Preventing a Politics of Truth
Here are the opening paragraphs of Pam Martens’s April 14 piece on “the greatest income and wealth inequality since the economic collapse in the Great Depression [which thretens] a repeat of the 2008 financial collapse” with a few paragraphs devoted to Leo Thornton’s April 11 act of protest in Washington D.C.:
At approximately 1:07 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, April 11, during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival celebrating springtime in the Nation’s Capitol, a 22-year old man took his own life with a gun on the Capitol grounds with a protest sign taped to his hand. According to the Washington Post, the sign read: “Tax the one percent.”
As Martens notes, “Those are the tragic facts of the incident itself. But there is a broader tragedy: the vacuous handling of this story by corporate media.”
In calling the media’s treatment of the event vacuous, Martens commits the error of assuming it reflects mere insensitivity on their part. A closer analysis of how the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Post covered Thornton’s act of political protest reveals deliberate selectivity and a tendentious framing of facts on the part of the corporate press. Here is the full text Chicago Tribune‘s April 13 item on this.
“Police have identified the individual who fatally shot himself at the U.S. Capitol over the weekend as a man from Lincolnwood.
The Metropolitan Police Department identified the man on Monday as 22-year-old Leo Thornton of Lincolnwood. Thornton died after shooting himself on the west front of the Capitol just after 1 p.m. Saturday. No one else was hurt.
U.S. Capitol Police say Thornton had a backpack and a suitcase, which triggered a lockdown so the bags could be searched. Police say Thornton also was carrying some type of protest sign.”
There are no lies in the above. Every statement in the Chicago Tribune piece is factually accurate; yet the whole gives a seriously false picture of what had taken place in Washington D.C. that Saturday afternoon last April.
Carefully selected facts leave readers with the impression
 that they’re being informed of an event accurately;
 that the event had no relation to politics; and
 that the young man who shot himself at the U.S. Capitol may have been suffering from a mental illness.
All three carefully created impressions are the result of selective reporting intended to manipulate one’s perception and understanding of the event. That Thornton had Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism particularly noted for the high intelligence it often accompanies, is offered as a relevant piece of information. The reader is thus tacitly led to conclude that Thornton’s act was an expression of a mental illness – which Asperger’s most certainly isn’t.
The Chicago Tribune text makes it impossible for Americans to realize that what took place on Capitol Hill on April 11 was an act of political protest they normally associate with demonstrations in Tunisia or the self-immolating protests by Buddhist monks in Tibet.
In contrast to its Chicago Tribune counterpart, which works by selective suppression of facts and by innuendo, the Washington Post article on Leo Thornton’s death does cite the text of the protest sign Thornton had carried. To neutralize the political import of Thornton’s act, it then frames the event for its readers thus:
Whatever political component may seem to have been at play, said Christine Moutier, chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and a former psychiatry professor at the University of California at San Diego, suicide is primarily a mental health problem. Research shows that in more than 90 percent of the 40,000 American suicides each year, an active mental health issue is at play, Moutier said.
Thornton’s politically purposive act is expressly dismissed as having had no “political component,” as being, instead, the result of “a mental health problem.” And, to make the frame stick, Washington Post resorts to one of the oldest rhetorical tricks of all, the argument by authority. The rhetorical move itself depends, of course, on the willingness of some in the American medical establishment to play this game of neutralizing dissent by blocking the public’s awareness of it.
No wonder the American electorate remains as apathetic and politically unresponsive to the depredations of its elites as the absence of large-scale social protests following the 2008 financial crash demonstrates. With a corporate media dedicated to preventing the emergence of a politics of truth and fact, the development of a new social-justice movement in the U.S. faces enormous odds indeed.
Brian Williams Is No Exception. Media Lying, Exaggeration Are The Rule
By Mollie Hemingway --- FEBRUARY 10, 2015
NBC News’ Brian Williams is taking a few days off from his anchor chair at the Nightly News. The Most Trusted Name In News (TM) is in a spot of trouble. He admits he lied when he claimed he was in a Chinook helicopter forced down by rocket-propelled grenade fire in Iraq in 2003.
There are also concerns about dramatic stories he told about gangs attacking his hotel in New Orleans during Katrina. Whether he saw a dead body floating by him in the French Quarter. Whether he got dysentery on that trip. Or witnessed someone commit suicide in the Superdome. Also about whether he actually saved a puppy while on duty as a voluntary firefighter. Whether he was really “looking up at a thug’s snub-nosed .38 while selling Christmas trees out of the back of a truck” in the 1970s. And whether a helicopter he was in during Israel’s war with the militant group Hezbollah in 2006 was nearly hit by Katyusha rockets.
I could go on. The point is that he’s beginning to resemble Jen from the IT Crowd:
Obviously you can’t tell tall tales and keep your title as the most trusted name in news. But as a friend asked, and pardon the French here, “Is Brian Williams a liar, or a bullshitter?”
If Brian Williams were just a dude at the bar, he’d probably be your favorite dude at the bar. He has great stories and tells them well. The loquacious Williams is just an obscenely well-paid news reader. As Neil Postman put it in his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves To Death, “A news show, to put it plainly, is a format for entertainment, not for education, reflection or catharsis.” And that’s how we like it — here’s a promo for a new CNN game show featuring anchors competing against each other. (Show ’em who’s boss, Tapper!)
A Far Worse Kind Of Exaggeration
Some journalists have responded to the Williams spectacle by running defenses they’d never imagine using on others — such as that Williams had ordinary false memory syndrome. Others are just waiting for him to be pushed out or quietly get back to work.
Williams lied. I’m not defending him. But in a world of serial exaggerators and distortion artists, he’s the least of mainstream media’s problems.
Exaggeration and distortion is de rigueur for many political journalists.
Exaggeration is kind of what our media do. Now, part of this is defensible. At one of my first newspaper jobs, I would write unbelievably spare copy that accurately described the event or situation I was reporting on. My editor used to take his big red pen and scrawl, “So what?” across my copy, double underlined. It was a great edit. I had to learn how to make a story interesting and how to pull out the parts a reader would actually care about.
But there’s another kind of exaggeration that is indefensible. Take the story of a low-level staffer of a back-bench Member of Congress sharing some mildly critical remarks about the First Family’s comport. The Washington Post ran more than a dozen stories on the matter. One of them was a story digging up dirt from the staffer’s high school years, written by “foreign affairs” reporter Terrence McCoy. Other media outlets camped outside of her parents home.
Exaggeration is what the media do with every story, whether it’s Ebola, invented vaccination battles, climate change, and any slight mis-step any right-of-center politician ever has the misfortune of even thinking of uttering. It’s what the past few years of War on Women hysteria have been, from the complete and utter freakout over the Komen Foundation trying to extract itself from funding Planned Parenthood, which performs more than 300,000 abortions a year, to the Sandra Fluke saga.
There’s a flip side to the exaggeration, which is distorted downplaying. This is what the media do when they suppress stories that make them look bad, whether it’s Kermit Gosnell’s abortion and infanticide clinic, Jonathan Gruber’s comments on Obamacare, the IRS’s admitted — admitted! — targeting of conservative groups, or Bill Clinton’s close ties to a pedophile.
Sometimes they do a little bit of both — distorting and exaggerating the circumstances surrounding Michael Brown’s shooting death in Ferguson, Missouri, while failing to cover many other local crimes involving police overreach. They cover violent Occupy Wall Street protests with due deference while claiming that the massive and peaceful Tea Party movement was on the verge of unbridled violence.
Brian Williams has a lying problem, granted, but the media’s problem with truth telling is much more harmful.
Why does Dana Milbank have a job? Many reporters do great work answering the “So what?” question while also staying truthful. But many lean way too far into exaggerated gotcha territory. It’s one thing to build a story around the most interesting part of a speech. It’s entirely another to manufacture a controversy by willfully misconstruing the intent and context of the speaker.
There is probably no better example of this latter type of reporting than in the work of the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank. I had the fun of being on the receiving end of one of his hatchet pieces — what he wrote was so exaggerated and distorted that it bore no resemblance to the event I attended. MSNBC picked up his exaggerated and distorted version of events without a moment’s hesitation.
Because of my personal experience, I knew to be skeptical when Milbank made outlandish claims about another event he attended. He claimed a peaceful Muslim woman was horribly victimized by bigoted anti-terrorism extremists. Immediately the rest of the media complex linked to his story. The only problem was that he had done the equivalent of claiming his helicopter had been forced to land after being fired on. There was no way he could have confused the actual discussion at the event he attended with what he claimed went on that day. When the videotape of the event came out, the jig was up. You can read all about it in “Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Dana Milbank.”
And yet when Milbank defended his lies, he had a ton of media pals back him up.
Yes, Brian Williams told tall tales to make himself seem like a hero. That’s what the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank calls Tuesday. And I don’t see anyone talking about media integrity vis-a-vis his continued employment.
Whether or not the entertaining Williams keeps his job, we have a media establishment overrun with serial distorters, gotcha artists, exaggerators and liars. And whether Williams stays or goes, people will continue to report low levels of trust in journalists. That’s because the problem is far bigger than the occasional Sabrina R. Erdely, Stephen Glass or Brian Williams.
Mollie Ziegler Hemingway is a senior editor at The Federalist.
Ukraine Lies Are Iraq Lies All over Again
Propaganda machine doesn't invent new lies.
It recycles the old
William Dunkerley ----- Russian Insider
This is Iraq all over again. I’m talking about the deception of the American people about a threat that may not even exist. Iraq had its “weapons of mass destruction.” Ukraine has its alleged “invasion” by Russia and threat to the rest of Eastern Europe. I busted this myth in my book Ukraine in the Crosshairs. What I found in my research is that those trying to convince us of Putin’s dastardly role are lying.
In all honesty I don’t know whether or not Russia has played the role it’s been accused of. But I did find that those who are trying to convince us of that rely upon fabrications. I’ve got evidence of that.
Blaming the media for all this is like blaming the messenger. With Iraq, sure, many news people played along like puppy dogs. And they’re jumping through the same hoops now. It’s true that there are a handful of media commentators and a few media outlets that have made Russia bashing their forte. But that’s not what’s been propelling this story. There needs to be more focus on exposing the brains (or lack of brains!) behind the false stories about Ukraine.
In the U.S., the fabricated storyline about Russia’s role has been bipartisanly embraced. Jump back to the Council on Foreign Relations report of 2006. It was titled “Russia’s Wrong Direction: What the United States Can and Should Do.” The task force that produced it was chaired by John Edwards (D) and Jack Kemp (R). Again, bipartisan.
This is an issue on which the two parties could reasonably disagree. But we find people like John McCain and Hillary Clinton on basically the same page. But, neither they nor their comrades-in-arms can formulate a factual basis for their positions. They rely upon innuendos and allegations based on falsehoods, past and present.
Perhaps the most honest of the bunch is Senator Lindsay Graham. When asked on national TV why he favored sending lethal weaponry to Ukraine, the best he could come up with was the statement, “It will make me feel better.” That may have made him sound like a nit-wit, but at least he was honest about it and didn’t just offer fabrications a la Clinton and McCain.
But now, however, the stakes are greater than Iraq. We’re not talking about just using weapons of mass destruction on a minority population, as bad as that surely is. Now the stakes border on global thermonuclear war.
American University in Moscow president Dr. Edward Lozansky, himself a nuclear scientist, has urged that parties in the Ukrainian crisis “step back from the brink of a nuclear confrontation that would destroy the entire northern hemisphere of the earth.” According to the Telegraph, former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev has issued his own warning that “the world is at risk of a ‘nuclear war’ because of the tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine.”
But yet the drumbeat continues to spread fallacious stories to stimulate fear and to trick otherwise reasonable people to think the unthinkable. Make no mistake about it: sending lethal weapons to Ukraine would be like throwing gasoline on a fire. And that would be just the start of the trouble.
Many have tried to counter the specious accounts about Ukraine. One leading example is Professor Stephen F. Cohen, a long-respected historian who focuses on Russia. His efforts to set the record straight have netted him a hatchet-job attack in the venerable New York Times. For Cohen’s standing up for the truth, the Times characterized his reputation as “divisive.” Well, to that I say hooray for divisiveness and boo to the Times.
But being vocal about the truth and attempting to correct falsehoods will ultimately not be enough. The lesson of Iraq was not enough. Now it seems that the history of deception is repeating itself. It’s being enabled by the Clintons and McCains.
My own senator Chris Murphy has been suckered into the movement. Recently I wrote him and advised, “Think about what you are doing. Do you really want to create a world for your children to inherit based on a dangerous and ignorant mythology, or would you rather champion a more reality-based approach to peaceful U.S.-Russia relations?” He offered no substantive response to that.
In the midst of the Vietnam conflict, at a time when the U.S. and the Soviet Union were butting their nuclear heads, there was a popular song titled, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” It bemoans the buffoonish tendency of humanity to repeat a destructive cycle of history that seems impossible to break. The ending line says, “When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn.”
I suggest that Mrs. Clinton, Mr. McCain and the rest who are engaged in repeating the mistakes of history listen to that song over and over again, and think about what they are doing. Are the short term rewards they seek for themselves by misleading the country really worth it? Indeed, will they ever learn?
the Lies of the
By Eric Zuesse ---- Global Research, May 27, 2014
Paul Craig Roberts’ chief focus of concern has been the rampant lying in the American press about Ukraine. This is what he said on May 27th (and all of this is historically accurate, and is important to know in order to be able to understand what’s going on in Ukraine now):
“Areas of southern and eastern Ukraine are former Russian territories added to Ukraine by Soviet leaders. Lenin added Russian areas to Ukraine in early years of the Soviet Union, and Khrushchev added Crimea in 1954. The people in these Russian areas, alarmed by the destruction of Soviet war memorials commemorating the Red Army’s liberation of Ukraine from Hitler, by the banning of Russian as an official language, and by physical assaults on Russian-speaking people in Ukraine, broke out in protests. Crimea voted its independence and requested reunification with Russia, and so have the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Washington, its EU puppets, and the Western media have denied that the votes in Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk are sincere and spontaneous. Instead, Washington alleges that the protests leading to the votes and the votes themselves were orchestrated by the Russian government with the use of bribes, threats, and coercion. Crimea was said to be a case of Russian invasion and annexation. These are blatant lies, and the foreign observers of the elections know it, but they have no voice in the Western media, which is a Ministry of Propaganda for Washington. Even the once proud BBC lies for Washington.”
Nowadays, the most accurate news reporting about events in Ukraine comes actually from Russia. The following report includes some of the latest of that, along with background reporting that I have put together from other sources, including links to videos of the actual historical events.
Unlike what you read in The New York Times or the Washington Post, or hear about on NPR, PBS, Fox “News,” MSNBC, NBC, CBS, or ABC — or even read about in New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic, Mother Jones, the Nation, the New York Review of Books, or Foreign Policy — this is the reality; and all that you would need to do in order to check it out for yourself is to click on the links, all of which are to sources that I have checked out and verified as being true and authentic; you won’t find any of this to be false or fake:
The New York Times does its government’s bidding
Here’s what you’re not being told about U.S. troops in Ukraine
“Last December, John Pilger, the noted Australian journalist now in London, said in a speech that the Ukraine crisis had become the most extreme news blackout he had seen his entire career. I agree..” by Patrick L. Smith at Salon.com As of mid-April, when a Pentagon flack announced it in Kiev, and as barely reported in American media, U.S. troops are now operating openly in Ukraine.
Now there is a lead I have long dreaded writing but suspected from the first that one day I would. Do not take a moment to think about this. Take many moments. We all need to. We find ourselves in grave circumstances this spring.
At first I thought I had written what newspaper people call a double-barreled lead: American soldiers in Ukraine, American media not saying much about it. Two facts.
Wrong. There is one fact now, and it is this: Americans are being led blindfolded very near the brink of war with Russia.
One cannot predict there will be one. And, of course, right-thinking people hope things will never come to one. In March, President Obama dismissed any such idea as if to suggest it was silly. “They’re not interested in a military confrontation with us,” Obama said of the Russians—wisely. Then he added, unwisely: “We don’t need a war.”
Don’t need a war to get what done, Mr. President? This is our question. Then this one: Washington is going to stop at exactly what as it manipulates its latest set of puppets in disadvantaged countries, this time pretending there is absolutely nothing thoughtless or miscalculated about doing so on Russia’s historically sensitive western border?
The pose of American innocence, tatty and tiresome in the best of times, is getting dangerous once again.
The source of worry now is that we do not have an answer to the second question. The project is plain: Advance NATO the rest of the way through Eastern Europe, probably with the intent of eventually destabilizing Moscow. The stooges now installed in Kiev are getting everything ready for the corporations eager to exploit Ukrainian resources and labor.
And our policy cliques are willing to go all the way to war for this? As of mid-April, when the 173rd Airborne Brigade started arriving in Ukraine, it looks as if we are on notice in this respect.
In the past there were a few vague mentions of an American military presence in Ukraine that was to be in place by this spring, if I recall correctly. These would have been last autumn. By then, there were also reports, unconfirmed, that some troops and a lot of spooks were already there as advisers but not acknowledged.
Then in mid-March President Poroshenko introduced a bill authorizing—as required by law—foreign troops to operate on Ukrainian soil. There was revealing detail, according to Russia Insider, a free-standing website in Moscow founded and run by Charles Bausman, an American with an uncanny ability to gather and publish pertinent information.
“According to the draft law, Ukraine plans three Ukrainian-American command post exercises, Fearless Guardian 2015, Sea Breeze 2015 and Saber Guardian/Rapid Trident 2015,” the publication reported, “and two Ukrainian-Polish exercises, Secure Skies 2015, and Law and Order 2015, for this year.”
This is a lot of dry-run maneuvering, if you ask me. Poroshenko’s law allows for up to 1,000 American troops to participate in each of these exercises, alongside an equal number of Ukrainian “National Guardsmen,” and we will insist on the quotation marks when referring to this gruesome lot, about whom more in a minute.
Take a deep breath and consider that 1,000 American folks, as Obama will surely get around to calling them, are conducting military drills with troops drawn partly from Nazi and crypto-Nazi paramilitary groups…. Sorry, I cannot add anything more to this paragraph. Speechless.
It was a month to the day after Poroshenko’s bill went to parliament that the Pentagon spokesman in Kiev announced—to a room empty of American correspondents, we are to assume—that troops from the 173rd Airborne were just then arriving to train none other than “National Guardsmen.” This training includes “classes in war-fighting functions,” as the operations officer, Maj. Jose Mendez, blandly put it at the time.
The spokesman’s number was “about 300,” and I never like “about” when these people are describing deployments. This is how it always begins, we will all recall. The American presence in Vietnam began with a handful of advisers who arrived in September 1950. (Remember MAAG, the Military Assistance Advisory Group?)
Part of me still thinks war with Russia seems a far-fetched proposition. But here’s the thing: It is even more far-fetched to deny the gravity of this moment for all its horrific, playing-with-fire potential.
I am getting on to apoplectic as to the American media’s abject irresponsibility in not covering this stuff adequately. To leave these events unreported is outright lying by omission. Nobody’s news judgment can be so bad as to argue this is not a story.
Last December, John Pilger, the noted Australian journalist now in London, said in a speech that the Ukraine crisis had become the most extreme news blackout he had seen his entire career. I agree and now need no more proof as to whether it is a matter of intent or ineptitude. (Now that I think of it, it is both in many cases.)
To cross the “i”s and dot the “t”s, as I prefer to do, the Times did make two mentions of the American troops. One was the day of the announcement, a brief piece on an inside page, datelined Washington. Here we get our code word for this caper: It will be “modest” in every mention.
The second was in an April 23 story by Michael Gordon, the State Department correspondent. The head was, “Putin Bolsters His Forces Near Ukraine, U.S. Says.” Read the… thing here.
The story line is a doozy: Putin—not “the Russians” or “Moscow,” of course—is again behaving aggressively by amassing troops—how many, exactly where and how we know is never explained—along his border with Ukraine. Inside his border, that is. This is the story. This is what we mean by aggression these days.
In the sixth paragraph we get this: “Last week, Russia charged that a modest program to train Ukraine’s national guard that 300 American troops are carrying out in western Ukraine could ‘destabilize the situation.’”
Apoplectically speaking: Goddamn it, there is nothing modest about U.S. troops operating on Ukrainian soil, and it is self-evidently destabilizing. It is an obvious provocation, a point the policy cliques in Washington cannot have missed.
At this point, I do not see how anyone can stand against the argument—mine for some time—that Putin has shown exemplary restraint in this crisis. In a reversal of roles and hemispheres, Washington would have a lot more than air defense systems and troops of whatever number on the border in question.
The Times coverage of Ukraine, to continue briefly in this line, starts to remind me of something I.F. Stone once said about the Washington Post: The fun of reading it, the honored man observed, is that you never know where you’ll find a page one story.
In the Times’ case, you never know if you will find it at all.
Have you read much about the wave of political assassinations that erupted in Kiev in mid-April? Worry not. No one else has either—not in American media. Not a word in the Times.
The number my sources give me, and I cannot confirm it, is a dozen so far—12 to 13 to be precise. On the record, we have 10 who can be named and identified as political allies of Viktor Yanukovych, the president ousted last year, opponents of a drastic rupture in Ukraine’s historic relations to Russia, people who favored marking the 70th anniversary of the Soviet defeat of the Nazis—death-deserving idea, this—and critics of the new regime’s corruptions and dependence on violent far-right extremists.
These were all highly visible politicians, parliamentarians and journalists. They have been murdered by small groups of these extremists, according to reports readily available in non-American media. In my read, the killers may have the same semi-official ties to government that the paramilitary death squads in 1970s Argentina—famously recognizable in their Ford Falcons—had with Videla and the colonels.
The Poroshenko government contrives to assign Russia the blame, but one can safely ignore this. Extreme right members of parliament have been more to the point. After a prominent editor named Oles Buzyna was fatally shot outside his home several weeks ago, a lawmaker named Boris Filatov told colleagues, “One more piece of shit has been eliminated.” From another named Irina Farion, this: Death will neutralize the dirt this shit has spilled. Such people go to history’s sewers.”
Kindly place, Kiev’s parliament under this new crowd. Washington must be proud, having backed yet another right-wing, anti-democratic, rights-trampling regime that does what it says.
And our media must be silent, of course. It can be no other way. Gutless hacks: You bet I am angry.
Originally published in 1985, Neil Postman’s groundbreaking polemic about the corrosive effects of television on our politics and public discourse has been hailed as a twenty-first-century book published in the twentieth century. Now, with television joined by more sophisticated electronic media—from the Internet to cell phones to DVDs—it has taken on even greater significance. Amusing Ourselves to Death is a prophetic look at what happens when politics, journalism, education, and even religion become subject to the demands of entertainment. It is also a blueprint for regaining controlof our media, so that they can serve our highest goals.
Ukraine: Lies, propaganda and the West's agenda
Is the Western narrative obscuring what's really going on in Ukraine?
04 May 2014 ----- Alastair Sloan
Alastair Sloan is a London-based journalist. He focuses on injustice and human rights in the UK, and international affairs including human rights, the arms trade, censorship, political unrest and dictatorships.
Washington and Brussels are the heroes of the Ukrainian saga, if you believe the Western media. Russian President Vladimir Putin is cast as the Big Bad Russian Bear, US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are the Democratic A-Team. Russia is using dirty KGB-inspired tactics: Secret agitators backed by masked paratroopers. The West makes the same tired claims to back democracy and freedom.
The hyperbole is extraordinary. Is it really appropriate to invoke the memory of Anschluss, or compare Putin to Saddam Hussein? Kerry has called Ukraine an "incredible act of aggression", conveniently ignoring drone strikes, the Iraq War, and the numerous illegal coups the US has pulled off since World War II.
Former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made the argument in March that Putin is "trying to re-establish Russian influence and a measure of control over the former states of the Soviet Union". All this deceitful moralising, as well as attempts to classify Putin's putsch in Crimea as some grandiose geopolitical strategy, ignores two crucial realities about this crisis.
The first is that Putin is acting out of political desperation. The second is that the West has been no saint in this crisis, and it may even have caused it.
Putin's first two terms saw widespread political support built primarily on healthy economic growth, mainly thanks to booming oil prices. An avalanche of foreign investment allowed businesses and infrastructure to grow at pace. Everyone was employed, the middle class was growing and Putin of course claimed the credit.
Then came the financial crisis of 2008. A sovereign debt crisis in Europe left Russia exposed. Prices rose and profit margins for businesses grew unhealthy. Many who had made it into the middle classes found themselves back in the working poor.
For a while, Putin blamed the mess on European financiers. But this tale was discarded in December, when he admitted that most of Russia's economic problems were homegrown; born out of broken promises he made to reform the economy and rout out systemic corruption.
And Russia's economic misfortunes are not set to end soon - economists forecast growth rates averaging 2.5 percent, far behind most developing economies, and emergency cash reserves will reportedly run out in three years.
Alexei Krudin, an ex-finance minister, has blamed Putin for the economic crisis. He says more should have been done sooner. In December, the polling agency Levada put Putin's approval rating at its lowest in 10 years. The boom years of his first two terms are a distant memory.
Putin, therefore, enjoyed his Kremlin Christmas overshadowed by the imminent prospect of political failure. Admittedly, the opposition movement in Russia is disorganised, underfunded or behind bars. But the memories of mass street protests in 2011 and 2012 are still fresh. Victimisation of the print press has grown more violent, control of TV stations has expanded and suppression of dissent has become ever more cruel. As Putin's popularity falls, he must tell more lies to his people, shut up his critics - or simply distract the Russian public with military expeditions abroad.
Crimea as distraction
Crimea has been this distraction. There is no grand plan, Putin is not being a "playground bully" nor is he seeking to "re-establish Russian influence and a measure of control over the former states of the Soviet Union". Crimea was simply an opportunity which Putin saw, a land grab which Putin knew would play well at home and, at least in the short term, save his political skin.
The second criticism of the standing Western narrative is that Putin is playing dirty. Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the EU's top diplomat Catherine Ashton have been at pains to call him out on this. But has the West not been doing the same? It all depends on the timeframe you use to judge the Ukraine crisis.
In 1990, the final leader of the dying Soviet Union was explicitly promised by then US Secretary of State James Baker that NATO would not take advantage of Russia's weakness and expand their influence eastward. In a speech which he gave in the Kremlin, Baker confirmed that there would be "no extension of NATO's jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east".
In an interview with Der Spiegel in 2009, Mikhail Gorbachev was gutted: The promise he had been made that day by Baker had proved a hollow deceit.
"One cannot depend on American politicians," he said.
He was joined by then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who confirmed the West's duplicity.
"None of the things that we were assured, namely that NATO would not expand endlessly eastwards, and our interests would be continuously taken into consideration," had happened.
Gorbachev and Medvedev were right to be angry. Despite Baker's promise, NATO had expanded into Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania. All of these countries were formerly within Russia's sphere of influence. And all of these countries were significantly more than "an inch to the east".
On top of NATO's rapid expansion, the West added to Russian trauma by trying to position missile defence systems in both Poland and the Czech Republic. The plan was eventually scrapped after Russian opposition was made clear. While Washington claimed the missile bases protected Europe from Iranian missiles (despite Tehran not owning any missiles with sufficient range), Russians believed they presented a clear security threat. Imagine if Putin had announced he was building missile bases in Mexico.
Finally, fast-paced but accurate investigative journalism by the American writer Steve Weissman has revealed how in the months and even years running up to Euromaidan, US money had been vociferously funding anti-Yanukovich political activities in Ukraine. Shadowy think-tanks linked to the US State Department have funded over 80 "pro-democracy" projects in Ukraine, as well as almost completely funding an opposition TV station.
As Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich fell, Putin took his opportunity in Crimea. In press conferences, he has laid out the historical events above. He credibly claimed Russia had been the victim of a Western plot to surround and contain Russia. He also pointed to wilder theories about the CIA's involvement and neo-Nazi gangs roaming Kiev.
The West has concentrated on mocking the latter while conveniently ignoring the legitimate gripes Putin raises - the possibility that the West, through meddling and provoking incessantly, may have caused this crisis.
In the face of clearly hypocritical Western lecturing - Putin's ratings at home have soared. And the people of Ukraine have also been betrayed - their push for democracy co-opted by US interests, and their economy having lost up to $80bn, according to latest reports. Will Western leaders be held to account? Probably not if this thundering and incorrect narrative continues to play out across the media. This is why Western leaders are so keen to demonise Putin - it gets them off the hook.
Alastair Sloan is a London-based journalist. He focuses on injustice and human rights in the UK, and international affairs including human rights, the arms trade, censorship, political unrest and dictatorships.
there is currently no doubt that the American political leadership and the American press worked together to mislead the American people about "Weapons of Mass Destruction" in Iraq...
and now, here we go again...
the corporate war machine profits and people die !!!
truthfully, the ease with which the American people are misled is indicative of some failing in the national mentality...
The wealthiest man in Ukraine, Rinat Akhmetov, the oligarch who owns most industry in the southeast, and who employs 300,000 people there, is now threatening to fire anyone who supports the breakaway movement. Some of his employees have started quitting, especially after Donetsk was bombed on May 26th by planes flying in from the west. On May 25th, thousands of people massed at his mansion to protest Akhmetov’s having joined with the fascists. On May 27th, several of Akhmetov’s mines in Donetsk were closed by strikes. And “Poroshenko has promised to use full force until all separatists have been destroyed. He has now vowed to strengthen the military crackdown, making it faster and more efficient.”
He “says the military operation should last hours and not weeks.” His expectation seems to be that his troops will slaughter enough people so as to terrorize the population into submission, quietude, and peace.
Also on May 27th, the U.S. White House stated:
“President Obama called President-elect Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine today to congratulate him on his victory and offer the full support of the United States as he seeks to unify and move his country forward. The President stressed the importance of quickly implementing the reforms necessary for Ukraine to bring the country together and to develop a sustainable economy, attractive investment climate, and transparent and accountable government that is responsive to the concerns and aspirations of all Ukrainians. The United States will continue assisting Ukraine in these efforts. The two leaders agreed to continue their conversation during the President’s upcoming trip to Europe.”
For the basic background on these developments, see this and this.
- about Paul Craig Roberts