Monday, December 5, 2016

The Failure of the New McCarthyism

Yesterday was a big news day. Italy's constitutional overhaul was handily defeated at the polls, prompting premier Matteo Renzi to say that he will tender his resignation today; the Standing Rock Sioux triumphed, at least temporarily, in blocking the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) from being routed beneath a dammed section of the Missouri River; and the Freedom Party underwhelmed Austrian voters, failing to unseat Alexander Van der Bellen in a do-over of last spring's presidential election.

All good news, I would say, though it is a little troubling to read (Jack Healy and Nicholas Fandos, "Army Blocks Drilling of Dakota Access Oil Pipeline") that Dave Archambault is telling all the water protectors to pack up and go home:
“It’s wonderful,” Dave Archambault II, the Standing Rock tribal chairman, told cheering supporters who stood in the melting snow on a mild North Dakota afternoon. “You all did that. Your presence has brought the attention of the world.”
The decision, he said, meant that people no longer had to stay at the camp during North Dakota’s brutal winter. The Corps of Engineers, which manages the land, had ordered it to be closed, but the thousands of protesters had built yurts, tepees and bunkhouses and vowed to hunker down.
“It’s time now that we move forward,” Mr. Archambault said. “We don’t have to stand and endure this hard winter. We can spend the winter with our families.”
Clearly the Army can reverse itself, and is likely to do so, once Trump gets into office. Many are promising to stay camped through the winter. But if the chairman of the tribe wants people to go home, that puts the water protectors at odds with their host.

This victory was won because of the robust numbers the indigenous peoples were able to marshal, the coup de grace being the arrival of the veterans. Now, the camp will shrink, and in a month or two, there will be a nighttime raid, a la NYPD of Occupy Wall Street, and that, very likely, will be that.

An interesting aspect of Renzi's flame-out is that in the run-up to Sunday's referendum he resorted to the Fake News playbook, accusing the "no" camp of spreading Russian-inspired false stories to gain advantage at the polls. Jason Horowitz's "Spread of Fake News Provokes Anxiety in Italy" is case in point (Horowitz is one of the reporters that NYT assigned to do hatchet jobs on Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary):
As early as April, Mr. Renzi complained privately to his counterparts about Russia meddling in his country’s politics by supporting anti-establishment parties.
In November, he privately discussed the spread of fake news with other European leaders and President Obama at a meeting in Berlin. Mr. Obama forcefully assailed the phenomenon while standing beside Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, who has warned of Russian misinformation campaigns that “could play a role” in her own re-election bid.
Mr. Renzi’s private concerns were relayed by several current and former officials with knowledge of the conversations who were not authorized to speak publicly.
His biggest domestic opponent has been the surging and anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which would benefit most should he lose Sunday’s referendum on streamlining Italy’s bureaucracy.
Laura Boldrini, the speaker of the lower house of Parliament, said she had no information about whether the Five Star Movement trafficked in fake news or promulgated Russian propaganda. But she did say it was a growing problem in Italy.
“Fake news is a critical issue and we can’t ignore it,” she said this week. “We have to act now.”
On Wednesday, Ms. Boldrini met with Richard Allan, Facebook’s vice president of public policy in Europe, to discuss ways Facebook could limit hate speech and fake news on its pages.
“They can’t pretend that they are just a platform,” Ms. Boldrini said. “They are giant media companies.”
Buzzfeed and the Italian newspaper La Stampa recently reported that blogs, social media accounts and websites in Russia connected to the Five Star Movement were spreading fake news harmful to Mr. Renzi across their vast virtual networks.
Russia has long had close relations with Italy, especially under Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister and media tycoon who was a personal friend of Mr. Putin.
The story goes on to paint the Five Star Movement (M5S) as Kremlin dupes.

Fake News is a sure sign of the weakness and desperation that has taken hold of the neoliberal ruling class. Absent any proof that dire warnings about Fake News are effective in keeping voters aligned with a bankrupt neoliberal orthodoxy, the New McCarthyism has spread from Washington to Rome and Berlin.

My sense is that the New McCarthyism will soon have to be scrapped. It is not working; worse still, it is generating a significant push-back.

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