The Reasoned Review

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Posts Tagged ‘Propaganda

Cynicism of the Day

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“In the United States, the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own.”

– Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume II (1840)

Written by pavanvan

January 27, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Afghanistan: Hearts and Minds

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This is how the US wins hearts and minds in Afghanistan. Courtesy of PSYOPS – the CIA’s propaganda wing – a leaflet dropped in the thousands over Afghansitan:

Does anyone know what the Arabic says?

Written by pavanvan

January 26, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Yemen: The Next War

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The propaganda presses are running at full steam today, as both The New York Times and The Washington Post run front-page stories describing the dastardly “Al Qaeda” influence in… Yemen.

The Times calls that unfortunate desert a “Qaeda bastion” in its headline, while the Post goes for a vaguer effect by claiming that “Al Qaeda” is merely “gaining prominence” there. These stories come on the heels of a premeditated slaughter of Yemeni civilians via US forces, and they can only be seen as justification for further US attacks on the impoverished Yemeni citizens. Let’s see for ourselves how such acts are justified.

The Times:

The country has long been a refuge for jihadists, in part because Yemen’s government welcomed returning Islamist fighters who had fought in Afghanistan during the 1980s. The Yemen port of Aden was the site of the audacious bombing of the American destroyer Cole in October 2000 by Qaeda militants, which killed 17 sailors.

Audacious! Except it occurred more than 9 years ago, and killed only a  fraction of the Yemeni citizens we killed last week (42 dead in one “drone” strike!). And remember, the Yemeni “terrorists” were kind enough to target the US military (which, after all, has no business in their country.) We, on the other hand, kill their civilians with impunity.

The Post goes for more recent justification, dubious and uncorroborated though it may be:

U.S. authorities say Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, the Nigerian suspect who tried to ignite explosive chemicals with a syringe sewn into his underwear, may have been equipped and trained by an al-Qaeda bombmaker in Yemen. He allegedly made that claim to FBI agents after his arrest.

Emphasis mine. Given that our secret police routinely interrogate by torture, I think it would be wise to take any “confession” thus extracted with a large grain of salt.

The Times treats us to yet more evidence:

Meanwhile, there have been increasing Yemeni ties to plots against the United States. A Muslim man charged in the June 1 killing of a soldier at a recruiting center in a mall in Little Rock, Ark., had traveled to Yemen, prompting a review by the F.B.I. of other domestic extremists who had visited the country.

A Muslim man traveled to Yemen? Stop the presses! Let us review what The Times is trying to say here. A man charged with killing a soldier, who happens to be Muslim, had, at one point, traveled to Yemen. Therefore, Yemen is a “dangerous haven for Al-Qaeda”, and we must pummel them into their dusty graves. Astounding.

Ironically, The Post gives us the real reason for the “increase in terror activity in Yemen” as a closing line:

On Sunday, Al-Qaeda in Yemen issued a communique declaring that it would take revenge for the Dec. 17 airstrikes.

The damned cheek! The US murders 43 Yemeni citizens and they have the audacity to want revenge? Don’t they understand we’re doing this for their own good? As they said in Vietnam, “we had to destroy the village in order to save it.” It should be clear to anyone not in the pay of our “defense contractors” that our actions in the Arab world are a direct catalyst for international terrorism. Even a cursory look at history should demonstrate this quite easily. The US sends its military into a country, and behold! They see a dramatic increase in “terrorism”!

Pakistan, you will remember, had almost no “terror problem” prior to 2007, when the US began a ham-fisted attempt to “combat Al-Qaeda” by waging war on Pakistan’s villagers. Iraq, under the “brutal tyrant” Saddam had no terrorists of which to speak. Now bombings in Baghdad are a weekly affair. Afghanistan… well, just look at it.

So what makes our politicians blind to such an obvious conclusion? Campaign donations! The Times, to take one example, quotes Joe Leiberman as saying:

“Yemen now becomes one of the centers of that fight,” said Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut and chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, who visited the country in August. “We have a growing presence there, and we have to, of Special Operations, Green Berets, intelligence,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Could this full-throated endorsement of war have anything to do with his campaign donors? Given that the largest contributor to Lieber-campaign is “United Technologies” a major arms manufacturer that makes, among other things, our Black Hawk helicopters, I think the answer to that question should be clear.

The time will soon come, I hope, when the American public realizes that those who speak out in favor of this insane “war on terror” do so because their campaign donors compel them to. If I am invested in an arms company, I have every reason to see this war drag on indefinitely. And if that arms company gives me a healthy donation every election cycle, you can bet that I will defend this war at all costs, Yemeni citizens be damned!

Written by pavanvan

December 28, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Hamas and The Ministry of Truth

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A Gazan family outside their destroyed home, courtesy of the Israeli "Defense" Force

A Gazan family outside their destroyed home, courtesy of the Israeli "Defense" Force

In the span of a single article The Washington Post, currently our government’s mouthpiece, is able to compile every falsehood and misconception regarding Hamas under the guise of “balanced reporting”. The article in question, entitled “What to do with Hamas? Questions Snarl Peace Bid”, is valuable for its succinct, concise collection of omissions and propaganda regarding that so-called “terror group”. To read it is to view the Israeli conflict through the lens of our policy planners, and to identify many of the assumptions under which they operate.

The article begins with a bang:

GAZA CITY — In the two years since it seized power here, the militant Hamas movement has undercut the influence of the Gaza Strip’s major clans, brought competing paramilitary groups under its control, put down an uprising by a rival Islamist group, weathered a three-week war with Israel, worked around a strict economic embargo — and through it all refused a set of international demands that could begin Gaza’s rehabilitation.

Let’s start with the so-called “uprising by a rival Islamist group”. The Post is referring here to the 2007 Fatah-Hamas war, which occurred a year and a half after Hamas won parliamentary elections in Palestine, much to the consternation of the US and Israel.  What The Post completely declines to mention is that the US and Israel were behind that that “uprising”. Yes, you read correctly. Last year, David Rose of Vanity Fair published a stunning expose of that war, concluding, beyond any doubt, that the United States secretly funded Fatah in a failed bid to overthrow Hamas.

Why secretly? Well, because such funding would have been expressly against international law. Hamas won the January 2006 parliamentary elections fair and square. The polls were monitored and not one side was able to come out with even a single instance of accused fraud. The US and Israel, unable to respect the Palestinians’ wishes, chose to secretly fund a coup by Fatah, the pro-west Palestinian party. The coup failed in that Hamas retained control of Gaza, but it did result in thousands of dead Palestinians, along with a split leadership (Fatah was able to gain control of the West Bank), so our policy-makers chalked it up to a half-loss.

Likewise with the three-week war with Israel that Hamas allegedly “weathered”. The action to which The Post refers occurred earlier this year and was not so much a war as a massacre in Gaza. More than 2,000 Palestinians were killed in that action, with express US permission. Israeli casualties numbered in the tens. Lurid, horrific reports later surfaced of Israeli death squads traveling door-to-door and murdering whole families, as well as the bombing of a UN-charter school by Israel, an atrocity which occured not once, but twice.

The embargo, defined by political scientists the world over as a blatant “act of war”, has prevented Gazans from access to even the most basic standards of food or medicine, and has transformed the strip, in the words of The Vatican, into “a giant concentration camp”.

Yet amid all these atrocities it is not the Israelis, but the Palestinians who are “refusing a set of international demands”. Here, The Washington Post makes one of its famous contradictions. Later in the article they write that

In the past two weeks, Mitchell has scaled back U.S. demands for Israel to freeze West Bank settlements.

The settlements, as you are surely aware, are in violation of international law and are currently condemned by every country in the world, except the United States and Israel.

From the article’s lead, we find that:

That combination of durability and unwillingness to compromise has created a deep-seated stalemate that has left top Israeli intelligence and political officials perplexed about what to do.

However on the very next page, The Post reports:

It has been long-standing Hamas policy to consider a long-term ceasefire with Israel in return for establishment of a Palestinian state on the Gaza and West Bank land occupied by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

So it’s a bit unclear as to whence this confusion arises. Hama’s position has been clear from the start, even if The Washington Post is too cowardly to admit it. And it should be noted that the land “occupied” by Israel in the 1967 war was occupied illegally, and there is currently a UN resolution (Resolution 242), which demands Israel withdraw to its pre-1967 borders, precisely as Hamas requests. The UN routinely votes 174-5 in favor of the resolution, with only the United States, Israel, and a few Pacific Islands dissenting. The Post, of course, neglects to mention any of this in its article, electing instead to highlight the “perplexion” on the part of Israeli planners. If they had even a modicum of respect for international law it would be clear “what to do”.

The lack of honest discussion of the Israel-Palestine issue is perhaps the greatest impediment we face to resolving that decades-old feud. Contrary to what we may think here in America, that volatile little strip carries huge importance for the politics of the Middle East, and world politics in general. The destabilizing effects of our inability to see “the other side” are only too plain. For the time being, however, this is a mischievous little polemic by The Washington Post.  It, and similar articles, probably do more to prolong this conflict than all the bombs and rockets combined.

Written by pavanvan

October 7, 2009 at 8:44 pm

CO2: Black, not Green

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The Center for Media and Democracy turns us on to a thoroughly scurrilous attempt on the part of Big Gas and Oil to downplay the negative effects of CO2 output.

“CO2 is Green”, a new Montana-based advocacy group, derives its dollars from the Coal and Oil Industry and has the sheer audacity to claim that “There is no scientific evidence that CO2 [carbon dioxide] is a pollutant. In fact higher CO2 levels than we have today would help the Earth’s ecosystems.” without breaking into guilt-induced conniptions.  Here we have yet another example of “The Big Lie” technique. If you can make a such a statement as above on television with a straight face, many people will conclude that it must be true. No one could possibly be audacious enough to repeat such a patently absurd claim unless there was some truth to it of which the public is not aware. Thus, the idea that “CO2 is not a pollutant” will likely enter into mainstream discourse, despite the fact that almost every scientist declares the opposite.

Some of you may recall this is not the first time our oil companies have undertaken such an advertising campaign. Indeed, as Greenpeace revealed earlier this year, Exxon-Mobil secretly funded much of the Global Warming denial we saw earlier this decade. On podium after podium, cable news show after fabricated report, their hired “scientists” spread the claims that (a) Global warming doesn’t exist and (b) even assuming it does, Global Warming isn’t man-made. Now, of course, we see both of those statements for the patent falsehood  they present, but at the time they proved quite influential and likely set us back years in dealing with this problem.

Today, a new generation of pseudo-scientists, such as our friend H. Leighton Steward, a former executive of Enron, wish to spread the message that CO2 is a “net benefit” for the planet – and, presumably, that we are doing our earth a huge service by burning coal and oil.

Please watch their commercial. It gives an excellent overview of the false populism and junk science employed by the coal and oil industries to defend what remains, in the last analysis, a thoroughly indefensible business. And I would encourage everyone to do precisely what they suggest at the end by contacting your Senator, except instead of agitating for even more pollution, ask them to clear our airwaves of deleterious propaganda.

Success in Afghanistan

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A US patrol in the Kapisa province of Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A US patrol in the Kapisa province of Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The New York Times gives its version of fair and balanced assessment of Afghanistan.

The word “success”, which appears several times and is contrasted only with that grim epithet “failure”, encapsulates the major theme of the article. These phrases speak to the duality of all our mainstream war discourse; and their resemblance to President Bush’s favorite characterizations of Iraq (“Victory” versus “Defeat”) is no coincidence.  The central idea is always the same shapeless, undefinable and unattainable goal that justifies all past actions and usually most future ones as well.

From the article:

In his five-page commander’s summary, General McChrystal ends on a cautiously optimistic note: “While the situation is serious, success is still achievable.”

And again, later on:

In a series of interviews on the Sunday morning talk shows, Mr. Obama expressed skepticism about sending more American troops to Afghanistan until he was sure his administration had the right strategy to succeed.

“Success”, of course, is never defined in any but the most general sense – “keeping America safe”, “defeating the insurgency”, “stopping terrorism”, and so forth. Cultural and military dominance of Afghanistan appears the only real solution proffered, while the debate centers instead upon the relatively minor issue of how many more troops to send. The Times dresses the issue with remarkable delicacy.

Pentagon and military officials involved in Afghanistan policy say General McChrystal is expected to propose a range of options for additional troops beyond the 68,000 American forces already approved, from 10,000 to as many as 45,000.

So the 68,000 are never in question, and that fact is shunted into a secondary clause. The Times reports President Obama as saying his decision will not be swayed “by the politics of the moment” (whatever that means), and that his top priority is “to protect the United States against attacks from Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.”

The President invoked the safe card again in the article, claiming that

“whatever decisions I make are going to be based first on a strategy to keep us safe, then we’ll figure out how to resource it.”

The Times puts no question to the wisdom that our military is the surest route to safety, nor to the idea that American “safety” is worth limitless human and financial cost.

General McChrystal, in his report demanding up to 45,000 more soldiers, argues that:

“The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and ISAF’s own errors have given Afghans little reason to support their government.”

An odd problem for an a body of soldiers to try and solve.

The article abounds with even more couched assumptions regarding the general righteousness of our goals in Afghanistan, and I would highly recommend reading it in full to inoculate against such techniques. The filters through which our mainstream outlets distill the news are perhaps the greatest impediment to a genuine discussion of the various crises we face today.

Written by pavanvan

September 22, 2009 at 5:31 pm

Still more on Blackwater

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From a local source in the Philippines: Blackwater is apparently training the Filipino military (for “counter-terrorism” purposes, of course).

Might this not have been relevant information for the Times‘ recent declamation of the Philippine military’s widespread human-rights abuses?

It looks as though the Philippines are learning from the best.

Written by pavanvan

September 2, 2009 at 12:38 am

Afghan elections

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The beleaguered Afghan nation, tormented for three decades, first by the Soviet Union, then the US, dutifully inked their fingers yesterday to vote in a general election. Though the field was a bit more diverse this time around, with more than 40 candidates from which to choose, Hamid Karzai is widely seen as the winning favorite.

Favorite, that is, of the US establishment and Afghan elite – not the Afghan populace, whose opinion matters remarkably little in affairs such as these. The US needs a mandate to continue its aggression in Afghanistan; it needs a friendly Prime Minister to allow construction of the Central Asia oil pipeline – thus, a second term for Hamid Karzai is all but a foregone conclusion.

It matters very little, of course, that entrenched corruption within his government is now widely acknowledged. The US cares very little that Karzai is deeply unpopular among the population he rules. It doesn’t even matter that his own Deputy President openly proclaimed that Hamid Karzai is a “US stooge”. In fact, that is precisely why he will win.

It is interesting to view The Times’ coverage of Hamid Karzai, particularly this saccharine article, published a couple weeks ago. After a brief and dismissive list of the very real charges against him, we are told that Karzai “clearly abhors violence”, that he is “a lonely man”, “painted into a corner”, that “no one is one his side.” (Except, of course, the corrupt graft machine of which he sits at the head).

The article follows a similar tone throughout. I suppose allegations that Karzai’s family derives its wealth largely from opium is beneath The Times’ notice. The article had the audacity to quote Karzai as saying  “I’m a very, very, very simple person. I have no property. I have no money. I have no love for luxury.” without any challenge. This, from the leader of one of the most corrupt governments on earth!

As I write, the Afghans count their votes. No one doubts that Karzai, the “US Stooge”, the corrupt executor of our command, the ‘deeply unpopular’ incumbent will prevail. It is no coincidence that the vast majority of Afghan election coverage centers around this man.  In him, the US ruling establishment will find an avaricious, though obedient, stooge in Afghanistan.

Written by pavanvan

August 20, 2009 at 7:40 pm

The Other Side

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In the spirit of fairness I feel I should give a proper display to the arguments I have heard against the ideas expressed in my previous post.

Usually when the standard “US dissident” line (that Republicans and Democrats are in fact the same party, that they constitute a modern aristocracy, that our horrific foreign policy is totally divorced of public opinion, that public opinion itself is manipulated via conglomerate control of media, that the cost of running for office ensures loyalty to corporate and imperialist interests, etc, etc.) is repeated to a person with a lucrative position within the current establishment, a smirk with the phrase “conspiracy theory” follows. However when pressed, such persons can be counted upon to employ one or several of these standard techniques:

1) “Valid points”, “Unfortunate mistakes, “Tough issues”, etc.

Often the first line of defense. I briefly mentioned this technique’s use in an earlier post, but I think it merits elaboration. Politely dismissive, these phrases can end a conversation without causing offense, and indeed, with the appearance of concession. They also encourage the belief that so-called “abuses” of the US government are isolated instances, and not symptomatic of a larger illness. There is a marked tendency describe criticisms as “issues” that are “being worked on”, never as characteristic to our system of government. The fact that these “mistakes” have continued unabated for several generations apparently escapes notice.

2) “Name one country that does it better”

“It”, of course, is never exactly specified. If you press an establishment figure (government official, investment banker, industrial engineer, etc.) for long enough, the conversation can take a combative edge, wherein they will usually offer some form of the above challenge. Their argument essentially boils down to the fact that most US citizens would rather not live anywhere else, so its government can’t be all that bad. But such claims ignore the fact that many countries have been rendered uninhabitable by US policy and many more found themselves in economic ruin by the same token. There is no denying the effect that IMF policies have had on Central and South America, and there is no getting away from the ruins of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Central Asia is rife with US dictatorships, and Africa is currently experiencing the effects of three centuries’ enslavement, much of it at the hands of the US and Europe. Even countries lucky enough not to have come directly under the Washington Yoke (India, China, etc.) still deal with the effects of European “colonization” (that happy euphemism!) .Thus they are not much comparison.

With such a track record, it is difficult to find a country that has truly been able to adopt and keep an indigenous governmental structure with which to compare our own. History provides some help, but very little. The history of Eurasia is relatively well-documented, but west of the Atlantic we have very little. The Europeans who came to the Americas slaughtered at a far faster rate than they learned. By the time they became civilized enough to be curious of other cultures, entire civilizations had been wiped out. So we truly don’t know if a better way of doing things is possible. European civilization, and its American successor, have spread throughout the globe.

Thus, the argument that US crimes may be excused because it’s still “the best country” in which to live is a trick, designed to deflect attention from the fact that our crimes are the very cause of our high standard of living.

3) “Well, then what would you do?”

Further up the confrontation scale, this is a game wherein the establishment figure will throw various scenarios and demand to know, on the spot, how you would respond to them. If they are gracious these will be current affairs and not wholly hypothetical. For instance, “Say you’re Obama. What do you do about Afghanistan?” Invariably the answer is mocked as “unrealistic”, “idealistic”, or simply “naive”. In the Afghani example, if one were to say that we should cease combat operations, issue a heartfelt apology to the Afghan nation for 30 years of atrocities, and award reparations for the destruction we caused, the suggestion would be met with a scoff and a chuckle. Such actions would either “increase terrorism” or “reduce our national standing”.

If, again, one is asked how to deal with the Palestine-Israel question, one cannot give the simple answer that we should adhere to the UN resolution regarding the matter: Israel retreats to 1967 borders, lifts the blockade on Gaza, and allows a Palestinian state. “Impractical”, would be the standard response.

You see that whether or not a course of action is the right thing to do never occurs to them. The National Interest, apparently, is the only morality. When someone asks “what would you do in so-and-so’s place?” they should usually add “and it has to be in the interest of only the US”

A piece of errata on “national interest”: it apparently occurs only to a very few that what is said to be in the “national interest” is really only in the interest of a select group. None of our actions abroad have done anything to relieve inequality within America – if anything our foreign policy exacerbates class differences in the US. It has, however, also made a few rich industrialists orders of magnitude richer.

4) “What’s the solution?”

After the recitation of so many negative aspects of our current rulers, an irritated admission of guilt will follow, and then a demand for a master solution to all our government’s ills. I would think this is usually a last resort, for it is truly unanswerable. Our governing system is so large, so complex, and in the last analysis, so unbelievably powerful, that it is hard to imagine how such deeply entrenched issues could be solved, or even brought to light. The media is a powerful force for stupefaction. Few citizens even know of our recurring adventures abroad – far fewer care.

In the face of such odds, most are quick to assume the prospect for real reform to be hopeless, and the best one can do is get their share (usually more) of our ill-gotten riches. Many from whom I have heard these arguments do quite well at this, and have attained for themselves positions which nearly everyone would describe as success.

And I admit, there are no easy solutions, though I think a good start would be to admit what the US has done over the past decades and to acknowledge from where it derives its income. For many Americans, it is directly on the backs of the Third World

After such acknowledgment, I think it only fair to expect people not to directly participate in such horrors as they would not which visited upon themselves. Signing an order for 1500 bombs, knowing for what they will be used, is not a nice act. Direct non-participation would entail not taking a job for a corporation whom you know to perform actions undesirable for humanity, not taking a job for a government which you know has nefarious intentions at its root. There are many, many ways to eke out an existence without violating basic ethical principles. But it will not be a lucrative existence

5) “Change the system from the inside”

This happy bit of idealism is most often heard from young recruits of the establishment. They are cognizant of all of our government’s flaws and its essentially undemocratic nature, but they believe that once they attain a high enough position they can work to enact real change.

One need look no further than President Obama to see how often this turns out. It cost him $650 million to run for president. From whom do you think he had to borrow in order to finance that campaign? None other than America’s favorite street: Wall. The sad fact of the matter is that in order to attain a position of power in our Government one necessarily must be a multi-millionaire. Senate elections cost tens of millions of dollars, and a seat in the House has an ever-inflating price tag. Once you attain a position of power, you are by extension indebted to a variety of interests, all of whom treat you as a mere investment on which they expect a handsome return. I am having much difficulty in thinking of anyone who has successfully changed the US government by becoming part of it.

Written by pavanvan

August 11, 2009 at 2:41 am