The most important article I’ve read in years: Pilger on Western propaganda
I haven’t posted in a while now, but this article, “Silencing the Lambs: How Propaganda Works” published 9-10-22 by veteran progressive journalist John Pilger (online at MintPress News), is too important to let slide by. Go and read it yourself in its entirety, or continue reading for my version (slightly edited for brevity and clarity).
Pilger says, “In the 1970s, I met one of Hitler’s leading propagandists, Leni Riefenstahl, whose epic films glorified the Nazis. We happened to be staying at the same lodge in Kenya, where she was on a photography assignment, having escaped the fate of other friends of the Fuhrer. She told me that the ‘patriotic messages’ of her films were successful because of what she called the ‘submissive void’ of the German public. Did that include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie? I asked. ‘Yes, especially them,’ she said. I think of this as I look around at the propaganda now consuming Western societies.
Of course, we are very different from Germany in the 1930s. We live in information societies. We are globalists. We have never been more aware, more in touch, better connected. Really?
Or do we live in a society where brainwashing is insidious and relentless, and perception is filtered according to the needs and lies of state and corporate power?
The United States dominates the Western world’s media. All but one of the top ten media companies are based in North America. The internet and social media – Google, Twitter, and Facebook – are mostly American owned and controlled.
In my lifetime, the United States has overthrown or attempted to overthrow more than 50 governments, mostly democracies. It has interfered in democratic elections in 30 countries. It has dropped bombs on the people of 30 countries, most of them poor and defenseless. It has attempted to murder, often successfully, the leaders of 50 countries. It has fought to suppress liberation movements in 20 countries. The extent and scale of this carnage is largely unreported and unrecognized; and those responsible continue to dominate Anglo-American political life.
As my playwright friend Harold Pinter said, ‘US foreign policy is best defined as kiss my ass or I’ll kick your head in. It is as simple and as crude as that. What’s interesting about it is that it’s so successful. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, and remorseless, but few people have actually talked about them. The U.S. has exercised its power worldwide [for the benefit of elite corporate power] while masquerading as a force for good. It’s a brilliant act of hypnosis.’ I asked Pinter if the ‘hypnosis’ he referred to was the ‘submissive void’ described by Leni Riefenstahl, and he said, ‘It’s the same. We don’t recognize the propaganda, and for the most part accept and believe it. That’s the submissive void.’
In our systems of corporate democracy, war is an economic necessity, the perfect marriage of public subsidy and private profit: socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor. The day after 9/11 the stock prices of the war industry soared. More bloodshed was coming – great for business. Today, the most profitable wars are called ‘forever wars’: Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and now Ukraine – all are based on a pack of lies. Iraq is the most infamous, with its weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist. Nato’s destruction of Libya in 2011 was justified by a massacre in Benghazi that didn’t happen. Afghanistan was a convenient revenge war for 9/11, which had nothing to do with the people of Afghanistan.
Today, the news from Afghanistan is how evil the Taliban are – not that Joe Biden’s theft of $7 billion of the country’s bank reserves is causing widespread suffering. Recently, National Public Radio in Washington devoted two hours to Afghanistan – and 30 seconds to its starving people.
At its summit in Madrid in June, NATO, which is controlled by the United States, adopted a strategy document that militarizes the European continent and escalates the prospect of war with Russia and China. News of the resulting war in Ukraine is mostly not news, but a one-sided litany of jingoism, distortion, and omission. I’ve reported a number of wars and have never known such blanket propaganda [and suppression of dissenting journalists].
In February, Russia invaded Ukraine as a response to almost eight years of killing and criminal destruction in the Russian-speaking region of Donbass on their border. In 2014, the United States had sponsored a coup in Kyiv that got rid of Ukraine’s democratically elected, Russian-friendly president and installed a successor whom the Americans made clear was their man. Before this, American ‘defender’ missiles aimed at Russia were installed in eastern Europe, Poland, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, accompanied by false assurances all the way back to James Baker’s ‘promise’ to Gorbachev in February 1990 that NATO would never expand beyond Germany. Ukraine is the frontline. NATO has effectively reached the very borderland through which Hitler’s army stormed in 1941, leaving more than 23 million dead in the Soviet Union.
Last December, Russia proposed a far-reaching security plan for Europe that was dismissed, derided, or suppressed in the Western media. On February 24th of this year, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy threatened to develop nuclear weapons unless America armed and protected Ukraine. This was the final straw. On the same day, Russia invaded – according to the Western media, an infamous, unprovoked act. The history, the lies, the peace proposals, the solemn agreements on Donbass at Minsk counted for nothing. On April 25th, the U.S. defense secretary, General Lloyd Austin, flew into Kyiv and confirmed that America’s aim was to destroy the Russian Federation – the word he used was ‘weaken.’ America had got the war it wanted, waged by an American bankrolled and armed proxy and expendable pawn. Almost none of this was explained to Western audiences.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is wanton and inexcusable. It’s a crime to invade a sovereign country. There are no ‘buts,’ except one. When did the present war in Ukraine begin and who started it? According to the United Nations, between 2014 and this year, some 14,000 people have been killed in the Kyiv regime’s civil war on the Donbass. Many of the attacks were carried out by neo-Nazis, labeled as ‘nationalists’ by the New York Times. Watch an ITV news report from May 2014, by the veteran reporter James Mates, who is shelled, along with civilians in the city of Mariupol, by Ukraine’s Azov (neo-Nazi) battalion. ‘The historic mission of our nation in this critical moment,’ said Andreiy Biletsky, founder of the Azov Battaltion, ‘is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival, a crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.’ Since February, a campaign of self-appointed ‘news monitors’ (mostly funded by the Americans and British with links to governments) have sought to maintain the absurdity that Ukraine’s neo-Nazis don’t exist.
Airbrushing, a term once associated with Stalin’s purges, has become a tool of mainstream journalism. In less than a decade, a ‘good’ China has been airbrushed and a ‘bad’ China has replaced it: from the world’s workshop to a budding new Satan. Much of this propaganda originates in the U.S., and is transmitted through proxies and ‘think-tanks,’ such as the notorious Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the voice of the arms industry, and by zealous journalists such as Peter Hartcher of the Sydney Morning Herald, who called those spreading Chinese influence ‘rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows’ and called for these ‘pests’ to be ‘eradicated.’
News about China in the West is almost entirely about the threat from Beijing. Airbrushed are the 400 American military bases that surround most of China, an armed necklace that reaches from Australia to the Pacific and southeast Asia, Japan, and Korea. The Japanese island of Okinawa and the Korean island of Jeju are loaded guns aimed point blank at the industrial heart of China. A Pentagon official described this as a ‘noose.’
Palestine has been misreported for as long as I can remember. To the BBC, there is the ‘conflict’ of ‘two narratives.’ The longest, most brutal, lawless military occupation in modern times goes unmentioned.
The stricken people of Yemen are media unpeople. While the Saudis rain down their American cluster bombs with British advisors working alongside the Saudi targeting officers, more than half a million children face starvation.
This brainwashing by omission has a long history. The slaughter of the First World War was suppressed by reporters who were knighted for their compliance and confessed in their memoirs. In 1917, the editor of the Manchester Guardian, C.P. Scott, confided to prime minister Lloyd George: ‘If people really knew [the truth], the war would be stopped tomorrow, but they don’t and can’t know.’
Vladimir Putin is Adolf Hitler, Xi Jinping Fu Man Chu. Epic achievements, such as the eradication of abject poverty in China, are barely known.
In recent years, some of the best journalists have been eased out of the mainstream. The spaces once open to mavericks, truth-tellers and journalists who went against the grain, have closed.The case of Julian Assange is the most shocking. When Julian and WikiLeaks could win readers and prizes for the Guardian, the New York Times, and other self-important ‘papers of record,’ he was celebrated. When the dark state objected and demanded the destruction of hard drives and the assassination of Julian’s character, he was made a public enemy. Vice President Biden called him a ‘hi-tech terrorist.’ Hillary Clinton asked, ‘Can’t we just drone this guy?’”
Pilger then mentions good news sources like “Consortium News, founded by the great reporter Robert Parry, Max Blumenthal’s Grayzone, MintPress News, Media Lens, Declassified UK, Alborada, Electronic Intifada, WSWS, ZNet, ICH, Counter Punch, Independent Australia, and the work of Chris Hedges, Patrick Lawrence, Jonathan Cook, Diana Johnstone, Caitlin Johnstone, and others who will forgive me for not mentioning them here. But when will writers stand up, as they did against the rise of fascism in the 1930s? When will film-makers stand up, as they did against the Cold War in the 1940s? Having soaked for 82 years in a deep bath of righteousness that’s the official version of the last world war, isn’t it time those who are meant to keep the record straight declared their independence and decoded the propaganda? The urgency is greater than ever.
John Pilger has twice won Britain’s highest award for journalism and has been International Reporter of the Year, News Reporter of the Year and Descriptive Writer of the Year. He has made 61 documentary films and has won an Emmy, a BAFTA the Royal Television Society prize and the Sydney Peace Prize. His “Cambodia Year Zero” has been named as one of the ten most important films of the 20th century. This article is an edited version of an address to the Trondheim World Festival, Norway. He can be contacted at http://www.johnpilger.com.
Handmaid’s Tale, Here We Come
Heather Cox Richardson’s May 10th post (get on her email list at “Letters from an American”) is so good — and so chilling — I’m quoting it in its entirety below.
That Republicans appear to be on the cusp of overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion seems to have thrown them into confusion. Since Nixon first raised the issue of abortion as a political wedge in 1972, the year before Roe (recall that Nixon characterized 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern as the candidate of “acid, amnesty, and abortion”), they have used the issue to raise money and turn out voters. But now, with the prize seemingly within reach, they are ratcheting up their demands, at least in part to continue to raise money and to turn out voters. They also need to re-create their sense of grievance against the “libs” they have just “owned.”
With the overturning of Roe v. Wade seemingly on the horizon, right-wing lawmakers are now escalating their attacks on national policies their base voters oppose. This means, for example, that Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson and Mississippi governor Tate Reeves are standing behind the “trigger laws” they have signed to take effect as soon as the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, laws that outlaw abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest. Other lawmakers are suggesting they are willing to outlaw contraception, and pharmacists in Texas are already refusing to fill prescriptions for medications commonly prescribed for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies.
And for all that ending Roe was supposed to turn the issue of abortion over to the states to decide as they wished, there is now talk of advancing a national ban on abortion so that states could not, in fact, choose to protect abortion rights.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) is backing federal legislation to punish corporations who pay to fly their employees to different states for abortion care and gender-affirming care for their children. “Our tax code should be pro-family and promote a culture of life,” Rubio said. “Instead, too often our corporations find loopholes to subsidize the murder of unborn babies or horrific ‘medical’ treatments on kids. My bill would make sure this does not happen.”
In Michigan, Republican Ryan Kelley, who is running for governor, has openly attacked the idea of democracy. “Socialism—it starts with democracy,” he said. “That’s the ticket for the left. They want to push this idea of democracy, which turns into socialism, which turns into communism in every instance.” Kelley’s distinction between “democracy” and a “constitutional republic” is drawn from the John Birch Society in the 1960s, which used that distinction to oppose the idea of one person, one vote, that supported Black voting.
In turn, the Birchers drew from the arguments of white supremacists during Reconstruction after the Civil War, who warned that Black voters would elect leaders who promised them roads, and schools, and hospitals. These benefits would cost tax dollars that in the postwar South would have to be paid largely by white landowners. Thus, white voters insisted, Black voting would lead to a redistribution of wealth; by 1871, they insisted it was essentially “socialism.”
That context explains Kelley’s insistence that “we truly are losing our country to the radical left.” But the argument is not only racial and economic. American evangelicals are converting to the Russian Orthodox Church out of support for its nativism, white nationalism, rejection of LGBTQ rights and abortion, and support for authoritarian Russian president Vladimir Putin. Like him, they object to the diversity inherent in democracy.
Journalists for Business Insider ran the numbers and found that 84% of the state lawmakers who have sponsored trigger laws are men, five states had no women sponsors for trigger laws, all but one of the 13 governors who have signed trigger laws are men, and 91% of the senators who confirmed the antiabortion majority on the Supreme Court are men. These men are overwhelmingly Republican: 86% of the trigger law sponsors were Republican, all of the antiabortion justices were nominated by Republicans, and 94% of the senators who voted to confirm the antiabortion justices were Republicans.
At the same time that a small minority is imposing its will on the majority of Americans, Republicans are insisting they, not those who are losing their rights, are the victims.
When the draft first leaked, there was outrage across the right as people jumped to the conclusion that the draft had leaked from the office of a liberal justice. A Newsmax host even claimed that newly confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson had leaked the draft, although she will not take a place on the court until Justice Stephen Breyer steps down.
There are almost none of those accusations now, since leaks have continued, and they are clearly coming not from the offices of the liberal justices, but from the right-wing justices. On May 7, a Washington Post story had several comments about ongoing deliberations reported by “conservatives close to the court.” Law professor and legal analyst Steve Vladeck called such sievelike behavior “stunning.”
Now the argument that Republicans are victims centers around the protests over the draft decision, some of which have taken place in front of the homes of the Supreme Court justices. The protests have been peaceful in reality, but the right wing has portrayed them as violent—so violent, in fact, that Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) compared them unfavorably with the events of January 6, which, in his rewriting of history, he claimed were peaceful. The rumor—unsourced, and later proved false—that Justice Samuel Alito, the author of the draft decision, had to be moved to an undisclosed location swept right-wing media.
Portraying the Republicans as victims of a mob reached ridiculous proportions when Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) called the police Saturday night because someone had written in chalk on the sidewalk in front of her home in Bangor: “Susie, please, Mainers want WHPA→ vote yes, clean up your mess.” WHPA, the Women’s Health Protection Act, is a bill that would protect abortion rights and block medically unnecessary restrictions and bans on the procedure.
Collins cast a deciding vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, stating she was confident he would not overturn Roe v. Wade. Collins says she will vote against WHPA because she believes it goes too far.
The apparent outrage over protests in the wake of the leaked draft decision seems disingenuous considering the violence of antiabortion activists, who have burned down clinics, murdered abortion providers, and continue to accost patients at clinics. Indeed, the Supreme Court struck down a law creating a buffer zone around clinics to stop harassment of patients on the grounds that such protest was free speech covered by the First Amendment. More generally, there has been little concern from Republicans about the armed protests that have taken place over vaccine and mask mandates and over the alleged teaching of Critical Race Theory during the past two years.
When a reporter asked Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) if he was “comfortable with the protests that we saw outside the homes of Supreme Court justices,” Schumer answered that he is, so long as they are peaceful. “Yes. My house, there’s protests three, four times a week outside. That’s the American way to peacefully protest… [his phone rings]…that’s my wife. Maybe there’s a protest outside.”
With all this going on, Americans’ confidence in the Supreme Court has collapsed since Trump packed it with a 6–3 right-wing majority. Half of U.S. voters and 53% of Americans in general now have little to no confidence in the court.
Best article I’ve read so far on Ukraine
The best article I’ve read so far on Ukraine is “The Ukraine Invasion Is Nothing Compared to Iraq” by Andrew Bacevich, posted on spectator world.com on 3-2-22. Here it is:
Of the war in Ukraine, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes, “Our world is not going to be the same again, because this war has no historical parallel.” In the very next sentence, he describes the Russian invasion of Ukraine as “a raw, 18th-century-style land grab by a superpower,” thereby acknowledging that the episode actually has innumerable historical parallels – just not ones that Friedman cares to acknowledge as legitimate.
Friedman figures prominently among those claiming to have divined the essential character of the present age. His key finding: tech-driven globalization has rendered old-fashioned power politics obsolete. The rules of the game have changed irrevocably. Practically speaking, nations have no choice but to submit.
In best-selling books, he describes our collective future. The subtitle of one such tome claims to offer “A Brief History of the 21st Century,” then still in its first decade. In Friedman’s “hot, flat and crowded” world governed by tech-driven globalization, superpower land-grabs should have no place. The United States would enjoy unchallenged preeminence. That Vladimir Putin has somehow not received the memo or has chosen to ignore its dictates is beyond flabbergasting. When it comes to audacity, Putin has demonstrated the sort of chutzpah that has long been a Friedman signature. But the sense of dismay akin to betrayal expressed by Friedman and other commentators is entirely manufactured.
In fact, Putin has acted in accordance with geopolitical imperatives that predate the modern era. Nation-states compete against one another to advance their own interests. Pursuant to that competition, they employ various means, with suasion typically the preferred option. Given the uncertainty inherent in war, along with the likelihood of unintended consequences and higher than expected costs, violence tends to be a last resort. But last resort does not mean never. In international politics, these are the enduring facts of life.
The frequently heard charge that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine violates ostensibly sacred international “norms” holds no water. No such norms exist – at least none that a great power will recognize as inhibiting its own freedom of action. For proof, we need look no further than the recent behavior of the United States, which has routinely demonstrated a willingness to write its own norms while employing violence on a scale far exceeding anything that Russia has done or is likely to do.
Nothing that Putin has done in Ukraine pursuant to securing what he defines as vital Russian interests should be cause for surprise. Implicit in the shock expressed by observers like Friedman is a belief that Europe has become an eternal “zone of peace” in which the triumph of liberal democracy had made the “end of history” a reality. Preserving this illusion requires imagination. It means classifying the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 1990s as an anomaly, forgotten as soon as the shooting stopped. But it also requires sustaining the pretense that Europe matters more than the rest of the world, that developments there possess greater significance than developments in, say, the Middle East or Africa.
This intellectual framing according to which events occurring in proximity to the Rhine and the Danube possess greater inherent importance than events near the Tigris or the Nile dates from the age of Western imperialism. It underwrites the inclination of observers like Friedman to treat Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as utterly beyond the pale while events such as the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 and America’s various post-9/11 military interventions are either forgotten or written off as unfortunate lapses in judgment.
Russian actions in Ukraine deserve universal condemnation. But as crimes go, Putin’s aggression pales in comparison with the human toll exacted by Saddam Hussein’s US-supported war against Iran. As for the calamitous results of the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the impact of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine rates as trivial by comparison. The point is not to measure relative iniquity in a balance, but simply to note that while the ongoing events in Ukraine may be tragic, they’re not all that unusual. The professed surprise of pundits and politicians stems either from wishful thinking or willful ignorance.
History hasn’t ended. The global triumph of democratic liberalism is a mirage. As the old radio serial had it, “Evil lurks in the hearts of men,” even in an era of Google, Apple, 5G, Uber and Grubhub. What may be most difficult for the beneficiaries of global US hegemony is this: the American Century has ended. The world conjured up by Thomas Friedman has not taken its place.
What Friedman ought have written is this: “By invading Ukraine, Russia has demolished what little remained of the lucrative line of bullshit that I have been peddling for the past twenty or so years.” But don’t count on any such admission to be forthcoming.
I take that back
Not that I think you read my Facebook or blog posts, but if you’re one of the uninformed (in my humble opinion) people I was talking about in my posts on both “channels” earlier this morning…I don’t think I’m better than you. You have your reasons for being who and where you are at this moment in time, just as I have mine. It isn’t you I’m criticizing. It’s your behavior, as I see it. And I don’t hope you die of Covid, as I implied in my earlier blog post. Of course not. I don’t wish ill on anyone, no matter how much I disagree with what they say or do. You just have me feeling scared and threatened, and like any cornered animal in that sort of situation, I lashed out at you. An hour later, my claws are withdrawn. I still fear scared and threatened, but saying nasty things to and about you isn’t going to fix that. The only thing that will is for us to see each other as equally worthy and valuable human beings, who are all feeling threatened and scared, but who can reach out across the gap and start listening to and caring about each other. And trying, together, to come up with ways to move forward. Thanks…
Trapped in a dystopian “reality”
That’s how I felt when Trump was elected president in 2016, even though I knew it wasn’t just him, but the long years before when the Democrats had the chance to do things for ordinary people and didn’t. I wasn’t the only one who felt like her sanity was threatened by anxiety in those days — what would this narcissistic, uninformed, unprincipled nut do to our country and our world? I thought he’d go away when he lost the 2020 election, but, no — the bulk of the Republican party has continued to support his uninformed and undemocratic insanity, blocking the newly elected president, as they blocked Obama, at every possible turn. The Democrats are no angels; as I indicated above, they made all this possible by representing the 1% (which Trump and the Republicans also do in their crazy way) rather than ordinary people. But at least they know what they’re doing, and occasionally do sensible things.
Now the Supreme Court, which the Republicans enabled Trump to “pack” with three unqualified conservative justices, while using our elite “Founders” undemocratic rules to block Obama from filling even one vacancy, has struck down Biden’s effort to protect us from getting Covid at work. The Supreme Court yesterday used a technicality about which branches of government can make these kinds of decisions to say that you have a right to go to work, untested, even if you’ve refused to get the vaccine that significantly limits the virus’s spread. Unless I want to lose my job or can negotiate working at home, impossible with most jobs, I have no protection against you infecting me with the disease. Will you even wear a mask? That protection may very well be the next to go.
This is ridiculous — proof that government, even what may be the last democratically elected one, has little or no power to protect us against lies and irresponsible, harmful people. By continuing to back Trump (because he seems to be popular with some segments of the population?) the Republican party has made this kind of illogic and injustice inevitable. First they allowed Trump to undermine public health by denying scientific research on the disease and politicizing it, then they completely politicized the highest court, which is supposed to be above politics. Where are all these people’s brains? The “leaders” apparently just want to get reelected, by fair means or foul, and they and their followers use the populist tactic of vilifying adults who use their brains for showing, just by being informed and thinking rationally, that we think we’re better than the rest. I give up. This is a recipe for utter disaster.
It’s exactly like the dystopian, satirical movie I just watched: “Don’t Look Up,” available on Netflix, in which a populist president and a media system making profits by only giving people what they want to hear prevent preparation to defend Earth against another danger — a giant comet that, indeed, eliminated all planetary life when it hit. To quote singer-songwriter Lonesome Bob, “It’d be sad if it weren’t so funny; it’d be funny if it weren’t so sad.”
I’m an informed, rational adult, and I do think I’m better than you if you’re over 18, you’re not, and you don’t even want to be. I’m alarmed by your taking over our country, and I resent you and your “leaders,” bent on killing me and many innocent others by sinking to the lowest common denominator. Trump’s life, ironically and unjustly, was saved by extensive measures unavailable to the general population when he got Covid as president. Yours may not be, and, sadly, at this point that’s my only hope. Oh, and by the way, if you believe your own lies, why are you, like Trump, demanding medical treatment for the disease you said wasn’t a problem? You’re filling up our hospitals to the point that there won’t be a bed for me if I have a second heart attack or another serious health emergency.
Oh, well. If that happens, at least I’ll have found the only door I can think of out of this frickin’ dystopia.
P.S. Sorry for sounding so angry and depressed, but I think that’s the only sane reaction to all this.