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Daily Beast Article on USA Really Most Revealing

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Where will the US government stop in terms of media censorship?

A couple of days back The Daily Beast published an article on USA Really titled “Google Yanks Services from Russian Propaganda Site.” The foregone conclusion upon reading the title would be that USA Really is “Guilty as Charged!”

 However, I must admit that barring the click-bait like title the article was more balanced than expected.

Since I have been a regular contributor to USA Really, the authors of the Daily Beast article while working on the article contacted me and other writers with their many questions. I was a bit skeptical to communicate with them at first, as my experience communicating with the American mainstream media in the past had not been very productive.

My previous comments to the media were construed to present views that were contrary to mine—taken out of context.  More often than not, to distort what I actually said, with few exceptions.

However, I decided to discuss the matters with them thinking that this might be a chance to tell the true story, the story of how USA Really, just because of its Russian roots, is being harassed.  At least to be able to demonstrate that neither I personally nor USA Really had anything to hide… we were both being upfront and transparent.

My trust in The Daily Beast has paid up, albeit not entirely, but certainly more than I had honestly expected. And I am not the only one who felt this. A colleague of mine during an informal discussion shared:

“Fairly balanced article, I would say. Other than the fact that in the title of the article as well as in the very first sentence they mention USA Really to be a propaganda website; they would have done better by saying 'alleged propaganda website.”

Surprisingly the article mentioned my true credentials stating, and put all my comments correctly without twisting them, unlike some other previous publications that described me as being an eccentric American with an ax to grind against the US government.

“Jeffrey K. Silverman, a Tbilisi, Georgia-based U.S. Army veteran who previously worked for Radio Free Europe, has written over 30 articles for USA Really on topics as varied as the BDS movement and the tobacco industry. In an e-mail, Silverman said that he continues to write for the site on a paid basis despite the sanctions.

I don't know how they could legally apply to a US citizen, as the 1st Amendment still applies …"I continue to cooperate, and with greater enthusiasm. I don't like being told as a US citizen that I am subject to 1984 and USSR-styled censorship."

With Dean Sterling Jones—the article’s author—I shared my dilemma of not getting an answer from responsible American authorities (Treasury Department and American Citizen Services) about my legal plight and whether I can legally contribute to USA Really, even after asking them multiple times.

Consequently, Dean tried contacting the concerned departments to get their side of the story too. And unsurprisingly, as with my requests, Dean’s too were met by a wall of silence. I know many would say that we did not receive any response was because of the government shutdown, but deep down my heart I know that it is a device of subterfuge—on the part of the US government.

Or maybe they are waiting to ambush me on my next trip to the US, as they have done in the past, [at the airport] or are just not willing or capable of putting anything of substance in writing. 

Or, maybe these sanctions are but a Red Herring because there must be some serious reason for picking on a fringe alternative media site, and based on my experience they are testing the waters to understand as to who they can block next?

However, these are just speculations, but all based on historical facts and my experiences. As for what their real motives, only they know, and they might well be more nefarious than those I mentioned. For me, one thing is clear, Whenever I write or share anything for the Russian media,  I don’t get censored but when I  wrote for American publications, I was censored. That is why so-called "alternative" news organizations are thriving.

The legal basis for the sanctions in most likely illegal, based on an Obama era executive order to allow sanctions as some sort of political game. USA Really has already challenged many steps towards censorship in the appropriate Federal courts in the US, as with Facebook blocking its links from being shared.

Given all the media hype and fanfare over USA Really in the American media, and the hard core stance that the government is appearing to take, I can only sympathize with my fellow American contributors who have reconsidered their collaboration with USA Really, given the possibility that any [token] payment for their writing might run afoul of the law. And that might have severe consequences for them, or at least that is the message the government wants to give.

It is not want was being writing that has the US government so besides itself but the delivery mechanism. I suspect what really has the powers so upset is that USA Really attempts to promote “information and problems that are hushed up by major American publications controlled by the political elite of the United States.”

At this point, it is of utmost importance to understand what these American contributors were writing that actually made the government so furious.  All they were writing were their thoughts, often based on their own experiences:  the real problems that they faced and the problems they see American society facing on an everyday basis. The sanctions are not only against a Russian media outlet but are an attempt to censor the voice of the common citizen, so that mainstream media propaganda is all that remains to be heard.

Brave New World

Huxley summed it up:

"By means of ever more effective methods of mind-manip­ulation, the democracies will change their nature; the quaint old forms— elections, parliaments, Supreme Courts and all the rest—will remain. ... Democracy and freedom will be the theme of every broadcast and editorial. ... Meanwhile the ruling oligarchy and its highly trained elite of sol­diers, policemen, thought-manufacturers and mind-manipulators will quietly run the show as they see fit."

Scroll through our website and you will realize that we have been honest in reporting the problems America and Americans face on a daily basis.  It is rather straightforward, real issues, real people and real insight.

Phil Butler, an American political analyst and author of Putin’s Praetorians: Confessions of the Top Kremlin Trolls, was an early contributor to the site.  Butler called the sanctions “ludicrous,” since, he said, “the audience of the outlet is not large enough or broad enough to make any difference whatsoever.”

But he did add that he doesn’t intend to defy the sanctions.

“If other Americans and I are barred from working as journalists for any media outlet, it is obviously in our best interest to comply. I am, however, concerned about the precedent this sets, since so many independent journalists and experts express their opinions on thousands of media outlets.”

Ronald Thomas West, a self-described “former Special Forces Sergeant of Operations and Intelligence” and a USA Really essay contest entrant, also recently announced his withdrawal from the site.

“I request any prize money won be donated to a Russian charity, and as a war veteran, I would suggest to the orphans of Russian casualties in Syria,” West wrote in an open letter published on his personal site in December. “I can no longer suggest a USA charity on account of the legal and/or public relations problems this might bring to otherwise deserving people in today’s irrational USA political climate.”

Since I am physically out of the United States, perhaps I stand a bit safer from the grasp of a Treasury Department dragnet over allegations of violating the US-imposed sanctions. But do I feel lucky?

I am American, and I have friends and family in America, and forget not that I once served the US Army. This entire situation has led to realize that one day, if things continue as they are progressing that I may never be able to return to my native country—as people like me are considered threats to those who claim to be the face of the American system.

So, will I stop writing?

I continue to stand my ground over free speech, and as quoted in the recent article, “Silverman said that he continues to write for the site on a paid basis despite the sanctions.”

And, I also during casual chat sessions asked some fellow contributors as to what they thought of the entire situation. And the common view that they all hold is that with its economy in doldrums, with crime on the rise, rising poverty and all the problems that the US now faces, these sanctions and investigations are just meant to distract the Americans from the real problems that plague them.

Also, a feeling that was unanimous among all was that "America is horrified by a lumbering Russia." The Bear seems to be awakening while the Eagle is growing old and losing its grasp.

Also, I think that if the government actually thinks that USA Really is a threat to national security then either the Treasury or American Citizen Services should advise, and some US Federal Court would issue some restraining order, based in law, stipulating that contributors such as myself are “strictly prohibited” from writing.

But since nobody has issued such a "cease and desist," I can safely conclude that there is no merit to these sanctions, as they violate freedom of speech, the First Amendment, and are based only on some flimsy Executive Order and absurd interpretation. If I, however, hear anything back from them, I'll promptly let you know.

In the meantime, here is some general information regarding U.S. sanctions:

U.S. persons must comply with OFAC regulations, including all U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens regardless of where they are located, all persons and entities within the United States, all U.S. incorporated entities and their foreign branches. In the cases of certain programs, foreign subsidiaries owned or controlled by U.S. companies also must comply. Certain programs also require foreign persons in possession of U.S.-origin goods to comply. [01-15-15]

The fines for violations can be substantial. In many cases, civil and criminal penalties can exceed several million dollars. Civil penalties vary by sanctions program, and the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990, as amended by the Federal Civil Penalty Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015, requires OFAC to adjust civil monetary penalty amounts annually. For current penalty amounts, see section V.B.2.a of Appendix A to OFAC’s Economic Sanctions Enforcement Guidelines at 31 C.F.R Part 501. [03-08-17]

I once had a video pulled off the Internet by a Federal Judge over former Senator John McCain and his direct involvement in arms trafficking via Georgia. Through an email I received, the Federal Court Order pulling it from the internet—and by a lucky coincidence, it was same Federal Judge who had been appointed earlier on the personal recommendation of McCain.

I can't see anything illegal over my articles, as they are opinion pieces, about BDS, press freedoms and things that should concern average Americans, such as when is the best age for someone to collect Social Security benefits. 

I don't see such topics as a threat to National Security, and finally, I share the same take with anyone who thinks I am playing the fool. Why does not the staff at the US Embassy or those working with sanctions enforcement in the Treasury Department respond as to why they don't respond? 

The allegations against USA Really for its alleged multitude of sins are flimsy at best. And if they get away with this, even God might not know, “Where will the US government stop in terms of media censorship?”

Author: Jeffrey Silverman