Saturday, May 04, 2019

Reading Between the Lies: Understanding Venezuela Media-Speak

Venezuela: Establishment Talking Points Translation Key

by Caitlin Johnstone - Rogue Journalist

May 4, 2019

Kingmakers and Clown: Venezuela's Trifecta of Evil

Things keep heating up in Venezuela, with possible “military options” now being seriously discussed at the Pentagon. And of course you know what that means!

That’s right, it means we can expect to see even more lies and manipulations from the political/media class as the narrative managers try to get their rapey little fingers into our minds to manufacture support for unconscionable acts.

This can create a very confusing environment for everyone, where up means down and black means white and “humanitarian intervention” means “murdering thousands and thousands of innocent human beings”.

With that in mind, here’s a handy translation key to help you understand what the establishment mouthpieces are really saying:

“I stand with the people of Venezuela” = I stand with some of the people in Venezuela, specifically the ones who support US government interests.

“Interim President” = Some guy most Venezuelans had never heard of until January of this year.

“Brutal dictator” = Elected leader who opposes US dictates.

“Usurper” = The guy calling the shots and leading the country.

“Opposition-led, military-backed challenge” = Coup.

“The people of Venezuela are starving” = Oil! Oil! Oil!

“All options are on the table” = One option is on the table.

“Popular uprising” = Unpopular uprising.

“Grassroots activists” = Let’s pretend the CIA’s not a thing.

“Freedom and democracy” = US control of Venezuela’s petroleum resources.

“Humanitarian aid” = Pretext for further escalations.

“Failed socialist policies” = Inability to overcome US economic warfare.

“Foreign interference” = An ally of Venezuela supporting its ally.

“We support the National Assembly” = Foreign interference.

“The Venezuelan Constitution” = Our convenient interpretation of the Venezuelan Constitution.

“We can’t just sit around and do nothing” = I have learned nothing since the Iraq War.

“54 countries recognize Guaido as president” = 141 countries don’t recognize Guaido as president.

“Troika of tyranny” = John Bolton’s second-favorite masturbatory fantasy.

“Special Envoy to Venezuela” = Convicted war criminal.

“The Monroe Doctrine” = I think all the countries on this side of the planet are my personal property.

“Operación Libertad” = Operación Libertad para el Petróleo de Venezuela.

“Shut the fuck up, bitch.” = Standard talking point from Venezuela coup narrative managers on social media.

“Talk to Venezuelans” = Talk to the wealthier, English-speaking Venezuelans with abundant free time and internet access who support a coup.

“You love Maduro” = I don’t have an argument for your opposition to US interventionism.

“You’re just a socialist who loves socialism” = I don’t have an argument.

“Go live in Venezuela if you love socialism so much” = I don’t have an argument.

“Maduro is killing his own people” = Yeah I’m just making shit up now.

“Maduro refuses to let in aid” = I just believe whatever the TV says.

“Trump is liberating the people of Venezuela” = I just believe whatever QAnon says.

“This US regime change intervention will be different” = I have replaced my brain with shaving cream.


Everyone has my unconditional permission to republish or use any part of this work (or anything else I’ve written) in any way they like free of charge. My work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, liking me on Facebook, following my antics on Twitter, throwing some money into my hat on Patreon or Paypal, purchasing some of my sweet merchandise, buying my new book Rogue Nation: Psychonautical Adventures With Caitlin Johnstone, or my previous book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers. The best way to get around the internet censors and make sure you see the stuff I publish is to subscribe to the mailing list for my website, which will get you an email notification for everything I publish. For more info on who I am, where I stand, and what I’m trying to do with this platform, click here.

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Assange File: Chilling Journalism, Icing Dissent

Assange Extradition Will Have Chilling Effect on Investigative Journalism, Free Speech


May 3, 2019
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange faced his first extradition hearing in London on Thursday in which he declared that he does not want to be extradited to the United States on charges of conspiring to hack a military computer.

Assange and his supporters though, argue that the case is really about punishing someone who published embarrassing information that the US government wants to keep secret. Shortly before the extradition hearing, Assange had been sentenced to 50 weeks in prison in the UK for violating bail conditions.

Assange is now being held in a maximum-security prison even though he was never charged with having committed a violent crime. We speak to Julian Assange's lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, about the first extradition hearing Assange had in London, where he refused to voluntarily turn himself over to US authorities.

Jennifer Robinson is an Australian human rights lawyer and barrister with Doughty Street Chambers in London. 

Civilizing Torture: An American Tradition Rebooted

Prudence Flowers reviews 'Civilizing Torture: An American tradition' by W. Fitzhugh Brundage

by Prudence Flowers - ABR

March 2019

The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1791, prohibits the use of ‘cruel and unusual punishments’. General Order No. 100 (the Lieber Code of 1863) declares that ‘military necessity does not admit of cruelty’ and explicitly bars American soldiers from torture. The UN Convention Against Torture, which the United States signed in 1988, stipulates an absolute ban on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishments.

Yet, as W. Fitzhugh Brundage amply demonstrates in Civilizing Torture: An American tradition, the United States has used torture at home and abroad for centuries.

Physical and psychological torment helped subjugate indigenous and enslaved populations, underpinned the formation of the carceral state, and has long been an instrument in America’s military adventures, particularly in the developing world. Yet notions of national exceptionalism have led many Americans to insist that the United States is a ‘unique nation with uniquely humane laws and principles’.

Thus, despite international revulsion at the horrors inflicted by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, President George W. Bush still maintained that ‘any activity we conduct, is within the law. We do not torture.’

Although the material in Civilizing Torture is distressing, Brundage’s approach is restrained. Acts of extreme cruelty are a necessary element for his argument, but this is neither an exhaustive catalogue of bodily humiliations, nor a partisan polemic.

The book ranges from the earliest moments of exploration and colonisation in the 1500s and 1600s, to the War on Terror in the 2000s. Case studies are included because, at the time they occurred, they triggered public discussion about whether certain practices or behaviours were torturous.

4 November 2003. Photograph taken by Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick of a detainee at Abu Ghraib nicknamed 'Gilligan', later correctly identified as Abdou Hussain Saad Faleh, with a bag over his head, standing on the box with wires attached to his left and right hand (photograph via Wikimedia Commons) 

By focusing on these debates, Brundage demonstrates the long history of torture in the United States while exploring the ways that torture has been discursively justified. The public nature of the evidence base also hammers home one of his core contentions:

‘torture in the United States has been in plain sight, at least for those who have looked for it.’

Some examples, such as the use of the ‘water cure’ in the Philippines in the early 1900s, or the rape, abuse, and murder of civilians in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, the torture and ritual humiliation of prisoners as part of the War on Terror in the early 2000s, are well known. Brundage’s contribution is to methodically ground these notorious events in the broader historical context, vividly undercutting official claims that heinous acts are the work of a ‘few bad apples’.

A particularly fascinating thread is the focus on physical and psychological coercion in the nation’s prisons and police stations. In the new-model penitentiaries of the early 1800s, ‘bodily suffering’ was often seen as an instrumental means of compelling obedience, crucial if inmates were to be rehabilitated. From the late 1800s to the 1930s, a modernising police force relied on extreme forms of violence (the so-called ‘third degree’) to extract confessions.

Although the Supreme Court eventually ruled these excesses to be in violation of the Constitution, police torture did not completely disappear. In the 1970s and 1980s, some Chicago officers openly terrorised African-American suspects, deploying the techniques they had learnt as soldiers in Vietnam. This element of the book is urgent and timely, vital to understanding the dangers inherent in the dramatic growth of the prison–industrial complex, as well as the long history of police brutality that fuels contemporary movements such as Black Lives Matter.

An American soldier, aided by South Vietnamese soldiers, 
interrogates a suspected Viet Cong insurgent, undated.

Throughout, Brundage offers important insights into how extreme acts of physical and psychological violence are reframed and redefined. In almost every instance, defenders of torturous practices present American actions as falling on the acceptable side of state violence. As one CIA agent mused about the methods used to interrogate Vietnamese communist prisoners, ‘Were they tortured? It depends on what you call torture.’

At various points in US history, hangings, suffocation, stress positions, beatings, burnings, electrocution, waterboarding, sustained solitary confinement, and profoundly disorienting ‘brain warfare’ were all treated as legitimate techniques for the use of a modern, civilised society.

This long-running renegotiation of what exactly constitutes torture has also helped Americans maintain that ‘torture is something done by other people elsewhere’ (whether that be Catholics during the Spanish Inquisition, Native Americans, Filipino and Vietnamese nationalists, communists, or terrorists). When American colonists, prison officers, slave owners, soldiers, or police officers subject people to profound bodily and psychological horror, it is something else, something other than torture.

This book is thus as much about wilful ignorance and national self-delusion as it is about the physical mechanics of torture. Despite vigorous debates amongst contemporaries, and copious historical evidence to the contrary, Americans have repeatedly pleaded ignorance about the actions of the state. Brundage’s book is a welcome corrective, posing a profound and systematic challenge to this ‘compulsion to restore national innocence’.

7 November 2003. Corporal Charles Graner and Specialist 
Sabrina Harman pose for a picture behind nude detainees at Abu Ghraib 
(photograph via Wikimedia Commons)

Brundage also demonstrates that US officials and the broader public have frequently accepted torturous practices, as long as they occur in a state of exception and to those viewed as outsiders. Whether that be the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, the War on Crime, or the Civil War, critics of state violence are told that the pain and suffering of a minority is necessary to preserve the security of the majority. Victims of torture (whether they be slaves, Native Americans, criminals, prisoners, or ‘illegal enemy combatants’) are rhetorically defined as barbarous and uncivilised adversaries, unworthy of the protections officially offered by the state.

Although each case study includes voices that spoke in horror at what was done in the name of America, in most instances these critics had little success in halting abhorrent practices or in holding individual torturers (let alone those in power) to account.

Understanding the history of torture in the United States will not prevent future violence, but Brundage views this information as providing an important framework for an engaged citizenry. Civilizing Torture encourages the reader to look carefully at the ‘subtle work of denial and erasure’ used by torture apologists, to be aware of the circumstances that are used to justify torture, and to be conscious of the types of people likely to experience the unchecked violence of the state.

Given that the current occupant of the White House has insisted that torture ‘absolutely’ works and has boasted he ‘would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding’, the lessons of Civilizing Torture feel positively urgent.

Prudence Flowers is a lecturer in the history program at Flinders University. She teaches and writes about the United States, with a particular focus on social movement activism, conservative group formation and ideology, and the politics of gender and sexuality.

She is the author of The Right-to-Life Movement, the Reagan Administration, and the Politics of Abortion (Palgrave, 2019).

For more information, see her staff webpage:

Friday, May 03, 2019

Waters on Palestine and Standing Up for Human Rights

Roger Waters on Palestine: “You Have to Stand Up for People’s Human Rights All Over the World”

by DemocracyNow!

May 3, 2019

After a judge ruled a panel can move forward Saturday at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on “Israel, Free Speech, and the Battle for Palestinian Human Rights,” we speak with one of the event’s scheduled participants.

Roger Waters, co-founder of Pink Floyd, one of the most popular rock bands of all time. He says he welcomes the lawsuit that challenged the event, because “what it does is it serves to shine a light on the predicament of the Palestinian people.”

Trump a Sideshow to the Real Business of Empire

Environmental Crisis, Oil Geopolitics and the Trump Diversion

by Rob Urie - CounterPunch

May 3, 2019  

America in 2019 is a very strange place. The problems of the age: looming environmental calamity, the threat of nuclear annihilation and accumulating class tensions, keep being shoved to the side through diversionary tactics.

No sooner had a range of left programs been consolidated under the banner of a Green New Deal than establishment Democrats and their partners in misdirection made it known that ‘stopping Trump’ was their only priority. As priorities go, this one speaks to the limitations of its proponents.

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Back in the land that time hasn’t forgotten, environmental calamity has been a growing threat for three centuries now. Its growth rate accelerated after WWII along with the threat of nuclear annihilation.

Class tensions have been escalating since the 1970s as neoliberalism has diminished the public sphere and accrued wealth and income to those who benefit from social destruction. Given the singular source and its persistence through periods in which either Republicans or Democrats exercised control, systemic drivers are the only explanation left standing.

Graph: Capitalist countries produce CO2 emissions; the Global South bears the impact in terms of global warming. In environmental terms, capitalist production is class warfare where the rich get richer by making the poor poorer. On the right side of the graph is the relationship of GDP to CO2 emissions. On the left is the economic impact of CO2 emissions on those who didn’t produce it. By forcing costs, in terms of global warming, onto the Global South, people who see no benefit from capitalist production bear its costs. Source: Diffenbaugh, Burke

The rational reason for suggesting that these problems preceded Donald Trump’s tenure as President is to posit that because he didn’t cause them, they won’t disappear when he leaves office. For those who might not have lived through the current load of Democratic bullshit before, Democrats sound reasonable until they are in office. Then they act like Republicans. Here is Barack Obama explaining that he is a Republican. As the young and politically infirm are about to discover, the American political establishment exists to stifle the will of the people.

From the time I was a wee lad, most Americans have wanted to do the right thing when they are provided accurate information about what it might be. Once the bullshit about ‘a government takeover of health care’ dissipated, most Americans want Medicare for All. Once the lie that environmental problems aren’t real and consequential dissipated, most Americans will make sacrifices for a livable environment. But what people want is antithetical to what oligarchs want. For-profit sick care and environmental destruction are the sources of the oligarch’s political power.

As not constructive as most of Donald Trump’s political program is, the Democrats need him in order to portray their own service to these oligarchs as in the public interest. As circumstances have it, House Democrats are doing what they do: in lieu of selling programs like Medicare for All and a Green New Deal to a public that is already predisposed to support them, they are hiding behind Republican ‘obstruction’ to craft Republican proposals that Republicans will then worsen. The political contest is for oligarchic favor— which makes it a race to the bottom in terms of public policy.

For instance, Obamacare was a slight reworking of the Republican Heritage Foundation’s program first implemented in Massachusetts by Republican Governor Mitt Romney. In Democratic Party logic, Republicans had to support a Republican plan implemented by a Republican Governor. Not to be outdone, the Republicans doubled down, rightly arguing that their own plan was every bit the piece of shit they knew it was when they pushed it. Democrats are now in the position of defending a Republican plan that even Republicans know doesn’t work as advertised.

The strategic idiocy of Democrats rallying to save a Republican plan from Republicans trying to kill it illustrates the conundrum. Through service to oligarchs and the corporations they control, the Democrat’s schtick of having a conscience only keeps them in power as long as it is plausible. With the popular will now on the side of Medicare for All and real environmental resolution. rigging congressional committees to override the popular will leaves fear-mongering of the Republican ‘other’ as their only fallback. They are now so far to the right of the public that claiming the political center is no longer plausible.

More to the point, this horse-race logic is taking place during potentially world-ending environmental crises. In addition to climate change and mass extinction, five decades of neoliberalism have left local municipalities and states with environmental crises they lack the resources to address. Much of the U.S. has drinking water poisoned with lead, PFAS and agricultural run-off. Beginning decades ago farm land was being abandoned because it had been rendered unusable by an accumulation of agrochemicals. Fracking has destroyed the water tables on which agriculture is dependent. Urban gardens are poisoned with lead, asbestos and PFAS. Clean soil must be imported to make food grown in them fit for human consumption.

Degradation of local environments is so pervasive that it is a crisis of the scale of climate change and mass extinction. People can’t live without drinkable water, breathable air and arable land. And yet the American political system still, in 2019, exists to prevent polluters from having to clean up their messes. Nor could they, even if they were made to try. The scale of the cleanup can only be met through collective action. The IPCC estimated that ‘we’ had twelve years from a year ago to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Mass extinction is already underway.

As the graph above illustrates, climate change is the product of the rich forcing their toxic waste onto humanity. More interesting still, is that GDP adjusted for environmental destruction (the amount below the ‘0’ line) is a net loser. Decades ago American oligarchs launched a natural experiment of the toxic effects of their products and production methods on a population from whom no consent was sought or given. Today, these same oligarchs and corporate titans have enriched themselves by making the water undrinkable, the air unbreathable and the earth toxic.

Although seemingly distinct, current U.S. machinations against Venezuela and Iran illustrate a related conundrum. What are the chances that the American plan is to leave Venezuela’s oil in the ground? And what are the chances that American designs on Venezuela are a Republican creation as opposed to being bi-partisan? Nicolas Maduro was made politically vulnerable in part by economic sanctions imposed by Barack Obama. And given the death and destruction that the U.S. has left in its wake since its so-called founding, what plausible argument is there that Mr. Obama’s plan for Venezuela wasn’t one with Mr. Trump’s?

The American plan since the 1950s has been to control oil for purposes of geopolitical leverage. But this isn’t my plan, nor the plan of anyone I know. The Americans for whom it is a plan are the oligarchs who have made their fortunes from forcing others to bear the costs of their production. When the costs of building and maintaining the U.S. military to fight resource wars, the subsidies for finding and extracting resources and the externalized costs of dirty production are added together, capitalism is among the worst ideas in human history. The human costs aggregate to genocide. But it continues to make a small group of oligarchs rich.

In this light, much of the left response to Donald Trump continues to be both diversionary and reactionary. Analyses of international political developments, from trade negotiations to American actions against Iran and Venezuela to the political use of historical explanations of the rise of European fascism, continue to be posed uncritically against twentieth century liberalism. This would be fine and well if an historical accounting— from climate change and mass extinction to unhinged militarism, slavery and genocide, the threat of nuclear annihilation and growing class tensions, prefaced these analyses.

But this hasn’t been the case. Democrats and liberals, with help from an erstwhile left, have acted to restore liberalism under the anti-historical ruse that liberal ‘values’ bear relation to American actions. In one of the more telling metaphors for the American ‘experiment,’ Robert McNamara states far into Errol Morris’s film The Fog of War that the U.S. spent three decades slaughtering Vietnamese without once having had an actual conversation with the Vietnamese political leadership about what was motivating Vietnamese politics. Had they, they would have understood that the American rationale for the slaughter of four million human beings was pure fantasy.

Further back, the liberal program ties to the end of WWII when neoliberalism was conceived to provide ideological distance from the Nazi use of the American model of economic development to turn Germany into an industrial powerhouse. Slavery, genocide, imperialism and savaging the environment were good enough for the Americans, went the thesis. Through differentiating the authoritarian from the democratic political model, the Americans continued to act as they had, but with moral authority theorized to come from the consent of the ruled.

The next seventy years in the U.S. were dedicated to manufacturing the consent of the ruled. The U.S. ranks far down lists of countries with free and fair elections. Democrats could take their program to the people to bring in the half of the eligible electorate that doesn’t vote. But they would rather pass off rigged committees of corporate hacks and lobbyists as simulacra of democratic consent than take a risk that actual voters might support programs in their own interest. The liberal assumption of moral authority is based in a fraud.

Graph: American foreign policy has serially targeted countries to control the global production and distribution of oil. Assertions of humanitarian concern are laughable given the history. With Venezuela and Iran now in U.S. foreign policy sights, concern is for the people of these nations and the future of humanity as this oil is consumed. Russia! raised the specter of competition for oil and gas customers. Capitalists are known for hating competition. Source:

Here is where liberalism asserts itself: Venezuela can rightly be treated as a colony because the authoritarian Nicolas Maduro, elected through free and fair elections, doesn’t serve with the consent of the governed. Likewise, Muammar Gadhafi, Saddam Hussein, the state-theocratic leadership of Iran and Russia!, lack the consent of the governed. Who decides who has this consent? Well Barack Obama did when he implemented ‘humanitarian’ sanctions against Venezuela. Donald Trump does when he tries to impose American governance on the people of Venezuela.

Following the release of comprehensive evidence that climate change and mass extinction are killing the planet, left political energy coalesced around a Green New Deal to affect and facilitate the transition to a just and sustainable economy. The integration of polluting industries into the global economy means that any meaningful move toward sustainability will result in large-scale economic dislocations if transition programs aren’t created to address them. This is the best hope for avoiding the unplanned devolution of necessary and sustaining economic production.

What is yet to be resolved in this new environmental era is the moral and political accounting of the age. Are those who light the house on fire responsible for killing those dwelling within? Or is it still plausible that act and outcome are unrelated? The U.S. is the center of environmental resolution because it is the cause of most of the damage. Ignorance on the part of the powers that be hasn’t been plausible for at least a few decades now. ‘Liberating’ oil to be consumed is an act of environmental arson. And as inconvenient as attribution may seem at present, responsibility for doing so is bi-partisan.

The American role in creating these injuries gives it a special responsibility going forward. This gets to the issue of distractions. How plausible is it that the Democratic establishment— alleged to be knowledgeable in the science of climate change, intends to act boldly toward solving environmental ills while it supports the very worst of twentieth century resource imperialism? There aren’t many knowable outcomes in life, but this one is certain. The Democratic establishment will do everything in its power to undermine and / or corrupt Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.

More articles by:Rob Urie