Friday, March 31, 2017

Spiral Beach - Voodoo

Blaming Russia for Everything

March 31, 2017

Exclusive: The Senate Intelligence Committee launched its Russia-gate investigation by inviting some “experts” in to rant about how everything that goes wrong in the United States is the fault of the Russians, observes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

It’s almost getting comical how everything that happens in the United States gets blamed on Russia! Russia! Russia! And, if any American points out the absurdity of this argument, he or she must be a “Moscow stooge” or a “Putin puppet.”

When Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign fails seemingly because he was a wet-behind-the-ears candidate who performed like a robot during debates repeating the same talking points over and over, you might have cited those shortcomings to explain why “Little Marco” flamed out. However, if you did, that would make you a Russian “useful idiot”! The “real” reason for his failure, as we learned from Thursday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, was Russia!

When Americans turned against President Obama’s Pacific trade deals, you might have thought that it was because people across the country had grown sick and tired of these neoliberal agreements that have left large swaths of the country deindustrialized and former blue-collar workers turning to opioids and alcohol. But if you did think that, that would mean you are a dupe of the clever Russkies, as ex-British spy Christopher Steele made clear in one of his “oppo” research reports against Donald Trump. As Steele’s dossier explained, the rejection of Obama’s TPP and TTIP trade deals resulted from Russian propaganda!

When Hillary Clinton boots a presidential election that was literally hers to lose, you might have thought that she lost because she insisted on channeling her State Department emails through a private server that endangered national security; that she gave paid speeches to Wall Street and tried to hide the contents from the voters; that she called half of Donald Trump’s supporters “deplorables”; that she was a widely disliked establishment candidate in an anti-establishment year; that she was shoved down the throats of progressive Democrats by a Democratic Party hierarchy that made her nomination “inevitable” via the undemocratic use of unelected “super-delegates”; that some of her State Department emails were found on the laptop of suspected sex offender Anthony Weiner (the husband of Clinton’s close aide Huma Abedin); and that the laptop discovery caused FBI Director James Comey to briefly reopen the investigation of Clinton’s private email server in the last days of the campaign.

You might even recall that Clinton herself blamed her late collapse in the polls on Comey’s announcement, as did other liberal luminaries such as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. But if you thought those thoughts or remembered those memories, that is just more proof that you are a “Russian mole”!

As we all should know in our properly restructured memory banks and our rearranged sense of reality, it was all Russia’s fault! Russia did it by undermining our democratic process through the clever means of releasing truthful information via WikiLeaks that provided evidence of how the Democratic National Committee rigged the nomination process against Sen. Bernie Sanders, revealed the contents of Clinton’s hidden Wall Street speeches, and exposed pay-to-play features of the Clinton Foundation in its dealings with foreign entities.

You see the evil Russians undermined American democracy by arming the American people with truthful information! How dastardly is that! Could Boris and Natasha do any better or worse? And although the Soviet spies in FX’s “The Americans” were in their prime in the 1980s and would be pretty old by now, do we know where they are in the present day? Though WikiLeaks denies getting the two batches of emails – the DNC’s and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s – from the Russians, have we ruled out that the emails might have been slipped to WikiLeaks by the FX characters Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, presumably in disguise?

Oddly, too, when similar factual revelations come from Western-favored leaks, such as the purloined financial records of a Panamanian law firm known as the “Panama Papers,” we hail the disclosures regardless of the dubious methods that were used to steal them, especially if the contents can be spun to undermine disfavored governments like Russia (while also inconveniently embarrassing a few unimportant “’allies”).

But if you make that comparison or you note how the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. government-funded National Endowment for Democracy have supported various “independent” journalists and news outlets to advance U.S. propaganda, that makes you guilty of “moral equivalence,” another serious offense.

Crazy Talk

So now that you know how the game is played, you had the Senate Intelligence Committee eliciting testimony from people like media watcher Clint Watts, who seems to believe that any criticism of a U.S. government official (at least anyone he likes) must be directed by Russia!

“This past week we observed social media accounts discrediting U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan,” said Watts, who is billed in The Washington Post as “an expert in terrorism forecasting and Russian influence operations.”

Gee, I know you might say that you went on Facebook last week to criticize Ryan for bungling the “repeal and replace” of Obamacare by proposing a scheme that managed to alienate both right-wing and moderate Republicans as well as all Democrats. But that only proves you are indeed a Russian disinformation agent! (Watts also claimed that Sen. Rubio’s presidential bid “anecdotally suffered” from an online Russian campaign against him.)

As Watts describes these nefarious Russian schemes, they are so nefarious that they don’t have any discernible earmarks or detectable predictability. In his view, the Russians don’t want to help any particular person or group, just undermine America’s faith in its democracy.

As Watts puts it, Russians attack “people on both sides of the aisle … solely based on what they [the Russians] want to achieve in their own landscape, whatever the Russian foreign policy objectives are. They win because they play both sides.” In other words, any political comment that an American might make might just prove that you’re a traitor.

But Watts singled out President Trump for special criticism because he supposedly has tweeted about Russian-planted conspiracy theories. “Part of the reason active measures have worked in this U.S. election is because the commander-in-chief has used Russian active measure at times against his opponent,” Watts said, citing Trump’s bogus claims about 2016 voter fraud and his earlier silliness about President Obama’s Kenyan birthplace. Yes, as we all know, every goofy idea is manufactured in Russia. Americans are incapable of developing their own nonsense.

Watts then suggested that some kind of Ministry of Truth is needed to stamp out unapproved information. “Until we get a firm basis on fact and fiction in our own country, … we’re going to have a big problem,” Watts said. He warned of a dangerous future from Russian information: “Somewhere in their cache right now there’s tremendous amounts of information laying around they can weaponize against other Americans.”

Perhaps what is even more frightening than the Russians letting Americans in on how Washington’s political process really works – by somehow slipping WikiLeaks some evidence of Democratic Party bigwigs tilting the Democratic primaries to ensure Clinton’s nomination and revealing what Clinton told those Wall Street bankers – is the idea that the U.S. government should be enlisted to enforce what Americans get to see and hear.

The PropOrNot Smear

Watts and his alarums showed up in another context in the weeks after the 2016 election when The Washington Post ran a front-page story highlighting the claims by an anonymous group, PropOrNot, which was pushing a blacklist of 200 Internet news sites, including such independent sources of information as Counterpunch, Truthdig, Naked Capitalism, Zero Hedge, Truth-out and Consortiumnews.

Though the Post granted PropOrNot anonymity so it could safely slander independent-minded journalists, the Post turned to Watts to bolster PropOrNot’s case. “They [the Russians] want to essentially erode faith in the U.S. government or U.S. government interests,” Watts said. “This was their standard mode during the Cold War. The problem is that this was hard to do before social media.”

The Post then linked to an article that Watts had co-authored entitled, “Trolling for Trump: How Russia Is Trying to Destroy Our Democracy.” which, in turn, cited as proof RT articles that mentioned Hillary Clinton’s health problem last September (which was later acknowledged to be a bout with pneumonia) and that discussed the vulnerabilities of the Federal Reserve (in an age of escalating public and private debt). Both might seem to you like reasonable topics for journalists, but you must understand that RT – because it is Russian-sponsored – has become the favorite whipping boy of anyone trying to make the case that America is besieged by Russian propaganda. And don’t you dare mention that almost no one in America actually watches RT or you might end up on PropOrNot’s list, too.

Watts and his cohorts continue: “Social issues currently provide a useful window for Russian messaging. Police brutalityracial tensions, protests, anti-government standoffsonline privacy concerns, and alleged government misconduct are all emphasized to magnify their scale and leveraged to undermine the fabric of society.”

And, we know for sure that you’re a Russian agent if you express any concern that the heightened tensions between the U.S. and Russia might lead to nuclear war. As Watts and friends write, “More recently, Moscow turned to stoking fears of nuclear war between the United States and Russia” – and their “proof” was a link not to RT but to the financial Web site, Zero Hedge, which already had made it onto PropOrNot’s black list.

So, let’s see if we got this right: We are not to worry our pretty little heads about nuclear war or a future financial meltdown or police brutality toward racial minorities or race relations in general or armed right-wing clashes with authorities or spying on our Internet use or any government wrongdoing at all or even citizen protests against that wrongdoing. Because if we debate such issues – if we even read about such issues – we are playing into Vladimir Putin’s evil plans.

What Democracy?

Which makes me wonder what kind of “democracy” these brave “defenders of democracy” have in mind. The New York Times, The Washington Post and some establishment-approved Internet sites already have begun work on establishing standards for what information the American people will be allowed to see and hear – with disapproved sources of news marginalized by Internet search engines or prevented from earning any money by exclusion from Google and other ad programs.

Presumably, the 200 or so Web sites on PropOrNot’s black list would be the first cut for the new Ministry of Truth since many of them have published articles that raised questions about the accuracy of claims made by the U.S. State Department or they have expressed the belief that there may be two sides to complex issues – when Americans are supposed to hear only the side that Official Washington wants them to hear.

Some of these “Russian propaganda” Web sites – prior to the Iraq War – even raised doubts about the U.S. government’s certainty that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of WMDs. Thank goodness the Internet wasn’t as widely used back then or perhaps many Americans would have doubted the truth-telling by The New York Times and The Washington Post, which dutifully passed on the U.S. government’s pronouncements about Hussein’s secret WMDs.

Surely, in 2002-03, the Russians must have been behind the resistance by those few Web sites to the WMD group think that all the respectable people just knew to be true. How else can you explain the skepticism? And maybe Russia was responsible for the U.S. government’s failure to find any of those WMD stockpiles. Curse you, Russia!

With the Senate Intelligence Committee’s hearing on Thursday, this determination to squelch any dissenting American views as “Russian disinformation” moved up a notch, beyond some think-tank chatter, some newspaper articles or some initial planning for private-sector censorship.

The craziness has now become the focus of an official Senate investigation into Russian “meddling” in American political life. We have taken another step down the path of a New Cold War that blends a New McCarthyism with a New Orwellianism.

[For more on this topic, see’s “The Orwellian War on Skepticism” and “How US Flooded the World with Psyops.”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and

Who will control this digital space merged with our brain?

At AIPAC Protest, Young American Jews Voice Rejection of Israeli Policies

Does Washington Want to Start a New War in the Balkans?

March 29, 2017

With Monday’s procedural vote in the U.S. Senate to allow Montenegro into NATO, the Washington elite proved once more that heightening tensions with Russia might not just be inevitable, but actually desirable. With the exception of Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT), the entire 100-strong body of the Senate rallied behind the motion that would see the tiny Adriatic state admitted into the Atlantic alliance over the objections of many Montenegrins . The vote set off a 30-hour countdown, during which Senators will debate before putting the issue to a final vote.

If you needed more proof that US foreign policy is misguided, just look to what happened to Rand Paul after his earlier decision to block Montenegro’s accession.  The Kentucky senator was subjected to a barrage of insults from fellow Republican John McCain, who flatly accused Paul of “working for Vladimir Putin.” McCain warned Paul that objecting to the tiny Balkan state becoming the 29th member of the alliance would play straight into the hands of the Russian president. While certainly unkind, Paul’s retort that the 80-year-old might be “past his prime” and perhaps “a little bit unhinged” was not entirely wide of the mark.

While Montenegro’s accession to NATO bafflingly enjoys popular support in the Senate chamber and among NATO’s 28 member states, 25 of whom have already finalized their approval of the country’s membership of the alliance, criticism of Paul’s veto is as grossly misguided as any assertion that he is somehow in the pocket of the Kremlin. Correctly arguing that the U.S. is already spread far too thinly militarily in dozens of countries all over the world with little to show for it, Paul questioned the wisdom of expanding the monetary and military obligations of America at a time when it is already drowning in debt. He had previously voted against the matter in a vote last December.

McCain represents a mercilessly hawkish wing of the Republican Party that would be quite happy to risk war with Russia and harm to U.S. interests over such a strategically irrelevant country. Paul, on the other hand, takes a more pragmatic position on the country’s NATO ambitions, as should anyone in full possession of the facts. To begin with, the Montenegrin people themselves display little interest in their country joining NATO. Polls there consistently show that no more than 40% of the public favor NATO membership, with support for accession dropping considerably below that figure among older people. Many remain suspicious of the alliance after it bombed Yugoslavia, of which Montenegro was part, in 1999. Distrust for the military alliance is so strong that anti-NATO demonstrations regularly take place across the country. To press ahead with Montenegro’s NATO accession would fly directly in the face of the will of its people.

Worse, Montenegro’s October parliamentary election was marred with exaggerated charges that a Russian coup was in the works. If it hadn’t been for some last minute intelligence from Serbia and the country’s own agencies, so the story goes, Russian GRU spies would have assassinated Djukanovic and would have installed a puppet government. In fact, the pro-Western Podgorica government has successfully used the specter of Russian influence in order to detain and unlawfully harass opposition leaders. Just last week, Marko Milacic, a pro-neutrality campaigner, was “pre-emptively detained” after campaigning in favor of a referendum that would have allowed Montenegrins to vote on whether they want indeed to join NATO.

Aside from the lack of public support, Montenegro has very little to meaningfully contribute to the alliance. Indeed, its accession would seriously undermine the democratic principles on which the transatlantic community was ostensibly founded. The country’s government is widely accepted to be riddled with corruption. Former Prime Minister Milo Dukanovic was named Man of the Year in Organized Crime by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) in 2015, and has been accused of cigarette smuggling on a grand scale in collusion with notorious organized crime groups from Italy, among a litany of other offences any mobster would be proud to have on their resume. Since standing down from his role as Prime Minister last year, Djukanovic has managed to cleverly maneuver the domestic political sphere by intimidating opposition leaders, while skillfully managing to avoid accusation of a “political crackdown” that would have ignited wide-spread civil unrest.

Montenegro’s accession to full NATO membership should also be viewed as no-brainer from a financial perspective. The fact remains that Podgorica currently spends just 1.6% of its GDP on defense and has a miniscule army. As the Senate Armed Services Chairman, John McCain has been busy campaigning for a greater military budget of $640 billion for 2018 to entangle U.S. forces in further conflicts abroad, proving once more that the former Presidential candidate is stuck in a Cold War mentality, as evidenced by his suggestion that Paul is some sort of Kremlin plant.

Republicans and the White House must look beyond this bluster and carefully consider the ramifications of allowing Montenegro’s NATO accession. Accepting a country with a failing economy and corrupt government into the alliance will do nothing to further U.S interests either at home or abroad. On the contrary, allowing Montenegro to join NATO would jeopardize both regional and U.S. security, and perpetuate the mistakes of past administrations that have been too quick to bomb foreign countries on a whim and play geopolitical games.

McCain’s tired brand of rampant interventionism should be consigned to the dustbin of history, while the rest of the Senate should take careful note of Paul’s important points. He is one of a rare breed of lawmakers brave enough to criticize America’s imperialism abroad.

"Cultural Imperialism never had any problem with cultural diversity"

Call for Papers: Imaging a ‘Middle East’

International Symposium

6 – 7 July 2017

An ICI Event organized by Saima Akhtar, Walid El-Houri, and Banu Karaca in cooperation with Europe in the Middle East – the Middle East in Europe (EUME), a programme at the Forum Transregionale Studie

Orientalism – and its images – are far from dead. Despite Edward Said’s forceful critique of Orientalism as a regime of representation that dominates and structures an ambiguous ‘East’, its discourse persists. Representations, in the form of paintings, drawings, photography, films, and maps, have been powerful means by which the ‘Middle East’ has been pictured in the last two centuries, and, as such, have animated imperialist projects, fueled Orientalist and self-Orientalist fantasies, and upheld reductive and essentialized understandings of the region and its people. Since September 2001, Orientalist imagery has undergone a political and social intensification, which is now compounded by the ‘refugee crisis.’ This intensification has been made apparent in discourses that easily interchange the ‘immigrant’ for the ‘refugee’ and ‘Muslim’ in Europe and the US, but also in tropes of Arab, Muslim or Oriental otherness used by political actors in the region itself.

This symposium examines the continued seductiveness that Orientalism seems to hold over the production of images of the contemporary ‘Middle East’, both inside and outside of the region. How are (self) Orientalized images and imaginaries translated into perceptions of authenticity and identity? How do such images figure into the policies and politics in the ongoing ‘global war on terror’? How do modes of contemporary image-making engage with, resist, or respond to tropes of Orientalism in the current political moment?

Presentations in English, limited to 20 minutes. Please email an abstract of no more than 300 words and a short biographical profile (150 words max) to by 23 April 2017. As with all events at the ICI Berlin, there is no registration fee. Assistance in securing discounted accommodation for the conference period can be provided.

Trump says trade gap will make China meeting 'a very difficult one'

By David Brunnstrom and Christian Shepherd | WASHINGTON/BEIJING

U.S. President Donald Trump set the tone for a tense first meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping next week by tweeting on Thursday that the United States could no longer tolerate massive trade deficits and job losses.

The White House said Trump would host Xi next Thursday and Friday at his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Florida. It said Trump and his wife, Melania, would host Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, at a dinner next Thursday.

In a tweet on Thursday evening, Trump said the highly anticipated meeting between the leaders of the world's two largest economies, which is also expected to cover differences over North Korea and China's strategic ambitions in the South China Sea, "will be a very difficult one."

"We can no longer have massive trade deficits and job losses," he wrote, adding in apparent reference to U.S. firms manufacturing in China: "American companies must be prepared to look at other alternatives."

Despite a string of U.S.-China meetings and conversations that have appeared aimed at mending ties after strong criticism of China by Trump during his election campaign, U.S. officials have said the Republican president will not pull his punches in the meeting.
General Electric Co Chief Executive Officer Jeff Immelt urged Trump on Thursday to maintain the country's economic relationship with China, saying the United States had much to gain from globalization.

"The country loses if we don't trade. The relationship with China is key," Immelt told an aviation panel hosted by industry group the Wings Club. "If you give up on trade, you give up on the best lever that the president of the United States has in negotiating around the world. I just think that President Trump is too smart to give up on that."

The U.S. Commerce Department said earlier that Beijing must change its trade practices and the way its state enterprises operate.

"China and others need to realize the games are over – continuing their unfair trade practices and operation as a non-market economy will have serious consequences,” it said.

The department said it was launching a new review of China’s status as a non-market economy, which allows the United States to maintain high anti-dumping duties on cheap Chinese imports, but the designation is widely expected to remain in place.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang stressed the need to see the big picture while fostering mutual trade interests.

"The market dictates that interests between our two countries are structured so that you will always have me and I will always have you," he told a regular briefing.

"Both sides should work together to make the cake of mutual interest bigger and not simply seek fairer distribution."


Trump administration officials say the need for China to do more to rein in the nuclear and missile programs of its neighbor and ally North Korea will top the agenda, along with trade. The U.S. side is also expected to criticize Beijing for its pursuit of expansive claims in the South China Sea.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer told a news briefing the meeting would be an opportunity for Trump "to develop a relationship in person with President Xi."

"He's spoken to him on the phone a few times, but we have big problems ... everything from the South China Sea, to trade, to North Korea. There are big issues of national and economic security that need to get addressed."

Asked if the administration had a vision, or a description for its China policy like the "pivot" or "rebalance" to Asia touted by former President Barack Obama, Spicer said: "Right now we're not worried so much about slogans as much as progress.

"There's a lot of big things that we need to accomplish with China, and I think that we will - we will work on them."

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson agreed in Beijing this month to work with China on North Korea and stressed Trump's desire to enhance understanding.

China has been irritated at being told repeatedly by Washington to rein in North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, or face U.S. sanctions on Chinese businesses trading with North Korea, and by the U.S. decision to base an advanced missile defense system in South Korea.

Beijing is also deeply suspicious of U.S. intentions toward self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own, after Trump, as president-elect, broke with decades of U.S. policy by taking a phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and saying Washington did not have to stick to a "one China" policy.

Trump later agreed in a phone call with Xi to honor the long-standing policy and has also written to him since seeking "constructive ties."

(Reporting by Christian Shepherd in Beijing and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick and D