Sunday, June 05, 2016

The candidates speak!

My colleague Harry the Human, with his mental legerdemain, has obtained exclusive statements from the two presidential candidates heading for the November 8 election (2044).  Read them only at:
http://harrythehuman.harrythehumanpoliticalthoughtsfrombeyondthepale.com/


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The ten-day blackout of Raqqa/Fallujah news on ABC, CBS and NBC (Updated)

At least the Vietnam War was reported.  Each time President Lyndon Johnson ordered the bombing of North Vietnam in the late 1960's, the event was prominently covered in that evening's TV network news- on CBS, NBC and ABC- and appeared in headlines in all major American newspapers the next day.  Contrast that with modern reporting of America at war.  For instance, ARA News (an independent news service often cited by American network news) reported on April 2 (http://aranews.net/2016/04/u-s-led-coalition-hit-isis-mosque-syrias-raqqa/) that U.S.-led coalition bombers hit a mosque in Raqqa, killing "several militants" and "a number of civilians [up to 30] who attended Friday prayers."  The story was not run on American networks, that day or later.

My intent here is to detail a ten day period, starting May 24 and ending June 3, that featured a blackout of coverage by American TV networks (and many major newspapers) of any news of U.S.- coalition actions in Syria and Iraq.  The blackout coincided with the launching of two major coalition offenses.  On May 24 dozens of news sites on the Internet reported twin attacks by American-led coalitions against the two ISIS capitals, Raqqa in Syria and Fallujah in Iraq.  The attacks are ongoing as I write, but from May 24 through June 2 there was not one word on the attacks- or anything else in Syria or Iraq- on the CBS, NBC or ABC evening news from New York.

[Update, 6/8: Although network coverage of the Raqqa and Fallujah attacks resumed 6/3, it is heavily censored, focussing on U.S. warplanes taking off from an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean.  For instance, although ABC online reported on 6/6 that Sunni civilians fleeing Fallujah face torture and death from Shiite troops in the U.S. coalition (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-07/iraqi-sunnis-accuse-shiite-militias-of-torture-in-is-battle/7484180), ABC TV did not report the story, nor did CBS or NBC.  This news item could be inconvenient  because we explain the attack on Fallujah as necessary to rescue Sunni civilians.]

Although the networks remained silent, mainstream reporting increased a bit starting Tuesday, May 31, with the Los Angeles Times' first piece on the attacks (http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-iraq-fallouja-20160531-snap-story.html), one week after they started. By the time the story ran it delivered old and incomplete information, at least to people who read Internet news.  In addition to the airstrikes and allied torture of civilians mentioned above, over the first week of the blackout people who read Internet news also learned that there are U.S. troops on the ground in the Raqqa attack (CNN: Politics posts photos of U.S. special-ops forces on the front lines near Raqqa, http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/26/politics/gallery/syria-special-ops/index.html).  The L.A. Times story omitted the airstrikes and U.S. troops on the ground, but it did describe the plight of civilians trapped in Fallujah.  The late reporting and the omissions removed all context from the plight of the civilians. The result: when Angelenos who rely on their hometown newspaper woke up on the 31st to read in the Times that 50,000 civilians trapped in Fallujah fear for their lives because of the U.S. coalition attack, that the civilian men anticipate being killed either by the U.S.-coalition or ISIS, they read this as if just learning what much of the world already knew, like amnesiacs waking in confusion.   How did actions by the U. S. during the news blackout affect the perceptions of civilians in Fallujah and Raqqa?  How do those civilians see us now, as our coalition threatens their lives to save them from ISIS? How does the rest of the world see the situation?  We don't know because we haven't been learning anything about it.  By the time we do learn it, it's a fait accompli.  

The pattern of omission during the blackout suggests that America's level of freedom and reliability of information is not unlike China's, with its dichotomy between state-controlled media and a still-free Internet, although in our case, for "state-controlled media" you would substitute "network news."  During the ten days of network silence the Raqqa and Fallujah attacks were covered extensively on the Internet by U.S.-based sites such as National Public Radio's (e.g., U.S.-Backed Forces Launch Two Major Offenses Against ISIS:  http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/05/25/479480583/u-s-backed-forces-launch-two-major-offensives-against-islamic-state), as well as the Daily Beast, CNN, BBC World News and many others, in sharp contrast to the censored news from New York.   Someone seemed to have given the networks the word: Do not direct public attention to the attacks on Raqqa and Fallujah.

The same omission appears in the presidential race: there has been no reference to the coalition attacks from Trump, Sanders or Clinton.  


The blackout finally ended on June 3, when the CBS evening news with Scott Pelley reported on the battle for Fallujah (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/50000-civilians-complicate-battle-to-retake-fallujah-iraq-from-isis/).  As in the L.A. Times piece, we learn that 50,000 civilians are trapped in Fallujah.  We do not learn of U.S. troops on the ground, of U.S. coalition airstrikes hitting civilians, or the threat to civilians in Fallujah from U.S. Coalition troops, again depriving American viewers of context.  The CBS piece begs the question of why the U.S. needs to lead this attack if thousands of civilians face massacre because of it, but without context few network viewers will notice.

In spite of the return of reporting to CBS, as far as the American public's attention goes the attacks are not happening.  Check with people you encounter today to confirm this.  Ten days of network blackout has contributed to this non-knowing, as it was intended to, but news manipulators are assisted by a long-bred political confusion, carefully nurtured since the Vietnam War and brought to fruition under President Obama, that has resulted in the hopeless fracturing of public comprehension of our war policies or any credible movement to question them.  

It should be noted that Americans do not necessarily care about collateral damage in the war against ISIS. Americans have been severely frightened by ISIS attacks on American and European civilians and by its many other gratuitous and horrible acts, so there exists a sort of tacit acceptance by Americans of raining down hell on ISIS, and maybe even on unknown civilians in the process.  To go along completely with this attitude, however, requires a level of trust in government that the Founders wisely did not recommend.  Accepting a government that so openly manipulates our understanding of world events will not serve us well in the future.

Conspiracy theories, such as those that posit active manipulation of a country's news sources, are by nature difficult to prove, even those, like mine, that are correct, but you can test the evidence for the two contentions in this essay:

1.  There was no coverage on American network TV news (i.e. on ABC, CBS or NBC) of the attacks on Raqqa and Fallujah from May 24 through June 2, while during the same period the Internet was full of critical coverage of the attacks. 

Test: Read online stories about the U.S. coalition attacks on Raqqa and Fallujah from May 24 through June 2.  Then go back, starting May 24, and check for coverage of the attacks in the evening news online for ABC, CBS and NBC. 
 Try major papers like the Los Angeles Times and New York Times.  The blackout is plain to see.

2.  Americans do not know that their country is leading major attacks on two foreign cities.

Test: Go up to anyone you know, or someone you just met, or the next person you see, and ask, "What's the latest on the U.S. coalition attacks on Raqqa and Fallujah?"   Let me know if you hear anything other than, "The what?"

Insert George Orwell quote here........


[This essay does not address the question of why a government would want to lure its people into war, but the subject came up Tuesday, 5/31, when Cheryl Lubin and I discussed it, and this essay, on her online radio show, In Our Times, at 
http://latalkradio.com/sites/default/files/audio/Cheryl-053116.mp3] 



Monday, May 02, 2016

Report from the California GOP convention

Why is one major political party collapsing, and the other teetering, just as we walk into a Mideast war?  Is our democracy less important to maintain when we're soon to be controlled by war hysteria?

I attended the California State Republican Convention in Burlingame last weekend, where I talked for twenty minutes with state Party Chair Jim Brulte and made notes on what I saw.  

First I'd better explain to my blue readers why I would attend a state GOP convention. I'm registered "decline to state," but for several years I've been interested in the Republican Party as a potential alternative to the war-mongering Democrats, who have used their top-dog status and skillful duplicity to bring us closer to war than Bush and the Neo-Cons ever dreamed.  

My hope was that the Republicans would follow the Democratic playbook of 1985 and re-invent themselves in their moment of crisis, a crisis brought on by its embrace of the Tea Party, which claims about 30% of the electorate and repels everyone else.  1985 is the year another major American political party revamped itself in the face of repeated failure.  After Ronald Reagan's landslide victory over Walter Mondale there was talk of the demise of the Democratic Party, reminiscent of talk today about the end of the Republican Party.  But unlike the GOP, the Democrats, under the guidance of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), undertook a self-study, identified their problem as an overly leftist agenda and found solutions in sharp turns to the right in welfare and trade.  To impress the electorate with the meaningfulness of its change, the Party picked public fights with progressives like Jesse Jackson.  The chair of the DLC was Arkansas governor Bill Clinton, who resigned to run successfully for president.   

I was certainly wrong about the GOP doing something like that.  The Party has shown no interest in self-analysis, expressing shock that Mitt Romney lost the last presidential election, and shock again this time that Jeb Bush, after spending $130 million on his campaign, would drop from the primaries as if no one had ever heard of him.  The clever minds of the DLC would have spotted the problem in an instant: the Republican Party will not publicly renounce the Tea Party.  That omission has ended the hopes of every centrist Republican candidate from Romney to Bush.

The GOP's faltering image helped Bill Clinton and continues to help President Obama and Hillary Clinton, and one might suspect a collusion between the parties in which the Republicans take the fall with unpopular positions (e.g. from Romney's primary opponent Senator Rick Santorum- never refuted by Romney: the Founders did not intend separation of church and state; abortion doctors should be charged with murder; contraception reduces sex to "mere pleasure") leaving the Democrats, by comparison, with a rational glow.  If so, the problem may have been that as time passed GOP leaders began to take this arrangement for granted and left the helm, allowing the Party to weaken to the point that the opportunist Donald Trump could corral it into submission.

The culture shift has been sudden.  Thus my interest in attending the Republican state convention last weekend.  I thought I might see a party in shambles, with factions colliding chaotically so that, at last, leaders might wake up and figure out how to survive and maybe even offer some resistance to Democrats.  I thought this even though national Party leaders had already shown their fatalism.  Senator Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House and chair of the Republican National Convention, was asked by a student what young Republicans should do if they see no candidate to support.  Continuing the GOP path to oblivion, Ryan advised that they should not approach the November election as a "vote for a person," adding, "I'm not trying to push you one way or another."  Why not?  

Similarly, after Reince Priebus, Chair of the Republican National Committee, met with Trump on April 1, Trump emerged to claim the Party would now rally behind him, while Priebus made no comment, staying in his office until all the reporters were gone.

[Update, 5/12:  Today Ryan and Priebus, who have so far declined to endorse Trump, met with him for the first time since the Indiana primary, when he became the presumptive nominee.  The three issued a statement describing the meeting as "a very positive step towards unification."  In terms of the art of the deal, the interpretation would be that Ryan and Priebus folded, allowing Trump to get the GOP for a bargain basement price, though you might critique Trump for buying something, regardless of price, that he won't be able to sell for more later.]

Back to the California convention, the big event Friday, lunch with Trump, was sold out ($175, are you kidding me!), but Trump's remarks were widely reported.  He told the audience, "I want the Party to unite behind me, but frankly, if it doesn't, I'll win anyway."   Reports said the audience "applauded politely."  In another universe they would have demanded their money back, at the least.  The state Party has for years made much of Ronald Reagan's alleged "11th Commandment": Thou shalt not attack another Republican.  Any candidate who appeared to do so was the target of intense opprobrium from the leadership on down.  Apparently not any more.

With this in mind I sat down to talk with the California Party Chair, Jim Brulte.  Brulte was kind enough to give me his time because he had read my articles, several published in GOP journals, advocating GOP rejection of the Tea Party, as described above.  We had exchanged views via email and I had found him to be a reasonable guy.

The first thing I wanted to ask Brulte was, "What about Trump?" but I sensed from watching his colleagues Priebus and Ryan that this would be a non-starter, so I tried to approach the subject obliquely by mentioning a prominent Republican commentator who had advised that the California GOP should play on its strengths, winning local elections in rural areas (where the Tea Party is strong) and forgoing major efforts to elect Republicans to big-stakes seats like governor, senator or president, leaving those for the Democratic cities to elect.  Brulte strongly denied that the Party is weak in the cities, citing as evidence the appointment of a Republican to chair the South Coast Air Quality Management District, covering L.A., Orange and several other counties.  Fine, but surely there's even more compelling evidence than that.  Brulte offered none, suggesting that yes, indeed, the party has decided to take the rural areas and give up the cities.

I attempted to go directly into a Trump discussion by noting that Trump waffles on positions important to the Tea Party, like abortion, and I asked Brulte if the Party would feel the need to represent Tea Party beliefs in response.  Brulte said forcefully, "That's policy, and I will not discuss policy with you."

That wraps up the substantive elements of my conversation with Jim Brulte.  As I walked through the convention, watching people from a variety of factions chat happily with people in their own groups, I realized why the chaos and resulting evolution I had anticipated were not happening.  The Republican Party today is not a political party.  It's a social club to which people who dislike the Democratic Party are invited, regardless of their reasons for disliking Democrats.  

As if to reinforce this idea, a lady approached me with a flyer and told me that the Tea Party California Caucus meeting was starting soon.  I asked why my convention agenda had not shown a Tea Party Caucus meeting and she said that the Tea Party is no longer affiliated with the Republican Party, it just has its meeting in the middle of the convention.  The brochure explained that the meeting was titled: "The right to Bear Arms in California, A Panel Discussion of the 2nd Amendment."  In search of insight, I followed the sizable crowd into the meeting room.  On the stage a large sign read, "TPCC Freedom Raffle, Featuring these great prizes: A Weatherby PA-08 Shotgun; Front Sight Firearms Training; (2) 4-Person Survival Packs."

Gene Hoffman, founder and chairman of Calguns Foundation, and Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle and Pistol Association, talked about how much they like Governor Jerry Brown because after the Governor accepted the "low-lying fruit" of background checks, he realized that nothing more could be gained by legislation.

Tim Donnelly, former assemblyman and candidate for governor, notorious for being arrested for attempting to carry a loaded handgun onto a Southwest flight, described how he got his AK 47 ready to protect his family after the San Bernadino attack.  You can’t beat this party for diversity.

The GOP certainly offers a "big tent."  That used to be the phrase for what a political party needs.  But a big inert tent is what a jellyfish would be if it didn't have a central nervous system.

Many observers expect the GOP national convention in July to bring the chaos I thought I might see in Burlingame, but if California is any indication, Trump will acquire this party like any of his other properties, do with it what he wants, and no one within the Party will feel that he or she has any influence in the matter.  There are unknowns coming towards us in this election, but the fate of the Republican Party is, unfortunately, now known.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Obama in Riyadh: Three dimensional chess

The latest chapter in the deceptive narrative of our growing involvement in the Middle East involves President Obama's trip on 4/20 to the Saudi capital of Riyadh for a summit of Gulf states fighting ISIS, followed a few days later by his announcement in London that he would authorize an increase in U.S. troops in Syria.  Leading up to this trip, in what appear strategic feints of candor, the media delivered a series of startling revelations about Saudi Arabia and its relationship with the U.S.  Over the past week we learned from 60 Minutes that the Saudi's were likely involved in 9/11, and that this information is contained and classified in 28 pages from the official 9/11 report that the President has fought to keep classified, and we learned from reviews of Pulitzer Prize winner Dexter Filkins' new book, The Forever War, that the Saudi's knew where Osama bin Laden was hiding for many months before the U.S. did and assisted Pakistan in concealing the information from the U.S.   

The seeming legitimacy of these revelations frees me from my usual sense that I need to inform people of subtle things they've missed, although there is one aspect of what is happening that is currently left out of the news: the perception throughout the Middle East (and reported but not noticed in the U.S.) that Saudi Arabia (like Russia) is our ally in a U.S. led coalition, ostensibly to fight ISIS but involved in quite a lot of other things as well.  The Saudi's have distinguished themselves in our coalition by massacring Houthi civilians in Yemen, bombing, among other sites, a Doctor's Without Borders hospital in January (two months after the U.S. bombed one in Afghanistan).  What is a Houthi?  You'll be lucky to find anyone outside a D.C. think tank who knows, or who might have the slightest idea why we would be a close ally of a country that bombs Houthi hospitals.  But it is in our handlers' interest now to turn America's attention to its disagreements with Saudi Arabia, so that we will not notice that Middle East populations perceive Saudi Arabia to be our partner just as it establishes itself as an evil bad guy in the region.  What is the purpose of this double game?  In my view it is to promote the war that elements in our leadership (including the President) desire (for further exploration of this idea see the next two essays on this blog: Our news is as manipulated as Russia's and Applied Amnesia).

And just as the screenwriters of our coming war do not want anyone to notice our close alliance with Saudi Arabia, they divert our attention from another extremely violent partner in our coalition, Russia, which like Saudi Arabia- relatively unhampered by domestic opposition- also bombs civilian targets at will, with no apparent relevance to fighting ISIS, the only plausible goal being to keep the pot boiling through the current "peace" talks.  

All it takes is one Russian jet to buzz a U.S. warship and the American people, like the audience of a cruise ship hypnotist, are mesmerized, chanting together:  We are not like them...we are not like them....

[Update, 5/7: As the Russians conduct a partial withdrawal per the "peace" talks, other elements keep the pot boiling, e.g. the bombing on 5/6 of a Syrian refugee camp which killed at least 30 civilians, (http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/05/middleeast/aleppo-syria-refugee-camp-bombed/), for which no faction has taken responsibility, making each faction susceptible to a different hate-inspiring story] 

Update, 4/21: Saudi King Salman did not greet President Obama when he arrived in Riyadh as he had other world leaders, a seeming snub, but it was reported later that Obama and the King had a two hour meeting which "cleared the air," with much nodding and smiling for the cameras.  Thus both policy ends were met: the need for Americans to see a rift between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia so there will be no American guilt at the Saudi open season on Yemeni civilians, plus a display of solidarity between the two countries to show people in the Middle East the other view, that we are part of the Saudi depredations.  In February U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry did a similar balancing act with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in the wake of Russian attacks on Syrian civilians (see below, Applied Amnesia).  The point of this strategy is to attain a basic ingredient for the war our leaders have in mind: each side must be seething with hatred and fear.

Updates: 4/26, U.N. envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said a partial truce agreed to in February was "barely alive", and he called on Russia and the U.S. to "intervene at the 'highest level' to save the struggling peace talks" (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36156865).  The next day, 4/27, Russia bombed a Doctors Without Borders Syrian hospital, "killing at least 14 patients and staff" (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36158947).  Americans will have forgotten the incident, if they noticed it in the first place, by tomorrow so that we and our ally Russia can present ourselves as the saviors of Syria. To see how we arrived at this point, read Our news is as manipulated as Russia's and Applied Amnesia below.







Thursday, April 14, 2016

Our news is as manipulated as Russia's


If you follow the news, I have a question for you:  Did you know that President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Kerry and several dozen senior national security officials made a rare visit to CIA headquarters on 4/13 to discuss ramping up U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war?  As important as such a story is you probably don't know about it, and for the same reason I almost didn't: there was almost no coverage.  I watched the ABC network news with David Muir last night, after a day of reading online news sources like Daily Beast and Politico, and the CIA visit was not reported anywhere.  You would think an escalation of U.S. involvement in this distant war would be news, but it was left on the cutting room floor in deference to a welter of crime stories and extensive coverage of a Russian jet buzzing a U.S. warship.  I checked the other two networks, CBS and NBC, on their online sites and the CIA visit was not reported. I would have missed the story entirely had it not appeared in the Los Angeles Times ("Obama visits CIA HQ as U.S. steps up attacks on ISIS," 4/14/16,
http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-obama-cia-20160413-story.html), a still important newpaper that often appears free of the surrounding censorship (but not always- see "The ten-day blackout of Raqqa/Fallujah news on ABC, CBS and NBC," posted 6/4 on this blog).

Why did our media treat the CIA visit as an unimportant story?  Probably for the same reason the Russian media does not report Russian fighter jets bombing hospitals in Syria: our news outlets, especially the networks, were manipulated into not reporting the CIA story.  

If you are doubtful that our network news is manipulated, consider this question: Why, for the last three years, has CBS anchor Scott Pelly, every time he refers to Syrian President Assad, called him "the dictator Assad"?  Note: that's every time.

Cross check: Since last Sunday's report on 60 Minutes revealed that the Saudi Arabian leadership was likely involved in 9/11, and since Saudi Arabia, which we're told is an ally of the United States in our war on ISIS, has been bombing hospitals and civilian markets in Yemen, and since we've known for years that Saudi women are treated as chattel and the nation's dissenters live in constant terror of severe punishment, you might think Scott Pelley would start referring to "the dictator Salman," or worse.  Watch for yourself.  It's not going to happen.

You can make up your own mind about whether the United States needs to manipulate its news.  My point is that it does, and much of the media, especially the three TV networks, is complicit.  For more about how we are being manipulated into a war, see the post below, "Applied amnesia."