White House propaganda


When Bashar al-Assad joined Instagram last week, US media waged an intifada lambasting the embattled Syrian president for his “propaganda” effort.

“Instagram becomes latest propaganda tool for Syria’s embattled president,” read the headline in the Washington Post.

“This Is What It Looks Like When A Brutal Dictator Starts Using Instagram,” said BuzzFeed.

“Syrian President Assad’s Desperate Instagram Feed,” wrote the Daily Beast.

“Syrian president recruits Instagram in ongoing propaganda war,” said The Verge.

“Bashar Assad’s Instagram Is Every Bit The Propaganda You’d Expect From The Syrian President’s Social Media Minions,” said the always elaborate Huffington Post.


Around that same time White House photographer Pete Souza, a former photojournalist with Chicago newspapers hired by the president in 2009, also joined Instagram.

Here’s how some of those headlines read:

“White House photographer debuts Instagram account,” said the Washington Post.

“White House Photographer Joins Instagram And It’s Amazing,” said BuzzFeed.

“Turning Politics to Art: WH Photog Launches Instagram Account,” said Time magazine, which was lucky to land an interview with Souza soon after.

But Time didn’t ask the former news photographer how he feels now that he’s surrendered all independence and is getting paid to disseminate images of the president that the US government wants us to see. Instead Souza was asked about Bo, the White House dog.

“The Instagrams of Bo are excellent – how is he as a subject?”

Followed by this hard-hitting question:

“Are you going to do any selfies?”

There’s a very simple explanation for why we’re not going to see Obama signing his secret weekly kill lists or operating drones over civilian areas in Pakistan, just as we’re not going to see images of Assad  shelling homes in Aleppo or the underground detention centers where opposition activists are held. Both men (and their respective staffs) control what is allowed to be published on these social media platforms.

I don’t disagree that Assad’s Instagram account is propaganda, it clearly is. But let’s not kid ourselves that Obama’s account is anything different. So why aren’t US media calling it that?

“Justice for Trayvon” in NYC

“Justice for Trayvon” in NYC – Images by Matthew Cassel

Several thousand people marched from Union Square in New York one day after George Zimmerman, a local member of the Neighborhood Watch in Florida, was found not guilty for the death of black teenager Trayvon Martin.

Protesters on Sunday chanted slogans such as “Trayvon’s dead, Zimmerman’s free, that’s what they call democracy,” and carried signs saying the verdict exposed racism within the US judicial system. Some protesters also carried bags of Skittles candy and wore hooded sweatshirts mocking Zimmerman who has said he felt threatened by 17-year-old Martin.

Many onlookers cheered the demonstration, which was much larger by the time it reached Manhattan’s Times Square at nightfall.

Miami Model coming to Bahrain

I just returned from my second trip to Bahrain in recent months to hear the news that the ruling al-Khalifa family has hired former Miami police chief John Timoney to help “implement reforms.” Here are some pics of Timoney implementing reforms when he first put the “Miami Model” into practice against people protesting the Free Trade Area of the Americas in 2003 (For more read my comment piece, “Even Bahrain’s use of ‘Miami model’ policing will not stop the uprising,” published today in the Guardian’s Comment is Free):

Miami, 2003 (image: Matthew Cassel)

A protester injured in the head by a rubber bullet fired by Timoney's police force, Miami, 2003 (image: Matthew Cassel)

No healthcare, no democracy

... but stay in Iraq!
... but stay in Iraq!

Thank god for fucking Rush Limbaugh, because I am fucking enraged right now. I don’t even want to repeat the utter bull shit flowing out of his mouth, and I would usually just ignore it but he and others seem to be inciting a lot of people in the US right now fighting against Obama’s push for healthcare reform in the US. Let me just say before I continue, nothing short of free and fantastic healthcare for all is acceptable as far as I’m concerned. And all plans currently on the table are very far from that. But, I must say that I do like Obama’s aggressiveness in making sure that this issue is dealt with by the government asap. On the other side, I hate that his administration has cowardly made it so that both fair and practical options like single payer healthcare have been barred from even entering the negotiating room.

There is not one reason why every single person in the US should not have access to the best healthcare coverage in the world. And I am absolutely shocked, well, not really, that people in the US are organizing against this issue. Many of these conservatives believe that “no one owes you jack shit” (to quote from a message on twitter that i received earlier), which leaves me to ask the question: what exactly is the point of a government? Seriously, I’d like to hear answers to that. Is it not to protect our rights? Healthcare, like education, is a basic right that must not be denied to anyone. And it is wrong that some living in a so-called “democracy” have better access to such things over others.

The word “democracy” is meaningless to someone who can’t see a doctor when they’re sick.

Funny how most Americans against government involvement when it comes to healthcare in the US support government involvement when it comes to “democracy” in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, etc…

The Western media and Honduras

I lost confidence in my own intelligence yesterday when I foolishly turned on CNN International expecting to find coverage of the coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Honduras. Instead I found Al Sharpton standing next to the King of Pop’s deranged father apologizing for promoting his record company the day after his son’s death. Non-stop since Michael Jackson’s death CNN has been releasing “BREAKING NEWS” every few minutes with news about Jackson’s kids, his 200+ million dollars, or some other useless information that should not be given any attention by the international media. They then cut to a shot of a few police officers in suits arriving outside Jackson’s home to investigate “foul play,” or so the media speculated.

Juicy story, no? Detectives investigating the death of a pop icon! Sounds like a story for CSI-Miami, CSI-Cleveland, or maybe CSI-(insert your city here), not a story that one of the biggest English language news channel in the world needs to cover 24-7! As they filmed the few gum-chewing and overweight officers with Aviator glasses and mustaches, I wondered why we were watching them, and not the Honduran army that had a day earlier overthrown the country’s government in a coup and was now beating demonstrators in a scene very reminiscent to Iran over past weeks.

Why the little coverage of Honduras? Well, like in Iran, the rule: “the US media generally choose stories and cover them in a way that play directly into the US’s global agenda,” also very much applies to the situation in Honduras.

Here is an excerpt from a good piece on Counterpunch by Benjamin Dangl with some background on the situation in Honduras:

When Manuel Zelaya was elected president on November 27, 2005 in a close victory, he became president of one of the poorest nations in the region, with approximately 70% of its population of 7.5 million living under the poverty line. Though siding himself with the region’s left in recent years as a new member of the leftist trade bloc, Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), Zelaya did sign the Central American Free Trade Agreement in 2004.

However, Zelaya has been criticizing and taking on the sweatshop and corporate media industry in his country, and increased the minimum wage by 60%. He said the increase, which angered the country’s elite but expanded his support among unions, would “force the business oligarchy to start paying what is fair.”

At a meeting of regional anti-drug officials, Zelaya spoke of an unconventional way to combat the drug trafficking and related violence that has been plaguing his country: “Instead of pursuing drug traffickers, societies should invest resources in educating drug addicts and curbing their demand.”

Eastern Ohio

A Holiday Inn in Youngstown, Ohio, now owned and managed by a bank for more than a year. (image: matthew cassel)
A Holiday Inn in Youngstown, Ohio, now owned and managed by a bank for more than a year. (image: matthew cassel)

I just returned from a wedding in Eastern Ohio, Youngstown to be exact. Wow. I’ve been there before, but this time I paid closer attention to how the “economic crisis” has affected the area. Although, the “crisis” did not hit this part of the US just recently, but rather decades ago. A friend told me how in WWII, this particular area would’ve been one of the Nazis top targets to hit immediately had they been able to cross the Atlantic Ocean because it’s where most of the steel was produced to make tanks for the US army. Since then, when other countries like China and Mexico started to also produce steel and the markets were opened to other industries that sustained jobs in the Youngstown area, the American companies could no longer compete and many plants were shut down forcing many to leave the area. Now, much of the area looks like a ghost town including the former Holiday Inn that had been foreclosed more than a year ago and is now owned and managed by a bank. We stayed at the hotel, which reminded me of the movie The Shining. I was just waiting to turn a corner and see two twin girls staring at me from down the hallway. I would’ve liked to have spent more time in the area and learn more about the history of what used to be a thriving area of the US.

Occupation pep talk

Iraqi policemen get a pep talk from the American occupation. I like the part where the US soldier accuses them of lying about their alliances, he’s probably right. I’m sure a lot of them would like to resist the foreign occupiers of their land. Some logic though: if they care about Iraq then they better listen to him. What a moron, this soldier and anyone who supports this war.

In Iraq Santa wears camouflage

Image: troopsneedyou.com
In Iraq this year, like every year since 2003, Santa Clause comes in the form of US soldier. I struggle with the poor global English media available in the Middle East like CNN, BBC, Al-Jazeera International is a bit better but hard to find. At home I have only CNN, so I try to catch it at the top of the hour to get the three or four headlines from that day. Sometimes they do a more in depth story. 

I’ll never forget the story they did a few months ago on Iraqi drag racing. The reporter started with something like, “Once illegal under Saddam, Iraqis now have the freedom to soup up their cars…” My jaw dropped. Iraqis now have the freedom to put decals of half naked women on the doors or oversized spoilers on the rear of the car? I learned a lot from that story. That the 2003 American war on Iraq has enabled Iraqis to take part in such an important activity like driving around in fancy cars with neon lights and obnoxiously loud music blasting from the subwoofer in the trunk.

I’ve realized that for one who only watches CNN, it is impossible to know that the US is occupying Iraq. Everything is shown these days as the “good” the American occupation is doing in that country. Like this story on American troops handing out school supplies to a school in Baghdad. A nice gesture, sure, and without context I found myself as the viewer really feeling for the US soldiers and the “good” things that they’re doing in Iraq. That was at least until I remembered they were occupying that country and most Iraqis certainly do not want them there! 

The story was about a project called Troops Need You, it’s an apparent attempt by a group of soldiers to win over the “hearts and minds” of Iraqis. No matter how many gifts Santa delivers, I don’t think Iraqis, or any of us, will ever appreciate Santa if he came down the chimney carrying an M16 and told me how my house needed to be run.