Donald Trump evokes a wily and resilient mythic figure: the joker, the trickster, the fool, the one the Lakota people call the Heyoka, the contrary. Had his opponents – such as Hillary Clinton – understood this quality in him, the electoral outcome might have been different. The sooner the rest of us understand this side of him, the better.
In the European tradition, the fool holds up the mirror to the monarch and to all of us, mocking our faults and pretensions. He (the fool is almost always a man) is not constrained by deference or allegiance to truth. The Heyoka, one of the purest forms of fool, pretends to shiver when everyone else is sweating and takes off his clothes in winter.
The fool is a potent truth-teller and commands attention. Shakespeare knew this. Lear’s Fool, a gentle version of the species, skewered the arrogance and pride that were his master’s downfall, even as he comforted him. The “scabrous” Thersites in Troilus and Cressida speaks with relentless, scene-stealing venom. He paints Achilles, the Greeks’ greatest hero, as a petulant adolescent; King Agamemnon is a blowhard, Helen of Troy a hooker.
The fool is always addressing us, his audience, as well as his high-ranking targets. He performs a vital social function, forcing us to examine our own preconceptions, especially our inflated ideas about our own virtue. Trump was telling all of us – women and minorities, progressives, pillars of the establishment, as well as his supporters – that we were just like him.
The appropriate, time-honored response to the fool’s sallies is to take instruction from them. Only after we’ve acknowledged and accepted our own shortcomings do we have the integrity that allows us to keep him in his place. Perhaps if Secretary Clinton had been a more skillful, poised and humble warrior, she could have done this.
Fools serve the collective order by challenging those whose ignorance and blindness threaten it. They are meant to be instruments of awareness, not rulers. Impossible to imagine Lear’s Fool succeeding him or Thersites commanding the Greek army. Trump will not address his own limitations, cannot tolerate criticism, and takes himself dangerously seriously. This makes him a seriously flawed fool. He believes his own hyperbole and threatens democratic order.
In the weeks since his election, Trump has continued to act the fool. Now, however, the underdog’s challenges have become a bully’s beatdowns. His attack on the steelworkers’ union leader, Chuck Jones, exactly the kind of man whom he claimed to champion, was a vicious and painful lie. Unfunny, purely ugly. His more recent rants, including boasts about the crowds at his inaugural and the millions of imaginary illegal Clinton voters, illuminate his own troubled insecurity: the all-powerful winner acting the petulant, powerless loser.
Many of President Trump’s cabinet choices are like the punchlines of jokes, but punchlines with potentially devastating real-world consequences: an education secretary who disparages public education and badly botched her own effort at creating an alternative; men charged with responding to climate change who deny its existence; and a national security adviser who purveys paranoid fantasies.
There are glimmers of hope that the jester might mature to majesty. Gen James Mattis, the defense secretary, inspired a Trumpian epiphany that waterboarding might be counterproductive. Conversations with Al Gore or, more likely, ones with his daughter Ivanka could persuade him to open his eyes to the reality of climate change.
Or perhaps President Trump will implode, brought down by the damage done by perverse cabinet choices, or words and actions so intemperate and ill-advised that Congress and the courts call him to a terminal account. His challenged immigration order could be a harbinger.
Meanwhile, what are the rest of us to do? The fact that this question is even being asked is healthy, a residual benefit of his fool’s vocation. Trump’s grand and vulgar self-absorption is inviting all of us to examine our own selfishness. His ignorance calls us to attend to our own blind spots. The fears that he stokes and the isolation he promotes goad us to be braver, more generous.
Already, people all over the US – Republicans I know as well as Democrats – are beginning to link inner awareness to small and great political action.
The day after Trump’s inauguration, hundreds of thousands of women of all ages, ethnicities and political affiliations affirmed their rights, celebrated their community and slyly poked at the joker: “if I incorporated my uterus,” read one demonstrator’s sign, “would you stop trying to regulate it”.
The joker who is now our president has served an important function, waking us up to what we’ve not yet admitted in ourselves or accomplished in our country. He is, without realizing it, challenging us to grow in self-awareness, to act in ways that respect and fulfill what is best in ourselves and our democracy.
It’s time for us citizens, who’ve watched the performance, to take the stage.
For a director who customarily tackles subjects with the approach of a gorilla playing American football, Oliver Stone’s take on whistleblower Edward Snowden seems curiously muted. Audiences who are already familiar with Citizenfour, Laura Poitras’s exemplary documentary on the same subject, will be struck by the fact that, in dramatising Snowden’s story, Stone seems to have leached out much of the drama. The aim was clearly to create an All the President’s Men for the age of cyber-surveillance. But somehow the sense of peril is downplayed, diluted by too much inert exposition and pacing that could be tighter.
Playing Edward Snowden, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the film’s main assets. His character’s ferocious intelligence is signposted with cheap details – he is forever fiddling with a Rubik’s cube and has a nerd’s enthusiasm for arcane enciphering equipment. But Snowden’s intellect is most effectively conveyed in Gordon-Levitt’s eyes – watchful, sober and clouded by doubt, they are a window into his impossible ethical quandary.
Melissa Leo is somewhat underused as Poitras. And playing Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, Zachary Quinto is tonally jarring. It feels as though Stone realised that some of the scenes were flagging, so got Quinto to shout angrily at random moments, to keep the audience on their toes.
There are some fun elements, many involving Rhys Ifans’s ruthlessly unprincipled CIA trainer Corbin O’Brian (the fact the character shares a surname with the villain of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is no accident). I particularly enjoyed a scene in which O’Brian’s massive glowering face is beamed into a conference room to berate Snowden. His carnivorous snarl fills the immense screen; he looks like a malevolent version of the Wizard of Oz. There’s a playful visual flair to this moment that is sadly lacking elsewhere in the film.
A silent war continues, led by the west, ignored by the media, writes John Pilger.
The American journalist, Edward Bernays, is often described as the man who invented modern propaganda.
The nephew of Sigmund Freud, the pioneer of psycho-analysis, it was Bernays who coined the term “public relations” as a euphemism for spin and its deceptions.
In 1929, he persuaded feminists to promote cigarettes for women by smoking in the New York Easter Parade – behaviour then considered outlandish. One feminist, Ruth Booth, declared, “Women! Light another torch of freedom! Fight another sex taboo!”
Bernays’ influence extended far beyond advertising. His greatest success was his role in convincing the American public to join the slaughter of the First World War. The secret, he said, was “engineering the consent” of people in order to “control and regiment [them]according to our will without their knowing about it”.
He described this as “the true ruling power in our society” and called it an “invisible government”.
Today, the invisible government has never been more powerful and less understood. In my career as a journalist and film-maker, I have never known propaganda to insinuate our lives as it does now, and to go unchallenged.
Imagine two cities. Both are under siege by the forces of the government of that country. Both cities are occupied by fanatics, who commit terrible atrocities, such as beheading people.
But there is a vital difference. In one siege, the government soldiers are described as liberators by Western reporters embedded with them, who enthusiastically report their battles and air strikes. There are front page pictures of these heroic soldiers giving a V-sign for victory. There is scant mention of civilian casualties.
In the second city – in another country nearby – almost exactly the same thing is happening. Government forces are laying siege to a city controlled by the same breed of fanatics.
The difference is that these fanatics are supported, supplied and armed by “us” – by the United States and Britain. They even have a media centre that is funded by Britain and America.
Another difference is that the government soldiers laying siege to this city are the bad guys, condemned for assaulting and bombing the city – which is exactly what the good soldiers do in the first city.
Confusing? Not really. Such is the basic double standard that is the essence of propaganda. I am referring, of course, to the current siege of the city of Mosul by the government forces of Iraq, who are backed by the United States and Britain, and to the siege of Aleppo by the government forces of Syria, backed by Russia. One is good; the other is bad.
What is seldom reported is that both cities would not be occupied by fanatics and ravaged by war if Britain and the United States had not invaded Iraq in 2003. That criminal enterprise was launched on lies strikingly similar to the propaganda that now distorts our understanding of the civil war in Syria.
Without this drumbeat of propaganda dressed up as news, the monstrous ISIS and Al-Qaida and al-Nusra and the rest of the jihadist gang might not exist, and the people of Syria might not be fighting for their lives today.
Some may remember in 2003 a succession of BBC reporters turning to the camera and telling us that Blair was “vindicated” for what turned out to be the crime of the century. The US television networks produced the same validation for George W. Bush. Fox News brought on Henry Kissinger to effuse over Colin Powell’s fabrications.
The same year, soon after the invasion, I filmed an interview in Washington with Charles Lewis, the renowned American investigative journalist. I asked him, “What would have happened if the freest media in the world had seriously challenged what turned out to be crude propaganda?”
He replied that if journalists had done their job, “there is a very, very good chance we would not have gone to war in Iraq”.
It was a shocking statement, and one supported by other famous journalists to whom I put the same question – Dan Rather of CBS, David Rose of the Observer and journalists and producers in the BBC, who wished to remain anonymous.
In other words, had journalists done their job, had they challenged and investigated the propaganda instead of amplifying it, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children would be alive today, and there would be no ISIS and no siege of Aleppo or Mosul.
There would have been no atrocity on the London Underground on 7th July 2005. There would have been no flight of millions of refugees; there would be no miserable camps.
When the terrorist atrocity happened in Paris last November, President Francoise Hollande immediately sent planes to bomb Syria – and more terrorism followed, predictably, the product of Hollande’s bombast about France being “at war” and “showing no mercy”. That state violence and jihadist violence feed off each other is the truth that no national leader has the courage to speak.
“When the truth is replaced by silence,” said the Soviet dissident Yevtushenko, “the silence is a lie.”
The attack on Iraq, the attack on Libya, the attack on Syria happened because the leader in each of these countries was not a puppet of the West. The human rights record of a Saddam or a Gaddafi was irrelevant. They did not obey orders and surrender control of their country.
The same fate awaited Slobodan Milosevic once he had refused to sign an “agreement” that demanded the occupation of Serbia and its conversion to a market economy. His people were bombed, and he was prosecuted in The Hague. Independence of this kind is intolerable.
As WikiLeaks has revealed, it was only when the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in 2009 rejected an oil pipeline, running through his country from Qatar to Europe, that he was attacked.
From that moment, the CIA planned to destroy the government of Syria with jihadist fanatics – the same fanatics currently holding the people of Mosul and eastern Aleppo hostage.
Why is this not news? The former British Foreign Office official Carne Ross, who was responsible for operating sanctions against Iraq, told me: “We would feed journalists factoids of sanitised intelligence, or we would freeze them out. That is how it worked.”
The West’s medieval client, Saudi Arabia – to which the US and Britain sell billions of dollars’ worth of arms – is at present destroying Yemen, a country so poor that in the best of times, half the children are malnourished.
Look on YouTube and you will see the kind of massive bombs – “our” bombs – that the Saudis use against dirt-poor villages, and against weddings, and funerals.
The explosions look like small atomic bombs. The bomb aimers in Saudi Arabia work side-by-side with British officers. This fact is not on the evening news.
Propaganda is most effective when our consent is engineered by those with a fine education – Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Columbia – and with careers on the BBC, theGuardian, the New York Times, the Washington Post.
These organisations are known as the liberal media. They present themselves as enlightened, progressive tribunes of the moral zeitgeist. They are anti-racist, pro-feminist and pro-LGBT.
And they love war.
While they speak up for feminism, they support rapacious wars that deny the rights of countless women, including the right to life.
In 2011, Libya, then a modern state, was destroyed on the pretext that Muammar Gaddafi was about to commit genocide on his own people. That was the incessant news; and there was no evidence. It was a lie.
In fact, Britain, Europe and the United States wanted what they like to call “regime change” in Libya, the biggest oil producer in Africa. Gaddafi’s influence in the continent and, above all, his independence were intolerable.
So he was murdered with a knife in his rear by fanatics, backed by America, Britain and France. Hillary Clinton cheered his gruesome death for the camera, declaring,
“We came, we saw, he died!”
The destruction of Libya was a media triumph. As the war drums were beaten, Jonathan Freedland wrote in the Guardian: “Though the risks are very real, the case for intervention remains strong.”
Intervention – what a polite, benign, Guardian word, whose real meaning, for Libya, was death and destruction.
According to its own records, Nato launched 9,700 “strike sorties” against Libya, of which more than a third were aimed at civilian targets. They included missiles with uranium warheads. Look at the photographs of the rubble of Misurata and Sirte, and the mass graves identified by the Red Cross. The Unicef report on the children killed says, “most [of them]under the age of 10”.
As a direct consequence, Sirte became the capital of ISIS.
Ukraine is another media triumph. Respectable liberal newspapers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian, and mainstream broadcasters such as the BBC, NBC, CBS, CNN have played a critical role in conditioning their viewers to accept a new and dangerous cold war.
All have misrepresented events in Ukraine as a malign act by Russia when, in fact, the coup in Ukraine in 2014 was the work of the United States, aided by Germany and Nato.
This inversion of reality is so pervasive that Washington’s military intimidation of Russia is not news; it is suppressed behind a smear and scare campaign of the kind I grew up with during the first cold war. Once again, the Ruskies are coming to get us, led by another Stalin, whom The Economist depicts as the devil.
The suppression of the truth about Ukraine is one of the most complete news blackouts I can remember. The fascists who engineered the coup in Kiev are the same breed that backed the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. Of all the scares about the rise of fascist anti-Semitism in Europe, no leader ever mentions the fascists in Ukraine – except Vladimir Putin, but he does not count.
Many in the Western media have worked hard to present the ethnic Russian-speaking population of Ukraine as outsiders in their own country, as agents of Moscow, almost never as Ukrainians seeking a federation within Ukraine and as Ukrainian citizens resisting a foreign-orchestrated coup against their elected government.
There is almost the joie d’esprit of a class reunion of warmongers. The drum-beaters of the Washington Post inciting war with Russia are the very same editorial writers who published the lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
To most of us, the American presidential campaign is a media freak show, in which Donald Trump is the arch villain.
But Trump is loathed by those with power in the United States for reasons that have little to do with his obnoxious behaviour and opinions. To the invisible government in Washington, the unpredictable Trump is an obstacle to America’s design for the 21stcentury.
This is to maintain the dominance of the United States and to subjugate Russia, and, if possible, China.
To the militarists in Washington, the real problem with Trump is that, in his lucid moments, he seems not to want a war with Russia; he wants to talk with the Russian president, not fight him; he says he wants to talk with the president of China.
In the first debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump promised not to be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into a conflict. He said, “I would certainly not do first strike. Once the nuclear alternative happens, it’s over.” That was not news.
Did he really mean it? Who knows? He often contradicts himself. But what is clear is that Trump is considered a serious threat to the status quo maintained by the vast national security machine that runs the United States, regardless of who is in the White House.
The CIA wants him beaten. The Pentagon wants him beaten. The media wants him beaten. Even his own party wants him beaten. He is a threat to the rulers of the world – unlike Clinton who has left no doubt she is prepared to go to war with nuclear-armed Russia and China.
Clinton has the form, as she often boasts. Indeed, her record is proven. As a senator, she backed the bloodbath in Iraq. When she ran against Obama in 2008, she threatened to “totally obliterate” Iran. As Secretary of State, she colluded in the destruction of governments in Libya and Honduras and set in train the baiting of China.
She has now pledged to support a No Fly Zone in Syria — a direct provocation for war with Russia. Clinton may well become the most dangerous president of the United States in my lifetime –a distinction for which the competition is fierce.
Without a shred of evidence, she has accused Russia of supporting Trump and hacking her emails. Released by WikiLeaks, these emails tell us that what Clinton says in private, in speeches to the rich and powerful, is the opposite of what she says in public.
That is why silencing and threatening Julian Assange is so important. As the editor of WikiLeaks, Assange knows the truth. And let me assure those who are concerned, he is well, and WikiLeaks is operating on all cylinders.
Today, the greatest build-up of American-led forces since World War Two is under way – in the Caucasus and eastern Europe, on the border with Russia, and in Asia and the Pacific, where China is the target.
Keep that in mind when the presidential election circus reaches its finale on November 8th, If the winner is Clinton, a Greek chorus of witless commentators will celebrate her coronation as a great step forward for women. None will mention Clinton’s victims: the women of Syria, the women of Iraq, the women of Libya. None will mention the civil defence drills being conducted in Russia. None will recall Edward Bernays’ “torches of freedom”.
George Bush’s press spokesman once called the media “complicit enablers”.
Coming from a senior official in an administration whose lies, enabled by the media, caused such suffering, that description is a warning from history.
In 1946, the Nuremberg Tribunal prosecutor said of the German media: “Before every major aggression, they initiated a press campaign calculated to weaken their victims and to prepare the German people psychologically for the attack. In the propaganda system, it was the daily press and the radio that were the most important weapons.”
What exactly does it mean for a big Wall Street bank to plead guilty to a serious crime? Right now, practically nothing.
But it will if California’s Santa Cruz County has any say.
First, some background.
Five giant banks – including Wall Street behemoths JPMorgan Chase and Citicorp – recently pleaded guilty to criminal felony charges that they rigged the world’s foreign-currency market for their own profit.
This wasn’t a small heist. We’re talking hundreds of billions of dollars worth of transactions every day.
The banks altered currency prices long enough for the banks to make winning bets before the prices snapped back to what they should have been.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch called it a “brazen display of collusion” that harmed “countless consumers, investors and institutions around the globe — from pension funds to major corporations, and including the banks’ own customers.”
The penalty? The banks have agreed to pay $5.5 billion. That may sound like a big chunk of change, but for a giant bank it’s the cost of doing business. In fact, the banks are likely to deduct the fines from their taxes as business costs.
The banks sound contrite. After all, they can’t have the public believe they’re outright crooks.
It’s “an embarrassment to our firm, and stands in stark contrast to Citi’s values,“ says Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat.
Values? Citigroup’s main value is to make as much money as possible. Corbat himself raked in $13 million last year.
JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon calls it “a great disappointment to us,” and says “we demand and expect better of our people.”
Expect better? If recent history is any guide – think of the bank’s notorious “London Whale” a few years ago, and, before that, the wild bets leading to the 2008 bailout – JPMorgan expects exactly this kind of behavior from its people.
Which helped Dimon rake in $20 million last year, as well as a $7.4 million cash bonus.
When real people plead guilty to felonies, they go to jail. But big banks aren’t people despite what the five Republican appointees to the Supreme Court say.
The executives who run these banks aren’t going to jail, either. Apologists say it’s not fair to jail bank executives because they don’t know what their rogue traders are up to.
Yet ex-convicts often suffer consequences beyond jail terms.
In many states they lose their right to vote. They can’t run for office or otherwise participate in the political process.
So why not take away the right of these convicted banks to participate in the political process, at least for some years? That would stop JPMorgan’s Dimon from lobbying Congress to roll back the Dodd-Frank act, as he’s been doing almost non-stop.
Why not also take away their right to pour money into politics? Wall Street banks have been among the biggest contributors to political campaigns. If they’re convicted of a felony, they should be barred from making any political contributions for at least ten years.
Real ex-convicts also have difficulty finding jobs. That’s because, rightly or wrongly, many people don’t want to hire them.
A strong case can be made that employers shouldn’t pay attention to criminal convictions of real people who need a fresh start, especially a job.
But giant banks that have committed felonies are something different. Why shouldn’t depositors and investors consider their past convictions?
Which brings us to Santa Cruz County.
The county’s board of supervisors just voted not to do business for five years with any of the five banks felons.
The county won’t use the banks’ investment services or buy their commercial paper, and will pull its money out of the banks to the extent it can.
“We have a sacred obligation to protect the public’s tax dollars and these banks can’t be trusted. Santa Cruz County should not be involved with those who rigged the world’s biggest financial markets,” says supervisor Ryan Coonerty.
The banks will hardly notice. Santa Cruz County’s portfolio is valued at about $650 million.
But what if every county, city, and state in America followed Santa Cruz County’s example, and held the big banks accountable for their felonies?
What if all of us taxpayers said, in effect, we’re not going to hire these convicted felons to handle our public finances? We don’t trust them.
That would hit these banks directly. They’d lose our business. Which might even cause them to clean up their acts.
There’s hope. Supervisor Coonerty says he’ll be contacting other local jurisdictions across the country, urging them to do what Santa Cruz County is doing.
Robert B. Reich has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He also served on President Obama’s transition advisory board. His latest book is “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future.” His homepage is www.robertreich.org.
We’ve known since 1988 that quantitative easing doesn’t work to rescue an ailing economy.
We’ve known since 1993 that derivatives such as credit default swaps – if not reined in – could take down the economy. And see this.
We’ve known since 1998 that crony capitalism destroys even the strongest economies, and that economies that are capitalist in name only need major reforms to create accountability and competitive markets.
We’ve known since 2007 or earlier that lax oversight of hedge funds could blow up the economy.
Sen. Rand Paul on Wednesday announced what he described as one of the largest class-action lawsuits in history, taking President Obama and top intelligence officials to court over National Security Agency surveillance.
“This, we believe, will be a historic lawsuit,” the Kentucky Republican said. The suit, joined by conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks, was filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia.
It alleges that the NSA program that sweeps up and stores massive amounts of telephone “metadata” — which includes where and when calls are made, but not the contents of the calls — violates the Fourth Amendment. The suit asks the court to rule the program unconstitutional and forbid the government from continuing it.
“There’s a huge and growing swell of protest in this country of people who are outraged that their records would be taken without suspicion, without a judge’s warrant and without individualization,” Paul said, at a press conference in Washington.
He said hundreds of thousands of people have joined, and predicted the suit could “conceivably represent hundreds of millions of people who have phone lines in this country.”
The administration has insisted that Americans’ privacy is protected under NSA programs, and Obama recently announced a set of proposed reforms to rein in NSA surveillance.
“We remain confident that the program is legal, as at least 15 judges have previously found,” a Justice Department spokesperson said Wednesday, referring to prior court decisions in separate cases.
But the lawsuit argues that the bulk metadata that is routinely collected nevertheless “reveals a wealth of detail” about Americans’ personal and professional associations “that are ordinarily unknown to the government.”
The suit named Obama, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, NSA Director Keith Alexander, and FBI Director James Comey.
MOSCOW — The familiar voice on the hotel room phone did not waste words.
“What time does your clock say, exactly?” he asked. He checked the reply against his watch and described a place to meet. “I’ll see you there,” he said.
Edward Joseph Snowden emerged at the appointed hour, alone, blending into a light crowd of locals and tourists. He cocked his arm for a handshake, then turned his shoulder to indicate a path. Before long he had guided his visitor to a secure space out of public view.
During more than 14 hours of interviews, the first he has conducted in person since arriving here in June, Snowden did not part the curtains or step outside. Russia granted him temporary asylum on Aug. 1, but Snowden remains a target of surpassing interest to the intelligence services whose secrets he spilled on an epic scale.
Late this spring, Snowden supplied three journalists, including this one, with caches of top-secret documents from the National Security Agency, where he worked as a contractor. Dozens of revelations followed, and then hundreds, as news organizations around the world picked up the story. Congress pressed for explanations, new evidence revived old lawsuits and the Obama administration was obliged to declassify thousands of pages it had fought for years to conceal.
Taken together, the revelations have brought to light a global surveillance system that cast off many of its historical restraints after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Secret legal authorities empowered the NSA to sweep in the telephone, Internet and location records of whole populations. One of the leaked presentation slides described the agency’s “collection philosophy” as “Order one of everything off the menu.”
Six months after the first revelations appeared in The Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper, Snowden agreed to reflect at length on the roots and repercussions of his choice. He was relaxed and animated over two days of nearly unbroken conversation, fueled by burgers, pasta, ice cream and Russian pastry. Read more…