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July 18, 2010

Foreigners: How Horrible Are They?

If it weren't for the New York Times, I would never find out exactly how horrible foreigners are. For instance, they're horrible in Pakistan:

Much of Pakistan’s capital city looks like a rich Los Angeles suburb...

But behind the opulence lurks a troubling fact. Very few of these households pay income tax. That is mostly because the politicians who make the rules are also the country’s richest citizens, and are skilled at finding ways to exempt themselves...the lack of a workable tax system feeds something more menacing: a festering inequality in Pakistani society, where the wealth of its most powerful members is never redistributed or put to use for public good...

"This is a system of the elite, by the elite and for the elite," said Riyaz Hussain Naqvi, a retired government official who worked in tax collection for 38 years.

Much of the tax avoidance, especially by the wealthy, is legal. Under a 1990s law that has become one of the main tools to legalize undocumented — or illegally obtained — money made in Pakistan, authorities here are not allowed to question money transferred from abroad. Businessmen and politicians channel billions of rupees through Dubai back to Pakistan, no questions asked.

And they're horrible in Russia:

A Star Keeps Rocking in the Not-So-Free World...

In addition to heightened pressure on journalists and opposition figures, Mr. Shevchuk and other musicians describe a kind of soft censorship on performers that accompanied Mr. Putin’s rise to power and has continued under President Medvedev.

The music critic Artemy Troitsky described it as “a kind of secret protocol” between artists, musicians and the authorities. In return for avoiding criticism of Russia’s leaders, performers are invited to lucrative government-backed concerts and corporate parties. “Shevchuk is one of the very few people who dared to break this secret protocol,” Mr. Troitsky said.

Mr. Shevchuk says his refusal to toe the line has cost him. Though he retains a fairly large fan base, his concerts are rarely televised. He has accused radio stations of censoring his songs — a recent tune that includes the line “When the oil runs out, our president will die” is rarely played.

While the New York Times has lots of room for these stories, they bought out David KCay Johnston, one of the greatest reporters of the past fifty years on exactly these issues. The problem with Johnston, of course, is that he wrote about their existence in America.

(Pakistan story via Atrios)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at July 18, 2010 11:59 PM

For the musicians, it sounds to me like "soft persuasian" is a pistol in the back and whisper of "Hey Commrad, want your kids abducted?" over saying "The President must die". Sort of a survival thing.
Whereas, it seems Mr. Johnston has increased his portfolio, handsomely.
I attribute it to that ancient saying from The Great NE "One nation, indispensible, with weapons and amunition for all".

Posted by: Mike Meyer at July 19, 2010 01:11 AM

Did you know that not only does China rape their environment — they also torture people! What a sick bureaucratic oligarchy!

Posted by: Cloud at July 19, 2010 01:12 AM

Pakistan is a recipient of American aid. I wish we here in America could get some of that aid.

Posted by: Ellyn at July 19, 2010 03:55 AM

Three cheers for David Kay Johnston!

Ah yes, foreigners are annoying, especially Muslims. That's why it's important to torture them.

It's worth noting from the recent British disclosures that the Brits may have agreed to send one Martin Mubanga, a British citizen since the age of 3 but also a Zambian citizen, to Guantanamo because he wouldn't agree to be a spy, though the US agent interrogating him apparently told him about 15 minutes before he was shipped off to his Cuban gulag that it was too bad because he seemed like a pretty 'decent guy.' ('Sorry pal, hope there are no hard feelings. Nice to meet you.')ánamo-tony-blair-directly-involved

I guess Mubanga would have been wise to accept that employment offer! It also appears the Pentagon has long known Mubanga hadn't done anything to support terrorism, like at least half of the Guantanamo inhabitants, but I guess as every prosecutor believes, if you want people to cooperate, there has to be a price for noncooperation. It can be difficult to get people to make up lies for you if you can't lock them away in a hole and beat them senseless and waterboard them for a few years when they express reservations.

Bonus: The linked Guardian story has Guantanamo rap lyrics Mubanga wrote. So it seems he was a British citizen who likes rap, not a real British citizen.

Posted by: N E at July 19, 2010 07:59 AM

This reminds me of an observation of Noam Chomsky that journalists have more objectivity about other countries then their own. While it is O.k. for the NYT to report on Pakistani inequalities and Pakistanis can probably write about U.S. inequalities it is not O.K. for Americans to report on their problems or for Pakistanis to embarrass their ruling class.

Posted by: Edward at July 19, 2010 11:08 AM

Actually, Edward, that is not quite what Chomsky says, though you've come reasonably close.

He says that loyal nationalists (of whatever nation) will claim that it takes great moral courage to denounce the crimes of official enemies, and none at all to denounce the crimes (crimes? what crimes? we only make tragic, well-meaning blunders!) of one's own country and its friends. Chomsky (being an activist who lives in an ivory tower and knows nothing about what ordinary people think about, who only writes about boring history that no one cares about and who keeps harping about the present, ignoring the True Secret Deep History that everyone wants and needs to know) says it's the other way around.

Posted by: Duncan at July 19, 2010 01:40 PM
Much of Pakistan’s capital city looks like a rich Los Angeles suburb...

But behind the opulence lurks a troubling fact. Very few of these households pay income tax.

So ... it looks like a rich Los Angeles suburb.

Posted by: mds at July 19, 2010 02:23 PM

The battle between Duncan and N E continues, I see...

and if you thought N E was unbearable so far, today's revelation in the Washington Post of the vast, sprawling, secretive, privatized, outsourced intelligence and surveillance apparatus of the US government is going to give enough material to N E to keep Duncan occupied for years.

Posted by: hv at July 19, 2010 02:53 PM

The battle between Duncan and N E continues, I see...

I believe this is a battle that may have reached the end of its usefulness on both sides.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at July 19, 2010 03:11 PM

It's David Cay Johnston. Unless you are going for some kind of kryptic joce that I don't understand.

Posted by: laym at July 19, 2010 03:22 PM

Unless you are going for some kind of kryptic joce that I don't understand.

Well, it certainly wasn't an embarrassing mistake on my part. Don't be ridiculous. As though you've never made any mistakes. There are lots I could mention but I don't because I'm not an asshole. FUCK YOU. *bursts into tears*

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at July 19, 2010 03:29 PM

*bursts into tears*

Now that's funny.

Posted by: Bruce F at July 19, 2010 05:27 PM

Shoulda taken the out that I gaves ya ...

Posted by: laym at July 19, 2010 06:24 PM

I didn't notice a battle with my main man Duncan on this one, but I agree with our host and will defer to his judgment. I only have about three ideas in total anyway and haven't said anything new in so long that I can't even remember when the last one came to me.

Posted by: N E at July 19, 2010 06:58 PM


good catch there, and it's gotten bad when Langley's outsourced newsletter writes about it.

Posted by: N E at July 19, 2010 07:08 PM


I had in mind a comment made by Mr. Chomsky in an interview some time ago. He pointed out the usual double standards in U.S. reporting and then stated that the foreign press had about as much integrity when it came to reporting the sins of their governments.

Posted by: Edward at July 19, 2010 10:43 PM

Chomsky's point about the media isn't that media within a particular country won't criticize their own government. They will and often do. It's that media won't criticize policies that emanate from the powerful institutions and individuals which lay behind the government. Media is generally self-moderating on this score. Truly scandalous actions perpetrated by powerful institutions and corporations are not newsworthy precisely because they challenge - and potentially undermine - the stability (such as it might be) of existing power structures, and hence, the stability of an ordered society. So part of being a member of the 'establishment media' is to understand instinctively that challenging the powerful institutions that effectively run a country (or city or whatever) is socially and personally irresponsible, and therefore not newsworthy. Chomsky outlines a process by which reporters are effectively 'chosen' for certain assignments precisely because they have internalized a certain value scheme which is highly deferential to power.

Jon had a beautiful post about this not too long ago: a reporter cited herself as an example of courageous intrepidness because she disregarded the wishes of the US military and reported some trivial fact about Iraqi IEDs. This goes a bit towards Duncan's point re: Chomsky: that, as he says, the media often thinks it takes real courage to criticize other people's actions. But it's clearly a false courage, since by their own lights there is nothing about their own country which would require courage to report. They're just telling us all the news that's fit to print.

Posted by: scudbucket at July 20, 2010 02:50 AM

Those self-moderating power structures definitely don't want people trying to think too much. We might get the 60s again if that happens!

That phrase 'fit to print' reminds me that I'd forgotten that the NYTimes motto actually expressly boasts that they only print what's 'fit to print.' I wonder if they'd deny it anyway.

People like George Seldes and I.F. Stone and most recent of all Robert Parry abandoned trying to report through newspapers and magazines in different decades because Truth was consistently subordinated to Money or Business or whatever you want to call it. I guess that's what's 'behind the government,' to use scudbucket's terms.

Posted by: N E at July 20, 2010 10:00 AM

Hint taken, Jon. I am not sure the "battle" ever had any point, except to correct misinformation and bad arguments. In that sense you're a King Canute too, and so am I.

I sit corrected, Edward. Chomsky does say that, and it's actually the core of the propaganda model of media that he developed with Edward Herman in Manufacturing Consent.

Posted by: Duncan at July 20, 2010 01:37 PM

King Cnut is probably one of my ancestors! Frankly (pun intended), I've never been able to understand how old Cnut got a reputation for wisdom by giving orders to the ocean. That always sounded a little verrueckt to me. I wonder if Cnut just had a better PR machine than Sweyn Forkbeard, Thorkel the Tall, Sigrid the Haughty, and Harald Bluetooth (I love Viking names).

Chomsky will be rewarded in Valhalla on an honorary basis for his frequent moral courage, and he is certainly not, heaven forbid, a misinformer or bad arguer, but he didn't develop a propaganda model of media, or at least nothing new. George Seldes wrote "You Can't Print That!" in 1929, sixty years before Chomsky and Hermann wrote Manufacturing Consent. And by 1929 Consent had been manufactured for so long that nobody was alive who could remember how it got started. Bernays wrote Propaganda in 1928, even before Seldes gave up on newspapers, and Bernays' thoughts were definitely helpful to one Josef Goebbels, who it seems learned them even better than Chomsky, since Goebbels avoided the dubious conclusion that totalitarian states don't need PR as much as democracies. (I hope it's not too shocking to consider that Chomsky might actually occasionally have been wrong about something. Valhalla is full of fallible men.)

By the time Goebbels took up Propaganda, Hearst and Pulitzer had made their fortunes in the Consent Manufacturing business, and those people of that time who were aware of Irving Kristol's higher-level truths had known from the start that Consent was the real business Pulitzer and Heart were in. Even Walter Lippmann didn't think of anything knew there. Everybody "in the know" understood how the Spanish American War was sold to the public, just like everybody knew the DuPonts made a huge fortune during World War I and spend a lot of it on advertising in Heart and Pulitzer papers. One need not be a genius or Charles Beard to see how that process works. That kind of moral corruption has been going on since long before King Cnut's birth.

If Edward or anyone else enjoys reading original sources instead of books based on the name of those sources, in 1920 George Creel published his "confession" in the form of a book----How We Advertised America: The First Telling of the Amazing Story of the Committee of Public Information. Because it's now out of copyright, that book can be downloaded and read to avoid the unfortunate confusion that can be caused by relying even on courageous geniuses and Viking Kings to understand history.

Those who decide to read original sources would be as wise as Cnut to remember to follow Bertrand Russel's invaluable rules for finding the truth in the New York Times:
"1. Read between the lines.
2. Never underestimate the evils of which men of power are capable.
3. Know the jargon of 'terrorists' versus 'police actions', and translate wherever necessary."

Quoted from B. Russell, War Crimes in Vietnam (Monthly Review Press 1967) at p. 30.

Posted by: N E at July 20, 2010 04:47 PM

but he didn't develop a propaganda model of media, or at least nothing new.

Along with the others you mention, Alex Carey deserves some credit here as well. He developed a more analytical approach to the topic of propaganda so that it could be more effectively studied and understood.

Chomsky's contribution wasn't in identifying what constitutes propaganda, or how it works psychologically. On a simplistic level, the mechanics of persuasion have been around for along time. The early champions of modern propaganda - Lippman, Edward Bernays, Ivey Lee - realized that a more nuanced approach than outright fabrication and jingoism in conjunction with exploiting mass media (newspapers, at that time), could lead to altering the opinions of huge segments of society. They developed some methods based around the careful construction of images, slogans and relevant disinformation designed to appeal to emotion rather than reason, and sway public sentiment. One of the first big successes of this approach was to alter the public image of JD ROckefeller after the Ludlow massacre. And they engaged in this propaganda campaign at the local level, using local newspaper editorial - and sometimes news - pages to sell the idea that JD wasn't a monster.

Chomsky's contribution wasn't, as I mentioned above, to define or characterize propaganda. It was to introduce an account of how modern media engages in the dissemination of propaganda within the parameters of an ostensibly free press. He's addressing a conceptual problem: that the existence of institution-wide propaganda within a free press seems incoherent. So he (and Edward herman)first began by presenting evidence that the US press is biased against reporting (eg) US sponsored war crimes even while they report the similar crimes of other countries. Next, he presents a model which could account for why a free press would so consistently exhibit a double standard when it comes to that reporting. That's the five filters part of the propaganda model. The achievement in Chomsky's model is that it is entirely empirical, and - he suggests - testable. In that sense, it's something like a scientific model of how collectively agreed upon propaganda is disseminated despite the apparent freedom of expression which defines media outlets that aren't government controlled. So, what he and Edward Herman did was actually quite new and original.

And re: him being wrong... His claim is that propaganda within a totalitarian police state is inherently different than in a free society. For the totalitarian, dissent can be squashed with a gun, while in a free society it cannot. So democracies which are interested in controlling society lean more heavily on propaganda to maintain social stability than a totalitarian government would.

Posted by: scudbucket at July 20, 2010 07:10 PM


Very learned, and new to me as to the information both about Ludlow (do you remember where you came by that info?)and about the testability of Chomsky's theory in Manufacturing Consent, so thanks for that. My own sense was that Manufacturing Consent is an explanation for a phenenomen that's only inexplicable if you accept a questionable premise--that government and media in our society are separate, antagonistic entities. I don't think Chomsky would necessarily say they are (I actually don't know what he'd say), but if government and media aren't really very separate and antagonistic, which seems clear to me at this point, then one doesn't need much of a model to explain the double standard exhibited by our "free" press. In that regard, Chomsky's theory strikes me as a rebuttal to a weak theory of society and media in society, the sort of atomistic, libertarian view that resulted in law in the "free marketplace of ideas" being the centerpiece of First Amendment jurisprudence and that to this day causes the ACLU to support almost unrestricted corporate "speech" rights under the First Amendmen too. It was rebutting that view that I think may have led Chomsky to posit or assume that propaganda is more important in democracies than in totalitarian societies. That seems ironic and puzzling if you accept that our institutions are free and theirs are not, but it's not clear to me that was ever so.

That's all fascinating anyway, so thanks. I don't think for a second that I'm ahead of Chomsky on this, or ahead of you, so I hope that isn't the inference you draw from my views.

Posted by: N E at July 20, 2010 10:01 PM

N E,

The stuff about Rockefeller came from Alex Carey's book Taking the Risk out of Democracy. In it, he recounts the origins of modern propaganda, with the Rockefeller case being one of the first big successes. Ivey wrote news stories and editorials praising Rockefeller as a humanitarian man, good citizen, victim of an unfortunate situation, etc, and had local newspapers publish them as if they were locally written. The local aspect was crucial. Rockefeller's approvals (or whatever they called them back then) went through the roof in a very short time.

According to Carey, the ROckefeller success led directly to the creation of the Creel Commission which turned public sentiment for entering WWI from something like 17% to 86% in only 6 months. Again, the local dimension was pushed hard, as were now classical tricks like merging false stereotypes with fear-mongering, etc., were introduced. From there is was about manufacturing consent not only for war, but in peace, consumerism, governmental policies (Disney effectively propagandized the US citizenry into viewing the paying of taxes as a privilege rather than on obligation), and the rise of modern Public Relations firms which employ the same techniques to sell shamwows, as well as ensure that the business of America remains business (this was a GE's propaganda campaign leveled at grade school children in the 50's).

The Carey book can be bought at Amazon, or read online at It is really a very good read, crucial in fact (IMO) if one wants to understand the ways of US. His focus is mostly on corporate propaganda as a defense against populism which would challenge corporate/capitalist privilege, but there is some straight ahead analysis in there too. Here's a quote from Carey about his project:

The twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy. I looked

And regarding the use of propaganda by Nazis in WWII, part of the history which Carey recounts is that Hitler understood very well that propaganda played a significant role in shaping public support for each country's war effort in WWI, and he felt that the US won that battle (ie, US propaganda better motivated its citizens than German propaganda). He was also a student of (I think it was) Lasswell who wrote one of the first texts on modern propaganda. So you were right (at least according to Carey) in that Hitler (and Goering) were more vehement about effectively propagandizing their citizens than perhaps the US was wrt its own citizens at that time.

Posted by: scudbucket at July 21, 2010 02:04 AM


Very interesting. I have put in an interlibrary loan request. I also read Chomsky's foreward online. It's excellent. I am again reminded of the power of his mind.

I of course agree with Carey (another author I don't remember hearing of before) that corporate propaganda is a defense against democracy, and like most of what has happened since the rise of democratic movements has to be understood principally as that. I've previously read about Rockefeller's profound effect on education (to encourage the development of good employees and consumers), but I don't think I've ever read about his corporate empire's effect on propaganda, though it doesn't surprise me that a chunk of that bottomless fortune was spent on PR given how unpopular Rockefeller had become by the end of Teddy Roosevelt's presidency.

Thanks for the info and the explanation.

p.s. The Nazis were much more sensitive to public opinion than people and even apparently many scholars assume. Had the population of Germany and Europe objected more strenuously to Nazi barbarism, that barbarism might well have been reduced and even in some cases abandoned. Often it wasn't the fear of torture or death that caused people to acquiesce and be silent--it was just plain old peer pressure, which is a much more powerful force even in adults than most people recognize or will admit.

Posted by: N E at July 21, 2010 01:59 PM

Thanks for the info and the explanation.

No problem. It's been a long time since I read that book and really studied propaganda literature. It was fun to recall some of those things. I personally think that PR and propaganda generally is one of the most understudied, undervalued yet most interesting areas of research out there.

Posted by: scudbucket at July 21, 2010 09:17 PM

If you like the government aspect of it, you'd likely enjoy Thomas Mahl's Desperate Deception about British propoganda and covert ops in the US from 39 to 44. That book really surprised me when I read it, particularly the info about how Wilkie got the GOP nomination and the dubious Gallup polls, but more too. In espionage, covert ops in the US, and manipulating US politics, the Russians were quite the amateurs compared to the Brits.

Posted by: N E at July 21, 2010 09:47 PM