Deciding for Ourselves: Can our poor brains handle the responsibility?

Guillermo Calvo Mahé and Diana Marcela Cardenas Garcia, December 22, 2018

First Amendment

December of 2018 draws towards its close, an unusually difficult year amidst a series of unusually difficult years, difficult in the United States, in the Republic of Colombia where I currently reside, in Europe, in the Middle East, in Africa, seemingly everywhere.  Angry chickens coming home to roost.  Very, very angry chickens.

In the United States, it’s been a “let me back into the loony bin where it’s safe” kind of year.  More polarized than at any time since the Civil War, the government is currently partially shut down, Democratic leaders reversing previously held positions concerning a border wall because it is now proposed by the Republicans, democracy in shambles and liberty a fading dream.  The economy?  Who knows, it seems good but the market is plummeting to the cheers of Democratic Party oligarchs and most of the “mainstream” media, so much for their caring about us.  Republican policies seem short sighted, albeit consistent, and the American electorate continues to be swayed by tactics of fear into refusing to pull its collective head out of the sand and reject both major parties in favor of more palatable options.  Responsibility for the current situation rests squarely on the shoulders of a rogue mainstream media bought and paid for by the least ethical among us, propaganda and behaviorist advertising now its mission.  “Fake news” is now the norm, rather than the exception.  President Trump is not always wrong.  What passes for the press today really does seem to be the enemy.

Politicians and businessmen are not objective, they are afflicted with tunnel vision which, while detrimental to discovering truth, is useful in attaining short term goals.  The press is supposed to be different but it’s not.  It’s not because it has become a mere tool for the former, owned primarily by billionaire businessmen and businesswomen and responsive only to their immediate interests.  “How high should I jump” has replaced “all the news that’s fit to print” as the mainstream media’s de facto motto.  Information, accurate and complete with divergent perspectives, is democracy’s lifeblood and like blood in any living body, its healthy circulation is essential.  In a biological system, healthy circulation requires a vital and healthy heart.  In a functional democracy journalism ought to perform that function, that’s what the First Amendment to the United States Constitution was largely about, but it is not working, it is not working at all.  And our aspirations for democracy are dying.  Our press has never been all that healthy.

The informational aspects of the First Amendment, those aspects dealing with freedom of expression and of the press, have morphed into a sort of incoherent chameleon, not because Congress violated the amendment but because the press, which that amendment was meant to protect, through its own perversions, has become a monstrous parody of “that source of complete and accurate information we need for a functional democracy”, something some among the founding fathers may have actually hoped for and anticipated.  Indeed, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton always viewed the press as a medium to manipulate information and calumny each other, whether for fun or profit, as long as it led to increased political power.  That perspective was shared by journalistic heavyweights Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst a century later.  They all, at least, would be just fine with what the purportedly “mainstream” media has become: a source of propaganda utterly unrelated to reality, truth, equity or a quest for the common welfare, dedicated instead to attaining world hegemony for its current neoliberal masters; e.g., Carlos Slim, ironically, the “Mexican” owner of the “New York” Times; Jeff Bezos, the Amazon slave master who also owns the Washington Post; Mort Zuckerman, the owner and publisher of U.S. News & World Report and former owner of the New York Daily News, the Atlantic and the Fast Company, etc., billionaires all.  But now as George Orwell (our own version of Troy’s Cassandra) foretold in his iconic novels 1984 and Animal Farm, not only has inaccuracy in reporting become the norm, challenging such inaccuracy in any form has become legally punishable heretical anathema (ask Julian Assange).  Given the consolidation of most media sources in the United States and the related control of worldwide social media infrastructure (the Internet, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Microsoft, Apple, etc.,) by a very select few billionaires, the censorship required to protect today’s faux journalism from inconvenient opinions and, of course, facts that do not fit into official narratives, is more and more becoming a reality.

Okay, “becoming” is optimistic, 1984 has been here for quite a while.  Peering through Alice’s looking glass into our bizarro world we find Julian Assange and his creation, WikiLeaks, perhaps the best examples of what journalism should be, under constant threats of criminal sanctions for publicly releasing accurate information concerning government duplicity, with the mainstream media assiduously refusing to defend them, concentrating instead on tizzy fits in defense of boorish conduct by journalists such as CNN’s James Acosta at White House briefings.  Evidently, Mr. Assange’s and WikiLeaks’ principle betrayal of their media cronies involved publicly releasing accurate, highly negative information concerning Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party’s national Committee (a wholly owned subsidiary of the Clinton campaign), in time for its assimilation by the electorate, depriving a would be queen of her throne.  A horrible no-no.

While the trend towards the creative use of misinformation to acquire and maintain political power has been consistent since, … well, … since before the United Colonies declared their independence from His Royal Majesty, George III, it exploded during the 2016 presidential election, one studiously set up to assure, first the nomination of Hillary Rodham Clinton as the candidate of the Democratic Party (notwithstanding the views or votes of the Democratic Party electorate during the so called primaries), and then, assuring her victory in the general election by manipulating the selection of her opponent, and, just in case such machinations proved unsuccessful (after all, even if it were her turn, Mrs. Clinton was amazingly unpopular), orchestrating a plan to blame Russia for the defeat in a manner making it possible to grasp victory from the jaws of defeat (there are more than nine ways to skin a cat, nine being essential given the nine-life hypothesis concerning feline mortality).

Surprisingly, actually, shockingly, the contingency plan (“insurance” according to several FBI and Justice Department employees) became necessary when Mrs. Clinton’s designated opponent betrayed her and inexplicably (at least to the Democratic Party and the “mainstream media”) won.  Fortunately, the Obama Administration, at the urging and with the collaboration of the Clinton presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee (which provided funding and the script, i.e., the Steele Dossier), had been orchestrating a quasi-illegal infiltration of the Trump presidential campaign to facilitate implementation of the Clinton strategy alleging that the Trump Campaign had “colluded” with the Russian Federation to steal the election from Mr. Obama’s rightful heir.  When her “majesty-to-be shockingly lost the fixed election she’d been assured she would win (it was her turn), the “mainstream” media was quick to lend its full support to the “insurance plan” in an orchestrated extravaganza it quickly christened “Russiagate”.

Evidently, the strategy had sub-plans, A, B, C and D.  First, that the Electoral College would ignore the electoral results and crown her anyway; second, that Mr. Trump might be prevented from assuming office through the efforts of the Deep State; third, that Mr. Trump and his vice president might both be promptly impeached, and then the Speaker of the House and then the President Pro Tempore of the Senate as well; or fourth, perhaps some sort of legally sanitized coup could be orchestrated via the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. Hmm, not really quite thought through as in none of those cases would Hillary be crowned president (as she should have been, after all, it was her turn).  To date, no such luck, but plenty of collateral damage, mainly to us and to our ever futile quest for democracy.  Talk about a power mad dowager’s temper tantrums, one would think this one takes all the prizes (sorry about that Catherine the Great). But evidently more is yet to come.  Welcome 2019.

2016 was apparently the perfect time to revive the old Broadway play “The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming” and to rehabilitate old Senator Joe McCarthy; seemingly he was right all along.  Of course, the GOP – Democratic roles seem to have switched and it’s Hollywood and the “mainstream media” that are doing the blackballing, but hey, “it all depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is”, … remember?  According to the hypothesis being broadcast every second of every day of every week (well, you get the point) in a blatant attempt at brainwashing the American public, a la Joseph Goebbels, Hillary Clinton did not really lose the 2016 presidential election in the Electoral College; she would have won but for a dastardly conspiracy hatched by her opponent, Donald Trump, and Russian president Vladimir Putin (who had apparently purchased WikiLeaks).  Together, they allegedly plotted to steal her rightful victory (it was her turn) by obtaining and then, through WikiLeaks and other social media sources, releasing unfavorable information that the “mainstream media had responsibly kept hidden, the hysterical mea culpas of pro-Clinton operatives at Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Google, etc., being deemed sufficient evidence to convert the hypotheses into theories and then the theories into facts.

So, … those dastardly Russians are to blame, again, … they always have been.  After all, isn’t one of their progenitors referred to in our history books as “Ivan the Terrible”?  Imagine, using information to affect public opinion; the horror, “the humanities” (images of the zeppelin Hindenburg going down in flames in New Jersey about a century ago come to mind).  Foreign intervention in United States elections?  Outrageous … but perhaps not totally unheard of, not absolutely, not, perhaps, per se, perhaps not always inappropriate, see, e.g., the article by Bill Allison published in Foreign Policy on August 28, 2015, “Elite Fundraiser for Obama and Clinton Linked to Justice Department Probe”.

Irony sometimes merges with satire in oxymoronic bliss, although sometimes it’s just moronic.  On November 4, 2016, shortly before the United States presidential election, Everett Rosenfeld, assisted by Jacob Pramuk and Fred Imbert, wrote the following article for CNBC News, “Who US allies — and others — are rooting for as election nears”, a strangely objective piece given the times, times when foreign interests and endorsements in United States elections were perhaps recognized as less inappropriate given the United States’ purported role as leader of the world, something soon to drastically change (in both senses).  Perhaps an examination of the United States’ own perspectives on the right to share its informational standpoint in foreign elections would serve to establish a coherent context.

Fortuitously, on June 3 of this year, a number of interesting persons participated in the writing of an article published by Aljazeera entitled “Journalism or propaganda? US state-sponsored media” (Aljazeera, June 3, 2018).  They included Amanda Bennet, director of the Voice of America; Arch Puddington, author of Broadcasting Freedom: The Cold War Triumph of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty; Dan Robinson, former chief White House correspondent for the Voice of America; and, Hamid Dabashi, professor of Iranian Studies at Columbia University. The article was in reaction to the United States Justice Department’s requirement that Russian government supported news outlets, RT and Sputnik News, registered as foreign agents.  The article sought to provide the contributors with a forum to differentiate official United States information and propaganda activities directed at other countries from the alleged activities that had spawned Clinton-orchestrated mass hysteria concerning purported foreign intervention in United States politics, although of course, most foreign activities have been ignored (especially Israeli) and only alleged Russian and sometimes Chinese activates are being criticized.

The effort at differentiation was unsuccessful; rather, the article highlighted the very long history of United States government sponsored (and frequently CIA funded and controlled) political intervention programs abroad, programs such as those implemented through Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, etc. (how embarrassing for the contributors), the flagships in a network of TV and radio stations that span 100 countries[1].  The network is overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a federal agency whose $685 million dollar, congressionally approved, State Department funded annual budget dwarfs the Kremlin’s estimated annual spending on foreign impact media[2].  The question then obviously arises, have such United States interventions in foreign political affairs during almost a century, involved inappropriate collusion, or, is the circulation of information and opinions to those responsible for choosing those whose decisions will have a direct impact on our lives not only appropriate but necessary in a world that purportedly recognizes political participation as a human right?

On December 22, Russian funded or sponsored or just Russian news organization RT published an article, author unknown, entitled “Top US spy says Russia, China & Iran ran ‘influence activities’ during midterms” (RT, December 22, 2018).  The allegation was that Russian nationals or organizations, perhaps with government support or sponsorship (horrors, only we can do that!) impacted the United States 2018 midterm elections, elections loudly touted by the mainstream media as having been won by the Democratic Party (despite losses in the Senate) and lost by President Trump (even though he wasn’t running).  Purportedly, the nefarious Russian activities involved inappropriate sharing of opinions and information with American voters but admittedly, “[n]o US election systems were compromised” [although] “Russia and other countries did run influence and messaging campaigns on social media during the 2018 midterms” (Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, report to the White House).  Huh???  So, … were the Russians supporting the Democrats?  Oh no, not another special counsel!!!  Okay, not likely, … it’s fine when the GOP loses.  It’s not part of the Clinton standby strategy.

Perhaps the most pertinent question in this entire quagmire with reference to the “current unpleasantness” is: “In a purported democracy in a supposedly hegemonic United States-led-world”, is everyone affected by United States electoral results entitled, if not to vote, at least to share opinions and aspirations with those who can vote?”  Isn’t that what the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is all about?  Isn’t it up to the individual voter to sort through all the opposing opinions and purported “facts” to determine for him or herself what he or she finds convincing or accurate or beneficial?  Isn’t any sort of interference with such process, either by formal governmental institutions or by the multinational Internet behemoths (who now exercise even more power than the former) what ought to be considered anathema.  Just what the hell is “collusion” in that context anyway?  It’s one thing to change the electoral results by altering them through inappropriate tabulation or hacking or paying for votes, whether undertaken by foreign or domestic villains (Democratic Party primaries apparently don’t count); it is a very different thing to participate in the informational aspects of voters’ decision making processes.

Can our poor brains handle the responsibility?

If not, isn’t the very concept of democracy a farce?

Something to think about as 2018 winds down (thank goodness).
_______

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé and Diana Marcela Cardenas Garcia; Manizales, 2018; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia although he has primarily lived in the United States of America (of which he is a citizen).  Until recently he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at www.guillermocalvo.com.  Diana Marcela Cardenas Garcia is a Colombian social communicator and journalist who collaborates with Dr. Calvo on diverse civic, social and political projects.

[1] The foregoing does not include the much more successful United States propaganda effort centered on the sometimes CIA funded entertainment industry.  If it can be said that the United States has conquered the world, it has done so culturally, through its cinematic and music industries rather than through its admittedly massive military might.  However, United States government direct and indirect “investments” in such activities are impossible to quantify.

[2] According to special counsel Robert Mueller, a source not expected to minimize but rather to exaggerate, Russian expenditures on the 2016 United States presidential campaign, they averaged at most $1.25 million dollars per month.  Unknown author.  “Russia Spent $1.25m per Month on Ads, Acted Like an Ad Agency: Mueller”; Bloomberg News – Adage, February 16, 2018.

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