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The GOP’s CIA Playbook: Destabilize Country To Sweep Back Into Power

Modern Republicans have a simple approach to politics when they are not in the White House: Make America as ungovernable as possible by using almost any means available, from challenging the legitimacy of opponents to spreading lies and disinformation to sabotaging the economy.

Over the past four decades or so, the Republicans have simply not played by the old give-and-take rules of politics. Indeed, if one were to step back and assess this Republican approach, what you would see is something akin to how the CIA has destabilized target countries, especially those that seek to organize themselves in defiance of capitalist orthodoxy.

To stop this spread of “socialism,” nearly anything goes. Take, for example, Chile in the early 1970s when socialist President Salvador Allende won an election and took steps aimed at improving the conditions of the country’s poor.

Under the direction of President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the CIA was dispatched to engage in psychological warfare against Allende’s government and to make the Chilean economy “scream.”

U.S. intelligence agencies secretly sponsored Chilean news outlets, like the influential newspaper El Mercurio, and supported “populist” uprisings of truckers and housewives. On the economic front, the CIA coordinated efforts to starve the Chilean government of funds and to drive unemployment higher.

Worsening joblessness could then be spun by the CIA-financed news outlets as proof that Allende’s policies didn’t work and that the only choice for Chile was to scrap its social programs. When Allende compromised with the Right, that had the additional benefit of causing friction between him and some of his supporters who wanted even more radical change.

As Chile became increasingly ungovernable, the stage was set for the violent overthrow of Allende, the installation of a rightist dictatorship, and the imposition of “free-market” economics that directed more wealth and power to Chile’s rich and their American corporate backers.

Though the Allende case in Chile is perhaps the best known example of this intelligence strategy (because it was investigated by a Senate committee in the mid-1970s), the CIA has employed this approach frequently around the world. Sometimes the target government is removed without violence, although other times a bloody coup d’etat has been part of the mix.

Home to Roost

So, it is perhaps fitting that a comparable approach to politics would eventually come home to roost in the United States, even to the point that some of the propaganda funding comes from outside sources (think of Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Washington Times and Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.)

Obviously, given the wealth of the American elites, the relative proportion of the propaganda funding is derived more domestically in the United States than it would be in a place like Chile (or some other unfortunate Third World country that has gotten on Washington’s bad side).

But the concept remains the same: Control as much as possible what the population gets to see and hear; create chaos for your opponent’s government, economically and politically; blame if for the mess; and establish in the minds of the voters that their only way out is to submit, that the pain will stop once your side is back in power.

Today’s Republicans have fully embraced this concept of political warfare, whereas the Democrats generally have tried to play by the old rules, acquiescing when Republicans are in office with the goal of “making government work,” even if the Republicans are setting the agenda.

Unlike the Democrats and the Left, the Republicans and the Right have prepared themselves for this battle, almost as if they are following a CIA training manual. They have invested tens of billions of dollars in a propaganda infrastructure that operates 24/7, year-round, to spot and exploit missteps by political enemies.

This vertically integrated media machine allows useful information to move quickly from a right-wing blog to talk radio to Fox News to the Wall Street Journal to conservative magazines and book publishing. Right-wing propagandists are well-trained and well-funded so they can be deployed to all manner of public outlets to hammer home the talking points.

When a Democrat somehow does manage to get into the White House, Republicans in Congress (and even in the Courts) are ready to do their part in the destabilization campaign. Rather than grant traditional “honeymoon” periods of cooperation with the president’s early policies, the battle lines are drawn immediately.

In late 1992, for instance, Bill Clinton complained that his “honeymoon” didn’t even last through the transition, the two-plus months before a new president takes office. He found himself facing especially harsh hazing from the Washington press corps, as the mainstream media – seeking to shed its “liberal” label and goaded by the right-wing media – tried to demonstrate that it would be tougher on a Democrat than any Republican.

The mainstream press hyped minor “scandals” about Clinton’s Whitewater real estate investment and Travel-gate, a flap about some routine firings at the White House travel office. Meanwhile, the Right’s rapidly growing media was spreading false stories implicating Clinton in the death of White House aide Vince Foster and other “mysterious deaths.”

Republicans in Congress did all they could to feed the press hysteria, holding hearings and demanding that special prosecutors be appointed. When the Clinton administration relented, the choice of prosecutors was handed over to right-wing Republican Appeals Court Judge David Sentelle, who consciously picked political enemies of Clinton to oversee zealous investigations.

Finally Winning

The use of scandal-mongering to destabilize the Clinton administration finally peaked in late 1998 and early 1999 when the Republican-controlled House voted impeachment and Clinton had to endure (but survive) a humiliating trial in the Senate.

The Republican strategy, however, continued into Campaign 2000 with Vice President Al Gore facing attacks on his character and integrity. Gore was falsely painted as a delusional braggart, as both right-wing and mainstream media outlets freely misquoted him and subjected him to ridicule (while simultaneously bowing and scraping before Republican candidate George W. Bush).

When Gore managed to win the national popular vote anyway – and would have carried the key state of Florida if all legally cast ballots were counted – the Republicans and the Right rose up in fury demanding that the Florida count be stopped before Bush’s tiny lead completely disappeared. Starting a minor riot in Miami, the Republicans showed how far they would go to claim the White House again.

Five Republican partisans on the U.S. Supreme Court – wanting to ensure that the new president would keep their side in control of the courts and recognizing that their party was prepared to spread disorder if Gore prevailed – stopped the counting of votes and made Bush the “winner.” [For details, see the book, Neck Deep.]

Despite this partisan ruling, Gore and the Democrats stepped back from the political confrontation. The right-wing press cheered and gloated, while the mainstream news media urged the people to accept Bush as “legitimate” for the good of the country.

For most of Bush’s disastrous presidency, this dynamic remained the same. Though barely able to complete a coherent sentence, Bush was treated with great deference, even when he failed to protect the country from the 9/11 attacks and led the nation into an unprovoked war with Iraq. There were no combative investigations of Bush like those that surrounded Clinton.

Even at the end of Bush’s presidency – when his policies of deregulation, tax cuts for the rich and massive budget deficits combined to create the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression – the prevailing message from the Establishment was that it was unfair to lay too much blame on Bush.

Shortly after Barack Obama took office in 2009, a Republican/right-wing talking point was to complain when anyone took note of the mess that Bush had left behind: “There you go again, blaming Bush.”

Getting Obama

Immediately, too, the Republicans and the Right set to work demonizing and destroying Obama’s presidency. Instead of allowing the Democrats to enact legislation aimed at addressing the financial and economic crisis, the Senate Republicans launched filibuster after filibuster.

When Obama and the Democrats did push through emergency legislation, such as the $787 billion stimulus package, they had to water it down to reach the 60-vote super-majority. The Republicans and the Right then quickly laid the blame for high unemployment on the “failed” stimulus.

There also were waves of propaganda pounding Obama’s legitimacy. The Right’s news media pressed bogus accusations that Obama had been born in Kenya and thus was not constitutionally eligible to be president. He was denounced as a socialist, a Muslim, a fascist, an enemy of Israel, and pretty much any other charge that might hit some American hot button.

When Obama welcomed American students back to school in 2009, the Right organized against his simple message – urging young people to work hard – as if it were some form of totalitarian mind control. His attempt to address the growing crisis in American health care was denounced as taking away freedoms and imposing “death panels.”

Soon, billionaires like oil man David Koch and media mogul Murdoch were promoting a “grassroots” rebellion against Obama called the Tea Party. Activists were showing up at presidential speeches with guns and brandishing weapons at rallies near Washington.

The high-decibel disruptions and the “screaming” economy created the impression of political chaos. Largely ignoring the role of the Republicans, the press faulted Obama for failing to live up to his campaign promise to bring greater bipartisanship to Washington.

Hearing the discord framed that way, many average Americans also blamed Obama; many of the President’s supporters grew demoralized; and, as happened with Allende in Chile, some on the Left turned against Obama for not doing more, faster.

By November 2010, the stage was set for a big Republican comeback. The party swept to victory in the House and fell just short in the Senate. But Congress was not the Republicans’ true goal. What they really want is the White House with all its executive powers.

However, following Obama’s success in killing Osama bin Laden on May 2 and with what is widely regarded as a weak Republican presidential field, the Right’s best hope for regaining complete control of the U.S. government in 2012 is to sink the U.S. economy.

Already, the Republican success in limiting the scope of the stimulus package and then labeling it a failure – combined with deep cuts in local, state and federal government spending – have helped push the economy back to the brink where a double-dip recession is now a serious concern.

Despite these worries – and a warning from Moody’s about a possible downgrade on U.S. debt if Congress delays action on raising the debt limit – the Republicans are vowing more brinksmanship over the debt-limit vote. Before acting, they are demanding major reductions in government spending (while refusing to raise taxes on the rich).

A Conundrum

So, Obama and the Democrats face another conundrum. If they slash spending too much, they will further stall the recovery. However, if they refuse to submit to this latest round of Republican blackmail, they risk a debt crisis that could have devastating consequences for the U.S. economy for years – even decades – to come.

Either way, the right-wing media and much of the mainstream press will put the blame on Obama and the Democrats. They will be held accountable for failing to govern.

The Republican propaganda machine will tell the American people that they must throw Obama and the Democrats out of office for stability to return. There will be assurances about how the “magic of the market” will bring back the bright days of prosperity.

Of course, the reality of a new Republican administration, especially with a GOP Congress, would be the return of the old right-wing nostrums: more tax cuts for the rich, less regulation of corporations, more military spending, and more privatization of social programs.

Any budget balancing will come at the expense of labor rights for union employees and shifting the costs for health care onto the backs of the elderly. Yet, all this will be surrounded by intense propaganda explaining the public pain as a hangover from misguided government “social engineering.”

There is, of course, the possibility that the American people will see through today’s Republican CIA-style strategy of “making the economy scream.” Americans might come to recognize the role of the pseudo-populist propagandists on Fox News and talk radio.

Or Republicans might have second thoughts about playing chicken on the debt limit and running the risk of a global depression. Such a gamble could redound against them. And, it’s hard to believe that even their most ardent billionaire-backers would find destruction of their stock portfolios that appealing.

But there can be a momentum to madness. We have seen throughout history that events can get out of hand, that thoroughly propagandized true believers can truly believe. Sometimes, they don’t understand they are simply being manipulated for a lesser goal. Once the chaos starts, it is hard to restore order.

That has been another bloody lesson from the CIA’s operations in countries around the world. These covert actions can have excessive or unintended consequences.

Ousting Allende turned Chile into a fascist dictatorship that sent assassins far and wide, including Washington, D.C. Ousting Mossadegh in Iran led to the tyranny of the Shah and ultimately to an extreme Islamist backlash. Ousting Arbenz in Guatemala led to the butchery of some 200,000 people and the rise of a narco-state. Such examples can go on and on.

However, these CIA-type techniques can be very seductive, both to U.S. presidents looking for a quick fix to some international problem and to a political party trying to gain a decisive edge for winning. These methods can be especially dangerous when the other side doesn’t organize effectively to counter them.

The hard reality in the United States today is that the Republicans and the Right are now fully organized, armed with a potent propaganda machine and possessing an extraordinary political will. They are well-positioned to roll the U.S. economy off the cliff and blame the catastrophe on Obama.

Indeed, that may be their best hope for winning Election 2012.

By: Robert Parry, Consortium News, AlterNet, June 9, 2011

June 13, 2011 Posted by | Birthers, Congress, Conservatives, Democracy, Democrats, Economy, Elections, Financial Institutions, Foreign Policy, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Health Reform, Ideologues, Ideology, Journalists, Koch Brothers, Labor, Lawmakers, Media, Politics, President Obama, Press, Republicans, Right Wing, Seniors, Supreme Court, Voters, Wall Street | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guns Don’t Kill People: Cowards and Lobbyists Do

Like many people who have come forward to speak or write about the Tucson massacre, I know and adore Gabby Giffords. It is virtually impossible not to adore her. She has a presence and graciousness that light up a room.

That she survived a shot from a semi-automatic at close range is remarkable. Yet the trauma she has endured — psychologically and neurologically — is not one that ever leaves a person untouched. The only question at this point is how much of that radiant light anyone who knows her has seen in her eyes and her smile will return. And for that, we can only hope, pray, and wait for her brain to heal itself.

We know little about the events that led to her shooting, to the deaths of at least six people, and to the massacre that left 14 others injured on the ground. But we do know three things.

The first is that the man witnesses have identified as the shooter, who did everything he could to destroy the brains of his victims, was likely himself the victim of a damaged brain. Even before reporters started to interview his professors and college classmates who were frightened by his erratic behavior in class last fall, the three YouTube videos he left as testimony to his mental state left no doubt that he is delusional and probably in the midst of a psychotic episode (a fancy way of saying that his brain is no longer functioning so that he can tell reality from unreality — even by Tea Party standards).

We know a great deal more about illnesses such as schizophrenia than we knew when our laws on “insanity” evolved. Perhaps most importantly, we now know that the kind of conceptual and linguistic incoherence in Jared Loughner’s YouTube videos is the result of a broken brain — more “madness” than “badness,” although we do not yet know enough about him to know how clear the line between them is, in his case.

Allowing someone who is clearly paranoid, delusional and incoherent — in the midst of a psychotic episode — to have a semi-automatic weapon in his hands is like putting a car in the hands of someone in the midst of an epileptic seizure during rush-hour traffic. Should Loughner turn out to be psychotic and brain-diseased, as appears to be the case, he will be no more genuinely culpable for the acts he has committed, regardless of what the law says, than a person who had his first seizure while driving through a crowded Tucson intersection. Less can be said for our political leaders — a point to which we shall shortly return.

Second, the fact that the shooter is mentally ill does not mean that his mind and brain exist in a vacuum. When Bill O’Reilly and his ilk on Fox began their attacks on “Tiller the Killer” — George Tiller, the physician who provided legal abortions until he was gunned down in his church in the name of Jesus — they fired the first shots in the uncivil war that has just claimed six more lives. To make the claim that the constant propagandizing against Tiller by a television network — including the publicizing of his whereabouts — played no role in the events that led an assassin to choose him as his target would be as psychotic as Loughner’s YouTube diatribes. Surely a deranged killer could have found someone else to target among the over 300 million people who call this country home.

But the fact that the causal link between Fox’s jihad against an American citizen and his ultimate assassination at the hands of a religiously motivated terrorist never became a topic of widespread discussion except on a couple of evening shows on MSNBC, that it prompted no change in the way the right-wing propaganda machine has vilified American citizens, and that it prompted little more than one or two brief written statements from our top elected officials, is a profound indictment of both our media and our political system.

And now we have seen the same thing play out again.

The quasi-delusional rantings of media personalities such as Glenn Beck and the cognitively impaired candidates and elected officials we have come to accept as part of the American political landscape in the 21st century, like the hate-mongering of Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona, are part of the political and psychological air a psychotic shooter like Jared Loughner breathes.

Did prominent personalities like Brewer (or Sarah Palin, who literally put Gabby Giffords in her “crosshairs”) cause this attack? No, any more than Bill O’Reilly and Rupert Murdoch caused the jihadist attack on a physician who had violated a terrorist’s religious sensibilities — or, for that matter, any more than jihadist Web sites that publicize the “blasphemies” perpetrated by the United States cause alienated young men to become suicide bombers against us or our allies.

Did Beck, Brewer and crew contribute to the conditions that created the latest assassinations, irrespective of the prayers and pieties they and Republican politicians like John Boehner are now lavishing on the people they have encouraged their fellow citizens to hate (those with their “job-killing” and “baby-killing” agendas — which they apparently pursue when they aren’t setting up “death panels”)? Try reading alleged shooter Loughner’s rants about government, the terrorists who have seized control over it, and what they are doing to our Constitution and argue that he was not breathing in Foxified fumes and Brewer’s bigotry.

Third, although the political context was different, we have seen this movie before in yet another sense. Columbine, Virginia Tech, countless shootings in schools and churches — what do they share in common? Deafening silence from those who call themselves our leaders.

Since the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy in that terrible summer of 1968, over a million Americans have died at the wrong end of a firearm.

This was not the first time Gabby Giffords — or countless other lawmakers, candidates and elected officials, including President Obama — was confronted at a campaign rally or town-hall meeting by gun-toting bullies, whose primary goal — at least until this time — was intimidation. That bringing a weapon (in Arizona, concealed) within that proximity to an elected official could be legal in the world’s longest-lasting democracy is both surreal and shameful — and now it threatens that democracy.

Whether they are owned and operated by the NRA, too cowardly to take on the NRA for fear of being defeated in the next election, or misled into believing that the average American is as psychotic as the man who opened fire in Tucson (i.e., that most Americans can’t tell the difference between hunting deer and hunting people, or between a hunting rifle and a semi-automatic), our leaders have either faithfully served the interest of Smith and Wesson and the gun lobby or failed to oppose them. The result is that the country has shifted to the right on gun safety, which is what naturally happens when the right is vocal and the left is frightened and silent.

But even today, if you simply speak to ordinary Americans in plain English, they do not believe in the NRA’s interpretation of the Second Amendment. Americans are, if nothing else, strong believers in common sense, and the same people who willingly walk through metal detectors at airports and other settings understand the importance of metal detectors for protecting their elected officials — just as they support them for protecting their kids if there’s any chance they could be harmed at school.

Consider a message colleagues and I tested with two large national samples of registered voters, which beat a tough conservative anti-regulation message on guns by 20 points with both the general electorate and swing voters:

Every law-abiding citizen has the right to bear arms to hunt and protect his family. But that right doesn’t extend to criminals, terrorists, and the dangerously mentally ill… We need to use some common sense in deciding what kind of weapons we want on the streets. I don’t know any hunters who keep stockpiles of munitions in their basements, and I don’t think the Founding Fathers had AK-47s in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment.

Another message beat the conservative message by 40 points with Independent voters, by beginning with a simple statement of principle with which voters across the political spectrum agree if they simply hear it enunciated:

My view on guns reflects one simple principle: that our gun laws should guarantee the rights and freedoms of all law-abiding Americans. That’s why I stand with the majority who believe in the right of law-abiding citizens to own guns to hunt and protect their families. And that’s why I also stand with the majority who believe they have the right to send their kids to school in the morning and have them come home safely.

Or consider yet another message, which began as follows:

“Every law-abiding American has the right to own a gun to hunt and protect his family… But you don’t need an assault weapon to hunt deer, and if you do, you shouldn’t be anywhere near a gun.”

Americans get it, if you just speak to them like adults.

None of these messages is a “hard left” message on guns — a message that might better fit the sensibilities of (and be more appropriate for) New York City, Connecticut, Massachusetts, or much of the West Coast. But these are messages that win all over the heartland — and even win in some unlikely places, like the Deep South and the West — because they aren’t about taking away the rights of law-abiding gun owners. They are about protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens, whether they own a gun or not.

We used to be the arsenal of democracy. With the events of this weekend, our arsenal has been turned against our democracy.

If our elected officials are in the pockets of those who would allow the shooting of their colleagues with semi-automatic weapons with no legitimate civilian uses — while mouthing platitudes about their concern for their colleagues — it’s time to call their bluff.

Guns don’t kill people. Cowards and lobbyists do.

By: Drew Westen, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Emory University-AlterNet, January 10, 2011

January 11, 2011 Posted by | Guns, Liberty | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fear and Favor-A note to Tea Party activists: This is not the movie you think it is.

 

A note to Tea Party activists: This is not the movie you think it is. You probably imagine that you’re starring in “The Birth of a Nation,” but you’re actually just extras in a remake of “Citizen Kane.”True, there have been some changes in the plot. In the original, Kane tried to buy high political office for himself. In the new version, he just puts politicians on his payroll.

I mean that literally. As Politico recently pointed out, every major contender for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination who isn’t currently holding office and isn’t named Mitt Romney is now a paid contributor to Fox News. Now, media moguls have often promoted the careers and campaigns of politicians they believe will serve their interests. But directly cutting checks to political favorites takes it to a whole new level of blatancy.

Arguably, this shouldn’t be surprising. Modern American conservatism is, in large part, a movement shaped by billionaires and their bank accounts, and assured paychecks for the ideologically loyal are an important part of the system. Scientists willing to deny the existence of man-made climate change, economists willing to declare that tax cuts for the rich are essential to growth, strategic thinkers willing to provide rationales for wars of choice, lawyers willing to provide defenses of torture, all can count on support from a network of organizations that may seem independent on the surface but are largely financed by a handful of ultrawealthy families.

And these organizations have long provided havens for conservative political figures not currently in office. Thus when Senator Rick Santorum was defeated in 2006, he got a new job as head of the America’s Enemies program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a think tank that has received funding from the usual sources: the Koch brothers, the Coors family, and so on.

Now Mr. Santorum is one of those paid Fox contributors contemplating a presidential run. What’s the difference?

Well, for one thing, Fox News seems to have decided that it no longer needs to maintain even the pretense of being nonpartisan.

Nobody who was paying attention has ever doubted that Fox is, in reality, a part of the Republican political machine; but the network — with its Orwellian slogan, “fair and balanced” — has always denied the obvious. Officially, it still does. But by hiring those G.O.P. candidates, while at the same time making million-dollar contributions to the Republican Governors Association and the rabidly anti-Obama United States Chamber of Commerce, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which owns Fox, is signaling that it no longer feels the need to make any effort to keep up appearances.

Something else has changed, too: increasingly, Fox News has gone from merely supporting Republican candidates to anointing them. Christine O’Donnell, the upset winner of the G.O.P. Senate primary in Delaware, is often described as the Tea Party candidate, but given the publicity the network gave her, she could equally well be described as the Fox News candidate. Anyway, there’s not much difference: the Tea Party movement owes much of its rise to enthusiastic Fox coverage.

As the Republican political analyst David Frum put it, “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we are discovering we work for Fox” — literally, in the case of all those non-Mitt-Romney presidential hopefuls. It was days later, by the way, that Mr. Frum was fired by the American Enterprise Institute. Conservatives criticize Fox at their peril.

So the Ministry of Propaganda has, in effect, seized control of the Politburo. What are the implications?

Perhaps the most important thing to realize is that when billionaires put their might behind “grass roots” right-wing action, it’s not just about ideology: it’s also about business. What the Koch brothers have bought with their huge political outlays is, above all, freedom to pollute. What Mr. Murdoch is acquiring with his expanded political role is the kind of influence that lets his media empire make its own rules.

Thus in Britain, a reporter at one of Mr. Murdoch’s papers, News of the World, was caught hacking into the voice mail of prominent citizens, including members of the royal family. But Scotland Yard showed little interest in getting to the bottom of the story. Now the editor who ran the paper when the hacking was taking place is chief of communications for the Conservative government — and that government is talking about slashing the budget of the BBC, which competes with the News Corporation.

So think of those paychecks to Sarah Palin and others as smart investments. After all, if you’re a media mogul, it’s always good to have friends in high places. And the most reliable friends are the ones who know they owe it all to you.

By PAUL KRUGMAN: New York Times Op-Ed Columnist, Oct. 3, 2010

 

October 4, 2010 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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