Where to start? Where to start?
That question haunts me every time I sit down to write about this obscene administration. Might as well start here
Donald Trump has said money to fund a major boost to defence spending will come partly from a 'revved-up economy' and reimbursements from foreign countries where the US provides military assistance.
Yes, of course. Let's bet the farm on a skyrocketing economy which hasn't happened yet and probably never will. Let us place limitless confidence in the financial "genius" of Donald Trump, the first man to figure out how to go bankrupt while running casinos.
Hitting up our military partners for payment is obviously part of Putin's plan to weaken or destroy NATO.
The government of Cambodia threatens to eradicate all unflattering reportage
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan took to Facebook on Saturday to threaten to “crush” media entities that endanger “peace and stability”, citing US President Donald Trump’s treatment of the press as a justification for the warning.
In the post, Siphan referenced the recent White House decision to exclude certain media outlets like CNN and the New York Times from attending a meeting in the press secretary’s office on Thursday.
Did I ever tell you the story of a German newsman named Fritz Gerlich, the bravest opponent of Adolf Hitler in the 1920s? (He also became involved in the strange case of a mystic named Therese Neumann, but that's a tale for another time.) Five weeks after Hitler came to power, Gerlich went missing. Months later, Gerlich's wife received a package containing her husband's signature round eyeglasses -- bloodied and broken.
Today, that package would bear the words "FAKE NEWS!" scrawled in red ink.
For a while now, Trump has tried to convince us that the mounting protests against him are a massive conspiracy. Now he wants us to think that it's all an Obama conspiracy
"I think that President Obama is behind it because his people certainly are behind it," Trump said. "In terms of him being behind things, that's politics. It will probably continue."
Evidence? He offers none. I have as much reason to blame Steve Bannon for my malfunctioning MP3 player.
If Obama (or anyone else) ginned up these protests, how could such a massive operation take place without a single slip-up, without a single turncoat, without a single right-wing infiltrator, without a single leak to the press, without a single Craigslist ad, without a single reason to think that the protestors were motivated by anything other than their own deeply-felt concerns? If someone is paying these protestors, where should I
go to apply for the job? I could use a little extra cash -- after all, I have an MP3 player to replace.
I don't know which is worse -- the proposition that Trump sincerely believes in his own hallucinations, or the proposition that he deliberately spreads lies.
Bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers.
It's impossible not to connect this
to the rise of Trumpism.
"Today, bomb threats were called into schools and/or JCCs in Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia," the JCC Association of North America says. "Many affected institutions have already been declared clear and have returned to regular operations. All previous bomb threats to JCCs this year were determined to be hoaxes."
At the same time, Jewish cemeteries
have been vandalized.
An orchestrated operation. Obviously.
Although I am convinced that these acts are perpetrated by anti-Semitic Alt Right bullyboys, I also understand that this barbarism will inevitably aid Zionism. The goal is to make American Jews believe that all gentiles are secret Nazis, and that Israel provides the only safe refuge. In furtherance of that goal, the anti-Semite and the Zionist have -- unwittingly -- become history's strangest bedfellows.
The Guardian has published an exceptionally important piece
by Carole Cadwalladr on Robert Mercer, the Trump backer who -- we have recently learned -- is the main financial power behind the Breitbart empire.
This article reveals that Mercer is also the power behind a libertarian propaganda organization that came to my attention some years back -- The Heartland Institute
. I'm quite proud of the film
I made about these assholes. The video focuses on Jay Lehr, a former jailbird who became the Heartland Institute's Big Science Guru. Right after my movie revealed his secrets, Lehr receded into the background. It's pleasing to think that I may have had something to do with that.
Intriguingly, one of the biggest bigwigs at Heartland is John McAdams, a right-wing zealot known as the leading voice of anti-conspiracism in the JFK assassination research community. Hypocrisy fans should note that the Heartland Institute promotes some very wacky conspiracy theories, as my film documents. Of course, the McAdams "LHO diddit" theory hardly jibes with the (equally wrongheaded) "LBJ diddit" thesis promulgated by Roger Stone, Trump's best friend. I wonder if Mercer knows about this conflict? Do you think he cares?
Like many another "born again" disciple of libertarianism, Mercer is a computer geek:
It’s money he’s made as a result of his career as a brilliant but reclusive computer scientist. He started his career at IBM, where he made what the Association for Computational Linguistics called “revolutionary” breakthroughs in language processing – a science that went on to be key in developing today’s AI – and later became joint CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund that makes its money by using algorithms to model and trade on the financial markets.
Renaissance was founded by a former NSA guy named James Simons -- another demonstration of the deep links between the Breitbart empire and Spookland. (Lately, some have taken to framing the intelligence community as an anti-Trump monolith. A serious error, that.) It should be noted that Simons contributes primarily to Democrats; he is America's fifth-most generous political donor, while Robert Mercer holds the number one position.
Cadwalladr describes how she stumbled onto Mercer's network of right-wing "news" sources, which came to dominate the Facebook feed of many Americans...
I Googled “mainstream media is…” And there it was. Google’s autocomplete suggestions: “mainstream media is… dead, dying, fake news, fake, finished”. Is it dead, I wonder? Has FAKE news won? Are we now the FAKE news? Is the mainstream media – we, us, I – dying?
I click Google’s first suggested link. It leads to a website called CNSnews.com and an article: “The Mainstream media are dead.” They’re dead, I learn, because they – we, I – “cannot be trusted”. How had it, an obscure site I’d never heard of, dominated Google’s search algorithm on the topic? In the “About us” tab, I learn CNSnews is owned by the Media Research Center, which a click later I learn is “America’s media watchdog”, an organisation that claims an “unwavering commitment to neutralising leftwing bias in the news, media and popular culture”.
Another couple of clicks and I discover that it receives a large bulk of its funding – more than $10m in the past decade – from a single source, the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer.
It was $10m of Mercer’s money that enabled Bannon to fund Breitbart – a rightwing news site, set up with the express intention of being a Huffington Post for the right. It has launched the careers of Milo Yiannopoulos and his like, regularly hosts antisemitic and Islamophobic views, and is currently being boycotted by more than 1,000 brands after an activist campaign. It has been phenomenally successful: the 29th most popular site in America with 2bn page views a year. It’s bigger than its inspiration, the Huffington Post, bigger, even, than PornHub. It’s the biggest political site on Facebook. The biggest on Twitter.
The propaganda techniques that brought Trump to power are not really Russian in origin; if anything, the Russians simply provided the raw muscle. The strategy
came from the American intelligence community, which has been perfecting these methods since the 1940s. One of these days, I will compare the election of 2016 to the "Quartered Man" media campaign which destabilized Allende in Chile. (If you've read Death in Washington
, you know what I'm talking about.)
But there was another reason why I recognised Robert Mercer’s name: because of his connection to Cambridge Analytica, a small data analytics company. He is reported to have a $10m stake in the company, which was spun out of a bigger British company called SCL Group. It specialises in “election management strategies” and “messaging and information operations”, refined over 25 years in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. In military circles this is known as “psyops” – psychological operations. (Mass propaganda that works by acting on people’s emotions.)
Cambridge Analytica worked for the Trump campaign and, so I’d read, the Leave campaign.
Last December, I wrote about Cambridge Analytica in a piece about how Google’s search results on certain subjects were being dominated by rightwing and extremist sites. Jonathan Albright, a professor of communications at Elon University, North Carolina, who had mapped the news ecosystem and found millions of links between rightwing sites “strangling” the mainstream media, told me that trackers from sites like Breitbart could also be used by companies like Cambridge Analytica to follow people around the web and then, via Facebook, target them with ads.
On its website, Cambridge Analytica makes the astonishing boast that it has psychological profiles based on 5,000 separate pieces of data on 220 million American voters – its USP is to use this data to understand people’s deepest emotions and then target them accordingly.
Here's where Russia comes in:
This week, Russia announced the formation of a new branch of the military: “information warfare troops”.
Sam Woolley of the Oxford Internet Institute’s computational propaganda institute tells me that one third of all traffic on Twitter before the EU referendum was automated “bots” – accounts that are programmed to look like people, to act like people, and to change the conversation, to make topics trend. And they were all for Leave. Before the US election, they were five-to-one in favour of Trump – many of them Russian. Last week they have been in action in the Stoke byelection – Russian bots, organised by who? – attacking Paul Nuttall.
Sorry to quote at such length; you must
read the entire article.
Let's make one last point: The"bot army" that placed Trump in power is now at rest. When the time comes, the bots will re-awaken.
One of the things that concerns Howard most is the hundreds of thousands of “sleeper” bots they’ve found. Twitter accounts that have tweeted only once or twice and are now sitting quietly waiting for a trigger: some sort of crisis where they will rise up and come together to drown out all other sources of information.
Many of the techniques were refined in Russia, he says, and then exported everywhere else. “You have these incredible propaganda tools developed in an authoritarian regime moving into a free market economy with a complete regulatory vacuum. What you get is a firestorm.”
This is the world we enter every day, on our laptops and our smartphones. It has become a battleground where the ambitions of nation states and ideologues are being fought – using us. We are the bounty: our social media feeds; our conversations; our hearts and minds. Our votes. Bots influence trending topics and trending topics have a powerful effect on algorithms, Woolley, explains, on Twitter, on Google, on Facebook. Know how to manipulate information structure and you can manipulate reality.
Trump's turn to libertarianism makes sense in this light. He wasn't always this way. He did not always think like Robert Mercer.
At one time, he supported the Clintons. At the beginning of the 2016 campaign, he confessed in public that Hillary had been "schlonged" in 2008. Not so very long ago, Trump espoused certain positions -- on trade, and even on health care -- which some liberals considered defensible.
Trump has become what I call a YAFL -- Yet Another Fucking Libertarian. Are his newfound views heartfelt -- or were they purchased?