black holes and gray matter. in one thousand tangos.

             
Glenn Greenwald: How Propaganda Poisons the Mind - and Our Discourse

Last week, on January 3, The Guardian published a scathing Op-Ed by James Richardson blaming WikiLeaks for endangering the life of Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the democratic opposition in Zimbabwe. Richardson — a GOP operative, contributor to RedState.com, and a for-hire corporate spokesman — pointed to a cable published by WikiLeaks in which American diplomats revealed that Tsvangirai, while publicly opposing American sanctions on his country, had privately urged their continuation as a means of weakening the Mugabe regime: an act likely to be deemed to be treasonous in that country, for obvious reasons. By publishing this cable, “WikiLeaks may have committed its own collateral murder,” Richardson wrote.  He added: “WikiLeaks ought to leave international relations to those who understand it – at least to those who understand the value of a life.”

This accusation against WikiLeaks was repeated far and wide. See The Wall Street Journal […] and The Atlantic's "How WikiLeaks Just Set Back Democracy in Zimbabwe," echoing the same accusation, claiming “WikiLeaks released [this cable] to the world” and that Assange has thus “provided a tyrant with the ammunition to wound, and perhaps kill, any chance for multiparty democracy.”  Numerous other outlets predictably mimicked these claims.

There was just one small problem with all of this: it was totally false. It wasn’t WikiLeaks which chose that cable to be placed into the public domain, nor was it WikiLeaks which first published it. It was The Guardian that did that. In early December, that newspaper — not WikiLeaks — selected and then published the cable in question. This fact led The Guardian — more than a full week after they published Richardson’s accusatory column — to sheepishly add this obscured though extremely embarrassing “clarification” at the end of his column: 

• This article was amended on 11 January 2011 to clarify the fact that the 2009 cable referred to in this article was placed in the public domain by the Guardian, and not as originally implied by WikiLeaks. The photo caption was also amended to reflect this fact.

The way this “clarification” was done was bizarre. […] If a newspaper publishes an accusation this serious and gets it this wrong, isn’t more required than the quiet addition of two short sentences at the end of the column, eight days later without any announcement? […]

But at least The Guardian — for which I have high journalistic regard — published some sort of correction, woefully inadequate though it may be. Why hasn’t The Wall Street Journal, or The Atlantic, or Politico [Politico just made a correction]? While The Guardian appended this correction yesterday, WikiLeaks on Twitter — a full week ago — made clear the falsehood driving all these stories: “It is not acceptable [for] the Guardian to blame us for a cable the Guardian selected and published on Dec 8.” WikiLeaks then immediately pointed to this post thoroughly documenting that it was The Guardian that first published this cable as part of a December 8 news article it published regarding revelations about Zimbabwe. So this glaring, serious error has been publicly known and amplified for a full week (through WikiLeaks’ Twitter account, followed by 650,000 people, which presumably is followed by anyone writing about WikiLeaks, at least I’d hope so).

Yet these Beacons of Journalistic Responsibility have still failed to acknowledge that the very serious accusation they published about WikiLeaks was based in a wholesale fabrication.

Read this

Government accusations: no evidence needed

The New York Times, October 31:

As investigators on three continents conducted forensic analyses of two bombs shipped from Yemen and intercepted Friday in Britain and Dubai, American officials said evidence was mounting that the top leadership of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, including the radical American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, was behind the attempted attacks… .

Reviewing the evidence, American intelligence officials say they believe that the plot may have been blessed by the highest levels of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, including Mr. Awlaki… . This year, the C.I.A. designated Mr. Awlaki — an American citizen — as a high priority for the agency’s campaign of targeted killing.

The administration:  Hey:  you know that American citizen whom the President has controversially ordered assassinated?  Here’s the proof that we were right to do that:  he tried to send these bombs from Yemen to the U.S.!!  How could anyone possibly object to our killing a murderous monster like this?  That accusation — as intended — produced worldwide headlines identifying Awlaki as the likely Terrorist behind this plot.

The New York Times, today:

American and Yemeni officials still have little hard evidence about who was involved in the thwarted attack… . As for who was behind the plot, evidence remains elusive, though officials believe the bombs bear the hallmarks of Al Qaeda in Yemen’s top bomb maker. On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security issued a cable saying that the packages might have been linked to two schools in Yemen… . But American and Yemeni investigators are trying to determine whether the schools — listed as the Yemen-American Institute for Language-Computer Management and the American Center for Training and Development — even exist.  There is a school in Sana called the Yemen American Language Institute, but it is sponsored by the United States State Department.

Wait:  I read in the NYT on Sunday that “evidence was mounting that the top leadership of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, including the radical American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, was behind the attempted attacks.”  Today, however, in that very same paper, I learn that “American and Yemeni officials still have little hard evidence about who was involved in the thwarted attack” and “evidence is elusive.”  How can evidence of the culprits be simultaneously “mounting” and “elusive”?

The reality, as today’s version of the NYT makes clear, is that the U.S. has no idea who is responsible for sending these bombs.  So in the dark are they that Homeland Security actually blamed two Yemeni schools that don’t even seem to exist, with the only one remotely similar to it being one sponsored by the State Department.  But no matter:  within a very short time of the attempted attack’s becoming public, U.S. government officials fanned out to anonymously pin the blame on Anwar Awlaki as the Mastermind, and newspapers then dutifully printed what they were told, even though nobody had any idea whether that was actually true.  But when you’re trying to justify the presidential seizure of the power to assassinate your own citizens without a shred of due process, what matters is ratcheting up fear and hatred levels against your targets, not evidence or rationality.  Just scream TERRORIST! enough times and maybe everyone will forget how tyrannical is your conduct.

Glenn Greenwald

Drug Decriminalization Policy Pays Off

Next month, Californians will vote on Proposition 19, a measure to legalize marijuana. Because no state has ever taken such a step, voters are being subjected to a stream of fear-mongering assertions, unaccompanied by evidence, about what is likely to happen if drug prohibition is repealed. But it need not — and should not — be that way. 

Ten years ago, Portugal became the first Western nation to pass full-scale, nationwide decriminalization. That law, passed Oct. 1, 2000, abolished criminal sanctions for all narcotics — not just marijuana but also “hard drugs” like heroin and cocaine. This applies only to drugs for personal use; drug trafficking remains a criminal offense. There is now a decade’s worth of empirical data on what actually happens — and does not happen — when criminal sanctions against drug possession are lifted. Individuals caught with drugs in Portugal are no longer arrested or treated as criminals. Instead, they are sent to a tribunal of health professionals, where they are offered the opportunity, but are not compelled, to seek government-provided treatment. For those found to be addicts, tribunals have the power to impose noncriminal sanctions. But in practice, the overriding goal is to direct people to treatment.

By any metric, Portugal’s drug-decriminalization scheme has been a resounding success. Drug usage in many categories has decreased in absolute terms, including for key demographic groups, like 15-to-19-year-olds. Where usage rates have increased, the increases have been modest — far less than in most other European Union nations, which continue to use a criminalization approach. Portugal, whose drug problems were among the worst in Europe, now has the lowest usage rate for marijuana and one of the lowest for cocaine. Drug-related pathologies, including HIV transmission, hepatitis transmission and drug-related deaths, have declined significantly. 

I’m convinced that drug prohibition, and especially the “War on Drugs” which enables it, is going to be one of those policies which, decades from now, future generations will be completely unable to understand how we could have tolerated.  So irrational and empirically false are the justifications for drug prohibition, and so costly is the War waged in its name, that it is difficult to imagine a more counter-productive policy than this (that’s why public opinion is inexorably realizing this despite decades of Drug War propaganda and the absence of any real advocacy for decriminalization on the part of national political leaders). In that regard, and in virtually every other, the War on Drugs is a mirror image of the War on Terror:  sustained with the same deceitful propaganda, driven by many of the same motives, prosecuted with similar templates, and destructive in many of the same ways. 

 Glenn Greenwald

NYT: The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party

Another weekend, another grass-roots demonstration starring Real Americans who are mad as hell and want to take back their country from you-know-who. There’s just one element missing from these snapshots of America’s ostensibly spontaneous and leaderless populist uprising: the sugar daddies who are bankrolling it, and have been doing so since well before the “death panel” warm-up acts of last summer. Three heavy hitters rule. You’ve heard of one of them, Rupert Murdoch. The other two, the brothers David and Charles Koch, are even richer, with a combined wealth exceeded only by that of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett among Americans. But even those carrying the Kochs’ banner may not know who these brothers are.

Their self-interested and at times radical agendas, like Murdoch’s, go well beyond, and sometimes counter to, the interests of those who serve as spear carriers in the political pageants hawked on Fox News. The country will be in for quite a ride should these potentates gain power, and given the recession-battered electorate’s unchecked anger and the Obama White House’s unfocused political strategy, they might.

All three tycoons are the latest incarnation of what the historian Kim Phillips-Fein labeled “Invisible Hands” in her prescient 2009 book of that title: those corporate players who have financed the far right ever since the du Pont brothers spawned the American Liberty League in 1934 to bring down F.D.R. You can draw a straight line from the Liberty League’s crusade against the New Deal “socialism” of Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission and child labor laws to the John Birch Society-Barry Goldwater assault on J.F.K. and Medicare to the Koch-Murdoch-backed juggernaut against our “socialist” president.

Only the fat cats change — not their methods and not their pet bugaboos (taxes, corporate regulation, organized labor, and government “handouts” to the poor, unemployed, ill and elderly). Even the sources of their fortunes remain fairly constant. Koch Industries began with oil in the 1930s and now also spews an array of industrial products, from Dixie cups to Lycra, not unlike DuPont’s portfolio of paint and plastics. Sometimes the biological DNA persists as well. The Koch brothers’ father, Fred, was among the select group chosen to serve on the Birch Society’s top governing body. In a recorded 1963 speech that survives in a University of Michigan archive, he can be heard warning of “a takeover” of America in which Communists would “infiltrate the highest offices of government in the U.S. until the president is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.” That rant could be delivered as is at any Tea Party rally today. 

Read this.

An exciting new Muslim country to drone attack

Amnesty International, June 7, 2010:

Amnesty International has released images of a US-manufactured cruise missile that carried cluster munitions, apparently taken following an attack on an alleged al-Qa’ida training camp in Yemen that killed 41 local residents, including 14 women and 21 children. 

Wall St. Journal, today:

U.S. officials believe al Qaeda in Yemen is now collaborating more closely with allies in Pakistan and Somalia to plot attacks against the U.S., spurring the prospect that the administration will mount a more intense targeted killing program in Yemen.

What’s going on here seems fairly obvious. The absurdity of escalating a war in Afghanistan by pointing to The Scary Al Qaeda Menace — when there is virtually no Al Qaeda presence in that country — is becoming increasingly apparent. Just yesterday, Washington Post article documented — using the WikiLeaks war documents (which, remember, told us absolutely nothing worth knowing) — that Al Qaeda is virtually non-existent in the war in Afghanistan. So now, administration officials — hiding behind the anonymity which these media outlets naturally provided — fanned out to announce a new, Growing, Scary Al Qaeda Threat in Yemen, which, they boast, now needs its own escalated bombing attacks and CIA operations. The goal is that the War never ends; the only variable is where it happens to increase on any given day.

The illogic and propaganda driving this is so familiar because it’s what has been driving the American National Security State for the last decade. There is anti-Americanism and radicalism in Yemen; therefore, to solve that problem, we’re going to bomb them more with flying killer robots, because nothing helps reduce anti-American sentiments like slaughtering civilians and dropping cluster bombs from the sky. Who could have watched the last decade and doubt that brilliant strategic insight?

There’s a particularly bitter irony here. The campaign against the Park51 community center in Lower Manhattan is being condemned, rightfully so, because it is driven by a desire to stigmatize all Muslims and even institute a generalized war against Islam as American policy. But far from Ground Zero, having nothing whatsoever to do with the warped right-wing fanatics driving that campaign, we’re increasingly engaging in actions perceived — understandably so — to be exactly the War against Muslims which, with our pretty presidential words, we renounce. Escalation in Afghanistan, a sustained bombing campaign in Pakistan, all sorts of increased covert actions in multiple Muslim countries, the ongoing imprisonment with no charges of Muslims around the world, bellicose threats to Iran, and now a proposed expansion of our drone campaign into Yemen: we can insist all we want that we are not waging a War Against Muslims, but it’s going to look to a huge number of people as though we’re doing exactly that.

— Glenn Greenwald

Read this.

Media Failing to Ask Tough Questions on Afghanistan...Again

Petraeus kicked off his spin campaign [yesterday] morning with an hour-long special on Meet the Press with David Gregory. The piece opened with a montage of Petraeus doing sit-ups, and later showed him jogging, with Gregory opining about him wearing out troops half his age. Gregory went out of his way to set up a “Petraeus saves the day” narrative, asking the general if the situation in Afghanistan reminds him of the “dark days” in Iraq just before Petraeus “succeeded” with the surge. Petraeus hammered home his one-word message relentlessly: progress.

When Petraeus mentioned “oil spots,” as if the stain spreading across Afghanistan were one of security, Gregory failed to press him on the huge increase in civilian deathsthe 87% spike in violence and the incredible explosion of IED attacks over the last several months. When he brought up the outrageous TIME Magazine cover showing a woman’s mutilated face, Gregory failed to mention the attack happened last year and that TIME Magazine’s cover grossly distorts the choices before the United States. When Petraeus denounced the Taliban’s recent killing of a pregnant woman, Gregory failed to press Petraeus on ISAF’s own killing of pregnant women earlier this year in which bullets were reportedly dug out of a screaming woman by special forces troops before she bled to death. Gregory didn’t do journalism. He provided a platform for military spin. []

The Deception of Real-Life 'Inception'

Many old sci-fi stories, like politics and advertising of the past, subscribed to the “Clockwork Orange” theory that says blatantly propagandistic repetition is the best way to pound concepts into the human brain. But as “Inception’s” main character, Cobb, posits, the “most resilient parasite” of all is an idea that individuals are subtly led to think they discovered on their own.

These laws of cognition, of course, are brilliantly exploited by a 24/7 information culture that has succeeded in making “your mind the scene of the crime,” as “Inception’s” trailer warns. Because we are now so completely immersed in various multimedia dreamscapes, many of the prefabricated-and often inaccurate-ideas in those phantasmagorias can seem wholly self-realized and, hence, totally logical.

The conservative media dreamland, for instance, ensconces its audience in an impregnable bubble-you eat breakfast with the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, you drive to the office with right-wing radio, you flit between Breitbart and Drudge at work, you come home to Fox News. The ideas bouncing around in this world-say, ideas about the Obama administration allegedly favoring blacks-don’t seem like propaganda to those inside the bubble. With heavily edited videos of screaming pastors and prejudice-sounding Department of Agriculture officials, these ideas are cloaked in the veneer of unchallenged fact, leaving the audience to assume its bigoted conclusions are completely self-directed and incontrovertible.

As writer Joe Keohane noted in a recent Boston Globe report about new scientific findings, contravening facts no longer “have the power to change our minds” when we are wrong. “When misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds,” he wrote. “In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs.”

©2011 Kateoplis