More fraud from Climate Central.
The Washington Post reports:
By Jason Samenow July 14
The temperature Thursday in Washington soared to 98 degrees, the hottest so far this summer. The heat index, which factors in humidity, registered 104 degrees.
Get used to it.
An analysis released Wednesday by Climate Central, a nonprofit science communication group based in Princeton, N.J., says these kinds of brutally hot and humid days are becoming more common.
Climate Central’s States at Risk project, featuring an interactive website, not only analyzed historical heat and humidity data to document observed trends but also, using climate models, projected how hot and humid days will evolve into the future.
All data point toward steamier times ahead.
Hot and humid days up substantially since 1970
The District is now sweltering in 95-degree heat on 7.5 more days per year than it did in 1970, Climate Central says. In 1970, D.C. averaged seven or eight 95-degree (or hotter) days in a typical year. Now the number is closer to 15. In the scorching summer of 2012, we had a record-tying 28 such days.
The nearest long running station to Washington is Laurel, in Maryland, just 17 miles away.
The USHCN whisker plot of daily maximum temperatures shows that daily temperatures are not increasing, and were actually highest in the 1930s.
It is easy to see why Climate Central used 1970 as their starting point.
As CDIAC show below, most daily summer temperature records in Maryland were set prior to 1960, while the cold 1970s is plainly evident. (Bear in mind, these daily records include ties, so the probability of a record should be the same in every decade, assuming an unchanged climate).
This carefully constructed deception is all designed to convince us that summers will become increasingly hot in the future, as the article goes on to state:
D.C.’s summer climate to resemble South Texas?
Using projections of summer warming by 2100, Climate Central says D.C.’s climate will, by then, most resemble today’s typical summer environs in Pharr, Texas — a Mexico border town. That is, it projects D.C.’s average summer high temperature to rise from roughly 87 degrees to 97 degrees.
Of course, such projections are based on climate models which assume the emissions of greenhouse gases will continue unabated through the end of the century. If the global community finds ways to cut emissions, the warming would not be this steep. Also, if the climate is less sensitive to increases in greenhouse gases than assumed by these models, the warming would be less.
But, observed data make it clear the D.C. area is on a warming trajectory.
Climate Central’s analysis documents similar trends in hundreds of metro areas across the Lower 48. “Using several measures, our findings show that most U.S. cities have already experienced large increases in extreme summer heat and absolute humidity, which together can cause serious heat-related health problems,” the analysis states.
The Washington Post article is written by Jason Samenow, their weather editor and chief meteorologist of the Capital Weather Gang. He should be ashamed of himself for publishing such blatant propaganda from the politically motivated Climate Central.
Indeed, his failure to carry out even the most basic checks on their grossly misleading analysis surely raises questions about whether he has the ability and objectivity to do his job properly.
In a fresh embarrassment for The New York Times, a photographic forensic expert has debunked a new amateurish, anti-Russian analysis of satellite photos related to the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014, labeling the work “a fraud.”
Last Saturday, on the eve of the second anniversary of the tragedy that claimed 298 lives, the Times touted the amateur analysis asserting that the Russian government had manipulated two satellite photos that revealed Ukrainian anti-aircraft missiles in eastern Ukraine at the time of the shoot-down.
The clear implication of the article by Andrew E. Kramer was that the Russians were covering up their complicity in shooting down the civilian airliner by allegedly doctoring photos to shift the blame to the Ukrainian military. Beyond citing this analysis by armscontrolwonk.com, Kramer noted that the “citizen journalists” at Bellingcat had reached the same conclusion earlier.
But Kramer and the Times left out that the earlier Bellingcat analysis was thoroughly torn apart by photo-forensic experts including Dr. Neal Krawetz, founder of the FotoForensics digital image analytical tool that Bellingcat had used. Over the past week, Bellingcat has been aggressively pushing the new analysis by armscontrolwonk.com, with which Bellingcat has close relationships.
This past week, Krawetz and other forensic specialists began weighing in on the new analysis and concluding that it suffered the same fundamental errors as the previous analysis, albeit using a different analytical tool. Given Bellingcat’s promotion of this second analysis by a group with links to Bellingcat and its founder Eliot Higgins, Krawetz viewed the two analyses as essentially coming from the same place, Bellingcat.
“Jumping to the wrong conclusion one time can be due to ignorance,” Krawetz explained in a blog post. “However, using a different tool on the same data that yields similar results, and still jumping to the same wrong conclusion is intentional misrepresentation and deception. It is fraud.”
A Pattern of Error
Krawetz and other experts found that innocuous changes to the photos, such as adding a word box and saving the images into different formats, would explain the anomalies that Bellingcat and its pals at armscontrolwonk.com detected. That was the key mistake that Krawetz spotted last year in dissecting Bellingcat’s faulty analysis.
Krawetz wrote: “Last year, a group called ‘Bellingcat’ came out with a report about flight MH17, which was shot down near the Ukraine/Russia border. In their report, they used FotoForensics to justify their claims. However, as I pointed out in my blog entry, they used it wrong. The big problems in their report:
“–Ignoring quality. They evaluated pictures from questionable sources. These were low quality pictures that had undergone scaling, cropping, and annotations.
“–Seeing things. Even with the output from the analysis tools, they jumped to conclusions that were not supported by the data.
“–Bait and switch. Their report claimed one thing, then tried to justify it with analysis that showed something different.
“Bellingcat recently came out with a second report. The image analysis portion of their report heavily relied on a program called ‘Tungstène’. … With the scientific approach, it does not matter who’s tool you use. A conclusion should be repeatable though multiple tools and multiple algorithms.
“One of the pictures that they ran though Tungstène was the same cloud picture that they used with ELA [error level analysis]. And unsurprisingly, it generated similar results — results that should be interpreted as low quality and multiple resaves. … These results denote a low quality picture and multiple resaves, and not an intentional alteration as Bellingcat concluded.
“Just like last year, Bellingcat claimed that Tungstène highlighted indications of alterations in the same places that they claimed to see alterations in the ELA result. Bellingcat used the same low quality data on different tools and jumped to the same incorrect conclusion.”
Although Krawetz posted his dissection of the new analysis on Thursday, he began expressing his concerns shortly after the Times article appeared. That prompted Higgins and the Bellingcat crew to begin a Twitter campaign to discredit Krawetz and me (for also citing problems with the Times article and the analysis).
When one of Higgins’s allies mentioned my initial story on the problematic photo analysis, Krawetz noted that my observations supported his position that Bellingcat had mishandled the analysis (although at the time I was unaware of Krawetz’s criticism).
Higgins responded to Krawetz, “he [Parry] doesn’t recognize you’re a hack. Probably because he’s a hack too.”
Further insulting Krawetz, Higgins mocked his review of the photo analyses by writing: “all he has is ‘because I say so’, all mouth no trousers.”
Spoiled by Praise
Apparently, Higgins, who operates out of Leicester, England, has grown spoiled by all the praise lavished on him by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian and other mainstream publications despite the fact that Bellingcat’s record for accuracy is a poor one.
For instance, in his first big splash, Higgins echoed U.S. propaganda in Syria about the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin gas attack — blaming it on President Bashar al-Assad — but was forced to back down from his assessment when aeronautical experts revealed that the sarin-carrying missile had a range of only about two kilometers, much shorter than Higgins had surmised in blaming the attack on Syrian government forces. (Despite that key error, Higgins continued claiming the Syrian government was guilty.)
Higgins also gave the Australian “60 Minutes” program a location in eastern Ukraine where a “getaway” Buk missile battery was supposedly videoed en route back to Russia, except that when the news crew got there the landmarks didn’t match up, causing the program to have to rely on sleight-of-hand editing to deceive its viewers.
When I noted the discrepancies and posted screenshots from the “60 Minutes” program to demonstrate the falsehoods, “60 Minutes” launched a campaign of insults against me and resorted to more video tricks and outright journalistic fraud in defense of Higgins’s faulty information.
This pattern of false claims and even fraud to promote these stories has not stopped the mainstream Western press from showering Higgins and Bellingcat with acclaim. It probably doesn’t hurt that Bellingcat’s “disclosures” always dovetail with the propaganda themes emanating from Western governments.
It also turns out that both Higgins and “armscontrolwonk.com” have crossover in personnel, such as Melissa Hanham, a co-author of the MH-17 report who also writes for Bellingcat, as does Aaron Stein, who joined in promoting Higgins’s work at “armscontrolwonk.com.”
The two groups also have links to the pro-NATO think tank, Atlantic Council, which has been at the forefront of pushing NATO’s new Cold War with Russia. Higgins is now listed as a “nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Future Europe Initiative” and armscontrolwonk.com describes Stein as a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.
Armscontrolwonk.com is run by nuclear proliferation specialists from the Middlebury Institute for International Studies at Monterey, but they appear to have no special expertise in photographic forensics.
A Deeper Problem
But the problem goes much deeper than a couple of Web sites and bloggers who find it professionally uplifting to reinforce propaganda themes from NATO and other Western interests. The bigger danger is the role played by the mainstream media in creating an echo chamber to amplify the disinformation coming from these amateurs.
Just as The New York Times, The Washington Post and other major outlets swallowed the bogus stories about Iraq’s WMD in 2002-2003, they have happily dined on similarly dubious fare about Syria, Ukraine and Russia.
And just as with the Iraq disaster, when those of us who challenged the WMD “group think” were dismissed as “Saddam apologists,” now we’re called “Assad apologists” or “Putin apologists” or simply “hacks” who are “all mouth, no trousers” – whatever that means.
For instance, in 2013 regarding Syria, the Times ran a front-page story using a “vector analysis” to trace the sarin attack back to a Syrian military base about nine kilometers away, but the discovery of the sarin missile’s much shorter range forced the Times to recant its story, which had paralleled what Higgins was writing.
Then, in its eagerness to convey anti-Russian propaganda regarding Ukraine in 2014, the Times even returned to a reporter from its Iraq-falsehood days. Michael R. Gordon, who co-authored the infamous “aluminum tubes” article in 2002 that pushed the bogus claim that Iraq was reconstituting a nuclear weapons program, accepted some new disinformation from the State Department that cited photos supposedly showing Russian soldiers in Russia and then reappearing in Ukraine.
Any serious journalist would have recognized the holes in the story since it wasn’t clear where the photos were taken or whether the blurry images were even the same people, but that didn’t give the Times pause. The article led the front page.
However, only two days later, the scoop blew up when it turned out that a key photo supposedly showing a group of soldiers in Russia, who then reappeared in eastern Ukraine, was actually taken in Ukraine, destroying the premise of the entire story.
But these embarrassments have not dampened the Times’ enthusiasm for dishing out anti-Russian propaganda whenever possible. Yet, one new twist is that the Times doesn’t just take false claims directly from the U.S. government; it also draws from hip “citizen journalism” Web sites like Bellingcat.
In a world where no one believes what governments say the smart new way to disseminate propaganda is through such “outsiders.”
So, the Times’ Kramer was surely thrilled to get fed a new story off the Web that claimed the Russians had doctored satellite photographs of Ukrainian Buk anti-aircraft missile batteries in eastern Ukraine just before the MH-17 shoot-down.
Instead of questioning the photo-forensic expertise of these nuclear proliferation specialists at armscontrolwonk.com, Kramer simply laid out their findings as further corroboration of Bellingcat’s earlier claims. Kramer also mocked the Russians for trying to cover their tracks with “conspiracy theories.”
Ignoring Official Evidence
But there was another key piece of evidence that the Times was hiding from its readers: documentary evidence from Western intelligence that the Ukrainian military did have powerful anti-aircraft missile batteries in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, and that the ethnic Russian rebels didn’t.
In a report released last October, the Netherlands’ Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) said that based on “state secret” information, it was known that Ukraine possessed some older but “powerful anti-aircraft systems” and “a number of these systems were located in the eastern part of the country.” MIVD added that the rebels lacked that capacity:
“Prior to the crash, the MIVD knew that, in addition to light aircraft artillery, the Separatists also possessed short-range portable air defence systems (man-portable air-defence systems; MANPADS) and that they possibly possessed short-range vehicle-borne air-defence systems. Both types of systems are considered surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). Due to their limited range they do not constitute a danger to civil aviation at cruising altitude.”
Since Dutch intelligence is part of the NATO intelligence apparatus, this report means that NATO and presumably U.S. intelligence share the same viewpoint. Thus, the Russians would have little reason to fake their satellite photos showing Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile batteries in eastern Ukraine if the West’s satellite photos were showing the same thing.
But there is a reason why the Times and other major mainstream publications have ignored this official Dutch government document – because if it’s correct, then it means that the only people who could have shot down MH-17 belong to the Ukrainian military. That would turn upside-down the desired propaganda narrative blaming the Russians.
Yet, that blackout of the Dutch report means that the Times and other Western outlets have abandoned their journalistic responsibilities to present all relevant evidence on an issue of grave importance – bringing to justice the killers of 298 innocent people. Rather than “all the news that’s fit to print,” the Times is stacking the case by leaving out evidence that goes in the “wrong direction.”
Of course, there may be some explanation for how both NATO and Russian intelligence could come to the same “mistaken” conclusion that only the Ukrainian military could have shot down MH-17, but the Times and the rest of the Western mainstream media can’t ethically just pretend the evidence doesn’t exist.
Unless, of course, your real purpose is to disseminate propaganda, not produce journalism. Then, I suppose the behavior of the Times, other MSM publications and, yes, Bellingcat makes a lot of sense.
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).
It’s unnerving to realize that the NATO alliance – bristling with an unprecedented array of weapons including a vast nuclear arsenal – has lost its collective mind. Perhaps it’s more reassuring to think that NATO simply feels compelled to publicly embrace its deceptive “strategic communications” so gullible Western citizens will be kept believing its lies are truth.
But here were the leaders of major Western “democracies” lining up to endorse a Warsaw Summit Communiqué condemning “Russia’s aggressive actions” while knowing that these claims were unsupported by their own intelligence agencies.
The leaders – at least the key ones – know that there is no credible intelligence that Russian President Vladimir Putin provoked the Ukraine crisis in 2014 or that he has any plans to invade the Baltic states, despite the fact that nearly every “important person” in Official Washington and other Western capitals declares the opposite of this to be reality.
But there have been a few moments when the truth has surfaced. For instance, in the days leading up to the just-completed NATO summit in Warsaw, General Petr Pavel, chairman of the NATO Military Committee, divulged that the deployment of NATO military battalions in the Baltic states was a political, rather than military, act.
“It is not the aim of NATO to create a military barrier against broad-scale Russian aggression, because such aggression is not on the agenda and no intelligence assessment suggests such a thing,” Pavel told a news conference.
What Pavel blurted out was what I have been told by intelligence sources over the past two-plus years – that the endless drumbeat of Western media reports about “Russian aggression” results from a clever demonization campaign against Putin and a classic Washington “group think” rather than from a careful intelligence analysis.
Ironically, however, just days after the release of the British Chilcot report documenting how a similar propaganda campaign led the world into the disastrous Iraq War – with its deadly consequences still reverberating through a destabilized Mideast and into an unnerved Europe – NATO reenacts the basic failure of that earlier catastrophe, except now upping the ante into a confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia.
The Warsaw communiqué – signed by leaders including President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron – ignores the reality of what happened in Ukraine in late 2013 and early 2014 and thus generates an inside-out narrative.
Instead of reprising the West’s vacuous propaganda themes, Obama and the other leaders could have done something novel and told the truth, but that apparently is outside their operating capabilities. So they all signed on to the dangerous lie.
What Really Happened
The real narrative based on actual facts would have acknowledged that it was the West, not Russia, that instigated the Ukraine crisis by engineering the violent overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych and the imposition of a new Western-oriented regime hostile to Moscow and Ukraine’s ethnic Russians.
In late 2013, it was the European Union that was pushing an economic association agreement with Ukraine, which included the International Monetary Fund’s demands for imposing harsh austerity on Ukraine’s already suffering population. Political and propaganda support for the E.U. plan was financed, in part, by the U.S. government through such agencies as the National Endowment for Democracy and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
When Yanukovych recoiled at the IMF’s terms and opted for a more generous $15 billion aid package from Putin, the U.S. government threw its public support behind mass demonstrations aimed at overthrowing Yanukovych and replacing him with a new regime that would sign the E.U. agreement and accept the IMF’s demands.
As the crisis deepened in early 2014, Putin was focused on the Sochi Winter Olympics, particularly the threat of terrorist attacks on the games. No evidence has been presented that Putin was secretly trying to foment the Ukraine crisis. Indeed, all the evidence is that Putin was trying to protect the status quo, support the elected president and avert a worse crisis.
It would be insane to suggest that Putin somehow orchestrated the E.U.’s destabilizing attempt to pull Ukraine into the association agreement, that he then stage-managed the anti-Yanukovych violence of the Maidan protests, that he collaborated with neo-Nazi and other ultra-nationalist militias to kill Ukrainian police and chase Yanukovych from Kiev, and that he then arranged for Yanukovych to be replaced by a wildly anti-Russian regime – all while pretending to do the opposite of all these things.
In the real world, the narrative was quite different: Moscow supported Yanukovych’s efforts to reach a political compromise, including a European-brokered agreement for early elections and reduced presidential powers. Yet, despite those concessions, neo-Nazi militias surged to the front of the U.S.-backed protests on Feb. 22, 2014, forcing Yanukovych and many of his officials to run for their lives. The U.S. State Department quickly recognized the coup regime as “legitimate” as did other NATO allies.
On a personal note, I am sometimes criticized by conspiracy theorists for not accepting their fact-free claims about nefarious schemes supposedly dreamed up by U.S. officials, but frankly as baseless as some of those wacky stories can be, they sound sensible when compared with the West’s loony conspiracy theory about Putin choreographing the Ukraine coup.
Yet, that baseless conspiracy theory roped in supposedly serious thinkers, such as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who conjured up the notion that Putin stirred up this trouble so he could pull off a land grab and/or distract Russians from their economic problems.
“Delusions of easy winnings still happen,” Krugman wrote in a 2014 column. “It’s only a guess, but it seems likely that Vladimir Putin thought that he could overthrow Ukraine’s government, or at least seize a large chunk of its territory, on the cheap, a bit of deniable aid to the rebels, and it would fall into his lap. …
“Recently Justin Fox of the Harvard Business Review suggested that the roots of the Ukraine crisis may lie in the faltering performance of the Russian economy. As he noted, Mr. Putin’s hold on power partly reflects a long run of rapid economic growth. But Russian growth has been sputtering, and you could argue that the Putin regime needed a distraction.”
Midwifing This Thing
Or, rather than “a guess,” Krugman could have looked at the actual facts, such as the work of neocon Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland conspiring to organize a coup that would put her hand-picked Ukrainians in charge of Russia’s neighbor. Several weeks before the putsch, Nuland was caught plotting the “regime change” in an intercepted phone call with U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt.
Regarding who should replace Yanukovych, Nuland’s choice was Arseniy “Yats is the guy” Yatsenyuk. The phone call went on to muse about how they could “glue this thing” and “midwife this thing.” After the coup was glued or midwifed on Feb. 22, 2014, Yatsenyuk emerged as the new prime minister and then shepherded through the IMF austerity plan.
Since the coup regime in Kiev also took provocative steps against the ethnic Russians, such as the parliament voting to ban Russian as an official language and allowing neo-Nazi extremists to slaughter anti-coup protesters, ethnic Russian resistance arose in the east and south. That shouldn’t have been much of a surprise since eastern Ukraine had been Yanukovych’s political base and stood to lose the most from Ukraine’s economic orientation toward Europe and reduced economic ties to Russia.
Yet, instead of recognizing the understandable concerns of the eastern Ukrainians, the Western media portrayed the ethnic Russians as simply Putin’s pawns with no minds of their own. The U.S.-backed regime in Kiev launched what was called an “Anti-Terrorist Operation” against them, spearheaded by the neo-Nazi militias.
In Crimea – another area heavily populated with ethnic Russians and with a long history of association with Russia – voters opted by 96 percent in a referendum to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, a process supported by Russian troops stationed in Crimea under a prior agreement with Ukraine’s government.
There was no Russian “invasion,” as The New York Times and other mainstream U.S. news outlets claimed. The Russian troops were already in Crimea assigned to Russia’s historic Black Sea naval base at Sevastopol. Putin agreed to Crimea’s annexation partly out of fear that the naval base would otherwise fall into NATO’s hands and pose a strategic threat to Russia.
But the key point regarding the crazy Western conspiracy theory about Putin provoking the crisis so he could seize territory or distract Russians from economic troubles is that Putin only annexed Crimea because of the ouster of Yanukovych and the installation of a Russia-hating regime in Kiev. If Yanukovych had not been overthrown, there is no reason to think that Putin would have done anything regarding Crimea or Ukraine.
Yet, once the false narrative got rolling, there was no stopping it. The New York Times, The Washington Post and other leading Western publications played the same role that they did during the run-up to the Iraq invasion, accepting the U.S. government’s propaganda as fact and marginalizing the few independent journalists who dared go against the grain.
Though Obama, Merkel and other key leaders know how deceptive the Western propaganda has been, they have become captives to their governments’ own lies. For them to deviate substantially from the Official Story would open them to harsh criticism from the powerful neoconservatives and their allied media outlets.
Even a slight contradiction to NATO’s “strategic communications” brought down harsh criticism on German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier after he said: “What we shouldn’t do now is inflame the situation further through saber-rattling and warmongering. … Whoever believes that a symbolic tank parade on the alliance’s eastern border will bring security is mistaken.”
So, at the Warsaw conference, the false NATO narrative had to be reaffirmed — and it was. The communiqué declared, “Russia’s aggressive actions, including provocative military activities in the periphery of NATO territory and its demonstrated willingness to attain political goals by the threat and use of force, are a source of regional instability, fundamentally challenge the Alliance, have damaged Euro-Atlantic security, and threaten our long-standing goal of a Europe whole, free, and at peace. …
“Russia’s destabilising actions and policies include: the ongoing illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea, which we do not and will not recognise and which we call on Russia to reverse; the violation of sovereign borders by force; the deliberate destabilisation of eastern Ukraine; large-scale snap exercises contrary to the spirit of the Vienna Document, and provocative military activities near NATO borders, including in the Baltic and Black Sea regions and the Eastern Mediterranean; its irresponsible and aggressive nuclear rhetoric, military concept and underlying posture; and its repeated violations of NATO Allied airspace.
“In addition, Russia’s military intervention, significant military presence and support for the regime in Syria, and its use of its military presence in the Black Sea to project power into the Eastern Mediterranean have posed further risks and challenges for the security of Allies and others.”
In the up-is-down world that NATO and other Western agencies now inhabit, Russia’s military maneuvers within it own borders in reaction to NATO maneuvers along Russia’s borders are “provocative.” So, too, is Russia’s support for the internationally recognized government of Syria, which is under attack from Islamic terrorists and other armed rebels supported by the West’s Mideast allies, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and NATO member Turkey.
In other words, it is entirely all right for NATO and its members to invade countries at will, including Iraq, Libya and Syria, and subvert others as happened in Ukraine and is still happening in Syria. But it is impermissible for any government outside of NATO to respond or even defend itself. To do so amounts to a provocation against NATO – and such hypocrisy is accepted by the West’s mainstream news media as the way that the world was meant to be.
And those of us who dare point out the lies and double standards must be “Moscow stooges,” just as those of us who dared question the Iraq WMD tales were dismissed as “Saddam apologists” in 2003.
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).
The US uses its media to spread outright lies about Russia, the Russian Foreign Ministry said, dismissing a report by the Washington Post about a ‘US diplomat’ ‘beaten’ by Russian security. In fact, it was a US spy who attacked a Russian police officer.
“US State Department and security services have been actively using the Washington Post for disseminating distorted information and outright lies about “harassment” of the US diplomats in Russia,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, commenting on a report by the US newspaper on the alleged beating of a US diplomat by Russian security staff.
The story in the report was completely made up, Zakharova said, dismissing the report published on June 29, in which the Washington Post claimed that a “Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) guard stationed outside the US Embassy in Moscow attacked and beat up a US diplomat who was trying to enter the compound.”
The ministry’s spokeswoman explained that, in reality, it was a US citizen who attacked a Russian security guard stationed outside the US embassy when the officer tried to check his ID.
“On the night of June 6, a taxi drove up to the US embassy in Moscow. A man with a hat drawn over his eyes jumped out of the car and rushed to the entrance. A police officer, who was on duty at the entrance, tried to check the ID of the suspicious man to ensure that there is no threat for the embassy,” Zakharova told journalists at a briefing on Thursday.
“Instead of letting the officer see his ID, the man hit him with an elbow in the face than pushed him away and fled to the embassy,” she added, stressing that the Washington Post report “not only distorts the information but openly contradicts the facts.”
She also emphasized that the attack on the police officer was recorded by the CCTV cameras and presented to the US State Department “long ago,” with Russian Foreign Ministry filing a protest over the incident.
It was later revealed that the man who attacked the officer was in fact a CIA agent, who worked in Russia under diplomatic cover and was returning from a mission on the night of the attack, the spokeswoman stressed, adding that the agent apparently tried to escape recognition.
She also said that information about the ‘diplomat’s’ allegedly broken shoulder reported by the Washington Post report is also false and was disproved by a video presented by the US side to the Russian ministry.
Zakharova also emphasized that it is the US that asked Russia to provide security for its embassy and send police to guard it. “Moreover, they [the US] regularly ask us to enhance [the embassy’s] security,” she added.
The ministry’s spokeswoman also expressed “regret” over “Washington deliberately souring the bilateral relations particularly by provocations and disinformation,” stressing that such policy “will not lead to anything good.”
The Washington Post report came just a day after Russian Foreign Ministry slammed another article by the US newspaper that claimed that “Russia is harassing US diplomats all over Europe.” It’s the Russian diplomats who are being pressured, not the other way around, the Foreign Ministry said, blasting the article.
Paris – Unification of Europe has brought about radical new divisions within Europe. The most significant split is between the people and their political leaders.
The June 23 British majority vote to leave the European Union has made strikingly evident the division between the new ruling class that flourishes in the globalized world without borders and all the others who are on the receiving end of policies that destroy jobs, cut social benefits, lower wages and reject as obsolete national customs, not least the custom of democratic choice, all to make the world safe for international investment capital.
Actually, the lines are not quite so clear-cut. Political choices never correspond completely to economic interests, and the ideological factor intervenes to blur the class lines. Globalization is not merely a process of economic integration regulated by flows of capital, which is deepening the polarization between rich and poor in the Western countries. It is also a powerful ideology, basing its moral certitudes on simplistic lessons drawn from twentieth century World Wars: the idea that the root cause of wars is a psychological attitude called “racism” which expresses itself in the nationalism of nation-states. This ideology gains semi-religious conviction by reference to the Holocaust, which is considered to have proven the point. Ergo, for the benefit of humanity, national borders must be torn down, national identities must be diluted by unlimited immigration, in order to achieve a worldwide multicultural society in which differences both coexist and cease to matter.
This is a Utopian notion as unsupported by evidence as the Soviet dream of creating a “new man” who voluntarily works unselfishly for the benefit of all. Similarly, it considers human psychology to be perfectible by economic and institutional arrangements. Especially by promoting immigration, the multicultural mix is supposed to result in people all loving each other; there are even national laws to punish alleged expressions of “hatred”. The European Union is seen as the most advanced experiment in this worldwide Utopia of universal love. It is regarded by its intellectual sponsors such as French political guru Jacques Attali as an irreversible advance of civilization. For its fanatic champions, the very thought of dismantling the European Union is equivalent to returning to the stone age.
A chorus of Europists are screaming to high heaven that the world is about to come to an end thanks to lower class Brits too stupid and too racist to appreciate the glorious globalized world that the European elite is preparing for them. One of the fastest on the draw of his pen was the hysterical propagandist Bernard-Henri Levy, whose venom quickly spilled onto the pages of Le Monde and other obsequious journals. BHL trotted out his entire range of insults to decry the LEAVE vote as the victory of demagogy, xenophobia, the extreme right and the extreme left, hatred of immigrants, stupid nationalism, vicious hatred, the unleashed mob, idiot leftists, drunken hooligans, the forces of darkness against civilization, and even the victory of garden dwarfs over Michelangelo. Many others worked the same theme, with less verbiage.
The main theme of this wailing and gnashing of teeth is the allegation that the LEAVE vote was motivated solely by racism, racism being the only possible reason that people could object to mass unregulated immigration. But there are indeed other reasons.
In reality, for the majority of working class voters, opposition to unlimited immigration can be plainly a matter of economic self-interest. Since the EU’s eastward expansion ended immigration controls with the former communist countries, hundreds of thousands of workers from Poland, Lithuania, and other Eastern European nations have flooded into Britain, adding to the large established immigrant population from the British Commonwealth countries. It is simply a fact that mass immigration brings down wage levels in a country. A Glasgow University study shows statistically that as immigration rises, the level of wages in proportion to profits drops – not to mention the increase in unemployment.
Those who enjoy the pleasure of traveling through Europe without having to stop at borders or change currencies and who relish the luxury level of cultural diversity find it hard to understand the anguish of those who lack advanced degrees, family connections or language skills, and who feel marginalized in their own countries. Yes, some of them probably like garden dwarfs. But you cannot convince millions of people that their only prospect in life must be to sacrifice themselves for the glory of the World Market.
Moreover, whatever their social status, many people in Britain find it unbearable to renounce their traditional parliamentary democracy in order to carry out Directives and Regulations drafted in Brussels without even any public discussion.
The astonishment and indignation of the Europists to see Britons vote to go out is odd considering that most Britons never really felt entirely in. When I worked as press officer at the European Parliament, I observed that the only national press corps really present and interested was the British press corps, all eagerly on the lookout for the latest absurd rule or regulation which the Brussels bureaucracy was foisting on the Member States. British media paid attention to the EU because they hated it. Ridiculing it was fun. The rest of European media were largely ignoring it because it was boring and nobody cared. Main exception: a few earnest Germans doing their job.
In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher forced the EU to twist its rules by demanding “my money back”. The United Kingdom stayed out of the Schengen Treaty on free movement of persons. It refused the euro in favor of keeping the pound sterling. More profoundly, the insular English have always had a strong sense of not belonging to “the continent” as well as a particular sensitivity to the notorious “democratic deficit” of the European Union, which leaves law-making to the Brussels bureaucracy.
Considering the insular nature of Britain and its psychological distance from the continent, it is too soon to expect that other EU Member States will soon follow the British example. Indeed, some of the most Euroskeptical populations today were the most Euroenthusiastic in the past, notably France and Italy, and it is awkward to turn around 180 degrees. For charter Members France, Italy, Benelux and Germany, the break would be much more dramatic. Nevertheless, even in those key Eurozone countries disenchantment with the EU is growing rapidly. Brexit is seen as a warning signal. Thus the Western ruling class will hasten to try to shore up the EU-NATO fortress. The Washington Post quickly called for “strengthening NATO”. This probably means even more strident denunciations of Putin and the “Russian threat”, if such as possible. There is supposedly nothing like an external threat to bring people together.
Unfortunately, this referendum did not mark a clean break. Two great difficulties loom. EU rules require a lengthy and complicated process to actually withdraw, a matter of years. And second, there is no viable political force ready to steer Britain through this process. The result is to split the political class still further from the people it should be representing.
The British political landscape is littered with wreckage. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron called the referendum for internal political reasons, failing to realize that if given the chance, the British would vote to jump ship. His name is now mud all over Europe, condemned for the foolish move of letting people vote on the EU. Cameron has announced his resignation, but his government is dragging its feet in initiating the withdrawal process. Some are even demanding that the referendum be either ignored or held over again until people vote as they should – the procedure that followed previous national referendums that turned out badly for the EU. Meanwhile EU leaders are demanding that London hurry up and get out, so they can get to work strengthening the edifice.
Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party that campaigned for leaving the EU is a single issue party with no general program and no aspiration to run the government. Former London mayor Boris Johnson has positioned himself to take over Party leadership by advocating Brexit, but he is not taken seriously by most of his own Conservative party and is also stalling on the exit procedure.
The situation of the Labour Party is critical. Jeremy Corbyn, who was elected party leader by a grass roots uprising expressing a strong popular desire to move the party to the left, comparable to the Bernie movement in Democratic Party primaries, has always been opposed by the Blairites who still dominate the party apparatus and parliamentary representation. In this uncomfortable situation the gentle Corbyn has tried to exercise what is meant to be an inclusive sort of leadership, listening to all sides. This softness already led to the mistake of failing to strongly defend party members falsely accused of “anti-Semitism” by pro-Israel zealots. Now the Blairites are blaming Corbyn for what they consider the Brexit catastrophe. It is all supposed to be the fault of Corbyn for having failed to support REMAIN vigorously enough.
Indeed Corbyn’s support of REMAIN was mild, some say because he actually favored LEAVE, but was bowing to the majority in the upper ranks of his party. This concession, if it was one, has not prevented the Blairites from demanding that Corbyn resign as party leader. Petitions are circulating both for and against him.
The trouble is that the mainstream caricature of the Brexit voters as narrow-minded racists, if not protofascists, has not been balanced by any articulation of the strong underlying rejection of the EU as a denial of democracy, as the authoritarian rule by a self-satisfied globalizing elite with total contempt for what the people might really want.
There is no political party in Britain that is at all prepared to turn away from the increasingly discredited and disavowed globalization trend in order to lead the way to a truly democratic alternative.
Diana Johnstone is the author of Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions. Her new book is Queen of Chaos: the Misadventures of Hillary Clinton. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s the Russian diplomats who are being pressured, not the other way around, the Foreign Ministry said, blasting a Washington Post article that claimed Russia harasses US diplomatic staff at home and all across Europe.
“The Washington Post has published an article on alleged harassment of US diplomats in Russia and in other countries. But, on the contrary, the pressure is increasing on Russian diplomats,” Maria Zakharova, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said Tuesday.
According to the spokeswoman, Washington is “constantly coming up with new restrictions against our diplomats, who constantly face provocations from the FBI and the CIA.”
She stressed that “unacceptable measures” are being applied against them, including “psychological pressure in the presence of their families.”
“There even had been cases when such actions were carried out in the presence of pregnant wives of our diplomats,” she added.
“Instead of receiving our signal, identifying the problem and creating conditions to improve our relations, they (the US) flip everything upside down” by releasing the publication, she added.
On Monday, the Washington Post published an article, entitled, “Russia is harassing US diplomats all over Europe.”
The author of the piece claimed that instances of Russian pressure included breaking into the homes of American embassy staff, rearranging furniture there and even killing a family dog.
Zakharova slammed the article by the US paper as a perfect example of “propaganda,” adding that it was “obviously played up.”
“This publication is shallow, this publication does not reflect the real picture, it was prepared hastily, it was prepared by hearsay,” she stressed.
The main expert in the article is the former US ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul, who Zakharova called “unfit for [his] profession” who now talks about the hardships of working in Moscow after failing on the job.
“McFaul failed [in] his diplomatic mission in Moscow, and possibly it was his efforts that contributed to the worsening of bilateral relations,” she said.
Zakharova said that despite the pressure Moscow is ready to work with Washington to improve relations.
“Our counterparts should make up their mind as to what is it they want in reality: to develop relations, or at least, not to make them worse, or cook [up] more such publications,” she said.
In May, the US Senate Intelligence Committee passed The 2017 Intelligence Authorization Bill, which among other measures, proposes restrictions on travel by Russian diplomats in the US.
The legislation would require the FBI to investigate all requests by US-based Russian diplomats to travel outside his or her official post, in order to ensure the diplomats have properly notified the US government of their travel plans.
The Senate is to vote on the proposal later in summer, with Moscow saying that it will respond with mirror-like measures to restrictions on its diplomatic staff.
“As it worsens relations with Russia, Washington makes the working conditions for its diplomats worse, too,” Zakharova said.
“We do hope that we will achieve constructive relations with the United States. We are prepared for that,” she added.
A danger in today’s Western journalism is that the people in charge of the mainstream media are either neocon ideologues or craven careerists who will accept any official attack on geopolitical “enemies” without checking out the facts, such as with the Iraq War’s WMD myth or the curious case of Sergei Magnitsky.
Magnitsky’s 2009 death in a Russian jail became a Western cause célèbre with the accountant for hedge-fund executive William Browder hailed as a martyr in the cause of whistleblowing against a profoundly corrupt Russian government. After Magnitsky’s death from a heart attack, Browder claimed his “lawyer” had been tortured and murdered to cover up official complicity in a $230 million tax-fraud scheme involving companies ostensibly under Browder’s control.
Because of Browder’s wealth and political influence, he succeeded in getting the European Parliament and the U.S. Congress to buy into his narrative and move to punish the presumed villains in the tax fraud and in Magnitsky’s death. The U.S.-enacted Magnitsky Act in 2012 was an opening salvo in what has become a new Cold War between Washington and Moscow.
The Magnitsky narrative has now become so engrained in Western geopolitical mythology that the storyline apparently can no longer be questioned or challenged, which brings us to the current controversy about a new documentary that turns the case upside-down and again reveals the superficiality, bias and hypocrisy of the West’s politicians and news media.
The West’s reaction has been to block the public airing of the documentary – to any significant audience – while simultaneously branding it Russian “agit-prop,” the attack line used by The Washington Post in a Monday editorial. In other words, the treatment of the film is reminiscent of a totalitarian society where the public only hears about dissent when the Official Organs of the State denounce some almost unknown person.
In this case, the Post’s editorial writers under the direction of neocon editor Fred Hiatt note the film’s showing in a rented room at Washington’s Newseum and then seek to discredit the filmmaker, Andrei Nekrasov, without addressing his avalanche of documented examples of Browder’s misrepresenting both big and small facts in the case.
Instead, the Post accuses Nekrasov of using “facts highly selectively” and insinuates that he is merely a pawn in the Kremlin’s “campaign to discredit Mr. Browder and the Magnitsky Act.” The Post concludes smugly:
“The film won’t grab a wide audience, but it offers yet another example of the Kremlin’s increasingly sophisticated efforts to spread its illiberal values and mind-set abroad. In the European Parliament and on French and German television networks, showings were put off recently after questions were raised about the accuracy of the film, including by Magnitsky’s family. We don’t worry that Mr. Nekrasov’s film was screened here, in an open society. But it is important that such slick spin be fully exposed for its twisted story and sly deceptions.”
Watching the Film
After reading the Post’s editorial, I managed to get a password for viewing the documentary, “The Magnitsky Act. Behind the Scenes,” on the Internet and I was struck by how thoroughly dishonest and “highly selective” the Post’s editors had been in their attack on the film.
For instance, the Post writes, “The film is a piece of agitprop that mixes fact and fiction to blame Magnitsky for the fraud and absolve Russians of blame for his death.” While it is correct that Nekrasov “mixes fact and fiction,” that is because the documentary is, in part, the story of his planned docu-drama which was intended to embrace and dramatize Browder’s narrative. Nekrasov begins the project as Browder’s friend and ally.
It was during the docu-drama’s production that Nekrasov begins to detect inconsistencies and contradictions in Browder’s storyline, including how a woman executive in one of Browder’s shell companies alerted police to the tax-fraud scam, not Magnitsky, and that Magnitsky as an accountant in the business was called in for questioning by police. In other words, Magnitsky comes across as a criminal suspect, not a noble whistleblower.
As the documentary proceeds, Nekrasov struggles with the dilemma as his scripted docu-drama portraying Magnitsky as a martyr falls apart. When Nekrasov’s questions become more pointed, his friendship with Browder also painfully unravels.
One of the powerful aspects of the film is that it shows Browder grow petulant and evasive as his well-received narrative begins to come undone, both in interviews with Nekrasov and in a videotaped deposition from a related civil case.
Key points of the deception are revealed not by Kremlin officials but by Magnitsky’s supporters who challenge pieces of Browder’s embroidered story, such as elevating Magnitsky from an accountant to a “lawyer.”
Another key piece of Browder’s tale – that corrupt police raided his offices to seize original corporate records and seals to set up shell companies to perpetrate the tax fraud – crumbles when Nekrasov shows Russian laws that don’t require such records and discovers that the registrations were accomplished by straw men apparently controlled by Browder and operating under powers of attorney.
Though I am no expert on the Magnitsky case – and there surely may be flaws in the documentary – what is clear is that the widely accepted version of the Magnitsky case, portraying him and his boss as noble do-gooders who become victims of a convoluted police conspiracy, is no longer tenable or at least deserves a serious reexamination.
But preventing the Western public from seeing this important film – and then demonizing it in a Washington Post editorial on the assumption that almost no one will see it – amount to the behavior of a totalitarian society where “agit-prop” does rule, except in this case it is anti-Russian agit-prop that escapes any serious scrutiny.
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).
Sensational reports of Russian government spies hacking into the Democrat party’s computers weren’t the usual anti-Moscow smear job. Republican presidential contender Donald Trump also took a hit in the double whammy.
The abrasive business tycoon may have a popular following among grass roots voters, but he has managed to garner powerful enemies within the American establishment. Not least large sections of the corporate news media, the military and foreign policy arms of US government.
Government-owned news outlet Voice of America reports this week that Republican leaders are “wringing their hands” over Trump and seeking to nix his presidential nomination. This impetus against the billionaire politician has grown in the wake of last week’s mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, when Trump “doubled down” on controversial anti-Muslim rhetoric, which is seen as divisive and alienating voters.
Trump’s enemies in the media are topped by the Washington Post after he banned the newspaper from covering his campaign. In an unprecedented move, he revoked official accreditation to the paper’s reporters after he slammed the Post for “phony and dishonest” coverage. The paper has prominently featured columns that purport to “debunk” many of Trump’s political claims and statements.
Trump made another powerful enemy when he scoffed at the US-led military umbrella NATO, deriding the 28-member military bloc as an “obsolete” organization. He also said he would slash US financial and military commitments if elected president. Trump stepped on serious toes there since NATO can be seen as a lynchpin of American imperial power projection and a crucial financial pump for the Pentagon and its military-industrial complex.
Earlier this month, CNN ran an “exclusive” op piece to NATO. Headlined “Inside NATO as it faces fire from Trump”, the organization was given ample space to justify its existence as “cutting edge” and “transforming” for its stated purpose of maintaining global security. Trump’s name wasn’t mentioned explicitly by NATO officials, but it was obvious that he had rankled the alliance, and it was out to burnish its image, which CNN generously indulged.
Now let’s deal with the smear job at issue. On Tuesday, the Washington Post splashed with this story: “Russian government hackers penetrated DNC, stole opposition research on Trump”.
The Post’s “national security” reporter Ellen Nakashima writes: “Russian government hackers penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee and gained access to the entire database of opposition research on GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, according to committee officials and security experts who responded to the breach.”
The first thing to note is the poor journalistic standard, whereby the headline of a news report is presented as a fact – “Russian government hackers penetrated DNC” – when the information is actually only a claim “according to committee officials and security experts”, as the first paragraph discloses.
And on reading the article it turns out that the claim made against the Russian government is underwhelming. The entire article is based on the hearsay of the private security firm employed by the Democrat party. There is no evidence presented to substantiate the assertion that the alleged hackers were linked to Russian military intelligence (GRU) or its state security service (FSB).
This is true to form for that Washington Post reporter. Last year, Nakashima published several articles in which she similarly claimed that Russia and Chinese government hackers had broken into the White House network and other federal databases. Again, those articles were based on unverified claims by anonymous officials and private security firms.
For the record, the Russian government flatly denied having anything to do with the latest computer hack at the DNC. “I completely rule out a possibility that the [Russian] government or the government bodies have been involved in this,” said Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman.
A second telling aspect about the story was that on the same day that the Washington Post led on it, all the major US media, and some prominent British ones too, also ran with it. All with nearly the same wording of the factually sounding headline imputing the Russian government. That kind of wall-to-wall, uniform coverage is indicative that the story was primed by a governmental agency for media broadcast. In short, a disinformation campaign.
The obvious target here is Russia. Not for the first time has the Kremlin been accused with breaching US computer networks and generally being a sinister specter threatening national security – as if Washington is not also carrying out the same espionage and worse. The hacker story is but just one more twist in Washington’s overarching anti-Russia narrative, including accusations that it is destabilizing European states, annexed Crimea, is invading Ukraine, and bombing hospitals and civilians in Syria.
Russian spies allegedly interfering in American domestic politics and a presidential election by hacking into the Democrat National Committee is aimed at whipping up Cold War public resentment towards Moscow.
But perhaps the bigger target of the disinformation is Donald J Trump.
Notice how the alleged Russian hack was coupled prominently with “stealing opposition research on Trump”. And, pointedly, all the media headlines also featured this aspect. Patently, the Trump detail was intended as a “talking point”, as they say in state intelligence parlance.
The Trump campaign reportedly brushed off the “news” that personal information had been accessed by hackers. His campaign team breezily referred reporters to contact federal investigators.
However, here’s the thing. By making it appear that the Russians have the goods, or the dirt, on Trump the intended effect is that he would be viewed as “compromised” in the eyes of American voters. He would be, according to this logic, a national security risk if elected president, vulnerable to being manipulated, blackmailed or some other form of coercion – by America’s number one global enemy, Russia.
The Washington Post is not the only one with a confluence of interest in running the Russian hacker/Trump damaged story. The private security firm, CrowdStrike, that the DNC contracted to purportedly hunt for the Russian spyware is linked to NATO and the US foreign policy establishment. And it is CrowdStrike’s assessment upon which the entire story in the Washington Post and all the other media outlets is based.
Dmitri Alperovitz, CrowdStrike’s chief technology officer, is quoted frequently as the main source of the story, and as saying they have “high confidence” it was Russian hackers, “but we don’t have hard evidence”.
In what seems a clumsy disclosure, the Washington Post article makes a passing reference to Alperovitz being “a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council”.
The Atlantic Council, based in Washington DC, is a high-profile international think tank that publishes papers, holds seminars and hosts leading American and European public figures to present a solidly “Atlanticist” US foreign policy. The Atlantic Council is tightly aligned with the US-led NATO military alliance and is regularly briefed by NATO leaders, including former commander General Philip Breedlove and current secretary general Jens Stoltenberg. It is an avid cheer leader for the anti-Russian narrative that dominates US policy towards Moscow.
In sum, the latest media smear job on Russia was a double dirty trick. With Donald Trump also on the receiving end.
The US government isn’t providing any evidence to confirm reengagement of former Guantanamo detainees in terrorist activities. They give numbers they allege are accurate but provide no facts, said Andy Worthington of the Close Guantanamo group.
The US government’s greatest fears about releasing Guantanamo Bay prisoners are that inmates might re-emerge on the ‘battlefield’ and re-engage in terrorist activities. Seventeen percent of former detainees, or 118, are confirmed to have re-engaged in militant activity, while 13 percent, or 86, are suspected of re-engaging.
Author of “The Guantanamo Files” and co-founder of the group Close Guantanamo, Andy Worthington, told RT America’s Simone Del Rosario that the US government isn’t supplying any evidence to confirm their fears.
RT: You’ve dedicated a chunk of your life to documenting files and stories from Guantanamo not as an attorney, but as an investigative journalist. After all of your research, what do you consider to be the most pressing reason to close Guantanamo for good?
Andy Worthington: From the very beginning it’s been a bad idea. If you’re going to deprive people of liberty, there are only two ways to do that, if you claim to respect the rule of law. That is that you either charge them with a criminal offence and put them on trial in a Federal court – that would be in the US; or they’re soldiers protected by the Geneva conventions and you can hold them until the end of hostilities.
But after 9/11 the US did neither of those things. So the men held in Guantanamo were held initially without any rights whatsoever. Human beings deprived of all rights, which is a really shocking thing. Although, over the years there have been various efforts to give them legal rights – going up to the Supreme Court, the situation still is that the people held in Guantanamo are effectively prisoners of the political system – we can almost describe them as political prisoners. There is no recognizable justice in their cases. The releases from Guantanamo end up being down to a political process. That is just an unfair way for a country like the US, which claims to be founded on the rule of law and to respect the rule of law, to behave.
RT: As Obama’s term comes to a close are you finding yourself more or less hopeful that he will fulfill his promise to close Guantanamo Bay?
AW: I am certainly more hopeful than I was a few years ago. There was a period in the middle of Obama’s presidency when he’d faced a lot of abstraction from Congress; he was unwilling to spend political capital overcoming that. And for a period of nearly three years only five men were released from Guantanamo.
In 2013, a massive prison-wide hunger strike brought Guantanamo back into sharp focus and put pressure on President Obama to do something about it. Since then he has been releasing many prisoners. We are now in the best position that we’ve been in during his presidency – only one tenth of the men held in Guantanamo is still held there – just 80 men. Thirty of those men have been approved for release by a variety of review processes under President Obama. We have a promise from the administration that they will be released by the end of the summer. Of the rest of the men – so the other 50 – just 10 are facing trials, or have had trials. The other 40 are undergoing this latest review process called the periodic review boards. We don’t know how many of those are going to be approved for release, but at the current rate of the reviews three out of four of the men have been recommended for release – there are currently 24 out of 33 men recommended for release.
Now these are men who were initially described as “too dangerous to release,” but the Task Force that looked at their cases said there was insufficient evidence to put them on trial; or they are men who were initially put forward for prosecution by a Task Force that President Obama set up in his first year in office. But the basis for prosecution has since collapsed. Appeals Court judges ruled that the war crimes for which the majority of the men were being convicted had actually been invented by Congress and were not internationally recognized. That is just a little summing up of the extraordinary ways in which Guantanamo is a shame and embarrassment on every level.
RT: A Washington Post article came out citing the Obama administration and the Pentagon saying that at least 12 released Guantanamo detainees are implicated in attacks on Americans that have resulted in American deaths. Do some of those Congressional members, who are against the closure, have a point in wanting to keep some of these men locked up?
AW: I think, first of all, they would have to provide us with evidence and they never do. In the early days of the defense department providing information on prisoners who they said have returned to the battlefield, or … have engaged in some kind of anti-American activity. They would provide information about who these men were. For around five years now they have provided nothing. They tell us numbers that they allege accurate, but they don’t provide any further information so that people can do some investigation to judge whether the information is correct or not. They have people that they say are confirmed of engaging in anti-American activities and ones that are suspected. Those figures generally get lumped together by the right-wing lawmakers and by most parts of the mainstream media – very irresponsibly… But, as I said, they don’t provide the information. This latest article in the Washington Post is unfortunately yet another lazy example of propaganda masquerading as journalism, without giving us the facts how are we supposed to accept that there is any truth to this.
The media war against the democratically elected government of Venezuela kicked into high gear recently.
It is no coincidence that over the past few weeks a series of damning articles have come out touting the allegedly imminent collapse of the Venezuelan government.
These come on the heels of a recent editorial by the Washington Post that resorted to outright lies to justify its effort to promote regime change in Venezuela.
Meanwhile certain heads-of-government, such as Spain’s Mariano Rajoy and Paraguay’s Horacio Cartes who both have strong ties to Washington, have made provocative statements meant to try to isolate Venezuela in the international community.
There is stratagem afoot. Venezuela is passing through a difficult moment and the enemies of the Bolivarian Revolution smell blood.
Those old enough to remember the lead up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq know that these kinds of campaigns always predate foreign intervention.
For those quick to level the charge of conspiracy, one need only look to Brazil where analysts and pundits warned for months that the impeachment of Brazil was actually a Machiavellian coup plot to oust the president.
Many expressed doubt but the coup allegations turned out to be irrefutably true after a leaked conversation by one of the coup-plotters spelled out the plan explicitly.
teleSUR takes a look at three of the worst examples of anti-Venezuelan propaganda masquerading as journalism.
1. The Guardian’s Nick Cohen Equates Solidarity with Sex Tourism
Cohen’s piece literally opens with the line, “Radical tourism is no different from sex tourism.”
He then equates those who seek to learn from the class struggle throughout the world with those who pay for sex in foreign countries.
Cohen then cherry picks information from questionable sources to disparage a government that has consistently won elections and always acknowledged the times they lost.
Cohen talks about Venezuela as if he lived there, when of course he hasn’t. He seeks out Venezuelans like Thor Halvorssen who agree with him and back-up his claims that the true champions of the oppressed are the right-wing politicians who ignored the poor for decades, before the arrival of Hugo Chavez in 1999.
But how much credibility can a man like Cohen — who backed the invasion of Iraq — have when he calls important thinkers such as Noam Chomsky and John Pilger “half-baked pseudo-left intellectual(s)”?
2. Venezuelans Long For Days of Elite Semi-Democracy… in the NY Times
The New York Times, which recently ran an editorial calling for a return of the days when Latin America was considered the “back yard” of the United States, is one of the loudest voices pushing for the ouster of Maduro.
It has featured article after article with one-sided stories that try to paint Venezuela as a failed state. It recently ran an op-ed by Emiliana Duarte, an upper class Venezuelan living in Caracas, which claimed Venezuelans are going hungry.
Duarte writes for the notoriously anti-government Caracas Chronicles, which the Times describes simply as a website for Venezuelan news.
She seems nostalgic for the pre-Chavez Venezuela, saying the country was once “the most stable democracy in South America.” What she doesn’t mention is that so-called stability came as a result of an elite pact between the leading political parties at the time, the Social Christians and Democratic Action.
This pact deliberately excluded leftist parties from having the opportunity to govern and led the elite semi-democracy known as the Fourth Republic. She laments the loss of the Fourth Republic’s institutions, yet fails to recognize that the failure of these same institutions are partly responsible for the rise of the Bolivarian Revolution.
Duarte also talks about how she has to “fill a suitcase with bags of rice and other grains” whenever she travels, leaving out the fact that regular international air travel is a privilege reserved only for the wealthy.
The suggestion that runs throughout is that Venezuelans are suffering through a hunger crisis, when the facts suggest otherwise as Venezuela remains well above the FAO’s minimum food security level.
3. BBC Commits Journalistic Crimes to Make its Case
The BBC’s Wyre Davies dedicated an entire article to downplaying the very real threat of a foreign military intervention in Venezuela, claiming it is nothing but a “spectre.”
It wasn’t that long ago that official U.S. policy was to install dictatorships throughout the region to do the bidding of elites. While Washington now talks about its respect for democracy, it backed recent coups in Haiti, Paraguay, Honduras and Brazil, not to mention the attempted 2002 coup to oust Hugo Chavez — in Venezuela, of course.
But Davies thinks a foreign intervention is a virtual impossibility.
He belittles the recent military exercises conducted by the Venezuelan Armed Forces. He puts scare quotes around the notion of spy planes, when two alleged U.S. planes were recently caught violating Venezuelan air space.
Davies suggests the military exercises are just a cover “to divert attention from what is really happening.”
To back up his assertion, he points to nameless experts, not once but twice. First he says that “many commentators” agree with his claims without quoting a single one.
Then he says the “real reason” behind the exercises is “to create the emergency conditions that would enable the armed forces to deal with internal dissent.”
Once again he attributes the idea to “observers” but doesn’t bother to name any.
Davies also asserts that President Maduro has “vowed to use (the Armed Forces) against opposition protesters.”
This is patently false. Maduro has never said such a thing.
In fact, opposition leader Henrique Capriles is the only one making open calls to the military to act against the people and rebel against Maduro.
Beyond that, the Venezuelan people and their Armed Forces have a special relationship. It was the military that rescued Venezuelan democracy after the short-lived, U.S.-sanctioned coup briefly ousted President Chavez from power in 2002 in the kind of foreign intervention Davies thinks is a mere specter.
Recent political developments across the region have prompted celebratory proclamations in the mainstream Western press that Latin America’s decades-long dominance by left-leaning governments is reaching its terminal stages. The landslide victory of the Venezuelan opposition in last December’s legislative elections, the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, and the triumph of center-right candidate Mauricio Macri in Argentina’s presidential election do indeed seem to point to a region-wide decline in the fortunes of the parties of the Pink Tide. But as is so often the case in the mainstream media, commentators have been too quick to make current events fit neatly into overarching seismic shifts. The cursory and often incomplete news reports on which they are based simply do not provide sufficient support for such catchall explanations. While scholars have naturally initiated a more nuanced and detailed debate to consider whether the region is indeed witnessing the end of a progressive cycle, press analyses have struck a premature and in many cases triumphalist tone by declaring the collapse of the Latin American left both imminent and beyond serious doubt.
In reality, it is the exact opposite that is beyond serious doubt: it is far too early to write off the future of the left in Latin America. Moreover, more research is needed to understand the dynamics of these movements and how things might play out in the coming months and years. But what is most disconcerting about these knee-jerk press responses is that the people making them seem to not even have a strong grasp of the basic facts surrounding the political developments on which they base their claims, let alone of the nuance needed to develop a sophisticated analysis. In a survey of the media declarations of the purportedly imminent collapse of the Latin American left, COHA has found a shocking collection of glaring and demonstrably false statements over basic matters of fact that reveal the profoundly slipshod nature of their research.
The salience of these findings can hardly be overstated: if journalists in the mainstream media cannot even get basic facts correct, they can hardly be trusted to provide a meaningful analysis of the larger picture.
As predictable as the jeers from the DC commentariat were, perhaps the one figure within the Beltway punditry class who could have been most counted on to react gloatingly to the recent setbacks of leftist governments in Latin America was The Washington Post’s deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl. Having been a reliable war hawk and right-wing militarist at the Post’s op-ed section since the late 1970s, Diehl was quick to turn his wrath on Pink Tide leaders and their supposedly grave threat to U.S. national security interests. In 2010 he repeated American Enterprise Institute scholar Roger Noriega’s accusation that then-President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez was collaborating with Iran in the development of nuclear capabilities. In 2013 he accused the governments of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Ecuador of “gutting democratic institutions in their countries,” and described Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa as “Latin America’s chief caudillo and Yanqui-baiter.”
His characterization of the latest political developments, inexplicably posted at the Charleston-based Post and Courier rather than his home publication, fits seamlessly with this record of hysterical hyperbole and dubious accuracy. In the article’s first sentence he triumphantly announces: “The encouraging news from Latin America is that the leftist populists who for 15 years undermined the region’s democratic institutions and wrecked its economies are being pushed out — not by coups and juntas, but by democratic and constitutional means.” From this outrageously loaded misrepresentation he quickly moves on to outright falsehoods by claiming that Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was “vanquished in a presidential election.” From a simple Google search one can learn that she was in fact not even a candidate in last year’s presidential election. Apparently Diehl cannot even get past his article’s second sentence without revealing his stupefying ignorance of the most basic of facts.
Aside from blatant inaccuracies, he also makes the remarkable claim that “most of the Western hemisphere is studiously ignoring this meltdown,” despite the fact that Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, has been calling for months to invoke the OAS Democratic Charter against Venezuela. If he is referring not to the OAS but rather to the leaders of the region’s governments, then he is simply confusing their indifference for Washington’s isolation in its condemnations of the Maduro government. Just as the United States was completely isolated in its refusal to recognize Maduro’s election victory in 2013, so it has been alone in calling for sanctions, for which it has lobbied on the basis of largely spurious allegations of human rights violations.
To round out his diatribe, Diehl then describes the “obstacles” to getting a recall referendum to remove President Maduro as “comically steep,” despite the fact that all of the figures he cites regarding the required numbers of petition signatures (which opposition activists need to gather to trigger the recall vote) are calculated from terms set out in Venezuela’s Constitution. By representing the recall referendum as offering the “slim remaining hopes for a democratic solution,” he implies that some sort of extra-democratic methods might be necessary, and presumably also justified. Keep in mind that the provision for a recall referendum to remove a sitting president is a democratic mechanism that scarcely exists in any constitution besides Venezuela’s.
Rafael Ruiz Velasco
In an article published at the PanAm Post, Rafael Ruiz Velasco is just as hasty in his passage of judgment on the fate of Latin America’s left. He announces confidently that “the results are clear: the bet on socialism in Latin America has failed.” But like Diehl, Velasco makes at least one glaring factual error that undermines his already highly suspect piece. He says of Brazil: “The Olympics will be held with a politically defeated Dilma Rousseff out of office, as she faces impeachment on corruption charges.” The truth of the matter is that Rousseff is in fact one of the few leading Brazilian politicians not to be facing corruption charges. Her impeachment was rather premised on vague accusations of fiscal mismanagement and budgetary irregularities—hardly the high crimes that under normal circumstances would merit removal from office. Her replacement Michel Temer, on the other hand, does presently stand accused of corruption, and not over minor allegations either. In addition to being implicated in the country’s ongoing Petrobras scandal, he also stands accused of illegal financing during the 2014 elections; the exact kinds of things, ironically, that would normally be legitimate grounds for impeachment.
Either Velasco is conveniently ignoring these facts, or else just has a very weak understanding of the details of what is taking place in Brazilian politics. Indeed, much else in his article makes one wonder whether he is engaging in willful misrepresentation or is just plain clueless. To give just one example, Velasco describes Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Ignácio da Silva, as Brazil’s “figureheads of failure,” in spite of the four electoral victories they have won between them. Leveling this smear against da Silva, whose widespread popularity led to him being affectionately known as Lula, is particularly absurd given that he won both of his presidential election victories with over 60 percent of the vote and left office with 80 percent approval ratings.
In an article for Foreign Policy magazine, provocatively titled “How Brazil’s Left Destroyed Itself,” Antonio Sampaio pulls no punches in his characterization of Rousseff’s impeachment, claiming that it “marks the final fall from grace not only of the president but also of her ruling Workers’ Party, which has run the country for 13 years.” But one can only feel confounded when Sampaio concedes further down the article that “supporters of the government are right to point out that Rousseff herself is one of the few high-profile political figures who has not been accused of abusing her office for personal enrichment. (Her impeachment is related to alleged manipulation of public accounts to disguise a deficit).” This stands in blatant contradiction to how he begins the article, with the claim that “the biggest corruption scandal in national history is revealing the extent to which Rousseff and her allies actively contributed to the rot of Brazil’s democratic institutions.” It is simply unfathomable how he can lay the blame for the damage done to Brazil’s institutions by this scandal at the feet of Dilma Rousseff when he concedes in the same article that her impeachment has nothing to do with corruption. But in the world of Western press coverage of Latin America, this kind Orwellian doublethink does not seem to matter even when such contradictory statements are being made in the very same article.
Chicago Tribune/Orlando Sentinel
In a “Guest Editorial” in the Orlando Sentinel, the editors of the Chicago Tribune (I’m confused too) argue that the next U.S. president “will need to engage Latin America with a lot more purpose and resolve,” or else “Russia, Iran and China will.” To their credit, they do concede that the recent setbacks of leftist leaders “do not necessarily mean a complete, sweeping repudiation of leftist populism,” since “the gap between the impoverished masses and the few wealthy elite still defines life for much if not all of the continent.” But rather than providing legitimate justifications for progressive policies, this grinding poverty and gross inequality apparently makes these countries “susceptible” to what they term “leftist agendas.”
But in addition to this patronizing jeer, the Tribune editors also make the exact same factual error as Jackson Diehl by claiming that Cristina Fernández de Kirchner “lost her re-election bid to Argentine center-right leader Mauricio Macri last fall.” At the risk of repeating it ad nauseam, Kirchner did not stand in the election, and, moreover, was not even able to since the Argentine Constitution sets a limit of two consecutive presidential terms. Granted, her ruling Justicialist Party lost control of the executive to Macri’s rival Republican Proposal party, but the candidate for the Justicialists was Daniel Scioli (a former vice-president during the administration of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s husband and predecessor Nestor Kirchner). To those who might try to dismiss this correction as mere nitpicking, imagine what people in the United States would have thought if a foreign newspaper had reported in November 2008 that U.S. President George W. Bush had lost his re-election bid to Barack Obama. Such shoddy journalism would have surely delivered an instantly fatal blow to the publication’s credibility. But when a U.S. publication demonstrates an exactly analogous ignorance of basic facts about Latin America, its unfounded pronouncements and flimsy arguments still get taken seriously.
Further revealing their risible political illiteracy, the Tribune editors claim that the setbacks for the Latin American left have “all happened with virtually no coddling or stoking from the U.S.” Either the authors have never read anything about the United States’ covert funding of Venezuelan opposition candidates and its threats of sanctions against the Maduro government, the meetings between major regional right-wing figures and allies in the U.S. Congress, and the United States’ use of international organizations to weaken left-leaning governments, or else they are being deliberately duplicitous (and presumably take their readers for a bunch of idiots to boot). The Tribune editors conclude with the unbelievably sweeping statement that the region’s populations are “fed up with failed leftist policies.”
This last statement neatly sums up the central message that these articles wish to communicate: that any policies that don’t fit the Anglo-American model of unfettered neoliberal capitalism “don’t work” and that though people might at first naively support them, they end up getting disillusioned and begrudgingly come to the realization that neoliberalism is the only viable economic system after all. Though they might not spell it out quite so obligingly, the message is essentially a repetition of Margaret Thatcher’s infamous claim that “there is no alternative” to free markets, free trade, and capitalist globalization. The presentation of the recent setbacks of Latin American left governments as confirmation of this seems to be a deliberate jibe directed at the many people the world over who hold up Latin America as humanity’s beacon of hope for providing a more just, generous, and sustainable way of life.
But though these setbacks of the Pink Tide should not be reflexively explained away and the diminishment in popular support for its parties should not be discounted, there are important distinctions and qualifiers that cast doubt on such a rash declaration of victory for neoliberal orthodoxy. Lest we forget, it was less than a decade ago that an economic crash plunged world economies into disarray and prompted no less a figure than Alan Greenspan to admit that free market ideology is flawed.
First, it is important to make the distinction between a decline in support for the Pink Tide’s parties and support for their policies. Research has suggested that voting publics in Latin America have not become any less supportive of such policies, but rather are becoming disaffected with how they are being administered by those in charge. A poll by Poliarquía in the run up to the 2015 Argentine presidential election, for instance, found that 50 percent of respondents were in favor not of a return to the policies of the pre-Kirchner years, but rather “continuity with change.” As Raanan Rein, a professor of Latin American and Spanish history at Tel Aviv University, put it: “The left lost more than the right won.” He added: “It wasn’t that Macri became so popular, it was simply that his predecessors, the Kirchners, destroyed Peronism.” In other words, what is needed is not a relapse back to tooth and nail neoliberalism, but rather a new and more effective leadership to build on the alternatives that were first attempted by the leftist old guard. The many achievements that resulted from these policies include: expanded access to public services such as healthcare and education; radically reduced poverty and child malnutrition; widespread construction of new homes for those in need; and a significant pushback against the brutal realities of income and wealth inequality that have long plagued the region. Many of these policies’ merits have been recognized by international organizations including the United Nations, the Carter Center, and even the World Bank. Perhaps the most revolutionary of all the changes implemented by the Pink Tide governments were the drafting of new constitutions that guarantee social, political and economic rights to all citizens, and also include unprecedented protections for marginalized groups such as women and indigenous people, and even for nature.
To be sure, legitimate feelings of betrayal exist throughout the region and it is important to hold progressive governments accountable for their share of errors in confronting the economic downturn or failing to prepare for a rainy day. But though many voters might express their anger at the governing Pink Tide parties for their mistakes and lack of foresight by abstaining or even casting a protest vote for the right-wing opposition, this does not indicate a wholehearted endorsement of these parties’ proposals, far less a desire for a return to neoliberalism and the structural adjustment era of the 1980s and 1990s.
Of course, there is also the natural and universal tendency in all societies for people to gradually tire of their governments (regardless of success or failure), to take for granted the gains that were made, and to forget the bad aspects of what came before. All governments, like all human enterprises generally, are deeply imperfect and are not, in Latin America least of all, immune from risks of corruption and other malign influences. But these negative factors are hardly unique to governments of the left. After all, plenty of governments of the right throughout the region have been not just corrupt, but in some cases even murderous. From the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile in which thousands of people were “disappeared” to the torture and extrajudicial executions that took place during Venezuela’s Andres Perez administration, such governments hardly compare favorably to those of the Pink Tide.
Secondly, it is important to make a distinction between left-leaning governments and the social movements and popular sectors that thrust them into power. The continued energy of these movements demonstrates that their drive to resist neoliberalism and fight for social change is as fierce as ever. Indeed, one of the most basic mistakes of these shallow op-ed columns is their failure to consider, let alone grasp, the workings of the internal dynamics of these movements and their relationships with their national governments. If anything, the fall in support for Chavismo in Venezuela among some of its traditional base has more to do with the failure of the Maduro government to maintain its engagement with the popular sectors rather than a newfound enthusiasm on their part for a return to neoliberalism and a repeat of so-called structural adjustment.
Thirdly, it is important to remember that the parties that have opposed the Pink Tide governments have been pressed to the left and have, at least publicly, adopted much of the language and ideas of their political adversaries. During the 2012 and 2013 presidential elections in Venezuela, for instance, opposition candidate Henrique Caprilles Radonski presented himself as a social democrat and the standard-bearer of the moderate left ideas of Brazilian President Luiz Ignácio da Silva (who incidentally endorsed the Chavista candidate in both cases). His campaign also used some of the enduring symbols of Chavismo, calling itself the “Bolivarian Command” and promising to not discontinue the social missions, but rather make them more efficient and less ideological. Though leaked documents subsequently revealed his plan was to make a swift about-face after the election and impose a brutal neoliberal agenda once in office, Caprilles at least understood that the immense popularity of then-President Chavez’s policies meant that he had to publicly present himself as a center-left progressive in order to stand a chance of winning. The Venezuelan opposition has also moved to the left on social issues and even fielded three LGBT candidates in the 2015 December legislative elections. Likewise, Mauricio Macri presented himself during the presidential campaign in Argentina as a pragmatist and moderate technocrat rather than a free market absolutist. As was the case with Caprilles, there is good reason to think such pronouncements were insincere (he has already rekindled Argentina’s relationship with Wall Street and filled his cabinet with bankers), but it at least demonstrates that the political center of gravity amongst Latin American publics is way to the left of the traditional forces of the right.
Fourth, we should not forget that circumstantial factors have created problems for left-leaning governments that are not of their own making. Global drops in commodity prices have made life difficult for all leaders in a region that has long been heavily based on extractivism. Whether it be oil in Venezuela, copper and zinc in Bolivia, or soybeans in Argentina, global downturns have caused problems for these governments which would have been just as pronounced had their right-wing rivals been in power instead. Dependence on exports of raw materials long predates the Pink Tide and moving out of this legacy would have been a challenge for any government.
Fifth, there is a tendency to characterize the policies of Pink Tide governments as “unsustainable.” The unsustainability argument appeals to basic intuition but is based on a false analogy—that a country’s financial situation is akin to a household budget. One could just as easily point out that with the resource wealth and technological sophistication of today’s world, there is clearly the means to provide for every person on planet earth many times over. That we are not doing so is not a failure of the left, but rather of capitalism and explicable largely in terms of the lasting legacy of colonialism and its lingering power structures. These pressures bear particularly heavily on Latin America given its long history of colonial oppression, not to mention its proximity to the major force in the world that has worked to maintain this status quo and long treated the region as its “backyard.”
Finally, therefore, it is important to consider the superpower’s lasting impact on the region. Meddling by the region’s hegemon and its internal allies has consistently caused damage to Pink Tide governments and their efforts at social reform. The United States’ aggressive stance against them is understandable given the threat they pose to its hemispheric dominance and the preeminence of its favored international organizations. Pink Tide governments have established new international bodies to realize the vision of the decades-long struggle for regional integration and provide a buffer against U.S. imperialism. The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) are attempts to transcend Washington’s “free” trade orthodoxies and forge an alternative to the Organization of American States (OAS). The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) was founded to mediate regional conflicts and could in the future provide a framework for military cooperation or freedom of movement for citizens of member nations. The monetary fund BancoSur, though still in its nascent stages, is hoped to provide an alternative source of lending free from the dictates of the IMF and the World Bank. Taken together, these organizations have provided a hope that international relations can in the future be based more on international cooperation, rather than competition, and mutual, rather than solely national, interests. This phenomenon is essentially the expression in the international realm of what Roger Harris of the Taskforce on the Americas has described as “the threat of a good example.”
Though it does not completely explain away the failures on the part of progressive governments, there has nonetheless been a clear pattern in terms of the treatment they have received from United States: the more successful Pink Tide governments have become at helping their citizenry and providing an alternative to Anglo-American neoliberalism, the greater the incentive has grown to crush this threat. When the sabotage is successful it provides a double benefit for the United States and its internal allies: in addition to making a different path unviable it also makes these policies appear as intrinsically unworkable, and thereby “proving” that the neoliberal status quo is the only way forward.
Clearly this ghost of Thatcher haunts the minds of mainstream media commentators, explaining both their lazy treatment of the facts and dogmatic commitment to making all news events fit the neoliberal agenda. What is truly important, therefore, is not so much the immediate electoral fortunes of the Pink Tide governments, but rather the efforts to defend the spirit of the movements on which they are based and the intellectual legacy of their principles. A heavy burden lies on those of us who strive to counter the new neoliberal offensive and the mendacity of its propaganda foot soldiers.
 Jackson Diehl, “Is Hugo Chavez a real threat to the U.S.?,” The Washington Post, September 27, 2010. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/26/AR2010092603334.html
 Jackson Diehl, “Jackson Diehl: Will the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights be gutted?,” The Washington Post, March 3, 2013. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/jackson-diehl-will-the-inter-american-commission-on-human-rights-be-gutted/2013/03/03/c018f9a6-81d0-11e2-b99e-6baf4ebe42df_story.html
 Jackson Diehl, “Stop ignoring the implosion in Venezuela,” The Post and Courier, May 4, 2016. http://www.postandcourier.com/20160504/160509752/stop-ignoring-the-implosion-in-venezuela
 Simon Romero and Jonathan Gilbert, “Election Will End Kirchner’s Presidency, Not Her Hold on Argentina,” The New York Times, October 24, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/25/world/americas/election-will-end-kirchners-presidency-not-her-hold-on-argentina.html
 Rafael Ruiz Velasco, “The Jury Is In: Latin America’s 21st Century Socialism Has Failed,” The PanAm Post, May 19, 2016. https://panampost.com/rafael-ruiz-velasco/2016/05/19/21st-century-socialism-has-failed/
 Marina Koren, “Brazil’s Impeachment Battle,” The Atlantic, April 17, 2016. http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/04/brazil-impeachment-dilma-rousseff/478632/
 Matt Sandy, “Brazil’s Senate Votes to Impeach President Dilma Rousseff: What Happens Now?,” Time magazine, May 12, 2016. http://time.com/4327408/brazil-senate-dilma-rousseff-suspended/
 “Brazil President Corruption Scandal,” Open Source Investigations. http://www.opensourceinvestigations.com/corruption/petrobras-scandal-catching-up-to-brazil-president/
 Daniela Blei, “Is the Latin American Left Dead?,” The New Republic, April 16, 2016. https://newrepublic.com/article/132779/latin-american-left-dead
 Antonio Sampaio, “How Brazil’s Left Destroyed Itself,” Foreign Policy, May 13, 2016. http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/05/13/how-brazils-left-destroyed-itself-dilma-rousseff-impeachment/
 “As ‘pink tide’ ebbs, U.S. must engage: Guest Editorial,” Orlando Sentinel, May 17, 2016. http://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/os-ed-pink-tide-latin-america-20160516-story.html
 Jonathan Watts and Uki Goñi, “Argentina shifts to the right after Mauricio Macri wins presidential runoff,” The Guardian, November 23, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/22/argentina-election-exit-polls-buenos-aires-mauricio-macri
 “As ‘pink tide’ ebbs, U.S. must engage: Guest Editorial,” Orlando Sentinel, May 17, 2016. http://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/os-ed-pink-tide-latin-america-20160516-story.html
 Rachael Boothroyd, “US Republican Senator Meets with Venezuelan Opposition in Caracas,” Venezuela Analysis, July 1, 2015. http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/11432
 “As ‘pink tide’ ebbs, U.S. must engage: Guest Editorial,” Orlando Sentinel, May 17, 2016. http://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/os-ed-pink-tide-latin-america-20160516-story.html -america-20160516-story.html
 Brian Naylor, “Greenspan Admits Free Market Ideology Flawed,” NPR.org, October 24, 2008. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=96070766
 Daniela Blei, “Is the Latin American Left Dead?,” The New Republic, April 16, 2016. https://newrepublic.com/article/132779/latin-american-left-dead
 Mark Weisbrot, “Why Ecuador Loves Rafael Correa,” The Guardian, February 15, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/feb/15/rafael-correa-ecuador-elections
 James Suggett, “Venezuela Reduces Malnutrition in Children to 4%,” Venezuela Analysis, July 7, 2008. http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/3626
 “Venezuelan Social Housing Project Delivers 700,000th Home,” TeleSur, April 19, 2015. http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Venezuelan-Social-Housing-Project-Delivers-700000th-Home-20150419-0019.html
 “Venezuela, Uruguay Register Lowest Inequality in Latin America,” TeleSur, April 29, 2015. http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Venezuela-Uruguay-Register-Lowest-Inequality-in-Latin-America-20150429-0006.html
 Antony Boadle, “Brazil’s Rousseff says extreme poverty almost eradicated,” Reuters, February 13, 2013. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-poverty-idUSBRE91I14F20130219
 Sarah Wagner, “Women and Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution,” Venezuela Analysis, January 15, 2005. http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/877
 Michael Fox, “Women and Chavismo: An Interview with Yanahir Reyes,” NACLA. https://nacla.org/article/women-and-chavismo-interview-yanahir-reyes
 “Chile recognises 9,800 more victims of Pinochet’s rule,” BBC News, August 18, 2011. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-14584095
 “Profile: Henrique Capriles,” BBC News, October 3, 2012. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-16811723
 Tamara Pearson, “Ex Brazilian President Lula Supports Venezuela’s Maduro,” Venezuela Analysis, April 3, 2013. http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/8476
 Jody McIntyre, “Who is Henrique Capriles Radonski?,” New Internationalist. https://newint.org/blog/2012/09/25/venezuela-elections-capriles-chavez/
 Corina Pons, “Venezuela’s first transgender candidate to run for Congress,” Reuters, August 8, 2015. http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-venezuela-politics-idUKKCN0QC25P20150808
 Daniela Blei, “Is the Latin American Left Dead?,” The New Republic, April 16, 2016. https://newrepublic.com/article/132779/latin-american-left-dead
 Benedict Mander, “Argentina rekindles its relationship with Wall Street,” The Financial Times, May 12, 2016. http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/6aeb9ae2-17aa-11e6-b8d5-4c1fcdbe169f.html
 Astrid Prange, “Macri to take Argentina in a new, neoliberal direction,” Deutsche Welle, December 6, 2015. http://www.dw.com/en/macri-to-take-argentina-in-a-new-neoliberal-direction/a-18898041
 Roger Harris, “Venezuela: Supporting A Once and Future Revolution,” Counterpunch, June 26, 2013. http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/07/26/venezuela-supporting-a-once-and-future-revolution/
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Does any intelligent person look at a New York Times article about Russia or Vladimir Putin these days and expect to read an objective, balanced account? Or will it be laced with a predictable blend of contempt and ridicule? And is it any different at The Washington Post, NPR, MSNBC, CNN or almost any mainstream U.S. news outlet?
And it’s not just Russia. The same trend holds true for Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Nicaragua and other countries and movements that have fallen onto the U.S. government’s “enemies list.” We saw the same pattern with Saddam Hussein and Iraq before the 2003 U.S. invasion; with Muammar Gaddafi and Libya before the U.S.-orchestrated bombing campaign in 2011; and with President Viktor Yanukovych and Ukraine before the U.S.-backed coup in 2014.
That is not to say that these countries and leaders don’t deserve criticism; they do. But the proper role of the press corps – at least as I was taught during my early years at The Associated Press – was to treat all evidence objectively and all sides fairly. Just because you might not like someone doesn’t mean your feelings should show through or the facts should be forced through a prism of bias.
In those “old days,” that sort of behavior was deemed unprofessional and you would expect a senior editor to come down hard on you. Now, however, it seems that you’d only get punished if you quoted some dissident or allowed such a person onto an op-ed page or a talk show, someone who didn’t share Official Washington’s “group think” about the “enemy.” Deviation from “group think” has become the real disqualifier.
Yet, this conformity should be shocking and unacceptable in a country that prides itself on freedom of thought and speech. Indeed, much of the criticism of “enemy” states is that they supposedly practice various forms of censorship and permit only regime-friendly propaganda to reach the public.
But when was the last time you heard anyone in the U.S. mainstream say anything positive or even nuanced about Russian President Putin. He can only be portrayed as some shirtless buffoon or the devil incarnate. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got widespread praise in 2014 when she likened him to Hitler.
Or when has anyone in the U.S. media been allowed to suggest that Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and his supporters might actually have reason to fear what the U.S. press lovingly calls the “moderate” rebels – though they often operate under the military command of Sunni extremist groups, such as Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Obama’s ‘Moderate’ Syrian Deception.”]
For the first three years of the Syrian civil war, the only permissible U.S. narrative was how the brutal Assad was slaughtering peaceful “moderates,” even though Defense Intelligence Agency analysts and other insiders had long been warning about the involvement of violent jihadists in the movement from the uprising’s beginning in 2011.
But that story was kept from the American people until the Islamic State started chopping off the heads of Western hostages in 2014 – and since then, the mainstream U.S. media has only reported the fuller story in a half-hearted and garbled way. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Hidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War.” ]
Reason for Conformity
The reason for this conformity among journalists is simple: If you repeat the conventional wisdom, you might find yourself with a lucrative gig as a big-shot foreign correspondent, a regular TV talking head, or a “visiting scholar” at a major think tank. However, if you don’t say what’s expected, your career prospects aren’t very bright.
If you somehow were to find yourself in a mainstream setting and even mildly challenged the “group think,” you should expect to be denounced as a fill-in-the-blank “apologist” or “stooge.” A well-paid avatar of the conventional wisdom might even accuse you of being on the payroll of the despised leader. And, you wouldn’t likely get invited back.
But the West’s demonization of foreign “enemies” is not only an affront to free speech and meaningful democracy, it is also dangerous because it empowers unscrupulous American and European leaders to undertake violent and ill-considered actions that get lots of people killed and that spread hatred against the West.
The most obvious recent example was the Iraq War, which was justified by a barrage of false and misleading claims about Iraq which were mostly swallowed whole by a passive and complicit Western press corps.
Key to that disaster was the demonization of Saddam Hussein, who was subjected to such unrelenting propaganda that almost no one dared question the baseless charges hurled at him about hiding WMD and collaborating with Al Qaeda. To do so would have made you a “Saddam apologist” or worse.
The few who did dare raise their voices faced accusations of treason or were subjected to character assassination. Yet, even after their skepticism was vindicated as the pre-invasion accusations collapsed, there was very little reappraisal. Most of the skeptics remained marginalized and virtually everyone who got the WMD story wrong escaped accountability.
For instance, Washington Post editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt, who repeatedly reported Iraq’s WMD as “flat fact,” suffered not a whit and remains in the same prestigious job, still enforcing one-sided “group thinks” about “enemies.”
An example of how Hiatt and the Post continue to play the same role as neocon propagandists was on display last year in an editorial condemning Putin’s government for shutting down Russian activities of the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy and requiring foreign-funded groups seeking to influence Russian politics to register as foreign agents.
In the Post’s editorial and a companion op-ed by NED President Carl Gershman, you were led to believe that Putin was delusional, paranoid and “power mad” in his concern that outside money funneled into non-governmental organizations was a threat to Russian sovereignty.
However, the Post and Gershman left out a few salient facts, such as the fact that NED is funded by the U.S. government and was the brainchild of Ronald Reagan’s CIA Director William J. Casey in 1983 to partially replace the CIA’s historic role in creating propaganda and political fronts inside targeted nations.
Also missing was the fact that Gershman himself announced in another Post op-ed that he saw Ukraine, prior to the 2014 coup, as “the biggest prize” and a steppingstone toward achieving Putin’s ouster in Russia. The Post also forgot to mention that the Russian law about “foreign agents” was modeled after a U.S. statute entitled the Foreign Agent Registration Act. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Why Russia Shut Down NED Fronts.”]
All those points would have given the Post’s readers a fuller and fairer understanding of why Putin and Russia acted as they did, but that would have messed up the desired propaganda narrative seeking to demonize Putin. The goal was not to inform the American people but to manipulate them into a new Cold War hostility toward Russia.
We’ve seen a similar pattern with the U.S. government’s “information warfare” around high-profile incidents. In the “old days’ – at least when I arrived in Washington in the late 1970s – there was much more skepticism among journalists about the official line from the White House or State Department. Indeed, it was a point of pride among journalists not to simply accept whatever the spokesmen or officials were saying, but to check it out.
There was plenty of enough evidence – from the Tonkin Gulf lies to the Watergate cover-up – to justify a critical examination of government claims. But that tradition has been lost, too. Despite the costly deceptions before the Iraq War, the Times, the Post and other mainstream outlets simply accept whatever accusations the U.S. government hurls against “enemies.” Beyond the gullibility, there is even hostility toward those of us who insist on seeing real evidence.
Examples of this continuing pattern include the acceptance of the U.S. government line on the sarin gas attack outside Damascus, Syria, on Aug. 21, 2013, and the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. The first was blamed on Syria’s Assad and the second on Russia’s Putin – quite convenient even though U.S. officials refused to present any solid evidence to support their claims.
Reasons for Doubt
In both cases, there were obvious reasons to doubt the Official Story. Assad had just invited United Nations inspectors in to examine what he claimed were rebel chemical attacks, so why would he pick that time to launch a sarin attack just miles from where the inspectors were staying? Putin was trying to maintain a low profile for Russian support to Ukrainians resisting the U.S.-backed coup, but provision of a large, sophisticated and powerful anti-aircraft battery lumbering around eastern Ukraine would just have invited detection.
Further, in both cases, there was dissent among U.S. intelligence analysts, some of whom objected at least to the rushes to judgment and offered different explanations for the incidents, pointing the blame in other possible directions. The dissent caused the Obama administration to resort to a new concoction called a “Government Assessment” – essentially a propaganda document – rather than a classic “Intelligence Assessment,” which would express the consensus views of the 16 intelligence agencies and include areas of disagreement.
So, there were plenty of reasons for Washington journalists to smell a rat or at least insist upon hard evidence to make the case against Assad and Putin. Instead, given the demonized views of Assad and Putin, mainstream journalists unanimously fell in line behind the Official Story. They even ignored or buried evidence that undermined the government’s tales.
Regarding the Syrian case, there was little interest in the scientific discovery that the one sarin-laden rocket (recovered by the U.N.) had a range of only about two kilometers (destroying Washington’s claims about the Syrian government firing many rockets from eight or nine kilometers away). [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Was Turkey Behind Syria-Sarin Attack?”]
Regarding the MH-17 case, a blind eye was turned to a Dutch intelligence report that concluded that there were several operational Buk anti-aircraft missile batteries in eastern Ukraine but they were all under the control of the Ukrainian military and that the rebels had no weapon that could reach the 33,000-foot altitude where MH-17 was flying. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Ever-Curiouser MH-17 Case.”]
Though both those cases remain open and one cannot rule out new evidence emerging that bolsters the U.S. government’s version of events, the fact that there are substantive reasons to doubt the Official Story should be reflected in how the mainstream Western media deals with these two sensitive issues, but the inconvenient facts are instead brushed aside or ignored (much as happened with Iraq’s WMD).
In short, there has been a system-wide collapse of the Western news media as a professional entity in dealing with foreign crises. So, as the world plunges deeper into crises inside Syria and on Russia’s border, the West’s citizens are going in almost blind without the eyes and ears of independent journalists on the ground and with major news outlets delivering incessant propaganda from Washington and other capitals.
Instead of facts, the West’s mainstream media traffics in demonization.