Why Is PBS Airing Right-Wing-Sponsored School Privatization Propaganda?

A new documentary aims to drum up public support for Betsy DeVos’ proposed voucher system.

Photo Credit: YouTube Screengrab

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her department have pushed for an expansion of privatized school choice programs in the proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, particularly in the form of private school vouchers. Now a propagandistic three-part documentary series called School Inc. will help DeVos in her efforts to gain public support for expanded private school choice options. The series has already aired on PBS stations in some markets and will be shown on more this month.

majority of people across the partisan spectrum oppose private school vouchers, programs that redirect public education money to pay for private school tuition. Vouchers are problematic for many reasons, including their history of allowing for discrimination against LGBTQ, disabled, and special education students, their impact on reducing public education funding, and their ineffectiveness in boosting academic achievement.

Despite these problems, private school vouchers are a long-standing priority of the corporations and right-wing funders backing the education privatization movement. The late Andrew Coulson, long-time head of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, was the driving force behind School Inc. The Cato Institute is a right-wing, libertarian think-tank that calls for the elimination of public schools in support of greater “educational freedom” to choose from a free market of privately run schools.

In addition to School Inc.’s roots in the radical, libertarian Cato Institute, education historian and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch found that the film was funded by a number of arch-conservative foundations with ties to the “dark money ATM” DonorsTrust and the Ayn Rand Institute. Ravitch has prescreened School Inc. and provided this scathing review to The Washington Post:

This program is paid propaganda. It does not search for the truth. It does not present opposing points of view. It is an advertisement for the demolition of public education and for an unregulated free market in education. PBS might have aired a program that debates these issues, but “School Inc.” does not.

Why would a public broadcast channel air a documentary that is produced by a right-wing think tank and funded by ultra-conservative donors, and that presents a single point of view without meaningful critique, all the while denigrating public education? PBS responded in part with a statement to the Post, saying, “PBS and local member stations aim to offer programs that reflect diverse viewpoints and promote civic dialogue on important topics affecting local communities.”

However, as Ravitch notes, when a documentary fails to objectively present information about a topic that may not be well understood by the general public, the result is unlikely to “promote civic dialogue.” And when major media outlets uncritically provide a platform to right-wing ideologues, they further misinform and polarize the debate around important issues such as public education.

 

http://www.alternet.org/media/why-pbs-airing-right-wing-sponsored-school-privatization-propaganda?akid=15747.265072.VfPhWx&rd=1&src=newsletter1078406&t=16

Understanding the geopolitics of terrorism

8 June 2017

The latest in a long series of bloody terrorist attacks attributed to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) unfolded in Iran early Wednesday with coordinated armed assaults on the Iranian Parliament (Majlis) and the mausoleum of the late supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, Imam Khomeini. At least 12 people were killed and 43 wounded.

The reactions of the US government and the Western media to the attacks in Tehran stand in stark contrast to their response to the May 22 bombing that killed 22 people at the Manchester Arena and the London Bridge attacks that claimed nine lives last Saturday.

The Trump White House released a vicious statement that effectively justified the killings in Iran, declaring, “We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote,” an attitude that found its reflection in the relative indifference of the media to the loss of Iranian lives. It is clearly understood that terrorism against Iran serves definite political aims that are in sync with those of US imperialism and its regional allies.

For its part, Tehran’s reaction to the attacks was unambiguous. It laid the responsibility at the door of the US and its principal regional ally, Saudi Arabia. “This terrorist attack happened only a week after the meeting between the US president (Donald Trump) and the (Saudi) backward leaders who support terrorists,” Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said in a statement, published by Iranian media. The attack was understood in Tehran as a political act carried out in conjunction with identifiable state actors and aimed at furthering definite geostrategic objectives.

The same can be said of the earlier acts of terrorism carried out in Manchester and London, as well as those in Paris, Brussels and elsewhere before them.

The Western media routinely treats each of these atrocities as isolated manifestations of “evil” or religious hatred, irrational acts carried out by madmen. In reality, they are part of an internationally coordinated campaign in pursuit of definite political objectives.

Underlying the violence on the streets of Europe is the far greater violence inflicted upon the Middle East by US, British and French imperialism, working in conjunction with right-wing bourgeois regimes and the Islamist forces they promote, finance and arm.

ISIS is itself the direct product of a series of imperialist wars, emerging as a split-off from Al Qaeda, which got its start in the CIA-orchestrated war by Islamist fundamentalists against the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan. It was forged in the US war of aggression against Iraq that killed close to a million Iraqis, and then utilized in the 2011 war to topple Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi. Fighters and arms were then funneled with the aid of the CIA into the war for regime change in Syria.

The latest round of terror has its source in growing dissatisfaction among Washington’s Middle Eastern allies and its Islamist proxy forces over the slow pace of the US intervention in Syria and Washington’s failure to bring the six-year war for regime change to a victorious conclusion.

The people giving the orders for these attacks live in upper-class neighborhoods in London, Paris and elsewhere, enjoying close connections with intelligence agencies and government officials. Far from being unknown, they will be found among the top ministers and government officials in Damascus if the US-backed war in Syria achieves its objectives.

Those who carry out the terrorist atrocities are expendable assets, foot soldiers who are easily replaced from among the broad layers enraged by the slaughter carried out by imperialism in the Middle East.

The mass media always presents the failure to prevent these attacks as a matter of the security forces failing to “connect the dots,” a phrase that should by now be permanently banned. In virtually every case, those involved are well known to the authorities.

In the latest attacks in the UK, the connections are astonishing, even given the similar facts that have emerged in previous terrorist actions. One of the attackers in the London Bridge killings, Yousseff Zaghba, was stopped at an Italian airport while attempting to travel to Syria, freely admitting that he “wanted to be a terrorist” and carrying ISIS literature. Another was featured in a British television documentary that chronicled his confrontation with and detention by police after he unfurled an ISIS flag in Regent’s Park.

The Manchester suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, was likewise well known to British authorities. His parents were members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), who were allowed to return to Libya in 2011 to participate in the US-NATO regime-change operation against Muammar Gaddafi. He himself met with Libyan Islamic State operatives in Libya, veterans of the Syrian civil war, and maintained close connections with them while in Manchester.

What has become clear after 16 years of the so-called “war on terrorism”—going all the way back to the hijackers of 9/11—is that these elements move in and out of the Middle East, Europe and the US itself not only without hindrance, but under what amounts to state protection.

When they arrive at passport control, their names come up with definite instructions that they are not to be stopped. “Welcome home, sir, enjoy your vacation in Libya?” “Bit of tourism in Syria?”

Why have they enjoyed this carte blanche? Because they are auxiliaries of US and European intelligence, necessary proxies in wars for regime change from Libya to Syria and beyond that are being waged to further imperialist interests.

If from time to time these elements turn against their sponsors, with innocent civilians paying with their lives, that is part of the price of doing business.

In the aftermath of terrorist actions, governments respond with stepped-up measures of repression and surveillance. Troops are deployed in the streets, democratic rights are suspended, and, as in France, a state of emergency is made the overriding law of the land. All of these measures are useless in terms of preventing future attacks, but serve very well to control the domestic population and suppress social unrest.

If the mass media refuses to state what has become obvious after more than a decade and a half of these incidents, it is a measure of how fully the linkage between terrorism, the Western intelligence agencies and the unending wars in the Middle East has become institutionalized.

Innocent men, women and children, whether in London, Manchester, Paris, Tehran, Baghdad or Kabul, are paying the terrible price for these imperialist operations, which leave a trail of blood and destruction everywhere.

Putting a stop to terrorist attacks begins with a fight to put an end to the so-called “war on terrorism,” the fraudulent pretext for predatory wars in which Al Qaeda and its offshoots are employed as proxy ground forces, operating in intimate collaboration with imperialist intelligence services and military commands.

Bill Van Auken

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/08/pers-j08.html

Study shows massive growth of political abstention in 2016 US election

By Eric London
3 June 2017

A study released Thursday by the Pew Research Center revealed that “dislike of the candidates or campaign issues” was the most frequent motive registered voters gave for not voting in the 2016 election. Twenty five percent of registered voters who abstained listed this as their primary reason, double the figure from 2012.

The growth of opposition to both candidates was ubiquitous across all racial, age and education groups.

Among African-American registered voters, the percentage of those citing dislike of the candidates as the main reason for abstaining rose from 3 percent in 2012 to 19 percent in 2016. Among Hispanics, the figure also grew by 16 percent—from 9 to 25 percent.

This 16 percent jump was the largest among racial groups, but dissatisfaction rose among all races. Among white registered voters who abstained, 26 percent listed dissatisfaction with the candidates as their main reason, up nine points from 15 percent in 2012. The figure also grew among Asian registered voters, by 14 points, from 8 to 21 percent.

Dissatisfaction rose among all age groups. Among millennial registered voters (those born in the 1980s or 1990s), 24 percent said opposition to both candidates was their primary reason for abstaining in 2016, up from 11 percent in 2012. The highest rise in opposition was among Generation X (those born in the 1960s and 1970s), growing from 12 to 27 percent from 2012 to 2016. Opposition grew by about 10 points among older voters as well.

Among US-born registered voters who abstained, 25 percent listed dissatisfaction with both candidates as their primary reason, up from 13 percent in 2012. Among foreign-born registered voters, the figure grew from 8 percent of registered abstainers to 22 percent in 2016.

These figures once again explode the lie, advanced by the Democratic Party, the pseudo-left and the Democratic Party-affiliated media, who claim that Donald Trump won the 2016 election because of the racism of the white working class. In reality, voting statistics demonstrate conclusively that Hillary Clinton lost because of a sharp downturn in turnout for the Democrats among all races, particularly among young people. According to the Pew report, racial minorities made up 34 percent of registered abstainers, up 9 points from 25 percent in 2012.

Clinton herself has attributed to her unexpected loss to supposed interference by the Russian government, combined with white racism and misogyny and the intervention of then-FBI Director James Comey. Speaking Wednesday in California, she again blamed Russia for her electoral defeat and broadly hinted at collusion by the Donald Trump election campaign.

She said: “The Russians in my opinion, and based on the intel and counterintel people I’ve talked to, could not have known how best to weaponize that information unless they had been guided by Americans and guided by people who had polling and data information.”

She also blamed misogyny among working class voters: “And at some point it sort of bleeds into misogyny. And let’s just be honest, you know, people who have a set of expectations about who should be president and what a president looks like, you know, they’re going to be much more skeptical and critical of somebody who doesn’t look like and talk like and sound like everybody else who’s been president.”

While psychologists could keep themselves busy analyzing Clinton’s delusions, socialists understand the objective significance of the gap that separates the Democratic Party’s own understanding of the election and reality, which reflects the material chasm separating the ruling class and upper-middle class from the rest of the population.

Clinton did not lose because of unsupported claims of Russian collusion with Trump, but because she appealed only to the most affluent voters, ignoring altogether the concerns of working class voters and denouncing as “deplorables” the less educated, mostly white voters who supported Trump.

The fact that political abstention grew especially among African-American and Hispanic voters shows that Clinton’s campaign strategy—based on appealing to voters on questions of racial and gender identity—turned working class minority and white voters away from the Democratic Party. The orientation to questions of individual identity is aimed primarily at appealing to wealthier voters of all racial categories.

Clinton’s orientation to more affluent voters produced a dramatic shift in the landscape of American two-party politics in 2016. According to data from the American National Election Survey (ANES), the Democratic Party won a majority of votes from the wealthiest 5 percent of the white population for the first time since ANES began collecting data in 1948. Not only did the Clinton campaign win amongst the wealthiest 5 percent of whites, she won by an overwhelming margin, slightly greater than 10 percent. The Democrats won by wide margins among wealthier sections of all racial groups.

On the other side, the poorest two-thirds of white voters supported the Republican candidate, also for the first time in the ANES poll’s 70-year history. The chart below shows the shift, with the Republican margin of victory appearing higher on the Y-axis and the income percentile groups listed from left to right on the X-axis, with the wealthiest 5 percent listed on the right of each graph. The fact that the chart for 2016 has a downward trajectory highlights the degree to which the Democratic Party has become the primary party of the affluent upper-middle class.

Income and the White Presidential Vote, 1948-2016

As the WSWS has previously noted, the wealthy of all races are now more likely to support the Democratic Party because it has proven itself a worthy custodian of the affairs of the financial oligarchy, promoting its wars, bank bailouts, domestic spying operations, deportations, tax windfalls and cuts to social programs, all under the foil of identity politics.

The growth in American National Election Survey (ANES) also shows that Clinton was not the victim of “apathy.” To the contrary, each new poll confirms that the working class in the US is moving to the left, coming into conflict with the political establishment and registering its opposition with varying levels of political clarity.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/03/poll-j03.html

Is this the Death of Neoliberalism?

Invasion of the Putin-Nazis

So, here we are, a little over one hundred days into “The Age of Darkness” and the “racially Orwellian” Trumpian Reich, and, all right, while it’s certainly no party, it appears that those reports we heard of the Death of Neoliberalism were greatly exaggerated. Not only has the entire edifice of Western democracy not been toppled, but the global capitalist ruling classes seem to be going about their business in more or less the usual manner. The Goldman Sachs vampires are back in the White House (as they have been for over one hundred years). The post-Cold War destabilization and restructuring of the Middle East is moving forward right on schedule. The Russians, Iranians, North Koreans, and other non-globalist-ball-playing parties remain surrounded by the most ruthlessly murderous military machine in the annals of history. Greece is being debt-enslaved and looted. And so on. Life is back to normal.

Or … OK, not completely normal. Because, despite the fact that editorialists at “respectable” papers like The New York Times (and I’m explicitly referring to Charles M. Blow and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman) have recently dropped the completely ridiculous “Trump is a Putinist agent” propaganda they’d been relentlessly spewing since he won the election, a significant number of deluded persons, having swallowed their official vomitus (i.e., the vomitus of Blow and Krugman, and other neoliberal establishment hacks) like the hungry Adélie penguin chicks in those nature shows narrated by David Attenborough, are convinced (these deluded persons are) that the Russians are waging a global campaign not only to maliciously hack, or interfere with, or marginally influence, free and fair elections throughout the Western world, but to control the minds of Westerners themselves, in some Orwellian, or possibly Wachowskian fashion. Worse yet, these deluded persons are certain, the Russians are now secretly running the White House, and are just using Trump, and the Goldman Sachs gang, and capitalist centurions like General McMaster, as a front for their subversive activities, like denying Americans universal healthcare and privatizing the hell out of everything.

If you think I’m being hyperbolic, check out #MarchforTruth on Twitter, or its anonymous Crowdpac fundraising page, which at first glance I took for an elaborate prank, but which seems to be in deadly earnest about “restoring faith in American government,” uncovering Trump’s “collusion” with Russia, and reversing his “subversion of the will of the people.” The plan is, on June 3, 2017, thousands of otherwise rational Americans are going to pour into the streets “demanding answers” from … well, I’m not sure whom, some independent prosecutor, or congressional committee, or intelligence agency, or whomever is responsible for ferreting out the Putin-Nazi infiltrators that “respected” pundits like Blow and Krugman (and stark raving loonies like Louise Mensch) have convinced them are now controlling the government. Weirdly, these same “respected” journalists, the ones who have been assuring the world that The President of the United States is a covert agent working for Russia, have failed to even mention this March for Truth, and are acting like they had nothing to do with whipping these folks up into a frenzy of apoplectic paranoia.

Incidentally, one of my colleagues contacted Mr. Blow directly and inquired as to whether he’d be vociferously supporting or possibly leading the March for Truth, and was chastised by Blow and his Twitter followers. I found this reaction extremely troubling, and asked my colleague to contact Mensch and suggest she check with her handlers at The Times to make sure the Russians haven’t gotten to him. However, just as he was sitting down to do that, the “Comey-firing” brouhaha broke, which seems to have brought Blow back to the fold, albeit in a less hysterical manner than his Rooskie-hunting readers have grown accustomed to. We can only hope that both he and Krugman return to form in the weeks to come as Russiagate builds to its dramatic climax.

Oh, yeah, and if Russiagate isn’t paranoid enough, apparently, the corporate media is now prepared to deploy the “Putin-Nazi Election Hackers” propaganda in any and every election going forward (as they did in the recent French election, and as they tried to do in the Dutch elections, and presumably will in the German elections, and as The Guardian appears to be retroactively doing in regard to the Brexit referendum). Any day now, we should be hearing of the “Putin-Nazi-Corbyn Axis,” and the “Putin-Nazi-Podemos Pact,” and video footage of Martin Schultz and a bevy of former-East German hookers engaging in Odinist sex magick rituals in an FSB-owned bordello in Moscow. Soon, it won’t just be elections … no, we’ll be hearing reports of Russian shipments of rocks, bottles, and pointy sticks to the “Putin-Nazi Palestinian Terrorists,” and … well, who knows how far they’re willing to take this?

All joking aside, as I’ve written about previously, what we’re dealing with here is more than just a lame attempt by the Democratic Party to blame its humiliating loss on Putin (although of course it certainly is that in part). The global neoliberal establishment is rolling out a new official narrative. It’s actually just a slight variation on the one it’s been selling us since 2001. I could come up with a sixteen-syllable, academic-sounding name for this narrative, but I’m trying to keep things simple these days … so let’s call it The Normals versus The Extremists, (the Normals being the neoliberals and the Extremists being everyone else). The goal of this narrative is to stigmatize and otherwise marginalize opposition to Neoliberalism, regardless of the nature of that opposition (i.e., whether it comes from the left, right, or from religious, environmentalist, or any other quarters).

Now, as any professional storyteller will tell you, one of the most important aspects of the narrative you’re trying to suck people into is to make your protagonist a likeable underdog, and then pit him or her against a much more powerful and ideally incorrigibly evil enemy. During the Cold War, this was easy to do — the story was Democracy versus the Commies, traditional “good versus evil”-type stuff. Once the U.S.S.R. collapsed, the concept needed major rewrites, as a new evil adversary had to be found. This (i.e., the 1990s) was a rather awkward and frustrating period. The global capitalist ruling classes, giddy with joy after having become the first ever global ideological hegemon in the history of aspiring global hegemons, got all avant-garde for a while, and thought they could do without an “enemy.” This approach, as you’ll recall, did not sell well. No one quite got why we were bombing Yugoslavia, and Bush and Baker had to break out the Hitler schtick to gin up support for rescuing the Kuwaitis from their old friend Saddam. Fortunately, in September 2001, the show runners got the break they were looking for, and the official narrative was instantly switched to Democracy versus The Islamic Terrorists. This re-brand got extremely good ratings, and would have been extended indefinitely if not for what began to unfold in the latter half of 2016. (One could go back and locate the week when the mainstream media officially switched from the “Summer of Terror” narrative they were flogging to the new “Invasion of the Putin-Nazis” narrative … my guess is, it was early to mid-September.) It started with the Brexit referendum, continued with the rise of Trump, and … well, I don’t have to recount it, do I? You remember last year as clearly as I do, how, suddenly, out of seemingly nowhere, the Putin-Nazi menace materialized, and took the place of the “self-radicalized terrorist” as the primary target for people’s hatred and fear. OK, sure, at first, there were no Putin-Nazis. It was just that the Brexit folks were fascists, and Trump was Hitler, and Bernie Sanders was some sort of racist hacky sack Communist. But then the Putinists poisoned Clinton, and unleashed their legions of Russian propagandists on the gullible, Oxycodone-addicted denizens of “flyover country,” and, as they say, the rest is history.

In any event, here we are now … stuck inside this simulation of “reality” where Putin-Nazi hackers are coming out of the woodwork, a partyless neoliberal banker has been elected the President of France, Donald Trump is an evil mastermind or a Russian operative, depending on what day it is (as opposed to just a completely incompetent, narcissistic billionaire idiot), and neoliberal propaganda outfits like The New York TimesThe Washington Post, MSNBC, CNN, The Guardian, NPR, et al., are perceived as “respectable” sources of journalism, as if their role in generating and occasionally revising the official narrative weren’t so insultingly obvious. Personally, I am looking forward to the upcoming German elections this Autumn, wherein Neoliberal Party “A” is challenging Neoliberal Party “B” for the right to continue privatizing Greece (and any other formerly sovereign nations the banks can get their hands on) in a demonstration of European unity, and fiscal austerity … and, you know, whatever.

If this is the Death of Neoliberalism, just imagine what awaits us at the Resurrection.

Counterpunch

“American Gods” answers our prayers for a show worthy of worship

Divine drama: Bryan Fuller and Michael Green combine their talents to bring Neil Gaiman’s deity-driven story roaring to life

Divine drama: "American Gods" answers our prayers for a show worthy of worship
American Gods(Credit: Starz)

Take a moment to appreciate the spiritual symmetry Starz’s “American Gods” brings to the next eight Sunday nights. Millions will greet each of those mornings with ceremonial worship and prayer, and a share of those same people, as well as others who are less religious, will end the day watching this drama — a show that questions whether faith gains us anything in the end.

For there’s no question in “American Gods” as to whether deities exist. They walk among us and have done so for centuries, sharing many of the same urges and frustrations as humans do. What the gods are not, however, are interventionists. Pray all you want; odds are they’re not listening. But be careful because the ones who answer may not give the pious the deliverance sought.

“American Gods,” premiering Sunday at 9 p.m., represents Neil Gaiman’s contemporary take on pantheons merging and colliding, something genre fiction writers played with on page and screen many times over. Readers familiar with Gaiman’s “Sandman” comic books will recognize the insouciant humor and a similarly fluid sense of time and reality in Bryan Fuller and Michael Green’s television adaptation.

The otherworldly travelers in “American Gods” are immigrants who arrive alongside their human believers but whose relationship with the faithful tends toward the parasitic as opposed to the symbiotic. In an opening scene set in the distant past, Vikings are marooned on an unfriendly North American shore and maim themselves to gain favor from Odin, the All-Father, whose bestowal of a piddly breeze is not commensurate with the stunning orgy of bloodshed that precedes it.

If Odin’s boys could only see him now! Traveling as Mr. Wednesday, the battered and rumpled old god (played sublimely by Ian McShane) merrily, lazily slides into the life of recently released convict Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle). Shadow finds out as he’s released that his wife Laura (Emily Browning) has died unexpectedly, a terrible stroke of fate that brings him into Wednesday’s orbit.

Wednesday cons his way into first class by pretending to be senile and harmless, and Shadow, in a stroke of luck, is bumped up when his seat is double booked. Whether this was actually coincidence or the downward-trending god’s will is the first of many small mysteries “American Gods” sprinkles throughout its initial episodes — and probably the least important.

Mr. Wednesday is up front about who he is: a liar, cheater, swindler, hustler. A few drinks later Mr. Wednesday persuades Shadow to become his paid bodyguard, a job assured to come with a lot of perks as well as a high probability of a violent death. For Wednesday is gathering an army of old deities to take on the New Gods, a coalition of uncaring beings led by Mr. World (Crispin Glover), which includes the bratty Technical Boy (Bruce Langley) and the seductive Media (Gillian Anderson).

While the Norse god can count on some truly potent allies, including a tall and pugilistic leprechaun named Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) and Czernobog (Peter Stormare), a bloodthirsty Slavic lord of darkness, latter-day humanity’s obsession with material gain and convenience has decided tilted the odds against Mr. Wednesday’s team.

Now capricious creatures of faded glory, these formerly supreme beings have been forgotten, pushed into musty, small spaces and wrapped in dingy, plain clothes. Survival has transformed them from masters over the elements and protectors of humanity into con artists, thugs and killers. Yet they personify timelessness; regardless of the actor playing them, these beings do not seem recognizably young or ancient. Their places of worship may be velvety scarlet dens of supplication or a bank of screens at a big-box store; their altars are dreamscapes of temptation, threats and teeth that catch men by the throat.

“American Gods” takes place at the nexus of classic myth and modern techromancy, archetype and prototype, and wrestles with concepts no less than the churning of an unconcerned and enthralling cosmos.

Gaiman’s new gods, like the old ones, are manifestations of modern beliefs. And what do we believe in these days? The material and the measurable — fame, convenience, wealth. The new gods promise the kind of immortality that can accessed by a search engine, with none of the nonsense about souls or angels or never-ending bliss in union with the infinite.

But the infinite is dazzling, no question. Transitional sequences within each episode convey the wonder of the universe through wide shots of color-saturated natural vistas and skies streaked with carpets of stars. The show’s cinematography and digital imagery emphasize the juxtaposition of the natural world against the synthetic, reality versus the realm of the unreal, impressing upon the viewer how inconsequential man happens to be in the vastness of time and space. It also invites the viewer to see an extra level of magic within floating tufts of dandelion seed.

The drama provides an ideal canvas for Fuller and Green to unleash their creative and collaborative powers. The conscientious visual style that Fuller honed on “Hannibal” achieves riotous new heights of sensuality in this series. Green, a DC Comics veteran whose television credits include serving as an executive producer on “Heroes,” aids in harmonizing the story’s surfeit of histories and personalities into an intelligible and spellbinding structure.

Combining their strengths, Fuller and Green have taken a story long believed to be untamable and channeled its powers into a delirious odyssey that takes its time with character development without putting too much drag on the tale’s velocity.

It doesn’t take long for Shadow and Wednesday’s road trip to become a Technicolor debate about the nature of belief and the power of faith. Mr. Wednesday needs both to continue to exist. Shadow Moon, as his name implies, is a guardian of the threshold between the mortal and the eternal. He believes in nothing. Yet the oddity he witnesses at Wednesday’s side gives him pause.

Fuller and Green co-wrote five of the first season’s eight episodes, and their scripts gives the show’s superlative cast a buffet of opportunities to chew the scenery. Orlando Jones’ introduction as Mr. Nancy is marked by a blazing monologue evocative of Alec Baldwin’s epic “Glengarry Glen Ross” speech and it’s chockablock with just as many cold assurances.

McShane ascends to his usual level of brilliance, but Whittle’s Shadow wields a seductive, brooding charm that stands up to the “Deadwood” star well enough. And their partnership gives credence to the idea that the gods could be a little insane.

But Fuller and Green accentuate the comedic side of these gods and goddesses much more than their cruelty (the exception being Yetide Badaki’s divinely concupiscent Bilquis) which imbues “American Gods” with a cheeky flair. And if the performances by the likes of Jones, Stormare, Schreiber and Cloris Leachman seem outsized, that’s proportional to the beings they play.

So numerous are the number of gods that we don’t even meet them all in the first four episodes. Those who are introduced, however, are fascinating enough to purchase the viewers’ patience with the relatively leisurely speed that “American Gods” travels through the plot. It takes time to construct a world worthy of worship.

Why Trumpian Conspiracy Theories and Anti-Semitism Are Intimately Connected

THE RIGHT WING

Our modern political climate has helped bolster the oldest conspiracy theory of all.

Photo Credit: PHB.cz (Richard Semik) / Shutterstock

Earlier this month, white nationalists found cause to rejoice. The culprit behind many of the bomb threats plaguing JCCs and Jewish schools around the country — a young American-Israeli man living in Ashkelon, in the south of Israel — was arrested. The teenager, apparently utilizing sophisticated identity-masking methods, was responsible for a yet-unknown but apparently large proportion of the bomb threats terrorizing toddlers, schoolchildren, and Jews at prayer, according to Israeli police.

For white nationalists like David Duke, the suspect’s religion was proof of a theory they had championed: that Jews, in a coordinated plot, had created the attacks to “get sympathy to push their ethnic agenda.” A popular meme, “Hey rabbi…watcha doin’?,” resurfaced: It depicts a hook-nosed Jewish stereotype spray-painting a swastika onto the wall of a synagogue. Reactions to the unlikely arrest further proved the durability, in a conspiratorial age, of the oldest conspiracy theory of all: anti-Semitism.

Defenders of Donald Trump viewed the arrest as a vindication of the president, whose few months in office have coincided with a striking rise in hate crimes. In a press briefing last week, Sean Spicer used the JCC bomb threat arrest to dismiss a question about an unrelated offense, urging the public not to “jump to conclusions” about the perpetrators of hate crimes — and stating that “the president was right.”

When asked in February about the steadily climbing number of anti-Semitic incidents during his time in office, including the bomb threats, President Trump had reportedly suggested that the Jewish community at large was behind the incidents.

“Sometimes it’s the reverse, to make people — or to make others — look bad,” Trump said, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who was present at a meeting between Trump and state attorneys general.

It was this insinuation that Spicer claimed the arrest of a 19-year-old in Ashkelon had vindicated. But in his conversation with the attorneys general, Trump did not cite evidence from a months-long joint investigation between the F.B.I. and Israeli authorities that led to Ashkelon’s arrest. Nor would it be right to draw conclusions about the political motivations of a single, warped individual whose lawyer has stated that a brain tumor may have contributed to his alarming behavior. Moreover, most of the 330 incidents of anti-Semitic hate crime ProPublica has documented since January have been impossible to conduct remotely, such as the swastikas daubed on sidewalks and synagogues. The NYPD cites a 94% increase in anti-Semitic hate crime compared to this time last year; meanwhile, several high-profile incidents of cemetery vandalism — resulting in the toppling of hundreds of Jewish gravestones in Philadelphia and St. Louis — as yet have no confirmed culprits.

What is certain, however, is that Trump’s answer on anti-Semitism — positing, without citing evidence, a political plot — encapsulates his tendency to think conspiratorially. It’s a tendency he’s shown for years, before and throughout his presidential campaign and ascent to power, from birtherism to phantom wiretaps. But it manifests most clearly in the way he clings to falsehood, no matter how many times he is presented with fact. Trump has been a guest on InfoWars, Alex Jones’ notorious conspiracy-peddling radio show; he prefers the expostulations of 9/11 truther and ousted Fox News contributor Andrew Napolitano to those of his own Department of Justice. In the President’s mind, Ted Cruz’s dad helped kill JFK, Barack Obama literally founded ISIS, and the Jews, as a whole, are threatening their own kindergartens. (The tenacity of these beliefs was put on astonishing display in a recent interview with Time magazine.)

The mainstreaming of conspiratorial thinking and the rise in overt hostility towards Jews are intimately connected. As Alana Newhouse put it in Tablet Magazine, anti-Semitism is not a social prejudice against Jews. It has very little to do, Newhouse writes, with any individual’s distaste for perceived Jewish traits, or even antipathy towards specific Jews. Anti-Semitism in its classic sense is the belief that there is a malevolent entity behind the curtain, pulling the strings, and that that entity is a Jew.

“Racism is a prejudice, but it’s not rooted in conspiracy theory, as anti-Semitism is,” Deborah Lipstadt, a prominent scholar of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, told me in an interview last September. Anti-Semitism is present, too, in nearly every conspiracy-theory community; Lipstadt noted, for example, the outsize presence of the Mossad in “alternate” theories of 9/11. Even people from deeply marginal movements, like those who embrace Flat Earth Theory — the belief, as the name suggests, that the earth is really flat and NASA is a sinister fraud — frequently blame the Jews for their role in the “cover-up” of earth’s flatness. As one poster on the Flat Earth Society message board put it, space missions are “all lies…as you’d expect from a media/government/academia totally controlled by jews[sic].”

Trump’s campaign — and presidency — have played repeatedly into the hands of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists. One infamous tweet juxtaposed Hillary Clinton, a Jewish star, and piles of cash. And a late-stage campaign ad depicted American Jews like Janet Yellen and George Soros as a narrator solemnly intoned about “trillions of dollars” in the hands of “global special interests.” Behind the anti-Semitic dog whistles lurked a braying pack of alt-right hounds who did not hesitate to savage Jewish critics and their supporters alike.

The notion that some malevolence lurks in Jewish singularity, that a refusal to assimilate is a cover for darker impulses, is an ancient one. In the Medieval era, Jews were said to have poisoned wells, to bake the blood of Christian children into matzahs. With the advent of industrialization, theories of Jewish malevolence grew broader and darker: 19th-century nationalists depicted Jews as inherently disloyal to their countries, their purported loyalty to the nebulous entity of “world Jewry” supplanting their loyalty to their own homelands. In the last century, Nazi cartoons depicted the Jew as an octopus encircling the globe, slimy tentacles smothering every continent. A 1940 Nazi film sought to cast this characterization as a timeless truth: It was called “The Eternal Jew.”

Last year, the term “fake news” came into prominence to describe a rash of false accounts, of dubious and possibly Russian origin, promulgated in the lead-up to the Presidential election. Since then, the term has boomeranged against its makers — and is frequently to be heard from a President openly hostile to the media. For Jews, however, the original “fake news” (also, incidentally, of Russian origin), dates back more than a century, to the 1903 publication of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the principal modern text of anti-Semitic conspiracy — and an object lesson in how difficult it is to debunk appealing falsehoods.

Top: Cover page from “Protocols of the Elders of Zion’. Bottom: poster from ‘The Eternal Jew.’ (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The Protocols purported to be a record of a meeting between Jewish leaders, and was initially presented as the minutes of the first World Zionist Congress in Basel, in 1897. The text listed arenas of the modern world over which Jews sought to establish control — from banks to the press to modern states themselves, and their wars; the Elders’ plan would culminate in a totalistic Jewish domination of the world. After its original appearance in the Russian newspaper Znamya in 1903, it was translated into German and widely disseminated in 1920; it was presented to American audiences as The International Jew the same yearWhat is remarkable — and sadly illustrative — about the text was that its debunking was nearly simultaneous with its promulgation. In 1920 the Protocols were revealed to be a clumsy fake, largely plagiarized from a 19th-century French work of political satire, Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu. The Times of London ran a 1921 exposé; in 1924, a German-language debunking was published by journalist Benjamin Segel.

And yet Hitler used it extensively in his campaign to illustrate Jewish malevolence; so, too, did Henry Ford and Father Charles Coughlin, in the United States. Forty-three years after the New York Herald first published its takedown of the Protocols, “The History of a Lie,” the Senate Judiciary Committee felt compelled to publish its own report, calling the work “A Fabricated ‘Historic’ Document” in 1964. But the work continues to be published all over the world, and is readily available online, to astound first-time readers who may feel as if the curtain is finally being lifted — the dark plot undergirding their unhappiness at last unveiled. The continual success of the Protocols is a stark illustration of the swift spread of alluring untruths, and the ways in which debunking fake news cannot curb its continual appeal.

Fake news — like conspiracy theories — can be immune to fact-based reproach. They resonate with devotees precisely because they contradict the consensus view of reality with which they are unhappy, and purport to vanquish defenders of the status quo.

Anti-Semitism is non-partisan. It exists both on the right and on the left (though leftist anti-Semites often sub in “Zionists” for “Jews”) lurking on the fringes, wherever counter-narratives to established truth are offered to eager listeners. (I am not conflating anti-Zionism, or harsh criticism of the Israeli government, with anti-Semitism; rather, I refer to those on the far left who are eager to explain how Zionists rig elections worldwide, and how global capitalism is shaped by Jewish greed and Rothschild gold.) In times that feel profoundly unstable, and in which the nature of reality is drawn into question by the executive branch of the American government itself, alternative explanations, with their sinister Soroses, are more appealing than ever.

For American Jews, many of whom have felt profound comfort and inclusion in the past half-century — and who have, in turn, shaped American culture in profound ways — the events of the past few months have been deeply unsettling. Warning knells sounded throughout a conspiracy-laced campaign, as Jewish journalists covering Trump faced unprecedented volumes of anti-Semitic abuse. But the two-fronted attack on preschools and cemeteries, children and the dead, coupled with swastika graffiti cropping up on street corners and synagogues, have left a sense of profound unease in their wake. (“Are Jews White?” asked a December headline in the Atlantic, a potent summation of these fears.)

A popular European story in the 15th century told the tale of the “Wandering Jew,” an immortal Jerusalem shoemaker cursed to wander from place to place for eternity. The term became a metonym for the Jewish people themselves— illustrative of both their immortality and the impermanence of their residence in any one country. While this was — and continues to be — cast as a malevolent Jewish trait, the central irony is that that impermanence is caused by the rise of prejudice against a minority that has retained its separateness, and its traditions, for millennia. The postwar embrace of Jews in America felt giddy, complete, perhaps eternal. And yet thousands of Jews facing hate crimes across the country have been driven to question that permanence this year.

In an era in which reality itself is in dispute, can America’s Jews dodge the rise of the most enduring conspiracy theory of all?

http://www.alternet.org/right-wing/why-trumpian-conspiracy-theories-and-anti-semitism-are-intimately-connected?akid=15448.265072.APLtS9&rd=1&src=newsletter1075858&t=22