politics

Trump’s Supreme Court tweets and recent attacks on the rule of law

This morning I went to check what news was trending on Twitter. I came across President Trump’s tweet boasting about a 9-0 unanimous win, in regards to his travel ban.

Many tweets surrounding this tweet were in support, denouncing the Democrats as not knowing about how the constitution works, and so on. After a little digging I discovered that the supreme court had partially reinstated his travel ban. The travel ban blocks people from six-Muslim majority countries, entering America. The countries are: Iran, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Somalia and Yemen.

This all stems from two court-rulings, one in the fourth circuit and one in the ninth circuit court. The first ruling stopped the President from suspending the entry of all refugees for 120 days. And it also reduced the cap for the amount of refugees to be admitted from 110,000 to 50,000, in the 2017 fiscal year. These have now been overturned, with one exception, refugees from these countries can’t enter America, unless they can prove that they have a “bonafide relationship with a person or entity” there. “But when it comes to refugees who lack any such connection to the United States, for the reasons we have set out, the balance tips in favor of the Government’s compelling need to provide for the Nation’s security,” the court said. No doubt there will be confusion in coming months as to how broad the term “bona fide” is and what that means in regards to travel documentation.  

The ruling in the ninth circuit court, was about executive-power overreach. They believed that in issuing the executive order for the travel ban, that he’d exceeded the scope of the authority that has been delegated to him by congress. The Trump administration argues that the fourth circuit ruling created uncertainty about the President’s authority to combat terrorism, and that the 9th circuit’s decision, “threatens to hamstring the Executive in safeguarding the nation’s border.”    

The Supreme court has agreed to hear the government’s arguments in October, nothing has been scheduled yet. Sean Spicer was challenged at his media briefing, over the claims that the President made on Twitter about the “9-0” decision. It was in fact a per curium decision, which means that only a majority of votes were needed by the court, to partially reinstate the travel ban and hear arguments in October. Judges aren’t required to reveal their votes. Interestingly, three conservative judges — Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch — signed a separate opinion stating that they wanted the travel ban fully reinstated.

I’ve written a little about Mr Thomas and his wife, so far, in my propaganda series. He was one of the judges that presided over the Citizens United v. Federal Electoral Commission case. He was one of the judges to rule in favour of Citizens United (CU), meaning that non-profit organisations could accept as many donations as they liked, for and against political candidates. Donations are meant to be made to benefit the public good, not private interest. As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group, to keep their charity status CU, is classed as a “social welfare” group. It can participate in electoral politics but it mustn’t be their “primary activity”. Many groups get around this by spending forty-nine percent of donations.

The next part of the series that I’m working on, will look at how the web of dark money has not only infiltrated education in regards to economic ideologies, but also the law. I’m writing this interim post, because of Australian Immigration minister, Peter Dutton’s continued executive power overreach. As well as three senior Australian ministers, nearly being found in contempt of court, despite them all being qualified lawyers, for their comments during a judiciary appeal, to the media. In my opinion, this is a concerted, continued attack on the rule of law that is underwritten by conservative foundations. I’m also hoping to highlight how deceptive some tweets can be, with many celebrating a 9-0 victory, with no votes even counted. Some main-stream-media will also regurgitate these tweets as fact, fact-checking has never been more important.  

Many thanks to all of the sourced researchers, publications and artists involved in this article.

How history, communism and tax exempt foundations have led us here (5)

In my last article I discussed how the Koch brothers underwrite a huge network of foundations, think tanks and political front groups. Upon reflection and to tell this story in full, I’ve come to realise that we need to look at this web a bit closer first. The likes of Breitbart, Steve Bannon, the Mercer family and more, will all get their turns.

The Heritage Foundation (HF) was founded in 1973. Donors over the years have included: the John M. Olin Foundation, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, the Koch brothers, the Scaife Foundations and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. All of these foundations are classed as 501(c)(3), meaning that they’re tax exempt organisations that don’t need to disclose who their donors are and donations are tax-deductible. As a tax exempt charity, donations are meant to be made to benefit the public good only, not private interest. The HF became well-known in 1980 for its three-thousand page, twenty volume set of policy recommendations called, Mandate for Leadership. It ended up becoming the Ronald Reagan administration’s blueprint, with sixty-percent of the mandate’s policies implemented within the first year of his presidency. The policies included trickle-down economics, huge cuts in social programs and the Strategic Defense Initiative, better known as ‘Star Wars.’ It’s of note that Rebekah Mercer has been a HF Trustee since 2014, more on the Mercer family later.  

I’m starting with the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation first, as documents that were hacked last year provide a rare glimpse into a right-wing foundation. The Bradley brothers, made their wealth from the Allen-Bradley Company with factory automation equipment and government contracts during World War I and World War II. The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation was founded in 1942, after Lynde Bradley died, to assist local conservative causes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Harry Bradley, alongside the Koch brothers’ father, Fred Koch, was one of the founding members of the John Birch Society (JBS). Before we look further into the Bradley Foundation, some background about the JBS is required.

After the Soviet Union (USSR) and America (US) worked together to defeat Nazi Germany in WW II, the US government was worried about communism becoming popular. At the time Americans were terrified that communism would ruin their social order and turn their country into the next USSR. Along came a Republican from Wisconsin, Senator McCarthy, looking to make a political name for himself. In 1950 he rose to prominence, when he alleged that communist spies had infiltrated the US government in a speech. Around this time, the USSR had successfully tested its first atomic bomb, and communists had won China’s civil war. He was adept at media manipulation and propaganda by blaming all of America’s woes on communism, even those he didn’t agree with were labeled communists. In 1953, he was named chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, allowing him to launch his own investigations. He had a reputation for bullying witnesses and ending careers of anybody that he accused. He decided to go after the US Army, whom he charged as being “soft” on communism, and began an investigation into it. His chief counsel in the investigation was lawyer, Roy Cohn, who incidentally was President Trump’s attorney, in the 70s and 80s. He was reportedly infatuated with an unpaid consultant on McCarthy’s senate committee, David Schine. Mr Schine was drafted into the army, nearly a year later, in late 1953. The army fought back, charging that Mr McCarthy was requesting special privileges for Mr Schine. Top aides to President Eisenhower also invoked executive privilege, protecting army officials from complying with McCarthy’s subpoenas.

This led to the first ever nationally televised congressional inquiry, the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954. During the hearing, Mr McCarthy showed his true colours, for all of America to see with his bullying, rudeness and deceitfulness. Ultimately he was cleared of any charges with only Mr Cohn judged to have pressured the army for special treatment. His reputation after having been on television for two months was beyond repair. On December 2nd, 1954, the senate stripped him of his status and censured Mr McCarthy for engaging in conduct “contrary to senatorial traditions.” He died three years later in 1957.

The lawyer, Mr Cohn, with Mr McCarthy, that went on to meet Donald Trump in 1973, and to become his lawyer and mentor.

Associated Press Sen. McCarthy covers the microphones with his hands while having a whispered discussion with his chief counsel Roy Cohn

In 1958, Fred Koch co-founded JBS with retired right-wing businessman, Robert Welch, to fight the spread of communism in the US. Mr Welch made his fortune in candies such as Junior Mints, and believed that social programs such as flouride in water was a communist plot to take over the US. Fred Koch was a leader of JPS until he died in 1967. In 1961 his son Charles Koch, also bought a lifetime membership with JBS and opened up a JBS bookstore in Wichita. In that same year Koch Sr, published his pamphlet, ‘A Businessman Looks at Communism.’ It claimed that the US Supreme Court was pro-communist and that President Eisenhower was soft on communism, that public schools used communist books, and that many teachers were communists. Also that year JBS announced that it’s top priority for the year was a ‘Movement to Impeach Earl Warren,’ the chief justice of the US Supreme Court. Mr Warren inspired ire amongst them due to his stance on the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, that found racial segregation in schools to be unconstitutional. This and other decisions championing racial equality inspired the civil rights protests in those times, and it led to civil rights laws passing congress, that were upheld by the Warren court. In 1962 JBS promoted a pamphlet by Alan Stang, called ‘It’s Very Simple’ which attacked the civil rights movement. Mr Stang called Martin Luther King, Junior, a communist, claiming that his goal was to pressure congress “to install more collectivism.” He also later claimed that Rosa Parks was trained by communists before her refusal to move to the back of the bus in 1965.

After President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Koch Sr created a national advertisement in the New York Times, blaming his death on communists. The following year the ads ran nationally, and congress approved the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 1965 congress passed the Voting Rights Act, prohibiting racial discrimination in voting. JBS responded with a campaign in its bookstores and in the newspapers called ‘What’s Wrong with Civil Rights?’ arguing that they had more than enough rights. Charles also spoke in public of his views  that the government’s only role was to police interference within the free market. In 1966 Koch Snr became ill, and Charles Koch took over as chairman of the family corporation. He died in 1967 and donations in tribute were requested by his family, in his name for: Wichita’s, John Birch Society American Opinion Bookstore.

In 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated and congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968 against discrimination in housing. JPS promoted opposition to anti-discrimination legislation in its usual manner, including on their radio shows. They also had a ‘Win the War’ strategy of signing up people to support the Vietnam war, this ended up being the main cause of the breakup between Charles Koch and JBS. He resigned from his membership and pulled his advertising from the American Opinion, their monthly magazine, and his support from its radio show’s. On May 19th, 1968, Charles Koch and Bob Love ran a full-page in the Wichita Eagle, called ‘Let’s Get Out of Vietnam now’ calling for an unconditional pull-out because it was too expensive. Mr Love also explained that it was necessary to prevent the US from adapting to communism in a philosophical manner, through its wage and price controls, and taxes to pay for the war:

“This country will surely vote for a dictator, if the chaos and confusion of inflation continue to mount.”

Harry Bradley was also an ardent supporter of JBS and a devoted follower of Dr Fred Schwarz, an Australian that founded the Christian Anti-Communism Crusade in 1953, in Ohio. According to website, The Schwarz Report, the latter organisation still retains its legal identity, even today. Mr Schwarz was popular on the corporate speaking-circuit in the 1950s, and a big part of influencing American leadership about the threat of communism. He moved to the US in 1960 and wrote the bestseller You Can Trust the  Communists  (to be communists), and he took great pride in the fact that his ideas had influenced so many, including Ronald Reagan, well before he became president. Mr Bradley died in 1965 and it wasn’t until twenty-years later that the foundation received its huge cash injection. The Allen-Bradley company, was sold by their heirs, and bought by defense contractor Rockwell International in 1985, for US$1.65 billion. The Bradley Foundation’s assets jumped from US$14 million to US$290 million after the sale. It’s of interest that the foundation hired Michael Joyce from the John M. Olin Foundation, to run its operations. Mr Joyce had a long history within Republican politics and he was on the Ronald Reagan transition team in 1980, he also advised President Bush, as well as his father.   

As of June last year the Bradley Foundation had US$835 million in assets, it’s as large now as the three Koch family foundations combined. Hacked documents were released to the public by a group calling themselves, Anonymous Poland. While there is conjecture that Russia is behind it, neither the FBI or the foundation have reached a firm conclusion as to who it actually was. The information was a compressed file of thirty gigabytes and included more than 56,000 internal files about the foundation. The documents uncover a long-term strategy, and a detailed blue-print for spreading right-wing ideology state-by-state in the US.

For ease in this article from here on in, I will refer to the Bradley Foundation as BF. The documents uncovered how they evaluate each state’s infrastructure, with a score out of forty for the following characteristics:

Respected, dynamic leadership

Think tank(s)

Investigative journalism

Opposition research

Legal component

Receptive policy-makers

Symbolic with grassroots groups

Local funding support

The Journal Sentinel, has done a lot of work in replicating the data into charts and graphs and I recommend that you take a look at them all. In the Bradley Chart, Wisconsin and Michigan for example, both have scores of thirty-nine out of forty, they each lost one-point for ‘opposition research’ and ‘receptive policy-makers’ respectively. They have identified Colorado, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin, as having strong conservative infrastructure, making them ready for “rightward” change. This data makes it easier for them to pinpoint the funding of established networks of right-wing organisations and to help far-right candidates to win elections. The documents also revealed that between 2011 and 2015, they gave US$1.6 million to American Majority, a front group that provides training to conservative activists and political candidates. In that time the group trained 6,000 local political leaders, and helped candidates run for positions such as municipal judge. Plans to train BF funded groups in “crisis communication” for opposition research groups, cite the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as an example. ALEC is another non-profit, front group that has been drafting bills and talking points for Republicans to recite and push, especially in the media, since 1973. They were caught “flat-footed” the documents say, after the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) published ALEC’s secret library of “model bills”. The bills are voted on behind closed doors by corporate lobbyists, and are ready-to-go policies that favour corporations, for lawmakers and politicians. It launched the website alecexposed.org, if you are interested in reading further. BF also wants Richard Berman to develop an “off-the-shelf, public-relations strategy” for “conservative outfits caught in the media crosshairs”. More on Mr Berman and his role in all of this, later on. There was also a BF ‘Enemy List’ released in the hacked files that includes groups such as CMD above, and entities like Common Cause and Mother Jones. There is also a list of grants or donations, showing how it wants to use their Wisconsin model, nationally.     

Much more to explore in this series, including what I’ve already promised to explore, as well as how the web of foundations have infiltrated education, the law and economics, all over America, over many years. I will also look at the motivations as to why they’re doing it, including religion, and how all of that is looking with the Trump government.   

Many thanks to all of the sourced researchers, publications and artists involved in this series, to date.

        

                       

Kochtopus and getting to know some more players (4)

Before we look at how Steve Bannon met David Bossie and Andrew Breitbart, we need to go back to 1976, before the 1980 American elections. Billionaire brothers, David and Charles Koch were frustrated by legal limits prohibiting how much that they could spend on political campaigns. A candidate could spend as much as they liked running for office, and an individual could spend what they liked promoting candidates, but only if the spending wasn’t coordinated with them. Charles decided that David should run as the Libertarian party’s vice-presidential candidate too, so that they were free to donate as much as they liked.   

Their father Fred Koch, was a chemical engineer and built the family fortune out of oil refineries. Interestingly enough, he started out building refineries in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, and believed that communism was evil and didn’t like any type of government intrusion, these views became his son’s views. David Koch explained in a 2012 interview that their father: ‘was extraordinarily fearful of our government becoming much more socialistic and domineering. And that: ‘from the time we were teenagers to the present, we’ve been very concerned and worried about our government evolving into a very controlling, socialist type of government.’ When the Koch brothers inherited their father’s business in 1967, they renamed it Koch Industries in honour of their father, and have turned it into the second largest privately held company in America. Koch Industries not only owns and operates a massive network of oil and gas pipelines but it also makes a wide range of products including Dixie cups, chemicals, jet fuel, fertilisers, electronics, toilet paper and more. Out of the Koch family, these two brothers are the most politically active.

Back to 1980 and the Koch brothers and the Libertarian party. What is the Libertarian party? It was founded in 1971 by David Nolan and it promotes free market economics, protection of private property, non-interventionism, laissez-faire capitalism and the abolition of the welfare state. Some of the Libertarian policy platform that David Koch ran on is below.

libertarian1980policies

The Libertarian ticket only received one-percent of the vote. All was not lost as the campaign gave them valuable political experience. The older brother Charles, told a reporter at the time that: ‘It tends to be a nasty, corrupting business,’ and that he was ‘interested in advancing libertarian ideas.’ They came to realise that in order to change the direction of America they had to have influence in the areas where policy ideas arise from. They had already founded America’s first libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute, three years earlier in 1977. Today, they underwrite a huge network of foundations, think tanks and political front groups and their powerful, ideological network is known as Kochtopus, in political circles. They have also given millions to political campaigns, advocacy groups, and lobbyists since then.

In 1988, a Political Action Committee (PAC), called Citizens United (CU) was founded by Republican, Floyd Brown, with major funding from the Koch brothers. It promotes corporate interests, socially conservative causes and candidates that advance their goals, which are: ‘limited government, freedom of enterprise, strong families, and national sovereignty and security.’ During the 1992 American elections, Mr Brown hired fellow Republican, David Bossie to find dirt on Bill Clinton. Mr Bossie made a name for himself as being a bit of an attack dog, in particular with all things relating to the Clinton family. Four-years later when the House Republicans launched a probe into the 1996 Clinton campaign’s fundraising practices, he ended up being the chief investigator for the member in charge, Republican, Dan Burton. Eighteen months later he was forced to resign after distributing doctored transcripts of an investigator’s’ jailhouse conversations with Clinton associate, Webb Hubbell.      

In 2001, Mr Bossie took over from Mr Brown as president of CU, where he began to write negatively slanted books about Democratic politicians. He became interested in making films in July 2004 after seeing Michael Moore’s documentary, Farenheit 9/11. His documentary questioned the Bush administration’s motives for war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and amongst other things, it argued that the media was used to exploit the 9/11 attacks. A couple of months later, Mr Bossie, mindful that it was an election year, retaliated with his own documentary, Celsius 41.11 (the temperature when the brain begins to die). CU produced the film and said in a press statement that they issued at the time: ‘Celsius 41.11 was made to refute the propaganda in Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11.’  

At around the same time that Celsius 41.11 was released in October 2004, Steve Bannon was promoting “In the Face of Evil,” a Ronald Reagan documentary that he had worked on as a screenwriter. When Mr Bannon’s documentary was released, it was panned by mainstream critics, with Lou Lumenick from the New York Post, writing that it was ‘very much like Soviet propaganda.’ There was a small group of conservatives in Hollywood that did like it however, and Mr Bannon met Mr Bossie at one of these screenings. It wasn’t long before they started working together on a film called Border War, about the perceived threat of immigration, this led to a series of movies that they made for CU. Mr Bannon also met Andrew Breitbart at a screening in December at the Liberty Film Festival. Mr Breitbart was working for the Drudge Report at the time, with plans to start his own website. More on him, a little later.                

In 2008, Mr Bossie and CU produced a documentary called Hillary: The Movie, critical of then-Sen Hillary Clinton, for the election campaign season. It was to be aired on cable TV before the Democratic primaries, but the Federal Election Commission (FEC) blocked it. They reviewed it and found that it was “electioneering communication” and that they were subject to rules governing the production of political ads. In 2009, CU sued the FEC, this led to a Supreme court case called Citizens United v. Federal Electoral Commission. On January 21st 2010, a five-four majority of the high court, ruled against the FEC, and ruled that corporations such as CU can spend as much as they like for and against political candidates. This also meant that they could receive unlimited donations without any government oversight or ever having to publically disclose them. The ruling opened the donation floodgates and gave a small group of wealthy donors, even more influence on elections.

Liberal advocacy group, Common Cause, believe that two of the judges involved, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, should have recused themselves from the Citizens United v. Federal Electoral Commission case. Both of the judges have attended invitation-only retreats organised by the Koch brothers. The retreats are for Republican donors and in an invitation for their January 30-31,2011 meeting, it describes the retreat as a ‘twice a year’ gathering ‘to review strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it.’     

Think Progress also managed to get a copy of a booklet [PDF] from the June 27-28, 2010, meeting and buried within it, is a list of former guests at previous meetings. Mr Scalia and Mr Thomas are on the list, and while the booklet can’t prove when they went, if it was before the CU case, or if their decision was influenced. The booklet does provide insight into the issues that worry the likes of the Koch brothers. On page five, one of the topics for the small group dinners on the eve of the meeting caught my eye.

Issue Micro-Targeting: What gaps do we face in thoroughly understanding the electorate? What has been learned from research so far? How can we take advantage of this advanced technology?

When Obama was elected a myriad of conservative nonprofit groups cropped up, and one of them was called Liberty Central. It was founded in 2009, by Virginia Thomas, the wife of Judge Thomas. A few weeks after the CU court ruling, Ms Thomas told the Los Angeles Times that Liberty Central would be soliciting donations from corporations and other entities freed by CU to step up their political activity. Common Cause, also see this as a conflict-of interest, more on Ms Thomas soon.

In the next series we will look at Breitbart’s role in all of this, and take a look at the rise of the Tea Party, Steve Bannon and the Mercer family.  

 

US propaganda 100 years ago and how the media was influenced (3)

usa-history-by-www-whatisusa-info_

Image is by whatisusa.info

In 1917, one-hundred-years ago this year, American president Wilson Woodrow, declared war on Germany. Mr Woodrow also pioneered the government propaganda system that exists to this day. He began by intimidating and suppressing any ethnic or socialist papers that opposed the US entering the first World war. At the time such meddling in press freedom was unheard of. A week after the war declaration he created a new federal agency called the Committee on Public Information (CPI). The government now controlled the narrative and press coverage. The CPI was dubbed ‘the nation’s first ministry of information’ by journalist, Stephen Ponder. Their first task was to convince millions of young men being drafted to go to war, as well as millions of Americans that supported neutrality. They had to convince them that war was the only option to ‘make the world safe for democracy.’ This was a time before radio became popular and before the weekly news magazine was invented. The chairman of CPI was journalist, George Creel and he organised it into several divisions.

The speaking division had 75,000 specialists who became known as the “Four Minute Men” for their skill in transcribing Mr Wilson’s war goals in short speeches.

The film divison produced the news reels needed to to garner support by showing graphic images in movie theatres. The images depicted the allies as the heroes and the Germans as barbaric.

The foreign language newspaper division kept an eye on US newspapers that were published in other languages than English.

The advertising division secured free advertising space in US publications to promote various war campaigns. Campaigns such as recruiting new soldiers, encouraging patriotism and feeding the narrative that the US was involved in a crusade against a barbaric, anti-democratic enemy.  

The division of pictorial publicity comprised of a group of volunteer artists and illustrators. They were behind the famous image of Uncle Sam below. Mr Creel denied that CPI’s work was akin to propaganda but he did admit that he was engaged in a battle of perceptions. ‘The war was not fought in France alone’ he wrote in 1920. And after the CPI was disbanded in 1919, he described it as ‘a plain publicity proposition, a vast enterprise in salesmanship, the world’s greatest adventure in advertising.’

file-20170426-2825-164y7yr

One of the techniques favoured by the news unit was to bury journalists in paper by producing numerous press-releases each day. The unit also restricted the media’s access to those involved in the war, creating a news vacuum. This was filled with government-written stories, masquerading as news. The CPI also issued a set of guidelines for US newspapers and if editors didn’t follow these patriotic guidelines, they were deemed as unpatriotic. In another first, they decided to create their own daily newspaper, published by the government.  

A nephew of Sigmund Freud, Edward L Bernays, was a pioneer in human thoughts and emotion theories and was one of the CPI volunteers. ‘The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society,’ Mr Bernays wrote after the war. And that ‘Propaganda is the executive arm of the invisible government.’ Many of those involved in the CPI went on to lucrative advertising careers after the committee was disbanded.  

In 1988 Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman published the book, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. They discovered that the propaganda model today, consists of five filters of editorial bias:

Media ownership: Media outlets have become large companies that cater to the interests of the owners or owner, and to make them profitable.  

Advertising: Media can’t survive without it so they must also cater to political leanings as well as the economic desires of their advertisers.

Complicity: Government’s, corporations and institutions know how to influence the media. They feed the media scoops and interviews with “experts” and make themselves part of the journalism process. If you push back against the establishment you will soon find yourself out of the game.

Flack: When a story comes out that the powers that be don’t like, they mobilise and attack. They do this by discrediting sources, trashing stories, creating distractions and by changing the narrative back to where they want it to be.

The common enemy: Whether it’s communism, terrorism or immigration fears, to manufacture consent, you need a common enemy.

In 1992, they produced a documentary about it if interested and below is a handy animation, from March this year. It’s under five minutes long and has some more information, Australia gets a mention near the start.       

I’m going to start introducing some of the players involved in today’s web of propaganda. In October 1996, Rupert Murdoch launched Fox News, it was the first of its kind. A 24-hour conservative-populist propaganda channel, filled with right-wing opinions and slanted news stories. All under the banner of “fair and balanced” and delivered as entertainment. He is most definitely a key player and one of the most powerful men in the media, more on him later.

In 1995, a year before Mr Murdoch launched Fox News, Matt Drudge launched the Drudge Report, and he ran it alone. It began with a weekly email for subscribers full of quirky conspiracy theories, right-wing politics, extreme weather and pop culture. Andrew Breitbart, wasn’t doing much at this stage besides being a news-junkie of sorts, and became a big fan of the report. He emailed Mr Drudge offering his help of which Mr Drudge accepted. Mr Drudge became his mentor and they created their own headlines with a blurb telling you the main point of the story, that linked to articles from all around the web. The Drudge Report was one of the earliest news aggregator web sites, a link from them could bring hundreds of thousands of readers to a  story. This gave reporters wanting exposure an incentive to contact Mr Drudge or Mr Breitbart as soon as their pieces were published (or even before publishing them). Tips from journalists gave the pair eyes and ears into nearly every newsroom in the world. In early 1998 they broke not only the Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton scandal, but also the fact that Newsweek had killed the story.

The Drudge Report, didn’t just have the ability to provide scoops for its readers but it also had a sense of urgency about it, and continuous news and stories sourced from the internet to entertain its readers. All of this was achieved with two people rather than a whole newsroom and without having to host content on its site, meaning extremely low overheads. It was also marketed as an alternative to mainstream-media that wasn’t controlled by corporate interests or politicians. It’s role in directing mass amounts internet traffic also made it lucrative for the news sites that received the traffic. He has even been called the ‘Rupert Murdoch of the digital age.’ More on it’s role in the Trump election campaign and how far that it’s come today, in another part of the series.  

Next, I will uncover how Steve Bannon meeting Andrew Breitbart and David Bossie in 2004, has led us to today. I will also explain how the political activities of the Koch brothers’ has influenced the chain of events and more.  

 

 

 

US propaganda 100 years ago and how the media was influenced (3)

usa-history-by-www-whatisusa-info_

Image is by whatisusa.info

In 1917, one-hundred-years ago this year, American president Wilson Woodrow, declared war on Germany. Mr Woodrow also pioneered the government propaganda system that exists to this day. He began by intimidating and suppressing any ethnic or socialist papers that opposed the US entering the first World war. At the time such meddling in press freedom was unheard of. A week after the war declaration he created a new federal agency called the Committee on Public Information (CPI). The government now controlled the narrative and press coverage. The CPI was dubbed ‘the nation’s first ministry of information’ by journalist, Stephen Ponder. Their first task was to convince millions of young men being drafted to go to war, as well as millions of Americans that supported neutrality. They had to convince them that war was the only option to ‘make the world safe for democracy.’ This was a time before radio became popular and before the weekly news magazine was invented. The chairman of CPI was journalist, George Creel and he organised it into several divisions.

The speaking division had 75,000 specialists who became known as the “Four Minute Men” for their skill in transcribing Mr Wilson’s war goals in short speeches.

The film divison produced the news reels needed to to garner support by showing graphic images in movie theatres. The images depicted the allies as the heroes and the Germans as barbaric.

The foreign language newspaper division kept an eye on US newspapers that were published in other languages than English.

The advertising division secured free advertising space in US publications to promote various war campaigns. Campaigns such as recruiting new soldiers, encouraging patriotism and feeding the narrative that the US was involved in a crusade against a barbaric, anti-democratic enemy.  

The division of pictorial publicity comprised of a group of volunteer artists and illustrators. They were behind the famous image of Uncle Sam below. Mr Creel denied that CPI’s work was akin to propaganda but he did admit that he was engaged in a battle of perceptions. ‘The war was not fought in France alone’ he wrote in 1920. And after the CPI was disbanded in 1919, he described it as ‘a plain publicity proposition, a vast enterprise in salesmanship, the world’s greatest adventure in advertising.’

file-20170426-2825-164y7yr

One of the techniques favoured by the news unit was to bury journalists in paper by producing numerous press-releases each day. The unit also restricted the media’s access to those involved in the war, creating a news vacuum. This was filled with government-written stories, masquerading as news. The CPI also issued a set of guidelines for US newspapers and if editors didn’t follow these patriotic guidelines, they were deemed as unpatriotic. In another first, they decided to create their own daily newspaper, published by the government.  

A nephew of Sigmund Freud, Edward L Bernays, was a pioneer in human thoughts and emotion theories and was one of the CPI volunteers. ‘The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society,’ Mr Bernays wrote after the war. And that ‘Propaganda is the executive arm of the invisible government.’ Many of those involved in the CPI went on to lucrative advertising careers after the committee was disbanded.  

In 1988 Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman published the book, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. They discovered that the propaganda model today, consists of five filters of editorial bias:

Media ownership: Media outlets have become large companies that cater to the interests of the owners or owner, and to make them profitable.  

Advertising: Media can’t survive without it so they must also cater to political leanings as well as the economic desires of their advertisers.

Complicity: Government’s, corporations and institutions know how to influence the media. They feed the media scoops and interviews with “experts” and make themselves part of the journalism process. If you push back against the establishment you will soon find yourself out of the game.

Flack: When a story comes out that the powers that be don’t like, they mobilise and attack. They do this by discrediting sources, trashing stories, creating distractions and by changing the narrative back to where they want it to be.

The common enemy: Whether it’s communism, terrorism or immigration fears, to manufacture consent, you need a common enemy.

In 1992, they produced a documentary about it if interested and below is a handy animation, from March this year. It’s under five minutes long and has some more information, Australia gets a mention near the start.       

I’m going to start introducing some of the players involved in today’s web of propaganda. In October 1996, Rupert Murdoch launched Fox News, it was the first of its kind. A 24-hour conservative-populist propaganda channel, filled with right-wing opinions and slanted news stories. All under the banner of “fair and balanced” and delivered as entertainment. He is most definitely a key player and one of the most powerful men in the media, more on him later.

In 1995, a year before Mr Murdoch launched Fox News, Matt Drudge launched the Drudge Report, and he ran it alone. It began with a weekly email for subscribers full of quirky conspiracy theories, right-wing politics, extreme weather and pop culture. Andrew Breitbart, wasn’t doing much at this stage besides being a news-junkie of sorts, and became a big fan of the report. He emailed Mr Drudge offering his help of which Mr Drudge accepted. Mr Drudge became his mentor and they created their own headlines with a blurb telling you the main point of the story, that linked to articles from all around the web. The Drudge Report was one of the earliest news aggregator web sites, a link from them could bring hundreds of thousands of readers to a  story. This gave reporters wanting exposure an incentive to contact Mr Drudge or Mr Breitbart as soon as their pieces were published (or even before publishing them). Tips from journalists gave the pair eyes and ears into nearly every newsroom in the world. In early 1998 they broke not only the Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton scandal, but also the fact that Newsweek had killed the story.

The Drudge Report, didn’t just have the ability to provide scoops for its readers but it also had a sense of urgency about it, and continuous news and stories sourced from the internet to entertain its readers. All of this was achieved with two people rather than a whole newsroom and without having to host content on its site, meaning extremely low overheads. It was also marketed as an alternative to mainstream-media that wasn’t controlled by corporate interests or politicians. It’s role in directing mass amounts internet traffic also made it lucrative for the news sites that received the traffic. He has even been called the ‘Rupert Murdoch of the digital age.’ More on it’s role in the Trump election campaign and how far that it’s come today, in another part of the series.  

Next, I will uncover how Steve Bannon meeting Andrew Breitbart and David Bossie in 2004, has led us to today. I will also explain how the political activities of the Koch brothers’ has influenced the chain of events and more.  

Jared Kushner, Facebook and Hacking: Propaganda in 2017 and how we got here (2)

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Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump’s husband, was very much behind her father’s presidential campaign. He focused on message tailoring, sentiment manipulation and machine learning or artificial intelligence. His friends in Silicon valley are some of the best digital marketers in the world. He also focused on micro-targeting on Facebook: “I called somebody who works for one of the technology companies that I work with, and I had them give me a tutorial on how to use Facebook micro-targeting,” Mr Kushner said. Mr Kushner’s inexperience in political campaigning and his understanding of the world online became an advantage. Mr Kushner also looked at campaign spending differently by getting a maximum return on every dollar spent. “We played Moneyball, asking ourselves which states will get the best ROI for the electoral vote,” Mr Kushner explained. “I asked, How can we get Trump’s message to that consumer for the least amount of cost?” He tapped into the Republican National Committee’s data machine and he also hired Cambridge Analytica (CA) to help identify which voters mattered the most for Mr Trump to win. Be it trade, immigration or change. There are digital tools out there such as Deep Root, which drove his TV spend by identifying shows popular with voter blocks in different regions. The TV show NCIS had ads directed at anti-Obamacare voters and for folks worried about immigration it was shows like The Walking Dead. “It’s hard to overstate and hard to summarize Jared’s role in the campaign,” says billionaire Peter Thiel, the only significant Silicon Valley figure to publicly back Trump. “If Trump was the CEO, Jared was effectively the chief operating officer.”

This week Facebook publically acknowledged that its platform has been exploited by governments manipulating public opinion in other countries. Including during the presidential elections in the America and France. In a white paper, they detailed well-funded as well as low-funded techniques that are used by nations and organisations to spread disinformation and lies for geopolitical goals. It explained that these tactics go further than “fake news” as they include content seeding, targeted data collection and fake accounts to help amplify a particular view. “We have had to expand our security focus from traditional abusive behavior, such as account hacking, malware, spam and financial scams, to include more subtle and insidious forms of misuse, including attempts to manipulate civic discourse and deceive people,” said the company. Facebook didn’t mention any nation states involved, but that their investigation ‘does not contradict’ the report [PDF] by the US Director of National Intelligence, outlining Russian involvement in the US election.

The white paper [PDF] doesn’t go into much detail about micro-targeting or what are known as “dark posts”. These are paid, sponsored Facebook posts that can only be seen by those that you want to manipulate. Mr Kushner also employed this technique during the Trump campaign. The paper does talk about targeted data collection that uses phishing malware to infect an individual’s or organisation’s computer. The malware steals their identification and information in emails and in their social media accounts. This information helps hackers to better target their phishing campaigns or ‘advance harmful information operations’.  

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) had their emails hacked due to a phishing campaign by Russian hackers in the run up to the election last year. One of these was sent to the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, John Podesta. One of his assistants, Charles Devalan, noticed the email that was sent to Mr Podesta’s private email account. It asked Mr Podesta to change his password. Mr Devalan could see that it was a phishing attack and forwarded it to a computer technician. Instead of saying that ‘This is an illegitimate email’ and ‘John needs to change his password’ he typed that it was ‘legitimate’, meaning that they unwittingly gave the hackers access to about 60,000 emails.

This week it was revealed that Russian intelligence has been allegedly sending phishing emails to officials and others involved in Emmanuel Macron’s campaign in the French presidential election. Security researchers at cybersecurity company, Trend Micro noticed a hacking group sending emails with links to fake websites that baits them into turning over their passwords. They believe that Russian intelligence are behind this and the registering of decoy web addresses, were as recent as April 15th this year. The websites are registered to a group of web addresses that they say belong to the Russian intelligence unit that they refer to as Pawn Storm, also known as Fancy Bear, APT28, Sofacy and STRONTIUM. US and European intelligence agencies as well as US private security researchers have determined that they were responsible for hacking the DNC last year.      

Trend Micro also released a thorough report [PDF] detailing phishing attempts by Pawn Storm that they have blocked, including their email headers. They also provide visual examples of how hackers target high profile email users. Mainstream media has also been utilised by Pawn Storm to publicise their attacks as well as to attempt to public influence. One example is reputable German magazine Der Spiegel, that reported about doping in sports in January this year. They admit to having been in contact with the “Fancy Bear hackers” for months. They say that in December last year that they received “several sets of data containing PDF and Word documents in addition to hundreds of internal emails from United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and WADA, the World AntiDoping Agency.”   

In April 2015, the British army created a special force of Facebook warriors, with skills in journalism, psychological operations or PsyOps, and in using social media to engage in unconventional warfare. They join the US and Israeli armies that already heavily engage in PsyOps. Counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan has inspired the creation of the force. An army spokesperson said: “77th Brigade is being created to draw together a host of existing and developing capabilities essential to meet the challenges of modern conflict and warfare. It recognises that the actions of others in a modern battlefield can be affected in ways that are not necessarily violent.”

In the last article in this series, I mentioned Michael Flynn’s 2010 report, when he was the top US intelligence officer in Afghanistan. It was about wanting intelligence in counterinsurgency to act more like journalists.   

The purpose of this series of articles is to provide you with as much background as I can, by researching and analysing information that can only be backed up with evidence. I believe that this story is onion-like with many layers as well as foreign players involved. A multi-layered attack on democracy around the world is currently at play. Because this story is playing out in real time, new information, once validated, will also be woven into the series.    

My next article will explore Wilson Woodrow’s contribution to propaganda and how this has helped lead us to the likes of Breitbart News and Fox News.  


Series: What is propaganda in 2017 and how did we get here? (1)

truth

Recently I wrote about Cambridge Analytica (CA), I’ve discovered since then that there is a lot more to this story than just marketing tactics and I will be writing a series of articles about it. What has led us to the likes of  fake news, alt-facts, disinformation, and propaganda not only in the media but also in social media? Who are the players and who stands to gain? I will explore all of this and more with detailed research in coming days.

Michael Flynn is a retired American army lieutenant general and was the first National Security Council advisor to be appointed by President Donald Trump. He was fired less than a month later this year on February 13th, under a cloud of suspicion relating to what he said on a phone call at the White House to Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak. Mr Flynn told Vice President of the US, Mike Pence, that the call merely consisted of small talk and holiday pleasantries. The White House, upon analysing the transcript of the wiretapped conversation found that he had also had a discussion about sanctions imposed on Russia, for interfering in the 2016 election on Mr Trump’s behalf.

The US army was also investigating Mr Flynn about whether he had received payments from the Russian government for a trip that he took to Moscow in 2015. The occasion was the tenth birthday celebration of Russian Today (RT), a television network controlled by the Kremlin. US intelligence agencies have been warning since 2012 that RT is a propaganda arm of the Russian government. Payments like this, without the consent of congress could violate the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which forbids former military officers from receiving money from a foreign government without their consent. The FBI was also examining Mr Flynn’s White House phone calls. This was due to concerns that in his attempts to hide what was said in the call, the Russians could blackmail him by threatening to expose him if he refused.

Mr Pence was angry at Mr Flynn as he had defended him in a number of television appearances about the phone call and he wasn’t impressed with him blaming it on his bad memory. Mr Pence was dubious about the bad memory excuse because of a similar experience late last year when this time, he was defending Mr Flynn’s son on television. He denied that Michael Flynn Jnr, was behind the conspiracy theories, such as Pizzagate about Hillary Clinton on social media. He also denied that Mr Flynn Jnr been given a security clearance. He had been given security clearance even though Mr Flynn told Mr Pence’s team that he didn’t have one.

On March 16th this year, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (House Oversight Committee) reported back to President Donald Trump, Secretary of Defense, James Mattis and FBI Director, James Comey. [PDF] They uncovered documents showing that RT paid Mr Flynn more than US$45,000 for his participation in the birthday celebrations as well as US$11,250 from a Russian charter cargo airline and US$11,250 from a Russia-based cyber-security corporation. They also uncovered a retroactive filing by Mr Flynn on March 7th with the Department of Justice. It disclosed that he served as an agent of a foreign government while advising President elect, Donald Trump. The filing reported that US$530,000 was paid to Mr Flynn for pro-Erdogan lobbying work in Turkey between the months of August and November in 2016. It is of note that on November 8th Mr Flynn wrote an op-ed claiming that the Obama administration and the US media wasn’t being supportive enough of Turkey’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It is fair to say that most Americans don’t know exactly what to make of our ally Turkey these days, as it endures a prolonged political crisis that challenges its long-term stability. The U.S. media is doing a bang-up job of reporting the Erdoğan government’s crackdown on dissidents, it’s not putting it into perspective. We must begin with understanding that Turkey is vital to U.S. interests.’

Mr Flynn’s lawyers say that they notified the transition team about his lobbying in Turkey but the President and the Vice President say that they knew nothing about it. The House Oversight Committee, requested information as to whether he’d fully disclosed his communications and payments from foreign sources as part of his security clearance, for his return to government. They also requested that the Defense Department take steps to recover all foreign funds accepted in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. On March 31st Mr Flynn told investigators that he was willing to be interviewed about the allegations but only if he received immunity from prosecution.      

In 2010 as the top US intelligence officer in Afghanistan, Mr Flynn wrote a report about intelligence acting more like journalists. He lamented that US intelligence in Afghanistan spent too much time on attacking the Taliban and not enough on figuring out Afghanistan’s cultural and social landscapes. ‘Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade.’ And that they overlook data such as polling data, patrol debriefs, minutes from local shuras, and economic statistics that helps them connect the dots. ‘This vast and underappreciated body of information, almost all of which is unclassified, admittedly offers few clues about where to find insurgents, but it does provide elements of even greater strategic importance – a map for leveraging popular support and marginalizing the insurgency itself,’ the report stated.

This sounds very much like the Strategic Communication Laboratories Group (SCL) which specialises in behavioural research and data that drives behavioural change. SCL is the parent company to CA. Five years earlier SCL was reported to be the first private company to provide psychological warfare services, known as ‘psyops’ in the military, at a global arms fair in London. It believed that armies were prepared to pay for their services from a private provider and that it could shorten conflicts.

The US Army definition for Psychological Operations or PsyOps is: “Psychological operations are planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behaviour of foreign governments, organisations, groups or individuals.”  

Bolstered by the success of CA during the American election SCL has lobbied the US national security services in the Pentagon about how its technology could be used to deter terrorism and to help assess attitudes about immigrants. SCL’s lobbying has been driven by a former aid to Mr Flynn and Mr Flynn is a former adviser for SCL. SCL recently won a defense contract with the US state department “Global Engagement Services” to work on “target audience analysis” (TAA) of young men in other countries who may be thinking of joining ISIS. The founder of SCL, Nigel Oakes also founded the Behavioural Dynamics Institute.(BDi). BDi is the research arm of SCL and its stated goal is ‘to assemble and assimilate the full extent of creative and scientific knowledge on group behaviour and the dynamics of change, and package it into a unified and workable methodological approach to conducting successful and measurable behaviour campaigns.’ BDi has a nine page white paper [PDF] dedicated to TAA ‘if you just want to understand a population, hire an anthropologist. But if you want to change people’s attitudes and behaviours, TAA is essential.’  

Marketing has long been used by corporations to influence people’s buying behaviour but what does it mean if government’s use psy-ops to change people’s behaviour?  

Tomorrow, I will delve into Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump’s husband, and the role that he played in her father’s election and more.