Bet these bonuses were mentioned in Hillary's Wall Street speeches?
Wouldn't wanna get in the way of that gravy train!
02 September 16_ _ _ _ _ _ _
According to the study, 20 U.S. banks paid more than US$2 billion in bonuses to their top five executives over the past four years.
U.S. taxpayers have been subsidizing more than US$2 billion in executive bonuses at the nation's largest banks since 2012, according to a new report published Thursday by the Institute for Policy Studies.
“Taxpayers should not have to subsidize excessive CEO bonuses at any corporation,” said report author Sarah Anderson. “But such subsidies are particularly troubling when they prop up a pay system that encourages the reckless behavior which caused one devastating national crisis, and could cause more in the future.”
According to the study, 20 U.S. banks paid more than US$2 billion in bonuses to their top five executives over the past four years. This translates into a taxpayer subsidy worth more than US$725 million, or US$1.7 million per executive per year.
“The study focuses on a 1993 reform under former President Bill Clinton that was intended to rein in runaway CEO pay by capping the tax deductibility of compensation at US$1 million,” says the report. “Instead, the new rule fueled the explosion of CEO pay by including a huge loophole for stock options and other ‘performance’ pay.”
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said she wants to reform this loophole, but hasn't said she will close it.
Among other findings, between 2010 and 2015, the top executives at the 20 largest banks earned more than US$800 million in bonuses. Also, executives reaped large bonuses that their banks could write off as tax deductions.
North Carolina freed at last?
Yay, democracy (of a sort)! (From the "New York Times:")
When a federal appeals court overturned much of North Carolina’s sweeping 2013 election law last month, saying it had been deliberately intended to discourage African-Americans from voting, something else was tossed out as well: the ground rules for this year’s elections in a critical swing state. In each of the state’s 100 counties, local elections boards scheduled new hearings and last week filed the last of their new election rules with the state.
Now, critics are accusing some of the boards, all of which are controlled by Republicans, of staging an end run around a court ruling they are supposed to carry out. Like the law that was struck down, say voting rights advocacy groups and some Democrats who are contesting the rewritten election plans, many election plans have been intentionally written to suppress the black vote.
“It is equal to voter suppression in its worst way,” said Courtney Patterson, the sole Democrat on the Lenoir County elections board.
He was referring to a proposal by the board’s two Republicans to allow 106.5 hours of early voting before the Nov. 8 election — less than a quarter of the time allowed in the 2012 presidential election — and to limit early balloting to a single polling place in the county seat of a largely rural eastern North Carolina county that sprawls over 403 square miles.
In a county where Democrats outnumber Republicans by better than two to one, and four in 10 voters are black, the election plan limits voting to a single weekend day, and on weekdays demands that residents, including those who are poor and do not own cars, make long trips to cast a ballot.
Republicans, who wrote and passed the 2013 law and control all 100 county election boards, deny the rules reflect anything inappropriate.
“Purely bogus,” Robin C. Hayes, the state Republican Party chairman, said Tuesday in an interview. “In fact, we’re working hard to increase the vote from every region and from every interest group. And by the way, no great surprise: We want them to vote Republican.”
Politics is a contact sport, he added, and no one should be surprised that Republicans and Democrats alike try to stage elections on terms that favor their party.
Law Feminist Manhattan 3 hours ago
Tell me, which "sport" is it that it's fair for one side to win by preventing the other side from playing?
Lee Harrison Albany 4 hours ago
. . . These Republicans are just tipping their hand at how desperate they are; they know they are losing control. So they are throwing away at least another generation of brown people's votes in a crazy attempt to hang on for another election or two.
"Politics is a contact sport" in North Carolina (and don't get in the way of that sweet, sweet Koch money flowing all over that ruined acreage). Too bad that most decent people don't think that democracy should be a sport. Most think it's a right that Americans possess which was written about extensively in the original tutelary documents governing the developing political economy in the USA! USA! USA!
Those educated Republicans obviously learned other lessons in whatever classes they took.
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Bob Reich says the inside dope is that Trump, upon losing the election, will hire Roger Ailes and Stephen Bannon to start his own network along the lines of the temporarily embarrassed Fox and continue without abeyance the divisive rhetoric of his campaign leading to . . . ah, who knows? . . . Armageddon? It's quite possible when looked at with a common perspective that he and the Clintons are on the same team - just from different directions - after all, they are good long-time friends.
This argument has been made in many places previously including right here. The argument that was persuasive here was that Trump wouldn't have even wanted to be in a dull, boring, filled-with-obligations-to-lessers/losers, tiny-salaried public job - that what he wanted was a good public relations outing to prepare him for his next money-making branding business (Apprentice President comes to mind).
Most likely to remain after Trump are the economic anxieties Trump exploited. Globalization and technological displacement will continue to rip away the underpinnings of the bottom half of the population, creating fodder for another demagogue.
The real problem isn’t globalization or technological change per se. It’s that America’s moneyed interests won’t finance policies necessary to reverse their consequences — such as a first-class education for all the nation’s young, wage subsidies that bring all workers up to a livable income, a massive “green” jobs program and a universal basic income.
Clinton hasn’t proposed anything remotely on this scale, and House Republicans (who will almost certainly remain in power) wouldn’t go along anyway.
After Trump, our politics seems likely remain as polarized as before, but divided less between traditional right and left than between establishment and anti-establishment.
Trump will leave the GOP sharply split between its corporate donor class and its working class. Clinton will preside over a party divided only somewhat less dramatically between its own donor class and an increasingly vocal progressive base.
Which raises an intriguing, if unlikely, scenario. What if Trump’s authoritarian populists join with progressive populists to form an anti-establishment third party dedicated to getting big money out of American politics? The combination could prove an invincible force for wresting back the economy and democracy from the moneyed interests.
It’s not impossible. This has been the strangest election year in modern history, partly because such a large swath of Americans — Republicans, Democrats and Independents — have concluded the system is rigged in favor of the privileged and powerful.
Trumpism will continue after Trump loses. The open question is whether anything good can be salvaged from its wreckage.
So, should government work on the behalf of everyone? We know the wealthy say this publicly over and over as they are selling programs that mainly benefit themselves and their interests, but is it really possible at a time when mountains of money can be thrown at anyone who resists the rich "call of the wild" to get a government that supports everyone fairly?
On the latest episode of “It’s Our Money,” David Morris, co-founder of the Institute for Local Self Reliance, talks with PBI Chair Walt McRee about how to reclaim the narrative that government can and should work well on our behalf. And Ellen Brown talks with “The Earth Belongs to Everyone” author Alanna Hartzok about how our current method of taxation overlooks a more obvious and fair approach based on land and the Earth itself. Listen here.
The lines are sharply drawn in the "Democracy Now" debate between Chris Hedges and Robert Reich. Click on the link for the videos.
Chris Hedges vs. Robert Reich on Clinton, Third Parties, Capitalism & Next Steps for Sanders Backers
Greenwald: Journalists Should Not Stop Scrutinizing Clinton Just Because Trump is Unfit for Office
Vijay Prashad: Hillary Clinton Shows Dangerous Tendency to Go to War No Matter the ConsequencesListen carefully to the latest from the Wikileaks documentarians.
And then listen even more carefully as Julian Assange gives us detailed information on what's been happening up to the present time and then issues a call to arms for sysadmins to join the ranks of Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Thomas Drake, Bill Binney and Assange himself, who have "shown a duty to a greater humanity." That "hi-tech workers" must be helped to understand that they are the important people who administer systems which are an integral part of the greater world's system of information and, therefore, have an extraordinary personal power to affect the events of history and shift information into the knowledge Commons - that they "are the last free group to be able" to affect the future knowledge access situation or we the people "will be crushed."
(After clicking on the link below, a long pause occurs due to the voluminous applause before the speaker begins his presentation. Just wait for it.)
There are many scurrilous stories about the hundreds of deaths reported around the Clintons' political campaigns. It makes one (or should, at least) wonder why so many people keep volunteering to work for them. She is known to be very intelligent with a quick wit and a pleasure to work with as long as you're her personal friend (or a friend of a friend), but is this a good enough reason? Perhaps one is apt to undervalue pure greediness.
Of course, it's also puzzling to think about how many declare themselves to be voting for Donald Trump. What a field. If this is the circus (h/t to the Roman Empire), where is the bread?
It takes your breath away.
The public record of the enthusiastic, huge crowds for Bernie Sanders versus the sparse, listless gatherings for Hillary Clinton seem to have given away the confusing (to Democratic voters who just want to win no matter the candidate) but winning plan to steal the primary race for Hillary Clinton. Good thing they did away with those exit polls!
Although we're sure there's nothing shady about this, Julian Assange has some very interesting material to share about the murder of Seth Rich, the DNC staffer, who was shot in his neighborhood in Washington, D.C., the evening before he was to meet with federal officials to give testimony to the FBI about the machinations of the DNC against Bernie Sanders as they ensured the primary wins of Hillary Clinton. Or something. And no one will know now.
And speaking of "hacks" . . .
WASHINGTON - The much-talked-about hack that would allow governments to spy on your every move through your iPhone and iPad has become reality.
Apple issued a security update for those devices Thursday after researchers discovered spyware that turns hand-held Apple devices into the mother of all snoops, allowing remote operators to intercept all voice and data communications and pass along every photograph and video.
Researchers said spyware had never been found before this month that could “jailbreak” an iPhone or iPad and seize total control of its functions.
Efforts to use the spyware have surfaced in Mexico and the United Arab Emirates, where critics of the government appear to have been targeted for surveillance.
“There’s pretty much nothing that this spyware couldn’t get off the iPhone,” said Bill Marczak, one of two researchers at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto who discovered the spyware. “It’s a total and complete compromise of the phone.”
Thursday’s development is a hit on the reputation of Apple products as largely hack-proof, and it raises questions over whether the spyware is in widespread use by authoritarian governments around the world.
The Israeli company thought to have produced the spyware said in a statement that it insisted that governments that bought its products use them only in lawful ways. Coding in the spyware indicates it has been around since 2013.
The spyware’s existence also calls into question the security of widely used encrypted communications programs such as WhatsApp and Telegram, both of whose contents can be intercepted on a compromised device before they are scrambled, according to a San Francisco cyber forensics company, Lookout, that joined Citizen Lab in the probe.
The story of how the researchers uncovered the spyware and the evidence of its use is worthy of a spy novel itself.
Marczak and a colleague, John Scott-Railton, began tracking the spyware, which they call the Trident exploit, after a human rights defender in the United Arab Emirates alerted researchers to suspicious text messages.
The rights activist, Ahmed Mansoor, received a text message on his iPhone on the morning of Aug. 10. It said in Arabic: “New secrets about torture of Emiratis in state prisons,” and contained a hyperlink to an unknown site. A similar text message arrived the next day.
Mansoor was wary. He’d already been targeted by other attempts. In all cases, the text messages were bait to get him to click on a link, which would have led to the infection of his Apple iPhone 6 and the control of the device through spying software created by NSO Group, a shadowy Israeli surveillance company, Marczak said.
Marczak and his colleague infected a test iPhone of their own and “watched as unknown software was remotely implanted on our phone,” the two said in a report. They then contacted Lookout to help in reverse-engineering the spyware.
They quickly learned that the infection would have turned Mansoor’s iPhone into a pocket undercover spy “capable of employing his iPhone’s camera and microphone to eavesdrop on activity in the vicinity of the device, recording his WhatsApp and Viber calls, logging messages sent in mobile chat apps and tracking his movements.” Viber is another common communications program.
NSO Group, based in Herzliya, on the northern outskirts of Tel Aviv, was founded in 2010 and describes itself as a leader in “cyber warfare” and a vendor of surveillance software to governments around the world. It maintains no website and keeps a low profile.
The Citizen Lab report said NSO Group had been sold to a San Francisco private equity group, Francisco Partners Management LLC, in 2014. A call of inquiry to that group led an NSO Group spokesman, Zamir Dahbash, to call McClatchy.
Infection can turn an iPhone into a pocket undercover spy capable of using the camera and microphone to eavesdrop – recording calls, logging messages and tracking movements
He offered a statement that said the company’s mission was “to help make the world a safer place” and that it sold only to authorized government agencies to help them “combat terror and crime.” NSO Group does not operate any of its systems, he said, only selling the software.
“The agreements signed with the company’s customers require that the company’s products only be used in a lawful manner. Specifically, the products may only be used for the prevention and investigation of crimes,” Dahbash said.
He would answer no further questions and would not confirm that the company had contracts with any agencies of the UAE government or with the government of Mexico, where another case emerged of efforts to infect iPhones with NSO spyware.
As the researchers traced the activities of their own infected iPhone, it led to an infrastructure of some 200 websites and servers used by NSO Group. The team then punched in the internet addresses to Google and Twitter “to see if anybody was sharing links to them,” Marczak said.
That’s when they came across a tweet by Rafael Cabrera, a Mexican editor who works for Aristegui Online, a muckraking portal that has repeatedly broken stories on alleged influence trafficking by President Enrique Peña Nieto and his wife. Cabrera noted in the tweet that he’d gotten a “weird” text message that seemed to bait him to click on a suspicious link.
“We realized, oh my gosh, this guy received links which were connected to these websites that we connected to NSO Group,” Marczak said.
Cabrera, trapped in a traffic jam in Mexico City, said in a brief cellular phone interview that three members of Aristegui Online had been targeted with the text messages. In addition to himself, the portal’s lead investigator, Daniel Lizarraga, and another prominent journalist, Salvador Camarena, received texts.
All were on the team that in November 2014 revealed that Peña Nieto’s wife had received a $7 million mansion from one of the government’s biggest contractors. The team also took part, along with McClatchy and scores of other media outlets around the world, in the probe of the Panama Papers, the trove of documents from a Panamanian law firm that opened a window earlier this year on the murky world of offshore shell companies.
Among the revelations from the documents was that the contractor who had built the mansion for the Mexican first lady had also sought to create a string of offshore trusts and companies to hide more than $100 million.
Cabrera said he could not pin blame on who might have wanted to spy on his iPhone.
“I can’t say if it was an individual or if it was the government,” Cabrera said.
The type of spyware sold by NSO Group routinely costs at least $1 million, according to a report by Lookout, making it a tool available mainly to governments.
Apple Inc. was notified by Citizen Lab and Lookout on Aug. 15 of the vulnerability in the iPhones and iPads, and it said the security update provided Thursday blocked the use of Trident spyware.
“We advise all of our customers to always download the latest version of iOS to protect themselves against potential security exploits,” Apple spokesman Fred Sainz said in an email.
But Marczak said Apple devices, like all others, faced an increasing onslaught from malware. “Nothing is hack-proof, really,” he said. “There’s always ways into these devices.”
See also (if you have a care):
How to update your iPhone:
Apple's patch targets previously unknown spyware that infiltrated iPhones and can read messages, track calls and contacts, record sounds, collect passwords and location information, investigators told the Times.
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Saturday, August 27, 2016
"We live in an age of complete lack of accountability. Our institutions fail regularly. And there are no consequences. When American politicians used to violate the public trust by lying, they faced consequences, like being voted out of office or resigning in disgrace. But that’s not the case anymore.
Today, our ruling class lies about issues both big and small without consequence. It happens on both sides of the political aisle. The public does nothing about it. And the Deep State uses this apathy to further cement its control.
What once happened only in banana republics and dictatorships is now happening regularly in the U.S. And unless free citizens start holding their elected representative accountable to the truth, we will never regain control of our country from the clutches of the Deep State.
Hillary Clinton is an agent of the Deep State. And she was a big supporter of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade deal until Trump made it so unpopular. The Obama administration kept it shrouded in extreme secrecy. The text of the deal was kept in the basement of the U.S. Capitol, in a bombproof room, only accessible by U.S. Congress members. Transparent democracy at its finest.
Well, as details of the deal started to leak out, we started to see why it was kept double-secret. The main goal of the deal is to protect global megabanks and U.S. bond rating agencies from claims by investors who were cheated during the debt crisis. That’s just more evidence that the Deep State will eat your financial health alive. Will Hillary resurrect it if she’s elected?
But the Deep State’s grand plans may be disintegrating before our eyes. June’s Brexit vote was a critical battle in the long war against the Deep State. British citizens decided they’re tired of surrendering their democratic rights to multinational corporations, unelected bureaucrats and feckless central bankers whose policy goals are at direct odds with regular people. It dealt a deathblow to the Eurocrats’ one-world government dreams.
And with the European Union teetering, France wants its own EU referendum. Now millions are clearly losing faith in the power of once godlike central bankers. QE, ZIRP and NIRP have failed. And the price of gold is rising as investors have begun realizing that the monetary overlords have run out of bullets.
The Deep State has kept its vise grip on power through a rigged system. But what happens when the manipulated masses realize that system is finally breaking down? We may soon find out. Below, James Howard Kunstler shows you why our debt-based economy, which the Deep State depends upon, is collapsing around us. Will the Deep State collapse too? Read on.
By James Howard Kunstler
"What the world is witnessing, without actually paying much attention, is the death of our debt-based economy - that is, borrowing the means to thrive in the now from a future that can’t really furnish it anymore. The illusion that the future would always provide was a legacy of the cheap energy era. That era ended in 2005. The basic promise is broken and with it the premise for living as we had been. The energy available today, especially oil, is no longer cheap enough to run the industrial economies designed to run on it. Any way that you look at the dynamic, Modernity loses.
With oil under $50 a barrel, and gasoline under $3 a gallon (back east), the public apparently thinks that the Peak Oil story is dead and gone. But when it costs $75 a barrel to pull the stuff out of the ground, and the stuff only sells for $47 a barrel, the oil companies’ business model doesn’t really work.
The shale oil companies especially have been gaming the system by issuing bonds that pay relatively high interest rates in an investment climate where almost nothing else offers enough yield to live on, especially for pension funds and insurance companies. Two little upward bumps this year in the price of oil toward the $50 range prompted a wish that the good old days of high-priced oil were coming back, that the oil business would be profitable again.
The trouble is that high oil prices - say, over $100 a barrel, as it was in 2014 - crush advanced economies, so that demand for oil crashes, and with it productive activity. Without productivity, the debts issued by companies (and even governments) don’t get repaid. There really is no “sweet spot” in this energy cost equation.
A lot of wishful thinkers would like to believe that you can run contemporary life on something beside oil. But the usual “solutions,” solar and wind energy, don’t pencil out, especially when you consider that the hardware for running them - the photovoltaics, charge controllers, batteries, turbines, and blades, can’t be mass-produced and distributed without the very fossil fuels they are supposed to replace.
These matters add up to the essential quandary of our time. It has expressed itself in falling standards of living for what used to be the middle class, most particularly in the USA. European countries have tried to work around this problem with their rigid bureaucracies for keeping those already employed from losing their jobs.
In France, Spain, and Italy, this has only made it much harder for people under 30 to get a job. The jobs picture for millennials in the USA is not much better, though there’s no structural job-protection for their elders who are still working here. They live in abject fear of termination by the HR ghouls of the big corporations. Sooner or later the younger generation will explode in rage at the system and there is no telling what the result will be. We’re already seeing it in the black ghettos, where decades of accrued social dysfunction make the anomie and purposelessness - of young men especially - much worse.
The newer loser class of people who once had good jobs and now have poor prospects of ever getting them back gets swept up in the mania for their incoherent champion, Trump, who shows no sign of understanding the essential quandary of our time. The tragedy of Trumpism is that the man so poorly represents a large group of Americans with genuine woes and grievances. And the larger tragedy of our country these days is that events did not prompt better leaders to step forward.
The explanation may be that people who actually understand the dark dynamics spinning out are rather pessimistic about our ability to carry on under the familiar disposition of things.
Hillary represents the continuity of all the current rackets being used to prop up belief in the foundering business model of western civilization. These are the forces in our national life that want to pretend that nothing is wrong, that all the splendid rackets of the day - Federal Reserve interventions, corporate debt-fueled stock buybacks, military log-rolling, medical racketeering, the college loan Ponzi, pension fund levitation, primary dealer bank interest rate arbitrage, agribiz Frankenfood proliferation - can just grind along like some old riverboat banger engine keeping the garbage barge of American life afloat.
Thus, Hillary is shaping up to be the patsy of the century, likely to preside, if elected, over the biggest blowup of established arrangements that world has ever seen. If she doesn’t get into the White House there may be no backstopping of the insolvent banks and bankrupt governments and a TILT message will appear in the sky. That TILT message is likely to appear anyway because, remember, the authorities are only pretending that they can manage events.
In fact, all of their “management” strategies and shenanigans only insure the further distortion of the basic operating system, which is already so far out of whack from twenty years of previous management efforts that nothing in banking and markets really works anymore.
Companies don’t make money, despite rising share prices.
No one in his right mind buys bonds with negative yields - that promise to pay back less over time - so governments have to pretend to buy them. (In fact, they don’t so much “buy” them as simply extinguish them by playing three-card-monte with national treasuries.) And, of course, the masses of people in all these nations - including the patsy USA - sink ever deeper into poverty every month.
The release of tension is being felt in the ground game of politics where outsider candidates here and abroad are rising on a tide of rage and resentment.
The fecklessness and stupidity of the elites has been epic, sacrificing everything to maintain the illusion of normality.
Nothing is normal and “the people” are finally onto it. Sadly, it looks as if both politics and finance are veering toward crack-up simultaneously.
The daisy-chained Too-Big-To-Fail banks are already choking on the suicide bolus of derivatives. The equity markets are one algo accident away from cratering. The bond markets are a sick joke. And Hillary may win the booby prize of presiding over the smoldering wreckage of it all. When it happens, she will have no idea what to do.
The debt problem alone is absolutely certain to express itself in at least three major ways: the crash of equity markets, the collapse of the bond markets, and the loss of faith in the value and meaning of whatever money you’re using. Any of those events would turn the economic life of the linked advanced economies upside down. Any of them could occur during the 2016 U.S. election season.”
Posted by Coyote Prime
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Saturday, August 27, 2016
By Bob Nichols
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By Vijay Prashad and Juan Gonzalez
27 August 16
s we speak with scholar Vijay Prashad about how the United States carried out regime change in Libya and left behind a failed state, he notes: "The story in Libya is not dissimilar to the story in Iraq." Both are politically divided societies in which the United States deposed long-entrenched leaders, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and left behind failed states. Prashad adds that "in both instances, when the strongman was captured ... they said, 'We are ready to negotiate,' and the United States essentially was not interested in negotiating." He says the outcome in Libya contributed to the destabilization of Mali, Tunisia and much of northern Africa._ _ _ _ _ _ _
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form._ _ _ _ _ _ _
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you to turn to another country in the Middle East: Libya. Clearly, the U.S.-backed move into Libya, the regime change, the execution of Gaddafi has left, in essence, a failed state there. And I’m wondering if you could talk about what’s happened there and also the impact on all of North Africa as a result of the situation in Libya right now.
VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, you know, the story in Libya is not dissimilar to the story in Iraq with Saddam Hussein or with Syria, which we’ve just been talking about. You know, the problem is, these are all divided societies, politically divided; to some extent, of course, the ethnic and question of tribe should play a role, but they are politically divided societies. To assume somehow that in each of these societies there’s one bad guy who everybody hates is the most simplistic understanding of the Middle East. And the United States, you know, through NATO, conducted a regime change operation inside Libya, just as they did in Iraq.
In both instances, when the strongman was captured — when Saddam was captured, when Gaddafi was captured — what they said to their captors is very revealing. They said, "We are ready to negotiate." And the United States essentially was not interested in negotiating. You’ll remember, when Gaddafi was essentially lynched on the streets of Sirte, Hillary Clinton heard the news and laughed and said, "We came, we saw, we killed." You know, we conquered. This kind of attitude to countries like Libya to Syria to Iraq means you underestimate the — whatever support these people have, you underestimate the divided nature of these societies. And the regime change operation in Libya not only has continued with the destabilization of Libya, but it’s destabilized Mali. It has threatened Tunisia. It has, of course, created problems in much of northern Africa.
By Ian Sinclair
August 27, 2016
Open Democracy" - “The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary”, George Orwell noted in his censored preface to his 1945 book Animal Farm. “Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban”. Orwell went onto explain that “at any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it”.
The corporate media’s ‘coverage’ of Syria adds a twist to Orwell’s dictum – inconvenient reports and facts do occasionally appear in respected newspapers and on popular news programmes but they are invariably ignored, decontextualised or not followed up on. Rather than informing the historical record, public opinion and government policy these snippets of essential information are effectively thrown down the memory hole.
Instead the public is fed a steady diet of simplistic, Western-friendly propaganda, a key strand of which is that the US has, as Channel 4 News’s Paul Mason blindly asserted in January 2016, “stood aloof from the Syrian conflict”. This deeply ingrained ignorance was taken to comical lengths when Mason’s Channel 4 News colleague Cathy Newman interviewed the former senior US State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter, with both women agreeing the US had not armed the insurgency in Syria.
In the real world the US has been helping to arm the insurgency since 2012, with US officials telling the Washington Post in last year that the CIA’s $1bn programme had trained and equipped 10,000 rebel fighters. “From the moment the CIA operation was started, Saudi money supported it”, notes the New York Times. According to the former American Ambassador to Syria, the US "has looked the other way" while fighters it has backed have "coordinated in military operations" with the Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria. The UK, of course, has obediently followed its master into the gates of hell, with the former UK Ambassador to Syria recently explaining the UK has made things worse by fuelling the conflict in Syria.
And if they are not playing down the West’s interference in Syria, journalists and their political masters are presenting Western actions as having benign, peaceful motives. For example, in his official response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on UK military action in Syria, British Prime Minister David Cameron argued “since the start of the crisis the UK has worked for a political solution in Syria”. The Guardian’s foreign affairs specialist Simon Tisdall echoed this idea of the West’s “basic benevolence” in 2013 when he noted in passing that President Obama “cannot count on Russian support to fix Syria”.
Compare, this propagandistic framing with what Andrew Mitchell, the former British Secretary of State for International Development, had to say about the West’s role in the 2012 United Nations peace plans on the BBC Today Programme earlier this month:
“Kofi Annan, the very distinguished former General Secretary of the United Nations, came forward with his plan, asked by the UN General-Secretary to do so. Part of that plan was to say that [Syrian President Bashar] Assad is part of the problem here and, therefore, by definition, is part of the solution, and therefore he must be included in negotiations. And that was vetoed by the Americans and, alas, by the British Government too.”
Mitchell’s astonishing revelation is backed up by two highly respected Middle East experts. In September 2015 Avi Shlaim, Professor Emeritus of International Relations at Oxford University, noted that Western insistence that Assad must step down sabotaged Annan’s efforts to set up a peace deal and forced his resignation. Professor Hugh Roberts, the former Director of the North Africa Project at the International Crisis Group, concurs, writing “the Western powers… sabotaged the efforts of the UN special envoys, Kofi Annan and then Lakhdar Brahimi, to broker a political compromise that would have ended the fighting”. Indeed, the US Secretary of State himself conceded this reality when he recently noted that demanding Assad's departure up front in the peace process was "in fact, prolonging the war."
A quick survey of recent history shows this warmongering isn’t an unfortunate one-off but a longstanding US policy of blocking peace initiatives in times of conflict.
In 1999 the US used Serbia’s rejection of the Rambouillet Agreement to justify its 78-day bombing campaign. However, the proposed agreement included the military occupation and political control of Kosovo by NATO, and gave NATO the right to occupy of the rest of Yugoslavia. It was a document “that no sovereign country on earth would have signed”, reporter Jeremy Scahill noted.
Two years later as the US geared up to bomb and invade Afghanistan, the Taliban raised the idea of handing over Osama bin Laden if the US produced evidence of his involvement in the attack on 9/11. According to the New York Times “the White House quickly rejected the move” because “it did not ‘meet American requirements’ that Afghanistan immediately hand over the prime suspect in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon”
Several months into the 2003 Iraq War, the Guardian reported that “in the few weeks before its fall, Iraq's Ba'athist regime made a series of increasingly desperate peace offers to Washington, promising to hold elections and even to allow US troops to search for banned weapons.” Like Afghanistan, the Guardian noted “the advances were all rejected by the Bush administration, according to intermediaries involved in the talks.”
And finally, in January 2015 the Washington Times highlighted the various attempts made by the Libyan government to push for a negotiated settlement during the 2011 NATO intervention. Citing secret audio recordings between an intermediary working for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Libyan government, the newspaper noted the head of the US African Command attempted to negotiate a truce but was ordered to stand down by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s State Department. This account resonates with other reports that show how NATO ignored peace initiatives coming from the Libyan Government and the African Union.
Of course, some or perhaps all of these peace overtures may have been disingenuous and/or unworkable. However, we will never know because they were never seriously considered or explored by the West in its rush to war.
Turning back to Syria, the facts clearly show the West, by blocking the UN’s peace initiative while continuing to arm the insurgency, played a key role in prolonging and escalating a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and led to a staggering 11 million refugees.
Of course, Russia and Iran, by backing the Assad Government, have also played a central role in prolonging and escalating the war but as a British citizen whose taxes fund the British government my primary concern is the actions of the UK and its allies. As Noam Chomsky has noted “You’re responsible for the predictable consequences of your actions. You’re not responsible for the predictable consequences of somebody else’s actions.”
Roberts clearly understands what the predictable consequences of the US and UK actions in Syria have been: “Western policy has been a disgrace and Britain’s contribution to it should be a matter of national shame.”
As always, the government prefers to treat the public like mushrooms – keeping them in the dark and feeding them bullshit. And with our supposedly crusading, disputatious, stroppy and difficult fourth estate unable or unwilling to report basic facts and to connect some very simple dots, what chance does the general public have of ever gaining even a basic understanding of what the West is doing in Syria?