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The TSA (and other experiments in evil)

corbettreport | February 1, 2019

In 1961, a psychologist conducted an experiment demonstrating how ordinary men and women could be induced to inflict torture on complete strangers merely because an authority figure had ordered them to do so. In 2001, the United States government formed the Transportation Security Administration to subject hundreds of millions of air travelers to increasingly humiliating and invasive searches and pat downs. These two phenomena are not as disconnected as they may seem. Join us today on The Corbett Report as we explore The TSA (and other experiments in evil).

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TRANSCRIPT

In 1961, a psychologist conducted an experiment demonstrating how ordinary men and women could be induced to inflict torture on complete strangers merely because an authority figure had ordered them to do so.

In 2001, the United States government formed the Transportation Security Administration to subject hundreds of millions of air travelers to increasingly humiliating and invasive searches and pat downs.

These two phenomena are not as disconnected as they may seem.

Today we explore The TSA (and other experiments in evil).

This is The Corbett Report.

In the midst of this year’s government shutdown, a story began to emerge: the safety of the skies was being threatened by the effect that the shutdown was having on workers of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

VICTOR OQUENDO: Good morning Robin, this place is a ghost town. For the second day in a row the security checkpoint here at Terminal B inside of Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport is shut down. Those are the ticket counters right there behind me, they are empty as well.

SOURCE: Airport security checkpoints close amid shutdown

JAKE TAPPER: Hundreds of TSA employees, who are working without pay right now, have called out from work this week. At Dallas-Fort Worth alone sick calls are up almost 300%.

SOURCE: Hundreds of TSA employees are calling out sick amid shutdown

DAGEN MCDOWELL: Also, the busiest airport in the world by passenger traffic, the Atlanta Heartsfield Jackson Airport, reported delays of more than an hour at checkpoints at times on Monday.

SOURCE: TSA staffing shortages hit airports amid partial government shutdown

ADRIENNE BAILON: “I was in JFK at 6:30am the other day and they were playing that poopty scoop Kanye song and I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone.” So ladies, what do you think about these agents going from TSA to TS-heeeey? I feel like whistle while you work. OK, you know what I’m saying? You’re working without getting paid, at least have a good time doing it but as long as it doesn’t get in the way of a very significant and important job, which is the safety of our air.

SOURCE: Government Shutdown: TSA Turns to… Explicit Rap Music?

While the TSA has been sold to the public as a valiant squad of dedicated operatives working diligently to protect “the safety of the air,” this public image could not be further from the truth.

The Transportation Security Administration was formally established in November 2001 under the pretext of “fixing” the system that had “somehow” allowed 19 men with box cutters to supposedly commit the most egregious violation of American airspace in history (aided in no small part by the simultaneous “failure” of the entire American intelligence establishment and the most sophisticated air defense in the world). Originally placed under the Department of Transportation, it was just a matter of months before the administration was transitioned into the newly-created Department of Homeland Security and began turning the relatively benign airport security procedures into an ordeal that traumatizes and humiliates virtually everyone who has to endure it.

FATHER: Rocco, they just gotta check you, OK? It’s no big deal.

ROCCO: But I want to go with Mom.

FATHER: Yeah we’re going to go there and eat in a minute. I know. It’s kinda weird, but it’s no big deal.

SOURCE: TSA Nabs Suspected Al Queda Terrorist At Chicago Airport, A toddler in a wheelchair

GIO BENITEZ: Listen as little Lucy says something it’s hard to imagine any 3 year old saying.

LUCY FORCK: I don’t want to go to Disney World.

BENITEZ: What made the toddler so distraught her parents say, was this:

TSA AGENT: It is illegal to do that.

BENITEZ: A run in with TSA screeners at Missouri’s Lambert St. Louis International Airport.

SOURCE: Girl in Wheelchair, 3, Detained by TSA: Caught on Tape

TSA AGENT: I’m also going to be doing a groin check, which means that I’m going to place my hand on your hip and one on your inner thigh, slowly go up and slide down.

JOHN TYNER: OK.

TSA AGENT: I’m going to do that two times in the front and two times in the back.

TYNER: We can do that out here, but if you touch my junk I’m going to have you arrested.

SOURCE: If You Touch My Junk, I’ll Have You Arrested – US Airport security

MELISSA DYKES: I mean, I’m sitting here right now, I’m staring out the window and there’s an American flag flying on this entry border thing for the airplane and it’s just such a joke. It’s just . . . what exactly are we? What has America become?

SOURCE: Why I Hate Flying in America…

If we are to take the establishment of the sprawling TSA bureaucracy and the invasive, degrading airport security procedures it has implemented at face value—that is, even if we accept that the administration was set up to “fix” the holes in airport security—then the entire experiment can be written off as a colossal failure.

Reports of TSA failures to find knives, massive shipments of narcotics, loaded guns, and even the very types of box cutters we are told were used on 9/11 have been so numerous over the years that it would be impossible to enumerate them all. Even just this past month, a passenger was able to sneak a gun onto a Delta flight bound for Tokyo, but the TSA insisted that the security failure had nothing to do with the shutdown; it was just standard TSA incompetence.

Even the government’s own testing of TSA procedures has confirmed time and again that the agency fails in providing even the most basic level of security for airline passengers.

In 2006, government investigators found that they were able to slip 75 percent of their fake bombs through checkpoints at LAX, one of the busiest airports in America, and 60% through Chicago O’Hare, one of the busiest airports in the world. A 2008 report from the Government Accountability Office blasted a government program to test for “gaps” in airport security because it failed to follow up on why these failures were occurring. In November of 2011 Congressional investigators issued their own blistering report on the agency, calling it an “enormous, inflexible and distracted bureaucracy” and pointing out that Americans “are no safer today than they were before 9/11” despite the 60 billion dollars that had been wasted on the administration up to that point.

But if we attack the TSA on grounds of incompetence, we risk falling into a carefully-laid trap. Proponents of this governmental monstrosity will argue that what is needed is more money to help the valiant guardians of the sky do their job properly. They will point to the shutdown and the resulting mess at the airports as an example of how vital the administration really is, and how important it is to continue increasing its budget so it can add ever more expensive weaponry to its arsenal of harassment.

No, it is not because of “incompetence” that we must condemn the Orwellian nightmare unfolding at the airports every single day. It is because this security theatre was never meant to keep us safe in the first place. The TSA is not a well-intentioned agency in need of better management or more funding or more highly-trained agents. On the contrary. It is doing precisely what it was created to do. The problem is that most people do not know what it was created to do.

In order to understand the real purpose of this spectacularly successful government agency, we need to revisit the Milgram experiment.

In 1961, psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted a now-famous experiment into the public’s propensity to obey perceived authority figures. In the experiment, ordinary men and women were tricked into administering what they believed to be painful and even fatal electric shocks to complete strangers on the pretense that they were helping a scientist conducting research into memory and learning.

RESEARCHER: We want to find out just what effect different people have on each other as teachers and learners and also what effects punishment will have on learning in this situation.

SOURCE: Obedience (Dr. Stanley Milgram, 1962)

But that “memory research” was just a cover story. In fact, both the scientist and the strangers were actors. The only one not in on the sham was the one delivering the shocks. The real experiment was designed to see how far those ordinary men and women would go in inflicting torture on others when commanded by a perceived authority figure.

SUBJECT A: Incorrect. You will now get a shock of 75 volts. [Applies shock] Soft hair, he kinda did some yelling in there.

RESEARCHER: Continue please.

SOURCE: Obedience (Dr. Stanley Milgram, 1962)

The study is famous in the annals of psychology because the results were so completely unexpected. Most psychologists predicted that only a very small percentage of the participants in the study would continue delivering shocks past the point where those shocks could be fatal. Instead, a staggering 65% of the test participants proceeded all the way to the maximum (supposedly lethal) voltage.

SUBJECT B: That is incorrect. This will be 195 volts. [Applies shock] The correct one was…

VICTIM: Let me out of here!

SUBJECT B: Slow dance.

VICTIM: Let me out of here my hearts bothering me. Let me out of here, you have no right to keep me here. Let me out. Let me out of here. Let me out my hearts bothering me!

RESEARCHER: Continue, please. Go on.

SUBJECT B: [Inaudible]

SOURCE: Obedience (Dr. Stanley Milgram, 1962)

Let’s repeat that. 65% of participants—ordinary men and women who thought they were volunteering for a simple experiment about memory and learning—were willing to deliver what they sincerely believed to be potentially fatal doses of electricity to random strangers simply because an authority figure assured them that it was necessary to continue with the experiment.

VICTIM: You have no right to hold me here!

SUBJECT B: The next phrase is ‘Fast’ …

VICTIM: Let me out, let me out, let me out of here!

SUBJECT B: Bird. Car. Train. Plane.

[Silence]

RESEARCHER: Continue, teacher.

SUBJECT B: That is incorrect. This will be 345 [volts]. The correct answer is ‘Fast Bird.’

SOURCE: Obedience (Dr. Stanley Milgram, 1962)

So now let’s look at the TSA’s real role. No, they are not there to keep us safe from the scary, turban-wearing Al-CIA-da goblins. But they are running a giant, society-wide, real-world Milgram experiment in obedience training. In this case, though, there are no actors. Real people are really being tortured, molested, degraded and subjected to the most demeaning public humiliation at the hands of badge-wearing authority figures. And this time the subjects of the experiment (the general public) are not being asked to deliver a shock. They are not being asked to participate in the torture, aid in the pat-downs, or help run the body scanners.

Instead, they are being asked not to participate. To sit. To watch. To learn. This is what happens to those who resist. This is what happens to random people who do not resist. This is what happens to 96-year-old WWII veterans. This is what happens to 4-year-olds. This is what happens to pregnant mothers. One day it will probably happen to you. And you, the ordinary men and women who are made to watch these torture sessions from the lengthy line up at the security gate, are expected to do nothing. There is nothing you can do. Nothing you will do.

If the TSA is not an attempt to “keep the skies safe” after all, but a nearly two-decade-long experiment in obedience training, then it cannot be denied that that experiment has been remarkably successful.

REPORTER: The YouTube user who posted this wrote that the agent subjected his kids to the pat downs because he had been selected as usual for a security check because of his name. We shared the video with TSA, the agency offering no comment but directed me to the section of its pat-down policy that says ‘officers will work with parents to resolve any alarms at the checkpoint.’ TSA has modified screening procedures for children 12 and under that reduces the likelihood of a pat-down.

PASSENGER: Well I mean you got to follow the rules but in the same regard I think that I’d probably have some apprehension. I’d be a little bit upset about it.

ETHAN ROSENBERG: I have to do what they’re doing.

REPORTER: What you see in this video is familiar for 10 year old Ethan Rosenberg.

ETHAN’S FATHER: Yes, he has to have a manual pat-down. He has a cochlear implant, a medically implanted device.

REPORTER: Ethan’s dad describes his son’s pat-down every time they fly as not a problem. Though Ethan clues us in on what these kids could be feeling.
ETHAN: Well, sometimes it’s uncomfortable.

People watch passively as the molestation and humiliation of strangers unfolds mere steps away from them. No outcry. No protest. No boycotts. No mass movements to stop these scenes from playing out again.

Yes, there was a mass campaign to “Opt Out” of the TSA’s invasive body scanners. A day was set, people were organized, a wave of Thanksgiving flyers were readying themselves to opt out of the procedure and overwhelm the agents with a never-ending stream of people to be patted down. But the TSA, knowing they would have been defeated had such a movement gained ground, chose to turn off the scanners and wave people through on the planned Opt Out Day, and the public, quickly distracted by the next story in the 24/7 news cycle, moved on.

The next time they have to take a flight, those same people who once protested these procedures will step dutifully into line, take off their belt and shoes, and pray that it won’t be them next. And unless and until people stop doing nothing and start doing something in the face of these obvious injustices, absolutely none of this will change. And, if people continue doing nothing, within a generation no one will even understand that these scenes are objectionable. That they don’t have to happen.

But you see, this is the most surprising part of the Milgram experiment. The one that everyone forgets. The experiment wasn’t run once or twice. It was run dozens of times, under all types of circumstances, and a remarkable fact was discovered: The way the experiment was set up determined the extent to which the participants obeyed their instructions. Sometimes the experiment was run so that one subject could watch other subjects participate in the study before they did. And in cases where the first subjects obeyed the psychologist and delivered the shocks, the later subjects would, too.

Yet—and here we get to the real lesson of the Milgram experiment—if the teacher saw other teachers disobey the psychologist and refuse to deliver the shocks, they would disobey, too.

PHILIP ZIMBARDO: Now I said he [Milgram] tested 1,000 subjects. In any one study, it’s only 50 or 60. But let’s look at the other 16 studies.

In each study, he varies one aspect of the social situation. We call that “experimental variations.” So in study 16, the percentage of people going to 450 volts is 91%. Nine out of 10 people go all the way. Why? In study 16, you come in and they say, “We’re running a little late. Why don’t you sit and wait until the other person finishes?” And you see a confederate looking like you go all the way to the end. In study number 5, only 10 percent go all the way. In study 5, you come in and you see people like you rebel.

That says we are powerful social models for other people. If you model evil behavior, it’s gonna spread to others. If you model good behavior, caring behavior, compassionate behavior, it’s gonna spread in a positive way.

SOURCE: The Lucifer Effect in Action: My Journey from Evil to Heroism

This is the surprising conclusion that has been scrubbed from most accounts of the Milgram experiment: Disobedience, once modeled, becomes an option in the mind of the public.

Remember this the next time you are at the security checkpoint: When you are asked to step into the body scanner, those behind you will be watching. Your choice will make a difference. When someone is being molested at a TSA pat-down and you are a witnessing it, those around you will be taking note of your reaction. Your behavior will affect theirs.

So, what choice will you make? Will you pass or fail this real-world Milgram experiment?

February 1, 2019 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular, Video | , | 1 Comment

India wades into Afghan peace talks

(Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov greeting Taliban officials at Moscow peace conference, November 2018)
By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | February 1, 2019

The Ministry of External Affairs spokesman’s remark on Thursday in New Delhi that “it is important that the presidential election in Afghanistan takes place as per the schedule” is the first major Indian comment on the current peace talks in Qatar between the United States and the Taliban.

Whether that was an off-the-cuff remark or not remains unclear, but if it has been a considered statement, it puts India at odds with the peace talks in Qatar, which is working toward commencing the intra-Afghan dialogue, forming an interim government in Kabul and declaring a nation-wide ceasefire. Arguably, India’s strong advocacy of the charade of a presidential election in Afghanistan at this juncture is tantamount to the debunking of what is happening at the Qatar talks.

The point is, the Indian stance is virtually identifying with the ‘rejectionist’ camp of Afghan opinion, which fears that the reconciliation with the Taliban will mean the end of the road for them. This camp principally consists of President Ashraf Ghani and his circle – his newfound associate Amrullah Saleh, in particular – who are justifiably nervous about their own political future if the peace talks at Qatar advance toward the formation of an interim government.

But why should India try to bolster their career prospects? It may create misperceptions that India has ulterior motives. Clearly, the conditions in Afghanistan do not allow the holding of the presidential election. Even if the election is held, its credibility will be in serious doubt. The result of the election is almost inevitably going to be hotly contested. Quite obviously, the recent parliamentary election tells a sordid story. The political legitimacy of the “victor” in any presidential election will remain highly suspect. Even Ghani’s government was formed 5 years ago only after protracted efforts by the US to work out a compromise formula of power sharing.

In fact, much of the present crisis in Afghanistan is to be directly attributed to the weak government in Kabul that lacked political legitimacy and popular support, and to its leadership that is widely perceived as an American concoction. What is the point in repeating such a futile experiment? As it is, Afghanistan is hopelessly fragmented and another Ghani as its next figurehead and another puppet regime in Kabul can only spell doom for the country.

The fact of the matter is that the Afghan government is not at all representative of the nation. The latest Russian initiative to convene a conference of the Taliban representatives and prominent Afghan politicians in Moscow next week underscores the political undercurrents in Afghanistan today. Reuters has quoted a Russian official as saying, “Senior Taliban leaders and prominent Afghan politicians will travel to Moscow for a day-long summit. At this sensitive stage, it was best to not have Afghan government officials at the table.”

Interestingly, the Afghan personalities who may take part in the conference in Moscow on this coming Tuesday include former President Hamid Karzai. Whatever the Russian motivations might be in taking such an initiative, it only highlights that Ghani’s camp is fast becoming irrelevant to any serious intra-Afghan dialogue involving the Taliban and other Afghan groups.

(Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi with Russian Special Representative on Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov, Islamabad, Jan 29, 2019)

It goes without saying that the Russian initiative is in tandem with Pakistan following the visit by the Russian special representative on Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov to Islamabad on January 29. Ironically, Russia is facilitating the first round of intra-Afghan dialogue with Pakistan’s tacit support and Taliban’s readiness to participate in it. Ghani is not going to like that he has been bypassed and ignored. But then, if the international community has not so far questioned his locus standii, it was out of decorum and/or courtesy, but a time has come when Russians obviously decided that enough is enough.

Ghani was entirely an American creation and he lacks a support base. His tactic is to gather around him a cabal of figures who, like him, also stand to lose in peace settlement. He may try to be a ‘spoiler’ but ultimately, he will be overtaken by events and cast aside. Simply put, he is of no more use to the Americans who will discard him sooner rather than later. The case of Saleh is equally pathetic. The Americans built up Saleh for certain specific assignments related to security and they may cut him loose once he ceases to be of use to them. Unsurprisingly, Ghani and Saleh are now left with no option but to blow the nationalist bugle to rally support among patriotic Afghans, but that won’t impress anybody – neither the Afghans nor the international community.

Why should India get embroiled in the shenanigans of the ‘rejectionist’ camp in Kabul? True, the Modi government too would have a sense of ‘betrayal’ – that after having been the US’ loyal supporter in Afghanistan, India finds itself in a cul-de-sac. But the fault lies entirely with Delhi. The Modi government viewed Afghanistan through the prism of India-Pakistan tensions and Kashmir and the zero sum mindset has damaged Indian interests and brought about the current isolation.

Without doubt, President Trump intends to withdraw the troops from Afghanistan. And without American support, the roof will come crashing down on the head of Ghani, Saleh, et al, within no time. Delhi should be realistic about its capabilities and, more importantly, be mindful of its limitations. Does India have the grit and the resources to swim against the current? Only fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

Let bygones be bygones. Delhi should not compound the folly. The prudent thing will be to refrain from being a ‘spoiler’ at this sensitive juncture. Let the peace talks proceed ahead. What is needed on India’s part is strategic patience. Its Manichean fear that Pakistan is about to conquer Kabul has no basis. Pakistan knows Afghans only too well not to harbor any such illusions.

On the other hand, Afghanistan is India’s neighbor and there is abiding goodwill toward our country on the part of the Afghan people. A new beginning is always possible and India can safeguard its core interests by building bridges with the new regime.

February 1, 2019 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , , | Leave a comment

Elliott Abrams: A Human Rights Horror Show in Three Acts

By Brett Wilkins | CounterPunch | February 1, 2019

Last Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that Elliott Abrams would once again be returning to government, this time as President Donald Trump’s special envoy to help “fully restore democracy and prosperity” to Venezuela. Abrams, 71, is best known for abetting dictators and genocide in Latin America and for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal during the Ronald Reagan administration, as well as for his ardent support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and for green-lighting a failed coup in Venezuela while serving in the George W. Bush administration. He is as reviled by countless Latin Americans as he is revered among neocons who pine for a more muscular US role in the hemisphere and beyond. What follows is an overview of the human rights horror show that has been Abrams’ government career, which now spans three presidential administrations over four decades.

Act I: Dictators, Death Squads and Drug Dealers

During the last decade of the Cold War, the Reagan administration staunchly supported right-wing military dictatorships throughout Latin America. The US was also instrumental in the creation and training of these regimes’ military officers, troops and security forces, some of whom committed assassinations, massacres and even genocidal violence with tacit, and sometimes open, American backing. The Reagan administration also covertly — and illegally — supported the brutal Contra rebels as they waged a terrorist war against the democratically elected government of Nicaragua. This was the state of affairs at the State Department when Abrams was hired in 1981, first as Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs and then as Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs.

No Reagan administration official worked harder to subvert human rights in the Americas than Elliott Abrams. After the Atlacatl Battalion, an elite Salvadoran army unit created at the US Army School of the Americas, carried out a series of horrific massacres including the wholesale slaughter of more than 900 villagers at El Mozote in December 1981, Abrams praised the murderous battalion’s “professionalism” while attacking reports of casualty figures and the journalists who reported them. He also whitewashed Contra atrocities as well as those of the genocidal regime of General Efrían Ríos Montt in Guatemala, the Argentinian military junta — which wasstealing and selling the babies of its victims at the time — and other pro-US, anti-communist regimes.

Abrams was point man on Reagan’s Panama pivot, in which drug-dealing dictator General Manuel Noriega was quickly transformed from friend to foe. When asked in October 1987 if the US was trying to destabilize Noriega’s regime, Abrams replied with a straight face that “Panama should not be run by a general; it should be run by an elected civilian government.” Meanwhile, the US supported military dictatorships across the region and around the world while going out of its way — and outside the law — to destroy the elected civilian government in neighboring Nicaragua.

Late in 1986 the world learned of a secret arms-for-hostages deal between the Reagan administration and US archenemy Iran. The US also used proceeds from the arms sale to fund the Contras, who also trafficked drugs to bankroll their insurgency. Both the Iran deal and supporting the Contra terrorists were illegal. It would emerge that Abrams, who worked closely with key Iran-Contra criminal Colonel Oliver North, knew about North’s efforts to illegally assist the Contras and was “directly involved in secretly seeking third-country contributions” to the rebels. Reagan was infuriated by press snooping into this dirty Contra war. Once again, the president called on his attack dog Abrams, who launched a smear campaign against Robert Parry and Brian Barger of the Associated Press, two of the first journalists who reported on Contra drug running. The pair were even falsely accused of poisoning Oliver North’s dog to death.

Federal prosecutors prepared multiple felony counts against Abrams for his role in the scandal but he was never indicted; instead he cooperated with the government and struck a deal in which he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress. Neither Abrams nor any of the five other Reagan officials who pleaded guilty in the scandal ever spent a day in prison for their crimes; President George H. W. Bush, who as Reagan’s vice president was himself deeply involved in the Iran-Contra affair, pardoned them all on Christmas Eve in 1992.

Act II: Neoconned

In 1997, prominent neoconservatives William Kristol and Robert Kagan founded the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a think tank dedicated to “the promotion of American global leadership.” PNAC’s roster featured many neocon hawks who would later serve in the George W. Bush administration, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton and Elliot Abrams, who was appointed Senior Director for Democracy, Human Rights and International Operations at the National Security Council in June 2001. Many of PNAC’s goals — which included regime change in Iraq — aligned perfectly with George W. Bush’s aggressive post-9/11 foreign policy and PNAC members including Abrams found their power and standing elevated as the US entered the era of never-ending war on terrorism.

But before Iraq there was the matter of a failed coup against Hugo Chávez, the democratically elected president of Venezuela whose socialist reforms — which included nationalizing foreign commercial assets to fund programs of social uplift — infuriated Washington and Wall Street. According to the UK Observer, Abrams had advance knowledge of, and approved, the military coup that removed Chávez from power for 47 hours in April 2002. The coup plotters, who backed pro-US businessman Pedro Carmona for president, reportedly visited the White House several times, with the Bush administration rushing to recognize the illegitimate Carmona regime before Chávez loyalists quickly quashed the brief revolt.

As Bush’s special Middle East adviser, Abrams was one of the key intellectual architects of the 2003 US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. He had long been an enthusiastic advocate of overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s regime, co-authoring a 1998 letter to President Bill Clinton urging regime change in Baghdad. Iraq wasn’t the only Middle Eastern nation that Abrams helped destabilize. The staunch Zionist, who ran the NSC’s Israel/Palestine desk, has been accused of leading the Bush administration’s effort to subvert the 2006 Palestinian elections to block the formation of a Fatah-Hamas unity government. “It was during Abrams’ tenure in the NSC that the United States lost all credibility as an honest broker among Palestinians,” Eric Alterman wrote in The Nation in 2013.

Act III: Prelude to Regime Change?

President Trump’s hiring of Abrams has perplexed many observers, not only because the president previously rejected him for being critical of his candidacy but also because Trump has repeatedly voiced disdain for neoconservatism. The president has called the Iraq war the “worst single mistake” in US foreign policy history and time and again has roundly rejected core neoconservative ideals including nation building and the spreading of democracy. Nevertheless, Abrams is now the second prominent Bush-era neoconservative after National Security Advisor John Bolton to be hired by Trump.

This is an ominous development for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and the millions of Venezuelans who still support him and the Bolivarian Revolution despite his increasingly authoritarian rule. Last September, the New York Times reported Trump administration officials held secret talks with coup-minded Venezuelan military officers to discuss overthrowing Maduro. If Trump, who has repeatedly raised the possibility of invading Venezuela, embraces regime change in Caracas — which many believe he already has by recognizing presidential pretender Juan Guaidó — Abrams will certainly play a starring role in what is sure to be a brutally bloody affair. It will be a fitting third act in the human rights horror show that is Elliott Abrams’ appalling career.

Brett Wilkins is editor-at-large for US news at Digital Journal. Based in San Francisco, his work covers issues of social justice, human rights and war and peace. 

February 1, 2019 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , | 1 Comment

Western Anti-Russia Paranoia Reaches Fever-Pitch

Strategic Culture Foundation | February 1, 2019

Western corporate news media have got to be one of the most irresponsible and toxic entities. In particular, their contribution to distorting international relations with Russia and stoking tensions is bordering on incitement.

It is astounding and atrocious that such paranoid thinking is displayed on a massive scale. Western establishment news media, without a hint of irony, proclaim to be independent, critical, free-thinking and defenders of democracy. How delusional. They are increasingly serving up war propaganda like ministries of disinformation in a truly Orwellian scenario. And yet Western media have the arrogant hypocrisy to vilify Russia for malign intent.

German media recently accused Russian news channels of “propaganda” and demanded their shutdown. British media, including supposedly “quality” brands, run sensational reports about Russian warships “menacing” Britain and Europe because those vessels sailed through proximate international waters. Alleged Russian cyberattacks are aiming to destroy civil society and infrastructure. And so on.

But this week, it was American news media that once again excelled in irresponsible anti-Russia paranoia. The CNN news channel “informed” its viewers of how Russia and North Korea were “teaming up” as “two of America’s most dangerous adversaries”. The brief report is worth studying for its sinister use of images and innuendo to convey alleged nefarious intentions imputed to both Russia and North Korea towards US national security.

A day before that report, the Washington Post published an equally hollow article claiming that Moscow had offered Pyongyang a deal to build a nuclear power plant in exchange for North Korea dismantling its ballistic weapons. The alleged deal, according to the Post, “marked an attempt by Moscow to intervene in high-stakes nuclear talks as it asserts itself in a string of geopolitical flash points from the Middle East to South Asia to Latin America.”

That non-entity report was then “cited” by CNN subsequently to make its breathless case that Russia and North Korea were “teaming up” against the US.

This non-stop fingering by Western news media of Russia as a malign nation is not “news information” to the public. It is simply disinformation, distortion and demonization. It is war propaganda. The caricature of Russia as being an evil enemy is not based on facts or evidence. It is based on repetition of lies and innuendo.

Western news media are a disgrace to any claims of being independent “public information”. They are the antithesis of critical journalism.

This incendiary role comes at a time when international relations are acutely strained. Russia’s deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned this week that the world has never been in greater danger in recent decades as it is now of an all-out military confrontation. He was speaking at a conference held in Beijing on nuclear arms controls attended by the US, Russia, Britain and France.

Ryabkov was referring to the threat by the US to abandon the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. If the treaty collapses then international security is gravely weakened.

Russia and the US accuse each other of breaching the INF. Moscow points to the actual installation of short-range US ballistic missile systems in Romania and Poland. For its part, the American side has not provided evidence to back up its claims against Russia.

The point is, however, that the claims and counter-claims should be resolved through negotiations and dialogue. The unilateral abandonment of the INF by the US is reprehensible and reckless.

But such high-handed conduct by Washington is based to a large extent on the sinister imaging of Russia as a “dangerous enemy”.

This is why the Western news media deserve reproach. The Russophobia that they churn out on a weekly, daily basis has directly fomented a prejudice detrimental to international relations.

Western state policies of antagonism towards Russia are being fashioned based on false perceptions. Those policies are partly enabled by public passivity inculcated by Western media constantly portraying Russia as a “bad actor”.

The so-called “Russiagate” scandal has been running for almost two years in the Western corporate media. Yet, there is still no proof to substantiate the sensational claims that Russia interfered in the 2016 US presidential elections with the aim of getting Donald Trump elected.

Nonetheless, the Western media continue to propagate that threadbare narrative. This week, the top US intelligence official, Dan Coats, claimed that Russia was going to interfere in the 2020 election on a much greater scale that it had allegedly done in 2016. The news media reported without any skepticism or investigation.

Fortunately though, the establishment Western media has come to be seen by many people in Western states and around the world as a farce. The repetition of lies and fiction regarding Russia – by supposedly august titles like the New York Times, London Times, BBC, Der Spiegel and many more – has totally discredited Western so-called news media.

Public trust in what is supposed to be an institution upholding “democracy” appears to be at an all-time low. The baneful condition is correlated with Western media and government anti-Russia paranoia being at an all-time high.

This growing public distrust and contempt is good and a mercy. For if the deranged Western media and governments had their Russophobia fulfilled, the world would be plunged into war.

One thing that emerges clearly is the past Cold War hostility towards the Soviet Union is recycled into animosity towards Russia. In the Cold War, the Western states could at least claim they were fighting against an unwanted ideology. There is no basis for such a claim post-Cold War, yet the aggression continues. That means the hostility emanates from the West. Why? That is a question Western populations should be asking about their media and governments and their foreign policies. What is the immanent need for such hostility?

The Western media’s function is to keep the mass of people drugged from asking searching questions about their condition and the imposition of irrational war-like mentality.

February 1, 2019 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, Russophobia, Timeless or most popular | , , | 1 Comment

Your Complete Guide to the NY Times’ Support of US-Backed Coups in Latin America

By Adam H. JOHNSON | TruthDig | January 29, 2019

On Friday, The New York Times continued its long, predictable tradition of backing U.S. coups in Latin America by publishing an editorial praising Donald Trump’s attempt to overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. This will be the 10th such coup the paper has backed since the creation of the CIA over 70 years ago.

A survey of The New York Times archives shows the Times editorial board has supported 10 out of 12 American-backed coups in Latin America, with two editorials—those involving the 1983 Grenada invasion and the 2009 Honduras coup—ranging from ambiguous to reluctant opposition. The survey can be viewed here.

Covert involvement of the United States, by the CIA or other intelligence services, isn’t mentioned in any of the Times’ editorials on any of the coups. Absent an open, undeniable U.S. military invasion (as in the Dominican Republic, Panama and Grenada), things seem to happen in Latin American countries entirely on their own, with outside forces rarely, if ever, mentioned in the Times. Obviously, there are limits to what is “provable” in the immediate aftermath of such events (covert intervention is, by definition, covert), but the idea that the U.S. or other imperial actors could have stirred the pot, funded a junta or run weapons in any of the conflicts under the table is never entertained.

More often than not, what one is left with, reading Times editorials on these coups, are racist, paternalistic “cycle of violence” cliches. Sigh, it’s just the way of things Over There. When reading these quotes, keep in mind the CIA supplied and funded the groups that ultimately killed these leaders:

  • Brazil 1964: “They have, throughout their history, suffered from a lack of first class rulers.”
  • Chile 1973: “No Chilean party or faction can escape some responsibility for the disaster, but a heavy share must be assigned to the unfortunate Dr. Allende himself.”
  • Argentina 1976: “It was typical of the cynicism with which many Argentines view their country’s politics that most people in Buenos Aires seemed more interested in a soccer telecast Tuesday night than in the ouster of President Isabel Martinez de Perlin by the armed forces. The script was familiar for this long‐anticipated coup.”

See, it didn’t matter! It’s worth pointing out the military junta put in power by the CIA-contrived coup killed 10,000 to 30,000 Argentines from 1976 to 1983.

There’s a familiar script: The CIA and its U.S. corporate partners come in, wage economic warfare, fund and arm the opposition, then the target of this operation is blamed. This, of course, isn’t to say there isn’t merit to some of the objections being raised by The New York Times—whether it be Chile in 1973 or Venezuela in 2019. But that’s not really the point. The reason the CIA and U.S. military and its corporate partisans historically target governments in Latin America is because those governments are hostile to U.S. capital and strategic interests, not because they are undemocratic. So while the points the Times makes about illiberalism may sometimes be true, they’re mostly a non sequitur when analyzing the reality of what’s unfolding.

Did Allende, as the Times alleged in 1973 when backing his violent overthrow, “persist in pushing a program of pervasive socialism” without a “popular mandate”? Did, as the Times alleged, Allende “pursue this goal by dubious means, including attempts to bypass both Congress and the courts”? Possibly. But Allende’s supposed authoritarianism isn’t why the CIA sought his ouster. It wasn’t his means of pursuing redistributive policies that offended the CIA and U.S. corporate partners; it was the redistributive policies themselves.

Hand-wringing over the anti-democratic nature of how Allende carried out his agenda without noting that it was the agenda itself—not the means by which it was carried out—that animated his opponents is butting into a conversation no one in power is really having. Why, historically, has The New York Times taken for granted the liberal pretexts for U.S. involvement, rather than analyzing whether there were possibly other, more cynical forces at work?

The answer is that rank ideology is baked into the premise. The idea that the U.S. is motivated by human rights and democracy is taken for granted by The New York Times editorial board and has been since its inception. This does all the heavy lifting without most people—even liberals vaguely skeptical of American motives in Latin America—noticing that a sleight of hand has taken place. “In recent decades,” a 2017 Times editorial scolding Russia asserted, “American presidents who took military action have been driven by the desire to promote freedom and democracy, sometimes with extraordinary results.” Oh, well, good then.

What should be a conversation about American military and its covert apparatus unduly meddling in other countries quickly becomes a referendum on the moral properties of those countries. Theoretically a good conversation to have (and one certainly ongoing among people and institutions in these countries), but absent a discussion of the merits of the initial axiom—that U.S. talking heads and the Washington national security apparatus have a birthright to determine which regimes are good and bad—it serves little practical purpose stateside beyond posturing. And often, as a practical matter, it works to cement the broader narrative justifying the meddling itself.

Do the U.S. and its allies have a moral or ethical right to determine the political future of Venezuela? This question is breezed past, and we move on to the question of how this self-evident authority is best exercised. This is the scope of debate in The New York Times—and among virtually all U.S. media outlets. To ante up in the poker game of Serious People Discussing Foreign Policy Seriously, one is obligated to register an Official Condemnation of the Official Bad Regime. This is so everyone knows you accept the core premises of U.S. regime change but oppose it on pragmatic or legalistic grounds. It’s a tedious, extortive exercise designed to shift the conversation away from the United States’ history of arbitrary and violent overthrows and into an exchange about how best to oppose the Official Bad Regime in question. U.S. liberals are to keep a real-time report card on these Official Bad Regimes, and if these regimes—due to an ill-defined rubric of un-democraticness and human rights—fall below a score of say, “60,” they become illegitimate and unworthy of defense as such.

While obviously not in Latin America, it’s also worth noting that the Times cheerled the CIA-sponsored coup against Iran’s President, Mohammad Mossadegh, in 1953. Its editorial, written two days after his ouster, engaged in the Times’ patented combination of victim-blaming and “oh dear” bloviating:

  • “The now-deposed Premier Mossadegh was flirting with Russia. He had won his phony plebiscite to dissolve the Majlis, or lower House of Parliament, with the aid of the Tudeh Communists.”
  • “Mossadegh is out, a prisoner awaiting trial. It is a credit to the Shah, to whom he was so disloyal, and to Premier Zahedi, that this rabid, self-seeking nationalist would have been protected at a time when his life would not have been worth the wager of a plugged nickel.”
  • “The Shah … deserves praise in this crisis. … He was always true to the parliamentary institutions of his country, he was a moderating influence in the wild fanaticism exhibited by the nationalists under Mossadegh, and he was socially progressive.”

Again, no mention of CIA involvement (which the agency now openly acknowledges), which the Times wouldn’t necessarily have had any way of knowing at the time. (This is part of the point of covert operations.) Mossadegh is summarily demonized, and it’s not until decades later the public learns of the extent of U.S. involvement. The Times even gets in an orientalist description of Iranians, implying why a strong Shah is necessary:

[The average Iranian] has nothing to lose. He is a man of infinite patience, of great charm and gentleness, but he is also—as we have been seeing—a volatile character, highly emotional, and violent when sufficiently aroused.

Needless to say, there are major difference between these cases: Mossadegh, Allende, Chavez and Maduro all lived in radically different times and championed different policies, with varying degrees of liberalism and corruption. But the one thing they all had in common is that the U.S. government, and a compliant U.S. media, decided they “needed to go” and did everything to achieve this end. The fundamental arrogance of this assumption, one would think, is what ought to be discussed in the U.S. media—as typified by the Times’ editorial board—but time and again, this assumption is either taken for granted or hand-waved away, and we all move on to how and when we can best overthrow the Bad Regime.

For those earnestly concerned about Maduro’s efforts to undermine the democratic institutions of Venezuela (he’s been accused of jailing opponents, stacking the courts and holding Potemkin elections), it’s worth pointing out that even when the liberal democratic properties of Venezuela were at their height in 2002 (they were internationally sanctioned and overseen by the Carter Center for years, and no serious observer considers Hugo Chavez’s rule illegitimate), the CIA still greenlit a military coup against Chavez, and the New York Times still profusely praised the act. As it wrote at the time:

With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona.

Chavez would soon be restored to power after millions took to the streets to protest his removal from office, but the question remains: If The New York Times was willing to ignore the undisputed will of the Venezuelan people in 2002, what makes anyone think the newspaper is earnestly concerned about it in 2019? Again, the thing that’s being objected to by the White House, the State Department and their U.S. imperial apparatchiks is the redistributive policies and opposition to the United States’ will, not the means by which they do so. Perhaps the Times and other U.S. media—living in the heart of, and presumably having influence over, this empire—could try centering this reality rather than, for the millionth time, adjudicating the moral properties of the countries subject to its violent, illegitimate whims.

February 1, 2019 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Regime Change In Venezuela: Army Defectors, Russian Mercenaries And Disappearing Gold

South Front | January 31, 2019

Over the past few days, the intensity of anti-government protests in Venezuela has declined despite attempts of the US-led bloc to warm them up through both public and clandestine measures. However, the conflict continues to develop amid the acute standoff in the media sphere between the Maduro government and its opponents backed by the US-led bloc.

On January 29, CNN released an interview with two “Venezuelan army defectors” who appealed to US President Donald Trump to arm them to defend “freedom” in Venezuela. They claimed to be in contact with hundreds of willing defectors via WhatsApp groups and called on Venezuelan soldiers to revolt against the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

“As Venezuelan soldiers, we are making a request to the US to support us, in logistical terms, with communication, with weapons, so we can realize Venezuelan freedom,” one of the alleged defectors, Guillen Martinez, told CNN. Another one, Hidalgo Azuaje, added: “We’re not saying that we need only US support, but also Brazil, Colombia, Peru, all brother countries, that are against this dictatorship.”

During the entire clip, these persons were presented in a manner alleging that they had just recently defected and are now calling on others to follow their step. However, therein lies the problem. The badges on their uniform say FAN – Fuerza Armada Nacionales. This is an outdated pattern, which has been dropped. Now, Venezuela’s service members have a different badge – FANB, which means Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana. So, either the “Venezuelan army defectors” somehow lost the letter B from their uniform, or the entire interview is a staged show involving former Venezuelan service members, who have been living for a long time outside the country, or in the worst case – actors.

The interview came amid increasing US political, media and sanction pressure on the Maduro government. White House National Security Adviser John Bolton was even spotted with a mysterious note about the deployment of 5,000 US troops to Colombia, the US ally which borders Venezuela. In this situation, a large-scale military uprising or at least formation of some opposition within the army would become a useful tool in a wider effort to overthrow the country’s government. On the other hand, the use of such CNN-styled content shows that so far the US and its proxies have achieved little success in buying the support of Venezuelan service members.

On January 29, Venezuelan lawmaker Jose Guerra claimed via Twitter that a Boeing 777 of Russia’s Nordwind Airlines landed in Caracas on January 28 to spirit away 20 tons of gold bars, worth some $840 million, from the country’s central bank. When asked how he knew this, Guerra provided no evidence. By January 30, these items of breaking news had rocked the headlines of most of the mainstream media.

Another version, which was also quite popular among pro-opposition media, is that the plane, which reportedly made the trip directly from Moscow, moved in a group of Russian private military contractors to support the Maduro government. This version is fueled by reports claiming up to 400 Kremlin-linked private military contractors may have arrived in Venezuela.

The developing crisis is also accompanied by the growth of citizen journalism. Bellingcat members already created a Twitter page named “In Venezuela”, which provides field news about the crisis from Toronto, Canada. It’s easy to expect some “open source intelligence investigations” revealing crimes of the Maduro government against peaceful protesters very soon if the conflict escalates further.

Roughly speaking, the mainstream media presents the audience with the following story: The Maduro government is about to fall and is already moving the country’s gold reserves somewhere via Russian planes. At the same time, Vladimir Putin sent his mercenaries to rescue Maduro and to keep the corrupt regime in power in order to secure Russia’s economic and political interests. This, as well as the oppressive nature of the regime, are the only reason why the forces of good have not yet achieved victory.

Fortunately, there is the shining knight of democracy, Juan Guaido, who was democratically appointed as the Interim President of Venezuela from Washington. He, his Free Venezuelan Army consisting of hundreds of WhatsApp defectors and a group of unbiased US/NATO-funded citizen journalists and investigators are ready to stand against the Maduro-Putin alliance and to defend freedom and democracy in Venezuela… with a bit of help from the Trump administration for sure.

There are no doubts that modern Venezuela is allied with Russia and Moscow will employ its existing influence to resolve the crisis and thus defend its investments and oil assets. Furthermore, Maduro and his supporters showed that they are not going to give in to the US-led pressure. At the same time, The level of MSM hysteria, including an open disinformation campaign against the Maduro government and attempts to demonize it through various means, including its ties with Moscow, show that the Washington establishment is serious in its regime change efforts and may even be ready to instigate a Syria-style “proxy war” in the country in order to achieve own goals.

February 1, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , | 1 Comment

European firms ‘won’t dare’ use new EU payment system for trade with Iran out of fear of US

RT | February 1, 2019

A new mechanism to allow “legitimate trade” with Iran, which was set up by France, Germany, and the UK this week, doesn’t change anything for European companies, according to independent journalist Luc Rivet.

He told RT that European companies and others cannot feel confident that they could do business with Iran without being subject to US sanctions.

“I don’t know what companies will make use of that mechanism to sell to Iran,” he said, adding that it’s very dangerous for the companies if they are caught working in Iran.

Europe mentions that medical equipment could be sold through this way, says Rivet.

“Who produces this equipment? You think that Siemens will sell to Iran? Never, because they sell to America many other things as well… And Siemens is afraid of losing the American market.”

He explained that an “incredible number of companies” won’t have anything to do with Iran, including the banking sector, the oil and gas sector, and others.

Even small companies will hesitate to sell anything to Iran at risk of being caught, according to Rivet. They can do that through other channels, like via Turkey, he said.

The journalist added: “It’s much easier for Chinese and Russian companies to make deals with Iran. The Europeans are scared in an incredible way. The companies are afraid by ricochet of being in the eye of the storm with the Americans.”

“That’s very dangerous for European companies,” he repeated, adding: “I don’t know anybody who will dare to go with this Instex system.”

February 1, 2019 Posted by | Economics, Wars for Israel | , , | Leave a comment

Facebook, Twitter delete accounts linked to Iran, Russia, Venezuela with anti-west content

Press TV – February 1, 2019

Facebook and Twitter say they have taken down hundreds of accounts they claim have been part of “coordinated influence operations” from Iran, Russia and Venezuela.

Facebook said it had removed 783 pages, groups, and accounts for “engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior tied to Iran.”

The accounts, some of which had been active since 2010, had garnered about 2 million followers on Facebook and more than 250,000 followers on Instagram.

The decision came after the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab said the accounts had been designed to amplify views “in line with Iranian government’s international stances.”

“The pages posted content with strong bias for the government in Tehran and against the ‘West’ and regional neighbors, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel,” the center wrote in a blog post.

Several of the accounts focused on sharing content supporting Palestinians and condemning Israeli crimes in French, English, Spanish and Hebrew, while others were critical of Saudi policies, it said.

Twitter separately announced that it had deleted thousands of “malicious” accounts from Russia, Iran and Venezuela. The accounts had “limited operations” targeting the US midterm elections in November, the company alleged, and the majority were suspended prior to election day.

Back in August 2018, Facebook targeted hundreds of accounts allegedly tied to Iran and Russia under the pretext of fighting what it calls “misinformation” campaigns.

Among the accounts was one belonging to the Quest 4 Truth (Q4T) Iranian media organization, which promotes Islamic values.

A similar move was taken by Google against 39 YouTube channels at the time.

The channels reportedly belonged to the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), which condemned the move as a “coordinated” campaign and a “clear example of censorship” aimed at preventing the dissemination of truth and alternative viewpoints online.

Three months later in October, Facebook deleted 82 more Iranian accounts, claiming that it had detected “coordinated activity” between the accounts earlier in the month.

In September 2018, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif harshly criticized Twitter for blocking the accounts of “real Iranians” but overlooking the “regime change” propaganda spewing out of Washington.

He said the accounts of real Iranians, including TV presenters and students, have been shuttered for allegedly being part of an “influence operation.”

Earlier in January, the detention of Press TV anchor Marzieh Hashemi in the United States raised deep concerns among the world’s media activists and journalists, who launched a social media campaign with the hashtags #FreeMarziehHashemi and #Pray4MarziehHashemi in support of the detained journalist.

Hashemi’s long detention without charge finally ended last Wednesday when she was released from a Washington jail. The newscaster’s ordeal is apparently over but Hashemi is taking a firm stance against the practices of the US judicial system.

Following her release, she said in a filmed statement that public support definitely played a part in her release and vowed to further protest rights violations in the US.

February 1, 2019 Posted by | Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , | Leave a comment