Saturday, December 31, 2016

Disappearing Social Security: Fleecing the Last of the Lambs

The Coming Assault on Social Security

by Dave Lindorff - CounterPunch


December 30, 2016

The first assault of the Trump administration and Republican Congress on Social Security has been launched. It comes in the form of a new report by the Congressional Budget Office, which these days is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Congressional Caucus.

Using some financial sleight-of-hand, the report pushes forward by two years the date its ideologically driven experts claim Social Security benefits will exhaust the Trust Fund, and since Social Security is required to be self-financing, the date at which, barring adjustments by Congress in program funding and/or benefit payment levels, promised benefits would be cut by what the CBO claims will have to be 31%.

Such a cut would clearly be a staggering blow to the finances and livelihoods of nation’s retirees, dependents and the disabled.

This end-of-the-year CBO report is at odds with a report issued earlier this year by the Trustees of the Social Security Administration, which projected that the Trust Fund, barring any changes in taxes or benefit payments, would be tapped out in 2033, and that at that point benefits, barring some fixes in Social Security financing, would have to be cut by an also horrific but far lower 21% (with the remaining 79% of benefit payments being covered by current employee FICA taxes being paid into the system).

How did the projection on Social Security move from a cut in benefit payments of by just over a fifth being required in 17 years to a cut by almost a third being required in just 15 years?

Well, the CBO decided, in its wisdom, that the estimates of economic trends being used by the SSA’s Trustees — a group about evenly divided between Republican and Democratic appointees, with Democrats having a slight edge — were too optimistic.

Specifically, for example, the CBO gnomes are projecting that the interest rate on 10-year Treasury notes will only be at 1.7% in 2026, rising to just 2.3% in 2046. Since the Trust Fund — composed of FICA taxes paid by workers — is invested by law entirely in these 10-year notes, that’s a pretty low rate of return to be projecting. In contrast, the Trustees, in their 2016 report earlier this year, projected 10-year rates in 2016 of 2.4%, rising to 2.7% in 2031. For the record, the 10-year rate today is 2.51%, well above even the Trustee’s projection, and almost a percentage point higher than the latest CBO figure for the year.

The CBO is also projecting a slower rate of wage growth than did SSA Trustees, and thus is predicting a lower amount of FICA tax payments into the fund, as well as a further decline in labor participation rates and productivity growth, and other factors that all point to reduced contributions to the Trust Fund going forward.

Remember, though, that the Trump campaign and the Republican Senate and House candidates running for election, have been all about boosting jobs, raising incomes and lowering taxes, all of which should logically, if it were to come to pass, improve Social Security finances, not worsen them.

This leaves us with only two ways to look at the new CBO report, which will now be cited ad nauseam by Republicans in Congress as a reason to cut back on Social Security benefits and on annual inflation adjustments to those benefits, to raise the retirement age for receiving full benefits (a disaster especially for poor workers who cannot continue the hard physical labor many of their jobs require), and to raise the FICA tax rate, already a regressive flat 6.2% for employees and employers. Either Trump and Congress are not really going to try to boost jobs and income, or are going to try using measures like deregulation and trade sanctions on imports that will not work, or the CBO is just providing a fraudulent projection to give a boost to Republican plans to gut Social Security.

So what’s really going on here?



It’s classic scare tactics.

The Republican game, one in which they are, as always, being shamelessly supported by many conservative Democrats, as well as by nearly every financial advisor in the financial industry, and by financial industry lobbyists, is and has been to frighten younger workers into thinking that they are never going to receive Social Security benefits by the time they reach retirement age.

Photo frankieleon | CC BY 2.0

The goal is to drive a wedge between older workers and retirees on the one hand, who are looking at Social Security benefits as the mainstay of their lives in retirement (half of all Americans have no retirement savings — no IRA or 401(k) and no pension — and of those with savings, the average amount is $60,000 per family, according to the Economic Policy Institute, enough to pay out just $2400 per year in interest for life), and younger workers, who are being told Social Security will be going bust before they retire.

In 2016, according to the Social Security Administration, 61 million Americans, or about one-fifth of the country’s population and nine our of 10 of the nation’s elderly and disabled, are receiving Social Security benefits. Of these, 48% of couples and 71% of single retirees depend on those benefits for 50% or more of their income. Furthermore, 21% of retired married couples and 43% of single retirees depend on those benefits for 90% or more of their income. Cutting Social Security benefits, or reducing them by stealth through continued under adjustment for inflation each year, will wreak havoc with their lives.

Meanwhile the 75-year-old system, which has never missed a payment, has long been supported by all workers, young and old, first because of confidence that it will pay promised benefits, and equally importantly, because children and grandchildren paying into the system know that it is supporting their parents and grandparents, and helping to keep them out of poverty and also off the backs of their offspring. There is, in other words, an inherent solid logic in seeing Social Security as a national good for people of all ages.

The Republican strategy is to destroy this universal support by convincing the young that their FICA taxes are going into a black hole and that those funds won’t be available for them when it’s their turn to retire.

The idea is to pretend that Social Security is like an investment in stocks and bonds, and that the return is not very good in comparison to investing money in privately managed accounts (that’s what the Wall Street financial community wants: to get their hands on all those FICA funds totalling nearly a trillion dollars a year!).

But Social Security is not like a 401(k) fund. It is a government program funded by taxes and with benefits set by Congress. It is a wholly political construct, and it will be whatever the public demands it to be. Sadly, because most of the corporate media have bought into the Republican-led scam that Social Security is just an investment program with a poor return, many Americans are losing confidence in its future. And so for years, during which, as even now, small tweaks in the funding of the program could have made the program fully solvent right through the period when a large population of Baby Boomers will be increasing benefit outlays, and into the foreseeable future, and that in fact would allow it to be expanded (European public retirement programs pay benefits that are about twice as large as those paid by the US Social Security system!), nothing has been done.

Make no mistake: this CBO report is the opening salvo of an all-out assault on Social Security, as Republicans, now thanks to Trump’s presidential win, seek to take advantage of their full control of the levers of power in Washington for at least the next two or more likely four years, try to do as much damage to the program as possible.

The only answer is for progressives to organize massively in support of this last and most critical piece of the old New Deal legacy of President Franklin Roosevelt. It will require massive protests in Washington and major cities of the country, incessant pressure on all elected officials, and a concerted educational program so that all Americans understand that this program is critical to their and their parents’ and grandparents’ survival.

The truth is that despite a decade of dithering by Republicans and limp Democrats also anxious to cut the program’s cost on behalf of their Wall Street contributors, Social Security could be fully funded for another 75 years or more by simply eliminating the cap on income subject to the FICA tax (currently only the first $118,500 of income is taxes, rising to 127,200 next year), so that all income is taxed, and benefits could even be expanded by adding a small transaction tax of a fraction of a percent on all short-term stock trading (a measure that would not impact long term investors or retirement funds).

It is a critical time for this organizing to begin because the attack on Social Security promises to be rapid and brutal. On the upside, rallying and organizing around a defense of this program can be the core of a new progressive movement that can address all the key issues facing us in the year and presidential term ahead. Just as an example, it would be difficult to rescue, and impossible to expand Social Security benefits if Trump and Congress go ahead with announced plans to expand spending on the military instead of cutting military spending.
 
Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).
More articles by:Dave Lindorff

Obama's Grizzly Tale of Russian Hack Fails Sniff Test

Exit Obama in a Cloud of Disillusion, Delusion and Deceit

by Craig Murray


December 31, 2016

I had promised myself and my family that on this holiday I would do nothing but relax. However events have overtaken my good intentions. I find myself in the unusual position of having twice been in a position to know directly that governments were lying in globe-shaking events, firstly Iraqi WMD and now the “Russian hacks”.

Anybody who believes the latest report issued by Obama as “proof” provides anything of the sort is very easily impressed by some entirely meaningless diagrams.

William Binney, who was Technical Director at the NSA and actually designed their surveillance capabilities, has advised me by email.

It is plain from the report itself that the Russian groups discussed have been under targeted NSA surveillance for a period longer than the timeframe for the DNC and Podesta leaks. It is therefore inconceivable that the NSA would not have detected and traced those particular data flows and they would be saved.

In other words, the NSA would have the actual hack on record, would be able to recognise the emails themselves and tell you exactly the second the transmission or transmissions took place and how they were routed. They would be able to give you date, time and IP addresses. In fact, not only do they produce no evidence of this kind, they do not even claim to have this kind of definite evidence.

Secondly, Bill points out that WikiLeaks is in itself a top priority target and any transmission to WikiLeaks or any of its major operatives would be tracked, captured and saved by NSA as a matter of routine. The exact route and date of the transmission or transmissions of the particular emails to WikiLeaks would be available. In fact, not only does the report not make this information available, it makes no claim at all to know anything about how the information was got to WikiLeaks.

Of course Russian hackers exist. They attack this blog pretty well continually – as do hackers from the USA and many other countries. Of course there have been attempted Russian hacks of the DNC. But the report gives no evidence at all of the alleged successful hack that transmitted these particular emails, nor any evidence of the connection between the hackers and the Russian government, let alone Putin.

There could be no evidence because in reality these were leaks, not hacks. The report is, frankly, a pile of complete and utter dross. To base grave accusations of election hacking on this report is ludicrous.

Obama has been a severe disappointment to all progressive thinkers in virtually every possible way. He now goes out of power with absolutely no grace and in a storm of delusion and deceit. His purpose is apparently to weaken Trump politically, but to achieve that at the expense of heightening tensions with Russia to Cold War levels, is shameful.

The very pettiness of Obama’s tongue out to Putin – minor sanctions and expelling some diplomatic families – itself shows that Obama is lying about the pretext. If he really believed that Russia had “hacked the election”, surely that would require a much less feeble response. By refusing to retaliate, Russia has shown the kind of polish that eludes Obama as he takes his empty charisma and presentational skills into a no doubt lucrative future in the private sector.

Friday, December 30, 2016

All Sound No Fury: Still Waiting for "Russia Hack" Details

Details Still Lacking on Russian ‘Hack’

by Robert Parry  - Consortium News


December 29, 2016

Amid more promises of real evidence to come, the Obama administration released a report that again failed to demonstrate that there is any proof behind U.S. allegations that Russia both hacked into Democratic emails and distributed them via WikiLeaks to the American people.



President Obama in the Oval Office

The New York Times, which has been busy flogging the latest reasons to hate Russia and its President Vladimir Putin, asserted,

“The F.B.I. and Department of Homeland Security released a report on Thursday detailing the ways that Russia acted to influence the American election through cyber-espionage.”

But the actual report fell far short of “detailing” much at all about how the disclosures of the Democratic National Committee’s manipulation of the primaries to hobble Sen. Bernie Sanders and the contents of Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street speeches ended up at WikiLeaks and ultimately became available to American voters.

Most of the 13-page FBI/DHS report was devoted to suggestions on how Internet users can protect their emails from malware, but there was little new that proved that the Russians were the source of the Democratic emails given to WikiLeaks.

The tip-off to how little proof was being offered came in the report’s statement that “The U.S. government assesses that information was leaked to the press and publicly disclosed.” When you read a phrase like “the U.S. government assesses,” it really means the U.S. government is guessing – and the report notably uses a passive tense that doesn’t even assert that the Russians did the leaking.

A well-placed intelligence source told me that there’s little doubt that elements of Russian intelligence penetrated the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, but the Russians were far from alone. Indeed, placing various forms of malware on computers is a common practice, as average folks who periodically take their laptops to an I.T. professional can attest. There’s always some kind of “spyware” or other malicious code to be discovered.

The source said the more debatable issue is whether Russian intelligence then turned over the emails to WikiLeaks, especially given that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and an associate, former British Ambassador Craig Murray, have stated that the material did not come from the Russian government. Murray has suggested that there were two separate sources, the DNC material coming from a disgruntled Democrat and the Podesta emails coming from possibly a U.S. intelligence source, since the Podesta Group represents Saudi Arabia and other foreign governments.

Future ‘Details’


So, The New York Times misled its readers by claiming that the FBI/DHS report released Thursday was “detailing” how the Russians carried out the operation, and a separate Times article essentially acknowledged that the details were still to come.

“A more detailed report on the intelligence, ordered by President Obama, will be published in the next three weeks, though much of the detail — especially evidence collected from ‘implants’ in Russian computer systems, tapped conversations and spies — is expected to remain classified.”

In other words, the FBI/DHS report really didn’t have much in the way of details and the “more detailed report” – due out before President Obama leaves office on Jan. 20 – will still be hiding “much of the detail” to justify Obama’s retaliation against Russia including new sanctions and expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats or intelligence officers from the United States.

But the Times article does inadvertently make the interesting admission that the U.S. government has penetrated Russian computers, much as the U.S. government accuses Russia of doing to U.S. computers.

But the data purloined by these U.S. “implants” and other clandestinely obtained evidence – assuming there really is any – won’t be something that the American people will get to see.

The shell game will continue up to the start of the Trump administration with the apparent goal to hem in President Trump from trying to reach out to Russia to avert a costly and dangerous New Cold War.

But the evidence so far released by the Obama administration still amounts to “trust us.”


[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Escalating the Risky Fight with Russia” and “Summing Up Russia’s Real Nuclear Fears.”]

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 barnesandnoble.com).image_pdf

Washington's Demented Inn-Keepers

ConSciences of Humanity

by Mazin Qumsiyeh - Popular Resistance


Dec 30, 2016 

Thomas Merton wrote: "Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it – because he is out of place in it, and yet must be in it – his place is with those others who do not belong, who are rejected because they are regarded as weak; and with those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, and are tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world. He is mysteriously present in those for whom there seems to be nothing but the world at its worst." 


John Kerry is delusional if he thinks he can temporarily curb the appetite of those who believe in an ideology of conquest, subjugation and exceptionalism (“chosen people”) to save “Zonism”. His claim that Shimon Peres told him that 78% of Palestine is enough and that they should let the Palestinians have the other 22% is simply not believable.

Shimon Peres never changed his views from his youth as a disciple of Ben Gurion (Rabin and the two of them masterminded the ethnic cleansing and destruction of 500 towns and villages between 1948 and 1950). To his last breath Peres was a racist, a bigot, and an unrepentant war criminal (not to mention his build-up of Israel’s arsenal of WMD). He always believed Jews are smarter, chosen, and are entitled to rule over greater Israel and like his mentor, he thought a two-state support is mostly for propaganda.

Like his Zionist colleagues whether they believed in God or not, (and most of them did not) or they were “left” or “right”, he believed in something they consider more important than all of that: the unity and destiny of the chosen “Jewish people” (a myth no more true than “the Muslim people”, the “white people” or the “Christian People”).

This tribal racist thinking infects “left” and right Zionist Jews alike. The only difference between left Zionists like Kerry and Right Zionists like Trump’s son-in-law is merely over tactics (such as timing of applying force and timing of applying diplomacy) not ultimate goals. The even bigger delusion is that it is possible to exploit the differences between the Zionists over tactics to save Israel from historical trends that are inevitable and as predictable as a sunrise.

We heard the delusional parameters Kerry copied from the Clinton parameters which in turn were ones with a genealogy that goes back to Ben Gurion of the 1920s, (public speeches not his private diaries and letters to his son where he articulated the same vision of greater Israel as his right wing critics and explained that speaking of partition is merely for outside public consumption and that actions on the ground is what matters to achieve the goal of a Jewish empire/Greater Israel).

Now here are six parameters based on reality instead of the Kerry delusional parameters:

1) There never is and never was any justification for colonialism whether Jewish colonialism here or white colonialism in South Africa. Corollary is that Zionism is racism and is not compatible with peace.

2) There are 12.5 million Palestinians (50% inside Palestine) in the world and no peace can happen without return of refugees, self-determination and full equality (negated by a concept of a Jewish state or a Muslim state or a Christian state for that matter).

3) Colonialism has one of only three outcomes/models:
a) win by the natives at great cost (Algerian model),
b) genocide of natives (Australia, USA, New Zealand model),
c) integration in one country for all its inhabitants (including descendants of the colonizers).
Since options (a) and (b) are virtually impossible here and now (21st century) that leaves option (c) which is in any case the most common outcomes in similar cases. Dozens of countries in central and south America, Canada, Southeast Asia, and South Africa follow that pattern. A “two-state” mirage is just that and will never happen/can never happen, (see my book “Sharing the Land of Canaan” to explain why; available at: http://qumsiyeh.org/sharingthelandofcanaan/ ).

4) Zionism existed before creating the “Jewish state” and will survive after it is ended and becomes a democratic state for all its citizens and the returning refugees. It is an ideology of parasitism and “chosenness” that transcends geography and speaks of contentedness of all Jews around the world and their mutual interest and bonding. Zionists who live in other countries (including those that shape US’s foreign policy whether executed by a democrat or a republican) readily tell you that Israel is their insurance policy that they could always go to if there are “troubles”. It is sort of like the island of the pirates of the Caribbean that was a safety net. Any Jew who challenges such notions and believes that Jews can be American or German and should be loyal citizens of their own countries first or that Israel should be treated like any other country and and forced to comply with International law, (including allowing Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands) is looked at as a self-hating Jew. Hence John Kerry and Madeline Albright and people like them who “discover” their “Jewishness” would not want to be called “self-hating” and they do everything to help Zionism, (of course from the “left” angle of tactics as Trump will do it from the “right” angle).

5) In the near future, US policy will continue unchanged as it was since 1967 and the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty (Israel lobby ensured scuttling the fact that it was a deliberate attack). The US has been and will continue to subvert US interests in favor of Zionist interests. That the mainstream media and Hollywood are managed by Zionists (whether "left" or right) will probably help this trend continue until the US declines as a world power significantly more (largely due to this Zionist parasitism). The Palestinian and Arab leadership would be wiser to hitch their wagons to different horses before they end-up like Saddam Hussain and Qaddafi. China, Russia, and Iran are certainly not the most desirable countries but at least those horses are not chained by the Zionist masters and watch their own interests instead of Israel's. 
 The big fuss over Obama's abstention and Kerry speech is blown out of proportion: Since 1967, every US President has allowed a very few/rare UN Security Council Resolutions directed, (mildly and without sanctions) against Israeli policies. Obama has allowed the fewest (one in 8 years) Carter allowed the most (14 in 4 years): LBJ 7, Nixon 15, Ford 2, Reagan 21, GHW Bush 9, Clinton 3, GW Bush 6, Obama 1.
None of these had any significance in changing the steadfast policy that the US supported Israel, shielded it from |International law, and funded its aggression. You cannot credibly claim you do not like your son beating other children with clubs that you keep buying for him!
6) You can fool all the people some of the time or some of the people all the time but you cannot fool all the people all the time. The internet has begun to fray the Zionist hegemony of the media. Note that even in the most moderate of media outlets like PBS, they bring left and right Zoionists to argue but they never allow you to hear from anti-Zionist or post-Zionist. Other media outlets are owned and operated by either left Zionists (e.g. New York Times, CNN) or right wing Zionists (e.g. Fox News). But more and more people are seeing this and the jig is coming up and that is why Zionists moved to using their lobbies to legislate silence, (criticism of Zionism becomes “anti-Semitic”). In doing so the Zionists do not care that they are moving Western governments to become undemocratic, (curbing free speech). Their short term calculation, that this helps their cause, will just as surely backfire as their pushing the US to enter World War I in exchange for getting the Balfour and Cambon declarations or pushing the US to go to war on the Iraqi people.
The former partially led to WWII which was not good for anyone, and the latter cost US taxpayers $3 trillion and ended up benefiting Iran. Before that the push for the war on Lebanon strengthened Hizbollah. After that came the Zionist push for the war on Syria, (ostensibly to break the Shia crescent of Lebanon-Syria-Iran, and Yemen) hoped to “win” and drive Arab states into the lap of Zionism. But every push has a counter-push and every action has a reaction, (basic physics as basic human psychology).

Some Zionists can *talk* about partition but show me one of their leaders who publicly acknowledge that we native Palestinians, (Christians and Muslims) have rights of sovereignty. The reason they can’t is that if they recognize our rights even just over Ramallah, their whole ideology collapses. After all, what is the difference between that and recognizing our rights in Haifa, Jaffa, Nazareth etc Hence the two state idea remains a figment of an imagination to lead to peace like the mirage of the desert will not lead to water.

What does it take to change dynamics? Challenge both versions representing Zionist interests: Clinton’s and Trump’s, (Peres’ and Netanyahu’s). Work for a global uprising against those who actually appoint such puppets. That remains the 1% versus the 99%. Our message to all people, (starting with Jews and Israelis who still support Zionism): end your delusions, join the 99% and let us work for a better world where justice prevails and all are treated with dignity and respect regardless of their religious belief, (or lack thereof). As Martin Luther King Jr once said “we either live together as fellow human beings or perish together as fools.”

For an example of real mobilization for change, see the Zapatistas. 
ConSiences of Humanity Conference organized by Zapatistas. A great step in what we have always called for a global intifada against the racist capitalist systems https://floweroftheword.wordpress.com/2016/12/29/ezln-inauguration-of-the-gathering-the-zapatistas-and-consciences-for-humanity/
Is Team Trump Instructing this New Year’s Grinch OFAC to Destroy JCPOA? by FRANKLIN LAMB
http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/27/is-team-trump-instructing-this-new-years-grinch-ofac-to-destroy-jcpoa/

[OFAC is Office of Foreign Assets Control in the US Treasury Department run by a Zionist and JCPOA is now commonly referred to by Zionist media as the Iran deal]

Why Obama waited 8 years to take on Netanyahu http://mondoweiss.net/2016/12/obama-waited-netanyahu/

A videotape from 1961 where Benjamn H. Freedman (a Jewish American who converted to Christianity) tells a bit of history that is relevant to current events https://youtu.be/x8OmxI2AYV8

People's Tribunal on Iraq War

The People's Tribunal on the Iraq War, Day Two: Stacy Bannerman

by TRNN


December 30, 2016

On Day 2 of the CODEPINK #IraqTribunal, participants provided testimony on the lies that were used to invade Iraq.


Letters to the Crowley Maritime Corporation Re: The Salish Sea

Letter to the Crowley Tugboat Corporation

by Ingmar Lee - 10,000 Ton Tanker


December 29, 2016


Hello,

I am writing from near Bella Bella, BC, Canada, on the British Columbia Central Coast Inside Passage. Recently, an American ATB tugboat, the "Nathan E Stewart" (NES) and its petroleum tanker-barge, " DBL 55" ran aground and sank near here, causing a significant slick, and resulting in a more than $100 million 'clean-up' effort that continues to this day.

Since the grounding, and sinking of the NES, the Texas-based Kirby Corp. which owns the vessels, has had its "special waiver" privileges - which allowed its Alaska-bound ATB tankers to travel without Canadian Pilots aboard via the BC Inside Passage - revoked, and, as we understand it, its regular petroleum- traffic business up our coast has been replaced by the Crowley tugboat, "Washington."

Of course, we care deeply for our magnificent, pristine coastal waters and have been watching this busy American tug-tanker traffic which ply our coast with great concern. We have been tracking this business by AIS for a number of years.

So it is of great concern, and it is the reason that I write to you now, that your tug, the "Washington" appears to have shut off its AIS locator beacon, and is now travelling up and down our coast invisible to our regular ship tracking devices.

Whereas prior to the wreck of the Nathan E Stewart, ordinary mariners were able to easily track the Alaska-bound petroleum tanker business as it plied our coast, now, since the wreck, we can no longer see that traffic.

Could you please explain whether the "Washington" is, in fact travelling without broadcasting its AIS position?

If so, this would be a very serious safety and environmental concern to all of us who live alongside of, and love our Canadian Inside Passage waters.


Sincerely,

Ingmar Lee
Bella Bella, BC
Canada

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ceasefire and Future Syria Peace Deals Preclude Partition

There Will Be No Partition of Syria

by Sharmine Narwani - RT


December 29, 2016

East Aleppo is liberated, and regime-change has lost its luster. It's no surprise Syria’s foes are ready to promote the next big goal: partition.

Like most Syrian conflict predictions, of which few have materialized, the ‘partition’ of Syria is not going to happen.

In February, when East Aleppo was still bulging with Western-trained, Al Qaeda-allied militants, Syrian President Bashar Assad was asked the question:

“Do you think that you can regain control over all Syrian territory?”

Well, yes, said Assad: “This is a goal we are seeking to achieve without any hesitation. It makes no sense for us to say that we will give up any part.”

Western politicians were having none of that.

First up was US Secretary of State John Kerry who coyly informed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Obama administration may have a Plan B up its sleeve for Syria:

“It may be too late to keep it as a whole Syria if we wait much longer.”

Next, James Stavridis, former NATO Supreme Commander and head of the US European Command penned an article for Foreign Policy entitled It’s time to seriously consider partitioning Syria where he claimed: “Syria as a nation is increasingly a fiction.”

Then, CIA Director John Brennan joined the chorus:

There’s been so much blood spilled, I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get back to [a unified Syria] in my lifetime.”

But now the stinging defeat of Western-backed militants in East Aleppo has turned up the dial on the idea of breaking up Syria. Frantic neocons and liberal interventionists are piling in on the 'partition' punditry – with nary a backward glance to their five failed years of “Assad will fall” prognostications.

But Assad understands something that Western analysts, journalists and politicians cannot seem to grasp. Syria’s allies in this war – Iran, Hezbollah, Iraq, Russia, China – have maintained only two hard red lines throughout the conflict:

  • The first is that Assad can only be removed from office in a national election, by a Syrian majority.
  • The second is that Syria must stay whole.

Their logic was simple. Regime-change, remapping of borders, mercenary proxy armies, divide-and-rule…the old tricks of Western hegemons needed to stop in Syria. Otherwise, they would aggressively find their way to Moscow, Beijing and Tehran.

In short, a new world order would need to emerge from the ashes of the Syrian conflict, and for that to happen, allies would need to thoroughly defeat NATO-GCC objectives and maintain the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Syrian state at all costs.

A calculated shift in the balance of power


By 2013, one could already predict the formation of a new security-focused Mideast alliance to combat the jihadi threat raging in Syria and its neighborhood. (see map above)

It was clear by then that the irregular wars waged by jihadists and their powerful foreign backers were going to force four states – Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran - to cooperate militarily and politically to defeat Wahhabi-influenced terror groups in their midst. A ‘Security Arc’ would thus form to protect the territorial integrity of these four countries, and with it, a converging worldview that would set the stage for a new Mideast security structure.

Today, Lebanon and Iran have secure borders flanking either side of Syria and Iraq. Fighters and military advisers, intelligence, weapons transfers from all four states are in play, with increased, successful coordination on the ground and in the skies.

Russia and China have provided ‘great power’ cover for this new development – whether at the UN Security Council or via military, financial or diplomatic initiatives. Furthermore, galvanized by the ferocity of the fight over Syria, Tehran, Moscow and Beijing have advanced the new multilateral order they seek – bolstering their own regional security, deepening global alliances, forging new ones, and crafting political, security and financial institutions to compete with Western-dominated ones.

As the Security Arc succeeded in beating back extremist groups, it would be necessary for three critical neighboring states to gravitate toward participation in this new regional security architecture – Egypt, Turkey and Jordan – each for different reasons.

But the new adherents would be drawn to the security zone primarily because of the realization that a weakened central government and the fragmentation of Syria would blow back into their states and create the same conditions there: chaos, instability, terrorism.

Egypt: Under the rule of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt has drawn away from its Saudi patrons who have, alongside Qatar and Turkey, been major sponsors of extremism in both Syria and Iraq. Earlier this year, Sisi began to pivot away from Egypt’s traditional Western and regional allies and opened the door to further political, military and economic engagement with Syria, Iran, Russia and China.

SAIS-Johns Hopkins University Fellow Dr. Christina Lin explains:

“Unlike Washington, Sisi sees Assad as a secular bulwark against Islamic extremism in the Levant. If Assad falls, Lebanon and Jordan would be next, and Egypt does not want to end up like Libya with the Brotherhood and other Islamists carving up the country.”

In the past few months, Egypt has pursued a diplomatic thaw with Iran, military cooperation with Syria, and publicly squabbled with Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, Sisi has been invited to sit at the Syrian peacemaking table by Iran and Russia, while in the background, China launches plans for a $60 billion infrastructure investment in cash-strapped Egypt.

Turkey: No state has been a bigger thorn in Damascus’ side than Turkey – financier, enabler, and mastermind of the militancy flowing across its southern border into war-torn Syria. But the Syrian conflict has crippled and exhausted Turkey, in turn, unleashing terror attacks in its cities, reviving its ‘Kurdish’ conflict, isolating its unpredictable President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, squeezing its economy, and triggering widespread domestic political strife.

So when the Russians reportedly tipped off Erdogan to an ill-fated coup attempt this summer – which Turks believe to be US-inspired - the Turkish president’s political orientation began to waver, and he began to inch toward a series of compromises with Iran and Russia on the Syrian conflict.

Erdogan’s first grand gesture to Tehran and Moscow was to peel away a layer of militants from embattled Aleppo, allowing the Syrian-allied forces to focus their military might on the Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups remaining in the eastern enclave. In the aftermath of Aleppo’s liberation, the Turks, Iranians and Russians met again to hammer out their next set of objectives, including a nationwide ceasefire – a move that sidelined Erdogan’s Western allies and highlighted the fact that nobody actually needs the US, UK or France at the Syrian negotiating table.

Jordan: For much of the Syrian conflict, Jordan’s interests were subverted by powerful patrons who turned the Hashemite Kingdom into a covert operations hub for Western special forces, GCC intel operatives and ‘rebel’ training centers. But in recent years, Jordan’s King Abdullah has been forced to disentangle his financially-strapped country from the consequences created by a huge influx of Syrian refugees and a terrifying surge in domestic radicalism. Consequently, Jordan has been quietly sharing intelligence with Syrian authorities to weaken the militancy in southern Syria and has effectively shut down their shared border.

The king himself has been engaging in some frenzied shuttle diplomacy with Russia and China to gain investment and political relevance, so Jordan is well-positioned to follow the lead of its larger neighbors when the regional balance of power shifts decisively in Syria’s favor.

The liberation of East Aleppo from Al-Qaeda-allied militants is a significant turning point in the war against Syria. All the major population/infrastructure areas that define the north-to-south western side of the country are now primarily in government hands.

Moreover, East Aleppo’s liberation serves as an important launching pad to cut off the vital Turkey-to-Mosul corridor that has funneled fighters, supplies and weapons to ISIS for years. Syrian troops and their allies will now be able to move east of the city to the Euphrates to sever this Turkish-ISIS lifeline.

With western Syrian hubs secured and militants severely crippled in the south, only the north-eastern areas present a challenge – but those are areas largely occupied by ISIS, where the final battles will be waged to rout the terror group.

So, what exactly do Americans want to partition – and why?


Recent wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Libya demonstrate clearly that a weak central authority only creates a political and security vacuum that extremists rush in to occupy. US President-Elect Donald Trump has himself said he prefers the rule of strongmen, rather than the instability that prevails with regime-change conflicts.

Any partition of Syria would, therefore, benefit ISIS and Al-Qaeda primarily – and all the parties know this.

The Security Arc states and their allies can ably eradicate the terrorism in their midst. Turkey and the United States still remain key irritants, each still vying, against their own security interests, to lay claim to north-eastern swathes of territory that hold some strategic interest.

Funnily enough, these interests pit the two NATO allies against each other. The US’ ‘Kurdish project’ has sent Erdogan fleeing toward the Iranians and Russians for help. It is ironic indeed that the West’s longtime efforts to sow discord between regional actors, sects, and ethnicities could now be reversed in one fell swoop by the US’s support for Kurdish nationalism. There is nothing more guaranteed to create common cause between Arabs, Iranians, and Turks than the unifying prospect of Kurdish statehood. Not even ISIS does that.

In the aftermath of the Aleppo victory, Assad once more addressed talk of partition:

“This is the Western – with some regional countries – hope… If you look at the society today, the Syrian society is more unified than before the war… There’s no way that Syrians would accept that – I’m talking now about the vast majority of the Syrians… After nearly six years I can tell you the majority of the Syrians wouldn’t accept anything related to disintegration – on the contrary, as one Syria.”

He is right. For the more than 70 percent of Syrians living in government-controlled areas, the appetite for further conflict is nonexistent – and that’s what partition would mean: conflict. Furthermore, not just Syrians, but the whole of the Security Arc and their global allies are now hell bent on protecting themselves by destroying the terrorism that dwells in the remaining pockets of occupied territory. Like Assad – and much of Europe today – they know that you will never remove the security threat if you don’t rout them all and preserve the state.

In this security context, partition is out of the question. In the military context, a forced partition would require the commitment of troops stronger than the armies of Syria, Iran, Russia, Iraq, Egypt and Hezbollah combined – and that doesn’t exist. In the political context, the international appetite for an ‘imposed’ partition is nil.

So no, there will be no partition of Syria. 


Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Middle East geopolitics. She is a former senior associate at St. Antony's College, Oxford University and has a master’s degree in International Relations from Columbia University. Sharmine has written commentary for a wide array of publications, including Al Akhbar English, the New York Times, the Guardian, Asia Times Online, Salon.com, USA Today, the Huffington Post, Al Jazeera English, BRICS Post and others. You can follow her on Twitter at @snarwani

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Duelling Propaganda on Syria

The Pathologies of War: Dual Propaganda Campaigns in Reporting on Syria

by Anthony DiMaggio - CounterPunch


December 28, 2016

The travesty of war in Syria represents a defining political issue today. The Pew Research Center estimates that by 2016, as many as six in ten Syrians were displaced from their homes due to the civil war between Syrian and Russian government forces and rebel groups (Connor and Krostad, 10/5/16). This represents an astounding 12.5 million people. Estimates vary, but when taken in total suggest that deaths from the conflict are in the hundreds of thousands, perhaps as large as half a million (Barnard, 10/11/16).

But a serious problem that’s emerged is the willful ignorance exhibited by the defenders of the U.S., Russian, and Syrian governments, which is driven largely by political considerations, rather than human rights concerns. On one side, U.S. political officials and pundits eagerly condemn the Russian and Syrian governments for human rights atrocities, but they focus only on heinous crimes committed by officially designated enemies of state. These officials and the journalists who enable them downplay the United States’ own role in funding and arming of radical Islamist groups that have destabilized Syria and are responsible for countless deaths.

On the other side, the Putin and Assad governments have no interest in acknowledging their own atrocities, and make numerous attempts to woo na├»ve western bloggers, celebrities, and other willing dupes in terms of attributing the responsibility for war deaths exclusively at the feet of radical Islamists. Some critics of U.S. foreign policy reflexively assume that countries opposing U.S. imperialism and military power must represent a valiant, anti-imperialist, revolutionary force for good. At the very least, some on the American “left” insist that such countries should not be criticized or condemned. I’ve had numerous experiences with these individuals, as I begin to speak up with greater frequency about the destructiveness of Syria war.

The valorization of Putin is also taking shape on the American right. Media depictions at Fox News and in other rightwing media portray a shirtless Putin as the sort of virile, hyper-masculine “leader” that Obama could only dream to be. And Trump’s efforts to schmooze Putin by describing him as a “strong leader” and calling on him to spy on American officials appear to play a major role in the Russian president’s mainstreaming among the conservative segment of the American public. This much is evident in YouGov’s polling, which finds that Putin’s “favorability” grew by 27 percentage points among Republican Americans from July 2014 to December 2016, now standing at 37 percent from a low of 10 percent (Nussbaum and Oreskes, 12/16/16). It’s one thing to welcome Trump’s rhetorical efforts to calm U.S. hostilities with Russia, contrary to the dangerous saber rattling of the Democratic Party. Any sane person who wishes to avoid nuclear apocalypse should welcome de-escalation with Russia. But “favoring” an autocratic leader who has contempt for freedom expression, gay and lesbian rights, and who commits war crimes with impunity, is a real stretch.

I have no interest in assessing the exact percent blame to be attributed to the U.S., Syrian and Russian forces, and various rebel groups, in the destruction of Aleppo and other Syrian cities. As a longstanding opponent of war, I condemn all killing, and all parties who play a role in it. And propaganda abounds on all sides during times of war, so it is difficult for me to assess the exact accuracy or inaccuracy of many individual news reports about civilian deaths coming out of Syria. Veteran middle east reporter Patrick Cockburn warns about the problem of attaining accurate information in war zones. Of concern is the shutting out of reporters from Aleppo, and the possibility that insurgents are driving the war narrative via false news reports. Cockburn writes in the Independent:

“The Jihadis holding power in east Aleppo were able to exclude western journalists, who would be abducted and very likely killed if they went there, and replace them as news sources with highly partisan ‘local activists’ who cannot escape being under jihadi control. The foreign media has allowed – through naivety or self-interest – people who could only operate with the permission of al-Qaeda type groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham to dominate the news agenda. The precedent set in Aleppo means that participants in any future conflict will have an interest in deterring foreign journalists who might report objectively. By kidnapping and killing them, it is easy to create a vacuum of information that is in great demand and will, in future, be supplied by informants sympathetic to or at the mercy of the very same people (in this case the jihadi rulers of east Aleppo) who have kept out the foreign journalists” (Cockburn, 12/16/16).

Heeding Cockburn’s warning, however, does not mean one should dismiss out-of-hand reports of the mass aerial destruction brought upon Syrian civilians, or reported Russian and Syrian attacks on civilian targets. Numerous news reports across many individual media outlets provide visual confirmation of mass devastation, with block after block in Aleppo destroyed with the kind of viciousness that can only be achieved through massive, indiscriminate aerial bombing. News outlets such as Al Jazeera and the Independent – which are no dupes of American government propagandists – broadcast images of the mass destruction in Aleppo. They have published images of dead children, reports of Syrian-Russian attacks on hospitals, and broadcast footage of premature babies being removed from hospital incubators amid the chaos and destruction as civilians flee in mass (Bulman and Sims, 11/19/16; Al Jazeera, 9/28/16; Al Jazeera, 12/20/16).

Then there are the human rights reports. Most prominently, there is the documentation from Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) of eyewitness testimony of Syrian-Russian state violence, in addition to the spotlighting of their devastating weapons of war. HRW published footage of Syrian aerial attacks that made use of barrel bombs in rebel-held areas. These bombs are notorious for their devastation. They are indiscriminate weapons of war, created to achieve maximum destruction. As HRW reports: “Syrian barrel bombs are large improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which are dropped from helicopters. They consist of oil barrels, fuel tanks or gas cylinders that have been packed with explosives, fuel and metal fragments – such as ball bearings, nails and machine parts – to increase their lethal effect. They cannot be accurately aimed at specific targets” (HRW, 2015). When used over urban areas, such attacks cause mass death and destruction. No one who uses such terrible weapons can be described as a friend of the Syrian people.

One can look to AI’s reporting of Syrian refugees to see the destruction wrought by Russia and Syria. AI’s interviews were done with dozens of Syrian refugees in Turkey, those who were eyewitnesses to and victims of the violence, and not subject to the kind of censorship by radical groups that Cockburn warns about in Aleppo. AI’s recent report, “Death Everywhere,” draws on the refugee interviews, describing the terror wrought by barrel bombs:

“Several of these witnesses told Amnesty about the intense fear generated by this kind of attack. A 24-year-old woman explained, ‘The barrel bombs are the most miserable weapons. If they explode we know our bodies will be in pieces… [Also] we can see them coming. There is a minute of waiting to die.’ A shopkeeper from Sukkari neighbourhood echoed this. ‘After you see the barrel falling, you don’t know where to go,’ he said. ‘Sometimes we accidentally run toward the barrels. You crash into things while you are running, because you are looking up… My brother dislocated a disc in his spine because he was always looking up to the sky.’ A 34-year-old teacher summarized the mentality of many Syrian citizens: ‘We are always nervous, always worried, always looking to the sky’” (AI, 2015).

Despite the documentation of war crimes and human rights atrocities, pro-Russian, state funded media outlet Russia Today denies responsibility for the attacks. Pro-Russian citizens of the west who indulge in Russian and Syrian government propaganda are given free rein on the network to exonerate these countries from moral condemnation or blame (Wahl, 3/21/14; Bartlett, 12/17/16). Numerous Americans I’ve spoken with on “the left” accept this propaganda, and are willing to accept any claim from countries opposing U.S. military power, no matter how outlandish. No evidence, no matter how thoroughly documented, is strong enough for them to take seriously if it threatens to harm the image of Putin and the Assadists.

Sadly, pro-Assad and pro-Putin propagandists have suspended disbelief regarding the ugly realities of war. They appear to prefer the comforting rhetoric of Russian officialdom, which promises to rein “massive fire” down on Syrian targets, while magically avoiding civilian casualties (Rosenthal, 11/15/16). This narrative is embraced by RT, which uncritically repeats Russian government claims that it is liberating Aleppo, and depicts civilian casualties from Russian bombs as propaganda fabrications of the west (RT, 10/1/15; RT, 7/29/16; RT, 8/19/16; RT, 9/20/16; RT, 12/24/16).

Of course, Russia’s vulgar propaganda about a clean war over Aleppo is no different than the Bush administration’s self-righteous announcement during the 2003 Iraq invasion that it would engage in “shock and awe” destruction of Iraqi government targets, while miraculously avoiding civilian casualties in a bloodless war. Such misinformation was rightly rejected as absurd by American progressives when it was disseminated by U.S. leaders, which makes it strange that numerous leftists would accept identical rhetoric in the case of Russia and Syria’s bombings.

Historical academic studies are all over the map in terms of their estimates for how many civilians die during wars, but the estimates all have one thing in common – they are large. On the most extreme end, some research suggests that as many as 90 percent of those who die in war are civilians (Sivard, 1991; Graca, 1996), while more conservative estimates put the figure at 50 percent (Eckhardt, 1989). It’s a cold, hard, fact that a great many civilians die during war; it’s simply inevitable. So to reject responsibility for those dropping the bombs – in this case Assad and Putin – is to engage in Orwellian propaganda. To frame war as an inherently peaceful affair is grotesque, but not out of line with the common historical understanding that truth is the first casualty of war.

There is also a second propaganda front in the Syrian civil war. Just as Russian and Syrian government apologists are blind to the abuses described above, the American “mainstream” media commentary on Syria reveals a willfully blind, arrogant focus on Russian and Syrian crimes of war to the exclusion of criticizing U.S. contributions to the destruction. No evidence is ever strong enough for the apologists to provoke condemnations of U.S. military power. The dominant narrative in the American press is to reflexively assume that the U.S. is motivated by pure intentions, including a desire to promote human rights, freedom, and democracy. Suggestions that the U.S. holds selfish, materialist interests in the Middle East, or that its actions deter democracy, while increasing global instability and human rights atrocities, are considered beyond the pale of respectable political discourse.

One can observe the ‘U.S. as a world hero’ framing at work in the nation’s ‘paper of record’ – the New York Times. With Syria, the U.S. is one-dimensionally portrayed as working toward the end of hostilities, seeking to protect regional order and stability in the Middle East. Such claims, while heavily propagandistic, are maintained by an impressive indoctrination system that demands uniformity of beliefs from the political class, “mainstream” journalists, and intellectuals. Consider some of the sordid details involving the United States’ actual actions in Syria, compared to the way they are depicted by political officialdom. First, the United States has long provided tactical support and weapons to Syrian rebel groups at least as early as 2012 to 2013, greatly destabilizing the country in the name of weakening the government of Bashar Assad.

As the Wall Street Journal reported in 2015, in intensifying military aid to the rebels, “U.S. officials said the Obama administration is pursuing what amounts to a dual-track strategy, which aims to maintain military pressure on Assad and his Russian and Iranian supporters while U.S. diplomats see if they can ease him from power through negotiations. U.S. officials said the pressure track was meant to complement the diplomatic track by giving the U.S. leverage at the negotiating table” (Entous, 11/4/2015).

Second, despite longstanding claims that the U.S. is committed to fighting Islamist fundamentalist groups in the Middle East, recent reporting finds that American officials unwittingly (and incompetently) allocated military aid to such groups in their war against Assad. Wikileaks initially reported this bombshell story, relying on Hillary Clinton’s own emails, which admitted 1. “the Saudis have exported more extreme ideology than any other place on earth over the course of the last 30 years” (Norton, 10/11/16), and 2. That “we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the [Middle East] region” (Cockburn, 10/14/2016).

The New York Times elaborated upon Clinton’s admissions with more damning details in a 2016 report: “the C.I.A. and its Saudi counterpart have maintained an unusual arrangement for the rebel ­training mission [against Assad], which the Americans have code­named Timber Sycamore. Under the deal, current and former administration officials said, the Saudis contribute both weapons and large sums of money, and the C.I.A takes the lead in training the rebels on AK­47 assault rifles and tank­ destroying missiles.” But “while the intelligence alliance is central to the Syria fight and has been important in the war against Al Qaeda, a constant irritant in American ­Saudi relations is just how much Saudi citizens continue to support terrorist groups, [U.S. intelligence] analysts said.” The New York Times elaborated on the self-defeating nature of the ordeal:

“The more that the argument becomes, ‘We need them as a counterterrorism partner,’ the less persuasive it is,” said William McCants, a former State Department counterterrorism adviser… “If this is purely a conversation about counterterrorism cooperation, and if the Saudis are a big part of the problem in creating terrorism in the first place, then how persuasive of an argument is it?” (Mazzetti and Apuzzo, 1/23/16).

Of course, outside of scattered reports, the general narrative in the American press is to depict the U.S. as committed to the valiant mission of defeating radical Islamist terrorism. This much is apparent in the New York Times’ own editorials, which paint a rosy image of U.S. intentions in Syria. I examined all 19 of the paper’s editorials from 2016 that referenced “Syria” alongside discussions of radical groups such as the “al-Nusra front” and “ISIS” to document the noble depictions of U.S. actions. In not even one of these 19 pieces did the Times editors ever suggest that the U.S. holds a selfish material interest in Middle Eastern oil that is motivating its heavy military presence in the region. Nor did a single piece assert that the U.S. may be making an already unstable situation even worse by intensifying the violence in Syria. No editorial mentioned the inconvenient truth that the U.S. has destabilized Syria by indirectly funding and arming Islamist rebel groups. A single editorial did briefly admit that the U.S. had aided “some” rebels “whom fight either in partnership with or in proximity to the affiliate of Al Qaeda known as the Nusra front…making it hard to tell the good buys from the bad” (Editorial, 9/22/16).

But even with this admission, the U.S. was not depicted as part of the problem in Syria. Within the same piece, and without a hint of critical self-reflection, the Times editors commended the Obama administration for its “struggle against extremists,” which must “be waged on multiple fronts, for prioritizing “humanitarian aid deliveries” in Syria, for allegedly serving as a stabilizing force in Syria by calling for a temporary ceasefire in Aleppo, and for seeking “broader negotiations on a political transition to end the war” (Editorial, 9/22/16).

A small sampling of the messages delivered by the New York Times editors leaves no doubt that the paper exonerates the U.S. from responsibility for the human rights crisis, while viewing Russia, Syria, and the more radical elements of the rebellion as the real problem. The paper congratulates Obama on having “worked to subdue the threat of terrorism abroad and at home,” and for ensuring “the Islamic State is losing ground in Syria, Iraq, and Libya” (Editorial, 6/14/16). In a piece revealingly titled, “Aleppo’s Destroyers: Assad, Putin, Iran,” the Times exonerates the U.S. from responsibility for death and destruction, instead envisioning Obama as “restrained in supporting the rebels” and having “struggled to mold them into an effective fighting front” (Editorial, 12/15/16). It demands that Obama “must be willing to pressure [Putin] to do what is needed to stop the [Syrian] bloodshed” (Editorial, 5/4/16).

The paper lambasts Trump for his “refusal to acknowledge Russia’s role in making it [the Syrian war] worse,” and for the president elect refusing “to condemn the bombings that have killed thousands of civilians in Aleppo and elsewhere” (Editorial, 10/12/16). Putin is condemned for his “bloody actions – the bombing of civilian neighborhoods, the destruction of hospitals, the refusal to allow noncombatants to receive food, fuel and medical supplies – all in violation of international law” (Editorial, 12/15/16).

The Times is remarkably skilled at constructing abstractions when it finally gets around to recognizing the destructiveness of war. Criticisms are globalized, with “war” itself, rather than U.S. actions, being the problem. The “Syria war” has “provided a breeding ground for Islamic State radicals, who have spread bloodshed and destruction in the region and the West” (Editorial, 9/22/16). The “Syrian war,” rather than U.S. actions., has “created a refugee crisis” (Editorial, 3/11/16). “The five-year civil war” has “created chaos, allowing ISIS to thrive and claim large parts of Syrian territory” (Editorial, 12/1/16). Nowhere in these passages are U.S. officials condemned for contributing to a humanitarian crisis, destabilizing the Middle East, or fueling mass refugee flows.

Sociologists speak of the “social construction of reality” as a force that impacts how people look at the world. Clearly, this concept has significant value in terms of understanding how political leaders like Obama, Putin, and Assad – and the intellectual and media sycophants who please them – seek to mold public consciousness. These leaders designate official enemies of state, attributing all the evils of the world to these villains, while conveniently ignoring their own roles in escalating human rights atrocities and in deterring democracy. The goal of the critically thinking citizen is to stop these one-sided narratives and social constructions from defining how one looks at the world. This is no easy task, considering the dominance of “mainstream” news sources by elite forces seeking to manipulate and manage the public mind.

Citations

Al Jazeera, “Aleppo Evacuation Will be Complete ‘In Days,’” Al Jazeera, December 20, 2016, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/12/aleppo-evacuation-complete-days-161220110301897.html

Al Jazeera, “Deadly Air Strikes Hit Two Aleppo Hospitals,” Al Jazeera, September 28, 2016, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/09/air-strikes-put-aleppo-hospitals-service-160928102656036.html

Amnesty International, “’Death Everywhere’: War Crimes and Human Rights Abuses in Aleppo, Syria,” Amnesty International, 2015, http://www.amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/embargoed_5_may_aleppo_report_death_everywhere.pdf

Barnard, Anne, “Death Toll From War in Syria Now 470,000 Group Finds,” New York Times, February 11, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/12/world/middleeast/death-toll-from-war-in-syria-now-470000-group-finds.html

Bartlett, Eva, “‘If I Write in Line with Russian Media, It’s Because We Both Tell the Truth’ Eva Bartlett to RT,” Russia Today, December 17, 2016, https://www.rt.com/op-edge/370618-syria-sources-bartlett-rt/

Connor, Phillip, and Jens Manuel Krogstad, “Key Facts About the World’s Refugees,” Pew Research Center, October 5, 2016, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/10/05/key-facts-about-the-worlds-refugees/

Cockburn, Patrick, “We Finally Know What Hillary Clinton Knew All Aong – US Allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar are Funding ISIS,” The Independent, October 14, 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/hillary-clinton-wikileaks-email-isis-saudi-arabia-qatar-us-allies-funding-barack-obama-knew-all-a7362071.html

Cockburn, Patrick, “There’s More Propaganda Than News Coming Out of Aleppo This Week,” Independent, December 16, 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/aleppo-crisis-syrian-war-bashar-al-assad-isis-more-propaganda-than-news-a7479901.html

Editorial, “Fill in the Foreign Policy Blanks,” New York Times, March 11, 2016, 28(A).

Editorial, “More Carnage in Syria,” New York Times, May 4, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/04/opinion/more-carnage-in-syria.html

Editorial, “Mr. Obama’s Powerful Words About Terrorism,” New York Times, June 14, 2016, 24(A).

Editorial, “Foreign Wars and Terrorism,” New York Times, September 22, 2016, 30(A).

Editorial, “Mr. Trump’s Weird World,” New York Times, October 12, 2006, 22(A).

Editorial, “A World of Trouble for Donald Trump; What’s at Stake,” New York Times, December 1, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/01/opinion/a-world-of-trouble-for-donald-trump.html?_r=0

Editorial, “Aleppo’s Destroyers: Assad, Putin, Iran,” New York Times, December 15, 2016, 30(A).

Eckhardt, William, “Civilian Deaths in Wartime,” Security Dialogue, January 1989, Vol. 20, No. 1: 89-98.

Entous, Adam, “U.S., Allies to Boost Aid to Syria Rebels,” Wall Street Journal, November 4, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-allies-to-boost-aid-to-syria-rebels-1446682624

Graca, Machel, “The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, A Report of the Expert of the Secretary-General,” August 26, 1996.

Human Rights Watch, “Events of 2015,” Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2016/country-chapters/syria

Mazzett, Mark, and Matt Apuzzo, “U.S. Relies Heavily on Saudi Money to Support Syrian Rebels,” New York Times, January 23, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/24/world/middleeast/us-relies-heavily-on-saudi-money-to-support-syrian-rebels.html

Norton, Ben, “Leaked Hillary Clinton Emails Show U.S. Allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar Supported ISIS,” Salon.com, October 11, 2016, http://www.salon.com/2016/10/11/leaked-hillary-clinton-emails-show-u-s-allies-saudi-arabia-and-qatar-supported-isis/

Nussbaum, Matthew, and Benjamin Oreskes, “More Republicans Viewing Putin Favorably,” Politico, December 16, 2016, http://www.politico.com/story/2016/12/gop-russia-putin-support-232714

Rosenthal, Max, “Yesterday, Trump and Putin Discussed Syria. Today, Russia’s Bombing the Hell Out of Aleppo,” Mother Jones, November 15, 2016, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/11/russia-resumes-bombing-campaign-syria-trump-putin

Russia Today, “Putin Claims Russian Jets Killed Civilians in Syria Emerged Before Airstrikes Started,” Russia Today, October 1, 2015, https://www.rt.com/news/317188-putin-civilian-casualties-syria/

Russia Today, “Militants Block Civilians From Leaving Aleppo as Russian Military Open Humanitarian Corridors,” Russia Today, July 29, 2016, https://www.rt.com/news/353937-russia-humanitarian-aid-aleppo/

Russia Today, “Russia Denies Bombing Aleppo Civilians as Photo of Bloodied 5yo Boy Goes Viral,” Russia Today, August 19, 2016,

https://www.rt.com/news/356502-russia-image-aleppo-boy/

Russia Today, “Russian, Syrian Air Forces Did Not Strike UN Aid Convoy in Aleppo – Russian MoD,” Russia Today, September 20, 2016, https://www.rt.com/news/359990-russia-denies-aleppo-strike/

Russia Today, “Assad Thanks Russia and Putin for Helping to Liberate Aleppo,” Russia Today, December 24, 2016, https://www.rt.com/news/371547-assad-putin-aleppo-syria/

Sivard, Ruth L., “World Military and Social Expenditures 1991,” World Priorities, Vol. 14, 22-25.

Wahl, Elizabeth, “I Was Putin’s Pawn,” Politico, March 21, 2014, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/03/liz-wahl-quit-russia-today-putins-pawn-10488
 
Anthony DiMaggio is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Lehigh University. He holds a PhD in political communication, and is the author of the newly released: Selling War, Selling Hope: Presidential Rhetoric, the News Media, and U.S. Foreign Policy After 9/11 (Paperback: 2015). He can be reached at: anthonydimaggio612@gmail.com
More articles by:Anthony DiMaggio

Gorilla Radio with Chris Cook 2016 Year Ender Show December 28, 2016

This Week on GR

by C. L. Cook - Gorilla-Radio.com



December 28, 2016

Welcome to GR's Year Ender/Holiday Special. Here's a look behind the curtain of the award-winning Gorilla Radio program.

Happy New Year's to one and all!

1:00:00    2:00    (Fire This Time - Grant Wakefield bg) Welcome to GR, etc. Yes it's that time of year again, wherein we leave the well-worn Gorilla Radio format to celebrate guestless the ending of the long year past, and look forward with hope and trepidation to what the New Year promises. I'll play music, perhaps read a story, and otherwise fart and tap dance for your amusement and educational edification.

Listen. Hear.

But before getting to any of all that, it's become a tradition here over the last decade or so to begin the show with our good friend Ini Kamoze, and though the day be passed, all his Christmas wishes. Take it away Ini!

1:02:00    4:00    Ini Kamozie - All I Want for Christmas - Putumayo's Christmas Around the World
1:06:00    3:00    (Fire this time bg) 2016: A Year So Far

You may have already watched and or listened to year-end wrap up shows. What is immediately apparent, as we approach the New Year, is a sense of doom and foreboding. Though still in the adolescence of the 21st century, there's a definite fin de siecle vibe going, a sense that we're at the very ends of a rope with a long drop below us. It's an epoch's finish kind of feeling; democracy's end brought finally in a coup de grace delivered by a reality television clown, replete with face paint. But, and it's an amazingly large butt, it's not just in the Trump Republic where the modern democratic experiment is expiring. Take a look across the waters at Britain's surveillance society where every day approaches nearer England's greatest dystopian, George Orwell's vision of a future he illustrated as "a boot stamping on a human face—for ever." Regard France, the land of liberte, egalite, fraternite, where today freedom of speech is curtailed, equality before the law for the country's dusky skinned, and Arabic named is a sad joke, while fraternity among its, and all Europe's enlightened citizenry, becomes a more remote possibility by the day.

And speaking of brotherly love, I read a Christmas-inspired article from America the other day. In Houston, the folks at Antimedia inform, the city police forced homeless people to throw not only food donated by Food not Bombs and other caring Houstonians into a dumpster provided especially by the city for the occasion, but also their blankets, tents, gifts and any other possessions capricious authorities demanded. They did this, those trusted to serve and protect the people and the peace, as the city later explained, because: "[F]eeding the homeless food that has not been cooked in a certified kitchen could spread illness." Adding, "Feeding the homeless is only enabling homelessness." Merry Christmas Houston, and Happy New Year to those jurisdictions sharing Houston's tough love philosophy, and the men and women who enforce it - you know who you are.  

1:09:00    5:49    Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra - End of Days - The Blanche Album
1:15:00    3:00    (Fire this time bg) - 2016 GR Recap - Global

No matter how fast a year can pass - as they seem ever more fleetingly to do - they will always contain 52 weeks. Generally speaking, Gorilla Radio airs fifty show a year, most consisting of two interview segments, plus features, (the "features" being a music break and more often than not Janine Bandcroft's coming events). Looking back over some of the issues covered this year makes for a long list, so I'll condense to quick: Internationally; the ongoing war in Syria has to be the biggest single issue covered, though the lesser reported and equally egregious destruction of Yemeni society by the "good guys" deserves mention. Those white hats blasting Yemen would be America, Israel, and the Gulf Cooperation Council, or GCC nations. Officially, the GCC consists of; Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman, but the influence these country's exert is considerably broader than the minuscule area of the planet they occupy. It seems the outraged indignation expressed by the West and their allies over Syria is an inverse ratio to the deathly silence afforded the innocents indiscriminantly slaughtered in Yemen. On the contrary, the United States, Great Britain, and the entire retinue of nations who serve as a beacon of civilization for the World to emulate, are all busy selling the bombs, bullets, missiles and muskets to better facilitate the turkey shoot there.

Meanwhile, in Syria, and recently liberated Aleppo particularly, the true nature of the West's involvement in fomenting the nearly six year long journey into chaos the people have experienced is becoming clearer. Just last week, news of the capture of a number of GCC military "advisors" within "East" Aleppo, along with at least one Israeli officer and an American offers a glimpse of what the real game being played there is, and who the players moving the pawns on the ground are. And, just in are disturbing new reports of mass graves being unearthed in the so-called "rebel" held enclave of Aleppo, the bodies unearthed bearing signs of torture and execution. Revealed too is a Western press that, either through incompetence or blatant mendacity has mischaracterized almost every aspect of the Syria disaster from the start. Just as they have lied about Afghanistan and Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Ukraine, they are lying now about Iran, Russia and China.

1:18:00    4:00    Trans-Global Underground -  - Community Music
1:22:00    3:00    (Fire this time bg) - 2016 GR Recap - Canada on the Global Stage

Canada is, as Ottawa often reminds, a global player. "Punching beyond our weight" is just one of the tired phrases trundled from an ever-narrowing commentariat stable when regarding the nation's role in the broader World. But, what does that mean, exactly? For all our public investment in news and information, more than a billion dollars a year to the CBC's English language service alone, you might expect Canadians to be well informed about both the workings of the government within the country, and its doings abroad. The sad fact though is, Canadians have little more than a self-satisfying illusion of themselves as a universally welcome and widely accepted benevolent actor, roaming the frontiers of interational diplomacy in Dudley Do-Right fashion, just trying to help. As simple-minded and astonishing that kind of delusion is when juxtaposed against the actions of the United States, somehow it seems less obvious when the culprits are Canadian business and government, engaging in the same mercenary practice, in pursuit of the same venal goals.

Canadians were gifted in November of 2015 with the end of Stephen Harper's ten year Conservative party reign. The decisive ascension of the Liberals then had the air of a second coming, led as it was by Justin Trudeau, heir to the very epitome of liberalism in the person of his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. But after a year in parliament, Justin is looking like just another politician, and worse, just another conservative one. On both the national and international fronts, Trudeau has differed so slightly in substance from his hated predecessor, Canada's centre-left can expect a populist upwelling similar to the Trump surprise down south come the next election go-round. Sensing that reversal, a hoard of political screw-balls and Trumpish wannabes have crowded the Conservative party's nominating process, making of it a circus necessarily reminiscent of the Republican experience. Front and centre is Canada's answer to Trump's reality teevee persona, rightist blow hard, Kevin O'Leary who while denying the parallels to the "make America great again" campaigner in the States, insists Canada is "deeply broken" and vows to "to scrape all the stupid policies out of Ottawa." With just more than three years before the next scheduled poll it may be premature to think about elections, but considering the endless-campaign model taken hold in America, O'Leary early move may be right on time.

1:25:00    4:00    Funk Asylum -  Dinner is Ruined - GasCD
1:29:00    1:00    Cart(s)
1:30:00    3:00    (Fire this time bg) - 2016 Recap - Canada @ Home

As disappointing as the prime minister's foreign policy has been, his first year hasn't been great at home either. In British Columbia, Mr. Trudeau's pre-election performance had lefties and greenies swooning at the prospect of an eco-friendly administration, ready to address climate change and beat back the threat of the pipelines slithering through the mountain passes east, across rivers and dales to the port of Burnaby. But, no extractive industry dragon slayer is Justin. Instead, it's coal in the Christmas stockings for Lotus Land; LNG over forests, and oil on the ground and in the Salish Sea. Yes, the Liberals tossed a gnawed bone in the form of Enbridge's doomed Northern Gateway to assuage the hippies, (an already dead-letter issue, broadly thought to be little more than a stalking horse) the real prizes all got the "good to go." Site C dam and LNG fracked mining expansion in the northeast, and the so-called "twinning" of Kinder Morgan's TransMountain, taproot for Alberta's planet-killing Tar Sands ambitions to supply Asia's Satanic Mills.

Another depletion of the new PM's political capital comes on the heels of his star turn in Paris at the COP climate conference. The Liberal turnaround on the country's stated Greenhouse Gas emission goals has created a glut of the same kind of cynicism that sank Clinton, when the left out left-wing of the party went elsewhere on election day. For Trudeau, upon whose shoulders alone rides the Liberal party mantle, reversals on environment, foreign policy, democratic, (remember promises to end first past the post?) and marijuana law reforms has darkened his image, face-planting his popularity numbers. Good news for the wannabe northern populists of the Conservative party, and great too for a moribund New Democrat Party, who unlike the Tories, can't fill a phone booth with leadership hopefuls. But, this is Canada afterall and we lumber on...

1:33:00    4:00    Hawksley Workman - We Ain't Broken Yet - Old Cheetah    
1:37:00    3:00    (Fire this time bg) - 2016 Recap - BC

2016 will long be remembered as infamous by environmentalists in B.C., and as bad and potentially catastrophic for the province's environment the greenlighting of the corrupt and inept Kinder Morgan's TransMountain pipeline is, the most dastardly betrayal of the public trust and future well-being of both the people and wilds of British Columbia is the forwarding of the Site C megadam project in the Peace River Valley. Over the last few years I've hosted several guests from the region, all of whom outline a corrupted process, at best paying lip-service to the stated principles of democracy and the constitutionally guaranteed meaningful inclusion of First Nations in decision-making on projects that effect their lands and treaty rights. Site C has been buffaloed through to the stage where premier Christy Clark says it is "beyond stopping," but still the battle goes on. Even as BC Hydro clear-cuts riparian zones along the Peace, and boots farm families from their homes, court cases are lining up. Recently, New York Times reporter, Dan Levin took a trip north to see what it was about. His article, 'Canada’s $7 Billion Dam Tests the Limits of State Power' lays bare the inproprieties employed by both the provincial and federal governments to take this turkey to market, but the one thing he can't answer, and in fact no-one who looks at Site C through anything other than a purely political lens can figure out is: "Why is this project happening?" Less than two weeks before Christmas, Peace River farmer and outspoken proponent for keeping the Peace River Valley above water, Ken Boon discovered BC Hydro had taken his home and business, the family farm, into its possession, and he and his family are now merely tenants with a few short months left to pack up and get on down the road. Though his land, the same farmed by his forebears, is not slated to be submerged by the dam, Hydro says it must be mowed down for a highway, planned to accomodate increased heavy truck traffic to the fracked gas fields, and along the suspected power grid meant to service the Tar Sands. That last is supposed to be a secret, like so much of planning for Site C not for the ears of the people who will ultimately be paying for this white elephant for generations to come.

1:41:00    7:28      Deep Dark Woods - The Sun Never Shines - Winter Hours
1:49:00    3:00    (Fire this time) - 2017 Precap

As the year disappears in the mirror, now a look at how the events and trends of 2016 will influence the next year coming. The reality of the Trump presidency will be for many the first shocker of 2017. AS welcome as a cartoon character tattoo after a bender, all the rubbing in the world isn't gonna get rid of the Donald. He'll be there every day, relentlessly pounding you senseless, his evil defying even banality.

In the wars and rumours of wars department, Trump will find himself in the early days of his presidency, if not before the inauguration, manoevred into a hard-line position on Syria, one demanding more US boots grounded in far-flung wars, compromising his star-crossed bromance with Vladimir Putin, that sadly to be sacrificed on the altar of realpolitik. It seems the powers behind the Pennsylvania Avenue throne are determined to ratchet up a new Cold War with Russia, (and maybe China too) while continuing the decades-old "long war" rampage in western Asia.

Trump will also have to deal with his recalcitrant Pacific allies in the Philippines and Japan, and throughout a World grown weary of following the diktats of an increasingly violent and erratic America. In light of the current global zeitgeist, the U.S. could not have chosen a new leader more poorly. Trump will quickly find diplomatic bluster and sabre-rattling ill-received, and ultimately ineffective. There will be domestic war too to be dealt with, as environmental, and social justice issues allowed to fester under Obama will come to full boil - so to speak. And, laws drafted to control the internet, through draconian criminalization, and other provisions will to soon be all the news.

All in all, a good year to be a social critic, if not necessarily a comic one.

1:52:00    4:00    Neutral Milk Hotel - On Avery Island - Where You'll Find Me
1:56:00    1:00    Thanks to J9, Christina, Blayne, and everyone and good night and good luck; upcoming.
1:57:00    --:--                        -0-       

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

BREAKING NEWS: News: Media Broken

2016: The Year the Media Broke

by Craig Murray


December 21, 2016 

Rupert Murdoch’s bid for a full takeover of Sky TV demonstrates graphically that the extreme concentration of media ownership has not yet run its course. It also yet again underlines the extent to which the Leveson Inquiry was barking entirely up the wrong tree. There is no question to which the correct answer is increased government control over free speech. Any inquiry into the media should look first and foremost at its highly concentrated ownership and how to instill more pluralism. It is probably now too late to expect that a vibrant, diverse traditional media is achievable.

We can however be cheered by the continuing decline of the political influence of the mainstream media, as illustrated by its “Fake News” panic.

Even five years ago, if the mainstream media carried a meme that was fundamentally untrue, the chances of persuading public opinion of its untruth were almost minimal. Similarly if they wished to ignore an inconvenient truth, it would be very hard indeed to get it out to a significant number.

Four years ago, when the official version of the Adam Werritty affair was front page news for days, causing the resignation of the Defence Secretary, I discovered that in fact the real scandal ran much deeper. Werritty – who had an official pass but no official position – had held at least eight meetings with Matthew Gould, now Cabinet Office anti-WikiLeaks supremo. Gould had at the time of some of the meetings been ambassador to Israel, at the time of others Private Secretary to two different Foreign Secretaries, David Miliband and William Hague. On at least one occasion it was acknowledged by the FCO that Mossad were also present. For the three meetings which occurred while Gould was Private Secretary, I requested the diary entries under the Freedom of Information Act. The meetings were held on 8 Sept 2009, 27 Sept 2010 and 6 Feb 2011. The FCO sent me, in reply to my Freedom of Information request, the diary entries for those three days with only the dates – the rest was 100% redacted, in the interests of national security.

The Cabinet Secretary, Gus O’Donnell, in presenting his report to parliament into Werritty’s activities, blatantly lied and listed only three of Werritty’s eight meetings with Gould. Yet, even though the Werritty scandal was a front page story, I could not interest the mainstream media in publishing the truth. I believe that was because it touched on security links with Israel. To be plain, I was offering officially verified information at no charge to all the mainstream newspapers and broadcasters, and the only outlet which would touch it was the Independent. Tellingly, this paper, not controlled by the big news corporations, has since gone bust.

The reason I revisit this all now is to point out that when I published the true facts about Werritty on this blog, it was read here by tens of thousands. But four years later, when similarly I wrote about the story behind the mainstream media version of the Panama Papers, it was read by hundreds of thousands on this site alone. I had simply pointed out that the leaker had erred in giving the Panama Papers to the mainstream media and not to WikiLeaks, and therefore we were not getting the full picture. Media attention was focused on extremely tenuous links to Russia (ring any bells lately?), and remarkably no major British or American corporations or prominent individuals were named. In the event the full papers never were published by their mainstream media guardians, only a redacted “database”. No major British or US corporations ever were named. Unlike on Fox/Werritty, I was able to reach many millions of people with my writings on the Panama papers through the increasing power of social media.

These are homely examples from my own blog. But the real effect was seen in the WikiLeaks releases of the Podesta and DNC emails. The mainstream media contrived to ignore the damning content of those emails almost completely, but they were shared by many, many millions through social media. We now have the hilarious situation where the mainstream media is still hiding the content and denying the influence, while at the same time promoting a meme that the leaks were crucial and all the fault of Putin. What the mainstream media cannot squarely face is that 2016 became the tipping point, the year when they no longer control the narrative, the year the traditional means of population control by the 1% stopped working properly.

2017 will see the Establishment reaction to this. Control of “Fake” news by social media, and “ghost banning” are two of the weapons which will be used. The obvious weakness of the people’s social media revolution is its heavy reliance on the corporations Twitter and Facebook. There is every evidence that their fellow billionaires are working hard and with success to ensure that the new billionaire controllers of Facebook, Twitter, Google and Wikipedia become properly committed to the corporate news management agenda. We have already seen governments move across the Western world to increase powers of internet censorship “to counter radicalisation”, and expect these to be both strengthened and deployed against non-official news.

The 1% have all the money and we don’t because they are powerful, unscrupulous, sociopathic and very resilient. 2017 I suspect will be the year it becomes plain that new social networking media beyond corporate control are required, but I am confident the internet will work that one out by its collective genius. 2016 will be seen as a turning point. But there are still a great many hard battles ahead.