceptable discourse, as can easily be demonstrated, the term is used to refer to terrorist acts that THEY carry out against US, not those that WE carry out against THEM. That is probably close to a historical universal. And there are innumerable other examples.

For saying the above, Noam Chomsky would surely be labeled the godfather of “whataboutism” by Twitter’s resistance army, but he’s actually advocating the most ethical, logical and courageous path of citizenship. U.S. taxpayers aren’t paying for Russia’s military operations, but they are paying for the U.S. government’s. The idea that U.S. citizens emphasizing U.S. violence are committing the thought-crime of “whataboutism” when it comes to foreign policy is absurd. Our primary responsibility as citizens is our own aggressive and violent foreign policy, not that of other countries.

Naturally, this isn’t how neocon/neoliberal and intelligence agency imperialists want you to think. Proponents of the American empire need the public to ignore the atrocities of the U.S. government and its allies for obvious reasons, while constantly obsessing over the atrocities of the empire’s official enemies. This is the only way to continue to exert force abroad without domestic pushback, and it’s critical in order to keep the imperial gravy train going for those it benefits so significantly. How do you shut down vibrant foreign policy debate on social media that exposes imperial hypocrisy? Accuse people of “whataboutism.”

That’s what I see going on. I see the weaponization of a cutesy, catchy term on social media in order to prevent people from questioning their own government. It’s completely logical and ethical for U.S. citizens to push back against those arguing for more regime change wars by pointing out the evils of our own foreign policy.

In fact, the unethical position is the one espoused by those who claim the U.S. can do no wrong, but when an adversary country does what we permit ourselves to do, they must be bombed into oblivion. These people know they have no argument, so they run around condemning those trying to hold their own government accountable of “whataboutism.” It’s a nonsensical term with no real meaning or purpose other than to defend imperial talking points.

Accusations of “whataboutism” amount to a cynical, sleazy attempt to stifle debate without actually engaging in argument. It’s also the sort of desperate and childish propaganda tactic you’d expect during late-stage imperial decline.

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Tolerance Cuts Both Ways: Freedom for the Speech We Hate

By constitutional and civil rights attorney John Whitehead, the Rutherford Institute.

“Those who created this country chose freedom. With all of its dangers. And do you know the riskiest part of that choice they made? They actually believed that we could be trusted to make up our own minds in the whirl of differing ideas. That we could be trusted to remain free, even when there were very, very seductive voices – taking advantage of our freedom of speech – who were trying to turn this country into the kind of place where the government could tell you what you can and cannot do.”—Nat Hentoff

Tolerance cuts both ways.

This isn’t an easy pill to swallow, I know, but that’s the way free speech works, especially when it comes to tolerating speech that we hate.

The most controversial issues of our day—gay rights, abortion, race, religion, sexuality, political correctness, police brutality, et al.—have become battlegrounds for those who claim to believe in freedom of speech but only when it favors the views and positions they support.

Free speech for me but not for thee” is how my good friend and free speech purist Nat Hentoff used to sum up this double standard.

This haphazard approach to the First Amendment has so muddied the waters that even First Amendment scholars are finding it hard to navigate at times.

It’s really not that hard.

The First Amendment affirms the right of the people to speak freely, worship freely, peaceably assemble, petition the government for a redress of grievances, and have a free press.

Nowhere in the First Amendment does it permit the government to limit speech in order to avoid causing offense, hurting someone’s feelings, safeguarding government secrets, protecting government officials, insulating judges from undue influence, discouraging bullying, penalizing hateful ideas and actions, eliminating terrorism, combatting prejudice and intolerance, and the like.

Unfortunately, in the war being waged between free speech purists who believe that free speech is an inalienable right and those who believe that free speech is a mere privilege to be granted only under certain conditions, the censors are winning.

We have entered into an egotistical, insulated, narcissistic era in which free speech has become regulated speech: to be celebrated when it reflects the values of the majority and tolerated otherwise, unless it moves so far beyond our political, religious and socio-economic comfort zones as to be rendered dangerous and unacceptable.

Indeed, President Trump—who has been accused of using his very public platform to belittle and mock his critics and enemies while attempting to muzzle those who might speak out against him—may be the perfect poster child for this age of intolerance.

Even so, Trump is not to blame for America’s growing intolerance for free speech.

The country started down that sorry road long ago.

Protest laws, free speech zones, bubble zones, trespass zones, anti-bullying legislation, zero tolerance policies, hate crime laws and a host of other legalistic maladies dreamed up by politicians and prosecutors (and championed by those who want to suppress speech with which they might disagree) have conspired to corrode our core freedoms, purportedly for our own good.

On paper—at least according to the U.S. Constitution—we are technically free to speak.

In reality, however, we are only as free to speak as a government official—or corporate entities such as Facebook, Google or YouTube—may allow.

Emboldened by phrases such as “hate crimes,” “bullying,” “extremism” and “microaggressions,” the nation has been whittling away at free speech, confining it to carefully constructed “free speech zones,” criminalizing it when it skates too close to challenging the status quo, shaming it when it butts up against politically correct ideals, and muzzling it when it appears dangerous.

Free speech is no longer free.

The U.S. Supreme Court has long been the referee in the tug-of-war over the nation’s tolerance for free speech and other expressive activities protected by the First Amendment. Yet the Supreme Court’s role as arbiter of justice in these disputes is undergoing a sea change. Except in cases where it has no vested interest, the Court has begun to advocate for the government’s outsized interests, ruling in favor of the government in matters of war, national security, commerce and speech.

When asked to choose between the rule of law and government supremacy, the Supreme Court tends to side with the government.

If we no longer have the right to tell a Census Worker to get off our property, if we no longer have the right to tell a police officer to get a search warrant before they dare to walk through our door, if we no longer have the right to stand in front of the Supreme Court wearing a protest sign or approach an elected representative to share our views, if we no longer have the right to voice our opinions in public—no matter how misogynistic, hateful, prejudiced, intolerant, misguided or politically incorrect they might be—then we do not have free speech.

What we have instead is regulated, controlled speech, and that’s a whole other ballgame.

Just as surveillance has been shown to “stifle and smother dissent, keeping a populace cowed by fear,” government censorship gives rise to self-censorship, breeds compliance, makes independent thought all but impossible, and ultimately foments a seething discontent that has no outlet but violence.

The First Amendment is a steam valve. It allows people to speak their minds, air their grievances and contribute to a larger dialogue that hopefully results in a more just world.

When there is no steam valve—when there is no one to hear what the people have to say—frustration builds, anger grows and people become more volatile and desperate to force a conversation. By bottling up dissent, we have created a pressure cooker of stifled misery and discontent that is now bubbling over and fomenting even more hate, distrust and paranoia among portions of the populace.

Silencing unpopular viewpoints with which the majority might disagree—whether it’s by shouting them down, censoring them, muzzling them, or criminalizing them—only empowers the controllers of the Deep State.

Consider some of the kinds of speech being targeted for censorship or outright elimination.

Offensive, politically incorrect and “unsafe” speech: Disguised as tolerance, civility and love, political correctness has resulted in the chilling of free speech and the demonizing of viewpoints that run counter to the cultural elite. Consequently, college campuses have become hotbeds of student-led censorship, trigger warnings, microaggressions, and “red light” speech policies targeting anything that might cause someone to feel uncomfortable, unsafe or offended.

Bullying, intimidating speech: Warning that “school bullies become tomorrow’s hate crimes defendants,” the Justice Department has led the way in urging schools to curtail bullying, going so far as to classify “teasing” as a form of “bullying,” and “rude” or “hurtful” “text messages” as “cyberbullying.”

Hateful speech: Hate speech—speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as gender, ethnic origin, religion, race, disability, or sexual orientation—is the primary candidate for online censorship. Corporate internet giants Google, Twitter and Facebook are in the process of determining what kinds of speech will be permitted online and what will be deleted.

Dangerous, anti-government speech: As part of its ongoing war on “extremism,” the government partnered with the tech industry to establish a task force to counter online “propaganda” by terrorists hoping to recruit support or plan attacks (the program started under President Obama). In this way, anyone who criticizes the government online can be considered an extremist and will have their content reported to government agencies for further investigation or deleted.

The upshot of all of this editing, parsing, banning and silencing is the emergence of a new language, what George Orwell referred to as Newspeak, which places the power to control language in the hands of the totalitarian state.

Under such a system, language becomes a weapon to change the way people think by changing the words they use.

The end result is control.

In totalitarian regimes—a.k.a. police states—where conformity and compliance are enforced at the end of a loaded gun, the government dictates what words can and cannot be used.

In countries where the police state hides behind a benevolent mask and disguises itself as tolerance, the citizens censor themselves, policing their words and thoughts to conform to the dictates of the mass mind lest they find themselves ostracized or placed under surveillance.

Even when the motives behind this rigidly calibrated reorientation of societal language appear well-intentioned—discouraging racism, condemning violence, denouncing discrimination and hatred—inevitably, the end result is the same: intolerance, indoctrination and infantilism.

It’s political correctness disguised as tolerance, civility and love, but what it really amounts to is the chilling of free speech and the demonizing of viewpoints that run counter to the cultural elite.

The police state could not ask for a better citizenry than one that carries out its own censorship, spying and policing.

This is how you turn a nation of free people into extensions of the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent police state, and in the process turn a citizenry against each other.

Indeed, the U.S. government has become particularly intolerant of speech that challenges the government’s power, reveals the government’s corruption, exposes the government’s lies, and encourages the citizenry to push back against the government’s many injustices. Indeed, there is a long and growing list of the kinds of speech that the government considers dangerous enough to red flag and subject to censorship, surveillance, investigation and prosecution: hate speech, bullying speech, intolerant speech, conspiratorial speech, treasonous speech, threatening speech, incendiary speech, inflammatory speech, radical speech, anti-government speech, right-wing speech, extremist speech, etc.

To emphasize: the powers-that-be understand that if the government can control speech, it controls thought and, in turn, it can control the minds of the citizenry.

In fact, some of this past century’s greatest dystopian authors warned of this very danger.

In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, reading is banned and books are burned in order to suppress dissenting ideas, while televised entertainment is used to anesthetize the populace and render them easily pacified, distracted and controlled.

In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, serious literature, scientific thinking and experimentation are banned as subversive, while critical thinking is discouraged through the use of conditioning, social taboos and inferior education. Likewise, expressions of individuality, independence and morality are viewed as vulgar and abnormal.

In George Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother does away with all undesirable and unnecessary words and meanings, even going so far as to routinely rewrite history and punish “thoughtcrimes.”

And in almost every episode of Twilight Zone, Rod Serling urged viewers to unlock their minds and free themselves of prejudice, hate, violence and fear. “We’re developing a new citizenry,” Serling declared. “One that will be very selective about cereals and automobiles, but won’t be able to think.”

The problem as I see it is that we’ve lost faith in the average citizen to do the right thing. We’ve allowed ourselves to be persuaded that we need someone else to think and speak for us. And we’ve allowed ourselves to become so timid in the face of offensive words and ideas that we’ve bought into the idea that we need the government to shield us from that which is ugly or upsetting or mean.

The result is a society in which we’ve stopped debating among ourselves, stopped thinking for ourselves, and stopped believing that we can fix our own problems and resolve our own differences.

In short, we have reduced ourselves to a largely silent, passive, polarized populace incapable of working through our own problems and reliant on the government to protect us from our fears.

In this way, we have become our worst enemy.

As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once warned, a silent, inert citizenry is the greatest menace to freedom.

Brandeis provided a well-reasoned argument against government censorship in his concurring opinion in Whitney v. California (1927). It’s not a lengthy read, but here it is boiled down to ten basic truths:

1. The purpose of government is to make men free to develop their faculties, i.e., THINK. 2. The freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are essential to the discovery and spread of political truth. 3. Without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile. 4. The greatest menace to freedom is a silent people. 5. Public discussion is a political duty, and should be a fundamental principle of the American government. 6. Order cannot be secured through censorship. 7. Fear breeds repression; repression breeds hate; and hate menaces stable government. 8. The power of reason as applied through public discussion is always superior to silence coerced by law. 9. Free speech and assembly were guaranteed in order to guard against the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities. 10. To justify suppression of free speech, there must be reasonable ground (a clear and present danger) to believe that the danger apprehended is imminent, and that the evil to be prevented is a serious one.

Perhaps the most important point that Brandeis made is that freedom requires courage.

“Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards,” Brandeis wrote. “They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty.” Rather, they were “courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government.”

In other words, the founders did not fear the power of speech.

Rather, they embraced it, knowing all too well that a nation without a hearty tolerance for free speech, no matter how provocative, insensitive or dangerous, will be easy prey for a police state where only government speech is allowed.

What the police state wants is a nation of sheep that will docilely march in lockstep with its dictates. What early Americans envisioned was a nation of individualists who knew exactly when to tell the government to take a hike.

“If the freedom of speech be taken away,” warned George Washington, “then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

Either “we the people” believe in free speech or we don’t.

Either we live in a constitutional republic or a police state.

Never forget that we have rights.

As Justice William O. Douglas advised in his dissent in Colten v. Kentucky, “we need not stay docile and quiet” in the face of authority.

The Constitution does not require Americans to be servile or even civil to government officials. Neither does the Constitution require obedience (although it does insist on nonviolence).

Then again, if we just cower before government agents and meekly obey, we may find ourselves following in the footsteps of those nations that eventually fell to tyranny.

The alternative involves standing up and speaking truth to power.

Jesus Christ walked that road. So did Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and countless other freedom fighters whose actions changed the course of history.

Indeed, had Christ merely complied with the Roman police state, there would have been no crucifixion and no Christian religion.

Had Gandhi meekly fallen in line with the British Empire’s dictates, the Indian people would never have won their independence.

Had Martin Luther King Jr. obeyed the laws of his day, there would have been no civil rights movement.

And if the founding fathers had marched in lockstep with royal decrees, there would have been no American Revolution.

So where do we go from here?

If Americans don’t learn how to get along—at the very least, agreeing to disagree and respecting each other’s right to subscribe to beliefs and opinions that may be offensive, hateful, intolerant or merely different—then we’re going to soon find that we have no rights whatsoever (to speak, assemble, agree, disagree, protest, opt in, opt out, or forge our own paths as individuals).

The government will lock down the nation at the slightest provocation.

It is ready, willing and able to impose martial law within 24 hours.

Indeed, the government has been anticipating and preparing for civil unrest for years now, as evidenced by the build-up of guns and tanks and militarized police and military training drills and threat assessments and extremism reports and surveillance systems and private prisons and Pentagon training videos predicting the need to impose martial law by 2030.

Trust me: when the police state cracks down, it will not discriminate.

We’ll all be muzzled together.

We’ll all be jailed together.

We’ll all be viewed as a collective enemy to be catalogued, conquered and caged.

Indeed, a recent survey concluded that a large bipartisan majority of the American public already recognizes the dangers posed by a government that is not only tracking its citizens but is also being controlled by a “Deep State” of unelected government officials.

Thus, the last thing we need to do is play into the government’s hands by turning on one another, turning in one another, and giving the government’s standing army an excuse to take over.

So let’s start with a little more patience, a lot more tolerance and a civics lesson on the First Amendment.

What this means is opening the door to more speech not less, even if that speech is offensive to some.

It’s time to start thinking for ourselves again.

It’s time to start talking to each other, listening more and shouting less.

Most of all, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, it’s time to make the government hear us—see us—and heed us.

This is the ultimate power of free speech.

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Former CIA Chief Brennan Running Scared

By Ray McGovern, a 27-year CIA veteran, who chaired National Intelligence Estimates and personally delivered intelligence briefings to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, their Vice Presidents, Secretaries of State, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many other senior government officials. McGovern is co-founder of  Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence and Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. Originally published at Consortium News. Republished with permission.

What prompted former CIA Director John Brennan on Saturday to accuse President Donald Trump of “moral turpitude” and to predict, with an alliterative flourish, that Trump will end up “as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history”? The answer shines through the next sentence in Brennan’s threatening tweet: “You may scapegoat Andy McCabe [former FBI Deputy Director fired Friday night] but you will not destroy America…America will triumph over you.”

It is easy to see why Brennan lost it. The Attorney General fired McCabe, denying him full retirement benefits, because McCabe “had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor — including under oath — on multiple occasions.” There but for the grace of God go I, Brennan must have thought, whose stock in trade has been unauthorized disclosures.

In fact, Brennan can take but small, short-lived consolation in the fact that he succeeded in leaving with a full government pension. His own unauthorized disclosures and leaks probably dwarf in number, importance, and sensitivity those of McCabe.  And many of those leaks appear to have been based on sensitive intercepted conversations from which the names of American citizens were unmasked for political purposes. Not to mention the leaks of faux intelligence like that contained in the dubious “dossier” cobbled together for the Democrats by British ex-spy Christopher Steele.

It is an open secret that the CIA has been leaking like the proverbial sieve over the last two years or so to its favorite stenographers at the New York Times and Washington Post. (At one point, the obvious whispering reached the point that the Wall Street Journal saw fit to complain that it was being neglected.) The leaking can be traced way back — at least as far as the Clinton campaign’s decision to blame the Russians for the publication of very damning DNC emails by WikiLeaks just three days before the Democratic National Convention.

This blame game turned out to be a hugely successful effort to divert attention from the content of the emails, which showed in bas relief the dirty tricks the DNC played on Bernie Sanders. The media readily fell in line, and all attention was deflected from the substance of the DNC emails to the question as to why the Russians supposedly “hacked into the DNC and gave the emails to WikiLeaks.”

This media operation worked like a charm, but even Secretary Clinton’s PR person, Jennifer Palmieri, conceded later that at first it strained credulity that the Russians would be doing what they were being accused of doing.

Magnificent Diversion

On April 6, 2017 I attended a panel discussion on “Russia’s interference in our democracy” at the Clinton/Podesta Center for American Progress Fund. In my subsequent write-up I noted that panelist Palmieri had inadvertently dropped tidbits of evidence that I suggested “could get some former officials in deep kimchi – if a serious investigation of leaking, for example, were to be conducted.” (That time seems to be coming soon.)

Palmieri was asked to comment on “what was actually going on in late summer/early fall [2016].” She answered:

“It was a surreal experience … so I did appreciate that for the press to absorb … the idea that behind the stage that the Trump campaign was coordinating with Russia to defeat Hillary Clinton was too fantastic for people to, um, for the press to process, to absorb….

“But then we go back to Brooklyn [Clinton headquarters] and heard from the — mostly our sources were other intelligence, with the press who work in the intelligence sphere, and that’s where we heard things and that’s where we learned about the dossier and the other story lines that were swirling about; and how to process … And along the way the administration started confirming various pieces of what they were concerned about what Russia was doing. … So I do think that the answer for the Democrats now … in both the House and the Senate is to talk about it more and make it more real.”

So the leaking had an early start, and went on steroids during the months following the Democratic Convention up to the election — and beyond.

As a Reminder

None of the leaking, unmasking, surveillance, or other activities directed against the Trump campaign can be properly understood, if one does not bear in mind that it was considered a sure thing that Secretary Clinton would become President, at which point illegal and extralegal activities undertaken to help her win would garner praise, not prison.

But she lost. And a month ago, House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-CA) threw down the gauntlet, indicating that there could be legal consequences, for example, for officials who misled the FISA court in order to enable surveillance on Trump and associates.  His words are likely to have sent chills down the spine of yet other miscreants. “If they need to be put on trial, we will put them on trial,” he said.  “The reason Congress exists is to oversee these agencies that we created.”

John Brennan is widely reported to be Nunes’s next target.  Does one collect a full pension in jail?

Unmasking: Senior national security officials are permitted to ask the National Security Agency to unmask the names of Americans in intercepted communications for national security reasons — not for domestic political purposes. Congressional committees have questioned why Obama’s UN ambassador Samantha Power (as well as his national security adviser Susan Rice) made so many unmasking requests. Power is reported to have requested the unmasking of more than 260 Americans, most of them in the final days of the administration, including the names of Trump associates.

Deep State Intimidation 

Back to John Brennan’s bizarre tweet Saturday telling the President, “You may scapegoat Andy McCabe but you will not destroy America … America will triumph over you.” Unmasking the word “America,” so to speak, one can readily discern the name “Brennan” underneath.  Brennan’s words and attitude are a not-so-subtle reminder of the heavy influence and confidence of the deep state, including the media — exercised to a fare-thee-well over the past two years.

Later on Saturday, Samantha Power, with similar equities at stake, put an exclamation point behind what Brennan had tweeted earlier in the day.  Power also saw fit to remind Trump where the power lies, so to speak.  She warned him publicly that it is “not a good idea to piss off John Brennan.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Post is dutifully playing its part in the deep-state game of intimidation.  The following excerpt from Sunday’s lead article conveys the intended message: “Some Trump allies say they worry he is playing with fire by taunting the FBI. ‘This is open, all-out war. And guess what? The FBI’s going to win,’ said one ally, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid. ‘You can’t fight the FBI. They’re going to torch him.’” [sic]

The Post, incidentally, waited until paragraph 41 of 44 to inform readers that it was the FBI’s own Office of Professional Responsibility and the Inspector General of the Department of Justice that found McCabe guilty, and that the charge was against McCabe, not the FBI.  A quite different impression was conveyed by the large headline “Trump escalates attacks on FBI” as well as the first 40 paragraphs of Sunday’s lead article.

Putting Down a Marker

It isn’t as though Donald Trump wasn’t warned, as are all incoming presidents, of the power of the Deep State that he needs to play ball with — or else. Recall that just three days before President-elect Trump was visited by National Intelligence Director James Clapper, FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, and NSA Director Michael Rogers, Trump was put on notice by none other than the Minority Leader of the Senate, Chuck Schumer.  Schumer has been around and knows the ropes; he is a veteran of 18 years in the House, and is in his 20th year in the Senate.

On Jan. 3, 2017 Schumer said it all, when he told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, that President-elect Trump is “being really dumb” by taking on the intelligence community and its assessments on Russia’s cyber activities:

“Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,” Schumer told Maddow. “So even for a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this.” Did Maddow ask Schumer if he was saying President of the United States should be afraid of the intelligence community? No, she let Schumer’s theorem stand.

With gauntlets now thrown down by both sides, we may not have to wait very long to see if Schumer is correct in his blithe prediction as to how the present constitutional crisis will be resolved.

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Is Profit-Maximizing Data-Mining Undermining Democracy?

As many of you know, oftwominds.com was falsely labeled propaganda by thepropaganda operation known as ProporNot back in 2016. The Washington Postsaw fit to promote ProporNot’s propaganda operation because it aligned with the newspaper’s view that any site that wasn’t pro-status quo was propaganda; the possibility of reasoned dissent has vanished into a void of warring accusations of propaganda and “fake news” –which is of course propaganda in action.

Now we discover that profit-maximizing data-mining (i.e. Facebook and Google) can–gasp–be used for selling ideologies, narratives and candidatesjust like dog food and laundry detergent. The more extreme and fixed the views and the closer the groups are in size (i.e. the closer any electoral contest), the more profitable the corporate data-mining becomes.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the data-mining gets all the important stuff wrong. As correspondent GFB explains, oftwominds.com was identified as “propaganda” by data-mining, which concluded that any site that posted content that wasn’t pro-Hillary was automatically propaganda:

At least we now know why your site was flagged as a source of Russian disinformation:

Cambridge Analytica is hired by the Russians to data mine to find the most efficacious targets for their disinformation campaign – and in the course of doing research, they find that a number of individuals who visit your site have shown – in other social media actions – to have anti-Hillary, or anti-powers-that-be tendency. They conclude the number of visitors that have that data profile would suggest that it is likely most, if not all visitors to your site would likely have the same view – and so any visitor to your site gets flagged to be targeted, if possible, by the disinformation campaign.

Now look at in reverse – someone who is investigating possible unscrupulous data mining re: the campaign, and through there own data mining notice that visitors to your site get an inordinate amount of targeted disinformation – – – and they conclude (incorrectly) that oftwominds.com is likely the source of that targeting.

Setting aside the quasi-monopoly on vast data-mining of users held by Facebook and Google, we have to ask: what sort of “democracy” do we end up with when data-mining ignores the “independent” middle/moderate voters in favor of the ends of the spectrum which can be more easily whipped up into a frenzy that might just lead to a few more votes being cast (Recall that voter participation in the US is abysmally low compared to other democracies.)

It also turns out that data-mining draws all sorts of false conclusions about individuals, groups and sites. For example, if you visit a “prepper” site then the algorithms will reckon you’re pro-gun ownership. If you visit the Sierra Club website, then you’re targeted as a “social liberal,” and so on.

But in the mad rush to monetize their vast trawling of user data, Facebook, Google et al., niceties such as accuracy and the undermining of civil society don’t matter: these are privately owned corporations whose only responsibility is to maximize profits for their owners and managers.

If targeting political extremes generates the most profit, then that’s what these corporations will pursue. It’s nothing personal–maximizing profit by any means available is why they exist.

Of related interest:

Facebook Is a Utility Which Can’t Charge Its Users (July 22, 2010)

How Much of our Discord Is the Result of the “Engagement” Advert Revenue Model of Social Media? (October 24, 2017)

Should Facebook, Google and Twitter Be Public Utilities? (March 5, 2018)

If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.

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McCabe: A War on or in the FBI?

By Former FBI agent – and a 2002 Time Person of the Year – Colleen Rowley. Originally posted at Consortium News. Republished with permission.

The explanation from Andrew McCabe that he was fired merely due to his staunch support of his former boss and mentor, FBI Director James Comey, and the “Russiagate” investigation,  does not pass the smell test.

Similar to the one that mainstream corporate media is spinning, McCabe’s explanation almost totally ignores the fact that it was the relatively independent Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG) and the FBI’s own Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR internal affairs) who recommended firing McCabe for his “lack of candor” on (the totally unrelated issue of) granting improper press access to the Wall Street Journal during ongoing FBI investigations of the Clinton Foundation and Clinton’s emails.

While the exact specifics of McCabe’s “lack of candor” – which McCabe denies – haven’t been released by the IG, it’s my own personal opinion that such official briefing of the press should not necessarily be a fireable offense as long as it’s justified to correct faulty media reporting and was not covertly done for improper political reasons. But technically, firing for “lack of candor” has long been the FBI’s “bright line” policy, ever since former FBI Director Louis Freeh tried to “clean up” the FBI in the mid-1990s when so many agents, including Special Agents in Charge, were caught lying about sex affairs, improper government credit card charges and drunk driving incidents – some amounting to reckless homicides.

But of course Freeh was rather hypocritical as he was himself involved in several instances of “lack of candor” including appointing his friend, Larry Potts, as Deputy Director. This, despite the fact that Potts had covered up his own role in substituting “rules of engagement” for the FBI’s “deadly force policy” during the Ruby Ridge standoff with (the arguably unconstitutional) “rules” directing the shooting on sight of any armed male.

The cover-up of Potts’ mishandling of Ruby Ridge came to light during the criminal investigations and prosecution of the FBI sniper who had subsequently shot and killed Randy Weaver’s wife while aiming at someone else.  When Pott’s role was revealed, Freeh had to censure and demote his Deputy Director; but even then Potts wasn’t actually fired.

So it may well be that “lack of candor” sets too high a standard that no one, not even the angels, let alone FBI agents and their managing officials can live up to.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ lofty statement that the FBI’s integrity is its brand, may be nice, wishful thinking but like other self-promoting speeches going back to J. Edgar Hoover, it has never rung true based on the hundreds of unethical actions I witnessed or was made aware of.

A number of OPR officials themselves were always getting caught in various unethical, deceitful (and sometimes even illegal) actions, including their long systemic practice of employing “double standards” in recommending disciplinary actions, i.e. top ranking officials received light discipline while lower ranking agents got far more severe punishments for similar wrongdoing. In 2001, some of the FBI’s internal affairs supervisors became whistleblowers and testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the FBI’s disciplinary “double standards.” Although some remedies were eventually put into place, the IG also had to investigate some retaliatory fall-out.

In any event, McCabe’s calling his firing a “war on the FBI” doesn’t make sense considering it was the FBI’s own internal affairs office that recommended he be fired. (Note that DOJ IG Michael Horowitz was appointed by President Obama in 2012 and the FBI’s OPR is run by a career official originally appointed to that position in 2004 by then FBI Director Robert Mueller.)

Perhaps it would be more apt if McCabe had called it a war inside the FBI (and in Washington as a whole). Could the obvious chaos – some would say “bloodbath” – at all levels of government also be part of the “blowback” from 16 years of waging “perpetual war” (and from attendant war crimes and the internal corruption by which all empires rot)? As author Viet Thanh Nguyen noted about the 2016 election: “That sickness is imperialism… America is an imperial country, and its decay might now be showing. Empires rot from the inside even as emperors blame the barbarians.” Remember how wars have a way of migrating home.

Don’t forget that McCabe’s mentor, James Comey, as Assistant Attorney General had signed off on the Bush-Cheney Administration’s torture tactics.  Special Counsel Robert Mueller (said to be “joined at the hip” with Comey) dutifully looked the other way, as then FBI Director, when the CIA’s torture program was instituted, allowing the atrocities to continue. It should also be recalled that Mueller helped the Bush-Cheney Administration to lie us into the Iraq War.

In early January, 2017 CIA Director John Brennan, FBI Director James Comey, NSA Director Michael Rogers and National Director of Intelligence James Clapper briefed President Obama and President-elect Trump on their “Intelligence Community Assessment” by which their agencies’ “hand-picked analysts” accused Russia of meddling in the election and which also included former MI6 spy Chris Steele’s “salacious dossier” accusing Trump’s campaign of colluding with the Russians.

By prior plan, the three other intelligence directors left Comey alone in the room with Trump for Comey to confront the President-elect with the damning summary of Steele’s dossier (which Comey admitted was not verified) and, as icing on the cake, also warning Trump that these accusations would probably appear soon in the media.

Forgetful Democrat Party loyalists also should be reminded that John Brennan was termed the drone assassination and “kill list” czar (before being named CIA Director). As CIA Director, Brennan was hellbent on covering up and promoting CIA torture.

James Clapper, also not known for candor in having previously misled Congress about the NSA’s massive spying on Americans, has even been reported to be the source of the leak to CNN about the Obama intelligence directors’ January briefing that focused on the Steele dossier. It sure looks like there is plenty “lack of candor” to go around!  And plenty for these officials to continue covering up.  But as Cicero observed hundreds of years ago, “the law falls silent in time of war.” At very least everyone should be wary of partisan media spin since all of these war crimes and other deceitful, illegal actions made possible by the wars are fully bipartisan.

The real problem that most of the mainstream media don’t want to even mention is how unprecedented it was to have both Presidential campaigns under serious criminal investigation in the weeks before the 2016 election! In all fairness, even if these now-fired FBI Directors were trying to do the right thing – which would not be in line with their rather sordid track records – it wouldn’t really be possible to walk that political mine field without a faux pas one way or the other.  Seen in that light, it’s possible to even sympathize a little with any FBI Director when the public corruption at the highest levels in Washington DC has become so bad (and fully bipartisan), that it’s hard to know where to start.

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