(Article changed on March 10, 2014 at 06:41)
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(image by RT)
In her March, 2011 testimony before Congress, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, lamented that the US propaganda mill was losing ground to its rivals for lack of funding. In an informal interview she went further, stating that when abroad she got her news from RT, since CNN had become obsessed with celebrity trials and failed to cover international developments. So the US Secretary of State declared publicly that her most trusted news source was....(drum roll ) Russia Today .
Soon after the riots started in the Ukraine I began to tune into RT online on a regular basis, as I had tuned into Al Jazeera English during the Egyptian revolution. CNN was way too busy waving the flag and demonizing Putin. If I was going to watch propaganda, I wanted to at least watch both sides of it. Surprisingly, the majority of the anchors at RT are American, and Lefties famous for dissenting opinions have their own scheduled programs (Thom Hartman and Max Keiser, for example). The environment at RT America television (whose slogan is "Question More") feels like some airy oasis of free speech. Not all opinions favor Russia to be sure -- in fact one can hear wildly offbeat opinions and witness debates that, while not pitting Left against Right, still present adversarial views.
While the USSR was intact, the US could be seen and heard everywhere waving its constitution in the air, declaring that only America offered freedom. With that contest for power came guaranteed press freedoms and funding to US athletes and artists, who were paraded as symbols of capitalism's achievements and pitched against the heroes of Soviet culture; meanwhile Radio Free Europe became the prime news source inside the Soviet bloc. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the tide commenced a slow but steady shift, to the point where the US and the USSR have nearly flipped roles. Since the break-up of the Soviet Federation, Russia has concentrated on its own economy and trade with Europe and China. The US media tell us that Putin is a hard-ass holdover from the Soviet KGB who yearns for territorial expansion. If Putin has imperialist ambitions, he does not seem to be acting on them.
Meanwhile, back in Yankee-land, the recently rebuilt and refunded NSA is eerily reminiscent of the KGB at the height of its internal spying power. And in Edward Snowden we have an American whistle-blower seeking asylum from persecution in, of all places, Russia. Are investigative journalists now safer in Russia than in the country that holds freedom of the press sacrosanct in its constitution? It is starting to look that way.  As for "imperialist ambitions" the US stands unrivaled. It is the last nation to adopt 19th century policies of moving its bankers and corporations in for the kill, even to nations where the US has no conceivable national security interest. Every adventure of the last thirteen years has produced the same result: the pauperization of the citizens and the bankruptcy of the government. (See Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Honduras.) Riots and internal divisions follow inevitably. (See the video All Wars are Bankers' Wars to get an historical overview of 20th century wars.)
The US State Department at one time served as a brake on knee-jerk military action, promoting diplomacy and peaceful solutions. The current DOS has more in common with Blackwater (later renamed XI and now called Academi) or the CIA, fomenting riots and regime change wherever they are permitted to get a foothold. Shortly after his first election in 2009, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa shut down a US military base, sent the US ambassador packing in 2011, accused the US of plotting to destabilize the government prior to his 2013 re-election, and this past December cut ties with USAID (United States Agency for International Development) over its funding of political opposition groups.  )
CNN regularly accuses Ecuador of restricting press freedoms and closing newspapers and radio stations. There is much more to this story, as documented by WikiLeaks.  And in Venezuela, where the US initiated the 2002 coup attempt on Chavez' government, President Nicolas Maduro's claims that the US is at the root of current Caracas street protests cannot be dismissed.  (See John Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hit Man for the long history of CIA coups and assassinations in South America).
How is it we know this? We are certainly not hearing it on CNN or reading it in the Washington Post. Over the last decade millions of Americans have increasingly turned to the foreign press to find out what is really going on in the world.  And RT -- with print and video channels online -- has taken a huge chunk of that new audience.
In the last thirteen years of relentless wars and drone-bombing, the US has not so much won wars as destroyed order, leaving chaos and internal divisions behind. If we imagine the US as The Joker, the force for anarchy and destruction, then who plays Batman in this scenario? We don't yet have a savior, but more and more "Vlad the Hammer" is showing himself to be the voice of restraint and reason, allaying fears and lowering the volume of rhetoric, just as he saved Syria from an imminent US bombing strike by offering a diplomatic resolution to the crisis. We cannot know what he will do next, but it would be ironic if Putin turned out to be the man in the bat costume.
 Reporters Without Borders' Freedom of the Press Index ranks the US at number 32 in its global press freedoms rankings, behind Ghana and Poland. Russia comes in at number 148, and Ecuador at 119. Many countries list press freedom in their constitutions, but limit it in practice, while others without constitutional guarantees do not limit press freedom in practice. At any rate, press freedom is in constant flux around the world, as well as within the US.
 On September 30, 2010, members of the Quito police occupied Parliament and held Ecuador's President Rafael Correa hostage for nine hours during an unsuccessful coup attempt, while rightist factions of the military seized the airports. WikiLeaks maintains hat " The events were " an attempted coup d'etat by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR)," and the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED.)
 A new law regarding press freedoms mandates that corporate media be reduced to a third of the market. Public media will make up one-third and non-profit, community media will make up the other third. This means the media will no longer be almost totally dominated by corporate interests and popular sectors will gain previously closed-off access to the media via community outlets. The law also bans "media lynching" " in other words, concerted campaigns of character assassination " along with any overt political stance, especially in election reporting. The authority charged with making these judgments is not simply an office of the presidency, as suggested by Time and The Economist. It includes representatives from provincial governments, cultural groups and universities.
 CIA --sponsored coups and assassinations of Latin leaders peaked in the 1960's, although US interventions into Latin nations have been going on since at least 1905, and continue today with NGO support.