Competing Media Manipulations

I’ve been noticing something these past months. It partly relates to another thing I’ve noticed before. Facebook doesn’t always notify me when someone posts a comment and that is particularly true for strangers. I could set my account to private or whatever, but I don’t feel like doing so. What is different recently is the comments I’ve come across, when looking back at recent posts. It’s both what is posted and who is posting it that stands out.

There is a particular article from a particular website that keeps getting posted. The article is critical of Trump, listing some of his scandals and including some of the creepy pictures of him with his daughter. It’s the same article posted repeatedly for at least the past two months. More interesting, every Facebook account that is posting it is different. But they all show the account as being from Georgia (the country, not the state). I assume they are fake accounts.

I just delete the comments and block the accounts. It’s not of any great concern to me. If some organization or another wants to spam anti-Trump material, more power to them. It just makes me curious about who is behind it. And why are the accounts all portrayed as being from Georgia?

It reminds me of the paid trolls from the Clinton campaign. After a while, one begins to think that half the internet is being run as competing agendas of manufactured consent, political propaganda, perception management, public relations campaigns, astroturf, disinformation, controlled opposition, etc. All of it goes down to a deeper level beyond the obvious examples of fake news. This is magnified by how the media in general has simultaneously become concentrated into fewer hands and placed into an international system, which combined brings greater forces into clashing influence.

Meanwhile, the average person is drowning in a tidal wave of manipulation beyond his or her comprehension. The alternative media that could offer perspective too often gets lost in the noise.

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What is the IRS ‘scandal’ about?

An Almost-Final Word On The IRS’s Alleged Tea Party Targeting

This all goes back to the scrutiny the IRS gave to politically active “social welfare” organizations between 2010 and 2013. Conservatives allege that mainly Tea Party groups were targeted. The controversy led to a housecleaning at the top of the IRS — also, to a collapse in the agency’s already feeble attempts to enforce its existing rules on political activity by 501(c)(4) social welfare groups.

The numbers and budgets of politically active social welfare groups have soared since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010, especially among conservatives. SuperPACs, which are also used by both sides, must disclose their donors, while 501(c)(4) groups have no disclosure requirement.

Facebook, the IRS, and the GOP’s Bullshit Feedback Loop

In reality, the IRS “scandal” was the unhappy byproduct of an agency being tasked with determining the validity of claims to non-profit status, but lacking the proper resources to do it or clear guidance on how. The fact that new Tea Party groups, many with dubious claim to non-profit status, had flooded the IRS with applications compounded the difficulty. The agency thus used watchwords like “tea party” and “progressive” to, in its words, triage the workload.

For the purposes of ginning up voters, that story is much less useful than one in which a liberal agency leader masterminded a sabotage campaign against patriotic conservatives trying to rescue the country from Obama. And so the IRS scandal was born.

Report On IRS Targeting Of Conservatives – No Christmas Pony For Darrell Issa

Now if both sides were doing it equally, it would be possible for the IRS to approach the matter in an even handed manner. As it turns out, unlike the remarkably similar activities of the Kriegsmarine U-boats in the Atlantic and the US Navy submarines in the Pacific, “dark money” is more of a conservative thing . According to Open Secrets in the 2010 election cycle conservative non-disclosure spending was $119.9 million and liberal non-disclosure spending was $10.7 million. In the 2012 election cycle it was $265.5 million conservative versus $33,6 million liberal. The gap starts closing in 2014 but remains wide with $192.8 million conservative and $54 million liberal.

That makes it impossible for IRS action or non-action to not have political effect. Now if we had really wise leaders, they would have gotten together and said that the country needs good tax administration and the Republicans would have agreed to ease up on pushing the envelope so much and the Democrats would not have pressed the IRS to worry so much about a matter that was not contributing to the tax gap. Probably too much to ask for. Instead we’ve got “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”

New Records: IRS Targeted Progressive Groups More Extensively Than Tea Party

A series of IRS documents, provided to ThinkProgress under the Freedom of Information Act, appears to contradict the claims by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that only Tea Party organizations applying for tax-exempt status “received systematic scrutiny because of their political beliefs.” The 22 “Be On the Look Out” keywords lists, distributed to staff reviewing applications between August 12, 2010 and April 19, 2013, included more explicit references to progressive groups, ACORN successors, and medical marijuana organizations than to Tea Party entities.

Donna Brazile: No conspiracy here, IRS targeted liberals, too

In fact, a few months after the story of the report broke, new documents came to light showing more of the extent of scrutiny of progressive groups. At the time, Alex Seitz-Wald described the landscape this way.

But now, almost two months later, we know that in fact the IRS targeted lots of different kinds of groups, not just conservative ones; that the only organizations whose tax-exempt statuses were actually denied were progressive ones; that many of the targeted conservative groups legitimately crossed the line; that the IG’s report was limited to only Tea Party groups at congressional Republicans’ request; and that the White House was in no way involved in the targeting and didn’t even know about it until shortly before the public did.

Needless to say, especially disturbing is the idea that Issa conveyed to the IG his wish that the investigation focus on conservative groups to the exclusion of progressive ones. The IG later said that initial report was inaccurate, but he didn’t say what was inaccurate about it or offer any explanation of why his spokesperson would have said Issa told them to produce a one-sided report.

New Documents Show the IRS Targeted ‘Progressive’ and ‘Tea Party’ Groups for Extra Scrutiny

Arguably, ThinkProgress’s report implies, the IRS focused on giving extra scrutiny to groups on the left longer than it did to groups on the right, Issa’s colleagues across the aisle on the Oversight Committee have long noted that Issa has yet to produce evidence supporting his repeated claims that the IRS was acting as part of an anti-GOP political conspiracy. These documents, which ThinkProgress notes were also produced for “investigating congressional committees,” are certainly not that evidence. Here’s a list of some of the groups that show up on the full BOLO watch lists (viewable here):

  • “Progressive” groups, especially those with words like “blue” in the name
  • “Tea Party” groups
  • Not exclusively educational “medical marijuana” groups
  • Groups believed to be “successors to ACORN”
  • “Open source software” organizations
  • “Green energy” organizations
  • “Occupied territory” advocacy organizations

On the “emerging” section on one of the distributed lists, the BOLO lists contains this downright bipartisan warning:

Political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding government, educating on the constitution and bill of rights, Social economic reform/movement

Anyway, Issa already has a response to that non-specific language. The political watch list language was “changed to broader ‘political advocacy organizations,’” he wrote in a committee report, adding that he believes “the IRS still intended to identify and single out Tea Party applications for scrutiny.” Even though it looks like progressive groups may have ended up on the watch list before the Tea Party started popping up.

Senate Report Confirms That Republicans Lied About The IRS Only Targeting Conservatives

A newly released report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee On Investigations confirms that both liberal and conservatives groups received the same bad treatment and were targeted by the IRS. In short, Republicans lied about the IRS only targeting conservatives.

The Executive Summary section of the report put the Republican IRS conspiracy down for the count,

The Subcommittee investigation has reached many of the same conclusions as the TIGTA audit of the 501(c)(4) application process. The Subcommittee investigation found that the IRS used inappropriate screening criteria when it flagged for increased scrutiny applications based upon the applicants’ names or political views rather than direct evidence of their involvement with campaign activities. The Subcommittee investigation also found significant program mismanagement, including years-long delays in processing 501(c)(4) applications; inappropriate, intrusive, and burdensome questioning of groups; and poor communication and coordination between IRS officials in Washington and Cincinnati. At the same time, like TIGTA, the Subcommittee investigation found no evidence of IRS political bias in selecting 501(c)(4) applications for heightened review, as distinguished from using poor judgment in crafting the selection criteria. Based on investigative work that went beyond what TIGTA examined, the Subcommittee investigation also determined that the same problems affected IRS review of 501(c)(4) applications filed by liberal groups.

In addition, the Subcommittee investigation found that, by focusing exclusively on how the IRS handled 501(c)(4) applications filed by conservative groups and excluding any comparative data on applications filed by liberal groups, the TIGTA audit produced distorted audit results that continue to be misinterpreted. The TIGTA audit engagement letter stated that the audit’s “overall objective” was to examine the “consistency” of IRS actions in identifying and reviewing 501(c)(4) applications, including whether “conservative groups” experienced “inconsistent treatment.” Instead, the audit focused solely on IRS treatment of conservative groups, and omitted any mention of other groups. For example, while the TIGTA report criticized the IRS for using “Tea Party,” “9/12,” and “Patriot” to identify applications filed by conservative groups, it left out that the IRS also used “Progressive,” “ACORN,” “Emerge,” and “Occupy” to identify applications filed by liberal groups. While the TIGTA report criticized the IRS for subjecting conservative groups to delays, burdensome questions, and mismanagement, it failed to disclose that the IRS subjected liberal groups to the same treatment. The result was that when the TIGTA audit report presented data showing conservative groups were treated inappropriately, it was interpreted to mean conservative groups were handled differently and less favorably than liberal groups, when in fact, both groups experienced the same mistreatment. By excluding any analysis of how liberal groups were handled and failing to provide critical context for its findings, the TIGTA audit inaccurately and unfairly damaged public confidence in the impartiality of the IRS.

So IRS Didn’t ‘Target Conservative Groups,’ After All

It turns out that the IRS really was just doing its job — scrutinizing all kinds of groups applying for special tax status, not “targeting conservatives” as has been widely reported. Of course anti-government scandal-mongers are trying to make this sound bad, saying this means the “targeting” was “broader” than first thought. That’s like saying people are “targeted” to pay their taxes on April 15. Anyway the “scandal’s” purpose was achieved: the IRS is going to give corporate-funded political groups a pass now and let them “self-certify” that they aren’t breaking the rules. […]

But the truth doesn’t matter. The fact that there was no “targeting of conservative groups” doesn’t mean that conservatives don’t get their way. Even though the whole “ACORN scandal” turned out to just be a lie, Congress defunded ACORN anyway. Van Jones and Shirley Sherrod were both fired after right-wing media launched smear and lie campaigns. And this time the administration immediately caved to the right and fired the head of the IRS. This of course amplified the right’s “targeted conservatives” accusations and whipped the media into a full-blown scandal frenzy.

And the clincher: the IRS has issued new rules, offering corporate-funded political groups a “fast track” to getting their special tax status.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy explains, in IRS Offers Fast-Track for Advocacy Groups Awaiting Tax Exemptions. All they have to do is self-certify that they won’t break the rules, and Bob’s your uncle.

Organizations that have applied to the IRS for status as social-welfare groups but have faced inordinate delays because of the political scrutiny that engulfed the tax agency in controversy now have recourse: They can win tax-exempt status within two weeks if they pledge not to devote more than 40 percent of their time and money to partisan activities.

The IRS announced the streamlined process on Monday as part of its 83-page report, shown below, on how the agency is overhauling its process for reviewing applications for tax-exempt status. By setting the 40-percent marker, the organization for the first time was explicit about how much advocacy is acceptable for a group that has 501(c)(4) status.

So they win.

House Republicans pretend IRS ‘scandal’ still exists

Just so we’re clear, these House Republicans still haven’t uncovered any evidence of official wrongdoing, and they didn’t accuse Koskinen of having any role in “targeting” anyone. Rather, the GOP lawmakers are convinced Koskinen hasn’t done enough to help them find evidence to substantiate allegations that fell apart two years ago.

Or put another way, they want to fire the IRS guy who replaced the other IRS guy who was fired over a “scandal” that never really existed in the first place.

There is, of course, no reason to believe Koskinen’s job is in jeopardy, which is probably why House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) raised the prospect of holding the IRS commissioner in contempt of Congress, because, well, why not? It’s been months since House Republicans held an Obama administration official in contempt of Congress, they’re arguably overdue.

Fox News’ phony scandal: The truth about the fictional “plot” to suppress conservatives

Absent campaign-finance law, and with a deadlocked Federal Election Commission incapable of acting, the IRS was the last defense against opaque and unrestricted political money. Yet as Republicans in Congress blocked efforts to address campaign-finance transparency, nonprofits were inundating the IRS with applications for tax-exempt status, many for social-welfare groups. And media outlets were focused on “Tea Party” groups forming around the country.

Against this backdrop, one IRS case manager in the Los Angeles office forwarded an application to the agency’s Cincinnati office for review, expressing concern that the organization applying for nonprofit status was not being established for social-welfare purposes, but instead for political campaign activity. The Cincinnati office, which oversees nonprofit applications, agreed to review the case.

That questionable applicant was a Tea Party group, whose application triggered the reviewer’s concern over its involvement with direct campaign activity relating to specific candidates.

As applications stacked up, the IRS identified areas with potential for abuse, and began to flag applications that followed a similar format, issuing a “BOLO” (Be On the Lookout) alert for new applications with similar features or organizations with similar names.

Throughout 2010 and 2011, the IRS continued to wrestle with how it should handle these organizations in general (and Tea Party applications in particular), while the agency faced mounting pressure from House and Senate investigative committees concerning tax-exempt organizations and donor identities. Tea Party applications were particularly problematic, because the term “Tea Party” was identified with groups backing specific candidates or opposing the policies of the Obama administration.

Such activities are not covered by the “primary purpose” rule applicable to social-welfare groups, which restricts tax exemption (and freedom from disclosure requirements) to organizations that “operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community.”

In September 2010, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) wrote to then-IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, asking him to conduct a survey of major 501(c)(4), (c)(5), and (c)(6) organizations involved in political campaign activity to see whether they were in compliance with the “primary purpose” rule. He also requested that the IRS look at whether the organizations “were acting as conduits for major donors advancing their own private interests regarding legislation or political campaigns.”

In 2012, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) made a formal request for the IRS to produce specific information on the activity of several high-profile organizations, including Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, the liberal group Priorities USA, Americans for Prosperity, and Patriot Majority USA. As dark money spending increased in 2012, Levin pressed harder, criticizing the IRS decision to interpret the word “exclusively” to promote social welfare as “more than 50 percent” of the organization’s activity. He wanted to know how many tax exemptions had been audited to see if organizations engaged in excessive political activity.

After the 2012 elections, the IRS found itself caught between mounting pressure from Congressional Democrats and from groups receiving information requests from the IRS but no letters approving their tax-exempt status. The agency was requesting that applicants provide all donors’ names and addresses (presumably to satisfy the Baucus inquiry), sparking outrage among conservative groups asked for that information.

UNBRIDLED FREEDOM

At the same time, Congressional Republicans began to hear from big donors who were concerned about the loss of anonymity—and the tax deductions that some of the nonprofits provided. And from “grass roots” groups impatient with the IRS.

One of these groups was KSP/True the Vote, a Texas-based voter-integrity organization originally known as the King Street Patriots—one of the nonprofit applicants selected by the IRS for closer scrutiny, based upon its application and media reports in 2010 in which KSP/True the Vote activists were accused of intimidating voters at the polls.

In 2010, acting under the name King Street Patriots, conservative Texas activist Catherine Engelbrecht accused a voter-registration group, Houston Votes, of being “the New Black Panthers office” in Texas. Claiming to have found thousands of fraudulent voter registrations in the Houston area, Engelbrecht appeared on Fox News, accusing Houston Votes of massive voter fraud. The King Street Patriots also produced a video that warned: “Our elections are being manipulated by the RADICAL LEFT.” Backed by an ominous soundtrack, the video also included a doctored image of an African American holding a sign that read: “I only got to vote once.”

Ironically, one documented case of voter fraud surfaced in Texas in 2010 when County Commissioner candidate Bruce Fleming, who had been endorsed by Engelbrecht, was found to have cast votes in Pennsylvania and Texas in the 2006, 2008, and 2010 elections, boasting that he “had the chance to vote twice against Barack Obama.”

Indeed, KSP/True the Vote’s literature established that they were operating for campaign purposes, as evidenced by a self-published “Legislative Agenda for Texas” in 2011 and their lobbying for stricter voter-ID laws. The state Democratic Party sued, and in 2011 a Texas court ruled that the King Street Patriots was a PAC and not a nonprofit group. The group was ordered to reveal its donors and pay Houston Votes a substantial settlement.

Despite the court ruling and extensive news coverage, when news broke on May 9, 2013, that the IRS may have singled out conservative groups for scrutiny, Engelbrecht was prepared. On May 21, KSP/True the Vote filed a federal lawsuit against the IRS for targeting them. The suit was dismissed in late 2014.

‘We Are The 99 Percent’: Grassroots Populism?

In light of the recent protests, the following article makes a very good point:

http://www.good.is/post/we-are-the-99-percent-is-the-best-populist-message-we-ve-had-in-years/

“This simple concept—that the vast majority of us are getting screwed because of policies that protect the rich minority—is the best populist message I’ve heard in years. Unlike Occupy Wall Street’s official declaration, which couches the movement’s many demands in terms of “they”—the rich—this slogan draws attention to “we,” to the people’s sheer numbers, and therefore our power. It distills the movement’s huge range of issues into one devastating phenomenon: the wealth gap. It reclaims populism from conservatives and the Tea Party in a very literal way, yet it doesn’t divide the country along political party lines.”

 – – – 

This made me think of what defines grassroots activism of the populist variety. How can one tell that a political movement is authentic in this sense? Two things came to mind.

First, populism is by definition what is popular. Populism can’t be based on a minority position, can’t be dominated by partisan activists on either of the far wings of the political spectrum.

The Tea Party, for example, wasn’t populist. They were in fact further to the right than the average Republican. Their original message of fiscal responsibility appealed to independents and even some liberals and left-wingers, but the movement was taken over by vocal social conservatives: God, guns, and gays. This criticism of those who co-opted the Tea Party comes from even some of the early leaders, organizers, participants, and supporters of the Tea Party.

A movement can’t claim to be populist when it is funded by big business (Koch brothers) and promoted by a partisan major news company (Fox News). These big money funders helped put on some of the ‘protest’ events (including paying for buses to transport people to the events) and heavily covered them in the media. They sent some of their best media pundits to lend support. They even at times tried to pump up the crowd in the way they would do with a studio audience and used fake footage to make events look larger.

Second, populist grassroots movements will never be treated fairly or positively by most of the mainstream media. Typically, this is how it works. Populist grassroots movements are initially ignored. If they won’t go away and can’t be ignored, they will only be briefly mentioned in a way that draws the least amount of attention as possible. If the movements actually grow in numbers and influence, the MSM will increasingly refer to them dismissively and try to portray them negatively.

Obviously, a populist grassroots movement wouldn’t be treated in the way the Tea Party was treated. It’s not so much if a movement is treated positively or negatively when it first starts. Rather, the first sign to look for is if the movement gets any significant media attention at all. The Tea Party received immediate attention whereas the Wall Street Occupation was initially ignored.

 – – –

To demonstrate these two points, consider the anti-war protests during the Bush administration. It was the largest and most wide-spread protest movement in US and world history.

Was it non-partisan? Yes. It included Ron Paul libertarians and left-libertarians, right-wingers and left-wingers, anarchists and socialists, social justice Christians and pacifists, and on and on.

Was it treated fairly by the MSM? Of course not. Relative to its size, it received very little attention and most of that attention wasn’t positive.

As the largest and most wide-spread protest movement ever to exist, one would expect that it would have been taken more seriously and that it would have had greater impact on Washington. A real populist grassrooots movement wouldn’t likely get so many politicians into power so quickly as the Tea Party did, and certainly if they did those politicians wouldn’t be so partisan as the Tea Party politicians are. Tea Party politicians are simply right-wing Republicans.

 – – – 

In the context of the above, is the Wall Street Occupation a populist grassroots movement?

I don’t know enough about it at present, but it seems to closer to the anti-war protests than to the Tea Party protests. So, I’ll be watching the news about the protests with all of this in mind. I certainly hope it is and remains a populist grassroots movement. That is what we need right now. Eventually, there will be a breaking point. The Tea Party failed, but maybe it was a learning experience for some activists which will help them avoid the same pitfalls.

As a sign of what seems like a more grassroots populism, I noticed two things following my posting the above. First, I read a number of articles in the alternative media praising the Occupy Wall Street movment and I also noticed some more establishment media articles (including from liberal sources such as Mother Jones) that criticized the movement. Second, I noticed one particularly interesting thing in a short article with a video:

http://politics.salon.com/2011/10/06/the_99ers_meet_the_99_percent/

“In our first episode: The 99ers are a small but determined movement of the long-term unemployed  (whose unemployment benefits ran out after 99 weeks). One  NYC band of 99ers went on Friday to join Occupy Wall Street, where the occupiers have taken to  calling themselves “The 99 percent.” Watch what happens:”

Tea Party: Ron Paul Libertarians vs Fox News Astroturf

In this first video, Noam Chomsky says we should take the Tea Party seriously because the problems these people speak about are very real.  It’s just that these people don’t understand the actual cause of their problems.

In this second video, Chomsky says:

“The protests are being organized by pretty much the same sectors that are creating the crisis.”

That is something that I’ve noticed.  Without Fox News and Glenn Beck, the Tea Party wouldn’t exist as a popular (not populist) movement.  There is a question, however, that must be asked.  Who runs Fox News?  Roger Ailes is the American president of Fox News Channel and chairman of the Fox Television Stations Group.  What did Roger Ailes do in the past?  He was the media consultant for several Republican administrations since the 1970s.  Roger Ailes used as a campaigning tactic the creation of fake town hall meetings. 

Is it any surprise that Fox News has been caught numerous times reporting larger numbers of people than actually attended Tea Party protests? 
Is it any surprise that Fox News has used footage from other entirely different events to make the numbers seem larger? 
Is it any surprise that Fox News has used its own employees ro encourage Tea Party crowds to yell louder for the camera?

Yes, the Tea Party movement has been taken over by the rich and powerful.  But there were people protesting before Fox News ever took notice.  When Fox News pundits like Glenn Beck were ridiculing Ron Paul, the followers of Ron Paul were trying to create real change in the political scene.

I appreciated the comments by the guy in the last video.  The media only ever presents the crazy people who swarmed the Tea Party when Glenn Beck and friends started promoting it.  It was only at this point that Glenn Beck tried to make nice with Ron Paul… only after having undermined his entire movement.  I have libertarian leanings and I appreciate true libertarians, but Fox News is no friend of libertarianism.