• Why Journalism is Going Extinct

    February 18, 2024 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: Democracy

    Is journalism going extinct? asks The Atlantic in an article of roughly the same name. The numbers are deadly: the grimmest news was from the Los Angeles Times, the biggest newspaper outside of the east coast. The paper announced it was cutting 115 people, more than 20 percent of its newsroom. In June of last year the Times previously dropped 74 people from its newsroom. Some 2,900 newspapers closed or merged since 2005. Sports Illustrated is in trouble. The Washington Post, NBC News, ABC News, CNN, NPR, ViceVox, and BuzzFeed, among others, have shed hundreds of journalists over the past year, including the author of the Atlantic article himself. Job losses among print, digital, and broadcast-news organizations grew by nearly 50 percent during 2023.

    The reason for all this professional carnage according to the article? Something something the Internet something something digital advertising revenues blah blah social media.

    One proposed solution calls for “direct and muscular government intervention” and legislation forcing Facebook and others to pay for “news” they feature off sources such as the New York Times. Yet, as journalist Glenn Greenwald asked rhetorically, “Will there ever come a moment when liberal journalists who work for corporate outlets, and who are being completely consumed by layoffs and financial failures and audience indifference, ask whether there’s anything they’ve done to contribute to the profession’s failure?”

    The answer of course is no, no one is going to ask but Glenn. Somewhere along the way (we’ll tag it as the beginning of the first Trump campaign of the modern era) journalism lost all pretext of objectivity and decided to devote itself fully toward advocacy. It is clear now the public wants accurate reporting, not advocacy, but never you mind, the media elites on each coast know better what you need. As long as the MSM traffics in falsehoods people will disappear from their audiences.

    Let’s look at one almost silly example: did Donald Trump says people should drink bleach to kill off Covid?

    No, Donald Trump did not suggest that people should drink bleach to kill off Covid. However, during a White House briefing in April 2020, Trump did make comments about the potential use of disinfectants and ultraviolet light to treat the virus. His remarks were widely criticized because they seemed to suggest the possibility of injecting or ingesting disinfectants, which would be extremely harmful. The media, however, would not be stopped, making the bleach thing into a meme, handing it off to Late Night, then picking it up again throughout the 2020 presidential campaign.

    Twelve months after the supposed statement, to keep things alive, Politico wrote “One year ago today, President Donald Trump took to the White House briefing room and encouraged his top health officials to study the injection of bleach into the human body as a means of fighting Covid. It was a watershed moment, soon to become iconic in the annals of presidential briefings. It arguably changed the course of political history.” “For me, it was the craziest and most surreal moment I had ever witnessed in a presidential press conference,” said ABC’s chief Washington correspondent.

    A year after the “fact” it is bad enough the media could not accurately report what was said but how about some four years later, twice in recent New York Times articles, on January 24 and on January 29, 2024 (“oblivious or worse, peddling bleach as a quack cure.”)

    The thing is Trump never said people should drink or inject bleach; knowing what he said is as easy as listening to what he said. Here it is in its entirety: “So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light — and I think you said that that hasn’t been checked, but you’re going to test it. And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way, and I think you said you’re going to test that, too. It sounds interesting. And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that.” It was obvious Trump was talking via example, hypothetically in that hyperbolic style of his. It takes a selfish media mind to roll all that into an admonishment to the suffering American people to drink a poisonous substance but that’s what happened. Even four years later.

    There are so many other example which persist in the media as untruths, exaggerations, or something evil done by other presidents but uniquely ascribed to Trump. Think that he wrenched children from their parents at the border into concentration camps, that he denounced fallen soldiers as suckers, and that he incited a bloody insurrection to overturn an election, and still peddles the Big Lie to the point where he is supposedly Constitutionally ineligible to run for president.

    Journalism is at a crossroads at best (it may have already crossed into the abyss.) The old models of reader -supported or advertising-supported media no longer are sturdy and seem still to apply only to a few giants like the New York Times. Americans’ trust in the mass media’s reporting matches its lowest point in Gallup’s trend line, largely because of Democrats’ decreased trust (the Republicans were lost an election or two ago, see Russiagate, though independents still lead the two parties in lost trust.) Just 7 percent of Americans have “a great deal” of trust and confidence in the media, and 27 percent have “a fair amount.”

    Meanwhile, 28 percent of U.S. adults say they do not have very much confidence and 39 percent have none at all in newspapers, TV, and radio. Social media is still the least trustworthy sector, while simultaneously being one of the most read/seen. The declines for the MSM have been steady since peaking in 1977 at about 70 percent trust levels. It has gotten worse since Trump but you can’t blame it all on him. It’s the media’s own fault.

    The loss of trust is because of a perception the MSM is biased. Some 78 percent of conservatives think the mass media is biased, as compared with 44 percent of liberals and 50 percent of moderates. Only about 36 percent view mass media reporting as “just about right”. A September 2014 Gallup poll found that a plurality of Americans believe the media is “too liberal.”

    Half of Americans in a recent survey indicated they believe national news organizations intend to mislead, misinform or persuade the public to adopt a particular point of view through their reporting. The survey goes beyond others that have shown a low level of trust in the media to the startling point where many believe there is an intent to deceive. Asked whether they agreed with the statement that national news organizations do not intend to mislead, 50 percent said they disagreed. Only 25 percent agreed.

    The pattern is pretty clear: as long as the MSM is a significant source of misinformation never mind out-and-out lies, the people’s trust in it will continue to fall. We’ve reached a breaking point where many people believe the media intends to deceive. That distrust is entirely a self-own by the media, and finds itself expressed in the most direct terms. People literally are not buying what the MSM is selling.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Joe Biden Parody Songs

    February 13, 2024 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: Democracy

    Did you know there was a whole genre out there of Joe Biden parody tunes? Most are quite professional, and riff off popular songs to mock the president. Some focus on Joe himself, falling here, sniffing a little girl’s hair there, while others prey on poor Hunter Biden, forced to make sleazy deals with Ukraine and China just to earn a living. Let’s take a look.

    One of the best is “Walk Like Joe Biden”, an A.I. tour de force that makes it seems like the Bangles are recreating their 1980s hit song “Walk Like an Egyptian” only with new lyrics mocking old Joe (do yourself a favor and follow the links with a right click, so they open in a new window and you can get back here for the rest of the list.) The video unfolds with a montage of Joe slipping ad falling in various locales, and Joe looking befuddled at numerous podiums. Then there are the lyrics — “the American president is doomed, the little old man can hardly move” and a shout out that Joe’s chances of being re-elected are “dangling “just like Hunter’s cigarette.” The song warns “if you want to know where it stops it ends with dementia and the cops.” The meta-gag of course are instructions on how to walk like Joe, back stiff, arms locked down, feet shuffling, as events spiral past. You could watch any Biden blooper reel for much of the same effect, but this has music that sticks in your head. Five stars!

    Crossing musical styles is “C’mon Man,” a sing-song pseudo rap A.I. extravaganza. The kicker here is each stupid thing Biden raps is an actual Biden quote (“You’re a lying dog-faced pony soldier”) all the misspent words and jangled phrases, plus the boasts about Cornpop and Joe’s many careers as a truck driver and Olive Garden server. The music part is just not as strong as “Walk Like an Egyptian” but it is good enough. Four stars.

    When the Coasters first recorded “Yakety Yak” in 1958 they never had this in mind. The musical quality picks up with the familiar tune, and the “Yakety Yak” visuals run through the now-familiar shots of Biden falling down Air Force One’s stairs and Biden falling down on a platform and Biden falling down… you get it. The singer has the nom de guerre of Parody Whitney, and has produced several Biden song parodies. One good one is “An Old Man’s Time” sung appropriately to the New Year’s tune “Auld Lang Syne” with some out-of-place drum machine in the background. Talking about Joe’s penchant for serial groping, the song smiles and says “at least he’s too slow to give chase.”

    Next up is the holiday favorite “Frosty the Snow Man,” with its rhyming Biden-esque intro line “…was a geriatric soul, with befuddled eyes and a curious nose.” By the second verse the “Snow Man” has become “the slow man” and the song is off running through the now-familiar Biden memes. Not inappropriately the visuals contrast scenes from a befuddled “Elf” movie with a befuddled Biden, unfortunately not a movie but all-too-real life. Finally there’s “I’m Too Sketchy for this (White) House” sung to the classic Right Said Fred tune “I’m Too Sexy for My Shirt.” Four Stars for all.

    Sticking with the classics is a wicked “Wizard of Oz” parody featuring Biden as the Scarecrow (“no brains”) and Nancy Pelosi as the Wicked Witch who is melted away by song’s end. Along the way Scarecrow meets up with an earnest AOC as Dorothy (clearly the best use of CGI since the technology was invented) and, wait for it, Donald Trump as the Great and Powerful Oz on his fiery throne. Joe as the Scarecrow lip syncing to the original tune “If I Only Had a Brain” is worth the price of admission. Another four stars for this one, folks.

    Funnier lyrics but lower production values hold back another worthy take on “Wizard of Oz” this one again with Biden as the Scarecrow. You know the song, “If I Only Had a Brain” but try it now with these words: “I could concentrate for hours, my presidential powers, to compensate Ukraine” and to handle Hunter, “To avoid repercussions I could pin it on the Russians, if I only had a brain.” Three stars.

    If you are old enough or cool enough to remember the 1970s, you must remember the band Foghat, known for their head banging stadium concerts. The guitar rocker “Slow Ride” becomes “Slow Biden” with a righteous drum line to carry you through. In addition to the great music, this one scores with some Biden clips rarely seen (“If you’re having trouble choosing between me and Trump you ain’t black”) and plenty of more familiar sniffing, groping, and stumbling visuals. Two and a half stars, man.

    If it is Hunter you’re after there is no better place to start then “Crack in the Cradle: The Joe and Hunter Biden Story” sung to the tune of Harry Chapin’s immortal “Cat’s in the Cradle.” As Hunter croons “you know I’m gonna be like you, Dad,” you may even tear up a smidgen with the understanding the apple does not fall very far from the tree.  A stand-out line is the chorus: “And there’s crack in his cradle and a spoon in his bib, Little Hunter Biden had whores in his crib.” Kinda says it all. Four stars despite low production values and some NSFW words for the clever lyrics. Similar comments on another Hunter Biden parody song, based on “Old Man” by Neil Young — “Old man, take a look at my life, I’m a lot like you…” Also, almost inevitable, is a take off of Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine” starring Hunter Biden and that mystery bag of marching powder found in the White House, and another version. Then there’s “Hunter Bought A Gun,”a “Janie’s Got A Gun” by Aerosmith parody. The Bidens give you an awful lot to work with.

    To be fair, there are three Trump parody songs for every one Biden parody, so for balance try “I Fought the Law (and the Law Won)” for its genius-level editing of Trump clips to give the impression the Orange Man is singing. The video gives you the song straight and makes its jokes via the visuals, of Trump dancing, the raid on Mar-a-Lago, and more. The uber joke, with the song’s title mirroring Trump’s legal woes, scores again and again. Similar comments for the one-joke (but it’s a good one joke) parody of Trump appearing to sing “I Will Survive.” Five huge stars.

    Check out “The Donald Called Down to Georgia,” a parody of all that post-election kerfuffle now in the courts, sung of course to the tune of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Try out these lyrics: “The Donald called down to Georgia he was looking for some votes to steal, he was in a bind ’cause he was way behind, and he was tryin’ to make a deal.” Some NSFW lyrics here and there, and a hunk of decent fiddle playing carry this one. Three stars.

    Honorable mention to a brilliantly understated version of the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” with Trump’s head superimposed over real singer David Bryne doing that dance. The lines from the song about “how did I get here?” ring especially poignant but they left out the classic line of Trump/Bryne asking “Is this my beautiful wife?” Same as it ever was. And don’t miss Donald Trump sings “Leaving On A Jet Plane” by John Denver with the sad goodbye lyrics shown over images of boxes of classified documents being hauled out of the White House. If that amuses you, don’t miss “(Wasted Away Again in) Mar-a-Lagoville” with some rougher editing around Trump himself singing the Jimmy Buffet classic — “some people claim that it’s Putin to blame, but no, it still ain’t my fault.”

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Harvard is Historically Anti-Semitic

    February 12, 2024 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: Democracy

    Not every critic of Israel is anti-Semitic, but the clown Harvard chose to co-chair its new task force on anti-Semitism certainly is. The only question post-Claudia Gay is whether the University is fully incompetent on matters like this, or historically anti-Semitic.
    The new co-chair of the task force on anti-Semitism (a sister task force was set up at the same time to combat Islamophobia) is Harvard professor of Jewish history Derek Penslar. Penslar said of anti-Semitism at Harvard “Outsiders took a very real problem and proceeded to exaggerate its scope” in apparent reference to deposed Harvard president Claudia Gay’s tacit acceptance of calls for genocide and other acts of violence as allowed under Harvard’s student conduct code.
    Anti-Semitic? Penslar last year signed a letter accusing Israel of apartheid and of seeking to “ethnically cleanse all territories under Israeli rule of their Palestinian population.” He extolled the virtues of seeing Israel through the lens of “settler colonialism,” defined as “a system of oppression based on genocide and colonialism, that aims to displace a population of a nation (oftentimes indigenous people) and replace it with a new settler population.” Before the Hamas attack on October 7, Penslar condemned the Israeli government, saying it was determined to “ethnically cleanse all territories under Israeli rule of their Palestinian population.” In a book published last year Penslar wrote, “Veins of hatred run through Jewish civilization.”

    The danger is as one writer damningly put it “From his perch at Harvard, a professor like Penslar can manipulate the discipline of Jewish history even beyond the confines of the Ivy League, simply by telling the non-Jewish academic world what it wants to hear, such as that ‘veins of hatred run through Jewish civilization.'”

    It is hard to see Penslar’s task force discovering Harvard is anti-Semitic for believing what the task force is likely to define as normal and acceptable, same as Claudia Gay’s own conclusion that calls for genocide are only bad in “some contexts.” It seems the fox has been put in charge of the hen house. Jonathan Greenblatt, of the Anti-Defamation League, posted of Penslar’s appointment: “Lessons in how not to combat antisemitism, Harvard edition.”

    The problem is modern anti-Semitism did not begin at Harvard with Claudia Gay’s ridiculous remarks. Jeremy Burton, of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, said the focus on Gay by donors, outsiders, DEI critics, and Jewish activists is a “false context” for addressing anti-Semitism. “She was president for about a month before October 7, if you count her actual time in office on campus. The problems at Harvard have been building for years, if not decades.” Burton cited reports of Israeli faculty and visiting students being harassed, Jewish students in certain departments not being welcomed if they are “insufficiently anti-Zionist,” and professors investigated for hostility toward Jews and Israeli students.

    Anti-Semitic? Harvard is home to a fellowship and a chair named after a man convicted of crimes against humanity in Nuremberg, Alfried Krupp. Krupp enslaved an estimated 100,000 Jews, including children, to work at his factory in Auschwitz. A Nuremberg prosecutor summed up the inhumanity saying “When they could no longer work, the SS took them away to be gassed.” Krupp’s foundation gave Harvard an initial two million dollars (approximately $12 million today, adjusted for inflation) to whitewash his legacy. It worked; the web pages for Harvard’s Krupp fellowship and the Krupp professorship say nothing about being named for a convicted war criminal.

    Krupp had his sentence commuted by U.S. High Commissioner for Germany John McCloy, a Harvard Law graduate who freed over two dozen convicted Nazis. McCloy also played a pivotal role in blocking America from bombing Auschwitz. He championed Japanese-American internment. Imagine the foundations of men tied to black slavery continuing to play a role in modern campus life with nary a whisper of protest; you can’t, it’s been fixed — “I believe we bear a moral responsibility to do what we can to address the persistent corrosive effects of those historical practices on individuals [slavery], on Harvard and on our society,” Lawrence Bacow, the then university president, wrote. The slavery study he spoke of was heralded as “a long overdue reckoning by an elite institution with its dark past.” Just not for Jews.

    Harvard marked its history with the Jews in different ways. The first Jew to be hired as an instructor was Judah Monis. He was the only Jew to receive a college degree in America before 1800, and was given a job by Harvard to teach Hebrew, but only on the condition he convert to Christianity. Not only were they seen by nativists as socialists, Jews were also seen by some Americans as being members of a genetically inferior race. They were crude. They were unwelcome.

    Anti-Semitism has been a historical issue within the Ivy League. In the early to mid-20th century, some Ivy League universities, including Harvard, implemented admission quotas limiting the number of Jewish students. This discriminatory practice persisted until the mid-20th century.

    As author Jerome Karabel explains in The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, from founding until early in the twentieth century, the Ivies mostly admitted all comers who could pass a simple entrance examination. Men who were not of the proper background would generally self-select out. “These universities that had basically been finishing schools for Protestant boys who had come from elite boarding schools all of a sudden became engines of social mobility for aspiring dreamers from Jewish immigrant families,” said Mark Oppenheimer, of American Jewish University, and host of a podcast called Gate Crashers about the history of Jews in the Ivy League. More and more sons of Jewish immigrants applied for admission as part of the waves flowing into the U.S. from Eastern Europe. Columbia soon found that 40 percent of its entering class was Jewish. Harvard saw about 30 percent. A popular college song of the day went “Oh, Harvard’s run by millionaires, And Yale is run by booze, Cornell is run by farmers’ sons, Columbia’s run by Jews.”

    These schools responded to the “Jewish Problem” by devising ways to block applicants. Starting around 1910, admissions offices were established to screen for Jews, and admittance caps were instituted to block them. Schools began requesting letters of recommendation to gauge the “character and leadership” (but not the too pushy kind) of students, code-words for Protestant background, as Catholic immigrants were also not favored. Admission offices started to take notice of geographic diversity, athletic ability, alumni ties, and legacies, and the use of an interview to exclude Jews in the specific and sons of immigrants in general. Jewish students were largely poor and lived at home, with many of them working night jobs, so Columbia started requiring students to live in dormitories on campus. Eventually, Harvard and the others imposed straight-up quotas on Jews. Applicants were asked for their religion and that of their ancestors, and whether the family name had been changed. With these methods, up to the early 1960s, most Ivies kept Jews to 10 or 12 percent of each freshman class.

    “Antisemitism at Harvard is extremely disappointing and a huge problem,” Sam Lessin, running for a seat on Harvard’s Board of Overseers, said. “It needs to be solved but it’s also the canary in the coal mine in terms of a free speech problem.”

    The critical thing is to understand the actions of former Harvard president Claudia Gay, or the decision to chose Derek Penslar as co-chair of a committee on anti-Semitism, are made in context, both modern context and for Harvard, a historical one.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Why Trump Will Win

    January 31, 2024 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Gloom consumes America. Some 73 percent of respondents say the United States is on the wrong track, the highest portion since 1989, when that polling question was first asked. In similar polls, there’s been a prolonged downward trend in Americans’ satisfaction with the direction of the country, from a peak of 71 percent in 1999 to just 22 percent today. Biden’s 39 percent approval is the lowest of any president running for a second term a year out from the election. Inflation hit 8.9 percent. The cost of rent and food rose two or three times as much as incomes.

    So who believes Joe Biden and his running dogs in the liberal media when they say things are actually OK? What tiny 28 percent of America are they talking to? A whole intellectual industry developed to support Joe, making excuses why the dumb Americans in the heartland don’t see how well Bidenomics has left things for them. The industry has come up with three explanations. See if they make sense.

    It’s the Media, Stupid. This is part of a bigger problem, presupposing most of the American interior is made of dummies who believe everything they hear on places like Fox, part of an outrage industry. Never mind kitchen table economics, it’s all in your head, idiot.

    Referral Syndrome. This hypothesis comes from the Wall Street Journal, which speculates Americans see so many mass shootings, so much immigration chaos, so many overdose deaths, and proxy wars they simply feel bad about everything (which, economy aside, does not bode well for the incumbent.) So when pollsters ask their views on the economy, they get a negative response, because people just feel overwhelmingly negative.

    Fatalism. Pretending the economy is just dandy wouldn’t be complete with some candy from Paul Krugman. The New York Times’ resident soothsayer claims all is well if only you could see things from the perspective of a rich, white, Nobel prize-winning New Yorker who writes gibberish for a living. Krugman also postulates Trump supporters who believe Biden stole the 2020 election are so apocalyptic that they skew the whole nation’s outlook.

    While the inflation rate may be declining somewhat, the cost of food, rent, and transportation is still higher than pre-COVID levels. Affordable housing kills in most areas. The problem for Joe is these are not problems of perception, they are disasters surrounding hard-core home economics. We’re left with the conclusion maybe the economy really is treating the bulk of non-coastal Americans poorly, the ones who could not sell burgers or clean hotel rooms via Zoom during the pandemic and the ones for whom high mortgage interest rates mean the difference between a home of their own and barely scraping by to pay the (rising) rent. It is these people who will vote Trump, or stay home, but are unlikely to vote for the Biden record on the economy. It is not perception, it is reality. People know when they can afford to feed the kids and pay the rent and when they cannot.

    In this environment, for the first time since President Grover Cleveland in 1892, voters face the choice of basically two incumbents, two candidates running on their recent performance in the White House. One was president during a time when wages rose faster than inflation, when the stock market was standardly strong, when home loan rates were accessible, and one wasn’t. But it is more than dollars and sense which will see Trump win in a fair election. It is his understanding of the America that he rode to victory in 2016, and came close to using to win in 2020.

    Think of Hillbilly Elegy if you want to take the shortcut. Or as another pundit put it, “Trump rode a wave of pessimism to the White House — pessimism his detractors did not share because he was speaking about, and to, an America they either didn’t see or understood only as a caricature. But just as with this year, when liberal elites insist that things are going well while overwhelming majorities of Americans say they are not, Trump’s unflattering view captured the mood of the country.” Trump’s thesis may be truer today than it was the first time he ran on it — polls show most young people never expect to earn what their parents do now, and deaths of despair continue to rise. People tend to notice when they are doing better in an economy, and when they are not.

    Immigration under Trump was simple, and matched a large number of Americans’ thoughts: we may have enough.  As Trump said, “A nation without borders is not a nation at all. We must have a wall. The rule of law matters!” Yet under Biden a pattern of curtailment, thought once labeled racism is now edging toward policy in sanctuary cities: we may have enough. Biden in a way should be thanked for drawing such a stark contrast between his immigration policy and Trump’s, and what the coastal elite minority hold true and what the majority of inner Americans likely believe and will express by voting for Trump.

    They understand that wall hyperbole aside, enforcing one’s borders is a requirement of nationhood. Check out the shelters and sidewalks of Manhattan and Chicago, where it is obvious Biden’s immigration policy is a failure. Trump’s message was crudely delivered but astonishingly accurate, at least to those willing to see through the former to the latter. Call him a bigot, or a racist, or a fascist, but he was right about controlling the border. In fact, every other country in the world does so for itself.

    In the broader picture, there are a lot of people who believe immigrants threaten jobs and security. They believe we should bring our troops home from places like Iraq and let other nations such as Ukraine fend for themselves. They believe Hunter and Joe Biden sold influence to Ukraine and China and they believe a deep state exists. They want education but don’t want college to be free to those who won’t repay their loans. They believe welfare encourages people to stay home, and social security won’t be there for them. They want to own guns. And though they are the base, they not alone. Trump’s backing from white, college-educated Republicans doubled to 60 percent over the course of last year.

    And outside the MSM no one is buying the “end of democracy” argument. The simplest counter argument is that if Trump does not believe in the system, why is he following its rules and campaigning? Wouldn’t a wanna-be dictator, you know, act more dictatorial? Same for J6. Wouldn’t a proper insurrection, as opposed to a protest march that morphed into a tantrum of sorts, have some path toward success? Yet the J6 “insurrectionists” simply walked back out of the Capitol building on their own, and their supposed leader, Trump, did the same with the White House two weeks later. If that was a potential ending of democracy event, it was a pretty lame one.

    If Trump wanted to be a dictator he had four fine years to implement that and he did not and anyone willing to think about it knows that. Rednecks amuck in the Capitol for an hour or two is not the same as tanks on the Ellipse and anyone willing to think about it knows that. If anything the use of lawfare to jail or drive an opponent off the ballot seems as undemocratic as anything else. Like supporting the blue line on J6 and decrying it over George Floyd, hypocrisy is an ugly thing to build an election strategy around.

    Trump’s voters look for America and see Brazil. Their detractors blame the Electoral College, or talk radio, or redneck ignorance, or Putin. Trump’s win in 2016 and likely win in 2024 inexplicable? Try again.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • It’s the Economy Again, Stupid

    January 26, 2024 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, Biden, Economy, Trump

    One of the most succinct campaign slogans of the modern era came out of the 1992 Clinton campaign: “It’s the Economy, Stupid” picking up on feeling Americans were less concerned with the incumbent’s apparent foreign policy success (remember Desert Storm?) than the nation’s changing economy. Clinton spun  his personal concern for voters’ well-being off this, with the catchphrase “I feel your pain.”

    Things seem headed for some sort of through-the-looking glass style repeat in 2024, as the incumbent is hoping to sell voters on the strength of the economy when they are more than skeptical. Bidenomics’ thrust seems to be “The Economy is OK Unless You’re Too Stupid to Notice.”

    Bidenomics, the word itself the meddling of two of the incumbent’s vulnerabilities: he is Joe Biden, age “the crypt keeper” and the economy is just fine if  you don’t look at it. Not much can be done with the first liability, but the second opens the door for Donald Trump to run on a populist version of the economy that could leave Biden looking uninformed and out of touch.

    The economic world of Joe Biden is best characterized by the New York Times, acting nearly as his spokesperson that things are bright if only you were not so stupid as to be looking at the wrong numbers. So Bidenomics calls out how in 2020 the average wage of workers who still had a job shot up, without talking about how those who laid off, disproportionately service workers. Growth in wages for everyone was then held down because those low-wage workers were being rehired. Biden fanboy Paul Krugman actually went as far as writing in the Times “Until recently I thought everyone — well, everyone following economic issues — knew this.” Stupid voters, not keeping up with the Times. “There are two big questions right now about the U.S. economy,” says Krugman. “One is why it’s doing so well. The other is why so many Americans insist that it’s terrible.”

    A dumb line of reasoning seems to attract progressives. One coined the term “vibe-cession” last year to describe the gap between the common perception and cherry-picked economic indicators. Others insist it’s poor perception and political polarization that are mostly to blame. Then there is good old social media and its whack misinformation, reinforcing the “bad economy belief.” A former Federal Reserve economist quoted by, of course, the Times, wrote that a “toxic brew” of human bias for negative information and the attention economy lead to consumer pessimism. If only those rednecks who don’t subscribe to the New York Times could see the view from up there.

    The problem down here is economic reality, off limits in Bidenomics. Start with inflation. Things cost more, with some of the highest jumps in inflation-driven prices in decades (excepting the pandemic, there hasn’t been a year with average annual inflation above four percent since 1991.) But even after years of the Fed raising interest rates (see mortgages, below) inflation coming down does not fix the everyday problems of Americans. “Inflation” as economists define the term is nearly meaningless to most voters, because it excludes food and energy prices, two significant parts of any household budget. To include those parts of most voters’ lives, you’re looking for the Consumer Price Index, which includes everything but which rarely appears in feel-good tales of the Biden economy. Even then watch the magician’s hands closely; prices at the pump are down more than 30 percent since their peak last year but still up considerably since Biden took office. Some 74 percent today say they’re at least somewhat worried that the cost of living will climb so high that they will be unable to remain in their community.

    Now about those mortgages. As the Fed raised interest rates to buffet inflation, loan costs rose in kind. Average monthly payments on a new home jumped to $3,322 in the third quarter of the year, data from real estate investment firm CBRE shows. It means it has risen 90 percent since the final quarter of 2020 — just before Biden took office in January 2021 — when it was $1,746. Home ownership is becoming a unattainable dream to many Americans as average monthly mortgage payments are now nearly double what they were when Biden took office. Interest rates above seven percent and soaring house prices mean buyers are facing one of the least affordable markets in recent memory.

    The low unemployment Biden touts does mean more Americans are working but says nothing about mediocre wages, underemployment, and those forced into two or more jobs to make ends meet. A  Blueprint/YouGov poll on the economy found just seven percent of respondents were principally concerned about the availability of jobs, while 64 percent were most worried about prices. Bidenomics, of course, famously focuses on jobs created. Even then the numbers are slippery; the vast majority of this touted job growth comes from restoring job losses from the pandemic. Check instead the broader unemployment rate that includes underemployed and discouraged workers, nearly twice as high at seven percent as Bidenomics claims. And watch claims of rising wages — most rises have been negated by inflation growing at an even faster pace.

    Perhaps most significantly among economic perceptions is voters’ view of the future. A poll from March found that just 21 percent of respondents felt confident life for their children’s generation will be better, matching the record low since this question was first asked. In 1990, 50 percent of those asked felt life would be better for their kids. The national debt, which was $5.7 trillion when Bill Clinton was in office, has reached $33 trillion. This constitutes a form of intergenerational theft; rising interest costs will eventually require higher taxes or cuts in federal programs or both.

    Food prices are up almost six percent under Bidenomics. Some 59 percent of parents will spend more than $18,000 per child on child care in 2023. The overall average manufacturer’s suggested retail price of  new vehicles in the 2023 is $34,876, 4.7 percent higher than last year. Average annual health insurance premiums increased seven percent in 2023. The average family premium has increased 22 percent since 2018.

    The Biden people have it just 180 degrees wrong; perception does matter and is not “wrong.” And it does not matter that some of the economic effects listed here are not Joe’s “fault.” Past experience shows the guy in the Oval Office takes credit or accepts fault for what happened on his watch, at least in most voters’ minds. This is because while a few economists are voters, very few voters are economists. What the economy feels like at the checkout, at the end of the month, at the pump, matters most and will drive voting choices. So a recent poll found just two percent of registered voters said economic conditions are “excellent,” with only 16 percent saying they were “good.”  A majority of voters already trust Trump more than Biden on the economy. You just can’t tell the voters they are wrong, all is actually well, when it is not. Bill Clinton called it in 1992, Donald Trump will surely emphasize it this year but Joe Biden hasn’t heard it yet in 2024 with the election only about ten months away: it’s the economy stupid.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Biden’s Foreign Policy; the Biden Doctrine

    January 22, 2024 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Biden, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen

    Joe Biden ordered airstrikes on Iraq, against Iranian-backed militants, in retaliation for recent attacks by those militants that severely injured three American soldiers. Joe didn’t consult with Congress or anyone else before ordering the strikes, and no declaration of war exists of course. Yet no one believes the militias, following their spanking, will disappear or stop harming Americans.

    That sums up the Biden Foreign Policy, call it a doctrine if you’d like: a series of geopolitically unsuccessful, inconsequential, mostly reactive unilateral actions, with no end game. Underlying it all is the sense that no one is particularly frightened, respectful or wary of American power anymore. Let’s see how this worked on a global scale over the last three bloody years.

    The disastrous evacuation of Kabul in August 2021 should have warned all of us we were dealing with foreign policy amateurs. The rush for the last planes was an expected unexpected event. Yet the Biden administration did not quietly start the evacuation in February with high-value personnel, nor did it negotiate ahead of time for third country landing rights. Mistakes made as long ago as Vietnam evacuating locals who worked with us were clear, yet Biden did not kick start processing SIV visas for translators and others until literally the last flights were scheduled out. The entire evacuation appeared as an unplanned free fall, just “land some planes and see if that works.” No endgame really, simply a unilateral decision to cap the evacuation off at a certain point in time and declare it over no matter who was or was not saved.

    Ukraine is some yellowed vision of cold war. The Biden plan was based on a Wonka-like act of imagination, that U.S. arms wielded by amateur fighters backed up by intelligence, space-based targeting, and special forces infiltrated on the ground would hastily defeat a determined opponent (See Afghanistan, failure of the same strategy, 2001-2003.) When the miracle cure strategy failed, there was no Plan B except to continue to pour arms in to a war that had no clear end game, that was not winnable, only sustainable. Meanwhile, Biden restrictions on domestic mining mean the United States is the largest purchaser of Russian enriched uranium. If the Russians are scared of American power they hide that well.

    The results have not been better elsewhere. The 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine preceeded what one pundit described as “the 2023 brazen Chinese spy balloon’s uncontested trajectory over the United States, the recent Hamas invasion of Israel, the serial Iranian-fueled terrorist attacks on U.S. installations in Iraq and Syria, and the terrorist Houthis’ veritable absorption of the Red Sea. America’s enemies had become opportunistic, not deterred.” Biden took the bait at each open-ended opportunity, and now Joe is dangerously close to letting Gaza and Yemen spiral into a global conflict.

    And so another “coalition” fight, this time in Ukraine with NATO, ended up a U.S. primary struggle. It is NATO mostly walking away from the meat of the Ukraine struggle, and the baby NATO coalition elsewhere of France, Italy, and others that was supposed to control the Red Sea breaking down. It is a thin gruel of happy talk about caring for civilians backed up by unlimited arms to Israel, handled so poorly diplomatically that the U.S. has inherited pariah status globally. The modern version of American power was demonstrated when Egypt snubbed Joe Biden’s visit over the mess in Gaza. The question of Palestine, always simmering, is now another major issue to divide Red and Blue and further polarize society. In addition to receiving $6 billion in frozen oil funds from Biden as a ransom for five American hostages, Iran controls the playbook, attacking with impunity via its proxies across Iraq, Syria, and southern Lebanon; Iran’s partners carried out more than 100 attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, Syria and the Red Sea.  They decide if and when the 1:1 conflict with Israel goes regional, and the U.S. will be again forced to react. The Houthis, also Iran-backed, have dragged the U.S. into a broad promise to keep the Red Sea open to shipping, as the world rolls its eyes as Pax Americana once again looks like a punchline. Can anyone say we are still indispensable?

    Another Biden foreign policy disaster has come home, literally, in the immigration crisis. For reasons too vague to enunciate, the Biden administration did away with any semblance of immigration law and flung open the southern border to anyone interested in wandering in. Already more than eight million illegal entrants have come across, with another quarter-million entering each month. As in Ukraine and elsewhere, there is no endgame. When will the border close? How much will caring for the millions cost (New York City has processed more than 160,000 migrants; some 70,000 remain in the city’s care. In Denver, caring for the new migrants has consumed 10 percent of the city’s budget)? The United States has now exceeded, both in real numbers and in percentages, all past numbers of non-native born American residents. What impact on our greater society will such an influx have, especially given how it is targeted at a handful of cities? Will the Russians ever surrender? What about the immigrants?

    Three years ago, there was no war in Ukraine and certainly no U.S. military involvement in the Crimea and Donbas. Israel and Hamas existed in their tinder-like stasis condition, no brutal massacre of 1,600 Jews (30 of whom were Americans) and no invasion of Gaza. Campus protestors limited their protestations that they were not anti-Semitic in their hatred of Israel. Iran and the U.S. cooperated on fighting ISIS in Iraq, uneasy partners for certain but not shooting cousins as now. The Houthi struggle was confined within Yemen’s borders. On the positive side, efforts were being made to watch diplomacy bloom with North Korea, which instead is now test firing missiles aplomb once again. Biden has made no progress on China either to limit their opportunistic stance or reduce their hold over America economically. Biden has largely ignored most of Africa and South America as well as the world’s most populous democracy (and nuclear power) India. It is impossible to call it progress and all too easy to call it sadly the Biden Doctrine.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Evening in America and It’s Raining Hard

    January 11, 2024 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Biden, Economy, Trump, Yemen

    It’s evening in America. How might what we see affect the presidential election?

    Pessimism: There is pessimism about the future, as a majority of Americans now believe the next generation is likely to have a lower standard of living. A Wall Street Journal poll found just 21 percent of respondents felt confident life for their children will be better, matching the record low.

    Inflation: For more than two-thirds of voting age Americans, 2023 was by far the highest inflation of their adult lifetimes. Higher prices means less spending power. A recent poll on the economy found just seven percent of respondents were principally concerned about the availability of jobs, while 64 percent were most worried about prices. What’s the White House concerned about? Jobs, not prices, even to the point where one of its unofficial spokespersons, Paul Krugman of the New York Times, has created a genre for his column scolding Americans for not seeing how great the economy really is. Things are going well for some; the richest one percent grabbed nearly two-thirds of all new wealth, worth $42 trillion, created since 2020, almost twice as much money as the bottom 99 percent of the population. If the economy is expanding, fewer people are benefiting from it. Averages may look good, but the median numbers, not so much. Why, Bidenomics seems to ask, can things be bad when so many people now work two or even three jobs?

    Crime: Only 20 percent of registered voters feel that “things in the country these days are under control,” compared with 66 percent who feel that things are “out of control.” Out of control how? According to Gallup, 28 percent of households reported that they had been hit by crime, up from 20 percent in 2020. Some 63 percent of Americans describe the crime problem as “extremely” or “very” serious, the highest Gallup ever recorded, and 56 percent say there is more crime in their area than a year ago, also a record high.

    It has gotten to the point where several businesses near the location where George Floyd died are suing the city of Minneapolis for a lack of policing. The lawsuit accuses police of blocking off the area, called “George Floyd Square,” for over a year with concrete barriers, which turned the area into a hotspot for violent crime. Criminals know “the area lacks police protection,” the lawsuit alleges, and businesses are seeking $1.5 million in damages. As with many school resource officers, the cops left George Floyd Square in response to community complaints about over-policing. Downtowns are hollowing out again, as businesses close in response to unabated smash and grab and mass shoplifting campaigns carried out in front of prosecutors unwilling to act. Albeit in part Covid-related, more than two percent of New York City tax payers fled the state, mostly high net worth individuals/taxpayers.

    Drugs: Deaths from drug overdoses almost doubled from 52,404 in 2015 to 106,699 in 2021. Efforts to halt the flow from China of precursors used to make fentanyl have been limited, from blandly bellicose and provocative statements about Taiwan’s future, to asking Beijing very nicely to stop exporting.

    Deaths of Despair: Life expectancy in the United States has recently fallen for three years in a row—a reversal not seen since 1918 or in any other wealthy nation in modern times. In the past two decades, deaths of despair from suicide, drug overdose, and alcoholism have risen dramatically and are still rising. Anne Case and Angus Deaton, who first sounded the alarm about deaths of despair, explain the overwhelming surge on the social and economic forces making life harder for the working class.

    Health: The U.S. now has a lower average life expectancy than Japan, driven by an increase in death rates in young and middle-aged adults 25 to 64. Besides Japan, life expectancy is also lower than Canada, the UK, Iceland, Hong Kong. Also Iran, China, Algeria, and Cuba, not the usual peers the U.S. claims. Guns account for about half of the suicides committed by young people and the majority of homicides. So while firearms play a large role, clearly there’s a mental health crisis fueling it. Mental-health-related visits among children, teenagers, and young adults surged between 2011 and 2020, from 4.8 million to 7.5 million.

    The bottom line is our young people are less likely to reach age 20 than most around the world, including Syria. Only 23 percent of American youth are eligible to serve in the military due to being overweight, using drugs, or having mental and physical health problems. The U.S. drags the global lower-middle, clustered in infant mortality statistics which place it as peers to Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia, and well below Canada, Japan, and most European countries. Those numbers reflect broad averages from within the United States. When you look at America by race, black infant deaths are more than twice those of whites, about what most Central American countries suffer.

    Education: The educational harm caused by the coronavirus pandemic has been “devastating,” according to a recent survey of 26 million K-8 students by researchers at Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth, and Harvard. The researchers also found the pandemic “exacerbated economic and racial educational inequality.” The average “U.S. public school student in grades 3-8 lost the equivalent of a half year of learning in math and a quarter of a year in reading.” In New York City there are 119,300 homeless students in the public school system who depend on school for three meals, a shower, medical care, and handout clothing in addition to reading and writing (math scores are also down.)

    Guns: Americans ages eighteen to twenty account for only four percent of the population but 17 percent of murders. 86 percent of the weapons came from the homes of friends, relatives, or parents. Some 70 percent of school shootings since 1999 were carried out by people under eighteen. The median age of school shooters is sixteen. There have been at least 554 school-shooting victims, with at least 311,000 children exposed to gun violence at school in the U.S. since the Columbine High School massacre, all spread across 376 schools. Black students make up 16.6 percent of the school population but experience school shootings at twice that rate. The frequency of shootings has increased, with a surge of forty-six incidents in 2022, the highest in any year since 1999. The safest year was 2020, when most schools were closed and parents needed only to worry — mostly pointlessly, it turned out — about Covid taking their kids.

    War and Defense: Overseas a period of relative calm has been replaced by an era of proxy-type wars that appear to many Americans to be as pointless as they are expensive. The fights in Ukraine and Gaza draw hundreds of billions of dollars in “aid,” leaving many Americans wondering if their taxes are too high given what appears to be the easy availability of such massive amounts of money. Politically the war-weary American population knows we are one bad decision away from entering both conflicts, unless you want to count Special Forces in Ukraine and naval action against Iranian-Houthi targets as us being “already in.” There is a feeling of unsettlement — are our sons and daughters going back to war so soon after the disastrous ending of twenty-some years in Afghanistan? At what point will the troops come home and the money come home to assist Americans in their struggles? At $877 billion in defense spending per year, the U.S. outspends the next ten nations on the list (China, UK, Japan, etc.) The U.S. has more bases abroad than any other country. Our post-9/11 wars caused 4.5 million deaths, and displaced up to 60 million people. What for?

    Immigration, healthcare costs, war talk with Iran, nuclear gamesmanship with the Russians, it’s a long story. But as they say economics (education, etc…) is only complicated when talking to an economist. About 70 percent of all voters do not want Biden to run, including 51 percent of Democrats polled. Against the likely Republican nominee, Biden already trails by four points or more in swing states.

    So, who are you voting for?

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Somebody is in Trouble Over Afghanistan

    January 3, 2024 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Biden, Democracy, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    Boy oh boy, if anyone looks seriously into the end game in Afghanistan is somebody gonna be in trouble. See, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) the collapse of the Afghan army and government was mostly our own fault. No dessert for you!

    You remember the war in Afghanistan, don’t you? Anyone? Bueller? See it was America’s longest war, stretching from 2001 until 2021, long enough that soldiers who deployed near the end had not even been born when it all started. Now that’s a war! The thing is, the war accomplished nothing in its 20 years. The situation on the ground — Taliban in charge, open territory for any terrorist needing an AirBnB — is pretty much status quo September 2001 except it is now 2024.

    And now it turns out that’s mostly our fault. SIGAR released its reportCollapse of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces: An Assessment of the Factors That Led to Its Demise. It posits two major factors that lead to the demise: unclear U.S. war aims, and corruption and mismanagement on the part of the Afghan government created, advised, and funded by the U.S. (so that’s sorta on us, too.) General James Mattis, who served as Mad Dog,  head of Central Command from 2010 to 2013, and as Secretary of Defense from 2017 to 2018, told SIGAR, “The lack of political clarity on ends, ways, and means meant we were always wondering if we were still going to be here next year. Were we going to be funded next year? We weren’t sure whether to attack, retreat or go sideways.”

    SIGAR found that the single most important factor in the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces’ (ANDSF) collapse in August 2021 was the decision by two U.S. presidents to withdraw U.S. military and contractors from Afghanistan, while Afghan forces remained unable to sustain themselves. One former U.S. commander in Afghanistan told SIGAR, “We built that army to run on contractor support. Without it, it can’t function. When the contractors pulled out, it was like we pulled all the sticks out of the jenga pile and expected it to stay up.” The sad-great thing about those quotes is that they could have been applied at most any point in the 20 year war. Lack of political clarity? It was a couple of years into the war itself before anyone knew the reason for the war (it turned out to be “terrorism.”) An unstainable Afghan military? Maybe someone could point out where in say year 16 the army was sustainable. Boy, heads are gonna roll over that one! All we need to do is find out who was responsible for creating a sustainable army and political clarity and roast ’em.

    The other factor which contributed to the demise of the Afghan army was the last-minute wholesale restructuring of Afghanistan’s security institutions. In 2021, amid rapidly deteriorating security, President Ghani reshuffled most of his security officials, often replacing them with fellow ethnic Pashtuns. These leadership changes were part of a broader pattern of politicization and ethnicization (in favor of Pashtuns) of the security sector in the final years of the Ghani administration.

    One analyst told SIGAR, “Districts collapsed not because of the army, but because of that restructuring that happened and the fact that none of [the replacement police chiefs] had connections” at the district level. He claimed it was the police that did most of the fighting in the final 18 months, not the army. By undermining the morale and political legitimacy of the police, this restructuring directly contributed to the collapse in August 2021. Ethnic competition between Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns was likely the single biggest source of dysfunction within the ANDSF. But some former Afghan officials described other types of friction. One former MOD official described competition between the younger and older generation of officers, between the jihadis and the professional officers, and between ethnicities. All these issues distracted from the fight, he said. Now, see, someone on the American side should have been watching for that!

    This strategic level mismanagement had a direct effect in the field. “Overnight, 98 percent of U.S. air strikes had ceased… the Doha agreement’s psychological implication was so great that the average Afghan soldier felt this idea of abandonment… U.S. soldiers were confused about what to engage and what to not. On an hourly basis, the U.S. military had to coordinate with the Doha office of Ambassador Khalilzad and others from the State Department to get clarification on what they could do,” said one former Afghan Army corps commander. “They [U.S. partners] said it was not right, but they have to follow orders. They would see the Taliban attacking our checkpoints. They would have videos of the Taliban doing it. But they would say we are not able to engage, because we have limitations. There was also so much concern about civilians, which gave the Taliban an advantage,” explained a former Afghan Army General.

    According to an senior Afghan official, it was not until President Biden’s April 2021, announcement of the final troop and contractor withdrawal date that Afghan President Ghani’s inner circle said they realized that the ANDSF had no supply and logistics capability. Although the Afghan government had operated in this way for nearly 20 years, their realization came only four months before its collapse.

    Then there was the lack of coordination between the U.S. and the Afghan governments as the Americans negotiating in Doha cut their own deals with the Taliban to enable a quick exit. One former Afghan government official told SIGAR that following the U.S.-Taliban agreement, President Ghani began to suspect that the United States wanted to remove him from power.  That official and a former Afghan general believed Ghani feared a military coup.  According to the general, Ghani became a “paranoid president… afraid of his own countrymen” and of U.S.-trained Afghan officers. According to a former Afghan general, in the week before Kabul fell, President Ghani replaced the new generation of young U.S.-trained Afghan officers with an old guard of Communist generals in almost all of the army corps. Ghani, that general said, was “changing commanders constantly [to] bring back some of the old-school Communist generals who [he] saw as loyal to him, instead of these American-trained young officers who he [mostly] feared.”

    Afghan officials, largely removed from the negotiations, struggled most of all to understand what the United States had agreed to with the Taliban. According to Afghan government officials, the U.S. military never clearly communicated the specifics of its policy changes to the Ghani administration. According to a former Afghan general, in a broad sense, the U.S. military took on the role of a referee and watched the Afghan government and Taliban fight, something the general referred to as “a sick game.” According to that general, Afghan troops had not only lost U.S. support for offensive operations, they no longer knew if or when U.S. forces would come to their defense. U.S. inaction fueled mistrust among the ANDSF toward the United States and their own government. The Taliban’s operations and tactics, however, suggested that they may have had a better understanding of new levels of support the United States was willing to provide to the ANDSF following the signing of the U.S.-Taliban agreement. For example, under the U.S.-Taliban agreement’s rules, U.S. aircraft could not target the Taliban groups that were waiting more than 500 meters away—the groups “beyond the contact” that would engage in the second, third, or fourth wave to defeat the last ANDSF units. A senior Afghan official said this was a loophole that the Taliban used in their targeting to their advantage.

    SIGAR’s sad conclusion to the report could have been written at any point, including in 1968. “The U.S. approach to reconstructing the ANDSF lacked the political will to dedicate the time and resources necessary to reconstruct an entire security sector in a war-torn and impoverished country. As a result, the U.S. created an ANDSF that could not operate independently, milestones for ANDSF capability development were unrealistic, and the eventual collapse of the ANDSF was predictable. After 20 years of training and development, the ANDSF never became a cohesive, substantive force capable of operating on its own. The U.S. and Afghan governments share in the blame. Neither side appeared to have the political commitment to doing what it would take to address the challenges, including devoting the time and resources necessary to develop a professional ANDSF, a multi-generational process. In essence, U.S. and Afghan efforts to cultivate an effective and sustainable security assistance sector were likely to fail from the beginning.”

    “Likely to fail from the beginning” is a helluva epitaph for U.S. policy in Afghanistan. If only SIGAR could find the guys responsible, we might avoid another round in Ukraine, where our policy depends on another U.S. patsy leader whose army is now totally dependent on U.S. funding, supplies, and advisement in a war that cannot be won, only sustained at great expense.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • This Year’s Best Christmas Gifts, 2023 (Satirical)

    December 18, 2023 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Other Ideas

    It is almost Christmas, and, like most of us, you are probably behind on buying gifts for loved ones, co-workers, and others close to you. Skip the stores and the crowds this season, and choose from our satirical selection of the very best Christmas gifts for 2023.
    Black Lives Matter Gift Set: discontinued and nearly forgotten; receipt needed for returns ’cause we know you lifted this. Also sold under the brand name “Confederate Statues You’ve Never Heard of But are Now Freaked Out Over.”
    Gaza Ant Farm: Watch these industrious Gazan ants dig tunnels and smuggle sand particles in and out for hours and hours of fun! Then destroy the tunnels, feed the ants, or both!
    Joe Biden White House Playset: Joe doll comes with Dribble Action (c) speech module. Connect him to the Jill doll (purchase separately; 1200 D batteries not included) to see him walk, maintain inflation, enter proxy wars, and be bewildered about declining poll numbers. Win! 2020 add-on set still available as you wait for the possible 2024 edition.
    Middle East Lego Playset: The set retails for five trillion dollars. Included are enough Legos to build replicas of Iraq and all of Syria, allowing a child to refight those battles over and over. Figures, all with removable heads, include Sunni militias, Islamic State fighters, Shia militias, American Special Forces, Iranians, Yemenis, Kurds, Russians, Syrians (moderate and radical, though they look alike), Israelis, Saudi financiers, Hezbollah fighters, Hamas fighters, al Qaeda, more Iranians, miscellaneous unmarked drones, and a starter pack of refugees. Don’t forget even more adventures can be played with the Turkish Expansion Pack. Parents, please note, even with the best of intentions, the playset tends to simply fall apart after awhile and everyone gets bored with it. Not included: any weapons of mass destruction. Get it now at 50 percent off with the Israel v. Hamas Gaza add-on. A Best Seller and list leader for many years!

    Trump Rally: Playset comes complete with plastic ground sheet, ten thousand figures, and MAGA signage. Order at exactly midnight and get a free VHS copy of Triumph of the Will.

    The Ukraine Game: Retail price $500 billion. Includes an empty box you’re supported to fill with money and send off for another empty box to fill.
    The Republican Primary Game: Just an empty box.
    The Democratic Primary Game: Another empty box.
    Third Party Candidate Action Figure: Chances of winning sold separately.
    The Mike Johnson Game: For the whole family! Roll the dice to travel around the board for days at a time. There’s actually no way to win the game and all the other players will soon hate you.
    Cuddle Me Gaza Doll: Returned item, may be labeled Cuddle Me Ukraine. Sensitivity warning, doll may resemble Sean Penn when seen in the harsh light of day.
    American Girl Doll: Deal with it, it’s a boy underneath. Asian and Black models available if trans alone no longer shocks you leftists enough.
    George Santos: Not a doll, the real George Santos. He needs someplace to stay and a hot meal over the holidays.
    Your Own GoFundMe: GoFundMe is now America’s largest health insurer, so give the gift of an account to a loved one!

    Putin Chia Pet: Comes right out of the box looking like a shaved-head Vladimir Putin but water it daily and it will soon resemble Weird Al Yankovic! Continue to water the doll and it will take over your kitchen, den, and drive you from your own garage even as it causes other houseplants to “accidentally” fall to their deaths off high shelves.

    New Alexa Programmed to Sound Like Your Kid: Saying “Hello, Alexa” is met with a sullen glance and if repeated, a request for money and the car. “Alexa, turn on the lights” triggers a lecture about global warming in the actual AI-simulated voice of Greta the Climate Change girl. Purchasing items on Amazon via this modified Alexa results in sarcastic accusations that you are a racist and fascist for no apparent reason. The device automatically announces it has turned transgender before New Year’s and won’t work, accusing you of misgendering it by failing to reverse the + and – ends of the batteries.
    Christmas Eve Don’t Talk Politics Game: Players take turns drawing red and blue cards to stick on to their foreheads. They then have to argue the provocative topic shown to bored and anxious relatives who just don’t want to hear it. Winner is the one who draws the “Joker,” a special card marked “Can’t we talk about anything else?!?” Note: the cards “Throw cranberry sauce at a fascist across the table” and “Your mother is not a feminist for gawds’ sake, leave her out of this” are no longer included in the standard game but available as free downloads.
    Immigration, The Home Version: Play as “Home” or “Venezuelan.” The Home player starts the game by throwing out all immigration laws and erecting a fence around part of his property, leaving large gaps at key locations. The real action shifts to the Venezuelan player(s) who then walk in and take whatever they want just like Great Grandad Chaim Abramowitz did decades ago on the Lower East Side, sure. The Venezuelan to run up the most taxpayer-paid medical bills wins the game. The Home player wins if he lands a second  job at Walmart before his taxes rise.
    Trump, The Game: This one’s real. “It’s not about if you win or lose. As long as you win.”

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Trump’s Plan for the Deep State (Project 2025 and Schedule F)

    December 15, 2023 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Biden, Democracy, Trump

    They just won’t stop. The same day we wrote about media exaggeration of Trump’s second term plans to “seize power,” the New York Times comes out with an end-of-days Trump Apocalypse story — “Trump Has a Master Plan for Destroying the ‘Deep State.’” Their version of term 2.0 reads like an AI-generated text of Mein Kampf. But what might Trump really do his second term? Don’t worry, it’s all good unless you like the Deep State.

    To start, Trump will not repeat a mistake from term 1.0, and will quickly fill his political appointee positions with allies. This sounds like a shocker until a) you realize this is what every new president does and b) Trump was roundly criticized in term 1.0 for not filling the ranks fast enough and thus somehow endangering America. Very likely never expecting to win, and not being a lifetime pol, Trump took office without a bench team, without a folder of thousands of resumes from party loyalists and think tank exiles looking for work. In Biden’s case, he finished the task fast by basically picking up most of the under-employed Obama administration hacks and those still grouchy because their promised Hillary Administration jobs never materialized.

    Trump this time seems more prepared. Every president has some 4,000 appointed positions to fill. Every president fills these with loyalists, party hacks, or in the case of jobs like ambassadorships, wealthy donors as payback. In the case of term 2.0, in addition to the usual suspects, the Heritage Foundation has been compiling and vetting some 20,000 resumes. The chosen should come through that process enthusiastic to carry out the peoples’ will having elected Trump, and are unlikely to form the core of a Deep State “resistance” as during term 1.0. You can submit your resume online. To ensure all these appointees are ready to go to work on Day One, Heritage is also offering an online course to train them up for the task. You can also apply to enroll online. The thousands of jobs which need to be filled are listed in the Plum book, alongside the expected salary, everything from Secretary of State to Member of the Morris K. Udall Scholarship and Excellence in National Environmental Policy Foundation. This initiative and most of the others comes from the Heritage Foundation’s2025 Presidential Transition Project 2025.

    Also in planning is the implementation of changes to Schedule F, which shields stay-in-place-forever Civil Servants from political influence. Unfortunately what was intended in good faith to create a merit system inside a government where civil servants’ allegiance was owed to the public and not the White House, ended up as a bubble of invincibility around many who do their work slowly and without interest. Though the Executive Order was written during the chaotic end of term 1.0, high on a Trump policy list for term 2.0 would be implementing these changes to Schedule F. The action would convert as many as 50,000 civil servant positions (still leaving about two million Federal civilian positions untouched) into political appointees, allowing deadwood to be cut away and jobs filled with people in line with the administration’s goals. Action, rather than nonaction, is the goal. If actually seen to fruition, this would be the most profound change to the civil service system since its creation in 1883. Impact might be greatest in institutions like the Department of Justice, which the liberal media fears will be weaponized by Trump to go after Biden and others in the same way the Mueller investigation, two impeachments, and multiple indictments have dogged Trump since leaving office.

    Aside from personnel changes, it is Trump’s policy plans that scare the liberal media the most, having worked themselves into a froth in term 1.0 by mislabeling everything from immigrant holding centers (“concentration camps”) to mob violence (“insurrection to overthrow the government of the United States at the People’s House” and all that.) Project 2025 has a long policy section, dealing with the issues department-by-department. Here’s a look at what they have in mind for the Department of State as an example. State under Obama/Hillary had morphed into the Department of Nice, working full time for women’s and LGBT rights, climate change and just about everything but making America great. It was a center of “the resistance,” grinding out dissent cables on matters outside its own purview, such as domestic immigration policy and war plans for Syria.

    According to Plan 2025, Trump should remake the Department into a tool of his foreign policy instead of the adversary it was during term 1.0 (see the scuttling of rapprochement with North Korea.) High on the list is to “focus on core diplomatic activities, and stop promoting policies birthed in the American culture wars. The United States should focus on core security, economic, and human rights engagement… and reject the promotion of divisive policies that hurt the deepening of shared goals.”

    More broadly, “there is a tug-of-war between Presidents and bureaucracies— and that resistance is much starker under conservative Presidents, due largely to the fact that large swaths of the State Department’s workforce are left-wing and predisposed to disagree with a conservative President’s policy agenda and vision. It should not and cannot be this way. A major source, if not the major source, of the State Department’s ineffectiveness lies in its institutional belief that it is an independent institution that knows what is best for the United States, sets its own foreign policy, and does not need direction from an elected President.”

    Other State-centric policy goals will be the freeze all in-process negotiations for review, conduct a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of U.S. participation in all international organizations, and refocus policy on China, Venezuela, Iran, Russia, and North Korea. This will be done in conjunction with internal housekeeping, specifically to “develop a reorganization strategy. Despite periodic attempts by previous Administrations (including the Trump Administration) to make more than cosmetic changes to the State Department, its structure has remained largely unchanged since the 20th century. The State Department will better serve future Administrations, regardless of party, if it were to be meaningfully streamlined. The next Administration should develop a complete hypothetical reorganization of the department—one which would tighten accountability to political leadership, reduce overhead, eliminate redundancy, waste fewer taxpayer resources, and recommend additional personnel-related changes for improvement of function. Such reorganization could be creative, but also carefully review specific structure-related problems that have been documented over the years.” In other words, heads will roll in a staid, uncreative bureaucracy already on record as opposing most of Trump’s foreign policy goals and with an agenda of its own.

    The final set of clues as to what a Trump administration 2.0 policy might look like rests in Heritage’s 180-day Transition Playbook, which includes a comprehensive, concrete transition plan for each federal agency. The Playbook will provide the next President a road map for doing that. You can read it all in eye-numbing detail (they’re not kidding, even the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau gets its own road map to Trumpism.)

    It is possible Trump and his advisors won’t pay a whit of attention to Project 2025 and its recommendations, and may discard most of the 20,000 resumes Heritage hopes to pass on during the transition period following the 2024 election. Still, if you are looking for clues as to what might follow in Trump 2.0, getting the policy wonk-level view from documents such as Project 2025 may be as good a place to start as any. But read it dispassionately; it is a serious to-do list for transitioning a liberal government structure to one flavor of a conservative one. There should be no fear democracy will disappear from these shores in the process.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Trump and the First Amendment, Both on Trial, Again

    December 9, 2023 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Trump

    No former president has challenged the limits of freedom of expression like Donald Trump. At times rude and always overbearing, Trump has tested the boundaries of what can be called political speech. Here’s the latest.

    The most significant challenge to the First Amendment came during Trump’s penalty phase trial for fraud, based on his over-valuing his properties in New York to obtain favorable loan rates. Trump muscle-tussled there with the presiding judge, Arthur Engoron and, oddly, his law clerk seated beside him on the bench. Already upset over what he felt was the clerk’s overextended involvement in the trial (to include whispering in the judge’s ear) Trump seized on a vanilla selfie photo of the clerk with Democratic Senator Charles Schumer to taunt her with the phrase “Schumer’s girlfriend” and insinuate as a Democrat the clerk was inherently biased against Trump.  In the way things work in 2023, these fifth grade-level slurs plus a few Trump complaints online about Engoron himself being biased morphed into “threats” somehow. Engoron went as far as to suggest Trump was sending attack messages to his MAGA army (“targeting”) and that lives were in danger.

    In retaliation Judge Engoron slapped a gag order on Trump, later extended to his attorneys as well. The order prohibited Trump from commenting on the trial, out loud, in the press, or on social media, and specifically said the law clerk was off-limits. Trump paid little attention to the order and was fined twice, for a total of $15,000, for violating it. Trump called Engoron an “extremely hostile” judge. His lawyers said there was evidence of “tangible and overwhelming” bias. Trump’s lawyers then filed a lawsuit against Engoron challenging his gag order as a violation of the First Amendment.

    Lawyers for Engoron argued he and his staff received hundreds of anti-Semitic calls and letters. They blamed Trump’s comments about Engoron and the clerk for amplifying his supporters’ anger toward them and said the clerk is “playing Whack-A-Mole now trying to block her phone number.” “It’s not that Mr. Trump has directly issued threats to the staff and Judge Engoron, it’s that what he’s said has led his constituents” to make threats, the lawyers argued, comparing the potential effect to the January 6 riot and a violent attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband. “That is not political speech. That is threatening behavior and it should be stopped,” Engoron’s lawyers argued.

    The appeals forum which heard the case disagreed, particularly about the part saying what Trump was engaged in was not political speech. Judge David Friedman of the state’s intermediate appeals court issued a temporary stay suspending the Engoron gag order and allowing the former president to speak freely about court staff while the longer appeals process plays out. Friedman questioned “Engoron’s authority to police what Trump says outside the courtroom. He also disputed the trial judge’s contention that restricting the 2024 Republican front-runner’s speech was necessary or the right remedy to protect his staff’s safety.”

    Another gag attempt was also struck down last month, after the judge overseeing Trump’s Washington J6 case briefly paused a gag order she had imposed on him. Trump reacted to this three times in three days, calling Special Counsel Jack Smith “deranged.” Twice he weighed in about the deposition testimony of his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, who could end up a witness at the trial. These moves prompted Smith’s team to ask the judge, Tanya Chutkan, to reinstate the gag order. She put the order back in place, though it has been frozen again as a federal appeals court considers whether Judge Chutkan properly imposed it in the first place. That temporary suspension left Trump free of all of the gag orders placed on him.

    Long term, a federal appeals court panel appeared poised to significantly narrow the gag order imposed against Donald Trump by the J6 judge Chutkan. The three-judge D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals panel raised concerns the order — which bars Trump from criticizing witnesses, prosecutors, and courthouse staff — created murky restrictions stifling the former president’s right to push back against his detractors, particularly in the heat of the campaign.

    What at first seems novel — it happened mostly on social media!– and soooooooooo Trump — the insults, the elementary school-quality teasing — was in fact at the core of what the First Amendment is all about. Political speech is among the most protected forms of speech, more so political speech critiquing the government. In fact not novel at all, Trump was engaged in the most basic form of expression designed to be protected by the First Amendment.

    Judge Engoron, standing in for King George here, played the role of evil government perfectly. He chose to use the power of government, the gag order, etc., to stop Trump (who claims the trial is political persecution in the first place) from criticizing the government, in the guise of his court, and then doubled-down by extending the order to Trump’s lawyers, and then triple-downed the whole mess saying the gag applied 24/7 to those named, all way beyond the limited point of a gag order (proper use is almost always to shield important information from a jury to not prejudice a case.) A gag order should enhance democracy by protecting the right to a trial by jury, not run rough shod over it silencing the political speech of someone on trial.

    The hardest thing sometimes to accept about the First Amendment is it often protects speech you don’t like made by people you don’t like, in this case Trump, who is presumed crude and guilty by some half of the electorate. This idea is captured in the quote”I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” often attributed to Voltaire, and apparently missing from both Judge Engoron’s and most undergraduates’ education. Those who bleat support for Israel/support for Palestine has no place on campus fall squarely into the same narrow box as Engoron, wanting to block speech which personally threatens them but does not rise to the level of threat established by the Supreme Court, or offends them, somehow believing the First Amendment does not protect “hate speech.” While speech might be offensive — or even feel threatening — to some people, to others “it is an expression of a political opinion, an unfiltered reaction to a recent event, or an attempt to rally support for a cause. The freedom to share provocative ideas and spark robust debate about political issues is essential to democracy, social justice, and progress.”

    That’s exactly what Trump is doing, criticizing his trials and their participants in real time via press conferences and especially social media, all protected by the 1A. Victory Trump, victory First Amendment.

     

     

     

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  • Apocalypse Trump

    November 28, 2023 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Biden, Democracy, Trump

    One of the fads in the liberal media is for Trump horror stories, Apocalypse Trump, should he be re-elected as president. Like political porn, there may be no real point to all this other than to titillate, although there could also be an underlying strategy try and con the proles into not voting Trump in 2024. Either way, it’s worth reading the horror tales just to laugh at what the writers’ imagine a second Trump term might be like.

    The Los Angeles Times gets you the inside baseball the action with an article headlined “Trump promises vengeance and power grabs if he wins in 2024. Here’s the plan.” Save yourself the trouble of looking; there are no named sources to almost all of these descriptions of Trump 2.0, though they are presented as certainties. The Times begins with Inauguration Day, stating as fact “anticipating widespread protests against his second term, Trump and allies reportedly are drafting plans to invoke the Insurrection Act in his first hours back in the White House — thereby confirming the expected protesters’ likely point: Trump is a danger to liberty and constitutional governance.” The author doesn’t seem to remember how the Insurrection Act, last used in 1992 to quell riots in L.A., did not end liberty and/or the Constitution. But it wasn’t Trump you see, so OK!

    And that’s just one of many MAGA plans in the works, as the Washington Post reported, all aimed at making good on what the writer feels is Trump’s central promise of the 2024 campaign: retribution. According to the Post, Trump allies are “mapping out specific plans for using the federal government to punish critics and opponents,” even naming individuals to be investigated and prosecuted. Ironic prose given Trump  is neck deep into five legal battles, two with the Federal government, since he left office, and that the FBI was used even while he was in office to spy on him in an effort to prove he was a Russian spy.

    It is also ironic Trump has all these plans to use the judicial system against his enemies. First of course because declaring himself something of a dictator you’d think Trump could bypass all that innocent until guilty stuff that bogs down trials and just kick in doors. More important, why would Dictator Trump bother with “justice” at all? After all, writes the Los Angeles Times, “His obnoxious outbursts this week in his New York civil trial over financial skulduggery [sic] were just the latest evidence of his disdain for the law and the judicial system. And we haven’t even gotten to his three criminal trials for seeking to overturn Biden’s election and making off with government documents. No one — not witnesses, prosecutors or judges — is immune from his attacks and the death threats that follow.” Jen Psaki separately warned MSNBC viewers if Trump regains office he would “unravel the rule of law as we know it.” Jamelle Bouie of the Times warns “it looks an awful lot like a set of plans meant to give the former president the power and unchecked authority of a strongman.”

    Ah, death threats. One cornerstone of Apocalypse Trump is he controls a zombie army of MAGA believers that he can direct against adversaries — “targeting” in the words of one judge. Another reason to question his “planned” use of the court system. Why not just release the hounds? After all, why not make good on his claim under the Constitution’s Article II, “I have the right to do whatever I want as president,” made when everyone was saying Trump was a Russkie spy. Nonetheless, the system it is. Trump has vowed to appoint a special prosecutor to “go after” President Biden and his family. The Washington Post reports Trump told advisers he wants the Justice Department to investigate his former chief of staff, John Kelly, and former attorney general Bill Barr, as well as his ex-attorney Ty Cobb, and former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Mark Milley. Trump also talked of prosecuting officials at the FBI/Justice Department.

    Here’s how it will work, using justice to commit unjust acts. The Post, to the rescue to the confused, says “To facilitate Trump’s ability to direct Justice Department actions, his associates have been drafting plans to dispense with 50 years of policy and practice intended to shield criminal prosecutions from political considerations.” The Post quotes “It would resemble a banana republic if people came into office and started going after their opponents willy-nilly,” said Saikrishna Prakash, a constitutional law professor at the University of Virginia who studies executive power. “It’s hardly something we should aspire to.”

    If irony was water we’d all have drowned by now.

    It wouldn’t be a party unless The New York Times weighed in. They succinctly state “Donald J. Trump and his allies are planning a sweeping expansion of presidential power over the machinery of government if voters return him to the White House in 2025, reshaping the structure of the executive branch to concentrate far greater authority directly in his hands. Mr. Trump intends to bring independent agencies under direct presidential control.” He’ll do this by “stripping employment protections from tens of thousands of career civil servants, making it easier to replace them if they are deemed obstacles to his agenda. And he plans to scour the intelligence agencies, the State Department and the defense bureaucracies to remove officials he has vilified as ‘the sick political class that hates our country.’” The New Republic wrote an article headlined “Inside Trump’s Fascist Plan to Control All Federal Agencies if He Wins.” Tom Nichols wrote in the Atlantic there are “plans for a dictatorship that should appall every American.”

    And let’s not forget everyone’s favorite Apocalypse Trump subject, immigration. There, according to the New York Times, Trump is conjuring up “sweeping raids, giant camps and mass deportations,” claiming “If he regains power, Donald Trump wants not only to revive some of the immigration policies criticized as draconian during his presidency, but expand and toughen them.” Trump supposedly plans to ban people from Muslim-majority nations and reimpose a Covid-era policy of refusing asylum claims based on his feeling migrants carry other infectious diseases like tuberculosis. He plans to deputize local police officers and the National Guard voluntarily contributed by Republican-run states to carry out sweeping raids. And to get around any refusal by Congress to appropriate funds, Trump would redirect money in the military budget.

    Are you not entertained? That may be the only purpose of the Apocalypse Trump genre, garnering clicks. It stands then to reason that to keep the snowball rolling the claims toward the Apocalypse, the tall tales, need to become increasingly dramatic, topping yesterday’s dopamine hit. Do a quick Google search using the phrase “Trump will seize control” to see the latest, as well as some greatest hits. These types of stories were popular during Trump 1.0, putting words into his mouth and distorting those that came out, assigning nefarious intent to even the simplest Executive Order. A favorite fretted over Trump seizing control of the FEMA emergency broadcast system and the whole Internet to disseminate propaganda and control his minions. NBC News helpfully uncovered the fact “Trump can’t use FEMA’s wireless alerts to send personal messages” a question which apparently had not come up previously in the 80-odd-years the original Cold War system has been in place.

    A second driver of all this “journalism” is a desperate attempt to convince on-the-fence voters to not vote for Trump. After all, the Los Angeles Times made their intent for this advocacy pretty clear: “Too many voters are disengaged, grumpy that their choice seems to be coming down to Trump vs. Biden. As if those choices were comparably distasteful when, in fact, one is vanilla and the other is nitroglycerin.” The idea here is to use the tools of the media to scare the proles into not voting for Trump for fear of bringing on the end of Constitutional government in the United States. You’d think people would be tired by now with these “sky is falling” pronouncements but apparently you’d be wrong given the sheer bulk of them, and the crazier-than-last-time feel most have.

    The possible effectiveness of this strategy assumes most Trump voters, for gosh sakes 50 percent of the entire country, are too dumb to see what is right in front of them, fascism itself. But since Trump has not been kind enough to write out a Mein Kampf-like manifesto of all the dastardliest deeds he intends to do, America’s liberal media is doing it for him. No mind Trump is the only recent president not to start or join a new war; he is a war monger. No mind Trump tried to restart relations with North Korea via old-fashioned diplomacy; we are on the verge of nuclear disaster. No matter the state of the economy or decisions on Covid which resonate well in hindsight, he is clownishly wrong. No mind Trump has participated according to the law in every legal action against him, he does not believe in the rule of law. Oh, and former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen is so scared about what will happen in Term 2.0 he is planning to leave the country, so there is an upside.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Ukraine War is Just About Over

    November 22, 2023 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    The handwriting was on the wall. An Op-Ed in the New York Times entitled “I’m a Ukrainian, and I Refuse to Compete for Your Attention” summed things up nicely: a media junket the author’s friend had been organizing to Ukraine was canceled. The TV crew instead left for the Middle East.

    The United States controls how the war in the Ukraine proceeds and always has. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said it was the American side which scuttled any chance of peace in Ukraine as early as March 2022, soon after the war began. “The only people who could resolve the war over Ukraine are the Americans. During the peace talks in March 2022 in Istanbul, Ukrainians did not agree to peace because they were not allowed to. They had to coordinate everything they talked about with the Americans first. However, nothing eventually happened. My impression is that nothing could happen because everything was decided in Washington.”

    Fast-forward to 2023 and the story is different. Earlier this month NBC News quietly released a report which said U.S. and European officials broached the topic of peace negotiations with Ukraine, including “very broad outlines of what Ukraine might need to give up to reach a deal with Russia.” NBC said “the discussions are an acknowledgment of the dynamics militarily on the ground in Ukraine and politically in the U.S. and Europe.” They began amid concerns the war has reached a stalemate and about the ability to continue providing open-ended aid to Ukraine. Biden administration officials are also worried Ukraine is running out of men in this war of attrition, while Russia has a seemingly endless supply. Ukraine is also struggling with recruiting and recently saw public protests (not shown on American TV) about President Volodymyr Zelensky’s open-ended conscription requirements. Kiev is today sending 40 and 50-year-olds to the front.

    This comes as Time reported Zelensky’s top advisers admitted the war is currently unwinnable for Ukraine. Things look a bit better from the point of view of Ukraine commander-in-chief General Valery Zaluzhny, who believes the war is only at a stalemate. “It’s now a battle of inches,” say American sources quietly.

    Americans will be forgiven if they never hear this bad news, never mind be surprised by it if they did. The narrative which drove sports teams to wear blue and yellow patches and E Street Band member Steve Van Zandt to paint his guitar the Ukrainian colors was simple. Amid a flood of propaganda, the story was always the same: Ukraine was pushing back the Russians with weapons provided by a broad range of agreeable NATO benefactors. Between Ukrainian jet fighter aces with improbable kill ratios to patriotic female sniper teams with improbable hair and makeup, Russia was losing. It would be a difficult but noble slog for “as long as it takes” to drive the Russians out. Any talk about peace was insulting to Kiev, fighting for its survival and all. Meanwhile mediagenic President Zelensky at first flew around the world like the anti-Christ Bono, procuring weapons while showing off his man-to-man relationships with celebrities. Now desperate, Zelensky is inflight claiming Russia, Iran, and North Korea sponsored Hamas’ attack on Israel, trying to rattle up some support.

    It was as compelling as it was untrue. Any thoughtful analysis of the war showed it to be, from early days, a war of attrition at best for the Ukrainian side and while the U.S. could supply nearly bottomless cargo planes full of weapons and munitions, right up to the promised F-16 fighter-bombers and M1A tanks due on line soon, it could not fill the manpower gap. Any appetite for American troop involvement was hushed up early in the fight. Russia could do what she had always done at war, hunker down in the field and reach deep into its vast territory to find ever more conscripts to wait out the enemy. It didn’t hurt that Russia’s capability versus NATO equipment was surprisingly good, or perhaps the Ukrainians’ handling of sophisticated Western arms was surprisingly bad.

    But the most predictable factor leading to quiet U.S. moves toward some sort of “solution” in Ukraine is as predictable as the battlefield results. There is unease in the U.S. government over how much less public attention (despite the propaganda) the war in Ukraine has garnered since the Israeli-Hamas conflict began more than a month ago. Combined with what looks like a feisty new Speaker of the House seeking to decouple aid to Israel from aid to Ukraine, officials fear that shift could make securing additional funds for Kiev difficult.

    Americans, the people and their government, assisted by their media wielding the greatest propaganda tools ever imagined, seem capable of focusing on only one bright shiny object at a time. Over 41 percent of Americans now say the U.S. is doing too much to help Kiev. That’s a significant change from just three months ago when only 24 percent of Americans said they felt that way. In the case of wars, a new bright shiny object must include two clear sides, one good and one pure evil, with one preferably an underdog, daily combat footage which can be obtained without too much danger, and a football game-like progression across a map that is easy to follow. It should not be boring. Ukraine was such a conflict and enjoyed almost a full two-year run. But the fickle attention of America shifted to the Middle East just as things started to look more and more like static WWI trench warfare in Ukraine. It was a hard act to follow but something always follows nonetheless (the same calculus works for natural disasters and mass shootings, which are only as mediagenic-good as the next one coming.)

    Ukraine, like Israel, owes most of its continued existence to American weaponry. However, despite the blue and yellow splattered on social media at present, Ukraine does not have anywhere near the base of support Israel does among the American public and especially within the American Congress. The terms for resolving the war will be dictated to Kiev as much by Washington as they will be by Moscow, as with Crimea a few years ago. The end will be quite sad; Russia will very likely solidify its hold on Donbas and the Crimea, and achieve new territory to the west approaching Kiev, roughly 20 percent of Ukraine. Ukraine will be forced to set aside its goal of joining NATO even as the U.S. takes a new stand on its western border with Poland.

    It is all something of a set piece. America’s habit of wandering into a conflict and then losing interest is long (Iraq) enough to count as an addition to history (Afghanistan.) “We have your back” and “we will not abandon you” join “the check’s in the mail” and “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” among  joking faux reassurances. Our proxies seem to end up abandoned and hung out to die. As in Iraq and Afghanistan, never mind Vietnam before that, what was realized at the end could have most likely been achievable at pretty much anytime after the initial hurrahs passed away. It is sad that so many had to die to likely see it happen in 2023.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • A Blank Check Again in the Middle East

    November 16, 2023 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Biden, Democracy, Iraq, Syria, Yemen

    Did anyone ask you (or maybe Congress) if it was OK to go to war again in the Middle East? After literal decades of fighting in that troubled part of the world, it looks like the U.S. is without discussion, never mind vigorous debate, already at war in various sub-theatres of someone else’s conflict. See if anything that’s going on seems like war to you.

    — The U.S. is flying drones over Gaza. The Pentagon says the unmanned aerial vehicle flights began after Hamas’ October 7 terrorist attacks in Israel and are being conducted “in support of hostage recovery efforts.” The drone missions are also providing “advice and assistance” to Israel. A total of seven different aircraft are flying across the region, four of them per day, passing information to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF.) The U.S. is also supplying precision-guided munitions, fighter aircraft, and air defense capabilities, such as interceptors for Israel’s Iron Dome counter-drone systems, to the IDF.

    — U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) are in Israel. Officials anonymously told the New York Times several dozen special operators are on the ground working with the FBI, the State Department, and other U.S. government hostage recovery specialists. A senior Pentagon official told the “Forever Wars” blog that SOF are preparing for “contingencies,” which may include the active retrieval of hostages from Hamas. The U.S. previously said it has sent military advisers to help Israel. Christopher Maier, an assistant secretary of defense, indicated other soldiers have also been deployed. “We’re actively helping the Israelis to do a number of things,” Maier said.

    — Two American veteran-run organizations, the Special Operations Association of America (SOAA) and Save Our Allies, sent roughly two dozen volunteers, all former special operators, into Israel and Egypt to support evacuations. Each volunteer was chosen based on having experience working with Egyptians or Israelis. They arrange for local nationals to provide food and medical supplies to trapped Americans, and they have interfaced with the Egyptian military personnel who ultimately have to approve Americans’ departure. The special operations volunteers also coordinate directly with the IDF to ensure Americans are not targeted. They call their work “sheparding” and forswear a kinetic role. SOAA staff are also in Tel Aviv helping to coordinate evacuations. The volunteers’ actions, particularly working with the Egyptian and Israeli forces, come very close to traditional governmental roles, though the groups deny that.

    — Meanwhile, the U.S. has roughly 900 troops in Syria and 2,500 in Iraq at at least eight bases/facilities doing God-knows-what. An additional 300 troops will soon be dispatched to the Middle East. Thousands of Marines wait off shore.

    — the Pentagon awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to build U.S. troop facilities for a secret base it maintains deep within Israel’s Negev desert, just 20 miles from Gaza. Code-named Site 512, the base is also a radar facility that monitors missile attacks on Israel.

    — American service members stationed in the Middle East have endured at least 27 attacks by Iran-backed terror groups. There have been 16 attacks in Iraq and 11 in Syria.

    — American fighter jets launched two retaliatory airstrikes against locations in eastern Syria on October 26, which were followed by at least six additional small-scale re- retaliatory attacks in the region. A Pentagon spokesperson said the military would “do what we need to do to protect our troops.”

    — The USS Carney, a destroyer in the northern Red Sea, intercepted four land attack cruise missiles and 14 drones launched by pro-Iranian Houthi forces in Yemen. A Pentagon spokesperson said the U.S. is prepared to do whatever is needed “to protect our partners and our interests in this important region.” United States military personnel are deployed to Yemen to conduct operations against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS. The attack marked the first time ballistic missiles were launched at Israel since Saddam Hussein fired his Scuds in 1991. The action by the Carney represented the first shots by the U.S. military in the defense of Israel in this conflict.

    The ability of the president to make war is a contentious issue that has evolved over the course of American history. The Framers’ intent was to vest the primary power to declare war only in the hands of Congress. This was seen as a way to prevent the president from unilaterally committing the nation to military conflicts, reflecting concerns about an overly powerful executive. The idea didn’t last very long, only until President Thomas Jefferson used military force against the Barbary Pirates without a formal declaration of war. The first official declaration by Congress was not until The War of 1812. Over time, presidents began to assert more authority in matters of war, often without obtaining formal declarations from Congress. The ability to use military force became more flexible, and presidents argued that they had inherent powers as Commander in Chief. Congress approved its last formal declaration of war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

    The Korean War, followed by the Vietnam War, marked a significant turning point in the balance of war powers between the president and Congress. The conflicts, as well as all the brushfire wars of the Cold War, were waged without a formal declaration. In response to growing concerns about presidential war-making authority, Congress passed the War Powers Resolution in 1973. This required the President to consult with Congress and seek authorization within 60 days of introducing U.S. armed forces into hostilities or conflicts. It has been near-completely ignored or treated as a technicality, an afterthought. The 9/11 attacks led to the passage of the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which granted the President broad authority to use military force against those responsible for the attacks. This AUMF was used to justify U.S. military actions in various regions, including Afghanistan and Iraq, and literally the whole rest of the world (apply as needed.)

    With all this as background, at what point of involvement in the Israeli conflict will we talk about it? The old “boots on the ground” standard, which was never applied to Syria, Yemen, or Iraq War III anyway? Or, as in Ukraine, will Joe Biden simply lead us into another endless war with nary a word of debate and a blank check from a cowardly Congress and media?

    Leaving aside one’s feelings for or against Israeli actions, either way it is clear America is again at some sort of war in the Mideast. The difference between what is happening now and “war” is more about semantics than it is about combat. The old definition, something about boots on the ground, no longer serves any function in a world where combat is carried out by remote control and gestures such as the deployment of small numbers of special forces are enough to fan a political flame into a literal one. It is long past time we talked about making war.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • What the Hell is Trump Doing in Court?

    November 8, 2023 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Trump

    It was a busy day in court for Donald Trump.

    In Washington on October 25 Special Counsel Jack Smith asked the court to reinstate a temporary gag order, this time with jail as the penalty, after Donald Trump called former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows (and by extension former allies who have cut deals in his election interference case elsewhere in Georgia) a weakling and coward if he agreed to testify in exchange for immunity. Trump had been under a earlier gag order which barred him from disparaging prosecutors, court staff, and potential witnesses in a pattern that the court filing called “targeting.” The fear was that Trump was calling out those he wanted MAGA supporters to go after. Smith urged Judge Chutkan to “modify the defendant’s conditions of release by making compliance with the Order a condition.”

    On the same day, in response to his violation of a separate New York court gag order Judge Engoron ordered the former president to testify over an insult Trump threw at the judge’s law clerk. The judge found Trump guilty of violating his gag order and ordered Trump to pay a $10,000 fine on top of an earlier $5000. Trump stormed out of the courtroom, his somewhat bewildered Secret Service in tow. Trump technically remains free only on bail.

    Pundits asked if Trump is actually trying to antagonize judges and lose both cases. Or could there be some other reason for Trump’s on-the-face-of-it non-self serving actions?

    — Trump may be breaking up under the strain. One hates to even go near the “Trump is insane” 25th Amendment crowd, who think they can judge someone’s mental state long distance but one has to allow for the possibility that the stress of having his very existence and ego challenged (the NY trial after all concerns Trump’s actual net worth and status as a real estate kingpin) by small-time mooks like a judge and his clerk may have gotten to Trump. We’re seeing it play out as he strives to control his temper (hence the storming out of the courtroom.) If this is even in part an explanation for Trump’s counter-productive behavior in court it is a dangerous one, adding too much unpredictability into already tense situations. Perhaps Trump simply can’t stop himself. He’s “spent a lifetime attacking those who don’t accommodate him,” and he’s not able to quit now.

    — Trump could easily believe none of this matters, certain he will be elected president in November 2024 and be in a position to pardon himself and any others convicted along the way. In Trump’s mind this is all or nothing and the little details, such as the outcome of a specific trial, matter not.

    — It’s all about the appeal, part I. Trump knows he will lose the case in front of Judge Engoron, who has already substantively ruled Trump guilty and is holding the current trial sessions primarily to establish the penalty. By egging the judge on to make statements such as finding a Trump response he did not like a “lie,” ruling “as a trier of fact, I find that the witness is not credible… hollow and untrue” Trump is setting up an appeal claiming the judge is biased against him (otherwise, you generally as a defendant do not do things to encourage the judge to throw the book at you.) It is unclear if this is productive or even needed; there is already plenty to work with in the guise of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, a star prosecution witness who is also a sworn enemy of Trump, a convicted felon, and serial liar singing for his supper. Cohen’s testimony is weak, claiming the former president never directly asked him to over-value Trump Organization assets, but instead implied somehow mind-reading style that he do so.

    — It’s all about the appeal, part II. The judges’ gag orders against Trump rub rough against the First Amendment, which will form the basis of appeals independent of the trial content themselves. The ACLU, no friend of Donald Trump, argues the gag order imposed by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington barring Trump from making public statements about special counsel Jack Smith, the defense counsel or members of the court violates the Constitution’s 1A. “No modern-day president did more damage to civil liberties and civil rights than President Trump,” the group wrote in a press release. “But if we allow his free speech rights to be abridged, we know that other unpopular voices — even ones we agree with — will also be silenced.”

    Specifically, the ACLU argued Chutkan’s order is too vague, too broad, and not sufficiently justified. Trump made many “patently false” statements which have “caused great harm to countless individuals,” the group wrote. But he nevertheless “retains a First Amendment right to speak, and the rest of us retain a right to hear what he has to say.” Prior restraint on Trump’s speech must be “precisely defined and narrowly tailored,” the ACLU wrote, arguing that Chutkan’s order “fails that test.” For example, the prohibition on making public statements that “target” certain individuals is “unconstitutionally vague.” Trump “cannot possibly know what he is permitted to say, and what he is not.”

    — It’s all about the appeal, part III. The substance of an appeal is irrelevant, as long as the appeal can be dragged out past the November 2024 election. It is easy to imagine a “throw it all against the wall and see what sticks” approach to buy time. An appeals court could just as easily applaud the two judges for showing restraint when they might have thrown Trump in jail for contempt. No matter, as long as it all chews up the space until the election.

    Trump looks like a man who simply does not care what happens with the current trials, or any of the upcoming others. He is both convinced the system is fully unfair and equally aware that the more trouble he seems to get into the faster his poll numbers rise. Each courtroom defeat, small and procedural or a full-on guilty verdict, simply fans the flames for rally crowds. The cash penalties levied by Judges Engoron and Chutkan for violating gag orders have little meaning.

    But Trump actually being jailed for violating a gag order would grant him official martyr status. Within a week of his release Trump will be comparing himself to the jailed Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, freedom fighters all. He could then literally test an earlier boast by shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose any supporters, or perhaps with MAGA cheers in the background simply flipping off one of the judges who dare seek to decide his fate.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Morality and Expediency in Israel

    November 2, 2023 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Iraq, Military

    It is not hard to tell right from wrong, morality from expediency, especially at the extremes of human existence in war.

    It is impossible to see as right — moral — attackers who intentionally targeted and killed over 1,400 civilians, babies and the elderly, and laborers from Thailand who could not be responsible for the decades of Gazan violence, as if that could be justification anyway. Those same gunmen took hostages to use as human shields and will likely murder many of them, too.

    It is moral to condemn barbarism. It cannot be brushed aside by phrases such as “ethics is rarely black and white” when in many cases — the massacres in Israel — black is indeed black and white is white. No one can justify killing babies. Morality is not “that the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

    It speaks poorly of American education that right and wrong are so muddled, that the expediency of horrendous acts is confused with independence. A coalition of 34 student organizations at Harvard say they “hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.” A club in Brooklyn staged an “Intifada Fundraver” using images of militants to advertise a night of pre-Halloween dancing on the graves of more than 1,400 murder victims. A recent You.gov poll conducted after the Hamas attacks in Israel found only 32 percent of Americans aged 18-29 think Hamas deliberately targeted civilian areas in Israel. In a roundup of atrocities, one outlet found at UPenn students chanted “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” in response to the killings. Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Virginia cheered the “events of yesterday” as a “step toward a free Palestine.” Student groups at the California State University in Long Beach advertised a “Day of Resistance” rally with a poster featuring an image of a paraglider, used to kill over 200 ravers. A Columbia professor called the attacks “awesome” while another at Cornell described them as “exhilarating.” Thousands rallied in Times Square and across America claiming to support Palestine even as they stepped aside morally for the massacres to occur.

    It may be clearer to define the terms morality and expediency. Here’s a practical example, adapted from my first book.

    Soldiers in Iraq who would joke about anything would become quiet on a checkpoint. Within the limits of available electricity, they tried to light up the ‘point as best they could, so drivers could see it. Iraq at night was a dark and dangerous place, and like in inner city America the drivers were not going to slow down, or God forbid, stop, without a very good reason. So, Step One was to brighten up your checkpoint so the drivers had that good reason to admit they saw it. Drivers knew if they then tried to run a checkpoint they’d be shot at, a bad way to make time. After the lights were on as best they could be (you could only run so many watts if all you had was some Chinese portable generator), the next step was to communicate to the often uninformed drivers that they needed to stop. There was no such thing as licensing drivers in Iraq; someone showed you how to drive and then you were a driver. Driving trucks, either as suicide bombers or as delivery persons, was sought-after employment, so fibbing about actually knowing how to drive was popular. It was possible the guy heading toward your checkpoint had not, like you, done this before.

    Standing at a checkpoint in a dense area was easier, as the jammed up traffic meant cars approached you at a crawl and everyone had some time to signal their intentions across cultures and languages. However, in the suburbs or on a lesser-traveled road, things got stickier. You could start with big signs in Arabic and English that told folks to slow down, but there was that light problem again, plus many Iraqis were illiterate. You could set up all manner of flashers and twirling things, a good start, but ambiguous. It could be a wedding party (plenty of guns there as well).

    Car bombs were a thing to be scared of at a checkpoint. In most cases the explosives were intended for some other target, and just had to pass through your ‘point. But, if the driver thought you were on to him, he’d blow the car right there and never mind the real target. Checkpoints also made everyone nervous, and nervous people and guns were a bad mix. Iraqi drivers hit the gas too often, worried about whatever, maybe angry, maybe stuck in an Arabic macho cycle and needing to show the Army who had guts in a real dumb way.

    You hitched up your pants and started thinking about the ROE as cars approached. ROE meant “rules of engagement,” basically a set of orders on when you were allowed to kill someone legally, without consequence. Even wars have rules, and nobody went outside the wire without knowing exactly what the rules were. ROEs changed all the time, but at a checkpoint they might have gone like this: try and stop the car with lights, sounds, and hand gestures. If he kept coming, shine a laser or bright light at the driver (called “beaming”). If that did not work, fire a warning shot, or a non-lethal round. Still coming? Fire into the engine block to disable the car. Not enough? Kill someone. This all seemed logical, but let’s play the game together for real.

    You are 23 years old and at a checkpoint, having been up the last 18 hours, and staying awake only with the constant application of Rip It energy drinks, chew and instant coffee crystals crunched between bites of candy. Last night one of your buddies was almost killed by a driver at a checkpoint who got scared and hit the gas. You are sweating despite the cool weather because standing still anywhere, never mind under bright lights, can attract snipers and you do not want to get popped tonight. The vehicle approaching has only one headlight, and it looks like there are several people in the front seat where you’d expect only one or two. In the span of three seconds you need to try and wave down the driver, beam him with the laser if he doesn’t slow down, fire a non-lethal round if he gases and goes and then switch weapons and be ready to take a life. You’re Zeus throwing lightning bolts. Make the decision. Make the decision now, shoot or don’t shoot the guy. You’re the judge of your own cause.

    And that’s the difference between what Israel has done in the past through mistakes and as a consequence of war, and what the Palestinians did earlier this month taking 1,400 lives and killing babies by choice. There is no equivalency. It seems new, a sick product of our modern age, but it is all old. The Greek Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War is a seminal work in the field of military history. It offers a deep exploration of the intersection between morality and expediency in the context of a long conflict between Athens and Sparta more than 2.000 years ago. Thucydides presents the moral dilemmas and strategic considerations people face during times of war, offering insight into the timeless tension between what is right and what is expedient. In the end, however, everyone gets to decide for themselves.

    You don’t shoot. You get to decide many times every night at the checkpoint. It takes a lot of guts to not shoot someone.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • NYT v. Sullivan Unfortunately Lives to Fight Another Day

    October 27, 2023 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Justice Clarence Thomas said it “comes at a heavy cost, allowing media organizations and interest groups ‘to cast false aspersions on public figures with near impunity.’” It is New York Times v. Sullivan, America’s defining defamation law and it unfortunately lives to fight another day. Or mess one up.

    Thomas, along with others on the Supreme Court, declined earlier this month to revisit the landmark First Amendment decision in New York Times v. Sullivan, rebuffing a request (the case involved a man falsely accused in the press of being a felon) to take another look at decades-old precedent that created a high bar for public figures to claim defamation in civil suits. Since 1964 the media relied on the case to fend off costly defamation lawsuits brought by public figures. The ruling established the requirement that public figures show “actual malice” by the press before they can succeed in a libel dispute.

    Defamation is untruths commonly referred to as libel if in print. Five standards have to be met when the defamation takes places between the media and a public figure: 1) the defamatory words have been published; 2) The person being defamed was identified by the statements; 3) The remarks had a negative impact on the person’s reputation; 4) The named Defendant wrote the defamatory remarks; 5) The published information is demonstrably false or was published with a reckless disregard for the truth. That means it was published without investigating whether it was accurate.

    New York Times v. Sullivan held the First Amendment protects media even when they publish false statements, as long as they did not act with actual malice. What happened in the case was civil rights leaders had run a full-page fund raising ad in the Times, describing “an unprecedented wave of terror” by the police against peaceful demonstrators in Montgomery, Alabama. Not all the bad things they accused the cops of doing were true, and made the police look worse then they were. So L.B. Sullivan, in charge of the cops in Montgomery, sued the New York Times for libel, claiming they printed something they knew was false to harm his reputation. After losing in a lower court, the Times appealed to the Supreme Court and won.

    The Times argued if a newspaper had to check the accuracy of every criticism of every public official, a free press would be severely limited, and that the 1A required the margin of error to fall on the side of the media in the cases of public officials. In short, mistakes were going to be made even with good intentions by the media. The Court created a new standard for libel of a public figure, “actual malice” defined in short as having the knowledge that something was false or published with “reckless disregard” for truth. Justice William Brennan asserted America’s “profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.” Free and open debate about the conduct of public officials, the Court reasoned, was more important than occasional, factual errors that might damage officials’ reputations. The standards laid out in Sullivan are why The New York Times has not lost a libel case in America ever since.

    In the recent case the Court just refused to hear (Thomas still wants to review Sullivan but said the current case is not the right vehicle for that), Don Blankenship v. NBC Universal, local media labeled Blankenship a felon, causing him to lose a run for the West Virginia Senate, he maintains. The truth is that Blankenship committed a misdemeanor and was sentenced to one day less than if the case had involved a felony charge. In arguing for Blankenship to a lower court, his attorneys wrote “The actual malice standard poses a clear and present danger to our democracy. New York Times v. Sullivan and its progeny grant the press a license to publish defamatory falsehoods that misinform voters, manipulate elections, intensify polarization, and incite unrest.”

    Attorneys for the media outlets successfully urged the justices not to take up the case, arguing the reporting mistakes were honest ones. “There is good reason why the actual malice standard of New York Times has been embraced for so long and so often,” the media organizations told the justices. “At its essence, the standard protects ‘erroneous statements honestly made.’ While it permits recovery for falsehoods uttered with knowledge of falsity or with reckless disregard for the truth, it provides the ‘breathing space’ required for ‘free debate.’ A free people engaged in self-government deserves no less.”

    Those are the standard Sullivan arguments. It’s just that Justice Thomas does not agree. The Sullivan ruling and ones elaborating on it, he wrote, “were policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law” with “no relation to the text, history or structure of the Constitution… the actual-malice standard comes at a heavy cost.” His colleague Justice Neil Gorsuch, in an earlier statement, wrote “What started in 1964 with a decision to tolerate the occasional falsehood to ensure robust reporting by a comparative handful of print and broadcast outlets has evolved into an ironclad subsidy for the publication of falsehoods by means and on a scale previously unimaginable.”

    It may indeed be time for a change. Sullivan was written for a different media world, one dominated by a handful of huge companies like the New York Times which could be held to high standards. They were assumed to be honorable in their work, and if a mistake was made it was most likely an accident. Reporting was just that, news, reported out to the people are accurately as possible. Not so in 2023. The media is a splintered mess, with teenage YouTube influencers reaching vast audiences, challenging the giants of yesterday to a share of the market. These micro-outlets have no fact checking staff, are typically run by people with no journalistic training and maybe not even a high school diploma, and are gloriously, joyfully not trying to be fair and accurate. They traffic instead in gossip and innuendo, smearing together fact and fiction because that attracts eyeballs to their work, their only standard.

    This sort of competition affected the mainstream media, which became more and more partisan and less concerned about the truth if a story brought in readers. One need only look at the embarrassing bits of what passed for journalism as major should-know-better outlets like the Times and the Washington Post reported falsehood after falsehood throughout Russiagate and indeed the entire Trump administration. Given the freedom to make mistakes in the name of the First Amendment, these organs instead took that as license to play at the line of reckless disregard for the truth. How else could a Pulitzer prize be awarded in part of placing Trump fixer Michael Cohen in Prague to meet with Russian spies, or claim a Trump Organization email server was instead a secret communications portal to the Kremlin via Alfa Bank? How could the standard in Sullivan meant to promote robust debate end up protecting a serious column in the Washington Post headlined “Here are 18 reasons Trump Could Be a Russian Asset” without the retort of a defamation suit available?

    Sullivan was meant to protect the underlying value of debate even in the face of product of carelessness and substandard journalistic methods. Its era has passed, wasted by the modern media on confections like YouTube and frauds like Russiagate. The Times of 1964 earned the right to make mistakes in service to a greater good; the Times of 2023 would embarrass its earlier self in how it has exploited such a gift.

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  • Talk to the American People about Ukraine, Joe

    October 20, 2023 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Biden, Democracy, Embassy/State, Iraq

    America needs to hear from its own president, not Volodymyr Zelensky, about what is going on in Ukraine.

    America just can’t get enough of Endless War it seems; otherwise why would it keep getting into one of them? Leaving aside ancient historical examples like Korea (still ongoing) and Vietnam (result was a complete defeat of the U.S. after decades of conflict preceeded by years of U.S. nearly completely funding the failed French war effort there) we have the more modern examples of Iraq and Afghanistan. The former sputtered to defeat for the U.S. after decades of war (counting Gulf War I and the bombing campaigns which accomplished little permanently and Gulf War II which led to empowering Iran in Iraq via Gulf War 2.5) and the latter concluding decisively on the TV August 2021 with the symbolically cluster-futzed final evacuation (memories of Saigon.) Each war started with no real practical goal in mind (remember nation building? The War on Terror, i.e., a war against a tactic?)

    With that kind of track record you’d think America would take a breather from Endless War, you know, take a few years off to get its head together, maybe work the fentanyl problem, get the economy together so people other than Democratic commentators can see it growing. But no. Just a scant six months after hosing the last Afghan dust off our boots the U.S. finds itself mired in Ukraine. No clear, realistic goal? Check. Open-ended commitment of U.S. resources? Check. Potential to suck U.S. forces directly into the conflict? Check. Dubious one man celebrity leader? Check. Unclear as hell how Ukraine fits into our national interest, how much more time and money will be expected to achieve whatever our objectives are, and how much Europe plans to contribute to the war taking place in its backyard? Check.

    It is time for President Biden to explain some things to the American people.

    1) What is the endgame, Joe? Is it democracy in Ukraine? If so, you’re off to a rough start. Zelensky over the past two years conscripted his own citizens, kept young males from the freedom to travel, done away with opposition parties, canceled all future elections indefinitely, consolidated all TV platforms in Ukraine into one state broadcast, dealt harshly with dissidents, and assumed practically one-man rule over the nation, certainly its war. Plus there’s all that about units of the Ukrainian military being actual Nazis. So Joe, what is the plan to bring democracy to Ukraine? It seems only that things have gotten worse since the U.S. intervened to prevent the Russians from doing many of the things Zelensky has already done to his own country. FYI Joe, you’ll recall military imposition of democratic values historically has failed.

    2) Or Joe, is the point of the war to force Russia out of what Ukraine claims as its territory? Does that include the territory the U.S. gifted a few years ago to the Russians in the Crimea when under another president all this seemed much less dire? Or just to retake the land back which Russia gained after February 2022? That was the point of the Great 2023 Spring Counter-Offensive, right? Be up front with the propaganda-weary American people about how things are going; the Ukrainians in their offensive using most of the conventional ground-force arms in America’s arsenal, gained back only 143 square miles. The Russians, supposedly on the defensive, gained 331 square miles of land. With the Counter-Offensive now clearly a failure, what is the next step? Is there a plan? How do we define win? “As long as it takes” is not a viable option, it’s just a recipe for another Vietnam, another Afghanistan.

    3) What role if any will diplomacy with Russia play in achieving this end game, whatever it is? Have the Russians sought to meet and discuss the war? Has the U.S. offered to meet? If not, why not? Diplomacy can end wars. We know your secretary of state can pick a fight but can he stop one, the real test for his profession? Because it is complicated, we’ll give you a pass on how our own government helped create this situation in the first place, something the American people need to know more about at some point.

    4) Speaking of things the American public needs to know about, who blew up the Nordstrom pipeline between Russia and Germany? Is this the kind of war America is in that we would blow up the pipeline to press Germany to further join the fight? Or is it the kind of war where Ukraine would somehow muster the technical know-how to blow up the pipeline to force Germany to further join the fight? Why would the Russians blow up a pipeline that supplies their gas to Germany, a significant source of revenue? Is this war that dirty?

    5) The U.S. has appropriated $113 billion dollars to Ukraine, paying for everything from tanks to ambulance drivers’ regular salaries. And what else Joe? What systems are in place for accountability for this money? Could it be that more money simply deepens the quagmire and pushes us closer to direct conflict with Russia? You’ve spoken in the past how accountability lies with the Inspectors General at the Department of Defense, State, and USAID. They point to “a decade of shared experience gained from joint oversight of eight different overseas contingency operations, forgetting the spectacular failure of oversight of these overseas contingency operations,” and how the same agencies covered up waste, fraud, and mismanagement and deliberately mislead the American public on the progress made in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Joe, you need to address opposition to the more formal structure of establishing a Special Inspector General for Ukraine (SIGUR), such as SIGIR in Iraq and SIGAR in Afghanistan. “As much as it takes” is a blank check the American taxpayer needs to know more about. Senator Rand Paul in the spring placed a temporary hold on a $40 billion aid package to Ukraine, demanding unsuccessfully Congress insert a provision into the aid package creating an inspector general to oversee the distribution of the aid. As SIGAR noted, “While Afghanistan and Ukraine are very different countries with a history of facing very different threats, many of the challenges U.S. agencies faced in Afghanistan—coordinating efforts, dealing with corruption, and effectively monitoring and evaluating projects and programs—will be the same as the ones they will face in Ukraine.” And speaking of corruption, your own State Department has singled out Ukraine for its corrupt practices, which as you know from Iraq and Afghanistan will seriously dilute any aid. Why resist additional oversight?

    6) We know there are American Special Forces on the ground in Ukraine, and America forces in command and control roles in the ongoing fight. Are there redlines, either promised to Zelensky or just for yourself, Joe, to trigger a larger U.S. direct role in Ukraine? What would it take to have more “advisers” on the ground, or American air power, or American leadership embedded with Ukrainian troops in the field? At what point in escalation would you agree Congress needs to formally weigh in? And no fair making it all OK by calling the deployments “NATO” instead of American. A Russia-NATO scuffle is a Russia-U.S. scuffle.

    No more malarkey, Joe. Time to talk to the American people about Ukraine.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • General Mark Milley – An Evil of the Trump Era

    October 12, 2023 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Biden, Democracy, Military

    One of the evils of the Trump era was that illegal, immoral, and at times unconstitutional acts were raised to high standards if they seemed to chip away at Trump somehow. So a fake dossier, which consumed several years and millions of dollars of American life, was brushed off with in the end a fine from the elections commission, not someone going to jail for lying to the FBI. So it is now with General Mark Milley, the Left’s newest bestest friend in violating the Constitution in order to save the Constitution from Trump.

    A slithering little piece of hagiography in The Atlantic about Milley (published while he was still technically Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a position he goes to great pains to explain should be apolitical while being hella political) might have just been that, a chance to kick the dog one more time without consequence, except for the fact that Milley clearly has higher intentions in Washington (or at least to sell books) and most of all because Trump stands close to a second term. The article hashes over the usual, proclaiming Trump an existential threat to Mom and apple pie, never mind democracy, all without details or explanation. Readers of The Atlantic just know it is true and the author, Jeffrey Goldberg, sees no reason to expand on the idea. The real danger here is not poor journalism (we’re used to it) but the promotion of the idea that Trump is inherently dangerous and without men like General Milley willing to bend the rules and warp the Constitution we will all die in some Trumpian nuclear hissy fit.

    It is important to restate at this point that Trump finished his four years as president. He started no new wars. He did not launch nuclear attacks on Iran or North Korea, nor antagonize nuclear power Russia closer to the edge of one. He came as close as any modern president to some sort of rapprochement with North Korea. Trump never used the Insurrection Act to send the military against lawful protesters in the United States. It is worth remembering because Milley’s comments create the impression of something very different.

    A healthy portion of The Atlantic article details what Milley felt was Trump’s disrespect for the military (Trump’s deferments but not Biden’s are mentioned liberally.) The Atlantic’s Jeffery Goldberg writes. “Milley’s family venerated the military, and Trump’s attitude toward the uniformed services seemed superficial, callous, and, at the deepest human level, repugnant.” Former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Goldberg continued, “in addition to other former Trump administration officials, also argued the former president had such contempt for the military that it made it challenging to explain concepts of honor, sacrifice and duty. That sour view of the armed forces, alongside Trump being unfit to serve as president among other points of contention, made Milley’s first 16 months as chairman far more difficult than he anticipated.” “For more than 200 years, the assumption in this country was that we would have a stable person as president,” retired three-star general James Dubik, one of the general’s mentors.

    One wonders about that disrespect for the military, and how a candid Milley might characterize the actions of commanders Bush and Obama. Was invading Afghanistan when the 9/11 perpetrators came mostly from Saudi the act of a sane man? How about lying to create an excuse to invade Iraq? What about the bombing of Libyan infrastructure, the results of which were on display for the world recently as tens of thousands drowned in a broken-dam flood there? Over 7,000 U.S. service members, plus near millions of civilians, died in the post-9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Are those sane acts? Should Milley or one of his counterparts have acted unconstitutionally to stop them? See what happens when one man determines he’s smarter than the rest?

    Milley, while speaking out of one side of his mouth about the sanctity of the chain of command and the president’s role as commander-in-chief, goes on to call Trump a “nuclear monarch” and bemoan the fact that Trump alone could order the use of nuclear weapons as if that was something new. Milley then says without batting an eyelash that during the final days of the Trump administration he took the extraordinary step of having key military officers swear an oath to him promising to involve Milley in any decisions “weird or unusual.” Milley called together senior military officials in charge of the National Military Command Center on January 8 and “instructed them not to take orders from anyone unless he was involved.” Milley says his fear (without evidence, of course) was that Trump would initiate a nuclear war with Iran after losing the 2020 presidential election. Milley was out to break the chain of command to stop it, which you see was A-O.K. because breaking all the rules if you possess the judgement of General Milley is itself A-OK.

    His other brush with insubordination was two phone calls to General Li Zuo cheng, leader of China’s People’s Liberation Army, in the days surrounding January 6, assuring the PLA that the U.S. had no plans to launch a first strike against China. Milley was not ordered to do this, he just did it because he felt on his own Trump might launch the nukes as a bizzaro-world way to stay in office after the “insurrection” of January 6 failed. Oh yeah, that insurrection — Milley, an alleged student of history — claims was America’s “Reichstag moment.” He called Trump’s statements “The gospel of the Führer.”

    Kori Schake, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said the revelations Milley covertly acted to counter his commander-in-chief are “bad for the military as an institution… It encourages people to do what Americans are already doing, which is viewing the military as they view the Supreme Court: apolitical when they agree with them, partisan when they don’t,” she said.

    As if the prove the point, an anonymous (of course) senior military official said Milley “did what he had to do to fulfill his oath to the Constitution and to protect this country.” Yet Trump called it treason. Senator Marco Rubio demanded Milley resign, as did Christopher Miller, who served above Milley as acting defense secretary in the final months of Trump’s presidency. Milley ignored his boss’ admonition to quit. So much for the chain of command.

    Milley did not act to fulfill his oath; he acted like a coup planner at best, an idiot at worst because (checks notes) Trump did not launch a nuclear attack on China, and General Li must have wondered exactly what was going on in Washington to prompt Milley to call and foreswear a strike, a first of its own in U.S. history.

    None of this — what he said recently and what he did during the Trump administration — has hurt Milley’s standing in political Washington. Biden loves him. Milley was chosen to speak at the French ambassador’s residence, a journalist-heavy throng that officially was a celebration of the First Amendment. It was the sort of gathering where you’d “expect an address from a fight-the-power free-speech lawyer or a hell-raising investigative reporter, not a uniformed four-star general. But Milley’s lack of journalism credentials didn’t appear to bother many in the audience, who greeted him as a hero.” Politico says “Milley has become a cause celebre in Washington — and a presence around town.” WaPo calls him “Pattonesque.”

    In peacetime it is not normal for a senior general in the U.S. military to be famous. It is not normal for one to seek the spotlight as a domestic protector of our democracy. It is not normal for a general to claim to be apolitical while acting aggressively in the political sphere. Milley instead found a way to spread the gospel of a non-politicized military as itself a political act. Why you’d almost think Milley was up to something, setting himself up for some new role, maybe running for some office. Milley warns in his Atlantic interview he and others will likely be sent to jail if Trump is reelected. Be sure to vote accordingly.

     

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  • Trump and the 14th Amendment

    October 4, 2023 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Trump

    In the developing world the party in power does away with its opponents one of three ways: a bullet to the head, throwing them in jail or kicking them off the ballot. Good to see America, Leader of the Free World, is already at work on two of the three.

    With it becoming ever-clearer that nothing in the courts is likely to stop Trump — polls show he can still win as a convicted felon from a jail cell — attention has turned to the third dirty solution, driving him off the ballot in as many states as possible to enable a Joe Biden walk-on win. The vehicle for this is supposedly the 14th Amendment, Section Three.

    Section Three was ratified in 1868 following the Civil War as a way to keep former Confederate officials out of government. It reads in whole “No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.” (emphasis added)

    The obvious ploy is to claim Trump engaged in some sort of insurrection on January 6 and with that making him ineligible to be president, his name should be automatically (self-enacting) removed from all ballots. Easier said than done; this use of the 14th Amendment is malarkey, will not succeed, and is simply another attempt at politically decapitating Donald Trump instead of beating him at the ballot box.

    The problems with the 14th Amendment strategy begin with the question of whether the prohibition still exists. Written in 1868 to affect Confederate officials, the Article was overturned by Congress on behalf of several individuals. They could do the same for Trump. Then in 1872, the disabilities were removed, by a blanket act, from all persons except Senators and Representatives of the Thirty-sixth and Thirty-seventh Congresses, officers in the judicial, military, and naval service of the United States, heads of departments, and foreign ministers of the United States. Twenty-six years later, Congress enacted law that said the disability imposed by Section Three… incurred heretofore, is hereby removed.

    Further standing in the way of actually using 14/3 against Trump is the 1969 Supreme Court decision in Powell v McCormack, which held a state cannot require of a congressional candidate declarations of loyalty, or affidavits averring lack of intent to seek forcible overthrow of the government. The decision went on to clarify that it was unconstitutional to require any requirements for office other than those already stated in Article I (age, residency, citizenship.) Loyalty to the United States or to its government is not listed as one of the standing qualifications for membership in Congress.

    Is Trump subject to Section Three? President Trump was unique among all of his predecessors in that he did not hold any prior government position before he took the presidential oath of office in 2017. Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment could only disqualify Trump if the presidential oath he took on that date was as an “Officer of the United States.”

    Also left undefined is the standard of proof for “insurrection.” As a crime, insurrection has its legal definition. Trump, however, is not charged with insurrection (or sedition or rebellion) in any of the cases he now faces.

    The 14th Amendment in its Section One also provides for due process, of which the adherents of 14/3 prescribe none, claiming the section is self-enacting and needs no enabling legislation or procedure.

    Section Three remained largely dormant for many decades.  January 6 (as well as a Pennsylvania Law Review article  claiming Trump doesn’t qualify to serve as president under 14/3) have prompted renewed interest in the provision and its on and off again history. Active 14/3 challenges to specific candidates have been brought in Indiana, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, and New Mexico, with contested offices ranging from County Commissioner to Senator (but not yet Trump.)  Issues have emerged, including whether Section Three has been repealed; whether Congress has sole power to disqualify its members; whether voters have standing to challenge under Section Three; and questions of subject matter jurisdiction and federalism. Absent action by Congress (in process though not expected to succeed) the arguments over Section Three demand either that the whole thing be forgotten to history where it belongs, or the Supreme Court step in to sort out the significant legal issues, not the least of which is state versus federal power.

    If you are keeping track of steps into the abyss, take a look at the core of what some current legal thinkers believe is 14/3: “Partisan officials in state governments, without specific authorization or checks and balances, should apply broad and uncertain definitions to decide who can run for office in a republic, when responsible officials with clear statutory and constitutional authority have not done so.” Seems instead like something for voters to decide, not out-of-context legalese from a previous century. This isn’t public policy, or even sound jurisprudence. This is a politicized legal fight. Sound democratic to you? Or maybe more like Democratic?

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  • Court Moves to End Govt Censorship by Proxy in Social Media

    September 30, 2023 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Biden, Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    If you think your social media is being edited and blocked to press a certain point of view, it is. If you think the government is trying to get you to think a certain way, it is. There’s no more hiding this behind dummy allegations of conspiracy theories.

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled the Biden White House and the FBI violated the First Amendment by improperly driving social media companies’ decisions to remove or suppress posts on Covid and election topics. The ruling is a step toward bringing social media under the umbrella of the First Amendment and ending proxy censorship, and sets up a major Supreme Court battle over the censoring free speech as demanded by the Biden administration.

    Specifically, the appeals judges wrote the “White House, the CDC, the FBI, and a few other agencies urged the platforms to remove disfavored content and accounts from their sites. And, the platforms seemingly complied. They gave the officials access to an expedited reporting system, downgraded or removed flagged posts, and deplatformed users. The platforms also changed their internal policies to capture more flagged content and sent steady reports on their moderation activities to the officials. That went on through the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2022 congressional election, and continues to this day.”

    The judges wrote the White House “coerced the platforms to make their moderation decisions by way of intimidating messages and threats of adverse consequences.” They also found the White House “significantly encouraged the platforms’ decisions by commandeering their decision-making processes, all in violation of the First Amendment.” The decision found although the platforms stifled the speech, it was government officials who “coerced, threatened, and pressured social-media platforms to censor” through private communications and legal threats,” i.e., censorship by proxy.

    The appeals court decision includes emails from White House officials showing pressure on the social media companies to address “misinformation.” Things reached a boiling point in July 2021 when President Biden accused Facebook of “killing people.”

    In one email, a White House official told a platform to take a post down “ASAP,” and instructed it to “keep an eye out for tweets that fall in this same genre.” In another, an official told a platform to “remove [an] account immediately”—he could not “stress the degree to which this needs to be resolved immediately.” The decision notes “White House officials did not only flag content; they started monitoring the platforms’ moderation activities, too. In that vein, the officials asked for and received frequent updates from the platforms. Those updates revealed, however, that the platforms’ policies were not clear-cut and did not always lead to content being demoted. So, the White House pressed the platforms. For example, one official demanded more details on Facebook’s internal policies at least twelve times, including to ask what was being done to curtail ‘dubious’ or ‘sensational’ content, what ‘interventions’ were being taken, what ‘measurable impact’ the platforms’ moderation policies had, ‘how much content [was] being demoted,’ and what ‘misinformation’ was not being downgraded.”

    The platforms did not fight back. As the judges wrote, from the beginning, the platforms cooperated with the White House. One company made an employee “available on a regular basis,” and another gave the officials access to special tools like a “Partner Support Portal” to “ensure” their requests were “prioritized automatically.”

    Once White House officials began to demand more from the platforms, they stepped-up their efforts to appease officials instead of pushing back. When there was confusion, the platforms would call to “clear up” any “misunderstanding[s]” and provide data detailing their moderation activities. They met with officials, “partnered” with them, and assured them that they were actively trying to “remove the most harmful COVID-19 misleading information.” When Facebook did not take a [unnamed] prominent pundit’s “popular post” down, a White House official asked what good is the reporting system, and signed off with “last time we did this dance, it ended in an insurrection.”

    In another example, one official emailed Facebook a document recommending changes to the platform’s internal policies, including to its deplatforming and downgrading systems. In another example, one platform sent out a post-meeting list of “commitments” including a policy change “focused on reducing the virality” of anti-vaccine content even when it “does not contain actionable misinformation.” On another occasion, one platform listed “policy updates… regarding repeat misinformation” after meeting with the Surgeon General’s office and signed off “[w]e think there’s considerably more we can do in partnership with you and your teams to drive behavior.” The platforms obliged the censorship requests in every instance cited and were “keen to amplify any messaging you want us to project.” At times, the judges wrote, their responses “bordered on capitulation.”

    In an escalation, the platforms began taking down content and deplatforming users more broadly. For example, “Facebook started removing information posted by the ‘disinfo dozen’—a group of influencers identified as problematic by the White House, despite earlier representations that those users were not in violation of their policies. In general, the platforms had pushed back against deplatforming users in the past, but that changed. Facebook also made other pages that ‘had not yet met their removal thresholds more difficult to find on our platform,’ and promised to send updates and take more action. A month later, members of the disinfo dozen were deplatformed across several sites.” Specifically mentioned as a victim of these actions was Gateway Pundit.

    The judges also focused on the FBI interaction with social media platforms in the run-up to the 2020 elections, which included regular meetings with the tech companies. The judges wrote that the FBI’s activities were “not limited to purely foreign threats,” citing instances where the law enforcement agency targeted posts originating inside the United States. The judges said in their rulings the platforms changed their policies based on the FBI briefings, citing updates to their terms of service about handling of hacked materials, following warnings of state-sponsored “hack and dump” operations. The latter was used as justification initially by Twitter (now X) in blacklisting articles about the Hunter Biden laptop, suggesting its contents had been obtained via hacking and/or the contents were created as disinformation by the Russians. Neither was true but both were used, via the FBI, to step roughly on Americans’ First Amendment rights and influence the 2020 presidential election.

    The current appeals court decision follows a July injunction in response to a lawsuit brought by the attorneys general in Louisiana and Missouri. They alleged government officials went too far in their efforts to demand social media companies address posts that they worried could contribute to vaccine hesitancy during the pandemic. The state attorneys general accused the Biden administration of enabling a “sprawling federal ‘Censorship Enterprise’” to encourage tech giants to remove politically unfavorable viewpoints and speakers. In their filings, the attorneys general alleged the actions amount to “the most egregious violations of the First Amendment in the history of the United States of America.” The judge wrote the attorneys general “have produced evidence of a massive effort by Defendants, from the White House to federal agencies, to suppress speech based on its content.” The injunction starts by non-ironically citing the famous quote “I may disapprove of what you say, but I would defend to the death your right to say it.”

    The answer to all this from the July injunction was to create a wall between social media and state. This affected a wide range of government departments and agencies, and imposed ten specific prohibitions on government officials. The more recent appeals court decision threw out nine of those and modified the 10th to rejoin the government from seeking to “coerce or significantly encourage social-media companies to remove, delete, suppress, or reduce, including through altering their algorithms, posted social-media content containing protected free speech.” That will likely be tested before the Supreme Court.

    During times when unbiased information was badly needed — on vaccines, for example — the government of the United States egregiously violated the First Amendment to pressure social media companies to amplify certain points of view and do away with others. This censorship at the request of the White House targeted both broad ideas (“anti-vax”) and individual American citizens. It shows how the administration conducted an end run on the First Amendment, using the social media companies as proxies. It was done by the Biden administration to politically drive the American people toward its point of view. Its goal was nothing short of shutting down the marketplace of ideas so necessary in a democracy.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • The Political Assassination of Donald Trump: Shots Fired

    September 22, 2023 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: 2020, Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Democrats remain terrified of Donald Trump and will continue to do their worst to keep him from the ballot, where he has beaten them before. Political assassination attempts stretch from the near-comical to the deadly serious.

    The most current attempt harkens back to one of the earlier ones. A handful of lawyers discovered the 14th Amendment, hidden away in plain sight inside the Constitution, actually was designed to drive Trump from the ballot. The Amendment, Article 3, states government officials who supported insurrection against the United States were not eligible for future office. Now despite that this was written to address the question of what to do with Confederate officials following the Civil War, modern lawyers have decided: a) Trump made a speech on January 6 as part of an insurrection and so b) his name cannot appear on any state ballot. Left undiscussed is who the hell are “they” to determine J6 was an actual insurrection on scale with the Civil War and not some naughty MAGA cosplay with absolutely zero chance of altering the election results, and the fact that Article 1 of the same Amendment mentions due process, of which the current legal thinking includes none.

    This all reminds of the early Trump days citing of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, basically saying a president could not accept gifts from foreign countries (full disclosure: one of the worst Emoluments violators was eighth President Martin Van Buren, no relation.) The thinking way back in 2016 was the Founders had this scenario in mind: Trump owns some foreign hotels. Foreign people stay there. Some of the foreigners were government officials. Some tiny portion of each stay went into Donald’s pocket. Shazam! He was guilty of accepting official foreign gifts and violating the Emoluments Clause.

    But that was all small change; the real money on getting rid of Trump before he was even sworn in, or handicapping his administration if he took office, was Russiagate. It was all the rage in 2016 and beyond — Trump colluded with the Russians because they had a tape of him with prostitutes doing Golden Showers. Or because he wanted to build a hotel in Moscow, one or the other. There was proof everywhere and Robert Mueller’s corpse was shocked back to life to investigate it all ahead of an impeachment-lynching party. In the end the whole thing was made up. A multi-year effort involving the three-letter agencies FBI, CIA, CNN, NBC, ABC, and CBS was based on tall tales from anonymous sources sifted into the zeitgeist by a former MI6 operative named Chris Steele. Oh, right, and Steele was paid entirely by the Clinton campaign.

    The next swing at the piñata came from some little scab of a Lieutenant Colonel on the National Security Council, and some punks at the State Department, known as Impeachment 1.0. Using a cutout “whistleblower,” the cabal alleged Trump temporarily withheld arms from the Ukraine (before it became our 51st state under Joe Biden) until Kiev investigated and turned over the dirt on the Biden family. It turned out Trump did indeed temporarily withhold arms from the Ukraine (before it became our 51st state under Joe Biden) hoping Kiev would investigate and turn over the dirt on the Biden family. This is known as “foreign policy” or an “investigation.” Somehow the impeachment hinged on one transcripted phone call by Trump, so the evidence was not even in question, just how stupid the interpretation could be. Nothing stuck and the process failed to remove Trump from office.

    After all that there was Impeachment 2.0 which had something to do with January 6, wasn’t finished until Trump had already left office, and did not matter because, significantly for the 14th Amendment crowd, Trump was not convicted of incitement or insurrection.

    The broader problem is short of simply shooting Trump in the head, the guy never seems to go down. Every effort, and there were many, failed to get him off the ballot in 2016, cripple his administration, or drive him from the White House. Trump lost to Joe Biden in 2020 and that should have ended the matter. Trump should have taken his seat on The View and all these efforts to depose him should have faded into political history. The specific problem is that Trump never stopped running for president, and now must finally be stopped. The plan this time is to use the judiciary to achieve what it looks like the ballot box cannot, literally locking Trump in jail in hopes that from behind bars he cannot become president. There are five current efforts.

    First up is Stormy Daniels again. Somehow a partisan prosecutor in a fully Democratic district managed to squeeze 34 felony counts out of this, centered on falsifying business records, which Trump is accused of doing to cover up the hush money payments to Daniels. Now leaving aside there is nothing illegal per se about “hush money,” (people receive payments all the time as part of nondisclosure agreements) this attempt to throw Trump in jail will rely on witnesses as pristine as Stormy herself, followed by stand-up guys like Michael Cohen. If the jury is at least close to fair when seated, the case has little chance of jailing Trump.

    Second in line is a civil defamation case financial judgement. Four months after a jury found that Donald Trump defamed advice columnist Jean Carroll, a judge ruled still more of the ex-president’s comments about her were libelous. The decision means an upcoming second trial will concern only how much more he has to pay her. No possibility of jail time.

    Next is the so-called Mar-a-Lago documents case. This centers on the former president endangering national security by mishandling classified documents after leaving office. Additionally, the case looks at how Trump obstructed FBI efforts to take back the documents. It will delve into the minutia of the classification system, and likely invoke the Supreme Court to decide how much leeway a former president has in declassifying documents. It is no small matter, legal-issue wise, as it affects not only Trump but every president to come (Joe Biden and Hilary Clinton also unlawfully had classified documents in their possession outside of the office but we don’t seem to care much about these cases.) Classification cases cases which don’t involve major espionage or spillage are usually settled by fines, as may be this one, unless the government can make a big deal about the obstruction part. A lot depends on proving Trump knew he was doing something wrong, mens rea, a tough ask with a fella like Trump who talks pretty. The matter is unlikely to result in jail time.

    The Georgia election interference case, like Impeachment 1.0, seems to hinge on a single phone call, in this instance an ambiguous request by Trump to an election official to find him some more votes. Ambiguous in the sense that one reading is Trump requesting some sort of recount, while another is he is demanding the official create votes by some nefarious means. Another case of a partisan Democratic prosecutor in a fully Democratic district showing how her predecessors once rigged trials by choosing all-white juries. The new feature here is the prosecutor has come up with not only 13 felony counts against Trump himself stemming from a single incident, but also charged 18 associates, including Rudy Giuliani (once America’s mayor, how fast the looks fade) with various crimes. The implication is one of those people will turn evidence on Trump to save their own skin. The problem is that the Georgia case did not have any successful interfering; Trump still lost the state. That means the whole thing is going to bog down in conspiracy accusations — boring — and fail to capture public attention. Trump’s lawyers are also actively seeking a change of venue to get the case to more neutral jury selection territory. If they succeed, the chances of success against Trump seem slim. A guilty conclusion with some sort of fine seems likely.

    The prosecution which has the greatest potential of shaping the next part of the Trump story is also likely to be the first major case heard, in March 2024, regarding Trump’s role in the events of January 6. At stake is not only a good portion of Trump’s political future, but also very serious questions about the First Amendment. What can someone legally say and do after losing an election? Of all the charges, incitement is not on the list, though it looks in part as if Trump is being held responsible for the actions of the mob. The charges focus again on conspiracy, though this time the stakes are very high, conspiracy to defraud the United States and its voters, practically a hanging offense. The J6 mob (and Trump) had no chance of overturning the 2020 election, so in some ways conspiracy is a thin thread to suspend the whole affair from. On the other hand, it may be easy to prove, especially if Mike Pence or another senior official turned evidence in their depositions and testified against Trump. The seriousness of the matter points towards jail time, as has been the case with all the other J6 defendants. It may not be the future of our democracy at stake, but it is certainly a good shot at the future of Donald Trump if the prosecution can wrap things up before the election.

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  • Thomas “T.J.” Jefferson and Race-Based School Admissions

    September 14, 2023 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy

    White parents and Asian parents are fighting over how many black students should be allowed into Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, in Alexandria, Virginia. The school, universally known as “T.J.,” is among the finest STEM high schools in the United States. Given its role as a feeder school into the upper echelons of tech in America, this is more than another culture war battle. It is not an exaggeration to say it affects national security, which is why the issue is likely to be sorted out by the Supreme Court.

    From its beginnings until summer of 2020, the only way into prestigious T.J. for residents was to pass the rigorous entrance exam. Then in 2020, following the death of George Floyd, T.J. officials became concerned about their negligible number of black and Hispanic students and changed admissions standards. The test was gone, replaced by a  holistic review that included “experience factors, including students who are economically disadvantaged, English language learners, special education students, or students who are currently attending underrepresented middle schools.”

    The results were as intended: without the entrance test, black students grew to seven percent from one percent of the class, while the number of Asian American students fell to 54 percent from 73 percent, the lowest share in years. The number of white students also fell, but no one seemed to care that they accounted for only 22 percent of admissions, despite being 65 percent of the county population. A group of mostly Asian American parents objected to the new plan and started the Coalition for T.J. The coalition filed a lawsuit with the help of the libertarian Pacific Legal Foundation. Instead of seeing weighting of experience factors as a way to level the playing field for underrepresented groups (or whether such a thing was even necessary) they saw racism. The experience factors were just a work-around for straight up race-based decisions.

    After some action in lower courts, in May 2023 the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of the new admissions process, finding T.J. had not discriminated against Asian American students in its admissions policies. The appellate court, in a two to one ruling, found that there was not sufficient evidence the changes were adopted with discriminatory intent. Writing for the majority, Judge Robert King, a Clinton appointee, said that the school had a legitimate interest in “expanding the array of student backgrounds.” Too bad for the Asians, the on-and-off again minority; there’s only so many seats available at T.J. The court finding was that T.J.’s essay-based admission policy was race neutral and was not a proxy for race-based decisions. T.J. was able to make racially-motivated decisions without appearing legally to make racially-motivated decisions.

    This was of course all before the June 2023 Supreme Court rulings in Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina, which asked three questions: can race be a factor for admission, has Harvard violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act by penalizing Asian American applicants by engaging in racial balancing, overemphasizing race and rejecting workable race-neutral alternatives, and whether a university can reject a race-neutral alternative because it would change the composition of the student body, without proving that the alternative would cause a dramatic sacrifice in academic quality or the educational benefits of overall student-body diversity. In short, can race continue to be an admission factor? The emphasis was on displacing Asian American students with black ones, which is why the Supreme Court cases saw amici filings by the Chinese American Citizens Alliance, the Asian American Coalition For Education, and the Asian American Legal Foundation. Also included was the Coalition for T.J.

    The Pacific Legal Foundation now wants the Supreme Court to overturn the Appeals Court decision, arguing that T.J.’s new admissions policies disadvantage Asian American applicants. “They are, in our view, using proxies for race in order to get a racial result,” said Joshua Thompson, a lawyer for the Pacific Legal Foundation. In its filing Monday asking the Supreme Court to review the case, the Foundation argued that T.J.’s admissions plan was “intentionally designed to achieve the same results as overt racial discrimination.” Specifically referring to the Supreme Court’s June affirmative action decision, the filing said that its “guarantees might mean little if schools could accomplish the same discriminatory result through race-neutral proxies.” Is T.J. flouting the most recent Supreme Court decision?

    It should be a helluva fight if the Supreme Court takes the T.J. case. In a forthcoming paper in the Stanford Law Review quoted in the New York Times, Sonja Starr, a professor of law and criminology at the University of Chicago, writes the plaintiffs are “laying the groundwork for a much bigger legal transformation” that could ban any public policy effort to close racial gaps, ultimately reverberating in “areas beyond education, such as fair housing, environmental permitting, and social welfare policies.”

    In tension are the most basic of rights, that institutions should not discriminate based on race versus a more modern belief that institutions have a fundamental role to play in achieving racial balance in schools and the workplace. The Court’s decision in Harvard, et al, did not address the proxy concept, that by focusing on say essays schools could achieve racist ends by proxy means. In dissent at the Appeals Court, Judge Allison Rushing wrote the majority refused “to look past the policy’s neutral varnish” and consider instead “an undisputed racial motivation and an undeniable racial result.” Judge Rushing, appointed by Donald Trump, added that the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection “would be hollow if governments could intentionally achieve discriminatory ends under cover of neutral means.” She means, like T.J. is doing.

    The T.J. case matters; if the Supreme Court rules for the Asian American parents’ group, that means race-neutral admissions will be the next in line to fall after the Court’s June affirmative action ruling.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Trump and Kryptonite

    September 6, 2023 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Biden, Democracy

    As of summer 2023 we have in America reached an amazing place politically: the Republican front-runner and very possibly the next re-president of the United States, Donald Trump, is campaigning while basically on bail in four different jurisdictions. And nobody in America cares much. Actually, Americans sort of care, but not in any way that makes more sense than not caring. In the words of another pundit, “cheer, scream, or shrug… and sip a banana republic daquiri.”

    Americans, depending on their beliefs, expect and would be satisfied if Trump was either in a jail cell or the Oval Office as of January 2025. Painting with a broad brush, for Republicans, they are convinced the charges against Trump are Third World-style political warfare waged by Democrats and mean little. Democrats see Trump as a Great Satan and view the charges as the last, best (after two impeachments and Mueller) hope for our democracy. Despite accomplishing fairly little as president (the Supreme Court appointments, though impactful, were basically luck, and no LBTQ concentration camps were opened or nuclear wars started) another four years of Trump will either save us or destroy us. Friends, there is little gray area out there, and even less appetite for the reality of the cases against Trump.

    So maybe it is not such a surprise that 38 percent of us feel “exhaustion” over the possibility of a Biden-Trump rematch in 2024. Some 52 percent feel either sadness or fear, or both, over the prospect. There is one area where a significant share of each party finds common ground: the belief that the country is headed toward failure. Overall, 37 percent of registered voters say the problems are so bad that we are in danger of failing as a nation, according to the latest New York Times/Siena College poll. Some 56 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said we are in danger of such failure. Around 20 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say they feel the same way.

    In the face of all this, the challenge for the judicial system to preserve faith in our democracy comes in several ways.

    For example, how clear and “obvious” are the charges in each instance? There is a ever-growing distrust in public institutions, whether the government in general for failing to respond to public demands for more or less abortion rights, or the electoral system as a whole, or in this specific case, whether the judicial system can respond to what some perceive as unfair charges against Donald Trump. And make no mistake, each side sees a kind of unfairness in play; Republicans by and large see the charges as attempts to drive Trump out of the election or cripple him as a candidate while Democrats see the charges as a whole as the best of bad options, charging defamation when the real crime is rape, charging conspiracy when the real crime is the attempted overthrow of our democratic system.

    Prosecutors must make the charges plain and of the “make sense” type, with no “ambitious charging.” Everything must be able to be explained and pass the sniff test to all but the most hardened opponents, whether they agree or not. This will be especially challenging for the thought crimes, the claimed conspiracies, whether Trump is somehow still guilty of something even though he not only did not overthrow the government and reverse the election, but that he had no realistic pathway to doing so. People will remember the impeachments beta, the Mueller Report, which came close to charging Trump with obstruction of an investigation which actually cleared him and found no predicate crime. The defense will try and muddle the waters and leave the public with a sense that Trump did nothing wrong really but the system was set up to get him somehow (not a hard case to make in several of the total of 90-some counts.) The more prosecutorial creativity (example, use of RICO in Georgia) and the more attempts to squeeze events into legal boxes they don’t quite fit in, the more challenge for the system to find a balance in explaining what is happening for the public to digest. Walking the public through the the minefield of ambiguity over classification in the Mar-a-Lago case is an example. Anything that is seen as partisan (conspiracy to do this, conspiracy to do that) fails the democracy in a mighty way.

    Can the judicial system keep the language neutral? The most obvious partisan tells come from the language used, calling January 6 an insurrection for example. The judicial system should stick itself to neutral language and press both sides to do the same, perhaps agreeing to some terminology. Falling into the media trap of weaponizing the language is a real danger. Trump must be prosecuted based on what he did, not who he is. Acts must be on-their-face criminal, or they will be seen as political, Trump convicted of something, anything, just because he’s Trump and we need to send him to jail because all the other kryptonite failed. It’s a big ask; already the judge in his J6 trial has called those events a “mob attack” on “the very foundation of our democracy” and branded Trump’s claim the 2020 election was stolen a conspiracy theory.

    Venue is important, and the system must show the flexibility to move cases to neutral venues when possible. Trying a case in a place like Manhattan or Fulton County, Georgia risks appearing to be the equivalent of an all-white jury in a 1950’s racial case. The jury pool in both states swings decidedly Democrat. Yet even then Salon decries the fact that a non-rigged jury might ruin the plan to convict Trump; “one MAGA juror can ruin it all,” they write. Both venues feature a local Democratic prosecutor (Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Georgia’s Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis) in a one-party jurisdiction. Would the indictments even have come down elsewhere?

    Lastly, can the judicial system be seen as “timely?” Most everyone agrees the judicial system is failing on timing. Prosecutors in one batch of charges stemming from the events of January 6 want the trial to start at the beginning of the new year, ridiculously early for a case that has already produced 11.5 million pages of discovery (“Even assuming we could begin reviewing the documents today, we would need to proceed at a pace of 99,762 pages per day to finish the government’s initial production by its proposed date for jury selection,” a Trump lawyer wrote. “That is the entirety of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, cover to cover, 78 times a day, every day, from now until jury selection.” Can it all be relevant?) Lawyers for Trump instead asked a judge to push back the proceeding until April 2026, nearly a year and a half after the 2024 election and some five years after the fact when Trump will either be immune one way or another as president, or a regular on Dancing with the Stars having failed at the polls. Both political sides walk away sure the game is rigged. The other cases against Trump face similar demands to begin very soon or for lengthy delays.

    They’re right in a way over at MSNBC, democracy is indeed on trial, but not in the way most people who say that mean. Instead, what is on trial is our judicial system as it struggles to answer the cornerstone question here: can the system rise above partisanship, even when partisanship is the intent of one side or both, and produce results which however reluctantly will be considered fair by the majority of Americans? A “no” answer risks further shattering of public trust in our institutions, and further polarization of our politics, if not violence. It may just be that it is not whether you win or lose in this battle, but how the game is played.

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Lessons from Afghanistan for the Reconstruction of Ukraine

    August 22, 2023 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Economy, Iraq, Military

    Though some say it is wishful thinking to be talking today about the reconstruction of Ukraine (they have to win first), it is never too early to pull out lessons learned from the last fiasco, in hopes they can be baked in to whatever eventual process is undertaken. That’s why a group of senators asked the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) to put together a brief list of things not to do again in the course of rebuilding Ukraine.

    SIGAR was in charge of overseeing the two-decades-long, $146 billion spend to rebuild Afghanistan. Over the course of years, in addition to the 1,297 audit recommendations SIGAR made to recover funds, improve agency oversight, and increase program effectiveness, they also made 143 sector-specific recommendations to executive agencies as part of the agency’s Lessons Learned Program. So while few people seemed to listen to them regarding Afghanistan, that doesn’t mean they had nothing to say, especially as regards to the next reconstruction program in Ukraine. As SIGAR notes, “While Afghanistan and Ukraine are very different countries with a history of facing very different threats, many of the challenges U.S. agencies faced in Afghanistan—coordinating efforts, dealing with corruption, and effectively monitoring and evaluating projects and programs—will be the same as the ones they will face in Ukraine.”

    Trigger Warning: most of what SIGAR cautioned about for Afghanistan was exactly the same stuff its sister organization, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), cautioned earlier about in that war. Everything was equally ignored. It can be very frustrating to watch a whole-of-government approach to repeating one’s predecessor’s mistakes. It can be even more frustrating to have participated in it all, as I did, overseeing two reconstruction teams in Iraq while I still worked for the State Department.

    Here’s a wild prediction: at some point in the future there will be a Special Inspector General for Ukraine Reconstruction (SIGUR!) which will watch the same mistakes from Iraq and Afghanistan repeated, with no one listening. Creating SIGUR has already been suggested; Senator Rand Paul back in May temporarily placed a hold on a $40 billion aid package to Ukraine, demanding unsuccessfully Congress insert a provision into the aid package creating an inspector general to oversee the distribution of the aid.

    Nonetheless, there is always hope (the SIGAR people must be the most optimistic people on earth) in putting down on paper the blindingly obvious when billions of dollars and national credibility are at stake. So, from SIGAR with love, here are the seven lessons from Afghanistan for the reconstruction of Ukraine:

    — Lesson 1: The U.S. government struggled to develop a coherent strategy for what it hoped to achieve in Afghanistan and imposed unrealistic timelines that led to wasteful and counterproductive programs.

    Now who would think lacking a strategy and indeed any agreed-upon goal would slow things down? In Ukraine, will the goal be raising the entire country to Western European standards? Favoring the anti-Russian areas? Trying to buy loyalty in the pro-Russian areas? Or as in Afghanistan (as in Iraq, just substitute the two country names from here on out) simply spending money willy-nilly in hopes a coherent strategy might emerge in retrospect. Unrealistic timelines (variously, success before the next local election, before the next U.S. election, before the military change of command, before my tour as team leader is up…) meant most timelines were ignored. Hope they do better in Ukraine.

    — Lesson 2: Lack of effective coordination—both within the U.S. government and across the international coalition—was a major obstacle to success in Afghanistan and resulted in a disjointed patchwork of ineffective efforts, rather than a united and coherent approach.

    There’s that naughty word, coherent, again. In Iraq the Italian reconstruction team did not talk to never mind take direction from the Americans; they were too focused on providing commercial opportunities for their countrymen. USAID was really into schools and bridges, whereas State focused on “democracy building” such as empowering women in medieval Islamic societies via local modern drama clubs. The hope that synergy would emerge was consumed by the same thing that makes a million monkeys typing away at a million typewriters still unlikely to produce a great work of literature. And they may need all that time; reconstruction in Ukraine is expected to take decades.

    — Lesson 3: Though viewed as our greatest strength, the level of financial assistance in Afghanistan was often our greatest weakness.

    Like with teenagers and booze, too much money can only lead to trouble. Billions were spent with little oversight, leading directly to corruption. The money tsunami “overwhelmed the Afghan economy and fueled massive corruption from senior government officials in Kabul to low-level officials around the country. This corruption posed a critical threat to the mission.” SIGAR found “in Afghanistan, the U.S. government spent too much money, too quickly, in a country that was unable to absorb it” and warns of the same in the future Ukraine reconstruction.

    Lacking a trusted banking system connected to international standard systems, business in Iraq and Afghanistan was done in cash, vast amounts of paper money brought in to the country on pallets and stored in copier paper boxes stacked alongside the safes which could not hold a tenth of the moolah on hand. It begged to be misused.

    And then there was the unequal distribution of reconstruction funds. The military always had more than anyone else and so always won every discussion about what to do next. As SIGAR noted, when USAID tried to stop implementing projects in areas where they could not be monitored or evaluated, the military simply used funds from its Commander’s Emergency Response Program to implement those projects anyway—often in even less secure areas, where projects were unlikely to succeed.

    — Lesson 4: Corruption was an existential threat to the reconstruction mission in Afghanistan.

    This will be a massive issue in a place like Ukraine (it remains the most corrupt country in Europe excluding Russia; according to USAID, rooting out corruption in Ukraine will be a generational challenge) with its very organized crime emboldened by “lost” American weapons from the battlefield and new members with military experience. Rebuilding Ukraine means fighting graft first, claimed the Washington Post. Ukraine has “entrenched patronage networks that involve senior officials who can inhibit reconstruction and international aid by wasting assistance and damaging the government’s ability to deliver services. Combating corruption is difficult because it requires the cooperation and political will of those elites who benefit the most from it. Few cooperate willingly,” SIGAR wrote. Militia leaders, warlords, oligarchs, meh, they’re all pretty much the same problem in different headgear.

    — Lesson 5: Building and reforming the Afghan security forces was hindered by their corruption, predation, and chronic dependency on the United States.

    The Ukrainian military is 100 percent dependent on the United States for everything from spare parts to uniforms to strategic and tactical leadership. They have already lost the ability to fight on their own. The numbers help tell the story: over the course of two decades in Afghanistan, the United States spent an average of $375 million each month on security assistance. By comparison, the U.S. is currently spending $2.5 billion each month—nearly seven times the average monthly amount it spent in Afghanistan—on security assistance in Ukraine. Intended or not, that buys a lot of dependence.

    Meanwhile, as in Afghanistan, the Ukraine’s internal security forces remain rife with corruption and require urgent reform. Ukraine’s police have been largely feared and distrusted by the people they are supposed to serve. In some areas of the country, the police have resembled “a mafia-style organization” that intimidates locals with impunity, warns SIGAR.

    — Lesson 6: Tracking equipment provided to Afghan security forces proved challenging well before the government collapsed.

    So much military equipment poured haphazardly into a country is sure to see some of it end up in the wrong hands. In Afghanistan, the U.S. was supplying both sides of many encounters, arms leaking out into the countryside via corruption, lack of security, and poor stock keeping. Already in Ukraine, Russian organized crime groups, local crooks, and unauthorized volunteer battalions obtained or stole weapons from Department of Defense security aid meant to arm the Ukrainian military for its defense against Russia, according to an inspector general report revealed as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by Military.com. In just a taste of what’s to come, the report shows how U.S. efforts to meet end-use goals for billions in security assistance donated throughout 2022 often failed. Little or no accountability existed on the U.S. side, allowing weapons to be diverted to criminals and opposition forces.

    Another Department of Defense (DOD) report made public found employees fell short of requirements for tracking financial aid to Ukraine. The report examined how the DOD was monitoring transactions from over $6.5 billion in funding from the Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act through Advana software, the only authorized reporting platform. Auditors warned DOD’s subpar reporting processes, including use of systems that are unreadable by Advana, could hinder oversight and transparency (the U.S. did not properly track $18.6 billion in aid to Afghanistan, partly because it employed software systems that were either incompatible with one another or incapable of handling the volume of data received. Most projects in Iraq, millions of dollars, were tracked only via a shared Excel spreadsheet.)

    — Lesson 7: Monitoring and evaluation efforts in Afghanistan were weak and often measured simple inputs and outputs rather than actual program effectiveness.

    In Iraq we evaluated a program’s effectiveness like this: we increased the amount of money we spent one quarter on education by 13 percent. The next quarter we announced a 13 percent improvement in education in our area; it was simple as that.

    “Oversight became an afterthought,” wrote SIGAR. “The U.S. government is poor at predicting the resources and length of time necessary to rebuild complex institutions in other countries. The timelines created by U.S. officials ignored conditions on the ground and created perverse incentives to spend quickly and focus on short-term goals. The U.S. government emphasized short-term, tangible projects where money could be spent rapidly and success claimed more immediately over less tangible but potentially more enduring, long-term programming, such as capacity building. Physical security, political stability, and immediate reconstruction needs took priority over the slow, iterative work of building good governance and the rule of law, the foundations for combating corruption.”

    There are the lessons, solid suggestions each one. They were largely ignored in Afghanistan and Iraq. Think they’ll do any better in Ukraine?

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Dissent Channel, Afghanistan and Confidentiality

    August 7, 2023 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Biden, Democracy

    Something quite significant in U.S. diplomatic history is going to take place — a State Department Dissent Channel message, concerning the evacuation and withdrawal from Afghanistan, is going to be shared with Members of Congress.

    House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul announced his panel investigating the final days of American presence in Afghanistan will view the Dissent Channel cable. McCaul threatened to hold Secretary of State Antony Blinken in contempt if he did not provide him access to the diplomatic cable, which came from a confidential “dissent channel” that allowed State Department officials to discuss views which may be different from  administration policy.

    It is believed the July 2021 cable discussed concerns from the rank-and-file diplomatic staff not fully shared by senior embassy executives and management about the upcoming American pullout from the country, warning the U.S.-backed Afghan government could fall. The cable specifically advised an earlier withdrawal date than that ultimately chosen by the Biden Administration, and may have addressed the decision to conduct the entire evacuation from a single civilian airport in Kabul.

    So what is the Dissent Channel and why is this particular cable so important?

    The Dissent Channel was set up in 1971 during the Vietnam War era as a way for foreign service officers and civil servants at State (as well as United States Agency for International Development, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and the former United States Information Agency) to raise concerns with senior management about the direction of U.S. foreign policy, without fear of retribution. The cables (formal, official State internal communications are still referred to as “cables” harking back to early diplomatic days when telegrams were used to communicate between Washington and embassies abroad) are sent to the State Department’s policy planning director, who distributes them to the secretary of state and other top officials, who must respond within 30 to 60 days. There are typically about five to ten each year. “Discouragement of, or penalties for use of, the Dissent Channel are impermissible,” according to the State Department internal regulations.

    Use of the Channel covers the scope of diplomatic mission. Historical messages include a dissent over the executive branch’s decision to “initiate no steps to discipline a military unit that took action at My Lai” in Vietnam and the “systematic use of electrical torture, beatings, and in some cases, murder, of men, women, and children by military units in Vietnam.” These actions by U.S. soldiers were “atrocities too similar to those of Nazis.” Another dissent was over the “hypocritical” U.S. support of the Somoza regime in Nicaragua, bemoaning that the U.S. missed a “unique opportunity to intervene for once on the right repeat right side” of history. One older atypical dissent cable complained about having to arrange female companionship in Honduras for a visiting U.S. congressman. In the words of one now-declassified cable, “The Dissent Channel can be a mechanism for unclogging the Department’s constipated paper flow” related to employee dissent against current foreign policy actions.

    What the Channel does is one thing; who gets to see it is another. Until now, dissent messages have generally been regarded as something sacrosanct not to shown to outsiders and not to be leaked. “Release and public circulation of Dissent Channel messages,” State wrote to one inquirer,” would inhibit the willingness of Department personnel to avail themselves of the Dissent Channel to express their views freely.” The messages were first withheld from the rest of government (and the public) by State under the rules which created the system, and later under the Freedom of Information Act’s (FOIA) “predecisional” Exemption 5, until the 2016 FOIA Improvement Act amendments made it illegal for agencies to use this exemption after 25 years. So sharing the Afghan dissent cable with Members of Congress, especially so soon after the administration’s evacuation policy failed in Afghanistan, is a very big deal at the State Department.

    One publicized exception to how closely held dissent messages are took place in 2017 when nearly a thousand State Department Foreign Service Officers signed a five page dissent message opposing President Donald Trump’s executive order, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” which prohibited seven additional Muslim nationalities from entering the U.S., aka “The Muslim Ban.” As a result of an anti-Trump contingent inside generally liberal and mostly Democratic-leaning State, the message was leaked in its entirety. Even more against precedent, Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer issued an extraordinary public rebuke to the diplomats: “These career bureaucrats have a problem with it? They should either get with the program or they can go.”

    An almost-leak (a State Department official provided a draft, though the final version was not published, to The New York Times) took place in 2016 during the Trump-Clinton presidential election, after 51 Foreign Service Officers criticized the Obama administration via the Dissent Channel for failing to do enough to protect civilians in Syria in what was widely seen as an endorsement of Candidate Hillary’s pseudo-promise to put U.S. boots on the ground in Syria. Other Trump-era dissent cables not shared outside the Department called for consultations on Trump’s removal from office, and rebuked the secretary of state for not forcefully condemning the president over January 6.

    To fully understand what the Dissent Channel is requires a better understanding of the State Department culture, academic in nature but frighteningly risk adverse. The academic side reflects the Department’s modern origins as being made up of those who were “male, pale, and Yale” where the tradition of loyal opposition holds sway. But it is the risk adverse side of State that tells how important internally revealing the Afghan cable is. Dissent messages are signed, no anonymous ones allowed, and while Secretary Blinken has promised to not show the names of those who signed the Afghan cable to Congress, State senior management will know exactly who wrote what.

    In addition, Dissent Channel messages must still be cleared for transmission to the secretary of state in Washington at post, though there is no requirement everyone agree with the contents per se (authorization does not imply concurrence.) So one’s colleagues know who wrote what, potential dynamite in an organization where dissent is otherwise not encouraged and corridor reputation plays a deciding role in promotions and future assignments. It is a significant step to write or sign a dissent cable and despite the regulations’ admonishment that use of the Dissent Channel not be discouraged by supervisors, it is discouraged.

    Nobody in Embassy Kabul who signed that dissent message, basically telling their boss the ambassador and the Biden Administration they were wrong, expected to have their opinions shown to Congress; quite the opposite. Blinken, by sharing the cable with Congress, is breaking faith with his institution and with his front line workers in a uncollegial way only imagined by them during the Trump administration. Once upon a time something like that would have called for dissent.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Disinformation, 1984-2023

    August 5, 2023 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Biden, Democracy, NSA

    Orwell, again. 1984 was prescient on so many concepts that it seems it was written for the Biden era. Underlying it all is the concept of disinformation, the root of propaganda and mind control. So it is in 2023. Just ask FBI Director Chris Wray. Or Facebook.

    George Orwell’s novel explores the concept of disinformation and its role in controlling and manipulating society. Orwell presents a dystopian future where a totalitarian regime, led by the Party and its figurehead Big Brother, exerts complete control over its citizens’ lives, including their thinking. The Party employs a variety of techniques to disseminate disinformation and maintain its power. One of the most prominent examples is the concept of “Newspeak,” a language designed to restrict and manipulate thought by reducing the range of expressible ideas. Newspeak aims to replace words and concepts that could challenge or criticize the Party’s ideology, effectively controlling the way people think and communicate (unhomed, misspoke, LGBQTIAXYZ+, nati0nalist, terrorist.)

    Orwell also introduces the concept of doublethink, which refers to the ability to hold two contradictory beliefs simultaneously and accept them both as true. This psychological manipulation technique allows the Party to control the minds of its citizens and make them believe in false information or embrace contradictory ideas without questioning (masks which do not prevent disease transmission are still mandatory.) The Party in 1984 alters historical records and disseminates false information through the Ministry of Truth. This manipulation of historical events and facts aims to control the collective memory of the society in a post-truth era, ensuring that the Party’s version of reality remains unquestioned (war in Ukraine, Iraq, El Salvador, Vietnam, all to protect our freedom at home.)

    Through these portrayals, Orwell highlights the dangers of disinformation and its potential to distort truth, manipulate public opinion, and maintain oppressive systems of power. The novel serves as a warning about the importance of critical thinking, independent thought, and the preservation of objective truth in the face of disinformation and propaganda.

    Disinformation is bad. But replacing disinformation with censorship and/or replacement with other disinformation is worse. 1984 closed down the marketplace of ideas. So for 2023.

    In 2023 America the medium is social media and the Ministry of Truth is the Executive Branch, primarily the FBI. Topics the FBI at one point labeled disinformation and sought to censor in the name of protecting Americans from disinformation include but are not limited to the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop, the Covid lab leak theory, the efficiency and value to society of masks, lockdowns, and vaccines, speech about election integrity and the 2020 presidential election, the security of voting by mail, even parody accounts mocking the president (about Finnegan Biden, Hunter Biden’s daughter.)

    When asked before Congress to define disinformation, FBI Director Christopher Wray could not do it, even though it is the basis for the FBI’s campaign to censor Americans. It’s a made up term with no fixed meaning. That gives it its power, like “terrorism” was used a decade or so earlier. Remember “domestic terrorism”? That stretched to cover everything from white power advocates to J6 marchers to BLM protestors to Moms for Liberty. It just can’t be all those things all the time but it can be all those things at different times, as needed. The term “hate speech” is another flexible tool of enforcement and is why efforts to codify banning hate speech under the First Amendment must be resisted so strongly. Same for QAnon. We’ve heard about QAnon for years now but still can’t figure out if it even exists. To read the MSM, you would think it is the most powerful and sinister thing one can imagine yet seems to be imaginary, another Cthulhu. Do they have an office, an email address, a lair somewhere?

    In simple words: the government is using social media companies as proxies to censor the contrary thoughts of Americans, all under the guise of correcting misinformation and in direct contrivance of the First Amendment.

    How bad does it get? As part of its 2023 investigation into the federal government’s role in censoring lawful speech on social media platforms, the House Committee on the Judiciary issued a subpoena to Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, and Alphabet, the parent of Google and YouTube. Documents obtained revealed the FBI, on behalf of a compromised Ukrainian intelligence service, requested and, in some cases, directed, the world’s largest social media platforms to censor Americans engaging in constitutionally protected speech online about the war in Ukraine.

    Another tool of thought control is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which was supposed to be used to spy on foreigners but has been improperly used against thousands of Americans. Over 100,000 Americans were spied on in 2022, down from three million in 2021.

    Does it sound familiar? An amorphous threat is pounded into the heads of Americans (Communism and Red Scares, Covid, terrorism, disinformation) and in its name nearly anything is justified, including in the most recent battle for freedom, censorship. The wrapper is that it is all for our own protection (Biden himself accused social-media companies of “killing people,” the more modern version of the terrorism-era’s “blood on their hands”) with the government assuming the role of knowing what is right and correct for Americans to know. The target in name is always some Ruskie-type foreigner, but in reality morphs to be censorship of our citizens ourselves (stained as “pro-Putin.”) Yet Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted the government asked Facebook to suppress true information. He said during the Covid era the scientific establishment within the government asked “for a bunch of things to be censored that, in retrospect, ended up being more debatable or true.”

    Under President Joe Biden, the government has undertaken “the most massive attack against free speech in United States history.” That was the extraordinary conclusion reached by a federal judge in Missouri v. Biden. The case exposed the incredible lengths to which the Biden White House and its federal agencies have gone to bully social-media platforms into removing political views they dislike. The White House is appealing and attained a stay, hoping to retain this powerful tool of thought control right out of 1984. A victory for censorship of Americans and their thoughts could be the greatest threat to free speech in American history.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • A Victory Over Social Media Censorship

    August 3, 2023 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: Democracy

    In a season of good news for the First Amendment following some important Supreme Court decisions, here’s more to be happy about: a federal judge in Louisiana issued an injunction stopping Biden administration officials from contacting social media companies to block content in what could be a landmark order targeting government censorship and suppression of online postings. The judge ruled the Biden administration likely violated the First Amendment by censoring unfavorable views on social media over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, calling the efforts “Orwellian.” It was the first formal acknowledgement of a systemic program by the government to use the social media giants as proxies to censor the speech of Americans.

    The injunction is a major development in the fight over boundaries and limits of speech online. With a particular emphasis on the pandemic, Biden officials worked hand-in-glove with contacts at social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook to block both entire themes (including non-administration takes on “climate change, gender discussions, abortion and economic policy,” as well as Covid) and specific individuals. The judge said pressure went beyond aggressively encouraging the platforms to take down posts to coercion of some of the biggest social media companies by the “most powerful office in the world.” For example, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, officials held “weekly sync” meetings with Facebook and emailed them offending posts for takedown. The FBI’s San Francisco field office had eight agents responsible for forwarding concerns about social media posts to seven tech companies multiple times a month.

    Biden officials subject to the injunction include White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, employees of the Justice Department and FBI, the State Department, the Centers for Disease Control, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Jen Easterly, who leads the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy plus two more pages of lesser-known names. None of them may contact say Twitter and request a particular social media posting be taken down. They cannot talk to social media companies for “the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech.” The judge’s order also bars government agencies from communicating with some outside groups, including the Election Integrity Partnership, the Virality Project, and the Stanford Internet Observatory, to promote the removal of protected speech online.

    Under the guise of preventing “disinformation” but in reality in support of a unified government line, the government exercised prior restraint, a stroke against the First Amendment. Prior restraint was also in evidence in the shadow government efforts to block anti-administration news, such as the discovery of financial crimes on Hunter Biden’s laptop and the Covid lab-leak theories. “When, in the public forum, there is speech they disagree with and does not align with their political narratives,” Missouri’s attorney general, said, referring to administration officials, “they then collude with and coerce Big Tech’s social media to take that speech down.” In short, there was so much collusion between government and social media giants as to constitute active and ongoing censorship, and it was time to reassert the First Amendment rights of Americans to a market place of ideas, not just what the government wants to peddle.

    “During the COVID-19 pandemic, a period perhaps best characterized by widespread doubt and uncertainty, the United States Government seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth,’” the Louisiana judge wrote in his full opinion in regards to an order creating the injunction. He concluded the plaintiffs, led by Missouri and Louisiana, were likely to succeed in suing the government and issued an injunction limiting administration officials from attempting to coordinate with social media giants to remove content until the matter can be formally settled. “If the allegations made by plaintiffs are true, the present case arguably involves the most massive attack against free speech in United States’ history,” the judge said.

    For at least the time being, gone are the days a Robert Kennedy post questioning vaccinations could be taken down after a phone call from the CDC, or a Joe Rogan Facebook piece suggesting Covid was a lab leak out of China be deep-sixed or shadow banned by the FBI. The Biden administration has already appealed the injunction order. They warn the injunction could undermine national security efforts, since some “censorship” was established to respond to Russian actors sowing disinformation in the runup to the 2016 election. Yet almost all the targets of federal censorship during the Biden era have been Americans. The issue has Supreme Court written all over it.

    Most of the censorship practiced imposed on conservative thinking. “This targeted suppression of conservative ideas is a perfect example of viewpoint discrimination of political speech,” the judge wrote. “American citizens have the right to engage in free debate about the significant issues affecting the country… the evidence produced thus far depicts an almost dystopian scenario.” The injunction specifically cites a Biden grandchild parody account that was quickly deleted after an email from the White House director of digital strategy to contacts at the old Twitter. The judge also pointed to efforts to suppress content from Robert Kennedy and Ted Cruz. We note at one point in the past my Twitter account along with those of Antiwar.com Scott Horton’s and Director of the Ron Paul Institute Daniel McAdams’ were suspended  on the same day, and only restored at about the same time under Twitter’s new management.

    At the core of all this is a new term, disinformation, right out of George Orwell’s NewSpeak. Ostensibly referring to social or MSM content of dubious authenticity, the term has been further bastardized to basically mean anything contentious that one side disagrees with. The idea that the government can behind closed doors label some bit of info disinformation and demand it be taken down from social media is indeed censorship. It prevents offending ideas from reaching the public.

    Over the past few years, coordination and communication between government officials and the companies increased as the federal government responded to rising election interference and voter suppression efforts after claims Russian actors sowed disinformation on social media sites during the 2016 election. Public health officials also frequently communicated with the companies during the coronavirus pandemic. Orders seem to come from the top. “They’re killing people,” Biden said in July 2021, after being asked about the presence of anti-vaccine content on Facebook and other sites.

    Like so many things such as the all-consuming surveillance which affect our society, the idea of the government and social media working collaboratively to censor arose out of concerns over terrorism post-9/11, specifically that ISIS and others were using social media to recruit. Government agencies would point out offending posts and its proxies in social media would remove them. It all seemed for the good. However “the deep state planted a seed of suppression by government censorship, but that seed was fertilized, germinated and grew rapidly once President Biden took office,” Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey said in an interview.

    It is unclear at exactly what point the government assumed editorial responsibility for “calling out false speech,” or what WaPo calls “coordination with social media.” It is unclear at what point the government felt it could climb astride the First Amendment to control what Americans read. It is unclear why social media companies would so casually hand over responsibility such that a phone call from a DOJ bureaucrat could secretly kill a line of inquiry or thought online.

    There has been pushback from only one corner of social media. Elon Musk sought to make a similar case to the injunction regarding censorship with the release of internal messages detailing the debates that executives had before he took over Twitter last year. The messages he released, called the Twitter Files, offered a peek inside the company’s interaction with government and law enforcement to restrict prominent accounts. They included revelations about the internal debate at Twitter over blocking links to a New York Post article about Hunter Biden in 2020. The Files show employees (the Site Integrity Policy-Policy Escalation Support team) were tasked with suppressing the visibility of accounts or subjects deemed undesirable or dangerous, with and without government’s help, all in secret. Musk called Twitter “both a social media company and a crime scene.”

    There was no stopping this censorship until now with this injunction and the litigation to follow. The ultimate outcome could help decide whether free speech and an open market of ideas has a future online, or, in the words of the NYT, “the First Amendment has become, for better or worse, a barrier to virtually any government efforts to stifle a problem.”

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Free Speech and Fair Play are a Bitch

    July 14, 2023 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy

    If there were two lessons from the high school civics class most Americans seemed to skip that they should learn now they are: rights are for everyone and free speech sometimes protects speech you don’t like yourself. Luckily, the Supreme Court recently offered America a tutorial on both topics.

    In Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President & Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina the Court made the common sense ruling that discrimination of some colors of people is a poor way to fix discrimination of other colors of people. What woke mind could possibly conceive that the 14th Amendment’s equal protection under the law meant treating a large portion of the population grossly unfairly at the expense of another? Kind of a common-sense argument but one America needed to travel all the way to the Supreme Court to resolve.

    Starting back with 1979’s Bakke and largely confirmed by the Supreme Court in 2003’s Grutter, America’s higher education institutions decided it was they who would fix systemic racism in America by offering preferential treatment by race, specifically, white and yellow colored students were considered less deserving of a good education at say Harvard, and had to sit out the Ivy League so that some black and brown kids could take their places. The word for this back in the day was not racism (which it was) but “affirmative action.” It would right wrongs. This “reverse discrimination” was allowed through some clever word play because its goal of a diverse student body was considered a “compelling state interest” that overshadowed other compelling interests, such as equal protection for all under the law. It was sanctioned by the Supreme Court of its day, but only as a temporary solution; Justice Sarah Day O’Conner in one of the key cases upholding affirmative action wrote, “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”

    It didn’t seem to work, short or long term, in significantly changing society, if black and brown activists of 2023 are to be believed. Decades of pushing aside white and yellow kids (the former privileged because once upon a time other unrelated white people owned slaves and the latter just too damn hard working and smart) for black and brown did not seem significantly change society. There are of course individual examples, both fake (blacks or browns who would have succeeded in any system) and occasionally real, true by-their-bootstraps stories once they got that helping hand.

    “When affirmative action was conceptualized, it was to right past wrongs,” one commenter said. “Then, it became sort of endless. It wasn’t just African Americans. It was Native Americans and Hispanics. And then it was women, LGBT, etc., and that wiped out the moral imperative of it a little, because diversity is not quite as strong a claim as correcting past wrongs.”

    There were other problems. Letting someone into Harvard is not the same as him succeeding at Harvard. I learned that in high school too, by the way. If some program had sent me to an Ivy school at age 18 I would have failed miserably, coming out of a non-rigorous but nice enough Ohio high school where upon graduation I had neither read one classic book nor written one proper research paper. I think Harvard expects you to know that kind of thing and white as I am, I would have floundered. I’m sure they have some sort of remedial program for their unqualified students but it seems unlikely to make up for many years of half-hearted education before it. And that exposes another dirty little secret about why affirmative action failed; America is divided by class, not race (though the two overlap in a Venn diagram.)

    America’s second recent high school civics lesson is you as an individual may not like everything other people use their freedom of speech to say and do; in fact, their deeply held beliefs may run 180 degrees from yours. Protip for exam time: this is the whole point of the First Amendment free speech clause and it was on display in another recent Supreme Court decision, 303 Creative v. Elenis.

    The crux of the case is that one side, a web designer, wanted to know what would happen if she refused to produce a hypothetical celebratory wedding page for a gay couple, claiming her religion did not allow her to support same-sex marriage. The couple would have sued because of course they would, likely claiming as a protected class by sex in Colorado, the cake maker must be forced by the government to make the cake they wanted celebrating their nuptials. Lower courts had weighed in in favor, claiming various cake makers, florists, and web designers must be forced to practice their craft (i.e., their expression, their speech) to avoid LGBT discrimination. It was as if one side had more rights than they other and would have resulted in the government of the United States using the threat of arrest or fine to force the web designer to produce speech she was opposed to.

    That’s a big no-no in a democracy, compelling speech.

    Though the state can demand businesses provide goods and services to all customers in protected categories, it cannot demand individuals engage in speech proclaiming messages that they oppose, such as in web page design. In Justice Samuel Alito’s words, a win for the state of Colorado would mean some businesses that provide custom speech for customers could be forced to “espouse things they loathe.”

    This all goes back to 1943’s West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette when during WWII the Supreme Court held West Virginia could not make Jehovah’s Witness students pledge allegiance to the American flag. The decision contained arguably the most famous finding in American First Amendment law: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” The key finding in 303 Creative is the designer is not denying a service on the basis of status of a protected class but instead refusing to engage in speech because she disagreed with its message (Masterpiece Cakeshop failed to yield a definitive ruling and is not relevant here.)

    Despite all the hub-bub, the Court correctly applied the broader civics class way of thinking in 2023, focusing on the First Amendment speech clause, and said nothing directly about the more contentious and limited religious aspect of all this, and passed on 2023’s wokist definition of discrimination. Had the recent case involved a Jehovah’s Witness’ web page and not ostensibly something to do with gay rights, you would barely have heard of the matter even though the real significance would have been about the same.

    It’s easy to forget most of what you heard in high school, especially in a one-off class like civics. But common sense can get you a long ways. It is easy to write off the Court’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions as discriminatory, with only a little thought that what it did away with — affirmative action — was discriminatory as heck. Same for 303 Creative v. Elenis, which is being promoted by the MSM as anti-LGBT thing when in fact it is an example of how robust our First Amendment is. At the Founding no one could have conceived of a free speech battle between a web designer and gay clients, but that is what the First Amendment expanded to take in. The Supreme Court has not gone rogue, and democracy is not in danger. These two recent cases prove if anything the system is flexible for the times and robust in defending the most basic freedoms a democracy is built upon.

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Some Leftover Questions for Hunter Biden

    July 10, 2023 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Biden

    About two years ago during a debate with Donald Trump, Joe Biden dismissed his son’s laptop emails as disinformation, maybe from Russia. After becoming president, Joe said his son Hunter was innocent, and most recently, even after Hunter pleaded guilty to tax evasion and weapons charges, said he was proud of his son. So in terms of leftover questions, let’s start with: which part are you proud of, Joe? The video evidence of his crack use? The video evidence of his cavorting with prostitutes? The tax evasion charges, or was it the weapons charge, where Hunter lied to obtain a handgun? Well, it is pride month after all…

    Joking aside, the easy-sleazy plea deal Hunter accepted (which has him do no jail time in lieu of probation) leaves begging several important questions about exactly what Hunter (and Joe, and Jim, Joe’s brother) were doing in return for millions of dollars in consulting fees. Tax evasion seems just the beginning, but let’s get very specific. For the most part, unless noted with a URL, incidents below are drawn from Hunter’s email and laptop documents (we published a dive into the laptop’s contents online in December 2020, and a deeper dive in our print edition.)

    The reason we have to ask all these sticky questions is because half of Americans — including a third of Democrats — think Hunter got favorable treatment from federal prosecutors after he agreed to a sweetheart plea deal.

    So Hunter, you joined the Burisma board at a salary of $83,000 a month with no obvious work duties. What was your actual job at Burisma? We ask because on April 16, 2014, while Papa Joe was vice president, he met with your business partner, Devon Archer, at the White House. Five days later, Joe travelled to Ukraine to lobby for increased fracking. Burisma was one of the few companies licensed to frack in Ukraine. Burisma made hundreds of millions of dollars from Ukraine’s new policy. Burisma paid more than $4,000,000 for your and Archer’s board memberships, including at least $1,450,000 wired directly to your accounts.

    While you and Archer were serving on Burisma’s board, Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, was investigating Burisma and its owner. In his official position as vice president, Biden demanded Ukraine fire Shokin, and threatened to withdraw $1 billion in U.S. military aid if it did not do so. Shokin was fired.

    While serving on the Burisma board, you and Archer sought meetings with senior State Department officials, including then-Secretary of State John Kerry and then-Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken. What did you guys chat about? The reason we ask is because whatever your job description read, your value to Burisma was your perceived access to the Executive Branch. Papa Joe was at least a passive participant in the scheme, maybe more than that.

    Your laptop shows you, through a number of front companies, accepted money from foreign firms and moved that money to the U.S. where it was parceled out to other entities, including Joe’s brother Jim. Some of it then went back to foreign hands. It all smells bad — multi-million dollar transfers to LLCs without employees, residences used as business addresses, legal tricks from Cyprus to the British Virgin Islands. Can you explain why your fees traveled such circuitous routes? What did you pay Brother Jim for, and why did he appear to kickback some of the money you paid him?

    What is this money al about, Hunter? in 2014, you received a $3.5 million wire transfer from Elena Baturina, the richest woman in Russia and the widow of Yury Luzhkov, the former mayor of Moscow. Baturina became Russia’s only female billionaire when her company received a series of Moscow municipal contracts while her husband was mayor.

    But let’s move on to China, Russia and Ukraine are so depressing. The majority of the contents of your laptop are a jumbled record of your international business ventures. Outstanding in the haystack are a large number of wire transfers to and from your clients (but no evidence of what “work” you performed for those clients. Hmm.) Those with traceable addresses appear to be mostly anonymous shell companies run out of lawyers’ offices, with no employees and fuzzy public paper trails. One typical one involved $259,845 traveling on April 2, 2018 from your Hudson West III in New York to a numbered bank account held by Cathay Bank in Asia. Hudson West was created by Hunter Biden’s own law firm, Owasco, with several Chinese nationals, including a Jianming Ye associate, Gong Wendong. Ye Jianming is chairman of CEFC China Energy, who reportedly had close ties to both the Chinese government and the PLA. He’s been arrested in China on corruption charges.

    Hunter, in August 2018 you also returned $100k back to CEFC in China via its own New York subsidiary LLC, Hudson West V, whose listed address was on Foxwood Road, in New York state. That address is not a business office but instead a single family home worth over $5 million. It looks like the place has new owners, but phone records suggest two people lived there when you were in business, including Gong Wendong. Money appeared to move from physical China to virtual Hunter back to virtual China in the U.S., starting and ending in accounts tied to Gong Wendong after touching base with Hunter, a potential indicator of laundering. Chinese money in China changed into Chinese money in America. Caution is needed; while what looks like American money laundering at first glance may indeed be so, or could be designed to hide the cash from the Chinese government while staying inside American law, a quasi-illegal service you possibly supplied. Is that what you were really up to, fee-for-service to the Chinese? Enquiring minds and all that, you know.

    The Foxwood address also appears on millions of dollars worth of bank transfers among Cathay Bank, CEFC, and multiple semi-anonymous LLCs and hedge funds. One single transfer alone to Hudson West III on August 8, 2017 represented the movement of $5 million from Northern Capital International, which appears to be a Chinese government-owned import-export front company. What was that all about?

    In addition, the house on Foxwood was the mailing address for a secured VISA card in the name of your company, Hudson West III. The card is funded by someone unnamed through Cathay Bank for $99,000 and guaranteed by someone’s checking account held by Cathay worth $450,000. Shared users of the card are you, Hunter, and Gong Wendong. The card was opened as CEFC secured a stake in a Russian state-owned energy company. Biden and others subsequently used the credit card to purchase extravagant items, including airline tickets and things at Apple stores, pharmacies, hotels, and restaurants. A Senate report characterized these transactions as “potential financial criminal activity.” Putting money on a secured VISA card in lieu of a direct wire transfer may be seen by some as an attempt to obscure the source of the money and thus allow you not to claim it as income but you didn’t do that, did you Hunter?

    Jim Biden, Joe’s brother, was also an authorized user of the credit card. Jim over the years has been a nightclub owner, insurance broker, political consultant, and investor. When he ran into financial trouble having triple mortgaged his home, he was bailed out via loans from Joe and you, Hunter, and by a series of Joe’s donors. Jim also received a loan of $500k from John Hynansky, a Ukrainian-American businessman and longtime donor to Joe Biden’s campaigns. This all was in 2015, at the same time the then-vice president oversaw U.S. policy toward the country. As a senator, Joe Biden made use of a private jet owned by Hynansky’s son.

    That will leave undigested the bigger tale of President Joe Biden, who ran in part on an anti-corruption platform following the Trump family escapades. While Joe Biden says he regrets meeting with the Burisma official, he did indeed take the meeting as VP. It’s always easier to apologize when caught than seek permission in advance in Joe’s world. Is that what your dad always says, Hunter?

    A 2017 email chain involving Hunter brokering an ultimately failed deal for a new venture with old friend CEFC, the Chinese energy company, described a 10 percent set-aside for the “big guy,” whom former Hunter Biden partner Tony Bobulinski publicly identified as Joe Biden. Joe also took Hunter to China with him in December 2013 on Air Force 2, and met with Chinese leaders while Hunter tried to make deals on his own. It was Joe’s donors and pals who bailed out brother Jim over the years with sweetheart loans.

    There is a lot more but you get the picture. A lot of appearance of improprietous malarkey from a senior statesman like your dad who should have known better. In places like China and the Ukraine, where corruption is endemic, it is assumed the sons of powerful men have access to their father. You traded on those assumptions for millions of dollars, and Papa Joe stood by understanding what was happening. Every father wants to help his son, and we can imagine you  went to his dad time after time, pleading for just one more little favor to get you past your sordid past.

    Joe Biden said of Hunter, “I have never spoken to my son about his overseas business dealings.” So Hunter, help us out. Explain.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.