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‘Facebook’ ads are way more important than the children we slaughter in some poor country

Media Analysis
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Some scandals are too big to acknowledge.

The fundamental issue involving the Russiagate scandal is something Noam Chomsky said about Nixon somewhere. Richard Nixon didn’t get the boot because he plunged Chile into fascism or bombed Cambodia or sided with Pakistan while its dictator was slaughtering people in Bangladesh. He got kicked out because one powerful faction in US politics, Republicans, broke the rules operating against another powerful faction, the Democrats. That is bad, but one would think mass murder is worse. Not, however, if you live in a superpower. The rules are different for people who are powerful. This is true in any system, whether Hollywood, the Beltway, or the Kremlin.

Americans, including American liberals, seem blissfully unaware this also applies to us. We think because we are a democracy that we have checks on the bad actions of our government. The problem with this theory is that the people we kill overseas don’t vote in our elections. And if you expect liberals to act as a check you haven’t been counting the bodies. Many liberals simply don’t care what we do to people overseas unless it is a useful talking point to be used against a Republican. Or think of it this way— given what powerful people have been getting away with when it comes to rape and sexual harassment in this country, how well will the system work in preventing American atrocities against people overseas?

After Nixon and Watergate the next big Presidential scandal was Iran Contra. Ronald Reagan supported death squads in El Salvador and genocidal generals in Guatemala (so did Israel, btw). He supported Jonas Savimbi and his UNITA movement in Angola, another terrorist movement. And Iran Contra nearly brought Reagan down, but not because the contras murdered civilians. Again, it was a process scandal. Reagan broke the law in arming the contras, violating the Boland Amendment. Plus the Iranians were the official bad guys and he was willing to trade weapons for hostages.

The hundreds of thousands murdered by the groups Reagan supported in various places didn’t matter. Oh, people argued about them. As policy choices. The Boland Amendment was meant to stop the supply of arms to the contras. But the idea that it might be scandalous for the US to participate in state-sponsored terror was never the point of Iran Contra investigations. In fact, Oliver North was treated as a hero who broke laws to save lives. The reason for the Boland Amendment was forgotten— it was more in the Beltway’s comfort zone to treat the scandal as a process story where an overzealous Colonel North broke the law with good intentions.

Objectively speaking, the worst things American politicians are responsible for are crimes against humanity, but those are never seen as scandals, except maybe a century later. Nobody is investigated, nobody tries to figure out who benefited, whether money or career ambitions are involved. At most we just treat war crimes as policy disputes. So some congresspeople and senators oppose our war in Yemen, and good for them. That is the best they can do with this system. But nobody expects a bipartisan investigation into our ties with the Saudis — who benefits and why. Nobody expects war crimes trials for Americans who assisted the Saudi bombing or for Trump or Obama.

It does not occur to the press that it doesn’t have to see things the way politicians do, as policy disputes. It could see the blood soaked hypocrisy and corruption. It could investigate in depth who benefits and how decisions to commit mass murder are made. It doesn’t. That is because the mainstream press is part of how the system operates, presenting some dissent within a narrow framework, but never stepping outside it. There are some good stories in the Mainstream Media on occasion— New York Times reporters Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal just did a devastating piece on our bombing of civilians in the Middle East. I can’t praise this story enough.  It is very very good. Yet it stands out because of its extreme rarity. We have been killing civilians for 16 years— and usually the American press is content to pass on what the government claims. And based on past experience with the torture scandal, not much will come of it.

I assume that many people in the press are unconscious of our hypocrisy. Others might see it; but they can’t step very far outside the expected framework if they want to keep their jobs. They know that part of our behavior as a superpower involves killing civilians, either directly or by proxy. Probably most Americans are barely aware of it. Yemen is just the latest and currently the most extreme example of our cruelty, but it is not that unusual. As this blog points out, we support the Israelis because we have racist contempt for Palestinians— their rights are of no importance to powerful Americans and this is why America has never been an honest broker as it pretends to be.

Trump is complicit in Saudi war crimes that murder children, or that subject them to hunger and famine which if it doesn’t kill them may permanently stunt their growth and cause brain damage. “Our democracy” chose to do this. The policy started under Obama and continues under Trump. And yet we only hear token reports. Facebook ads and stolen emails are obviously far more important than the children of some poor country. Russiagate fits into the standard US framework of what a political scandal should be like. It is about individuals doing dirty things, not a corrupt system and better yet it involves a foreign villain who sullied “ our democracy”. If we get to the bottom of Russiagate, bad individuals may get punished, the system works, and we go back to normal. Or so liberals hope, along with many Republicans, notably including people in both parties who supported the Iraq War.:

“Our Democracy” show its priorities by the attention it gives to stories. Russiagate is endlessly fascinating to political junkies and gets constant attention. Democrats love it. The war in Yemen is not that kind of story. The bombing of Mosul is not that kind of story. The blockade of Gaza is not that kind of story.

Both political parties are guilty to some degree and many educated liberal New York Times readers are no better than the Trump enthusiasts they despise so much. “Our Democracy” treats war crimes as policy disputes, when it notices them at all. This isn’t a bug — it is a feature. That is why Facebook ads are a scandal and the children we murder are not. Some scandals are literally too big to acknowledge.

Why did State Department spokesman John Kirby lie about Saudi bombing in Yemen? Because a truthful response would be an admission of American war crimes. Why does the mainstream press refuse to push this? And so: how strong is “Our Democracy”? What happens if we start seeing our leaders as people guilty of the same kinds of atrocities that lead to prison time for deposed dictators?

We have a choice here. We can accept a system where murderous policies are among the options built into the system, policies that, with considerable effort, might be debated once in a while if congressional leaders allow it. We can accept this system as “Our Democracy” and dutifully listen to our press as it tells us what really matters. If we do, then we are saying that we endorse the moral judgments of that system. We accept that Yemen receives only token attention because we agree that the people we kill are of no more significance than the ants we step on as we go down the sidewalk. We agree that there is no need to investigate our actions in killing such insignificant people. We have more important things to investigate, because “Our Democracy” is under attack by Russian Facebook and twitter trolls.

At what point do we accept that if we take such pride in “Our Democracy”, we are personally responsible for its actions up to and including genocide?

Donald Johnson

Donald Johnson is a regular commenter on this site, as "Donald."

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14 Responses

  1. Keith on November 18, 2017, 4:11 pm

    DONALD JOHNSON- “At what point do we accept that if we take such pride in “Our Democracy”, we are personally responsible for its actions up to and including genocide?”

    I fully agree with your sentiments! However, I disagree that we live in a classic democracy. Rather, we live in a capitalist democracy of one dollar one vote. The essence of capitalism is the monetization of power. The fat-cats and corporations call the shots, the elected government facilitates the process. Plutocracy with elections. Too big a topic to get into in the Mondoweiss comments section. I am pleased that you seem more aware than most of the ugly side of empire and of our responsibility to at the least acknowledge that reality. And yes, the very notion of Russia interfering in “our democracy” is worse than a sick joke insofar as it lends legitimacy to anti-Russian hostility and censorship of the alternative media. Also, as you say, it distracts from the important reality of Yemen and Somalia, etc.

    • Donald on November 18, 2017, 11:26 pm

      I was being ironic with the Our Democracy phrase. I can never remember their names, but some academics did a study a few years ago and found that policy choices align with the desires of the rich and corporations, and public opinion meant very little.

    • Sibiriak on November 22, 2017, 1:20 pm

      Keith: …the very notion of Russia interfering in “our democracy” is worse than a sick joke insofar as it lends legitimacy to anti-Russian hostility and censorship of the alternative media.


      Google plans to ‘de-rank’ Russia Today and Sputnik to combat misinformation

      Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google’s parent company Alphabet, has said the search engine is preparing to take action against state-run Russian news agencies, including Russia Today and Sputnik, which are accused of spreading propaganda by US intelligence agencies.

      […]Google has faced criticism for promoting the two news sites by including them in its Google News service – a curated list of legitimate news sites – as well as other algorithmic services that select and promote news.

      Of course, other sites such as AlterNet have complained about being “de-ranked” by Google, so this is not just about Russian sites, it’s about all alternative media, as Keith points out.

      And let’s not forget Google’s close ties to the U.S. State Department, it’s activities in support of destabilization and war in Syria, it’s funding of Crowdstrike (the firm connected to the pro-war, pro-NATO expansion, anti-Russian Atlantic Council which unsurprisingly claimed without evidence that Russia was behind the DNC hacking) and so on.

      • Sibiriak on November 22, 2017, 5:26 pm

        Some details on Google/State Department connection:

        Media Orgs Donate to Clinton Foundation Then Downplay Clinton Foundation Scandal

        To understand why The New York Times, Google, CNN and PBS would censor negative information about Clinton, particularly, stories revolving around the Clinton Foundation scandal, all you have to do is follow the money. All of these companies have donated—in some cases up seven figures—to the Clinton Foundation. Carlos Slim, Chairman & CEO of Telmex, the largest New York Times shareholder, donated between $1 and $5 million. Google donated between $500K and $1 million.

        * * * *

        A deeper look into Google’s ties to Clinton , specifically while she was secretary of state, exposes more reasons why the tech giant has a vested interest in censoring the AP’s bombshell story. Wikileaks exposed that Google teamed up with Clinton’s State Department to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al Assad in 2012.

        In leaked emails between Clinton’s staff and Google executive Jared Cohen—who worked for Clinton at the State Department before joining Google—Cohen details Google’s plan to get involved in the region and to boost Assad defections.

        The exchange proves that the tech company worked in concert with the State Department to topple Assad’s government. Further proving Google’s nvolvement with US foreign policy, Cohen helped draft the State Department’s 21st Century Statecraft Initiative, which called for using Internet and social media technologies to pursue diplomatic goals.

        Google’s controversial relationship with Clinton has raised enough eyebrows that the Oracle Corporation is using its resources to launch the Google Transparency Project. The mission is to shed sunlight on Google’s relationships with Clinton and President Barack Obama. The GTP has already produced a series of investigative reports on Google including one that reveals that there were 18 former State Department officials that joined Google as executives and five Google officials who acquired senior positions at the State Department. [emphasis added] ”


        Clinton email reveals: Google sought overthrow of Syria’s Assad

        Cohen worked as a member of the secretary of state’s policy planning staff from 2006 to 2010, when he was hired to lead Google Ideas, but was tied to using social media to incite uprisings even before he left the department. He once reportedly asked Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to hold off of conducting system maintenance that officials believed could have impeded a brief 2009 uprising in Iran, and Julian Assange, who founded the secret-leaking website WikiLeaks, has for years referred to Cohen as Google’s “director of regime change.”

      • Keith on November 23, 2017, 11:18 am

        SIBIRIAK- “Further proving Google’s nvolvement with US foreign policy, Cohen helped draft the State Department’s 21st Century Statecraft Initiative, which called for using Internet and social media technologies to pursue diplomatic goals.”

        Google was also involved in the Egyptian Arab Spring. Hopefully, this will result in a shift to other search engines such as DuckDuckGo.

        It wasn’t long ago that many naive progressives looked to the internet as a force of liberation, an instrument with which to bypass the media and attack concentrated power. Few seem to be aware of the power of the internet and social media for social control, and how it has become an important part of imperial soft power. Also, the extent to which the Democratic Party has become the very embodiment of neoliberal imperialism. Group loyalty triumphing over recognizing and responding to empirical reality.

  2. Boomer on November 18, 2017, 5:50 pm

    Eloquent and insightful. As Marc Ellis would say in praise, “prophetic.”

  3. just on November 18, 2017, 6:19 pm

    Thank you very much for this, Donald.

    No matter where I’ve lived (nor how long I have lived), the US and the West’s ‘foreign policy’ has been my most significant concern. Ignorance, greed, and dislike for others/racism fuels this all over the Western world (including Israel from which most Zionists came and come from).

    [I also care about the climate disaster that we are experiencing secondary to grasping rich folk and mostly ignorant and brainwashed Western folk, and healthcare that is denied to too many, etc.]

    If the US came clean and stopped the wanton and horrific killings all over MENA, all things much better might become possible . The US spends billions to kill millions. Meanwhile, people are dying of cholera, bombs, blockade, neglect, pernicious racism and Islamophobia.

    “Yemen’s cholera outbreak now the worst in history as millionth case looms

    Experts predict fastest-spreading cholera epidemic since records began will affect at least 1 million people by turn of year, including at least 600,000 children …”

    Please don’t forget Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria, etc. Why the US allies itself with Israel and KSA/Kuwait et al is beyond my ken.

    • oldgeezer on November 18, 2017, 9:57 pm

      600,000? Albright and the us gov would likely say it is worth it .

      Despicable criminal mass murdering scum.

      They hate us for our freedoms!

  4. Danaa on November 19, 2017, 11:35 pm

    Well said, Donald. It needed to be said too. Especially these days, when a groping by some political figure gets far more attention than collusion with or even the outright order of murdering people willy nilly in other parts of the world (I have Yemen, Iraq, Libya and Syria in mind, for starters).

    I can’t get over the fact that GHBush is accused of the crimes of groping but not the crime of bombing people into dust. War crimes don’t matter because they happened to other people in parts of the world we don’t care about. But inappropriate touching or groping – assuming it took place – even decades ago – now that’s a major crime.

    Same twisted moral standards with Bill Clinton –

    Not belittling the victims of inappropriate behavior on the part of powerful people. Only questioning how we rank different levels of victimhood, and how we exclude so many from even being viewed as victims, oftentimes, because it was the US’s policies that generated the victims in the first place.

    But that’s how it’s always been with Empires. Dehumanize others living on the edges of the Empire, but god help the gropers inside the Empire.

    Well, that’s why the Romans referred to those germanic tribes as barbarians. In other words, fair game. In due course, it was of course the “barbarians” and the vandals who swept into Rome, but not to worry – the US is still way away from that.

  5. eljay on November 20, 2017, 8:51 am

    Thank you for another excellent article, Mr. Johnson.

  6. Citizen on November 22, 2017, 10:42 am

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