Category Archives: History

Why the Fuck Is No One Talking About Nukes?

Alexander Zaitchik writes for VICE:

 

Image result for because it's fun t-shirt[…] Why is it so hard to talk about nuclear weapons the way we did 30 years ago?

For starters, nuclear weapons have always been synonyms for death, and people don’t like thinking about death. (This goes triple for “megadeath,” the unit-measure for every million people killed in a nuclear war.) Nuclear weapons also involve, not one, but two apparent paradoxes. The first cuts through morality and human nature: How can we be so smart, and yet so dumb? How can we barrel down a highway lined with flashing neon signs reading, “Horrific Mass Suicide, 1 mile”? The second paradox is just the physics mindfuck of it all: An atom can flatten a city. Like the vastness of our expanding universe, it doesn’t seem real. It can’t be.

Even during the Cold War, nobody wanted to think about nukes. It took Hiroshima, Nagasaki, a series of major crises, a superpower standoff, and a media focused on the gruesome details of nuclear war to spark even a modest global disarmament movement. The world of 2017 is a different place. There is no binary Cold War frame. The shared culture that could focus a conversation with something like The Day After is no more. The attention span required for sorting through our nuclear dilemma—also pretty close to gone. Nothing embodies this better than the devolution of the “peace” symbol: Born as the logo of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, a group that organized mass sit-ins in downtown London, it is now hippie marketing shorthand used to sell hazy nostalgia for a nonpolitical counterculture.

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We Must Never Forget That Genocide Begins With Groupthink

Stella Morabito writes for The Federalist:

[…] Humans are very susceptible to groupthink, ignorance, propaganda, agitation, and psychological manipulation that weakens their resolve. People are also often all too eager to blame their own problems on convenient scapegoats. These human flaws clarify why “Never forget” is the cry associated with the Holocaust and all crimes against humanity.

This is why everybody must respect the study of history. After all, studying history is about remembering. It’s about learning from experience, which is why we must emphatically reject any attempt to water down the accurate teaching and study of history.

There is a startling déjà vu in the air. Those who study history can feel history repeating itself in the wholesale persecution and slaughter of Christians in the Middle East. We can feel it in the intensified challenges to Israel’s right to exist and in the jihadist terrorist attacks in the name of Islam that are becoming almost mundane headlines. Elements common to both genocides also seem to be re-emerging in today’s restless world: new technologies that potentially deliver greater lethality; realignments of world powers; great displacements of peoples; and, more than ever before, the pivotal role of propaganda and information warfare in inciting aggression.

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The Most Dangerous Moment in U.S.-Russian Relations Since Cuban Missile Crisis

Amy Goodman and Nermeen Sheikh speaks with Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University, about U.S.-Russia relations after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent visit to Moscow. They are also joined by British journalist and author Jonathan Steele, a former Moscow correspondent for The Guardian, to discuss U.S.-Russia relations in reference to the situation in Syria. (Democracy Now!)

The Crisis of Western Civilization

David Brooks writes for The New York Times:

Between 1935 and 1975, Will and Ariel Durant published a series of volumes that together were known as The Story of Civilization. They basically told human history (mostly Western history) as an accumulation of great ideas and innovations, from the Egyptians, through Athens, Magna Carta, the Age of Faith, the Renaissance and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. The series was phenomenally successful, selling over two million copies.

That series encapsulated the Western civilization narrative that people, at least in Europe and North America, used for most of the past few centuries to explain their place in the world and in time. This narrative was confidently progressive. There were certain great figures, like Socrates, Erasmus, Montesquieu and Rousseau, who helped fitfully propel the nations to higher reaches of the humanistic ideal.

This Western civ narrative came with certain values — about the importance of reasoned discourse, the importance of property rights, the need for a public square that was religiously informed but not theocratically dominated. It set a standard for what great statesmanship looked like. It gave diverse people a sense of shared mission and a common vocabulary, set a framework within which political argument could happen and most important provided a set of common goals.

Starting decades ago, many people, especially in the universities, lost faith in the Western civilization narrative. They stopped teaching it, and the great cultural transmission belt broke. Now many students, if they encounter it, are taught that Western civilization is a history of oppression.

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‘Sherlock Holmes of Armenian Genocide’ Uncovers Lost Evidence

Tim Arango reports for The New York Times:

For more than a century, Turkey has denied any role in organizing the killing of Armenians in what historians have long accepted as a genocide that started in 1915, as World War I spread across continents. The Turkish narrative of denial has hinged on the argument that the original documents from postwar military tribunals that convicted the genocide’s planners were nowhere to be found.

Now, Taner Akcam, a Turkish historian at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., who has studied the genocide for decades by piecing together documents from around the world to establish state complicity in the killings, says he has unearthed an original telegram from the trials, in an archive held by the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

“Until recently, the smoking gun was missing,” Mr. Akcam said. “This is the smoking gun.” He called his find “an earthquake in our field,” and said he hoped it would remove “the last brick in the denialist wall.”

The story begins in 1915 in an office in the Turkish city of Erzurum, when a high-level official of the Ottoman Empire punched out a telegram in secret code to a colleague in the field, asking for details about the deportations and killings of Armenians in eastern Anatolia, the easternmost part of contemporary Turkey.

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How Western Civilisation Could Collapse

Rachel Nuwer writes for BBC Future:

(Credit: Getty Images)The political economist Benjamin Friedman once compared modern Western society to a stable bicycle whose wheels are kept spinning by economic growth. Should that forward-propelling motion slow or cease, the pillars that define our society – democracy, individual liberties, social tolerance and more – would begin to teeter. Our world would become an increasingly ugly place, one defined by a scramble over limited resources and a rejection of anyone outside of our immediate group. Should we find no way to get the wheels back in motion, we’d eventually face total societal collapse.

Such collapses have occurred many times in human history, and no civilisation, no matter how seemingly great, is immune to the vulnerabilities that may lead a society to its end. Regardless of how well things are going in the present moment, the situation can always change. Putting aside species-ending events like an asteroid strike, nuclear winter or deadly pandemic, history tells us that it’s usually a plethora of factors that contribute to collapse. What are they, and which, if any, have already begun to surface? It should come as no surprise that humanity is currently on an unsustainable and uncertain path – but just how close are we to reaching the point of no return?

While it’s impossible to predict the future with certainty, mathematics, science and history can provide hints about the prospects of Western societies for long-term continuation.

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Gobekli Tepe: Ancient Stone Carvings Confirm Comet Struck Earth in 10,950BC

The Vulture Stone, at Gobekli TepeAncient stone carvings confirm that a comet struck the Earth around 11,000BC, a devastating event which wiped out woolly mammoths and sparked the rise of civilisations.

Experts at the University of Edinburgh analysed mysterious symbols carved onto stone pillars at Gobekli Tepe in southern Turkey, to find out if they could be linked to constellations.

The markings suggest that a swarm of comet fragments hit Earth at the exact same time that a mini-ice age struck, changing the entire course of human history.

Scientists have speculated for decades that a comet could be behind the sudden fall in temperature during a period known as the Younger Dryas. But recently the theory appeared to have been debunked by new dating of meteor craters in North America where the comet is thought to have struck.

However, when engineers studied animal carvings made on a pillar – known as the vulture stone – at Gobekli Tepe they discovered that the creatures were actually astronomical symbols which represented constellations and the comet.

The idea had been originally put forward by author Graham Hancock in his book Magicians of the Gods.

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The Alex Jones Deception

The following documentary examines far-right radio host Alex Jones, and the affect his fear-mongering and conspiracy theories have had on the American public. Also explored is the relationship between him and Donald Trump, and the numerous contradictions of Alex Jones. (Reich Wing Watch)

 

Red Scare 2.0: Louise Mensch Has A List Of Suspected Russian Agents

Joseph Bernstein reports for BuzzFeed News:

Since last November’s election, the former British politician Louise Mensch has transformed herself into the leader of a wide-ranging internet investigation into Russian espionage and influence in American politics, media, and business. Every day, Mensch and her network of online detectives unravel what they claim is a massive conspiracy linking the Kremlin, the Republican Party, armies of internet trolls, and moneyed puppet masters around the world.

Mensch, who sometimes tweets hundreds of times a day, has claimed or implied that targets ranging from top government officials to journalists to teenagers to anonymous Twitter users are in thrall to Vladimir Putin.

Just since Inauguration Day, according to an extensive review of her tweets, the New York–based Mensch has accused at least 210 people and organizations of being under Russian government influence.

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When Humanitarianism Became Imperialism

Gregory Afinogenov writes for Jacobin:

In the 1980s Afghanistan, two world powers converged on each other, obliterating the national borders that stood in their way. The first was the Soviet state, bent on defending the precarious gains of a 1978 Communist coup d’état that it had actively tried to prevent. The second, caught in an even more painful paradox, was an uneasy alliance of foreign-funded jihadists, Western intelligence, and NGOs like Doctors Without Borders.

The way we remember the Afghan War today is as a kind of prologue. We care that the United States (along with, far more importantly, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) helped fund jihadists because those insurgents would later turn against the United States, serving as the ultimate indictment of Reaganite Cold War politics. We care that the Soviet Union failed in Afghanistan because that failure foreshadowed the Afghan quagmire of today. We care about the Afghan War because it spawned Osama bin Laden.

Timothy Nunan’s new book, Humanitarian Invasion: Global Development in Cold War Afghanistan, shows how incomplete this retrospective, US-centric view is. Though he does not venture beyond the 1990s, his argument is essential for understanding the world of imperial warfare today.

Afghanistan did not create the Islamic State, but it did serve as the laboratory in which the destruction of Third World sovereignty came to be fitted with justifications rooted both in human rights and in regime security — the recipe for modern “humanitarian interventions.”

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Mark Ames on Post-Soviet Russia

Abby Martin speaks with Mark Ames, known for his work as a Moscow-based expatriate American journalist and editor. Ames founded the eXile with Matt Taibbi spent a decade reporting from Yeltsin’s and Putin’s Russia while witnessing the country’s transformation from an American “colony” to it’s “number one threat”. (The Empire Files)

The Cold War Officially Gets Renewed For a Second Season

Matt Novak writes for Gizmodo:

The US military launched a missile attack on a Syrian airbase last night, and the President of the United States announced it by uncharacteristically invoking God three times in his three-minute speech. The baby known as Cold War II was conceived long ago. But last night, President Trump helped give birth. Congratulations! It’s a war!

There are a lot of things I don’t know. I don’t know how Trump personally feels about Russia; I don’t know what the US will do now that it launched 59 Tomahawk missiles against the Assad regime in Syria; I don’t know if a hypothetical President Hillary Clinton would’ve done things any differently. But I feel pretty confident that I know one thing: The history books will mark 2017 as the official start of the Second Cold War.

Now, this isn’t altogether fair to the concept of the Cold War. As I’ve argued before, the Cold War never really ended, it just got a bit colder during the past two decades. But history books demand dates. These books need coherent stories with a beginning, middle, and an end. They need characters, big and small—some good, others bad. These history books need valor and cowardice and heartbreak and redemption and money and piles of dead bodies. So many dead bodies.

And with all of that, it looks like 2017 is going to be our mark for the beginning of Cold War II.

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Khan Sheikhoun Gas Attack: We Don’t Need Conspiracies to Oppose U.S. War in Syria

Joshua Frank writes for CounterPunch:

Photo by Beshr Abdulhadi | CC BY 2.0It was a false flag! Al Qaeda did it! Why would Assad use chemical weapons when he’s winning the war? It had to be those evil terrorists.

These are the petty cries by some on the conspiracy-minded left with regard to this week’s barbaric chemical attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, which took the lives of at least 74 and injured another 350.

Of course the United States lays all the blame for the attack at the feet of President Bashar al-Assad, who has been implicated in many war crimes over the years. And unsurprisingly, the Russians, Assad’s chief allies, have countered, claiming the Syrians bombed a toxic weapons depot that unleashed the deadly nerve agent. So, in the end, according to Russia, these civilians were simply collateral damage in the War on Terror™ – an endless war, mind you, that the left once opposed.

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Robert David English: Moscow Sees Hypocrisy in Allegations After U.S. Interfered in Russian Elections in 1990s

Amy Goodman speaks with Robert David English, professor of international relations at the University of Southern California, about allegations Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections to help Trump win. English recently wrote a piece for Foreign Affairs titled ‘Russia, Trump, and a New Détente‘, and is the author of Russia and the Idea of the West. English says: “If we want to understand Russia’s point of view, President Putin and those around him—and of course we do—whether or not we agree with it, we need to understand how our adversaries see us, how all other nations see us, through their eyes. If we do that, we realize very quickly that their frame of reference has a lot to do with the mistakes and, yes, the U.S. interference in Russian politics in the ’90s, when we directly intervened in a presidential election to boost a losing candidate into a winning position—that was Boris Yeltsin.” (Democracy Now!)

Why More Highly Educated People Are Less Into Conspiracy Theories

Christian Jarrett writes for The BPS Digest:

Moon Landing Conspiracy Concept[…] Van Prooijen said the results suggest that “the relationship between education and belief in conspiracy theories cannot be reduced to a single psychological mechanism but is the product of the complex interplay of multiple psychological processes.”

The nature of his study means we can’t infer that education or the related factors he measured actually cause less belief in conspiracies. But it makes theoretical sense that they might be involved: for example, more education usually increases people’s sense of control over their lives (though there are exceptions, for instance among people from marginalized groups), while it is feelings of powerlessness that is one of the things that often attracts people to conspiracy theories.

Importantly, Van Prooijen said his findings help make sense of why education can contribute to “a less paranoid society” even when conspiracy theories are not explicitly challenged. “By teaching children analytic thinking skills along with the insight that societal problems often have no simple solutions, by stimulating a sense of control, and by promoting a sense that one is a valued member of society, education is likely to install the mental tools that are needed to approach far-fetched conspiracy theories with a healthy dose of skepticism.”

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Rebecca Solnit on Breaking Silence as Our Mightiest Weapon Against Oppression

Maria Popova writes for Brain Pickings:

Rebecca Solnit (Photograph: Sallie Dean Shatz)“To sin by silence, when we should protest, makes cowards out of men,” the poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote in her 1914 anthem against silence — an incantation which fomented biologist and writer Rachel Carson’s courage to speak inconvenient truth to power as she catalyzed the environmental movement. “My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you,” Audre Lorde admonished on the cusp of another cultural revolution in her influential 1984 treatise on transforming silence into redemptive action. “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented,” Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech shortly after Lorde’s landmark essay was published.

No silence is larger, both in age and in scope, nor more demanding of breaking, than the silencing of women’s voices — a millennia-old assault on the integrity of more than half of humankind.

Let me make one thing clear here: We — all of us, of any gender — may have different answers to the questions feminism raises. But if we refuse to engage with the questions themselves, we are culpable not only of cowardice but of complicity in humanity’s oldest cultural crime.

How to dismantle that complicity and transmute it into courage is what Rebecca Solnit explores in an extraordinary essay titled “Silence Is Broken,” found in The Mother of All Questions — a sweeping collection of essays Solnit describes as “a tour through carnage, a celebration of liberation and solidarity, insight and empathy, and an investigation of the terms and tools with which we might explore all these things.”

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The Roots of the European Union

Oisín Gilmore writes for Jacobin:

[…] The sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome provides an opportune time to look back at the EEC’s founding, and to clear up some common misconceptions.

First, the oft-told story of Jean Monnet as the driving force behind the EEC and European unification is just plain wrong. This narrative is relayed by both the European Union’s opponents and supporters. As the European Union’s partisans tell it, Monnet was the great visionary who guided Europe out of an era of war and strife and into an era of peaceful cooperation. According to the European Union’s opponents, Monnet was the elitist cosmopolitan who undermined European democracy by transferring power away from national parliaments to a distant bureaucracy.

Both versions of the story are wrong. Monnet simply did not matter that much. Most of his initiatives failed or only half succeeded, and he had little involvement in the EEC’s creation. The real impetus behind the EEC was economic: namely, the need to reduce tariffs to facilitate the expansion of European trade, and thereby increase European growth.

The specific form the EEC took, however, wasn’t inevitable. It reflected the changed political situation in postwar Europe. While many European liberals simply wanted to reduce tariff barriers, the shifting political context necessitated that workers and farmers receive at least some protection from the vagaries of trade. It’s that context which has changed in the ensuing decades, leaving us with a profoundly undemocratic European Union.

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Putin Derangement Syndrome Arrives

Matt Taibii writes for Rolling Stone:

So Michael Flynn, who was Donald Trump‘s national security adviser before he got busted talking out of school to Russia’s ambassador, has reportedly offered to testify in exchange for immunity.

For seemingly the 100th time, social media is exploding. This is it! The big reveal!

Perhaps it will come off just the way people are expecting. Perhaps Flynn will get a deal, walk into the House or the Senate surrounded by a phalanx of lawyers, and unspool the whole sordid conspiracy.

He will explain that Donald Trump, compromised by ancient deals with Russian mobsters, and perhaps even blackmailed by an unspeakable KGB sex tape, made a secret deal. He’ll say Trump agreed to downplay the obvious benefits of an armed proxy war in Ukraine with nuclear-armed Russia in exchange for Vladimir Putin’s help in stealing the emails of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and John Podesta.

I personally would be surprised if this turned out to be the narrative, mainly because we haven’t seen any real evidence of it. But episodes like the Flynn story have even the most careful reporters paralyzed. What if, tomorrow, it all turns out to be true?

What if reality does turn out to be a massive connect-the-dots image of St. Basil’s Cathedral sitting atop the White House? (This was suddenly legitimate British conspiracist Louise Mensch’s construction in The New York Times last week.) What if all the Glenn Beck-style far-out charts with the circles and arrows somehow all make sense?

This is one of the tricks that keeps every good conspiracy theory going. Nobody wants to be the one claiming the emperor has no clothes the day His Highness walks out naked. And this Russia thing has spun out of control into just such an exercise of conspiratorial mass hysteria.

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The Odds Against Antiwar Warriors

Andrew J. Bacevich reviews War Against War: The American Fight for Peace 1914–1918 by Michael Kazin for The American Conservative:

Image result for War Against War: The American Fight for Peace 1914–1918slog, but not without rewards: that’s what best describes this account of Americans who opposed U.S. participation in the European War of 1914–1918. While Michael Kazin, a historian of progressive bent who teaches at Georgetown University, tells an important story, his book suffers from a want of zip. The narrative meanders. The prose lacks sparkle. Still, for the patient reader, War Against War offers much to reflect upon.

Kazin’s subject is what he calls “the largest, most diverse, and most sophisticated peace coalition” to that point in all U.S. history. Not until the Vietnam War a half-century later would there be an antiwar movement “as large, as influential, and as tactically adroit.”

Perhaps so, but the American peace coalition that flourished a century ago failed abysmally. It succeeded neither in keeping the country out of the war nor in insulating the home front from war’s corrosive effects once the U.S. eventually intervened.

In what was not even remotely a contest of equals, the forces favoring war proved overwhelming. An approach to “neutrality” that mortgaged American prosperity to Anglo-French victory fostered decidedly unneutral attitudes on Wall Street and in Washington. Ultimately, however, arguments for staying out of war fell prey to vast ideological pretensions. As the stalemate on the Western Front dragged on, more and more Americans succumbed to the conviction that Providence was summoning the United States to save Civilization itself. Foremost among those Americans was President Woodrow Wilson.

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Conspiracy Theorist Alex Jones Backs Off ‘Pizzagate’ Claims

Paul Farhi reports for The Washington Post:

Image result for Alex Jones Backs Off ‘Pizzagate’ ClaimsAlex Jones, the conspiracy-loving media personality, apologized Friday for his role in promoting “Pizzagate,” the baseless viral story that a Washington pizza restaurant was the locale of a child sex-abuse ring run by Hillary Clinton and her campaign chairman, John Podesta.

In a surprising and rare bit of backtracking, Jones posted a six-minute video on his website, “InfoWars,” in which he read a prepared statement formally distancing himself and his site from what became a textbook story of fake news run amok. He addressed his apology to James Alefantis, the owner of Comet Ping Pong, the restaurant that was the supposed locale of the alleged conspiracy last year.

“I made comments about Mr. Alefantis that in hindsight I regret, and for which I apologize to him,” Jones said. “We relied on third-party accounts of alleged activities and conduct at the restaurant. We also relied on accounts of [two] reporters who are no longer with us.”

He added, “To my knowledge today, neither Mr. Alefantis nor his restaurant Comet Ping Pong, were involved in any human trafficking as was part of the theories about Pizzagate.” The story, he said, “was based upon what we now believe was an incorrect narrative.”

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How Russia and WikiLeaks Became Allies Against the West

Matthew Kupfer writes for The Moscow Times:

[…] If Russia has ties with WikiLeaks today, that certainly wasn’t the case seven years ago, says Mika Velikovsky, a Russian journalist who worked extensively with WikiLeaks and interviewed Assange three times.

While working for the magazine Russian Reporter, WikiLeaks’ main partner in Russia, Velikovsky received packets of U.S. diplomatic cables from Shamir, sorted through the documents and published articles based upon them. He also worked on the 2012 leak of emails from the intelligence company Stratfor and collaborated with WikiLeaks on the 2013 documentary film Mediastan.

In 2010, Velikovsky defended WikiLeaks on Russian state television’s political talk shows — programs that often reflect the positions of the Kremlin. There, he clashed with pro-Kremlin experts who claimed that WikiLeaks was the anti-Russian project of American spies.

“At the time, it seemed the authorities were worried about WikiLeaks and didn’t know what it was,” he says. “So the Russian mainstream media was very anti-WikiLeaks.”

Then, in 2012, Julian Assange got a show on RT, a Russian state-funded propaganda channel. The development came amid a worldwide financial blockade of WikiLeaks, when the organization desperately needed money. Velikovsky thinks Assange’s appearance on RT marked WikiLeaks’ transformation from a threat to an ally in the eyes of the Russian authorities.

However, he suggests that WikiLeaks’ seeming alliance with Russia stems from Assange’s own personal predicament. Hiding in the Ecuadorian Embassy for over 4 years has robbed Assange of “a lot of the joy [of life] that you and I have,” Velikovsky says. “If someone did that to us, it would be very personal.”

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Key Democratic Officials Now Warning Base Not to Expect Evidence of Trump/Russia Collusion

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

From MSNBC politics shows to town hall meetings across the country, the overarching issue for the Democratic Party’s base since Trump’s victory has been Russia, often suffocating attention for other issues. This fixation has persisted even though it has no chance to sink the Trump presidency unless it is proven that high levels of the Trump campaign actively colluded with the Kremlin to manipulate the outcome of the U.S. election — a claim for which absolutely no evidence has thus far been presented.

The principal problem for Democrats is that so many media figures and online charlatans are personally benefiting from feeding the base increasingly unhinged, fact-free conspiracies — just as right-wing media polemicists did after both Bill Clinton and Obama were elected — that there are now millions of partisan soldiers absolutely convinced of a Trump/Russia conspiracy for which, at least as of now, there is no evidence. And they are all waiting for the day, which they regard as inevitable and imminent, when this theory will be proven and Trump will be removed.

Key Democratic officials are clearly worried about the expectations that have been purposely stoked and are now trying to tamp them down. Many of them have tried to signal that the beliefs the base has been led to adopt have no basis in reason or evidence.

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Dermokratiya, USA

Sean Guillory writes for Jacobin:

Image result for yeltsin time cover yanks to the rescueIn January, the CIA, FBI, and NSA released their much-anticipated report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. It states that Putin had a “clear preference” for Trump and personally ordered operations designed to get him elected. Russia’s intervention, the report goes on, was the “boldest” in its “longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order.”

The outcry over Russian machinations comes with a heavy dose of irony considering that, twenty years ago, the United States launched an even bolder interference campaign to ensure Boris Yeltsin’s reelection.

The 1990s were one of the most tumultuous and tragic periods in modern Russian history. In 1996, a chaotic mix of Russian schemes — from fraud and profiteering to old-fashioned conspiracy — worked to keep Yeltsin in the driver’s seat. Throughout, American players silently watched, facilitated, and at times, actively helped construct the Faustian bargain between Yeltsin and his oligarch supporters. This pact would have ruinous effects on Russia’s democracy and economy in the decades to come.

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Inside the Illuminati with Rosie Kay and Adam Curtis

Judith Mackrell reports for The Guardian:

“I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole,” admits Rosie Kay with a slightly wild giggle, as she describes the world of conspiracies, cults and celebrities that she has been exploring for her latest work. The choreographer has long been known for her brave and sometimes surprising choices, and for the depth of research she undertakes. She and her dancers spent weeks in training with the British army for 5 Soldiers, while for Sluts of Possession she worked with the School of Anthropology at Oxford, investigating tribal and spiritual ritual. None of her projects, though, have taken her into such alien territory as MK Ultra.

Named after the experiments in mind control that the CIA developed during the last century, Kay’s new show explores the phenomenon of the Illuminati, a shadowy cult believed to be on an elaborate mission of global domination, spreading its agenda through the brainwashing of prominent individuals in politics and the media.

Belief in the cult is particularly strong among young people, and when Kay first began hearing about it from the teenagers who came to her dance workshops, she discovered that pop stars are considered to be the Illuminati’s most targeted “recruits”. Groomed from a young age, singers like Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan and Kanye West have supposedly been made agents of the Illuminati’s New World Order, their songs and videos carrying messages designed to subtly alter the public’s consciousness. According to Kay, “the under-25s now have a whole system for decoding the imagery of music videos, looking for symbols like thrones, butterflies, checkered floors and bird cages, to see if they’re carrying the cult’s message and to see which celebrities have been programmed”.

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The Dance of Death

Chris Hedges writes for Truthdig:

The ruling corporate elites no longer seek to build. They seek to destroy. They are agents of death. They crave the unimpeded power to cannibalize the country and pollute and degrade the ecosystem to feed an insatiable lust for wealth, power and hedonism. Wars and military “virtues” are celebrated. Intelligence, empathy and the common good are banished. Culture is degraded to patriotic kitsch. Education is designed only to instill technical proficiency to serve the poisonous engine of corporate capitalism. Historical amnesia shuts us off from the past, the present and the future. Those branded as unproductive or redundant are discarded and left to struggle in poverty or locked away in cages. State repression is indiscriminant and brutal. And, presiding over the tawdry Grand Guignol is a deranged ringmaster tweeting absurdities from the White House.

The graveyard of world empires—Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mayan, Khmer, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian—followed the same trajectory of moral and physical collapse. Those who rule at the end of empire are psychopaths, imbeciles, narcissists and deviants, the equivalents of the depraved Roman emperors Caligula, Nero, Tiberius and Commodus. The ecosystem that sustains the empire is degraded and exhausted. Economic growth, concentrated in the hands of corrupt elites, is dependent on a crippling debt peonage imposed on the population. The bloated ruling class of oligarchs, priests, courtiers, mandarins, eunuchs, professional warriors, financial speculators and corporate managers sucks the marrow out of society.

The elites’ myopic response to the looming collapse of the natural world and the civilization is to make subservient populations work harder for less, squander capital in grandiose projects such as pyramids, palaces, border walls and fracking, and wage war. President Trump’s decision to increase military spending by $54 billion and take the needed funds out of the flesh of domestic programs typifies the behavior of terminally ill civilizations. When the Roman Empire fell, it was trying to sustain an army of half a million soldiers that had become a parasitic drain on state resources.

The complex bureaucratic mechanisms that are created by all civilizations ultimately doom them. The difference now, as Joseph Tainter points out in “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” is that “collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilization will disintegrate as a whole.”

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The New Authoritarians: Today’s Dictators Speak for the Complainer, Not the Idealist

Holly Case, associate professor of history at Brown University and the author of Between States, writes for Aeon:

Image result for The new authoritariansWe might take the demonstrative demise of strongmen such as Nicolae Ceaușescu in Romania, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and – more recently and unobtrusively – Fidel Castro in Cuba to indicate that the day of the dictator has largely passed. Alas, authoritarianism is staging a comeback. Yet it is clear to poets and political scientists alike that the new authoritarians – Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan in Turkey, Viktor Orbán in Hungary – are not like the old ones. In his recent poem ‘Some Advice for the New Government’, the poet Adam Zagajewski gave Poland’s newly elected cabinet some mock advice on how to be a new authoritarian:

All professors of constitutional law should be interned for life.
Poets can be left alone. No one reads them anyway.
You’ll need isolation camps, but gentle ones that won’t annoy the United Nations.
Most journalists should be sent to Madagascar.

These new strongmen seem milder, less openly brutal than the likes of Stalin or Hitler. In the words of the Austrian publicist and historian Hans Rauscher: ‘Brutal, naked mass violence against subjects is, at least in Europe and around Europe, no longer declared, insofar as Putins, Erdoğans, and Orbáns govern with the consent of a becalmed people, “freed” from all critical voices.’

But the difference goes well beyond their choice of whom to oppress and how. The autocrat of the mid-20th century was a strict and demanding father out to shape you into an ideal. He wanted you to modernise, learn self-discipline and, above all, self-sacrifice. When Mustafa Kemal Atatürk addressed soldiers during the Entente attack on Ottoman-held Gallipoli in 1915, he told them: ‘I am not ordering you to fight. I am ordering you to die.’ ‘In the Soviet army,’ said Stalin, ‘it takes more courage to retreat than to advance.’

Tough love was thus the signature attribute of the 20th-century dictator. Even when he wasn’t demanding the ultimate sacrifice, he wanted you to lose a few pounds, mothball your fez, lay some more bricks, join a state-run youth organisation (or five), learn a new alphabet (or even a new language) and call it your own, memorise some poems, songs or passages penned by the supreme leader and call them ‘history’. Even democratic heads of state once had higher expectations of their citizenry. That line from John F Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural speech – ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’ – now sounds like an admonition from an earlier, distant century.

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Are Trump’s Ties to Russia a Dangerous Security Issue or Critics’ Fodder for New Red Scare?

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez host a debate between attorney Scott Horton, lecturer at Columbia Law School and a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine, and Robert Parry, veteran investigative journalist and editor of the website Consortium News. (Democracy Now!)

Why the Russia Story Is a Minefield for Democrats and the Media

Matt Taibbi writes for Rolling Stone:

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper appeared on Meet the Press this past weekend to discuss the Trump-Russia scandal. Chuck Todd asked: Were there improper contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials?

JAMES CLAPPER: We did not include any evidence in our report, and I say, “our,” that’s N.S.A., F.B.I. and C.I.A., with my office, the Director of National Intelligence, that had anything, that had any reflection of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. There was no evidence of that…

CHUCK TODD: I understand that. But does it exist?

JAMES CLAPPER: Not to my knowledge.

Todd pressed him to elaborate.

CHUCK TODD: If [evidence of collusion] existed, it would have been in this report?

JAMES CLAPPER: This could have unfolded or become available in the time since I left the government.

This is the former Director of National Intelligence telling all of us that as of 12:01 a.m. on January 20th, when he left government, the intelligence agencies had no evidence of collusion between Donald Trump‘s campaign and the government of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Virtually all of the explosive breaking news stories on the Trump-Russia front dating back months contain some version of this same disclaimer.

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Leading Putin Critic Warns of Xenophobic Conspiracy Theories Drowning U.S. Discourse and Helping Trump

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

Masha Gessen is a Russian-American journalist and author who has become one of the nation’s leading Russia experts and one of its most relentless and vocal critics of Vladimir Putin. She has lived her life on and off in the U.S. and Russia, but as a Jewish lesbian and mother of three children, she left Russia in 2013 and moved back to the U.S. in part because she felt threatened by the increasingly anti-LGBT climate there, one that began particularly targeting LGBT adopted families with discriminatory legislation.

Throughout the years Gessen has become one of the go-to Kremlin critics for the U.S. media, publishing harshly anti-Putin reporting and commentary in numerous media outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Slate, Harper’s and several articles about political repression in Russia for the Intercept. She has also become a virulent critic of Donald Trump, writing shortly after the election that “Trump is the first candidate in memory who ran not for president but for autocrat—and won,” while describing the critical lessons that can be learned on how to resist Trump’s autocratic impulses by studying Putin.

She now has a new article in the New York Review of Books – entitled “Russia: the Conspiracy Trap” – that I cannot recommend highly enough. Its primary purpose is to describe, and warn about, the insane and toxic conspiracy-mongering about Russia that has taken over not the fringe, dark corners of the internet that normally traffic in such delusional tripe, but rather mainstream U.S. media outlets and the Democratic Party. Few articles have illustrated the serious, multi-faceted dangers of what has become this collective mania in the U.S. as well as Gessen’s does.

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The New Yorker’s Big Cover Story Reveals Five Uncomfortable Truths About U.S. and Russia

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

The New Yorker is aggressively touting its 13,000-word cover story on Russia and Trump that was bylined by three writers, including the magazine’s editor-in-chief, David Remnick. Beginning with its cover image menacingly featuring Putin, Trump, and the magazine’s title in Cyrillic letters, along with its lead cartoon dystopically depicting a UFO-like Red Square hovering over and phallically invading the White House, the article is largely devoted to what has now become standard — and very profitable — fare among East Coast newsmagazines: feeding Democrats the often xenophobic, hysterical Russophobia for which they have a seemingly insatiable craving. Democratic media outlets have thus predictably cheered this opus for exposing “Russian President Vladimir Putin’s influence on the presidential election.”

But featured within the article are several interesting, uncomfortable, and often-overlooked facts about Putin, Trump, and Democrats. Given that these points are made here by a liberal media organ that is vehemently anti-Trump, within an article dispensing what has become the conventional Democratic wisdom on Russia, it is well worth highlighting them.

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