Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The war for ‘The New York Times’

from mondoweiss
Philip Weiss and (((James North))) on April 18, 2017 9 Comments

A war has begun for the soul of The New York Times.

People in the Palestinian solidarity movement criticize the Times all the time — we do; the glass is always half empty — but then so do supporters of Israel. The glass is also half-empty for them. And something you may not have noticed lately is that we are beginning to have victories. There are people at The New York Times who fully comprehend Israel’s crisis and want the newspaper to reflect that reality. They are digging in, and they are under attack. But they are having little victories.


— Jodi Rudoren is gone. She was the last New York Times bureau chief in Jerusalem and came out of a firmly Zionist background and could be counted on to offer a warm, fuzzy, pro-Israel slant to any story that was often embarrassing. Even the human rights atrocities of Gaza could be spun by Rudoren (“sliver of opportunity“). She has been replaced by Ian Fisher, who seems like a fair, open-minded reporter who is probably right now in shock at what he is seeing. His hunger strikers piece yesterday was very good. His piece on Banksy’s new hotel — Fisher’s emphasis was the “ugly” wall. Anyone who tells it like he sees it is going to help Palestinians.

— Yesterday the Times International edition ran Marwan Barghouti’s piece saying that Israel is a “moral and political failure.” We know we slammed the Times for burying this piece in the international edition in our dudgeon yesterday. But the amazement is that it ran at all — Barghouti’s explanation that 40 percent of the male Palestinian population has been in Israeli prisons, that his son jailed in the years that Americans go to college, and these prisons are the cradle of a global anti-colonial movement . . . Yes, the piece has come under enormous attack. Israelis including the prime minister are expressing outrage that it ran at all. To the point that the backsliders of the New York Times have appended a clarification filling in what Barghouti was convicted of. “The article . . . neglected to provide sufficient context by stating the offenses of which he was convicted. They were five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization . . .” Etc.

Actually, the many Nelson Mandela references were sufficient context; Mandela was also charged with terrorism, the ANC did use violence. But it is a measure of the war that the Times is in that Michael Oren became unhinged over the newspaper’s role:

Shame on NYT for printing libelous op-ed by convicted killer Barghouti, the Palestinian Dylann Roof. Americans would be horrified. So are we

Crazy, yes. But Oren’s right about one thing: the Times is now in play. And where it goes, everyone else will follow.

— Yes, you say: the New York Times hired neoconservative crank Bret Stephens as an op-ed columnist the other day, a great setback to the discourse; Stephens has a long track record of racist statements. But while editorial page editor James Bennet’s announcement was fulsome (“beautiful,” “profound,” “bravery,” “generous,” “thoughtful”), it contained this important signal:

You can expect other additions to our lineup in coming months as we continue to broaden the range of Times debate about consequential questions.

We read this as a sign that a pro-Palestinian columnist is coming, maybe even an anti-Zionist. Bennet knows exactly what Zaid Jilani is saying at the Intercept and what we have been saying here about the Times‘s conservative pro-Israel range. David Brooks’s son served in the Israeli military, for god’s sakes. The Times is getting battered by young people on the left for the fact that Roger Cohen and Tom Friedman’s weary Zionism is the best it has to offer to critics.

And bear in mind, if you’re pro-Israel, you have seen a deficit. Where is the firebreather to replace AM Rosenthal, William Safire and Bill Kristol? Well, you just got Stephens. The Times is in play.

— There is further evidence of the Times-at-war in the pushback to Stephens from within the Times ranks. (Michael Calderone reported on this at Huffpo.) Declan Walsh, the paper’s Cairo bureau chief, tweeted the following over the weekend:

Not cool: new NYT columnist @BretStephensNYT once wrote about the “disease of the Arab mind”.

Max Fisher, the Times “interpreter,” promptly expanded the thought:

I initially assumed it was just a sloppy rhetorical flourish, but the digging in suggests the line was intended to mean exactly what it said

Bret Stephens became defensive about the criticism and slung some more anti-Arab horseshit.

There was a time when journalists at a major newspaper were careful not to criticize that paper publicly. Those days are over, thanks to the internet. Two Times reporters are peeved at the racism of a colleague. They surely speak for many more. (Some of whom read Yakov Hirsch pointing out this racism first, last year: “The Politics of Jewish Ethnocentrism.”)

There was a time when the New York Times was a reliable supporter of Israel. A.M. Rosenthal and Max Frankel begat Ethan Bronner and Jodi Rudoren. We say those days are coming to an end. The shift in American discourse on the Palestinian issue that Bernie Sanders reflected a year ago is happening deep inside the Times too. Younger writers are woke on this question. They’re not going to just shut up about it. The neocons are also digging in. But the coverage is getting better . . . the coverage is getting better. Glass half full.

- See more at:

Monday, April 17, 2017

Israel and Saudi Arabia: a match made in heaven (or in Washington)

16 Apr 2017 RICARDO VAZ

If we were to believe all the propaganda we would think (the occupation state of) Israel and (the medieval kingdom of) Saudi Arabia were mortal foes. On one hand we have an entity that describes itself as a blooming democracy, an oasis of civilisation amongst barbaric foes, and on the other a royal family that presents itself as the natural leader of the Arabs. Given that there is no greater cause in the Middle East than that of the Palestinians, this would put them severely at odds. In reality, what we have is a brutal, apartheid, settler-colonial state and a backward, Wahhabi/Salafist and oil-reliant monarchy, both spreading terror across the region, each in its own way. What binds them together is their position vis-a-vis the US empire, making them in fact natural allies, something that has started making the rounds publicly.

A recent article appeared in the Zionist bastion that is the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) with the auspicious title “An Open Letter from a Young Saudi to Prince Mohammad bin Salman”. Conceding that it was indeed a young Saudi who wrote it (1), the letter contains the expected rear-end kissing towards the Saudi prince, who is “God’s chosen to lead Saudi Arabia” through the current challenges, the waving of the Iran bogeyman spectre and some other (un)remarkable bits (2).

The most eye-catching bit is the call for an alliance with Israel to confront Iran’s nazi-like (!) threat, and lest it offend the religious fundamentalists, this is justified on religious grounds. This call follows recent declarations by Saudi officials, with former minister Saud al-Faisal, for example, saying “we should normalize relations with the Jewish state”. Nevertheless these public declarations, even if mostly made far away from the Arab public, are a relatively new phenomenon.

With some exceptions, support for the Palestinian cause in the Arab world is overwhelming. And regimes like Saudi Arabia have happily betrayed the Palestinian cause over and over again because they are aware that key to their survival is subservience to the United States, and that an alliance with Israel may boost their regional hegemony prospects. But because their legitimacy to rule is incredibly thin to say the least, royals and officials need to keep pretending in public that they are defending and fighting for the Palestinians.

Zionism and anti-semitism

These public declarations of support for Israel, in the safe English-speaking confines of Washington think tanks, still carry a heavy stench of anti-semitism. The young Saudi’s letter falls into the anti-semitic habit of conflating Jews and Israel as being a single entity.

Prince Turki bin Faisal, a loyal western servant and former ambassador to the US, in the similarly safe space that is the Davos World Economic Forum, talked about the wonders that can be done by joining “our [Arab] brain power, and Jewish wealth”. Of course, a little brain power would have served him to realise that this statement is incredibly anti-semitic, not to mention that it is wealth, and not brain power, that gets people like Prince Turki invited to places like Davos.

Prince Turki (left) and Israeli defence minister Moshe Ya’alon (right) shake hands during the Munich Security Conference in 2016

Religious officials in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are known for spreading hatred against Shias, Alawites, Christians and Jews. Saudi media even attacked Iran for allowing Jews to live there! However, the mainstream media is always happy to tolerate this kind of anti-semitism from those who lend their support to the Zionist colonisation project, while viciously throwing the “anti-semitic” label at anyone who will not bow down to the occupation of Palestine.

Shared values and moderation

For their part, Israeli officials also tread carefully, but this is essentially to avoid placing a “friend of the colonial project” sticker on useful allies. But statements praising Saudi Arabia as a partner in the region are also becoming common. For example, defence minister Avigdor Lieberman warned that Iran’s (who else!) ultimate goal was undermining Saudi Arabia.

Former minister Tzipi Livni also echoed this view, and in both cases they framed the Middle East as a battle of “good vs. evil”, or as they put it, “moderates vs. radicals”, with Livni going as far as mentioning “shared values”. So Saudi Arabia, the most medieval of regimes, who regularly beheads people on public squares, is somehow considered moderate. As for Israel, there has not been anything moderate about their 70 year history of massacres, colonisation and ethnic cleansing. Then again, “moderate” in this context nowadays stands only for “US ally”.

The common denominator is always highlighting the Iranian threat, with some bending over backwards to connect Iran to bad guys like al-Qaeda. Connecting them to Saudi Arabia, given that 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi nationals, and that this group, like all extremist groups for that matter, was backed and funded by the Saudis, would have been too easy. Additionally, the Zionist lobby has also been pulling its weight to improve the image of the house of Saud.

Cooperation in Syria

This semantic redefinition of the term “moderate” has been a central feature of the Syrian war. The term has been consistently used to whitewash the extremist nature of rebel groups and to obscure the fact that the US has been supporting, directly or indirectly, groups like al-Qaeda.

For their part, the Saudis have been the main backers of the most extremist groups in the Syrian opposition, continuing their long standing tradition of exporting Salafi terrorism everywhere. The similarities between the takfiri ideology (3) of the most powerful rebel groups and that of Saudi Arabia are no coincidence.

Saudi- and western-backed rebels and ISIS celebrate Israeli strikes against Hezbollah in Syria (cartoon by Carlos Latuff)

But Israel’s involvement in the Syrian war is also worth analysing. For all the talk of being threatened by extremist groups, Israel has been quite comfortable with the presence of jihadi factions like the Nusra front right on their doorstep, in the occupied Golan Heights. Moreover, it has offered medical treatment to injured fighters and there have also been reports of collaboration between these groups and the IDF. Not only that, Israel has frequently bombed targets and assassinated people from the Syrian army and their allies, the most prominent of those being Hezbollah.

Of course, there is no room for morals or principle when it comes to foreign policy. And Israel has never held any moral high ground, for that matter. Simply put, the Israelis have seen the Syrian war as an opportunity to be rid of their most uncomfortable neighbour, as far as official governments go, even if Syrian support for the Palestinian cause has been, and we are being kind here, limited. More than that, Israeli officials are happy to see their most formidable foe, Hezbollah, bogged down in a taxing conflict away from home.

In the greater picture of Middle Eastern geopolitics, Israel and Saudi Arabia always have Iran as their ultimate target. The war against the Syria and Hezbollah, just like the war in Yemen, is meant to attack Iran by weakening and possibly removing its allies (4).

Under the wings of empire

In reality, the secret-come-public cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Israel is only logical given their position vis-a-vis the US Empire, which of course shares the hostility towards Iran, the fiercest resistant to US imperialism in the region.

The US and the Saudis enjoy “strong and friendly relations”, a “special relationship” predicated on oil and weapons sales, which have sky-rocketed with the Saudi war on Yemen. In his incoherent ramblings, president Trump occasionally stumbles upon the (inconvenient) truth, which is that

“Saudi Arabia, if it weren’t for us, they wouldn’t be here…”

Without the support of the US Empire, and the British Empire in the earlier part of the century, the house of Saud would be a footnote in history books, and an amusing footnote at that. It is its usefulness as a local agent for western empires that has ensured its longevity.

President Obama and Israeli PM Netanyahu at the White House

As for Israel, they enjoy the premium, “unbreakable bond” relationship with the United States, which essentially means the Israelis get their weapons for free. For all the talk of Obama not being pro-Israeli enough, he did not leave office without splashing the biggest military aid package in history on Israel. With so much uncertainty surrounding the 2016 presidential election, this was clearly a priority for the outgoing Obama White House.

The respective relations of Israel and Saudi Arabia with the US empire can perhaps be encapsulated in symbolic moments. For Israel, it is the US resupply of ammunition during the 2014 Gaza offensive, so that the massacres could continue unimpeded. And for Saudi Arabia, it is US planes refuelling Saudi jets during their war on Yemen, so that they would not run out of fuel before bombing first responders. We have two projects flourishing under the wings of the US empire and spreading death and terror throughout the region. After justice and freedom arrive in the Middle East, they might end up sharing a footnote in future history books.


(1) It might be dangerous for people in Saudi Arabia to voice what they really think of the royal family.

(2) For instance, it claims that Wahhabism, the ultra-conservative and retrograde version of Islam that is enforced and exported by Saudi Arabia, cannot be connected to modern terrorism because Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab lived 300 years ago.

(3) Takfiris are those who denounce others as not being true Muslims, making them infidels.

(4) While the Iran threat is invoked to justify the Saudi invasion, the connections between the Houthi rebels and the Iranians may be more hype than substance, and they are certainly more a case of an opportunity seized by Iran, either out of a sense of duty or opportunism, than historical or ideological ties.

Cover photo: Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Israeli PM Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu

Source: Investig’Action

- See more at:

Honor Omar Barghouti and Ralph Nader

Gandhi Peace Award Ceremony
Sunday, April 23
Yale University Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall
Room 114
1 Prospect St, New Haven, CT 06511

The Gandhi Peace Award has been presented by Promoting Enduring Peace since 1960 to people who have made outstanding contributions to world peace, creating a sustainable ecology, and social justice. Laureates include: Eleanor Roosevelt, Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, Daniel Ellsberg, Amy Goodman, Bill McKibben, Medea Benjamin, Tom Goldtooth, and Kathy Kelly.

This years honorees are Ralph Nader and Omar Barghouti.

Omar is a Palestinian human rights defender and a co-founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Omar has endured Israeli intimidation and repression for years due to his work and dedication. In March of 2016, he was threatened with "targeted civil elimination” -a euphemism for civil assassination- by a high Israeli government official. Amnesty International has condemned these threats, expressing concern for his “safety and liberty” and upholding his right as a human rights defender to campaign “to hold Israel accountable for human rights and other international law violations” and to advocate “for the use of non-violent means in doing so.” Israel has also threatened to revoke his permanent residence, effectively imposing a travel ban on him.

Just a few weeks ago, Israeli tax authorities barged into his home and detained and interrogated him and his wife Safa, and are now attempting to fabricate a case against him in order to tarnish his reputation.

The Palestinian BDS National Committee put out this statement in response:

The fact that this investigation includes a travel ban and that it comes a few weeks before Omar Barghouti is scheduled to travel to the U.S. to receive the Gandhi Peace Award jointly with Ralph Nader in a ceremony at Yale University proves its true motive —repression.

The fact that the Israeli government publicized the inflammatory fabrications against Omar just 24 hours after he was taken in for investigation shows beyond doubt that the investigation’s real goal is to tarnish his reputation.

No matter what extreme measures of repression Israel wields against the BDS movement or its human rights defenders and vast network of supporters, it cannot stop this movement for human rights. Bullying and repression can hardly affect a grassroots movement that grows in people’s hearts and minds, empowering them to do the right thing — to stand on the right side of history, against Israel’s fanatic regime of apartheid, occupation and ethnic cleansing, and for freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinian people.

This latest desperate chapter of repression and intimidation by the Israeli government against Omar Barghouti is the strongest indicator yet of the failure of the Israeli regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid to slow down the impressive growth of the BDS movement for Palestinian rights.

Join Promoting Enduring Peace in honoring Omar to send a very clear message that support for Palestinians and their struggle will continue until freedom, justice, and equality is achieved.

Saturday, April 15, 2017


from the Intercept

Aaron Maté
April 12 2017, 9:22 a.m.

ONE DAY AFTER her network joined the rest of corporate media in cheering for President Trump’s missile attack on Syria, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow was back to regular business: seeing Russian collaboration with Trump at work.

It’s “impossible,” fellow anchor Lawrence O’Donnell told Maddow on April 7, to rule out that “Vladimir Putin orchestrated what happened in Syria this week – so that his friend in the White House could have a big night with missiles and all of the praise he’s picked up over the past 24 hours.”

Maddow concurred, suggesting that only the FBI’s ongoing probe into Trump’s alleged collusion with Russian electoral interference will determine the truth. “Maybe eventually we’ll get an answer to that from [FBI Director] Jim Comey,” Maddow said.

The Washington Post noted that the “conspiracy theory” drew “derision from across the political spectrum.” But it was not out of place.

MSNBC, the country’s most prominent liberal media outlet, has played a key role in stoking the frenzy over Trump’s alleged involvement with Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential race — in lock step with the Democratic Party’s most avid partisans.

Jennifer Palmieri, a senior member of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, captured the prevailing mentality when she recently urged party members to talk about the Russian “attack on our republic” — and to do so “relentlessly and above all else.”

And no leading media figure has done so more than Maddow. In the period since Election Day, “The Rachel Maddow Show” has covered “The Russia Connection” — and Russia, generally — more than it has any other issue.

Here is a video sampling:

The Intercept conducted a quantitative study of all 28 TRMS episodes in the six-week period between February 20 and March 31. Russia-focused segments accounted for 53 percent of these broadcasts.

That figure is conservative, excluding segments where Russia was discussed, but was not the overarching topic.

Maddow’s Russia coverage has dwarfed the time devoted to other top issues, including Trump’s escalating crackdown on undocumented immigrants (1.3 percent of coverage); Obamacare repeal (3.8 percent); the legal battle over Trump’s Muslim ban (5.6 percent), a surge of anti-GOP activism and town halls since Trump took office (5.8 percent), and Trump administration scandals and stumbles (11 percent).

chart8-08-1491944695 Russia issues vs. Non-Russia issues. Chart: The Intercept
Maddow’s focus on Russia has helped her ratings, which are at their highest level since 2008.

As MSNBC’s most popular host, Maddow over the years has become a critical voice for U.S. progressives, helping to shape the outlook of millions of viewers and the smaller left-leaning outlets that follow her lead. A supremely gifted journalist who Vanity Fair has dubbed “the smartest person on TV,” Maddow’s influence is well-earned. She frequently brings pivotal national attention to overlooked stories, such as the poisoning of Flint, Michgan’s water supply.

While proof of collusion with Moscow could well emerge — and could well topple Trump’s presidency — the “above all else” focus on Russia lacks concrete supporting evidence, either of Russian hacking and cyber disinformation impacting the vote’s outcome or of the Trump campaign’s complicity with it. Journalist Matt Taibbi calls it “an exercise of conspiratorial mass hysteria.”

This muddies the waters for a sober, credible investigation of Russia’s actions — but that is the least of its consequences. Democrats have avoided constructive introspection on their seismic election loss by blaming the Kremlin. Anti-Russia sentiment threatens to turn into rank xenophobia and escalate tensions with a nuclear-armed power. And most critically for a vital news source like Maddow’s show, every moment devoted to scrutinizing Trump’s alleged Russia ties deflects attention from his administration’s actual policies.

“The Rachel Maddow Show” on Russia, February 20-March 31, 2017

In the six-week period we reviewed, Maddow covered Russia not just more than any other issue, but more than every other issue combined. The contrast is particularly striking when comparing the amount of time that speculative Russia stories received versus critical non-Russia issues.

The Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare, which was in full swing during the six-week period, got less coverage (nearly 46 minutes) than six other individual Russia issues on the chart below, such as the plight of Russian dissidents under Putin’s rule (54 minutes) or alleged Russian hacking and cyber disinformation (70 minutes). Trump’s Muslim travel ban got less time (67 minutes) than any one of four other Russia-related issues, including former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s Russia ties (88 minutes). Trump’s escalation of immigration raids and deportations (16 minutes) got just over half the coverage of the Russian-related machinations of his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort (31 minutes).

Maddow-chart-09-1491947584 *these issues included substantial Russia content but were included in this category because their overarching focus was non-Russia. Chart: The Intercept
In 16 of the 28 episodes analyzed, Russia comprised either all or a substantial part of the “A-block”, the show’s headlining and far lengthiest segment, which often amounts to nearly half the show, excluding commercials.

Maddow’s Insistence on “a Continuing Operation”

Maddow’s foremost concern has been alleged Trump-Moscow collusion, which she has repeatedly suggested has continued beyond the election. Here she is on March 9:

What’s getting to be, I think, particularly unsettling, is that simultaneously, we are … number one, nailing down more direct connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government at the time the Russian government was influencing our election. Number two, at the same time, we are also starting to see what may be signs of continuing influence in our country. Not just during the campaign but during the administration. Basically, signs of what could be a continuing operation.

Maddow has acknowledged that allegations of Trump-Russia collusion are unverified. But she has ignored claims that cast them in a more skeptical light. For instance, James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, told NBC News on March 5 that U.S. intelligence has “no evidence” of collusion between Trump and Russia. On March 15, former CIA Director and Hillary Clinton surrogate Michael Morrell said “there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all.” Those statements have gone unmentioned.

MSNBC-PutinTrump-Power-Play--1491941048 Putin/Trump Power Play. Screenshot: MSNBC
“A Dream for Putin”: Trump Chose Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State and Weakened the State Department for Russia

Proposed budget cuts, canceled press briefings, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s muted role have led Maddow to wonder if Trump is weakening the State Department on Vladimir Putin’s behalf. “We have to ask,” Maddow said in a 12-minute segment on March 8, “whether [Russia] wanted actions by U.S. political figures to weaken the parts of America that most annoy and that most undermine Vladimir Putin.” In an extended follow-up the next night, Maddow said, “Silencing the U.S. State Department, putting a friend of Vladimir Putin’s in charge at the U.S. State Department, who stands by quietly while the State Department gets hollowed out, gets gutted… That’s a dream for Putin.”

“It’s the CIA, Right?”: Putin used WikiLeaks Against the CIA

On March 7, WikiLeaks published documents exposing cyber tools used by the CIA to penetrate cell phones and other devices. Two days later, Maddow blamed Putin. Reminding viewers that WikiLeaks had released the Podesta emails, Maddow asked:

Consider what the other U.S. agency is besides the State Department that Putin most hates? That Putin most feels competitive with? That Putin most wants to beat? It’s the CIA, right? Spy versus spy. Putin is ex-KGB. He’s an ex-FSB officer… Smart observers say this is the largest dump of classified CIA material maybe ever, and it really could be a devastating blow to the CIA’s cyber war and flat-out spying capabilities, and that dump was released by WikiLeaks.

Maddow ommited the widely circulated reports that U.S. intelligence officials believe that the CIA’s own contractors were behind the cyber tools leak.

“How’d You Know It Was Coming?”: RT Colluded With WikiLeaks on the Podesta Emails

A popular internet theory posits that RT (formerly Russia Today), the Kremlin-funded television network, had advance knowledge of a WikiLeaks release of hacked Podesta emails. The claim is based on RT’s Twitter account reporting the release 19 minutes before WikiLeaks’ Twitter account did. Here’s Maddow on March 9:

Russian state television was magically able to tweet about the next release of John Podesta e-mails. The sixth release of John Podesta e-mails even before WikiLeaks released them… Russia Today, how did you know it was coming?

But RT answered the question months earlier: the Podesta emails appeared on the WikiLeaks website before WikiLeaks got around to tweeting about it.

“Quid Pro Quo”: Trump Weakened the GOP Platform on Ukraine

On March 8 – one day after congressional Republicans unveiled their Obamacare repeal bill – Maddow led her show with “dramatic news.” U.S. officials, she explained, “are looking into a Russian citizen in conjunction with one of the incidents on the Trump campaign last year which defied explanation at the time”: the rejection of a proposed amendment to the Republican Party platform that called for sending lethal aid to Ukraine. Politico reported of the Russian in question, Konstantin Kilimnik: “after a late summer trip to the U.S., Kilimnik suggested that he had played a role in gutting a proposed amendment to the Republican Party platform that would have staked out a more adversarial stance towards Russia, according to a Kiev operative.”

The Politico report, Maddow explained over the course of 16 minutes, confirms “essentially a quid pro quo between Russia and the Donald Trump campaign,” whereby the Trump campaign sought “to take Russian intervention in Ukraine basically out of the Republican Party platform as an issue.”

But Politico’s main revelation was that U.S. investigators are “looking into” a Russian guy who an unnamed Ukrainian “operative” says “suggested” that he helped the Trump campaign change the language in a document that has no practical effect on anything, and that in fact remained strongly pro-Ukrainian government, stating:

We support maintaining and, if warranted, increasing sanctions, together with our allies, against Russia unless and until Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are fully restored. We also support providing appropriate assistance to the armed forces of Ukraine and greater coordination with NATO defense planning.

“Is the New President Going to Take Those Troops Out?” Putin May Blackmail Trump Into Withdrawing U.S. Forces from Europe

On January 17, Maddow opened her broadcast by noting the parallels between Vladimir Putin’s political ascent and former British spy Christopher Steele’s just-disclosed dossier asserting that Russia has compromising details on Donald Trump’s sex life. “How Vladimir Putin stopped being just a KGB guy and got political power in the first place was by producing, at just the right time and in just the right way, just the right sex tape to use for political purposes,” Maddow said.

Maddow then discussed the increase of U.S. troops near Russia’s border during President Obama’s last days in office:

“The Kremlin is furious about it,” Maddow said. “Russia hates it, but our allies—they say they want it.” And so, with Trump about to enter the White House, Maddow had this to say:

Here’s the question – is the new president going to take those troops out? After all the speculation, after all the worry, we are actually about to find out if Russia maybe has something on the new president? We’re about to find out if the new president of our country is going to do what Russia wants once he’s commander-in-chief of the U.S. military starting noon on Friday. What is he going to do with those deployments? Watch this space. Seriously.

As of this writing, Trump has not withdrawn the troops.

Missed Opportunities While Focusing on Russia

On March 7, Maddow led with the day’s top story: the unveiling of Republican plans to repeal Obamacare. “If you are worried about losing your health insurance, if you are worried about 20 million of your fellow Americans losing their health insurance, today was very scary,” Maddow said.

But after less than two minutes, Maddow promised to return to the story later and shifted gears to a higher editorial priority:

But we are going to start at this embassy. The embassy, this is a big one. It is fully staffed … there’s even an attaché specifically for fish. The fisheries attaché is named Mr. Oleg Vladimirovich Rykov.

Viewers were then treated to a 22-minute deep dive into the Steele dossier and the various ways “the bits and pieces of what’s reported in this dossier are turning out to be true and reported and checkable.” When Maddow finally returned to the day’s opening, “scary” story about millions standing to lose their health insurance, she gave it less than four more minutes.

Six days later, on March 13, Maddow opened with the day’s “absolutely astonishing” news that the Congressional Budget Office was now estimating that 24 million people would lose their health insurance if Republicans manage to repeal Obamacare. But after less than two minutes, Maddow again veered off: “We’re actually going to start the show tonight on the subject of money, lots and lots and lots and lots of money.” The ensuing 20-minute segment speculated on whether the recent firing of New York U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara could be tied to investigations into Russian money laundering through Deutsche Bank and the Bank of Cyprus. The CBO’s Obamacare repeal news ended up getting less than five minutes of Maddow’s time.

On March 16, Trump unveiled a budget that would boost military funding and slash vital government spending. But Maddow viewers heard no mention of the EPA, public broadcasting, meals on wheels, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, the Community Development Block Grant program, or other targets of Trump’s domestic cuts. Instead, Maddow began the show by recounting the shady Russian bid to win the 2014 Winter Olympics, and how a Russian air cargo company involved in the scandal would later become one of several Russian entities that made payments to former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The 22-minute segment explored the issue of whether Flynn committed a crime in taking money from Russians, and whether the Trump campaign knew about it. The next 12 minutes were devoted to alleged Russian hacking that targeted down-ballot congressional Democratic candidates in 2016, and the Clinton campaign’s response.

Russia-Cargo-Company-Flynn-1491941133 Russia Cargo Company. Screenshot: MSNBC
Given her political expertise, journalistic acumen, and influential platform, Maddow is ideally suited to explore the Democrats’ 2016 electoral collapse in an insightful way. But the time and investigative zeal that Maddow has devoted to Russia has come at the cost of any such analysis. Maddow has shunned critical issues such as the Democratic establishment’s embrace of neoliberal financial policies and rejection of economic populism. Her audience has heard next to no discussion of why a segment of Obama voters abandoned Democrats for Trump or didn’t vote at all. Instead, lengthy segments have suggested that Clinton and the Democrats were done in by such Russian “active measures” as anti-Clinton bot attacks (their key target, a Bernie Sanders Facebook fan page in San Diego); hackers interfering in Congressional races; and fake news stories and social media posts.

Bernie-Sanders-San-Diego-Facebook-Page-1491941188 Bernie Sanders San Diego Facebook Page. Screenshot: MSNBC

Maddow has also avoided substantive post-mortems on Clinton team fumbles such as its absence of policy messaging or neglect of swing states. Clinton campaign guests have faced almost no challenge or criticism. Interviewing Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s communications director, on December 12, Maddow asked about how Russia, FBI Director James Comey, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein fueled Clinton’s loss. Her toughest question on the campaign’s mistakes: “You guys did out raise and outspend Trump two to one. How could you have taken better advantage of your cash advantage?”
The Danger of Hyperbole

On several occasions, Maddow has described Moscow’s alleged interference in the 2016 race as an “attack on our election.” On March 21, she went further:

This is not part of American politics. This is not, you know, partisan warfare between Republicans and Democrats. This is international warfare against our country. And it did not end on Election Day. We are still in it.

But whatever Russia may have done, it was not “international warfare.” And it was most likely far less consequential than U.S. interference in other countries over many decades, including Russia itself.

“If the worst is true,” Maddow warned on March 17, “if the presidency is effectively a Russian op, if the American presidency right now is the product of collusion between the Russian intelligence services and an American campaign — I mean, that is so profoundly big, we not only need to stay focused on figuring it out. We need to start preparing for what the consequences are going to be if it proves to be true.”

But what if the allegations are ultimately disproved or go nowhere? Maddow and likeminded influential liberals will have led their audience on a fruitless quest, all the while helping foment anti-Russia sentiment, channeling Democratic Party energy away from productive self-critique, and diverting focus from the White House’s actual policies. Trump would be handed a further gift via the damaged credibility of his “enemy”: the media responsible for holding him to account.

And what if the media’s focus on the “Russia Connection” ends up goading Trump to become more bellicose with Russia? The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently moved its doomsday clock to its highest point since 1953. Among many contributing factors, the Bulletin warned: “The United States and Russia—which together possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons—remained at odds in a variety of theaters.”

The need for caution was perhaps most starkly underscored last week with Trump’s Syria bombing, which prompted the Kremlin to warn that Russia and the U.S. are “on the verge” of military conflict. Rather than raising the ludicrous theory that the attack on Syria was orchestrated by Putin, as Maddow and O’Donnell speculated, it’s worth asking if Trump was motivated at least in part to show the media – a top presidential preoccupation – that Putin isn’t pulling the strings.

But Maddow shows no signs of slowing down. Her top story on Monday night was about the detention in Spain of a prominent Russian spammer, Pyotr Levashov, at the FBI’s request. Levashov’s wife has told reporters that his arrest may be linked to a computer virus “associated with” Trump’s election victory. The FBI has offered no details. “This is the news,” Maddow reported in her 13-minute segment. “The Russian guy just got arrested.”

The Increasingly Unhinged Russia Rhetoric Comes From a Long-Standing U.S. Playbook
The Deep State Goes to War With President-Elect, Using Unverified Claims, as Democrats Cheer
The Stark Contrast Between GOP’s Self-Criticism in 2012 and Democrats’ Blame-Everyone-Else Posture Now
In the Democratic Echo Chamber, Inconvenient Truths Are Recast as Putin Plots
Aaron Maté

Don’t miss the best of The Intercept

Enter your email address
✓Weekly Digest✓Breaking Stories and Exclusives⟶Submit
Email list managed by MailChimp

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Airlines Can Treat You Like Garbage Because They Are an Oligopoly

Alex Pareene

This week, everyone is asking some variation of this question:

There is actually a pretty simple answer. Why is an armed agent of the state using violence to enforce a contract freely entered into by two private parties? Because that is more or less how you define “classical liberalism.” You may have thought that buying a ticket and boarding a plane and even sitting in your assigned seat meant you had some “right” to “fly on the plane.” Legally and contractually, you do not. (Welcome, Tweeps, to your first reckoning with the inherent contradictions in the philosophical underpinnings of laissez-faire capitalism and its conception of “coercion.”)

Of course, this isn’t how capitalism is supposed to work. This isn’t how it’s sold to us. Goons dragging bloodied passengers off of airplanes shouldn’t happen in a world where people “vote with their wallets” and corporations compete with one another to attract consumers. This is the disconnect that has puzzled so many. The first hint to the answer comes in noting that this was not an isolated incident, and that this sort of corporate mistreatment of paying customers is not limited to United.

Why do these airlines sound so unapologetic on social media? Why aren’t the CEOs apologizing? Why does no one sound contrite? This isn’t how the outrage cycle is supposed to work!

When everyone gets mad at Pepsi, Pepsi has to apologize because it is very easy to not drink Pepsi. One must affirmatively choose to drink Pepsi; not drinking Pepsi is the default option. (Though, thanks to consolidation, it’s much harder to avoid Pepsico products entirely than you might think.)

The major American airlines, though, do not need to do anything to convince people to fly with them, because they all merged and consolidated until there were just four firms controlling the vast majority of domestic flights, and they have determined that it is in their collective best interest not to seriously compete with one another.

There used to be competition, which seemed—just like we were taught in high school economics—to bring lower fares and more routes to more destinations, but the airlines weren’t making enough money, so they consolidated into a few huge carriers, reduced service to medium-sized airports, and massively raised the cost of flying through both increased fares and skyrocketing fees.

In the three decades after the U.S. deregulated the airline industry in 1978, carriers chased market share at the expense of profits, losing tens of billions of dollars over the period. From 2008 to 2014, four mergers combined eight big airlines into four: American Airlines Group Inc., United Continental Holdings Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co.
This is called oligopoly, and, for airline shareholders, this is great! It truly is a new golden age of aviation, for people who fly in private jets but own stock in airlines. For the rest of us, this is most of why flying sucks now (the rest of it is the ever-expanding and largely incompetent security state), and also why United is not that worried about you sharing that video of a man being brutally dragged off their plane. They are not embarrassed, and you will not embarrass them. Airlines feel no need to perform the dance of corporate penitence. If you’ve chosen to fly somewhere, it’s probably because you don’t have a good alternative to flying, and you may not even have a good alternative to flying one particular airline:

At 40 of the 100 largest U.S. airports, a single airline controls a majority of the market, as measured by the number of seats for sale, up from 34 airports a decade earlier. At 93 of the top 100, one or two airlines control a majority of the seats, an increase from 78 airports, according to AP’s analysis of data from Diio, an airline-schedule tracking service.
What does United care if the internet is mad at it? The airlines divvied up the sky between themselves, and if you live or work in United territory, at some point you’ll face the real “choice” offered to consumers in a post-consolidation industry: flying with them, flying a more time-consuming and circuitous route with some other, probably equally horrible airline (if such a route is available), or not flying anywhere. Do you need to get from Fargo to Denver in a hurry? Congratulations, you are now a United customer.

This is the end result of decades of corporate consolidation—aided by economists and regulators and politicians from both parties—that has greatly enriched a few at the expense of workers, consumers, and citizens in general. People chose to create a world that allows what happened on that plane to happen. Direct your outrage at the policymakers, economists, and industry cartels that creat

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Dennis Kucinich: James Comey, Not Russia, Tilted the Election Toward Donald Trump

Posted on Apr 5, 2017

By Mike Whitney / CounterPunch

FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congress about Hillary Clinton’s emails was an October surprise in presidential politics. (Rich Girard / CC SY-SA 2.0)

The following interview with Dennis Kucinich first ran on CounterPunch.

Mike Whitney: Should FBI Director James Comey be investigated for meddling in the 2016 presidential election?

Dennis Kucinich, former congressman: The director of the FBI is not beyond accountability. President Obama should have demanded Director Comey’s resignation immediately after Comey interfered in the 2016 presidential election with his Oct. 28, 2016, pronouncement of the discovery of new emails in the [Hillary] Clinton case. Comey breached protocol, bypassed channels, and tilted the outcome away from Clinton and toward Trump.


If Comey refused a presidential demand that he resign, then President Obama should have dismissed him. There is a precedent. President Clinton dismissed FBI Director [William] Sessions in 1993. The FBI director also can be subject to impeachment by the House and removal by the Senate. Given his role in upending the 2016 president election, it is astonishing that Director Comey is being given a chance to prove it was “the Russians that did it.”
MW: In a recent Fox News article, you discussed Director Comey’s “unprecedented intrusion into presidential politics”, (that) “has damaged public confidence in the Bureau.” In an earlier article, you mentioned that independent surveys have been conducted that strongly suggest that Comey’s meddling may have changed the outcome of the election.

Here is an excerpt from an article about one of those surveys. The article clearly states that “Comey’s letter, 11 days before the election, was the precipitating event behind Clinton’s loss,” and that “it was the single, most indispensable factor in the surprise election result.” Here is the entire except from the article:

Most decisively, there was a sudden change in the net sentiment results that followed immediately after FBI Director James Comey released his Oct. 28 letter to Congress about a renewed investigation of Clinton emails. Immediately afterwards, there was a 17-point drop in net sentiment for Clinton, and an 11-point rise for Trump, enough for the two candidates to switch places in the rankings, with Clinton in more negative territory than Trump. At a time when opinion polling showed perhaps a 2-point decline in the margin for Clinton, this conversation data suggests a 28-point change in the word of mouth “standings.” The change in word of mouth favorability metric was stunning, and much greater than the traditional opinion polling revealed.

Based on this finding, it is our conclusion that the Comey letter, 11 days before the election, was the precipitating event behind Clinton’s loss, despite the letter being effectively retracted less than a week later. In such a close election, there may have been dozens of factors whose absence would have reversed the outcome, such as the influence campaign of the Russian government as detailed by US intelligence services. But the sudden change in the political conversation after the Comey letter suggest it was the single, most indispensable factor in the surprise election result. (”Comey Letter Swung Election For Trump, Consumer Survey Suggests,” Brad Fay, Huffington Post)

How should Congress deal with this situation?

Dennis Kucinich: Congress could impeach Comey, but that will not happen for two reasons. (1) Democrats want to maintain the fiction that the Russians tipped the election to Trump. (2) Republicans want to maintain the fiction that Trump won because voters preferred Republicans.

I believe it is essential to focus on Comey. His interference was a miscarriage of justice, which must still be rectified. Congress must pass a law which requires all FBI officials to refrain from a public or private comment, within four weeks of a primary or general election, on any case involving a candidate for public office, or executing any search warrant, or seeking charges against any candidate for elected office, under penalty of criminal charges.

The FBI must not be permitted to interfere in elections through supposition, rumor or stuffing the ballot box with allegations or indictments. If voters elect someone who is later proven to have committed a crime, there are plenty of legal procedures to force removal.

MW: Here’s a quote by Masha Gessen from an article titled “Russia: The Conspiracy Trap” at the New York Review of Books. Gessen thinks the Democrats are actually hurting themselves by pursuing the Russia hacking story. Here’s what she says:

Trump is doing nothing less than destroying American democratic institutions and principles by turning the presidency into a profit-making machine for his family, by poisoning political culture with hateful, mendacious, and subliterate rhetoric, by undermining the public sphere with attacks on the press and protesters, and by beginning the real work of dismantling every part of the federal government that exists for any purpose other than waging war. Russiagate is helping him—both by distracting from real, documentable, and documented issues, and by promoting a xenophobic conspiracy theory in the cause of removing a xenophobic conspiracy theorist from office.

Do you agree with Gessen—is Russiagate actually helping Trump? Do you think the investigation could backfire on the Democrats and hurt them politically?

Dennis Kucinich: “RussiaGate” is not helping Trump, nor is it hurting him. It is hurting the Democratic Party as its minions in Congress perform weak imitations of Senator Joe McCarthy. McCarthyism does not sound better spoken out of the left side of the system’s mouth than it did out of the right side. The Democrats are losing valuable time trying to blame the 2016 election results on Moscow. 2020 will be not decided in Moscow, but in Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee and like cities in the U.S., which is why the party should be promoting an alternative economic vision with jobs for all, health care for all, education for all, retirement security for all, a clean environment, fair trade and an end to war.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to “Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion” (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Post in the Militia of Peace. A call from Cuban Intellectuals and Artists

Due to the interventionist maneuvers that imperialism and its regional acolytes are currently trying to implement at the Organization of American States (OAS) to delegitimize the Bolivarian process, the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) and the Association Hermanos Saiz (AHS), on behalf of the intellectual and artistic vanguard, express our solidarity with the Venezuelan people.

The international right is intent on pushing open the floodgates for foreign intervention and restore by force, against the will of the Venezuelan people, a submissive, violent, oppressive sellout regime.

Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the OAS, and his accomplices, aspire to break the constitutional order and overthrow the Bolivarian Government, which would throw Venezuelan society into chaos in order to roll back the social gains that it has achieved.

The revolutionary process of the Venezuelan people in securing their essential rights of independence, freedom, sovereignty, territorial integrity and self determination are an affront to their enemies. They could care less that Venezuela now has universal access to education and knowledge or they have access to a wide range of human developmental programs offered through the Mission Culture projects found in the neighborhoods and communities.

We are in agreement with the statements of the Network in Defense of Humanity, when they proclaimed, “we must respect the dignity of the people and we urge them to keep their heads held high. Now is not the time to allow the muddying of the water of progress, that is being besieged by an avalanche of media slander and smear campaigns, to prevail. It is however the time for unity, of struggle and for the final victory over the sinister designs of imperialism.”

At this crucial moment, Cuban writers and artists evoke the words of José Martí at a gathering of Caracas intellectuals on March 21, 1881; “thus, armed with love, I come to offer the children of Bolivar a post in the militia of peace.”

La Havana, April 3, 2017

Union of Writers and Artist of Cuba
Association Hermanos Saíz

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Putin Derangement Syndrome Arrives Whatever the truth about Trump and Russia, the speculation surrounding it has become a dangerous case of mass hysteria

by Matt Taibi
Rolling Stone

So Michael Flynn, who was Donald Trump's national security adviser before he got busted talking out of school to Russia's ambassador, has reportedly offered to testify in exchange for immunity.

Taibbi on Trump the Destroyer
Trump has stuffed his Cabinet with tyrants, zealots and imbeciles – all bent on demolishing our government from within
For seemingly the 100th time, social media is exploding. This is it! The big reveal!

Perhaps it will come off just the way people are expecting. Perhaps Flynn will get a deal, walk into the House or the Senate surrounded by a phalanx of lawyers, and unspool the whole sordid conspiracy.

He will explain that Donald Trump, compromised by ancient deals with Russian mobsters, and perhaps even blackmailed by an unspeakable KGB sex tape, made a secret deal. He'll say Trump agreed to downplay the obvious benefits of an armed proxy war in Ukraine with nuclear-armed Russia in exchange for Vladimir Putin's help in stealing the emails of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and John Podesta.

I personally would be surprised if this turned out to be the narrative, mainly because we haven't seen any real evidence of it. But episodes like the Flynn story have even the most careful reporters paralyzed. What if, tomorrow, it all turns out to be true?

What if reality does turn out to be a massive connect-the-dots image of St. Basil's Cathedral sitting atop the White House? (This was suddenly legitimate British conspiracist Louise Mensch's construction in The New York Times last week.) What if all the Glenn Beck-style far-out charts with the circles and arrows somehow all make sense?

This is one of the tricks that keeps every good conspiracy theory going. Nobody wants to be the one claiming the emperor has no clothes the day His Highness walks out naked. And this Russia thing has spun out of control into just such an exercise of conspiratorial mass hysteria.

Even I think there should be a legitimate independent investigation – one that, given Trump's history, might uncover all sorts of things. But almost irrespective of what ends up being uncovered on the Trump side, the public prosecution of this affair has taken on a malevolent life of its own.

One way we recognize a mass hysteria movement is that everyone who doesn't believe is accused of being in on the plot. This has been going on virtually unrestrained in both political and media circles in recent weeks.

The aforementioned Mensch, a noted loon who thinks Putin murdered Andrew Breitbart but has somehow been put front and center by The Times and HBO's Real Time, has denounced an extraordinary list of Kremlin plants.

She's tabbed everyone from Jeff Sessions ("a Russian partisan") to Rudy Giuliani and former Assistant FBI Director James Kallstrom ("agents of influence") to Glenn Greenwald ("Russian shill") to ProPublica and Democracy Now! (also "Russian shills"), to the 15-year-old girl with whom Anthony Weiner sexted (really, she says, a Russian hacker group called "Crackas With Attitudes") to an unnamed number of FBI agents in the New York field office ("moles"). And that's just for starters.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions walks away after holding a press conference at the Justice Department in Washington, DC, on March 2, 2017.
Jeff Sessions Nicholas Kamm/Getty
Others are doing the same. Eric Boehlert of Media Matters, upon seeing the strange behavior of Republican Intel Committee chair Devin Nunes, asked "what kind of dossier" the Kremlin has on Nunes.

Dem-friendly pollster Matt McDermott wondered why reporters Michael Tracey and Zaid Jilani aren't on board with the conspiracy stories (they might be "unwitting" agents!) and noted, without irony, that Russian bots mysteriously appear every time he tweets negatively about them.

Think about that last one. Does McDermott think Tracey and Jilani call their handlers at the sight of a scary Matt McDermott tweet and have the FSB send waves of Russian bots at him on command? Or does he think it's an automated process? What goes through the heads of such people?

I've written a few articles on the Russia subject that have been very tame, basically arguing that it might be a good idea to wait for evidence of collusion before those of us in the media jump in the story with both feet. But even I've gotten the treatment.

I've been "outed" as a possible paid Putin plant by the infamous "PropOrNot" group, which is supposedly dedicated to rooting out Russian "agents of influence." You might remember PropOrNot as the illustrious research team the Washington Post once relied on for a report that accused 200 alternative websites of being "routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season."

Politicians are getting into the act, too. It was one thing when Rand Paul balked at OKing the expansion of NATO to Montenegro, and John McCain didn't hesitate to say that "the senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin."

Even Bernie Sanders has himself been accused of being a Putin plant by Mensch. But even he's gotten on board of late, asking, "What do the Russians have on Mr. Trump?"

So even people who themselves have been accused of being Russian plants are now accusing people of being Russian plants. As the Russians would say, it's enough to make your bashka hurt.

Sanders should know better. Last week, during hearings in the Senate, multiple witnesses essentially pegged his electoral following as unwitting fellow travelers for Putin.

Former NSA chief Keith Alexander spoke openly of how Russia used the Sanders campaign to "drive a wedge within the Democratic Party," while Dr. Thomas Rid of Kings College in London spoke of Russia's use of "unwitting agents" and "overeager journalists" to drive narratives that destabilized American politics.

This testimony was brought out by Virginia Democrat Mark Warner. Warner has been in full-blown "precious bodily fluids" mode throughout this scandal. During an interview with The Times on the Russia subject a month back, there was a thud outside the window. "That may just be the FSB," he said. The paper was unsure if he was kidding.

Warner furthermore told The Times that in order to get prepared for his role as an exposer of 21st-century Russian perfidy, he was "losing himself in a book about the Romanovs," and had been quizzing staffers about "Tolstoy and Nabokov."

This is how nuts things are now: a senator brushes up on Nabokov and Tolstoy (Tolstoy!) to get pumped to expose Vladimir Putin.

Even the bizarre admission by FBI director (and sudden darling of the same Democrats who hated him months ago) James Comey that he didn't know anything about Russia's biggest company didn't seem to trouble Americans very much. Here's the key exchange, from a House hearing in which Jackie Speier quizzed Comey:

SPEIER: Now, do we know who Gazprom-Media is? Do you know anything about Gazprom, director?
COMEY: I don't.
SPEIER: Well, it's a – it's an oil company.

(Incidentally, Gazprom – primarily a natural-gas giant – is not really an oil company. So both Comey and Speier got it wrong.)

As Leonid Bershidsky of Bloomberg noted, this exchange was terrifying to Russians. The leader of an investigation into Russian espionage not knowing what Gazprom is would be like an FSB chief not having heard of Exxon-Mobil. It's bizarre, to say the least.

Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey and Director of the National Security Agency, Mike Rogers, right, appear in front of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence at the Longworth House Office Building on Monday March 20, 2017 in Washington, DC.
James Comey and Mike Rogers at the March 20th House Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia. Matt McClain/The Washington Post/Getty
Testimony of the sort that came from Warner's committee last week is being buttressed by news stories in liberal outlets like Salon insisting that "Bernie Bros" were influenced by those same ubiquitous McDermott-chasing Russian "bots."

These stories insist that, among other things, these evil bots pushed on the unwitting "bros" juicy "fake news" stories about Hillary being "involved with various murders and money laundering schemes."

Some 13.2 million people voted for Sanders during the primary season last year. What percentage does any rational person really believe voted that way because of "fake news"?

I would guess the number is infinitesimal at best. The Sanders campaign was driven by a lot of factors, but mainly by long-developing discontent within the Democratic Party and enthusiasm for Sanders himself.

To describe Sanders followers as unwitting dupes who departed the true DNC faith because of evil Russian propaganda is both insulting and ridiculous. It's also a testimony to the remarkable capacity for self-deception within the leadership of the Democratic Party.

If the party's leaders really believe that Russian intervention is anywhere in the top 100 list of reasons why some 155 million eligible voters (out of 231 million) chose not to pull a lever for Hillary Clinton last year, they're farther along down the Purity of Essence nut-hole than Mark Warner.

Moreover, even those who detest Trump with every fiber of their being must see the dangerous endgame implicit in this entire line of thinking. If the Democrats succeed in spreading the idea that straying from the DNC-approved candidate – in either the past or the future – is/was an act of "unwitting" cooperation with the evil Putin regime, then the entire idea of legitimate dissent is going to be in trouble.

Imagine it's four years from now (if indeed that's when we have our next election). A Democratic candidate stands before the stump, and announces that a consortium of intelligence experts has concluded that Putin is backing the hippie/anti-war/anti-corporate opposition candidate.

Or, even better: that same candidate reminds us "what happened last time" when people decided to vote their consciences during primary season. It will be argued, in seriousness, that true Americans will owe their votes to the non-Putin candidate. It would be a shock if some version of this didn't become an effective political trope going forward.

But if you're not worried about accusing non-believers of being spies, or pegging legitimate dissent as treason, there's a third problem that should scare everyone.

Last week saw Donna Brazile and Dick Cheney both declare Russia's apparent hack of DNC emails an "act of war." This coupling seemed at first like political end times: as Bill Murray would say, "dogs and cats, living together."

But there's been remarkable unanimity among would-be enemies in the Republican and Democrat camps on this question. Suddenly everyone from Speier to McCain to Kamala Harris to Ben Cardin have decried Russia's alleged behavior during the election as real or metaphorical acts of war: a "political Pearl Harbor," as Cardin put it.

That no one seems to be concerned about igniting a hot war with nuclear-powered Russia at a time when both countries have troops within "hand-grenade range" of each in Syria other is bizarre, to say the least. People are in such a fever to drag Trump to impeachment that these other considerations seem not to matter. This is what happens when people lose their heads.

There are a lot of people who will say that these issues are of secondary importance to the more important question of whether or not we have a compromised Russian agent in the White House.

But when it comes to Trump-Putin collusion, we're still waiting for the confirmation. As Democratic congresswoman Maxine Waters put it, the proof is increasingly understood to be the thing we find later, as in, "If we do the investigations, we will find the connections."

But on the mass hysteria front, we already have evidence enough to fill a dozen books. And if it doesn't freak you out, it probably should.

Luis Almagro: Regime Change Apostle?

from Investig'Action

With a brutality that would make even Cambodia’s Pol Pot blush, Venezuela’s dictator-in-chief, Nicolas Maduro, continues his onslaught against the Venezuelan people, enforcing mass starvation on the defenseless population. Or such is the alternative reality that Organization of American States (OAS) General Sectary Luis Almagro has conjured up for himself.

In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, the former Uruguayan diplomat presents Venezuela with an ultimatum: hold snap presidential elections one year ahead of schedule or face expulsion from the OAS under Article 21 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

To justify this radical demand against a sovereign nation, Almagro enumerates a laundry list of alleged dictatorial crimes ranging from a botched recall referendum and so-called “political prisoners” to food shortages and corruption.

It’s of course no coincidence that this litany of abuses reads like a pamphlet drafted by Venezuelan hard right political party Popular Will (VP). Over the past year, Almagro has met with Venezuelan opposition leaders no less than 26 times, repeatedly using the OAS as a platform to promote the partisan discourse of VP and other right-wing parties in blatant violation of the body’s own internal norms prohibiting the politicized use of “the facilities of the OAS”.

Sadly, as with most propaganda, Mr. Almagro’s editorial is characteristically high on hyperbole and low on facts.

The secretary general reprimands Venezuela for failing to hold a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro last year without at all referencing the country’s constitutional norms and internal laws governing said process. Almagro conveniently omits any mention of the opposition coalition’s own infighting that delayed the start of the complex procedure nor does he address the 53,658 fraudulent signatures that ultimately stalled the referendum in court.

Rather, the OAS chief insists on holding the Maduro government to an abstract, fantastical standard of democracy, condemning it for not convening a recall referendum despite the fact that Venezuela is the only country in the hemisphere besides Ecuador with such a participatory democratic mechanism.

This highly skewed narrative runs throughout the remainder of the piece.

He lambasts Venezuela’s Supreme Court for curtailing the powers of the opposition-controlled legislature without acknowledging that Parliament has shown more interest in ousting Maduro via constitutionally dubious means than in actually governing the country.

The same goes for “political prisoners”. Nowhere does Mr. Almagro mention the violent 2014 opposition protests, which had as their explicit objective the “exit” of democratically elected Maduro, leaving 43 dead. In any other country, such levels of anti-government violence would be met with swift state repression endorsed by the international media and multilateral bodies.

None of this is to deny, however, the severity of Venezuela’s current economic crisis nor the inadequacy of the Maduro government’s response.

In the face of stagnant global oil prices – the source of over 90 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings – and what effectively amounts to an international financial blockade, the government has been forced to dramatically slash imports, leading to shortages of crucial food items and medicines.

That is, while the Maduro administration must be criticized for failing to take the radical measures needed to resolve this crisis in a revolutionary direction, other decisive factors must be taken into account. These include the intransigence international lenders and a capital strike that has seen firms ranging from transnational food company Polar to local bakeries refusing to produce despite receiving government dollars.

Sadly, Almagro opportunistically conflates these complex but real economic problems with largely contrived indictments of Venezuelan democracy in order to bolster his case for regime change.

While Mr. Almagro is more than justified in highlighting Venezuela’s longstanding problems with its penal system, corruption, and separation of powers, what is striking is the OAS head’s refusal to apply this same proceduralist standard of democracy to other countries in the region.

The former Uruguayan foreign minister is quick to brand Venezuela a dictatorship for not holding a recall referendum, yet his silence is deafening vis-à-vis the Temer regime in Brazil, which came to power via a parliamentary coup that ousted democratically elected Dilma Rousseff last May. Almost a year later, its national government continues to be unelected.

Almagro likewise excoriates Venezuela regarding its “more than 100” alleged “political prisoners” – many of whom like Leopoldo Lopez have been convicted of inciting the violent overthrow of the government – but in no moment does he threaten to revoke Colombia’s democratic credentials over its several hundred actual political prisoners, many of whom have been on intermittent hunger strike.

While the general secretary denounces arbitrary detention and torture on the part of Venezuelan security forces, he seems entirely unconcerned about the escalating wave of paramilitary violence in Colombia that has claimed the lives of 23 community leaders during just three months of peace with the FARC. Nor does he speak out about the ongoing dirty war against social movements in Honduras, which has recently been labeled the “deadliest country in the world for environmental activism”.

Almagro goes on to decry corruption and drug trafficking in Venezuela, but at no time does he call for fresh elections in Mexico where President Enrique Peña Nieto – whose popularity is even lower than Nicolas Maduro’s – presides over a brutally repressive US-backed narco-state engaged in a decade-long war on drugs that has left over 100,000 dead and 30,000 missing.

Is this silence merely an unfortunate coincidence or is there a pattern in this selective democratic sensibility?

It should surprise no one that Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, and Mexico – together with the majority of the other signatories of a recent US-led statement demanding early elections in Venezuela – are all close allies of Washington governed by right-wing neoliberal administrations.

Like his fellow pro-US elites in these countries, Almagro knows all too well who maintains him in his position of power. As such, the secretary general’s urgent preoccupation with Venezuela is hardly as innocent and impartial as it seems.

Lurking behind his discourse of human rights and democracy is in fact the same Cold War-era ideological litmus test that has for decades whitewashed US-backed coups and state terror, all the while demonizing elected socialist governments no matter their democratic mandate.

From Chile and Nicaragua in the ‘70s and ‘80s to Venezuela and Bolivia today, democratic socialist experiments are routinely targeted for regime change by Washington, whereas brutal authoritarian regimes are embraced so long as they faithfully execute their orders from the hegemon.

Tragically, Mr. Almagro – whose election as OAS chief was heralded as a break from the organization’s long subservience to US geopolitical interests – has faithfully fulfilled this historical role far more efficiently than his predecessors.

Yet Latin America has changed over the past two decades, and despite the current rightward regional counteroffensive, the continent is no longer the idle playground of US imperialism, as even Barack Obama himself admitted.

Indeed the OAS head’s current bid to invoke the Democratic Charter against Venezuela has received even less support than his previous attempt last June, with even staunch critics of the Bolivarian Revolution such as Peru casting doubt on the initiative’s success.

At the end of the day, the reality is that the decline of US hegemony in the region is now irreversible, notwithstanding the Obama administration’s efforts over the previous eight years to tug back lost territory, from Honduras in 2009 to Brazil last year. Trump’s 28 percent cut to the State Department budget, which will in turn affect US contributions to the OAS, is yet one more indication of this overall trend.

The truth is that the majority of Latin American and Caribbean peoples – regardless of whether Mr. Almagro and his US backers like it or not – are for the first time in 500 years in a position to chart their own path, independent of the dictates of Madrid, Paris, London, or Washington.

Whether this new collective self-determination, or Bolivarian consensus, will lead to authentic liberation, only time will tell.

- See more at:

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Cheer Nikki Haley’s Lies

from Haaretz
Hurray for Haley. Hurray for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. You and she deserve each other.

Gideon Levy 02.04.2017 02:38 Updated: 2:39 AM
Analysis Nikki Haley, rock star to the Jews and their knight in shining armor

Opinion Even Nikki Haley, the pro-Israel hero, can’t save Israel at the UN
At AIPAC, UN envoy Nikki Haley vows no more resolutions against Israel

Raise a cheer, fellow Jews, for your new envoy, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. Cheer the false propaganda, cheer the imaginary reality. Wallow in the false friendship with Israel and in recklessness toward the whole world. Cheer the lies and fabrications behind the Colgate smile.
Hurray for Haley. Hurray for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. You and she deserve each other. How fitting that you should fall in love with her. Together you can say that night is day and think it’s true. That’s why Haley is your rock star: That’s how you’d like to see Israel and the world, but the world, and especially Israel, aren’t as Haley tells you they are. And so your cheers, fellow Jews, are cheers for a lie.
Haley’s appearance at AIPAC last week was particularly embarrassing and ridiculous, even in the land of infinite opportunity. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wouldn’t dare express himself that way, Education Minister Naftali Bennett would have been more restrained, even Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid would have been less treacly. We don’t need UN Ambassador Danny Danon and Consul General of Israel in New York Dani Dayan — we’ve got Haley, ambassador to the UN of the Israeli government’s extreme right. U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, friend to the Beit El settlement, can stay in America. Haley will use her heels to kick all the Israel critics, as she subtly promised. After all, she said the Indians and the Jews have a common culture, a culture of aggressiveness.

Haley is also proud of her shameful act of blocking Salam Fayyad, the most moderate Palestinian on earth, as head of a UN mission to Libya, and she admitted that it was just because he is a Palestinian.
And AIPAC gave her a standing ovation. A boycott of the Palestinians is of course legitimate as far as she and they are concerned. As governor of South Carolina, Haley was the first to pass laws against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, another shameful act to be proud of.
What is the basis for all this goodness that she bestows upon us? She apparently has never visited Israel. She certainly has not been to the Gaza Strip, and she only hears about the West Bank on Fox News. Her parents’ Sikh culture is not exactly supportive of occupation and colonialism. One might have expected more sensitivity to human rights from the daughter of immigrants, even if she is a Republican.

But Haley is apparently ignorant and brainwashed as to what has happened here over the last century. She also knows nothing about the current situation in the region, if she caused the chairman of a UN committee to resign after a report by that committee determined that there is apartheid in Israel. Does Haley know what apartheid is? Does she know what Israel is? “There’s a new sheriff in town,” she said in her poetic way, to the cheers of the Jews, as if the United Nations were a crime-ridden neighborhood that had to be cleaned up. But Haley is an American and Americans can say anything they want.
Haley is also misleading when she presents Israel as a victim in the UN. The state that was founded in part thanks to the United Nations, thumbs its nose at UN resolutions and international law more than nearly any other state, excepting Russia and North Korea. Does the vicious civil war in Syria somehow justify a brutal 50-year occupation, Madam Ambassador? Does the war in Yemen detract from the right of a fourth-generation Gazan refugee to live free? Does the fact that Iraq is being bombarded by your country legitimize less serious war crimes?
The ambassador of the occupation almost compared UN Security Council Resolution 2334 with the Holocaust when she pledged: “Never again.” Never again what? The United States will never again abstain (!) in a vote on a resolution that states the obvious, that the settlements are illegal? Have you read international law, Madam Governor? And what will you say to the Palestinians, that their fate is sealed to live like this forever, among other reasons because of people like you?
The Jews of AIPAC cheered all that. In Israel, too, people rejoiced at this grotesque hallucination. But this hallucination is now reality: There’s a new sheriff in town. We’d better watch ourselves.

read more:

Why Is This Hate Different From All Other Hate?

from the NYT

On March 23, a Jewish teenager was arrested in Israel, accused of being behind the wave of bomb threats that had terrorized Jewish organizations since President Trump’s election. For people alarmed about the uptick in religious and ethnic bigotry in the Trump era, this was a shock.

Mr. Trump had been slow to condemn the threats, as well as several incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism. Pennsylvania’s attorney general said that Mr. Trump told him that this activity could be a false flag campaign intended “to make people — or to make others — look bad.” This theory had been floating around white supremacist circles, and much to the delight of the far right, it turned out to be partly correct.

As a result, the Trump administration is now acting as if it has been permanently absolved from addressing hate crimes. Last Monday, the journalist April Ryan asked the White House spokesman, Sean Spicer, if the White House had anything to say about the murder of a black man in New York City by a white supremacist. In response, Mr. Spicer complained about how unfair it had been to ask “folks on the right” to denounce anti-Semitic bomb threats, when it turned out those threats hadn’t come from the right.

It was a bizarre argument. Normally, it is routine for presidents to offer sympathy to victims of high-profile crimes — without treating it as an opportunity to settle a political grudge.

All the same, the Israeli bomb threat hoax does force some reassessment. Perhaps we have given Trump-era anti-Semitism more emphasis than it deserves. This does not mean that, as Mr. Spicer suggests, we should see the president as the victim of unjust insinuations. Instead, we should ask why there was so much more pressure on Mr. Trump to speak out about apparent anti-Semitic threats than about other types of religious and ethnic violence.

For example, while synagogues have been threatened, at least four mosques have been burned. According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, there have been 35 attacks on mosques — including vandalism, break-ins and death threats — in the first three months of this year, compared with 19 over the same period in 2016. In the last week, a family of Pakistani origin in Virginia and an Iranian refugee in Oregon reported their homes broken into and defaced with anti-Muslim obscenities.

The Iranian was not even Muslim, and others who are not Muslim but may be suspected of being such have been targeted in hate crime incidents. In February, a white man demanded to know if two Indian patrons at a bar in Kansas were in the country illegally, and shot them, killing one. In March, a masked assailant shot a Sikh man in Washington State, reportedly telling him to go back to his country.

The various strands of renascent bigotry in Mr. Trump’s America are intertwined, and anti-Semitism is only part of the tapestry. Yet Americans, for good historical reasons, tend to have a particularly heightened sensitivity toward anti-Semitism. All 100 senators signed a letter calling on the Trump administration to take “swift action” against the anti-Semitic bomb threats. There has been no similar political urgency in demanding protection for other harassed minorities.

The president and his associates mix anti-Semitic dog whistles with frank attacks on Muslims, immigrants and refugees. The paradox is that in today’s America, coded anti-Semitism is more of a political taboo than open Islamophobia. We spend a great deal of time and energy parsing the semiotics of Mr. Trump’s role in stoking anti-Jewish sentiment, while Muslims and immigrants can be defamed with impunity. The risk here is that we’ve been distracted by the anti-Semitism controversy from the ways in which other groups are being demonized as Jews once were.

In his definitive 1994 book “Anti-Semitism in America,” Leonard Dinnerstein describes American anti-Semitism reaching a high tide in the early 1940s. The country was traumatized by the Great Depression and apprehensive about war in Europe. Reactionaries imagined themselves squeezed between globalist Jewish bankers above and subversive Jewish refugee hordes below.

The America First Committee, formed to keep the United States out of World War II, was full of bigots and Nazi sympathizers; Mr. Dinnerstein quotes the chairman of the Terre Haute, Ind., chapter saying, “Jews were now in possession of our government.” There were widespread assertions that President Franklin D. Roosevelt was secretly Jewish; anti-Semites insisted his real last name was Rosenfeld.

Demagogues found popular support for their demand to keep Jewish refugees out of the country. Mr. Dinnerstein describes an anti-Semitic speaker warning of “200,000 Communist Jews at the Mexican border waiting to get into this country,” adding that “if they are admitted they will rape every woman and child that is left unprotected.”

Today, these tropes feel familiar but in a new context. Mr. Trump started his political career by amplifying rumors that President Barack Obama was secretly Muslim. He resurrected the disgraced slogan “America First.” In October, he warned that Hillary Clinton was meeting “in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers.” Mr. Trump called for refugees to be kept out of the country, smearing them as agents of a sinister foreign ideology. Breitbart, the website formerly run by Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, has run a stream of alarmist articles about refugee rapists.

In the Trump administration’s conspiratorial nationalism, avowed anti-Semites hear their overarching narratives reflected back to them, their prejudices tacitly approved. Mr. Trump himself does not appear to harbor personal anti-Jewish animus: He has a beloved Jewish daughter and close Jewish advisers. Yet he and members of his circle have broken long-established social and political norms by mining the anti-Semitic far right for images and arguments.

During the presidential campaign, Michael T. Flynn, who would briefly serve as Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, retweeted someone attacking CNN with the words, “Not anymore, Jews, not anymore.” (Mr. Flynn later apologized.) Mr. Trump himself tweeted an image, first circulated online by white supremacists, featuring Hillary Clinton’s face and a Star of David superimposed over a background of $100 bills and the message “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” (Mr. Trump insisted he’d done nothing wrong.) Under Mr. Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart defended online anti-Semitism as subversive good fun and published a column attacking the conservative writer Bill Kristol as a “renegade Jew.”

In power, the new administration, too, seemed to be trolling the Jewish community. In January, the White House released a statement for Holocaust Remembrance Day that failed to mention Jews. A spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, told CNN the omission was intentional, because the administration “took into account all of those who suffered” — echoing the position of neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers who seek to play down the genocide of Jews.

At an inauguration ball, Sebastian Gorka, a Breitbart editor who was soon to become a White House adviser, wore a medal associated with a Nazi-collaborationist Hungarian group, the Vitezi Rend. The Forward, a Jewish newspaper, reported that Mr. Gorka was a sworn member of the group. (Mr. Gorka claimed he wore the medal to honor his father, from whom he “inherited” Vitezi Rend membership.)

This is where we are now: A senior administration official dons fascist paraphernalia, defends himself by saying he did so out of filial loyalty, and suffers no political repercussions.

Naturally, many Jews find this chilling, but we should not lose sight of the real import of Mr. Gorka’s appointment. He may flirt with anti-Semitic iconography for sentimental reasons, but he owes his career to his apocalyptic view of America’s war with radical Islam. The Islamic State, he claimed last year, “is already well entrenched on the shores of the United States.” When the National Cathedral hosted a Muslim prayer service in a gesture of ecumenical good will, Mr. Gorka published a Breitbart column headlined: “Muslim Brotherhood Overruns National Cathedral in D.C.”

Last year, Michael Anton, now a White House national security staffer, wrote a pseudonymous essay arguing that “mass immigration has overwhelmed, eroded, and de-Americanized formerly American communities.” He was particularly contemptuous of Muslim immigration. Yes, he allowed, “not all Muslims are terrorists, blah, blah, blah, etc. Even so, what good has Muslim immigration done for the United States and the American people?”

To be an American Muslim or a brown-skinned immigrant and know that people like this are in power must be terrifying. Mr. Trump and his appointees have consistently denigrated and dehumanized these minorities in ways we’d never tolerate if they were talking about Jews.

Sign Up for the Opinion Today Newsletter
Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, the Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.

Naturally, a government that decides certain groups of people “don’t mean anything” shakes many Jews to the core. But the horror of the president’s vision isn’t that “the other people” might include Jews. It includes people. Even in this brutally tribal moment, that should be enough.